Horses That Teach You Lessons: Captivate’s Story

My mom is a fabulous horse person. So when my interest in horses didn’t fade after the pigtails and fat ponies phase she took it upon herself to make sure I understood all aspects of horsemanship. At least I think that was her reasoning for always including in my small string of horses a few projects. The first project she found me was a green broke, 4 year old, Arab, pony, chestnut, mare. I had just entered my preteen years so in retrospect it may have been less about horsemanship and more about keeping me humble. Either way it seemed to work, horsemanship and the deep humility that can only come from a good mare. She turned out great, we sold her and we’ve progressed since then. In 2014 my mom and I roped in my good friend/mentor/unbiological sister Melissa Hunsburger to start Steplin Sporthorses to find and produce quality young horses for competition and sale. And my mom’s selection has gone from ‘horses who teach life lessons’ to top quality youngsters, with some occasional overlap.

This explains why at The Fork Horse Trials in 2014, about four weeks out from my Rolex debut, my mom started waving video of a bay four year old free jumping at me. And asking questions like ‘could you take one of your days off to fly out to Colorado to look at this horse??’ Somewhere in the space/time continuum I’m convinced there is a black hole where mother daughter relationships can freely regress at least ten years. Which explains why my response went something like *dramatic sigh ‘ way…Rolex…duh’ eye roll*. So Melissa made the trek west, confirmed that as always my mom was right, he was a fabulous horse. He headed east and was rechristened Captivate, aka Cappy. It turned out Cappy had a quirky buck, which Melissa was left to deal with while I flowed through the pre-four star jitters and post-four star depression. My daily phone calls with Melissa and my mom were filled with enough melodrama to fill an episode of the real housewives as I contemplated how I could go on with life without adding a four star to my resume. Turns out its been pretty easy, but I had reached teenage girl levels of angst. Not cute! I had probably reached my most unbearable when Melissa and my mom started to talk about sending Cappy to me. I’m sure Melissa was thinking a whack on the head might do me some good while my mom was probably thinking it was about time a horse teach me another life lesson. Either way, he would give me something new to whine about!

It is a huge credit to Melissa and her skill with young horses that I went a full two weeks without any bucking. Melissa had warned me, and I was beginning to think she was a bit crazy. Cappy was quiet, lazy even. I decided it was about time to pop him over some jumps. I was dating a nice Irish guy at the time and talked him into setting fences for me after work. Being Irish I’m pretty sure he was expecting some excitement, maxing out grids, racing over hedges or at least some actual jumping. But what he got instead was a lot of ‘could you put that down five holes??’ and ‘actually lets just make that a pile of poles on the ground.’ And Cappy wasn’t helping, casually tripping over the rails with a bored expression. Not wanting to seem like a totally wimp I went for the grand finale: ‘Lets add some filler to that crossrail.’ I’m not exactly sure what the sequence events were, but I ended up on the ground with my ego more than a little bruised. And the Irish guy wasn’t helping, laughing a bit and declaring Cappy ‘utterly useless.’ He went on, advising me to get rid of him, and fast. I didn’t respond right away, bruised ego and all plus the Irish accent made the insult adorable but difficult to understand. But when the slight to Cappy finally registered I remember thinking ‘you’re wrong, this is a super horse.’ I’d only had him for two weeks, most of which he spent standing moodily in the back of his stall, but there was something about him I really liked. Maybe it was his good looks and potential, the obvious athleticism in his buck, our shared introversion, or maybe I was just really annoyed at that guy and my slightly passive aggressive tendencies kicked in. I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt and say it wasn’t the latter! Either way, the Rolex blues were safely in the rearview mirror and later that evening I started petitioning to move Cappy off of the ‘resale’ list for Steplin and onto the ‘keep and compete’ list. While Cappy and I haven’t exactly proved our Irish friend wrong yet, it’s a year and a half later, Cappy’s still here and the Irish guy is long gone. So at least we have that!

And in that year and a half I’ve learned a bit about Cappy. He’s a character. The bucking mostly comes from anxiety, like a person with a nervous twitch. He has mostly grown out of it, and I know him well enough to know when it might happen. If he were a person he would be Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. Incredibly smart, a bit obnoxious, and more than a little awkward. And he only has three facial expressions, happy, grumpy and deep thought, none of which you should take personally. He’s always in his own world. And finally I am still convinced he is a super horse. So convinced that earlier this fall Steplin purchased one of his siblings from breeder Kathleen Benedict of Evendoun Farm in Colorado (watch this space!). In 2016 look for Cappy to make the move up to prelim and head for a one star. And I’m sure he’ll throw in a few more life lessons along the way.

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