I recently accompanied a friend to Europe, including Ireland to shop for horses. I wasn’t expecting to find a hunter for myself in Ireland (rare to find potential show hunters in Ireland) but I was open to maybe trying a jumper prospect for the first time, as I have been dying to get back into that ring, and I was happy to tag along this time as a friend more than shopper anyway. I currently wasn’t actively looking, heading into winter, and had plenty to ride at home as it was. Fresh out of the Dublin airport, on no sleep, we were escorted by longtime friend Philip Horgan (from Cork) to the second day of demos at the Goresbridge auction, which I knew nothing about. My eyes glazed over as I watched a bunch of uninspiring animals stumble around the ring and hurl themselves over jumps in unimpressive form. I dozed off on a couch inside the dining hall. I woke up as they were setting up for the really young horses, three and under, and forming a paddock with ugly aluminum siding fencing, and big Horse trucks as walls behind the fencing.Within the hour I found a hunter. I didn’t know whether to be disappointed or excited. It’s not like I could walk away from her either. She was adorable, small maybe, but adorable. We were all sitting on the couch in some strangers lorry surrounding the jump chute making fun of the other bad jumping horses and people standing outside on a porch visibly collapsing in front of our eyes from the weight of too many people. Then this creature entered the pen, and I sat up, and went s**t, that’s a hunter. This wasn’t an auction for hunters, it was for high end sport horses for jumping and eventing. I jumped out of the lorry, headed around the corner and climbed the fence along side the chute to film her jumping. She had little ambition to move forward despite her owner chasing her with a whip, and seemed to jump easily and softly enough. hmmm.
Everything was going against my normal process, however.. She was at auction, not just any auction, but the most popular one in Ireland. I hate auctions. You have to rely on pure instinct, and a bit of luck, and unless you live in the area, there is about five minutes you can spend with the horse to determine if it is right for you. We followed the little mare out of the pen, and talked to her owner for a while, getting the history. She was unbroken, not off the farm much, only 3 years old, and was standing there with the wind whipping around us like no big deal. She may have whinnied once. Around us other three year old were leaping around standing on hind legs, and dragging their handlers in every wrong direction. I called my sponsor.
It’s pretty important to have a good sponsor when your business is importing young horses, and selling them within the American market. It’s also pretty important to have a pretty good track record with past horses, and I have been extremely lucky in the 20 plus years I have been doing this. He said go for it.
That night, after the demonstrations concluded, we headed to the banquet for the dinner and live auction. It was impressive, screens were set up with video previews of the horses, and a couple of hundred people filled the ballroom. Big players were certainly there, and speculations were flying around about the money coming in that night, and the horses that were about to be sold. I felt really out of place. I was also extremely nervous. I had an idea about how much I wanted to spend on this mare, but no way to predict if someone else would be bidding against me. We sort of gathered not many big jumper and event riders were looking for a little brown hunter type mare, but still, she had incredibly good breeding (full sister to Mark Q, a highly successful Grand Prix mount for Kevin Babington).
Eventually, the auctioneer took his place on the stage and started the evening’s bidding. The first horse up had Nations Cup experience, an older gelding (Dougie Douglas) that was expected to be somebody’s Grand Prix horse. It went for 1.4 Million Euros. My heart sunk. 1.4 Million??? This was turning into some serious theatrics here, and I no longer felt I had a chance on the little brown hunter mare. From the beginning horses were going for crazy amounts of money, I couldn’t even keep track of it. Philip was beside me pointing out dealers and guessing as to where the horses were going to, who was bidding for whom, and it was making my head spin. Horses I wouldn’t give 20 grand for were going for over 100k. Maybe people were getting too drunk before they started bidding. I don’t know. I was also beginning to really doubt my instincts, but regardless, the evening carried on.
Very few were no sales, most commanded large amounts of money, and it was long into dessert before the mare called Emerald Quality finally came up for bidding. My comparatively tiny budget was making me sweat, and I had to rely on Philip for bidding. For some reason, it worked, and we landed exactly on the amount I had allocated for her. We had one other person against us, and they gave up. I couldn’t believe it. I had just purchased a hunter mare at the very same Goresbridge Auction that Katie Dinan had just purchased Dougie Douglas for 1.4 million on my very first evening of a week long trip in Europe. Not weird at all.
Now what was I going to do with her? In my mind it was pretty bad timing to purchase an unbroken three year old mare, being November and all, and I had planned on taking 6 weeks off for a pretty major surgery, so there were only a few horses to be left at the farm in Maryland before I head to Gulfport in February, and I basically have an army of two doing the bulk of the work. Beside myself, it is another girl (Stacey) trading her board bill for feeding my horses when I am not around. Well, I had a while to work it out while the mare awaited her flight and went through a 3 week quarantine. In the meantime, I purchased a blanket to keep her warm, and a halter, then bid farewell.
A few days ago, she was released from Rigbie, so Stacey insisted on coming along for the trip up there, as she has never seen Rigbie Farm, and spent a great deal of time scolding me for being cranky during the drive. I was. What if this was a bad decision? What if she was a useless horse? What was I thinking buying horses going into the winter? I hadn’t thought this through at all, and the impending surgery was freaking me out. We got there and while we waited for Sharon and Liz to come out of the breeding shed, I followed someone down to her stall in the bank barn, and switched on the light to her stall. Stacey squealed with delight. I rolled my eyes. The mare turned her little head and from her pile of hay for about a second and gave us a completely unimpressed glance, then went back to eating. Ok, she was cute. But, still. It was just a horse.
Sharon and Liz run Rigbie Farm in Darlington, MD, I trust them to tell me every observation, and give me the run down on horses that spend time with them, but they were happy with her, she had given them no trouble whatsoever, knew the walker, and was easy to deal with. Shy maybe, but easy. They loaded her up, I took the paper work, and we headed home. Stacey decided right then and there she was going to take her on herself and have her broken and ready to go by the time I was able to return to the farm, in about 6 weeks. I said sure, why not, we can ask Maddy and Sarah to help when they have time (Christmas break and warm weather helps) and you can have at it Chica. We also decided it would be fun to blog about her progress, good, bad or ugly, since it doesn’t seem to have ever been done before, and why not? Can we track the success or failure of importing a horse from Europe and finding a new home for it? Am I willing to put it all out there for judgement?? Sure, let’s go for it. So here we are.
We arrived back at the farm, and I tranquilized her for the turnout (never can be too careful the first day) and she wandered around her paddock searching for the last few blades of grass. It was still surprisingly warm, so we made the decision to just leave them all out that night, and as I drove out the driveway, I thought well, this is a good test if she is still there in the morning.
She was. and still searching for grass. My head was completely distracted, I had started the pre-op process, and my body was tired already. I had errands to run, she seemed fine, so I left all the horses alone after the morning feeding, and went about my day. In the afternoon, my phone was being lit up by Stacey with pictures of the mare with a saddle on. Not wasting any time, apparently.
When I pulled back into the farm Stacey was leading “Emmie” around the farm, saddle on, looking like a leadline pony. So far so good, I thought. That night was the last night I would see the farm for a while, I have delegated the horses as best as I can, and now can only sit back and see what happens. The temps dropped immediately, winds have picked up, rain poured down, I went in for an early-in-life hysterectomy to avoid the complications of cervical cancer, and the next day as I was driven home in miserable weather, I thought well, she might not get broken until next year, now.
I was proven quite wrong. When the cat’s away, the mice will play. But my mice played well.