Saturday, October 16, 2021

The bratty times

 You'd think I'd be used to getting texts involving my horse's exploits.  And yet, I still feel a bit embarrassed when I get texts about my horse doing things like throwing a fit and threatening to rear because he didn't get a cookie as fast as he wanted.  Or trying to bolt out of the arena because jumping 6" cavaletti are just too exciting.  Fall Theo is in full force and he's living his best life.

Theo.  THEO.  This is how you end up having your workload increased!

Sorry not sorry, mom

Yes, I sent Trainer Z a cookie bouquet because we both adore Theo but he is a freaking handful at certain times of the year.

Normally I would take this as a sign that he does not need help regulating his temperature but Trainer Z wants to take advantage of all that excess energy so that means it's time for a clip!  We're running a couple weeks later than usual since he's been in relatively light work as he builds up strength.  Which is also apparently causing some of the shenanigans?  So in the interest of Trainer Z being able to work Theo hard enough to actually find the bottom and bring his theatrics to an end, it's naked pony time.

So after running a 10k and before finishing up my final project for my first class in the doctorate program (because I'm an idiot), I drove up to visit mi papi and shear him like the feral yak he is.  Trainer Z was kind enough to give him a bubble bath the day before.  Theo was not impressed.

He just deflates when he gets a bath

But that meant I had a dry, mostly clean, mostly exercised pony to work with.  I'm not sure I'm doing the dressage horse owner thing correctly.  I mean I'm really good at writing checks but I thought it was supposed to be all fancy dancy.  I don't think it's supposed to include half a horse worth of hair up my nose and the other half down my bra.

Theo post clip, hanging out with his BFF Sparkle Pants.  Sparkle Pants is a very fancy young WB that's currently winning a lot at Second.

But it's done now and Trainer Z can commence with working the sass out of Theo.  He's back to feeling like a First Level horse in his balance and power which is great for 2.5 months of work.  He had enough muscle around his stifles to guide the lines of his clip!  Still hoping he'll be back to his Second level self by the new year.  Trainer Z is feeling confident and Theo is just gobbling up the consistent work.  I wasn't sure if he was going to want to get back to big boy work at his age but apparently, he can't get enough.  It won't be that much longer before he's back to working that half pass and those changes.  And the new indoor is so close to being done!

Theo's new very fancy show horse digs

Starting in November, Theo will be living the super fancy life.  He'll have a stall in that brand new arena/barn with a run out paddock and gossip doors.  The horses will even have skylights!  I suspect Theo's doors will end up shut because he's a bit destructive but we'll see.  He's on unlimited hay 24/7 so his chewing behaviors aren't too bad.  It also means that he'll be in full training straight through the winter since he doesn't even have to go outside to get to the arena.  Knowing him, he'll be out in his paddock straight through the winter.  Feral pony is feral.  But no more having to wade through knee deep snow to retrieve him and bring him in for his workouts!

There will be more pictures of the new digs after the new barn party in November.  But things are looking very up for Theo.  He's happy as a clam and Trainer Z is weathering the storm known as fall Theo with grace and humor.  Very glad I decided to send him to a trainer that specializes in toddler warmblood stallions.  That makes Theo the good kid on the roster.  Relatively speaking.

Monday, September 6, 2021

One month update

 Theo has been with Trainer Z for a month now and it's going as well as I could've hoped.  I went up to visit this weekend (and drop off supplements, fly spray, detangler for his ridiculous hair, and a new saddle pad that I couldn't resist in the tack shop).  He is happy as a clam in his run in with a younger gelding to play with over the fence.  He's also managed to mow down the grass around his paddock for several feet and I really need to get pictures of the gymnastics he uses to reach just a bit more grass.  Shoulder in?  Much to hard.  Kneeling to get all of his neck under the fence and reach grass?  No problem.

Hi mom!  They had to move part of the g

He's working 5 - 6 days a week.  Half the time on the lunge so Trainer Z can get him going forward, half the time under saddle.  Each week he looks a bit stronger and a bit more like his old self.  The stifle stumble is already gone and he's starting to offer more.  She even got to do a bit of shoulder in one day when he was feeling spicy.  He was tired quickly but he certainly remembers the fancy stuff.  As he gets stronger, he's offering more and more behaviors.

I had to laugh watching Trainer Z manage my beast.  He's 18, a bit of a school master, and knows how to have a negotiation.  Mount, sugar cube.  Start trotting like a western pleasure champion, cough three times, then start warming up like a dressage horse.  Once warm up is complete, walk, sugar cube, then he'll pick himself up for the real work.  Like he gets that sugar cube and immediately picks up his tummy.  He will NOT pick himself up until he's had a warm up, a walk, and a sugar cube.  That is the routine, so sayeth Theo.  Trainer Z has decided that it's definitely not a fight worth picking when he's so good about getting to work after his warm up.  He's just very set in his ways.

More potato vision but you get the idea

Full disclosure, the warm up habit is mine and I taught it to Theo.  I require 5 - 10 minutes of warm up before I can get to work, always have.  It takes that long to work through my various aches and pains and make my brain settle into the here and now.  At 18, Theo's got some stiffness to work through as well.  A clearly defined warm up is non-negotiable for either of us.

Most importantly, he looked happy.  The tail was swinging, the ears were soft, and the lip licking was pretty much constant.  There are issues with him trying to duck behind the contact as an evasion right now but that appears to be due to him getting tired quickly.  He's also crooked as the day is long but that's not exactly new.  It just hasn't been managed well for about a year.  His back is coming up and the dip in front of his withers is starting to fill in.  By spring, he should be back to being a very confident mid-level dressage horse.  He looks very comfortable now and is tracking up beautifully.  Canter is a bit lateral but we've got to have him near PSG fit to get that canter really clean.  Right now, it's all about muscle building and endurance.  

All braided up with nowhere to go

Since he's behaved himself, only busted loose on the lunge line once (caught Trainer Z off guard, he got a firm reminder on his manners afterward and didn't try it again), and has kept his protests below the level of the toddler stallions he lives with, he gets to stay indefinitely.  This is a huge relief to me.  Come spring when he's fit and ready to show off his tricks again, Trainer Z expects it will be easy to find him a leaser.  Just have to find someone with a sense of humor and pockets for sugar cubes.  He'll remain under Trainer Z's watchful eye hopefully until he's ready to fully retire and be a pasture potato.  He's had a lot of change in the last two years and I think it's time for him to settle in and have some consistency again.  

He's started nickering for Trainer Z when it's his turn to be worked.  Apparently he was very sullen and pouted when he had his ride time moved and thought he was skipped.  I think he's missed being a show pony.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Friends first

 The best part about sending Theo to Trainer Z is that she already knows him.  She was there the time Theo leapt straight up into the air and damn near cleared the warm up ring at GMHA.  She's watched him dance the dance of his people while learning his changes.  She's seen Theo at his absolute 'I don't want to be on this horse' worst.  Unlike a lot of other people that haven't seen that and think I'm exaggerating about the potential chaos with my lazy horse, she knows what he can do and respects the fact that he is actually quite athletic.  When he decides it's worth the caloric expenditure.

She also knows Theo as an individual.  He's a simple enough creature, he just needs to feel like things are fair and that he's going to be rewarded for hard work.  Hard work is fine so long as there are cookies involved.  Once he trusts his rider, he doesn't want to hurt them or drop them.  He'll at least try to keep them on top when he inevitably flips his lid.  Because Theo's gotta Theo.

Wisely, Trainer Z decided to spend her first 2 weeks with Theo just making friends.  She's been working him on the lunge every other day to work on him pushing back to front and getting him used to the fact that his vacation is over.  In the saddle it's been long, low, and leg yields with lots of rewards for effort.  It appears he remembers Trainer Z and associates her with good things.  And sugar cubes.

Unfortunately I did a lot of work desensitizing Theo to things on the ground like flags and whips.  Poor Trainer Z has discovered he has zero fear of the lunge whip.  This level of desensitization is great for assisting things like a piaffe or doing other ground work, a total pain for getting his out of shape keister back into work on the lunge.  Trainer Z is on Theo's trusted list so the biggest reaction she gets is a bit of a tail flick.  It sounds like he's been making her work very hard while lunging.

Potato vision screenshot from video sent to my phone but you can get the idea, mi papi is doing good work

She's going to start cantering under saddle this week.  Based on our previous five falls spent together, she's got about four weeks to get him on a regular schedule before Theo's patented equinox flailing time begins.  That's when the heat breaks and he loses his marbles for about a week before settling back into being his usual self.  

For now, he's settled in like he's always been there.  He loves his paddock and run in with company all around and all day hay.  He has been very good for grooming and bath time because he does love his pampering.  He's already getting his grain upped as he starts to rebuild that muscle.  He's gotten used to the outdoor ring and no longer thinks that the various buildings and log walls are full of aliens looking to abduct him.  He wears his embarrassing giraffe fly sheet even though the other stallions can see him.  I can hear him whining 'MOOOOM' all the way at my house.  

Since most of Trainer Z's dance card right now includes 3 - 5 year old warmbloods (including two toddler stallions) getting started in their high end dressage careers, I suspect Theo is a nice break in her day.  After several very athletic babies, having a senior citizen that already knows the moves and would rather take a break at any opportunity should be a nice change of pace.  Fingers crossed that Theo doesn't decide to show all those babies how it's really done once the heat breaks.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Silver lining

 Yes, sending Theo off to be someone else's dressage partner has been hard, but I'm trying to find the silver lining.  I'm still a horse mom and I still get to do the fun stuff like embarrassing my horse and spending hours making him beautiful.  

Poor pony suffering through a spa day

In some ways I get to be his favorite person.  I can't ask for anything hard in the saddle so it's all about the lazy and the cookies.  There's a lot to be said for being the favorite person.  

And Theo is just as happy with one partner or another.  No, he's not a horse that bonds with people quickly, but he's now very confident that he's going to be treated fairly and rewarded for his work.  I've read that horses can remember people for seven years.  Theo's memories of BC (before Catie) are getting awfully fuzzy at this point.  He's a show horse through and through now, a respected and loved dressage horse that knows the moves and people consider a pleasure to ride.  He'll be happy to have an outlet for his busy mind and a chance to be big and powerful.

When people try to make Theo little is when Theo explodes.  I know better than to try to make him little.  Little is not safe when dealing with Theo.

He has a paddock with brand new sand footing thanks to our ridiculous weather.  Flash floods again last night!  But not a problem with his lovely new run in shed and sand paddock.

New digs!

Trainer Z's outdoor ring is lovely and drains really well.  Her indoor is well underway and should be done for this fall.  At that point Theo will have a stall attached to the arena with a run out.  Or he'll be such a heathen that he has to stay out in the run ins with Trainer Z's stallions.  Could go either way.  Theo acts a bit more like a toddler stallion than any 18 year old should . . . 

Tomorrow morning he gets to work with Trainer Z.  The plan is three months of just fitness, getting his topline back and rebuilding all of that hunky muscle.  Then Trainer Z can spend a couple months figuring out where he's at and if he's interested in doing the hard work again.  At six months we'll revisit and come up with a plan for the spring.  Once he's back in work he will probably meet some potential dance partners but no rush or pressure on that.  Right now it's all about getting him fit and making sure he's happy and ready to get back to his big boy work.

As for me?  I'm already scheduled to come visit at the end of August and spectate as Trainer Z rides.  Once he's back in work and I get the green light that he's safe?


Probably walk trot lessons but they will be damn fancy walk trot lessons.  It gives me something to look forward to as I shift to life as a dressage horse owner instead of a dressage rider.  I'll be one of those owners that only rides supervised and has the trainer warm up their horse but screw it.  Couldn't be a bronc rider forever.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Acceptance and moving forward

 I've already found my limit for riding.  I sat canter a bit too long and the next day?  I felt awful.  Numbness in my left fingers, seizing muscles all around my neck and shoulders, the works.  Forty minutes and sitting the canter is my limit?  That hurts.  That hurts a lot.  I can't do anything with riding limits like that!  I mean, I could go out for a trail ride but that's not where I want to be and it's so hard for me to make myself stop.  In the moment everything feels fine but the next day, my body is certainly letting me know that it can't cope with that amount of force and movement through my spine.  It's proving very, very difficult for me to ride within these new limitations when I know Theo needs more.  I want to work through something, make progress, but there's just not enough time.  Especially when I'm riding so infrequently.

Also discovered I can't ride this beauty for more than a couple hours without repercussions the next day, wonky discs suck

Theo is off to Trainer Z at the end of the month.  Not to be rehabbed but to finish getting back into shape and potentially meet new dance partners.  She's got a spot with a run in opening up and she's starting construction on her own indoor.  She's got riders looking for a lease and Theo could become a Third Level horse with some fitness and polish.  I would love to show up to shows next season in my big hat and cheer him on.  I would also love to split his bills with someone.  Love that horse but he ain't cheap.

Trainer Z also offered a spot if he needs to become a pasture pet so he doesn't have to move all over New Hampshire.  I almost cried.  It's a chance for Theo to have just one more move and live with someone that really cares for him.  I will visit and take some lessons when I feel good but it won't be my job to fight the good fight.  If it's cold and my neck hurts, I don't have to go to the barn.  That will be Trainer Z followed by whoever she picks out as Theo's partner.  I'll just show up, have fun, and go on my way.  

This setup I can ride all day and be fine, I did a five hour ride with no problems.  Victory!  I look dorky but victory!

It's chaotic right now and it will be expensive sending him off for training but Theo's been enjoying his return to work.  He respects and more importantly likes Trainer Z.  He'll appreciate a trained seat and hands while he learns the big boy moves.  I'll appreciate being able to totally sign off on managing his work schedule.  

Part of me is heart broken that I've already found my limit.  I can't show if I've only got 40 minutes of riding in me.  Maybe it'll get better if he's stronger over his topline but I rather doubt it.  He'll get bouncier, not smoother.  Maybe if I get stronger?  I don't know.  But this time I know it's coming so I can face it and process it.  I'll be selling my jumping and western dressage tack.  They're just collecting dust.  Anyone want a Frank Baines Evolution or a Harmony western dressage saddle?  All of his dressage gear will head north with him even though I know Trainer Z's saddle fits him and she won't be using his saddle.  Better safe than sorry.

Don't tell the neurologist about this outing

I've given notice to the current barn.  I'll always be grateful to them for giving us a place to land and giving Theo the opportunity to settle after . . . whatever was going on.  His teenager is off to college this fall so this is only a little earlier than she was expecting.  Legs's owner just picked up a new mare so her dance card is very full.  I start orientation Aug 9 for my DBA program.  It's kind of the perfect time for Theo to quietly slip away to go be a professionally trained horse.  

I'll sneak in a few extra rides while I can.  And Trainer Z is down for me to come up for lessons where I'm the busted adult ammy owner that wants to play pretend.  I have nothing to prove, I paid my dues and rode the big bucks.  We both know I'm not a wimp, I'm just busted.  I have limited miles and I want those miles to be the fun parts.  Maybe I'll ask to ride her Grand Prix stallion Muffin and see what a piaffe feels like . . . 

With lots and lots of Advil, of course.

Friday, June 4, 2021

And then?

 I've spent the last few weeks trying to just get stuff settled into a sustainable pattern.  Shoes, supplements, stabling, training, all of it.  And I seem to be just about done with that.  Theo is working regularly, all of his needs are being met, and he is on his way to being fit again.  I'm riding part time and enjoying it.

He's so darn pretty

And then?

That's kind of the trick question right now.  As emergency mode fades away and I start to think long term I stall out.  What the heck am I going to do with Theo long term?  What makes sense for us?  I need him to be happy and well but I also need to consider how this will work for me.  I just got accepted to a doctorate program.  I didn't think I'd have a horse in my life so I intended to continue my education.  Awkward.

There's also the part where I can't do a lot of things.  I know from experience that a fit Theo that's doing big boy work can be a handful.  I distinctly remember him dancing the dance of his people around the ring while learning his changes.  Opening that can of worms is a non-starter for me.  Once he's learned something he totally doesn't care but I certainly can't be the one to teach him this stuff.  I need all four on the floor.  And let's be honest, his collected trot is a nightmare to sit even for people that actually have discs between their vertebrae.  

Theo has opinions about my bouncing during his trot

I'm too goal oriented to just show up, brush the pony, and ride around the arena.  I need to have something to work on, a goal to measure our progress, lessons, structure, all of that.  My old goal was the Bronze but the chances of me sitting the trot work in a Third Level test?  Pretty dang low.  My body may surprise me and from what I understand of my situation, technique may save the day.  It's all about minimizing the compressive forces.  But reality is that I'm not going to be working a mid-level dressage horse full time if I want to have a functioning neck 10 years from now.

Western dressage is good for keeping Theo chill and his collected jog is actually comfy to sit.  Not that I've tried it yet but even when I couldn't sit in my dressage tests I could sit his jog.  That could be a solution.  I'd still need to get a change on him but that would be a small change, more like a swap that you see in reining.  A bigger change would be even better but a small one might be easier for me to cope with these days.  Western dressage could give me something to work toward, I still haven't ridden a Level 3 test.  

Being the weirdo even at the dressage barn

It comes down to my time and my body's ability to take abuse.  Both are in shorter supply these days and it wouldn't be fair to either of us for me to take Theo on full time.  I love having him near me and riding 2-3 times a week but I already know that he won't have another partner after August.  I have to plan ahead for when his teen goes to college and it's just me.  He won't be safe for me over the winter with just a couple rides a week.  I'm going to need to find him a second rider.

Hacking out with his new friend

I'm currently thinking that I'll be one of those posts on social media asking the local horse groups if anyone wants a half lease on an experienced dressage horse.  I have to accept the fact that I can't do this on my own and I need to find someone else to help me keep him in work.  Ideally, someone that wants to be his primary partner and just accept that this middle aged ammy with a wonky neck likes to ride sometimes when he's feeling lazy.  They can focus on dressage and show him as far as they can go while I jog about on my riding days and maybe, just maybe, go to the occasional show.

Theo thinks that sounds suspiciously like work

He's very happy now with his teenager, my friend, and me giving him attention.  He's doing once a week lessons with a local dressage trainer and putting muscle back on.  Everyone is on the same page and working on making him less lazy and more fit.  He'll be back to being a real dressage horse by fall.  And then we start hunting for a new dance partner for him.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

New friends

 While Theo and I were away, the barn changed a lot.  The name changed, the owner changed, and the clientele changed.  It used to be primarily h/j with me as the one weird DQ and my friend as the one weird eventer.  Weekly lessons with the resident h/j trainer were required.  

Nowadays there's no resident trainer, everyone is pretty much doing their own thing.  Several trainers are coming in to teach and Trainer Z is on the list of trainers that can come and give lessons.  Almost all of the riders are dressage focused.  I don't know how it happened but the barn is now a dressage barn without actually saying anywhere that it's a dressage barn.  How do I know?  When I dropped off Theo, two ladies were discussing whether or not someone should stay at Second considering she just barely squeaked a 60% in Second 1 and that was with an infamously generous judge.  Yeah, these are my people.  One of the riders is working on her Second level freestyle so they have a Bluetooth speaker set up in the indoor so she can work on movements while controlling the music from her phone.

Of course I'm weird for a dressage rider since I have zero focus in disciplines but at least I'm not the weirdo with the strange equipment anymore.  When my double arrived with the h/j riders, everyone was confused and fascinated by having two bits.  What the heck is that for?  Do two bits even fit in one mouth?  When I was unpacking last weekend and put Theo's double away with the dressage crew hanging out in the tack room, the reaction was quite different.  First the conversation in the room actually paused as everyone noted that the new horse has a double.  Then came the questions like 'sooooo what's his story?'.  It's wasn't about what the heck is that bridle for, they already knew that.  A double means one of two things:  I'm utterly clueless and over bridling my horse or my horse is further along than they thought based on him standing in a paddock or plopping around on the lunge line.

He can dressage, we promise

The double is actually here in case he decides to test my left shoulder like he does about once every six months.  We'll just nip that kind of behavior in the bud these days, kthx.  One ride with a curb will usually end that conversation rather than letting it escalate.  Safety is important these days and an emergency brake system is a lovely piece of safety equipment.  He sure as hell isn't fit enough to actually work in it.  Neither am I, for that matter.  But I'm finding myself thinking about 'one day'.  One day he'll be working his changes and need the extra refinement.  I won't be the one in the saddle but might as well have all his equipment standing by.

It's not a group of fancy dancy dressage horses, they're mostly stock horse types that are transitioning over from other jobs as their owners decide to focus on dressage.  There's a pair of OTTBs that are learning the low level dressage ropes.  Lots of First and Second level with one working on Fourth.  Theo is still one of the taller ones so you know there's not a lot of WBs trotting around.  Legs is still the fanciest thing in the barn but then again Legs would be the fanciest thing in a lot of barns.

Good gravy, mare

The new crowd has opened up some new opportunities.  No one is looking for a ploppy cross rails partner this time.  With the usual 'so and so is hurt' going on, there's a couple riders looking to get in some saddle time and having an experienced dressage horse drop in has caught their attention. Theo got to meet a potential new friend in the form of a teenager that had her lease horse go lame just as summer was getting started.  You know, like they do.  

As far as meet and greets go, it was perfect.  I insisted she lunge first because he got a day off.  It was . . . uneventful.

So, so very wild.  And the ride was just as uneventful.  After about two minutes I put my little roller spurs on her so Theo would actually trot on.  She walked, trotted, cantered, did some little leg yields, and even tried out his walk to canter once so she could get a feel for how he's different than the other horses she's ridden.

Theo quite liked her eagerness to tell him he's clever, pet him, and stuff treats in his face.  I like the fact she's got soft hands and a quiet seat.  She's in regular lessons with a respected dressage trainer so it works out well.  She has a horse to lesson on that can show her the ropes and Theo has someone that will dote on him and ride him in a correct way.  She is a First Level rider and Theo is perfect for that right now.  He's very solid at that level and can let her try out some of the fun tricks at Second over the summer.

I'm really enjoying not being the lone weirdo for once.  I will enjoy this summer surrounded by similar weirdos.