Hope – a horse of a lifetime

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Hope (registered as Hope’s Promise), whom this blog is named after, is a 1998 Canadian Sport Horse (fun fact! Hope and I are practically the same age, we share the same birth year, but she is older than me by 4 months). In 2014 I was casually looking for a horse to free lease after having to retire my 25 year old Thoroughbred gelding, and consequently not having a horse to ride. My ideal lease horse would be something that was already trained in dressage, possibly even something big and fancy. My equine chiropractor mentioned that one of his clients had a mare that they were looking to lease out. He described her as big and black, sweet but temperamental, and warned me that she had some back problems due to not being ridden for a while, but she was currently being brought back into work and building her strength. I was intrigued, mainly for the fact that there was seemingly no other horses available for free lease at the time. I contacted her owner and set up a time to see “Hope”.

As I walked into the dark barn on the day scheduled to see her, I saw a silhouette of a horse at the far end of the aisle. A silhouette of a big horse, as described, with an almost absurdly long back, an equally long and slender neck, and huge ears. Her conformation was certainly far from the average standard of correct conformation; her back was long enough to seat a family of four, her neck was set too low, and she was built downhill (and she wasn’t black! Dark bay, but not black). This horse didn’t look like anything special, and I must admit that my heart sank a little when I saw her (I was expecting something “fancier”, the big stereotypical dressage horse, not a somewhat weedy looking horse). Still, this would be a free lease, and I figured that I could at least watch how she moves and ride her.

I liked her movement, her strides were big and she looked like a very forward moving and energetic horse. Upon riding her myself, I was immediately fascinated with her; she was like no other horse I had ever ridden before (and I don’t 100% mean that in a good way). She was obedient, but I felt that she had no spark. She was different, and I somehow felt that I needed to figure her out. Even though it was certainly not love at first sight, I knew from the bottom of my heart that this was the horse for me.

There was a hitch, however (isn’t there always?). She supposedly wouldn’t accept a bit. She was currently being ridden in a hackamore, but since hackamores aren’t dressage competition legal we had hit a bit of a road block. I tried a couple of different bits on her, and she was alright. She didn’t particularly love it, but she wasn’t trying to kill me either, so I figured that we would be able to make it work.

The other major issue was that she was not very strong due to having a year or so of time off. As a result, she traveled mostly with a hollow back and with her nosed poked in the air. She also only had 3 speeds: walk, semi strung-out trot, and a bolting gallop. Her habit of bolting was partially due to rider error on my part, but if we were to make this relationship work, we both had a lot of work to do.

After getting to know Hope over the span of a couple of weeks, I began to fall in love with her. I adored how sensitive she was, and how she would let me know the moment I had done anything wrong, she wasn’t going to coverup any of my mistakes for me. If I wasn’t going to pull my own weight, than neither was she. Quite a logical approach, if you ask me.

For the first year of the lease, we were just working on training, no shows. When we did eventually start showing, it wasn’t even in dressage, it was in the jumper rings because that was what Hope was actually trained for. I decided to take advantage of her previous jumper training, and started competing in the jumpers for the second time in my life (and here I thought I was out of jumping for good).

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We did start in dressage, and slowly moved further and further away from the jumper ring, until we eventually stopped competing in the jumpers altogether. As our time together lengthened, our relationship improved. Hope began to loose her aloofness, and she developed more of a personality. She now had a spark that she previously lacked, and was much more personable. She had also figured out how to make the cutest “plz may I have a treat” face (it’s her big ears, she knows how to angle them in the most endearing way).

Before and After
Before and after pictures – On the left, when I first started working with Hope, and on the right is from earlier this year

Perhaps the most charming part of our time together is the day that Hope became mine. It was the Christmas of 2015, one seemingly just like any other, but this Christmas turned out to be one that I will always hold dear to my heart. I shall forever remember walking into the barn on Christmas day and seeing Hope standing there with a bow tied around her neck, and my coach standing beside her, smiling and saying “Merry Christmas!” as she handed me a card that explained that Hope was now mine. This was the greatest Christmas present I could have ever imagined, and only would have believed possible in my wildest dreams. Which just goes to show, dreams really do come true.

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Hope and I still have a long way to go, but I am so proud with how far we’ve come already. We still have issues, and neither one of us is perfect. However, I can confidently say with complete honesty that I made the right decision when I chose to lease Hope. Our time together has certainly not been all sunshine and rainbows, and she has at times caused me to want to bash my head against the wall in frustration, but I know without a shadow of a doubt that I love her, and would not have her any other way. She has taught me so much already, and I know that she will continue to teach and humble me. I will continue to strive for improvement, and hold onto my belief that Hope and I are capable in the realm of dressage, if only holding onto the belief of the promise of hope.

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