Your Turn: Sometimes, the Horse Chooses You

Sigourney Jellins describes how she selected her off-the-track Thoroughbred for the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover. (Spoiler: it’s not as scientific as you might think.)
Photo by Sigourney Jellins.

Photo by Sigourney Jellins.

Just yesterday, I was asked to point out why I thought one young OTTB would be a better competition prospect than another. Confirmation, bloodlines, race history, and temperament can all play a role in choosing a horse off the track with the ability to be successful in a second career. In a completely objective world, only these things would matter. But sometimes it’s the look in the horse’s eye as you meet them, that special feeling you get when they give you that first nuzzle or whiskery kiss that makes the decision for you …

I met Oso for the first time in a shaded barn aisle at Eclipse Equine Sports Therapy Center in Paso Robles. I walked down the aisle, searching for his name on the stall door, excited to see him for the first time. I found his stall, and he looked at me and came to say hello. Now, I can try to say it was the rhythm and fluidity in his walk down the barn aisle, or the suspension in his trot as he jogged down the driveway that made me conclude he would be an excellent prospect for eventing or dressage. But in truth, it was the friendliness in his gaze, and the gentle way he reached his nose out to nuzzle my hand that told me Oso was a special horse.

Time will tell if he will be a future dressage or eventing star (I think he has all the tools to be!). For now, I’m going to savor our first few rides, and enjoy seeing his lovely face over the stall door every morning.

Photo by Madison Jellins.

Photo by Madison Jellins.

Sigourney Jellins is a professional eventing and dressage rider in Northern California, and a 2016 RRP Thoroughbred Makeover trainer. Oso Smart is a 2011 gelding by Curlin. Oso is sponsored by Neigh Savers Rescue; click here to check them out on Facebook.  “Like” Oso’s page on Facebook to get updates on his progress!

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Sterling Visits the Sea

Riding on the beach is a bucket-list activity for many equestrians. But what is the experience like through the eyes of a horse? Reader Justin Hull imagines what his recent beach experience might have been like from the point of view of his horse Sterling.
Photo by Justin P. Hull

Photo by Justin Hull

In the beginning I was not certain if Dad was up to being my leader. I tested him, especially when he tried to make me jump over things when I didn’t really know how. Still, he not only rose to my challenge; he in turn challenged me in a way we horses are not as familiar with: love. When I tossed him off, when I refused a jump, when I ignored his poor requests to move my body, he never came back with anger or fear, but with love. One night, after he fed me and the rest of his herd, he told me “tomorrow, Sterling, we are going on an adventure. We are going to the beach.”

Even before Dad opened the big gate of the trailer I heard a noise I never heard before: a constant sound. The wind even sounded strange, rattling and scraping in ways that made no sense. The smell was completely different. No tang of grass, musk of droppings or sweet hay smell. The air was clean, yet something I never smelled before. Thank goodness I trusted Dad because I was starting to really get worried. He readied me for riding though I was about to protest. Rare would I do that to him these days, but I was not ready to carry him for it seemed everything was dangerous.

He led me along, touching and comforting me and telling me to be ready for this was the moment I was going to see something called the ocean. I was getting use to the noise, relaxing more with each step until we got to the top of a small hill and I looked out on the other side.

“What is that!!?” my body cried out as we stopped at the top of the hill. I had never seen something like this before. Sand was before me — I knew sand — but further away from me I saw what looked like water. But this water was everywhere… and it was MOVING!! Was I scared? Yes, but I was also excited. Not frightened, but uncertain. The wind was strong, blowing this strange smell which now I knew as salt. I love my Dad for these moments when he just lets me be me, a horse trying to figure out what is going on. He never left my side, just stood with me and made me feel safe.

We walked towards the moving water, closer and closer, when suddenly I realized the water was moving towards me! Water never moves in my world so I wasted no time in getting away, but this time Dad did become the leader and made me stand still after a few steps. Then a funny thing happened: the water started to move away from me. Now I was really confused. We started forward, with the water moving towards me, but instead of letting me walk back, Dad had me stand still. I discovered that it was just water — funny-looking water with foam, but it didn’t seem to hurt me. By now even Dad had his hooves in the moving water so I figured if he could be so brave I could too. The next time the moving water came to me, I stood there, snorting at it, dipping my nose and licking it… blech… salty. Strange, but now not scary.

We walked back and found a place where Dad could get on my back. I wasn’t very helpful in that regard for I wanted to get going and see more, but somehow he stayed on and wasn’t too mad for my moving. Now with Dad riding me, I still was not sure about this moving water. He was insistent and after a few side steps it somehow came under my legs and I realized… it’s just water.

Well, after that I was set; we walked between the sand and the big water but I soon tired of walking. “Can we trot, Dad?” I conveyed in my way and I was overjoyed with him saying “do what you want, my friend, I’m good”.  He got it! He understood that I was not afraid, but I was filled with happiness and excitement and energy. From that moment on we traveled up and down this strange new land of big wind, constant sound, moving water and never-ending sand. Now and then we came across humans and Dad would talk, for a moment.

Eventually Dad led me back to the trailer and undressed me, brushing me down from the ride. As the trailer bounced and shook I heard the constant sound slowly start to fade away and the salty air change into the normal earthy smell I knew. We were going away from the beach and I could only hope that there would come a time when I could once again run, and feel free in such a place.

As the big gate opened at home I heard and saw my fellow herd mates Casper and Cider running about, making hoorays that I was back home. Cool as a cucumber I walked out of the box. Staying cool I waited for Dad to release me, but when he touched me one last time, when he thanked me with tears in his eyes and a carrot in his hand, I thanked him as well. Then with that, I ran out to tell the herd of my adventures at the beach. What a story to tell.

Photo by Justin Hull

Photo by Justin Hull

Justin Hull is a computer programmer who began riding at the age of 47 when he rescued a Trakhener mare, Mercedes, from an abusive situation. Mercedes passed away last fall at the age of 29, but Justin continues riding and learning with his trusty horse, Sterling Silver. He is a successful amateur eventer and he and Sterling even competed at AECs in Texas in 2014 finishing in the top half of the division. This past fall, he and Sterling qualified for AECs again by finishing first in the Open Novice division at Windridge Farm Fall HT in North Carolina. Justin is also a certified pilot and sailboat captain.