Saturday, July 29, 2017

Jumpa da jumps

I forget sometimes just how much Theo likes to jump.  Not in the open, mind you, and strange rings are scary, but at home it's his favorite thing ever.  He has to know what the jump saddle and shorter stirrups mean.  The D ring bit and the open front boots.  His ears were pricked when I led him down to the ring and he started walking faster when Trainer A started to set up a grid.

I asked him to trot for his warm up and he bounced along, working the bit and keeping one ear on Trainer A's progress.  Sure, we're rusty and some of our take off points were a matter of debate (I think his eye is better than mine now), but he was straight as an arrow and needed very little encouragement.  When the jumps started going up and the difficulty increased, I started having to use the soothing voice and purr on the approach.  'Easy, tiger, take it easy, you won't fit if you get big, easy big man'.  He always manages to surprise me when he cracks his back to make the tight grid work.  The teens in my lesson were rather flabbergasted, having not seen Theo jump in about a year.  Our German exchange working student wants to take a jumping lesson on him after watching him go.  He was up, on the contact, snorting, and lit up like the Fourth of July.

By the end, it was bounce to a one stride to a one stride, last fence was in the 2'9" - 3' range.  Theo finally had to engage at that height and damn near jumped me out of the tack.  I wish there was video, but with four students in the ring, Trainer A had her hands full.

I don't think I'll ever truly understand what makes some horses love to jump. I know we've selectively bred for the trait for centuries, the same way a lot of TBs get high off of galloping.  It's clearly rewarding somehow.  Maybe it gives them a rush.  While Theo has found the pleasure in being powerful on the flat, jumping hits a button that he finds very rewarding.  Is he a secret adrenaline junky?  He lights up more as the jumps get bigger and courses more challenging.  While Miss Thang sold out completely and the school ponies chipped in strides, he got bigger and bolder.  Trainer A was laughing by the end, watching him arching his neck and bouncing in anticipation of his turn.  Whatever the reason, jumping is Theo's jam.  I know why I love it, it's the rush.  And I guess it's the same for him.

It's good to be reminded sometimes how much we enjoy the jumping phase.  It's a heck of a work out for his back end and doesn't require me to push or nag.  I asked him to flex right and he just did it with minimal temper tantrum because he was in a different mind set.  He was thinking forward and enthusiasm, not 'how do I get out of this exercise'.  With jumps to distract him and keep his focus, flexing didn't seem that big of a deal.

And when he was done, he got ear rubs from Trainer A and completely fell asleep in the middle of the ring, utterly content.

This horse makes it way too easy to take goofy pictures of him

Maybe, one day, I'll be able to get him confident enough to enjoy jumping away from home the way he enjoys it at home.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Tables have turned

Today was my third dressage school since my lesson with Mary, my first lesson with Trainer A since riding with Mary, and dear ol' Theo is still working in his new frame.  Right on schedule, he decided to tell me 'nuh uh, no way, I quit'.  This is part of why a lesson with Mary every other week will work better for us.  My pony thought this new idea was a one off, a new exercise that would soon be forgotten.  Today, when he said 'F-U mom I'm a giraffe and you'll get tired before me', I said 'hi, this is a draw rein, flexing is no longer optional'.  Oh, he was not pleased. 

It's interesting how things plug together.  Theo's always been pokier when tracking right.  He's not a fan of sitting on that weaker hip.  When he finally flexed, I noticed he has to sit on his inside hind.  I know theoretically that a correct bend gets the weight on the correct diagonal pair of legs, but it's different when you actually feel it.  Or in this case, fight through the resistance to get some really lovely work at the trot while tracking right.  This may be that last piece we were looking for to get him evenly developed behind.

He's accepting life in the thin loose ring snaffle with reasonable grace.  And today I saw actual foam at the corner of his mouth!  Not his usual drool, but foam!  And his mouth was moving!  Not always in a good way, a lot of it was 'FU FU FU', but at least it's movement.  It's the start of a conversation.  We had moments of softness that were lovely and when we took a break to track left?  So nice.  But we also had an all out bucking temper tantrum when I asked him to flex and then ignored his protests.  That draw rein is so powerful.  I just hold steady, don't move a muscle, and wait for him to be done as opposed to me struggling to win an arm wrestling match with a thousand pound animal.

That power is addictive.  There's a reason people get super dependent on those things.  My rule is to only use the draw rein under supervision so I don't get carried away or go too far.  That also limits me to once or twice a week.  The rest of his rides are done the much harder old fashioned way.  The rides with the draw reins set the stage to take his resistance head on and have a good chance of winning.

Theo doesn't like the tables being turned like this.  Suddenly he can't just force me to accept his view or lure me into letting him fake the flex because my shoulders are ready to give out.  He's trying all sorts of new evasions right now, including diving down in the contact and retracting his neck while stomping his feet.  I think this is a fight we should have had a long time ago rather than just skirting around the issue.  It's Theo, he isn't going to just slide into doing something in a new, more difficult way.  He's going to throw a couple of all out temper tantrums on the way.  I'm just glad he's doing it now and I'm hoping he's done having his teenage angst by my next lesson with Mary on the 4th.

I expect another week of temper tantrums before he settles into the idea that this is his new reality.  He really does try to bully anyone that asks for things he doesn't like.  Alas, poor Theo, I'm not one that's easily bullied and I have tools that can give me the advantage.  But I'll make it up to him.  We are going to go do a two phase on the 6th so he's got some jumping lessons coming up.  We don't want him to get sour, so we need to mix it up.  Yes, he still has his rides where we discuss submission to the bit and how it is not a suggestion, but then he can go jumpa da jumps. 

It's been too long.  My jump saddle is all dusty.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Spa day

It's a good thing my new boss likes me.  Horse life is very demanding and it tends to come in waves.  Today was Theo's annual saddle fitting and a visit from his manicurist.  I spent all morning at the barn.  I had to supervise, move my horse around, and write the checks.  Lots of checks.

I love the sight of brand new shoes.

Interestingly, I need to change his shoeing schedule.  Seven weeks doesn't cut it anymore because he's completely wearing through his back shoes.  I should be okay at six weeks, but at seven, his back shoes looked like slivers.  And he doesn't wear dainty shoes!  My farrier shrugged and said 'he's working hard'.  Trainer A said it's good that he's wearing down his back shoes as opposed to his front shoes.  So I'm just going to smile and keep writing the checks.

We had a new saddle fitter this year since the Saddle Doctor is now pretty much retired.  Joshua Siegel came out today to take care of our ponies.  Theo's saddles were once again declared to be great fits, but both had the same problem.  Joshua looked at my dressage saddle on Theo, pulled it off, flipped it over, then asked 'do you sit to the right by any chance?'.

Yeah, that bad left hip means I tend to carry more weight on the right.  And I'm consistent enough to make my flocking break down on one side.  I'm sure everyone else using my saddles will be thrilled that they're back to center.  I rode in my dressage saddle afterward and it was a little weird.  I felt like I was leaning left, but a check in the mirror showed that I was even.  Whelp, that's a thing.

And I have to say, there is no bliss greater than working in a saddle that fits both the horse and the rider.  I cantered Theo around and it is nothing to stay in the correct position.  My saddle puts me right where I'm supposed to be and lets my horse do his job.  It's so comfortable and wonderful.

I might have to get the saddle fitter out more often.  I wouldn't want my pony to get lopsided.  He'd look odd.

Well, he's already odd.  Odder, perhaps.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The picnic is over

Today was a huge day for me.  I've never in my 30+ years of horses taken a horse somewhere by myself.  Ever.  I didn't have a trailer and even if I did, the idea of driving a horse terrified me.  Today, I did it!  I drove 130 miles with a horse trailer and no one died!

Theo was pretty chill about this change in routine.  He hates changes in routine as a rule, but I bring enough cookies, he can cope.  He didn't really want to load into the strange trailer with no other horses even in the vicinity, but I convinced him to hop on while I got the butt bar.  Many cookies for the poor, confused pony.

I can't believe this rig is mine 

It took me about an hour to drive to Mary's place and it was almost entirely on highways or interstates.  It was an awesome way to rack up miles with a loaded trailer.  No lights, no lane changes, just lots of time in one lane with a big shoulder available if I needed to move over.  I got my trailer turned around at all of the parking spots and didn't get stuck.  I even loaded and unloaded my gear completely by myself.  I was completely autonomous!

As for my lesson?  Well, Mary is exactly as her reputation describes:  friendly, helpful, very honest.  Very, very honest.  After watching me warm up for a couple minutes, she asked if that was the way I showed him.  I said no, I usually wait to pick up a contact and establish forward first.  She said okay, show me the neck you have when you show.  So I picked Theo up and asked him to come onto the contact.  She watched for another minute, asked me to canter, and then flagged me over.

As she put it, I have a horse that doesn't bend right.  At all.  Even when tracking right, his neck bends left.  He never releases his right jaw, doesn't chew the bit on that side, and is not supple.  We don't have a good contact.  I asked if we were at First and she said no, it wasn't good enough for First.  We're not ready.

It stung.  I won't pretend it didn't.  It was blunt and honest, exactly what I wanted.  We're not going at First right now.  We don't have the required connection.  So I asked what I should do.  Then we got our asses kicked from one end of the ring to the other.  Theo would not flex right.  At all.  So she set us up to turn down the center line and then leg yield off of my right leg to the wall.  But not a text book leg yield.  She wanted his shoulders to lead significantly while keeping his bend to the right.  This was to push him to stretch muscles he wouldn't release.  And once he had the idea, we started asking him to supple and carry his neck in a round way while leading with his shoulders.

Theo was so resistant to this new plan that after twenty minutes, Mary slapped a draw rein on my right side.  As she put it, she didn't want to watch me struggle and was going to give me some leverage.  I'm a h/j rider, I'm very familiar with draw reins.  I was surprised to have one put on during a dressage lesson, but it sure made the point to mi papi.  It took another fifteen minutes, but I knew the exact moment he released his jaw and flexed through his poll.  I felt it through the entire front half of his body and Mary yelled 'yes, there, finally!'.  He started to work his mouth on the right side rather than keeping it clamped shut because he was being asked to submit to the bit.

New shipping boots!

While tightening my noseband, Mary told Theo 'the picnic is over'.  No more trotting around looking like a giraffe.  He is to come into the ring, pick up a contact, and get to work.  She saw absolutely no sign of curling from him, even under pressure.  Assuming the curling was a problem before, we've fixed it.  Draw rein, lots of pressure, and he didn't offer to curl.  I'm under instructions to work on getting him into a First level appropriate outline because curling is not a concern.  Now he's locking me out and that isn't allowed anymore.  I am to work that leg yield off of my right leg to force his neck to flex right properly and not do that weird snake thing while he avoids the true bend.

It was really cool the moment when he gave through the right and lifted his neck for me, coming onto the contact like I'd been hoping for all this time.

I feel some pride that no matter what adjustment she asked for, I could do it.  Supple him, poll down, leg yield, move his shoulders.  I've learned to manipulate my pony if nothing else.  And no complaints about our forward until the end of the lesson when he was melting in the heat.  We certainly haven't been wasting our time, just lost track of where we're going.

So here I am, accomplished and slightly broken hearted.  I'm dropping down to T3 and F1 until further notice.  Apparently the judges aren't blind.  I am.  I have a lot of thinking to do on all of this.  Mary was exactly what I hoped for, an emotionally detached and very honest voice of experience.  She seemed to like Theo, thought he was a good match for an adult ammy with a history of concussions.  He was a very, very good boy under pressure.  He never offered to quit or actively fight, just some stubborn evasion.  But if I want to progress with him, we have to fix this fundamental flaw.  He needs to submit to the bit.

It may take me awhile to reconcile the different feedback I'm getting.  But I know Mary's trained up several Grand Prix level horses.  I have to believe she knows what this level takes.

First impressions

I should be working.  I'm not.  I'm sitting here running through the checklist for my truck and trailer over and over again while trying to remember how to breathe in this damn bra.  If I'm going to a big time dressage-ing lesson, I'm going to strap down my boobs.  Whatever helps, right?

I've known enough professional trainers to be included in some of the behind the scenes chatter.  One topic that I've heard come up several times is trailer in lessons.  Trailer in lessons are a complete mystery for the trainer on that first ride.  It could be someone completely together and ready.  It could also be someone with an unfit horse, badly shod, ill fitting tack, and no clue that thinks they're ready for the Olympics.  I really don't want anyone to think I'm a random hobo that wandered over to learn to ride horses good.  I don't have many ties to the dressage world and I'm hoping to gain some.  I'd like those future acquaintances to not think I'm clueless.

Serious business dressage horse

I've picked out my outfit carefully.  Pretty new full seat Pipers in Monaco blue with lilac piping and a white polo with blue seams.  I put on a floral belt from Equine Coture because I've still got to be me, but it's a very conservative outfit overall.  Black leather gloves, black helmet with hair up, tall boots, little spurs.  No jewelry other than my Fitbit.  I'll carry my show whip.

Theo is also going conservative.  Navy PS of Sweden pad with white trim and his silver clincher browband.  White boots just came out of the dryer.  It's really the best time of year for anyone to meet him, he's sleek and shiny and sporting the kind of dapples usually reserved for toy horses in plastic boxes.  I'll braid his forelock up so he looks a bit less like a mischievous pony and I'll take the time to fully brush out his tail.  I also treated him to some brand new shipping boots in navy.  I'm starting to pick up a theme.

I gave the Behemoth a quick wash last night to get the pollen and pine needles off.  I don't think it's had a bath since we bought it last summer, so it was very due.  Pollen + pine tree resin + dust + sitting in the rain = yellow sludge in a line along the side of the truck.    Not attractive.  So I scrubbed the sludge off and cleaned all of the pine needles out from the bottom of the windshield and the roof.  The trailer is still spotless and new, so nothing to be done there.  The hubby hitched it last night for me since he knows me and knows I'll be nervous and frazzled trying to hit the road by myself.  He also got the back up cam and the camera that watches Theo set up for me.  I'm taking him out to dinner tomorrow.

So that leaves me with just the riding and having a clue part.  Well, I guess I'll just have to cross my fingers on that one. 

Very serious competitors

The weather sure isn't cooperating.  86* for a high according to my phone, but all week we've been blasting up to 90* with tropical levels of humidity despite the forecast.  My lesson is at 3:30pm.  Ugh.  I'm not too worried, all of our cardio work means he can hold up in the heat for at least an evaluation lesson.  He'll be melting a bit, but he demonstrated for me this week that he's got more in the tank and can cope. 

So I sit here at my desk, dressed for my lesson, waiting for the clock to strike noon and send me on my way.  I'm not getting a thing done.  All I'm doing is thinking about how long the drive will take, where to park my rig, my checklist.  Today is kind of a big day for me and I just want it to get started already! 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Product Review: Cheeta Trotter Bra

Background:  I am rather hourglass shaped.  Which is a polite way of saying there's junk in the trunk and some serious business going on upstairs as well.  I wear a 34D bra and at 5'2", that's not a small percentage of my total mass.  Most of my life I've been fine with a sports bra and occasionally even a regular bra while riding.  Posting isn't that bad and when you never sit the canter?  Bouncing can be managed.

Never, ever wear a front clip bra while riding.  Yes, I speak from experience.  Explaining to the older, angry German man that I needed to step out of my lesson to duct tape my broken bra back together was a unique experience.  I snapped the little plastic clip in the midst of a jumping course.  Bouncy bouncy.

But now a days I spend a lot of time with my tush in the saddle and the bouncing is a problem.  Gods help me if I forget to pack a sports bra and even with that, there's some unseemly jiggling going on when I sit the trot.  I needed something with some real substance and staying power.

100% not me

The Product:  The Cheeta Trotter bra is a compression bra with a downward facing zipper in the back.  It's not like your usual pull on bra.  There's a video for getting everything settled where it should be and you do not lift the girls up to their usual position.  The model I chose is the one with the built in tank top in nude.

Review:  This thing is substantial.  The tank top part is sturdy and stays tucked into my breeches nicely.  The bra, though.  That thing is intense.  I ordered a medium based on my rib cage being between 34 and 36.  When it arrived, I noticed right off the bat that this thing isn't kidding about the elastic.  There was much wiggling to pull it on.

The zipper has a long tab on it so you can zip it on your own without too much trouble.  There's a single hook at the end to keep it from unzipping at an awkward moment like jumping a course in front of an angry man with a smoker's cough and a heavy accent.  It's definitely weird zipping something down, but it pushes the girls down and then crushes them into place.  Seriously, it took me a second to figure out breathing.  It's not uncomfortable anywhere, but you are definitely aware that you're strapped down.

My shirts definitely fit better with it on and I expect my jackets will look nicer with a solid inch taken off of my chest.  In the saddle, I finally had stability in the sitting trot!  Sure, I can perceive movement if I really focus on it, but it's certainly not bouncing.  All of my mass is squished in where it belongs, over my center of gravity.  There's a lot less distracting flopping going on.  It didn't interfere with my ride at all, but it does take some getting used to.  This is the first bra that successfully contained all of that mass while sitting Theo's working trot.

These things are not cheap.  Something like $67 through Smartpak a pop.  I intend to buy more.  It is such a relief to sit the trot and not have a bunch on unmanageable, sometimes uncomfortable movement.  I can't say it's a comfortable bra, it felt nice to take it off (and try to fluff the girls back up to their usual dimensions, poor things), but if you've got some serious business going on in the area of the chest, this will do the job of keeping everything sleek and still even during the sitting trot.  I recommend it.

Friday, July 14, 2017


I don't have sponsors or advertisers or even a particularly large following on my blog.  It's mostly a stream of consciousness for me to write things out and share my experiences with my online friends.  I like to write and it helps me nail down things that are avoiding explanation.  I've got good days, bad days, victories, defeats, and all of the boring days in between.  I don't edit what I've posted in the past because, when my fingers were on the keys, it was true.  It was what I was feeling and thinking.  It's important to look back and remember what I was experiencing during times of high emotion, especially as I'm usually very logical.  It's easy to forget why I felt a certain way when months have passed.

My last two posts were very much in the throes of emotion.  I look back at them and go 'omg, take a breath, girl'.  But that's what I was feeling.  It was what was going through my mind, what I was experiencing.  

I've come to the conclusion that horses are amplifiers for our emotions.  They bring out the best in us.  I'm more patient, more trusting, more courageous when I'm around horses.  They force us to leave behind our long term plans and logic to live in their world of emotions and immediacy.  If you're with a horse, you're living in the moment.  You can't plan for an hour ahead when, at any moment, something could change and need your absolute attention.  A horse fly, a loud motorcycle, small children dropping things from the hay loft without warning (you gotta love summer camp weeks), any of those things can completely take over your horse's mind and become the only thing they're thinking about.  They don't give a damn or even understand that there's a show in two weeks.  They are worried about that fly on their belly right now.  Not being with them in that moment is a good way to get hurt.

It also brings out the worst in us.  I'm at my most raw, my most intense when it comes to horses.  Particularly a horse that is my horse.  In order to get those highs, you have to deal with the opposite.  The lows, the frustration, the anger.  The embarrassment.  Everything is amplified when you step out of our modern, slightly detached adult lives and immerse yourself in your passion for creatures that are ruled by their emotions.

I see it every day to varying degrees.  Some people don't lose themselves so much and everything just rolls off of them.  Some lose themselves too much and the horse becomes an extension of themselves.  They take any slight of their horse as an insult to themselves.  I like to think I'm in the middle.  I'm certainly not unattached, but I'll be the first to tell you that my horse is a lazy asshole a lot of the time.  But anything involving my horse amps my reactions.  I'm emotionally invested enough to make me react in ways that my co-workers would find utterly alien.  They know me as someone that keeps their emotions in complete check.  They wouldn't recognize me at the barn, burying my face in my horse's neck because I'm fighting tears.

Horses bring out the best and worst in us.  I've accepted the fact that in order for me to experience moments of true courage and achievement, I must also experience the opposites.  I have to experience the fear and failure.  You don't get to have just one side of the spectrum.  It's harder to cope when your emotions are ramped up, but that's what happens when you throw yourself into your passion.  It's not a hobby that's safe enough or cheap enough to take up lightly.  At this level, it has to be all or none.

So yes, in the cold light of day, my intense reactions are bizarre and confusing.  I was embarrassed and hurt because my horse had another bad score on his record.  It's far from the end of days and there was a lady in my class who's horse completely melted down.  I'm sure she would have given anything to trade with me.  There was another rider in warm up who's horse put on an amazing display of bucks, spins, and rears that would have happily traded problems with me.

I don't have a solution or way to prevent my reaction from happening again.  If I'm going to participate in a sport that revolves around creatures that run off of emotions, requires a great deal of emotional investment, and is judged on a very short snapshot of our skills, it's going to happen.  Being aware of it helps to keep me from doing anything rash.  I know I need to wait and come down from whatever I've experienced, good or bad.  I waited until this morning to talk to Trainer A.  It was a calm, adult conversation that cleared up confusion for everyone and set new expectations.  I couldn't have that conversation yesterday, I still felt too raw.  I had to let my feelings settle, take a day off and just breathe.

As much as I dislike having my emotions amplified, I'm reminded of a conversation I had with my husband years ago.  I tried to explain why I give up so much for my hobby.  He didn't understand until I brought up his passion for creating things.  When he can't make things, he's moody and frustrated.  That is his passion, my horse is mine. It's the same, soul devouring drive.  It would be like me asking him not to create anymore.  To which he said, "But that would be so empty."

Yes, it would be.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Led astray

I had the same dream over and over last night.  That very rarely happens to me.  I had this file that I needed to put away, but it didn't fit anywhere.  This is the downside to being an analyst.  Even my subconscious seems to insist on everything being neatly categorized.  But the file didn't go anywhere.  No matter how any times I tried to put it away, it popped back out because it didn't fit.

I watched my test again in the harsh light of day and yeah, something's broken.  Our scores have been dropping all season.  I know it's not all about the scores, but when all of the judges think we've gone backwards, something is up.  But that's not why I couldn't put the file away.  I couldn't put it away because I was also being told it was the nicest test I've done.  I came out of the ring and thought that was really good.  I was told it was really good.  Not just 'good job doing what we wanted to do' but good as in getting a really good score.  But it's my lowest scoring.

But he sure is pretty

You can see why the file just doesn't want to fit.  I left Theo's head there.  I'm watching my test wondering why I left him like that, especially at a show.  I could have easily tucked him in a couple more degrees so that he was just a bit ahead of the vertical without messing everything up.  But I did it because I was told to in warm up.   I've been very specifically told to leave his head alone, which with Theo, means he's going to go around with his nose out.  Because that is how the Theo do and it's been weeks of me letting him do whatever with his head while we straighten him out.

Yesterday, I was that fool that goes in, isn't prepared, and then blames the judge for my poor score. 

So here I am, having a terrible revelation.  Trainer A either doesn't know we're not ready for the test or she's lying to me to make me feel better.  Either way, not cool.  If I'd gone in with the mission to go straight, no curl, and accept my rough score because that's where we're at?  I could have gone home smiling because mission accomplished.  If I'd been told to drop down to First 1 because we've had to back up to fix some things, so be it.  But I wasn't.  I was sent in thinking I was competitive.

Going First level last season

I guess I bought my trailer and scheduled my lesson just in time.  I don't want to go backwards.  I started my season all shining hope and readiness.  Now we've slid back to the point we look like we should be doing Training level.  And worse, I felt like it was a solid test.  I felt like I'd presented my horse well and correctly for the level.  Hell, two weeks ago I'd been led to believe he could move up to Second in a couple months.  Apparently, I don't know where we're at anymore.

I'm responsible for my own riding.  I know.  At the end of the day, I rode him wrong and got smacked. I'm not looking for someone to blame.  But I can't be told that it's really good by one person and that we're not ready by everyone else.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What they want

To be clear, dressage is new to me.  It's kind of weird and super subjective.  I get that.  But sometimes, you get a score and you damn well know you got screwed over.

That got a 57%, including a 5 for submission.  That test right there.  A 5 for submission.

I'm so confused.

Yes, his nose is in front of the vertical.  I made that choice.  I didn't want him to curl and he was tucking his nose in the warm up.  He was forward and straight and it felt very relaxed and nice.  He never once tried to break and none of the movements felt dicey.  Yes, the leg yield was a bit shitty, but the movements were all there and willing.

She said we didn't have enough bend on that lengthen trot movement.  What?  Seriously, what?  No comment on his actual lengthen (which I was proud of because he actually pushed), just a comment about his lack of bend at H and K.  I got 5.5s on every circle.  Not enough bend.  She said we don't have the connection required for the level.  I got a 5.5 for rider with the word 'subtly' underlined.

Now I feel completely lost.  I was feeling so good about that test when it was done.  He was so relaxed and willing in the ring of death.  I thought I had my 60.  He didn't over bend and throw his shoulders around, he didn't swing his haunches in.  Yes, he was ahead of the vertical, but geeze.  It's First level.  I thought his improved impulsion was more important.

We scored lower than my last test where I felt so bad and felt like the test was barely hanging on.  We scored five points lower than his test with Trainer A where he tried to break in the canter.  It's not like I was expecting a 70 or anything.  60 is supposed to mean you did it.  You completed the test and no one gasped or ducked or thought you weren't going to manage it.  We got beat by a horse that spun on center line and was braced through the neck due to tension for the entire test.  But by the gods, his nose was vertical.

I guess I really don't know what they want.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017



Guys guys guys guys guys.


I use guys as a gender neutral pronoun.  Sorry, it's a Midwest thing.  I should be using y'all.


I got my trailer!

I need to rake my driveway

This was taken in my driveway.  It's here!  I HAVE A TRAILER OF MY OWN!

 Not the Behemoth, but the same size truck that I'll be using

You have to understand, my entire life I've had to beg or hitch rides or go where the barn is going.  For the first time, I can go where I want when I want!

I am too excited to breathe properly.  I need a paper bag.

It's a 2008 Sundowner Sunlite 777.  Two horse straight load goose neck with the side ramp and escape door on the driver's side. Yes, I know about the frame/floor issues in Sundowner's with a steel frame from 1999 - 2008.  This trailer is already 9 years old with zero rust and was produced after the issues were resolved.  Little known fact, Trainer A's dad is a mechanic so I'll have an expert to help me keep on top of any potential rust issues.

I got it from Theo's massage therapist and it has about 1k miles on it total.  It still has that new trailer smell.

So much space

It's warmblood size and very roomy.  I love the fact it doesn't have a seperate dressing room because that takes 3 feet off of the total length and gives Theo so much head room he won't know what to do.  I still have a whole goose neck for storage and enough room to stroll around in front of the hay bags.  My saddle will probably ride in the back seat of the Behemoth to prevent any possible scratches, but that's the only concession.  It came with a camera to watch mi papi and to back up without running over anything!

There's a bar to keep things from sliding out of the goose neck part, very nifty

I've shown out of trailers with this lay out and they're breezy in summer.  I don't trash my joints jumping in and out of the trailer.  Storage space won't be an issue.  With a nervous horse, I can just walk them out the side ramp.  Theo will have to back out because I'm not pulling down his hay bag every time I unload.

So now I the easy part is done.  I own a trailer and a truck.  Now comes the hard part.  I have to drive the damn things around.  And I have a lesson on the 21st.  Brace yourselves, my blog is about to veer off from trying to dressage and will enter the land of trying to trailer.  After my show tomorrow, of course.

I like to keep things interesting.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Life with ulcers

It's amazing what a difference one little thing can make.  Theo's ulcers were treated over the winter and he responded well.  But when spring came and the trailering returned, his stomach problems returned.  He's now two weeks into a full 28 day treatment with a daily dose of paste omeprazole.  Once the 28 days is done I'll wean him off, and then give him a maintenance dose whenever he goes in the trailer.  The trailering really seems to be what sets him off.

It's freaking expensive to treat ulcers.  So expensive.  Ulcerguard is about $30 a day.  I go through and get it down to about $7 a day.  So it's about $200 a month to have him on the treatment dose.  If I wasn't going generic, I don't know if I could afford it.  It's $900 to go through a full regimen of Ulcerguard.  Yikes.

The granules I used before were useful, but apparently he wasn't consistently eating it all.  Some days he was good, some days he was biting at the cross ties.  He likes to chuck his food everywhere while eating and I'm sure he was chewing some of it up. That keeps it from making it to the parts of his digestive system that need it.  For a horse that eats politely or is fed in a stall where they can't decide to flip their bucket over, they're a great option.  For papi?  Paste is working much better.  I know he's getting his full dose every day.

The generic paste isn't flavored.  It's also not flavorless.  As is my policy, I tasted his medicine to see how bad it was.  I was in my bathroom scrubbing with a toothbrush afterward.  It's awful.  I really worried about how I was going to get that into my horse.  Turns out it's not a problem.  Theo is such a hoover or maybe it's not that bad to a horse. We now have an easy, no stress routine.

After grooming him and giving him time to finish whatever was in his mouth, I make a big show of unwrapping three of the big, soft mints that he loves.  I make sure he can see me and hear those wrappers.  By the time I'm done, he's usually whickering to himself and leaning on the cross ties.  I pull out the syringe, dial in my dose, and try to keep Theo from pulling the syringe out of my hand while I dose him.  The tip gets bent because he pulls it into his molars in his excitement.  I dose him quickly and then start shoving peppermints in his face before he can even contemplate getting rid of the paste.  There's no way he'll spit out a peppermint, so all of the nasty meds go down the hatch with the parade of mints.  It's quickly followed by his Probios treats.  By that point, the meds are long gone.  There's usually a lot of lip licking and some extra drool afterward so I think that's the aftertaste of the meds, but too late for him to protest at that point.

Theo actually likes the sight of his ulcer meds syringe now, so this seems to be working.  I'm going to teach his leaser how to dose him so I don't have to drop by the barn on her days.  He's basically the perfect horse to learn on since he holds his mouth open and begs for his medicine.  Which blows my mind because it is really rank stuff.  I guess he considers that a small price to pay for all of the mints and treats.  Usually he has to do something difficult to get so many treats.

 He's a different horse when his stomach is happy.  I really think a lot of his rage issues come down to pain.  When he first got nasty with his first owner, she was shipping him out to the beach and to clinics.  Then he was awful at shows with various riders.  Now I'm doing preventative treatments any time he gets on a trailer and it's making a very real difference.

I'll probably be managing this the rest of his life, but it feels good to know that we found the actual cause for a set of his issues.  He wasn't angry or naughty.  He was in pain.  All it takes is a half dose the day before the show and a half dose before we get on the trailer.  That's a very minor thing to manage.

If you're thinking about trying the generic option?  I've had good experiences with Abler.  Shipping can be slow, especially if you go with the free option, but I haven't had any trouble with it.  You have to pay by electronic check or wire transfer from your bank.  If you pay by check, you'll get a phone call the next day from a company verifying your order.  It seems a bit sketchy at first, but it's totally legitimate and not a hassle so long as you answer your phone or proactively call them to verify your order.  I've found no instances of people having trouble with their products and when tested, they actually found the active ingredient to be slightly above the dose in the label.  So the med is in there, which is always a concern with a generic.

Theo is getting their AbGard product in the stable pack size.  He gets 5 markers worth of paste every day and a tube lasts him 6 days.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Product Review: Ecovet

Background:  Theo breaks out in hives and/or welts when the bugs get after him.  He's also a total princess.  Combine that with the vicious array of bugs you get in New Hampshire and you have a recipe for an uncomfortable, pissy pony.  I'm pretty much willing to try anything in the heart of bug season to keep him comfortable.

The product:  Ecovet is a fly spray that acts very differently than the stuff we usually use.  Regular fly spray keeps the bugs from biting.  Ecovet claims to mess up the chemical receptors in the fly, causing them to not be able to locate your horse and sometimes die.  It's based on amino acids evaporating off of your horse and making a bit of a cloaking mechanism (Star Trek reference ftw). 

I got a free sample from SmartPak.  It's more expensive than my usual fly spray but you're supposed to use less, so it probably evens out.

Review:  This stuff is scary when you first read the instructions and reviews on line.  May cause respiratory distress, use it outside and upwind, yadda yadda.  I've heard multiple reports of horses going into fits of wheezing and trouble breathing.  It took me a couple days to get up the nerve to even try the stuff.  Also, it's described as horrible smelling so definitely don't do it in the barn aisle.

I wanted to take Theo out for a trail ride/mad gallop to avoid the bugs and thought it would be a good time to see if Ecovet was the miracle product people claim.  It was also breezy, so seemed a good day to apply the product without killing my horse.  I took him out in the parking lot, parked him with his face into the 10 mph breeze, and applied as directed on the bottle.  I got his chest, legs, and belly from midline down.  I was expecting it to smell like pure death.  It doesn't.  I didn't like the smell, but it's not like a skunk or anything.  More odd and unpleasant than anything.  I can imagine it's overwhelming if sprayed in an enclosed space.  No wheezing or coughing from Theo, just one big lip curl.  The breeze did it's job.  I tacked up as usual, noted my horse now smelled funny, and headed out.

It did NOTHING.  It was no different than my Ultrashield and frankly might be worse.  Deer flies were on us while walking down the road.  The trail ride was our usual mad dash.  The flies had no problem finding my horse and latching right on.  Whatever it's supposed to be doing, it doesn't work on the biting flies in NH.  It was too breezy for gnats so can't tell you if it worked on those, but frankly, I wasn't impressed.  If I'm going to go through all that trouble to apply the product, I should be able to see at least some improvement.  I gave the rest of the sample to the barn to use on a mare suffering from sweet itch, see if it helps her.  It's useless for Theo.

So no, it's not a revolutionary break through.  If your horse isn't allergic to pyretherin, stick with the traditional stuff to handle biting flies.  I'm really quite disappointed because I'd read reviews where it really made a difference on trail rides.  It might be regional and depend on the species.  If you've got the awful, yellow/orange deer flies we have in New England, save your money. 

It looks like the trails will just have to stay closed for a bit longer.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Roads to Rome

I'm a pretty goal oriented person.  It's not a secret.  I like having something to work toward.  Once I have something to work toward, not being able to make progress is frustrating.  I've definitely been making progress with Theo, but it drags and there's fits and starts.

Some of it's just my schedule.  I have a lot going on.

Fuel for data analysts

Some of it's my horse.  He's . . . well, opinionated.

So many opinions

And some of it's my environment.  My barn is far from a competitive hot bed.  I am the only dressage focused rider.  I am the only one with a focus on sanctioned competition in any discipline.  I am the only adult competitor.  The list goes on.  I am, hands down, the most advanced rider in the barn aside from my trainer.  This means that if I share a lesson, my lesson is going to need to be down shifted.

It's starting to become a problem.

My Wednesday night ladies lesson has been rescheduled about six weeks in a row, usually to the weekend.  I think I'm just going to drop that lesson.  Yes, I enjoy the pony parade, but I find myself just flopping along.  It's more expensive than going to a bar to just hang out.

My Friday morning lessons are either privates and therefore more intense and focused or they're shared with whatever random adult beginner that needs a lesson at that time.  My last lesson, we cantered for about two minutes on our own.  The rest of the lesson we practiced straightness, which is important, at the walk and trot straight down quarter line.  No shoulder in, no haunches in, nothing because the other rider wouldn't even know what those things are much less how to do them.  I really, really need to work on my simple changes but if anyone is in my lesson, that's off the table.

I'm too focused and competitive to handle this well.  And then my training ride got rescheduled and camp is going on so it's rather chaotic at the barn and Theo's shed STILL needs to be repaired . . .

I sent out an email to set up a trailer in lesson with Mary Howard.  Surprise, surprise, she emailed me back right away and I have a lesson with her on Friday the 21st.  She's a Grand Prix rider that won the Pan Am games in 1985.  She's got a bunch of students on the same circuit as me, including a couple of adult ammies debuting at Second level this year.  I told her I was a First level rider with a draft cross and she still set me up with a lesson.  AHHHHH.

This may be the kick in the pants I need.  She's helped train up dozens of horses to FEI, I'm sure she can help me and my ploppy pony get to Second.  And if we click (meaning her and Theo, mostly), she's only 45 minutes away and I can zip out to see her for more lessons.  I guess I'm really going to have to get the lead out and buy myself a trailer of some sort.  I think I've hit the point where I really, really need to be able to go out on my own and get the experiences I need.

I guess I'm tired of trying to fit into a 'program' where I'm a completely and utterly different type of a rider.  I certainly can't move Theo to a fancy dancy dressage barn (broke and over an hour from my house), but we can go visit.  Maybe a bit of the grandeur will rub off on him.

I can hope.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Old pros

Being the owner can be awesome.

My wake up call this show morning?  7:30am.  And I had time to stop by the barn to pick up my braiding bands, grab myself an iced coffee from Dunks, and drive up to the show.  Trainer A and her teen du jour took care of loading and leaving this morning since I did the prep and packing on Saturday.  The ride times were kind of cruel.  Her teen started at 10am, finished at about 1:30pm (her very first three phase), and Trainer A rode at 4pm.  Ew.

I played groom all day.  I kept Theo cool, bug free, and happy as he waited all day for his turn.  I cheered for our teen as she went forth and conquered her first cross country course.  She was technically eliminated when her pony refused one jump three times, but she got him over it on try four and completed the course.  Since it was a schooling show, she also finished stadium.  It was quite the learning experience for her, needing to put all three challenges together in the span of a couple of hours, but she's already excitedly talking about her next show.  Next time, a number and not a letter!

 Theo in his most conservative turn out: white saddle pad and silver clinchers browband

Most of my day was spent either hand grazing Theo or keeping an eye on the ponies while they were tied to the trailer, snacking on hay.  The boys were very good in tight quarters.  We had one incident when the canopy the teen's family were using for shade pulled up from it's stakes and took flight right at the pony Juicebox.  Juicebox was, understandably, completely freaked.  Theo was also not pleased.  Trainer A was close enough to yank Juice's tie loose before he could hit it.  I was too far away and Theo snapped his breakaway halter when he flew back.

Winning the tail game

So it did it's job, Theo was uninjured, but he was also loose and rather freaked.  Well, shit.  Fortunately they had the canopy under control and being collapsed very quickly so he didn't bolt.  He trotted a few steps, then stopped to check out the grass.  I pulled off my belt and made a show of crinkling a wrapper as I walked over.  That little butt head snorted, shook his head at me, and trotted off a couple steps.  Another rider heard me calling out 'loose horse' and headed him off before he could make a break for freedom.  I threw my belt around his neck and another helpful stranger handed me a halter.

I love eventers.  Everyone dropped everything to come help me catch my horse with smiles.  Of course there was a loose horse, it's a horse show.  It happens.  No harm done and Theo  went right back to his haynet like nothing happened.

Very chill, almost like he knows what he's doing

I'll admit, there was a shift in the tone and culture when the eventers finished up their day and the dressage crew started to show up.  A lot more white breeches, a lot more white polos, a lot more snark.  It's a very small schooling show so a certain amount of 'big fish in a little pond' going on.  Let's just say, these weren't faces I see at the big, sanctioned shows in the area.  While the eventers definitely have a vibe of being in this together, the dressage crew was there for just themselves.  It's unfortunate.

Tracking right up like a real dressage horse

Trainer A was a bit anxious.  It dawned on me that she hasn't shown this year and last year she only did Intro.  How did that happen?  But once she was on Theo, everything was fine.  We'd worried about whether or not he'd work for her once the pressure was on.  He's a very emotional ride and they're more prone to bickering.  We didn't need to worry.  86*, waiting all day, brutal sun with very little shade, and he still went into the ring and went to work for her.  The occasional comment, but nothing like what he's capable of.  They had to take breaks in the shade while his respiration came down, but she timed her warm up well.  They went into the ring like the pair of old pros they are.

Yes, he wanted to melt by the end of the canter work.  You can see him going 'please can I be done?!', but he didn't throw a fit.  He took her word for it that the flowers were not, in fact, going to eat him.  This is a huge step forward in their relationship.  They got a 62%.  I thought some of the marks were a hair harsh, I thought it was more of a 64%, but I'm trying not to get in the habit of quibbling over a percentage point or two.  We're close enough that I feel like the judge and I saw the same test.  She seemed quite happy with them and there were a lot of 7's.

The attempted breaks at the canter kind of killed them, but it's Theo in July.  We knew it was coming.

Trainer A said she had fun and that she could be talked into showing him at Second next time.  When the temperatures are lower so poor papi isn't begging for mercy by the end of his six minute test.  Yay!

It was a good day.  Trainer A had fun, Theo looked quite proud of himself on his walk back to the trailer, and I got to spend all day being the owner.  Which means I smile, say supportive things, and write the checks.

It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.