How a $600 rescue horse became my winning Adult Jumper

Written by: Stephanie Bitondo

Being talented AND able to afford that five or six figure horse is a killer combo in the horse world that sets you up for success. However, things don’t always work out that way, and I think a lot of young riders feel really discouraged when they realize that their budget falls very sort of this. Hopefully, by sharing my story more people can realize that the end of the world is not approaching if your budget is small- all you need is a good eye, and a little determination.

It was the afternoon of April 1, 2010, and I was trying to convince my friends and family that the ragged, sickly looking horse I had just bought was not an April Fools joke. She was the living representation of my future in the sport of horseback riding we just had a bit of work to do.

If someone who has been riding for roughly 15 months total asked you what sort of horse would be appropriate for them to buy, most likely what comes to mind is something a bit older, very quiet, experienced, and willing to put up with frequent rider errors. This was my criterion when I began looking to buy my very first horse in January of 2010. I had begun riding in 2009 at a small lesson barn, and had just moved to a facility where the students had the opportunity to show on the local hunter/jumper circuit. I had just made my debut in the 2’ beginner hunter division on a school horse, and I was itching
to purchase a partner who could teach me how to jump higher and move up in the show ranks. I’ve never been one to be shy about money, so I’ll willingly give you a number: my budget was exactly $1000. No more, no less- and that number had to include blankets and basic supplies.

Now, you can probably already see the problem with this. Fortunately, no one clued me in on the apparent impossibility of this meager budget producing an animal that was safe, sound, and athletic enough for me to reach my goals. Taking in rescues was a normal occurrence at the barn I was at, so sifting through rescue group photo albums on the Internet to find a potential show horse was not something that struck me as uncommon, even for a beginner rider like me. I reached out to a
few people who orchestrated rescue groups connected with the Camelot feedlot in South Jersey, and also the New Holland broker in Pennsylvania, and as the weeks went by, we searched for a gelding, 16hh or over, who was at least 13 years of age.

What happened next would, naturally, leave me with a horse fitting the exact opposite of the above description in every possible way. On a Thursday morning, my trainer at the time received a phone call from a friend about a horse she wanted to pull from the auction, but didn’t have the space to house. The auction had taken place on Wednesday night, and this horse had been passed up by all private buyers and was left to wait in the pen for her fate to be decided. The woman calling
knew my trainer had a client looking for a horse, and decided to pass along this horse’s picture, as she had taken a liking to it despite not being in the market for a new one. The description placed under the horse’s fuzzy auction picture read, “7 year old bay mare, 16.1 warmblood/tb cross.” I can’t quite explain what caused me to immediately drop all my reconceived notions of what my first horse should be as soon as my trainer hurried me over to her computer to show me the mare’s picture. Perhaps it was the unyielding, nearly nonsensical trust in my old trainer; perhaps it was the fact that patience had never been a virtue of mine. I felt like Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka; I wanted a horse NOW. Regardless of the reason, I found myself spreading bedding in the back of a two horse trailer not an hour later, in preparation for the horse I had just purchased, sight unseen, over the phone with my mother’s credit card number. After taxes, extra fees, and a Coggins, the total cost to bring my new horse home was exactly $680.

It turned out my $600 horse didn’t know how to canter, much less jump. Also, she was certainly not 16.1; more like 15.2 or 15.3. After five months of very frustrating rides, I moved her to a new barn and began training with my current trainer, Anne Marie Compagnone. She’s worked with some really nice horses over the years, so to this day, four years later, I still don’t know why she didn’t turn away my underweight, scared of her own shadow little mare. I’m forever grateful that she didn’t, though, because over those four years she has produced for me a quiet, well behaved mare who pops around the 3’6 like she’s been doing it for years.

The moral of the story- if you can’t afford that five or six figure horse, don’t feel discouraged! You can still make yourself a quality show horse, so don’t give up! You just need a good eye for picking an unsuspecting horse, be willing to work hard and suffer some frustrations, and to align yourself with an experienced trainer, and amazing things can come out of even the smallest budgets!

Written by: Stephanie Bitondo

3 thoughts on “How a $600 rescue horse became my winning Adult Jumper

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  2. tbinder71 says:

    Love these diamond in the rough stories. So rewarding when hard work and perseverance pays off. I love it even more when these horses beat out the pricey push button horses. My daughter’s pony has similar story. Although she still presents challenges to my daughter, it’s those challenges that have made her the gritty rider she is today. ANYONE can sit poised on a made horse and collect ribbons but there is such great satisfaction into being the one who brings a horse along and helping them reach their full potential. Congrats and good luck with your mare!

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