Sunday, April 29, 2012

Another day older and deeper in debt

Today was my birthday.  I'm not going to say which one, since I'm still convincing people that I'm twenty-nine.  Put enough beers in people and they believe it.

I spent my birthday exactly as I dreamed of as a kid:  I went for a trail ride with my very own horse.  The princess and I hacked out to the Hollis Town Forest for some conditioning work.  This is also the first time I tried actually navigating the loops without anyone to spot me.  I'm rather infamous for my ability to get lost.  We went for a lovely trot, then took a canter down the fire road.  A recently discovered single track trail gave us a necessary walking break.  I've found that Fi and I really enjoy these rough, single track trails where we're weaving around trees and limbs.  I really think she missed her calling as a trail horse.  She'll do this on a loop rein at the walk for as long as I want to be out there.

I don't think she'd ever win a trail competition, since she always walks like she's got somewhere to go and doesn't want to be messed with, but she really is a delight to take out trail riding.

After the single track, we went for a long trot/canter along snow mobile trails that are wide and fabulously well groomed.  We did stop for the various pedestrians and dogs that we met.  We also stopped so I could snap a picture of one of the ponds that are found in the forest.

Have I mentioned how much I love riding in New Hampshire where I can hack out to things like this?  After about an hour of wandering around the town forest at a brisk trot, interspersed with the occasional canter, we made our way back to the barn.  It was the ideal way to spend a birthday.  There's nothing more pleasant than taking a well trained, fit, trustworthy horse out for a nice run in the woods.  When I was a little girl, I wanted nothing more than to own my very own horse so I could go out and do things like this.  How cool it is to actually be able to do exactly what you once dreamed of doing?

In my opinion?  Wicked cool.

Friday, April 27, 2012


The princess has a reputation.

But we're making progress on changing this reputation.  Today we had a jumping lesson that was completely and utterly not scary.  No fliers, no long spots, no bolting.  She was quite polite and rideable for pretty much the whole thing.  The panel was swinging in the wind a bit, so we were both a bit wiggly to that, but I think that's understandable (and was probably due to me staring at it more than her).

Of course, after well over a year of ring clearing jumping, it's going to take a lot more than a couple of good lessons before people stop gasping and running for cover when the princess comes out to jump.

Next weekend is UNH with the trainer in the saddle.  Hopefully all of our work will help her have a good trip.  Fi hasn't gone into heat since her shot, and her stitches look really good.  I'm going to take her out for a gallop tomorrow so she can stretch her legs.  It's a start of the season Beginner Novice course, so the biggest problems should be getting the princess to respect the jumps.  She'll also be going Beginner Novice with me in June, but that's mostly a scheduling thing since Novice is on Sunday and everyone else that's going needs to ride on Saturday.  Groton House at the end of June will be Novice (with the trainer in the saddle), and with any luck it will be Novice at the summer Valinor with me.  Last season was our Beginner Novice season and it looks like we're back on track to have this year be our Novice season.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hey, I heard you like the wild ones

Taking the winter off means that I'm still getting back into shape.  That's a bad thing to type when you've just finished the first two-phase of the season.  My abs, back, and shoulders are all protesting the amount of work that I've been doing.  Ow.

But on the positive side, Fiona had a great outing!  We zipped out to the Groton Pony Club two-phase, the same fairgrounds where we are spotted at least three times a year.  We were in the Beginner Novice division since my dear pony is still relearning how to steer.  But if nothing else, she looked super spiffy after a full day of grooming on Saturday.

The dressage judge loved her.  She got a 31.0, including a couple 8's for her trot work and an 8 in her collective marks for her gaits.  She even gave me a 7 for my rider's position, when I've been averaging a 6.  The test was calm and accurate and everything I wanted from the princess.  Sure, I still spontaneously turn into an alien as soon as I spot a judge and my nerves get to me, but at least now my mare can cover for her rider being an uptight ditz.

We went into stadium with orders to just have a civilized round.  We managed that for the most part.  She did get a long distance to one fence, which of course was followed by two tight turns, so the middle was a bit . . . hairy.  She hit the bit like a freight train and did not like it when I told her to slow her butt down for the ninety degree turn followed by a rollback (honestly, who does that to Beginner Novice riders?).  But she turned and jumped and was very good with just one rail after I told her to knock it off with the freight train act.  For the most part, she was quite civilized.  We didn't have any of the running sideways or refusal problems, so definitely a good run.  If she's going to score low thirties in dressage, we can deal with a rail.  She still got second place.

After the official stuff, we did some XC schooling.  We did all of the jumps, including the big tires that looked quite big to me.  Fiona was definitely being strong (hence the aching shoulders), but she's doing better.  She was able to canter to some fences rather than having to trot all of them and we had quite a few very nice jumps.  Even the scary ones are less scary.  Which is a sad statement, but hey, we take what we can get.

Her next outing is in May, when she'll be off to UNH with my trainer in the saddle.  I have school, so I can't do multi-day shows.  Hopefully, if the princess is good, she'll get to move back to Novice afterward.  I've got my fingers crossed.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Life with mares

Please keep in mind, I've never owned a mare before Fiona.  Before her, I would swear up and down that I didn't like mares and wouldn't own one.  I'd never had a real partnership with one.

What does that have to do with anything?  It means that I don't know much about mares.  I know all sorts of stuff about geldings, and even stallions.  I know about the joys of sheath cleaning and telling a stallion to 'put that away'.  The nice part about geldings is that, aside from keeping the equipment clean, they're pretty easy to manage.  They don't have hormone swings or anything like that.

Now I've got a mare, and all the joys that come with that.  Ovulation and heat cycles and whole new equipment to manage.  Udder cleaning is easy enough with Fi, since she doesn't mind.  Just give her a quick wash and off you go.  I was so darn happy that I wasn't going to need to do anymore sheath cleanings.  Clearly having a mare was going to be less awkward.

Yeah, no.

Fi had a visit with the vet to discuss getting progesterone shots to help with her heat cycles.  She's good under saddle, but making people a bit crazy around the barn when she's in heat.  She also gets distracted.  I've noticed back pain mid-cycle, too, and figured ovulation was giving her cramps.  If all of this could be fixed with some shots, I was on board and I'm sure the princess would be happier.

If discussion of mare parts bothers you, change the station now.

When I got Fiona, I did notice her vulva was a bit . . . odd.  I was told that she had a breech birth and was a bit torn up.  Being completely new to mares, I didn't think a thing of it.  Fast forward a year and a half to now, when an actual vet flipped up her tail and had a look.  Evidently, she was way more torn up than any of us knew.  As in you could get straight to her uterus torn up.  It was an amusing phone call, as the vet kept adding commentary in the background to make my trainer squirm while the news was relayed.  Ew.

But as with many things, this is an easy fix.  A quick Caslick procedure to close everything up and she should be right as rain.  The vet commented that it looked like she gave birth without a previous Caslick being removed, and I was frankly horrified.  Who does that to a horse?!  The pieces of her history just keep coming in and none of it is ever good news.  It's possible that some of her back pain is due to air getting into her uterus as well, so it's good to rule out all possible causes. 

I like to think that Fiona lucked out when my trainer forwarded me that ad from Craigslist.  A year and a half later and I'm still fixing things other people broke.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ode to my farrier

Well, not really an ode, but I got a compliment recently that made me stop and really pay attention to something.  Someone commented on what nice feet the princess had, especially for a Thoroughbred.  I stopped and looked at her hooves and realized . . . wow, she really does have nice feet now.

Of course, to put this in perspective, here's what her front feet looked like when I got her:

 And these are her feet as of today:

She was just reshod yesterday, so they are looking about as spiffy as they get right now.  But it amazes me how different her feet look.  When I got her, her feet were so long that she looked like she was wearing slippers.  It was done on purpose, and they had shoes that were nearly draft sized tacked on.  They were trying to grow out her heels?  I'm not sure how that would have worked, considering how under run her heels were due to her ridiculously long toes, but now she has very nicely balanced feet.  The biotin supplement seems to be working as well, since the quality of the hoof is completely different.  I could see a line on her hooves as she grew the old hooves out and the new horn came in.  She's been on the supplement for about a year and a half now, so she has entirely new feet.  Her frogs used to be compressed and her heels contracted, now she's got nice, round feet with big frogs.  I'd take a picture of that as well, but it's hard to juggle a camera and the princess's feet at the same time.

Full compliments go to my farrier for the transformation.  It took months of trimming and shoeing to get the angles changed without making her go lame in the process.  Having a skilled farrier you can trust is such a huge part of horse management, and I've certainly lucked out.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

She's back!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the princess is back in the building!

It really is a wonderful feeling to go to the barn and see that familiar red face waiting for me.

We're back at the summer barn, the true rite of spring. It puts us at the mercy of the weather, but it's a lot less dusty without the indoor. Fiona seems happy to be home, but she seemed pretty happy to be in Aiken. She's kind of a happy horse all the time.

She looks fabulous and feels fabulous. It's such a pleasure to ride her right now. We took her out for the first trail ride of spring and she got to have a long trot with her boyfriend. We've also got her in a new rig for jumping, a Myler combination bit. We'll see how that goes, but so far, she seems very respectful of it. She doesn't blast through my hands nearly as easily. We'll get to put it to the test this weekend.

It's already that time of year. I've got the show pads in the wash right now, the good breeches are drying in the bathroom. On Sunday is the first two-phase of the season with some cross country schooling, so long as it's not raining too hard. I'm looking forward to getting her out and doing things again. We've got a vet coming out tomorrow to discuss what to do about her spring heat cycles, since she's massively distracted. We might try her on some progesterone to see if that helps her focus on something other than the good looking geldings when we're trying to get some work done.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Books and their covers

We all know the saying: Never judge a book by its cover. I generally try not to do that. However, we all slip up on occasion.

There's a school horse in the barn named Red. Red's a nice boy, popular with people that want a nice, quiet ride. Most of his rides are with beginners, learning how to canter or getting around their first jump courses. I know him mostly from seeing other people ride him and hanging out with him in the barn. He's very friendly and quirky. He has these tiny, foxy little ears that are just adorable and the habit of sticking his tongue out, hoping someone will scratch it for him. He was recently on stall rest after getting cast, so he was driving everyone up a wall with his boredom. He's a mouthy horse that will suck in anything he can reach, including my dressage whip for a game of tug-o-war.

This was my partner for my flat lesson last Thursday, as the princess is still in Aiken. I'll admit, my reaction was 'Dressage lesson on Red? Really? Who did I tick off for that one?'. I see Red in lessons all the time, plopping around and ignoring beginners learning how to canter. He looked rigid and slow, like a fabulous school horse but not one I wanted to try to do any kind of dressage on. But since I'm supposed to be working on my position and he would be good for that, I tacked him up and headed in to the ring.

We warmed up on the buckle, letting him get his joints loosened up and moving. It was while I was cantering on the buckle and asked him to move off of the rail to avoid someone that I got my first clue that not all was as it appeared. I changed the bend, not thinking too much about it, and he popped a perfect flying lead change. My instructor was just as surprised as me. And it wasn't just the one fluke. After I got him back on the correct lead, I accidentally changed his bend again and he swapped again. I had to laugh and ask if he used to be a hunter, since I was riding him like he was a show hunter (in a half seat with little contact) and he was popping lead changes like it was nothing.

I picked up a contact and, after a bit of protest to see if I was serious, Red got to work. He went into a cute little frame, and with a lot of encouraging, started to engage that back end. I gave him several stretch breaks because I'm quite sure he's not asked to do this very often. We were doing trot-halt-back up-trot transitions, and the old man was showing the other horses in the class how it was done. We did a shortened trot on the short ends and a lengthened trot on the long side and he gave it everything he had. With his conformation the lengthening wasn't huge, but I could feel him really trying to reach out with his shoulders and making a little grunting sound as he put everything into it. It was adorable.

I felt terrible afterward when I thought about how disdainful I was of riding him in a lesson. Red was an honest, hard working horse that I didn't have to kick or cajole or harass. He did the level best he could, those tiny ears flicking back every time I said something. I saw him in the mirror while I was doing a lengthening across the diagonal and I could barely recognize him. Gone was the plodding school horse. No, he's no dressage horse and he wouldn't win that phase, but he looked like a well schooled, pleasant little horse.

I'll consider it a privilege to ride him in the future. Once in awhile we need our egos brought down to size, and Red did that with grace and good nature.