Into The Big Ring

Mar 9, 2014 - 11:30 AM
Fender's an FEI horse! Photo by

It felt a bit like pushing a wet noodle up a hill. He’s a terribly ghastly color, between his old icky winter coat and his new shiny black one. When he was body clipped, we missed and took off a thin strip of mane, which has grown in at a very irritating and useless length. He was a bit impressed by the environment on Day 1, and a bit exhausted on Day 2.

But damnit, Fender made his FEI debut this weekend, and put in two perfectly presentable Prix St. Georges tests, making him the third (of three) of my own horses that I trained myself to go from baby to FEI. How ’bout dem apples?

Because I’m a dolt who can’t read an email, I turned up too late on Friday to school at the showgrounds, and the International Stadium, where we’d be showing, was closed for a special event. (Actually, confession: I wasn’t going to go school at the show at all. Danger is my middle name.) So I schooled him in the warm-up, and Fender was totally unfazed by 30 mph winds, flapping flags and mighty midget hunter ponies schooling at warp speed. He trotted around like he owned the place.

But flash forward to Saturday morning, and he hit that big ring and went, “… whoa.” Not naughty, not spooky, just… well, a spectator, honestly. And on Sunday, he was just so tired. If I may give myself the smallest of pats on the back, I’m usually inclined to gallop on when a horse gets behind me in a test, which results in faster, but not more forward, and usually sacrifices any half-halt in the process. I did not do this either day, so hoorah for me, and an even bigger hoorah for Fender, who let me drive him around and help him through some of the things he struggles with.

And everything that hasn’t been the easiest at homehis collected walk, the canter pirouetteswas fabulous in the test. He gave me a pretty good feeling into both canter-halt transitions, something else he thinks is really hard. There were no calamitiesa swing-and-a-miss in Saturday’s four tempis, but only one, and they were foot-perfect on Sunday, with perfect threes both days. There was nothing that time, practice and exactly what we’ve been doing won’t cure. Wahoo!

And the two things that I was honestly the most worried about—I mean, let’s get our priorities straight herewere 1) my smashing new shadbelly, which looked fantastic, especially paired with my OMG I LOVE THEM new FITS white breeches—folks, if you liked FITS before, you will LOVE these, and if you didn’t, you will LOVE these—and 2) the ridiculous color Fender turns this time of year, when he’s growing out his winter coat and growing in his new black coat and the mix of the two is just… ick. But we looked good in pictures, even though, some day, I will learn to shorten my reins, but it is apparently not this day. Wahoo!

We did not set the world on fire. Thank God. I think one of the worst things in the world to be is a genius, confirmed, solid not-yet-8-year-old Prix St. Georges horse. Every mistake he makes is in the right direction: too quick behind, more power than balance, a little too much nerve and a little too little settled. He can fling his legs to beat the band, and I’m sure a lot of people with a horse like him would be tempted to turn up that brilliant right about now. 

I will not. 

I will make a solid foundation for him to fall back on when he makes a mistake. I will teach him how to use his body like clay, capable of whatever shape needs to happen, moldable in all directions, not just one. I will help him learn to be confident, comfortable and brave. I will see both the forest and the trees. I will take as much time as it takes, and be 100 percent thrilled if he sets no records this year, because this isn’t the year I care about; this is the year to make all the next years possible.

Tonight I toast to a gawky not-quite-4-year-old from Georgetown, Ky., who made me smile from minute one. Here’s to you, Fender. If this is only the beginning, I can’t even imagine the end!


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