Monday, May. 27, 2024

Let Summer Begin

I’ve been on the road for several consecutive weeks, between clinics and horse shows and the general chaos of spring and summer, and I love it, truly. If I didn’t, this would have burned me out long ago. But I’m staring down two—TWO!—consecutive weekends at home with not much on my dance card except the normal things, and I’m quite excited. But that’s why you haven’t heard much from me. 

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I’ve been on the road for several consecutive weeks, between clinics and horse shows and the general chaos of spring and summer, and I love it, truly. If I didn’t, this would have burned me out long ago. But I’m staring down two—TWO!—consecutive weekends at home with not much on my dance card except the normal things, and I’m quite excited. But that’s why you haven’t heard much from me. 

But my radio silence doesn’t mean nothing’s happening; in fact, life at Casa Sprieser has been going gangbusters. After Omaha, I tried to give Ella a quiet few weeks, which didn’t last very long, because when not challenged, Ella becomes about as supple and elastic as a hippopotamus, and nearly as nice to ride. So back to work she went, admittedly for shorter bursts of work instead of the full-throttle fitness building work I have to do to produce Grand Prix tests. She’s got another week or two of this before she goes back to “real” work, in preparation for a horse show in July, and then I have to figure out how to entertain ourselves until her next show after that: September.

This is a new phenomenon for me, the maintenance of the finished FEI horse. We’ve had plenty of schoolmasters come through my program over the years, but all for riders who are learning the ropes, so their management I get. But how to keep the 15-year-old Grand Prix horse fit and fresh, and let me keep learning (as, of course, no one is EVER done learning the ropes!), but not burn through her, as a horse only has so many steps of piaffe, so many jumps, so many gallop sets, so many whatever over the course of their lives—this is new to me. Ella is healthy and sound and has many years to go, but I want to keep it that way, and I also want to keep her happy in her little chestnut mind.

So I’ve been breaking things down. I’m being a little neurotic about the piaffe and passage transitions; sometimes she crashes into me in front, if I open the door for her to do so, so I’m doing lots of boring repetition, that she can’t catapult off those big powerful German hind legs and smack me in the bridle, ever.

I’m also picking apart her canter, trying to find a canter that’s a little shorter in the body, a little more under behind, a little rounder from stem to stern. Maybe I won’t get anywhere big, maybe I won’t earn myself a big chunk of points, but it’s incredible, the little changes I feel and see already. It’s a wonderful reminder that old dogs can learn new tricks.

Most of what I ride, however, are young dogs, and some of them are being geniuses and some of them are being big dorks. Danny falls firmly into the genius category; after banging my head into walls for a while about canter pirouettes, and as such spending a lot of time just working on transitions and small circles at canter until he could execute both without flailing about, lo and behold, he can suddenly make something that bears passing resemblance to a half canter pirouette. Amen! Still miles to go before I can enter him in something, which is fine; I care that it’s done right, not that it’s done soon, but it’s fun to see the progress. 

He’s also made MARKED progress in his capacity for half steps, and in the last week I’ve had two rides where he made true, serious, bum down, withers up, not pulling with his fancy front legs, not disconnected, bouncy and cheerful piaffe for a handful of steps. At 8 years old, and with Danny’s propensity to defer to disconnected faux passage instead of really sitting down and compressing, the piaffe I settle for covers a boatload of ground, isn’t terribly expressive and wouldn’t light anyone’s hair on fire, but I feel the potential, and it’s thrilling.

Also on the 8-year-old spectrum is my other little genius, Dorian. Dorian’s my heartbreak, because I can’t for the life of me figure out why someone hasn’t snatched him up yet.

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He’s also finding his way through the idea of piaffe, and his pirouettes are his particular gift; my mom sat on him the other day for fun, and I told her to just half halt really hard and lean into the turn, and boom, there it was. He’s a peach. His single flying changes are getting awfully solid, and on a good day I can get the threes and fours, and on a bad day he still wrings his sweet little overachiever hands and gets in his own way, but by god, is this one ever going to be a nice horse. 

On my Naughty List at the moment is Johnny, who is actually not all that naughty, except he spooked at some deer over the weekend and sent a working student flying, and as such there had to be pie (as regular readers may recall, the rule at my farm is that if you fall off, you have to bring in pie), and I just started a whole healthy-eating-thing and since I have the willpower of a spoon, I had to eat the pie, and then there was remorse.

Johnny is also a tease, because he made the most sexy, gorgeous flying change to the left about 10 days ago, and I haven’t seen a second one since. You’re killing me, Johnny. Just killing me.

But that’s what 7 is all about, and 4 is not much better. Baby Hurricane is very, very close to getting himself removed from the Naughty List; he went through a few-week streak of deciding that turning right was dumb, but he seems to have found his better angels this week. We’ll see if there’s a repeat performance.

This weekend is the last for my team for a while, but it’s a busy one: 11 horses from intro to Intermediaire I, including a fantastic Pas De Deux on a pair of cremello Morgans (seriously. Check in to my farm’s Facebook page after this weekend for photographic evidence. You’ll just die.)

I then take a rare few days off to fly to Ohio to celebrate my grandfather’s 90th birthday. 90 is a helluva run, no? I’m looking forward to talking about things other than horses for a refreshing change, and eating some cake. Unlike Fell-Off-A-Horse-Pie, 90th-Birthday-Cake is calorie free. I checked.

SprieserSporthorse.com
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