Thursday, June 14, 2012

Happy Birthday, AJ!

Well, probably not really, since I have no idea when he was really born, but it's his made up, pretend birthday today and he's 26 years young!

This is a repost of sorts, but I wrote it three years ago and I didn't have as many readers then. AJ is very special to me, as is our story, so I wanted to share it again.

I was 10 years old in 1990 and had been taking lessons for a while at a local barn. My dad had told me that I could get a horse when I was 14, and I was counting the years! This particular year, though, my dad had a proposition... we could take a family trip to Disney World, or I could get a horse and my brother could get a dirt bike (looking back now, what a completely unfair proposition it was where my brother was concerned LOL). There was no debate at all, I was getting my horse!

So we built an addition on the barn, set up a pasture, built a riding arena, and set off to find my very first horse. Let's be honest... we had no idea what we were doing. We had no help, no one to talk to, and blindly went searching for something we knew nothing about. Books and magazines told us not to buy the first horse we saw, but that's exactly what we did!

The ad in the paper said "4 year old QH for sale. $1000" Sounded good to us, so we went over to take a look. He was gorgeous! 16 hands tall and he shined like a copper penny! We were told that he had been an orphan, was born in 1986, and the man had purchased the then 2 year old AJ at a local auction. AJ didn't have any papers and his pedigree was unknown. The man said he was looking to buy another horse and AJ needed to find a new home. I rode him in the arena, I rode him down the road, and he seemed absolutely perfect. The man even offered to trailer him to our house for us. SOLD!

AJ the day we took him home!
So the next day, AJ arrived at his new home. I was ecstatic! I finally had the horse I dreamed about for years! Things were great for the first couple of weeks. We had so much fun with him and although it was only April, I couldn't wait for school to get out for the summer so I could spend even more time with him. We even joined a 4-H club so we could learn how to properly care for him. I also decided I'd like to get into showing so we were planning for me to start taking lessons from my new 4-H leader. We had big plans!

Enjoying MY horse!
After those first few weeks, though, things took a turn for the worse. I believe he figured out that we were clueless and he decided to take advantage of it. He started chasing us out of his pasture with his ears pinned. We'd have to run into the stall to get away from him when it was time to feed him. He turned in to a downright mean horse and my mom and I stayed clear of him unless my dad was around. We were afraid he would really hurt us. He never pulled that stuff with my dad or my 4-H leader, but he had my mom and I pegged as easy targets. We tried to work on his behavior for a couple months, and we even called the man who sold AJ to us. He offered to come out and help but AJ would only misbehave when my mom and I were alone with him, and we weren't exactly knowledgeable horsewomen, nor were we willing to do what was suggested by some to set him straight. So we made the decision to sell him... he had to go, and we told him so. Our patience with him had run out.

What happened next is something we still talk about to this day... literally the next day, as in the day after we decided to sell him, we had a totally different horse. He stopped all his crap, all his aggression, and transformed himself back into the horse we had purchased. It was as if he heard what we said and decided to straighten up. So he stayed... and the big plans we had for him were put into motion.

He and I were both learning, and we were learning together. He was very green, and he was a challenge. He was way too much horse for me and my 4-H leader told me so on many occasions. That old saying "green + green = black and blue"... oh so true! I shed many tears that first year, but we pushed through. I loved my AJ and I knew we had potential. The second summer we worked even harder. I was more experienced and less afraid of this big, powerful horse. I took lessons, I went to shows, and I even took him to the fair that year. We only did walk/trot classes, but we won the high point for our division. It was a wonderful reward for all the hard work we had put in. I was really looking forward to the following year!

Our fair picture.

Costume class at the fair.  He was a baby and I got him to suck his tongue in the class!
During that second year, we started to notice some problems with AJ's soundness. We saw him dragging his back legs when he went down the hill in the pasture, and he started limping slightly after long periods of standing. We called our vet and she thought it best to get some xrays of his hocks. So we took him up to MSU (what an adventure that was!) to get the xrays and then we waited for the results. In the meantime, we put him on bute to see if he would improve. The bute did help but the results weren't good. He had arthritis in both hocks. Wondering how in the world a 6 year old horse could have arthritis, our vet offered several scenarios, but we would never really know why. He got several shots of Adequan, and was on a steady diet of bute tabs. It was manageable for a while with the bute, but he seemed to progressively get worse. Standing in the cross ties for 5-10 minutes would make him extremely lame. He could walk off most of the stiffness, but he was noticeably off when I rode him.

The following year we trailered him to what would be his last show. It was our first canter class ever and the judge pulled us to the center of the ring because she could tell he was lame. The trailer rides were just too hard on him and the bute couldn't keep up any more. He was officially retired, at 6 years old.

By this time, though, he had become part of the family. We all loved him and what a personality he had! I rode my 4-H leader's horse that year at the fair and we eventually leased another horse that I rode for a couple years after that. We bought a Paint yearling that was my show horse until it was time for me to head off to boot camp. Even with all the other horses in my life, AJ was my pride and joy. He was the horse I wanted to ride, and he was the horse I wanted to show. I'll always wonder what could have been and what we would have accomplished if things had gone as planned.

Riding with my dad and his horse Justus.
AJ is most certainly a special horse. He's special because he was my first, but he's also special because his personality makes him so. He's smart, he's beautiful, and has a presence about him that is just regal. What fun the past 22 years have been, and here's to many more!  Happy Birthday, my old friend! 

A HUGE thank you to my parents for taking such wonderful care of him for me all these years.  Without them, I don't know that he'd still be with me.


  1. Awww! Happy Birthday AJ! So lucky to have one another!

  2. Aw, what a great story!! Happy birthday cute ears!! ;)

  3. I so love this happy ending. Yes, most parents never would have spent the money taking care of a "retired" six year old. Thank you for posting this. Makes me think he would have loved ground play like we do with Oberon. But it wasn't done back then... :)

    You look adorable with him... I would have been terrified of a horse that big (usually still am leery ; )

  4. Wonderful story! Happy birthday to a wonderful horse!

  5. Happy Birthday AJ! What a wonderful story!! That is so fantastic that you kept him. I plan to do the same with the horses I have now. No matter what happens they will live the rest of their days in my backyard!!

  6. Beautiful story, especially since you and your family are the type of people who keep a horse even after he is no longer "useful". Happy Birthday, AJ!