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January 21, 2011

The Many Moods Of Mondavi

Mondavi is extremely talented at making faces and friends.

Greetings sports fans from the frozen tundra that is Vermont. I continue to hibernate, coffee cup in hand, looking out the window, thinking about going to the barn to watch the girl ride, but it’s really cold!

The girl continues to put in long hours at the barn, ever the faithful and committed young horseperson. I shamefully admit that over the past several weeks, I have only done drive-bys—picking the girl up at the end of the day, not even getting out of the car. The only real barn time I’ve put in is my regular Saturday afternoon barn chore shift.

My punishment for such wimpy and unsportsmanlike conduct? The weather forecast is calling for temperatures between 10 and 20 degrees below zero this Saturday, during the day. And I get to spend Sunday at a hockey tournament.

It’s silly, because nothing stirs my soul like watching the girl ride. It doesn’t have to be a horse show, or a lesson. Just a plain old Tuesday hack is more than enough to make me thank my lucky stars that I am able to provide my daughter access to this great sport and currently, a wonderful, goofy horse named Mondavi.

We’re nearing the one-year mark on our lease of Mondavi, the Dutch Warmblood owned by Michelle Osgood. Thank goodness we signed a two-year lease because it would be really embarrassing for Michelle is she leased Mondavi to someone else and the entire Howell family went out and stole him and brought him back to Missy Ann Stables.

At 15, Mondavi’s had more than a few juniors on his back and knows his way around the show ring. Over the past year, we’ve really gotten to know him—and the ribbons, accolades and Facebook friends (yes, he has his own Facebook page) only tell part of the story.

Here’s a list of some of what we’ve learned—insights that can only come from long hours spent bonding with a 1,200 animal:

White things are scary.
We had heard the tales and been warned—no white bell boots or polo wraps, stay away from white ponies at horse shows. White coats hanging on jumps standards? He will bolt away from them to keep his rider safe. Mondavi is afraid of all things white. Seriously? Um, yes.

This is a one-kid horse.
Mondavi wants attention, and lots of it. He knows that the best way to achieve this is by bonding with a kid, one kid at a time. You suck the kid in by making funny faces, showing off your tricks (pulling-the-zipper-of-her-coat-up-and-down-really-fast-as-many-times-as-you-can), giving hugs and never stopping. Then you can teach the kid just how you like to be curried, you favorite brands of treats, the correct way to apply peanut oil to your hooves daily, and how to treat you like the prince you know yourself to be.

Mondavi could win an Academy Award for equine facial expressions.
With his big, dark cow eyes and an overactive upper lip, Mondavi can make more facial expressions than most Botoxed Hollywood actresses. As soon as he enters the show ring, his ears go forward and do not move until he steps out (no joke). He can make the most pathetic “beg for a treat” face I have ever seen, far more effective than any dog, stretching his neck out, twisting his head, blink, blink.  

Even when you are 15 years old, being clipped is very scary!
Ditto for getting your mane pulled. Even when the same person has been clipping you for the past 12 years. Perhaps this is some act to score drugs?

 Mondavi is famous for his “Stinks” face.
The lip up, Mondavi’s “Stinks” face has not only landed him the nickname “Stinks,” but has also made him semi-famous. Every horse show we went to this past summer, at least one total stranger approached us, without a word of greeting or introduction, and began to tap Mondavi on the nose and say, “Do it!” He would usually politely oblige and raise his upper lip. It’s just plain weird.

Mondavi is a teacher.
Mondavi is all business when he gets in the show ring and he knows how to perform. I was amazed at what he taught the girl this summer. Truly awed. Each time they went in the ring, they were a team and he was determined to show Samantha the “right” way to do things. If Samantha disagreed, she had to prove to Mondavi why she was right. Sometimes he gave in, sometimes he didn’t. He never stopped. He let her make a million mistakes and still did his job. By the end of the show season, she was a different rider, more poised, confident and intuitive than I had imagined possible. The journey was incredible and I can’t wait for Season Two.

Elizabeth Howell grew up riding on the hunter/jumper circuit in Massachusetts. Now she is a horse show mom. She holds a day job at The Emily Post Institute and slings horse manure on the weekends. Her website is www.sheridesIpay.com.

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