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A New Home for Cowboy

By Cindy Hale

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

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Palomino gelding Cowboy

Looking lean and leggy in the midst of another growth spurt, Cowboy poses for a photo before going to his new home

I’ve been hearing how tough it is to sell a horse in today’s rough economy, and now I’ve experienced it firsthand. My mother, sister and I were forced to accept that there aren’t many buyers shopping for a horse, especially not a barely broke youngster needing further training. Of course I’m talking about Cowboy, the three-year-old palomino gelding out of my mom’s pretty Trakehner mare.

Since I’ve written about Cowboy here before—and charted his progress from being ponied around town as a baby to being started under saddle last year—you might wonder why we decided to sell him. It’s simple: Things changed.

When my mom decided to breed Cowboy’s dam to a fancy cremello AQHA stallion, we all figured we’d end up using the foal as a family horse. Maybe my sister would get into dressage. Perhaps I’d have another trail horse. When he was born we even daydreamed about competing at the Palomino World Show. Then reality set in.

Instead of the pain and paralysis in my right arm improving, it has gotten worse. My sister has had several knee replacement surgeries. We’re just not in baby greenie mode anymore. To top it off, who knew I was going to come across Danny, the big black and white Paint now standing in my backyard? The last thing I need is a third horse.

Such unexpected circumstances are why I warn people who are contemplating breeding their mare. It takes about four years from the time the mare is bred until you’re able to sit astride the results of your reproductive endeavor. In other words, it’s a long time, and stuff happens in your life.

I have to say, I admire my mother for making responsible choices. Once we knew we weren’t going to keep Cowboy she paid for several months of professional training. “No one will want him at any price if he isn’t broke to ride,” she said wisely. Although my sister and I did all the prep work and ground-driving, our days of breaking babies are over. So off he went to kindergarten. Then I placed some ads, stuck a reasonable price on the youngster, and waited.

The lack of a response was eerie. Not that long ago, when we placed our young sport horses on the market, there was so much interest that I scribbled appointments for trials and vet checks on a special calendar in the tackroom. But now, with high unemployment rates and an overall lack of funds for luxury items (like palomino hunter prospects), the horse market was dead.

Eventually I did get a few inquiries, but none were the proper home. I wasn’t about to sell Cowboy to a young kid or an amateur who’d never schooled a green horse before. The most memorable call came from a heavily-accented fellow who scolded me for gelding Cowboy. “How could you do that to such a beautiful animal? You could’ve made money. He could’ve made beautiful golden babies!”

I started to respond with my rant about there being too many stallions already in this world but then decided it wasn’t worth wasting my breath.

Faced with either hiring a local pro to occasionally school Cowboy or riding him a few days a week myself, I decided to take a different approach. I called people that I knew would provide a proper home and offered them Cowboy at what I called a “friends and family” price point. Several of my contacts were interested, but they simply couldn’t factor another hay burner into their budget.

Then I called sweet, cheery Karole, one of my huntseat trainer pals. My family has known her for about fifteen years. She grew up riding at the venerable Foxfield Riding School north of Los Angeles and has a small clientele of dedicated kids and enthusiastic amateur adults. Right up front she told me she didn’t have much money to spend on a horse, a story that had become painfully familiar. Yet she respected our homebred show horses and was intrigued that Cowboy came from the same bloodlines. So I encouraged her to come and make us an offer. She arrived with her trailer in tow last weekend.

Of course someone had to demonstrate to Karole what Cowboy did—and didn’t—know under saddle. And that someone was me. Keep in mind that I’d ridden him only twice before, at the walk and trot, and that was last August. As in a year ago. But he’d just come from 60 days of training with Molly Jenks, a bubbly, optimistic trainer best known for working with BLM mustangs. What could go wrong?

Nothing. I tacked up Cowboy in a simple snaffle and a loose running martingale. Then I cinched up my lightweight western saddle, longed him for a few minutes, and fastened my helmet. I turned to Karole and reminded her, “I’m pretty much in the same boat as you’re going to be: climbing on a green broke colt that someone else has been riding.”

And you know what? Once I got his steering engaged he was fine. He glided across the ground at the trot and floated at the canter. He gladly picked up both leads and made no attempt to rush off. He was forward, but not quick or tense.

Honestly, for a moment I envisioned myself riding Cowboy at a show, in hunters under saddle maybe, or equitation. I could almost hear someone on the rail commenting, “Oh, there’s Cindy on her pretty palomino!”

But unfortunately, that’s a scene from another lifetime.

And so Cowboy was sold to Karole. Even though we didn’t get the price we wanted, we got something better: the proper home. We know he’ll be loved and cared for, and get the training he’ll need to achieve his full potential. As my mom said, we were responsible for creating him, so it was the right thing to do.

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Cindy Hale    Horse Channel, CA

9/13/2011 10:45:20 AM

THANKS FOR YOUR COMMENTS!

ONE OF THE REASONS MY FAMILY AND I GOT OUT OF BREEDING HORSES AS A BUSINESS WAS BECAUSE WE DID FEEL RESPONSIBLE FOR EACH FOAL'S EXISTENCE, AND THEREFORE RESPONSIBLE FOR FINDING THEM SUITABLE HOMES. THAT ISN'T ALWAYS POSSIBLE, ESPECIALLY IN TODAY'S MARKET. CURRENTLY THERE ARE FAR TOO MANY HORSES AND NOT ENOUGH BUYERS WHO CAN AFFORD TO CARE FOR A HORSE PROPERLY.

I AM CONFIDENT THAT COWBOY WILL GROW INTO A REMARKABLE HORSE NOW. KAROLE WILL LOOK AFTER HIM, THAT'S FOR SURE!

AND YES, LAURIE, FOXFIELD REMAINS A WONDERFUL RIDING SCHOOL AND SUMMER HORSE CAMP, STILL EMBRACING THE TRADITION OF HANDS-ON HORSEMANSHIP AND HORSE CARE, WHICH SO MANY MODERN BARNS ARE LACKING.

Pat    Great Falls, MT

9/10/2011 9:01:53 PM

A good home is priceless. I wish everyone felt that way!

Laurie    Petaluma, CA

9/8/2011 2:18:42 PM

Foxfield is a great place for your horse to live. My daughter attended riding camp there eighteen years ago and still tells about it today.

Cami    Bluffdale, UT

9/8/2011 12:00:54 PM

I wish more people felt responsible for the well-being of their horses when faced with selling them, for whatever reason. Great story and great example for everyone who reads it. It's easy to buy a horse, but not so easy to take the steps to ensure they have a happy and safe future when circumstances change and they need a new home.

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