Thursday, March 31, 2011


Say hi to Peyton.

As I mentioned on my blog before, we recently lost our Min Pin Cruizer. After eleven years, that is a very big collar to fill. Cruizer was my first dog as an adult, meaning all the vet bills, feeding, training, and responsibility were mine. It wasn't until I started considering a new friend for Cowboy that I realized just what a big chunk of my life that dog was there for.

Cowboy has never been an only dog, and he got clingy and anxious after Cruizer died. The hubby and I decided that after my trip to SC, since that would give us a month and a half to recover and I wouldn't be so distracted after vacation, we'd look at the local shelters for a new family member. Today was the chosen day to go out. We packed up Cowboy and set out to find him a sibling.

Our first attempt was with a small Ibizian hound that was very sweet, but Cowboy couldn't handle the fact she was that much bigger than him. He was not a happy puppy. Our second attempt was little Peyton. Weighing in at nine pounds, she's almost exactly the same size. She's also a female, and a submissive one at that, so if he postures she just caves in. Hard for him to get into a fight like that. The meeting went well, our application checked out, and much quicker than we thought possible, we have a new dog.

Peyton is a chihuahua/pug mix, so we're calling her a Chug. At least that's what everyone is guessing. She was pulled from a West Virginia shelter with a high kill rate and transported to the Salem Animal Rescue League, where we found her. We got lucky, since she had just completed her quarantine. I have a feeling a charming, spunky young lady like Peyton wasn't going to stick around long. Being a recent stray we have no idea what her past was like. We're just starting over and assuming she's clueless. She's one year old (again, best guess), so training shouldn't be too brutal. Right now she's just learning her name.

After the initial excitement of a new home and new toys to throw all over the living room, the both of them have settled down. Cowboy has that classic look of 'what is this and why is it in my house?'. He's curled up in a dog bed, using my feet as a pillow. This is hard for him, but he seems to be okay with things. Peyton is on the futon, absolutely destroying a bully stick and quite content with her new space. I'm sure future updates on Peyton's training and exploits will show up. With such cute dogs around, I'll use any excuse to show them off.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Yes, I'm still recovering. Physically I'm back to normal (other than my sleep schedule still calling for a disgustingly early wake up time), but mentally I'm still dragging myself back to things like work and the indoor arena. The princess seems to be of the same opinion. She was not overly enthused about getting back to work on the circles after a week of gallivanting about the country side of South Carolina.

I'm putting the both of us in a holding pattern until we get to the summer barn. The dust at the indoor bothers her, so it's probably not a bad idea to lay off. She didn't cough at all in SC, but coughed several times when I worked her yesterday. I think the cause is becoming quite clear.

In the meantime, I've assigned myself a project. Warning, this is where my profound nerd levels become evident. On COTH there was a discussion on whether or not riding multiple horses at a show had an effect on how safely the courses are ridden. Of course I promptly thought 'we can just check the results'. This means I am currently compiling all of the results for 2010 in a data base to check for trends around different types of non-completions. I'm such a geek that even the engineering hubby is left staring at what I do with my free time. I'll post the results on here, so everyone can stare in wonder at just how geeky I am. My current hypothesis is that we'll find no relationship between the number of horses ridden and the completion rate, but we shall see. I've been wrong many times before, I wouldn't be shocked to be wrong again.

There are hundreds of trials with hundreds of entries at each one. I think it will take about a week to get the data compiled. Has anyone seen my life? I appear to have misplaced it again. I'd really like to have one.

Assuming the weather holds, I will probably force myself away from my new database and take the princess out for a long walk in the sun this weekend. Maybe we can bribe her boyfriend to join us.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Camp: Day 5

The Top Ten Signs That You Have Just Spent a Week at an Eventing Boot Camp in Aiken, SC

The adult campers. This photo was a lot harder to take than it looks.

10. You don't really notice the sand anymore.

There's a certain point where you just accept the fact that the sand is everywhere and it is not going away. Acceptance is the first step in dealing with the war on the sand. Sure, the footing is fabulous, but I do not need that famous footing sneaking into the linens.

9. Your farmer's tan has the crisp lines you wish you could get while painting a room.

Glove lines? Check. Helmet line? Check. Sleeve lines? Check. Annoying little 'V' shaped mark on your chest from your polo? Check. Legs the color of a fish belly? Double check.

8. Your legs have been quivering like jello for so long, it seems normal.

People are always surprised by how much I ride in an average week, but then I get here where we're riding every day for multiple hours and I end up with aching muscles anyway. And it's not just the people. The horses have a certain look they give you after the morning session when you go to get them for the afternoon session. The look that says 'you have got to be kidding'.

7. It doesn't matter how much you scrub, your nails are still not clean.

I have no cuticles. I bleed around my nails. My nails are still not fit to be seen in public. I give up.

6. Sleeping in to 7am feels like a decadent indulgence.

My roommate is a working student for my trainer, which means she's up for the first feeding of the day. Her alarm frequently goes off at 6:15am. That's cruel and unusual punishment in many states.

5. You can clean and reset a six horse trailer in your sleep.

We were cleaning out the six horse today and I realized that I didn't even have to think about it anymore. My body just knew the drill. It was a bit alarming.

4. Your trainer says 'jump that' and you no longer respond with 'omgwtf'.

On my first cross country school, I literally squeaked 'what?' at my first Beginner Novice sized fence. Today? I was jumping the (little) steeplechase fences in Hitchcock Woods by my own choice. Fiona was eating it up (yes, she was sound today).

3. The dirt roads are less -- scratch that, the dirt roads are even more annoying after being here a week.

I swear I'm going to lose a filling to those roads. The washboards are horrendous and they just keep getting worse! I can only imagine what the horses are thinking when the entire trailer is vibrating like an unbalanced washer on wheels. I feel like we're going to open the door and the horses are all going to look at us with those spinny eyes you see on cartoons.

2. Anything other than boots and breeches feels like dressing up.

I showed up to dinner tonight wearing a button down shirt and clean jeans. My hair was brushed. One of my fellow campers didn't recognize me when she first saw me.

1. You can barely remember that other life and career that is waiting for you back home.

Tomorrow I head back to the frozen tundra. I can't imagine going back to life where it's not my job to pick Fiona's paddock and that I won't be there to see her in the morning. Someone else is going to toss her hay and water her? And I have to ride in an indoor? It all seems so unreal after taking a week and devoting it completely to my horse. But it's worth it. I got a lot of bonding done with my mare and we learned a lot this week. We have a two-phase back home on April 17th, and I am calmer than I've been since I bought her at the prospect.

A special thank you to my fellow campers for the pictures and for helping out with this top ten.

Home again, home again, jiggidy jig.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Camp: Day 4

In order to have a high, you must have lows.

Fiona's lame. It's not bad, but there's something up with her right hind. It looks to be up high, probably the stifle. It's subtle, she's not hopping lame or anything. We did work her for a bit to see how she would react and she started to work out of it, but we decided to just give her today off. She's done a lot in the last couple days, and I'd rather not push anything. So the princess went back in her paddock and I moped through lunch.

For the cross country schooling today I took another horse named Kelvin. There is nothing in the world like the indignant glare of a chestnut thoroughbred mare that is being left home when the other horses are getting to go have fun. I swear she stared at me while I got out my catch ride (another chestnut thoroughbred). The look was very much 'yo, you've got the wrong horse, get over here and get me before the trailers leave!'. I felt so guilty. It's almost like cheating on someone. I slinked onto the truck and tried to not look in the rearview mirror. I could feel her glaring holes in the back of my head.

Of course, I'd never ridden Kelvin before. It's very interesting meeting a new horse while cantering through an open field with horses cantering in all directions. He was a good boy, but a bit of a bulldog. He used to foxhunt, so he is definitely of an opinion on pace. In Kelvin's opinion, get your foot off the brake and hang on to something. He's also something of an extravagant jumper. My back did not appreciate his enthusiasm. In the end we had fun, but I missed my mare. It wasn't until he was putting his head down and trying to barrel at a fence that I realized just how adjustable she can be. And that she'll jump from anywhere. Kelvin stopped when I presented him to a fence with a crooked line (my bad, I'll take responsibility for that). I was surprised, because Fiona wouldn't have batted an eyelash. I think she's spoiling me.

Today was frustrating. That's the best word for it. It looks like the princess will be coming home this weekend, rather than a week out. I'm divided on my reaction. On the one hand, I'm selfish and I want my mare. On the other hand, a week off in the sun and a chiropractor visit would have been good for her, particularly when she seems to have an issue popping up. If she's looking better tomorrow, I'll ride her in Hitchcock Woods with the rest of the camp. If she still looks sore she'll get another day off and I'll plan on having the vet see her when she gets back.

I think I'll have a martini with dinner.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Camp: Day 3

Wow. Another day done. After some steak tacos and chardonnay at TakoSushi, I am ready to write about the day I had.

So, the princess went off to her two phase at Sporting Days. I have to say, I love going to this schooling show, everyone there is so friendly and helpful. Tom runs the dressage rings and he has talked me down from the rafters when I lost my number and this year offered to lay down the ring letters since the wind was picking up. The footing in Aiken is already famous. All of this combines to a nice day.

Her dressage was nice. She was a bit preoccupied with someone screaming for her from the trailers (I don't think they were even with our barn, that hussy), but she did get to work like a pro. 35.5, achieving our goal of improving on our 36.7 in October. The judge wasn't the kindest, either, so I'm very proud of her.

After that we pretty much went straight to jumping. Unfortunately that meant I had a front row seat to watch another rider come off and hit hard. My heart was dropping fast after that. I went down that hill, reminding myself to breathe over and over again as I walked into the jumping field. Who knew a Beginner Novice course could look that big? I started to trot and someone screamed for Fiona, setting her attention outside of the ring (I repeat, hussy). This had disaster written all over it.

Lo and behold, the little girl went to work when I pointed her at her first fence. She marched around the course, cantering over the fences and giving me no trouble. She made all of her distances. Rumor has it that my course was recorded, and that everyone could hear me calling out my strides on related distances, punctuated by a lot of 'good girl, Fiona!'. I walked out grinning like a fool and petting her neck. There were no words for how proud I was. That course was like nothing she had seen, with gates and fill and hard turns. When we got to the end and I cantered toward the exit gate, she was tugging at the bit and wanting to know where the next jump was.

Tomorrow is a dressage lesson and another cross country school. After the last two days, I'm ready to go. I want to go jump the Beginner Novice fences, I want to open her up and see what she can do. I've been having a major crisis of confidence and faith for the last couple months, but you know what? That was fun, and tomorrow will be fun, too. My little girl is all grown up now.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Camp: Day 2

Day 2. I can't believe it's only been two days, my body certainly thinks it's been more than that. I feel a bit like I've been run over by a train. I thought I was in shape for this, riding five times a week, but that really isn't enough prep work for riding twice a day for a week. Lesson. Learned.

Today was a run through of our dressage tests for the schooling show tomorrow followed by a trip out to gallop and school cross country. Our test run through went very well, and I think we'll be quite ready for the flat work. Fiona got the middle of the day off, then it was time to pack for our field trip. I had a total heart attack when I went out to get the princess and found her panting like she had just finished running cross country with her ears drooping and looking pretty pathetic. I took her temp and it was over 102 degrees. Not a good thing when she had just been standing around. I hosed her down over and over again until she was breathing comfortably and her temp was down.

A quick check-in with the vet gave her the green light to go out with the rest of the camp. We loaded up, grabbed our gear, and took off for Jumping Branch. The princess was not entirely delighted about having to go on her own when we were going around the mile track, but when it was time to turn up the speed? She was all business. Stopping? Just a bit of a challenge, since there was a lot of track to go, but since we were going a good bit faster than our 450 mpm target, it was time for her slow down.

When it was time to jump, I was a nervous wreck. Jumping has been so dramatic for months, something to worry about and stress over. Now I was out with a group of other riders jumping in the open while Fiona was still fussing about where people were. When she spooked badly at a jump (probably a training level fence we were walking past) and tried to spin for home, my heart was around my boots. We did canter around and pop the baby fences with no issue, leaving the group behind without a second glance. When we were pointed at a Beginner Novice rolltop, I lost my nerve and squeaked 'what?'. Of course I did it, because my instructor told me to. Fiona didn't bat an eyelash. Through the trees, nice deep spot, canter away with her ears pricked and wanting to know where the next jump was.

Every jump was like that. Sit up, tell her that we're really going to do this, and we were on our way. She jumped beautifully over everything with barely a second glance. We were cantering through the water with her tugging at the bit, wanting the next jump, and I could only think that we have got an eventer on our hands.

Tomorrow is the schooling two phase. We'll be doing Beginner Novice, and of course I'm nervous. But I'm feeling more confident after the last couple days. We have a 6am wake up call, so I stayed home tonight to just rest and recharge. What a long week, and we're only on day 2.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Camp: Day 1

I am currently propping myself up at my trainer's desk, trying to stay awake while a video she took uploads so my dear husband can convert it to .wmv. It occured to me that this would be the perfect time to make my first camp post. I can't go to bed for twenty minutes, and that's just about the right amount of time.

Drawings and photos will have to wait until I'm a touch more coherent. This is not a trip for the faint of heart. The twenty hour drive is a beast all on it's own, but when combined with hours in the saddle every day? I'm sleeping earlier than I have in months and it's a struggle to not have a nap in the afternoon. The weather has been glorious, with temps in the 80's and sun while back home they deal with another blast of cold and snow. It makes the drive so much more bearable.

We arrived Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday we only did a walking hack to help loosen the horses up after the long haul. Today started camp proper, with a dressage lesson, a lunge line lesson, and then a big stadium jumping school. My trainer hasn't seen Fiona since January, so it was nice to show the progress that we made while locked in the tundra. She did very well in her dressage lesson. We even had civilized canter departs! Clearly the 24/7 turnout is agreeing with her. The princess has her own paddock that is probably about a quarter acre with paddocks all down the row with horses to keep her company. She has rolled so much that I will never get all of the South Carolina sand out of her coat.

As always, I was a bit of a nervous wreck for my jumping school. Because the princess lacks patience, I decided to wait and play photographer/jump crew while the rest of the group jumped. I didn't tack until almost everyone was done. That part worked well for me, but her next door neighbor in the paddocks was calling for her from the second she walked away. This was a bit distracting. Okay, it was a lot distracting. After our first warm up cross rail he called for her and she immediately dove right to see him. Minor detail there was a pine tree in the way. I got the limb right to my face. Those that saw it said it was very amusing. I was less amused.

Aside from the warmup, I was all smiles. We actually completed a Beginner Novice height course, the whole course jumped from a canter. It was such a wonderful feeling of accomplishment to jump that last jump and think 'we did it, we really did it'. Good thing we did, since we have a two phase schooling show on Wednesday and we're entered at Beginner Novice.

Tomorrow is dressage in the morning and pace work in the afternoon. Galloping? I suspect that Fiona will be all over that. I'm bringing the metal bit. Just in case.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Min Pin Update

Not exactly horse related, but close enough. I find most horse people are also dog people.

Cowboy has settled into life as a special needs only child. He's able to motor around the apartment just fine on his own and even pulls when he's outside for his walks. He doesn't want to come in. We have him in a very styling harness that is cotton mesh and leather so he can lean on it comfortably when he's having a bad day. No linoleum or other slippery surfaces allowed, so he has to be carried during his trips to the pet store. He's just not strong/coordinated enough to keep all four feet under him when they're trying to get away.

It's not a bad routine. Long walk in the morning, shorter walks in the afternoon and at night, fancy organic food twice a day with his thyroid meds and his Metacam. He spends most of his day sleeping or looking out the window in my office. I have three bird feeding stations out there, so there's usually something good on the 'tv' for him. He has some stairs so he can get off of the futon on his own and go retrieve whatever toy he wants for the moment. Now I just need to teach him to put them away.

He's picked up some needy and anxious behaviors and we think it's because this is the first time in his life that he's been an only dog. Sure, I work from home a good bit, but I'm still typing instead of actively cuddling or playing with him. Husband and I have started going through the rescue sites, looking for a buddy for him. Someone older, preferably a girl that can share his retirement with him. He misses having someone to snuggle with on the futon while I'm working at my desk.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Important revelations in horseback riding

Here is eventing boiled down into it's purest form. With these three revelations, the rest of this sport just comes together.

1. Dressage is hard
2. Brakes are important
3. Horses need a lot of stuff

Revelation one and two are the end result of my dressage lesson tonight. After the jumping excitement I specifically went into my lesson asking for exercises to teach me to put my leg on regardless of the temper tantrum and acceleration that might be going on. Like many TBs, the princess has taught me to take my leg off.

The second revelation came with the first one. If I can't stop, then I can't ride because I'll be preoccupied with 'where are the brakes on this thing?!'. It's hard to ride like that.

And the third revelation comes as I prepare to head off to vacation. I've never packed a horse for a two week trip before, and the amount of stuff she needs is simply amazing. I'm going to need a second trailer spot just to haul all of the stuff! Where did it all come from? Did I really buy all of this? What could a herbivore that grows her own clothing possibly need with all of this?!

We need blankets and boots and bits and bridles and bangles and bippity boppity boo. She'll be out 24/7, so a full collection of blankets is necessary. This will be our first real cross country schooling experiences, so extra bits and sturdy boots are essential. With my dressage saddle out at least I'm only shipping one set of tack. I'm trying to compress everything down so that my stuff takes up less room than my horse. I feel like I personally can throw a change of clothes in a bag and go, but Fiona requires an entourage to transport her and her equipment.

Tomorrow the princess gets the day off and I'll go on my last minute shopping frenzy. It's warm in Aiken, so I'll need some new spring time riding apparel. And if I happen to find a saddle pad in pretty pastels, I'm sure my trainer will be just thrilled to see us in it. A bright pink should be very eye catching on my red mare.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Today was better than yesterday

And tomorrow will be better than today.

We had our jump-critique-jump today. It wasn't smooth. It wasn't pretty. But it does qualify as progress.

So how do I feel about this? I'm still working on that. She's not an easy ride. She's never really been an easy ride. On the one hand, I'm relieved I bought her because I suspect she would unnerve a lot of people. On the other hand, I often think she needs a better rider than me. But she's stuck with me, and I'm stuck with her. As a friend said after my ride, today was better than yesterday and tomorrow will be better than today. And she's right.

The trip to Aiken is back on. A week in the sun might help with some of her mental meltdowns. We shall see. But I think I'm proud of her for her work today. We've asked for a long, and she did give it her best effort. Tomorrow is a dressage lesson, then it's all about packing and getting ready to go on vacation.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Plans? Who needs plans?

Alas, our trip to Aiken has been called off. It's just too close to departure and with my job deciding to turn up the heat, I can't handle a scramble. More specifically, my ulcer can't handle a scramble. I'm sure if I really threw my heart into it I could find a way to get down there, but with work sapping my strength, I just don't have it in me to scramble like I will need to.

With that cross country schooling called off, I'm not setting high expectations for 2011. We have a jump-critique-jump on Sunday, and at my instructor's recommendation, we'll be going at Beginner Novice height. It will be a major factor in my decision as to whether or not we should try to enter Mystic this year. I love the event, but at the same time, the princess has never tried water. I don't want to over face her. There's a schooling two phase in April that I will definitely go to, and a schooling three phase in mid-May that I will be at, but the Mystic event is at the end of May. I have to send in my entry well ahead of knowing whether or not the princess can handle Beginner Novice cross country.

Maybe Mystic is not a good goal. Maybe another event can be her debut. Right now she's so ring sour that she doesn't even want to go in. Assuming the weather holds, we have a date to go trail riding with her boyfriend this weekend. The snow has finally melted enough that we can dare to go out. She's been a bit of a wench lately, and tonight she was just flat out unhappy. I swapped to my jumping tack which made her happier (which means the dressage saddle I have won't be going near her again), but she was definitely unhappy bending left. Last night she was fine, so I suspect she's sore from working so hard last night. She had a lot of energy yesterday so I was certainly putting her through her paces.

I have a new dressage saddle picked out, assuming it will work for her. Black Forest Saddlery has a treeless dressage saddle and I really want to try it. If the princess is happy, everyone is happy, and with the way she works in a bareback pad I have to think she would like going treeless for her flat work. Not for cross country or stadium, I need a tree for those, but dressage would be nice in a soft saddle that didn't need to be refitted. I had my dressage saddle fitted in December and in March it needs to be replaced, so I'm not fond of the idea of trees right now. Expensive little things.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Thinking outside the box

Fiona can be a handful. It's not that she's being 'bad' or actively trying to evade something, she's usually just very excited and anticipating. Not necessarily bad traits in and of themselves, until she decides to get explosive. We've been working at this for about 199 days and I think we've made a lot of progress. For example, in our jumping lesson last night, Fiona was jumping 2'6" verticals and bounced through a grid with plenty of ground poles. We're still trotting into our fences, but I know it's just a matter of time before she's doing the exact same thing at the canter. Soon, soon, we're getting so close.

But how did we get there? Very creative thinking. First there were the steep cross-rails with lots of ground poles. Then there were the sharp turns and having our directions called out while we were in the air. The other trick we found takes an instructor with some serious guts to pull off.

My instructor will step in front of the fence on our approach. I'm still not sure which one of us she's backing off, since it's very effective on both of us. The princess and I agree, running over the teacher is bad, especially since the teacher also feeds a couple times a week. Fiona is very, very aware of where food comes from. We're not thinking about rushing the fence, we're thinking 'we better wait and make sure she has time to get out of the way.' And it works. The princess is just too sweet of a horse to rush at something with a human in the way.

I have to give my instructor credit, that takes some guts. I know I wouldn't want to be on the other side of a fence with the princess barreling toward it. It took some getting used to, and Fiona can get wiggly if she's not sure about this. It takes a lot of timing on our instructor's part to back us off while still getting out of the way in time for Fiona to confidently jump.

The odd part is that I have no memories of my instructor getting out of the way. I clearly remember every time she's stepped in front of us, since I usually make eye contact to make sure this is really the exercise or I say her name, but I'm usually concentrating so hard on Fiona that I don't know when she steps out of the way. It's weird. Once I know this is the exercise, it's like she just disappears. I hope my brain isn't grouping her in with the jump . . .

In other exciting news, my training trip may be back on. We're currently scrambling to get the princess a spot on a trailer. I was offered a couple horses to ride in Aiken, but I really want to bring Fiona down. I just don't want to hitchhike the whole way. The princess doesn't even have thumbs.