Silently praying, she led her horse to a new life

Stan the Man, a 17-hand beauty, has blossomed under the care of his owner Alyssa Stevens,

Stan the Man, a 17-hand beauty, has blossomed under the care of his owner Alyssa Stevens,

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, 1994
When 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.

Stan, back in the day, with the nicks and cuts from other horses.

Stan, back in the day, with the nicks and cuts from other horses.

“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.

Six years together and the trust and connection is stronger than ever.

Six years together and the trust and connection is stronger than ever.

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.”

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18 responses to “Silently praying, she led her horse to a new life”

  1. Marilyn Peterson

    That’s what I’m saying. My horse has had cancer, glaucoma, three bouts of colic and a broken neck from the previous owner. He’s 19 and still beautiful. We finish each other’s sentences. No regrets.

  2. Rebecca

    Praise our Heavenly Father for the way He answers prayer! Overjoyed for this lovely pair! Great Story!!!

  3. Emma Brady

    I recently bought my first horse, and I’ve been told more than once that I should “trade him in” for an easier model. He was originally advertised as 15.3, 5 years old, quietly going w/t/c and jumping 2′ courses. He is precisely none of the above. 16.2, 8 years old, came off the track in October and hasn’t done anything quietly in his entire life. He was also 250 pounds underweight when I bought him in January. I’d be lying if I said that quite a bit of my decision was based on “I will not let him go back to that farm even if he kills me”. We still have a lot of work to do, but I’m madly in love with him and he’s not going anywhere.

    1. Colmel

      Good for you, Emma! You go, girl!

  4. Diane Hedlund

    I too took an “unmanageable” horse as my partner. I never traveled as far down the show road as you have, but he and I showed, trail rode and later simply spent time with one another. He was a trainers experienced horse who came up to me in a field when I was mourning the passing of my leased horse. I think we bonded in that moment with our hearts. Severn Hill High Time (Buzzy) was my love and partner for 17 years after I was told he would kill me. My sweet love passed after a struggle with many old age problems at the age of 30. I still miss him – but the joy he brought into my life was un-measureable. Please continue to enjoy the partner who you were lucky enough to find. The connection is pure joy.

  5. Alyssa Stevens

    Thank you Susan for writing this story about JJ as he’s called now, I’m so lucky to have him in my life.

  6. cheri vaughan

    Putting in the time and gaining from the effort is priceless. A good relationship with a horse is very satisfying.

  7. SpotOn

    What a great story!

    My first year with my OTTB all I got to do was walk him around the property due to a severe abscess after a well meaning friend had his hooves trimmed too short by an inexperienced farrier. To say that he and I bonded that first summer would be the straight truth. The next summer he jumped through the pasture gate as another horse was charging at him. Somehow he managed to avoid trampling me in his flight and instead snapped the telephone pole section being used as a fence/gate support. The guys that saw it all happen told me that they could “see” him think. “I cant run her over” as he threw himself through. He had a bruised shoulder and it took another season to get him to not be sore. But now all I have to do is say whatever I need and he immediately responds. Nothing better than having that relationship with your horse

  8. Linda R. Moss

    Another wonderful story Susan! So happy for Alyssa and Stan – some of these OTTBs just need time and patience!

    1. Susan Salk

      Linda, thanks for your note. I don’t get onto my comments often enough, but happened to see this. I hope Milyone is doing well, and that you are going to get some good riding in this springtime, if we ever have a springtime. 🙂

  9. Patty Hamilton

    Stevens used her abilities to recognize that Stan the Man was unhappy and not in a good situation. She was smart to move Stan. With a little time and patience Stan turned into a beautiful riding horse. Wonderful story. 🙂

  10. cindy

    Susan, would you mind if I re-post to my site tonight? I will keep the link to yours. I think this story is a story a lot of ‘just regular’ riders can relate to, I want to share a good stick with them story. Thanks!

    1. Susan Salk

      Yes, go ahead. And thank you for asking!! 🙂

  11. Susan Crane-Sundell

    Everyone needs to find where they belong–both horses and humans! Alyssa trusted herself and her horse enough to see his unhappiness and with a little faith got them both to a better more trusting place. Here’s to their partnership and so excited and happy that they picked Dressage to perform together!

  12. Lisa

    Wonderful to hear about this bond! Too many people switch horses at the least little thing and never give the horse the chance to gain that trust and connection. So many racehorses have been passed around so much that they’ve developed that coping strategy of NOT getting attached…it may take some time and work to get them to let go and feel confident in the relationship enough to connect like this. If the relationship counts, it’s worth the wait and the effort! I’m so glad my girl and I have this, too! (She’d hop into my van with me when I leave the barn if I’d let her!).

  13. Colmel

    Absolutely love stories like this with very happy endings. Congratulations to Alyssa and to Stan on finding such a wonderful relationship!

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