Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lady in Red

Me and the Princess rocking it at UNH, First Level 1, 67%
Even with my lack of navigation skills 

Fiona has been on the market for quite awhile.  It was almost a year ago that she stopped jumping on us.  She's been for sale for about five months with no luck.  We haven't even had a nibble in awhile.  There's very little interest in a TB dressage horse, particularly not a chestnut mare.  If she was a WB or QH, she'd be long gone, but we can't even get people to come out and see her due to her breed.

With that in mind and a handsome hunk of a Meathead eating his head off, I made yet another difficult decision.  The Princess is heading off to UNH for a 30 day trial in their equine program to see if she suits.  If she's a match, I'm going to donate her to the program.

Why on Earth would I give away my precious girl?

Because she would be safer and better cared for at UNH then she would be at many homes.  I can go visit her whenever I want and can see her at the UNH shows.  I'll have right of first refusal when it's time for her to retire.  She'll get the chance to be a dressage specialist that also enjoys trail rides.  She'll be in a program and get the work and attention she deserves.

In many ways, its the ideal situation for her.  She's been helping out with the flat lessons at the barn more and more.  The students love her, she's not your typical school horse.  Kick?  Ha, only in the free walk.  Be ignored?  Never.  The Princess only ignores me when I turn into an alien in competition.  She will be happy with a parade of college kids to fuss over her, exercise her, and curry her belly.  I always said I wanted her to be more like Black Beauty than the Black Stallion, and in that I achieved my goal.  Fi will go for anyone that knows how to ask properly.

We're getting her records together and making arrangements for her sleep over.  With any luck, she'll be the dressage teacher UNH is looking for and Fiona will have found her niche.

I'll just be over here in the corner.  Gibbering.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Teachers and students

As I've mentioned on occasion, I sometimes teach at the barn as a substitute.  This is useful for the barn since it means they have a back up when the regular teachers have a conflict.  It's nice for me because it keeps me in practice as a teacher and, when it's not what I'm doing for a living, it's fun.  After working in an office job, spending a couple hours trying to keep kids on top of ponies is a nice change of pace.

With my background in the hunter/jumper world, I'm a bit different than the other teachers.  I'm a stickler for position and accurate riding.  My personality is also a bit different.  I'm a hard nose and drive students a bit harder.  Jumping position until their legs shake, no stirrup work, gymnastics and complicated courses, all of that is in my repertoire.  I can't tell if the kids are happy to see me or not.  On the one hand, I'm the sub so I shake things up.  On the other hand, I have no issue with barking if a kid does something I think is dangerous.

I've subbed in enough to know the kids now.  We've worked out a teacher/student relationship and I do think of them as my students.  I get all protective of them when I start thinking of them as my students.

One of my kids gave me a very serious scare today.  It wasn't too terribly hot, cooler than it's been, but it was very humid.  I had them going through a pattern one at a time.  I turned to one of them, asking her if she was ready for her turn, and she said that her stomach hurt.  I walked over, asking her what kind of hurt, and noticed she looked pale.  I repeated my question and she wasn't focusing properly.  She didn't respond.  At this point I noticed she was trembling.  I reached up to wave my hand in front of her face and saw her list to the off side.  All I could think was 'she's having a *** damn seizure!'.  I grabbed her arm as she slumped forward, half conscious.  She was aware enough to hang on to the reins and keep her feet in the stirrups, but wasn't responding.

I had to ask her a couple times to let go of the reins and take her feet out of the stirrups before she complied.  At that point she was a bit like a sack of potatoes.  I gave her a tug and she slid off into my arms.  Good thing she was a little one, since I had to completely catch her.  Also a good thing she was on the amazing school horse Red.  He just stood there while all of this was going on, still as a statue, even as I hauled her half conscious self to sit on the coop.

I asked if she was diabetic, epileptic, had any allergies, but she said no to everything.  She looked better now that she was on the ground.  Her grandmother was waiting in a car, so I took her arm so I could walk her across the ring to her grandmother.  We made it maybe ten feet before she melted on me.  I caught her and this time, she was lowered to the ground.

Fortunately the working students arrived at about that point so I had help.  We laid her on her back with one of the students holding her feet up.  She'd gone gray and though she never completely lost consciousness, for all intents and purposes, she'd passed out.  Her grandmother spotted us at this point and rushed over with water and an Epi-pen.  No Epi-pen needed, and after lying on the cold sand and drinking water for about ten minutes, my student was back on her feet and her color was back to normal.

It was a lesson on how easy it is for a kid to overheat or dehydrate.  She had breakfast 2.5 hours before and that was the last time she had something to drink.  45 minutes in the saddle in high humidity was enough to send her system into shut down.  She rebounded just fine once she downed a bottle of water and had some time to chill. 

That was one of the scariest damn things that have ever happened while I was teaching.  In the end no harm done, but I will certainly be harassing my parents about bringing water in future lessons.  This sport is going to give me a heart attack, one way or another.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


It's amazing to me how adaptable humans are.  I was horrified to go Training just last week, and this week?  I went about in a relatively calm and non-chalant manner.  Once the paradigm has shifted, we seem quite content to accept the new reality as though it's always been that way.

It's not to say it was perfect.  Or even overly good.  But I was out there doing my job without hysterics or a panic attack.  It's progress.

My dressage was 'pleasant', to use the judge's words, but needed more.  More energy, more bend, more self carriage.  I was far too occupied with trying to ride my first Training test in that little dressage arena to worry about little things like actually riding my horse.  The letters come up fast when the ring is little.  We got a harsh score of 42.7, but she was a bit rough with the class.  The lead score was a 35 or something like that.  We were last in a division of six, but I was pleased that I had remembered my test.

I went to swap my gear to jumping equipment and realized I'd forgotten my vest.  Of all pieces of equipment to forget, it was my vest!!!  That's what you get when you work long hours and then pack at 4:30am.   In desperation I went looking for anyone that would lend one to me, but everyone riding with my barn was off helping.  I didn't recognize any of the equipment in the trailer, so I dejectedly went to stadium thinking I wouldn't get to ride cross-country.  Lo and behold, I found the barn's teenagers playing jump crew.  I told them why I wasn't mounted and they immediately took off to get me vests.  Of course this means I was stuffed into a skinny teenager's vest, but I take it as a point of pride that I was able to get it zipped up.  Who needs to breathe while jumping?  I don't usually breathe while jumping anyway!

At this point, the horse before me is already heading into the ring.  One of the girls gave me a leg up and I took off for warm up.  I trotted into warm up and right over the cross rail.  The poor Meathead was still figuring out that we were jumping now when we moved on to the Training height vertical and oxer.  30 second warm up and then we charged into stadium, just barely on time.

I also didn't get a chance to walk my stadium course.  I read the map, but never actually went into the arena.  Oops.

So there I am, facing my first Training stadium course in wet grass with no idea on distances.  Thank goodness for all of those years riding as a jumper.  I rode very forward and we actually had a really good round.  We left all of the fences up and didn't miss any jumps.  We did have a bit of trouble with the combinations, since I didn't know how many strides they would be until I was on top of them.  The one stride worked beautifully, we took a long spot to the two stride and ended up chipping in to get the second stride in.  All that matters is that Ben and I got around and left everything up, a bit of a rare feat for that course.

From there it was straight to cross country.  I barely had time to catch my breath or stretch my legs that were cramping due to our sudden start.  Off we went on our second Training level cross country course.  It started out really well, all the way through 5 A and B.  Then the Meathead got a bit rude with me, doing his charge off and temper tantrum routine.  I think I got him wound up for that stadium round then had to deal with the after effects on cross country.  Since it was untimed, I made him halt right there in the middle of the course so we could have a discussion on manners.  We jumped along well after that, though we did have to trot again while we discussed his manners going to the skinny.  By the end of the course we were back to galloping along with a much more mannerly attitude.

Due to half of my division getting eliminated by missing fences on cross country and someone else getting a stop, Ben and I finished second.  We were the only ones in the division to end on our dressage score.  I was definitely feeling proud of our achievement, even if our cross country time would have been terrible due to my schooling.

Ben's next outing is with a junior rider that is borrowing him due to her horse's injury.  Yes, yet another junior rider wants to borrow my pony.  I seem to have a theme.  He'll be off to UNH to run Novice (or Beginner Novice, depends on whether or not they were able to change her division).  She's a tough cookie, I'm sure she'll be able to handle him cross country.  But I already told her, leave the spurs behind for that phase.  I forgot to take them off with the vest fiasco.  It led to a sharp stadium round, but an explosive cross country course.  I don't think she'll need that for Novice.

As for me?  I'm going to take August off from showing so I can focus on my school work and getting some of the pieces in place.  As the dressage judge said, we have a lot of work to do and I have some fitness work ahead of me if I want to compete at 400 mpm.

But come September, we may be ready to go Training at a sanctioned event.  Paradigm shifted.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Welcome to the New Age

Ben's always been a bit of a mixed bag for me.  On the one hand, I love riding him and I always have a big, dopy grin on my face when I'm jumping him.  At the same time, he scared the crap out of me on cross country and we've had a very rough start in that phase.  He's a cuddly puppy dog, but what a Meathead!

Today he won my long term loyalty.  With my move up to Training looming, I begged my trainer to include me on a cross country schooling outing today.  I was petrified at the idea of going out and trying to get around at Training without at least one more attempt at getting the two of us on the same page.  She agreed, and I showed up at the barn today to load up the gear and my Meathead.

Small catch.  It wasn't a schooling trip, it was a schooling show.  I was going to be going around at Training.  HURK.

I was beside myself walking the course.  I love Scarlett Hill, the courses are always gorgeous with lots of room for galloping, but they don't tend to pull punches on cross country.  These bad boys were to height and there were a lot of firsts for me.  A ditch combination (jump the ditch at an angle, three strides, ramp), a corner, a trakhaner, a skinny, a maxed out table and a beefy parallel oxer, a water combination (drop into water, three/four strides, jump out over a bank), and all at 400 mpm.  HURK.

I gibbered.  I fidgeted.  I fretted.  I pleaded with my trainer to let me move back down or to skip some of the fences (like the holy hell FML trakhaner).  I sang ditties through out my entire warm up just so I would keep breathing.  I was belting out Henry the Eighth while I circled the start box.  My trainer just shook her head and told me to just get out there and have fun.  I was on Ben, after all!  HURK.

Fun?  a;ldskf;akjdf  I was ready to have a heart attack and fall out of the saddle, especially when we had to wait for the rider in front of me to get tossed back on her horse after they had a parting of the ways.

I came out of the start box and attacked the course like I'd been instructed to.  I left my spurs behind so I could kick without reservation.  Holy crap, we found our groove.  I let him do his job, he let me pick the fences, and we marched around.  I even managed to get most of the way around without the fear muscle fatigue catching up to me.  It got me right around fence 15, the drop coming out of the woods.  I landed and felt rattled, so hauled Ben back.  He didn't like that.  Up next was the water combination and I was riding backwards to it.  I looked down, so Ben stopped to do a gator check.  I gave him a spank and he dropped in, jumped out, then threw a temper tantrum.

"First you look down, then you spank me?!  Nuh uh, little girl, you have lost your driving privileges!"

Thank goodness we only had one fence left, because the Meathead took off with me like a bat out of hell.  I got him over the last one, pulled him up after a serious fight, and gave him a big pat.  He accepted my apology and we moseyed back to the trailer like nothing happened.

On the way home, I treated myself to a butterscotch sundae.  I think I earned it.

So I guess this makes us ready for our great Training level debut next week, since I've now schooled all of the Training level questions.  And lived to tell the tale!  The trainer is all set on us making this final and not sneaking back down to Novice again this season.  And you know?  I think I'm okay with that.