FCEBH: Satin for the Queen

What is your favorite ribbon / prize / award that you’ve won in relation to horses? Is there a story behind it? Or was it a bucket list prize you’d been chasing for ages? It doesn’t have to be from a traditional horse show, and ribbons that are the favorite bc they are the prettiest are just as awesome as awards with a great story. 

My favourite ribbon is probably Arwen’s first place in her first dressage test, not only because it was one of my few actual successes in terms of placings, but also because it took quite an effort to even get in the dressage arena to do the test. We had just been eliminated from the 80cm class for having three stops by the second fence, so we both had to dig pretty deep to forgive one another and get back in harmony. In the end we just settled back into each other and rode the test as well as we’d ever ridden it, barring one botched transition.

So proud
So proud

But come to think of it, there is one another ribbon that comes in a very close second, and that’s the first ribbon I ever won on my own horse. It was almost six years ago, I was twelve years old and blissfully unaware of my extreme ignorance, and the local riding school was holding a gymkhana. We borrowed somebody’s trailer and Skye, despite not having seen a trailer for about six years, stepped right into it.

It was chaos, as the local gymkhanas usually are. Skye was a woolly mammoth and I gave up on trying to get the dust out of her hair, making up for it by plaiting a bunch of red ribbons into her mane. (Poor Skye has put up with a lot). I strapped on my old starter kit saddle, which I still use for backing baby horses because now I don’t care if they fall on it, and scrambled on. The arrangement was somewhat haphazard; we all warmed up together in a 20m lunging ring, during which Skye had every right to kick the other horses and most graciously did not. The instructor bellowed at me through her megaphone when I dared to ask my horse to trot, telling me I was going to make her tired before I even got into the ring.

Skye, albeit unendingly trustworthy and entirely bombproof, had nearly no schooling. In fact, horses that come to me for 8 weeks’ backing are probably better schooled when they leave than she was then. She could walk and trot and canter and stop and turn and jump little jumps, and that was it. Bending was optional, going on the bit was a rare bonus, and cantering on the correct lead was totally out of the question. We were both, however, totally fearless, and there was also the matter of the riding school horses’ schooling – there wasn’t any. Skye looked like a graded dressage horse. We blasted through the gymkhana course and came second in the jumping, having gone clear.

The walk-and-canter race was our great moment of triumph. It was simple enough; we all lined up at one end of the field, galloped across to the other side, turned around and walked back. If you broke into a trot you had to make a circle. The first one across the finish line was obviously the winner. Skye and I won by half the length of the field for the simple reason that when we finished the gallop we were the only ones who could stop and turn around immediately instead of randomly wandering off towards the bottom of the field. Also because Skye walks like a steam train when she’s on a mission.

The old charger deserves a medal. She got a ribbon with “clear round” on it, but in my eyes, it might as well have been the 554 red roses awarded to the winner of the Kentucky Derby.

In jodhs for a show

FMNMBH: Sweating Blood

Alyssa from Four Mares No Money asks: What has been the most fearful moment you have ever experienced with a horse?

Excellent question, and I have been pondering this subject all week and still can’t think of one specific incident. (My panic is more sort of drawn-out; it seems to like carrying on for months, albeit limited to a particular horse in a certain situation). There have been quite a few moments of absolute, dry-mouth, wet-pants kind of terror, those slow, cold moments when seconds crackle through frozen time and there’s ice in your very veins.

One of the worst ones was when Arwen gave my ex-boyfriend a rather nasty kick. I thought my heart had stopped; things got bloody. Luckily, there was no serious harm done, although he has a lifelong dent in his calf muscle to remember why dating a crazy horse chick wasn’t an awesome idea.

Then there was the time three or four years ago when I was still teaching and one of my students plopped off Skye. I had told him four thousand times not to pick his hands up going up a hill but what do I know? Of course, he picked his hands up and toppled off backwards; Skye trotted merrily off saying that she’d told him so and had no sympathy, and the poor child was totally winded and couldn’t move for several seconds. I thought I’d just killed my student. Luckily, once he got his breath back and I had screamed at him for a suitable period of time (just kidding) he was totally fine.

And who can forget the time Arwen threw Rain off and broke her collarbone? Yes, once my brave grey mare was a terrified two-year-old filly. Admittedly, we were riding in the dark, on a hack, bareback, with Arwen’s first foal at foot, and everyone was already on the freaked out side when the old dog ran under Arwen’s feet and she completely lost her mind. Poor little nine-year-old Rain landed straight on her collarbone and broke it. It mended flawlessly, except for a tiny bump in the bone that she likes to brag about, but it was still quite a panicky moment.

My own worst moments ever have usually involved stallions because I am terrible at them. Nothing like looking up at a pair of shod forefeet waving over your head. The time Achilles bucked me off onto my head was particularly nasty, but I think the rides after that – with the memory (or, rather, lack thereof) of the fall fresh in my mind – were much more frightening. Yet with the love of  the King, breath by breath, I’m working through it; for perfect love casts out fear.

Ah, and of course there was the time I was holding a Quarter Horse mare and the Mutterer was trimming her hooves. I know everyone loves Quarter Horses and they are sweet and docile and wonderful, but I have yet to find one that I truly get along with, possibly barring Chrome the little stallion. This mare was being somewhat cantankerous, which wasn’t a problem until she leapt backwards into another QH mare. The other mare kicked her, she leapt forward, I didn’t manage to stop her and she landed on the Mutterer’s foot, breaking it. Somehow it’s always so much worse when it’s an apparently invincible person that you look up to that gets hurt.

But I think the moment in which my heart sank the lowest in the shortest amount of time was one memorable incident a few months ago when two of my clients (one on a Friesian and one on Reed) and I went for a hack. I was riding a mare who has a bad past, but the two of us were getting along all right and I felt it was time to go for our first hack. I will admit to some trepidation when the client leading the outride decided to pick the route that led to an unfenced field near the main road, but figured that we’d just stick to a walk anyway and the mare had good brakes. Famous last words. We were just fine right up until we turned back. The Friesian broke into a trot; his rider, who had been struggling for months to get him more forward-going, delightedly let him trot faster and faster; my mare started to fret and I was just about to ask if we could walk when the Friesian suddenly realised that cantering was a thing and took off like a shot. Reed plunged joyously after him and my mare totally lost her mind. One moment we were trotting and the next all I could see was that familiar blur of mane, sky and ground that is the trademark of being bucked off. I redoubled my death grip on the reins and hit the burnt stubble shoulderblade first. I am ridiculously lucky in that I usually roll when I fall, but this time I only got halfway before the reins (which I was still clinging to) yanked me under the mare’s feet. I saw hooves come down in front of my face and decided to let go. When I got up, the Friesian and Reed were distant specks on the horizon, my mare was galloping across the tar road with her flapping stirrups making her wilder each minute, I was absolutely covered in soot and my day had just gotten a whole lot worse. As if the other two rapidly vanishing horses and riders weren’t enough, my mare was galloping down the main road with cars swishing heedlessly by, blind with panic. Seeing that catching the mare was going to be impossible on foot, I wandered after the other riders, trying to shout in a nonthreatening way so that they’d notice I was no longer with them.

By God’s grace, it all ended well. The mare finally got off the road and thundered along the verge all the way to her stable, miraculously not hurting herself or causing any accidents. The other two riders noticed my absence, managed to stop their horses and milled around in bewilderment wondering where my horse had vanished to. The farrier saw my mare gallop into the yard and (with commendable presence of mind) got in his car and charged off in the direction she’d come, so I didn’t have to walk quite all the way home. The Mutterer refrained from ripping my skin off for scaring him, although I think he was rather tempted, and made unhelpful comments about how terrible I looked while I tried to get the soot off myself.

The mare’s confidence has been entirely restored, as has mine, the soot washed out of my work shirt and I no longer ride with Friesians unless I have a quiet horse under me. But every time I head off towards the unfenced field, I am most helpfully reminded by everybody that the idea is not for my horse and I to come home individually.