Several months ago, Pippa Moon sent us one of the most popular reader submissions to date, dubbed "The Ribbo Manifesto," which was a list of all things Ribbo. Pippa had recently decided to let him teach a younger rider how it's done, since he wasn't really enjoying retirement too much anyway. Enter Sarah Murphy. Sarah recently sent me her own update on how things are going with her new partner. If you don't remember it, please read The Ribbo Manifesto before this post, it will make the experience ten times better!
Sarah & Ribbo at Poplar Place in the Intermediate this spring
My goal in writing this article is to maybe give hope to those who can relate to my story, and to tell you all about a very special horse who swooped gallantly into my life right when I needed him. As I sit to write about Ribbo I have a hard time trying to explain him with words. I have realized most of my explanations of his hilariously odd behavior involves a shrug of the shoulders and a, “who knows? It’s Ribbo.” No other explanation necessary. Suddenly Pippa’s 4-page essay dubbed “The Ribbo Manifesto” makes complete sense. In fact, I am super impressed she kept it so short!
First, the hardest thing to deal with when riding Ribbo is that half the time you may not be able to see over his poll, so just deal with it. I am 5’10” and this is not a problem I am used to! When I first started riding him I thought he was probably part giraffe, I couldn’t figure out how to find the brakes cross-country, and I am not even going to mention the dressage, though I will say he tries awfully hard and I have learned a lot. I just have to say no matter how hard William Fox-Pitt worked, he would always look a bit weird trying to be an Olympic gymnast; Ribbo doing dressage is kind of a similar comparison.
Second, although I have only had him a few months, I have fallen head over heels for him because of his personality. Half of his antics are just adorable and the other half make you literally fall over laughing in a barn by yourself because of something hilarious he just did. His favorite pastime in the crossties we dubbed the “Captain Morgan” pose. He holds one front leg up high, puts his head up in the air, tilts his head, and looks at you. Just like the Captain Morgan pirate guy. He actually stood like that for 2 whole minutes once. I timed him.
Ribbo gives new meaning to earning what you get. I had him for two months before he acted like he even knew I existed. Pippa said that he likes having a “person” that is his. I remember the exact day I became his person. All of the sudden he acted like it was my full time job to stand in the stall with him hour after hour so that he could nuzzle me in the neck and cuddle (and then maybe God willing grab a mouthful of grain in between), just so that he would relax long enough to eat his breakfast. Try and rub his head, or neck, or move in any way he was not ok, no way, but just stand in his stall and all he wants is to be as close to you as possible.
For those of you that don’t know a lot about me, I am the elder Sarah Murphy, (as there are two of us in Area III) and my Eventing career has been dominated by the come-from-behind, traditional long format type event horse. Usually windsuckers (as there tends to be a discount on them), off the track thoroughbreds, dressage less than par (in other words very tense and rather quirky), cross country brilliant if you are willing to make time on a very strong horse, and showjumping kind of depending on how the horse feels on the day. That was the way I learned about Eventing. The tougher the time was to make, the higher I tended to place. As anybody who was raised in Eventing on a shoe-string budget understands, this certainly leaves some baggage and bad habits as a rider, but it also leaves an incomparable appreciation for an athletic, nice horse to gain experience on, even if you find yourself setting goals of, “I just want to get LOWER than a 45 this weekend” in the dressage. After high-school I did an amazing 6 months as a working student for Bonnie Mosser in Unionville, PA, then went to Ocala and Pennsylvania working for Buck Davidson for an incomparable education for 9 months before attending my deferred acceptance into the Terry Business School at the University of Georgia, and then graduated with a business degree last year.
To be honest, it would be an understatement to say that it was a rough few years for me in college. As horse luck can be rather finicky, I went into my freshman year with two Intermediate horses and by the end of the year I had nothing competing. During this time with nothing to ride, my mother passed away unexpectedly and I was devastated and honestly defeated. My mother was a huge supporter of me as a rider, we were very close, and I admit I initially took her death as a personal failure of my own.
I remember that at the time I had just left doing a short few weeks of training at Boyd’s barn a few months before, and my mother passed away around the same time as his barn fire. I took a look at what Boyd and Silva were going through at the time and told myself that if they could take all of that in stride and keep going the way they did, I needed to kick on a bit harder myself. I remember reading an article just a few months later in Eventing USA where Boyd said something along the lines of, “a true champion can pick themselves up and push on even after a real kick in the ribs.” Well I never shared with Boyd, (as I didn’t really share with anyone at the time) but that quote helped me kick on through some of the roughest months of my life, and I am still kicking on. Wise man, that guy.
Going back to Ribbo however, it is tough to kick on when you don’t have anything to sit on at all. I was fresh off of a study abroad at Oxford University and a year out from losing my mother that I finished college, desperately trying to kick on in life in general but the horses I had either too old for it to be fair to them, or needing rehabbing. So came Poplar Place in the fall where I met Pippa Moon who watched me try to coax my skinny, windsucking OTTBs into eating all weekend. It also apparently made an impression that most of my shirts had at least one hole, were missing buttons (I hate spending money on clothes), and my horse was wearing $300 glue-on shoes that he had to get done every 4 weeks. She shared her story about her horse that was as difficult to feed as mine were, who was not particularly enjoying retirement, and probably would like to find a person to run him around for a year or so more before retiring. I have to say that it was meant to be. Within a couple of weeks I went to Aiken to sit on him, got the approval from Ribbo himself, and Pippa was bravely and selflessly accepting of me as a potential new rider for her life partner.
So far the dressage has been as challenging as I expected and I hope to grow and learn to capitalize on Ribbo’s strengths as best as possible. Showjumping is absolutely brilliant and so educational for me because I have never had the opportunity to ride something so talented and athletic. In the cross-country I have to focus on a little more upper body strength then I am used to, but also the shear athleticism that Ribbo offers in his quick footwork and uphill movement has posed an entirely new curriculum for me to study and grow as a well-rounded rider. I am just so grateful to be able to build a partnership with such an amazing athlete and learn a totally different style for the sport that I fell in love with at age 10.
I have now had Ribbo for a little over 6 months and I am aiming to run my first Advanced soon. Getting to go Advanced has been a goal of mine for so many years and when I look back to where I was less than a year ago I never would have thought I would have the chance. In the end the thing that I have really come to realize is that no matter how bleak things may look at points in this sport and in life (financially, or soundness, or just personally), sometimes if you just keep kicking on something great and unexpected happens that changes your entire trajectory in life, and when that happens, I can tell you it is so worth it.