Yesterday, thirty years ago now, I began a bit of an uncharted journey in the pursuit of a better riding horse for myself. I knew, as a somewhat competitive person that I know myself to be, that to win, I needed a better horse than what I had and I needed one better than what I could immediately afford, and thus I turned to breeding horses to get to my goal in stages, one foal at a time, a leap frogging up the quality scale.
My first foal was a cross between a grade Walking Horse and a racing Quarter Horse. The resulting mare was only 14hh but she was my first competition mount that I raised, broke, and trained. Fast forward thirty years and I have since then bred, trained, and sold some incredibly good horses during these years, primarily of the Dutch Warmblood breed for dressage and sport. I have even had one colt shipped to Holland as a stallion prospect, in a kind of “carrying coal to New Castle” situation, where a breeder over there wanted the gene pool I had to go back to Holland.
The gene pool carrier that I had was in the shape of one of the loveliest mares I have ever seen. She was Joline, an imported Dutch mare of such refinement, intelligence, athletic ability, character, and beauty, that she was incomparable. During the time I had the privilege of knowing her, she produced a string of some of the best young horses, all around, that I could have ever imagined, all of them sharing her quality and beauty.
Somewhere along the way, my pursuit of a better horse for myself also became a boutique business to produce and sell these animals, and since my foals were so nice, they sold quickly, usually as babies and a few that I started and then later sold. I always thought that I would pick one that would be the one that I would keep as my most likely last mount, not necessarily to show but to keep and ride for my own pleasure as a lifetime reward for a job well done. Three years ago Joline foaled a colt that I thought was to be the one.
On an early misty morning when the sun was beginning to rise and as a bright full moon was sliding below the tree line to the west, she delivered what I didn’t know then, her last foal, a colt. This colt was culmination of all of my years of studying pedigrees, statistics on bloodlines, culling and infusing the herd as I went. This colt was perfect. After a bit of confusion on his sex at birth, a story written in another previous blog, he was named Fandango. “Fandango” proved to be way too much for my vet to remember and so the boy became, simply, “Frank”, and Frank, was perfect.
Lanky and long legged, but perfectly balanced from the moment he stood, he was eye candy. A rich carmel color with a broad white blaze and three white socks, flaxen mane and tail; he was gorgeous with a prettiness almost too much for a colt and was mesmerizing to watch as he played in his paddock with his mom always nearby, keeping an eye on her boy. His early days were spent in happy hours of playing with imaginary creatures that were to be stomped on, kicked, and then run away from, only to return to them to repeat until he became too tired or hungry, or both and did what babies do best, sleep.
Having spent the many years raising these babies, teaching them to lead and be handled, later breaking them to ride it has been impossible not to form deep bonds with them. It was always hard to sell any of them. Reality is quite real at times, and when the bills said it was time to sell, I did, and so I sent them on to new owners and turned back to the breeding shed to make another to replace it.
After Joline had Frank I had decided that, with her advancing age and his being the one that I had chosen to be my keeper, I would retire her from breeding. I let her have a year off but looked at her the next year and said what the heck, try it again. So I bred her to the same stallion as Frank, as that cross had been the most perfect of all of her wonderful foals to date. She carried the foal to term but in a tragic glitch in foaling, I lost both the foal and this incredible mare. Frank was the last to be. The factory, and my enthusiasm and stomach for risking another mare’s life in foaling, was gone.
For three happy years Frank grew up, doing the things that young colts do before they are introduced to the idea of work, which is not much, besides being a drop dead pasture ornament and he excelled at that. Always polite, easy to deal with, engaging and friendly I was eager to really get to know him as a riding horse. The “for sale” sign has long loomed over my barn and with Frank living under it, I knew that there was always a possibility that in case of reality I might need to sell him. A call came for someone to see him and I knew then that my plans were going to be rerouted as far as his life with me.
Over the course of my years of sadly saying goodbye to my horses, I have tried to limit how deeply their moving on touches me, but I can’t, and haven’t. I have been so lucky to have found so many great homes for my horses and they have had great lives and careers. And in truth I could never have ridden them all, but there is always a big empty place in my heart and in the barn yard every time one leaves.
Frank was different though. He was the last colt of a truly great mare, and I really didn’t want to see him go. Reality again, proved to be the winner on the decision and I delivered him on Monday to his new owner and, it was tough.
Finding consolation can be hard sometimes but this time I was able to find it in the fact that out of the two of the people that I would have ever imagined having wanted to have this colt if I couldn’t, one of them called me about him. A very long time friend and an excellent rider and trainer was the lucky person who will now take this fellow along, and I know that he is in the best of hands and that he will be treated with superb care. The fact too that he is only across town in nice so that I can go and see him and give him a scratch when I feel the need. It will be fun to watch him fulfill his genetic destiny of being a competition horse, which I probably would not have done, with his new owner and I feel sure they will do very well.
My barn is quieter now, down to my last three mares and Tony the pony. My ritual in my feeding has not quit measuring out Frank’s feed before I remember his absence and pour the feed back in the can. In time, it will, I know. In a way, though, it is nice to be out from under the pressure of the years of breeding, marketing, training, riding them all every day, and maintaining the farm. The farm maintenance remains in place but perhaps now I can do some catch up to some of the things that have been pushed aside for so long. The road is still open.