Yesterday morning, I loaded up two horses. One to journey 400 miles away, as he adventured off into hunter land in Middleburg, Virgina. The other to travel only 30, to yet another clinic with the superb and amazing Doug Payne. I knew that this was the best strategy to get through the otherwise devastating day – by staying busy and distracted – two things that a ride on Nixon guaranteed.
I had run into Doug only a few days prior at Rolex and had hesitantly walked up to him, informing him that I had finally bit the bullet. I was keeping Nixon. He high-fived me and congratulated me, letting me know I had made a good choice.
When he had first seen Nixon last November, Nixon was just starting into his jump training, and yet Doug had liked him even then, saying he reminded him of Running Order. I went home that night and googled this horse, wondering exactly what he was talking about, and laughed at the comparison. Down to their markings and coloring, they resembled each other. But the video of his first novice where Doug commented that he wasn’t sure he would even get over the first fence on XC really sealed the deal. Their gallops were identical.
I went back the second day of the clinic and told him that Nixon was for sale, and he had quickly responded that you don’t sell horses like this. He adamantly told me to keep him, but I shrugged him off. And then I continued on with my journey with Nixon.
With repeated sales ad’s, trial rides, horse shows, and other clinics, it became more and more obvious the mistake that I was making. Each upper level rider who saw him in a lesson, or at a show, commented the same way – you don’t sell one like this. Thoroughbreds that have the scope for a 4* course while also possessing the sensibility and movement for dressage. That “it” factor. You work them through their issues and their stubborn behavior, you ignore some of their antics, and you rock and roll with them.
So last week, I finally listened. I sold my safe training level horse, and committed to keeping the one that had just tried to kill me on XC the previous weekend, landing both of us with a big fat E.
So immediately after hugging Mak and sending him off, I hopped in my truck and began this second endeavor. I cried the entire way to the clinic, so focused on losing Mak, that I wasn’t even thinking of the horse that I was about to mount. But as I pulled into Kathleen Sullivan and Andy Clark’s gorgeous Glenarvon Farm for another clinic, I quickly shook it off and tried to focus on the horse that I still had. The horse that I hoped to build a future with.
But I was nervous that Doug would change his mind, or that maybe I had messed up this horse in the past 5 months, leaving him with irreparable damage. Was he still as cool as the others said? Had we improved at all in the last 5 months? Would he be the Nixon I knew he could be? Or the Nixon that hadn’t even attempted to show up at our first event? Would Doug hate how I rode him? Did Doug think this horse was too nice for me? Again, my perfectionists brain attempted to overpower the skill that I knew I had, and I began to sweat.
But I trotted in to warm up, and was quickly reminded of the talent that I was sitting on. The softness that Nixon possesses on a good day, and today felt like one of those. And I began to relax. Like I had learned previously, these clinics are not meant to show off a perfect ride, instead they are meant to show your imperfections to improve upon them.
And Doug is by far the best clinician to teach you this. He is calm in his training, but analytical and technical in a way that my scientific brain truly appreciates. Slow and steady wins the race, with not a single horse being overfaced with a question that they weren’t ready to comprehend. And if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, than Doug Payne is the sanest eventer I’ve ever met.
He had us approach questions repeatedly, but with each attempt slightly different. Instead of just screaming “leg” or “kick,” he asked the riders to slightly adjust the haunches or shoulders, lengthening this hip or shortening this rein. Angle the first fence from a broader approach to make the bending line longer. And it worked.
Eventually all of the exercises were put together into a full course, one that asked the rider to truly ride more than just to prove that their horse had scope or skill. An adjustable canter and a technical ride was rewarded, and sloppiness penalized simply by poor distances and bogey take off. It was a simple course when considering pattern, but a tricky ride when distances and stride counts were considered. It caused the canter to both constrict and lengthen, and the horse to constantly be listening, something the Nixon and I struggle with, but that we both achieved today.
And while Nixon might not have been perfect, he was exactly what I needed. He showed up this weekend and was a willing participant. He was a great distraction from the rest of the world. He showed some of his flaws, which is exactly what I needed Doug to see, but after addressing the problems and learning from our mistakes, he rejoined the good kid club and jumped the sticks.
At the end, I asked Doug if he still thought I had made the right choice, and he quickly replied “Yes.” And that one word lifted about 150 pounds of weight off of my shoulders.
I am so blessed to be one of the “Kentucky Regulars” for such a brilliant horseman as Doug, and I will continue to take advantage of this opportunity whenever it is made available. He truly gets this tricky, talented, bull headed, penis of a horse, and I need to have people like that in my corner. Because this horse might not be the safer choice, or the easier choice, or god forbid even the better choice, but he is teaching me to be a better rider every day, and that is my end goal.
And as long as I constantly surround myself with good people, great trainers, and supportive people, I think the sky is the limit. Rock on Nixon, and thank you Doug Payne.