Friday, June 30, 2017

Six legged demons from hell

I swear New Hampshire is designed to keep you in the indoor.  Three to four months out of the winter it's too icy/cold/snowy to be outside.  The footing is dicey and the piles of snow alongside the road make it dangerous to hack out.  Cars are dumb and anything that limits their visibility as well as taking away my emergency escape route is a no go.  The outdoor becomes an ice skating rink due to snow/ice/refreeze and is closed until spring thaw.

Then we get a glorious two month window where we can go outside!  So long as it's not raining and the melt is done and mud season is over.  We don't want to tear up the trails or splash through ankle deep mud designed to tear off shoes.  But we go out and adventure and shake off the winter doldrums for a glorious eight weeks of really unstable weather interspersed with rides outside.

And then the bugs arrive.  Oh, the bugs.  In waves.  Species after species making the outdoors absolutely miserable.  The first wave is the black flies.  They swarm and bite something fierce.  Theo reacts to them and looks like a pineapple if he doesn't have his fly sheet, fly mask, and fly spray.  Then we get a short break before the mosquitoes start to peak, quickly joined by the midges, deer flies, horse flies, swarms of gnats, and any other type of biting insect you can imagine. 

Our outdoor is surrounded by woods.  Very pretty, provides some protection from the sun so you're not baked, but absolutely unusable most of mid-June to mid-July except at the hottest hours of the afternoon.  You can't walk because the gnats will swarm you in a cloud if you're going that slow.  I have become proficient at coughing and sneezing up gnats in as effective a manner as possible.  Haven't figured out a solution for the ones that get in my ears other than to shriek and flail.  It's really beyond words awful.  Theo needs a fly mask with ears to run through his tests in the large arena after warming up in the indoor and our free walk is usually a series of head shakes and snorts. 

The road is marginally better and where I've been trying to get him out of the indoor so he doesn't get ring sour.  Sometimes I'm completely bat shit and take him out bareback in his rope halter for a road hack.  Because I'm dumb.  But it's good for his brain and he really is that steady.  It's still buggy but it's manageable.

 No saddle, no bridle, no problem

Once the clouds of gnats and little biting flies disperse in mid-July, we can start to use the trails again, but only at speed.  Horse flies and deer flies will turn Theo into a bloody mess in minutes if we're going too slow.  For anyone unfamiliar with this variety of torment, they're big flies that bite in a way that feels like you've been stabbed.  They leave a bleeding mark behind and, if your horse is sensitive, it can result in a good sized welt.  Horses really, really do not react well to this.  I've seen horses almost flip over when swarmed by deer flies.  They get completely frantic trying to make the biting stop.  Most of us do the rail bed at a canter for our trail rides during that season.  We can get away with trotting rough sections which makes trail riding a possibility, unlike in the gnat season where it's just impossible, but it's not exactly relaxing.

September we start to get relief and can start going out.  After the first freeze in October we are usually on the trails as much as humanly possible because it's our short window of no bugs, no ice, no mud.  The rest of the year it feels like an epic battle with Mother Nature to get out of the indoor.

My poor horse is reactive to bugs, so I'm constantly sinking money into his armor.  I just ordered the Amigo with No Fly Zone to replace his fly sheet that's on it's third season.  Got to say, the Weatherbeeta Airstream held up for three seasons of almost constant use and is getting replaced only because some of the velcro is starting to wear out and a tear near one chest buckle.  I seriously considered getting him another one but wanted to try the No Fly zone.  I'll keep it as a back up because fly sheets need washing but I can't leave him naked.  We left him naked for a couple hours one day this week and he came in covered in itchy, tiny welts.  They really got him behind his shoulders where he can't reach and that's unfortunately under the saddle pad.  Not a happy papi.  Lots of treatments and soothing baths for him.

One of the first things I bought him and it's still in service

Crusader fly mask every time he's outside at this time of year.  Either his heavy duty long nose version for pasture use or the lighter version that goes over his bridle.   If he manages to get his mask off, I usually spend a couple days cleaning out his ears and treating the damage.  There's a reason he's not clean clipped.

Flyspray of choice is the Ultrashield in the red bottle.  I buy it by the gallon.  If we're getting into the 40's or warmer, he gets sprayed.  It keeps the ticks off of him (also a huge problem here and lyme is endemic) as well as the worst of the biting bugs.  I got a free sample of Ecovet and I'm going to try that tomorrow.  I've been really hesitant due to the reviews of it being a respiratory irritant.  Again, Theo is a delicate fucking flower and I don't want to set off his reaction to inhaled irritants. 

Seriously, how is this horse still alive?  He reacts to EVERYTHING!  Allergies, bug sensitive, ulcers, unstructured carbs, it's a wonder he's made it to 13 years old.  Though it does explain why he seemed so angry for so long.  He was itchy, congested, and his stomach hurt.

But if anything can keep him from getting chewed up?  I've got to try it.  I've heard Ecovet is a miracle worker for the midges and those are hard to control with a fly sheet, especially now when he's out on grass 24/7.  The worst of the deer flies is coming and I'm pretty willing to try anything to keep them off of him.

New Hampshire.  Beautiful to look at, not so lovely to actually experience.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Intentional slacker

I'm settling in to my new status as a commuting adult amateur.  I ride 3 to 4 times a week and that's fine because my horse is getting loved on 6-7 days a week.  I school seriously 2 times a week and then hit the trails and goof off.  We went on a group trail ride on Sunday, discovering the way to a new trail network.  4.86 miles of trails?  Yes please!

Theo was a saint, leading through some very rough terrain.  Too rough for pictures.  The trail was closed for a couple years after a bad storm dropped some very large trees.  We were probably the first horses on it in two years.  Theo tip toed over dicey footing, showing the two barefoot stock horses how to make it up the hills and through the water.

I ride for the love of it.  Yes, I'm competitive, but I've learned the peril of burnout.  When I had to work late last night because a new customer launch went sideways, it was no additional stress when I realized Theo wasn't going to get worked.  Trainer A is on him 2 times a week now as she gets ready to show him.  Theo isn't going to freak out at a random day off.  He's not going to lose condition.  I'm not a bad owner.  Tonight I will stay late, baby sit this new data run, and not worry a bit about my horse because he's already been worked today and is scheduled for an extra ride in the morning.  I could ride him tonight if I wanted to, he's plenty fit enough to be ridden twice with eight hours in between, but I need to work.  It's how I afford him, his fine clothes, and his tasty grub.

Trainer A is hopping on him extra this week to get him ready for the schooling show on Sunday.  And I'm very excited about this.  I really want to see Trainer A show him and I think (hope) she's starting to get excited in her own right.  Last year she never showed higher than Intro.  Now she's back at First 3 and talking about when to move him to Second.  It has to be so nice to go out and show at a level that's actually challenging and fun.

So here I sit in the unusual position of only riding when I really want to.  I don't have to drag myself to the barn when I'm stressed or fried or exhausted just to keep my horse in work.  And I kind of like it.  With the long weekend coming up, he'll be seeing a lot of me.  And then I can go back to earning his keep and not feel like I'm sacrificing his care to afford him.

It's new.  And weird.  But I think it works now that I'm getting used to it.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The power of straight

There's this thing a lot of people talk about.  A bunch of dudes in Germany wrote it once upon a time, they thought it was important.  It's almost a religion for a lot of the dressage-y types.

Yeah, that thing.  It's a nice, simple thing, but it surely can't apply to all horses, right?  RIGHT?

We all know training isn't linear.  You improve something, then you go back and tweak something, then you hop ahead to add something new, then go back to clear up something that popped up, repeat.  I'll admit to taking this whole pyramid thing as a neat idea that has very limited application in real life.  You learn it but it doesn't apply in real life.  Especially with a stubborn, evasive draft cross that isn't at all a purpose bred dressage horse.  Theo hasn't read the manual. 

Guys, I was wrong.  Again.  Training may not be linear, but that pyramid exists for a reason.

In Trainer A's clinic with mi papi, she got the book thrown at her for not locking down straightness before asking for collection.  In our attempts to unlock his resistance to any kind of bend in his upper neck/poll, we'd been turning Theo into Gumby.  Which worked for some things.  He relaxed, settled into the bridle more, started to give us lateral work.  He stopped using his under neck and started to develop a topline.  But that was all relaxation and connection stuff, we never went back to straightness.  We threw some energy in and then said 'collect, Theo!'.  We skipped from impulsion to collection.  The classically trained fella was having none of it.

Who cares if he's in front of the vertical right now?  Get his shoulders in front of his haunches, get his neck straight, and ride him that way.  No, he does not need to practice bending through his neck, that's half of your problem!  Look at him break at the C3 instead of the poll!  Keep him straight and keep his poll up!  Slow, steady, relaxed, forward, and STRAIGHT.

By gods it works.

Yes, that's Theo with Trainer A in the saddle at her clinic.  Look at that stretch and bounce!  She brought it all home and promptly threw the book at me.  Ride him straight!  Shoulders in front of haunches, neck straight, poll at the highest point.  If he's breaking at the C3, that's not softening, that's evasion.  Fix it.  Slow the rhythm, relax, settle into the connection, add energy, get him truly straight.  Forget his muzzle, just keep him relaxed, straight, even in the connection, and forward forward forward.

It's been a game changer.  His rhythm in the trot has dropped by a full beat per minute and sometimes two.  We are now shifting in and out of lateral movements without him falling on his face.  He's not a huge fan right now because he's having to sit evenly on both hind legs and can't break in the middle of his neck to fake flexion, but he's getting the hang of it.  I have to think of moving his shoulders, not his haunches or barrel or neck. 

His haunches are on a straight line, pushing us up and forward.  The power runs forward through his body so long as there are no kinks in the hose.  His shoulders I manipulate from side to side without the haunches leaving that straight line and without letting his shoulders pop out and block the hose.  I do not ask for bend in his neck.  Do not let the hose kink in the neck.  Flex is not what I thought it was.  If I can see his eye, that's plenty.  I don't want a change in the middle of his neck.  If I have a bend in the middle of his neck, I've lost the shoulders.  Pressure in both reins, cycle back through to the haunches.  If the outside rein is light, the shoulders aren't where they belong.  Inside leg to the waiting outside rein, bring the shoulders in front of the haunches and straighten the neck.

It's been hard for me because I hate having his muzzle out that far and my brain keeps screaming that I need to bend in the circles.  To do this dressage thing correctly (and move up through the levels), he's going to have to give through his poll and that's been very difficult for him.  When I give him massages, his poll is usually very tight.  Always has been, even before I started riding him seriously.  He hated having his poll touched when I started.  I think he stores his rage there.  Once he lets me work my fingers in, there's usually very dramatic yawning and chewing and stretching, particularly on the right.  He really, really struggles to flex left through the poll.  It's painful, but the vet says it's just tight, not arthritic.  Chiro agrees.  Massage therapist thinks he has rage issues.

Taking away his evasion has finally broken through that resistance.  In my last lesson I asked him to give me a little flex to the left and he did it.  Neck didn't move, but I could see his left eye.  He was calm about it, just offered the adjustment.  With each ride, he's comfortable bringing his muzzle in a bit more.  Just a bit, a fraction of a degree, but it's adding up.  He's learning to travel with his poll as the highest point and to flex through those previously locked muscles.  And at his last massage, his poll was less tight and painful.  Bit by bit, he's becoming supple now that he doesn't have a choice.  And as he gets more supple, he's less resistant to the idea of traveling correctly.  I've heard dressage referred to as yoga for horses and it looks like it's working.

It's been an interesting couple of weeks while we back up and fix this basic that we somehow blew past.  Theo's had some temper tantrums because this is new and hard and his evasions are suddenly being stopped, but nothing severe.  He likes being powerful and once he's rolling, he usually has that cheerful expression from the clinic photo.  Trainer A laughs at him when he's warmed up and hit his stride.  He loves to show off and let everyone know how big and powerful he is.

So I once again have to admit that I was wrong.  The training pyramid is a thing for a good reason.  While training isn't linear and it's not a case of completing a level and moving on, it's a checklist that needs to be revisited frequently and in that specific order.  The same way a tiny shift in my position changed everything about my riding, this tiny shift in how I ride my horse is rippling through everything.  It's going to be months before we see the full results of the change, but after three weeks, I'm very excited for what the future holds.  He looks like a real, honest too goodness dressage horse!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ode to the tail

He may not be forward.  He may not be supple.  He may not even be overly cooperative.  But he has one hell of a tail.

Seriously, that tail looks like it's photoshopped in our photos from our most recent show.  He's on his forehand and behind my leg, but I can't take my eyes off of that tail.

It takes a lot of work to keep this thing in shape.

Every day I have to pick through it and remove sticks, hay, dirt clods, big tangles, and grape stems.  Every.  Dang.  Day.

I try to not brush it out every day, but some days nothing else will do.  In fly season, he's prone to get snarls where his hair will wrap around his dock and he'll end up with a mat on the underside of his tail.  I don't want him to rub, so that's a daily check.

I also avoid silicone except during his brush outs during show season.  In the off season?  Silicone free detanglers only.  Sunscreen a couple times a week helps when paired with his fly sheet with a tail flap.

I don't braid it up, it's naturally wavy.  He doesn't tolerate having his tail braided full time.

Once a week (or as needed because he's a monster), he gets a full brush out.  I coat his tail in detangler from top to bottom and let it sit for a couple minutes to make sure it's soaked in.  Then I start at the ends and work my way up carefully with a big paddle tail brush.

In the warm months, he gets a tail wash every two weeks.  He's prone to pooping in that tail and rubbing mud in it, so it takes a lot of care.  It takes about a 1/4 bottle of Quick Black and 30 minutes to wash his tail completely.  Quick Black really helps with keeping that sun burnt orange color out of his tail.  I use it on his body, too.  It really brings out his dapples.

I have to sit and part his tail over and over to get down to his dock and get rid of all of the dead skin.  I'm so happy we have a wash rack now.  It used to be impossible without help and it's hard to find someone that will stand and hold your horse for 30 minutes while you wash his tail.

Theo loves it and dozes off while I scrub away.

Once it's clean, it gets slathered with EQyss conditioner.  That stuff is awesome.  Finally, finally, he gets stuck in a stall to dry.  Only once it's dry do I brush it out and trim the ends and a couple inches along his dock to keep him from getting big wings on his butt.

The end result?

Jet black, shiny, and the thing that gets the most comments.  Which is nice.  If they're looking at his tail, they're not noticing some of his other less flattering features.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Perils of perfectionism

I was going to write about spurs, but then I decided I've self-flagellated enough on that topic.  It's been almost two weeks.  I can stop the beatings now.  Instead I'll share the video of my bad outing and everyone can see that it is straight up self-flagellation from a perfectionist and we really didn't have that bad of a day.  It wasn't the score we wanted, but we didn't have people clutching their pearls or fleeing the area.  Pony was distracted, then pony was lazy.  Rider was distracted and overly stressed.

I got my spurs back after talking to Trainer A and deciding that it really is a mental thing for both me and mi papi.  He associates spurs with a serious business ride, even if I'm not using them.  For years, only Trainer A and I rode him in spurs.  Everyone else (when he needed to be ploppy pony) went without.  He's not a fool.  He gets a little bump and shifts gears to working pony.  We're going to work on weaning us off of them, but cold turkey is not the way to go.

Yes, we have a lot of work to do on getting him in front of my leg.  So, so much work.  My gods that horse is lazy.  Today we practiced walking forward like he has somewhere to be, halting like a gentleman, and then walking off promptly and starting from his hind legs.  Turn on the haunches, repeat in the other direction, a couple steps of rein back, repeat.  Walk is good for building up accuracy and strength.  But you know your horse is lazy when working walk with correct balance makes him protest.  But it's haaaaaaaard, mom.

I also got tortured on my sitting trot.  My left hip is killing me, so I must have been doing it right.  Trainer A was very pleased and we had a couple steps where Theo really had some loft while I was sitting.  Both of us must be getting stronger, he's getting very confident in lifting his back with me sitting.  Work over raised trotting poles is getting us both comfortable with the idea of bouncing along together.

And then he hung his head and acted like we were the cruelest people on earth.  Believe me, papi, I was working just as hard as you.

This is the downside to being a perfectionist.  I can tear myself up over flaws that are, objectively, very small.  I have to remember to stop the self beatings at some point and move on.  It's not an easy hobby, no point in taking all of the fun out of it.  So yes, lessons learned, progress to be made, but I think I'm done beating myself up.  There's always another show and we're still making good progress.  Time to go back to enjoying myself until the next time I make a series of dumb mistakes.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


And things were going so well.

The theme of today's show was 'how many ways can Catie try to get eliminated?'.  Let's see:

1.  No throatlatch.  I forgot to grab my throatlatch since I was packing off of the list from the hunter show.  That's required equipment and I realized it was missing about 35 minutes before my test when I was about to get on.  No other bridle in the trailer since I was the only one at the show.  We ended up taking my spur straps, hooking them together, and clipping them to Theo's browband.  Tada, throatlatch!  Sort of.  I had enough of a throatlatch so we could show, but I was on pins and needles until after the tack check about it.

2.  Corner of death.  We were at the same facility as the hunter show on Saturday.  The one where it took me 20 minutes to get him to go all the way around the ring.  When we pulled in and I saw a competition ring set up with the judge's booth right on top of the corner of death, I just knew we would be assigned that ring.  And sure enough, we were.  The good news is that having Theo in dressage gear and doing a dressage warm up got him through the corner in about 15 seconds, but the judge was checking her watch as my horse bucked, spun, and generally threw a fit. 

3.  Step in/out of the ring.  While he was temper tantruming, he started to jump into the ring as an escape route.  I was able to stop that, but it was a close thing.  He bumped the rail.  Pretty sure jumping over the rail and into the ring before the bell rings is a problem.

4.  Spur rub.  Yes, he still has a rub, and dying the coat or hide is illegal.  So I left my spurs in the trailer (and the spur straps on his bridle) and rode like that.  No problem with the tack check since I didn't have spurs on, but that meant that my horse thought it was ploppy pony time.  Spurs = serious business ride.  No spurs = school pony ride.  That does not lead to good scores in my experience.

We did manage to get in the ring, complete the test, and not get eliminated.  But we got a 58%.  I wanted to cry.  I was so upset my chest hurt.  It's so frustrating to come so far, then have it all fall apart as soon as we go to a sanctioned show.

What happened?  My horse was freaked out by the ring (though light years better than on Saturday), so the first half of my test was me trying to baby him along and complete the movements in a recognizable way.  He was off the contact and unfocused.  For the second half?  He dropped behind my leg and I had no damn way to get him back.  He realized I didn't have spurs and I suddenly got the Theo from over a year ago.  I didn't think I was going to make it through my canter pattern without a break.  One good bump with my spur would have gotten him back on the contact, but that wasn't an option.  I guess I'm not the only one that thinks the spurs are mandatory equipment.

It wasn't the show anyone expected or wanted.  Trainer A is throwing Theo on the trailer for every outing with a dressage ring, even the three phases, just to get both of us over this hump.  We can do that test quite nicely, but we fell on our faces today.  Badly.  I growled and grumbled and sulked.  She's not concerned, she's seen us go enough times to know that we can do it and quite easily, but we're both easily distracted by being at a show.  A couple of little oopsie moments going into the test and we were thrown completely off the rails.

So I'm still upset.  Very upset, frustrated, disappointed.  Not with Theo, really.  Considering the theatrics he gave me on Saturday, his reluctance to go into K in his test was very mild and generally I was more concerned about it than him once the test started.  Mi papi has done enough dressage tests at this point that he understands how it works and things outside of the little white box are not a problem once we've gone down center line.  He didn't want to leg yield into that corner, but most of the test he went along with the plan.  No bolting, barging, bucking in the test even with the terrifying corner.

I'm frustrated with him that he relapsed to being completely behind my leg in the warm up once he realized I had no spurs (whip taps didn't really get us much, they've never been much of a motivator for him).  Trainer A says we need a more gradual weaning, not to rip my spurs off and then go show, expecting it to be just fine.  I agree.  It was a mistake to ride a test in a ring that gives us so much trouble without my very effective tool, but it was also the choice I had to make because I screwed up and gave him a rub.

Video of the test is uploading for everyone's entertainment.  No video of the broncing display, Trainer A cut the video at the first sign that it was going to get ugly.  And I paid for photos, so hopefully there will be some pics out of the ride that don't embarrass me too much.  His new navy browband is gorgeous and matches my navy coat perfectly, so at least our turn out was on point.

So we had a bad outing.  It happens to everyone.  Olympians get rung out for disobedience and the best horses in the world have days where they just aren't feeling it.  It's horse show life.  I get that.  That doesn't change how awful it feels.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Flailing to music

Since this is my season at First level and I will hopefully (please, please, please let this happen) get the score I need to do freestyle this week, I have to actually start working on having a freestyle.  This is a ridiculously daunting process if you've never done it before.

I originally planned to have it choreographed for me to pre-edited music, but that service isn't available anymore.  It's looking like $700 - $900 to get a custom top to bottom freestyle.  I can't really justify that expense considering how rarely I'll get to use it.  It's not like I'm campaigning a young stallion in Florida or something.  Only two shows in the area even offer freestyle classes.

In an effort to save some dough, I'm going to need to do my own choreography and then have music edited to match.  That looks to be more in the $250 - $300 range.  That I can justify.  So how the heck do I do that?

No, that is not part of my choreography.

I found an app to help me out and I'm now putting together some rough drafts of my potential choreography.  I'm trying to find the balance between interesting and more pressure than papi and I can handle. 

For those considering doing the same thing, the app is on the Google play store.  It's $11, so not free but way more inviting than trying to figure out all of the distances and times on paper.  I pop in the move, the gait, the start point, and the end point.  It fills in how long it will take and helps keep track of where I am in the ring.  It also has options for setting up your music.  You can play your choreography through and watch the little horse move around the arena to see how it flows.  It's got some bugs (sometimes the horse is going backwards and the pause button occasionally doesn't work), but I haven't found it frustrating.  You can set the speed of the gaits for your horse and have a good idea of how long your choreography will take and how much music you'll need for each segment.

It's on my phone, which I'm not terribly happy about, but on the plus side I can play with freestyle designs when bored at work.  I have three versions right now that I've completed.  I started last night.  I can't imagine how long that would take using paper and a pen.

Now that I've got some rough drafts that I think will work, I get to start trying to actually ride them.  Since that part is rather mandatory.  Some of my ideas are a bit . . . ambitious.  A leg yield zig zag, some counter canter, halt ten meters after lengthen trot, it might be a bit much.  But the only way I'll know is to start trying them out.

So, as my update, I have the following process:

1.  Gait tempo analysis
2.  Create choreography
3.  Test ride choreography
4.  Finalize choreography and video tape
5.  Select appropriate music
6.  Send video, choreography, and music selection to editor (and money)
7.  Have a freestyle

I'm currently on step two, about to start step three.  So I guess that's progress?  At least I get to start actually riding my future freestyle.

Blog Hop: June 10 Questions

This set of questions comes to us from Rocking E.

What is your earliest, clearest horse memory?
 Meeting Nails, the first horse I rode.  I remember patting his face and looking waaaay up at the saddle and wondering how I was going to get up there.   

Describe the perfect summer day. 
About 75 degrees, breezy enough to keep the horse flies away, rain within the last couple days so the footing is perfect, the Ritz is freshly mowed, and all of the cross country jumps are available.  Theo and I are in desperate need of a good gallop and that, right now, would be the perfect day.

Are you reading anything right now? Tell me about it!
I most recently read Janet Foy's Dressage for the Not So Perfect Horse.  It's wonderful for a horse like Theo that is far from perfect.  It's a bit like a cook book and definitely on the technical side.  I wouldn't recommend it for someone that's new to dressage, but if you're working on a movement or trying to move up a level, it's very useful for problem solving.  It does a good job of laying out requirements and fundamentals for the more advanced movements.  Janet is blunt and straightforward, I enjoy her style of conveying information.  I actually feel better that all of Theo's issues were right there in the lists.  He's not perfect, but he's clearly quite normal.  By the time I got to the Fourth level chapter?  I was lost.  You really need to know what the earlier movements feel like to understand the later chapters.  Part of why I wouldn't recommend it for someone that's new to dressage, but for someone like me that's developing collection and lateral movements?  Huge help.

Do you follow a celebrity (horsey or non) that you’re embarrassed to say fascinates you? Tell me. NOW.
I don't follow anyone, really.  

What is your single most biggest horsey dream or goal?
To go down centerline in a shadbelly.  If it ever happens, I'll probably be trying to enter in a collected canter while crying.

If you were at Starbucks right now, what would you order?
Large iced mocha something something.  I don't go to Starbucks enough to remember the menu but I usually end up with something huge, chocolatey, covered in whipped cream, and devastating to my blood sugar levels.

What is your biggest equine pet peeve?
People that are rough with horses and people that are arm chair experts.  The ones that can't do it themselves but clearly can advise me when things are going sideways.  I'm looking at you, rail birds at the hunter show when my horse pulled a gorgeous half pirouette and tried to run for his life.  You think you can fix it?  Come and get on.  I dare you.

Not to be trusted

With everything going on politically and in the media, tell me, do you follow it religiously? Tune it out? Or something in between?
I read the Washington Post once a day during the work week.  It's enough to keep me up to date, it's a source I can trust, and when I'm done I can put it away.  I have to keep a balance.  My town is rather . . . conservative, so I avoid political discussions like the plague.

If you had to show your horse to a song, what would you choose?
I plan to show my horse to Tango in Ebony from
Theo's theme song?  Immortals by Fall Out Boy


What are you most looking forward to this summer?
 Relaxing and enjoying the summer without any real pressure or crazy goals hanging over my head.  

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Not a hunta'

In regards to Theo's rub, I gave myself a firm talking to (and got a firm talking to from one of my best friends about how excuses don't change the fact I gave him a rub).  I put all of my spurs in the back of my locker.  I done screwed up and I can't use a horse show as an excuse to keep doing the same thing.  Until his side is healed up, I get no spurs.  Even at the shows.  Especially at the shows.  While the US has more lenient rules about visible marks when compared to other organizations, they'll still be noticed in the tack check and those marks are considered abuse.  It's not something I can brush off as 'it happens'.

 The rub in question, highlighted with some Alushield so it actually shows up in photos

So let's look on the bright side:  I will be very focused on getting Theo in front of my leg.  In his clinic on Monday the clinician wanted him straight and forward.  Mostly forward.  Okay, pretty much all forward.  While he's made a world of progress, he's still got more to go in terms of being his own source of impulsion.  Losing my spurs for a couple weeks will give me a very good reason to get him propelled along under his own power.

My spurs have also become a sort of safety blanket.  When I thought about trying to go to a show without them, I felt something like panic.  Clearly I couldn't ride without them!  That's not healthy.  Yes, he's much easier to ride when he can't bulge against my leg and wait for me to get tired, but it isn't impossible.  If I can't get him around a 2'3" hunter course without my spurs?  We've got bigger issues.  My spurs are supposed to be for precision and lateral work, not to make him go.

Besides, it turns out that forward wasn't our issue.  At all.

It's been a long, long time since I went to a hunter show.  Longer than I care to admit.  I remember the classes, the requirements, what you're trying to do, but the details around the shows are a bit fuzzy.  Showing up to a rated h/j show, even if it's very B rated, was a big reminder.  I spent the day sorting through memories that were popping up out of the forgotten recesses of my mind.

First up, warm ups.  Trainer A and I were at the show grounds at 6am, right when warm ups started.  We were the third trailer on the grounds.  By the time we had the kids settled and turned ourselves in to the secretary, there was an endless stream of trailers coming in.  My old h/j skills kicked in and I tacked Theo as fast as I could.  By 6:20am, I had his butt in the competition ring, using my warm up time.  I was the only one in the ring.  This turned out to be a life saver because Theo was not dealing with one corner of the ring.  There was a watering truck, a concession stand, all sorts of wackiness in that corner.  He was not having it.  I was in that damn ring for a good 20 minutes.  He barely noticed the fences.  We were working strictly on getting him to go through that corner.  I got a full blown pirouette and he bucked big enough to catch the EMT's attention.  Yes, I was that rider.  He jumped everything multiple times, no problems with the jumps, just not okay with that end of the ring.

Then I pulled his tack and had him chill for an hour until it was time to go in.

Chilling by the trailer after doing his best bronco impression in the warmup

I say chill like that happened.  Poor Theo.  I never really noticed the crowding at a h/j show until riding a horse that hates horses in his personal bubble.  If I was anywhere near a ring, we were surrounded.  It was an endless crush.  The warm up shared by all three rings was the size of a small dressage arena.  I can proudly report that Theo did not successfully bite, strike, or kick anyone.  He didn't even seriously try to bite or strike though he was clearly thinking about it.  Screaming children, squealing ponies, it was insane.  A horse actually blundered into him at one point and I was so proud of him that he didn't double barrel it.  No one would ever get that close to an unknown horse at an event or dressage show, but there's also not a waiting line at the in gate. 

I'm proud of him for going in the ring when scared.  I'm proud of him for jumping everything and doing better with each course.  By our last course, we had some lines that I actually liked.  Forward, straight, no drama, nice use of his body over the jump, ears pricked, correct striding, good distances.  I'm proud of him for coping with the noise, the spectators, the absolute chaos that surrounded this show.

At least we dressed the part

I'm not proud of him losing his mind in the under saddle class.  I thought he'd do well in the under saddle.  We've been practicing cantering with multiple people, he copes with warm up rings.  But when my entire division of 16 piled into the ring, I got nervous.  It was very crowded.  At the trot I held him together, but he was very tense.  There were horses everywhere, I couldn't get him any breathing room.  I thought for sure they would divide us for the canter.  When the judge said all canter, I started praying.  Hard. 

Theo was already tense.  He picked up the wrong lead, refused the swap, and fought me through the simple change.  He tried to bolt and when I said no, he bucked.  And then he bucked again.  16 women cantering their big horses around a ring and mine starts to lose his marbles.  It was so crowded we couldn't get away from each other and Theo wanted to sink his teeth into all of the horses that dared to invade his space.  There was a horse practically up Theo's butt and when he bucked a third time, I heard a gasp behind me.  That's when I pulled him into the middle and halted.  I was done.  I couldn't get any space, I couldn't work through Theo's temper tantrum.  It wasn't a positive learning experience and I excused myself from the ring before someone got hurt.  The h/j types don't know what it means when you put your hand up and stop, btw.  There was much confusion.

After that, the judge split all of the canters.  I guess she noticed.

 So I'm proud of him for showing up and coping for the most part.  It was rather similar to our first rated dressage show, so that gives me hope that with repetition he'll settle into the job.  But it's confirmed, he's not hunta' material.  He had a hard time focusing with the waves of activity all around him and loathed the spectators staring at him and being so close to him.  With about 60 people hanging on the rail for our under saddle, he was counterflexed and staring at them like they might try to touch him.  Spectators have to stay way back from a dressage ring and trainers certainly aren't yelling commentary.  He could have coped with about 8 horses cantering and some spectators, but he wasn't ready for that level of chaos.  I don't know if he will ever be ready for that.

Post show liniment bath for the fried pony

The plan for the August h/j outing will be radically different.  Adult modified is way too crowded of a division.  Adult modified eq was even bigger.  I scratched those classes because Theo had already blown a fuse and I didn't want to try an under saddle with 18 horses.  I'm thinking we'll go in the jumper ring next time and do the puddle jumpers at 2'6".  No flat classes, no style points, just go jump around.  Will we be competitive?  Eh.  Theo can turn better than any horse I saw in the entire show because 10m canter circles are bread and butter for us.  We did a beautiful 12m turn back to a jump in my hunter round to avoid that corner of death.  Pity that hurts you in that division.  But Theo is also slow.  Making the time will be tricky, but it's worth a shot. 

And then I'm throwing his temperamental ass into the hunter pleasure class.  It's much smaller than the hunter classes.  He will just have to learn to cope with other horses in the ring.  Hopefully in a pleasure class he can think he's in the warm up and chill out for me.  It will also be in a different ring than the one he jumps in, so he shouldn't key up just because he's walking in.  It's worth a try.  I wanted to let his leaser show him in suitable hunter (18"), but he can't do that if he decides he needs to kill the other horses.  Make no mistake, he wasn't scared.  He wasn't trying to run.  He wanted to attack the horses around him and was furious I stopped him.

Not exactly a trait for a serious business hunta'.  Good thing he's a dressage horse.  And when we got home and he pranced, galloped, and bucked around his field with his pony and got the last of his rage out, I felt very content with his career choice.  He's just too much horse to share the spotlight with anyone else.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


I'm not proud of myself for this one, but I need some advice.

About a week ago, Theo and I had that tough jumping lesson where he decided he'd rather run through my left leg than turn to the next jump on a bending line.  Unfortunately, after a very difficult ride, he had a rub from my left spur.  I apologized, treated it, and carried on.  I was upset it happened, of course.  I never want to hurt Theo.  I wear the same spurs every ride and have seen no marks in over a year, so I sighed at the embarrassing one off and thought nothing more about it.  I rode in my dressage length stirrups for a week and the rub worked on healing.

Today was the first day I rode in my jump saddle since he got his rub.  It was a forty minute ride, nothing too exciting.  We were working on the stuff he'll need to do for his flat classes on Saturday and I worked on equitating in a shorter stirrup than I'm used to.  I had to get after him a bit to start when he decided it was too hot for work, but most of the ride was light and lovely.

Imagine my horror when I hopped off and saw that damn spur rub looking red and raw again.  HOW?  I don't leave spur marks on my horse!  It just doesn't happen!  I wasn't on my spur, he was going nice and straight for once, what the actual hell?  I was even focusing on keeping my heels down and my legs quiet!  I hurt my pony!

My best guess is that when I did get after him at the start of the ride, my spur was right over top of the healing rub and with him being such a sensitive princess, that was all it took.  This is the same horse that gets rubs from his fly mask, his halter, his blankets, most anything that touches him. It took several girths to stop the girth rubs.  It was probably that damn leg yield off of my left leg right at the start when he gave me the middle finger and I got after him.

Who could hurt a pony with a face like this?

I have a show in three days.  Commence the panic attack.

First thing I've done is toss my Prince of Wales spurs into the back of my locker and nab the shorter knob spurs that his leaser has been using while she learns to use spurs.  The lack of an edge should help keep the rub from opening up again if I touch it.  I'm also going to drop my stirrups a hole or two in my jump saddle so my leg is in a different place.  Normally I'd ban myself from spurs for a week but I can't show him without spurs and I have two, count them two, rated shows in the next seven days.  I cleaned the rub and hit it with some Alushield.

I'm not worried about my dressage show so much since I'm way off of the rub when in my dressage stirrups and with his dark coloring, the rub will disappear quickly.  But I somehow have to ride in my jump saddle for three days including a show without making that rub worse. 

What do I do?  I don't want to go to a show and have everyone think I abuse my horse!  I definitely don't want to get pulled for a wound on my horse!  I'D DIE!!!  I'm really embarrassed and freaked out by this whole situation.  It's the worst timing ever.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Sharing is caring

Theo's leaser is off for eleven days in Italy.  I can barely stand the jealousy.  I guess her parents are out there for a month and rented a house, so she's going to go crash with them and play tourist at all of the wineries.  Again, my jealousy has no bounds.  Today is a high of 54*, it's overcast, and it's raining.  Again.  She's posting pictures of beautiful sun and scenery. 


Anyway, with her gone for eleven days, I had about thirty seconds of worry that I'd have trouble keeping Theo in work full time.  That's two more rides a week and the hubby is on a work trip, so I've got the home front to manage.  Turns out that's not a concern these days.  Theo's dance card is always full.  Today he's at a clinic with Trainer A, getting some new eyes on the ground from an upper level rider that specializes in Lusitanos.  It's a great match for my short backed, upright necked horse.  Mostly it's because another client of hers loves going to ride with this guy and Trainer A figured so long as she was going, she should bring a horse.  Theo was her pick.

She's been describing Theo as a doll during their rides as of late and I've been considering picking up a second training ride so they can totally gel and she can move him up for me.  That's the way these things usually go, right?  Your horse moves up, then you move up.  I'd love to have her put those first miles at Second on for me so I can go down center line totally confident.  And it would be great for her resume to take a client horse out and get some scores.

Theo leading a group out for a ride.  I'm the one behind the camera.

And Saturday he had a date with a teenager that needed some confidence over jumps.  No one in the barn is as chill and reliable over fences as mi papi.  Grab mane and hang on, little girl, that's all there is to it.

And then we're picking out shows for his leaser, assuming she doesn't just stay in Italy forever (I'd consider it).  She wants to move up to Intro C and do her first show over fences, so we're looking at one h/j show at 18" and one dressage show.  We think it would be wildly unfair to have Theo swap levels at the same show (and possibly disastrous for his leaser when he starts doing simple changes in his intro test), so I'll go along as moral support/groom.

 Theo taking his leaser out for an adventure

Guys, how do I manage this?  I'm very casual about lending my horse to people.  I know lots of people that are struggling with not having a horse, having a lame horse, or having a horse that's just not a lot of fun to ride.  It's very easy for me to say 'here, borrow Theo and have some fun' or 'here, borrow Theo and he'll show you how to do that' or 'here, borrow Theo and show dressage with a shot at actually placing'.  But now people are actually taking me up on the offer.  And I totally forget that I'm here, too. 

I feel like I'm in danger of scheduling myself off of my own horse.  I really enjoy my one lesson a week on the pony parade.  It's been really good for my riding and my confidence.  But that's a trip to the barn where I don't ride Theo.  Three of his six rides a week are with other people.  And if I add a second training ride so Trainer A can take him out and show him, he'll be up to four.

I'm not sure how I feel about this.  I know his leaser is temporary, probably only until the fall.  I just want her to have a fantastic summer and make some progress with a horse where she can develop a relationship.  And it's been wonderful while I learn to commute.  If I've had a day where I just can't manage, it's fine.  Theo's getting lots of love and work.  But I'm so used to being a full time rider.  I'm not sure I'm comfortable being part time. 

I logically know it'll work just fine.  Trainer A rides him at 8am, so I can still ride him after work on those days.  He won't mind a bit, especially if we alternate so she schools him in the sandbox and then I go jump or have a little gallop.  I can still ride my horse four days a week, including two serious business rides.  His leaser doesn't even canter much on her day with him, it's a borderline day off and once the bugs break, she'll probably be out of the ring as much as possible.  I'm not worried about him getting pounded into the sand.  Trainer A typically gets her 'work' part of the ride done in 30 minutes or less, she's not the type to grind on a horse.  I'll typically do the same, schooling hard for about 30 minutes and then going for a wander.  I like to call it conditioning, but I'm mostly wandering.  And jumping random things.

  This might be part and parcel of having an office job.  If I try to ride him six days a week myself, I'll burn out.  If I have help, I can continue to have the job that makes it possible to afford him (and his stuff) without the risk of me having a complete melt down due to lack of sleep and never seeing the hubby.  I just need to figure out if I've pushed the pendulum too far the opposite direction. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017


Despite impressions, I do ride in lessons and we're still on track to make our leap to Second level in the foreseeable future.  The current timeline is for us to debut at a schooling show this fall.  There's a  lot a lot a lot of work that needs to be done between now and then, even if Theo and I can successfully run through the test now.

Successfully run through the test is defined as completing all movements in a somewhat recognizable form, in order, and only make the trainer gasp in horror three times.

At least Theo thinks I'm funny

The funny thing about this move up is the way it's throwing our previous issues into very sharp relief.  Let's use Theo's left shoulder as an example.  Go all the way back to my second or third entry about him and there's comments about that shoulder.  It's the side he pops out when he evades.  It's the way he lurches when he decides he's going to quit a lesson.  When we started out, it was all about not letting him successfully pop off of the rail and out that left shoulder.

I did get that shoulder under control and I thought that was victory.  We can circle left without falling in and crashing, yay!  But then we started doing Training level and we needed to be able to do a prescribed circle to the left and have him, you know, bend that way.  Huh.

I got very good at managing that shoulder, keeping it from escaping and often making it look like we were straight or even flexing in the correct direction.  But I was always managing that shoulder, staying one step ahead and preventing the problem from becoming visible.  Worked great right up until this winter.  Then I realized that managing the problem is not the same as fixing the problem.  If I want Theo to truly take his weight back and carry himself, I need him to actually travel straight.  I can't have him hanging on my left rein because omg bending left is so hard, he clearly needs me to hold him every step.  Any dressage types will tell you, that's not self carriage.  That is the opposite of self carriage.

In my most recent lesson, we decided to attack this problem head on.  I've been doing a lot of laterals to build suppleness, stability, and confidence.  This time we went at it with the very specific idea of breaking through the resistance in his neck that prevents him from flexing left comfortably.  Yes, we've had vet/chiro/masseuse take a look and it's a case of his right poll being tight.  Everyone agrees that there's nothing wrong with him, he's just naturally stiff when bending to the left.  Basically, he needs yoga now instead of his former anger management classes.

First exercise we did are called boot stretches.  Theo reaches around and touches my boot.  Carrot stretches go back to his hip and are part of our regular warm up.  Boot stretches are harder due to the angles and the fact she had us do them while he was still walking.  Gently to the right to get the idea, then to the left.  Not all at once, it's a dynamic type of a stretch.  Stretch, release, stretch a bit more, release, continue until you get as close as you think you're going to get in any given day.   Trot out with a big, long stretch, then go back to the walk and do the other side.

Once he was marching and stretching both sides, we decided to do something technical.  Going down the quarter line, we stepped into shoulder in and then promptly straightened while watching the inside hind and making sure it didn't change it's line.  Stepping into shoulder in is old news, doing it while watching his inside hind and keeping that dead straight without a wall?  Very tricky.  And once we started straightening him off the wall, I noticed the way he basically fell on his shoulder for the shoulder in.  It took a couple of reps for me to figure out how to step him in and out of shoulder in without losing balance and for him to figure out shoulder in isn't a movement that always goes all the way down the wall.  Once he realized we were going to move in and out of it, he kept himself up.  It makes a huge difference in the way he travels and, dare I say it, encourages him to actually travel in a collected trot to keep his weight off his shoulder so he can move his shoulder back and forth.

I highly, highly recommend that exercise.  It's simple enough to do on your own so long as you have a mirror.  Glue your eyes on that inside hind and keep it going straight as you go to three tracks and back to two.  Only do about four - six steps in shoulder in, then straighten out.  Do it again if you have space.  It really only works on the quarter line, no cheating and using the wall.  You'll see exactly how much control you have over your horse's shoulders.  Your horse will step in and out of shoulder in without laying on their shoulder.

After repeating the boot stretches at the trot, Theo reached for a cookie and a big pop came out of his neck.  He shook it out and trotted with his neck stretched way out and his shoulders actually traveling on the same line as his hips.  There was much licking and chewing, so I'm guessing he appreciated the end result of his extended yoga session, even if he found the actual process somewhat confusing and frustrating.

So we've entered a new phase of our training:  actually fixing the damn problem instead of managing it and masking it.  Because, spoiler alert, you can't do a nice 10m canter circle if your horse can't bend left.

I know, I was shocked, too.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Product Review: All of the treats

As I jogged up the path from the ring to the barn so I could get the treats I forgot (scandal!), I realized that there is one area where Theo and I are well educated and can make a strong recommendation:  treats.  My positive reinforcement pony goes through a lot of treats.

So here they are, all of the cookies Theo has seen fit to try in no coherent order.

Applezz N' Oats
Three Stars 

I have a weak spot for any treat the comes in a jug.  I got these at the local consignment shop for cheap based entirely on the fact that they came in a big jug.  Theo is pretty ho hum on these.  I tried them and they're really not strongly flavored.  They're fine, but not something that's really going to get a horse's attention.  

PS of Sweden Clicker Candy
Three Stars

Flavor wise, Theo is a fan.  They smell really nice.  Downside is that they're very small.  Yes, small treats are good for clicker training, but these are small enough to make feeding them to my horse a bit complicated.  I got a little pinch from him trying to find the tiny, flat treat on my hand.  Forget handling them in gloves.  But we discovered they were magic for getting Miss Thang to eat at away shows, so they're clearly very tasty.  I got my bag for free with an order and we happily used them up, but Theo needed three or four at a time to get anywhere.

The German Horse Muffins
Five Stars

These are called the crack cookies at the barn because we have seen pupils dilate when this bag comes out.  Even horses that aren't treat motivated suddenly turn into beggars with these things.   I have no idea why.  They're a fairly standard muffin style treat, lots of molasses and oats, but the horses lose their minds over these.  Theo can get hard to handle if these are out, so I don't use them for training.  These are his good night turn out cookies ONLY.  He gets one when he gets turned out and he prances to his pasture, trying to fit his nose in my pocket.  You have been warned, horses find these ridiculously addictive.  These are Theo's favorites, hands down.

Harvest Hearts
Two Stars

I grabbed a handful of these from another rider at a show.  They are the closest I've gotten to Theo refusing something.  He looked rather disappointed when he started chewing on them.  Healthy?  Maybe, but certainly not motivating for Theo.  Can't recommend these.  If Theo is turning his nose up, they can't be that good.

Mana Pro Nuggets
Four Stars

These are my go to treats for training and riding.  They're a great size for pockets, are rock hard, and have a strong enough flavor that Theo has not yet gotten bored of them.  They're also cheap which is important with the number I go through.  Downside, they're dyed so Theo's drool turns interesting colors.  Since he prefers the apple flavored, his drool is usually red.  Not for show use!  But at home, these are what I stuff in my pockets and clean out of my dryer.  Our standard treat for day to day use.  The apple ones give Theo licorice breath, it's kind of weird.

 Mrs. Pastures Cookies for Horses
Four Stars

These are the leaser's go to treats.  She doesn't treat much from the saddle, so she doesn't carry nearly as many treats as I do.  These are bigger which Theo appreciates.  It takes him a little longer to woof one of these down.  He likes them about the same as the Mana Pro, they're just slower for him to eat and much messier in my pockets (or his leaser's bra when she doesn't have pockets, that lady is very committed to keeping him happy). 
 Stud Muffins
Four Stars

These are close to the crack cookies, but not quite.  They're missing something and that takes his reaction from obsession to very interested.  They're a great treat, but the same problems as any muffin style treat.  It's a big mouthful and you can't stick them in your pockets.  They're good for a bed time treat, but not good for any kind of training. 

Popper Mints
Four Stars

Another one I got for the jug the first time.  These are about equivalent to the Mana Pros in terms of size and Theo's interest in them.  They have two advantages, though.  One, they make his breath smell fantastic.  Two, they are slightly softer and I can break them in half, making my treats stretch further.  My local shops don't carry them or they'd probably take the place of Mana Pro treats on a day to day basis.  They're slightly softer so messier in my pockets, but it's nice to be able to make the exact size I want.

Five Stars

These are on the expensive side for treats, but entirely worth it for show days.  Rock hard, about the size of a quarter, melt almost as fast as a sugar cube in Theo's mouth, and no dyes to make his spit look alarming.  They're also delicious in Theo's opinion.  He will try to turn himself inside out for the ginger flavored ones.  The marshmallow flavor was Fiona's favorite cookie.  The strong flavored ones are hit and miss for different horses (many didn't like the marshmallow), but their base flavor is well loved by every horse I've tried.  They also have an insulin resistant recipe.  I keep a big bag of these on hand for show days.  They're too expensive for every day use, but are otherwise perfect for training.  Find the right flavor and horses suddenly get very motivated.