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.