Origin tales, quirky horses, and a call to help for an EHJ Alum

April 27, 2014

It sounds weird, but I started The Exchange to help quirky horses find homes. Obviously it has evolved into something else, but our humble beginnings centered around our own quirky horse experience.

Meet Casey, aka Classified, my own little claim to fame of the '90s. He was a race-bred thoroughbred, which was nothing to write home about back then, but he moved like a dream and jumped every fence in the same incredible style. Sitting his trot was akin to being double-bounced on a trampoline and the first time I jumped him I turned to my trainer and innocently asked, "Where the heck did his neck go?", but he was the nicest beast I was ever going to get my moderately funded hands on and we had a great run in both the Junior Hunters & 3'6" Medals.

He was quirky. Not the quirkiest by any means and always very safe, but he had his moments. He hated solid white fences, wasn't real keen to leave the ground if you didn't explicitly tell him to, and spooked at his own breath in winter. He would also respond to any movement on his back and one escaped lock of hunter hair whipping in the wind was enough to cue an ill-timed lead swap.

But we were very successful and his talent was readily apparent, so when I graduated high school and prepared to move 2000 miles away for college it never occurred to us that he would be a "tough sell". Kid after kid came to try him but nobody was writing a check. One potential buyer, a pony kid, got halfway around the ring at the trot then burst into tears of fear (his trot was freaky big). Others couldn't get him over a crossbar and still others couldn't canter a straight line without a barrage of tempi changes.

We took him to the big shows, we ran ads in the big magazines, we sent him to the big dealers. We did everything we were told to do but as my sophomore year at college dawned our options grew increasingly dim.

Sixteen years later and Casey is still ours. As I turned professional he earned his keep as a very fancy lesson horse and turned out some superb riders. When the time came we retired him on 200 acres in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley of California. He still roams those fields today with his own personal herd of mares.

Which is why when the GoFundMe campaign for Jet Jones darted across my Facebook feed I immediately took notice.

Jet was an Exchange listing back in 2011. He had an excellent resume but came with some quirks and a less than perfect vetting. Hoping his accolades would be sufficient we set about finding him a home. He had promising trials but ultimately no one was willing to commit to the horse that sometimes liked to "stand and wave at the crowd". The price was adjusted but still no luck. Eventually we had to admit defeat and Jet slid off our radar. Fortunately for Jet, young Kacie Doyle did not let him slip off hers.

This January 2013 article in California Riding magazine pretty well sums up the whole "meant to be" moral of this story:

(Jet) passed through several riders, with Kacie consistently expressing her interest to Jet's trainer Kelly James along the way. For a long time, the funds just weren't there and Kacie became blue each time she learned he was out on trial with a prospective new owner. Somewhere along the line, however, Kacie got the chance to sit on Jet and knew instantly that her instincts had been right: he was her horse. The fates aligned and he became so in early March.

Fast forward 2 years and many successes later and the late night call all horse owners dread came, the 18 year old Jet Jones was colicing. For Kacie 2 years with her heart horse simply wasn't enough, and the decision was made to help him fight back. But for a rider whose horse shopping budget limited them to a teen-aged veteran with ringbone and an occasional rearing problem the cost of surgery was almost prohibitive.

Jet was 15 years old when he arrived at The Exchange for marketing. Add to that his quirks and x-rays and you have the Tough Sell Trifecta. For every 7 y.o. import there are a dozen Jet Jones; veterans that have done their jobs for a decade or more, served half-a-dozen+ riders, and schlepped back and forth across the country. These schoolmasters are far from used up but carry the wear and tear of a seasoned pro. They are all too frequently overlooked while buyers opt for the shiny new import, who himself will be cast aside in just four years time, when his age rolls into double-digit territory.

The aged or senior horse faces a great deal of prejudice. While hundreds of bright-eyed youngsters arrive from Europe each year little attention is paid to the aging show horse population. Riders with limited budgets are encouraged to buy fancy and green rather than fancy and educated, and I spend many a night wondering what has happened to our teen-aged show horses. And what will happen to these young imports in six years time, when they themselves face a market dominated by 8 year olds.

I wonder what would have happened to quirky Casey if we had been successful in selling him. Would anyone have cared enough about a flighty little thoroughbred to fund umpteen years of retirement? Would he have been cast off as old and troubled? Would he have been sent down the line, and then further down the line, until his value was measured in pennies per pound?

What would have happened to Jet if Kacie hadn't believed in him? A 3'6" medal horse with huge west coast accolades that almost no one wanted. What are our plans for these horses? The answer is none. When it comes to the bread & butter of this sport, the intermediate jr/am classes, there is little incentive to purchase anything beyond age 10 or 12 (and preferred age is 8), despite the fact that the 1.50m+ grand prix classes are filled with horses aged 14 & up.

One day I would like to see USEF shine its omnipotent light on the horses that have spent years lining their coffers. I'd like to see incentives for showing senior horses, and grants handed down to those with 7+ years of service to the sport. But until that day comes I can only recommend that the BTDT 14 y.o. Childrens Hunter would work just fine for your 11 year old daughter, and offer Jet's savior a little monetary help with his vet bills.

Thank you Kacie for taking on a senior horse. A quirky horse. A battle-worn horse. I am donating to your cause not just for Jet, but for all the show horses that will eventually need a heart as big as yours in their lives.

If you've been inspired by this tale, or perhaps you've known the aged or quirky horse that simply needed a soft landing, I encourage you to give just a little bit in their name.

Please click here to donate.

Pictured below, Kacie Doyle & Jet Jones.

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