I decided that the horse that would best suit me is probably an old fashioned or Working Western style Morgan. Morgans were originally bred in New England and are adapted to harsh weather and conditions, which means that the independence that I am looking for will be there. I can’t handle a hot house flower horse that needs blankets to be changed at 20 degree intervals or who reacts to every mosquito bite by coming out in hives. Seems to me that a hardy, attractive, intelligent Morgan might fit the bill perfectly.
I began my search on Facebook, and one little mare stood out. In the photos, she has a thick winter coat and is tied to a trailer. I have a strange feeling that she might be “the one”. I am immediately drawn to her. This is the pretty little Morgan mare who would become my “Asia”.
That she is tied to the trailer implies that she has trail riding experience and some common sense and the thick winter coat means she hasn’t been coddled. I’ve always believed that you should love the look of your horse and her bright dun color was a pleasant surprise as I didn’t know that Morgans come in different colors nowadays. I’ve always wanted a really bright dun and have never had one. I contacted the owner and made an appointment to go see her.
It was March 2015 and the day was, of course, cold and snowy. I went anyway. It was a 2.5 hour drive to a farm out in the wilds of New York State. When I arrived it was literally blizzard conditions. The wind was blowing the snow horizontally so I could hardly see. A woman dressed in many layers emerged through the snow curtain with a halter in hand. After confirming that it was me, she went off towards a pasture where a group of horses were milling around near the gate. She opened the gate, walked right into the middle of the herd, put the halter on Asia with no fuss and led her through the herd to the gate. I followed them into an old barn to tack up.
I was impressed by the fact that Asia was so willing to leave the herd and come into the barn with no calling for her friends or worry that she was alone. I asked the woman, Debby, when she had last been ridden and from her evasion, I got the sense that it had been a long time, maybe months and quite possibly all winter.
Debby then put some old tack on her and led her into the small, cramped indoor. The footing was deep and slippery and the wind was howling and literally lifting the walls up and letting them crash down. The whole place felt to me like it was going to blow away at any minute. Asia raised her head in alarm but didn’t overreact. Debby climbed aboard and rode her around at the walk and trot. At the trot she didn’t want to go but Debby growled at her and she complied.
I then asked to longe her since I wanted to see if: a) she knew how, and b) if she didn’t, then I wanted to know how trainable she was. She obviously had no idea but was very easy to teach and figured it out in less than 10 minutes. She didn’t get flustered, though she tested me, asking “do I really have to do something if this lady asks?” She found out the answer, which was that I wasn’t going to go away or stop asking and from then on did what I asked in a businesslike manner. Next I had to ride her! No way was I going to take home a horse that I hadn’t sat on.
I was extremely nervous. The wind continued to rage outside, and I hadn’t sat on a horse since Sterling, almost 6 months before but I made myself do it! Debby held her bridle and the stirrup since the last thing I wanted was to pull the saddle over when I put my weight in the stirrup. Before I could think too much I was on board. She was the perfect size, not too far from the ground but not too small either. She felt solid underneath me. I asked her to give me a good walk, ground covering with some swing in her back. Considering the conditions and footing, the walk she gave me was impressive.
I asked her to trot and only got a few steps before she slammed on the brakes. I didn’t want to yell at her or have any kind of fight so I let her stand for a minute and then asked for a walk. The few steps of trot that I did get were so divine that I wasn’t worried about how many steps we got. It was straight, comfortable and smooth. In my present level of unfitness I needed a comfortable trot. Little did I know that her reluctance to keep going would become a pattern over the next year, that dealing with her resistance to going forward would become one of the most interesting and rewarding training challenges of my career.
The most important thing about this first ride and the reason I decided to buy her was that at no time, even with the wind howling and the slippery footing did I feel threatened or out my depth. She didn’t scare me. Was she green? Did she have behavior issues? Absolutely! But I really felt that there was nothing there that I couldn’t handle myself. I didn’t want to buy a horse whose training I would direct and supervise while someone younger and more athletic than me rode her—I had been doing that for far too long. I knew that there was no reason I couldn’t bring her along slowly and carefully using this out of shape, not so athletic, 57 year old body of mine.
Turns out, I was right!