Bear with me, this is going to be a long one! (And it went off on a tangent I didn’t expect!)
“Cruisins Topsicana” is our oldest quarter horse at Doghill. She’s 22 and after giving us a lovely foal last year, we retired her from breeding. She now spends her days grazing and quietly chilling with her friends and being spoilt rotten by us as a glorified pet. I bought her from a friend of mine in late 2018 at the age of 20, when he was retiring from breeding AQH’s and selling his stock, partly because I had always really liked her and partly because he specifically asked me to have her because he wanted her to have a safe and happy retirement. Mostly though, I did it because I’m a soft touch and she’s a horse that carries the weight of the world on her shoulders and after a long and varied life with different owners and (some not so nice) experiences, she still manages to be trusting, kind and gentle. Like all horses, she also deserves a safe and happy retirement, but that’s by the by.
One of my and Charlotte’s favourite books is “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell. I have a very old dog eared copy that was bought for my mum by my great-grandfather when she was a little girl. She passed it on to me when I was a child and it’s now been passed on to Charlotte. The story (if you don’t already know it) is a biographical memoir told in the first person through the eyes of a horse, Black Beauty. The story starts with his carefree days as a colt on an English farm with his mother, to his difficult life pulling cabs in London, to his happy retirement in the country. Along the way, he meets with many hardships and recounts many tales of cruelty and kindness. It’s a thought provoking book and it gives a good insight into what life was like as a working horse in Victorian times. Although times and the way we use our horses have changed, the book still mirrors the lives of many modern day horses, in that they have good and bad owners and are bought and sold through dealers and sales.
Anyway, back to Topsicana. Over the last couple of days there has been a series of events which culminated in me being phoned completely out of the blue by Topsicana’s breeder. By a bizarre twist of fate, she was looking for retirement livery for Topsicana’s 19 year old AQH half brother out of the same dam. She had stumbled across Topsicana’s picture on our website while looking for Quarter Horses and livery and decided to get in touch. She told me she had lost contact with Topsicana after she had been sold as a youngster and we had a long conversation and slowly managed to piece together her history. There are several large gaps still remaining, but we’ve managed to fill in a few blanks on both sides, including me finally finding out her proper stable name which is “Fennel”. (So named because her mother was called “Sorrel” and it was done on a cooking theme!)
It’s at this juncture I can see you wondering what Topsicana and Black Beauty have in common. My point is that both Topsicana and Black Beauty ended up in safe and happy retirement after eventful lives. One of the things Black Beauty describes in his book before he is rescued however, is when he ends up as an old, broken down, weary horse in a bottom bin-end horse sale where the only option for many of the horses is that they end up with the meat man for a few shillings. He’s ill, lame and tired, he doesn’t know what his fate is going to be and he fears for his future as a “working” horse. This isn’t quite Topsicana’s story, but she did have a very rough few years at one point and if she could talk I’m sure she’d have quite a bit to say about the various things that have happened through her life.
“Dealers” and “bin-end auction sales” are the fate of many horses who have outlived their usefulness, become lame or have behaviour issues. They end up being passed from bad dealer to progressively worse dealer as a problem horse, developing more and more “issues”, either being deliberately miss-sold to buyers looking for a cheap horse or they end up in one of the notorious and rough UK horse sales where they get sold destined for export to Europe and the continental meat market.
Which brings me on to “Jimmy”. (No, he’s not been sold through a sale or for meat!).
“Peggy’s Jimmy Choo” (Jimmy) is a horse we bred 3 years ago. Since birth he’s been “quirky”. He was a few days premature and was initially rejected by his mother, Acorn. We had to milk Acorn to try and get her milk to come in and we had to feed Jim cow colostrum (donated thanks to a local dairy farm) for his first 48 hours of life before Acorn accepted him. He injured himself badly as a foal which took months and months to heal and generally has been a horse where if anything detrimental to a horse was going to happen, it was going to happen to him. He’s been left badly scared on his legs from his injuries and is therefore “ruined” for serious showing and competition. To add to the mix, he’s also quite opinionated and thinks everyone is out to get him (news flash Jim, they’re not), he is deeply suspicious and he spooks, just because he can. Even when he’s tied up quietly in the yard and there is no reason to react to anything. He’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea and being nice, I would describe him as a class A Prat with a capital P. To say his future was “uncertain” was to be kind. (Huw threatened to shoot him more than once!). He’s exactly the sort of horse that will get himself into trouble, and end up in the vicious cycle of being passed from trainer to trainer, dealer to dealer, owner to owner, becoming more and more difficult, getting a worse reputation each time he moved on to someone new and ending up with successively “less kind” homes, and more and more “issues”.
You can imagine our dilemma. Do we sell him? (after all, selling young AQH’s is what we’re in the business of doing), Do we keep him as a field ornament? (After all we have the space), Do we give him to someone and run the risk they can’t cope with his quirks? Or, do we even shoot him? This was actually an option that I very seriously considered and discussed at length with Huw because I didn’t want Jim to fall into the wrong hands. Huw persuaded me otherwise.
Fortunately, I am blessed with a superb horse trainer who also happens to be a friend and is someone who is not afraid to give his honest opinion. He also cares about the fate of the horses he deals with. Jimmy’s “fate” involved a lot of phone calls, a LOT of discussions over several weeks and a lot of coffee drunk by Huw and I while we weighed our options. Sam Magdeleno is more than capable of doing an amazing job on breaking and starting Jimmy and so after discussions between him, Huw and I, the 3 of us decided to give Jim a chance. It will be a long process because Jimmy is a challenge and it certainly won’t be a “quick fix”, but because Sam is so good, when he is finished Jimmy will be an amazing riding horse.
This year, Huw and I have been married 10 years. It therefore seems very fitting that his wedding anniversary present is the training of the son of the mare that started this whole American Quarter Horse journey. Jimmy is never going to be “that horse”. He’s not going to be the horse that gets passed from pillar to post developing more and more issues. Hopefully in 20 years, I’ll be writing about his retirement and all the exciting things we have done together and he won’t have the long convoluted history of either Topsicanna or Black Beauty. Hopefully I’ll just be looking back on the life of a well loved quirky little horse.
I’m excited about Jim and the future and after all our heartache with him, it’s a nice place to be. Watch this space!