The older I get, the more time I have.
[Patti Carey. No, really. I just googled it and no one said it yet, and I’m telling you this is all me.]
This is true about a lot of my life, but markedly so with the horses.
I’ve often commented flippantly to people with horses just purchased –
It takes a year to get to know a new horse.
[No idea who said this first but I keep repeating it.]
It’s been a hot minute since I tested that theory. In general, I’ve kept and competed the same horses for a long time. A low-turnover herd, if you will.
At this moment, I have two horses – Dunkin and Iggy.
Dunkin came to me in October, the first trained endurance horse I’ve ever purchased, having started with mostly greenies in my past.
Then there’s Iggy. A horse I’ve owned for a handful of years, but who has not been with me for nearly two years, living with friends while I got my life sorted out.
Photo by Wanda Clowater, Pine Tree Endurance 2019
Like an old friend –both of us having lived apart for a while– now next-door neighbors and besties again. Iggy has settled in and we’ve gotten re-acquainted, a little detour in life now corrected. For both of us.
I’m recalling again why I was quite certain he was my next 100-mile horse. He very well may be.
I suspect some part of me thought I would be short-cutting that whole one-year rule with Dunkin, and in a lot of ways I have. Very quickly, I was able to climb aboard, test the buttons, put him in various situations and have delighted in the joy of riding again. Competing again. He has passed every test with flying colors. He’s a pro.
Maybe he’s the next 100-mile horse.
Ah, but alas, the old one-year adage holds and for me, the magic is in the little things. Bringing Dunk home means I can watch him more obsessively, put my hands on him every day, chit-chat with the farrier as we talk about toe length and composite shoes and such. I get to observe small changes I might otherwise miss.
Building a relationship with a horse the old-fashioned way.
I checked in with Ande last week, purposely holding on to my questions and observations until then. She’s a successful endurance rider and horse trainer and the friend who sold him to me, knowing we’d be a good match.
We compared notes and the observations that were Very Dunkin, inherent to his unique Dunkin-ness. What things were perhaps something to be worked on, or a sign of something I should watch carefully as we up the workload and competition schedule. No rush.
The fastest way to get somewhere is to take your time.
An old dressage queen at heart, I examine his topline more obsessively than I probably should. Palpate it. Compare it to Iggy’s. Which is grossly unfair. Dunk is lighter behind than Iggy, with a massive shoulder and a very healthy engine. But he is less of a, pardon the phrase, Brick Shithouse, than the tanks that have previously owned me.
I remind myself that Ned did hundreds and competed more than a decade with a topline that would be captioned “Do Not Buy This Horse” in an equine conformation book. Ace was calf kneed. Sarge pigeon toed. Iggy decidedly one-sided. Wynne, high/low.
I pondered over each of them also. Musing over what issues they’d present. One step ahead of any subclinical owies. The way I was taught.
Dressage is the art of putting one crooked body on top of another crooked body and making them both straight.
[Dr. Reiner Klimke]
It’s the focus of every ride.
Photo by Derith Vogt
Might I add that I’m still laughing over the fact that after decades of geldings with manly, handsome heads, I’m now looking out the window at two boys with decidedly PRETTY Arabian heads? (This is a major source of head-shaking for me. I’m not a tea-cup-muzzle-Arabian sort of girl. Yet, here I am.)
This area is awash with horse professionals, something that makes me feel spoiled, having come from Western New York where the options for farrier (mine drove in from NJ), saddle fitter (mine flew in from FL), equine veterinarian or chiropractor were limited. Kerri massaged the boys and while I’m trying to lure her down here to continue to do it, I at least have other options. (None as sarcastic though, I suspect.)
I have friends who preceded me here, paving the way with recommendations and the ability to say “I’m friends with ***” which has opened doors that might not have been ajar.
It’s all about the tribe.
I bounce questions off Kathy and Marianne and Sarah and Elise as we ride … I test my theories on Tom, who finds it all amusing. He teases frequently about the “Patti Package” of horses and dogs and cats.
I didn’t just get Patti, I got the Patti Package.
[Tom, frequently. In an amused tone. Mostly.]
The older I get the more open I am to possibilities. Of other solutions. Of new ideas.
I’m working hard to be the Anti-Archie Bunker.
I had the opportunity to go to Kentucky last month and teach an Endurance 101 Clinic. It was like falling off a log, teaching again. I’m reminded again how much I love doing it, especially with a whole gang of experienced competitors and friends in the crowd who could share where they tend to get chafed, and how none of us thought we’d be doing 100s after the hell that was our first (much shorter) competition. Energized by the enthusiasm of people new to the sport.
As far as goals and competing, I’m back to planning my competition schedule around Vermont. Ironic, since I’m now sixteen rather than eight hours from ride camp. But old habits die hard and Vermont has been on my ride schedule every year for a long, long time.
What’s a little road trip?
For me, endurance rides have been less about the competition and more about the planning and the experience and the obsessive preparation that leaves one lying awake, packing crew bags in the parts of my squash that thrive on a little jigsaw puzzle to solve. They are a way of giving my busy brain a project. A good excuse to obsess about my horses. They always have been.
Which horse? I don’t know. But once again I find myself pinching myself about having choices. Maybe being able to share one.
Distance? Whatever feels right.
In the end, it’s the old wisdom, profoundly simple, that I shared, loudly and repeatedly at the recent Endurance 101 Clinic I taught up in Kentucky.
[Anyone in the sport of endurance for more than three years.]
And in the end, the horses decide.