Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Life Lessons by Missy Miller

Well the happenings since my last post before the Fork Horse Trials have yet again proven to be the ultimate of highs and lows. Seems to be a constant theme with the horses, can’t believe it’s taken me this long to figure that significant piece of information out. Better late than never? I guess I can start with the best of the happenings, which also works perfectly as that is how it goes chronologically. Like I had said, Gracie and I headed to North Carolina to attempt a CIC3* at the Fork Horse Trials. Truly an amazing event in every way possible. We had dressage on Thursday which I was hoping would work in our favor as the more days in a row you do dressage on Gracie the more she realizes how much she despises flicking her toes in a rectangular arena and the more she starts to strongly object. Unfortunately though, even after one day of light practice of the movements, once she got in the ring she was making it very clear to me that her preference of places to be was definitely not there. Disappointing? Of course, especially since our previous test in front of those scary judges booths had gone so well, I had built up a little bit of hope that all was not lost in the case of my dressage skills. Thanks again for the “humbling experience” Gracie. Oh well, on to the fun part…

I’d be lying if I said when walking the course I became immobilized with fear from time to time. Maybe I even sent Leslie a frantic text saying something along the lines of “This is big, scary and impossible, I think I should just go hide by a novice jump and cry”. But hey, maybe I didn’t. Leslie was unable to be there this weekend for me as he was prepping for a show in Florida the following weekend (I hear he did o.k there) which definitely made me even more nervous, but I cannot thank Clark and Jessica Montgomery enough for taking on the task of helping me through this weekend. Both of them were so nice and helpful, I couldn’t have hoped for better. After walking the course enough to make it seem slightly less intimidating and slightly more do-able, my legs were sick of moving and then it came time for Grace and I to tackle one of the toughest courses we had seen in our career together. As we did our typical prance over to the start box I wasn’t sure if I would even be possible of remembering to breathe. Gracie and I finally got the countdown and scooted out the box, I know this is cliché and I have said this before of Gracie’s cross country rounds but I seriously could not have imagined a better ride out of her. Everything I was nervous about she tackled like it was nothing, ears pricked the whole time I feel safe saying both of us really came off the course having had so much fun and feeling 10ft tall. I really wonder how I became so lucky to get to ride this mare around and have her try so hard for me, although I’m not sure if I always feel like she’s trying as much as she’s just having fun.

Jogs presented themselves with much stress and unease. As perfect as Gracie is in my eyes, a vet would argue my case of perfection with very fair facts. After jogging her for Christiana Ober we noticed that her bothersome ankle was giving her a bit of trouble, nothing we hadn’t expected. This called for hours more of icing and an early morning ride before the jog. We passed after getting held once, and were onto stadium. The stadium course walked well and when I walked it with Clark we walked it where all of the turns were to the left besides one. Then while I was warming up I was told it was wheeled the other way so to break it up. I made the decision to change my plan at the last minute and thought it wouldn’t be too much of a deal. I can’t say that is what caused one of our two rails, but I also can’t say it would have happened if I had just stuck to my plan. Oh well, live and learn. Nothing could trump my feeling of ecstasy after finishing my first CIC3* on a mare I had worked so hard with and that meant so much to me. We were finally qualified for the Bromont CCI3*, Gracie had yet again gone beyond anyone’s expectations.

After The Fork we made the plan to give her two weeks off so she could be fresh and ready for Bromont. I was able to focus on school, while Grace enjoyed rolling in her field and requiring baths almost every other day. As I started her back in work I was dismayed to find her ankle was still bothering her and making her sore to ride. I was scheduled to go to Florida for lessons the following weekend and to get her shod. I decided to bring her down, have Leslie look at her and go from there. Leslie definitely agreed with me that it was her ankles and I decided to leave her that week so Christiana could look at her and assess what was going on. Leaving Gracie anywhere is never easy for me, especially when I knew something was bothering her. She’s a tough little mare and for her to still be sore something was definitely up. I tried to stay optimistic while waiting for the call from the vet but during those two days of waiting I feel like years flew by around me. When the call finally came it was Leslie on the phone and unfortunately all of my fears where brought to reality. It seemed Gracie had done quite the number to herself at The Fork and had a 50% legion on her suspensory branch. After talking with the Laws and Christiana it was decided that in the best interest of Gracie, due to her already troublesome ankles and age it would only be fair to retire her after this kind of injury.

Since the news countless tears have been shed and my emotions have been on a rollercoaster since I have no idea what to do from here. Just last month we decided to retire my other mare as well after an MRI revealed very little cartilage left in her ankles, diminishing her chances of staying sound and comfortable at the upper levels. As heart breaking as the first retirement was, Gracie’s was even more so as my emotional attachment to her and what I have been through with her for us to accomplish what we had has been one my greatest learning experiences. Of course, I know how lucky I am that both of them can spend the rest of their lives in a field, becoming fat and happy and maybe one day fat, happy mommas? I’ve had the alternative happen and that’s something I would never wish on anyone so as heartbreaking as it is to go from having my dreams seem attainable on such a special mare to retiring two very special horses I know that I’m blessed to be able to walk out in the field, feed them carrots and have them knock me down while rubbing on me.

The lessons I learned on Gracie are something even a great coach couldn’t have taught me. Maybe it’s me and my stubbornness that makes it so I can only learn how to do the right thing by trying everything wrong first, but Grace would make the wrong options very obvious by her reactions towards them and sometimes I swear she would mock me like I was foolish for even thinking of some things. Of all my equestrian accomplishments Grace was the horse that really made my dreams attainable and I cannot thank her enough. I’m not sure how I deserved to gallop around the Kentucky Horse Park, stand on the podium at the NAYRC, and compete a season at advanced on such a remarkable horse but I did and for that I am eternally grateful. I apologize for the sap but I don’t even know how to put into words what a special horse I’ve been lucky enough to have such a special partnership with. It was never easy, never did I know what to expect and I also felt like I never knew what I was doing but it was all incredibly rewarding. Realizing that, I know the answer to the frequently asked question of “Why do we do this?” after hearing bad news or after a bad ride, I also realize that that’s what makes the eventing community so special and some of the best people I know. And even though I am currently with out a horse, I also know that I won’t be able to keep myself away from all the incredible friends and amazing horses that surround the eventing world.


  1. So sorry to hear about Gracie. That is never easy. If only I could send a hug through the internet... stupid computers!

  2. I am so sorry to hear about Gracie. I have a bay Trakehner mare too and I loved hearing about Gracie. She gave me hope that my mare despite "spirited" and "spooky" behavior would one day turn into a star, just like Gracie. I can only imagine what you are feeling but I know I will miss seeing your beautiful girl out competing.