It's Been A Year, And I'm Still In Love With My Unicorn

Dec 12, 2018 - 4:09 PM

Earlier this year, Dubai and I celebrated the one-year anniversary of his arrival at my barn. 

With any horse, the first year is an exciting time. With the youngsters, every experience is completely new, and you can learn a ton about what they will and won’t accept. I’m pretty mindful of “safety first” when riding 3- and 4-year-olds. (You just never know. Because they don’t either!) 

There is nothing better than a crazy Maine winter to test out a horse’s tractability, and after surviving the 2017-2018 season, I was feeling really positive about Dub’s level of sanity. 

The other thing that I truly believe takes a year to discover is whether or not you are really going to “click” with a horse. A year is plenty of time for the glorious honeymoon to conclude. For the horse to prove he, perhaps, is not such a team player. For me to decide that what I am feeling in the horse might better suit another rider. As a pro rider, I don’t see these things as a negative, just a sign that more work, a different program, or a rider with different intentions might be the better fit. 

But guess what? I swear, the glorious honeymoon is ONE HUNDRED percent still ON up in here! He’s THE BEST. 

I love his little poop-stained face. He loves everything. (Almost. Close enough.) He especially loves bananas, little dogs and little children, my mother (because she has the bananas!) and really any kind of food. He loves to work! He loves to try new things. He loves pulling his blanket off the wall and rolling on it. (Weird?) He LOVES going to the horse show! (Especially when I decide to trust him just a bit too much on Day 1 and don’t lunge him. And he reminds me that he is still 4 by spending five minutes squeaking and lurching around merrily. Lesson learned!) Oh, and he loves snow. Little weirdo. 

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A year into this partnership, and I’m still in love with this face. Photos Courtesy Of Sara Bradley.

To expand more on his show season, it was really a grand time. I don’t care much if a 4-year-old behaves at the horse show or not (they are 4, after all), but he was really a trooper. He showed in a few different (big) venues, in front of excellent judges, and in some insane weather. It was a rare day for him not to collect a ribbon and a terrific score. If his human remembered to bring a modicum of riding skill along, things generally went swimmingly. 

He finished the year reserve champion for the New England Dressage Association at training level with over a 75 percent. And you know what? That’s fun. And yes, there are still one or two things for him to learn before he is a Grand Prix Schoolmaster Stallion. (He honestly thinks he is all of these things currently. *sigh*) But it was a good year, and a fun year, and I’m totally down for a little celebration. 

While he might already consider himself to be at the very pinnacle of his career, I gently disagree. This winter will be spent on loads and loads of strengthening work and training all those pesky fundamentals. He is such a cool, zippy little thing that it would be a real hoot just cranking around in an uphill frame, throwing down extended trot all day, but that is not how I roll. I see a lot of relaxed, dinky trot work in his future. Lots of nice bendy sideways movements. About 12 billion transitions.

By the time spring rolls around, he is going to be a big 5-year-old beefcake, and all of the work he already is wishing he could do will come easily, and correctly. I definitely catch glimpses of the horse he will be in a year, and I’m a big fan of what I feel. 

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When the weather in Maine looks like this, it’s a good time to work on fundamentals.

People have asked me about what I think the “highlight” has been of our year together thus far. Honestly, I can’t really choose one thing because so much was good. In a sweeping summary, the highlight for me has been his personality, rideability and goofball nature. I have also enjoyed meeting many, many people because of this blog! He is pretty easily recognizable, and I loved it this summer when people would approach us for a pat and chat. 

The other thing people wish to know is “does he ever act like a 4-year-old?” Well, of course! But a very good one. (If a 4-year-old never reacts, prepare for a kick ride once they are 9.) I discovered that he isn’t too keen on seeing things that don’t look safe/normal. (Keeping in mind he deems things safe that the majority of my older horses do NOT.) 

At HITS Saugerties (New York) in September, I had him in the final class of the show, to wrap up his training level career. He warmed up perfectly. Like, for an 80 percent ride. I was pumped; he had never felt better. 

We trotted into the show arena and suddenly Dubs looked up and was absolutely horrified to see what appeared to be a floating rider and horse head over the berm, in the adjacent arena. “HELLO HUMAN!” he exclaimed to me. “There is a horse with no legs over there. DANGER. FLEE.” (The berms in this particular arena are weird, and the timing of this whole event was just spectacularly bad!) 

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I’m calling this moment “flight of the palomino.”

We managed to halt and salute. And then he prepared to get TF out of there. A lovely photo was caught of this moment, and I like to call it “flight of the palomino.” After a series of pirouettes, he chose to freeze IN TERROR. And then, he got on with it and (to my great pride) did his job. Still got a ribbon and a respectable (if not 80 percent score), plus an experience that will benefit him in the future. Scary things happen, and that does not mean the world ends. I was so proud of how he pulled it together. And surprised. I have ridden a lot of young horses who just can’t turn it back around. I was thankful not to have to bail and run for it.

So we are very much looking forward to this winter of work. (And it’s gonna be a long one. Winter set in on Oct. 27.) And yes, I am already excited for the 2019 season! If his recent growth spurt continues, I may be on a 17.3-hand behemoth by then! (I won’t be. But he has sprouted up to a truly gargantuan almost 15.0!) 

Dubai would like his friends to know that he has his own Instagram account! Every time I post a blog, people ask if he is on the Social Media and I’m like “no, because next thing he will be out on all these Tinder dates…” But I finally caved. You can find him @dubais_dream on the Insta, and I’m sure he would love it if everyone followed along during his adventures!


I’m Sara Bradley, USDF bronze and silver medalist, young horse trainer extraordinaire (today anyway), and owner of Waterford Equestrian Center in Maine. When I am not wrangling 4-year-old horses, I am wrangling 4-year-old children and attempting to teach them to focus and ride ponies. (I also teach adults, who occasionally require less in the way of wrangling.) I also enjoy long walks (runs, let’s be real), my giant hairy dogs, horse showing with my mom Linda, whom everyone calls “Sara’s Mom,” and adventuring with my excellent horse husband, Eric.  

Read all of Sara’s COTH blogs.

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