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.