When I last wrote, little Dubai had arrived all fresh and shiny from Germany! It was warm and pleasant out, and things were cheerful and full of sunshine and joy, even though we could only steer to the left 50 percent of the time.
In an ideal world, I would always request lovely new ponies be delivered to me at a pleasant time of year like May. I live in a place where we have about three days of summer before the weather devolves into a complete catastrophe, and May is when those days tend to be.
Luckily for me, when Dubs landed in my yard in October, he brought some nice weather. (See, he’s pretty much magical!) I had a legitimate few weeks of wonderful riding conditions to establish the fact that he was an all around smashing little fellow. Both of us enjoyed the Indian summer, and all was well.
And then it was winter. Or, as people who train young horses say, “Time to turn the babies out for the season!”
We had a horrible Christmas week deep freeze and something called a bomb cyclone (which truly is an absurd name for a storm). During that time, logic and reason told me that perhaps I should consider giving the kid a winter rest. One morning, when it was 25 below zero I popped him out in his paddock and said, “This could be it for the season, kid. Go and grow and thrive and whatever! See you in the spring young grasshopper—or, this afternoon when I bring you in for hay and warm water (as one does).”
He had been working just beautifully, but with the temps well into the negative numbers, and the wind whipping around like certain death, this seemed like a good and mature decision.
He allowed me to give him exactly 48 hours of wintertime baby turnout/relaxation and growth. Then, whenever I would wander by his paddock to collect an older model equine for a workout, he would alert me to his existence. In ever rising tones. Which could not be ignored.
So, bless his little blond bombshell heart, he went back on the schedule. He was completely delighted by this turn of events and showed me this by practically prancing to the arena for every workout.
So what on earth do you do with your precious little almost 4-year-old who insists on a “full” work schedule? Especially in the DEAD of a Maine winter, when the weather is significantly less than ideal? (A good start is to teach him to turn left more than 50 percent of the time. Clear improvement!)
First of all you remind your child prodigy that a “full” work schedule is going to be 20 minutes of focused work, maybe four days a week. Yes Dubai, I know you think you are 12, but you are going to thank me for not overworking you in the years to come.
Second, despite how *perfect* it might seem to take a bareback snowy gallop on your cute little pony, you need to RESIST! I have had to remind myself on several occasions that he is 4, (and I am NOT), and even though I grew up running rampant on ponies I don’t bounce like I used to. I did a great job meeting my insurance deductible (and then some!) in 2017 (thankfully not all horse related), and I don’t need to try that out again. So no snow-day halter-and-lead-rope bridle adventures. Thou shalt not ride thy baby horse without tack in the snow. End of story. Instead, I hacked in my dad’s garden. Because that is the next best thing and clearly much more adult, dressage-y and sophisticated. And luckily, my dad does not discourage this activity. (As long as you go and fix divots, which would only happen if you were going fast. Which you *clearly* were not.)
Then I noticed that the children who ride at my stable developed a complete, total and Justin Bieber-like Dubai obsession. This lead to entire unmounted lessons for these young riders, spent grooming and petting and playing with him. He LOVED it. They LOVED it. The entire holiday season was then consumed by my students asking for Breyer horses that look “just like Dubs!” and writing stories for school about how he came to be here. Despite being a full-fledged adult, I may also have spent more than my fair share of time admiring my remarkably good-looking pony. He does have blond eyelashes after all, and if that doesn’t make a person feel warm and fuzzy nothing will. I will neither confirm nor deny rumors that we dressed him up for the holidays and forced him to take photos for Instagram.
When I actually buckled down to train the noble beast, I was constantly overjoyed at how hard he always tries to please. Though I discovered that apparently, he has been heavily drinking, as his straight lines are nothing less than a drunken stagger of complete intoxication! This behavior reminded me that this little kid is almost a teenager (of sorts). Maybe we need to have a chat about responsible behavior?
Which brings me to the next point. I am waiting for the 4-year-old-itis to strike. I find 3-year-olds to be truly delightful little sponges. They learn anything you teach them, which can be quite bad, if you happen to be riding like a jackass. They love you and want to hang out and eat pretzels and cuddle with you.
THEN. They turn 4. Suddenly, they know EVERYTHING, and if you correct them, they get all offended and go off in a pissy huff. (Side note: I often wish to be a teen again because I knew SO MUCH! I wish I still did.) They outgrow the desire to be in your pocket all the time, and they march crabbily off across the paddock to yank on the other gelding’s halter, and lord knows what else. They develop a relationship with that little mare next door that you aren’t 100 percent comfortable with.
We have all been there. The 4-year-old year is always an adventure in horse parenting.
Thus far, I am so pleased to say that Dubbie has not yet shown any signs of being a raging teenage terror. He currently has a complete oral fixation (especially for anything elastic and pompoms on hats—so weird), but that’s basically it for now. He’s amazingly friendly and such a good, sweet kid. He does appear to have put on a big amount of muscle and already looks quite large, as only a 14.2-hand horse can. He has been deemed “quite mature for his age” physically, and as a rider who has had some seriously awkward 4-year-olds, I tend to agree. He also rides like a much older horse, despite his drunken centerline stumble. When I have a horse that is 4 and happily walks, trots, canters and struts around the arena on the bit I am nothing short of thrilled.
Oh but about that “maturity” thing? I catch him acting his age regularly. He terrified his big brother beyond reason recently when he got hold of the broom and then attempted to “sweep” him. This was truly a horrifying moment for everyone except Dubai, who was full of glee and reveled in trying to “kill” the broom, after he managed to get it into his stall. I will admit to laughing quite hard after removing my terrified other horse from the scene of the crime (the crossties, which have since been relocated to a more neutral location), and assuring him that brooms are not deadly weapons.
And finally, winter is a good time to experiment with things that might be a bit scary or upsetting, and to do some training in potentially spooky situations. At my barn this means: riding with the super scary Appaloosa (who knows why this is scary, but it is!), having people randomly pop open umbrellas (that is not scary—go figure?) and occasionally setting up terrifying things in the middle of the arena. This might not be the all-time cure for spooking, but it gives me an idea of how a young horse might react in a scary situation. I find that info to be incredibly useful. (Do I need a parachute? A better set of brakes? A whiskey pre-ride?)
If spring ever comes, I think we just might go to a few shows to see what happens. I tossed him in the trailer last fall for a short field trip, and he was completely logical. Good pony! I’m super excited to see how much he learns and grows over the summer months. My feeling is, by the time fall rolls around, our centerlines will be much straighter and less of the stumble drunk chaos that they are now!
Also, a HUGE thanks to everyone who has been following along on little Dubai’s journey. The response to my previous post was overwhelming and so very appreciated. I will plan (hope) to write more as spring, “real” training season, and hopefully some competition become part of our schedule. While winter in Maine is an adventure, we all look forward to better weather and the start of the season here in Region 8.
I’m Sara Bradley, a USDF bronze and silver medalist, living the dream and training/teaching/riding and boarding horses from my small barn in the frozen arctic tundra (AKA: Waterford Equestrian Center, in Waterford Maine, where it is cold now, but quickly turning to spring). When I am not in the barn, which is rare, you can find me running many miles (I’ll be running the Boston Marathon on April 16!) and hanging out with my ridiculous dogs and lovely husband Eric. Read all of Sara’s blogs for COTH.