BY LAUREN MAULDIN
I’m in the middle of the best worst activity—horse shopping. Some mornings I wake up and think, Okay! This is going to be the week I find the one. But mostly, especially lately, it’s an exercise in patience sprinkled with deep feelings of “this is never going to happen.”
Though my trainer is the real one writing up the ads and asking around for the perfect match, I couldn’t help myself to write a little ISO of my own. Because my fellow amateurs know how the whole entire horse experience—shopping included—feels as emotional as it is logical.
Not So Casually Seeking “The One”
Looking for the unicorn, the heart horse, the forever partner of the dreams my inner twelve-year-old has not given up on… even well over 20 years later.
Seeking the kind of horse I can kiss on the nose. One to sneak treats to when my trainer isn’t looking (by hand instead of a bucket, so I can feel that velvety nose). The kind of horse I can build memories with and have the privilege of taking care of for decades. Through arthritis (theirs and mine, Previcox for all!) and step-down divisions. From derbies to long bareback walks in the field. I’m not looking for a flip or a phase. Mine is a lifelong obsession. And
if when I find the one, they won’t know another owner. I hope to keep this horse until I have nothing left but the memories we made together and the pain that comes from loving something that much. After all, that’s why I’m looking for a horse to begin with. Because even through all of the pain, expenses, and heartbreak of this sport—I know the treasure that a heart horse is.
There are practicalities though, I should get to those. After all, trainer isn’t impressed when I send her shining 15hh Palominos and go, “Oooo! Pretty!” The one has to be a decent size, for I will never turn down post-lesson margaritas and tacos. They say thick thighs save lives, and they have saved my life at least once clinging onto a spooking young horse, but they also require something ‘thicc’ to match.
It has to have a decent stride because as much as I’ve tried to make double adding fashionable in the hunters, the trend hasn’t quite caught on. And since when I actually do have the right pace I am apt to yell to my trainer, “I’m galloping like the Black Stallion!” it’s probably going to be better for everyone if the thing covers the ground well.
Of course, it needs to jump, but it doesn’t have to jump beyond reason. Let’s be real—there are going to be times when I make really dumb choices or pull to nothing (my trademark move, patent pending). When that happens, I’d much prefer my pony partner to choose life and kindly say “No, thank you.” That’s never a punishable offense in my eyes. It teaches me to be better.
Though I have owned many a horse without lead changes, the simple change life hasn’t exactly caught on in the hunters either… so it needs to have a change. Doesn’t have to be auto, but bonus points if said horse is smarter than me when it comes to basic concepts like “turning.”
Hack ribbons are nice, but I’ve never been a beauty contest winner. I would hate to impose such standards on my horse. While I would never turn down a daisy cutter trot, it’s just as fun to hack around on a horse that feels like the winner. We’ll spend more time at the barn than we ever will at shows. If my horse and I can trot around safely in sync with light contact and a smile, we’ve already won.
The part that everybody dreads is budget. Some will say I have no money at all to shop with, and others will respond, “Oh my god, you’re buying a horse for how much?” It all depends on perspective. Money aside, I’ve budgeted a good deal of my sanity towards this sport. The hours a day I spend thinking or talking about horses almost seem impossible. I’ve budgeted time—hours driving to and from the barn during rush hour, days hand-walking in the rain or wrapping for an injury beyond the normal fun of riding, decades spent taking lessons to try and do my horse justice. Where I went to college, what I’ve chosen for my career, and where I live have all been impacted by horses. My total budget is a lot more than money.
And yes, I’m buying a horse with hopes to show, but this time searching has made me realize what a small piece of the puzzle showing is. When I think about my heart horse that died, it’s not the ribbons we won that make me miss him. What I’m really searching for, more than divisions or show results or pedigree, is the joy he gave me. It’s the steady partner that helped me through the worst moments of my life. The peace in knowing we were there for each other. Whether galloping through the field or schooling over an oxer—flying.
That’s what I’m looking for, what I’m trying to gather through short video clips and USEF records and cryptic seller speak. The horse is important, but the heart is essential. Because what amateurs are really looking for—at least this amateur—is that wild, unruly, little piece of our heart that’s missing. For the afflicted ones like me, you can’t find it in designer clothes, a spouse, a vacation or work promotion. If you’re really lucky, you find it deep in the chest of four strong legs and a galloping soul.
About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.
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