Wednesday, July 27, 2016

How about that weather?

New England is fun.  Remember when I posted this?

Now I get to post this

92* for a high with a heat index near 96*.  That's not okay when you also have a wind chill of -34* in the same calendar year.  And we're on day 3 of this nonsense with two more to go.  You really can't be good at both very hot and very cold.  I know that looks pretty mild to anyone from the south (grew up in Lousiana and Texas), but let me tell you, we Yankees don't handle heat well.  I don't even have central air in my house.  And my  office is on the top floor.  I guess I could look at it as a free sweat box?

Fortunately  you can see the break coming on Friday.  Those 83s and 84s are what we are supposed to get in July. 

It's harder for Theo than me.  He's a northern boy, born and raised.  He's also solid black and not exactly dainty.

Keeping a white fly sheet on him all day helps, but he's still having to come in for the afternoons when he's sweating just because he exists.  With this weather, we're not doing a lot of heavy work.  On the flip side, Theo is proving to be just about the fittest horse in the barn.  He's something of a cardio beast now and can recover from even canter work.  Unlike last summer where I had to set off a bomb under his tail to get him to move when it was hot out, he doesn't mind working in the heat for a bit.  He'd rather not, but he can be convinced easily enough.

We're getting a lot of miles with walk/trot/walk combined with laterals in this weather.  And it's starting to show.  We're starting to get some topline in front of his withers and he's starting to carry his head in a nice, low, natural way with a lovely lift through the base of his neck and without my help.  Canter is still a bit of a wreck, but we'll work on that once the heat breaks.  Our month of no hands is paying off dividends.

2.5 weeks until we go back into the show ring.  The heat should break, my lessons should revert back to the normal pattern, and the pressure should be back on next week.  Our break was well timed, but it's time to get back to the grindstone.  I need to get First 1 and First 2 memorized and ready to roll.  We're super fancy First level dressage types now.  That means I have to know where the heck I'm going in the ring.  Where the heck is L?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Roads to Rome

There's this move they introduce in Second called the turn on the haunches.  It's pretty basic stuff for most horses.  A lot of horses pick it up for other reasons, like opening gates or turning around in tight places or showing in hand.  I've never really had a problem teaching it to a horse.  Until Theo.

I swear, something in mi papi's brain fries every time we go near this.  We've used the wall, we've worked it with the trainer on the ground assisting, we've used poles and cones as visual aids, we've done little baby steps.  Nada.  We've been working on this for a year!  He wants to plant his massive shoulders and swing his butt.  When you correct him, he freezes his back feet and steps around until he can't keep his balance anymore and then steps out sideways.  No, no papi.  That's falling on your face, not turning on your haunch.

Last night Trainer A set up some some cones for my adult ladies lesson (after she took my stirrups away, damn it).  Each of us got a cone.  We were supposed to do a 360 around them, head in. So turn on the forehand, but not a pivot.  Cool.  It was a little tougher than usual because Theo couldn't just lay on one shoulder and pivot.  It took a couple tries to get it going.  In the end, it was less a turn on the forehand and more a step of leg yield, a step of turn on the forehand, repeat.  They have slightly different buttons, so I was shifting my leg to move his haunches more than his shoulders, then shifting my leg back to keep the shoulders involved.  Okay, cool, still easy enough for papi's brain but not what we've been doing. 

Then she had us turn around and do the circle with our heads out.  GROAN.

We tried.  We flailed.  We experimented.  Smoke came out of Theo's ears.  Finally, desperate to make him move his hind feet, I shifted all of my aids over to the set for half-pass/side-pass and shoved him over.  He understands that, so he moved over.  So we kind of did half-pass on a circle, upping the pressure on his shoulders like a shoulder in so he'd move them over more than the haunches and eventually get back to where we started.  That got him moving and his ears flicking.  We got around a 10 meter circle and trotted away with carrots and celebration, then came back and did the circle smaller.  It was a delicate balancing act to make the hind legs take smaller steps and ask his shoulders to come around, but so long as we walked into it and I thought half-pass, not turn on the haunches, his butt kept moving.

After about six reps, we had his hind feet tracking a small, one meter circle while his shoulders came around in a nice, reasonable flex.  I could feel him lifting his shoulders to make it work, which is progress.  He's finally using the right set of muscles instead of planting his hind feet and falling on his face!

It's hard to describe what I was doing in the saddle.  I don't tend to think in terms of aids, I think in terms of his body parts.  Trainer A said 'shoulders!' and I moved his shoulders more.  This is the problem with riding off of feel and experience.  I'm not entirely sure how the hell I do it, I just know I can do it on command.  Some of it was trial and error.  I have to set him up flexed in the direction of travel, he can't manage it flexed away from the direction of travel.  Then it's outside rein while shrinking the steps and active push with the outside leg, like a leg yield or half-pass, but holding that inside leg to keep his hind legs engaged.  And don't do the hula, stay in the center of the saddle or your poor horse is going to try to go where you're leaning and you'll have a mess on your hands.  Yes, we did this.  A couple times.

So that's one for the tool box.  When the hind feet aren't marching and taking the weight in a turn on the haunches, half-pass/side-pass on a circle and shrink down the circle.  Our new exercise is to walk off of the rail heading toward a cone on centerline.  Shorten steps and set up the flex in the direction of travel as we approach.  Half turn around the cone, keeping the hind feet as close to the cone as possible without losing the march behind, then walk out.  Our goal is to get the idea planted in his little head, get the strength in his butt built up, and gradually work the size of it down till he's marching on the spot.

As a nice little side effect, mi papi gave me my first half-pass at the trot.  Half-pass?  Come on, mom, give me a real challenge!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Gut check and perspective

I wrote most of this before I got the news about Dorkzilla.  It does put things in perspective and makes me appreciate the simple fact that I could go out and see Theo.  The fact that it was a Tuesday and therefore jumping day just makes it even better.  So I sound chipper, even though I'm not really.  My lesson tonight probably won't be quite so giddy and high energy.


I got papi all dressed up in his jumping gear and headed out.  Trainer A flagged us down and told me to head to the jumping field next to the Ritz.  No one was turned out there and it was a gorgeous day, time to practice getting Theo over new fences.  Mi papi got all perky thinking it was a trail ride, but wasn't too disappointed once he realized what the game plan was for the day.

Heading away from the rings?!  OKAY!

We didn't do anything too dramatic or wild, we just got out in the field and practiced jumping on uneven footing over jumps he hasn't done yet.  Log, little stone wall, skinny, even the very weathered roll top.  The picture chops out the steep incline off to my right that we were cantering up and carefully trotting down.  Maybe next season I'll have the guts to canter down.

So many jumps, so little time

That rolltop was a gut check for both of us.  As a kid, my first pony always stopped at rolltops.  I always consider them spooky.  With the ripped fabric, Theo was pretty sure there were aliens living inside.  But he jumped it on the first try, even if he pulled his favorite trick and tried to look between his knees on the way over.  Nothing else even got a blink from him.  His adrenaline was up and he was happily locking on to fences.  We had to practice cantering around in a half seat since I haven't done that in a long time.  It's a different set of muscles, and they're muscles I haven't been working recently.  Theo was also a bit confused to have a whole set of aids disappear, but we were having fun, so whatever man!

Yay, jumping!

As a side note, I popped on my new stirrup leathers and stirrups today (before I knew I was going cross country schooling).  The leathers are a set of Prestige lined leathers I picked up for a song on Ebay to help keep the wear on the calfskin flaps to a minimum.  I got child length.  I'm not proud of that.  My new stirrups are some composites I got from Smartpak.  For $30, I figured I'd give them a whirl.  It's not like I jump in the open or anything . . . .

Theo is the master of the man bun

After about five minutes, I completely forgot they were anything different.  My ankles felt good, the bit of cushioning in the foot bed kept my ankles intact even when he popped a big effort over the rolltop, and it felt more stable than my more narrow, jointed stirrups that are now on my dressage saddle.  I liked them.  I didn't think I would.  And my saddle is noticeably lighter.  Trainer A is going to hop on and try them since she didn't like composite stirrups in the past.  I had no trouble hanging on to them, so maybe she'll take a fancy to these.  Can't beat the price and the black and blue colors are a bonus for me.

I'm going to forget how to be a DQ at this rate.  Two cross country schools in a week?  Crazy talk!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


Dorkzilla might as well be a costar on this blog.  He's been in cartoons, he's been in lessons, he's been at shows and clinics, he's been everywhere.  He's shown up almost as much as Fi, Theo, and Ben.   He was there at Fi's first horse trial and he was there at our sanctioned dressage show in June.  I feel like anyone that's been reading this blog knows and loves Dorkzilla, the 17h German import Hanoverian with unorthodox jumping that loves everyone on sight and has a talent for being a lazy ass and charming temperamental chestnut TB mares.

I got some bad news today.  Dorkzilla had an accident and had to be put down. 

 Mary Wanless clinic, November 2016

 UNH at the show where we both debuted at Novice, 2011

He wasn't my horse, but I adored him.  His big, goofy nose and very kind heart.  Both the Princess and mi papi had adventures with him and saw him at dressage shows.  Dorkzilla was there at almost all of Fi's eventing outings and every single one of her dressage shows.  I saw him at the UNH show just a couple weeks ago and the Walnut Hollow kids couldn't believe I knew that gorgeous, fancy horse.  He was practicing his changes before going in and winning Third 1.

BFFs (sorta), November 2016

Seriously BFFs, July 2013

Six years I've been watching his career as an eventer, a dressage horse, and a foxhunter.  I watched him go from a sour dressage horse with a dangerous buck to a loving life jack of all trades that would jump anything, dressage with the best of them, and roam anywhere.  I don't know of another horse with a career like his.  He won ribbons at Third Level dressage, Training level horse trials, and Hunt Trials all in the same summer.  He could out gallop most of the field and steal a mouthful of grass during his extended walk in a dressage test.  He's the kind of horse most of us lay awake at night and dream of.  Oh, and he was a cuddler that wanted attention and affection at all times.

UNH dressage show, pulling every bit of hay out of the trailer and looking very proud of himself, July, 2013
 Super fancy show horse, Winter 2011

I got to ride him several times.  He was huge, heavy, powerful, and endlessly kind.  He never gave me a problem, but made my abs ache.  He gave me a taste of what a real dressage horse felt like.  I loved jumping him, I loved flatting him, I loved everything except the way my arms would quit working and I couldn't really sit up afterward.  His owner is a strong lady.
Dorkzilla and the Princess on a trail ride, September 2012
Trail ride, 2011

I can't imagine going to UNH and not seeing his ridiculous white nose in the warm up ring.  I don't know how I'll deal with going to the Wanless clinic and not having him there.  I don't understand that he won't be there when we go to the town forest to trail ride.  I'm bawling my eyes out. 

Filthy, filthy fancy pony, September 2013

Good night, Champers.

Playing with the big kids

In Region 8, the regional championships take place at the biggest show of the year, the NEDA Fall Festival in Saugerties, NY.  This is the HITS grounds where they run all of the fancy h/j shows.  It's a massive event with 10 rings, breed show, vendors, a bar, VIP pavilion, the works.  It's like the shows you read about in the magazines.  I've never gone as it's a four hour drive and rather expensive and rather huge.

Seriously, this is just the description of the schedule policies
Since it's such a big to-do, I'm already working on the plan.  Prizelist, schedule, rings, and stabling were all posted recently, so I've been trying to piece together what's going to happen.  Entries open August 1st.  As a championship ride, I have priority entry from August 1 - 6.

The most important bit is that Regional Championship ride.  That is Thursday, the first day of the Festival, and they're expecting 37 people in the class so it runs pretty much all day.  YIKES. 

This is just for Thursday and just the 8 main rings.  I ride somewhere between 11:20am and 5:06pm

It's in one of the two rings that are being used for the championships, away from the FEI ring and the other five rings that are running most of the open and breed show.  I have to scoot between the boutiques and the vendors to get to my ring.  I get to school it all on Wednesday, but it will be quiet.  Rings 1, 2, and 3 will all be running championship classes when we go.  The only way to get into my ring with the show in full swing (bleachers in use and the vendors running) is to enter the one class running in the ring before the championship.  First 3.

I'm in Ring 3 for the championship ride, note the VIP pavilion, vendors, bleachers, and breed show ring

So I guess we're doing First 3 this season.  HA. 

Seriously, it's going to be a lot of atmosphere, I need to get in there once and deal with anything Theo throws at me.  I can get through a First 3 test, it just won't be a fantastic score.  Especially considering everyone else doing the class is going to be people that qualified for the First level championship getting in a last minute tune up before their rides the next day.  We're going to get butchered, but at least we'll get a chance for Theo to see the bleachers with people on them and the vendors in full swing before we have that all important championship ride.

I'm currently predicting we get a 66% for Training and land smack dab in the middle of the pack, assuming he doesn't blow his top in the chaos.  We've been consistently landing smack dab in the middle on most of our rides with occasional breaks into the top percentage.

The junior championship is on Sunday, so if my co-pilot is attending, we'll be there the whole weekend.  She hasn't qualified, but she has one more shot in August.  It's all up in the air.  Miss Thang has been throwing fits at the shows and making it very difficult for her.  If the copilot isn't coming, I'm done on Thursday.  I'm going to enter a class on Friday morning because I drove 4 hours and have a stall all weekend, I might as well.  I'll run First 3 again and hope that between the two runs, one of them is a 60% and I'll have my score for freestyle.  We're considering hanging out to watch on Saturday before we take off for home, catch some of the Grand Prix and freestyle. 

I've also booked my hotel, signed up for the videographer, and started reviewing the extra rules for a level 5 competition.  No whip in the championship ride, no one can ride my horse but me at the show until after the championship,  I'll need a health certificate and full shot records to get my horse on the grounds, etc.  It's a lot of fiddly little details that need to be nailed down and planned out.

It's just now dawning on me what I'm going to be doing in September.  Wow.  What have I done?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Mr. Cadillac

As part of our month of slacking, I've been riding with the adult ladies on Wednesday nights as one of my two lessons.  Rather than having a private, dressage focused lesson on Fridays, I hang out with a group of ladies that are practicing correctly getting into the canter and learning what a half halt is.  It's very low pressure and we're known to escape for trail rides with no warning.  Or heckle people on their dating life.  Or have poor Trainer A throwing her hands in the air because she's completely lost control of the group.

Come August I'll go back to my high intensity private lesson, but for now, we slack.

Last week was hot as hell so Trainer A set up a lesson on leg yield at the walk using poles to give us markers.  Theo can leg yield at walk, trot, and canter.  He leg yields well enough to do it in shows.  This was not exactly a challenge for us, so Trainer A decided we should play musical ponies.  The three of us traded ponies every twenty minutes.  I started on mi papi, then moved to Baby Pony who I haven't ridden in months, then finished up with an 18 year old TB mare that used to be a hunter.  This also gave the other two riders a chance to try it on a horse that knows it and will do it for them easily enough, so long as they ask correctly.

Theo was a complete non-issue.  I messed with him and did stuff like run the exercise backwards or side pass over the poles.  I also took off to shoulder in at the trot between runs through the poles because I wanted to break up some of that stiffness. 

Baby Pony is now all of five years old and having his first summer as a camp pony.  He's not a fan.  He was definitely giving me a round of teenage angst as only an appy pony can do it.  I basically had to set my hands and ignore him while he had his baby temper tantrum about not being able to trot around with his head next to mine.  By the end of our turn, he was leg yielding over politely enough and keeping his head down where it belonged, which was all I could hope for.  He's such a good baby, just having some teenage angst.

The older mare, now that was interesting.  It took me a bit to get settled, Trainer A has beaten a lot of my old hunter habits out of me, but once we were both settled in, she was a blast.  I cantered a bit in my half seat and she set her head like an old pro.  It was like putting on a comfortable old glove.  We both knew the same language and she seemed happy to have a rider that understood her.  Trainer A wanted me to sit down, but her saddle was super uncomfortable and I kept my keister out of it.  Thanks, but no thanks.  We only cantered for a minute due to the heat, just enough for me to play around.  And when I got off?  All of the pony cuddles.  She's such an affectionate mare.  It really is a pity that most of the kids don't appreciate what a good girl she is.  If I wasn't already in a very committed relationship, that mare would have my interest.

|                                                                                      |
|      Imagine picture of cute, senior gray mare here      |

As for Theo?  He was dubbed the Cadillac by the other two riders.  While Baby Pony had no clue what a leg yield was and Hunter Mare had no idea what bending was, Theo can leg yield as easily as breathing.  He can also trot around with no fuss and sitting his trot is a breeze compared to most school horses.  It helps that I have a fantastic saddle.  And calfskin covered reins.  I had him dolled up in white polos and blingy browband.  They really enjoyed a chance to get on him after I'd warmed him up so he was in working mode.  Little squeeze and you were off.  With a light contact, he now stretches forward into it, nose poking out a bit, and trots about as steady as a drum.  Nothing fancy, nothing powerful, just steady, comfy, and pretty. 

Cantering was another matter entirely.  Seems you still have to be willing to work to get that.  First he offered a haunches in since she didn't know to keep the inside leg.  That was confusing for both Theo and his rider.  Then he did the transition, cantered two strides, and trotted again because she wasn't riding the canter.  Whoops.  Not that I'm going to do a damn thing to fix either of those.  I want him cantering off my seat and not my legs.  Even with that little mix up, both of the ladies agreed that he was fantastic and they both wanted to ride him again.

And he's aaaaaall mine.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Gone galloping

It was one of those weeks where work beat the snot out of me.  After a couple fourteen hour days and a massive amount of stress, I took a half day yesterday as a mental health day.  Which is corporate speak for taking time off so I don't rage quit my job when they've been completely ridiculous with their expectations.

It's not very often that I get to escape in the first half of the day.  I zipped out to the barn with an iced coffee in hand.  The heat has been unpleasant lately.  Since it's summer and a lesson barn, summer camp was in full swing.  The barn has Girl Scouts out a couple times a week for their horsemanship program.  I found fourteen youngsters roaming about, highly supervised and very excited about absolutely everything.  They were all down in the lower barn while I tacked up in the upper barn. 

I'm not actually good with kids, as a side note.  I was quite pleased with the arrangement.  Kids at camp assume every horse is totally safe to touch and while I adore mi papi and he is very safe on the ground, he's also very big.  It also annoys the snot out of me to have kids touching my horse and my stuff without permission.

Between the 78* temps, the 12mph wind, and the mostly cloudy skies, it was the best riding conditions we've had in awhile.  It rained pretty heavily over the weekend so the footing was actually good and not an acceptable replacement for concrete.  And looking at the forecast, it was going to be the best we were going to get for at least a week.  I decided to skip my planned schooling session in the ring and tossed his jump saddle on for a day of playing in the Ritz. 

I didn't really think about where the Girl Scouts had gone until I was galloping Theo up the hill at the corner of the field closest to the barn and heard 'OH MY GOD' in a pitch that should have been in audible to me.  I glanced over and the entire group was ignoring their lesson on anatomy and watching me tear around the field.  I'm pretty sure I managed to completely derail the lesson since every time I went by I could see them all turning around to look.  It got worse when we started jumping. 

Theo was feeling his oats with the cooler weather, stiff breeze, and the opportunity to just cut loose.  He even gave me a half buck/head shake combo when we first started cantering.  I liked it, since I don't get a lot of wahoo moments out of him.  I like him showing that he's enjoying the work and feeling good.  He took the bit a couple of times, asking to go faster.  The nice part of him not being a lesson horse any more is that I don't have to correct that because it might scare some beginner.  Screw it, I don't mind, it was basically nothing, I can stop on a dime in a D ring, carry on, mi papi.  You're a fancy dancy show horse now, you get to be more horse than the average beginner can handle out in the open.

We jumped everything in the field, much to the amazement of the Girl Scouts.  The two stride combination, the big log we've never jumped before, the steep uphill.  Theo's adrenaline was up and he wanted to take on the world.  We did some transition work on a circle in the semi level part of the field and I definitely had a lot of horse to work with.  I had to keep an eye on him due to the humidity.  He's a cardio beast, but the field is rolling so everything is either uphill or down.  It doesn't seem like a lot, but it ups the difficulty on everything we do.  He was blowing hard when I pulled him up after his last jumping round.  We went for a walk down the road to let him chill out and he was noticeably tired.  He moseyed along on the buckle, content but definitely tired.  I'm glad I pulled up early.  With his adrenaline going, he didn't give me his usual signs of being tired until we were out of the field and having a nice walk.

It worked out so beautifully.  He had a nice romp, I got to shake some stress off, he got to cut loose, and then we had all afternoon to play with his hair.  Beauty like this doesn't come easily.

That tail will be the death of me.  It's a good thing he loves having it brushed.  I also pulled his mane and evened it up.  Then he got tucked in a stall for a nice afternoon nap out of the heat and bugs.  Severe storms were in the area so Mr. Fancy Pants was on the list of horses to come in, just to be safe.  Life as a show horse agrees with him.  He's now on PM turn out, so he comes in when the heat and bugs are at their worst so he can relax in a stall.  He wears his full bug armor when he's out and no one heckles me about it.  Theo's a show horse, of course he wears his sheet all the time.  You can't have his coat bleaching out or bug bites all over his neck.  If he looks uncomfortable, he comes in.  If he's bored, he goes out.  Anything the fancy show horse wants, he gets.

And, amazingly enough, the complete shift in the way people see him has changed how he sees them.  Everyone gets touches and inquisitive snuffles now.  All of the barn girls know that reaching out with ears back is actually a request for ear rubs, which he now gets.  Theo is no longer the Thigh Master jerk that tries to bite everyone.  He's now dubbed The Cadillac and people feel privileged to get to ride him or handle him.  Hell, even I feel privileged to ride him.  It's been a long time since I galloped down to a 2'9" log with no fear or second thoughts at all. 

July's half way over, almost time to get back to work.  I'm looking forward to it, but I'll miss our mad adventures.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Music to dance to

I sent in my entry for my August dressage show.  First 1 and First 2.  I guess that makes us a First level pair.

As this new reality sets in, I'm making plans for living life at First level to the fullest.  I want to do First 3 at a schooling show this fall.  I want to spend this winter getting my freestyle nailed down so it's ready to go out and debut next season.  This has had an unexpected side effect:  Every song I hear I am now trying to write a freestyle to.

Seriously.  It's bad.  I'm obsessed and need help so I can pick something and stop obsessing.  Or at least pick a genre.  I have very eclectic taste in music and it has led to some problems finding freestyle music.

Originally I wanted to go with something powerful.  Theo's a sturdy, black horse with a lot of presence.  I figured he could hold up to some serious business music.

I would love that for canter music.  But after looking over the score sheets, it's dawned on me that impulsion is consistently our lowest score.  In the eyes of a dressage judge, Theo's strength is that he's steady, quiet, and submissive.  Impressive or powerful are not used to describe him.  Ever.  Powerful music would just make it more obvious that he's content, pleasant, willing, and rather lazy.

So something a bit less powerful, but something that really makes it obvious that his rhythm is dead on and stands out as something unique.

One of my favorite groups to listen to and just imagine him doing a lengthening to the words 'this is how it's done, son' and cantering to something with a Latin beat.  Downside, plenty of judges are going to find District 78 a bit unexpected/jarring and we will have to be completely dead on with the beat.  Any deviation would look terrible.  Probably not good for competition, even if we can stay on the beat with music all day long at home.

As Theo's nickname is papi, I had the idea that I should do a Latin themed freestyle.  I could canter to this all day.

And then I listened to the lyrics.  Whoops, nope.  How about something that emphasizes harmony (even if everyone is using it right now)?

Or something just fun that I've already ridden to in lessons.

 I've been told Star Wars is overdone right now, but can't go wrong with another John Williams classic.

Or some trailer music.  Let's make dressage epic again!

Oops, went too powerful again.

I am seriously obsessing over this.  Any other ideas for music for mi papi?  I have a friend with editing software, a degree in music, and experience in dressage up to Fourth that's willing to help me out.  I just need to give her a starting point (and move on with my life).

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Jumpa da jumps

I never seem to talk about jumping now that I'm showing in dressage.  If you were reading the blog, you'd think I never jump anymore and that my jumping saddle is just collecting dust.  Oh, contrare, mon frere.

My French is terrible.

On Tuesdays, we jump.  Some Tuesdays we do ground poles or whatever, depending on who else is in my lesson, but most of the time I share my lesson with someone that is specifically working to get her horse jumping consistently.  I don't jump outside of lessons since it's not a real focus for me and I'm usually not motivated enough to set up jumps on my own.  If something is set up, I might pop over it, but it's usually little cross rails left over from beginner lessons.  Our Tuesday lesson is the day when Trainer A sets up proper courses and/or grids for us to work on.

Since we don't compete over fences, we don't worry about height.  We pop around at 2'6" usually, enough to get him to actually jump but not enough to make either of us stress at all or add wear and tear to his body.  When Trainer A wants to get our attention, she'll pop them up to 3'.  Usually in a grid or if I'm not riding the way she knows I can.  Mi papi is a surprisingly natural jumper and 3' doesn't require that much effort from him.  If he had the heart for it, he'd be a Training level eventing prospect.  He's good with his knees and takes good care of himself.  3'3" would be quite comfortable for him.  Oh well, no point in pining over something he's not suited for.

Mi papi does not mind missing out on more fitness work

I do plan to do a two phase this fall after our dressage season is done, so part of our work is to get him more comfortable cantering down to a spooky fence without getting to inspect it first.  He used to be such a coward.  He's doing much better.  Our long term partnership and a lot of jumps together have given him some confidence.  After warming up outside, we headed indoors.  The deer flies and sun were just too vicious.  Trainer A had a variety of fences set up.  We warmed up over a cross rail, then went straight into a course at the canter without letting him really peek at anything.  I think he's more startled by the lack of peeking than the actual jumps right now.  He's so used to each jump being done alone and at the trot before adding everything together.  Poor papi, now he has to canter down to the fence and figure it out on the fly.

The variety of square and ascending oxers with different setups got his attention and sort of startled him, but it was the barrels surrounded by traffic cones that really boggled his brain.  His canter stride went from about 11 feet to 9 feet as soon as he realized I was aiming him at the thing.  His head cranked all the way up and I swear I saw sparks between the tips of his ears.  There was one stride where I thought he was going to quit on me.  We've been working so hard on me sitting the canter right up to the fence and it saved my bacon.  He sucked back, asked if I was sure, and my seat was right there saying 'jump it papi!'.  He jumped the damn thing with a foot to spare and almost gave me whiplash.  He was not letting those things touch his toes.

Trainer A was very, very pleased.  I used the same muscles I discovered in my hands free lesson to manage our canter to the fences.    It kept me out of his face and off of my spurs.  About half way through my lesson I keeled over his withers while holding my abs.  Owwwwww.

She kept yelling 'you have a big fancy dressage horse, ride like it!'.  And it's true, the beautiful, powerful canter I strive for in my test makes him infinitely adjustable.  It's still a fight to sit right to the base of a jump, especially when my stirrups are at a proper jumping length.  25 years of screaming to be light in the saddle when jumping make it a constant battle.  We had a hell of a time with distances during warm up but once we had the canter?  Butter.  Trainer A said she could hear the last three strides to every jump as I sat him down and made it happen.  Theo was right there, sitting on his D ring with a nice, soft hold and using himself very nicely.  He so loves jumping day.  His eyes are so soft after a good jumping lesson.

I love this whole ride off the seat thing.  My calves have much better things to be doing, like helping me turn or changing the bend or managing the occasional escaping rib cage.  On the flip side, I hurt.  I hurt so bad.  At the time I was only vaguely aware of my aching muscles.  In the moment, I was too busy getting the canter and getting to the jumps straight.  Now that I'm on the couch, I'm very aware that these muscles are new and not used to doing that for multiple jumping rounds.  I'm not looking forward to my flat lesson tomorrow.  No recovery time.  I guess I better cowboy up.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Dear ol' doctor

Remember the scrape and stovepipe leg right before our last show?

After the poultice and standing wraps won the battle, the leg stayed down and everything was cold and happy.  But there was a lump behind the scrape that wasn't going down.  It just sat there, cold, non-reactive, but there.  People keep telling me it's not huge, but it's on his hock.  Everything on his hock is going to look huge to me.  With it suddenly going cold and firm, I thought encapsulated infection just waiting to flare up again later.  I might be a bit paranoid.  With this in mind, I called in Theo's former owner, the vet.

The poor vet was running late and had been on emergencies all night.  At least my farm was straight forward for him.  One was a 26 year old appy pony with a tumor that's been surgically removed twice, but it's coming back.  Unpleasant talk, but a non-surgical plan was made and will start once this heat wave passes.  Don't want to stress old ponies when it's 94 degrees out.  Next was a pair of older horses struggling with their heaves in the very hot, dry weather.  Drop off their meds and some antibiotics for the mini.  Then came Theo. 

It's quite a bit of fun to pull Theo out for the vet these days.  I don't want to have the vet seeing him, but so long as it has to happen, at least I get to fun of pulling out a horse he has trouble recognizing as his old nemesis.  I also get to say stuff like 'he qualified for regionals so I want to make sure I nuke whatever that is now rather than wait and see'.  Even exhausted, my vet started grinning over mi papi's change in fortune.  He looked the leg over, palpated it with vigor, said 'scar tissue', and that was it.  No machines, no draining, no treatment plan, nothing.

I took my first deep breath of the day when he smiled and said cosmetic.  Not near any tendons, no impact on anything, just a little spot of scar tissue due to the infection that flared up.  Woohoo!

I slapped my tack on so I could catch the big trail ride that was going out.  Fortunately for our poor vet, by the time I hustled out to play lead pony, he was done with the last horse for his call.  Another older horse, this time with a mystery swelling on one hind leg that I'm describing as wind puffs on crack.  He said ultrasound and the owner choked on the price for her sound trail horse that pretty much just walks.  So she's getting wraps and observation for now.  The vet escaped with no more equipment than a stethoscope and no more drama then someone having to pin the mini that doesn't have anything approaching ground manners.

Theo and I escaped to lead a trail ride.  It works out well when the adult ladies go out for a lesson and it includes me.  I take the lead, Trainer A takes the rear, and we keep everyone sandwiched between us.  It's usually a hypothetical safety net but Miss Thang decided to test this.  She was barging around, cantering in place behind Theo, and finally made a break for it that her rider couldn't stop.  Reflex overruled my common sense that says I shouldn't let Miss Thang run into mi papi.  Too high a chance of it going badly.  I heard the commotion behind me and swung Theo sideways to block the trail because that's what you do when you're leading a group of beginners on school horses.  Miss Thang ran into his magnificent butt and came to a quick stop.  To my absolute relief, Theo stayed on the bit and stood rather than take offense to her behavior.  He got a cookie while Trainer A traded the rider so she could handle Miss Thang and the student rode a cute pony instead.

Then we all went and got margaritas.  Because it was 94 degrees out, the vet visited, we wrestled and pinned a mini, Theo played road block, and we got covered in deer fly bites.  Barn life is like a box of chocolates.  You have no idea what you're going to get.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Look ma, no hands!

Since trail rides are out and I'm addicted to lessons, Trainer A and I decided that we'll just have a month of relaxing, fun lessons and chill rides.  But there's a problem with that.  I'm high drive, Trainer A is high drive, and Theo has developed a solid work ethic.  One lesson back, and I've got a new mission for the month.

No hands!

It's all about topline development and teaching me how to ride without depending on my hands.  Sure, I lolly gag around with loops in my reins during warm up, but I'm pretty quick to take up a feel once we're working.  And then I start mucking around with where his nose is and fidgeting with his neck.  Before you know it, my hands have minds of their own and are running amok, causing my horse to brace or curl to get away from them.  Now I have to figure out how to get him to stretch his neck out, carry his head, and go forward without me holding him there with a bit.  And he has to figure out how to go around without me holding and setting his head and neck.  You should have seen the smoke coming out of our ears.

Trainer A set up the infamous Circle of Death, but this time, the poles were raised unevenly.  Ahahahaha, FML.  Oh, and I had to do it with as long a frame as I could manage.  No hands.  He couldn't pop up at the withers or curl, he had to stretch that cute nose out, hold his neck at wither height, and stretch out to meet the poles.  When he started jumping them, I was told to sit the trot.  I'm quite proud I can now sit the trot while doing raised trot poles on a circle.  Not pretty, but I can do it.  It told Theo we weren't jumping since I don't sit over fences.  He grunted, he stressed, he ran out of the circle once, he desperately looked for my hands, and then he settled to the work.  It took a couple reps before he started to trot around in a steady rhythm, picking himself up over the raised poles without jerking his neck and withers up.

After getting Theo stretching and reaching over his back in the circle at the trot, we reset for a bigger circle with just four ground poles.  Cantering time!  But still, no hands.  I had to keep the rhythm and sit him down to the poles without using my hands.  Oh, and keep him from popping his head or dropping too low.  I was going around, riding my tush off, when Trainer A suddenly started getting excited.

"Are you using your leg?"


"Are you keeping that canter with just your seat?"


"Oh my god, Catie, you're doing it!  You're doing it completely off of your seat!"


I'm super intelligent when working that hard.  At the time, I was too busy managing all of the pieces to figure out I was doing something new and exciting.  Or talk.  Sitting Theo down for poles at the canter is never easy, but doing it without my hands?  So hard.  But at some point, we got it together.  I wasn't keeping him going forward with my legs at all.  I was using my lower legs to manage the circle, but the canter was coming from my seat.  My poor, aching hips and abs and butt muscles.  When I finally, truly let go of his mouth, I didn't have a choice but to figure out how to use my other aids.  And after months of educated rides, Theo was finally listening enough to turn and canter off of shifts of weight.

It wasn't until Trainer A called out what I was doing that I noticed the muscles between the points of my hips were aching.  Evidently that's the part of my body I use to maintain a canter without using my legs.  It's also when I noticed that I wasn't kicking, nagging, or reminding Theo to canter.  At all.  We were just cantering around with my lower leg still aside from managing the size of the circle.  That was awesome.  For about 45 seconds, we were using the aids correctly.

And now?  I may work from the couch today because my office is upstairs and stairs are no good.  Neither is standing up.  Or anything that uses core strength.  This sucks.

 So now I know how I'm going to be spending July.  Long, low, stretched out, and off of my hands.  Because when I pick him up again in August, I should have a much better idea of how to manage him off of my seat and not the bit.  Or I'll crash into some walls.  One or the other.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


This is my first season actually campaigning in dressage.  I've shown in dressage for years, but it's always been an off to the side, once in awhile thing.  A break from the usual shows.  A day where we don't have to worry about distances, height, or what the hell the course designer was thinking with that brush jump.  Seriously.  Bigger than my horse.

But as a campaigner that has to worry about scores and play with the big kids, I'm learning some interesting things about the way the tests are perceived.  This has been validated by talking to other, far more experienced dressage types.  If you're doing the third test in a level, you should pretty much be riding a horse that's ready to move up.  The judges are expecting that and holding you to that standard.  A test that gets a 66% for Training 1 will get you a 63% in Training 3 and that has nothing to do with the change in difficulty.  The judges just expect you've mastered the level, are qualifying for regionals, and are looking to move up.  Looking at the program from my last show, they're usually right.  90% of the pairs in Training 3 are after qualifying scores.  Getting a 63% or higher was surprisingly difficult.  I thought I had it because Training 1 and 2 were so consistently at that mark.  Nope, judges want more when you ride the third test.

My entourage by the warm up ring at GMHA.  Yes, they were all with me and judging by the expressions, Trainer A just told me to stop forgetting how to ride.  Again.

Theo's going as a First Level horse, so he's getting good scores at Training 3 so long as he's not a bronc.  But I won't be moving him up to First 3 this year.  If I do, I'll be judged as someone that's mastered First and is looking to qualify and move up.  I should be almost ready for Second before I make that attempt.  They just expect more from you.  I don't mind, I'm certainly not bitching, but I always thought of it as Training Level horse for all three tests as opposed to the difference between one starting out and one that's mastered the level.  It makes sense, just didn't occur to me.

I'm also learning that there's a common strategy for the show year.  The first half of the year is about getting scores.  Regionals, freestyles, medal scores, whatever.  You come out at the level you've already nailed down and knock off the scores you need for the year.  Then in the second half you move up when you don't have deadlines hanging over your head.  I used to think of levels in terms of 'this year Training, next year First'.  Now it's more 'get scores at Training, then move up to First once those are done'.  Next year I'll come out with First 2 and 3, get the scores I need handled, and then move up in the fall.  Turns out this is a common pattern and one that I'll probably keep using throughout the years.

I've seen that turn out is not as important as people make it out to be.  And it goes both ways.  The judges really don't care what color jacket you're wearing, so long as it's legal.  They also don't care if it has the latest in piping and coordinating ultrasuede collar.  Braids are important, but perfect, trendy braids aren't important.  So long as they're neat and laying down somewhat, you're good.  Just go.  If your turnout is legal, clean, and not jarring, they don't even seem to notice it.  Buying a Pikeur is pretty much for the rider and the spectators.  My bland, charcoal grey hunt coat and $80 Piper breeches are perfectly acceptable to them. Not worrying about turnout is going to hurt your score, but obsessing over it won't help you.

Some judges do protest the heavy bling.  I talked to a judge the day before the show at GMHA (not judging at this show) while she gave Theo scritches from the judge's booth to help with his little fear issue.  I had the big bling on since I was just schooling.  She commented on it and I told her it was just for schooling and he'd have a plain browband to show.  She said judges will ignore it if you're very solid, but you might as well put a beacon on whatever you blinged.  They're going to look at it.  They're going to assume you're proud of it and want them to look.  You better be right.  I'm never, ever blinging my spurs, stirrups, cuffs, gloves, or helmet.  I don't even know if I'll get those Lorenzini stirrups for Christmas, as they would draw attention.  I will bling my browband with glee because I'm so proud of my horse, but me?  Not so much.  Please keep your eyes on the horse and off of my still unsteady position.

Final lesson from the year so far?  Taking July off was genius.  We're right around 90 every day for the next 10 days.  For a black draft cross, that's hard.  It's the perfect time of year to take a month off from competition.  This may become a rock solid tradition for me.  I feel quite smug sitting in my office typing away without any real pressure to work hard in the heat.

But for those of you keeping track, I start my lessons back up again today.  I am weak.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Roughing it

First off, thank you to everyone that sent such nice comments about Theo's progress.  This is what happens when you try to not think about something that's bugging you.  You let it build and build until it gets loose and suddenly it's all you can see.  It was a relief to hear that people are seeing what I'm seeing and that I'm not horse blind. 

With my spaz attack over Theo's training behind me, I've been trying to get myself back on track with playing around.  The weather hasn't been too bad, but the bugs are another story.  We went out in the Ritz for some big canters and jumps on Thursday.  We only made it about ten minutes before the deer flies chased us back into the arena.  I kept it to transitions with him as long and low as possible while stuck in the sandbox.  It was nice to feel him round up and fill up the saddle while he stretched through his neck.  It was all about relaxation and getting him to stretch out as much as possible.

A cold front moved through last night, dropping temps into the seventies and giving us a nice, steady breeze today.  I figured this was the best shot we would get at the trails without being swarmed by bugs.  I slapped Theo's heart monitor on since I wanted to do Walnut Hill.  I also put on his fly mask, soaked him in fly spray, and grabbed my fly whisk. 

As promised, this time I got some pictures of what Walnut Hill looks like.

Doesn't every dressage horse do this on the weekends?

The path is just as steep and rough as it looks.  It's an old logging road and not maintained.  This was Theo's first time doing the hill by himself, so I was very pleased that he marched up bravely and didn't give me a hard time.  When we got to the top of the first climb, we were swarmed with flies so I had to turn and head right back down.  We didn't get to do the second, steeper climb.  The path is too rough and I don't know it well enough to do anything but walk, and without speed we couldn't do anything about the bugs.  Instead we headed across the street to have a quick run down the rail bed. 

Cantering kept the clouds of deer flies off of us, but just barely.  Theo was highly motivated to keep going forward.  We cantered sections we usually trot and trotted sections we usually walk.  It was very cool to pick him up and slalom him around the trees and roots at the canter.  It's not something I would have dared before this. 

His fitness is doing fantastic.  By the time we walked back to the barn and I dismounted, his heart rate had completely recovered and his breathing was normal.  Even the hill climb didn't get much of a spike in his heart rate.  He was sweaty but content after his workout.

It's going to be hot and dry all week.  We're scheduled for jumping and a fun group lesson this week.  Despite my plans, I don't think we'll get to go out on the trails much.  The flies think we are far too tasty. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Ultimate temptation

So I'm on break from showing.  This was planned well in advance since I knew I'd need a month off to recover physically (hello, sleep), mentally (stress levels declining), and financially.  Mostly financially.  Showing is so ridiculously expensive.  Living off of ramen is fun and all, but I'd like to eat something with a bit of substance.  Not too much, though.  I have fall shows to save up for.  I need to keep those purse strings snug, but I can dress that ramen up for a month and keep my spirits up.

So of course PS of Sweden comes out with their summer collection and it's another parade of things that I need.  Holy crap, did they reach into my skull and pull out exactly what I want in browbands?
Seriously, I love pearls on browbands.  So elegant without being a wall of blinding flash.  And a nice, simple clincher browband for the days where I want some pop but not blinding bling?  I want all of these mailed to me right away.  Those navy blue pearls would look fantastic coming down centerline at Saugerties this fall.  Paired with my white pad with black and silver cording?  Very conservative but stylin'.

I still want the pink one, but that's more to do with making Trainer A crazy than wanting to use it in public.

Real geldings wear pink.  

Oh, and there's saddle pads I need.

The green goes with my current big bling browband.  The blue has these neat silicone flowers under the saddle to keep it from sliding and matches the dark blue pearl browband.  Both would look amazing on my black bay.

And I need some non-jumping boots. 

 I should go with the gloss white to be my formal boots for dress up occasions, but who can walk past metallic gold croc print?

Oh, and someone snapped his leather turnout halter (and pulled down part of the fence, jumped into the next field, and stole all of the hay from the school ponies).

Who needs dressed up ramen, anyway?  I'm a DQ now.  I might as well live it up.