Here's a picture of Russell and me eventing. This is what he looked like all grown up. No, we're not going in the wrong direction. That number was either for the fence judge or for one of the other divisions. White flag on left...
Horses I Have Known: Part 3
The main heading? Tucker lost a shoe sometime yesterday. This is the first time he's lost one in the snow. Considering how horrible the footing will be for the next month or so, I am seriously thinking of pulling his other front shoe as well, but I will only do that if Scott, my shoer, thinks it will be OK. He knows Tucker's feet and what the possibilities are. Trouble is, with the soggy footing under the snow, I guess, there was mud? As time goes on, all we are going to have is more mud. While I can opt to turn Tucker out in the arena, that is still no guarantee that the combination of melting snow and wet sand will help keep his shoe on. But we will see how it all pans out.
On with Russell's story. You were all kind telling me how beautiful he was, but as I look at those pictures, I still see the immature, not so special baby horse with a beautiful head. The horse pictured above is another story.
I realized after about two years of training on my own that I needed help if Russell was every going to reach his full potential. I'd managed to teach him to walk, trot, and canter under saddle, and he was fairly well along but I wanted to jump. Enter The Princeton Riding Center and Prudence Morgan. After a long search watching lots of lessons, I found Princeton and never looked back.
Pru had been short listed for the US Olympic Eventing Team when her horse Brownie broke a bone in his foot and had to be retired. She had studied at Morven Park in Virginia and was an exceptional horsewoman and teacher. To this day, I still say she was one of the finest teachers of any subject I ever had. And, boy, was she keen on the basics. For the first half year or so, I wasn't allowed to ride Russell in the lessons, but rather had to learn from a wide range of exceptionally well trained school horses. At this point, I'd been riding for at least eight years, and I had no idea of how little I actually knew.
I was put in the advanced class and later found out I was given some of the more complex horses to ride, but my goodness, did I work. I had to completely fix my seat. I had to learn how to use my hands effectively. And, I had to learn dressage basics with tons of flat work, even before I was allowed to jump my first little crossrail. The golden graduation day came when Pru finally told me I could start bringing Russell to the Center to start using him as my lesson horse.
Now by this time, Russell, thinking he was suffering under the new skills I was developing, had decided that I was never to touch him with the riding crop, even to urge him on if I needed more energy. He developed a nasty buck. When Pru saw him let loose with me, she decided to get on him herself and fix the problem. She mounted up and gave him a tap. Russell bucked and leapt some ten feet through the air only to stop as she steered him into the wall. "Well," said Pru, "he mustn't do that." Then I saw the event rider screw her seat into the saddle, turn him around and use the crop again. Up they went, sailing through the air for some twenty feet, with Pru using the crop on his rump while they were airborne. They landed and off they went again, this time landing in the middle of another riding lesson at the far end of the arena. (I can still remember the other trainer grabbing her student's horse's bridle and just kind of gaping in astonishment as they flew by.) One more half hearted buck with the crop swatting him, and Russell, clever fellow that he was, decided surrender was the better option. "H-m-m-m," said Pru as she trotted him in a circle, "I think we'll have to work on this next time." Russell had met his match, and he knew it. From that day on, I could use the crop if I needed it, and although he still was insulted, I can't recall that he ever bucked again like that.
Gymnastics and dressage training were the focus of every lesson at PRC. Just so you know I really did know what I was doing over fences once upon a time, here I am jumping in a clinic with no hands and no stirrups. Oh yes, sometimes when he was being silly, Russell would still offer little naughty bucks and I think he let one fly during one of these jumps that day. But it was no big deal any more and I learned to laugh at his antics. Less than a month after my first lessons with Russell at PRC, I had learned to get him to stretch and use his back correctly on the flat. He won a pleasure horse division championship at a big horse show the next time we competed. There were 25-30 horses in every class and he won them all. For years, he was virtually undefeated on the flat. Our jumping was a bit more challenging, mostly because of me. In hunter classes here in the US, striding to a fence is critical. It's all about creating the perfect round with the horse meeting every jump from the ideal distance. I never had a great "eye" for a fence, so trying to create the ideal picture wasn't always easy for me. However, when I got it right, there was a good chance we'd finish in first place and we often did. Russell had well over 150 show championships and reserve championships before I stopped counting altogether.
I don't remember how we finished the day the last picture was taken, but he looks good to me.
This was all before I discovered eventing.
But that's another part of the story.