Habitworthaving once worried himself sick.
He fretted about being confined to a stall after years living in a pasture, and was nervous around other horses. It got so bad, when he first came to live with Amy Bush, that the chunky gelding grew skinny with ulcers, and even opened up a deep cut on his leg after scuffling with other horses.
“He’d been out to pasture for so long that I don’t think he knew how to handle the change. I have four children and it’s not exactly a quiet place,” Bush says. “I think he just wanted to be left alone.”
But as determined as Habit was to snub other horses and eschew people, Bush was equally committed to showing her ex-racehorse that his new home was safe, and to prove to herself that beneath his flea-bitten exterior was a gem.
At the beginning it seemed they couldn’t catch a break.
Shortly after Habit arrived approximately seven years ago, he developed gastric ulcers and started dropping weight. “My vet explained that he was just worrying about being stuck in a stall. He just wanted out, bad.”
His physical ailments were treated first, with a combination of ulcer treatment and a high-fat feed. And his feet and teeth also received long-overdue attention. Gradually, as he became more comfortable physically, he filled out.
Sire: Bad Habit
Dam: Worthington Hill
Foal date: 1994But despite the positive changes, his cranky personality remained. “He fussed, bit and kicked,” Bush recalls. Frustrated, the longtime equestrian didn’t know how to get through to him until a friend suggested that she switch up Habit’s routine to encourage him to develop positive associations with her visits.
So while he recovered from a large cut he had opened up in a fight with another horse, Bush tried to help him heal emotionally. Visiting often, she indulged him in long grooming sessions and treats, and took care of his cut.
“He started not to mind the contact as much, and I think he came to see me as a caregiver,” she says. “This was the time that we really created a bond.”
From those uncertain beginnings seven years ago, Habit has blossomed into a gentleman who willingly competes in hunter/jumper, western riding, limited pole- bending competitions, and the rodeo drill team.
Even more impressive is that Habit has also become the mount of her 12-year-old son Kade. After the Thoroughbred proved himself to be a responsive and talented horse, Bush thought her son could advance his already promising riding acumen if he rode a higher caliber horse.
Up until last year her son had ridden typical children’s horses, which were essentially bombproof and very tolerant of mistakes. Although safe, they weren’t challenging for him.
“I told him that Habit is very well trained, but he is not as forgiving of mistakes. He expects to be ridden correctly; he’s a serious horse.”
It didn’t take Kade long to realize that riding Habit was the equivalent of driving a sports car, loaded with gadgets and buttons, she says.
“I explained that even the slightest change in where he put his leg on the horse was sending a very specific request to Habit, and even if he didn’t know what he was asking, the horse responded in exactly the way he was taught,” she adds.
Together, they are constantly learning just how versatile Habit is. Bush has just started riding him on a rodeo drill team, a synchronized riding event she describes as “powerful and thrilling.”
“You’re riding to music that you love and on a horse you love to show off,” she says, noting she recently started riding with award-winning team, Cowgirl Express.
Habit takes the commotion in stride, cantering alongside other horses and their flag-carrying riders as music booms out over the loudspeakers. “I think if I fell off in the middle of a drill he’d keep going because he’s memorized the routines!”
Thinking back to the early years with Habitworthaving, Bush knows she has gotten back in spades what she’s put in. Not only does he do it all—English, Western, competitive rodeo—but he is a mellow, important member of her family.
“I like to think he’s gone from not knowing what to expect to saying, ‘Okay, these are my people.’ ”
—Author’s note: This story was originally published on Feb. 18, 2011.