Friday, July 29, 2011


There are a couple different types of courage that you see in the world of horses. There's the basic kind that we all have, the kind that lets us mount a thousand pound animal that may spontaneously decide the sky is falling and take off at any second. We can't actually control horses and anyone that's ridden for any real length of time knows this. We can ask politely, beg, plead, push, and even punish, but there is no chance my little self can force my 16.1 hand mare to do anything is she's dead set against it.

There's also the courage of facing something you're not one hundred percent sure of, like that corner on cross country or the triple bar your trainer just moved up. That's the kind of courage where you are afraid, but you go anyway. It's part and parcel of the sport, to accept the fact that you will occasionally be afraid and that there's nothing wrong with that. It's that edge of fear that gives us the addictive adrenaline rush. In order to grow, we learn to take a deep breath, push the fear into the back seat, and just trust in our horse, our trainer, and our own abilities.

I'm learning about a new type of courage. The kind that comes with dropping off an entry form. It's a surprisingly defined moment. Once you drop that envelope into the mail box, it's done. Sure, you can scratch later, but you've still entered. You've committed to going and doing something that makes your heart pound and your respiration pick up. I'm still early enough in the game that this isn't routine yet. I haven't ridden most of the courses in the area, so they are still unknown quantities. As surprising as it is, it takes a certain amount of courage to affix that stamp and send your paperwork off.

I've entered a sanctioned dressage show and it triggered that same moment. Am I ready to take the princess out and have her judged as a pure dressage horse? They won't care that she devours cross country and skips around stadium, they'll only be interested in the performance in that small square of sand. Am I ready to show what she's learned, and even more heart palpitation inducing, read the comments I get back? It's the only way that we'll grow and progress, so I dropped that envelope in the mail. Dressage has slipped badly, and I need to face down my nerves and fix it.

Odd that I'm more nervous about a couple dressage tests than our next horse trial. Courage is defined a bit different for every person, and right now, it takes more courage for me to go down center line than to drop into water.

I've ordered a new pen for my tablet, so hopefully I'll be able to get caught up on my art starting next week.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mother Nature Strikes Back

I did one weather complaint post in winter, I'm due for one in the summer. Don't get me wrong, compared to the weather in my hometown back in Minnesota, New England doesn't really have weather. You can go a week at home and not get above zero at all in the winter, and then top one hundred in the summer with mosquitoes big enough to take a roping saddle. That doesn't even begin to cover the straight line winds, tornadoes, or blizzards.

Actually I should suggest that to my mom as a new way to work her sheep. Round them up with her trusted mount, a Minnesota mosquito. I digress.

Even if the weather here on the East Coast is more mild, it can be damn unpleasant at times. Such as today. Projected high is 96 degrees Fahrenheit (36 degrees Celsius, I'm getting pretty good at doing those conversions on the fly because of teammates in Europe), with a heat index of 105. That's pretty miserable in any part of the country, especially when it's humid enough to feel like I've been slapped in the face with a wet blanket each time I step outside.

Considering the conditions, the princess is getting the day off. She does tend to get panting easily and sweats a good bit, I don't want to push her on a day like this. Tomorrow's lesson is at 9am and the humidity is reportedly going to start breaking, so it sounds like a better day all around. Between the bugs and the weather, conditions have been less than ideal. I took her out for a nice, relaxing ride in the woods on Sunday. This turned into a break neck gallop up a long hill with me cheering her on, yelling 'We can lose them!' as we outran the deer flies. Fiona enjoyed herself a good bit, but it was not exactly a leisurely trail ride.

This is the worst part of the summer. It's hot, it's muggy, and the bugs are monstrous and persistent. Mid-July to mid-August is the part of summer I don't like. Mid-Febuary to mid-March is the matching time in winter that I loathe. But I probably don't have much room to complain, I could be back in Minnesota. Nine months of winter and three months of lousy sledding.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Moving Up

So much for resting on my laurels.

Fiona after having her braids out at UNH

Less than a week after my great accomplishment of completing my first sanctioned event with Fiona, I have some new goals to work on. Like many things involving horses, this all starts with talking to my trainer. This entire blog is based on a passing comment made to my trainer, suggesting I was ready to buy a horse. There's a profound revelation in that somewhere, I'm just not sure what it is.

Back when I took the princess to the Scarlett Hill derby cross, my trainer made a passing joke about me moving up for Huntington since they weren't planning on being at the show for Beginner Novice day. I panicked a bit, but she later assured me she was just joking. Fast forward to last night, when we were e-mailing about my schedule for the rest of the show season. For King Oak they're not planning on going for the Beginner Novice day, and again she said 'so you'll just have to move up!'. Again, I had a minor panic attack. A much smaller one, now that I've cruised around at Beginner Novice, but it still happened.

Today I asked if she was joking. She said no, she's not joking. We have two months before King Oak, and the princess already does the Novice dressage test and schools at Novice for stadium. We even do the Novice jumps for cross country schools. Why not? It seems so simple and logical when you say it like that, it's just taking me a moment to shift gears. I'm still giddy from Beginner Novice, and we get to move up already?

Moving up is something universal across equestrian disciplines. I've had that moment of staring at my trainer all wide eyed as a hunter, as a jumper, and now as an eventer. I'm sure this conversation takes place in dressage and western pleasure barns, too.

Trainer: You should move up next show.
Student: You think I'm ready?

Trainer: Absolutely.

Student: *smiles, nods, disappears to bathroom to throw up*

Possibly less throwing up in disciplines that don't involve galloping and jumping things that don't fall down, but it's the same idea. I know I was pretty nauseous when I moved up in the jumper world. It's not even really about the change in difficulty, or the bigger jumps, or the possibility of having to face a real ditch on cross county. Moving up is almost as much about the label as the test. I'd be a Novice rider, and my horse would be a Novice horse. If nothing else, that's faster to type than Beginner Novice.

We're putting together a plan to make sure that in two months, the princess and I are ready to tackle the fearsome world of Novice. I have a stadium clinic with Bobby Costello on Aug 2nd (and rumor has it he likes to jack up the fences, so that should be interesting), I have some schooling two-phases coming up that I'll do at Novice, and some cross country schooling trips that will be going up to Novice. I have full faith that when my trainer is done with us, we won't bat an eyelash at King Oak.

Once I'm done throwing up in the portapotty.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mission Accomplished

As I said to my husband last night while I had a glass of wine and elevated my aching feet, it's not that often in life that we set out on a difficult, long-term project and have it end as an undeniable success. Life tends to get in the way, and particularly with horses, things can go so very wrong so quickly. All it takes is a turn of an ankle to bring the project to a premature end. In the case of Fiona, we didn't even know if she had the mind for the game. As far as projects go, this one was a very long shot.

It took eleven months, but I can officially call Fiona an eventer. She completed her first horse trial yesterday, finishing on her dressage score in Beginner Novice. I think I will be giddy for days. I know I was grinning like a damn fool when we came off cross country and all I could think was 'we did it'. Getting a ribbon was a nice added bonus.

Dressage continues to be our problem phase, which is ironic after a winter of her being a dressage superstar and a jumping disaster. Warm up was chaotic, and the dressage rings were right across from the trailers. When I went across the diagnols, she could see her friends standing around the trailer. Our first canter depart was an airs above the ground movement. However, it was still better than the two phase, with a calmer rhythm and she recovered from her athletic depart to a decent canter. It was a 42.9, which is not competitive, but from the comments I think the judge liked her. The comment I'm taking to heart was 'just be patient'. The judge has a good point. Her first horse trial, the goal was just to complete. I didn't account for the atmosphere.

I haven't been to a sanctioned event since Mystic in May of 2010, so it's easy to forget what a different feel it is. And Mystic is smaller and quieter than UNH. There were horses and golf carts and pedestrians everywhere. I didn't realize until the first golf cart zipped by that the princess had probably never seen one before. Three dressage rings were running, with a decent audience watching everything. It must have been overwhelming to her.

It was a long walk down a road to get to stadium, and she had to do the walk all by herself. Then she had to go by the vendors and the audience around stadium. It was downright chaotic for her and she was sweating before we got to stadium warm up.

She was a trooper. She warmed up well, bravely made the walk back to the stadium area, and spent a good bit of time staring at the audience that was sitting alongside the ring. The course was sweeping and friendly with only one tight turn. One panel was a brightly colored sunset that a lot of horses didn't like, but she went over with a little tap on the shoulder. She was more distracted by all of the activity outside of the ring than the fences, but she put her game face on and jumped around like a real competitor. The announcer had some fun with her show name, which made me laugh on course and probably helped our performance.

I was a nervous wreck for cross country, I'll admit it. I'm almost as green cross country as she is, so I was walking the course with wide eyes. Size wasn't the problem, Fiona can jump the moon. It was more the variety of things to jump and managing hills and turns. And remembering which way to turn, since the different courses intersected and had different paths. The ditch was a fake one, with logs on the ground and sawdust piled in it (called the Devil's Sandbox, which cracked me up), and there was no bank, but we did have a water crossing. Those were minor. The 'talking' fence was the UNH fence.

It's funny that there was a 'talking' fence, but people were definitely talking about it. Number three, the UNH fence, was a rather shiny piece of wood with UNH written on it in blue. Behind it was piled up hay, and there were round hay bales on either side with clear plastic on them. It was a pretty substantial fence, shared by Beginner Novice and Novice. The Training horses had to go right by it, and the word was that even they were having some spooking problems. I rode that fence like world peace depended on Fiona getting over it. I popped her on the shoulder (probably the second time I've ever used a crop with intent with her), kicked, and growled 'get over it!'. She took two stutter steps than surged forward and over the fence. Minor detail the Devil's Sandbox was about six strides afterward, and I was supposed to trot that. We never did make it back to trot, but she sure didn't bat an eyelash at it.

Actually, she didn't bat an eyelash at anything after the UNH fence. She dragged me around the course, jumping everything I pointed her at with great gusto. I was careful on the turns (probably too careful), which ate up time. When we got to the water, we were supposed to have close to two minutes left. I checked my watch and I had just one minute left. I put the pedal to the floor for the end of the course and managed to cross the finish flags with a couple seconds to spare. Then I spent about a hundred yards trying to get my mare to stop. She swaggered all the way back to the trailers, acting like she owned the world.

Once she was untacked, cooled out, and cleaned up? She fell asleep on the trailer. It was a long day for the green bean.

Tomorrow I send in my entry for Valinor. I wonder if I'll be done grinning by the time that show rolls around.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Just when my faith had wavered and I had considered other plans for the weekend, my entry has been sorted out and I have ride times. The princess and I are off to our very first sanctioned this weekend at UNH.

My first reaction was relief. Relief that I had not managed to botch things so badly that I would miss out. Turned out that there was some confusion over who I was, since I go by one name but my name in the USEA paperwork is something else. I hadn't thought of that. Live and learn.

Now I have moved on to my second reaction: nervous anticipation. There is definitely a different feel to going to a horse trial, as opposed to a schooling show. I need to go pick up a battery for my watch, for one. Time will count. I also need to pull out all the bells and whistles. Hunt coat, leather gloves, hair nets, the whole thing. I got my new saddle pad today that I ordered as my show pad for jumping. It's black with light blue trim, white cord, and a monogram of a silver tiara for the princess. No one outside of my barn will get it, since her show name is Can't Drive 55, but I like it. A little individuality in my rather conservative show get up.

Saturday will be spent primping and prepping. I need to finish pulling her mane, get her bathed and clipped, and braid her up. My tack needs to all be cleaned and packed, along with the rest of my equipment. It will be an all day show (I don't go on XC until almost 6pm) so I will need to pack food and water in order to survive.

I know I'm looking at a weekend with very little sleep and a lot of stress, but right now, all I feel is that nervous jitter of something exciting coming up. We've worked so hard for this, and I finally feel like we're ready. Just in time, since it's time for us to go.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


I've spent quite a bit of time over the last ten months getting my girl all prepped for her very first sanctioned. We've weathered the scary jumping, the resistance in dressage, and even getting her used to having her mane pulled. We've built up a topline, put in the cross-country miles, and turned the former brood mare and pasture potato into a viable eventing prospect.

For my part, I've learned to not duck over fences that won't fall down and to keep my legs under me while doing dressage. Okay, we might still be working on that second part, but it's definitely getting better. We've got the moves, we've got the equipment, and the princess sure has the talent and the look.

The princess showing me what a big girl she's become at the Scarlet Hill Derby Cross

It looks like we're ready for that first sanctioned at UNH next weekend, right? Well, something more challenging then a stomach wrenching coffin might be keeping us home. It's called paperwork.

I'm a hunter princess by training, I'll admit to that. These opening dates and close dates and entry statuses and ride times still confuse me a bit. I like the ride times once I have them, it's getting them that makes things difficult. I've only been in one sanctioned event before this, and I had to enter twice. My first entry was completely wrong, had me in a division that wasn't even being offered. I got a nice e-mail from the show secretary, asking me if I meant to enter their show. I really appreciated them holding my hand a bit and getting things sorted out. Of course, that was a less popular show with no wait list.

This time I entered UNH and ended up on the wait list. I thought I got my entry out in time, but it appears not. I went away on vacation thinking everything had been sorted out, but it's now a week away and my entry is still all messed up. Of all the things to catch me out, it had to be the simple fact that eventing entries are far more complicated than hunter/jumper entries. I don't know what I did wrong, but the princess may be staying home next weekend due to my inability to sort out calendars and paperwork.

I guess we'll have to add sending in entries training to my riding schedule. It's not like you get a lot of cracks at this in a summer. Another opening day is coming up on Tuesday and I'm rather beside myself. I want to go show!