I’ve been reading An Eventful Life for a while, but had no idea about the amazing “before and after” behind Amanda’s eventing partner, Tristan.
I first met Tristan in the summer of 2005. I had graduated from college and had a job lined up for the fall, and was staying with family at working at a convenience store during the summer before. The job didn’t pay enough for lessons, so I started volunteering at a local rescue: Ever After Mustang Rescue in Biddeford, ME. I mucked stalls, cleaned tack, repaired fenceline, you name it, every day before and after my shift. I also worked with mustangs while there, mostly in gentling. They had a lot of horses that were on their second or third chance; they’d been adopted from the BLM but failed at their second homes (99% of the time due to adopter ignorance).
I was assigned a gelding named “Big Red” to work with – and it will tell you something about the average BLM mustang that this horse was 15.1 hands on a tall day and still considered big! He was scheduled to be adopted and when I first met him he was untouchable. I remember squatting in a corner of a large round pen for 45 minutes with a peppermint in my outstretched hand, talking to him the whole time, while he stood as far away as possible, alert and suspicious. His story was fairly typical: he was born in central Nevada in what the BLM has labeled the Callaghan Herd Managment area. At some point – probably when he was a long yearling – he split off from his family group and joined with another herd of young stallions, known as a bachelor herd. At age 4 was rounded up with other members of his bachelor herd and at age 5 he was adopted. He was seized from that farm four years later on charges of abuse and neglect; many of the horses on the farm had died from starvation and exposure. By the time I met him, he was 10 and had been at the rescue for a year, but no one had yet touched him beyond putting him into a squeeze chute for his vaccines and to trim his feet when necessary.
By the end of the summer, I had taught him to lead confidently, stand to be groomed, and to pick up his feet on cue. I had saddled him and sat on him about a half-dozen times, riding in a sidepull, low-key walking with one or two spurts of trot. He was coming in to his own as a more confident horse, and beginning to develop a curious, sweet personality. I returned to my job that fall but missed him desperately. After some feverish math, I decided that I could afford to keep a horse for my own and he became my Christmas present. On January 2, 2006, he arrived at my trainer’s barn and we began the process of getting to know each other. I renamed him Tristan, with a show name of “Tristan’s Bel Joeor.” Bel Joeor is the name of the knight Tristan’s name from one of the more famous re-tellings of the Tristan & Isolde legend. It translates from the Old French to roughly mean “Beautiful Player,” as in an athlete or gamer.
The first six months were difficult. Uprooted again, Tristan had regressed and we had to start over from scratch on the ground. Many nights, I would simply arrive at the barn, catch him, and lead him into the middle of the indoor ring to groom him for 10 minutes, pick up his feet, and practice leading. During those short sessions he trembled and occasionally broke into a nervous sweat; when he got back to his turnout he would drink an entire bucket of water, dehydrated from the stress. As we progressed, he took to the saddle again but was extremely difficult to bit, rearing in a stall and bodyslamming me into the walls over and over again. He was head shy in the extreme, and touching his ears triggered panic attacks. Early longeing featured rearing, striking, bolting, and every bad behavior under the book, and some of those translated under saddle as well.
We kept going, though, and long story short, he’s now the steadiest and sweetest horse in the barn. His ground manners are impeccable; he knows half a dozen verbal commands and will lead and follow just about anywhere without a lead rope. Under saddle, it turned out that he didn’t want to be the full time dressage horse I had envisioned, so we compromised on eventing. He is a bold, straightforward, and levelheaded cross country horse who loves to jump. We’ve gone through Beginner Novice together. He’s more than a bit on the lazy side but once he realizes he’s enjoying something he commits fully and is a blast to ride. He’s always a joy to be around, and loves to be fussed over. He’ll turn his head into your chest and ask for snuggles and makes the best treat faces in the barn. Barn staff love him because he can be turned out with absolutely any horse; his four years in the wild taught him socialization skills most domestic horses get only in part.
Above all, he’s my best friend, my strength, and my reason for sanity, and I can’t imagine my life without him!
Have a transformation story of your own to share? Whether it’s training, mental, physical… or all of the above please share it with me so I can spread your story!