So I'm going to split Dually's story into two, the reason for which will become pretty obvious tomorrow. So, here are the first four years of our partnership:
Show Name: Dually
Breed: Perch/TB (PMU Foal)
Markings: Diffused star, LH coronet with ermine spots
Years we Were Together: 2003-2009 (today we'll cover 2003-2007)
(D at our first Prelim... what an absurdly handsome boy)
So, something I haven't really mentioned in this narrative so far is the fact that I was but one member of the family who rode: in fact, everyone in the fam has ridden at one time or another, and growing up my brother was actually a much more naturally gifted and competitive rider than I was. In 2000, he was looking for a new horse, and my parents found for him (through Corinne Ashton) a lunky, green 5-year old PMU rescue horse named Dually. He had a big head, big slab feet, and-- though he was always a remarkably genuine soul right from the start (I'm not sure, for example, that Dually has EVER successfully ditched ANYONE on purpose in the 10 years we've had him)-- basically knew how to walk, trot, canter, and that was about it.
(the Dude chillin in the South Carolina sunshine in 2007)
At first, I really wanted nothing to do with Dually. Sure, he was pretty cute, but he was green, he was big and awkward looking as a young horse, he was hard to steer, and he seemed ridiculously uncoordinated. Plus, he just seemed like a dude's horse: I was used to the ponies and to Boris' gently dished face. I didn't know what to make of Dually's big jug head at all.
(But I came around!!)
It turned out that my brother didn't want much to do with him either: he was just too green and difficult to ride (not because he was dangerous but because he was the most awkward, uncoordinated wiggle-worm on the planet). Fortunately, my brother's trainer at the time agreed to take him on, and Dually spent the next few years in training with her. In late 2003, Dually finally came back to the farm, looking for a new rider.
(Dually and I at our first FEI jog together in the dark at Poplar)
As I talked about last time, I also left for boarding school at that same time and had to find a new lessor for Boris. We thought that that would mean the end of my riding career for a while; it turned out, however, that boarding school was NOT for me. Like, emphatically emphatically not for me. It was not only torture to be away from the horses, but boarding school girls and their attendant drama weren't great shakes, either.
Fortunately, in the spring of my freshman year I was able get a little riding in at home (we lived quite close) as the light got longer in the evenings. Because Boris was happily with his new rider, I was at first horseless. Of course, Dually was at the time riderless, and so one thing led to another. At the end of my Freshman year I was able to move home permanently, which opened up opportunities not only for escaping the prison of boarding but also for more riding again.
(Ahh horses... the perfect alternative to high school drama!!)
And what a blast he was!! in the passing few years since I'd first written him off, Dually had gone from a awkward kid into a very cool grown up horse. He was athletic while still feeling safe, knew enough to help me out but was still tricky enough to make me work for the right answers, and had the sweetest, biggest heart of any horse I've ever met before or since.
(Like, this horse is a god. Srsly.)
Our relationship was pretty slow to build (he was a still a much bigger, more athletic horse than anything I'd ever ridden before, and that took some serious getting used to), but by the end of 2005 I'd done a fair bit of show jumping with him (with often hilarious results, as Dually was never the most careful creature, even when ridden to his best... which in those early days, he often wasn't!!) and gotten my B rating in Pony Club.
(Wahoo!!! This jump literally came up to my chin in brush)
Then, in July 2005, we went to my first event. I'd done some little mini-things with Boris, but I pretty much count Fitch's Corner with Dually that summer as my first real taste of eventing. Certainly, it was the first time I'd tried it and felt the absolute, unstoppable NEED to go back and do it again. Dually, whatever his other quirks were, was and would always be a cross-country MACHINE at whatever level I faced him at: in our 32 events together after that, there would only be a total of one round where he felt even the remotest bit sketchy, and it turned out he was having a pulmonary bleed at the time. He was a horse that didn't really even have the scope for Intermediate, and yet I'm pretty sure he would have scrapped his way around an Advanced cross country course for me if I'd asked him on sheer grit and will-to-please; he was that genuine and brave.
(Better start calling this horse Neil Young 'cause he's got a Heart of Gold)
At Fitch's we blasted around Novice with minimal steering and brakes, and I had never had more fun in my entire life. We moved up to Training later that year, and were going Preliminary less than a year later (this time actually equipped with turning and stopping abilities, thanks to some improved riding on my part!). I left a lot on the table in the dressage department (and Dually certainly wasn't giving it away for free) and we would often have a few rails in the show jumping, but MAN did we have fun cross country. After my second Prelim at Millbrook, one of the Area I Young Rider selectors came up to us and suggested that we should look into going to Young Riders the next summer. I'd heard of the championship before, but had never dreamed in a million years that I could ever be a part of it. With those words of encouragement, I was off on a mission.
(Dually was ALWAYS on a mission on cross country!)
I took a few extra weeks off of school around spring break in my senior year (fortuitously missing an out of control party that ended up getting a large number of my friends expelled or suspended and their college acceptances revoked-- yikes!) to go down to Aiken to pursue my qualifications for Young Riders. It was my first time really riding full time (outside of the summer), and, despite the incredibly hard work it required, I loved it. We ticked away all the qualifications except the biggie: a CCI*.
(Probably the best jumping effort Dually ever gave in our entire career together, caught on film... too bad I'm trying to impersonate a praying mantis on his back!)
Then, on my 18th birthday, I trotted down the centerline of my first one star, and by the end of the weekend I was qualified for Young Riders. Had that actually happened?? It seemed like such an incredible dream. I couldn't believe how much Dually had given me in such a short amount of time, because I knew acutely that it was his generosity, heart, and athleticism that had allowed me to progress so quickly, and hardly my virtuosity as a rider. I couldn't wait to get to Young Riders to show him off on an international Championship stage.
(About to go in the startbox of my first CCI* - a very exciting and nerve wracking moment!)
And yet, it wasn't to be. Instead, Dually ended up contracting a pulmonary bleed on cross country that required me to pull him up half way around. I've never been so scared or crushed: not only did we not complete the competition, but I was so worried that I had hurt my wonderful horse in the pursuit of this dream. Even when he ended up being totally ok, I was still devastated. I felt like I'd let him down.
(The feeling after our first one star was incomparable, like we could move mountains together; after Young Riders, it was a shockingly different story)
But, as I was about to find out, Dually had even more heart than I thought he did. After Young Riders I was feeling so low, and then would have a serious accident less than a month later that continues to affect my life to this day (that part of the story will come tomorrow). It would only be through the Dude's remarkable kindness and love that I would make it through some very dark times ahead.
(Words can't articulate how much I owe this horse, and how thankful I am that he came into my life)