I’ve often wondered columnist Kristen Kovatch manages it, having what seems to me like a million plates spinning at once. Recently, though, she admitted that something had to give.
For the first time in five years, I am horseless—as much as one can be horseless still working at an equestrian center with about 50 year-round residents.
Tres, my western pleasure-broke gelding who was the subject of two of my past columns, hasn’t gone anywhere; he’s merely switched hands and is now officially owned by my employing university. Regardless of the paperwork, of course, I have a feeling he will be forever known as “Kristen’s horse” for better or for worse. His injury, six fractured vertebrae in his withers, has made a full recovery and though he’s slightly disfigured he’s returned to his normal level of athleticism, recently carrying a residential camper around a 2’ hunter course. I’m happy that he’s happy in his job and will always have a home at Alfred.
Playgirl, on the other hand, has gone for good, sold to a new home in such an abrupt fashion that many of my friends didn’t ever realize she was technically for sale. She left almost two weeks ago, first on trial to work cattle; as I suspected, she worked like a pro and her new owner was thrilled to have a catty, responsive and trustworthy animal to take team sorting and out on the trail. I couldn’t have selected a better home if I had purposefully sought one out—Playgirl’s new job will be working cattle and trail riding, her two strongest talents.
So why did I decide to seemingly-out-of-nowhere part ways with my partner in crime? I’ve devoted years, tears and lots of writing time in an attempt to understand the little redheaded mare; it’s definitely been quite the journey from an essentially barely-broke cutting horse to a lower-level reined cowhorse and school mount. The answer to this question is the result of a lot of thinking combined with some serendipitous timing.
This past school year felt like one of our busiest yet: my dusted-off skills riding huntseat meant that not only was showing my western teams at home, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and even California (a far cry from our western New York) but I was also traveling with the English horses to shows in Syracuse and Harrisburg, schooling over fences and on the flat and helping to run the barn behind-the-scenes. I counted three free weekends in the entire spring semester.
Naturally the trainer’s horse is usually the last one to be ridden, meaning that Playgirl spent a lot of time standing around in her stall not doing much work at all. I didn’t feel like this was very fair to her, nor, truthfully to me—having a guilty complex every time I came home from being on the road for not riding my horse in a week, or month, or semester, was hardly helping me get back in the saddle since my frustrations with myself and my work schedule transferred too easily into frustrations with the horse. Frankly, after working pretty hard, I was simply getting burned out about training.
My job description includes training and retraining the school horses, of which we have about 20 western horses. I’ve also inherited the driving program, meaning that the handful of driving horses and equipment now come under my jurisdiction as well. Since I also chose to take on the charges of the equestrian center’s Facebook page as well as some volunteer duties on a couple of campus committees, it grew difficult as the school year progressed to find time even for riding the school horses. Any time I spent with Playgirl felt like stolen hours, time that should have been better-spent working with a school horse.
Credit should go to my supervisors, who were patient in their encouragement that Playgirl did serve a purpose, both to me and to the students. She was a representation of myself as a horseman and I did feel pride in thinking about our first rides together (the panicked cross-firing in which she literally bounced off the walls) and how she was now carrying some of our beginner reiners around the pen. However, these high marks were simply not enough for me to outweigh what wasn’t in our favor: Playgirl simply didn’t fit in our barn any more.
I gradually brought myself around to the idea that she would probably need to find a new home. In the funny way that things have about working themselves out, a friend of a friend happened to be looking for a new cowhorse, something to take him to the next level in team sorting. I passed along my phone number, and before I knew it, Playgirl was stepping into the trailer to head to her new home. Knowing that she was going to a connection rather than a stranger, and knowing that she would be well cared-for and appreciated, I felt serene as the trailer pulled out of the parking lot, knowing that the little mare was bound for better places than I could take her myself.
Yesterday, for the first time in about a month, I threw a leg over one of our western horses, a reiner who had a mental meltdown at the end of the semester and needed some time off. We enjoyed a short but successful ride, culminating in a trail ride around the property. As I dismounted back in front of the barn, I patted my mount’s neck, feeling suddenly as though a weight had been lifted away. I realized then that I had truly made the right decision, that everything was falling into place: I had time to spend, real quality saddle time, with the school horses, but most importantly, I wanted to ride again. All I needed was some time.
About Kristen: Kristen was an English major at Alfred University and was then hired on after graduation as the western teacher and trainer at the university’s Bromeley-Daggett Equestrian Center. She would joke on that irony but her students don’t find it very funny any more. Kristen coaches the varsity western team, teaches classes in western riding and draft horse driving, and keeps several of her own horses in training on the side. She shows reined cow horse and also shows western pleasure and horsemanship for fun. Between her horses and her students, Kristen is never short on stories to tell. Some of these stories can be read at her blog at thewesternlife.wordpress.com. She has also been published in Today’s Equestrian and Take the Reins.
Kristen & Playgirl