Thursday, May 21, 2015

Lauren Kieffer Sees Red; Sarah Comes to Jesus

Yesterday was a great day, horse wise. It was a pretty good day in all other respects, but a great day on the equine front. The United States Eventing Association named their team for the Pan Am games, which take place in July in Canada, and Lauren Kieffer's on it with a young mare named Meadowbrook's Scarlett.

The Pan Am Games are not the highest level of eventing competition in terms of difficulty--we're trying to encourage the spread of our sport, and so we really want up-and-coming eventing nations like Mexico and Argentina (both of which have long storied horsemanship, but not much eventing) to be fully participant. But the Pan Ams are like the Olympic and World teams in that they are a national team; you ride for your country, not yourself. Along with that comes the right to wear the red coat of Team USA, forever. You don't wear it while running your baby horse at Beginner Novice at Podunk Horse Trials, of course, but you wear it at Rolex and any big-deal event for the rest of your life. Getting named to the Pan Ams gives Lauren Kieffer her red coat, and I'm really pleased about that for her. I think she's going to look fine.

(Incidentally, I've seen one of those red coats up close in person--it was hanging on a bridle hook outside a rider's stall at a horse trials, and being innately curious I took it down and examined it. Whoa. Olympic rings engraved on the brass buttons (I assume Kieff's won't have that--yet), rider's name embroidered on the inside. It was super, super cool.) (Kieff, next winter I'm going to want a close look at yours.)

Then my mare Sarah had a supreme Come To Jesus moment. She had it coming. Sarah's a young (nearly 8), large, opinionated mare. I am her Person and she loves me above all other humans and pretty much every other animal as well. If I hadn't known that before last winter's trip to Florida, I would have known it then, because in the nearly two weeks Sarah was there without me, she apparently spooked at every. Single. Thing. nearly unseating two international-level eventers and one tough-as-leather groom. When I arrived, all three women were shaking their heads and saying, "You hunt this twitchy thing? Are you outta your mind?" and I said,"What are you talking about? She never spooks," and, as soon as I got there, she didn't. She wandered around so calmly that my trainer Cathy said in disgust, "She looks like a dog." Yep. A happy dog.

On the other hand, a manipulative one. This winter/spring I've been more fully aware that Sarah is, as they say, bullshitting me. It started with dressage in Florida, where she turned out to be completely capable of beautiful movement as long as Cathy was riding her. Cathy got off, I got on, and Sarah poked her nose in the sky and wailed, "I can't do this...I can't..." for the next forty-five minutes. A lot of what I've been doing this spring is waiting her out--asking her to move correctly, despite her protests, over and over for forty-five minutes, until she did.

It takes a lot of physical strength to do this, which is probably how I ended up with crap from Sarah in the first place. Only since January have I been working hard on my strength and fitness and been able to truly wait her out.

That was one part of the pile. The other part concerned Liverpools, and anything new that showed up in Sarah's world.

Liverpools are square shallow wading pools. They're a way to put water under fences in a jumping ring, and some horses really dislike them. Sarah seemed to be one. She snorked at the liverpool in Florida and it took such a fight to get her over it that I bought one for home use. All spring I would win the fight and get her over the liverpool. Then I would move the liverpool two feet to the left, and it would become a whole new war. Over and over. She also got hysterical over the new jump poles that showed up in her field. Poles and standards and liverpools, oh my! I was working hard to address this, but I didn't understand how much it was all an act on Sarah's part--I'm still not sure whether she was shirking or if it was all her idea of a joke--until Rolex, when I happened to run into a woman who'd done a lot of Sarah's very early training, before I bought her.

"She's faking," Lucy said. "We have a liverpool at Elysian (the farm where Sarah was bred) and we work the babies back and forth over it until it's no problem at all."

"Ha," I said.

"Sounds like her," Lucy added.

"You're going to have to put a stop to that," my daughter said.

In anticipation of the pony clubbers coming to camp on my farm, I just had a little bitty ditch jump put in. This is a cross-country jump, and it's exactly what it sounds like--a ditch dug in the ground, usually framed by timber so it doesn't deteriorate. I happen to have a really big, fearsome ditch already, but it isn't a ditch you could start beginners over. Both Sarah and Mickey, my daughter's horse, are adept at ditches in competition, but Sarah, needless to say, was "afraid" of our home one.

Yesterday Sarah jumped the baby ditch, new to her field, on the very first try. She threw some b.s. at me first, of course, but now I was not only prepared, I was over it. When she dodged left she met my left spur, hard onto her flank, and when she started to slow down my crop urged her not to.

Suddenly the stuff didn't hit the fan. Sarah sighed and jumped the ditch, back and forth, over and over. Then we went down to the Big Fearsome Ditch, and lo, we jumped it without incident. Back and forth. Then done. I patted Sarah, she licked her lips, and we walked back to the barn, to text Kieff our congratulations and call it a night.

Victories rock.