The pocket-searching peppermint fanatic has landed.

That’s what I let my friends know when my new horse, an off-track Thoroughbred named It Happened Again, arrived on Dec. 31.

I had hardly slept on Tuesday night, knowing “Happy” was making his way from Arkansas to Kentucky and arriving at the horse transport company’s barn in the middle of the night. Incidentally, that facility is less than a half-mile from my house, so it was all I could do to keep from taking an early morning jog to peer through the gates and see if I could catch a glimpse of a handsome chestnut coming off a trailer.

Alas, I waited until business hours to see him, when he was shipped from that facility to the farm where I’m boarding. Happy arrived at the barn just before I did, and when I got there I speed-walked down the aisle to find my horse in his stall. The moment reminded me a bit of one in a book I used to read and reread as a child—A Very Young Rider—where the main character, Vivi, finds her new pony, Fresh Paint, in the barn on Christmas morning … only I’m in my 30s and it was Dec. 31. And this Christmas present was one I got for myself.

Here’s how our meeting went when he arrived:

Me, in a quiet voice: “Hi, Happy. (Cue incredulous happy tears forming in eyes.) Guess what? You’re mine!”

Happy: Swings head around dramatically and perks ears, as if to say, “Oh, hi, tall blonde lady! Do you come bearing breakfast!?”

He was still wearing his shipping bandages, but the transport company had removed the sheet he had worn on the trailer. He looked like a million bucks—his coat gleamed a warm copper. For years I’ve admired chestnuts in the saddling paddock at Keeneland racecourse, and now I had my own. Happy had traveled well—he didn’t have a nick on him, and he was bright-eyed and apparently … well, happy. His new nickname fits. I do think he wanted a carrot and, perhaps, some clothes. He’d been living in a warmer climate, where he was blanketed and kept under lights. My family's horses had gifted Happy with a blanket for Christmas, and I went ahead and put that on him.

My first photos of Happy the morning he arrrived in Kentucky.

Photo: Stephanie L. Church/

The first week flew. Temperatures dipped into the single digits, which means Happy’s legs, belly, face, and neck started to look a little furrier. I know this type of weather is par for the course for horse owners in some areas of the country, but it’s been an abrupt change for those of us in Central Kentucky.

I'll be honest. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as far as whether I would remember everything, when I jumped back into horse ownership—would the years of husbandry experience all come back to me, like riding a bike? Would I be able to apply the knowledge I’m soaking up every day in my job?

To my delight, for the most part it’s been a seamless transition, picking up on lifelong horse ownership after an far-too-extended leave from it. The decisions have felt like second-nature, and there's been a sort of peace with knowing that Happy's out there waiting for me at the barn.

Here are just a few things I had refreshers on in the first week:

  • The novelty of vintage gear is as great as pulling tags off new stuff; after Christmas I came back from my parents' place in Virginia with a suitcase full of unused tack and supplies, so I had a lot of great (and familiar!) items on hand for Happy’s arrival. (Thanks, family!)
  • I still rock a stable bandage (wrapping one, I mean) and have bandaging OCD: rewrapping if it doesn't look just so. (Thank you, Pony Club.) Said bandages have stayed on quite well.
  • Figuring out how much feed my horse is getting in weight vs. volume was actually a really fun exercise! I also used a tape to get a baseline on Happy’s weight.
  • I printed out and used some of the forms available on our website (Horse Identification Form and Health Parameters Form). They each helped me take stock of where we were with different vaccinations, vital signs, etc. I’m also an avid user of our new 2015 Calendar, which has prompts and guidelines for caring for your horse. If you don’t have one of these calendars yet, you should get one!
  • Oh … and I delivered a sample to the veterinarian for Happy’s first fecal egg count—negative. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to be back in the halls of a veterinarian’s office I’ve traversed often … but this time with my own horse to talk about.

Happy's a friendly and very curious horse. Many of the photos I try to take of him turn out like this.

Photo: Stephanie L. Church/

My veterinarian got his first look at Happy earlier last week. Because I know Dr. Newton is an experienced event rider, I was hopeful he would weigh in with his impressions of my new prospect. He had nothing but praise for my horse’s balance, eye, and build. He gave me some suggestions for how we should spend the next few months before the spring—everything from hoof care to how our training should look. 

This week, we’re getting back to riding after a short settling-in period at the new farm ... as weather allows, of course. I've been using the time on the ground to get to know his little signals better (e.g., where he's sensitive when being brushed), and to help him understand mine (the halter goes on before he gets the reward when I go out to catch him in the field). Sunday I took advantage of the thawed paddock and I tacked him up and took him for a short, relaxed ride. He was a really good boy.

The future is looking bright, my friends, and I hope you’ll enjoy watching Happy settle in as much as I have been relishing the process.

Have you ever returned to horse ownership after a hiatus? What do you remember most about the experience?

We tried on my saddle a few nights ago. Happy asked, "Well, does it fit?!"

Photo: Stephanie L. Church/