Forget About The Cake, I’ll Take Piaffe For My Birthday!

Apr 14, 2014 - 6:51 AM
Jen Shepherd took a birthday selfie with her mare, Noel.

April is a birthday month for us! My beautiful mare had her birthday on April 1st. She savored some delectable banana cake treats made especially for horses. My birthday is April 19th. As a child I would sing with great gusto (many months in advance) “April the 19th soon will be here,” to remind anyone who might have been within earshot, of this momentous occasion.

These days I don’t get nearly as excited about my birthday—although I still go crazy over cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles—and this year I’ll be adding flip flops, sunglasses and sunshine to the mix for a celebration on the beach.

One year for my birthday, I asked my dad for a pony. Who hasn’t tried that one? It’s quite possible that I asked Dad for a pony every year, but it just so happened that an actual live pony was delivered to my backyard for an afternoon that year!

Our good friends (still good friends), who had horses, drove their trailer up into our driveway, and on cue the people of the neighborhood surrounded our house. With mouths wide open, they watched intently as the cutest little bay pony EVER came prancing off the trailer and was led to my backyard.

Oh the glee that came over my face and my parents’ faces (was that actual glee?) as we watched that pony roll on Dad’s manicured lawn and chow down on a few perfectly trimmed bushes. There were spots of grass that never grew back and bushes that never quite looked the same again, but I loved every single minute of that day.

Every year I look forward to a special birthday ride on my lovely mare. This year that ride came a little early, and completely out of the blue, she offered me a few steps of piaffe. I’ve played with passage-like steps during our trail rides, especially when she gets super happy excited and starts bouncing around like Tigger, so I thought it was a total fluke when she offered not passage-like steps, but piaffe today in the arena.

I bent down, looked her in the eye and whispered very softly, can you do that again?!? And she did!

All of this started after a succession of really light half halts asking for a smooth transition to the walk; instead she sat down on her haunches, of course I instantly released and lightened every muscle and bone of my body. I think I even stood up slightly too high in the stirrups mostly out of celebration as I felt her very athletic strong body transform under me. It felt as though we were dancing along the ocean shoreline at sunrise. I will never under estimate that mare. What a wonderful gift she is!

I’ve spent some time reflecting, counting out my years and have come to the conclusion that I should live the dream every single day and spend much less time and worry chasing down future dreams. There are so many gifts packed in to the present day that I might otherwise miss. I don’t want to miss any of them.

In fact, I’ve really enjoyed the process of preparing for my trip to Vienna, Austria. I recently asked my Facebook friends for suggestions of must see & do. An impressive list of fun filled activities was generated as a result including:

  • The hills, I hear they are alive with music
  • Mozart park, with a box of Mozartkugel bonbons
  • Coffee, cake and people watching at Café Landtmann or Café Sperl
  • Prater for lots of Viennese streetfood (sausages…)
  • Secession Building (art exhibit)
  • Standing room tickets for the Vienna Opera House
  • Naschmarkt, a wonderful bustling outdoor market
  • Hundertwasserhaus in the 3rd district (designed by Architect Hundertwasser, very colorful house, Google it)
  • Tour of Shonbrun Castle

I was also reminded that tickets for the Spanish Riding School (SRS) performances must be obtained months in advance. With that advice, I quickly got online and splurged for a front row ticket to attend a Tribute to Vienna, a special evening performance of the SRS and Vienna Boys’ Choir. Fainting!

While online, I also noticed that hotels in the city were quickly booking up. What’s up in September, Vienna? I guess I just figured I would spend my entire time at the SRS.  Eventually, I suppose, I would be asked to leave. My husband, traveler extraordinaire, and amused by my priorities, helped me secure accommodations at the most delightful B&B (or Pension).  It even includes a brief walk to the SRS!

Happy April Birthdays!

Jennifer Whitelaw Shepherd is one of the adult amateur dressage riders who received an inaugural grant from the new Heldenberg Training Center Fund in Memory of E.L. Dreitzler to attend the Spanish Riding School’s Training Center in Heldenberg, Austria. She grew up in Ontario, Canada and has spent most of her adult life in Hillsborough, N.C. after graduating from North Carolina State University with a degree in Biological Sciences. She works in the field of clinical research, which supports her seemingly endless riding activities, triathlon races, family and fish. Jen is an adult amateur dressage student and passionate advocate for classical dressage. She currently rides and proudly owns an unconventional dressage horse who has taught her essentially everything there is to know about life.


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