|Radar: a Sad Life Lesson
By Karen Nelson
Last Updated December 30, 2008
For second horse, I enlisted the help of my coach. I didn’t have much to spend, so the task of finding something took a
while. This was before the Internet, so horse searches were mostly word of mouth and newspaper ads. It took 6 months
before she found a horse for me to even go look at, so I was getting impatient, but I tried not to harass my coach too
much. She would occasionally tell me she was going to look at a horse, but nothing would come of it.
My friend’s family leased Hillcrest stable at the time, (city owned, but it has since burned down). As I didn’t have my own
horse, I spent some time with her at her barn. Her coach had a dark bay thoroughbred gelding named Jason that was
just within my price range. He had a blaze and 4 white socks. He was a decent height, but was a very typical
thoroughbred with a lean build. They let me ride Jason a few times, and although he was a lot more horse than I was
used to, he seemed safe enough, so I asked my coach to come see him.
Her comment upon seeing him was that his legs and hooves were way too fine, and he would never hold up. I sometimes
wonder how things would have turned out if I had bought Jason. I don’t know what happened to him, but he was a very
handsome fellow so I imagine someone snatched him up!
By the time my coach did find a horse for me to look at, it was December. The horse she found for me to look at was
chunky 3 year old thoroughbred gelding; a pretty chestnut with a big goofy blaze and socks. He was at a training/show
barn, so we watched the trainer ride him around and jump him, then I got on and rode him at walk/trot and canter. He
was green, but nice to ride at walk, trot and canter, nice to look at, and affordable, so I bought him and named him
It didn’t take long for it all to unravel. Some of the ladies at the barn knew Radar’s owner, and told me how “thrilled” she
was that a young girl had bought her horse (I was 14). They told me how three trainers had turned him down previous to
the one that we got him from: the first was a race track trainer who felt he would not hold up to racing as his pasterns
were long and weak, the second came off him too many times and finally had enough, and the third found him unsafe for
any sort of arena riding, but has some success using him to herd sheep. She wouldn’t help her sell him for the owner
though, as she felt he was still too dangerous! Does that sound like a horse you should be happy selling to a 14 year
old girl? He was at the new trainers for about a month before we came to see him…and it turns out they weren’t miracle
workers as it didn’t take long for Radar to show us his difficult side.
It was a good day if he didn’t buck, and a great week if I didn’t get bucked off. At shows (I was determined to show with
my friends!) it was a challenge to even get him in the ring.
We later learned through clients of that show barn, that Radar had been put on a long acting tranquilizer that slowly
wore off over the weeks after we got him home. We were so naïve back then, and didn’t even know such things existed! I
wish I could still be that naïve.
Working with Radar was a challenge. My coach refused to ride Radar as she had a bad back, but her sister would ride
him for me. I eventually started to help the sister with things at the barn in exchange for help with Radar. Over the years,
I learnt so much about horses and riding this way.
I did have some good times with him, including competing on him in Dressage and Show Jumping in the Alberta Summer
Games in Brooks. At the show we couldn’t even make it into the ring other than for the Dressage Equitation class, but I
still had a tonne of fun with the other kids! Winning just wasn’t that important back then.
Radar got himself in trouble in the paddock too; one time I came out to find he was missing a baby tooth front
tooth…that they found inside another horse’s neck. He also partially paralyzed his face by poking the inside of his mouth
with a stick.
At one point Radar’s weak ankles resulted in him breaking his seasmoid bone in one front leg and needing 6 weeks stall
rest in a cast….followed by 3 weeks recovering from an abscess as I couldn’t pick out his feet with the cast on. I was
very fortunate that I was well liked and respected for how hard I worked at the barn, as that was the only think that
enabled me to get Radar the care he needed without having to ask my parents.
He recovered well from this incident, and the ankle was never a problem again, but Radar was still the same difficult
horse. I tried so many things. I worked with vets to decide if it was a physical issue or a mental one, but the only advice I
was giving that proved at all useful, was to give him Ace (a tranquilizer) if I wanted a safe ride, however drugging a horse
to work him didn’t seem like a very good option either.
Poor Radar, we had our good days, but I always had to be careful on him, and could never take it for granted that I
would make it all the way around the ring, particularly at canter.
The turning point for Radar and I, came in the form of a Mac Cone clinic held at Whitemud. He was great for the flat
work, and I managed to learn a lot on feeling the horse's rhythm and matching it, but once the jumps went up, things
didn't go so well. It was a grid along one side heading towards home. Nothing too exciting. When it was just one cross
pole, we were fine, but when jump number two went up, Radar didn't want to participate, which meant bucking as soon
as he saw the jumps. A clinic is not the place to deal with an issue like that, so I sat out the rest of that day's lesson. I
was pretty crushed to miss out on the lesson as the clinic had not been cheap.
Afterward Mac took my coach and I into the tack room and stated the obvious; the horse was highly unsuitable and at
best I was going to loose any confidence, and at worst, and quite likely, I was going to get hurt. In hindsight, this was
obvious, but it took an outsider to state it so bluntly as he wasn't the one who picked that horse, and he wasn't likely to
see me again after the clinic was over, so he could afford to be blunt and not worry about hurt feelings. The horse had
to go or I would get hurt.
He was the first person to ever say it even though I am sure many people thought it. Maybe people thought it was so
obvious that I must already know, but the thing with horses is, that often times emotions blind judgement. I think too,
because the advice came from someone that was so well respected as a horse person, it was easier to take his decree,
whereas hearing it from someone else at the barn would likely have put me on the defensive about Radar.
The next day I rode a lesson horse in the clinic (good old Drifter to the rescue!), and I realized how much more fun it was
to be able to count on your horse's cooperation even if he wasn't the most talented or spirited mount.
So I agreed Radar had to go. He was dangerous and I was quickly loosing confidence…but how do you sell a dangerous
horse? I didn't want to send him to auction and risk someone else getting hurt by him. I asked my coach for advice and
help, but she had no ideas, and I never felt she really cared that much as she had her own issues at the time. I wonder if
she would have tried harder if I had the kind of parents that watched lessons and had expectations of the coaching? As
it was, I was more or less on my own at the barn.
The problem solved itself in an odd sort of way; I was at a show and Radar would not go in the ring, so a trainer I didn’t
know walked up and slapped him on the ass with a lunge line and in we went! At the time I was mad, but I now know she
was just trying to help, and it worked. The next day my coach told me that the trainer had been watching the troubles I
was having with Radar, and how hard I worked and made an offer; in exchange for Radar and $3500.00, I could have
one of her started Warmblood fillies, with $1000.00 to go towards lessons and such to ensure I would get help with the
horse (the idea of the owner wanting to make sure an amount was invested in training was a great idea in itself, she had
no way of foreseeing that the coach I had at the time would be unmotivated to actually teach me once she had the
$1000.00, but that is another story).
This breeder claimed she has a talented boy up north that would be able to handle Radar, and that knew about all his
issues. I believed her, and it wasn’t for many years that I found out the truth; in reality she had her trainer try to work with
Radar, but they also deemed him unsafe so he ended with a less pleasant fate. I am sure she felt she had to lie to me
as if I had known his possible fate I would not have let him go…and she was right, I wouldn’t have, but she was also right
that he was unsafe, and sadly it just isn’t practical to have an unsafe horse around.
That gesture of taking Radar from me and selling me my next horse remains with me as one of the kindest things a
horse person has ever done for me. It was a gesture that remains with me to this day, and is part of what makes me
want to help others in similar situations.
If I knew then, what I know now, I wonder if I could have helped Radar, or he was truly a dangerous horse. I know I would
have been thrilled with a program like Parelli's or TTEAM Touch to try out on him, but Parelli wasn't around, and
although I think it was around, I didn't know about TTEAM touch training. Back then, students were much more at the
mercy of their coaches and maybe the few horse magazines that were out, so even though I was a student who asked
why, and who read and researched what I could, the techniques that may have helped Radar and I just weren't available
In hindsight, knowing what I know now, I think Radar was likely started too soon, and too hard. He was jumping at an age
where I now only start riding them, and instead of being given time to grow up when he encountered issues, he was
passed from trainer to trainer, and then to me, and I did not have the knowledge or ability to help change his established
pattern of behaviour. It make me sad to think of him at the slaughter house, but it also makes me sad to think of the
trainer that sold me that horse knowing what he was like, and who set both me and the horse up to fail.
|For some reason horse people tend to keep quiet when they have been lied to about a horse they have bought, so
horse traders with less than stellar morals are able to keep in operation, and will put other people and horses at risk. If
you have been the victim of an unscrupulous horse deal, I would love to hear your story, and if possible help you find a
solution that helps both you and the horse you were sold. Email me at email@example.com.
|Radar and I in a jumping lesson.
Sometimes we had some pretty good
days and this was one of them!
Yes, I am wearing chaps, but this was
the 80's and back then full chaps were
acceptable riding gear. I got the
fringes to make my legs look bigger,
and they were rough out to give me
extra grip in case things got tricky!