Grady’s Excellent Adventure

Hello readers! I’m pleased to share with you the continuation of our story. For a reminder of where we left off, please click here.

By late summer of 2012, Grady had shown tremendous improvement and I was more confident than ever.  In September, Jayne’s trainer, a Canadian Olympian named Jacqueline Brooks, was planning a clinic at Jayne’s barn on her way down to compete at Dressage at Devon.  I decided to go audit the clinic and it really got me motivated.  Jacquie was so upbeat and positive and, even though she was a well-known rider and trainer, you didn’t have to have a fancy horse or be an upper-level dressage rider to ride in her clinic.  Her method was all about helping the horse be the best athlete he can be and her attention to each individual horse and rider was unique to that pair.  I began to think “I would like to do this with Grady” and it actually didn’t sound crazy.

During a break in the clinic sessions, Jacquie rode her horse, D Niro (aka Goose), rehearsing the musical freestyle that she was going to ride at Devon.  Seeing the partnership between Jacquie and Goose so close up was an incredible experience, especially since they were fresh off the heels of the London Olympics.  I felt so lucky to have this inside peek at her preparation for another big competition.  Watching her ride that same freestyle later in the week at Devon via live stream and her winning the class was icing on the cake!  “Ok, I’m definitely riding Grady in the next clinic.” I thought out loud.

Jacquie’s next clinic was scheduled for November and I signed up to do a private lesson the first day and then a semi-private for day two.  I also planned to bring Grady up to Jayne’s barn a couple of days earlier to have a lesson with Jayne and then another day in between to allow Grady more time to settle in.  He hadn’t been off the property in a few years so this was going to be a big deal for him.

A few weeks before the clinic, it occurred to me that I should make sure that my 1993 Kingston horse trailer was up to the task of transporting Grady.  It hadn’t been used in quite a while and it was almost 20 years old after all.  I brought the trailer home for my mechanically inclined husband, Gary, to look over.  While Gary was underneath the trailer checking the stability of the frame, I heard some unfortunate words.

“Um…. you can’t put a horse in here.” He said reluctantly. 

“What?? Why??” I exclaimed.

With that, I got down on the ground and looked at what Gary wanted to show me.  The rust that had developed underneath the trailer was too far gone and the frame would likely need to be replaced.  Kicking myself for not checking out the trailer sooner, I began the search for an alternative method of transportation.  Luckily, I found someone who was available to drop us off and pick us up on the requested days.  We booked it and he got us where we needed to go.

When we first arrived, I spent a lot of time walking Grady around his new surroundings, allowing him to take in the scenery.  He enjoyed looking around and he especially liked seeing his reflection in the big mirror at the end of the indoor arena.

Having spent my whole riding career in the hunter/jumper world, I was a complete unknown in the dressage world, so this was a big deal for me too.  We weren’t in the backyard anymore so it was a little intimidating being there, but Jayne was very reassuring and our lesson on day one went quite well. 

The next day, I walked Grady around the property again, starting in the indoor arena and then venturing outside to let him graze.  At one point something spooked him and he started to run backwards down the hill we were grazing on.  I was able to hang onto him until he stopped and assumed the pose of a statue, staring off in the direction of the scary boogie monster.  After a moment, he resumed grazing.  Phew! 

Later that day I rode him, reviewing what we had worked on the day before but not doing too much since we had two big days ahead of us.  As I tucked Grady in for the night, I couldn’t help but think how far we had come in a little less than a year.  Only a couple of months earlier, the thought of bringing Grady to the next clinic was just that…. a thought…. yet, here we were.

On the first day of the clinic, I worked hard to keep the butterflies in my stomach a secret from Grady.  A lot of people trailered in so there were new horses, new people and a whole new energy but Grady was handling it well.  It was definitely a good thing that we shipped in early –  by the time all this new activity began, Grady had settled in and was more relaxed.  I even got the feeling that he felt important because he was already there. 

Some of the people there were big-time dressage riders and trainers with a whole entourage of people and upper-level dressage horses.  Again, pretty intimidating for little ol’ me and my off the track Thoroughbred with a tendency to fly off the handle without warning.  Oh well, we were here to learn and learn was what we were going to do.  I knew Jayne had our backs and I had seen Jacquie teach enough to know that she would be cool with whatever happened.

When our turn was finally approaching, I spent lots of time grooming Grady and doing our ritual of pre-ride stretches he had come to count on as I tacked him up.  I led him into the arena and let him watch the other horses going around.  I didn’t want to mount up too early since I had no idea how he was going to behave and I didn’t want to ruin anyone else’s ride.

When the previous session was finishing up, I led Grady to the mounting block and got on. (I have to say, with all of Grady’s little issues, standing at the mounting block was something I could always count on him being good about.)  We walked around outside the dressage arena that was set up in the huge indoor arena.  Then, once the other horses had left the arena, Grady and I stepped in and we were officially introduced to Jacquie.

I had signed up for a private session the first day so that Grady would have an easier time concentrating without the distraction of another horse in the arena.  He did really well and only spooked once toward the end of the session – the horse being led into the arena for the next session mouthed the two bits of his double bridle causing a clackety-clack noise that sent Grady into his signature bolt sideways to the right.  Within half a circle, we got back to work and finished nicely.  Tears of pride began welling up and the lump forming in my throat practically choked me.  I was so proud of my boy!

The next day, Grady came out even more relaxed and he picked up right where we left off the day before.  This time, we were in a semi-private with a big, fancy warmblood who was obviously an upper-level dressage horse.  Grady probably took four trot strides for each of the other horse’s one, but I just focused on us and tried to stay out of the other rider’s way. 

While I was warming up at the trot, Jacquie looked over from her conversation with the other student and said “well, I guess you don’t need me anymore!” with a chuckle.  It was fun that she was joking around with me and thought Grady looked that good right at the beginning of the ride.  That set the stage for an even better ride than the previous day and by the time we were done I was on cloud nine!  Thinking back to all those difficult, frustrating rides and all the times I thought I’d never get on Grady again made this accomplishment that much sweeter.  It felt better than any blue ribbon I had won in the past because of what we went through together to get to this point.  And our relationship was that much stronger for it.

When Grady unloaded from the trailer back at home, he had a swagger I had never seen before.  He knew what a big deal this had been, and I could feel that he was proud of himself.  I was proud of myself too, for having the perseverance to get us to this point.