Meet the Horses: Alex
Last week, I introduced you to Lexi and her story. This week, I present to you Alex, the other half of the dynamic duo here at Bright Side.
Alex is a 21 year old chestnut Thoroughbred gelding who is from Kentucky and never raced. I've had the pleasure of owning him since he was 9 years old, but he hasn't always been right by my side that whole time.
Alex came to me at a point in my history with horses where I was struggling to figure out a previous horse. I had a warmblood cross mare who was a beautiful mover and with the most incredible flying lead changes, but she had a serious "quit" button. It didn't matter if we were in the middle of a lesson at home, a schooling session, or in the show ring going through a round of jumps, but at some point, she would decide she was finished with whatever we were doing and would refuse to cooperate with me any longer. It usually came in the form of being dumped into a fence, which was completely frustrating. I did my best to figure out what triggered that response, but there really didn't seem to be any consistency. At times, she would even begin to lift her front end to jump a fence but then decide at the last possible moment to not go through with it. I developed an intense case of distrust with her because I never knew when this moment would appear. And she was the type of horse that needed a lot of leg and quite a bit of support to get her through a course, but with my hesitancy with her, there were moments when I didn't provide that for her.
I remember being at a show where she was particularly trying, and I hit a standard as a result of her dropping from underneath me. The judge, who is a friend and had seen me ride this mare for a while, came up to me afterwards and said I needed a new horse. I promptly tried to make excuses and blame myself and made the case that I was trying to work through it all. This friend and judge said something to me that day that left an impression and has stuck with me ever since: "Horses are a lot like people. You get along with some of them and not with others. It's okay to realize you don't work well together and to part ways." What truth that resonates in many areas of life! After that conversation, I began horse hunting with my dear friend Shelley.
I had a few stipulations. This time around, I wanted a gelding. And, I wanted something brave that would consistently jump 3' classes or higher. I eventually went out to try Alex. I learned that he had never raced and was, in fact, bred by Nina Bonnie (who has a street named after her at the Kentucky Horse Park). He then was owned by an event rider who showed him often until she had children and needed to sell him. When I first saw the big red horse, I didn't think he was very pretty and wasn't sure I was going to like him. But then I rode him. He was this massively built Thoroughbred who stood just under 17 hands, and he was long bodied. Essentially, he was a lot of horse for me after coming off a small warmblood cross mare. And he had a BIG step. His walk was forward, his trot was big, and his canter covered the ground in seconds. I couldn't figure out how to hold him together or keep my legs and hands still on him at first, but I liked him. And, then we started to jump. As I said, he was big and forward and long, so I basically floundered around on him for an entire course before I learned how to stay with him. And it didn't phase him one bit. There was a girl flapping around on him barely steering properly and he just cantered to every jump like a champ. Whether the take off was long or short, he jumped. Whether I stayed with him or pulled on his face, he jumped. It didn't matter. He knew his job and not only did he do it well, he loved it. Then, the fences went up. My friends wanted me to see that I could truly trust this horse, so they kept putting a vertical higher and higher until it reached beyond what I had ever jumped before. And Al kept going. He had his ears forward and was happy as lark regardless of the fact that I was nervous and grabbing mane and not trusting at all what would happen. He wasn't overly pretty, nor was he the fanciest jumper or mover, but I discovered he was exactly what I needed. The problem was the price tag. He was WAY above what I could afford. So, I sold the four horses I had at the time and did my best to make it work.
From that day forward, Alex taught me so much. I learned that riding could be fun again, and through his bravery and love for jumping, I found a renewed passion for the sport. He was a challenge at times because he was still a lot of horse, but through putting in time and effort, we became quite a team. He would jump anything. ANYTHING. And it was a blast! I loved it! While we ruled the local circuit in the amateur division, it took much more work to place at the A shows. But we did...several times. And he was unflappable in the warm up and schooling rings. Horses would come at him in all different directions, and he never flinched. There was even a time when a rider crashed into his side with their horse, and Alex just kept moving forward without blinking an eye. Through Alex, I gained a love for Thoroughbreds and their incredible heart and willingness to please, and I discovered a talent for riding forward horses that pull. Because of Alex, I became a better rider and a better person. I learned it was okay to trust again, and I saw a whole new world open up when I was ready to let go of the past.
There was a time when I thought I would sell Alex and buy something a little younger and fancier, as he was aging and requiring more maintenance. In fact, I even had him almost sold until he blew his suspensory ligament. After that long recovery from that tear, he ended up being able to be ridden consistently but not shown anymore. During our time in Virginia, he came up with a strange lameness that confused me, but it was a blessing I worked for an equine vet who quickly got to the root of the problem. Alex tested positive for both EPM and Lymes disease. Neither of which were good for me to hear. We treated him for both, and he ended up making a great recovery. After all of that, I just rode him for fun, but in our change over to Wisconsin, I ended up leasing him out as a lesson horse and then as a practice horse. So for the next five years, I really didn't see him very much.
I missed him immensely, but we were starting a family. And with little babies at home, I just didn't have time to give him anyway. Eventually, I brought him up closer to us and got free board for him at a big barn north of Chicago in exchange for them using him as a beginner lesson horse. For a while, he was the barn favorite and adored by everyone. However, at some point when we moved to the Carolinas, the main trainer left and the interest in him waned. I didn't hear a whole lot about how he was doing, and we were in the midst of looking for land and trying to get a place ready for horses. Then, I got a call that Alex was lame behind and that I needed to come get him.
So, Devin, the kids, and I travelled up to get Big Al. But when I saw him, my heart just about broke in two. He was so skinny and looked so sad. I don't think anyone had loved on him much, nor had they fed him very well. As a Thoroughbred, he has to eat lots of calories to keep his weight, and he was missing a couple of hundred pounds. While we had property at this point, we still didn't have fencing for horses, so he went to live with my friend Shelley in Lexington, Kentucky. She helped me find him and used to board him when we lived in Kentucky, so I trusted that she knew him well and would take good care of him. And, she certainly did. While Al is currently still in the process of gaining weight, Shelley brought him along so well. He still proceeded to occasionally show the lameness behind, but his front feet became the focus and she did her best to keep him sound.
Then this summer, the day came when I got to tell him he was coming home to be with me. What a moment! Al is a big, stoic introvert who doesn't have a ton of expression compared to the extroverted Lexi, but when you get to know him, it's easy to read how he feels. He doesn't prick his ears forward for many people, but he did when he saw me again. I like to think he was excited about coming home to Bright Side.
In the last month that Alex has been here, it's been a challenge to get his front feet sorted out and to keep his weight up. At 21, he may never be a "fat" horse again, but I sure am trying. He is a quiet soul who stays a little in the shadows when we have visitors, but he still loves to give and receive attention.
However, the last day or so has been a tad frustrating. Just when our farrier has gotten Alex's front feet to the point where he can start work again soon, Al starting moving a little funny behind, as we say. His back legs looked a little off. So, I called the vet. As it turns out, Alex is having a flare up of EPM, which never really goes away and doesn't have a true cure. Essentially, EPM is a "disease caused by a protozoal infection that affects the central nervous system in horses." It's not something fun, and honestly, it's difficult to see a horse deal with the symptoms. It's not contagious to another horse, but it does require treatment and careful observation.
It is my hope that as people come out to the ranch and meet the quirky red horse, that they see age and disease has little bearing on purpose. Just because he is past his prime showing years doesn't mean his useful days are over. He is worth loving and has so much to offer, even in his less than ideal, current condition.
In case you can't tell from this lengthy blog, I adore this horse and thank God for bringing him across my path. If you haven't had the opportunity to meet him (although Lexi usually steals the show), we invite you to come see him in person. You can schedule a time to visit by either emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (803) 487-7786.