Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015, the year of the - holy $hit, Theo, what are you doing??!!

2015 was an exciting year.  It saw me return to the saddle after a 1.5 year hiatus.  It saw the appearance of Theo, my new darling with all of his lazy quirks.  It brought in a new trainer, a new stable, and a new focus in my riding.

Hello, papi

It also brought the abscess wars, a lot of aching muscles, and the joys of falling in love with a horse I don't own.

Abby the Abscess

I couldn't have predicted anything that happened in 2015.  At the start of it, I wasn't even thinking about riding.  At the middle, I wasn't seriously thinking about competing.  Now I'm back in, whole hog, planning on my First Level debut and setting aside funds for our trip to regionals.  Funds that I raided today to pay for a new muffler so my car could pass my state inspection, but let's just ignore that for a moment.

What does 2016 hold?  Who knows.  Considering how wild 2015 was, I don't know what 2016 could possibly include.  I hope it includes my last qualifying First Level score.  I hope it includes a trip to Saugerties for the regional championships.  I hope it includes sitting trot and lengthenings and a cross country performance that doesn't have triple digit penalties.

With age comes patience and so long as I'm sound and Theo's sound, it will be a good year.  Ribbons are secondary to the basic goal of being happy and healthy.  I said that when I was younger but now, I really mean it.  So long as everyone is happy and healthy, we're good.

I have my conservative goals and I have some stretch goals to keep me motivated (Prix St George, anyone?).  I believe in reaching for the stars.  Even if I fall short, I'll still have a Third Level horse and my Bronze medal.  I'm just becoming more aware of how little control I actually have over things.  I can't control his soundness at the end of the day.  I can't control his moods or his physical limitations.  All I can control is me, and that adds up to only 50% of the equation.  I don't even have a majority.
Mary Wanless trying to bring my body under some sort of control

But I have a good feeling about 2016.  We've been working very hard on the foundations and our relationship.  I feel like we're on the right track and that our goals are very achievable.  I fully expect to be trotting down center line at our regional championships in 2016.  I'll be broke, sore, and tired, but I'll be doing something I've always dreamed of and that's what counts.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Baby brain

This is Tuck.

He is adorable.

Tuck, (or Tuckaronni, I take the blame for that one) is the four year old appy that I mentioned that managed to bite someone's finger recently.  He's been my partner for a couple lessons while I got Theo's feet sorted out (which happened today! but that's for another post).  Trainer A and Trainer R evidently had a talk and decided that he was the one that would teach me the best habits.

I usually call him baby pony as a reminder to myself that he is, in the end, just a baby.  He doesn't currently canter under saddle, he's that green.  I haven't ridden a baby in a long while, so it's good for me.  There are some basic differences when working with a horse that's both green and young.  You expect a short attention span, very distractable, and a lot of question marks.  You also have a very soft touch with corrections, since you're usually working with confusion as opposed to learned defiance.  When he decided to baulk and not walk down to the ring politely, my correction was "Don't be so four!"  What else can you say to a baulky baby?

Baby pony knew just about zero when he showed up.  He was supposed to be a barrel pony, so that's all he knew.  Gallop and turn.  Trainer A got him going at a trot and it turns out he has a fantastic brain.  Many of the teens are now cleared to ride him at the walk and trot.  He's solid on the trails and was a saint on his first trip to the beach, even when galloping with a group.

He also has a freakin' ridiculous trot.  He's a stereotypical down hill appy that stands about 14.3, but his trot stride is as long as Theo's.  He shares trot pole sets with mi papi and Miss Thang.  They're the only three in the barn that can handle trot poles set long.  Miss Thang is about 16.2 and Papi is about 16.1, for the record.   He's so loose through the shoulder and back that it's ridiculous.  It's no effort for him to stretch out another 6" through the shoulder and make a distance work.  He wears bell boots due to his combination of downhill build and big overstep.  The first time I got on I felt completely lost.  What the hell was going on with this pony and all of this movement?  Just walking around as a green bean, he had so much movement through his back, hip, and shoulder.  He's going to be a hard core toe flicking monster when he's strong enough to fight against his conformation and sit on that beast of an engine behind the saddle.

If his conformation was anything near a horse that could do collection, I'd be tempted.  Very tempted.

The first time I rode him, I was pretty unnerved.  His body wiggles and wobbles all over the place.  Three horses had taken off with riders already (cold snap after the heat of Christmas) and two riders had fallen.  Not my favorite day for meeting a new four year old.  Trainer A was trying to manage Juice Box who was on his third hour of riding after dumping a little girl and was still jigging.  After letting us get to know each other, we went out for a trail ride/trot set.  He was lovely, aside from trying to chew on Juice Box's tail.  It made me much more confident in him.

Today we had lesson #2.  With the recent snow and ice, everyone had to stay indoors.  I tossed the baby on the lunge to start with due to him being very busy on the cross ties.  Turned out to be a good call, he ripped a couple of big bucks.  I did notice that the athleticism does translate to bucking potential.  Hurk.  But with a couple out of his system, he went to trotting with his nose in the dirt.  I hopped on and we had a very productive ride.  He's still learning to step off of the leg and he gave me some of his first steps of leg yield at the walk.

The reason Trainer A and Trainer R put me on him was because he gets offended by busy hands and likes a rider that really sits on him (hello, former barrel racer).  For a rider that tends to perch and play with the reins, it's a good lesson.  I had to ask for those downward transitions from my seat or get a four year old reaction with bracing and neck twisting.  Since he's also naturally forward, I didn't need to worry about pushing him along, I could really focus on preparing for and riding the downward transition.  It worked, since I was able to isolate the parts of my body I use for sitting trot, sitting heavy, and transition down.  It was a very interesting revelation for me.  The sitting trot requires most of my core, giving me stability (the bear down from the Mary Wanless clinic).  The heavy sitting feels like I'm pushing my center of gravity down around my hips.  While sitting heavy, I resist right around my diaphragm, front and back.  Boom, walking.  A big exhale helps.

It wasn't the muscles I thought I was supposed to use, so that was a breakthrough for me.  I think it's going to help me with Theo.  Not that he struggles with downward transitions.  He quite loves them.

Trainer A suggested that I sprinkle in some lessons with baby pony to keep pushing forward with my progress over the last two lessons.  I think I'm on board.  He's fun to ride and is a completely different beast.  After I put him away, I had mi papi on the lunge.  Theo is a completely and utterly different animal.  He's built to take weight back and push.  Baby pony is going to be someone's bff and win everything in low level eventing while Theo and I chase that Bronze. 

Some little girl is going to be very, very lucky.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

How To: Wrap a Hoof

Thanks, Theo, for giving me a chance to write up another how to entry.

This is a write up of how I wrap a hoof.  I did this for a pulled shoe when I knew the farrier wasn't going to be out for at least a day, but it's the same wrap I would do for a bruise or an abscess that hasn't started to drain yet.  I'm a bit over protective of mi papi's feet, for any other horse I'd skip the epsom salt, but with him better safe than sorry. 

As always, your mileage will vary and everyone has their own way to do this.  This is how I do it.

What you need:

Packing:  This can be betadine mixed with epsom salt, betadine mixed with sugar, ichthamol, or this fun premade epsom salt poultice.  Ask your vet for your individual situation.

I love this stuff, so easy to use and it smells great.  There aren't a lot of foot products that smell great and actually work.  It's expensive if you're going to be doing a lot of wrapping, but it's fantastic for a couple days.  Much easier to work with than sugar-dine or salt-dine packing.

Cotton:  You have a couple choices.  I use diapers most of the time, but sheet cotton also works great.  Diapers are easier, sheet cotton can be cut to size and wraps with sheet cotton tend to stay on better.  Sheet cotton is also more expensive.  I'm using sheet cotton in this example because it's what I had on hand, but diapers are done the exact same way.

Vet wrap:  This keeps the cotton in place and gives you something for your duct tape to stick to.  Colors are optional, I say the brighter the better.

Duct tape:  Rolls and rolls of duct tape.  So much duct tape.

Scissors:  Bandage scissors are great for use near so many important structures, you don't want to use sharp point scissors near this part of a horse.

Latex glove:  It's not required, but I much prefer doing packing with a glove so I don't reek afterward.  Highly, highly recommended if your vet wants you to use icthamol.

Hoof pick:  For the obvious use of cleaning out the hoof.

A clean, dry hoof:  Dry is super important, duct tape doesn't stick to anything damp.  I got all of the mud off of him, used a towel to try the hoof off, then let it air dry while I groomed him.  The wrap won't stay if you start with a wet hoof.

How to wrap a hoof:

1.  Make a duct tape pad to wrap the foot.  I used my locker door to hang the piece, but there are lots of spots  you can use.  Start with vertical strips, being sure to overlap them enough to keep them water tight, then go back through with horizontal strips.  This is the part that will be resting on the ground, so it needs reinforcement.  Once you've created a sheet large enough to cover the bottom of the hoof and come up the sides about halfway, set it sticky side up in your work area.

2.  Gather up all of your supplies.  Once you start, you won't be able to put the foot down easily.  It's crucial to have all of your supplies at hand.

3.   Pick the hoof and get it as clean as possible.  Use the brush and remove everything you can.

4.  Add the packing.  If you're using the poultice or icthamol, it's nice and sticky.  It will stay put (even if you forget the sheet cotton and have to put the hoof down, *coughcough*).  With the saltdine or sugardine packing, keep the foot horizontal and pack it in there while being careful to not let it fall out.  If you know where the bruise/abscess is, be sure to focus in that area.  If it's preventative or general care, I pack it in around the hoof generously then ease it out to the toe.  When the horse stands on it, they'll smoosh everything into place.

5.  Cover with cotton.   If you're using a diaper, put the crotch of the diaper over the sole of the horse's hoof and do up the tabs on the top of the hoof.  If you're using sheet cotton, just slap a piece over top of the packing.

6.  Vet wrap the hoof.  This step gives you the security to put the foot down, keeps the packing tightly in place and keeps the duct tape from going directly on the hoof (because it's impossible to get off enough dust to really stick to the hoof).  Figure eights are popular, but I'm not that coordinated.  So long as the whole hoof is covered in vet wrap, I'm happy.  Don't let the vet wrap cross over the coronet band and up to the hair, you can cut off blood flow.

Once I'm done wrapping, I'll run my finger around the entire coronet band and push down any vet wrap that's too close.

7.  Stick the duct tape pad you made to the bottom of the hoof.  Push hard against the vet wrap and push it up around the hoof.  At this point I usually have my horse put his foot down to use his weight to press everything into place.

8.  More duct tape.  Wrap the hoof in duct tape, locking the duct tape pad in place.  Pay particular attention to any wrinkles where moisture can come in.  Moisture is the enemy of a hoof wrap.  Pay particular attention that you don't cross the line to skin.  You don't want to cut off blood flow.

Once all of the duct tape was in place, I slapped on a pair of bell boots for extra protection.  After two pulled shoes in front, bell boots may be a permanent part of his wardrobe.

Tricks to remember:

  • Dry, dry, dry!  Duct tape won't stick or last if there's any dampness
  • Stick duct tape to duct tape when possible.  It's the best surface and will last the longest.
  • Candy canes make a great reward for a horse that's stood patiently for all of this.
  • The easiest way to get one of these wraps off is to take a pair of bandage shears and cut down from the top.  The wrap will just slide off afterward.

Happy wrapping!

Hello, snow

It had to happen at some point, considering I live in New Hampshire.

One very displeased duck
We only got 3-5 inches, but it was mixed with sleet and freezing rain so I'm staying off the roads.  First storm of the season is when the loons come out and everyone forgets how to drive, even in northern New England.

You really do have to have a cup of Dunks to qualify as a New England driver.  The addiction is unhealthy.

Unfortunately the ice has thrown everyone's schedules out of whack.  My lesson was rescheduled for tomorrow since I live on a dirt road that's the last to be plowed.  The farrier has no idea when he'll be out, looks like it will be tomorrow morning since his early appointments got all screwed up today with the ice.  Sigh.  Theo's been out for a solid week now.  I was out swapping blankets yesterday and he was beside himself, dancing on the cross tries and begging me to play with him.  I'm having to keep a close eye on those teeth.  It's clearly play behavior, but that won't make it hurt less if he gets me.

He better get that shoe on tomorrow or I think he's going to explode and leave a mess on the walls of his stall.  He can't even go in turn out until his winter shoes are on now that snow is on the ground.  That first round on the lunge is going to be a wild exercise.  I may have to get Trainer A to take video.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Bah humbug

Since I got Theo something for Christmas, he decided to give me something in return.

 One of these things is not like the other one
Really, papi?  REALLY?!

So the text is off to the farrier already and I wrapped his foot up with epsom salt, sheet cotton, and enough duct tape to repair the Titanic.  I'm not doing a repeat of the Abscess Wars if I can avoid it, no thanks.  What is it with this pony and picking the major holidays to pull a shoe?  It's not nearly as chewed up as last time and the other three are fine, so I'm hoping it's all going to be okay.  I packed and wrapped his foot like he already had a bruise, just to be safe.

60*, sunny, gorgeous, I'm at the barn in a polo (Christmas present from the hubby), and all I could do was groom him, wrap him, and send him back out to the field.  Bah humbug in deed.

He does not look repentant. 

On the bright side, I took pictures of everything so I can write up a how to post on wrapping a foot after I finish recovering from my Christmas dinner.  Roast duck, sweet potato, broccoli, rolls . . . this is not helping me in my weight loss goal.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Happy Holidays

While I'm not big on crazy Christmas celebrations, I do have a tradition of getting something for the horse in my life.  My dogs get presents under the tree, I buy things for the trainers, I even give stuff to the hubby, you better believe Theo got something.

Lookin' like a model in his dressage duds, including his new pad and boots

He got a new saddle pad and set of boots from PS of Sweden.  And a bag of cookies, which I suspect is the part he really wanted.  He snorfed those right down, had to keep an eye on my fingers.  Someone got nipped by the adorable four year old appy at the barn this week while feeding a treat and I had to help bandage her up, I'm keeping an extra close eye on my digits.

I love the chocolate color on him.  The champagne is still my favorite, but this is a close second.  I know he looks good in the royal blue I favor, but there's just something very elegant about him in neutrals.  Even if the neutrals are a shiny croc print boot.

My other present to Theo was the lack of my presence for an extra day.  I zipped out to swap his blankets out (67* for a high today, wtf) and give him some cookies, then left.  Our lesson on Tuesday was very rough and I figured a couple days off was what we both needed.  I'm not sure just what had him so stuck, but Trainer A didn't take the pressure off and we had to push hard to get through the canter exercise.  It might have been the pouring rain with some thunder going on, the wildly swinging temperatures, or the fact I nabbed his dressage saddle.  He's bulked up and I'm suspicious of that saddle's fit.  I won't be using it again.  I'll just stick it out in my close contact saddle until I have his new saddle purchased.  I don't think it's screwing up my position too much.

On the bright side, he was very happy to see me.  It's been awhile since I had a horse greet me with a tossing head and invitation to come play.  I had to find his halter (AGAIN), so he trotted around behind me, tossing his head and snorting.  I couldn't bring myself to encourage him in his shenanigans with the very slippery footing, but I did push him around and play for a bit.  Maybe when things dry out we can play tag for real.  I know playing tag with a horse is wildly dangerous, but I miss playing games with my Hellbeast.

Tomorrow is supposed to be 60* and clear.  With any luck, I can get my Christmas pics with Theo out on the trail.  Global warming sucks, but I'll enjoy what side effects I can.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Meet the other half

Like a lot of adult riders, I have this other person that lives in my house that does not get the whole horse addiction thing.

The hubby and his pet dragon, hard at work as a computer engineer.  Yes, he also works from home.

This is the hubby.  We've been married for fifteen years.  Before he got involved with me, horses were those big things in fields or on TV.  Poor sucker had no idea.   He did grow up in rural Wisconsin, including some time spent working in a dairy farm, so at least he wasn't completely unaware of life with large herbivores.  He just had no idea what it meant to be married to a competitive rider.

We got married in college and it wasn't until after I graduated that I got back into riding.  Once a week lessons, no big deal, right?  Ha.  I was suddenly gone for large stretches of time and would come home sweaty, disgusting, and exhausted.  I was also perpetually broke.  He's a good sport so when I offered to buy him some lessons, he learned to ride.  He got far enough to learn to canter and even pop over cross rails with his good buddy Bruce the Belgian.  They were a funny pair, doing their own thing at the show h/j barn where I worked.   He had no interest in equitation or competition, he just liked galumphing around with Bruce and Bruce liked galumphing around with him.  Bruce was the kind of horse that made the earth shake when he cantered by and rode like a couch.  I really wish I had gotten some pictures of them. 

The hubby was infamous around the barn for being unflappable.  He got caught between two fighting horses and got a glancing kick his first lesson, didn't bother him and he was pretty impressed with the bruise when it showed up.  When Bruce wasn't available and school horses were short, they tossed him on a complete jerk called Cosmo because 'he'll be fine'.  Cosmo dove off the rail and ran an instructor down, but the hubby hung on and pulled him up, completely unfazed.  His first canter was because Bruce was passed by a couple of cantering horses.  His reaction was 'huh, smoother than trotting' and just went with it.  He was declared fun to teach because nothing rattled him.

Eventually he got tired of the commute and endless circles and gave it up.  It just wasn't for him.  If funding had been available, I would have bought Bruce for him and they would have galumphed together out in the open happily with no more lessons on 'heels down, chin up', but it wasn't to be.  These days he only rides occasionally.  I took him for his very first trail ride this fall.  We put him on the bambino and sandwiched him between Trainer A on Juice Box and me on mi papi.  He was as safe as a babe in a cradle.  The bambino took full advantage of his lack of trail experience to snack the whole ride.  Look close in the picture and you can see the huge wad of leaves he'd collected.

Out adventuring on the trails with his new equine BFF

Hubby's a good sport.  He's accepted the massive bills and long hours that go with horses with limited fuss.  He watches my horse videos and has picked up enough to have constructive criticisim.  I was watching a World Cup for dressage video last night and after Isabell Werth's ride, he shrugged and said 'so how is she cross country?'.  He wasn't a big fan of Satchmo, though was impressed that he managed to kick the foot of his rider while she was still in the saddle. 

Hiking with the dragon during our fifteenth anniversary vacation
This is the same guy that saw his first Saddlebred in full pads and announced 'hey, that's for navicular, right?'.  I was so embarrassed, shushing him and telling him he can't say that about other people's horses.  To be fair, the Hellbeast had just been put in fancy wedge shoes for his navicular issues, so he had a valid comment.  Just not something you should say about someone's show horse.  He didn't get it.  Why else would they have pads like that?

While I'm out managing Theo's work schedule and fussing over him, hubby takes care of stuff around the house like chicken pasture maintenance, building a bigger pond for the ducks, and creating all sorts of stuff like furniture and coops.  He does come out to shows to tape on occasion, but I'm impossible before I compete and he stays far away.  I did try to strangle him once in a warm up when he tried to give me advice.  Seriously, tried to grab him while I was in the saddle.  It was not a shining moment in our marriage.  People frequently ask me why he doesn't support me more, and I say it's for his own health and safety.  He supports me, just far out of reach.  We have a rule that as soon as I'm done with cross country, I have to text him.  He knows my ride times.  It keeps him from worrying.  The first show he saw me at I went under a horse's hooves, so he knows how dangerous it can be.

I asked him if he wanted a husband horse of his own and he said no.  He likes to visit and go on the occasional trail ride, but he knows he won't make the sacrifices I do.  It's not a passion for him.  Horses are nice and he likes them (and they really like him), but he'd rather build things and take his beloved dragon out tracking.

Considering he had no idea what he was getting into, I'm very grateful that he's learned to live the life of a horse husband.  It's not a life for a lot of people, but he handles the trials and tribulations well.  He understands that there are certain phone calls that I will always answer and that I may be racing out the door in an instant.  He's the one that drove me to the barn when Allen broke his leg because he didn't trust me to drive in that state.  He covered for me when Fi was sick and I raced out the door with no warning.  He's been through two horses with me so far and he's bracing himself for number three. 

At least he knows what he's in for this time.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Tack Review: PS of Sweden Flying Change Revolution bridle

I really do buy a lot of stuff.  This time I'm looking at my dressage bridle from PS of Sweden.

Background:  I'm a bit of a turn out snob and it was bugging me to ride in a black dressage saddle and a brown bridle (that also had fancy stitching on it and a D ring bit, such a fashion faux pas).  I needed a black bridle for our dressage outings that would fit mi papi's block of a head.  It also needed to have the option to have the flash removed without that annoying loop since we don't use a flash.  That's a surprisingly difficult thing to find.  I also wanted nice padding and a monocrown.  Shopping around and blogger referrals led me to this bridle.

Product:  PS of Sweden specializes in anatomical bridles.  Think Micklem but higher quality leather and more adjustable.  They also have bridles like this one that are legal for dressage competition.  Everything is shaped for the comfort of the horse.  They also feature quick change browbands with the option to buy lots of blingy styles.

It does not come with a throat latch (designed not to need one) but you can add one on so it's competition legal.  It also has little elastic insets on the cheekpieces that end up under the rings of your bit.  It gives the bit a little give.  I'm still not sure if this is competition legal, but they're designed to be easily removed if they're a problem for showing.

I picked the Flying Change Revolution as a nice, straightforward bridle.  I don't like the patent leather look and rolled would look ridiculous on Theo's clunky head.  It does not come with reins and clocks in at about $300 with shipping.  Also, they have a pick and mix option for their bridles.  I used that to piece together something that would properly fit Theo (full size crown and cheek pieces, x-full browband and noseband).  Customer service is excellent, return policy is balls so take extra measurements and contact them if you have a question.

Review:  Out of the bag, this is a nice feeling bridle.  The padding is generous, the crown is wide, and the leather is a nice quality.  It's not old school Vespucci nice (not the current cr@p), but it's very pleasant to handle.  It takes some getting used to.  The noseband seemed ridiculously huge to me when I was putting it together and the crown seemed so wide.  Nice feature is the way the flash is attached.  It slides under the padding and buttons into place so you can take it off without a dumb loop and there's nothing between the padding and your horse's nose if you decide to leave it on.

On Theo's head, it looks fantastic.  The wide noseband really suits him and the browband looks very flattering with it's little swoop.  It stays clear of his cheekbones and  the slimmer profile on the bottom on his nose avoids all of the sensitive spots.  I had to squeeze a bit to get the throat latch attached, but everything looks and feels fantastic.  Crank noseband is not my favorite, I dropped the extra keeper and Theo promptly ate it, but it works fine without it.  The padding under the chin is a hit with mi papi.  I get lots and lots of compliments on this bridle and it's wearing well.  Theo seems quite happy in it and I've had no problems with rubs or slipping. 

Happy with the fit, I ordered a blingy browband.

Love, love, love the design on this browband.  It's very subtle with black beads and just a bit of flash.  Downside is that it slides down his face with the throat latch attached.  I returned it (again, great customer service), but the replacement was exactly the same.  I'm not sure what the deal is, since it's the same size as the browband that came with the bridle, but the loops on the blingy browband are bigger and don't hang on tight enough to the bridle.  For now, I used some black vet wrap to keep it from sliding.  I haven't heard of anyone else having this issue and I haven't ordered another browband yet, so I'm not sure if this is a fluke with this one design or a problem that people don't notice because they're not using the throat latch. 

  Very nice bridle and I recommend getting it if you're looking a mid-range bridle, good quality for the price point, pick and mix option is fantastic for oddly shaped horses, the Flying Change noseband is rather massive and probably not appropriate for delicate faces, can't recommend the blingy browbands due to issues with sliding but I seem to be the only one with this problem.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Free Time

Fun thing about my new role at work:  I'm now in corporate instead of the actual business.  That probably doesn't mean a thing to a lot of people but for anyone that works at a big company, you know what I mean when I say corporate is practically it's own company.  New culture, new rules, new everything.  One of the quirks is that instead of working through the holidays to support the end of the selling year, everyone takes the last two weeks of the year off.  Absolutely nothing gets done and the execs support us taking the time off to recharge.

Huh.  So that's a thing.

For the next two weeks, I have no plans and basically no work.  It's probably for the best that I don't own Theo yet or he'd be seeing far too much of me.  I'm going to be bored.  The hubby and I don't usually do much for the holidays, our families live over a thousand miles away.  What the heck am I going to do?

It's a weird problem to have.  So here's where I'm currently at for holiday break plans:

1.  Catch up on my horse laundry because omg.  Winter isn't as bad as summer but Theo is still a sweat ball.

2.  Clean the horse stuff out of the back of my car because omgwtf.  I needed to load up chicken feed today and couldn't get anything in the back because blankets and pads and random gear was everywhere.

3.  Clean out my locker at the barn because omgwtfbbq.  Seriously, it's like there's an abyss in the back that swallows polos, then spits them back out at random when I'm trying to close the door.  People are staring when I open it.  It's bad.

4.  Pull Theo's mane.  Having a neck rug on keeps it looking flat and tame, but I actually ran my fingers through it and it's getting ridiculous.  I need to stay on top of it or I'll pay for it this spring.  I need to fix where I pulled it wrong and got it too short.  I need it longer but still as thin.  Not a challenge or anything.

5.  Get the chicken coops prepped in case winter ever shows up.  The duck hut needs to be completely scraped out since the hubby built a new one.  I've been putting it off.

6.  Cook extra food and freeze it so I have ready to eat meals on hand.  My fast food addiction is proving challenging to break.

The struggle is real.

It's not exactly the most exciting set of holiday plans, but I'm looking forward to it.  It won't be one of those vacations I need to recover from.  If nothing else, I'll get to sleep in a lot. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Learning to enjoy the process

I'm not sure if it's a personality thing, a cultural thing since I'm an American, or if it's because I'm ADD, but I'm usually motivated by achieving a specific something.  I always have a goal or milestone or deadline in mind when I'm doing something.  It's pretty hardwired at this point. 

In today's lesson, I noticed something in the mirror.  We were working on cantering through some ground poles, teaching Theo to shorten his stride and sit on his haunches.  It was very difficult and he had a hard time understanding the exercise.  It took a lot of reps to get the idea, and then she started to shorten up the distances so he had to lift his shoulders and sit just to make his strides fit.  It was pretty awesome sensation when we finally got it.  He was truly uphill, like I felt the front of my saddle lift when he sat.  It was just for those four strides, but now I know he can do it.  While discussing our work between sets, I had mi papi in a big, relaxed trot to stretch out.  After the effort of his collected canter work, a working trot was clearly very easy.  I glanced in the mirror to check my leg position and noticed something far more interesting:  Theo's tail was swinging.

Fi was infamous for her happy, swinging tail when in work.  It was so natural for her.  Theo, on the other hand, doesn't usually swing his tail.  He's usually braced in about five different places, resistant to the work.  It made sense when we started, it was hard for him.  He didn't have the muscle or balance to make working through his back easy.  After 8 months of work, we've managed to develop enough strength that he can trot around the ring with a lovely swing through his body.  With his massive tail, it's very noticeable.  He was also quietly chewing his bit and carrying himself without much help from me.  He was the picture of calm, relaxed power.  Trainer A was all smiles.  It wasn't an easy or even particularly pretty lesson (hello, skipping poles and breaking to trot due to screwed up foot work), but the end results were something we couldn't have even attempted just a short time ago.

It never occurred to me to have 'swinging tail' as a milestone, but that's what it felt like when I saw that glimpse in the mirror.  An achievement that needed to be documented and celebrated, even if no one else gets why I'm excited about it.

It's a struggle to learn to enjoy the process, but I think I'm starting to get somewhere with it.  I have a theory that it's part of maturing as a rider.  When you're first getting started, your achievements are very concrete:  learn to post, first canter, first jump.  As you go there are competitive goals or more complicated movements.  Over time, the achievements get smaller and harder to define.  It's not about 'hey, I rode a shoulder in!', it's about feeling that split second where a half half actually does what it's supposed to do or having a horse experience a light bulb moment during an exercise. 

I feel so grown up.  Though the downside is that I have to make sure Theo's tail is always brushed out and looking nice.  If I'm going to watch his tail in the mirrors, I don't want to see stray shavings.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Dear Santa

No one in my life is crazy enough to buy me horse stuff.  Most of the time, if I want it,  I manage to acquire it or it's too expensive for a run of the mill gift.

Exhibit A:  My Christmas present to Theo which just arrived

 As my Secret Santa this year said, "what do you get the woman that already has everything?".  She got me a bottle of wine and five kinds of chocolate.

I have awesome barn friends.

But that doesn't stop me from having a wish list.  A rather long one.

Dear Santa,

I've been a very good girl this year.  I did most of No Stirrup November, took Theo out on the trails by himself weekly, and have been working hard on my homework.  I even cleaned all of my tack last week!  My trainer says I've been very good and deserve a treat (she may have been talking to Theo, not sure on that point).  Since I've been so good, I'm hoping to find a few things under the tree to help me be even better next year.

A new jumping bridle for mi papi.
High Jump from PS of Sweden, I don't know why but I just want it

New cross country boots.  You can never be too safe over 18", you know.
Dalmar Cross Country boots from Dover

A new dressage saddle for our big recognized show debut next year.

The Frank Baines Union Lux, I want this so badly, pity I have other bills to worry about
A bit of bling, just for fun.
He would rock the vintage pink

Maybe a magic new bit that will fix all of our contact issues.
Lorenzini loose ring in titanium, because when in doubt, buy another bit
Or a new coat for that show debut.
 Seriously, this coat is everything I've ever wanted in a dressage coat

Oh, there's this one other thing I'd love to see under the tree.

 I know, I have weird tastes

So let me know when you'll be dropping all of my treasures off, Santa, so I can make room in my always overflowing locker.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sometimes papi's just gotta papi

I kind of miss having a horse I can drill on endlessly and she was okay with that.  Shoulder in not quite what I was thinking I wanted?  We can do it again, no problem.  Lengthen across the diagonal?  Oh, yes please, as many times as you want.  Most of the TBs I've ridden have that 'yes, work the body!' flavor.  They like to stretch and work and be challenged.  Nothing happier than a TB that's worked hard in a positive way.  Every day she came out looking for work.  Even when we were having trouble with cramps, she wanted to work.  She just didn't want to use that part of her back.

Mi papi?  That's a different discussion.  I slithered out of the saddle yesterday with hips and abs and thighs all aching.  Mostly abs.  Theo is now strong enough that we can work on forward being up as well as traveling forward.  His hind end can start taking the weight back enough to change his way of going.  That doesn't mean he's actually keen to step into this new way of working.  As Trainer A put it, Theo likes to know I'm working just as hard as he is.

We also have matching concentration faces.  Trainer A thinks its funny, even if we're both in danger of biting our tongues.

He doesn't really stick his tongue out or waggle it around.  You can just see the tip of it between his lips when he's working very hard at something.  Combine that with his soft, listening ears and you know we're having a good moment.

Poor papi couldn't figure out what I wanted in the middle of the lesson, weaving between the ground poles in a serpentine at the canter with 15 meter loops, and kept barging out or jumping poles instead of going between.  We had to trot the pattern about a dozen times so we could figure it out and quit trying to make it complicated.  Sure, that worked, but he shut down mentally.  It was boring.  He got that glazed over expression and didn't really notice when I half halted.  We've gotten pretty good at identifying when he's checked out and when we need to hit the mental reset button.

Things that work for hitting Theo's reset button:

1.  Big canter
2.  Random, quick transitions in all three gaits
3.  JUMP

Big canter and random transitions work, but they take some goading and nagging to get started.  He can get pissy.  Jumping is a sure fire way to get him lit back up in the good way.  We've been known to zip outside, jump one or two things, and then trot back to the arena to go back to work.  It changes his expression, his frame, his stride, everything.  He goes from being a sullen, emo teenager to content in about five minutes if he can just canter and jump.  Some of our best trot work has been out in the Ritz between cross country fences.  For our lesson, there was a random cavaletti set up in the middle of the ring.  We did figure eights at the canter over it.  12" isn't much of a jump, but Theo was clearly in the mood because he was really using his back and giving it feet of clearance.  We scrapped the serpentine idea in favor of figure eights over the cavaletti and counter canter work.  Just having that 12" hop added enough energy to make huge progress in our counter canter.  It had three beats and everything!

Some horses just have their own agenda.  We've really had to adapt to the idea that our 'plan' needs to be flexible when it comes to mi papi.  Some days he comes out loosey goosey and ready to roll.  Other days he comes out like a teenager that just had a disagreement with his parents:  angry, resistant, and looking for a fight.    There's no way to tell.  I've been keeping a journal and I still don't have a pattern.  For all I know his mood is determined by the alignment of the stars or the gossip he heard over the paddock fence.

I miss having a horse that comes out ready to get to work day after day, but this has been an important learning experience.  Sometimes Theo just has to do Theo.

Tack review: Wither Freedom Half Pad from Total Saddle Fit

I finally realized that with all of the stuff I've bought, I should review some of it.  I'm going to start with one of my favorites:  Six Point Saddle Pad - Wither Freedom Half Pad from Total Saddle Fit.

Background:  Theo has fairly high withers, nothing too shocking, but they're freakishly long and pretty wide.  They go on forever, I swear.  The saddle fitter was slightly horrified when she saw them.  My saddle was carefully fitted, but I was still seeing some wither soreness.  It seemed that the pads were pressing down on the back part of his withers (where most horses don't have withers anymore) and I wanted to get as much clearance as possible as far back as possible.  Theo is also a total princess, so even the pressure of pads pressing down on the back of his withers is enough to make him gnash his teeth.  Regular wither relief pads and sheepskin half pads weren't enough, so I went out to find something that would give him all of the clearance and pressure relief he needed.

The product:  This is a sheepskin half pad that has pockets for shims.  It's all pretty standard fare except the wither relief.  It is completely open in the front and the opening runs about half way down the pad.  This is supposed to keep pressure off of the withers and even the trapezius muscles.  The velcro straps in front strap onto the D-rings of the saddle to keep it from sliding down instead of the usual wither relief pads that have a hole but close in front (and usually end up sitting on the highest point of the withers if you have a shark fin TB).

The review:  Out of the box, the sheepskin felt nice and it had good quality to it.  Quite fluffy, definitely check the girth after mounting.  I got the black model to avoid it showing dirt or yellowing and I love the way it looks with my champagne pad from PS of Sweden.

It's about three months old in that pic and looking very nice still, it has held up well.  I use it about five times a week.  I've had zero trouble with it sliding down which was a big concern of mine.  You can see in the pic that it's a bit big on my 17" CC saddle, but it looks fine.  It would probably handle an 18" saddle without trouble. 

It really does a fantastic job of keeping pressure off of the withers.  When I tack up, the saddle pad gets a tug so it's up off of his withers and the half pad keeps it neatly in place.  The opening runs back to his trapezius muscles and the saddle pad tends to get sucked up and off of his spine back to that point.  It's hard to tell when he's tacked up, but as far as I can tell, there's zero pressure on his withers for the entire length.  Not even pad pressure.  The real result is that after using this for a couple weeks, he stopped reacting to having the wither area palpated and we're now seeing some muscle development. 

Down side:  Saddle pads underneath this half pad can get tricky.  You'll need billet loops to keep them from sliding around and it takes a long billet loop to go over the sheepskin.  Something about the shape gives me more trouble than a typical half pad.  My PS of Sweden pad doesn't move, but it has massive billet loops that go over the sheepskin without any trouble.  My pad where I cut the billet loops off?  Disappeared under the saddle by halfway through my ride.  Takes a bit of trial and error and I'm still working on it. 

Final Take:  For me, this thing has been a huge step in getting Theo pain free.  I don't agree with TSF marketing messaging about their products being amazing for everyone (review of their girth will come later), but if you have a horse that's prone to wither pain after getting the saddle properly fitted, this is a product worth trying.  The price is pretty average for a sheepskin half pad and it's a quality product. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Weighty matters

With 2016 right around the corner, I've been getting my ducks in a row, both in the saddle and out.  I've got a work trip to Disney World in January (yes, you can begin to envy me now) so I've been completely focused on next year for a couple weeks.  I have a big presentation to 450 people and I really want it to go well.  I'm also starting to put together my show schedule.  That's a lot of excitement and energy with no outlet.  This results in a lot of lists and hyper-organization.

While working on my extensive list of 2016 goals, I decided that number six took some consideration.

#6:  Lose weight

That's been on my list of goals since college, I swear.  It's probably about time I actually, you know, thought about it instead of just adding it on, especially as it relates to my riding.  It's like a default setting at this point and I'm sure I'm not the only one that throws it on my goal list every year.

A bit of background:  I'm 5'2" and currently weigh about 155lbs.  My weight peaked in college at about 185 (freshman 15 my a$$).  I entered college at 127lbs, my lowest weight as an adult.  Medically speaking, 127 is also my goal weight.  The doctors and professionals in my life think 140 is my current ideal based on my bone structure, age, and habit of packing on muscle.

The only time in my life that I was at my medical ideal, outside of being a teenager, was when I worked full time at a barn.  When I started that job, I weighed between 140 and 150.  I don't remember, I'd been on a long term diet to deal with my massive college weight gain.  What I do remember was eating everything in sight and still dropping weight until I hit the upper 120's.  There's a reason so many of the pros look fit and trim:  it's hard to get enough calories into your body to combat a 12 hour day that's mostly physical labor.

Me at about 130 lbs and probably thinking about steaks mid-course

Hauling hay, moving saddles, schooling lesson ponies, turning horses out, even teaching lessons burn calories.  A lot of them.  In winter it's worse since you're burning calories just to stay warm.  In cold weather, I was eating a philly cheese steak with large fries and a big sugary soda without batting an eyelash at lunch.  Dinner was whatever got too close by the end of the day, preferably a lot of red meat and potatoes.  My coworkers were the same way.  We were all in our twenties, broke, and working long hours.  Offerings of food from clients were usually devoured in about five seconds flat and anyone too close might lose a finger.  I see that behavior with working students all the time and they have my sympathy.  I've been there.

When I quit working at the barn, my weight sky rocketed.  A desk job does not burn calories the same way manual labor does.  The days of philly cheese steaks and sugary soda were done.  Even when doing martial arts five nights a week, I had to watch my weight.  My coach wanted me walking around at about 140, a good weight for me and I could easily make a 138 lb cut off for a tournament division.  I ate a lot of grilled chicken and salads to keep that weight.  It wasn't really a diet, but I did have to keep an eye on things.  When I moved back to horses, my athlete diet fell by the wayside.  Fiona kept me in work enough that it wasn't a big issue, but I wasn't keeping my fighting trim.

These days, I don't have a physically demanding job or a hobby that requires me to weigh in for competition.  When I got back in the saddle in April, I weighed about 165 and I felt it.  Things were more jiggly and just sitting in the saddle with my legs in the right position was harder.  Riding five days a week with no dietary changes got ten pounds off of me.  My clothes fit better, I can keep up with mi papi, and I have an easier time getting my legs around him.  Now I'm staring at the scale and debating what to do with it.  Am I a middle aged woman with a desk job or am I an athlete?

 Before and after my return to riding

Everyone has to make this decision for themselves.  I've done the athlete thing.  It's not that bad, you get to eat a lot, but not much of it's fried and you really have to like salads.  I hate salads.  I'm a good cook so I can keep myself contentedly munching on chicken with black bean salsa and other goodies indefinitely.  It's just been awhile since I thought of myself as an athlete.  It's hard to break the habit of fast food and bagels with full fat cream cheese.  Even when I was eventing, I wasn't watching my weight.  Whatever it landed at was fine with me.  Fi didn't care when we were galloping madly about.

Now I'm thinking about the fact that Theo has to carry my fluffy butt while trying to build loft and suspension and everything else.  If I feel so much better with ten pounds off, how much better does that feel for him?  While I'm trying to force my body to be balanced and still, it's easier when there's less of me.  Is it easier for him when I don't have extra bits wobbling about?  And if I'm asking Theo to do so much, the least I could do is stopping swinging through the Wendy's drive through for a Baconator.

Seriously, who invents these things?
 I've been considered a 'plus size' rider for a long time, pretty much any time I wasn't also working at the barn full time.  It doesn't really bother me, it certainly doesn't keep me from showing or doing clinics, but I do notice when I'm the only serious business rider at a clinic with some extra junk in the trunk.  And under the hood.  It's less about me now and more about mi papi.  I feel bad asking him to do so much and then grabbing a large order of fries on the way home.
I don't think I'll be returning to my svelte self, I still have that office job, but another 10 lbs sounds like a good deal.  Theo learns to lengthen, I break my addiction to fast food. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Heat waves and ground poles

There is nothing happier than a horse that just got to roll with no blankets on.

After our lesson today, I took him out for a trail ride.  When I went by the Ritz, I hopped off, stripped off his tack, and let him have a great roll with some nude sun bathing.  It was 54 degrees out in December, I thought some celebration was in order.  I was also just pleased as punch with him and thought he needed a special treat.

Mi papi continues to impress with his new work ethic.  Trainer A commented that he had his listening ear set for about 75% of the ride today.  Today we were working on his coordination using  ground poles.  Straight ground poles are so last year, now we have angles to make sure Theo is aware of his feet.

So what do you do with ground poles set out like that?  You do this.

Poor Theo.  Life was not simple today.  The poles are all spaced out for a nice trot, encouraging him to reach.  The blue line went one hoof-stride-one hoof-stride-one hoof.  The two red lines went one hoof-one hoof-stride-one hoof-one hoof-stride-one hoof (bottom to top, opposite if you go top to bottom).  The green lines were hard.  It should be just one hoof between each of the three poles you go over, but it's a small target.  We missed on our first pass and crashed a bit.  Mi papi had to do some quick thinking and a bit of jumping to get back out.

It was fantastic for breaking Theo of his habit of assuming he knew what was coming next.  After passing through it twice, he assumed he knew what was needed and didn't see any need to pay attention to me anymore.  Then I would shift him about four feet over and it was like an all new grid.  And then I'd shift him back to center, or to the other side, or curve back around for the figure eight.  He softened up beautifully once he realized that he couldn't predict what we were going to do next and he had to stay balanced in both directions.  We tossed in a couple of transitions on the arcs of the figure eight and we had his complete attention.

It was also a great exercise for making me more aware of riding his whole body straight.  If he popped his neck out or resisted through his ribs (both of which are his latest bending issues), it would run through his whole body and send us off of our line.  Then there was crashing because the distances didn't work anymore.  It's a great feedback system and I plan to put these poles to good use when I ride on my own tomorrow.

Before I run off and trail ride again because, you know, global warming.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Wild child

So much for Theo not needing lunging to lower his sass levels.

On Sunday we took advantage of global warming and went for a nice trail ride.  It was 55 degrees out and sunny in December, we had to seize the opportunity.  It was only 30 minutes and pretty much no real work, but it was what he needed.  Ring sour Theo is not a good Theo.

Monday he got the night off since I had to actually do work stuff.  Ugh.

Today the temp dropped, the wind picked up, and I found mi papi in turnout, goading the other ponies into being naughty.  I led him in with him tossing his head and telling me what a stud he is.  At least he's honest about his moods.  I slapped his butt right on the lunge line.  He plodded around looking totally chill with life, no big deal.  It was almost enough to lull me into the saddle, but I'd seen this trick before.  I asked him to canter and suddenly I was flying a kite.

Trainer A called him a drama queen as he snorted and plunged and trotted around in a ridiculously suspended way.  It took about ten minutes on the lunge before he went back to plodding around contentedly.  I am so, so glad that I decided to lunge him first.  Gymnastics with bounces, one strides, and changes of lead are not fun when horses just can't deal with their own energy levels.

After the lunge and a jumping lesson, he was a big goofy ball of cuddles.  He felt so much better.

We're going to be in the fifties again this weekend.  Climate change is bad, but it's so much harder to be angry about it when I can go trail riding in just a sweatshirt.  In December.  In New Hampshire.  I'm sure we'll be paying for this come February, but in the mean time, I will be flying my kite outdoors as much as possible.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Critical Mass

crit·i·cal mass
noun: critical mass; plural noun: critical masses
  1. Physics
    the minimum amount of fissile material needed to maintain a nuclear chain reaction.
  2. the minimum size or amount of something required to start or maintain a venture.
    "a communication system is of no value unless there is a critical mass of users"
 We have achieved critical mass.

I got a message today from a friend that had the horse person dream actually come true.  She's a professional at a swanky h/j barn (we used to work together), but her heart is in dressage.  She's been riding a client's dressage horse for about a year now and she loves him.  He's beautiful, he's talented, he's a snuggle bum, he adores her, but he's got a dirty duck spin combo when he's frisky that is pretty terrible for mere mortals to stick.  The owner knew he wasn't a match for her and rather than sell him on, she practically gave the horse to my friend who is unfazed by the potential spin.  She now owns a beautiful, talented WB to show.  She hasn't had a horse of her own in awhile and I'm very happy for her.

We're now excitedly discussing next year and coordinating travel so we can hit the sanctioned shows and both go to regionals.  She's a pro so it's a tougher challenge for her in terms of qualifying scores, but well within her abilities, especially with this horse.  She's also actively going after her Bronze now, starting at First.  We have Trainer A taking a client horse out to the sanctioned shows and Dorkzilla's owner is talking about going back into the dressage ring next season.  Trainer R is looking for someone to take Miss Thang out and qualify her.  That's four horses that are going to be out doing the shows and gives us a combination of trailers and home bases to work from.  That's critical mass, all systems are go!

Sounds like it's time for the 2016 goals.

1.  Qualify for the Region 8 Championships at Training Level
2.  Actually go to the Regional Championships
3.  Get my last First Level score for my Bronze
     - Fi's scores didn't count because I was showing opportunity classes.  Fail.
4.  Complete a three phase with less than 100 faults on cross country
5.  Do two clinics

Stretch goals:
1.  Score a 60%+ at First Level 3 so I can do musical freestyle in 2017
2.  Do a clean cross country

Goals are fun.  Let's see how I do with them.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Ode to the lazy horse

It's now December and with the cold weather comes the sassy ponies.  Having ridden TBs for so many years, I'm very familiar with lunging in winter and using Saddle Tite as needed.  So long as you go into it knowing what's up and being proactive about it, it's not a big deal.  It's a much bigger deal when you're in the ring with those that don't yet know how to handle cold weather ponies.

The sassy was at epic levels last night.

Welcome to the winter indoor

Mi papi has been going on the lunge regularly but not for sassy reasons.  He just needs the work on transitions without my tush in the saddle.  I can more clearly see when he's being ploddy pony and when he's really reaching.  It also helps his canter since I'm working on the idea that he should keep cantering until I say otherwise.  In the saddle, I'll start poking and nudging and helping without realizing it.  On the ground, I'm aware of exactly how much I'm helping.  I'm weaning him down to zero.  So he spent about fifteen minutes on the lunge while we discussed going forward promptly when cued.  He gave me one moment of sass when I got after him, but nothing bad.  He was in a friendly, playful, rather affectionate mood and submitted easily.  I halted him, gave him a cookie, and headed over to the mounting block.

That was when everyone else decided to show up.  One young lady was riding the new four year old, with no stirrups, and didn't lunge.  I strongly suggested she hop off and lunge first, judging by the angle of his neck and his wide eyes.  Turns out she's not experienced at lunging.  So I'm trotting around on Theo on the other end of the ring when I hear slamming hooves and 'whoa, whoa, WHOA!'.  I immediately braced for the matching tension and explosion from my mount.

Nothing.  He flicked an ear, but that was it.  Well, okay then.  Don't I look foolish.

It didn't matter what the youngster dished out, Theo didn't care.  He had his own business to manage, like the new concept of ten meter circles at the trot.  The teenagers continued to try to manage the frisky four year old and a lesson showed up.  One of the best lesson ponies in the barn, but when it's cold, she'll latch on to other horses and canter off with her rider.  She gave a little snort and I decided cantering was out.  I didn't want to be responsible for a mark on that wonderful pony's record.  The four year old settled with Trainer A's authoritative voice telling him to knock that behavior off, I did my shoulder in work at the walk, and peace reigned for about five minutes.  Then the TB gelding with the space cadet owner showed up.

He's blind in one eye and she can't lunge him.  She thinks he's very sweet and well broke, I'm not so sure.  Her ring craft is very spotty and she'll crowd people without thinking too much about it.  I was doing my lateral work, leg yielding at the trot while watching in the mirror.  She started doing the same thing without watching for students on the rail.  Then she tried cantering and it turned into a damn rodeo.

Theo stood there, watched with one hind leg resting, and thought that looked like a lot of work.

The ring was just buzzing with tension between the four year old, the TB, and just the fact it was crowded.  Theo never tensed up.  It never occurred to him that he needed to participate.  It was hard enough doing a side passe, he didn't have the time or energy to do anything else.  After getting a quality leg yield to the right, I bundled him up and took him back to the barn for all the currying and affection he could handle.  It is such a relief to know that when nonsense like that is going on, he sees no need to get involved.

There are benefits to riding a lazy horse.