Friday, March 23, 2012

Everything I need to know . . .

I learned in eventing camp.

1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

2. Everyone needs a Meghan.

3. Do not trust your GPS. Sometimes, it has no clue where the hell you are, but it will still keep giving you directions until you lose your temper and turn it off. Only to find you knew how to get there, anyway.

4. Waffle Houses are open 24 hours a day. Get your hashbrowns scattered, smothered, covered, and chunked. These are particularly awesome at 10pm after wandering all over Aiken looking for anyplace open for dinner.

5. There is one phrase that is always applicable for you. It is in this list. You will hear it every time you go on cross country.
-- Kick!
-- Slow down!
-- Gallop!
-- Sit up!
-- Sit back!

6. Beer tastes better after a long day in the saddle.

7. Age is just a number. That's true for both people and horses.

8. When out on a field trip, stay in line. The leaders get cross when you wander off.

9. Don't ask what's in your food at a restaurant. Live dangerously, order wildly.

10. You win some . . .

You lose some . . .

But at the end of the day, you always kiss your pony on the nose because they're the best darn pony for you.

Adult Camp 2012 is in the books. Again, I am sunburnt, exhausted, and ready for my own place. Tomorrow I will help my trainer set up a new jump course for her Sunday two-phase, have a last ride on Fiona, and then it's off to the Northern Wilderness known as Massachusetts to go back to my life as a business analyst and graduate student.

I don't want to get back in that truck.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Camp - Day 3 and 4

The Princess doing what she does best at shows.
Eating. And making a huge mess.

It's a constant reminder to myself that eventing isn't about getting somewhere, it's about the journey. It's about all of those little victories along the way that don't mean anything to anyone except yourself.

Wednesday was not a good day at the office. Fiona warmed up beautifully for dressage. She really is a different horse and my compliments go to my trainer for turning the green horse into a finished Novice horse on the flat. However, all of the training in the world doesn't help when I turn into an alien as soon as I'm in front of a judge. I'm perfectly willing to accept the fact that the score had more to do with my tension than anything. We got a 36, which is much improved from our scores last season, but still not what the princess deserved to get. She forgives me, though, which is why I adore her.

Our stadium was pretty much what would be expected after looking at the last video of her that was posted with my trainer in the saddle. We had to trot several sections and we got a rail. My trainer chewed on me a bit for letting her get fast, but it's hard not to in that type of setting. I was feeling very, very low after this. How had we gotten so far and then had the rug yanked out from underneath us? What happened to her being a Novice horse last fall?

Our cross country schooling went well, but one of our riders fell and we had to call an ambulance. Understandably, no one was really in the mood to continue after that. The good news is that she was actually fine, but we didn't know that at the time.

However, there is always tomorrow, and Thursday was much more positive. I had a dressage lesson in the morning, which concentrated on teaching me how to slouch so I can relax and really follow my horse. I knew when I got it right because Fiona would sigh and her neck would suddenly be a foot longer. My bracing is painful for more than one being involved in this partnership. Our cross country schooling was, in some ways, frustrating because again we are having to trot sections. Fiona is banned from doing flying lead changes while jumping until she can learn to behave herself. She has to trot her corners right now. On the other hand, we were doing solid Novice sized fences (some at the trot) and she felt very rideable. A little wild at times, but rateable. We only had one sketchy fence out of the whole ride, so I will take that.

Now it's ridiculously late and I'm off to bed to try to recover for the last day of camp. We are off to Hitchcock Woods, where I'm hoping the princess and I will get a chance to do the whole steeplechase loop. It's good to have goals, even when things are feeling this rocky.

The princess's first event for Area 1 is set for the UNH spring show with my trainer in the irons. I'll be dealing with school, so she can handle the princess for the weekend. Hopefully she can go back to being the rock star rather than the class spaz.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Camp - Day 2

It's the dog days of . . . March
Lily showing us how to keep cool in the heat

Day two is often the hardest of camp. The aches of day one are just starting to sink in and we head right back out for another dose.

Despite all of the little issues currently plauging the partnership, the princess and I are heading out for a schooling show tomorrow. It's just a two-phase, and at Beginner Novice, so it shouldn't be any kind of an issue. So long as we can steer. At least it wouldn't be an issue if I wasn't so darn sore. No horse back home moves quite like Fiona. Especially now when she's fit and really using herself, there's a lot of movement going on across her back, and my back is sore after trying to match her back. Which means I'm now having trouble following, with makes her back stop moving, which means that dressage is not quite where it ought to be.

It's amazing how much muscles can deteriorate over just 2.5 months.

So dressage is a struggle. And we know stadium is a struggle. So what is going right? Galloping! We went to the track today and the princess was a super star. We just went straight down the track, never wavering or looking at anything. We went 350 mpm, 450 mpm, and even 550 mpm. I'm not sure if we're ready to even sprint at faster than 550, but for that one minute, we were certainly flying and loving every second of it.

Tomorrow we shall see just how much we can patch together for the show, then we get to go cross country showing. I'm looking forward to it so much. I've missed my little girl, and while I know I'm anthropomorphizing, I like to think she missed me, too.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Camp - Day 1

Unlike last year, I'm not nearly as wiped on day 1. I've been here for a couple days, gotten settled in, and I'm actually ready to ride. After months of separation, I wanted to ride my mare so badly that the actual ride was almost secondary. I just wanted to see her.

And she remembered me. I launched out of the truck and yelled 'Princess!' and she popped her head up before heading to the fence line to meet me. She knows where the treats come from.

Today was a dressage lesson in the morning and a jumping lesson in the afternoon. The dressage lesson was good, she's very soft right now. So soft that I have to be aware of how I'm carrying my shoulders, because that's enough to make her tip or shift. She is definitely a challenge.

The stadium was about resetting her steering and brakes. She's in a D-ring snaffle and lever noseband right now, which seems to work when paired with a running martingale. I recognize her, and the steering issues are completely fixable. She's had them before and we fixed them. Right now we're trotting fences, but she's far more rideable than last year. I'm less worried now than I have been all winter. She's scooting toward home, but a tap on the shoulder straightens her up and we can continue on.

Tomorrow is galloping and cross country schooling. I'm completely looking forward to it. Maybe my trainer will let me see just how fast the princess can go on the track . . .

Pine Top

I'm safe and secure in Aiken, SC! After 36 hours of no sleep, then 14 hours of sleep, I was ready to go play my role as an owner, rather than a rider. That's no mean feat. I swear, I was more tense and nervous on the side lines than I would have been in the saddle.

So first up I got to watch Fiona have a dressage lesson with a dressage specialist. She described her as 'not an easy ride', but also said she had the talent to do FEI level dressage. I almost burst into tears right there next to the ring. Not bad for a Craigslist purchase! Fiona has certainly muscled up quite a bit and looks every inch the show horse these days.

On Saturday we went to spectate for dressage and stadium. Here is the dressage test. Who is that calm, dignifed mare? It can't possibly be the princess!

Her stadium was considerably less dignified. She's started to protest turning again and she ended up with 20 time penalties when my trainer had to get creative to keep her on course. This is why she was bumped back down to beginner novice. Her steering seems to have temporarily vacated the premises.

After that, and a very harsh score from the dressage judge (I didn't think that test warranted a 40, I really didn't), ribbons were not a concern on cross country day. I stood on top of a preliminary fence with my heart in my throat to watch her go. And she looked amazing! There was never a doubt, her ears were pricked the whole way, and she looked very, very civilized. No, there were no ribbons this weekend, but Pine Top is a maxed out beginner novice course and she bounced around it like it was nothing. Hopefully, if her steering in stadium can be repaired again, we'll be able to move back to Novice.

It seems to be the opinion of everyone down here. She's very talented, but man, is she a tough ride.

Monday, March 12, 2012


The three months of rotating horses is winding down. I feel like I've learned a lot while pick up riding whatever horse happened to not be running away too fast. Between plucky ponies, gigantic Hanoverians, saintly old men, and game Irish Sporthorses, I've certainly had a chance to branch out.

As a final addition to my resume before taking off to see the princess, I was introduced to Harry, aka the Muppet.
Why would we call this 16h + draft cross the Muppet? Because his face is too cute to be real, so therefore, he must be a Muppet. We haven't picked which Muppet he is yet, but there was a strong argument for Elmo. He's just adorable and sweet and occasionally has a moment of flailing about with excitement. The photo doesn't do him credit, he really is that ridiculously cute in person.

Harry's out on trial for some friends and I was given permission to ride him while he's getting in shape after some extended time being a pasture potato. His background is hunter/jumper, so we understand each other perfectly. I don't think he was terribly amused when I hopped on and started poking at the buttons to see what he could do. Just standing there he seems kind of gangly with great big feet and hair standing up every which way, but when he's working he's actually a cute little mover. He's got a great work ethic, though he's a kick-on ride. For his potential future home, that's an attribute.

He's also a wicked honest horse to fences. Back when I helped school the school horses, we used to test them by doing things like dropping them to fences and making other beginner mistakes. I did all of those to poor Harry and he just completely ignored me. I love horses that know when to ignore me. With his big feet he makes a racket when he canters and definitely gives the feeling of being on a charger, but there's a strong thoroughbred influence. He's not a lazy boy and he's pretty light on his feet. I really like him.

I don't know if I'll get a chance to ride him again this week. I've just finished up the winter quarter (HALLELUIAH) and now I'm tying up all of the loose ends at work while trying to make sure that I have everything packed for my trip. I take off on Thursday and arrive Friday. Saturday and Sunday I'll be spectating/grooming while Fiona takes on the Novice course at Pine Top with my trainer. Then I'll spend Monday through Friday doing the adult camp in Aiken. After all of that comes the twenty hour drive home, hopefully getting me back to Massachusetts that Sunday.

I'm bringing my video camera, my regular camera, and an awful lot of Red Bull. I do not promise coherent posts, but they should be entertaining ones.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Challenging ponies

The princess and the trainer at Paradise Farms, photo courtesy of Katherine Lambert

Fiona's not an easy ride. After this many posts about our trials and tribulations, that's kind of a given. I enjoy her, feel safe with her, and would pick her ahead of almost any horse to go XC because I'm that comfortable with her. That doesn't mean she's easy for me. I always figured part of that was that I'm an adult ammy.

I think the princess is giving the trainer a hard time, too.

In her last show, she got a 35 in dressage. Whoop whoop! That's a competitive score, even in Aiken. Considering the dressage ring was literally blowing down around her, it sounds like a lot of the dressage issues are getting sorted out. She also went back to being the XC machine, fast and clean. Reportedly it went just fine. But she got 14 penalties in stadium: one rail, one refusal, and six seconds over time. She went in feeling wild, hit the rail on her first jump, scooted off on landing, and just flat out missed the turn to the second jump. After that she was fine, but the damage was done.

I totally understand now how eventing can make so many people take up beer drinking. Three phases, and the horse has to nail them all in one day. We used to have trouble with dressage, but jumping phases were great. Her dressage is better now, but then she messed around in stadium. Or she has a decent dressage, clean stadium, then refuses in XC. Ah, Thoroughbred mares. You keep the breweries in business.

My trainer has my sympathies. I know very well what it's like when Fiona hits a rail and takes off like a bat out of hell. She hates hitting fences. At the same time, I can't help but feel a bit better about my riding. Fiona is a tough ride, it's not just my lack of skill making her difficult. I guess we can officially rule her as not amateur friendly. Now she has that reputation in Area I and Area III. I can't wait to get down there and cement her reputation with my own personal take on her shenanigans. There are some noticeable differences between myself and my trainer.

My trainer doesn't swear like I do on cross country.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sudden realization

I was outside in the snow with my dogs this morning and my thoughts turned to Aiken, as they often do when the weather is being disgusting here in New England. While I sludge through a winter storm that popped up on March 1st to remind us all that we still live in the Northeast, my mare has been enjoying sun and 70's day after day. Lucky. I rescued Peyton from a snow bank, thankful that this was our first significant snowfall in months, and laughed about it landing on March 1st. In like a lion, out like a lamb indeed.

March 1st.


Holy hell, I leave for Aiken in two weeks! When did that happen?!

It's time for a frantic scramble of shopping and packing. While Fiona and all of her gear are already down there, I still have to pack for myself and there's some shopping that needs to be done. I use camp as my reminder to go through my riding clothes and make updates for the upcoming competition season. I've got my first actual competition season as an eventer under my belt now, so I have some adjustments I want to make:

  • White breeches. NO. Just no. Not only are they less then flattering, my mare has the alarming habit of waiting until I'm just about to mount so the warm up pants are off and then sneezing all over the front of me. Usually with a mouthful of chewed up grass. I have tiny green spots on my breeches in a lot of photos if you look close. Fashion be damned, I'm wearing tan. Or champagne. I got a pair of champagne breeches, but they're a bit yellow to my hunter/jumper eyes. I need to get used to them and hold them up against my chestnut mare to make sure they don't make her look more orange than red. And they don't have a full seat.

  • Full seat. I wasn't allowed to have one of these as a hunter/jumper and I hated them when I first started wearing them. Now I can really, really, REALLY appreciate them. Combine that with my calfskin seat on my jumping saddle and I might as well be velcro'd in. It's a beautiful thing when the princess is suddenly ten feet to the left of where she was supposed to be.

  • New bridle. Fi has an odd little head, and when I first got her I had to rush out and buy a lot of tack. She has been wearing a Geologic brand bridle I picked up at the consignment shop for $10 as her jumping bridle for about a year and a half. It's time she gets a real bridle for her jumping bridle, one I can put her blingy browband on. She will be very stylin'. It seems the fancy stitching is out of vogue in the eventing circles.

  • Embroidered saddle pads. I love the princess's jumping saddle pad. It's in my colors, mostly black so it doesn't show dirt, and it has a silver tiara embroidered in one corner. I've gotten a lot of comments, and for anyone that knows my mare, it's ridiculously appropriate. I think she needs a matching dressage saddle pad.
This is a very, very expensive hobby. But I love turning my mare out the way she deserves.

After the princess decided she didn't want to play on cross country, my trainer had a vet check her out. Nothing wrong with her hocks (whew) and she didn't flex lame anywhere (WHEW!) but she was exhibiting back pain. A chiropractor/acupuncturist he liked was up from Miami and available, so that same afternoon Fiona got her first chiropractic adjustment. From the list they read off to me, my mare was out of whack from her poll to her tail, particularly around her SI, her elbows, and her poll. He noted that she was probably having more trouble to her right, which was dead on. She got some acupuncture to follow it up and a doctor's note saying she was cleared to go at Sporting Days this weekend. Hopefully this will help with the wandering soreness that occasionally crops up with her.

The other topic was Fiona's breeding. With her current work schedule she's put on some more muscle, giving her an almost warmblood look. Less and less people are believing that she's a thoroughbred. The chiropractor said that if she was a thoroughbred, she looked Irish to him. Bobby Costello thought she looked like a warmblood, possibly a Hanoverian. Considering there's been no success with tracking down a history or even a name with her, I'm starting to have my doubts as well. If she isn't full TB, she has a heck of a lot of TB in her, but it's quite possible that the princess was more than a random broodmare.

It's fun to 'what if' with her. And just two weeks from today, I get to give her donuts and coffee. But only decaf, she's a show horse these days, you know.