Thursday, October 29, 2015


I have a friend showing at the National Horse Show in the regular conformation hunters and I've been watching all morning. 

My friend showing in the conformation hunters at the National Horse Show

It triggered an old ache and originally this post was about my secret wish to have a hunter again.  But then I started to think about it and honestly, I've made my peace with it.  Trainer A may have accomplished more than she knows.  I don't have any real desire to sit ringside and wait for my turn for my course.  I want my ride times, my score sheet, to work endlessly to develop my seat and hands so that one day I can grow up and ride the collected and medium gaits.  I want my gallop sets and banks and near death stories to share with friends over beers.  It's weird after so many years to realize that the dream has changed this much.  I don't want my bay hunter anymore.

Don't get me wrong, if I'm at a show with an eq division, I'll enter.  The hunter kid in me can't be completely removed and I think mi papi would rock as a low level eq horse.  He's darn near packer status over fences.  But for the first time, I don't want a hunter of my own.  I want to dressage and jump and occasionally gallop.  It's a very odd feeling, to leave that part of my past behind.

Trainer A beat me up pretty seriously in my last lesson.  I was trotting around and around, trying to get Theo to press into my outside rein and keep my hands out of my lap.  That dirty habit of playing with the bit to get him to tuck his nose in is hard to break.  I was taught that when I was 9 and I swear Trainer A is going to hunt that person down and flay them.  I'm not even aware I'm doing the see saw motion, it's muscle memory.  He braces, I slide the bit.  I went around and around, trying to process all of the stuff thrown at me and feel what I was supposed to feel and listen to the metronome I had clipped to my collar so mi papi didn't start to rush.  I swear I dreamed about my hand position last night after hearing 'shorten your reins and get your hands up!' so many times.  Those lessons are the worst, where they're trying to force you to push past something so you can feel what's right, but they basically have to ride for you.  I've taught those lessons and they're difficult on both sides.

It finally snapped into place and I was suddenly sitting on a trampoline.  His back came up, he dropped into the contact steadily, and his stride grew by about a foot.  Trainer A threw her hands up and said 'there, there, feel that?!'.  I did, and it was awesome.  When we moved into the indoor, I had to recreate it on my own.  That was a heck of a lot harder, especially since mi papi thought he was done and decided to throw a neck curling temper tantrum.  But I did recreate that steady contact with real power on my own.  Not as nice as the one she helped me create, but far better than what we've had in the past.  Theo finally has the strength through his topline and hindquarters to lift and carry himself.  I've finally had my hands beaten into submission enough that I don't block his shoulders while trying to set his head.  We can't maintain it for long, but for a few glorious moments, I was a dressage rider sitting on a dressage horse.  An honest to the gods, powerful enough to almost be scary, dressage horse.

No, I don't miss the hunters anymore.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


After months of anxiety thinking about whether or not mi papi had an eventer in him, the day of truth arrived.  The bar was set low, but the challenge was very real.


Can't argue with an 81%, even if it is on a walk trot test.  It was a really nice ride and Theo did a good job handling the fact that we were in an indoor with lots of mirrors.

Cross Country:

Yes, we were #40.  But the important part was that we ended the day with a number and not a letter.  I disagree with the jump judge at #5, he didn't stop, But with that many penalties who cares.  It's not worth quibbling so long as they didn't eliminate us.  Theo has never completed a cross country before, so it was a great accomplishment.

I thought he was going to be bratty and try to go home.  I wasn't prepared for genuine fear when he trotted into the field full of cross country jumps.  It was overwhelming to him, coming over a rise and seeing a very crowded jump field in front of him.  He wanted to go home right now and I could feel his heart beating through the saddle.  While trying to get to #2, he actually spun out from under me and I had to bail.  Since I landed on my feet, it was only 65 penalties and Trainer A gave me a leg up to continue.  By fence 3, he was starting to get the idea.  By fence 5, he was starting to rock and roll.  We ended the ride by jumping the last and cantering through the flags with his ears pricked and my barn mates cheering.

Not our prettiest ride and we sure didn't do well in terms of time, but it was his very first completed cross country.  Last time he wouldn't finish even with a lead.  This time, he did it all on his own.


Theo was so happy to get to stadium.  It's his favorite phase and he marched around like a packer.  He didn't bat an eyelash at anything and it was a calm, organized, pretty round.  I cantered over the last and was so happy we finished with a score on the board.  It was a big achievement for mi papi and a good way to end the season.

For the record, we got second place.  Out of two.


He actually seemed to enjoy himself once we were going, so I'm willing to give it another shot next year.  A different venue might work better for him, since he was overwhelmed by the crowded jumping field and that's not something that would happen at a lot of places.  It would be worth a try.

I promised him a set of real cross country boots and a new jump bridle if he completed today.  I guess I've got some shopping to do this winter.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Pile of stuff part two

Piles of stuff

"Have you ever noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?"
- George Carlin

 So the in-laws arrive tomorrow.  I don't know about anyone else, but this results in frantic cleaning for me.  It's not that we're bad adults, it's just that we have a lot to do that doesn't involve a vacuum.  We also need to have two rooms ready for guests, so that means getting a lot of stuff cleared out.  Doubling the number of adults in a house is a bit of a shift.

I'm on day two of frantic house cleaning.  I want to go to the barn.  Give me aisle sweeping any day of the week.

While going through this, the hubby seems to have noticed my increasing collection of horse stuff.  I have a show this weekend, so the show stuff is running through the wash right now.  Boots, coat, shirt, saddle pad, breeches, they're all out in various stages of preparation.  Theo's scrim and fly sheets are inside so I can clean and pack them away for the winter while his exercise rug and new fleece dress sheet are waiting to be shipped to the barn.  I don't have much space at the barn as a leasor, so a lot of stuff rides around in my car.  Square cooler and irish knit are already in rotation.  Body clipping equipment had to come in out of my car, I needed a screwdriver to take the blades off.

My saddle pad addiction isn't healthy.  My new wither relief half pad from Total Saddle Fit arrived, so my old half pad is kind of floating around with my stuff.  I have a stack of pads that I just washed that need to get put away . . . somewhere.  I just got a new one from PS of Sweden and I have to say, champagne is definitely mi papi's color.  He needs a matching ear veil.  I also have five sets of polos in rotation right now.  All of this stuff regularly comes in the house for washing, making hubby stare.  Oh, and the towels I use for grooming.

The point?  I've got a lot of stuff and I can't seem to stop collecting more.  With a trip to a fancy barn coming up, I'm itching to get a Baker stable blanket to match Theo's Baker rain sheet, Baker turn out sheet, Baker irish knit, and Baker fleece dress sheet.  I also want to get new shipping boots.  I got his new show halter and lead already.  I may need another dressage saddle pad since most of mine are AP.  Should I get another pair of full seat breeches?  Will my black with pink accent full seat breeches be acceptable for a clinic?  Might be safer to get another pair in a more subdued color.

Hubby is starting to protest.  Part of today's work is to get the horse stuff under control.  The summer gear has to move to the loft in the garage and the saddle pad collection needs to get out of the laundry room.  While cleaning out my car in preparation for stuffing all of my winter gear inside, I found all of my ribbons for the year.

I don't know what I love more about this picture: my dog helping or my mismatched socks

What the heck am I going to do with all of those?  I feel bad throwing them out, I worked hard for those, but at the same time I'm not exactly a ten year old decorating her room with horse ribbons anymore.  Hubby already banned horse art from the living room. 

Seriously, how do people manage their horse stuff?  I need an intervention or a twelve step program or a magic bag of holding.  I've always struggled to contain my equipment, no matter what barn I'm at.  Right now I only have my locker which isn't particularly substantial.  I'm already in trouble with two bridles, no idea where that future second saddle is going to go.

I may have to beg and plead with the trainers for space for a trunk at the barn.  For the sake of my marriage.  If I start storing shipping boots in the entryway, I might be sleeping on the couch.  On the plus side, when I get around to buying Theo, I'll already have all of the stuff I need.  I won't have to go through the sticker shock of a purchase followed by the frantic shopping for a blanket wardrobe, a saddle and bridle that fit, and all of the other goodies that come with a new equine partner.  At least, that's what I keep telling the hubby.

Funny thing, telling him that it will all make sense when I have my new horse just makes his eye twitch . . .

Thursday, October 22, 2015

How to: Body Clip

Since Theo needed a second round of clipping, I thought this would be the perfect time to try my hand at this how to idea.

Body Clipping!

Body clipping is when you clip the hair off of a horse in order to keep them from overheating while worked.  This is usually for horses that are working in the winter, but some horses with conditions that prohibit shedding are clipped year round.  There are a bunch of different types of clips, all of which are on Google.  The ones I do the most are the hunter clip, the blanket clip, and the trace clip.

Due to Theo's lifestyle (out 24/7) and a sensitivity to cold, Trainer A and I decided on a high trace clip as the one most appropriate for him.  I was leaning toward blanket clip due to his sweaty nature and ridiculous amounts of hair, but he does live out in New Hampshire.  He needs some hair.

Freshly clipped, showing his nice trace clip, and then his shaggy self just a month later

The trace clip leaves hair over the major muscle groups while clipping the bottom half of the neck and the stomach, giving the horse a way to vent the heat that comes with riding.  Good rule of thumb, I never, ever clip the area under the saddle, even with a full body clip.  The area right under the saddle panels is always left hairy to avoid in grown hairs, irritation, and your horse possibly deciding this isn't okay and unloading you. 

What  you need:

Body clippers - Seriously, get a pair of body clippers if you're going to be clipping a horse for winter each year.  Just one or two clipping sessions and you'll agree.  The little ones take forever and doing body clipping tears them up quickly.  Check in consignment shops and buy them used if you can find them, they last forever with a bit of care.  Don't be afraid to get the older, less fancy models.  They still clip like a hot knife through butter if the blades are sharp.

My ancient but amazing body clippers that weigh a freaking ton

Clippers - The smaller, A5 sized ones are fantastic for doing the fiddly bits like between the front legs and the girth area.  Not required, I've clipped a horse completely with body clippers, but it's a lot harder and not all horses will let you use body clippers near their face.

Sharp blades - Dull blades result in a rough job no matter how good you are and take longer.  It's not all that comfy for the horse either.  I sharpen my blades after two body clips, three at most.  I got three clips out of my current blades but I definitely felt a difference at the end of this one.  The clip had more uneven spots.

Extension cord - Very important for your sanity and helping you work at the best angle.

Step stool - Only necessary if you have a tall horse and/or you're planning on clipping the ears and face.

Coolant/Lubricant - Body clippers in particular can get hot and all clippers need oil or lubricant to keep chewing through all of that hair.  Do your horse a favor and make sure to have this on hand.  I use the Cool Lube brand in a spray can, works great.  Does a good job on preventing rust on the blades as well.  Blade wash is also a good idea to get all of the gunk out of your blades.

Chain shank - Some horses lose their marbles around clippers.  Even horses that don't mind them I typically clip off of cross ties in case they spook or I pinch them.

Cookies - It's a boring, drawn out process.  Bring rewards.

Chalk - Crooked lines are terrible and it's not like you can glue the hair back on.  Grab some chalk or, in a pinch, thin strips of duct tape can work to mark out the lines for your clip.

Armor - For yourself.  Don't clip in a fleece sweatshirt and breeches like I often do.  You'll hate your life.  Rain coats with the hood and rain pants up are the best suggestion for keeping the hair off your body, but I usually clip on impulse and pay for the results later.

A horse - Good luck with convincing him to come inside.

 How to body clip:

1.  Set up your space.   Get out all of your tools and set everything up.  Put on your armor.  It takes 1.5 to 2 hours to clip a horse.  If you're clipping in an aisle, try to pick part of the day when traffic is minimal.  It can take forever if you're always stopping to let people by or you have to keep turning your clippers off to answer questions from confused little girls.  What are you doing to poor Theo?!

2.  Groom the horse well.  I prefer to wash the horse the day before since the dirt and oil in a horse's coat dulls the blades and results in a rougher looking finished product, but when it's cold out, a good curry and brush will do the job.  He needs to be completely dry or you'll have a very uneven clip.

3.  Chalk the lines of the clip.  This is important because uneven lines are pretty glaring once you're done.  I've used sidewalk chalk, but artist chalk is nice, too.  If you're doing a hunter clip, put on your favorite saddle pad and draw around the outside.  Don't forget to chalk the face, using your bridle for the line.  Double check the lines on the back legs, it's terrible when a horse's garters are uneven.

4.  Introduce the horse to the clippers.  Body clippers are usually loud, so even a horse that's used to clipping might need to be introduced.  Theo is a dork about clippers, so I have to introduce them every time.  I turn them on, but leave them on the rubber matting and give him a cookie.  Then I pick them up, walk over, and give him a cookie with the clippers at arm's reach.  He gets to inspect the clippers, then he gets another cookie.  After all of this, I'll touch his shoulder with the end so he can get used to the way they vibrate.  He usually jumps a bit, but by that point he's mostly looking for cookies .  He gets one more cookie, then I can finally start clipping him.  He clips ground tied for safety in case something startles him.

5.  With the body clippers, carve out the big swathes of hair to remove.  For a trace clip, that's the bottom of the neck, the shoulders, the belly, and the hip area.  Go against the growth of the hair.  The hair direction changes all over the place, so follow the hair and not the lines you drew.  You'll go back in and neaten it up with the little clippers.  The skin needs to be taut in order to avoid pinching or cutting your horse, use your free hand to keep skin tight and smooth when needed.  Keep an eye on the temp of the clippers, they can get burning hot fast.  Spray them with coolant and make sure the air intake stays clear of hair.  You'll have some lines no matter how careful you are, you can even them out by going over them at a 45 degree angle.  You'll get clip lines no matter what, but a clean horse, sharp blades, and touching them up will get the worst of it.

After step 5.

Note the slightly jagged lines and the shaggy spots on the belly and face.  Close up shot, pretending the old clip is the chalk lines.

That's about how close I get to the lines with the big clippers.

6.  Do the trim work with the smaller clippers.  This is usually between the front legs, between the hind legs, the area around the tail, the face, and the ears.  If you have someone to help, having them pull a front leg forward makes it much easier to trim the hair over the wrinkles in the armpit.  It's very easy to pinch a horse in this area, go slow.  On particularly hairy horses (*cough*Theo*cough*) I do clip the face up to the line of the bridle.  You typically don't with a trace clip, but Theo's head is big enough without the added padding.  Even if I don't clip the whole face, I always clip the underside between the jowls.  I trim the tufts of the ears but don't clean clip them since they need the warmth and they'd look weird clean shaven unless I'm doing the whole face (only with a full body clip). 

Shots of the face and tail area after going over them with the small clippers.  Black bay is a pain for photos, but you should be able to see the line down his face, his still fuzzy ears, and the even garters at the tops of his back legs (at least when he's standing square).

Because I keep Theo's tail trimmed, I did that today, too.  Makes his butt look bigger.

7.  Even out your lines from the body clippers.  It's hard to do detailed work with the heavy beasts.  If your horse is really hairy, you'll have trouble making your lines even due to the hair hanging down from the unclipped parts.  Flip your clippers over to run along the line and make it straight.  This gives it a bit of a tapered look and keeps the woolly mammoth impression to a minimum.

8.  Give your horse a good brushing and another cookie for being so patient!

Can you believe all of that is from one month?  Ridiculous.

Tricks to remember:

  • Keep a close eye on the heat of your clippers.  I can't even count the number of times I've seen people struggling to hold their clippers because they've gotten so hot, but they keep clipping.  Guess what, their horses don't clip well.  Because clipping is painful with blades that hot.  If they're uncomfortable to hold, they're probably painful for your horse and you need to take a break.  Keep the blades lubricated and check the air intake for hair if they're heating up quickly.
  • Lighting is key.  If you can clip outside on a sunny day, do it.  
  • Better to clip multiple times then to wait.  Theo will probably get clipped three times this fall/winter (September, October, November).  That keeps him comfy even though more hair is coming in.  He doesn't shed well, so he'll probably get clipped again in April with a full body clip.
  • I firmly believe any horse can learn to be clipped while ground tied.  It just takes forever for some horses.  Don't wait until fall to introduce the clippers.  Make it a ho hum every day sort of thing.  Turn on the clippers, run the end over the body, give them a cookie, put them away every day for a month.  If that's too much, start with just turning the clippers on and have them running in the background while you groom.  They'll start enjoying the sound of the clippers if it means a cookie and nothing else.  It takes dedication and time.
  • Clip at least a week before your show so your horse's hair has time to settle down and so you can touch up little spots you missed.  All horses look a bit like shorn sheep right after a clip.  Some shine products can help with the dull effect from the cut hair, just avoid the saddle area.
  • Keep spare blades on hand for the times when your blades start to quit but you're only half way through the horse.  It also lets you rotate which ones you send off to be sharpened so you always have some on hand.
Happy clipping!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


It's funny how this happens.  I've been lollygagging most of this year, just getting back into the swing of things with horses and riding.  Then, all of a sudden, fall arrives and things get crazy.

October 25th is my schooling three phase and my first attempt at taking Theo cross country.  Yikes.

November 1st is a hunter pace with Theo and hopefully a chance to get us both used to cantering/galloping in the open.  Yikes.

November 6th - 8th is now a clinic with Mary Wanless to work on biomechanics.  It's a seriously fancy clinic at Cutler Farm.  Where Heather Blitz is based.  Double Yikes.

Oh, and my mother-in-law is visiting in the middle of that somewhere.  I don't know how much of me she'll actually see.

So I'm planning on eating a lot of ramen for awhile.  Multi-day clinics are not cheap business.  Especially with stabling and hotel fees.  On the plus side, Theo is fed and his stall is mucked for me while they feed me all of my meals.  It should be such a change from my small barn.  The most exciting bit is traveling with Dorkzilla and his owner!  They're going to the same clinic so we're going to buddy up.  Carpooling is definitely the way to go.

I'm super excited to spend three days focusing on being a dressage rider and hanging out with my dressage friend at a dressage barn.  I think that's the boost I'm going to need going into the winter.  Trainer A believes in No Stirrup November, but she also supports Dressage December, so that's something to look forward to.  I need to get my hands and body under control if we're going to get that shoulder in right straightened out!

By the time this little surge is over, I think Theo and I will be ready to head into winter hibernation.  We're already having to bust out the coolers for after our rides.  I have to clip him again today to manage the new level of fuzz growing in.  It's never fun to spend an hour getting your horse cool and dry after a ride.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Trainer A is a smart lady.  I figured there wasn't anything I could really do to get ready for the three phase this weekend, but she had other ideas.  When I showed up for my lesson today, she announced that I could warm up in the indoor and then we were going out to the Ritz.  As a reminder, the Ritz is the big field where we jump stuff.

Pulse immediately jumps.  What can I say, I'm still coming around to the idea of jumping out in the open after my time with the Meathead.  Mi papi has such a reputation for being a puke out in the open it's hard to forget that part and just ride the horse that I've actually experienced.  I warmed up in the indoor then bravely marched out to face my fate.

You know it's going to be interesting when Trainer A announces that I was going to trot around the field once in each direction, then she had some fun ideas for torture.  Really, trainer?  Really?!

So after jumping two logs, I learned my course.  Keep in mind, I haven't actually jumped a cross country course in years.  I even told her that I was nervous about cantering down to these fences.  She said I'd be fine.

We went downhill over the log line, turned and went uphill over the log pile, two strides to the hanging log (Beginner Novice question with a small drop on the other side), turn hard to another hanging log and uphill to a birch (each about 2'), then turn and canter right out of the field and into the next field over, twenty meter turn, canter back in to a 90 degree blind turn to a one stride combination (neither of us have jumped it before), turn and canter back out of the field and down the trail to a turn around point, come back, jump the skinny, then pass out.

So help me, we did it.  We did it despite my nerves, despite my stirrups not having enough holes to get as short as Trainer A wanted, and despite the fact that the horses in the surrounding paddocks were getting their dinners.  He was sticky to start, more occupied with the feed buckets being passed out.  I did the first two logs which were quite small and friendly, then turned to the two stride.  I felt him suck back and look at the girl with the feed buckets.  I heard Trainer A yell 'push that horse!'.  I decided I was not going to die today, damn it all.  I growled like an angry German dragon and booted him hard.  He gave me one buck then jumped the combination beautifully.  I felt that pommel whack against my sternum as he launched over the second part with his knees up around his eyeballs.  On the other side, I gave him a big pat, cooed at him, and he let out a big snort.  It says a lot about our relationship that he just took that big of a correction then moved on without getting angry.  He shook off the correction and moved on with a nice sense of forward.  The rest of our course was lovely, he was a total packer.  He never considered stopping and cantered bravely out of the field, even if he had that big question mark over his head and sent another field of horses scattering.

When we were done, Trainer A was waiting for him with half of an apple.  I guess she's made peace with my treat based training.  Theo even gave me a bit of a swagger while walking out afterward.  Trainer A's favorite parts were his brave approach to the fences he'd never jumped and the way he took the correction.  She also appreciated the fact I started to sit up and remember how to be an eventer.  There were glimpses.  Not much, but glimpses that I had, once upon a time, galloped about fearlessly.

 Once upon a time, with the princess, when I was an eventer

It was the confidence boost we both needed.  I'm only doing 18" jumps, so it's not about big jumps or tricky combinations.  It's about Theo going out bravely and taking my word on it that we're going to be fine.  We have a battle plan, I've been assigned a groom, and now I've got a course under my belt that is far bigger than anything we'll be facing.  I'm working on putting Theo's and my pasts behind us.  Theo is a different horse than he was a year ago when he refused to complete his cross country and jumped out of a dressage ring rather than finish his test.  He's also not the Meathead who threw a temper tantrum when I tried to take some control and threatened to unload me.  This isn't me facing down a Training level course.  This is me going for a calm trot/canter in the woods with some logs to hop over.

I guess I better dig out that old cross country vest and armband.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

How to

Something came up at the barn last night that had me thinking.  Someone said I was like a walking horse encyclopedia.  If they had any horsemanship questions, they knew they could ask me and I'd have an answer.  Of course I have to be careful since I'm still learning the quirks of the new barn, but in general, how to handle a cut is pretty universal.  How to pull a mane, braid, clip, blanket, wrap legs, and a hundred other little things are just sitting in my head, waiting for an excuse to come out.

On the flip side, ask ten riders how they get a horse ready to show and you'll get eleven answers.  Opinions vary wildly and people can be very devoted to their side of an argument like what side of a horse's neck you should have the mane trained to stay on.  I say right, Trainer A says left, and we have just agreed to disagree.  What I do will be different than what a lot of other people do.

Most blogs have how to articles or theoretical discussions.  I've never done that, since I never felt like I had anything specific to add.  But now I'm starting to think that there is some knowledge rattling around in my skull worth adding to the cumulative knowledge treasure trove known as the internet.  Your mileage may vary with my advice, of course, but over the past three decades I've done a lot of horsey stuff.  I even spent some time at a western pleasure barn, just for the experience. 

So what do people think, is there room for yet another blog with some how to articles scattered in amongst the tales of mi papi and our struggles to be a real, honest to goodness, grown up dressage team?  I'm thinking horsemanship and turn out primarily, since that's the area where I seem to actually know stuff people want to know.  Don't ask me about dressage theory, you'll get a bunch of random words and sketches and 'I have no idea why' comments.  Jumping?  Completely muscle memory and repetition, I struggle to describe what I'm doing in words after this long.  Makes Trainer A crazy when I devolve into random gestures and adjectives when she's trying to discuss biomechanics. 

But proper procedure after a hard cross country school?  That I have words for.

So what say you, intertubes?  Need more how to in your life?

Monday, October 12, 2015

No guts, no glory

After much consideration (aka a bout of insomnia due to Aura deciding she wasn't comfy and shoving me off my side of the bed), I've decided to just go for it and do the 18" three phase.  I want to know, and there's only one way to find out.

So keeping in mind the incredibly low bar I've set from a technical point of view, most of my attention is on confidence and trust as we build up to our last show of the season.  Yesterday I decided to give mi papi a test and see if we had a snowball's chance in hell.  I tacked him up and set out with the goal of 1.5 hours on the trails, including some loops we hadn't done yet and going backwards through most of it so it looked completely different.  I'll admit to being a bit horrified and I almost backed out to go the safe, well known way.  Mi papi is a wonderful partner but if he is genuinely afraid, there is no trick in my bag that can stop him.  I was throwing him in the deep end to see if he could swim.

I'm here and typing so we clearly succeeded in the most basic goal:  don't die.

Theo actually impressed me.  He's still uneasy on the road, but that seems to be more about the asphalt than anything.  When we have a shoulder to walk on, his walk is normal and his body is more relaxed.  When we have to walk on the black top, he's tense and takes small steps.  Not a shocker, that stuff is slippery since he has four shoes on.  I can actually let him walk on a longer rein now and not keep him constantly on the bit, which is hard on him and irritates him.  He needs chances to stretch, especially when we're out for a long time.

We did get a couple of extra surprises.  Heading down the road (so already tense since we're on asphalt and going the wrong way for the loop), I heard a weird, sharp sound.  Mi papi stopped and snorted and I couldn't identify what it was.  I thought I heard kids, so I called out 'hello' a couple times.  A boy of about 13 came out and yelled 'oh my god it's a horse!'.  His friend came clambering out of the bushes to see this amazing sight.  Both were carrying toy guns.  As soon as they said something, Theo relaxed.  I asked them what that weird noise was and the boy said 'oh, we're playing with our cap guns!'.

He was right across the street, about ten feet away from Theo.  You can guess what happened next.

The young man, being a 13 year old boy with no horse experience but at least some gun common sense, aims the gun straight up and fires it three times.  Theo's eyes almost bulged out of his skull but he actually stood his ground.  I immediately fed him a cookie, which was good timing since the boy's friend copied the move.  I asked them to reload and do it again since my horse had never heard a cap gun before.  They thought that was a great idea and reloaded before aiming at the sky again.  By this point Theo decided this wasn't a big deal.  I thanked the boys for their help and they dove back into the bushes.  Mi papi barely flicked an ear when they went back to playing their game.

We also found tree work, complete with chain saws, and a car parked on the trail where there never was one.  Very scary business.

We spent the afternoon randomly wandering.  We even did some bush whacking to get around leaning trees and access parts of the trail we usually skip.  We jumped the downed birch (about 2'3"), crossed a fairly busy two lane high way, and passed several joggers.  Theo was feeling a bit sassy, so we did a lovely fifteen minute trot down the old rail bed to get home.  I took a chance and let him travel with his head lower than usual.  He has a history of getting his head down, then unloading his riders.  I let him chew the reins out of my hands to he could stretch out over his back and focus on tip toeing around roots.  Yay, ground pole work being put to use!  Once we got back to the road, I let him walk home on the buckle.

Trail horse super star letting me take his picture while waiting for traffic to pass

The best part is that he actually seems to enjoy these outings now.  When I first took him out back in June, I thought my days of relaxing trail rides were over.  He hated it and just wanted to go home.  It was like riding a ticking time bomb.  Now?  He still stops to stare at things and spooks at unexpected obstacles, but I don't feel like he's constantly upset.  He travels in a swinging walk with his ears pricked, just heading out for an adventure.

Theo is teaching me something very important:  the power of positive reinforcement.  So much of riding is based on the idea that your horse behaves to avoid punishment.  If they don't go for a squeeze, we kick.  If they drag, we use a chain shank.  There's a lot of dominance going on.  I do all of that, of course.  Theo is far too big and powerful to have him dragging me or being pushy.  But I carry cookies in my pocket at all times with him.  When he does something special, he gets a reward.  Special can be loading on the trailer with no trouble, pivoting around on the verbal cue, or marching past helium balloons on the first try.  He's learned that if he walks up to the scary thing and touches it (the command is 'touch it'), he gets a cookie.  If he jumps the scary new obstacle, he gets a cookie.  A scary thing is no longer about being punished and driven forward.  It's his choice.  He can't run away, but it's his choice to go touch it or jump it.  Being very food driven, he considers possible death to be secondary to peppermint treats.

If he stops dead and throws his head up, I hold still and pet his neck.  I count to three out loud so he knows it's coming, then he gets a squeeze.  He always steps off for me.  It's a compromise to be sure, but it works for him.  He is a thinking, alive being.  If he's scared, better to give him a second.

Neither of these are popular training choices.  Feeding a horse treats from the saddle?  Giving him a count of three when he stops?  I know Trainer A is grinding her teeth about the treats at least, but I can't win a pushing match with this horse.  Some horses will let you shove them toward something, Theo is not one of them.  It has to be his idea.  I just have to convince him that it's in his best interest to keep going forward.  I'm certain our work with positive reinforcement is why I was able to keep him from spinning and bolting when we found something that frightened him on the trail.  It took us a minute, but he walked by it politely.

I'd say that Theo passed his test.  He went out alone into places he'd never seen before and even trotted on paths that were new to him.  We've been practicing leaving other horses behind and he doesn't like it, but he's learning that I'm still with him, so it's okay.  Now I just have to put it together in a show environment.

Who knew 18" could be scary?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Foregone conclusion

It's fun to have jumping lessons on Theo.  He likes to jump and he's surprisingly athletic.  Today's exercise featured a bounce then four strides either right or left to a vertical.  After doing the exercise a couple times, Trainer A popped them up into the 2'6" - 2'9" range, including the second part of the bounce.  The fun part about mi papi is that he still isn't working that hard.  He has to actually lift his shoulders, but he's clearing with room to spare from the trot or the canter.  He's so blase about it all.  I point, he jumps, we go on.

We did have two rails down, both when the jumps changed and he didn't notice.  He chested one of them, clearly not noticing the change until he'd already started to leave the ground.  I'll take a calmly chested rail over the drama any day.

The adult ladies of the barn went out for drinks this week and Theo came up as a topic of conversation.  The current bet from the group is that I'll buy him in the next 6 to 9 months.  Trainer A thinks I should wait until I see how he goes cross country, but it dawned on me that I don't care if he can go cross country.  Even if I never got him over his fear of going out alone, I really enjoy him.  I enjoy spending time with him.  I enjoy my lessons with him and going out to do things.  We go out trail riding or jump around or do our serious dressage business rides or go to random shows.

 Our blue from the discipline rail class

I think I've come to the part of my career where having a horse I want to see every day is more important than having the wildly talented prospect.  I have very little interest in moving up the ranks of eventing anymore.  I would enjoy getting back to the beginner novice level, sure, but I don't have the urge to return to 400 mpm again.  As far as the dressage goes, I know he's not built to float across the ground or turn heads with his extended gaits.  I'm okay with that.  I enjoy working with him to get as far as we can manage.  He's talented enough for what I need and our personalities are complimentary.  At this point, that's more important.

Who wouldn't want to see this face every day?

So now it feels more like a matter of when than if.

I've got two weeks until our first attempt at a 3 phase.  We're in the 18" division.  Walk trot dressage test, 18" stadium, and a trot around the woods with poles on the ground.  In theory, a cake walk.  In practice, something Theo has never managed to complete.  Trainer A suggested I move him back to a 2 phase, move up a couple divisions, and end my season that way.  I don't know.  I'm warring with myself.  I want to try and see if our months of work have really made a difference.  And if they haven't?  Probably for the best I know about it. 

I've learned my lesson.  Don't ditch a great partnership in order to chase a specific discipline and don't shove a round peg into a square hole.  If he doesn't want to play that game, so be it.  I'll still be there to give him his massages, feed him cookies, and convince him that pushing off of the right hind is not actually going to kill him. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

No looking back

I did go into this part of my riding career with the specific purpose of changing disciplines.  I wanted to finally leave my h/j roots behind and become a real, honest to goodness dressage rider (that still jumps and gallops and stuff).  I just didn't expect any of it to actually stick.

The pleasure show was full of firsts for me:  first pattern class, first showmanship class, first discipline rail class.  We went in with the goal of having fun, not falling off, and not letting Theo eat the competition.  That seemed a bit challenging when I realized the ring the group classes were running in was very small.  Like small dressage arena small.  There were 6 - 8 entries in the adult English riding classes.  Yikes.

Showmanship went about the way I expected.  Turnout was good, we executed about half of the moves very sharply and it was obvious we had practiced, Theo trotted right off with me even without me carrying a whip, but we totally botched the 360 degree pivot.  We got 5th out of 7.  I will happily take that, considering we were whooped by a group of ladies in Western gear that clearly did this every weekend.  I was proud that we were able to halt square and Theo didn't give me any sass.  And now I've knocked something off my bucket list!

Once I put the saddle on, I realized something odd.  I wanted to be a hunter, I was dressed like one, I jacked my stirrups up and put on the jump saddle, but I couldn't get my body or my horse to do it.  Perching left me feeling off balance.  I rode mi papi in a long frame and he wasn't sure what to do with himself.  I was in the middle of the pack for equitation and pleasure and botched both left lead canters.  Theo did very well with our goal of behaving himself, even with 7 other horses in the ring with him cantering.  He started to pop off of the bit and get mad, but he let me soothe him through it.  It also made me sit down and really ride, which he liked.

For my pattern class, I dropped my stirrups down and rode it like a dressage test.  Theo was convinced the barrel at the end of the ring was going to eat him so we ended up in the middle of the pack again, but it was a very nice test.  He didn't spook or bolt and went straight at the barrel that was scaring him.  It just wasn't a very pleasant picture with his head jacked up that high and I didn't risk the flying change  for the change of lead.  The pros in our division all went for the flying change.  The judge laughed and said I was clearly a dressage rider because I knew how to ride a nice circle.  Trainer A was laughing and calling me dressage rider on the way out.  Evidently I gave myself permission to sit up, sit down, and ride my horse for that test.

Discipline rail was our last ride and finally something perfect for us.  Left my stirrups down and picked him up so we could do quick, neat transitions.  I rocked him back on his hocks and put him in his higher carriage.  We did a leg yield off of center line one at a time and I couldn't have asked for a better chance to show off mi papi.  While the other horses protested and tossed their heads, Theo marched down center line, dead straight, then stepped over neatly for the required four steps.  No change of pace, no change in frame, nadda.  Got the blue for that ride.  Trainer A kept whispering 'dressage rider' at me when I was cantering past.  What can I say, there was no chance of me doing canter to walk if I didn't have mi papi back on his hocks, and that requires me to sit my keister in the saddle.

It's weird.  I couldn't get it together for the hunter stuff, but Theo was the star when I went into my new dressage mode.  I doubt we would have scored any better in the pleasure if I'd done that in the dressage frame, since that's not what they want, but my equitation probably would have been better since I wouldn't have been fumbling and trying to figure my own body out.  It's just so strange to me that I'm now more comfortable sitting down and picking my horse up, especially in traffic.  Theo was back swinging, tail wagging happy in his last class.  I had finally removed my head from my a$$ and was riding him correctly.  I had so many people want to pet him and coo at him after he strutted around the ring like the dressage pony he is.  Did it actually happen?  Did Trainer A break the hunter out of me?

It might be time to retire the monogrammed choker.

Saturday, October 3, 2015


The weather has decided to go straight from summer to winter on us.  In the span of a week we've changed from sweat box humidity to cold and windy.  Change that sudden always has an effect on horses.  Everyone was cranky today and looking for a chance to act up.  Theo had a lesson with a beginner this morning and his school saddle was on Bob, so another saddle was used that he didn't like.  I spent my entire lesson trying to convince him to go forward and behave himself now that he was in his own saddle.  It was a good lesson in terms of teaching me more about how to turn properly, but not the lesson we had planned.  Trotting serpentines are a bit more remidial than the planned flying change work and leg yields.

After about 45 minutes of suppling work, we made progress and managed to avoid upsetting mi papi but that was all.  Trainer A sent us off to go on a trail ride.  Since Theo's gotten used to trail riding, it's actually become something that relaxes him.  We went for a nice trot down the old rail bed and even did a bit of canter.  By the time we got back, he was walking forward under his own motivation on a long contact and with floppy ears.  He can be so complicated sometimes.  But he's awfully cute.

I didn't get a chance to finish braiding him before my lessons started so I put his hood on and popped him in a stall.  The kids suddenly started laughing on our way back up to the barn after their lessons and I looked up to see Theo watching me and whickering.  The kids thought it was hilarious, especially with his colorful outfit.  Then he tried to take off some of the building's siding and was thrown out of the barn and back into his field.  He really isn't an indoor pony.

Tomorrow is the pleasure show.  After two hours of hunting, I've located my hunt coat.  That means I didn't do any of the other stuff I had planned and I'm in the very first class of the day.  It's going to be a very early morning.  No anxiety since it's a fun show, but it's still going to be a physically demanding day after today's lesson/show prep/teaching marathon.  Hopefully mi papi will be back to his usual sunshine self.  He did seem quite content at the end of our ride, but he's not exactly a friendly pony to other horses in the arena.  My goals are to stay on top, have fun, and not have to apologize for my rabid pony to anyone.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Hard habit to break

So I taught a couple lessons last Saturday.

I have a couple lessons scheduled for this Saturday.

I am completely fail at not teaching.  When Trainer A mentioned that she had an instructor leaving and lessons she couldn't cover, I said I'd chip in.  No big deal, right?  But that means I am once again teaching little ones to go up down up down on school ponies in order to lower my horse bills.

And heavens know Theo has horse bills.  I got him a lovely Baker rain sheet since our pleasure show this weekend was 100% chance of rain.  It arrived today.  Do you want to know what the forecast now says?  10% chance of rain.  I know it won't rain a bit because I have this lovely new rainsheet just waiting to come out and be used.  You're welcome, my fellow exhibitors.

I also got some new boots to stand in for my Treadsteps that blew a zipper.  I'll be getting them repaired because they fit better than anything I've ever worn, but the base model Ariats will get me through the show this weekend and serve as schooling boots.  It's a lot less work to put on tall boots compared to paddock boots and half chaps.

The cold weather is seeping in and I'm already eyeballing Irish knits and coolers that I just know I'll need for my hairy wildebeest.   I was at the barn until almost 8pm last night getting him cooled out after a serious one hour work out.  We did canter sets in the field on Monday and managed to squeak in what might be his last bath of the year.  I'm looking down the barrel of winter and remembering why I hate riding in below freezing temps.

As to the lessons, the kids I taught were cute and easy to deal with, so I'm excited to keep teaching them.  It frees up some cash to spoil mi papi and keeps me tuned up as a teacher.  It also helps out the barn, since they don't have to turn away students due to instructors being over booked.  It's kind of a win win scenario, except that I'm now teaching again despite all of my attempts not to work at the barn anymore.  Three hours a week barely counts, right?  Right?

Just lie to me and tell me it doesn't count.  It makes me feel better.