Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Career contemplation

We're on day 632 of Project Fiona.

We've got eight sanctioned events under Fiona's belt plus numerous schooling shows, hunter paces, and even a sanctioned dressage show.

At this point, I think that I know my horse well enough to consider her career choices.  What makes the princess happy and what will she enjoy doing for the rest of her days?  I've got a lot of years to plan for since she'll be spending the rest of her days with me.  Who on Earth would ever buy her, anyway?  She's a rare vintage and it takes a very specific palate to enjoy her.  We just lucked out that she's the exact kind of vintage I appreciate.

We'll start with the three phases of eventing, then branch out to the other areas she's played with:

Dressage:  Yes, the princess likes this part.  She will happily head into the arena and get to work.  She has moments of resistance, but that has more to do with asking her for something that's difficult.  She'll get these relaxed, floppy ears and do her darndest to do things right.  Her greatest flaw is trying too hard in this phase, making her tense.  The only catch is that she needs something else to break up the monotony, whether that's a trail ride or a jumping day.  We do not want the princess to be bored.

Cross country:  YES.  The princess would do this every single day if we let her.  Gallop and jump!  This is her idea of heaven.  She's bold, she's brave, and she is one happy pony.  Her ears are up, she's tugging at the bit, and she's ready to roll.  She's pure heaven to ride, so long as you don't mind a horse that wants to gallop and gallop hard.

Stadium:  No.  I've accepted the fact that Fiona doesn't like stadium.  The quick turns and short time between jumps stress her out.  There's something going on psychologically, possibly due to previous training.  She can do a ten meter turn at the canter with just some grunting from effort, we've done it on the flat numerous times.  Try to do a twenty meter turn in stadium and she's suddenly swapping leads, popping her head in the air, and generally carrying on.  She's no longer obedient and in no way relaxed.  It's a bit like managing a powder keg in the middle of a burning building, to use my mother's analogy.

Trail rides:  Fiona was made for this.  Alone, in a group, in the woods, on the beach, front of the group, back of the group, walk on the buckle, quick gallop, she's content to do it all.  While she really enjoys a quick canter through the trees, she'll march along like a western trail pony on a loose rein.  I still think she has the makings of an endurance horse or even a competitive trail horse (the kind that's actually out on a ten mile trail, not the kind in a ring).

Hunter paces:  Oh, so much yes!  These are the best of all worlds.  She gets to go out and jump cross country without the silly other phases and it lasts more than five minutes!  Fiona has thoroughly enjoyed every hunter pace she's been out on.

Foxhunting:  We've had to rule this out due to some of her dog aggression issues.  While she's usually good, if she feels like her personal space is being threatened, she has struck out with her front hoof before.  I don't want to risk her striking out at a hound if the pack is running past her legs.  It's a good feature out on the trails where loose dogs can be an issue, I'd rather she stand her ground and threaten in that situation, but no good for foxhunting.

Barrel Racing:  No way.  Way too stressful as far as the princess is concerned, even if she got a ribbon.  I will never forget the spectators fleeing in fear as Fiona barreled across the ring at the end of her run.  The word was out that she was an eventer and there was a better than 50/50 chance she was just going to jump out of the ring at the end.  Got to love it when your horse is athletic enough to spark a stampede.

So what does this mean for the princess's future?  I'm still debating on that.  She's happy with most of the things she's tried in her life, but one of the three phases of eventing is a major source of stress.  Let's face it, if these stadium issues keep up the way they have been, she's not going to be able to move up past Novice any time in the near future.  We can get away with a lot when the fences are only 2'11", but I'm going to be eating dirt if I try to do a triple combination at 3'3" and she's still skittering sideways in the turns.  She's got professionals scratching their heads at her shenanigans.  Until we hit a major breakthrough, she's maxed out.

Does that mean we've already hit the peak of her competitive career?  I don't think so.  The girl has a lot of dressage potential.  The lower level stuff is boring for her, but she's got the moves and the mind to move up.  She won't be a stunning, 70% topping, championship winning dressage horse, but a bronze medal is well within her abilities.  A bronze medal means that she gets two tests over 60% in first level, second level, and third level.  And it's something that she could relax and learn without major drama.  I asked a dressage trainer if Fiona could do it, and she laughed and replied, "With her eyes closed.".  Of course I've never gone past first level myself, so it will be a learning experience for both of us.  I can probably manage getting her to second level with some help, but third level?  That will be an adventure.  The best part about dressage is that she can keep going on that for another decade easily.

We're going to continue to fight the good fight to figure out the stadium issues, but it might be better for both of us if I settle in for the long haul in Novice and start looking at moving her dressage up instead.   If I look at jumping and eventing as her fun time and her dressage as her work time, I think the princess might be a happier pony.  We're entered in a sanctioned dressage show for the end of June, including a first level test.  Let's see if the princess wants to change her focus a bit.  So long as we still have gallop and jump days.


  1. Good for you that you're contemplating this!

    I was lucky that my guy had upper level scope, but not upper level interest when it came to x-country. That meant he was available as a dressage horse priced well below where his athleticism and record would have put him when I was horse hunting.

    I now have a horse who is THRILLED to do dressage, and enjoys his random forays into stadium with my trainer. We just have to fix the fact that every time he goes somewhere he thinks he needs to get out and gallop...

    Also, I know you were questioning her breeding - have you considered the possibility she's an Appendix QH? She looks like she definitely has TB, but the way her haunches tie in to her gaskin makes me think maybe some QH in there. Regardless, she's fancy, and lucky to have you!

    1. You know, it wouldn't shock me if she was an Appendix. She does have some junk in the trunk and she reminds me of some Appendix QHs I've ridden. I'm sending off a hair sample to the Jockey Club to do DNA typing. If that comes back with a big 'nope', then at least I know she's not a TB.

      I wonder if the AQHA has any programs to help people find their horse's history.

    2. I've wondered that, too, because I have a rescue mare I suspect is cutting or ranch-bred QH. She was bred and starved during her developing years and looks a bit narrow, but her foal ended up looking 100% working QH of some type. Since my mare is not rideable due to injuries and has had no career to make me think it's worth breeding her, I have wondered but not cared enough to really find out.
      I have LOVED some of the Appendixes I've known, so that would be interesting if it turns out to be the case! It's amazing how much jump a well bred QH can add, rather than the awful stereotypes people tend to think of.

    3. I rode this Appendix QH gelding for awhile that was just jaw dropping gorgeous. He was a HUS horse that I was helping to get going over fences, but I threatened daily to take him and clean house in dressage. He just floated around the ring with all this natural suspension. He was an Art I Sweet baby, I think. About 16.3 and dapple grey.

      I've ridden a lot of Appendix QHs and even full QHs in the hunter world. I sure wouldn't mind finding out there was some QH back there.