By Susan Friedland-Smith
Happy horse-filled days are here again! After kissing several frogs, I found my tall, dark and handsome perfect equine match! The path that led to my new horse was long and arduous, sharing characteristics with the dating path that led me to my husband. During the months of searching and the emotional rollercoaster, I came to the conclusion that horse shopping is pretty much like dating. The similarities are uncanny.
As the Era of the Horse Search commenced, my trainer asked me to write down a list of my ideal horse’s characteristics. That’s something I had actually done while searching for my human Mr. Right! I began the 14-point treatise with “1. Tall — 16.2 hands or taller.” I’m tall so it’s natural I’d want a horse who’s also tall. I have nothing against horses of shorter stature, but I don’t enjoy feeling like a girl who outgrew her pony.
I’ll never forget driving two hours, much of that literally over mountain switchbacks, to reach the high desert north of Los Angeles to meet a gelding who, from his dreamhorse.com profile, seemed perfect! Upon arriving, the horse was definitely not 16.2 hands and I hoped the disappointment did not register on my face.
Since I had driven, white-knuckled, all that way to ride, I went ahead and buzzed around on the horse, trotting and cantering, all the while knowing he was not the one. When the seller said, “He takes up your leg well,” I knew he could read my mind that I felt too big for the horse. This proved that men from online dating sites aren’t the only ones who stretch the truth about their height: horse sellers do the same thing.
Another horse that I tried was very cute online and in his videos. He was well trained and it seemed he could jump around a hunter course in his sleep. He just kind of went. On our “date” the selling trainer rode in a half-seat, smooth and relaxed. They looked great.
My trainer rode next and when she asked the horse to move in more of a frame, he wasn’t having any of it and continued to lope along with his nose sticking out. I got on and there was no regulating his gaits. After a walk lap, he showed me he had one trot and one canter. I sat as a passenger and couldn’t help giggling because he completely ignored me, like a school horse programmed to just go. This horse was safe, but there was no partnership — he clearly had his own agenda. I met a few guys during my dating years who had that same approach to life.
Then there was the horse that met almost all 14 of my wish list criteria ranging from “not hot and spooky” to “shoes optional” — he was shod in front only — except for being chestnut. Criteria number 2 was “I love a pretty bay.” He had a natural horsemanship foundation, a good mind, and had been started over fences. I liked him, but I wasn’t sure I liked him. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was lacking.
I went to see this horse a total of three times because I couldn’t get him out of my head. He was the closest to my ideal horse on paper, yet I didn’t feel the chemistry. From a practical standpoint, he was a great horse, but I wasn’t head over heels. I got around to making an offer but it was rejected, as the seller was put off that I asked for a two-week trial.
The Darkest Hour and a Paradigm Shift
At that point I thought I’d never find the right horse, and was destined to be a horse old maid, having to ride lesson horses forever. In my hopelessness I turned to my girlfriends and blogging. My spirits were buoyed by pep talks in person, over the phone and with my online horse community. I was determined to keep plugging away.
I remembered that before I met my husband, I spent hours and hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars on online dating memberships. Sometimes it was hilarious — like the time a guy sporting a unitard doing the splits mid-air popped up in my eHarmony inbox. Other times it was truly depressing, like when the only men contacting me had obvious comb-overs or wrote using improper grammar.
What kept me going then was the fact that I knew people who had met someone online, fallen in love and gotten married. If it could happen to them, it could happen to me. If I hadn’t kept on with the Internet dating even though I didn’t feel particularly successful at it, I never would’ve met my husband. So I decided to continue looking at horse profiles online, even if by the time I called, the horse already had a pre-purchase exam scheduled for another buyer.
Shortly thereafter, a friend gave me the name of a Thoroughbred farm she had read an article about that was known for re-homing its own ex-racehorses. “You should call them,” she said. I found the farm’s phone number through Facebook and left a long-winded voicemail stating who I was, my horse history, what I was looking for down to “I’m a sucker for a pretty bay with a blaze.”
I received an email from the farm with a photo and videos that made my eyes well up. The horse for sale could’ve been a stunt double for my previous horse! I watched the video of the pretty bay with the blaze jumping around a small course and I initially thought, No. I loved everything about him, but he was too similar to my life-love horse that I’d lost to colic four years earlier. Then I realized I was being narrow-minded. Why would I shut down the possibility of a potentially great horse just because he looked too much like my prior horse?
And so I scheduled an appointment to meet this tall, dark, handsome gelding named Tiz A Knight. I looked forward to trying him, but also harbored a mild sense of dread. He seemed like the perfect horse and I was worried I’d fall for him and the rug would be pulled out from under me again in the form of another buyer with a larger budget or a pre-purchase exam that would reveal a health issue.
A Test Ride
When my trainer and I arrived, the gelding was waiting for us, standing like a perfect gentleman in the crossties. I stroked his nose and said hi. The selling trainer said that he was a very sweet and smart horse as he led him to the arena. My trainer and I watched him go around and we were impressed. She rode next and he looked great. Then it was my turn. The second I settled into the saddle I just knew. We hadn’t even left the mounting block yet and my heart leaped inside. That moment it was clear that I’d finally found him!
My ride was discombobulated, as I hadn’t been on a large, forward horse in at least four years and my riding muscles were hibernating. I cued him to trot and he picked up a canter. I didn’t correct him as his gait was silky smooth, and rhythmic. I wanted to keep cantering — off into the sunset. I finally brought him back to a trot and posted around. Later we cruised over a few small fences and it wasn’t stellar, but he was willing and steady. I trusted him. I rode him only about 15 minutes, but I loved him. I just knew.
I’m happy to report that my offer was accepted, the pre-purchase exam went well and we brought the horse I couldn’t live without home at the end of September, a week before my birthday. So I first met my husband and my horse online, and now my groom is my groom (occasionally). And that is the tale of how I met my knight in shining horseshoes!
About the writer: Susan Friedland-Smith, a middle school history teacher living in North Tustin, California, has been horse-crazy since girlhood. While encouraging her newbie equestrian husband’s riding pursuits, she has been on a quest and has finally found her next equine best friend, Knight the OTTB. Join the quirky adventures by following her blog Saddle Seeks Horse at www.susanfriedlandsmith.com and on Twitter @susanwordlover.