Yikes, some time has passed. I hate that. It is bewildering to think it is already the end of August, and this past year has swirled around like some windstorm, peppered with occasional golf ball sized hail. When I last wrote about Emerald Quality (Emmie) it was a new year – 2016 – January, in fact, I was coming off my hysterectomy, and sort of standing around unable to participate in any of the breaking, training, or handling of this recently purchased young mare. It snowed a lot. I remember it being particularly cold and useless as far as much training could be accomplished, but this was not a deterrent for the girls. Stacey showed a rare determination to see this filly through the worst months of the winter and come out ahead by spring. I let her.
Following that surgery, when I was finally able to step into the tack at home, I had maybe a week or two before leaving for Gulfport, so I only sat on Emmie once before heading south. I remember choosing the most bitter cold and windy day to haul all of the horses to the McDonogh School for the use of their indoor, and in the back of my mind some strange voice was saying really? Going to pick the two greenest and youngest horses you have today? you sure? oooook, but you are a dumbass! I told that voice to hush, I needed to get fit in a hurry, otherwise what good would I be in Gulfport?
Both horses made me work. The first one, a newish gelding, just had to make a big deal about being in a strange surrounding, and had to be ridden with a rather firm set of legs and hands until he gave up the fight and steam rose from both of our bodies. He was good practice for what I expected in Gulfport. Horses are always wild the first day or two when you go south, so it was good for me to be reminded of how to deal with it. Then I moved on to Emmie.
Emmie had mastered the trot with Stacey, but not the canter. She was proving to be quite lazy, and in need of convincing that she had one more gait to acquire before we attempted any jumping. Like a lot of convincing. I was quite winded, actually, in my efforts to get two laps of the canter in each direction, and I am not even sure we accomplished the correct leads. But we did it. And besides her solo head shake and ears pinning with one of my rather fierce kicks in her booty, she ultimately did not protest. This was important for Stacey to see, as she was going to be the one left behind to work it all out, and had already doubted Emmie’s capability to move past the walk and trot. Exhausted, we finished the lot, loaded up and headed home.
A few days later I packed up a couple of other older horses and headed away from the snow banks of Maryland to the flat and strange coast of Mississippi for a couple of blissful weeks of sun, horse showing, and good company…. We all know what happened next.
Recovering from a broken leg just takes time. There isn’t anything else. Just time. It is the same for everyone. The clock ticks by, and your biggest challenge becomes dealing with that time. You suddenly realize your normal routine is out the window, and you now have all day to figure out three of the most basic human needs. How to get to the bathroom to pee, how to arrange the pillows, and how you are going to get food. Occasionally you sleep. Maybe read something. But basically for hours, days and weeks on end, you only think about when to pee, your pillows, and food.
Social Media did save me. I couldn’t write, I could barely read the one book I had, the pain killers just don’t allow for anything more productive than useless trivia and cat videos, but I was able to keep people engaged through simple updates, musing maybe a little more about the powers of Facebook connecting all of our lives all of the time. I was touched by the amount of friends reaching out, knowing I was sitting around doing nothing, and willing to call me to keep my spirits up. That was cool.
My horses had to be dealt with by other people. And they were. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by the best in the business. I know this. I trusted all of them, and they did not let me down. There was nothing I could do, I couldn’t even think about them, so I didn’t. So many people offered to help, and I took advantage of all of them. For weeks. For months. My gratitude for each and every one of you is officially eternal.
I listened to the doctors. I returned to Baltimore after a month in New Orleans and underwent the major surgery to install the hardware I needed. I let my husband be my nurse a second time in four months. Shockingly, we are still married. I requested a date I would be allowed to be back in the saddle, and was told by the amazing Hopkins surgeon July 1st. In a routine checkup in May, he bumped the date up to the middle of June and I nearly fainted. Suddenly time was moving a little faster, and my heart was starting to pound a little harder.
Despite the crutches, I was keeping busy with other things, which I am very proud to be a part of, but the deepest part of my soul was eyeing the middle of June with an uncontrollable desire to feel my own boots, my own chaps, smell my own horse, and feel of my own saddle. God, I was so ready.
I didn’t really hesitate in my thinking to pick Emmie to ride for the first time back. Why should I? I mean, besides the fact she probably hasn’t even seen her fourth birthday, but what does that matter? A good horse is a good horse, right? Right. So far we hadn’t seen even an inkling of what her full brother, Mark Q, apparently was capable of when he was four years of age (level 9 naughtiness).
I was still on crutches when I hobbled into the barn and spent twenty minutes in the heat trying to get my boots and chaps sorted out to fit over my swollen ankle. I groomed her, with a crutch under one arm, and brush in the other, and she never flinched. She just peered at me with big brown eyes. I tacked her up and leaned on her as I hobbled out of the barn to the mounting blocks (yes plural) with treats in my pocket and parked her on the off-side. I couldn’t mount from the left. I had to teach her to let me mount from the right. I also had to spend five minutes on the bench reminding myself how to mount from the right side. Have you ever tried to do that? #mindf**k. Once I was on, Stacey patiently holding her head, I fed her a treat thanking her for standing so quiet, and then had to cross my stirrups. I wasn’t ready to put weight on my bad leg, and knew if I managed five minutes of walk I would be a happy camper. My mom came out from the house and took pictures of me. she was so pleased, and I was like, Mom really? My outfit is completely wrong for this moment, but she didn’t care. She immediately told the world on FB. I walked, trotted a few steps in each direction and was satisfied. It felt great.
It is now August. I am juggling several projects, clients, lessons and rides, and the leg is healing, getting stronger by the day. I have ventured into the dark side of dressage with one of my other horses even, and found it is quite gratifying. My fitness is returning in the saddle. Meanwhile, I have been wanting to get Emmie to her first horse show, so I earmarked a weekend for a baby green debut. She is developing a following on both sides of the Atlantic, she is the star of a lot of snapchat stories, and I am always answering questions on how she is doing, so I knew it was time. I chose a regional show in Maryland because…. it’s cheaper. Why spend the extra dollars for a rated show when your own state boasts the best Regional Program in the country? Yes, yes we do.
I chose to head to the Black Eyed Susan Horse Show, held at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center last Friday to school Emmie over the little jumps to check her mental attitude. I had literally no idea what to expect. We had managed only one day of putting half a dozen jumps together at home the week before. It was HOT. Traffic was HORRENDOUS. A normally hour and fifteen minute drive took TWO HOURS. She was sweating when Stacey and I pulled her off the trailer. I felt bad. She was wide eyed. Did I lunge her? No. Did she whinny? Yes. Did I put ear plugs in? no. She has never worn ear plugs. Did she kick out when her tail wrap was being pulled off? well, kind of. Did she make contact? no. She has a thing about her bum. Not bad, but still, we have to watch her bum. Might have been a fly, I don’t know, she hasn’t done that since, but I took a small note. Am I being too honest? Probably, but I have years of not caring behind me to be able to sleep at night knowing she is one of the best horses I have ever had to sell, so being too honest is not going to worry me much.
The test run was successful. Emmie LOVED the utter chaos of schooling day. I was conservative and warmed up in an arena without much traffic before moving into the actual show ring. I prepared myself for the worst and trotted up to the first flowered gate with all my weight in the backseat, heels down, hands up like “What if she stops??” She simply trotted over the flowered gate. I did this two more times before I realized this filly isn’t scared of anything, and within two minutes she had completed her first show practice course. Like pushing the Staples button, I thought, that was easy.
practice day: https://youtu.be/y5P_0L6GBL0
Show day was next. I was totally not getting up early enough to school in the ring again, so she was going to have to remember what she learned the day before. Only this time the jumps were bigger, and she was going to be quite alone. Traffic on the way to the show was not as horrendous, but the temperatures were even higher, and she desperately needed a bath even before showing. We had just enough time. As she almost was dry we tossed the tack on her and headed to the warm up ring. I think I jumped four jumps. We headed to the gate and before too long we were in the ring, alone, and neither of us knew what to expect. Would I be able to keep her cantering? Would she spook, spin, forget what she learned? Do anything remotely expected of a coming four year old? Well, no not really. She had trouble with steering (normal) and one corner of the ring which had a major drop off surprised her, although given one more minute to comprehend would have been solved, but alas, we were not allowed to take the time to investigate.
I wonder if showing the video of a horse at it’s greenest is the smartest thing to do, but when I started this blog about Emerald Quality, I had a gut instinct she would be ok in the end. I decided to endure the criticism, to be forthcoming about her, because I believe in what I do, I believe in the horses I choose, and I wanted to put it all out there about the length of time it takes to bring a young horse along in the United States, no matter where it comes from. You know the story, you have followed it from the beginning. So here she is, the little bay mare from the Goresbridge Auction, nothing more than a jump chute for me to decide that her life should continue here, in Maryland, in America, as a hunter prospect. You can come to your own conclusions, I am happy with what I have, and happy knowing what she will be in the future. And I am so happy she was the horse I chose to bring me back from the broken leg to the show ring in a matter of a few months. It is ok if she doesn’t go in a perfectly straight line the first time in the show ring, she will be better next time.
Now all that time I spent healing is behind me, and no matter what happens in the future, Emmie will be remembered as the one horse I felt so comfortable with mounting from the wrong side on June 20th, 2016.
Video of Emmie’s first hunter rounds : https://youtu.be/1Wq-yKW5H5k