Finnegan’s World

First Time Horse Owner
October 3, 2008, 12:21 pm
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Kiowa had passed his vet exam with flying colours, and as I drove out to the barn that evening, I couldn’t get it to sink in:  I own a horse.  I own a horse!  I own a horse?

You see, what people don’t tell you is that the moment your dream comes true, you start to panic.  At least I did.  What had I gotten myself into?  I am a nearing-middle-age, suburban woman who knows nothing about horsekeeping, or horse training, and not too terribly much about horse riding.  The pessimist in me had a field day:  What if he’s not as sweet as I’d thought?  What if he’s a bucker?  Oh my gosh, that’s what’s going to happen.  He’s going to buck me off then run straight through the fence, probably impaling himself on a board, and I’ll end up nursing broken bones for the next six months and staring at a pile of vet bills that I can’t afford.  The imagination is a nasty thing.

I tried to quell my fears, and set to getting to know Kiowa.  Kiowa Scout.  I hadn’t liked that name since I first heard it.  Yes, he was a Paint, and the Native Americans were known for having Paints, but it was too predictable.  He deserved a better name.  I had only named cats and dogs in the past, but I wasn’t about to name him something like Rusty or Spike.  Too cutesy, and not nearly formal enough.  Then there was the other end of the spectrum – show horse names like Mahogany’s Mid Summer Night’s Dream, or Averti’s Mysterious Surprise.  What would you even call that horse on a daily basis?  Fortunately there is an endless supply of ideas for names on the web, and after a few days, I had decided.  Finnegan.  It’s definitely not average, but it’s not weird either.  It’s Gaelic and means “fair”.  I hoped Finnegan would be fair with me, and I knew I would have no choice but to be fair with him.  This was the beginning of a very new kind of relationship for me, and I was going to work my hardest to make it a great one.


Let’s Go Get Him!
September 23, 2008, 12:00 pm
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Back home, I showed the videos to Maggie, who said his conformation looked good and he moved well.  My mother actually let out a gasp when I showed her:  “Oh, he’s so cute!”

 Maggie said he seemed worth taking on a week’s trial and we planned to go pick him up on February 3rd.  I know that sounds a little off – taking a horse on a week’s trial – but that’s what you do when getting a new horse.  You need to see how he acts at your barn, with you.  And most important:  You need to be sure your vet declares him healthy.  I must’ve watched Finn’s videos a hundred times and I definitely lost some sleep waiting for that day to arrive!

 The morning of the 3rd was absolutely freezing – the high was in the teens and the winds were in the 30mph range.  It felt like my face was going to fall off.  We picked up Kiowa and got him settled into his new home at Triple Z Farm for Maggie to begin his training and for me to schedule his pre-purchase vet exam.  I visited him every day that week, watching Maggie work with him, and spending some “getting to know you” time with him by grooming and leading him around.  It was so hard to not get attached.  He was so sweet and willing, but the vet exam wasn’t until the end of the week and I couldn’t let myself even start to think Kiowa was mine unless the vet declared him healthy and sound.

Kiowa Scout
September 10, 2008, 1:01 pm
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I may have about reached my limit.  Six months of horse shopping and now it was the end of January 2007.  I was driving back from somewhere up in Indiana after looking at a chestnut quarterhorse with the smoothest canter I’d ever ridden.  He was trained in English, had done some jumping, etc., but his owner had instilled some training quirks in him that I didn’t particularly like.  That, and she wanted to raise his price.

As I drove toward home, I realised I had another appointment near Frankfort, Ky, and I really didn’t feel like driving for three more hours that day.  I thought about cancelling so I could just go home and take a nap on this blustery, gray day.  But I didn’t want to be inconsiderate toward the owners on such short notice, and I comforted myself by adding, “This is the last horse I’m going to see.  I’ve been doing this for too long and it’s time to stop.  There is no ‘perfect horse’ out there for me”.

Somewhere north of Frankfort, I drove through some of the most backcountry, run-down farms and country homes I’d ever seen.  Now I was really annoyed for not having cancelled.  This was going to be a big waste of time.  I pulled up to a tiny farm (if you could call it that), and hopped out.  There were a couple dozen, very random-looking dogs penned up alongside the house, and about as many horses all standing in a mud pit no larger than a half acre.  Take a deep breath girl, let’s just get this over with.

I walked into the barn and there stood the horse I had come to see, Kiowa Scout.  He was taller than I had expected, a bay Tobiano Paint, and he was standing very quietly waiting to be tacked up.  “Don’t let yourself get sucked in by his colour”, I had to remind myself.  “Focus on his personality.”

There was a lot of activity in this little barn.  Dogs barking, people tacking up other horses, and some sort of a heat-blasting furnace that sounded more like a jet engine.  I watched Kiowa’s eyes, ears, and feet.  He stood quietly through it all – even when they cinched his girth so tight and so fast his eyeballs could have popped out.  Poor guy..

One of the farmhands hopped on and I started to wonder where we were going to do the test ride.  Well, I found out that when you live way, way far out in the country, what better place than the road?  Yes, I said the road.  So off they went, walking, trotting, galloping – whoops! I mean cantering down the road.  Note to self:  Do NOT ask for the canter on this guy!  I took lots of video because I knew Maggie would catch all sorts of clues and signs about him that I had no hope of seeing at this point in my riding career.

Then my turn to ride came, but down the street??  This was a 3 1/2 year old, half Thoroughbred, whom I had just witnessed take off like a bullet up the road and into a neighbor’s yard with this poor kid on his back.  “I’m here, I might as well do it!” I told myself as I climbed on and the last wisp of reasoning floated right out of my head.  I very quickly realised this guy didn’t know leg commands and had a little panic attack.  He didn’t even know how to move forward off my legs.  This was more than I wanted to get into.  As I started riding him up and down the street, a car approached and I had panic attack number two.  “Will he be okay?”  I yelled to the owners, and they quickly reassured me he was used to sharing the road with cars.  And he was.  He didn’t even bat an eye as that car (and a few others) rolled past us.  As we were making our way down the road, I started to notice that he was responding to my weight shifting.  I asked him to bend and turn, and while he didn’t understand what I was asking, he was trying to figure it out.  He wanted to do what I was asking.  A good sign.  A little more riding, and I noticed he was just as happy to go as he was to stop.  So here was a horse with some go who was trying to work with me.  Hmm…

September 5, 2008, 1:00 pm
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Never having been a true horsewoman before, I had no idea as to the glut of horses that were available on the market.  Their numbers are comparable to those of the dogs and cats on  And like those dogs and cats, I wanted to adopt them all, but I had to be realistic and narrow my search.  Let’s see..  Definitely a gelding (mares were too bossy), around 16 hands (a respectable height, but not TOO far to fall!), and within 100 miles of the Cincinnati area.  I plugged my criteria into, and for the next six months did little else with my weekends besides horse shopping.

I must’ve test-ridden 20 horses and I definitely put a few thousand miles on my little Honda, but no one seemed right for me.  Their owners had written raving reviews in their profiles, and maybe they were good matches for their owners, but they weren’t good matches for me.  Some wouldn’t respond to my cues because, “That’s not how my owner asks me!”   Some were nicely trained show horses, but would spook at the cat in the rafters.  Or maybe it was the wind that blew through the barn.  Or maybe it was anything that was outside of their stall.  Not what I was looking for.

But mostly what I ran into was horses that were all go or no go.  Why couldn’t I find someone with some go?  Maybe it was time to reorganise my priority list.  I had been looking for someone between 5 & 10 years old who was already nicely trained in English riding.  A horse was going to be a huge expense; I didn’t want to add a huge training expense on top of it!  And, I’m ashamed to admit, I had been hoping to find a black horse.  I know, I know.  That’s horribly superficial, but oh, those black horses are so lovely!  (For the record, I had been looking at horses of all colours because I knew how ridiculous it would have been to consider only black horses.)  So I started looking at horses trained in Western riding, or not trained much at all.  And I completely ignored colour – personality was my new goal.

And that’s when I found him.

From the beginning..
September 4, 2008, 12:15 pm
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When someone you love dies, you can do some pretty crazy things.  The pain won’t ease, so you try to cover it up.  With prayer, with work, with shopping – with whatever you have to do to take that pain down a notch.  A half notch, even.  My dad died on July 12, 2006.  I may have been a “grown woman” of 36 at the time, but the pain hit me like it must hit a child.  Overwhelming.  And impossible to describe unless you’ve been through it.

As a Christian woman, I turned to God for peace.  As an American woman, I turned to shopping for diversion.  Didn’t even realise I was doing it until a few weeks (and a few hundred dollars) later, I saw my closet expanding, and for what?  I had to find something else.  Something that would occupy my brain during every waking moment because right now every waking moment was swirling and crushing me with thoughts of my dad.

I had started riding horses a year and a half earlier.  Weekly lessons with a young trainer, Maggie, who constantly challenged me beyond my comfort zone with a myriad of horses – mostly Arabians and Thoroughbreds, which, if you know anything about horses, tend to be a little hot.  They gave me a few scares, but mostly confidence and a good seat.

Maggie had been hinting around for a while that maybe it was time to start thinking about getting a horse of my own.  I had ridden a couple dozen, so I had a good feel for attributes I liked and ones I could do without.  A horse of my own?  That’s a big decision.  But you know what?  That’s a mission.  That’s exactly what I needed to fill my time and my mind and my heart.

I started looking.