Heraldic and John Crandell are in Chile preparing for the 2011 Pan American Endurance Championships on October 22, 2011. This is Part I of a story about Heraldic, written by Crandell.
We had driven many hours to pick up a young horse that was been donated to the Old Dominion Rides for a fund-raising raffle. As we walked out into the meadows and mucky winter barnyards in Sink Hole, West Virginia we saw a scene that seized our attention like one wild horse watching another come over the horizon.
There were forty or so horses in one group, excited by the appearance of strange humans in a field and charging back and forth in front of us. There in the middle of the herd was one of the most striking movers we had ever witnessed. It was evident that he wanted to hide himself more in the middle of the group as much as he could, but he couldn’t seem to avoid outpacing all his companions. With an effortless, floating motion he would propel himself from the back to the front, just as the herd was doing an about face, placing him in the back again, and repeating the cycle.
This was Asgard Arabians, and there was not a shabby mover in the lot. If any of the other horses were placed in a more common group, they would have stood out just as clearly. Here we knew we were witnessing something that was an astounding exception, something that was distinct even among the very best. My father was absolutely smitten.
Stood still, he wasn’t particularly more striking than some of the other great specimens in the lot. Identifiable by a distinctive and complex blaze, and one white eye, but coloration means little to us. He had good proportions, as best as can be discerned in a two year old, with muscles flowing well down his limbs. Well formed joints. He had a particularly generous separation of tendon and bone through the cannons. There was an overall image of great strength, without being the slightest over-built… design eloquence.
Truthfully, there were a lot of horses there that fit that description, and many of them have gone on to become renowned endurance horses, but when we saw this one move, we realized Heraldic was in a class all by himself. There was something about the smooth, highly coordinated way he engaged his muscles that inherently made him move faster, with less energy, than all the rest.
Heraldic did not want to be anybodies pet. Life was good there-untamed, racing his siblings in the large pasture back at Asgard. I take great pride developing a good man-horse bonding with the horses I develop. I want my horses to feel good about working with me. Heraldic is Heraldic. I am just lucky he enjoys doing some of the same things I do.
I have never seen a horse with such self identity, and reliance only on himself. Heraldic needs no one, man or beast. Heraldic trusts no one, he can look out for himself. He seldom more than lifts his head when his pasture mate is taken out, and never has particularly bonded with another horse. On exercise runs, he works alone as aggressively as with company, although he does take considerable pleasure in showing the hairless side of his tail to other horses.
It is obvious that Heraldic wants to be known for his physical gifts, and only for them. The image he projects to other horses is little different than the face he shows me. When turned out with a group of horses, he will never allow himself to be beaten in a challenge run, and yet seems completely uninterested in marking his status in the herd. He doesn’t care to be an alpha, and yet won’t tolerate being pushed around. He is just there of his own identity. He works well in the group, but has no dependency on it. Heraldic is Heraldic. His coat of arms is the flare of his nostril, a piercing eye, and a cloud of dust.
Catching Heraldic is a fine art, and it’s not that he is against going out to work, he actually likes that part. Any excuse to run around a while and show independence is a good one. If you want him to run a long while, that is no problem. “How about 200 miles right here in this pasture?” Heraldic seems to offer. Trying to access natural horse instincts and hook him up is like pulling in a whale with kite string. This horse could be all alone in the wilderness and quite content. All the other horses here, other Asgards as well, are conditioned to come running across the pasture to me as soon as I call. Heraldic has taught me a lot about catching loose horses, what works a little on him, charms others. I’m going to go put a halter on some white-tail deer next.
Heraldic is naturally sensitive to aids. So sensitive that it has been a challenge to teach him to relax and to forgive an occasional imperfection of contact, such as will happen when you are running in a group over rough terrain. This has been the only real challenge in developing him to be an endurance horse. His physical conditioning and every other aspect of his maturation has bloomed with gifted ease.
Heraldic knows the task at hand like he was somehow pre-wired for exactly one purpose, endurance racing. It has taken a little extra time to convince him that there was any need for me to come along. He has the program and is quite confident he could do this all on his own.
Of course no hot-blooded horses inherently rate themselves properly at the start of a race. When free horses race, the game is won for who ever is in front when all others throw in the towel, an indefinite distance race. Doing very arduous 100 milers like the Old Dominion and the Tevis most quickly develops a horse’s sense that there is a purpose behind being rated. The fact that these courses run overland without at lot of looping back creates a keen awareness that there is a certain distance to be done, a place to get to. Sometimes people are surprised that I bring some fairly inexperienced horses to these tough rides. I never shortcut on long and careful physical development before a horse does any race. Taking a new horse to one tough race, develops more maturity and wisdom than you will achieve running a dozen fast courses. The stalwart competitor we all strive for is created with less risk and less wear all in all.
The greatest reward of all from this grand racing season is knowing that I have a much better working companion now than when the year started. He is also quite physically undaunted from the season, more fit and fresh than ever. Heraldic is even adding just a little bit of a healthy social exchange to his character. Just the other day was a milestone, I got a little bit of a pleasure reaction out of him while grooming. I’m sure I have done things that felt good before, I’ve certainly tried, but he is only now allowing himself to show it. At this rate, in another 20 years even Heraldic will let himself be a pet.
I am certain that if the world changed overnight and there were suddenly no more organized endurance rides I would still be doing this, and challenging myself just as hard, even if all alone. Heraldic makes it clear that there are horses of the same mind.
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