Many of you already know this story and have been following his progress with me ever since his rescue, but I felt the need to share it in one piece. Not only for our friends, but for the people out there who are struggling, who don't know if they can make it work and who aren't sure if it is worth the time.
You can and it is.
The moment I saw him at that auction yard, my heart left all reason behind. It didn't matter that his note said he was hard to catch and was for an experienced rider only (heck, I was experienced). I went into his auction pen and gave him a hug and this boy, as unsure as he was, nodded his chin against me and I was sold.
As a rescue rule, we never buy horses that could possibly have another home, so I waited with baited breath as he was run loose in the auction pen. He was going to be sold for meat. I nugged Julie and beside me she continued to raise her hand. Then that was it, he was mine. As I was leading him out of his paddock, a friend warned me that she had tried him the day before the sale and guess what... he bucked like a banshee.
Well, this bucker was mine now, for better or worse.
After we got him home, I decided to name him Kal-El (aka Superman) because I had a feeling this horse was about to save me in a whole lot of ways.
It didn't take me long to learn that he was previously on a dude string (no wonder he was a bucker) and that he was then used as a pack horse. I had our chiropractor out for him immediately to discover he was extremely misaligned and we deemed it was likely from ill-fitting saddles and unbalanced riders.
Due to his bucking issues and sourness and anxiety under-saddle, we spent the first three months of our relationship riding bareback on the trails and in the ring. We even did our local Christmas parade in December 2011 with nothing but a bridle and a bareback pad. It was an interesting experience to say the least. After the parade, a friend told us that we weren't a good pair; that we weren't really meant to be. That he was too anxious a horse for me and that unless I was able to trust him, we would never work.
In January I decided it was time to start working him with an actual saddle and from there, I worked on fixing his bucking habits as well as his anxiety and herdboundness issues. In fact, we spent our first Summer together in 2012 riding almost every other day with a friend. It wasn't without issue and there was a lot of anxiety and unpredictability that I had to overcome.
I always kept my friends words in the back of my head and it was one day that they sank in. I finally decided this was silly. It was silly to let my horse make me nervous. It was silly to be afraid of what he might do and spend a ride imagining that he was going to bolt or buck. The whole thing was just silly.
That was when my entire focus changed and Kal-El and I became a team. I took to him as a challenge; something fun. Instead of being nervous, I just told him to bring it on and guess what - nothing bad happened! Sure, I had a couple falls off of him but both times were bareback in sweats when he fumbled at a canter, so just a silly fall. He has never thrown me, though he has thrown his bridle before - now THAT was interesting.
Regardless of all of the fumbles in this journey, it has now been a year and nine months since I brought this big boy home. And guess what? The bucking issues are a long way behind us and we have beaten 99% of his anxiety. We can now ride up the road to the ring, have our session and ride home without a hitch - even with cars blowing by, thunderstorms pelting down and dogs loose on the road. In fact, my experienced-rider-only horse is almost safe enough for an advanced beginner these days.
I could go on for miles and miles about this horse. About the interesting moments we have had, about the times I didn't think it could work, about the times he didn't think it could work and about all the amazing rides we have had, but moral of the story is believe you can, and you will succeed. I know it sounds ridiculous and the most yawn-worthy cliche there is, but it is true. I cannot tell you enough that it is true. And when you have that good moment or that good ride, hold onto it. Imagine it every time you go out, because if you can imagine it, you can make it happen again and again.
I know my horse inside and out now and we have amazing rides every single time we go out now, but it took time and patience and understanding to get there, but was it worth it? All the tears, sweat and frustration. Yes, yes it was. I really don't know what my life would be like without Kal-El and I am glad that I took the challenge to lead us to become the pair we are today.
Granted, not all rescue horses come with problems, but they do come with a need to be understood and that was really all that was missing in Kal's life before he came to me. And while there will always be things to work on and new challenges to overcome, I am ready for it. Are you?