By Emily Oakes:

Kacey is my nine year old Irish Sporthorse, who I have raised and trained from birth.  His career began with qualifying for Young Event Horse in 2007 and so did his history of injuries.  He developed side bone as a five year old, which would explain dropping scores for his movement over that year and lead to a broken coffin bone, a year of stall rest, and a year of rehab.  I’d out him again as 7 year old at training level, and battle various season ending injuries before finally moving up to prelim in 2011.

He was actually becoming ridable XC on his third outing, which unfortunately ended with another injury.  My crazy fit horse tied up upon crossing the finish line, and apparently knocked his side bone somewhere on course.  The vets pointed to heart and adrenaline as being the reason he never took a lame step, and pulled me to every fence.  Fluids, injections, a two week bout of hives, an allergic reaction to his fall vaccines all added up to three months of rest.  Now, we are finally on the comeback AGAIN!

My boy may be a machine on cross country, but he is a wimp over show jumping fences! Anything that falls if you touch it, is NOT to be trusted! I can have a spot-on warm-up before show jumping and get in the arena, only to have to pick him up and carry him over everything.

So, it takes time to get his head back in the game after time off.  On XC, he’s so overly zealous about RUNNING that we’ve actually had time penalties because I have had to circle to get control to avoid steeplechasing  “non-steeplechasable” fences!

Confidence on show jumping courses and rideability on cross country courses, were definite focal points for us before we out again this fall.  Well, it just so happened that Boyd Martin was coming to our area for a clinic shortly before our first out.  And it just so happens that I have been dying to ride with Boyd since watching him go at WEG in 2010. SIGN! ME! UP!

Now, if you know anything about me and road trips, you know that if anything can go wrong with my trailer, it will.  In fact, the same year we made it to AEC’s doing Young Event Horse, we also made it into the USEA magazine with an article called “The AEC’s – A Comedy of Errors.” Nice. So, making the five hour drive to the clinic location unscathed, was a success in itself.

We’ve had a horribly hot and dry summer here in TX, so I was pleased to find that Kacey travelled well and came off the trailer relaxed and happy at Pine Hill.  He was giddy to hack on the cross country course, and ate all his dinner that evening.  Things were going well.

I woke up Saturday morning to feed at 5 a.m., because my group rode at 7:30.  I was slightly anxious, completely giddy, and ready to get the day started.  Up and out of bed to feed! Or so I thought.  The lock on my trailer door wouldn’t budge! I fiddled with it, and finally confirmed that the blasted thing was broken.  I had locked myself IN my trailer!  Who the heck locks themselves IN their trailer?!?! Apparently, I do. (Sigh….)

Now what? Luckily, there is a door in the living quarters, that leads to the tack room.  Maybe I could get out that way?  However, the saddle racks were down, because my saddles were on them.  That meant I would barely be able to open the door.  Perhaps I could still shimmy my way into the tack room, and escape to freedom and feed my horse? Lucky for me, it worked!

Kacey was fed by 5:30 and eventually the lock was removed from the door and I was back on schedule for my 7:30 show jumping lesson. Catastrophe averted!

I managed to be on by 7:15, only 15 minutes later than I hoped.  I walked into the ring at Pine Hill to see the other four prelim group members beginning to warm up, and to watch Boyd Martin building a series of bounces.  Oh boy!  This could be interesting! Kacey is 17 hands.  He doesn’t have to jump much, or at least put much effort into getting over anything smaller than 3 ft. 6.  We have used bounces in his training to teach him to lift his shoulder and push from behind as opposed to tucking his knees as tight as possible and putting very little effort into getting over whatever might be in his way.  And so, Kacey HATES bounces!

The first three horses popped right over. Kristy and Eli would be the bold pair, Lacey and Prophet, the pretty pair, and Maggie and Max, the steady pair. Then it was Sheryl and Bravo’s turn.  Bravo was not having it! Sheryl was my new best friend! And surely, Kacey and Bravo were kindred spirits, the spooky and “equally as spooky” horses! With a little coaxing, Bravo finally went over a time or two and it was our turn.  We turned to approach the bounce, I put a firmer leg on, Kacey peeked a bit, but over he went.  This was an accomplishment!

Boyd sent us over a few more times. One time, Kacey put in a small stride instead of a bounce.  I thought to myself, “You’re doing it again! You’re holding too much! Only you could get your 17-hand horse to put a small stride in a bounce combo. Oops!” Boyd blew it off and said no big deal, keep coming and we bounced it a few more times.

He eventually pulled us up to assess what he’d seen.  I asked him the striding on the combination? “Oh, 4-5 steps.” He said, as if it really wasn’t important.  (But just imagine it in that dreamy Australian accent.  Yes, it was important!) And then he sent us off to put one stride in the combination instead of bouncing it.  He’d set it that way, to be bounced or to be ridden with a short one stride! I had to ride my horse appropriately, and tell him if I wanted him to bounce it or add a short stride. We all do this exercise at home putting three or one in a two, but never as a bounce but never a one stride in a long bounce. I loved it!

As we went on, he’d have us do a zig zag sort of exercise over a series of bounces and sure enough, my horse was becoming more ride-able, more balanced, and more confident.  Oh, happy day! Eventually he had us going over a small course with a three stride, a two stride, and a triple.  He’d also set up an S type line with a barrel to an oxer to a corner that we’d eventually do in a straight line.

Kacey was feeling better and better.  Boyd assessed him as a little spooky, but a good, careful jumper. I had to remember to give him a little spur right before the spooky fences, not let him rush the simple fences, and give him a big half halt upon landing and not let him pull me around the course.  Then he commented that adding strides on these types of exercises with a horse that pulls like mine, was going to be my challenge.  If he only knew. He saw my brave show jumper! I usually work on not shortening his stride and unintentionally adding a stride in my combinations. My how far we’ve come!

Here’s a video, where Kacey and I take our shot at the bounce exercise.

Boyd comments that I’m always slightly behind the motion, and need to be a little more forward in show jumping. If he only knew how many times Kacey nearly got me off a few weeks before with nasty last minute duck outs. Ha! This exercise was great for us, and my show jumping has greatly improved since this clinic!

After my lesson and caring for Kacey, I poured myself a mimosa, and hurried back to the arena to audit.  He used the same exercises with the training, novice, and beginner novice groups except with longer distances. While auditing, I was happy to meet many new friends.

Later that evening, we’d all meet for dinner with Boyd.  This was Boyd’s first trip to TX. Surely, we could take him for some good Tex-Mex and margaritas.  Unfortunately, this was Bellville, TX, a very small country town.  Our choices were typical, but we were limited because not many of the restaurants could seat such a large group.  And so we ended up at a Chinese restaurant.  Welcome to Texas, Boyd!

Chinese food or not, the company was wonderful. We enjoyed sharing stories of our experiences and especially enjoyed hearing a story or two from Boyd.  Did you know that his first time to break a horse was in Japan? With a buddy? At the age of 18? They answered an ad for professional horse trainers at a breeding barn.  Boyd and his friend, read a book on breaking horses on their flight over. They arrived, to find that many had gathered to watch them break the young horses.  I’m fairly certain that they were expecting “The Man from Snowy River!” He spoke of the fanfare he used, and how he managed to pull it off and would break more than 30 horses before returning home to Australia! Good times!

More tomorrow!

Emily