HUGE AMAZING LIFE CHANGES TODAY: Speedy is finally home!!!
Speedy boarded a semi rig yesterday morning around 10 am (a shockingly civilized time for horse haulers) to come and live in Oregon with me. Not with me like at my house. I don’t do horses at my house (I have no fences, no barn, no arena, and no desire to wake up at 6 am to throw hay). But to my trainer’s place.
Which brings up another big change: Speedy is not going to TrJ’s.
When I had Murray in my trainer’s program in California, a few people left the program here and there saying that they just weren’t getting what they needed out of our trainer. I was always a bit confused by that. B let students haul out to other trainers, bring in other trainers, go to clinics, run clinics, take weekly lessons, take daily lessons…. the sky was the limit on how you wanted to learn, really. And while I could see shortcomings in B’s teaching philosophy, I also strongly felt that a good student could get what they needed out of any reasonably good teacher. No teacher would be perfect, but when you’re obsessed with learning you don’t need fantastic teachers, you just need a teacher.
Over my three years at TrJ’s program, I’ve come to understand what those people meant. I have had great lessons and great rides on great horses in TrJ’s program. But there was just something…. not there for me. Part of it was certainly TrJ’s reluctance to take riders to or bring in clinicians other than one or two approved instructors, once a year. Another was that I never felt like my riding development was a priority for TrJ. Probably this was because I never had my own horse there and never made competitions a priority. It was probably also because I have some training/philosophical differences with TrJ that I discovered early on, and wasn’t ready to let go of them to embrace her ways. Doubtless she could tell I wasn’t 100% in on her program and subconsciously reflected that lack of commitment back to me.
All of those things on their own, would have been totally manageable for me. But together they just added up to a program where I wasn’t getting what I needed.
Last year, I was talking with our course designer for WSS and he let me know that a new trainer would be moving to my area, and strongly encouraged me to get in touch with her if I was serious about my riding goals. This, of course, inspired a flurry of internet stalking, trying to figure out said trainer’s timeline without harassing her, and playing out scenarios in my head. I wanted to wait until the right time to get in touch, and make sure that plan EuroPony really was going through before I tried to commit my horseless self into her program.
As we know now, it did go through, Speedy is here, and NewTrJ* said I was welcome to join her as soon as she was moved up here. So Speedy headed directly to her barn in the wee hours of this morning (aka standard operating hours for horse haulers).
(*Also a J-named trainer, so TrJ she will stay.)
I had this arrangement sorted by the time Speedy’s sale went through, and then I just had to sit on my decision and find the right time to talk to TrJ about it. I dawdled longer than I probably should have. I didn’t want her to get frustrated and kick me out, because I was having a great time with Patrick, but I also didn’t want her to be holding a stall for me that I would never use. So I bided my time for an early November chat. Then she had a hip surgery, then a setback in hip surgery recovery, then her dog died, and then for three straight days every time I loitered to try to get a hold of her one-on-one everyone and their mom showed up loudly needing her attention.
Finding the gumption to talk to TrJ face to face about my decision was hard. I sweated about it for days, and on the way to the barn I literally recited what I wanted to say to her. I didn’t beat around the bush: I told her that I realized Speedy (and I) needed a program where he could get trainer rides. He’s still green enough that he needs someone educated to help him learn how to do the things. And my schedule is stupid enough that there are times — sometimes weeks — when I’m literally unavailable to ride my horse. If I want to have any hope of competing, I’m going to need someone to be training my horse and training me how to ride that trained horse. TrJ was obviously bummed but understanding, and we left things on a good note with the door always open to me. For which I am grateful.
And that right there is another big change. I was not a “full training” rider in California. I was a ride-or-die-d-i-y when it came to training. I wanted to learn to do the thing but I also wanted to learn how to teach the horse the thing and I wanted to teach the horse the thingsmyself. I have a way better understanding now of the value of a good teacher and an educated butt to help a horse’s learning. And despite my feelings on being a good student and learning, I would never deny that fantastic teachers get concepts across better, faster, and with more salience.
I’m pretty excited about all these changes. The only bad thing is that NewTrJ’s place is about 40 minutes from my house (instead of fifteen, sigh). But lots of riders I know have further and less beautiful commutes to get to their horses. I’m excited to have NewTrJ teach me, and teach Speedy. I’m excited to get to see Speedy every day! I’m excited for all the adventures I already have planned for the hony.
I don’t believe in jinxes, so I’m not afraid to say it: We are going to have a great year.
While I was in Germany I did some light stalking of my three favourite horses, but that was pretty much limited to their FEI records and whatever video I could view for free on rimondo. I didn’t manage to find all that much Speedy evidence online. I tried looking up his breeder’s name as it was spelled on his passport but got nothing, and hunting down his trainer and rider on the mighty Goog and Instagram didn’t get me much either. I wasn’t a very good CreepStar3000 — I kinda gave up after that, until I wrote Speedy’s last week’s pedigree post.
The ticket to Speedy stalking, it turned out, was his brother — brothers, actually. After finding Ulisses on Ponyforum, I managed to make my way to his pedigree on All Breed Pedigree (I had checked there earlier but didn’t find Speedy, likely because I misspelled his name or dropped the PP from the end) and then promptly looked up the progeny record of Niina PP, Speedy’s dam.
Niina has four listed offspring, all male. And so I did a quick internet search for Bravour PP, since it looked like he might have been kept a stallion. This led me to Bravour’s Facebook page, in Polish, but decipherable!
Once I was there, I found the breeder’s website listed on Bravour’s page and started stalking the breeder specifically. I had looked up the breeder’s name on Speedy’s passport already, but it hadn’t yielded anything. After I found her site, I contemplated emailing, but then I ended up finding her barn’s Facebook page and messaged her there instead.
Speedy’s breeder, Monika, was happy to hear from me and we chatted a bit about her horses. I asked how Speedy got his name, and she said “His name should have been start with S, like his father Simply the Best. He was very fast as a foal so I decided to give him the name Speedy Gonzales , like a cartoon hero from my childhood.” Which, lol, shoulda known. He was fast, cute, little, and needed and S name.
I also complimented her on his amazing temperament, and Monika said that Speedy was “very streight and problemless foal from the very beginning”, which I’m guessing means he was an easy kid from the get go. In Monika’s program they “pay a lot of attention to the character of our foals, because we know they will be [children’s] mounts and future companions – their obedience is a guarantee not only [of] sports success, but also the safety of the young rider.”
I have this new pet hypothesis that the European model of pony championships (maybe their championships in general?) is a big part of why I ended up with such a steady genius of a hony. Pony championships seems to be a place for breeders to show off their program as much as it is for young riders — literally 12-16 year olds I’m not even kidding they are babies — to get a start at showing off their riding skills. For a breeder to show off their breeding stock among all those great young riders, those ponies really need to be 10s in rideability.
All four of Niina’s offspring are jumping fools. Which makes sense because Niina is herself the product of Monika’s pony GP mare, Novella, and the FEI Grand Prix stallion I’m still googoo over, Machno Carwyn. Novella only had a few offspring before her sport career began. Her sport career included competing in the pony GP (a mere 1.4m, not even as tall as I am at 1.5m) with Monika’s son, after which Novella was sold on to another young rider.
The oldest brother — Benjamin PP — is also the smallest, a little under 14hh. He’s the adorable petite kind of pony, and seems to be packing around a little kid these days. Bravour (picture at the link) is competing with an older junior, and has this super fabulous flaxen mane and tail. He’s also smaller than Speedy — 148cm maybe? an actual pony. They seem to have a great time at the .90 to 1.0m level!
(Speedy free jumping at 4 in the auction program.)
Ulisses, a 2019 model, is only 146cm right now. I’m not sure how much he would be expected to grow. When I asked about Speedy, I was told that ponies often grow to 2 or 3 and then not much more after that. So perhaps Speedy (153cm) will be the giant in his family.
Following along with Speedy’s breeder’s page has been pretty fun too. She doesn’t have a ton of horses closely related to Speedy, but it’ still neat to see his somewhat-distant relatives out and about performing. Plus pony foals! And occasionally when I dive really deep into her page, I’ll find a Speedy picture or video that I hadn’t uncovered before, which is always neat.
I was excited to join the blogger secret Santa again last year, as I missed out last year. I cleverly, not to repeat the mistakes I’ve made in the past, put down the address of MIL’s, where I’d be spending Christmas this year, so my gift met me when I got there.
And then I was extra delighted to see a package from M over at Cruisen in Stilettoes. I got M as my recipient back in 2018, and had a ton of fun putting her gift together — a little Tesla Quilted Pony accented in red and black and silver sparkles. So when I saw that M was my gift-giver, I was like oh how the turns have tabled appreciated the circular nature of the world and how things go around and come around.
I’m absolute shit at helping people get me gifts. I really don’t like stuff, and any of the things I actually want or need I can just get for myself, so walking the fine line of Nicole wants this and Nicole doesn’t think this is unnecessary stuff is a tough one. I’m happy to report, though, that M absolutely killlled it.
The first thing I found in my package were these adorable iron-on patches.
Very relevant, and will make an excellent addition to a cross country pad in the near future.
Next, I opened a little envelope to find these Speedy stickers. WUT. I haven’t figured out what to put them on yet, but I love them.
There was also a fabulous grey bonnet in there. Sneaky sneaky asked me what my cross country colours were going to be, and I blithely answered with no suspicion. Clever girl. Speedy went in a bonnet at competitions in the past, so I’ll probably keep him going in one. Also, they are cute.
Finally, after checking through the package once more to make sure I didn’t miss anything, I found this incredible wire ornament.
I am high-key obsessed with this, and am pretty sure M makes them herself. I was going to turn it into a tree ornament with a bit of ribbon, but I think I’m actually going to hang it up over my desk so I can admire it alltimes.
So many, many thanks to M for my amazing gifts. And thanks to Alberta Equest for organizing!
My next visit to Speedy wasn’t for a month after the Sheryl clinic, when we headed back to MIL’s place for Christmas. I was only able to get three rides in over nine days, since California was getting a much-needed dump of precipitation.
MIL and HJ friend had decided the best way for me to spend those rides would be to keep working on gymnastics with Speedy. So we set up several poles so we would have the option to trot through, canter through, and then raise them to bounce through. And the next three days we basically just went back and forth over those poles, after a quick warmup.
The first day we kept it to a trot, going back and forth over placing poles on either side of an itty bitty vertical. The goal was to keep it slow and easy, and help Speedy find a steady pace to the fences and a quiet arc over the fence. I was instructed to stay out of his way, grab mane or neck strap, and use just verbal cues to slow the tempo as needed. The only things I cared about were that he went (relatively) straight and woah-ed when asked. Other than that, he got lots of praise and pats as he went, and I talked to him a lot to keep both me and him breathing. Unsurprisingly, Speedy was great.
On day two, we advanced to two raised poles about 9′ apart. A bit on the short side, but MIL was really trying to get Speedy to think about compressing his stride and body, and we were still trotting in. Speedy came out like we were picking right up where we had left off the day before. He trotted right through the trot poles like he knew where his feet went, and didn’t try to pull me down to the grid as fast as he could. No footage from day 2 since my phone ran out of space, but I left the ride feeling really positive again.
Day three, we tackled the grid at a canter. We bumped the pole risers up as high as they went and trotted back and forth a few times. Once we were trotting through nice and calmly, I asked Speedy to canter in. We kept it on a short approach so I didn’t have to negotiate the corner, and I kept up with the verbal cues to keep Speedy slow and steady.
I had new homework on day three — grabbing mane. Like, really grabbing mane. Way up there. WAAAY UP THERE. Like basically HJ friend wanted me to grab Speedy’s tiny adorable little ears and use those to balance on instead of his mouth. Okay so maybe not that far up, but really, grab mane Nicole. I maybe grabbed mane.
Speedy was super at the canter also. He managed to slow it down and stay steady to the fences. It still wasn’t perfect with the distances and I had a hard time riding to the placing pole, but HJ friend and MIL assured me that wasn’t the point. The point was to get a steady canter and let Speedy figure out the rest. So that’s what I (tried to) did.
Over all three days, Speedy spent a lot of time processing in between each go, dropping his head almost to the ground and chomping on the bit. I was worried that we were making him anxious, but at the same time I didn’t think there was much I could do about it at that point. I figured it was the change in how he was expected to go that was stressing him out, but being able to jump from a slower pace and a steadier tempo is necessary, and shouldn’t be stressful overall. Now that I know him a bit better, I know that he probably was stressed out, but the chomping and head dropping were also signs of Speedy thinking about the new information.
One of the best moments of the “week” was when MIL accidentally reset the placement poles to the bounce waaaaay too tight. She rolled them out to 6′ (I think we had rolled them in to see how he would do without them, but liked him better with the placement poles) and it wasn’t until I hit the first pole trotting in that I realized they were way tight. I grabbed mane and yelled “too close! way too close!” Speedy just compressed his stride even more and carefully pinged through. It was a huge accomplishment for him, since I’m pretty sure even just three rides earlier he would have been inclined to rocket through the bounce as an oxer, or take it all down in a rush.
It promptly started pouring in the afternoon of day three, so there were more rides over Christmas. But Speedy and I spent some quality time together cleaning his paddock, taste testing candy-cane peeps, and playing with balance pads. I am well on my way to an unhealthy obsession with this hony.
Back in 2018 I had my first ever cowboy/horsemanship/ground work lesson, and it was pretty mindblowing. I wanted to do more, but then Murray retired, Cowboy Dave retired, and every time another awesome ground work clinician would come to our barn I would be out of town. It was le crap.
Luckily, MIL started working with a ground work trainer this year last year. It was a bit of a surprise to me, since MIL has not embraced the ways of cowboy training before. But she picked it up this year and has been really happy with how both her 3 year old and her I-2 mare have responded. Obviously when MIL let me know that Sheryl (Lynde), the clinician, would be coming while Speedy was at her house, I made a point of coming down for the clinic.
[Now we all get into the waybackmachine to November 2021 for the clinic!]
Since Speedy was newest to this type of work among the clinic horses, Sheryl used him as a demo horse so she could start teaching him the basics. She started by asking him to match her energy, specifically bringing his energy up. Speedy is super easy to get along with because he’s a low energy, go-along-to-get-along kinda guy…. who can be kinda tuned out to you at times. So when Sheryl asked him to start yielding his haunches to her, he responded very confidently with absolutely nothing. Sheryl had to really get the end of the lead rope swinging before Speedy started moving away from the pressure. And Speedy was…. offended.
Sheryl worked with Speedy alone for quite a while. She did an amazing job of narrating while she went. She told us exactly what she was looking for and rewarding, and the body language she was using to get it. Sheryl wanted to get to the point where she could reward Speedy for “thinking the right thing” when she asked lightly enough. Speedy, on the other hand, wasn’t ready to start actually thinking yet. Sheryl would ask lightly, Speedy would ignore, Sheryl would slowly increase her ask and then Speedy would LEAP AWAY FROM HER BECAUSE THIS IS AN INDIGNITY.
Really, there were moments when I was watching my expensive, imported, sensible horse leap through the air with just a leeeetle too much resemblance to a certain other horse we know.
In the process of helping Speedy learn what she meant, Sheryl discovered that he’s actually quite a sensitive fellow (which MIL and I had been learning under saddle also). He just has a bit of a “crust” of zoned-out over the top of that sensitivity. A bit part of tapping in to the sensitivity is not letting him get crusty — keep his energy good (matching mine) and make the asks really clear. Sheryl emphasized several times that for any horse, but especially horses like Speedy, you have to have a really clear idea of what you’re asking for and clearly reward for that.
Then it was my turn to learn Sheryl’s dialect of Cowboy. This was hard for me because a) I’m super happy to let any horse take space from me, especially cute little honies and b) there was a lot of rope to handle. We focused on the basics for my part: ask him to yield his shoulder, ask him to yield his hind quarters, keep and establish your bubble of space. What really clicked for me was planning ahead and thinking of the small increment of behavior that I could reward when Speedy gave it to me.
After the other horse-owner pairs worked with Sheryl, she took Speedy into the round pen to begin his education in liberty work. I’ve watched a lot of Elisa Wallace’s videos on liberty and round pen work with her mustangs and I have always been fascinated. But I’ve never tried it, in part due to lack of access to a round pen, but also because I really have no idea what she is doing. I can see what she’s rewarding when she narrates over the videos, but I couldn’t see what she was doing to get it. And I had no intention of running any horses off their feet in an attempt to do the same. So once again, I was super excited to have Sheryl to get Speedy started so I could continue the work.
Getting the hang of the liberty work was another slog for Speedy. In this case not because he was crusty, but because he was not bringing his attention to Sheryl and instead turned to the outside or focused to the outside of the round pen. Obviously, part of this struggle was that Speedy didn’t understand that this was a game where he had to pay attention to Sheryl. I think that was a big part of the value of the exercise — Speedy should understand that when we’re in the round pen together (or the arena, or the cross ties, or the trailer, or, or, or) that he should be paying attention to me. Not because I’m going to ask him to work all the time, or because I need him to be 100% laser focused on what we’re doing. But because I might need his attention, and I shouldn’t have to beg him to get it.
Sheryl worked mostly on getting Speedy to bring his attention to the inside of the round pen and towards her, when she invited him. What I really liked about her approach is that it was clear it wasn’t about running him off his feet or chasing him until he tired. She just made the parameters clear and gave him a lot of opportunities to give her the right answer. Don’t want to turn in? That’s fine, but then you do have to move off a little. If you choose to canter, that’s on you friend. Half a circle later — how about an inside turn? Still choosing the outside turn? That’s not what I asked for so let’s go back that original direction and try again. That was a huge turning point in my understanding of the liberty work. The beginning of the work was definitely ugly with Speedy. But just like any other good training method, Sheryl gave him lots of opportunities to give her the right answer. And she successively rewarded righter and righter answers so there was a clear path for him to move toward the behavior she wanted.
It was a super jam packed day for both me and hony, as we then tacked up for an under-saddle session with Sheryl as well. But the big learning moments for him were on the ground. Sheryl applied those under saddle, chipping away at the crust of nyeh to get Speedy to find a better shape and match her energy underneath her. For me, it was super educational to watch Sheryl work through the beginning of the training process with Speedy, helping him find the way to respond to her requests, and then learning how I could make those answers clear to him also. And also to get a deeper, more thorough understanding of the whys and hows of round pen work.
I didn’t get much of a chance to practice after Sheryl’s visit, since I had to go home and Speedy hadn’t moved up to me yet yet. But MIL continued to practice with him, and we got a chance to see Sheryl again on January 5th.
I’ve seen a whole bunch of new horses come into TrJ’s program this year through a bizarre convergence of all the people looking for a new horse. And a funny thing I noticed with all of them was a massive backslide in their training after they arrived at the new barn. I even joked about it to one of my friends, “isn’t it funny how all these horses arrived and just…. forget how to horse?” One promptly went lame, one started bolting, one started voicing (and kicking) his opinions, one stopped going forward at all.
Most of the “new horse!”s I’d met in the past had a honeymoon period where they stayed pretty perfect for a while, then their behavior started to unravel. I always assumed it was the old trainer’s buttprint finally coming off them, and the horse realizing that they really did live in this new place with all these new rules. So it kinda cracked me up that all those horses at TrJs had that happen so much faster. I think it was actually because of TrJ though — she has a knack of finding those holes in the basics and shoving her thumb right in ouchiest one.
We threw Speedy into a totally different program when he got here, with a pretty big focus on basics, so I expected a fair bit of embracing the suck for our first few months together. Some part of my brain still thought, though, that even though we are pretty fundamentally changing the way this horse goes, I’d just be able to bop him around 2’6″-3′ fences the whole time — even if I had to ride him “the old way”. Oh I knew — imagine dismissive hand flapping here — that there was a lot of grid work in our future as we helped him realize a new shape all the way to the base of the fences. But I figured we’d start with little Xs and work our way up to a fun, bigger oxer that would make me blush and swoon and fan my hands at my face all the while quietly demurring “Oh, it’s all him really, Speedy is just so talented.”
I did not figure that we’d trot him through a set of canter poles and he would go “what in the actual fuck is this shit on the ground I’m going to stomp on it”.
And then do a variety of different interpretive dances over the poles.
To his credit, he did actually try to solve the problem, and he didn’t panic. Unfortunately, his range of solutions ranged from “canter bigger” to “go faster” at various points before or during the poles. We set them on a 12 foot stride, and what Speedy really needed to do was compress his stride a bit to get through them properly, an absolutely bizarre feeling for someone who came from a horse with a preferred canter size of about 3.7 feet.
Speedy would go from calmly walking to pulling to the poles pretty quickly as we approached them, and my half halts were utterly ineffective. The next day, we got serious about the half halt (something we got to explore more with our groundwork trainer also!) and threw a halt in before the poles. The first time I tried that I got nothing, and just hauled on Speedy’s mouth through the grid. Next time around MIL reminded me to actually get the halt. Make it ugly if I needed to, but get the halt and then release right away.
We clobbered our way through the little bounces a few times until Speedy and I found a much more settled canter on a circle. It is tempting to let him just pound down to the fences in whatever size canter he wants, because it’s a very pleasant canter at all the sizes. I also really didn’t have enough space, or spatial awareness, to help manage his canter to the placement pole so we could get a smoother ride through the grid. That will come, though!
Speedy definitely has some basics-shaped holes we need to fill in. And to be abundantly clear, I don’t think this reflects poorly on his trainers at all. They — one of them being a 16 year old — took a green-broke 4 year old and got him to Bundeschampionate finals as a 5 year old less than 18 months later without frying his brain, destroying his personality, or shutting down those amazing gaits of his. Speedy also deserves some of the credit. He’s a pretty reasonable and biddable fellow and is naturally quite clever and careful over the fences. So it was probably easy to skip some of those basics in favor of moving him up to the more impressive heights that were most likely to sell him. And some of those holes are definitely just “I don’t speak American!” issues, as well.
So yeah. There’s going to be some hanging around in basics-land for a while. I forsee alot of grids in our future. I am soooo excited about how super he’s going to be over the fences after we shore up this basics foundation a bit!
I’m almost caught up on late-October Speedy adventures, just in time for another visit! Later this week I will head down for a groundwork/horsemanship clinic that was supposed to happen last month, but got rained out. I’m very excited we managed to reschedule while Speedy would be with my MIL though, as her groundwork person is fabulous, and I’ve had trouble scheduling up here as all our good cowboys are retiring which has left the other horsemanship trainers extra busy.
On Wednesday of my first week with Speedy (October 27th), we planned to haul out to a local HJ trainer/friend’s place for a jump lesson. By the time Wednesday morning rolled around I was not so sure a jump lesson was a good idea. I’d trotted and cantered Speedy over a pole to test out a new jump saddle, and upon seeing the pole he promptly inverted and stopped moving over his topline. Which was, honestly, very understandable. We had done nothing but focus very specifically on changing the shape of his body and the muscles he uses to get around in a very controlled and specific way — that is, large circles and short straight lines — and then just four days into that new paradigm we threw a pole at him and he said “the only way I know how to address this problem is the way I’ve always addressed this problem”.
I know that better movement patterns over fences will come with time and practice. And I figured that at the very least, the jump lesson would give me a chance to focus on my jump position a bit and there would be little harm done to Speedy’s progress in the long run if we let him run around inverted for one day.
He was a dream to haul. Got right in the trailer and rode backwards in the slant (MIL got a wild hair to see if that would be a viable option in her trailer), then got out quietly when we arrived. Which is exactly what Speedy did when I saw him at the gelëndeplatz at Luhmühlen — got off the trailer, looked around quietly, and then looked for a snack. His trainer specifically said to me “this is what he is like everywhere”, but I kinda didn’t believe him. I was wrong.
Right next to the arena, a cell network had staff servicing their cell tower with a crane lift and dues in harnesses. Speedy looked at them for about two seconds, decided they were not food and therefore were not worth attention, and ignored them for the rest of the ride.
The lesson itself was not great. HJ trainer — and I really feel like she did this in the best-intentioned way — recognized immediately that Speedy’s weakness is not moving over his topline and into the contact, and set about trying to help me fix that. Unfortunately, she took a completely different tack than MIL has been taking, but which also happened to be different from the way Speedy’s old trainer coached me to ride him. Since Speedy’s natural inclination is not just to come over his topline and drop into the connection, I didn’t get many opportunities to “follow and reward” him like she wanted me to. And since I’m not used to using my body the way HJ trainer was instructing, I couldn’t take as many of those opportunities as Speedy was offering me. It was…. not the best.
Speedy never stopped trying once, though. He did suggest maybe we could walk more (we could have, it was a pretty intense lesson) and he did break from the canter to the trot as I flailed around in the borrowed saddle trying to corral different parts of him. I hit him unnecessarily hard with the end of the reins at one point (a combo accident-frustration flail), I pony club kicked him when he didn’t move forward off my leg, I stuck my spur into him when instructed. And at no point did he offer to bolt, buck, or take the completely valid excuse of those construction guys and spook.
The next day I made a point of taking extra time to fuss over Speedy while grooming him and made our ride very short and very rewarding (there were cookies). I could tell he was a titch unhappy to be getting tacked up again (chewing on the cross ties more than usual) and he didn’t offer me any prosocial grooming behaviors, but he was perfectly polite in the cross ties and quiet and responsive under saddle. Murray would have been running away from me during saddling or bridling for sure after that lesson (I used a bit he didn’t like for one ride and he refused to be bridled for two days afterward). I know my standards for pony behavior are kinda low, but this horse just has the best brain and attitude and gatdamn I am so glad I bought him.
The other thing this lesson reminded me of is that I really, really need to trust my gut and stick up for my horse when I think he needs it. I protected Murray by being very careful of the training/lesson/clinic situations I put him in, because he had a very special pair of very special kid gloves he needed to be very specially handled with, and I always made sure that new trainers or clinicians knew that he was one of those. I didn’t say anything during this lesson because of some slightly complicated social elements, but there were times in the lesson when I thought I should, and upon more reflection, I know I should have. I’m a fairly good communicator; I should be able to explain pretty clearly why I think something isn’t working for me and my horse. If a trainer can’t explain why this particular lesson is important enough to keep chipping away at or pivot and offer me something that I think is better for the horse, then I have to remember that I’m just fine walking away from that lesson.
Luckily, I don’t think there’s any permanent damage done. I think there’s a pretty solid path back to Speedy’s heart with treats, at least right now. It was worth my time to know how good Speedy will be off property and with shenanigans going on around him, and to remember that I do know a thing or two about horses that is worth piping up about.
Pedigrees are honestly not something I’ve ever paid a whole lot of attention to. Since I am not a breeder and prior to Speedy have never shopped for or sold a horse, I just…. never really got into it. Plus, as a data person, it has always seemed to me that people put a little bit toooooo much weight on certain aspects of the pedigree. When I catch people saying things like “the R line is very rideable” or “the S line is super athletic” or “Mr. Prospector offspring aren’t very sound” I can’t help but get skeptical. There is just so, so, so much that goes into the physical and behavioral attributes of any individual horse. How could those incredibly polymorphic traits be distilled down to characteristics maybe shared by one parent, one grandparent, or even a line of horses sharing an initial?
When your fancy new hony comes with a fancy Equidenpass you start getting kinda interested.
And boy oh boy did I find out some super fantastique and interesting things. (You can see Speedy’s extended pedigree here.)
Speedy is approved as a “Hanoverian small horse” (since he’s not actually a pony). I don’t have a clear idea (not enough research and probably won’t muster up the will to do so) of exactly how the different warmblood “small horse” registries work, but I do know that much like the main warmblood registries the stud books are open (so open omg) and that all of the small warmblood horses/warmblood ponies fall under the “German Riding Pony” umbrella. He’s also 1/8 thoroughbred (two great-great-grandsires are xx) and 1/4 straight warmblood (sire’s sire is Hanoverian). Aaaaand…. he’s a full quarter WELSH!
Speedy was bred in Poland, and imported to Germany when he was 4 and sold through Ponyforum Gmbh (sales videos here, here, and here. Side note: ponyforum used some pictures of Speedy to sell his 2019 half-brother Ulisses this year, and you can still see them thanks to Google’s caching function.) He is by the GRP stallion Simply the Best TCF — appropriate, since Speedy is the best — and out of the mare Niina PP. Niina PP doesn’t seem to have a competition record, but Simply the Best TCF competed at the Bundeschampionat twice and potentially went on to compete further. Simply the Best TCF doesn’t seem to have a ton of internet presence.
Which is fine, because this whole post is really just an excuse to talk about Niina PP’s sire: Machno Carwyn. Machno Carwyn is a Sec. D Welsh Cob born in 1992, who lives on to this day toting around children and enjoying a pasture puff life. Standing a robust 146cm (14.15hh, that’s 14h and 1.5 extra inches, to be clear) and sporting a truly impressive set of bangs, he won the European Show Jumping Championships twice (in 2000 and 2001). Once again, I’m not entirely sure of how it goes in Europe, but it seems that the pony European championships have jumps up to 1.4m (4’6″, and the ponies are piloted by children??).
Machno Carwyn also competed extensively at the Grand Prix — not just the PonyGP — winning 7 of the 25 international Grands Prix in which he placed (it’s unclear how many he entered). He’s also known for being ridden extensively by a 12-year-old. For the pony championship classes in Europe, riders are to be between 12 and 16 years old. And good old Machno was happy to be piloted by a shrimplet through the big classes. And obviously he has a ton of offspring out there. His performance record makes him an incredibly valuable performance sire.
A little more digging (and talking to Jen!) revealed that Welsh ponies are a huge component of GRP (and other continental-european-RP) breeding programs. Which makes sense — there is a lot of warmblood in most of the GRPs, and I imagine those get oversize (see above magnificent hony) easily. Breeding in some smaller, yet still super athletic, Welsh blood is probably extremely helpful. And Welsh ponies have a righteous badonk on them, which would definitely improve some of those flat-crouped warmbloods.
As much as I “don’t” pay attention to pedigree, I do think it’s worth paying attention to the performance record of the dam and sire (or damsire, if that’s all you can get!). Both Simply the Best and Machno Carwyn have good to exceptional performance records. I’ve stalked Speedy’s siblings (I know he has two, and one was sold through Ponyforum this year) a bit to see if they are as cool as he is. The one I found seems pretty neat also, lending credibility to the magic uterus-Machno Carwyn influence.
I’m not about to go out and buy any of Speedy’s siblings (or any other horses or ponies…… right now, anyway) but learning a little more about his pedigree has been a lot of fun. And definitely made me reconsider Welsh ponies (sporty cobs especially!). Also — yes I will eat this crow — it has made me think more about the value of studying pedigrees. There is some serious power tucked into Speedy’s bloodlines, and it shows.
The little Speedolito arrived safe and sound at MIL’s and we’ve spent the last ten days getting to know him better. While he was utterly delighted to get off the trailer and into his paddock, he didn’t have the most restful first night. He paced and didn’t eat or drink much. MIL got him out the next day for a little lunge which seemed to set him right, and after she put him away he happily consumed the rest of his hay and drank plenty of water and hasn’t really stopped since. Apparently a little work was all he needed to know that everything would be all right?
Speedy’s going to spend a couple of months here at MIL’s while I get things all buttoned up for winter on the farm (turns out there’s a lot to do to get the orchard squared away before I can rest and just play with my pony, ugh), and he will move up my way after the holidays. As much as I would love to have him with me, I have a shitload on my plate on the farm right now and do not need the distraction. Plus, MIL has agreed to take him on for dressage bootcamp, and I’ll come down to ride and get lessons whenever I can.
While he’s down here, I’m making sure the hony gets the royal treatment. Not that his life was rough before, but we’re going full-on spoiled pony here. He got new shoes and the farrier reported that his feet are fantastic — strong, lots of sole, good growth in a cycle. He also got body work for the first time! At first he was looking at the bodyworker like “Um, why are you touching me like that??” but eventually he got reaaaallly into it.
Body worker identified a couple of sore spots along his back and suggested his last saddle probably wasn’t a great fit (whose is, in a sales program? but also boo, saddle shopping). She also gave us a stretchy-lunging routine for him to help him lift his core, engage his hind legs, and start building more of a dressage bod. She did belly lifts and hip tucks with Speedy and he was like “oh shit what is happening I had no idea my body could move like that“
Even with all the changes and crazy shit I’m throwing at him, Speedy is soooo sweet. He is such a good sport about everything — equibands, chambon, new lunging routine — he takes a minute to go “well, this is weird” quickly followed up with “okay well, I’ll try it!” You can totally see his little brain working on how to move his body with the equipment instead of against it, and he improves literally from day to day. Under saddle he totally got that I was asking him to stretch his neck down in about a ride and a half. A ride and a half! And they were like ten minute rides!
He loves a good wither scratch, and also those gooood crest scritches right up under his mane. And you can tell when he’s really appreciating a scratch because his little lips and teeth flap and go clackclackclackclackclack. I love when a horse really gets into scritches. I just feel like it shows a level of trust and engagement that is a really good sign. Oh and literally every time you walk by his paddock Speedy follows you along the fenceline like “oooh what are we gonna do now? Are you here for me? Pick me pick me pick me!” He seemed a little bit standoffish when we met him at Luhmühlen, which kinda worried me, but I was wrong!
Apparently there’s a German idiom about people who are a lot of fun, have a really great energy, are up for anything, are a great friend, etc. You might describe that person as “someone I could steal horses with”. Speedy, according to my MIL, totally has horse-stealing energy. I totally get that. (Trust the Germans to have an idiom for that — hell it’s probably a 45 character word.)
Oh and he didn’t shrink in transit!!!!! Between deciding to vet him and literally the moment I pulled him out of his paddock for the first time, I was low key panicking that I would suddenly discover he was really 128cm or something and I just hadn’t noticed that when I tried him. But he is still 153cm (almost exactly 15h) and he’s pretty perfect and his canter is still a fucking 11/10. I am just so goddamn excited that he’s mine and I CANNOT wait to do all the things with him.
Speedy has landed in LA and is languishing in the airport quarantine with a healthy temperature of 100.2*F. The staff there even sent us this super flattering picture of him.
The quarantine staff put that little Speedy Gonzales sticker on there (they put each horse’s name on the photo for the owner), which I think is super cute. I dunno it just tickles me. Some time today (Friday), the hauler will pick him up and deliver him to my MIL’s. It remains to be seen if he’ll get delivered with all the fancy new clothes his former owner sent him with (apparently a fair bit of horse clothing has been held back in the LA quarantine since COVID started). I’m not sure exactly what time he will arrive at hers, but by Saturday morning he will be TOTALLY IN MY CLUTCHES EEEEEE.
At this point, whenever I talk about Germany I feel like Michelle Flaherty (ugh I wish I were as cool as Alyson Hannigan), and much like Michelle Flaherty, I can’t stop. One day I’ll stop but today is not that day. I have some miscellaneous/big picture/wrap up/things-I-learned type thoughts that might be useful to people who are considering ever horse shopping abroad. I did some googling when we set out on this adventure last January and I really could not find that much useful information out there (I’m not really a COTH forum denizen, I just…. cannot handle the forum format anymore). So, in case you’re curious, or think it might be useful, a collection of thoughts.
You need a good agent. When we first decided to look for my horse in Germany, MIL’s feelings were (very coarsely summarized) “I’m German, I’ve bought horses from Germany before, we don’t need an agent.” She was wrong. She had a plan for how we would find horses (call trainers in German, ask about horses), but that would NOT have found us 19 horses. In addition to finding horses, Gunda and Karsten negotiated prices (Speedy’s price came down significantly from his original listing, and I didn’t do that), drove us all over the countryside, made (and cancelled) the horse-viewing appointments, kept us on time, made the PPE appointment, got Speedy onto the plane, organized the second auditions, and generally made the whole trip what it was. I have no doubt that someone very well-connected in the German horse industry could do these things. But my MIL grew up there and has horse-owning relatives who live there, and they couldn’t do it. So you’d need to be better connected than we were. Gunda and Karsten also opened up opportunities we wouldn’t have otherwise had. For a minute, our plan included trying a horse at Julia Krajewski’s barn, and Gunda lamented that Julia wouldn’t be there because she was in Avenches. There is a none percent chance I would have been able to organize my way into Julia Krajewski’s barn to try a horse without their help.
At no point did I feel like I was being taken advantage of by Gunda or Karsten. And as I’ve already mentioned, both of them were quick to admit that people absolutely get taken for a ride in the horse industry in Germany — whether you’re a novice German or an American. I spoke to an American trainer who sometimes acts as agent for her clients shopping in Germany. And no shade to her, but based on our discussion there’s a slim chance she could have lined up 19 horses for me to see over there. But let’s say I had used her as an agent; I would have paid her 10%. Gunda’s commission was covered by the seller, and would have been for any of the horses I looked at. So I saved 10% by not needing to pay an American agent. There’s also a scenario where you go to shop with your trainer (some % goes to them), you pay an American agent to put you in touch with the right people (another % goes to them), and then you’re working with a German agent over there (a seller’s % goes to them). The American agent kinda seems like tits on a bull at that point.
I’ve never shopped with an agent in America before. Maybe they would have done as much as Gunda and Karsten did. I just don’t know. (And if you need their contact information, I’d be happy to pass it along.)
Looking at 19 horses in four days is a great way to try horses. There really was something amazing about this speed-dating version of horse trying. I loved it. It’s like Dan Savage’s take on online dating. You find someone you like: great, meet them as fast as you can. Don’t talk online for a long time, don’t imagine your life with this person horse. Meet them, see if there’s chemistry, then move forward or let them go. I’ve definitely spent time imagining my life with a specific horse, only to meet them and realize they aren’t actually what I thought. The style and speed of horse-trying I had in Germany isn’t available to me here in the PNW, and I suspect really wouldn’t be available in many other places in the US. Maybe on the east coast — but then, would I have been able to try 19 within a 3 hour drive of one city?
Also, not having many pictures or video of most of those horses ahead of time was really helpful — I truly enjoyed riding horses I might have passed on otherwise, and it helped me learn more about what I actually like in a horse (and how little I could actually glean from video).
Talk about VAT. Some horse prices include a 19% VAT, which the seller doesn’t have to pay if the horse leaves the EU (within 90 days of sale). Some of the horses I met had prices including VAT, some didn’t. Just make sure you know what the price is with and without.
While we’re talking about agents… You’ve got to be honest with yourself, and your agent. This is true no matter where you’re shopping, but Gunda said that it happens all the time that a client says they want to try big fancy horses and are willing to spend the money to support it, but then they get there and they sit on the first horse and everyone thinks “oh shit, this person can’t really ride.” If I’d struggled to ride horses 1-5 on Tuesday, Gunda and Karsten would have been hard-pressed to find me different horses I could ride and try on such short notice. I also had a very clear idea of what I wanted, but enough flexibility to make it easy to find horses to try.
A couple more little etiquette things. I have no idea if this is standard, but we treated Gunda and Karsten at all our meals, and paid for gas/diesel for the vehicle we were driving. We brought them a couple of thank-you gifts from home. Had we stayed overnight in Warendorf/Kassel, we would have paid for hotel as well. Maybe nothing revolutionary, but little extra things you might need to budget for.
There’s something about Mary German horses. If you’d asked me in 2020 what my next horse would be I would have suggested something off the track or at least something American-bred. And holy shit do I still love ottbs and especially Carleigh Fedorka with a fiery passion. But there is something about the German horse training system that I just…. haven’t ever seen here. Now, important caveat: I haven’t tried many horses with quite the same price tag here in the US.
Almost every horse I rode in Germany was incredibly straightforward. I’ve ridden some “expensive” and “fancy” horses before, some “the nicest horse in the barn” and a few “this horse is green but can go all the way” types. I haven’t sat on many that were trained by pros, but a few. I have never ridden as many horses who so consistently went forward and came back from my aids as I did on that trip. By and large I rode steady, metronome canters, on horses who were happy to let me in to influence the way they were going rather than ignoring me or blocking me out. One example that stuck out to me: most of those horses could lengthen their stride to a fence without speeding up. I did a rough count with Kate, and 11 of the 14 horses I jumped could lengthen and add power without a rush of speed or running off on the landing side. I think maybe three of the horses I’ve ridden in the last ten years could do that, and I see plenty of people struggling with that exact same concept.
I’m not qualified to comment on what it is that made those horses so rideable. I’ve certainly talked the idea over with MIL and my friends, and I’ll probably keep talking about it. But there is something different going on there, and it is working for them. Tamie Smith made a comment on differences in European and American training systems as well, suggesting it might come down to basics and fundamentals. (Will Coleman also made an interesting comment along those lines, though much less direct.) I also think that if American breeders want to be taken more seriously, this might be a piece of the puzzle. There’s a lot to chew on there.
I didn’t bring a saddle. I rode in some rough saddles, but I think that was the right choice. There’s absolutely no guarantee my saddle would have fit the horses reasonably at all, and I wouldn’t have wanted to waste the time to fuck around and find out. I figured that in someone else’s saddle, I might ride like a potato. But New Horse was gonna have to tolerate some potato riding from me no matter what — that could be useful data collection. Worst case scenario, my saddle might really piss off the horse, and give me an inaccurate impression of the horse. I’d rather risk potato-riding than a poor impression of a horse.
I did bring my boots and helmet, and I should have brought my vest. I had no idea I would get to try horses on cross country, so I didn’t pack my vest. I actually toyed with the idea of bringing it just in case I felt uncomfortable jumping any of the horses, and then decided that if I didn’t feel comfortable jumping the horse I probably shouldn’t jump the horse. So now you know: if you’re going abroad to try cross country horses, bring your vest so you can try them on cross country. (I was lucky that Novell’s owner loaned me her vest to ride in.) I refused to check them because I was worried they wouldn’t make it, or my helmet would get damaged under the plane. I did end up gate checking my boots only (I was allowed to carry my helmet on) for one short leg in each direction because I knew it would be really hard for them to get lost. Also, traveling with boots and helmet in a shoulder bag suuuucks and if I could do it over I’d find a wheely bag to put them in.
I also brought enough breeches and shirts to have a clean set every day. Okay so if you’re not a little filthbeast like me, maybe you don’t re-wear your breeches. I do. Except when I ride 11 horses in one day. Then I change my breeches. What I really needed more of was zippable layers, so that it was easier for me to add/subtract clothes as I warmed up. Oh, and I brought my spurs and was told to use them for 11 of the horses I rode. I checked those.
I had my vet on deck to watch video and get rads or vet records as soon as I could get them to her. I guess if you shop at the bigger sale barns, a lot of the horses have basic rads on file. I only looked at horses sold out of private barns, not big sale barns, so nobody had them on file. But Gunda was happy to take video of the PPE and send those to my vet here at home, and the vet clinic sent her high quality rads the same day they took them. Having my home vet on call to look at the video of horses I rode to see if she could see anything concerning there was also really helpful — I ultimately didn’t need it, but if she’d told me to pass on anyone, I would have.
I also had an amazing team of friends back here at home helping me make decisions! They watched video, listened to me gush, and gave me their honest opinions and that was very, very valuable to have.
It really was the trip of a lifetime, and I’m so grateful and lucky that I got to have the experience. I’m also literally already making a plan for the next one!!