As I watched the rider walk down the driveway on the way to the hunt meet, I knew that he would have an enjoyable ride. It didn't matter whether the day brought good scent for the hounds or the time was spent hacking through the woods with friends.
I knew two things: this horse would be well-behaved no matter who was on its back or how fast they went, but don't touch it with a rub-rag.
When I look at my stable of horses, I realize that most are "retreads," some kind of performance horse in a previous career. I truly appreciate horses that can handle different jobs, that have class to their core, along with a generous heart. They are worth more than their weight in gold.
But I have also found that most of these good or great horses tend to come with personality quirks -- odd habits or behaviors that separate them from the more normal or the more average.
The particular horse I watched walking to the hunt meet had been a very good racehorse at the flat track, was given a little time off after retiring from racing and came out hunting with the first field of the Piedmont Foxhounds in its maiden year.
But try to put a rag on this horse as it is groomed on the crossties, and it will attempt to savage you with gnashing teeth, scaring itself because it knows better than to bite at people, then pull back to break the crossties.
My two favorite international event horses live together in a herd of younger fox hunters.
One is totally retired, living the fat and happy life after a post-eventing career as an excellent show horse. This tiny half pint was the bravest animal on a cross-country course, but aim it at a coop in the fence line at home, and it would do everything but jump it. Had the coop been in a competition, the horse wouldn't have thought anything of it, but to this day, it hates the chicken coops in its own back yard.
The other retired eventer has become a fabulous school master, but don't turn up the volume on the radio or move the horse too near the loudspeakers. Too much noise makes this horse weave in its stall faster than any horse I know. Move it too near the crackle of the loudspeakers, and its eyes roll to the back of its head, signaling meltdown.
Boarding with me now is a former racehorse who won many owner-rider timber races,was always a good racer and has become a very good fox hunter. Its wisdom shows in its eyes, as does its sense of humor, and if you're careless while exercising and relax for a moment, it will wheel and drop you faster than you can blink.
I know of a wonderful show horse that can be ridden only 20 minutes a day. After its 20 minutes are up, it becomes cranky and refuses to do anything. Take it to a show, and you can ride it all day and win. Go figure.
Great athletes and outstanding personalities of all kinds often seem to share odd behavioral patterns. Because these individuals are often naturally gifted, do we tend to overlook off-kilter behavior because they compensate for it with talent?
In my limited study, I believe this is true. I'll take the weird behavior along with the ultimate in talent or ability any day.
Questions, comments or suggestions? E-mail Julie Gomena at firstname.lastname@example.org.