I’ve been working on cleaning out storage, and selling or giving away lots of stuff, and trying to figure out how to make the things I am keeping fit in the house. This means I have been going through a lot of stuff, including finding VHS-C tapes and photo albums I thought were lost. I am not sure what is on the VHS-C tapes other than three are labeled “horses” and one is labeled with a 2001 date at the barn. I might send them off one by one to digitize them.
But the pictures I can see right away; I feel like this is as good a time as any to tell you much more about my third horse and first true jumper, Leo.
Months after moving my horses from San Antonio up to Austin, the trainers at this new-to-me barn called Kings Bridge Farm approached me with the objective of informing me that I needed a different horse. I had well outgrown Anchor, and Red was a work in progress that might never compete. A trainer even suggested how much we could probably get for Anchor to go toward the purchase price of a new horse.
Sell Anchor? No! I already knew I needed a different horse, though. And we had a small budget that was workable under certain circumstances which I was willing to adhere to. Anchor could be an in-barn lease horse, and I started horse shopping. I said I wanted a gelding, and something with a bigger stride than Anchor’s, not a kick ride. Young is fine if that’s what’s affordable, and new horse can go into what was basically full training. The funniest thing was the trainer tried to delicately tell me that color shouldn’t be a factor, and I was like yeah, no shit. And he said he had just wondered about it since Anchor was a palomino, and I said I had that horse because of his brain, not his color. And then I said, maybe no grays, though. We got along perfectly fine after that conversation!
I sat on a few different horses, ultimately trying a little black off-track thoroughbred who cantered right around a small course of jumps, maybe 2’3″, while I pretty much just sat there. The trainer (acting as agent in the sale) told me what to do as far as riding around — this was at an A show — and I knew this was a good option as far as what we could buy at the time (thanks, Mom!).
I named him Leo, after a few days of trying to decide while calling him “little black horse.” I was reading Anna Karenina at the time so I just took the author’s name as being a good one for this horse. I want to say Titanic had just come out in theaters around this time and people kept asking me if I had named him after Leonardo DiCaprio … at the time I said no, but that guy has turned out pretty well so maybe I should name a horse after him …
Leo would start his competitive career in the hunter ring, and my trainer rode him frequently, both at shows and at home. Me … well, I didn’t do so well in the hunter ring. For such a young horse (just turned 4 when purchased), Leo was very tolerant of my mistakes, but tolerance doesn’t win hunter divisions. My hope initially had been to get show miles on him, sell him, and buy a jumper. It turns out he already was a jumper, we just hadn’t discovered that yet. He had easy lead changes, but quite a bit of expression in them and in his jump — too much of it looked a bit crabby for an Adult Amateur hunter, really.
Schooling late in the evening one night, after a year or so of showing in the hunters, the trainer had me put the jumps up a bit more than usual. We had a streak of evenings like this, changing tack here and there, building up an oxer at the end of a simple grid, seeing how tight Leo could take a roll back turn (turns out tight as you can ride it, just don’t fly off the side when he turns before you do).
My trainer and I had a sit down chat about Leo’s future, and it was clear that he wanted to be in the jumper ring.
And I wanted to be there, too, so we started going around in the Adult jumpers, having a blast every time. The trainer rode him in some bigger classes — not huge, but something that was called preliminary jumpers at the time. Leo seemed happiest at 3’3″-3’9″ so we competed in both the low and high adults. I wouldn’t trade those show experiences for anything!
We had speed bumps, too. A few tendon injuries, anhydrosis, hoof issues, and some trial and error with bitting set ups. And I had foot surgery, forced to take 12 weeks off riding (I lasted about 9). A junior caught the ride on Leo, and I was skeptical at first, but he pretty much loved her. (If you have any digitized pictures, I’d love to see them, Emily!) They traveled around to shows, too, usually earning champion in the Children’s jumpers at most shows they went to. He had a niche, and he could teach younger riders about getting around efficiently in the jumper ring.
As long as you could stay on! Either his bucks, or a hard jump–he jumped me out of the tack on more than one occasion, one time at a large oxer where I rode to a horrible distance. Leo hesitated and I hunkered down for a stop. Well, he jumped the crap out of that oxer and I flew off at the apex of his jump and got the wind knocked out of me. Leo continued on around the corner, doing an easy change. By the next corner, he realized he was riderless, stopped, and stared at me on the ground like, “why’d you fall?” My trainer and I had a good laugh at that. He was always finding the jumps for his rider.
Ultimately, I would sell him, after about 7 years together. I went off to law school and he went to a little girl in San Antonio, then next to a little girl in Dallas. I lost track of him, and by now he would be well into his 20s. My thinking, based on his previous injuries and issues, is that he may no longer be alive. Tracking him down seems like a double-edged sword, as I don’t have the funds to support a second horse if I were to find him alive but in a bad situation. He was such a competitive horse, and a very sweet horse, my hope is that he found a good retirement, wound up a school horse, or was humanely euthanized if that need arose. We can’t keep them all!
Of course, after my experiences with Red, and then Leo, my affinity for thoroughbreds has sunk its claws into my heart permanently. I click with Eli partly because of what the horses who came before him taught me. And perhaps I will be lucky enough to add a few more thoroughbreds to my roster. Just, one at a time.
*The photos in this post were taken by my mom, Don Osley, Roger Lohr, and Heaven’s Horse. I purchased many prints from the professional photographers and sadly have not yet unearthed all of them. Just some of them, and some proofs. I am going with what I have and if any of the photographers don’t like it, please contact me for a resolution.