Friday, March 29, 2013

The first showing

It's amazing how a concept that is completely abstract can suddenly become reality.  An abstract doesn't trigger as intense of a reaction since it's not real.  It's not something you can touch or point to, it's just an idea.  Something vague and shifting.  Then it's suddenly real and all of the weight comes crashing down.

Fi has her first showing tomorrow.  A potential purchaser is coming to meet her.  Reality has suddenly crashed down.  Gods above, what have I done?

I'm planning to head to the barn early and get her completely spiffed up.  It's warm enough that I can wash that gorgeous tail of hers and deal with the mud that will probably be up to her knees.  You've gotta love mud season in New England.  I'm amazed her shoes are still on considering how many human shoes have been lost to the muck.  Including some of mine.  I've taken to leaning through the gate of her paddock and begging/pleading/bribing her to come over so I can avoid losing more shoes to the bog.

Her mane will need a little pulling to touch it up and I think I'll trim her fetlocks up.  Not as short as what I do in summer since she still needs that protection from the mud, but enough that she doesn't look like a wildebeest.  All tack needs to be sparkling, she'll need to be groomed to within an inch of her life, and she'll get a little workout in the morning to make sure that she's on her best behavior.

Then I'm going to go hide like a scared little kid with a thunderstorm rolling in.  I can't decide if I should leave the barn completely or lock myself in the viewing room where I can watch but not be involved.  Just today I was wrestling with how to describe my mare.  She's one of the bravest horses I've ever ridden with a work ethic that has her in the ring looking for work day after day.  No buck, no bolt, no bite, no kick.  She's a social pocket pony that wants to be part of the activity and always wants to please.  There is no trail too scary for her and she's faced down large, noisy crowds with barely batting an eyelash.  But at the same time, she's Fi.  She is no dead head and notices every little thing that happens around her.  She gets rattled by stadium fences being reset, she can get very intense when asked to do more complicated work, and she loves to gallop.  She will stress herself out to the point of panting and sweating when she doesn't know how to do something.  She just wants to get it right so badly.  She is one of the most complicated horses I've met from a mental perspective.

What is she?  She's not a beginner horse, clearly.  A beginner would be overwhelmed by her and her responsiveness.  But she's not a horse for a professional, as she hasn't been identified as going past Third Level based on the fact that she's already 10 years old.  She's kind and forgiving, but she can panic with uneducated hands.  What kind of a rider is she suited for?  Aside from me, of course.

For years I've used the tease 'I'd sell you, but no one would buy you' on the princess when she was being naughty.  Now I wonder if it's true.  I may lock myself in the viewing room with a friend and a bottle of brandy.  It seems the most reasonable response.

Hey, it's a completely reasonable response in my head.  My head's an odd place.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Double Trouble

Honestly, I've been too busy keeping two horses in work to do a lot of writing about it.  Sleep?  What's that?   It's kind of like a unicorn.  You hear a lot about them, but you don't think you'll see any yourself.

Fi has been getting some work from various riders to take some of the pressure off of me.  She's perfect for filling in as a school horse on flat weeks.  Just about every intermediate and up rider is comfortable on her and enjoys riding her.  She enjoys the extra work and attention, so I've been sneaking her into lessons with certain riders that I think will enjoy her.  Of course I've been riding her, too.  The princess has gotten fat!  We've cut back her grain again.  I'm counting the days to our move to the summer barn and our return to trail rides and long gallops in the town forest.  Fi is so eager to just get out and gallop, I can't wait to give her that chance.

I went through the Second Level test moves with a friend today and was rather startled to find that Fi is schooling just about all of them successfully now.  Her counter-canter is still a bit of a mess, but we're closing in on being able to run through that test.  We'll see if I can learn to sit the trot well enough to not fall off in a medium trot.  It's freaking embarrassing that the one move I can't seem to get is sitting the trot.

As for Ben, we had our first jumping lesson today.  I jumped him a bit yesterday and it was, frankly, a mess.  We had some lunging, scary fences and a lot of tension.  I wasn't too bothered since it was stuff I could recognize and work with, but if I was going to have to rebuild from the beginning, what was the point of bringing in an experienced horse?!  Today, though, I knew what I was going to have to work on.  Get him up in front of my leg, focused, and accepting a light contact.

We had such an awesome lesson.  It's been a long, long time since I could say that about a jumping lesson.  He jumped everything without batting an eyelash.  We have work to do on getting the canter consistent so we don't get flyers or chips, but I felt very safe and comfortable.  He was calm and mannerly about everything.  It was around Beginner Novice, but I suspect we can bump them up to Novice and nothing will change.  I'm tentatively starting to hope.  I even pulled his mane today as I settled into the idea that he's going to be sticking around and be my partner.  If today is what he's usually like to jump?  I might just be in love.

I still feel a bit like a traitor when I ride him and Fi is sitting there waiting, but I know Fi is happier with me getting my fix with someone else and letting her be my dressage horse extraordinaire.  I have a dressage show on May 5 and I'm debating what tests Fi should do.  Do I go conservative and do First Level 1 and 2, or go for broke and do 2 and 3?  I'll be debating this one for at least another week or two.  It's a schooling show, so I'm tempted to just put it all out there and do 2 and 3.

Time to haul my coat off to the dry cleaners and dig out the show pads!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Meet Ben

On Saturday, while I was absolutely freezing and couldn't feel my fingers, a trailer showed up with a big, grey gelding in it.  Just a week after the idea appeared, the Prelim level horse arrived.  I was in knots.  It's a big risk to take on a lease while owning another horse.  Sure, she's for sale, but we know how these things can go.  She could be for sale for years.  I signed up for a six month commitment to a second horse and my bank account is already screaming protests.

But no matter, I hustled out to get my first look at my new partner.  Tall, grey (hello Quicksilver), but he has a sweet face that you couldn't really see in his competition photos.  It was late enough that he was tucked into a stall and introductions to his new turn out group were delayed until the next morning.  I couldn't feel my fingers so I didn't even get a picture of him.  We got his food sorted out, went over last minute instructions, and left him to his own devices.  He paced a bit, but settled into eating quickly.  I had him in the stall next to the princess and she was making eyes at him.  She's such a flirt.

On Sunday I was at the barn at 7:30am to help introduce him to his new group.  I spent the next hour freezing, getting a sunburn, and watching as Ben decided that the bossy horses were annoying.  He walked off when the two bossy boys in the group tried to show how dominant they were, taking the school horse Red with him.  The two of them have already buddied up and spent most of the day eating or playing together.  I broke up the fun when I went to get Ben for his first real quality time with me.
To be fair, Ben's been out of work for awhile.  He's a TB that was running Prelim into the fall of 2012, so he's still pretty fit.  But having said that, he was such a JERK on the cross-ties.  I couldn't leave him alone long enough to sweep up the hair, I had to put him in his stall before he got hurt trying to turn around on the cross-ties.  He had no issue with running into me or trying to drag me around while being led.  I sent his owner an agitated text, checking to see if he knew about cross-ties and if he was always this herd-bound.  She said that he was antsy when out of work and that I should put him to work and tell him to knock it off.

I snapped a chain shank on and took him into the indoor to have a talk about expectations for ground manners.  As soon as he realized that I was not to be ignored and that he had to work, he suddenly turned into a perfectly polite horse to handle.  We spent 20 minutes working in hand, then 20 minutes on the lunge line to let him get those bucks out.  He turned into a complete puppy dog, standing on the cross ties politely while I finished grooming and checked saddle fit (my jumping saddle fits!).  I was relieved, since his behavior was so naughty to start that I was ready to send him back.

So long as I had his blankets off, I snapped a picture.

He looks like he's ready to take a nap.  And holy crap, look at those withers!  I'm lucky I've got a saddle that was picked out for a horse that looked just like him.  A cutback pommel is a life saver with these shark fin Thoroughbreds.  And right after this picture, he went and wallowed in the mud with his friends.  Of course.

And before anyone thinks I've forgotten her, the princess was also worked.  She's being a handful with spring and her first spring heat cycle.  Oh, the joys of mares.  You know spring is here when she suddenly decides that her flanks are not to be curried.  I didn't really give her a choice, though.  She's shedding at a ridiculous rate.  I thought she was just about done but noooooo.  Ankle deep pile of hair yet again today.  Where is it all coming from?  A TB mare has no business with that much hair.

Consistent work is keeping her under wraps and she's doing well.  We had a little incident where she threw a temper tantrum when she thought I was being rough and unfair.  I didn't necessarily agree, but as she was considering really acting up, I decided to try a different track and let her trot around with her head around her knees for about fifteen minutes before asking her to do much of anything.  I boggled her brain a bit when I asked her to do shoulder in, then a ten meter circle, then haunches in.  She did try, but decided I was out of my gourd.  We also tried her first shoulder in at the canter but she couldn't maintain the canter.  Not quite strong enough to do that move yet, so we'll have to keep working on her strength and endurance so that she can hold collection and really lift herself.  She did give me some lovely, balanced canters and one of her best transitions ever after the really intensive lateral work, so it's making a difference.  Her canter will always lag behind her trot, but it's improving.

Keeping both of these horses in work would be easier if Mother Nature would cooperate.  Another snow storm?  Really?  Where's the petition for this nonsense to stop?!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Humility delivered

School horses are always good at taking our egos down to size.  Here I am, feeling like hot stuff because I've got this Prelim level horse on the way and my own mare has been so fancy lately, and then I have a jumping lesson on a cranky old Thoroughbred gelding.  Sure, I can handle a jumping lesson on him, the kid lessons use him for jumping.  He's obnoxious with the head tossing, ear pinning, and kicking out, but no big deal.

Famous last words.  We were doing all right in the warm up.  I got him going by getting up off his back and letting him canter.  I wasn't overly surprised when he bronc'd a bit and just kicked him on.  Once I had him trotting on the bit and seeming to accept the contact, I started to warm up over a cross-rail.  The situation started to unravel when I had him halt and he dove down with his head and ripped the reins through my ungloved hands.  It hurt and pissed me off.  I corrected him, which pissed him off.  Wuh oh.

He started to fling his head and drop down in front after fences.  I'm not a big fan of being launched, so I'd correct him to pop his head back up.  That pissed him off even more and had him cow kicking and crow hopping.  It was a rapidly escalating situation.  He ticked me off each time he bucked, I pissed him off each time I booted him to make him knock it off.  By the end of the lesson, he bronc'd with me and kicked the wall hard, right next to the mirror.  That was it for me.  I was ticked off and it wasn't getting any better.  I know myself well enough that I ended the lesson there.  I was mad and that meant I had lost control.  I got off and that was it.  I don't ride angry.

I felt so miserable.  I was caught between frustration, anger, and tears.  So much for me going Novice in April and moving up to Training in fall if I couldn't get one creaky old man around a basic course.  I went and got Fiona for her exercise and she was wound up due to the last jumping lesson going on.  The difference, of course, was that when Fi acts up, she accepts correction.  We had a good ride and burned off some of her excess spring energy before working on her lateral work and her lengthenings.  She was feeling really good, swinging her shoulders and really reaching for me in the lengthenings. 

I'll admit, I popped her over a little jump because she'd been hunting them for most of the ride.  If there's a jumping lesson going on, she gets wound up thinking it's going to be her turn next.  I just trotted her over a little fence on long reins, just the way she likes, and she hopped over.  It's nice to be able to do that once in awhile.

Riding her definitely made me feel better.  I'm not incompetent or unable to ride a sensitive horse with a tricky mouth.  Fi is a very sensitive horse with a touchy mouth and we do just fine together.  I've ridden the cranky old man before, too, and we were able to jump around at Novice.  It had to be a combination of spring time wahoos and being a sore, cranky old man that's not used to being corrected like that.  I started to lose my temper, so did he, and we just had to stop.  We're not well suited.  I'm a micro-manager and he just wants to be left alone.

On a more positive note, Ben (the Prelim horse) will be at the barn on Saturday.  It will be a very, very long April for me between work, school, and keeping two horses in work.  I have some volunteers to pick up rides so I don't keel over, but it's still going to be a long month.  Despite yet another knock to my confidence today, I'm getting excited for Ben's arrival.  It's hard to not get excited about a new friend and a new opportunity. 

And to end things on an adorable note, barn dogs!

From left to right:  Baxter, the winter instructor's terrier, Peyton, my little Chugg, and Izzy, the other winter instructor's Georgia Peach (Lab/Shepherd/Boxer/Dachshund/who knows what mix)

These were the three little monsters that were running wild at the barn tonight.  You know it's a mini-dog kind of night when Peyton fits right in, weighing all of 13 pounds.  My little girl has really turned into a good barn dog.  She knows how to avoid being stepped on, to come promptly when called, to stay out of the manure pile, and that there are goodies under the food buckets in most stalls.  Barn days are the best days so far as the dogs are concerned.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Take the leap

How do you know you trust your trainer?

Agree to a lease on a horse you've never met based entirely on her suggestion.

It always seems to go this way.  Lots of planning and long, drawn out decisions are clearly not my style.  No warning, just suddenly, a horse!

I got an e-mail today asking if I would be interested in leasing a Prelim level horse for six months, possibly more.  Considering my shaky confidence and desire to jump again I was quick to reply that yes, I was interested.  A couple e-mails later and we're now organizing when this new horse will be shipped to the winter barn for introductions.

What do I know about this horse?  His name is Bentley, he competes at Prelim, he's a grey TB gelding that is about 16.1h tall and 14 years old.  I did find some video of him on youtube.


I can work with this. Especially as I'm looking to go Novice and maybe move up to Training. He won't even notice that.  I'm still in school, so I won't be focused on competition. Fiona's junior rider from last season is interested in sharing him for the summer, so that will keep the pressure off of me for exercise and schooling.

Of course that means that I need to find a new home for Fiona.  A little goading is probably what I needed, as I've been procrastinating and avoiding the situation.  Fi got her mane pulled, her tail clipped, and her ridiculously hairy self trimmed so that she looks civilized again today.  She does love the primping and was strutting around like the ring was her playground.  The strutting came to an abrupt halt when someone started resetting fences.  As several people noticed, her expression was very much 'no no no you promised!'.  It reinforces the idea that she'll be happier if she never has to worry about jumping again.

The weather continues to be glorious.  I think I'll dare the outdoors tomorrow.  Today the Princess was feeling rather frisky so I decided to be a wimp.  I'm nervous when there are big snow banks that keep me from getting out of the way of rude cars.  I'll try again tomorrow.  Daylight savings is here again, the sun will still be up when I go out.

Time to find the sunglasses.  I will actually see the sun!

Friday, March 8, 2013


I'll admit it, I've been avoiding the barn.  It's hard to ride right now since I'm still an emotional wreck.  I went a week and a half without riding.  Fortunately Fi did get some work, but she ended up getting a week off.  A week off, off of her Regumate, and a winter storm?  Sounds like a perfect time to go for a ride.  If you're crazy.

We all know I'm crazy.  I was out running errands and decided that it was past time for me to go make nice with the princess.  I wasn't even dressed properly.  I had my paddock boots, but no chaps and just my hoodie sweatshirt.  It really was a spontaneous decision and not a recipe for success.

You've got to love any TB mare that can handle a week off with no drama.  Her moment of being bad?  She shook her head for two canter departs.  That bad, bad, wild mare.

Me and Fi after our time off.  We need to clean that mirror.

But the lull is over.  Fi has a session with the dressage specialist on Monday, so she'll be working all weekend to make sure she's ready.  I'm also going to target next weekend for Fi's photo and video shoot.  I've got to quit procrastinating and get a move on finding her the perfect dressage partner.  That means she needs to be cleaned up and tuned up so we can get a decent video of her doing First Level.  My only video of her competing at First Level is of us in the pouring rain, in a grass ring with crappy footing, and I had an error of course.  Not good.

Cleaning her up is going to be a bit of a challenge.  The shedding.  Oh, the shedding.  I had an ankle deep pile of hair when I was done currying today and Fi was convinced that I stopped far too soon.  I'm glad I clipped her so aggressively in the fall, I can't imagine what she'd be like right now if she had a full coat to shed out.  I think I'd choke and die.  The reward is watching Fiona do her impression of a cat, wiggling and leaning into me while I use the metal curry.  I may have to bust out the clippers this weekend.  She looks like a damn yak and her mane is only half pulled.  It's finally warm enough that I can seriously consider spending a couple hours without gloves on.

I'd say trail ride season was here, but we just got another foot of snow.  Okay, Mother Nature, we're good now.  Drought is busted.  Knock it off!