Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Game on

Fiona rocking the Noice at the ATF Two-Phase

There's one aspect of my job that I love and that's my flexible schedule. In honor of my grand move up to Novice level this weekend, I took three days off from work. Tomorrow is scheduled to be a cross country school at Scarlett Hill to knock the rust off of Fiona since Valinor. She can be squirrely if she hasn't been on cross country recently, so we'll run her around and remind her that it's fun to go and jump around the countryside. We'll just see if Mother Nature decides to go along with us and not unleash a deluge.

Friday is the jump course design clinic with Richard Jeffries. Yeah, the Richard Jeffries. I'm so excited about this. I enjoy jump course design and I'd love to learn some theory behind it so I can help with course design around the barn. I lean more toward the technically challenging due to my time in the eq ring, but I also enjoy designing a course that's smooth and rides well. I'll take a lot of notes, both as a rider and an aspiring course designer. Don't tell anyone, but if I could complete the requirements? I'd go through the training to be a TD. Not that I expect to ever have multiple prelim horses, but there you go.

Saturday is dressage for UNH. I ride at noon, so it should be a nice, relaxing day. I really should get around to learning my test . . . Particularly since I'm participating in the Adult Team Challenge. Only the top three scores for the team count and there are three awesome dressage horses on my team, so I'm expecting Fiona to be the drop score. At least that's some pressure off.

Sunday is stadium and cross country. I'm again riding at noon, so I won't feel frazzled. We'll be walking courses the day before, so plenty of time to relax since the training riders will have us there pretty early. UNH has a reputation as a great place to move up and I'm sure we'll be fine. Fiona will jump anything so long as I aim and say go, but it's still my move up so I'm nervous. Are we really ready to go Novice considering where we were just six months ago?

I'll tell you on Sunday.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Choices, choices

There's been a lot of fuss in the eventing world about 'made vs. bought'. Some riders make their rides, some people buy them. I, being less than ridiculously rich, have a horse that I've made. I bought her even though I only jumped her over one two foot vertical and it wasn't very pretty. I bought her because she was willing to try and her conformation suggested there was a decent little jumper hidden away.
Fiona doing the Novice division at Green Acres.

Since then she's proven me right. She's a very decent little jumper and has a lot of gusto for the job. Through blood, sweat, and a lot of tears, I've managed to make her into a horse that can do a novice stadium round and look quite proficient at it. I've nearly given up at some points, but we both managed to tough out the growing pains and we've reaped the benefits of that. Bragging rights are entirely mine because, up until now, no one has jumped Fiona except me. Not a soul, not even my trainer or the instructor from the winter or my friends or the teens around the barn. No one has taken the princess over fences. I may not win at the shows, but I rest on no one's laurels but my own. But that's going to change.

I signed Fiona up to go south with my trainer and be in full training for three months.

Why would I do something like that, considering how much pride I get from riding my own work? Mostly because Aiken agrees with her while the winter barn does not. She was so happy and relaxed in Aiken while turn out was chaos in New Hampshire. I want her out in the sun, not stuck in her stall because she can't behave in turn out. I also want my trainer to take a look at what I've done and fix where I've screwed up. I'm an amateur, I know I've made mistakes. If I want to move the princess up to training, I need to have my work checked. If my trainer starts showing her in Aiken and decides she's ready, she may very well move Fiona up for me so at least one of us has a clue at Training level.

I keep forgetting that I can count the number of times Fiona's gone cross country on my fingers, and I'm not all that much more experienced than she is. Our first novice is next weekend, and we'll both be moving up. I'd like it if she moved up to Training the first time with someone that's been there, done that. Rather than having me hanging off her ears and screaming 'oh my gods that's BIG' closely followed by 'I've changed my mind!'. She's very green still, and while that seems to work just fine for us at Beginner Novice and Novice, I feel that a bit more mileage would be a good idea before we leap into Training.

Listen to me, planning her move to Training when I didn't even think she would be able to do sanctioned in spring. I can't even imagine what I'll be planning a year from now.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fall Days

This is the absolute best time to live in New England. It was about sixty degrees and sunny today when I took the princess out for a trail ride, showing one of the barn's teens how to make her way through the trails. Last year I had to have a guide, this year I am the guide. More than that, last year Fiona was all eyes when we took her on her early trail rides. Today she was the lead horse in her hackmore.

She's developed a 'working mode' for trail rides now. When she hits her stride, she lowers her head until her poll is about even with her withers, ears pricked, and walking with this huge step that some other horses have to trot to keep up with. She can cruise like this for hours without batting an eyelash. Add that to her new found ability to drink on the trails and I think I do have a limited distance endurance horse on my hands. Or maybe she's a closet hunter, or a western pleasure horse in disguise! Maybe she secretly craves to jog and lope, reins slack and completely quiet and obedient with me dressed in sequins . . .

Yeaaaaah, no.

My schedule has shifted to something much more laid back. We have a fun show next weekend at the town ring. Fiona will be entered in the hunters! It should be hilarious. She'll also be doing the 'knock down and out' and the command class. If there aren't a lot of spectators, I'll enter the barrel racing just to say I did. After that is UNH. We've managed to put a team together for the Adult Team Challenge for Area 1, so it's going to be an exciting weekend. A cross country school, then course design with Richard Jeffries and then two days of showing. And then my competition season is DONE!

Considering I spent most of my winter wondering whether or not I was going to even have a show season, I'm definitely ready to be done and sleep in some mornings. I'm ready for hunter pace and fun events season. That little gap between the end of the competition season and the weather falling apart is just an amazing time to have a horse. Hunter paces and trail rides through the fall foliage. It's hard to keep me in a ring this time of year, but who could blame me? Dressage is for the winter when we're trapped in the indoor. Fall is for fun.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Flight of the bumblebee

I'm very lucky to ride at a barn that has access to a lot of trails. And those trails lead into other trails. And other trails. Rumor has it that you can just keep going all day on the trails if you want to, and you don't mind possibly getting lost. With the cooler weather keeping the nasty biting bugs at bay, I've been adventuring out more with friends from the barn to check out the trails.

Dorkzilla and the Princess, with the Jumping Machine's ears in the foreground, enjoying some clover at the top of Woodmont Orchard
Photo courtesy of Debbie Sullivan

Our horses seem to enjoy getting out of the ring and it certainly makes them more accepting of new situations. They're pretty used to terrain, dogs, bikes, cars, and anything else you can find on state trails and in state parks. With highs in the 70's and lots of sun, it's hard to convince us to get back into the ring and practice our circles. Instead we practice steep ups and downs, bridges, stepping through moving water, and just moseying around.

However, we got a reminder today on Mother Nature's tendency to keep people humble. Just when we thought we were real trail riders with real trail horses, we had a bit of an incident. We've been striking out and exploring sections of trail that we haven't ridden before. We did have a map, even though we weren't really using it, so we weren't in danger of getting lost. With Tropical Storm Irene in the not too distant past its not a surprise to find trees down. We had a trio of trees down, blocking the trail and configured in a way we just couldn't jump it. We split up to find a way around. After we managed that, Dorkzilla stopped to look at the running water we were about to cross.

Then he started frantically rubbing his face against his legs and basically freaking out. Which confused us, since he's usually so mellow. We saw a bug, but didn't think anything of it until Fiona started to buck. The princess never bucks, so I knew something was very wrong about the same time one of my friends got stung on the neck. Bees! All three horses were frantic to get away, but we were going to have to bushwack to get back out. I ended up dismounting so I could get Fiona out through that narrow path as fast as possible. I ended up running back down the trail with her trotting along, snorting and very unhappy. The other two pairs were right behind us.

With all three horses and all three humans stung, it's probably not a surprise someone reacted. In this case it was Dorkzilla. He broke out in hives on top of the many stings he got since he was the one that got hit first. He's doing fine now after appropriate care, but he did look a bit like a pineapple for awhile. Fiona came in second place with about ten stings, and Ruby had just the one we found (she was third in the line). I got stung four times, probably more than the other riders since I dismounted. I got stung right on the keister, which I did not appreciate when I remounted.

Considering what could have happened, with three big, fit horses in close quarters being stung by bees, we got off lightly. We were very lucky to all be mounted on horses that are willing to take direction even when they're afraid and starting to panic. The princess was in her hackamore, but she kept her marbles together and ran with me down the trail.

This won't dissuade us from adventuring out into the wilds of New Hampshire, but I really doubt we'll try that particular trail again. There's almost so much of nature that we want to deal with.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Idle Hands

It appears that my shoulder still hates me, so time off will be had. I don't know quite what I did to it. After our rather raucous ride around Valinor I had a sore neck and if I turned a certain way I could feel it pull through my left shoulder. I thought 'tight muscles, possible pinched nerve' and carried on. It's about 10 days (and two horse shows) later and I'm now treating myself like a horse with a mild lameness and some heat and swelling. Ice, handwalk, some bute, stall rest. Well, Advil instead of bute and staying away from the barn instead of stall rest, but it's the same general idea.

This means a lot of time to sit around and read the internet. Never a good idea. I've been following discussions on whether or not stupid people should own horses and some on how to fix the problems with America's eventing system. I was less than kind on the discussion about the 'I didn't know' excuse. If you're going to go out and buy a horse, buy a damn book and learn that they need their feet done and how to put on a halter. There's no excuse for that nonsense when handling a thousand pound animal. 'I want one because they're pretty' is not enough cause to buy a horse.

As to the future of eventing? What a tangle. Our culture calls for teenagers to get out there and win right NOW, so we end up with young riders buying packers that take care of them and moving up the ranks. Does this produce our future Olympians? Nope, but what is a trainer to do? Tell them that they need to put in some time on difficult horses and learn to not win? It's frustrating for a kid to keep losing because they don't have the 'made' horse. I know from my current project that it can be frustrating to put in so much work and go to a show and get trounced. I'm proud of her, and there's a sense of accomplishment that comes from riding my own work, but who doesn't want to go in and win ribbons?

I don't have a solution, since the culture is increasingly that everyone has to win. If you're not winning ribbons, you shouldn't be playing. And if mommy and daddy have to buy a fancy packer to make that happen, then so be it. The kids with less money riding horses they have to work with are squeezed out, and trainers make more money on kids that campaign, anyway. Until the base culture changes, no decisions made by the USEA or the USEF will make any difference. People want results and they want them NOW. Thanks, Google.

Time to grab some frozen peas for my icing. Typing out a rant clearly is not the best way to rest my shoulder.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Dorkzilla and the Princess

What a weekend. I'm typing this in a less than vertical position because sitting upright is just not worth the effort.
The princess shared my opinion today when I showed up at her stall to put on her shipping boots yet again. Yesterday was our first sanctioned dressage show. We managed to put in a better than expected showing, getting a 60.8% and a 63.2% in our two Training dressage tests. I was just hoping for not eliminated!

You can also see Fiona's boyfriend, whom I've dubbed Dorkzilla for reasons unknown but it sticks. Fiona got a 2nd and a 4th, which is pretty spiffy for being the only Thoroughbred that we saw on the results. Everyone else seemed to have a Warmblood or a Friesian. I was very proud of her, and that's our best dressage in awhile. No airs above the ground!

But today was our two-phase and a different story. I arrived at the barn exhausted, and Fiona looked just about as bushed. We had a serious dressage school Thursday, a jumping lesson Friday, a gallop on Saturday, a dressage show Sunday, and then the two-phase today. It looks like she ran out of gas after the dressage show. Add to that the fact my left shoulder has been bothering me since Valinor and has now decided to just start cutting out on me.

We got a 45.7 in dressage and pulled two rails. We were flat jumping and I actually had to tap her on the shoulder in stadium to make sure she powered up enough to take on an oxer. We had no business being at the show, but no harm done. I did very little warm up and she went right home after her stadium. She'll have time off this week, since our next competition isn't until Oct. 1.

It's been a long three weeks with lots of showing, but she muscled through and has learned a lot. I definitely think she's ready to tackle Novice. This week we'll both take time off and recover some of that drive.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thelwell Ponies

Well, the tablet is still dead, but that won't keep me from subjecting people to my doodles.

This would be inspired by the princess and her best friend Ruby out on the trails. I've been having this same fight since I was five years old, and I'm still getting dragged toward the food. The conclusion:

We have the tallest Thelwell ponies ever seen. We're so proud.