I knew Quietude and the Lambert Morgans only through the web site and correspondence with Susan Hanley. On a previous horse search, I had become interested in the Lamberts, but looked elsewhere as I wanted a trained horse. But I never forgot the incredible natural beauty of the Lamberts, or the poetic way in which Susan described them. Indeed, the e-mails from Susan were a treasure of insight and wisdom, not just into horses, but into my heart and head. I was one of a multitude of women who had once been a horse crazy girl, and I had owned horses until my late 30s. But a twenty year hiatus left me unsure I could really live the dream of riding again.
My husband Colin and I set out for the wilds of West Virginia, arriving in cold, chilly, rainy darkness. Welcoming yellow light spilled from the kitchen windows of Highland Trace. A loaf of homemade bread was on the table. Tomorrow we would see the horses.
I slept fitfully, so anxious to see the beautiful horses I had viewed on the screen, and to see if what Susan had said about the “golden Lambert temperament” was really true. I arose early, pulled on warm clothes, and headed down the lane.
Horses, horses everywhere – and one of them for me. One of the horses I planned to look at was Horizon, a gelding ready for training. In the pasture next to the old red barn was a strikingly handsome rich chestnut gelding, with very little white. He could have been the likeness for every mounted military statue I had ever seen in the small Southern town squares of my youth. “Let that be Horizon,” I thought to myself. Little did I know it was Shenandoah, Susan’s personal mount, and most definitely not for sale.
I could hardly contain my excitement, and Susan and Shannon soon came into the kitchen at Highland Trace, ready for the horse tour to begin. I was entranced with the sheer number of beautiful horses, all of a type, despite variations in build from the monumental to the elegant.
After looking at a couple of older geldings, we made our way to the main barn, where some of the yearlings were housed. The flaxen chestnut was a new phenomenon for me, and they seemed to be everywhere at Quietude. I was never partial to a lot of chrome on a horse, so I was not “color shopping” at all. I wanted soundness, saneness, and that golden temperament.
In a paddock behind the barn were three long yearling fillies: Rainelle, Olympia and Mandolin. Rainelle and Mandolin looked enough alike to be identical twins, and it had been only a few weeks before that Julie and Steve Giberti had debated which of the two to take home, and had finally settled on Rainelle.
Olympia was a deep, dark chestnut, with little white. Friendly and curious, she clearly had athletic potential. Mandolin already had the makings of a diva – friendly, on her terms. She deigned to let me groom her, as I played beauty parlor with all the girls. Olympia and Rainelle would nudge in for their turns; Mandolin waited for me to come to her. She was not aloof, but she was not at all “in your pocket” or invasive in any way. I liked that about her.
The other horse that spoke to me was Venture, a Caress son, ready to start training. He had a sweet face and the small build I was looking for. (If I had known then what I know now about the wonders of Caress, I probably would have just quickly picked him!)
That evening we rode to the McMeekins for dinner – Ted and I had been long-time work colleagues. I debated the virtues of the various horses; nothing was decided.
On a cloudy Sunday, Susan and I set out for a ride on the Greenbrier Trail, with her astride Maxwelton and me mounted on Shenandoah. I was immediately and hopelessly in love with this spot, and with these horses. I felt perfectly at home on Shenandoah the minute I sat on his back.
It was clear I would buy a horse, but which one? And now I wanted a house on the Greenbrier, too. This was a game-changing visit. My retirement would be announced soon, and yes, we could really do this!
A week later, we returned. As I assessed my needs and Mandolin’s qualities, she seemed to have it all: the movement to do some nice dressage work; the natural Morgan hardiness; a head-turning beauty; and nothing “broken” by bad training. I wrote the check, and we celebrated over hot tea on Susan’s finest china. Mandolin was mine – or I was hers.
GROWING AND TRAINING
I left Mandolin at Quietude to continue to grow. We bought an erstwhile bed and breakfast in the middle of the Hanley’s river farm, so visits were frequent. As she grew to two and then three, Mandolin learned good manners for the farrier and vet, leading, trailer loading, and all the things a youngster should know. I groomed her, did ground training and generally got to know her as she concentrated on growth and playing in the pastures of Quietude.
In the fall after she turned three in April, Mandolin started training in earnest. Kelly Arfsten, with her gentle and patient approach, started her quietly. Mandolin can be quick to react, and needs a trainer who will take the time she needs. Kelly did. But there was no barn for keeping her through the winter, and my regular trainer, Elaine Hayes, had just given birth to twins.
I sent her to a trainer who was highly recommended, and she stayed for over four months. When I picked her up, she was rideable, but she was jumpy and more reactive than ever. Methods that work well with quarter horses can be less effective with a sensitive horse like my Mandolin. I was heartsick. The trainer was far from me, and I had not checked on her as often as I should have. It had not been a good match, and now I had to take her to Elaine to “fix” problems that I had unintentionally created.
She went from starting and scooting if Elaine raised a hand to adjust her helmet, to managing calmly in the arena for the most part. She was still much too fast in the canter, and was still more reactive than she had been before. I headed for the West Virginia trails with some trepidation. Was Mandolin ready for this? Was I?
There cannot be a better place to ride a green horse, or better people to ride with, than along the Greenbrier River near Quietude. With Susan on Shenandoah, Lisa on Caress, Cathy on her Max, and often Mary on another Lambert, Mandolin and I were surrounded with horses and people who wanted the best for us. She learned from the steady horses around her, and soon was calmer and more confident.
I only managed to fall off twice: once on a rocky steep trail, where I bailed when I thought she might fall (note to self: do not take young, green horse on steep rocky trail wearing Old Mac boots for the first time.), and next when one of the summer horsefly drone bombers came down on her rear and she threw in a little hop to our trot. I just toppled gently off the side. (note to self: work on balance.)
Mandolin worked five days a week in dressage through the winter, and she began to develop the self-carriage we all want in our horses. Relaxation was harder for her than collection, and sometimes what she needed was counterintuitive. For example, when she gets fussy and fast and discombobulated, she needs to feel your leg on her, rather than have the leg off. She gets security from the leg and the rider. Elaine – who can be impatient with people—has boundless patience with her horses in training.
After another summer of West Virginia trail riding, in which Mandolin learned to go in front, in the middle, in the back; to approach any bridge or obstacle with confidence; to ignore a crackling plastic poncho as I don it on her back; and generally to be an all around fine trail horse, she returned to her dressage training. Everyone in the barn commented on her new maturity – physical and mental. Mandolin had gone from being a flighty filly to my war mare. I would take her anywhere, or she would take me.
She went to two dressage fun shows last year, and earned respectable scores and two second places. It was fun to hear the questions about her breeding, and see the surprise when folks found she was a Lambert Morgan, and said “what’s that?” Next year, she will be ready for a sanctioned show, either Open or Morgan. She is a fine, rhythmic mover, doing lateral work, and still has the most trouble on the movements that call for the most relaxation, like a walking stretchy circle after a canter. Forward is what she knows, and collection is her long suit.
In the meantime, we are on the trails of Pocahontas County every day I am there, and we are riding with purpose. After a wonderful adventure at Leatherwood Mountains with Cathy and her Max and Tracey and her grey quarter horse Goose, we decided to aim for a 30 mile limited distance ride by summer’s end. So if you happen to be in the Virginia Highlands in late August, keep your eyes open for Mandolin – dressage diva and trail horse extraordinaire. She is all the horse I could ever hope for – the very best horse for me!