|Qrac and I at a show in the south of France, September 2015
Qrac turns 12 this year. I can hardly believe it's been five years since my trainer and I moseyed on down to the south of France to look at a seven year-old Lusitano stallion we knew literally nothing about, that someone had suggested we go see. It seems like yesterday that she and I were led down a short, dark corridor housing a collection of Cremelo Lusos with light blue eyes and bright pink noses, our enthusiasm sinking deeper and deeper into our mud-splattered Timberlands. I know that a lot of people love Cremelos, but they just don't do it for me. Just as she and I glanced at each other, simultaneously thinking we'd wasted an entire day travelling, there, right in the very last stable, right at the back, stood a gorgeous black horse with soft, almond-shaped eyes, a beautiful big neck, and a tiny white kissing spot on the tip of his velvety nose. Oh, and he smelt really good, too. Most horses smell good, but I swear that Qracy smells particularly yummy.
They saddled him up, and I got on, and despite him not being anywhere near as advanced in his work as would be expected for a seven-year old, and that riding a super-short backed, mega reactive, uber-wiggly Lusitano felt really strange after having ridden warmbloods all my life, I totally fell in love with Qrac de la Font.
Five years down the line and I'm still smitten. It hasn't been easy, and we're still not as advanced in our work as we "should be" (say the text books, but text books are, well, just text books), but we've come a long way since that first drunken zig-zag across the circular walled arena just south of Avignon. I'm tickled that I thought Qracy looked all big and manly back then! Compare his "then and now" photos and it's hard to imagine they feature the same horse.
|Qrac, January 2016
|Qrac, February 2011
I'm probably (alright, make that definitely!) biased, but I think that Qrac has the wow-factor. His massive shoulders and neck are the subject of many a grooming-area conversation while I'm tacking him up. He isn't an easy ride, has a stubborn, macho personality and keeping his attention focused on his work is always going to be an issue. His spins are legendary; he has an insane ability to drop his shoulder and spin left in a mini-fraction of a nano-second when he decides he's had enough. I've got a lot better at controlling his naughtiness and his spins, at sensing he's about to blow just before he blows, but there are times when he still gets me. Everyone who knows horses knows that patience is a virtue when it comes to training, but Qracy has upped my horsey patience virtuousness big time! He get's his knickers in a twist for the silliest things and is always full of surprises. I suppose professional people wouldn't give him high marks for "rideability", and yet while I find his bag of tricks frustrating at times, his monkey antics have also taught me a heck of a lot. Yes, it really is all about the base....of the neck. And that big neck, those big shoulders, that short back and that pesky personality are a constant challenge.
Qrac has more gears than most horses. He has about 47 different trots, yet until a few months ago he didn't have an extended trot at all. Desperation was beginning to set in when, thanks to Irish National Dressage Champion Roland Tong, the amazing trainer I discovered early last year and who now flies to Geneva every month for two-day clinics at my stables, Qrac and I suddenly twigged it. I'll never forget that one magical session last October when Roland had us careering around the arena, yelling at me to "keep going, keep going, I want him to go go go, like a show horse at an auction"! I was red in the face, sweating like a nobody's business, mortifyingly aware that little Qracy's long legs were whirling away like an uncoordinated can-can dancer on crack, when all of a sudden everything became smooth, powerful and rhythmical. Even the light played a part in that memorable moment; it had been a grey, grumpy-weathered day, and I was riding late in the afternoon. During my lesson the sun came out between clusters of bruised clouds, slipped beneath the level of the roof of the indoor school, spearing us with wild laser beams of golden light. Lights, camera, action! Yep, it was epic! Ever since, our extended trot has been far more consistent, and I truly believe that Qrac now enjoys showing off his newfound ability.
|The day we twigged the extended trot, October 2015
Our current challenge is mastering the flying change. Qrac can do them beautifully, but most of the time he only does them beautifully when he decides to do them, and not when I ask him to do them. He's a very compact, very wiggly, very hot little horse and controlling the placement of his shoulders and his haunches can do my head in. I have his back, and then I don't, and then I do again, and so feeling, precision and timing is everything. Right now I'm working hard with my long time trainer and friend, Marie-Valentine Gygax (with whom I found Qrac five years ago), at keeping the quality of the canter and counter canter, at keeping control of the shoulders, at keeping him straight, at getting more bend, at keeping his mind busy by using leg yield and shoulder-fore and haunches in and (big) pirouettes and half-passes and small circles and half circles and you name it we (try to) do it, making sure he's truly through his body before I ask for the change. It's coming, slowly, very slowly maybe, but it's coming surely and I think we're going about it right. I'm armed to the teeth with patience, and I'm trusting that patience, together with the help of my two fabulous trainers, will get us doing Prix St Georges (at home, not in competition) before the end of 2016. That, to me, would be an amazing achievement.
What has taken you a long time to master? What are your horse's strengths and weaknesses? Have you found particular ways to work through specific training issues? What are your goals for this year?
Thanks for reading, and a happy mega-belated New Year!