Horse Stories: Nikkel
Part 1
By Karen Nelson
Last Updated: February 17, 2009
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This is the story of my grey mare Niki. I co-owned her with my trainer at the time, and we owned her for a little over 3
years. Niki is the mother of my grey mare Tango, and grandmother to my two boys Dexter and S'Argent.
Not long after selling Marigold, my trainer was talking about a horse she had heard about that was for sale near Calgary.
To make this story easier to write, I will refer to my trainer as "Sue", even though that is not her real name.  Supposedly
this mare was very fancy, although unproven, and Sue's boyfriend, who we shall call "Clark", was trying to find a client in
his barn that could invest in this horse. Sue was frustrated that she didn't have clients that had the money to invest in a
horse for her.

We were still at Whitemud, and the riders that Whitemud tended to attract were the ones who didn't have a lot of money,
only rode once a week, or were just pleasure riders who liked the convenient location. With the old facilities and poor
scheduling, Whitemud just wasn't a barn that attracted the wealthy rider due to the conditions, or the serious show
competitors as it was hard to schedule lessons and riding around the group lesson program. As good a trainer as Sue
was, it was difficult for her to attract or keep the types of riders that would help her business grow. She also lacked some
of the business savvy that would have helped her expand her business.  

I really believed in Sue, and as I had the money from Marigold's sale, I offered to go in with her on the purchase of this
mare. I didn't have enough to buy her outright, so she would have had to find a second investor, or invest some money
herself. Not really a wise investment for a practical point of view, but it felt right from an emotional point of view.

I was tired of being the student who didn't have any money. Past experience with my old trainer had made me feel like
my lack of finances or parental participation made me less important than the other students and I wanted the same
level of attention as the other students. Even though Sue didn't favour students based on their wealth, and she certainly
didn't interact with parents enough that their participation made her try harder for their kids, my past experience made
me feel that this was something I wanted to overcome. I also saw how Sue's boyfriend, Clark, looked down on us as a
barn, and I wanted to show him that we weren't the yahoos he seemed to sometimes think we were.

I was also desperate for someone to believe in me as a rider, and I saw that same need in Sue, and I wanted to give her
that gift. I truly believed in her skills and felt she deserved better horses to ride. Not so much a do unto others kind of
thing, but more of a recognition of how she was feeling as I felt it too, and that I was in a position to help her out.

Investing in this horse was a way I could support Sue, make myself feel like a "somebody", while at the same time having
a reasonable expectation of making some money.

I made the offer to Sue and then didn't hear much about it, as someone else beat us to the mare, so it looked like the
opportunity had passed. Then a few weeks later she came back to me and said the horse had failed the prepurchase
exam as she had a chip in one ankle, so her price was greatly reduced. Sue wanted to know if I was still interested in
buying the mare. The catch was she would need surgery on that ankle before we could resell her. Still, the price of the
horse plus the price of the surgery was less than her original asking price. The verbal agreement was I would buy the
mare and pay for the surgery, Sue would arrange hauling home. Once home Sue would cover the board and farrier (her
mom ran the barn, and her dad was a farrier), and I would pay vet and show fees. I assumed Sue would be the one
riding the new mare as I was buying the horse for that purpose.
We didn't have anything in writing about the deal, which we probably should have, but neither Sue nor I had enough
experience or business sense to foresee issues or to understand that having the agreement in writing would make
sense. We just trusted each other to do the right thing and counted on everything going smoothly.

Clark, Sue and I drove down to Black Diamond to go look at this mare for the first time, to make sure we really wanted to
buy her. We pulled up to the small barn and arena where she was kept. We didn't see signs of the owners, nor of the
grey mare, but Sue showed me what she thought was her first born foal. We were a little early, so we went into the barn
to wait (this was back before we had cell phones). Soon we heard some galloping coming up the driveway; the trainer
was galloping the mare along the gravel drive full out to the barn! This possibly should have told us something...

We pretended we hadn't seen or heard the galloping and didn't comment on the fact the mare was out of breath as she
led her into the indoor arena. We watched her be ridden and then Sue got on and rode her and took her over a couple
jumps. This mare was indeed fancy! Sue asked if I wanted to ride her, but I didn't see the need, as we weren't buying
the horse for me to ride after all.

Sue and Clarke were both impressed with this mare's ability so we made the arrangement to buy her and bring her
home. We didn't bother with a vet check, as we had been told that the only thing she failed on was the bone chip in the
one ankle. I am not even sure we saw the x-rays, we just trusted the seller as far as I remember.

As we bought the mare as a resale project, Sue and Clarke didn't want people to know about the bone chip or the
surgery we planned, they were busy thinking up ways to explain the stitches she was going to be coming home with. We
took her to Edmonton Equine for the surgery. Apparently we weren't clear enough that it was her left front ankle as the
prepared her right front and then called as they couldn't find a chip on the x-ray! We cleared up that confusion and they
looked at the other ankle, but the vet felt that the chip was too small to be worth removing; he felt that it would be
absorbed over time and not cause an issue so he didn't want to risk the surgery...not that anyone had warned me there
was much of a risk in the first place.

So the mare came back to Whitemud with two oddly shaved ankles, that fortunately no one seemed to notice.

    She was 5 years old, 16.1 hands and a registered Canadian Trakehner,
    who was approved and branded, although her brand was hard to see. She
    was a gorgeous dapple grey with black points. Her registered name was
    Nikkel, but I called her Niki. She has "the look" with a very expressive and
    kind face. Pictures do not do her justice. Her sire was the Trakehner
    stallion Nemo. Sadly Nemo was killed in a trailer accident before he could
    pass on his genes. Her mom was registered Trakehner as well, but has
    some thoroughbred in her breeding. I think that thoroughbred was
    definitely passed on to Niki.

Sue rode Niki for about a week. After that one week of riding her, she discovered that Niki's trot was causing havoc with
Sue's back. Apparently what had felt like a normal warmblood trot was actually a rather rough to ride trot muffled by the
nice dressage saddle she was tried out in, and leveled out a bit by the mad gallop before Sue tried her. Had we known
more about conformation, or paid more attention we likely would have noticed her upright pasterns and been more
prepared for her to have jolting gaits, but as it was we were blinded by how fancy she was.

So the horse I bought specifically for Sue to ride, was passed on to me to work.

Now I hadn't planned on having another horse to ride; I already had
Ross, was doing some training for Whitemud, and
was teaching and helping Sue as well as going to school. When agreeing to buy Niki for Sue it hadn't even occurred to
me that she might decide she didn't want to ride her as that seemed like the whole point of buying her.

I didn't have experience riding a big moving warmblood like Niki, and her upright pasterns added an extra jolt to her trot
that made her gaits even harder to ride. Both her trot and her canter were very hard on the back, even if you were
posting or in a two point. She was also very reactive and I wasn't used to that, so it was hard to keep her in a consistent
rhythm. It felt like just a thought would send her forward, and a leaf blowing in the wind would send her sideways. She
was nicely started though, and very light in the bridle for hacking. Some of how painful her gaits were, was made up for
by how special it felt to be riding a horse as talented as her.

We moved our horses to Sunrise soon after bringing Niki home. It was a sudden decision that we hadn't foreseen, but
Sue had started to teach the owner's daughter and liked the facility and people, and we didn't want to deal with another
winter at Whitemud. At Sunrise we would be able to have a better lesson schedule and far more free arena time. As well
the arena at Sunrise was much larger and proved to be much warmer in the winter. Whitemud was a great facility for
starting riders out, but if we wanted to move on with our riding and be more competitive, it just wasn't the place for that.

It was a pretty exciting move, with about 10 horses going to Sunrise. Niki and Ross got side by side stalls, and my best
friend Nicole had her horse right next to us. The stalls at Sunrise were very narrow, but long and bright. The size
worried me at first but the horses seemed to like how bright and airy they were, and after a while they didn't seem to be
so small. The cement and cinder block barn felt so bright and clean after years in Whitemud's old wood barns.

I had only ridden at Whitemud other than at shows though, and Sunrise was a lot different. For one thing, there were
only 5 lesson horses, instead of the 40 or so at Whitemud, so boarders could ride whenever they wanted. The other big
thing to get used to was the Quarter Horse trainer that I will call Don. Don was used to having the barn pretty much to
himself and being able to do things his way. One of the things he did that took some getting used to, was that he would
free lunge a horse in the arena while you were riding. Nothing like having a yearling stud colt running around while you
rode to get your horse ready for the warm up ring at shows!

Still, Don was a great guy and very supportive and fun to have at the barn. It was such a different atmosphere to have
trainers working together and having fun, instead of the jealousy and competition for arena time Sue had to deal with at
Whitemud. The staff at Sunrise were great as well, and it was really a very positive place to ride, and I always felt
comfortable having my horses in their care.

Niki's jumping trainer progressed while at Sunrise and she was soon ready to show. Her jumping talent was immense
and she took to it naturally. It was a steep learning curve for me however, and I remember many long and exhausting
lessons spent on her, just trying to do simple things like picking up the correct lead on a straight line, or balancing her
back for a shorter stride.

Sue did start riding her a few times a week, but mostly just for jumping to get her ready to be shown.

Sue came up with the perfect show name for Niki: "Animation". It suited her as she had so much presence when being
ridden. We started Niki off in the baby green hunters that first year, and moved her up to recognized Pre Green hunters
the following year. She competed against Ross a few times; he beat her in the "in hand" and under saddle portions of
the Red Deer Maturity, but she usually beat him in the over fences classes. He had the hunter look, and the long and
low hunter movement, but her form over fences was hard to fault. Niki was a year older than Ross, so we moved her up
to the bigger classes sooner, which saved me the stress of having two horses in the same divisions.

Niki shone in the show ring and caught people's eyes just walking into the ring. With Sue, Niki was hardly ever beaten in
a hunter class. Niki and I didn't do quite as well, as I just could not contain her massive stride, and I would leave out
strides in lines without realizing how much canter I had before it was too late. Some rounds we would win, but during
other rounds Niki would take over the controls and I would pretty much just be a passenger. Part of the problem was
that I was always worried about getting a good distance, and didn't have the confidence to hold her in for a shorter spot,
rather I would panic at the last minute and let her go for the long she was trying for...exactly the wrong thing to do with
this mare. I just wasn't physically strong enough, or confident enough and Niki knew it.

Getting Niki ready for the show ring was also an exercise in patience; she did NOT like spray bottles had super sensitive
skin. Keeping her from being yellow took a lot of trial and error to find what would both work and not annoy her. One
thing we did to "cheat" was to dye her tail black. Technically against the rules, but wow she looked good, and no one
ever guessed our secret.

As well as getting her clean and braided, Sue also wanted me to lunge some of her energy out in the mornings. I
remember one show at Whitemud when I had both Ross and Niki competing. I had gotten to the show at 5am in order to
have time to braid my two horses, as well as horses for some of the other clients at the barn. I then lunged Ross lightly
to let him stretch his legs, and finally lunged Niki for about 40 minutes. I got her tacked up and to the show ring for Clark
to show her; I don't remember why he was showing her and not Sue, but he waited until the last minute to get on her,
pop her over a few jumps, and then took her in the ring. I don't think he had shown her before and I don't think he was
prepared for how much horse she was at shows, but i do remember how he came out mad saying that I hadn't lunged
her enough! I was pretty choked as I had been up quite early just to make sure I had time to lunge her, but I think he
just didn't like that the mare had made him look bad. I think after that he appreciated how sensitive and tough the mare
could be though.

Niki was an exceptional mare in so many ways. She actually seemed to enjoy jumping too. I remember that first winter
that she had to be kept in the barn without a blanket for a while so a Staph infection on her back could clear up. After a
little indoor schooling show held at Sunrise, I decided to put her in the arena to wander around while I took the course
down. The last class of the day had been 4'0" jumpers. Niki went into the ring, took a look around, and immediately
started jumping the jumps! At first I was impressed, but when she started leaving out strides and taking rampy oxers
backwards I began to worry she was going to hurt herself, so I quickly started to take the poles down off the jumps to
keep her from getting hurt. She wasn't done though, so she started to jump the little divider they had set up at one end
of the ring to allow horses to wait in the arena for their round...the divider wasn't huge,  but it was very close to the end
of the ring so I had to rush to take that down so she wouldn't careen into the cinder block wall! Silly mare. Very
impressive jump though.

Other than that impromptu free jumping, we never did try her though a jumping chute. Looking back I am curious as to
how high she could have jumped. Those 4 foot jumps looked like cross poles when she was loose, so I am sure she had
scope for much more.

The next year we took Niki to Regina Spring Horse show to start her "A" circuit show career. Ross stayed behind as we
didn't to break his Pre Green eligibility yet. She was Champion or Reserve of all four of the divisions she was entered
into. She also won the 3'0" hunter special with Sue on board, which was pretty impressive as that class was open to all
horses and riders regardless of show experience.

Next stop was the Brandon Winter Fair. This show is held right in Brandon, and the show ring is the same ring they use
for hockey. When we arrived they still hadn't completely melted the ice from a previous hockey game, but instead of
waiting, they put the arena sand on top of the remaining ice, which made for very odd footing as the ice melted. When I
took Niki into the ring to get her used to the sights and sounds she wanted nothing to do with that footing, so we gave
up and I rode her in the upper warm up ring. She was being very good about all the cows and draft horses milling about,
and walked right by the cages and crates full of chickens and bunnies. I think the long trailer ride and previous week of
showing mellowed her.

The next morning we got up early to get her into the ring before warm up rounds, but Niki was moving slightly off. We
weren't sure what caused it, but though possibly that she got cast in her stall. It could also be that something was
starting to bother her the day before, which explained why she didn't want to be ridden in the strange footing.

We decided to scratch her from the show. A big disappointment as it was a long way to go just sit on the side lines, but it
wasn't worth causing further damage by trying to show her anyway. I was fully prepared to just be the groom at that
show, when another student graciously offered to let me show her very nice gelding in the Amateur hunter division! She
was a Junior so there wouldn't be a class conflict, and the show office was ok with the last minute switch.

I hadn't ridden her gelding before, but he was such a nice horse that we managed to be reserve champion. It really
showed me the benefit of having a seasoned show horse to build confidence. Lending me her horse to ride was a very
classy thing for a teenager to do.

Oddly enough, even with Niki sitting that show out, we had numerous trainers come by and ask if she was for sale! They
had either seen her go in Regina, or had heard about her. We didn't think there would have been enough time for her
chip to be absorbed, so we had to turn down the offers. It actually felt pretty good to be able to say she wasn't for sale!
This is when Sue and I decided to breed Niki. This way we could potentially have a very nice horse after she was sold
and it would give her time for the chip to be absorbed. We agreed then and there that we would each get to breed her
once, and then sell her. I would get the first breeding year.

I was grooming at that show, and Sue and Clarke had horses in the big classes, so I was in the barns looking after their
horses when the Open classes were running, but Sue watched a horse go that really impressed her; a young stallion by
the name of Money Talks that was being ridden by Hugh Graham. She saw him jump clean round after clean round and
told me that this was the stallion I should breed Niki to. She made sure I saw him go in his last class, and she was right...
he was nice. She talked to Mr. Graham and arranged for him to send the paper work to us to get started.

We kept showing Niki that year, and trying to combine showing and breeding, particularly with the stallion being shown
heavily, was complicated to manage. I even remember trying to inseminate her at the Whitemud show grounds! Niki was
also often on hormones to bring her into heat for a certain time, which made her even more pleasant to deal with... She
did still manage to be Pre Green Champion at Northlands, as well as Champion at Red Deer's spring show. We stopped
showing her once she was pregnant, but even with her shortened show season she was the Canadian Equestrian
Federation Reserve Pre Green Champion for the Prairie Zone.

Niki was a challenging show horse. She required a lot or patience to get ready, and a lot of finesse to show. It was an
ego boost to be her owner though, as she won a lot, and got a lot of attention from other trainers, who continued to try
to buy her from us. There was something about saying no to them that felt good.

Part 2 will be the story of Niki's breeding career and where she went from there.