As I’ve said many times before, Danny is the most talented horse I’ve ever had. He just thinks like a Grand Prix horse, partially because I’ve been diligent in training him to think that way, but partially just from nature, the beauty of the successful purpose-bred animal.
He’s agile as anything (sometimes for evil); he can coil and spring like a cat, with this tremendous energy and expression. Right now, with a gun to my head, I could do a pretty presentable job of everything from Grand Prix except the ones, where I can consistently do four or five, and have pulled off as many as nine. He has not yet hit his ninth birthday.
Horses like Danny are terribly fun to ride, and also a terrible temptation. I could lean hard on the ones and probably get 15 by late spring, and put in a whole season at Grand Prix with him. We’d get some good marks.
And it would be a terrible, terrible idea.
Because there are still moments in Danny’s typical work week where he’s a mess, moments where he drops the contact and puts his flexible little neck too round and I have nothing in front of me anymore. There are moments where his back fatigues and so he flings his legs into the air instead. There are moments where he falls on his forehand so hard it’ll take me out of the saddle.
And 10 years ago, before Ella and Midgey and Fender and Fiero, I might have overlooked those, seen only the good, and showed him anyway. Or I might have been a bit smarter than that (but probably not) and not taken him to shows, but I would have panicked, thinking that there was a problem, thinking I needed to better address the ones, or the half passes where he sometimes falls on his head, or the canter pirouettes where his back gets tired and he flings his legs, or whatever movement that wasn’t going well.
I’ve heard Jimmy Wofford, the great American icon in eventing, given credit for this: Experience is the thing you get five minutes after you needed it. And as I develop Danny, the sixth horse I’ve made up to FEI from the lower levels, I’ve realized that it doesn’t ever get easier, it just gets less scary.
I used to sweat Ella’s bad days, as a kid. Danny’s don’t scare me. I used to fret over whether Midge would get there, as a kid. With Danny I have no doubt that he will—not that I know when, or that I know how good it will be, but that he’ll go down the centerline at Grand Prix.
Fender, like Danny, had a propensity for naughty, and I used to worry that it was because I was doing something egregiously wrong. Of course when horses are fractious I always stop and examine my expectations, my aids, my timing, but at the end of the day, kids will be kids, and I laugh, address it, and move on. And isn’t it funny how the take-a-deep-breath-and-soldier-on approach tends to “fix” the “problem” better than fretting about it ever did anyway?
I sleep better now, at 32, then I ever did at 25.
And please, let’s be clear—I don’t know everything, far from it. One of my favorite moments of my formative young years was riding in a clinic with the late George Theodorescu, 80 years old at the time, and asking him a question (oh, how I wish I could remember precisely what I asked!) about the transition from piaffe to passage. He paused for a moment, then said, “Hmm. I don’t know.” With literally hundreds of Grand Prix horses under his belt, he didn’t yet have all the answers. I was 21.
I still run up against things I don’t know how to solve all the time. I bring together my team—my coach, my vet, my network of fellow trainers I know and love. We play with the question, we ruminate on it. we make sure we’ve covered all the bases.
And then I pick a path, and we follow it until it ends. And now, more than five years ago, much more than 10 years ago, I’m spending more time enjoying the process, and less time sweating the destination.