PJ’s story is a long one, but I’ll start from the beginning. My mother, Andrea, is a trainer and for a large part of my life we lived on a horse farm in NJ where my mother ran a training and boarding facility for hunter, jumper and equitation riders of all levels. My mother also was a jockey in her youth, and trained race horses for quite some time, which is how my mother ended up with PJ. A friend and trainer called one morning, asking if we could sell a failed racehorse. Calls like this were common and PJ was not the first racehorse to be in our barn, so my mom agreed.
I was probably somewhere around twelve at the time, and was not quite ready to handle a young horse off the track. Instead that responsibility fell to my sister, Ali who was about sixteen and already somewhat of an expert with green or difficult horses. When my sister filled out the training chart, she laughed at the gangly bay geldings registered Jockey Club name, Lightning Shock. Instead she wrote PJ, short for ‘project’ or ‘the project horse’, the nickname stuck. PJ stayed with us for a summer, and was sold to a timid adult rider.
I didn’t think much of PJ, he was just another horse off the track that was trained for a time and sold for a commission, until that winter when he was sent back to us. The woman who bought PJ decided that she didn’t have the time to put into a young horse, and found PJ particularly difficult to handle, and so he was ours again to sell. One night at the barn, I had just finished putting my last horse away when my mom called me in and asked me to get on PJ. He was standing in the ring, and the woman who was looking to buy him wanted to see someone on him first. I got on, and to this very day I can remember how great it was to ride him for the first time. PJ took big swinging trot strides and and huge canter steps and my mom started to laugh “he loves you” someone laughed.
By the time New Years came around, PJ was mine officially. My mom had tried to get the money together by Christmas, she had a big red bow ready and everything, but the price negotiations weren’t settled in time. It didn’t matter to me at all though, from that first ride, PJ was mine. Soon, after much training for the both of us, we took PJ to his first show. I was a little disappointed that I would only be jumping cross rails, but soon got over it when we unloaded my horse who was holding his head in the air like a giraffe, completely unable to stand still, and snorting. Needless to say it was probably one of the fastest beginner hunter courses in history, but as we were waiting to go in for the flat class, my mother received a surprise call from the man who had bred my horse and broken him. When my mom told him where we were, he exclaimed “You have a kid on that horse? Are you crazy?!”. We also learned from him that my horse actually had to be broken twice, but we already knew he was a slow learner anyway.
After the first show, I started to dedicate my life to riding and training PJ. We soon moved up to the Children’s division, and after that went on to show quite successfully in the Junior Hunters, Adequan Hunters, and some Equitation. PJ was seventeen hands, had incredible scope, a great jump and is a great mover, but everytime we were at a show there was always whispers in the schooling ring. Murmurs of ‘you let that piece of crap beat you?’ were whispered by trainers to students on good days, and on bad days trainers and riders alike shook their heads at my horse’s misbehavior. Many people believed that because my horse was not ‘fancy’, or the fashionable plump, round warmblood hunter, we would not be successful.
I was lucky enough to prove plenty of people wrong though, by taking my horse Marshall & Sterling Finals twice, once for the Children’s and the next year for the Adequan Hunters, and I can easily say that the happiest moment of my life was coming out of the ring my last year, and knowing that we did it. We attempted to show in the Equitation locally, but oddly my horse was becoming more and more spooky with time. We noticed one day that PJ’s left eye was watering, and called the vet to come have a look. When the vet told me that my horse had equine Uveitis I had no clue what it meant, but when he said Moon Blindness, I began to panic. From what I understood, my horse’s eye was shrinking and dying, and there was very little I could do about it. I never cried so hard in my entire life.
Still, I finished out the show year by training at night while my horse was receiving eye treatments that made him very light sensitive. We also had to move barns, after the owner of the farm we rented decided she wanted to level the barn and build a house for herself. Between PJ’s eye problems, moving an entire business and household as well as filling out college applications, we didn’t make my personal goal of attending Devon that year, but I was just glad to still have my horse with me, and I still am.
Right now I commute from home to the Fashion Institute of Technology, so I can still take care of (or as my mom and sister say ‘obsess over and spoil’) PJ. We show occasionally, but I think we are both content just to have each other’s company. Some people still say that I’m crazy for loving my difficult horse, but I just laugh because owning a ‘perfect’ horse would be dull. I love my horse along with his spookiness, quirks and occasional freshness more than anyone can imagine, and when he gallops up to the gate when I whistle for him, I’d like to think that he loves me too.Share Tweet