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6600 Maynard Farm Road

Chapel Hill, NC 27516

LynnLeath@gmail.com

Mobile: 919-270-7060

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you ever seen a Jack Russell Terrier lock his jaws on his favorite chew toy and refuse to let go, no matter how hard you tug, toss, or shake him? That’s how I was with Stripteeze Artist. She was my first foal, and as I watched her float across the pasture, I sensed that she was the horse that could make my dream come true the horse that I could personally back for the first time and train to Grand Prix. A long and rocky road as it turned out but dreams do come true.

Stripper’s life was complicated right from the start: her dam did not have milk, so she didn't receive any colostrum. I leased a nurse mare who promptly rejected her. The goat I borrowed to keep her company (and provide her with milk) constantly escaped from Stripper’s pasture. More rejection. The only thing left to do was bottle feed her. Do you have any idea how much a foal drinks? I burned up three blenders making foal milk, and ended up living in the barn for three months so that I could feed Stripper around the clock. I didn’t get much sleep, but Stripper thrived. And through that process, she and I developed a unique bond.

The bottle feeding did produce some unintended consequences however. Stripper never quite understood that she was a horse. Instead, she seemed to think that she was a superior human. So why would I want to get up on her back? Instead of the wild antics most young horses engage in, she would fold up like a camel so that my feet and stirrup irons would be resting on the ground! And how rude of me to chase her around a circle with a long whip. The first time I tried to show her off to my good friend and mentor, Jessica Ransehousen, she turned the tide on me by running into the middle of the circle and knocking me over! Stripper thought that was very funny and clever, but Jessica did not appreciate her sense of humor. Soon after that, Stripper decided that she was done being ridden for the day. She politely dislodged me from the saddle, so that she could run up to the top of a sand pile and roll down to the bottom. How could I not love this horse? So, like a tenacious terrier, I stuck with her.


Stripper's saving grace was her love to perform: the more people watching her, the better. She would become irate if someone got up and left during one of her performances. You could almost hear her think, Wait come back I can do that better! She had a natural trot extension with a cushiony back. Jessica remarked that when I lightened my seat, the mare would lift her back to stay connected to my seat bones. Stripper proved herself to be a willing and talented dance partner.


When she was nine years old, we were having fairly good success at Prix St. Georges and Intermediare 1, so we decided to enter Dressage at Devon and put our hat in the ring for the Pan American Games. Right after I sent the entry in, the floor fell out from under me. At first, it was only a matter of losing that wonderful feeling she gave me in her back. After some time, she lost her canter entirely. Over the following four years, I took her to every veterinarian that was recommended to me, from Pennsylvania to Florida. They all had their theories. Stripper was X-rayed, scoped, nuclear scanned from head to tail, had thermography and ultrasound performed. A hospital wing should have been named after her for all I spent, but nothing resulted in a definitive diagnosis. Still, I persisted.
Since the veterinary route was not reaping satisfying results, I tried exploring the problem from a training perspective. Every opportunity I had to go to a respected clinician, I took. Some suggested stronger bits. Some bigger spurs. Some draw reins. Instead of getting more ridable, Stripper began to stick her tongue out when I rode her, and crib in her stall. She was obviously distressed, but couldn’t communicate to me what the problem was. And I didn’t speak "horse".


At this point, a friend in Georgia recommended that I get the opinion of her veterinarian, Dr. Bob Grisel. Over the telephone, Dr. Grisel asked me to explain Stripper’s history. An hour and close to fifty questions later, he asked if I had considered the possibility that she was suffering from intermittent upward patella fixation. That phone call was the beginning of Stripper's recovery. Dr. Grisel successfully treated the IUPF, and to my delight she steadily improved over the course of the next six months.


But the residual effects of the previous four years continued to haunt us. She had been pushed to perform when she didn’t have the physical capability, and had thus lost her desire to please. The zest and enthusiasm that Jessica had so admired in the mare early on had evaporated. We had addressed Stripper’s physical issues, but now an enormous mental challenge had to be overcome. I had stubbornly refused to give up on Stripper for so many years, I wasn’t going to surrender now.


Friends and associates who had witnessed the struggles of the prior years urged me to find a new horse. They anticipated only more difficulty and heartbreak. But I refused because I believed - no, I knew that Stripper could make it to Grand Prix and earn the coveted USDF gold medal. I was determined to stick with her. More important, I felt like I owed it to Stripper to restore the joyous and generous spirit that had once made her "reach for my seat".


Back to the drawing board. I spent the next winter in Florida, searching for the missing key to Stripper’s mind. Then I had the good fortune to meet Cathy Morelli. Cathy explained how riders needed to stop "clashing" their aids by driving into a "fixed" hand, how this could "shut off the hind leg," create a feeling of claustrophobia in horses, and would ultimately make horses tense and arrhythmic. I stood transfixed - she was describing Stripper. I persuaded Cathy to take me on as a student. Cathy took off my spurs, took away the double bridle, and taught me how to "prioritize' my aids. "Forget about roundness for the moment, and get the hind legs working properly," she encouraged. During that last week in Florida, Cathy did her best to explain and teach me her "system" for training a horse. The transformation was amazing. Stripper's hind legs began working better. She had moments of relaxation where she stopped sticking out her tongue. Her lateral canter showed moments of purity. I knew I had found the key that I had been looking for.


Stripper and I returned to North Carolina to work on what we had learned so far, and Stripper continued to improve. We made trips up to Cathy in New Jersey. Cathy flew down to North Carolina for clinics. I continued to check in with Jessica for reality checks. We slowly began to add test movements, and to my delight Stripper responded! I was greatly encouraged when friends made the observation that Stripper was the most active they had ever seen. Time to get back into the show ring. Was I happy on the day that we won the USDF Region One Prix St. Georges Championships!


Dr. Grisel continued to monitor Stripper's soundness. I continued having clinics with Cathy and Jessica. Stripper gradually got strong enough to work on piaffe, passage, and one time tempi changes. Onto the next and final level: Grand Prix. We chose the Florida circuit to meet this challenge. At our final show of the winter, the final class of the show, the final ride of the day. Talk about drama! We did it! We earned the necessary score to qualify for the USDF Gold Medal. Sixteen years after I first bottle fed Stripper, my terrier-like tenacity had paid off, and my dream had finally come true.


Stripper sadly had to be put down in 2010 due to a medical condition :-(