My first really memorable experiences with horses were in second grade. A girl in my class had horses at home and was a part of the local Pony Club. I joined the Pony Club myself and learned a lot about horses and riding! It was then that I became completely hooked on all things horse.
My Dad was in the Army so we moved every few years. While horse riding isn’t the easiest of hobbies to move around with, every move that followed I did find a way to ride. I took lessons at a hunter barn in Virginia. I leased a pony in Hawaii and tried my hand at dressage, jumping, and rodeo games.
When I started college, I knew I had to find a way to ride. My school had a collegiate riding team which would have been the perfect horse fix, but I was an ROTC cadet on scholarship and my commitments interfered with horse show dates so they wouldn’t let me join. I didn’t have a driver's license, a car, I didn’t have much money beyond a monthly stipend from ROTC, but somehow I got the idea that buying a horse would be the solution to my problem.
The summer after freshman year, I saw the ad for 'Sweet Heir', barn name 'Blue', and was immediately in love. This mare was gorgeous! I got in touch with the seller, who mailed me copies of her papers and a DVD of her free lunging. I did some internet research on her bloodlines and asked a few questions, but really didn’t care about the answers because I was already set on this horse. I reserved a spot at a boarding facility, set up trailering with the seller, and when I arrived back in Saint Louis for sophomore year I had a new horse. Twelve years later I don’t have a single regret, but I do admit I was not a smart buyer. I was told Blue was being ridden occasionally. False. I spent time getting to know her by doing groundwork and lunging but still, my first ride lasted approximately ten seconds before I was on the ground. I was told she had good ground manners and stood well for the vet, farrier and bathing. All true except that last one. She would alternate between dancing around and sitting on her butt like a dog if you brought a hose near her. But she was sweet and a lovely mover and I’ve always liked a challenge.
Relying on years of lessons with many different instructors on many different horses, I took on the challenge of this wild, spooky seven year old mare. Blue was renamed Coco for the shampoo I used in her many baths... both for water desensitizing and red dirt stains on a pinto horse. We did a lot more ground work and rode the trails around the farm. I taught her some basic dressage and jumping and she taught me an awful lot of patience.
A school transfer took me from Missouri to Iowa after sophomore year and of course, Coco made the trip. We struggled to find a good fit with boarding facilities during our time there. We started at a place with trail access but not much else, moved to more of a “show” barn where I worked on jumping and dressage lessons, and ended up at a western-focused barn where we took some reining lessons and played with sorting cattle.
In 2013, my husband received his first active duty Army assignment — Germany. We were excited for the opportunity to live overseas but sadly I knew I couldn’t take Coco with me this time. The expense alone on top of the strain air travel would put on Coco... I just couldn't do it. Luckily, my farrier's wife who had experience riding Arabians was looking for a new horse. This was the perfect home — Laurie lived just fifteen minutes from my in-laws and was great about sending me updates on Coco.
During the three years in Germany, I took some lessons and even found a horse to lease - another Anglo Arabian mare (I obviously have a type). When our time in Germany was coming to a close, I knew I wanted to own a horse again after we settled in the US. I started looking into OTTBs. I didn’t know anything about retraining racehorses, but we’ve already established I’m not a wise horse buyer.
Then, I got an email. Part 2 As fate would have it, Laurie happened to be getting her hair done at the same salon as my mother-in-law one day. My mother-in-law was chatting with the stylist about my husband and I moving back from Germany and Laurie got in on the conversation. The two had never met before, but quickly realized their connection through me! That's when Laurie wondered if I might want Coco back now that I was heading home. She told me Coco would always have a place with her but she thought our bond had been something extra special.
She was right, that horse made a huge impact on me. But the decision to buy her back wasn’t easy. She was in Iowa, and we were now being stationed in North Carolina. I was already planning on buying a younger thoroughbred horse, a more traditional choice for the eventing discipline I wanted to get into in NC. Also, the trainer I had at the show barn in Iowa made me think that Coco was incapable of success in jumping, and probably wouldn’t get far with dressage training either.
Should I try eventing with her anyway?
Was moving her across the country a good idea?
I debated with myself for a long time, but finally realized that what I enjoyed most about owning horses was not the riding, it was the time spent bonding on the ground. I loved grooming, hand grazing, giving treats and scratches. I loved doing barn chores and talking to the horses. This mare and I spent a lot of time learning together and we understood each other. We enjoyed each other’s company both on the ground and in the saddle. Maybe I would have found that buying a new horse, but I knew I would have it by buying this one back.
Coco made the move to North Carolina and has since moved with me to Virginia. Having built a strong partnership with Coco over the years, she trusts me to take her through new experiences. We have taken many more dressage and jumping lessons together, competed in schooling horse trials, fox hunted, and ridden miles and miles of trails. I know her well enough to tell when she is enjoying herself, and when a new discipline might not be her preference.
Eleven years together and she is still sassy, but our bond is something special and we have come a very, very long way. Learning and growing together has been more rewarding for me than any competition. Coco has been with me through milestones such as my first pregnancy, and I trust her now to carry my daughter around with me or on a lead line. She even stands like a dream now, for brushing from my crazy toddler and yes, baths too.