Encounters of the First Kind

Shannon Column 1Shannon Venegas


When I first met my horse, Johnny Cash (yes, that’s his registered name), it was not love at first sight.

My sister begged and begged for him, even though he was too young and she was too young. We thought he seemed pretty quiet, so my mother gave in.

The thing you have to know about the horse industry, though, is that a lot of people lie. Horse sellers sometimes drug horses or work them really hard before you come to see them. Unless you drug test the horses, they appear to be really well-behaved, and because the person we were buying him from was a friend (or so we thought), we never had Johnny drug tested.

Well, it wasn’t long before he was spooking at birds in the field, stopping and spinning in the arena and trying to ditch out of the arena door

I will never know if he was drugged or if the person who showed him to us was just a really good rider, but after he took off with my sister on him, he became my responsibility. In turn, one of my two horses (the older one) became my sister’s new horse.

I should point out that I did not want Johnny to become my responsibility. We had just purchased my second horse, Hi Phi, and all I wanted to do was spend time with my gentle giant. Instead, I was stuck with this young troublemaker to deal with and not enough knowledge to really work with him.

Eventually, I got so fed up with Johnny baring his teeth at me, charging the fence and picking on the other horses that I put up a for sale sign in the local feed store. One lady came out to look at him, and he was without a doubt the naughtiest he had ever been the day she came. I guess he was trying to tell me that it just wasn’t our time to part ways.Shannon Column 2

Eventually we sent him to my trainer so she could work with him and give me lessons on him. He was young, and he needed that structure, just like any young child. Phi was getting older and having lameness issues, so Johnny became my new project. We learned together, and I realized that the more I worked with him, the better his attitude became and the more willing he was to work hard for me.

Over the years, Johnny turned into this amazing horse that proved to be a good partner in the show ring. While many riders around me struggled with injuries with their horses, Johnny only ever threw some minor problems my way. And while he can still spook with the best of them and still carries lots of attitude, I have grown very attached.
With Johnny, what you see is what you get. He doesn’t pretend to love his grooming or enjoy getting hugs and kisses from me because that’s not who he is, but he does try to do his best for me under saddle.

I’ve owned Johnny for 12 years now, and we have learned a lot from each other, but the first and most important thing he taught me is that first impressions do not always stick. Many of us have a habit of judging people we meet based off our first impressions of them.

It happened that way with one of the boarders at a barn where I worked. She was a bit on the demanding side and always asked nitpicky questions or made small complaints. Whenever I saw her walk through the barn door, I always tried to be invisible.

But after spending time with her at the horse shows that summer, I discovered she was a sweet, fun-loving person who really cared about her horses. She just didn’t always have the most eloquent way of stating her wishes for her horse.

Sometimes first impressions go the other way, though. Two people I recently met in the “horse world” jump to mind. They both appeared very kind and helpful upfront, and I thought I had made some new “horsey” friends. Unfortunately, one ended up causing trouble at the barn and was manipulative with the information she communicated to my husband and me. The other, who appeared to be one of the sweetest people I had ever met, had a hidden agenda and lied in order to protect herself from mistakes she had made and placed the blame on others.

It may sound a bit cynical, but I have found it beneficial to always be careful with the ones who are “too sweet.” Some of them really do turn out to be angels sent down from heaven, such as my future sister-in-law, while others use their big smiles to trick people in order to get what they want.

After all, Johnny was never sweet, and he turned out to be one of the most honest horses I have ever owned.

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