On occasion, I am known to be a braider. I don’t consider myself a professional braider, but I do enjoy braiding for friends. That said, getting out of bed in the wee hours before dawn is not an enviable task. However once I’m up, I find the peace and quiet in the barn early in the morning with the horses to be very peaceful. There’s just something about being around a healthy, friendly, kind horse in the quiet hours before dawn that whispers to your soul. Okay – I hear the professional braiders snickering about that corny comment, but for me that’s how it is. I mostly just braid my own horse, because I am too cheap to pay someone to do it for me. But a few times each summer I braid for local Hanoverian breeder Marydell Farm / Maryanna & Wendell Haymon. Usually it’s just broodmares, foals, youngsters and on occasion her stallions Don Principe and Doctor Wendell.
A few weeks ago I ran into Maryanna at work (I’m one of the website tech’s at Farm House Tack) where she asked me to braid Prince at the upcoming dressage show at Tryon International Equestrian Center. I happily agreed, not having any clue what I had just been asked to be a part of other than either a late night or an early early morning at TIEC. A few days before the show I shot her a text asking the normal questions, when does he get here, when does he need to be braided, do you still want hunter braids, etc.
To my surprise, she said he needed to be braided for the jog. Jog? What jog, they have a soundness jog? After swapping a few more texts and then checking out the agenda on the website I quickly realized this wasn’t just a dressage show. This was a really BIG DEAL. Forgive me here I’m not up on all the dressage terms but he was doing the FEI classes, stabled in the fenced off FEI barn, housed with several international competitors vying for positions on their respective Olympic teams, don’t forget to pick up a pass to get back to the stabling area. Wait.. what just happened? My routine braid job just over dosed on steroids. How cool was this?
It was like the little nerd in the lunch room got invited to sit at the cool kids table, not as a joke but for real. Thursday afternoon I went down to the barns to pick up my barn pass and visit with Prince and his trainer Jim Koford. It’s very obvious by how at ease the horses are right off the trailer, that Jim takes very good care of them. He brought several horses to the show, and the soft eye of each horse quietly watched Jim as he went about getting them all ready for the weekend’s events. He is very easy to work with and always has a joke at the ready, so it’s easy to see why the horses try so hard for him.
I was surprised to see the level of activity in the barns before the show even began. I guess that’s when it hit me that several of these riders were here from around the world. These horses are athletes at the top of the sport, Olympic selection trials are on the horizon and NOTHING is left to chance. No bump, scrape or sneeze goes unnoticed.
Joy Baker, the equine chiropractor who also works on my horses occasionally, had just finished up working on the Marydell horses. She was collecting her things and off to find her next appointment. Samantha Chody a technician with LifePulse PEMF (Pulsed Electro Magnetic Field) Therapy was set up and working on a horse a bit further down the aisle. Grooms and riders were scurrying around the barns caring for their horses. Magnetic blanket on this horse, Ice hock boots for that one, hand walk the chestnut, and then get the bay. It was an interesting perspective to be on the outside looking in at all the activity that goes into producing an Olympic level equine athlete.
The jog was first thing Friday morning, so I arrived at about 5:30 a.m. bleary eyed and half asleep but well before dawn to the quiet barns. Prince is one of the sweetest stallions I’ve worked with, he’s kind and sensible and loves to be fussed over. He has SO much presence in the ring doing his thing, but he’s a sweetheart in his stall. One of the few stallions I’ve met that you have to double check isn’t gelded.
Team Marydell likes the tidy look of hunter braids on their horses, so I laced in about 35 braids into his mane and was awestruck at how ‘buff’ he is. This sweet dark bay Hanoverian is all muscle, he makes my white marshmallow of a hunter, Oliver, look like a chump.
Not long after I was finished the barn was awake and humming with activity. Horses demanding to be fed or taken out for a walk. Wraps being pulled, legs being examined, trips to the wash rack for white markings to be cleaned up. Everyone was prepping for the jog, and my horses at home were looking for breakfast. So, I ducked out for a few hours to take care of my critters and run some errands and come back that evening to watch.
When I arrived at the stadium for the Grand Prix Friday night, I ran into Eva Peterson an equine body worker used by Marydell Farm. She had come by to give Prince some body work and stayed to watch the tests. She wanted to watch the tests to see if she needed to adjust her sessions with Prince based on how he preformed. I’m not sure why but I found this surprising. I guess because in the hunter world it just seems that you have a modality performed and then the owner / rider / trainer waits to see if things like a lead change or something are easier for the horse, when there is already a problem. Where as Eva proactively wants to see where and how she can help this horse perform even better. Now thats team work and dedication!
While watching the Grand Prix on Friday, I quickly realized that I would probably have gotten lost after the back up at C! I have a new found respect for dressage riders. For starters, how on earth do they remember those tests!? So much precision and so many movements to remember, and oh don’t forget to RIDE! One of the most interesting things I noticed over the weekend was the flying change. As hunters we do flying changes all the time, you would think there would not be much difference between swaps in the two disciplines. Done correctly, they both start from the hind end, right? I could never have been more wrong! The level of straightness, the precision, the hind end movement, the aids used, similar but so so different. The ability of these riders to keep these horses contained for lack of a better word while performing these complex movements is amazing.
I was able to spend time with Eva on Saturday morning after I braided Prince again. I’m always looking to learn more about horse care and how the different facets of specialties work together. It was nice to feel like part of the team, and not like I was in the way. Eva worked on Prince for about two hours giving him what seemed to me, a major session with a physical therapist and anything but a plain old ‘massage.’
She slowly worked each muscle group, working out any tight areas she could find. Noting why she was targeting certain areas based on his performance the night before. While she worked Prince lazily lowered his head and took a nap, occasionally perking up to move his body, as if to say, ‘ah, yes…right there.’ Watching her work left me wondering why anyone could possibly need Perfect Prep when they could have Eva come in and work her magic!
When I came back for the musical freestyle Saturday night, I kept in mind some of the things Eva mentioned as she worked on Prince and what she was trying to help him improve on in his performance. The freestyle itself gave me chills, you can see Prince really likes his music and his test. His music offered a very patriotic theme which suited him beautifully. It was also interesting to note the way he was able to use his body more effectively for the most challenging parts of the test. All of the riders and horses were spectacular to watch and all though the tests were all the same, each horse and rider combination had a way of making it their own.
Although Maryanna is a neighbor and a friend, it was an honor to be asked to play such a small role at such an important show. It was really neat to be able to be back in the barns with them, being extra hands when needed, or simply soaking up some new knowledge from people happy to share it. It was incredibly fascinating to watch how each of the sessions from the specialists played such an important roll in keeping these horses fit, and sound of mind and body. Watching all of the riders in the barns made me realize how much goes into producing an Olympic equine athlete of any discipline, both financially and physically. Having a foal or youngster with the conformation, temperament, athleticism and talent is only the beginning of a long patient journey to the top of any discipline.