Johnny (Will) Be Good (at Dressage, Someday)

Jun 11, 2013 - 1:03 AM
Johnny may not have set the world on fire at his first show, but he behaved awfully well. Photo by Sara Lieser.

When Ella and Fender and Midgey were all kids, they went to their first horse shows when I felt they were ready, when they could balance reasonably well around turns, when they could make reasonably prompt transitions, maintain an age-appropriate degree of self-carriage, and largely go where they were told. With Ella and Midgey, this was doable because I was a working student, and with Fender it was possible because my business was so young, and I didn’t have many clients at horse shows.

With Johnny, though, things are different. If I wanted to get him to a show this year, I had limited opportunities. With 10-15 clients at each of the major horse shows, I wouldn’t have been able to give him the attention he deserved. 

In essence, there are two shows on our spring and summer calendar that clients tend to not go to, and this weekend was one of them. So nevermind that our steering is inconsistent, our balance was sketchy at best, that I’ve only known Johnny two months and only had him here for six weeks, and that he’s still barely a 4 on the body condition scale in spite of excellent feed, veterinary care and oodles of grass—let’s go to the show!

And let’s add in a few more things. The last few weeks have been so nuts that I hadn’t had time to take Johnny on a trial field trip off the farm. I hadn’t even had time to make sure he’d load into my four-horse trailer. (He did, like a champ.)

Both Allison and I are on the road a lot in the next month, so we’ve been teaching like FIENDS all week and not sleeping a whole lot.

At 8 p.m. on Thursday night, I realized I had not booked a hotel room for this show. (I got the last hotel room in all of Leesburg at an exorbitant rate, and Allison was very excited that she could fit on the couch.)

And when I say it poured rain all day Friday, I mean it POURED. Two inches of rain in about 24 hours, so much that even the fairly-well-draining Morven Park footing was just decimated. Yuck. 

Once again, though, we lucked out. Our first ride on Saturday wasn’t until 1 p.m., so Allison and I held off on schooling anything until the wee hours of Saturday morning, when things were marginally dryer.

To give Johnny credit where credit is due, I didn’t longe him once; I just hopped right on and went. He reverted to something he hasn’t done since the first time I tried him as we walked around—he’d just stop and lock, sometimes with his head up to look at something, sometimes for no particular reason at all. It’s a disconcerting feeling only because I just don’t know him well enough yet to feel really confident in saying to myself: You know this isn’t going anywhere, put your leg on and go! He feels like, if he wanted to, in that moment, he could do something really dirty.

But other than stopping-and-planting on his way to and from the arenas every day, one good spook at a bicycle (really?), not being super-brave around the cantering Friesian (I must confess I wasn’t either) and one I-don’t-wanna moment on Day 2 that I quickly quelched, he was a superstar. By the time he got to his test on Saturday he’d remembered enough of his training to be on the bit most of the time in the warm-up, and through the entire second half of his test, although the first half was quite comical. 

His test Sunday was more relaxed, although with absolutely no control over my steering whatsoever; it’s rather miraculous we stayed in the ring, not because of bad behavior, but because of really bad balance.

All in all, his scores were completely appropriate and very mediocre, and both judges were very nice about finding sweet ways to say, “Dude, your horse is not really trained yet,” which is also true, and he gets a gold star for good behavior for the weekend. As Michael is so quick to remind me, I’m in this to have a World-Beater Grand Prix horse, and those are never the World Beater Training Level Horses. True, true.

Allison rode her first Young Rider Grand Prix on Tres, who is not so easy to ride at Grand Prix, and got her first 60 percent+ towards finishing her USDF Gold Medal, and then had a STELLAR Brentina Cup test that was well-liked by everyone—and I mean everyone, lots of spectators came up to tell me what a great job she’d done—except the two judges, so go figure. It’s moments like that where we could go in with a note pinned to our jacket like Paddington Bear. “To Whom It May Concern, Please note that my primary job is to pack my wonderful, sweet beginner-rider owner around while she learns how to sit nicely and have a soft hand, and that being a Grand Prix horse comes second. Also, I learned to piaffe totally backwards and out of fear, and I’ve come a LONG, long way, baby. Please cut me some slack. Love, Tres.”

Until that happens, we’re keeping our expectations realistic, and I take every opportunity to tell Allison what a fine job she’s doing with him, so here’s another one: Allison, you rock.

We made it home at a civilized hour, managed to both load up and unload in dry conditions, and we do it all again at Culpeper (with clients this time) this coming weekend!


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