One of the first horses I ever rode (got my first blue ribbon on him, actually!) was a little, flea-bitten grey Arabian gelding named Najan. As I little girl, I thought Najan was the fanciest, most beautiful horse I'd ever seen, and I had all the Arabian horse magazines to prove it!
As a riding teacher I see that Najan was one of the great beginner lesson horses: adorable, gentle, arthritic, didn't mind routine. Not that he was a "dead-head" - he was smart and would occasionally provide his own entertainment with the occasional buck or "accidental" canter depart with a student who didn't yet know how to canter. Sometimes at a rider's first horse show. "Blue ribbons are neat, but did I just CANTER?" So, Najan was safe and quiet and wonderful, but not lacking personality.
Shortly after I opened my riding school in Colorado in 1999, I began a quest to find the perfect beginner lesson horse. I must have had Najan in my head, because the horse that landed in my lap was as close in physical description as I could have possibly have imagined.
I shared my need for the perfect lesson horse with a friend of mine who was familiar with the local Arabian horse scene and she came back the next day with news of a wonderful 19-year-old Arabian gelding who needed a home. And a job. His owner felt like he had many years of use left, and that he was probably still many years from retirement.
"The owner is trying to give him away - he's just living in an abandoned building in Colorado Springs, babysitting an old blind Appaloosa." So we borrowed a trailer and drove down to Colorado Springs the very next day to meet him.
As a youngster and newbie in the horse business, I'd already made plenty of mistakes buying horses based on price, color (I've always liked Palominos!), breed, cuteness, and whatever other factors make it really expensive to run a business with horses, so despite the fire-sale factor, I tried to be cautious about the possibility of finding just what I was looking for on the first try. I remembered a long-time horse trainer's wise words, "There is no such thing as a free horse," as I contemplated the odds of this give-away gelding being perfect lesson horse material on my hour-long drive to Colorado Springs. Don't get your hopes up, Lisa.
As soon as we arrived, the owner went to fetch him from the pasture as we waited in the dusty, worn-out building. Stalls empty, it was mostly inhabited by birds and spiders now. Dusty bridles hanging on dusty hooks in a dusty barn aisle. Then, footsteps as they appeared in doorway: she was leading the Arabian gelding, followed closely by his blind friend.
She handed me the gelding's lead rope so she could close the gate between the two horses.
I led him into the light and sized him up. He was flea-bitten grey. He was little, but sturdy; just the right size for a kid's lesson horse. He was quiet, his eyes soft. He was ADORABLE. I shook it off - I hadn't even ridden him.
The little gelding had been shown Western pleasure, but I rode English, so I'd brought my saddle and put it on him. I'd brought a bridle, too, just in case, but we threw on the bridle he may or may not have worn last time he'd been ridden. When was that?, I wondered as the owner fumbled with the dusty, cracked leather. I got on and rode him around in the empty end of the barn; he had all the right buttons and knew just what I was asking every step. Not many first rides go like this. But I was a pro, and the friend I'd brought with me was an inexperienced rider. The true test would be with a student. So I stepped off, and put my friend on for a lesson. No problem there, either. All he needed to do was get on the trailer, and I had my very own Najan.
And he did. Followed me right in, put his nose right in the hay I'd brought, and the rest is history. That little flea-bitten grey Arabian gelding is Reggie, the White Horse of my Dreams. Lesson Horse Extraordinaire. Painted Indian Pony. Reluctant Unicorn. Comic Relief. Business Partner. Master Teacher. Healer. Friend.
And that's just the beginning.