Friday, 13 January 2017

The battle of Rullion Green - Goodbye to an old friend

I started writing this last year, however, it's taken me nearly a year to finish and publish. 
Unfortunately sleep deprivation associated with two small children and care of 7 horses killed my writing mojo. Alas, I'm back...

It's taken me quite a while to start writing this, as to be honest I really don't know where to start. Sadly, three months ago, I had to make the choice that most animal owners dread. My retired mare, 'Custard' sustained a severe eye injury. At rising 25 and being a difficult horse to handle/treat, I made the decision to put her to sleep. Given we are expecting our second child in early September, I could not risk getting hurt. It was not a decision I made lightly, but as I knew she would find the treatment involved traumatic (and the prognosis was very poor) it was the right call for our particular set of circumstances.

Custard came into my life in 1997, when I was in the middle of completing Year 12 - hardly the ideal time for a new horse! I had been between horses for a while, having had to retire my older TB gelding from eventing and had been schooling a younger pony for my sisters. Through the Pony Club word of mouth network, I learned that Custard was available for free lease. I didn't know much about her, other than that she was green but showed a lot of jumping potential. I went to try her and found her a little green, but very comfortable to ride. We brought her home. At the very least, she would be a good project for me, as a break from study. She was quite well put together, but lacking a bit in the looks department with big ears and a roman nose (or as my farrier at the time described, 'a head like a wheelbarrow!).

In recalling a lot of what happened 18 years ago, it really does feel like stepping back into another age. To set the context - we lived on a farm, in a fairly remote location and our only regular horsey outing was the monthly PC rally, 40 km away. We competed as the opportunities arose - in Autumn it was horse trials and flat/games team focused, doing local and Zone competitions. In the Spring, we turned "showie" attended the local aggie shows, turning our hand to whatever classes were on offer. We did a bit of everything - basically anything that wasn't too far away, we had a crack at. We did have instruction at times, but a lot of what we did was self taught from watching videos and reading books. Although my main love was always eventing, circumstances (mostly distance and dollars!) prevented me from pursuing it beyond a local level. A yearly highlight was our Pony Club hosting an EFA affiliated Horse Trials - back then, the lower levels were 'freshmans' or 'training' classes. They were unofficial and didn't require EFA membership to participate. It was very exciting to be part of this event and to watch the more experienced competitors take on the Open Novice and Novice sections (now 1*). I knew that is what I wanted to do one day! It is all very different to what I am able to do today, where I mostly compete in eventing and have the opportunity to compete and have regular instruction all year round.

But I digress. Back to Custard - aka "Rullion Green" as she was officially known - a slightly odd name. She had been EFA registered by her then owner, some research on our (dial up) internet revealed that Rullion Green was a battle fought in Scotland on the day of her birth. She was a bay mare by the regarded TB jumping stallion, Family Ties, out of a mare called Pride of the Lake (Hyperion bloodlines). I took an interest in jumping bloodlines in my teens, studying pedigrees of horses in detail. I guess it was a way of passing the time, and imagining the amazing horses I could breed if I one day had money....Yes, I was a dreamer, and born into an unhorsey family.

That first year with Custard I don't recall much, other than the first PC rally I took her to. She was well behaved, but gave me a little shock - at lunch time I found her lying down tied to the side of the truck. I did the local shows on her for exposure and I do recall taking her to the Zone dressage and Showjumping Qualifiers at the end of that first year, but with not a lot of success. It was around this time that the opportunity arose to buy her. My parents agreed to pay for half of the purchase price, so I contributed $600 from my tomato weeding (summer job) earnings in order to buy her.

The following year, I went off to Glenormiston College to study Equine Management. Custard didn't come with me, but I was home most weekends and still rode/ went to Pony Club and most of my holidays I spent riding and still competing when able. One of our early horse trials efforts was competing at Hopetoun PC HT, which was a wonderful part of the Midland Zone back in the day. We finished on our dressage score in the grade 3 section, I think placing 2nd. I then decided to step it up to try the Training 2 (Prelim) section at our local EFA Horse Trials. I remember Cust threw a shoe just before it, so I had the shoe tacked back on the morning of the dressage. We completed the event with a stop XC, but for a still green 7 year old, I was pleased with her. I do vaguely recall also going to Horsham PC's EFA HT a few weeks after - and this is where the wheels started to fall off. Custard's evasions had begun to surface around this time. It took me a whole minute to get her out of the start box as she napped and reared vertically. We did end up getting out of the start box and around the course, but with a lot of time penalties. Rather shaken, I opted to withdraw from the SJ.

Schooling on the flat, Cust was amazing - for the first time in my life, I experienced the joy of riding a nice moving horse, with cadence and the ability to extend and collect. Dressage training became more of a joy and to this day, she remains one of the nicest horses I have ever ridden on the flat. Others since may have been more submissive or better schooled - but that feeling of lightness, power and big rhythmic paces is something I will always remember. She has set the benchmark for when I ride any other horse.

She could also jump very well - had excellent technique and rarely touched a rail. However, if she did not want to jump (or go in the direction I wanted) it was not quite so nice. She had a dirty stop if I was not 100% with her. The napping was a whole other issue. It would start with the toss of her head, a refusal to turn right....then the rearing begun. Lucky she was so balanced, and never fell over. Many expressed the opinion she was dangerous (which I tend to agree with now!). I look back now and think I perhaps was a bit (a lot?) crazy, but the reason for my perseverance was simple. It was a case of ride her and work through the problems, or not have a horse to ride at all. I'm not sure if it was a different culture back then, or more to do with my personal circumstances, but the option of 'getting rid' of her and getting something else was never really there.  I was hell bent on qualifying to compete at the 1999 PCAV State Horse Trials (to be hosted by our club) and if I could just get her on the same page as me, she was the horse to do it on...

Onwards we plodded. With some help from local instructors, the flatwork was really coming along. In terms of straight showjumping, she was also doing improving. That December, we placed in the top 4 in both the C Grade showjumping (which as I recall proudly, got up to 1.08m!) and the Grade 2 dressage at the Zone Qualifiers. As the rules in those days prevented riders from competing in both disciplines at State Championships, I opted to be part of the dressage team, as that was our strength. After lots of work over the summer, we made it to Werribee and despite a mid field first test, really put in a good effort in the harder second test to be 4th individually in our section and contributed to Midland Zone taking 6th place in the State teams event.

Then came the process of qualifying for State Horse Trials. In those days, you had to complete 2 accredited horse trials with less than 60 XC jumping penalties to qualify. Not only did we need to qualify, but we needed to get match practice at that level. If I recall correctly, our first event was at Glenlyon that was not much to write home about. Average (tense) dressage, a couple of stops XC and I don't even remember the showjumping. We got our card signed though, so must have completed! From there, we went up to Nyah HT, to get around everything Ok, only to be eliminated at a Grade 5 bridge crossing that the organised had flagged in their infinite wisdom, as a Grade 2 obstacle (to get enough jumping efforts....!). Cust was petrified of the thing and it took me ages to get her anywhere near it, rather embarrassing given it was not actually a jump. We went home with our tails between our legs and still looking for our second qualifier.

The next horse trials was our local club event and from here on in our fortunes changed. Custard and I finished on our dressage score in 4th place and a very confident run XC. We had our qualifier and were good to go in the first weekend of May. Before that though, we did go to the Midland Zone HT, run at Maryborough. I recall being a bit half hearted about going, but we turned up, did a blitzer of a dressage test to be well in the lead, had one rail SJ, but a clear XC was good enough for us to take the win!

So onto State Horse Trials, one of the most nerve wracking competitions of my life. We had been working really hard to get everything together for this one event - and the diligence paid off. We did a cracking dressage test to be placed 3rd overnight in our section of approximately 30 riders. To date, it is probably one of the best tests I've done in my life, scoring around 75%. As for me on XC morning, well I embarrassed one of my sisters by vomiting the whole morning whilst waiting to compete (this is something that still happens when I am plagued by nerves, but thankfully a lot less often these days!). Being so keyed up played into my hands though; we blitzed the jumping phases, finishing on our dressage score. I was delighted to see that we had moved up the score board to 2nd place overall!

After this chapter of my life, I took a break from competing to work interstate and then a complete break from horses to continue my studies. Custard went out on lease for some time and then came home to successfully compete with my sister for a couple of seasons. Sadly, attempts to breed from her failed, and when I finally had my own property, she came to live with me. Together we did a small amount of dressage and ARC in her late teens...and one ill fated attempt at TTT Showing! That event though was the catalyst for me to attempt to breed a "Custard relative" - I won the silent auction for a service to the Family Ties stallion, Troupa Ties. The result was Alex, aka Loyal Ties, who now lives with a very good friend of mine and has successfully commenced his dressage career. Aunty Cust would be proud!

Thanks Custard for all the trials and tribulations and for helping to shape who I am as a rider today. I will always be looking for another horse who gives me that same feeling of cadence and softness, with power...but perhaps with a bit more trainability?  

Rest in peace dear girl xx 

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful account of Cust, she taught me so much about riding. I'm sure she's reunited with Jack in horsey heaven, in the irrigated pasture forever more.