Last week I shared Part 1 of my ‘interview’ with Bailey, where she shared about how she found her way into the horse world and the lessons that she has learnt along the way. This week it’s all about her stunning mare Fair Joy!
There is often more to the story of how a horse enters our life, and I was keen to know how Fair Joy and Bailey came together.
Joy came into my life as an accidental spark of electricity. I was working for a private breeding stable and had become fascinated with broodmares and foals. I had seen things that broke my gentle heart, as it would anyone, but was truly in awe of the miracle of foals. In 2009, we had one foal due late May. On a muggy, humid, 6am morning in late April, the breeder called and said there was a surprise overnight. Joy’s dam had foaled around 3am and the foal was discovered at feeding time. When I got there, I was shocked to see a tiny, wobbly wisp of a chestnut. Joy’s dam was a deep mahogany bey and her sire was a bey based grey, so chestnut was not even a color that had crossed my mind as an option. She had lax tendons, massive ears, and curly little whiskers set in her refined, expressive face. I couldn’t wait to make sure she was okay and I bolted into the foaling pen. Joy looked at me as a I sat a respectful distance from her, milk all over her muzzle. While I had talked to her plenty while she was in the womb, all I could think to say was “hey sweet thing!” Her ears twitched, she stomped on her teeny hooves at some flies, and she looked at me. There was an immediate connection. Whether she recognized my voice or not from the months I spent chatting with her before she was born, it didn’t matter. She stumbled over and laid down in my lap. I was helplessly drowning in my feelings for her. She let me clean her umbilical stump, rub her ears, and scratch her neck with no question of trust. Despite her premature birth, she was deemed healthy by the vet and her personality was already larger than life. She was independent, curious, brave beyond her three hours on earth, and irritated by her swamp legs that didn’t listen to her 100% of the time. She was special, undoubtedly, and I immediately told the breeder I wanted to negotiate her purchase.
As horse people, we know that horses often have personalities bigger than some people, particularly when it comes to mares. When I asked Bailey to describe her mare, it became evident that Joy too, is a character larger than life.
Where do I even begin? Joy is effervescent. I love her personality. I’ve never quite met a horse who is quite as alive and person-like as she is. It makes up for her small stature! She’s strong willed and proud, with what I joke is a deep belief of right and wrong – she’s always right, you’re always wrong! She wants to see everything, learn everything, and do everything, whether you want to or not. I jokingly call her my idiot savant child. She’s never satisfied in her education. Her natural curiosity gets her into trouble but also is a huge contributing factor to her well rounded nature. And she’s brave. That might sound like a silly trait to admire in a dressage horse, but Joy is more than just a dressage horse. She’s my partner! We take adventures and play together, enjoying every moment. Her life is so much more than just a 20×60 meter sand box. She’s protective, opinionated, and exceedingly loyal, bold in her presence and brash in her execution. The epitome of a red pocket rocket, she has no problems letting you know she doesn’t enjoy something or if you asked incorrectly. She does require a lot of her rider and only a handful have passed her tests. You must be accurate, giving, soft, and fair. She, like most Trakehners, does not suffer fools lightly, but treat her the right way and she’s on your side for life. Lastly, she’s my best friend and everything that entails. Her intuitive nature is empathetic and fun loving, but simultaneously the damn hardest worker I’ve ever met. Over our eight years together, every day is a story, but it’s impossible to pick a favorite. I’m just happy she chose me!
One of the many things that I admire about Bailey is her ability to maintain her cool when Joy gets hot. I was keen to know how she managed this.
Joy made it VERY clear from day one that she has an opinion and it must be heard. I had the unique experience of learning her inside out from the ground for three years before putting her under saddle, so I had a couple tricks in my tool belt.
1) AMF: Always moving forward. Blow the movement, blow the show, get upset internally, but don’t stop the energy moving. Eventually the bucks and rears will stop and you can get back on track and try again. This goes for under saddle and on the ground. Horses need to be thinking forward, and Joy is no exception. That’s when things get ugly. Don’t stop and discipline. That will only make things worse! If things don’t start to get better, ask questions. What if the saddle isn’t the right fit? Does she not like this girth? Is something causing her pain? Maybe she’s cycling and her hormones are terrible? How can you serve them to make them more comfortable? Deal with these issues outside the arena and don’t ever express your frustration in the arena.
2) Make it a positive learning experience, every single time. Young horses need guidance and confidence and it’s your responsibility to create those situations. You want your horse to know you’ll never knowingly lead them into a dangerous situation. Sometimes teaching moments arise at the most inopportune time but you can either get upset and make the situation worse OR you remember that training is something that happens 24/7, no matter where you are, and make it a positive, anxiety-free experience. There will always be another show or clinic, but there might not be another moment like that to reinforce trust and confidence.
3) Know your horse’s emotional and mental limits and work with them. Don’t be afraid to be “that rider” in the warm up arena that asks for more space or yells out what you’re doing to those around so everyone stays safe. You have to act responsibly for yourself and for those around you. Sometimes that means making sacrifices, like saying “no” to a clinician if you know this isn’t the time to work on something, or warming up in the rain instead of the covered warm up because there are too many people in it and your horse is a kicker (looking at you, Joy). Try to learn from your prior experiences with the horse and remember what caused issues and be proactive. You know them best. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. Remember, we ride and show to have fun. If you’re not having fun, time to step back and look at what’s wrong!
If you have spent any time around a horse you’l know that they are some of the best teachers. I was curious to know what Bailey had learnt from Joy.
Joy has taught me EVERYTHING. She requires kind persistence and patience. I’ve grown into a much more sensitive, soft, thoughtful rider thanks to her. Now, I can really analyze a situation from the horse’s perspective, not just as a rider. I like to think she has also improved my riding itself due to her slightly peculiar biomechanical requirements. She’s also taught me humbleness. I use to be quick to anger and discipline but working with her really pushed me to be a better influence on her and to own up to my temper by trying not to make the same mistakes again. Working with a young horse completely changed my perspective on handling horses and showing by, like I mentioned previously, suddenly becoming responsible for making every challenging situation a positive, learning opportunity. That helped me live and breathe for just a micron of improvement every day, eager and easy to praise for the smallest things. Joy helped remind me that a true dressage horse isn’t made in the arena and to create a partnership where, if you practice true dressage, it can take place everywhere like the horse deserves! Most of all, Joy has taught me to laugh. Sometimes she acts out in such remarkably strange and hysterical ways that all I can do is laugh and give her a pat to reassure her. If I wasn’t able to laugh at all the silliness that comes my way thanks to “Joy The Unjoyful”, I would lead a very boring and tense life! Sometimes when she was younger, we looked like such fools that laughing was the only thing to do. She is such a fun horse to work with that it’s hard to take any of her antics too personally. It’s made me appreciate the good rides and her good moods so, so much more.
Bailey and Joy have risen up through the ranks of dressage fairly quickly, and they have now had their first FEI start. I wanted to hear all about it.
Well, I won’t sugar coat it. It could’ve gone better! This had nothing to do with Joy and everything to do with me, there were still some disappointing moments. However, I have never been more proud of Joy in the entirety of our partnership. She’s not a huge, fancy, professionally trained, seasoned FEI competitor who carts her poor little adult amateur rider around. This was her first time and my first time too! At only eight years old, she’s had an appropriate debut at Pre St-George. The first day, my nerves got the best of me. It’s like I suddenly forgot how to ride or warm up a horse! We had lots of nervous hiccups in the test, receiving a 58.9%. I’ll admit I let myself have a moment and cried a bit. It felt like I let her down and the guilt was weighing heavy on my shoulders, but tears don’t solve anything. Instead, we had a great school that evening where I tried to remember how to ride. The next morning went much smoother and had better preparation. Even while seemingly unable to do the 4x and 3x tempi changes, we scored well on everything else to get a 62.7%! Now that the first one is out of the way, I’m excited to continue working towards better scores and more accurate tests. This little mare has a solid foundation for an FEI career, and we’re just brushing the surface with her talent. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get our United States Dressage Federation Silver Medal next show, but what a relief to go out the first time and just make it down centreline!
In my mind doning tails is a sign of having reached someplace magical. Not so many years ago, wearing a top hat was an equally symbolic gesture, however times are changing quickly and I was curious to know Bailey’s feelings on this matter.
Putting on tails felt like playing dress up. I felt like I was just playing around. It couldn’t be real life! And doing it with my little homegrown mare? That’s what dreams are made of. What made it more out of body was that not a week prior, I had also bought my wedding dress. Having those two garments in my possession at the same time, much less the same week, was well and truly surreal. Suddenly, there were two very concrete outfits that proved how far my life as come since Joy was born into it in 2009.
As for the helmet, it wasn’t a statement on safety. While I wear a helmet every day, I would have worn a top hat for our FEI debut. However, there are legal implications in the US about who can and cannot wear top hats and when you can and cannot wear them. In order to wear a top hat, you must be competing in an FEI affiliated CDI competition, be over the age of 21, and I believe there is another stipulation I’m not 100% aware of. I was just competing at a normal recognized competition where helmets through Grand Prix are mandatory. I still support top hats in international level competition, even if I’ll never get to wear one!
My final question to Bailey was to ask what her biggest achievement with her mare was.
I think the penultimate achievement has been developing Joy herself. It’s been remarkable, watching her mature from a skeletal, immature filly no one was sure would amount to anything to this imposing, elegant, and totally badass mare. Each advancement in her training felt like my biggest achievement and couldn’t be topped, but then we would take another step in the right direction and I was back on top of the world! Suddenly, she’s a self-made FEI horse. One of my favorite things I’ve heard from a dear friend is “dressage is for every horse”, and it’s always rung true with Joy. She’s proof that consistent, correct schooling builds horses up to be competitive without massive, flashy gaits or expensive training. If you’re truly developing a dressage horse for their own good, you can’t lose! Our first show at Pre St-George was full validation and admittedly, a bit of vindication. I can’t tell you how exhausting it can be producing a young horse with no real professional help. Some days, it felt like I had no idea what I was doing and that I was in way over my head. Then Joy and I would go on a trail ride and breathe, focus on what I knew her physical weaknesses were before going home to research those specific issues as much as possible. The next day was always bright and full of possibilities. I honestly didn’t know if we would make it this far. Not because of her! She’s always had the capability, but I never knew if I had the funds or means to make it happen. But we did it in a rags-to-riches type of way, and with her first foal on board! We’ve only dipped our toes into what our FEI career consists of and the future is full of new things to experience together. If her foal has even half the heart she does, I’ll be a very lucky girl to have two superstars.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Bailey’s Instagram account (@joyful_dressage) where Fair Joy is the star. I just know that you will love this pair and be inspired by them as much as I have.