Katy came over on New Year's Day and we played with Winston. We talked about Winston's need for regular work to develop his fitness and his work ethic. When he is worked sporadically, each time I take him out I have to deal with six year old silliness. Katy does a good job with him but I can't afford to pay for her to ride him multiple times a week.
As we stood in the arena with Winston, Katy stopped talking, looked at me with her eyes wide and broke into a huge grin. Her friend, an upper level dressage rider, is currently without a horse. The friend's warmblood has been retired due to ringbone. She and her husband recently retired themselves, so she can't afford to buy a new horse. She has been riding horses for a local dressage trainer here and there. And she lives close by. Katy asked if I would be interested in seeing if this woman would be willing to ride Winston; perhaps in a half lease situation.
Initially, the idea of sharing Winston didn't appeal to me. I've enjoyed training him myself. I realized, though, that my situation has changed. I can no longer ride him 4-5 times per week and we aren't going to get anywhere in weekend warrior mode. I told Katy to go ahead and talk to her friend and we could explore the idea further. I worried about:
1. If the person would ride with a soft feel; be consistent and firm but kind; and if our riding styles would complement or confuse Winston.
2. The riding schedule -- I want to be able to ride Winston every weekend and on holidays. I also want to be able to take him to lessons periodically on a weekday afternoon. ...in a nutshell, I didn't want to give up any access to Winston.
3. Showing -- who would get to show him? What if we both wanted to go to the same show?
4. What if I changed my mind after a few months when the days get long and I can ride in the evenings?
Saturday morning, Katy and her friend came by for meet and greet. I liked her immediately. She was down to earth and friendly; not pretentious and not a dressage queen. While Katy lunged Winston, I told the friend about Winston's personality and his training history. I rode Winston next. He was gold. He had an audience -- his favorite thing -- and I could feel him showing off. The friend got on him last. I liked her soft seat and her quiet hands. She rode him the way I do. She kept a light contact with his mouth and moved him off her leg.
Afterwards, we talked. She wants to ride him a few more times and see how they get along. She can't afford a formal lease. She doesn't want to be locked into a young horse in case her trainer brings in an upper level horse she can compete. But, she thought Winston was fun to ride and loved how forward he moves. The more we talked, the more I liked her honesty. We are thinking about having her ride Winston a few days during the week without a formal lease arrangement (but with a liability release to protect us both). Winston will benefit from regular work with an experienced rider. I will benefit by having a fit horse who is progressing. And she will benefit by having a horse to ride until her next upper level horse comes along.
Brett said to me, "You'll let her ride Winston for free?" Yes. Yes, I will. It removes all the "obligation" noise and more importantly, it feels right. When I was a horse crazy kid, I had no horse of my own. My parents couldn't afford the board and upkeep and we lived in the suburbs so there was no property to keep a horse at home. There was a boarding stable up the street and the owners let me ride the Shetland pony they had for their grandkids. I rode Petey, who had one eye and dumped me until I learned to stay on. Then I rode Smokey, who replaced Petey. When I outgrew the ponies, I spent my money at a rental stable. In high school, a family let me ride their horse. The mare had belonged to the daughter, now off to college. Charco was a grey quarter horse/Arabian cross and opinionated. I loved her. Everyday after school, I rode my bike up Bluebird Hill and took Charco into the mountains. The family didn't make me pay anything. It was a way for their mare to get exercised, but more than that, it was a gift from heaven for me.
Sharing Winston with a horse crazy dressage rider, with no horse, feels the same. Share the love. Pass it on. Give back.