Monday, November 5, 2012

Better than the Dream

Since I just got back from 4 days of coaching at the Galway International Horse Trials and since some of the photos I wanted to share have not yet arrived, this blog post will be a brief first installment on the promised update on my Dressage horse Uiver. As some of you might remember, I bought Uiver, my now 11 year old Dutch Warmblood, about 16 months ago. When I bought Uiver I knew that he came with the "baggage" and that he and his previous owner had not been a good match but the details of just how unhappy he was was not shared with me until recently.

As we all know finding that right match of a horse can be somewhat like the search for the holy grail and that when a horse is unhappy in a prior situation it does not mean that anyone has necessarily done anything wrong. As far as Uiver, I was not concerned with his past behavior, which I have now come to learn was pretty undesirable at times, because #1) we had clicked from the beginning and #2) I knew that in order to find the quality of horse that I wanted within my price range, that I was going to have to accept some flaws. And given the choice, I would rather those flaws be behavioral rather than physical.

What I have found rather amusing over the past year+, is the large number of high level dressage riders and trainers who knew Uiver before that have expressed their amazement at the changes in him and how far and how quickly his career has progressed.

When I bought Uiver he was under consignment/training with David Blake and clearly David got along very well with the horse and had made major improvements before I ever laid eyes on him. Uiver and I continued to train with David after the purchase was complete, traveling back to Arroyo for weekly lessons at a minimum and additional coaching at shows. This has been essential because even though I am a professional trainer as well, most of my competitve experience prior was from 3-day eventing and I was relatively green to upper level dressage.  On the occasion when I have had to be away for any extended period I take Uiver back to Arroyo for the some additional "Uncle David" time. What neither David or I knew when I purchased Uiver was exactly how bad the horse's behavior had been before.

Over the past year no fewer than 10 people has told be that "I guess all that Uiver needed was a Mom." and then have shared stories of his brash and bullyish temperament. All of this just amazes me since other than giving people a grumpy face when he stands in the cross ties or in his stall at shows, I find the horse to be incredibly loving, kind and affectionate. The most recent story was shared with me this past weekend when I ran into an old acquaintance, Nicole, who knew Uiver when she worked at a top Dressage facility in Ranch Santa Fe where Sue Blinks, Christine Traurig and Guenther Seidel train. All former Olympians. Nicole told me that she saw Uiver and I at a show this past September in Del Mar and she said that she could hardly believe how well mannered he was and how happy he was in his work. She then proceeded to tell me that Uiver used to stand on his hind legs and walk across and/or out of the dressage rings all the time. She asked me if he had ever reared, bucked or bolted with me and I said that he had reared once when he felt overly pressured but that David and I had backed off and approached the exercise from a different way and that he can be spooky at times and gives little bolts but they are generally short lived.  Nicole just stood there in amazement and said again, "I guess he just needed the right person to love him."

Well love him I do, with all my heart and I consider myself lucky and privileged to have been blessed with a horse of his heart and talent. If love is all the cure he needed then I would assume that his problems are cured because he will never be leaving my care. Both Sue Blinks and Christine Traurig have told David and I that they are equally impressed and amazed at what we have been able to accomplish with Uiver and Christine made a point of telling me that it brought her "great joy" when she saw Uiver and I together. She sat with David and I at a recent show and said that she always thought that Uiver had ability but was not sure if his movement could be organized and molded enough to turn him into an upper level dressage horse let alone get to the FEI levels. 

I have endless respect and admiration for both of these ladies and their kind words and encouragement mean more than I think they will ever realize. Uiver has already exceeded my greatest expectations and our future looks as bright as ever, but even if we went no further I would be content in what we have already accomplished competitively and in knowing that more importantly I have made the horse happy. Isn't that what it is really all about??

In the time I have had Uiver, he has gone from 3rd level to being a proven Prix St. George competitor and we will making our debut at Intermediare at our next show in a few weeks. Uiver was just learning single changes and extended trot 16 months ago and today he does 2 tempis and is learning piaffe.

The first week of October, just last month, Uiver and I competed in the USDF Region 7 Prix ST, George Open Championships and I will let you know how we did in my next post. (How is that for a tease!!) All I will say is that all of it, the good days and the bad, the reality of it is even better than the dream.





15 comments:

Laura Crum said...

Wow, Terri--that is an amazing story. So good to hear. What a great thing you have done with Uiver. In a smaller way, my friend Wally and I once bought a team roping horse who had literally been starved by the previous owner, who was afraid of the horse's bucking habit. This horse, Flanigan, was the best horse either Wally or I ever owned--and we loved him dearly. We kept Flanigan until he died at 21 years (of an inoperable colic) and he is buried here. Flanigan was always cinchy and had the habit of "scowling", but was the most reliable horse I ever had. When my baby was six months old, the horse I chose to take him on his first ride was Flanigan. May you and Uiver have an equally happy life together.

Laura Crum said...

Oh, and by the way, he is so beautiful--bay is my favorite color.

Kate said...

What a lovely story! He sounds like a horse that wouldn't put up with things - the best ones are like that - and required sensitive and handling that takes into account the "relationship" with the horse, not just what the horse can do. So glad he's working out so well for you - I've seen some of these transformations myself - my Red, once he learned to trust again, has turned into a lovely horse. The two of you look beautiful together!

Terri Rocovich said...

Laura:

Flanigan, what a great name for a horse! Isn't it amazing how things just work out sometimes and the right horse finds the right person. I think part of it is that we have to accept and allow for each horse's individual traits like being cinchy or grumpy faces. I think people forget that sometimes. Whenever Uiver puts his ears back and scowls (we now call it his dragon face) I stick my tongue out and blow a rasberry at him. He then usually puts his ears forward and tosses his head as if to say "well that didn't impress her much." I think it is his strange way of drawing attention to himself because it is often connected to begging for treats.

Francesca Prescott said...

Great story Terri! In my (limited) experience, rearing comes from too much pressure. I think it's important to always try to approach training problems from various angles - if one way doesn't work, most times it's possible to find another way that the horse feels more comfortable with and understands. No point in battling and getting stroppy! Sounds like you and Uiver are a perfect match. And don't forget to keep your promise and tell us about your latest competition. I can't wait.

By the way, I'm going to Olympia in London in December to watch the Grand Prix and the Freestyle! Charlotte Dujardin will be riding Valegro, and I'm hoping Carl Hester will be riding Utopia. Can't wait!

Terri Rocovich said...

Kate:

I so agree that the best horses are less likely to put up with situations that make them unhappy but aren't we all lucky that there are so many tolerent ones out there too. I like it when a horse "expresses his opinion" as long as it is not dangerous. For me, riding and competing is ALL about the relationship. It is why I keep doing it and why I love dressage which requires a very close connection with the horse. Your Red looks adorable. Even though, like Laura, I love the mahogany bays like Uiver, I am a sucker for chestnuts too.

Laura Crum said...

Terri--That scowling face was Flanigan's trademark, and even some experienced horsemen were nervous around him because of his habit of pinning his ears and looking somewhat ferocious. Like you, I learned, to ignore it, and would rub on the apparently hostile critter- and Flanigan grew to love this. He wouldn't ever "ask" to be petted, he'd just scowl, but when I rubbed on him, he'd put his head under my arm and lean into me. He really trusted me--he was prone to little colics, and when he had one, he would walk up to me and put his head under my arm to ask for help. Your descriptions of Uiver (especially the scowling) really remind me of Flanigan--who was, of course, no dressage horse, but within his own discipline, a very talented horse who won a lot, and a wonderfully cooperative horse to ride. It sounds like you have found that special horse--and that you two were meant to be together.

Terri Rocovich said...

Cesca:

I agree that rearing issues are often started more by people then by horses. The only other time Uiver has has a "tantrum" of sorts was actually a week ago when I was asking him for a walk to canter transition and he thought I wanted Piaffe steps. I took my leg off and asked again and he piaffed again and when I squeezed more he got mad at me and did what I call a "pony buck" which is a little rear followed by a little buck", David and I laughed, I pet his neck asked him to move sideways and then re-asked for the canter which he gave me with such expression as if to say "well why didn't you ask me that in the first place!"

I am soooooo jealous that you get to watch Charlotte Dujardin and Carl Hester. I was so impressed watching them in the Olympics. We in the U.S. had heard that Valegro had been sold after the Olympics. Just a rumour?? You will have to tell us all about it when you get back from London.

Terri Rocovich said...

Laura:

Flannigan sounds like my kind of horse - smart and expressive. I wish I could have known him. Roping horses are, I think, a lot like a dressage horse in the fact that the really need to listen to their rider's body, react accordingly and sometimes think independently. I think you should make him a character in one of your books.

Laura Crum said...

Terri--The main horse my protagonist rides in my mystery series is somewhat based on my Gunner and somewhat on Flanigan. And a horse named "Burt" in the stories is also a hybrid between Flanigan and the real Burt. For some reason Flanigan never came in by name, but his personality and abilities are there, and one of the books is dedicated to him.

jenj said...

Such a lovely story, and I'm so glad that Uiver has found such a wonderful, caring partner - one who clearly understands his needs and abilities. It seems to me that some horses can get along with pretty much anyone, but there are a few that need a special person to "click" with - and then they will give their all. What a lovely match the two of you make!

Dom said...

Glad you two found each other. He is a STUNNING horse.

Cindy said...

That really is a wonderful story. I am a firm beleiver in the right person for the right horse. I have a ranch bred paint who came to me with a steamer trunk full of baggage, he changed hands many times and many times that hands that touched him were not nice. What I ended up with was a horse that was full of mistrust for humans. Yet when I saw him I knew I had to have him, I knew he was MY horse. Everytime I ride him he blows me away, because each time is a new experience and trust and communication. I have gotten more from my Trax in the last year, than anyone else did in his whole life. He just gives and gives, and in return I try to give him all the love and security a horse needs. Thank you for sharing this story with us and I wish you both much success in your competitions.

Terri Rocovich said...

Jenj thank you for your kind words. Every time I ride Uiver I have so much fun, I learn and I am challenged in good ways. I am truly blessed because I felt the same way when I first purchased my now 24 year old TB. We just "clicked". Isn't funny how some things are just meant to be.

And Dom, thank you, I am glad you think he is handsome too. I do but yet again I am very biased. He does look a little bit like his Sandro Hit except a different color.

Terri Rocovich said...

Cindy,

I am so glad that TRAX found you. I have worked with horses who have trust issues at the hands of humans and I know it can be equally complicated and rewarding. Without people like you who can recognize somethings special inspite of the "the steamer trunk" horses like TRAX would be lost. Good for you and good for Trax.