Thursday, December 27, 2012


Excessive enthusiasm is a pain.

But hey, I can't complain.  She did a 3/4 stride bending line today.  Three strides the first time when she was surprised by the second fence and left long, four strides when I did a better job telling her to whoa, damn it.

As her confidence returns, I find myself going back to the old battle of informing my mare that bolting about while jumping is just not acceptable.  This time I intend to take my time and really rebuild these basics.  No competitions until April at the earliest and we already know she's got Novice in her, so there's no reason to go higher than two foot until she's got the basics relearned.

Hunter pony?  Never.  But we can still aim for consistently not terrifying anyone.  And leaving me out of the rafters.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

When in doubt . . .

Torture your horse.

I'm lucky my mare is so tolerant.   And cute.

Yes, this is what I did when I went to visit her.  The ride was a bit of a disaster (three days off is always a bad idea) so we'll just focus on how cute she is in my new hat.  Thank you to my mother-in-law for the new hat.  It keeps my ears quite warm.

The junior rider will be exercising her tomorrow.  Hopefully she'll be able to take some of the edge off of my enthusiastic mare.  She is a handful when she's had time off.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Absurd accomplishments

The dead of winter is not a time to make huge leaps and gains in lessons.  It's cold, it's wet, and we're proud of ourselves for simply showing up.  However, I've got an entire week off from work and school so some progress is to be expected.

First accomplishment, my jumping saddle is back!  Oh, how I missed that lovely piece of leather.  I appreciated my friends letting me borrow their saddles, but there's nothing like sitting in your own saddle.  Particularly when you're as petite as I am.  My feet barely reached the bottom of the Muppet's saddle and Dorkzilla's saddle left big bruises where the thigh rolls hit.

To be fair, Fiona jumped the cross rail like we were going training and the thigh rolls had a big role in keeping me on, but the point still stands.  Ow.

Second accomplishment, Fi has decided that the Regumate is no big deal and she licks her bowl clean.  Thank goodness.  It does seem to have brought her down a notch and gotten her more focused.  It's too early to tell, but I am pleased with the results so far.

She was also a model citizen for her vaccinations this year, which was a relief after the Wonder Mare and one of the ponies decided that intra-nasal was just not happening this year.  

Third accomplishment:  New graphics software!  I'm sure some people have noticed that I haven't been drawing much.  I had a bit of a falling out with my install of Windows and in a fit of annoyance installed Linux.  Yup, I'm that much of a computer geek.  Unfortunately, my graphics program didn't want to run on Linux no matter what I did.  Today I found a program that worked for me and the tablet is back in action!  It's going to take a bit to get used to the new software, but it's not longer a multi-hour ordeal to get a drawing done.  Expect more cartoons in the future.

And the last accomplishment du jour:  cantering through cones.  Everyone seems to walk and trot through sets of cones when they're learning to ride.  I weave Fi through them to give us both something to do.  The trainer had them set up during our lesson and decided that we should canter through them.  Erk.  The princess and I were up first.  Fortunately we've been working hard on our counter canter so it didn't take much for us to calmly canter through the serpentine pattern.

Then the trainer decided that was too easy and added a ten meter turn at the end so we would be going back through the cones without breaking out of the canter.  My mare is just too ridiculously fancy sometimes.  She weaved through the cones and when she got the balancing half halt, swapped leads and turned on a dime to head back.  Then did it again on the other side of the ring.  It was a challenge to hold her on one lead for the cones, but the flying change was a piece of cake.  Go figure.  It was very impressive, at least to me.  I might be biased.

Tomorrow is Christmas and I'll be bringing her a bunch of treats before we take advantage of the empty ring to play with some grids.  I'm pretty sure I'll be the only one at the barn riding.  As much as I enjoy meeting up with my barn friends, it will be nice to have the ring to myself.  My girl does enjoy puzzles, and I'm all about giving the Princess exactly what she wants for the holidays.

A Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Girls just wanna have fun

How many masters degrees does it take to set up a Regumate dosing system?

At least 2.5.  Dorkzilla's owner provided 2, I'm the 0.5.  That's kind of sad, if I think about it.

After much fussing, debate, and consideration, Fiona is officially on Regumate.  For anyone that's not familiar with it, it's alternogest (synthetic progesterone) which will keep her from cycling.  It should have the same effect as the injections but since it's dosed daily, it will be a steady level of hormones rather than surges.  It goes on her morning grain, easy peasy.

Those are the good features.  Then there are the not so good features.

It's an oil solution that can be absorbed through the skin.  It's even been known to go through latex gloves.  If a human female gets it on her skin, she'll get her period and it will probably hang around for 2-3 weeks.  It's also a possible carcinogen.  Fun stuff, huh?  And it's freaking expensive.  Keeping all of this in mind, and the fact that I really like the barn staff, Fiona's bottle of Regumate was delivered with a lot of safety equipment and a very precise procedure that I wrote up with my trainer's head girl.

A fancy dosing gun was hooked up so that all they have to do is squeeze the trigger and get 10mLs dosed onto her food.  I did the set up of the gun and that's the part that required multiple masters degrees.  The instructions were just stupid, but we successfully got everything set up without shooting hormones all over the tack room.  I looked like I was conducting surgery, wearing black nitrile gloves, reading instructions, and with spectators staying at a cautious distance.  We hooked everything up in the sink in case of disaster, then transferred the bottle and dosing gun to a little bucket.  The bucket and a box of industrial strength nitrile gloves now live in the feed room.

The gloves are from when my husband is working with chemicals that he really doesn't want on his skin.  They're tougher than latex and we don't have to worry about any of the staff with a latex sensitivity.

There's a writeup in the feeder's notebook about the proper way to dispense the goo into Fi's food, complete with a warning about what happens if you get it on you.  Her breakfast now goes in a bucket with a lid so they can dose her food, then just haul the grain to her stall at feeding time rather than moving the Regumate setup.

It's all kind of ridiculous, but better safe then sorry.

After all of this nonsense, it was just Dorkzilla and Fi in the ring.  The dentist had been out, so I was just goofing around with the princess in a hackamore.  We practiced jogging and neck reining at the canter.  It was nice to have a complete slack off ride where we did silly, silly things that had nothing to do with getting ready for a competition.  Unless we decide to go show Hunter Pleasure.  You never know, we might decide to branch out this summer.

Fi appreciated the change in pace.  No stress, no muss, just goofing around with a friend.  I've got to remember to do this more often.  It's not about competing. It's about having fun.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


I want to take control but I know better

God, I want to dream again
Take me where I've never been
I want to go there
This time I'm not scared

- Unbreakable by Fireflight

Horses are heart breakers.  Everyone that's been with them knows this.  Everything is wonderful, and then in the blink of the eye, it's gone.  I've learned this lesson before, and the last four months have been a firm reinforcement of that lesson.  In August, Fiona was getting compliments on her talent and there was talk of moving to training.  In October, we weren't even sure if she was going to compete again as an eventer.

I'm nothing if not stubborn and despite both of us having a crisis of confidence, we've kept plugging along.  One day she jumped a cross rail calmly.  Another day she actually tugged me to a cross rail.  A week later we were able to jump an oxer.  Set backs and frustrations every step of the way, but we keep inching forward.

Today she jumped good sized cross-rail, went back to trot to do a roll back type turn to a vertical, then cantered around the ring to a third vertical.  Her ears were pricked and she was tugging toward the fences.  I have to jump her with almost zero contact, but it's working.  The panic has faded, replaced by her old confidence.  She's going in a hackamore and a snaffle.  It's taking some practice to ride with two completely different feels at the same time, but I'm getting the hang of it.  If she starts to panic, switch to all hackamore till she settles.  If she's starting to bomb off or I need to really rebalance, more snaffle.

I know some of the old excitement is back for her because she's offering to jump on her own.  I was walking around on a slack rein, not really paying attention, when she picked up a trot.  By the time I figured out what was going on, we were going over a fence.  Afterward she stopped politely and looked back, waiting for her treat.  Someone else was in the ring with me and was laughing just watching Fi go.  She said the princess's eyes were sparkling while she pranced about after jumping.  She's still a handful, but that's just Fi.  That's never going to go away.  

She even managed to work through a bounce.  I added some guard rails so she wouldn't cut out, gave her loopy reins, and let her figure it out on her own.  She stressed about it, but was much more confident by the end.

Her Regumate is on order (poor thing was sore from her heat cycle this week) and it should be here soon.  She's also got a hackamore that's got a different shape shank on the way.  It should work better with the snaffle.

Her junior rider messaged me today, asking if she can ride and show the princess again this summer.  I have my fingers crossed that, come summer, Fi and her junior rider can go out and have another wonderful season like they had last year while I wind up my master's degree.  

It's hard to dream again after questioning everything for months, but I recognized that horse I was riding today.  I recognized that proud swagger.  She's still in there.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The CTM Assault Vehicle 2000

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This system can handle almost any kind of terrain, including water, steep hills, trees, and even rain or snow!

The CTM AV 2000 also comes with a programmable pilot system.  This system easily interfaces with an Android phone in order to locate and conquer portals.  While the pilot system is an older version, it is robust enough to handle the demands with only occasional maintenance.  A firm impact to the cranial region is usually all that is necessary to reboot the system and bring malfunctioning systems back online.

Please keep in mind that this is a beta system.  Not all bugs have been worked out.

However, we are certain that the CTM AV 2000 will give the Enlightened access to portals that would otherwise remain under Resistance control indefinitely.

This best in class portal acquisition system is available for immediate deployment, all for one invitation code.  Call now and order your very own Chestnut Thoroughbred Mare Assault Vehicle 2000!

*For those wondering if I've hit my head without wearing a helmet this time, this is in regards to a game that has come out for Android phones called Ingress.  The image of Fiona charging into battle in order to defeat the enemy was far too amusing for me.  I may also watch too many infomercials.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The other kids

I think we're about due for a canine update.  I haven't done one of these in awhile.

Our Minature Pinscher Cowboy, despite semi-regular scares, is still truckin' along and looks really good right now.  He's got more than his fair share of health issues, but right now they're all under control and he's looking and acting like a dog in his prime.  Minor detail he's actually thirteen.

Poor little thing.You can see how he suffers.  Actually, he really enjoyed all the attention that came with his costume.  He had a lovely run around the apartment while his sister tried to grab onto the tail of his costume.  Pretty good for a dog that was scheduled to be euthanized due to progressive paralysis almost two years ago.  He gave us another fright this year when his coordination started to fail again and he couldn't really walk on his own, but a little tweak of his meds and he was right back to going on 15 - 20 minute walks with his sister unassisted.  The vets are being very cautious with him, cutting back his vaccinations to rabies only and unwilling to change anything in his routine.  Someway, somehow, it's working.  We've been on borrowed time for almost two years now.  Everyone is amazed that he's still happy, active, and with us. 

The little monster is enjoying his golden years and the presence of his adopted sister.  He had an aggressive relationship with his father, Cruizer.  When Peyton joined the family, he suddenly had someone that thought he was awesome and wanted to cuddle and play.  It took him months to figure that out.  Now he barks and chases her around the living room, which she adores.  Our neighbors aren't really big fans of it.

Speaking of his sister, this is what I usually come home to.

We've given up on keeping her in the play pen.  She climbs out or squeezes out impossibly small spaces.  She freaks out in a crate.  Once she's loose, she just curls up in the brown chair and sleeps, so she has the privilege of being the only dog we've allowed to sleep loose.  Little Peyton has changed from a skinny, quiet, uncertain, scraggly looking mutt to a glossy, lean, confident little dog.  A grain free raw diet has her food allergies under control (our dogs eat better than we do, no exaggeration) and lots of socialization has her quietly handling just about any crowd.  She loves visiting the barn, going to the pet store, and even trips to the dog park.  Peyton's the first non-aggressive dog we've had . . . ever, so it's a real treat to take her out and not worry about her starting problems.  Of course, at all of thirteen pounds, we have to keep a close eye on her with big dogs.  It would only take the blink of an eye for her to get hurt.

Not to say she's a push over.  Far from it.  She's a dominant little bitch, just not aggressive about it.  I should rent her out to owners of large breed puppies.  She came across a Rhodesian Ridgeback cross puppy that was a couple months old at the dog park.  It was a super friendly puppy, all ears and paws as he galumphed over to greet her.  Of course, he was at least twice her size already so a boisterous greeting, even friendly, was not appreciated.  She very calmly knocked the puppy over, corrected it's rude behavior, and walked away.  The puppy's owner was so worried that I'd be upset, but I laughed.  She did exactly what she was supposed to do and the puppy was much more careful with her after that.  Most puppies get the hint when she gives them the 'look' and they settle down.  She is not to be jumped on, thank you very much.

I frequently think that Peyton should have a job, but between work, school, and the princess, it's not really in my schedule.  She's very smart and a quick learner, but she certainly doesn't mind all of the unstructured time.  Her job is to make sure no one comes in the window, ensure that I get up and move regularly when working from home, and that her adopted brother doesn't get cold or lonely.  It's a tough job, but she's up for it.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Four letter word

There are a lot of four letter words, but I'm coming to find that there is one that carries a lot of weight.


As anyone that's been following along for awhile knows, Fiona is my first partnership with a mare.  I avoided them for years and years because of the moody reputation.  There's only room for one bitch in this relationship, and I called dibs.  I made an exception for Fi because she's so sweet and such a pocket pony.  She doesn't squat and squeal at the boys and is happy to be touched and groomed any day of the month.

However, she can be very adversely affected by her hormones.  She gets cramps when she ovulates and she gets distracted when she's in full blown heat.  She was once so busy looking at a boy she actually ran into a jump standard.  I was embarrassed, and so was she.  For the first year, we just got to know each other.  There was no way to know what was hormones, what was training, and what was just the princess.  In the second year, we stepped in when her spring heat cycles got wild enough to make her a danger to handle.  A monthly progesterone shot levelled her out dramatically.  The cramps were no longer an issue, her attention was on the game, and she had a terrific season.  Her first show on progesterone was her outing with my trainer at UNH where she got second in Beginner Novice and won the dressage.  Then she started campaigning with the junior rider and I had my best finish with her at Novice.  The mare was an eventing machine!

But there were problems.  While the depo prevented her heat cycles, each time we used it the period of time it lasted shortened.  Her heat cycles when she did get them were stronger.  By September, I was rearranging her injection cycle for every other week with the vet because the shots were wearing off in about two weeks.

By November, she got a shot on the 8th to make sure she wasn't in heat for Equine Affaire.  She was stabling with stallions, I did not want to deal with that level of distraction.  She was in a screaming heat on the 18th when we moved her to the winter barn.  Between her heat cycle and the stress of moving, she was completely beside herself and screaming while running the fence line.  While riding her in the indoor with Dorkzilla, she was still calling and jigging about.  The 'monthly' shot isn't even making it two weeks anymore and her heat cycles coming off the depo are definitely an ordeal.

She's officially off depo now, since it's just making a bigger mess of things at this point.  After a ride yesterday that had me in tears due to her resistance and distraction (again, in heat), the decision has been made to try Regumate.  Suppressing her heat cycle with progesterone was a huge success, reducing her pain and stress.  We just need a new way to get it into her.

She got a 54% on her First Level 3 test today.  The same mare that can get a 61% at First Level.  It was a lot better than yesterday when I wouldn't canter a left lead circle of any size, but her hormones were still slightly out of whack and she hates rounding her back when she's in heat.  Basically, she was PMSing.  Pissy and crampy and generally not thrilled to be working. 

I can't give her chocolate, Pamprin, and a bubble bath, so we'll have to just stop the symptoms before they start.  I'll buy a three month supply and we'll see how she reacts.  I'm hopeful, because right now?  I don't have an eventer and I don't have a dressage partner.  It's a very, very frustrating position to be in.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Class clowns

 Yup, that's us on jumping weeks.  Class clowns, sitting in the corner with our dunce caps on.

Not too long ago, Fi and I could keep up with just about any lesson on jumping week.  Now?  I move around my lesson time to find a class that's doing cross-rails.  It's easier on the trainer if she doesn't have to move between 3' verticals and little 12" X's.  But we've made solid progress since our last lesson a week ago and I felt more confident going into today's lesson.  I only hyperventilated a little when I realized that the class had been rearranged and I was in with a couple of Novice horses and riders.  Best laid plans of mice and men and all that.

It helped that I knocked off those first couple jumps before the trainer came in.  I get nervous when I'm being watched.

Between the hackamore, the grab strap, my running around like a fool, and the bag of sugar cubes, Fi's getting her confidence back.  My trainer was thrilled with her calmer attitude and pointed us at some 2' verticals and even a couple of 2' oxers.  Fi didn't bat an eyelash and trotted over them as mannerly and confident as she's ever been.  Woohoo!

Of course, we're halting and walking between fences still, but having her jump a two foot oxer with loops in the reins was a huge, huge accomplishment.  The reasonably polite stop after the fence was also a big accomplishment.  No mouth gaping and head tossing.  My trainer announced we were done with that and we made our escape before the bigger fences and other horses jumping could key the princess up.

The trainer is thrilled with the progress and wants us to keep marching on as we have in the last week.  She said that it was the first time in awhile she's seen Fi's face so calm and confident.  She was almost, dare we say, eager?  Maybe, maybe.

This means loops in the reins in front of the fence, positive encouragement at all times (no punishment allowed), a grab strap to make damn sure I don't take back on my approach, and a hackamore.  It also means running with my mare a lot.  I tried lunging her over some ground poles to save my ankles from all of that running but the lack of boundaries fried her brain.  She'll run with me anywhere and over anything, but on her own?  Nope.  She has always borrowed the confidence of her rider and she's not ready to handle obstacles without support.

The saddle fitter was also out.  The jumping saddle passed with flying colors, as always, but it had some ripped lacing on the pommel so I sent it off for repairs.  It's 8 years old now, it was due to have some work done.  Unfortunately, the dressage saddle got a huge thumbs down.  Fi's back is now rather wide and the curvy, older style panels just aren't going to cut it.  The saddle fitter's exact words when I put it on Fi were 'Oh My God'.  We tried a couple models on her to see what works now and can you believe the saddle that fit her best was the one that Dorkzilla goes in???  This mare is NOT a pure Thoroughbred.  A lot of speculation has gone on about her back end as she's filled in and increasingly the jury says that she's part Quarter Horse.  Just the way her hip is put together reminds me of some HUS horses I've met.  They're 7/8's TB, but still registered as Appendix Quarter Horses.  She is a bit downhill, and the way that neck ties into her shoulders . . .

So, if anyone's got a Niedersuss Symphonie lying around, it looks like I'm in the market.  17 1/2 seat, medium tree, petite flaps (that's so damn embarrassing).  The old Passier is being sold off.  Damn that mare and her expensive (but really good) tastes.  I'm probably going to have to buy this saddle new to get the petite flap.  I'm currently without any saddles with the only one that fits her being repaired and am having to beg/borrow/steal for lessons.  I have a ride/critique/ride this Sunday for my First Level 3 test.  I'll be stealing my friend’s Toulouse for that ride.  I also suspect I'll be doing a lot of bareback work.  It should be good for me.  I got a book by Mary Wanless as a gift and I'm really hoping to improve my position this winter.  The lack of a saddle should help me on my way.

Hey, I'm trying to see the silver lining in all of this.

Monday, November 26, 2012


I've heard a lot of horses being described as 'complicated'.  I was watching one of my rented DVDs that was narrated by Lucinda Green about the top 20 eventing horses up to the mid '90s.  While some were praised as being forgiving, kind, well mannered chaps, there were others that were described as 'complicated'.  It sure wasn't a compliment.  Of course, being complicated is acceptable when they're jumping around Badminton or Burghley. 

I'll never get over the images of Murphy Himself just leaving strides out everywhere with Ian Stark just hanging on for dear life and trying to make any of the steering or brakes work.  I almost feel like I can sympathize some days when my princess decides she's going to do it her way and you need to just shut up and hang on.

Fi is complicated.  I've dodged that title for a long time, but my trainer has been pretty blunt as of late.  Fi is a worrier that will sometimes try so hard that she stresses herself out and just has to mentally check out.  It's not mean or nasty, she just can't handle situations where she doesn't think she's going to get it right.  While she's a saint on the flat with a justified reputation for being a rock steady trail horse, jumps worry her.  Ground poles worry her.  She's got a little switch in her head that flips and she goes from being a sensible, clever mare to being a panicked fire breathing dragon.  This is why she's not really an ammy ride.  She's so nice and calm and sensible until she's not.

Our jumping lesson on Friday was so bad it was all I could do to not cry.  Lunging at fences and bolting afterward, completely refusing to go near the itty bitty bounce, just not at all rideable.  I was ready to just quit and go back to her stall and never put the jumping saddle on her again.  At the end we managed to settle her enough to do a decent round of crossrails, but it was far from a success.  I had no choice but to hit the brakes hard with her just to avoid an accident.  Of course, that stresses her out.  Coming into fences feeling like she can't power up just makes her panic more, but I can't release because she's dangerous like this. 

On Sunday, with the ring all to myself, I decided to try something new.  All the classical stuff sure wasn't working.  Circles and transitions and grids and all the recommended stuff just makes my mare into a shaking, stressed out wreck.  Time to think outside of the box.  On went the hackamore and I loaded up my pockets with treats.  Fiona clearly can handle jumping without me (as seen by jumping out of the dang ring), so let's see what can be done to get her to be calm about jumping with me on board.  I set the fences down to about 10" high verticals. 

I wish there had been a video camera.  This was probably a riot.

I then proceeded to run and jump next to Fiona.  This is why they had to be verticals, so there was enough room for both of us to fit and still have the jump low enough for me to get my chubby human butt over.  The first five or so she would stop dead, confused and unsure just like she is under saddle.  I would just wait on the other side and cluck to her.  When she bravely hopped over, she got a treat.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  I knew when she'd settled because she would trot along next to me, jump, canter about two strides, then stop next to me for her treat.  The best part was that the reins were completely floppy the entire time.  All of that ground work paid off.  Fiona knows she's supposed to stay right with me, shoulder to shoulder.  She knew exactly what she had to do and that she could do it right.  That, and I had cookies.

I ended up running with her through a little course and managed it without falling on my keister.  I was just as proud of that as anything, my ankles aren't exactly the strongest.  I was wheezing by the time I finally got on.  Running in an arena is hard work!  I let Fi trot around for a couple minutes on a loose rein to see what we had to work with.  Some transitions to make sure she was aware it was a hackamore day and then it was time to test the results of my positive reinforcement training.  At the walk, I turned her toward one of the verticals.  I left loops in the reins, didn't put any leg on, but clucked a bit.  She picked up a trot, hopped over the fence, and cantered off calmly.  When I asked her to stop, she halted promptly and reached around for her treat.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

I had one refusal when I turned her to a little oxer.  She didn't expect it, but when represented, she hopped over calmly enough.  She started to key up, but working on something else for awhile helped to bring her back down.  She did give me a flier when I jumped one fence and she locked onto the next.  I didn't want to drag her off so I let her go.  The distance was funky with the fences so little and with her trotting in, so she left a stride out.  Hey, she didn't waver or quit and stopped nicely afterward.  I count that as a win! 

So this may be the answer to the root problem of Fiona getting tense over jumping.  It's been turned into a game, no punishments allowed.  Loose reins so it's her choice to go over and the speed is her choice as well.  I'm just along for the ride and to pick out the jumps.  And hand out the cookies.  This won't work later when the courses are complicated, but I'll never get to the complicated courses if I don't lock this in.  I expect to be at this for at least a month, if not two.  She's got to have it hammered into her little TB brain that this is easy and fun and nothing to worry about.

I'm going to get really fit this winter if I have to spend months running courses with her at the start of my rides.  Should help with the amount of turkey I've been eating.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


I'm getting too old for this falling off thing.  Seriously.

Is this the face of a mare that will spaz, fall over, and take off?
Yes, yes it is.

Fi had a couple days off after her adventures at Equine Affaire.  I had school work and then my husband got rear-ended.  This has us with one car between the two of us and cost me another day at the barn.  With Fi, that pretty much doesn't matter.  She takes days off in stride.

It was cold, brisk, and there was a wound up TB gelding attempting to jump when we went down.  Attempting being the key word, he was taking fliers and bucking and generally being a handful.  Fi was in her hackamore since my goal for the day was to ride with as little hand as possible.  The hackamore usually keeps me out of her mouth.  We warmed up nicely, just the occasional head toss when she was told to move off my left leg.  She demonstrated her little Western jog, maintaining it off of just my seat and legs.  I loved it.

The oopsie moment came when I was going along the rail and the TB jumped the jump right next to us.  He landed and exploded next to Fiona.  Fi exploded alongside him, half-rearing and trying to bomb off.  I rode through it and kicked her on.  As we turned back across the ring, she went off again.  This time, I lost my balance.  It happens to everyone eventually.  I realized I was in a bad spot and decided to bail.  I remember kicking free of my stirrups and trying to grab her mane, but at the same time she started to go up again.

I once had a horse flip over on me.  He reared up and flipped over backwards.  I managed to bail and kick clear, avoiding serious injury, but it's not the kind of thing you forget. 

As soon as she started to go up past a half rear, I went for her mane so I wouldn't pull her over but missed.  It just happened too fast.  I'm pretty sure the hackamore is why she hit the ground next to me.  I let go of the reins but it was too late.  She didn't flip over, but she did lose her balance and we both ended up on the ground.  Fortunately I kicked free with plenty of time, so I just landed next to her.  She went down very softly.  I'm quite sure she was trying to avoid landing on me and she didn't get up until I'd already pushed myself to my knees.

Unfortunately, being Fiona, once on her feet she took off for the barn.  When in doubt, she goes to her safe place.  Now this is where it gets interesting.  There were a couple ways to get out of the ring.  She could:

a) Go through the open gate that was right there
b) Go over the Novice sized coop that was next to the open gate, the one she has jumped many times in lessons
c) Go over the fence that goes around the ring that's about 3'6"

Yeah, she jumped the fence.  Whacked it on the way over, since it was probably the biggest thing she's ever jumped, but she gathered herself up and jumped it surprisingly nicely.  I ran after her, chasing her all the way up to the barn where I found her hanging out with some working students that heard her tearing up from the ring.  Being the princess, she was completely calm and had waited at the entrance of the barn for someone to come get her.

I wheezed over to check out my girl.  Since she fell, we had to go over every inch of her.  We did find where she'd scraped the front of each of her hind fetlocks, probably while leaping out of the ring.  The left was pretty minor, the right was bleeding but shallow.  I was really thankful she had her boots on, so the only damage was below her boots.

I walked her back down to the ring so we could get back to work.  I passed the TB that had been jumping on my way.  The rider said she'd had more than enough excitement for one day.  That made two of us.

I remounted and Fi went back to work like nothing had happened.  That's the princess for you.  Exactly one minute of chaos, followed by going back to work like a little angel.  My trainer commented on the fact that Fiona chose to jump out of the ring, rather than go out the open gate just ten feet over.  We also discussed the fact that she was so organized about it.  We've decided that she'll be doing some free jumping in the future.  If part of the issue is having a rider around, we can work on that.

Fortunately I've got nothing more than a couple sore muscles to show for today's adventure.  Every once in awhile Fiona has to remind me (and everyone else) that there's a reason she's not considered amateur friendly.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Super star

The super star

Signs that your horse may be a super star:

 - She goes out for a quick trail ride in the woods after being ridden only once in the last five days.  During this trail ride, she has a brisk canter around the pond before going back to walking on the buckle.

 - After the trail ride, she heads to the ring to have a nice dressage school while dodging small ponies with their beginner passengers.

 - She is loaded up, alone, and hauled off to the Eastern Exposition Center without a problem.

 - She stays for the night, alone, and the next morning your neighbors comment on how polite and friendly she is.  She eats everything and lays down to sleep.

 - She heads into a small ring set up in the vending area with four horses she doesn't know for a one and a half hour clinic without batting an eyelash.

 - She handles miniature horses (in a tie dye sleazy) being lunged, big horse drawn carriages, reiners, slamming overhead doors, and even some dressage stallions hitting on her with nothing more than the occasional incredulous stare.

That, in summary, was Fi's weekend.  And yes, that means she is a super star.  Our clinic at Equine Affaire was in a rather small ring set up along the side of the vending area.  There were bleachers on two sides, and despite the early time, there were a lot of spectators.  The princess walked into the ring with wide eyes, followed by craning her head every which way, trying to see everything that was going on.  Every time she got a long rein, she would turn her head toward the crowd to check them out.  She was so social that she would stop and reach over the top of the rail to visit with anyone nearby.  I suspect she was checking to see what kind of snacks they had.

The actual clinic was pretty quiet.  Fi was really good, so I was working hard on my position.  I got some good tidbits, specifically around breathing and hip movement, to work on.  I wish we'd been in a typical clinic environment so the clinician didn't have to play to the crowd so much, but I really enjoyed the clinic.  I think it was worth hauling Fi out for, both for the experience and for the work on my position.

Now we can call the 2012 season done.  Out with a bang instead of a whimper.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Welcome back

I wish my horse could speak English.  Even if it was just for five minutes so I could ask her 'what the heck do you want to do with your life?'.  It would be so much easier than trying to interpret her responses to things.

It doesn't help that she's ridiculously complicated.  After my jumping clinic that was a borderline disaster, I was ready to just put the jumping saddle in storage.  What's the point in pushing it?  She doesn't want to do it, it's not fun, why bother?

But I wasn't going to skip the Myopia hunter pace.  No way.  We've gone to that every year that I've had her.  It's like a rite of fall, a last hurrah before hunkering down for winter.  Besides, I could skip the jumps and Fi is always up for a gallop in the woods.

I trotted her over the first fence to see what she thought of it and she seemed a bit surprised.  She wiggled, but popped over.  It was the first actual jump for her in two months.  The second jump she said 'no way'.  A two foot stadium style fence that she could jump with her eyes closed and instead she dove out hard to the left.  I took that as an indicator that this was not to be and just skipped the next couple fences.  At least my non-jumping horse was still good for long gallops in the country side.

Then we took a wrong turn (one of several) and ended up on a part of the hunter pace where there wasn't a gap.  The log jump stretched all the way across.  It wasn't even two foot tall, so I trotted the princess up to it.  Easier to try to jump it than go around.  Cutting out wasn't an option, so I didn't guard against it.  Just pointed and waited.  Lo and behold, she jumped without a wiggle.

And then she jumped the next one.  And the next.  Then she grabbed that damn bit, the ears came up, and some switch in her head flipped.  I knew that feeling, when the entire front end lifted and she started snorting like a run away freight train. 

The princess was back.

Myopia Hunter pace 11-4-12

Jump from the canter?  No problem.  Skinny jump?  No problem.  Beginner novice coop?  No problem.  Brakes?  Eh, a bit of a problem, but that's just business as usual.  I presented her to the fences, gave her a check, then just let her go.  She jumped with her knees to her eyeballs, cracking her back and looking for the next one.  All of a sudden, this was fun for her again.

I kept her to Beginner Novice fences, skipping the Novice sized ones.  I didn't want to over face her, even if she was begging for the chance.  Better to have a really fun experience and get her confidence back.

I don't know yet if this will translate to stadium, as the only one she refused was a stadium style fence, but she's clearly not ready to retire from cross country.  It took a hundred yards to pull her up at the end of the hunter pace.  She was so darn proud of herself, jigging and prancing while I tried to turn in my number. 

It would be so much simpler to retire her, but no.  That was the outing we both needed to keep plugging away at this and keep trying to figure out what she needs.  Because clearly, judging by my aching shoulders and the pictures of her lit up like a Christmas tree, she wants to be an eventer.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Public outing

Yes, they do let this pair of weirdos out in public.  Sometimes.

 For those that don't live in New England, Equine Affaire is a big shopping and clinic extravaganza that goes on from November 8th to the 11th.  It's held in western Massachusetts, specifically Springfield.  I've applied to clinics for the past couple years with no luck.  Same thing this year, I got an e-mail saying that we weren't selected.


But then I got an e-mail yesterday saying that the lineup had changed and they wanted me and Fiona for one of the clinics.  So the princess and I are off to Equine Affaire.

The clinic is with Julie Goodnight, a Natural Horsemanship type trainer, on straightness and willingness and stuff.  It's a long title, but seems very well suited to what Fi and I are working on.  I'm ho-hum overall from what I've been able to dig up on the trainer, but I think this is a good opportunity to work on sitting down.  I don't expect any earth shattering results or even major changes, but it's only $50 for the clinic and the stall and I love taking Fiona out to try new things.  You can learn something from absolutely anyone, and I did learn a lot when I was at a Western Pleasure barn.  I'm open minded.  I've seen enough of Goodnight to know that she's got a good dose of common sense, she's not going to be a danger to me or my horse, and she's not going to pull a Parelli (bonk Fi on the head or something else equally violent).  Natural Horsemanship overall leaves me cold but that's mostly due to the marketing machines that so many of them become.  I tried watching her show, but it was nothing but ad copy.  Even if it's products I use myself, it still made me roll my eyes.

More importantly, I just want to take Fiona to Equine Affaire for the miles.  It's going to be a great experience for her and I don't think crowds around show jumping will ever bother her again after this.  I'm going to keep applying for the more eventing and dressage-centric clinics so getting her used to the hubub is a good idea.  I'm highly motivated by anything that makes the princess more bomb proof.  Is this the best reasoning for attending a clinic?  Probably not, but it's a good enough reason for me. 

So now I'm organizing a trailer ride and a dog sitter so I can scoot off to Springfield for a weekend with my girl.  If she's being good, I'll wear my jacket with the barn logo across the back.  If she's being a puke?  We'll just leave that in the car.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


No, not me.  At least not in this particular thread.  I'll rant about my fitness another day.  This rant is about Fi.  Yes, the princess is chubby. 

Somehow, chubby and Thoroughbred just doesn't seem to go together.

I was looking at my mare while tacking her up and just stopped to stare.  Wait a minute, she's always had a broodmare belly but it's not usually quite that . . . large.  My mare has put on weight.  Not a shocker, as she spent a month in very light work while we sorted out her soreness issues.  Even now with being back in regular work, it's not galloping, cross country, competing kind of work.  It's more like 4-5 days a week schools in the ring with cross rails and usually one hack a week for 1-2 hours.  She hasn't been galloping since she got sick and it shows.

The trainer cut back on her grain and we're organizing some additional rides for her.  It's been a rough quarter at work so I'm doing all sorts of extra meetings.  I'm also a half time grad student.  Between the two, it's hard to make sure she gets work six days a week like she's used to with two riders.  No one's stepped up quite like her junior rider from the summer, but there are always teenagers at the barn that are looking for extra time in the saddle.  Fi is a gentle, well schooled horse on the flat so it's easy enough to find her a ride here and there.  She's a vintage that only very particular people enjoy for more than a catch ride.

I miss her junior rider.  I really, really do.

Fall is in the air and the horses are all feeling a bit rowdy.  The ring is also crowded since the sun is down by 6pm these days.  Everyone has to pile in during the few hours between school/work and sunset.  It's a bit of an ugly combination.  There's a horse at the barn that has decided that he hates Fiona.  No, scratch that, detests her.  It doesn't make any sense since they're not stabled near each other, have never trailered together, and have never been turned out near each other.  For whatever reason, this gelding that is usually perfectly friendly flattens his ears and bares his teeth at the princess.  He also actively lunges and will go out of his way to go after her.  Fiona ignores him completely unless he gets too close, then she gets worried.  She gets the stressed ear set and tightness around the eyes.  I think that's a totally valid response.  I've started avoiding the horse like the plague, leaving at least a quarter of the ring between them.

We think she turned him down for the prom.  That's our only guess for why he hates her.  He asked the head cheerleader out and she shot him down.  You know Fi is the head cheerleader.  Pretty, athletic, and she will cut you if you annoy her.

It's a lot of fun to go through the barn and assign them stereotypical high school roles.  Try it some time, it's a riot.  Fi is the head cheerleader, Dorkzilla is on the football team (offensive line), and the hater is the head of the chess club.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Fi and I are in the November issue of Dressage Today!  I submitted a picture for their monthly photo clinic and when I opened my issue today, I saw a very familiar picture.

It took me a couple tries to actually read what was written.  I was so nervous!  The feedback on Fiona was nothing but positive.  A happy, organized, well balanced horse and she had no criticism for her at this level.  Yay!

And then there's me.  Sigh.

Is it bad they can tell I'm holding my breath in a still photo?  The summary is that I need to breathe and sit down.  At least it wasn't a shock to me, as I've been working on that.  Hearing that I should shorten my stirrups was a surprise.  I always feel like I keep my legs too short, but then again, I look like I'm reaching for my stirrups.  Hm.

But either way, we're celebrities!  Of a sort.  And my mare looks fabulous, that's all that counts.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Road rage

Little known fact.  I drive a Toyota Yaris two-door hatchback.  This is a sub-compact speck of a car.  Tiniest turning radius I could find, and I can parallel park anywhere.  I have also crammed eight people in it, including five teenagers in the backseat with two dogs (one with gas), but that's off topic.

Another little known fact:  I suffer from road rage.

If you are ever in the New England area and see a little white car with angry music blaring, a ticked off petite woman cussing at the wheel, and stickers for both the USEA and USDF in the back window, it's probably me.

How is this related to a horse blog?  Wait for it . . .

The seasons are changing.  The leaves are falling, the temperatures are dropping, and the sun is setting earlier and earlier.  These days, we're done riding by 6:30pm at the latest.  Darn these seasonal changes.

At the same time that daylight is becoming a scarce commodity, the state of Massachusetts decided to start construction on 3 North.  This is my typical route to the barn and is the only realistic way to get there in under an hour.  With the construction, if I hit rush hour, it takes over an hour to get to the barn.

Now you're seeing where this is going.  Full time job, half time school, sudden increase in drive time just as daylight is cutting back . . . Let's just say that I've managed to keep riding enough for Fiona to know who I am, but my manager isn't always thrilled.  The downside is that I'm usually wound up tighter than a top.  Blaring angry music and yelling along usually helps (Limp Bizkit, Korn, Disturbed, and a bit of Mindless Self Indulgence, for those that are curious).  But any amount of tension is a bad idea when dealing with a thoroughbred in fall that isn't getting the amount of work she's used to.

Fi has gracefully accepted being let down from her competition fitness, for the most part.  She's always such a lady, even when she gets extended time off.  It really is one of her best features.  We've made progress with her jumping, all the way up to trotting cross rail courses calmly and politely.  She's certainly not trying to cut out.  We're taking this as a chance to really rebuild and teach her to calmly and politely jump.  No bombing off afterwards or beforehand allowed.  She seems much more comfortable after her injections.  She still has the occasional bad step on the left hind, but I don't think that will ever go away.

Next week we have a private lesson with my trainer's trainer.  The jury is still out as to whether it will be a jumping or flat lesson.  I'm leaning toward flat, since it seems a waste to have a private to trot over cross rails.  We'll see.  Fi and I had a really lovely flat ride today, including her stepping into a canter from the walk and carrying herself in a very balanced way.  After I worked her down.

Got to love TB mares in fall.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Baby steps

It's hard to keep things in perspective.  It's easy to think in absolutes, but hard to stay within uncertainty.  It's simple to say 'Fi doesn't want to be an eventer anymore', but much harder to say that she's one hell of a nice eventer, but she has an issue right now that might or might not be fixable.

Yet again, Fi had a visit from the vet today.  It's become a weekly thing while we try to pick through the issues she's picked up.  I keep telling her, if she would just open her trap and tell us where she hurts, this would all be so much simpler.  Or even if she would just show us where she hurts rather than being so stoic. 

I have to mention here that I love my vet.  She's so darn patient with all of this.  Fi is a puzzle, not only to trainers but to vets.  My vet has been watching her on the ground and under saddle for weeks now, slowly piecing the bits together.  I was able to be there today and be the one in the saddle while she was evaluated yet again.

The princess did give us a pretty useful clue this time.  I had to give her four days off due to it being the end of the quarter for work and my first week of classes for the fall quarter.  That meant that her back was feeling pretty darn spiffy.  When I rode her, there was a definite stickiness to the left hind.  After her ride, her back was more reactive.

Ah ha!

The vet got out the ultrasound and I darn near passed out.  I've never seen that thing without it being bad news.  Like career ending bad news.  And then the vet said 'ah!' while looking at the images.  Oh, Goddess help me.  Save me from vets saying 'ah!'.  In this case, it was okay.  Her stifles weren't particularly swollen and all she saw was some remodeling on the left that suggested she'd had some instability in the past.  I already knew that, since her left stifle was the one that slipped when she was out of work and weak.  The vet said that everything looked fine to her, just some jewellery that wasn't unexpected, and we moved on to injecting her hocks and left stifle to make her more comfortable.  I was so darn relieved to see that ultrasound leave without any horrifying prognosis that I had to lean on Fi for a moment.  But just for a moment, because the princess had to be sedated for her injections.  My girl is such an absolute wimp with sedatives.

I seriously thought she was going to fall down.  At least her reputation proceeded her and she got less than the standard dose for her size.  That white thing at her chin was a towel stuffed in her halter as padding while she leaned on the cross ties.  We flipped the clasps over to make her more comfortable and to make sure they held her up.

So she gets a couple days off and some cold hosing.  Then we'll see.  Her Lyme titter came back negative (again) so it's not that.  My vet really feels that she's got a bilateral issue behind, more left than right, and that her back issues won't sort out until she feels she can really push from behind and use herself properly.  With the remodeling found, I think we're on the right track now.

What does that mean?  I don't even know any more.  She's jumping cross rails again with confidence and enthusiasm now that the vet has her back pain under control, so at least some jumping is probably in her future.  If we can root out the actual cause, it's quite possible she'll be back at Novice next summer.  My vet and trainer are both optimistic for that, so I'm trying to follow suit.  This winter will be focused on getting her show ring ready for First Level 3 and getting us started on Second Level dressage.  If she decides she still wants to be an eventer, then we'll head back out at Novice.  I hope she decides to be an eventer again, but it's up to her.  She's too nice of a horse to ruin by forcing her into a discipline she doesn't enjoy.

For now, we just have to wait and see if this new tactic will make her comfortable and if she'll want to jump again.  

I hate waiting.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The role of history

I have a membership with  I love it.  I get to see so many videos of competitions and clinics.  Many a night finds me glued to the tv, trying to learn even more about riding.

I watch a wide variety of videos.  My first choice is, of course, eventing competitions.  A close second is dressage competitions.  I also watch clinics from dressage, eventing, jumpers, trail riding, and even equitation.  Tonight I had two videos to watch.  The first was Mary King's video on enjoying cross country.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  She only uses one stud per foot on lower level horses.  Huh.  I'll keep that in mind the next time I'm running late and feeling frantic.

My second was Frank Madden's Fundamentals for Rideability.  I haven't really watched an equitation video in awhile.  I've really been focusing on finding tips for improving my dressage performance, not on looking spiffy.  However, equitation courses are far more challenging than any other discipline and getting Fiona as rideable as an equitation horse would guarantee she could handle any course she'd come across as an eventer.

I'm watching these two equitation riders and all I can think is 'that's the problem'.  I'm one of them still.  You see pictures of me in dressage and I have that break at the hip and my hands are too low and forward.  I'm not correct and I get nailed on my position scores regularly.  I'm watching these equitation riders and seeing the exact same thing being praised.  I spent twenty years locking my body into that position.  I can sit the canter and trot just fine like this and be an effective rider.  It's just incorrect for my new discipline.

It took me twenty years to get that little break in the hip and to get my hands low and quiet.  Now I'm relearning, lifting my hands and rocking my upper body back.  It's slow, painful going.  Just today I got chastised for moving my body too much over a cross rail (yes, Fi dragged me over a cross rail, I was ecstatic!).  My trainers spent years teaching me to close with a big release, now I'm having to reprogram everything.  Now I have to stay back and use my automatic release.  I'm going to get hurt if I don't stay back on cross country, to say nothing about making my mare crazy with all of that extra movement.  I'm sure my trainer is frustrated, saying the same things to me over and over again.  We're coming up on three years together and she's still trying to get me to sit back.

I'm doing better.  You can see it in photos, my upper body is coming back and my legs are coming down.  I just need to figure out how to sit down in the saddle like a dressage rider. My frickin' seat bones never seem to be in the right place. Right now, I genuinely don't know how to sit like a dressage rider.  I feel out of balance most of the time, trying to find that safe, secure place that I used to have.  I'm very much in balance in my hunter position, but it's not suited for dressage or cross country.  It's almost terrifying making this change.  I find myself clamping onto the saddle and locking up.  If I get stressed or flustered, I revert to my old position to feel more secure.

It's just a phase.  I know it is.  I'll probably never be a stunning, classical dressage rider.  My childhood riding will always influence my position.  I can, however, be a pretty good adult amateur dressage rider.  Eventually I will learn where to put my seat bones and my body will learn to be comfortable in this new position.  I just have to be patient.

In the meantime, it's a balm to my pride that I still have a pretty spiffy equitation position.  Too bad there are no style points in eventing.  Sometimes I miss the hunters and equitation.  Maybe I should take Fi to a hunter/jumper show and play in the equitation ring . . .

Yeah . . .

Probably not the best idea.  I can only imagine what the judges would think of the princess and her excessive enthusiasm. 

Monday, September 24, 2012


She certainly doesn't look like a horse with a whole host of issues.

Another visit with the vet uncovered more issues.  In the two weeks since her last visit, she has somehow added heel pain in the front feet to the mess and her back pain was upgraded from moderate to severe.  To which I say 'NOW WHAT?!?!'.

The front feet should be easily adjusted by my farrier tomorrow.  We may have to have her shod more frequently because she grows hoof just as fast as she grows hair and she's prone to low heels to begin with.  Of course the princess isn't content with a six week schedule, she requires extra special care. 

As to the back pain?  My only guess is that she hates the new pad I got her specifically to give her more wither relief.  Of course.  That's the only tack change she's had in the last two weeks.  So off with the new pad and back with the old sheepskin pad.  That'll teach me to mess with what's not broken.

Her joint injections were rescheduled while the new issues are dealt with.  This week is new shoes, Robaxin, and light work.  Assuming the new things are settled, the injections will go next and hopefully we'll make some headway into getting her comfortable.

Everyone just stares when Fiona is trotting around the ring.  She looks completely normal, sound as a bell.  Her expression is chill, her ears are floppy, and she's eager to get to work.  When I curry her along her back, where she's marked as being in severe pain, she leans into it and groans with her lip twitching.  She's going to fall down one day from the way that she enjoys currying along her back.  For all intents and purposes, she looks like a comfortable, happy little equine.  She's just that stoic.

A few weeks after I bought her and put her back into work, I found a splint on the inside of her right front.  A hot, obviously new splint.  She never took a bad step or acted like she was hurt in any way.  The vet and trainer ask me how she feels when I ride her and it's hard to answer.  She feels awesome.  It's very delicate work to pick out where she's sore or when she's less than eager. 

That's the confusion around her.  She looks completely normal, then refuses a fence.  People assume she's just 'being a mare', but it's not that.  It hurts enough that she doesn't want to do it.  Considering how stoic she is, she's clearly experiencing quite a bit of pain with jumping.  Of course, since she hides it, it's very hard to track down just what is going on.  We pulled a Lyme titter, just to be sure.  Nothing is making sense right now, so that makes everyone think of Lyme.

I just want her to feel better.  It's been a rough couple of months for both of us.  At least I still have a mare that loves her job and is comfortable doing it, so long as there's no jumping.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


How could anyone be angry with a face like this?
Fi heading out to GMHA, photo courtesy of Mom
Time heals all wounds.  And puts all things in perspective.  This is not an end of days or cataclysmic event.  We had a W at one sanctioned event.  Could be worse.  Could be an E.  Or a TE.  Or even an RF.
What is it about the USEA and acronyms?  Reminds me of IBM.  I spent quite a bit of time at the beginning of my introduction to this sport just trying to figure out what any of those letters meant.  So long as I don't get a DR, I'm happy.  I'd be very embarrassed to get a DR when it was probably the princess's idea, anyway.  On cross country, it's not exactly an equal partnership.
 My mare is happy, sound, and working.  So she's got a hang up about jumping right now.  Big deal.  She's had one heck of an awesome season and closing it out early is far from a disaster.   The vet is out tomorrow to address the most likely issue and we'll spend the winter slowly rebuilding confidence.  The worst case scenario is that I own a very lovely and talented dressage/trail horse.  There are people that would give their right arm for that.

My dressage horse in action at GMHA, photo courtesy of Mom
This mare is going to get a bronze medal one day, you just wait and see.  She's a traffic stopper already.  Literally.  There was a little traffic snarl at GMHA when a truck passing by Fi stopped to check her out.  She was just power walking along with me in tow, neck stretched out and ears pricked.  She just oozes athletic ability and the eventers really appreciate that.   I always feel so proud to be associated with her.  Everyone's too busy admiring her to notice me wheezing along as I try to keep up.
When Fi was sick, all I wanted was for her to get better.  She's better now.  I had a lovely ride with her today, working on her balanced canter and reintroducing walking over poles.  I can't complain when I have a sound mare with a solid work ethic. Something went wrong and the blame doesn't belong on Fiona.  It has to lie with me as the controlling member in the relationship.  I will do what I can to fix it, but the princess is in no danger of going anywhere.  She's my girl and that will not change.
The trainer has been nothing but supportive and optimistic.  She is not ready to give up on the princess as an eventer, and therefore, neither am I.  She's got us on a program of ground poles and cross rails to gradually rebuild confidence and comfort.  In the meantime, I'm going to go help coach/groom/child wrangle at a local schooling show.  My trainer has fifteen students going to a local schooling show, and I (in a moment of delusion and possible masochism) offered to help out.  I will be spending my Sunday doing hair and tossing kids onto ponies.  Hopefully I will manage to get through the leadline division without falling on my face.  Yes, it has happened before.
I always hope that one day these riders will look back and remember the show as something they enjoyed and took pride in.  I want them to see it through rose coloured glasses.  Hopefully they won't notice that the instructors are frazzled, punch drunk, and planning to really drink as soon as the activity is over.  I prefer the glossed over, childhood view of events.  In those views, I'm someone cool and together.  They never seem to remember the manure on my shirt, the hay in my hair, or the bite mark from the bratty pony I'm trying to wrangle.  

I'm way cooler in the eyes of my students then in reality.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Full stop

I've been quiet for the last couple weeks while I dealt with what amounts to an eventing disaster.  An eventer that doesn't jump isn't much of an eventer, after all.

Despite several private lessons and a visit from the vet, no solution was found.  Fiona just comes out and some days, she doesn't want to jump anymore.  When we went to GMHA, I knew we only have a 50/50 chance of us even completing.  She had one good jumping lesson and one bad one.  The bad one was bad enough that I fell off of Fiona for the first time.  No, I wasn't hurt.  It was a controlled fall after she jumped flat and took a rail, followed by stumbling over the rail and lurching me out of the saddle.  However, it didn't really help my confidence when I needed to go around at Novice the next day.

In the jumping warm up at GMHA, we both melted down.  Fi wouldn't jump and I couldn't manage her refusals combined with a crowded warm up.  Since I couldn't get over the warm up fences, I withdrew before stadium even started for us.  Our weekend ended with dressage.

My trainer said Fiona looked afraid in the warm up.  I agreed, with her taking off like a bat out of hell and refusing fences.  The mare that knew no fear is now petrified.

So now what?  The pros, the vet, everyone is scratching their heads and trying to figure out how one of the most consistent jumpers in the barn suddenly stops jumping.  If only she could talk and tell us what is wrong.

The current plan is simple:  no more jumping.  Fi has been scratched from her remaining shows this season.  For the next month, she will jump nothing.  No hunter paces, no jumping lessons, nothing.  She will have her stifle and hocks injected to rule out the only possible cause of pain that we've found.  Her vision will be checked and we'll do a basic neurological screening.  She's also on Adequan now.  After a month, so long as everything checks out, we start over with cross rails.  As of right now, I'm not planning to take her to South Carolina in the winter or do anything involving jumping off of the property until May of 2013 at the earliest. 

She's comfortable and happy in her dressage.  She's been getting the best scores she's ever gotten.  I had planned on focusing on our flatwork this winter.  Looks like I'll be focusing on it more than I'd planned.  Second level, here we come.

Everyone is telling me not to give up.  Fiona still has a desire to jump, as evidenced by some solid rides at lower heights.  She still wants to get out there and gallop.  I want to believe that there is something we can fix and bring back my mare that loved her job so much.  But if she's truly done, so be it.  I've always said that I'd be a dressage rider when I grew up.  It may just happen a bit ahead of schedule.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Houston, we've got a problem

It actually took me a couple days to write this up.  Emotions can be such a nuisance. 

On Monday, Fiona and I went out to the Scarlet Apple Horse Trials, a schooling show sponsored by my barn and held at Scarlet Hill Farm.  The princess has been to this facility many times, both for schooling and for events.  It's an absolutely gorgeous facility and has the kind of cross country course than many sanctioned events wish they had.  Big hills and well built jumps from elementary to preliminary. 

Since Fi was sick, we entered at Novice.  With the stadium and cross country untimed, I figured this would be a nice, quiet day out and a confidence booster for the both of us.  Our dressage was the best we've done to date, scoring a 30.9.  It was calm and accurate.  A little more forward and we might even rival Dorkzilla one day.

But the jumping . . .

Something just went horribly wrong.  I jumped three fences in the warm up and they went well.  I did knock a rail on that last oxer before going in, but Fiona seemed calm and with me.  She lit up in the arena, but that's normal.  She hit a rail on the first fence, but then at the second?  She stopped dead.  I represented, and she stopped again.  Stopped a third time.  It took four tries to get her over.  We made it over fences 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7, but 8 was a two stride and she quit on me again.  I raised my hand and retired.  I was badly rattled, but my trainer wanted me to go on to cross country since that's Fi's strength.  Since we weren't dangerous, we were given the go-ahead.

Fence 1 was okay.  Fence 2 she took off long and I was left behind a bit.  Fence 3, 4, 5, and 6 all had stops.  7 and 8 were fine, but when she stopped at 9, I retired.  We could not find a groove and the mare was not happy.  Our gallops between fences were rough and her approaches were frantic.  Neither of us were enjoying ourselves and we went back to the trailer.  I was absolutely devastated.  It didn't help that everyone had seen Fi with her junior rider tearing around at Novice just a month ago at the same site and kept bringing that up.

So what the heck happened?  No one knows.  She's not lame or acting sore anywhere (she got an 8 in her canter in the dressage), her warm up fences were nice.  It's like hitting the rail rattled her, and then her confidence just left when stadium got rough.  Fiona usually drags me over fences, not the other way around.

I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt and having the vet out to check her over.  A physical explanation would make sense when the mare that doesn't have a stop in her suddenly won't jump anything.  If the vet can't find anything, we'll move on to the next most likely answer:  Fi has lost her nerve.  She has always had very fragile confidence and the time off may have affected her more than we thought.

For now she's only working on the flat.  Once the vet has seen her, we'll figure out future plans.  Of course, GMHA is less than two weeks away, so there's a big question mark around that event.  Will we go?  Will we move down to BN?  Right now, I don't know.

I just keep reminding myself, we have to experience the lows to appreciate the highs.  Because this is a pretty lousy low.