Clipping the lead rope onto her horse’s halter, Alyssa Stevens began to pray.
Please let him walk off the property and onto the trailer waiting across the street.
Her heart hammered, she felt a little like she was stealing her own horse, as she lead him away from the California rescue facility where she’d found, purchased and boarded ex-racehorse Stan the Man before her experience there had soured.
“I bought him in 2008 for a $5,000 adoption fee and continued to board him in the same place, taking lessons on him, and even volunteering for them,” she says. But after nearly a year later, in which Stan had a bout with colic, and began to look to her a little shell-shocked, as if he was losing too many battles with more-dominant herd members, Stevens decided to cut ties.
Stan the Man
Sire: Welcome Dan Sur
Dam: Lil Sweetness
Foal date: April 25, 1994When she arrived, Stan was bleeding a little, perhaps she thought, from the nips and kicks of more aggressive horses. And the facility owner’s dogs were barking a kind of aggravated if not threatening chorus, as Stevens walked onto the property to get her horse. A van and driver waited across the street, door to the back open and ready.
“It was April 2009, and up until that point, I’d never taken him anywhere off the property. We’d just ridden in a round pen. I’d never even taken him on a trail ride,” she says. “So I had no idea how he’d respond to being asked to walk up the driveway, cross the street, and get on the van. I just kept praying as he walked beside me, and it was amazing. He came right with me and hopped right on.”
Following the tense departure, Stevens and Stan rode an hour that day to his new home, only five minutes up the road from Stevens own home in northern California.
In the new facility, whose close proximity allowed Stevens to visit him everyday, Stan blossomed.
“When I first got him, I thought he was an aloof horse. And I thought well, that’s just the way he is,” she says. “Probably about a year and a half after I moved him, he started changing. He started whinnying when he saw me; he started being my horse.”
And now Stan is so connected to Stevens that she practically needs to reserve him a room when she travels!
“I went on vacation last year for a week, and when I got back, everyone told me it was just awful with him. He wouldn’t eat, he was moping around— he was so depressed!”
That connection has also done wonders for their riding partnership.
During a recent dressage clinic with Sabine Shut-Kery, an accomplished German equestrian, the pair received high praise.
“She told us after the clinic how it was such a pleasure to teach someone who has such a wonderful connection with her horse,” she says.
The 17-hand gelding has gone from being nearly unmanageable maneuvering around an arena to being so smooth Stevens plans to enter him in dressage shows this year.
“When I first had him, I couldn’t even take him on a trail ride, because he was considered hard to manage. Now we go on beach rides, rides through the woods,” she says.
Thinking back to their uncertain beginnings together, and even a couple of bucking sessions early on that left her in the dirt, Stan the Man today isn’t even recognizable as the same horse as he was back then.
“It was quite an ordeal for me to make the step to move him from his first barn, but after I finally did, he has become an amazing horse,” she says. “Now I take him to clinics with world-class dressage riders and he’s the star of the show, even surrounded by Warmbloods and Friesians—he’s absolutely amazing, and we have such a connection.”