This is the story of my horse Mellon - how he avoided the killers and went from “dangerous and unrideable” to a great riding horse, and a great friend. Dressage in Jeans has been encouraging me to write more about my own horses, which I guess I haven't done much, as I wasn't sure anyone would be especially interested. But I suppose they have all had interesting histories, either from a training or management perspective, so maybe it is worthwhile to tell their stories a bit, as they have all taught me a great deal. It would be hard to talk about riding and training Mellon without some background on his history and his character, so I hope you'll bear with me while I fill in some of the details.
Mellon (aka Mission: Impossible) came into my life by a circuitous path, and not all of the details of his past are known. He was bred on a farm somewhere near the Canadian border where, due to a divorce settlement, he was abandoned in the field with two other young horses in the care of a non-horsey husband who neglected to feed or care for them. When one of our local horse dealers happened to drive by after delivering a horse and spotted the skinny but attractive horses out in a snowstorm, she knocked on the door and asked about buying them. It turned out they were all well-bred Trakehners and the guy was all too happy to be rid of them. She loaded them in her empty trailer and drove them to her stable on the other side of the state.
There they broke him fast, gave him some groceries and found a willing victim to buy him. This woman already owned several horses scattered across several different farms, and this horse she bought, I think, on looks alone. She named him something like “Melon Kampf” which she claimed was an expression that meant “head (or mind) battle,” though I speak a little German and I’ve never heard that expression, so perhaps it is Yiddish or something? In any event, he must have been difficult even then to have acquired such a name so young. At only two or three years old, she sent him to my trainer to finish off his training, and would come occasionally to try to ride.
It was not long after he arrived that Mellon had an accident. He must have been running in the paddock and slipped on the wet grass, because he ended up tangled in the fence up by the road. No one knew how long he had been there, struggling against the fence, until someone driving by spotted him and ran to get help. The manager and some grooms did their best to dismantle the fence and get him out, but by then he was badly cut up and panicked. They led him slowly to his stall (which was at the other end of the barn where my horse was) and called the vet and his owner. I think this was the first time I ever really noticed Mellon; he was standing up against the back wall of the stall, sweating and trembling all over, while blood poured out of gaping wounds. At the time, he was only two or three years old. His owner got there before the vet, obviously inconvenienced by her horse’s inconsiderate accident. She walked past his stall, glanced at him quickly, and with a dismissive wave of her hand she said, “Ugh! He’ll be alright,” and then left. It was also the first time I had seen her, and I instantly disliked her. After she left, Mellon proceeded to go into shock. Luckily, the vet arrived in time to treat him, care for his wounds and help him settle for the night.
Obviously, Mellon survived and his wounds healed. After a few days, he was back in training -which also meant his owner would be back to ride him. Unfortunately, when she did ride him, he would usually buck her off. The last time she rode him, I heard she ended up in the hospital. She stopped visiting, and at that point she was looking to get rid of him. Apparently, she also stopped paying her board and training fees. She abandoned Mellon completely, sticking my trainer with the bill. After a legal battle, Mellon became the property of the trainer in place of the owed board and training fees. My trainer couldn’t afford another horse, so Mellon became a sale horse, marketed to the most rough-and-ready elements in the jumper world. Mellon had talent and speed, which made him an ideal jumper, and he also had attitude and kung fu skills which made him an unlikely choice for anything else. So, needless to say, every cowboy and yahoo in a 50 mile radius came out to try him, and insisted on jumping him as high as possible.
Mellon could jump all the big jumps, but only if you could get him to leave the ground. Not many could, and a lot ate dirt trying. As a result, Mellon was not sold. He also didn’t make it as a school horse, even though there was no short supply of cowboy-jumper types with big egos and little riding ability. It seemed every man who came along saw Mellon as some sort of test of their manhood: could they break him? Could they stay on the bucking bronco until the buzzer? They all brought their whips and spurs and draw reins and big bits and tried to master Mellon. Alas, they all failed, and Mellon’s behavior got worse and worse. Soon, there was no one left to ride him, and he languished in his stall. He had become nasty and aggressive, and no one even wanted to go near him to groom or care for him.
After all of this, Mellon had every right not to trust humans, and every right to rebel against his training the way he did. He began to show signs of his distress by weaving and stall-walking continually. He was also losing condition as he became more and more neurotic, and it was decided a change of scenery might do him good. He had been living in the trainer’s private 6-stall barn which was dark and dank, so they moved him back up to the boarding barn into the empty stall next to my horse Lifeguard. I didn't realize it at the time, but this was Mellon's last chance; if he didn't get better, he would be fated to the unhappy end so many unusable horses eventually meet: the killers. Not many people would want to feed a horse that couldn't be ridden. There was a sign on his door warning not to get too close.
I tried not to. I took care of my own horse as Mellon watched silently through the bars of his stall. He was about four years old, a gorgeous light bay, 16.3hh, with a crooked stripe on his face and a keen, intelligent eye. He seemed a nice enough horse, and I never had a problem with him. When I was done riding, I’d put my hunt cap on the tack trunk next to his door, and he’d reach over and stick his nose in it or pick it up in his teeth and play with it. He seemed more like a goofy baby than Jack the Ripper. Gradually I started to approach him, pet him, feed him treats, etc..
He was a sweetheart. I saw none of the danger everyone warned me about. When no one was around, I’d go in his stall and groom him after I’d finished with my horse and he’d make silly faces and “groom” my hair in return. After a while, he started to whinny to me when I walked in the barn and, when my trainer saw this, he said, “I think he likes you. You want to try to ride him?”
Uh, what? Are you trying to get me killed? I thought. Yet something about Mellon intrigued me. Being young and stupid, I said, “Um, ok,” fairly certain I was getting myself in over my head. Of course, I was not a trainer at the time, and the only horse I ever really rode consistently was my own. I had no idea what I was doing. Still, there was just something about this horse that drew me to him, and something sorrowful and desperate in his eye that made me want to try to help.
So, against all better judgment, agreed to try riding him.
To be continued…