I might be adopting a yearling today. What? I am not even sure I heard myself correctly there. A yearling?
"But I thought you wanted something you could ride."
I did. I do. But now I also kinda (really) want this yearling. I can't have both. I am absolutely blessed to be able to afford two horses right now, but one of those horses is Gallon. So... What do I want in my second horse? This is a big decision, like, a potentially 25+ year decision and commitment. I am not looking for a project that I will sell, I am looking for a long term partner. I keep my horses for life.
When I adopted Gallon from CANTER California, I knew that his riding days were limited and that I was ultimately adopting a retired horse. I planned on going to veterinary school, so having a retired horse was perfect. He could be my "emotional support animal" as I went through veterinary school, and afterwards, I would be so busy being a veterinarian I wouldn't have time to ride anyways. Gallon was perfect for me, and I was perfect for Gallon.
Then I withdrew from veterinary school and within 48 hours was offered a job as an assistant trainer in addition to my job as a riding instructor at a different barn. Gallon and I are still the perfect duo... But now I have been working full time, saving up, and I really need a horse of my own to bring along and ride.
Naturally, I began looking at OTTBs (Off-Track Thoroughbreds). I have been riding thoroughbreds since I was 10 years old and have a special place in my heart for them. They are the breed I feel most at home with, although Dante, my "heart horse" (for lack of time on this blog post to explain who Dante was to me) was an American Warmblood.
A few months prior to losing Dante, in October 2017, I started volunteering with CANTER California, met Gallon, and kinda fell head over heels back in love with the breed. When I started riding at SunFire Equestrian in October 2018 (where I am now assistant trainer), I was introduced to even more OTTBs. All of the sudden, they were back in my life full force.
I lost Dante in December 2017, and when I first adopted Gallon in April 2018, I kept telling my close friends, "My next horse will be rideable!" because I am just a total sucker for the retirees. I love being able to give a good horse a good home. It is my opinion that a horse's worth is not measured by it's ability to be ridden.
So fast forward to the past few months. I have been loosely looking for a horse, browsing CANTER listings, Equine Racers listings, Premier Equine horses, CARMA horses, you name it. I inquired about one called Royal Comm, a 2017 OTTB gelding. He sold before I could see him. Then I inquired about another called Midas Ron, who was also a 2017 model. He was available but a 7-hour drive from me, and I didn't have a weekend available in the near future (most likely until 2020) to go see him.
I saw several other ads that piqued my interest, but just nothing that made me say, "I have to meet this horse."
Then on November 16th while I was on my way to Florida for a Walt Disney World vacation with Ian, my lifelong friend Haley tagged me in a post on Facebook. When I clicked on the notification and saw the picture, I had instant butterflies. I saw this young horse and immediately saw my Dante. Their facial markings, which are very unique, were so similar it was uncanny. Haley's comment with the tag even said, "His facial markings <3", because they had reminded her of Dante, too.
I of course read the post and saw that it was written by a rescue called Hope 4 Horses, a rescue only 1 hour away from where I live. Not only was it written by a rescue, but it was a "For Adoption" post! The young horse was a long yearling born in April 2018, string tested to be ~16.2hh when he matures, and registered with the Jockey Club as "Sierra Rain". At the barn, he was called Rain.
To be perfectly honest, his photo in the ad didn't do him any favors. He definitely looked to be in his "awkward yearling phase", looked downhill, was fluffy with his winter coat, obviously wasn't groomed for the photo, and he was in the middle of eating his breakfast in the picture. But there was something about this yearling aside from his marking that caught my eye. I had to go meet him.
During our layover in Dallas on the way to Florida, I worked on the adoption application for Rain. Hope 4 Horses thoroughly vets their adoption applicants before they are allowed to meet the horse in question - So I had to fill out the adoption application in order to make an appointment to meet him. The application was very detailed, asking for personal references, professional references, a veterinary reference, details on the boarding facility he would be going to, details on my experience and my hopes for the horse, and it even had a few scenario questions I had to answer. I wasn't able to submit it before we got on our next flight because I was waiting to hear from my vet if it was okay to list her as my veterinary reference.
My vet responded to me the next morning (Saturday) right after we had arrived at the Magic Kingdom. I hit "submit" on the application, again with butterflies in my stomach. The reality kind of hit that if I ended up with this horse, I could have him until I was in my 50s!
I talked incessantly to Ian about Rain, and realized quickly that I should probably simmer it down since we were on our big vacation of the year. I should at least attempt to stop talking horses for at least a minute. While I wasn't talking about him, I decided to do some sleuthing - something I am really good at when it comes to horses! I found photos of Rain as a foal, alongside his dam, "Sierra Lane". Although Rain was registered with the Jockey Club, I couldn't find him on Equibase because he was never race trained. So who was the sire?
On Saturday morning, within 3 hours of submitting the adoption application, I received an email back. We were actually in line for Pirates of the Caribbean when I got the email. The email said the following:
Thank you so much for you application to adopt Rain. You sound like the perfect person for him. Rain is a very special youngster and needs a good leader and athletic rider.
Please let me know when you are able to come meet us and see if you two are a fit.
Okay, back to incessantly talking about Rain. I emailed her back quickly and let her know that I would be on vacation through 11/23, but could come out Sunday, 11/24 to meet Rain, if possible.
The week went by and I didn't hear back. Was it something I said (or didn't say?). I started to worry that maybe somebody else had seen the potential I saw in him and had set up a time to meet him before I could. I tried to wait patiently, but by Thursday I had to send a follow-up email.
I then got an immediate response, now questioning me about one of the answers I put on my application. I was a little torn up about it (and confused) - So, does she not want me adopting him? Is the owner of this rescue a crazy person? Maybe I shouldn't go meet him...
Then she responded again and said I was welcome to come out Sunday the 24th after she returned home from church. I agreed and said I would be there around 12:30PM.
I was nervous about meeting him and about meeting the seller. When I arrived to the barn, I found his seller in the round pen working with a miniature horse. When she came out to officially meet me, she answered a phone call before she could say anything. Okay... I was a little put off, but this was a horse person I was dealing with so I wasn't too surprised.
While on the phone, she walked me over to some halters, grabbed a red rope halter, and then led me out towards some pastures in the back part of the property. As soon as we turned onto the row he was in, I saw him from across the pasture. My nose started burning like it does before tears ensue, because I could pick him out from so far away, and he looked like Dante. My mind flashed to the very last moment I saw Dante.
We arrived to his pasture and she hung up the phone, we walked into the pasture and Rain walked right up to me. There were 5 horses in total in the pasture (2 adult horses, 3 yearlings), and it was like Rain knew I had come for him. He was much more magnificent in person. Small still, maybe 15.1hh, but magnificent in every other way. He had a kind eye with a sweet, curious expression, and was put together very well, unlike his ad had shown.
His seller told me more about him. He was born at the rescue, after his dam (who was in foal with him at the time) had been acquired by the rescue from a thoroughbred breeding operation in California that has disbanded. On the morning of April 7th, in the final big storm of the season, she had walked out to the pasture to feed breakfast, and there was Rain. He had been born overnight, 3 weeks early, in the middle of the storm. That is when she decided to call him Rain. He was weaned and gelded at 6 months, and his dam had been euthanized soon after weaning due to recurrent cellulitis. He was reportedly terrible for the farrier, not because he was mean, but because he would just slam his feet down and refuse to lift them up. He had been halter trained and knew how to yield to pressure.
We took him out of his pasture and to the round pen, where I got to see him move. He was cute, moved nicely, and seemed like his gaits were going to be quite comfortable to ride. He was very reasonable although it was clear that he didn't know how to lunge in a round pen very well. He was very herd bound though - Calling for his friends every minute or so.
We took him back to his pasture and I let his seller know I was interested after meeting him and seeing more of him. She told me she would go get me a copy of his Jockey Club papers and that I could hangout in the pasture with him for a bit. I spent the time trying to get to know him. I could tell that he was definitely the leader of his herd, but he was very interested in me and spending time with me. He was kind and I was able to touch him all over - He wasn't shy. When his seller came back, she gave me a copy of his Jockey Club papers with a list of trainers written on the back that she recommended I look into that are experts in training young horses. I really liked her - Her emails that had previously worried me were not a good representation of her at all. Oh, and Rain's sire was Run Brother Ron.
She asked what the next steps were for me and I told her that I would like to have my vet out to look at him before proceeding. She said that sounded great, to let her know when I got it scheduled, and that there was no rush. She actually said if I decided to adopt him, I could keep him at her place for a few weeks to work on trailer loading with him - Which he hasn't done yet.
I called my vet the next morning and got an appointment set for nearly 2 weeks later, 2PM on Friday, December 6th. I was so glad she was willing to drive so far out of her way - Worth the 2 week wait to have my personal vet, who knew both Dante and Gallon.
I let Rain's seller know and she told me I was welcome to come spend time with him and "play" with him prior to then. Unfortunately due to multiple rain storms and the Thanksgiving holiday, I wasn't able to get out a bunch of times, but I was able to go visit him on Tuesday, December 3rd.
I spent a total of an hour with him, mostly in his pasture. He was drawn to me again. He stayed beside me and followed me around, even though his pasture mates were all eating and finishing up their breakfast. He never lost interest in me. He let me scratch and love on him, but wasn't pushy and only came into my space when I allowed it. He let me pick up all four of his hooves. I put his halter on him and took him out of his pasture for a walk. We worked on turning, stopping, backing - Basically just yielding to pressure and being rewarded when he did by a release of pressure. He was still herd bound, but not misbehaving in any way, and only let out two low nickers. I had a thought that if this guy became bonded to me and could think of me as his friend and as a leader, he may not feel the need to be with his herd, because I would be his herd.
I took him back into his pasture and took his halter off. He stayed at the gate and put his head over the fence, eager to get more attention from me. His seller found me and asked how he was, and then let me know that she would wean him from his pasture mates prior to Friday, and would move him into a stall for me so that we could do the exam without the crying.
It is now Friday morning, December 6th. The pre-purchase exam is in 3 hours. I have never had a pre-purchase exam done on a horse. Dante's was done with my mom and my trainer present, while I was in school. I didn't do one on Gallon. I have done a pre-purchase while working as a tech, so I know what they entail, but I have never participated on one for a horse this young. What kind of questions do I ask? What do I make sure gets looked at? Thankfully I have an incredibly vet whom I trust who I know will guide me, but the unknown of this is all quite scary.
But that is precisely the reason why I am so interested in making this horse mine. If this PPE doesn't go well, will I seek out another yearling to purchase as my next horse? No, most likely not. I will probably return to looking at OTTBs.
But I think what a lot of people don't understand is that my situation has changed since I adopted Gallon. I am working as a trainer at one barn and as an instructor at another. I have the opportunity to ride to my heart's content and I have the opportunity to love on horses that can't be ridden because of various lamenesses. I have the opportunity to ride and restart thoroughbreds off the track. But what do I not have? The opportunity to bring a horse along from the very beginning. To bond with a horse while it is still growing and forming it's identity.
I honestly think that, if this exam goes well and I decide to adopt him, this horse will make me a better trainer, a better horsewoman, and ultimately, a better person. I will know so much more about horses by owning a young one. Am I slightly terrified? Yes, but not because I think I can't do it. I know I can - I am just worried about the unknown. But I would be with any horse I decided to bring into my life.
More to come later - I might be the owner of a second horse by this afternoon!