It has been weeks since I last posted on MRF's blog. My only excuse is lack of time. The little bit of writing that I have accomplished lately is in the preliminary draft of my next book. It's patchy and rough with ideas spread all over; in notebooks and hanging precariously from the cloud. Needless to say, it has been difficult to focus on an inspirational blog post....until last weekend.
Seven friends and I piled into an SUV early Saturday morning for a four hour drive to West Springfield, MA. There we attended Equine Affaire, an Expo that celebrates all things horsey. For an entire day we indulged ourselves in shopping, watching demos and meeting equine representatives from various breeds. The company of 3 riding students enabled me to view the event through the eyes of horse-loving teenagers, eager to soak up opportunities offered.
My favorite building was where many breed organizations, rescue groups and various riding clubs set up luring displays. I bought Rod, (my husband), a save-your-ass T-shirt to support a Long-ears rescue, (donkeys and mules). I also browsed the Friesian horse display and gawked at the stallion, Othello who greeted patrons lingering by his stall.
While strolling passed the New England Dressage and Combined Training Association, a book on display caught my attention; Courtney's Quest by Courtney King Dye. I told my inquiring students about King Dye's gift for training dressage horses and her participation in the 2008 Olympics. Sadly, she suffered a traumatic brain injury in a riding accident in 2010. I began to tell them how her notoriety as a world class athlete resulted in an immediate reaction by the entire horse industry to promote safety helmets. As I continued speaking a woman behind the counter caught my attention with her eyes. They were darting back and forth from me to a figure I was barely aware of sitting in the booth. Shifting my focus I realized it was Courtney King Dye signing a copy of her book for a young enthusiast.
I believe the woman behind the counter worried that I was about to say something offensive about Courtney's accident. Quite the contrary.
My love of dressage has been cultivated by watching some of the best riders and horses compete in the flesh at Dressage at Devon, (DAD), almost every September for the last 15 years. At DAD one can stand in the schooling area for hours and witness, at eye level, the incredible communication that takes place between horse and rider. After warming up the pairs enter the show ring to dazzle the judges and the educated crowd assembled to watch and support them.
One year my childhood friend, Diane and I, lost in a 'wannabee' trance, witnessed an apparition appear among the field of world class combinations present in the schooling area. The pair could only be described as centaur-like, graciously accommodating each other through the required movements of Grand Prix. Diane and I looked at each other.
"Who is that?" we asked in unison. Immediately, Diane thumbed through the official DAD program to identify the rider by the number attached to her horse's bridle.
"Oh," she said with a head nod. "That is Courtney King riding Harmony's Mythilus." "That is Courtney King," I echoed affirming that only Courtney King was capable of creating such a flawless image. From my view at ground level I couldn't take my eyes off of them. They appeared to be enjoying a cup of tea together, (Courtney would say beer), like a pair of old friends who need not fill the air with small talk. The contrast to other riders in the ring was measurable. Mythilus never grunted, pinned his ears or swished his tail when asked to transition from movement to movement. Courtney's torso, legs and hands always appeared to say please and thank you when she asked or he complied. I will never forget watching them. The lasting image helped me coin a phrase for my own riding students when they are having difficulty communicating with their horses.
"It is a constant yet quiet conversation between your hand and your leg. Allow the horse's reaction to dictate how much is necessary."
When it was my turn for Courtney to sign a book for me, I shook her hand and was greeted by warm smiling brown eyes. I gave her one of the MRF family photo postcards that I use to promote my own book. She commented favorably on the variety of animals in the picture. Her right hand dutifully produced her signature as well as my name on the first page of the book. She posed for a picture with me and then repeated the process with my friend Vicky and friend/riding student, Alex. Later we agreed that meeting Courtney King Dye was the highlight of Equine Affaire 2014.
Late Sunday night when the cold air and physical activity associated with nightly barn check prevented me from feeling sleepy, I picked up Courtney's book and began to read. By 1:00 a.m. I had to peel myself away from the engrossing pages and make myself go to bed. For the next four days I read the book every chance that I could. I took it to school with me and awarded myself with several pages after my work was caught up. Grading papers and tests took several days because I could not stay away from Courtney's engaging story.
The book is multi-faceted. Not only does it take you through the events of her struggle to create a career with horses, but she brings the reader along on just about every competitive dressage test that paved her world class career. I am privileged to have sat on Idy, (Idocus), and Mythy, (Mythilus), as she schools tempis, pirouettes, and the ever challenging piaffe. My seatbones, lower leg and outside rein responded appropriately with each word read.
Her relationship with and understanding of each individual horse brought me to laughter and to tears on numerous occasions. As somebody who spends a great deal of time caring for my own horses, I could relate to her passion and acceptance of each individual horse's strengths and weaknesses. Mythilus the do-gooder, always striving to please, therefore entrusting his total being to Courtney, stands in humorous contrast to Idocus's inflated self-image as he returns home from the World Cup convinced that he has won when in fact he hasn't.
Courtney's beautiful words and brilliant writing drew me right into her world, providing me with intimate glimpses of the highest levels of dressage. Her devastating accident takes the reader along for the whole rehabilitation and recovery phases. She teaches patience, acceptance and the lesson that we can only control certain aspects of our lives. Courtney's appreciation and love for those closest to her is confirmed on every page; husband Jason, siblings and other family members, Lendon Gray, Steffen Peters, and so many more, you will just have to read the book to acquaint yourself with them all.
I am eager for others to read the book so we can commiserate over it. Be prepared for an exciting trip filled with ups and downs, laughter and tears, love and loss that all of us will face in our lifetime. Courtney's struggles measure to the extreme. Yet, she still proclaims her happiness and invites the reader to come along with her for this exciting ride.
Spoiler alert: The book ends with the birth of Courtney's daughter River. This one event, which I was aware of since meeting River at Equine Affaire, kept me from falling into total despair at various times in the book. River is the ray of hope that we know will bring Courtney and her husband lasting happiness. Best wishes and Happy Thanksgiving.
Well written and from the heart.
Haley fell in love with this sweet baby Gypsy Vanner filly...
...and then the filly fell in love with Haley's Mom, Robyn.
Vicky and I pose with Laura the shire.
Someday I wish to ride off with the Canadian Cowgirls! photo by Janine Slezak