As I looked up from my phone and stretched my stiff legs, the view of the German countryside blurred before me. Andy and I were clipping along the Autobahn at some metric warp speed that I lack the mathematical skills to convert to mph.
We came to Germany for a couple reasons. First, and probably most importantly, because we are trying to say ‘yes’ more. What I mean by that is, to stop making excuses and carpe the damn diem. Seize the day, live the moment, whatever cliché you want to apply, the truth is life is short and the events of the past couple years have convinced us more than ever that we need to live a bit.
So goofing around one night, we found cheap tickets to Frankfurt and booked them within 15 minutes.
Trust me, I’m all about spinning the globe, closing your eyes and planting your finger on a location, but this destination was no accident. I’ve been dreaming of a pilgrimage to show jumping mecca for years. In the weeks preceding the trip I contacted a few friends of friends of friends and put together a rough itinerary of where to go and what to see.
And by what, I mean what horses.
Andy was in charge of cultural activities (i.e. castles, football and all things food).
People kept asking me, what was I looking for in a horse? What was my budget? What did I want? These are great questions.
What I wanted was a back-up dancer for Fiona. She’s an incredible horse, but the burden of my ambition is heavy for one horse to bear. Having a second upper level horse would enable Fi to have a little more down time between shows and give me more experience at the upper levels.
Me and Fiona.
Also, it would be great if this hypothetical horse vetted well and could be a resale candidate. So that’s all fine and good, seems rational, right? Budgets are a funny thing. What’s my budget? Can I pay you in hugs?
So yes, if you’re wondering, I would like a unicorn.
A week or so before we left, a good friend of mine sent me a video of a horse. A really good horse. It was under 10 years old, a gelding, over 16 hands, had four functioning limbs, two eyes, did not require a bit that looked like a folding chair or any other nonsense and he was showing at 1.40-meter in Europe. And he was well out of my budget.
Somehow the address for this mythical creature found its way into our Waze and after a whirlwind tour of Belgium (where we tried really lovely youngsters for a client, one of whom is slated to arrive New Year’s Eve! Party time… waiting for the shipper) and some sightseeing in Amsterdam, we were on our way to Warstein, Germany.
Obligatory castle photo—we saw lots of castles!
The whole way to the farm I felt guilty. I hate tire kickers. I loathe the customers who waste my time trying horses they cannot afford and have no intention of buying. What was I doing? I rationalized trying the horse by saying to myself that though I could not afford him, I did have some intention of buying him. I just wasn’t sure how.
By the time we arrived at the farm I had decided that there was no way short of being struck by a meteor of cash that I could possibly buy this horse. But by this point to cancel would have been rude. And since the appointment had been set up by a good friend of a friend I felt like I had to politely go through the motions, and then politely find a reason why it wouldn’t work, try to play it cool and slink away with whatever shreds of dignity I had left.
Which is to say that I knew all along that this horse would be very well suited to me and that to come up with a reason not to buy him (aside from my lack of dollars) would be difficult.
I’ve tried loads of horses in my life and it’s like speed dating. Most of the time you have a pleasant conversation but you’re not really all that interested in a second date. And that’s OK. That’s what we as horse sellers know and expect. And maybe I’m a masochist. Maybe I like to want what I can’t have. Maybe in some weird way I needed to check that box, to sit on him and hopefully take the magic away.
I needed to confirm that this horse was a horse. And to tell myself, like I tell my clients when things don’t work out, there are plenty of fish in the sea and we’ll find the right one.
When I walked into the barn and saw him standing in the cross-ties I tried not to notice his charming, gigantic ears. Or his double whorl incorporated into the tiny white dot on his forehead. Nope, I would not be swayed by overwhelming cuteness.
Cute was not what I needed in an upper level competitor, but it didn’t hurt. I had made up my mind that when I tried this horse I would press all the buttons. I had to see if he could answer all the questions asked and if he didn’t know what I wanted, what was his response?
When trying young or greener horses, I make an effort not to put more pressure on them than is reasonable for their level of training. My expectations for this horse were different. I needed to see if we could communicate easily and instantly.
Yes, relationships are formed with horses over long periods of time. But when I’m evaluating an upper level prospect for myself and I have a limited amount of time to do so, I need a base level of compatibility with a horse to feel comfortable moving forward. So much of what we ask them to do requires an enormous amount of trust from both parties and that trust starts with the ability to communicate from go.
It goes without saying that the magic was there. I instantly felt comfortable on the horse. Some hearts and butterflies and lateral work and flying changes and several large fences later and the wheels were turning.
I posted a little video clip on Facebook and a friend/client commented that I should bring that one home. I sent her message, somewhat jokingly, saying that I’d love to bring him home but would need a lot of help in the dollars department to make that happen.
And then something totally unexpected happened—she offered to help. And then another client offered to help. And then, with one more investor coming on board, this nonsensical idea became reality. I had looked into putting a syndicate together a while back, but just felt so uncomfortable asking people for money. I’ve always worked very hard to earn the things that I have and just didn’t feel right holding my hand out and waiting for a check to float down into it.
But let me be clear, yes this horse will be great for my career but he is ultimately for resale and the goal is for my investors (yes, they are investors, not donors) to get a nice return on their investment.
For the past week I’ve walked around in this haze of equal parts disbelief and anticipation. My friends and clients asked me if I was excited and I realized that I hadn’t allowed myself to get excited yet. The whole thing was such a fantasy to me just a few weeks ago that I kept expecting the entire transaction to fall through at the last moment.
This is the thing about spending your life in horses, you become accustomed to extreme highs and lows. Your entire situation can change in a matter of seconds (and often does) so allowing yourself to get excited also opens the door for devastating disappointment. So yes, I am excited, in my own way.
Years of working in horses has shortened my emotional bandwidth so that I don’t completely short circuit when things don’t go how I’d planned. It’s a bit Darwinian really. I’ve adapted emotionally in order to survive in the industry.
But the other side of that might seem a bit muted to the casual observer. For the first time in my life, I have a confirmed 1.40-meter horse that is possibly the most rideable animal I’ve ever sat on. He is beautiful, sound, kind and likes my ride.
He makes me smile.
I should be doing cartwheels down the barn aisle. But maybe I’m getting older (I did turn 30, gasp) or wiser or just finally understanding the scope of what takes to ride at the upper levels. Having the right horse is essential, but there is so much more that goes into a winning round.
Know this—I am overwhelmingly grateful for the investors who are the reason this horse is standing in my barn right now. I am humbled and in awe of their generosity. Their contributions are more than just money; they are a ringing endorsement of my program, my riding and me.
Their faith in this scrappy pony kid from Virginia Beach means more than they will ever know.
Chronicle blogger and up and coming hunter/jumper trainer Paige Cade spent most of the 2015 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival working for Margie Engle’s Gladewinds Farm, and has recently made the decision to return to Virginia to start her own riding and training business, Country Fox Farm, Inc. Paige would like to thank Antares, Equine Omega Complete, Dr. Sallie Hyman and Total Equine Veterinary Associates for their continued support for the 2016 season. Read all her blog entries.