I believe Tabor came in to my life to prepare me for Merlin.
The same friend who gave me Merlin gave me Tabor Dance, then seven, about two years earlier. Tabor had bowed a tendon twice and recovered. He was a beautifully built gray gelding, possessing exceptional physical gifts and jumping scope, like Merlin. But he had a history of dodgy jumping, frequently refusing or running out and depositing his riders. He was clearly a worrier—he wasn’t even a fan of being turned out and would often walk back and forth along the fence like a caged tiger until you “rescued” him.
Tabor had raced more than 20 times—winning on the flat and over hurdles—so, like most racehorses, he became much more relaxed when you put him to work and focused his mind on his job. So it was clear that my job was to instill the necessary confidence in him, to convince him that he was a marvelous jumper.
We clicked immediately over fences for two primary reasons. First, I had no jumping “history” with him. I’d only ever seen him jump in two races, and he’d looked great. I hadn’t seen or experienced the refusals he’d had with others.
Second, I quickly noticed that if I tried to shorten his stride to a jump, he stopped. He took shortening his stride, to set him up for a jump, as a sign of uncertainty, of lack of confidence. But if I rode him positively forward, not “fiddling” with him, it made him bold and confident. And he was more than clever enough to shorten his stride if he needed to, as long as he had the confidence (and impulsion) he needed from me.
So I just challenged him to the jumps, keeping a soft contact with the bit and supporting him with my leg and seat. With my positive aids and a trusting air, I was saying to him, “I know you can jump this—let’s go.” All he needed was for me to say, “I believe in you.” I don’t think he ever stopped on me in seven or eight novice and training level horse trials or a season of hunting. I foxhunted Tabor about a dozen times and competed him in eventing at novice and training levels.
Sadly, he bowed that tendon for a third time while turned out, and the severity of the tendon damage left us no choice but to humanely put him down.