I purchased my little mare, Callie, knowing that she came from a jumper background, but also knowing that she had stepped into many different rings (hunters, dressage) willingly, and that she had an excellent brain and a can-do attitude. I spent that first spring and summer trying to slow her rhythm down and build her self-carriage strength so that she could settle into her new job as a hunter. While we made excellent progress, in early October I came to the decision that she might not ever “slow down” enough to be the dedicated adult amateur horse I wanted her to be. So with that in mind, my trainer Liz and I went about trying to market her as a good “all-around” horse for a kid or small lady like myself.
I posted Callie on various Facebook groups and several horse ad websites, and it didn’t take long for us to start lining up trials. Most of them were for intermediate-level kids, 10-14 years old. Every time we had someone try her, the same pattern of events occurred. There she was, my sweet, little, happy mare standing patiently on the crossties, and the “ooooos” and “aaaaahs” about how adorable she was came pouring out. Which made me think to myself, “Yes, she is really adorable isn’t she?”
When I got on first to show her, I internalized our dramatic progress in a new way. Her canter was balanced and buttery, her trot forward and framed, her jump always a 10. Sometimes she had a head shake due to the chilly temps, but all four feet stayed on the ground at all times, which was not insignificant considering it was her first Colorado fall, a season that feels like winter in a lot of ways. I always got off thinking, “Wow, I really do like this little horse.”
During one trial, the client’s trainer looked at me and asked, “Why on earth are you selling her? She’s lovely!” To which Liz busted out laughing and said, “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell her!”
That sealed the deal for me. I pulled down her ads and decided that just because Callie didn’t fit into my vision of what I wanted my show experience to be didn’t mean she wasn’t worth keeping. She didn’t want to be a hunter? Fine. I would be a jumper.
Since then, both of our lives have gotten a lot more fun. We spent the winter continuing to fine-tune the basics, and in the spring when the outdoor ring was once again rideable, her forward nature and natural cattiness on course became assets instead of liabilities when paired with the increased rideability my trainer and I had installed.
But there was also the extra spark of Callie being joyful in her work. I know that we tend to anthropomorphize our own horses more than others, but I truly feel that she somehow sensed the change in me and was proud of her abilities because I was proud of them.
So often, we have a narrow vision of what we want our riding experience to be. When we put pressure on our horses to fit into that box, I think they sense it. Sometimes this manifests as a brilliant team, both on the same page and in sync, but when your horse is on a different page, I think they can feel our disappointment.
The most common solution when your vision doesn’t match reality is to sell, which is understandable—this is an expensive sport that should be enjoyed, and not every match works. For me, I’m glad I decided to change my vision instead of my reality, as it’s opened new doors and possibilities in my riding. I’m perfecting skills in the jumper ring that I’ll be able to apply to any ring in the future.
Do I still love the hunters more than the jumpers? Sure. But I love Callie more than any one discipline. Someday when she’s retired, I’ll find my once-in-a-lifetime hunter, but until then I’m going to enjoy my once-in-a-lifetime horse.
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.