Friday, March 12, 2010

The Dressage Horse

Horses I Have Known: Part 9

Set on a course for a dressage career may not have been PJ's choice in life, but he was one of those horses always ready to try. Physically, had he not had the prior track injuries, he was certainly built for the part. He was well balanced in front, and looked more like a Warmblood than a Throughbred.

His trot had the potential to be amazing. His canter needed a lot of work, but I will blame that on the injuries. The internal hoof fracture I found out about much later would periodically affect his shoulders and I'm sure the concussion of cantering must have caused him discomfort now and again. But lots of gymnastic schooling and suppling improved his gait and while he never developed one of those "lofty" canters so cherished in the dressage arena, he did just fine.

At home.

The stress of shows was another matter. I don't think, in all our competitions, I ever quite got from him the top performance he was capable of offering. Still, he placed well enough over time. We earned a year end award at least twice from two different show series. One was for our third level musical freestyle.

I still have to laugh about that too. Once, in a fairly large rated show, PJ was feeling a bit more nervous than usual. On our entrance into the arena with the initial halt--my music was from the opera, Carmen--PJ let fly with a buck and then stood stock still and square. The judge, a very well educated and respected German trainer wrote as his comment for the entrance,
"Music well interpreted by horse on entry." The music? The Entry of the Toreador. The lyrics? "Here I come into the field of battle." The judge knew the opera well enough to appreciate the irony, and PJ earned a fairly decent score. *lol*

One of the hightlights of my training was a week or so that I spent up in New York State training on a daily basis with Lockie Richards. Lockie was a former three day rider who'd finally focused on dressage and was competing at Grand Prix. I'd been working with him for years with Russell and respected him as one of the finest horsemen and teachers I have ever known. (By the way, if I haven't already told you 100 times already, the horse that plays Brego in Lord of the Rings is Lockie's retired Grand Prix mount.)

Lockie "gave me my dressage seat" during that week, and even though I far to readily slip out of its correctness when I ride now, I can still often hear his voice echoing in my ear, "One, two, one two, hip toward your hand. Feel it? Feel it?"

Under Lockie's guidance and inspiration, I gradually moved PJ up the levels until we reached Intermediare I. It was there we hit a stumbling block I have yet to move a horse past: Passage. PJ had an elementary piaffe, but it was emotionally upsetting for him, probably because he found it a hard exercise. Every time we tried, I could feel his anxiety. While it may have been more an emotional problem than a physical one, I found myself needing to listen to him, so it was there I decided perhaps he had been pushed far enough. We'd play at the exercises every now and then, but I never pressed the issue with PJ.

His heart was too big and I didn't want to break it, or break mine in the process.

Another irony about to hit me harder than I'd ever wanted.


  1. P.J. sounds like a grand horse with a lot of personality. I give you a lot of credit for taking him as far as he wanted to go and not pushing him past his limit. I love what the judge wrote about his entry. You've got to like a judge with a sense of humor.

  2. How very funny about the buck before the initial halt. That's a fantastic memory and so well appreciated by the judge!

  3. a great freestyle, then! :-)

  4. Anonymous7:25 PM

    You've had an amazing riding career and some amazing horses - the buck-and-halt is a wonderful story!

  5. What a fantastic oportunity to work with great trainer and teacher!

    The more I go, the more I realise that one has to seek teh best in order to go forward, otherwise you just loose your time!

  6. ROFL @ the judge. I love the dry humor.

  7. I don't like the sound of this ending, but who couldn't love that comment on the entrance? That's my kind of judge!