Saturday, October 15, 2011

Out of Retirement...

It says on my blog that I do in fact own two horses. But if anyone out there has actually read my blog, I mostly talk about the accomplishments of my black horse, Buddy. I even spent a full entry on a fabulous horse that I ride that doesn't even belong to me. My poor little purebred hasn't gotten a nod all year! Before I get started, let me talk about DJ (aka "Little Man") a bit. DMD Don Juan+/, known in the barn as DJ, is my 14.3hh purebred Polish bred Arabian whom I've owned for about 11 years now. He is my equine soul mate! It was love at first sight when we were introduced years ago by a good friend of mine and at the time his owner. After acquiring him for my 8th grade graduation, DJ and I tackled the show world in a variety of ways...we started off with the rated Arabian circuit in the disciplines of hunter pleasure, equitation, sport horse in-hand and under saddle, show hack, working hunters and dressage. At the same time we also did local/rated hunters, jumpers, eventing and dressage. My pony was a show machine! From 2001 until 2006 many championships, year-ends and national titles were won. But at the end of 2006, Little Man looked tired and was beginning to have issues with his stifles. This ended his jumping career and because of certain politics on the Arab circuit, we decided that the main focus would be dressage. From 2007 to 2010, DJ had been in consistent training with few shows in between but was constantly taking a back seat to Buddy and a couple of other horses I was showing at the time. I even had a lessee for him for a year that did a great job with him working Training/First level until she bought a horse of her own. Even after the move to North Carolina, DJ still took a back seat to Buddy's and mine continuing education.

Now to present day, DJ has been schooling really well especially with the work Lynn has been introducing to Buddy and I. I have tweaked the way I ride him and his methods of going but I knew if I wanted to slowly bring him back to the show ring in hopes of finishing my Bronze Medal (that I have been trying to finish for, um, 4 years?!?!), it was time to bring him out of "retirement" and into the lesson ring. So, yesterday I easily threw Little Man on the trailer (and yes, that is a HUGE thing with me since Buddy's trailering is such an ordeal!) and trekked over to Chapel Hill to introduce my love to my trainer. He took everything like the champ he is after not being off the farm in over a year, some pretty gusty winds, and a rather agitated Warmblood mare running around her paddock screaming. I was so neurotic about making him happy and this being a positive experience that we arrived an hour before my lesson. The good thing was I was able to graze him, walk him around, stretch him and warm him up peacefully with no one around before the lesson. Then Lynn came out and it was time to begin!

She looked him up and down, said he was cute and got right down to business of what we were going to accomplish in this first meeting. I explained that I never expected him to be an FEI horse because of his age and conformation but my main goal was to see if she thought we could be show ring ready for 3rd level by next season or if I should just continue to ride him leisurely and let him enjoy the beginning of his retirement. She wanted to see him go so we did a couple of laps and then delved right into fixing the mincey steps and aiming for strides that I am used to riding on Buddy. Amazingly enough, that issue was fixed rather quickly with adjustments to me that he heard very clearly. We worked on loosening his naturally tight little body with circles, shoulder-in, traveres, and renvers. This led to work at the canter which we stopped after only a circle or two to discuss what needed to be fixed in this area. Lynn wanted him much more up in his shoulders, she liked how adjustable he already was in his speed but it needed more consistency and true push from behind. It took a bit but the canter slowly morphed into the canter I had been searching for for some time. I was thrilled! He was obedient, quiet and listening. In saying this, I should have probably mentioned that DJ although is my pony love, he is also a perfectionist with a "little man" complex (hence the nickname!) and he most definitely an Alpha-male. So, it's not always easy to introduce new training techniques or work on things that challenge his body. To be able to go through this with no objections was great! We finished up the lesson by going back to the trot, setting the rhythm we were happy with and working on the half-pass. The left side was beautiful with great flexibility and adjustability. The right side took some work but got better with every try. Afterwards, we let him finish with some nice stretchy circles which he really enjoyed. After this evaluation lesson, Lynn and I discussed it and decided that this was totally do-able with a lot of little tweakings that could be done over the winter, I could get him show ready for the spring!

This makes me so happy! Even if it's only two of three shows next season that's totally ok for me. I want him to be happy showing again and not let any pressures for qualifications or championships taint our experience. He has nothing left to prove to me besides being able to successfully complete Third Level Test 1 with maybe a couple of 60% scores. If not, it won't break my heart :) My little man is back in action, look out show world here we come!!!