dax december 1997
in december 1997 I became the proud owner of my first appaloosa horse and my first horse of my own since sneakers, a grade horse, when I was eleven years old. sneakers got me through five years of pony club and many novice-level events and hunter shows. when we moved to chicago in 1978, I spent many years riding and training horses for other people, like egon kamarasy in carbondale. for ten years after college I had a complete layoff from horses while I concentrated on my career. in 1997, I still knew that someday I would fulfill my childhood dream of a horse of my own.
I had spent the eleven months since his adoption working with noble at donna's freeport farm and at the morton grove barn trying to get him trained enough to ride. it was a lot of work and the pony was a difficult first training project. he was six years old, had been a stallion all of his life, running free on pasture all of this life. now suddenly he was stuck in a stall all day and being asked to carry a human around on his back in the short hour he was out of the stall each day. torture!
as I was writing yet another hefty board check, I started thinking about the hardship I was putting the pony through by keeping him in a stall all day, and the short amount of time I had at my disposal to invest in working with him. this was not to mention the expense, which was not in proportion to noble's diminutive size (about 12.5hh).
suddenly I realized also, "hey, my kids are too young to handle a hamster, much less a pony. what am I doing??".so I bit the bullet and told the kids, "mommy is getting a new horse, one that is big enough for her to ride and when you're big enough, you can ride mommy's horse. How does that sound?". after all, I reasoned, the board check and other expenses would be almost identical - for a horse that would not require so much effort and such a large chunk of my limited time.
their response ... "WAAAAIIIILLL!! what about noble?"
about a month later via the internet, we found a great home for noble. we went to visit with him at christmas to assure the kids that noble the pony was doing just fine and loving his new home. (** update march 2000, we visited noble again in 1998 and have just made arrangements to see him this summer! reports are that he is as happy as a clam.) meanwhile, I set about finding a horse for myself.
I ride at the morton grove equestrian center and had been there for about three months with noble. kathy lee was more than happy to help with horses once she understood that I was truly interested in finding something appropriate for myself. something that was hopefully newly trained (you know, would let a human sit on its back without launching into the stratosphere), that I could train myself, and that wouldn't be too expensive to get into.
this was her strategy: kathy would wait until I had been at the barn for an hour or so and then start hitting me with her ideas for horses for me - "how about valentine, you liked her (17hh thoroughbred mare, 4 years old, off the track, green)?" and angled to strike a deal with me that I could train her, then sell her, pay off a set price to kathy and then take the commission (i.e. whatever excess I could sell her for after paying off kathy). Sounded interesting! but not the right horse. I've just never really been the thoroughbred type (too hooked on egon's hunters down in carbondale - check out his web site and horses, you'll see what I mean).
the next week, it was "hey how about joker (15.2hh quarter horse, 3 years old, semi-green, really quiet and almost kind of a lutz)?" same deal, train him, sell him and then keep the difference. getting closer! I liked joker, rode him a couple of times but he just seemed to be on the path of being such a quiet and marginally talented horse that it didn't seem to be worth it.
about this time I started to think that I had to give Egon a call to see what he had on the farm. As I suspected, out of my price range! But for the right horse I was at this point ready to lay down some serious cash and would have if old Dax hadn't come along. I went back to Morton Grove and talked with Kathy some more. The horse I really wanted was her "jumper" which was actually a really talented dressage horse and an excellent jumper. Good event material (harking to my Pony Club background). Unfortunately, at a price tag of around $10,000, this was not to be, either.
So then it happens. Kathy brings up "hey what about that Appaloosa? no one's been riding him? what if you took him on? I bet if you worked with him for a couple of weeks, he'd really turn into something". I thought about this. The only two times I saw him ridden at the farm since he'd come there 8 weeks prior he was wild. One person rode him for about 5 minutes before declaring that she was nervous and hopping off. My girlfriend, Peggy, rode him and also said something to the effect that he was really "looky" and Kathy had agreed with her at the time. Although what "looky" means I still cannot figure out...well but that would lead into a discussion about lots of things I don't understand about people's comments about their horses at MGEC - but those are stories for another day.
I still didn't bite. I wasn't sure about an appy and he just wasn't what most people would consider "hunter" potential. I mean, he was an appy! So another two weeks crept by and Kathy throwing in the occasional sell on any number of horses when finally one night with nothing better to do, I decided that I'd take the horse into our newly purchased round pen and see what kind of attitude he had. I am a big John Lyons believer and figured that the round pen would tell me 90% of what I needed to know about the horse.
I didn't plan to ride the horse that night, after all everything I had seen and heard about the horse did not indicate that he was ready to be ridden. However, after 30 minutes with him, I discovered that he had obviously been John Lyons trained from the beginning and was certainly ready to try for a little tour around the arena. So up I went and he was great! He just had a great attitude - yes, curious about everything but wouldn't you be if you had been at a barn for 8 weeks and see nothing but the four walls of your stall? Best of all, when he did spook, he just stood there, planted. This I could deal with after not having ridden seriously for 10 years!
So the next day, purchase him I did. Dax continues to be a very quiet, nice and friendly horse. Sometimes he does exhibit the "typical" Appaloosa horse behavior - grumpy, tail swishing, etc. - but most of the time, he responds well to my confidence and has been started over fences and out on the trail. We will ride in eventing this summer and have already been in our first hunter-jumper show. See more pictures of Dax in pets.
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