A Milestone, I Hope

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Last weekend was a big step for me and my 4-year-old homebred filly, Amani. We took her to what I like to think of as her first USEA-recognized horse trial, at Shepherd Ranch in Solvang, Calif., and she was a really good girl. I'm very proud of my ?princess.? Amani is the first horse from our now-defunct breeding program to reach the competition ring, and sHe's special to me for that and for other reasons. Her dam, Gussie Up, was one of the two mares we purchased in the spring of 2006 to be our broodmares, but she died because of colic less than 12 hours after giving birth to Amani, in May 2007. A friend found us a nurse mare, but she was barren and not lactating, so while we put her through a chemical regimen to induce lactation, we had to bottle-feed Amani 10 to 12 times a day for two months. When the grind of filling and cleaning bottles isn?t wearing you down, you can become very attached to a foal when you spend hours a day holding a bottle for her. And you can become even more attached when you see her gallop around the pasture like the athlete you were hoping for. I've looked forward to riding ever since those first exhausting days and nights. (In case you're wondering, Gussie was a Thoroughbred mare, descended from Northern Dancer and other great jumping and staying sires, and Amani?s sire is Formula One, the Irish-bred owned by Denny Emerson.) Watching Amani grow up has been a fascinating experience, especially since sHe's not matured into the temperament I thought she was going to have. I'm glad to say sHe's matured into a more tractable and thoughtful disposition than I expected when she was very young. From the time we weaned her, Amani was the boss of the field. She told everybody where to go, sometimes with the assistance of her hind feet. (I call her ?the fastest gun in the West.?) And almost any time we introduced her to something new, her response was ?No! I am a princess!? I will always remember when, in December of her first year, we brought her and our other two weanlings into the barn and thought we'd hose the mud off their legs. The girl who worked for us then, Amani, and I all ended up on the floor, up against the wall of the stall opposite the wash rack she leaped out of, pulling us with her. It would take us a good six months before she?d accept having her legs hosed. Still, she was easy to teach to longe and pony, and she offered no major resistances to having a rider on her back. It did take a few months of riding before she decided she really wanted to take instruction, but since then sHe's been quite willing. And she could always jump. But that leads me to why I said that I like to consider this event her first recognized start. In January we took Amani to her first schooling competition, a combined test (dressage and show jumping) with cross-country schooling the day before. She behaved well in her first trip away from home, and went very willingly, so when, a month later, Heather?s horse developed an abscess two days before we were to leave for a recognized event at the same venue, I thought we could take Amani in his place. I thought she was ready. Well, she wasn?t. The location was Twin Rivers, in central California, and there had been about 70 horses at the combined test but 300-plus at the horse trials. The commotion was simply too distracting to her, and she wouldn?t jump the first show jumping fence?because she never saw it. She was looking everywhere but at the jump, and it surprised her when she did finally noticed it two strides away. Horribly disappointed at Amani?s elimination, we went back to the drawing board and decided we needed to emphasize training exercises that would demand her attention and that I'd take her to as many schooling competitions as possible before trying again. We also decided then to aim her for Shepherd Ranch, because it's a smaller and quieter event. I've seen her mature physically and felt her steadily mature mentally since then, as I've taken her to three schooling competitions and done two more cross-country schools with her, and I'm happy to say that our plan worked. She behaved absolutely perfectly throughout the four days, and she performed as well as she could. She was relaxed and willing in dressage, placing third with 31.4 penalties (equivalent to 68.6% in pure dressage). She was fabulous on cross-country, except for one baby error. Fence 4 was a green coop in the deep shade of a huge oak tree, and she dragged me right past it the first time because she simply couldn?t understand the question. But she went willingly, if cautiously, to it when I circled her around it and tried again. Then she galloped right through both water jumps, leaped confidently over the ditch, and hopped right up the bank. She finished by show jumping faultlessly to finish sixth and get a green ribbon. She was so tired after show jumping, though. It was a hot, sunny weekend (about 90 degrees), but she was more mentally tired than physically tired. We could just see her saying, ?Oh, so much to think about and do for a baby horse. My brain really hurts!? I drove home Sunday night feeling very proud of my little girl and the work We've done to get her to this point, remembering that horrible morning when her mother died and those months of bottle-feeding her. Last weekend was a milestone, the first of many I hope to experience with her.