When I was a youth, 365 days seemed like a literal eternity. It might as well have been a million years in my inexperienced mind.
I am older now, *wiser.* A year no longer seems like a millennium (actually, quite the opposite). However, I am still human and can appreciate looking back on the previous 12 months and the growth that happened during that time.
One year ago, I took Little Dubai down his very first centerline. (And yes, part of me is like, HOW HAS IT BEEN A YEAR?!) We didn’t really know each other, but I knew him well enough to realize that with enough bribes (i.e. sugar, bananas) he would probably do everything to the best of his ability. With a bit of hand-holding from my terrific coach Susanne Hamilton, we made our entrance (a slightly drunk-staggery entrance on HIS part) into the world of dressage. And he was a good boy.
Here we are, a spectacular year later, hitting the show circuit yet again. Which brings me to a self-indulgent moment of introspection. In 365 days, what has changed?
I know my horse now, and there is mutual trust and a delightful friendship. We had a truly horrid winter in Maine. The final snow pile melted on—I kid you not—MAY 19. I had to make a choice between forfeiting all winter training or riding in the hellacious bedlam of 45 MPH blizzard wind, snow crashing off the roof, riding in slippery snow pants and facing certain ejection should he decide to go postal. (He did not.) Plus, everything else that happens when it begins to snow on Oct. 27 and NEVER EVER STOPS. So, yeah, I rode and managed to avoid CERTAIN DEATH.
We visited every fussy little bit of basic dressage training that you can imagine. Are you really straight, Dubai? Can I ride you all soft and squishy even if the wind blows the 1000-pound door wide open? Can we go sideways? Make perfect transitions? Are you bored yet? No? Good, because this stuff is critical!
I said to Susanne on our first clinic of the season, (which was April 7th in the middle of an ACTUAL SNOWSTORM) “We have done nothing but strength work and fiddly basics.”
And she said, “Good, because he looks perfect.” So, 365 days have given him a rock-solid foundation. And have made both of us appreciate the temperate weather of a Maine spring.
He is far, FAR less of a staggering, intoxicated octopus this year! We seem to be leaving the babyhood chaos behind at this point, as long as the ground is perfectly flat. Want to see him flounder? Ask him to carry me down hills. Luckily, centerlines are rarely positioned downhill, and he managed solid “8” scores on that movement this past weekend! Progress!
I can feel the horse he is going to develop into, and I LIKE it. It’s great to get out and play at first level this year, but I think much more about the horse he will be in 1,095 days. Right now, I can feel that he is going to be delightful both in expression and collection in a few years’ time. He would like to show off that stuff now, and while I occasionally allow a brief moment of adult work, most of that still gets to wait another year. (Sorry, Dubai. No piaffe. No pirouette canter. No extensions on repeat for you!)
I know what he does when he is upset. (I’m a woman of a certain age … I like to KNOW.) He is a big squishy marshmallow to ride and not a dirty little stinker. If he goes nuclear, it’s honest, and brief. “OMG,” he yells, “the ground is MADE OF LAVA!!!!” After he turns into a helicopter for a moment, he returns to earth, ready to work. If a 5-year-old never expresses himself, it’s a horse who will be too boring for FEI. I don’t care for boredom.
I’m quite glad that we went out to a few shows when he was 4. He has learned the drill and certainly seems to have retained the info from last season. I find it much easier to show a little baby the ropes than a big, strong, *giant* 14.3-hand adult horse! But seriously, having a bit of confidence that he has “been there, done that” is terribly comforting.
Oh, and the past year has taught me that he is a complete swamp donkey! If there is poop, he puts his face in it. If there is water, he splashes in it. Mud?? Well, he is a palomino, so you can guess what he does. *Sigh.* He sure is beautiful, but he is a filthy mess 90% of the time, which hurts my delicate sensibilities. Luckily, he loves to be groomed and bathed. He just likes attention of any sort and knows that becoming a filthy heathen is a direct path to the grooming area and heaps of human adoration (rascal!).
In the past year I have learned that he is the horse I want to ride no matter what. Sometimes being a horse professional is a rough job. Having a special creature to ride, one who basically washes away all your sorrows is a remarkable thing! Every day with him is a good one. I am a spoiled, spoiled middle-aged woman!
So 365 days after his debut into the World Of Dressage, we were back at it again. Fewer bribes needed this time around and less hand-holding was required! He survived the inevitable unexpected surprises that horse shows present (like excavators dropping metal pipes into a dump truck just a stone’s throw away!) and came home a winner.
It is wonderful to have a young horse who thinks he is a “big deal” because when he can keep four on the floor, it means we are going to throw down some pretty solid tests. I enjoy ruminating about where he will be in a year. Or three. There are no certainties in the horse world, but when I allow myself to have moments of unbridled hope and enthusiasm, I can hardly contain my excitement for the future. Because I tend to think he is a pretty big (little) deal too!
I’m Sara Bradley, a full-time dressage trainer (and stall mucker) from the lovely state of Maine. Most of my time is spent educating young horses, and young children at my facility, Waterford Equestrian Center (and yes, I do like to instruct mature horses and humans as well!).