By: Ambassador Allison West Hughes
Despite our rocky history, I am once again tempted to start making plans and dreaming of future greatness for Rivalry, my 9-year old Czech warmblood gelding. We completed our first weekend of jumping around miniature courses after 18 months of challenges this makes perfect sense to me. I set goals. I set multiple goals at the same time and set about to achieve all of them.
“Never forget horses don’t know how much we paid for them. If we overpay, it’s our fault, not theirs. If they aren’t what we dreamed of, the dream is our fault, not theirs. If we don’t look at each horse through the eyes of maximizing their potential and expecting nothing more, that’s our fault, not theirs.” - John Madden
I am a busy little bee. I have financial goals, career goals, relationship goals, health goals, family goals, should I keep going? I have been accountability coaching myself before Teddi Mellencamp made it a thing on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Except that Rival doesn’t have goals, expectations, or dreams. Rival is a horse. Rival knows comfort, he knows companionship, he knows when he is hungry, he knows when he needs to sleep.
I imported Rival in fall of 2017 to ride in the Arizona Hunter Jumper Association medal finals. I had qualified and none of my nice (green) horses were “made” enough to meet my goal of competing in my first medal finals. I did what any sane person would do in my shoes. I found Rival on the internet, bought him off video with trainer approval, named him after my husband’s (USC) and my (UCLA) alma matter, and picked him up at LAX myself. I drove 18 hours in 2 days to fetch the expensive creature from the internet and it was some of the best time we have spent together. My head was filled with dreams and expectations and his was occupied by thirst and a need to stretch his legs.
Sale photos from Europe.
Except that it turned out that Rival didn’t want to be my medal horse. Rival wanted to run out the gate sideways on course, refuse the first jump 2.5 times, drag me around the course with his chin on his chest, and toss his head angrily in the flat classes. We didn’t make it to the medal, we couldn’t even make it around a course at home. Rival was a dud in every sense of the word. He hated his job, he hated me, he hated the trainer, he really hated the cowboy we hired to try and keep him from killing us, and I am pretty sure he hated the entire United States of America to which he had been lovingly imported. He literally would not walk in a straight line. I know what you are thinking, “she should have tried X, Y, or Z”. I tried the whole alphabet! You don’t believe me, do you?
Here you go in no particular order (some repeated more than once): every tack change imaginable, ulcer scope, ulcer treatment, repeat ulcer scope, Smartpaks of various varieties, EPM treatment (negative test, but slightly elevated so better to be safe than sorry), bone scan, chiropractor, injections of anything insignificant but noticeable on bone scan (better to be safe than sorry, you know my mantra now), new x-rays, new shoe setting, hock injections, more turn out, turn out with a buddy, turn out all the time with lots of buddies, animal psychic (“he thinks he is a dog”), total rest, nibble net, live inside, live outside, and back on track everything.
This goal setter completely gave up twice. The first time I researched my options and found that I had none. College programs are wise to the donation game now and take horses on trial first. In a moment of blinding generosity my trainer offered to take him on trade against a more suitable option, but I had spent a lot of money on this mess and I didn’t have more to spend.
In the end, I moved Rival home to the backyard to retire and keep my husband’s quarter horse company. This was the second time I completely gave up, but I knew Rival’s fate outside my hands was not a positive one. Difficult horses do not live good lives or meet happy endings. I live by the mantra that I will only let them go if they have a better life for them than the one I can provide. This was certainly not going to be the case with Rival.
Living with Rival full time I found that he sleeps laying all the way down, likes to a trail ride around the neighborhood with a buddy, nickers when I walk up, and enjoys an occasional icy cold Miller Lite. He developed a real and very genuine friendship with my husband. Maybe the United States had a few things Rival liked, after all? The one thing he would not entertain was an upward transition of any kind. He would pin his ears, crow hop, buck, rear, anything to avoid a trot step. Canter? Girl, fasten your seat belt because this flight is about to experience some turbulence! Because I am a high achiever with a short memory, I set the goal that he would trot for 3-5 min a day around my backyard. Thus, having won the go forward debate, I could put him away and he could go back to hating America at his leisure. This process occasionally involved my husband grabbing a rein and pulling him forward into a trot and running alongside us until Rival gave in or Bobby ran out of breath. Akin to the old push behind and hop into the car once it was rolling, this allowed us to skip the fight and find ourselves trotting with little idea how we got to there.
So, what is it that is working for Rival? Why can we walk a straight line for the first time in 18 months? I won’t actually say. Because I am listening to John Madden I won’t say. Goal setters tell you how they got there, dreamers want to build on success with bigger dreams, people who overpay for horses want to justify their decision by telling you how it was fixed. Owners looking to maximize their horse’s potential cry when they win the flat class at the schooling show because the animal they trained in the backyard trots and canters politely when asked. Owners looking to maximize their horse’s potential are so thrilled when they canter courses in a clinic that they write a blog on the flight to San Jose the next day. I won’t say what is working because I am going to focus on expecting nothing more.