by Patti Schooley
I was sixty when I decided to buy a Thoroughbred as my next horse. I had always dreamed of owning one and to me a Thoroughbred was the pinnacle of the horse world. All my previous horses had been “backyard specials,” the horse nobody wanted and was giving away. You know the kind, advertised as well broke, a family horse, anybody could ride him! Most had soundness issues or disposition problems or really weren’t that good on the trail. But what the heck they were free, right?
Free was the key word as my parents barely supported my horse craziness. In the 1950’s when I was a child the board was $25 a month! I had an aluminum curb bit, hoof pick and a couple of brushes and was ready to go. You learned to ride by hopping on bareback, hanging onto the mane and gripping like crazy with your bare legs. Other kids taught you the finer points of riding, what they were no one knew. But we had a lot of fun riding our horses on the beach at what is now Crystal Cove State Beach and along the bluff top trails with names like the roller coaster, the cliff face and Indian canyon. No saddle, no trainer, no sense.
I continued with my free backyard specials into adulthood as I struggled to pay for college, get my first real paying job, marriage, and later our first house and then kids. Norco, here we come to live the equestrian life with horses in your backyard, undeveloped hills, and miles of trails. The backyard specials continued to work, and I loved every one of them. I even bought a western and english saddle and thought I really knew how to ride! Jacob cured me of that notion.
Jacobs Mark (Benchmark x Dixieland Band) caught my eye on an online site listing horses for sale. A beautiful eight-year-old, 16.2 hand gelding for sale in a local hunter/jumper barn and he was in my price range. Not free, but something I could afford. I told my trainer at the time, (yes, I was just turning 60 and decided I needed to really learn correct equitation) Joan Romo of Mountain View Farms North, and she went to look at him. She brought him home to the barn that day and declared he would be a good horse for me to learn on. Because of my age I thought “no jumping” I’m too old to start something that crazy. Jacob, as is his nature, had other ideas about the no jumping part of our relationship. He would nudge me, push me, and finally demand that jumping was part of our training program.
My first ride on Jacob was a disaster and foretell how much I had to learn as a rider. After much urging, I could only get him to walk. He wouldn’t stay on the rail and wandered all over the arena and when he did get to the rail, he tried to rub me off! Joan kept yelling at me to use my leg and I thought “I’m using every muscle in my body,” and he still won’t go forward. The lesson ended in tears, and I thought I just bought a horse that I can’t make go faster than a walk. Joan took me back to basics, to “unlearn” all the bad, self-taught riding habits I had, and learn about a balanced seat, how to use your leg, proper use of the reins and all the other stuff first time riders are taught. Boy, did my ego take a beating. I also had to overcome my fear of this tall horse who could be quite naughty when the mood struct.
Jacob is a prime example of the importance of having the right trainer. Off the Track Thoroughbreds and their second career owners need the guidance of an experienced trainer. My current trainer, Jasmine Wheatley of J Rachel Farms, understands the Thoroughbred mind and their willingness to work. She also knows that OTTB must “unlearn” everything they were taught at the track. Most need to be taken off their high grain diets and left to chill before placing them under the demands of a new riding discipline. Although Jacob came from an established hunter/jumper barn he still needed a lot of schooling.
I will fully admit the problem really wasn’t Jacob but me with my horrible, unbalanced seat, my lack of leg, no clue on what the correct aides were and no intuition or feel for the horse. Jasmine kept telling me to quit over thinking things you’re stressing yourself out and Jacob doesn’t like it. And when Jacob didn’t like things, he bucks. Just a little buck to tell me to straighten up my act and ride correctly. Of course, I started to anticipate that little buck and it just added to my fear. Jacob loved to jump and refused to let me wimp out of learning that skill. How is it a little cross rail jump can be so scary? And what do you mean I have to count my strides? My old brain was exploding!
Both Jasmine and Jacob never gave up on me. Slowly, the training began to click, and my seat, leg and aides got better. I still over think everything and I will never be an intuitive rider. Riding concepts must be explained and demonstrated many times before that “ah hah” moment occurs. I got brave enough to show at several IEHJA sanctioned shows including the Fall Festival Year End Show. I am proud of my third and fourth and sixth and seventh place ribbons because I persevered. Mostly, I let r junior riders in our barn show Jacob because he deserves to go in the more advanced classes at higher heights. I like slow and low while Jacob (show name Beckett) likes fast and high. At 20 he is still raring to go and is still being shown lightly.
Sixty years of riding (even if it wasn’t always correct riding) and several major falls in the distant past have taken a toll on my body. At 72, I’m trying to come back from a very painful low back stenosis and double sciatica. My goal is to ride Jacob again. In the meantime, Jacob and I hang out together at the barn and have quality time. I proudly watch Jasmine, or a junior rider take him around a jump course, quick on the turns and fast between the jumps. That is Jacob’s happy place!
Save the Date
The 2023 IEHJA Fall Festival is scheduled for November 10-12 at Galway Downs in Temecula. The show is open to all riders, no prequalifying required. It is a double point show for all IEHJA members. Contact Jessica Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org for membership information. Show details to be posted on www.horseshowtime.com.