Friday, September 25, 2015

Universal truths

There are a couple of universal truths with horses.  No matter the discipline, breed, or goals, there are some things that are true for all horses and riders.  A horse will twist his shoe the night before a show.  Shows always run late.  It doesn't matter how much you sweep, there are more cobwebs somewhere.  There is always that one person in the barn.  A horse that never, ever kicks out or acts up will throw it's first temper tantrum when being shown for sale.

And if you clip a horse, half of the hair will end up in your $@#%^$%@#$!@ bra.

My boobs itch, even after a long, hot shower. 

Yes, that is probably TMI, but we're all horse people here.  Everyone knows what I'm talking about.  I'm sure male riders have similar issues with horse hair in their shorts. 

The end results are worth the anti-itch cream and fidgeting.  Mi papi will be a lot more comfortable.  We settled on a high trace since Theo is as much a princess about the cold as he is about bruised heels, the heat, flies, and everything else that annoys him.  He gave my monster body clippers the hairy eyeball for a few minutes, then got clipped just standing loose in the aisle.

And now all of my clothes are in the wash, trying to get that cut hair out of them.  One day I'd like to find a way to clip my horse without wanting to tear off all of my clothes and scratch myself right in the middle of the aisle.  Someone needs to hurry up and invent that.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Between Abby the Abscess and my health, Theo's gotten way too much time off this summer.  Two weeks ago, I poisoned myself on some left over pizza and missed three days.  This week I caught a nasty bug that was going through my friends and went into self imposed quarantine for four days.  I finally got free today and got to bring my latest treasures out to Theo.

He is one very attractive pony.  The new bling browband is giving me some trouble sliding down his bridle, but it does have the perfect level of bling for him.  Some flash without being over the top.  And yes, I ride in white polos and a white saddle pad because I'm a dork like that.  I can't help it, he looks fabulous!

Dress him like a dressage horse, ride him like a dressage horse.  Today we worked on suppleness in both directions.  We did some leg yield zig zags, worked on his counter canter, and he even did some steps of half passe at the canter.  He wouldn't get off my right leg and for a second I forgot who I was on and shoved him over.  His little ears tipped back and he stepped over with that big question mark over his head.  What, this mom?  You better believe I gave him a break and a cookie for offering.  He even did it again for me.  Tense, but he offered the sideways movement with the true bend.  I think that's going to make a huge difference in straightening out his canter.  I need to get after myself about our shoulder in work.  I'm a slacker.

But he's not the only one with some new accessories.

I don't know about anyone else, but I don't get a name plate bracelet for just any horse.  Only Fiona and Allen have earned the privilege before and I keep both bracelets on my work desk.  I guess we're kind of serious about each other.  He saw me in the field and trotted right up to me.  Of course he was looking for me to get rid of the flies on his face since he managed to tear off his fly mask.  Again.  But I still think it counts.

Tomorrow is body clipping day for the water buffalo that I call mi papi.  Not my favorite day, but it's very necessary.  He was itchy, hot, and miserable today.  With a pleasure show coming up on October 4th, I better strip off all of this excess fuzz.  The way he's growing hair, no one will even see his fancy tack.  It will be buried in his coat.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Technology and riding

Horse back riding is a pretty old fashioned hobby to have.  In general, it's based off of the idea that a horse was the fastest, easiest way to get around.  Dressage is based on the idea that your mandatory horse riding should look as awesome as possible.  Eventing is based on the idea that your horse should be able to go to war.  None of these are relevant anymore.  We have cars and motorcycles and segways.  It's actually very difficult to find the space and money necessary to keep horses in this age of motors and electricity.

People that see horse back riders assume they're caught in the past.  That couldn't be further from the truth.  It's pretty interesting to see how technology has changed things.  My helmet in the 80's was heavy and smelled like glue when it was hot enough.  I lived in Louisiana, so it was often hot enough.  My current helmet is light, ventilated, and has a microsuede finish that I don't have to protect against the slightest scuff.  Kids these days have no idea the agony we went through with the heavy velvet that faded in the sun and scuffed if you looked at it too hard.  They also don't have the social pressure to 'graduate' to a hunt cap.  No harness, no protection, nothing, and it was the sign that you were a grown up.  Removing that option in the rules has made a huge shift in the way helmets are seen and how often they're worn. 

The entire outfit has evolved.  Spandex is some amazing stuff.  As a middle-aged rider, I don't think I'd be able to keep up with the sport if it wasn't for some of the carefully located support panels found in breeches now.  My last show featured pouring rain.  My coat didn't get heavy and cold like my old wool coats always managed to do, or worse, the polyester in the 90's.  The water beaded and ran off, keeping me completely dry.  It also has some stretch so I don't get button gap over my rather pronounced chest while still fitting neatly through the shoulders and waist.  Thank you to whatever inventor brought out the soft shell coat.  My tech gloves hung on to my reins even when soaked, the elastic panels letting me move freely.  Even the hair nets are more comfortable!

I've heard plenty of whining about how our outfits need to update to keep up with the times, that we look ridiculous and no one takes us seriously.  Let's stop and think about that.  Would we ditch our boots, especially the modern ones with all of their stretch panels and high tech foot beds?  I sure wouldn't!  Tall boots keep my legs comfortable and free of bruises and chafing.  They're my first choice when trail riding as well, since I don't even feel branches.  They're comfortable and practical.  Breeches?  What else would we wear?  We don't want anything baggy.  Knee patches and full seats are life savers.  The modern fits, materials, and colors are just fine and dandy.  The ice fill and wicking fabrics keep our shirts ideal.  Our helmets are serious safety equipment.  The only decorative thing is the coat and these days, most of them are comfortable and easy to manage.  A coat gives the finished picture and is a nod to tradition.  The rest of the outfit has evolved to become something suited to athletes and is more practical than traditional.  It's no different than a football uniform.

There's also the neoprene lined jumping boots that are so easy to keep clean, the anatomically designed bridles that keep our horses comfortable, the new tanning techniques for butter soft saddles with no break in, monitors that allow you to track heart rate and respiration while doing your fitness work, the list goes on.  In my last lesson, my trainer recorded me going over a fence two times, doing a different release each time.  I then watched them both in slow motion while sitting in the saddle to see the difference.  Using what I saw, I went on to jump my course.

Trainer A still has some trouble with technology.   It looks way better on her phone.

But those little bloopers aside, horses have become just as high tech as any other hobby.  I've heard plenty of people say that it's a sport that's stuck in the past.  Laser timers, composite saddle trees, and frangible pins all beg to differ.  The horse itself has evolved through careful breeding programs, generating the wide variety of types we have available today.  Our sport horses are about as removed from their ancestors as my smartpone is removed from a telegraph machine. 

Its common to wax nostalgic about the good old days, but I don't miss them.  My saddle was hard, my helmet was heavy, and my coat was hell.  My horse didn't have the same nutrition or treatment options, x-rays weren't something that could just be done on the fly when needed.  Sure, the basis of the sport is long gone, but I wouldn't say we're stuck in the past.  If anything, the horse people are eagerly embracing the new products coming out. 

We're highly motivated by increased safety, comfort, and sparkles. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015


Today was yet another show day.

All other quirks aside, mi papi sure does clean up nice, even with that one stupid braid from growing out his bridle path.

After a perfectly reasonable wake up of 6am, I hauled out to the barn to pack and load.  Considering my first ride time was 2:30pm, that was a lot of waiting.  I entertained myself by helping out the kids riding before before me and playing videographer for Trainer A while she showed a beautiful young mare at her first show.

This was Trainer A's car after the trailer unloaded to go back for the second load of horses.  It was too funny to not take a picture.

Despite the rain and chilly temps, mi papi was on board with the program.  He marched into the ring with purpose and gave me a nice, workman like ride.  I was very proud of his attitude and his willingness to work past the judge's booth, the brand new foal that was bucking next to the ring, and the tractor working in the paddocks.

We were both surprised when they swapped to the large ring before my Training 3 test.  I thought my geometry was off, but the judge disagreed and gave me an even better score.   She liked the fact that I could boot him along more when I was in the large ring.  I was having a heart attack by the time I got all the way down the ring and across the diagonal at the canter.  I forgot how big a large ring is.  But even with the change in ring size and the test that was a bit of a stretch for us, he was very focused on his job in the ring and gave me a fantastic ride.

I never, ever expected to see this with my name on it:

Yes, that's a 75 and a 76.  The judge was in love with Theo, calling him a kind, relaxed horse that loved his job.  We got second overall for the Training Level out of eleven.  I couldn't be more proud of Theo.  Such a long way to progress for the horse that use to jump out of the dressage ring rather than finish his test.  I got an 8 for my position on both tests.  That's a lot of progress for a former h/j rider.  Sure, it was a schooling show and the judge was being generous with the points, but she was awfully sure that Theo was her favorite horse.  He missed champion of his level by 0.14 points.

I'm not even sure what to do with this.  I'm used to being last after dressage, getting 6's for my position and having people not even take me seriously because I'm not on the right kind of horse.  Now I'm on a horse that's a head turner and that scores very well with the judges.  It's strange, but I think I could learn to really like this.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Heart attack

Can we discuss our horses and their ability to go from 'everything is fantastic' to 'hell in a handbasket'?

Theo and I were running through our dressage tests today.  It was going well.  Trainer A was busting me for my habit of not riding during a test.  Her comment was 'as soon as I ring this bell you quit riding and start trying to look pretty, knock it off'.  It's a valid comment.  I swear she's just going to ring that bell at me until I get over my little Pavlovian issue.

The indoor arena has a new sprinkler system that's still being dialed in.  Right now, we have one corner that gets sloppy due to two sprinklers overlapping.  Not a big deal most of the time, you step around it, it's not big.  When running a dressage test, it's right in the corner by A and you can't really avoid it.  Theo is not a big fan.  The fancy textile footing gets slick and heavy when that wet and he struggles to get through it, but it's a small spot, probably only three feet across, and not really considered a big deal.

During our second run through, he slipped in that corner and I heard something loud, like a hoof hitting something.  Theo immediately yanked his left front in the air and refused to put it down, hopping along on three legs while we slowed without dropping him on his face.  I was next to him before we'd even stopped, grabbing that foot to check for blood or a badly twisted shoe digging into his sole.  Trainer A ran across the ring to help.  I'd never, ever felt a horse do that before.  I saw him in the mirror and it was horrible seeing him trying to slow down with just one front foot.

We got his bell boot and polo off, inspecting his leg.  We both feared he'd broken a bone with the dramatic response.  We found nothing, no heat, no blood, and his shoe was fine.  We eventually located a sore spot at his heel, but nothing big.  By this point, he'd put his foot down and was watching us with a curious expression.  I trotted him off and he was completely sound.  I hopped on and trotted him and he was still completely sound.

Freaking horse interfered when he slipped and then acted like he was dying.  Seriously, like a horse that had broken a leg and would never walk again.  Then he just walked off like it was nothing.  It was scary enough that the kids in the next lesson were huddled together, scared that Theo had broken his leg and we all know what happens to horses that  break their legs.  The parents in the ring were rather horrified when I got back on the 'badly injured horse' and Trainer A had to explain to them that Theo is a bit of a princess when it comes to injuries.

He is a mare in a gelding's body.

So after the lesson, there was no sign of swelling or soreness.  I think it was like stubbing a toe.  It stings like the devil for a few minutes, you swear it's broken, and then it's fine.  That's the heel that he's sensitive on to begin with, so it makes sense.  It's just not what you want to have happen the day before a show, or ever, in the case of our broken leg fears.  I love that horse but man, what a PITA some days.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Fashion Plate

Theo's spiffy new bridle arrived!

This is the Flying Change Revolution bridle from PS of Sweden.  A couple of my fellow bloggers got bridles from this company and loved them, so I decided to indulge and try it out for myself.

Keeping in mind I have used it for all of one day, I am a happy camper.  The leather is soft and the padding is great.  The noseband looked massive when it showed up, but it actually fit's mi papi's oversized head very nicely.  I think it adds a bit of style, especially with that wave shaped browband.  The straps all stay clear of his delicate cheekbones (he gets rubs if you look at him too hard) and the noseband tapers under his chin for a nice fit.  It's a pull through/crank type noseband, but I still use it very loose.  It's important that he can chew his treats when I hand them to him, you know.  It does have a flash attachment but, as you can see, it pops off without an obnoxious loop.  Score!

On the downside, the easy change browband is neat, but both me and Trainer A have managed to unsnap it by accident.  It was a pain in the butt to get it on when it first arrived because the optional throatlatch also goes in that loop and made things tight.  The leather is stretching which makes it easier now, but it is currently annoying.  Also, Theo has already eaten the keeper on the crank noseband that falls off.  Anyone that's used a crank knows the keeper I'm talking about.

It's attractive, it's great quality, and I'll probably use this company to get Theo an upgrade on his jumping bridle in the future.  I also have his first blingy browband ordered, so he can blind them with his jewelery even if he can't stun them with his brilliance.  It turned into a  bit of a spending spree today with new reins ordered, a new fly bonnet, a new pad for the show this weekend, and new gloves.  Oh, and sending my beautiful tall boots to the cobbler because I broke a zipper.  Looks like I'll be showing in half chaps this weekend.  Sob.

But who's going to be looking at my legs when my horse is so stylishly dressed?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Pushing the envelope

Yet another day of soundness.  So much bliss.

Since it looks like we're actually going to the show next weekend, I did a run through of both of our tests today in my lesson.  I even got video of our run through Training 3.  Enjoy the banter at the beginning with me, Trainer A, and another student.

I'm surprised she let me keep my stirrups after heckling her like that.

But there's a lot to like here.  He was feeling very good.  The temps dropped, his foot didn't bother him, he got a day off, life was good for mi papi.  This resulted in some moments where the brake were pretty faulty.  Notice the lack of dressage whip?  I ditched it before the run through since he was rushing about. 

He looks happy and adorable, I'm not kicking, and we completed all of the movements.  That's a victory!  Our run through Training 2 actually looked better since it has less canter and less turns, so I'm hopeful for good scores next weekend.  We've got some work to do so I ride the horse and not the test, but that's always a struggle for me.  At least I was sitting up for most of the test.

After this run through, I took my little ball of tension and energy out for some cantering and jumping.  It worked great to break up his tension and reward his hard work.  I'm loving the fact that he's marching to the ring with his ears pricked and dragging me about.  He's starting to look like a show horse!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Two for two

Two days in a row sound!  That's some sort of milestone.  The ring was crowded with a lesson of three adults, Trainer A on a mare in training, and me with mi papi.  It's a crowd I know well and I'll admit to riding late on Wednesdays so we can all hang out together.  It was also too freaking hot today to ride in the afternoon.  91* in September?  Not cool, Mother Nature. 

Having so much company in the ring had Theo revved up despite the heat.  We focused on transitions, keeping him from taking off like he was off to the races.  We got some great moments with some actual suspension thanks to all of that extra energy.  It's good practice for him, warm up arenas are often crowded and chaotic.

But fall is definitely in the air.  By the time we were done and Theo was ready for turn out, the sun had set.   We had to do the walk to his field by flashlight.

The reflective halter was a good idea.  I need to remember that when I start thinking that I need to get him a nice leather halter.  Shiny is more important than spiffy when in turn out.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Learning to ride, tortoise style

This has been brewing in my head for awhile, so I'm going to try to hash it out.

I consider myself an h/j rider.  Sure, I did eventing, I even showed at Training, but it was mostly h/j girl learns to ride cross-country without dying and gets a 40 in the dressage.  Up until I landed at a very fancy barn in my mid-twenties, I knew zip zero about dressage.  Nadda.  I perched and jumped and was considered very good at it.  I thought I knew how to ride.

When I landed at the fancy barn, I was introduced to dressage.  The trainers all had a heavy German influence and beat that view into my stubborn, American head.  My horse had a butt and it should be engaged!  The headset was not nearly as important as what was going on behind me, especially if I wanted to jump big and turn sharp.  It was eye opening, earth shattering even, when it finally hit.  I genuinely affected how my thousand pound animal moved and it was my job to get them straight and truly forward.  Not racing around like a loon, but engaged and powering along.  I learned to feel the difference between dragging along with the front end and powering along from behind.  Once I knew what I was after, I never looked back.  It was like a drug.  I dabbled in hunters and equitation, but jumpers and dressage became my new home.  Mostly jumpers.  I'm an adrenaline junky.

When I decided to make the leap to eventing, I brought what I'd learned of dressage with me.  It was enough to get me through Novice, since I'd shown at First level, but I started to stumble at Training level and Prelim was out of reach.  I didn't know how to sit the trot.  It's just not something you work on at an h/j barn outside of learning to do it long enough to get through an equitation test.  Since I was mostly doing the jumpers, I had no reason to sit.  I didn't even really sit the canter.  I struggled and I flailed, but I didn't have the guidance I needed to make that leap.  When my princess started to school Second level movements, I knew I had reached a spot where I had to fix the sitting problem.  Falling off while trying to sit the medium trot was a dead giveaway.

When I moved to the current place, I was looking for dressage training.  I wanted to move up the levels and not worry so much about things like head trauma.  Fi gave me a taste of what it felt like to ride a powerful, well schooled, nicely balanced horse.  Dorkzilla showed me what was possible when I stole rides on him.  I wanted more.  I knew I was going to need to rebuild somewhat, but I'm an experienced rider.  How hard could it be?

Judging by the Advil I took tonight?  Quite hard.

I've enjoyed my lessons.  I really enjoy the fact I'm still cross training with jumping and bouncing about in the open.  That enjoyment doesn't change the fact that this has been difficult as hell.  As in ready to cry and quit some nights difficult.  Everything I was taught, all of my muscle memory, is wrong.  I'm having to relearn how to do things like sit on the horse and turn.  This is so ridiculous!  I coached kids at shows, I showed in jumpers up to 3'6", I evented at Training, I know how to ride!  I want to scream this some days when I'm being told, yet again, that I'm doing it wrong.  I'm one of the most experienced riders in the barn, how can I not know how to trot?!

But there I am, struggling with the basics of where to put my body, how to position my legs, and how to cue a turn.  The difference is that I'm learning this with an eye toward asking for more than a trot transition.  I need to get a clean, balanced downward transition in preparation for the simple changes through the walk.  I need to get my seat cleaned up so we can ask for the half pass and not have it be a complete disaster.  I know these are the building blocks to something much bigger, but it's still frustrating to be in a lesson where we're working on moving from halt to walk and not getting it right.  The sitting trot lessons?  Beyond frustrating.  It seems so simple when the Trainer tells me what to do, but my body wants none of it.  When I lose my balance, I snap back to what I know.  I'm balanced and happy, but I'm also very wrong.

I'm not in danger of quitting or anything like that.  This is more about acknowledging that this sucks.  It's hard and it's tiring and it's frustrating.  I'm human and I have to let myself be tired and frustrated some days.  Then I have to smack myself a bit and get back to work, because my logical mind knows that this isn't the same as when I first learned to ride.  There's a big difference between learning to get a horse to walk and teaching a horse to step off with his hind foot instead of the front foot.  One is simple, the other takes feel and timing.  I couldn't do what I'm doing now if not for the decades of experience.  I repeat that to myself when I find out I don't know how to do a twenty meter circle at the trot.  Really?  I really don't know how to do that?  I got an 8 for that movement once!

 One day I'll get to trot down center line at a sitting trot and look like I'm a real, honest to goodness dressage rider.  It's just going to take me a ridiculous amount of Advil and booze to get there.  Trainer A said today that she has plans for our Winter Training (it needs caps) to get us ready for those First level tests and it made me start aching in anticipation.

I saw somewhere the suggestion that a rider get a tortoise tattooed on their body.  I'm seriously considering getting a little tortoise tattooed on my wrist, where I can see it above my gloves.  A little reminder that slow and steady wins the race.  There's no point in trying to rush ahead when my body isn't ready yet.  I need to rebuild muscle memory and that takes time in the saddle.  The more I think about it, the more I want that little tortoise.

Riding tortoise style.  It has a ring to it.

Good day

I'm not very good at selfies.  I usually avoid them, but today I indulged myself.

"Demons, mom!  Demons everywhere!  Save yourself!"

Right.  So now we know why I don't take selfies.  I appear to have quite a bit of dirt on my face after riding in the indoor.  I went out to Dunks after this and no, I didn't wash my face before getting my Arnold Palmer Coolatta.  I'm kinda mortified. 

But the real question is why I thought a selfie while walking Theo through the woods was a good idea?  Simple.  It was a good day, and we were freakin' overdue for one of those.

It's been almost two months of this nonsense.  Mi papi pulled his shoes on the 4th of July, starting our roller coaster of missing shoes, soaking, packing, pus, and lameness.  I actually had nightmares last night that I would come out and find Theo three legged lame with pus and blood draining from his hoof.  I trust my farrier, but after sticking my neck out like that to get him in, it would just fit the pattern if he quicked the hoof or something else out of left field.

I had a terrible morning at work.  I spent hours screaming in frustration while trying to build a data pull and get it to actually work.  Just before leaving, a dumb error showed up that I couldn't clear.  When I stormed out of the house, I had a headache that was well on it's way to a migraine.  Theo wasn't in his paddock and it took a lot of hunting to find him in a back field.  I was on a war path and dropped the F bomb in front of the working students.  Not my most adult moment.  But once I had Theo on the cross ties, I started to feel better.  The left front wasn't stocked up like it's been recently.  There was no sign of pointing or landing toe first when I led him down to the arena.

 This is Little Bit, who has nothing to do with anything, he's just adorable so I took a picture after turning mi papi out

On the lunge, he was a complete lazy butt due to the near 90 degree temps, but at least he was a sound lazy butt.  I can still spot a bit of shortness, but it's hard to see now and it doesn't seem to bother him at all.  I hopped on and we had a solid flat lesson, just me and Trainer A.  We worked on turning and how to best control his haunches and shoulders.  She had to really tear the concept apart, since I was stuck on the idea that I needed to cue when the leg was leaving the ground so it swung up under him.  Turns out I'm supposed to cue as that foot hits the ground so he pushes himself up harder.  I finally got something she's been trying to teach for a month.  Getting the timing so I cue as his inside hind hits is pretty tricky when I'm managing a million other things (and the cue is coming from leg, hip, and hands all at the same time), but this time I was able to find the rhythm and keep it while riding the rest of the horse.  Yay!

 Hello, adorable tiny pony nose!

It was all I could ask for right now.  No sign of lameness, no bad attitude, no fuss.  I went out, I rode in my lesson, I cleaned him up and sent him back out into the field.  My headache disappeared and my blood pressure went down several points.  As for my work?  Amazing how much faster it's going now that I'm feeling all zen and happy.

Today was a good day.