Monday, May 27, 2013

Is it spring yet?

I'm convinced that New England does not want to have a spring this year.  It's ridiculous.  This was Fi on Sunday night.

Yes, she's wearing a blanket on Memorial Day weekend because it was COLD.  It was 56 degrees and the winds were gusting over thirty miles per hour when I took her out for a gallop in the woods.  She appreciated the outing after being kept out of work for two days by the nasty weather.

Then this was Fi today.

It was 72 degrees, sunny, and gorgeous.  Also buggy.  Doesn't she have the cutest fly mask?

We went out for another trail ride, this time accompanied by Dorkzilla.  His owner gave me a run down from the Mary Wanless clinic she attended over the weekend.  We practised posting while the two beasts trotted side by side down the trails.  Both of them can do some gorgeous dressage work while out in the woods.  Good thing, since she's off to a dressage show on June 23 and 24th, doing First Level 1 and 2.

Ben (who won his Novice division over the weekend with his junior rider) is scheduled to go to Valinor June 15th and UNH July 14th with me.  That's all the more I have scheduled, since August is a total mystery right now.

After Fi's last showing flopped, I settled into the idea that she's not going anywhere any time soon.  This time the actual showing went very well, but it seems the interested party is more of a tire kicker and has lost interest.  The perception that horses should just be given away in this economy is still going strong and it's making things difficult.  There aren't any other showings scheduled, despite a new video, so I'm starting to plan long term for Fi again.

She also has a fun trail event this weekend that I'm looking forward to.  We're going to be part of a four person relay team where each member completes their section in a different way.  My friend is doing the running phase, my husband is doing the biking phase, I'm doing the equestrian phase, and another person is doing the kayaking.  It should be a lot of fun.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Close your eyes . . .

. . . and leap.

It's hard getting to know a new partner, particularly when they're so different from your previous partner.  It's taking some time, but that's to be expected when my confidence over fences was really in the gutter.

Ben, to be fair, has given me little reason to worry.  Other than our 'exciting' XC ride, he's been a perfect gentleman.  I point at the jumps, I kick, we go.  End of story.  He's a whole body work out to do dressage with, grinding his teeth and trying to go downhill at all times, but perfectly rideable.  His true redeeming feature is his ho-hum attitude to stadium jumping.

I hopped on today after working the princess (who was awesome, as always).  I used my jump saddle and planned to jump some little stuff to keep us both in practice.  There were some tiny cross rails and verticals set up, all less than two feet, and it was really pretty funny to watch.  Poor Ben was kind of fumbling and landing on his face trying to get in close to such tiny fences.  I hopped off and reset the fences to about 2'6", something low and comfortable while we worked on the ride between fences.

Sitting in isolated glory in the middle of the ring was a training level corner question.  It couldn't be lowered since it rested on a barrel for one side, so it was still set up from when my trainer and some other Prelim level riders were out schooling.  I eyeballed it, but told myself no, I shouldn't do that.  I was supposed to be having a casual ride.

Ben is such a delight to jump, you can pretty much guess what happened next.  I jumped around, really happy to get some clean flying changes and taking that as confirmation that I had him nice and forward.  I turned to the panel, had a great jump in, and the corner was just right there.  A bending three stride put us at a great distance.  Sometimes you've got to just get that first big one out of the way.  I know my eyes closed one stride out.  As soon as I knew Ben was locked on and we were set, I just let him drive and closed my eyes so I wouldn't second guess it.

That saintly meathead just picked his toes up and jumped over like it was no big thing.  There was a little head toss on the other side, but it was more of a 'finally, a real jump!' then any kind of acting up.  I called it done with that.  I was just so darn happy, I'm still smiling.

I'm hoping to get him out for another XC schooling in the next week.  I just need to keep going out until we're comfortable and safe together.  That little glimmer of hope is still very much alive.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


Let's face it, riding can be scary.  You're sitting on a thousand pound animal that has a mind of it's own and if it chooses to leave, you really can't stop it.  If it chooses to unload you, chances are it's going to happen.  If it chooses to stop suddenly, there's not really a lot holding you down.  It can gallop at over thirty miles per hour and if that happens without your permission, all you can do is hang on and hope it changes it's mind.

Yup.  Scary.

Then, as if that's not enough, I took a big TB that's used to going rather briskly, put him out in the open for the first time since October, and pointed him at solid objects to jump.  Oh, and I haven't actually completed a XC course since July last year.  Am I brave or just really, really stupid?  I'm still not sure.

Ben and I took the next step in our relationship yesterday:  XC schooling.

At least he's really cute
We carted the troops off for a day of galloping and jumping.  There were five adult students that played hooky from their various jobs to go play.  We loaded up our five experienced horses and headed out.  Three of the horses had been out already, but two (Dorkzilla and the Meathead) were going out for their first time of the year.  I decided to bit up, putting on Ben's Wonderbit to get some leverage in case I needed it.
Trotting around to warm up wasn't bad.  Cantering wasn't bad, until I came around the end of the field and pointed him back toward home, the trailers, and all of the other horses.  He started to accelerate, I told him no galloping in warm up, and he threw a temper tantrum.  A propping, snorting temper tantrum.  I kicked through it to the best of my ability, but he did it each time I pointed toward home.  The more nervous I got, the bigger the temper tantrums got.  To be fair, he never twisted or tried to unload me, but he was very clear that he disliked me telling him to stop.  He completely forgot how to do anything but halt or canter in a little ball.  I actually had the trainer move the rein on the bit so that it acted like a snaffle so I could take a feel without him completely overreacting.  It didn't help much and he managed to shake me loose enough that I really thought I was going to be eating dirt. 
It was the first time in years that I was genuinely scared while riding.  I got so damn spoiled riding Fi.  I was fearless on my mare and that made this even more terrifying.  When he dropped his head and propped, I had no idea if he was about to send me flying.  When he jumped and took off, I had no idea if he was going to bronc or if I could regain control.  As I told my trainer, 'this sucks!'.  My trainer had the right idea and just kept sending me out over and over again, despite my protests, to do a long loop around the field over low fences, forcing us to figure each other out and wearing us both down.  He needed to be less excited, I needed to be less petrified, and exhaustion would take care of both.  It wasn't a recipe for a soothing, beautiful ride.  He was going to be naughty on his first outing, I was going to be nervous on a new horse, this was all expected.  At least that's what the logical part of me was saying.
It's really hard to be logical when the hind brain is scrabbling at the inside of your skull and screaming, "I'm out of control and he's really big and I'm going to get hurt and I'm scared and I WANT OFF!!!".  The front part of my brain was logically going through the variables and commanding my legs to get out in front of me, ordering my upper body back, and forcing my hands to go down and release so he could gallop.  And in the middle of my brain?  Some safety feature kicked in and I started belting out "Henry the Eighth" at the tops of my lungs.  They taught me to sing when jumping as a kid when I was nervous and it still works.  Of course I used to use Mary Had a Little Lamb, but Henry the Eighth works better when galloping down to a table or drop into water.
My friends were highly amused and told me to not quit my day job.
But the important part was that it worked.  I came down a notch from my frantic grabbing, Ben's ears flicked back since I was actually opening my mouth and communicating again, I starting breathing (which really helps), and singing is good for releasing feel good hormones.  I'm singing, things can't be that bad.  I made it down the bank, dropped into the water, jumped the log out, took the big ditch, jumped the little house, looped around to the coop, and finished up over the big table.  I even managed to jump up the one stride steps.  Not bad for my first school in nearly a year and my first school with my new partner.

My trainer said that she completely understood being nervous in the situation and that she kind of wished we'd gone to a smaller schooling facility for that first outing, but I said it was better this way.  Get out there, get it done, and prove to myself that I could do it.  Fun?  No, not in the slightest, but sometimes I need to quit being a chicken shit and just get it done.  I can do it, Ben can do it, we just needed to knock some rust off.  We were both well within our comfort zones for the questions asked, it was all about us figuring out each other.  If this was Ben at his worst, we were going to be just fine.  By the end of the ride I'd found the brakes and could hit them without the temper tantrum and felt comfortable galloping down to a fence.

When I got off, I almost fell down.   My hands and knees were shaking so hard that I could barely walk him to the trailers.  I finally noticed how much adrenaline I had in my system when I couldn't speak a coherent sentence.  My legs ached from holding on so tightly.  Today I'm an aching wreck from shoulders to ankles.  Not only am I out of practice, I had to ride my brains out to get around.  My body is not pleased with me.

But I'm pleased with me.  There's a sign in the barn that says "Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway".  I was definitely courageous.  Here's hoping I get it under control before my first show.  The trainer will be very embarrassed if I'm still belting out melodies while jumping.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Hear that sound?  That horrible grinding racket?  That would be the gears starting to rotate.  At long last, 2013 is getting started.  At least for me.  Everyone else seems to have been working on 2013 for awhile now, I'm just a slow starter.

The entry for Valinor is lying in front of me, just about ready to mail off.  June 15th, I'll tackle their Novice course yet again but this time with Ben instead of Fiona.  I just love Valinor for their cross-country course.  The rolling terrain really makes me feel like I'm going across the country and the jumps are so inviting.  The stadium course is on a hill and that makes it challenging, but I can work with that.

It also looks like I'll be getting in my first cross-country school this week.  Scarlett Hill opened this week and a group of adults are planning to play hooky and get an early school in.  I'm a little nervous since it's Ben's first outing of the season and our first outing together, but I'm also excited to see how we do.  We've been doing really well in the ring, hopefully it will carry over to the great outdoors.

I feel like there's smoke coming out of my ears as the rust is knocked loose.  I have to find my vest for cross-country.  I'm sure it's around here somewhere . . .

Fi's latest showing got cancelled (the lady would rather get a gelding, bah), so the princess doesn't have anyone else looking until the 20th.  I'm accepting the fact that she's going to be a very difficult sell and trying to settle into a rhythm where she's my dressage specialist and Ben is my eventing partner.  Riding both in one evening is a real challenge, especially after work and before sunset.  Dorkzilla's owner is still helping out twice a week and it's making a big difference.  I get to see my husband once in awhile!  I'm hitting the trails with the princess to keep us both sane and continuing to tune her up in the ring.  Her collected work is coming along nicely.  I think I'll sneak her off to the dressage show at UNH in late June.  Hopefully someone will be interested in an affordable First Level horse.

She's also got a trail event on June 1st as part of a relay team.  It's going to be hilarious.  It's a four person relay team with each member hitting the trails in a different way.  The first person runs four miles, the second person mountain bikes four miles, the third person rides four miles, and the last kayaks.  Fi and I are taking on the riding segment, my husband is handling the biking segment.  It's the first time in a long time that we've been able to go out and hit the trails together.  It's almost too bad that it's an optimum time competition for the horses.  Fi and I can do four miles in about fifteen minutes, but we'll have to trot along politely and try to think 'trail horse' rather than 'big, strong Thoroughbred'.

Big strong Thoroughbred is a heck of a lot more fun, but I think I'd get nervous at an event with everyone going for speed for four miles.  Fi can do it and keep her marbles, but she's more the exception than the rule.

These horse shoppers don't know what they're missing.