Yesterday was the first day of the fall hunting season and the first hunt ever for my OTTB, Freedom on the Wind. I’ve had Freedom now for about 2 1/2 years. He came to me as a foster for CANTER NE. I had empty stall syndrome. I had just sold a “project horse” and hadn’t decided if I was going to buy another. I figured he could live in the stall while I looked for another horse.
I wasn’t very impressed by him when I picked him up. He was small, skinny, anxious and scared of his own shadow. The first night I had him, he rubbed a bloody spot on his neck from weaving with his head over the Dutch door in his stall.
I didn’t really want to keep him until I rode him. The first time I sat on him, I realized that he fit me. He rode bigger than he looked and he just felt right. Under saddle he proved to be brave and game to try most things; I was able to start hacking him out on the trails almost immediately, as long as I kept him to a walk.
Perhaps his biggest challenge as a riding horse was what made him successful on the race track: he liked to be first. Out in front, he was happy; put him behind another horse and he threw a veritable temper tantrum. He didn’t buck, rear or bolt, but he would jump up and down in place and fling his head. Over time, he did get better and would actually — gasp — trot behind another horse. Still, ask him to canter and he would get increasingly upset the longer he stayed behind.
So I was really proud of him yesterday. I tried to ensure success by putting several things in place before the hunt. On Monday, I trailered him to a state park to ride with two friends. He proved me a liar by happily walking and trotting on a loose rein. We didn’t canter much, but we did hop over a few fences and he didn’t get anxious at all. On Wednesday I worked on galloping him in a field. I’m still not great at letting him go all out because he gets a bit wiggly, but I was able to bring him back from a hand gallop without causing him to get upset. Thursday we hacked, and on Friday I took him out to trot and canter behind another horse.
Finally, the big day arrived. I hacked to the hunt with a friend, giving him a good 40 minutes to settle under saddle. When we arrived, he looked around but never got upset. He waited patiently for the hunt to begin and trotted off with great composure.
Sure, we had some patience problems when we stopped in the woods to watch the hounds work the scent. But he stayed in place, trotted and cantered without running up on the horse in front of him (my friend graciously rode her horse there so he would have the comfort of a friend), and had no problems with the horse coming up behind. The hunt moved along at a good clip and he didn’t throw a single tantrum about staying in his place.
Unfortunately, the day was cut short. Just before the first check, my friend’s horse threw a shoe. Then going up a hill, Freedom clipped the inside of his front left cannon bone with a rear hoof (I had hoof boots on him and I think one of the buckles scraped him). I didn’t realize what had happened, as he never took a bad step, but the people riding behind us flagged me down immediately. When I looked down, there was blood streaming down his leg and it looked horrible. The woman riding behind me thought he’d caught his tendon!
I jumped off him and started to walk him down the trail to the house of one of the hunt members. It was hard to see exactly what he’d done. The bleeding subsided after a few minutes and finally stopped. He was still walking sound (I wanted to see how he was once the adrenaline wore off), so I remounted and my friend and I walked back to where the trailers were parked, about a 30 minute hack. What a day to ride to the hunt — we still had a 35 minute ride home from there! I thought about calling my husband and asking him to bring the trailer, but he seemed to be fine and the bleeding had stopped.
When I finally got home, I scrubbed the leg and found that it was — thankfully — just a scratch. I still can’t believe that a scrape that small could bleed so profusely. He’s still sound and comfortable. His leg is wrapped and he’s on a course of SMZs. I can’t wait until I can take him out again! He may well be a hunt horse after all.