NOTE: Sometimes, to really appreciate where you’re going, it’s helpful to look back at where you’ve been. Following are some journal entries I made when I was just starting Faeryn under saddle.
Faeryn is a 2005 Oldenburg cross homebred. I owned her mother, Sonnys Mona Lisa+/, a Half Arab pinto for nearly 18 years. I bought Lisa as a yearling, for $800, and she went on to become a very competitive dressage horse for me, competing mostly in the open circuit, but also the Arabian shows. She earned her Legion of Supreme Honor, mostly from placings in open, recognized shows, back when you only earned points for placing in your class, not from scores like it is now. And granted, while Lisa had superior character and won more championships than you would ever expect from an $800 horse, she was not what one would shop for if one was shopping for a sporthorse broodmare.
But she had a huge heart and she scored 7s on gaits pretty regularly. The German inspectors hated her when I took she and Flying Colorz (Fling), her 2000 foal, to the inspection. although she did score high enough to be entered into the mare book. Just barely. In fact, the inspector told the onlookers, “See what a really good stallion (Frohwind) can do.” Which was his way of saying “Well, the mare is obviously crap, but the foal is not too bad, thanks to the lovely German stallion.” I did not care. I bred Lisa because I loved her, because I knew Frohwind crossed well with Arabians, and whatever the outcome, I would keep it and love it. And I did. Fling is the reason I bred Lisa back to Frohwind in 2004. Fling turned out to be a super dressage partner. Not the fanciest horse, that’s for sure, but a work ethic that won’t stop and an absolute joy in her work that makes her so much fun to ride. At 15.1 she has forward to spare and is like a little sports car, she is so balanced and rideable. She is way too smart and opinionated on the ground, but under saddle she is all business. She’s also earned USDF All Breed Awards from the ISR/Oldenburg every year she’s competed.
The risk of breeding for a full sibling is that you have certain expectations. Fling is a pinto, and although I really wanted another one, I got my second choice in Faeryn – bay with four white socks. While Lisa was gestating with Faeryn, I kept telling myself that full siblings could be very different. (Duh – I am 5 feet tall and have to diet constantly and my brother was 6 feet tall and flunked out of the draft because he was underweight.) It is hard not to compare them and wonder if you are going to be disappointed. Fling never had a gawky or ugly day – she looked like a smaller, perfectly proportioned version of herself almost from the day she was born. For a long time, Faeryn looked like a horse assembled by committee – and perhaps a blind committee at that. But despite any misgivings I might have had about her conformation, her movement and her temperament were always without question. I mean, how many foals could go to their inspection at five weeks of age and exhibit perfect behavior and be totally unfazed by everything? When Faeryn was two months old, we had to evacuate from hurricane Rita, spent too many hours on the road, and then stayed at a strange place for four days where she was cooped up in a stall with her mother. Faeryn thought it was a huge adventure we had planned just for her benefit. She is what I call an “old soul.” Her mother was the same way. At 2 1/2, she was more mentally mature than some five year olds I’ve had. Through every step of her baby horse education, Faeryn has reacted to every new thing with the same calm, “ho hum” attitude. And so, at 51 years old – having had at least 7 young horses over the years – for the first time, _I_ was the first one to climb on one’s back. I didn’t just wake up one day and say to myself “I’m going to start Faeryn myself.” One thing led to another and it just sort of happened. (The same way a lot of people get pregnant. )
Faeryn met the saddle when she was about two. Nothing big, and I did not work with her very often, but it was a total non-event. I would work her for ten minutes every few weeks. I saw no real reason to ‘drill’ her on anything – when she was doing well with one thing, I would move on to the next thing. The bit and the bridle were no biggie, and before I knew it, she was longlining like a pro, even though we only did it a few times.
And so one day I decided since she was so quiet, I would just lie over her back as a precursor to sending her off to someone to walk/trot/canter for 30 days like I’ve done with all my kids. I enlisted my husband’s help to hold her, donned my helmet and tested the waters standing on the mounting block next to her and patting the saddle, patting her all over and talking to her. I put my foot in the stirrup (I am so short, even with the mounting block I could not just lie over her without using the stirrup) and she didn’t care…so draped myself over her and patted her all over her sides, etc. I think she thought I was an idiot. “Get on, already,” she seemed to be saying. So I slowly sat up on her….and absolutely nothing happened. Feeling brave, I told my husband to just lead us around the round pen. The incredible thing was, Faeryn did not feel like a wobbly green horse underneath me. She walked along confidently and with a walk that felt like a 9 to me! Five minutes and we were done, and I was feeling pretty smug and darn proud of Faeryn.
So, about a month after that outing, with some time on my hands, we went for another “walk” in the round pen. The only thing she was having trouble with was “go.” She kept stopping and of course had no idea what the leg meant. I did not want to use a lot of leg and make her dead to it, so I carried my whip and lightly tapped her with it to go when she would get “stuck.” At one point when I tapped her she broke into a little trot and, while I tried to stay out of her way, I started laughing like an idiot, saying “We’re trotting! We’re trotting!” I had a grin on my face probably exactly like the one I had the very first time I ever rode a horse. Bolstered by the fact that Faeryn just cheerfully trotted off so easily with me under saddle that first time, with no fear, or threat of bucking or any other naughty behavior, I decided to see if that little episode was a fluke, or if it really _could_ be this ‘easy’ to back your own horse. So, I bribed my husband to come out and be on stand-by (or to call 911) and saddled up Faeryn, got on her, and rode her again in the round pen (our round pen is the size of a 20M circle) and this time I asked her to trot – on purpose. Same reaction. A calm little trot…with some bouts of running out of steam and walking. I carried a whip just to tap her with when she lost her forward. I “worked” her for about 15 minutes with lots of steering exercises at the walk, a few laps of trot around the round pen and quit, very happy.
It was at this point I started thinking I might really be able to do this myself. My last six youngsters only had about 30 days under saddle with an outside trainer before I took them over. Plus, my super trainer of the last 4.5 years had taken a job at private farm in December and was now a 2 hour drive away. She came occasionally for clinics, but I hadn’t found a new trainer yet, and anyone I did find wasn’t likely to be close, or accessible on a weekly basis. I am very picky about where I send my horses, and I didn’t really know of anyone locally to send her. So, when VTO Saddlery had their 25% off sale after Christmas, I bought myself a Tipperary vest and a shiny new helmet. I was now committed (take that any way you want!) to the project. So, some time elapsed, and I’d ridden Faeryn 7 times now. Six times in the round pen, and the only remarkable thing is she spooked once when the neighbor behind us revved his old clunker of a truck. Since I had my reins long trying to stay out of her mouth, she got all the way to the other side of the round pen before I could reel them in, and she pretty much stopped of her own accord before I did. Didn’t unseat me – I just “went” with her and amazingly, did not scare me or cause me to go into cardiac arrest. The last time I rode her was in a ‘mini’ lesson with my trainer. The only reason I rode her was my other horse was nursing a slight lameness, and my trainer was coming for her twice-monthly clinics from two hours away and I didn’t want to back out on her. Plus, I wanted to get some pointers and some advice so I would be less likely to screw this thing up. We started in the round pen and almost as soon as I’d made a lap, she started practically jumping up and down. “Where’s your camera? You HAVE to see this.” So I sent her inside for my video camera and of course the battery was dead, so she had to settle for the digital camera. She was really excited to see what Faeryn looked like under saddle. We did about ten minutes in there and then moved to the big arena for the first time. plastic chain. She was super – no spooking or anything. The improvemenht from ride one to ride seven was nothing short of amazing. On ride sesven, she was already reaching to the bit, and I took a light contact with the outside rein and she actually was going into it. And her trot had totally lost the tentative quality and was very regular. Wow. Just wow. And when I saw the pics – just wow. My ugly duckling has turned into a swan. Not an Olympic caliber swan, you understand. But a swan in my eyes nonetheless.
So, last month I found out that the Houston Dressage Society was hosting Ida Anderson (S dressage judge) for a longlining/riding clinc this month. I have longlined most of my young horses, but I am totally self taught, and have never felt confident enough to do it except on a circle. I longlined Faeryn, and I also have a half brother to her who’s two months older, and so I signed each of them up for a session. (Her brother is Faxx, and he is light years behind Faeryn in maturity – and I will send him off to someone to start. He is not a bad boy, but much more sensitive than Faeryn.)
So, the clinic was this weekend. Faeryn went Saturday. Faeryn has not been many places in her life, but I was pretty confident she would handle it well. It was at a lovely facility. Faeryn was the youngest horse participating in the clinic and all the other horses were already working under saddle. Ms. Anderson took the reins first and I was happy to see how calm, willing and confident Faeryn was with a total stranger. She lives on our farm and has not been handled by many different people in her short life.
Ms. Anderson drove her all over the arena up the long side, over across the middle, down centerline, up the other side. She only walked her I was fine with that. Then came my turn to take the reins. I was feeling pretty smug when we went to the left, because I had the outside rein in my right hand and things went very well. No trouble steering at all. What a surprise when we reversed and I had to take the outside rein (the most important rein, just like in riding) in my LEFT hand. Oops. Poor Faeryn thought she had a drunk driver, I think. She was very forgiving and SO calm. Ms. Anderson told the auditors that Faeryn was very smart, extremely trainable, quite elastic, and she would give her a 10 for temperament!! So, the plan for Faeryn is to start ground driving her in the big arena (I ordered some leather long lines because after using the ones Ms. Anderson brought, they are so much better than the web ones I have) and I will continue to ride her maybe once every few weeks, for about ten -fifteen minutes, until June when she is three. And then I will probably ride her once or twice a week for very short periods. The goal is to go to a local schooling show by the end of the year and do walk-trot just for mileage. My trainer thinks she could do that next week. But we won’t. Ride #8
So, it’s been two weeks since Ride #7, my husband is out of town next weekend, so today is the day. It’s been raining almost nonstop here – it only quits for a day or two, it seems. Not long enough to dry up, especially when it’s overcast. I did not want to go in the big arena – probably still too wet. My round pen dries out faster as it has a better base. So I longlined her a short time just at the walk, working on steering and using a lot of outside rein to ‘stabilize’ her and gentle inside for turning. We were able to successfully do ‘squares’ inside the round pen. So I dragged husband out and got on her, without even lunging her at the trot first. I questioned my wisdom, but I was short on time. I needn’t have worried. For the first time, I did not have my husband hold her when I got on, and no biggie – she stood perfectly still. I also forgot my whip, but really did not need it to get her moving or keep her moving. Did more ‘square turns’ at walk,
working on keeping outside contact steady, just like I did on the ground. Trot was no big deal. I successfully ‘steered’ her and keep her about two feet off the rail, so I could be sure it was her steering that was keeping her where she was, and not just the rail. Did some of the ‘squares’ inside the circle at trot, too, and quit after about 10 minutes.
Next weekend I am taking her to a friend’s and will ride her there just for something different to do.
And I am also thinking about when we are going to canter. Many people walk/trot/canter in the very first session – from what I gather, these tend to be ‘western’ colt starters. I watched every ride that my trainer put on Fling, Faeryn’s full sister. I think she rode her 10-12 times before she cantered. I do know it was no big deal when she did. Fling never bucked, and Faeryn so far doesn’t show any inclination to do so. Of course, everyone tells you, “well, if they’re going to do anything, that’s when they’ll do it.” Um, yea, I sort of know that. Thanks. As I was quitting today and I said to husband “Well, that was ride #8” he said “soon you’ll be up to 30.” Referring to the fact that I ‘took over’ all my horses after 30 days training in the past. Which, realistically, isn’t really 30 rides – more like 20 or so rides since few trainers ride them 7 days a week. So we’re almost halfway there. And husband also said, as I put her on the crossties to untack her, “I really like her.” So do I, I said. So do I.
Ride #9 – Away from Home!
Faeryn had a big adventure today. I hauled her to a friend’s place to ride her. My husband is out of town on an endurance ride and since I did not want to ride her at home by myself, I decided to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, and ride her, AND take her somewhere new to test the waters. Her last ride was about two weeks ago – she is so easy and so fun I am really having to _make_ myself not ride her more often until she is 3 in June. So, my friend was riding in the arena when I got there and Faeryn was just a tad big ‘ga ga’ at the new place and strange horse in the arena. Remember, she lives on our farm with five other horses, so she has not had the benefit of living at a busy boarding barn, where a lot of activity would be all in a day’s work. She also has not ever worked in the arena with another horse. I tacked her up and decided to lunge her first since she was pretty looky. After I lunged her about 3 minutes, she was settled enough to do a bit of long lining, so I did that, then took her back out to the trailer to get her ready to ride – and to don my eventer vest (I wore my helmet even while lunging her.) My friend thinks I am “very brave” doing this, but really, it does not take a lot of bravery on my part. I think it helps a lot that I have owned Faeryn’s mom for 18 years – have ridden her for 16 of those years and she has NEVER dumped me. And Faeryn’s big sister, Fling, is coming 8 and I have been riding her for almost 5 years and SHE has never dumped me. So there’s a little history there. I got on and walked her around and she was good – she still falls in very badly but I am trying not to ‘micromanage’ that at this point – just forward, forward, forward is my mantra for now. I walked a few laps both ways and then trotted her a few times each direction and called it a day. A very good day. My friend was very impressed with Faeryn because not only was she perfectly behaved, a cat ran out almost underneath her at one point and she did not miss a beat, her trot is very rhythmical and even tho the neighbors were mowing and buzzing around, she remained focused on the task at hand. In that respect she is exactly like her big sister and her mom. It was interesting to get another person’s perspective. My friend has seen me show Fling, her big sister, many, many times. Her ‘take’ on the differences and similarities between them is pretty what I think, too. Faeryn is freer in her shoulders and moves very lightly across the ground. A bit more
effortless than her big sis, who moves just a bit more ‘huntery.’ But she gets 7s for gaits most of the time, nonetheless, if her _rider_ does her job. I also agree with her observation that Faeryn is a bit leggier than Fling. I have thought that almost from the moment Faeryn was born.
Fast Forward to Ride #24…
Wow, time flies when you’re having fun! In the past 6 months, I’ve ridden Faeryn 24 times now – about once a week for 15-20 minutes. It’s been blissfully boring. The only thing worth mentioning was that once she spooked. I didn’t even come unseated. There is just something very satisfying viewing the world from between the ears of a horse you knew when it was only a nose and feet emerging from mom. And actually, when Faeryn was born, her mom had a tough time, and I thought she was dead already since she was not breathing, and her tongue was blue. (Her full sister’s little nostrils were working overtime before her shoulders were even cleared and that was my only experience as a midwife prior to Faeryn being born.) Her mom, my sainted mare Sonnys Mona Lisa, kept jamming herself butt up against the stall and I kept having to move her and finally she just stopped even trying. It was taking a long time and nothing was happening. So, my vet, who’d I’d been in phone contact with (Lisa politely foaled at 6 p.m.) said to pull the foal. Frankly, at this point I was convinced I was delivering a dead foal. Imagine my elation and relief when Faeryn started breathing once she was clear of mom and was a healthy, perfectly normal baby. And sitting on her now, looking at the world through those ears, that are so very much like her mom’s, seems even more of a miracle. So, even with minimum riding, Faeryn has made progress. She’s steering pretty well, she is much more forward than she was when we started and now I am wondering just how much and how soon I should ‘up the ante.’ It has been five years since I have had a green horse and I’ve forgotten a lot. Sunday I made my husband come out and take some tiny video clips with our digital camera. It was the first time I had seen myself riding her and I was pleasantly surprised. I am not trying to put Faeryn on the bit and am riding her with very long reins, but with light contact on the outside rein. If she gets too far above the bit, I can squeeze her and put my hands forward and she will lower her head and seek contact. Her circles are almost not-squares now, and in the fall I’ll take her to some dressage schooling shows to do Intro just for mileage. We haven’t cantered yet, and I’m really not in a hurry.
And so, here is Faeryn, at ride #23:
Faeryn is now 3.5 and has had very light work for the past six months. Maybe 1-2x a week, 20-30 minutes or so. Since she turned 3.5, an occasional lesson with my trainer. I trotted her for months before I asked for canter. No big resistances or problems there. Just had to work on establishing go and forward. During this time, she was being lunged regularly, at w/t/c and was fine. Lunged with sidereins, too. I first cantered her u/s about a month ago and it was pretty uneventful – a little humping up, but no big deal. Since then, I canter once or twice every time I ride her. Now I am having big resistance about cantering u/s and I don’t know if she is being willful or if it is something I am doing. I will ask for canter and eventually get it and can canter around the arena. Second time I ask for canter, I get major balking, sucking back behind the leg, pinning ears and threatening to buck. I almost CAN’T get her to canter, no matter what I do. I have several ideas as to how to proceed, but not sure which, or all, to do. Here are the options I’ve considered: 1. Forget cantering for now, and just keep working on trot. It’s not like there’s not a lot to do there. She is just starting to seek contact on her own… I am not trying to ‘make’ her come on the bit, or even half-halting much at this point. 2. Get in the round pen where we don’t have to worry about steering and canter until she ‘gets over it.’ 3. Put on eventing vest (I always wear a helmet), my big girl panties, get her out in the arena and have a come to jesus meeting with her. 4. Get her out of the arena and ride in the field to see if that helps. 4. Send her to my very-good young horse starter, who, unfortunately, is $1100 a month. But worth every penny. I’ve never had a youngster really ‘test’ me…pretty much however they were to begin with, was how they stayed. I hve been very lucky – this is the most resistance I’ve ever had from one of my kids. The other 3 year old I have, by same sire, just came back from my colt starter last week and he is doing fabulously well…and she was too before the cantering issue. I pretty much keep my horses their entire lives – or always plan to – and I bred this one TO keep.
The bucking at canter is only at or right after the depart…once she gets going, she is fine and actually has a nice balanced, uphill canter. And she hasn’t really actually BUCKED much – it’s mostly the suck back, get WAAYYYY behind the leg and totally non-forward, refuse to canter. So, I have been thinking about this issue, and thought maybe I am using too much leg at depart. She seems a tad lazy and like a lot of mares, resents a lot of leg – at this point anyway. So today I lunged her in the round pen and started making ‘kissing’ noises only when I wanted her to canter…to give her a totally unique cue for canter depart that did not involve leg or whip. She got the idea very quickly and was cantering willingly from just the ‘kiss’ and no lunge whip. So I moved to arena, got on her and trotted for a bit and tried the ‘kiss’ method, while keeping my legs off her and only using whip if i needed it. Success. Pretty decent depart – so I did one circle, quit and gave her big pats, good girls and a sugar. To the right was messier and she was pissier and she let loose with three bucks the first three canter strides. They were tiny bucks and did not unseat me (love that fake suede Wintec) and I immediately brought her to stop, did tight
circle and gave her a smack with the whip, also growling at her. Trotted a little bit more, and asked again to the right and got a prompt, lovely, non-buck depart – did a circle and quit for the day with more pats and a cookie when I dismounted (for her, not me.) 😉 This was actually the most she has actually bucked – before, it was like a threat, but mostly just refusing to go forward. So maybe I have figured out the problem. I’ll let her ‘think about it’ for a day or two and try again.
I trotted first and concentrated on really establishing ‘forward’ and she was willing and moved freely forward….we did 20m circles, and changes across the diagonal and she is starting to be steady on the outside rein and come round for longer peiods of time, and the bending is getting more consistent. She was so good, I was able to sit her trot for short periods of time. Actually, she felt a lot easier to ride sitting than posting. I never thought I would say this, but I really prefer to sit the trot these days. I will be glad when she’s far enough along to sit more than post. She did so well today and yesterday, I am thinking abou taking her to a local schooling show next month to show in Intro. Obviously we are not ready to canter in public yet! 😉 . So, I asked her to canter and really tried to think about leaning slightly back, taking my legs completely off her, ‘kissing’ to get her to go, and just trying to stay out of her way…took a few strides, but she cantered without bucking. I let her canter a circle, came back to trot, and decided to ask again. This time the depart was quicker and better…also no bucking. So I then trotted her a bit, and changed rein and went to the right, which is the ‘hard’ side. It was eaiser today than yesterday….again, cantered a short distance, trotted a little bit and asked for another upward, and got an almost instantaneous, smooth canter depart. She got lots of praise for each non-bucking depart, and after the last really good depart, I stopped, gave her a sugar, and quit for the day. So, I think several different factors were at work in her ‘stalling out’ and sometimes bucking. I think I was getting in her way and the longer it took her to pick up the canter, the more I flailed away….I was using way too much leg, which was shutting her down, and I think I was leaning forward a bit. I think maybe the too thick saddle pad may have had something to do with it, too. It occured to me, it takes a whole different set of skills to ride totally green horses than even semi-trained ones. 😉 It has been five years since I had a green horse, and even then, my trainer who started her rode her once a week, then twice a week, and then I took over after about 4 months -so she was already picking up canter very easily when I started riding her. Years ago a friend’s husband, who also trained race horses part time, started all my young horses. I would get them broke to bridle/saddle, get them lunging wiht side reins, etc, send them to him, and in 30 days he’d send them back doing walk/trot/canter and I merrily went down the road with them. He retired from breaking horses about 10 years ago. Nowadays it seems like it takes trainers 3 months to get done what this guy did in a month. I really took him for granted, and I told him that recently. 😉 It’s supposed to rain for the next few days, so Faeryn has some time to think about things. And so do I! 🙂
Update on cantering problem
We had 11 inches of rain so I couldn’t do any cantering during the week. Today was the first time I could canter her since last weekend, where I had moderate success with getting her to canter without sucking back or threatening to buck. So this morning I got on her, got some great trot work and asked for canter and got a super prompt, forward, ‘happy’ canter and she maintained the canter with very little effort from me. And that was on the ‘hard’ side… so I reversed, did a bit more trot and then asked for left lead canter…with same results. So, as usual, the horse’s ‘problem’ was really _MY_ problem! 😉
An update on the update!
It is an absolutely beautiful day here – cool, sunny and breezy. I blanketed my horses for the first time this season last night… Faeryn was a little superstar today! Wonderful progress in the trot work…she is learning to move away from leg and I am able to use inside leg to outside rein and she understands what she is to do. She is taking nice soft, steady contact on the outside rein and is nicely accepting the bit and most of the time is on the bit. I even sat the trot for a few circles and she stayed nice and round and soft. Actually, I think she is _better_ when I sit the trot, but she is too young/undeveloped to do it yet, except for short periods of time. She has really good self-carriage for a young horse and is not on her forehand at all. No bucking/sucking back at the canter, but we did have a little ‘spin out’ in one canter attempt – just typical young, untrained horse stuff. I did multiple departs each way, and experimented with trying to use a classic aid to get the canter – in typical young horse fashion, so far we’ve just had to sort of ‘run’ into the canter because she just doesn’t know any other way yet. I tried both outside leg and inside leg to ask for canter and had far greater success with inside leg – which is my preferred method, but it just depends on the horse. I would like to eventually dabble in some very low level eventing with her. When she’s a little older I’ll see how she likes jumping. I think it would be fun.
11/21/08 Where Faeryn gets ridden by my trainer
It’s been more than a month since my trainer has seen Faeryn in a lesson. I took her Tuesday and my trainer actually rode her. It’s the first time Faeryn has had someone other than me on her back. She was very good and my trainer was impressed with the progress Faeryn has made since she saw her last. It was a treat to be able to watch Faeryn from the ground with a good rider. My trainer, Marta, had no problem with the canter departs, and when I got on her, she worked very well, including canter. I am having more trouble getting her to canter going to the left, most likely because she wants to go out the shoulder that direction, but fall to the inside. Just baby horse stuff. Marta is from Spain and sometimes does not know the English words for horse-related things, which makes for some interesting translations. Marta calls Faeryn my ‘baby mare.’ Faeryn is accepting light contact and going round much of the time – at least at the trot. She understands lateral work and can do leg yields at the walk, and is starting to ‘get’ the inside leg to outside rein concept. The canter is obviously still very much a work in progress. I rode her tonight and actually got one prompt, correct canter depart, with the traditional cue, to the right. To the left, well, that’s going to take awhile. But I am happy that it seems the ‘bucking’ problem at the canter has been solved. As she matures, she is looking more like her mother, at least in the face. More and more, I can see her mom in Faeryn’s eyes, and so I have a special connection with her, as well as with her older full sister, Fling. But Faeryn is much more her mother’s daughter. My husband was really not happy with me when I informed him I was breeding my mare, Lisa, to Frohwind again, in 2004 and that I had, in fact, already bought the breeding. But I am so very glad I did. Lisa’s oldest daughter, Fling, has turned out to be my ‘heart’ horse – but in a different way than her mom was. How lucky I am to have two lovely daughters to remember Lisa by – or maybe even carry on her legacy one day.