Another Year

Having neglected my blogging resolution, I will reboot with a rundown of 2017, not one of my favorite years.

Health, that most valuable of blessings, eluded us at times, reinforcing its importance.  Harry spent two intervals in hospital, first to have couple of stents,  and then for a frightening episode of atrial fibrillation.  The drug that regulates his erratic heart has some very nasty side effects, so we are not quite past those problems yet.  My back went out in August with three herniated discs, sidelining me completely for six weeks.   I am now recovered and  exceedingly grateful for each day I can throw a leg over a horse.

And speaking of horses, there have been some changes in our barn.  Harry has acquired a gray Quarter Horse, called Stone, a superlative trail horse.  Artie has moved on to a new life in Colorado with a delightful duo – a mother and daughter who both ride him.  And Bart has joined Oisin on my team of show horses.  Bart is a 2006 Irish Draught Sporthorse by Mountain Pearl, the same sire as Oisin!  In Bart’s case, his mother is a Thoroughbred, whereas Oisin’s dam is a Paint.  Bart is not as colorful as Oisin, but can probably jump a bigger track.   He can never, however, be Pinto Jumper Champion of the World, which Oisin has managed three times as Bachantes Painted Pearl, the name with which he was christened.  Bart will try to match his brother in other arenas.  So, those are the three equine residents of Bronze Fox Farm, whose adventures will be related as time goes by.

But though I tend to write about horses and horse related activities, there are other residents of Bronze Fox Farm, primarily Harry Himself, the head of household, resident sculptor and love of my life, followed closely by The Dogs – Nettle, smartest dog ever, Mistletoe, possibly the stupidest dog of all time, Cedar, loyal hound and doggiest of the pack, and Weedy, most recent member and Harry’s favorite, a “boxer mix” (aka pit bull type) who wandered in at Christmastime 2016.  These characters will figure into blogs as I go, if I follow, sort of, in Jon Katz’s footsteps.

Jon Katz writes Bedlam Farm Journal,  q.v. –  http://www.bedlamfarm.com and I admit to being fascinated by the details of his life.  I don’t expect to be quite as prolific, but my blog will sort of follow his lead.

Additionally there are The Cats – at the head of the pride is the Maltese Cat, Roscoe.  He lives in the house and comes and goes at will.  His sister, Rosie, is a black cat shaped like a bowling ball.  She is a barn cat, as are Twizzler and Skittle and Licorice, known collectively as The Crouchers, in honor of Tom and Judy Crouch, from whom they came.  But also in the barn are Cora, a calico, whose youthful indiscretions resulted in an unplanned pregnancy and a trip to live here, and Oscar, Jane’s cat, who moved here about two years ago of his own accord.

Jane, of course, is our closest friend of 35 years, and my partner at horse shows.  She lives next door, though she hails from England, and people confuse us all the time.  We both answer to either name.  When people ask if we are sisters, I am flattered, Jane is appalled.

Nearly all trips and adventures were derailed by circumstance in 2017.  Let’s not go into that any further.  2018 will be better, and it is already underway.

April Inspiration from Frank

Sorry to report, I lost my verve for a while – that’s “verve”, not nerve.  But Spring, with more daylight, returned, and with it some of my enthusiasm.

Coming out of hibernation

I have dropped off Facebook, and some people have commented that they miss my updates.  I find blogging a little odd, since it feels very self involved sometimes, but it can provide a bit of history.  As I forget more and more every day, that might not be so bad…

Some things, though, we never forget…

We have had outrageous rains this Spring -in five days more than 5 inches as a prelude to continued downpours.  Here, we are unaffected by floods, but we have news of friends who have not been so lucky.

Getting to the ring is a little more challenging than usual

Anyway, this blog entry is really about inspiration –  a two day clinic riding with Frank Madden, one of the top trainers from the East Coast.

Artie

Artie is back in action, after spending much of last year coughing.  In hindsight, I think he may have had a virus that left him with a persistent cough.  We pulled his shoes in December, thinking he might have to be retired, and he almost immediately stopped coughing.  So, when an opportunity to ride in a clinic with Frank Madden arose, Jane and I jumped at it (so to speak) and spent our riding time from March 1st preparing for the clinic at the end of April.

Jane and Derry

Anne and Artie

On Wednesday, rain, so we trailered over to St. Louis Equestrian and settled Artie and Derry into nice, big stalls there, ready to ride with Frank on Thursday and Friday.  On Thursday morning, Frank appeared, looking much the same as he had when we last rode with him, sixteen years ago!  Maybe a bit more gray hair on all of us… but we all feel the same.  We are all still passionate about  jumping horses.

The basics are the same, but a great teacher finds refreshing ways to remind us and inspire us to keep improving those basic skills.  Frank is one of the exceptional teachers, with a style that is familiar and highly entertaining.

Some comments from Frank, Day 1:

The most important character in a horse is a brave character.  A certain amount of that, trainers can influence, but it is really inherent.

Artie displays bravery

Fitness relates to rideability (forward, straight and balanced) – in both horse AND rider.  Fitness makes the horse able to hold balance and rhythm.

Biking across Missouri is a step toward fitness

Horses evolve into riding well, with correct training over time.  (This one is especially inspirational for me, as I tend to get in a hurry.)

Oisin 2007
Oisin 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The older I get, the more intrigued I am with the sport.”

No picture – We all know I’m old! (#oldladieshorseshowing is Jane’s and my tagline!)

As you canter, do “maintenance” to improve the gait.  After jumping, put a little “maintenance” into the canter – a little “housekeeping”.

Artie has a great canter

It takes a special quality as a rider (and a horse) to step on stage and not “dummy up”.

This is a sport of inches – especially in the equitation and jumpers!

72 inches

The “texture” of the round wins in equivalent trips – attention to detail, ease, and competence create a better “texture” (I figure I have a burlap texture vs. the cashmere of, say, Hunter Holloway).

Hunter Holloway on Bravo

On the second day with Frank Madden, the challenges were tougher.   A gifted teacher will not demoralize a rider or a horse, but they will enable us to do more than we thought we could – and with more competence.

Here are a few more nuggets from Frank :

Don’t be repetitive or redundant – in life or on horseback.  “A groove you can get out of, a rut, you are stuck in.”

“Change is better than a rest” – change up the exercises – don’t mix it up, don’t confuse it, but change it.

Regarding gaits – rhythm is the continuity of the beat, tempo is the speed of the beat.

Competence and knowledge create relaxation.

“Fear will cause hesitation, and hesitation will make your fear come true.”

Frank is classical in his approach.  After all, his background includes George Morris, and Bert de Nemethy, monumental legends in our sport.  But Frank is also familiar, and encouraging and presents challenges that teach and improve every level of rider.  It was fascinating to see the improvement in horses and riders from Day 1 to Day 2, and amazing to feel the difference in Artie, who felt more rideable, and jumped as well as he ever has.

We were so lucky to have this opportunity, and even these #oldladieshorseshowing improved and remain inspired!

Jane and Derry

 

 

Anne and Artie
#oldladieshorseshowing
Jane and Derry happy and inspired!

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye, Tom

The news has reached me that Tom has died.  He was 33, which, while less than half the expected life of a person, was a long life indeed for a horse.  And Tom was a well loved horse.

Almost thirty years ago, S D called me about a flashy four year old at the racetrack.  Her mother had bred him.  Mrs. D’s horses were treasured, not like the Thoroughbred racehorses we hear about who fall on hard times.  This one, Just As Ordered, was a bright chestnut with chrome – four white legs and a white nose – a big, white blaze, to be precise.  The old saw about cutting off his legs and throwing him to the crows would not apply.  I advised, in my infinite wisdom, that she should take an offer. With those long white stockings, he would need to jump really well – poor style would be very obvious, and that is always a risk.  S ignored me, and decided to have him retrained as a hunter, planning to sell him for a high price.

When he was a 5 year old, he came to me, after starting with another local trainer.  He had a bad cold back problem, possibly related to his stifles, which locked.  Now, for those of you who are not “horse people” (my mother so disapproved of people who were “horsey”!)… a “cold back” means that a horse resents the saddle when it is first put on.  And “resents” means, it bucks!  And if the rider has already gotten into the saddle when the cold backed horse takes issue with it, the rider is in jeopardy.  “Stifles” are the equivalent to the human knee joint (we all know that all mammals have more or less the same skeletons, right? Just in slightly different configurations…).  In the horse, the stifle is at the top of the hind leg – but like us, the joint has a patella, and “locking” of the stifle is upward fixation of the patella.  The ligament is loose, and slips across the patella, causing the joint to stick in place, sometimes making the horse unable to move the hind leg, and snapping or jerking suddenly, when it gives way.

So, this chestnut Thoroughbred arrived, and he was called  Tom.  He was a bit rank at first, bucking dramatically around a few circles after the saddle was on, but once he was done bucking, he was nice to ride.  I started jumping him, and immediately my concerns about his style were put aside.  Tom was a very good jumper indeed!  Perfect technique, a nice mover (meaning his gaits were pleasing to watch – and to ride).  And he had a nice mouth (he was pleasant in the bridle, easy to control with the reins).

In those days, there were no “cross rail” classes.  We thought it was amazing that there were classes at 2’6″, having started in an era where the lowest jumps were 3’6″.  So within two weeks, Tom was showing and acquitting himself well.  But he didn’t get sold – those locking stifles stood in the way.

Sadly for S, her life changed and she needed to reduce her herd.  Since Tom was difficult to sell, she offered him to me as a gift.  I did NOT look him in the mouth! I accepted him gladly, and there began a nearly decade long joy ride.  He received a “show name” – Thomas Equinas, and many rode that moniker into memories.

Tom also foxhunted.  Jane started him in the hunt field, and when Harry and I retired from riding as staff (riding at the front, or out on our own), Tom became Harry’s hunt horse.  He was a delightful horse to ride “in the field” (in the group of riders following the Master of Foxhounds) – and he and Harry were a handsome pair!

Jane showed Thomas Equinas as a First Year Green Hunter when her horse was injured.  He was equally talented as a hunter or a jumper (again, for the non horse people, if any of you are still reading – “hunters” are judged on style, “jumpers” jump higher and  go faster.  There is much more to it than that, but it’s not relevant here…).  Tom could jump a big jump, turn on a dime (and, yes, give you a nickel change) and he was fairly brave – but he could be a bit of a spook, which played well in the hunters, giving him an expressive jump to go with his impeccable form (the way he lifted his long, white legs over the jumps).  So, he was a lot of fun, and he soon partnered with Harry as a show horse, Harry having given him his much loved title of Thomas Equinas.

They were a great team.  Harry loved to go fast, and Tom could certainly do that.  Diane Carney schooled them to the win in the NAL Classic in Kentucky 1993, a class so exciting that Diane sent me away for being too nervous.  We still have the white wool cooler (horse blanket), a most treasured win.  Todd Minikus, too, schooled Harry and Thomas Equinas to successes in the Amateur Owner Jumpers (very big jumps).  And occasionally, I, too, got to show Tom in the AO Jumpers.

Then, since we were in the business of selling horses, Thomas Equinas was sold to B K, who was a top midwest amateur rider at the time.  She gave Tom great rides and showed him as a hunter, a jumper AND an equitation horse (non horse people – “equitation” judges the rider, but requires a well trained horse with scope – the ability to make the difficult look easy).

From B K, Tom went on to Skip and Anne Thornbury, and then to Richard Rinehart in Indiana, and continued to be successful over lower jumps, as now he was getting “old”, in that he was approaching 20.  Wherever he went, he was loved.  We were so happy at horse shows to meet people who treasured Tom, as he deserved.

And then, Thomas Equinas returned to Missouri, to William Woods University.  In his twenties, under the excellent care of Linda McClaren, he won state championships in the Beginner Hunters (beginner riders) for several years. He thrived at the University equestrian program, and when he began to get “really” old, he went to Kentucky,  where he was rechristened “Saint” (as a nod to Thomas Aquinas) and began to teach little children.  He died yesterday after many good years in the bluegrass, where countless great Thoroughbreds have been laid to rest.  Many will grieve his passing, as Harry and I did , when we learned that his long run was over.

Thomas Equinas was a great Thoroughbred, in stature and in soul.  He cribbed for the entire 33 years of his life.  He pulled many shoes from those big, white feet, with his short back and extravagant overstep.  He introduced us to veterinary “maintenance” of horses – joint injections.  His stifles snapped and popped for his entire career.  His cold back lasted only a couple of weeks, before he decided it was too much work to buck, and a waste of energy.  He was loved by everyone who rode him and cared for him – he was a real gentleman, and I can never thank S D enough for the gift of that great horse.  Tears were shed today, for days gone by, and in gratitude for a long, well loved life.  Gallop through, Tom.