Sunday, July 29, 2012


I will one day find a riding discipline that does not involve ridiculously early mornings.  There has to be one out there somewhere.  4:30am is not a sane time to do anything, and even the princess agreed with me this morning.

 The princess being woken up from her beauty sleep by my arrival.  I felt bad.

 However, I brought breakfast so she forgave me for my ridiculously early morning.  It was just her and Dorkzilla hopping on the trailer so it was quick business to get them loaded up and on the road.

Mother Nature ignored my pleas.  That wench.  Not only did it rain on us yesterday when we were doing all of our show prep stuff, it rained most of today.  But we are tough eventer types and we marched boldly into the rain to try to get that elusive 60% at First level.

Well, she marched boldly.  I kind of squished in the saddle.  45 minute warm up in the rain will do that.  Note to self:  Do NOT warm up for dressage in the rain in a white show shirt with no coat.  I was ready for the wet tee-shirt contest by the time my coat was handed to me.  At least the breeches were champagne colored so no one could see my leopard print underwear.

Other note to self:  Get normal colored seamless underwear to wear under light colored breeches in case of rain and/or unfortunate encounters with water jumps.

Bad news first.  I had my very first ever error of course.  I was on my last two canter movements when I started to do Training 3 instead of First 1.  I was a bit flustered after that and with Fiona trying to get her face out of the rain, I left the ring thinking I'd gotten a 55%.  I was very bummed, hanging out by the trailer and feeding my girl carrots.  It wasn't her fault I ditzed out or that it started really raining during our test.  She was a good girl, going in the grass ring in the steady rain and doing what I asked.  It still sucked to have yet another rough outing.  Many, many doubts were running about while I waited to do my second test.

I went into Training 3 with the fatalistic feeling of someone that's coming to terms with their insanity.  I keep going in and expecting something different . . .

But let's be fair, it was different.  I've started smiling during my tests because it helps.  We're both calmer, softer, more relaxed.  And it actually worked out for us despite my gloomy thoughts.  I really am my harshest critique.

She is the most impossible horse to get in a picture.  All she wanted was her lunch, so I got some help and bribery.

Yup, that's a third place ribbon from her First level test.  60.3%.  That's our first qualifying score on our way to that Bronze medal.  I squealed like a little girl and jumped up and down when I saw that.  It's not as good as the reaction I had to my Training 3 test.  64.4%, best dressage score we've ever gotten.  We didn't hang around for the end of my division since it was going to be forever (19 riders), but I checked my scores tonight.  She was 8th overall, and assuming they divide the division like they usually do . . .

First place adult amateur.  Fiona got a blue ribbon at a sanctioned dressage show.

I darn near choked on my nutrition bar I was eating when I saw that score at the show.  Have to say, the pure dressage riders couldn't figure out why I was jumping around and clapping and laughing like a fool on crack over a 64%, but they don't own chestnut Thoroughbred (?) mares that they've brought up from barely being able to trot a twenty meter circle.

Videos of my rides will go up tomorrow, my computer is dragging through the conversion.  Tonight, I celebrate!  Mostly by passing out now that my homework is complete.  4:30am mornings are for the birds.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mother Nature, we need to have a talk

Don't get me wrong, I know we need the rain, but why does it have to fall in that one, critical, limited block of time when I can get to the barn?  Monday was a wash due to a mad scramble to get a presentation out and then Tuesday had a line of thunderstorms go through right at the time when I'm free of work but the sun hasn't set yet.

Today I'm in the office, so no pony for me.  That means tomorrow is the next day at the barn.  Fortunately her junior rider has been taking her out for gallops and adventures with the cows so she's not rusting up in her stall.  I hate it when I have weeks like this.  Mother Nature and my boss are conspiring against me to keep me away from the barn.

But I got my new photo of Fiona jumping with her knees to her nostrils, so at least it's a good morning.

Me and the Princess at UNH Summer 2012 in Novice

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Mother Nature decides to cooperate between now and Sunday.  Fi and I have a date with some bending lines that we need to get polished up before we head out into public again.  Judges like accuracy in their tests, or so I've heard.  This means that I'll probably be spending a couple hours on Thursday or Friday clearing jumps out of the ring and figuring out a rough approximation of a large arena.

I need to cancel my gym membership.  I get a better work out just hanging out at the barn.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Random rambling

I have very deep thoughts during my long commute to and from the barn.  

For example, I wonder sometimes what the moms sitting by the ring think when I'm riding.  I'm a bit of a chatter box and Fiona is very responsive to voice cues, so I usually have a running dialogue going with my mare.  It's part of making her happy to make it very clear when she's done something right, and she can accept a verbal correction more than a tap of the whip or any type of physical correction.  There's a sound that I picked up with dog training to use as a correction.  It's a kind of 'ahn ahn' sound that means 'no, don't do that'.  Fiona's figured out that 'ahn ahn' means 'no' and will usually accept that as a correction without getting overly upset about it.

She's a very sensitive young lady.

But then there are the moms alongside the ring, watching their little ones learning how to post the trot, listening to me having a complete conversation with my mare.  And I know they have no idea why I was fussing over her and calling her a clever girl today.  She went from a trot to a walk, why is that such a big deal?  Heck, that's what the little kids are working on!

It's a big deal because I didn't do anything.  My hands didn't move.  We've been working on this since the last horse show and I think we're finally getting it.  If I sit tall, resist with my core and upper legs, she down shifts.  It's the start of a true half halt and being able to do a downward transition without her bracing against my hands or me hauling on her face.  It's been very hard, very slow going for both of us.  She's having to learn that little shifts in weight and different parts of my legs mean different things.  I'm having to be very, very conscious of how I move and make sure that I don't use my hands unintentionally.  If she braces, I have to take a breath and let go with my hands so I can try again.  It certainly makes for a happy, forward mare.  She's not as 'framed' as she is when I'm in her face, but she is moving better.  The 'frame' can come back later when we've got the basics fixed up.

But to the moms alongside the ring? I'm just that crazy lady that chatters away to her really pretty, really big horse that sometimes goes really fast and jumps things when the little kids are out of the ring.  Jimmy Wofford has a saying.  "The difference between good riding and bad riding is that you can't see good riding."  So I'll take it as a compliment that the moms have no idea what I'm doing out there. 

In another bit of random rambling, I submitted a picture of me and the princess to Dressage Today for their photo clinic.  We'll see what the big dressage yuckity yucks think of my Craigslist find.  Pretty sure I'd be the first eventer in that column, not that you can tell from a picture of the dressage phase.  Sunday is our next attempt at a qualifying score at first level, so I'll be practicing slow, relaxed, zen thoughts for the rest of this week.  The husband thinks I should just do a shot of vodka before I head in.  It's kind of tempting.  It's also been suggested that I get lunged for an hour before our ride.  That might also work.  If I just keep going to dressage shows, I will eventually learn to not get freaked out by a judge staring at me.  They're not going to jump out of the judge's booth and attack us, even the princess has figured that out.  Her rider's just a bit slow on the uptake.

Fi went out and got another fourth place ribbon with her junior rider last week, this time at Novice.  Those two are getting along like peas in a pod, I think they're both having a lot of fun.  It's definitely been working out for the princess.  She's always up for attention and an adventure.  Rumor has it that they blast around cross country with both of them looking like it's Christmas morning.  I also heard that she did some training height jumping in her last lesson.  You go, girls.  They're heading out to Huntington and GMHA in August to do Novice before the junior rider is off to college.  I think Fi will be sad to see her go and be stuck with just one admirer again.  It's an awful lot of work keeping the princess happy.  Maybe I can find her another teenager to adopt . . .

Friday, July 13, 2012


Fiona continues to impress everyone and shake off her reputation as a bit of a wild child.  Our return to Novice was a unequivocal success, ending with a pretty white ribbon to add to her collection.  Our dressage was a 38, which is not where it should be but again, her rider is an alien in competition and it's over four points down from the last time this judge saw us.  The jumping was not pretty, but we got the job done with only three time penalties.  The princess was jumping for me with her knees to her nostrils (we have pictures to prove it, I'm just waiting for them to download so I'll update soon).

The only real problem we had on course was the approach to fence 1.  It was a very tight, roll back type turn to an oxer.  Off the left.  I decided to trot it because I wanted her to stay cool and collected, but it backfired when the princess was surprised at being presented to a fence like that.  She went over, but it was ugly and she was upset about that.  When I turned to fence 5, it was an almost identical turn as the turn to fence 1 and the princess just checked out.  She did not want to go jump fence 1 again and skittered off sideways.  I got her back together, but it cost us time.  I knew the time was tight so I cut every corner on the course and took every inside option after that.  It was a complete flash back to my jumper background and putting in speed rounds.  It wasn't pretty, but we got it done.  Afterward my trainer said she was surprised that we pulled all of those turns off.  It sure wasn't an equitation round (even if she looks a bit like a show hunter in her photos) and you can see it on my face.  I'm riding my brains out.  Three time penalties was a pretty good score for that course since there were a lot of rails and stops in my division and moved us up three spots.  Our usual fast, clean cross country run moved us up one more for that fourth place finish.

There is no narcotic in existence that can match Fiona on cross country.  Once she's locked on, you just balance over the middle, put your leg on, and enjoy.  Her jumping style has matured so much.  Even the slightly long spots don't feel like fliers, they feel like bigger jumps.  The girl knows her job now and she does love to gallop and jump.  The leaping into water routine is mildly annoying, but only because she splashes water all the way up to my sunglasses and leaves me partially blinded.  I can practically hear her yelling 'canonball!' as she goes in.

After some time to recover and getting a decent night of sleep, I flopped out on my couch to read my dressage test.  Rick Pearson was my judge and I was really pleased to be riding in his ring.  He always gives the best comments on the test.  I really feel like I get something out of my tests with him and he gives really usable comments.  I loved the comments 'nice tail!' and 'very, very nice horse', of course.  I also loved seeing my canter getting 7's after working so hard on it.  There were also a lot of comments about how I needed to breathe, relax, soften so my horse can stretch, etc.  The comment that really caught me though was 'rider needs to trust horse'.

But . . . I do trust her!  Don't I?

I trust her completely on cross country, on the beach, on the trails, out for gallops, cruising around shows, everywhere.  She doesn't explode or throw temper tantrums, she just goes about her business.  She's not very spooky and when on the job, she's downright fearless.  So why would the judge say I don't trust her?

I was schooling Fi on the flat last night when I finally figured out what he was saying.  I micromanage and guard every single step that mare takes.  I'm so convinced she's going to come above the bit or get on her forehand.  I'm not worried about her actually misbehaving, but I'm not very trusting, either.  Huh.  I guess there are different kinds of trust and I need to learn to trust her.  I spent the ride trotting about the jumping field, consciously working on not nitpicking and bracing.  She wasn't as round as usual but she was much more relaxed.  Looks like it's time for me to go back to the basics.  Downward transitions with no hand at all, as opposed to worrying about the perfect halt for shows.

Trust is a two way street after all.  I have to trust her to be good, and she has to trust me to be quiet, soft, and fair.

So I think we'll spend July just relearning how to sit and flat.  I have no more horse trials for awhile.  Fi is going to some shows with her junior rider, but I've got to focus on school.  I have another dressage show at the end of the month, so that will be my real focus.  I have to learn to trust, to relax, and to just go into the big ring and ride the test that everyone knows we can do.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The definition of insanity

. . . is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Tomorrow I've got a show.  At this point, everyone should know what that means.  And it really shouldn't surprise me.  I've been doing this since I was six years old.  And yet somehow I keep thinking that I'll find some super magical way to make it not happen.  Yes, I am the definition of insane.

This is me at dinner when I realized what my weekend had in store.  Thank you, dear husband, for saving this moment for posterity.  Should have ordered the margarita.

Like the bracelet?  He got me that for my birthday.  It says 'Can't Drive 55' and matches the halter he got me.  I have a fabulous horse widow for a husband.  He can also groom and has often been spotted videotaping me at shows.  He's taken enough lessons to walk, trot, canter, jump small cross rails, and continues to surprise me by walking through the room and announcing things like 'that pirouette was too big' when I have dressage competitions on.  I guess he really does listen when I'm rambling.

End tangent.

Today I was at the barn from about noon to about 6:30pm.  Fiona seems to be starting a new tradition of twisting her right hind shoe before every show, so I had the farrier out to repair that and look over her other shoes, just in case.  I also did all of the usual pre-show things:  ride, bathe, clip, brush, braid, scrub, pack, wibble at the schedule, consider packing alcohol, discuss beer bongs with impressionable teenagers (don't ask), watch Fiona get yellow Likkit all over her new braids, braid my trainer's youngster (who did NOT want to be braided, thank you ever so much), reconsider the alcohol, and realize that laundry would be a really good idea.  I should be in bed already since I have to wake up at 3:30am tomorrow.  My first ride time is 9:10am, and I'm the first ride of the day.  The last ride for our group is 5:30pm.  I don't expect to be home until 9pm.

Suddenly, that face makes a lot of sense.  Pass the margaritas.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Don't have a cow, man!  -Bart Simpson

Another cow.
 I think that's the same cow.
I've got to go, we've got cows.  - from Twister

So I decided to march forth and face the cows. 

I tacked up Fiona including the war bridle and headed out to see just what the situation was.  We brought Bella the Wonder Mare with us for moral support.  Bella truly is a wonder.  She's one of those horses that would stand in the middle of the apocalypse and say 'Huh.  Okay.  I can handle this.'.  She's the definition of amateur friendly, supremely laid back and affectionate.  This also made her the perfect partner for this exercise.  The Wonder Mare does not care about cows.  The Princess, on the other hand, cares very much.

We marched out to the orchard.  I really appreciate the family that owns the orchard giving riders the permission to stomp about their property.  Finding land for conditioning work is so critical, particularly at this time of year when the town forest is nearly unusable due to bugs.  In this modern age of lawsuits and watching your back, I truly appreciate the fact that they are willing to let us use their land to exercise our horses.  We are still settling in at this orchard, so it took a bit of fumbling to find an appropriate loop for the princess's conditioning sets.  I didn't see the cows and thought they had been moved to the field across the street.

Not even close.

It wasn't until I had moved from trot to canter that the enemy decided to reveal their positions.  I'm cantering Fiona along a fence line when I spot them staring at us.  Fiona immediately spots them and tosses up her head.  I'll give the girl credit, she didn't try to stop or spin.  She kept heading straight for them, but she was on super high alert.  That's what I've named those moments when she's so tense and alert that her ears practically touch.  As we got close to where the two cows were standing, they jumped into action.

The little suckers started chasing us down the f(*#*@&)(*#*@ing fence line.

Fiona was far from oblivious of the situation.  According to the girl following us on the Wonder Mare, the princess's butt dropped by about six inches as she shifted into 'omg they are chasing us and are going to kill us RUN' mode.  It did cross my mind that this was a perfect example of the engagement we would need as we moved up the dressage levels . . .

I have never, ever been so glad that I bitted up in my life.  Ho-ly crap.  My mare was having none of this being chased by bovines idea.  She was manageable, clearly since I am here to tell the tale, but she was NOT happy.  After we left the young cattle behind, she had a moment of snorting and shaking her head while bouncing a bit at the canter.  At least she knows how to shake off the tension and move on with her life.

The Wonder Mare just followed along behind us, trying to figure out just what Fiona's issue was.  I love that mare.

Being who I am, I circled around for another lap.  Fortunately, the cows were already at the corner of their pasture so there was not repeat of the chasing incident.  On the third lap, they had decided we were boring and had wandered off to go graze.

I consider this a successful run.  I didn't die, that's always successful.  I'll try to get her out there to see the cows again this week.  Again, more balls than brains.  But I'm happy that way.