"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Tiger Lily

Once upon a time, there was a little 3-year old Thoroughbred-type dark bay filly with a rather silly no-meaning name. She had a nice muscular hind end, 2 white pasterns in front, 1 white sock in the back, and a star, stripe and snip, all separated across her face.

She was purchased by a lady who wanted to train an Iberian horse from scratch to do dressage. This is how she ended up with the filly, who was a Thoroughbred/Andalusian cross, also known as an Iberian Warmblood.

This lady owned her for a year. The filly was, of course, green-broke, and this lady quickly realized that she had taken on way more than she bargained for when she decided to train a baby horse, Iberian or otherwise. The lady was assisted in the initial training of the filly by a wonderful dressage trainer and judge who we will call Judy. Judy really liked this filly-she was very sweet, with a calm temperament despite her young age, and a nice way of moving. But, alas, Judy and her own horse moved to a different barn across town, and the filly's owner continued her training on her own. 

There was a cowboy trainer at the filly's barn, who started working with her. Among other things, he started to train the filly to do a spur stop. Spur stops are a controversial training shortcut used in western pleasure where the horse slows down or stops in response to a touch of the spurs. Can you guess why this is controversial? 

The filly REBELLED. She did NOT like spurs, she did not understand the training technique. The more this cowboy rode her, the more violent she became under saddle, to the point where she would throw the cowboy to the ground as soon as he got on her. He declared her a "dangerous horse" and she came to spend a lot of time locked in her stall, where she developed a habit of charging people who entered. 

The filly's owner realized that she could not keep this horse, that she was not experienced enough to train and handle this mare correctly. She contacted Judy to let her know of her decision, to see if she could help her find a home for the filly. Judy was appalled when she heard what had been happening with the little mare, and went to check her out. Under Judy's experienced and calm hands, the filly reverted to her original sweet, good-natured self. Judy was determined to find her a good home

One of the sale pics I took of the filly during her first week at our barn. 

Judy contaced my barn manager one morning in early summer to tell her the story of this filly. The filly's owner was giving her away at this point. Judy suggested my barn manager take on the filly so I could train her for resale as a hunter prospect, and we could split the profit from her sale. It seemed like a good idea all around, and I'd always wanted to go into the business of "flipping" horses (as in houses). The filly had no health issues, but when my barn manager went to check her out (I was working overnights at the time and couldn't go) the filly had a large lump on the side of her neck, about the size of a small grapefruit. She was calm on the longe line and had excellent ground manners. My barn manager liked her disposition, but was not impressed with the lump on the neck, and was concerned that it was some sort of spider bite (we have brown recluse spiders in South FL). I was concerned that the filly had been tranquilized before my barn manager's visit when I heard the story. After prolonged discussion, my barn manager and I decided that taking this filly on might not be a good idea. 

However, a week later the filly's owner called saying that the lump had disappeared. My barn manager drove down again to see her, and it was, indeed, gone. This time, she decided to bring her home. I was still a little apprehensive about the idea. The day that her and Mark, our barn guy (he's the only male horse owner at our barn, and the only person there with a horse trailer) went to pick her up, the filly was a nervous wreck. It took Mark a good 15 minutes to load her, while the filly's owner waved a longe whip in the air, terrifying the poor mare even more. 

She unloaded calmly at our barn and we gave her the first day off so she could settle in. She seemed a little nervous but was otherwise a sweet little girl. No charging people in her stall at our barn, and she seemed to WANT to trust us. The next day I was off from work, and came to the barn to take the filly out on the longe line and see what she would be like. My mindset was calm and emotionless, but I was expecting to have problems. The filly was excellent on the crossties, allowing me to touch every inch of her body, and pick her feet without a problem. Outside on the longe, going to the left, she was perfect, even responding to voice commands. But going to the right, she became very tense, backing up away from me, and half-rearing when I tried to point her in the right direction with the longe whip. I started to get a little annoyed and despite not changing the way I was handling her, she sensed my annoyance immediately and became even more nervous, flinging her head up in the air and shying away from me. I stepped back, brought her to a stop, took a deep breath, dropped the longe whip, and moved her to a different part of the arena. I calmly pointed her head in the direction I wanted her to go, moved so that I was even with her hind end, and clucked. She trotted out to the right, and gave me no other problems. I was astounded by how sensitive she was to her handler's frame of mind/emotional state. I had her trot over some ground poles, just to see if she had any experience with them. She did not: the first time, she leaped over them with beautiful form, head & neck down in a perfect bascule and knees tucked to her chin, then scared herself and refused to go over the poles again. I laughed and led her at a walk over them a couple of times. She still wouldn't longe over them at a trot. I didn't push it, because I saw her getting nervous again, and instead had her trot and canter a few minutes more. Plenty of time later to show her what ground poles are. She was, indeed, a nice mover, especially at the walk and trot, tracking up decently and swinging her back with her movement despite her small frame. 

I walked her out and then tested her on a whim: I touched her lightly on the chest with my hand, with barely any pressure, and she backed up, then continued to back up if I walked forward. I stopped, she stopped. She dropped her head with the lightest touch on the top of her neck, and moved her feet away with barely any pressure. She followed and moved away from me with barely any cues, knowing exactly what I wanted. It was like a dance. She had had natural horsemanship training, and someone had done a REALLY good job with her. I wished my horse at the time (a rescued 5 year old TB cross that was even greener than this filly) was that good! This would make her training so much easier!

I tacked her up and we just walked around the arena. She was very sensitive to leg pressure and weight shifting, and I could get her to stop and back up by just thinking about it, it seemed. She was confused about lateral movements, but would do them if I asked. I was very impressed with this filly, though I kept expecting her to explode, a tension that I'm sure she felt. But she did not explode. There were things happening in the properties surrounding our arena, things that would have spooked a different horse, but she remained calm and extremely attentive to my commands.

My barn manager had been watching, a little tense herself too, but I rode over with a big ole grin on my face and told her, "I think she's pretty freaking awesome!" The sale ad went up on the internet that night, and the next day I took her photos for the ad. That was a funny event-the filly did not understand I just wanted her to stand still for the pictures. She kept looking at me with this funny question mark face, one ear forward and one back, as if asking, "What am I supposed to do?" and shifting around. She was expecting me to give her an order of some sort. "I just want you to stay still." I told her. She finally understood and would stand relaxed (see photo above), as I took photos of her in different parts of the property.

Another pic from the sale photo shoot. This was the first time I saw her question mark face :)

I worked with her for 2 months, about 3 times a week, longeing her on some days and riding her on others. Within a couple of sessions we had reached an understanding between us. I liked her a lot, and kept discovering new things about her with each ride.

Around that time, my horse fell 3 times in a week, one of them while I was riding him, breaking one of my toes in the process (my foot got stuck under him during the fall), which put me out of commission at the barn and at work for a month. To make a long story short, he was declared unsafe to ride due to neurological disease. He had to go into early retirement and could not be ridden again. I was devastated. This was the second horse I was to lose in a year. He had been one of my greatest training challenges, and we had finally been making some progress, after numerous visits from the massage therapist, the chiropractor, and the vet, including stifle surgery. Plus the blood, sweat and tears that I had poured over this horse, in my fierce dedication to him. I had saved him, I would keep my promise to him, despite him injuring me several times (never without meaning to; he was always a giant, spooky klutz), and scaring me half to death during several bucking fits where I thought he would fall on this face, he was so unbalanced. However, he was a great mover, beautifully put together (Judy, my trainer, swore he had to be part warmblood), and would've made a great dressage horse one day. He had tremendous potential. He also was one of the barn favorites due to his sweet puppy dog, people-loving nature. Everyone cried with me when they heard the news.

My husband had already okayed my having another horse, despite not really having the finances for one, because he could see how happy I was with horses in my life. I hadn't been expecting to immediately jump from one horse to another like this, and it felt strange, but I knew that this opportunity wouldn't come up again, and it would be a long time before I found a horse as nice as this filly. The equine sales world is a dark and ugly one, and I had heard enough horror stories to be able to recognize something really good when it was staring me in the face.

On July 8 2011, I signed my filly's bill of sale and her new boarding agreement. The "For Sale" ad came off the internet. And I re-named her Tiger Lily. Why Tiger Lily?

My husband, Charles, and I have known each other since we were kids. Together we were in a group of Sea Scouts (like the Boy Scouts, but co-ed) and him and I were the ringleaders of our group of friends there, most of them guys. I used to joke around that he was Peter Pan, I was Wendy, and this was our group of Lost Boys. I loved the Peter Pan story, and to this day I still call my husband Peter Pan because he is the little boy that never grew up. This filly, with her quiet calm self despite the harsh times she had already been through in her short life, reminded me of the stubborn little Native American girl who stood up to the pirates and protected Peter in the Disney version of the story. (Ironically, my husband was the first man that she came to trust-for a long time she would flinch/jump when any other guy would try to touch her. But never him.) Plus, the lily flower symbolizes the return of happines. The name just suited her all around.

We went on many trail rides, both near the barn in FL and off-property at some of the equestrian parks in Davie; Lily went swimming in a lake twice (first and second); we went to a dressage show at the end of 2011 and placed second and third in our division; I considered selling her and then changed my mind; we went to a classical dressage clinic in Stuart, FL; we did tons of groundwork; survived a hurricane; moved 1,200 miles from South Florida to Maryland; experienced winter  for the first time together; went through a million bits and 3 saddles before we found the right one; started training second level dressage movements and exploring Maryland trails with ditches, streams and hills; rehabbed from a tendon injury, and are now putting in miles riding outdoors and on the trails, in the hopes of some day doing a limited distance ride (LD in endurance-speak; 25-30 mile race.)

This little mare continues to surprise me every day.

First long ride off property. February 2012.
First time in the water. September 2011.
Ground work. October 2013.
First winter in the Northeast. November 2012.
Biggest river crossing so far. November 2013.

Finally galloping outdoors. October 2013.
Dressage work in the indoor. January 2013.

Join us to see where our journey takes us!

No comments:

Post a Comment