I'm so excited to be back to the blog. The past year has been such a great opportunity to "sight in" my my focus to exactly where it needs to be right now. Being a mom is an ever-changing job description and I have embraced this instead of trying to force-fit horse training and parenting together in the same tin. Sometimes they co-exist well, but often they do not.
Last season ended up giving me the exhilarating chance to help Paige figure out if she really does want to do "this horse thing," and I have renewed my love for the unsung heroes of dressage, the the "whatzits" and the "idunnos." You know, those horses that come down centerline while you're warming up, and you whip your head around while you're in the middle of looking over your test one last time and a little voice inside your head says "Dear God, if only THIS horse was THAT easy to ride..." And then you spend the next few minutes really coaching yourself into loving your amazing looking but not quite "pet-worthy" horse as you make your way to the arena, on the lookout for strollers, umbrellas, random things that are tagged in your memory banks as Mayhem Objects.
Mayhem. That moment when you feel your horse step wide behind and take a deep breath so quick you think he's going to bust the buckles on your girth, and then you do your best to loosen your hips and follow whatever is going to come next, while scanning the surrounding area for children you might take out. It's happened to all of us, and it is part of bringing some of these big and talented horses to their potential. Of course we would love it to not happen, and we train to prepare our horses to avoid it, but it is part of a trainer's job to pilot our beauties through the unavoidable moments of Mayhem, and hep them understand it's really ok. It's our job as instructors, too, to help coach our riders through those moments of Mayhem, that we know will happen, though maybe we sugarcoat it a little because there's no sense in worrying about it. . .
In the process of embracing my own trepidation as horsey-mom by enlisting the help of some friends to stand in for me as coach (even if in name only because God himself knows I can't keep my mouth shut even with dear Paige when it comes to diagonals and outside reins) I have rediscovered the value of the Whatzits and the Idunnos are two amazing types of horses: those selfless, patient beings that while they could maybe be amazing movers if the wind blew up their skirt and they thought it was okay to be a complete showoff to everyone watching, they seem to have only one thought in mind: " I will do this thing now and then we will be done and I will get treats and get these stupid braids out of my hair."
The Whatzits, by definition, are sometimes recognizable as a breed type. They are decent little dressage specimens, and can fulfill most, if not all, of the elements of intro and training level (most of the time with a solid "6" attached to it). They go exactly where their rider tells them, and they are usually so involved in listening to instructions (that their rider has practiced so hard and is working so hard to remember) that they seem to ignore everything else. They may sneak in a "try" now and then - a sneaky exit at A or a little extra effort across the diagonal toward the trailer - but for the most part, they are proud to do the best of what they are asked. They are never going to get 8s for their movement, but they have a clever gleam in their eye that makes them distinctly show horses, and maybe a little tricky as they require the rider to know exactly what to ask for. Often, they may look as if they are laughing as they follow their rider's aids dutifully off course, and you might see a brief snigger when the whistle is blown. The Whatzits have a definite sense of humor.
The Idunnos, on the other hand, are sometimes the small, indistinct horses that usually come in plain colors and funny shapes. These horses put their fancypants on one leg at a time, just like all the big kid dressage horses. They know a few tricks, sometimes they can go sideways, they even perhaps had what it took at one point to be competitive with the trainer at the local shows. They are serious enough about their job to make you think they know the test book by heart. But when the owner comes and puts his or her foot in the stirrup, the stone falls away and the diamond is revealed. The rider, still developing the skills, makes mistakes, and yet you see the Idunno's eye soften as if to say "don't worry, kid, I got this." The two complete the test after test and there is a trance-like seriousness on the horse's face that you didn't notice before. Every now and then, a mistake in the aids is 'ignored', or perhaps even tolerated, and you can see the rider learning the ropes on this forgiving and serious horse. The Idunnos don't have much of a sense of humor, but they are noble in their sense of duty, and probably pretty much look down their noses at the rest of the show string.
I've been fortunate to own a few Whatzits, and have even bred a horse that eventually became a successful Idunno. But I do not think I ever appreciated them ENOUGH until now. As I watch Paige learn about winning and losing, hard work and patience and goals and plans, I have rediscovered what it means to have a few of these special horses around. There are plenty of special horses, (like the ones I call Bumblebees, but that's for another blog) horses that can do their job in spite of their conformation or limitations, but I am so grateful for these horses that have decided that people are worth enduring, and that the Mayhem Objects just aren't worth their time.
Now, I must also give credit where credit is due - these special Whatzits and Idunnos are not always the product of dressage barns, and are rarely the result of hours of dressage training. Sometimes they are found to be ready to fulfill their destiny at a young age, but often the path to their present place in life has been winding and varied. If you want one, you're probably going to have to do some digging, or be just plain lucky enough to stumble across one. They come from ranches, from backyard trail barns, from jobs as hunter jumpers, and even from lesson barns where they got a little bored: They were often owned by people who don't know what dressage is, and never cared. They were ridden bareback with halters and leadropes, or they pulled carts. They may have roped steers or even checked fences with a couple of trusty dogs following along at their heels. But if you are lucky enough to discover one of these special Whatzits or Idunnos for your child, be sure to thank the people responsible for their understanding and patience. There may be some scars, there may be some stiffness on a cold day. But don't hold it against the owners that loved them enough to teach them what they needed to find you. The list of people may be very long, and will likely have many stories along the way, but you will suddenly recognize many of the stories as telling about things you did long ago, before you ever knew there was such a thing as an inside leg or outside rein, and when the only gaits you knew were "slow" and "bumpy" and "run".
So, while I may have passed over the Whatzits and the Idunnos years ago in favor of watching the tall young dressage athletes, I now take the time to appreciate (and I daresay enjoy) them for all their wonderful gifts they give to us. While I know they aren't going to get us to the Olympics, I know they are absolutely perfect for the rider they choose (so often they choose themselves) and I will cherish every 60% test they end with a sigh at X, and try not to wince when they fairly amble out of the ring on a loose rein past so much Mayhem, with their rider smiling so big for having finished this thing. More treats, I say, more treats.