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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!

1 comment:

  1. Where I used to live and care for the horses, there was a "honey bay" or buckskin-ish perhceron/belgian cross. He was gorgeous. And he stood 18.2 and was too big to measure with a weight tape, so who knows how much he weighed. He was 6. What a great horse. Massive feet, rode in a hackamore. Very sweet and gentle.

    He did drop my husband, and he subsequently never rode again, lol. That would be a far, far, far, drop from a giant horse.

    Get back on! And enjoy! She's very pretty.


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