Sunday, June 15, 2014

All Grown Up

Venus turns 12 this year, and I realized I haven’t posted a word about her quite some time. Why you ask? Because, frankly, she has become known around the barn as the good girl, and let’s face it, consistency doesn’t lend itself to good storytelling. 

Venus schooling in winter 2011
When I bought Venus, back when she was an awkward coming-three-year-old, SFD hadn’t opened. I was still freelance teaching and training, and wanted a young, hot, fancy horse to develop and compete. I really enjoy riding hot horses—for my tastes, the quick responsiveness that comes with it is worth the potential tension.  She is Dutch and thoroughbred, and a red mare, so I thought for sure she would fit that bill perfectly.  Her sire’s sire is Roemer, a sire known for stamping his offspring with rideablilty, which I thought would be a nice balance for the thoroughbred heat. 

As a youngster, she was indeed a hot, responsive, could-get-
tense mare. She showed well, earning a paycheck from the Jumper Futurity for her scores in the 4-year-old FEI division and a red ribbon at Dressage at Devon as a 6-year-old. 

Venus in the Think Pink ride at DAD, 2012
As she has matured, her initial heat has mellowed to a very ridable response level.  In 2011, Scott and I developed a plan to teach her to manage her emotions, which worked really, really well. So well, in fact, that in 2012 she and I were included in the quadrille at Dressage at Devon. She was super. The whole process of going to practices and learning to deal with flags, music, horses headed straight towards her and horses tail-gaiting her helped seal the lessons she had learned the previous year. She became so good in a group that this summer we were asked to ride lead in the First Level Quadrille at the DVCTA USEF Show at Radnor Hunt.  She has become a reliable mount.

I guess this really isn’t too surprising. Horses, like people, go through different stages of emotional development. Usually around 5 or 6 the horses are going through the equivalent of adolescence. They begin to develop confidence and challenge their place in the herd, which can make for some interesting training sessions. Somewhere between 6 and 8 they settle into their mature personalities—which is why most of us pros advise our students to not buy a horse younger than 6.  Around that time, Venus became much more tolerant and much less hot. 

Venus at NEDA 
She has not become dull, by any standard. She is such a good girl, and she has developed a patient, schoolmaster personality. If the aid is correct, she happily does what she is supposed to do. If the aid is incorrect, she tends to ignore it, or just sorta respond.  Over the winter, a student was struggling with shoulder in, so I put her Venus for a ride. When the student set it up with too much inside rein, Venus just went down the long side with her neck over to the right. When my student figured out the use of the seat and outside rein to set up the shoulder in, Venus not only gave her shoulder in, she lifted her shoulders, changed her carriage, and added suspension to her step. It was like Venus was saying to my student “look, when you do it that way, you get all of this too!” Venus was practically cheering her student on.

Venus, with Nicole up.

She has become such a good girl that last fall, when I decided I really should learn to jump with more skill than just grabbing mane and hanging on, Venus became my ride for our weekly jumping lessons. It became clear that Venus really enjoyed jumping, and when my Dr. suggested that I give it up (some old gymnastics injuries in my neck), I passed the jumping reins to Nicole. Nicole is a much more skilled jumper, and Venus has flowered under her training.

She is such a good girl that when a couple of students with young horses were looking for a calm horse to join them on a paper chase last fall, Venus and I came along to play babysitter.  She has not only become a dressage schoolmistress, she has become a solid-citizen all-around horse. 
Venus competing at her first "A" hunter show

But, like most things, this comes with a negative side. Since she is such a good girl, I really don’t get to ride her that much these days. Over the winter, she was busy teaching a few choice students how to put a horse on the bit correctly and how to ride correct lateral work. Nicole jumps her.  Maddy, my assistant, earned some much-needed show miles on Venus this spring. 

As Venus has grown up, so has my business. Unfortunately, in recent years, her competitive ring time has been limited by client demands. Each year I have started with the determination to get Venus out and do what I bought her for – show. And each year one of my client’s horses begins to take off.   Competing on a client’s horse not only makes my client happy, it lets me use my show budget to do exciting things like buy a tractor for my growing business.

Which brings up that negative side again. I am a professional dressage rider who likes hot, spicy horses. And my mare has evolved into a wonderful good girl that anyone can ride. She clearly doesn’t need a professional to ride her any more. Plus she seems to really like teaching, loves to jump, and is great on a trail ride. My growing business could really use a bigger trailer, a better drag for the arena, and a replacement for the purchase-really-used Toro that we use to muck the barn—the list keeps getting longer. So I have decided it is time to sell her. 

Venus, just turned 3. She was all legs and booty
Venus now, the pretty girl. 
This process of letting go of the tailcoat dreams I bought along with my awkward red filly (I NEVER dreamed she would grow up to be a beauty queen, I just liked the way she used her hips) has been very, very hard.  But Venus is so much happier teaching and jumping than being asked to work harder and dig deeper every day, as is the life of an FEI horse, that the decision has been made for me.  Some of the horses I ride really enjoy the harder work. Secret thrives on canter pirouettes, and Sling thinks half steps are so much fun that he offers them whenever I say “good boy.”  Venus does all of this work, but when she has more variety in her life, she is more fresh each day. So in addition to not needing a professional to ride her, I think she’d prefer to not have to deal with my professional goals and professional intensity every day.

 I half-heartedly put her on a few sales sites last spring, but didn’t really promote her much. But now, with the business growing again, it is time to let my good girl go become a cherished teacher for a new owner that will love what she has grown up to become.