In the beginning…

Horses have been one of the great loves of my life for longer than I can remember. I absorbed the details of every horse story housed at both the Kitchener and Waterloo public libraries, and for many years, adored C.W. Anderson, wanted my own Man’o War. To this day, I long to go to Chincoteague to see the wild ponies and bring my own Misty home. I spent hours pouring over bloodlines, and dreamed of breeding and owning the first filly to win the Triple Crown. I built stalls in the garage to house wooden horses, and manipulated at the hips the legs of my Barbie dolls so they would be able to sit on my “Johnny West” plastic horses. I had them all, in all colours, using white out to add additional markings.

As a rider, my career started off rather sketchily. My mother, who was a dancer, was a firm believer in ballet, figure skating lessons, arts and crafts. Other than my absolute disinterest and complete lack of talent at these activities, the first inkling my parents had that things “might not be right” was a phone call from the Principal at the Bilingual School, where I was serving detention for sneaking across the two lane highway by the school to visit the mares Bonita and Bunny. The detention was the result of an escalation in crime; in truth, I had been visiting those two mares every day for an entire school year; the tipping point was my decision to climb the fence and sit on Bunny’s back. Farmers yelled, phone calls were made, and a very grim Mrs. Cook marched across the road to retrieve me. An ear may have been involved.

Before this incident, my mum had significant reservations about horseback riding (“it’s so dangerous, Stan, and Suzie is so little”). The incident acted as catalyst, and after time had been served, I started riding at a very military academy run by a very strict and correct German master whose horses never deviated from the pattern. From there, my early years ran the gamut of experiences, including lessons with Kim Kirton on the mighty Mighty Mouse and then with Mary at TAWCO farms; with the small but fierce Joe Thauer, whose dutiful mares Natasha and Susie schlepped me around the ring and cross country. In my 13th year, after spending a month with a friend and her father at a rented farm where they kept Arabians, I spontaneously combusted, pulled newspaper money from the bank, and rescued my first horse, a chestnut appendix gelding named “Moose” (Cajun’s Little Injun Joe). Together Moose and I showed equitation and hunters, field hunted, evented, played polo, and did endurance.

Fast forward more than a few years, and my re-entry into the horse world has been fraught with peril, adventure, and learning. It started as a volunteer with a therapeutic riding organization, and it has taken some surprising, wonderful, and sometimes sad twists and turns. Given what I knew as a young adult, and what I know now, I have no reason to believe it will not continue to do so. Along the way, I have made some wonderful friends, learned some painful life lessons, and had some wonderful opportunities fall into my lap. The Piebald is both a compilation of stories about the horses I have loved, observations and lessons I have learned, and stories I wish to share.

So why The Piebald? From Beaver to Senior at Wapomeo in Algonquin Park I rode a wonderful and talented pony named Squeeze. We partnered at camp for the duration of my time there, attending the summer hunt in July and winning the three-day event in August. Squeeze was my first heart horse. And she was a piebald.

Tripple X – is he Canada bound?

April 24, 2014:  Yesterday, it was announced that Tripple X, Ben Maher’s Gold Medal mount, was sold to Torrey Pines Stables. This is a tough loss for Ben Maher, and one that falls hot on the heels of his troubles with partners Mike and Emma Phillips of Quainton Stud.  For our Canadian team, this could be a sign of more great things to come. Torrey Pines Stables is the home of 2008 individual gold medalist and Canadian rider Eric Lamaze… [for more details, click here]

Photo credit: Kit Houghton/FEI

Photo credit: Kit Houghton/FEI

Fighting on the side of love

Susan Salk has an awesome blog, OffTrackThoroughbreds.com. It focuses on the rescue, rehabilitation, and sometimes remarkable recoveries of OTTBs, and sheds light on both the beautiful and the often very ugly side of thoroughbred racing.

I don’t read every post, but I do read the posts that tell the Cinderella stories – the stories of racehorses who have been abandoned, fallen on hard times, and who have found their personal angels.  Some go on to achieve remarkable things in the show ring, others to family homes, or therapeutic organizations. Each of these is a transformational tale – a horse risen from ruin, starvation, disease and suffering to the life of love and purpose that every animal (including we people) deserves.

Many are fortunate enough to be part of a rescued horse’s journey as one of its angels, as its destination, or both. Not many of us take this to the next level. Richard “Kudo” Couto of Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) does, and today’s OffTrackThoroughbreds.com post, “Liberated from Illegal Butcher, Horse Inspires“,  is one that that should be shared, and shared again.

The story is beautiful and compelling. Following the trail to the ARM website is a profound experience.  Founded in Florida in 2010, ARM is the investigative animal welfare organization founded by Couto to expose and address extreme criminal acts against animals.  Along with the ugly areas issues of illegal horse slaughter, ARM deals with people who practice acts of cruelty against animals that many of us would prefer to pretend didn’t exist.

Reading about ARM’s beginnings, and the organization itself, makes me think that this is what was meant by the expression “fighting on the side of love.”

And of course, it’s always nice to read about a hero!

 

Ride on, Tom Brennan!

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Congratulations to Tom Brennan and Rio Bandit, regular/green conformation reserve champions at the Gulf Sunshine Classic V. Photo credit to Mollie Bailey, taken from The Chronicle of the Horse.

Last week, a picture of Tom Brennan and Rio Bandit was posted on the Facebook page of The Chronicle of the Horse,. The photo was taken during a round at the Gulf Sunshine Classic V, where Brennan and Rio Bandit received an impressive score of 88, earning the reserve championship. While the round was beautiful and professionally judged accordingly, some of Facebook’s so-called equestrian “experts” were less than generous in their opinion of Brennan and his ability (read “judge my ride”). Brennan’s response to his critics was classic, and very classy.

“You will meet many ‘experts’ in life…most of them sit on the sidelines where it is safe to say, ‘They are not good enough.’ The only one who can tell you ‘You Can’t’ is you—and you don’t have to listen! No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. We do not let anyone else make this sport unfun for us. The only expert opinion that matters when you ride is right underneath you. Listen to your horses and treat them with tact and kindness today.” (read the full article in The Chronicle of the Horse.)

Often it strikes me that, as equestrians, we could take a whole lot of “shut the hell up” with a healthy serving of “get over yourself” and a side of “mind your own business.” For some reason, we love to turn a casual and uninformed opinion into a feeding frenzy of so-called expertise. Jealousy and insecurity come in many guises, and belittling others is certainly one of these. Like many, I’m not always blameless in this game. 😦

Thank you, Tom Brennan, for being so secure in your expertise that instead of shooting back, you took this opportunity to remind us all that riding is a joy, and the only judge qualified to critique our ride is the one we partner with over fences, and on the flat.

What to do with your ponies when winter blows!

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Another beautiful, snowy day out, with the promise of colder weather on the horizon 😦

As anyone who knows me will attest, I hate the cold. This winter, we’ve experienced some desperately cold temperatures, which have derailed training plans and limited riding opportunities significantly.

While I know there is a school of thought that suggests that “if you might be competing in it, you should school in it,” I am not a huge fan of working the horses too hard when it’s bitterly cold out.  I wouldn’t run in the cold because it’s hard on my body and my lungs, and I believe this to be true for the horses as well. With winter coats, sweating causes chills, and it’s impossible for horses to dry out in this weather.

And of course, I hate the cold.

Rather than be frustrated by a climate that I cannot change, I make up for time not spent in the saddle, and:

1. Bundle up and spend some quality time with the horses.

My horses are out 24/7 and they have access to shelter, heated water, and excellent hay. When it gets bitterly cold, and the wind blows incessantly, I put on my polar gear and trek out to the barn to bring them in for a break from the  elements. These times are usually quiet at the barn, and a great opportunity to give Chaos and Dayo a warm mash, take off their blankets to ruff up their hair. Sometimes I’ll do maintenance – main pulling, fetlock trimming, other times a thorough and leisurely grooming. Sometimes it’s just cuddles, and they take advantage of the peace and quiet to wander around the barn, visiting other horses, and exploring that world.

2. Develop detailed training plans.
I’m a professional event planner, and a firm believer that success lies in the details. When it comes to the horses, I am no different. Coupled with this is the fact that Dayo, Chaos and I all seem to get bored rather easily. And so, each of my horses has a training plan, and when it’s too cold to ride, I use the time to project, set milestones, goals (horse shows and classes) and develop strategies to make sure every ride counts.

3. Get better!
Cold weather means sitting indoors, snuggled under a blanket – a great time to explore training ideas for the horses, to look up new ground work exercises, and to plan out lessons with jumps and poles. I’m a HUGE fan of poles – you can do almost anything with them – and they constantly offer the opportunity to challenge the horses. An added benefit for me, because I have time constraints at the barn, is the fact that pole exercises can be adjusted for Dayo, who is quite green, or amped up for Chaos, for is fairly advanced.   One of my favourites to build on is 4 Poles, 7 Exercises. A google search will give you many more!

4. Get better – part 2!
Study the habits and skills of really good riders. There is so much information out there, and so many great riders to emulate! I watch hours and hours of video – jumper classes, schooling videos, and read books. Some of my favourite videos come from the Bay Area Equestrian Network, and from the pros like Bernie Traurig, Tim Stockdale, George Morris, Denny Emerson, and Jim Wofford. I’m also reading Denny Emerson’s book, How Good Riders Get Good, and looking forward to reading Bill Steinkraus’ Riding and Jumping.  A friend recently turned me on to the De Nemethy method. I get caught up on the Grand Prix action, zooming in to see how the riders use their hands, their seats, and how they approach the courses. One of my favourite vids features Margie Gayford and Stuntman – there’s a part where you can actually see her fingers talking to the horse.

5. Get Better – part 3!
Winter is also the time to hit the exercise ball, the yoga studio, the gym and the pool to build core strength, improve flexibility, and get in shape to ride! I’m not saying I’m as dedicated to the non-horsey fitness pursuits as I should be, but a girl has to do something besides hide under a blanket when she’s not in the saddle!

6. Do some ground work.
Ground work is invaluable for horses, and particularly for Chaos, who can be, well, pushy sometimes. When the barn is quiet, it’s nice to take advantage of the long wide aisle to work on some basics, and re-establish connection. My daughter Emma is a huge fan of this, and much better at it than I am, so ground work time is also daughter teaching mum time. More bonding time for ponies and  people!

7. Keep the faith!
Spring is just around the corner, and there will be much fun in putting plans into action.