Horses & Healing


The mighty Irish Draught Horse! We are celebrating them as our January Breed of the Month on YourDressage!

Dressage riders who choose Irish Draughts as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as the Irish Draught Horse Society of North America is a participating organization.

Here, a rider in Region 1 shares about her Irish Sport Horse, Duckie, and how she found harmony through horses in a time when she needed to heal from grief.

By Lori LaFave

I have always appreciated the strength and beauty of the Irish Draught, and the perfect mix of athleticism, power, and brain of the Irish Sport Horse.  Admiring them from afar – whether as a jump steward at top level eventing shows, or watching them in the hunt field.  I always felt they were just the perfect horse – probably more horse than I could afford or ride!  While on a riding holiday in Ireland many years ago, I was paired for the week with an Irish Sport Horse named Dermot.  He was a 16 hand dark bay that was flashy, proud, and knew his job.  We rode all over the countryside for a week, and this horse never took a wrong step – over jumps, up and down hills, through the water – nothing fazed him!  I came home knowing one day, I would own one.

Most importantly, they have heart and love their people.  Ask any of us that own one – the connection with these gentle giants is all consuming.

When I was introduced to Spring Ducatti – aka Duckie –  he was for sale because he was a bit too much horse for the adult amateur that currently owned him, and he was very athletic and powerful.  I was searching for my next horse, and I was told I should go out to try him.  I was blown away by his beauty and his movement – and a bit intimidated by his strength and athleticism.  That was 3 years ago.  Today, I am owned by this big goofball of a horse that has a huge personality, enjoys his treats, loves a good trail ride, knows how to turn it on when we enter at A, and makes me work – and get it right.  Even though he is so big and strong, he is the most sensitive horse I have ever sat on.  Every movement, every change in my seat or hands – he responds.  He demands to be ridden properly, and lets me know when I get it wrong.  He has taught me more in the past 3 years than I could ever imagine.  He has enjoyed his change in careers from eventer to dressage horse, and I am so lucky to get to be his person. 

2021 ended with me having a LONG list of all the things I wanted to accomplish over the winter to be ready to go into the 2022 show season.  I had finished my first year competing in recognized shows, we won some great end of year awards, and it was exhilarating! 

So…..the To Do list for 2022 was long, and I was ready and willing to put in the work! And then….

During a 7 day period, the second week of February, my uncle passed away suddenly, a dear family friend died tragically, and my father lost his fight with cancer.  All within a week.  I spent the next two weeks planning funerals, attending funerals, and trying to take care of everything and everyone around me.

I came back home from all of this and just threw myself back into work, got back on my trainer’s schedule, and did the only thing I knew how to do – move forward.  While in a lesson, my trainer asked me to pick up the right lead canter – and I couldn’t process what she was saying to me, nor could I make my body do it – it was like there was pea soup in my brain and body, nothing was working properly.  (I should add here that my horse is not a forgiving soul, he is big, powerful, and does not suffer fools – taking a joke is not in his DNA.) We barely made it through that lesson, and at one point during the canter work I said out loud, “I am NOT okay”.

I was broken and needed to heal.

So, I stopped.

I stopped putting my foot on the gas to move forward, I stopped pushing myself to be ok, and I stopped forcing it all – for me AND for my horse.  Instead of lessons to work on movements for upcoming shows, I went on trail rides – at a walk.  My horse and I walked along the creek, we walked on trails through the woods, we walked through the open fields, up hills and down hills, we saw wild turkeys, baby foxes frolicking, deer stood and said hello to us, blue herons in the water squawked and waved their wings, and we even went in the water and splashed around ourselves.

Somewhere in the middle of all of that walking, my horse and I both just let go.  He let go of his apprehension and stress, and I let go of my shock and sadness.  We both got fitter and stronger as a team, and we had fun – now our walks became great workouts where we did shoulder-ins along the lane, and worked on our leg yields on the trails, calmly and with happiness in our steps.

I also spent a LOT of time volunteering.  While I got my own bearings back in the saddle as my heart healed, I got to watch others do their thing!!!  I enjoyed scribing and listening to each judge, I was serious about keeping the in gates running on time while a ring steward, and being there to help others was exactly what I needed.  I learned a ton while watching, absorbing it all, and I always tried to be the volunteer that I need when I am showing – the one that smiles, tells you that you look fabulous, you are on time, and wishes you good luck as you leave the warm up to head in for your test.

VADANOVA schooling show championships we were reserve at first level

In July, I signed up to be in a four day dressage camp that was organized by my GMO – four days of dressage instruction with two top level instructors, discussions on a wide range of topics, meals with a great group of riders, culminating with our own mini-show where we each rode tests and were judged.  My horse and I were by far the least experienced team at the camp, but no one cared, and the “camp community” was a blast – the 15-year-old horse crazy kid that still lives inside of me just loved every minute of it!

As I sit here today, looking back on this year, I think I might have learned more in the saddle this year than ever before, and while there isn’t a ribbon for this journey, I will share what the blue ribbon formula was for me –

Horses + Healing = Harmony

And, isn’t that harmony of horse and human in the saddle what we are all striving for?

Duckie and I look forward to seeing you all out there in 2023, we will spend the winter learning new tests, and we can’t wait to show you what we have learned together.

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