I'm not trying to drag this out for dramatic effect.
Really & truly.
It's just that there's so much to tell and I don't want to write the War and Peace version of a blog post.
After trying the lovely and regal Reina we headed to Afton to try out two more horses.
The first was young mare named Charlante. She was born in 2010 at her current barn and through a series of events ended up back there. Her last owner didn't want her any more because a trainer said that 'she'd never make Grand Prix'. I laughed and said that I probably wouldn't either so that was okay. She was a lovely dapple gray with a feminine face and slightly shy, reserved demeanour. If I stick with the 'Downton Abby' character theme, she reminded me of Anna (can you tell that I'm a fan?). She was just shy of 16 hh.
I watched her being lunged and then ridden. She had a lovely floaty trot and canter. The weather was cold and breezy and while she was alert and a bit worried she was very well behaved. Then it was my turn. I settled onto her back and gathered up the reins. She was reluctant to walk off and leave the people she knew so Catherine (who's a USDF instructor) led us into the ring and then coached me on riding her. I find her very responsive, sensitive with an active brain. Her trot was forward and smooth. She was not always easy to keep bent to the inside but given that the ring was up on a hill overlooking a beautiful (and windy) valley and there was a giant blue tarp over a skip at a construction site up on the hill that all made sense to me. When I asked her to bend back to me she did. Her canter was effortless- it was silken. I was starting to have a lot of fun. As I asked more of her I felt her tuning in more and more. We were no where near perfect- it was too early for that I felt that with a bit of work we could really click. I could feel that there was a lot of potential for collection and lengthening with proper development. When I dismounted I took her for a walk around the ring. I wanted to see how she was with me on the ground- would she go towards the 'spooky things' and stand there with me. the answer to that was 'yes she would'. She stood at my shoulder and waited for me. I led her up to the barn and to her stall. I was half in love with her by then.
Then it was time for a gray gelding named Agente. He had grown since his video and had a strong conformation with lots of bone. He was a year younger than Steele and still had a lot of growing to do. He was definitely going to get well over 16h. I looked at his face and stepped back. It was so much like Steele that it surprised me. I turned to Karen "I don't think I can ride him". She calmed me down (again) and pointed out that it was just his head. The rest of him was not the same. She told me to watch him being worked and just go one step at a time. I decided that she was being sensible. So we followed him down to the ring. His movement was strong with lots of impulsion. He seemed to fling himself into his job. Like Charlante his lunging manners were excellent. I watched Catherine ride him and he was obedient but distractible. He had not been worked that week and he had energy to burn. Then it was my turn. I found that he was quite happy to have me up there but one of us had to be in charge and he was happy to make decisions if I wasn't going to. I had to keep his brain occupied with me and then all was good. His trot was very bouncy but rhythmic. I could feel that there was a ton of untapped power in there. After a bit I decided to push him a bit and I asked him to canter. He wasn't sure what I wanted right away (he hadn't been cantered under saddle for while) but I urged him through a faster trot (not ideal I know but I wanted to see how he'd react). He broke into this lovely bouncy canter. I. t would be easy to push him over tempo at this point so I worked on keeping it steady. When I asked for a trot transition he came right back. I walked him up the hill and he tagged behind me happily enough. I realized that there was a spark there too.
On the way back we got dropped off at Dover Saddlery (of course I booked a hotel within a block of it) and indulged in some equine retail therapy. We then headed out to supper early to beat the Valentine's Day rush. Over a mexican dinner and a margarita we discussed the horses. I asked Karen her thoughts. She noted that both were nice and I rode both well, but there was one horse that I lit up on when I rode. I agreed that one seemed to capture my heart already. I realized that I was exhausted. After dinner it was all I could do to walk back to the room and stay awake until 9.
As I was dozing off and thinking about the day I recognized that I had two very real prospects that I would be happy with. The choice was between muscle and power or grace and elegance.
Not a bad dilemma really, when you think of it.