A few months ago I wrote about how glad I was that Sookie Lynn was coming back into my life. Sookie first came to the stud about two years ago as a three-year-old filly from dressage bloodlines, very unique-looking with her skewbald (pardon me, bay tobiano) coat and one blue eye. She had just been backed, and very soon after arrival she was assigned to be my project.
Though nervous about being given such a valuable horse to train, and feeling rather awkward on this giant beast (Sookie was the first warmblood I’d ever ridden), I was pretty excited. There was a lot to learn, of course. The horses I’d previously worked with had all been either ponies or thoroughbreds; difficult to bend, but easy to collect. Sookie is so supple you could tie her in a knot but she is so long from front to back that it was at first very hard to keep her body together. Even she didn’t seem to have an awful lot of control over the head that nodded on the end of an endless neck or the feet that flopped around on the end of legs about three miles long. She was only a baby, after all, barely worked; I took her for her very first canter under saddle.
Fast forward to eighteen months later and you find me positively quivering with anticipation of every ride on Sookie Lynn. She has become the most wonderful ride; soft, supple, and oh so responsive. Once she figured out the whole idea of keeping her hindlegs under her, using her back muscles and staying soft on my hands and legs, she turned out to be awesome fun. Her movement, whilst huge, is extremely comfortable to sit on (I hardly ever rise to the trot except when we’re practicing the prelim tests and I don’t get stitches), and she is unbelievably supple. Lateral work just comes naturally to her, as do flying changes. Now that she has built up strength in her topline, she is finally starting to understand collection – yesterday as we practiced collected trot I found myself thinking, “This horse could piaffe for me right now.” She didn’t, but that was probably more to do with the fact that I have never ridden a piaffe before and have no idea what the aids are. I just collected her more and more, asked for the movement I wanted with my seat, kept her forward ever so slightly with my legs and held her back ever so slightly with my hands, and for a few steps she was moving at a slower speed than a walk. Then she flopped into a walk and I, appreciating that I was asking rather a lot of a five-year-old, called it quits.
Probably the coolest thing about riding Sookie is her responsiveness, which is something I thought I’d never say about her considering that originally she would lean on my hands, ignore my legs and pretend my seat didn’t exist. Now, she is as soft and light in my hands as if the reins were connected to air. She only needs a squeeze with the legs when asking for an upward transition into a gait; I can ask her to lengthen her stride on seat alone (assuming she’s having a good day). Downward transitions are something of a sticky spot as she likes to toss her head in the air for the first stride of the new gait, but now I can change her to a slower gait without pulling on the reins. That’s not something all the horses I ride can do, and it’s pretty freaking cool to experience it for the first time.
In fact I would be on my knees begging to compete on Sookie if it wasn’t for the fact that she’s pregnant. Not far pregnant, or obviously I wouldn’t be riding her, but still, that baby is rather too valuable to risk her losing it with the stress of her first show. So we will continue to stay at home and polish our skills until Baby Sookie has been born and weaned.
And then, dressage world, you better watch out. The midget and the German giraffe are coming to get you.