Early December…..the big day arrived. This morning we would travel to Longmont to meet Susan and Santo. Santo, a 25 year-young Lipizzan gelding, was offered for adoption from Corazones de Fuego Andalusians. Susan, his caring owner, was seeking a suitable match in a forever home. Maybe this would be the horse Violet could feel safe riding, learning with, and loving.
Kurt and I were up early to check the truck and trailer, pack, and see to last minute preparations. Violet and her mom, Shantel arrived at 8am; it would be a long drive across the state. We needed an early start to allow adequate time with Santo before the vet check early the following day.
We arrived at the farm around 2:30. The weather was beautiful, unseasonably warm, a golden December day. Santo showed interest when meeting us. He was curious and friendly, with bright intelligent eyes. We entered his stall, haltered him, and looked him over. Santo was the living embodiment of a hardy breed that lives well into their 3rd and sometimes 4th decade. He showed the good care that Susan had given him for many years. His ground manners were polite, cooperating while his feet were lifted and cleaned, enjoying the grooming of brush and curry. Santo continued to show us a well-behaved, respectful horse as we tacked him and led him to the arena. The biggest areas of concern were missing teeth and the stiff angle of his left front pastern, revealing a past injury. We would have to see what the vet would say…
In the arena, we became better acquainted with Santo through groundwork: leading on both sides, turning, halting, backing up, flexing, and bending. He showed normal stiffness for an older horse, though movement seemed to smooth after the warm-up. Though he worked well with each of us, (Violet, Shantel, and I), I was beginning to detect a fondness developing between Violet and Santo.
We longed him to better see how he moved. The affected pastern joint didn’t seem to cause him pain or lameness, though his left lead canter was a bit reluctant. Overall, he moved with grace and rhythm. We felt he could be safely ridden without discomfort.
Upon mounting, I felt his 14 hand, 2″ stature immediately grow. Though small in size, Lipizzans are not ponies. Their round Baroque physique fills the leg in the saddle, and their athletic movement is anything but a pony stride. His walk was quiet enough, and his trot surprised me. It was huge with a great deal of suspension! Without conditioning and farrier work, it would be unfair to ask Santo to carry me in the canter. Santo hadn’t been ridden for a long time, (perhaps years). Though he expressed spirit in the saddle, he was quite manageable. I could feel stiffness in his neck and ribcage, but felt careful, regular work would give him sound movement. After some farrier work, a build-up of cardio and muscle tone, and suppleness exercises, he could come back to his much of his former self.
The moment of truth came after I dismounted. Could Violet mount and ride him? Though she was quite comfortable working him from the ground, Violet became fearful when she approached the mounting block. I knew she needed strong encouragement. Though reluctant to mount, she really did want to ride Santo. After patient coaxing and careful support, Violet was able to mount. I promised not to leave her side. I led her everywhere in Susan’s large arena. I gave Violet the reins and walked beside her, as a bond between the frightened girl and the sensitive horse grew. She was beginning to trust him. Unlike her first ride with Monarch three months ago, Violet was not eager to dismount. Maybe she was falling in love. The visit with the vet tomorrow was keenly anticipated.
We arrived early on Saturday for my college-aged daughter to meet and ride Santo before the vet arrived. We thought we would see what he would do in the round pen, which was a distance from the barn. Once in the round pen, away from his barn and his herd, Santo was a different horse, nervous and spirited. He gave Marissa quite a ride, spooking and showing off his Lipizzan talent.
Soon the vet arrived. He watched as we untacked him and led him to the barn. Santo was quite animated. Twice, I had to remind him that I was leading him, and he must show respect. This concerned both Shantel and the vet. As the pre-purchase examination began, Santo continued to show high spirits. Taking him away from his herd, which proved to be his comfort zone had agitated him. Despite his nervousness, he was manageable, if somewhat opinionated, throughout the inspection and probing of eyes, mouth, respiration, temperature, limbs, etc, etc.
It was time to bring him into the arena for assessment of movement and flexion tests. By this time Santo had calmed, returning mostly to his gentlemanly self. The examination revealed that although Santo would not be a show horse at this stage in his life, with care and management he could certainly be a schoolmaster. Santo’s nervous behavior in the round pen and during the beginning of the exam concerned Shantel and the vet. Shantel feared adopting a pushy and unmanageable horse. I counseled her to reflect on all the information she had received. We weren’t leaving until the next morning, so she had time to think it over. Even after seeing Santo in his most skittish state, Violet wanted to adopt him. She asked her mother to consider a trial of a few months. If Santo didn’t adjust, she would agree to return him to Susan. As we left the farm for the day, I could feel Shantel’s anxiety in making the best decision for her daughter.
We arrived early at the farm Sunday morning, anticipating an early start. Weather was forming. With or without a horse, I didn’t want to drive my trailer over Monarch Pass in snow or in the dark. Since Susan was late getting to the barn, the gate to the driveway was locked. Consequently, we couldn’t get the truck in to hook up the trailer. Though Violet wanted to bring Santo home, Shantel was still uncertain about an adoption.
Since we couldn’t get the trailer until Susan arrived, we decided to take Santo back to the arena. Santo seemed to know the situation. He would have to do his best to convince Shantel to bring him back to Montrose with her. I showed Violet how to play with him by how I moved my body and arms. It was like dancing the Tango, forward and back; side to side. Santo responded with sensitivity to my lead, a willing partner. There were cavaletti set in the center of the arena, and we assimilated them into our dance. Violet joined the frolic. I slipped to the side, giving them the space they needed. By the time Susan joined us, Shantel had made her decision. Santo would come home with us if Susan would allow a trial period to make sure that Santo and Violet would be a good match.
After exchanging paperwork, hooking up, and loading, we departed somewhat later than we anticipated. With dark skies, no snow fell, but we didn’t return to Montrose until after 10 pm. Santo unloaded quietly in the dark, walked calmly to his new paddock, and met his new pasture buddy across the fence. No squealing, kicking, or biting; it seemed to be love at first sight between Shantel’s lonely gelding and Violet’s Lipizzan. After a few days, both horses were turned out together without incident. Santo is settling into life with Violet and her family. I received this card from Violet just before Christmas:
MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM VIOLET AND SANTO CLAUS
She wrote me this message:
“I have been working alot with Santo and it seems like he is getting more and more used to his home. He really trusts me and he listens to me well!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂 I almost forgot- we got is feet trimed today. I LOVE MY HORSE SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!! I also have been journaling! I am excited for you to come over.