Monday, December 31, 2018

2018: The year of redemption

After the reality check known as 2017, I had pretty realistic goals going into 2018.

1.  Complete a (non competition) cross country course

Eh?  I did take him out to school in the cross country field.  It was inspiring to the other riders, but not in the way I wanted.  His land porpoise gets more frightening as he gets more powerful.  Isn't he supposed to age out of this nonsense?  I didn't take him anywhere else to do this as I frankly just didn't want to after his magnificent airs above the ground at home.  I did, however, swap in a bomb proofing clinic that entirely fulfilled the intent of this goal.  After everything being on fire?  The dressage arena was far less frightening.  I learned to be completely confident in my ability to sit his spin and bolt so it was no longer keeping me from riding.

2.  Compete in western dressage

HELL YES.  We knocked the socks off this one.

Theo is a natural at Western Dressage.  He won freaking everything, including Level 1 Adult Amateur and High Point Adult Amateur at the championships.  The only reason we're not totally trading disciplines is the lack of shows.  And my obsession with getting my USDF bronze.

3.  Trail ride somewhere completely new

I feel like I took him so many places and hacked him out in all new facilities, but didn't do any trail rides for the sake of trail rides.  I need to work on this.

4.  Get back over 60% at a sanctioned show.


When we kept our brains in our skulls, we totally nailed this.  We're qualified for freestyle even with the new rules.

5.  Go for a gallop

Does the land porpoise impression count?  I took him out to open him up, but usually in enclosed places.  Because I like living.  This one was a miss but with his canter issues, I wasn't doing much cantering for 2018 until he got his hocks done.  

6.  Show in dressage like a boss

Done, done, and done.

We finally figured out how to do our thing with people watching.  It was a combination of a terrifying bomb proofing clinic, the accumulation of miles, a revamp of how we enter the ring, our time in Western Dressage, and getting to the point that First 3 genuinely feels easy to both of us.  I'm not praying going into the transitions or holding my breath in the canter loop.  We're both comfortable and confirmed.

As far as hitting goals go, 2018 was a bit hit and miss.  As far as Theo and I growing goes?  2018 was awesome.  We had some bad rides and some bad tests, we had some canter trouble that required vet intervention, but we also managed to get ourselves together and get confident in the show ring.  He also cemented his role as school master, taking his other rider to a couple of shows with solid scores and a lot of smiles.  We made great strides in our training and in how we work together.  Theo is fat, happy, and eternally sassy.  I'm less fat, happy, and eternally sassy right back.  

We're sliding into 2019 more experienced, more confident, and better prepared.  

Sunday, December 30, 2018

By the numbers

I've got a little issue.  My horse has no elevation.

Seriously, look at those numbers.  Look at the averages for Equisense users.  Notice that he is off of the 'normal' range in two out of three gaits.

Then look at Dolce's numbers.

The untrained, unfit, careening around at the canter with no steering or balance pony has the same elevation!  Also note that crazy canter rhythm.  So much work to do with that pony.

I get Theo up to 16.8 cm in the canter during any given session, but that's still well below the 19cm average.  I'd probably have better numbers if I didn't let him warm up on a loose rein to start and then move my elevation up throughout the ride.  In a recent ride, he started at 14.1 cm and ended at 16.8 cm as I increased collection and activity.  That comes in with an average of 15.5 cm.  Sigh.

So should I be concerned?  I don't know.  I need elevation to get that change, but Theo just isn't built to bounce.  He's built to take his weight back, but he's not built to catch a lot of air.  I did get a successful change in each direction today so it's not a kiss of death, but there will be no comments about 'expression' or 'loft' on any of his tests.  Ever.  He gets it done, but he's a bit of a minimalist.

Jumping January will hopefully help.  I've talked to Trainer A and she's busting out the Circle of Hell with raised poles.  I'm averaging around 75 transitions per ride and that's probably the one thing that will help the most with getting his weight back and getting him less earthbound.  We can try to squeak out another centimeter or two, but I don't want to chase a number at the expense of our current calm, happy work.

None of the judges have mentioned any problems in the past year, we get straight 7s for our gaits.  I don't think this is a limiter for the low level stuff I want to do, but it's something I should at least be aware of.  I don't think of Theo as a flat mover because his back moves so much.  Now I watch videos and go 'oh yeah, he really doesn't move much vertically'.  I never noticed.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Meet Dolce

I had my third ride on Dolce today and the good news is that he's showing some improvement.  My shoulder certainly doesn't hurt as badly today.  I was loving life with mi papi being so soft in the contact, but now I have a certain strawberry making sure that my left arm remains a problem.  Thanks, Dolce.

He's very good at the apprehensive look

So what's Dolce's deal?  I'm still figuring that out.  He seems to be very insecure combined with being overreactive when you push him.  I push with my leg to make him move back to the rail, he ignores because he would rather twist and look for the other horse in the ring.  I bump him with my leg to get him to listen and he loses his little pony mind because I beat him.  Beat.  Him.  He tucks his tail like a frightened dog and scoots out from underneath me.  I don't like the running away so I end up with him hard up on his single joint full cheek snaffle.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

After two rides of 'so help me, pony, I will bring hell down on you if you don't stop trying to scoot out from under me any time I ask for something', I had made the appropriate impression.  I am not to be ignored and rude behavior will not make me stop whatever I'm doing.  I'm not scared of you, pony.  It's the weird combination of genuine insecurity and learned behaviors to get me to take my leg off and leave him alone.

I discovered on that second ride that, under the twisting and evasion, the pony has buttons.  He has a frame button, a stretch button, and even a leg yield button.  I was so pissed.  Here I am riding him like a total green bean when he's got training under all that rust.  So I pushed a bit more and found some nice moments.  Between the spooks and rooting and turning into a pretzel.  His contact feels like it will be fine, but his response to the leg is all wrong.  Rebuilding that response will be my goal.

Today I went in with the mind set that now I need him to see me as a positive thing in his life.  Nice long grooming session with the curry comb and ridiculous amounts of praise during his walking warmup.  We did a lot of leg yield back and forth, working on him reacting appropriately to my leg.  Move when I push, do not flip out and overreact.  Every time he crossed his legs, I verbally rewarded him and scratched his crest.  Ten minutes of this and the light bulb started to turn on.  Step over promptly without slamming into the bridle like a loon and you get loved on!  Who knew?!

Yet another horse with a fantastic tail

It did transfer to the trot once he was settled.  I put on my inside leg and instead of him trying to bolt into the center of the ring, he would tip his nose in and step away from the pressure.  Oh hallelujah! We were able to trot around the ring with lots of turns and changes of direction without tearing up my shoulder too much.

The canter?  Oh, that thing is awful.  So awful.  The first time I tried to canter him, he ran off in the trot.  Fine, fine, reset.  Takes off in the trot.  Ugh, fine, now I absolutely have to get this done.  I gave him a bump with my heel and he freaking bolted with his tail clamped down.   She beats me!  She beats me!  The actual canter is a headlong bolt that is constantly trying to break down to a frantic trot.  He's not that weak, it seems to be lack of experience and training.  Right now I'm doing almost all of his work in walk and trot with a tiny bit of canter just to desensitize him to the idea.  One 20m circle in each direction, much loving on, call it done.  It's working, today had a few strides of actual canter in the midst of the bolting as he realized nothing terrible was happening to him.

He got a mini spa day because I could not cope with his overgrown mane and tail

I think there's a perfectly nice pony under the current ratbag routine.  His ground manners are very good, he'll stand on the cross ties all day while I groom and fuss.  He likes the attention and comes up to the gate to see me.  I think with some routine and miles, he'll be happy to have a job.  I'm hoping that if I spend a couple weeks getting him to the point of w/t/c like a gentleman, I can hand him off to the teens and they can finish the work.  His conformation is kind of wonky but he fits Theo's jumping saddle.  It's nice to be able to ride in my own saddle.  I've got to do something about that bridle of his, it's so ugly and several keepers are broken. 

I do have that size 3 High Jump bridle hanging around . . .

Monday, December 24, 2018

Project pony

I think this is the third Christmas where Theo greeted me with a missing shoe. 

if you don't want to be in prison, QUIT THROWING YOUR SHOES

Fine, fine, take a holiday.  See if I care.  And to make matters worse, we were supposed to have a jumping lesson.  I got carried away building jumps on Sunday and left the course up so we could have a nice break from being serious business dressage types.  Theo decided one day of course work was enough and there we were.

At least we got to jump them one time before I had to take them down

And we had such a nice jump ride on Sunday.  Dang it.  I chucked him in a stall and Trainer A gave me some options if I still wanted to ride.  I picked the new resident green bean, a red roan named Dolce.

Hello, apprehensive pony

Dolce is ten and has very little in the way of career skills or experience.  He walks, trots, kinda canters.  He was originally marketed as a trail horse.  He had some jumping training at some point, or so the story goes, but it's clearly long gone.  Mostly he's cute and has been trading on his potential for a long time.  He's on a free lease while his mom welcomes a new baby and changes jobs.  He's also on the market, but it's harder to sell cute with no career skills, especially when they're ten years old.  This is how he ended up at the barn as a free lease.  He is used in some lessons but he's mostly there to get some miles and learn a job.

He has a very delicate little mind.  Everything new is just not okay.  His world is rocked very easily.  He's mostly hung out at a private barn with no activity.  I brought him into the upper barn and that was enough to get him snorting.  He's used to the lower barn!  His ground manners are fine, but he's convinced he's going to die all the time.  Quite herd bound.  A motorcycle came by as we were heading to the ring and he completely lost his mind.  Like trying to bolt down the road and drag me with him lost his mind.  Ugh.

The crazy part is that he's being priced by his owner at upper 4 figures.  He's cute but come on, he can't do much more than trot around looking cute.  Today we worked on trotting on the rail like a gentleman and not diving toward the center at any opportunity.  Or dragging me toward any other horse in the ring.  At 10 he's starting to age out of the 'prospect' category.

While discussing Dolce's price, one of the teens who rides Baby Pony asked what that pony would be valued at.  I shrugged and said I'd price him at $15,000 and take the best offer over $10,000.  He's a solid Beginner Novice pony that will jump anything, pops over 3' fences without batting an eyelash, goes for gallops on the beach, hunter paces, jumps in the ring all day, takes a joke, works great for a kid, is a total cuddle bug with lots of cute points, and has uncommonly nice movement.  If he wasn't an appy and 15h he'd be worth more.  He's also only seven so he's in the prime age.

 Can you believe the Baby Pony is all grown up and taking beginners out to jump cross country?

I saw her face fall and I felt terrible.  The teen is in love with him, has been leasing him for over a year and taking him to three phase shows.  Afterward I heard her bitterly saying to a friend that she'd never be able to own him.  It's rough, but the fact is that he's more valuable than my fancy dancy dressage pony.  He's versatile, could excel in several disciplines, and is half Theo's age.  He would easily sell as a BN packer with room to move up.

Baby Pony is not on the market, he's too hard to replace, but I understand the teen's feelings.  Of course she wants a horse of her own and she wants it to be the fun, sweet pony where she's built such a great relationship.  But that's what he's valued at in this area.

This whole price discussion and the green bean ride resonated with me because lately I've had the urge to take on a project.  Not as a Theo replacement, absolutely not.  We have things to do and he is my love.  I enjoy just hanging with him, giving him attention and letting him play with my hair and huff in my ear.  He's so much fun to ride now since he has a very complete set of buttons.  The urge to play with a project stems more from not wanting to forget how.  Some day, hopefully far in the future, I'll need my next horse.  It'll be a prospect.  I, like my teen friend, can't afford the finished product.  It would be terrible if I forgot how to take a prospect to a finished product.

Still a work in progress

Dolce may be a practice project for me.  I'm still discussing it with Trainer A to see if it makes sense.  There's also a school pony in the wings that needs to find his own child.  He's not happy as a school pony anymore.  He'll need some polish so he can land a good home, some show outings, etc.  He's a cutie, it could be fun.  I haven't prepped a pony for sale in a long time.  I'll have to get on top of my diet again, he's not a big pony.  I look fine on him, but I sure won't want to put any extra weight on him.

 It'll be good to ride something green and totally different.  I'll certainly appreciate Theo more after riding a horse so damn clueless.  Seriously, pony, it's called steering!  Don't run into things!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Waiting and wishing and hoping

I didn't like the PS of Sweden High Jump bridle on Theo.  Partially because I ordered the wrong size (he's a 4, I ordered a 3, I'm a genius and didn't notice until I'd cut off the tags, assembled it, and tried to put it on his face), but mostly because I don't need a noseband for this horse.  At all.  We don't have one on the western bridle and it makes no difference.  The only reason he has one on his dressage bridle is because it's required for competition.  He gets fussy with anything that makes him think he's trapped.  He's not a horse that was trained with a snug noseband, he never wore one until he was 8.  There's only so loose I can set a noseband that has a flash.  If it's too loose, the flash part is going to go for a wander.

So if anyone wants a never used PS of Sweden High Jump in brown and size 3, let me know.  It's a super cool bridle that kept away from the sensitive spots on his face, but not the bridle for a horse that wears a plain noseband loose enough to put two stacked fingers under it.

He still needs a jump bridle.  I was roaming the PS of Sweden site, trying to figure out what I want.  It seems silly to buy an identical bridle in brown but I really hate having a black bridle and brown saddle.  I had the Paladin all picked out and in my shopping cart but figured I should look and see if there was anything else I really needed.  Because that's what you do on a tack website.

While looking at the blankets, I noticed something interesting. 

Do you see it?  Let me zoom in.

What is THAT?  Is that a bridle with no noseband or throatlash, just a strap at the jowls to keep it on the right side of the horse's head and away from the face bones?  It looks like the same crownpiece they use for the Nirak and the cheekpieces are similar, but there's no extra straps for holding on a noseband. Where did this come from?  How do I get one?

I emailed PS of Sweden because I didn't want to order the Nirak cheekpieces and find out that I needed to cut the nose attachments off to get that effect.  Here's the reply I got.

Dear Catie,
Thanks for getting in touch!
It's a bridle that will be included in our new collection of bridles to be launched at the beginning of 2019.
By then it will be available to purchase.

Warmest regards,

Hälsningar / Regards
So I'm going to be waiting for 2019 to buy Theo his new bridle because PS of Sweden is going to be releasing some new models including one that is just perfect for him.

I hate waiting to buy new tack.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Hello legs

Not Theo's this time.  This time it's about finding my own legs.

Fair warning, any mid-level or higher dressage rider is going to face palm or head desk a lot while reading this, so you should deploy any necessary cushioning before proceeding.  Carry on.

Way back when I first learned to ride, I showed in the equitation ring.  This meant I spent a lot of time doing no stirrup work and making sure that my leg was completely stable and still no matter what.  I could post, jump, do the hokey pokey up there and my legs wouldn't move an inch.  Heels down, calf on, completely still.  I was proud of that.  Sweat, blood, and tears went into that ability.  Jumping length stirrup position with zero movement.  I pursued that for probably twenty years.

And then I decided I wanted to dressage.

As Theo and I start to dabble with actually dressage-ing (even the rule books show that Third level is when you actually start to do dressage), some of my little issues have become big issues.  Like my leg doing interesting things like this:

I call this the 'omg please lengthen everyone is staring at us I need to stick my spur in the fattest part of your belly and squeeze you like a jammed up tube of toothpaste' position.  This is what happens when your horse is perpetually behind your leg and you rely on a spur to get him to actually move his booty.  The good news is that I generally don't do this any more, this usually shows up only when I'm stressed.  Like at horse shows.  You know, when it actually counts.

At home, Trainer A has become laser focused on fixing my leg.  Why?  Because when my calf is always on, I can't use it for anything actually useful.  I can't tell my horse to power up with my calf if he never feels it come off.  I thought I was taking my leg off, but no.  It's always, always on.  My calves are always right up against his side, unmoving.  Lesson after lesson, ride after ride, I'm retraining my legs so that they can actually be turned off.  This has involved some very dramatic exercises where I look ridiculous, such as cantering with my legs off the saddle.

My horse is a damn saint.  I was limping afterward due to my hips getting one heck of a work out.  I also did this with my bareback pad.  Want to talk about a balance exercise.

The saint in question

At trot and canter, I've been practicing keeping the gait without having my leg touch his side at all.  Overkill, yes, but nothing else could make me realize that I had my leg on all the time.  And since my calf was always on, I'd resort to my spur to get a reaction.  To do that, I'd suck my leg up, pop my butt up out of the saddle, and generally make a mess of things.  Theo and I had to be reprogrammed so that calf pressure varied and that variance was enough of a cue to get a response.

I'm starting to feel the benefits.  I've dropped my stirrups another hole and now wear a slightly longer spur because my heels make it past the curve of his belly.  I need that longer spur in order to reach him without getting out of place.

We've also had a huge upswing in misfires.  I ask for a little more walk, I end up in trot.  I shift my weight, we're going lateral.  Right now he's getting pats for offering the behavior when I screw it up so he's happy to keep playing this game.  I just have to dial in my body control to match his new sensitivity.  I'm also having to rebuild my sitting trot as he gets a bigger trot transition.  He almost popped me off today.  Trainer A giggled.  It wasn't a high quality transition, but I can't argue with the enthusiasm in the response.

Today I cantered him on a 10m circle with no fear of breaking, no work to keep the gait, and with a loop on my inside rein.  Not just one circle, we stayed on the 10m circle and worked there in the canter with my new fluffy calves and long legs.  With my legs out of the way, I was able to really plug in and ride the canter.  This freed up my legs to do things like manage that circle instead of just keeping him cantering.  This left my inside hand with nothing to do but sit there and look decorative.  Score!

It was one of those rides where you go 'oh, THAT's what you meant!'.  I thought I was just sitting in the canter.  I wasn't.  I thought I was sitting deep in my saddle.  I wasn't.  I thought my horse was starting to carry himself.  He wasn't.  When I realized I was holding on to a 10m circle in the canter and it felt like we had plenty of room, that I wasn't kicking, pulling, or otherwise doing dramatics, I realized that this is what I am supposed to be doing all the time.  It's a bit of a chicken and the egg thing.  Theo had to learn to hold the canter without my help, but I had to do dramatics with my body to teach that because he already had his confirmed bad habits.  Only now can I start to work on quieting my body because he's figured out he's supposed to keep going until told otherwise.  Once I stop the pushing and kicking, I can actually sit down and move with him.

Duh.  Yeah, I know, duh.  There's whole books devoted to the topic.  But that isn't the same as going 'oooooooh, that!'.  And now that I know what he can do and what I should feel, we can start working on it.

Monday, December 10, 2018

What to do with 2019

It's the time of year where everyone starts working on their goals for the next year.  I've been putting way too much time into picking some out.

My big decision has been how much I want to spend and where I want to go.  I did kick around the idea of going to the World Championship for Western Dressage, but it would run me about $5,000 to do it.  That's mostly to get both of us to OK which is a crazy long trip.  That's longer than moving the horses to Aiken or even Wellington.  Seems a bit drastic when we've only done two rated shows.  It would also be quite a shock for Theo who has never been in a trailer for longer than two hours.  10 days of travel and a show?  He would be a wreck.

Pony says no

Since we aren't going to OK, our focus will probably be traditional dressage.  I want to do some multi-day shows since I like having more than one chance at a test and it's less time in the trailer per test.  Theo is still a bit of a monster in a stall, but he's learning to cope so long as I hand walk about three hours a day, hack out, keep hay in front of him at all times, and generally cater to his every whim.

Pleaaaaase release me, let me go

Keeping all of that in mind, I've got some goals for next year.

Second Level Debut
I keep putting this off for good reasons but now I think we're ready.  The shoulder in, counter canter, haunches in, reinback, and 10m circles are all non-issues now.  I always wonder if I have a 'collected' trot or canter like it's some sort of switch I can flip on, but Janet Foy had a good sanity check.  Can you do all of the movements easily?  Will the judge clutch their pearls and hope you make it or will they sip their coffee?  If they're sipping coffee, then you're collected enough.  So let's do this thing and start getting some feedback.

Musical Freestyle
I've got the qualifying score, time to see if my pony can dance.  All I need is music.  And choreography.  And a perfectly measured large court to practice in.  Easy peasy?

Western Dressage it up
Theo's good at it, we both enjoy doing it, we need to keep at it.  Probably at Level 2.  Assuming we have any local shows, we may only have the championship which seems kind of crazy.  I'd be more interested in campaigning Theo in western dressage if there were some actual, you know, shows.  Or other competitors at Level 2.  I may be the only adult ammy at this level in my region.

Schooling jumper shows
Theo also enjoys jumping.  I think some jumping shows will help keep him from getting bored with the showing thing.  Jumping also gets him nice and forward with no nagging from me.  The more we jump, the more oomph I have.  I don't want to waste my time at rated shows since I won't go higher than 2'6" (I like my clunky, front heavy horse sound), so I'll save my pennies by doing schooling shows.

This is where things get a bit crazy.  I want to go back to Saugerties, specifically the regional championship.  I want to qualify for the First level championships and potentially for the freestyle championship.  Do I have a prayer at the championships?  Nope, not in New England, but I know we'll be better prepared than our first trip and this time I'll be staying for the whole show weekend and being all the DQ I can be.

Flying Change
It's time.  We're hard at work installing his trotting half pass, time to add the other movement we'll need for that Third 1 score.  My goal is to get a change on him before he gets any older.  It will take at least a year to get a change confirmed, we're going to run out of time.  He's had a flying change before, but we never did get it on an actual cue and it wasn't out of a collected canter.  I'm hoping that means he'll still be able to learn them even though he'll be fifteen because it won't be a new concept and it will be bigger because he's now up off his front end in the canter.  I'm freaking out, but it needs to happen.

One crazy clinic
Whether it's another bombproofing clinic or working cattle, I will do one completely off the wall clinic because it's so good for us both.  Occasionally horrifying, but it's made such a huge difference in our confidence.  I'm leaning toward working cattle, but I heard the same fella is coming out this spring to light things on fire.  Can't argue with his results.

I'm hoping I'm not setting myself up for another fall, but 2019 is currently slated to be a showing year.  I'm already pinching my pennies and getting my show wardrobe ready.  I'm tentatively getting excited.  I do enjoy showing when my horse knows the drill and there's minimal drama.  I think we're ready to go show and actually enjoy the experience.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Sass monster

It's cold out.  Not like 'aw, I need to put on a coat'.  More like 'omg when will I feel my fingers again?!'.  Theo's 8am lesson today was cancelled because it was 14* out and we generally don't work horses when it's under 15*.  Not good for the lungs and too much risk of freezing sweat.  I scooted out to ride him this afternoon when it got up to a balmy 26* and found that he had pulled a strap of his heavyweight turn out off.  Really?  It's getting down to 10* this week!  You need that!  So guess what I'm doing tonight?

Saturday nights when you're a horse owner.  Wild and crazy.

While handling and tacking Theo I noted he was yanking his head away from me like he'd been beaten to within an inch of his life.  He was also spooking and snorting at things like his own blanket.  He didn't want ear rubs.  My horse didn't want ear rubs.  What the actual hell?  I turned to look at something and he grabbed my jacket.

Well, hello naughty Theo, it's been a long time.  All the other horses are being sassy in the bolting, snorting way that most riders have experienced.  Mi papi has his very own way to celebrate the cold.  He gets slow, distracted, and pissy like a teenager that just lost their phone.  He'll do it, but only because you're making him and he's going to do it so slowly that you'll wish you hadn't started the fight.  And he will temper tantrum if you push the matter.

I had fortunately taken my dressage tack home for a proper cleaning and conditioning.  A healthy dose of lederbalsam combined with full seat breeches is even better than a stick of Saddle-tite.  I put on my new rainbow spurs which are a bit bigger than my usual spurs, grabbed a whip, and told Theo to stop trying to bite me.  Time to manage the sass monster.

The problem with Theo's sass monster is that it's a sullen, pouty beast.  Lunging doesn't get you far.  We taught him to get it out on the lunge, but it's hell on my bad shoulder.  I got on and he made sure I knew that there were scary things in the corners.  All the corners.  Nothing bad, but he craned his head and snorted while walking slowly.  I put my leg on and got the one hoof salute.  Our little jog to let him get his sneezes out barely got his hooves off the ground.  I warmed him up at the walk for fifteen minutes with two coolers on to give him a fair shot to wake up (and get that hump out of his back) but he was not on board with letting the sass out. 

Do we look cold?  Because we were cold!  Two coolers on the sass monster

After his long walking warm up, I got rid of one cooler and we spent a solid twenty minutes putting him in front of my leg.  And back in front of my leg.  And back in front of my leg.  Pretend you don't notice that hump that's STILL sitting right behind you and keep kicking.  I even used the whip which says a lot about how our relationship has changed.  If I'd done that even a year ago, I'd be in the hospital.  I gave him a double tap, he gave me a big buck, then he started to move forward.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  It only took us 35 minutes of 'warm up' but I was able to get in a really fantastic fifteen minutes of work with lots of extra power and bounce from behind.  I love seeing those hocks and stifles working away in the mirror.  We had a whole centimeter more elevation than average in the canter once he was channeling the sass into his work.

For those of you following along at home, his 'big' canter is still 2 cm lower than average for Equisense users.  Sob.

He's recently learned how to stretch over his back in the canter.  It's both terrifying and wonderful.  I feed out the reins while he's cantering and he stretches out very dramatically.  His nose goes to the ground, his back lifts, and my terror spikes because this is also what he does right before he tries to launch me.  He canters around quite happily like this now, but only after he's done some serious business dressage-ing at the canter.  After his transition work, he stretches out all those hard working muscles with great pleasure.  And some serious trepidation from his rider who's trying to get off his back and let him do this very correct thing while seeing her life flash before her eyes.

Love his PS of Sweden exercise rug, it's just enough bling to make us feel fancy while freezing

After our hour of work, Theo was back to being my cuddle monster.  He played with my hair while I was waiting for a clear shot at the door to leave the ring (beginners on ponies are terrifying).  He fell asleep loose in the aisle while I moisturized and rebraided his mane.  Keeping it slippery and braided seems to be keeping it safe from his neck rugs.  The open face sleazy isn't working out that great.  It slides back and then the elastic gets tight and I'm afraid it's going to choke him.  It also started to rub the upper part of his mane.  I cut the elastic band off and use it like a high neck shoulder guard.  He's far more comfortable this way and it's still protecting the half of his mane that's in danger.  A long mane is a ton of work, why was I thinking it would be easier than a pulled mane?

Soon, soon running braid ready

Tomorrow his other rider is working him.  Hopefully the 35* heat wave and my hard work today will keep the sass monster under wraps.  It takes a special relationship to manage him on those days.  Or a certain level of YOLO.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Photo flashback

I finally got the photos from Theo's wonderful showing at NEDA summer back in July.

From our First 2 test before they waived jackets.

Of course he's sticking his tongue out in the stretchy circle.  Good to know he's now licking and chewing in the middle of his stretchy circle.

And from our First 3 test where I got to ditch my jacket.

So happy to have these.  My very first show with white gloves!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018


It's terrible Latin but I'm sticking with it.  The translation is 'fear of flying changes'.  I have a severe case.

It's not that I'm afraid of riding a flying change.  I've ridden lots of horses with flying changes, even some fancy dressage horses that could do tempi changes.  Allen had a beautifully trained flying change and I am forever grateful to whoever installed that.  He's the horse that taught me to consciously ask for a change instead of assuming my horse had an autochange (hello, h/j world).  Fiona was a completely natural change.  My problem with her was getting her to stop changing for the counter canter.  That mare would pull tempi changes on the trail because any change of bend brought on a change.

Theo does not have a flying change. He had one for about two weeks a couple years ago, but when our training went off the rails, the change seemed to disappear.  He swaps leads when we're jumping, but he's lazy and only developed a sorta collected canter in the last couple months.  There's an extra beat in there somewhere, it's not a big pretty dressage flying change.  Since he got comfortable in the counter canter, he's now just as happy to jump off the wrong lead and I have to clearly tell him I want to change leads.  It's kind of a nice feature if it's a bending line and not a lot of time to change or if he changes careers and becomes a big eq horse.

Powering over those 2'3" fences

Yeah, not looking like a future big eq horse.

I keep putting off the change because I'm convinced I can't do it.  I'm convinced I'm going to ruin his counter canter, his flying change, his career, his self esteem, his hair, everything.  I've taught a swap to lots of horses in the h/j world.  Half the time the suckers pick it up all on their own while doing course work.  This is my first time with a dressage flying change.  On the one hand, how much harm can I do?  He's already got a slightly lazy swap, it's not like I can install that wrong.  That happened a looooong time ago when someone thought he should be an eventer.  I'm in the perfect position to take a crack at it.  I'm not aiming for tempi changes or FEI.  I just need one change and he's already got the idea.  I've felt him do it clean and when expected.

That doesn't change the fact that dressage culture has instilled quite a bit of terror in me.  Having a change is a big deal when a horse is on the market.  Being able to put a change on a horse is a very big deal for a trainer.  Putting a change on a horse is NOT for the ammy adult owner to do.  You hand that to your trainer and sip some chardonnay.  Once it's on and confirmed, you will start practicing.  Ammy adult owners do not touch something that delicate or handle the flying change hell that occurs just after.

delicate little flower

Trainer A is assisting, but this is mostly going to land on me.  I ride him the most.  Part of me wants to scream and send him away for a month and then get my horse back with a change installed.  On the other hand, I need to figure out how to do this for myself.  I doubt Theo is my last dressage horse.  I might as well figure it out.  Who better to practice on then my own horse?

So I'm watching everything I can find to try to come up with a plan.  My checklist for stuff that my horse needs to have before I try to actually install this:

1.  A nice simple change.  I've got it on video without a saddle, his canter to walk actually exists and is consistent (so long as he's not freshly clipped and trying to take me for a bolt like he did on Sunday) and has no trot steps.  Canter canter canter walk.  His flaw is in the upward transition, he likes to cheat and use the underside of his neck if I'll let him.  So long  as he's up in front of my leg, it's all good, but it's my indicator that forward will be (as always with mi papi) a problem.

2.  A counter canter.  Yup, totally got this.  We're up to 10m half circle, back to the wall on a diagonal line, 15 m half circle in the counter canter, and then walk.  It's still an effort for him, but he's not fighting the lead or anxious about it.

3.  A collected canter.  Yeah?  I dunno, it looks good in the glimpses in the mirror.  It feels good, like I can transition to a lengthen or down to a walk.  We fall in and out of it, but I have been told that's to be expected for a Second Level horse.  He knows how, it's sure not easy or something he can do all the time.  I feel like it needs more power, but I'm probably always going to feel like that.  He's lazy, so that's a thing.

4.  A canter half pass.  We can do little ones, like four or five strides heading toward the wall.  I've been cautious on this and don't want to overface him.  We also leg yield in canter quite a bit, getting him used to the idea that he should pick up his tummy because I may suddenly decide to go sideways at any point while cantering.  We're also doing some shoulder in and haunches in at the canter to encourage him to pay attention, carry himself without me having to get in his face, and let me rearrange his body at will.

By all measures I've found, it's time.  We have months until our next show so we can recover our counter canter.  I have to draw a line in the sand or I'll never move.  I think I need to devote December to improving his strength in the canter.  I don't want any moments of weakness or transitions that fall over.  He's got the idea, just needs some more power and confidence.  My Equisense says he needs more elevation in his canter, so that will give me something to work on.  All the cavaletti work in the canter.

unrelated selfie in my clipping outfit, the glasses are a Godsend

January, I can throw myself into the deep end of dressage-ing.  It's probably going to take me that long to get the nerve up.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Joining Club Equisense

I wanted an Equisense the first time I saw one.  Data?  On my horse?  Over time?  GIMME.  GIMME NOW.

I'm a data scientist as my career field, I'm a bit passionate about this sort of thing.

When I saw that 50 Equisense were going out at 50% off for Black Friday, I stayed up until 2am to snag one.  It was 8am in France.  I managed to snag one and it arrived on Monday.  Can't say enough about the fast shipping and excellent packaging.  Super sharp customer service and a really well done marketing email strategy.  But that's just me being a digital marketing nerd.

I also got to brush up on my French because some of my emails showed up in French.

I downloaded the app, charged my Equisense, and got it connected to my phone with no trouble.  It took me about five minutes to get the app set up with my account and get the sensor connected.  The sensor velcroed on to my girth with no trouble.  Since I only need to charge it about once a month, it will live on my girth and get charged in the barn office when needed.

I was very cautious about getting excited for my first session.  I've found these types of devices to be a bit tricky/moody in the past.  My Fitbit can be troublesome at times, for example.  But it really was super easy.  I opened up the app, hit record, and stuffed my phone in my pocket.  At the end of my ride, I hit stop.  That was it.  When I was done, I got this:

Oh, blessed data.  How do I love thee, let me count the ways.

Starting from the top, woohoo all green on symmetry!  With Theo's unevenness behind, I was delighted to get a 7.6.  Having his hocks done and really working on that symmetry has been paying off.  We've got a lot of work to do, but it's not a disaster and he doesn't have a hind in red so I'll take it.

We were specifically working his walk to start so the long section of walk makes sense.  We have to change his warm up about twice a month to keep him from finding new and creative ways to evade doing actual work.  Right now, lots of transitions within the walk and getting him into his working frame while still walking.  We were also focused on the way he was stuck in his neck to the left, so a lot more time in that direction.  He did stretch and there was a huge pop out of his neck during a break, so whatever was stuck, it seems to have worked itself out.  Dressage:  Yoga for Horses.

His tempos are improving.  He used to have a 99 bpm canter and a 77 bpm trot.  I'm excited to see the cadence slowing while he's still covering the same amount of ground.  He's more relaxed and powerful.  I have no idea if the elevation is good or bad, but hopefully we'll see it trend up over time.  Our regularity?  Well, we got a 7 in the trot, that's not bad considering we were doing lateral work.  The walk got a 5, that's all on me.  I was trying to get the swinging walk from my seat, we had a lot of misfires.  That canter score?  Ouch.  We have a lot of work to do in the canter.  Which we knew.  It's good to have a metric to improve.

To be fair, we were dodging a lot of traffic and only cantered 1.5 minutes, but yeah, we have some canter work to do.

He felt freaking amazing by the end of our ride.  I was giggling and goofing off, enjoying my horse that now has self carriage and can be sensitive to the aids.  No more praying he keeps cantering during the counter canter, no more exhausted kicking as he drags himself on his shoulders, no more aching upper body as he insists I carry his head for him or acts like a giraffe.  He has passed up any other horse I've owned and has even passed up Miss Thang.  Fiona was freaking talented, but I never got here with her.  Theo is most definitely not talented, but he is very educated and willing.  This is what it feels like to ride a Second Level horse.  I can't even imagine how much fun he'll be when he gets to be a mid-level dressage horse.

I'm happy with the numbers we got and the sensor was so very easy to set up and use.  I'm really looking forward to building up his history and being able to track his performance over time.  It really took my ponynoia down a notch to see this first set of numbers.  He's not dying, he's not lame, he's fine.  We have a lot of work to do, but he's fine.  We're going in the right direction.

I will post so many charts.  Everyone will be so sick of my charts.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Lumpy bumps

Alternate title:  The Tale of My Horse's Zit

On Sunday Theo got his winter shoes on.  I'd been at a birthday party the night before and was feeling it a bit.  I was running on three hours of sleep.  While discussing shoes with another rider that uses my farrier (he now has four clients at my barn, go figure), I noticed that Theo didn't particularly want me to touch his nose.  That's super weird since Theo is usually on board with me touching his face.  Heck, he's usually pushy about it.  I messed with him a bit, tracking down the spot he didn't want me to touch.

You can just barely see it just below his right nostril

I found a spot just under his right nostril that was hard and he didn't want me to touch.  Once I knew what I was looking for, I could see where it was a bit swollen.  I got someone to hold him so I could work my fingers up under his lip.  He was not amused, but once he got used to it, he seemed content to have me working around his lump.  I did feel a little hard spot, but our attempts at taking a picture failed.  I really wish we had video of us jamming a cell phone in my horse's mouth to take a picture of the inside of his top lip.

Have I mentioned that my horse is a saint?  There were several of us with our hands jammed in his mouth and a phone.  He was mildly perplexed, but stood quietly for the whole thing.

We came to the conclusion that he had something like a splinter on the inside of his lip.  It wasn't big, it wasn't affecting his nostril or his eating, so it wasn't an emergency.  I waited until the next day to call the vet rather than eat an emergency call fee.

Fast forward to Friday.  The lump is really pretty boring.  It got slightly bigger, but he was actually better with having me touch his nose.  When the vet arrived, he did exactly what I did.  Poor Theo, more hands in his mouth.  Yup, probably a splinter that got infected.  No sign of anything in there now and the lump didn't have any spots where he thought he could drain it.  Basically an infection that hadn't decided if it was going to be an abscess or not.

I have dubbed it Theo's zit.

He says he doesn't get zits, he's 14 years old dang it 

He's now on 15 SMZs twice a day to get the infection down.  If it resolves on it's own, all good.  If it comes to a head, the vet will go back in and drain it.  Theo's quite happy, eating everything in sight, and working like a dream, so no need to get dramatic.  If it grows or becomes a problem for him, we'll get more aggressive.

My poor pony.  I have to explain to people that he has a big zit on his nose and it's sore, so he might not like getting pet as much as usual.  Just focus on the ears, there's nothing wrong with them.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Black Friday

I was NOT good this year.  What all did I get?  Well . . .

Theo has a new jumping bridle.  The Wellfleet bridle I got him didn't fit quite right.  I cobbled it together with pieces from his old bridle, but I wasn't happy with it.  The quality was fine, but Theo is hard to fit and it was rubbing right on the bones of his muzzle.  His head is short but wide, it was dragging the cheekpieces up.  I have a brown High Jump from PS of Sweden on the way, to see if I can finally get a bridle on him that he can't shake off when he thinks he's done with the ride.  Jerk.  I may have also tossed a green jump saddle pad in the cart as well.  I only own two jump saddle pads, I think I can justify a third.

At Chick's Saddlery I got a new black vest, two blanket bags to tidy up my blanket bar (I have way too many blankets), and a new blanket for Aura.  Being short of hair and low of fat, she's always cold.

I hit KJ Creations with a half off code for a lariat stirrup necklace and a pair of rainbow roller spurs.  Trainer A will be so delighted to see those.  I've always loved this type of coloring and I'm looking forward to adding them to my spur collection.

And finally, my piece de resistance:

I got that 50% off Equisense!  I'm so excited, I've wanted one since I saw it on A Enter Spooking.  I'm such a data junkie and this will give me some awesome data over the winter.  I love my ClockIt when checking for fitness, but it's GPS based and does me no good in my metal indoor.  It also struggles to get a heart rate with Theo in his full winter coat.  This baby will be focused on things like being symmetrical.  I need data to keep my ponynoia at bay.  I always think he's lame somewhere, it's exhausting.  I need a baseline so I can see truly aberrant data points.

I also got some new conditioners from Smartpak for Theo's mane and tail.  I noticed some of his mane coming loose despite all of my armor, time to try applying products and making his mane slippery.  I've already made my reins slippery, so let's hope his mane decides to stay attached to his neck.  Note to self, do not apply gel detanglers to the mane with your hands before you ride.

I'm happy with my spending spree, but man oh man, I was very bad.  I may have to distract the hubby when some of these packages show up.  I probably shouldn't have splurged considering some of the trips that have been suggested for 2019 but the deals were too good to resist.

Full credit to The $900 Facebook Pony for the list of sales, especially the Equisense one.  I wouldn't have known to stay up without her list. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving 2018

The weather is ridiculous.  Yesterday I rode in reasonable November temperatures.  It was a bit chilly at 9am when I showed up for my lesson, but 30* is fine for a ride.  I had a jumping lesson (which I'll discuss in a non-Thanksgiving post).

This morning, for my 5k?  8* when I got in the car.  Single digits.  I don't even have words.  But I do have a funny picture of me just before my race.

My dad said I look like Gredo from Star Wars.  I'm annoyed that I agree with him.  The race was slow and careful as my first run since I took some time off.  It was fun to run with friends without any pressure or pain.  I think I'm ready to get back to the running thing, but this time at reasonable distances.  Which says a lot about my new frame of mind when I think three miles is a reasonable distance.

After my run it was time for Thanksgiving festivities.

Adulting with the best of them.  Now I'm doing the early Black Friday sales online.  I'll be up until 2am to try to nab a 50% off Equisense motion pack.  Time zones are rough.

So what am I thankful for this year?  Lots of stuff.  I'm thankful for an awesome pony that keeps me coming back to the barn, even when it's freaking cold out.

I'm thankful for a husband that lets me steal his sweaters when I realize they match my breeches perfectly.  You can't see it in the photo, but there's purple trim on the sweater and on my breeches.  They completed my h/j flashback look.  He also does things like turn my trailer around in the driveway.  So very thankful.

I'm thankful that we had fun this year, that we got to run around with friends and have all new experiences.  I'm thankful for many things that have nothing to do with horses and yet allow me to enjoy my time with Theo.

2018 was pretty freaking awesome and I'm thankful that I've got the joy back.