By Diana Heagarty
Possibly your late forties isn’t the time to decide to breed a few quality horses for yourself on your own farm, but there you go and here we are.
I’ve owned and ridden horses most of my life so I wasn’t clueless, maybe just a little in denial about how old I would be before any of these kids got to be truly fun and somewhat dependable to ride!
I’m here to talk about the third child, the little brother to the others. They are all out of the same mare and different stallions (yes, I still own them all and their mama too.)
“Wy” was born in 2012; he just turned 8 recently. I say that because in the “Real World” of course he should be further along than he probably is, but this is “My World” and we move at a super slow pace here (mostly because it’s me, and I’m older every day, and I have five horses to care for.)
He is out of my lovely Thoroughbred mare, Stormin Scooter (bought through CANTER) and by C.Quito (Parco by Darco), a wonderful Belgian Warmblood who was trained and competed by a long time friend of mine, Jessie Lang. I fell in love with Quito’s looks and his jump, wow! A shipment of frozen semen later and my super breedable Scooter was in foal.
I don’t miss the stress of foaling but I DO miss the babies. I have enjoyed every one of them so much. You truly have to love the journey to do this, and I do.
Wy was different from the others in that he started cribbing at five months old. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it. A baby nose planted on the fence post and a baby cribbing noise. What the heck? NOTHING was different than the others; he hadn’t been weaned, the stallion was not a cribber, nothing had changed, etc. I cried for days. Trust me when I say I have tried EVERYTHING with this horse, and I manage him very closely, but now he is who he is. I didn’t put a cribbing collar on him at the time because he was a baby and I was afraid of the damage it might do, hoping we could all just live with it. He started getting gas colics at some point, before he was quite a year old. Mild but worrisome and way too frequent. Banamine paste was my go-to with occasional farm vet visits. His colics and my managing of them are too long for this story but suffice it to say, he has aged me! My stomach flips when I don’t see him in the field right away or he is down when I don’t think he should be. He is the sweetest horse, cheeky with a HUGE buck (thanks jumper Dad) but the kindest disposition, and we built an even closer relationship through all of his health issues.
“The Big One” came in August of 2014 when I went out to bring everyone in for the farrier and found him flat out, black with sweat, covered in horseflies, and in so much pain. My vet came quickly and after no improvement after all of the drugs were administered (mostly while he was trying to roll) he had to go in. The farrier showed up and they were able to get him loaded. He went down in the trailer on the way to Rood and Riddle, and they had to drag him out on a plastic skid and drag him to surgery that way. It was terrifying. My two-year-old baby.
He had an Epiploic Foramen Entrapment, something common in cribbers I found out. Thankfully, because of the speed we got him there, nothing had been compromised and they were able to just replace everything. I was prepared for him to die, he had been so violent and in so much pain, and was incredibly grateful to get him home a week later.
So, Wy started wearing a cribbing collar. If you are wondering if he’s been scoped, treated for ulcers, supplements etc., just know that Rood and Riddle recognizes his name because we’ve been there so often. I’ve researched and done everything to try to prevent these colics, have minimized them hugely (he can go six months or more without one) which I’m thankful for. He gets maximum turnout and very little grain.
The other caution of mine with Wy has been that he is extremely athletic with a big spook. And I’m now in my fifties and I don’t ride as much as I used to. So through the years, I have done So. Much. Groundwork. I’m a big believer in groundwork anyway and I know it has saved me, especially with this horse. The five Olympic jumpers in his background show themselves when he bucks, and I’m grateful to have basically been able to prevent these from happening underneath me.
I’ve ridden all of my babies for the first time myself, but I did have a terrific cowboy, Catlin Martin, put the first fifteen “real” rides on Wy thanks to that buck. I then started bringing him along myself. His gaits were unlike anything I’ve ever sat on, and I still can’t quite believe he is mine! He has been complicated and different (surprise) in his training, he tended to want to go behind the bit, not stretch into contact, and is easily made anxious. He is that weird combination of nervous and laid-back. We spent a good six months in 2018 going back to basics on a long and loose rein until I finally found a bit he seemed to like more than any other, which is the Nathe. He has finally learned to take the contact with confidence and stretch into it, neither which came naturally to him.
I am a professional artist, and I spend more time painting than riding now so progress with Wy was slow. Let’s face it, on your own farm the chores far outweigh the riding. A talented young rider, Jessica Turner, rode him “out” for me the summer of 2018 which was an invaluable experience as he is so looky. Ah, youth and bravery. Trying to really figure out what keeps him happy, what was too much, and what wasn’t enough has been a real challenge for me, but I love it. I do err on the side of ‘not enough’ but hey, we are progressing. I got him out to a few schooling things here and there, and I ride with Maggie Wright at Champagne Run usually weekly. We are also jumping, how could I not with those bloodlines? He seems to love it and has stopped over-jumping everything so much and has a great rhythm to the fences now. He is making me brave again that way.
In 2019, we were finally headed for our first USDF show at the Kentucky Horse Park, about a thirty minute drive across town for me (just to live a half hour from the Horse Park is still a “pinch me” topic.). On the way there, a driver in a semi-truck cut me off. I had to slam on the brakes and Wy went down in the trailer. No show for us that weekend but boy was I happy to have a horse who was still alive and was going to be okay.
I have done a LOT of on foot walking and a LOT of lunging at the Horse Park and anywhere else I have taken him. There was no way I was going to actually ride him between the trailer or stall and arenas (okay, a younger me would have) but since I really don’t want to come off and he is so spooky, I’ve stayed on the ground most of the time until I feel it’s good. One time (ONE TIME) I did not do my due diligence last year in a new place, and he had a big spook from a standstill and whipped me off so hard I broke my helmet. Sigh.
Enter THIS YEAR. Since the spring competitions were all null and void we just kept working, slowly getting better at jumping, better at dressage. He definitely doesn’t get ridden every day but, for me, he was truly in consistent work.
Finally, we made it to our first recognized dressage show, one of the first to open this year, held at Meadow Lake Equestrian Center in June. What a perfect and beautiful venue for this horse to get out in for his debut. I “bucked him out” (free schooled) at home like I usually do before we go anywhere but I did NOT need to lunge him when I got there. Score! He even warmed up well in a strange indoor, unheard of. He did check out the shiny COVID plastic in the judges stand between the judge and scribe but all feet stayed on the ground. And… and… he won his Training Level 3 test with a Qualifying Score of 65%. “Lovely, free moving horse,” the judge wrote. (Insert crying emoji.)
We know the relationship with our horse gets deeper when you are doing all the things; it’s really wonderful how that happens. We were already bonded, I mean he sucked his first milk off my fingers when he was born because he was so slow to get up. I’ve rolled him over from being cast more times than I can count when he was young (he waited for me), he’s always the first to come to me in the field, ears up, but the relationship has gotten even closer since we’ve been going and doing. He truly is my partner.
Life pretty much got in the way of a lot of my riding until about 2006 when we moved to Kentucky. I had managed through the years and always had horses but I’ve ridden green ones forever, putting the foundations on and then for one reason or another have never progressed too far up the levels of either dressage or jumping. My goal with Wy is to first, stay safe and have fun rather than just surviving, and second, actually get more educated about what comes after the good foundation. Learning is my favorite, and it’s not too late. I now live in a geographical area which still amazes me with the availability of instruction and competitions. I am cognizant of the ticking clock, however, and even though I have some physical issues now to be aware of, so far so good (knock on wood) and I’m riding more than since I was a teen. I have lots of goals but I’m cherishing every step of this journey!