Sunday, January 31, 2016

What's this?

What's this? What's this?
There's dead grass everywhere
What's this?
I'm comfortable in the air
What's this?
I can't believe my eyes
I must be dreaming
Wake up, Catie, this isn't fair
What's this?
What's this? What's this?
There's something very wrong
What's this?
These people are still warm
What's this?
The streets aren't lined with
heaps of snow and
Everybody seems so happy
Have I possibly gone daffy?
What is this? 

So it seems I brought the warmth from Florida back with me.  Today was 52 degrees.  That's a full 22 degrees over the average.  I was out and about with no jacket and it was simply amazing. The next person that tells me global warming isn't a thing is getting kicked in the knee caps.  Of course, that results in a lot of mud.  Theo approved.

It's sad when I spend as much time brushing his blanket as I spend brushing him. How did he get his coat so muddy with a blanket and a neck rug?  This pony has mad skills.  Grooming and tacking took a solid hour.  Why no, I didn't spend a good 15 minutes cuddling and bonding with him after coming back, why do you ask? 

Okay, we were ridiculous.  I think he was actually happy to see me.  There were many ear rubs and head bumps and cuddles.  He was less amused by his return to actually going forward, but judging by some of the canter lengthens he gave me, he missed how it felt to really stretch out.  His neck made all sorts of noises during his stretches.  After our ride, he was a little bowl of cuddly jello.  I got to turn him out naked to sun bathe and have some nude rolling.  The ladies closing the barn volunteered to put his turn out sheet back on when he got his dinner.  My barn rocks.

This whole week is supposed to be warm.  We went for a wander down the road to check the state of the trails.  It looks like we can go for a short trail ride tomorrow.  It will be good for Theo's ring sour state.  With any luck, we can actually go out for a hard canter before the cold returns. 

Our soccer ball also arrived.  Perhaps a round of learning how to push a ball through some standards will help him feel better about winter.  Assuming this even counts as winter.  Seriously.


Saturday, January 30, 2016

Fun in the sun

On Tuesday I left the frozen tundra known as New Hampshire and struck out to find a warmer, sunnier, greener place.  This also happened to be the place where about 450 of my colleagues were gathering to share our skills.  Or get drunk at a Disney resort and make fools of ourselves on a corporate provided dance floor.  Which ever.

The summit went about as expected.  As one of the advanced analytics people, I taught, led teams, and had more people than I could ever track ask me for help or to take on a new project.  Fortunately, they all have to ask my manager to be put on the wait list and it's not my problem to sort them all out.  I just make the numbers dance.  I didn't do a lot of learning, but that's okay.  When all of my work with slide shows and manning the trade show booth were done, I got to kick back and relax at the Gala the leadership team had put together.  Good food and an open bar?  Followed by a DJ?  Um, yes please!  Except the DJ part.

Let's just say that the analytics team was the group of data people at the back table cringing when the DJ started picking out volunteers for lip synch.  I was entirely ready to throw our newest college hire out in front of the line of fire to defend myself.  We bolted as soon as the required festivities were done (and the bar closed).  Data geeks don't tend to be big party animals when surrounded by hundreds of strangers.  The market development team partied for hours and showed up late and hung over for the last meetings of the event.

Since I wasn't hung over and partied out, I decided to spend my extra day experiencing this whole Disney thing.  I spent a couple hours at Epcot during the work event, but it was raining and the ride I really wanted to try was closed.  Mission: Space was great, but not the best on my stomach.  I bribed my body with some food in the France part of the park and realized there was absolutely nothing to do in Epcot but buy overpriced food and souvenirs.  Fail.

Last night I gave Hollywood Studios a try.

I sampled the cuisine.

A Sidecar at the Hollywood Brown Derby, enjoying an outside table with no reservation due to being a party of one

I rode the rides.

Highly recommended to my fellow roller coaster aficionados

I came home late with Star Wars swag, a headache from a lot of time in 3D glasses or sitting on things that were dropping fast enough to give me the feeling of weightlessness, and a big dumb grin.  I needed that adrenaline fix.  Most of the park was lost on me, but how can you argue with Muppets and light sabers and roller coasters?  I probably enjoyed it more because it was just me and I could do whatever I wanted.  The overwhelmed, sobbing kids were certainly not my problem.

And now I sit out in the sun, wearing a cotton dress and enjoying the 70*, sunny weather.

The view from over my laptop screen

Tonight I fly back to New Hampshire.  My winter coat that's been collecting dust for the past five days will be put back into use and I certainly won't be wearing a sun dress again until probably my birthday (late April).  But I'm excited to go back.

There's a certain someone that's also been on vacation that will need to get back into work.  And I have a lot of booze and comfort food to work off.  A guest instructor is coming in next weekend to evaluate our current state of training and I should probably knock off a lot of rust before that happens.  Spring season is right around the corner and Trainer R is putting together an aggressive plan to get us qualified as soon as possible.  By April we'll be out there, strutting our stuff and chasing those qualifying scores. 

Good bye, sun.  I've got work to do.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Wishin' and hopin' and dreamin'

Guys, guys, guys, I just got off the phone with Trainer R.

We have a date.

End of February I will cut her a check.

Theo is going to be mine!

I can't even write coherently.

Here's to a month of living on ramen so I can buy mi papi and we can go forth and flail our way to a Bronze!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Finding the fun

It's been a long time since I did a jumping clinic.  I'll admit, I was a bit nervous.  While we've been doing gymnastics, Theo and I haven't done a proper course since our three phase back in the fall.  Most of our gymnastics of late have been set at about two feet, since we're working on the foot work, not the actual jumps.  I was in with a group that worked at 2'6", which Theo and I do at shows, so I didn't think we'd be overfaced, but you never know.

And it's still winter with many ponies going stir crazy.  Trainer A has kids popping off almost daily right now.  We had several falls and near misses during the clinic.  She's ready to take up drinking, I think.  Our lesson yesterday didn't go overly well with Theo dragging his toes and acting like he was just tired and done with the cold.  I arranged for him to come into the barn last night so he'd get a solid night's sleep indoors.  It was ten degrees warmer today and I saw him taking a nap out in the sun this morning.  Being well rested seemed to help and he was perky when I got him tacked up.

With some falls pushing the time table back, my group was supposed to warm up by walking up and down the path between the barn and the indoor.  Theo was happy enough to walk up to the barn.  When I turned back to the indoor, he clearly felt betrayed.  Go back to the ring?  Really?  No way!  He started backing up and falling out the left shoulder, refusing to go back.  Since we had a clinic, I just kept that open right rein and kept kicking, refusing to let it escalate past him walking sideways and backwards.  I did not want to try to jump with him ticked off at me.  He eventually gave up and walked down to the ring like a gentleman, but the other riders were pretty unnerved.

L to R:  Bambino, Papi, Miss Thang, and Juice Box

 If anyone in New England has a chance to ride with Brad Giuda, I say do it.  He's positive, he's friendly, he doesn't yell, and his theory is both moderate and sound.  There's no gimmicks or wildly unique ideas to his system, just lots of sound fundamentals.  He wants a horse elastic both laterally and longitudinally.  He believes in jumping horses being able to do all of the lateral movements, collect, extend, and stay on a steady contact.  There was a lot of eyes up, land in your heels, and no ducking going around.  It was very pleasant and I had an awesome ride, I'd totally ride with him again.

We started out just getting our horses marching and bending through the turns and through a figure eight, making a clear change of bend.  Then we were collecting and lengthening the trot.  Theo was feeling fantastic and gave me some really solid lengthenings.  We got hammered a bit on the collection since I never seem to half halt quite enough.  I feel like I'm exaggerating when I'm doing it correctly.  But then papi would push into the lengthen and felt just amazing.  He had some trouble with the figure eight since we were in a line and he was behind the pony.  He started to curl and temper tantrum.  I had to pull him out and off to the side so he could settle.  He was not happy having to shorten his stride for that long.

We warmed up with a single vertical, which became a bounce, which became a bounce to a one stride.  Theo was pretty reved after the warm up and gave me a flyer going in once.  I actually had to do the halt, back up, then represent with him to get his brain back in his ears.  Once he did that, he came in just as perfectly as we could ask for.  The courses he did were lovely.  We cantered everything in a nice, steady rhythm.  If the distance wasn't quite there, he was adjustable enough to move up and make it work, or shorten up and add.  When I remembered to ask for my lead in the air, I got it.  When I forgot, he offered a change but it wasn't clean.  I'll certainly take it.  I had to ride the rollback pretty aggressively once and after my course said 'that was kind of rough, very jumpery' and Brad's reply was 'yeah, but you hit every distance'.  Good point.  It wasn't a flawless hunter round, but Theo was jumping very well and all of the jumps worked out.  I don't think we touched a rail all day.

Brad remembered Theo from last year, when someone else was his rider.  His exact words were 'oh, yes, I remember him'.  It didn't sound like a fond memory.  While we were doing our lengthen trot, I heard him call to Trainer A 'he looks fantastic!'.  At the end of the ride, he told me that he was very impressed with what I've achieved with Theo, that we had clearly worked something out and that he looked wonderful.  I probably floated back to the barn.

Today was fun and easy.  Brad offered to pop the fences up higher but I was good at 2'3".  No reason to overface us when we had finally, finally found a jumping groove.  We cantered in a steady, appropriately powerful way, jumped, and cantered on.  No kicking, no fussing, to tranter.  It was fun!  I could focus on the turn and approach and seeing the distance because I knew I had enough horse to make whatever changes I needed.  It wasn't until I was off of him and talking to the other girls that I realized how relaxing and fun that was.  All of our months of sweat and tears and work to improve the canter and make him strong and adjustable have finally paid off.  I was comfortable and felt perfectly safe cantering down to those fences.  I would have been comfortable with the fences another two holes higher.  I had enough horse and the horse was completely with me.

Trainer R is doing a pre-purchase on another horse tomorrow.  It looks like I need to get my finances ready for a purchase sooner rather than later.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Tack review: Frank Baines Evolution

I think I could have a blog that was nothing but product reviews at this point.  This episode is for my jumping saddle, the Frank Baines Evolution.

Background:  When I started riding Theo, I used his dressage saddle from the lesson program for everything.  This included my reintroduction to jumping and even a schooling show at 2'3".  After jumping mi papi around in a saddle with a high pommel and a high cantle, I ended up sitting on my couch with a bag of frozen peas in my lap.  Bruising of the pubic bone is serious business.  My Perch cross partner likes to make a big move over fences and a dressage saddle was just not doing the business.  I tried a Wintec but discovered his back is very, very straight and needs a specific tree shape.  Research and some help from my local saddlery put my butt in this saddle.

The Product:  Frank Baines is a saddlery in England.  They've been around a good while and have the usual string of professional endorsements for their saddles.  They offer dressage, close contact, GP, and even an eventing model.  Theo's dressage saddle was a Frank Baines and the name came up during my search for saddles that fit the flat backed horse.  The Evolution was pointed out to me as the flatest tree in the Frank Baines close contact range by my saddlery.

The Evolution is a close contact saddle with calfskin covered flaps and a calfskin seat.  It has gussets front and back, a mid-sized knee block, and a small calf block.  It comes in several colors and can be ordered with the welting in a color such as red, blue, or green for no additional fee.  However, since it's from England, shipping can be a beast.  I got mine from a dealer state side which helped.  It's about $3K new, which I had to do since it had just come out at the time that I purchased it.  You might be able to find some used in the not too distant future.

Review:    The first time I sat in this thing, it was love.  As Trainer A called it, it's a pillow for your a$$.  I call it butt candy.  The seat is wide and softly padded, it's just nice to sit in.  Trail rides in this saddle are no problem, I've gone two hours without my butt getting sore.  I love calfskin, even if it scuffs if you so much as look at it too hard.  Nothing sticks me to the saddle quite like it.  The knee block was considerably bigger than what I was used to, but not distracting in appearance.  I'm only 5'2" so I don't usually end up using the blocks on a regular saddle anyway, but these are positioned well enough that I do end up using them on occasion.  The saddle I tried was their nut color and rather light red for my taste, but the welting/piping in red was a neat touch that I liked.  It hit all of the check list items I'd gotten from the saddle fitter and sure enough, fit his flat back like a glove.  I got a MW with a 17" seat.  The saddle fitter loved it and it was mine.

Six months later and I still love it.  Break in was nearly non-existent.  We were able to ride in it for lessons pretty much from the word go.  Covered flaps require more delicate care so I've only hit it with the lederbalsam a couple of times.  Most of the time I just wipe it down with a slightly damp cloth before putting it away.  It's darkened up nicely and picked up a lovely patina.  It's not the havana color I dreamed of, but it's flattering.  Just more red then I'd usually have for a jump saddle.  It needs a bridle and girth with some red in it to match.  My tack doesn't really match.

I flat in this saddle regularly and I've found it's not extreme in throwing my balance forward.  I can flat around with an upright position without fighting this saddle so long as I drop my stirrups down appropriately.  Trainer A, having a more normal length of leg being about 5'5", noticed the calf block interfering with her ability to get her legs down and around him when she dropped her stirrups down, but it hasn't affected my short legs.  A 5'10" man rode in it and really liked it, said that he felt very comfortable and not cramped.  It's not meant to be a flat saddle so I can't recommend it as a GP type saddle.  It's really meant to be a jumping saddle.

Over fences it's a secure seat and I've had no problem with rocking and rolling.  Any shift in my position is my own fault, not the saddle.  Trainer A hasn't noted any problems with this saddle in terms of my position and liked where it put her legs when she sat in it.  No chair seat!  Calfskin helps to keep me in the saddle when papi puts a little extra spice in his jumping.  The balance point is pretty central and allows for a seated position as well as staying in half seat.  It's a nice, open saddle that doesn't put you in a particular spot which I like.  Not everyone likes that.  It is most definitely not a seat belt type of a saddle.  It won't keep you in place through a massive series of bucks or anything.  I personally would take it cross country at Training level, but I also did Training level in my flat as a pancake, no blocks at all, equitation oriented Passier Precision.  I'm crazy.

The calfskin is delicate.  I have to guard this saddle with my life.  I'm also not the biggest fan of the leather they used on the billets.  The finish cracked during break in and they look more worn then I'd expect at just six months, even if I use the saddle at least five times a week.  I didn't order the short flap so the blocks aren't quite where they should be for my stubby legs, but other riders find them very well positioned.  I find them close enough to keep me in place when things go wrong. I also get some weird noises from my stirrups on occasion.  We're still working on that.  It's nothing structural, the saddle is very secure, but there's a weird sound that keeps showing up.  Makes Trainer A crazy.  It's probably more related to my stirrup leathers, but still worth mentioning.

I've also had to slap a wither relief pad under this saddle, the pommel doesn't give a particularly generous amount of clearance and Theo is a princess.  No wither pressure of any kind allowed ever for him.  For a shark fin TB, I'm not sure it would work.  But then again, the tree probably wouldn't suit that type anyway.  These saddles really suit flat backed horses with wide shoulders.

If I had my choice I would have ordered this saddle in the havana leather with blue welting and short flaps, but Theo's back needed help immediately and I didn't want to wait for a custom order.  I'm impressed that those options are all no extra charge when ordering a new saddle.  You can even get velcro blocks at no charge if you order the saddle.

Conclusion:  Love this saddle.  It's comfortable, it keeps me in a good position, and it's attractive.  Theo also loves it, going noticeably better in this saddle compared to other saddles.  It broke in pretty much instantly.  It's well loved by a variety of body types.  Not well suited for horses with curvy backs or super high withers and not good for situations where a saddle needs to take some abuse.  I don't recommend it as a GP saddle since it can interfere with a longer stirrup position, but it's fantastic over fences.

Long distance parent

It's finally here.  In just four days, I'm off for my work trip to Orlando, Florida.  Considering it's 20* out right now and the highs in Florida will be around 70*, I'm more than ready to go.  I have packed nothing but skirts and dresses (and nylons so my pale, New Hampshire horseback rider legs don't blind anyone).  I'm going to Epcot and Hollywood Studios for the first time.  It should be a fun trip, assuming I don't blow a gasket at any of the work stuff.  I'm teaching a class, got volunteered to be a team leader for the group activities (shoot me now), and am helping run a booth.  After all of that, I get to play tourist before flying back to the icy tundra.

Peyton is aware of what a suitcase means and she does not approve, she's been grafted to me all day

As I start rounding up business appropriate clothes and finalizing presentations, I'm also becoming aware of the fact I'm going to be on the other side of the country for five days.  In winter.  Away from my horse.  Urk.

Yes, my horse.  Trainer R has started introducing me to people as Theo's mom, refers to Theo as my horse, and everyone knows I'm buying him as soon as his replacement is found.  The latest estimate is that I'll own him before the year is out.  Woohoo!

Theo's role as a lesson horse becomes incredibly useful when I can't make it to the barn.  Trainer A has a couple of adults that could use a ride on a horse that will calmly and willingly canter in January, so he'll be kept in work under her watchful eye.  Some of them are learning their laterals and after all of our work, mi papi is a machine for leg yield, turn on the forehand, and shoulder fore.  The bend isn't quite consistent enough to call it a shoulder in, but it's easy enough to pick up for someone that's just learning the feeling.  He also does all of his transitions nice and light now, so his roster of riders is changing.  Less plopping beginners because he's losing his ability to tolerate them.  More intermediate adults because he can let them try something that they can't do on the other school horses, is very quiet over fences, and he tolerates their non-plopping but occasionally unbalanced riding.

Such a good boy

As a side note, Trainer A and I talked and she's excited at the future possibility of having a level headed Third Level horse available to give lessons for her advanced riders to show them movements the other horses can't do.  For right now, he's pretty much a First Level horse which is still fancier than most of the barn.  Miss Thang can do Third Level, but she gets very pissy about it and if she's not in the mood to play, she'll go bucking bronco.  I'm planning on leaving Theo available to Trainer A for select lessons indefinitely.  We'll just keep upping the level of riders that are allowed to ride him as he advances.  It's a break on board and that's never a bad thing. 

Back to my trip.  So he'll be in supervised work and he'll be getting groomed and checked on while I'm gone.  So why am I stressing?  Because that's what I do.  What if the temperature swings and he needs a blanket change?  Most of the horses don't get blanket changes since they're hairy beasts so the students just put whatever they were wearing back on and send them out.  He could get cold!  Or sweaty!  Or what if he rips a rim pad and no one notices because no one else has shoes?  What if he loses his bell boots and no one notices?  What if his run in floods when it gets warm again?  Who's going to give him his weekly massage?  Who's going to do his stretching exercises?

Clearly I have a control problem.  I actually woke up in the middle of the night last night worrying about his blankets.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is what horse ownership looks like:  losing sleep over whether or not the heavy weight blanket was the right call for the night.

Back in reality, the weather looks quite stable and quiet while I'm gone.  He should be in a medium the whole time.  No rain is in the forecast and no crazy heat waves that will cause his run in to flood.  Trainer A knows his boots and will make sure he has them.  He will survive having his massage late.  He is going to be just fine even if I can't zip out to the barn to do all of the little things that I'm used to being able to do at a moment's notice.

That doesn't change the fact I'll be frantically checking my SmartBlanket app while in Florida and texting the barn if it looks like he needs something changed.  And possibly requesting pictures.  And nagging to make sure he gets his post-work out treats.  These things are important!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Reading lesson, courtesy of Theo

Some horses are more challenging to read then others.  Some horses wear their hearts on their sleeve, showing you with posture and body language and expressions just how they're feeling about everything.  Some horses are stoic, keeping their feelings tucked away.  They don't really seem to change regardless of the situation.  They're a bit more frustrating since it's hard to tell when they're happy or enjoying themselves.  It's also hard to tell when they're getting ready to blow.

Then there's the complicated horses.  The ones that react, but they don't quite fit the script you get in the book.

Theo is a jackass.  He kicks, he bites, he pushes into people.  He's a bully when he thinks he can get away with it and sometimes just because his target isn't paying enough attention to stop him.  He's not social, he doesn't want attention, he just wants food and to be left alone.  He sits on the cross ties with a sour look on his face or trying to paw, wanting to know why he's not in the field.  He doesn't want to work and it takes a 2x4 to get his attention once you're in the saddle.

Up to pretty recently, that description was what I would have used for mi papi.  With increased exposure, I've started to notice that what we're seeing doesn't quite line up with that description.  Mister Bad Ass Crabby Face loves hugs.  Nothing makes him happier than putting his forehead against my chest while I rub his ears and tell him what a sweet boy he is.  When stressed in our last lesson, he did the same thing with Trainer A, making her melt.  He just needed a hug.  This is pretty new for him.  He has always liked Trainer A, but seeking her out for hugs is new.  He took a deep breath while we both loved on him and told him how smart he is, then he went back to work.  He puts his ears back and reaches for people pretty regularly, but they're not pinned.  He wants ear rubs but it makes him look ticked off and people dodge his head or correct him.  Including me until I figured it out, much to his delight.  Finally, some one had figured out he needed a good scratch, not a correction.  Sometimes the pushy head isn't an attempt at mugging me for treats.  Sometimes he needs some attention and a big crest grooming session.  It takes experience to tell the difference between him wanting a scratch and him trying to take a shot at someone, since he does both.

Theo is a complete mushball in a very tough wrapper.  After all of Trainer A and I's work, we've come to the conclusion he is a very insecure horse that will attempt to take charge of any situation he's in because he doesn't trust anyone else to make those decisions.  Once he does trust someone, he's quite content with them taking the lead.  He's very sensitive, both emotionally and to touch, and acts out when he's uncomfortable.  Nobody really expects that from a horse that looks so drafty.  Even I assumed he was just being rude for a long time.  No, he's a princess that feels every little thing going on and doesn't like quite a bit of it.  That includes the emotional states of those around him.  Frustration and Theo is a dangerous mix.  There's a reason he offered to unload me when I rode in a Prince of Wales spur.  There's a reason he will politely tell me to f*** off if I use the whip too sharply or get frustrated.  Little taps and gentle voices, please and thank you.  Kind of explains the old Theo stories with him dumping people and bombing off.

So how does a sensitive princess get a reputation as incredibly dull and a thigh master?  Or, more the question in this case, how did I mistake a sensitive princess for a dead head?  He's learned to tune everything out.  It's self defense for a horse that packs around beginners.  He's lazy enough that he'll ignore a rider and do the bare minimum necessary.  Now that I'm tuning him up, it's a bit of a battle to manage his returning sensitivity.  Shifting my weight shifts him.  I'm back to having to be super aware of how I'm sitting because Theo is now listening closely enough that weighting a seat bone changes the way he's going.  Lazy?  Sure, he prefers eating and not breaking a sweat, but dead head?  Not in the slightest.

I feel bad that I misinterpreted him for so long.  This is what happens when you go into a partnership with expectations built on what other people tell you or what you think the breed is like.  Big draft cross that goes slow and looks completely disinterested?  Hide like an elephant, better get out the big spurs.  Nicknamed the thigh master?  Better grab a whip, too.  You know how these draft crosses are . . .

Now I get to start changing the litany.  Theo isn't a jackass, a bully, or a jerk.  I can't keep calling him that.  He's a sensitive horse communicating in the only way he can.  Calling him those things will just perpetuate that view in the eyes of others as well as my own, changing the way we handle him and respond to him.  The unconscious mind can't tell the difference between a lie and the truth.  If I call him a sensitive, willing horse that just happens to need time to trust someone, I will believe it and handle him that way.  I can keep working on drawing out this sweet, sensitive, willing horse that just wants hugs and ear rubs and to do a big stretchy trot after his muscles are all nice and warm. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Winter woes

After a December that seemed like October, January has decided to remind us that winter in New Hampshire is very serious business.  The crazy yo-yoing weather has resulted in a lot of melting and refreezing to form sheets of glaze ice everywhere and now we're cold with lots of wind.

I guess this is what I get for calling Mother Nature off her rocker.

Theo has been a well behaved pony so far this winter, no lunging needed, but he's definitely a delicate princess about the cold.  It was 0 degrees and windy last night, so he had a cooler on under his heavy turn out blanket for extra warmth.  When I came out to ride today, it was all of 15 degrees and still very windy.  When I pulled off his heavy back to tack up, he broke out in goosebumps despite using two coolers.  Poor baby.

While some horses get hot and wild and start powering around the ring, Theo just throws little temper tantrums like curling behind the bit and humping his back rather than go forward.  It's cold and he doesn't like it and he doesn't want to work, good day, sir!

Down side to getting Theo so strong and flexible through his back is that it's easier for him to throw a serious business buck.  I got one of those today while trying to shake him out of a temper tantrum because we wanted him to do a turn on the haunches.  I know, we're cruel and terrible people.  I booted him up into a canter (and stayed in the back seat, just in case) and knocked him out of the building problem, but it was pretty clear he didn't want to play.  We kept things light, we didn't want him breathing hard or getting sweaty, but he simply didn't want anything but his blankie and a big pile of hay to munch through.

Temperatures rebound next week so we should be back to regular Theo as opposed to chilly, cranky Theo.  I'm so glad I invested in extra blankets and a neck rug for him, he really is sensitive to the cold.  Of course next week I'll be in Florida, enjoying 70 degree weather while trying to remain sane at a work event.  I'm sure I could fit Theo in my suitcase if I try hard enough.  He certainly thinks he could use a beach vacation.

Saturday, January 16, 2016


Horseback riding is a funny business.  I'm sure it's true in other hobbies to some extent, but the horse industry seems to have a particular flair for gurus.  Parelli, George Morris, or Mary Wanless, people find their guru and follow every word that comes from them.  It is the One True Way.

I'm just as susceptible as anyone else.  I loved my Mary Wanless clinic and took away a lot of information.  I've also done a lot of clinics with Sonke Sonksen and he did a good job of converting me to the German way of doing things (though the hunter training was stronger due to proximity).

As I've changed disciplines and geographies, the guru of choice has changed.  My current guru is Dr. Reiner Klimke.  Seriously, just watch this man ride.  I feel more zen just observing him in action.

Next weekend I'll be adding Brad Giuda to my list of clinicians. 

Recognize the horse?  I sure do.  At least Brad knows what we're working with.

The downside to this is the conflicting information.  What one guru says is the Truth, another will call a mistake.  Mary Wanless moved my leg back, but it's been pushed back forward so that I can use all three leg positions as cues.  It's not about balance, it's about being able to cue for movements.  I believe in Mary's theory, but at the same time, I know horses are offering canter because they think it's what I want with my legs back.  I can only dream of having Dr. Klimke's position and seat.  His legs are at the girth.

While looking up comparisons between working and collected trot (Trainer A started us with collected trot today, omg yay party!), I found another website with a self identified dressage master.  He had a video that really helped me with the working trot/collected trot comparison, so I started watching more videos.  I watched the developing collection series.  I think there's some theory here I like.

Crap.  How do I plug this all together?  And then link it in with what Trainer A is doing with us?  We both enjoy our continuing education work and compare notes about things we find, but it's so cluttered.  There are so many roads to Rome that it's easy to get lost.  I could end up stuck at Training Level forever while trying to find my one true path.

I guess this is the part where having educated eyes on the ground that I trust helps.  I'm free to experiment and bring new things in, but she's going to axe anything that actually sets us back.  I think mi papi needs some more time stretching when I'm riding on my own, so the theory of Will Faerber appeals to me.  Trainer A and I agreed that collection work needs to remain in lessons for the foreseeable future so I don't make easy mistakes like getting slow or staying there too long (we're currently doing short bursts, 5 - 10 seconds).  Between lessons, it's conditioning, going forward, and working him over his back to get him swinging.  I saw some exercises that I think will be useful, so I'll start playing with them.

How do we wade through the sea of theories and information out there?  I mean, rollkur has it's proponents and the competition record to support it.  I certainly don't agree with it, but if I was a true riding novice, how would I know to avoid Sjef Janssen, considering he is the coach of so many Olympians? 

The internet has led to many wonderful things, but it's also led to the empowerment of crazy butt whackaloons.  I got a video off of Giddy Up Flix today that was supposed to be identifying pain points and how to release them.  The woman doing the work started talking about how she could think of a nutrient while keeping her hand on the horse, then test for sensitivity to see if the horse wanted that nutrient. 

No, really, I'm serious.  She even stuck the label of the feed on the horse to do a test to see if the horse was digesting the feed well.  She checked to see if the acupressure point on her own hand tensed when she put the food label on the horse (all of the horses wanted the supplement she sells, surprise surprise).

How does anyone navigate the horse guru landscape?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


You know those rides where you suddenly feel something snap into place after weeks of struggling?  It hasn't been working and hasn't been working and your trainer is ready to start channeling all sorts of demonic fury at you because they've done everything short of riding behind you and doing it themselves but you still don't GET it and you're stuck because you need that to get any further, but then the stars align and the heavens open and holy mother of pearl THAT'S IT!

And then it's gone again, but that's not the point.  The point is, I had one of those rides.  One of those rides that goes in the journal with BREAKTHROUGH in all caps.  And it wasn't just me, mi papi also had a light bulb moment, which makes it twice as much fun.
My laptop is busted (thanks, Windows) so no tablet, this will have to do

Yes, this is going to be a long, excited babbling about how wonderful Theo is.  You have been warned.

Trainer A wasn't done with that grid.  She was bound and determined that we would learn to canter through the grid without looking dumb, flailing, trantering (that cross between trot and canter Theo reverts to when the footwork gets tough), or jumping both parts of the bounce at once (yeah, he pulled a Fiona).  She's a woman on a mission and has the patience of a saint.  I understand the why, we're not going to get anywhere if I can't learn to shorten his canter without a world of resistance and our jumping will never progress if I can't learn to hang on to that canter, that doesn't mean I was thrilled to see the grid being set up again. 

Let me say, this is hard.  Hard hard hard.  I want to get up off his back, soften, and basically get out of his way.  That doesn't work for this.  Theo requires me to sit down (but not brace), hold (but don't pull), keep the rhythm with my body (never my hands), and remain calm.  If I do this, he softens through his neck and back so he can jump nicely.  If I don't?  He goes giraffe mode, drops his weight on his forehand, and plows through with rails flying.  Just sitting to a fence is hard for me.  I am a standard American trained h/j rider.  You get up off their back to jump, end of story.  Trainer A has finally beaten an upright canter position into me and the ability to really sit, so I'm expected to keep my fanny in the saddle right up to take off.

It sucked and it sucked and it sucked until this ride when it suddenly . . . didn't.  I had my stirrups jacked up to jumping length but she said 'sit down!', I did, and it was okay.  We warmed up just cantering through the poles and it dawned on me that I was finally comfortable with sitting down while he cantered poles.  Properly sitting the canter makes a world of difference in my ability to do the 12m turn needed to present to the grid on the centerline of the indoor.  Instead of careening in, I can use my whole body to lift Theo up and get him hopping on that inside hind.  I don't know what changed, but I finally felt comfortable sitting deep to a fence.  And since I was comfortable and riding Theo the way he understands, he relaxed and could offer more.  Yes!

Then we started to build on that.  Some passes were good, some sucked, but there was a lot more good than bad.  Papi would start to resist, then we'd circle and I'd sit and show him that it was okay.  Once he was swinging his tail again, we'd go back to the grid.  When his footwork faltered, we trotted in, low and relaxed, so he could reset it in his mind.

Especially off the right lead, I had to control his shoulders.  If his neck curved and his shoulders bulged, I lost my canter.  Okay, then, I'm sitting deep enough.  We've been practicing this whole turning thing a lot on the flat.  Let's square this turn off and get him off of his inside shoulder and back on his butt.  I lifted and cussed and held that left rein and left leg hard through the turn.  Then I half halted, exhaled and relaxed my arms while holding the rhythm with my hips,  and jumped.  He rocked back, kept the shortened step from the turn, and popped through as politely and gracefully as we could ask for.  Trainer A was beside herself.  Finally, finally, we did it!  He came in with about a ten foot stride but wasn't braced and fighting.  I held through the whole grid, not collapsing in the name of softness, so he held it to the end.  He didn't swap leads, bulge, or anything else.  I felt my muscles through my lower abdomen and obliques working hard in a way that's quite new to me.  So that's what I'm supposed to be doing!

Funny thing, all of that core work and focus on keeping my body still also helped to fix my snapping my upper body over a jump problem as well.  Huh.

After that, he got many cookies from me and sugar cubes from Trainer A while we tucked him in his cooler to walk out.  Trainer A didn't say anything new, there was no new exercise, it was just one of those rides where we finally both got it.  I'm sure we'll be flailing again when she throws us at the grid in our next lesson, but I feel like we both moved from Conscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence.  At least we know how to do it now, even if we're still struggling to do it reliably.

Also, can we all admire the way the beastie is muscling up?

I know it's a terrible picture, I cracked the cover on my phone's camera, but it was definitely one of those rides where we were wondering who this powerful, willing horse was and what happened to the thigh master with such a reputation

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bouncy bouncy

Jumping January is in full swing.  It's weird.  Jumping is the thing I've specialized in the longest, it was my first and greatest riding passion, but I do kind of suck at it.  When I take time off, my jumping is the first thing to go and the last thing to come back.  I always scored better on the flat than over fences.  With papi and I focusing on flatwork all through November and December, we haven't spent much time off the ground.  Just a couple months off and I've gotten rusty.  How does that even work?
Seriously, 30 years of practice, folks

Part of it is that Trainer A has a different goal and approach.  This is being used primarily as cross training, not prep for future jumping competitions.  It gives Theo a break from the monotony and gives us more tools to build up his strength.  Our latest grid is a bounce-one stride-bounce combo.  Nice and simple, fits in the indoor easily.  The gotcha is that she sets it short.  Most of my previous grid work was set with carefully picked distances that encouraged a natural stride.  She's doing this to encourage Theo to use his back and sit to make it work. 

Papi and I agree that she's a bit crazy.

Cantering in with a tight set pole, bounce, short one stride, bounce, and out, set around 2'3" right now.  It's a struggle, since Theo comes out of the first bounce stretching into that open space, then realizes he has no room to fit in the stride, then there's another bounce to manage.  My life flashed in front of my eyes when he blew through a half halt, got into the second bounce with too big of a jump, tried to get his hind legs on the ground before he was done with the jump he was going over, hit that jump, sort of floundered over the last, and somehow managed to get over it without his hind legs ever getting stable.  I was impressed.  Terrified, but impressed.  He's quite coordinated at times.

After that, he decided my half halts were a good suggestion.  Our last pass through the grid got what Trainer A wanted:  balanced, calm, sitting and using himself instead of just plowing through.  It's a very effective way to get him cantering, thinking forward, and correctly responding to the half halt instead of trying to drop to a trot.  He loves to jump and he'll jazz up when we're doing something challenging. 
This is his jazzed up face

I suppose I shouldn't beat myself up too much.  It's not the actual jumping that's screwing us up.  Going over fences is the easy part.  Getting that perfect canter and keeping it through the whole thing without resistance or him locking his neck and back is the hard part. 

Friday, January 8, 2016


NQR = not quite right

These are terrifying letters for a lot of riders.  Most horse owners know that nagging feeling that things aren't quite the way they're supposed to be but there's no concrete symptom to point out.  NQR often leads to expensive vet bills trying to track down an issue that never quite becomes acute or resolves.

Theo decided to give me a classic case of this in the past two days.  He has been sticky on his right lead.  His right hind is the weaker of the two, always has been, but he's not usually resistant to pick up the lead.  He will usually pick it up and then just bluge out his left shoulder.  Yesterday and today he didn't want to pick it up at all at the beginning of the ride. 

Ugh.  This is what gives me a reputation as a hypochondriac when it comes to my horses.

Today could have just been sass.  He came out kind of frisky (and got waaay over excited by carrot stretches, if you know what I mean), then acted up when asked to get to work, including doing his right lead transitions correctly.  He hasn't tried that scoot away from the door maneuver in months.  A bit of lateral work and he went back to picking it up peacefully, but two times is the start of a trend. 

The lateral work makes me think it's not his hock but up higher.  Stretch him out and it becomes a non-issue.  No heat, no swelling, recently shod, so no clues there.  His movement is symmetrical, though he tends to be a smidge shorter with the right hind.  No hitch or change in rhythm.  He may just need a visit from the chiropractor.

On the flip side, Trainer A hopped on for a minute when we both realized she's never sat in my saddle.  Yes, she loves my saddle.  So long as she was up there, she put him through his paces a bit.  She liked what she felt and he was very good for her.  She particularly liked where his contact has ended up.  He used to be so heavy my shoulders would shake, now he's perfectly manageable even on my bad shoulder.  I watched him canter in both directions and he looked great, perfectly comfortable, and gave her just a bit of confusion on leads. We'd just done counter canter, so he wasn't sure which he should offer.  We're working on it.

It could be so many things.  Being tight, resistant, and distracted is pretty par for winter riding.  It just bugs me when I can feel that something is up, but it's not something I can find or point out to anyone. 

I'm going to end up wrapping him up in bubble wrap, too.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Musical blankets

My current barn doesn't really cater to show riders.  I'm probably the only client that's competition oriented.  In winter, a lot of the horses pull their shoes and chill out since their riders don't want to ride in the cold and the ice.  Even the schoolies are ditching their shoes or at least their hind shoes while their work slows down.  Most of the barn is hairy, bare foot, and happy.  Then there's poor papi.

Theo is still in shoes all around (now with rim pads and ice cleats) since he's being ridden five times a week for an hour at a shot by me.  And when I ride him, it's not plopping around at the trot for a bit.  It's strength work and jumping and other things that chip up feet.  He's also the most aggressively clipped horse.  One other horse in full training is in a trace clip, but Theo is the only one that is in a blanket clip and that was body clipped multiple times.  He's the one naked boy on the property.  It's better for his health since he's not constantly over heating and damp, but it does leave him a bit unprotected.

Since most of the horses are going au naturel, there's no blanket change service.  The horses are just wearing a turn out to keep the rain off or some of the thinner coated horses are in mediums now that we're below freezing during the day.  No need to swap out blankets except when the temps do something really radical.  This is my first time at a barn without blanket change service.

With a naked pony that leans toward getting cold and Mother Nature being ridiculously temperamental, keeping him appropriately dressed takes a lot of planning and pieces.

Theo's current wardrobe:

Baker Irish knit
Baker fleece dress sheet
Smartpak square cooler
Baker turn out sheet
Smartpak turn out blanket (medium, 220g)
Smartpak turn out blanket (heavy, 360g)
Smartpak neck rug, no fill
Smartpak neck rug, 220g

I use the Smartpak blanket app to try to manage what he needs to wear.  I'm sure every owner has played the game of trying to figure out what their horse should be wearing when temps are right on the line.  With the whacky winter we're having, that's become an almost every day thing.  It's even trickier when you need to plan for 24-36 hours between changes.  People are getting used to me wandering down the barn aisle, studying my phone and muttering about temperature ranges and fussy ponies.

This week we're managing a swing from 40* high today to a low of 2* tomorrow night.  Mother Nature needs to settle with this nonsense before she gives me the flu.  So today he spent a couple hours in his fleece sheet, enjoying the sun and a bit of hand grazing where the snow had melted back.  I specifically aimed to ride near sunset so I could blanket him for the night without him baking.  With a cold front coming in over night, temps are going to keep falling through the night and into the morning.  He needs his heavy for a morning of 19*, but it was close to 40* at sunset.  Ugh.

I ended up throwing on his heavy but leaving his neck rug off and his naked neck exposed.  The lady that was closing the barn tonight offered to throw his neck rug on after it dipped to about 30* to keep him from over heating.  This way he's all armored as the temps continue to drop without getting sweaty.  Tomorrow I may be throwing the fleece dress sheet on underneath to deal with the potential 0* night, depending on how he's doing.  He usually makes it pretty clear if he's cold, clamping his tail down and kind of huddling in on himself.

By late this week, he'll be back in his medium as temps rebound to the upper 30's.

It's a good thing he's cute, I swear I'm spending more time organizing his wardrobe choices than my own. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016


Life is good with Theo back in shoes and feeling quite content with himself after a short break for the holidays.  It probably worked out well that he got that time off, he came back eager to work and very curious what I'm up to.  I need to keep that in mind, mi papi responds well to a short vacation and doesn't lose ground.  That could be very useful come February when the horses start struggling with getting sour in the indoor arena.

Yesterday, all my frostbite seemed so far away

We did a serpentine down a straight line of poles with 10m turns in our lesson today.  That was focused on getting the haunches swinging (instead of him falling on his inside shoulder and face) and we had a couple of good passes with solid power and carriage.  It turned out to be a good strength exercise and another one that's going in the portfolio for future use.  After a couple of passes, I put him in a canter to break up the tension and get him thinking forward again.  Repetition is not Theo's friend.  Cantering around the ring was super easy for him compared to what he'd just done so he carried himself nicely, offering lots of power and even some suspension in his usually clunky canter.

Trainer A turned around, looked at him, and said 'he just looks so happy'.  He felt happy, too.  I read and watch a lot of stuff by Dr. Reiner Klimke and he frequently mentions how a confident, comfortable horse will feel 'proud' of what he's done when he learns something new or does a difficult exercise well.  That's what Theo felt like.  He felt proud, lifting his neck and pushing on the contact as he cantered down the long side. 

What more could anyone want as a result of their work?