Friday, March 30, 2007

Rachel and Grandma and an Arabian Horse

Youth Nationals Here We Come!

I am blessed with a granddaughter, Rachel, who is as horse crazy as I am. I swear she came into this world enamored of horses. At only six months old, someone would mention going outside and she would lift her arms and express vocally she wanted to go. There was no doubt in any one's mind, the baby wanted to see the horses. I got her a push type riding horse for her first Christmas and she was trying to climb on it as it was coming out of the box. It required some assembly (dumb grandma missed that) and they had to struggle to get the horse together because she was already riding it.

Unfortunately, Rachel's parents have not been supportive of her learning to ride horses. Even though her horse crazy grandmother(me) had horses trained enough for her to learn to ride at an early age, Rachel's parents just didn't go along. It's only been within the last couple of years that she has gotten the opportunity to indulge her obsession with horses. Her father's fear of Rachel and boys made him see the light. Rachel finally got to take riding lessons last year and then we moved a horse over to the self care facility just down the road from her house.

Rachel is riding my gelding, Scandal Sheet, who is the first Arabian horse I ever breed. Dandy (barn name) is now seventeen and at 16H tall for a purebred Arabian horse. Dandy is trained in hunter pleasure, western pleasure and trail. Rachel was a little intimidated by Dandy's size in the beginning so only wanted to ride western. But about a month ago she began taking lessons in hunter pleasure as well. Their goal is to go to Youth Nationals this year although we're still not sure which division they will compete in. They did qualify in their only show last year by earning enough points to make the trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico in the western division. But Rachel has some goals she needs to meet with the horse before we will take her.

Dandy (Arabian horse) is a difficult horse to ride. Not because he's naughty, the horse seldom is but because he had EPM (equine protozoal miloencehpalitis), a neurological disease that attacks the central nervous system of the horse. Horses who recover to compete once having this disease are rare and known for their difficulty with collection.
Arabian western pleasure horses are required to be more collected than any other breed. The Arabian western pleasure horse is not just expected to go soft and slow but must also use it's neck in the archy manner Arabian horses are known for. That added degree of difficulty definitely separates the men from the boys (so to speak) and defines the really true athletes.

Expecting a horse like Dandy to round up enough to be competitive is a tall order. While the horse went undiagnosed with EPM for at least 3 years (making him an atypical case of the disease), the Arabian horse compensated for the pain he was experiencing by adjusting how he used his body. Through this "misuse" of his muscles, the horse lost the muscle tone along the top of his neck that is characteristic of the Arabian horse. Teaching the horse to be collected enough for western pleasure was difficult enough without the added dilemma of teaching the horse how to use those neck muscles correctly. The rebuilding of that muscle tone was further complicated by the fact that horses that have had EPM seem to have difficulty building and retaining muscle tone at all, let alone as specific at that in the neck.

Rehabilitating this horse after his illness has been a challenge. The horse was worried about pain and there was no way to explain to him it would be OK. It was a long slow process to teach the horse how to use himself correctly. I refused to force the horse into a frame and took years rebuilding his trust to restore the horse to his once normal, natural gaits. While the result of that process has been an Arabian horse with lots and lots of miles on him, yet the horse has not had nearly as many miles using himself correctly. So while the horse is safe for a beginner like Rachel to ride, he is far from being a push button horse.

Dandy has been at the facility down the street from her house for about a year now. During that time, I've only ridden him a few times. So when Rachel and Dandy earned enough points at the Daffodil Arabian Summer Show to be able to compete at Youth Nationals, she pretty much did it with a horse she had been riding herself for six months. I schooled the horse at the show but she did a good job of riding him.although the Arabian horse wasn't quite as round as he needs to be to compete at the National level, he was round enough and soft enough to impress judge, Mike Baker, and to beat one of the top 17 and under horse and riders in the country, twice.

But for Rachel and Dandy to compete at Youth Nationals this year, she needs to have him as round as he can go. That's the goal. Before the entries close for Youth Nationals she must be able to ride the horse round enough for them to be competitive there. In the meantime, we've just completed entries for our very first show of the season here and she will try to qualify the horse for the Region 4 Championships in both the hunter pleasure and western pleasure divisions.

Expecting a beginning rider like Rachel to get a horse as challenging as Dandy to be truly collected is a tall order. Let alone expecting her to do it without the aid of a trainer. But Rachel has proved in her year with Dandy that she is serious about learning and committed to being a good rider. Since she is as dedicated as she is, I've committed to tuning the horse back up and keeping him tuned to help her achieve this goal. She's still going to need to learn a lot between now and when entries close in June but now it's realistically within her grasp.

To be continued....

Part 2


  1. What a great story MiKael, you must be very proud. You say that Dandy was the first baby that you bred so I am thinking that this was the baby you were talking about that you were expecting from your first mare and her first breeding (forgive me I can't remember all the names).

    I know all about EPM, our old stud Sonny Dee Bee a cropout son of hte late great QH Sonny Dee Bar, got cast in his stall one night and must have struggled valiantly to get back up with no avail. The result was enough stress to induce this terrible condition. We fought it for two years, but could not afford the treatment required and it was killing me to see him deteriorating from the beautiful horse he had been (he was 24 years old). We owe our babies' greatv personalities and ability to learn very quickly to him and his father. We decided to have him put to sleep and buried him on our property (a no no here but we are in the country (just) and got away with it.

    So to see a horse that has suffered a bout with this ailment is wonderful. I wish your granddaughter all the success for the future, sounds like she is a determined young lady.

    Hope you are feeling better after your ride. I may try to get my mare saddled up tomorrow if the rain holds off, should be exciting as she is a bit of a livewire LOL. She is the one that you said you would love to see bred to your stallion. I tend to think it would make a good cross because I love a horse with animation, but unfortunately my husband is a die hard paint horse western pleasure type :-(

    Have a great weekend and hope the twins are behaving themselves LOL.



  2. Wow, that's so exciting! She is so lucky to have someone like you to show her the ropes!