Trado poses with his sweethearts:
owner Chris Martin, right, and dressage trainer
Jennifer Reynen of White Horse Training at the
Coto de Caza Equestrian Center. Photo by Kim F. Miller
They say there's a silver lining in every bad situation, but it was probably hard for the 8-year-old Andalusian Letrado to see that four years ago. At the time, his home was a remote mountaintop in the Grapevine area where his down-on-her-luck owner had sent him for bargain rate pasture. He was in decent health, but thin and unmuscled, with a scraggly mane and a dirty, dull coat. Worst of all, for an Andalusian, he had no person to love and no job to do.
Little did he know that faith and fates had aligned in his favor. They arrived in the form of a white-knuckled driver pulling a five-horse trailer round and round the long single-track road up the mountain. At the wheel was dressage trainer Jennifer Reynen with her student Chris Martin, two women set on saving the life of a horse they'd never seen. Suffering a 102-degree temperature after a bad reaction to a flu shot, Chris struggled to bolster Jen's courage on the hair-raising ascent. They both knew the scarier prospect was taking on a rescue. They also knew it was the right thing to do.
Letrado confirmed that when they finally arrived safely and ventured into the pasture to meet him. "He walked right past everybody else and put his nose on my chest," Chris explains today. "He chose me." With that wonderful omen, the ride home to Orange County was a relative breeze and their story since then has been one of happy milestones. The most recent highlight was Chris and "Trado's" receipt of a training scholarship from the US Pura Raza Espanola Association in January.
Chris Martin and Trado at a show. Photo by Stephanie Smith.
Jen was the first to get the distressed call about Trado. The owner of White Horse Training, located at the Coto de Caza Equestrian Center in South Orange County, Jen recalled speaking to his former owner about training possibilities a few years prior. White Horse Training is home to several breeds and Jen's recently retired Andalusian, Ganadero, had long ago sold her on the breed's intellect, willingness and overall great nature.
She was also sympathetic to the plight of the owner. The woman's circumstances had been reduced to living out of her car but she was still trying to do right by her horse in finding him a good home. She called Jen as a last resort to calling buyers that would likely have landed him at
Trado, left, and Chris's Arabian, Red, who eventually gave
his approval to Trado. Photo by William Martin
Jen already brought three other rescue horses into viable dressage careers, so she knew that part was doable. She had an instinct about how Chris and this horse might match up, and if that proved wrong, she and her husband were willing to take the horse on themselves. "The more I thought about it, the more I realized the timing and everything else might just be perfect."
The trainer broached the idea to Chris.
Why Don't You Go Get Him?
Chris is a fourth grade teacher and lifelong rider who had been studying dressage with Jen for four years at the time. Her own horse, an Arabian named Red, was in irreversible decline due to heart issues. Affectionately known as "the Sheriff," he could be hand-walked to patrol the stable grounds, but he was bound for the rainbow bridge soon. In the interim, Chris took lessons on Jen's Ganadero, with whom she had earned a Dover amateur medal at Second Level.
"It's hard to horse shop when you're heartbroken," Jen relays of one of the reasons she proposed Trado to Chris. Patience and the understanding that dressage takes at least one lifetime to master were other traits that made Chris seem the perfect person for Trado.
Chris got the call from Jen and immediately talked with her husband Bill. Taking on responsibility for a second horse was a stretch for the couple, but his only question was, "Why don't you go get him?"
Trado, the day Chris brought him home.
Photo by William Martin
Working with kids was perhaps great preparation for working with Trado. Progress in ground manners and basic under saddle work came in baby steps during the first year. The previous owner turned over Trado's papers from the Spanish studbook, the ANCCE, confirming his Andalusian breeding. She also relayed that she had purchased him from a Charro ranch, and apparently, not a respectable one. Trado was extremely head shy, wary of being approached head-on, afraid of everything and frequently prone to what appeared to be panic attacks.
Patience & Peppermints
Patience and peppermints slowly brought Trado to an easier mental state. Chris and Jen worked around his head shyness, especially around the ears, by buckling his bridle into place piece by piece. He got a peppermint every time he
did something right, and figured out that connection fast.
About a year into his new life "a switch flipped" and he settled into his environment. Training challenges were introduced in short sessions interspersed with lots of relaxed walking. Prior dressage training was not evident but he was a quick learner and, once he settled down mentally, it was relatively smooth sailing. Initially Jen worked on canter exercises when she rode him and Chris worked on movements at the lower gaits.
They brought him to shows, not to compete but to get comfortable in that environment. At first, Trado whinnied a lot and could not bear to have Chris out of his sight. Once he became comfortable as a spectator, he was ready for Training Level competition himself and debuted at Showpark about 18 months into his new life. All went well and so started his transition from shy boy to total show off.
Chris Martin and Trado proudly displaying his ribbons.
Photo by William Martin.
"Now he goes down center line saying, 'Hey, Trado is here!" Chris reports with a big smile. "His confidence has really kicked in." That and his obvious joy in his work are most evident in the Level 1 Freestyle he and Chris unveiled at last year's Festival of the Horse in San Juan Capistrano.
Inspired by Trado's gift for showmanship, Chris zeroed in on the qualifying scores to compete in Freestyle competition. Trado perked up his ears when she began playing music during training sessions and when he heard it played through the show's PA system, he let loose his "Spanitude," Chris says of his confident, I'm-in-charge, state
Chris was drawn to Freestyle as the ultimate reflection of dressage as a partnership between horse and rider. Getting the choreography just right and then executing it in the show ring are enjoyable, if somewhat intimidating, challenges, she acknowledges. "I decided, 'Hey, I have this beautiful horse and what do I have to lose?'" She loves the fact that the highest scores usually go to the most relaxed rides and she felt early on that Trado enjoyed it as much as she does.
The judges enjoyed their Freestyles, too; enough to put Trado and Chris in USDF Region 7's year-end reserve champion slot in First Level Freestyle. Demonstrating the solid basics needed for Freestyle success, the pair has also earned much national First Level recognition from the United States Dressage Federation and the USPRE.
Chris was particularly excited to receive the USPRE's Dressage Scholarship, $1,500 to be spent on training and clinics. Judge Lendon Gray liked Trado's transformation from charro horse to dressage mount and commented on the good job Chris has done with the transition.
Even Chris' ailing Arabian, Red, was pleased by their pairing. "At first he was jealous," she recalls. "But then he seemed to be OK with him. It seemed like once Red sensed that I was OK with Trado, he was able to let go." Red passed away in 2010.
Receiving Letrado's ANCCE papers set Chris' educator's eye on her new horse's history. She learned that he was bred by Hierro de la Pluma in Costa Rica and sired by Quimico VII out of Uruguaya VIII. He also bore the added distinction of being a Cartusian Andalusian. The story dates back 500 years to the Cartujano Monks, who made it their mission to protect the purity of this line of Spanish horses.
The biggest discovery was that Trado and Ganadero are cousins. At 15.3 hh, Trado is taller and his training has built up impressive muscle, but the friendly, handsome white horses are frequently mistaken for each other. Jen and Chris didn't need any more signs that their decision to take Trado on was right, but their horses' relationship was a nice reminder that their bold instincts had played out as they'd hoped.
Chris has learned many Spanish words in her research into Trado's heritage. Her favorite is Benidición, the Spanish word for blessing.
"That," she concludes, "is really the best way to describe him."