By Mary Hankey

In November 2013, I wanted to look for a horse to buy and have trained so that when I turn 70, in 2021, I would have a horse with a good head, nice gaits, and a comfortable ride. Good breeding has never been one of my requirements, primarily because I am not very knowledgeable on the subject, and secondly, because Michael Jordan’s parents were not extraordinary athletes, so why do my horse’s parents have to be? A good brain was the number one quality I was looking for.

Over the years I had purchased two other horses from a couple of breeder/trainers in Denmark, so I went straight to them. Vangens Starlight, aka Henry, was the fifth horse I tried on this trip. He was four years old and a little strong, but when he cantered and walked out into a frosty wind, he was quite calm and so much fun to ride. I knew nothing of his breeding, but Henry, a horse with a giraffe- neck and limousine body, had my vote and my heart.

A young professional from Houston met me there the next day and agreed that he was nice, but tried over the next five days to not-so-subtly dissuade me from the purchase. I wouldn’t be able to show him for years, he said. We went on to Germany, and I tried seventeen very nice pre-culled horses. Finally, after the last possibility reared when given a little leg, my companion said that we could vet Henry. Since I had done business with the two sellers before and one had actually visited Houston, staying in my home, I trusted them and used their vet for the pre-sale exam. Several days after returning home, we received the okay call and soon, Henry was on the truck headed for Houston.

Words cannot explain the thrill of a new horse walking down the ramp of a semi. It is exciting and scary, filled with hope of a lasting relationship and the reality of an enormous challenge. The initial time spent with Henry incorporated all of these feelings.

Then, in January, his hind end started to buckle. My vet suggested we have the pre-sale x-rays sent digitally from Denmark. After he studied them, he emailed me asking if I had ordered the undated x-ray showing a rather serious case of kissing spines. No, I replied. There had been no mention of kissing spines. Why would I purchase a horse with such a serious condition?

Henry in 2013

Fast forward a fretful month – I had Dr. Cliff Honnas, an equine surgeon, examine Henry (“You don’t want a horse like this, Mary”) and researched what recourse I had against the sellers. Starting with the Danish Breeding Society, I called many people who led me to find Bertha Lund, a very sharp, no-nonsense attorney in Odense, Denmark, and a dressage rider and dressage judge as well. She knew all of the players. People have often asked me about the language barrier between us, but with the combination of Bertha’s working knowledge of English and Google Translate, we were able to communicate effortlessly and effectively. I cannot say, however, that I was not anxious about the situation. I was a nervous wreck, actually, and tried hard not to bond with Henry because I didn’t know what the outcome would be. No eye contact, no hugs, no carrots…my heart was aching.

I learned that there is a law in the European Union that allows an amateur to reclaim any and all expenses associated with a defective horse purchase when the problem was pre-existing, undisclosed, and documented at the time of sale. The undated x-ray was our assurance that the case complied with all three stipulations… and I am an amateur!

Bertha filed a lawsuit against the seller, and I had to weather statements to the effect that I was not telling the truth, the horse would be put down, and the court date would be postponed. On the morning of the final, immutable court date, the seller’s attorney asked Bertha what her client wanted, and Bertha gave him the total amount of expenses I had incurred. We settled.

Fast forward again- Dr. Honnas performed the surgery in September 2014, and the waiting began. Six months of stall rest, small paddock time, walking, and lunge line. Enter Carlos Salguero, from Spain. His extraordinary talent, horsemanship, and most importantly, humility, took Henry along the path to rehabilitation, fitness, and training.

Unfortunately, 2015 had an additional downfall. My very kind husband died May 28, 2015, after nine months of a brutal fight with cancer. The bond I had with Henry got me through some very dark days and hugely emotional times, during my husband’s illness. I remember thinking that if I could just get away from the house, or hospital, for a couple of hours, to watch Carlos work Henry, I would be able to handle all of the pain and suffering I witnessed.

Carlos and Henry started training, basically from scratch, in February 2015. Henry blossomed. His spine healed, he gained weight and muscle, and he seemingly thrived under Carlos’ care. Competition began later that year, with First Level, and continued until his most recent success as the 2017 Great American Insurance Group/ USDF Region Region 9 Intermediare I Champion. I don’t think I will ever forget how much that horse has done for me.

Now I am looking forward to turning 70, so that I can ride him more than the 15 minute warm up I do every morning.

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