Thursday, June 30, 2016

Tell me what you see

Okay, I clearly have some things I need to work out judging by the way I've been obsessing over pictures of Theo all morning.  And if I'm going to do it, let's do it for real.

Theo, before and during.  Can't call it after since I feel like we're just getting started.  The first picture is from before I met him when in heavy school work trying to keep his brain between his ears.  Lots of sweaty saddle pads, not a lot of technical training.  Mostly trying to convince him to not buck people off and run home, doing at least some work in a German martingale/draw reins to keep him from unloading people (I found this of his dark past).  The second picture is from this weekend before our show.  There's about 2 years in between them.  He's been in serious business training for about 10 months (from the end of the abscess wars last year when I decided he was going to be my long term horse and not a place holder).

It's not the best pair of pictures to compare, opposite sides and mi papi is on a slope for the second one, but it's what I've got.  I kept them as big as possible so there is no detail hidden.

So.  What do people see?  Since I appear to be having a fit of anxiety over whether or not I'm moving in the right direction.  I keep being told he looks like a different horse, but right now, I'm really struggling with seeing it when faced with two pictures like this.  Aside from the coloring, of course.  Being a show pony has some lovely perks such as fly sheets and supps to help with that dark, glossy coat.

I'll do another post later with what I see, but I'm genuinely curious.  Tell me what you see.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


There's a problem with Theo's training.  I've been working away at it, trying to not let it bother me, but it's starting to become a critical issue.

What the hell is up with that neck?!?!

Not sure what I'm talking about?  Remember this picture?

Just look at it.

That is not okay.  And it gets worse when he's being less than cooperative for pictures.

Honestly.  That's not cool.  That is the broken topline that everyone screams bloody murder about in dressage articles.  I have that horse.  Uneven neck development is expected when taking a horse from being completely upside down to something approaching correct, but it's still embarrassing as hell.  We've only in the last couple months gotten to the point where I can work him consistently in a way that will add muscle where we need it and I know it's 6 months to reshape a neck, but it's really starting to drive me crazy.

I swear I'm not sawing at his mouth or jamming him into a false frame.  He naturally pops into a false frame and it's taken many months to break him of his habit of curling behind and evading my hands.  He still does it when he decides what I'm asking for is too hard.  We've been working so hard to get him to stretch into his neck and travel with a long frame and his nose poking just ahead of vertical.

That neck is okay!  I'm quite proud of that neck!  And with any luck, one day, his neck will look like that all the time.  In the meantime, there's some pictures I think I'll keep off of Facebook.  At least until I don't have that horse anymore.  I can only pray we have that in better shape before we head to New York.

Times are a changin'

Blogging is useful for keeping track of how things have changed over time.  With mi papi's successful debut, I went back to see where we were a year ago.  I'm just a bit goal oriented and I like to know that we're making progress.

Lo and behold, this is where we were a year ago (followed by a bunch of posts with me spending copious amounts of money).
Today we had a bit of a tough lesson.  We went through the Intro C dressage test in the small dressage ring.  We would have been disqualified for leaving the ring, since he blew out through the left shoulder and zipped between the cones marking the ring edges.  It took several tries and some tough corrections to get the 20 meter canter circle to the right.
Man, I'd forgotten about that fiasco.  And this hot mess.

Oh dear.  At least his hocks are in the same area code as the rest of him now.

Somehow we've managed to go from not being able to complete an Intro C test to going around at First.  At the last show, someone cut me off and Theo did a 10m circle at the canter to dodge traffic.  On his right lead.  It's not something he's strong enough to do regularly, but it was cool to have that option when there was suddenly a horse on the rail practicing a rein back and another horse heading right at us.  Dressage rings are completely nuts.  People go sideways or backwards with very little warning.  I think brake lights and turn signals need to be added.

Now we're on vacation for two weeks.  No prep, no lessons, no pressure.  I'm already climbing the walls.  I'll bet $20 that I'll be back in lessons by next week.  I don't take time off very well.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Tack review: Revisiting the past

Time to update on a couple of previous purchases!

First up:  Frank Baines Evolution jumping saddle

This saddle is now a well loved, well used one year old saddle.  I've done jumping clinics, hunter paces, beach rides, and many jumping lessons up to 3' in this saddle.  It's been seen by the saddle fitter twice and used by a couple of other riders with Theo and with the Bambino. 

Everyone agrees, it's butt candy.  It's just insanely comfortable.  It's darkened up to a nice mahogany red.  The leather is all intact and looks good.  That calfskin covering makes a big difference when Theo does things like decide to squeeze a stride in.  It's flat as a pancake and will do nothing to keep you on through bucking, but the knee rolls are perfect and have been a great emergency seat belt.  Theo still goes better in this saddle than anything we've tried, including his custom fit dressage saddle.  It's still a calfskin covered saddle and I have to care for it like it's made of glass.  While my dressage saddle with buffalo can handle a nuclear blast, this thing lives with a cover on it.  It's worked, the saddle looks great and has improved with age.  Great investment and I don't regret buying it one bit.

Second:  PS of Sweden Flying Change Revolution bridle

I've had this bridle for about a year now.  It's used for all of my dressage rides and some trail rides when I'm too lazy to bust out the jumping tack.  It's gone to several shows this season, sometimes sporting the big bling and sometimes going plain.

You know your bridle is pretty when multiple stewards mention it while doing your tack check.  The leather is wearing well and the slipping browband problem seems to be limited to just the one browband.  It's not butter soft leather but it's wearing like iron and has a lovely shine when I clean it.  Our new bling stays put, no problem.  Theo finds this bridle comfortable and it fits better around his rather substantial ears than the other bridles I've tried on him.  The quick change browbands are fantastic when you want to change the look at a show. I decided to break out the big bling for my last day at GMHA and it took about a minute to put it on.  No bridle disassembly needed!  I like this bridle so much that I'm planning on buying a High Jump for him to replace his current jumping bridle (an HDR monocrown that just isn't the right fit and isn't wearing well).  Still a highly recommended bridle due to generous padding and an attractive look that will get you comments from those that handle your bridle.

Finally:  RJ Classics Soft Shell Hunt Coat

This poor thing has been through a war.  I got it last year in August I believe.  Since then it's been through rain, heat, dust, and thrown in the back of the trailer.  Then the back of my car.  I'm not good at taking care of my coats and this has been my only coat for about a year. 

If you need a basic coat that can take abuse, buy one of these.  Water beads and runs off rather than soaking you and making you hate your life in warm up.  It's stretchy enough that it doesn't gap over my rather substantial chest while still fitting my shoulders.  It's not a summer weight jacket, but it's a lot lighter than a traditional coat.  Three buttons, two vents, and functional pockets to finish it off.  It's not fancy, it's really pretty non-descript, but after a show I can throw it in my wash machine on cold, hang it to dry, and it's ready to go again.  I've washed it something like five times before that picture.  Solid purchase and will remain a feature in my show wardrobe even when I add fancier coats.  It's perfect for damp, rainy, muddy days and comfortable to wear.


I've spent a lot of time in the past couple months watching dressage.  I watch videos at home, I watch tests at shows, I watch clinics and lessons with other people.  I also talk a lot of dressage with Trainer A.  Not so much the rest of the populace, but definitely with Trainer A.  And my poor hubby, but he doesn't really have an emergency exit to get out of it.

Trying to not hear more about my 8 for a half 10m circle

While spectating at GMHA, I saw a very stark difference between two types of rides, particularly in the first test for any level.  We watched Fourth 1 when we were too lazy to move after the FEI tests.  The first ride was lovely (Theo's doppleganger) and the rider was a very competent amateur adult.  She dealt with the mistakes tactfully, rewarded the good movements, and also had a drool worthy seat.  Someone has clearly spent thousands of hours in the saddle, learning to be one with their rather average but cute, extremely well trained, willing mount.  They got a good score and she left the ring smiling.

The next rider entered the ring and I immediately poked my copilot so she'd look up from her book.  Was that gorgeous horse . . . inverted?  As soon as the salute was done and the trot began, I understood why the horse was coming above the bit.  Good heavens, I could see daylight between this rider and the saddle as she tried to sit!  The extended made me gasp, I thought she was going to come off.  The horse's back was dropped down, his neck braced in a false frame behind his double bridle.  He was clearly well trained, able to do all of the movements despite what was going on in the saddle, but he wasn't happy about it.  Wasn't this Fourth Level?

I talked to Trainer A later and she nodded.  She'd seen several like that and talked to some other trainers that were disturbed by the upswing of this situation.  Adult ammies that want to move up the levels but don't want/can't put the time in the saddle (career, children, whatever).  So they get put on a fully trained horse.  It's too much horse, so the double goes on even though the rider is balancing off of their hands.  Then send them in the ring to be Fourth Level riders.  She even commented that she could see some of it at the lower levels, with riders buying gorgeous, talented horses that are too much for them and moving up before they're really ready.  Nervous riders, false frames, and tight holds.

It's a good time for me to think about this, since on the drive home yesterday Trainer A and I were excitedly talking about our winter plans.  Write my First Level freestyle, lock down Second Level movements to get them ready to go out in public late next season, polish First 3 with an eye toward doing First Level next year for the regionals, so many plans.

Theo votes for carrots, trail rides, and naps for next year

I can't move up to Second until I'm so comfortable at the sitting trot that I don't even have to think about it anymore.  When I'm nervous, I tense up.  In the past, it messed with my ability to sit the canter at shows.  I've pretty much got that under control now, I can sit the canter in the show ring, but I'll be fighting the same fight to sit the trot.  Until I can do First 3 in competition all sitting and not destroy my position score, I don't get to move up.  Which sucks when we're schooling almost all of Second 1 now and I want to make all of these plans!  But I have to have the ground rules to keep myself from rushing.  I refuse to be the rider that makes people gasp when they go across the diagonal because they're getting air time. 

Guess who is going to be spending half of the winter on a lunge line with no reins or stirrups? 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Move up

I've written before on what moving up means.  It's usually a lot of nerves and anxiety, particularly in the jumping disciplines.  I've discovered that there's a certain level of anxiety that goes with moving up in dressage, but there's a lot of panache that goes with the title.  So and So is a Third Level Horse.  Note all of the capital letters.  But in order to get that title, you have to go show and get that score.

Today I officially moved Theo up to First.  This was not a move up for me, the Princess and I put in a lot of miles at this level and the Hellbeast introduced me to this level many years ago.  For Theo, it was a milestone.  The last time he was at UNH, he was eliminated for using the rail as a warm up fence.  After our busy spring campaign, I felt it was time to move him up to the level we're actually working on at home.

His leg looked fantastic this morning after a night out in turnout with a poultice wrap.  No worries at all there!  

Our first test was Training 3.  I had it as a back up in case we didn't qualify at GMHA.  UNH is usually a very compact show, but they decided to run three sand rings and not use their grass ring.  That had us hauling across the campus to ring 3 for our first test.  Mi papi was quite sure the high tunnel and silo the students use were going to eat him.  He turned himself inside out trying to get away from that thing.  He was being a bit of a stud all morning so I showed up to warm up with an hour to work.  It also gave Miss Thang company for the walk down.  After about fifteen minutes and a game of Touch It with a tarp, he decided being a stud was dumb and we stood in the shade and watched the other horses warm up.

Our test couldn't have worked out any more perfectly.  Something happened in the test before mine and the TD needed to talk to the judge.  That left me circling the ring for about three minutes.  That gave Theo time to stick his head in the judge's booth and say hi to the scribe, spook badly at the tent full of judges in training and then go stick his head in to visit them, get cookies for his bravery, completely circle the ring at the trot in both directions, and then canter on his right lead around the outside.  The judge was great about communicating with us what was going on so I didn't wear Theo out while they sorted something out (I heard the word 'eliminated' so it was serious).  When she rang the bell, mi papi marched down center line like he owned it.

Trainer A said it was the best canter work she's seen us do in a test.  65% and third place.  Whoop whoop!

We got an hour to let Theo graze and chill with his saddle off before my First 1.  The saddle went back on and we went to an all new warm up before marching across a grass field, behind another judge's booth, and on to our ring.  For my agoraphobic horse, it was a nightmare.  I was more proud of his trot to the ring than anything else he did all day.  He trotted from warm up, across that field, behind the judge's booth, and right up to his own ring.  We had more judges in training, so he had to give them a hard look.  He saw a blue cooler peeping out from behind the judge's booth and that was the only thing that made him fully stop.  I think he was ready for lunch.

He laid down a very nice trip.  I got yet another error due to mixing up tests in the middle, and we both started to circle at B in the right lead canter out of habit which totally nixed our lengthening, but the test was confident and calm.  The canter transitions were accurate, the lengthenings were a little sad but we tried.  We got an 8 for one of our 10m half circles.  I got a 7 for rider's aids and accuracy.  Overall, we got a 63% and second place for Theo's grand debut at First Level!

Trainer A was proud as punch of us.  I was ecstatic with my pony.  This was our first show in a while where I couldn't school the rings before the show.  I was worried he wouldn't go in and work, but he's figured this game out.  Centerline means it's time to go to work and cookies are a thing even when in competition.  There's no rule against handing a horse a cookie before the bell rings and I've done it three times now to convince him that trotting boldly past the judge is a wonderful thing. 

Now we have a month and a half off from showing and I'm so ready for it.  Time for jumping and trail riding July!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Judgement call

This is never a look you want to sport before a show.

Yes, someone is clearly ready for his promised July break.  On Tuesday I had a fantastic jumping lesson.  He was just wonderful and not showing any sourness due to his long trip to GMHA.  I noticed a small scrape on the inside of his hock.  I slapped some ointment on it, used a file on the sharp edge of the opposite hoof that caused the scrape, and called it a day.  Wednesday didn't work out due to work so papi got the day off.  On Thursday he had a massage.  I got a call saying that his hind leg was all swollen and I needed to come out.

Low and behold, the leg with the scrape looked like a stovepipe.  I trotted him off and he was sound as a bell, but that little scrape now had swelling around it.  Damn it!  So I clipped and cleaned the scrape, followed by a short work out in polos and some cold hosing.  It went down and he was moving great, so I threw a standing wrap on him and kept him in a stall.  I don't put horses in turn out when they're in wraps.

Next day, repeat.  Worked beautifully, but leg was still big.  I had my lesson and ran through my First Level test.  It looked good, so he spent the day in turn out then came in for his wrap.

This morning, it still looked sucky.  His lower leg looked good, especially after work and cold hosing.  He had tendons again!  But it still makes me nervous that he's having fill problems with that stupid little scrape.  And the bugs got him in turnout so his sheath blew up and that affected part of his upper leg!

Since he was still working beautifully, I'm all braided and prepped for the show. 

He's klutzy but attractive.  I, on the other hand, need to keep my pale legs out of sight.  His leg looked much better after spending the day in turn out, so I decided to take the risk and let him stay out tonight with a poultice on his booboo.  He's in a new field with established grass, so he's grazing and moving constantly.  With any luck, his leg will look good in the morning between a long night of moving and a poultice pad.  There's no heat anymore, his immune system is just being as delicate as the rest of him.  He's one of those horses that blows up when he gets scrapes.

Wake up call is 4:15am.  Fingers crossed that my horse is fit to show in the morning.  After that, he gets his promised mid-summer break.  I think we're both looking forward to it.

Monday, June 20, 2016

GMHA Pic Spam

The promised pictures are starting to roll in.

Our prize for first place

That butt, that butt, that big ol', big ol' butt, yeah.  
No, not mine.

Dressage horse!  Also sporting our PS of Sweden pad and fly veil with crystals

The dressage team at the end of a successful weekend

My new favorite picture of us.  I might like this horse a bit, even when he doesn't want to pose for pictures.

Mi papi by the numbers

Now that I've had a night of real sleep, I've done what I usually do when I try to make sense of something.  I rounded up the data.

Here is Theo's show record at USDF santioned shows to date:

Not a lot of data to date.  He's only been to two shows and had eight tests.  I can't draw a lot of conclusions from such a small data set, but hey, that's never stopped anyone from making decisions off of inconclusive data.

So our average test score when up over two percentage points from the first show to the second.  Nice!  Our submission score improved greatly due to a lack of broncing and frightening the judges.  I also got an uptick in my position and his gaits.  We got a hit in impulsion, but that makes sense when three of our five tests were judged by someone that thought Theo was lazy.

Broken out by judge, yeah, we had two very different reactions this past weekend.  Janet Briggs saw us twice at GMHA and we averaged 65% in her ring.  Susanne Handler saw us three times and we averaged 60% in her ring.  The Kristi submission score is highlighted because that includes the bronc test with a submission score of 3.  The Susan Buchanan test was also a bronc test, though a small one.

We are pretty much the same regardless of test.

Breaking out the three Susanne tests, it was interesting that when we upped our gait score, it did nothing about her energy comments but we took a bigger hit to submission than what we gained in gaits.  In the end, regardless of her comments, she scored our most relaxed test the highest (our comments included 'much too relaxed').  Our most electric test was the lowest.  Evidently accuracy and submission really does trump all in Training level and I need to ignore the constant judge comments about need more energy and more forward.  Well, not ignore, but not strive to push Theo toward explosion land.  Impulsion and submission are the two collectives with coefficients.  Our impulsion score never moves, so I better focus on that submission score that swings from 3 to 7.  I need more 7s in submission and position.  Those I can fix.  I can't do a dang thing about the fact he's an earthbound type of a horse.

I feel better after going through the numbers.  I was on the right track.  I don't regret my decision to experiment with my last test.  I wouldn't know what the results would be if I didn't try.  Now I can dial in my approach and give Theo the most appropriate ride possible.

I love data.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

GMHA: Day 4

I love my horse.

After two days of showing, I decided to scratch my T2 test and just run my T3 test.  As I got my second qualifying score on Saturday, it was just for the experience.  After seeing things like 'lazy' and 'sluggish' on previous tests, I went in on a mission.  I wanted to razz my pony up and get a fire burning.  I didn't dare to do this before when explosion was a real risk, but this time, I took the risk.  What did I have to lose?

I also let him wear his big bling.  I told him that horses that don't bronc get to wear bling.  After two days of solid tests, I figured he'd earned it.

He was surprisingly hot in the warm up.  Short warm ups seem to be the way to get him through multiple days.  Saturday he did two very short warm ups, one was 15 minutes and the other was 20.  That left him with enough energy for a 20 minute warm up today even with the over 80* temps and hot sun.  I did a lot of transitions and pushed his buttons a bit, getting him up on his toes.  I took the risk that he would explode and wound him up like I do at home when I want him to really lift.

When the horse before me trotted out, I turned and trotted him directly into the competition area.  And like clock work, I heard a bunch of bangs from the road.  I looked over and a trio of tractors pulling empty trailers were going by at about 35 mph.  They made a horrible racket.  The horse in ring 4 spooked and went sideways.  Theo turned into a giraffe and started to rear.  All of that explosive energy?


I have a specific way I say Theo's name when I call him in from his field.  It's a sing song version that comes out 'Theee-oh'.  I have trained him to trot up to the gate in exchange for a treat.  I immediately said 'Theee-oh' and grabbed a cookie from my pocket.  Forget being scared, there were ginger cookies!  Theo immediately forgot the terrifying trailers and reached around for his treat.  It was like a light switch.  I adjusted my reins while he chewed and then we trotted off to circle around the ring like nothing had happened.

I loved my test.  It wasn't as accurate, but it was energetic and responsive.  I went big.  I went for the energy, the forward thinking.  I didn't play the cautious game.  I rode my ass off to ask for more without having a melt down.  We did have a miscommunication and a gorgeous walk to canter transition that wasn't in the test, but screw it.  He felt amazing, confident, almost eager.

We got a freakin' 57%.  I couldn't believe it.  It was the same judge that was marking us 4-5 points below everyone else all weekend.  She didn't like Theo.  She called him LAZY in the comments.  It was the most energetic test he's given me!  Trainer A gave me a big thumbs up for going big and a complete stranger came over to compliment me.  I was so proud of him, I floated back to the stables.  Seeing the comments made me see red.  WTF.  Seriously, I usually will find something I agree with in every judge's comments.  No, not this time.  Theo gave me everything he had.  With our accuracy issues, I figured 61% or 62%.  Not good, but not terrible.  57%.  Everyone that saw our test was slack jawed at that score.  For the record, 54% is what we got for the test where Theo bronc'd and made everyone gasp in fear.

That judge will be one to avoid.  She has a thing against draft crosses.  She knocked 5 points off of Trainer A's ride with a green bean as well, even though the second test was better and more relaxed as an Introductory test.  She went from a 69% to a 65% in the span of an hour.  Lesson learned. 

We packed up very quickly and had the kids home by 2pm.  I sent Theo out into a pasture after his four days of stall life, despite the mares all going into stalls for the night.

Right after this, he had a big roll.  That was followed by some bucking, loud snorting, and cantering about.  He's learning to deal with stall life for shows, but he's much, much happier outside.  When I left, he was grazing and looking more relaxed then he has since Thursday.

I'll do my analysis of the weekend later, but for now, we had a successful weekend.  He didn't bronc in the ring and we got our second qualifying score.  We also scored our best as a pair.  It wasn't perfect, but he wasn't recognizable compared to our previous show.  Our first show we averaged 59.6%.  This show was 62.3% and no bucking or spooking in the ring. 

Mission.  Accomplished. 

Bring on First Level.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

GMHA: Days 1 - 3

For everyone that's not in the New England area, GMHA stands  for the Green Mountain Horse Association.  It's a non-profit organization that maintains an awesome facility for equestrian events.  They host endurance rides, competitive trail rides, h/j shows, dressage shows, horse trials, youth camps, driving competitions, you name it.  It's a lovely spot in Woodstock, VT. 

But the most distinctive feature of this well loved location?  No.  Damn.  Cell service.  None.  For anyone.  It makes your multi-day horse show double as a break from technology.  This is my first time online since I got here.  Want to text your trainer a change in times?  Nope.  Want to google for dinner plans?  Nuh uh.  You better hop your butt on a bike and haul across the show grounds to find someone.  And plan on crossing water or bridges on your way. 

Yes, the fancy dancy dressage horses were crossing water and walking on wood bridges.  There's a way around, but it's a long one.  Most of the riders consider it to be worth the trouble to get your horse used to the water.  Theo loves running water, it turns out.  He was giving leads to fancy FEI horses and even stopped to get a drink at one point.  He also doesn't mind bridges.

It's my favorite venue.  The stabling is spread out and well maintained.  They run four rings with wonderful footing and beautiful scenery.  We spent most of this afternoon sitting on a hillside watching the freestyle and FEI classes.  Pictures are coming.

As for the showing part?  I'm so proud of the green bean.  On Thursday I schooled all of the competition rings on my own.  He had a couple things that were just not okay (cows across the street were not something he was expecting), but he worked through it.  Stuck his head in the judge's booths, checked out the flowers, the usual.  On Friday he had to go in and show.  He had a heart attack for his first test when he realized he was all alone out there and tried to spin for home.  Worked through it and he laid down a very nice trip.  67%!

Our second test, the T3 that we needed for a qualifying score, had a different judge.  Almost identical test, got a 61.2%.  Judges make me crazy.  She wanted more energy and fire out of Theo.  The first judge loved his soft, harmonious test.  Win some, lose some.

Today he had to do his first test at the ring that was furthest from the stabling.  A creek crossing from the warm up area.  Completely alone, surrounded by trees and the stored jumps.   The ring was big and beautiful with lots of room, but for Theo, terrifying.  I got him in there, got him past the judge's booth, and eased him toward A.  We turned down centerline and something amazing and unexpected happened:  he took a deep breath and settled.  The green bean has learned his job.  Instead of fighting him to the scary end of the ring, he marched along the rail because that's where he goes.  It wasn't perfect, he was still peeking at sounds and equipment, but he stayed with me.  We even got a 'too relaxed' comment on the test.  62% and no broncing?  Victory!

Our T3 test was supposed to be more energetic.  We warmed up well and he went to the ring.  Heavens help me if that little brat didn't decide to squeal like a mare and kick at my spur right in front of the judge while trotting around the outside.  Such a princess.  Same deep breath and settle thing happened with the centerline.  As soon as we stepped into the box, he knew what we were doing.  We had two bobbles where he thought I wanted a canter that hurt our score, but 63.2% is our second qualifying score.  We're heading to regionals, despite my screwups!

He's grown up so much over these two shows.  We still have moments of terror and spinning for home, but he'll work through them and he now knows what the centerline means.  It's work time.  Considering last year I struggled with Intro tests since he couldn't canter a circle, this is kind of stunning.  He can now keep it together in a crowded warm up.  He doesn't try to lunge at the other horses anymore.  I don't feel him scoot when horses canter by.  He doesn't like it, but he copes.  He knows what the bell means and how to deal with stall life (kick things and drag your teeth until someone feeds you more).  All the little things I never remember as skills have started to kick in for him.

My new shirt
Tomorrow we have one test, just for practice.  I may let him wear his bling.  He's earned it.

Monday, June 13, 2016


Theo has gone from being that bratty school horse to being the object of a lot of kisses and adoration and admiration.  With his improved manners, a lot more people want to stop and say hi to him in the aisle.  Other people love to watch him work.  He looks like a different horse, going forward with no kicking, making it all look so easy when compared to the other school horses.  Little girls coo to me about how much they want to ride him.

The downside to the lingering chest congestion for me is that they can now hear how hard I'm breathing trying to keep the big lump going in the right direction.

But just because perceptions have changed doesn't mean that Theo has truly turned into a new pony.  He's still Theo.  On Friday I had a private with Trainer A, getting us ready for our big three day show this weekend.  Mi papi got an extra day off due to some work nonsense and instead of being up and fresh, he told me to go pound sand.  He even spooked at the door to the arena which he hasn't done in months.

Well, hello there, Naughty Theo.  We haven't seen you in a long time.

We did a run through on Training 2 and while it was fine, he was braced through the neck and throwing his shoulders about.  It wasn't harmonious or submissive at all.  Trainer A was kind of pleased with the timing, since irritable, distracted Theo is what I might get at the show.  She took us out to a field, past the construction equipment, and had us run our test again out there.  She managed to trigger Naughty Theo pretty effectively, but in an environment where I could stick my spur in his side and school him through his correct responses.  We worked until I was getting polite, prompt canters (on the correct lead) reliably while the tractor loaded water troughs to be hauled up for cleaning.

I wasn't happy to see Naughty Theo one week before our biggest show, but I guess if he's going to pop up, might as well be now.  He's going to be in very steady work from now until we finish the show.  He's so darn fit now that he can canter for multiple minutes and almost immediately catch his breath.  I'm going to pack all of his lunging gear.  He's no longer a horse where I need to worry about him being able to handle the physical exertion.  Some ponies look good with some extra energy.  Theo just finds new and exciting ways to use that energy up.  We don't get bonus points for the degrees of difficulty he likes to add, so I'd like to just skip that part entirely.

And since I just sent off his entry for his First Level recognized debut at the end of the month, I'd like to work on the lengthen canter without praying for my salvation and functional brakes on each attempt.  I get dinged for talking in the show ring.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Trail adventures

As part of my attempt to mix things up, Theo's been out on the trails a lot.  On Wednesday he played lead horse for the group of adult ladies while we showed them where we go to do his canter sets.  He enjoyed the nice walk, though he was a little confused when we walked the whole thing instead of cantering.  Being lazy is nice, but going for a canter is also nice, especially when the bugs are out really thick.

Today Trainer A took us for an adventure up a set of trails I'd never tried before.  There's an old logging road running up Walnut Hill, leading to a cell tower at the top.  Instead of working in the ring, she grabbed Baby Pony and showed us the way up.  I remembered to turn on my ClockIt app.

Considering our rides usually look like this for altitude change, it was quite a difference for mi papi.  Note the scale change for altitude. 

400 foot climb in 0.6 miles.  That's pretty steep for a horse that usually sees nothing more than 100 feet in change throughout a ride.  That initial climb in particular had the ponies blowing and we had to stop to let them catch their breath (the spot where everything goes flat).  Theo wasn't blowing anywhere near as hard as Baby Pony, so our fitness work is definitely on track.

Aside from the elevation change, Theo had to be a serious business trail pony.  This trail isn't really maintained, so there were a lot of branches to dodge (or tear down and eat, as he saw fit) and some rock faces to navigate.  Since he wears shoes all around, granite rock faces are not something to handle lightly.  On the way up we slalomed our way along, finding the dirt paths.  On the way down, I let him figure out some sections.  It was adorable seeing him put his head down and check before tippy toeing down tricky sections.  He's never offered to put his head down and check his footing before, so that's a great lesson for him to learn.  Next time I'll go in my jumping gear so I can lean way back for the steep descent without hating my life and the cantle of my saddle.

I'll also try to get pictures.  It's quite pretty and looks like something you would never take a dressage show horse up and down.  Baby Pony looked quite at home, his spotted butt carefully marching up and down in his bare feet.  Theo looked a bit more out of place, but showed off how sure footed he's become by never missing a beat.

Tomorrow I have to go back in the ring before I completely forget how that's supposed to work.  As much fun as we're having, I do need to remember I have a three day show coming up in two weeks.  I need one more qualifying score before I can decide to officially slack off for the rest of the summer.