|Horse Stories:Sono Flex
By Karen Nelson
Last Updated: January 18, 2009
As the Spruce Meadows sale grew closer, I grew more and more nervous. I had never done anything like that before,
and I would be on my own at the sale until the last two days, when my coach was going to come up. I didn't know what to
expect from Ross, as he had never been in that sort of environment either. I admit, just the thought of being at Spruce
Meadows as intimidating for me!
As the day arrived, I polished my tack, washed his best championship cooler and sheets, put together my own outfits,
and we were off to Calgary with a few last words of advice from my coach.
When we got there, I was relieved to find that it was very well organized. I found his stall easily, and knew where I should
be and when. The first step was the soundness exam, and Albert Kley organized that part. He was so friendly and
helpful that it put me immediately at ease. Ross of course passed the exam, and x-rayed cleanly. I then took him for a
walk around the facility, and my confidence grew when I saw how well he was handling the new atmosphere.
It was fun to be able to ride in the various Spruce Meadows Sand rings and their indoor arena. The only other time I had
ridden at Spruce Meadows was to hack my coach's jumper for a horse show the year before. Back then they didn't have
the small indoor shows, so it felt pretty exclusive to be there. One thing I took from that experience was how top notch
the staff and trainers were at Spruce Meadows, as well as how down to earth the Southerns were as well. These people
prove that being elite doesn't mean you have to also be unapproachable or snobby.
Riding in the indoor ring was a little spooky as they had banners set up, additional seating, and an announcers platform
all in the ring. This was in the original indoor ring at Spruce, so not as much room as their new arena. The managed to
have it set up well from the horse's perspective, and the lighting was such as to not add to the spook factor. The fun
came with the Gala night.
The Gala night was set up to show some of the better trained horses off under saddle followed by free jumping. This
was the night that many buyers would come watch, and then may bid by phone at the actual auction night. Ross was in
to be ridden for that night and I was a little nervous, although in retrospect, likely not as nervous as I should have been!
They had the arena lights down low, and a spot light followed the horse around the ring; Ross never trotted prettier or
more animated than he did in that circle of light! I think he was worried about stepping out of the circle, and was putting
his trust in me; he was so light and responsive although I could feel his nerves through the reins! He free jumped well
for that phase as well, but they stopped him at 3'9". At the time I had hoped he would go higher, but now I think they saw
that he might be limited and didn't want to risk him having a bad go through the chute.
On one of the days they had a hunter course set up in the All Canada warm up ring for us to show off our horse's
jumping skills. I had hoped my coach would ride him for that, but as he was going well, we decided I would. I have a bad
habit of choking under pressure, but as the experience at the sale had gone so well to that point, I did fairly well over
the course even though we were still just in a plain snaffle with no martingale.
As part of the sale schedule there were certain times allocated to give people a chance to try out the horses. We had
already decided we didn't want miscellaneous people riding Ross, so we had arranged for another trainer to try him out,
and then that would be it unless someone we knew and trusted wanted to ride him. Apparently this wasn't something we
needed to worry about; nobody asked to try Ross! This was a little disconcerting to say the least, and I wasn't sure what
would happen come sale day.
On Saturday they sold off the western horses, and I think the prices were pretty decent. The sport horses did demos in
the morning and had trials, but again no trials for Ross.
Sunday was sale day. Demos in the morning followed by the sale. Ross was near the end as Lot 49. This was his write
"Dark Bay Thoroughbred gelding, 16.2 hands: Sono Flex is an elegant, quiet tempered gelding. He competed
successfully in 1993 in the B-Circuit Hunters winning numerous championships and reserves. He also rated very well in
the Alberta Hunter Futurities. This talented Thoroughbred has schooled in the 3'6" jumpers at various shows. Sono Flex
is eligible to show in the Pre-Green Hunters. He has his coggins."
Forecasting exactly when a horse would go into the sales ring wasn't that easy, as you couldn't know how many bids the
horses before you would get. I remember the sale was late in the day, and by the time I got on Ross it was already
starting to be dark out and to cool off. I was shaking but it was hard to say if it was from the cold of from nerves. They
had speakers playing into the outdoor ring so riders could hear what was going on in the ring with the sales horses
before them. Hearing a horse go for a small amount was disheartening, but hearing one go for a high amount made you
worry that the high spenders would buy a horse before yours came in the ring!
Then it was our turn. Ross was stellar. He marched into that ring like a champion and dealt with the loud noises and
crowds very well. The bidding got going! It stalled a bit at the $7500.00 mark, so I decided to risk some flying lead
changes on a little figure eight and he was great! The bidding picked up again, and kept going all the way to $10,000!
Ross' high bidder was a hunter trainer from the West Coast bidding on behalf of a client with a teenage daughter. They
never even came and talked to me about him, they bought him based on the presentations alone.
I dressed Ross in his leather halter, shipping sheet and matching wraps and said my good byes. I wish I had learned the
things he had to teach me sooner, so we could have has more time to enjoy the partnership I found with him only in
preparation for the sale. I received a letter from his new owner about 6 months later to hear that he had settled in well to
life in BC. I hope they did well together but I never did hear about him again.
If I added up all that I spent on Ross: purchase price, vet, farrier, board, show fees, hauling and so on, and then added
up all his show earnings and what I sold him for, I came out slightly ahead on his sale. Pretty good for a little dark horse
with horns that couldn't run worth a darn.
|In my many years working as a groom, I came to realize you are often overlooked or treated as invisible by other
trainers. It is amazing what you can hear and learn about the other barns while braiding or mucking stalls.
At the Spruce Meadows sale there was one trainer that was showing quite a few horses for various clients. I am sure
that many of the horses he was riding were quite new to him, and just brought to him for the sale. As was expected, he
had to present these horses for sale in a simple snaffle. Rather than retrain the horse to go in a snaffle he had a trick;
each morning these horses would have something put on the corners of their mouths to make them more sensitive.
Each night when they were done, they would put something on to numb the area so the horse could eat in comfort. You
would think this would be something to hide, but yet for whatever reason he felt fine calling out his orders to his grooms
in front of the rest of us who were up early to prepare our horse.
At shows I would hear and see trainers rigging horses up in the morning in clearly illegal tack such as tacked nose
bands, bit burrs, and some very odd lunging rigs. Syringes would be not so subtly hidden as trainers would go from stall
to stall medicating with who knows what.
In the barns before a big jumper class, when everyone but the grooms and a few riders were at the ring watching, you
could hear rather open discussions about what to apply to the horse's legs that day to help make it sharper in the show
If you ever wonder why I don't aspire to having an "A" circuit hunter/jumper barn, this is why; I have seen too much and
heard to much to ever want to rejoin the big time ribbon chasers.
|Ross, Thoroughbred Gelding
aka Stetson and Sono Flex
4.5 years old in this picture.
This photo was taken in the winter of
his 4 year old year. He was a little
backwards in that he would be lighter
in the winter than in the summer, but
he always managed to shine.