Saturday, April 27, 2013


It's hard to move on when you don't know what's coming.  Fiona is still up for sale and there are still people coming to see her, so it's impossible to make long term plans for now.  This leaves me in a unique form of stasis.  On the one hand, I want to spoil my mare.  I want to buy her things, cuddle with her, really be invested in her but at the same time I know she may very well not be mine for long.  It doesn't make sense to buy her equipment.  While I have her, competition budget is limited by having two horses.  I can't really move.

It's a weird, awkward, uncomfortable feeling.  I'm trying to put some distance between myself and the princess so I can better cope with the fact that she's for sale.  It's a bit more difficult when she's absolutely adorable and snuggly.  She's been fabulous to ride lately, other than having some yahoos due to spring and moving to the summer barn.  She's always a handful for a week or two after moving outside.  All that fresh air and open space just goes right to her head.  Of course, her version of being bad is to be overly forward and shake her head. She's soooo bad.  Really, she's bad.  She promises.  Dorkzilla has been out with an abscess, so his owner has been putting in rides on Fi and has really enjoyed their time together.  I feel a lot of pride when I hear how pleasant she is, how responsive and educated she's become.

At the same time, I'm riding Ben.  He's not Fiona.  He's Fiona's absolute polar opposite.  He hates dressage, he loves to jump.  He's a bit of a chicken and doesn't hack out with other horses.  He has a decent spook, particularly around piles of equipment and people running around.  He is an amazing, amazing horse to jump.  He is such a joy to ride, but such a meathead as a personality.  I feel like I need a bullhorn sometimes so I can yell "Hello, meathead!  I'm up here!  Pay attention!".  I might possibly need pompoms.  But he saves my bacon over fences and is so . . . him.  I've always considered myself a senior TB gelding addict, and he's exactly my type. He's just a big, dorky, kind gentleman of a horse that is convinced the shed is going to eat him.

Despite the weird feeling, I'm going ahead with my plans to debut with Ben at Novice in June.  I can live off of ramen for a bit to get a chance to show this handsome hunk of a TB.  He's got two May outings with his other rider, so it should be a recipe for success.  Tiny jumps, easy dressage, slow cross country.  I can just leave him in his lazy hunter mode and enjoy my day.

I have started to feel a tickle of something with him that I haven't felt in awhile.  Probably not since August last year.  I'm pretty sure it's hope.  Hope that I can really make my move to Training this year.  Hope that our lessons at Novice that are so easy and amazing will continue and that I'll be able to head into competition feeling like 'we've got this, just sit back and watch'.  A small, traitorous part of me is hoping that Fi finds her new dream home so I can throw all of my time and resources into Ben and finally have that summer.

But for now, I wait.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Deja vu

Allen was the first horse I ever owned.  I did a write up about him in a previous entry.  The short version was that he was a big, black, loud TB gelding that was nicknamed the Hellbeast.  I adored that horse and lamented that I came into his story so late.  Of course, I probably couldn't have handled him when he was in his prime.

Me and Allen, a long time ago

Today I was riding Ben and doing some jumping.  We're still around Beginner Novice height, but that's mostly because I'm enjoying my returning confidence and want to take it slow.  It just so damn nice to go out and jump around with no fuss, no drama.  I point, I kick, he jumps.  At this low level, that's all there is.  I know when I move up to something bigger it will take more work to lift him up off of his forehand, but for now, I feel like I'm riding a hunter again.  I was ready to cry today after jumping around.  It's just that much of a relief to have it all be so easy again.  I was happy and relaxed and smiling the whole time.  We did have a bit of an argument about one line.  It went something like this:


Hey, we're going to jump the cross rail.
Something in the door is trying to kill me.
Focus, we're going to jump the cross rail.
Okay, okay, we're jumping the cross rail.

- jump the cross rail -

And now we take the bending line to the one stride!
No, we bend to the green and white vertical.
No no no, I can see the one stride.
It's the vertical!
One stride!
One stride!
So help me, horse, I'm the one with opposable thumbs and I know the actual course!
Fine, you stubborn human!

- jump the vertical -
- walk -

. . . want to try that again?
Sure, sounds like fun.


Smart ass old men, thinking they know the course better than I do.  But you certainly can't complain when the only downside to your ride is your horse locking on to the wrong fence.  The entire conversation between the cross rail and vertical took about six strides, so not a major issue.  He can be such a meathead, but he's cute so it's okay.

So what does this have to do with my horse Allen?  After I made a stupid mistake, I heard myself say 'sorry, Allen'.  Wait, what?  Ben jumps nothing like Allen, what was that about?

Aside from the fact that Ben is almost Allen's twin in terms of build, Ben is in that same group of horses:  wise old men that will take care of a rider when necessary.  He's only fourteen, but he's definitely got the same feel.  He's been there, done that, and is now looking out for the less experienced rider.  He's not perfect, he's certainly willing to argue with me about something.  It's the same feature that will keep me safe on cross country in the future.  Allen would sigh and take charge when I did something stupid, Ben does the same.  Galloping down to a fence and you suddenly have that sinking realization that you've ridden your horse down to no spot?  Put your hands on the neck, put your leg on, and thank your lucky stars that the old man you're riding knows his job better than you do.  He may not make it comfortable for you, but you will land on the other side safely.

The conversation I had while jumping was one that I could have easily had with the Hellbeast.  With Ben nuzzling at my neck, I couldn't help but think of Allen, doing the same thing a long time ago.  It gave me a sense of deja vu.  I think I'll go back and watch videos of my beloved jumper tonight and think about what we did together.

Friday, April 5, 2013


That pretty much sums up Fi's second showing.

It started out well.  I technically wasn't there, but I needed to drop off white polos for the princess so stuck around to ride Ben.  And yes, I did want to meet the people that were considering buying my princess.  They were quite nice.  They mentioned the lady had been riding for five or six years, so that sounded promising.  I walked Ben into the ring as the trainer was riding Fiona and she looked like a million bucks, trotting around very chill with her head down.  She tossed the rider up and they trotted around together, looking wonderful.  Fi wasn't on the bit, but she was being polite and quiet.  The rider wasn't experienced enough to really get her on the bit or adjust her trot, but they looked happy together.

I didn't know the lady was scared of cantering.  They asked for a walk to canter transition, but the lady didn't have the experience necessary to prep Fiona for it and then would get scared when Fi hopped up into the transition.  It ended with Fi trotting each time.  The problem was that they tried again, and again, and again, and the princess started to get tense.  She was doing what she thought she was supposed to do, but they kept stopping her which she takes as a correction.  That always upsets her.  Her tension made the rider nervous and the situation started to escalate.

She had a lovely canter from the trot and I told her to stay on a twenty meter circle if she was nervous.  Fi will offer a lenghtening on the long side, but will hold steady on a circle.  The woman was quite nervous, I'd say she'd crossed into being scared at this point, and abandoned the circle to return to the rail.  Fi got quick, the woman flat out panicked, and for the first time since I bought her, Fiona panicked.  Whites of her eyes, head in the air panicked.

They made it around the ring twice before the woman got herself together enough to sit up and say 'whoa' with intent.  Fi shifted back to a little canter, still looking terrified, and then spotted me.  I've never been the one standing on the ground calling for a scared horse before.  I called for her at the same time the lady got her back and she made a bee line for me, trotting up and halting right in front of me.  Poor thing was just petrified.  She'd been bad, she knew she'd been bad, but she had no idea what she was supposed to do.  She just wanted me to pet her and tell her she was okay.  I held her and let her calm down.  She was blowing like a freight train and still trembling.

The lady slid off and everyone declared that it wasn't a match, Fi was too advanced for her.  When the rider asked for a canter, she would get things like haunches in which freaked her out.  If you're not used to it, horses going sideways or swinging their haunches around can be scary and usually comes before them being very naughty.  If she was nervous about cantering, that had to be mildly terrifying.  Then there's Fi's big, round canter.  Even when she's being quiet, she covers some serious ground.  If I'd known the lady was this nervous about cantering, I may have nixed the whole thing.  The princess is a kind, forgiving, gentle horse, but she's exactly as brave as her rider.  No one has ever panicked with her and now we see what happens.

I did have to sit and think back at all of the things she's faced, trying to figure out what caused today's incident.  This is the mare that will face absolutely anything without panic, she's never bolted in all the time I've had her, what the heck?  But as I went through the list, I realized that she's never had a scared rider.  We've only put confident riders that would enjoy her on her back.  Experience was secondary to a rider that was just confident.  Even the less experienced juniors that borrow her for lessons enjoy cantering and the fact that she'll just go and go all day.  They're comfortable with her getting a bit quick and know that she'll stop if they ask.  They know that she's got some fancy buttons and just laugh when they get the wrong thing.  Fiona has not had a rider that rode scared since . . .

The lady I bought her from.  The one that was terrified of her and couldn't ride her.  The one that knocked Fiona over while trying to canter.

Ding ding ding.  That would be my lightbulb turning on.  Holy crap.

I'll talk to my trainer tonight.  We'll have to tighten up the screening process.  They need to be confident at all three gaits to try her.  Experience, skill, and confidence aren't the same things. 

I'm trying to not beat myself up too much over this.  The woman was so broken hearted, she'd really enjoyed Fiona and was all ready to set up a vetting.  She was so excited for this pretty, fancy, sweet mare she'd found and I was excited that this nice lady in a great situation was interested.  But at the same time, I'm glad it happened now.  Better now than two weeks after they bought her and poor Fi being up for sale again, except this time as a bolter.  On the one hand, I feel like I should have trained her better.  Desensitized her a bit, made her a bit less responsive, but my friend just about whacked me in the head for saying that.  As she put it, Fiona is a talented, correctly trained horse.  You don't change that, you just find her the right rider.  Someone with more experience is coming out tomorrow, so we'll see what they think. 

Tonight I switch to martinis.  Tomorrow, I think Fi and I are going out for a hack.  Poor little mare, this has been just as hard for her as it has been for me.  She needs to go out and defuse for a bit.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Waiting game

This image has nothing to do with anything, it just cracked me up. 
Doesn't matter the discipline, schooling rings suck.

Selling horses sucks almost as much as buying one.  Just in case anyone was curious.  I've got plenty of experience with shopping for a horse and everything that goes with that:  long drives, false descriptions, and the feeling that your taking your life into your hands with the snorting beast that they swear is a packer.  Yeah, right, and I'm the queen of England.  I even had the one horse that swung around on a lunge line and struck out at me.  I should have charged that lady for the lesson in ground manners her horse received.  No, I didn't seriously consider him.  I like my trainer and her working students too much for that.

Now I'm on the other side.  Calls with silly questions, biting my nails wondering if my horse will act up for the first time in her life, primping and grooming and trying to not wake up in the middle of the night wondering if I should have left her polos at the barn.  Why do dressage riders insist on white polos?  One ride and I've got to wash the things.

Luck hasn't been entirely on my side.  Her first showing was a complete bust.  The lady was looking for an all around horse to replace her draft cross that was retiring due to old age.  Fi was very well behaved for the showing (I was hiding in the viewing room so I could watch), but it wasn't a match.  She asked for a canter from a long reined walk and Fi was perplexed.  Walk to canter is a very formal move for her and she needs to be on the bit and working, not walking around with her head around her knees.  To be fair, all she did was pick her head up and set off at a quick trot, ears flicking every which way while she tried to figure out what she was supposed to be doing.  The ride lasted maybe five minutes.  Not a match.

My sales video attempt was also a disaster.  Fi was in heat and kept looking toward the door rather than keeping a steady contact.  Minor, sure, but it looked terrible on video, like she couldn't hold a contact.  Bah.  It's a pity, she was actually being very good and did nice work.  Steady shoulder in, calm simple changes, nice stretches, but as a video clip for a sale it didn't work.  I went home and had a beer.  Whiskey barrel porter that I actually helped to brew, very nice at the end of a stressful day. 

Today was another showing. It's been a bit chaotic since I'm not directly interacting with anyone that's out to look at the princess.  All conversations are going through my trainer and she's being shown by other people.  Today it was Dorkzilla's owner that showed her which worked out well, since the trio watching were all DQs.  A trainer, a barn owner, and a potential owner/rider.  From the report I got, it was a complete success.  The potential trainer rode Fi and liked how responsive and comfortable she was.  The rider was less experienced and had some trouble with the canter transition, but the trainer loved how safe they looked together and how willing Fi was.  Rumor has it Fi took good care of the rider and the rider was excited by the potential to do things like go to the beach.  They're coming back on Friday for a second look, since they had another horse to check out.

Part of me is relieved.  Someone came to look at my horse and liked her enough to come back for a second look.  This is also someone that rides at a barn where some of my friends keep their horses.  They have references that check out, Fi wouldn't be that far away, and they've probably already heard quite a bit about the princess.  I like the sound of that quite a bit.  At the same time, I'm apprehensive.  They have another horse to look at and Fi would have to be a super star yet again on Friday.  And then a vet.  And then what?  

There's an experiment you see in psychology.  A rat is put in a cage with food on one side.  In order to get to the food, the rat has to cross a plate where it will receive an electric shock.  The rat wants the food, but does not want to be shocked.  This causes quite a bit of anxiety.  I sympathize with the rat.  I want Fi to sell and go to a good home, but I don't want her to go away.  Part of me was relieved at the bad showing, part of me was stressed because of the good showing.  I'm going through more antacids doing this than I did when I was horse shopping!

It's a waiting game.  I'm not directly involved, so for me, it's mostly waiting for text messages, keeping her immaculate, and washing polos.  I'm glad my trainer is handling this, I think my hubby would smother me with a pillow if I was also screening e-mails and phone calls.  As it is, I think he's going to hide the coffee from me.  It seems I'm a bit wired and he doesn't think I need more stimulants.  I don't know what he's talking about, climbing the walls and hanging from the ceiling is completely normal!

Hush, let me have my moments of delusion.