Wednesday, November 26, 2014

That Super Special Horse

by Francesca Prescott

Qrac de la Font
photo by Aurore Biron

You know that saying about there being one super special horse in a rider’s lifetime? I’m trying to work out whether I believe it's true. So far, I’ve had five horses in my life, and every single one of them has been super special to me in their own way.

First, there was Kali. Kali was an Arab Barb stallion. He was a rescue horse, was way too small for me, had no papers, nobody knew how old he was, but he needed a home and so I gave him one. He was super sturdy and I was a skinny little Minnie back then, so I suppose we didn’t look too silly together. Not that looking silly mattered; I didn’t ride dressage back then, nor did I jump, so funky little Kali was perfect for leisurely trail rides. He had a big personality for a little horse, had a couple of party tricks up his sleeve, and as my first “horse of my own”, I loved him to bits. Sadly, our partnership didn’t last long as the poor guy succumbed to a colic barely a year after I bought him.

Then came Amanda. Amanda was a Swiss Warmblood, bought for me by my father-in-law as a cheer-up wedding present after Kali passed away (yes, I had a wonderful father-in-law. And I have no hesitation in saying that his son is the best husband a girl could ever hope to have). Bred for show-jumping, Amanda had a lot of thoroughbred blood and, as an extremely green five-year-old, she probably wasn’t the best match for an amateur like me, but I was young and clueless, and I bought her partly because I was somewhat intimidated by a pushy seller, and partly because I liked her burnished gold shade of chestnut and her blonde mane and tail. Amanda did her fair share of running away with me over the years, not to mention chucking me off in front of jumps, yet we somehow muddled through without either of us (especially me!) enduring any serious bodily harm, all this under the bemused eye of our our horrendously sarcastic and terrifying teacher. Incidentally, why did riding teachers always have to yell at everyone back then? I can understand that teaching uncoordinated morons to ride must be frustrating at times, but come on! When I think about some of the insults that charming man hurled at us over the years, I don’t know how we put up with it. I guess that’s just the way it was back then. In all fairness, when the terrifying teacher wasn’t teaching he was actually a really nice guy. Go figure.

Amanda and I parted ways after about seven years, sometime after I’d left the split-personalitied, insult-hurling teacher and taken up with a rosy-cheeked, charmingly bossy, super high-energy dressage diva. She helped me take Amanda as far as possible in the dressage arena, and when the work became too demanding for the mare, found me with a massive young Dutch gelding called Monty. Amanda went to live in Holland where she had a baby, and then enjoyed a long and happy retirement.

My partnership with Monty didn’t last very long. The poor darling came into my life at a time when I seemed to be particularly accident prone (double fracture with a torsion in my right leg, followed by a shattered humeral head, both injuries sustained within twelve months of each other, the second - basically a shattered shoulder - caused by a particularly nasty fall from Monty), so we never really had the opportunity to bond. Also, my children were little, and I seemed to spend my days rushing around, trying to fit about twenty-four hours into twelve. Anyway, to cut a long and boring story short, I decided to quit riding altogether. My high-energy dressage diva trainer took Monty back, and I spent the next seven years horseless, which weirdly enough for someone as horse crazy as me, went down fine. I did lots of other things during those years, including write a couple of books, one of which was published, while the others are still floating around in my hard-drive, waiting to be finished or tweaked.

While I went about doing all those other things, my daughter gradually grew into a horse-freak just like me. A couple of tepee-housed, super cool pony camps in Ibiza during the summer holidays hotwired her passion, and it didn’t take much convincing to get me to sign her up for riding lessons once school resumed. Watching her lessons rekindled my horse addiction, and before we knew it we were horse shopping in Germany. Kwintus, a 15-year-old KWPN PSG schoolmaster arrived in Switzerland by lorry a few weeks later.

Kwintus and Olivia
We couldn’t have bought a better horse for my then 15-year-old daughter. Kwintus, now happily retired, was the perfect gentleman, an absolute teddy-bear, the type of horse you might consider bringing home to sit on the couch to eat chocolate biscuits and watch television with (he had a great sense of humour, so would probably have enjoyed shows like “Modern Family”!). He was also an old pro in the dressage arena, puffing himself up at the first sight of a braid elastic. (“Extend the trot down the diagonal? No probs, honey, I got this!”) Kwintus won Olivia first place in their first ever competition with close to 70%, a dizzying score for Switzerland where judges tend not to dish out 7s willy nilly.

Kwintus also got me back in the saddle, re-established my confidence, and gave me a pretty good idea about what riding a decent level of dressage should feel like. He wowed both my daughter and I with wonderfully straight, perfectly rhythmical tempi-changes (up to the two’s), nice pirouettes and half-passes, movements neither of us had ever experienced before. Kwintus was definitely a very special horse with an enormous heart who would just give, and give, and give. He’d probably given so much before we bought him that within a couple of years he started showing signs of arthritis in his neck, which made him trip over every so often. We treated the problem once or twice with infiltrations to keep him comfortable, but when he turned 18 and my daughter went off to University in England, I made the decision to retire him. He deserved it. If ever a horse was loved, Kwintus was, not only by my daughter and I, but also by one of his previous owners who still regularly asks after him.

Retiring Kwintus was tough on me. Not only had I lost my horse, but I’d also watched my daughter go off to University in a land faraway across the sea. Ok, so Cornwall isn’t all that far from Switzerland if you compare it to the distance between, say, New York and San Francisco, but, believe me, you can get from New York to San Francisco far more easily and quickly than you can get from Geneva to Falmouth. Last Christmas it took my daughter three days to get home! Ok, so there were wild storms and electric cuts and floods and flight cancellations involved, but still. Getting to the “wall of Corn” is by no means straightforward.

But I digress. Basically, with my daughter gone and no horse to ride I got very sad, and so after a while my husband got fed up with my moping and said, “for goodness sake, Cesca, go and buy yourself another horse before you drive me mental.” Or words to that effect.

There’s nothing like horse-shopping to cheer up a horse-crazy empty-nester-menopausal misery guts. A few months later my trainer and I took a trip to the South of France where I fell for a beautiful dark bay Lusitano stallion, Qrac de la Font.
Qrac and me, September 2014

I would never have been able to buy a horse like Qrac if I hadn’t had the experience of a horse like Kwintus beforehand. Even so, riding him was, initially, quite a challenge. There were moments when I really had to breathe deep, stay calm and dig deep for my courage. For a seven-year-old, Qrac had very little work and could be quite a handful. He’s an emotional horse, he’s super sensitive, and his spins to the left are legendary! I had him gelded a year and a half after buying him, and never regretted taking that decision (I wrote about it here on the blog at the time).

Qrac makes me smile every single day. He’s my sunshine, my daily treat. He’s a challenge, a work in constant progress, a silly billy, a very clever boy. As my daughter puts it, he’s my “best thing” and I have withdrawals if I don’t go and see him every day. I worry about him, think about him, play dress up with him (he has a vast collection of blingy saddle blankets), and fuss over him like a crazy person. The progress we’ve made in the three and a half years we’ve been together makes me very proud because what we’ve achieved, we’ve achieved without any outside help apart from really good trainers on the ground.

I’ve loved all my horses, but there’s definitely something special about my relationship with Qrac, just as there was something special about my daughter’s relationship with Kwintus.

It bothers me to say that Qrac is the super special horse of my lifetime because it somehow feels like I’m betraying the other horses I owned, downplaying all the great times I shared with them, belittling the amazing things each of them brought to me. So in a very zany conclusion, I’m tempted to say that thinking about my previous horses is a bit like thinking about old boyfriends; some suited me more than others, but I had strong feelings for them all.

And that I deeply love the one I’m with.

Or something like that!

Do you know what I mean? Do you or did you once have a super special horse?


Linda Benson said...

Thank you for sharing your horse journey with us, Francesca. We learn so much from every horse we know and ride, don't we? I'm glad you've found that special one for you now, although each has been special in their own way. Great post!

Exploring Dressage Biomechanics said...

Really like this post and love your comment about how your current boy is your "best thing". He is gorgeous! Also appreciate previous posts about how well you have cared for your beloved retiree.

Francesca Prescott said...

Linda, thank you for commenting. I can't believe it's been a year since my last post... I have so many stories to share about my journey with Qrac in the past twelve months.

And EDB, thank you for reading and leaving a comment. I'm glad you enjoyed my previous posts. I've missed posting on here, and intend to do so more regularly again:)

FD said...

Eh, I tend not to think in horse of a lifetime terms, I've loved lots of different horses in different ways. Like people - one love does not detract from another.

Unknown said...

I was pleased to see a post from you! I have missed hearing about Qrac. He is such a handsome boy! All our horses touch us in special ways, some more than others. My special horse was a handsome dark bay Thoroughbred gelding named Nonchalant. He was my soul horse...just something special. He was kind of stand offish, didn't particularly enjoy being brushed, but he would have jumped the moon for me if I had asked. He was large (17.2H) but such a nice guy that I often used him to teach my beginning riders on. After not enough years I had to retire him with arthritis in his feet. But he enjoyed lazing about and I enjoyed having him in my backyard. Sadly, his life was cut short when he somehow broke his leg at the age of 19. A loss I still feel so deeply to this day...11 years later.

jenj said...

"...go and buy yourself another horse before you drive me mental.” Your husband is awesome! ;)

I have two very special horses and have had a few in between that I never really bonded with, although I learned lots from all of them. I don't think that you are limited to one SUPER special horse in your lifetime, but I think there are sometimes ones that we form more special partnerships with than others. You are very lucky to have had so many wonderful partnerships!

Francesca Prescott said...

FD, exactly :) Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

Kris, I'm touched by you saying you missed hearing about Qrac. Loads of has happened in a year, we've come so far, it's amazing. We're even doing our first pas-de-deux to music on Saturday to close the internal competition at my stables to celebrate the one year anniversary! It's a great place, with a great atmosphere, and the horses are so well looked after, with daily turnout. I'm also riding a dressage program Saturday afternoon, the most difficult one I've ever done so far. I hope I'll have fun stuff to say about it next week, and some nice photos.

Nonchalant sounds like a grumpier form of Kwintus :) These horses affect us so much, they really get us on an emotional level none-horsey people cannot comprehend.

Jenj: Ha! My husband is pretty awesome! You're right about us not being limited to ONE super special horse, I think they're all super special when we're actually in a relationship with them, or if not super special in a positive rosy way, at least in the the way we interact with them, or find ways to interact with them. Or something like that... Thanks for commenting :) xx

Alison said...

Thank you for posting, Cesca, I missed you and your stories about Qrac. Now that you'e back in the blogging 'saddle' don't stop.