I woke up at 6 a.m. this morning and refused to leave my bed, acknowledging this it was a bitter 8 degrees outside in what should have been a mild Lexington, Ky. I reached for my phone and turned on Facebook, scrolling through the updates alerting me to comments, likes, and shares.
And then I began scrolling through my newsfeed at my friends adventures from the previous evening. And I paused when I saw that my friend Kait was still having difficulties getting one of her training horses to load onto a trailer. And while I began to peruse the comments under her post, I gave her a metaphorical head nod from a fellow warrior of the ALH (Anti Loading Horse) club.
“You should only feed him when he’s on the trailer”
“Have you tried shaking a plastic bag behind him? Works every time!”
And the kicker? “Send him to me, I ain’t never met a horse I couldn’t get to load good.”
I couldn’t take it any more. I typed out a message to her, explaining that I couldn’t get into a social media war this early in the morning before I had even drank a cup of coffee, but I just wanted to let her know that I had been there. I had also tasted humble pie.
When I first got Nixon from his race owners, it became quite apparent that horse trailers were not his favorite thing. And this was understandable. Nixon had shipped from the track in New Mexico to his owners farm in Lexington, Ky., in order to be retired. He had won $500,000, a Grade 3 stakes, and was one of the upper echelon in 2012. But that didn’t matter in 2015—at least not to his van drivers.
They claimed that they had heard some noise upon entering the highway in New Mexico, but hadn’t stopped to check. 12 hours later, when they arrived in Kentucky, they opened the ramp to find a 1,250-lb., 17-hand horse on the ground. Cast against the wall, with blood and open wounds covering the majority of his hind end.
And that was how Nixon entered his second life.
Nixon the day I met him, a few days after his trailering accident.
And I tried every trick I had up my sleeve. I had always considered myself quite capable at training horses to load, and had even been called upon by other horsemen to assist. My methods were quiet, simple, and involved a lot of rewards and food.
And none of them worked. At least not with Nixon.
After loading hundreds, if not thousands, of horses in my life, I ended up owning the single one that my methods didn’t work on.
Attempting to do meals in the trailer...
And it wasn’t just loading. Nixon taught me that a lot of my preconceived notions about training, retraining, guiding, and just Thoroughbreds in general were not foolproof. He taught me that not every horse can go out and hack happily right away. Not every horse can canter in company. Not every horse can be ridden bridleless.
And specifically that not every horse develops into a sport horse at the rate that my previous mounts had.
But 18 months later, I have come to terms with this. Nixon now loads, albeit just for me and in a specific fashion, one which now infuriates my man friend.
But thats OK, because I don’t want to be one of “those” people. The overtly confident person who is constantly advertising and preaching that their methods are foolproof. Those people who leave comments on every one of my friends statuses saying that they are wrong, and this specific person is right. That says that they can ride any horse. Load any horse. Jump any horse. Hell, lead any horse.
We see those people in every aspect of this industry—from show barns to rodeos, and everywhere in between.
First it was in my riding. I showed up to Wyoming in 2006 and told the head wrangler that I could ride any horse he put me on. Silly little eastern girl from Pennsylvania, I knew that I could stick a buck—I had done it all of my life on my trainer's show ponies. But 17 falls later, in less than a week, and I backed down.
And I left that ranch with a bruised ass, and a bruised ego.
See that death grip? My first taste of scared.
And then it was the Thoroughbred industry. I showed up to my first September sale and told the farm owner that I could show any yearling, any time. I had no comprehension that these horses mutated seemingly overnight as they shipped from their homes to the sales ground, but I knew that I could handle each of them at the farm. A few bites, a hell of a kick, and a loose horse later, I admitted my flaws.
And I walked away from the sales with a new sense of my surroundings, and my ability.
"Kisses" from a colt.
But it wasn’t until I owned Nixon that I truly realized just how inadequate I truly was. But is it inadequate? Or is it knowledgeable? Maybe realistic? There is a happy medium between the two—between knowing what you are capable of, and what you are not, and the sensibility to ask for help in the place where those two meet.
And that place is called humility.
Nixon has humbled me in ways that no other horse has before. And this amuses me to no end, because it appears to everyone else that he is my “big” horse. The horse who has earned me any reputation that I currently possess. The one that threatens people, that gets me sent messages on social media begging me to not enter the same division as my friends.
The "big horse."
But he’s also the horse who taught me that even with the resume that precedes my name, I am not invincible. Even with the hours logged or the skills gained, there will always be that horse that tests you. That shows your outer limits of comfort. And that proves that you are not perfect, or the best at anything.
And I think we as horsemen all need that horse. I don’t mean that I want every horseman to get hurt, but I think that we all need to eventually meet our match. We all need to realize that the gimmicks don’t always work. That speeding the process up with tricks doesn’t always end up with the horse on the bit or in the trailer. And that the one-sized training box doesn’t fit all.
These horses will send you home from the barn shaking your head and shaking your fists. Most of them will lead you towards a drinking problem as well. But at the end of the day, they better you.
Nixon has already forced me to question everything I ever believed in. He has led me three steps backwards to reassess who I am as a horseman. He has forced me to admit when I am in over my head, and reach out for help. He has shown me that I am not perfect.
But hell, who is? No one.
No one is perfect. And no horse is either. Avoid the people who claim that they can do anything with any horse. Wait it out. Eventually they will meet their Nixon. They will find humility, and they will have two options when they meet that evil thing. They can either be humbled and learn from it, or power through and get hurt.
I choose to learn. I chose to eat the humble pie. And it still tasted like crap, but I’m learning to like it.
When she is not riding her horses, Carleigh is a racing enthusiast, and helps her boyfriend on his own farm while also enjoying their two Labradors. She doesn’t like to admit it, but she is also an avid needlepointer and a closeted 80-year-old. You can read all of Carleigh's COTH blogs here and more on her personal blog site, A Yankee In Paris.