Wednesday, November 30, 2016

2016 goals wrap up

It's still pouring buckets out there.  And tonight is my completion of No Stirrup November.  Oh, and my thighs hurt from my incredibly dumb idea I had on Monday where I'd propel myself along with nothing chasing me.

The chug went with me on my shuffle, she can't figure out what I'm whining about

I need a mood lift.  I think it's time to wrap up my 2016 goals.  Here is what I put in my post from last year:

1.  Qualify for the Region 8 Championships at Training Level
2.  Actually go to the Regional Championships
3.  Get my last First Level score for my Bronze
     - Fi's scores didn't count because I was showing opportunity classes.  Fail.
4.  Complete a three phase with less than 100 faults on cross country
5.  Do two clinics

Stretch goals:
1.  Score a 60%+ at First Level 3 so I can do musical freestyle in 2017
2.  Do a clean cross country

 How did we do?  Not bad!

1.  Qualify for the Region 8 Championships at Training Level - We totally did this and even did this on schedule.  We had some off performances, but we didn't struggle too much with getting our scores.  We even had a spare one and got to move up to First level.

2.  Actually go to the Regional Championships - We did it!  It was overwhelming and gave me a serious case of stage fright, but the important thing is that we did it and we didn't embarrass Trainer A.  We marched in the biggest ring I've ever ridden in and lived to tell the tale.

3.  Get my last First Level score for my Bronze - Yuppers!  Theo successfully moved up to First level.  Our First 1 scores have been respectable, First 2 had a spook (we only did it once), and First 3 I wanted to puke because I was at regionals.  But we weren't laughed out of the ring at any of these outings and we even got some ribbons.

4.  Complete a three phase with less than 100 faults on cross country - This I did not do.  After getting to know Theo, I decided to retire him from cross country.  We did take him out for a two phase which he rocked, but three phases are no longer a goal for us.

5.  Do two clinics - Just barely.  We did the Leslie Grandmaison clinic in the spring and we have a clinic on Monday with Gerrit-Claes Bierenbroodspot.  I don't know much about him, but one of my h/j friends is hosting the clinic so Trainer A and I are driving down for a lesson.  He's got clients up to Grand Prix level, so I'm looking forward to the experience.  Trainer A is bringing Miss Thang so we can both ride First Level horses that are eyeballing Second level.  

We didn't do quite as well on the stretch goals.

1.  Score a 60%+ at First Level 3 so I can do musical freestyle in 2017 - Nope.  We only did one test at this level, I choked, and we got a 57%.  But that's okay, we'll get that 60% in 2017 and do our freestyle.

2.  Do a clean cross country - Nope, very retired from cross country.

3.  BUY THEO - YES!  This one I did!  And all joking aside, I do not regret it.  He is the horse I need today, a steady partner that doesn't bring a lot of drama to my life.  He's not stunning, he's not overly talented, but he is compatible with me, willing, and capable of the work.  He jumps the jumps, he hauls to the shows, and he learns the fancy moves.  He's my boy and I love him.

So I'd say we had a successful year, especially for Theo's debutante season.  He's gone from being a green bean with a history of jumping out of rings to being an experienced show horse that knows his job.  There's so many skills he had to learn that have nothing to do with scores from judges.  Just dealing with life as a competition horse is a skill.  Going around the outside of the ring before the test was the hardest thing for us to learn, but we got a solid start on it.

I'll have to think hard about my 2017 goals.  I have so many, I'm in danger of over facing us both.  Thankfully Trainer A will tell me to knock it off if I sign up for too much or push to hard.  Or Theo will.  Because he does not take me being crazy with grace.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Go away, Jack Frost

I'm not a big fan of the cold.  Sure, I'm from Minnesota, but I'm still a weenie.  As I stood in the pouring rain with mi papi, hunched down under my rain coat and him under his rain sheet, I considered how dumb my hobby is.  Sure, we were heading into the indoor, but I still had to slop through the icy mud to retrieve my muddy pony.  Then we slogged down to the indoor and slogged back up while the sky dumped buckets on us.  At least it's not the ice from this morning, that was exciting while feeding the poultry.  I need to get the chains back on the tractor tires.

Pretty sure hubby was watching from the window with his coffee, laughing his butt off, as I slid across the driveway.

No Stirrups November is bad enough without getting chills.  Fortunately I've got a routine that keeps me from completely freezing.  Today's topic:  How I survive winter.

Step one:  Base layers.  Base layers are everything wonderful and beautiful.  If I have the right thermals on, I can make it through anything.  I learned this when working in a barn through a New England winter.  Stomping through a blizzard to toss extra blankets on school horses really puts your gear to the test.  My brand of choice?  Duofold.

This one, right here, is a life saver.  I have some mid weight for slightly chilly days, heavy weight for this time of year when it's 30's while I'm riding, and the expedition weight for the dead of winter.  The pants fit under my breeches, I just wear my socks over top of them so they don't ride up while putting my breeches on.  I don't have winter breeches, I use the same old Piper full seats year round.  I just put different thermal underwear on as the seasons change.  My Duofolds have held up for years with heavy use, I've shed down to my thermal top on several occasions and no one noticed.  Looks like a nice, fitted top.  I have found nothing better at the price point.

Step two:  Down.  I didn't want to bother with buying down until I got my first down vest.  It really, really does make a difference.  I have a couple down vests now.  EMS is my usual source, since I get my hiking gear from them, but I spy a down vest from Ariat at Smartpak.  A thermal top, a flannel button down shirt, and a warm vest will have me riding while showing my position to my trainer through most of the winter.  I'll still need a jacket when it's 10* out, but at those temps, my trainer is too busy shivering and hating her life to care if she can see my back clearly.  I wear a jacket to the ring, but dump it once we're warmed up and ready to work. 

Step three:  Silk and wool socks.  Wool socks alone will help a lot, but with a silk liner?  Toasty warm!  I don't always have winter boots.  Okay, I usually don't have winter boots for riding.  Bulky boots make me uncomfortable, I'm scared I'll get stuck in a stirrup.  Layering up my socks can keep me from freezing in my usual boots.  I always struggle to find silk liners in women's sizes, so that might be a challenge. 

Also, look for reflective inserts for your boots.  Makes a world of difference when walking around on the frozen ground.  You don't feel the cold seeping in through the soles of your boots.  I get mine at Tractor Supply for cheap.

The one thing that I haven't figured out?  Barn gloves for winter.  Any recommendations?  My fingers are always cold and they ache.  I had some insulated gloves, but a bit of snow and they're wet and worthless.  Next week is showing snow so the situation is becoming dire!

Theo tries to kick me when I stuff my ice cold hands under his blankets.  Can't say I blame him.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Get in shape, girl

Yes, I'm dating myself.  Hopefully someone else is old enough to get that reference.

Back last winter, I committed to losing some weight.  And I managed it, which was awesome.  I felt better in the saddle (less jiggling) and felt like I could keep up with mi papi.  And my coats fit better in pictures.  Go me!  But as the winter comes crashing back in, I've lost some ground.  And I'm also discovering that the higher the level, the more cardio and endurance I need.  I did a five minute canter block in my lesson last week and was feeling the burn.  It wasn't muscle burn so much as just running out of steam from trying to keep papi picked up, balanced, and going forward.  Oxygen was in short supply.  I recently got a Fitbit that tracks my heart rate.  My resting heart rate is a little high for a woman my age.  That was enlightening in regards to my fitness levels.

That's what my lesson looked like (Fitbit always thinks I'm going for a run).  The actual lesson was more like 40 minutes of work, but this was the middle when we were doing long trot and canter sets and my Fitbit recorded it as a workout.  Cantering Theo around puts me in the cardio range for my heart rate.  Once Theo sheds out, I can do heart rate charts for both of us during the same ride!  The pads for his heart rate monitor can't pick up his pulse through that much hair.  But the take away is that my fitness needs work.  I can't be sitting in the cardio range just from cantering. 

I registered for a 5k on Super Bowl Sunday.

I'm going to use the Couch to 5K app to get myself in shape over the next 8 weeks so I can jog/shuffle three miles (this one in case anyone is curious, though the running from zombies app was tempting).  Outside.  In February.  I've had better ideas.  But our days are so short.  I need the motivation to go outside in the middle of the day and see the sun.  I can do a 30 min jog over lunch.  It's probably the best thing for shaking the seasonal funk that comes when the sun disappears.

Today starts week one.  I'll be doing 3 workouts a week, plus my 5 rides a week.  On the days I don't ride, I'll jog.  And one day a week, I'll have to do both.  Yikes.

For anyone noticing that I live in New Hampshire and it's pretty much winter now, I'm going to be using my base layers from riding at those ridiculous temperatures to allow me to jog in them.  Our dirt road is well plowed, so that will give me a spot to shuffle along.  Or I can go into town, but I'd rather not.  That would be an hour in the car to jog for 30 minutes.  And I'd be encouraged to stop at Dunks for a hot chocolate to celebrate.  I could really entertain everyone and jog from the barn.  Just when they thought they'd figured out how crazy I am.

It's pretty horse related, but I'm mostly posting this here for the accountability.  I've given myself December and January to prep for my very first 5k.  Feb 5 I will go run for no good reason other than a pint of beer waiting for me at the end.  Did I mention the race is sponsored by a local brewery that I love?  Now that's motivation.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Trail horse dressage

I had an idea today while taking Theo out for a long trail ride.  We need a trail class for dressage horses.

Wait, hear me out.

What are dressage horses good at?  Changing speeds, rebalancing, halting, going sideways, and paying attention.  Most dressage horses have considerable experience with stepping over things and changing the length of their stride as needed.  Sounds like a great trail horse to me! 

While hacking out dressage horses has become more common (thank you, Charlotte Dujardin, for encouraging this trend), it's still seen as slightly odd.  And when looking for training for a trail horse, most people default to western styles.  Sure, western styles produce good trail horses, but so can dressage.  And I've had several ladies tell me they much prefer going out in a dressage saddle.  It weighs a lot less while still making them feel secure.  There's a niche here that could use some attention.

So how do we display our horses as something other than hot house flowers that can't do anything but look gorgeous in a sand box?  Offer a trail class at dressage shows!  I've seen this done at open shows and it's perfectly feasible.  Just set up a course and people can pop by whenever it's convenient for them and run through it.  Since it's still a dressage show, remove the speed component and add scores for gaits and submission.  You have X amount of time to complete an obstacle, then you must move on.  You are expected to demonstrate dressage basics while navigating uneven poles, opening a gate, or weaving around poles. 

Can you imagine a beautiful, upper level horse in full show gear navigating a bridge?  Or neatly picking his way through a set of rough, uneven poles?  If we're going to spend all of these hours teaching our horses to be obedient and easily changed, why not show off the practical applications?  I know I would pop over and try the course while at a dressage show and it would encourage me to work my horse on obstacles at home.  Sure, it would mostly cater to the intro and training level horses, but even then it would encourage them to come out and show because there's something fun to go with the dry test stuff.

On today's trail ride, Theo did about 100 small leg yields as I kept him off the rocky footing that the leaf cover was hiding.  He very neatly stepped over small logs (without launching or rushing).  He picked up to a working walk when we found a dog and hiker so we could assess the situation.  He turned on the haunches to change direction when we hit the highway.  We went from walk to canter, kept the canter short due to other hikers being around, and stepped back to the walk without fuss.  We slalomed through trees.  How is this not the goal of a trail horse's training?  Maybe if your trails are mostly wide and smooth you don't need these things.  I live in New Hampshire.  Teaching your horse to sit on his butt for a downhill is a survival skill.

Maybe I'm just jealous of the girls going to the open shows that have the option to do trail classes.  Or the versatility classes.  Maybe I think we'd be able to convince some of the ladies at the barn to participate in dressage if they could see it as a way to help their trail riding instead of being some fancy dancy thing with sparkly coats and expensive horses.  Maybe I want to see some of my fellow DQs kick back and have some fun with their horses.  Probably all of the above.

But dang it all, we need a trail horse class at dressage shows. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016


Before I even start, this is a bad idea.  Don't do it.  Especially if your trainer can see you and think it's very clever and shows initiative.  You've been warned!

Back when I was an h/j rider, I spent a fair bit of time with a dressage whip behind my back and in front of my elbows.  This was to get my shoulders back and bring my elbows in close to my sides.  I'm sure I'm not the only one that's gone through that particular type of torture.

Well, that's spiffy and all, but now I do the dressage thing and my elbows aren't supposed to be back that far.  They should be at my sides, but not that far back.  I've been struggling so much with getting them forward and still close to my sides.  The phrase that currently works to remind me?  "Squish your boobs!"

For the record, I'm a D cup.  They stick out more than my rib cage on the sides and most sports bras make them flat, but they get wider.  There's nothing I can do about it.

So what do I do when I'm not in a lesson so there's no one to yell about my boobs?  I really should get one of these things.

But I'm perpetually horse poor, so I took the obvious, free option as inspired by my h/j days.  I put my dressage whip in front of me, across my rib cage just below my bra, and behind my elbows.  This forces my elbows to stay more forward, forces me to not hollow my back (I need some tummy to keep the whip from falling), and forces me to keep my elbows at my sides.

I wasn't sure it would work, but I managed to do my walk warm up and some of my trot work like that.  My shoulders are not pleased with this new way of going, but it forced me to figure out how to get a contact with Theo without dropping my hands.  Trainer A spotted my silliness and thought it was a genius idea.  Guess who's going to have to start carrying a whip down to the ring again?

This girl.

I'm a masochist.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Dietary restrictions

No, not mine.  I'll rant about my yo-yo waistline another day.  This one is about Theo, his changing needs, and trying to find a balance between energy and psychosis.  Buckle up for a lot of percentages.

Mi papi is low energy.  And that's been specifically maintained in his past.  High energy Theo is a lot of horse to handle and is not appropriate for a school horse.  I've met high energy Theo a couple of times.  I enjoy it, but I know I'm making the fuse shorter on the powder keg.  It requires careful handling and you don't want it to be inconsistent.  I want him to have a slow burning, cool energy source.  Make the work seem easier to him while not making him crazy.  It's everyone's dream, of course, and rarely achieved completely.

Wake up, papi

I'll admit that I never really looked into Theo's diet after I bought him.  Bad, owner, bad.  He's the first time I've bought a horse that I've known before that purchase decision was made.  He was already settled into a routine that had served him well for about two years.  When I started riding him regularly, he started to lose weight.  They upped his grain, I added a supplement pack, and eventually we added a fat and protein supp as well.  I bought him but left his food alone.  I'm generally in the camp of not messing with stuff that's not broken.

However, the demands on Theo keep increasing.  He's far from a plodding school pony now.  He's expected to work 45 minutes to an hour six days a week, and it's not walk/trot lessons.  He canters in five minute blocks, he does transition sets that are like weightlifting.  He burns calories and has to rebuild muscle.  While he's made a lot of progress, there's a certain amount of bloom that hasn't occurred.  I can't put my finger on it, but I feel like something is missing, a block that he needs in his foundation.

I decided to dig into his diet and see where improvements can be made.  I expected a nutritional limit was keeping him from really blooming.

Hay:  Grass hay two times a day, approximately 24lbs a day
Grain: Mane Menu twice a day, 2 lbs a feeding, 0.5 pounds of Omegatin once a day
Supplements: SmartCombo Ultra Pellets
Pasture: Turned out on grass pasture several times a week in season, no real grass 5 months of the year, NH sucks that way

First thing I did was look up Mane Menu.  It's meant for horses in maintenance or light performance.  11% protein, 3% fat, 15% fiber.  Starch content isn't listed anywhere but if it's anything like it's close sibling Strider, it's pretty high (Strider is 33% NSC).  A good choice for a horse that's getting limited grain and is in a school program as a beginner specialist, but it's the bargain level stuff.  There's a lot of molasses and ground corn while there's no specification on the type of protein.

There's problem number one.  The protein in his diet is too low and isn't high enough quality.  Lysine is a limiter and there's no percentage of lysine given for his grain.  The grass hay he's on isn't high protein either, probably 9% (hasn't been tested this year, the drought has hay supplies kind of thin).   At four pounds of grain a day, he's on the minimum recommended grain ration for his size for that brand.  Even with the 15% protein Omegatin being added, it's not enough.  A horse in work like him should be at about 10% - 12% protein total for his diet, including the hay.  Theo was clocking in at 9.3% and probably deficient in specific amino acids.

There's also the matter of him being half Percheron while needing increased energy.  Perchs aren't known for their ability to process starches correctly.  Drafts in general are prone to that little family of disorders most often listed as EPSM.  I've met a couple of drafts with variations on this complicated disorder.  Sore muscles and tying up are the usual symptoms.  Starch is also fun for causing blood sugar swings and related mood swings.  Not exactly the type of energy source I'm looking for.  Theo doesn't need encouragement in being a jerk.

 Very attractive jerk horse

The Omegatin is a 15% protein, 20% fat, low starch (14%) top dress I threw on when he was showing this summer.  It was a chunk of calories to help him keep his condition up while on the road while not encouraging him to explode.  I decided to leave him on it year round in the hopes that he'd build up a bit.  The SmartCombo supp is their standard combination of hoof, joint, coat, digestion.  It just makes my life easier and I like to make sure all of my nutritional bases are covered.  Yes, he has expensive pee.

After doing a ridiculous amount of research and math, Theo's new diet is as follows.

Hay: Grass hay two times a day, approximately 24lbs a day (six flakes)
Grain: CarbGuard twice a day, 2 lbs per feeding, 0.5lbs of Omegatin per feeding
Supplements: SmartCombo Ultra Pellets
Pasture: Turned out on grass pasture several times a week in season, no pasture 5 months of the year

This should get Theo's protein up to about 9.6% of his total diet without affecting his total calories.  CarbGuard also includes supplemental amino acids, so I know he's getting the right kind of protein.  This grain is 12% protein, 8% fat, and 25% fiber.  The starch is very low, about 8%.  This should swap him from quick burn sugars to slow burn fats and fiber for his energy sources.  If he settles into this without problems, we'll move him up to 5lbs of CarbGuard a day.  That should get his calories where they belong for light/moderate work and push his protein close to the 10% mark.

The question will be how his energy levels change.  My data is a bit jumbled as it's also going into winter and a lot of horses are being snorty and up.  Not mi papi, of course, because that would be work and work is dumb.  I feel like our relationship and work is at a point where we can handle him being a bit snorty and fresh.  He's not a lesson horse anymore and the occasional incident is okay in exchange for having some impulsion.  And I'd have to kick less.  That would be awesome.

Seriously, wake up

The change is being done gradually, he's currently on half CarbGuard.  So far no difference, but I take that as a good sign.  I expect, once he's moved over and his body is used to using fat instead of starch, that I'll be able to up his energy without him blowing his little pony lid.  It's going to be a matter of carefully tuning his diet to get him the stuff he needs without upping his calories too much.  I don't want my little air fern to get fat.  I expect he'll be getting 5 - 6 pounds of grain a day and that I'll be messing with the ratios between CarbGuard and Omegatin to dial it in to what he needs. 

This whole project has been kind of insane.  I've got sheets of calculations, printed out grain labels, and a 'what if' spreadsheet.  I'm starting to think I might be a bit obsessive about my horse.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Blog Hop: November Questions

Catch up posts?  Yeah, sure, later.  First, random questions need to be answered.

How old is the youngest/greenest horse you’ve ridden?

Once upon a time, I rode a three year old.  He was cute and clueless.  I had to learn how to teach a horse to steer and how to teach the canter.  It was messy and clumsy, but it was a great learning experience (with experienced, watchful eyes helping out).  I spent a lot of time in a round pen, just teaching him that he had a job and that stopping was an awesome idea.

How old is the oldest horse you’ve ridden?

I rode a 26 year old appy this summer.  He is super sweet and still does some lessons.  Sound as a bell and happy to work.  He was having some trouble with his canter transition so I traded with someone so they could ride mi papi and I hopped on the pony.  A quick reminder and we were cantering around quite nicely.

This sweet pea was 29, but I never got the pleasure of riding her.
Were you scared of horses when you first started riding? 

I don't know.  I guess it depends on your definition of scared. I was tiny and I was on a big horse, so I was very unsure about the whole thing.  And then I fell off and got stepped on.  So there was some fear of riding at any kind of speed, but I never remember being scared of the actual horses.

Would you say you’re a more nervous rider or a confident rider?

I'd have to say confident.  More balls than brains has described me for a long, long time.

Biggest pet peeve about non-horse people around horses?

For the love of all of the little gods, don't walk up to my horse without introducing yourself to either of us, stand right in his blind spot, and start slapping your hand against his face thinking you're patting him.  My horse bites, for one, and it's rude.

And it's not a one time thing.  It.  Keeps.  Happening.  I'm picking my horse's hind foot when he suddenly pops his head up and almost crushes my foot as he slams his foot down.  I turn around and there's some woman holding her baby up to Theo's face, encouraging said baby to have a baby flail at my horse who can't see it.  Seriously.  It's a thousand pound animal, do not approach if you have no clue.

Not to be trusted

A time you’ve been scared for your life? (horse related) 

Amazing how it all kind of blurs together when you try to pick one incident.  When I was thirteen and thrown badly, I rolled over and the horse was rearing over me.  That time, yes, I was scared I was going to get killed.

Have you ever fallen off at show? What happened?

Hahahahaha, omg, so many times.  Ratbag pony used to dump me in fences pretty regularly and loved to pull it at shows when I was focused on things other than managing his every step.  As an adult, I had just gotten back into riding after college.  I was riding a Hafflinger pony that was very enthusiastic about jumping.  It was little stuff, I think 2'3".  Since he was a pony and not very long strided, I was planning to do 3 in the 2 stride.  Two strides away from the combination, the pony grabbed the bit and took off, making two strides work somehow.  I wasn't expecting it, got knocked out of place, and went under his hooves.  It was a bad fall, I got trampled pretty well.  And it was the first time my hubby ever saw me ride.

Tanky and me, thirteen years ago.  I don't know where my hairnet was.  Judging by the outfit, I was helping fill an equitation class.  So embarrassing.

Turns out the trainer had someone get on the pony and school that two stride a dozen times the day before, making sure he got the right strides, so I wouldn't have any trouble.  But no one told me.  So when I went for the quiet three, he saw the combination and took off.  Whoops.

What’s a breed of horse you’ve never ridden but would like to ride?

 Tennessee Walker.  I have so little experience with gaited horses.   

Describe the worst behaved horse you’ve ridden? 

Let's see.  I've ridden a lot of ratbags in my life, especially when I was younger.  There was this mare named Georgie that really took the cake because she was malicious.  Most horses will evade or whatever, but Georgie was very talented and a raging bitch that genuinely wanted to hurt you.  She had the best of everything at a very high end barn, but she made her life easier by teaching every rider that got near her to fear her.  She kicked, she bit, and she had a twist/shoulder drop/bolt combo that dropped even the best of riders.  Usually into the wall.  She dropped me hard a couple of times because I dared to ask her to do something she didn't like.  Anything that involved work, she didn't like.  She wins because she was a pampered princess that had the best of everything, but would be just as likely to trample you as to say hi.

The most frustrating ride you’ve ever had? 

The ride when Fi and I called it quits on jumping.  The one where months of work culminated in her refusing to step over a pole on the ground.  Where I just burst into tears in the ring and realized that my eventing mare was done and that I'd never get to take her out to an event again.

Fi and I at our last successful event together


Sometimes things just slip your mind.

Yesterday, as I stood in the middle of this field, looking for Theo's BRAND NEW winter shoe he'd pulled, I thought 'I need media for the blog post'.

Needle, haystack, so much mud.

And then it dawned on me as I fished his shoe out of the ice cold water that runs through his field that I hadn't posted in awhile.

1.5 weeks old!


No, we're not dead.  Our schooling outings have been getting cancelled as everyone else in the world seems to understand an off season, so we've just been marching along.

I got a new haircut.
8 inches chopped off, it's insane

Theo got a new haircut.

For those keeping count, this is body clip #3 for this fall.  He's half yak.

We snuck in some trail rides before the snow started to fly.

New friends!  Rox Sox the QH mare, my little strawberry the mustang mare (can't really see her), and Cinni-man, trail horse extraordinaire
I swear, these horses have real names, I just don't use them

And we've bummed around.  Today I get to cut out of work to go meet up with my farrier and get that very expensive winter shoe tacked back on.  Theo was a bit ouchy on that right front after going about 24 hours without a shoe, so fingers crossed we don't have a repeat of previous incidents.  At least it's his right front this time.

I'm looking for some clinics to break up the monotony.  The sun sets at 4pm these days, so it's indoor riding only from now until spring.  On the weekends we can escape to the great outdoors, but only if Mother Nature cooperates.  Last weekend it rained buckets on us.  Yesterday someone heard trail gallop and threw a shoe.  Doldrums and ring sour are going to become issues quickly.

Fanciest.  Show horse.  Ever.

Fortunately there's a series of bomb proofing clinics being hosted at my barn this winter.  Nothing says change of pace like lots of helium balloons and pool noodles.  Yes, every horse learning Second Level dressage needs to learn how to walk over teeter totters.  Come on, it's right in the training pyramid.

Which I seem to have conveniently lost.  Just take my word on it.

Last of the fall grass

On the actual training side, Theo is doing well.  Lots of pole work with varying distances has been upping his trot skills.  He's got such potential, but he's so dang lazy.  He's also becoming a master of walk to canter transitions.  His canter to walk transitions aren't doing too bad, either.  Leg yield will never be a stunning mark for us, he likes to fall out his shoulder and leg yield makes that so easy, but he's starting to do a few steps of half pass at the trot and even did a couple steps at the canter for me.  He was very confused and I swear he almost tripped over his own feet, but he definitely did it!

For all readers that keep saying they love his tail, this is the cost.  Daily.

I've got a couple of posts coming up to catch me up.  Theo's diet was radically overhauled this month and I want to devote a whole post to that.  I've also had to start researching new exercises since a more powerful, engaged Theo also gets bored quicker.  Hmm.  But the important part is that we're here, we're still working hard, and we've got three out of four shoes.  Not bad.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Question time: Your grooming routine

I've found grooming to be a very personal thing.  For a lot of riders, it becomes a bit of a ritual.  So here's my question:  What does your grooming routine look like?

For Theo, it take me on average 30 minutes to get him ready for a ride.  45 minutes to an hour isn't unheard of when I have the time to spare.  What can I say, my pony is a princess and requires a lot of adoration in order to feel content with the world.

As it's fall, the routine starts with pulling his blanket off.  Then I use my hoof brush to get the muck off of the outside of his hooves so they can dry before I pick his feet.  Then it's time to get out the tail brush and brush out his forelock, mane and tail.  This is to put him in a good mood and usually involves brushing the inside of his ears.  He's weird.  His tail is massive, so it can take awhile.  Good thing he really enjoys it.  Which is a little weird, but okay.

If I'm in a hurry, it's just taking out the hay and dirt clods.  If I have time, it gets sprayed down with detangler and completely brushed out.  I usually braid up his forelock to keep it out of his eyes and out of his fancy browbands.

Next comes the curry comb, making sure to really work over the good spots on the neck and hind quarters.  This eats up most of my time.  Theo doesn't have a friend for mutual grooming sessions, so that's my job.  His crest and withers get a lot of attention.  I know I'm doing a good job when he tries to return the favor, messing with my hair or playing with my shirt.  Then stiff brush to get the mud off of his legs and body brush on the rest of him.  By this point his hooves are dry and he can get his feet picked out.

Once he's cleaned up and fit to be seen in public, I rub the top of his neck down with liniment.  Gives it some time to soak in and get to work while I tack him up and get all of his boots on.  I've noticed it speeds up our warm up process.  He gets a cookie after the girth goes on so he doesn't try to take a chunk out of anyone.  By the time we get to the bridle, he's been pet, pampered, and massaged for about 30 minutes.  It usually gets me a nice, soft expression before we head out.

I've been informed by several people that the routine is a little over the top, but no one can argue with the shiny, happy results.

So, how does your grooming routine go?

Saturday, November 5, 2016

New England in fall

I moved to New Hampshire just over three years ago.  I have to say, I love it.  Some parts of the year, I feel like I live in a postcard.

That shot is from my drive to the barn today, just outside of the classic little New England town I call home (yes I pulled over, our cops are always bored and looking for a reason to pull someone over).  It's the highest point for miles heading east, giving us an amazing view every time I go out.  Before I moved out to rural New Hampshire, I didn't think areas like this existed outside of paintings and jigsaw puzzles.

As  someone that grew up in the midwest, the whole area is fascinating.  Our roads are lined with stone walls that are hundreds of years old.  The roads wind through the country, following the same paths they've followed since before the Revolution.  Both of the villages I drive through are full of colonial era buildings, white churches with steeples, and rail fences with sturdy posts.  The barn I board at is older than the country.

It makes things a bit quirky, the ceilings in the stalls would be considered too low by modern standards and I will never get used to a multi-level barn, but it's very cool to walk on the same boards that have been used for centuries.  There aren't a lot of silos left in our county, but there's one on the back of the barn.  I need to get some pictures of it.

Fall is my favorite season in New England.  It's beautiful, the bugs are gone so our trail rides are relaxing, the air has just enough bite to make it refreshing.  The leaves fall around us and cushion hoof falls so there's almost no sound.  Everything is gold and red with accents of green from the pine trees.  Heavens know I needed a nice, quiet, relaxing trail ride in November.

Because November isn't all picturesque scenes and the smell of spices.  My poor thighs.  Sleeping on the couch to avoid the stairs is already a thing and we're only on day 5.  I'm supposed to jump without stirrups on Tuesday.

May the gods have mercy on my soul.  Isn't there an age limit on this crap?

Friday, November 4, 2016

The many faces of Theo

I haven't gushed about my horse in awhile.  I figure I'm due.

Show pony

Last night I was chatting with my friend that shares my lesson.  She was gushing about how much fun Theo is and how much she appreciates me swapping ponies with her sometimes so she can ride him.  And then she paused, looked at him, and said 'and I used to hate him so much'.

That's kind of the summary of Theo's journey to date.  He's gone from being a loathed school horse people genuinely hated (I do not use that word lightly) to being the show horse in the barn.  Miss Thang?  She's lost her place as the fancy horse in the barn.  She's now just another school horse.  Mi papi, on the other hand, is the one that the kids say oh and ah about.

Master of opinions

Now I know that he's not really that fancy.  He's pretty earth bound and lazy as hell, no suspension or real stretch, but the power he's capable of is very eye catching and he's becoming well schooled and very broke.

Since my friend needed a good ride, I traded ponies with her after she'd successfully cantered her usual ride.  A little coaching, some walk to trot transitions, and then I walked her through a walk to canter transition.  It took a couple tries, but it was worth it for the look on her face when Theo lifted his entire front end and stepped directly into a canter that she carried all the way around the ring.

She was beaming, grinning like it was Christmas morning.  And she just couldn't get over the difference.  She got the wrong lead at one point and said 'but I can tell!  I can feel it!'.  And then he popped a neat lead change for her and she was just done.

Tolerant school master

One day, Theo is going to be a wonderful school master.  He's going to be the horse that shrugs, goes 'close enough', and offers the movement.  My friend wasn't wearing spurs or carrying a whip.  A couple of transitions with a boot if he didn't step right up and he turned his listening ears on for her.  There was a whole list of things she felt with mi papi that she'd never felt before and she had several light bulb moments in her ten minute ride.  Theo shrugged and went along with it.  After a walk to canter transition that had me grinning (his rider nailed the prep, even though she wasn't sure what she was doing, and he really lifted over his topline and I could see his abs tighten), she handed him a cookie and he decided that this worked for him.  He wasn't on a proper contact, he wasn't doing the level of work I demand of him, so he was happy to cooperate.

An instructor that, in the past, I saw get rough with Theo and insult him, called him her beautiful beast and tried to cuddle with him.  Which was a bit jarring, as I haven't seen her with him in months.  I guess she's forgotten the past.  Theo sure hasn't (he took a shot at her), but he holds a grudge. 

And when a little girl came out with her mom for one of the adult pony parties and announced she wanted a beautiful black horse with lots of fluffy hair?  Guess who was waiting for her.

 Leadline pony extraordinaire

She was so excited.  He was exactly what she wanted!  That tail!  I think I'm more proud of those pictures than any of the other ones.  He was so very careful with his tiny rider.  He kept looking back at her with a look of complete wonder.  Were we aware that his rider was so tiny?!

I'm not sure what came first, the change in perception or the change in Theo.  It's been gradual in a lot of ways.  I don't think Theo's base personality has changed at all.  He's always been a cuddle bug under a tough shell.  He's always needed to feel secure in order to trust and try.  But now some of the positive aspects of his personality are shining since he feels more secure and comfortable.

Part of it is just me learning what he needs and loudly telling everyone (with all of the rights that come with being his owner) how he needs to be handled.  If Theo wants something, he damn well gets it.  Extra protein in his food, nice shoes, supplements, massages, carefully fit tack, more ear scritches than any one horse should need, metric tons of cookies, very specific handling.  Every part of Theo's life is tuned in for what he needs. 

Part of it is just the change in perception.  Several of the girls currently at the barn didn't meet Theo as a school horse.  They only know Theo as 'Catie's show horse', the one that goes to the big shows and knows all of the fancy dressage stuff.  They handle him like royalty, like it's a privilege to do things with him.  Even the girls that knew him before handle him completely differently.  Fear of my wrath is effective.  I might occasionally be 'that mom'.

As greedy as I am, I love the fact that mi papi gets to show off all of these facets.  I want lots of people to appreciate how much fun he is, not just me and Trainer A.  And I want him to keep thinking that his job is a pretty good gig and that all of the people in his life will treat him like royalty.  If he keeps going as he is?  His future is looking very, very golden.  Third level school masters tend to have very pampered lives.