If you have ever trained proper reinback as a tool to gain impulsion, you will understand when I say that setbacks in life can be a springboard for progress if you treat them right.
I don’t know how Hotmail found me.
This time last year I was taking down the Christmas tree and trying to keep all the ornaments out of harm’s way. I had a new corgi puppy, Foxy, who kept me entertained at every turn, and life should have been good.
But I was missing my horse, Cadillac, who had died in November and trying like hell to keep my chin up and press on with Winyamaro toward international success. I was grieving for that incredible daily high of riding Cadillac and for the missed opportunities that are so hard to accept in an Olympic year.
I was also torn about the near future. Should I press on for World Cup qualification with Winyamaro or pursue a chance for the London Olympics? Down to one horse and strapped for cash, the choice seemed important on several levels and, uncharacteristically, I sat on the fence for several months. Finally, I decided to stay home from the rest of the World Cup qualifiers and save Winyamaro for a big springtime push toward Olympic qualification.
But honestly, Rita, my heart just wasn’t in it. I was so sad, the winter was so dark and cold, and I wasn’t hungry for competitive success. Playing with the new puppy brought me more joy than going to the stable every day. (Bless her little corgi soul.) So I kept breathing, and I kept chanting, and I kept going through the motions. I waited for that stirring in my belly that would signal commitment to another goal.
It never came. At least not last winter. I turned in an Olympic application on Feb. 26 and withdrew it on Feb. 28 when Winyamaro took a wrong step in the middle of a perfectly normal workout and sustained the injury that would keep him out of competition for the rest of the year.
I was relieved, Rita. Can you believe that??? I was relieved that I didn’t have to pick myself up and get motivated to compete again. And as shocking as that revelation was, in that moment, I knew I was in deep trouble. I had to find some inspiration and find it fast, or I was in real danger of being consumed by inertia.
So I went horse shopping. Actually, I had been shopping for horses for several months already, but with a heavy heart. I knew deep down in my soul that Cadillac was irreplaceable. I knew I had to stop comparing every horse I rode to him, although that logic did not prevail over the emotion of my loss. Moreover, I often returned home from a shopping trip in a state of shock at either the sticker price of horses that I did like, or at the sticker price of horses that were presented at three and four times that of their true value.
My usual sources were letting me down, so with renewed determination, I called a few new numbers and ended up booking yet another flight to Denmark (my favorite shopping ground) in March.
There I was, sitting near a heater in the winter cold, watching horses go and eating cookies all day long. Nothing looked interesting, but I knew that if I didn’t get on a horse soon and at least work up a sweat, my breeches wouldn’t fit in the morning. I needed to get some exercise or I would need another saddle size. So I asked to ride a cute little chestnut that looked fairly harmless.
I was told he was a Michellino, 10 years old, shown third level, trying to get to PSG and that he would make a nice horse for a client if I had someone looking. The flying changes were sticky, and he had no walk, but something about him caught my eye, and I thought I could at least burn off a few calories on him. I did not think I was looking at an international Grand Prix prospect.
And then I rode Hotmail for the first time. This was middle March, and it had not been very long since my last ride on Winyamaro, so I was still very tuned up in my timing and my feel for a Grand Prix horse. I got on and rode Hotmail like I rode my last ride a few weeks before on W.
Hotmail responded like a top competitor even though anyone watching us would have to have a big imagination to know that. I could hardly believe the feedback I was getting from this horse.
I couldn’t do a single flying change in each direction, so I tried them with sideways impulsion in a Grand Prix zigzag. (“He doesn’t know that movement,” said the agent. “He does now, “ I replied.) Hotmail’s talent for moving sideways helped him jump the changes when I asked. I still couldn’t do a single change on a straight line.
I couldn’t make a good walk-trot transition, so I tuned that up for a minute and then asked for piaffe with an intention to go to trot and a “whoops, I meant walk-no-trot” half halt in just the right moment. All Michellinos can piaffe, and Hotmail is no exception, although it would take another six months before he offered me the steps he teased me with on that day.
I tried walk and canter pirouettes that were stiff, out of balance and irregular in the steps. I reminded myself that he was green for the level despite his age, but I asked him to stay more in front of my leg and turn with more focus and precision anyway. He put his best effort forward.
I asked him to take longer steps in the walk and felt no capacity whatsoever to lengthen the stride. Hmmmm. I tucked that tidbit away in my head and pressed on.
I asked him to passage and asked him to push out of that into extended trot. He broke to canter even though I was sure I had a phenomenal transition prepared, but the mistake did not faze me. I knew if I could prepare one such transition during a catch ride, with good training and bit of time, the future would hold many better transitions.