By Samantha King
When I was 21, I bought my first horse. Sounds amazing, right? It was a dream come true. Up to that point, I had only dreamed of the possibility. I had spent my years working hard in exchange for any time in the tack. My parents kindly gave me a week or two each summer at a riding camp and some lessons through the year. By the time I was 21, I had completed the Humber College Coaching Program and was a certified coach. I had groomed 2 seasons for a professional rider, managed a dude ranch, was teaching at Humber College, and I was working for an Equine Vet. With all the unicorns aligned, it was the perfect time to purchase my first horse. That and the fact that I fell in love with a horse we had treated at the clinic. I felt I had so much knowledge and skill that I was ready to do an amazing job. My dad generously loaned me some money to help make my horse ownership dream come true and with that, I was able to purchase my first horse – Murdoch – a 5-year-old Bay 17.2 hh Clyde TB Cross.
Murdoch was possibly the best teacher I ever had...
Murdoch was possibly the best teacher I ever had because I made so many mistakes with him – not surprising for a cocky 21-year-old! Here are the top five of many lessons learned:
1. Always get help from a professional:
I was so sure of myself that I did not know what I did not know. I had never trained a horse before and had not competed much. Murdoch was 5 years old, well trained in the basics of flatwork and started over fences, but he was still green enough to need more training and had never stepped a hoof into a show ring. I did not go to any clinics or have any other trainer work with me. I had the audacity to believe that I knew what I was doing, but I did not really. Taking Murdoch to our first show demonstrated that, as we did not get around one course completely without at least one refusal.
2. Beware the Tack Fashion rabbit hole:
Do not buy equipment just because it is expensive and the top riders use it. I bought these trendy splint boots at the time for those reasons. I should have considered my horse’s anatomy and way of going prior to purchasing boots. Poor Murdoch experienced a bowed tendon on both front legs because of these boots. As Murdoch was a big horse these boots were not what he needed at all and I blamed myself for not considering him first. After a few months, he was fully recovered and those boots were in the bin!
3. Know when to stop:
Great trainers will tell you that their gift is knowing when to stop asking for more. Whether or not the horse has grasped the lesson sometimes it is prudent to stop, allow the training session to end on a positive note and try again next time. I did not know when to stop in a session. I had not fully developed my empathy and intuition and as such Murdoch and I had many struggles in training. He must have been so frustrated with me, but bless his soul he never deliberately did anything dangerous.
4. Feed in relation to work:
Just like we humans should do we need to feed our animals in conjunction with the amount of activity they are doing. I had always been told how much to feed a horse by people that I worked for. Therefore, as a novice horse owner, I lacked the knowledge of how to change Murdoch’s diet during his stall rest time. When Murdoch was off with his bowed tendons, I did not reduce his feed appropriately and this caused some digestive issues for him.
5. Be there at the end:
When Murdoch recovered from his tendon injury I moved him to new stables closer to where I was living. This meant that his food changed and as such within 2 weeks he began to colic. It was a very bad colic. It was awful to watch him suffer from pain so intense at times it brought him to his knees. We transported him to the University of Guelph where he was examined by the amazing team of vets and techs there. The prognosis wasn’t good at all and I had to make the decision that all animal lovers/owners hate to make. As I walked out of the clinic with his massive halter and lead rope in my hand, tears in my eyes and a heavy heart I reflected on all we had been through in a very short period of time – 18 months or so. Heartbreaking as it was I was glad I was there for him through his suffering and eventual passing. For as much as we had challenged, frustrated, taught, and injured each other we were connected, he trusted me and I was there for him when it really counted.
Everything I learned from my experience with Murdoch influenced many areas of my life.
Everything I learned from my experience with Murdoch influenced many areas of my life. Not only did I become a more humble rider and coach, but I also looked at all of my interactions and brought the lessons forward.
1. Asking for help only enhances what you know and enables continued growth.
2. Making purchases of quality, sustainable and appropriate items mean you get more for your dollar and brings more enjoyment.
3. Listening to your intuition is always right and being empathetic fills not only your soul but also those of others.
4. Pay attention to the messages your body is giving you. Use your eye and intuition to see what someone else or an animal is telling you physically. Then you can get to the root of the problem.
5. Be there at the end – always. Peaceful and smooth transition of others is supported by the presence of people they love and trust. This goes for humans and animals. It is hard, but so worth it.
What have you learned from the horses you have loved? How do you translate these things into the other aspects of your life? Take some quiet time to make those connections and you may be amazed at what you discover.
As always, thank you for reading.
My Official Introduction to our “Shop the Story” Feature
Founder, Red Scarf Equestrian, Joanna Wiseberg
WHO IS SAMANTHA KING?
At the height of her business, she had many horses and students competing in eventing and hunter/jumper on the schooling, Trillium and A Circuits. Aside from her own stables in Oakville and then Georgetown, Samantha has taught riding at Sunnybrook Stables (Toronto), The Riding Academy at the Horse Palace (Toronto), Southlands (in Vancouver), and Stonewood Riding Academy (Pickering). She continues to be involved with horses as the Mum of an 11-year-old rider who competes on the Trillium Circuit, judging a few schooling shows and loves to teach whenever she can!