Wilfred came into my life when he was 16 years old. Previously owned by a professional trainer and competed at Grand Prix, it was clear that Fred wasn't up to the "world-class" standards that were emerging in Southern California. His professional moved on to younger prospects, and Fred became mine.
We began showing at Fourth Level and soon I noticed that when I took my 16.1-hand chestnut Dutch Warmblood gelding to a horse show, not only would he usually whinny en route to the show ring, he'd always whinny during his walk movements. He was sometimes talkative at home before we'd begin our work, but at horse shows I knew I could count on Fred expressing himself during our tests.
We moved on to Prix St. Georges then Intermediaire I and II. We were doing very well. We easily qualified for all the year-end awards. I was thrilled, and I realized I had accomplished much more than I'd ever imagined. I was grateful for every single day to have him in my life.
Fred was now 20, and one day I entered his stall and he turned and walked to the back. I felt something was wrong. When I took him to the ring, there was no whinny. We had been working on the demanding Grand Prix movements, and I feared that this was the end of Fred's interest in dressage. I suggested to my trainer that we try varying his activities. So Fred and I had a jumping lesson. He clearly perked up and became very enthusiastic. I, on the other hand, wasn't able to sustain a correct seat after a jump followed by a gigantic buck and was left on the ground.
My riding dressage or otherwise was put on hold for four weeks. During that time I developed an entire new group of friends--the chiropractor, the acupuncturist and the massage therapist. While I was taking a break from Fred and my riding, I heard from my trainer that Fred had a problem with his eye. The vet had been out to the barn a number of times and they were treating it with ointment. They had also consulted with an eye specialist in San Diego and were monitoring his condition. By the time I returned to the barn for my first ride since jumping him (wearing a back brace), his eye was entirely closed. I immediately called Dr. McMillian in San Diego (the guru of equine ophthalmologists), and we agreed that Fred needed to make the trip to be examined. The result was that he required eye surgery.
After a few months we were both healed and things were getting back to normal, but Fred still hadn't whinnied. I felt that a whinny was coming and shared that with my trainer, who had been very patient and conciliatory with my fragile emotional state during Fred's eye problem and surgery. But I felt he might be losing patience with the whinny thing.
And then it happened: On a bright sunny day, Fred gave out a loud, huge whinny on the way to the dressage arena.
We've since moved on to showing at Grand Prix. We received a comment on our last test--"talkative." I don't care. He's 21 years old now. Our Grand Prix isn't the best but he whinnies at horse shows and at home. Fred had lost his voice because of an object burrowed deep into his eye that caused him pain. Thankfully, that was removed, and he's communicating loud and clear that there's more dressage ahead for both of us.
Jane Doctor Paul is a fashion stylist living in Los Angeles. She trains with German Schneider and has earned her U.S. Dressage Federation silver medal on Wilfred. Her goal is to become a member of The Dressage Foundation's Century Club, which is open to horses and riders with a combined age of at least 100.