I saw this picture and it brought back so many memories of a thoroughbred named Dolan owned by Lynn Criner. The horse industry, like anything else, is evolving. As a participant, or a parent, your skills grow and change as you learn more about what you are doing and how to do it.
Just like the parent who never played baseball, having a child start little league, both child and adult, learn about the game, the rules and details of ball. In horseback riding, it is much the same. I have ridden all my life, both English and western, owned everything from Arabs to warmbloods. I still have a lot to learn. And my perspective changes as my education in horses grows.
Seeing this horse, a thoroughbred, rangy, strong, tall and lanky, clear this jump reminds me of how far Lauren and I have come. Now, I will be the first to admit, say or agree that there is no ultimate place to be in the horse world. Regardless of the barn you are showing with, it is fellowship of your rider friends and family that is important. No matter if you are doing schooling shows, the rated shows or headed down the trail out of your back yard, what you enjoy is what is important.
I remember when I had purchased Lynn’s big horse Cupid. At the time (before Bruno) he was the strongest, mightiest, biggest horse I had ever owned. His abilities were beyond Lauren or myself but I hoped Lauren would ‘grow into him’. If he was still around, she would do a phenomenal job on him now. It wasn’t the right horse for her at the time. It didn’t stop me from wanting him the first time I laid eyes on him. Lynn had another big thoroughbred, who looked remarkably like the one above, and he had done some high jumper classes in rated shows. He was older and she offered him to trainer Dianne at Whipple Tree, where we boarded at the time, to use for her students. Lynn’s only stipulation was we were not to jump him over 4’6″. Really, Lynn? Because none of us at that time entered any classes that were going to take us over even a three-foot jump much less thinking about one over four feet. We didn’t count on Dolan just wanting to do it for fun. From our perspective at the time, 4’6″ might just as well have been the moon-it was HUGE!
Sarah, a high school student and rider at Whipple Tree took up riding big Dolan. Although he was in his 20’s, once he smoothed out the kinks in his old body, he moved pretty well. He still had lots of jump left in him. Lynn had told us stories of riding Dolan across the parks of Fort Bend County, jumping him easily over the concrete picnic tables. We knew the big guy had jump. But Sarah wasn’t testing him at anything over about 2’9”.
After a few weeks of working together, Sarah signed up Dolan for a horse show at John de Leyer’s place. They were going to do Junior/Adult hunters. The day of show, Dolan was a little excitable (understatement!). He thought he was headed back to the big jumper arena with his old owner, Lynn-not into the quiet, easy, let’s go slow, hunter arena with Sarah. We tried a few tricks to settle him down, but it was clear, Dolan was super happy to back on the show grounds and set for super-sonic rounds over fences.
I remember clearly standing next to Ted Dodge who was a trainer, judge and somewhat of an icon here in Houston and watching Sarah start her rounds on the flaming copper horse. I told Ted about Lynn volunteering her horse to Dianne and the caveat of not jumping over 4’6″. It sounded funny-ridiculas even as we looked at the fences of the highest height class of the day, at only 2’9″. No one was going to be jumping over four feet. As Ted and I watched, Dolan got his round started with Sarah sitting polished in the saddle. First jump, second jump, Dolan jumped easily and comfortably. But by the third and fourth, he was flying.
Ted looked at me and in his understated way, said, “well, I pretty sure he just cleared five feet-so much for Lynn and her 4’6″!” I, personally, in those early days, had never seen anything like it. And to Sarah’s credit, she stayed with him, the jumps coming faster, the lines shrinking from five strides to three as the big horse made his way around the course. What an athlete and what a jumper! Of course, that day it was about hunters, so Dolan’s brilliant attack on the course was lost to the judge and he did not place well with his grand prix approach to Junior/Adult hunter.
It made me realize when I saw the horse above, how my perspective has changed. Lauren has ridden over four-foot jumps now-not often and not comfortably but she has taken that trip. Certainly, many of our friends routinely ride courses in that height range-and win. We have changed our perspective on what is high and what kind of horse it takes to make the jumps. It dawned on me yesterday, that if Lauren had the opportunity to ride a Cupid or a Dolan now, it would be in the jumper ring-where their real skills could be showcased. And she would well be able to ride a horse with such talent.
But Lauren had to make her way through the ranks. She had to learn that jumping one large jump was hardly the same as jumping a course of them, at say a height of 3’6″ or more. We used to say Mickey was a 3’6″ horse because he could clear a jump of that height. It took some hard years to learn all the aspects of getting through a field of jumps, set high, with difficult lines. One 3’6″ jump does not make a course. Lauren now has a couple of horses in Feather and Bruno that might actually take her to the four-foot ring. But she has also has the skill to guide them there.
Our respect for and our determination to find our way to, the higher jumps continues. Still, seeing Duckie take the big jump easily, reminded me of the wonder and awe I experienced watching Dolan with Ted all those years ago.