Nonie came into my life in less than ideal circumstances. In 2010, I was a slightly dramatic 22yo, in the second last year of a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics. I’d just broken up with a boy who at the time I thought was the love of my life (second of course to horses) and lost a really special horse, Gilbert, to melanoma.
Not long after Gilbert passed away, I also lost my competition horse at that time Sullivan, a Percheron x warmblood. We’d taken Sullivan out to a competition and he just wasn’t himself. I struggled to get him moving in the warm up. Consequently the tests were flat and lackluster, but what was more alarming was that he hadn’t broken a sweat. We realised that he had anhydrosis. Over the next month, we tried everything under the sun. We added herbs, supplements and even stout to his feeds, an old wives’ tale which proved fruitless.
The heat and humidity of summer on the Sunshine Coast meant that trying to keep him in work all year round just wasn’t an option. We discussed a few ideas, maybe keeping Sullivan in work during the competition season over winter and getting a pony to ride during summer. Ultimately, we realised that we would have to sell Sullivan to someone living further south in a cooler climate. I was devastated.
Anyone who has ever bought a horse will understand the frustration that is part and parcel of ‘the horse hunt’. I’d be down this road before, but it was different this time. I’d had Sullivan for about three years, bringing him on from a horse who struggled to trot in a straight line, to being almost ready to compete at elementary level. But with the decision made, mum and I scoured Horse Deals, Facebook horse sales pages, the internet and we put the word out amongst our local equestrian community that we were on the hunt. I swooned over educated schoolmasters and lusted after youngsters with talent to burn, however they were all well outside our modest budget.
After trying several horses locally without much luck, mum stumbled across a small add in Horse Deals with the headline, ‘4yo Sir Rocco Mare’. Pictured was of a gangly baby with a barely there stripe on her face, but she was almost within our price range and within a 45 minute drive so mum gave the owner a call. Her then owner was a lady was in her 50’s who had bought Nonie as a green 3yo. The combination of green horse and green rider plus more feed than was needed, resulted in her owner having a fall, losing her confidence, and the purchase of an older experienced mount. In a twist of irony, the horse she purchased was advertised on the same page as Nonie.
The day we went to try Nonie, the stockman who had been riding her threw on a swing fender saddle and warmed her up for me. During the test ride, I put Nonie through her paces, they were light. She could walk, trot and canter and she could turn, but that was about it. I remember asking her to move up a gear in the trot but the only answer she knew was to brake into canter. When we left, I felt just like I had after the last five horses I had tried, frustrated and disheartened! She was a sweet mare, but she was so green. If I got her I would be starting all over again.
While I now love the whole process of training horses, as a younger more impatient rider, I just wanted to feel like a ‘real’ rider who was doing the fun stuff, the lateral work, the flying changes and more. I felt like I had just started to reach this level with Sullivan and it had all been snatched away from me.
My dad agreed to contribute to buying the horse on the condition that my coach felt she would be suitable for me. With this being done the final step was a vet check. I returned to my textbooks to prepare for my impending exams, as mum towed her off to have the vet check done, I clearly remember the thought that entered my brain ‘I hope she fails the vet check, I don’t think I want this horse’. Looking back, I can see now that this was because I was grieving for Gilbert and wanting no horse other than my Sullivan. I had not told my parents about this until fairly recently. When I did share this information, Mum was horrified and would never have bought Nonie if had she been aware.
As it was, Nonie passed her vet check with flying colours and that was that we bought her. She stayed with my coach for about four weeks in order to teach her some of the basics. One sunny day following a patch of rain, mum asked me to take out a clean rug to put on her, she handed me a few carrots and off I went. I can pinpoint the beginning of our partnership back to this moment. After gobbling up the carrots Nonie started licking me. A seemingly simple moment, nonetheless that was when my heart opened up to the possibility of loving this horse.
One thing that stands out to me as I look back was my reluctance to make any decisions. I felt paralysed by the knowledge that any decision I made would be the wrong one. So it was rather fortunate that things worked out as they did and Nonie and I ended up together. The last almost ten years has produced a partnership that has been more rewarding than I could ever have anticipated. It has certainly had its challenges, but this has made the highlights all the more rewarding. I can’t wait to see what the next years will bring as we continue our journey down the centreline.
Since this first blog post was published Nonie and I have had many more adventures, our first medium level start, going to Nationals and moving to Brisbane. We’ve dabbled in show horse competitions are much much more.