Monday, March 10, 2008

Baby Boomer Dreams - Dandy's Story Chapter 5

Part 1

After the experience with the freight train sounding ferocity of the pinto english pleasure horse, my Arabian horse was not sure he wanted to be indoors in the arena anymore. The horse also decided that he really didn't like pintos either. It was clear from the start that this had really traumatized my young horse.

After that each little creak or groan of that very noisy arena resulted in a horse heading for the high hills. It took weeks to get Dandy settled down. I think he tried as hard as he could wanting to be good for me but he just couldn't forget that fear. It was like he had a video clip that played over and over in his poor horsey brain screaming at him the world was not safe. All I could do was pull him into a little circle and try to reassure him.

If a rider came into the arena with a pinto, Dandy immediately tensed up. He might not do anything stupid but I could feel the tension in his body. The noises and creaks of the building or outside traffic got much worse with a pinto in the building with him. Over time he got to be discriminating about his reaction to pintos. He did better with Quarter Horses crosses than Saddlebreds. Who knows how the horse figured out that high trotting horse had anything to do with a saddlebred but it did. The horse had been a National Show Horse which is usually an Arabian Saddlebred cross (although in the early days of this registry Morgan Arabian crossed were also admitted as well)

I think it was several weeks before I had a ride without a single incident on this horse. Unlike his mother Scandalous, Dandy would run off at any little sound. It's didn't matter if he was walking, trotting or loping, any noise and unexpected flash of light or movement would set him off. Scandalous had reserved her bolting for things that happened only when she was loping. I was finding myself wishing I was dealing with that issue again instead of this new one with Dandy.

I had always known that if Dandy ever decided he wanted to dump me, there would be no stopping him. The horse had such talent that the usual corrections for a naughty horse would not work if he decided to not comply. I was really grateful through this time that the horse just wanted to escape the situation and that he hadn't decided it was my fault. I don't know how things would have worked out had he taken that kind of stance.

The day did finally come when I had a clean ride. Then before long I found I had two. A couple of weeks later I had more clean ones than those with incidents of bolting. I was actually getting to the point I could start working on collection but I knew the problem was not entirely gone. The ghosts of this wreck would continue to haunt us.

During this time the Arabian Horse Association had a new program that was designed just for amateur owners on young horses. It was funded by the Arabian Horse Trust (if I remember correctly) for a period of five years. It was called the Bonanza Program. I think it was $400 to enter the program and that had to be done before the start of the new year. Late entries were $800.

The horses could be 4 to 6 years of age and must compete in three of four divisions. The divisions were western pleasure, hunter pleasure, country english pleasure and trail. Trail was mandatory and then the riders could select two of the other three disciplines. Those selections did not have to be selected until the show entry deadline.

The Bonanza classes would be held at the Regional Championships. A horse and rider pair didn't need to qualify to participate, they only needed to be entered in the program. Points were awarded in each division based on class placings and totalled to select the top ten horses in each region.
Those top ten horses were not placed, but each was awarded $1500 dollars and qualifications to participate in the program at the US National Arabian Horse Show. At Nationals the classes were scored the same way with points being earned according to class placings.

The final placings at Nationals included a champion, reserve champion and top ten awards. The champion horse and rider won $10,000. I don't recall what the other cash awards were but $10,000 for winning sounded pretty darn good.

Dandy had finally quit running off about the time the Bonanza nominations were due. I decided I was going to give this a try. I knew my horse would be awesome in trail (even though I hadn't started schooling it under saddle yet) and figured I could do ok with the western. I knew nothing about the hunter or the english but decided my best bet was to go for the hunter.

Showing how naive I was in those days, there was an elderly gentleman at the Tacoma Unit who gave dressage lessons to some of the members. I thought that getting dressage lessons would be the next best thing to getting help with hunter lessons. I know that dressage mom is already laughing at me, but that's ok, I know I didn't have a clue so I'm laughing too.

The man's name was Tom Morgan. He had been on the last equestrian team for the US Army and had ridden at a couple of the great schools in Europe and earned some prestigious awards. While Tom didn't have any experience with Arabians, he had a bit or prejudice that they weren't suited to dressage. But even with that he was willing to give me lessons so I signed up for a few. We'd see how we were getting along and go from there.

I remember we started off with discussion was about my hunt saddle and my leg position. Since I couldn't afford another saddle, we went for a modified leg position. I think that meant I rode with my legs a bit longer than hunter but not as long as true dressage. Other than that we were good to go.

I might add that I had never ridden in that hunt saddle before my first lesson. Dandy wasn't really all that broke. It never occurred to me that the hunt saddle might be a bit on the naked side for this died in the wool western pleasure rider. I just hopped on and went for it. It's looking back that I think I must have been crazy!

I understood the basics of working on a circle and flexing and bending and my circles were usually round right from the start. But I had no idea of posting or diagonals (what a thing to do to a very green horse). I did understand about the basics of impulsion and driving the horse towards the bit, even if that's not how I had started off in my first rides with Dandy. So I did pretty well with understanding the instructions that Tom was giving me.

It didn't take me long to get the hang of posting. I'm sure that Dandy was relieved although he didn't do any protesting. Tom had to remind me of my diagonals but I was able to correct pretty them easily. The first one was awkward but after that I was good.

I felt pretty frustrated with my riding but Dandy was great. The horse tried really hard to do what I asked. Even at the very first lesson he was growing on Tom. I remember Tom remarked right off about what a great mind this horse had.

By the second lesson we were getting a pretty decent trot. I could feel the balance and Tom was beaming. He even said he'd never imagined such a great trot ever on an Arabian horse let alone one like this so green horse and an unskilled english rider. It was clear to Tom this horse had a lot of talent.

It was almost like Dandy understood that Tom was praising him. Standing next to Tom, the horse would gently rub against the man's arm until he couldn't help but laugh and pet him. Dandy was single handedly changing the mind of a long time old world dressage guru about Arabian horses. Even if I wasn't so impressed with my riding, I was really impressed with my horse.

To be continued.............

Part 6

This picture is Dandy as a yearling. He was huge even then.

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  1. I give you a lot of credit for not being a riding snob, and trying something new to you and your horse. There are many people out there who wouldn't give any kind of different riding a chance because it is not their discipline and they have blinders on about crossing over into different types of riding. That's what makes you such a good trainer, you are willing to try new things for yourself and your horses. Can't wait to see how the dressage lessons turn out.

  2. Ooh, poor Dandy that spotted frieght train must have been horrifying!!!

    That is funny that you took dressage lessons to learn english!!!

    So cool that Dandy changed his mind!!!!

  3. Hi, there, thanks for visiting our blog, Equestrian Ink. You have some BEAUTIFUL Arabians!!

    BTW, I live in Shelton, not too far from Graham.

    Thanks again,

  4. Ah, the Bonanza program! We really wanted to enter it but we didn't know anything at all about trail classes. I remember it was such a big deal.

    And I'm not laughing at you! I didn't even know what dresasge was when I first started taking dressage lessons, and I had already been riding for over 20 years! Now that's embarassing...

    I'm not surprised at all that Dandy impressed your dressage trainer. Arabians nationwide are currently changing the minds of many dressage riders, trainers, and judges.

    My trainer still tells me that Kaswyn has the best mind and biggest heart of any horse she's ever ridden. She also says her wish is that every horse she trained would have his brain. She was just having a conversation a few weeks ago with a fellow trainer in Florida. They had both mainly ridden warmbloods but also rode other breeds. My trainer was praising Arabians and the other trainer agreed, saying "Those horses are so smart! After riding them my warmbloods feel dumb!"

  5. I think it is funny how one thing can carry in a horses fear memory for so long. There used to be a trainer that came to our barn for a few clients, she never worked with us. But the minute Abu would hear her voice he would get so tense that we had to really focus on anything else just to keep him calm. Funny thing she came for an open house about a year ago and we had not seen he in all that time. He heard her voice and he was back to that exact place again. Like I said I never schooled with her and she never touched him. Crazy Abu

  6. Nice horse picture with the bright eyes. Not sure if this was one of the danger signs or fright signs or just the glare of a flash. Still I am a nut for horses, and dogs. Almost any horse or dog. I guess I have been bitten by the biggest work horses around and stomped on bare feet by monsterous feet and was fortunate the stalls had not been cleaned for years as my foot sunk-in a long way. Then I had to move the horse off of me. Not easy. I was about ten.

    Thanks for your visits to my blog and for your comments there. I appreciate it a lot.

  7. Ha learning to post! And learning diagonals is a bear whether you started western or english. I remember trotting around and around the ring staring at my horse's shoulder and taking lucky guesses when my mom forced me to finally pick one. I learned eventually. Now I don't even have to think about.

  8. what a great ambassador Dandy is! Eager to hear how the english transition continued.

  9. MiKael - You are soooo brave! I can't imagine how nerve wracking it must have been to get on a horse who was that frightened every day in the arena. Good for you, though! I'm so happy he eventually settled down and recovered from his big scare.

    I learned to ride english first and then did some western in high school. I thought that was a pretty hard switch too! My trainer would yell, "Sit up straight! Sit up straight!" I guess it's probably always hard to learn a new style of riding.