Monday, November 29, 2010

Not your Typical Dressage Horse

An important character in this narrative, I think it's time to introduce my horse, Indigo.
She doesn't have gleaming demon eyes in real life, I promise. This is the result of going to ride after work which is consequently after dark here in the great north, and relying on the low lighting in the barn and the flash on my aging camera. But you can see w hat she generally looks like.

Indigo is a 5 year old Paint mare. I think. Her previous owner told me 4, but wrote 5 on the bill of sale, so I'm going to say that she'll be 5 as of January 1st and go from there. Obviously, I have no papers on her, and know nothing of her bloodlines, so "paint" is mostly because she looks like one. I honestly don't really care about her breed. Technically, she'd be classified as "grade", but that's neither here nor there. The point is she's young, she's a mare, and she has attitude.

From what her previous owner told me, Indigo was broke when she was a 2-year-old (which I generally don't approve of, I think you should let them mature a little more before sitting on them). She developed a nasty head tossing problem and broke someone's nose. She was then sold to the woman that I bought her from with the intention of being a riding horse (with the assistance of a tie-down) and sat in the pasture for the next couple years.

I was cautious when I first got on her, as I've ridden horses who were bad about the head tossing thing before, but turns out I didn't need to be. Immediately upon picking up the reins, I could tell how sensitive she is. The slightest twitch of my fingers had her immediate attention. No wonder she'd been flipping her head.

I was looking for a horse that was correct, young, with a good work ethic and attitude. Decent movement and a "dressage type" would have been major bonuses, but my budget was a little shy of what you normally pay for a good warmblood. Indigo fits the bill wonderfully. She is slightly bench-kneed, which may cause some issues with splints down the road, but I think it's a fault I'll be able to manage. She isn't as forward thinking as I'd prefer, but she's curious and a perfectionist. She's happy to do the same exercise over and over until she figures it out, which is a great trait for me to have. Mostly though, this mare has attitude.

Now, I've ridden mostly geldings in my life. A few mares here and there, but mostly geldings. I have nothing against either sex, it's just how things have worked out. I love working with geldings because they will absolutely try their hearts out. They remind me of my dogs, who love you unconditionally just because you are you. And occasionally feed them cookies. Mares are more like my cat. You have to earn their trust, earn their respect, but once you have it, they're bonded to you that much stronger. While a gelding might do everything you ask, a mare will push both of your limits. If she can get into the game of it, she'll excel for the sake of excelling, rather than just to please you. This is the attitude I wanted in my next horse, and Indigo has it. She's spunky and opinionated, but as long as you're fair, you get along just fine. Getting her foundation established and firm is going to be a test of patience for me. I get tired of the basics pretty quickly, but I firmly believe that there is nothing more important than building this as a really solid foundation to work her training off of.

 I think she looks pretty cute in her dressage bridle, don't you?

Now, I'm not deluding myself. She's not exactly what you would call the "ideal" dressage horse. Her stride lacks the elasticity that you want to see in a horse her age and that's going to get worse before it gets better. She's not very naturally forward, and would rather travel slightly on her forehand. And she's spotted. You don't see a whole lot of spotted dressage horses these days. But she is supple, she is smart, and moves correctly, if not impressively.

Will she be my future FEI horse? That will remain to be seen, but chances are not. There's no reason she couldn't do third level though. Which is all I need for right now. I can worry about my "upper level" horse later, when I'm somewhere near ready for the upper levels.

Dressage is about the journey, anyway. I can't say that I wouldn't enjoy getting on a Grand Prix schoolmaster tomorrow and learning how a real upper level horse rides. But that's not the point. The point is in the training, the relationship, helping your horse to be the best they can be while being the best rider you can be.

Setting a camera timer on a stall door... results in slightly awkward expressions

**I'm going to apologize in advance for the pictures that may appear on this blog. Daylight is pretty short up here right now, and it's so cold and windy and snowy that I'm not likely to be working outside even if I manged to catch the sun, so pictures of the pony are likely to be dark and grainy for a while.

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