Chaps – the novel

September 8, 2008 at 10:10 am (My Daily Life)

An update on what I’ve been doing with Chaps over the past few months.  Chaps, if you remember, is the horse I lease – a 20 year old chestnut thoroughbred gelding.  His owner, Katie, was home for the summer and was jumping him.  Chaps doesn’t like jumping; Katie was tossed off several times this summer, but from what I could tell that was more her fault than his.  Katie finally, finally, went back to school a couple of weeks ago and life has improved greatly for both me and chaps.

First, with Katie gone I can use her tack space to store my stuff.  I was annoyed that earlier this summer, Katie sold one of the saddle pads I was using for Chaps.  She said didn’t know that I was using it.  However, at the same time his size medium shin guards and all his brushes went missing.  I have a feeling she sold the shin guards; she was using a size large but they don’t fit as well and I don’t know why she didn’t see that.  I’m clueless about the brushes.  But now I have cleaned out her tack cubby and have all my stuff stored in there, and I have a saddle rack to use so I’m no longer toting around a huge armful of stuff in the back of my car.  It was getting to be quite cumbersome, in addition to smelly in the car.

Chaps is happy that Katie is gone because it means he doesn’t have to jump anymore!  I called Katie around the end of August to verify something and she mentioned that if possible, she would like to have Chaps shipped to her school in Kentucky so she could compete on the collegiate eventing team.  Her ultimate desire was to keep Chaps in some sort of jumping training, whether with her or at the barn through lessons or another leasee.  Being that my interests lie in keeping Chaps at the barn, I immediately emailed Cathy, the owner of the barn, to get her working on keeping Chaps there.

Cathy was appalled.  She called Katie’s mom and explained the facts.  If Katie took Chaps to Kentucky, one or both of her parents would by flying down there before the end of the year to check Katie out of the hospital.  You see, I never see Chaps jump or anyone else ride him.  I don’t know what he’s like.  With me, he’s a perfect, perfect gentleman.  But Cathy thinks Chaps is in pain when he jumps and therefore rushes the fence and will either go through the fence or jump it, but either way, it’s very dangerous and you never quite know which one it will be.  Katie jumps because under supervision and training, but eventing would be the worst thing for him.  First, it’s timed and you are encouraged to go faster.  Second, you are jumping natural obstacles like logs – those things are not going to knock down nicely if the horse hits it; it’s going to be a nasty collision.  Katie’s mom agreed with Cathy’s assessment and called to assure me that Chaps will remain available and if anything, they would consider purchasing Katie another, more suitable horse (I won’t even go there).

In the first week that Katie was gone, Chap’s canter, which we’d been working on for three weeks, improved 100%.  I’m not kidding, it was a complete turn around.  All his other work got better too.  He improved so quickly that I found myself needing another lesson, so I met again with Janna yesterday.

Janna was impressed.  She had nothing but good things to say about him from start to end.  He apparently has a wonderful walk.  I know that seems like a “duh” statement, but many horses who are stiff in their back do not have a true, measured, 4-beat walk and Chaps does.  We joked that at this point, we just don’t want to screw that up.  His pace, impulsion and extension at the trot are spot on.  He’s balanced, forward, round and flexible at the canter.  All the stuff we were working on were things concerning my position, which because he’s so responsive, will also help improve him.  I have a few things to work on myself and then we are going to turn to more difficult dressage movements.  Her last comment was that he’s turning out to have some really great dressage movements in him, and then she was super impressed to learn that he’s 20.

All this got me to thinking how terribly unfair it is that I’m putting all this effort and real improvement into a horse that not only do I not own, but is likely to be sold this spring.  And he’s actually going to be worth something this spring.  He’s gone from an pretty dangerous hunter horse, one that should only be ridden by “experienced” riders, to a calm, flexible, talented dressage horse, and by this spring will be able to compete and win ribbons.  And I get nothing but personal satisfaction out of it, which is tempered by the fact that the owner doesn’t care and is likely to screw him up, make him sore, or otherwise hurt him every time she comes home on a break.

I don’t want to buy Chaps. I was offered but I would never buy a 20 year old horse.  He’s getting over his soreness from the jumping and he’s not lame, but he’s old and he won’t have any future resale value and it’s too risky, health wise.  But I have real sense of pride, and faux-ownership about him, and yet he’s not mine and I can’t get too attached to him.  I think that’s what’s happening here and I’m slow to recognize it.  I’m getting attached to a horse.

I didn’t think that was possible; ever since I sold Jewel I’ve been able to maintain my distance and view horses as a tool.  I’ve been able to remain impartial about a horse and respect the boundaries of owner and leasee.  But I’m in a situation where I don’t respect the owner and disagree with her training and technique, and because Chaps is a very nice horse, a very skilled horse, and has a personality that meshes well with mine, I’m becoming attached to him and want to see him in a good situation and excelling – preferable with me – but I still don’t want to buy him.

This is new, and it’s weird.  I didn’t see this coming and didn’t think it would happen.  The situation is what is it is – he’s not mine but he’s the best option I have, so I can only continue to train him (because that’s what it’s become, training, not conditioning) and if the owners sell him, know that I made him a better, safer, sounder horse.  If no one recognizes the effort I put into him other than those in tune at the barn, then I have to live with that – if I want recognition and acolades, I need to show and I don’t think I want to do that.

I’ve done the math over and over in my head – there is NO money to be made in purchasing a horse.  None.  Even if I puchased Chaps on the cheap (which I could), by April when people would consider purchasing a horse, I would have only increased his value by maybe $1000 considering his advanced age and lack of dressage show experience.  With board at $400/month, I’ve actually lost $1400 (plus shoes, vet, etc).  See – not worth it.  Unless you own your own facility or can get board much, much cheaper, you don’t make money on flipping these kinds of horses.  There was a cutie horse I was looking at last spring that I could have bought for a project, but again the time it would have taken to train her would have negated any profit or break-even point.

The only other option is to encourage people to let me ride for free since I’m training their horse, and I don’t like that option.  First, I’m not a trainer and I don’t pretend to be.  I only ride safe horses and if a horse has a dangerous problem, I get off.  Also, leasing offers me protection against any injury the horse gets, and that as we know, is worth it’s weight in gold.  Most importantly – people in the horse world don’t let others ride their horse for free.  I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but owners usually view the right to ride their horse as a privledge worth paying for, and if they feel the horse needs training, they they are going to pay a professional for it.

That’s where I’m at right now.  It was weighing on my mind yesterday and I needed to share.  I’ve never ridden a talented horse before, one that actually shows improvement, and it’s surprised me.  Surprised me that I possess the ability to advance my technique and improve the skills, conditioning and health of the horse.  It’s surprised me that I would want to feel a sense of ownership again.  I know, everyone says I have the best situation, don’t buy a horse again, etc.  But I explained it to Tom this way – It’s like you were taking the time and energy to fix up the neighbor’s car.  You put your own money into it and took it from bad to good.  Then, the neighbor sells it, your out of your money, your time and your car, you got no credit for your work and you can’t claim any of the success.

Hobbies are something you do for personal fulfilment though, and while they don’t make money, you have to make sure you don’t lose your shirt in the process.  So I’m approaching this in the following manner; I’m going to treat Chaps as if he’s mine – I will ride and care for him the way I would want my own horse to be, except that I don’t have to foot the bill (whohoo!!). I will train him over the winter and push to see how far he goes, both to challenge myself and challenge him.  And if the owners sell him in the spring, I will move on.  Perhaps the impression I make over the winter and the improvement I show in Chaps will open doors to leasing other, perhaps better horses.  If it doesn’t I will know that I possess an arsenal of skills to find another project lease horse and begin the process all over again.  And I can still like Chaps and feel a sense of fondness toward him because that’s okay.  He isn’t a pet and Lola is glad to hear he doesn’t even begin to compete with the affection I feel toward her, but I don’t have to view Chaps as the machine I use to keep myself in shape, or just another rotating horse with problems that I’m taking a lesson on.  It’s okay to view him as more special than the 13 hand pony that bucks every time I canter or the middle-aged TB with pins in his legs, or the shoulder-bulging hunter horse I was trying to jump.  Is it any wonder with that cast of characters that I never developed a sense of connection with my mount??

And now that I’ve said all this, Chaps is probably going to toss me on my butt tomorrow and I’ll get angry and threaten him with the glue factory.  Such is life.

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