Denny’s Story – Part 2

Here’s the second part of Tamar Baker’s fabulous journey with her miracle baby Denny. The first part of her journey is also great reading! Once again, thank you Tamar for agreeing to share this story and I hope readers enjoy it! Fiona.

‘Denny’….well technically Denny the 2nd, was born on the 25th of September 2009.

My mare Matisse was staying with my friend Brooke when she foaled. I can still remember the night so clearly, I was sitting at a good friend’s place having a wine and giggles when my mobile rang. Brooke on the other end exclaimed “I SEE SPOTS!!!!” I was so taken aback. Of course by this stage I knew Matisse was in foal, but we genuinely did not know which stallion or colt was the potential sire. I was half expecting some very ugly donkey….but no, no donkey!

First sight!

When Brooke sent me a pic on my phone I thought I was dreaming. Call it luck, call it the Universe, call it God, honestly I don’t care how people interpret it, but I KNOW that Denny’s arrival, the whole saga of events had led to this. Denny was made just for me. Of all the possibilities, of all the random colts that could have jumped the fence and served Matisse, of all the outcomes I ended up with a bay blanketed Appaloosa foal. Somehow with his arrival, for me, felt like an apology, a way of setting right the wrongs and hurts from my childhood. But even I had now idea just how special this little guy would turn out to be.

Fortunately as Denny was a colt and obviously coloured, it meant despite not being able to prove his sire, I could register him with the Australian Appaloosa Association once he was gelded. This granted him full showing rights. I very easily chose his registered name ‘Danneker’ as my stud prefix – Danneker I See Spots, so named as his birth was announced to me.

Denny was weaned at around 4 and a half months as Matisse decided she had had enough, and I was extremely excited as I had planned on bringing her into work and seeing if she was sound to finish off breaking in. It turned out she was and I put her under saddle. Once again even though I didn’t do a terrible job, I did not really have a huge knowledge base. And truth be told, due to some pretty nasty spills off of previous unsuitable horses, I was terrified to canter.

We plodded along pretty okay for a while, but I eventually came to a point at which I knew I needed help. I had to find someone I could trust with my much loved mare. We all know in the horse world this is easier said than done!

Anyway very long roundabout tale cut very short I decided to send Matisse away to ‘bootcamp’ with a trainer named Kevin Salt. I knew Kevin previously through being my farrier, and he always impressed me with his manner and way of dealing with difficult horses. Kevin had fairly recently branched into training, but I knew I could confidently entrust him with Matisse. This marked the biggest ever turning point in my journey as a horse owner and as a horsewoman. This was in July 2011, not that long ago at all. But how far I have come since then is mind boggling.

I think this is the part where I say, if you have a dream and you want it so badly it hurts. If like me you sleep/dream/live/breath horses then find the way to make your dreams come true. If you are stuck, search. If you need information to move forward, go find it! If something isn’t working, change it! No doubt it is hard work, but when things start going in the right direction, you will find they start to have a flow.

Finding Kevin was the point that helped me take the leap I needed to….haha I think Kev may have pushed me kicking and screaming, but the journey of becoming a decent horseperson requires good mentors, people who can push when necessary.

Initally when I sent Matisse to Kev I had a green broke 7 year old mare who had it over me bigtime. My instructions to him were “please get her to canter under saddle”, which ofcourse he did on the first day. But once Matisse was sorted I had to face myself. I was a passenger, I had always been one. Kevin taught me how to be in control both on the ground and in the saddle. And yes I have a video of the first time Kevin made me canter on Matisse. I was nearly in tears from the fear, but I pushed through.

Matisse spent four weeks with Kevin, I averaged two lessons a week on her whilst she was there and that made all the difference. I learnt it was time to step up. Kevin asked me when I first took Matisse over “What are your goals?” To which I replied, “I want to show, I want to be good enough to compete at State level and seriously have a look in at being in the placings!” Kevin did not laugh at me, he did not scoff or belittle me. He simply stored that information away, with knowing that, he knew what would be required of me for this to happen. And he helped me find that within myself, now that is great trainer.

My journey continued once I bought Matisse home. Whilst she had been at Kevin’s I had learnt to drop the excuses, we rode in the wind, the rain…I really had begun to become a real rider. I worked hard, I always aimed for a 5-6 day week of riding. On a really good run we would do a 13 day fortnight. When I couldn’t ride, I did groundwork.

I had always been a driven person, but previously my energies with anything horse related had been wasted, I poured hours in, but felt like I never got anywhere….but now I had answers to problems. I had a plan to follow! Not to say things were always easy. Matisse was although reasonably quiet, quite an opionated mare. There were often phone calls to Kev with me nearly in tears from sheer frustration….but the more I persisted, the more I learnt and the better I became.

I worked though many fears, I remember doing my first one rein stop from a canter, I was convinved I would come flying off! But I didn’t, Kevin seemed to know when and how to push me from strength to strength, my balance improved and the things that once seemed so daunting became ‘nothings’. It was quite cool. I thrived on his teaching and wanted to find out more. Kevin followed a method set out by a trainer named Clinton Anderson. Clinton, now based in Texas originally came from Australia. As I sought out more information I discovered Clinton had a wealth of training information available, this stuff really worked. I was hooked!

The absolute high point came on Novemeber 20th 2012 when I finally took Matisse to her first ridden show under saddle. We only did walk/jog classes, but I was so proud of my mare (and a little of myself) and we had a great day.

Unfortunately with Matisse we seemed to get to a certain point and could not continue beyond it. She was always difficult to keep happy under saddle, saddle fit was a constant bane, she regularly required chiropractic treatments and massages. She seemed to have a stiffness and inability to be truly soft and supple. It made advancing in training quite difficult. By Febuary 2013 I decided to retire her to broodmare duties permanantly, but it wasn’t ‘giving up’. She had made me ready for the next stage in my horsemanship journey. It was time to move on.

I had Denny booked in to be started under saddle with Kevin once Denny was 2 1/2 years old. I was hoping that in another two years after that, that I would be ready to start my own youngster and that riding Denny green broke would be a great stepping-stone to that…..haha well fate stepped in once again. Obviously that plan of mine was moving a bit too slowly! Kevin ended up having to have surgery and rang me to say he wouldn’t be able to start Denny. Either I would have to wait 6-12 months, or find someone else. Within 30 minutes of that phonecall I had made a decision – there was no-one else I could trust with my baby. I would break Denny in myself!

Was I apprehensive? YES!

Was a bit frightened? Lol, YES!

But I knew if I trusted the tried and tested method Clinton Anderson had set out I COULD do this…I just had to keep telling myself that! I did all the groundwork preparation. At every testing point Denny told me in no uncertain terms “yes m’am, I am comfortable with that, move on” I learnt in that process to trust the method, trust myself and to trust what my horse was telling me.

One week in and I knew it was time to ride….yikes! No plodding about at a walk for the first few rides in this method, it calls for canter from the first ride onwards…could I do it? I just had to keep telling myself I could. I roped a friend in to help me and floated out to the local ponyclub grounds. The method call for the first few rides to be done in a roundyard, but I only had access to a small enclosed arena, so it had to do. I prepped Denny and climbed on. I had been on him a few times previously in the backing process, but now it was time to move!

The ride was textbook. He walked, trotted and even cantered a bit both ways! I was on top of the world! Not only had I been blessed with this super young horse, my dream Appaloosa. Reared him, trained him, now I was starting him under saddle myself….and just seven months prior I had been to afraid to even canter. Look where guts, determination and a plan can get you 🙂

I continued to follow Clinton’s method (Fundamentals) in breaking Denny in. Fortunately training Matisse had set me up with an independent seat and I could easily cope with the early stages of training on a loose rein. I had a few difficult moments no doubt, but could think and act quickly before anything became a major issue.

Denny’s 12th ride under saddle was out under public scrutiny at my local western club day. He was a superstar and drew many compliments. We didn’t even have a lesson until he had been under saddle for two weeks, and Kevin was suitably impressed also.

I continued with the breaking in process for around 60 rides. We finished up with a two-day Ian Francis clinic (one of Clinton Anderson’s mentors and trainer and a phenomonal horseman). It was an amazing weekend, we both learnt heaps and the best, absolute BEST part (and something I will treasure forever) was Ian telling me, not just once, but several times what a good job I had done breaking Denny in….it was kinda like a “that’ll do pig” moment from Babe the movie. Having Ian Francis say that to me was incredible, a huge HUGE compliment and pat on the back. What a way to finish off starting Den. He now had a very well earned eight-week spell.

I brought Denny back into work on the 17th of August (2012) and our journey from there has just gone from strength to strength. I have touched base with my trainer a few times, but in total over this process I have only actually had three lessons. The rest of the training has all been following Clinton’s method – initially the breaking in, then Fundamentals, and now (Early October 2012) we are nearly finished with the Intermediate ridden section….just three more exercises to train and refine and it is time to move onto the Advanced series.

Even typing that makes me think “seriously how cool!” 🙂

I feel it necessary to say at this time that I have never owned or ridden an educated horse – I never even knew what a lope felt like until I rode Denny! I have had people say to me “a green rider cannot train a green horse” Ha! Well piffle to them. I educated myself, sought out the information and worked bloody hard, and I still do everyday. Training horses is much like anything else in life, you only get out what you put in. But wow, how incredibly rewarding.

I have for the first time ever, a horse whom I can shape and control as I please. All his seperate body parts, hips, ribcage, shoulders, neck, head – I can control them, put them where I want when I want. It really is the most amazing thing – especially when it is all a new concept and experience. I took Denny out for his first show under saddle at our local western club on September 22nd. Denny was an absolute superstar. We won a couple of classes and placed in the others. He was not anywhere near as consistant as I would like, but for where we were at he was great. He did everything I asked, including picking up correct canter leads (which had been some issue for us!)

Loads of compliments and even a trainer asking who I had Denny in training with. It was an absolute confirmation that I was most definitely on the right track, and gave me huge incentive to go home and train hard to improve.

This marked the beginning of our 2012/13 show season. So much  to look forward to! The VRHA (Victorian Reining Horse Ass.) ran an Introduction to Reining day on the 7th of October. I entered purely with the view of it being a training day/outing for Den. I had no prior experience with reining so it was entirely foreign to me! I memorised our pattern for our ‘Green as Grass’ class, some manouveurs we couldn’t actually do, but we gave it a good go anyway. I pretty much expected to be disqualified for one reason or another, so imagine my shock when we went in for the line-up and we placed third! We had accumulated 6 demerit points for dropping out of canter twice and picking up an incorrect lead – had we not mucked those things up we would have made second place. Talk about incentive to improve, again I felt really inspired to go home and train. Although I am not sure Denny will ever be a superstar reiner, I do feel he can genuinely be a very versatile horse and I plan on keeping variety in his training regime to stop him from becoming stale.

We are heading off to our next show this weekend on the 14th of October. I really am looking forward to this as Denny has really started to become very consistant in his work and I am itching to see how he goes in the showpen this time around. We have even been traing for Hunter under Saddle classes as well as our Western Pleasure.

So for now this is Denny’s story, I know great things lie in store for my very, very special and cherished little horse, for in reality we have only just begun – this is just the tip of the iceberg! For me he is so much more than ‘just a horse’, he has been a catalyst for change in my life. He has pushed me to believe in myself, and to believe in the power of dreams. He has enabled me to start living mine.

I plan to continue on with Denny’s training (he will never be for sale) and I have plans to start more horses under saddle. I hope to produce a three year old under saddle each season – my future stud colt being next in line for 2013. Denny has empowered me to begin to become a decent horsewoman, I hope to one day maybe become a pretty good one, and maybe one day if I work hard enough, even a great one.

If you have managed to stick with the story thus far I really hope you have enjoyed it. I hope maybe I have managed to inspire you with your horsemanship journey, and I hope maybe I may have been able to convince even the most cynical of you that dreams most certainly can come true.

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