Monday, February 16, 2009

dressage book club and a special meeting

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."


jme said...

the book club sounds great, but really i'm just sitting here with tears in my eyes after reading about keil bay's former owner. i've been on both sides of that sometimes anguished relationship, and it's always been important for me to let an owner know 'their' horse is loved and cared for with me - i'd want to know. so i guess what really makes me happy is knowing that she was able to reconnect with you and see what a loving home he has now. what a relief that would be for someone like me (which is why i can't sell horses ;-) if only all the horses that leave our lives went to homes like yours :-)

billie said...

jme, it was a lovely experience for me too. Keil Bay is a lucky horse in that he was bred and trained on the same small farm by kind and experienced horse people, and then sold to a young woman who adored him. I am the third adoring woman in his life.

He also had about a year in the company of a young woman trainer who worked with his previous owner and helped her sell him when it became obvious he was simply too wide for her.

It's a tribute to Keil Bay that the young woman trainer also adored him and actually cried when we loaded him onto the trailer after I bought him.

I could never be a breeder. It would break my heart to sell what I would consider a member of my family.

As you know from reading here, it kind of goes in the opposite direction. I'm constantly googling, trying to find relatives of the horses who already live here, and if I had endless resources I suspect I'd end up having them all. :)

Keil Bay has one full brother named Dragoon, so if you ever come across him, let me know. :)

Grey Horse Matters said...

What a lovely story. It gave me chills reading about your reconnection with one of the big bay's former owners. He's been such a lucky horse to have had all the women in his life love him and care for him. I'm sure that's why he is such a wonderful boy.
Like jme said I can never sell a horse either. We once tried to sell a horse and when the people came we told them he was no longer for sale. I hate to say it but we didn't like their attitude, I know that's bad but we just didn't feel he'd have as good a home with them as he did with us.
Sounds like the book club was a good experience in so many ways.

billie said...

Arlene, I don't think it's terrible at all. If your gut feeling was not good, you did the right thing, without question.

When I called about Keil Bay, the trainer told me that I needed to understand before I came out that he was not for sale "first come first served." She said his owner was insistent that he only go to the right home, and that he wouldn't be going anywhere until that home was found.

She asked me TONS of questions about my riding, where he would be boarded, and what my philosophy of horsekeeping and riding was.

She told me when I left, after the first trial ride, that she loved how I had connected with him, but that the final decision was up to the owner.

I know I'd be picky were I ever to sell one. More people should be pickier, as we all know.

Rising Rainbow said...

I'm definitely with jme on this one. Kiel Bay is one lucky horse. He's been loved and moved on into more love. Nothing better than that.

billie said...

Thanks, MiKael. I feel like the lucky one.

Victoria Cummings said...

I think you're both lucky. Having a horse that was abused before I got her, I love to hear stories like Keil Bay's. Your description of your ride makes it clear that the two of you have a wonderful bond. His previous owner must be so relieved to have met you and heard how he is loved. I met one of Silk's owners about 5 years after i bought her and she kept telling me how guilty and haunted she felt about the way she had treated my horse. It cleared up a lot of questions for me about SIlk, but it made me want to put a halter on this person and do some of the things to her that she had done to my horse.

billie said...

It would be tough to meet a former owner and hear that he/she felt guilty and haunted. :/

I'm glad Silk ended up with you.