It's been a couple months since Bird jumped. We hit a few pot holes on the training road. He had a corn, created by one of his studs that made him really lame and at that time we discovered he had some additional soreness, so I gave him a rest period. I then started out with hacking, flatwork and finally jumped him with Sharon White two weeks ago. It was a very good lesson and I look forward to more with her. She really "gets" the Bird. That is important because I have learned that a few great trainers "get" him and many more just don't. A lesson on Bird with a trainer that doesn't understand him is pure Hell for both of us. Elizabeth says they must have had experience with a horse like him to understand him. I agree because the trainers that "get" him also love him. The trainers who don't, don't seem to like him much either.
I need to preface this entry with something. When I drive to Virginia for a lesson with Jimmy, I always leave really early. There are several reasons. The first being I do not want to be late for a Jimmy lesson. I've seen his face when people arrive late and I don't ever want to be that guy. Second, I don't like to have a rushed feeling, especially on the Bird. More than that, if you arrive at Last Frontier Farm early, the worst thing that can happen to you is you will learn by watching others. I've been lucky to see quite a few coaching sessions between Jimmy and Sharon, which I can tell you is awesome.
Since I first saw Sharon ride, I admired the way her horses canter. She has perfected the canter on each and every horse she rides. Her balance is perfect. She is in the center of the horse with a light, perfect contact. The horse is balanced, light and happy. This is regular and consistant during the time she is riding and jumping. I have always wished to experience this. I've seen lots of riders at Sharon's and I have never seen anyone come close to producing this perfection. I don't know if you have to have the horse that can do it or if you have to be able to ride/train the horse to go in this manner. I suspect a bit of both.
When I arrived at Sharon's last week, I was excited. Usually not a good thing, because I am an overachiever and excited means uptight. The good news is I am now aware of it. Since I got Bird he has wanted to run at fences. I have been told by all of the people I train with that he is the hardest type of horse to ride and fix. I don't care because I love that horse. So my goal for the lesson was that Jimmy would not tell me "don't pull back", even once on this day.
I was in a lesson with two other riders who I really like. They are good and their horses are good. This makes for a good lesson. I took my time warming Bird up, spending a lot of time in the trot. Jimmy likes to walk in, sit down quietly and observe us. He asked me if I had cantered Bird and I said not yet. He said, if he's going to be bad, we'll just deal with it, go on. I responded that I really didn't think he was going to be bad and with that Bird was airborn. The next thing I said was "Yes Jimmy, you are always right." He smiled the big smile.
Things started off well and Jimmy was offering advice and criticisms as expected. Birdie was being exceptional and maybe I was too. About a quarter of the way through the lesson we jumped a line and there it was. It was that canter. I immediately responded to it with the most supple shoulders and arms I could offer. It's a good thing Jimmy likes you to canter around once you jump a line, because I didn't want to stop. It was balanced perfection. It was beautiful. The Angels were singing in Heaven. I wanted to exclaim, "Do you guys see this??" I wondered when I halted if we would ever produce such a canter again.
I don't know why Birdie picked this particular time to produce this canter, but it's a wonderful thing to have a breakthrough such as this in a Jimmy lesson. I know what you're thinking. He produced it because you were in a Jimmy lesson. Maybe so, but Bird has also been improving in leaps and bounds lately and I've been doing really well myself. It may have been a combination of things. I don't know if we'll reproduce this, because I haven't cantered him since. He had a day off and hacked yesterday. Moving on.......
So, I haven't been jumping much. It's been mostly flatwork for me, Willie and Bird. Jimmy decided to put two oxers up as we were nearing the end of the lesson. They were not big fences. Bird and I have jumped bigger without incident many times. I notice one is a bit bigger than the other. It's also in the shade. The other two gals jump beautifully with their horses. Bird and I were doing well and we cleared the first without incident. The second in the shade, he stops. Comes around, stops again, I hit him - not hard of course. He stops again and Jimmy has his helper put the ends down. I want to inject that during all this time, I've got the beautiful canter, but the Angels have now stopped singing. We get over it and Jimmy says to do the liverpool which is about two feet high. That dirty dog, I mean Bird stops at that and Jimmy says "Now he's seen that a thousand times, hit him." I did, he went, but not willingly. He then stopped at the first big oxer that he'd already jumped, I had to hit him and they had to put it down. We did manage to get through everything, but it was embarrassing and I ended up being the "class clown". You know the one that couldn't do the lesson - and it was Jimmy, making it worse in my book.
At the conclusion, Jimmy asked if it had been a while since we jumped and I said yes. He said you are both rusty. Start off low, but put a few fences up and do something every third day. It's actually been months since I jumped anything much over 2'6". I'm still fairly new to this and I think this was my first experience with fences that aren't big, look big if you haven't been jumping that high. I am sure that at least part of the problem at the second oxer was me. It could not have been a coincidence that I thought to myself it was bigger than the other one and was the fence that started Birdie's stopping festival.
As always, I leave the lesson thinking about what happened. I was the class clown. I should be embarrassed, but instead I feel great! I must be mentally ill. All I can think about is That Canter. It stayed even after he started stopping. Even after I corrected him with the whip, which I'm here to tell you is unpleasant with Mr. OverReactor. That incredible canter, that I was able to maintain. If that isn't a gift, I've never gotten one. Then it occurs to me that Jimmy never told me "Don't pull back.", even once. He rarely says this to me on Willie, but on Birdie, I do it at least a few times during a lesson and Mr. Wofford calls me on it every time. Here Bird was dirty dog stopping and I never pulled back approaching any fence. I did get the "don't do your chicken imitation" once, but that was after he was stopping. My friend Kathy and I saw Ollie Townend doing the chicken imitation at Rolex and she swears she's going to flap her arms going to a fence and tell Jimmy that Ollie does it too. That will go over like a lead balloon, but if she ever really does it I want to be there. It is good to know that even the best have flaws.
So, I call Elizabeth to tell her about my lesson with Jimmy. I tell her about the stopping and then I talk about this canter. The Angels start singing again. I am light as a feather. I'm on cloud nine. I tell her I must be mentally ill because I should feel embarrassed. I achieved that canter and that relaxed connection with Birdie. I know he can jump, I'm not worried about that. We can fix the stopping. Elizabeth tells me that I am not crazy. After all, she said, which horse do you want to have? The one that runs at all his fences, throws himself over, but never stops or the one who approaches in rhythm and relaxed? He has to learn to jump all over again and you have to learn to ride him all over again once more.
It's embarrassing. I've seen those mom's with their pictures and videos of their kids doing the most mundane things and you just have to see it. I've never been a human mother, but now that Graycie has had this little whipper snapper I am taking on some of the characteristics. I'm not certain if they're mother or grandmother, but I keep taking pictures and shooting video. Here he is on his second day out. This was done just as we took the halters off.
Isn't he precious? Look how he comes up to the camera in curiosity. Oh brother this is a huge time vampire. I get around them and the world just stops. I stand there starry eyed, looking and them with this complete feeling of joy. I think this is the best therapy for the unending pressure I am under. I feel better this week than I have in a long time.
When Graycie's baby was born on Sunday, I stood in the field with them and called everyone I knew to tell them she had had a beautiful baby colt. My husband stood there calling people too. He called his mom in Florida to tell her and Orest her husband. Orest has been sick - well he is dying. He is in his nineties and for the past few months his heart has been slowly shutting down. Orest has always been good to me. He accepted me right away when Bill took me home to introduce me to his mom. He made the best martini's in the world and used to make this heavenly cheese dip to go with at martini hour. They were always served in the most beautiful, fine martini glasses. I used to think what a test, serving kick a** martinis in these expensive glasses. It was a risk worth taking.
Orest has been on my mind every day. I can't leave the farm for long because of all we have going on here, but still I think of him and Sylvia each day. When Bill asked me what I was going to name the baby I looked at him and said I think we should name him after Orest. Bill was excited and wanted to call his mom right away. I wanted to include her in the decision to choose the exact name. Orest was quite a man, he was proud that he had been a Bombadier in the war. He worked at the Pentagon most of his life and on the wall of one of his offices was plaque from his employees, given him upon his retirement. They called him Mr. Z. Sylvia thought that was perfect and she handed the phone to Orest so I could tell him. He was so happy and honored. It really picked their spirits up despite what they were facing.
Yesterday, Orest went to the doctors and Sylvia said he spent a half hour explaining that the baby horse had been named after him. He has trouble breathing because of the heart thing so it's difficult for him to talk. This must be very frustrating for such an intelligent vibrant man. Last night I signed onto the Registry to submit the names. I asked my husband if it should be Mr. Z or Mister Z. I submitted them both in that order.
My husband called me this morning to tell me that Orest had passed away last night. He had turned the light on in his room, sat down on his bed and died.
I'm glad Orest knew this little ball of fire would be named for him. I'm glad I didn't wait to tell him. I've always believed horses are healers, mystical, special beings.
The world has always revolved around Graycie, until now.
Graycie has always been a consummate professional. If there is a perfect way to do something, she does it. She was a fantastic racehorse. She built all the fences on my farm, bought JK his car, paid for the concrete work in my barn - tack room floor and wash stall. She paid to save Charlie and Bear. She's plastered all over both of my websites, Leighton Farm and HelpforTbs. In her first dressage lesson with Elizabeth, she did an incredible lengthening. So when she went out in the field yesterday morning on Mother's Day, laid down and had a perfect baby in less than twenty minutes, it could hardly be a surprise. "What did you expect human?"
The perfect little colt stood up in an hour and was nursing in less than an hour and a half. No mess to clean up in the stall. Perfect background for taking pictures. Punkie was there to witness. I couldn't have staged a better scene.
Today, Graycie is different because for the first time, since I've known her, her world is revolving around someone other than her. She has always known if you came to Leighton Farm, you came to see her. I think now she believes you have come to see her perfect baby.
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.