Sunday, May 28, 2023

Why so complicated, Theo?

 Theo's been doing so darn well and getting so strong that you had to know there would be some new issues.  It's just how these things work.  Moving from one plateau to another isn't usually a smooth process.  For Theo, it usually involves some amount of drama.  It's just what he does, he can't help himself.  Things that worked fine for eight years are suddenly a problem.  Such as his bridle.

Theo's been wearing the same PS of Sweden Flying Change bridle from when we started working together eight years ago.  His browbands have expanded and one cheekpiece was replaced after a lunging 'incident' but otherwise, it's held up perfectly and he's been very happy.  Double jointed loose ring and his snaffle bridle with a plain cavesson noseband has been everything he needs all this time.  He's got a busy mouth but it's not resistant, he's always licking his lips or sucking on his bit.  The judges don't mind since it's all very positive.

He can't help himself

Three weeks ago, he suddenly started to protest his bit.  He went super light and started to open his mouth like he couldn't get his bit where he wanted it.  We had his teeth checked, nothing.  We double checked his bit, it's fine.  We gave him a couple consistent rides to see if he straightened up but no change.  Swapped to his wider double jointed snaffle, nothing.  Rode forward, rode long and low, rode very collected, he kept opening his mouth.  

With his first show of the season a week away, I played wheel of bits and nosebands with Trainer Z today.  I watched from the ground and helped with quick tack changes while we raided her bit box and tack room to try to figure out what his problem was.  Theo was a trooper as we kept swapping his tack.  He liked the mullen mouth with tongue relief a bit too much and immediately laid on Trainer Z's hands so much that she couldn't really ride him.  Egg butt was a bit better but still invited him to lock down.  After messing around for awhile, we popped a drop noseband on him.  Just like that, he settled down.  He can still lick his lips so it's clearly not holding his mouth shut but moving the noseband down his face seems to have stopped whatever was going on.

Trainer Z thinks he needed more stability now that he's working in an uphill frame.  Different angles, different feel for him?  He still needs his loose ring, double jointed snaffle to keep him from weighing 1,000 pounds but he also seems to need something in front of the bit instead of behind it.  He tested it once or twice but he very quickly settled into his happy, tail wagging, relaxed ears frame.  Just a higher frame then what he could do just a month ago.

Seriously, who is this horse?  This isn't even his real collected canter, we were still testing bits

Kudos to Trainer Z for taking the time to go through the checklist and find what he needed rather than just strapping his mouth shut.  We're still not sure just what he needed but if all he needs is a different noseband, we're happy to do that.  Considering his mouth was checked about 1.5 weeks ago with no hooks or issues, it seems to be related to him recently getting strong enough to connect over his entire topline from poll to tail.  We did find some poll soreness when all of this started but after massaging and focusing on loosening that up in the saddle, he's feeling much better.  Maybe today was a combination of the poll feeling better and a more stable connection in his mouth so he doesn't feel the need to try to rearrange it.  It really looked like he was trying to move it in his mouth intermittently, like it would bug him and he had to fix it.

Other side effect of him finally have a topline from poll to tail?  He's now casually offering his flying change.  It appears he's finally ready, mentally and physically, to make that part of his work.  He gave me the cutest flying change this week while I was working his counter flex to loosen him up.  Small problem is that Trainer Z's doing a Second Level freestyle next weekend.  We're excited that he's very ready and eager to start his Third Level career, but couldn't it wait another week?!  Come on, Theo, why do you have to make things so complicated?

Friday, May 19, 2023

Finding the time

 There were three years where I thought I was done riding forever.  I made other plans, did other things, even (gasp) picked up other hobbies.  I can't go back to riding 5-6 days a week again but I do want to ride twice a week.  If I can find the time.

Theo, however, is very focused.  Locked and loaded.  Seriously, look at this very fancy Third level horse.  And my hands are in the right zip code!

While Theo has Second 3 mastered, I'm still catching up.  This weekend will be two lessons and then another ride on Tuesday on my way to the university where I now teach.

Oh, right, on top of getting my doctorate, my full time job, and my two horses, I also teach some graduate level classes on analytics in Maine now.  You know, in my copious free time.  I started in January when I was offered an opportunity too good to pass up.  So it's great, but it's also a big time sink.

I was looking at my calendar and realized June is going to be a disaster.  I'm going camping Memorial day weekend.  Then it's NEDA Spring where I'll be grooming for Theo while Trainer Z does their freestyle.  Then it's my turn to show the next weekend.  Holy mackerel, it's practically here!  We were thinking about doing another show on the 16th but I'm currently thinking NOPE because it's also commencement season so I've got extra nonsense at the university.  And I need to get my dissertation proposal submitted in June assuming my methodologist ever gets back to me.

Such a good boy while I'm trying to not spook at random squirrels after Trainer Z moved me outside so I could stop being so spooky.  Not the horse, me.

I'll be able to get this all reined back in once my commitments made from before my return finish but for now, it's like I'm leading multiple lives.  I have clinics with both Theo and Kiki scheduled this month along with an AI seminar at the university.  And the hubby wants me to go mountain biking with him.  

I expect to careen into July exhausted, over caffeinated, and still feeling grateful that I have these things to worry about.  Two weeks until I'm back in the show ring!

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

I did a thing

 So I might have just sent in my first horse show entry since 2019.  Cue the heart attack and the insane nerves.

"Mom's freaking out, news at 11"

I'm signed up to do Second 3 in June, the weekend after his first show of the season with Trainer Z.  I figure he'll have the cobwebs dusted off after a weekend show so a day show will be no big shakes.  June is a good time of year since it will be warm enough to be happy but not hot where he melts.  A day show means I ride one test and leave which is lovely.    

This makes the whole abstract idea of returning to competition a lot less abstract.  Now I'm franticly hunting down my show clothes and trying to remember Second 3.  Then realizing I never got around to riding it in competition because we weren't ready for the serpentine.  Oh yeah.  I guess that makes me feel better that I've been schooling 15m circles in counter canter.  I think Second 3 will be comfortable.

"Seriously, mom, I can do that test in my sleep, have you seen my ribbons?"

New boots had to be ordered as my Ariat field boots of many years have started to come apart.  The stitching on the toe cap is coming loose.  I got some Treadstep dress boots since I'm still  not ready for real dressage boots.  At least they're dress boots and will look nice on me.  I'll need something to ride in while waiting forever for full custom for my x-wide, short calves.  Dressage boots on the shelf don't even come in short.  I found my black coat and helmet in the back of my closet so those are set (still fit, too).  New white pad from PS of Sweden en route.  Still need white breeches and my white gloves recently disintegrated.  I might have blotted out how much stuff is involved in these competitions.

But the entry is in.  I'm going back into the ring.  I'm coming for that Bronze!  After I finish conquering Second.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Emotional Availability

 So I've been getting to ride a Grand Prix stallion.  No big deal.

That's Muffin, Trainer Z's retired GP mount during his competition days.  Quite the stunner, right?  He's everything mere mortals wish they could ride with those gorgeous looks and huge gaits.  When Trainer Z suggested I ride him for a couple lessons, I jumped at the chance.  Who wouldn't want to do that?

Retired Muffin is now 23 years young and a school master for various lesson students.  Plenty of people want to take a lesson on a horse with every single button.  He does tempi changes for fun and loves to passage.  The magic of Muffin is that he also loves to be a school horse.  If the rider is uncertain or losing their balance, he just walks because clearly this is not going well.  If he suspects the rider is not ready for stuff, he will jog around like an ancient pony and refuse to canter because they are clearly not ready for it.  He is quite happy with that kind of lesson.

If the rider can hit the right buttons and convince him that they are a real rider?  Another horse shows up.  A 16.1h Grand Prix stallion that knows these moves like the back of his hoof.  He has a trot that feels like it travels up more than out and damn near bounces you out of the saddle as you try to post slowly enough to go with the loft.  Oh, you think you should sit?  By all means, you can try.  I managed to sit a whole long side and woke up the next morning thinking I'd been hit by a train.  Every part of my body hurt from riding his collected trot.  It was still so dang cool.  

So tired.  So sore.  So happy.

He's so much fun because he loves his job and because he doesn't get ruffled.  As Trainer Z described it, he's emotionally available.  He doesn't get upset over mistakes or miscommunications.  He either does what you said to do even though it's wrong or he walks because he thinks you're going to fall off.  If something is going on outside the ring, you can just ignore it and keep working.  He can't stare at the farrier and do laterals at the same time so he stays focused and doesn't fall on his face.

I'm learning that it's the mind that makes the GP horse, not the lofty gaits or being 'born on the bit'.  Muffin made it to GP as a sound, happy stallion that hated retirement and came back as a school horse so he could keep doing his job.  Per Trainer Z, a GP horse needs to have the mind to handle the sport.  They need to be smart, curious, and playful enough to think that they're playing a game.  They need to be able to handle pressure that's physical, mental, and emotional.  Plenty of stallions that are making people gasp as four year olds never make it to the FEI levels because they don't have the rest of the equation.  19 year old Schrodie is like Muffin, he comes out of his stall with his ears pricked, looking for the arena.  It's a game and they want to play.  Muffin swaggers when he knows he got something right.  I usually make it very clear with lots of mane scritches and verbal rewards, sometimes there's even cookies.  There's a reason he likes me.

Muffin made me aware of how emotionally sensitive Theo is.  Theo will get overwhelmed and either shut down or try to leave the situation.  It's not that he's being bad, he just can't deal and his fight/flight kicks in.  Theo is unusual for a gelding because he's totally down to fight if he feels trapped.  It's taken years to get him used to the idea that he can cope with some pressure and stay with me mentally.  He's certainly improved a lot, we were doing counter canter circles and he managed to stay with me even as he did something that really bothers him mentally.  Riding Muffin made me realize that's what will hold Theo back.  Not his gaits, conformation, even his age.  His challenge is that he isn't emotionally available.  It's difficult to keep him with me mentally when he gets emotional.  He boils over and strikes out.  It's not his fault, some idiot gelded him too late and never taught him how to cope, but it's there.  When Muffin has emotions, he stays with his rider.  Good, bad, or indifferent, he's going to stay with his rider and the task at hand.  It might be because he's half TB, he has that TB work ethic.

We have also had some truly glorious miscommunications. I damn near fell off when I leaned forward into a canter transition and Muffin politely stopped rather than canter with me in the wrong spot.  Same when I first started trotting with that big, lofty movement and could not stay in the center for love nor money.  And poor Muffin was trying to keep me on top by adjusting while I was trying to adjust to his gaits and, well, I think we entertained Trainer Z a bit.  And when I couldn't freaking canter because I've always asked wrong?  It was exactly why I was put on Muffin.  I got it right or I didn't get anything.  When I get it right?  Passage/piaffe/passage and nice, straight flying changes.

And then we go for a little trail ride because Muffin loves to walk in the woods.

And yes, he's available for breeding in case anyone loves the idea of a GP stallion that's trusted to carry fragile adult ammies with wonky discs while they learn how to ride collection and the canter correctly *cough donttipforward cough*.  Carried his owner at GP while she was four months pregnant.  His dam is a TB and his sire did some jumping and eventing as well as dressage, Muffin tested quite well for his jumping.  His kids do dressage, eventing, jumping, and hunters.  His five year old son is utterly charming and is Theo's neighbor, they like to play grab face.  You know, just in case that kind of referral is interesting to anyone.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Welcome to the family, Kiki

 I didn't sleep a wink last night.  I kept waking up and checking the time to see if I'd overslept.  About 5am my hubby told me to just get up already.  Apparently I was keeping him up as well.  I went to the barn all excited with a shiny new halter in hand.  It was new pony day!

Poor Kiki, her morning started out so peacefully, hanging with her favorite colt

New bike day is a thing in the cycling community.  New pony day is similar but much cuter.

We grabbed Trainer Z's two horse trailer and her ancient mini pony Mr. Ben and headed off to the breeder.  The trailer got stripped so it would be a box stall with Mr. Ben tied to one side.  The idea is that it's small enough Kiki would have to stay on her side without the troubles of getting her into a slot.  She'd also have Mr. Ben as a model of what she should do.  Mostly face forward and eat hay.  We pulled into the breeder's farm and she put a lead rope on Kiki.  Mr. Ben was pulled out of the trailer so she'd have room without a strange pony, then we asked her to step up.  It took her a minute while she touched the ramp with her front feet a couple times to check but then she walked up calmly.  She got settled, we added Mr. Ben, and we hit the road.  It took maybe ten minutes from parking to departure and that included the breeder handing me a coat I'd forgotten at the inspection.

I believe Kiki's thoughts could be summed up as 'What.  The.  HELL.'

Two hour ride back and we caught glimpses of Miss Kiki peeking out the window with hay at the corners of her mouth.  All good!  We arrived at the barn and there was a whole team to coordinate the transfers.  First the very pregnant broodmare in the field got moved to her foaling paddock.  She was delighted with this and made not a peep.  The yearling left behind, Viv, made a lot of peeps and fussed dramatically while her owner held her lead rope like the string of a kite.  Then we unloaded Mr. Ben, then Kiki.  Kiki stepped down very daintily and followed Trainer Z with an absolutely shocked expression on her face.  What was this place?  What happened?  Who was that very noisy liver chestnut?

She repeats.  What.  The.  HELL.

The girls were turned loose and folks stepped back for the fireworks.  Except there were very few.  Viv yelled for a broodmare that was ready for peace and didn't respond.  Kiki stood transfixed, staring at the pine chip footing in the paddock.  She quickly decided that Viv clearly knew what was going on and started following her.  Viv is a bit of a dominant brat and was in a state so she wasn't very receptive.  Kiki quickly learned to follow at a respectful distance.  After ten minutes, Viv was starting to figure out that her friend wasn't coming back.  By thirty minutes, she was more interested in what the deal was with the strange filly.

Future best friends?  We certainly hope so.

I made a run to Tractor Supply and by the time I got back, they were both working on the round bale in their field.  Not exactly friendly as they kept it between them but friendly enough to enjoy mutual grazing time.

I went into the field once it was clear the girls were done with their settling in drama.  Kiki was, understandably, very skittish.  She'd been thrown in a metal box with strangers, taken to a strange place, then put in a field with a strange filly that was not at all as friendly as the colts she'd left behind.  I stood by the round bale pretending to graze and after about two minutes, she was joining me.  Once I convinced her that I wasn't going to take her anywhere or do anything weird, she was happy for skritches.  She's shedding like crazy and is one itchy baby.

I spent about ten minutes giving her attention (and explaining to Viv that I'm a grumpy old broodmare and my space is sacrosanct) before heading out so they could finish settling after a very big day.  They'll spend the rest of the week just existing, getting used to each other, and for Kiki learning the new routine.  This weekend they'll get adult supervision in the form of an older broodmare that isn't in foal.  By summer when the fields are ready, they'll be joined by the other broodmares to make a nice little herd.  It should be a great way to grow up with a mix of ages and temperaments.

Now I'm wildly over tired but excited.  She was very, very sensible about everything.  She's skittish right now but couldn't resist coming over to see what I was doing and get in some attention.  I suspect in a week or two she'll be ready for company and getting used to going for short walks.  Most importantly, I've decided royal blue is definitely her color and will need to buy her lots of things in that shade.

Welcome to the family, Kiki.

Monday, April 3, 2023

My Theo

 I randomly got talking to Trainer Z about Theo's past and realized I never told the whole story.  Probably because I thought she'd run away from him.  Started training at 6 (probably gelded at that age as well) with an ammy that wanted a trail horse with some dressage.  Big accident, landed with some 'cowboys' that wanted him to obey and used force to get there, then some years being ridden into the ground to make him a school horse.  All the time people assuming the draft cross is a dead head and lazy and needs to be forced.  I met him as an angry, distant school horse that wanted nothing to do with people.  We went to war for six months while I explained that I would not be bullied and I was not going away.

We were discussing it as we plotted getting him back to working outside.  He likes working in the outdoor arena but we also want him to get back to hacking outside before or after his rides.  We took him outside after my ride today to start getting him used to the idea of walks after lessons.  We only went a couple hundred yards with Trainer Z for company but he realized it was a hack and relaxed into a long neck after he figured out what we were up to.  We'll do a couple more hundred yards next week and keep adding until he can loop around the woods for a hack.

While working on my transitions, I got reminded to not ask with my spur, I don't need it.  Think trot and he bounces into the transition.  Sit on the correct seatbone and the half passe is right there.  I thought there was a very cute First level horse when I first started riding Theo.  Now he's a Third Level horse and Trainer Z cocked her head and said there was another trot starting to show up.  It might be time to go back to the half steps and introduce passage.  He's only 19.  She wants me to not close the door on what he could do just yet.  Apparently his changes are still coming together but are now a mental challenge, not a physical one.  I'm not good enough with my seat to handle what she's created so I'm going to do some lessons on her GP stallion Muffin to practice on a horse that has no question on what he's supposed to do.  I'm learning that a properly trained dressage horse will take a shift of weight as a cue and that I have to KNOW what seat bones I'm weighting.  Under her training, Theo is now sensitive to how I weight my seatbones.  She described it as not asking for the flying change but allowing him to change.  I had very nice, comfortable counter canters today since I now know what he's looking for (and my chiro has my SI straightened out enough that I can sit on both seatbones).  The plan is to practice on her GP stallion Muffin who is 100% confirmed on all movements and won't be fussed by me making mistakes.  I may get stuck doing tempi changes around the ring as he's rather wont to do but it'll get me used to riding changes one way or another.

Kiki arrives tomorrow and folks are wondering if I will lose interest in Theo as Miss Fancy Pants High Score Filly moves in.  Not a chance.  There are certain partnerships you treasure even if they were formed in less than ideal situations.  Theo is my heart horse and that won't ever change.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Preparing for Kiki

 I really, really didn't think I was going to be looking at things like this but . . . I've been watching the Westfalen NA posts very closely.  Waiting for the 2022 inspection results.

Your top scoring Welsh foal for the 2022 Westfalen NA inspection tour and one of the high point foals for the futurity:

August 2022, 4 months old

Quillane Marqui is making people turn their heads already.  Now that everything is settled and done, I'm finding out that Trainer Z was holding her breath, waiting to see if I'd pick Kiki or the other little filly.  I went with the buckskin that I'd been stalking for months and it seems I picked the right one.  Everyone is excited.  Trainer, breeder, stallion owner, and me, it really does take a village.  I'm trying to be a good equine citizen and kick up some fuss for her sire.  He had the number one KDR filly in the 2019 inspection (pre-pandemic) and now he's got a number one Welsh filly.  He does stamp his foals with that nice shoulder.  She got the dam's lovely topline, though.

We're just a couple weeks away from bringing Kiki home.  It seems impossible that she's almost a yearling already.  We're coordinating spring shots, feeding schedules, and halter sizes.  My trailer will be reconfigured to be a giant box stall and I'm borrowing an ancient Shetland pony from Trainer Z to give Kiki some company for her first trailer ride.  I'm also putting Trainer Z in the truck because I don't want to get into trouble moving my new filly and be on my own.  I'm excited and terrified to start this new adventure and would not be attempting it if I didn't have such an experienced trainer to play guide.  She's coaching me through everything from expectation setting to setting up my trailer.

Kiki is going to be a pistol.  Her breeder has started calling her Cheeky Kiki.  I've received clips of her full on body slamming the colts in their field and untying baling twine as fast as people can tie it.  She's sensitive, quick, and very smart.  Rumor has it that she's the queen of the foal group and only has to flick an ear for them to get out of her way, including the big colt.  Competition mare mind is how they're describing her.

December 2022, 8 months old

Seriously, that's how she trots around while playing with her friends in a muddy field in December.  It's a screen grab from a clip of the three foals being goofballs.  It's just how she do, she moves like the ground is too hot to touch.  The other foals are cantering.  I don't know if she'll make the pony cut off, she may end up 14.3 like her sire.  Not that it really matters to me, it's still a heck of a lot closer to the ground then Theo, but it would be nice if she could be an FEI pony for some very lucky teen.  I'd do it myself but the FEI pony test is for junior riders.

March 2023 at 10 months old

Her first outing will be in July at a USDF breed show.  I think the whole class of 2022 will be there so I'll be excited for the pictures.  I don't think any of her half sibs will be there so no 'Get of' type classes for her.  They're trying to repeat the breeding so maybe, in the future, she'll have some sibs and we can do a group for her dam and sire.  I'll have to ask her breeder if she wants to do a 'bred by' group since she'll have enough representatives of her work in attendance.  I will happily tow Kiki through to support her.    

For now, I count the days before Project Kiki begins.  AHHHHH.