Progress with Parker has never been exactly linear.
He’s my second, and likely last, homebred, by Rather Well out of my gray El Prado mare, Roxy (aka Great Lady, a name of stunning shortage of imagination — but do click the link to find out more on El Prado’s influence in the sport horse world). That makes him a half-brother to Spike, whose modest eventing exploits I mentioned last year in this post: Project Mojo. Though they’re seven years apart and have different sires, in some respects Parker and Spike are peas in a pod: both registered Thoroughbreds, both dark bays, both with Roxy’s broad chest and well-sprung barrel, and front-end conformation that’s maybe a smidge more hunter-y than I had hoped (not downhill, but not exactly uphill either). Good feet. Easy keepers. Both with a bit of a cheeky swagger in their walks. (It’s possible that comes from being homebreds who’ve never had any real grief in their lives, apart from being gelded … they are just way more secure in themselves than most of the shattered-confidence, off-the-track horses I’ve worked with over the years. They are still turned out with their dam, and I’ve been their Primary Human their whole lives. They have zero trust issues.)
But while Spike is a solid 16 hands, and has more than once been mistaken for a draft cross, Young Master Parker aspired to be the Mini-Me version: he topped out at 15:1 hh. It’s not a tragedy, as I’m only 5’2″ myself, but it would limit his saleability should I ever decide to inflict him on someone else. Temperament-wise, too, my boys are not a match: Spike is Mr. Honesty, with no ‘tude to speak of. Straightforward, willing, and a touch on the lazy side, Spike is never going to set the world on fire, but if you ask, he will cheerfully give it a go and never complain.
Parker, on the other hand …
Having compared notes with some other owners of Rather Well babies, I can at least conclude that it’s not just me. These horses are bred to event (Rather Well competed at the three-star level and earned his Gold Premium status in the Canadian Sport Horse Association studbook) and they are nimble, agile, and fearless jumpers. But — putting it delicately — they don’t necessarily have the easiest minds in the world.
In the case of Young Master Parker, some of his obstreperousness might easily come from the dam side; Roxy is a peculiar mixture of Alpha Mare and total neurotic, and while Spike didn’t inherit her tendency to be wound a little tight, she does seem to have passed it on to Son Number Two, to some degree. In addition, Parker has a “fuck you, not doin’ that” button that other owners of Rather Well offspring have recognized in his facial expression. They seem to be horses who will do things in their own good time, or not at all, and what a fucking shame if that doesn’t work for you.
‘Not quite according to plan’ began with Parker’s entrance into this world and has continued in that vein ever since. Given that Roxy’s nether regions got quite badly shredded in the process of giving birth to Spike, seven years earlier, I wanted to micro-manage Parker’s delivery to minimize the chances her scar tissue would tear. I was going to ship her to foal out at a repro vet’s farm, and we were going to induce her. But Roxy, in her infinite contrariness, opted instead to give birth in an open field, in the middle of the night, while turned out with my geldings. (I should point out here that if I had had even a 1% inkling that she was ready to foal, she would not have been turned out that evening. By all the usual signs, she was still weeks away from going into labour.) I came out on a late June morning to find Young Master Parker already dry and on his feet. One of my geldings had appointed himself protector and was anxiously patrolling the paddock to ward off intruders; I had to put him in a stall before I could get anywhere near mom and baby.
Shortly thereafter, it became clear that while Parker had achieved quadrupedality, he had not yet managed to nurse. Getting colostrum into a foal in the first hours of his life is a pretty crucial thing … but Roxy’s udder was so petite that he hadn’t succeeded in latching on. There was a frantic call to the repro vet. Young Parker was on the verge of giving up by the time we resorted to milking out the mare with a jury-rigged jumbo-sized syringe; luckily, he accepted a milk bottle and nipple hastily acquired from the local pharmacy. Between myself, my squeeze, and a good friend who responded to my SOS call, we took turns milking Roxy on the hour and getting small amounts of colostrum into Parker, all the while continuing to nudge him towards her udder in the hopes he would figure it out and latch on. It took all day, but finally, using the subterfuge of positioning the baby bottle right by Roxy’s teats, he engaged…. and we all started to breathe again.
Despite the rocky start, Nosey Parker was fearless to a fault (unlike his older brother Spike, who hid behind Roxy for the first two weeks of his life, peeking out at me under her belly). At 24 hours old, being led back outside for the first time, I foolishly assumed a foal so young would stick close to his mother. Nuh-uh. Before I knew it, the little bugger had zinged away from Roxy and me and was a good 100 metres away, cheerfully investigating his new world while his mother went ballistic on the end of the leadshank. That pretty much set the tone. He was, and remains, a brat and a peckerhead, despite all my efforts to civilize him.
As an aside — I’ve just recently gotten a cast removed from my arm, the result of being kicked by a weanling filly. She’d been totally unhandled up till the point where her mother was unceremoniously peeled away from her, and I’d been asked to try to get her used to being handled. Poor frightened thing took exception to being touched and double-barreled me, breaking a bone in my hand. Not fun, but it could’ve been worse — and it got me thinking about just how horribly wrong it all could have turned out had I not handled Parker every. Single. Day. With the specific intention of hammering some manners into that bloody-minded wee skull of his.
Even so, when Parker injured his left hind ankle somehow in February of his three-year-old year, and ended up on stall rest for nearly six months, he was not what you’d call a treat to handle. Hand-walking him according to the vet’s prescription was taking my life into my hands; I took to wearing both a helmet and a back-protector vest to do it. I caved and started turning him out in a small round pen, against medical advice, by the four-month mark, because I could see that neither of us was going to survive otherwise. Luckily, the rearing and plunging and bucking and airs above the ground that were on display the first few days (while I cringed from the sidelines) didn’t re-injure the ankle and he made a full recovery.
His manners, on the other hand, remained a one-step-forwards, two-steps-back work in progress. Parker has always preferred to push the envelope, and he is utterly unfazed by most forms of correction. There’s never been any actual malice in him, I hasten to add … he’s just incorrigible.
His introduction to under-saddle work resumed the fall after his injury, only mildly delayed. To my amazement he accepted me on his back with far fewer fireworks than I’d been bracing myself for. I had actually considered sending him out to someone younger and less decrepit to be backed, expecting that he’d be a tough one — but given my more-or-less constant state of poverty, I ended up doing it myself, and he was absolutely fine, because he trusted me.
Not to say that his progress has been seamless, or that there haven’t been plenty of hissy fits and non-linear thinking involved in coercing him into doing stuff for me, but to his credit, he has never actually tried to kill me. (Don’t give him any ideas.)
Fast-forward to this past summer. Parker was five this year, and I really felt it was time to finally get him out to a real show or two. Why else had I bred him? Of course, first he had to actually learn to jump. I’d introduced him to trotting poles and a couple of tiny cross-rails towards the end of the previous year, but we hadn’t gotten as far as proper jumping. We had a cold, wet, nasty spring, so we were late getting started, but once again the little bugger surprised me: he loved, loved, loved jumping, and while the rideability between the fences was still often in question, I soon discovered that if I managed to deliver him roughly between the standards in sort of a straight line, he would fling himself into the air without hesitation.
The sequence of photos above is from Parker’s first real event, the Glen Oro horse trials in September (shared with permission of the photographer, the incomparable Andrew Bailini). Granted, it was Pre-Entry level, where the fences are barely visible to the naked eye. The point was to introduce him to the routine of a horse trials, navigate a dressage ring, jump a whole course of fancy-coloured stadium fences with decorations and gewgaws on them, and canter politely around a little cross-country course without dropping me on my elderly head. He looks deceptively innocent and honest in the pix, doesn’t he? We’ll go Entry level next year, I promise … and I won’t rule out finishing out the season at Pre-Training. Because frankly, though it’s early days, Young Master Parker already feels like he has wicked talent out there, despite his being vertically challenged and despite his less-than-straightforward outlook on life. If I can continue to channel him to use his powers for good instead of evil, I think I might have one helluva nice little event horse on my hands.
At the moment, of course, the rest of his coat resembles the ridiculously long forelock which earned him the nickname Fabio, and he’s not doing a whole lot. Stay tuned. Spring will be here in, oh, four short months or so.