Friday, May 26, 2017

Unicorn hunting vs. unicorn gathering

Unicorns have shown up in my feed a fair bit lately.  Not the elegant beasts of mythology, but the kind you hear of but never actually see.  The perfect horse.

That definition is a bit different for everyone.  For some, raw athletic talent is critical.  For others, being unflappable is everything.  For a true unicorn, they need to have the look, the personality, the skills, the soundness, and the price.  Mostly, it's about the price.  Fantastic horses are easy to find, hard to afford.  For me, it's mostly the flexibility to do lots of different things without losing their mind, enough style to compete at the lower levels, and a personality that includes lots of cuddles.

During my jumping lesson today, Trainer A and I chatted about the concept of a unicorn while mi papi was catching his breath.  She's always horse shopping since she's running a lesson program and she knows how hard it is to find that critical combination of temperament, soundness, trainability, and price.  She can find it, but the price tag is usually more than a school program can afford.  I gave Theo a pat on the neck and said I'm not much of a unicorn hunter, I take them as they come.  Her response?  But he is a unicorn.  Now.

Trainer A started laughing, recalling the wreck we were when we started and he was trying to jump out of rings and porpoising around the town ring at that tiny schooling show.  I could barely get him over fences, he couldn't really canter, and he was as likely to toss someone as he was to help them.

Two years later, he's the horse I wish I could have afforded back when I was shopping.  Jump 2'6, competitive at first level with rated show miles, trail ride, pack beginners, and turn heads while doing all of it.

I think I'm a unicorn gatherer, not a unicorn hunter.

I gather up the raw materials and make them myself.  Fi wasn't really a unicorn since she was very specific, but she did grow up into a beautiful, well rounded horse that was well admired and I enjoyed her immensely.  I still miss her.  Allen had too many soundness issues to qualify as a unicorn, even if he nailed every other part of the checklist.  Hauling my terrified butt around a coliseum should get him automatic entry in the unicorn club, especially when looking that gorgeous.  But Theo is the first one that I feel is actually irreplaceable. 

But the real takeaway?  Unicorns are impossible to find for a very good reason.  After putting in the two years of blood, sweat, and tears?  No, I'm not selling him.  No, I don't want to hear about how good the home is or the number offered.  I'm just now getting to enjoy my work!  Why would I sell him when I'm getting to the good bits?  A horse for sale was being shown while I was riding last night.  The horse's owner was teasing me afterward that they talked more about Theo than the horse they were trying out.  The trainer kind of casually asked about his status while I was loosening his girth after the ride.

No, my unicorn is not for sale.  But thank you for the compliment.  Yes, he is very pretty and he canters on the buckle with his head at his knees and he dozes in the middle of a crazy busy indoor ring full of cantering ponies.  No, you can't have him. 

Go make your own unicorn.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Blog Hop: May 10 Questions

Questions from The Horse is Not Black this time.

1. What are your summer goals?
Start running through Second 1 consistently, get my 60%+ score for First 3 at a rated show so I can do my freestyle, and take Theo to his first h/j show.  My goals are pretty modest this year since I'm still adjusting to life as a commuter.  As evidenced by my complete lack of posts and perpetual exhaustion.

2. Do you have any tips or tricks for fly control?
Not for New Hampshire.  Seriously, they're a force of nature.  As the months roll by, the species change and make it even more impossible to manage.  Black fly season now, horse flies and deer flies starting in mid-June, then regular barn flies to close the year out.  Oh, and mosquitos all the time.  I use Ultrashield religiously (the red bottle), a fly sheet with a neck, and a fly mask with ears and a long nose. 

3. How often do you bathe your horse?
Not very often, actually.  He's black bay, dirt doesn't show much on him.  He usually gets one the week of a show, so about once a month for half of the year.  The other half it's too cold and he gets no rinse shampoo baths.  He gets hosed down after most rides during the summer and sometimes mid-day when the heat is bad and he's struggling. 

4. Do you have any upcoming travel plans? Equine related or not?
Nope, my work trip is done and I'm home for a good long while.  My next possible trip is out to Minnesota in October to visit the family.

5. What is your favorite way to beat the heat?
Ride early or ride late and accept that some days just have to be days off/trail ride days/walking lateral work.  Theo does not do well in the heat, so we have to pick and choose our ride times.

6. Do you do anything to prevent your horse from sun bleaching?
His fly sheet does a good job of keeping him that lovely black through the summer.  I also sunscreen his magnificent tail.

7. How hot is too hot for you to ride?
We have relatively high humidity out here, so Theo starts to struggle at 90*.  Heat index hits 95* or higher?  It's not safe to ride him for more than a leisurely trail ride.

8. How important is sun protection for you riding or just in general?
Crucial.  I'm pale and burn easily.  I also have some premature aging due to wearing polo shirts outside for so many years without being good about getting that little patch of skin that shows when you leave it unbuttoned.  I'm usually really good about sunscreen on my face, but I missed that spot one too many times in my 20's.  Now I'm the queen of long sleeve sun shirts, SPF 50, gloves, and sunglasses.

9. Have you ever gone swimming with your horse?
Nope, and not really interested.  I don't like swimming in natural bodies of water, I have too many fish tanks.  I KNOW what's in that water.

10. What's on your summer wish list?
A navy browband from PS of Sweden, a new halter for Theo (completely wrecked his leather turn out halter), and new tall boots specifically for schooling.  Something I can walk in all day and not hate my life afterward. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Flying change hell

I didn't really believe in flying change hell.  It seemed kind of radical, considering how many times I've helped put a swap on a horse and not had any major changes because of it. How big of a change could I see in a lazy horse that just figured out his changes?

Guys, there really IS a flying change hell.  And I am neck deep in it.

Theo likes to throw his left shoulder out.  Okay, fine.  He also has days where he prefers one lead over the other.  What lead he prefers changes from week to week, so I don't worry about it too much.  Some days the left is awesome, some days it's all about the right.  It doesn't stick, so I assume he is just a super sensitive boy and any little ache makes him avoid that lead.  We had a little while where he'd try to break and swap leads to whatever he preferred, but I fixed that.


I picked up my canter to the left.  I didn't like the bend I was getting, I wanted his shoulders on the correct side, so I pushed him over with my inside leg.  Boom, lead change.  Well, okay, my leg may have drifted back a bit while pushing his haunches out, fair enough.  Walk, pat, pick up the left lead.  Adjust the bend and . . . . boom.  Change.

 So tired after a serious business dressage school

Two changes on one long side.  In the span of two weeks we've gone from never doing a change to popping them at the drop of a hat.  Counter canter?  HA.  We have no counter canter.  Hell, I barely have a regular canter.  I have to ride the hell out of my canters right now to avoid swapping out.  I can feel him shifting his weight back and prepping for a change any time I cut across the ring.  I shift my weight too much and he pops a change.  I can't correct him for it, it's what I wanted.  So I'm settling in for a full fledged run through FCH. 

Being smart, talented, and beautiful is tiring!

I'm so glad I read up on this beforehand.  At least I wasn't surprised when I suddenly got eight changes in a ride where I wasn't planning on working changes at all.  I head toward X, change.  Whether I want it or not.  And then change back because being on the right lead is important now.  I saw some lead swaps with his leaser on Friday night but I thought that was because he was cantering over poles and she was losing her balance.  NOPE.  Full fledged FCH.

I guess there's nothing I can do but buckle up for the ride.  I can't complain, he's right on track to go through this.  I just wish he'd done this over the winter instead of one month before our first rated dressage show of the summer.

Snuck out for a trail ride in the rain after our school

Oh, our h/j debut that was supposed to be today?  Rained out.  Did you know they actually cancel stuff for rain?  I'd forgotten.  We actually got snow this morning before it turned back to rain.  So we're still the biggest DQs in the barn.  Someone out there wants me to stay in the sandbox.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Curse is reversed

I got my videos!  Turns out there was a flash drive with the originals and they worked!

Behold, mi papi, the confirmed First Level pony!

First 2

First 3

I'm so excited to have these.  He really does look like an entirely different horse than what we had in the fall.  And I have a video of a full First 3 test, so I can look into getting my freestyle choreography taken care of!

I'm just going to sit and watch these on loop for hours.

Friday, May 5, 2017


Just when everyone thought I'd fallen off the face of the earth.  Here I am!  Still employed, still riding, just figuring out how to do all of that, see the hubby, eat, and sleep.  Sleep is usually the one that loses out, so it's still a work in progress. 

I have a severe hatred of my alarm right now.  It went off this morning and I seriously contemplated smashing it into tiny pieces.  I dragged my butt out for an 8am lesson, then rushed home so I could log in to work.  Working from home has started and it's making things easier.  Two lessons this week! 

Between the training ride and Theo's leaser, he's getting work six days a week very consistently and is doing well.  He's already got his leaser's number in terms of teaching her to give him cookies.  He's also aware that she isn't going to push him.  We had to introduce her to wearing spurs and that when you say go, you mean it.  He snapped right back to being a very good pony, but I suspect she'll have a learning curve.  But it's a super safe learning curve.  She was practicing changing the bend through an exercise and Theo learned the pattern in two passes.  He just did the pattern while she tried to sort out what her hands were supposed to be doing.  That's how he earns all those cookies:  you can just flop and figure things out, he's good with that.

My schoolmaster in training

For my lesson, we were knocking some rust off of my jumping since he's got his h/j debut in a week.  He must have heard me ranting about his lack of a change because he either swapped over the fence or swapped in the corner.  Every.  Single.  Time.  I rebalance, ask, new lead.  It's not the big lift you'd want for a dressage change, but it's not a hunter swap, either.  It's back to front, I have to half halt, collect a bit, and deliberately ask.  I have no idea where the hell that came from, I haven't touched his changes in weeks.  We've been working on that simple change, getting him balanced and his weight back and . . . .

Oh yeah.  The stuff you need to do a change.  Hey, looks like it's working!  Trainer A assumed I'd been working his changes when he kept popping them in our lesson.  Nope.  Someone is finally strong enough, balanced enough, and confident enough to just pop over to the new lead reliably.  Which makes me feel better because if he's swapping leads on cue now, I should be able to do a change to get me through a Third 1 test! 

Though I did get a taste of Flying Change Hell as Janet Foy refers to it.  I went to straighten Theo's shoulders and got a change.  Well, shit, that wasn't what I wanted.  But I can't correct him.  Just walk and pick up the canter again.  His counter canter is holding up fine on the flat, but over fences?  We were doing a rather tricky exercise with a 90* turn with six strides between two fences.  I landed, gave him a serious half halt with the plan to counter canter the second fence.  My poor pony has been working so hard on his canter to walk that he immediately shortened his canter to walking speed.  I tipped forward because I wasn't expecting his stride to suddenly shrink by half.  While still half on his neck, I started the turn and he had a mini flail, ending in a lead change.  I'm not sure what gait we were in, some bizarre hodge podge of walk, trot, and canter.  He was so ready to walk that he totally didn't know what to do when I asked him to keep cantering.  If felt like he got his legs tangled.  And then he felt he needed to change since we were jumping.  Still not sure how he got over the second fence.

Trainer A was impressed that we were both still upright after that pass through the exercise.  I guess it wasn't very graceful.

So I may have broken my counter canter for a bit, but that's okay.  I'm doing First this year and that's just the shallow serpentine he already knows.  Second 1 doesn't really have counter canter.  I won't need to really show a counter canter until next season and he should be done being proud of his new trick by then.

Do I have video of any of this?  Of course not!  I have a terrible jinx.   I got my video from my last show and was so excited!  It was a solid test and I had the whole thing on video!  But there's a problem.

See how it just stops at 2 minutes in?  Video was corrupted.  So much for getting my choreography finalized.  I'll have to try again after we get the large arena set up and I have my new phone.  My current phone has a crack over the camera lens, makes focusing tricky.  But you can see how nicely he trots now, like a grown up horse.  And he can leg yield without drama.  It's really a pity, the test improves as he settles into the ring and there's no canter work.  I guess I'll just have to try again.  Beauty like his should be shared.

I might be biased.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Culture shock

I worked from home, full time, for three years.  I worked from home more than half time for the three years before that.  It's been six years since I regularly commuted anywhere, sat at an assigned desk, and made like a corporate cog.  Sure, I still sat at a desk all day, but it was my own desk in my own office looking out on my own yard.  My commute was up a flight of stairs and I could start my day still in my pjs with my goofy, giant mug of home brewed coffee.

I went to the office five days in a row last week.  My brain hurt.  I wish I was joking, but it was such a culture shock.  I now get up 1.5 hours earlier than I'm used to so I can be at the office by 8am in professional attire with a packed lunch.  I down a protein shake in the car as breakfast.  I wear (brace yourselves) . . . nylons.  And heels.

My bento box in action at my new desk.  You can see my skirt and if you look close, a bit of my high heel shoes.  Monbento brand bento stuff is highly recommended for packing lunches.

Suffice to say, I've had a lot of changes in the past seven days.  I'm glad I got Theo settled with his leasor and trainer ride so he didn't get forgotten in the chaos.  I missed both of my lessons.  I saw him Tuesday night and then today.  The rest of the days I got out of work late or I just couldn't do anything after 9 hours of learning a new job.  But even though I only rode him twice, he was still worked five days in the week.  It's sustainable.  He was happy to see me and had ants in his pants on the cross ties, but it was the happy level of energy and not the explosive kind.  We worked in the outdoor ring, then went out with a pony for a little walk around the Ritz.  I snuck in the first cross country jump of the season!  Then I took papi out to help trim the grass near the rock wall where the lawnmower doesn't fit.  He's a helper.

He's actually ridiculously good at this, Trainer A sends us out to handle the grass growing up from between rocks because he's more effective than the weed whacker

This week is going to be closer to my long term schedule.  I'm no longer bound to the 9 to 5 hours since I've got a start on my work and I don't need to have someone sitting with me and showing me where stuff is.  I can start going in early so I can leave early.  I can work from home one day this week.  My new plan is to do an 8am lesson once a week as my hardcore dressage lesson and then work from home so I don't have to try to clean up for the office afterward.  I'll keep my 6pm lesson on Wednesday nights.  I'll ride him after work more often as I adapt to my new reality.  It's only three rides a week to keep him on his six rides a week minimum.  If I want more than three rides in a week?  Papi gets two rides in a day.  It's good for him.  He will be such a fit hunk.

Last week was hard mentally and emotionally.  It didn't occur to me just how huge of a change this would be for me.  I worked at my previous company for almost ten years.  When you've worked somewhere that long, it becomes twisted into every part of your life.  I'm still untwisting bits of the company out of my life.

I think this week will be better.  And long term, this job should be a good fit to my equestrian life style.  My boss is very supportive, the job isn't locked into a specific time at the office, and it's awfully close to the barn.  That doesn't mean I expect it to be an easy transition.  I spent a good ten minutes of my ride today having Theo trot on the buckle while I sat the trot with no stirrups and got my back moving again.  I'm terrible about carrying tension in my back.  But the shock is over.  Now I adapt.

Monday, April 17, 2017

New and improved

Two years ago, I started riding a draft cross and said I thought he had a cute First level test in him.  I was laughed at.  By multiple people.  The horse had a four beat canter, a bad attitude, and didn't like to go forward or bend.

Last year at the Hilltop schooling show, I got a 63% at First 1 and just about threw a party.  First level!  Theo had achieved First level!  Not by a lot, but it still counted.  It was an act of God and weight lifting to survive that test, but we did it!

 A horse that has realized the show season is starting

On Sunday, Theo got a 64.9% at First 3, a mid-60's on First 2, and made it all feel easy.  The judge that had previously not been a big fan of Theo came around, saying he was a nice horse and she liked his willing attitude.  No comments on needing forward in either test!  She liked the canter lengthen, just wanted it more uphill.  Got knocked for an attempted walk to canter transition, but who's counting?

Fancy, fancy show pony.

Video is pending, but no idea when I'll see it.

First outing of the year and he was a champ.  No lunging, no real dramatics, he looked around and then went to work.  We trotted down center line and he knew what to do.  He's a completely different horse than what I had in 2016 and I love it. 

We have a lot of work to do, don't get me wrong.  I had two errors in First 2 when I started to do First 3.  We need those trot lengthens to get more than a 6.  I need to dial in some of the geometry (shallow serpentine that looked like I'm drunk being the primary example).  I need him to not kick out when I say canter lengthen now, not some time half way down the ring.  But I'm celebrating tonight because that is a confirmed, competitive First level horse!  I can buy my freestyle choreography because he is now ready!

I'm nearly in tears, guys.  It's been a long road but so worth it.  I have now surpassed what I did with Fiona and entered unknown territory.  Theo is a confirmed, locked in, competitive First level horse.  And he has so much more to he can do.

Of course I went out and celebrated.  Oreo cheesecake!

Friday, April 14, 2017

A blogger call to arms

My fellow bloggers!  I have a request for you!

If you are going to Rolex (I know some of you ridiculously lucky people have tickets *cough*Aimee*cough*), go to the Cosequin booth.  One of my best friends in the world started at Nutramax this year as a product manager and she's going to be manning the booth.  Her name is Melissa.

Go drive her crazy.  Ask her about her gorgeous hunk of an Irish sport horse, Index.  They do dressage, though she's considering playing around with eventing again.  Get free Nutramax samples.  They have a probiotic product for high stress situations and she'll have tubes of it to give away!  Useful for horses that get diarrhea while traveling.  Also, free stuff.  Yay. 

So please, pass the word widely.  I want to make poor Melissa wonder why she's friends with me.  She'll be so confused when random people seem to know who she is and who her horse is.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Living in the now

I blame my lack of employment for my over focus on all things showing related.

Ever have that moment when you read something and all of a sudden your thoughts just kind of pop into place?  It's almost an audible 'thud'.  I'm surprised no one heard me downstairs.

Heather over at The Graduated Equestrian replied to my post on a hunter division with "I'd always rather wish I'd done more than push for too much and miss my chance to go back to smaller stuff."  Holy crap, I hadn't thought of that.  It's a one and done thing.  I can't go for the big division then back down like when I was eventing.  Once I go over 2'6", I can't go back to 2'3" if it turns out my horse wasn't ready.  I have to wait three seasons.  How did I forget about that?

Also, I have a dressage horse.  I don't have a hunter.  I'm not cheating by doing a lower division regardless of what I did over a decade ago.  I'm giving my dressage horse a fighting chance to cope with a world that's radically different than where he usually plays.  I'm giving myself a fighting chance when I haven't worried about the striding of a line in over a decade.  And he doesn't have a flying change.  Let's all be honest, I'd be wasting my money trying to do an eq medal qualifier without a change.  Even Trainer A gave me the 'wtf' blue screen of death look when I said adult eqs.  Why would I do that?

That flying change isn't coming any time soon.  We are currently sweating blood over the simple change through the walk.  It really is a hard movement, I can see why it's something that really defines that jump to Second alongside sitting the trot.  We had a 'come home to Jesus' ride about the canter-walk-canter transition on Saturday.  It was time.  He's been doing that transition all winter.  The muscles are there, he knows how to do it, there's no excuse for being a lazy brat about it anymore.  When I picked him up and said walk and he replied with 'hey, just a couple of trot steps, no biggie', I decided to have the conversation about how that's no longer allowed.  Once he was going nicely and listening, I asked to canter.  Then I halted his magnificent booty at X with extreme prejudice.  If you can halt with a breath at the trot, you can do the same at the canter.  Diving against my hands and dragging me into a sloppy trot is not acceptable.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  When I say whoa, I mean whoa, damn it.  Once I had his attention, we did walk-canter-walk-canter until he was reliably stepping into the walk on both leads.  Goodness, papi, it's not that hard.

I am going to have to accept that I won't have a consistent flying change this summer.  I can't risk ruining his change by throwing a swap on him in a hurry just to have one.  I certainly don't want to deal with an auto change that would wipe out my counter canter.  He's still a dressage specialist first (unless he gets out there and blows the judges away -- *cough*) and we're going into the modified and baby green divisions because this is our fun vacation time stuff.  I'm going to have my hands full when he realizes he's supposed to go in that big ring full of alien hiding spots, I don't need to add height to the equation.

Definitely time to take a breath, check my ego, and sign up for the division we need today, not the division I would have picked twelve years ago with a different horse.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


There's one rite of spring that I can't escape:  Theo's last clip.  No horse grows hair like mi papi.  It's ridiculous.  And then he's super attached to it and doesn't shed out quickly.  He still had marks from his clip in June last year.  With the temps hitting 87* today (I still have 6 - 9" of snow melting in my backyard, I give up on this weather), I had to make sure his winter coat was gone.

You know how they say never clip a dirty horse?  There's a reason.  Theo hadn't had a bath since September.  His coat was about two inches long in the places that weren't clipped in his trace clips.  This meant even my most vigorous attempts with the curry comb didn't get to the skin.  There was about a half inch of oil, dirt, and dead skin zone.  I couldn't give him a bath until that massive winter coat came off.  I couldn't get my clippers through his winter coat without a bath.  They gummed up and stop clipping within 30 seconds with the state of his coat.  I had to dunk the blades and clean them out, then try again.

The end result was my gorgeous horse looking like a giant moth attacked him in his sleep.

I was so embarrassed.  Every time his sheet came off, I cringed.  I couldn't even bring myself to take a picture.  Especially his haunches with the bits sticking straight up. Today was a spa day with Trainer A and I doling out baths while temps are hitting 80*.  After his scrub down, I gave him a new clip job.  Much improved!

He looks like a real show horse!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Episode V: The Hunter Strikes Back

Yes, I have a dressage show next weekend and I'll be spending all of my copious free time this week getting ready for it.  Today I took the all important step of getting Theo out for his first conditioning ride on the trails.  Have trouble getting your horse to go forward?  Try having a random teenager hidden in the trees start yelling 'ROAR' at your horse in a deliberate attempt to spook him.  You'll have more engine than you can handle!*

But my May show is going to be my long anticipated return to the h/j ring.  I am plunging back into the world of hair nets, field boots, and zero ride times.  It will be my only overnight show of the season so technically the biggest show of the year.  Woohoo?

The show schedule just came out and I find myself flipping through the class list, wondering what to do with mi papi.  I want to do one day of equitation, one day of hunters.  This way I can see what he likes best.  I could pop into the jumper ring, but that seems silly on a horse that really thinks slower is better.

At home I pop around at 2'6".  My one actual course away from home was at 2'7".  At the show, I'll need to pick from 'not to exceed 2'3"' and 'not to exceed 2'9"' in the equitation ring.  That's actually not an easy choice as the height may be no problem, but Theo's only jumped a handful of courses away from home and has never even gone to an h/j show.  His brain may be completely short circuiting.  At the same time, I get to do warm up and a prep round.  He should be pretty comfy with the ring and the fences.

I also have to pick a hunter division.  I could do modified adult which is 2'3", special child/adult which is 2'6", or baby greens which are 2'6" and flying changes don't count.  The regular adults are 3' and out of the question for his h/j debut.  But if I do the baby greens, I can't do any equitation since the tall division makes me ineligible and the short division is running on the same day and Theo isn't doing two divisions in one day.  We could do some puddle jumpers and open eq at 2'6" on Saturday, but that's about it.


So do I just go for it, jump the full equitation height and the 2'6" child/adult hunters and YOLO, or do I back down to the modified divisions and jump around at 2'3" both days?  Or do the baby greens?  I don't have a confirmed change on him, so I'm really not sure if it's worth my effort to do the big kid eq classes just yet.  I might be better suited doing the littler divisions.  I was going to do some medal classes, maybe give myself a fall goal, but do I want to qualify for a 2'3" medal?  I'll feel ridiculous!  I did a 3' medal final once!  Sure, it was twelve years ago and I'm very qualified for the modified divisions now and my horse is a dressage specialist that is clueless in the h/j world and has no flying change, but I'd still feel weird.  But then again, shouldn't I set him up for success, not max him out at his first show out the gate?

Why is this so hard?  Dressage show is First 2, First 3, and done.  I'd forgotten how complicated this h/j stuff can be. 

Aw, hell, I need new breeches.  All my show breeches are white!

*results may vary, not responsible for any injuries, lost ponies, or trauma due to attempting the teenager roar technique

Thursday, April 6, 2017

His royal highness

Someone is spending the night in a stall.  And why would the infamous stall chewing rage monster be kept inside when he has his very own field and run in? 

We're under a flood watch as over an inch of rain falls on our leftover snow.  Even with the improved drainage around his run in, it's going under water tonight.  And if Theo doesn't get to lay down and sleep at least a couple of hours each night, he gets very ragey.  He doesn't like to sleep somewhere muddy.  So tonight, Trainer A is letting him wreck a stall so he can sleep somewhere nice and dry.

Yes, my horse is coming in because he's cranky if he doesn't get enough sleep and his run in isn't going to be to his liking.  He's such a spoiled brat.  I had to explain to someone that I need to monitor Theo's sleep to keep his raging tendencies in check and she looked at me like I'd lost my mind.  I sound like one of those owners.  I swear I'm not!  He just needs his specific blanket determined by temperature, wind, and precipitation, his very carefully calculated meals, and to come in if it's going to be too wet for him to get a good night's sleep.

I really am that owner.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Who's a good boy

First things first.  For those that replied to my quandry about a second trainer, I girded my loins and talked to Trainer A about going away to camp.  Her response was a cheerful 'hey, if it's not during summer camp, I'll go with you!  Or you can borrow the trailer if I can't make it'.  So I stressed myself over nothing, you guys were right.

Secondly, background check completed and official start date is set.  I have a new job!  I'm so excited and relieved.  It's everything I could have hoped for as a horse mom.  I won't be doing my 3pm on Tuesday lesson any more, at least not for the first month, but in every other way it's what I need to keep my Bronze Medal dreams alive.  Out the office door at 4pm, at the barn by 4:20pm, in the saddle before 5pm?  Yes, yes that works.  So the ulcer is subsiding and Theo is relieved that the alien is leaving until the next time life starts to get a bit too real for me.

And third . . . ly?  Don't think that's a word.  But third, my horse is freaking amazing.  How did anyone ever think this horse was a jerk?  I mean, he still tries to bite people on the cross ties before you ride him, but it's mostly excess energy and the spring yayas.  Once I'm in the saddle?  It's all good. 

Trainer A revealed that she's really been enjoying her rides on him lately.  Moment of honesty:  Trainer A didn't enjoy her training rides on Theo to start.  Mi papi doesn't work for other people the way he works for me, everyone knows that.  When I ask, he'll at least give me a try.  It might not be a lot of try, but he'll give it a whirl.  Most of the time he'll give me a solid effort just because I'm the one asking.  Trainer A used to spend 15 - 20 minutes of her ride convincing him that it will be easier for everyone if he just cooperates.  As she put it, she's not his mom and he has no real interest in making her happy.  But the times, they are a changing.  The months of working together are adding up and they're working out a compromise all their own.  She can now get on and warm up as opposed to convincing him that work will not actually kill him.

He's also been a bit of a rocket lately.  In a good way.  Spring is in the air and he's feeling it.  He really hates being cold.  Now he's in a turn out sheet most of the time and he's very happy.  When I call him up out of his field, he now canters up to the gate instead of moseying.  Or does a bolt-ish gallop like he did today.  I put the chain over his nose and walk very briskly down the road because I want to keep his attention.  He arches his neck and struts along.  He fidgets and fusses on the cross ties a bit, but a quick tap with the dressage whip will remind him of his manners.  He marches down to the ring, his overall attitude positive and a little impatient.  He genuinely enjoys heading down to work now.  He dozes during his post ride groom, all of his fidgets and fussing gone. 

That doesn't mean we're ready to start showing.  Far from it.  The outdoor ring is still under snow, so run throughs of my test are a bit challenging in the small indoor.  I'm going to be doing First 2 and 3.  Yay, leg yields.  While mi papi has made big steps forward in carrying himself correctly (aka not bracing through the underside of his neck in order to utterly ignore the bit), I have good reason to believe that he'll forget large parts of his progress once we're away from home. 

Easter weekend will be my weekend of freedom between jobs, so I may squeak in some extra lessons.  I quit one job on the 12th and start the other on the 17th.  I'd hate to start the 2017 season by flopping around the ring like a stranded fish while my horse demonstrates his impression of a porpoise.  Might need a mini boot camp to prevent that.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Stress management

From what TV and the internet has told me, most people handle stress by eating lots of junk food, buying stuff, and driving everyone around them nuts.

I handle it a little bit differently.

I officially submitted my resignation to the current job and am managing the background check for the new job.  Apparently the background check company can't handle asking my current company how long I've worked there, so I had to send them a bunch of W2s, pay stubs, and instructions on how to do their jobs.  I had to send a W2 from 2005 for pity's sake.  Knowing that this background check could leave me completely unemployed if it fails means that my ulcer is in full attack mode.  My Fitbit says my resting heart rate is up about 5 bpm this week.  I'm a walking ball of stress and anxiety.  I think the hubby is considering buying a blow gun and some tranq darts.

I've hit the point where panic attacks are a daily event.  Fortunately I can manage this with OTC remedies.  My rule of thumb is if the FEI bans a substance, it probably works.  My cocktail of choice to fall asleep at night is GABA, tryptophan, and valerian root, washed down with chamomile tea.  All banned substances.

My other treatment is Theo.  Thank goodness this horse enjoys grooming.  I left work early (what are they going to do, fire me?) so I could enjoy a sunny, 50* afternoon.  I spent about an hour completely removing mud and bringing him to as much of a shine as possible when he's still shedding out.  Pulled his mane, completely brushed out his tail, the works.  I dressed him up in his azalea colored saddle pad, matching browband, and white boots.  I wore my tall boots, my favorite breeches (with the rhinestone detail on the pocket), a pink shirt, my gorgeous Arista vest, put my air up, even put on gloves.  We looked like the perfect definition of a DQ and her spoiled brat of a horse.  So, so over dressed for a dressage school followed by a trail ride.

The clothes make the horse.  Theo was just wonderful.  We had to have a firm talk about me putting on my left leg doesn't mean swing your haunches left in preparation to evade using yourself correctly.  The twenty minutes of discussion and a couple of pops with the whip were worth it when he finally sighed and cooperated.  Ohhhh, so that's what submission to the bend means!  It's really a different feeling when your horse finally gives through the ribs and wraps around your leg instead of pushing against it to see if you'll get tired before him.

Trainer A was impressed enough with the improved self carriage to interrupt her own lesson to watch him go.  It was a breakthrough moment for me, I could feel him correctly pressing into my outside rein and could really manage his shoulders because they were on the correct side of the bend!  It really does make everything suddenly pop into place. 

I was so pleased with him that he got extra cookies and a nice walk outside.  He appreciated the chance to go play in the sun.  We got to school some water when we found part of the trail flooded.  I didn't realize how deep it was until we were in it.  Almost to his knees!  Good thing his fancy boots are washable.  I probably looked ridiculous trotting back up to the barn, dressed to the nines in my dressage gear and covered in mud.

But my heart rate was back down to it's usually rate.  Three hours of being forced to stay in the immediate here and now broke the cycle of anxiety.  You can't worry about paperwork and abstract fears when you're handling horses.  Even helping sweep up the barn keeps you focused and grounded.  I really wish we weren't getting a winter storm tomorrow morning because I would go hide at the barn all weekend if I could.  I would school all of the naughty ponies and sweep the loft that really, really needs it.  Instead I will have to manage my stress with tea, bubble baths, and craft projects.

Yes.  Winter storm.  I am so, so, so done with the snow.  IT'S SPRING DAMN IT.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A good day

So my day started out with the best news I could hope for.  I got a job offer!  The job has an almost identical package of salary and benefits to the job I currently have but is better in one, very crucial way.  The office is just under 20 minutes away from my barn.  I pass right by the barn on the commute, so while my commute total is 40 minutes, the barn is right smack dab in the middle of that.  So I'm only adding 40 minutes in the car total to my average day.  I can work with that!

It's also work from home one day a week or as needed for weather or real life.  Unlimited vacation time so I don't have to cancel my show plans because I won't have enough vacation time earned.  And the manager is really nice.  It's a small office of 20 people, so the complete opposite of my huge Fortune 30 job.  It's still tentative, the background check needs to be completed, but the offer has been accepted.  Yay!  Now I just sit around and wait for the last of the uncertainty to end.

After accepting the offer, I zipped out to the barn for my first jumping lesson in a couple of weeks.  The adulting and job hunting has been very disruptive of my afternoon lesson, but today I was free!  Trainer A decided we needed to do some course work since the show season starts in two weeks.  I won't be doing any jumping until May, but I'm the odd ball.  The rest of the crew will be jumping from the start of the season and need to get ready.

Theo's so ridiculously steady to fences now.  Trainer A said she could shut her eyes and just follow us around the course.  She bumped them up to 2'6" and he barely noticed.  We've started to figure out how to have him use himself to a fence consistently which means he doesn't get near them.  He even saved my bacon when we got to a perfect half stride and I froze.  When I didn't pick and grabbed his grab strap, he made the call for me and got me through the one stride with barely a rattle.

I love my new grab strap.  It's a barrel racing rein I picked up at Tractor Supply for $16. 

I'm also a terrible mom.

So today was just about perfect.  Looks like I get a job that lets me keep my equestrian life style and my horse jumped four courses where the only error we had was one rattled rail because he braced his neck.  It really doesn't get much better than that.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Second opinions

Here's a fun quandry.

I contacted a farm about 1.5 hours away from me because they have an adult dressage summer camp.  Three days with other adults that love dressage?  Sounds like fun!  The trainer was happy to hear from me, sent me the dates, but had a suggestion for me.  In my introductory email I mentioned that I was trying to make the leap from First to Second.  While I'd be at the right level for her camp, she thought that I might get more of what I wanted if I just came out for some focused training over two or three days.  A lesson on Theo, a lesson on her confirmed Second level horse, and possibly a lunge lesson if I can handle three rides in a day.

She's a PSG level rider, as in scoring mid 60's at PSG on her horse she brought up through the levels.  I looked up her scores for 2016 and she had a good season.  She's got the credentials.  She also trains eventers so I might even be able to go out to school jumping to clear mi papi's brain.  Her references check out, the adult ammies in the area love her.  She knows her stuff and knows how to teach.

I could, theoretically, go up to visit her on a semi-regular basis for tune ups if we jive.

But that would be me shipping out to train with another local trainer while training with someone.  That starts to skim a line.  When I hauled out for three days with Mary Wanless, that was for a clinic with a trainer that's based in the UK.  It feels different to haul out to a trainer's barn for intensive training.

Am I being paranoid?  Is this cool? Do other riders do this?

As much as I love Trainer A, and she's done amazing work with us, I feel like we're going to need more experienced help as we move up the ranks.  I want that Second Level.  Theo gives me glimpses of what he can do and I know he's knocking on the door.  But we're not there.  He's not an easy horse when it comes to technical things, he's the king of evasion.  I can shoulder in, but it's only going to get me a 6.  Or a 5 if he's distracted since we're at a show and the aliens are going to land any second. Love that horse but he's obsessed with the aliens.


I haven't done this.  I haven't tried to branch out for more specialist training.  I'm not sure what the etiquette is.  Of course Trainer A will say everything is fine, she's a professional and Theo is my horse.  But I worry that I'm being rude.

Is this a thing people do?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cure for what ails you

Adulting is terrible and I want no more of it.

But I got to see my pony!  That makes so many things better.

I don't know if it really counts as a training update, but we've gone back to doing very long and low to build up the base of his neck.  The muscles he needs to lift up for the canter-walk-canter transitions need a bit more work and we're spending about fifteen minutes each ride encouraging him to trot and canter around with his nose around his knees and his back in a nice bow.  He's not really a fan, it's hard work!  It's so much easier to fling his head up and use that to get his shoulders up.  But we're getting results.

It's been far too long since I posted a shot of his progress.


Just look at that neck.  It's going the right way!

Overall I think he looks great, especially for coming out of the dead of winter.  It should be all downhill from here with warmer weather making it easier to go for conditioning rides and giving him all of the work and variety he needs.

But goodness me does he look like a dressage horse.  He didn't really ride like one today, he was kind of pissy about our latest cold snap.  Not that I blame him, I'm kind of pissy about the whole thing myself.  I shouldn't have to get his heavy out at the end of March.

But the first show of the season is in sight, less than a month away.  I better start practicing those First level tests.  Here's to hoping he still knows how to do a lead change through the trot.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Blog Hop: What makes you, you?

First time doing a blog hop of my very own!

This is in tribute to all of the quirks and shenanigans that bloggers are famous for and gives everyone a shot to really document what defines their unique flavor of horse crazy.

What makes someone at the barn (or your trainer) think of you immediately?

For me?  People immediately think of me when they see three things:

1.  Blingy browbands

Part of my collection

Yeah, I have a calling card, and it's having blinged out browbands that I change to match my horse's outfit.  I'm not ashamed.  He feels very pretty with his tiaras.

2.  Treats

The usual staples found in my locker

Everyone knows I always have a treat available if they need it.  I usually have several kinds of treats stashed in my locker with a policy that they're free for the grabbing for my fellow boarders or anyone that rides Theo.  You must pay the pony his dues.

3.  Intentionally doing things that make the trainer say 'get out of my ring'

Yeah, I did that.  All of that.  And the hearts saddle pad.  Every time someone sees something that's just outrageously over the top, I get a message on FB with a link and the expectation that poor Trainer A will be subjected to it in the near future.

So blogosphere, what makes you, you?  Post a link in the comments and I'll add you to the list of fame!

Saturday, March 18, 2017


I might be expanding Theo's circle of friends a bit.  My friend that's been sharing Theo with me in her lessons is interested in a quarter lease on him.  She'd ride him in one lesson and one free ride a week.  She'd also have the option to do some shows.  She wants to do 18" hunters and Intro/Training level dressage.  This came up after Trainer A watched her canter all the way around the ring, completely focusing on herself, and Theo marching along like a trooper.  They were both content, relaxed, and having a good time. 

My friend did get a bit of a caution since she found Theo's second gear today.  She usually keeps Theo in first gear (plopping pony) since she rides with no spurs, no whip, and no real desire to get after him.  In her canter work, she was working on pushing more with her seat and less with her legs.  That's how I ride my canter so when she got it, he shifted gears.  Nothing dirty, just lifted his shoulders up and stretched out.  She enjoyed it, but Trainer A suggested she stay in second and not try for third just yet.  Third is a lot of pony.  I love third gear, but I'm weird.

So what was I doing while she was cantering around my saint of a horse?  I was riding my new paint friend, Buddy.

It's a rare horse that I actually call by name, but with a name like Buddy, what else do you need?  Buddy is very handsome, super smart, and can be a bit of trouble.  He's a former western pleasure horse that joined the lesson program when I bought Theo.  He was actually purchased using the funds from Theo and he took on the students that needed a w/t/c horse.  He's got super smooth gaits, is solid on the trails, and though he's just started jumping with me, he's figuring it out fast and is good with his shoulders.

The problem with being a smart horse is that they learn bad things as quickly as they learn good things.  His canter was never very strong and he had some bad rides that left him with a bucking canter depart.  It's kind of alarming watching him fling himself into a racing, downhill canter with some bucks thrown in.  And then he starts racing around at the trot, trying to canter in every corner.  Ugh.  Beginners freak and stop asking, so he wins.  He doesn't have to canter if he acts up like that.  I think he was feeling fresh one cold day and figured out that he could be scary.  So Trainer A has been throwing some advanced riders on him, including me, to straighten that out.

The bucking to start has been easy enough.  I lift my hands up high enough to almost shove the reins up my nose during the transition.  He's not agile enough to bronc with his head up.  After a couple of transitions where he had no choice but to be a gentleman, he got the idea and I could start bringing my hands back down.  The other trick was to show him that he can in fact go around a corner without falling on his face, panicking, and racing.  The first couple of half halts weren't pretty, but he's so darn smart.  He figured it out on our second pass and settled in to a quiet rhythm.  We ended with him calmly stepping into his canter, going around the ring twice with a quiet, steady rhythm, and then trotting when told.  I jumped off of him, shoved a cookie in his mouth, and called it a day.

He's a smart boy, he'll remember that.  I never give Buddy treats because his leaser spoils him rotten and his ground manners can be terrible.  It's a good thing he's so handsome and really quite sweet because man oh man, the smart ones are such pains in the butt!

And I found out Baby Pony is being leased by my copilot starting next month!  He hit the jackpot!  They'll be flying around at three phases this summer, I'm certain.  She really wants to be an eventer and Baby Pony is everything sensible and steady.  After jumping him through some grids and feeling for myself how clever he is with his feet, I think they'll be a match made in heaven.  I'm so happy for the both of them.

All of this reminds me that show season is just around the corner.  Everyone is picking out their dance partners for the summer.  I went shopping at the tack shop and the show stuff is out while the winter stuff is on clearance.  YES!

We're getting more snow tonight.  NOOOOOOOOOO!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Gone ponying

Adulting is dumb.  Between the snow and the job hunting, I missed out on seeing my pony for most of the week.  Not that he minded since we had a cold snap and he was bundled up in his heavy.  Some days it's better to just leave him to his own devices.

Today I blew out of work early and headed out to the barn.  It was about 40*, sunny, and glorious. 

I have a policy of not pushing Theo after several days off, so it was just trotting around for the most part.  A lot of walking, some cantering, popped over some cross rails when a lesson finished using them because mi papi was completely convinced they were for him.  He got excited and pricked his ears every time they were reset.

Then we cuddled and I got all of the itchy spots that he can't reach under his heavy blankets.  He's finally shedding and we had a pretty good pile of fuzz.  I also treated his mane with MTG to encourage it to grow back in.  He's really thin in the mane from about the middle of his neck back.  I'm pretty sure his neck rug is rubbing out his mane.  It didn't do that last year, but last year, he didn't have that bulge of muscle in front of his withers.  Oh, the price of a developing topline.

So long as the weather is decent, I'll let him go out with a naked neck and try to preserve what's left of his mane. He appreciated my choice.

Even with all of the extra grooming, I must have missed some spots.  He wallowed and dug his bare neck into the snow.  Probably managed to rub out all of the chemicals I'd just used on him.  Thanks, papi.

Yes, that's about 20" of snow in his field from our Tuesday blizzard.  It's been cold enough that there's been very little melt.  We're supposed to have another system this weekend.  And just when we were able to see half of the outdoor and had started considering riding outside.

Tomorrow morning we have a makeup lesson from the blizzard.  I'm banning myself from doing any adulting this weekend.  It's all about brunches and shopping and quality time at the barn.  I've had enough stress to start eyeballing Theo's ulcer supplements.  I need to unwind this weekend.  Unwind = tack cleaning and locker clean out and pony cuddles.  I might have to try another trail ride in the snow.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Cross over

I take back what I said about equestrian fashion never being acceptable for life outside the barn.  I'm prepping for a video interview and needed a coat.  What did I grab?

Yes, that is my spiffy new RJ Classics dressage frock.  For a video interview where they won't even see my jeans, it's perfect.  It's stretchy, it's comfy, it's a conservative color.  It's way more comfy than my actual blazers.  So yes, I am interviewing with a big company for a senior manager role wearing my dressage coat.

Equestrian chic.  I'm doing it right.  I hope.  Now lets work on my voice holding out for the full 45 minutes and the blizzard not disrupting my connection at a crucial moment.

Adulting sucks.  I want to go pony.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Bomb proof

Another day, another bombproofing clinic.

After our first two sessions, no one really expected Theo to react to anything.  He barely flinched at everything that had been brought out before.  But I saw the pool noodles going up and I saw the pole with streamers being propped up on the wall and knew that Theo wasn't going to have as easy of a day.

Sure enough, he wanted NOTHING to do with the cowboy curtain.  He was introduced to it in hand and was fine with the streamers.  Tried to eat them and everything.  But go underneath?  Um, no, he can just go around, thank you very much.  It took a lot of pressure and convincing and waving the lead rope at his butt.

Mistake on me:  Do not try to force Theo to step under something.  Just wait until he gets bored and does it on his own.  Driving him forward put him in ugly Theo mode and for most of the group, it was something they hadn't seen before.  He was biting the air and snapping at his lead rope he was so angry.  Once I finally managed to drive him underneath it, he bolted through and got loose.  He made it one half lap before the clinican stepped in front of him and he came to a very prompt halt.   Someone had been naughty.  I led him through a couple of times but he made it very dramatic and was pissed off.

But after I got on?  No big deal at all.  I'm pretty sure he just didn't think he could fit while I was leading him, it was a narrow opening.  His shoulder hit me each time he passed through.  It's the same thing I see horses do when loading on a trailer and they don't want to trample their human.  They won't get on if you're standing in their spot.  But once I was on his back?  Plenty of room, no need to bolt through it like a lunatic.

He's such a weird horse.  We also walked through the pool noodles touching his belly, worked around a popping open umbrella, and jumped a big pile of flowers.  Oh, and tried to steal the squeaky dog toy.

After our success over the three sessions, my group decided that we want to keep going and our clinician will be back to do an advanced series for us.  Empty water bottles!  Helium balloons!  Cap guns!  Because clearly, this is the kind of training every dressage horse needs.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Real life

I've been scarce for a single, simple reason:  For the first time in nine years, I'm job hunting.  It's really quite scary and it's even worse when you've got an all consuming hobby like horses.  How do you explain to your potential management that you have something like a child, but he's about one thousand pounds?

Things at work went in a less than best case way, so my resume has been winging it's way around the state.  The good news is that I got some hits.  Today I talked to two companies, Monday I talk to a third.  For the two I've talked to, I get to move on past the HR gatekeepers.  Yay?  I'll just keep my fingers crossed that I continue on to the point where I need to dress up nice.  I need to buy a new suit for interviews.

But papi continues to march on as steady as a drum.  We're working on developing a big trot to go with his big canter.  He's not entirely sure he enjoys this new level of expectation when he trots, but he's getting on board.  We've been hopping over a lot of little jumps to keep him engaged as the weather continues to act in a demented manner.  50* one day, 0* another, we just can't keep up.

I've been trying to keep my work drama away from the barn, since a certain someone does not cooperate with me deciding I should take control of something.

He's been very patient with my frazzled attention.  He ignores me in alien mode and happily accepts the cookies that come with my apologies when I realize I'm taking my frustrations and turning them into unrealistic expectations of our rides.  My rides are my therapy and with stress levels running this high, therapy is essential.

I just want this chaos to be done all ready.  I can't plan on a show season when I don't know if/where I'll be working!  So inconsiderate of these companies to mess with my show schedule.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Gotcha day

I mentioned on FB that  I bought Theo one year ago today and a friend replied that it was his Gotcha Day!  For most horses, I'd have to say nope, anniversary of purchase is a better name.  But for the horse that I had to work months to acquire, Gotcha Day seems very appropriate.

Believe it or not, Theo's been legally stuck with me for a whole year now.  It seems to be agreeing with him.  He's fat and sassy and enjoying life.  He gave me a very good ride yesterday, working on our big trot that we'll need to go out and do First level this summer and potentially do Second at a schooling show (Trainer A is on board with that timeline!).  He's so darn sassy these days, giving me a head shake and a little buck while cantering.  Trainer A didn't care, she was far more occupied with the fact his stifles were actually working.  Did you know stifles can bend and become engaged?  I was shocked!

Today I lent him to a different adult rider that hasn't jumped in a long time and was very nervous.  He jumped that crossrail ten times and every one was identical.  All she had to do was grab mane and hang on, Theo managed the rest.  He's so perfect for that first jumping lesson.  Even when the rider was having second thoughts, once Theo was locked on, he was going over. 

I sat on a school horse that had just given me a very hard time about cantering and watched with a big dumb grin as mi papi showed someone that jumping isn't a big deal.  Point, squeeze, hang on.  He was crabby about me riding another horse, I'll have some making up to do tomorrow, but he was a saint for the nervous rider.  He didn't take advantage of her at all and I was very proud of him.  Trainer A is right, he's definitely a one person horse, but he's willing to help others in limited doses. 

Tomorrow will be a no bridle/no saddle kind of a day to make up for three dressage rides in a row, followed by a lesson with someone else.  He'll need to flop and chill.  Then it's our last bomb proofing clinic this weekend. 

I've made a lot of decisions in my life that I regret.  Theo is not one of them.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Definition of perfection

I thought I knew my type.  But then again, most people think they know their type, but it's often the one they overlook that changes everything.  I wanted to overlook Theo, he wasn't my type.  That's what I thought, anyway.  Even when I leased him, even when I bought him, I had it in my head that he was the exception.  I bought him despite himself, in a way.  He wasn't really what I wanted, but I didn't want to share him.  But when cantering mi papi around completely on the buckle this weekend, I couldn't help but declare 'I love this damn horse'.  To which Trainer A said 'he's amazing'.

Not for the reasons I thought I prized and not for the reasons most trainers list for their mounts.  His movement is average at best and he's pretty inflexible through his whole body.  He's prized because he's innately chill.  Even when I can feel the buzz of excess energy running through his body, that electric, popping feeling that most riders are familiar with when the horse's skin shivers and moves when you touch them, I can drop the reins and have him stretch and walk.  He was hot all weekend, eager to move out and looking to burn off that electric feeling.  I had a hard time finding the bottom of it.  He barged through my hands at the trot, picking up the canter and threatening to bolt.  But when I dropped the contact, his head went to his knees.  Trainer A prizes him because my lessons are reliably productive and enjoyable.

He's the only horse in the lesson program with that reaction to life.  Little Girl popped a full blown capriole in our last lesson, leaving Trainer A a bit pale.  I hung on to papi's mane and practiced my breathing while he napped.  I put my friend on him to practice her canter and jumping because, in the ring, there is no safer horse in the barn.  When did I start to prize this?  When did that feeling of safety become the most important feature?

Have I been a secret draft cross fan girl this whole time?

At Trainer A's insistence, I'm branching out to other horses again.  I'm fit enough and in practice enough that things like bucking and barging don't bother me anymore.  I'm a gutsy rider, I think the temper tantrums most horses toss at me are cute more than anything.  I've ridden the Hellbeast at his worst and after Fiona?  A below average moving pony having a temper tantrum isn't a problem.  This is the part I can't wrap my head around.  If Baby Pony's bolting and Juicebox's broncing make me giggle, why do I need my completely chill horse to really relax?  Am I secretly a coward?

I don't think I am.  When papi has his moments, you still need to be a gutsy rider to handle it.  When I take him out to the Ritz for that first time this spring, I'll be wearing my cross country vest and probably have him in a wonder bit for some extra leverage.  He's got a big buck in him and I've made him very strong.

Maybe I'm just coming to terms with the fact that I'm not a professional and I'll never be one again.  I'm not riding to win the Olympics or compete at Grand Prix.  I'm an ammy adult.  I miss nights of riding due to meetings.  Some days I just want to go hack on trails or chase a soccer ball. 

 I'm competitive, but I'm coming to terms with the fact that I'll be in the low to mid levels forever.  With that realization comes the fact that I don't need a talented horse.  I need an enjoyable horse.  I need a horse that will forgive me for missing a day and will go for a long walk down a trail without missing a beat.  I'll never score a 70%, but I'll make kids giggle by riding backwards on my horse.

Yeah, I did that.  Theo was amused.  His girl is weird, but she has cookies.

I can't decide if my tastes have changed or if I'm more in touch with what I've really wanted all this time.  I could go either way.  While I'm adding naughty ponies to my dance card to keep me in practice, my partner has become a refuge.  I feel safe on him.  Not because he's predictable, but because he's inherently lazy.  While I can power him up, he will always stop if given a chance.  And if I want to be lazy, that's always an option with him.  It's been a long, long time since I partnered with a horse where I could be lazy.

Who knew laziness could be perfection?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Seeing spots

A school horse with a twisted shoe led to me having a happy reunion tonight.  Baby pony!

My friend's chosen mount was out due to his footwear problem, so I gave her Theo and I stole the baby pony from one of the teens.  He's gotten so big, all the way up to five years old now.  He's filled out a lot and I no longer feel like I might capsize him.  His head tossing temper tantrums from the summer have also abated, at least for riders that know what to do with their hands.  His questionable brakes have him in a slow twist, but I somehow doubt he'll need that once he's done being a teenager.

We spent a good ten minutes discussing the fact he should stop and stand with a minimal request from me.  Once we had that, we started trotting.  I had to keep my inside leg on until he quit flailing at it and collapsing in on the circle.  Once that happened, he magically dropped down and stretched out his neck instead of bracing and holding his head up like a giraffe.  These poor ponies, all so shocked to discover I'm not easily intimidated.  Flail all you want, once you're tired, we'll do it the right way.

We did figure eights with him stretched out, transitioning between walk and trot like a gentlemen.  He's a horse that takes very well to positive chatter.  When I made a big fuss over him, patting him with both hands and loving on him, it really locked a behavior in.  There was licking and chewing once he figured out he could chew the reins out of my hands.

He's finally cantering in lessons, though it's still a bit wild.  His barrel racer roots like to come up when the speed turns on.  He tends to anticipate, rush, and generally flail about at the canter.  We got good work in both directions.  I've been doing this long enough that I could get the leads on the first try, control his shoulders enough to keep him from diving around, and control the tempo while letting him have his neck.  It wasn't easy, far from it, but Trainer A was very happy to see him cantering around in a calm way.  He doesn't get a lot of practice cantering with experienced hands.

She also said she was happy to see me on another horse again.  I suspect Wednesdays are going to become the night where I play the pony parade game.  It's good for me, but ugh, I hate using school tack.  That saddle was horrible!  And those web reins, how does anyone work with those?  I wonder if my saddle would fit on the baby pony . . .

Monday, February 20, 2017

Show off

I have a vice.  I'm sure it's one I share with a lot of people, but it's a bit of a problem because I share it with my horse.  We like to show off.

Who, me?

Saturday night I had a party (omg non-horse social life) so I had to ride early in the day.  I usually avoid this because there are a lot of lessons running on Saturday mornings, but I certainly wasn't going to give papi the day off after just getting him going again.  Due to helping some of the young and clueless in the barn, I ended up riding right in the highest traffic.  Four of the more advanced teenagers have a lesson together at 11am.  I mounted at 10:40am.  Timing, I do not have it.  I dodged nervous beginners and lunge line lessons for twenty minutes, then started doing my canter work while the teens were mounting and walking about.  It was the one break in the morning where I would have some room to work.

Theo wasn't paying enough attention in the chaos so I had him walk.  Didn't like the transition, so went back to canter and back down to walk.  Oh, nice, let's do that the other way.  Hm, traffic, might as well do a 10m circle and get him really sitting.  Canter canter canter walk.  Good boy!  And then I was just showing off.  Little canter leg yield to let someone pass, roll back style turn to change direction, a little counter canter, a flying change, you know.  Whatever.

Trainer A was giving me the eye so I settled down when the class got rolling.  But hey, it's fun to show off all of the things Theo has learned that none of the youngsters ever see.  It doesn't help that the sudden increase in traffic (and two, count 'em, two mares including Miss Thang) had a certain someone arching his neck and in full stud mode.  I had to keep him under wraps so he didn't upset any of the other horses.  Energy levels were high and there was some bucking and running about in the lesson without any help from me.  So I dropped my stirrups and went back to trotting.  Because, yes, showing off is a terrible vice and I posted trot with no stirrups just to show I could to a bunch of girls half my age.  Nope, not proud. 

I know the teens pretty well so when they started jumping, I parked Theo and spectated.  It was a great lesson for him to learn to deal with horses in his personal bubble.  He had horses jumping and cantering straight at him and he had to stand.  He occasionally pinned his ears, but generally ignored them and proceeded to nap.  Complete with a resting hind foot.

And when they were done?  It was Theo's turn.  We only jumped for about two minutes, but I couldn't deny him.  After watching everyone else go, I picked up his reins and he started trotting.  Clearly it was his turn.  So we cantered and popped over the bending lines, no problem, nailed our leads.  Because nothing says mature adult like showing off over 18" cross rails.

I need to work on this.