Yesterday, after my daughter and husband headed to a local dressage show to volunteer, I moved on with the horse chores, rode Cody, gave afternoon hay and Salina's lunch, and then left my son in charge of November Hill while I drove into town to attend the first of 4 "dressage book club" meetings with Cindy Sydnor.
There was a nice group in attendance and we were all eager to listen and talk about one of our favorite topics: dressage.
I got there right as things were gearing up but found a seat in the front row. I'm not always a front row sitter, but for anything horsey, I like to be right up front, for some reason.
Cindy passed around her copy of the massive tome School of Horsemanship, by Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere, who, among other things, is considered the originator of the "shoulder-in."
I was excited, as I had an epiphany earlier this week using Walter Zettl's shoulder-in entwickeln exercise, which not only helped Keil Bay and I deal with some left-sided crookedness (both his AND mine) but prepared us for that beautiful canter circle we enjoyed together on Saturday.
When we moved on in the book club discussion to look at Walter Zettl's book Dressage in Harmony, which is a long-time favorite of mine, and was actually translated from Zettl's dictaphone by Cindy Sydnor some years ago, we got into a discussion of shoulder-in, and the fact that it is such an important exercise and a foundation for many upper level movements.
Cindy asked us to share anything we might have to say about it, and I eagerly shared my revelation with Keil Bay, although I never mentioned his name. But I described some of his weaknesses, and mine, and excitedly shared how the exercise had helped me fix something I was doing with my right arm, and how that trickled into him getting a more correct bend going left, and how working carefully through that a few times seemed to prepare both of us for the amazing canter circle.
As I finished talking (Cindy's response was encouraging, and she finished by saying "that's so great - now YOU should write a book!") the woman next to me leaned over and whispered, "What's your horse's name?"
I answered without pause, "Keil Bay." And she got this beaming smile, her face lit up, and she said, "I'm J.S. Keil Bay was my horse for 6 years."
We exclaimed and promised to talk after the discussion, which we did. She and I corresponded when I first bought the Big Bay, and she kindly sent me a many-page document that summarized her work with him, his likes and dislikes, and a few stories about his wonderful personality. I sent her a couple of updates after he moved so she would know he was doing well and was much beloved by not only me but my entire family.
Yesterday, she wanted to know how he's doing, and I was thrilled to get the chance to fill her in. I talked about his work but even more about the Keil Stories that have become family legends, told her about his herd, and she told me that she has a TB now who fits her body better and is going strong at age 20, but said she doesn't think she'll ever love a horse like she did Keil Bay, and it makes her feel so good that he has such a loving and adoring home.
When I got home it was dark out, and my husband and daughter were still gone (Pony Club quiz prep after the show) so I headed out to the barn to get started on evening chores. Keil Bay was in the paddock munching some hay while I mucked a stall, and I called out "Keil Bay, you'll never guess who I saw today!"
I could hear him raise his head and pause, and so I went on. "Judy! She talked on and on about how much she loves you and misses you, and I told her how we love you too."
At this point he came and stuck his massive head and neck over the stall door. I rambled on and he stood listening until I ended with, "she said to give you a hug and a carrot, so here's the hug. I'll bring the carrot later."
After he got the hug, he stood and looked at me for a moment, and then went back to his hay.
All this made me realize that the very best thing we can do for our animals is love them and treat them well. They trust us and they carry that forward should they move on at any time to new homes. It was obvious from J's face that she adored this horse, and it's obvious from his demeanor and personality that he has always been loved and adored.
I told her we call him The King, and she smiled. "That's Keil Bay."