If we’re talking about inspirations behind things, Joy is the first thing on my mind. Always, 100% of the time. No matter what we’re talking about - riding, breeding, school, my home, everything. I would love to say there was an alternative method to my madness, but I genuinely can’t think of any parallel universe where this delightfully problematic chestnut isn’t the center of my universe.
Easy, simple, straightforward, and even keeled are not synonymous with Joy. I joke she’s ironically named, with Joy the Unjoyful as her alter-ago. A pint sized 15.3h Texas bred Trakehner, everything but her size is “big." Her personality is larger than life, her movement is that of a far more well-bred, substantially better produced warmblood, and she is furiously sassy. Who wouldn’t want to produce that as a young rider?
Well, I wanted to. I was coming off the disappointing injury of a longtime lease horse that essentially ended his shot at getting past 2nd level. We had gone from gangly babies (I was 11, he was 3 ½) and learned more together than I thought was possible. A sweet, downhill appendix Paint by the name of Boston, we struggled and managed to be able to school everything in 3rd level. Everything but the flying changes. Then something happened or his finally body decided the work was too hard. Devastated, I didn’t know what to do – where was my riding career going to go? While I hadn’t outgrown Apple yet, I knew I would and he HATED dressage. I saw the other girls in their early teens, my age, already going for medals and preparing for NAYJR, but there I was. Waking up at 7am to bike to the barn, do morning feedings, clean stalls, fix fencing, drag the arena, supervise lessons and tend to all of the 14-17 horses, including broodmares, all while a high school student. I assisted the birth of a few foals. Traumatic to say the least.
I had this connection to one broodmare named Diva. An Anglo-Trakehner (Rock Point xx/Fair Rock/E.H. Rockefeller), she had her first foal, a bey filly by Illux, in 2007. No issues, and she popped her out in the 30 minute between foal checks with no assistance. She was an excellent mother, and I quickly grew close to her. She was bred to Magritte (E.H. Van Deyk/Miscka.Donaufurst *Ps*E*) for a 2009 foal. Every day, I’d spend time with her, grooming and cooing at her, talking to what I thought was a black colt growing away in her. I could not have been ANY more wrong.
Joy was born around 3-4am, a month premature, and discovered at feeding time around 6:30am. I was the first one in the pen, barefoot and in my PJ shirt. Why? I have no idea, but giving me a stare down was this remarkably gangly, swamp legged CHESTNUT filly. I sat, waiting for her to realize humans are okay. Well, she approached, unsteady on her new legs, sniffed my face, and laid down in my lap. We’ve been inseparable from that moment. She was already full of life, stubborn and perfect for me. I went home that day, told my parents I was going to buy this filly, talked to her breeder, negotiated a price, and she was mine.
Was this a smart decision? NOPE. I do not in any way recommend letting your almost 15 year old daughter buy a hot tempered foal, especially when there was minimal direction from the breeder/trainer. However, in typical trial by fire fashion, we figured it out together. She was more forgiving of my ignorance than people would believe. It seems like I blinked and one day, my gangly weanling was a new three year old. I backed her secretly (I had my reasons – I’ll elaborate later) with no trouble and she got the summer of her 3yo year off to grow. That fall, we started working on dressage basics, entered some schooling shows at intro level, and cleaned up the series.
Joy’s need for stimulation was, and is, ravenous. There was a point where her mental ability exceeded her youthful body and I had to be careful to establish the basics solidly, otherwise she would easily skip crucial steps in her education. We followed traditional training guidelines and the training pyramid then, all the sudden, there was a 2nd debut with scores of 68%+. The next year, changes came easily but overly exuberantly, and we somehow made it through a 3rd level test without me falling off, but eventually scored consistently 66%+.
Don’t let Joy’s upward trajectory fool you – I made plenty of mistakes along the way. No one else is responsible for those mistakes. Those were all me. Mostly out of youthful ignorance. I always wanted to do right by Joy and educate her correctly, but I didn’t always have the financial means to do so. We would clinic maybe twice a year, visit my longtime mentor sometimes twice a year, but for the formative first 3 years under saddle, Joy lived with Apple in the front yard of my parents’ house. We tacked up in my drive way. I either hand-walked (sometimes rode if I was feeling ballsy) the 1.5 miles through roads and back trails to the closest arena I paid to use, and we would walk back home after our work. There was nothing glamorous about our life. It was grueling work, sometimes a little unsafe, and far from the Instagram perfect lives we all ravish after.
But it paid off. All the attitude adjustments and mistakes and support from my parents/Erin. Plus, you cannot beat the real-world exposure Joy got in her unglamorous life.
There’s a lot more to that story. Maybe more for another time. The point is in July of 2017, while Joy was 2+ months pregnant, I slipped on a shadbelly for the first time to canter down centerline for not just my first FEI test, but Joy’s. A backyard raised, teenage girl trained, disfavored and discounted pair achieved their goals. In September of 2017, with Joy four months pregnant, we rode our 4th and final Pre St. George test.
The first time I sat on Joy, it was bareback, without a bridle, in a field. I remember the way it felt – my body glowing from the marrow of my bones with pride, excruciatingly happy to the point of near pain. I never thought I would feel like that again. How could that feeling of completion be topped? That’s the addicting thing about Joy – Just when you think your feeling of happiness and pride can never be topped, she finds a way trump it, again and again and again. She reminds you that for every bead of sweat or tear cried, the return on your investment far outweighs the most dramatic and frustrating of rides where you feel like quitting.
By the time we made our final pass down centerline in September, I had been weeping for at least two minutes. I took these long, jagged breaths that caught in my chest as I looked between her ears and cantered towards X towards probably one of the crappiest halts of our career. I over-imprinted the feeling of each movement to re-live on the days I felt I couldn’t do something. That I wasn’t capable. After I saluted, I collapsed into her neck, my body glowing from the very marrow of my bones with unmatched pride like that first time, and between heaving breaths, said “thank you.”