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.