The first thing Jessica Boyd makes clear is that she didn’t grow up riding horses.
She climbed into the saddle eight years ago, when her daughter Katie turned 13 and developed a passion for it. Boyd jokes that horse ownership, and her experiences riding an ex-racehorse, are her daughter’s fault.
The second point Boyd makes is about her beloved off-track Thoroughbred Bar; he is aptly named. As in, he ‘raised the bar’ many times on Jessica and her partner Steve— both of whom have the bumps, bruises, and a few broken bones to prove it.
“When I got Bar three years ago, I didn’t know what I was getting into,” Boyd says. “The more I think about it though the more I realize that Bar has taught me patience and horsemanship in a way that a more ‘broke’ horse wouldn’t have done.
Race name: Calabar
Barn name: Bar
Sire: Jett Set Joe
Dam: Edison Native
Foal date: April 1, 2000
But “It hasn’t always been easy.”
Back in 2007, on that first December night in his new barn he suddenly burst through his gate, tore open a deep cut, and ran loose. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’ ”
And there were other rocky moments that followed, causing both Boyd and her husband a number of unintentional dismounts. Steve Foreman’s worse fall occurred last July, when Bar tripped while cantering a circle, and they both went down in a hard fall. He sustained broken bones and post-concussive syndrome, but aside from some residual vertigo, is fine today.
And Jessica has come out of the saddle many times as well in those initial getting-to-know-you moments.
“I think when I got Bar I thought I was a better horse-woman than I really was,” she says. “He shook my confidence at first. In the arena with all that bucking and bolting—there were some truly cartoon-worthy exits on my part.”
But lest anyone think that Jessica got a bad apple when she chose Bar, they should think again: the Thoroughbred has carried her calmly and honestly on numerous trail rides, even through a stinging swarm of Yellow Jackets.
“We had a real watershed moment one day on the trails,” she says. After noticing Bar was rubbing his head, she looked down to discover the swarm of stinging insects.
“But he just kept going for me,” she says. He never once bucked or shied.
In fact, it’s on the trails near their California home that Bar and Boyd have their very best moments. If work in the arena isn’t going so well, they head for a fun ramble over hill and meadow. He loves walking through the open countryside with their spotted mare, Lena.
“This is where he is just awesome. My other horse Lena will spook sideways at a log, but he just looks at it as if he’s saying, ‘Whatever.’ ”
Boyd is training her Thoroughbred herself. By watching videos and attending occasional clinics, she has done a lot foundation work to build her own confidence, and that of her horse.
She waited many months to canter, and before she did, she spent all their lesson and riding time working on everything else, even bareback riding.
“One night after his ground work I climbed on him bareback with just a halter. He was calm and he was responsive,” Boyd says. “He seemed to like it better than me just playing around on the ground with him.”
Since those days the pair has grown so comfortable with one another that in the spring Boyd galloped him at the beach. Rushing past people taking his picture, Bar never misbehaved. When she asked him to ease up, he did. And when she asked for a burst of speed, he obliged.
Ironically, one of the greatest things her ex-racehorse has taught her is how to slow down her own life.
“I think Thoroughbreds are keyed into our emotions, and the more keyed up I get, the more he gets the same way,” Boyd says. “Bar has taught me to be that rock for him, so he knows he’s safe.”
(To read about Jessica Boyd’s exploits on horseback, please check out her Spotty Horse blog, named for her first horse, Lena, a paint).