My name is Victoria Bender, I’m 18 and I’ve loved horses since I can remember! I live in Pennsylvania, so there’s not much going on horse-wise around here. So, I always took every chance I could to ride the horses at fairs and the carousel at carnivals. I was just like every horse-obsessed little girl. I didn’t start taking riding lessons until I turned 10 in February 2011.
When I started lessons, of course I began on the lazy, schoolmaster pony that every beginner kid rode. I wore my jeans, and my ugly boots that seemed to be a cross between cowboy boots and tall English boots. They were an ugly tan and were too small, but they worked! I took lessons about twice a week.
I remember focusing so hard on videos of me riding and watching other people ride. I thought I looked terrible! I was a beginner, so not sure why I expected to look like a pro. I wanted to be as good as possible fast! I’ve always been impatient, but I guess it wasn’t a bad thing in this case, because it worked! Soon enough, I moved up to different horses, learned to canter, and started to do a few small jumps. I went to summer camps and learned even more on different horses. Throughout this, I still focused on other people and how I could improve my riding.
Aside from lessons and camp, I had been constantly begging my parents for a horse! What little equestrian doesn’t want a horse? My parents got annoyed every time I asked, which I don’t blame them. That had to be so annoying! Come December, the same year I started lessons, I got my first horse! She was a surprise Christmas present. I named her Holly, since it was the holiday season!
Holly is a POA rescue. She was 15 when I got her, and very skinny! No problem though, we could put weight on her. What an odd choice for a first horse! A skinny rescue who was pretty timid and green. We didn’t know the last time she was ridden! My parents friend thought she would be a good idea though, and I’m so glad she did.
The first few rides on her, she would throw little bucks and spin around while flinging her head. She had no breaks! This carried on for a while. Don’t get me wrong. I was grateful I had a horse, but I couldn’t help but get so angry at the fact that her manners and training were awful! I started getting jealous of other people’s horses that seemed perfectly behaved. Oh well, I just kept riding her as best as possible.
Despite all of this she was actually a really good jumper!
After I got Holly my lessons slowed down and I didn’t really go much anymore, other than summer camp, or trail rides. No worries though, I watched YouTube videos on my iPod, and continued to learn through watching professional riders. I even got some books on jumping. I can definitely say I am pretty self-taught when it comes to jumping! I discovered Holly preferred being ridden bareback than with a saddle. I jumped her bareback so much! We never went to shows, no way I was showing her! Riding a nutty horse like her was one of the best things for my riding. She gave me the stickiest seat and strongest legs! I’ll forever be grateful that I was gifted her, even when I didn’t realize it, she was being so beneficial to me as an equestrian.
In 2014 I started riding more at the lesson barn, not necessarily taking lessons, but just for fun. I began riding different, more complicated horses. People seemed to be impressed by my seat, and I ended up being the person to ride the fresh horses! This was great for my confidence, as I just naturally have low self esteem. Then, around early spring 2015, I decided to retire Holly after noticing her behavior worsen, and she began to have back pain. I think the pain was always slightly there which would explain her constant crazy behavior which was the normal. I was a dumb kid though, and never learned about back pain in horses so I had no idea. You don’t know, what you don’t know. She was said to be a lesson horse in her earlier days, which would make sense, but I’m sure my bareback jumping didn’t help.
So the horse search began. In April 2015, perfect timing after retiring a horse, I got my heart horse, Toby! At the time, I told my farrier that I was looking for a horse, and she told me of someone right away. Her friend had an 11 year old, 15hh, dappled buckskin mustang. With four white socks, and two white patches on his left side. He sounded gorgeous. Her friend was trying to get rid of him, she loved him, but his living conditions weren’t ideal, and the woman had a bad back. So we went to take a look! We learned he hadn’t been ridden in about two years, and he was professionally trained western when he was younger. Upon looking at him, he wasn’t the gorgeous horse I expected. He was fat, dirty, and had a bushy, long tangled mane. I noticed he had the kindest eyes though, and he was nibbling my shoe laces. What a sweetie!
Despite his frumpy look, and the mud matted to his stomach, I for some reason decided I’d buy him. This woman so kindly gave him to us! Even better! About a week later, he was delivered to my house. I remember that week he would not settle in, and was so pushy and rude. He’d rear and even strikes! I thought I made a huge mistake. I spent more time with him, and gave him a makeover, and we really developed a bond. He is the most loving horse I’ve ever met, and truly has a puppy-like personality.
I gradually started lunging him. He seemed to remember some of his commands which impressed me. He is one of the smartest horses I know, and quite the escape artist! One day when he was especially good, I hopped on him, we walked around and he was totally chill. So we trotted and then even cantered! He was being great, aside from some wrong leads! I started to riding him several times a week. He couldn’t stay straight as we went around the ring, and he had trouble with his canter leads. My lack of patience would get the best of me and I would get annoyed. I had to constantly remind myself that he’s green, it’s not his fault, and he’s not perfect.
With more time of course, he began to really get the hang of things. He was amazing on the flat now! He learned to love stretching long and low! Now, time to learn jumping. I have to say he was so terrible at jumping when he first started. He would plow the entire jump over, standards and all, almost every time. He was so bad, it was actually funny! With more perseverance though, and my obsession with learning the ropes from books and videos, he really managed to turn around. I really do give a lot of credit to Holly too!
Now, present day, Toby has auto lead changes down, and jumps 3’3” courses. We show 3’ jumpers, with plans to move up. He has earned lots of ribbons! His highest jump is 1.30m! Quite big for a little mustang like him! He is a little more of a complicated horse to ride, but I wouldn’t trade him for the world, his personality is the best and he is so forgiving. He even manages save my butt when I mess up! I’m certainly not perfect, and I’m so thankful he takes care of me! My job for that past two years, is exercising horses. This has also been great for improving my riding, I think it’s great to ride as many different horses as possible. I’m now fulfilling my dream, which is training a couple green horses on the side, at my house! I still have Holly, who serves as a pasture buddy!
This winter, Toby and I are headed to Ocala, Florida. I’ll be a working student and will hopefully be showing Toby at HITS. Looking back, I’m so glad I made the decision to get him, even though I asked myself what I had just done that first week of owning him! Funny that I’ll be competing a mustang against some fancy, expensive horses! So excited to see what I’ll learn from this upcoming adventure!
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