Everyone Ought to Have a Pokey Pony

Well, sometimes Lucky is a bit too lazy. He is not the world’s most motivated horse on the best days. The bugs are not helping at all. Now I’m getting eaten alive. Saturday, we took a long walk around the track, and the toughest part was convincing him that if he kept moving, the bugs couldn’t get him. Or at least not as effectively. We didn’t do much in the way of galloping or even a canter, and there was much bending at the walk. He was also perfectly happy to stand very still for his bath (with the nice Finish Line shampoo with tea tree oil, which smells very nice) because the water meant the flies had trouble landing. Sunday, I lunged with the side reins again. I actually saw something that might be dropping the head and engaging with the bit. Progress! I don’t think, though, he is ever going to be a big-moving hunter with a sweeping trot. His hind end does not work that way. As he seems to harbor ambitions of growing up to be a cowboy, this is probably not the colossal problem it might be elsewhere.

Monday I had the chance to hack out on a pokey pony. Yes, an actual pony! 13.1 hh. Over on Chronicle Forums, I’d mentioned that I was trying to find a western saddle for Lucky. (Someone, please stop me from buying that barrel saddle with the teal ostrich seat and teal heart cutouts? Must…resist…cute….) COTH poster fordtraktor let me know she had an old barrel saddle I could try, and since she doesn’t live far, if I wanted, we could go for a hack when I came by to get it. As I will rarely pass up a chance to ride a new (to me) horse, I said sure! The saddle, underneath the dust (it has been honorably retired for a while!) is red leather basketweave, and does clean up nicely. Now to see if it fits (maybe after Labor Day it’ll get cold and all the bugs will die!) After taking a look at the saddle, we went for a leisurely hack. I had the pleasure of riding one of those ponies who is big but little. I believe 13.1 is technically a medium, but as fordtrakor put it, she’s like a Quarter Horse body on short legs, and I didn’t have any issue with taking up leg. Pony might have had an issue with having a rider who is strong enough to make her actually trot (which can be surprisingly big when she wants it to be!) and even a bit of a bone-jarring pony canter. Even then, she still could only get halfway around the arena before fordtraktor’s Big Bay TB (to go with her Big Bay QHs) swept on by and lapped us. I know, pony, it’s tough to be short. It’s wonderful to actual go riding with someone–I’m used to hacking out by myself and working in the ring alone, to the point Lucky was moderately fried by having four others in there for the clinic this summer. Hopefully she can haul up to visit (as I’m tow-vehicle-less for now) and Lucky can get some thoroughbred company. (Maybe it will encourage him to speed up a bit, too. Then again, probably not.)

Some Equine Pictures

Since it’s the holidays when everyone is stuffing themselves on cookies and peppermints, instead of any updates, here is some equine art:

Sir Richard Sutton and the Quorn Hounds

With a scent breast-high

Derby Day poster

Wall of Win!

Lucky's Allowance Win

Benny's ONLY Win!

Hot Dice

Hunting print of some sort

Books, Horses, and the Male Mentor

Someone on my LiveJournal friends list has been doing a month-long book meme. Yesterday’s entry was about something like topics or characters you’ll ALWAYS read about. While I certainly am with her on Rome (and those sexy Praetorian Guards) I found the character type I was thinking of came from, no surprise, horse books, and by and large those written from the mid-Fifties to the Seventies, aimed at girls.

On reflection, there is a whole subcategory of horse books written in that time frame that was aimed at horse-crazy girls. Not surprising, and though I post-date the books (I’m not that old) a bit read every one I could find, in the school library or used bookstores or wherever I could come by them. I confess to STILL reading them when I get the urge, and reading them as an adult, I’ve noticed a recurring theme: most of these books are about a teen or pre-teen girl, somewhere between 12 and 16, a horse, and a mentor.

The mentor is the type who leapt out at me. He’s male, older enough to be non-threatening in a sexual sense to a young teen, sometimes married, often in a trainer/groom position, frequently English or Irish (convenient, as the girls ride English in the old-school sense), often worked with horses in “the old country”, and is a stern but kind mentor who is very serious about proper horse care. He often works for the family of or is otherwise connected to a female friend of the heroine. In two of the three examples I’m thinking of, the author is female, so I don’t think it’s self-insertion. Wish fulfillment? A cultural reality for young people learning to ride in the time period? Or a clever play to girls’ tastes? And reviewing them, I begin to see where I get some of my taste in men!

The examples I’m thinking of in particular, not least because I had all the books handy:

Michael (no last name given), from Jean Slaughter Doty’s Summer Pony and Winter Pony. (Please forgive the lame-ass new cover on the second link. I have the much-older edition.) If this were TV Tropes and I were creating a trope, Michael would be the Trope Codifier. He’s an indeterminate age (from the thirteen-ish Ginny’s perspective, “adult” could be anything) but old enough that, before he worked for the family of Ginny’s new friend Pam’s family, he was a steeplechase jockey in England. He now grooms, rides, trains, and in some ways acts in loco parentis for both girls. A career-ending injury (never specified, though if I’m recalling correctly there’s some mention of a limp) ended his racing career, but he’s described as a talented rider who exercises the hunters Pam’s family owns. He’s stern and obviously has a very firm idea about proper horse care, but he also very quickly takes Ginny and her rented pinto pony Mokey under his wing. Partially this seems to be because having a friend riding lights a fire under Pam’s rear end, motivating her to be more interested in the care of her spirited show pony Firefly, but partially he seems to genuinely want to help out Ginny because of how hard she works to care for Mokey. In the first book, he helps Ginny train Mokey to jump (and gives a pre-ASTM/SEI-certification lecture about the rules of jumping, one of which is to never jump without a hard hat. Those of you familiar with fiction tropes know where that was going whether you read the book or not) and brings her to a show with Pam and Firefly. In the second, he teaches Ginny to teach Mokey to drive, and at the end is the only adult to arrive in time to help Ginny when Mokey gives birth. He’s also excellent at letting the girls learn their lessons, making his displeasure clear without lecturing, certain that so long as the horse is uninjured it’s lesson learned, move on. Essentially, he’s the ideal mentor for the horse-crazy girl.

Michael has an Irish cousin in Jack Jeffers, a.k.a. Mr. Jeffers, the trainer in C.W. Anderson’s Afraid to Ride. Judy, the teen heroine of the book, has lost her nerve to ride after a bad fall. Mr. Jeffers owns the stable where she used to ride, and thinks the best therapy to get her back in the saddle is for her to help an abused show mare named Fair Lady regain her confidence in people. Like Michael, Jeffers comes from a riding background in the British isles. Unlike Michael, we get an entire chapter devoted to his history, including his crazy-bordering-on-arrogant young hijinks, as related by a farrier whose role in the book seems to mostly be telling these stories to Judy. Jeffers also takes the kind-but-firm method of dealing with Judy and Fair Lady’s issues, sometimes bordering on being an author mouthpiece on proper care and training of show horses (Fair Lady has been traumatized by rough handling.) Does his plan to get Judy back on a horse work? Does it ever happen any other way in a horse book? Not often. Mr. Jeffers must at some point have been paid to teach Judy, and as such had a formal teaching relationship with her at some point, but he doesn’t appear to have any continuing financial interest in her work with Fair Lady–he could as easily have done it himself, but takes it upon himself to give Judy a way back to horses.

A less-common type is represented by Mr. Jonathan Sedgwick from Selma Hudnut’s A Horse of Her Own. Mr. Sedgwick is not a professional trainer or a stable employee but is in fact the owner. The heroine, orphaned Rosemary, observes him riding, and as with Michael and Mr. Jeffers above, he takes her under his wing, partially out of sympathy (she’s lost her parents, and moved away from her old stables) and partially in hopes of helping his daughter (another recurring theme, hm) become more interested in horses. The story’s particularly focused around the local hunt, and around a horse owned by another member that needs help which, of course, Rosemary ultimately provides. Mr. Sedgwick acts as less an equine mentor than a social integrator, bringing the already-competent Rosemary into the local hunt scene and helping her create a new social group, though her riding. But, like Michael and Mr. Jeffers, he’s an accomplished rider who takes it upon himself to help out a horseless or new-to-horses girl for no apparent reason beyond love of the sport and appreciation for a student who wants to learn.

There are other examples, but these are the three that I happen to have easy access to at the moment. And there are echoes/reiterations of this type even in more recent books (such as the book version of Max Regnery in the Saddle Club series.) In particular it was a quick reread this weekend of Summer Pony and Winter Pony that made me notice the peculiar character type Michael represents. He’s basically the ideal mentor for a horse-crazy girl: nonthreatening (he’s much too old, from the heroine’s perspective, to be of interest, and in the case of Mr. Sedgwick and Rosemary he’s married, albeit to a nonentity character), deeply knowledgeable about horses, ready to share that knowledge, and encouraging of the girl’s interest. I suspect the fact these characters are mostly male are in part related to when the books were written: at the time, most trainers and competitive riders were men. The people most likely to have the knowledge the heroines of these books need are men. (The horses, meanwhile, vary–Mokey and Fair Lady are mares, Irish/Dublin Jack is male and though never specifically identified as such, likely a gelding, as is the friend’s pony Firefly in Summer/Winter Pony.)

I think on examination, from a writing rather than equine perspective, they serve another important function, one particular to the horse-crazy girls who haven’t yet discovered boys who are the target audience of the books: they introduce male characters in that way I mentioned, nonthreatening. Age alone removes them from romantic consideration (as does marital status in at least one case). It also lets them take the place of parents to a greater or lesser degree–Rosemary’s parents are dead, Judy’s are supportive but uninvolved themselves, and Ginny’s are, like her, new to the entire concept of horse ownership, providing financial support but with even less knowledge than Ginny of horse care. Michael, Mr. Jeffers, and Mr. Sedgwick provide an adult introduction to the larger horse world, with an overtone of paternal authority. Boys are minor figures in A Horse of Her Own, while they essentially don’t appear in Afraid to Ride or Summer/Winter Pony. In two of three cases, they also bring the cache (which still exists to a greater or lesser degree) that the British and Irish simply know more about horses than Americans. Foxhunting is an English sport and features in two of the three books, while Ginny and Mokey enter a hunter show (over the now-rare outside course, no less.) This is a justified trope in many ways–the British Pony Club and the British Horse Society are serious about teaching horsemanship, and the special relationship between the Irish and horses is a post of its own.

I realized while reading this book how rare this type actually is, at least now. All but one of my trainers has been female, and at the lowest levels, girls drastically outnumber boys in most equestrian sports. In books, the protagonists are still female, but very few of the current Young Adult books I’ve seen that involve horses really focus, as the older books did, on the idea of integrating a first-time horse or pony owner into a wider horse community. Mentors are rare, and the focus is often on the friendships between the protagonist and girls her own age (Max is an authority figure in the Saddle Club, but his role is secondary to the friendship between the three protagonists.) Still, I find myself wondering if there really are Michaels and Mr. Jefferses out there as teachers for new young riders. (And if there is a Michael, if he’s single. ;) )

I got a new toy!

Anybody want to see Lucky?

I decided to bite the bullet and buy myself a digital camera. So of course since it arrived Friday afternoon I’ve been one of those obnoxious people, taking pictures of everything just because I can. I’m sure if anyone saw me taking photos of things like the house way across the snow-covered field while I was walking the dogs they thought I was odd. That’s okay.

So of course I took the camera to the barn. Fortunately the weather was cooperating and it was nice and sunny. Lucky is not exactly looking sleek and shiny, but I’m sure the shedding will start soon enough. And he could be so much muddier than he is. We’re now in the stage where the ground is going from soft to squishy, and there are places where the mud’s pretty deep and slick. I rode in the round pen, for the most part (that’s where the picture is from) and he is back to using stopping as a means of protest. I don’t think he’s sore. He doesn’t move as if anything is hurting him. I think he just is not entirely sure what he’s supposed to be doing, and if he stops and stands, maybe the crazy lady will stop poking him. I also made a point of riding out of the ring again, past the place where he had his tantrum last week. Because this was tricky enough, I dismounted, walked him to the other ring, got back on (for once I wanted him moving out as he was so close to the fence on his right side I couldn’t get the stirrup) and rode him out. There was a little bit of inversion, but no big giant freakouts.

For those looking, yes, that’s a pelham on him. I find that I am appreciating certain things about the way my old trainer did things. An OTTB is not a blank slate. They’ve been ridden, in a very particular way, and they don’t necessarily get it the way you might think a horse ought to. On the other hand, a good part of the reason I decided to switch to the pelham was that he was ignoring me and I wanted some flexibility in how I got his attention. Today, for example, I rode almost entirely off the snaffle rein, but I used the curb for some finer points. The old trainer didn’t even put the curb rein on the bridle, which would kind of eliminate all the things I needed to do with that bit. He does not seem to chew, head-toss or fuss as much with the bit with the pelham (it’s a rubber mullen mouth) when I touch the reins and I am wondering if the straight mouthpiece is more comfortable than a broken bit like the D.

Besides, on the shallow end, I think the pelham looks very proper-hunterish, and since I have the hands for it, why not?

A Few Thoughts on Off-Track Thoroughbreds, Take Two

In which I learn a valuable lesson about not saving drafts when using QuickPress.

There has been a sea-change in how people purchase off-track thoroughbreds. Back when we bought my first horse, we did everything wrong. I had read all the right books (Marguerite Henry’s Black Gold, Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion, the entire Saddle Club series to date.  On a side note, as I won’t be out to the barn again until after Christmas, maybe my next blog will be about some of the more obscure horse-crazy titles I’ve scrounged over the years.) I had learned to ride at an Arabian farm, and settled on hunt seat almost by default. Hunt seat was what the riders at the Olympics did (dressage was flat work and boring), and thoroughbreds were the horses who ran in the Kentucky Derby. And the way to buy one of those horses was through a hunter-jumper trainer with ‘connections.’

The trainer had an in on the backside of the old Ladbrooke DRC. She would pick up horses through her connection who were injured, slow, or otherwise unsuited to life even at the claiming levels (a concept unknown to us at the time) and turn them around quickly. Most of her students were children and first-time owners, and her objective was to get them onto the low-level rated circuit as quickly as possible. Doing this required a quick gelding for the males requiring it, and judicious application of the lunge whip, standing martingale, pelham absent a curb rein, and for the real incorrigibles, draw reins and side reins. We had never seen a racehorse off the track. That they would be hot, go inverted, and be jumping after six weeks over a 2’6″ course was normal, if the trainer said so. That putting a twelve-year-old whose prior experience was limited to backyard ponies and Arab school horses on one was responsible and the best way to learn also seemed like a good idea. Besides, how else was one supposed to come by an inexpensive example of the ultimate athlete breed?

With the advent of the internet, access to horses off the racetrack has changed dramatically in the twenty-odd since my last purchase.  Groups like CANTER (Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses) and the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program.  FLTAP in particular has an interesting story, as their adoption program was created with the cooperation of Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack in Farmington, New York and was the first track-based adoption program.  FLTAP and CANTER have also revolutionized the resale process for OTTBs by offering not just adoption horses but by creating their Trainer Listings programs.   Instead of needing to find someone (a trainer, a broker) with a connection on the “inside”, trainers’ phone numbers and descriptions of the horses they’d like to sell to non-racing homes can be found by anyone with an internet connection.  The Finger Lakes Trainer Listings were where I found Lucky To Cope.

Lucky is what’s known as an ‘old campaigner.’  At seven, he’s had sixty-four starts, almost all in Florida at Calder, Tampa Bay, and Gulfstream Park (where he won an allowance on turf.)  Like most of the track world’s older-statesmen, he worked his way down the levels.  Reasonably competitive on turf, he nevertheless started to run out of conditions.  On dirt, he earned his keep but again kept sliding down into the lower claiming ranks until he was claimed by a local trainer at Finger Lakes.   His trainer couldn’t afford to winter him over to make a track pony out of him, and when the FLTAP listings volunteers came by, he put him up for sale, where I eventually came across his ad.

Why Lucky?  His picture and his description put him on my short list.  I was looking for a horse who could potentially become a field (fox) hunter, and a horse who liked to run on turf, gallop long, and had the brains to be a track pony was a good candidate.  The trainer liked him, and was selling him because of the cost of overwintering, not for unsoundness.  FLTAP volunteers who worked at the track liked him and praised his ‘gentleman’s’ manners.  His price was down to $600.  It was still a tough call between him and my second choice, a five-year-old gelding with nine starts and a temperament described as being for those who liked a little less excitement.

The other ‘internet revolution’ in thoroughbred resales decided me in Lucky’s favor.  That is access to sites like equineline, equibase, brisnet, and even the user-generated pedigreequery. I could, with a little searching and willingness to learn, read on his past performances, and look up his ancestry, mostly for free.

This is the bloodline for Lucky To Cope.  Most notably to me, he has, via the mare Crafty Nan, a War Admiral grandson named Crafty Admiral on his sire’s side.  And on his dam’s side, in the fourth generation, there is a relatively obscure stallion, bred in Kentucky, stood in Florida, named Greek Game.

Compare that pedigree to this, my first horse: Bold McKinnon

So we’ll see how it goes the second time around.

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