Auction Horse Meets Dom Schramm

Jul 10, 2019 - 9:24 AM

 While Cairo rehabs, a new little horse meets eventing.

I was heading to the barn one morning when I got a call from my friend Becky. “Are you near the livestock auction?” she asked.

Weirdly enough, yes, I was. Sometimes I think Becky has radar or ESP when it comes to horses.

She asked me if I would stop by the local monthly horse auction here in Eugene to look at a couple of animals. Her brother was heading over there later cash in hand, and she wanted to make sure he got a decent horse. Spoiler alert: He didn’t get a horse. He got a mule.

I pretty much hate auctions. I hate seeing the animals looking lost and sad, and I hate seeing the ones I know will go to slaughter. But this auction also makes a lot of effort to promote animals, and I’ve seen horses go for thousands to good homes, and one buyer even shipped her auction horse to Germany.

I looked at the sweet, but skinny OTTB Becky thought would be good for her brother and agreed that he seemed lovely. Then I sent photos of a pony with a huge painful tumor bulging out its eye to a rescue friend who was going to buy it to gently euthanize.

After that, I wandered the aisles and came across a cute little gray horse standing alone in a pen looking completely unfazed by the commotion. He was listed as an Andalusian cross and was just darling. I took photos and sent them to the brother. “Too small,” he responded.

“Just get him,” I said. No dice. Well, like I said, he got a mule, albeit a very cute mule.

I finished up and headed out, only to see my friend Janice pulling in as I left. She’d been checking out the auction’s Facebook page and saw the little gray. I told her I liked him and also told her to check out the OTTB. She was drawn to the gray, and I agreed; he just seemed like a neat little horse.

Our barn manager also happened to stop by that day. It’s amazing how horse people who are “not shopping” always manage to be around when horses are for sale! He too said the little gray was cute and appeared sound. If the seller at the auction lists the horse as selling sound, the buyer has three days to vet the horse and return it if he’s not sound.

So that’s how I wound up driving home from the auction that night with a small Andalusian and a large mule stuffed into Cairo’s trailer.

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Meet Zaiden, everyone! Photos Courtesy Of Camilla Mortensen

Janice named the little gray Zaiden and got the vet out for shots and a going over. Zaiden was cute, broke to ride, sound and about 4 or 5 years old.

Zaiden turned out to be exactly what he looked like—a cute, little, good boy. I started riding him here and there for Janice and, aside from a couple baby moments, he’s been a doll.

Janice rides dressage, but she’s humored me and let me pop him over some small Xs and even take him to a small hunter show and do “trot a pole” and “trot an X” classes, figuring the exposure was good for him.

So when Cairo was injured and my show season came to a crashing halt, Janice was one of the nice folks who offered some extra rides on their horses so I wasn’t completely grounded. And for those of you who remember my rescue horse Scout, he is not one of my current projects because he got adopted to an absolutely perfect dressage home with a big green pasture.

One by one, I scratched my shows and clinics, but when it came to canceling the annual clinic with Dom Schramm, I balked.

It felt like defeat as a rider to cancel everything. So despite the fact I really needed to save the money for stuff like Cairo’s shockwave, and despite the fact Zaiden didn’t actually know how to jump, I asked Janice if I could take Zaiden to the Dom clinic and maybe even to the one three-day event in Oregon. She said sure.

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Before clinicing with Dom, Zaiden hadn’t done more than trot a few crossrails.

I let my trainer Meika Decher know I was coming. “Novice?” she asked. “More like Xs,” I said. “So beginner novice,” she noted.

Umm, more like grasshopper?

We went for beginner novice with my caveat that it was kind of a stretch.

Despite the pangs I felt pulling out of the barn without Cairo, I pretty much knew going to the clinic was the right choice at dinner the night I arrived. As we talked about Cairo’s proximal suspensory injury, Dom offered examples of his horses that had recovered from injuries just fine and gone back to compete. His own main ride, Bolytair B, had an injury that put Dom’s Blenheim International (England) aspirations on hold, but “Boly” came back and did the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day this year.

All I want to do is get back to prelim and shoot for a one- or two-star—and heck, one-stars just got easier.

The clinic is always at Meika Decher and her husband Mark Salser’s gorgeous Polestar Farm, which has lovely stadium footing and a fabulous cross-country course. There were two beginner novice groups, and I watched the first one doing their show jumping with a little trepidation.

I know. I just fessed up to being nervous watching 2’7″ jumps after saying I want to get back to prelim. But let’s discuss Zaiden’s jumping history.

We trotted Xs at a show, trotted Xs at home. And twice we cantered them. We definitely had never jumped a liverpool. We had jumped nothing, just trotted crossrails.

At any rate, Zaiden has a good mind, Dom is a great clinician, and I knew I’d have fun and Z would get a good introduction to eventing, which is why I brought him.

Did I mention Z is also a hungry little “will work for treats” kind of guy? This will come into play later in this story.

When I introduced Z to Dom, I explained what we had been doing (dressage) and that he had a good mind. So naturally, Dom had me be the first to trot through a series of raised trot poles on a curve. It was an exercise designed to catch you if you let your horse lose impulsion or bulge out. Zaiden made me look like an idiot by trotting through the rails like he did it every day and wasn’t one bit green.

Still when it came time to canter Z into two crossrails two strides apart after the trot rails, I was like, “So, that’s above our pay grade; we don’t canter fences really, and certainly not two in a row.”

I think Dom’s response was something along the lines of, “No time like the present, mate.”

He said the same thing when I was like, “Umm, so oxers… also new.”

Zaiden cheerfully popped over the Xs and verticals and yup, even the liverpool (albeit a very small one).

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Zaiden said, “Liverpools? No problem!”

Dom’s courses were challenging enough to make you think but not overwhelming. He’s seen me on Cairo and was able to draw from that to help me with Zaiden. Where Cairo is super hot, Z needs periodic encouragement—he just feels like he’s moving faster than he is since his steps are shorter. And where Cairo prefers to canter, Zaiden is a trotting kind of guy. I tended to wait for Zaiden to lock and load, and that’s not his style.

Dom had me keep more leg on and have my hands low and wide and not holding back. Since I am used to holding Cairo back, that helped me to have him both straight and forward. Z is pretty quiet in the face and mouth—he goes in a loose ring French happy mouth—but one of the other horses was fussy. Dom pointed out it’s easy to fall into having “noisy hands” when you have a fussy horse, but it doesn’t quiet the horse.

Particularly useful was something I remembered from last year—Dom’s use of two rails as “train tracks” down the long outside line that requires your horse to be straight. Straight is easier said than done on a horse that’s cantering down a line to an oxer for the first time in his life! Dom pointed out, “Horses are rarely asked to be truly straight except to skinnies and corners, and maybe centerlines.”

Some of the pairs in my group were pretty green, and some were on the more advanced end of beginner novice, and those folks did some bending lines and even a one stride. This led to a moment of horror or two on my part when I wondered if Z and I were about to be asked to do something I really did think was too hard. Z’s job in life is simply to be a good, quiet boy, and I didn’t want to teach him jumping was stressful or exciting. But, no, Dom tailored each question to the horse and rider, and at the end of Day 1, I felt like Z and I had been challenged, but the little greenie was never overwhelmed or scared.

That night over dinner, we persuaded Dom to talk about his first experience at Land Rover Kentucky. He not only completed and lived out a dream he’s had since he was a kid, he was first out on the five-star stadium course and laid down a picture-perfect round on Boly B. When it comes to his riding, Dom is a perfectionist, and we pulled up some video and let him nitpick his own rides. I know he and his wife, eventer Jimmie Schramm, don’t do Evention TV anymore, but I swear people would pay just to have Dom narrate cross-country.

This then moved us into watching old eventing footage—not just cross-country but stadium and dressage. As a relatively late life eventer, I was blown away by the changes. Next time a judge dings Cairo and I with a bad score in the sandbox I am just going to tell people the judge doesn’t appreciate our classic, 1970-era dressage style.

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Cross-country day is always a blast, but I was a little worried as Zaiden had never galloped in a field before.

The next day was cross-country day, and as I watched my friend Julie ride her adorable OTTB Siberian Cloud (Siberian Summer— Miss Sundial, Skywalker), whom she adopted through CANTER, I went right back to, “Oh dear, what was I thinking, taking a completely green horse to a clinic?”

It wasn’t that it was that hard. But I woke up that morning and realized this was my first time out on cross-country since falling off Cairo at Rebecca Farm (Montana), and I was having all kinds of feelings.

I think my favorite expression of the day was when Dom told Julie her canter was “undercooked.” Sully can go from undercooked to “Yeehaw” in 0-60, but Sully is a good boy, and it was fun to watch them get a great canter going and look like they are ready to take on novice.

We got out to the cross-country field, and everyone was all, “Isn’t it so much fun to get the horses out on this big green field and gallop?” and I’m like, “Sure, except, I don’t know if Zaiden has ever done that before.”

Zaiden had one good spook and then was like, “Ooh I just noticed we are out on a giant field of grass snacks!” He thought the cantering was fun but standing still and noshing was better. Since I’m all about having a good, calm experience, I let him grab some bites. Back when I did the jumpers, we used to let the horse I competed, Merlin, stop and take a bite or two before leaving the arena so he would be chill as he finished, so I figured that was a good thing for Zaiden too.

Some horses are hungrier than others. Zaiden is on the hungry side.

This time I was not first to go, so I watched the others kick off. Dom likes to start off with a wide, sweeping, gallopy sort of course. Log, log, little brush, around to another log, then a log pile over a hill to another log, to a tiny coop, then up a hill to a log on a hill, down to a maroon brush.

Noting that experienced horses had refused the brush I wondered if that meant I should skip it. Dom said cheerfully, “No, it means you should ride it.”

What he didn’t say is: It’s like a foot high. Your horse can step over it.

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Dom watching intently.

Z hopped over the logs, but I let him peter out to the brush. It was less refusal and more confusal as he just wasn’t sure why I had slowly trotted him up to a random object. He hopped over it on the second try and then was completely unconcerned about the logs with the hill between them.

The little coop surprised him, but at that point Dom had gotten us into a canter for a bit, so he cleared it with a startled little leap that cracked everyone up. Dom pointed out to the spectators that Cairo was feisty, and I probably didn’t use my leg much, while Zaiden needed leg to hand.

So then we got to the log on the hill. It was a decent-sized log (for beginner novice), and the landing was downhill. I was feeling dorky for doubting Zaiden to the brush and bold from having cantered downhill to a log, and so I completely misunderstood Dom, who was trying to tell me I could skip that log up on the hill and just do the maroon brush at the bottom. I was like, “Well, Dom’s been right about Zaiden the whole time; he has a good mind.”

Zaiden, who I’d never ridden over a hill or over a log till that day, merrily hopped over it, landed downhill and looked around to see what was next.

And that was pretty much his general demeanor. “Oh, jump the thing? Sure, I will jump the thing.”

Until we got to the up bank. That is where the whole “Camilla needs to use more leg, and Zaiden is a big snacker” thing came together.

Dom had us gather around and explained what he was looking for. Short and bouncy to the up bank, and for the down bank he pointed out that drops are the one place riders just can’t use their hands but need to depend on their body for balance. “Think a little two point,” he said, “but not as vertical.”

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Dom talking to us about how to land off the bank.

The old school theory was land vertical and you can never be too far behind, he said. The new school was: “You win some, you lose some, but you get away quicker.”

He added, “You know you did it right when you land and feel there are no forces acting on you.”

The goal was to trot up the up bank, then circle to the small down bank. As I trotted toward the up, I had that niggling feeling Zaiden didn’t have the faintest idea what we were about to do. So what I should have done was inform him he had a mission. More leg, maybe a little stick.

Nope, I just kept us on our nice little trot. And Zaiden trotted right to that up bank and went: “OMG a snack bar at just my height.”

He didn’t jump it. He stuck his nose down and ate it.

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So up banks are just snack bars at nose height, right?

Our dork level was high.

And of course, my friend Christall caught it on video. I have watched it again and again and collapse each time in giggles.

We came around again. I used my leg, and Zaiden went, “Oh, OK!” and hopped up. Then we came to the down bank, and Zaiden was like, “Umm, so what exactly is this?” Up comes more naturally than down to horses, Dom explained.

Zaiden pondered the situation and then gleefully leaped into the (one-foot high) abyss.

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Zaiden gleefully jumping into the abyss.

Other challenges included actually cantering through the water (remember, Zaiden is a trotting kind of guy) and leaping over the ditch (no problem). “Don’t lose the clarity of the canter in the water,” Dom cautioned. Or in our case, just get the canter in the water.

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Zaiden was a little confused as to why we had to both canter through the water and then jump something on the way out.

The final question gave Z pause. It was over the ditch and then a couple strides to a white-striped coop. The ditch was no problem, but Zaiden gave the coop a startled “NO.” Dom suspected this might happen and used it as a chance to school how to deal with problems like this. We walked toward the coop, and when Zaiden focused on it, I put my leg on. Soon he hopped over it no problem.

I ended the weekend pretty delighted that the little horse had learned something and advanced really quickly. I still missed Cairo, but the ache is dulled when you have fun horses to play with. Janice and I decided to enter Z for the Inavale Horse Trials and see what comes next.


Camilla Mortensen is an eventer from Eugene, Oregon, who started blogging for the Chronicle when she made the trek to compete in the novice three-day at Rebecca Farm in Montana and brought her mare Queen of Cairo up to prelim. Camilla works as a newspaper editor by day and fits training and competing Cairo around her job. You can find updates on Cairo on Instagram.

Read all of Camilla’s blogs.

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