By Carly Wolf
After finding him on Craigslist, I bought Remmbrandt – Remi – for $700 as an un-started almost five-year-old, four years ago. I first met him on a chilly day (well, chilly for Florida), and as an Adult Amateur who’d never started a horse from scratch, I was nervous about handling the halter-broke baby horse.
The minute I saw him, I mentally moved on. This was the wrong horse. As a Half-Arabian, he was still very narrow and maybe 15.1hh then. I’m only 5’4”, but I grew up doing hunters, so I thought he was way too small and so obviously not the type of horse the fancy dressage riders were showing. He couldn’t be the right one. That was the first of many times that Remi proved me wrong.
My friends and I had driven a couple of hours to rural Florida to see him, and he had this darling way of looking over the fence like he was terribly excited to see us. So we couldn’t say, “Thanks, but no thanks!” and run. He didn’t know how to lunge, but I gave it a shot. At first, I thought he wasn’t anything special as he took dinky jog steps around me. Wrong again: suddenly, he took one gorgeous step – lifting his back, arching his neck, and pushing off like he was spring loaded. At that point, I knew I could at least start him and sell him to save up for a “nicer” baby. Oh, so wrong.
As nervous as I was about starting him, I was also wrong about that being a big deal. We spent a couple of weeks learning voice commands on the lunge line, and my trainer at the time let me start riding him in a halter and lead ropes after he had his wolf teeth removed. I expected this super-green horse to kill me, but I was wrong: he was a saint. When we’d ridden off the lunge line for all of three weeks, I took him off property for the first time to try Intro Level at his first schooling show. Naturally, I expected to fall off and chase my baby around a strange farm and go home with my tail between my legs. Wrong! He was the Intro Level champion. By then, I was in love, and I knew I was wrong about flipping him. I was keeping my “pony love.”
Fast forward two and a half years, and in the summer of 2017, my $700 Craigslist find and I finished earning my USDF Bronze medal together. I earned each score on him, and I was truly shocked: I never imagined I’d get to Third Level, let alone earn a medal, let alone earn it on a horse I trained myself (with help from the ground, of course). Remi wasn’t done teaching me not to underestimate him. In the fall of 2017, he took me to Great American Insurance Group/USDF Regional Championships, and we qualified for the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® with our First Level freestyle and placed in First and Second Level against some big, beautiful warmbloods. He was reserve champion in the Half-Arabian All-Breed Awards at Second Level that year. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so proud.
In early 2018, I felt like we started to plateau because we struggled with lead changes. They were pretty natural for him, but I was holding us back – I’d never made it past First Level before Remi. I’ve never had the budget to send him for training, so I couldn’t pay for my trainer to teach the changes. Thankfully, the struggle didn’t last too long. We spent time cleaning up our lead changes and tried Fourth Level for the first time at the end of March. Of course I didn’t expect to get our Fourth Level scores for my USDF Silver medal the first time out…wrong again!
To say that we’ve surpassed my wildest dreams would be an understatement, but Remi and my trainer, Matt McLaughlin, have taught me to dare to dream bigger. After moving up three levels in two years riding with Matt, who am I to argue with him and Remi? Hopefully, I’ll get to wear a shadbelly for the first time this year. Why not shoot for USDF Gold someday? Maybe we’ll get there. He’s only eight, so we’ve got plenty of time to find out and enjoy this dance. No matter what, I am forever grateful that my little diamond in the rough proved me wrong.