The T Series; Part 1

My first jump set with Mr T! Oct  2015, THF. My first jump set with Mr T! Oct 2015, THF.

“One of the coolest things he ever taught me is sometimes you can’t tame crazy, but if you redirect it amazing things can happen.” I recently found myself Facebook stalking one of my buddies, Anna Loschiavo, and came across this pretty stellar quote from her.

Anna used to compete an extremely talented, but dare I say quirky, Danish Warmblood who was purchased as a dressage horse but wanted little to do with that discipline. After Anna purchased the gelding, she quickly turned the non-dressage-loving and terrified-of-trail-riding horse into a successful upper level event horse, who went on to compete at the two-star level! To read more about their story, click here.

Since seeing this eye-opening quote online, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it’s meaning and how it applies to my life as an event rider. If I had a nickel for every time that some rider, or non-rider came up to me and said, “Wow, cool horse, but he does NOT look easy…” I would be a rich individual.

Sometimes I wonder if I am the only rider who gets these remarks, or if countless riders do. Then I think to myself, how many horses do I actually see at an event that make me think, “Now that horse looks incredibly easy and straight-forward,”?

What makes a horse easy, or pleasant to watch? How many variables are we talking about here? How much is it the rider and how much is it the horse? Do these talented but quirky horses find me, or do I seek them out?

Regardless of how I got here, this is where I am. While I enjoyed my time with Vinnie immensely and will never forget him, I don’t want to get stuck in the past; instead, I want to take the lessons and confidence Vinnie instilled in me and utilize these skills on new projects.

Which bring me to Mr T, who I began riding this fall. We completed two Novice events together and since then have gotten to know one another much better. Mr T is a 2007 imported Irish Sport Horse who has been all over the place and successfully competed through Prelim, and was gearing up to go Intermediate.

From England, to Florida, to Vermont, to North Carolina and back to Vermont, one would assume this horse has “seen the sights” so to speak.

If only we could ask our horses questions, like, “Why are you so terrified right now?” Or, “What are you seeing through the woods that I am not seeing?” Or, “I thought everything was going well, what changed?” Or, “Haven’t you been on a trail ride before?” Or, “Just trust me and I promise I will not put you in harm’s way.” If only our horses could talk to us, right?

I have been watching this particular horse for well over a year now. In fact, the second he showed up for a lesson at Tamarack Hill Farm with his owner a couple summers ago I instantly knew I liked this horse a lot! Something about him intrigued me.

While he didn’t exactly look like the most straight forward ride I had ever seen, the sheer athleticism, combined with his gorgeous conformation, combined with a noticeable quirky and goofy personality lured me in.


Weirdo! Photo by Lila Gendal.

Even though I have only been riding Mr T for a few months, we have been through a fair amount together. Every time I begin to understand this horse, more layers unfold in front of me that need deciphering. Every time I regrettably make sweeping generalizations about this horse, it backfires and he proves me wrong. Every time I think I understand the type of horse he is, and where he has been, he tells me otherwise.

This is the horse that unintentionally nearly ripped my arm out its socket on a trail ride a couple months ago. I watch the moves this horse pulls off in his paddock and am astounded by his athleticism, but am simultaneously aware that those moves could surface under certain situations or pressure building moments.

This is the horse who I have had to get off of and lead in hand down the driveway, or in the woods, or out in the middle of a field because he has panic attacks. I walk beside him until I notice the look in his eye has changed from a terrified deer in the headlights look, to a more relaxed and innocent expression.

This is the horse who I have to teach that standing still and being comfortable in his own skin must become the norm. This is the horse I have to stop on trail rides, take a deep breath in, then exhale, all the while telling him he is a good boy and nothing scary is going to happen.

This is the horse who wants his hand held, but doesn’t actually want anyone to see. This is the horse with a deceivingly huge ego that actually lacks major confidence.

Mr T has so many amazing qualities, but for every amazing quality he has some mental obstacles holding him back. While it is not my intention at all to point fingers and discredit any single person who has contributed to this horse’s journey, I find myself wondering at what point in this horse’s life did things start to go wrong?

How could a horse that has literally seen the sights all over the country, and world, be almost crippled in fear at times when hacking alone? How could an almost Intermediate horse lack so much confidence?

Again, I would never blame any person in this situation, but perhaps this particular horse would have benefited from being with one rider. Some horses can go from one owner to the next, and others are more fragile.

Mr T showing off his jumping skills and crazy athleticism! October 2015

Mr T showing off his jumping skills and crazy athleticism! October 2015

With all that being said, I am fascinated by this horse and cannot wait till our relationship develops beyond where we are now! With all the insecurities, and lack of confidence, I am beyond crazy about this goof ball of a horse.

He has one of the most elastic and powerful jumps I have ever sat on. He has an amazing work ethic and gets over difficult moments faster than I anticipated. He builds throughout every ride, which I personally love.

He has a lot of blood running though him, which makes him quite a bit more sensitive than what I am used to, but that won’t hold me back. He loves jumping and he loves to gallop. You don’t have to tell this horse when to go, you just stay in the saddle and allow him to go.

I don’t want to change who this horse is, that’s not my intention. I don’t think I’m some amazing horse trainer who has all the answers all the time. I was never expecting the two of us to end up together, but here we are. I’m not trying to “fix” this horse.

My biggest goal with Mr T is to make him feel as confident as he so obviously wants to feel. I want to develop a relationship, which I know takes a great deal of time. I want this horse to trust me, and vice versa.

I want to hone in on what this horse is good at and listen carefully to him so I know when we are ready to go beyond and ask for more. I’m not trying to qualify for Rolex anytime soon, I simply want to make this horse feel comfortable doing something I truly believe he wants to do.

In the words of Anna, I don’t want to tame his (at times) explosive energy and idiosyncrasies, but rather I want to redirect that power and see where we can go.