Casey came into my life – or I came into his – 21 months ago. To be precise, 628 days ago. I fell in love immediately. Immediately. It was my first day of a new job in a beautiful stable in the middle of winter. The picture-perfect barn suited him. 17.3 hands, 6 year old bay with four white socks, and a perfect lightning bolt on his forehead. For those of you who haven’t read Thor’s story yet – my other boy’s (full) name is By the Hammer of Thor. As in the god of thunder and lightning. It was a sign.
Casey was enormous bundle of nerves. We called him “Dragon” because he snorted loudly at everything and anything that got too close. He retreated to the corner of his stall shaking when things got to be too much for him. It’s going to sound sappy, but I knew we were right for each other. Both of us were a mess from our previous trainers.
This majestic creature was born on a farm in Virginia in 2009. In 2010 he was the Champion USEA Future Event Horse and in 2012, he participated in the Rolex International 3-Day – USEA Young Event Horse Demonstration. My horse has been to Rolex, people. A very, very wealthy person with good intentions (and little horse experience) bought him for $30,000 as an investment. He then turned him over to a trainer with not so good intentions.
See, ego has to be left out of the game. The moment human ego becomes a part of horse training is the moment that it’s no longer about the horse. It’s about the human and making the human look good. It is very easy to take a youngster like Casey and get caught up in his athleticism and kindness and proceed to break him. And this is exactly what happened to Casey. They started him in a double bridle and had him trained to 3rd Level by the time his was five. For you non-horse people, they used too much force and pushed him far too fast. In my humble opinion. And I’m not going to budge on this one. Because Casey’s response is the truth. He had a physical and mental breakdown.
My barn’s owner was looking for a fancy horse for her daughter. Someone else at the barn knew of Casey and suggested they go look at him as a possibility. They had the eyes to see what many people cannot… a horse in an unnatural, forced frame. They ran their hands down his back and he almost collapsed in pain. Needless to say, they passed on him. BUT! They contacted his owner and convinced him that his horse needed help. That’s when he was sent to our barn to rest and recover from what had been done to him. I walked into the barn four months after he did.
Everyone knew I loved him. Everyone knew that Thor was retired. Everyone thought that I should buy Casey. It broke my heart because no way in hell could I ever afford him. Not even the purchase price. And as most horse people know, the purchase price is the least expensive part of the process. I was told he was going to go to a sale barn in Virginia. People told me to make the owner an offer because he just wanted to sell him. I laughed. He easily commanded $20K at a sale, even broken. The barn owner intervened and told Casey’s owner that I was really interested. I thought long and hard about it and I said no. I already had a horse who had medical issues. I could not afford another. And in my email response, I explained that it broke my heart, because he was a horse that would be sold over and over again, each time a little more broken until he couldn’t give any more. I said that he was a horse that needed a forever home. And, at that time in my life, I couldn’t promise that, so I had to say no and pray that the right person bought him. And Casey’s owner wrote back and said he would wait for me and give me some time, because I was exactly what he wanted for Casey. That statement is far more about his owner than it was about me. He was willing to give Casey to the right person.
And then things started to fall into place. My fairy godmother (everyone should have one) had always wanted a horse. So she bought him. For me. I told her that he was going to be an expensive project. She had no idea.
It took us over a year. Four farriers. Three trainers. Three saddle fitters. But only one vet, because my vet is the best. Everyone should feel that way about all of their horse professionals. He had a chiropractor and he still gets more massages than I do (we share the same massage therapist). We treated him for Lyme. We treated his ulcers.
People who knew him when he first came to the barn have seen his transformation. He went from a tense, spooky, anxious horse to a horse who is quiet and willing and just lovely. People who haven’t known him think that I’m exaggerating. I’m not. In the wash stall, he stands half asleep as a give him his pre-ride bodywork. He stands quietly among people just enjoying being admired and loved on. He sticks his head out of his stall window to greet people and other horses as they walk by. He snorts only once in a rare while.
We are still building our relationship. Everyday we trust each other a little more. We had some explosive moments early on that my mind and body haven’t quite forgotten. He has recovered more quickly than I have but he’s given me time. When my anxiety grows, I remind myself that he has done nothing to break my trust. God willing, Casey & I have many years in front of us together.
So back to the title of this past: The Other Side of Abuse. There is no reason for this over-training to have happened to him, except for human greed. Horses can live 20+ years. But people want fast money. I can understand that, but I cannot understand harming an animal in the process. It’s hard to make a profit in the horse world. It’s even more difficult to do it right. Because, as I was just recently told, a horse that has flying changes commands $30K and up. So yeah, get a horse to that point as soon as possible and sell it at a huge profit rather than allow them to grow up slowly and pay for their care all of those years. So I understand, even though I don’t approve.
But what I really, truly do not understand are the owners who have their personal horses trained too fast. Why? Why do they need to canter pirouette at the age of 5? Why do they need to piaffe years before their time to shine in the show ring? Once again, it’s ego.
Let them grow up slowly. Let them be horses. We owe them that much.