Meet an unexpected contestant in my search for a potential hunter horse: JMJ Rockin Champagne (AKA Ezhno), a 2009 15.2hh APHA gelding with the prestigious honor of having a coat color that’s longer than his registered name.
Ezhno’s ad was first discovered by the Show Buddy while we were watching the Evergreen Classic together. He caught our eye not only because of his dashing appearance, but because of his astoundingly low 1 out of 10 on the temperament scale and his laid back description (“not spooky”, “will take care of you”, “very steady”, etc.). I originally ruled him out because of his lack of jumping experience, only to have him come up again when The Trainer picked him out for me a few days later. I showed her the videos his owner sent me of him under saddle, and a few hours later we had a time set up to look at him.
Ezhno’s owner was originally hesitant to have us out. She was worried that he wouldn’t be a good fit for me—she was using him as a recreational mount and while he was very sure footed on the trails, he needed a lot of leg or a good pair of spurs to encourage confidence in the arena due to lack of experience. In short: he was very quiet and well mannered, but she was concerned he would be too lazy for a performance career and she didn’t want to waste our time.
Anyone who’s met The Pony knows that I’m no stranger to a pair of spurs. At this point, I’m a pro at extracting work ethic from otherwise sluggish horses, so I wasn’t fazed by her description… the word “lazy” always sounds more like a challenge than a warning to me. Plus I was set to be down south for the LWSC hunter/jumper fun show anyways, so why not make it a double feature?
I’ll admit that I started to regret that on Sunday when, with drooping eyelids and aching feet, I climbed into the car for another thirty minute drive after 8 hours of horse show time. I perked back up once we pulled in. The Trainer was already putting on her boots with a very handsome Ezhno already tacked up and waiting for us. By the time the owner’s sister hopped up on him to put him through his paces for us, I was wide awake again.
Like last time, I chose to have The Trainer check him out before I got on—but first we stripped off his western saddle and the extra head gear they were riding him in and tossed on my Wintec AP500 and a simple loose ring snaffle. The Trainer had to ride with a lot of leg to get him going, but she was pleasantly surprised by how capable he was even with his lack of arena experience. He had smooth gaits, a work ethic that was buried by months of being a pasture puff, and a good amount of stickiness when it came to picking up left lead, but his bones were good, if unrefined. Plus she could pick out pieces of him that reminded her of Belle (the stubbornest pony in the world, hands down), which I considered to be a good sign.
She passed me the reins and when I climbed aboard I was immediately aware of just how steady Ezhno was. There aren’t many horses that truly qualify as a 1 out of 10 on the temperament scale (and he definitely gave The Trainer a bit of sass when she poked the bear during her ride), but I could tell the moment I mounted that he was a quiet, gentle horse. I didn’t feel an ounce of nerves when I kicked both of my legs up so that The Trainer could adjust my irons, and it didn’t bother me that the girth (the only one available in a primarily western barn) was a little loose. I felt absolutely confident that Ezhno had no intention of dropping me into the dirt.
Because of the loose girth we kept my ride to walk/trot only, but even that was enough to get a sense of what kind of horse he was. At first he gave my already tired legs a good work out, but as the ride went on I found myself having to use less leg. He started to understand what I was asking for when I cued for him to move his shoulder over, and he trotted about with all of the steady aplomb of a seasoned 4-H horse (albeit quite a bit more wobbly when it came to staying in a straight line). His trot was easy to sit and I only found myself wishing for my spurs occasionally as we grew more comfortable with each other. Not only that, but he didn’t feel too wide and I didn’t look like a postage stamp on him, either.
The Trainer and I stopped in the middle of the ring to talk for a couple of minutes before I dismounted. Once I was on the ground I finally had my first chance to truly introduce myself to Ezhno and found him to be a complete gentleman. At first he seemed almost too quiet, but after a few forehead rubs and some light chatter he seemed to warm up to me and I got a couple of affectionate nuzzles. He had a very kind, almost sad expression with a lot of unique speckling around his eyes and nose. At first I wasn’t sure about those speckles, but his big brown eyes eventually won me over.
I chose to lead him out to my car instead of into the barn, where he stood patiently while I pulled my saddle off of him and tossed it unceremoniously onto the hood of my car (he, of course, didn’t flinch). He followed closely behind me without me having to tug on the reins, and he stood politely while I talked to his owner. We chatted a little about his overall health (he had a few cuts and scuffs from being the low man on the totem pole, poor guy) and his history (he’s had a few months off in the pasture and that was only his fourth ride since he started working again). The whole time he was interested, but content to wait.
Personality wise, he was a fantastic match. I felt more than safe on him and I found his reserved, almost melancholy attitude to be endearing—sort of like Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh. He had a good work ethic buried under his flab, and he was unruffled by anything (something I really appreciate in a horse). He was soft in the mouth, and he liked to carry his neck long and low—very hunter-like already, with smooth gaits to boot.
But despite the connection I felt with him (and after a few long days of painstaking consideration), I’ve decided that his stellar personality and appearance doesn’t make up for how much work he would need to get him to where I want him to be. It would take months to get him conditioned, then more months to get him to a more finished state in the arena (he didn’t seem to quite get the concept of moving off of the rider’s leg for shoulder/hindquarter control), and then even more months to start him over fences—at which point we might discover he doesn’t even like to jump.
I’m keeping him in the back of my mind, but in the mean time I’m looking for something that’s less of a project.