Monday, February 29, 2016


Saddle fitter:  $100
Chiro:  $80
Dentist: $60
Massage: $75
Vet for annual exam:  I don't even wanna know
USEF lifetime registration:  $200
USDF Registration:  $95
Insurance: $750

Ownership:  Priceless

So yeah, I did a thing today.  Probably the biggest check I've ever written, but totally worth it.

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

I am back in the horse ownership club.  My checkbook is already weeping.  Not that I mind, I'm pretty used to it.  It's not my first rodeo.  The hubby is holding up well.  He appreciates the fact that this is a known quantity and not one of my 'hey, I bought a horse no one else wanted!' moments.  It was a bit of a shock to my system to buy a horse that wasn't desperate for a new home and instead I had to beg and plead for the chance.

Papi will be continuing to teach some lessons, but at a reduced capacity.  His primary job is to be my dressage/jumping/trail ride/soccer partner.  I don't think he minds the change.  I have a whole new jug of treats in my locker.

I also have some new lunge equipment, but he doesn't need to know about that today.  Today we're just going to be happy.

Sunday, February 28, 2016


Theo is a studmuffin.  Never you mind that he's a gelding, he is a stud!

 Yes, I am paying good money for this

With spring creeping up on us (three weeks to the equinox!), many of the ladies are in heat.  For a lady's man like Theo, it's a bit of a distraction.  But not necessarily a bad distraction.  While it may be annoying having to manage his extra large personal bubble at this time of the year because he wants to double barrel anyone within range, he can stop traffic with his stud mode canter.  He arches his neck, sits on his butt, and canters across the diagonal with enough purpose and presence to bring multiple instructors to a stop at the same time. 


After our rather sketchy lesson on Wednesday, it was a pleasant surprise to have stud mode Theo on Friday.  He was powered up and ready to work.  He was also completely comfortable again after a lot of liniment and body work, turning nicely in both directions.  Aside from the raging hormones, there's also an increasing trend of mi papi feeling like he's just enjoying what he's doing.  He feels good and the work makes him feel good.  In our lesson on Saturday, he repeated his amazing performance even with no mares in the ring.

Trainer A has mentioned that he's a powerful horse that likes to feel powerful.  Not a good thing for a lesson pony, but a hella good thing for a dressage horse.  I want him to feel powerful, confident, and right on the edge of explosion.  I love it.  He's at least two inches taller, light in my hands, and hot off of my leg.  As we keep doing it and I keep rewarding him, he's starting to get the idea that it's okay.  I'm okay with him carrying himself like that.  I will release him and let him stretch out those long legs of his and pet him while he does it.  He can be as powerful as he wants, he doesn't scare me.  I won't snatch at his mouth and make him stop.

There is nothing in the world like sitting on Theo when he collects up and arches his neck because the ladies are watching.  I just get to sit there and look pretty while he stops traffic.

Yes, he's a gelding.  We know he's a gelding.  But we're pretty sure he was gelded late due to his behaviors.  He is very studdish about some things, very mouthy, and very opinionated.  He's not like most geldings.  As far as behavior and handling goes, we usually treat him like a stallion.  It works better.

After two days of being a rocking dressage horse, mi papi needed a break.  The weather cooperated and we got to go on the first trail ride of 2016.


I'm really quite proud of him, since he's not really the best about going out alone and this was his first outing in months.  There was no drama, no freak outs, I didn't have to get off except for a heavy gate I couldn't manage from the saddle.  He stood and let me use a stump to get back on without hassle.  Considering his reputation for dumping people and galloping home, this is brag worthy:

Yes, I'm riding with one hand while I take video of the trails that loop around behind the barn and then hook into one of the local trail systems.  I love riding in New Hampshire.  Even in February when everything is dead, it's beautiful.  Between the trail ride and spending an hour getting his grooming caught up now that I can leave his blankets off for more than 30 seconds, mi papi was completely relaxed.  Tomorrow is his day off, then back to being dressage pony extraordinaire.

Meeting with Trainer R tomorrow.  YAY!

Friday, February 26, 2016


This took awhile to write since it doesn't necessarily cast me in the best light.  But since it's something I have to work on every day, it's going in the blog.


"Behavior is a form of communication, not something to control." ~ Lorna Jean King 1995

One adorable pony that's determined to make me a better communicator

This is a fantastic quote.  My first thought was to have this tattooed to my forehead, then I realized that would mean everyone would see it but me.  Damn it.

It's a hard pill to swallow, coming around to the idea that we're not supposed to be controlling our horse's behavior.  I want to control him, so badly.  It's part of my personality, the desire to control everything around me and remove chance from the equation.  When we start out, it's all about learning to control these big, powerful beasts.  When I'm teaching those first up/down lessons, I bluntly tell them that they have to take control.  I can't do it for them, I'm standing on the ground.  The only one that can do it is them.  In a world where a key stroke makes a change, learning to manage something with a mind of it's own is a shock for most kids.

Then the kids grow up.  They get stronger, more confident.  Being able to turn and stop is taken for granted. They can control the horse.  Now that they can do it, they believe they should be able to control any horse.  It's not true at first, but with experience and training, more and more horses are within their skill range.  For the most determined and the most experienced, they become the rider that can control the difficult ones.

I remember that phase.  I remember seeing a school horse that was out of line and thinking that I needed to get it's behavior under control.  I would get on with the mind set that I needed to set the tone, the pace, keep control at all costs.  My way or the highway.  It was a point of pride that I could control a difficult horse and ride through their temper tantrums.  But it wasn't the right mind set.  It was a clench of the jaw when the horse refused something, a dull burn in the gut, a tightly clenched crop.  There was anger.  I had to win and the horse had to submit, an angry litany in my head.

I wasn't a cruel rider, but I did not accept behavior that was outside of what I wanted.  Horse's that didn't do what they were told were bad and needed to be corrected and made to go the right way.  I knew there were sometimes reasons for acting up, like weather changes, but I didn't care.  They weren't allowed to do that.  Ever.  It was black and white and so very simple.  I thought being a good rider was having complete control of the horse.

I'm not 100% sure what bumped me out of that phase.  I was there a long, long time.  From the age of 13 as a pony jock right up until I was working at the h/j barn in my twenties.  I think it was my Hellbeast that taught me that no matter how good you are, there will always be a horse that's better.  He could unload anyone, absolutely anyone.  Best riders in the barn had complete respect for the fact that Allen could unload them at any time.  It was by his grace that you were allowed to ride.  You did not fight the Hellbeast.  I tried at first and it ended badly every time.  Scary kinds of badly.  Gasping spectators and fleeing pedestrians badly.  You asked and you took any warning shots from him seriously.  He was always polite enough to warn you before putting your ass in an oxer for being an idiot.  We had our arguments and sometimes I had to push the point, but there was a big difference between going in to win a fight and going in with finesse to get an end result with him as a willing participant.  I had to accept the fact that 'winning' wasn't the goal.

Out for a stroll with the Hellbeast who was not, in fact, a headshaker.  His photos show up in a lot of Practical Horseman articles since I let the photographer keep the rights from a photo shoot we did and he was super attractive.  I love seeing him pop up in my reading a decade after the photo shoot.

There are only three emotions allowed in the saddle:  patience, love, and a sense of humor.  Anger, frustration, and fear are forbidden.  By the time I got to mi papi, I didn't have that angry need to win as my default setting.  I had matured (or a parade of TBs beat it out of me, whichever).  It flares up sometimes, usually in ground work.  I'm so picky about ground manners.  I feel my jaw clench and my thoughts snap to the pattern of 'I'm in charge and you will do what I want!'.  It's not a discussion of herd dynamics and him respecting my space, it's the feeling that I have to prove to him (or someone, who even knows) that I have control.  It's bad news bears territory.  It's the type of thing that makes horses like Theo shut down and strike out.  It's an active act of reprogramming my own mind to try to stop that pattern before it gets too far.  If I hear the word win in my own head, I have to stop, take a breath, and turn away.

 Must walk away, even when being blatantly taunted

I tell this to teens in the throes of taking control and they tell me I've gone soft.  I hear myself in their words.  At their age, I would have said the same thing.  I wasn't ready to accept the fact that true control is impossible.  I struggled against it and got frustrated.  My horse is about 10X my size and ridiculously strong.  At the end of the day, I can't control him.   I can suggest and manipulate, punish and reward, but I can't get off and throw him over the fence.  Gods know I've thought about it.  It has to be his choice.  Whether he chooses for positive or negative reasons is my part of the equation. 

Am I putting away my spurs and whip?  Hell no.  I'm at a massive physical disadvantage, I have to even up the equation somehow.  Am I going to accept Theo's temper tantrums when asked to do something hard?  Nope, there's a difference between communicating and being a bully.  Am I going to stop using the chain shank?  Ha!  I like my toes and shoulders intact, thank you very much.  I have the frontal lobes so I have to be in charge of strategy and forward planning.  I am the leader because I am the one equipped to manage life in the modern world.  Horses communicate and establish dominance through physical contact.  I'm not going to start biting Theo, my parents paid thousands of dollars to get my teeth straightened out, so tools will remain.  But I no longer strive to be at over 50% of the relationship.  I'm quite content at 50%.  Every behavior tells me something and it goes both ways.  He knows certain behaviors get crest scratches and treats while others make me growl.  The flip side of this is that every behavior I get from him that I don't want is telling me about how the situation needs to be changed.

If Theo is curling, humping his back, and stomping his feet, something is wrong.  He doesn't need to be punished, he needs to change tracks because he's hit his limit for the current exercise.  If he's suddenly wide eyed and looking around for danger, it's usually my fault.  I did that in my ride last night.  I thought I heard the ice on the roof start to slide and had a mini-panic.  Big ice slides off of the indoor never end well.  Theo didn't care about the sound but he certainly cared about my sudden fear reaction.  His head popped up, eyes wide, and started looking for what had scared me.  It took us five minutes to get it back together.  We both had to get our pulses down and let the adrenaline ebb.

Especially as I uncover the sensitive princess Theo actually is, I have to remind myself every time he acts out that I am specifically encouraging this.  I can't communicate with him if he never gets his turn to talk.  If I want the cuddles and stretching out to reach me, I have to accept that there will be kicking out and head tossing as well.  That's how Theo communicates.  Every day, I have to remind myself to take a breath and not snap on him when he does something irritating.  It's 50/50, and if I snap on him, he can snap back at me.  And he snaps a lot harder than I do. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Psychic, psychotic, whichever

Having a horse that's psychic is a total pain.  If it was only once in awhile, I'd be willing to call it a coincidence.  Nowadays?  Mi papi is psychic and that's all there is to it.  Going cross country schooling?  Throw a shoe and go three legged lame, anything to get out of it.  Dressage show?  Better go lame again, but just for the day.  Getting bought by a crazy adult ammy that wants to go play in the sandbox?  Time to show her something all new.

After the teleportation maneuver, I figured Theo had some more stuff to shake out.  The storms weren't done and he was tossing his head.  I tossed his butt on the lunge to let it all out so long as we had the ring to ourselves.  Yes, he had some extra stuff to work through and with a bit of encouragement, did some scooting and bucking about.  Once he was actually going forward, Trainer A spotted something.  Once I wasn't watching his expression to manage the energy levels, I noticed it, too.  He was a bit short on the front left.  Not lame, not even something significant, but there was a little quickness on that step and he wasn't really reaching with it even when throwing in a big trot.  He also had no interest in a big trot, skipping right to canter.

Really?  REALLY?!  I just got your purchase confirmed and you're going to throw me a NQR?!

After evaluating in both directions, we have concluded that the dork actually strained a muscle spooking twice to the left in ways his body isn't used to.  Yes, he spooked bigger than his body is ready to handle and managed to tweak the shoulder he pivoted on.  Some investigation found the specific sore muscles running along the front of the scapula and up to the withers.  Working my fingers into it got him to chew, groan a bit, and drop his head.  Working to the right was pretty good, working left got me a face full of negative Theo which is a bit of a scary beast still.  He was dead serious when he curled, humped his back, and told me to bugger off.  If I hit the wrong button, he was going to unload me with extreme prejudice.  We were able to work through it and get him to stretch where he was sore, but it was right on the edge.

I get the feeling I'm going to get very comfortable living on that edge with him. 

After our ride he got a 30 minute body work session on both shoulders, base of his neck, and up to his withers.  It turned him into a cuddly pile of pony goo.  I had my fingers working up to my second knuckle in the muscles of his shoulders.  He was moving a lot better after his stretchy work out and the body work should keep him from snapping back to being tight and sore.  Tonight I'm scheduled for more stretching work, but Mother Nature is having another temper tantrum.

These are from my back yard.  Last night we had a line of severe storms come through and the temperature jumped by 20 degrees.  Snow melt plus over an inch of warm rain?  Property is flooded.  The light area in the bottom picture is where the ice and snow banks used to be, under about a foot of fast moving water now.  Feeding the poultry has been a bit of a challenge with everything washed out.  The upper picture is the bridge to cross our creek.   It's now part of the creek.  We'll see how I do getting off of the property.  Fortunately Theo had a lesson this morning and Trainer A knows what's up with that shoulder.  He'll get out and stretch regardless of my need to build an ark.

The low tomorrow is 13*.  FML.  Seriously.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Final countdown

Just got off the phone with the company that manages my stock options.  I've jumped through all of the legal loopholes and am on track to have everything sold and ready to roll for the big day next week.  Next week already!

Side note for anyone considering a career in corporate America:  if you want to know how a company is doing, find the statistical analyst.  It's freaky how much we know and it results in some fun technical challenges when you want to sell stock in the company you work for.  I have to check with the legal department to make sure I'm not going to get any wild accusations on the timing of my stocks being sold.  Fortunately, telling them 'I'm buying a horse' seems to make them question my sanity more, but question my ethics less.

I'm very excited, sitting here at my desk jittering away.  I don't really trust big banks to get stuff right so I've been trying to not let myself get too wound up in case something goes terribly wrong.  After the last phone call, I'm tentatively letting myself start to anticipate.  I'll finally let myself get completely ridiculously excited on Friday when I should be getting the last bit of confirmation that we'll be ready to roll right on schedule, March 1.  Works out well, since I'll be signing my boarder's agreement at the start of the month this way.

And then I do insurance, USDF and USEF lifetime registration numbers, saddle, and all of the other nonsense that goes with having a horse of my very own.  Also have to figure out what to call his breed on his paperwork.  It looks like I can register him as an American Warmblood, so I might just do that.  I need to ask Trainer R or the vet if they can provide me with his parents' names and his breeder.

I think I'm going to keep Expect the Unexpected as a show name.  It's so impossibly
fitting for him, whether it's his ability to teleport or the fact that he was supposed to be some lazy thigh master to get me in shape so I could go find a real dressage horse.  No one expected things to go quite like this.

T minus six days!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


I swear there's a conspiracy keeping me from working Theo the way he needs.  I think he's paying people off.

Friday he got off because of the chiropractor.  That makes sense, even if I didn't realize he was going to have that day off.  Saturday was a very light work out, though we had a very useful breakthrough on the turn on the haunches.

Sunday I had a date.  It was supposed to be a lunch date, but it ran late and by the time I got back I only had enough time to swap out Theo's blankets while wearing a dress.  And heels.  And lipstick.  Believe me, I got some double takes when I walked into the barn.  Fortunately I had some spare boots to wear when I got mi papi out of turnout and hubby was willing to help me pull his muddy blanket off so I didn't have to do it in a nice dress and my good coat.  Fine, fine, a day off, but it's all in the name of love and he'd just work on Monday instead.

On Monday I went to start my car and nothing happened.  It made a grinding sound and made no attempt at starting.  WTF now?!  With the hubby traveling for work and having no close neighbors, I had to scramble a bit to find a way to jump start my car.  A couple of phone calls revealed that we do, in fact, have a battery charger I could plug into the wall and then hook up to my car.  Great, got the car started, but far too late for me to make it to the barn.

After this string of events, I woke up this morning expecting to find that I was missing a leg, my car was stolen, or Theo had run away from home.  I spent most of today in a state of paranoia.  It wasn't until I was at the barn (with both legs accounted for) that I felt safe expecting to ride.

That much time off and a storm blowing in?  Theo demonstrated his new strength and balance with a teleport maneuver when someone went through the trees at the end of the ring and surprised him.  I was about 1/3 of the way down the ring before I realized he'd spun and bolted.

I guess it's progress that he was letting it all out and let me burn energy with a big trot rather than stomping his feet like a pouting toddler.  The other riders in the ring did not approve of his choice. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Mental exercise

Poor Theo was a bit sore after the chiro adjusted him.  Nothing too drastic was found, no red flags were raised, but he did have to have some adjustments.  He needed to have his withers adjusted, his right shoulder, and left haunch.  He'll have another appointment in May to make sure the adjustments stay put, then he'll be a once a year type of a boy.  Nothing too rough, hooray!

Doctor's orders were to have a light day, so Trainer A and I decided to do a mental training day.  We set up some obstacles to work on his bravery and did some work on his turn on the haunches.  It took some careful timing and coordination between me and Trainer A to get where we needed to be with the turn on the haunches.  Papi has some sort of mental block on moving forward when under pressure or moving his shoulders.  We would work for about five minutes, then release him to go do obstacles, then repeat.  By the end he had the idea and was stepping around with little assistance from the ground and a lot less frustration.  I knew he had the idea when he quit locking onto the bit and trying to force me to take pressure off of him.  He doesn't handle confusion and frustration well.  It took a lot, lot, lot of petting, cooing, and purring at him to make it through the lesson without an explosion.  Totally worth it.

For one split second, he stepped completely under himself and lifted up like he might rear, but instead stepped around his right hind.  I think he might have a knack for pirouettes.  It was a very cool sensation, feeling him completely move his weight to the haunches and lift his forehand up with his back so he could move it sideways.  It was just the split second, but hey, that's how all of the fancy moves start.

The obstacles went quite well.  Using painter's tape, the pool noodles were stuck to jump cups, making them adjustable for height.  We started with them ankle height, then worked our way up till they were bumping his belly.  He was very confused at first, not sure if he was supposed to jump them or what, but he got the idea pretty quickly.  He tried pushing them out of the way with his nose, but they sprung back to thump him.  Other than some hesitation and some twitchy skin on the first couple of passes where they touched his belly, it didn't bother him at all.  Food motivated horses are fantastic.  When given the choice between cookie or death by pool noodle, he always chooses cookie.

Trainer A said 'you're so brave, Theo, I never thought I'd say that'.  I tried to get some video of him pushing through the noodles but, in typical Theo fashion, he didn't want to cooperate with the camera.  You'll have to take my word for it that he pushed through lots and lots of noodles today.

I also snapped off a conformation picture, since it was warm enough to dilly dally with no blankets on.  54* out today.

Just look at that lovely dressage pony.  The neck reshaping is going well, the bottom getting more even and the top filling in.  He's also quite a bit bigger behind the saddle.  He's actually taller over his hip now and wider from hip point to hip point.  He fills his blankets in more.  I feel like I should start taking measurements.

I have to look twice to see that he's the same horse in these pictures.  He just looks more symmetrical and yet more curvy.  In a good way.  Pony has some junk in the trunk.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Support team

It takes a village to raise a child.  Or get a horse ready to go out and show.  Let's take a look at the players:

Trainer:  I've got to have one of these to keep my very short attention span focused and keep me moving forward.  Way too easy for me to feel like I've got this and not put in the necessary work if I don't have eyes on the ground telling me that I've done screwed up.

Vet:  Horses are always looking for new and interesting ways to get hurt.  Having a vet you know and that knows your horse is pretty critical, especially for those NQR situations.

Farrier:  No hooves, no horse.  Also needs to be available to put the shoes back on when your horse is constantly deciding that he prefers the asymmetrical look.

Saddle fitter:  A horse that isn't comfortable isn't going to perform the way it could.  Horses also have the charming habit of changing shape, meaning that regular visits are necessary to keep that perfectly fitted saddle perfect.

Chiropractor:  Athletes need to be flexible.  With horses, so much of that comes through their back. If the spine is out of whack, you can just forget about being supple and forward.

Massage therapist:  All of that exercise results in tight, sore muscles.  I do some body work, but I'm no expert and I don't have the strength to give him a full hour of work in one shot.  He needs a pro to really get in there and release the knots.

Dentist:  I know I wouldn't be able to focus if one of my teeth was hurting.  I remember when my impacted wisdoms decided to let me know it was time for them to come out.  Add a bit and it is mission critical to keep the teeth in good shape.

Barn manager:  This is where I start for weight management and energy levels.  This is the person that makes sure your horse is getting the right food, the right amount of turn out, and managing things like worming schedules. 

As of today's chiro visit, I think I've got a complete team for Theo.  It's kind of a relief to have all of the roles filled in and the numbers in my phone.  If something is up or needs to be adjusted, I know who to call and that it can be taken care of.  The downside is that each and every one of those roles equals another bill.  This month is farrier, vet (spring shots and coggins), saddle fitter, chiro, massage, possibly dentist but that might be next month.  I kind of hope it's next month.  Yikes.

But it's also expected.  It's the time of year where I need to get the prep work done.  Shots and spines and saddles all need to be taken care of because there won't be time once spring hits.  I'm looking forward to going out and seeing the report from the chiro.  Theo's getting today off and two days of light work after his adjustment.  Sounds like he had some significant work done on him.  Considering the way his neck sounds like a bowl of Rice Krispies when he does his stretches, I'm not surprised.

As for me, I'm using a rolled towel in my office chair to keep my lower back from checking out after sitting at my desk all day.  And a Salon Pas patch.  I wish I could go see a chiro and massage therapist . . .

Being the owner is a rough role. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Blog hop: The Little Things

Blog hop time!

What are the “little things” about your horse that you’re so fond of?

It's a long, long list, which is the only reason mi papi and I are still working together.  He's not an easy horse to love.

I love the way he leans into his ear rubs.  He rests his head against my chest and lets me rub his ears, inside and out, as long as I want while he dozes.   He actually loves the way it feels when I clip his ears and drops his head down so I can reach easily.

I love our unbridling routine.  I take the bridle off, hang it over my shoulder, and then give his muzzle a very serious rub before putting on his halter.  He holds his mouth open and leans into my hands, resulting in very funny sounds as his lips and cheeks flop.

I love the fact he's learned his name.  I always say his name before I give him a verbal command, it's a dog training thing, and his ears flick when he hears me say his name.  Works for Trainer A, too.  She was amazed the first time she noticed that he truly knows his name.

I love the way he gets jealous.  He throws fits when he sees me loving on other horses or, even worse, riding another horse.  He sits in his field and glares if I'm riding someone else in the outdoor.

I love the fact he can recognize my voice before I even make it to his field.  I was talking to Trainer A before going out to get him.  When I finally stepped out of the barn, he was at the fence, throwing his head and glaring at me.  I was late!

I love the way he groans and leans into his massages.  His head is down around his ankles and he makes audible happy sounds when I work on his glutes.

I love when he invites me to come play in the field.

I love when he grabs my zipper and unzips my coat.

I love his begging face and little whicker when he hears me open the cookie jar in my locker.

I love when he sets his chin on my shoulder and chills out there while I talk to people.

I love when I can tell he's actually trying very, very hard for me even though it's not in his nature to go above and beyond.  I love the way he sticks the tip of his tongue out, tips his ears back toward me, and gives everything he's got.

Not a bad list to review as the days count down to purchase day and the first hints of buyer's remorse start to show up.  No, I'm not backing out, but there's always that nagging thought.  Should I buy something younger, more talented, less of an F-U button?  But then I go out and see him and I know I'm making the right choice.  11 days left!

Show time

The show schedule for 2016 is up and the first entries open next month.  It's almost game time!

Minor detail that all of the crazy weather has turned my driveway into a skating rink that could host the Olympics.  I say it's almost spring and I'm sticking to it.  Need evidence?

Forget groundhogs, horses starting to shed is the only true way to determine the seasons.  Especially when they're still under fleece coolers and the hair is sticking to absolutely EVERYTHING.  Including my face and my chapstick coated lips.

It's going to be a fairly conservative season, not too much campaigning at the recognized shows.  The goal is to get our butts qualified as early as possible, then stay tuned up for the end of year show.  I'm also going to be sprinkling in some h/j outings and two phases to keep mi papi happy and engaged.  I don't think he'd enjoy living in the sandbox full time.

April 24 - Hilltop dressage schooling show, T2 and T3

May 14 - 15 - NEDA spring dressage show, T2 and T3, one shot for a regional qualifying score

June 17 - 19 - GMHA Dressage Day and June Dressage Show, T2 and T3, two shots for regional qualifying scores

June 26 - UNH Dressage show - T3 and F1, one shot for regional qualifying score

July 5 - 10 - NHHJA show, 40 minutes away, we'll go play hunters and eq for a day or two

July 17 - NEDA summer dressage show (?), F1 and F2, not locked in yet

Aug 7 - Hilltop 2 phase schooling show, Beginner Novice and extra dressage test F3

August 14 - Oyster River dressage show, T3 and F2/3, last recognized prep before regionals

Sept 2 - Oak Rise schooling dressage show, T3 and F3, last prep before regionals

September 22 - 25 - NEDA Fall Festival, Region 8 championships, T3, also showing First Level in the open show

October 16th - Hilltop 2 phase schooling show, Novice

That's a total of 6 recognized dressage shows, including regionals.   NEDA summer and UNH are both tentative, depending on how we do at our first two outings.  If we don't need the qualifications, we might skip one.  I also have some First level scores I need to get, so I intend to go to as many as possible.  If we end up skipping some dressage shows, I'll fill in with the two phases and h/j shows.  Who knows, Theo might have to do dressage regionals and an adult medal final.  A girl can dream, right?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Transportation poll

Only once in my life have I been able to get to a horse show without the circus that is known as 'loading the trailer'.  I think horse trailers and clown cars are directly related.  They completely defy the laws of physics.  There is no way the amount of crap we bring to a show will fit in that dressing room, and yet we manage.  Somehow.  The bigger the trailer, the bigger the circus.  The biggest trailer I've worked with was able to take 8.  To give you an idea of how big a circus that can be, we forgot a pony once.

Seriously, forgot a pony.  We got to the show and her little boy was so sad to realize he wasn't going to get to kick everyone's butts in the pony jumpers because his pony was still sitting in her stall.  Still not sure how we forgot to get Sally in her spot.  Fortunately it was just a one day schooling show and not one of the five day rated shows we would go to.  After that, I added the actual horses to my loading check list.  People think I'm being paranoid, but I have learned.  Take nothing for granted when loading trailers.

In the interest of adding some flexibility with travel and potentially having a smaller loading circus, Trainer A has bought her own truck.  She can now pull a gooseneck and is in the market for a two horse of her very own.  She's understandably very excited.  So am I.  Shipping two horses is much lower stress than five.  It's also easier to find two horses to fill a trailer when going to the recognized dressage shows.  People think going to dressage shows is boring.

They're right, of course, but that doesn't change the fact I have to try to convince them otherwise.  Hauling a big head to head with one or two horses gets expensive fast.

So Trainer A is hitting the horse trailer market and asked for my opinion.  I've never owned one, so I'm throwing it out to the greater horse-o-sphere. 

The dream vs. the budget

What is your favorite brand of gooseneck trailer and why?  How is it's longevity? 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Wind chill warning

My family is from Minnesota.  I've been through some pretty chilly winters.  I happen to know, from first hand experience, how quickly you can get frostbite when the wind chill is around -60* F.  When I moved to New England, I enjoyed the mild weather.  Sure, there's the occasional hurricane, but tornadoes and true blizzards are pretty unheard of.

Imagine my irritation seeing this pop up tonight.

I think this is best summed up as follows:

Seriously, wtf.

So Theo is getting the weekend off.  I'm sorry, but when the highs are single digits but the wind is in the mid-teens?  There's really not a point to try to make a princess gelding work.  I'd try to get his blankets off and he'd double barrel me through a wall.  And I'd deserve it.

He's spending this weekend bundled up like he's going to the Antarctic and staying inside the barn.  I'm spending the weekend wearing my thermals in the house, trying to keep my chickens and ducks from freezing, watching my dogs pee before I can blink so they can run back inside, and trying to figure out what one wears for a Valentine's day dinner at a nice bistro when the windchill is -20.  Are snowboots a yes or a no?  Can I hide my camping thermals under that top?  Will I even bother brushing my hair before putting on a knit cap?

Go home, Mother Nature, you're drunk.  Again.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Let it all out

Sometimes, being the good kid is more trouble than it's worth.  Theo has been like a saint in this winter weather, standing his ground in the middle of horses that are all losing their minds.  Trainer A likes to coo 'we love you, Theo' when he trots by, totally chill, while the rest of the ring loses their minds.  That doesn't mean he actually is a saint, though.

As Trainer A put it, he's the guy that goes to the therapist's office for his anger issues, sits in the chair, crosses his arms, and glares while saying 'I don't have a problem, you've got a problem'.  Real geldings don't talk about their feelings.  He's been so darn good with the fluctuating temps and endless hours in the ring that it's easy to forget he's as affected as any other horse.  He just keeps it to himself.  Unlike the others that will toss in the occasional buck or temper tantrum to let the rider know they need to let off steam, mi papi keeps it all bottled up.  He lets the pressure build and build until past the point of no return. 

I noticed last night.  I felt like I was skating along the edge of something very explosive.  The ring was a bit nutty with a new horse losing his marbles over everything in the indoor.  Theo stood completely still and seemed to ignore the nonsense, but I was tense.  I didn't want the other horse to plow into my horse and I didn't want the complete space cadet pre-teen to run her mare into him, either.  When we got moving, I felt him balling up and being very negative, but there wasn't much I could do.  I couldn't really kick him up in front of me with the heavy traffic and flipping out TBs.  His eyes were all wrong and his ears weren't moving.  Trainer A was watching us very, very carefully after he jerked his head and tried to disappear behind the contact while refusing to trot forward.  Everything in his body said he was ready to throw a big fit, but when I encouraged him to move out, he insisted he didn't want to go forward.

I played it safe and kept it very light.  I got the heck off before he could have a bad experience and did a long walk in hand.

Today he was grumpy on the cross ties, his body language edgy and irritable.  I decided to toss him on the lunge line for his warm up.  He looked like he needed to rip out some bucks and burn off some of his teenage angst.  There's too much snow for galloping and bucking outside right now.  I put him on the lunge, expecting some head shaking and acting up.  I got the ploppy pony giving me irritable looks.  Trainer A suggested I get after him a bit, send all of that tense energy forward.  I shook the whip at him and growled with my best angry German dragon voice.

He gave us a head shake, a little buck, and a somewhat scooty canter.  We both said 'good boy!' in unison.  His expression was classic.  He was cantering around with his ears flicking every which way.  What, I'm supposed to buck and scoot?  We trotted then cantered again, encouraging him to jump forward into it and cut loose.  We got another head shake, a bigger one that went through most of his body, and a bigger canter.  We kept it up, goading him into doing his over the top trot on the lunge and shaking his head.  We got some big, playful head flips and his eyes started to soften.  Just go forward, papi, and tear it up if you want.  It took about 30 minutes for him to relax and shake it all out.  Not a lot of bucking, but some playful acting out paired with big, powerful gaits.

When I got on, it was all about forward.  Go forward, go forward, go forward.  We wanted him to keep that relaxed, happy attitude.  He did some blowing and prancing under saddle, which was rewarded.  Better to let it all out then to ball up and get resentful.  By the end he was going beautifully with his soft eyes and ears.  When I got off, he got a cookie and I got the icicles off of his whiskers.  He set his muzzle on my shoulder and chilled.  Finally, he looked happy.

Tomorrow he's going on the lunge again.  It's totally on me that he got to that negative state, I forgot to make sure he gets his chances to just do his own thing.  Especially as we start cranking up the expectations.  We can't do trail rides or go for gallops right now, so I have to stay on top of mixing it up for him.  I'll admit, I've been enjoying the fact that I don't have to wait for one of the lunging spots to open up before I get on and that my horse is totally chill even with snow falling off the roof of the indoor.  I have to remember not to stretch him too far, or I'm going to set us back by pushing him past his breaking point and causing an 'incident'.

Chiro is out next week, probably a massage right after and a visit from the dentist.  Spring is right around the corner, if we can just hang on a bit longer.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The climb

Some of you may have noticed I'm a Game of Thrones fan.

This monologue has always been a favorite of mine and as I brace myself for the next round of growth, it's gained some new meaning.  Training is chaos.  I'm reaching up to grab the next rung of the ladder, hanging on for dear life as I haul myself up another step toward that indefinable goal of perfection.  I know that feeling of exhaustion, frustration, and fear all too well.  The risk of falling too far is something I'm all too aware of.  I've done this cycle more times than I care to admit.

This is the phase of the cycle that worries me and keeps me up at night.  This is the phase where I can get frustrated, scared, stuck, or hurt.  I usually fall off at this phase, when I'm stretching beyond my current skill set.  I know I can't do it yet, but I'm determined to try. 

Mi papi and I spent our lesson today working on the idea that he can do his transitions precisely and without popping his head or acting up.  We experimented with some different things until we landed on a point of balance where he not only did the transition politely, he stretched through his body and used his shoulder to step up into the canter.  Trainer A had no words for what he looks like when he steps over a ground pole into the canter while lifting through his shoulders (and keeping his freaking head down so his topline and abs do the work).  The good news is that one weight lifting session and one lesson focused on the problem got us traveling with his nose on the vertical and his topline hard at work.

We also discussed my weight lifting sessions.  She is entirely on board, but gave me a warning.  Theo goes behind the vertical before he unloads people.  Showing him how powerful he is in that position got them a world of trouble in the past.  Suddenly his lack of experience with anything but giraffe position makes sense.  If you want your school horse to not hurt someone when he has shown a propensity to curl and explode, you keep his damn head up.  Now I have to put his head down consistently without him unloading me.  Violently.  Great.

We also discussed the idea of being a lesson horse as a problem.  She's known him for years, and she said no, that doesn't matter.  He plops around when given the shot, but he doesn't plop with me.  With me, he's a willing athlete.  I didn't even kick him today once I got him rolling.  He'll try to evade regardless of whether or not someone else is riding him, it's just his nature.  He's lazy.  He's only doing 2 lessons a week outside of me currrently:  my adult friend that needs a consistent canter partner and a jumping lesson with a teen that has a horse that tends to explode.  A jumping lesson with teens is great for him and I can't take him away from my friend.  She's so happy and confident on him, I've watched them go together, she's not doing any harm.

So he'll remain at his current status of lesson horse.  Two rides a week away from me is not going to be a problem.  I'm still going to invest in some training rides for him, since I want Trainer A to get a serious look under the hood.  He can be so damn amazing, but he's also complicated and I want to give her a shot at getting to know him as a show horse, not a lesson horse.  This next rung of the ladder is going to be a hard pull and I need to make sure I'm doing everything possible to ensure success.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Leaving the plateau

So we had a guest instructor out yesterday for a ride/review/ride.  Lately things have been feeling very good with Theo.  We now have a sense of forward and power where before, we had a lot of begging and nagging.  We've also had some lingering resistance from Theo's week off.  A week of being able to boss riders around didn't do him any good.  Forward?  Sure, that's easy now.  Stay on the contact?  Eh, it's easier to brace with those still over developed muscles on the underside of his neck and throw his head up in the transitions, especially up to canter.  Or when he's corrected.  Or any other time he thinks that the rider needs a correction.

I rode in the morning, letting him stretch and get some yayas out from the swinging temps out.  He did do some of his bolting and acting up, making it difficult to focus on much more than getting him forward and not barging about.  Frankly, I was a human lunge line.  Somehow we've managed to break his downward transitions while developing a half halt, so I was battling that a bit. 

When it was go time, I had a short window to warm up.  Never a good thing with me and the papi.  I have had a lot of luck using a longer walk warm up with lateral work, but that wasn't an option when I only had the rail.  Then we had some time to ride through the whole ring, but the time was short.  I never got Theo back on the contact.  With everyone sitting around and staring at me while they waited for me to finish warming up, I panicked.  I had him nice and forward and got his downward transition fixed enough to be able to halt at X, so I went ahead and rode the test rather than waste my entire time getting papi's mind totally on the game.  I figured I could finish getting him soft before I rode the test a second time.

You get to watch most of my warm up.  You can see him start to go on the contact, then pop back off.  Sigh.  But hey, look at him go forward like a real horse, even if he looks a bit like a giraffe.  You can fast forward through the start where I'm introducing myself to Leslie, not entirely sure why the hubby recorded that.

And then this was us at the end of our ride, working with Leslie Grandmaison and actually going the way we should be.

For comparison, this was Theo back in June when we first started working together.

We got a 64% on our test.  I was so mad at myself that I had a temper tantrum in front of my husband once I got home and no one else could see me.  I KNOW how to get him on the contact and how to soften him up, I just couldn't get it done in the time allotted and blew the test rather than do the warm up I know how to do.  You'd think I would learn to stick to my guns and do my warm up at some point.  I had to wait until today to write anything because I had to calm down and look at the test rationally. 

64% for a craptastic run through does tell me that we're a go to qualify for regionals.  You need two 63% or higher scores to qualify and if a test I'm flat out embarrassed of gets that score, then we should be okay even if he's distracted at the show.  For comparison, Miss Thang and her junior rider got a 57% on their first run through (67% on their second).  This judge wasn't exactly tossing points around.  I probably would have gotten a 68% if I'd run through again, but it didn't seem worth it for Theo.  He already knows the pattern by heart and he was hitting his threshold at the end of our work with the instructor.

I also have to say that everyone is still impressed that Theo isn't jumping out of the ring or doing anything else ridiculous, so I have to keep that in mind.  He also took the half halt before the corners and to set him up for transitions, which is pretty new.  He was happy and willing through the test, Leslie loved his kind eye and willingness to work with her, he just has that one little issue that really hurt our score.  She called him a very capable cutie pie that's actually elastic and a good mover.  So yay?

She did say something that really stuck with me.  I said he was a lesson horse when I met him and only recently has he been my project.  Several times she mentioned that the evasions were from being a school horse.  She also commented that the evasions weren't going to go away so long as he's a lesson horse with riders that can't make him do his job.  He'll have to test me every single ride to see what he can get away with since he doesn't have to really work with others.  This really throws a wrench in my situation, since I was planning on letting Trainer A continue to use him in lessons.  Now I've had my face smacked right into the reality of the situation.

Theo and I are leaving our current plateau and moving up again.  I can tell after our challenging ride yesterday and my hard work today.  My expectations have changed.  When things get difficult and I feel that burn of frustration, I know we're on the move again, leaving the previous plateau behind and heading to the next one.  Theo is now forward enough and strong enough that holding the contact shouldn't be an issue.  Instead, we have resistance because it's optional in his mind.  It's been optional for most of his life.  His upside down muscling is evidence enough.  While it's improved, it won't go away so long as he has people letting him travel with the underside braced.

Including me.

I slapped the draw reins on him today.  He's no green horse or blank slate.  I can spend years fighting him to break habits he's had his entire ridden life, or I can use a technique I know well to get the change made.  Unlike this summer when he wasn't forward enough or strong enough to manage the draw reins, he did a solid 20 minutes of work with the draw reins in use today with no temper tantrums or frustration:  two sets of 10 minutes with a break in between.  He did his transitions, up and down, without having the option to toss his head up or use that annoying hop up to try to get me to take the pressure off with my seat or leg.  It was a weight lifting session, pure and simple.  The draw reins allowed me to keep my hands steady and not do anything too whacky to guard against the head pop.  After a couple of minutes of protest, Theo settled in nicely and gave me his new forward and correct transitions with a steady contact.

Tuesday I'll chat with Trainer A.  I'm thinking twice a week weight lifting sessions for a month should help get that muscle development where it's supposed to be.  He's matured enough mentally for me to make this mandatory, not something I'll negotiate on.  He shouldn't be struggling with using his topline in the transitions like this.  It's because I haven't pushed the matter.  I'm also going to talk to her about putting him into boot camp for the month of March.  No one riding him but me and Trainer A.  Six rides a week with a plan to transform him from lesson horse to show horse.  I think a month of nothing but educated rides will change his outlook significantly.  Not all hard work rides, we have soccer games after all, but no rides where he can take advantage or plod around with his neck braced.  After that's done, we can let other people ride him again.  There's a potential half lease with an adult that goes Training level in the works, which would be perfect.  She knows enough to keep Miss Thang in line and has been working on keeping an educated horse on the bit. 

I've got a lot to think about.  I suppose that means the clinic worked, but that doesn't mean I enjoy having to sit down and think this hard about what is best for Theo and what is best for the barn and what is best for me.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Textured rain

That's what a friend of mine calls snow.  She says it makes her feel better.

Yesterday it was 55 degrees.  Theo was out in the nude, getting some sun bathing in.  I rode with no thermal layers, no coat, just a long sleeved shirt and my regular breeches.  I didn't even have wool socks on.  The mares were rough housing in their field most of the morning.  The outdoor arena was one or two warm days away from being usable.  The Ritz was almost completely snow free, just too wet to ride on.  Horses were let out for some romping and blew off some steam.

This morning I woke up to this.

Damn it all!

I blame the Sprinkler Bandit.  She's the one that said we couldn't have just one winter storm this year.  Somehow, overnight, we went from less than an inch to a weather advisory and this mess.  I'm blaming it all on her.  Because I can.

This is the 10 day outlook:

Really?  Really?!  Our average high this time of year is 35*.  I'm also blaming this on Sprinkler Bandit, because I can.  I guess I'll be spending Valentine's huddled in front of my pellet stove, covered in blankets and cursing the arctic for sending it's air down to visit.  Not the most romantic evening imaginable.

Thursday, February 4, 2016


News flash:  dressage-ing is hard.  HARD.

I mean, in theory it all seems pretty and happy.  It's all about balance and harmony and lightness.  And then you read the test.  Well, okay, that seems fine.  But once you start trying to ride it, you start wanting to hate your life.  The circle is how big and the points go where and wait, what do you mean you want us still on a contact?  And then canter right after?  I have to memorize this?  What are you smoking?!

Today's lesson was on the opening to Trainer 3, the shallow serpentine.  I'll admit, I haven't been practicing this test at all even though its the one I'm supposed to be qualifying for regionals.  I've been playing with the First Level moves most of the winter.  When I was an eventer/hj rider, the shallow serpentine was a breeze.  It's not even a full serpentine, who cares?  It's kind of a drunk line, then you worry about the canter.  Oh, contrare, mes amis!  It turns out that it is actually a detailed, fussy sort of a move that's just waiting for you to try to improve your score.  Then it rears it's ugly head and hisses like a beast from the very bowels of hell.

I'm going to need all of the accuracy points I can get, so I was determined to learn to ride every step of this thing.  I guess I can be proud of myself that I didn't actually start crying once I realized what I was facing.

So, you go down centerline, turn left, and then pop off of the rail like you're going across the diagonal.  At that point, you need a left flex, because duh.  Then you do something like a step of straight, then shift to a right flex so you can get on the centerline again.  You do three strides going straight down the centerline.  Then you head back to the right, but almost immediately go back to straight for a step, then set up your left flex so you can survive the turn when you get back to the side of the ring.  Got it?  Good!  Now do it in the small arena, not the big one, because it's winter and the outdoor still has a sheet of ice on it.

Also, do it on a horse that thinks left flex is dumb and flex while maintaining impulsion is especially dumb.

Theo and I did these serpentines for half of our lesson, trying to find and maintain all of the flexes necessary without losing forward.  Both of us were at our mental breaking points by the end.  There's a reason they usually chuck Training 3 in the big arena.  Doing it in the little arena would result in too many alcoholics.  How can something so simple be so darn hard?  Wasn't Training level supposed to be inviting or some such nonsense?

After pushing through the mental wall and digging deep, papi will be getting a stretchy, no pressure ride tomorrow.  I think we'll both need it.  My head hurts while I sit and draw out where my flex is supposed to change and where I'm supposed to hit centerline.  We have a ride/review/ride on Saturday with a visiting instructor.  I think Trainer A wants us to not embarrass her. 

I should re-learn that test.  I can't remember any of the canter departs, and that's kind of important.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Technique vs. instinct

Riding is a funny business because you think you've got something figured out and then someone pulls back the covers and you realize you have to start all over.  You think you're hot $hit, but you try to take the natural next step and you realize that you know nothing, Jon Snow.

Two instances popped up in my lesson yesterday that brought this to mind.  One, Trainer A upped the anty on our collected work.  Again.  Instead of bounce-one stride, she set up a long line of low, tight bounces.  Yay, cavaletti work.  She snuck them in another 6 inches which caught me and papi off guard.  We kept getting deeper and deeper until there was no choice but to let the canter break down and shuffle the last two.  That got our attention and he sat back for some lovely passes.  Trainer A was pleased with his effort, but wanted more from me.  I could do it without really riding, so I wasn't.  I thought I was, but I wasn't really.  What can I say, I don't respect little fences. 

Trainer A is a smart lady.

I was cantering in for another pass when I saw jump in the middle of the cavaletti height grid was suddenly about 2'6".  WTF?!  I knew it was going to be tight, tight, tight, so I sat him down hard coming through the corner.  Theo realized things just got real and gave me no arguments.  I lifted, half halted, and put my leg on.  We nailed it with a bascule over the one jump that made me feel weightless at the peak.

Trainer A looked at me, shook her head, and said 'you're supposed to ride the approach like that every time, not just when I gave you a fright'.  I thought back and realized that I knew if I didn't get him all the way back, there was a good shot of things going south and someone getting hurt.  My old jumper instincts kicked in hard and I set him up like we were going to a 3'6" oxer.  She said the second my eyes landed on the jump, my chest lifted and I gave him a completely accurate, no nonsense half halt.  My instincts took over and suddenly I could do exactly what she wanted.  It just wasn't a conscious decision.


So we had a talk about technique vs. instinct.  I've got a whole array of instincts that I've honed over the past three decades, mostly over fences and mostly on the horses no one else wanted to ride.  Many trainers have seen this in action and referred to it as the 'I don't wanna die' position.  When things start to go south or I get that jolt of startlement/fear, I suddenly sit up, get back, and ride as something other than a middle aged ammy.  My overactive mind gets the heck out of the way and I ride what I feel.  It's not about 'how is my position', it's about getting to the other side.  Fortunately I've had enough good trainers and good (but explosive) horses that my instincts don't have me doing dumb things like curling and pulling.  In that split second when I knew this was going to be very difficult, I set Theo up the way Allen taught me.  I never ride Theo the way I rode Allen.  They couldn't be more different as rides. 

 Allen and me in the jumpers, eons ago

Me and Theo this summer

Trainer A's suggestion was that I need to bring my instincts into my technique.  My body clearly knows how, but I can't consciously access it.  It usually happens so quickly that I'm not aware of what I'm doing.  My instincts need more polish through my technique and I need to be able to bring those instincts into my technique.  That split second of 'omg, sit down, papi!' was a correct half halt.  Now I have to do it without a scary jump, because there are no jumps in dressage.  Her concern is that we'll struggle with staying up and engaged when there's nothing to get my adrenaline pumping or trigger those responses.


I'd never thought of that serious business position and reaction as being a very effective half halt.  But now that I've been learning what a half halt really is, I can recognize it.  Lift his shoulders, sit him down, rebalance him so he's in a position to safely meet the challenge, then let him go because you must go forward to a fence.  Repeat as needed.  Never, ever pull.  Thanks, Allen.  I guess you taught me more than I knew.  It seems my Hellbeast installed my basic half halt and I never realized it.

Me and Allen being serious business jumpers.  It's four foot.

There was a young lady working with her thoroughbred at the same time.  She's been having trouble with him barging off and her instinct is to pull.  Being an old racehorse, he just grabs the bit and takes off harder.  I recognize this struggle, and my heart hurts for her.  This is a hard, hard lesson.  She was pretty down on things when she started to realize just what she was going to have to learn and relearn, so I told her I'd done the same thing when I was a bit older than her.  I told her that it was hard, and made me want to cry many times, but in the end you get to make the leap to the next level of riding.  Everyone that gets past the 3' jumpers has to learn this painful lesson when you stop pulling with your hands and start riding with the rest of your body. 

It took me about a year to learn it.  Her horse is a bit less powerful, she might learn it faster.  But I told her it's a long, difficult lesson and that most of us have to go through it.  She won't get it in one lesson, or two, or six.  She felt better hearing me say that I'd done it and survived.  I think it will do her a lot of good.  She gets nervous with him right now.  Part of the lesson will be learning to trust her seat and recognize that him lifting and swinging his back can be a good thing.  She has to learn to feel what he's up to, not just assume any surge of energy is bad and needs to be stopped.  I'm lending her my metronome so she can learn to identify rushing versus impulsion.  I remember when I thought a horse was supposed to accelerate to a fence.  It seems a long time ago.

We're doing opposite things.  She's breaking down and rebuilding a broken instinct.  I'm taking my already repaired instinct and dragging it into conscious use.  Trainer A is saying the same words to get opposite, yet identical results from us.  It's fascinating.  I think I now understand why we've been put together in lessons.  It doesn't make sense on paper, but in practice, it works perfectly.