To be perfectly honest, when I pow-wowed with Dressage Today's editor, Jennifer Mellace, regarding The Cinderella Project, I didn't think it would be terribly difficult to find a dirt cheap horse suitable for a competitive dressage career.
It's how you define competitive, after all, isn't it?
Am I looking to go to the Olympics? No. Trot around a Novice test at a schooling show? A bit more than that, hopefully.
What I've been looking for is what I have, as a matter of fact, found for friends and a couple of students that have had rather shallow pockets: a sound, sane, horse with three correct gaits that cost less that a used Niedersuss saddle.
And they're out there! I've learned not to click the "warmblood" only tab when trawling on-line at horse sale sites; I look at everything: Quarter horses, Morgans, Appys and all kinds of weird crosses, normally with a Friesian involved. All I care about is movement and brain and, naturally, soundness.
I was only 4 weeks into my search when my eyes dilated at the sight of a stunning 2-year-old Thoroughbred filly, that had just appeared that day,illustrated with several photos of her trotting a foot off the ground. A 2 year old? Really didn't want to go quite that young as this is a 12 month project, but her quality from the photos alone, was impressive. When her owner duly emailed me video of her at liberty, I could only gasp- she was exquisite and ridiculously cheap. Suspicious of the $1,000 price tag I was told by the owner that she had too many horses and this is what she paid for the filly a few months ago and this is all she wanted back. She sounded honest and I nearly left skid marks as I optimistically hooked up my truck and trailer after arranging the vetting to coincide with my arrival, and began the 4 hour journey north.
Now, listen, I cautioned myself as the miles slipped past and the Lumineers serenaded me over the radio, there is no guarantee that a wonderful mover at liberty will be as jaw dropping when later backed and even more likely is the fact that a 2 year old can morph into something entirely different upon reaching 3 or 4 (ask me how I know). But to each of these warnings my mind batted back the insanely cheap price and the exemplary uphill conformation of the filly. Pulling into the farm and meeting both owner and horse I could see she appeared slightly nervous (the filly) and after watching her longe a couple of times around a round pen, was pretty sure I'd seen a couple of funky steps, although the footing was terrible, so I was still willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.
When the vet arrived, the preliminary diagnostics of heart, lungs and vision went fine as did the front leg flexions, however, the filly was uncooperative with remaining still for the hind limb flexions and the exasperated vet gave up after three attempts. I felt a flutter of concern in my belly, but I agreed for the digital Xray machine to be brought out and, already into the vetting for $600, I have to say that when the very first radiograph showed a small chip in a front fetlock that "may or may not cause a problem," I was nearly relived, knowing I could stop the process to save myself several hundred dollars more. Others might take that bone chip risk but for me, I've been there, done that, and bought the exceedingly expensive and heartbreaking T-shirt.
Few things are more gloomy than sitting in rush hour traffic with an empty trailer in tow and the first spattering of rain drops hitting the windshield. My gas gauge was nearly on empty and it would be another $100 to fill it up. A rather expensive day, really. The low, heavy, clouds seemed to mimic my mood and as I exited towards a Kangaroo truck stop and station, I heard the unmistakable buzz of my cellphone.
Sitting in the cab of my truck while it was connected to the gas pump hose, I checked emails and saw a new notification from a horse sales website, informing me "new horses have been added today!" I began to scroll down to have a look.