Grant continued to impress me with his good nature and his overall willingness to try and convince me that even though “lazy” was in his nature, to a greater extent it was as a result of his lack of muscular and cardiovascular conditioning. And, this was about the eighth draft cross I’d owned, so I knew the road to fitness to be a long and slow one. I make few generalizations about draft crosses…namely four: 1) they typically stay fat on air, 2) they usually will chew on, chew up, or knock over anything within reach, 3) they rarely have good feet without some outstanding farrier care, and 4) they take a lot of work and time to get and keep fit.
After a few months of playing with him, I realized Grant might end up to be something more than a companion horse and started to work with him more seriously. I soon took him to his first competition ever, a couple introductory dressage tests at a local schooling show. He was great. And it was so nice to be able to trailer alone. We even started some work over fences, which he really seemed to enjoy. I wouldn’t use the term “overzealous” (or “over-talented”) with regards to his jumping, but he was game and sane and we even finished well at a couple schooling combined tests in the months that followed. The notion of getting a new trailer began to fade. Grant hauled just great in my straight load, alone. I would come home beaming, not only because the horse was continuing to impress me with his learning curve and his work ethic, but also because traveling with a horse was now wonderfully uneventful and relatively low stress. My husband’s emotions were mixed. I was happy (which is usually enough to ensure any husband’s happiness), but since it was easier for us to go places, we were going to undoubtedly go more places, more often. This “free” horse was getting expensive. Silly man, TANSTAAFH (there ain’t no such thing as a free horse).
Things were rolling along almost frighteningly well. So, as is my nature, I began to wait for the other shoe to drop. And it did. Gradually, I began to feel a few irregular steps when working Grant. I called the vet who did a thorough workup and lots of radiographs, because as we all know, TANSTAAFH. All the schooling and conditioning, the introduction of jumping, my farrier’s gradual modifications to get Grant’s hooves balanced, and probably as much as anything, the lack of rain, had taken their toll on what turned out to be extremely thin soles. We started some supplementation, some corrective shoeing, even some topical hoof concoctions, and rest. For the following few months, it was a crapshoot if he’d be sound. Degree and duration of lameness would fluctuate, and I began to watch apprehensively as he’d trot across the pasture. Did he look okay just then? Yeah, but he was going uphill. What about when he turns?…etc. Well, there you go…a whole new pile of stress and angst. Praying for rain, which that summer was nothing new for me or probably most other farmers in Georgia, had taken on a whole other dimension.
Several months later, in a sound window of opportunity (due in no small part I’m sure to some unorthodox bar shoes my farrier designed for him) I was able to prepare for and run Grant in his first USEA event at Beginner Novice. Coincidentally (or perhaps ironically) it was the very same event where my other horse had made his USEA debut just two years ago. Back then, I did expect to be back there now, but on that first horse, and running at least Training, if not Preliminary. I’d never imagined that I’d be on a different horse, starting over again, from scratch. Grant ran great and finished on his dressage score second out of 19 starters. Several people noticed, and the photos confirmed, that Beginner Novice obstacles were almost dangerously small for him, and that it was probably wise to go ahead and move up to Novice so he didn’t have a chance to learn that he really didn’t have to “jump” solid cross country obstacles.
So, our next scheduled USEA event was a couple months later, right after the New Year. It would be Grant’s first Novice, and we were both feeling pretty confident. The two weeks or so before, it started to rain…really rain. And, my mother ended up needing surgery. So the time I would have spent riding in those days before the event, I instead spent in the hospital. But, it was all good…Mom was going to be fine and I figured a good number of the riders who would be my competition weren’t getting to ride either. Maybe it would be somewhat an even playing field, albeit a soggy one. But it kept raining, and it had been raining just as much at the event venue…to the point that a lot of friends and I grew concerned about the quality of the footing that would result…and me specifically questioning if a gangly green horse needed to do his first Novice in these conditions. I figured I’d just go and at least take the time penalties picking my way around course carefully, or at worst, withdraw or retire if the going was just too bad.
It was still raining that morning as I loaded up to leave. My trailer was parked where I had parked my trailers for the last 10 years or so. I remember sitting in the hospital one day the week before the event, the thought crossing my mind that perhaps I should move the trailer to higher ground in my pasture lest it get stuck. It had never gotten stuck before, ever. But, I could never remember getting this much rain for this long, either. In the midst of everything going on with my mom, that thought left as quickly as it had come; I never moved the trailer. You guessed it…tires spinning, trailer fishtailing up the hill. At least I’d had the good sense not to load Grant first. Alas, that was where my good sense ended. I saw a stand of taller grass off to my left and figured if I could just get my tires onto it, perhaps it would afford me a bit more traction and I could pull the trailer up onto higher, drier ground. So, I turned fairly sharp and started making a bit of progress up the hill sideways. At this point I should mention that my truck is a short bed, and my gooseneck is older and has a fairly square, rather than tapered, nose. Some of you probably know where this is going. My trailer began to slide sideways back down the hill at a pretty sharp angle when I heard the sickening sound of the front of my gooseneck busting out the back window of my truck. If I included in this manuscript my monologue that followed, no one would have published it.
So, it’s still raining, and cold, and I’m on top of my truck cab securing a tarp with cinder blocks and baling twine, then in the back seat, shaking broken glass out of my show clothes and calling my towing agency. Turns out they won’t tow a vehicle that’s more than 25 feet off a paved roadway. I then called a wonderful friend who was also entered in the event so she could listen to me feel sorry for myself. She graciously offered to drive miles out of her way to pick both of us up, but transferring my gear would have been a tedious task involving several trips on foot about two hundred yards to the closest place she could safely park her rig. At that point I decided that the eventing gods were perhaps trying to tell me something. I’d been questioning the decision to compete in the conditions anyway, so I just ended up scratching.
Article (part 2 of 4) by: Karen Czarick of Dancing Horse Farm who lead a team of four to the Chronicle of the Horse 2013 USEA Training Adult Riders Eastern US win