About a month ago, I was very lucky. I got to fall in Love with a horse all over again. That’s not to say that I don’t always love my horses. Certainly, I have an all-encompassing respect and devotion to the animal itself as I’ve made a life around them. But in April, I was able to have that head over heels, teenage girl, heart bursting love of a horse all over again where in one moment it hits you and you become aware of how much that particular horse means to you.
I had my one great horse in Timber Spirit, who I retired five years ago, with whom I completed two four stars, placing at one, and did more three star cic and cci’s than I can remember off the top of my head. We would have been on the team for Beijing had he not broken just days before flying. Anyways, I am not too proud to say that that horse was too good for me. He peaked at a time in my life when I had only just started to grasp the true basics of dressage, the details of show jumping and the finer points of cross country. I was good enough that I was safe doing what I was doing, but I wasn’t truly good enough at that time otherwise that horse would have taken me places; he was world class. I can only imagine what I could be doing with him now if I could pluck him out of the field across the street where he lives with his buddy, gold medalist Shear L’Eau, and wind back his clock seven years with all of the education and improvement my riding has come in those seven years. Point being, I was ‘good’ all those years he took me around advanced, but not nearly good enough.
Now fast forward to my love fest of last month. I have had many horses in the five years since retiring my Timmy (Timber Spirit) and most have gone on their merry way to new homes either due to the fact that I became pregnant and sold some during that time, or the fact that selling is a bit what we do. However, some three years ago, Leslie’s brother Graham called us up to tell us he had sat on a horse that he thought I should buy and thus sight unseen I bought this horse from the UK named ‘What Law’. I figured that with a name like that it had to have been a good omen. When he came off the van in Virginia a silence somewhat spread over the yard as a creature ambled out who had the head of a yak, the bum of a woman in a rap video and feet like flying saucers. He also carried himself with his head as high as possible. The girls immediately started calling him the dinosaur without shame; even in front of me. When it got cold out he would grow a coat overnight that would have readied anyone for a trip to Narnia and I used to muse that he looked like a mammoth that had recently dethawed from an iceberg and pondered whether I should carry a spear as I hacked down the roads with him.
On top of his good looks, ‘Jojo’ also came with a head phobia, which apparently was mentioned to Graham but he forgot to relay. Long story short, Jojo hates things that are low to his head and gets very claustrophobic so in order to get him onto our trailer one must disassemble the entire insides of the six horse, get him on it through the back ramp and then reassemble it around him. Oh, and don’t forget the head bumper and the twitch when you are loading and unloading.
To ride, Jojo spent the first season unable to truly canter and would often break into trot in my show jumping rounds and he really had a distaste for ditches. Between the looks, the phobia and the canter issues, one might think that we fell out with the brother in law, but I could see in a way what Graham saw in this beast. Jojo just had something about him. In a Rainman kind of way, I felt he was trustworthy, hardworking and loyal.
Fast forward a few years and Jojo has been in many ways another Timmy that I never thought I would find again. I thought I was old enough and sat on enough horses every day that I would never again have that bond that I once had with my Timmy so I find myself so lucky to have achieved that again. Call me crazy but I swear Jojo and I know each other so well that we can finish each other’s thoughts off now. We haven’t made the jump up to advanced yet, but he has won some intermediates for me, been top Canadian at the American Championships in the OI last year scoring a 29 in dressage even, placed in CIC **’s and then in April was 8th in a large CCI ** and again top Canadian.
Although he still has the face only a mother could love and the ass of a hoochie-mamma, his body has changed dramatically and he moves and jumps like a proper horse. He is not called ‘Dinosaur’ anymore and he has won the right to have the trailer disassembled without griping. Quite honestly if anyone were to lay a finger on him they would be kicked out immediately and I know for a fact that Leslie lives in fear of living with me if that horse were to ever get injured.
We actually had the worst dressage of our season at the three day last month, which was unfortunate as we could of done very well without that, but what redeemed us and had us end up so well was that he cruised around the cross like a war horse and then had one of very few perfect, clean show jump rounds. Literally five hours after I got off from show jumping I was sat on a plane on my way to the UK to work and it was on that flight that I became overwhelmed with my adoration for my horse. I know I rode him well, so much better than I used to ride my Timmy, but, all said, even if I rode like the very best out there, the horse still did it and wanted to do it which brings me to the crux of my blog this week…
Why? Why do they do it?
And not just why my horse. but why your horse? Why do those fabulous dressage horses go in there and bust out moves to the very best of their ability? Why do those grand prix show jumpers turn themselves inside out to leave up rails? Why?
I don’t believe that hippie dippy, feel good stuff that people preach when event horses die stating, “Our horses LOVE to jump cross country jumps, they just LOVE it !!! It is natural for them and they LOVE it!!!”
I don’t believe for one second that my head shy, claustrophobic, event horse LOVES jumping through that owl hole that has about three feet of room over his head, or that he LOVES to jump that one stride drop into water or that he would NATURALLY do a bounce out of a foot of mud. Yet, he does it anyways when I ask.
I don’t think those dressage horses would like to spend as much time as they do in passage and piaffe nor would they CHOOSE to do canter pirouettes unless they were perhaps fleeing a lion attack. Yet they do it, because their good riders ask.
So why do they do this? Although I cannot bring myself to believe in the above mentioned pipe dreamer’s philosophy that were humans to drop off the face of the planet our horses would be out jumping vicarage v’s and Weldon’s walls just to have a jolly, I would love to prescribe to my own Disney/Girly version, which is that my horses do it because I have created a relationship with them that makes them want to work with me and please me and do what I ask. That is what I would like to believe; it makes me feel nice and warm inside. I mean, surely that is why I do my husband’s laundry and build Star Wars Lego with 80 million small pieces for my son; no?
My husband, on the other hand, being a man, and lacking those Disney/Girly ideals, tells me that the horses do it because we “train them to. Period.” He states that if we train them well and they are talented, they do well. The ones that don’t do well get into trouble and they either then start doing it right or they get kicked off the island. Simple as that. Yes but AH HAAAA!, I shot back at him, how do you explain the horses that do well with terrible riders!?! The riders that are riding far above their level, have no business doing that level, and yet the horses still go out and jump around for them? Leslie’s reply? “Those horses are stupid.”
I suspect the answer lies somewhere between Leslie’s clinical analysis and my Disney version. But either way, I have fully enjoyed my recent falling in love with the horse and am enjoying my reminder of how truly remarkable they are.
So now it’s your turn! What do you think is the answer to the WHY?