Friday, May 26, 2017

Unicorn hunting vs. unicorn gathering

Unicorns have shown up in my feed a fair bit lately.  Not the elegant beasts of mythology, but the kind you hear of but never actually see.  The perfect horse.

That definition is a bit different for everyone.  For some, raw athletic talent is critical.  For others, being unflappable is everything.  For a true unicorn, they need to have the look, the personality, the skills, the soundness, and the price.  Mostly, it's about the price.  Fantastic horses are easy to find, hard to afford.  For me, it's mostly the flexibility to do lots of different things without losing their mind, enough style to compete at the lower levels, and a personality that includes lots of cuddles.

During my jumping lesson today, Trainer A and I chatted about the concept of a unicorn while mi papi was catching his breath.  She's always horse shopping since she's running a lesson program and she knows how hard it is to find that critical combination of temperament, soundness, trainability, and price.  She can find it, but the price tag is usually more than a school program can afford.  I gave Theo a pat on the neck and said I'm not much of a unicorn hunter, I take them as they come.  Her response?  But he is a unicorn.  Now.

Trainer A started laughing, recalling the wreck we were when we started and he was trying to jump out of rings and porpoising around the town ring at that tiny schooling show.  I could barely get him over fences, he couldn't really canter, and he was as likely to toss someone as he was to help them.

Two years later, he's the horse I wish I could have afforded back when I was shopping.  Jump 2'6, competitive at first level with rated show miles, trail ride, pack beginners, and turn heads while doing all of it.

I think I'm a unicorn gatherer, not a unicorn hunter.

I gather up the raw materials and make them myself.  Fi wasn't really a unicorn since she was very specific, but she did grow up into a beautiful, well rounded horse that was well admired and I enjoyed her immensely.  I still miss her.  Allen had too many soundness issues to qualify as a unicorn, even if he nailed every other part of the checklist.  Hauling my terrified butt around a coliseum should get him automatic entry in the unicorn club, especially when looking that gorgeous.  But Theo is the first one that I feel is actually irreplaceable. 

But the real takeaway?  Unicorns are impossible to find for a very good reason.  After putting in the two years of blood, sweat, and tears?  No, I'm not selling him.  No, I don't want to hear about how good the home is or the number offered.  I'm just now getting to enjoy my work!  Why would I sell him when I'm getting to the good bits?  A horse for sale was being shown while I was riding last night.  The horse's owner was teasing me afterward that they talked more about Theo than the horse they were trying out.  The trainer kind of casually asked about his status while I was loosening his girth after the ride.

No, my unicorn is not for sale.  But thank you for the compliment.  Yes, he is very pretty and he canters on the buckle with his head at his knees and he dozes in the middle of a crazy busy indoor ring full of cantering ponies.  No, you can't have him. 

Go make your own unicorn.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Blog Hop: May 10 Questions

Questions from The Horse is Not Black this time.

1. What are your summer goals?
Start running through Second 1 consistently, get my 60%+ score for First 3 at a rated show so I can do my freestyle, and take Theo to his first h/j show.  My goals are pretty modest this year since I'm still adjusting to life as a commuter.  As evidenced by my complete lack of posts and perpetual exhaustion.

2. Do you have any tips or tricks for fly control?
Not for New Hampshire.  Seriously, they're a force of nature.  As the months roll by, the species change and make it even more impossible to manage.  Black fly season now, horse flies and deer flies starting in mid-June, then regular barn flies to close the year out.  Oh, and mosquitos all the time.  I use Ultrashield religiously (the red bottle), a fly sheet with a neck, and a fly mask with ears and a long nose. 

3. How often do you bathe your horse?
Not very often, actually.  He's black bay, dirt doesn't show much on him.  He usually gets one the week of a show, so about once a month for half of the year.  The other half it's too cold and he gets no rinse shampoo baths.  He gets hosed down after most rides during the summer and sometimes mid-day when the heat is bad and he's struggling. 

4. Do you have any upcoming travel plans? Equine related or not?
Nope, my work trip is done and I'm home for a good long while.  My next possible trip is out to Minnesota in October to visit the family.

5. What is your favorite way to beat the heat?
Ride early or ride late and accept that some days just have to be days off/trail ride days/walking lateral work.  Theo does not do well in the heat, so we have to pick and choose our ride times.

6. Do you do anything to prevent your horse from sun bleaching?
His fly sheet does a good job of keeping him that lovely black through the summer.  I also sunscreen his magnificent tail.

7. How hot is too hot for you to ride?
We have relatively high humidity out here, so Theo starts to struggle at 90*.  Heat index hits 95* or higher?  It's not safe to ride him for more than a leisurely trail ride.

8. How important is sun protection for you riding or just in general?
Crucial.  I'm pale and burn easily.  I also have some premature aging due to wearing polo shirts outside for so many years without being good about getting that little patch of skin that shows when you leave it unbuttoned.  I'm usually really good about sunscreen on my face, but I missed that spot one too many times in my 20's.  Now I'm the queen of long sleeve sun shirts, SPF 50, gloves, and sunglasses.

9. Have you ever gone swimming with your horse?
Nope, and not really interested.  I don't like swimming in natural bodies of water, I have too many fish tanks.  I KNOW what's in that water.

10. What's on your summer wish list?
A navy browband from PS of Sweden, a new halter for Theo (completely wrecked his leather turn out halter), and new tall boots specifically for schooling.  Something I can walk in all day and not hate my life afterward. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Flying change hell

I didn't really believe in flying change hell.  It seemed kind of radical, considering how many times I've helped put a swap on a horse and not had any major changes because of it. How big of a change could I see in a lazy horse that just figured out his changes?

Guys, there really IS a flying change hell.  And I am neck deep in it.

Theo likes to throw his left shoulder out.  Okay, fine.  He also has days where he prefers one lead over the other.  What lead he prefers changes from week to week, so I don't worry about it too much.  Some days the left is awesome, some days it's all about the right.  It doesn't stick, so I assume he is just a super sensitive boy and any little ache makes him avoid that lead.  We had a little while where he'd try to break and swap leads to whatever he preferred, but I fixed that.


I picked up my canter to the left.  I didn't like the bend I was getting, I wanted his shoulders on the correct side, so I pushed him over with my inside leg.  Boom, lead change.  Well, okay, my leg may have drifted back a bit while pushing his haunches out, fair enough.  Walk, pat, pick up the left lead.  Adjust the bend and . . . . boom.  Change.

 So tired after a serious business dressage school

Two changes on one long side.  In the span of two weeks we've gone from never doing a change to popping them at the drop of a hat.  Counter canter?  HA.  We have no counter canter.  Hell, I barely have a regular canter.  I have to ride the hell out of my canters right now to avoid swapping out.  I can feel him shifting his weight back and prepping for a change any time I cut across the ring.  I shift my weight too much and he pops a change.  I can't correct him for it, it's what I wanted.  So I'm settling in for a full fledged run through FCH. 

Being smart, talented, and beautiful is tiring!

I'm so glad I read up on this beforehand.  At least I wasn't surprised when I suddenly got eight changes in a ride where I wasn't planning on working changes at all.  I head toward X, change.  Whether I want it or not.  And then change back because being on the right lead is important now.  I saw some lead swaps with his leaser on Friday night but I thought that was because he was cantering over poles and she was losing her balance.  NOPE.  Full fledged FCH.

I guess there's nothing I can do but buckle up for the ride.  I can't complain, he's right on track to go through this.  I just wish he'd done this over the winter instead of one month before our first rated dressage show of the summer.

Snuck out for a trail ride in the rain after our school

Oh, our h/j debut that was supposed to be today?  Rained out.  Did you know they actually cancel stuff for rain?  I'd forgotten.  We actually got snow this morning before it turned back to rain.  So we're still the biggest DQs in the barn.  Someone out there wants me to stay in the sandbox.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Curse is reversed

I got my videos!  Turns out there was a flash drive with the originals and they worked!

Behold, mi papi, the confirmed First Level pony!

First 2

First 3

I'm so excited to have these.  He really does look like an entirely different horse than what we had in the fall.  And I have a video of a full First 3 test, so I can look into getting my freestyle choreography taken care of!

I'm just going to sit and watch these on loop for hours.

Friday, May 5, 2017


Just when everyone thought I'd fallen off the face of the earth.  Here I am!  Still employed, still riding, just figuring out how to do all of that, see the hubby, eat, and sleep.  Sleep is usually the one that loses out, so it's still a work in progress. 

I have a severe hatred of my alarm right now.  It went off this morning and I seriously contemplated smashing it into tiny pieces.  I dragged my butt out for an 8am lesson, then rushed home so I could log in to work.  Working from home has started and it's making things easier.  Two lessons this week! 

Between the training ride and Theo's leaser, he's getting work six days a week very consistently and is doing well.  He's already got his leaser's number in terms of teaching her to give him cookies.  He's also aware that she isn't going to push him.  We had to introduce her to wearing spurs and that when you say go, you mean it.  He snapped right back to being a very good pony, but I suspect she'll have a learning curve.  But it's a super safe learning curve.  She was practicing changing the bend through an exercise and Theo learned the pattern in two passes.  He just did the pattern while she tried to sort out what her hands were supposed to be doing.  That's how he earns all those cookies:  you can just flop and figure things out, he's good with that.

My schoolmaster in training

For my lesson, we were knocking some rust off of my jumping since he's got his h/j debut in a week.  He must have heard me ranting about his lack of a change because he either swapped over the fence or swapped in the corner.  Every.  Single.  Time.  I rebalance, ask, new lead.  It's not the big lift you'd want for a dressage change, but it's not a hunter swap, either.  It's back to front, I have to half halt, collect a bit, and deliberately ask.  I have no idea where the hell that came from, I haven't touched his changes in weeks.  We've been working on that simple change, getting him balanced and his weight back and . . . .

Oh yeah.  The stuff you need to do a change.  Hey, looks like it's working!  Trainer A assumed I'd been working his changes when he kept popping them in our lesson.  Nope.  Someone is finally strong enough, balanced enough, and confident enough to just pop over to the new lead reliably.  Which makes me feel better because if he's swapping leads on cue now, I should be able to do a change to get me through a Third 1 test! 

Though I did get a taste of Flying Change Hell as Janet Foy refers to it.  I went to straighten Theo's shoulders and got a change.  Well, shit, that wasn't what I wanted.  But I can't correct him.  Just walk and pick up the canter again.  His counter canter is holding up fine on the flat, but over fences?  We were doing a rather tricky exercise with a 90* turn with six strides between two fences.  I landed, gave him a serious half halt with the plan to counter canter the second fence.  My poor pony has been working so hard on his canter to walk that he immediately shortened his canter to walking speed.  I tipped forward because I wasn't expecting his stride to suddenly shrink by half.  While still half on his neck, I started the turn and he had a mini flail, ending in a lead change.  I'm not sure what gait we were in, some bizarre hodge podge of walk, trot, and canter.  He was so ready to walk that he totally didn't know what to do when I asked him to keep cantering.  If felt like he got his legs tangled.  And then he felt he needed to change since we were jumping.  Still not sure how he got over the second fence.

Trainer A was impressed that we were both still upright after that pass through the exercise.  I guess it wasn't very graceful.

So I may have broken my counter canter for a bit, but that's okay.  I'm doing First this year and that's just the shallow serpentine he already knows.  Second 1 doesn't really have counter canter.  I won't need to really show a counter canter until next season and he should be done being proud of his new trick by then.

Do I have video of any of this?  Of course not!  I have a terrible jinx.   I got my video from my last show and was so excited!  It was a solid test and I had the whole thing on video!  But there's a problem.

See how it just stops at 2 minutes in?  Video was corrupted.  So much for getting my choreography finalized.  I'll have to try again after we get the large arena set up and I have my new phone.  My current phone has a crack over the camera lens, makes focusing tricky.  But you can see how nicely he trots now, like a grown up horse.  And he can leg yield without drama.  It's really a pity, the test improves as he settles into the ring and there's no canter work.  I guess I'll just have to try again.  Beauty like his should be shared.

I might be biased.