Professor Sport

Here’s an early-semester sight that always warms my heart: a group of “keepers” organizing, cleaning and labeling grooming equipment for the horses in their charge.

sport_helping_keepersThat’s Professor Sport (Lamborghini) supervising the work. Sport’s a 27-year-old Trakehner gelding who’s been at William Woods since 2000 or 2001 (before I returned from Kentucky!). His life is the perfect example of the career of a school horse at William Woods.

When I first met Sport, the first year I was back at WWU, he was a leaping, bucking, kicking, horrible-to-trailer, terrified of tractors, weaving wreck during thunderstorms, mess of a horse. But I didn’t have much in the way of school horses then, and he had some talent that I hoped I could direct in the right way.

The previous dressage instructor had a habit of sending horses back to the barn when they misbehaved, so of course Sport thought leaping in the air was a good and proper thing to do. He didn’t realize he was giving us all heart attacks. He would grunt and buck and fart, and then stand there posturing the horsey equivalent of a proud “ta da!” I mostly had to laugh at his hopeful attempts to earn that ultimate reward of being finished with work.

Thankfully, I had a very good student rider who appreciated him (shout out to Hanne Hartelius Chasney!) and we were able, over the years and despite some conformational challenges, to bring him to pretty acceptable, upper-60-percent-scoring Fourth Level work. He became more and more rideable, less and less likely to buck, and has given lots of students the opportunity to correctly ride a challenging horse.

He injured his right front suspensory one summer many years back, but came back sound after a long lay-up at our “annex” facility. As he’s aged, he’s become quieter and more reliable (although he still pretends to be terrified of tractors), and I’ve dropped him down to the lower levels again to suit his more mature body. He mostly strolls around on a loose rein or a Training or First Level frame, but can still give students the feel of a correct half-pass or flying change. He’s a school master in the purest sense of the term. He’s a been-there, done-that, but-don’t-have-to-do-it-so-often-any-more kind of guy.

He’s on medication for Cushing’s disease. He still weaves during thunderstorms, but he hauls like a gentleman. He still kicks out if the rider offends him with too-obvious canter depart aids. Like any horse, he has a distinct personality, and that, of course, is his greatest asset as a professor in the dressage department.

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