Horses are sold every day. It’s just how the horse world works. People breed horses, and then sell them. People race horses, and then sell them. People train horses, and then sell them. People buy horses in one market, move them to another market and sell them. They are considered livestock by the government, a commodity to be bought, traded, and sold.
This should be a normal thing to do. People do it all the time. Riders outgrow a horse and sell to buy a new one. Completely normal. That’s what I kept telling myself when I put Berry up for sale last year.
I bought her when she was just two years old, less than 30 days off the track. She may have been a racehorse, but she was so gentle and kind. There was nothing in her that could give her an edge in a race. She was goofy and sweet. She tried hard, but she wasn’t ambitious. She was just a lovable goof, and she made a great partner for the ten years we were together.
Which is why, when I was completely overwhelmed with newborn twins and a toddler, running a business and trying to stay on top of everything, I made the decision to sell her. She may not be particularly fancy or competitive, but she was a great horse, and the most sellable of all my horses.
Now I wonder if I could have avoided it. Pony had been out on a lease, which would have been fine if he’d stayed on lease, but since he came back, three horses at home was too much. I was worried about sending him out on another lease due to some comments from my trainer at the time. Stu was supposed to be my fancy horse of a lifetime, the horse I’d always dreamed I would own. And Vintage was crippled and therefore retired, and she didn’t deserve to be cast off to an unhappy fate after a lifetime of service.
It came down to Berry, well trained, experienced, and an overall good girl. She was good enough that she would be able to hold her own and be a valuable enough asset that she would have a good life. She was chosen to go.
The New Family
She sold fairly quickly, and at the time I mostly just felt relief. My burden was a little bit lighter, I didn’t have to spread myself so thin. I was confident she would have a good life. Her new owner was a young teenager who seemed to love her already. A girl and her horse, a perfect fit together.
I reached out to the mom of the girl at one point, telling her I’d be happy to be a resource if they had any questions, but they seemed good, so I left it alone. I heard one time from the mom who asked why she was shaking her head. I said she was probably excited for the fall weather (how would I know what was going on?) and that was the end of it.
I thought about her occasionally over the last year, but since everything seemed fine, I focused on other things. Imagine my surprise when some photos were posted of Berry rearing straight up into the air, and then falling over backwards, her rider luckily getting out of the way in time.
To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I couldn’t believe it, that was not the same horse. I’ve posted about Berry quite a bit on this blog, but I deleted everything when I sold her. I didn’t think it was appropriate to basically have posts about someone else’s horse. But if anyone has been reading my blog for a long time, they’ll know that is not something Berry has ever been capable of. She can be a little bit sassy but never in a mean way, just expressive. She’s so mild mannered and she’s always taken care of me. I nicknamed her “Carebear” for how kind she is.
I felt like the only thing to do was to reach out again. I volunteered to go see her, and they accepted.
When I got there, I was given the full story. She’d started shaking her head in September and it’s continued to escalate. They showed me a video of her being ridden recently and every other stride is a rear. Kudos to the girl for staying on, but that is not any kind of horse I’d want to ride. Of course, they showed me the video of the rear and fall. I honestly can’t say if Berry lost her balance and fell, or fell on purpose. It could go either way.
They’ve had the vet out, the dentist, saddle fitter, farrier, and chiropractor. No one has an answer for it.
I brought the same tack I used to ride her in. They said she was worse outside, so I said that’s where we will ride.
In the days leading up to this, I had been filled with both dread and excitement. What if she rears up and hurts me? But… what if I can figure this out for them? What if I can unlock the secret of why she’s been acting like this?
I was nervous. I had thoughts that I was stupid and I was about to be seriously injured. But this was a horse that I’ve known for ten years. We’ve been together so long, and we’ve done so much together. I knew her so well, and I trusted her with so much. She had been so brave and happy to do all that I had asked of her. I had to do this, for her, to find out what was going on, to make her happy again. I had to try, for the love of the horse I had partnered with for so long.
I lunged her first. She was a bit wild on the lunge, but she calmed down. I asked them if they ever lunged her, and they did not. I got on her, and it was one of the most bizarre rides I’ve ever had. She was mostly obedient to everything I asked her. She turned, she walked, she stopped, she leg yielded. But the entire time, she kept flipping her head, similar to how a horse would flip their head if they were covered in flies. Many times, I felt her get very light in her front end, like she wanted to rear, but I’d distract her by changing directions and she never did. The head shaking was intense though. It was impossible to have an actual ride on the horse, she was spastic and upset. She wanted no contact, and she was super sensitive to everything.
I really tried to figure it out. The most I got out of her was a 20 meter circle with no head flipping, at a walk. The trainer asked me if I was going to trot her, and definitely not, she’s acting like this at a walk, she’s clearly going to do the same thing, I’m not adding speed to this.
I got off her, and talked with the owners for a bit. Then I kind of had a thought and lunged her again. The first time I had been lunging her just to make sure she actually listened to basic commands before risking my neck. The second time, I decided to get out her energy. She was literally perfect on the lunge. Beautiful gaits, slow moving but long strides, and super responsive walk trot and canter.
At that point I had a long conversation with the owners, but in hindsight, I wish I had gotten back on. She was very warmed up, completely responsive, and it would have been interesting to see what she had done. But at the time, she was very sweaty, and I figured the workout was done.
A Complicated Mess of Feelings
I had nothing that could help. The trainer did say she was behaving better than usual, but I’m not sure if that’s because I did anything or just a complete coincidence. I had gained no insight, I had no thoughts that would help. It wasn’t the same horse that left my farm. All I could think was, this horse is ruined.
My beautiful partner, who has been through so much with me, was completely ruined. She was a mess of a horse, and I couldn’t see what would help her.
I feel like I betrayed her. She was safe and happy in my pasture, and if she hadn’t left, whatever made her into this would not have happened. My first thoughts were immediately; I need to get her back. I don’t know if I can fix her, but she needs to be safe with me.
The owner had made a comment that they were basically over it at this point. Understandably so, after she witnessed the horse almost crush her daughter. Berry is not a safe horse for her. She is lucky she wasn’t hurt worse. There’s no way to make sure the horse won’t do it again.
But there’s no safe landing for a horse that’s a known rearer. She’ll either go to someone who’s very naïve and they will end up hurt, or she’ll go to someone who might destroy her trying to get the rear out. Or someone who will just end up not caring enough to actually care about her.
I would have immediately offered them their money back for the horse, but truthfully I don’t have that kind of money sitting around. I now regret ever spending any money. I regret planning to take a vacation. I regret spending money on Stu. I regret buying every treat I’ve ever bought. All these things took the money that I could have used to get Berry back.
I told her to let me know if she does decide to sell her, and she said she would. Hopefully I’ll be able to get her back at some point.
Hopefully they can figure this out and make Berry whole again.
After my time with Berry, I cried. I cried for betraying her, I cried for what she had become. I cried for all the happy memories I have with her. I cried thinking of a future that now seemed impossible. I cried because there’s literally nothing I can do. It’s not my horse. It’s not my decision. I could shout off the mountain everything I think they should do, everything I would do, but I am not involved. She’s not close enough for me to see regularly and help. They have a trainer who should be leading them, they will always to defer to her over me. I’m basically a stranger.
I thought, cried, and raged internally about the loss of a great horse. I analyzed it for a few days, thinking about what they said, and what I saw, and I decided to send my last thoughts to them.
They had said she had ridden her bareback a few weeks ago and she was great for her. They said Berry was better when I rode her. She had been wild on the lunge at first, but settled down. The videos they showed me had a VERY animated Berry. Berry had gone from living out 24/7 to living a small stall half the day.
I sent them a message (condensed):
“I think it’s a combination of two things: She’s an energetic mare, and I think there’s something wrong with either the tack or her back. I know you got a saddle fitter, but something isn’t right. You were able to ride her bareback just fine, so I really think it’s the saddle. When I lunged her, she was great, so she’s not trying to be bad. I think what’s going on is she’s saying “This hurts and no one is listening to me,” which is why is keeps escalating. Since she is so energetic, she’s very expressive when she says this. I used to lunge her for every ride for years, so lunging her more could help. You could also try xraying her back to see if she hurt something there.”
And then I left it at that. What else can I do? She’s not my horse. Hopefully they will tell me what happens, but there’s no way I could force them to. I’m already afraid they are going to block me for being annoying and I’ll never know what happens to her.
The best case scenario is that they are able to figure it out. I want them to be happy with her. I want her to have a little girl to love. I want them to go have adventures and do fun things, just like the ones I used to have with her.
I don’t want to think about the worst case… I just hope they reach out to me if they truly are done with her. I will give her a soft landing. I’ll figure out how to manage. I regret selling her, and I want to make it better.
But I can’t, because she’s not my horse, and I have no claim to her anymore. My heart hurts for putting her in this situation. Hopefully she will have some kind of happy ending eventually, but I really don’t know if there is one for this.