Back in November 2020, I bought the most stunning dun Quarter Horse, called Play’n’Spark, stable name Django, with the intention of learning how to ride Western in time to back him myself. Well, Covid made this a little tricker than expected: I lost nearly six months of lessons due to lockdowns, then, in January 2022, I slipped a disc in my back and had to take a few months off. Really, I have had two years to learn an entirely different way of riding, while still riding English day-to-day. I thought the transition between the two would be really tricky but, so far, I have coped just fine.

Horse 4

While focusing on my own training, I have of course been focusing on Django's education too. I have tried to expose him to as many outings and scenarios as possible in the last three years to set him up for ridden work. As a yearling, we went to the American Quarter Horse Association UK Championship, where we got Reserve Champion in the Halter Yearling Gelding category. It was his first overnight stay and long journey and he was incredible. Since then we have done in hand jumping courses, in hand hacking, exposure to tarpaulin, balloons, umbrellas and finally, at the end of 2022, he was tack broken to a bridle, bit and saddle. When I say tack broken, all I actually did was put these things on him, with no care in the world, which so far has been the theme of all things Django!

This year his brain has been so ready to do more, but he’s still very physically immature, so we cracked on with some long reining. In a single session he learnt exactly what to do, with no panicking or resistance, working well to my voice commands for stop, walk and trot, which made the whole process so much easier.

In May, I purchased a gorgeous Western saddle. The leather engraving and craftsmanship on these saddles is second to none, especially compared to all my English saddles. My plan was to get him broken to the bigger, heavier saddle and back him in July. The saddle breaking went fine, we continued long reining, even being able to take him on small hacks, and just when I thought we were ready to start backing he decided to have a huge growth spurt. Now he really was too physically immature to back – he was so bum high I would have slid over his ears.

New saddle

Finally, in the middle of August, six weeks later, he looked more level and, with the plan to only do 10 minutes a few days a week until October, he is more than capable of bearing the weight. Despite Django’s perfect reputation over the last three years, you can never be too careful around horses, so I still backed him in the stable, with my partner on the ground and my body protector on – just in case – and in 28 years of being around horses I have never seen such a calm reaction to being sat on. In true Django style he did not disappoint, so much so that the second time I sat on him we walked solo around the driveway. The third time I sat on him we walked confidently around the garden and played with steering and stopping, and the fourth time I sat on him we actually hacked around Hinchingbrooke Country Park in Huntingdon with my other horse, Mister, as company.

I am 100% a Quarter Horse convert! I knew nothing about this breed until three years ago. They are beautiful, loyal, intelligent and willing, with so much personality! I do not regret my decision one little bit. Now for a quiet few weeks of confidence building, allow him the winter to finish physically maturing, and the real work starts next year.

I never like to wish time away but, honestly, roll on 2024!

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