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October 7, 2009

A Deep Bench Of Practice Horses

Katie Christiansen (right) and her co-captain Cecilia Pontoriero.

A good IHSA team needs a good support system, and TUEQ is lucky to have a fabulous one.

Dani White, the owner of August Farm in Holliston, Mass., kindly lets us use her wonderful array of school horses to practice on almost every day of the week. Even though they have the technical label of “school” horses, each one provides a unique learning experience and tries harder than most other “show” horses I’ve ridden.

One of my favorites is a small chestnut Appendix Quarter Horse named Cardinal (or Cardy, Cardy-Baby, Smushy, Lover, Darling Horse, as I am wont to call him). He’s fairly plain looking and certainly wouldn’t tickle George Morris’ fancy in a conformation critique, but I’ll be damned if he isn’t the most hard working and willing horse I’ve ever ridden.

At the IHSA show TUEQ hosted last year, Cardy worked in every class, which means that he not only did open fences and flat, but beginner walk-trot-canter and walk-trot as well. I’ve done lots of empirical studies with Cardy—burying him under the jumps, leaving three strides out, trotting oxers (not on purpose!), and some very general leaning-up-the-neck. My results have shown that Cardy handles all of these with equal amounts of grace, humor and aplomb. Atta boy.

(I’ve also learned that he knows how to neck rein.)

Another one of Dani’s horses is a 7-year-old chestnut Thoroughbred named Jake who first came to August Farm last year in desperate need of some lovin’ and, as Dani so wonderfully puts it, “groceries.”

Jake has a wonderful heart and a good head under his poll, but he had some moments of disquiet last year that made me a bit apprehensive about riding him. After executing a textbook-perfect buck about 30 seconds into a warm-up ride at the August Farm IEA show (the high school version of the IHSA), Jake promptly and efficiently planted me firmly in the footing, a souvenir of which I kept on my left thigh for many weeks after. I’m not a nervous rider by any means, but any ride on Jake for the rest of the semester put me back on edge.

So when I saw that my first regular-season lesson of the semester was on Jake, I was a little apprehensive. But my nerves were unnecessary as a I proceeded to enjoy a fabulous ride on a horse who had really grown up, matured and learned his job under Dani, Katie Schaaf, and all of the barn girls’ expertise, love and care. He had established a lovely rhythm in his canter and found confidence in each and every jump. He is also kinder in his stall, and he's really blossomed into a personable and fun horse.

I’ve been going home every weekend to ride my horse, Ivan, in order to prepare for the New England Equitation Championships that are a little over a week (AHHH) away.

I haven’t always had the best luck there—two years ago, I qualified for the practicum portion of the junior horsemanship test after having one of the top eight scores on the written portion out of about 250 competitors. After knocking the practicum out of the park (if I do say so myself), I proceeded to not-so-gracefully fall off and break my arm while schooling for the final Medal class.

Last year, Ivan and I won the Open Adult Equitation, 18-22, made the callback for the second round of the Medal, and then I aimed my poor horse at the wall, and we puttered to a lovely halt (it was actually a very nice downward transition…I have video proof) in front of the second-to-last jump, which we then re-jumped perfectly after I gathered my druthers. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a less eventful and more fruitful New England Finals this year in hopes that I will have good news to relay next week!