Thursday, April 28, 2016


Somehow a year has zipped past already.  Not sure how that happened.  I wandered in for a lesson at a barn and met a lazy draft cross nicknamed the Thigh Master.  I figured I'd ride him for awhile to get in shape, then move on to something fancy and forward.  You know, the type of horse I actually like.  That's not exactly what happened.

Instead, I decided that the Thigh Master had potential.  We started to get along.  He stopped throwing massive temper tantrums, I got back into shape.  I learned to sit, he learned to go forward.  Both of us compromised on some things because we were having a lot more fun together than we were with other partners.  And then I truly lost my mind and bought the lazy, opinionated pony.  

 Today we had what I refer to as a dressage hopping lesson.  This is where Trainer A sets up some jumps to jazz up our dressage exercises.  As we're working on getting Theo to fill in the outside rein, she set up two fences on a 15m turn.  Fences throw it into sharp relief when you don't keep the balance all the way through your half circle.  I sat to my fences and Theo carried me forward with enthusiasm.  We had some trouble when we switched to his sticky right lead, but with a few reps we got it sorted and I had yet another lesson that resulted in aching abs from keeping up with his big, correct effort.

I never would have imagined this when I decided to casually pick up riding again.  I'm really looking forward to our big show in two weeks.  I think mi papi is going to surprise a lot of people that think they know him.  Expect the Unexpected is living up to his name.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Horse show hangover

I know it's the day after a show because I'm staring at my screen in a stupor.  Way too little sleep followed by a lot of anxiety and physical labor, then too much sleep.  I, like many people, am completely worthless the day after a show.  I can't even type well since Theo dragged me around on the lunge while he was tracking left.  Guess which shoulder takes the brunt of the hit in that direction?  Yeah.  My poor left shoulder is propped up.

But I can also think rationally again which is nice.  I completely forgot to share Theo's latest pre-show outfit.

My poor, poor horse.  Because he's a beaver, he goes in turn out overnight even when braided up.  That means he needed all of his fly armor as well as a sleazy to protect his braids.  I haven't done a good job of coordinating his summer outfits.  He even looks embarrassed in the picture.  But there's good reason for the armor.

I love the moans and groans.  He was so happy to get a good roll in after all of that grooming.  But the good news was that his braids were just fine the next morning, so the armor did it's job.  Even if he's a bit of an eyesore while he's wearing all of it.

So the first outing is done.  Theo was a damn packer once he was done being a stud, which was nice.  With his reputation, I'm always cautious with how he's going to react to things.  He gave the judge's booth a hard stare, but decided that it wasn't worth shying away.  Mom has spurs, you know.  I let him stop and greet the judge and scribe, so he decided they were okay.  He went in the ring and marched around like a horse that knows his job.  We've got some work to do with getting that really butter soft feeling when under pressure, but that's expected.  I still turn into an alien the second I see a judge, but it's getting better.  He went around without looking like a giraffe, so that's progress.  The larger arena definitely helps me open him up since I'm able to take more than six steps without turning.  Trainer A is optimistic about the sanctioned outing since we'll be in the large arena for our Training 3, which means I can open him up more.  I guess he looked a bit stuck in our first test while I worried about getting his big butt compressed enough to fit.  She said if I had our gaits from the large arena in my Training level test, we would have been at 68%.

It was also a sharp reminder that, as much as he's improved, he's not a 70% horse.  He's gotten so much more obedient and willing, but that doesn't change the fact he's not lofty.  He's not electric.  He doesn't have that edge that gets you the high scores.  He doesn't scream 'look at me!' when he trots into the ring.  The horses the judge loved were right there on the bit, just dying to go forward with long legs barely touching the ground.  That is not mi papi.  He has a mellow attitude about life and that often translates into 'not enough desire to go forward'.  Trust me, lady.  There was plenty of desire.  He put a lid on it because I asked him to, and I love him for it.  When I said lengthen in the canter, he said 'yes ma'am' and I said 'omg BRAKES!'.  I made the judge laugh when we halted at G since Theo had just done a lengthening and I was a bit worried we were going to halt in the judge's booth with her.  I guess my eyes got a bit big.  We got an 8 for that halt, our one 8 of the day.

Holy shit, my elbows are in
I don't even mind.  A judge like her would have been all over Fi and loved her.  Other judges that hated Fi will reward Theo for his soft eye and willing attitude.  It's just going to be luck of the draw and leaving no points on the table because we're not starting out with 8 gaits.  Though we did get a 7, which is a step in the right direction.

Horse shows are good for bringing us back down to earth.  Theo is great.  I adore him.  I feel quite safe on him and he gave me the confidence I needed to go in there and ride the best test I could on the day.  We're not going to be winning a ribbon at regionals.  Not in New England where he'll be the cheapest horse in the ring and probably the only one without papers.  But I can give him the best damn ride possible and give them a run for their money.

Sunday, April 24, 2016


I have a weird relationship with horse show ribbons.  I love winning, so when you win, you get ribbons.  That's a given.  But sometimes you get ribbons because you're the only one in the class and that's not the same thing.  And sometimes you win for reasons other than being good, like the time half of the class got eliminated on cross country because they missed a jump that was awkwardly placed.  Then there are the ribbons that are green or brown rather than blue but I keep them forever because they were a real victory.

I have a couple more ribbons to add to my collection and one of them is a keeper.  It's a bit of a shock considering how the day started.

He looks like a perfectly normal, well behaved horse, right?

My dear, sweet gelding decided that he was a stud this morning.  Big time.  After getting him booted up and tucked into a cooler, he chilled in a stall while the two mares were loaded up.  As soon as the mares started heading to the trailer, he started acting up.  As I moved him outside and he waited his turn to load, he got bigger.  And bigger.  He was spinning, offering to rear, snorting and carrying on with his ridiculous 'look at me' trot.  When it was time for me to load Theo, I had everyone get out of the way.  He was so beside himself that he was almost dangerous.  Fortunately he still loaded, though he did try to jump on for his first attempt.  WTF, papi.  I did NOT want to get on that horse.

As soon as we arrived, even though I had almost four hours until I showed, Theo went on the lunge.  I had to start with him spazzing in a 10 meter circle and he dragged me around pretty good before he decided that was too much work.  It took all of about ten minutes of trotting for mi papi to decide being naughty was just not worth it.  So much for being a big, bad stud.

The actual show part went very well.  Theo managed to squeeze into the little arena for his Training 3 test and we got a 66%.  The judge wasn't a big fan of Theo, she liked the big, lofty movers more than the accurate ones.  Trainer A was very happy with our geometry, but not much that can be done about an average mover.  Miss Thang was snorting and acting up and got a 68%, as a comparison.  She's awfully pretty when she's being fresh.

We went back in for our First level test with orders to open up and go forward.  With the large arena and some lengthens, that seemed likely.  Theo was pretty wiped, but he pulled it out for me and put in a solid test.  We would have some more points if I'd actually run through the test before the show.  I had Trainer A read for me so I had a prayer of remembering which short diagonals to use.  We got a 63% for that test, which I'm very, very proud of.  Theo's a First Level horse!

Part of me was disappointed with our performance, but then I had to remind myself that it's 2 points up from our ride this winter for Training 3 and the judge wasn't tossing points around.  I also have to remind myself that Fi's first attempt at First level came in at 59%.  I didn't expect Theo to be going around at this level already, so today is a big win.

This is a ribbon I'll be keeping.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Show prep

It's like an archeological dig, chipping through all of the hair and muck and overgrowth from the winter to find the fancy horse that I supposedly bought.  Or at least I keep telling myself there's a fancy horse under all of this grunge.  I wanted to keep him well protected so his legs and back and head didn't get a single trim since the onset of the winter coat and he hasn't had a bath in all that time.  He was nice and safe, but very fluffy.

After two rounds with the clippers, I think I've found my fancy dressage horse.  Here he is in all his splendor.

I love this picture because he looks like such a dork with his curly forelock and hay dragging to the ground.  I guess the clipper marks didn't come out that badly.

I also took care of his chestnuts and ergots.  This required hoof nippers, bandage shears, and a lot of brute force.  If it takes a tool chest to manage your horses legs, you might own a draft cross.       

It turned out to be a good thing I clipped his legs completely.  I got a call last night asking me to come to the barn and take a look at a bleeding sore on the outside of Theo's front left hoof.  Blown abscess?  Wouldn't that  just be my luck right before a show.  I jumped in the car and zipped over to the barn to find this.

Definitely not an abscess, but how the hell did he do that to the outside of his foot?  It would make perfect sense on the inside, the flies are out in force, but he can't kick himself on the outside of his foot.  After cold hosing and cleaning, I figured it out.

That perfectly straight line?  He caught the fence.  He likes to stand very close to the fence when the mares are out so he can be a creepy creeper and watch them.  Kick at some flies while that close to straight boards and this is what happens.  No stitches or anything needed, I just gooped him up, tossed on some bell boots, and sent him back outside with more fly spray and his fly sheet.  This would have been a much bigger mess if he'd still been a hairy beast.  Good job, Theo, waiting for the leg to be prepped before being damaged.

I got a text letting me now that we are leaving the barn at 5:30 am on Sunday for the show.  That means I need to be there at 4:30am.  Which is a 3:30am wake up call.

This weekend is already not okay.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Spring wardrobe

For anyone that's curious, I mentioned to Trainer A that I looked at the derby cross and got the look.  I am NOT supposed to be distracting myself at my first dressage show of the season by sneaking away to jump.  If I'm good at my first couple shows, then she'll let me jump at the shows after my dressage tests.  Until I am consistently not forgetting how to ride as soon as the judge rings the bell, I will keep my butt in the sand box while at shows.

So sayeth the trainer.

With the plan set up for the first show of the season, I am now focused on learning my tests and getting my gear in order.  I have to track down the clothes I haven't used since October, locate my travel stuff, and work on Theo's turn out.  Anyone that shows a horse knows that the turn out doesn't come together the day before the show.  It's weeks of currying and pulling and clipping and feeding to get that glossy sheen.

Looking very much like a serious business dressage horse yesterday.  Minor detail we had just gotten back from tearing it up on the trails.

Theo gets a lot of grooming and fussing, but it's still a tough time of year to turn out a horse for show.  His trace clip is in full effect which isn't the fanciest look.  The clipped areas are currently dry and he's been itchy and a bit cranky about it.  I've been hitting him with a leave on conditioner daily to try to help, but our humidity is in the teens right now and my skin is just as dry and itchy.   We're finally getting warm enough for a bath but the winter coat parts of him are long enough that a bath is completely impractical.  He'd be wet for days.

Despite the fact I dislike clipping in spring, I attacked Theo with the clippers today.  He needs a bath so badly, I can't wait for him to shed out on his own.  I used my smaller clippers with the guard and went the same way as the hair so I only had to clip the areas that haven't been clipped yet.  The length is the same all over this way.  I didn't want to go over the dry parts of his skin again.  I did his butt, leaving the fuzz under his saddle pad, and clipped his legs down to his knees.  I also found his ears in all of the fuzz on the top of his head.  Then I pulled his mane, which he didn't appreciate. 

About this point I heard there was a pony party at the barn in 30 minutes.  I threw mi papi's mask on and chucked him in his field so I could escape before the screamers arrived.  I'll get pictures of his new clip job tomorrow.  I have some evening up to do and probably should get further down his legs.  it was like an archeological dig trying to find the horse under the fuzz.

But that's a big part of the show season check list done.  Another round with the clippers and pulling will happen this week, his first real bath of the season, and then tack scrubbing.  I guess I should be thanking Trainer A, I only have half the tack to clean this way.

Friday, April 15, 2016

To jump or not to jump

That is the question.

While I stock up on ramen because of my entries, I have my first schooling show of the season in just over a week.  Trainer A and I agreed that we'll do Training 3 and First 1.  Form is done, Coggins is ready, all set.

But then I, being a grand fool, started looking at the other half of the show.  They're also running a jumping derby cross.  Oh, man, jumping.  How can I go to a show with jumping and not participate?  We love to jump! 

But it gets complicated.  From previous experience with this show, I'll be one of at most five people going higher than Training level in dressage.  This means I'll be at the very end of the ride times.  The derby cross starts at noon.  With two tests to manage and being right in the middle of the jump heights, I'll probably end up with all three rides within an hour of each other.  That wasn't a big deal when I was eventing, but when I'm supposed to be practicing my DQ mojo, it's a big distraction.  Since it's a schooling show and I wouldn't be jumping to compete there's some flexibility, but it's still a distraction.

There's also the question of jump height.  At home, we bomb around 2'6" like it's nothing.  Beginner Novice?  Pfft.  But take him somewhere new with fill he's never seen?  Now we have a huge question mark.  At two foot they don't fill in their fences, so we marched around great last year.  At 2'6" we'll be facing several colorful panels and possibly a rolltop.  I don't want to do two foot forever.  It's time to move up, but that means a lot of work to get him grooving.  And when we canter out of the ring to do the cross country part?  Well, what are the chances I'll pull off another landing on my feet when he realizes he's going out in the open by himself?  Pony is going to rock pirouettes one day with that quick as a cat spin.

I want to do the derby cross, but the logical part of me says I don't need the distraction with the big kid shows barreling at me.  Mentally it's good for Theo, but it's not easy.  At all.  But the jumps . . .

Should we jump?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Throw back Thursday

Lookie what I found!

This is Theo circa 2009 when he was just getting started as a trail horse.  He's all of five years old.  Look at all of that mane!  Look at the Western tack!  Look at that complete lack of a neck!

And he is most definitely bay.  I have no idea why the vet listed him as black on his Coggins.  I got a note from the secretary about the discrepencies in my entry.  A bay horse named Expect the Unexpected with a Coggins for a horse named Theo that's black.  Oh, and the show horse is an American Warmblood but the Coggins is for a Perch X.  Might need to get that test redone or its going to be a loooooooong show season.

Poor papi, making the leap from backyard pony to super show star is hard.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Horse shows are a pain.  With two overnight shows coming up in May and June, entry forms are flying out fast and furious along with a heck of a lot of money.  This includes all of the fun paperwork around membership cards and vaccinations (Coggins, rabies, rhino, and flu, wtf).  I needed my Coggins emailed to me and for that to happen, I had to pay off my balance from the spring vaccinations and bloodwork.

On a side note, Theo's vitamin E and selenium counts are totally normal, so yay!  He is also negative on two Lyme titers but elevated on the third, so he's going to get a retest in four weeks to confirm that he's Lyme negative.  So mostly yay!

I called up the vet and told them that I needed my Coggins.  She asked my name, looked me up, and then got excited.  Theo!  That used to be her horse!

Yup, I got the vet's wife on the phone, Theo's owner before Trainer R got him.  The one he tossed and broke back in the dark days of his youth when he was mostly known for his athletic buck.  I immediately started making incoherently squealing sounds about how good he was doing and how he was going to go be a serious business dressage horse.  Turns out she's been stalking us on FB and loved seeing his progress and how he looks so different and strong now.  He's got the job he needs and he looks so much happier then when she tried to have him as a back yard, occasional work trail horse.

I did ask if he had a breeder and it turns out she got him cheap from some back yard situation.  No breeder, no papers.  So he is a random American Warmblood forever and ever.  I'll admit, I was a bit disappointed.  I'd hoped that he had papers and a breeder back there somewhere, but nope.  He's a random mutt draft cross.  One day I'll have a horse with a pedigree.  One day.

Once I got off the phone (much more broke then when I started the phone call), I got a text from Trainer A and a picture.

This made me so proud.  The lady in the picture is one of the adult ladies I ride with on Wednesday nights.  She had a bad fall off of Miss Thang and broke her arm in November.  Today was her first ride back and Trainer A borrowed Theo for it  She gave him his weekly training ride ahead of time to stack the deck even more in my friend's favor and then he carried my friend around like a total champ.  He is the king of steady, adult beginner friendly lunge horse-ing.

How far you have come from being the black sheep wild child that was known more for his creative tossing of students then his steady temperament, mi papi.  Clearly having a job agrees with you.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Unidentified gait object

There are three gaits:  walk, trot, and canter.  And gallop and tolt and jog and rack and pace, but whatever.  In the dressage ring, I worry about three gaits.

Well, not really, because there's working walk and free walk and collected walk and extended walk and medium walk . . .

Okay, I only have to worry about five kinds of walk, five kinds of trot, and five kinds of canter.  Which is a heck of a lot more complicated, since that's fifteen different gaits.  And how does one differentiate between them?  Hell if I know, I'm just a recovering h/j and eventing rider that's still struggling to remember where the letters go.  Seriously, where the hell is L?  As far as gaits go, if it's got two beats and rattles my teeth if I try to sit, it's a trot.  Done.

But today I had something rather unidentified show up.   Normally an unidentified gait is a bad sign, but Trainer A seemed quite excited by the appearance.  I'm trotting along, holding my wine glasses as instructed and managing my duct tape (all visuals, much the pity, I ride better with a bit of wine to mellow me out) while encouraging mi papi to go softly forward with an actual correct bend for once when I realize I need to circle to let the horse in front of me finish the line of cavaletti before I go.  I circle around at about ten meters, give him a upward half halt as we straighten to correct the balance , and all of a sudden he just . . . went weird.

Like, not expecting me to carry his head, but still on the vertical weird.  Like, slower tempo but deeper bounce weird.  Like able to keep him straight with my legs weird.  Like not speeding up through the cavaletti weird.  Trainer A started chanting 'keep it, keep it, keep it' so I just sat there, not moving, while he went over the caveletti.  Because seriously, what was this foreign thing going on?

And he just kept doing it!  All the way around the ring and back over the cavaletti, so long as I held those wine glasses, kept my elbows in, kept my bear down, kept off my pubic bone, and kept my calves against his sides.  I wanted to put my hands down to find that familiar drag so badly, but she kept telling me to pick my hands up and not mess.  She liked it!

So I'm still not sure just what gait that was, but I'll tell you, recreating it two more times in the lesson had Trainer A quite content.  Mi papi also seemed quite happy to find a spot where I'm not mucking with his mouth or poking him with my spurs.  Oh, and where I hold my hands like a serious business dressage rider and don't drop down to find him when, evidently, he doesn't really need me anymore.

Was that, dare I say it, actual collection?  Because if it is, it's freaking weird.

Why Theo?

Considering the beach day, with the tantrums and theatrics and threats of violence, and our upcoming trips to go compete with the big kids in the sand box, it's a legitimate question.  Why on earth did I buy Theo?

I get this a lot, particularly from people around the barn.  Why did I buy the 12 year old school horse when I'm a good enough rider to invest in a green bean with massive potential and bring them along for the same amount of money.  That's what I thought I was going to buy when I got back in the saddle.  Buying inexperienced or somewhat damaged horses cheap has been my MO since my twenties.  I could have bought some very talented, athletic four year old with no miles, but stunning gaits.  I can handle green and baby theatrics, done it before.  So why did I buy a lazy, stubborn draft cross with an attitude problem, very average gaits, and a habit of jumping out of dressage rings  ?

Because he's the horse I need today.  And that's a painful realization.

My beloved Hellbeast taught me a lot and could jump the moon, but it was a steep, sometimes dangerous learning curve.  My Princess taught me just as much, but it certainly wasn't a position lesson.  Her incredible talent came at a price.  My position in my dressage pictures is really not good and my jumping position suffered because I was always in 'do or die' mode. 

 Seriously, hands, what are you doing?!  And lower leg, where are you going?!  Tush, back in the saddle!

I picked up some bad habits with my hands that I couldn't fix because I had too many survival type issues to handle.  The Meathead helped my confidence in stadium, but made the dressage and cross country worse.  The years add up and the basics start to suffer.  I could never do a position lesson because I couldn't mess around.  These were all sensitive, reactive athletes that weren't suited for an amateur.

I'm at the point where I need to have the option to work on me.  The bad habits are piling up and becoming ingrained.  When I did my jumping lesson Saturday, I could focus completely on my position in the air because I knew Theo was going over the fence and that he was going to do it in a completely reasonable, safe way.  My abs still hurt from the experience.  Riding a decent sized fence with a properly independent release takes a lot of core strength.  My hands picked up some really dumb habits like hanging out around my crotch and I now do things like stand on my toes.  I can put all of my attention on my position because my horse is going to just cope if I botch it or overcompensate.

It's really kind of amazing to me that when I'm trotting around with no stirrups, trying to get my body back, trying to fix my hands, and generally looking like an idiot, Theo just deals.  He goes better when I get it right, but he doesn't lose his mind or explode if I get it wrong.  I trusted Allen and Fi completely and utterly, but with the caveat that I trusted them to be themselves.  Fi would jump like a bomb, Allen would toss me if I did anything dumb.  Theo just keeps trotting.  Or walks if I'm really out of whack.  

 Not very talented, but so very tolerant

Theo is the only amateur friendly horse I've ever owned.  All of his nonsense aside, he can take a complete beginner and flop around the ring with them.  His sensitivity is increasing, but his default is still to flop and ignore when possible.  He's also very honest to a fence and has enough self preservation to do what's necessary to get out safely.  The grid in our lesson was tight and high but he got us through it safely while I worked hard on turning my thumbs out and following his big effort.

It's hard to see the fantastic sport horses out there with their effortless gaits and think that I could have one, but instead I have the plopping pony.  I know this isn't the time for stretch partnerships.  I don't need another couple years riding defensively while getting some green bean started. I'm not going to get past First if I keep doing that.  I need to grow, not bring along a talented baby, as much as I enjoy the process.

This is me, sinking almost as much into training as I do into board so that one, glorious day, I will sit the medium trot across the diagonal and not end up eating sand.  And Theo is the poor, tolerant sap that is going to get me there.

Sunday, April 10, 2016


I'm usually considered a pretty brave rider, or dumb depending on how you look at it, but there are some things that just fry my brain.  Too many bad experiences to be able to handle going into that situation again without my flight reflex kicking in.  Riding in a mixed group with horses I don't trust in the open?  Yeah, heart starts speeding up just thinking about it.

I went to the beach today with four other riders, ranging from the little bit that bravely jumped everything at the fall hunter pace to Miss Thang's junior to Trainer A and another instructor.  Some of the horses were old beach pros, some were going for the first time.  While loading this morning, I was asked what bit I packed.  I stared at Trainer A blankly and said 'D ring, because it's on the bridle that I don't care if it gets salt on it'.

"Do you want his kimberwicke?  And I'd grab a martingale."

Hold up, wait a minute, kimberwicke?  Martingale?  I've never used either of those items with him, even when doing cross country.  Everyone said he's perfect at the beach, what the heck?  So the adrenaline starts going.  Clearly he's not that perfect.

And then I got to spend the hour long drive thinking about what I was going to have to deal with.  We arrived with a biting, cold wind and Theo inflated to his full height.  Oh fricking hell.

Fire breathing dragon mode:  go!

So now I have left the confident, capable, former professional head space and have plunged head long into IMGONNADIE head space.  Theo is feeding off of me like a fiend and starts to act up.  I put his martingale on and swing up.   We're managing pretty well at first, but when he decides to fight his martingale so he can look like a giraffe then starts flying backward, I bail.  And immediately get back on because really, Catie?  Really?

I managed to stay on the horse for the walk down to the beach and start toward the water.  I start chilling out, Trainer A is talking about whatever to make me breathe and stop freaking.  Then Trainer A's green bean sees a kite and freezes.  Fun fact, Theo did not care at all about the kite.  He cared about having to stop and stand for no good reason while the green bean snorted and contemplated her mortality.  He starts to snort and shake his head and fight that martingale again (seeing a theme?).  I can't leave the rest of the herd that thinks the kite is horrifying, he starts to ball up, bail #2.

We find a picnic table so I can get back on.

At this point I decide that Theo and I are going to go in front and walk forward briskly because he's not actually scared of a darn thing, he's just very up.  So long as we have the marching walk going, we're good.

Trainer A's view for most of the ride

After a bit of this, I get brave and start doing some trotting bursts.  Then longer bursts.  Finally we were able to happily trot down the beach, splashing through some water.

Hey, check it out, I can ride!

Some of the girls were taking turns cantering and there was no way I was going to be the only one that didn't canter.  So I took Theo off away from the group, then cantered back.  It was short, but at least I did it.  Trainer A insisted I go out and canter again with her and Theo really enjoyed that.  A lot.  He wanted to open up and tear around, but I couldn't do it with the herd separating and recombining.  While we were waiting for the teens, he started to flail hard with me (I'm picking up on the cause of the problem at this point) and I , once again, bailed.

We found some old pillars to help me remount.

Heading home was good.  I had a big swinging walk, I did some bursts of trot, I schooled him rather than jump off when he started to bow and act up because the other horses were heading down to the water and he was going straight.  I thought I was home free.  Then the baby pony comes cantering up and doesn't stop very promptly.  He starts to pass Theo.  Theo hits the martingale (ding ding ding, she's figured it out), starts to tantrum, and I was off.  Bail #4.

At this point, Theo was just cranky.  He was not having it any more.  I decided to take his standing off to see if that improved his mood and he struck out at me.  He never, ever threatens me, but he was just looking for a fight.  I managed to get the martingale off and walked very briskly down the beach with him while he shook his head and snorted.  Once he was able to get his nose out as far as he wanted and walk as fast as he wanted, he settled down mentally.  Still very up, but not looking to take a piece out of me.

Note to self:  no standing martingales.  EVER.

I didn't bother trying to get back on.  We'd been out for over an hour and were most of the way to the trailer.  I just walked him back so he could go to bed.  I didn't want to risk what positive experiences he'd had.  Clearly we have a lot of work to do to get both of us comfortable playing in the open.  I'm not at all comfortable going out with a group to the beach.  With Fiona I was fine because she was completely non-reactive about it.  Theo?  Yeah, different story completely.  As soon as I came unglued, we were toast.

He was never actually naughty, but he had some strong opinions and he now has some very strong hindquarters to go with them.  Being who I am, I'm now sitting on the couch completely exhuasted and checking the schedule to see when we can go to the beach again.  No, I did not enjoy today's ride and I probably won't enjoy the next one, but I know we need to keep going so we can get over this.

Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.  I was at my most courageous today.

Friday, April 8, 2016


It's amazing how getting beat up at work can make you forget to do the other things in life, like eat.  Or sleep.  Or ride.  Or blog.  Huh.

No, I haven't fallen into a black hole despite the rumors my husband is spreading.  I have been riding and stuff, just not as much as I want.  Well, if it were up to me, I'd be at the barn 12 hours a day so that's not saying a lot.  So long as I got to keep my office salary and could wimp out whenever it got cold.

On Tuesday Trainer A got creative and took my saddle away so we could work on feeling the biomechanics without a big hunk of leather, wood, and metal in the way.  Sometimes I think she thinks I'm actually one of the teens and not one of the adults.  Fortunately I ride bareback often enough that this wasn't unsettling, but I did forget to account for Theo's reaction to the turn on the haunches question.  That butt started dropping and I realized I was on a rather slippery surface with no blocks, stirrups, or cantle to save me.  Then Trainer A walked over with her dressage whip to 'encourage' him to step over. 

Fortunately mi papi rethought his plan of striking out at her and decided that turning on the haunches without the airs above the ground component was his best plan of action.

He had a training ride Wednesday and got Thursday off.  Today I got to run screaming from the office at noon and spent a whole four hours with him.  First came the two hours of grooming to get caught up after slacking for a couple weeks.  Tail done, hooves spotless and treated, coat gleaming.  Then he got a break from me in a stall to stuff his face while I did a bit of tack cleaning.  After all of that nonsense, I got around to riding.  I had the ring all to myself and we had some new mirrors put in so I can do my laterals on both quarter lines.  Woo hoo, traveling in both directions!

I read an article this morning that reminded me that a soft contact isn't something that you can fudge or say 'good enough' on.  You need to keep on it every single ride.  With my shoulder issues, having him hang on the reins just isn't an option.  He loves to do it, so I need to stay on top of it.  I went into the ride determined to work toward that lightness I know he's capable of and stay the (*(*&^%&^^%$# off my inside rein.  Well, as much as possible.

Warm up was a lot of nice, forward walking with all of our lateral work.  As he warms up and relaxes, the reins shorten up.  Shoulder in is becoming very natural for him, as is the leg yield.  Haunches in and half passe are lagging a bit due to our ongoing inside rein hanging issues, but they're getting better.  Ten minutes of this and he's usually ready to start trotting and cantering like a civilized horse. 

The first half was, as always, a bit of a battle.  Flex flex flex FLEX DAMN YOU okay, good, give the rein and **** it all to ****, start over.  Change directions, repeat ad nauseum.  I totally blew his brain when I had him step over cavaletti in shoulder in.  I'll have to remember to keep doing that.  I also made a point of working shoulder in on a circle.  He really needs to stretch out laterally, particularly his left shoulder, and it's a good exercise for that.  By the second half of the ride, I was able to start asking him to lengthen and shorten.  He does love that game now that he understands it.

I don't get to do collected work on my own, but I might have kind of accidentally got him collected.  I was shortening him and then I half halted again with a strong leg, trying to really rev the engine for the next long side when his back came up and the contact went super soft.  Well, okay then.  Turn down the diagonal, ask for the lengthen, damn near fall off.  Woo hoo!  Not the falling off part, but that's a good sign!  Real lengthening!

Somewhere between the shoulder in on the circle and the transitions within the trot, we hit that sweet spot and he went soft as butter in my hands.  I asked him to canter and I got this wonderful, clear three beats without him barging off to kingdom come.  It was so tempting to keep him like that, but I know that's exhausting for him.  I also have to make sure he doesn't get too deep or too intense, as he was starting to do.  Getting him powered up does bring us much closer to that danger zone of his and he reacts very strongly to adjustments.  A couple serpentine loops with trot changes and I had to let him out to stretch.  I know I had his back because he stretched forward hard, sticking his nose out and reaching with his legs.  He only does that when I've managed to get him really working over his back.

So moral of the story is, suppleness in both directions is necessary for softness.  I can't just do my laterals or my transitions, I need both.  I also need to get the heck off of my hands and ride with my body.  Halting off of my hands ruins the nice feeling, halting off of my seat keeps it. 

I'm hoping for a repeat tomorrow in my lesson.  That first show is suddenly only two weeks away.  How the hell did that happen? 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Relationship with the inside rein

When we learn to ride, we're told to pull the inside rein to turn.  It pulls our horse's head around and they tend to follow their heads.  Okay, easy peasy.  I want to turn right, I pull right or move my hand right to turn his head.  We can do this for years and years.  Sure, we learn that some horses are smart and go in the opposite direction of their heads, but that's what kicking with the outside leg is for!

Then one day a trainer says 'inside leg to outside rein'.  And you think they're on crack.  Because seriously, how am I supposed to turn left by pulling on my right rein and kicking with my left leg?  That's backwards!  I know that doesn't work because look, I pull my right rein and he turns right, not left.  And then you spend endless hours trying to convince your body and sometimes your horse how to do everything backwards.  Sooner or later it makes sense and you learn about things like shoulders and balance and true bend, but that inside hand is still a bit itchy.  It went from being the most important to being kind of . . . decorative.

Yeah, it sets the bend and all of that, but it's spending a lot of time being light while the pressure is in the outside rein.  What a demotion.

I, like a lot of people I know, have a tough time getting off that inside rein.  I know very well that I'm not supposed to be hanging on it.  Trainer A has mentioned that she can see my correcting myself pretty frequently in any given ride.  That doesn't change the fact that it means I let it get heavy.  And Theo is wicked talented and talking me into hanging on that inside rein, especially the right one since he doesn't flex right as well.  And I'm right handed.  And my left shoulder is the bad one.  None of that helps.  I naturally want to hang on that rein more than my left.  You know it's bad when I get 'please, just let go of that rein!'.

Our increasing lateral work has brought this little shortcoming into very sharp relief.  It's sad.  I had a round with the Circle of Death (about ten ground poles in a 20 meter circle) and my poor trainer got to the point where it was 'bad hands, bad!'.  Yeah, I know.  They're very naughty.

It's so hard to let go when my horse is being very stubborn and evasive about a true bend.  I can just crank his nose around and that's what we want, right?  His nose is in!  But it's not what we really want and it gives him a chance to brace and throw his shoulder out, turning our nice trot into a disjointed mess.  So I continue to trot around the ring, looking down and saying 'bad, bad hands!' to myself.

The teens have decided that I'm completely batshit, but friendly and good for info so they don't mind.

Friday, April 1, 2016


This right here is a thing of beauty.

This is hundreds of hours of work, sweat, and no small amount of tears to create.  It's not perfect, and the picture is terrible with the untrimmed top of his neck hiding the topline, but there's a new bit of definition running just under his crest that I spotted today when he was whickering and playing cute to get treats from someone.  This used to be an upside down mess.  Now?  It's almost believable that this is a dressage horse.

That jumps like a rocket, but shush.

I think he missed seeing me this week.  I got lots of whickers and very little bratty behavior on the crossties.  He gave me some very nice work in the outdoor as the cold front started to push through, enjoying the cool breeze on a 70* day.  We worked on his lightness since he's going through a bit of a hanging on the bit phase, particularly at the canter.  Mom likes it when he puts his head down at the canter, right?  So he'll just put his head way down and hang on the bit.

No, papi.  No.

Lots of transitions until he decided he should carry himself because mom could decide at any moment to change the game plan.  He lifted that lovely neck of his and suddenly went soft in the reins.  Ah ha, so that's what self carriage feels like!  I could stop or start without it being a big deal.  It lasted all of five minutes, but those were some glorious minutes.

Today Theo was officially pulled out of the school horse roster.  He is now entirely my ride.  Just in time to tune him up to be a show horse.  Less than a month till the season starts!  I splurged on some training rides this month, so Trainer A will be riding him once a week.  Poor papi, off to boot camp.  Two lessons and one training ride every week.  Not that he minds.  He's discovered what a canter lengthening is like.  Those are pretty cool.  Slowing back down?  Now that's stupid.