The strongest soldiers

The day after most of the human staff arrived at camp, we were joined by 20 four-legged members of the team. For the horseback staff, the appearance of our first group of horses was very much like Christmas day as a child. The horses are rented from a dealer and, without wanting to be too crude, there’s no guarantee which will return during any given summer. When the horses leave camp at the beginning of September, they are trailered home, unshod and turned out for the winter. They live in upstate New York, roaming their farm throughout the snowy winters. Many of them aren’t exactly young, so I wouldn’t have been surprised if any of them had failed to tough it out.

As horse after horse stepped off the trailer, I squealed with delight – many of my favourites have returned already. Of the 20 delivered, 15 were returnees, meaning that the staff already have five new toys to play with. I was also happy to see that our returning horses mostly appeared to be in good health – the ones who had left on the skinny side have put on a good amount of weight over the winter.

The one exception in terms of health is a well-known bruiser. When I saw the horse on the lorry, his owner and I had a quick conversation. “I forget this one’s name,” she said – the woman owns a huge number of horses, and allows the camps they attend to name them.

“That’s Bailey,” I replied, recognising the palomino instantly.

“So, Bailey’s hurt his knee…” the owner began. I rolled my eyes – the gelding likes to play fight, so I couldn’t have been less surprised that he was carrying an injury. “He did it just before I loaded them up – it’s actually just a small cut, so he should be fine.”

Indeed, when I took a look, I had seen the horse with worse injuries, so my boss decided he’d be turned out to relax with the others. Of course, the knee was the size of a planet the next day, so I spent a good amount of time cold hosing it before putting him on box rest for the day. I was not the horse’s friend.

The five newbies are an interesting bunch. I was quietly horrified by the condition of one – not the fault of his owner, who has only just acquired him – as he’s carrying some old scars on his sides and is really quite poor. He has a beautiful head though and I could see that he possibly has some nice gaits, as well as being pleased with the way he carries himself. At the time of writing he’s unnamed – my boss can be choosy!

The skinny black horse has been paired with another new acquisition – a paint who also shocked me, as he’s only three years old. As a personal preference, I don’t like that even racehorses are backed so young, and it’s my opinion that riding horses certainly shouldn’t be ridden at that age. This little horse is clearly still growing into himself and also looks a bit on the ribby side, but he’s stunningly confident, curious and content for such a young horse in a strange place. I think he’s lucky – he’s come to a place where he’ll be loved and cared for, and he’s mercifully not been ruined. We’re going to have a lot of fun with him doing ground work. This horse also actually came with a name: he’s called Tonto.

We have another confident new arrival – a chestnut who has a huge amount of energy and whose brand mark looks like a heart with a cherry on top. He’s happily charging about with the larger herd and waiting to be named – I’ve convinced my boss that he needs a romantic yet masculine name, but she’s so far turned down my suggestions of Tango (which partly came about because he’s chestnut) and Romeo. The quest continues…

The final two new horses are a bit nervous and flighty: one has yet to be turned out in a field, and also hasn’t been ridden. He’s a really cute bay pony, who we’ve been told has been poorly handled at a different home. He’s been signed up for a healthy dose of horsemanship work, and is making good progress already. He’s very fearful and lacking in confidence, but he too has come to the right place. I’m a sucker for a bay anyway, but this one bears the same brand mark as two of my favourite returning horses (who, co-incidentally, are also bays): a sombrero.

Our last newcomer is a yellow dun, dubbed Doc. He blotted his copybook slightly on our first staff trail when he tried to bolt – fortunately beneath a capable rider – and is proving very difficult to catch, although he is comfortable among the large herd. It’s early days for this one, but I suspect that all of the new horses are a project to an extent.

We’ll receive a further 10 horses three weeks into camp: there are nine horses remaining from last year who we had stated we’d be happy to have back, so there will be at least one new horse among the next group. Whatever comes off the trailer, we’re in for a fun summer.

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