Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Spa day

It's a good thing my new boss likes me.  Horse life is very demanding and it tends to come in waves.  Today was Theo's annual saddle fitting and a visit from his manicurist.  I spent all morning at the barn.  I had to supervise, move my horse around, and write the checks.  Lots of checks.

I love the sight of brand new shoes.

Interestingly, I need to change his shoeing schedule.  Seven weeks doesn't cut it anymore because he's completely wearing through his back shoes.  I should be okay at six weeks, but at seven, his back shoes looked like slivers.  And he doesn't wear dainty shoes!  My farrier shrugged and said 'he's working hard'.  Trainer A said it's good that he's wearing down his back shoes as opposed to his front shoes.  So I'm just going to smile and keep writing the checks.

We had a new saddle fitter this year since the Saddle Doctor is now pretty much retired.  Joshua Siegel came out today to take care of our ponies.  Theo's saddles were once again declared to be great fits, but both had the same problem.  Joshua looked at my dressage saddle on Theo, pulled it off, flipped it over, then asked 'do you sit to the right by any chance?'.

Yeah, that bad left hip means I tend to carry more weight on the right.  And I'm consistent enough to make my flocking break down on one side.  I'm sure everyone else using my saddles will be thrilled that they're back to center.  I rode in my dressage saddle afterward and it was a little weird.  I felt like I was leaning left, but a check in the mirror showed that I was even.  Whelp, that's a thing.

And I have to say, there is no bliss greater than working in a saddle that fits both the horse and the rider.  I cantered Theo around and it is nothing to stay in the correct position.  My saddle puts me right where I'm supposed to be and lets my horse do his job.  It's so comfortable and wonderful.

I might have to get the saddle fitter out more often.  I wouldn't want my pony to get lopsided.  He'd look odd.

Well, he's already odd.  Odder, perhaps.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The picnic is over

Today was a huge day for me.  I've never in my 30+ years of horses taken a horse somewhere by myself.  Ever.  I didn't have a trailer and even if I did, the idea of driving a horse terrified me.  Today, I did it!  I drove 130 miles with a horse trailer and no one died!

Theo was pretty chill about this change in routine.  He hates changes in routine as a rule, but I bring enough cookies, he can cope.  He didn't really want to load into the strange trailer with no other horses even in the vicinity, but I convinced him to hop on while I got the butt bar.  Many cookies for the poor, confused pony.

I can't believe this rig is mine 

It took me about an hour to drive to Mary's place and it was almost entirely on highways or interstates.  It was an awesome way to rack up miles with a loaded trailer.  No lights, no lane changes, just lots of time in one lane with a big shoulder available if I needed to move over.  I got my trailer turned around at all of the parking spots and didn't get stuck.  I even loaded and unloaded my gear completely by myself.  I was completely autonomous!

As for my lesson?  Well, Mary is exactly as her reputation describes:  friendly, helpful, very honest.  Very, very honest.  After watching me warm up for a couple minutes, she asked if that was the way I showed him.  I said no, I usually wait to pick up a contact and establish forward first.  She said okay, show me the neck you have when you show.  So I picked Theo up and asked him to come onto the contact.  She watched for another minute, asked me to canter, and then flagged me over.

As she put it, I have a horse that doesn't bend right.  At all.  Even when tracking right, his neck bends left.  He never releases his right jaw, doesn't chew the bit on that side, and is not supple.  We don't have a good contact.  I asked if we were at First and she said no, it wasn't good enough for First.  We're not ready.

It stung.  I won't pretend it didn't.  It was blunt and honest, exactly what I wanted.  We're not going at First right now.  We don't have the required connection.  So I asked what I should do.  Then we got our asses kicked from one end of the ring to the other.  Theo would not flex right.  At all.  So she set us up to turn down the center line and then leg yield off of my right leg to the wall.  But not a text book leg yield.  She wanted his shoulders to lead significantly while keeping his bend to the right.  This was to push him to stretch muscles he wouldn't release.  And once he had the idea, we started asking him to supple and carry his neck in a round way while leading with his shoulders.

Theo was so resistant to this new plan that after twenty minutes, Mary slapped a draw rein on my right side.  As she put it, she didn't want to watch me struggle and was going to give me some leverage.  I'm a h/j rider, I'm very familiar with draw reins.  I was surprised to have one put on during a dressage lesson, but it sure made the point to mi papi.  It took another fifteen minutes, but I knew the exact moment he released his jaw and flexed through his poll.  I felt it through the entire front half of his body and Mary yelled 'yes, there, finally!'.  He started to work his mouth on the right side rather than keeping it clamped shut because he was being asked to submit to the bit.

New shipping boots!

While tightening my noseband, Mary told Theo 'the picnic is over'.  No more trotting around looking like a giraffe.  He is to come into the ring, pick up a contact, and get to work.  She saw absolutely no sign of curling from him, even under pressure.  Assuming the curling was a problem before, we've fixed it.  Draw rein, lots of pressure, and he didn't offer to curl.  I'm under instructions to work on getting him into a First level appropriate outline because curling is not a concern.  Now he's locking me out and that isn't allowed anymore.  I am to work that leg yield off of my right leg to force his neck to flex right properly and not do that weird snake thing while he avoids the true bend.

It was really cool the moment when he gave through the right and lifted his neck for me, coming onto the contact like I'd been hoping for all this time.

I feel some pride that no matter what adjustment she asked for, I could do it.  Supple him, poll down, leg yield, move his shoulders.  I've learned to manipulate my pony if nothing else.  And no complaints about our forward until the end of the lesson when he was melting in the heat.  We certainly haven't been wasting our time, just lost track of where we're going.

So here I am, accomplished and slightly broken hearted.  I'm dropping down to T3 and F1 until further notice.  Apparently the judges aren't blind.  I am.  I have a lot of thinking to do on all of this.  Mary was exactly what I hoped for, an emotionally detached and very honest voice of experience.  She seemed to like Theo, thought he was a good match for an adult ammy with a history of concussions.  He was a very, very good boy under pressure.  He never offered to quit or actively fight, just some stubborn evasion.  But if I want to progress with him, we have to fix this fundamental flaw.  He needs to submit to the bit.

It may take me awhile to reconcile the different feedback I'm getting.  But I know Mary's trained up several Grand Prix level horses.  I have to believe she knows what this level takes.

First impressions

I should be working.  I'm not.  I'm sitting here running through the checklist for my truck and trailer over and over again while trying to remember how to breathe in this damn bra.  If I'm going to a big time dressage-ing lesson, I'm going to strap down my boobs.  Whatever helps, right?

I've known enough professional trainers to be included in some of the behind the scenes chatter.  One topic that I've heard come up several times is trailer in lessons.  Trailer in lessons are a complete mystery for the trainer on that first ride.  It could be someone completely together and ready.  It could also be someone with an unfit horse, badly shod, ill fitting tack, and no clue that thinks they're ready for the Olympics.  I really don't want anyone to think I'm a random hobo that wandered over to learn to ride horses good.  I don't have many ties to the dressage world and I'm hoping to gain some.  I'd like those future acquaintances to not think I'm clueless.

Serious business dressage horse

I've picked out my outfit carefully.  Pretty new full seat Pipers in Monaco blue with lilac piping and a white polo with blue seams.  I put on a floral belt from Equine Coture because I've still got to be me, but it's a very conservative outfit overall.  Black leather gloves, black helmet with hair up, tall boots, little spurs.  No jewelry other than my Fitbit.  I'll carry my show whip.

Theo is also going conservative.  Navy PS of Sweden pad with white trim and his silver clincher browband.  White boots just came out of the dryer.  It's really the best time of year for anyone to meet him, he's sleek and shiny and sporting the kind of dapples usually reserved for toy horses in plastic boxes.  I'll braid his forelock up so he looks a bit less like a mischievous pony and I'll take the time to fully brush out his tail.  I also treated him to some brand new shipping boots in navy.  I'm starting to pick up a theme.

I gave the Behemoth a quick wash last night to get the pollen and pine needles off.  I don't think it's had a bath since we bought it last summer, so it was very due.  Pollen + pine tree resin + dust + sitting in the rain = yellow sludge in a line along the side of the truck.    Not attractive.  So I scrubbed the sludge off and cleaned all of the pine needles out from the bottom of the windshield and the roof.  The trailer is still spotless and new, so nothing to be done there.  The hubby hitched it last night for me since he knows me and knows I'll be nervous and frazzled trying to hit the road by myself.  He also got the back up cam and the camera that watches Theo set up for me.  I'm taking him out to dinner tomorrow.

So that leaves me with just the riding and having a clue part.  Well, I guess I'll just have to cross my fingers on that one. 

Very serious competitors

The weather sure isn't cooperating.  86* for a high according to my phone, but all week we've been blasting up to 90* with tropical levels of humidity despite the forecast.  My lesson is at 3:30pm.  Ugh.  I'm not too worried, all of our cardio work means he can hold up in the heat for at least an evaluation lesson.  He'll be melting a bit, but he demonstrated for me this week that he's got more in the tank and can cope. 

So I sit here at my desk, dressed for my lesson, waiting for the clock to strike noon and send me on my way.  I'm not getting a thing done.  All I'm doing is thinking about how long the drive will take, where to park my rig, my checklist.  Today is kind of a big day for me and I just want it to get started already! 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Product Review: Cheeta Trotter Bra

Background:  I am rather hourglass shaped.  Which is a polite way of saying there's junk in the trunk and some serious business going on upstairs as well.  I wear a 34D bra and at 5'2", that's not a small percentage of my total mass.  Most of my life I've been fine with a sports bra and occasionally even a regular bra while riding.  Posting isn't that bad and when you never sit the canter?  Bouncing can be managed.

Never, ever wear a front clip bra while riding.  Yes, I speak from experience.  Explaining to the older, angry German man that I needed to step out of my lesson to duct tape my broken bra back together was a unique experience.  I snapped the little plastic clip in the midst of a jumping course.  Bouncy bouncy.

But now a days I spend a lot of time with my tush in the saddle and the bouncing is a problem.  Gods help me if I forget to pack a sports bra and even with that, there's some unseemly jiggling going on when I sit the trot.  I needed something with some real substance and staying power.

100% not me

The Product:  The Cheeta Trotter bra is a compression bra with a downward facing zipper in the back.  It's not like your usual pull on bra.  There's a video for getting everything settled where it should be and you do not lift the girls up to their usual position.  The model I chose is the one with the built in tank top in nude.

Review:  This thing is substantial.  The tank top part is sturdy and stays tucked into my breeches nicely.  The bra, though.  That thing is intense.  I ordered a medium based on my rib cage being between 34 and 36.  When it arrived, I noticed right off the bat that this thing isn't kidding about the elastic.  There was much wiggling to pull it on.

The zipper has a long tab on it so you can zip it on your own without too much trouble.  There's a single hook at the end to keep it from unzipping at an awkward moment like jumping a course in front of an angry man with a smoker's cough and a heavy accent.  It's definitely weird zipping something down, but it pushes the girls down and then crushes them into place.  Seriously, it took me a second to figure out breathing.  It's not uncomfortable anywhere, but you are definitely aware that you're strapped down.

My shirts definitely fit better with it on and I expect my jackets will look nicer with a solid inch taken off of my chest.  In the saddle, I finally had stability in the sitting trot!  Sure, I can perceive movement if I really focus on it, but it's certainly not bouncing.  All of my mass is squished in where it belongs, over my center of gravity.  There's a lot less distracting flopping going on.  It didn't interfere with my ride at all, but it does take some getting used to.  This is the first bra that successfully contained all of that mass while sitting Theo's working trot.

These things are not cheap.  Something like $67 through Smartpak a pop.  I intend to buy more.  It is such a relief to sit the trot and not have a bunch on unmanageable, sometimes uncomfortable movement.  I can't say it's a comfortable bra, it felt nice to take it off (and try to fluff the girls back up to their usual dimensions, poor things), but if you've got some serious business going on in the area of the chest, this will do the job of keeping everything sleek and still even during the sitting trot.  I recommend it.

Friday, July 14, 2017


I don't have sponsors or advertisers or even a particularly large following on my blog.  It's mostly a stream of consciousness for me to write things out and share my experiences with my online friends.  I like to write and it helps me nail down things that are avoiding explanation.  I've got good days, bad days, victories, defeats, and all of the boring days in between.  I don't edit what I've posted in the past because, when my fingers were on the keys, it was true.  It was what I was feeling and thinking.  It's important to look back and remember what I was experiencing during times of high emotion, especially as I'm usually very logical.  It's easy to forget why I felt a certain way when months have passed.

My last two posts were very much in the throes of emotion.  I look back at them and go 'omg, take a breath, girl'.  But that's what I was feeling.  It was what was going through my mind, what I was experiencing.  

I've come to the conclusion that horses are amplifiers for our emotions.  They bring out the best in us.  I'm more patient, more trusting, more courageous when I'm around horses.  They force us to leave behind our long term plans and logic to live in their world of emotions and immediacy.  If you're with a horse, you're living in the moment.  You can't plan for an hour ahead when, at any moment, something could change and need your absolute attention.  A horse fly, a loud motorcycle, small children dropping things from the hay loft without warning (you gotta love summer camp weeks), any of those things can completely take over your horse's mind and become the only thing they're thinking about.  They don't give a damn or even understand that there's a show in two weeks.  They are worried about that fly on their belly right now.  Not being with them in that moment is a good way to get hurt.

It also brings out the worst in us.  I'm at my most raw, my most intense when it comes to horses.  Particularly a horse that is my horse.  In order to get those highs, you have to deal with the opposite.  The lows, the frustration, the anger.  The embarrassment.  Everything is amplified when you step out of our modern, slightly detached adult lives and immerse yourself in your passion for creatures that are ruled by their emotions.

I see it every day to varying degrees.  Some people don't lose themselves so much and everything just rolls off of them.  Some lose themselves too much and the horse becomes an extension of themselves.  They take any slight of their horse as an insult to themselves.  I like to think I'm in the middle.  I'm certainly not unattached, but I'll be the first to tell you that my horse is a lazy asshole a lot of the time.  But anything involving my horse amps my reactions.  I'm emotionally invested enough to make me react in ways that my co-workers would find utterly alien.  They know me as someone that keeps their emotions in complete check.  They wouldn't recognize me at the barn, burying my face in my horse's neck because I'm fighting tears.

Horses bring out the best and worst in us.  I've accepted the fact that in order for me to experience moments of true courage and achievement, I must also experience the opposites.  I have to experience the fear and failure.  You don't get to have just one side of the spectrum.  It's harder to cope when your emotions are ramped up, but that's what happens when you throw yourself into your passion.  It's not a hobby that's safe enough or cheap enough to take up lightly.  At this level, it has to be all or none.

So yes, in the cold light of day, my intense reactions are bizarre and confusing.  I was embarrassed and hurt because my horse had another bad score on his record.  It's far from the end of days and there was a lady in my class who's horse completely melted down.  I'm sure she would have given anything to trade with me.  There was another rider in warm up who's horse put on an amazing display of bucks, spins, and rears that would have happily traded problems with me.

I don't have a solution or way to prevent my reaction from happening again.  If I'm going to participate in a sport that revolves around creatures that run off of emotions, requires a great deal of emotional investment, and is judged on a very short snapshot of our skills, it's going to happen.  Being aware of it helps to keep me from doing anything rash.  I know I need to wait and come down from whatever I've experienced, good or bad.  I waited until this morning to talk to Trainer A.  It was a calm, adult conversation that cleared up confusion for everyone and set new expectations.  I couldn't have that conversation yesterday, I still felt too raw.  I had to let my feelings settle, take a day off and just breathe.

As much as I dislike having my emotions amplified, I'm reminded of a conversation I had with my husband years ago.  I tried to explain why I give up so much for my hobby.  He didn't understand until I brought up his passion for creating things.  When he can't make things, he's moody and frustrated.  That is his passion, my horse is mine. It's the same, soul devouring drive.  It would be like me asking him not to create anymore.  To which he said, "But that would be so empty."

Yes, it would be.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Led astray

I had the same dream over and over last night.  That very rarely happens to me.  I had this file that I needed to put away, but it didn't fit anywhere.  This is the downside to being an analyst.  Even my subconscious seems to insist on everything being neatly categorized.  But the file didn't go anywhere.  No matter how any times I tried to put it away, it popped back out because it didn't fit.

I watched my test again in the harsh light of day and yeah, something's broken.  Our scores have been dropping all season.  I know it's not all about the scores, but when all of the judges think we've gone backwards, something is up.  But that's not why I couldn't put the file away.  I couldn't put it away because I was also being told it was the nicest test I've done.  I came out of the ring and thought that was really good.  I was told it was really good.  Not just 'good job doing what we wanted to do' but good as in getting a really good score.  But it's my lowest scoring.

But he sure is pretty

You can see why the file just doesn't want to fit.  I left Theo's head there.  I'm watching my test wondering why I left him like that, especially at a show.  I could have easily tucked him in a couple more degrees so that he was just a bit ahead of the vertical without messing everything up.  But I did it because I was told to in warm up.   I've been very specifically told to leave his head alone, which with Theo, means he's going to go around with his nose out.  Because that is how the Theo do and it's been weeks of me letting him do whatever with his head while we straighten him out.

Yesterday, I was that fool that goes in, isn't prepared, and then blames the judge for my poor score. 

So here I am, having a terrible revelation.  Trainer A either doesn't know we're not ready for the test or she's lying to me to make me feel better.  Either way, not cool.  If I'd gone in with the mission to go straight, no curl, and accept my rough score because that's where we're at?  I could have gone home smiling because mission accomplished.  If I'd been told to drop down to First 1 because we've had to back up to fix some things, so be it.  But I wasn't.  I was sent in thinking I was competitive.

Going First level last season

I guess I bought my trailer and scheduled my lesson just in time.  I don't want to go backwards.  I started my season all shining hope and readiness.  Now we've slid back to the point we look like we should be doing Training level.  And worse, I felt like it was a solid test.  I felt like I'd presented my horse well and correctly for the level.  Hell, two weeks ago I'd been led to believe he could move up to Second in a couple months.  Apparently, I don't know where we're at anymore.

I'm responsible for my own riding.  I know.  At the end of the day, I rode him wrong and got smacked. I'm not looking for someone to blame.  But I can't be told that it's really good by one person and that we're not ready by everyone else.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What they want

To be clear, dressage is new to me.  It's kind of weird and super subjective.  I get that.  But sometimes, you get a score and you damn well know you got screwed over.

That got a 57%, including a 5 for submission.  That test right there.  A 5 for submission.

I'm so confused.

Yes, his nose is in front of the vertical.  I made that choice.  I didn't want him to curl and he was tucking his nose in the warm up.  He was forward and straight and it felt very relaxed and nice.  He never once tried to break and none of the movements felt dicey.  Yes, the leg yield was a bit shitty, but the movements were all there and willing.

She said we didn't have enough bend on that lengthen trot movement.  What?  Seriously, what?  No comment on his actual lengthen (which I was proud of because he actually pushed), just a comment about his lack of bend at H and K.  I got 5.5s on every circle.  Not enough bend.  She said we don't have the connection required for the level.  I got a 5.5 for rider with the word 'subtly' underlined.

Now I feel completely lost.  I was feeling so good about that test when it was done.  He was so relaxed and willing in the ring of death.  I thought I had my 60.  He didn't over bend and throw his shoulders around, he didn't swing his haunches in.  Yes, he was ahead of the vertical, but geeze.  It's First level.  I thought his improved impulsion was more important.

We scored lower than my last test where I felt so bad and felt like the test was barely hanging on.  We scored five points lower than his test with Trainer A where he tried to break in the canter.  It's not like I was expecting a 70 or anything.  60 is supposed to mean you did it.  You completed the test and no one gasped or ducked or thought you weren't going to manage it.  We got beat by a horse that spun on center line and was braced through the neck due to tension for the entire test.  But by the gods, his nose was vertical.

I guess I really don't know what they want.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017



Guys guys guys guys guys.


I use guys as a gender neutral pronoun.  Sorry, it's a Midwest thing.  I should be using y'all.


I got my trailer!

I need to rake my driveway

This was taken in my driveway.  It's here!  I HAVE A TRAILER OF MY OWN!

 Not the Behemoth, but the same size truck that I'll be using

You have to understand, my entire life I've had to beg or hitch rides or go where the barn is going.  For the first time, I can go where I want when I want!

I am too excited to breathe properly.  I need a paper bag.

It's a 2008 Sundowner Sunlite 777.  Two horse straight load goose neck with the side ramp and escape door on the driver's side. Yes, I know about the frame/floor issues in Sundowner's with a steel frame from 1999 - 2008.  This trailer is already 9 years old with zero rust and was produced after the issues were resolved.  Little known fact, Trainer A's dad is a mechanic so I'll have an expert to help me keep on top of any potential rust issues.

I got it from Theo's massage therapist and it has about 1k miles on it total.  It still has that new trailer smell.

So much space

It's warmblood size and very roomy.  I love the fact it doesn't have a seperate dressing room because that takes 3 feet off of the total length and gives Theo so much head room he won't know what to do.  I still have a whole goose neck for storage and enough room to stroll around in front of the hay bags.  My saddle will probably ride in the back seat of the Behemoth to prevent any possible scratches, but that's the only concession.  It came with a camera to watch mi papi and to back up without running over anything!

There's a bar to keep things from sliding out of the goose neck part, very nifty

I've shown out of trailers with this lay out and they're breezy in summer.  I don't trash my joints jumping in and out of the trailer.  Storage space won't be an issue.  With a nervous horse, I can just walk them out the side ramp.  Theo will have to back out because I'm not pulling down his hay bag every time I unload.

So now I the easy part is done.  I own a trailer and a truck.  Now comes the hard part.  I have to drive the damn things around.  And I have a lesson on the 21st.  Brace yourselves, my blog is about to veer off from trying to dressage and will enter the land of trying to trailer.  After my show tomorrow, of course.

I like to keep things interesting.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Life with ulcers

It's amazing what a difference one little thing can make.  Theo's ulcers were treated over the winter and he responded well.  But when spring came and the trailering returned, his stomach problems returned.  He's now two weeks into a full 28 day treatment with a daily dose of paste omeprazole.  Once the 28 days is done I'll wean him off, and then give him a maintenance dose whenever he goes in the trailer.  The trailering really seems to be what sets him off.

It's freaking expensive to treat ulcers.  So expensive.  Ulcerguard is about $30 a day.  I go through and get it down to about $7 a day.  So it's about $200 a month to have him on the treatment dose.  If I wasn't going generic, I don't know if I could afford it.  It's $900 to go through a full regimen of Ulcerguard.  Yikes.

The granules I used before were useful, but apparently he wasn't consistently eating it all.  Some days he was good, some days he was biting at the cross ties.  He likes to chuck his food everywhere while eating and I'm sure he was chewing some of it up. That keeps it from making it to the parts of his digestive system that need it.  For a horse that eats politely or is fed in a stall where they can't decide to flip their bucket over, they're a great option.  For papi?  Paste is working much better.  I know he's getting his full dose every day.

The generic paste isn't flavored.  It's also not flavorless.  As is my policy, I tasted his medicine to see how bad it was.  I was in my bathroom scrubbing with a toothbrush afterward.  It's awful.  I really worried about how I was going to get that into my horse.  Turns out it's not a problem.  Theo is such a hoover or maybe it's not that bad to a horse. We now have an easy, no stress routine.

After grooming him and giving him time to finish whatever was in his mouth, I make a big show of unwrapping three of the big, soft mints that he loves.  I make sure he can see me and hear those wrappers.  By the time I'm done, he's usually whickering to himself and leaning on the cross ties.  I pull out the syringe, dial in my dose, and try to keep Theo from pulling the syringe out of my hand while I dose him.  The tip gets bent because he pulls it into his molars in his excitement.  I dose him quickly and then start shoving peppermints in his face before he can even contemplate getting rid of the paste.  There's no way he'll spit out a peppermint, so all of the nasty meds go down the hatch with the parade of mints.  It's quickly followed by his Probios treats.  By that point, the meds are long gone.  There's usually a lot of lip licking and some extra drool afterward so I think that's the aftertaste of the meds, but too late for him to protest at that point.

Theo actually likes the sight of his ulcer meds syringe now, so this seems to be working.  I'm going to teach his leaser how to dose him so I don't have to drop by the barn on her days.  He's basically the perfect horse to learn on since he holds his mouth open and begs for his medicine.  Which blows my mind because it is really rank stuff.  I guess he considers that a small price to pay for all of the mints and treats.  Usually he has to do something difficult to get so many treats.

 He's a different horse when his stomach is happy.  I really think a lot of his rage issues come down to pain.  When he first got nasty with his first owner, she was shipping him out to the beach and to clinics.  Then he was awful at shows with various riders.  Now I'm doing preventative treatments any time he gets on a trailer and it's making a very real difference.

I'll probably be managing this the rest of his life, but it feels good to know that we found the actual cause for a set of his issues.  He wasn't angry or naughty.  He was in pain.  All it takes is a half dose the day before the show and a half dose before we get on the trailer.  That's a very minor thing to manage.

If you're thinking about trying the generic option?  I've had good experiences with Abler.  Shipping can be slow, especially if you go with the free option, but I haven't had any trouble with it.  You have to pay by electronic check or wire transfer from your bank.  If you pay by check, you'll get a phone call the next day from a company verifying your order.  It seems a bit sketchy at first, but it's totally legitimate and not a hassle so long as you answer your phone or proactively call them to verify your order.  I've found no instances of people having trouble with their products and when tested, they actually found the active ingredient to be slightly above the dose in the label.  So the med is in there, which is always a concern with a generic.

Theo is getting their AbGard product in the stable pack size.  He gets 5 markers worth of paste every day and a tube lasts him 6 days.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Product Review: Ecovet

Background:  Theo breaks out in hives and/or welts when the bugs get after him.  He's also a total princess.  Combine that with the vicious array of bugs you get in New Hampshire and you have a recipe for an uncomfortable, pissy pony.  I'm pretty much willing to try anything in the heart of bug season to keep him comfortable.

The product:  Ecovet is a fly spray that acts very differently than the stuff we usually use.  Regular fly spray keeps the bugs from biting.  Ecovet claims to mess up the chemical receptors in the fly, causing them to not be able to locate your horse and sometimes die.  It's based on amino acids evaporating off of your horse and making a bit of a cloaking mechanism (Star Trek reference ftw). 

I got a free sample from SmartPak.  It's more expensive than my usual fly spray but you're supposed to use less, so it probably evens out.

Review:  This stuff is scary when you first read the instructions and reviews on line.  May cause respiratory distress, use it outside and upwind, yadda yadda.  I've heard multiple reports of horses going into fits of wheezing and trouble breathing.  It took me a couple days to get up the nerve to even try the stuff.  Also, it's described as horrible smelling so definitely don't do it in the barn aisle.

I wanted to take Theo out for a trail ride/mad gallop to avoid the bugs and thought it would be a good time to see if Ecovet was the miracle product people claim.  It was also breezy, so seemed a good day to apply the product without killing my horse.  I took him out in the parking lot, parked him with his face into the 10 mph breeze, and applied as directed on the bottle.  I got his chest, legs, and belly from midline down.  I was expecting it to smell like pure death.  It doesn't.  I didn't like the smell, but it's not like a skunk or anything.  More odd and unpleasant than anything.  I can imagine it's overwhelming if sprayed in an enclosed space.  No wheezing or coughing from Theo, just one big lip curl.  The breeze did it's job.  I tacked up as usual, noted my horse now smelled funny, and headed out.

It did NOTHING.  It was no different than my Ultrashield and frankly might be worse.  Deer flies were on us while walking down the road.  The trail ride was our usual mad dash.  The flies had no problem finding my horse and latching right on.  Whatever it's supposed to be doing, it doesn't work on the biting flies in NH.  It was too breezy for gnats so can't tell you if it worked on those, but frankly, I wasn't impressed.  If I'm going to go through all that trouble to apply the product, I should be able to see at least some improvement.  I gave the rest of the sample to the barn to use on a mare suffering from sweet itch, see if it helps her.  It's useless for Theo.

So no, it's not a revolutionary break through.  If your horse isn't allergic to pyretherin, stick with the traditional stuff to handle biting flies.  I'm really quite disappointed because I'd read reviews where it really made a difference on trail rides.  It might be regional and depend on the species.  If you've got the awful, yellow/orange deer flies we have in New England, save your money. 

It looks like the trails will just have to stay closed for a bit longer.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Roads to Rome

I'm a pretty goal oriented person.  It's not a secret.  I like having something to work toward.  Once I have something to work toward, not being able to make progress is frustrating.  I've definitely been making progress with Theo, but it drags and there's fits and starts.

Some of it's just my schedule.  I have a lot going on.

Fuel for data analysts

Some of it's my horse.  He's . . . well, opinionated.

So many opinions

And some of it's my environment.  My barn is far from a competitive hot bed.  I am the only dressage focused rider.  I am the only one with a focus on sanctioned competition in any discipline.  I am the only adult competitor.  The list goes on.  I am, hands down, the most advanced rider in the barn aside from my trainer.  This means that if I share a lesson, my lesson is going to need to be down shifted.

It's starting to become a problem.

My Wednesday night ladies lesson has been rescheduled about six weeks in a row, usually to the weekend.  I think I'm just going to drop that lesson.  Yes, I enjoy the pony parade, but I find myself just flopping along.  It's more expensive than going to a bar to just hang out.

My Friday morning lessons are either privates and therefore more intense and focused or they're shared with whatever random adult beginner that needs a lesson at that time.  My last lesson, we cantered for about two minutes on our own.  The rest of the lesson we practiced straightness, which is important, at the walk and trot straight down quarter line.  No shoulder in, no haunches in, nothing because the other rider wouldn't even know what those things are much less how to do them.  I really, really need to work on my simple changes but if anyone is in my lesson, that's off the table.

I'm too focused and competitive to handle this well.  And then my training ride got rescheduled and camp is going on so it's rather chaotic at the barn and Theo's shed STILL needs to be repaired . . .

I sent out an email to set up a trailer in lesson with Mary Howard.  Surprise, surprise, she emailed me back right away and I have a lesson with her on Friday the 21st.  She's a Grand Prix rider that won the Pan Am games in 1985.  She's got a bunch of students on the same circuit as me, including a couple of adult ammies debuting at Second level this year.  I told her I was a First level rider with a draft cross and she still set me up with a lesson.  AHHHHH.

This may be the kick in the pants I need.  She's helped train up dozens of horses to FEI, I'm sure she can help me and my ploppy pony get to Second.  And if we click (meaning her and Theo, mostly), she's only 45 minutes away and I can zip out to see her for more lessons.  I guess I'm really going to have to get the lead out and buy myself a trailer of some sort.  I think I've hit the point where I really, really need to be able to go out on my own and get the experiences I need.

I guess I'm tired of trying to fit into a 'program' where I'm a completely and utterly different type of a rider.  I certainly can't move Theo to a fancy dancy dressage barn (broke and over an hour from my house), but we can go visit.  Maybe a bit of the grandeur will rub off on him.

I can hope.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Old pros

Being the owner can be awesome.

My wake up call this show morning?  7:30am.  And I had time to stop by the barn to pick up my braiding bands, grab myself an iced coffee from Dunks, and drive up to the show.  Trainer A and her teen du jour took care of loading and leaving this morning since I did the prep and packing on Saturday.  The ride times were kind of cruel.  Her teen started at 10am, finished at about 1:30pm (her very first three phase), and Trainer A rode at 4pm.  Ew.

I played groom all day.  I kept Theo cool, bug free, and happy as he waited all day for his turn.  I cheered for our teen as she went forth and conquered her first cross country course.  She was technically eliminated when her pony refused one jump three times, but she got him over it on try four and completed the course.  Since it was a schooling show, she also finished stadium.  It was quite the learning experience for her, needing to put all three challenges together in the span of a couple of hours, but she's already excitedly talking about her next show.  Next time, a number and not a letter!

 Theo in his most conservative turn out: white saddle pad and silver clinchers browband

Most of my day was spent either hand grazing Theo or keeping an eye on the ponies while they were tied to the trailer, snacking on hay.  The boys were very good in tight quarters.  We had one incident when the canopy the teen's family were using for shade pulled up from it's stakes and took flight right at the pony Juicebox.  Juicebox was, understandably, completely freaked.  Theo was also not pleased.  Trainer A was close enough to yank Juice's tie loose before he could hit it.  I was too far away and Theo snapped his breakaway halter when he flew back.

Winning the tail game

So it did it's job, Theo was uninjured, but he was also loose and rather freaked.  Well, shit.  Fortunately they had the canopy under control and being collapsed very quickly so he didn't bolt.  He trotted a few steps, then stopped to check out the grass.  I pulled off my belt and made a show of crinkling a wrapper as I walked over.  That little butt head snorted, shook his head at me, and trotted off a couple steps.  Another rider heard me calling out 'loose horse' and headed him off before he could make a break for freedom.  I threw my belt around his neck and another helpful stranger handed me a halter.

I love eventers.  Everyone dropped everything to come help me catch my horse with smiles.  Of course there was a loose horse, it's a horse show.  It happens.  No harm done and Theo  went right back to his haynet like nothing happened.

Very chill, almost like he knows what he's doing

I'll admit, there was a shift in the tone and culture when the eventers finished up their day and the dressage crew started to show up.  A lot more white breeches, a lot more white polos, a lot more snark.  It's a very small schooling show so a certain amount of 'big fish in a little pond' going on.  Let's just say, these weren't faces I see at the big, sanctioned shows in the area.  While the eventers definitely have a vibe of being in this together, the dressage crew was there for just themselves.  It's unfortunate.

Tracking right up like a real dressage horse

Trainer A was a bit anxious.  It dawned on me that she hasn't shown this year and last year she only did Intro.  How did that happen?  But once she was on Theo, everything was fine.  We'd worried about whether or not he'd work for her once the pressure was on.  He's a very emotional ride and they're more prone to bickering.  We didn't need to worry.  86*, waiting all day, brutal sun with very little shade, and he still went into the ring and went to work for her.  The occasional comment, but nothing like what he's capable of.  They had to take breaks in the shade while his respiration came down, but she timed her warm up well.  They went into the ring like the pair of old pros they are.

Yes, he wanted to melt by the end of the canter work.  You can see him going 'please can I be done?!', but he didn't throw a fit.  He took her word for it that the flowers were not, in fact, going to eat him.  This is a huge step forward in their relationship.  They got a 62%.  I thought some of the marks were a hair harsh, I thought it was more of a 64%, but I'm trying not to get in the habit of quibbling over a percentage point or two.  We're close enough that I feel like the judge and I saw the same test.  She seemed quite happy with them and there were a lot of 7's.

The attempted breaks at the canter kind of killed them, but it's Theo in July.  We knew it was coming.

Trainer A said she had fun and that she could be talked into showing him at Second next time.  When the temperatures are lower so poor papi isn't begging for mercy by the end of his six minute test.  Yay!

It was a good day.  Trainer A had fun, Theo looked quite proud of himself on his walk back to the trailer, and I got to spend all day being the owner.  Which means I smile, say supportive things, and write the checks.

It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Six legged demons from hell

I swear New Hampshire is designed to keep you in the indoor.  Three to four months out of the winter it's too icy/cold/snowy to be outside.  The footing is dicey and the piles of snow alongside the road make it dangerous to hack out.  Cars are dumb and anything that limits their visibility as well as taking away my emergency escape route is a no go.  The outdoor becomes an ice skating rink due to snow/ice/refreeze and is closed until spring thaw.

Then we get a glorious two month window where we can go outside!  So long as it's not raining and the melt is done and mud season is over.  We don't want to tear up the trails or splash through ankle deep mud designed to tear off shoes.  But we go out and adventure and shake off the winter doldrums for a glorious eight weeks of really unstable weather interspersed with rides outside.

And then the bugs arrive.  Oh, the bugs.  In waves.  Species after species making the outdoors absolutely miserable.  The first wave is the black flies.  They swarm and bite something fierce.  Theo reacts to them and looks like a pineapple if he doesn't have his fly sheet, fly mask, and fly spray.  Then we get a short break before the mosquitoes start to peak, quickly joined by the midges, deer flies, horse flies, swarms of gnats, and any other type of biting insect you can imagine. 

Our outdoor is surrounded by woods.  Very pretty, provides some protection from the sun so you're not baked, but absolutely unusable most of mid-June to mid-July except at the hottest hours of the afternoon.  You can't walk because the gnats will swarm you in a cloud if you're going that slow.  I have become proficient at coughing and sneezing up gnats in as effective a manner as possible.  Haven't figured out a solution for the ones that get in my ears other than to shriek and flail.  It's really beyond words awful.  Theo needs a fly mask with ears to run through his tests in the large arena after warming up in the indoor and our free walk is usually a series of head shakes and snorts. 

The road is marginally better and where I've been trying to get him out of the indoor so he doesn't get ring sour.  Sometimes I'm completely bat shit and take him out bareback in his rope halter for a road hack.  Because I'm dumb.  But it's good for his brain and he really is that steady.  It's still buggy but it's manageable.

 No saddle, no bridle, no problem

Once the clouds of gnats and little biting flies disperse in mid-July, we can start to use the trails again, but only at speed.  Horse flies and deer flies will turn Theo into a bloody mess in minutes if we're going too slow.  For anyone unfamiliar with this variety of torment, they're big flies that bite in a way that feels like you've been stabbed.  They leave a bleeding mark behind and, if your horse is sensitive, it can result in a good sized welt.  Horses really, really do not react well to this.  I've seen horses almost flip over when swarmed by deer flies.  They get completely frantic trying to make the biting stop.  Most of us do the rail bed at a canter for our trail rides during that season.  We can get away with trotting rough sections which makes trail riding a possibility, unlike in the gnat season where it's just impossible, but it's not exactly relaxing.

September we start to get relief and can start going out.  After the first freeze in October we are usually on the trails as much as humanly possible because it's our short window of no bugs, no ice, no mud.  The rest of the year it feels like an epic battle with Mother Nature to get out of the indoor.

My poor horse is reactive to bugs, so I'm constantly sinking money into his armor.  I just ordered the Amigo with No Fly Zone to replace his fly sheet that's on it's third season.  Got to say, the Weatherbeeta Airstream held up for three seasons of almost constant use and is getting replaced only because some of the velcro is starting to wear out and a tear near one chest buckle.  I seriously considered getting him another one but wanted to try the No Fly zone.  I'll keep it as a back up because fly sheets need washing but I can't leave him naked.  We left him naked for a couple hours one day this week and he came in covered in itchy, tiny welts.  They really got him behind his shoulders where he can't reach and that's unfortunately under the saddle pad.  Not a happy papi.  Lots of treatments and soothing baths for him.

One of the first things I bought him and it's still in service

Crusader fly mask every time he's outside at this time of year.  Either his heavy duty long nose version for pasture use or the lighter version that goes over his bridle.   If he manages to get his mask off, I usually spend a couple days cleaning out his ears and treating the damage.  There's a reason he's not clean clipped.

Flyspray of choice is the Ultrashield in the red bottle.  I buy it by the gallon.  If we're getting into the 40's or warmer, he gets sprayed.  It keeps the ticks off of him (also a huge problem here and lyme is endemic) as well as the worst of the biting bugs.  I got a free sample of Ecovet and I'm going to try that tomorrow.  I've been really hesitant due to the reviews of it being a respiratory irritant.  Again, Theo is a delicate fucking flower and I don't want to set off his reaction to inhaled irritants. 

Seriously, how is this horse still alive?  He reacts to EVERYTHING!  Allergies, bug sensitive, ulcers, unstructured carbs, it's a wonder he's made it to 13 years old.  Though it does explain why he seemed so angry for so long.  He was itchy, congested, and his stomach hurt.

But if anything can keep him from getting chewed up?  I've got to try it.  I've heard Ecovet is a miracle worker for the midges and those are hard to control with a fly sheet, especially now when he's out on grass 24/7.  The worst of the deer flies is coming and I'm pretty willing to try anything to keep them off of him.

New Hampshire.  Beautiful to look at, not so lovely to actually experience.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Intentional slacker

I'm settling in to my new status as a commuting adult amateur.  I ride 3 to 4 times a week and that's fine because my horse is getting loved on 6-7 days a week.  I school seriously 2 times a week and then hit the trails and goof off.  We went on a group trail ride on Sunday, discovering the way to a new trail network.  4.86 miles of trails?  Yes please!

Theo was a saint, leading through some very rough terrain.  Too rough for pictures.  The trail was closed for a couple years after a bad storm dropped some very large trees.  We were probably the first horses on it in two years.  Theo tip toed over dicey footing, showing the two barefoot stock horses how to make it up the hills and through the water.

I ride for the love of it.  Yes, I'm competitive, but I've learned the peril of burnout.  When I had to work late last night because a new customer launch went sideways, it was no additional stress when I realized Theo wasn't going to get worked.  Trainer A is on him 2 times a week now as she gets ready to show him.  Theo isn't going to freak out at a random day off.  He's not going to lose condition.  I'm not a bad owner.  Tonight I will stay late, baby sit this new data run, and not worry a bit about my horse because he's already been worked today and is scheduled for an extra ride in the morning.  I could ride him tonight if I wanted to, he's plenty fit enough to be ridden twice with eight hours in between, but I need to work.  It's how I afford him, his fine clothes, and his tasty grub.

Trainer A is hopping on him extra this week to get him ready for the schooling show on Sunday.  And I'm very excited about this.  I really want to see Trainer A show him and I think (hope) she's starting to get excited in her own right.  Last year she never showed higher than Intro.  Now she's back at First 3 and talking about when to move him to Second.  It has to be so nice to go out and show at a level that's actually challenging and fun.

So here I sit in the unusual position of only riding when I really want to.  I don't have to drag myself to the barn when I'm stressed or fried or exhausted just to keep my horse in work.  And I kind of like it.  With the long weekend coming up, he'll be seeing a lot of me.  And then I can go back to earning his keep and not feel like I'm sacrificing his care to afford him.

It's new.  And weird.  But I think it works now that I'm getting used to it.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The power of straight

There's this thing a lot of people talk about.  A bunch of dudes in Germany wrote it once upon a time, they thought it was important.  It's almost a religion for a lot of the dressage-y types.

Yeah, that thing.  It's a nice, simple thing, but it surely can't apply to all horses, right?  RIGHT?

We all know training isn't linear.  You improve something, then you go back and tweak something, then you hop ahead to add something new, then go back to clear up something that popped up, repeat.  I'll admit to taking this whole pyramid thing as a neat idea that has very limited application in real life.  You learn it but it doesn't apply in real life.  Especially with a stubborn, evasive draft cross that isn't at all a purpose bred dressage horse.  Theo hasn't read the manual. 

Guys, I was wrong.  Again.  Training may not be linear, but that pyramid exists for a reason.

In Trainer A's clinic with mi papi, she got the book thrown at her for not locking down straightness before asking for collection.  In our attempts to unlock his resistance to any kind of bend in his upper neck/poll, we'd been turning Theo into Gumby.  Which worked for some things.  He relaxed, settled into the bridle more, started to give us lateral work.  He stopped using his under neck and started to develop a topline.  But that was all relaxation and connection stuff, we never went back to straightness.  We threw some energy in and then said 'collect, Theo!'.  We skipped from impulsion to collection.  The classically trained fella was having none of it.

Who cares if he's in front of the vertical right now?  Get his shoulders in front of his haunches, get his neck straight, and ride him that way.  No, he does not need to practice bending through his neck, that's half of your problem!  Look at him break at the C3 instead of the poll!  Keep him straight and keep his poll up!  Slow, steady, relaxed, forward, and STRAIGHT.

By gods it works.

Yes, that's Theo with Trainer A in the saddle at her clinic.  Look at that stretch and bounce!  She brought it all home and promptly threw the book at me.  Ride him straight!  Shoulders in front of haunches, neck straight, poll at the highest point.  If he's breaking at the C3, that's not softening, that's evasion.  Fix it.  Slow the rhythm, relax, settle into the connection, add energy, get him truly straight.  Forget his muzzle, just keep him relaxed, straight, even in the connection, and forward forward forward.

It's been a game changer.  His rhythm in the trot has dropped by a full beat per minute and sometimes two.  We are now shifting in and out of lateral movements without him falling on his face.  He's not a huge fan right now because he's having to sit evenly on both hind legs and can't break in the middle of his neck to fake flexion, but he's getting the hang of it.  I have to think of moving his shoulders, not his haunches or barrel or neck. 

His haunches are on a straight line, pushing us up and forward.  The power runs forward through his body so long as there are no kinks in the hose.  His shoulders I manipulate from side to side without the haunches leaving that straight line and without letting his shoulders pop out and block the hose.  I do not ask for bend in his neck.  Do not let the hose kink in the neck.  Flex is not what I thought it was.  If I can see his eye, that's plenty.  I don't want a change in the middle of his neck.  If I have a bend in the middle of his neck, I've lost the shoulders.  Pressure in both reins, cycle back through to the haunches.  If the outside rein is light, the shoulders aren't where they belong.  Inside leg to the waiting outside rein, bring the shoulders in front of the haunches and straighten the neck.

It's been hard for me because I hate having his muzzle out that far and my brain keeps screaming that I need to bend in the circles.  To do this dressage thing correctly (and move up through the levels), he's going to have to give through his poll and that's been very difficult for him.  When I give him massages, his poll is usually very tight.  Always has been, even before I started riding him seriously.  He hated having his poll touched when I started.  I think he stores his rage there.  Once he lets me work my fingers in, there's usually very dramatic yawning and chewing and stretching, particularly on the right.  He really, really struggles to flex left through the poll.  It's painful, but the vet says it's just tight, not arthritic.  Chiro agrees.  Massage therapist thinks he has rage issues.

Taking away his evasion has finally broken through that resistance.  In my last lesson I asked him to give me a little flex to the left and he did it.  Neck didn't move, but I could see his left eye.  He was calm about it, just offered the adjustment.  With each ride, he's comfortable bringing his muzzle in a bit more.  Just a bit, a fraction of a degree, but it's adding up.  He's learning to travel with his poll as the highest point and to flex through those previously locked muscles.  And at his last massage, his poll was less tight and painful.  Bit by bit, he's becoming supple now that he doesn't have a choice.  And as he gets more supple, he's less resistant to the idea of traveling correctly.  I've heard dressage referred to as yoga for horses and it looks like it's working.

It's been an interesting couple of weeks while we back up and fix this basic that we somehow blew past.  Theo's had some temper tantrums because this is new and hard and his evasions are suddenly being stopped, but nothing severe.  He likes being powerful and once he's rolling, he usually has that cheerful expression from the clinic photo.  Trainer A laughs at him when he's warmed up and hit his stride.  He loves to show off and let everyone know how big and powerful he is.

So I once again have to admit that I was wrong.  The training pyramid is a thing for a good reason.  While training isn't linear and it's not a case of completing a level and moving on, it's a checklist that needs to be revisited frequently and in that specific order.  The same way a tiny shift in my position changed everything about my riding, this tiny shift in how I ride my horse is rippling through everything.  It's going to be months before we see the full results of the change, but after three weeks, I'm very excited for what the future holds.  He looks like a real, honest too goodness dressage horse!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ode to the tail

He may not be forward.  He may not be supple.  He may not even be overly cooperative.  But he has one hell of a tail.

Seriously, that tail looks like it's photoshopped in our photos from our most recent show.  He's on his forehand and behind my leg, but I can't take my eyes off of that tail.

It takes a lot of work to keep this thing in shape.

Every day I have to pick through it and remove sticks, hay, dirt clods, big tangles, and grape stems.  Every.  Dang.  Day.

I try to not brush it out every day, but some days nothing else will do.  In fly season, he's prone to get snarls where his hair will wrap around his dock and he'll end up with a mat on the underside of his tail.  I don't want him to rub, so that's a daily check.

I also avoid silicone except during his brush outs during show season.  In the off season?  Silicone free detanglers only.  Sunscreen a couple times a week helps when paired with his fly sheet with a tail flap.

I don't braid it up, it's naturally wavy.  He doesn't tolerate having his tail braided full time.

Once a week (or as needed because he's a monster), he gets a full brush out.  I coat his tail in detangler from top to bottom and let it sit for a couple minutes to make sure it's soaked in.  Then I start at the ends and work my way up carefully with a big paddle tail brush.

In the warm months, he gets a tail wash every two weeks.  He's prone to pooping in that tail and rubbing mud in it, so it takes a lot of care.  It takes about a 1/4 bottle of Quick Black and 30 minutes to wash his tail completely.  Quick Black really helps with keeping that sun burnt orange color out of his tail.  I use it on his body, too.  It really brings out his dapples.

I have to sit and part his tail over and over to get down to his dock and get rid of all of the dead skin.  I'm so happy we have a wash rack now.  It used to be impossible without help and it's hard to find someone that will stand and hold your horse for 30 minutes while you wash his tail.

Theo loves it and dozes off while I scrub away.

Once it's clean, it gets slathered with EQyss conditioner.  That stuff is awesome.  Finally, finally, he gets stuck in a stall to dry.  Only once it's dry do I brush it out and trim the ends and a couple inches along his dock to keep him from getting big wings on his butt.

The end result?

Jet black, shiny, and the thing that gets the most comments.  Which is nice.  If they're looking at his tail, they're not noticing some of his other less flattering features.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Perils of perfectionism

I was going to write about spurs, but then I decided I've self-flagellated enough on that topic.  It's been almost two weeks.  I can stop the beatings now.  Instead I'll share the video of my bad outing and everyone can see that it is straight up self-flagellation from a perfectionist and we really didn't have that bad of a day.  It wasn't the score we wanted, but we didn't have people clutching their pearls or fleeing the area.  Pony was distracted, then pony was lazy.  Rider was distracted and overly stressed.

I got my spurs back after talking to Trainer A and deciding that it really is a mental thing for both me and mi papi.  He associates spurs with a serious business ride, even if I'm not using them.  For years, only Trainer A and I rode him in spurs.  Everyone else (when he needed to be ploppy pony) went without.  He's not a fool.  He gets a little bump and shifts gears to working pony.  We're going to work on weaning us off of them, but cold turkey is not the way to go.

Yes, we have a lot of work to do on getting him in front of my leg.  So, so much work.  My gods that horse is lazy.  Today we practiced walking forward like he has somewhere to be, halting like a gentleman, and then walking off promptly and starting from his hind legs.  Turn on the haunches, repeat in the other direction, a couple steps of rein back, repeat.  Walk is good for building up accuracy and strength.  But you know your horse is lazy when working walk with correct balance makes him protest.  But it's haaaaaaaard, mom.

I also got tortured on my sitting trot.  My left hip is killing me, so I must have been doing it right.  Trainer A was very pleased and we had a couple steps where Theo really had some loft while I was sitting.  Both of us must be getting stronger, he's getting very confident in lifting his back with me sitting.  Work over raised trotting poles is getting us both comfortable with the idea of bouncing along together.

And then he hung his head and acted like we were the cruelest people on earth.  Believe me, papi, I was working just as hard as you.

This is the downside to being a perfectionist.  I can tear myself up over flaws that are, objectively, very small.  I have to remember to stop the self beatings at some point and move on.  It's not an easy hobby, no point in taking all of the fun out of it.  So yes, lessons learned, progress to be made, but I think I'm done beating myself up.  There's always another show and we're still making good progress.  Time to go back to enjoying myself until the next time I make a series of dumb mistakes.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


And things were going so well.

The theme of today's show was 'how many ways can Catie try to get eliminated?'.  Let's see:

1.  No throatlatch.  I forgot to grab my throatlatch since I was packing off of the list from the hunter show.  That's required equipment and I realized it was missing about 35 minutes before my test when I was about to get on.  No other bridle in the trailer since I was the only one at the show.  We ended up taking my spur straps, hooking them together, and clipping them to Theo's browband.  Tada, throatlatch!  Sort of.  I had enough of a throatlatch so we could show, but I was on pins and needles until after the tack check about it.

2.  Corner of death.  We were at the same facility as the hunter show on Saturday.  The one where it took me 20 minutes to get him to go all the way around the ring.  When we pulled in and I saw a competition ring set up with the judge's booth right on top of the corner of death, I just knew we would be assigned that ring.  And sure enough, we were.  The good news is that having Theo in dressage gear and doing a dressage warm up got him through the corner in about 15 seconds, but the judge was checking her watch as my horse bucked, spun, and generally threw a fit. 

3.  Step in/out of the ring.  While he was temper tantruming, he started to jump into the ring as an escape route.  I was able to stop that, but it was a close thing.  He bumped the rail.  Pretty sure jumping over the rail and into the ring before the bell rings is a problem.

4.  Spur rub.  Yes, he still has a rub, and dying the coat or hide is illegal.  So I left my spurs in the trailer (and the spur straps on his bridle) and rode like that.  No problem with the tack check since I didn't have spurs on, but that meant that my horse thought it was ploppy pony time.  Spurs = serious business ride.  No spurs = school pony ride.  That does not lead to good scores in my experience.

We did manage to get in the ring, complete the test, and not get eliminated.  But we got a 58%.  I wanted to cry.  I was so upset my chest hurt.  It's so frustrating to come so far, then have it all fall apart as soon as we go to a sanctioned show.

What happened?  My horse was freaked out by the ring (though light years better than on Saturday), so the first half of my test was me trying to baby him along and complete the movements in a recognizable way.  He was off the contact and unfocused.  For the second half?  He dropped behind my leg and I had no damn way to get him back.  He realized I didn't have spurs and I suddenly got the Theo from over a year ago.  I didn't think I was going to make it through my canter pattern without a break.  One good bump with my spur would have gotten him back on the contact, but that wasn't an option.  I guess I'm not the only one that thinks the spurs are mandatory equipment.

It wasn't the show anyone expected or wanted.  Trainer A is throwing Theo on the trailer for every outing with a dressage ring, even the three phases, just to get both of us over this hump.  We can do that test quite nicely, but we fell on our faces today.  Badly.  I growled and grumbled and sulked.  She's not concerned, she's seen us go enough times to know that we can do it and quite easily, but we're both easily distracted by being at a show.  A couple of little oopsie moments going into the test and we were thrown completely off the rails.

So I'm still upset.  Very upset, frustrated, disappointed.  Not with Theo, really.  Considering the theatrics he gave me on Saturday, his reluctance to go into K in his test was very mild and generally I was more concerned about it than him once the test started.  Mi papi has done enough dressage tests at this point that he understands how it works and things outside of the little white box are not a problem once we've gone down center line.  He didn't want to leg yield into that corner, but most of the test he went along with the plan.  No bolting, barging, bucking in the test even with the terrifying corner.

I'm frustrated with him that he relapsed to being completely behind my leg in the warm up once he realized I had no spurs (whip taps didn't really get us much, they've never been much of a motivator for him).  Trainer A says we need a more gradual weaning, not to rip my spurs off and then go show, expecting it to be just fine.  I agree.  It was a mistake to ride a test in a ring that gives us so much trouble without my very effective tool, but it was also the choice I had to make because I screwed up and gave him a rub.

Video of the test is uploading for everyone's entertainment.  No video of the broncing display, Trainer A cut the video at the first sign that it was going to get ugly.  And I paid for photos, so hopefully there will be some pics out of the ride that don't embarrass me too much.  His new navy browband is gorgeous and matches my navy coat perfectly, so at least our turn out was on point.

So we had a bad outing.  It happens to everyone.  Olympians get rung out for disobedience and the best horses in the world have days where they just aren't feeling it.  It's horse show life.  I get that.  That doesn't change how awful it feels.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Flailing to music

Since this is my season at First level and I will hopefully (please, please, please let this happen) get the score I need to do freestyle this week, I have to actually start working on having a freestyle.  This is a ridiculously daunting process if you've never done it before.

I originally planned to have it choreographed for me to pre-edited music, but that service isn't available anymore.  It's looking like $700 - $900 to get a custom top to bottom freestyle.  I can't really justify that expense considering how rarely I'll get to use it.  It's not like I'm campaigning a young stallion in Florida or something.  Only two shows in the area even offer freestyle classes.

In an effort to save some dough, I'm going to need to do my own choreography and then have music edited to match.  That looks to be more in the $250 - $300 range.  That I can justify.  So how the heck do I do that?

No, that is not part of my choreography.

I found an app to help me out and I'm now putting together some rough drafts of my potential choreography.  I'm trying to find the balance between interesting and more pressure than papi and I can handle. 

For those considering doing the same thing, the app is on the Google play store.  It's $11, so not free but way more inviting than trying to figure out all of the distances and times on paper.  I pop in the move, the gait, the start point, and the end point.  It fills in how long it will take and helps keep track of where I am in the ring.  It also has options for setting up your music.  You can play your choreography through and watch the little horse move around the arena to see how it flows.  It's got some bugs (sometimes the horse is going backwards and the pause button occasionally doesn't work), but I haven't found it frustrating.  You can set the speed of the gaits for your horse and have a good idea of how long your choreography will take and how much music you'll need for each segment.

It's on my phone, which I'm not terribly happy about, but on the plus side I can play with freestyle designs when bored at work.  I have three versions right now that I've completed.  I started last night.  I can't imagine how long that would take using paper and a pen.

Now that I've got some rough drafts that I think will work, I get to start trying to actually ride them.  Since that part is rather mandatory.  Some of my ideas are a bit . . . ambitious.  A leg yield zig zag, some counter canter, halt ten meters after lengthen trot, it might be a bit much.  But the only way I'll know is to start trying them out.

So, as my update, I have the following process:

1.  Gait tempo analysis
2.  Create choreography
3.  Test ride choreography
4.  Finalize choreography and video tape
5.  Select appropriate music
6.  Send video, choreography, and music selection to editor (and money)
7.  Have a freestyle

I'm currently on step two, about to start step three.  So I guess that's progress?  At least I get to start actually riding my future freestyle.