When I purchased Quill sight unseen from an ad I saw on Dreamhorse, it never quite seemed real. Even when he walked into the stable, just as calm and level-headed as advertised, and even after I rode him and experienced his floating trot, it still felt a little like I was watching a movie of someone else. He learned; he grew (wow did he grow); he became more of what I first saw in him and more sure of himself. He muscled out and rounded his neck into the bit, and balanced his body, and did all of the things he was supposed to do, and I participated in a dream-like way.
When reality did come barging in, it came in the form of small cuts and bumps. I made my best efforts to protect him with some basic splint boots all around, and I knew his turnout area was safe, but Quill was still an energetic baby horse. Sometimes he came in with a little nick on his fetlock. Sometimes he played too hard a game of Bitey Face (his favorite game) with a pasture mate and had a piece of hair missing from his lovely neck. Nothing a little bit of triple antibiotic ointment couldn’t clear up. But each time, an internal alarm bell rang inside of me, and it was increasingly difficult to silence.
It’s not that I didn’t inherently understand the responsibility associated with horses. I had already experienced a pretty dire setback with Callie in the form of a hind leg splint break. But the reality of being that horse’s caretaker for the rest of its life should a career-ending accident occur—the weight of it—slowly broke through with each little baby cut and scrape Quill acquired.
There was also the matter of time. In my head, two-horse ownership always came down to money. In practice, time became the greatest issue. Callie’s rehab plan demanded daily rides and a strict routine. Quill’s learning phase, while not rigorous, called for consistent work and interaction lest a growing baby Thoroughbred have too much energy and not enough focus in a cold Colorado winter.
I remember the day and moment the thought first entered my head. I was tacking up Quill after hastily throwing Callie into her stall. I had just finished her ride, and I hadn’t planned on being at the barn for more than a few hours. I was trying to work at the same time on my phone via Slack and my email app. Quill was filthy, much dirtier than I liked my horses when I rode them, but I didn’t have time for a more thorough cleaning. I put his saddle on, anxiety clutching my chest, eyeing the new little scrape he had on his neck, picking up the dirty bridle I hadn’t had time to clean the day before, and thought to myself, “This isn’t working. Maybe I should sell Quill.”
This new idea didn’t crystalize overnight. But with each day I didn’t have time to clean my tack (something my overly Type-A personality would not have let slide before), each afternoon I drove out to the barn already watching the clock, the idea became clearer. And then one particularly hectic afternoon, I walked out of the barn and texted my friend: “Hey, do you think your trainer would be interested in Quill?”
A few days later, Dan came down along with one of his adult amateur clients to try Quill. An old school Virginia horseman, Dan appreciated a good Thoroughbred at face value, not as something you only bought when you couldn’t afford a warmblood, and I knew that he liked Quill immensely. He was also a lovely soft rider and ran a great operation. If anyone could continue Quill’s training in the way I had envisioned, I knew it would be Dan.
My trainer Liz Carvalho rode him, then Dan popped up, then his client took him for a spin. Quill behaved perfectly. They both loved him, and before they even drove out of the driveway, a vetting appointment was in the works.
As the process continued, I expected to feel remorse, or regret, or a creeping sensation that I was making a mistake. But the more I learned about his potential new owner, who had her own little farm just down the road where she kept most of her horses and where Quill would continue growing up, the more I liked her. She was the real deal, a beautiful rider, and she had a horse in training with Dan and trailered in regularly for lessons. Quill would be getting the best of both worlds with someone who had the means and time to bring him along.
One week after I texted my friend, I was signing the bill of sale and loading Quill onto a trailer for his new home. I knew that as far as horse selling went, I got off with just about the most painless and easy experience one could ask for. But more importantly, I came out of things feeling excitement for Quill and his future. His new owner provided an even better home and experience than I could give him. How could I be sad about that?
Now, a few weeks later, what strikes me the most is how much this experience differs from when I tried to sell Callie a few years ago. Callie is not Quill. She is complicated. She has her opinions, and while she is a joy to ride, she is not always easy to ride. When I envisioned other potential futures for her, they never felt like they would be better than the future she would have with me. With Quill, the opposite was true.
I know that neither Quill nor Callie will be the only other horses in my life, and while the purchasing piece is always fraught, ultimately it’s the selling piece that becomes more difficult. After Callie, I figured I was the type who would never sell. Now I know it comes down to that perceived future: Is it better with me or with this new person who walked into my barn and met my horse for the first time?
I get asked whether it was worth it, having a second horse for just a few months, and for sure the answer is yes. Quill brought so much joy into my life right when I needed it and taught me so much—and not just about training a baby through the early basics. He taught me how much responsibility I’m comfortable bearing. He taught me how to recognize when it’s time to say goodbye and the humility to recognize a better future than I can provide. Had I never experienced two horses simultaneously, I never would have known what kind of a horseperson I am, which it turns out, is a one-horse person.
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 with a little APHA mare named Callie, who has a passionate love of peppermints and jumping with her knees to her eyeballs. She resides with her increasingly horsey husband and three cats in Boulder, Colorado.