Friday, September 30, 2016

Mending terrible habits

Poor papi.  He has to put up with a lot.  Not only do I do dumb things to his hair and occasionally make him wear a funny hat, he also has to manage the fact that I'm an adult ammy that's used to being in charge.  I'm a micromanager in the saddle.  It's a blessing and a curse.

It makes me well suited for dressage.  I will manage the exact timing and placement of that hind leg!

Downside is that I beat myself up when I'm away from the barn and question myself constantly.  Is this horse really, really capable of moving up?

Just look at that hair, that's not the hair of a serious business dressage horse

But now I have video to reference every time this comes up and it's a godsend.  When I start to envision Theo as some sort of toe dragging joke of a school horse that will never make it past First 1, I can look at the videos and go 'nope, he's doing just fine'.  I mean, what do I expect with just one year of serious resculpting?  I haven't even owned him for a year yet. 

This, right here, is a horse that will go Third.

Good gravy, he's gorgeous.

Seeing video has also made me realize that my obsession with fixing his canter worked.  Worked damn well.  He looks more engaged, more enthused, and more correct in his canter than his trot.  Whoops.  Over shot a bit on that one.  Time to go back and bring his trot up to match.  But everyone says the trot is the easiest gait to fix.  I guess that's a good thing?  Because I've worked so hard on that uphill canter that our trot became the way to go from place A to place B.  I can power up his canter and I get better scores on our canter lengthens then our trot lengthens.  Which is hilarious on a horse that used to have a four beat canter that I could barely maintain down the longside.  I remember when I first did a test in the large arena and thought I was going to die by the end of the canter work.  And that was just Training 3.  First 3 is canter hell!  It just keeps going and going and going.

So we will spend the off season doing more transitions than any sane pair should do, shifting the weight back and building the muscle so that it becomes our natural way of going and I won't forget how to do it when it really counts.  We know how to do this dressage thing, now we have to lock it down so it's the most natural way to move for both of us.  It has to be muscle memory that we snap back to regardless of what's going on around us.

I sent my test video in to be analyzed to pick out music for our First Level freestyle.  I have every confidence that we'll be ready to get that 60% at First 3 in the spring and we'll be qualified for freestyle.  I want to work on it over the winter, know it at a gut level so I feel confident.  First analyze Theo to see what bpm is most appropriate for him, then music selection, and finally choreography.  I'm excited.  Next year is going to be fun for us. 

I never made it to First 3 with Fi because of her tendency to pop changes in the counter canter loop.  Now I get to spend a whole season making sure we are rock solid at the level and ready to move up to Second.

We can do this! 

Thursday, September 29, 2016


Nope, not dead.  Just loaded up my plate a bit too much for awhile.  But it's all done and I can breathe again!

Saugerties is quite an experience.

 The grand prix ring (about half the size of the space they used for the two rings we were in)

Just getting ready was quite an experience.  Theo had to be clipped, new shoes, booster shots, lots of paperwork, lots of lessons, and lots of me trying to not become an overly aggressive alien because of some abstract goal.  Theo does not tolerate overly aggressive aliens.  At all.

"Go pound sand, alien."

We had some bad rides where I got overly aggressive and my beloved mount told me where I could stick my dressage whip.  But despite turning myself into mental pretzels, we got everything done.  We got the trailer loaded.  We got the paperwork straightened out.  We survived the four hour drive with poor Theo all alone in the trailer.

Theo at the rest area:  "Large fry and a chocolate shake, please."

We arrived at THE biggest dressage show in the area.  It doesn't get any bigger than this in my region.  They had an international barn!  Ten rings!  800 horses!  At least a hundred golf carts plus bikes plus mopeds.  And the bridge to get to the rings.  We felt like very small fish, and not just because my horse is only 16h tall.  But hey, we made it.  Goal accomplished.

At least the stalls weren't edible

We did ring familiarization and I was pleased with how Theo coped.  The ring we were in was put in the space they use for Grand Prix jumping.  It was big enough for two large rings with enough room between for a gazebo covered in flowers to be far enough away to not upset the horses.  And to fit in some warm up space for the on deck rider.

This is me in the on deck space before my first ride.  To give you an idea of the scale of this space.

My horse is so tiny

Competition rings are off to the right.  The space was ridiculous.  Only four horses in there at a time, max.  More often two or three.  Tents on the embankments on two sides, bleachers on the third side, a road leading to the international barn off in the back corner, letting him see the warmup area for those horses.  It was a lot.  A lot a lot.  A lot for me and a lot for him.  Just figuring out our assigned warm up was a thing.  Championship riders had their own warmup and the red dot on our number let everyone know we were there for a championship.  YIKES.

So morning of my tests.  Trainer A insisted I dress the part.

Note the coffee I'm nursing

She's lucky she's a good trainer.  I hate these bun thingies.  You won't see me wearing one again until next regionals.  Ugh.  I also wore my black coat with silver buttons for the occasion.  We certainly looked the part!

Maybe he's born with it, maybe it's Maybelline

But did we ride the part?  I'll let the audience decide.  Considering how overwhelming the whole thing was, I was pleased with how we coped.  We had to hold each other's hands a lot through this trip.  Sometimes I was losing it, sometimes Theo was losing it.  Fortunately, we were taking turns and propped each other up when necessary.  Our first test was our very first crack at First 3, a test that we were not ready to ride in competition, to be bluntly honest.  I had Trainer A read to help me with my stage fright.

Blew the leg yield when Theo misread my half halt as a transition, then got confused, but otherwise we looked like we knew what we were doing.  He was very distracted, poking his nose out to look around through a lot of the trot work and I was too distracted to really fix it, but settled well in his canter work.  57%.  I will damn well take it.  I was proud of him for putting his pony butt in that ring at all, much less laying down a trip right at the top of his current abilities.  Trainer A was thrilled because I sat down, sat back, and rode my horse despite my stage fright.  We left beaming.

Test two, our championship test.  Coming in after a judging break, so the only horse in that entire huge space.  Theo was on edge.  Then he noticed the steward stealing part of the ring.  Wondering why he entered pretty much at the walk?  Because the steward completely freaked him out.  He went down centerline with his nose tipped to the side so he could watch that crazy steward moving his ring around.  Not something we had considered as a new thing for him to deal with.  And a horse was having a flail in the international warm up.  He spotted it cantering left and started to spook.  He actually spooked in both canter circles, but we covered it so it just looks like misshappen circles.

Another 57%.  Go figure.  But we weren't last, we didn't embarrass ourselves, and he didn't bronc.  Mission accomplished!  I was riding defensively and the judes were expecting a lot more from a championship ride, but hey, no one gasped.  Theo went in and laid down his trip.  At the start of the season, he wouldn't have gone in that ring at all.  Now?  He didn't spin, bronc, or bolt the entire trip.  We just need a bit more practice so we can show off what we can actually do when in an intimidating arena.

But I guess that confirms he's done with Training level.  We got the same score at First 3, so no point in hanging out at Training anymore, right?

We brought him home the next day as papi has rage issues if he's in a stall too long and we were done learning for this trip.  He was happy to be home.


As for me?  I'm incredibly proud of what we did this season.  Mr. Jumps out of Rings and Broncs went to the biggest show in the region and marched around in the big ring.  He had to go under a bridge just to get in there (with people on it!).  Even with me getting stage fright, he marched.  And when he was afraid, he took my word for it that he was going to be okay and marched.  He went down centerline, took a breath, and did his job.  I'll be honest, I'm disappointed in my championship ride score.  Of course I am, we were averaging 63% for the season with a definite trend up.  Our last test at that level was a 65%.  I was shooting for mid-60's, not mid-50's, but the reality of the matter was that the atmosphere was a lot.  A lot a lot.  I wasn't the only rider on a championship qualified horse that had a less than stellar ride.  It happens.  But no one gasped in fear.  Progress!

So the 2016 season ends.  We achieved our goal.  We went down centerline at Saugerties in the regional championship.  We are done with Training level.  Next year will be his season at First and instead of focusing on survival, I think we're ready to focus on being a bit competitive.  Because mi papi is a sexy, sexy beast that seems to have decided that being a show pony works for him.  So long as he gets his fun days as well.

Galloping and jumping time!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Cracking down

There's a lot of upsides to riding for a long time.  I can read equine body language easily and can often spot a problem early enough to stop it from escalating.  I have a weird set of skills for doing things like cleaning tack, taming manes, and explaining how to post the trot.  The downside is that a lot of this time was spent in a discipline that I have since left behind.  And our knowledge of how a horse should be ridden changes over time.

Back in the 80's when I was a pony jock keeping my cantankerous pony Terry from dumping me in fences at Short Stirrup, dressage was still a new fangled idea.  These crazy Europeans were talking about making horses supple and obedient and trotting around with their noses down.  But hey, those Lipizzaners were awesome!  So in rural Louisiana, right around the end of the 80's, my trainer started to follow dressage.  About the same time, I turned 10 and started to ride well enough to muck around with the ponies on my own.

I learned what a shoulder in was.  Sort of.  Mostly I made my pony trot sideways down the long side.  And we leg yielded!  I booted his resistant butt until he gave up and moved over.  And if he threw his head in the air?  Just slide the bit back and forth until he puts his nose in.  I remember standing in the center of the ring, practicing doing this at the halt on my pony Hotshot.  Less troublesome than Terry, he tolerated this new set of rules with more grace. 

Fast forward a couple decades.  I've now been 'sliding the bit' to make a horse go 'round' for a long, long time.  Because it works and in the hunters, close enough.  We weren't looking for a dressage way of going, anyway.  But my hands have been see sawing for so long it's now instinct.  Horse starts to brace and go above the bit?  Left right left, knock that off.  9 times out of 10, I don't even know I'm doing it.

I got my keister merrily handed to me this week as Trainer A put the hammer down on me taking control of my hands.  I'm not going to make it past where I'm at if my hands don't quiet down when I have a contact.  I can do quiet hands when I am riding off just my seat, but put Theo on a contact and the second he braces, my hands go nuts.

Of course I'm exaggerating.  I am not sawing on my horse's mouth, this is a subtle move.  I've been doing this long enough that it's a quick left right left with my fingers.  Incorrect but no, not abusive.  Just figured I'd mention that before people think my hands are cruel and Theo is being mistreated.

So I spent the ride being told 'don't you dare!' every time my hand would start to move incorrectly.  Instead I closed my fingers on a rein, held it, then opened them on command.  And you know what?  Worked just fine once Theo realized this was the new language.  He was softer, more supple when he didn't have to worry about my hands becoming possessed and sliding the bit around.  But it's hard as hell to break a habit that you're not even aware you're doing.  Frustrating and tiring.  And I was also getting busted on using my legs correctly to get that lengthen.  So my hips were killing me.  Ugh.

I know this needs to happen and the results were excellent (real lengthenings, yay!), but I really felt the pressure.  It was my first private in a couple weeks and the whip was cracked hard.  Use my seat, quiet my hands, keep my rhythm, where the hell were my hands going?, sit down, don't pick, don't rush, more energy!, push with your seat, don't you dare with your hands!, breathe, sit deep, HANDS!

Good gravy.

Riding on my own today, I had to do my best to crack down on myself.  At one point I had to physically look down at my hands and watch them while trotting on a circle.  Seriously, the little fuckers are possessed!  Theo seems to approve of my even quieter hands.  Just a couple rides and he's starting to understand that softening to closed fingers gets him a quick release of pressure.  He doesn't have to brace against my rude hands.  But it's hard.  It's running over letters because I'm looking at my hands and not steering hard.  And I know it's not going to make any difference for Saugerties because two weeks is not enough time to reprogram that much muscle memory.  This will take months.

But if I don't get started, I'll never get there.  I can't keep putting it off until it's a good time.  I'm back to my body pillow and Icy Hot for my hips.  I haven't even written about the chewing I got for not doing my part in getting mi papi's hocks engaged.  I may need to start picking up ice cream after lessons like that.  I certainly feel battered enough . . .

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Plan your pee

That was one of the mottos of marching band when I was in high school.  We traveled as a group of 200 and the buses stopped for no student.  You had best plan your pee.  And with 200 high schoolers descending on a truck stop, you better plan to wait a while when you did get to stop.  It took five buses to get us moved around.

General horse knowledge says that horses can't be potty trained.  We all have stories of horses deciding that it is time to relieve some pressure while in the show ring.  At a recent show, one of the school horses got an error because his halt at X included such a long pee that he was messing with the ride times.  Fortunately, he was allowed to continue.  Theo refused to halt at X in his test because ewwwww, another horse peed there, mom.  He halted a couple feet to the right of X with a disgusted expression.  The judge let us slide.  Most horses can learn to work while dropping off some manure, but you can't really teach them to keep going when they have to pee.  There's not much you can do but hope that your horse doesn't pick the final line up at the end of your flat class to let fly.  It seems pretty random and most people will tell you that when your horse goes isn't something the horse really plans out.

Theo's weird. 

Mi papi does not manure in the aisle.  Or under saddle.  I've been riding this horse for 1.5 years and I can count the number of times he's pooped under saddle on one hand.  If I use the other hand, I can count the number of times he's pooped in the aisle.  Every time he's left a pile in the aisle, it's been a show prep day and he's been going through a round of clipping/pulling/braiding/scrubbing that includes being on the cross ties a long time.  If given any chance, he'll wait for one of his stall breaks or for his field. 

When I go to get him from his field, about half the time he'll see me coming and mosey over to one of his chosen potty spots.  He'll drop some excess weight, then come up to see me.  When I let him out, he goes back to one of those spots and repeats the process.  Most of his field is manure free, it's just a couple of spots that he likes to use.

 Next upgrade for Theo's field

It's absolutely uncanny.  He looks at me, heads to his spot, does his business, then heads to the gate to start his work day.  I've never met a horse that makes a point of peeing before coming in to be ridden.  And it's not once or twice.  It happens a couple times a week.  I call his name on the way to his gate and he takes that as his cue to take care of any bodily functions before his work day starts.  I will wait with the gate closed until he's done (I don't want to rush him) and when he's done, I go in to get him.

Anyone else have a horse that plans their pee?  Because I've never met one quite this organized.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Plug nickel

I have a habit of joking about selling my horses.  I've always done it.  At the Wanless clinic after Theo was told that he was sweet, talented, and had promise, I pet him on the neck and told him that meant he got to stay another week.  Fortunately, Mary got my dry sense of humor.

At GMHA, just after winning a spiffy blue ribbon, Theo decided to drag my ass half way across the parking lot because I didn't have a chain on him and he saw something that might be food.  As we skidded to a stop, I snapped out that I was going to sell him for a plug nickel.  A lady walking by looked him up and down and said, "I'll even give you a real nickel."  Woohoo, offers!

When I got my gorgeous picture of him cantering, I told Trainer A that we were ready for his sale flyers now.  She gave me a look.  Hehehe, just kidding, coach.  She might be a bit attached since I asked her if she'd be willing to do his Second level debut for me next year.  Of course she said yes.  She doesn't get to show anything but intro tests on green beans right now.  Do a real dressage test?  Sign her up!  It helps that mi papi really likes her and she really likes him.

But it's still a fun exercise to make up an ad.  I know several riders that make up pretend sales ads for their horses.  Sometimes when they're pissed, sometimes when they're very proud of the progress.  I know I'm not alone in this exercise.


For Sale:

Expect the Unexpected
12 year old, 16h draft cross American Warmblood studmuffin gelding

Currently competing in dressage at First level with crazy ass adult amateur rider.  Schooling most Second level movements.  Natural sitting power including his ability to spin and rear and very rhythmical.  Easy to sit.  Former school horse, can be ridden by riders of all levels including beginners with a lot of supervision, cookies, and sacrifices left on the altar of good school ponies.  More whoa than go seriously, bring your spurs, light in the bridle, goes in a loose ring snaffle.  Qualified for Region 8 championships at Training.

 Also good on the trails, alone or in a group, and safe on roads unless there is a green, plastic mail box or a razor scooter, then there is no hope.  Experience with rough trails because every dressage horse should learn how to tippy toe down granite.

Enjoys jumping, jumps up to 3' and enjoys hunter paces so long as you go slow enough that he can really check the jumps for aliens and you don't mind him putting his head between his knees on the way over and occasional bucking temper tantrums due to not getting to set the pace. Very honest and quiet to fences, jumps in a snaffle.  Not a cross country prospect because he's a weenie and slow as molasses in January.

Tolerant soul.  Really, someone should save him from this crazy lady.  Easy keeper, goes out with other horses so long as you don't really like the other horses.  Laid back personality that is a pleasure to have around the barn just don't keep him in a stall overnight if you like said stall.  Bonds to his person and enjoys grooming.  Excellent ground manners so long as you have a chain, easy to catch, good to trailer, handles overnight shows easily, and fun at clinics.

Price:  Your eternal soul.  Firm.  No, seriously, you can't afford this horse.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Energy levels

I've been doing well sticking to my six visits a week schedule.  Yesterday was a close call, since I had a long day at work and I knew papi had just had two lessons so a day off wouldn't hurt, right?  But Saturday I have plans down in Massachusetts, so I dragged my butt out to the barn.  Time to get in some time on the trails and make sure a certain someone doesn't get ring sour.

Wouldn't you know it, he was quite fresh.  Our weather broke to the usual gorgeous paradise that's New England in fall.  A high of 81 with a lovely breeze?  Yes, please!  And today it's 77.  The sun was shining and the flies have faded, so I went out with the intent to have a lovely walk down the trail bed with some trot and canter to let him stretch. 

He was happy to be out there.  Too happy, if I'm going to be frank.  I picked up a trot and he bounced along like a kid in a candy store, sitting on the bit and all but begging me for canter.  To which I say . . . wut?  Don't get me wrong, I was enjoying myself, but he's hasn't gotten any time off.  Quite to the contrary, raised poles the night before!  Dripping with sweat!  Visibly tired!  And now he's bouncing down the trail like a four year old.

Of course I let him canter down the long straight away.  I had my stirrups at jumping length (because I'm lazy and didn't put them back down after my last lesson) so I got up off his back and let him cruise along.  This made him happy.  We had to stop to do some trail maintenance with a branch across the path, then back to trot and canter.  We cantered most of the way home with the occasional brake check. 

We turned to cut across the Ritz and I spotted someone walking a horse in hand.  So I walked and sedately cut across the field.  About the same time I passed the other horse, I heard 'hand gallop!' being called down from the hill.  Trainer A had just finished her last lesson.  I shrugged, picked up a canter, and turned to go along the edge of the field.  Papi grabbed the bit and tried to bolt with a pretty decent buck.  I saw it coming three strides out so I was already in the back seat and popping his head up.  I made him finish the trip to the gate in a collected trot, which he was surprisingly okay with.  And the buck had me laughing more than anything.  Sometimes papi's gotta papi.

We opened the gate and went up to say hi to Trainer A and one of the moms.  The kids were being slow turning their horses out, so Theo and I were sent to go check on them.  So I took Mr. Studmuffin back into the field to jaunt over and see what they were up to.  Then canter back again, because as funny as he is, bucking is rude and he shouldn't think he gets to do that every canter in the field.  I had to keep him firmly on the contact and my tush firmly in the saddle, but he handled it with good grace.  He was just wound.

So wound that he jumped and struck out while being led.  And then snorted, bucked, and cantered when he went in his field.  Honestly, mi papi.

So what do I do with a horse that is more wound after his workout and who has more pop when he's getting consistent work?  And he was sweaty, it wasn't a mosey in the woods.  I'm used to horses that act up to start, then settle as the excess energy is burned off.  A couple of days of heavy work and they settle in and get more mellow.  Theo is wired backwards.  He's usually more intense and responsive at the end of a lesson and he's ready to roll when he doesn't have time off.  He was snorting and tossing his head after his run through the woods, not before.  How do I manage an increasingly fit horse that gets more intense as he works instead of working down?

Though not kicking was AWESOME.  If I can learn to harness all of that power, he's going to be unstoppable.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Dancing feet

It finally dawned on me that I never posted the changes made by my farrier when I handed Theo's foot care over to him.  So here are some crappy, hard to see images of how his feet were updated.

I was too freaked about the possibility of white line to get decent before pictures, so they're just snapped off really quick and covered with sand from the indoor.  The after pictures were from a couple days after and are, naturally, also dirty.  I'm fantastic at documentation.

Front feet before:

Front feet after:

Please ignore Theo trying to paw with the right front, I swear he's not pointing.

A lot of the difference seems to be quality time with the rasp.  All the waves and bumps are gone.  He's also in a pretty substantial shoe now.  You can see the rocker toe that was added in the picture of the actual shoe.  It does seem to help with him flipping his toes and not tripping.  His toes weren't brought back that much, but it was only four weeks since his previous shoes were put on so the fact he needed a significant trim at all was a bit disturbing.

You'll also notice the complete lack of missing chunks of hoof afterward.

Hind feet before:

Hind feet after:

The hind feet were the ones that needed some adjustments.  First came the serious quality time with the rasp.  His toes were too long and the whole thing needed shaping.  Then he got the heavier shoes put on with just four nails to give the damaged parts of his hooves a chance to grow in.  They're also set back on his shorter toes, rocking the breakover point back.  And yes, there has been a difference in him not dragging his long toes and tripping on uneven ground.

The hind left was the one I was convinced had problems because it was constantly shredding and losing nails.  Looks like a totally normal foot now.  By the next trim, the last of the missing chunks should be grown out and his feet will look totally normal.

I gently asked my farrier what he thought of his previous shoes and he gently, professionally answered that there was nothing specifically wrong, Theo just needed more time with the rasp and slightly different shoes.  And to be fair, it did take my farrier a long time to reshape everything.  But yeah, cutting corners and saving time on my horse's feet just won't fly.

I got asked if I'll be splurging on aluminum shoes for our trip to regionals.  I laughed.  I'm going to be worried about teleporting randomly around the ring, not gaining 0.5 on my gait score because my horse's feet suddenly weigh less.  Maybe next year when he's done with his debutante season.  This year?  Heavy shoes may discourage him from turning into a kite because there are aliens hiding in the shrubbery.