Fair Joy *Pb*

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.

Baby Bailey getting to meet her future for the first time. Already queen of the Pissy Mare Face.

Baby Bailey getting to meet her future for the first time. Already queen of the Pissy Mare Face.

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?

Ah yes, the mullet/boy haircut of my teenage years. But always kissing the softest nose.

Ah yes, the mullet/boy haircut of my teenage years. But always kissing the softest nose.

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.

Only three hours old and SO much presence!

Only three hours old and SO much presence!

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.

The calm before the personality storm.

The calm before the personality storm.

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.

Two year old pencil neck, preparing for our first in hand show by getting comfortable in a bridle.

Two year old pencil neck, preparing for our first in hand show by getting comfortable in a bridle.

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%+. 

Pre-backed three year old, with glimpses of greatness shining through.

Pre-backed three year old, with glimpses of greatness shining through.

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. 

I still make this for face lot riding her. Circa our first schooling show season, fall 2012.

I still make this for face lot riding her. Circa our first schooling show season, fall 2012.

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.

Our careers began and continued to develop in wild Texas fields.

Our careers began and continued to develop in wild Texas fields.

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.”

My Maria

Maria is possibly my most complex horse. Let’s go back to the beginning, when I first met Maria in 2005. At that time, she was known around the barn as ‘Polo Mare’, partially because we didn’t really know her actual name and partly because, you guessed it, she’d come from a polo stable. We had just started looking for another horse for me because at some point there was some possibility that I was going to outgrow Houdini. My trainer had taken Maria on as a sale project, she knew the polo rider who was selling her, and we never thought of her as a potential match for me. My mom even took the sale pictures and helped put together the ad for Maria. Truthfully, I don’t remember what the impetus was for us to look into buying her for me to ride, but I took a few lessons on her to see how we got along, and I was hooked.

Maria is the complete opposite of Houdini in pretty much every way. He is just under 14.2hh and she is almost 16.2hh. He is a typical pony, he’s pretty round and puts on weight just by looking at food, Maria looks like a classic racehorse, sporty, sleek and muscular. Houdini is notoriously difficult in dressage, Maria is naturally soft in the mouth, supple and obedient. Houdini is a bit of a self-starter over fences, whatever you point him at, he will size up, figure out his own distance and go for it whether you are ready or not. Maria has plenty of scope but is a bit more unsure, specifically in show jumping and needs a lot more support to fences. Houdini can be quite emotional and Maria is very stoic. At the point that I started riding Maria, Houdini was the only horse that I had ridden seriously and consistently and the only horse that I had evented on. She completely changed me as a rider simply because I had to adjust my whole style to suit all of the ways that she was different from Houdini.

Maria is very talented but we were not immediately successful in our competitions. She excelled in dressage and her scores were consistently low, she was a machine on cross country when we could get on a big, open stride and really move up to the fences. We struggled in stadium for a long time. She can be lazy with her legs so she requires a lot of support and sometimes a pretty aggressive ride to the fences. Sometimes she would feel like a dream in the warm up, causing me to under-ride her to the first fence resulting in a stop, or at the very least a very sticky and confidence-eroding jump right at the beginning of the round. Sometimes the warm up would get her so riled that it was all I could do to keep her pointed at the right fence. Sometimes it felt like everything was coming together and I’d give her the best ride I could and she would just drop her knees or her toes. It took us a long time, many lessons and clinics, lots of local hunter/jumper shows and derbies, tons of very unsuccessful rounds, before we finally got our first clear round.

I actually remember it perfectly, the first clear round. I was sitting in 2nd place after dressage and cross country, I had just finished warming up for stadium and was waiting by the gate of the ring for the rider who was going ahead of me. My trainer came up to me and asked how I felt about hearing ‘gossip’ about the competition. She was joking, but she’d just found out that the rider who was ahead of me in 1st place had scratched for some reason or another. I knew who the rider was and noticed that she hadn’t been in the warm up area, so I assumed something along those lines, but I didn’t want to hear it out loud (did I mention that I can be pretty superstitious when it comes to competing?). I said I didn’t want to know until after I went. Of course, I did know, so I went into my round feeling the most pressure I can ever remember feeling in a stadium round. We had been successful in dressage and cross country for the most part, but still, I’d never come into the final phase of a show sitting in the lead. It was mine to lose. The actual round itself is mostly a blur, but I remember landing from the final fence, hearing my mom and my trainer (literally) scream with probably a mixture of relief and excitement and realizing that it had finally happened!

Of course, it wasn’t all exciting, photo finish moments. There were plenty of tears after stadium rounds as I tried to figure out what I could do to fix the issues we had. We also dealt with more than our fair share of injuries. Everything from superficial wounds to soft tissue injuries caused setbacks in our training and competing. Another thing about Maria is that she is basically a walking accident. If there is something that she can injure herself on, she will. We’ll get more into that later, but I bet if you can think of a strange injury, Maria has encountered it.

2018 was a really exciting year for Maria and I. We got back to showing after a hiatus of about four years! I am beyond proud to say that we completed a total of 6 horse trials this season, without finishing outside of the top 5! This included fulfilling a lifelong dream of mine to compete at the American Eventing Championships, which were held at the Colorado Horse Park this year. I have to say that the entire experience was a dream, from tying our personal best dressage score for the season and putting in a double clear cross country followed by a double clear show jumping round, to finishing in the top 3 (!) and having Bailey along as my support for all of it. It was the absolute best catalyst I could have had to get back out there, and I cannot wait to see what’s in store for our futures!

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