Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Vacation life

Since I still have a corporate job, I'm still on holiday break.  Today is my last official day of Christmas break, but with everyone gone, my productivity isn't going to be much over the next three days.  Then another three day weekend.  I've been at the barn for hours every day and it's been amazing.  My Fitbit has been impressed with my step counts.  I was planning on cutting out early and riding all week, but we have a nor'easter blowing in for Thursday.  Yuck.

I did get a treasure under the Christmas tree worth sharing.  The hubby is a genius and found these on Amazon after seeing a show bow on my wishlist from Smartpak.  Not that I really wanted a show bow, but Trainer A insists that I have one for formal occasions.  But look at these beauties!

I will be the matchiest match dressage rider in my region this summer.  Black and grey for formal days, navy for the navy coat I've promised myself, and pink to go with my pink browband.  Just don't tell Trainer A.  I don't think her heart can take it.  This is only encouraging me to look at different color coats.  Hubby has finally broken me of my resistance to wearing a show bow.  I want a brown coat so badly.

As for Theo, got a hair cut for Christmas.

For those keeping count, this is his fourth for the winter and his fifth overall for 2016.  But it did the job and his respiration has been much better.  Today we got up to 50* and I was still able to ride him without issue, so problem solved.  And here I was starting to freak out and think he had COPD and I'd have to retire him because of heaves and --

Yeah, horse ownership can make the most sane person obsessive and whacky.  I forget that the areas I clipped are shaggier than many horses' winter coats.  He was simply too warm and uncomfortable.  He's feeling quite frisky now with his half naked bod.

I also gave him a day with no dressage and just jumps.

He approved.   A total gentleman on the cross ties after a day of just going forward and jumping.

In honor of the h/j shows showing up on our calendar and after a day of jumping courses, I've decided it's time to install his flying change.  Having only a simple change on course is starting to irritate me.  He's plenty broke enough and strong enough to do a change while on course. 

Due to his training and jumping mileage, I decided the best route was to build off of the changes of lead over fences we've been doing as a cheat to hide the fact he can't do a flying.  As Trainer A puts it, a jump is just an extension of a canter stride.  Today I had ground poles set on the diagonals across the arena.  We canter over ground poles all the time, it's pretty nonchalant.  We did it a couple times so he was just chilling over them.  We got a nice forward canter, I approached the pole, rebalanced, changed the bend, asked for the change, and boom, flying change over the pole. 

I had him do it in both directions to make sure it wasn't a fluke.  Sure enough he swapped out in both directions.  We had some baby bobbles, he botched the footwork (break in the rhythm, the change was clean) on one and wasn't clean on one, but fixed it within two strides so not bad for a baby change.  His ears were flipping back and forth, figuring out what on earth I wanted.  It's like he had to figure out how to manage his feet when he didn't have the hang time that comes with a 2'6" fence to help him out.

He's cute when he's a bit confused.  A couple cookies and big pats made sure he understood that's what I want.  He didn't buck or barge off like a lot of babies will do, so I was very pleased.  Hopefully we'll be able to get a consistent change on him this winter so I don't have to do simple changes when I jump any more.  He'll be in boot camp with Trainer A while I'm in Vegas for a work trip, she can really lock them in for me.

I love vacation life.  I can revel in my pony time, ride while the sun is up, and not have to rush anything.  He's gleaming, I've done body work on his sore muscles, his tail is completely brushed out, all of his stuff has been cleaned, it's amazing.  Going back to reality is going to suck.

Though Theo may not miss me.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Holidays

Second year in a row that we've had to cancel our Christmas trail ride. This time for the wind.  Peyton and I were dodging falling branches on my run this morning, so I'm thinking it's a jumping kind of a day.  Nice and safe in the indoor.  Theo's good on trails, but we'd just be asking for trouble out in the snow when a tree falls on us.

But either way, I will be celebrating the holiday at the barn with all of the space and privacy I could want (no one else is nuts enough to go to the barn on Christmas).

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, Delightful Yule, and a general Woohoo the Sun is Coming Back to everyone from me and Theo.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


As I carefully led the prancing, snorting, rearing, striking beast down the road, I could only think, "This is my creation".

Theo got a day off on Thursday since I wanted to ride every day of my vacation and that would have put him at 10 days straight.  Seems a bit much, so he got one day off.  Just one.  I went to get him Friday while the sun was still up and it was glorious.  I went down to inspect his shed (still dry!) and find my ice cleats that fell off in his field on Wednesday night.  Refreeze is treacherous and I wear little cleats just like Theo's on my winter boots.

Theo flung his head and trotted around after me while I looked for my cleats.  He did look pretty riled up, but every horse on the property was with a sunny, 40* day.  I put a chain shank on him and led him out of his field after I was done hunting through the snow. 

That jerk proceeded to go full stud mode.  Not only can he passage now, he can also piaffe.  I discovered this when I told him to quit trying to barge ahead.  So the good news is that he knows to lower his croup and go in diagonal pairs.  Bad news is that it was mixed in with some rearing, striking, and general 'I cannot even deal with myself right now' behavior.  He started honking like a Canadian goose while piaffeing beside me, eyes bugging out of his head and tail flagged.  He pranced, honked, and half reared his way to the barn.  Honking, for those who are confused, is that ridiculous sound that very wound up horses make that's louder than a snort.  It sounds like a honk.  Theo made that sound for most of our jig down the road, looking almost exactly like the cartoon.  I didn't have to exaggerate anything for comedic value. 

This is my monster.  My handiwork.  I'm the one that thought it was a good idea to make him strong, give him lots of fuel, and show him how to be powerful.  Whoops.  Is this how Frankenstein felt?

Being Theo, he settled on the cross ties and by the time I was done grooming him, he was head down asleep.  To play it safe, I lunged him for twenty minutes.  No bolting or bucking, just some head shaking when I used the opportunity to really get after him for not going forward.  When I got on, he was the same old pony everyone loves with a small side of extra sass.  And today he was wide eyed and snorty on the way in.  I got right on, put him to work, and he was fine.  Some head shakes, one kick out at my spur, but fantastic over fences.  He's very comfortable changing his lead over a vertical now.  Renvers kind of blew his mind, but he's starting to get the idea.

Pretty in pink

 This was exactly what I wanted.  He has the strength and energy to not hate doing hard work.  But man oh man, no one warned me that I'd be spending my winter trying to convince my gelding that he's not a stallion, striking is forbidden, and throwing sparks with his shoes is actually not cool.  No matter what the girls at the barn say.

Friday, December 23, 2016

2016 Blogger Secret Santa

I wanted to dilly dally on this a bit since I'm an over achiever and got signed up in the early bunch, but I think it's time to reveal my Secret Santa:

Aimee over at Sprinkler Bandits!  Total luck of the draw to get one of my very first blogger friends.

I was honestly pretty confused when the hubby said I had a bright pink package waiting in the kitchen.  Huh?  I didn't order anything.

Well, mystery solved!  I got goodies from The Herbal Horse for me and Theo from Aimee and Courage.

I got some candy!  Hubby stole the mango one. 

I got absolutely delicious lip balm.  One of the ladies at the barn tried to make off with the blackberry vanilla, so you have been warned.  If you get that flavor, be prepared to defend it.  I'm a Long Winter Farm addict (try the Pony Breath flavor), but these are equally good and have earned a spot in the rotation.  Especially the blackberry one.  Hubby likes the vanilla mint for himself. 

We also got muscle rub and hair conditioner.  I'm keeping the muscle rub for now.  I use it after my stupid running torture sessions, it helps out my sore knees.  The hair conditioner is being used to tame Theo's forelock and to help with a dry, flaky spot in his mane.  They both smell fantastic.

It was a fantastic surprise and a great pick me up on a cold, icy, miserable day.  Thanks, Sprinkler Bandits and Courage!  Also, I'm now recommending Herbal Horse, love the goodies I got.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Natural talent

I'm still watching videos on DressageTrainingOnline.com.  I'm not sold on this service.  The videos being chunked up into 15 min bits irritates me to no end.  If it's a one hour video, leave it a one hour video and let me run it on my TV.  Audio and/or video sucks on a decent percentage since they're from clinics or symposiums and a lot of the videos are old.  Only 8 of the 144 videos in the Training - Second category are from 2016, which tells me that it's not updating much and I'll burn out of videos quickly.  The search engine is crap.  I typed in medium trot, I got a mad hodge podge of videos that had the key words medium trot.  Some were Grand Prix horses, some just happened to do medium trot during a test.  I want to develop a medium trot, but I couldn't search for 'develop medium trot'.  So you pretty much have to read through all of the videos in a general category and hope.  Is it worth $30 a month, considering you still have to pay for some content (Ingrid Klimke cavaletti talk is extra) and there's an ad at the start of every video?  Nope.  Won't be keeping this one.  Do the free trial, watch some good videos, then leave without feeling like you're missing anything.

But I'm learning a lot in my hours of viewing.  There was a comment between Janet Foy (can you tell I have a judge crush?) and Debbie McDonald that brought me to a screeching stop.  An auditor asked for their advice on what to do with a horse that's conformation did not lend it to moving up the levels.  In that case, it was a horse that had a neck that was tied in very low, making the frame for Third physically challenging.  My ears perked up, since Theo finds some movements challenging due to the way he's built.

The recommendation?  Don't do it to your horse.  It's not fair.  Janet mentioned horses showing up in her ring that are not appropriate and she feels terrible for those horses.  Some horses shouldn't move up.  They should stay at the level where they are physically comfortable and do things like the rider tests and the freestyles.  The point of the rider test is to give people with less talented horses a level playing field.

Does this apply to Theo?  Should I plan on him hitting a ceiling?
Eh, I don't know.  It's not like I'm shooting for Grand Prix here.  We're not on a crazy timeline because I know it's going to take a long time for me to figure out what I'm doing, much less train up Theo.  I have the sneaking suspicion that I'll be hanging out at Second level for awhile.  Second 3 is not an easy test and if I want to go Third, that means I should be schooling Fourth.  Have you seen Fourth?  Yeah, that's crazy talk.

But being surrounded by the super talented horses at the big shows does make me aware that my horse is very average.  In competitive dressage, he's below average.  He has to work hard to do what those horses can do from year one.  I'm watching videos of five year olds to see tips on what to do with my soon to be thirteen year old.  I've got the advantage of a mature mind and less dramatics since I'm working with a mature horse, but it still throws things into sharp relief.  They do that as their natural way of moving.  Theo?  Not so much.

But there's nothing to stop us.  His feet all go the right way, he's got enough uphill tendency to not have to fight his own body, he's got that big ol' booty, and he has a neck that ties in nicely for a higher frame.  We're still shaking off his years of untrained, inverted plopping, but every clinician and judge that's seen him agrees:  he's average, but cute.  Cute is clinician/judge speak for 'nothing horribly wrong, enjoyable to look at, but not winning any classes'.   No one has said that we have a major conformation problem.

Mental problems?  We've got those in spades.  Both of us.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

10 Questions for December

Monthly hop from L over at Viva Carlos.

Does your horse need shoes? Yup, all around all year round.  Nothing fancy, but he wears his feet down pretty quickly when he's in full work.

What do you think of the barefoot vs shoes debate? Whatever works for your horse.  I wish I could have a barefoot horse, I'd love that, but it's never worked out for me since I tend to go out on rough trails, jump, and put in a lot of miles in the ring.

Favorite season for riding? Definitely fall, New England is so gorgeous in fall and the bugs are gone.  Spring is black fly season and it's terrible, summer is hot and deer flies, winter is freaking cold and icy.

How many shows do you think you’ve gone to? Absolutely no idea.  I've probably shown in over a hundred and groomed/spectated at more.

Do you consider yourself a good rider? I consider myself to be above average.  Keeping in mind that your average rider doesn't compete their horse or jump regularly and certainly doesn't spend a couple years working at a show barn, I'm comfortable saying above average in the overall rider category.  As a show rider?  Average at best.

How experienced do you think someone needs to be to own a horse? More experienced than they are.  I feel at times like I'm not experienced enough and I've been riding since I was five and I'm on my third horse. 

Have you ever gotten into a fight with your trainer? Sure.  Most of the time it's piddly stuff like my horse's food notes not being updated or when I don't get what they're saying and I'm frustrated.  I haven't had a proper yelling match with a trainer in a long time.  It takes a lot to make me snap.  The last one that I clearly remember yelling at was when I found out a trainer was drugging a horse before showing it to a potential buyer.  Left the barn that day.

Describe your dream horse. Big, dark bay gelding, no white legs, gleaming like glass, bouncy trot with natural lift, forward thinking, calm mind, cuddle bug, enjoys showing and trail riding, SOUND.

Does anyone in your family ride? My mom did when she was younger and up until just before she had me.  I technically had my first ride on a horse in utero.  My sister rode when we were teens, but I don't think she's been on a horse since I went to college.  My hubby rides on occasion, but not seriously.

If you could ride any horse in the world, which one would it be? why? VALEGRO.  Because he's gorgeous and looks calm enough to not completely destroy my uneducated ammy butt for making mistakes.  I don't have any illusions that it would go well or that Charlotte would let my uneducated butt anywhere near that horse, but in my dreams, he tolerates me long enough to experience just a bit of what's possible.

Who wouldn't want to sit on that?  If he can cope with thousands of fans on their feet, applauding and yelling, I can hope that he can cope with playing school master for me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


After three days off, I finally got Theo back to work.  I spent Sunday trying to convince papi to let all of that excess energy out, then trying to convince him that he could do that without dragging me about the arena like a rag doll.  Very rude.

But at least he got it out of his system without hurting himself or me outside of some sore muscles.  He also decided he should annoy me by showing off his passage.  Who knew he had a passage?  Well, he has one now.  I guess all of that strength training is good for more than ripping athletic bucks and trying to dislocate my shoulders after bolting on a 15m circle.  Dork.  But I guess that means he's a Grand Prix prospect!  That's how it works, right?  He shows me an inverted passage for ten seconds on a lunge line, I tack on about $20K to his price tag?

We only lunged for twenty minutes, including his walking warm up.  The joy of a draft horse.  He was walk and plod until I convinced him otherwise.  He remembered our lessons on acting up on the lunge from last winter.  After about ten minutes of being fresh, he was quite done and ready for his blanket and a nap.  I cooled him out bareback, showing one of the teens how to get started with teaching her horse how to leg yield.  Theo was on board with doing a couple steps sideways at the walk.  I didn't want to push him and risk him tying up after three days off and working in temps that were swinging wildly.  We were riding in 50* weather after the two days of brutal cold.  That night, it dropped to 10* with howling winds.  I was riding when the cold front arrived, the wind suddenly whipping up loud enough to startle us both (yes, I bailed, shuddup).  The temps dropped twenty degrees by the time I got him ready for bed.

Trainer A rode him gently on Monday as the temps were still quite cold and we wanted to ease him back into the groove after his time off.  Today he actually worked for the first time in almost a week.  What a sassy, sassy beast.

I like the sass.  It's new.  It's not aggressive, it's not angry, it's playful.  It's going to hurt like hell if he manages to bite me, but at least he's not raging at me.  He's just energetic and busy.  It's the same body language I see when he wants me to play in the field.  He's snorty and up but not stomping his feet.  He seems to be figuring out how to let it out without it being a big issue.  Of course, this increases the risk of him treating me to some of his massive bucks. That I won't enjoy, but in exchange for eager, happy ears?  I'll take it.

He felt quite good today once he settled into the work.  He was slow to start, which is understandable after the time off.  I had to do some Pony Clubber leg flapping to get him rolling (yes, at the walk, I had to flop around like a complete beginner to get him to move, I'm not proud).  We were still wrapped up in a cooler and he wasn't happy to get started in the cold, but he grunted and complied.  Once his muscles were warm, he was on board with the program.  I was getting moments of head shaking and snorting while cantering, followed by some big jumps over little fences.  We were working on him stretching through his neck while cantering around to a bounce set nice and low.  He loved it, stretching out and holding his canter like a wanna be hunter princess while I stayed in my half seat and left him alone.  He's finally, finally learned how to canter around in a stretch without getting on his forehand.  He's a smart enough boy to know he can't jump if he's slamming down on his shoulders. 

He was just so dang happy to be back in work, to get those muscles moving and to really stretch.  Trainer A commented on how much she enjoys his canter now.  He got an apple and a jelly filled Munchkin after a very positive ride that he seemed to enjoy quite a bit.

I'm hoping my enjoyment of the sass doesn't come around to bite me later.  Mi papi has a very big buck.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Snow day

First we had the two days of brutal cold.  The kind of cold that makes Theo glare at me and dare me to try to take off his blankets.  I understand he's not bluffing, so I decided to let him keep his blankets and take to two days off.  I didn't want to work in single digits and howling wind anyway.

Today the temps decided to climb, but the snow decided to fall.  Five to six inches in my area, which meant the roads had to be plowed out and my drive to the barn was a bit hairy.  The barn was still working on digging out and Theo was feeling a bit feral.

Of course an offering of treats changed his mind, but we were still wading through snow almost to my knees to get him out of the field.  With the path to the arena still unplowed, Theo got a good groom, a change of blankets for the rising temps, and sent back outside.  Day three off.

Tomorrow is freezing rain in the morning, followed by temps going up to 50*.  I'll have to get to the barn as early as possible to pull his medium weight, but with up to a quarter inch of ice, there's a chance I won't be going far again.  While I'll drive in 5-6" of snow, I do not mess with ice.  Ice is bad news. 

And with temps dropping back down to 10* after rain and melt, I don't want to be on the road when everything refreezes very quickly after sunset.

So fingers crossed I can do more than pet Theo on the head tomorrow.  Weather is supposed to go back to normal on Tuesday so we'll be able to get back to work, but I'm really not looking forward to getting him back into work in the dead of winter after five days off.  Lunge line ahoy!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Art binge

After last night's inspiration to get out my tablet, I decided I should do another drawing.  But in the last computer wipe out, I lost my graphics software.  No problem, I have Paint!  That works, right?

This is based in reality.  Theo hates his blankets and I'm pretty sure it has to do with the pretty mustang mare in the next field.  The one that isn't clipped, doesn't wear boots, and doesn't need shoes.  I swear she laughs at him when he's turned out looking like he's going on an expedition.

That sad drawing took forever.  My tablet didn't work right, no tools, so terrible.  So I decided to go shopping for software for the first time.  I've suffered with whatever I have on hand.  This time, I went out to find appropriate software.  With a friend (who happens to be a professional artist) to help me out, I treated myself to a subscription for Autodesk Sketchbook Pro.  This software is amazing!  The difference is stunning.

I cranked out all of those drawings in the time it took me to do the one in Paint.  And there's shading!  After a page of doodles to get myself used to the new set up, I got this.

This was us in my Wednesday lesson.  My Azalea colored set from PS of Sweden showed up, complete with blinged out browband.  I even dug out a pink sweatshirt for the occasion.  Trainer A was pretty much speechless.  Theo felt very pretty.

I missed my tablet.  I know what I'll be doing during the next couple of snow storms.

Dressage movements for non-professionals

Because sometimes evening TV is that boring and your tablet is sitting right there.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

2017 Goals

I think it's time to settle on my 2017 goals.  I've certainly thought about it enough.

Need more satin
  • 60%+ in First 3 to qualify for my freestyle
  • Score 65%+ at First level
  • Present Second 1 at a schooling show (and don't get laughed out of the ring)
  • Go to a hunter jumper show 
  • Do two clinics
  • Sit the trot in a First level 3 test in competition
  • Develop a reliable medium trot!
  • Complete a 5k race
Stretch Goals:
  • Show Second 1 at a sanctioned show (and don't get laughed out of the ring)
  • Show Theo as a Baby Green Hunter
  • Show First level freestyle 
  • Complete two 5k races
I consider 2017 to be Theo's First level year.  This is the year when he'll be competitive as a First level horse (I hope), as opposed to 2016 where we were in survival mode for our First level outings.  Let's try to shoot higher than 60% and done.  Let's shoot for the judge not fearing for our ability to complete the test.  Let's make it so that I'm fine tuning the moves, not praying that they'll happen as I turn across the diagonal *coughLENGTHENTROTcough*.  I got 63% this year, I'm only looking to go up two points.  It's a reasonable goal for a year of work.  And doing Second 1 at a schooling show is a pretty gentle goal since, let's face it, there's some pretty scary stuff going on at Second 1 at a schooling show.  I doubt I'll get laughed out of the ring so long as I manage to stay in the saddle.

Our concentration faces

I've decided not to shoot for regionals this year since First level adult amateurs is the biggest championship in my region.  Training level had around 50 people, First level is even bigger.  Something like 60 people.  So very nuts.  I'll hold out for when we're ready to be competitive at Second level or when my freestyle is ready to compete with the big kids.

It also dawned on me while shopping for 2017 shows that I've never shown in the Baby Green hunters.  I'm also eligible for the modified adult divisions since I haven't done a rated h/j show since 2005.  Even if you include the eventing, I haven't done a sanctioned show with jumps since 2013.  I'm totally eligible, so I can do 2'3" - 2'6" hunters and equitation.  I might as well enjoy Theo's eligibility and show him in the division most appropriate for him.  Trainer A is talking about hitting a nearby h/j show series next year and I'd be happy to go along.

I included my 5k as an equestrian goal since the point is to improve my fitness for the sake of my riding.

It's a pretty aggressive set of goals, but I think they're definitely doable.  It's all stuff that we're actively working on and a lot of it links together.  It'll be easier to get through the winter doldrums if I feel challenged.  I'll need all the help I can get staying motivated in this weather.  25 mph winds and a windchill of 5*?  No thanks, I'm taking today off.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Ups and downs

Do not ever tell me that climate change is not a thing.

As Trainer A said today in our lesson, hello colic!  In four days, we'll swing from a low of 0* to a high of 45*.  Today was 39* which is exactly average for this time of year, but after a week with highs in the mid-twenties, Theo was actually puffing in our jump lesson.  The temp swings are hell for him and with his winter coat, 45* is going to suck almost as much as 0*.  But I don't dare clip him again with the weather coming this week.  Ugh.

Trainer A is planning to cut grain in half when the temps bounce this weekend to try to head off colic.  We just had our mini rushed to the local equine hospital for colic surgery (he's doing fine and should have a full recovery), so she's feeling particularly jumpy.  I'll be on major blanket duty, swapping out blankets as needed to prevent him from getting chilled or over heated.

Of course work is beating me up and having me work long hours, so that's an additional challenge.  I call conspiracy between work and Mother Nature!

So I'm warring with the two options:  clip my horse so he doesn't over heat (but he risks getting cold) or letting him get warm on the hot days so he's comfortable on the cold days.  It feels like a no win scenario.

Anyone else live in a region of the country where 45* swings are a thing?  And own a hairy yak that's supposed to be a horse?  How do you manage it?

Friday, December 9, 2016


There are days where I want to sell Theo.  Days where I'm frustrated, aching, and feeling like we'll never get anywhere.  I want to put him on the side of the road with a sign saying 'Free'.  He's usually not a big fan of me, either, when we're having one of those days.  Nothing says 'F U mom' like trying to take a chunk out of me after a bad ride.

And then there are days when Theo shows me exactly why I overpaid for his lovely, fluffy butt.

It's December and the winter weather has set in.  We're up to the medium blanket with neck rug as his go to blanket.  A lot of horses are starting to lose their minds.  Snow is on the ground so there's not a lot of space for bucking or playing outside.  Too much energy?  Let it all out in your lesson!  Especially the TBs.  I recognize that look in the TBs' eyes.  I've had a horse bronc'ing on a lunge line in the arena during half of my rides in the past week.  Even the plodding school ponies have been bolting and bucking.

It's hard for me.  I just see a horse pulling themselves up, preparing to blow, and my pulse sky rockets.  I tense, tip forward, and brace for the explosion.  I don't know if I'll ever get over this phobia.  Today's TB losing her mind was particularly bad.  Trainer A had to take over for the rider and flat out warned me when I walked in the ring that there was going to be a real circus going on.  The mare got a couple days off for various (very valid) reasons and came down for her lesson completely on the muscle.

I share my jump lesson with this mare and another TB now.  She's sweet, but sometimes a TB has to TB.

As I sat on Theo with no stirrups on my saddle (I hate using stirrups with my winter boots, I worry about getting stuck), the mare absolutely lost her mind on the lunge.  It was all Trainer A could do to keep her from hurting herself or coming in and hurting the trainer.  It was pretty dramatic.  Let me just say, her junior rider is a brave young lady.  When Little Girl has an opinion, she lets it allllllll out.  For about five minutes, she was an absolutely dangerous bronc.  She went back to being a lovely partner for her junior after her outburst and they had a nice lesson. 

But for those five minutes, I was just this side of a proper panic attack.  There was a horse in the ring completely losing their mind in a noisy, dramatic fashion.  I stayed on.  I didn't bail.  I sat there and scritched mi papi's neck while he stood and ignored the mare doing acrobatics.  My copilot was riding the Baby Pony and asked if I was okay.  I guess I was pale and she knows me.  And I could say yes, I was okay, because mi papi didn't move a muscle.  And I can trust that he won't move a muscle.  I forced myself to sit back, relax, release his reins, and pet him while the snorting and thundering hooves went on.  When I have to, I can completely focus on me and trust my horse to hold down his end of the equation.  It's a big step forward for me to stay on and just breathe through something like that.  Trainer A looked surprised when I stayed on.  Pale, shaken, but still sitting in the saddle.

That's papi's handiwork.  As we continue to build up the miles, he continues to prove that acting like a fool is just too much damn work and I can trust him to take a nap when that's an option.

The TB riders love Theo now.  He's a soothing influence.  While their horses are losing their marbles, Theo stands with one foot resting, taking a nap.  It works on several horses.  They wind down when the other horse in the arena is the epitome of chill.  One TB that has a lot of trouble with keeping his marbles in his skull does better with Theo in the ring.  Lots of riders bail when she comes into the ring, but now I can stay and give her horse company without risking my own safety.  Mi papi doesn't even register that a horse is acting up in the ring with him.  Having a totally mellow fellow in the ring makes it easier for the TB to relax and focus.  And it's nice for the rider to actually have company and not feel like she's chasing people out.  I've been that rider and I'm very happy to give her some company, regardless of what her horse dishes out.

I bought Theo to give me my confidence back.  To hold my hand when I've hit one of my limits and I need some support.  He's proving to be exactly what I needed.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Training for Second

Wait, an actual training update?  Like the stuff that's happening in the arena?

I know, I'm shocked, too.

Papi and I have been hard at work on becoming real, honest to goodness Second level types.  As part of this process, I've been watching a lot of video on Second level tests.  Janet Foy refers to Second level as the Great Black Hole.  Lauren Sprieser was recently quoted as saying Second level is where hopes and dreams go to die.  Well, that's inspiring.

The very things that make Second level so interesting and tantalizing to me are the very things that keep people from actually showing at that level.  Sitting trot is a requirement.  There are collected gaits.  Turn on the haunches, shoulder in, haunches in, 10m canter circles, simple changes, counter canter, it's all introduced at this level.  Honestly, the only thing scarier than Second level is putting changes on a horse, at least for mere mortal adult ammies.  Changes are freaking terrifying.  Second level is only very frightening.

So imagine my mixed emotions when I was watching a video of someone riding a Second level 1 test and thinking 'hey, that looks like Theo'.  On a good day, to be sure, but that was Theo marching about.  Collection came and went, he was occasionally downhill, but he was willing and marched about.  And he would have gotten a score in the low 60's.  Hm.

With that bit of inspiration, Trainer A and I are pushing hard to move that Second level 1 test into the realm of possibility.  Because you can't do a good First 3 until you're pretty much a Second level pair, right?  So why drill First level movements when you're really shooting for a Second level horse?  Exactly, it's silly, so we're now pushing for Theo to be solidly schooling at Second level.  Like able to do it at a schooling show.

So we'll need (for Second 1):
Collected gaits
Medium gaits
Shoulder in
Simple changes
10m canter circle
Sitting Trot

Collected gaits:  We're getting there.  It's slow and the progress is jerky, but we're at the point where I can ask for engagement and get some.  I'm starting to really understand that collection isn't about small steps or going slow.  It's about activity.  It's about shifting his weight back.  It's about feeling his shoulders come up, not about getting his head down and neck pretty.  It's feeling like I could canter or walk at any point, no stress.  It's feeling like I could change direction without any loss of balance.  It's about having a canter where when a child on a pony gets in front of you, you close your outside aids hard as though doing a turn on the haunches and feel him lift his front end and move it over and around his haunches.

He's got a pirouette in him, I just know it.  Also, children on ponies are worse than drunks.  Where the hell are you going and who's actually driving?  Because I'm pretty sure it's the pony.

Medium gaits:  Ha ha ha ha fml.  He has medium gaits in him, but it will be a long, slow grind to build the muscle for him to hold them across the diagonal.  Medium was described by Janet Foy as the trot that gets the most off the ground while extended covers the most ground.  You should look at a medium and think that you can build a passage from that.  I love mi papi, but he's very earth bound by nature and confirmation.  I had a frank talk with Trainer A about this today and her reply was 'he has it in him, we just need more poles'.

To which I said 'are we going to chase him with the poles?'.

No, no, we're not chasing Theo with poles, it's more jumping and raised cavaletti to build up the muscles so that it's easy for him to bounce up off the ground.  Though chasing him with poles would probably be easier.  To be fair, he is building up some bounce.  He's done so many caveletti at this point that he just sees them and starts to lift himself up.  And with our grand focus on getting him up off his shoulders, I'm starting to see a difference in the overall shape of our trot.  It's lighter. 

Shoulder in: This has become something rather old hat for Theo.  We've been working on it consistently since I started riding him seriously.  Now I can put him in a shoulder in with minimal struggle and hold it.  We lose some of our trot impulsion still and we could use more bend in his body, but he'll stay on the bit and go along without trying to barge out of it. That's progress and I'll take a calm, willing shoulder in with less bend over pushing the bend and getting him evading.

Simple changes:  These are coming along.  We can walk to canter reliably now in both directions.  In my jumping lesson this week, I did some walk to canter to trot to halt to trot to walk to canter to walk transitions to get him jumping up and paying attention.  I call it the guessing game.  A horse that's completely clueless on what I'm going to do next will usually hold themselves in self carriage more effectively because it's a survival instinct.  Bitch is crazy and there's no telling what she'll ask next, better stay prepared.  Canter to walk still gets a couple of trot steps on the straight, but if I put him on a small circle and ask as he's coming to the wall, he can step straight to walk.  We've been doing a fair bit of that as a weight lifting exercise.  It's much easier to get those shorter steps when there's a wall to help.  I expect that as the muscles develop the strength, we'll get a proper canter to walk transition on the straight.

10m canter circle:  Oddly enough, he's taken to these pretty well.  I don't do a lot of these because I don't want him to hurt himself, but I'm making sure he does at least a couple in each direction each week.  As they get easier, they'll get more routine.  Yet another move that he understands, just needs more muscle.

Rein back: Rein back is not Theo's favorite, but I've been tossing them in all over the place so he'll accept them as part of life and not some sort of correction.  It sucks that we'll have to do it with the rail on the right, since he tends to swing left, but I know it's coming and can usually guard (with the leg away from the judge, woohoo!).

That leaves us with the sitting trot.  I have to show mercy on myself and say it's better.  I can sit the trot indefinitely without risk of falling off, even over poles.  It's not as pretty or plugged in as anyone wants, but I can sit while Theo powers along and not become completely ineffective.  I've accepted that this will be a never ending project.  My sitting trot will always require work, just like sitting the canter.  That's riding for you.  Will I be ready to sit in competition next show season?  Eh, probably?  Nerves play havoc with my seat, so I'll have trouble away from home.  Good thing I'm showing First where I can sit as much as possible, then bail and post when things get hairy.  I want to sit, I want to sit so much that it's threatening to become an obsession.  Trainer A is smart and pops me into rising so I don't screw up Theo's attempts at learning to do his job, but puts me back into sitting once we're settled into things he already knows.  If it wasn't for her, I'd probably try to sit all the time and screw us both up.

That's . . . not bad.  Huh.  How did we all of a sudden get here?  I see it all written out and . . . huh.  Look at that.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


Sometimes being a crazy horse mom pays off.  Sometimes.

In August, I thought I noticed a difference in Theo's behavior.  He seemed more fidgety in the cross ties, less happy about being groomed.  I keep a journal in my locker and noticed a pattern of 'tried to bite me' comments appearing.  I mean, Theo is always looking for a shot to bite someone (especially me), but this was different.  I figured he was sore and tired from all of the training we were doing and set him up with some massage sessions.  He loves his massage sessions.

In September, with regionals completely occupying my mind, I still noticed him being more fidgety then the baseline in my head.  He would bite the cross ties when I groomed him.  He's a mouthy boy in general, but that settled in my mind as unusual.  The masseuse and chiro found nothing, even noting that he was a rare case with no pain points in his back at all.  Tight spots, sure, but he leaned into his massage and never acted like something hurt.  Farrier found nothing.  Trainer saw nothing under saddle.  I thought training issue and upped his ground work.

It was October when I was brushing his belly, setting him into a teeth gnashing rage, and it suddenly hit.  I'd seen this before.  Non-specific, edgy, touchy about certain things and particularly unwilling to have his belly touched.  Coming to a head after a competition season with a lot of travel.  It flared up and faded but was always kind of there.

Hellbeast had ulcers.  We put him on ranitadine to confirm the diagnosis and he settled within days.  His stomach didn't hurt anymore and everything else just seemed to get better.  He stayed on ranitadine until I could rummage up the dough to afford a course of Ulcerguard for him.  After that, he would get a preventative dose while showing.  He gained weight and showed less anxiety about life.  He didn't really display as a horse that had stomach pain, he never colicked and was never girthy.  It was just a pattern of irritation that tipped off my vet.

Ulcerguard is no joke in terms of cost.  Neither is endoscoping.  I'm not looking to sink $3K into a diagnosis when most vets are happy to just treat and confirm when the symptoms disappear.  But Ulcerguard is $30 a tube and you need 28 of them.  YIKES.  That's not a light undertaking.  Did I want to just load up on Ulcerguard (in the form of Gastroguard) and see if it helped, or did I want to pay for a vet appointment and confirm the problem?  Because I'd still end up ponying up the dough for the Ulcerguard.

While looking at Ulcerguard prices, I stumbled on a COTH thread about generic omeprazole.  Merial lost their exclusive rights in 2015 and generics are now allowed.  Other COTH threads mentioned these 'pop rocks' for ulcers.  I hunted until I found what they were referring to.  It's generic omeprazole designed to be fed with a horse's food instead of in paste form and it comes from Abler.

It's not the most mainstream thing.  It's made in India.  But hey, I do business all the time with India for work, that didn't bother me.  A COTH poster had tested the coating of the granules and found they actually worked.  An FDA test showed they did contain the drug they should contain.  No one, anywhere, had any horse hurt by this med.  Some said it didn't work, but no one had a side effect.  Plenty of people reported good results, including at least one with a follow up endoscope.  At $200 bucks for a full 28 days of treatment?  I was willing to take the risk.  I ordered up some pop rocks.

Be warned, regular shipping is SLOW.  7 - 14 business days turns into 3 weeks when you include weekends and Thanksgiving.  I finally got Theo his first dose on Nov 30.  He gets three scoops on top of his breakfast with a bit of corn syrup to make sure he eats it all up.  You can see in the picture how little the scoop is, it's not a lot to add.  The granules are quite small.  They'll dissolve in water, so you can't add water or applesauce to their food.  Corn syrup or molasses is fine.

And you know what?  He was different on the cross ties that night.  Other people noticed.  I brushed his stomach and only got a half hearted comment out of him as opposed to a swishing tail and gnashing teeth.  It took me a second to remember he'd started his meds.  Could that be the cause on day one?  Sure it can.  I have an ulcer and I know that when I take my Prilosec, I feel better within hours.  Same chemical, same process.  This isn't something that would take days to kick in.  The acid in his stomach is reduced the same day.  He feels the difference now.  The fact that someone that had no idea he'd been dosed walked up to me and asked what was different told me it wasn't my crazy, hopeful mind.

I gave it a couple days to make sure I wasn't fooling myself.  Every day was a little different, but that's horses for you.  Temperature change, day off, construction going on outside.  But he didn't seem to mind me handling his stomach as much.  Today I wasn't paying attention while scratching his neck and shoulders with his tail brush and moved to his belly.  He didn't mind a bit.  Then Trainer A mentioned that when she tacked him for his training rides, he seemed calmer about having his belly groomed.  Suspicion confirmed.

I have accepted the fact that Theo has ulcers.  How long has he had them?  Who knows.  Maybe some of his 'rage machine' behavior all these years was because he has a sensitive tummy.  Maybe it was just because of his travel this year.  Doesn't matter.  What matters is that now I know and I can make sure this isn't a problem for him.  He will get 28 days of the treatment dose, then wean off of his pop rocks.  He'll get a preventative dose when traveling and showing in the future.  It's not a tough commitment to make when I can do it for $2 a preventative dose and it can be fed with his breakfast.  That's less than what I pay for his Smartpak.

So yes, to all of my fellow crazy horse moms, sometimes you're right when you think something is bothering your precious baby.  Sometimes, just sometimes, you're on to something and you can lead the way to solving the root cause of some of your perfect angel's problems.  Not all of them, mind you.  He still goes out the left shoulder and still wants to bite me if he thinks I'm not looking.  That's all him.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Best laid plans

When New Englanders see that we're going to get less than an inch of snow, we barely notice.  It's like driving in drizzle, kind of a nuisance but not a big deal.  We budgeted a bit of extra time for the drive to today's dressage clinic, but slept easy.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is not less than an inch of snow.

This was a completely unforecasted snow event.  The rain/snow line that was supposed to come up into NH stayed in Massachusetts and left us with 3" of snow in three hours with no plows waiting.  It's still freaking snowing.

I have to go down a steep hill to get out of my town.  I was on the road as the heavy snow hit.  When I got to the hill, no plows had touched it.  There was no salt or sand, just a long, steep haul down packed snow and ice.  I eased down it at about 2mph, praying to every god I could think of as I slipped and slid.  I made it.  Other cars were not so lucky.  Trucks weren't even trying to go up the hill.  They were pulled over, waiting for the plows to catch up.

Usually it takes me 25 minutes to get to the barn.  Between unplowed roads, traffic, and an accident on the highway you must take to get to the road our barn is on, it took me an hour.  I did not get my coffee because I didn't dare the turn to get to Dunks and the highway our bakery is on was a parking lot.  I almost didn't make it up the last hill for the barn.  Steep, winding, and completely untreated.  The plows didn't know this was coming and our secondary road wasn't exactly on the top of the list.

I went into the barn and found Trainer A without the usual morning crew.  They hadn't made it in yet.  It was 7:40am.  I checked my traffic app and saw that everything between us and the clinic was bright red with slow downs and accidents.  Massachusetts was having their usual traffic issues, but NH had been caught with their proverbial pants down and many roads were downright treacherous and the snow was showing no signs of stopping.  We would have to leave in 20 minutes if we wanted to have a prayer of making it in time for our lesson.  Our one hour drive was now looking like 2.5 hours.  We stood by the road, looking at the hill and curve we would have to negotiate with the trailer carrying very precious cargo.

If I put my Yaris in a ditch, it's a nuisance.  If we put a truck and trailer in a ditch, it's a disaster.  As absurd as we felt calling in for such a small amount of snow, we could not in good conscience load up the horses when there was a very real chance they would get killed.  All of the highways were stop and go, all of the back roads were untreated.  Lots of people were getting hit or going into ditches.  As much as it upset us, we decided to stay home.  Better to be disappointed and safe.

I gave papi the day off, since my mood was not the best by this point.  On the drive home, I failed to make it up the hill to get out of the barn.  I had to turn around (a 3 point turn on the road is much scarier when you use the brakes, nothing happens, and you're completely sideways without a guard rail) and go the back ways, wandering around on unplowed roads to get to the highway.   Once I made it into town, I parked my butt at my favorite local diner for lots of coffee and breakfast.  I waited an hour for the snow to stop, then gave up.  I managed to follow a plow back up our hill, so I made it on my first try.  Now I will spend my day off from work pouting.

It's.  Still.  Snowing.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Manual labor

A horse owner's work is never done.

Theo lives out 24/7 because he's a jerk in a stall.  He's gotten a lot better since he's started doing away shows, but he would still rather be out.  His field has a shelter, so no need to bring him him.  But his shed has a history of flooding in heavy rain, which kind of defeats the point.  He doesn't want to go in a shed ankle deep in water so he stands out in the weather.  It gets worse in the winter when snow melt pools in there and refreezes.  It turns his shed into a skating rink.  Right now we bring him in when the weather is really bad.  We managed it last winter, but I'd rather head the problem off at the pass.

Today I went out with a shovel to fix this little problem.  The water runs down a hill, pools in the low point at the back corner of his shed, then fills his shed on it's way down the hill.  If you look close, you might even see the water line on the side of his shed.

So I put in a small trench to keep the water from getting to his shed.  Instead, it's being rerouted around his shed to join with the main run off path down his field.  It's about six inches deep at the end.

It took about 1.5 hours to put this in.  New Hampshire is cruel when it comes to any kind of earth works.  Granite, granite everywhere.  Anywhere else in the country, I could have been done in 30 minutes.  Here?  I had to chip through the hunks of granite just below the inch of top soil.  Not my favorite way to spend a Saturday, but now I feel confident that his shed will stay dry and he can hide out from the bad weather.

In summer I'm thinking about having a new load of gravel dropped off and topping it with stall mats so he can have excellent drainage and a completely dry spot to sleep year round. 

Maybe next weekend I can handle some other work that's been piling up.

Tack lockers going into winter are very, very scary places.  Somewhere in there I have all of the stuff I need to make Theo look fancy for Monday's clinic.  Somewhere.  Far in the back.  Where I can't reach.  I might need a search and rescue team.

I still have my number from regionals.  I'm a sentimental fool.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Blog Hop: Couples therapy

I spotted this one and couldn't resist, even if it was from October.


So, how does your current (or past) trainer manage the partnership/relationship between you and your horse(s)?

This is an interesting question for me, since Trainer A knew Theo before she met me.  She'd worked with and occasionally ridden Theo for years before I wandered in the door.  She already had a pre-set notion of him and knew his history.  She knew he was opinionated, held a grudge, and could not be pushed.  If he got angry with his rider, the ride was over for the rider's safety.  Riders that tried to fight with him did not last long.  I, on the other hand, was a mystery.  She got to know me as I got to know Theo. 

Fast forward a year and a half and we have the current situation.  At this point, she knows both of us, I know Theo, and Theo knows me.  I'm a strong personality, Theo's a strong personality, and the combination of the two makes or breaks most of our rides.  We both have tempers that can become violent, though most see us as very laid back.  Managing moods and communication isn't an option, it's a major component.  She'll ask me what is going on with Theo while I'm riding, since I've been actively studying his body language for some time now.  He's bored, he's tired, he's frustrated, he's happy, he's eager, he's plotting my death.  I know how to speak papi and she lets me translate.  Papi also knows how to speak Catie.  He knows when I'm pleased, when I'm amused, and when he's pushing my limits.

Trainer A considers the relationship between me and Theo to be very important and she actively manages it every time she sees us.  She supported my somewhat controversial decision to use food rewards with him while riding because it made him associate his work (and me) with good things.  I couldn't get anywhere with him if he saw me negatively.  She's the one that originally chased me out into solo trail rides, even though Theo hated them, so that we would learn to trust each other.  She encouraged us to build up a relationship that was more than him doing what I told him to do. 

Some rides require more management of our relationship than others, of course.  When doing a position lesson, Theo is good to just march around and daydream about sugar cubes dipped in caramel.  When we're challenging him mentally or physically, we both have to keep a close eye on the barometer.  If I've had a bad day at work, if I'm slamming into a mental wall I can't seem to get through, if Theo has really got my goat, she'll step in the manage the relationship in that direction as well.  She's very aware of how quickly the two of us can escalate. 

I probably wouldn't be as successful with Theo if my trainer wasn't so willing to consider us as a couple and not as two separate entities.  We're not separate entities.  We have a complicated relationship made up of compromise and trust built over many miles.  My relationship with mi papi is more important to me than any score sheet and she enjoys watching us grow as a pair as much as she enjoys seeing us advance in our training.  She's enjoyed watching the two of us take on new challenges together and depend on each other when things get tough.

I consider myself quite lucky to have Trainer A to shepherd us along and intervene when we need some couples therapy.