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We Are Flying Solo

February 23, 2013

Balancing The Classical With The Practical

Such are the words from Camp David.

Encore and I were able to sneak in two excellent lessons before the snowstorm hit, although I did most of my jumping with snowflakes in my eyes, gah!  Friday evening, we allowed David to torture us in Death Circles on the flat, and Saturday, we attempted to brush the rust off my jumping skills.  Rebuilding of my left leg is DEFINITELY not complete, ugh.

Two things emerged as themes, though, as we worked through unlocking all the parts of Encore and reminding my battered body that it is NOT supposed to be on my horse's neck (who knew?).

(1) It was with great enthusiasm that David pronounced Encore worlds sounder than he was last year.  This news was received with equal enthusiasm, as the amount of money, energy, and time we have spent with Dr. Bob and his crew is not small.  Every bit is worth it though when I ride his left lead and he feel like one horse instead of two ends of a horse suit loosely tied in the middle, doing their own thing.  While I expressed that I wasn't sure if this was a compliment, David assured me that there is a difference between unsound and lame -- lame is limping, unsound is just...not right in the body.  I certainly can't disagree that between his back and his injury in 2012, Encore needed "rightening."

Last year:  a better haircut and less fat, but greener
(2) Traditional wisdom and training dictates that we ride our horse forward forward FORWARD into a steady, receiving contact and simply (simply....HAHAHAHAHHAHAHA) wait for him to offer the roundness we seek as he becomes supple through lateral exercises and transitions.  However, almost immediately on Friday, David had me slow my horse down and work his neck and poll in flexions and bending while moving off the inside leg.  My favourite instruction was, "Flex his poll to the outside while keeping his neck bent to the inside and his body bent around your inside leg."  Ooga booga, is that even possible and how the heck does one do that?  Apparently I did something correct by thinking about it, because he said, "GOOD!"

Our goal was to get him super round, even if he got slightly behind the vertical in front, and then let him carry the bit forwards and down.  When we did, I IMMEDIATELY felt his whole topline unlock and become soft and delicious.

This left me confused, though; this would seem to contradict the FORWARD and waiting thing.  One of the greatest things about David is that you can talk to him, so I asked him about this on Saturday.  His explanation:

Training is not black and white, it is all shades of grey (oh, goody, just like life).  With this horse, because he has a tendency to go tight in his topline and he stays locked in his poll and jaw, he has overdeveloped the muscle at his poll.  This in turn makes it even harder.  Were we to just run him along off his feet, he would spend most of the time working incorrectly.  We have to unlock these spots and supple him first and then ride him forward over his back.   

This makes sense to me.  In January and early February, I had been riding him simply forward in lateral work.  While we could eventually achieve some softening, there was a lot of back and forth, fighting, and a lot of time spent impersonating tense llamas.  Every step doing that is definitely not producing good results.

Using David's process, the difference was dramatic (although much harder work, so I guess it must be right).  It also meant I had a softer horse the second I got on Saturday morning, which caught me by surprise.  He continued to emphasize riding what was underneath me in the moment and keeping the focus there, creating the feel, instead of wasting time hoping for a horse that may or may not appear in the future.  This is why I keep stalking David around the region -- his tailored approach to the horse in front of him brings out the best in my partners, the way a generic program never would.  Drawing lines in the sand never gets us anywhere but frustrated when it comes to training horses. 

February 21, 2013

Haaaapy Birthday, Mr. Shiiiny....

Ok, so I am not sure exactly when his birthday is -- I knew it was in late winter/early spring, so I just gave him mine!

Happy 17th birthday, my most amazing partner and friend and thank you for changing my life and being my center, my salvation, and my smile for the past seven wonderful, exciting, heartbreaking, crazy, fantastic years!

A younger both of us...

February 19, 2013

TB Story Time!

This post sponsored by Paddy Power.

Spring is creeping in, although I can't feel it yet.  Calendars are popping up with tantalizing offerings both here and abroad.  Our UK friends have a spectacle we do not -- the rush of the steeplechase, which comes to one of its high points in March at the Cheltenham Racecourse.  Four days of powerful athletes racing towards the culmination of the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.  Even if you can't hop in your Peugeot with your best hat to view the races, you can follow the action & even bet on a Cheltenham Festival 2013 winner!

I might seem out on a limb here, talking about European horse racing, but in fact, we are more connected that it may seem...

If you take a closer look at Encore's pedigree, you will see that his sire, Crowd Pleaser, had a British dam named Creaking Board.  This fine lady was a G1 stakes winning mare, pulling down the 1992 Hollywood Starlet (part of the Breeder's Cup series at one time) & winning the Miesque Stakes on Hollywood Park's turf that November.  Following her lines, it turns out that not only can my charming boy claim American royalty as family, he can do the same on the other side of the pond.

Traveling back through this illustrious damline, we run into stories almost as big as the names they follow.

Warning:  this post may set a new length record.  Yet I am fascinated by the unlikely combination of luck, circumstance, almosts, rejections & accidents that has brought to life such incredible horses, each with a tale more impossible than the last!  I have summarized, but you can learn more at the amazing

Hyperion:  Weaned late in 1930 & showing little growth, he was left behind at the stud when his cohorts went off to train near Liverpool.  His diminutive size required a custom built feed box & he was nearly gelded because of his stunted body.

All he had on his side was his blood (sired by Gainsborough, a Triple Crown winner & the best sire of his time, out of a dam who was not only fast, but became a legendary broodmare) and the fact that his trainer had fallen for him, "remarking that he was the most beautifully made little horse he had ever seen & would undoubtedly win the Pony Derby."  The colt only ever reached 15.1 & a half hands, but had a huge girth & 7.5 inches of cannon bone.

Mild-mannered & lazy, Hyperion nonetheless left his challengers in the dust in races both short & long.  He retired to the Derby Stud & was Leading Sire six times & twice Leading Broodmare Sire.  At one point, Lord Derby was offered a blank check for him by Louis B. Mayer (of MGM fame), which was turned down with the response, "Even though England be reduced to ashes, Hyperion shall never leave these shores."

He later foundered & was euthanized around age 30 at the Woodlands Stud.  To this day, you can see his preserved skeleton at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket & a life-sized statue stands in front of the Jockey Club offices there.

Galopin:  In 1873, this unremarkable yearling was offered as part of a lot in an annual yearling sale at Middle Park Stud.  Purchased for all of 520 guineas by wealthy Hungarian immigrant, sports fanatic, ex-jockey, & stud owner, Prince Gustavus Batthyany, Galopin was sent to train with John Dawson, who handled many of the prince's racers.  The horse won most of his races easily, only losing once due to severe bumping during the start.

He was entered in a high stakes Derby, but the night before the race, the colt became very ill.  His trainer was afraid to tell the prince, who had severe heart trouble, for fear the news would kill him.  He spent the night with the horse, wrapped in blankets and the next day, Galopin came out & won, barely trying.

In 1883, the prince did perish of a heart attack while watching one of his horse's progeny win a race.  Rushing to help the dying man was the Duke of Portland, who ended up buying a fat brown foal by Galopin.  This unremarkable colt became St. Simon, one of Britain's greatest sires.

Galopin himself was sold to Henry Chaplin, this time for 8000 guineas, that July & stood at Blankney Stud.  He was a Leading Sire in 1888, 1889, & 1898 and a Leading Broodmare Sire in 1909 & 1910.

Phalaris:  In the early 20th century, the Earl of Derby purchased a mare named Bromus at an estate dispersal.  She was not an overwhelming champion, but her sire was a derby winner & her dam was a St. Simon daughter.  In 1913, she gave birth to Phalaris, whose blood flowed back to the almost mythical Eclipse, the Godolphin Arabian, & the Darley Arabian.  He raced for three years, winning 16 of 24 races, at which point he was offered for sale for 5000 pounds.

No one wanted the merely moderately successful horse, so he went to live at Derby Stud, an act which created the most dominant sire line in Europe & the US.  Four of his sons made lines including Nearco, Nasrullah, Royal Charger, Bold Ruler, Nashua, Raise A Native, Alydar, Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Sadler's Wells -- the list goes on.  Phalaris himself lived to be 18 years old, though his DNA is still alive today.  

Catnip:  During WWI, horse prices were low & Federico Tesio, the owner of Dormello Stud (producer of Nearco & Ribot), snapped up a filly on an estate consignment from Ireland for 75 guineas.  Her name was Catnip (how could I resist that?) and though she would try Tesio's patience, it proved worthwhile.

In 1918, she bore a filly named Nera Di Bicci who created a dynasty of her own, but Catnip was then barren from 1920-1922 & 1924-1927.  But in 1928, ten years later, she gave Tesio Nogara, a filly whom he would later describe as "small, elegant, light, magnificent hocks, magnificent action; top class from six furlongs to a mile."

He wanted to breed the filly to the stallion Fairway, but Nogara was denied admission to his book & was covered instead by his brother, Pharos.  The colt was Nearco (another of Encore's ancestors) & I think we know what became of him!

Ksar:  The French were busy producing spectacular racehorses of their own, but the Great War was exacting a heavy toll on their breeding industry.  There were few safe harbours, but one was in a quiet corner of Normandy, Haras de Saint-Pair du Mont.  With three decades of experience producing champions, the owner bred the best filly of her generation, named Kizil Kourgan, to a top French colt named Bruleur.

In 1918, Ksar was foaled, with a graceful head atop "clodhopper feet and sickle hocks," & was sold as a yearling.  This unlikely colt won 11 of 15 races & made the equivalent of $250,000, making him the world's richest horse.  He took up stud at Haras de Jardy & was French Leading Sire in 1931.

Ksar d'Espirit
When he was 17, an American breeder purchased & shipped Ksar to Montana Hill Stud in Virginia.  The ocean crossing was not smooth & the horse was very ill upon arrival.  He only sired two foal crops after that & although none excelled as racehorses, daughters produced a winner of Paris' Grand Steeple-Chase & stakes 'chase winners Quiet and Pontius Pilate.

Another daughter gave birth to Ksar d'Espirit...none other than Bill Steinkraus' silver medal show jumping partner on the 1960 US Olympic Team.  In 1937, the stallion died of internal hemorrhage & was buried under a monument to his great legacy.

Blandford:  Since we're immersed in WWI, let's talk about Col. William Hall-Walker & his Tully Stud in Kildare, Ireland.  The Colonel used astrology to determine if the horses he bred would amount to anything worth keeping, reading their horoscope at birth & selling those who did not appear promising.  While not always correct, "even a blind hog finds an acorn every once in a while."

This particular hog felt an essential need to improve his nation's cavalry & gave the British government $370,000 worth of thoroughbred breeding stock.  In return, the country purchased Tully Stud & his Wiltshire training farm for $325,000 & named the man Lord Wavertree.  Thus began the National Stud for Great Britain.  In 1943, the Stud moved to England & in 1945, the Tully property became the Irish National Stud.  But I digress...

In the spring of 1919, this new Stud witnessed the birth of a classy brown colt with a white star & big body perched on short pasterns.  When Blandford was a yearling, carthorses broke into his paddock, knocked him down, & trampled him.  He escaped intact, but was severely bruised and developed pneumonia.

The Stud director found him so sorry-looking that he offered the colt for free to their vet to remove the horse from the premesis.  The vet declined the dubious offer, even though Blandford recovered enough to sell at the 1920 Newmarket December Sale to Sam & Richard Dawson.  The young horse returned to Ireland & was standing well at stud until a new Irish government rose in 1932 & began an economic war with England which included a cripplingly high travel tax on broodmares visiting Ireland.

His owners decided to move him to their training farm in Berkshire, a decision which proved lucrative indeed.  Blandford became the truest source for stamina for classic races, siring four Epsom Derby winners, winning three sire championships & making his mark as one of the most elite sires in history, placed alongside Danzig & Mr. Prospector.

Blenheim:  Richard  Dawson already knew what he had in Blandford.  It's no surprise then, when his son, Blenheim, came up for 4,100 guineas at a yearling sale, Dawson purchased him for the Aga Khan & took him in to training in Berkshire.

Blenheim matured to 15.3 & strongly resembled his father, bringing both speed & stamina to the table, although he tended to be high strung.  He was retired from racing after a tendon injury while training for the Eclipse Stakes & moved to stud in France at the Aga Khan's Haras de Marly la Ville.

In 1936, he was purchased for $225,000 & exported to the US (where he was known as Blenheim II) by a high-powered syndicate made up of Calumet Farm, Claiborne Farm, J.H. Whitney's Greentree Stud, Stoner Creek Stud, Fairholme Farm, Mrs. Thomas Somerville, & William DuPont.  Already proven in Europe (his son Mahmoud won the English Derby), he was an immediate success standing here at Claiborne as his first year produced the Triple Crown winner Whirlaway.

He later also sired Jet Pilot, another Derby champion, & 58 other stakes winners & was Leading Sire in 1941.  His powerful hindquarters were passed down as a trademark of his male line through his grandson, Nasrullah, percolating through Bold Ruler & Secretariat.

His daughters became part of the foundation of Calumet's wild success, as the Farm owned 25% of his syndicate.  He died at the ripe age of 31 & is buried in Claiborne's stallion cemetery.

Mahmoud at the Epsom Derby.
Mahmoud:  From father to son to son.  Mahmoud was born in France, trained in Britain & in 1935 was named the second best colt of his generation.  Surprising, considering he was labeled "surplus" as a yearling, put up for auction, & failing to sell, was raced by the Aga Khan.

He set an Epsom Derby record in 1936 that stood for 59 years.  He too was exported for 20,000 guineas in 1940 to Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney's stud in Kentucky.  He was Leading Sire in 1946, having produced 70 stakes winners, & Leading Broodmare Sire in 1957.  He died on the stud farm at 29 & is buried on the property, which is now part of Gainesway Farm.

Mumtaz Mahal
Mumtaz Mahal:  This filly was only born because the owner of her sire, The Tetrarch, saw him outrun a deer in his pasture & decided against gelding him.  She was purchased for the Aga Khan in 1922 for 9,100 guineas.  The grey filly set a course record for five furlongs & earned her "Flying Filly" nickname over her year and a half career.

She gave birth to nine foals, the most famous of which is by Blenheim himself, & the resulting filly's 3/4 brother sired the dam of the famed My Babu.  She has three crosses in the pedigree of the famous sire, Pleasant Colony & stands out in the lines of many other elite Thoroughbreds.

When the German army commandeered the Aga Khan's horses during their invasion of France, she was the only mare left behind, perhaps due to her age.  She lived out her 24 years at the Haras de Marly la Ville & died in February of 1945.

 Mumtaz Begum:  That Blenheim filly above, foaled in 1932 in France, turned out to have something of her own to offer.  Although she only raced as a two year old, she made her mark on the racing world when, of her ten foals, one was sired by the already famous Catnip son, Nearco, a match made in Ireland by the Aga Khan III.

In 1940, Mumtaz Begum gave us Nasrullah.  Due to his unpredictable & rather lazy temperament, after standing for seven years in the UK, owned by Brownstone Stud in County Kildare, he was then sold to Claiborne Farm in the US in 1951.  This opinionated son was Leading Sire five times in the US & sired Never Say Die, Nashua, Bold Ruler, Never Bend, Red God & many other premier stallions, stamping the legacy of his grandmother on the Thoroughbred breed.

Red God
Red God:  Bred by Cain Hoy Stables, sired by Nasrullah & foaled in Kentucky, Red God was born the same year as Bold Ruler, Gallant Man & Round Table at Claiborne.  He was sent to run in England, but was then brought back to the US to run the Triple Crown in 1957.

Unfortunately, he was injured & in 1960 he was shipped back to County Kildare in Ireland to stand at Loughton Stud.  He sired ten stakes winners who earned over one million pounds.  Perhaps best known for his son, Blushing Groom (named one of the great international sires of the 20th century), Red God also sired Crafty Admiral, who was the broodmare sire to Affirmed, & his grand-daughter gave birth to a horse called Danzig.

Red God's portion of the Nasrullah line is one of the few to remain strong among the swamping of Thoroughbred genetic diversity by Northern Dancer/Raise A Native blood.

February 13, 2013

Until...Spring Training Awesomeness!

Or at least it will be awesome if I can get my mess together...

I'm sure that you regularly study our posted calendar in the sidebar and, while doing so, have noticed our upcoming "Spring Training Surprise."  While making notes of our plans in your diary (right??), you surely have been dying of curiosity.

Rest easy, for the time of knowing is here.

Solo is skeptical of Becky's body demo...
The Most Excellent Mother has given us an amazing opportunity as a gift:  those ten magical days you see delineated will be spent by Encore and I with none other than  She Who We Worship And Stalk At Our Events, Becky Holder.  I only got to spend two days with her at a long format clinic after WEG late in 2010, but she did wonderful things for Solo.  It was a pipe dream of mine to take Encore to her, but thanks to this generosity, it is looking very very real very very soon!

Plans (oh, apparently I have not yet learned to not make these) are for Encore to stay at the lovely Southern Eighths Farm, where we cliniced with Becky previously, and then I will trailer him a short distance up the road to Becky's winter farm for our lessons.  Gunnar Ostergaard, the dressage trainer who has taught Becky to be arguably the best dressage rider in our sport, will also be teaching there for two days during our stay.  I opted to audit any lessons he will be giving, as riding with him ranked somewhere in the stratosphere, price-wise, but I think this works out well, as it offers Encore at least a day off in the middle and a chance for me to sit and absorb and process.

Becky and Scrappy, the cutest eventing dog evah!
Horsewise, the big brown charmer got prepped by Dr. Bob yesterday; his back is doing well, his hips and hindquarters have healed their injury and are doing much better, and his teeth, which were working on some hooks, are repaired to a normal, non-poky state.  I hope to be able to strengthen him some more before we go IF IT WILL EVER STOP RAINING, sigh.

Personwise, wellllll, that might be a bit harder.  It's all a big hot mess and my PT has his work cut out for him.  I gave him his deadline upon which the knee must be ready or not, but apparently no one told said knee, who decided to implode painfully on us last week, setting me back to simple range-of-motion work.  Hopefully, when I return there Friday, we will be able to get back on track -- I still can't quite get up to my XC stirrup length, but I only have one hole to go.  

Don't ever tear up your moving bits:  PT informs me that going into ANY joint generally means a year to really, truly recover, even though you may not be in therapy for that long.  With a giant cartilage tear, well, that's not coming back but that's why they invented ice and Advil, eh?  Good thing this is all free.  Oh wait, it's not.  Good thing I like noodles!

February 10, 2013

Camp David 2013

Almost exactly a year ago, Encore and I went down to SoPines for two days of my invented Personal David Clinic.  Five days from now:  Camp David II.

In a whole year, we have...ummm...tried really hard? 

Encore came out well in the spring, hopped up to Novice, and was going strong over the summer.  August gave us the lovely gift of a pulled SI ligament.  That it took his dense owner two months to figure out.  November rolled around and I was in the OR, getting my knee innards sandblasted, effectively putting me on the curb for about two months.  Meaning I could only provide my muscle-y young horse with hotwalker and longe line sessions and an occasional ride from a friend.

It could have been worse.  Had I gotten my originally intended surgery, I would still not even be able to fully bend my knee at this point, much less walk around fairly freely.  So I was able to start actually Riding Properly in mid-January.  It was still enough time for Encore to lose a lot of that sexy muscle I worked so hard for

It feels like I've been back on longer, until I realized that we have not had any type of jump school until our light XC session at a local farm last weekend.  Doing the math, I've only been back in the saddle with focus for maybe four weeks?  So I am excited that Encore is strong enough now to actually step up into the canter again without running on his forehand and jumping evenly and roundly (and regularly saving his rider's rusty butt) once more.

We've lost a lot of time, but we had a dressage lesson Saturday and good (first since October!) stadium school today.  Even better, after spending the winter reading and thinking and watching and thinking some more about straightness and engagement and contact and all the other enigmatic processes of correct riding, I am riding better.  Encore was softer last summer, but he wasn't really connected because despite all the knowledge and years in my head, my body didn't get it until it got it.  Connection and straightness FIRST, then soften.

Yes, yes, we all know.  But do we really REALLY do it?  I wasn't.

Why the training pressure now, you ask?

Because we only have four weeks left until.....

February 6, 2013

Forbidden Love

My schedule is impossible.  Every time I think I get Encore back in a flow, there's some other appointment or meeting I must attend.  Stupid life.

So instead, let's visit Imaginary Land.  There, I have endless time and I build card towers out my $100 bills because I have soooo many extras.

Someone else visits Imaginary Land too.  Meet Roxy (she's the one that makes you go OMG SQUEEE!!!!).

About one month old this past July
Roxy was a 'surprise' baby.  A fellow boarder purchased her dam, a TWH mare, late this past spring as a pleasure horse under the assumption she was just buying a normal horse.  Three weeks later, Roxy fell out.  Surprise.

Roxy has, I believe, been given to the BO as a companion for a SSH (Spotted Saddle Horse, or to me, a paint TWH) filly he bred who is only a month older.  He will keep her until they (now best of friends) are about 2.5 years old, at which point he will start his filly and sell Roxy.

Cool story, bro.  Right?

This is where Imaginary Me enters.  See, I've been watching Roxy.  She's at the ugly seven-month-old-yak stage right now, but this summer -- well, you know how they say you see what a young horse will be at 3 days, 3 months, and 3 years?  I saw.  And I WANT.

What the heck are you going to do with a Walking Horse filly? you ask, quite sensibly.  For the sellers of her dam don't know who the sire is, yet "swear" that he was also a purebred TWH.  You don't even want a mare within ten feet of you!  This is true.

Well, if Roxy is a purebred TWH, then I am the second coming of Tinkerbell.  Because even as an ugly yak, this is how she moves (the painted filly is her BFF, Callie):

Why yes, that is a perfectly balanced canter that takes almost no effort to envision circling a course of 5' jumps!  With a lovely trot with just enough suspension to not be overkill.  At 3 months old, she was a dead ringer for an Oldenburg, with a broad chest, straight, well-boned legs, and skeletal structure that is pretty close to perfect.  She has never gaited a day of her life.  She is also very intelligent and will be a brave, but sensitive horse.  Even Encore is in love with her; the filly pasture is across the lane from my pasture and he hangs out near them when Solo is out and always stops to say hello when we ride by the fenceline, where Roxy does that adorable baby mouth thing (I need to upload that video).

BO has even offered to give Roxy to me.  Cruel and unusual torture.  Yes, she is a girl, by which I am pretty much never tempted.  But she has the look.  That look in her eye which made my decision for me when I met Solo and Encore both.  That look which says if you want, I could be your partner and we could be great together.  OMG$#*$&#^!

Sadly, I am unable to find a bridge between Imaginary Land and Reality, so I am forced to tell BO I will be happy to take her...the day she starts pooping money.  He has given me free rein to go in the pasture and play with her, although for now, her dam's owner spends a little time getting her used to being touched and handled and both Roxy and her BFF are friendly and inquisitive.  Maybe when she is a little older, in my Imaginary Free Time, I can teach her some round pen work and ground driving and hope that someone in the sport horse world discovers her because someday, she will be amazing.