True Love

Photo by Madison Markley, MADSnap Studios.

The inspirational Rescue Horse! We are celebrating them as our April Breed of the Month on YourDressage!

Dressage riders who choose Rescue Horses as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as the International Rescue Horse Registry is a participating organization.

Here, a youth rider from Region 1 shares the story of the sun-bleached golden mare she took a chance on, and the bond they’ve developed as they transitioned to learning dressage together. 

By Gillian Short

Adoption day calls for a flower crown!

When I was eleven years old, my parents offered to buy me a horse. I had been taking lessons for years and it was obvious that the equine obsession was more than just a phase. We had always loved the idea of saving a life and providing a second chance, so we decided to rescue. Our search brought us to Days End Farm Horse Rescue, and the wonderful people there introduced us to a sun-bleached and scarred, yet golden-hearted little mare. She was such a pale color that we couldn’t even tell she had a white stripe on her face, and her mane was the same color as her body. My young self said the angry scars on her hips looked like she had been grabbed by a tiger. 

The adoption process involved several trials on-site before receiving the green light to apply to adopt, as they wanted to make sure it was truly a good match. So, for several weeks, my mom and I made the hour-long drive out to the rescue farm to visit. I was riding hunters at that time. As far as we knew, Buttercup had never seen a jump in her life, but she was very well broke and extremely willing. She was in her late teens, the “sweet spot age,” as my mom calls it. Old enough to be over baby silliness, but still plenty of good years ahead. The trainer at the rescue and I took her over her first cross rails. She gave her absolute best, even though it was her first time and I was still young and inexperienced. 

I remember the connection wasn’t instant. While she did nothing at all wrong, I could feel she was distant, heartbroken, and did not want to open herself up just to be forgotten and hurt once again. I was ignorant and intimidated by her unsightly scars and cold, yet polite, demeanor, and even after several flawless trials, I almost decided to move on and continue my search elsewhere. With urging from my trainer and my mom, however, I ultimately decided to give her a shot. I promised her that I would never give up on her, in hopes that maybe someday she could learn to love again. Her name came from one of my favorite childhood stories, The Princess Bride. The heroine, Princess Buttercup, falls in love with a farm hand. The farm hand never says he loves her. Instead, he says, “As you wish.” What better name is there to say I love you? It’s perfect for her.

I would like to say that everything was perfect in the first few months, but it was a bit of a rocky start. Buttercup is brilliantly smart, almost too smart for her own good, and she had learned somewhere that certain behaviors could sometimes get her out of work. She threw tantrums at the canter, would shy from any blanket and saddle, and would run as far as she could if I went out in her field to catch her. She was testing me, and she was stubborn; but so was I. The more I refused to give up, and the longer I stayed constant, the more she began to come out of her shell.

Her coat turned into a beautiful pale gold, and as our relationship got stronger and stronger, I could finally start to feel a real connection. She learned to endure, and maybe even enjoy, little 12-year-old me braiding flowers in her mane and playing dress up for any available holiday. Her saddle pad and matching accessory collection didn’t even fit in her tack closet. She discovered a love for cross rails and poles, and her eyes began to sparkle when I went to see her. She recognized me as her person. I made her a promise of forever, and she allowed herself to love me. 

Photo by Madison Markley, MADSnap Studios

After a few years of having fun at local hunter shows, we decided with her age and conformation that jumping might not be the best job for her, even if the fences were all small. Dressage, on the other hand, was an excellent match for her. Teaching her to use her body in so many different ways to stay strong and balanced has been so healthy for her. We call it horse yoga, it’s good for body and mind. I watched many of my peers move on to new, younger, more athletic horses to compete at bigger shows with bigger fences, but I didn’t want to give up on her. I had made her a promise, so I changed my discipline to better suit her, and I have zero regrets.

Photo courtesy of Catherine Short

Almost six years later, I am still discovering new things about her and new buttons that I never knew she had. She is truly enjoying her job, and both of us are learning new things each time we ride. She has a little lead line rider, who she absolutely adores, and she trots up to me when I am at the gate of her field. She enjoys bareback rides and hacks out in the pastures, and the occasional tiny crossrail, which she still enjoys just as much as she did before. We are studying at Training Level, and hope to enter some dressage tests this summer, after a year off. Words cannot express how amazing it feels to dance with her in the sandbox.

I am excited for what the future may bring to us, and I am so glad we decided to take a chance on a rescue horse. She is my soulmate and my best friend, and I would do anything for her. And I believe she would do anything for me. It really is, as the fairytale says, “true love.”

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