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Friday, July 27, 2012

Olympics, Here We Come!

What are your favorite Olympic equestrian memories?

My most favorite event that I've seen on TV* is the Grand Prix Show Jumping jumpoff in Los Angeles, 1984. It came down to Touch of Class, ridden by Joe Fargis, and Abdullah, piloted by Conrad Homfeld. I remember screaming myself hoarse watching this, beside myself with excitement.

I simply adored that little TB mare and her gangly rider whose feet nearly hung under her belly. Just seeing these photos is enough to bring tears to my eyes. What heart she had! I was thrilled beyond belief when they managed to win gold. She was inducted into the United States Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 2000 before passing away in 2001. I was sorry to learn recently that in her retirement she lived at a farm in Franklin, TN, right outside of Nashville. At the time I lived no more than a half hour away... if only I'd known. I would love to have met her.

I was also in awe of Joe and Touch of Class's main competition:
Let me point out the equitation Mr. Homfeld is demonstrating here. Unbelievable - most of us don't look this good over a 2' jump, never mind an Olympic-size GP fence. Dude could RIDE. And Joe Fargis isn't half-bad, either! 
Abdullah, a magnifient Trakehner stallion, was inducted into the United States Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 2009. He has left an outstanding legacy, having sired no fewer than seven USEF Horses of the Year in H/J. Thanks to frozen semen, it's still possible to breed to him even though he died of colic in 2000.

Here's a fun fact I just learned: at one point in her career, Touch of Class was ridden by Conrad, and at one point in his career, Abdullah was ridden by Joe. So both riders certainly were familiar with the competition!

The other Olympic moment I'll never forget occurred during the Show Jumping phase of 3-Day Eventing in Sydney, 2000. I wanted David O'Connor and Custom Made (Tailor) to win SO badly! They looked like they were going to do just that, and then... David momentarily forgot the course. I, along with the 3,000,000 other people watching, about had a heart attack. NOOOOOO, David, don't blow it just like some Adult Ammy on course at a schooling show! (Not that I would know anything about that sort of thing, haha) Thank God "something" kicked in and he remembered in the nick of time to turn towards the correct fence - maybe the crowd shouting helpfully at him?

I loved David all the more for his all-too-human boo-boo. And Tailor, well, that horse was something else. Rolex, Badminton, Fair Hill, the Olympics - he won 'em all. Truly a superstar in the eventing world!
I will be glued to the equestrian coverage on the various NBC channels, as much of it as I can find, and/or watching streaming coverage on my iPad (if I can come up with our cable provider "username, password and login." Huh?) Apparently some of the Olympics is supposed to show up on YouTube or Hulu, too. I'm hoping that due to the presence of Zara Phillips/the Royal connection they might show a little more Equestrian than usual.

(Though, I must say I don't particularly care for that young lady. My already somewhat negative impression of her was boosted by her snotty reply to a reporter who asked if her family has given her words of encouragement. "Do you think I would tell you that?" was her snippy answer. Excuse me? You can't just beam and say, "Oh, yes, Granny has always been very supportive, and of course my mum and dad have done all this before so their experience will come in handy." I hope the other Royals - Will, Kate and Harry are all going to watch equestrian competitions - are a bit more forthcoming.)

I'm headed home now to watch the Opening Ceremonies. I read there was supposed to be a kind of bucolic farm scene with lots of animals involved, so you know there is potential for humorous mayhem. No matter how well they've prepared, they're still animals, and we may have the opportunity to find out just how far you can push a "bomb-proof" horse before it kicks up its heels and departs the Olympic stadium post-haste!

*Next week I'll write about the one time I've been to the Olympics in person, which was Atlanta. 2006. It was awesome!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Ground: 1 Me: 0 (Maddie)

Imagine you're me, and there are two horses you ride most often in your lesson program. One is a Paintaloosa pony gelding, about 14.2hh. The other is an approx. 18hh Percheron mare. Now which one do you think it would be "best" to unexpectedly dismount? Probably the pony, seeing as he's almost a foot and a half closer to the ground....

Unfortunately, as you've probably surmised, I did not fall off the pony. No, in true Murphy's Law fashion, my last fall occurred from the lofty Percheron. Here we are at a show, so you can hopefully see I'm not exaggerating her height:
This was taken by my 6' tall husband, and really doesn't illustrate how tall she actually was. I'm 5'6" if it helps any!
Maddie arrived at my old lesson barn with a black TBx colt by her side. I was enthralled with her from the start, as I'd long thought Perchies were beautiful horses and I'd never had the opportunity to really get up close to one (other than petting the occasional carriage horse on the nose). She belonged to the BO and I had no idea what he planned to do with her. Her tail was docked so I knew she must have been trained to drive.

One day I was out with my friends grazing our horses after a lesson. To my great surprise - for I had no idea she was even a riding horse, and for that matter had never seen anyone riding a draft horse at all - the BO came trotting along on Maddie. We could tell she was not thrilled to be parted from her foal, because she was neighing at the top of her lungs every other stride and pulling towards the barn. It looked pretty exciting. I called out to the BO, "Better you than me!" and he responded, "Hah - just wait, I'm putting her in the lesson program!" My friends and I looked at each other like, okaaaaay... They had their own horses so didn't need to worry, but I certainly wondered!

The colt was duly weaned and sent back to the breeder (it hadn't been a package), and true to BO's word, Maddie was promptly put to use as a lesson horse. I did not think *I* would ever ride her, though; I mean, what did I know about drafts? Apparently that didn't matter because one day I showed up for my lesson and there she was, next to my name. Yikes.

Picking her enormous feet proved to be a back-breaking challenge, as did currying and brushing such a vast expanse of horsehide. Fortunately she was a good girl in her stall; since she took up so much of it, if she'd been bad she could have squashed me like a bug, especially while I was standing on an overturned bucket to clean her rump. The only trouble I had with her was bridling. She rather liked to raise her head, and that's a real issue when head-raising means it's 10' in the air. I was forced to develop a routine of, "Feed peppermint, stuff in bit whilst Maresy is chewing."

Once aboard Maddie, I found I was in for a treat. She was amazingly athletic for such a big girl, and had delightful gaits. A big, springy trot and a rolling canter, which covered a lot of ground without being so fast that it scared me. And she simply loved to jump! I think she was pretty green over fences, but her form was fine and it really was a blast. One thing that I especially appreciated was 2'6" looked much smaller from that view. :-)

I did have to ride Maddie in a different manner than I was accustomed to, namely with my hands higher, and really balance her between hand, seat and legs, but it was fun and a good challenge. While I missed my favorite pony a bit, I sure did enjoy the big gal.

A humorous post-lesson anecdote: the first time I rode her, as usual the other ladies and I took our mounts over to a grassy area to graze them afterwards. This was actually one of my most favorite aspects of the day, and we girls would stand around for at least an hour, chatting about this and that, while the horses happily munched. Suddenly Maddie's legs started buckling. I practically had a heart attack - what the heck was the matter with her? Had I killed the big mare with my inept piloting? Her knees hit the turf, then the rest of her body followed with a loud grunt and a thud. I must have been open-mouthed with horror - and I don't think my friends knew exactly what was going on, either.

Well, you guessed it - somebody was looking for a nice roll! Giant hooves waved around in the air as she flung herself from side to side. We onlookers were cracking up in relief. Maddie finally levered herself up off the ground, gave an earth-shaking shudder, and went back to grazing like nothing had happened. I quickly learned to expect this behavior from her after every lesson, and looked forward to the awesome sight of such a big horse contorting herself with glee on the grass.

The day I fell off I was in a de facto private lesson since my usual buddies weren't able to make it. Maddie and I were jumping a little course, and I remember turning towards a fence on the diagonal. I can't recall if we were trotting or cantering, but whatever we were doing, I completely misjudged the distance. Maddie floundered over the jump, and I was popped loose from the saddle and wound up sitting on her neck. I clung there like a monkey, really not wanting to hit the deck. Many horses in this situation panic and take off but God bless 'er, Maddie simply ground to a halt as I was forced to let go. I pretty much rolled off of her and hit the soft sand of the arena on my butt. It felt like a very long way down!

So, certainly no big deal as far as "wrecks" go. My trainer was not sympathetic in the least and quickly pointed out that I'd gotten Maddie to the fence wrong, which I freely admitted. I can't remember if I got back on but I'm pretty sure I did, since the only thing that seemed to be bruised was my pride. The next day, however, I felt some after-affects, namely a very sore neck and shoulders, which I think I got from trying to stay aboard.

I rode Maddie in the last horse show I participated in, an academy show. I was grumpy about riding her for a couple reasons, mainly because I'd hoped to show the pony, and also because she'd managed to get herself absolutely filthy. I had no time to bathe her so despite coating myself and my nice show outfit with a thick layer of dust we were not too spick-and-span for the show ring.

Nonetheless, we made a fairly good account of ourselves, as you can see by the ribbon haul.
I believe that's a first, a third and a sixth. I know perfectly well where we got the sixth; it was in one of our over-fences classes and I'm sure there were only six horses. Miss Maddie Moo unaccountably decided that she'd rather not jump the last jump and ran out to the left. This was not her usual behavior, at all. In fact, I don't think she'd ever refused or run out on me ever before. And it was towards the in-gate, too! I was Not. Happy. with her. We circled, I hauled for all I was worth on the right rein, and got her over the jump, but it wasn't pretty.

The first-place winning effort I also remember well. This was in Equitation on the Flat. I remain very proud of that one, and have the nice medal I won (around my neck in photo) prominently displayed. It was a good day overall and I treasure the memories. (Note: my vintage "tall" dress boots, ca. 1978. They still fit and are in excellent shape, but are obviously not the current style. Maybe I could have a cobbler add a snakeskin Spanish top? :-))

In addition to her being a lesson horse, the BO used Maddie as his hunting partner. They made quite a picture in the field with her braided up and him in his pink coat. This went on for a couple years, and she seemed to enjoy it very much. Unfortunately, the big mare developed a chronic lameness. This was after I'd had to quit taking lessons, so I wasn't around the barn and don't know what happened. Eventually she was bred to the BO's TB stallion and had another beautiful black colt. Sadly, I don't know where she is now... and I'm a bit afraid to ask. I'd rather just remember the sweet girl who I nicknamed "The Fridge" (her back was the same height as mine) as she was, who taught me that draft horses can be absolutely wonderful riding horses. Vive La France!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Flying With Peter Pan

Well, hello there, if anyone's still listening! I guess my blogging muse has largely deserted me lately. That and I was gone on a college orientation/vacation trip for 10 days... had a terrific time at the Jersey Shore. Yes, that place. However, our version looks more like this than the one you see on the wretched show. I know these aren't horse-related, but please bear with me while I defend the honor of my beloved native state! You will note that there is not a Snooki in sight. :-/
Beach approach - Normandy Beach, NJ

Our beautiful Atlantic...

Getting ready for 4th of July fireworks show, held in honor of my dad who loved all things that went "BOOM!"
At any rate, a post by my friend Jessica over at Hopeful Jumpers has inspired me to, ahem, dive back into a blogging, in order to relate a couple of tales of equestrian mayhem, RiderWriter-style. Jess was able to list her recollections of almost all of her falls. I'm afraid I long since lost track of how many times I've parted company with an equine, but I know it was a least a dozen by the time I graduated from HS. In later years, it really hasn't been very many - and thank goodness for that, since God knows I sure don't bounce like I used to! At any rate, I vividly recall my two worst childhood wrecks, and also the last time I came off. I've already written about one of the kiddie incidents in this post, so I won't repeat myself, but here is the other one. This wound up going rather long so I'll put the story of the most recent fall into my next post.
One of my favorite lesson mounts as a kid at Tricorne Farm was the wonderful Peter Pan. Peter was a buckskin large pony, about 14hh, of indeterminate breeding. This boy was full of ponytude, but he could jump the moon. Purportedly at some time in his career someone had taken him over a VW Bug! I remember being told that story and somehow not doubting it was true. I don't really recall now why I liked Peter so much; whether it was his devil-may-care attitude, athleticism, or comfortable gaits, I'm not sure. However, I do remember the time he nearly - and I'm afraid I don't exaggerate - killed me.

I was about 10 years old, and we were on a group trail ride instead of a lesson. To get to the trails we we had to leave Tricorne by the front entrance, cross a road, and then immediately cross another road (we were right by an intersection). Then we would go straight up a small but steep hill. The initial trail forked near the top and sometimes we went one way, sometimes the other. On this particular day, our trainer had warned us that when we went up the hill we were to take the left branch of the trail, not the right, but she didn't say why. Peter and I clip-clopped across one road, across the other, started up the hill, and then.... when I tried to turn left, Peter decided he was going right. He yanked the reins out of my hands as I was leaning forward trying to grab mane and lunged upwards.

The next thing I knew, there was a tremendous blow to my chest and I was lying on the ground. A large branch had fallen directly across the trail, just high enough for Peter to fit under it but not me. I had the wind knocked completely out of me, between the branch hitting fore and the ground hitting aft. I couldn't move, and lay in stunned shock trying to figure out what had just happened. Of course the tears soon came and I know I was totally hysterical. Everything hurt. Peter, to his credit, did not go far once he'd unloaded me in his little burst of freedom, and eventually I was able to mount up and ride him back to the barn. The trail ride obviously was cancelled.

The real issue with this incident came afterwards and still haunts me. What if that branch had fallen just 8" or so farther from the ground? It would have connected with my neck, not my chest. And I'm sure I don't need to tell you if that had happened, at the very least I would not be sitting here today typing with both hands. I was very, very lucky, indeed. I know for a fact that other trail riders and foxhunters have not been so fortunate.

I still loved and rode Peter Pan after this plenty of times, including the time when he ran off again and carried me right into the road - I can't put that incident in "falling-off stories," since I stayed on, but gee whiz, I guess the guy must have really wanted to do me in!