Like a kid who’d been waiting for Santa for over two years to get his fat arse down the chimney, I stood at the top of my driveway awaiting the arrival of the Brookledge van with my precious cargo.
Lucas was almost here!
Having set off from Mount Vernon, Washington, two hours north of Seattle, then across the country inside one of Brookledge’s big rigs, he’d overnighted in Lexington, Kentucky. Luckily, I remembered to phone and suggest they strike off the next morning in a smaller gooseneck as the 18 wheeler would never make the turn onto our one-lane country road. As it was, we still had to unload on the street on that wet and raw morning in late January.
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I had “swiped right” upon spying this Negro offspring online at the website of Janicki Dressage and the first thing that struck me was the looseness of his gaits along with the kind expression he beamed out the top of his cell phone tower ears as he trotted around the covered arena. And then the canter, which looked as if he was taxiing for takeoff—I had to try that canter. I had to try that Valegro baby-daddy brain. I had to book a flight. And so I did.
Dressage professional Aaron Janicki found Lucas in The Netherlands as a just-backed coming 3-year-old prospect and imported him last April. Since then, he had produced Lucas capably and carefully, and I really loved the fact that while Lucas was nicely confirmed in walk, trot and canter, that was the sum total of his kindergarten education. While the horse has the flexibility, he hadn’t been pushed. No lateral stuff. None of that. In my opinion, he’d essentially been ridden very responsibly: simply straight and forward so that he was contentedly settled within the connection. That is a big, big deal to me in a young horse.
Between my student, Stefanie, and I, we have had nine—count ‘em—NINE failed pre-purchase exams. I feel the need to say something about that, especially as Lucas vetted crystal clean with 42 radiographs, including neck and back—all confirmed clean by Rood and Riddle. Prior to finding Lucas, you might recall Stefanie and I had traveled to England and after that, like a Steve Miller song: “… from Phoenix, Arizona, all the way to Tacoma, Philadelphia, Atlanta, L.A…”( I’d have added Wellington into that, but it doesn’t fit the rhythm).
As we rejected X-ray after X-ray, we were told courteously, if not slightly dismissively, by more than one dealer, “You must realize that with the technology we have today, there is really no such thing as clean X-rays. We are seeing things in young horses that wouldn’t have been seen in radiographs 10 years ago.”
You know what my take is on that—particularly after we were told by a top orthopedic surgeon that we were most definitely not being unrealistic in expecting clean X-rays on a 3-year-old? My take is this: You betcha, technological advancements definitely show every tiny thing today—but they also show the evidence that many young horses have been backed way too early and worked too hard. I’m not naive. Horses are seen as commodities and I really wish Lucas hadn’t been started months before his third birthday in May. And I also realize one clean vetting does not a sound horse make for the rest of his career—or even the next day, if one is terribly unlucky—but I simply cannot accept “mild osteoarthritis in both hocks,” “a small spur that might or might not cause problems” in a fetlock, or joint effusion in any young prospect. It also makes me feel very, very sorry for those horses.
OK, so hopping off my soap box now. I asked Aaron to not hesitate to coach me as I mounted up on Lucas and, boy, those Ferro bloodlines made themselves known as this sweet bay ignored the shivery temps, the snow blowing into the arena, not to mention the loose horse that had escaped from a groom on the other side. Reader, I married him. Oops, sorry, wrong book. Reader, I bought him.
Upon arriving in South Carolina, I knew Lucas had to be body sore from such an arduous journey. Regardless that the vast majority had been in a box stall in an air-ride rig, horses’ bodies really do absorb every vibration in the road. Imagine standing up in a subway car for days, trying to keep your balance. Exactly. You’d be beat to hell. So it made sense to me, considering the horse isn’t even 4, to give him a month down time, and bring my chiropractor, Dr. Joy Baker, and my equine massage extraordinaire, Martha Kemmer onto Team Lucas, to rid him of any discomfort with two adjustments and two massages over three weeks. And then I turned him out. With (gasp) my other two retired horses, Forrest and 18-year-old Valentino. I know…it’s a risk. But I feel it’s a bigger risk for a youngster not to be moving all day long. My fields are hilly and a good size. It’s great for young horses to find their balance on uneven terrain and Lucas was all about it. He goes out in all weather from 7 a.m. onward.
And then it was time for our first ride. As he’d had a month off and our weather has been alternating between flooding rains and endless wind, I longed him lightly and my friend, Laurie, came to both babysit me and hold my health insurance card. I mounted up and kept the ride very brief. Like, maybe 10 minutes with just a couple of minutes trot. No canter. It’s all we both needed on this first day of—I pray—a lifelong journey together.