FERDINAND. Recognizing Heroes in horsemanship

Purpose is to be a means to an end. To give function to someone else. To let our capacity flow through to the next receiver. To have purpose means being a vessel of service to better a person and complete a mission.

andy stanley

We see a lot of romance in the horse industry focused on sport, achievement, and professionalism. Don’t get me wrong, this energy gives us vision. This focus is good. Today though, I want to shine light on a story that exemplifies raw, driven horsemanship, a horsewoman thriving in harsh reality. As daily horsemen- owners, managers, those of us who grind in order to fund our horses’ needs, we drive our industry. From our position, we climb mountains in our journey with the horse; we balance the struggle to make progress with our lifestyle that takes shape around the animal. Ferdinand provides an example of purpose, dedication, and true horsemanship where it’s most needed.

Joy (Left), Ferdinand (Right)

When Jennifer Hardy retired from teaching, she made it her specific mission to “become a talented equestrian”. As a friend of mine, I’m sure Jenny wouldn’t mind as I laugh, thinking- be careful what you wish for! In early 2019, Cupid’s Delight, known to his people as Ferdinand, sauntered his way into Jenny’s life to help her fulfill her mission. Ferdinand was purchased as a second horse to help Jenny further her experience as an event rider. He was supposed to be the sound horse with solid feet and a trustworthy attitude under-saddle. Instead, he developed a horsewoman.

For a short while all seemed to be smooth sailing, but in the fall of 2019, Ferdinand developed inconclusive soundness problems that warranted a trip to internal medicine for diagnostic work. A spinal tap revealed positive EPM diagnosis, so Jenny proceeded with treatment. After several months, Ferdinand’s lameness shifted rather than resolving, and his path to healing became murky. Ferdinand’s clinician lost interest, treatment options became vague, and expenses were rising. Jenny had to make a decision.

Jenny did not give up. She became a manager of her horse and objectively took charge of her clinical case. She gathered a new team of veterinary and equine professionals to continue the diagnostic process and advise her on treatment. Through a long, wavering path, Jenny remained calm and consistent. She discerned which voices warranted her attention, which treatment practices were worth repeating, and where her financial investment was most valuable.

Ferdinand’s battle for soundness carried on through 2020, with diagnostics indicating anything from suspensory injury to nerve damage in the back. People from different parts of Jenny’s life told her to give up; find another horse. But she carried on. She remained focused on her objective to regain Ferdinand’s soundness and serviceability. Finally, after nearly a year and a half of streamlining his treatment- focusing on circulation, rest, and physical reset, Jenny and Ferdinand started making strides in the right direction.

Ponying like a Pro

In November of 2020, Ferdinand displayed enough physical stability to start rebuilding balance and musculature under saddle. So Jenny followed a timeline, steadily increasing intensity and longevity, and she respected the horse’s limitations. She listened to his physical and behavioral response to the increasing pressure of the program. She disregarded naysayers and continued to step cautiously forward.

The funny thing is, Jenny almost came to a breaking point while Ferdinand was striding full speed towards soundness. This is when she inspired me the most. In December, 2020, the pair was focusing on better proprioception and strength training under-saddle, and Ferdinand was FRESH. Likely a combination of new found spark in his step accompanied with Jenny’s increased ask, he started showing his attitude in a bigger way. At the same time, a local trainer expressed to Jenny that she “will never show this horse”. So there we were, sitting in the barn, BEMER on a happy Ferdinand, with Jenny staring at me in exasperation, having invested so much into a horse who was “stuck with her”. She was not confident that she could overcome the intensity of his recovery work.

The reality is as follows. Jenny not only had every capability to handle Ferdinand’s newfound spark, but she was the only one one willing to invest enough in the horse to give him his chance. She proceeded to carry on in the same way she handled his clinical management, surrounding herself with a support system, knowing her limits, having a game plan, and staying in tune with the horse’s capacity.

Jenny & Ferdinand

To the trainer who said that Ferdinand is “unshowable”, in your hands, you are correct. And I say that not in a derogatory manner, but simply speaking rationally. The resources it would take to maintain him in a professional program would not be financially responsible, and he would likely not respond well to the professional’s timeline. Jenny offers the horse another path. Ferdinand’s purpose is to offer Jenny growth, fulfillment, and a mission to work toward. Jenny’s purpose in regard to the horse is to optimize his life and athleticism. In Jenny’s hands, Ferdinand’s possibilities are wide open, due to the difference in purpose.

Today, Ferdinand is safely and serviceably sound. He and Jenny are active in the Lexington, KY equine community, pony club, and local horse shows. Jenny’s resilience, confidence, attention to detail, and emphasis on the individual horse not only saved Ferdinand’s life, but brought her miles into her mission to “become a great equestrian”.

When we talk about the driving force in the horse industry, we need to ask why? Why arrange our lives to support our passion? Why invest so much in a single horse? It circles back to purpose. As horsemen, we are the means to better the horse’s end. We are the drive to create more sustainable athleticism and more effective management for the animals that shape our lives. So Jenny, and to all of us who can relate to and learn from Ferdinand’s story, carry on knowing that we drive the ship. We create a dynamic where the horse is not for industry, but industry is for the horse.

the well horse

One Comment on “FERDINAND. Recognizing Heroes in horsemanship

  1. Absolutely amazing message. Hats off Jennifer to allow the horse to be the best horse he can be.

    Sent from my iPad

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