While I was learning the ropes as a show groom on the road, I was also getting a great riding education back home. I was able to sit on a lot of different horses and learn many different riding disciplines. I learned saddle seat, western, hunt seat, and side saddle. By this time Blair was letting me ride her three horses - Bo (the english horse), Llano (western pleasure gelding) and Teeya (western pleasure mare).
Bo was a fantastic animal. He was a half arab/half quarter horse that Blair found standing in someone's back yard. He had a heart of gold. You could put anyone on him and they would be totally safe. He was big for an arab - I think he was 16.1 - and he was buckskin, so he really stood out. Back then they didn't have country pleasure at Arab shows - just English pleasure for the really high trotting horses. So Blair showed him English pleasure with moderate success. Most of the time she leased him out to junior riders because he was a fantastic equitation horse. He was totally honest and uncomplicated. There was only one thing you had to be careful of.
In saddle seat equitation medal classes (where the winner wins a medal and gets invited back to the national medal finals) the riders first ride around the arena together with the judge watching. Then each rider is asked to ride a pattern to test their skill and prove that they can be effective and not just sit up there and look pretty going around in circles. These patterns are usually different at every show, but they generally contain the same elements. One of those elements is cantering the horse on one lead for a certain number of strides, then transitioning to the walk, then picking up the canter in the other lead. Riding Bo in this movement was tricky because he had a hard time keeping straight and needed to swing his haunches from one side to the other at the walk to get the correct lead. If you gave him just a few seconds to do this, he gave you the correct lead. If you got impatient and rushed him, he'd just pop the wrong lead for you. Not out of malice, but more like "Fine, rush me. I know my job, but here's what you get. Learn to be patient". And I did.
Llano was a horse that Blair bred. He was the son of her quater horse mare that she got when she was a kid. When Llano was young Blair used to sleep in his stall with him. He was very spoiled, and had a similar disposition to his arabian sire, who was rumored to be a real bastard. Llano picked up the name "Squid Lips" because he used to do this flapping thing with his lips that made a really gross squishing sound. I didn't ride Llano much, because he was also often leased out to a student. Usually to an adult because Llano was a grumpy guy. You never turned your back on him in the stall, because he'd come after you with his teeth. Mostly I think it was for show, but I never wanted to find out so I was careful. When you were riding him, however, he was all business. He was well trained and taught me a lot about wastern pleasure.
Which leads me to Teeya. She and Blair clashed from day one. The mare was just a bitch. Looking back I think she was unhappy with her job of being a western horse. Knowing what I know now she probably would have been a really nice dressage horse and might have been much happier. Anyway, as soon as Blair rode Teeya to her Regional Championship in Western Pleasure, she decided that she really didn't enjoy working with the horse. She asked me if I wanted to lease Teeya. She didn't ask me for any money (because she knew I didn't have it) but said I would have to work for her. Sounded like a great deal for me.
Since I was now eighteen I was able to show, I started riding Teeya and taking lessons. She was the first horse I rode on a regular basis, and was the first horse that I showed seriously. Although I learned a lot, and occasionally won classes, it was difficult. I could see why Blair didn't want to ride her any more. Teeya was just a bitch. To top it all off, you never knew what you were going to get in the show ring. She could be perfect in the warm-up, and the go into the class and start shaking her head and wringing her tail, or tossing her head and running through the bit. Or you'd have an awesome class in the morning, and then she'd hag-out on you that evening. Or sometimes it was the other was around.
I struggled through a few years of showing Teeya. The last year I showed her I tried hunter pleasure and side saddle, thinking that maybe the change from western would make her happy. The answer to that? A big fat NO. Different disciplines, same witch. At the end of that show season I told Blair that I wasn't going to lease and show her anymore. It was just too frustrating, and seemed like a waste of my time and money. Blair's answer was "Well, I don't want to ride her either. I'm going to breed the bitch then! At least she'll make pretty babies." She immediately started things in motion to get her bred.
It was soon after then that Blair approached me with a proposition. There was a trailer that she wanted to buy. The guy who owned it was willing to sell it to her, but only if she bought his last horse too. She asked if I would buy him, because she had no interest in owning another horse. Now, my parents had specifically told me a long time ago NO HORSES, but I really wanted a horse of my own. I was 21 years old and thought I deserved it. I went and looked at the horse a few times and rode him. His registered name was awful, so I started calling him Tyler. He was a little bay purebred arabian gelding who was greenbroke and kind. I was supposed to be going off to college that fall, and I figured I could take him down there without my parents knowing. It would mean that I'd have to get an extra job to pay my board, but I thought I could swing it.
So I bought my first horse, without my parents knowledge or blessing, for $800. Little did I know how much trouble that purchase would cause me.
To be continued...