He only cost $1 at the time, but the purchase of Marvel two years ago has changed the life of the Cowichan Valley’s Jennifer Barnes van Elk.
Barnes van Elk, who works as a consultant and lives in Cobble Hill, used to be a riding coach but never dreamed she’d see the day when she’d consider competing in some of the province’s more recognized horse shows.
When Marvel, a 12-year-old 17.2-hand Hanoverian with good blood lines, first entered her life, she also would never have guessed that the horse, who is blind in his right eye, was a budding champion in the rough.
“I bought him for a dollar, and his records show that this wasn’t the first time he’d been sold for that price,” Barnes van Elk said.
“Your typical $1 horse sale is an older or injured horse that is being rehomed for retirement. In Marvel’s case, the reason for his price tag was mostly behavioural.”
Barnes van Elk said Marvel, who was born on Vancouver Island, has a “checkered past” and had changed hands many times before ending up in her care.
She said Marvel’s half-blindness was coupled with extreme reactivity that made the big horse unmanageable at times.
“His reputation had earned him a label as a dangerous horse and this kind of label can be a death sentence, especially for older equines,” Barnes van Elk said.
Because of his safety issues, Barnes van Elk said she completely re-started Marvel’s training at 10 years old; handling the adult horse like one would a young colt.
She reintroduced everything to the horse and set up elaborate obstacle courses to develop confidence and trust as she taught him the discipline of dressage, a highly skilled form of riding performed in exhibition and competition.
In the spring of 2019, the pair entered their first local horse show.
“Despite considerable equine stage fright, Marvel managed to bring home a first-place ribbon,” Barnes van Elk said this week at her Winter Spring Farms, while Marvel looked trustingly over her shoulder.
“Since that show, Marvel has competed in two other local horse shows, each time in classes of escalating difficulty, and each time winning or placing in the top three.”
Barnes van Elk said she hopes to move Marvel into recognized competitions next season, and plans to train all winter with her sights set on showing higher level dressage.
“As they say, it takes a village to raise a competitive horse, and a lot should be said about the other coaches and body workers who have got us this far,” she said.
“I’ve worked with horses for 30 years and Marvel was one of the worst I’ve ever seen two years ago. I thought ‘what have I done’? But then I saw a glimmer of hope and talent and now I’m so excited for Marvel. I could never have afforded a horse that could compete at a high level before I found him.”
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