Monday, November 30, 2015

Princess Update

I heard the most amazing thing.  I'm still in shock and there might even be some happy tears.

I have a friend that works at UNH in a completely non-equestrian role.  While talking to a student in the equestrian program, she asked if the student knew a horse named Fiona.  The girl immediately started gushing about the sweet, spoiled princess and how everyone loved taking care of her.  She's also found a new career path.

Therapy horse.  Yes, Can't Drive 55, my exploding bomb, the mare I got for $800 because she was dangerous, has started working in UNH's therapeutic riding program.  I knew she was bombproof on the flat and on trails, we let nervous, senior riders take her out on the trails, I just didn't realize how far she could go. Who would have ever thought that the crazy chestnut mare that no one would ride would become a therapy horse?  Clearly she just needed a chance and to find the perfect job for her.

I'm looking for pictures now and if I get any, I'll share them.  I may have to gather up the courage to go visit her and take them myself.  I haven't gone to visit for fear of breaking down and begging for my mare back, but if she really has found her way into such a special, important job, I think I'll be able to be proud of her instead of trying to smuggle her home in the backseat of my Yaris.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Came in like a wrecking ball

Some caveletti exercises go better than others.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Third time's the charm

After my Tuesday lesson, a certain wooly mammoth looked like this:

Fuzzy wuzzy was a bear

It's a good look for a Bashkir Curly, but not for a Percheron cross.  It finally sold me on the idea of clipping him again, despite the concerns about him being able to stay warm.  I thought I'd be able to do a quick pass on his neck and then taper it into the clip he already has, but when I started clipping, I realized the 'clipped' area was now a winter coat to rival almost every other horse in the barn.  I had to clip Theo all over again.  Can you believe this all came off of a horse that's already been clipped two times this fall?

Note the spray can of Cool Lube in the background for scale, it's ridiculous

No kidding I wasn't able to get him dry after a ride.  I found wet spots in his coat two hours after I rode him while clipping him.  I definitely made the right choice taking all of that excess off of him.  He was thrilled to have his neck scratched with all of the fuzz gone.

Hey, there was a horse under all of that fuzz!

I think he lost twenty pounds from hair removal.  But after my lesson today, I was able to dry him out in about twenty minutes despite the fact it was 45 degrees out and he did some solid work.  With all of the natural insulation removed, I had to seriously up his artificial insulation.

Someone has been standing still for hours and is ready to leave, with or without me

He's now in an Ultimate Turnout from Smartpak with a neck rug in medium weight.  220g of fill works for these mid-40's temperatures and he's completely covered everywhere that he's clipped to keep him dry.  He seems quite happy with the situation and there's a heavy waiting for when the temps actually get down to the real winter ranges.

Our ride?  Oh, how did our ride go?  Someone's learning how to lengthen his stride in cavaletti work and Trainer A was very pleased with his good attitude and stretch through the shoulders.  There were several moments when I felt like I had a nice, balanced, forward athlete as a partner.  It's a new feeling and I love it.  People are starting to notice Theo when he works.  I blame the topline that's starting to come in.  Super sexy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thoughtful consideration

This one is going to be wordy, since I didn't see this outcome coming.

So I met with Trainer R today.  She's also the barn owner and, therefore, Theo's owner.  With all of the grand plans coming up for 2016, I needed to sit down and talk to her.  It's one thing to excitedly nail our first correct leg yield heading right (cue the ticker tape parade!) but it's another thing to make multi-year plans for a horse you don't own.

At this point, I think everyone knows I would definitely like to own mi papi.  I'm kind of territorial and a control freak.  The trainers have given me a ridiculous amount of license with Theo, letting me have a say in his blankets, his shoeing, his food, his supps, his clipping, and even his exercise schedule, but it makes me nervous knowing everything could come crashing down in a second.

Am I buying Theo?  No.  She needs him too badly as a lesson horse.  With two horse sized lesson horses out in the past two weeks (one was sold by her owner, the other was REPOSSESSED when it turned out his new owners didn't actually finish paying for him), she absolutely can't spare her only horse sized beginner friendly mount.  Theo is a jackass, but he's a lazy jack ass who will plod around with a nervous adult if that's all he's asked to do.  Buying him right now isn't on the table for anything near his market value.  I adore him, but I'm not taking out a second mortgage to make an offer too good to refuse.

Fair enough.  She has a big lesson program and she can't break down the smaller mounts or overwork anyone.  Big, laid back, sound, plodding horses are surprisingly hard to find.

But that leaves me in the same pickle.  I want to invest in him with time, training, equipment, all of that, but it's much harder when I have no guarantee he's going to be around next week, much less next year.  I specifically brought up my husband's protest to a dressage saddle when it's a horse that could disappear at any moment.  I told her I'd had a horse snatched away mid-season and I won't put myself in that spot again.  She agreed and gave me a written agreement that she won't sell him out from under me.  I have right of first refusal. 

I appreciated that a lot.  I get her wanting to keep control of him, he's valuable.  If she sells him to me, she's the one that could have the horse yanked away from her without warning as has happened twice recently.  I also found out she has other people that have expressed an interest in him, but she's turned them down.  She will sell him, just not right now, and probably not in the next year or two.  In the mean time, she's shopping for more lesson horses.  She wants Theo available for me to show and clinic and all of that, which means someone has to take the spot of the slow plodding horse in the barn.  The goal is to get him on a full lease with me.  We just need to find the right school horse to take over his work load.

In some ways this is a tough pill to swallow.  I can't buy him, at least not right now.  I'm still the half leaser of a lesson horse.  I can sleep easy that he's my ride for the next two to three years, but he isn't mine.  I will have to share him.

In other ways, this is a win.  He isn't going away, I have it in writing.  Trainer R is on board with our aggressive goals for 2016 and supports us completely.  As she put it, if we're going to do this, let's do this all the way.  We're going over Theo's training, nutrition, supps, and shoeing with an eye toward him going out and hitting the dressage circuit for real next year, hopefully with a trip to the regional championships at the end of the season.  My bills remain the same and I don't have a looming horse payment, which means I can buy a new saddle this winter, take him to clincs, and campaign him.  I can also feel confident that the saddle is going to a horse that's sticking around.

It takes some of the risk away, to leave him as someone else's horse. If he maxes out at First or Second Level, he can be the lesson pony while I find a new partner to get those last scores.  If he hates being a show horse, he has a back up job.  Of course Trainer R suggested I consider taking some lessons on Miss Thang again.  I have to admit, this would be a lot easier with this lovely lady floating around the ring.  Pity we fight so much.

Part of me is very sad that Theo can't be mine.  I was all ready to make an honest horse out of him, shackle him to just one rider for the rest of his days.  But it's okay.  I still ride him five days a week, we're still going out to show, and I am still his 'mom', even if someone else's name is on his registration paperwork.  Everyone call's me his mom, even Trainer R.

And in a year's time, after we've done a season of real dressage, I can revisit whether or not Theo should be my show horse or if he should be a lesson pony.  I'll just sit here and pet my little turtle friend.  There's no rush, he's not going anywhere.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

TRM 25 Question Blog Hop

Better late than never, time for another blog hop while I thaw from the sudden blast of winter.

The Red Mare:  25 Questions Blog Hop

1. Mares or Geldings? Why?
I still say geldings, even after having the princess show me why some people are so devoted to mares.  I love the fact that a gelding has the same hormones every day and I don't have to worry about it being that time of the month.  Having seen how badly it can affect some mares, I still prefer geldings.  There's only enough room for one bitch in this relationship, and I called dibs.

2. Green-broke or Fully Broke?
I had Allen, my Hellbeast, that was as broke as the day was long.  He knew everything.  I had Fiona, my princess, that was a question mark on being able to canter.  I enjoyed both.  There's so much pride in teaching a beginner and getting to do all of the 'firsts', but having a fully broke packer gets you to the fun stuff faster.  I'd go either way.

3. Would you own a "hotter" breed (ie. Arabian, Trakhener, etc).
One word for you:  Hellbeast
Yes, I would.  I have before and I'm sure I will again.

4. What was your "dream horse" growing up?
I wanted a dark bay warmblood gelding to do the hunters with so badly.

5. What kind of bit(s) do you use and why?
Lots of lozenge mouth snaffles.  I prefer not to use single joint bits and we're doing mostly dressage, so it's pretty much snaffles or bust.  In the past I've gone through an amazing collection of bits, but that seems to be more the realm of exciting hobbies like galloping through the open on a TB with limited brakes.  When I need more than a snaffle, I usually reach for a pelham or three ring, nothing too exciting.  I really prefer not to use any kind of twist.  I've also had good results with a hackamore and combi-bits with hot head horses.  Nose pressure doesn't get quite the same reaction with those horses.

6. Helmets or no helmets?
Helmets, 100%, no excuses.  I do not get on without one and I am very uncomfortable around anyone riding without a helmet.  I've seen and experienced too many accidents.

7. Favorite horse color?
Black bay with some chrome.

8. Least favorite horse color?
White.  Seriously, impossible to keep clean and you can see any flaw from across the show grounds.

 9. Dressage or Jumping?
I do both, though dressage is the job and jumping is the hobby right now.

10. How many years have you been riding?
Around 30, depending on how you count.  I took some time off in college, but I've been riding since I was five.

11. Spurs/whip or no spurs/whip?
I subscribe to the school of never going into battle without your weapons.  Better to ride and never need them then to need them and not have them.  Spurs on pretty much every horse.  I like them for lateral work and they're something I can keep in reserve without it affecting the ride until I need them.  A crop for any time I'm jumping, especially cross country, dressage whip depends on the horse.  I train every horse to accept me carrying one, but some horses (*coughThePrincesscough*) just don't need them.  Some horses like mi papi absolutely need the motivation.

12. Your first fall?
My third ride.  I was all of five years old and the horse I was riding went from jogging to cantering when I got afraid and screamed.  I came off and went under his hooves.  Good thing I had a helmet on, since he stepped right on my head.  No harm done, just some bruises, and I was tossed back on with a promise of ice cream for being brave.

13. When was the last time you rode and what did you do?
Yesterday.  I had very little time, so Theo mostly went on the lunge so I could get him moving without the battle that can come from me being on his back.  I hacked around for about 10 minutes without stirrups afterward, but the outdoor footing was frozen and the indoor was being dragged.  He mostly got the day off.

14. Most expensive piece of tack you own?
My brand new Frank Baines Revolution jump saddle.

15. How old were you when you started riding?
Five years old.

16. Leather or Nylon halters?
Nylon with a leather breakaway and reflective piping for turn out, leather for shows and other outings.

17. Leather or Synthetic saddles?
Nothing against synthetic, I've ridden in a lot, but I do prefer leather.  Specifically calfskin.

 18. What "grip" of reins do you like?
Thin rubber or rubber lined flat reins.  I need the reins to be thin since my hands are small but I also need help hanging on to them.  I hate hand stops.

19. English or Western?
English all the way, even though I've ridden Western and enjoyed it.

20. How many horses do you currently own/lease?
Just the one lease horse.

21. Do you board your horse? Self-care/full board? Home board?
Board.  After working in the industry, I love having someone else taking care of stalls and feeding.

22. Have you ever had to put down a horse that you loved?
Yes.  When Allen was 23, he broke his leg in a freak pasture accident while in retirement.

23. How many saddlepads do you have?
Don't tell the hubby, but I have to have 10 right now.  And I have some more I want to order.

24. Slant-load trailer or straight haul?
Straight, so much easier to load and unload at shows when horses are on different schedules.  With a slant, we had to unload everyone to get to the one in front if they needed to go show.

25. Why do you ride?
Good question.  It's an addiction, I swear, and therefore hard to explain to anyone that doesn't have the same addiction.  I find that riding forces me to be in the moment, doing something that is tactile and and immediate in a world where I'm almost entirely intellectual and working on things weeks or months before they happen.  Horses exist in the present only and force me to slow down for a few hours and live like that.  I also enjoy the partnership that you can develop and the feeling of teamwork that comes with the level of trust required to trust a flight animal and have them trust you.

Monday, November 23, 2015


I thought you guys might enjoy this:

One:  I'm never wearing that purple shirt for photos again.  Ugh, I look terrible in that color.  Two:  I need to lose about ten more pounds.  Halfway there!  Three:  I look like a very focused frog in the After picture.  Four:  Theo needs his mane pulled.

Five:  Mi papi is gorgeous.

This was posted on Mary Wanless's FB page.  Fortunately it's not linked to me in any way since I'm making such a ridiculous face in the second picture.  I was working very hard on breathing and riding and not getting the tape, so I have my cheeks all puffed out.  But it's a good reference for the changes I'm supposed to be doing.  No hollow in the back, heels under my hips, all of that.  It's also a fantastic reference for what Theo is capable of doing.  That does not look like the same horse at all.

I also saw first hand how you can't please everyone on social media.  It's a pretty benign picture.  I'm in a round spur, riding in an egg butt snaffle with a nice, open frame on my horse.  His gear all fits, I have my hair up, my turnout is conservative (his forelock his hiding the blingy browband).  There was still a comment questioning my choices. Why do I ride with spurs if the changes make my legs so effective?  Because my horse is a lazy ass that needs occasional reminders as to what his job is and when he decides to throw down and refuse to listen, I need the tools to win quickly before it escalates and gets dangerous.  I adore this horse, but I also know and respect his history.  Spurs are staying on my feet, even if they were not at all needed on that last ride or any other ride where I get the big lug up in front of my legs where he belongs.

Of course I can't post that on FB.  The person commenting doesn't know anything about me except that I went to a clinic to be a more effective rider.  Me replying would turn it from a passing comment to a fight.  I've learned that lesson.  I do not bicker with the self righteous.  Most of the people commenting were very positive about the changes in him and discussed how such a subtle change in my position could make such a difference.  It's a relief, since my heart skipped a beat when I realized I recognized the rider in those photos.  I gave her permission to post them, but it was still a surprise.   

I should tape the after picture up in Theo's run in, so he can get a daily reminder of what he's supposed to trot like.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Fun fact of the day:  Theo and I both like tangerines

Trainer R was unloading some groceries and mi papi could not keep his nose away from a crate of tangerines while we were talking.  The trainer gave me one to see if he liked them.  It was a big success and we ended up sharing the tangerine while walking out after our lesson.  Theo was at least nice enough to not mug me for my half.

Walking out after our rides has become quite the ritual with Theo's full winter coat in.  It takes me an hour or more to get him dried out after a ride, especially along his incredibly fuzzy neck and shoulders.  After seeing the condition he was in after today's lesson, I got permission from Trainer R to turn his trace clip into a blanket clip and get all of that fuzz off of his neck.  I just ordered two new neck rugs to keep him toasty warm in turn out.  He's such a princess about being cold, but his work load isn't going to be decreasing any and it's going to be hell trying to get him dry with temps below freezing.

Today's lesson was all about balance with leg yields in all three gaits and counter canter.  I guess it's not a surprise he was pretty sweaty after all of that.  The two previous rides included extra canter work since he had a pretty decent case of being overly energetic and they both left him a sweaty disaster area.  His extra energy is fun to ride for me, but not so much fun for other people.

Theo and I working his day job as a lead line pony at a ladies day out event.  Rockin' the blue polos.

We're also bumping up his grain since he's dropped some more weight and is adding on muscle.  While a lot of the horses are downshifting as kids stop their lessons for the winter, Theo is still adapting to his new reality of going forward, using his topline, and lifting his tummy.  New muscles are coming in and he needs the protein.  He's also been swapped from a general anti-oxident supp to a muscle support supp with extra lysine.  I think we can officially consider Theo to be a horse in moderate work as opposed to being a plodding lesson pony. 

He's going to be an entirely different horse come spring.  I can't wait.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Fun and games

A lot of barns do No Stirrup November.  Trainer A is a big fan, as we all know.  But there are other themes to get us through the winter:

No Stirrup November
Dressage December
Jumping January
Football February

Three of those are easy to understand, the fourth is a bit harder.  Football February is the bomb proofing month.  It's a time for walking over tarps, ducking under pool noodles, and tip toeing across bridges.  The fun culminates in a game of horse soccer.  February is often the hardest month in New Hampshire since the weather has been foul for months, the ground is rock hard, and storms are frequent.  We can't ride anywhere except the indoor and even turn out can get dicey if we get hit by bad storms.  It's all about fun, different, and trying to not get our shaggy beasts too sweaty.

Since I'm married to the engineer, I'm helping to get the obstacles together.  I want Theo to be so numb to odd things by the end of that month,  he won't bat an eyelash at any judge's booth he encounters.  I've been instructed by the hubby to get a list of things together and provide plans.  So far I'm looking at:

Pool noodle pass through

 Arch with stuff hanging down (pool noodles, strips of plastic, tinsel, whatever)

A bridge with a small tipping point

A rope gate

And, of course, the usual array of tarps, bags, balloons, barrels, cones, and poles to make life just terrifying

I'd like to start getting tires involved, but they're heavy and a pain to move around.  I'll wait till spring.  Both Theo and the opinionated pony had trouble getting over tires at the three phase, so I think that's something they need to see more of.

Anyone have a favorite obstacle course type exercise I should add to the list?  Not that I think all of the horses will get through all of this, but I'm also not expecting to put everything away in March and never look at it again.  Poor Theo is well acquainted with the blue tarp and flat 'bridge' we have already.

Friday, November 13, 2015


I did it!  I went out and got my reminder to not rush permanently scarred into my flesh.  I'd forgotten how much tattoos suck, and this one was on some sensitive skin.

I originally planned to get something super simple, black and white, but the artist really wanted to add some color and shading.  So I said sure.  I love how he came out and he's in the perfect spot for me to see him when I'm riding or typing so long as I'm not bundled up against the frozen tundra of New Hampshire.

I will NOT be getting ink again any time soon.  That was a three hour block of my life I didn't particularly enjoy. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Friends in all the places

I recently watched a friend in the National Show in the hunters.  Now I'm watching another friend in the World Show for the AQHA.

Instead of being a discipline I know well, I spent most of my time watching this going 'wtf is going on?'.  I'd never even heard of boxing before.  After watching a few rounds, I figured out that it was a reining pattern, followed by 46 seconds of working a single cow that was released into the arena with them.  I think that's where the boxing name comes from.  I seriously did a double take when my friend announced she was in the amateur boxing class with her beloved mare.  Boxing what?

It was fun to watch.  I had tail envy for a lot of the show.  It wasn't like the western pleasure ring where everyone had a perfect, fake tail, but there were a lot of glossy horses with thick, lovely tails.  I prefer to watch the performance type events since the horses carry themselves more correctly to my eyes.  Peanut rollers make me a bit crazy, even after spending time in a western pleasure barn.  The reiners and cow horses can't peanut roll since they have work to do.  I was also very envious of the spotless flying changes I saw.  I'll admit to having a twitch of wanting to own a QH and having that insane work ethic.  Not necessarily to do the typical QH disciplines, but there's a lot to be said for a horse that will gallop flat out, then stop and stand on a slack rein.

My friend had a rough round, drawing the crazy cow that actually caused a delay in the show when he refused to leave the ring after an earlier run.  I'm still not entirely sure what was going on, her score was held for review (?), but even I knew that one cow was freaking crazy.  Sneaky, too.  He had a little drop feint thing going on that caught out anyone unlucky enough to get him.  Fortunately she has a good attitude about these things and is already looking forward to next year.  Her girl is only 8, there's lots of time.

It's fun to watch my friend go.  It gives me a chance to watch disciplines I haven't tried and reminds me of my crazy high school days when we rode together on her quarter horses.  Believe it or not, once upon a time, this eventer and that reiner practiced rescue races together and got caught in a flash flood in the Black Hills while trail riding.  Clearly we made it out safe and sound, but it was certainly an adventure.

For those that don't know what a rescue race is, here's an example.

  If you have Facebook, check this one out.  But we didn't have a barrel.

Don't ask me how we got her up behind me.  I was 18, dumb, and have no idea.  I do remember a lot of falls and laughter with her oh so tolerant quarter horses watching over us.  Looking back, it's a wonder I made it into college. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Blog Hop: Top 5 Horse Show Essentials

Sure, the season has just come to an end, but let's do a quick recap of what helped me survive this show season.

1.  Kensington Gear Bag
Horse shows = copious amounts of stuff getting tossed into the dressing room of a big gooseneck trailer.  Some of these things will never be seen again, swallowed by the black hole found at the end of every gooseneck, if you don't keep it together.  This is how I keep my stuff together.  The vented pocket for my sweaty, disgusting helmet is amazing and it's big enough to hold a jump vest, saddle pads, bridles, grooming equipment, a stud kit, and the dressage test I haven't memorized yet.  It's a live saver.  I also found mine in a consignment shop for $25.  I don't care if it's monogrammed with the wrong initials.

2.  RJ Classic Soft Shell Hunt Coat

I got rained on twice this year.  Rather than get soaked and cold, the water beaded and ran off.  It's also stretch and machine washable.  No more dry cleaning?  Sign me up.  It looks great even after a trip through the trunk of my car and being thrown into the wash machine. 

3.  Kind Nut Bars

Fun fact of the day:  Catie is a reactive hypoglycemic.  This means I get to manage my blood sugar level throughout the day.  I also hate eating when I'm competing.  Enter the Kind brand bars.  These suckers are high protein, slow to digest, and are highly palatable when someone's twisting my arm and forcing food down my throat.  They're also gluten free so Trainer A can have them, too!

Seriously, I'm a nightmare at a show if my blood sugar gets away from me.  Most of the people I travel with would rank these number 1 as a horse show essential.  They also good for feeding stray teenagers that forgot to pack real food.

4.  Western Chief Rain Boots

Can you believe it took me this long to get a pair of wellies for walking cross country?  I picked these up at Tractor Supply for $20 and they have been amazing.  I can now walk cross country in comfort as well as help groom on rainy days without hating my life because my feet resemble prunes.  Surprisingly comfy, too.  I've worn them a couple times at the barn because they were the most comfortable thing in my car and my field boots were chewing my ankles up.

5.  No Knot Hairnet

I'll admit, the first time I used this thing, I hated it.  They're strong and the tops of my ears fell asleep due to lack of circulation.  Then I used it at another show and realized how simple it was to use.  Then I used my old hair net and was reminded just why I needed something sturdier.  My layers were popping out and ruining my pictures while it took twice as long to get my hair right.  This thing is so easy I'll use it for lessons when I don't have a good hair tie on hand.  It's the hunter princess in me, but it really bugs me to have my hair flopping around when I ride.  These are sturdy enough that my hair stays, no bumps under my helmet, and it lasts ride after ride. 

Taking notes

The videos and pictures just keep rolling in.

Say what you want, but mi papi is sure photogenic.  He looks even better in videos.  This is all of my last lesson, unedited except to remove the other person in my lesson to save battery on the camera.  It's a great reference for anyone who's wondering what it's like to clinic with Mary or what on earth her system aims to make you look like.  Enjoy the comments on skewers, my front triangle, and hoses.


Part 2:

Part 3:

Who is that beautiful, energetic horse?  You can see why Theo came out of the rides almost confused by what was going on with his body.  I had my first lesson back from the clinic with Trainer A and she liked the new clear hoses way of going.  She also liked the duct tape story a lot and even used duct tape as a reminder on a couple occasions.  Pretty much everything we worked on was stuff Trainer A was trying to do, just presented in a different way.  I'm not sure what bit of it made the difference, but I can now roll my thighs forward more without my knees screaming in pain.  My heels are off mi papi's sides and my toes are more forward.  It's all good stuff.

Now I get to spend six months trying to lock this stuff into muscle memory so we can start working on my other issues.  Like my foot's desire to be in chair position.  Stop that, foot, it's obnoxious.

Monday, November 9, 2015

All the visuals

Theo's had a very exciting month and the images are starting to roll in.

First, the hunter pace!

He is one attractive young man.  The Saintly Mare is the chestnut just behind us in the group photos.  This was just before we opened the two of them up for a strong canter down the path.  My expression over the fence was ridiculous, but it was one of the fences where he was giving a lead to the other horses and needed a bit of assurance that it wasn't going to eat him.  I might have been riding a bit.  But I love this picture because he has a real, honest to goodness topline!

And then the videos from the clinic are starting to be uploaded and edited.  There are currently two clips available.

Theo learning to trot like a real horse.

I love the fact this instant was caught forever.  You can actually see the moment Theo accessed another gear and started to move like a real horse.  He also started popping and trying to canter, but the transformation was caught for me to reference back to.  THAT is his working trot.

Mary also tried to get him to lift his tummy.  He wasn't a fan.

More video is coming, but I need to do some editing.  Most of the video came from a camera set in the corner and there is a lot of junk.  But Theo's last ride with trot and canter work was actively recorded by Dorkzilla's owner, so I'm planning to post that uncut for everyone to enjoy.  I have no pride, you guys can watch me flail a bit between the good parts.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Wanless Clinic: Day 3

For the grand finale, I went with bright pink zippers my mom bought for me at GMHA.

Man oh man, do I have a lot to unpack.  And I'm not even referring to the disaster that is my locker now that I've thrown a bunch of stuff in it, wedged the door shut, and left it for tomorrow.  All of my pictures of the farm and my take on that part of the experience is still coming, but I'm not even referring to that.  Mary threw the kitchen sink at us today in terms of information and it's going to be a lot to process.  Good thing we have all winter and Dorkzilla's owner took video!

The boys, being surprisingly cute and friendly after three days together
The take aways from my last lesson:

1.  Get those hoses clear!  This was something we worked extremely hard on today, since it's kind of an important concept.  I can't really make much change if he's not generating energy and I can't get anything done if I'm completely focused on keeping Theo going.  Theo was a good sport and put some real effort into this idea, even if he was blowing by the end and kind of shocked by what was going on.  He does tend to try to pop into a canter because a)  it's easier, b) it's what he thinks he should do when trotting along at an above average energy level and I'm still pushing, and c) my lower leg is back further than usual.  That's going to take some work, but I think it will improve as he gets stronger and I get stronger so I don't get ahead of him.

2.  I tend to twist my body when going left, which kinks up the afore mentioned hoses.  I have to think of skewers running through my body and keeping those skewers straight and on a tangent to the circle.  While also pushing his withers along with my thighs.  And using my bikini line to push the wrinkles out of his neck.  Not tricky at all, said no one ever.

3.  I'm ridiculously malleable.  Remember the duct tape yesterday?  I was about two minutes into my ride when I heard 'sit on your front triangle, you've lifted your pubic bone up too much'.  Seriously?  Seriously?!  How did I manage that in 24 hours?!!  It's nice in terms of being able to make adjustments on the fly, but it sucks in terms of working on how to find my middle.  The idea that my front triangle (crotch) takes the weight (keeping in mind most of my weight is actually in my thighs) and my seat bones are present, but not actually weighted helped.  Also the idea that my 'underneath' needed to be as deep at the rest of my body, since it's the bottom of my box.  I need to get all of my underneath on the saddle.

Head spinning yet?  Mine is.

4.  Thighs are fantastic and should be used frequently.  I put my fist against the pommel and pushed, then used the opposite thigh to resist that pressure.  This helps me to figure out how to snug up the tops of my thighs without gripping at the knee.  When I'm trotting around, especially in rising trot, this is worlds more stable than using my stirrups.  It's also exhausting. 

5.  My instructions for canter and trot were identical, which was something of a relief.  I don't know if my brain could handle it if it turned out I had a whole new list of issues in canter.  I will admit to feeling quite smug when Theo simply stepped into the canter when asked and went about his business.  Not all of the horses were that easy and sensible about moving to canter.  He cantered around like it was no big thing while I tried to get my knees up on the bar, my lower legs where they belonged, my feet light in the stirrups, bear down, and keep his withers from veering off.

6.  Theo tried his little pony brain out and did stuff with his body that was all new without throwing a temper tantrum, which was huge.  Mary specifically suggested that we do short bursts of good work, then let him take a break as he develops.  He's not a horse that takes to a lot of drilling well.  She seemed to quite like him by the end of today.  He put in some real effort, made his topline like a firm bungee cord instead of a soggy, worn out elastic, and I was able to figure out how to stay with it. 

7.  Not squeezing or booting is fantastic.  I feel so much more balanced when using the idea of slapping him with my stirrup iron and then following up with a quick 'tap tap tap' with the whip if I don't get the response.  I feel like I could probably ditch my spurs and still get the job done.  I don't intend to because I prefer spurs for lateral work, but it is a fantastic feeling to not feel like I'm working harder than he is.  It also gets my knees rolled forward and my toes pointing straight ahead without me crying in pain, which I rather like.

8.  The ladies love Theo.  I seriously didn't expect it when surrounded by gorgeous, very expensive warmbloods, but the owner of the barn said she was falling in love with my horse.  I had several of the auditors come up to me in warm up wanting to know his breeding.  One of the boarders was asking me about him because she's on the market for something as calm, quiet, and cuddly as my horse.  Evidently Theo has a very soft eye when he's working and everyone loved how he stood like a statue when Mary talked to us.  They also adored his tail.  Probably because they're not the ones to manage it.  That thing is a nuisance.

So three days of hard work and I feel very accomplished.  Theo shipped and stabled like an absolute gentleman and wooed the ladies.  I got compliments from Mary on my ability to listen and take direction from her and the progress that we both made in just a few rides.  Theo got compliments for his willingness to try and good attitude.  The consensus from the various people I talked to was that mi papi is not an overly talented horse or an extravagant mover, but he's a very attractive horse with nice movement and the potential to move up the levels with good results.  FEI horse?  Not even a little bit.  Bronze medal horse?  No reason why not, especially with the potential for good scores in accuracy and submission.  A lot of the WBs acted up, with head tossing, teeth clicking, or trying to take over the ride seen in most sessions.  Theo considers that to be far too much work.  Having a lazy horse has it's benefits.

The next clinic with Mary is in May.  I told her that she would probably see us there with much cleaner hoses and hopefully some sort of control over my pubic bone.  I don't want the tape.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Wanless Clinic: Day 2

For today's outing, I selected the Equine Couture socks with roses.  Simple, yet stylish.

Theo has been handling his overnight trip very well.  He and Dorkzilla have settled in with a general truce and can even be lured into being cute occasionally.

Dorkzilla is still freaking adorable.

The ring was a little bit less intimidating today.  Theo felt right at home and barely flicked an eyelash.

As for our work?  OMG, my thighs.

1.  I am still working on keeping my seat bones actually on the saddle.  The good news is that I did find my seat bones through most of my ride today, and they didn't wander off as easily!

2.  Mary has her hands full with my position.  When I'm walking around, I now tend to lean too far back.  When I'm trotting, muscle memory kicks in and I tend to get too far forward.  At all gaits, I tend to hollow my back.  A bunch of visuals were used, but the one that really made a dent was the story of a lady with a similar issue that was fixed with some tape.  They ran the tape from the underside of her bosom, down over her stomach, and ended on her pubic hair.  When they asked her to trot and she popped her chest up, she yelped.  Then repeat until lesson is learned.

I did not want the tape.  Nope, nope, nope.  Even if they weren't going to use duct tape and Mary said she doesn't go down to the pubic hair, that still sounded unpleasant.  So anytime Mary said duct tape, I would do whatever it took to make my boobs touch my pubic bone.  Mostly this consisted of lifting my pubic bone.  This made Mary very happy, since I finally got rid of the hollow in my back while posting.  I did not get the tape.

3.  You can sit on more than your butt.  I'm learning to shift more and more of my weight off of my stirrups and onto my thighs.  It's tough, since I feel like I'm pinching, but I get brief glimpses of how stable I feel with my weight on my thighs and my core stabilized with bearing down.  With my weight off of my stirrups that naturally swing and instead spread over my horse's ribs, I finally realize that my stirrups are not a stable place to be.  Now I just need to increase the strength in my thighs so I can stay there.

4.  Theo has hoses, and I need to clear them of gunk and get them flowing properly from his tail to his ears.  When we do that he looks like a real horse.  Basically, once Mary got me in the right spot on Theo, we got him going forward.  Like really going forward.  I generated all of this power and thrust, I actually almost bounced out of place a couple times.  That was part of the problem, Theo is encouraged to be small and squished because it's less scary.  Now he has to learn that he can be big and powerful and Mary challenged me to ride that power and keep going instead of trying to make him smaller and easier to ride.  I loved the way it felt when he was pushing along and carrying himself, so I think that's a challenge I'm ready to take.

My thighs are shaking after taking most of my weight.  It was just as hard as no stirrup work.  I'm going to have a beer and head to bed.  Hopefully my body and Theo can hold up for one more day.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Wanless Clinic: Day 1

By this point, everyone knows I love clinics.  It gives me a chance to get all dressed up:

I love these socks
And I get to take my main man out on the town.

Show halter from PS of Sweden!
This particular clinic with Mary Wanless has been a long time in the making.  I first heard about Mary back when I submitted a photo of myself and the princess to Dressage Today for a critique.

Heather Blitz did the critique and I liked what she saw, but couldn't figure out how to do what she was saying.  I got pointed to her trainer, Mary, and got her book.  The rest is history.

After reading the books, watching the videos, and trying really hard, I accepted that I couldn't figure out the basics of her system without some feedback.  Her clinics are rare and fill up fast.  This time, I finally got a spot.

Mary is a biomechanics trainer.  She's not going to improve your half passe scores, but she will focus on getting your body in the right place and working effectively.  Coming from my h/j and eventing background, there's a lot of work to do.  Thank goodness Trainer A has made a dent, considering how much work Mary had in front of her today.  Theo's job was mostly to be a vehicle for my position work and he was very happy to go about with minimal requests on him.

I had enough work to do for both of us:

Step one:  I have successfully fixed my habit of leaning forward in the halt, walk, and usually the trot.  I now only tip forward when I'm really rattled out of my place and during the very beginning of my warm up.  I even had to bring my chest a bit forward to find vertical.  Score!  Though now I can make mistakes in both directions.  Less score.

Step two:  I have seat bones and I should sit on them.  I discovered that when I engage my legs, I tighten up my seat muscles, popping my seat bones off of the saddle and keeping me from really sitting down.  Which leads to the next one . . .

Step three:  No more squeezing with the legs.  Squeezing is bad.  Leg aids should be quick, in and out, rather than just hunkering down.  That's going to take some time to process, but it will be easier to remember because . . .

Step four:  My heels belong on my horse's ass.  Seriously, I felt like I had my heels all the way back to Theo's butt, like I was going to tangle my spurs in his tail.  The mirror showed that wasn't true, my heels are under my hips, but it feels insane.  My hips were not happy.  At all.  It's going to be a fight.

Step five:  Bear down.  This was the concept in her book that I couldn't understand.  Make your stomach into a wall and push your guts against it?  Huh?  But with a lot of hands on help, turns out I've got a pretty decent bear down, up top and down low.  I just didn't know where it was and now I have to figure out how to use it.  When I bear down, my core gets stable and I don't feel like I'm doing the hokey pokey up there while we're trotting around.  Combine that with actual seat bones, sitting vertical, and not squeezing the pony, and I'm in a pretty stable spot.  For about five seconds, then I get bounced out.  Also, I can't bear down and breathe at the same time right now.  It's a bit of a problem.

Step six:  Right knee up.  It took most of our session, but she pieced together a sequence of things that cause my right shoulder to travel higher than my left.  It started with me standing harder on my right stirrup, popping up my right seat bone (the one that seems to constantly be disappearing on me), and traveling up to my braced shoulder.  I lifted my knee, my seat bone went on the saddle, and my shoulder came down.  WTF.  We're working on that more tomorrow, since she just pieced that together tonight.

Step seven:  Hot shower and Advil because holy crap my abs hurt.

I get to sleep in my own bed tonight so I should be all set for tomorrow, but man, my brain is already on overload.  I don't know how I'm going to add any more to this.  But if it can get me closer to riding like Dorkzilla's owner, I'm totally okay with aching abs and confused knees.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Warm me up, Scottie!

The picture has nothing to do with anything, I just love Thelwell ponies.

Theo taught me an important lesson last week when I was late for a lesson:  do not rush the warm up process.  I tacked him in 10 minutes instead of our usual 30 minutes snuggle and groom fest, then rushed his long rein gradual warm up.  He punished me by falling so far behind my leg that I was wheezing just trying to canter while he braced his neck and did his impression of a llama crossed with a snail.  It was a jumping lesson.  The rails were a flyin'.

Today I was late again.  I couldn't find my phone anywhere and I really don't like to head out in the middle of the day without it.  My work email and meetings go to my phone, so they can still get a hold of me.  Corporate America is a cruel, cruel mistress.  By the time I found it and escorted my neighbor's elderly German Shepherd out of my driveway and back to the safety of her own yard, I was looking at another 10 minute to prep lesson.

I may not always get it right on the first try, but I sure wasn't going to have another lesson that involved me pony club kicking and using a dressage whip while heading to a one stride.  Ha ha ha, no thanks.  I swapped in boots for my usual polos and didn't completely brush out his tail, but I still made sure that mi papi had the appropriate currying and ear rub time.  I made sure to tighten his girth in the usual three steps process spread out over ten minutes.  Better to be late to the ring than to have Theo demonstrating why he has such a bad reputation. 

Trainer A saw me heading down late and told me to just start long and loose, she'd be down soon.  This was clearly Trainer code for 'you remember last time, don't screw it up again'.  I spent the usual ten minutes trotting and cantering on the buckle, starting with a jog trot that a western pleasure pony would envy.  Experimentation has shown that trying to get him promptly off of my leg at the start just pisses him off and, guess what, he's a big, powerful horse to be ticked off at me.  I've accepted the fact that when I start my warm up, we look ridiculous.  It's embarrassing at the dressage outings.  He trots around with his head down around shoulder height, on the buckle, and about as fast as molasses in January.  It takes ten minutes of trotting with gradually increasing energy with some bursts of canter to get him thinking forward enough to pick him up.

Today I was late, but I didn't skip the steps.  25 minutes after getting him out of the field and fifteen minutes after when we were supposed to start, Trainer A joined us and we got to work.  His ears were pricked, his neck was relaxed, and he didn't tell me to f*** off even when asked to really try hard.  He chewed the bit, sat on his butt, and side passed beautifully.  He lifted his back enough that I could sit the trot, which was wonderful since Trainer A has confiscated my stirrups for the month.  It was a huge step in the right direction and told me pretty much all I need to know about what's important for Theo.

I think I've settled on this adorable little guy as my tortoise tattoo.

Every horse is here to teach us something.  Theo is here to teach me that rushing gets me nothing but a ticked off pony that really isn't impressed with my spurs.