It was 2005. Star Wars Episode III was concluding the saga, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was flying off the bookshelves, and yes, we were already hooked on American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. And I was “between” horses. I had retired my teenage off-the-track thoroughbred Distinct Leader because of a multitude of health and soundness issues and had been looking for almost two years for a new horse that might have more talent and less problems.
Coming from an animal welfare background, it was important to me to at least try to adopt a horse from a rescue, giving it a new home, a new career, and a new lease on life. However, after several adoptions and straight out purchases of OTTBs failed for one reason or another, my trainer suggested I cast a larger net and begin looking at young, unstarted warmbloods (all my budget could afford). Having been a thoroughbred-lover all my life, I didn’t know a Holsteiner from a Hanoverian and didn’t really care what breed I ended up with, as long as the horse was athletic and personable.
We drove all over the Midwest looking at warmblood youngsters, from yearlings to five-year-olds. Most hadn’t been started yet (that’s when the price tag REALLY jumps up!) so we were limited to assessing conformation, movement, personality and pedigree. Despite being presented some quality horseflesh, I just wasn’t finding exactly what I wanted. On a whim, we decided to drive out to a local Trakehner breeding farm just 15 minutes away from my home and look over their herd.
The “Summer 2005 Sales List” included two, three, and four-year-olds; riding horses (five-year-olds); and a few broodmares. The riding horses didn’t have a price tag after their description, just “private treaty” which translates to “many zeroes” and I wasn’t interested in a broodmare. And since the place I intended to board my new horse didn’t accept mares at all we narrowed our search to the younger, unstarted geldings. That left us with DeKalb and Murano from the 2003 crop; Amadeus, Debussy, and Nesmith from the 2002 crop; and Hoffman, Newman, and Nicholson from the 2001 crop. If you haven’t figured it out by now, this particular farm names their foals using a different theme each year, following the Trakehner convention to begin the foal’s name with the same letter as the dam’s name. So 2003 was places, 2002 was musicians, and 2001 was actors.
Each horse was brought into the farm’s indoor arena and free lunged at a walk, trot and canter both directions so we could assess (and video) movement, then positioned so we could assess (and photograph) conformation. At the same time we were told the horse’s name, age, breeding and what that particular lineage was known for (dressage, jumping, eventing, etc). Very organized and efficient.
After evaluating youngsters from 2003 and 2002 it was time for the 2001 group, but as the official videographer for the day I was having trouble finding the first horse, Newman, in my view screen. Turns out he was behind me, having recognized that a “meeting” was going on and wanting to be part of it. The breeder and her assistant shooshed him away so we could watch and record him moving but he came right back with a “how was that?” expression on his face. Again they shooshed him away and again he returned to the people meeting after a brief outing. I think I found my new horse! Any equine that wanted to be with humans more than his friends and more than run around in an arena was exactly what I was looking for!
Here’s what his description in the sale book said: “Bay Trakehner gelding, f. 6/7/01, by Donaudeen out of Norita *M* by Butow *E*. Should mature 17h. Gorgeous appearance with beautiful proportions, topline, and well-set eyes. Bred to excel in any discipline. Very willing attitude. In ground work, soon under saddle.”
My notes from that day include:
- Short attention span
- Long back
- Flat but big mover
- Currently 16.2 ½
- Not under saddle yet but being long-lined with full tack
- Bright almost “blood” bay
- Sire’s nickname is “Dino”
- Passed a pre-purchase exam a few months ago but then buyers backed out
The rest is history. I came back and visited Newman a few more times—watching his training progress and being allowed to groom him in his stall—then I wrote a check and he was mine!
A few months later I wrote the breeder a letter to let her know how things were going:
Wanted to give you an update on Newman. He is really growing up! People that see him in clinics cannot believe he’s not even a full 5yo yet—he’s so quiet and calm, polite, and respectful. I love to show off how well he ground ties!
He is even more spectacular under saddle. I have never ridden a more willing partner. Although his muscling and frame are at training/first level, we have already begun to introduce “baby” shoulder-in, haunches-in, and even half-pass. He really seems to enjoy his work. Of course, he also has a talent for jumping, and we’ve graduated from poles and cavaletti to a small course of cross-rails and even a little vertical!
The plan for March is to practice short trailer rides while exposing him to other barns. In April we’ll take him to a schooling show or two and hopefully by May we’ll be ready for Lamplight!
(Lydia currently shows Newman in Third Level dressage and Preliminary Level combined driving, and they also enjoy jumping, side saddle, and trail riding.)