Yesterday, when I called Shannon about riding today, she gave me some sad, sad news.  Bobby died as a result of severe impaction colic on Thursday, after hours of vet care, IV for rehydration and all. 

I am very sad.

No, I did not own Bobby, but I was riding him and finally starting to make some progress.  I was hoping that the EZ-fit treeless saddle I ordered last week would be more comfortable on his back than the Wintec Wide saddle I’ve been using, but, alas, now I will never know if it would have helped him. 

Bobby was a cute, cute, cute imported 13.2 hand British Riding Pony.  When I first met him all I could think was that he looked like the most loveable pony a little girl could dream up.  Chestnut, round and roly-poly, with decent conformation of the pony variety, and a very appealing face, Bobby was the type of pony I just wanted to hug, mount, and ride off into adventures (well, if I was a little girl instead of in my 60’s with MS.)  Bobby had been donated to Shannon’s handicapped riding program because he was suffering from intractable ulcers, she turned him out to pasture 24/7 and the ulcers quit bothering him.  He had other problems too, like any self-respecting pony he had learned how to defend himself from bad riders.  Balky, resistant to turning, determined to do what HE wanted to do (i.e. ANYTHING but what his rider wanted) and he had a permanent sour look on his face when he was being ridden.  Shannon asked me to ride him to try to make him happier since she’s a bit too heavy to ride the smaller horses. I made some progress with Bobby the first few months I rode him several years ago.  He started cooperating with my aids more, accepting me controlling his speed, gait and direction, and generally being less fearful of being ridden.  I got my first Wintec (the 250) to try and fit Bobby’s wide back, too wide for my widest old leather saddle.  I switched Bobby from a bit to the Nurtural cross-under bitless bridle so he would no longer have to worry about his riders hurting his tender mouth (which could be iron hard when he wanted to resist.)  When Shannon was content that Bobby was behaving a lot better under other riders she let me move on to riding Cider and Merlin and Bobby was left to the not so tender mercies of Shannon’s younger riders, being ridden in the Nurtural bitless and usually just a bareback pad.  Inevitably Bobby slipped back into his old, bad habits and I finally ended up riding Bobby again the last few months.

I have thought a lot about the hunt seat trained horses that were donated to Shannon’s program.  Obviously well bred horses (Bobby and Merlin were imported from Great Britain,) these horses suffer from having backs that are WIDE, with the Wintec Wide saddle I have to use the widest pommel plate (extra-extra-extra wide) for three of them, and I bet that most of the time these horses were possibly trained and probably ridden with saddles that were WAY to narrow for them.  Then here in the USA they were leased out to “serious” 3-day event wannabes, young riders whose abilities and skills were obviously not up to the horses they leased.  Combine ill fitting saddles, unskilled riders in a demanding sport, and a horse culture that demands immediate and perfect obedience no matter what amount of pain the horse is in, and you end up with ruined horses, and IT IS NOT THE HORSE’S FAULT that all this happened to them.  Horses get blamed all the time for the sins of their riders, after all the rider is of a “superior” species therefore anything the rider does is right and proper and the horses’ responses to this unintended abuse is often punished severely.

Often, especially when riding Bobby and Merlin, I would get a “message” that they had been spanked severely for not performing as their riders desired.  Spanked is a polite term for being whipped hard, hard enough so that the pain inflicted by the rider was greater than the pain of the ill-fitting saddles and the bad riding these horses suffered.  The “message” from these horses was one of “do your worst, we have survived worse, and we know how to deal with it.”  Thus a good horse is ruined.

If these horses had fallen into the hands of a trainer (and from what I’ve picked up from these horses’ reactions to good riding their initial trainers were very, very good) who cared more about the horse than the deadlines for training to sport, and then if these horses had then been bought by GOOD riders who did everything they could to make sure the saddles fit reasonably well, these horses would have been super horses, willing, forward, honest and giving their all for their riders.  Horses are so generous when they feel that their rider is trying to work with them, and often they are so generous that they will forgive their riders the pain that the riders cause them.  If the horses did not forgive us all of us riders would be dead, but instead of killing us the horses try, and try, and try to give their riders whatever their riders ask for.  Until they finally give up and decide to defend themselves instead.  Even then the horses rarely kill us for our sins, instead they resist their riders, give us less than we ask for, turn sour towards all people, and end up going down the long, horrible road to the slaughter house.

Shannon’s horses were lucky, they got to Shannon’s place and got turned out into a big pasture where they could heal.  Riders stopped trying to force them over jumps, stopped trying to get a “good head set” and fake collection, and Shannon generally let them be horses, not sports machines.  When I entered the picture years ago Shannon was glad to get a rider that knew hunt seat since Shannon mainly learned to ride Western and now rides mostly with a bareback pad.  But I am not the only person who rides these horses, and since I ride only 30 minutes a week at Shannon’s there is no way that I can give all these horses the consistency they need.  So I ride each horse for several months getting them to go right, then I switch to the next problem child.  At least I know that when someone else rides them that they are ridden bitless and with a bareback pad and so are not tortured by bad hands and too tight saddles.  It is not ideal, but it is a LOT better than just about anything else they could have faced.

So now I mourn Bobby, a pony who tried humans, gave up on humans, and even so was willing to consider that some humans might not be as bad as he thought.  A pony who could have been a SUPER competitor with the right person, a person who valued Bobby for his slightly obstinate personality (it shows toughness) and worked diligently to improve enough so Bobby considered her a valid rider.  But Bobby’s life did not turn out that way and he got discarded.  At least at Shannon’s place Bobby got to be pasture boss for years, joyfully grazing and running around a big pasture.  There are worse fates in life for a pony.

When I asked Shannon who she wanted me to ride next she said I could ride anyone I wanted to, but that she really needs me to ride Magic, a Tennessee Walking Horse mare that is too small for Shannon to ride.  I do not have much experience with TWH’s, I rode a gigantic half TWH gelding at horse school (I swear that horse could do a regular walk that was 6-7 mph), and I had one ride on another half TWH.  I do have over a decade of experience training and riding my Paso Fino mare so I am familiar with riding a gaited horse.  I will have to take several of my saddles out (and several pommel plates for the Wintecs) and try to fit her as best I can.  From what Shannon said I suspect I may end up riding in my dressage saddle again with shims in my Corrector pad at least until I get the billet straps fixed on my Stubben or get my EZ-fit treeless saddle.  It will be a new adventure for me, learning how to affect the walk of a TWH, keeping it 4-beat and not pacey, and, when the ground dries out in the ring, experimenting with her running walk.  Until I teach the mare my language of the aids I will be using my Spirit bitless bridle, the mare should not have to worry about the bit hurting her mouth while she learns a new language!  Pitter-patter, here I come.

Rest in peace, Bobby.  In spite of what many people said, none of it was your fault.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran               






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Comment by Coopersmom_1958 on March 2, 2013 at 3:50pm

I'm so sorry about Bobby :( RIP 

Comment by MagsNMe on February 25, 2013 at 10:36pm

I'm sorry to hear about Bobby.  Horses are such good souls, even when done wrong.  RIP dear boy.

Comment by Ashley on February 25, 2013 at 11:29am

Jackie, I am so very sorry to hear about Bobby. My own mare Cassy (in my profile photo) suffered from extreme arthritis in her front legs, so bad that her knees fused solid (and not in a good way). Unfortunately this was before either my teenage self or my parents knew much about how veterinarians can help arthritis, so for much of the last year or so of her life, she was on Bute and stall rest. The day we put her down, she was so chipper; she nickered at me like she did every morning, despite being obviously very uncomfortable, and I spent a few very long hours grooming her, talking with her, and letting her know how much I would miss her. I know she understood me - there is no question about that. She seemed so brave when the vet came and finally put her down. My parents would not allow me to be there when the vet put her to sleep, which was probably a good thing as I was only 13. 

I think your thoughts regarding saddle fit are very nice; it's so important to make sure we provide our equine companions with the comfort they deserve, as far as being a horse goes. :) 

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