My last blog entry was down with The Sadness™, but I promise you this one is going to be fun(ner). You will have to take my word for it, because at first glance, this blog entry is going to taste like a big old bowl of Crazy Horse Lady with a side of Bad Decisions.
But stick with me, there are polo ponies.
Do I have your attention yet? Good—go grab that box o’wine and get your Snuggie on.
PART 1 – THE SAD PART (AGAIN)
There was a moment, maybe halfway through Soon’s hospital stay, and where I was riding the low of the emotional rollercoaster, where I declared that if Soon did not survive, I was done with owning horses.
I had been in horses for 25 years, been an owner for 14 years. In those 14 years, I had endured three colic surgeries. It just seemed like a disproportionate amount of major medical/surgical struggles compared to many other horse owners I knew. I suppose in that emotional low, I was feeling extremely bitter and angry.
What did I do to deserve this? What did my horses do to deserve this? It just seemed so unfair. It was not because of management issues, either. They had the best feeding program, daily grass turnout, plenty of exercise and stress kept as minimal as possible. My mare had two nephrosplenic entrapments, and Soon had suffered a displacement and torsion. Their insides literally could not sit down and stay put.
I had been beyond blessed to have these two horses that I considered my “horse of a lifetime,” and colic had claimed both of them. I was done. I could not do it anymore.
Perhaps I would keep riding, maybe train some OTTBs or young horses on the side, and help some friends…or perhaps I would sell everything and walk away completely.
I was done.
Then, not long after Soon passed, there was a feeling of peace on this subject where before there had been only bitterness. Our struggle was over, and once I found steady footing once again, I knew there would be another horse someday. I did not figure it happening any time soon, but I knew there would be a day where I would call another my own. I hoped, when that day came, that I would do right by the new addition, and in doing so, honor the two great soldiers that came before.
Well, that time has already come, and the changing of the guard is taking place.
I had not intended to look at horses for several months, at least until I knew what my next military assignment was going to be. Part of me decided that Soon’s passing was a sign for me to finally move to England and go on that new adventure on my own. In the meantime, I was going to ride some OTTBs for my trainer friend, go out to do more normal social stuff, and just wait until the right horse came along later. I honestly was not looking.
And then the right one fell into my lap. His ad kept popping up in front of me. I ignored it initially. It was too soon; I was not ready. But when it kept showing up, I finally examined it closely. I liked what I was looking at and was interested in what I saw.
That alone was a big step—me allowing myself to imagine another horse so quickly after losing Soon. But why? I asked myself this and found it was not because I wanted to fill a void. After the first couple of weeks without Soon, I realized I not only missed him terribly, but I missed not having a partner. I missed not going to the barn and having that one horse I knew, that was mine.
In that moment, I knew it did not have to be Soon. There is no replacing him. I could never hope to even come close to who and what he was. But I could allow the possibility of a new relationship, a new partner, a new journey. I could have a new future with a new horse. Maybe.
I exchanged some very informative emails with the seller, and I took 24 hours to really consider what I was doing. Was I doing this because I was truly ready for another horse? Or, was I rushing into something after Soon’s death and acting irrationally? What about England and traveling Europe?
I took that time and thought it over. I bounced the idea off some good friends who knew what Soon meant to me. They were excited and supportive. I made the trip out to Lexington, Ky., that weekend to give him a try. I had no expectations. There was no pressure. If it was not totally right, I would walk away and resume my European plans. Worst case scenario, even if I did not like the horse, I still got to spend four days with one of the most wonderful people I know, meet her beautiful infant son, and enjoy some time in beloved Kentucky. This was not a bad plan.
I went out and saw the horse. Rode him. Hacked him. Jumped cross-country fences in the most polite, huntery manner ever. Snuggled with him. And he was perfect. And a week later, he came home with me.
PART 2 – THE POLO PONY PART
Now, I probably know what you are thinking: “OK, but where do the polo ponies come in?”
Yes, very astute, thank you. What on earth do polo ponies have to do with this epic adventure? Well…I bought a polo pony.
….DRINK THE WINE AND STAY WITH ME.
Let me introduce you this shiny new unicorn of greatness. His name is Lucky Strike, also known as Sig. He is a 3-year-old Thoroughbred gelding by Northern Afleet, out of Godiva (Chile), bred by the historic Mt. Brilliant Farm in Lexington. He was purpose-bred for elite-level polo but grew to be too tall. Thus, he was given to Carleigh Fedorka (of the A Yankee In Paris blog), who put a solid foundation on him in the coming months.
Sig is a true unicorn. His personality is sweet and affectionate, decidedly non-obnoxious for a 3-year-old, super quiet, has the best brain, and he has taken to training like fish to water. Carleigh has already had him out to a baby jumper show, cross-country schooling over lots of little obstacles, water, and he happily hacks out quietly like a champ. By himself. Through 30-foot wide streams. He is like a little wunderkind of awesome. He can do it all. And he ties quietly too, because polo pony.
He is a straightforward, fun ride and athletic. He has the potential to be fancy in the dressage and a fun jumper in the future. The jumping especially, he already seems to have great natural form and instinct to the fences, something I will be excited to develop in the future. Most importantly, he takes new things in stride and has an old soul maturity about him which is well beyond his years.
Apparently, overgrown polo ponies is where it is at, ya’ll. Go get you one.
To top it all off, he is snuggly and seems to genuinely enjoy hanging out with people and being fussed over. I asked for an overgrown Labrador Retriever, and I was not disappointed. Also, he has the most adorable star freeze brand, courtesy of Mt. Brilliant, which has earned him the official nickname of “Siggy Starbutt.”
Or, as Carleigh and I joke, this marks the rise of the Kentucky Warmblood.
PART 3 – THE SENTIMENTAL PART
I have been thinking that Soonie sent me a gift here. Why? Well, the Thursday night before I left for Kentucky, as I was still contemplating even trying Sig, I was driving home, listening to Cole Swindell’s “You Should Be Here,” and getting pretty misty-eyed thinking about Soonie.
As I was listening and crying a little, I was stopped behind someone at an intersection and I saw they had Kentucky plates on their car. Now yes, I live on a military base, and yes, there are plates from all over the country. That said, I have not seen many Kentucky plates around here. The timing was uncanny. I smiled and continued driving home.
Then, after I tried Sig, he was playing with his Carleigh’s zipper, something that Soon used to do from time to time. I do not see a lot of horses do that, and to have Sig do it right then when I was standing there contemplating the next step was coincidental but also uncanny. I just remember standing there thinking “OK. I hear you, Brother.” And decided to proceed with vetting Sig, and we went from there. All signs were saying go. He had the personality. He had the brain. He had the raw athletic ability, and I had the time and knowledge to bring him along correctly. I went for it.
Sig came home a week later, had several days to settle into the farm, and we have gone on two light rides thus far. I have truly loved getting to snuggle with him and work with him on the ground as well. He is such a quiet, easygoing guy who seriously seems to want to be near you. He will leave his buddies and his hay pile just to hang out with his human. That makes my poor heart feel so good right now.
The plan for this winter is to stick to mainly just hacking around the farm. The gentle hill work will be good for him. It is less stress on him at this point in his development and also relieves me of needing to be on a strict training schedule in the dead of winter.
Come April when he turns 4, we will shift focus and add additional dressage schools, and resume some jumping, probably mostly low grid work and perhaps some baby cross-country stuff we have on the farm for variety. We already know he is a great jumper, very game, and is a lovely ride over fences. Carleigh put a fantastic foundation on him already. Now, between my schedule, the winter weather and where he is development-wise, it is a good time of year to slow down and hit the ground running again in the spring!
Perhaps the most amazing part is that, for the first time in two months and since Soon got sick, I finally felt normal. I went to the barn and had a horse to focus on, a horse to invest in. I resumed what was a familiar, comfortable routine. I had found that part of myself that I had been missing since October. I had found my center. Perhaps Soon had helped show me the way, and now a new adventure begins. A very different adventure but one still so full of promise.
Sig is a very impressive young horse. Sure, he is green, and we have a long road of development ahead of us, but that in its own way is exciting. This is the right horse. I am finally home.
Lindsey Colburn is an active duty Air Force officer and grew up riding in the hunter and equitation divisions in the northeast during her junior years. Following college, she rode and trained fox hunters professionally in Middleburg, Va., prior to joining the military. Lindsey bought the Thoroughbred gelding, Soon, off the track in 2013, and spent the last four years training him herself. The pair competed in the jumper ring while Lindsey balanced an active duty military career and obligations. Read all of Lindsey’s COTH blogs.