I have written several blogs in the past, addressing the need to have a relationship with your horse. We aren’t just passengers up there… To have a safe, enjoyable, and mutually beneficial ride, we need to be partners with our horse. That doesn’t mean it is a democracy, with each party having equal say. But it does mean that you must share trust and respect.
Recently, Alan and I hosted a couple of our friends from Colorado. They are in Arizona, escaping the Colorado winter. Ironically, Becky was my sister’s best friend all through elementary and high school. Becky and her husband Bill live about 40 minutes from us in Colorado, and now they are our friends. Becky was quite interested in going for a ride. Thanks to my relationship with my horse, I was able to take her on a safe and enjoyable horseback ride.
I purchased Kadeen in early October of 2009. He was the first horse I had actually researched and purchased just for myself in over 30 years. I had ridden some nice horses before I acquired Kadeen. However, they were all horses that I had either purchased for the kids or the ex-husband, or that had come to me some other way.
To show or not to show?
Kadeen had spent two years with a reiner trainer. I don’t think it was Kadeen’s favorite discipline by a long shot. His previous owner sent him to Linda Hitt, another reiner trainer in Colorado. Linda is Jim Hitt’s wife, and Jim trains Western Pleasure horses. Together they operate Gambel Oaks Equestrian Center. Linda readily recognized that Kadeen didn’t have the mindset or conformation to make a stellar reining horse. After much discussion, the previous owner acquiesced to moving Kadeen over to train with Jim.
Jim showed Kadeen nationally as a Junior Horse in Western Pleasure the summer before I was searching for my dream teammate. I never intended to show, but I recognized the value of years of training. I still remember Jim admonishing me… “You will do well enough in Regional shows but he’s not going to do well in National shows!” I had no plans to do a podunk show in my county, much less show nationally! I wanted a trail buddy.
When Kadeen came home to live with me, he was 7 years old. The photo above was taken when he was 5 or 6. He was already on the path to losing his dapples and black legs, and getting more and more flea-bitten every year. If I am asked, I will tell you that flea-bitten gray is my least favorite Arabian color. But I wouldn’t care if this awesome horse was purple and green… He’s the best bud a girl could have.
A challenging few years
Three weeks after I bought him, I took him to the Big Piney Horse camp. Kadeen was still operating on the training Jim had invested. We were nowhere near a partnership at that point. Nevertheless, for the most part we got along well. I do remember that loading up to go home in a sea of mud created a bit of a challenge…
Since that first trip to the Big Piney in 2009, we have covered many miles. However, the first few years together were a bit of a cluster. I wrote a 5-part blog series in 2018, describing my realization that I had a great deal of work to do to get to where I wanted to be with this horse. The first two posts talk about Kadeen. (The last three discuss my efforts and frustration with another horse, Finn. After two years, I gave up on Finn. I wrote about that in When to Hold and When to Fold. )
Aires Above the Ground
I remember a weekend trail ride about two years after I purchased him. For three days Kadeen reinforced every negative stereotype about Arabian horses and created a few more. I could see the thought bubbles over the heads of all the Quarter horse people… “Why on earth does she have one of those crazy Arabians?”
I’m not sure that Kadeen walked flat-footed that entire weekend… he jigged constantly. He was horrible when tied to the trailer and did Aires Above the Ground. He was stressed, tucked up, and ate poorly. We were both stressed!
I came home that weekend and decided that I had the wrong horse. I actually started looking for another horse… and rode several potential candidates. It didn’t take me long at all to realize that I had a Mercedes at home in the barn, and I was looking at Volkswagons! The problem wasn’t the horse, it was me.
Our trip to Fort Robinson, Nebraska was part of a get-together of other Arabian enthusiasts. Kadeen and I were still struggling. The group was amazing and really took me under their wing, attempting to help me communicate with my energetic and intelligent horse. We did come away with the “Dancing Horse” award that weekend… a dubious honor to be sure.
We did several ACTHA rides, a group which is now defunct. However, they were competitive trail rides, with obstacles to work through. I did them purely for the purpose of building a relationship with my horse… never with the expectation that we would win anything. He would be no problem if I wanted to open and close my mailbox at my house, but a mailbox in the middle of a field was a trap…
One weekend after awards were given, (we didn’t place, of course), one of the judges sought me out. She said she had watched me work with him on an obstacle, and we had timed out. I didn’t care, because the goal was the relationship, not the prize. What she said next has stayed with me forever. She had no idea how much her words meant to me:
When the two of you get on the same page, you are going to have an incredible relationship.
So much to learn!
Although it took me a while, I finally found a great trainer. She helped immensely in putting the two of us together. Additionally, I attended multiple clinics, listened to speakers at Equifest in Kansas, watched videos, read articles, and did whatever I could to improve my horsemanship.
In addition to the professional help I received, I worked hard at raising the level of respect I required, and learned to ask sometimes and not always tell. When he would wind up, I finally figured out how to send calming messages through my aids, rather than winding up with him. We were learning to trust each other.
As we worked on becoming a team, we definitely enjoyed some team-building events. For two summers in a row, I rode Kadeen through the center of Estes Park in the Rooftop Rodeo parade. While the majority of horses walked calmly, we did the Parade Horse Prance all the way through town!
We continued to enjoy our October trips to the Big Piney nearly every year. However, immediately after our trip in 2014, I blew up my life and filed for divorce. For the next three years, I was far more focused on finding a place for me to land with nine animals than I was on enjoying those animals. There are precious few photos of those challenging years.
Along comes Alan
When I met Alan in 2018, I had Finn and Kadeen. While Alan is quite comfortable on a horse, he is an advanced newbie. He was not a good candidate to ride Finn. So I rode the squirrelly one and my Mane Man took care of my Main Man. We did some challenging rides and the boys got along quite well.
After coming to the conclusion that Finn was never going to be comfortable on the trail, we sold him and purchased Sadie for Alan to ride. That meant I got my guy back! Sadie is not as polished as Kadeen and we still swap horses occasionally. This is especially true if we haven’t ridden for a few weeks.
It could be argued that some of the progress we made over the years was due to Kadeen maturing and growing a better brain. That certainly didn’t hurt… but the miles we have shared together and the bond we have formed is a huge part of our success. Because of my relationship with my horse, I was totally comfortable putting Becky on Kadeen.
During our struggling early years together, I frequently rode with a group of ladies in Kansas. They would be aghast to learn that I put a newbie on Kadeen’s back. One gal even went so far as to refuse to ride with me during that time. She felt that my horse’s energy had a negative effect on her horse.
While I do understand that dynamic, to me that screams you need to develop a relationship with your horse! There are always variables that come into play. If you can’t ride because it’s too windy, or another horse is wound up, or any one of a million other variables, than you don’t have the relationship, respect, and security you need to be safe.
It is evident as the years go by that Kadeen has become totally flea-bitten gray. In the winter, he’s so hairy he looks like a wooly mammoth, not like an Arabian. He is, most definitely, my heart horse. He’s 20 this year. I hope we get another 10 years!
Alan and I thoroughly enjoy our horses and our time on the trails. We hope to ride as long as we able. Even if we can’t ride, these two horses are with us forever. I would be incomplete without my relationship with my horse.