Thursday, April 14, 2011

Happy Birthday, Schpotted Pony!

Cash turns 23 today. I can't get out to see him as he is nearly two hours from the house in traffic, but I'll be bringing him home soon so I'll get to see him in a few weeks at most.

I wrote our story to share with the BO of Paint Creek Farm, and I thought I'd share it here. Sorry if you've seen it before - it's posted on their web site. It's a bit long, so bear with me...

Cash and I met in 1996, when he was 8 and I was a senior in college. He had been a young girl’s APHA show mount but had just been replaced because he was hard to ride and didn’t have the look the judges wanted. He needed a job and I needed a horse to ride: neither of us were too picky.

The first year or two we worked on skills like trotting from a canter and doing more than a teeny tiny jog. He’d spent a lot of time trying to be made into a Western Pleasure horse (at which he failed miserably) and we needed to get out of that mindset if I had any hope of eventing him. He was slow to trust, wouldn’t eat treats, ran away from me in the pasture, was terrified of men, whips, and pitchforks, and wearing spurs while riding him was absolutely out of the question. And scratch trail riding – he was a nutcase on the trails, jigging sideways for miles and cantering in place. But he always tried his heart out for me, and the bond had been made. We went to a few dressage shows and one combined training show and cleaned up. He was an awesome jumper even if he couldn’t stand to have his mouth touched – that just meant that I had to learn to ride quietly from my seat instead of using my hands.

When I graduated from college, I bought him for the low, low price of $1, then had him shipped up to Maryland where my new job was. We boarded at two different barns before we finally found one that we liked, and we started seriously eventing together in the fall of 1998. He would get so worked up about just going into the arena, I used to joke that his brain would fall out of his head. I couldn’t practice the dressage tests before the show because even after just one or two run-throughs, he would memorize the whole thing and practically do it without me. After a few shows, I figured out how to keep him together for dressage, and after that we nearly always came in the top 5. He didn’t have the gaits to compete with the other horses, but our tests were always precise and clean. Cross-country was both our easiest phase and the hardest – we couldn’t be in the start box for more than an instant because he knew what it was and would bolt out of it in his eagerness to start the course. But once we were away, he was a total machine. He never looked at anything, and as we moved up the levels, would get annoyed with me when I tried to do anything more than steer him around the course. I remember coming to a double stair step up bank and trying to steady him for it, and his response was, “Mom, I SEE IT and I’VE GOT IT.” He made it up brilliantly and was looking for the next challenge.

We had prepared so well on the basics that we moved from Beginner Novice to Training very quickly and were looking ahead to Prelim when I realized that he felt funny in his hind end. He was never off or short, just a touch uneven sometimes. I had him x-rayed and the vet determined that he had arthritis in his left hock. He advised me to Bute him, put him on Cosequin, and keep going. Cash was 11 at the time and I decided that I wanted him to be sound and comfortable at 20, so I retired him from everything but light jumping after we finished out an incredibly successful year of eventing in 1999. At his last event, I wasn’t watching the time and we were 18 seconds TOO FAST on cross-country, so we ended with quite a lot of time penalties. If I had ridden better, we would have finished first.

We eventually moved back to Austin and ended up competing 2nd level dressage when he started not wanting to be caught in the pasture and objecting to being saddled and bridled. He had always had such a great attitude about work and tried his heart out for me that I knew something was wrong, so I took him to A&M for a complete workup. Since he had been diagnosed with arthritis, I’d tried everything: Legend, Adequan, Cosequin, MSM, hock injections, you name it – just not Bute because he was colic-prone and Bute makes it worse. Nothing had really made much of a difference, but for the most part he stayed comfortable as long as I just did dressage. However, at A&M they told me that he didn’t have arthritis in the hock, but what he DID have was a lesion on the bone where the suspensory connects, just under the hock. Apparently, this kind of lesion is common with reining horses (and I found out later that Cash had done reining as a 2 and 3 year old), and was advised to give him 6-9 months off in hopes that it would heal. I was also told that he’d probably had it for years, and that hard work would make the lesion flare up, and then when he got a rest it would heal partly and he’d be fine. So, 9 months of stall rest (with a teeny turnout paddock) was what he got.

When I brought him back from that, he felt great until we started doing extended trot. The day after we had tried it, he felt uneven behind. I realized then that Training Level dressage was the most he could do and not aggravate the lesion, so he went into semi-retirement as a dressage schoolmaster. For the next several years he taught several people the ins and outs of dressage. His laterals remained brilliant and he was always the star of the lessons. On his 19th birthday, he went to his last show and cleaned up at Training Level. Shortly before I retired him permanently, he took my husband (who doesn’t really jump) cross-country schooling. He was supposed to be stepping over the teeny little logs on the ground, but kept trying to drag my husband to the Training and Prelim fences. At one point he locked onto a Prelim table (in the middle of the water jump) and my husband described it as “feeling the hind end downshift two gears, ready to launch into overdrive.” Fortunately, they steered around it, but it was good to know that in in his old age, Cash still loved to jump.

Cash will always have a special place in my heart. I can only imagine what he could have done if his body had held up better for him. I have learned so much from him and I like to think that he’s learned from me as well – he eats almost any kind of treat, thinks men are great (well, except for the vet), isn’t afraid of much of anything, and usually walks right up to you in the pasture. I'm looking forward to having him at home, and who knows? Maybe he'll even decide going for a short walk on the trail is OK!

Happy Birthday, Schpotted Pony!


  1. What a great story!! It sounds lik you two were meant to find each other. Here's hoping his golden years are the best yet. Happy birthday, Cash!!

  2. I didn't know that Cash and Peggy shared a birthday. Slight difference between 2 and 2-3, but still...