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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Wrisky

Little fish in a big pond

You know in the movie scenes where the girl sees the horse for the first time and it goes to slow motion, the horse looks majestic and the music is serene? Yay that is not how my first encounter went with my unicorn.

The scene instead opens on a trip with 6 people piling into one vehicle to pick up their challenge horse two hours from home on April 2nd 2016.  The first pickup day allowed was April 1st and I thought to myself that’s a bad joke, right? He was beautiful that was for sure and he had a presence and air about him. While everyone else in the group was eager to crowd him and shower him with attention I stood back and took him in. He gave off a nervous energy and knew how to use his head and nose to shove people with it. He also lifted his head and neck to try to tower over the group to show how “big” he was. He is 15.1 hands so not a giraffe by any means. It was a laughable presentation of a tolerable gelding with fans to adore him. He acted so suave and macho, which quickly entitled him to the nickname Fabio.

Newton was one of 16 horses that were candidates for the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescues Foundation’s (MHARF) 2016 trainers challenge. A competition where trainers get 5 1/2 months to start and “finish” an unstarted horse. Each trainer was assigned their horse based on experience and discipline. Newton was a 13 year old gelding that had been an elderly women’s pasture pet from a young age. He was surrendered to the rescue a little fat, handled and maintained (vetted and regular farrier), but never really taught much beyond leading. I was excited that we didn’t get a horse that was unhandled or had trust issues.

Newton loaded relatively easy and we were off on our adventure. We had a group of 4 trainers with support from many barn family members as well. Besides one member, none of us, myself included, had ever started a horse. I had worked with many green horses and finished them into quiet willing mounts that were used in our lesson program or were my personal mounts. Newton proved to be a quiet start. Had sticky feet at times but never offered a buck or bolt. Super honest but still always having an air of that nervous energy. I’ll take this moment now to mention his breed, Newton is a Friesian Arabian cross. So the nervous energy was just some of that Arabian suave that exudes from their pores.

We slowly worked on desensitizing, leading, exposure to new things and venues, mounting, lounging, and eventually to walk, trot, canter under saddle. Everything went well. We had a consistent progression of all the things and he took everything in stride.

As time to the challenge came closer we had much to do. There are 5 categories or classes we are judged on Showmanship, Pleasure, Trail, Vet/ Farrier, and Freestyle. We decided who would do each class and decided to do the freestyle together. Showcasing Newtons versatility and ability to work with different riders and skills was our aim. Going into the challenge we had discussed if anyone from the group was interested in adopting him. I personally was in the market for a horse as my trusted mare was aging and I wanted to begin looking for another horse to start bringing along. Newton was a shoe in. Promising ability, beautiful, sound, sane and affordable!!! I decided to pass though. Newton, although safe to put a kid on, was bullheaded and cocky. He was a little pushy, impatient with things and sensitive. I also considered myself a bay mare person and thought it was just gelding personality I didn’t mesh with. We had a few people come to visit him and trial him before the challenge and we were hopeful that he would get adopted. We finalized our freestyle theme of “Home” and did it to the song “Home” by Phillip Phillips.

The day of the challenge came and I couldn’t be more proud. Although slightly edgy Newton did all of the things we asked of him, kept a super level head, and came in 6th overall!

Then came time for bidding. This part of the story may have you think less of me but it is the truth. I HAD NO INTENTION OF BIDDING!!! The bidding starts Newton has only one person bidding on him!!!  I was in shock. How could this beautiful, willing creature not be in a bidding war???? Up went my hand! This fancy bullheaded boy was not selling for a thousand dollars! If so I’ll bring him home and enjoy him for all his quirky ways. My pride would not let him go for mere pennies. Could these people not see and appreciate the talent they had in front of them??? I ended spending a little over two thousand on him and I was his!!

I would like to say that it was all rainbows and sunshine after that, but those first 2 to 3 years that Newton owned me I felt like we were a bickering married couple that could just never really see eye to eye. It’s not that it ever got dangerous or scary, but we just didn’t seem like we could mesh and work together. We worked with multiple instructors and had lots of lovely lessons and improvement over time but would always come back to this edgy bullheadedness. I knew from the beginning when I adopted him that we were both bullheaded, and that I needed to be the reasonable one and be slow and patient, that may sound big of me but I can tell you there were many days where there was tears, frustration, and defeat. I was hoping to start my career in dressage, but quickly discovered that he didn’t have the patience to do flat work consistently and work on relaxation, rhythm, suppleness, etc. We ended up doing a lot of cross training which brought us to eventing. We enjoyed a couple seasons, competing at the starter level and were schooling beginner novice. Newton was always a willing mount and we had a lot of fun, and he really made me appreciate and enjoy the open cross country fields, the discipline of dressage and the focus and strategy of stadium jumping.

We had some mild success in eventing but decided after time to focus on dressage.

We found a clinician we really liked and meshed well with. When I met her we were in a better place but still had many frustrating rides. We had some brilliant moments and I felt and saw Newtons potential but didn’t know how to get the consistency. We struggled for a season chasing open training level scores. To say I finished that season defeated is an understatement. Many know the journey, it’s a lot of work, time, and money. It’s not that I needed the accolades, but when you invest into it, there’s a huge feeling of gratitude knowing you’re getting somewhere.

Around this time, the clinician that really helped and understood Newton and I reached out and informed me that her assistant trainer was looking to take on some additional outside clients. Not to be sappy, but this is that pinnacle moment in the movie where everything turns around, we had so many amazing trainers leading up to this, and no one did us wrong, but there was just some thing about this trainer and how she understood myself and my horse that clicked for us, and now I see future opportunities being opened up to us.

In 2022 Newton and I decided to move up to first level, even though we never achieve our goals at training. Although the first part of the season started similar to our 2021 season. I had more consistent rides and ride-ability and attention from Newton. There was a real “We grew up” feel to our rides. By mid season we got our qualifying scores for regionals and decided to do a first level freestyle. It was always in the back of my head, that if we got to this point, I would love to do my freestyle to the same music we rode to back in 2016 from the challenge.

On July 30 at Otter Creek Farm. We danced down centerline to our first free style “Home” musical version by The Piano Guys, that I did the choreography for. I was just hoping to make it through on time with the music.  We didn’t have a ton of practice going into it in a full-size arena, and we’re just hoping to have fun. Mission was definitely accomplished. It was such an amazing feeling, and there is something about composing your own freestyle and dancing to music that really added a new element to our riding. And to add a cherry on top, we also got a qualifying score!

I was born and raised Catholic and went to a Catholic school growing up. We had a priest from Ireland and one of his favorite stories to tell was how as a new student or an underclassmen you were considered a little fish in a big pond, but eventually someday you would be the big fish in a little pond. In September, we headed with friends to St. Louis Missouri and I started my journey as the little fish in the big pond at regionals. We had two really good rides and I couldn’t be prouder of us. My eyes were opened to a whole new caliber of horse and rider. I didn’t feel defeated but inspired. Newton adopted the nickname Uncle Newton as his chill demeanor helped escort some of the younger horses to the warm up and show rings.

We are now headed into the 2023 season and are getting stronger at our second level movements and just enjoying every ride and bonding moment. Not only do I want this story to be one of success, but also an inspiration to everyone out there that has the unwanted horse, limited training and access to trainers. Know that it can be a long journey, but if you put in the time you will gain experience, knowledge and most of all Joy. In riding horses, we’ve chosen a hard discipline where many factors are stacked against us, but there are those moments and rides that make it all worth it.

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2 comentarios

27 feb 2023

Such a beautiful story! As I said the day you adopted Newton, you were meant to be together. I am so proud of you 🥰.

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Rochelle Wrisky
Rochelle Wrisky
27 feb 2023
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Thank you so much. So happy that you were/ are on this journey with us ❤️

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