The Image of Success

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By Kate Rawlinson

Editor’s Note: This article won first place in 2016 for a GMO newsletter award for first-person experience for GMOs with 75-174 members. It originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of the Nebraska Dressage Association newsletter, The Contact.

It feels like Image and I have waited centuries to be where we are today. Image found me when he was a yearling stud colt on a Morgan breeding ranch in Maxwell, Nebraska. My family wasn’t actually looking for a horse like him at the time, but when we met him, we knew right away he had been looking for us. I was twelve years old then and knew that even with the help of our wonderful coach, Angie McClelland, training a young horse could be challenging and we may be in for a long road of victories and defeats. We’re still on that journey, but this year has been a definite peak for us.

Image incurred minor inflammation in his right-hind upper suspensory ligament as a six-year-old, which left him mildly sore and confined to the pasture life for nearly two years. The rehabilitation process has been the most emotional and difficult task I’ve ever encountered. We never really knew if he was in pain, if we were pushing him too hard, if we needed to make him work harder to overcome incorrect habits, or if he would ever actually heal. I had to consider several times that maybe he just wasn’t meant for me – maybe I’d have to find a little girl who could love him through her walk-trot years. The thought of re-homing him still brings tears to my eyes. It is impossible for me to imagine day-to-day life without his humor, his work ethic, and the close relationship we’ve worked so hard to establish.

After being cleared by our veterinarian, we’ve worked our tails off to make this year our comeback season. Not only is he finally rideable again, our training has progressed so rapidly over the last several months that we’ve flown from Intro to First Level in a matter of months. This would never have been possible if we hadn’t attended our first clinic in February 2016 with Canadian Olympian Cindy Ishoy. When we unloaded at Winds Reach Farm in Iowa City, Iowa, we had no idea what doors Cindy was about to open for us. I thought I knew Image fairly well then, but I specifically remember saying after our second clinic ride, “I feel like I have just met my horse for the first time today. I am so jealous of myself getting to ride him!” Cindy pushed us as a team to new heights, gave us hope, and has pointed us towards the road of real, tangible success. I could never be more grateful to her and the scholarship from the Nebraska Dressage Association for making it possible to attend more of her clinics.

We’ve now been to three different clinics with Cindy Ishoy and look forward to attending a fourth. Through our first six clinic rides, we progressed from working on the engagement of the hindquarters and the acceptance of the outside rein to strengthen in lengthening, transitions, straightness in the lateral movements, and clarification of the aids. We’ve even started schooling shoulder-in and walk pirouettes. While the clinic rides were a challenge for us, we came out undoubtedly more confident in each other and our road ahead.

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Between clinic rides we have been working on softening the aids. We like to hack out on trails with friends. I’ve been working with a personal trainer to strengthen my core and improve my balance, because I’ve realized that riding the upper levels will require so much more from me as a rider. Together, Image and I are getting stronger in both mind and body and we are ready now more than ever to take on the road ahead.

Image and I have qualified for the Morgan Horse National and World Show for both Training and First Level. We plan to travel to Oklahoma City in October to compete, and hope to end this season on a high note. Getting to work with such a talented, humorous, intelligent partner every day is a blessing, and I couldn’t be more proud of our progress as a team this year.

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