In Which Ephraim Grows Up

Jun 3, 2014 - 1:24 AM
Six months after Liz Arbittier "rescued" Eph, the gelding has really blossomed.

Fast forward six months, and things sure have changed since the day I met Ephraim. My decision to trust a stranger who was trying to save a horse has been rewarded in more ways than one.

Eph is now a massive, self-confident, late 4-year-old. Solidly built, with a brilliantly reflective black coat and an arched neck, he walks around like he is the king of the world, and we are all his minions. Although, actually, he doesn’t walk. He stomps! You cannot physically have a conversation in the barn when he heads down the aisle because the noise obliterates everything. A daisy-cutter he surely isn’t.

The size of his head and ears hasn’t shrunk, but he has somehow grown into them. When he goes somewhere new, people are drawn to him. They tell me how handsome my horse is, which makes me laugh and laugh, though I’ve learned not to say, “Really?!” They ask how he’s bred! They ask what he does!

He isn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but Eph seems to have presence. Writing this blog has been a really fun experience for me. Eph and I have made a lot of new friends, and your support through our ups and downs has been most appreciated. Happily, this post is all about our recent ups!

He has discovered his jumping legs and is proving to be pretty special. After our very first jump school, I declared him a fabulous dressage prospect. Luckily, our slow and positive approach to schooling him has revealed a fabulous jumper underneath the rough exterior.

Eventer Kate Hicks has him in full training, and we hack to Boyd Martin’s to school over his stadium jumps. There is plenty to look at in that ring, and it feels like show mileage. He has been very brave about jumping scary jump filler and will generally trot any fence you point him at, even if it’s a solid, wide 2’9″ horse-eating cutout wall! He never even glanced twice at the liverpool. He has been to Boyd’s several times now, and I swear that after each jump school, the horse grows another inch and gets that much more cocky.

He is, and probably always will be, a severely looky horse, and you have to really stay deep in the saddle to avoid eating dirt, though he rarely spooks at what he’s jumping. He continues to hate it if you lean forward out of the tack, as I discovered on my third ride… ouch.

And he still retains ownership of “The Move,” which nearly got Kate a few days ago… it is a completely dirty move designed to shoot you off. Though, he never employs it when he’s jumping, only when he doesn’t feel like flatting.

Using Boyd’s big ring has dramatically improved his canter, and he has actually started hunting the jumps. The size of the jumps doesn’t faze him at all, and his front end gets better and better. Frankly, it had nowhere to go but up. It will never be knees-to-nose, but, luckily, the hind end wants to be great.

I’ve had single oxers up to 3’6″, and he is schooling over courses at 3′-3’3″, clearing each jump with a foot to spare. The size of the jump is not a factor yet, which is exciting! At one point, he came into a small jump without paying attention, blasted through it, and scared himself. I saw his whole expression change—he went from cocky pseudo-stallion to fetal 4-year-old. The minute I saw that, the fences went down, and he was confident again. He is SO careful. I don’t want to rush him, but I do want to keep him interested.

Kate and I are having a lot of fun with him, and he is so affectionate with me now. Every time he schools, I spend time going over the video, debating what he needs to do and work on next time. We’ve scheduled two days to go down to my dear friend Kevin Babington’s barn where Kate will ride Eph in a lesson. He will stay overnight and either she will lesson again the next day, or Kevin will school him.

It’s still a couple of weeks away, and I’m already excited. I can’t wait for Kevin to see him and for Eph to have another experience off the farm, even if we keep the jumps tiny. I am trying to do my homework in every way, including practicing loading and shipping by schlepping him around with me in the trailer while I run errands on weekends. I’m in no rush with him, I just want to build a fun horse for the future. I hope our next update is a great lesson report—fingers crossed!

Liz Arbittier, VMD, CVA, is an equine field service veterinarian at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center. She also enjoys rescuing elderly shelter dogs and just added Byron, an elderly blind poodle, to her household. Byron joins Virgil, Cybil, Gladys, and Maude (and Liz) in Coatesville, Pa. She grew up riding hunters and breaking babies, rode IHSA in college, and got her start in show jumping before vet school when she took a job riding with and managing Kevin Babington’s team. She is currently riding with four-star event rider, Kate Hicks in Cochranville, Pa.

You can read all of Liz’s blogs about Ephraim here.


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