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.