Air Horse One: An Amateur’s Move To The United Kingdom (Part 1)

Jun 1, 2021 - 7:59 AM

Well, hello there. It’s been a minute. I have some rather exciting news. (Ever wondered what it’s like to move your horse across the Atlantic? Stay tuned!) But first, here is a recap:

Last time I checked in as a blogger, I had moved back to the United States following a one-year stint on the island of Okinawa, Japan, courtesy of the United States Air Force. My overgrown polo pony and young jumper, Sibelius MB (“Sig”), had stayed back in Kentucky with my friend and trainer Ashley Watts while I was away. Since I returned two years ago, I have been living in the Lexington, Kentucky, area and instructing at Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) at the University of Kentucky.

It has been an extremely busy two years. My workload and schedule largely have prevented me from getting Sig out and about, even in the heart of horse country. We have schooled at the Kentucky Horse Park several times, enjoyed a hunter pace, hacks, cross-country schools, many lessons and attended a schooling show once, but that has been it. I still just do not care about competing in general. The highlight was riding in a two-day clinic with Anne Kursinski this past November. If you’re here only for a mouth-watering competition update with pictures, I am here to disappoint.

Sorry, not sorry.

Lindsey Colburn_AnneKursinskiClinic1
While competition hasn’t been a focus, I’ve been doing fun educational opportunities like clinicing with Anne Kursinski. Photo Courtesy Of Lindsey Colburn

It has been an amazing two years as well. Sig and I have grown into a great team. Thanks to the help of Ashley and her team at Liftoff Equestrian, my partnership with Sig has turned into something truly special. He has grown into the incredible horse and partner that I hoped he would when I bought him as a green-broke 3-year-old.

He jumps around in perfect hunter rhythm, is a very smart little dressage horse, jumps liverpools, hacks out like a champ and enjoys the occasional cross-country school for fun.  You can see pictures and videos on my personal blog or our Instagram. He is truly one of the sweetest, kindest horses I have ever met. Sig makes me smile and brightens my day even on the most challenging of days. He is worth his weight in pure gold, and I am extremely grateful to have him in my life!

The Great British Debate

I am back on the blogging scene because I am moving to the United Kingdom this summer! I was not supposed to get my next Air Force assignment until summer 2022, but plans change. Around Christmas, a great opportunity opened at one of the Royal Air Force bases in England, and I took it. I was thrilled to take this next step in my military career and for the opportunity to live in the U.K. I have been trying to get to the U.K. for 11 years now, especially after I visited a few years ago. I am the biggest Anglophile I know—everything about the idea of living in the U.K. seems to appeal to me. I have those overly romantic visions of riding amongst hedgerows and every other cliché visual imaginable. Yes to All. Of. It.

After the initial excitement, I had a personal crisis of epic proportions. The first question on my mind was: What will I do with Sig? Sell him? Lease him out? Rob a financial institution and fly him to the U.K. with me (and back)?

For three weeks, I agonized over this decision. I know many are reading this and thinking, “Why is this even a question? Sell the horse and buy the European unicorn less the import cost!”

That was on loop in my mind. I lost a lot of sleep spinning my wheels thinking of the possibilities. Once again, my inner 17-year-old self took over. I dreamed of finding that 1.20-1.30-meter jumper prospect for an affordable price, and this seemed like the only logical option. It seemed like the only socially acceptable option.

After all, who in their right mind would spend that kind of money to export and re-import a Thoroughbred in two or four years from now?

Why spend money on horses at all? Why not take that money and travel Europe as much as possible, without the anchor of a horse? Suddenly it felt like the questions pointed toward one outcome. For a short time, I quietly began preparing myself for the inevitability of selling Sig and starting over again on the other side of the pond.

Lindsey Colburn_Sig Show
Photo Courtesy Of Lindsey Colburn

I overthink everything. I also emotionally spin myself into a hole over difficult decisions, especially those involving my horses. I asked myself questions constantly. Is it selfish to want to put him on a plane? Is that even the right thing to do for him? Am I a terrible person for wanting to bring him? Am I a terrible person for considering selling?

Am I just a terrible person in general? Yes, all of that was bouncing around in my brain basically 24/7.

Window-shopping online for young prospects was fun for about three days, but then it started to feel like the wrong thing to do. Eventually, the idea of a horse search in a foreign country with no horsey contacts, rapidly inflating prices, and no concrete idea of what I really wanted felt overwhelming. Additionally, the thought of leaving Sig behind weighed heavily on my mind. The fact that Sig has been completely foot-perfect at everything almost felt like he was trying to make his case.

(Which is some crazy anthropomorphizing, but it has a pleasantly romantic ring to it.)

Around February, I changed my mind. I decided to be That Crazy Lady and fly Sig to the U.K. so we can continue our journey together. He has been such a superstar, and after a thorough personal inventory of what I need in a horse, he is it and so much more.

Sig will be a solid 1.0-meter horse if or when I ever decide that showing is a priority again. He happily goes to horse shows, can do all three rings, plus play in the dressage sandbox. He is a great all-around athlete, is an uncomplicated and fun ride, loves snuggles and just makes me so happy to go to the barn every day.

Happiness is the most important aspect of horse ownership for me. I often need that to keep balance in my life with my demanding job. I have been extraordinarily blessed with the special ones, the “heart horses.” Not every rider finds one. I have had three and lost two to colic. Selling another heart horse on the minuscule possibility I might want to jump around 1.30-meters one day (but realistically, probably not) started to sound perfectly absurd. After everything that Sig has done and continues to do for me, walking away felt like betrayal.

Lindsey Colburn_Elegant Equus Photography
Eventually I decided I couldn’t leave this fabulous boy behind. Elegant Equus Photography Photo

Once I decided to take Sig with me, the mental spinning immediately stopped, and I felt at peace and genuinely happy. That is when I knew I was making the right decision for us.

My dream of moving to the U.K. and exploring Europe was put on hold when I got back into horse ownership with Sig, because I never really allowed myself to think about European assignments with a horse. I always deemed it too expensive, too ridiculous to consider. And while it is expensive and ridiculous, it is possible. What an unbelievable and fortunate change in circumstances that now I get to have my horse with me in this incredible adventure!

Air Horse One

Moving a horse across the ocean requires a lot of logistics. Sig will fly from the U.S. to Europe and likely van from the continent to the U.K. Given that I am not an FEI rider and have absolutely zero experience with any of this, I had to reach out to some shipping companies to discuss options and get educated on the requirements.

I briefly joked about “borrowing” one of our C-17s and doing it myself, but there was something about Uniform Code of Military Justice charges … something about me not actually being a pilot …details, schmetails.

Lindsey Colburn_Maj Colburn C-17
It’s not like I didn’t have the opportunity. Photo Courtesy Of Lindsey Colburn

I am not sponsored; there is no grant money for me, and no, the military will not pay to fly a horse! Funding this insanity is entirely on me. Part of the mental gymnastics I went through was the decision to bring the horse back as well, even though that’s two to four years away. It is the second most irresponsible thing I have ever done financially. (The first was getting back into horses in the first place.) Thankfully though, I have been smart enough with the finances to allow for it with a little bit of planning.

I’ll fly over in early June, and Sig is scheduled to arrive in mid-July after completing his mandatory 30-day quarantine. All horses going to the U.K. on a “permanent” status (those staying 90 days or longer, not short-stay competition horses) must complete that quarantine at an USDA-approved facility. I’ll be able to get myself settled and finalize Sig’s living arrangements before his arrival. Per usual, I have his future home in the U.K. figured out well before I know where I will end up living.

I had to do extensive research on where I could board Sig. Thus started my crash course in U.K. horse lingo. To start: It is not a boarding barn/farm/stable, it is a livery yard. Stables are stalls. (Stalls are stables?) Oh, we are going to have fun with this. I already have some U.K. horse verbiage under my belt from my time living in Virginia hunt country with many British expats, but I know I am in for a horsey culture shock very soon!

After several weeks, I have successfully lined up three livery yards, with a deposit in at my first choice. It has lovely facilities, and they host competitions throughout the year. The backup yards are also wonderful. I feel confident that Sig will be happy over there. Thankfully, the climate and turnout environment are comparable to his situation here in Kentucky, which hopefully will make for a smooth transition for him.

So, here we are. My house is being packed up behind me. Sig’s quarantine and flight arrangements are being finalized. Time to slow down and enjoy my last days in the Bluegrass. I’m nervous but excited for the future and the adventure on which we are about to embark. No matter where we are in the world, looking between these ears will always be my favorite view.

Lindsey Colburn_Ear Shot
Photo Courtesy Of Lindsey Colburn

Lindsey Colburn is an active duty Air Force officer who grew up riding in the hunter and equitation divisions in New England during her junior years. After college, she rode and trained foxhunters professionally in Middleburg, Virginia, prior to joining the military.  Lindsey is currently stationed in Lexington, Kentucky, with her young jumper, Sibelius MB.  They are both relocating to the United Kingdom in the summer of 2021. Read all of Lindsey’s COTH blogs.

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