Small But Mighty

Aug 1, 2013 - 11:31 AM
War Lhord's had a distinguished career as a show horse but is taking to dressage like a duck to water. Photo courtesy of Jen Simpson.

I’m riding some wonderful horses right now. In addition to my own, I’ve got two super-fun almost-Prix-St-Georges horses belonging to clients, plus some other delightful client horses at the lower levels.

But the one who’s making my day, every day, is a 14.3-hand Arabian named War Lhord. 

If you’re thinking, “Lauren, aren’t you 5’9″ and leggy? Don’t you look preposterous on a 14.3-hand Arabian? Is it possible I can see both your feet from either side of the horse?” You are correct, Sir.

But I hike my stirrups up, think lean thoughts, and have an absolute blast from the moment I sit (lightly) down.

Lord belongs to his breeder and rider, a Pramateur (that’s my made-up word for an Amateur who rides as well as any Professional) named Jen, who specializes in Arabians. Jen herself has done everything that you can do with an Arabian, and has competed Lord in English show hack, sport horse show hack, sport horse under saddle, hunter pleasure and halter classes.

A few years ago, she brought Lord and a stablemate over for some lessons, thinking that some dressage work would make them both stronger and more confident in their backs and in the contact, and would make them better at their day jobs. The other horse definitely improved, and I like him a lot.

But this one has something special.

Let’s be clear: Lord is an Arabian’s Arabian. Long neck, long back, flat croup, high tail, hind legs attached out behind. He’s not got much in the way of medium or extended paces. He’s bay with little white, with a long bridle path and a dishy face and a long mane. There is little about him that makes you look at him and say, “Yep, a dressage horse.”

But he’s also got a fabulously uphill and adjustable canter. He’s quiet in the mouth. The long hind legs that make him a little butt-high also track right up underneath his body in all three paces.  And he soaks up training like a sponge.

Lord spent the winter learning to assertively take the bit, instead of ducking behind it, then returned home for a few months. One of the first few days he spent with us this time around, I asked Jen, a first-level-or-so rider, to make a volte at canter and, at the wall, ask for a transition to walk. And down into the walk he floated, balanced and pleasant and organized as anything. He could do it on the other lead, too.

A few days later I asked Jen to go across the diagonal at canter and, at the rail, switch her legs and flick her butt a little. A clean, undramatic flying change appeared, both directions, no muss, no fuss.

And when I got on him a few days after that, I could not only recreate the clean, undramatic flying changes, but I could also make both trot and canter half-pass.

I’m sure that he couldn’t recreate this quality of work for a less experienced rider. He is not a schoolmaster, far from it. I think I’m getting the work out of him that I’m getting mostly because I’m a pretty good rider, and also a bit because I’m 1/5 his size and can carry him around a bit when his strength, coordination and balance fail. 

But he does not get frazzled. He does not grind his teeth or swish his tail or flinch or stop or run backwards. I do all this work with little weenie spurs, a simple snaffle and no whip. I picked up a whip for giggles and asked for half-steps, and while he had no idea what I was asking for and really didn’t come close, he didn’t panic. He hunkered down and kept trying, wrong answer after wrong answer after wrong answer, and when I patted him and told him good boy, I swear to God, he preened.

I have to hike my stirrups up two holes when I get on him, and even then I’m always a little worried I’m going to lose my balance and pull him over with me. (I know there’s no chance of this, that his ancestors have been carrying full grown men around for generations, but still.) When Jen suggested I take him to an Arabian show, I had a little panic attack—as much as I love this thing and would be delighted to show him, I worried that someone would call the ASPCA and report me for being such a moose on his petite little self.

But he makes me smile, and every day he takes my wildest hopes for each ride and blasts them apart. He reinforces my belief that dressage is good for everyone, horses that are bred for it, horses that aren’t. He might never score well at a dressage show, but he’s one of the ones that, if I could, I’d enter at A wearing a little note pinned to my chest that said,

Dear Ms. Judge,

Don’t judge this book by its cover. I give my rider the coolest feeling. I shouldn’t be able to do this, and I do anyway. So lighten up. 

War Lhord

I can’t do that, and I shouldn’t expect any judge to listen even if I did—that’s not their job. But someone’s going to show him eventually—me or Jen or my assistant trainer, Allison (both of whom have cute little inseams, and as such are VASTLY more size-appropriate than I am). When we do, whatever the score, we’ll know about the miracle of this horse. And I guarantee you, when we salute at the end, all four of us will smile.


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