Shiloh - The Horse That Taught Me the Most

When I was growing up as a backyard Virginia rider, I didn't know just how rough n' tumble our operation was. I started at the age of 4, following in the footsteps of my sister who was 6. Because of this lineage, every horse that my sister rode, I was bequeathed shortly thereafter, starting with our spunky but amazingly talented (and willing) pony Sox.

After Sox, the plan was to take over the reins of Charlie, the slightly homely but always kind and honest Thoroughbred that she bought as her first horse. One day during a lesson, though, a woman who semi-worked at the operation walked over to my father and said, "You know, Charlie is sweet, but she'll never win with him. She needs something much fancier."

Enter Shiloh.

My sister at 14 and Shiloh ready for a hunt
Shiloh was an ex-steeplechaser that our trainer was selling for a friend. Rebeccah tried him once, and didn't try another horse, because we were told that we weren't going to find something better for the money. He was stately, handsome, and substantial at a solid, well built 16.2 hands.

For the first few months, things were great with him. Rebeccah hunted with the Loudoun Hunt, showed and did well, and was happy with how things turned out. But then, Shiloh started acting out. He would grab the bit and bolt. He would throw in bucks before, after, or during, and usually unseat her. Our trainer, very old school (and also in retrospect, very young herself) gave my sister the old, "Get back on and keep going," routine, but never intervened herself.

We also never had the vet out to check him. Never took him to a chiropractor or altered how much grain he received (a lot of sweet molasses jet fuel) or made sure he wasn't in pain. The trainer never rode him to see if she could correct the behavior, or see if there was a trigger she could warn Rebeccah about. We never lunged him if he was feeling fresh or changed his turn out routine if it was particularly chilly.

And because we never did any of these things, Shiloh's behavior steadily went downhill. Whether from pain or just because he knew he could, his bolting and bucking shenanigans worsened, until my sister decided to stop riding altogether after a particularly bad fall on a trail ride where she bruised her hip, and had to walk several miles back to the barn, where Shiloh took off after he dumped her.

Once this happened, Shiloh became a pasture ornament. That is, until I outgrew Sox, and discovered he was waiting for me.

The first few rides on Shiloh were fine. Sometimes he bucked and played, but I kicked him forward and made him focus, and he stopped. I remember thinking to myself, "I got this. It will be different with me."

But then one day, in the outdoor ring during a canter, he grabbed the bit and ran. It was the first time I had ever experienced the feeling of being completely out of control. Nothing I could do with my small 12 year old body could stop him. I just remember sitting up there, terrified, trying my best to steer around obstacles, attempting to decide if it was safer to hang on tighter or bail. Once he stopped, my trainer looked at me and said, "Well, that was exciting! Go try again."

Now when Shiloh was good, he was VERY good. We would win against my contemporaries like Paige Johnson and Sheila Motley - but more often than not, we would also get run away with in the under saddle and be asked to leave the ring (if I stayed on) to my continued embarrassment.

Blue ribbon day
I don't really have to tell you where things went from there. The behavior didn't stop, my trainer didn't try to stop it, we never did anything about it, and my father (who was in charge of my riding) didn't see anything wrong with it and threatened to end my lessons and sell everything if I didn't want to ride Shiloh anymore. Since that thought was even worse to me than the alternative, I started to ride with a paper bag so I could breath into it whenever I inevitably started to hyperventilate in fear at Shiloh's unpredictable behavior.

Eventually, after a particularly harrowing horse show, my mother intervened, and somehow scraped together the money to send me and Shiloh off to another trainer who would ride Shiloh to correct the behavior and help us sell him so I could get something more suitable.

As luck would have it, after successfully staying sound (at least to the eye) through all of his athletic misbehaviors, Shiloh popped a splint while playing in the field at my new trainer's facility. He was never sound again. He was sold at the reputable Sport Horse Auction, but was an auction, and I never found out what ultimately happened to him.

As an adult, I know the most likely end to his story. It makes me so angry and sad that things didn't play out differently. I know that as a 12 year old, I had little knowledge or power to change the end result, but I still feel guilty and responsible that I didn't make someone get the vet out, or check his back, or send him to a cowboy, or do something to help my sister when I saw her love of horses turn to dread every time she went to the barn. And I'm angry at the adults around me, who were supposed to be my caretakers and keepers of knowledge, for not stepping in and changing the end of the story.

Shiloh was not a bad horse, but he was also never given the chance to be the best horse he could be, even if that "best horse" was a lovely, shaggy pasture ornament. Because of this, he probably met a terrible end. With Shiloh, I learned to always take responsibility for your horses to give them every possible chance for a happy ending. If they are acting up, find out why. Is it pain? Behavioral? Diet/exercise routine? A mix of everything? Do they like their jobs? If not, what is a better job for them? Are they simply un-rideable or unsafe? And if yes, then how can you retire them safely?

We are their caretakers. We ask them to do and give so much. Always be honest and do right by your horse. I learned this lesson the hard way.



Popular Posts