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  • Dyan Vorster

To All the Boys I've Loved Before (Part 2)

“Memory is not what the heart desires. That is only a mirror.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Precious Pirate, Man the Decks, Peace Again, Yarrawonga, Rage of Honor, Grazinski, Hunting Blue, Spartacus – Each name is connected to a bittersweet memory in my life with horses. While it is true that every horse that I have ridden has shaped me as a rider, some have impacted me more than others.


Precious Pirate (I know right!) was my first “real” horse. He was a flashy chestnut thoroughbred who, like all my horses after him, began his career on the racetrack. 30 Years ago, Warmbloods were rare in South Africa (and very expensive), so most riders bought promising young horses off the track. Successful competition bloodlines were eagerly sort after and astute trainers snapped them up, trained them for a couple of months, and then resold them for astronomical mark ups.


By the time I purchased Precious Pirate he had been off the track for several years and was competing as a polo pony. When he didn’t make the cut on the polo field, he was offered for sale as a “show jumper.” There wasn’t a lot of choice in our limited price range, and seduced by his flashy good looks, we decided to take the plunge. They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This was certainly the case with Precious Pirate. Understandably perhaps, he knew only one speed – flat out! When I took him around a jump course, people literally closed their eyes and prayed. The upside to this speed demon was that he never refused anything - point him at it and he would jump it.


Eventually, I did figure out where the brakes were, and we slowly began to rise through the grades. This was back in the “good old days” when Junior Classes (14 to 18 years) were still divided into grades: Young horses started out in D grade (with fences up to 3’’ and no qualifying points needed). They then progressed up the grades as they earned enough qualifying points: C grade (3’’ – 3.3’’), B grade (3.3’’-3.6’’), and A grade (3.6’’ to 3.9’’). Championship courses tended to be slightly higher (up to 4.3’’).


Show jumping is a test of a horse’s obedience and athleticism. The goal is simple: Horse and rider must jump a clear round over a preset course of 10 to 20 colorful jumps within a set time limit. As they progress up the grade levels, riders aren’t just required to face higher fences, they must also deal with more tricky course designs that include challenging turns and approaches, and difficult related distances that require skilled riding. Faults can be accumulated from time penalties, knocked down rails (4 penalties), refusals to jump (3 penalties/more than two refusals result in elimination), or falls (8 penalties). In the case of multiple clear rounds competitors jump off over a shortened course “against the clock.” I love the clean simplicity of the sport - there are no judges to impress, extra points for good equitation (in fact some of the best riders in the world have very unconventional style), or subjective outcomes – at the end of the day the rider with a clear round in the fastest time wins.


Precious Pirate had an unconventional jumping style (he would often hang a front leg over the jump). This wasn’t too much of a problem when the jumps were low, as he compensated by jumping just that little bit higher to clear the jumps. But as the jumps got higher, it sometimes got us into trouble as he would catch a pole between his front legs causing both of us to have a nasty fall.


We tried all the usual exercises to sharpen him up in front - using V poles on jumps, riding through endless gymnastic exercise, setting placing poles - nothing worked for long. Eventually my trainer flat out told my parents that if they didn’t get rid of the horse, he could well prove the death of me. Precious Pirate had to go, but what to replace him with?

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