Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Part of the fun with horses is the amazing variety they come in. Bucky and Dodger were both adorable ponies that I probably could have mounted from the ground.

My most recent date was with something just a little bit different.

Dorkzilla, the princess's boyfriend, is up next for a two week rotation. Going from two ponies to the 17h+ Hanoverian was a bit of a shock. Especially when it came time to mount. Geeze Louise, my foot has no business having to be lifted that high in the air just to get on the horse! Once I was up there I became aware of how far away the ground was now. Falling off is very low on my list of priorities when Mother Earth is a distant, hazy sight.

Yes, I know he's just a hand taller than the princess, but four inches is a lot! And he's three hands taller than the ponies!

The same way Dodger made me look good over fences, Champ made me look good on the flat. Really, when a horse has that much suspension you just have to sit there and smile. However, like Dodger, just sitting there and smiling isn't really my style. Dorkzilla knows a lot of dressage, having started out his life in a pure dressage barn, so I took full advantage of it. I practiced my sitting trot, getting him light and balanced, pushing random buttons to see what he'd do. My half passe needs some work, but that's not much of a surprise since I haven't done that in about six years. Champ couldn't be any more different from Fiona if he tried. He's big, he's generally mellow, and you wear spurs and carry a whip so that you can walk at the end of your lesson. While the princess pops up in the front, Dorkzilla likes to go down in front.

We had a great lesson, but it took four days for my abs to stop hurting. That boy takes some serious core strength, especially when you're sitting the trot and asking for collection. Who needs situps when you've got giant Hanoverians?

Fiona has her first sanctioned horse trial with my trainer this weekend. I'm going to have live scores on my phone and check it obsessively while I'm out of the house. I have my fingers crossed for a good first outing!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Monday, January 23, 2012

Almost Perfect Ponies

Yet again, I had the picture of pony perfection as my partner for a lesson. And even better, it was a jumping lesson. I don't care who you are or how long you've been riding, there is something about riding a horse where all you have to do is point, keep your leg steady, and don't move that just makes you look good.

Dodger made me look good. Add in strides on a line? Sure! Heck, let's add two, just to be sure. Take those strides out? No problem. That pony can stride just like a horse when the mood takes him. Height? Pffft. This pony wins knock-down-and-out classes against the best eventers in the barn, to say nothing about his habit of jumping out of pens from a standstill. Riding Dodger over fences was an exercise in letting the horse take care of things, because in the end, he knew his job far better than I did. My instructions for the night were to not micromanage him, because unlike certain chestnut Thoroughbred mares, he knows exactly what he's doing. It felt simply amazing. Set him up in the corners so you have the right canter and then just get out of the old man's way.

I think I made up for our dressage lesson. He certainly wasn't mad at me after the jumping lesson. We only had one fence where I thought he should go long and he thought he should chip, so I was a little out of place. I had to laugh, because he'd lulled me into thinking that no matter what I did I'd look perfect. At least he's sweet enough to not set me in a fence for being dumb.

But even the most perfect ponies have their vices. For example, here is Dodger after our lesson.

That splash of silver? Duct tape. Dear old Dodge is hard on his blankets. Very hard. This blanket was flawless last week, but now? I think the old man was involved in some of the shenanigans in the gelding field. Those boys are always playing rough, and it's usually the blankets that pay the price.

He's also camera shy.


Nuh uh.

Okay, a little bribery got us somewhere, but you know a pony's too smart when they know how to use lighting against you.

I got an update on the Princess, and she's off to a schooling show on Wednesday. It got rained out on Sunday. Her first two-phase of the season! It sounds like my trainer is enjoying her and she even said that they're getting along over fences. Reports are that she's been a machine on the hacks and is in general being a pleasure to ride. She calls for her new boyfriend, but that seems to be the only way she's acting up. I can't wait to hear how the trainer does with her at the two-phase! Her first sanctioned trial is Feb 4th. Practically around the corner already. I think I have another opening date coming up . . .

Damn, time to check the schedule.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


A long, long time ago (or so it seems to me), I had a horse named Allen.

I loved every hair on that horse. From his scarred face to his very expensively shod hooves, I adored him. As far as I was concerned, he was perfection. He was black bay and had no white, seventeen hands tall, and all Thoroughbred. He was too big for me and too strong for me, to be honest, but that didn't matter. I loved him from the day I saw him to the day I lost him.

Like all horses in my life, he just kind of showed up. My trainer at the time pulled him from the kill pen, thinking he'd make it as a school horse. That same weekend the horse I'd been leasing bowed a tendon and was looking at six months off. My trainer joked that she'd bought him for me, and I anxiously wanted to meet this horse. He arrived while I was teaching lessons and some teenagers rode him first. I didn't get to meet him until he was resting in his stall and the first assessments were in. He had all the buttons, was well schooled, but horribly out of shape. He was very skinny, badly cut up, and old. Mostly old.

I want to say that I saw a future show horse, or that I knew he was going to come back to being an awesome jumper, but I didn't. I saw some of the saddest eyes I'd ever seen. Just sad eyes that wondered what he'd done to end up like this. Skinny, cut up, and wondering when he was going back on the trailer. I fell in love with him standing in his stall. He had three cuts running across his face that were infected and earned him the nickname Scarface. He was clearly someone's show horse, he knew everything right up to half passe. In hindsight, he was someone's eventer. At the time I couldn't figure out why anyone would clip his tail along the tailbone, it took me forever to grow that out. Knowing what I do now, he was someone's event partner, at least at preliminary considering his dressage knowledge and jumping skills.

None of that mattered. I loved him. I renamed him Al, for Al Pacino in Scarface. That evolved to Allen when he needed a full name for being naughty. When he started getting the food he needed and started to get his energy back, it was apparent that he wasn't going to make it as a school horse. He had the alarming habit of taking off or bucking when beginners made mistakes. Hell, he took off with me on a regular basis, but I still loved him. He never scared me. When it came time for him to get expensive shoes to make him comfortable, someone had to buy them since he wasn't going to be a school horse. I declared that I would buy him and his shoes, even though we never thought he'd jump higher than 2'3" and would never make it to a show. I couldn't let him go back to auction, I knew what would happen. I named him All In Good Time.

This is what he became.

He became my open jumper, my equitation partner, and my teacher. He taught me how to ride a Thoroughbred, how to laugh when I'm being taken off with, and how to accept being dumped in an oxer as 'well, I done screwed up' rather than 'stupid horse'. I took that kill pen horse to the New England Equitation Championships and rode him in the coliseum. It was the highlight of our time together.

He was sixteen when I got him, and at nineteen, he was ready to retire. He was probably ready to retire at sixteen, but he gave me a couple years because that was the kind of horse he was. He retired not long after I found out that he was the Open Jumper champion for the year. His navicular finally caught up with him. He was retired to pasture and spent several years in the high demand position of babysitting Thoroughbred mares that were being let down from race track life. He got fat and shaggy, living in a pasture with his mares and bare feet. He was put down when he broke his leg in a freak accident after four years of retirement.

While going through DVDs recently, I found the video clips of us together. It's still hard for me to watch these, remembering the first horse I ever owned. But at least I have these reminders of him, and everything he taught me Fiona is benefiting from. I couldn't have handled her without the lessons he taught me. As electric as she can be, she was nothing on the Hellbeast.

Here's to the old, arthritic, sometimes grumpy schoolmasters in the world. May they all be happily retired to a harem of mares.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Pony parade continues

There's a lot to be said for school masters. The old warriors that many of us learned on, that ignored our mistakes and carefully got us through those early courses or dropped us on our heads when we deserved it. That is part of the learning process, after all. Actions and consequences, or in the case of riding, continue to duck at fences and you will be eating dirt.

Eventually we graduate to more complicated rides, the ones that won't ignore us being stupid or who don't know just what it is we're asking. I've been riding one of those 'complicated' rides for awhile, so I thought that hopping onto a school pony would be a breeze.


Dear old Dodger. He's the kind of pony most instructors will give their right arm for, and possibly a portion of their left. He's the perfect size, small enough for kids to feel safe but big enough to take a small adult. At 19, he's got most of the kicks and quirks worked out. He's cute enough to go to the sanctioned shows but not such a big mover that a beginner is bounced out of the tack. Point him at a fence, get out of the way, and you'll get over it. It might not be pretty, but he doesn't have a dirty bone in his body. He is the picture of a schoolmaster and is a novice level packer extraordinaire. This shrine of pony perfection was my mount for my dressage lesson.

Dodger, strutting his stuff at the Novice 3 Day

Hopping onto a pony that's forgotten more about cross country than I've seen set me thinking that this would be a good lesson to focus on me. Clearly Dodge doesn't need any work. I'd forgotten what it's like to ride a real school horse. They constantly have different riders on them, and while Dodger is reserved for riders that are jumping and riding independently, mistakes are far more common. Once he was a bit warmed up by trotting on a long rein, I picked up a contact and tried to press him onto my outside rein. Little pony's ears started flipping about and he easily went into a little frame. He looked quite adorable, but he felt strung out. When I increased the feel, he put his nose to his chest. Mind, he goes in a loose ring snaffe. So I eased off and he went back to the little frame that he does so well. The message was clear:

You keep out of my way, I'll keep out of yours, and we'll get along beautifully.

Poor pony. No one told him I'm a control freak. When my instructor asked how that felt, I replied with 'he's faking it!'. But he's such a good faker, and I can totally understand why he does. Kids first learning about 'on the bit' aren't going to be that accurate about it. I spent the rest of the lesson trying to convince Dodger to not duck and hide from my hands. I promise, they're well educated and I won't use the reins to prevent me from falling off!

It was a demanding lesson for both of us. We were both quite winded by the end, and I felt a bit bad. Come the next day, Dodger will go back to carting about a variety of students and the false frame is a nice setting for that job. It's good for him to get tuned up, especially since part of his job is moving kids up the ranks, but it has to be a bit confusing. Sometimes I wonder, is it easier for a school pony to be ridden by someone more experienced? They expect such different things and ask in such different ways. They tend to be much more demanding.

But in exchange, experienced riders are more balanced, quiet, and aware of their horses. And we know how to really rub a pony down. Dodger looked like he was in heaven when I attacked his sweaty, itchy self after the lesson. Little girls are cute, but it takes an adult woman to really curry a blanket clipped pony. That and a handful of fancy treats (don't tell the princess) ensured that my schoolmaster won't mind giving me another lesson if he comes up again on the rotation.

I love ponies.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Adventures in Aiken

Sometimes it's better if I don't even try to explain a drawing. Let's just say there was Facebook, an interesting use of the term 'body shave', and some amaretto involved.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The School Pony Tour

With Fiona safely installed in her paddock in Aiken (and proving to be a pain to catch), I find myself in a role that I had for many, many years of my riding: catch riding. If it's got four legs and a tail, I'll ride it. It makes it easy for people to find me partners and keeps me from becoming a Fiona specialist.

This week, my ride was Buck.

Buck (or Bucky, as I refer to him) is an absolutely adorable buckskin pony. I theorize that he's a Welsh pony, but I haven't really bothered to investigate. He's about 14h, maybe an inch taller, but definitely all pony. He has the most adorable expression. You go to visit him and you are greeted with two big, dark eyes and two pricked up ears with an expression of 'hey, how're you, what we gonna do?'.

He's a little out of shape, so the cheerful eagerness quickly falls away to lazy pony syndrome. He was not amused when I informed him I don't kick, I go for the crop. Damn it, that was like work! Where were the little girls that adored him and gave him treats and let him just trot? But I stayed out of his face and he enjoyed popping over cross rails. Our trainer popped the fences up, probably 2'3" range, and he hopped about the course. After each line he'd flip his ears back and falter like 'are we done?', I'd give him a kick, and we'd canter on to the next line.

We didn't do much, since he was just getting back into shape, but what a change of scenery. For one, much closer to the ground. For two, much wider. My hips did not appreciate that! Also kicking while jumping. I can't remember the last time I had to encourage a horse toward a fence as opposed to 'whoa, damn it, it's two feet tall!'. Well, I can remember the last time, that was the horse I was leasing before I got Fiona. Over a year ago.

I had a fabulous lesson, and got razzed heavily for the fact that I fit the pony just fine and dandy. I don't look silly riding large ponies, they take my leg up just fine. It's not something I'm proud of, but it's very convenient. I love ponies.

But I miss my mare.

We'll see who I ride next week. I'll be doing some catch riding on the princess's best friend to help me stay in shape, which is also a completely different ride. This winter will be good for me, I think. If nothing else, I'll get to take the grand school pony tour.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Parting is such sweet, sweet sorrow

Is this how parents feel the first time their kid leaves for an overnight camp?

The princess and the baby boy, loaded up for their road trip.

I know this is good for her. I know she'll have fun. I know she's going to get fit and play in the sun. I know she's going to learn a lot and make new friends and that this is so much better for her than sitting around watching tv and eating potato chips all summer . . .

Okay, might be channeling the parent angle a bit too much there.

As much as I know that this is good for her, I still had the overwhelming urge to whip her off the trailer and hustle her back into her stall. Sure, it's nothing but ice on top of mud here, and the sun sets before I can show up most days, and her turn out is really limited, but it would be better if she stayed here where I can see her and know that she's getting the kinds of treats she likes and she can have her coffee the way she likes and we can go out for trail rides together on the weekends and she can terrorize everyone with her jumping in the indoor, right? Right?!

. . .

Fiona shipped off to Aiken today. Without me. It was incredibly difficult to stand in the driveway and watch the trailer drive off with my girl on board.

Mr. and Mrs. Trainer, probably checking to make sure I didn't try to smuggle myself away in the trailer.

All of her goodies have been packed, including every blanket she owns, both bridles, her jumping saddle, and the entire bit collection. My trainer has a new prospect that also has a tiny mouth, so I sent my collection for her to use with both of them, rather than both of us collecting pony sized bits that overlap.

Now? I'm bereft, relegated to the role of owner instead of rider. I've already sent in my first entry form with my trainer listed as the rider, and that was weird. Fiona will be doing four sanctioned events while she's in Aiken with my trainer in the saddle. I've never sent a horse out for training or had someone show a horse for me. so this is all new. Just when I was getting the hang of filling out entries for myself, now I have a new twist. Who knew eventing was so complicated?

The princess figured out she was going on a trip pretty darn quickly today. Does she look just a bit excited?

I'll be fretting and pacing until tomorrow afternoon when the kids are scheduled to arrive safely in Aiken at my trainer's farm. My husband has already resigned himself to having my phone right next to the bed just in case I get an update. Yes, I know I'm a control freak, and I'm okay with that.