Written by Amelia, Cool’s new owner!
First Riding Cool
I don’t remember the first time I rode Cool. I know that the first time I rode him was one of the first times I had ridden a horse that wasn’t an experienced lesson horse like I was used to riding. The most difficult horses I had dealt with were lesson horses. They who would slowly walk you out of the ring once they had decided they wanted to be done with the lesson or stop and stand in the middle of the ring to see if you would be able to make them walk again. Sometimes, they would run out to the side of a crossrail or slam on the breaks right before the jump, to see if they could get you off. Spooking was very rare, most of the time they just plodded around the ring quietly.
Cool was very different from any other horse I had ridden. In the fall of 2018, I started riding him. Cool had been out of consistent work for a few years, he was about 13 at the time and was the first OTTB I had ever ridden. He had more go than any of the horses I was used to and had all the buttons, except I had no idea how to use them. The first few times I rode him I was astonished at how much more I really had to ride him. I had to tell him exactly where he needed to go and what I was asking of him. He was completely capable of what I asked him to do but he would frequently test me and it seemed like he loved to intimidate me.
Lessons with Cool
One of my most memorable lessons involved Cool stating his opinions in a very strong manner about going over a very small crossrail. Normally, Cool loves to jump but this crossrail was set up in the middle of a 20 meter circle and its only purpose was to help keep him interested in his work as I was trying to get him to collect himself into a frame. Finally, he decided he was done trotting in circles, every time we tried to go over the cross rail, he would push his outside shoulder out and move away from the jump and circle we were on. A few times he managed to get himself all the way to the other side of the ring.
I vividly remember trying everything that I could think of to get him to listen to me again, at that point he had started a game to see who was more determined and I knew Katie would not let me quit until I was able to get him to listen to me. I believe that eventually we got a few decent trot circles and we were able to end our lesson. The first few months I rode him, lessons just like this one were very frequent. Lots of times when we jumped he would throw his head around and try to ignore me just so he could get over the jumps faster. I would end up just getting tense and pulling to slow him down.
I continued to ride him throughout the fall and into the winter. Slowly, I began to feel more comfortable with him. I was able to get him into a frame with Katie’s help and I was confident enough to ride him without Katie right by my side reassuring me through every step. Although most of those rides consisted of walking and trotting, I considered it progress.
In January 2019, Cool had an accident and had slipped in the mud in his field. He had fractured his hip, at the time everyone was almost positive that he would have to be euthanized. It was very unlikely that he would be able to recover and I was devastated. By some miracle, he slowly began to feel better and look better. His owner, at the time, decided to keep him on stall rest for a bit longer before making any decisions.
After 4 long months of stall rest, he was finally sound and comfortable enough to be turned out again. Although we were unsure he would ever be able to be ridden again, I was ecstatic for him.
Back in Work
After another 8 months, Katie mentioned to me that she wanted to try and see if he would hold up to being ridden. I remember her saying this to me as I was in the middle of pulling tack out for lessons, I was so excited. I knew nothing was guaranteed, he could easily go lame as soon as he was asked to do something other than sitting in a field, but I was still excited.
Bringing him back into work was a challenge, we started with groundwork and lunging. He was consistently sound and he was very excited, which was a good thing since it meant nothing was hurting for him but it meant that a lot of our lunging sessions involved Cool cantering very quickly in circles, while I was just trying to keep hold of the lunge line. We started lunging with a saddle on his back and increasing his workload. He never showed signs of being in pain, which was pretty much a miracle.
Back in the Saddle
Finally, on December 20, 2019, I sat on him for the first time in almost a year, I was nervous that he would decide to explode at any minute. He never did. After a few more rides, he was able to trot and canter. Occasionally he would throw some sass into our rides, especially when he was asked to collect himself, but I learned to work him through it.
Riding him throughout the spring and summer gave us both lots of confidence. In July 2020, I bought Cool. I still look back to that day and cannot believe that I own him.
After buying him, we made it through our first real jump courses together, learning the basics of dressage, having so much more trust in each other than we used to, and most of all I began to really enjoy riding him.
Jumping is one of our favorite things to do now, and honestly, I think he loves it a little more than I do! His love of jumping has also helped me gain a lot of confidence in jumping. I never imagined that I would be as excited to jump as I am today, especially on him but now I look forward to jumping bigger and more complicated things. Our flatwork has also improved greatly, whenever I ask for collection and a frame he immediately knows what I’m asking for and collects himself for me. I used to dread dressage lessons, where I would have to focus on keeping him collected without losing his attention, now I also look forward to those. Riding bareback was also something that seemed very scary and pretty much impossible when I started riding him but it has also become a weekly thing.
We achieved many other minor goals too, I never would have trusted him to stand on cross ties when I first started riding him, I would always tie him up in his stall. He had a bad habit of pulling back and breaking his halters to come off the cross ties. After he broke them, he would bolt out of the barn and I would have to go catch him. I absolutely hated when he would break himself off the crossties, not only was it a horrible habit but it scared me so badly. We worked through it together and now he stands almost perfectly anytime I ask him to. I just had to be patient with him. I also never imagined I would be able to trail ride around the farm without him spooking at pretty much everything, but it has become one of our favorite things to do, he loves to go visit all the farm animals and take his time exploring.
Looking back, I have realized that I never really had much of a relationship with him before his accident, I just saw him as the very intimidating horse I was riding. Since then, we have learned to trust each other so much more.
Cool has taught me that being an equestrian is so much more than just being able to ride effectively. Now, I find it just as important to spend time together. Sometimes we spend it doing groundwork, watching him graze, spending time brushing him, or just giving him lots of attention and his favorite treats.
Of course we still have our off days where we just aren’t clicking, but we have so many more good than bad. He has become my best friend throughout this past year, I’m confident that I can always rely on him to cheer me up after a bad day, whether we just spend time together or go for a ride. We still have lots of things to work on as well, as soon as we accomplish one goal, I can think of 10 more to take its place. But I have learned that the most important part of achieving those goals is having fun and spending time with the horse(s) you love!