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Friday, March 2, 2012

I Was Feeling Short

Why is that, you may ask? I'm 5'6", so not generally thought of as "short," so what's the deal?

I felt short when I climbed down off a 17.1hh horse, and had to walk again on my own two feet. It's very strange. I get the same sensation when I've been driving my husband's F150 pickup and then drive my minivan: it's suddenly too close to the ground. The funny feeling lasted for about an hour and a half on Wednesday from the time I dismounted.

HOWEVER, as you might guess, I was quite, quite happy to have that particular feeling, because it meant I had actually been on a horse! And nope, it wasn't a lesson horse, it was the giant Warmblood who belongs to my friend. I'm actually just taking a stab at his height, because I'm not exactly sure what it is, but put it this way: I can't quite see over his back wearing my Ariat paddocks with about a 1 1/2" heel, and it's very hard to curry the top of his butt. So I think it's safe to say he's BIG. Here's a photo:
His name is LiRoi (pronounced "Leroy"), and he's a 20 or 21 y.o. Brandenburger, brought here from Germany at about age seven. I had never heard of the breed before and he's certainly the only one of his kind that I've ever met. This website has some more information about Brandenburgers. I chuckled when I read, "Legs are thick and stocky, hooves are large and strong," because. BOY, does "Leafy" ever fit that profile! His legs are like freakin' tree trunks and picking his hooves is quite an exercise. My friend had a heckuva time finding boots that would even fit him, and even then had to settle for him wearing hind boots on his fronts. He also has a simply ginormous head, with a distinguished Roman nose. I teased my friend that leading him in a rope halter was like trying to steer a T-Rex with dental floss!

Leafy was originally well-trained as a dressage horse, but his importer and original owner decided he (the rider) really wasn't interested in that. Believe it or not, when this fella landed in the Midwest he was put to work as a hunt horse. Following the hounds actually suited him just fine, and he enjoyed several seasons of catapulting his large self over the medium-sized jumps and slightly hilly terrain here. I have gotten to go hunting twice with our local club, the Bridlespur Hunt (a major highlight of my equestrian career and something I really need to write about here), but I didn't get to see him out in the field. By then he belonged to my friend and was back to doing some dressage with her. Sadly, his owner and the man's wife had been killed in a horrible auto accident. My friend was very good friends with them and had been told, "If anything ever happens to me I want you to have LiRoi..." So she pretty much inherited the big guy (though she did have to pay a significant sum to the estate).

I have been fortunate to be able to ride LiRoi on occasion over the last 10 years, which I greatly appreciate. He is a bit of a bully on the ground, and has to frequently be reminded that yes, he needs to do what you are asking and not just barge over you, but once you are on board he's truly a dream to ride. Totally velvet-mouthed and sensitive to all aids, with lovely gaits. I hardly ever even touch his face and enjoy seeing how small my aids can be. I even used to jump him a little bit, and he was fine, but I always had the feeling that some things are just really not meant to be airborne!
I ride LiRoi in my friend's Wintec dressage saddle. It's very comfy and secure. My own hunt saddle is actually not too narrow for him, but a girth to keep it on would have to be custom-ordered, so I don't use it!
I still laugh when I think of when my friend first got him and we puzzled over what to do to get him to canter. I finally hit some button and was rewarded with the most amazing, up-and-down-practically-in-place rocking-chair canter I'd ever experienced. This was in an arena, of course, where his dressage training came to the fore. I think he probably went pretty "b*lls to the wall" out in the hunt field.

Nowadays Leafy responds to a standard hunter "take up outside rein a hair, sit down and squeeze, outside leg/heel" canter cue, so I guess that's been installed by osmosis/repetition. He also doesn't - often - perform that gorgeous practically-in-place canter anymore, but that's okay. When I am able to package him into that it's a real treat. Pretty much all Leafy does these days is a tiny bit of arena work and a lot of trails. My friend keeps him and his little Paint buddy at home and access to a lovely park with a couple miles of trails is just across the road. I wish I could ask the big guy if he wonders just how he wound up as a trail mount in Missouri, after starting out life as a fancy WB dressage prospect in Germany... However, he is a very content, happy and loved horse, with a cushy and well-tended life, so I'm sure he'd say it's all good with him. :-)
One of my favorite LiRoi stories has to do with my son. Hunter (yes, that's his real name, I got away with that, but my daughter is not called "Jumper," sadly) had come with me out to the farm one day and we decided he could do a little riding. My son has ridden just a bit in the past, mostly state park trail rides and such. He does really enjoy it, is a gifted athlete, and in another life where I have a LOT more money I would have been happy to have him (and maybe daughter, too) in lessons and leasing/owning and showing and the whole nine yards, if he'd wanted it... *sigh*

Anyway, on this particular day we threw him up on LiRoi - wearing my properly-adjusted helmet, of course. He's taller than I am (age 14 at the time) so I didn't need to adjust the stirrups. They walked around a bit and that went well, so I told Hunter he could ask LiRoi to trot. Leafy can be a bit lazy and usually just shuffles smoothly along if you don't ask him for anything more energetic, so I didn't think my son would have any problem sitting to it. Well - apparently Mr. Horse had other ideas. He knew DARN WELL someone unskilled was aboard and after about two half-strides of trot launched himself into a canter! I don't know who was more surprised - me, Hunter, my friend, or the horse, who suddenly looked like he was having the time of his life. I had been filming Hunter's ride so when this occurred there is (now hilarious) jiggly footage and a voiceover of me saying in a certain loud-but-not-shouting voice, "Uh, WHOA. WHOA. WHOA. Hunter, keep turning him. Leafy, WHOA!" etc. The iPhone then went into the dirt as I semi-frantically tried to seize the horse by the reins as he went by.

To this day I am immensely proud of how my son handled this near-crisis. He somehow had the presence of mind to grab both reins with his right hand, grab the pommel of the saddle with his left, and turn the horse in a circle. I am grateful that he was in the grippy deep-seated Wintec saddle, which I know helped him stay on. Hunter actually never even came close to falling off. After a few laps around a nice 20-meter circle (LiRoi's old dressage trainer would have been proud), I managed to grab him and bring him to a stop. My heart was pounding madly and my son, while a bit alarmed, was still smiling. The horse? Well, he was just as pleased as punch. No joke, that blasted animal knew exactly what he'd been doing. It really was hysterical and we all wound up cracking up. A little too much excitement, though!

1 comment:

  1. LiRoi sounds like a total gem. I love those kinds of horses. He looks so sweet.

    I had the incredible chance for over a year to ride a 17.1h Grand Prix trained Wesphalian dressage horse. Big horse, looked quite a bit like LiRoi, just with a small star instead of the blaze. Absolute angel to ride and pow - er - ful, too.

    Also got to ride during that same period a 17.2 Thoroughbred - talk about size, speed, and general uncontrollability. Eek. Ex race horse, ex national calibur event horse that had a horrible mishap with a 6ft shrub jump and was never the same.

    I've also ridden an 18.2 Percheron/Belgian and a 17.3 Irish TB dressage horse.

    I gotta say, although I haven't ridden them much, I do love the huge horses. Although now that I drive, that's just a little too big for me. The carts sit WAY WAY up high.

    Of course, Chewbacca is 16.2, so he's no small fry, either, but he's a far cry from little 12.2h Luke!

    Glad you had fun.


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