Why We Do This

Skylar trying Preston before buying him.

I went through a horrible horse sale a few months ago. The buyers weren’t honest with their abilities nor their expectations, and I didn’t investigate hard enough to realize it. I went with my gut instinct and learned it is not 100% foolproof.

So as I drove the 18 hours to go pick up my horse and bring him back home, I stared off into the distance with tears in my eyes. “I can’t do this. Ever again,” I thought.

I am not a “horse salesmen” or “horse trader”, but I do occasionally sell a horse. I love taking young horses—specifically ones off of the racetrack—and teaching them new skills that will increase their chances of a useful and safe future. And each time, I warn the potential buyers that I am not here to dupe them. I want 100% honesty, and 100% transparency. I want them to love my sales horses on their worst day, in addition to their best.

But this last sale scarred me. As it unfolded I couldn’t help but recall all those seller horror stories I’d heard about through the years. How all horse sellers were crooked, and how traumatizing of an experience it is to try to buy a horse.

I moped around the house telling everyone who would listen that I was done. No more horse sales. No more retraining off the track thoroughbreds. It wasn’t worth the tears and heartache when it failed. I had a different point of view. The opposite point of view. And for all of those unethical and horrendous horse traders and sellers that were being written about there are plenty of decent people out there just like me who just want to give guidance to a young horse, find the perfect owner, and then sit back and watch them grow.

As I said this out loud my boyfriend turned to me and laughed. It goes both ways, he reminded me. Sure, there might be that one horrible buyer who sours your view of this passion of yours, but to counteract the actions of that one are the countless beautiful relationships I have formed with others.

This became no more apparent then last weekend. As I lamented over my own financial inability to show I scoured the online scores both near and far. I knew plenty of my friends were showing at the Kentucky Horse Park, while a few others had hauled as far as Morven.

I focused primarily on the Training Rider division here at KHP, knowing one of “mine” was attempting this level with his young rider aboard. It was the first training for both, and as someone who spent her entire young life trying to conquer that level, I shared an appreciation for the nerves and fear that accompanied this move up. But I had utter faith in this duo, and was excited for this day.

I got “Preston” (Prescient, by Devil His Due x Dear Phil) almost two years ago. Sydney, a friend of mine from graduate school had messaged me to say her father had this horse in need of a new career. When I asked the cliche questions (age, height, soundness, brain) she responded with the words I liked to hear (4, 17hh, 100%, sloth).

When I went to see him at the track I knew immediately he was coming home with me. He was massive and awkward but sound on bare feet and had just recently spent six months in a field to allow a growth spurt to work itself out.

Preston at the track the day I met him.
Preston at the track the day I met him.

Sydney and her father Scooter explained how this had been his primary problem—each time he had gotten going in his training, he would become 4″ butt high and they would send him home for some time off. But now, at the age of 4, without a single start and with more of a lope than a gallop, her father thought it was time to let him go have fun with something else.

So home he came, for a future with me.

Preston took to his new sport horse life like a fish to water. Within two rides on the flat he was happily bending and attempting lateral work. With the knowledge that he was both sound and already let down I asked him to pop over some small fences and he willingly offered nothing but calmness and willingness. Both on the farm and off he showed his true colors—a brilliant rainbow of happiness, ability, and the most amazing brain I had ever experienced.

First day at home, butt high…again. Photo by Susan Black
First day at home, butt high…again. Photo by Susan Black

So off we went. One week after I hauled him home from the race track, Preston had his first XC school, loping over logs, coops, and water, his ears perked the entire time.

Two weeks after he came home, he went to his first jumper show and happily tucked his knees over the 2’6 fences, never blinking at the atmosphere or environment.

And three weeks after he stepped off of the trailer Preston went to his first CT at beginner novice and threw down a cadenced dressage test and a double clean stadium. I was IN LOVE.

First XC School
First XC School

Then, two days after the combined test, he was sold.

I had never even advertised Preston due to the small amount of time I had had him and the amount of fun I was having bringing him along. But a message appeared in my email asking his price and inquiring about his temperament and my availability to show him. I laughed as I wrote back, knowing there was no way that the stars would align for him to sell this quickly. And, I couldn’t help but remember my last misadventure.

But I was wrong. Sell, he did.

The moment I saw 13-year-old Skylar hop up on Preston and work him through his juvenile paces while chatting with her mother about their expectations, I felt good about this partnership.

Skylar had competed up through beginner novice on her small horse, but going through a growth spurt herself, they knew she needed a larger partner. She was young but capable, and more importantly, completely ready to take on the adventures in front of her that come with bringing up a young horse by yourself.

And bring him along, she did.

I have been able to follow their journey for the last two years, from their first beginner novice where I growled for her at the large table, to warming up at stadium rings when her trainer was 9 months pregnant. Through text and social media I have enjoyed being a bystander, cheerleader, support system, and a “big sister” to this teenager I have come to love so much.

Nothing made me more nervous, and more excited, then watching them tackle their first training level this past weekend at the Kentucky Horse Park.

As I ran to the finish flags, bursting into happy tears and fist pumping in the air, I realized that this is exactly why I do this. This feeling of joy as I get to watch a horse I started continue on to a successful future. The feeling of happiness as I receive the text message and social media updates from his loved ones. And, the feeling of retrospective awe as I watch these young women tackle goals that I once had myself—goals that “my” horses were now helping them accomplish.

A huge embrace at the end of the course. Photo by JJ Sillman.
A huge embrace at the end of the course. Photo by JJ Sillman.

So no, I don’t think I will give up. Someone has to be there to give these horses a solid start or a steady transition, and I know I am capable of exactly that. And someone has to be there to make the introductions between these horses and their forever homes. To hold the teenagers hands as they struggle, to hand the moms a glass of wine as they panic, and to grab the trainers in an embrace as they celebrate.

At the end of the day, it’s the opportunity to watch a life unfold with all the ups, downs, successes and failures, and also life-altering changes, both equestrian and otherwise.

Not only has Skylar turned Preston into a successful sport horse, but Preston has turned Skylar into a competent and beautiful event rider. A young woman. One with qualities that will assist her through life—respect, dedication, determination, and full of try.

And me? Well I get to watch it all unfold. And that makes me so happy.


About the Author

Carleigh Fedorka is a Ph.D. student at the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center. A Pennsylvania native, she moved to Kentucky after graduating from St. Lawrence University and has worked closely in all aspects of the thoroughbred industry. She spends her free time eventing as well as training, selling and rehoming OTTBs. Read more about her horse life at her blog, A Yankee in Paris.

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