Thursday, December 30, 2010

Let's discuss the weather

It's a normal enough topic, should be safe in any circle. In this case, it's about how weird New England can be, and how disruptive Mother Nature can be. On Sunday I was all dressed to ride, a bag of homemade treats in hand and my new power de-shedder ready to make it's debut. I got as far as putting on my boots before my husband stuck his head out of his office and asked me where I was going.

Husband is an engineer. He has two BS degrees. I looked down at my breeches and field boots, thinking 'they keep telling me he's bright'. I was going to the barn, of course. It's about a 35 minute drive north, 30 if traffic is good and the State Troopers aren't out in force. He asked if I'd checked the weather. Well, no, I had not. We have an indoor at the winter facility, so what was the problem?

I'm glad he noticed I was leaving. About two hours after that talk, I sat in my living room and watched the wind kick up and the snow start to come down. We got 15" of snow combined with enough wind to be an official blizzard. That kept me at home for two days. Add to that a relapse with my terrible cough and it was suddenly Thursday. Fiona had not been ridden in a week. With winter camp going on at the barn, she hadn't been ridden by my trainer, either. That's an alarming thought going into a lesson.

Lo and behold, she was fine. More distracted than usual, but fine. It was a flat lesson and I didn't push her to do much. Just easing her back in after a week off. It seems fair. I get a week off, she gets a week off, and then we both get back to work. The only thing she seemed annoyed about was the lack of serious grooming. It was 40 degrees out today, so all of the horses had their blankets off. The princess is shedding like crazy already. I was working her over with a metal curry and she just leaned into it. Such an odd little mare. Tonight none of the horses had blankets on, just three days after the blizzard.

Is it spring yet? Please? I'm already counting the days until we get to head off to camp. I still have hopes that a certain princess will be making her Beginner Novice debut this year, and camp is going to be a big part of my plan to get her up to speed. I've got three months to get her as fit and prepped as possible. Assuming the weather and my health hold out. Funny, two things that are almost as hard to control and as unpredictable as horse ownership.

I'm doomed.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Denny keeps adding to his list. Clearly he thinks motivation is in short supply. Rather than trying to do all of the remainder (he was at 62 at last count), I'm just going to mention a couple more. We'll call this thirty goals analyzed.

24. Become involved as a volunteer at a show. I've helped at shows, but never as a volunteer. This needs to be rectified this summer. It's just a matter of freeing up a weekend. And a lot of Advil. I've helped out in the secretary's office before, and there's nothing quite like disgruntled horse people.

25. Learn how to work a horse in long lines. You know, I think this ties in to the project to teach Fiona how to drive. I'll have to start researching what I'll need to get for this project.

27. Scribe for a dressage judge. Hmm. I never thought I qualified for this, but maybe I do. My penmanship is certainly bad enough. Am I the only one that spends quite a bit of time staring at tests and thinking my doctor wrote out my notes? I love dressage tests for the feedback I get, I want to go to a dressage show this spring, but sometimes I feel like I need to turn them upside down to read them.

Aside from setting up even more goals for myself, I did actually go and ride. Fiona reacted to her spring vaccinations and was under the weather Tuesday, so it's been bareback and a hackamore for a couple days. Today was our first jumping lesson in awhile. I was, understandably, a little uncertain going in.

We actually had a good lesson and I felt like we've made progress. We're still trotting in, but we've started to canter out over fences. Today it was all two foot verticals, which is a step up from the 18" cross rails we were on. No one was given heart attacks or frightened by our performance, and even though she had to be reminded on her brakes toward the end, over all she was very good. The canter? Honestly, there is no comparison to her canter from before. She's capable of carrying herself very lightly. I have a lot of hope for her in the future, she's got so many of the pieces.

I'm snapping my body too quickly when I jump, it's something I need to work on. A lot. This young lady does not suffer fools, pretty much at all. If I'm balanced and relaxed, so is she. If I get tight or forget to breathe, so does she. But she's a lot bigger than I am, so it's a much bigger deal. Most of the lesson she was pretty chill, but when I stressed about a bending line, she would blow through my hands like they weren't even there. But she seems to go very well in her new bit. There's no pain reaction, but she doesn't lean on it like the mullen mouth snaffle. We'll go in this for a bit longer and see what we've got. I think we'll keep the Mare Magic supplement, too. She's in full blown heat today, and we were still able to pull off a good lesson. She just seems less distracted, but she acted like she had cramps today. Poor thing, I can totally sympathize. Exercise during cramps seems to help us both, and she was in good spirits after her lesson. Her battery powered de-shedder shipped today, I can't wait to see her reaction to that.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bits and bobs and bangles

I know I said I was going to finish going through Denny Emmerson's list of goals (he's up to 40 now, like I needed more challenge in my life), but first there is a rant required here. It's a multi-part rant, but it revolves around the one aspect of riding that we can all share: tack.

The reason why my tack trunk weighs as much as it does.
Bit addiction is not a pretty thing.

I got my new bit and bridle today. I love getting tack in the mail, it's always so exciting. The UPS guy is used to me running down the hall with an excited grin like a kid on Christmas when any box with a Smartpak label shows up. There's the leather smell, the excitement of getting new equipment that will surely send my riding from it's current mediocre state right to the next level as soon as I use it, all of that in a glorious instant when I cut the box open. Quickly followed by me groaning and pulling out pieces of tack that must be assembled into something approaching the correct order and alignment. Tradition is great and everything, but did they really need to make bridles this much of a pain?

I've been riding for over twenty years, and almost all of that in English disciplines. I was dismantling bridles in first grade, and reassembling them in second grade. Of course, my mother spent many years going behind me and reassembling my bridles correctly, but by the time I was a teen, I could do it on my own. As an instructor, I once had my bridle disassembled by my students, tossed into a bag, and then I reassembled it. Blindfolded. I was cursing that pelham and the four reins pretty vividly (and that's goal number 40 checked off Denny's list). All of this experience means nothing when you've got a brand new bridle to wrestle into submission. Noseband on upside down, headstall reversed, reins twisted, you name it. It took me about twenty minutes to get my new snaffle bridle assembled. I'm taking off the ten minutes I spent looking for the cheek piece that rolled under the couch. Fitting it to her will probably take another twenty minutes.

But victory is mine! The bridle is assembled with the new copper mouth lozenge loose ring snaffle. Try saying that three times fast. This brings on the second half of the rant. I own so many bits. I find myself browsing through sites full of bits the way some others browse through jewelery or hand bags. I've even called my husband in to see some of the new and rare finds. I get a lot of odd stares, but I'm used to it. I didn't know there was a loose ring model of a pelham. I found one with a lozenge center, in a 4 1/2", but it's in the UK and I can't figure out if they'll ship to me in the US. That one was a heart breaker.

I now own the following bits in a 4 1/2" for Fiona:

Mullen mouth pelham
Single jointed slotted kimberwicke
Single jointed loose ring snaffle
Happy Mouth mullen mouth loose ring snaffle
Lozenge center copper mouth loose ring snaffle
English hackamore

I also own these in 5":
Corkscrew full cheek snaffle
Eggbutt snaffle
Tom thumb jointed pelham
3 ring single jointed elevator

My tack trunk weighs a ton, and it's all for bits. I have three bridles currently set up. And a wish list for some other bits I think I should try (combination bits could be very good, considering how she does in a snaffle and a hackamore . . . Myler has a good combination bit with a snaffle mouthpiece, could be good for when she blows through my hands jumping . . . ). There has to be some form of intervention program for this. Bit Addicts Anonymous.

Hi, my name is Catie, and I'm addicted to bits.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Lazy Horse

Between the holidays and the cold weather playing havoc with my bad hip, it's hard to stay motivated at this time of year. Spring seems a lifetime away, and it's just so darn cold at the barn. It's a battle to get in the car and do the long drive up to see the pony.

Especially when I know there might be a fire breathing dragon awaiting me.

However, this is a good season for goals and thinking. I saw Denny Emmerson's goals for kids on his Facebook page (scroll through his wall, they're all there), and promptly started checking them off. Compared to a lot of younger riders I meet, I consider myself well rounded. It appears I have some work to do.

1. Learn about sport horse and racing pedigrees. I'll admit, I've been woefully reluctant to commit any real time to pedigrees, mostly because I've never been in a position where they mattered to me. My horses have always been whatever was available. Neither of the horses I've owned have even had papers, so I have to work with what I've got. I never intend to breed, and with my habits, a lot of my partners will be from dicey situations. However, ignorance is still ignorance, and I should at least know some of the TB bloodlines with my penchant for fast horses that are convinced the chipmunks will eat them any day now.

3. Learn to ride bareback and mount bareback. Ride bareback? Any time, baby. Mount bareback? Have you heard the sounds that come out of my hip? Leave that for the next generation, I'm going to use a mounting block. My mare is 16.2, after all.

5. Teach your horse to drive. Okay, that would actually be a lot of fun, I just have to figure out how to even start that. I'll add that to my bucket list. I should at least learn how to drive, it's silly to not know how. That, and I can only imagine Fiona's reactions. I should not be motivated by the thought of my mare's expression when she sees her first cart, but it's going to be hilarious. There will be video.

6. Show your horse in a showmanship or fittings class. Now I just have to find one. Not a lot of those at the events or dressage shows on my schedule. This one might have to wait until I have a trailer and can scandalize everyone by shipping the princess off to an all breeds show. Or a hunter trial. Hmm, that dove tails in with the foxhunting plot quite nicely. We have started ground work, since she'll need to be able to jog nicely when we do that novice long format. I have plans.

7. Complete a 100 mile ride. Reality of the matter is that the princess has not shown any propensity to go out alone, making the training more of a challenge. Having said that, I've done a lot of research on endurance because Fiona just loves to hit the trails and trot for as long as I'll let her. This one will require a buddy. Any takers? It's just 100 miles, no big shakes.

12. Breed and raise a foal. Sorry, but I'll pass. Too busy cleaning up other people's messes. I'll keep to the adults that need a home rather than making another one.

14. Ride in races. One day, maybe. Races aren't something that are on anyone's agendas, but it would be good for us to do. A little point to point never hurt anyone, assuming there's enough bit to stop the princess when she realizes that this is a competition. She's a lady about many things, but when it's time to compete? It is all about winning. The princess is a sore loser.

There are 33 of these goals, I'll go through the other half next time. Looks like a I have a long list of things to add to my skill set. At least I got credit for learning how to do western pleasure and knowing how to lunge with all of the appropriate equipment. While it's one of the aspects of riding that I adore, knowing that there is always something more I should learn is a bit overwhelming. Since it's winter, I'm just going to start with #1. That can be done online with a hot coffee and a quilt.

We'll save teaching Fiona to drive for warmer weather. My poor mare. So many plans.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Four months

Today was day 163 of Project Fiona.

It was definitely a day where I had to remind myself that it's the little things. Yes, technically, I'm working on the exact same things I was working on three months ago. Trotting nicely, bending, canter departs that don't frighten the other riders, jumping without major drama, etc. It's a bit heartbreaking when you think of it that way. I've been working for four months, what the heck do I have to show for it?

Well, for one, the canter depart is now about making it soft and round, rather than just getting it whatever way I can. We now have an overbend, so we're now working to keep her from popping out her shoulder and staying even in the reins. Instead of her getting behind the bit and jigging, we now have some lifting through the back so her hocks are engaging. We even did a canter from the walk transition, which was pretty darn exciting. I think she even surprised herself on that one.

No, we're not jumping more than twelve inches still, but I have hope. Our flat work gets better and better, some of that has to translate to the jumping. And it is getting better. She trotted in and cantered out over a line and listened to the balancing half halt in the middle. Sort of. We might have to bit up for jumping. I've got a mullen mouth pelham and a jointed kimberwicke in her size in case we have to start playing that game some more. I'm going to own so many bits, since neither of her snaffles are working out.

She got her teeth done, and it sounds like she really needed it. Time to start the bit hunt over again. We just used the hackamore for a couple days after her floating, since she probably hasn't been done in ages. She does love that hackamore, and the teenager that rode her was surprised how polite she is about things when she has that.

My trainer leaves for SC in just a couple weeks. I have a teenager that's going to be sharing Fiona with me while her horse is in training down south, so that should keep the princess happy. She's happiest when she has a lot of work and attention. And treats. Treats are important. I got a huge jug of treats at the holiday party, so she should be in a good mood for at least a couple weeks. So far she's been very level headed, but I'm not sure if that's due to her supplement changes or work load or what. Whatever it is, I don't want to mess it up.

Random, off topic drawing is random and off topic.

Friday, December 10, 2010


I hate winter. Not only do we end up riding inside, not only do we lose feeling in our fingers while working in the barn, not only do all of the TBs lose their minds first thing in the morning, I always get sick. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I always get hit with something, and this one was a doozy. One and off fevers for three days, coughing like crazy, stuffed up head, the whole deal. I've been working from home and no one can recognize me on the phone. My voice keeps cutting out. Thanks heavens for e-mail and texting.

Of course, this means I haven't been to the barn. My trainer and the resident teenagers that every barn has have been taking care of the princess for me. At least that's one thing off of my mind, and why I love being at a boarding facility like this. I don't have to fight through my sickness to take care of my girl. I know she's being tended to and spoiled rotten.

My trainer likes the jointed snaffle better than the mullen mouth. Fiona might be learning to lean on the softer bit already. I'll have to play with this a bit more and see which one I like better. I might like a bit more feel than my trainer, it is possible.

I blame the cough syrup for the concentration of the word 'bit' there.

So what do I do when quarantined away from the rest of the world and separated from my pony? Well, I work a lot, since it takes a lot longer to get anything done with a fever and cough syrup making my focus completely non-existent. And there are many naps. My dogs are thrilled that I'm spending this much time on the futon with them. They're 13 and 11 years old, so sitting on either side of my lap like a pair of bookends sounds like a lovely way to spend the day for them. I tried to do some productive reading, but 'Centered Riding' kept being dropped when I would doze off. I have discovered that I can get a fair bit of doodling done. This appears unaffected by my condition, or maybe it's enhanced by my nearly delirious state.

One way or another, I'm going to the barn tomorrow. I don't care if this is pneumonia, the withdrawal is killing me. And my husband might smother me in my sleep if I don't go see the pony soon.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dressage Pony!

Okay, so Totilas she ain't, but I'm still surprised at how well the princess took to her dressage lesson last night.

Everyone says the same thing about chestnut thoroughbred mares, and I was just waiting for the explosion while we ramped up the challenge level. It wasn't the pace or the movement, it was the amount of thinking Fiona had to do. You could see the wheels spinning while she processed these new requests. We worked a lot on the concept of 'threading'. I would thread one hind between the two front legs, then the other. Shifting her back and forth in what looks like a shoulder fore, but the emphasis is on the hind end. She chewed her bit, but I can't call it teeth grinding since I could hear her clicking in time to her work. That and she drooled everywhere. She clearly likes the Happy Mouth snaffle.

It was a surprise when instead of exploding, she just tried harder. Sure, she got frustrated and popped her head in the air when she didn't understand, but she was willing to push through it and keep offering. Our clinician complimented her on her movement, but more importantly, complimented her on her good brain. She is tense, but she tries her heart out. By the end of our hour, she was tracking up beautifully, even in the reins and working very hard at trotting with her hind legs under her.

Our canter work was just as alarming as ever, but I have renewed hope that it will improve as she gets strong enough to carry herself in balance. That, and our clinician managed to pinpoint a flaw in my position that I've been trying to locate. My lower back was locked in an exaggerated arch, probably a left over from my equitation days. It took a lot of different images and a lot of attempts, but it suddenly clicked and I sat down. Probably for the first time since I got back into riding. I recognized the sensation the second it happened. It's like being velcro'd to the saddle. She could pop her head and act up at the canter, and I sure as heck wasn't moving. More importantly, the princess approved of my softer position and started to round her back.

So, the princess can handle a mental challenge without a melt down. We have proof of this. She was pushed and she met the challenge. So what the heck is going on with our jumping? Is it really just a case of not being strong enough to handle her own body? I hope so.

The saddle fitter was out today, and both saddles passed. My jumping saddle was reflocked and the dressage saddle got a raised eyebrow because it's a bit clunky (Wintec), but I have the green light to use both. Since her back is looking better almost every day, I think we have the equipment issues under control. Thursday is a jumping lesson, we'll see if any of the dressage/hackamore/tack work makes a difference.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Back on track

After a couple days (okay, weeks, I'm not going to kid myself) of questioning whether or not I was actually making progress, the princess decided to have one of her breakthrough days. Is this a result of her having a couple weeks with no real dressage work? Or that long ride outside? Or the fact she was acting like a fool in turnout again and burned off extra energy? No idea, but however we got there, I like it.

The princess actually picked herself up and carried herself today. This is a major moment, since that means she's actually strong enough to do it now. We've been using this long rein warm up that she seems to like. I just give her all the rein she wants and let her trot around however she wants for five or ten minutes. No frame, no balancing, I don't even worry about rhythm. Just let her warm up and burn that edge off. Seems to be working out for us. I picked up the reins, asked for a bend, and she picked herself right up like a big girl and went to work. I was flabbergasted. It's been awhile since I was able to sit up and ask for a leg yield and get a horse that just moves over. No hissy fits, no arguments, just lateral movement. I knew it was in there this whole time, and she finally just went for it.

Thank goodness. I was ready to just write off any decent scores as the dressage tests got harder. She got tired, since that's still very new, and we had to have stretch breaks, but she did it! She carried herself! She managed to not fall on her face in a perfectly level ring! That's quite the accomplishment.

She also broke my dressage whip. Twice.

Fiona believes that the world is her personal chew toy, and my sparkly blue dressage whip is particularly tempting. She has successfully yanked it out of my hand when I wasn't paying enough attention and has almost completely chewed the knob off of the handle. It's downright embarrassing to try to get your horse to let go of your whip so you can actually use it.

Tomorrow I pick up her new mullen mouth loose ring snaffle and we'll see what she thinks. I've also been able to ride her bareback now, and she thought I was odd but acceptable. Which is her usual reaction to me. The hackamore is working out, she even went for a long hack in it. Brakes are still better with a bit, but we managed to go for a gallop in the orchard and not die, so I would call that a successful outing. I'll keep swapping between tack and jobs, it actually seems to work.

Dressage clinic is on Monday and I've confirmed that I will be heading to Aiken, SC for a week in March for an adult boot camp. That should be very, very educational for both of us.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fire breathing dragon

Is this the face of trouble?
Why yes, yes it is.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Hackamore? Not so good. She enjoyed it, absolutely. Just left me with limited brakes. She was getting the idea toward the end of the ride, but that's not something to train with a lot of other horses in the ring. It also gave me some clear indication of how much head popping is due to 'get away from my mouth!'. A significant amount. She blew through the 7" English hackamore like it's not even there, but halts dead for the loose ring snaffle. The dentist is coming out next month, and in the mean time, I've ordered her a mullen mouth loose ring snaffle from Happy Mouth to see if her little mouth likes that better. I suspect the nut cracker action of the single joint bit is causing her trouble.

The selection of pony sized bits is pretty thin, leaving me with limited options. What a pain. I loved this oval mouth loose ring with the lozenge center, but it doesn't come in pony sizes. I guess with ponies it's a lot more 'please do not drag the small children' then trying to find the perfect fit.

Saddle fitter is also set for mid-December to check both saddles. I want to rule out any possible physical causes for her overly-energetic moments. She's still a bit sore to the right, and it's the right lead that gets head shaking, so I suspect something is up. It's just a process of elimination to root out the causes.

The princess was dubbed the 'fire breathing dragon' today during our jumping lesson. She locks onto the fences and gets all fired up. These are 12" fences, by the way. We've started having her walk before the fences so she's not just charging them. She has to down shift before the jump, then she's allowed to go. That and a big release from me seems to be taking care of some of her run and jump technique.

I tried taking her out for a hack on her own after the lesson. She was good heading away from the barn, which is lovely. She was up on her toes, but she just walked out. Out to the hayfield and a little walk around, then back to the barn. We got to the barn's driveway and she lost her little pony mind. It was airs above the ground, shaking, half-rearing and piaffe-ing about like a fool. I kicked out of my stirrups and as soon as I could get all four feet on the ground, I bailed. She was perfectly willing to be led back, but she couldn't handle being ridden back. She wanted to bolt, and when she hit the bit, she flipped out.

The puzzle continues to come together, and the complete picture is something that I didn't see coming. Not that I have a problem with the full picture, but it's a good reminder that I should not plan too far into her future just yet. I still don't know her all that well. It takes about a year to really get a solid relationship with a horse, and we're only at 25% of that right now. December should get a couple of important pieces taken care of. If I know she's comfortable, then we can start to really work on things. First dressage clinic is December 3rd. Should be very interesting.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Goal Setting

It must be the season for this kind of thing. My work has started the annual review process which includes a lot of 'did you achieve your goals' and setting the goals for next year. We need SMART goals so that our manager will approve them. And then we'll all forget about them about one quarter into the year, but I digress.

In my last lesson, my trainer asked us what our winter goals were. Alas, the two concepts have blurred. So here are my winter goals:

1. Tack experimentation: Find the combination of tack that works best for Fiona. This should include one rig for jumping and one rig for dressage. This will also include a visit with a saddle fitter to make sure that the saddles I have are appropriate for her. This should be completed by April with an eye toward the start of the competition season. We'll measure this by a decrease in teeth grinding, head popping, and improvement with her sore back. This also includes getting her going in my bareback pad. If the saddles make her sore, that should fix it. And might prove very entertaining for the kids around the barn.

2. Jumping position: For the love of all the little gods, I need to fix my jumping position. What is my lower leg doing? Where are my hips going? I am not doing the chicken dance, so what is with my elbows? Do I call that a release? Of any kind? This is unacceptable. I've seen the photos from the three phase I went to, and I was appalled at what I'm jumping like. I used to be an equitation rider! Sure, that kind of style isn't suited to cross country, but my stadium rides shouldn't look like I'm standing on my stirrups and trying to fall off. Because I'm sure Fiona will be perfectly happy to let me exit the ride if I don't get my upper body under control. If anyone wants to see the damage for yourself, this is the link to the photographer gallery. There is one picture I fell in love with and have a copy of for my office. Who could resist that face cross country?

The plan: No stirrups. At least five minutes every single ride this winter at the posting trot or in a jumping position, and at least one ride a week with no stirrups on my saddle. As in I pop them off and leave them in the barn. Take my stirrups up about two holes when jumping compared to where they are now (which means new stirrup leathers, damn my short legs). Finally, I'm going back to the basics. Get into a jumping position, trot a cross rail, grab some freaking mane. I did that last night and after a couple jumps where I just didn't move? The princess settled down and jumped quieter. Hmmm, gee, I wonder . . .

3. Ride outside: This is harder to do in the winter, but she has her snow shoes on. I'll just have to bundle up and head out on the weekends when the sun is still up. I don't want her to get ring sour, and it will be good for us. I'd like to do it once a week, but I think once every two weeks is more reasonable with New England weather.

4. Dressage clinics: We have monthly dressage clinics offered all winter. I want to do three of them. Fiona needs the specialized attention. She's got a lot of potential, but a lot of tension. I'm working on my patience so I don't rush her. That's probably part of why she's back sore now, too much too fast. Or from her acting a fool in turn out. Or a bit of both.

5. Have some fun: Teach her to ground tie. Introduce her to cap pistols. Do some trail obstacles. Go bareback with her new hackmore. Do not endlessly drill dressage all winter. Not sure how to make this one measurable, but it's definitely one of my goals for the winter.

This should keep me more than occupied all winter. Of course I'm expecting Mother Nature and the nature of horsey things to throw monkey wrenches in everything, but at least there's a plan starting out the year.

And my hackmore literally just arrived. How the heck do I put this thing together? It has pieces! No one said it required assembly!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Before and After

Moving sucks. All of my stuff is in boxes, and I can't figure out what I did with my tablet. This does save everyone from more of my art, but I really wonder where I put that thing.

Aside from my inability to find my belongings, Fiona continues to truck along. She went on a long trail ride with a group, ending with a fun gallop around a polo field. The walking in a group, and being forced to walk at their pace, was not her idea of a good time. Getting to open up into a real gallop? That was much more fun.

This marks three months of work on Project Fiona. I thought a real update was in order. For anyone that's forgotten, this was Fiona the day after I got her:

And three months, many grooming sessions, many hours in the saddle, ten training rides, three farrier visits, two schooling shows, one hunter pace, and several trail rides later, this is Fiona as of today:

You'll notice she's in an indoor now, since we've moved to the winter barn. She took that pretty well. She also got some turn out in a bigger field and promptly gave everyone an exhibition of what a big, athletic girl she is. Go figure, she was sore the next day. Time to introduce shoulder-in and haunches-in so I can help her stretch out after being foolish. Her winter shoes are on and she's ready for the snow.

December will include a visit with the dentist, a saddle fitting (since all that new muscle is proving problematic), and some experimentation with her bitting. I think I'll try her in an English hackamore. She's so fussy with bits, let's see how she does without one at all. If she likes it, I'll save the bit for dressage specific days or dressage lessons. If the saddle fitting doesn't find anything, her next appointment will be with the chiropractor to get that evaluation done. She's come a long, long way from being someone's backyard pony.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Super star

I swear, it's another week, and I have another brag. We're closing in on three months of Project Fiona and I have yet another 'first' to knock off of the check list. Fiona went to her first hunter pace this weekend. I had enough experience with her outside of the ring to feel confident that she could handle it, but it was going to be a new experience for her. If nothing else, it would take care of her once-a-week requirement to do something off of the farm's property.

It was chilly and overcast, which is not a bad thing when spending the day out cantering and jumping on horses that are starting to get their winter coats in. In the case of at least one thoroughbred that was with us, his winter coat was completely in. He looked a bit like a Woolly Mammoth. Fiona was definitely up on her toes when I mounted (because that meant she had to stop eating, when she was eating she didn't care about the scenery at all). I had my customary moment of doubt when she jigged around on our way to warm up, but as soon as she realized the herd was not ditching her, it was right to work. She warmed up in the long, low frame that would place well in a hunter hack class. Everyone commented on how mellow she looked. I'm hopeful that the photographer got some pictures of her.

I went out with a friend and her big warmblood who was also on his first hunters pace. We're not sure how the two green beans ended up going out together, but it was a perfect pairing. They had gone out trail riding together and knew each other pretty well. My friend had taken her boy out at Beginner Novice, so most of the fences were perfectly doable for them. Some of the more inviting fences lured me and Fiona in, so she has hopped over Beginner Novice height fences as well as the baby stuff now. The only time she hesitated was for a bridge over the river. It was the noise of the water moving under the bridge that worried her. I thought I was on a dancing horse for a moment when she tried to look between the boards while following our brave warmblood friend. She tried to keep as few hooves on the bridge as possible, which was a bit alarming from the rider's perspective.

There were two highlights for the trip:

1. When we were trotting side by side with the 18h warmblood and she was able to match his trot. It was a big trot for her and some collection for him, but it was just kind of fun and she really had her motor going to pull that off. I wish the photographer was around for that. They're both liver chestnut and both have blazes. Not that they look a thing a like, but maybe as his mini-me?

2. Cantering over fence 20, a decent sized log, and turning back to fence 21. It was a bending line at a close distance through the trees, probably four strides, a real challenge, and Fiona ate it up. She wanted to know where the next one was. We came rocketing out of the trees and jumped the final hedge heading to the finish line and she felt like a super star. A tired one, but still very impressive.

She has another field trip planned for Friday with an all day trail ride. We also move to the winter barn this weekend, putting us indoors for the winter. I'll have to buy a lot of winter gear and learn how to ride in the snow. I can't imagine the Princess allowing me to ride her in an arena for months on end. She's very good at making her irritation known. My hip is still aching from her comments in our last lesson over gymnastics. The princess does not do bounces, thank you very much.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A hunting we will go

Foxhunting. It always brings up images of men in red coats chasing after their hounds in the early morning. When I was growing up, it was described as dangerous and insane. But then again, so was eventing.

Fiona gets ring sour at the drop of a hat. I don't really blame her, going in circles is boring. The same mare that will happily go out on the trails and trot or canter behind someone can be a handful in the ring. It's hard to get nice jumps out of her at home, but she doesn't seem to have a lot of issue when jumping away from home. Particularly not when she's out in the open. She lights up like it's Christmas and her birthday all at once. She's still not an easy ride, prone to bouncing and shaking her head if she doesn't like what's going on, but she seems happier and more relaxed.

This Friday we're going on a group trail ride out to the land that the Myopia Hunt uses out here near Boston. It got me thinking, what would best suit the princess? Anything that does not involve being in a ring a lot. Of course it's far too late in the season to do anything at this point, and she's still looking about going out and competing in eventing come spring, but next fall . . .

Of course, this is what comes to mind of me in the field. I think I will resemble Hammond, the young man on the paint that is up for sainthood.

There's a reason my mare has a car name.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Goin' on adventures

Part of the fun with getting a new horse is figuring out all of the little quirks that makes every horse unique. Fiona is a sweet horse, but she's aloof until she actually knows someone. I didn't really notice that, since I see her so much and she adopted me as 'her' person pretty quickly, but someone she didn't know was holding her at the show and she was pretty distant with him. Then her favorite man from the barn came over to see her and she was right back to being a pocket pony. She tried to take his hat off and checked out his pockets. And even with me she's getting more trusting. She would love to groom me back if I would let her, and she steals my gloves or my sunglasses whenever she gets a chance. My dressage whip is her personal toy. The handle is rubber and she will sit and mouth it for ages. Sometimes I think she's more pony than thoroughbred with that little mischievous streak and being so very food motivated.

I'm handling her like she has no history before she showed up with me. Nothing I was told about her is panning out, so I consider her a blank slate. Running with that paradigm, I try to get her off the property and seeing the world as much as possible. I'm sure some people question my sanity when I ship my green TB off to go play (and I don't pack anything but her snaffle), but she seems to like it. She's better behaved away from home where she's not so distracted. This time her favorite man at the barn invited us to go on a trail ride with him and some of his friends.

Context for this:

1. This particular rider does cowboy mounted shooting.
2. So do the friends we were going to go riding with.
3. Fiona was the only one that was not a stock breed, was the only one in English tack, and was about a hand taller than the other horses.

She certainly did her part to disprove the image of thoroughbreds as not being able to handle new situations and being hard to manage. She straight tied at the trailer (hey, that's where the food was), walked into a smaller indoor arena with a huge white tarp along one side, stared at the goats, and bravely followed the two paints in front of her wherever they wanted to go. There were water crossings and rough terrain. At one point there wasn't even a trail, and she just put her head down and plowed through. I got some branches to the face, but it's not her fault she was considerably taller than the rest of the horses.

Of course her favorite was when we jumped or galloped. She did well, galloping in a field with the group and still stopping. She really, really wanted to pass the two in the lead (they were galloping, she was cantering), but she was willing to stay on their tails. Someone had been schooling cross country on these trails, since there was a clearing with a couple logs clearly set up. Fiona gave the Western broke horses a lead over them, since they didn't understand. Trotted the first log, beautifully cantered the second, then powered up the hill looking for the next obstacle and not at all concerned about the other horses. Looks like the herd bound issue won't be a problem cross country.

I'm sure the others at the barn are tired of the glowing reviews. I can't quit babbling about how proud I am that she's handling everything so well. I definitely wouldn't call her a beginner friendly horse, or even amateur friendly with some of her more interesting quirks, but she's certainly versatile. The same horse that's willing to drag me at the canter to jump will walk on a loose rein down a dirt road with her new buddies, so long as we are out and doing something. I think the really challenge with her will be to keep her from getting bored and sour.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Winning Ways

Today was day 64 of Project Fiona.

First things first. I completely understand that horse shows need to start early in order to get done while the sun is still up, I really do, but I had the overwhelming urge to fling my alarm clock when it went off at 4am this morning. I think I got a total of one hour of sleep. I spent several hours staring at the ceiling and thinking of everything that could go wrong at our first three phase, dozed off, got woken up by my husband coming home, dozed off again, and the alarm went off. These early mornings are ridiculous, I don't know how my trainer does it nearly every weekend.

If not for 24 hour Burger King, horse showing would not be possible.

Yes, I'm still psyching myself out a bit for showing Fiona, but it's getting better. I didn't stress to the point of feeling sick this time. She, of course, was a good girl and got a 36.7 on her BN Test B. We got knocked for her overly-enthusiastic canter (and one rather explosive canter depart), but got some good marks in her trot work. That got us into first place after dressage. We had a little over an hour to swap tack for the stadium and cross country. I should have eaten, I know I should have eaten, but jumping is still a bit spotty with her and I was nervous. I just pulled on my jumping vest and headed back to the rings.

She actually sat and chilled, watching the stadium rounds and letting everyone pet and fuss over her. Her jumping warm up was a bit interesting, with plenty of head shaking and skittering about, but she jumped everything without hesitation. Our fences were only 24" and didn't have a lot of decoration, so she was more than able to handle this. Our only dicey moment came when I heard that we had a loose horse on cross country, which was starting next to stadium, and I turned and looked away from my last fence to see if I needed to bail. Turned out that the horse was already caught. I looked back to my fence and realized I was practically on top of it and Fiona was wondering what I was looking at. At least she's honest and she popped over it despite the lousy ride I gave her.

From there, it was straight to cross country. Good, no time for nerves, but I was feeling a bit woozy from not eating since 4:45am. Off we went for our 9 fence introduction to cross country. Despite a slight loss of sanity on fence three when she realized she was all alone in the field, by fence four she was in the groove. By fence seven, she was cantering beautifully, light in the bridle and ears pricked.

Fiona got another pretty blue ribbon for her collection. I got a clear demonstration of just why I ride through her zany days and her little quirks. Some days I have to wonder why I do this. The sport is expensive, time consuming, and could get me killed. I have a hot little chestnut thoroughbred mare that can move ten feet laterally with little to no warning for almost any reason and is far from easy to manage when she's excited.

Then we went out for a nice little run in a field in beautiful weather, locked on to our next fence, and it started to make sense again.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


I shouldn't complain about enthusiasm. I really shouldn't. But then again, enthusiasm usually lands me with a sore back. At least when it's coming from Fiona.

Fall weather continues, and Fiona continues to show me what a big girl she thinks she is. Yee. Haw. It's not dirty or scary most of the time, it's just head shaking and trying to grab the bit when she just feels like going for a run. I'd be more concerned if I couldn't stop her with that loose ring snaffle, but it can be a bit unnerving. Today was her first day jumping the cross country obstacles. The expression on her face when I asked her to jump out of the ring over the logs was pretty classic.

"Mom, are you drunk?! I can't jump out of a ring! Next time, I drive!"

But after she did it once, she decided that was fabulous fun. Cantering toward the barn where she just knew dinner was being served? Let's just say that turning away was a bit of a challenge, and the princess threw a temper tantrum. My trainer is more amused by her antics than anything, so she's clearly not that scary. At least not for spectators. She was a good girl, though. Jump all three of the logs that were set up and dropped off of the bank a couple times. We worked in the field until she settled and could handle cantering around without deciding to make a break for home. Height will not be an issue for the little girl come summer. Not at all.

It's very different for me. I've ridden green horses. I've ridden young horses. I've ridden athletic horses. I've never ridden a green, young, athletic horse. I've only owned one horse before Fiona, and that was Allen. I only had Allen as my partner for three years before he had to be retired (at the ripe old age of nineteen). Other than him, I've always been a catch rider. I would ride whatever other people didn't want to. It's good for giving someone a really strong foundation and getting them used to riding a wide variety of horses, but you don't build a lot of strong bonds that way.

I have to thank Allen for the fact I can handle Fiona's shenanigans. He was a big boy, 17 hands of TB that could get very big and hot when it was time to jump. He had a bit of a roar, so when he would enter a ring way up on his toes, tossing his head and sounding like a freight train, people got out of our way. His nickname was Hellbeast. He was a handful to jump at the best of times, but he taught me a lot. We did the 3'6" jumpers, adult equitation, and tore around the property bare back. He baby sat me through my first cross country fences and hauled my butt around the Coliseum for my first medal final. Of course, he didn't bother to bend his knees when jumping a four foot fence.

Sometimes Fiona reminds me of him. When she gets way up on her toes and starts snorting because she knows it's time for jumping, it makes me giggle. But there is a major difference. Fiona is seven with next to no experience. Allen was a school master that would take care of me if I made a mistake. He knew his job better than I did. We used to joke that we felt bad for whoever rode Allen in his prime, considering what a handful he was at eighteen.

I'm starting to think I know exactly how that person felt.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Pros and Cons

The rain has finally stopped. I was getting ready to build an ark. With Fiona, there would have been a fight to be the guy horse that got to be paired with her. All she has to do is arch her neck and geldings from across the ring will have their eyes on her. I don't know how she does it. It's bad when my horse is better at picking up men than I am.

My lesson yesterday was very exciting after that much time off. The wind was blowing, it was in the sixties, and she had plenty of time off to build up a head of steam. Even when I did ride her, there wasn't much we could do in the deluge. Monday she was a complete pistol with me, Tuesday she was good for my trainer. Wednesday she had off because of more rain, and then it was lesson time. I call it 'actin' a fool' when she does this. Everything is grounds for jumping about and bolting. It's all pretty straightforward at least, or I wouldn't be so laid back about it. She bounces around and props a couple times, then we go back to work.

Our jumping was . . . enthusiastic. Big trot, big jump over the little fence, huge canter away. I was trying to explain to her that the fences were 2' or 2'3", not nearly worth that big of a jump, but she was really enjoying herself. We did a course, and other than being confused about being asked to do lines instead of jumps one at a time she did very well. It was a demanding lesson, and she was pretty tired. She was a bit muscle sore behind today, so we kept things light. At least her brain is back on now that she's getting regular work again. That mare can turn on a dime when she thinks the chipmunk army has spotted her.

So, after a week of dealing with Fiona as a thoroughbred in fall, some pros and cons are in order. Aside from keeping friends and family abreast of the princess's progress, I'm using the blog to keep records on this little project. Time for a bit of a sanity check, now that I've seen the princess when she's not on her best behavior.

Sweet and affectionate
Good size
Brave and honest
Sometimes too smart
Frickin’ quick on her feet
Serious treat hound
Lots of ‘jewelery’ on her legs
Exceedingly stubborn at times
Holy hell, where are the brakes?!
Getting jumped out of the tack
Convinced the chipmunks will get her

Most of this is pretty much to be expected. You can't get one without the other. While Fiona was having a meltdown on Monday and bouncing all over the ring, I kept chanting to myself 'you bought the horse, now ride the horse'. I bought the whole thing. I bought good days and bad days, fabulous tail and goofy legs, a bright mind and all the things that go along with it. I think things are pretty well balanced out, and it's easy to forgive her when she gives me that look that says 'oops, I was being an idiot, sorry'. I just sigh, pet her neck, get her turned around from the 180 she pulled out of nowhere, and go back to trying to figure out what I did with those brakes. I'm sure I left them around here somewhere. Maybe the chipmunks got them.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Rain, rain, go away

Don't get me wrong, I know we needed the rain. Things have been exceedingly dry this summer, and the well at the barn was starting to get a bit low. That doesn't mean I have to like missing a lot of riding. Or riding in the rain.

Blame the hunter princess background, but I still stare out at the rain, Fiona standing next to me, and we both have the same expression. "Are. You. SERIOUS?!"

But my tack is nicely cleaned and oiled, since I'm not going to let it sit after riding in a downpour. So at least there's something. Yesterday was supposed to be my lesson, but between the high wind warning and the flood watch, I thought it might be a bit extreme. Today is not any better, with gusts over 40 mph and rain all day. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and in the 60's. Anyone want to guess how that ride is going to go, with it colder, breezy, and two days of no work? Yeah. I'm glad I got to work her on Tuesday, even if it was pretty much pouring. Fiona doesn't have an issue with water, it seems, since the gate had a growing water complex around it. She slopped through it just fine, even if she was a bit indignant about the mud and wet sand getting on her. Ever the princess.

Fortunately there's nothing planned until the 17th, so no disaster pending. I'm taking my free time and studying the WEG with frightening devotion. That course looks evil. Absolutely evil. I'll enjoying watching other people ride it. Alas, I don't have the stomach to watch the dressage competition after seeing the pictures from the warm up. Seriously, what's the point of banning a technique and then letting everyone use it in the warm up for the WEGs? And I usually love watching dressage, it's kind of a let down.

I got Fiona a purple plaid rain sheet. Trainer is not impressed, but I love it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The debut

As I've said before, horseback riding is full of highs and lows. When things are good, they're very, very good, and when they're bad, they're rotten.

Today was one of the highs.

The princess made her show debut at a schooling 2-phase held by a nearby barn. At this point, we've had three jumping lessons total (and I'll admit to not having run through my dressage test at all beforehand). Keeping in mind her complete lack of jumping experience, we signed her up for the 22" division which meant that it was a walk/trot dressage test. Nice. Our canter is still a bit . . . dicey.

Of course this means a 5am wake up call to go help feed before the show. Thank you, 24 hour Burger King, for providing me with a Whopper at that hour of the morning. Not that my stomach was thrilled by me eating before I was fully awake, but it did make the first half of the show much easier. We popped her shipping boots on, wrapped her tail, and headed out to the trailer. At least, we tried to. Fiona stood there with this perplexed expression, trying to figure out how to walk in her shipping boots. A lot of horses will pick their back legs up after boots are put on, but Fiona did a lovely impression of a hackney pony all the way onto the trailer.

Aside from her rather dramatic hop down the ramp when we arrived, she shipped well. We tacked up and headed over to warm up for dressage. We're walking along, she's checking out the sights, and all of a sudden she just stops and stares. Straight ahead. She's even considering spinning and heading home, and for the life of me I can't figure out what she's looking at. Turns out she doesn't like large groups of people standing around. Funny, considering how people oriented she is. We eased her past it, and she warmed up very nicely. The dressage was in an indoor, and I was very proud of her for just walking in, having a look, and settling in. By the second half of her test, I was able to push her for some good stretching over her back. It was enough to get us a 36.0, and I was thrilled with her. A tie for third place!

She got some time off (and a lot of grass) before we headed back for the jumping. The warm up was a bit rough with two stops. The rainbow rails were just not okay with her. We had a bit of a scary moment when she jumped and suddenly decided to drop her head and bolt. I think that's the first time I've used a sharp correction with her, and it seems to have done the trick. She was very ladylike after that, but I was a bit worried about the stops. These jumps had very colorful standards, lots of flowers, some planks and fill were in use. How would I get her around if she stopped at the rainbow cross-rail in warm up?

Turns out that if you kick? Fiona will close her eyes and leap, even if she really doesn't want to jump that jump. I swear she actually closed her eyes over the third fence, which was a very looky one with wishing wells for standards and the walls that would be used for later heights set to the sides like wings. It looked like a fortress with a 22" vertical in the middle. The princess wanted nothing to do with it, but I gave her a bump and she just went for it. I grabbed a lot of mane for that launch, but she got big pats on the other side. By the end of the course, she was just rolling along and I let her canter the last three. A ten jump course, and by the halfway point the lightbulb went on. 'Oh, I go over these! Got it!'

No faults, and that bumped us to a pretty blue ribbon. I'm so thrilled with her, there are no words. She was very brave on a very looky course. She got a lot of treats and put to bed. Of course now I'm ready to crash out. Show days are always so horribly long, and I had the worst show nerves I've had in a long time. Turns out that I didn't need to worry that much, the little girl is still willing to work. So long as the crowds aren't staring at her too hard. But they are allowed to clap for her, she likes that.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

There be monsters in them there barrels!

And the woods, and the grass, and in my trainer's chair. The tractor? A demon. A moving demon that was working on one of the cross country jumps. Clearly, the entire world was out to get her today.

Note to self: On the next trip to Dover Saddlery, buy Saddle Tight. Because we're gonna need it once she's actually fit.

It had to be something in the air. Fiona was not the only thoroughbred in the ring that was convinced an army of chipmunks was descending on us and would kill us all in our sleep if we didn't get away from them immediately. Long, low, and relaxed was not the order of the day. The order of the day was 'OMG DID YOU SEE THAT ITS GOING TO EAT US OH #*((*@&$#&@#$^', followed by me going 'my back is going to hate me for that later'.

At least she's not dirty about it, but did you know that barrel jumps are deadly dangerous? I didn't, but Fiona was more than happy to explain it to me. If nothing else, the girl has scope to spare. Considering we're jumping about 2 feet. But I will give credit when credit is due. The girl is brave. Even if it's scary, even if she's not sure, she'll go. It might not be pretty, but she'll go. And just give it a foot or two of breathing space, to play it safe.

So now I sit with a glass of stout and a bunch of Advil, memorizing my test for the show on Sunday. Clearly, I've lost my mind.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Old dog using old tricks

Today was good. It's always nice to think that, and after our rather tense lesson on Thursday, it was doubly nice. The princess does not like riding in the rain and at one point in our lesson threw a temper tantrum. She was also feeling a bit sore after some serious work, and was just not in the mood to deal with me and my demands. I had to travel over the weekend, so she got light work with one of the other riders at the barn, and then Monday completely off.

She was nice and mellow today, not a lot of bad steps and clearly not feeling sore. Note to self, a sore Fiona tends to be a tight, fast Fiona. Our latest work has been on getting her as low and relaxed as possible. Getting her forward or on the bit is probably never going to be our issues. Our issues instead are in keeping her from being dependent on my hands and letting her know she has to control herself.

Never let it be said that anything we learn is a waste. I didn't think I'd ever use my hunter princess background again, or the things I learned when I was riding at a western pleasure barn. Guess what? Those tricks are very, very useful when teaching a horse to trot around, long and low, on a loose rein.

Slowing a thoroughbred down without using the reins is always a challenge. It wasn't until it dawned on me that my trainer wanted her to go like a hunter in a hack that the light bulb clicked and I started to ride her like that. We can't create a true forward without her being relaxed, rhythmic, and supple. It feels weird, since I know she's on her forehand more than she should be, but I keep reminding myself that she's not strong enough yet to carry herself properly. One day she will be, but not today. Asking for that today will just result in tension and soreness, probably ending in evasion. It's like weight lifting. We need to work up to it, and we need to do it in sets.

I am so, so, so glad my trainer rides her once a week. It's a sanity check and a barometer on our progress.

Today I finally made the connection between her tripping and her getting tired. She's so willing that it's hard to tell if she's tired. I'm finally getting to know her well enough to pick up the little signs, and since I'm not carrying her around with my hands, I can pick up those little trips now. Time to back off on trot and canter work and spend more time walking. And time for me to work on my patience. There's no rush, and if I take my time now, it will pay off in the end.

The currying has certainly paid off. She's actually a liver chestnut underneath everything. The more I curry, the darker and shinier she gets. I can't wait to see her winter coat come in. She could be surprisingly dark. Which explains that two tone tail that was confusing everyone. She's starting to really fill out. The 48 inch girth I got for her might not be her girth come spring. I might have to move her up to a 50.

We have a show this weekend. Yes, it's a schooling two phase, but it dawned on me today that I have a competition with her already. We're in pre-elementary with 22" fences and a walk/trot dressage test. It should be very interesting.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Barn Visitor

Say hi to Perdue.

Perdue randomly wandered into the barn last night, probably to get out of the rain I was riding in during my lesson. My trainer called all of her neighbors, but no one was missing a rooster. Perdue just hung out in the grain room for a couple hours, perfectly content to watch the working students making breakfast and packing for the trip to GMHA. Nice guy, for a rooster. I don't really like roosters, so it was a pleasant surprise.

Please keep in mind, my mom's roosters are pretty much feral and have chased me all over her property. And this isn't a story from my childhood, this happened the last time I was home to visit. They're rather territorial about sections of the garden. Those suckers can run!

A couple of phone calls finally found someone that could take poor Perdue somewhere safe. Which led to a group of us hanging out in the grain room door trying to figure out how we were going to catch the rooster and get him in the car. Someone got a box, but by this point, the rooster was taking a nap and had no interest in relocating. There was much debating about how to move this bird. My trainer was worried about it getting loose and pecking at her. In the rather amazing words of a spectator, "I'm worried about his spurs, I'm not worried about his pecker!"

It took us about five minutes to calm down enough to deal with the rooster.

In the end, I put my zip up sweat shirt over him so he couldn't see, scooped him up like my mom taught me with her ducks, and tucked him in the box. Lid went on, he was loaded into the car, and sent off to hang out with some other chickens. So long, Perdue. It was fun.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bubble Wrap

There are so many ups and downs that come with horses. One day it's like the world is perfect and nothing can go wrong. The next day, same horse, and all you can do is stare and wonder if you're ever, ever going to get it right. Any of it. This isn't even about Fiona, or any horse in particular. It's just the nature of the sport. There seems to be little middle ground. Either we cruise around, or we demolish a fence. So many teeny, tiny little things that can bring everything crashing down. You're out for a gallop, or you're hand walking.

I check her back and legs like I'm obsessed. Both before and after work. She's just coming back into work, I know that, but I can feel how weak she is behind. Sometimes it's hard to tell if she's just weak or sore or if something else is going on. She trips and I have a heart attack. It's probably not healthy, but I seriously want to wrap her up in bubble wrap.

There's a reason my trainer thinks I'm nuts.

I feel like I'm holding my breath, just waiting for the bomb to drop. That feeling started as soon as I signed the bill of sale and realized I owned a horse. From my previous horse, I'm pretty sure my reaction is temporary but highly annoying. I got out of practice with just how delicate a balancing act this can be. You want to go out and do things, and your horse agrees, but it comes with an element of risk. It's all a matter of planning and calculated risk taking. It's no different than when I decide to drive my car. That's a calculated risk, and I take measures to minimize the risk. The difference is that I've been driving almost every day of my life since I was sixteen. Fussing over a horse that I own is not something I have nearly as much practice with.

Remember that antacid I bought back when I started horse shopping? Started picking it up in bulk. I forgot about that aspect of horse ownership. At least this TB isn't sharing ulcer meds with me. Possibly the most food motivated horse I've ever met.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fiona: One Month Down

So here we are, one month into Project Fiona. I'll snap off some comparison pictures tomorrow, since I finally have that mane of hers under control. I also got some help at the barn to get her tail nicely trimmed. Hours of currying have resulted in a very sharp bit of counter-shading that looks enough like a dorsal stripe to have me wondering if she could be something other than TB.

Then she took off with me in my last jumping lesson and I decided she is all thoroughbred. Yeehaw.

But it's been going well outside of the occasional 'it's fall and I feel good so I'm going to temporarily lose my mind' moments. A friend was heading to the town arena and invited us along for a little field trip. Fiona performed beautifully, even going for a long hack down a dirt road and seeing the sights. She did give the rather large heron we found a serious look, but was a complete lady otherwise. Turned out to be a great outing for her. There was a drill team practice, so lots of trailers and activity. There was also a soccer game across the street, so kids on foot with equipment and on bikes. She handled everything quite well. I think I like the way she goes when away from home better, since she's not so focused on heading back to the stable and food.

She's still going in the loose ring snaffle for everything and showing no signs of needing a different bit. My trainer has started riding her once a week, and we both think she's missing some of the fundamentals. It's almost like someone jumped straight to the fun stuff without taking care of the boring basics first. Back to the drawing board. Sure, she can do a flying lead change, but she has a lot of trouble with adjusting her gaits and her downward transitions are pretty sloppy.

Here is Fiona in her great Youtube debut:

Lots of work to do, but I think we've got a good start!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Princess

I love the show name 'Can't Drive 55', but somehow I think she's going to be Princess Fiona, since it just fits her so perfectly. She is a princess, from her nose to her tail. Usually I would use the term princess in a derogatory manner, but with her, it's just descriptive. She's a sensitive, smart, athletic young lady that likes to remind me from time to time that she is all Thoroughbred.

They were mowing today. Normal enough activity, but Fiona is more sound sensitive than sight sensitive, so she was turning her head to keep an ear and an eye on the activity. Not a big deal, and she was a lady while I curried and brushed. Then the lawn mower hit something (probably a rock, it is New Hampshire) and there was a loud bang. Fiona wasn't the only one to jump, but she was certainly the most dramatic. Jumped forward, hit the cross ties, skittered back and stepped off the mats, lost her balance and left a skid mark on the concrete before she jumped back onto the mats and just stood there shaking. No harm, didn't break the cross ties or run into anything, but she was jumpy for a good fifteen minutes after that. I think she scared herself more than the lawnmower did.

Honestly, I don't mind. She kept her marbles and didn't panic or bolt. Even when she sees the kids in the pool (which still makes her crane her head all the way up), she seems to keep her wits and avoid a complete melt down. It gives me hope for her future as an eventer. We're signed up for two schooling shows, one in September and one in October. We'll see how she does, but I think if she stays in a frame and a 'working' mind set we'll be fine.

I've learned that she's one of those horses that you must ride every step of the way. You can't be balancing your check book while trotting her, or she'll find something else to do. Usually looking around and finding something to spook at. She has a working mind set and the off duty mind set. The off duty mind set is convinced the large rock next to the arena will eat her one day. The working mind set barely pays it an ear flick. Now puddles, those are horrible things. The princess does not like mud. She'll go through it, but she would rather go around. She can be very quick with her feet to manage it.

My trainer is going to be riding her one day a week starting this month. It's a double bonus, since that gives me a day off from the barn, and gives her a training ride. Having my trainer be very familiar with her quirks can only be a bonus. I've moved her to a loose ring snaffle (4.5", such a little girl), and she seems to go better in that. We're working in a long and low frame pretty much all of the time now, building up muscle and teaching her to relax.

The other major accomplishment? Pulling her mane.

No thoroughbred has any business growing this much hair. This has been a project since I got her to get her mane under control, and I think we are finally there. She's good about it, that's the good news. Since it looks like it will have to be a weekly thing. I was having flash backs to ponies from my childhood while I worked until I had an ankle deep pile.

Also, odd fact. The bottom of Fiona's tailbone? Her hair comes in black. She's a very bright chestnut, not at all liver colored, so it's pretty confusing. Where is this black hair coming from? It gives her a dramatic two-tone tail that people can pick out from a distance, but I'm not at all sure how that happened. Not that I mind. I keep conditioner with sunscreen on it just in case. I love the effect, and I don't want it to fade out.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fancy Girl

It's hard to believe that we are already on day 7 of this project. And more to the point, that the Princess has decided to settle in like she's always been here. There was a bit of jockeying around to get her assigned to a permanent stall, but she has one now with her name on the sign and everything. Saddles are sorted out, supplements are sorted out, all that's left are blankets and bridles. My 16.1 mare wears a cob sized bridle, so I have to get some new ones. Definitely the figure 8, possibly the dressage bridle. I'll have to measure her for blankets tomorrow so I can start combing the internet for good deals.

Aside from all of the technical stuff, Fiona has also settled in socially. Her best buddy Otto had a long grooming session with her today and I managed to snap a picture.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that she's in heat. So that's one question answered: what's Fiona like in heat? Exactly the same, possibly a bit more preoccupied with where Otto is, but that's it.

We had our first lesson on Thursday and she was a trooper. Bending lines, a little leg yield, working on her very enthusiastic canter. It's very useful to work on the brakes while she's still not fit enough to power along for too long. Today we hopped over some itty bitty cross rails, just to see what she'd do. At the walk, she ignored them and just walked over. At the trot, it was all business. Hop over, canter away, flying lead change if needed. Yes, someone has done this before. We did about three before she started locking on to fences when I'd turn her toward them.

It's been a pleasant surprise to uncover all of her buttons. She frames, stretches, leg yields, does flying lead changes, and jumps. If we could get her to quit grinding her teeth during dressage work, we'd be all set. Not that I blame her, I'm usually doing the same thing. We make quite the pair.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Making Progress

Today was day four of Project Fiona. So much has happened to the poor girl already. She had a visit from the farrier and now has very pretty shoes all around and much shorter toes. Makes a world of difference to how people see her. She was surprisingly not foot sore afterward, so I took her down to the ring for some work.

Fiona is a looky young lady when she's walking around the property. One of the neighbors has an above ground pool, and the expression on her face when she saw some kids playing in it was classic. 'Holy s$#@, it's eating the kids!' I'll give her credit for not actively spooking or bolting. She just craned her head all the way up and stared at it really hard. We've also discovered that Fiona is a little flirt. There were no geldings in her previous barn, and now she's surrounded by all these fit young males. If she would just arch her neck like that in the ring, we'd be all set.

And yes, the boys love her back.

Today we rode with three other people in the ring and did our first canter work. She likes to bounce on the contact a bit, but she does know how to get long and low for a good stretch at the walk and trot. The canter was very exciting after getting Monday off. Monday's are my reporting day at work, and riding a hot, green mare while very stressed? Probably not a recipe for success, so Fiona will be having Monday as her off day.

The Princess also had her mane shortened with a shortening comb for a more natural look. Tomorrow it will be pulled to finish it off and we'll do something about that forelock. It was cut straight. She looks like a member of the Beatles. Not a good look for a delicate mare's face. So long as it does not interfere with dinner time, she does love the pampering. Currying gets her to make the funniest faces while she shifts back and forth so I hit the best spots.

Tomorrow will be more bending work while we work on the fact she likes to brace against my hands when I ask her to halt. The eggbutt snaffle is new for her, but she does need to be a lady about it. We will also see if the cob bridle fits. 16.1 hands and she needs a cob bridle and pony bit. So much for having tack ready for her.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Her name is Fiona.

Well, to be fair, her name was originally Savannah, but I didn't much care for that. My trainer suggested Princess Fiona, and that sounded good enough to me.

Let me back up and fill in the blanks, for anyone trying to figure out what I'm talking about. My adventures in horse shopping? Took a very interesting twist. I had a listing on Craigslist forwarded to me with a chestnut thoroughbred mare that needed a home by Sunday. It was close to my office, so I went to take a look.

Please keep in mind, I don't like mares. I really don't like chestnut thoroughbred mares. I don't know what I was thinking. Temporary insanity, I guess.

So I went on my lunch break, totally on a whim, to see this mare. The ad said that she jumped 2'9" with a previous owner and had dressage training. I pulled in to the farm, walked past the chickens, turkeys, dogs, goats, and other horses to meet this pretty mare. I call her a pretty little girl, even though she's 16.1 hands. She was led to her stall without a halter, just a finger hooked in her flymask. I watched with no real surprise when the mare promptly turned around, trotted out of her open stall, and went for a run.

There's nothing like standing in a barn, leaning on a fence and watching your prospect run loose around the property with the owner trying to catch her. But nice gaits, lovely movement.

So the mare is caught and brought back. I start going over her. Lacking in muscle just about everywhere, but very polite and willing to let me handle her everywhere. A couple of questions reveal that she is worked about once every two weeks. There's an old bow on her front right that I poke and prod at for a good ten minutes. Looks old, cold, and set. Even after her impromptu sprint, no heat and no limp. Trotting in the parking lot shows nothing.

She's tacked up and led up the hill to a small, rough ring. The rider climbs on and I watch as the mare jigs about and trots in tight, tiny strides. She's in a kimberwicke with the curb chain very tight and a very tight standing martingale. The mare never gets nasty, but when confused and stressed, she starts to ball up and bounce. This ends with the rider hitting the sand.

Before I get on, I loosen the curb chain as far as I can safely go and take off the martingale.

She's a good girl. When she doesn't understand, she still tries. Walk, trot, canter. Very much afraid of the bit, but that's understandable. She's tight and tense but willing. I even have her hop over some things, up to a two foot vertical. She's not too sure what's going on, but she's very willing to try. She offers a flying lead change, and I'm pretty much sold.

There's no time for a vet check, or even to really think about this too much. The mare needs a home ASAP. I think about it for about as long as I can manage before I sign on the dotted line and buy a horse. A couple of phone calls and I had a trailer on the way. That night, there was a new resident at my barn. A cute little mare that had been renamed Fiona. In the span of eight hours, that mare had gone from backyard horse that was ridden once every two weeks to a future eventer. Poor baby.

Will she stay sound? No idea. Will she ever go to an event? No clue. Will I eat sand retraining her? Probably. Am I going to have fun doing this? Hell yes.

My husband suggested a show name for her. Can't Drive 55.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Music to Horse Shop By

I'll admit to being one of those people that sings along with the radio in the car. Loudly. I apologize to everyone for the times when I've left my windows open and the neighboring cars have been subjected to it. I just get a bit carried away and start belting songs out sometimes.

Usually I belt out the songs that have at least some relationship to how things are going in my life. Rough day at the office? Prepare for some Limp Bizkit. I'm in a good mood? Probably something bright and cheerful. So what was I belting out at the red lights today after my trip to the barn?

It's surprisingly descriptive of my relationship with horses, and particularly when horse shopping. My husband keeps trying to remind me that I need to look at this like a business transaction, but it's this song that I'm humming while flipping through classifieds. Sure, a horse can be appraised and we can know their relative value, but a horse that has no value to one person can be the perfect horse for someone else.

I guess it's half timing, and the other half's luck.

I have a horse to go visit tomorrow. It's one of those deals where you buy and move the horse in a matter of a few days, so we'll see what happens. Maybe this is fate helping me out? Or it will just be an amusing story of how I spent my lunch break to share with my coworkers. No way to know, I just have to go and meet the horse.

I bought a new bottle of antacid yesterday . . . .