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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Birthdays, Bumps and Bruises

Forrest and playing with
his new boredum beater..
The ice tub!
Well--as the saying goes--when it rains, it pours. And if lameness was precipitation, then River Bend Farm would be under a flash flood warning.

A few weeks ago, my lovely mare "Edna" (I know, I know... Edna wouldn't have been my first pick of names either, but I believe its bad luck to change a horse's name so it's Edna now and will forever be Edna--tangent over) who has never taken a lame step in her life walked out of her stall with a swollen ankle. After a trip to see Dr. Ken at Farmstead, it was determined that she had a sprained splint. Tendons and ligaments were fine, bones unbroken. While this was not the end of the world, it was still a pain to have to deal with and I had a week of stall rest, icing, cold hosing, sweating, wrapping and hand grazing to look forward to. Luckily, Edna is a super star--by far the best horse to work with in the barn--and she stands perfectly still in a muck tub of ice and doesn't get stir crazy when she's on stall rest. Still, between Edna and my Irish horse, "Stormy" sidelined while recovering from a hoof abscess, both of my most experienced horses were out for the time being.

But everything was okay, because I had two beautiful geldings and a lovely little mare to ride! Until Wednesday, when Hercules came up lame with a hoof problem.

So it was down to Forrest and a Morgan mare named "Halo," another green horse in my string owned by a family friend who sent her to me to ride. And, despite Edna, Stormy and Hercules all being sidelined temporarily, my spirits were high because Wednesday (June 22nd) I had a dressage lesson with the redheaded step child (ie, Forrest) at Half-Halt Farm with my dressage coach, Linda Heiny.

Let me just take a moment to say that if you ever in your life have the opportunity to ride with Linda, DO IT. I do not believe in "miracle workers" per se, but having said that Linda is by far one of the most brilliant instructors I have ever had the pleasure to work with. She's right on par with the likes of Leslie Law and Dorothy Crowell (my other two coaches) in my book, and she never ceases to amaze, inspire and educate me with her knowledge and coaching methods. She understands event horses better than any dressage rider I've ever taken lessons from and reads each horse as an individual. Her creativity, perseverance and belief in me and my horses (especially Forrest, who is not the easiest of horses to have faith in) has helped me numerous times and I cannot praise her highly enough.

So my weekly Wednesday lesson with Linda was fantastic, as usual. Forrest progressed in leaps and bounds--literally, at some moments--and he gave Linda and I both glimpses of what he could potentially be one day. It was like Forrest's early birthday present to me, giving me such a wonderful ride and reminding me why I love this sport so much.

Then Thursday, since it was my birthday (I turned the big 21+1) all of the horses got a day off and I got Mexican food and domestic beer. Then, on Friday morning, Forrest came in from the paddock with a fat ankle... I'm assuming this was the second part of my birthday present from Forrest, and one that I did not appreciate nearly as much as a fabulous dressage lesson.

Halo, the Mighty Morgan
However, the injury did not appear to be anything more than a scratch that had blown up, so it was back to sweating, icing, cold hosing, wrapping, etc. and Forrest is getting a mini-vacay. He was a very grumpy version of himself (it's part of his whole split personality disorder, I think... when he's in work, he's Happy-Go-Lucky Forrest, but when he's on stall rest, he's Grumpy Forrest) the first day of stall rest, and has since become very needy. Since he's in the barn by himself most of the time, I've been spoiling him with extra cookies and daily bran mash lunches. His stall is also starting to resemble the Land of Misfit Toys in an attempt to keep him (already an unreformed cribber) from getting too bored and self-destructing. So far, he's got a Jolly Ball, a Likit and a Himalayan salt lick to keep him company. He has also become fascinated with the muck tub that I use to ice their legs with. I have a video of him playing with it (we're going to sign him up for an apple bobbing contest this fall if he keeps it up!).

Still, the fact is that I'm down to one horse.

This upcoming week will be full of hacking, mini trot sets and dressage lessons with Halo, the Mighty Morgan (and, apparently, the soundest horse in the world). Fingers crossed, we'll avoid any future tragedies and by my next post things will be back to their relative normality. Until then, I'll be stallside, watching Forrest in Toy Land and playing doctor--or vet, rather.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Meet Forrest

Forrest, at home at River Bend
Let me begin with a confession: I have a weakness for hot, opinionated, temperamental chestnut geldings.

Maybe it started with my love affair with the film National Velvet; I wanted a big red horse who could run fast and jump high, even if he was destructive, practically wild and maybe had a screw (or two) loose--it wouldn't matter, because he would be so charming and handsome that I could instantly forgive all of his wrongdoings. Or perhaps it started when I recieved my first pony as a Christmas present at the age of four. "Danny Boy" was a nasty little half-Arabian flaxen chestnut (who, in color and markings, bore a striking resemblence to the movie version of National Velvet's Pie), but I was totally smitten with him. He bucked off anyone else who tried to ride him, was a horrible dirty stopper and ran away with me on more than one memorable occasion. But with his charming personality, good looks and natural ability as a jumper I could've sold him a hundred times over, but I refused, even after I began eventing and had a fancy new "big" horse to ride. Instead of selling, my parents paid board at a local stable for three horses (my pony, my eventer and my sister's horse) and eventually bought 100 acres of land in the country to build a farm on. I kept that bratty pony for 14 years, until his death in February of 2007.

Or maybe--like many of my fellow eventers--my personality just lends itself to craving a challenge. I live for adrenaline rushes; there's nothing I crave more than the combination of speed and danger. I like conquering things. I'm always looking for a mountain to climb or an obstacle to overcome.... Maybe to me a hot-headed chestnut Thoroughbred embodies everything that I desire--they're the mountains of the horse world.

When I was sixteen, I rehabbed and re-schooled a chestnut Dutch Warmblood named Overture (or "Ollie," as he was called in the barn) who I'd gotten the ride on because his owner had a bad fall in a cross country schooling accident and had broken her neck. After he was sold, I had several years of bad luck with horses. My Irish horse, Stormy, was chronically lame. I purchased a Thoroughbred called "Hercules" from Grand Prix show jumper Brody Robertson's farm in Missouri to be my next eventing partner. However, after three months of owning him his right hip caved in, thus ending his short-lived career as a three-day event horse.

So in 2010, without a true eventing partner, I went to spend eight months as a working student for Leslie Law with a Thoroughbred mare named "Edna" that I had as a re-sale project. After I came back to my home in southern Indiana after a spring and fall in Ocala, FL and a summer in Bluemont, VA, it was back to square one as far as event horses were concerned. I had my mare to compete at the lower levels, but I didn't have anything in my barn that had the potential to be something really special... And then one day, upon coming out to the farm to draw up coggins and inject my horses, my veterinarian asked me to come try a "big, dumb Thoroughbred" that he wanted me to ride. "I have a few of those laying around here already," I said, gesturing out towards a paddock full of disappointments and retirees. "You should come out and try him," Dr. Ken repeated. He warned me that this was "not the horse for everyone"--which sounded like my kind of horse. I enjoy the "problem" horses--the rejects and lost causes of the equine world--and this sounded like a "problem" horse. So, naturally, I gave in and agreed to try him.

When Dr. Ken had said "big, dumb Thoroughbred" I was expecting a gangly, awkward, slightly lame plain bay typical inverted, ewe-necked, unfit ex-racehorse that I would hop on, ride around for awhile and politely decline because "I just didn't have the room in my barn or the time to do him justice" (or some other equally crappy excuse). But much to my surprise, what greeted me at the paddock gate on that foggy morning in late January was a very handsome bright red chestnut with a crooked white star on his forehead. He was big (roughly 16.3 hands with the longest legs I have EVER seen), shaggy, out of shape, was in major need of a pulling comb and had by far one of the worst tails I have seen to date... But I was in love with him from the moment Ken handed me the lead rope and he literally drug me (straight up water-skiing style) around the barn. I rode him for a half hour and immediately fell in love.

Jockey Club registered Unforgotten Promise (affectionately known as "Forrest"... yes, as in "Run, Forrest, Run!") is a misunderstood horse with a bit of a history. He won quite a bit of money on the track, but ended up losing his gate pass when he reared up and flipped over backwards. There's an infamous story about Forrest going out to breeze one morning and running off with the jockey, turning around and going full-tilt backwards around the track to the barn. Most people write him off as "stupid," but in my six months with him I have found that to be quite the opposite. He's stubborn, opinionated, goofy, grumpy, quirky, and incredibly smart. Too smart, actually... My farrier thinks he's autistic and bipolar, and I'm not sure that I don't agree with him to some extent. Ken says he's got ADD. I like to call him "active-minded." At already nine years old, I had my work cut out for me--I had to take an older, but incredibly green, strong-willed horse who had "issues with water" and turn him into an eventer. Even though that may sound like a tall order, that first ride on Forrest--early in the freezing cold that is January in Indiana, in the 50x50ft indoor ring at Farmstead (Ken's home and veterinary practice), jumping over tiny cavalettis--was magical. For the first time, I felt like I'd finally found my mountain to climb.

Forrest has since arrived at River Bend Farm (my home, set in the rolling hills of southern Indiana about 15 miles west of Bloomington). His shaggy, dull coat has shed out to revel a sleek, fire-red powerhouse of a sport horse. He's had his mane and tail pulled and he at least looks the part of a top event horse. He's fit an musclar and absolutely breathtaking to look at. It's amazing what six months of consistent riding can do!

This blog will document Forrest's career as an event horse... Schooling sessions, lessons, competitions and the daily chaos that is mine and Forrest's life. Maybe he will rise to the occasion and be brilliant, or maybe he'll fizzle out, get fried, go lame... But no matter what the future holds, it will be a fun ride.