There's a new horse in my life and her name is Opal.
Funnily enough, when I bought Opal I wasn't looking for an endurance horse at all. I was looking for a broodmare. For a few years now I've been entertaining the idea of competing on a horse I'd bred and trained myself. I already knew which stallion I'd use - Jim, obviously! With his excellent performance record, athletic conformation and resting heart rate of 24 beats per minute (not to mention successful endurance bloodlines) there was no question in my mind. The problem was I didn't have a suitable mare to breed him to. So in January 2010 the hunt for Jim's girlfriend began. After looking at a few different mares, I finally decided on a grey 13 year old, 15.1hh purebred arabian mare named Opal. She'd already had four foals, all of which had been sold to endurance homes, and was back in foal to the same stallion. Unfortunately Opal was already entered in a stud auction and her owner didn't want to pull her out at the risk of disappointing other interested buyers. Off to the sales I went with my empty horse float in tow. A few nerve-racking hours later I drove home with my new mare.
Opal had, shall we say, a rather basic education. She knew how to lead and that was it. Things like being caught, picking up her feet, or having a rug put on were all foreign to her. It took me FIVE hours to catch her the first time I tried and while it was nice to know Opal had the stamina of an endurance horse it was hard to appreciate this when she was galloping away from me. I decided to hire a trainer to do some work with her so she'd be easier to handle around foaling time. Before the trainer did any work with her I got the vet out to make sure everything was running smoothly with her pregnancy. Imagine my disappointment when the vet announced that Opal was in fact not pregnant. What to do now? It was too late to put her back in foal and it seemed a shame to leave her sitting out in the paddock. In the end I came up with a crazy plan - to get the trainer to break her in. I wasn't sure how successful this plan would be, but I wanted to give it a shot. Even if it didn't work out at least she'd be easier to handle afterwards. When I told my trainer what I was thinking I expected him to laugh in my face, but he just calmly said he'd do his best and see where it ended up. Well, it ended up with him in the saddle teaching my 13 year old feral broodmare to accept a rider.
Just a few months later I was able to ride Opal myself. She still carried on like a cat on caffeine on the ground, but under saddle she was bold and level-headed. I'd never ridden such a light, responsive horse in my entire life! Most of the time all you had to do was think of what you wanted and she'd do it for you. She'd bend over backwards to please you and I adored her willing attitude. In October 2010 I took her to her very first 20km Social Ride at Harden NSW. She blitzed it - her heart rate was actually lower at the end of the ride than it was at the start. I was having so much fun riding Opal I was reluctant to put her in foal to Jim, but I knew I'd regret it if I didn't. Besides, I could always ride her again once she had the foal. When Opal gave birth to a beautiful filly in October 2011 I knew breeding her was the right decision. Her foal, Taliah, has all of the best characteristics from Jim and Opal. I felt like I'd won the lottery when I saw Taliah for the first time. She's everything I've ever dreamed of and more!
The next six months flew by and soon it was time for Taliah to be weaned. In April I brought Opal back into work and just over a month later I took her to Mudgee NSW to do her first 40km Training Ride. She exceeded my expectations at Mudgee, receiving almost straight A's in vetting and finishing with a heart rate of 34bpm which was the same as at pre-ride. I've tentatively lined up another 40km ride at St Albans in June where Opal will face some pretty tough hills, but I'm sure this magnificent mare can do it!
Me and Opal before the 40km Trainer at Mudgee NSW