What is better than having an all weather arena to ride in at your farm?
We've had a project going on since Novemeber 2009. My brother started to level the land in front of my barn at that time and then, rain, snow storms and just rotten weather prevented any progress until last week.
I really needed to bring my horses home, we can't afford to have them boarded out, yet we needed a place to ride them. I ended up spending much of the arena budget boarding them, but that was the way it had to be. I hated to ask my brother if he could get to it soon because I knew he was also behind on paying work due to the horrible weather. I finally broke down and the following week his son dropped off the heavy equipment to begin the work. The day before Rolex, I had a 70 x 200 sand arena in front of my barn. I left for Rolex without ever taking a ride on it.
Chaney Enterprises donated the sand and gave us a wonderful deal on the stone dust. I can't afford the rubber at this time, but can make due with the sand for now. Hopefully by winter I can earn the funds for the rubber.
I actually needed one more load of sand, and ordered it when I got back from Rolex. This meant that my brother had to come back over to spread it and level everything out. I called him and he came over the next day. I had wonderful rides yesterday on the new arena.
My brother is the best brother in the world. I have never felt like I was alone in the world because I know if I ever need anything, my brother will be there for me. I have to be careful when I think of asking him for something because I know if it's humanly possible he will do it. He's never let me down. I did not know it until he was here, but he was not feeling well yesterday. He came over and helped me anyway.
Having a riding arena is a wonderful thing. Having a brother like Garn means more than I can ever express in words.
Willie arrived at my farm in February 2009. He had raced until he was well into his nineth year and a friend had seen him at Finger Lakes. She followed him back to his barn and bought him. She then turned him out until he turned eleven. Not because there was anything wrong with him, but because that is what she does. She sent him to me to retrain and sell. Willie is by Wild Again, he is all class and a stunning horse. He even has a silver tail.
Being older, Willie understood that he was for sale and he didn't like it. As time went on it started to wear on me. He knew he was for sale and he didn't want to be sold. Last July as we loaded on the trailer to go to Fair Hill, his expression was that of "well, I guess this is it, I've been sold." Anne kept telling me to keep him, and I kept responding that I couldn't have another horse. Eventually, I couldn't take it anymore and I decided to keep him. He knew almost immediately that he was mine. His attitude changed for the better.
Everyone likes Willie. Sam Allan told me for the longest time that I should keep him. Elizabeth Madlener, said "this is your fourth level horse." A lesson with Jimmy on him is Hell, because everything that goes wrong is my fault and everything that goes right is because Willie is so smashing. Willie really is all that.
Last year we went to a few unrecognized horse trials with varied results. One thing that became painfully clear was that he hated cross country - or so we thought. It made sense if you think about it. Willie raced until he was nine so he was accustomed to the same manicured footing and similar circumstances at each "event" or race. Now everything was different each time and in his opinion, the footing was horrible. Studs helped a bit, but they were not enough and at Waredaca last fall, he let me know I was just a stupid human.
He loved the dressage so I thought I should make him a dressage horse. Elizabeth told me to continue jumping him and it would eventually become evident what I should do with him. Samantha was a staunch Willie supporter and was adamant that if I gave him more time, he would come around. I never asked Jimmy what I should do because I already figured he would tell me it was my fault. By the way, it's not a bad thing when Jimmy Wofford likes your horse as much as he likes Willie. It's a good thing.
During the winter, I didn't jump much, but when I did, Sam worked her butt off to get Willie over the hump. He would always school at home like a champion so it was hard to trust what I was seeing. What I was riding was a horse that could easily handle 3'6". His dressage came steadily along and I looked forward to the spring, if for no other reason than to compete at dressage.
I hadn't jumped for a bit, but I went to the JW clinic at AOPF with both the Bird and Willie. Willie was weird. He can be sulky, but he was unpredictable, so much that during warm up he nearly ran into the wall. He gave a very uneasy feeling when I sat on him. As we started the gymnastics, Jimmy was really yelling at me for the way I was riding him, but Willie was really creepy to ride. Nothing like he usually was. He began to park out as if to urninate, but wouldn't go. I wondered if that was the reason he was so uptight. After five or six times at parking out, he started to nuzzle his front jumping boot. I asked Ilkim to take them off and Presto, I got the old reliable Willie back.
Hmmm................could it be that all those miserable cross country excursions were because Willie hated the jumping boots?
Fast forward to the Unrecognized Horse Trials this past weekend. I was ready. His dressage was so good, we would at least have a great dressage round. Could it be that without the jumping boots, he would want to jump?
When we got there Willie was sharp, unbelievably sharp. I could not get the supple, round Willie out of this uptight, crankapuss. My heart ached as we tanked in the dressage. We had worked so hard all winter and now I was letting everyone down, Willie, Elizabeth and myself. We headed back to the trailer with our heads hung low. Well, Bernadette and I had our heads hung low. Willie's head was up and he was looking around like he expected Publisher's Clearing House to come over and tell us he had won.
On to the show jumping where he had let me down so many times before. He didn't. He was phenomenal as I guided him right by jump 7 and got us eliminated. To say it was turning out to be a lousy day would be an understatement, except that the weather was really nice and he had done a showjumping course for once without being gigged over every single fence.
The cross country was really good. He was a bit sticky at the water, but actually seemed to enjoy most of the ride. This had never happened before. I called Elizabeth to tell her of our failure and she said something very wise. She told me we take Willie for granted because he's been so much easier than the Bird. That it wasn't fair to expect him to arrive and produce without any wrinkles. This was the first show of a new season and we needed to work out some things out. Let's not make more of this than it really was.
I felt ashamed to admit that as much as I knew Willie was a special horse, I did not like him. I don't even like the way that sounds, but it's true. How stupid do you think I feel admitting that a horse everyone says is incredible, is a horse I don't like to ride? I respect Willie and all of his accomplishments. He has seen and done a lot. He is talented and beautiful, but I just don't enjoy riding him. He's a sulker and that annoys me. Jimmy, Elizabeth, Samantha and the rest of the free world love Willie and I love him too. I just don't like to ride him.
The previous week, my precious Bird had come up lame. I had planned to work with Lucinda Green on Tuesday and Wednesday. I reluctantly took Willie even though he had competed at Marlborough on Sunday. I gave him off Monday and headed to Win Green at 6 a.m. Tuesday morning.
I guess things do happen for a reason. Bird was lame and I really didn't feel like doing anything. My vet wasn't coming until Wednesday. If you've never seen Lucinda work, you should. I don't think there is anyone else who does what she does and it really helps get the horse and rider together.
When it was my turn to tell Lucinda about my horse, I told her that everyone loves him - Jimmy, Elizabeth, Samantha - the free world, but they had all seen his other side too. When he's happy, he's the best horse in the world, when he's not, it's like riding a rock. Sit on a rock and ask it to walk, you'll see what I mean.
As we went through the exercises a metamorphosis began. Elizabeth's words resonated in my head. We take Willie for granted.
I do take him for granted. I'm nice to him, and I respect him, but I do take him for granted. I was riding well. Willie was producing like never before. He seemed to thrive on the fact that I had to pay strict attention to the job at hand. There is no way you can execute these exercises without the horse and rider working closely together. The lines of communication were opened between Willie and I. We were excelling at this work. I realized that it wasn't that I didn't like Willie. It was that we had not developed a bond. It's likely that Willie was not quick to open up to a human after what he had been through. This was the day he decided to open up to me and evidently I opened up to him as well. Suddenly we had a chemistry.
Day two of the clinic went even better, if that's possible and both Willie and I had a wonderful time. He was happy for his pats and rewards and I was happy to give them. It's a two way street and now Willie and I are finally developing that special connection that event horses and riders must have to excel.
picture by my good friend Cherie Chauvin
I thanked Lucinda for this unexpected gift. It could not have come at a better time.
I say stupid things like this on a daily basis. All of my horses have songs too. I won't burden anyone with that. I can't explain it except to say that there is joy in knowing I have all of these wonderful creatures to adore.
Lately I've been overwhelmed. It's tough to be me sometimes, but I wouldn't want to be anyone else. JK and I have a baby horse that we broke for racing. In the last week she's needed to start to gallop. This meant that I had to be here to accompany her - on THE PUNK.
So Punk and I are galloping about the farm with the baby. Punk basically waits for this point in the training. He LOVES to gallop. I didn't know it, but I really needed to do this. We are not fast galloping. Just easy, rhythm around the farm. I'm in the center and it's perfect. What a wonderful thing to do on a sunny day. I missed it so much. Don't get me wrong, I love the dressage and the jumping, but a nice relaxing gallop is natural to me. It gives me something that nothing else can. Punkie and I melt into one entity. It's comfortable and natural.
I have loved horses since the first time I laid eyes on them as a child. I did not ride until my twenties, but I grabbed the ball and ran with it. In five years I went from learning to post to competing in dressage. In seven years I was galloping racehorses at Pimlico. I spent twenty-five years galloping. Two years ago I decided to learn to jump and possibly event.
I help horses, particularly Thoroughbreds whenever I can through my work with Thoroughbred Placement and Rescue, Inc. www.GoodHorse.org
I also specialize in the retraining of off Track Thoroughbreds at Leighton Farm. www.LeightonFarm.com
I've never met a horse I didn't like. I just love some more than others.