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January 3, 2014

Embarking On An Amish Adventure

A veteran horse rescuer, Dr. Liz Arbittier was hoping to find a baggage-free horse for once. Instead, she became obsessed with Ephraim, an ex-Amish driving horse with fear issues and awesome ears.

New blogger and veterinarian Liz Arbittier recently purchased her first former Amish driving horse, and she's planning to chronicle their training process together for The Chronicle of the Horse.

When I took my dream job as a staff equine veterinarian at Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center, I knew it meant huge life changes. I resolved not to have a horse during the transition because I needed to focus on my new job. I made it from June until August before I started jonesing to ride.

Chief of large animal surgery and diehard rider, Dr. Dean Richardson, generously offered me one of his show jumpers, and it wasn’t long before I was ready to own a horse again. I envisioned an uncomplicated mount on which I could bomb around the Cheshire Hunt countryside with friends. I was making inquiries when my trainer of 18 years, Kevin Babington, told me he had a jumper I could ride. Fabulous! I emailed eventer Kate Hicks and arranged to board at her farm.

Fate then intervened as it will. Trainer Kelly Bauer emailed me, responding to my inquiry about a horse. Her email started with two brief sentences concerning the horse I’d asked about, then continued, “But I have this other horse…” The rest of her detailed letter introduced me to the horse now known as Ephraim. That’s Ephraim with a long E, so pronounced Eeeeephraim.

Ephraim, a 4-year-old Dutch Harness Horse-Standardbred cross, was an Amish driving horse. His owner claimed he wasn’t a fancy enough driving horse and sent him to Kelly to be started under saddle and sold. Ephraim had failed a vetting due to abnormal radiographic findings in his feet, so his owner wanted to cut his losses and send him straight to auction. Kelly candidly wrote that he was petrified of people but had not put a foot wrong during his training. I felt bad, really bad knowing his fate, but for once I just wanted to own a baggage-free horse.

Yet I couldn’t stop thinking about Ephraim. I watched his video about 800 times before I emailed again. I also spoke to my friend from CANTER MidAtlantic, Allie Conrad, who knows every human being in the industry, and she confirmed my good gut feeling about Kelly. Kelly clearly was going above and beyond to find a person for this horse, and I knew she wasn’t making a dime on him—his price was slashed to auction dollars. I then made the craziest equine related decision I’ve ever made. I purchased, sight unseen, an Amish buggy horse with significant fear issues and bad X-rays and had him shipped from North Carolina to Pennsylvania.

I emailed Kate that I was no longer bringing a jumper; instead I was bringing an Amish horse, and I waited with trepidation for a response. She remained warm and welcoming and was excited about the project. Relief!

I waited impatiently for his arrival, but I wasn’t terribly nervous. I had skills! I had jumped big fences! I definitely felt that I could help this horse who Kevin and I agreed looked athletic.

The morning that Eph arrived, he stepped cautiously off of the trailer, having shipped straight through the night. Black with chrome barely registered. What stood out were strangely conformed legs, a giraffe neck that went straight up into the air, and the biggest head and ears I’d ever seen. Then I caught his eye—worried but so kind. I was smitten.

Kelly had spoken the truth. He was terrified. When I later sedated him to float his teeth, I saw that his tongue was grossly misshapen, with a deep horizontal scar across it where a bit had done a lot of damage. And I was mesmerized by his HEAD! A friend remarked that his head is longer than my torso, and his ears are longer than my face. He’s about 16.2 or .3, but his neck and ears make him seem 37 hands. Getting the bridle on is funny because to get the ears under the headstall, you have to sort of fold them in triplicate.

Three days post arrival, I got on. I rode by myself (Unofficial Captain of Team Bad Decision!), but folks were nearby, and I was carelessly optimistic. He’d never been ridden indoors, but he went right to work. I asked for a trot and was surprised and thrilled by the springy, uphill gait and a soft mouth. He was very green but perfect and sound. It was an ideal inaugural ride, and it made me a little overconfident that I was in my comfort zone.

Thankfully, our second ride was in the company of a boarder who is a trauma nurse. You can guess where this is going! We trotted around quietly. I asked for the canter and got up out of the saddle. He panicked and threw his head up and connected HARD with my face. It sounded like an open handed slap! Then came an enormous buck—one of those rodeo, back cracking rocket launchers. I ate dirt, and he trotted to the gate where he froze. I walked over to him, and he was shaking. So was I! I’m sure he thought I’d purposefully hit him (with my face). I eventually got back on and trotted around twice. We were both very worried, but we did it. I then apologized and fed him treats throughout the whole untacking process.

Unnerved, I called Kelly, who was shocked and upset. She reminded me that Amish horses wear blinders, so any big move you make up there is scary. I needed to ride sitting up and with a deep seat. I realized I’d been fairly cavalier about his history and my understanding of exactly what he needed from me. Kelly said training these horses is nothing like restarting an off-the-track Thoroughbred or breaking a warmblood, which was my skill set.

I’m definitely feeling my inexperience in this field now (a good thing!), but I know Eph and I are going to be great. I adore him, and he is really starting to bond to me. There’s precious little information out there on restarting an Amish horse, but I’m ready to start our simultaneous education!

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 casually riding hunters, did IHSA in college, and got started in show jumping before vet school when she took a job managing Kevin Babington's team. She's ridden with Kevin for 18 years and, while Ephraim is a departure for both Liz and Kevin, Kevin is excited to meet him!

Pelham Ponies
25 weeks 4 days ago
I have an Ex-Amish pony
Liz, I have a superstar of a foxhunter that is a Morgan / Standardbred cross (we think). He was an Amish cart pony until he was 6 years old, then sent to a trainer in Kentucky for resale. On a... Read More
Shelly.cox
26 weeks 3 days ago
Amish training
Liz, I love reading your blog about your new adventure with Eph. My daughter has ridden an Amish pony for the past three years and your story shares so many similarities to our experiences with... Read More

Comments

paulaedwina
27 weeks 4 hours ago

Great opening entry! I'm intrigued!

Interesting observation about Amish horses and blinders -I never would have thought about that. Do you think the tongue injury is going to affect bitting or bitting comfort? Paula
LizArbittier
27 weeks 3 hours ago

Hi Paula! He eats

Hi Paula! He eats voraciously (and is now a major treat hound) and the bit doesn't seem to bother him at all!! I'm using a comfort D ring snaffle with a lozenge and he is really happy in that but I'm willing to play with whatever he wants!
ljo
27 weeks 3 hours ago

Eeeeph

Hi Liz, You might try just ONE draw rein used lightly during his beginning training. It will do 2 things:protect your face if you scare him again and help him develop a better top line. As you are trotting, a little squeeze/release of the DR backed up by a steady leg will remind him to go forward and keep his head where it belongs. Are you asking why ONE draw rein? Two can be too restricting and if in the wrong hands can do damage. One draw rein is a gentle reminder of where his head belongs and should protect your face should he get scared again. A few weeks of quietly trotting forward with one draw rein added to your normal bridle will do wonders for both you and Eeeph. ljo
cdmom
27 weeks 3 hours ago

trotting?

hey this is a great suggestion for building frame and top line strength and flexion. will it also help lateral flexion?
LizArbittier
27 weeks 3 hours ago

Thank you so much for the

Thank you so much for the suggestion!! That's an interesting idea. He is actually doing terrifically. Our misunderstanding was totally my fault - I went to get into a forward and light seat the way I would with an OTTB or any young horse and it totally scared him. Poor guy thought I was punishing him and it scared him to death! Now that I've realized his comfort level is for me to ride tall in my upper body at all times, he's doing great. walk, trot, canter (canter is to DIE for!) and trot poles. I'll keep your suggestion in mind for the future!
cdmom
27 weeks 3 hours ago

please post lots!

I used to work with STB's. I'm no longer capable. I've been looking for a way to live vicariously through someone else. :-) thank you for attempting this challenge.:-) I found driving to be closer to saddle seat than standard riding. have you considered that driving is forehand and correct canter is off the hindquarters? also canter is 'discouraged' for driven horses. so getting them to canter is challenging but the power and longitudinal flexion is.... breathtaking. :-). how is your lunging skills/sessions? does Eph pick up canter easy on the lunge? ckeck that out and see if your trainer can give Eph and you some courage building camter lunge sessions. Good Luck and let us know!!!
LizArbittier
27 weeks 3 hours ago

Hi cdmom - Eph is doing

Hi cdmom - Eph is doing great. He had been cantering under saddle at the retraining barn with no problems, I just literally scared him to death when I got up in a light seat and he hit my face with his, lol. He thought I was punishing him! He has wonderful longeing manners, and I was longeing him for a while after 'the incident' but now I just get right on. We are w,t,c and he is doing great. I'm definitely in love! Stay tuned for future blogs!
moriahd
27 weeks 2 hours ago

DHH- Great Athletes

Liz- Kudos for you for purchasing a Dutch Harness Horse! I have owned and shown many since I met my first ex-buggy horse 5 years ago. They are great athletes- I have evented, jumped and even won classes in Wellington Dressage Classic's with this versatile breed. I have TONS of pics, info about the breed etc if you would ever like to talk. my email is: sunnysporthorse@gmail.com Best of luck! Moriah
LizArbittier
26 weeks 6 days ago

Moriah, I'd love to hear all

Moriah, I'd love to hear all about your experience with the DHH's and see photos! Especially with your former buggy horse. I will email you...or do you have them on facebook?
Louisa Shepard
27 weeks 1 hour ago

Love this story!

What a wonderful story, Liz, about your rescue of Eph! You two are a perfect pair. I am looking forward to reading much more about your adventures together.
LizArbittier
26 weeks 5 days ago

Ephie wants you and your

Ephie wants you and your carrots to visit again SOON!
Mirkyelf
26 weeks 6 days ago

Such a cool thing to do

Please update often! A horse trainer friend of mine used to re-train a lot of Amish horses. She always told me the biggest challenge she found with these horses is getting them into the right frame of mind regarding people, that often they had really never been treated like more than a piece of farming equipment (she was not trying to be insulting, she was just pointing out it was a very different way to live with horses) and that often they were overwhelmed by people suddenly treating them like they were a pet. I cannot wait to hear how you do with him!
LizArbittier
26 weeks 6 days ago

Mirkyelf, your friend

Mirkyelf, your friend definitely is right with regard to Eph! He has a lot of trust issues which can make him panic but he has come so far in such a short period of time...he clearly loves being a pet. I spend a ton of time with him on the ground, just hanging out with him and grooming and he seems to really respond! It's amazing how much he has changed in that respect from the beginning. He is very treat motivated, now that he lets me touch his mouth and understands that he is rewarded for not-panicking, which I think is huge. Treats were definitely the bridge to trust with him. Now i can use other positive re-enforcement techniques and he understands what I'm trying to say and it's really been great! Thanks!
Mitch1031
26 weeks 6 days ago

Eph

Hi Liz- I also purchased a former Amish driving horse and from Kelly Bauer (who is awesome!!) I bought Vitaal as a 10 yr old in April 2013 & he also had trust issues, especially quick movements which surprized me being driven in all kinds of different envoirnments, etc. He was a stallion until he was 8 so he definitely has opinions :) I have so much fun with him, super talented, great work ethic, makes me laugh every day. The hardest hurdle has been to get his neck to relax & stretch (I ride dressage). Also keeping him straight, quite a wiggle worm, lateral work is super easy for him but he evades by laying on the outside shoulder. Accupuncture & chiro work has helped alot, as well as many sweaty saddle pads. He is drop dead gorgeous, black, 4 white socks, blaze & is a can do guy but worries in new situations. Good luck with your guy, I'm sure he will progress so much as time goes on. I have learned alot about the way the Amish treat their horses, it is amazing and a testament to their temperments that they are as good as they are once removed from that life. Another good horse saved- yay!!
LizArbittier
26 weeks 5 days ago

Mitch - SO glad you wrote!!

Mitch - SO glad you wrote!! How funny that you also found your horse with Kelly, she is a treasure. I was picking her brain again today...she is so practical and has so much experience with these guys and the answer is never quite what I think it will be, LOL. I'd love to see photos of Vitaal - can you find me on facebook? Our guys sound a lot alike!
Vickimxoxo
26 weeks 6 days ago

Want to follow the story

Are you going to post pictures and follow up storieson Facebook? I would love to hear about your adventures together.
LizArbittier
26 weeks 5 days ago

Vicki, the COTH will post the

Vicki, the COTH will post the follow ups and they also have some adorable photos of Eph (not that I'm biased). I am not sure how often the blogs will be posted but there are more ready to go!My learning curve is really steep right now so I have a lot to write about, lol. Thanks for writing!
Shelly.cox
26 weeks 3 days ago

Amish training

Liz, I love reading your blog about your new adventure with Eph. My daughter has ridden an Amish pony for the past three years and your story shares so many similarities to our experiences with Pepper (she is a black and white paint pony). Your story really hits home with us and validates so many feelings we have had along our journey of training her to be a pretty darn cute jumping pony. Not to mention one that everyone falls in love with in spite of all her challenges and distrust of people in general. I laughed when I read your story about Eph's big head. When we first saw Pepper at her owners barn, my first thought was "oh my, that pony has the biggest head I have ever seen ". One of the trainers who has helped us patiently train her thinks her big head is why she is so smart and often times too smart for her own good! She was and continues to be quite untrusting of people in general. She loves mainly one person and that is my 11 year old daughter. On yes, the vest incident you had, well, we learned that lesson too the hard way! We still don't remove jackets when on her! I can only say that she has stretched our training philosophy and everything has been slowed way down. Our motto with Pepper is patience. Also, many tears and embarrassment has been a part of my daughter's life over the past 3 years as she watched her friends at the barn ride their easy going ponies while her big headed pony was trying to run away and disrupt all activities. I must also say I have owned horses all my life and this one has touched my heart more deeply than the rest. If you were to ask my daughter if she would trade Pepper for an easy going fancy pony the exact answer is "no way!". She is her joy and has taught her more life lessons and I am so grateful she found her way into our life by way of a dear friend. Just as Eph found his way to you. We end our show season this year with Pepper winning many ribbons and often champion at the shows. I am sure Eph will bring you as much joy. I can't wait to read more and learn from journey.
Pelham Ponies
25 weeks 4 days ago

I have an Ex-Amish pony

Liz, I have a superstar of a foxhunter that is a Morgan / Standardbred cross (we think). He was an Amish cart pony until he was 6 years old, then sent to a trainer in Kentucky for resale. On a whim she decided to break him to saddle and eventually sold him to my friend as a jumper. I got him three years into his riding phase of life. He is awesome and a great first flight horse. He had trouble with steering and knew nothing of leg when my friend got him. But she schooled him in dressage which fixed that. He is bomb proof and laid back on the ground. His main quirk is that speed is his solution to every problem. If he's confused by the rider, sees a tricky jump or gets into bad footing - he rockets on. I've hitched him up a few times, and he pulled the cart like a pro. Such fun!
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