Horses I Have Known: Part 8
First the report for the present.
I lunged Tucker and Chance yesterday after I got home from school. Tucker did not look "sore" but he was not striding out fully. However, as he moved into the session he looked more and more comfortable. The footing is amazing right now, so that was not a factor. Chance is so cute with his little rocking chair canter on the left lead. It looks as if he could to it all day, and the rider would just have to sit there, smiling.
Back to the past.
PJ and I, as I've said, had mixed success in the show arena. I did discover that the best way to settle him down was to do a moderate warm-up about an hour or so before my ride time, then take him back to the trailer, unsaddle him, allow him to chill out for a while and then, about fifteen to twenty minutes before my time, saddle back up and do another short warmup so we could go right into the class.
I'm not sure why, but I toyed with an eventing career for him as well, but I guess my heart had gone out of it by then. I think I evented him twice. I say this because I seem to remember losing my steering on our first ever cross country course and jumping the high side of the first option so I had to go back to jump the correct fence--counting as a refusal. I do know we also placed second in another outing. It was a big division, and we were second to the likes of Bruce Davidson who was there with one of his young event prospects. I figure placing in that kind of company was no mean feat.
I think this is the second fence at our very first event. As you can see, PJ wanted to make sure he cleared it with lots of room to spare. I have two more pictures I will add to the next part of the story.
But the initial lessons were not all that fun. I had only worked him on crossrails, just introducing him to jumping when I signed us up for a cross country clinic at the US Equestrian Team Headquarters. They had a beautiful cross country course with just about every kind of obstacle you'd meet, set at all different levels. I took PJ, full of high hopes that he would get a nice easy introduction to cross country fences.
Wrong. I'd signed up for the very beginner group. Since there had been very few participant at that level, I ended up in a mixed lesson with some Preliminary horses (That would be just below the Advanced heights and widths now used in International competitions.) The trainer was a very advanced competitor herself with an obvious "eventing" mentality, which meant you just ride the horse to the fence at speed and expect him to jump--even if he'd never done it before.
That was not how I had ever learned how to teach a horse to jump, but so be it. Most of the fences had very low options, so whenever we schooled a fence, I'd take the small side. But then, we met a bank. Again, not so big, but this required a jump down from the top. PJ did fine going up, but at the top, he froze. It was a repeat of the river. He had absolutely no idea of what to do and simply stood there, rooted to the earth.
The trainer had a lunge whip. She began to snap it at him. His feet started to dance, but he still would not go forward. She snapped his legs with the whip, stinging him. We had piaffe. She snapped again and he was trembling underneath me. A second before I was about to tell her to stop, he plunged forward, leaping off the bank. Fortunately, I, in good cross country defense position in the saddle, stuck with him. After that we did the bank a few more times and he was fine. He'd figured out the problem and solved it.
Done with that the trainer pulled the whole group aside to discuss what we wanted to do for the rest of the session. As she was talking, she waved the lunge whip to make a point. PJ panicked, whirled away, and I, far too relaxed in the saddle, tumbled to the ground as he bolted off across the show grounds. The trainer was mortified and apologized as we watched one absolutely beautiful big bay Thoroughbred trot full out across the grass. To be honest, as worried as I was, I was also awed, as was everyone else on the grounds. PJ's trot was huge and dramatically magnificent, and as I ran to catch him, everyone I passed kept telling me what an amazing mover he was. Poor PJ ran all the way to out trailer, and was there waiting for me, more upset than I was by his escape. I don't remember what I told him, but by the time I was remounted, he had calmed down and was ready to continue the clinic.
He was a star for the rest of the day. He mastered the water complex on the first attempt, outshining a number of the more advanced horses and actually offering a lead into the water for several of them. He also took the lead over a ditch for a reluctant horse or two. We mastered a fairly substantial jump up a little bank with jump on top after a tricky first attempt, and by the end of the day, I felt his confidence in full gear.
To this day, I am sure if I had wanted another event horse, he would have been the one.
But, I am also not sure he would have stayed sound with the jumping eventing requires. It was not until years later that an xray revealed that old broken bone in his hoof, and, of course, there were the tendon bows. I tend to think that many such injuries are a result of conformational weaknesses in horses and PJ was no exception. Acupuncture would keep him comfortable, but it would not fix the reasons he became muscle sore.
We would still jump now and then, but PJ's career was headed for the dressage arena, and my eventing days were over for good.