I've always loved horses. I loved horse movies, horse camp, horse books, and horse magazines. I started taking lessons when I was ten at a saddleseat barn. I got the basics down, but I wasn't really interested in competitive saddleseat riding. I wanted to jump, so I started taking jumping lessons. I really really wanted my own horse, but this was before the horse market crashed and good horses were really expensive. Like 5 figures expensive, which my family couldn't afford. Long story short, I went to horse camp at a barn in Buffalo, MN which I really liked and my parents said I could lease a horse there and possibly buy it after a while. The farm was mostly Arabians with a few Quarter Horses and Saddlebreds, but I was sure I could find my jumping horse there. And the owners agreed with me. "You'd like Royal, he's a great jumper." Which they knew because once he got scared and jumped over one of the barn owners. Who was about 5'6". That should have been my first clue.
I didn't (and still don't) know much about Royal's background. I don't even know what breed he is. I think he's an Anglo-Arab, but the owners said they'd been told he's a Saddlebred-Morgan. I highly doubt it, but he has no papers, so I can't know for sure. They got him as a four-year-old from a low-end auction, and said he came from a show barn in Princeton. They never told me the name of the barn. He had actually been bought by the kill buyer at the auction, but one of the owners liked the way he looked and bought him before he got on the truck. He was one of the lucky ones. He'd been bought to be a camp horse, but was too neurotic and spooky. So, they leased him to a stable-hand who also wanted a jumper (this was a couple years before I bought him). She pushed him hard and fast, having him jumping 3'6" within a couple of months. Now, Royal is an extremely quick learner, but he loses confidence easily, so he had a meltdown. I was never given the reasons why, but she stopped leasing him and went to a different barn. Royal just sat in the pasture for a couple of years before I came along.
So I started leasing Royal. I had been warned that he was "spooky" and "needed work", but the owners would help me train him and he'd be an awesome horse in no time. Things went well at first; I did lots of ground training and "re-started" him in the saddle. It went so well that four months after starting the lease and riding him, my parents bought him for me as a 14th birthday present! And a month later it started to go bad. That December, after owning Royal for six weeks, I had my first fall off of him. He'd always been tense when I was riding, but I never got worried. This time, he was especially nervous, and I got careless. I went to dismount, the stirrup banged into his side, and he spun and bolted when I was halfway off. I was right next to the metal rail of the arena (they used round pen panels to separate the riding area from the viewing area), so I pulled on the inside rein to get him away from it, let go, and was thrown over his back. I got back on, and rode him around some more, but my confidence had taken a serious hit.
Two more falls shattered it completely. The second happened early summer. I was asking Royal to canter when someone walked into the viewing area. He'd been too tense to canter ("Aha, a clue, Sherlock!") and had instead been doing fast trot, so I asked him rather strongly. My strong aids and the person walking in caused a meltdown, and he let out THREE MASSIVE BUCKS. I went flying over his head and landed on my back. I got back on again, but was so scared. The third happened a month later. I had started to regain my confidence, so during my lesson, the owner decided to push us and have me and Royal go over poles. My already fragile confidence was not up to the task and neither was Royal's. I was too scared to speak up, too scared to quit, scared of being seen as a wimp. A half an hour into the ride, I thought "I wanna get off." Hindsight is 20/20. Ten minutes after that thought ran through my head, the trainer had me try an extended trot over the pole. We got to the pole, and Royal launched over it. I got thrown over his shoulder, landed next to the rail, and started sobbing. I was hysterical, and never got back on that day. Whatever confidence I had was erased. I didn't get back on him until October.
So, here I was, too scared to ride. And not just Royal, any of the green-broke horses I'd previously loved to ride. I only wanted to ride the quiet camp horses. I still did some work with Royal on the ground, but he never got any calmer. He spooked at his own urine and shadow, and only marginally trusted me. The mere thought of riding him made me feel like throwing up. I had no idea where to begin to regain my confidence, and none of the suggestions I got helped me. I was told to try different bits (stopping wasn't the problem, exploding was), martingales (still doesn't solve the exploding), different nosebands (again, exploding, not mouth-opening), lunging before riding (already doing that, not helping), sending him to the Amish (!!!! not on your life!), sending him out for 30 days (couldn't afford the trainers who seemed halfway decent and I didn't like the idea of just sending him away), and drugging him (again, no frakin' way). So, I was stuck.
I floundered for a couple months, before a horse-owning co-worker of my mother's suggested I look into Natural Horsemanship. Now, I had already known about Parelli, and even bought the halter, lead rope, carrot stick, and string at the MN Horse Expo a couple years prior to buying Royal. But I had forgotten about it, until the co-worker reminded me about NH. So I got my tools out the basement, bought the L1 program off the webshop, and got started. Immediately, I noticed a difference in Royal and have never looked back. I won't say it's been all peaches and cream; it's been six years of hard work, patience, and perseverance. But, it's all been worth it and I have a wonderful horse to show for it.