Wednesday, Apr. 17, 2024

A Letter To My New Horse

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Dear Testa,

First, I want to give you a huge welcome to our family. We may not be extremely large, but you join a wonderful human counterpart and three pretty fantastic cats in this journey through life. While you won’t ever meet the felines, I’m certain that very soon my husband will introduce himself with cookies, carrots or whatever horse treats make you the happiest. 

Second, with full disclosure, you should know that this is not my first attempt at horse ownership, and that it hasn’t always gone extremely well in the past. This is not a challenge to have you try to top what came before (please don’t), but just to let you know that we all come with our baggage, humans included.

You see, with my first horse, I came into the partnership with preconceived notions about what the experience “should” look like, along with very rigid ideas about how to enjoy a life with her. After she injured herself in a pasture accident, rather than take the time to expand my viewpoint, I instead doubled down. I decided I wanted to show at a specific level in a specific division in a specific way, and purchased another lovely mare with that very specific vision in my head. 

So when things again didn’t go according to plan, the upset I felt due to my unmet expectations absolutely floored me. I couldn’t see a path forward at all anymore, and felt anger and sadness and frustration at all of the people who I felt at the time had let me down—most of all, at myself. I decided that not being a part of horses was easier than the heartbreak that always seemed to follow me when I had them. 

Testa, blogger Sophie Coffey’s new off-track Thoroughbred project (Connect—Rovenna, Vronsky), in his new home getting to know his surroundings. Photos Courtesy Of Sophie Coffey 

I spent the better part of the past year not owning a horse. I worked on my house, I played video games, I rode my bike and ran, I read books, and I focused on my job. I still rode once a week on a generous friend’s wonderful mare Lucy, who is the sort of horse I loved being around, and whose presence made me leave the barn happier than when I arrived, no matter what we wound up doing together. 

I can’t remember the specific moment I started to look at horses again. All I know is that by the end of December, I had almost all of the off-track Thoroughbred Facebook sale pages bookmarked, and I was poring over them daily. Confession time: You were not the first horse I chose or even the second. I went through several pre-purchase exams with red-flag issues. I took more trips. I looked at more horses. Nothing else really caught my eye, and more importantly, nothing else had caught my heart. I thought maybe it wasn’t meant to be. 

You popped up on Facebook the week after I flew home from my first Florida trip, and I reached out the same day your ad was posted only to find, not surprisingly, that someone had already lined up a PPE on you. I asked the seller to keep me in the loop, but also crossed you off the list. Several weeks later, though, the seller reached back out and disclosed that you were still available along with the reason why. I decided to line up just one more trip to Florida and put you on the list to see. 

I walked into the barn, and there you were, a plain bay with a sun bleached tail, standing in the crossties looking happy and interested in everything going on around you. You were calm but also inquisitive, wanting to be a part of the action, following people with your eyes and seemingly saying, “What are we up to? Something fun?”

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I remember the moment when, cantering around on you, I broke into a huge smile. This is what riding was supposed to feel like—light, effortless, smooth. I cut across the diagonal and changed directions, finding that feeling immediately on the other lead and again, grinning like a 5-year-old as you floated over the ground. You came back down to the walk only through the ask of my seat on a loose rein. I loved riding you.

I had some time between my appointments, so I volunteered to give you a post-trial bath. We went into the wash rack together, and you stood very still but not in a way that was tired or disinterested. You were just enjoying the water, calmly tracking my movements and perking up your ears when others walked by. You grabbed at the sponge when I washed off your face, seeing if it was (maybe?) edible. You were a very good, happy baby horse.

Later that night, though, I received your first PPE report along with the X-rays that made the original buyer walk away. There they were, the several close dorsal spinous processes that made up the “kissing spines” along your back. The PPE report said nothing dire, just that you required certain maintenance, and that you were at a higher risk level. The first buyer passed because you were a resale prospect for her. 

So, what was I going to do? 

Testa, this is where things got really tricky for me. On the one hand, I had that amazing feeling from riding you, and the time I spent giving you a bath. I had your goofy demeanor and your inquisitive face on my mind. On the other hand, I had the internet and these X-rays at my fingertips.

“It took riding for a year without owning a horse to realize it’s not the riding I missed. It’s the horse. And you’re the horse for me,” Coffey writes. 

So I went into full research mode, reading through multiple studies, blog posts and forums. I recruited no less than four top veterinarians to help me sort through the information, and I did another PPE on my own. I spoke to multiple friends and trainers, both former and current. But nobody could help me sort out the crux of the dilemma: Currently, this is not bothering you. Also, you currently are in light work and very young. What will the future look like, even with all of the proper exercises and maintenance and due diligence? How can anyone possibly know? 

Despite all of that, and despite my terrible past luck and upset, I moved forward with you and made you mine. Here’s why.

It took riding for a year without owning a horse to realize it’s not the riding I missed. It’s the horse. And you’re the horse for me. 

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This time, I have no preconceived ideas about what we’ll be doing together on a daily basis. I have no goals past doing the best I can by you and developing a relationship based on mutual respect. And while I will take all of the time I can get with your gorgeous canter, and not take it for granted, I also know full well it’s not the reason why I want you. If we go to all of the big horse shows and take the circuit by storm, great. If we trail ride around, exploring the countryside together, great. If we play on the ground together, learning tricks and tackling obstacle courses, great. 

This time around, you are the point in and of itself. You already owe me nothing. I’m so excited to welcome you into our life, for the entirety of your life, to see what fun we’ll have together and what memories we’ll make. I hope you love being with us. We already love being with you.

Very Truly, Your New Horse Mom, 

Sophie


Sophie Coffey grew up riding by the seat of her pants in Virginia hunt country, and she took a flying leap into the top levels of the sport through sheer will and luck after a cold call landed her a job at Hunterdon, Inc. She continued freelancing as a jack-of-all-trades through her 20s for some of the top names in the industry, getting the best education possible in horsemanship and larger life lessons. After leaving the sport to pursue a career in marketing, she returned in 2018 as an adult amateur. She resides in Richmond, Virginia, with her fully indoctrinated horsey husband and several kitties. Follow her adventures on Instagram @coffeyinthesaddle.

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