Touch n GO Farm

Whitesburg Georgia

Fahrenheit PDF Print E-mail

a.k.a. Wendel

fahrenheit_1.jpgThere is very little certainty in the horse business. Purchasing a genetically gifted yearling with an impeccable pedigree does not guarantee success. Nor does buying an average horse necessarily doom you to mediocrity. Any rider involved with equestrian sports has examples of both situations. In America it is fashionable to buy European horses with spectacular athletic ability only to discover previous improper training or a case of “mental founder.” Occasionally, you will see a horse of limited ability and questionable heritage that, with understanding guidance, will achieve far more than expected. Fahrenheit, is an excellent example of the latter.

Marilyn Murphy had invited me to conduct clinics at her Green Point Farm for several years. She enjoys breeding and finding young sporthorses with potential. It was Marilyn who sold the Taibi family the talented Hanoverian mare Anmut. In the fall of 1993 she sent me a three-year-old, Canadian-bred, Hanoverian gelding named Fahrenheit on consignment. He was sweet-natured horse with three clear gaits but nothing special. I don’t recall why but Fahrenheit became Wendel around the barn. Barely broken, I began evaluating his strengths and weaknesses.

The lunge line revealed an absolute disdain for going forward. Any increase in leg pressure resulted in an attempt to bite my foot followed by a kick and a buck! He was certainly not a dressage prospect for the amateur rider. The work at free jumping proved much more promising. We would run him down a chute and he would clear a five-foot fence with room to spare. Wendel loved our clapping and cheers so he would walk back to the crowd, take a treat and run back to the jumping chute for another go. After seeing his willingness over fences I called Marilyn and purchased him for myself as a jumper.

1994 and 1995 were a blur of changes. I met and married my husband Scott, moved to Georgia and started a family. Honestly, it was the spring of 1996 before I could begin training Wendel in earnest. The time off did nothing to improve his desire to move forward. His schooling progressed slowly and with too many bucking fits to count. Since the stallion Vergil had been sold and Hot Legs was unsound, I decided to try to train Wendel to Second level dressage for resale. I also needed a horse to show locally and establish a reputation in the South.

Wendel and I gained a reputation all right. It only took a few outings at First level for him to realize that he could get away with his antics in the show ring. Everywhere we went riders would part like the Red Sea as we entered the warm up ring. Wendel became known as a spook and I was getting phone calls that began “I hear you work well with rank horses.” Just what a new mother wants to hear. Nevertheless, I summoned all the patience I possessed and continued to school Wendel using every training technique I ever learned. I also decided that I wasn’t heading back in the show ring until he had a double bridle in his mouth!

fahrenheit_3.jpgThe trials and tribulations of the next two years training would fill a book. Suffice to say that there were endless days of exercises and gymnastics interspersed with moments of tears and moments of joy. In the spring of 1998 I rallied my courage and started showing Wendel at Fourth level. As his nervousness at competitions diminished, we began to take home some blue ribbons. Wendel and I qualified for the USDF Region III finals at Fourth level and Prix St. Georges in 1999. To my surprise we won the Fourth level Championship. The year ended with a USDF Performance Certificate at Prix St. Georges and a win in his first Intermediare I class.

Despite the hype prior to New Years Eve, Y2K brought only success and reward to Wendel and me. The spring shows resulted in numerous wins at Prix St. Georges and Intermediare I and two perpetual trophies including the inaugural Sharyn Shover Memorial Award. As our summer training progressed I felt the need to test Wendel against the demanding competition of a CDI. 2000 was the silver anniversary of Dressage at Devon. What better place to visit old friends as well as the Dixon arena after a six year absence. The stress of a nine-hundred-mile trip took its toll but Wendel tried his best. We left DAD with two top-ten finishes including a tenth place in the CDI Prix St. Georges with thirty-four in the class.

Wendel grew more honest as the season progressed and his scores steadily improved. In October we loaded Wendel and Katinka in the trailers and headed to the USDF Regional Dressage Championships in Newberry, Florida. When the exhausting weekend was over Wendel came home with the Championship at both Prix St. Georges and Intermediare I. Katinka won her Second level championship too. The 2000 USDF Horse of the Year awards placed Wendel 20th in the country at Intermediare I. Truly a competition year I won’t soon forget.

2001 proved to be successful year in training and competition. Wendel’s scores at Intermediare II climbed to 68% and the marks at Grand Prix steadily improved as he gained strength at piaffe and passage. The competition season concluded with a USDF Region 3 Championship at Intermediare II. National Year-end awards included American Hanoverian Society Breed Champion at Intermediare II and Reserve Champion at Grand Prix behind Brentina. The USDF Horse of the Year All Breeds Awards placed Wendel Third in the country at Intermediare II

prose_105_7.jpgA musical performance at the Alabama Horse Fair “Saturday Night Spectacular” kicked off 2002 in a big way. Wendel could get nervous at chaotic events in unfamiliar surroundings but our performance to the music from “Shrek” brought the house down. I’ve never been so proud of my boy.

I introduced the Grand Prix special during the competition season and Wendel earned his USDF Grand Prix Performance Certificate for 10 scores above 60% in May. His comfort at Grand Prix grew and we stayed in the 62-65% range for most of the season. I was able to realize a personal goal for Wendel at the USDF Region 3 Championships in Camden, SC. We were able to put in a solid test in the Grand Prix final and wound up winning the Championship. That meant that between 1999 and 2002 Wendel was Champion at Fourth Level – Open through Grand Prix. He also performed well at Dressage at Devon and placed Third at Grand Prix in the American Hanoverian Society Breed Awards.

At the end of the 2002 show season I felt a little adrift regarding training goals for Wendel. He had won all he could at the USDF Regional level and our CDI experiences affirmed that he wasn’t going to beat the international horses even on his best day. Every professional trainer knows you really get to “cash in” if you sell a horse at their prime. Several riders expressed interest in Wendel but I just couldn’t bring myself to part with him. My husband was supportive of keeping him and asked, “How many riders have a sound Grand Prix horse to train with no competitive pressures?” So I decided to relax (not easy for me) and follow Karl Mikolka’s advise for horses and riders. I was going to “change my way of thinking” about training upper level horses. I was going to change Wendel’s “way of thinking” about dressage too.

fahrenheit_4.jpgThe USDF “L” program took a lot of my time in 2003 but it proved enlightening. Many of the training sessions conflicted with competitions so I decided that showing wasn’t a focus for the year. The results of that decision had a huge impact on my relation ship with Wendel. We started having more fun than ever before! Without a concern for how something might affect him in the show ring, I went back to square one and started trying to improve upon the basics and address every weakness Wendel had. This was done in a slow, patient and playfully experimental way. There was very little tension in our schooling sessions and we both enjoyed the work more.

Looking back I think that was one of the most enjoyable times I ever spent training a horse. We made one stop on the show circuit at the Raleigh CDI. 8th place in the Grand Prix CDI and 3rd in the Special were respectable results but the work at home was far more rewarding. His piaffe became more elevated and correct. His passage had more cadence and even his pirouettes began to improve. It was a great opportunity to methodically try different training techniques and evaluate the results. I learned, Wendel learned and we both walked back to the barn smiling.

This wonderful time of learning and training came to a crashing halt in June of 2004. Literally overnight Wendel began to loose his balance and appeared to be suffering neurological changes. The sudden onset of this condition was almost unbelievable. Wendel had been seen by a veterinarian once for an injury in the eleven years I had owned him. He was the soundest, most physically reliable horse I ever owned. Yet here I was trying to load him in a trailer and fearing for everyone’s safety since he could barely walk! I drove two hours to a veterinary hospital and told them to do whatever was necessary to treat his condition. Wendel looked terrified in the stall and I could see in his eye that he didn’t understand what was happening to his body and mind. He was put on the latest treatments for EPM, given the best possible care and kept under supervision 24 hours a day.

fahrenheit_5.jpgI returned to the hospital a few days later and was utterly heartbroken when I walked towards Wendel’s stall. He was clearly exhausted and confused. The veterinarian said they were treating the condition as aggressively as possible but that prognosis wasn’t good. A constant stream of thoughts and memories raced through my mind as I tried to process the idea that I might loose Wendel. Through a wash of tears I wrapped my arms around his big, strong neck and told him how sorry I was for not giving him the credit he deserved. Over the years I had described Wendel as an “average” horse. Now, with a lifetime of his experiences coming to a tragic end I told him the same thing I tell everyone now; Wendel was NOT and “Average” horse, he was an “Extraordinary” horse. During the drive home I realized that I might not ever see Wendel again.

Over the next few days the news from the hospital became progressively less hopeful. Wendel kept going down in the stall and then fighting to get back up. Sedation was required to keep him from hurting himself. On Saturday I was scheduled to judge a show and the organizers couldn’t find a replacement. Returning home, I took one look at my husband Scott’s face and said, “He is gone.” Scott nodded and knew he was gone. When Wendel left, a piece of me left too.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Wendel. Looking for something to ease my pain, Scott had Wendel cremated and brought back home to the farm where he belongs. That gesture did my heart good. I try to be positive and remember how wonderful it was to be able to have a horse that long and build a partnership that took us to Grand Prix. I do not think many trainers have that opportunity. Still, I miss him so much it hurts.

My mentor, Karl Mikolka, is fond of one of the old riding masters’ sayings, “The book for this horse hasn’t been written yet, the only person who can write it is you.” Wendel’s book is finished now and the story is a positive one filled with much success and happiness. One possible title for his book would be “Green to Grand Prix” since that was his training progress while we were together but I prefer something more accurate and descriptive of Wendel’s journey…….”Average to Extraordinary!”
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