There are a lot of nice things about living next to a dressage barn, the least of which is that someone is always going to a show. Madigan’s trainer took five kids to a schooling show on Saturday, so I entered him in the sporthorse in-hand class.

I’m grateful that both GMOs in my area offer in-hand classes at schooling shows. It’s been great to have inexpensive and low-key places to take him! Both this show and the one he attended in May have been very positive experiences.

Madigan was the first of our group to go at 1:45 PM. Saturday’s heat index was over 100°F, so I loaded my cooler with water and sports drinks, crammed a pop-up tent into my car, and slathered on the 90 SPF sunscreen. I pulled Madigan out of the pasture around 11:45 AM to rinse the pond scum off before taking him next door to load him. He hopped right on Space Trailer, my neighbor’s futuristic looking 7-horse rig. I left and headed to the gas station around the corner to buy more ice.

I got to the show first, picked up Madigan’s number, and found a shady place to park. When the horses arrived, Madigan walked off the trailer calmly and was more interested in grazing than what the other five horses he hauled with were doing. We rinsed the horses off, and I tried to make Madigan look presentable. It’s not too hard any more- his mane needs a trim, but his tail is growing nicely and he looks less gawky every day! I bridled him and sent him off to the arena with my neighbor.

The arena at this facility is a big covered affair with a north wall. It’s connected to an uncovered outdoor arena used for warm-up at shows and is maybe 200 yards from the parking area.  Madigan was completely alone, as he was the last horse to go before the lunch break. No horses were warming up, and all of our group’s horses were tied on the side of the trailer he couldn’t see. There was no need to worry, though. He let out a couple of quiet whinnies while he was in the ring, but he wasn’t super distressed.

shoutout to his trainer for doing her best to present him as a horse and not a camel

He fidgeted through the class doing his best giraffe impression. He leaned away from the judge and scribe (I think he wanted to get a better look at them) and alternated between standing with a hind foot cocked up and standing like a newborn foal. He appears to have learned the jog game now- at the show in May, he had to have a whip waved at his hindquarters to jog. At this show, he trotted off in a way that reminded me of the wild babies I saw at Devon!

The judge gave him a 74%, which was fair. (The judge in May gave him a 79%.) He noted that Madigan lacked topline and thought he was cow-hocked and pig-eyed. The judge awarded the trot an 8; I thought this was generous, but he received an 8 at the last show and an 8 as a yearling in the Future Event Horse class. So I guess maybe the trot is an 8 after all! (Shows what I know- I would have pegged it as a 7.) I was a little surprised the judge didn’t comment about Madigan being toed-out in front; maybe he missed it with all the fidgeting, or maybe he thinks it’ll resolve as Madigan’s chest widens.

happy to stand in the shade and eat

After he finished, the lesson kids and horses departed for a dressage seat equitation class and many, many introductory level tests. I sat in the shade while Madigan nibbled hay at the trailer. We eventually wandered over to the show office to pick up our test and ribbon, then hung out by the arena to watch the kids ride.

Madigan made friends everywhere. He was especially interested in the father of one of the kids. The man admitted he wasn’t very familiar with horses but seemed completely tickled when Madigan marched up to him and snuffled his hair. He spent the next few minutes gently petting Madigan’s face.

Later, one kid’s brother pointed at Madigan and announced, “I want to ride that horse!” His mother tried to explain that Madigan wasn’t really ready for riders, but this kid (who was maybe 8?) wasn’t buying it. (Why else would the horse be at a show?!) I told the kid that Madigan was a baby, but once he was an adult, the kid could ride him if he still wanted to.

After the kids finished with their tests, Madigan and I began to walk back to the trailer. I heard someone say, “That’s the most beautiful horse I’ve ever seen!” I looked around, figuring that one of the western dressage riders on a Friesian cross had entered the ring. No other horses were around. The mother of one of the lesson kids gestured at Madigan and said, “He’s just gorgeous! What kind of horse is he?” Who knew the giant baby would be so popular?

I’m really pleased with his behavior at this show. He was fine being alone in the ring and at the trailer. He was fine being led around the show grounds. He was fine trailering with five horses he’d (mostly) never met. I’m going to try to get him out to two more schooling shows for in-hand classes this year, as that will make him eligible for the GMO’s year-end awards. And, you know, it’s good to get him out and about, even if it seems like he doesn’t need it!

Learning to be a riding horse

I’m happy to report that Madigan’s mystery lameness cleared up just as mysteriously as it appeared. He returned to Baby School this month as bright and happy as ever.

Well, he’s surpassed Gina in height for sure.

It’s very exciting to see him begin training under saddle in earnest. He’s ridden in a lightweight western saddle, a rope halter with reins clipped to the sides, and a bridle with a D-ring snaffle and without a noseband over the halter. Currently, his under saddle work is exclusively focused on learning how to stop, go, and steer. He’s a quick learner and has a reasonably good work ethic. It’s obvious when he’s mentally or physically tired, as he becomes unbalanced and a little fussy. He doesn’t have much stamina at this point, so rides are short to keep him engaged and happy.

Last week, the assistant trainer (who’s been riding him for the last few weeks) began asking him for big circles and changes of direction at the trot. Madigan’s steering is pretty reliable at the walk and his trot is looking more balanced every day, so this was a fair ask. He understood the question, but struggled to maintain a rhythmic trot through the circle. He got better as he went and by the end of his ride I could see a glimpse of the nice trot that’s in there somewhere.

This week, he seemed to remember how to trot and turn and keep all legs moving together. Assistant trainer felt he was ready to attempt cantering under saddle. His canter is much more coordinated than it was even six months ago. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen him canter around the pasture, turn, and nearly fall over throughout the last two years. He’s done some canter work on the longe line, but never with a person on his back.


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It took a few tries, but he eventually stepped into a reasonably balanced canter on the correct lead. He couldn’t maintain it for long- maybe half a 20 meter circle- but he was calm and unhurried. When asked to canter in the opposite direction, he did so promptly. After that short stint of hard work, assistant trainer jumped off and he was fussed over for being such a good boy.

My favorite thing about this horse is his demeanor. He’s incredibly laid-back- there’s never been any drama, any fuss, any worry about anything he’s been asked to do. There are lots of reasons he’s like this: genetics, kind and consistent handling throughout his life, patient and methodical training. I’m more excited to ride him than I have been for any horse in a long time. Candy was challenging, but not always in a good or fun way. Moe and Gina are utterly reliable and as comforting to sit astride as a cozy sweater is to put on. But Madigan is full of potential! While he certainly won’t achieve the full measure of it with me, I don’t care (and suspect he doesn’t either). I’m excited about the potential of partner, a horse I can have fun with, a worthy successor to Moe.