This post is dedicated to my fat-n-happy, chunker, tank, trouble-maker, cuts-herself-up-all-the-time, can’t-get-along-too-well-with-others, orange sorrel quarter horse mare Amber – a.k.a. Jellybean.
Just a teensy bit of back-story – college was going to be tough for me because I hated school. I’m just not a school person. I like being outside, I like being active, I like doing stuff. Then my mom brought me this article – I believe it was in the QH Journal – about this horse training class at Colorado State University. I was immediately in love. Going to school and your homework and lectures were all about horses? SIGN. ME. UP.
Well, CSU was in Colorado, a bit farther away than I wanted to be at the time. University of Nevada Reno was closer, and they had an animal science program. Of course, right before my senior year, UNR cancels their animal science program. So, off to Colorado it was. I won’t wax poetic about how gorgeous it was, but boy it was gorgeous. I absolutely loved it there. I had wanted to take the colt training class my sophomore year, but due to class load and whatnot, I took the class my junior year.
Many ranches – including Singleton Ranch, Burnett Ranches, Purina and others – consign a horse, be they two or three-year-olds, to CSU for a student to train. That student halter breaks, rides for the first time, and trains this horse over the course of two semesters until the horse is sold in the Legends of Ranching Sale in late April.
To say I was excited was an understatement. I’d seen last year’s horses. I was ecstatic to get my own to halter break, teach to saddle and ride for the first time. There were so many out there! Beautiful roans, and a few buckskins and palominos, some lovely duns and bays. I was so hoping to get one of those “pretty” ones. Yes, I know. Don’t judge. The teacher assigned us our horses, and I get Beans Paddy Lena. Odd name, but I want to meet her, so those of us that had horses went to go see them. The rest of the horses would come a little later in the year. Well, I get in there, and look at her, and I remember thinking – she’s a pony! And immediately, I noticed she was scabby and just plain sorrel. Cue the sigh here. She definitely did not look like much. She honestly looked a bit homeless. And she was so tiny! I was sure I would be way too big on her.
Well, she was familiar with people, and haltered fairly easily (that went downhill when she realized me getting her meant work work work). But I also noticed she wanted nothing to do with me. She wanted her gorgeous red roan friend that came from the same ranch. She would call and call and call and I’d be desperately trying to get her attention and it was just a huge fail fest. Of course, I didn’t know anything, but with our teacher there and TAs to help we were always able to ask if we couldn’t get anything. But, it’s safe to say that I did not like her, and she wasn’t very fond of me for at least the first semester of the class.
When I came back from Christmas break and drove out to see her I was shocked. She’d lost her gangly self and had filled out. Granted, she wasn’t quite two yet, so she had a lot of growing to do, but still. And oddly enough she actually seemed happy to see me after break. It had done her good, and she felt a little more mature. Me being the fraidy-cat though, got help from the teacher and a few TAs to ride again after break (by that point I’d ridden her about 3-4 times), and after that we were on our way. It was a learning curve for both of us. I came back determined and she felt that but then she tested me in other ways and we had to get through that. Then we had switch week, and it was really great to ride another student’s horse.
Only two weeks later was the student competition. Thank God the speech was first because I hate standing in front of crowds. I also had a microphone stuck in my face. I was so nervous I could barely speak. She actually helped calm me down, though, because apparently microphones are interesting and she had to see if it was edible. After that we entered the riding phase, and she was so good and tried so hard. I was extremely proud of her. Turns out, that day was also her two-year-old birthday. It also turns out that while my speech was terrible, our ride was awesome – we won third against 30+ other horses, most of which were three-year-olds. She was the only two-year-old in the top ten. We ended up seventh overall, which was just fantastic.
By that point, I’d begun to really love her. She was super chill, relaxed, but she was always ready to go when you asked and would try her heart out. I loved that about her, and she started looking for me when I walked in. I knew after that competition that if I didn’t try to buy her, I would regret it for the rest of my life. My parents were coming for the sale, so in the remaining week, I contacted people, got pricing, and realized I could feasibly keep her if she didn’t cost too much. I had a little account that my parents had set up for me a while back, so I figured I could use that to purchase her. Since I was the one taking her through the sale ring, I couldn’t bid. But my dad could.
So I talked to them, because at this point I’d need help with board and feed (I wasn’t a working student), and they agreed to try for me. Amber was amazing in the preview before the sale, and I knew I had to do everything I could for this horse. I told my dad not to go over $3000 for her, because I didn’t have much more than that in my little account, so if the bidding went over that, I knew I wasn’t getting her, and I knew that someone really wanted her and would take care of her.
I was a blithering bundle of nerves and she kept looking at me like “what’s your problem, ma?”. It didn’t help that sale day she kept nickering for me whenever I’d walk by. She’d never done that before; she’s not a talker unless grain is involved, and even then it’s only occasionally. But it also broke my heart because what if I didn’t get her? I tried to showcase her as best as I could, because maybe this little girl had a great owner in the future, better than me, and I didn’t want to short her on that. She meant too much to me for me to show at anything less than her potential. So I walked in there and the loud announcer worried her, but she stuck close to me and ended up being okay. I was so nervous as the price climbed, and then it went over my threshold. I still don’t know how I managed to keep it together. But my heart broke when the price was over, and I desperately hoped whoever had gotten her was going to love her and do her justice. So I exited and my parents came over and told me they tried, but the bid had gone to someone else. Turns out that my dad, who is not a horse guy at all, was going to surprise me by going over my price point to try to make sure I got her.
Somehow I managed to keep it together for the rest of the day, and the new owners came by to see her. She was put off by all the attention, but we ended up talking for a bit and they found out my dad had been trying to bid on her for me. They seemed apologetic, but they had bought her fair and square, so we left on good terms and parted ways.
She shipped out the next day, and someone managed to get to me that the people who had taken her had left me a message at the office. I rushed over, hoping she hadn’t torn herself to bits or broken a leg or something like that and found a sticky with a few numbers. After calling all of them, only one worked, and when I asked if everything had gone okay with her pick up and if she was fine, they told me it had gone golden and they were going back to their ranch. So, we hung up, and I thought it was odd, but maybe random that they had left the numbers. Either way, I put it from my mind, and went back home to study for my next tests and finals.
It really hit me about a week and half later that I didn’t have her, and I wouldn’t ever. I cried and cried. I had never been this attached to a horse, not even sweet Air Myles, but I missed her little face. So I cried for a day or so, got it all out, and accepted that she wouldn’t be mine.
A few days later, on a Saturday morning when I had nothing to do, I answered the phone thinking it was my mom. It was my dad. We chatted about how I was doing, then he said, “So, I made a call.” And I immediately broke into tears. I knew exactly who he had called and what he had called about when he told me that. I really don’t remember the rest of the conversation, just that there had been a lot of confusion. When I had called those numbers left for me, they were going to ask me if I still wanted her. But either the guy that picked up hadn’t known about it or whatnot, and I lost the sticky with the numbers. They had tried to get in touch with me in the following two weeks, to no avail. So my dad, knowing how much I had loved that little mare, called them up asking if they would possibly reconsider and sell her to us. They immediately told him they’d been trying to get a hold of me to sell her back, and my dad was calling to tell me that.
Of course, I had to call them and make sure they weren’t just feeling bad for buying a horse from a girl who had wanted to bid on her. But the more I talked to them, the more they stressed they really just felt it was the right thing to do to sell her back to me. So of course I’m balling saying “of course I still want her!!” and off my parents and I go to grab her. I go see her in the stable, and she sees me walking towards her, and she just starts breathing hard, and moving around in her stall a lot. She didn’t nicker, but she was just looking at me like “Where have you been the past two weeks?!!” I was so teary eyed, and every time I moved she tried to follow me in that stall.
We get her all loaded after a tour of the ranch and headed home. I didn’t go home to Las Vegas that summer; I of course stayed and had her in one of the pastures in back of the house, and that was wonderful. I also learned she was a wonderfully injury-prone horse. She’d just walk under trees, and even if a sharp branch split the skin, she didn’t care. She’s still got scars in random places that I have no idea how she got them. But she was only two, and I would probably never do this with any other two-year-old, but I just hopped on her bareback and we went swimming. I’d never been on her bareback before that. Yes, I know stupid. Not to mention I only had on shorts and flip flops. Again, double stupid. So don’t do that. But there were irrigation ponds near the house, so one of my roommates and I took our horses down there to swim. It was so funny because the five-year-old Thoroughbred who’d been on those trails a lot was jigging more than the two-year-old Quarter Horse who’d never been on a trail ride in her life. But that’s Amber, really. She takes everything in stride.
Then in August, she got out of her pen around 10:30 pm. I still cannot figure out how she did it. I checked that fence dozens of time. Nothing was broken, just a few loose strands of wire. And the loose strands are all I can think of is how she got out. And I theorize she somehow got underneath the wires, which is weird because they faced a road. But she had these wire cuts all along her back, none on her belly. It’s still a mystery to this day. Well, she got onto not a main road but still a popular one, and almost got run over by two cars. A nice gentleman had blocked our driveway with his car and come to grab someone who was awake in the house to let them know the horse got out. I ran out to see, and sure enough it was Amber. And she was three-legged-lame.
My mom immediately called Smartpak and ordered some for Amber. She was actually on that for a week before vets actually figured out what was wrong with her. It turned out that she’d gotten near a dozen bone chips in the back of her knee. I also hadn’t realized that she’d damaged a good chunk of her suspensory ligament as well, but it’d shown signs of healing already. The CSU vet clinic was awesome and took amazing care of her, and I am forever grateful to them. Unfortunately, their prognosis wasn’t good. They told me she would only be a pasture pet and wouldn’t be truly sound again.
I was not accepting that answer. My dad and mom drove up to Colorado again and built her a stall. I had four months before the vets checked her to make it happen. About three months in, I had her walking around me on a long lead rope when she just exploded. She took off running and was galloping around and around and around me and I was desperately trying to get her to stop. Poor thing hadn’t done more than walk for three months so I understood but she was pretty much giving me a heart attack at that point. But miracle of miracles, when she finally came back to a trot, I checked her and watched her and there was no heat and no lameness on that leg. I checked obsessively the next day – no heat and no lameness. So, I stuck her on a regimen of mostly walking and timed trotting. By the time we got to our four month check up, the vets were smiling and laughing and telling me they hadn’t ever seen a horse recover from this type of injury like Amber had. I know this is a bit of shameless advertising, but I attribute her healing completely to Smartpak. I truly think they helped her become sound again. Unfortunately by that time, winter had set in and I had two more colts as an independent study class, so I couldn’t work her as much as I wanted.
Graduation came, and I got a job, and she went home for a year with my mom while I worked in Texas. Yet even when I was able to bring her with me I couldn’t have as much time with her as I wanted. I was just so exhausted. But she and I learned a lot there, especially when I took her to a good lameness vet there just to check out her hocks because something just felt a little…off about her. After x-rays, he surmised that she’d injured her hocks at the same time she’d injured her right knee, but because the knee was the prominent issue, that got fixed and we never looked at her hocks. Which is completely true. So that squashed my reining dreams with her, but that was alright. It was nice to know why she felt not-quite-right when I’d ask her to slide. And despite the reining dreams being gone, there were some wonderful people that really helped us get better as a pair before we left for home.
Since then we’ve been in Vegas, showing in local shows as all around and then focusing on a little more reining/ranch riding. No sliding, of course, but she can still lope and spin fine. She’s really not the “pleasurable” type they look for in a pleasure class – she’s way too forward in her canter. Which, is actually quite a plus for eventing. She really goes places when she wants to, and she always tries so hard.
As of right now, we’re not doing too much, but I can tell she’ll be very brave, and probably a very careful jumper. Granted, the jumps will not be that big, but she wants to go clean. She gets upset if she hits it. Where sport horses buck and shake their head if they clear a jump and go into a turn, she’s hit a pole a few times and when she does she shakes her head and hops like “dammit!”. But even just going over poles she likes them to be in between her stride, which should be good for jumping, I reckon. And of course, with her injury, it’s going to be slow going, maybe some injections but I want her to be as sound as possible for as long as possible. So even if it takes us more than 3 years before we do even an intro event, I’m okay with that. I want her healthy.
If she ends up hating eventing, I have a couple options I may pursue, but I’m hoping she’ll like it. She’s a game, willing horse – to the point to where it’s extremely difficult for me to tell if something is upsetting her. She loves being out and doing things with her human – and yes, I am her human. She gets very upset if I ride my mom’s horse while she’s still in the arena. She pins her ears back and glares. I am hers. But she loves being out and riding; she just wants a job. Plain trail was very boring to her, so I think she’ll love the open views of cross country, but appreciate the jumping as her job so she doesn’t get too bored. We’ll see though. I don’t want to jeopardize anything with her, so I won’t force her to do something she dislikes.
It’ll be fun to see where all this takes us.
(By the way, sorry for my rambling. I love writing and story-telling, so sometimes I get a little carried away)