By Erin Byrne
2015 was the first time I saw Explosion In Gold, aka Rohan, and at the time, I leaned over to my trainer and whispered, “What is… that?”
I’ll admit, not the kindest way to start a relationship.
He was a 10-year-old Saddlebred in dressage training. He was a long, thin noodle, head in the clouds, with the whites of his eyes constantly on display type of horse. His hooves were long, his belly was full of worms, and his coat a very pale palomino. That first day, he had a blanket on and I could not for the life of me picture how his neck and legs fit onto his body.
I didn’t think much of him again, after walking past him that day. I was preoccupied with other things that year; the planned final days of my beloved Thoroughbred gelding Kelso, and show season with my warmblood mare Luna. I had worked on several warmblood breeding and training farms as a working student and stable hand, and I knew what kind of horse I was interested in. That ‘banana horse’ was not it.
At some point, Rohan was taken out of training and put out in the pasture. One morning as we were leaving for a show, my trainer got the call that Rohan’s owner would be bringing him to another person’s farm and giving him away, unless we found another solution for him.
That’s when I offered to take him on as a rehab/resale project, for free. My Thoroughbred’s euthanasia date was quickly looming, my mare and I weren’t going to get the scores required to compete at the Great American/USDF Regional Championships, and I needed a project to distract me. His owner agreed, we made a plan on the way to the show, and I started that weekend.
The first few rides were difficult. He was pretty out of shape, but also fried; the second I put any amount of leg on him, he went into a wild, hollow piaffe. We ended our first ride on a good note – walking forward three steps without panicking. He had no balance in the canter and would nearly fall over in corners, but I was determined, and he was a good boy underneath it all.
It took two weeks for me to decide to keep him. Two whole weeks between really meeting him for the first time in the field on our way to the horse show that chilly September morning, and deciding to keep him while sitting at a pizza restaurant at regionals with my trainer. That’s how quickly we clicked, and how much I enjoyed riding him.
In 2016, I sold my mare and brought Rohan to shows instead. That year, atop Rohan, I earned five out of six scores for my USDF Bronze Medal at just three shows; every time we got our scores at one level, we thought, why not try the next one? Rohan was game, he was fit as a fiddle, and loving the collected work more and more every ride. I earned my final score for my Bronze on him in 2017. In 2018, we added both Fourth Level scores for my USDF Silver Medal. We stuck out like a sore thumb at shows, and he loved every second of attention he got. He was my golden unicorn!
Rohan was partially retired at the end of 2018 due to injury, but had been slowly building back over the last few years, before he was ultimately sidelined with laminitis this spring. After seven months of fighting, he was laid to rest November 30, 2021, at the age of 16. He never gave up, but was beginning to have more bad days than good, and I had to make the decision to let him go before extenuating circumstances made that decision for me. He was sound and happy in his final few weeks, and I could not have asked for a better goodbye for my special golden boy.
I always say that he was “nothing I wanted and everything I needed.” I wanted a big fancy warmblood, with floating gaits and bloodlines with all the big names. What I got was a noodle with a brain that went too fast for his little toothpick legs to keep up sometimes, but he improved my riding and my horsemanship more than any horse I’ve had before. I find myself comparing my young horse, and every other horse I sit on, to him; how he was exactly as sensitive as I needed without going too overboard, how easy it was to get him collected and through, how effortless he made things feel. His work ethic and enthusiasm for his job were unmatched.
My young horse is that warmblood I dreamed of all those years ago, and he’s a wonderful boy, but I can’t help but think that the next one will have to be a Saddlebred. I can’t recommend the breed enough, especially for ambitious amateurs on a budget!