Monday, July 30, 2018

Regularly scheduled maintenance

Theo's 14 now and being asked to work pretty hard. Our canter problems have straightened out for the most part, but he is definitely still more reluctant to canter left than right.  Not lame, just not jumping into the left canter the same way and reluctant on the 10m circle.  You know, when he really has to load up those hocks and stifles.

In our Sunday clinic it was noted as more of a strength thing than anything, but we agreed that it's probably time to step up Theo's maintenance to make sure we don't have anything developing.  He's working those joints harder, wear and tear is a thing.  Better to act early than to let damage accumulate.  He's a total princess about these kinds of things, which is nice because I know something is starting to bother him. 

But at the same time, nuts.  Good thing I enjoy being broke.  I'm sorry, checking account.  I don't want our relationship to be like this, but there are great forces working against me.

So begins the rodeo of the older performance horse.  I fully expected to need to start maintenance on Theo when he turned 15 and as there's nothing urgent going on, it probably won't be starting immediately.  It's a few months ahead of schedule, no big deal.  I just need to get a move on and preserve those precious joints for as long as possible.

From our clinic last Sunday, showing that left lead

He's currently on SmartPak's SmartFlex Ultra for his oral supp.  That's 10,000 mg glucosamine, 1,000 mg chondroitin sulfate, 100 mg HA, and 10,000 mg MSM.  I'm big on glucosamine and chondroitin for prevention by making sure the necessary building blocks are there in excess so the cartilage has the best chance of repairing.  Yeah, he's peeing a lot of it out, but I know he's not short on the things he needs.  MSM has always performed well for me for managing inflammation.  The HA is just making expensive pee, but whatever.  I consider this a pretty standard support package for a horse in consistent training.  I'm planning on leaving that alone for right now.

Friday he had an appointment to have a lyme titer pulled, just to cover all bases.  He's lyme positive, but so is every other horse in NH.  If he's NQR, I usually get him checked to make sure his counts haven't jumped which would indicate he's having a flare up.  If he's having a flare up, he goes on Doxy for a month and he'll feel better in a week or two.  It's so standard here in New England that I'm not even worried.  I'd prefer lyme to a lot of other options.  I'll get my results this week.

The vet also did a quick lameness exam to make sure I'm not seeing things.  He agreed, Theo's stiff on that left hind and not really stepping under himself when he's on the lunge.  Nothing at all serious, he's sound, but he's known the horse since he was six.  Assuming the lyme titer comes back negative, we'll move forward with the theory that he's showing early arthritis.  We'll do some x-rays of his hocks and stifles to check for changes compared to his base x-rays from years ago.  If it's just minor remodeling, I'll ask for a script for Adequan.  I like Adequan for a step up in joint support and once you're done loading, it's only one shot a month.  Not bad.  I can do IM injections and it's not a huge bill to add to the plate.  The loading is going to SUCK of course, but that's why I have maintained a taste for ramen. 

I'm not thinking joint injections right now.  Once you start those, you're stuck with them for the rest of the performance career.  So long as he's comfortable without them, I'll hold off at least until spring.  Let's save the big guns for when he's doing the really hard stuff.

Chiro is being scheduled.  Theo's a twice a year visit kind of a guy, mostly to keep his pelvis from getting out of whack and to keep him from putting his poll out.  He's not crazy about flexion right now and dragging the outside hind on circles in both directions, so I expect he needs an adjustment. 

My last thing will be to do a check in with the farrier.  His right front looks crappy right now from when he tore his shoe off in June, but I don't think it's a problem.  Overall I'm happy with his feet.  He does have a reoccurring problem with horizontal cracks appearing on the back of his front hooves.  The first time we saw it, it was right after the abscess wars and on that hoof so it made sense.  The second time was weird, but Theo has a history of abscesses so not out of the realm of normal.  This is the third one and the red flag is up.   Both front feet get these horizontal cracks back by his heels. That would mean he's blowing small abscesses in front on a regular basis, which hints at white line disease.  Or something else since I'm not a farrier.  Mystery hoof issues, my favorite. 

I'm trying to not fall into full pony-noia, but I do want to get ahead of any discomfort.  We were discussing putting changes on mi papi in my clinic and we're now working through the prep to get his canter ready.  Shoulder in at the canter, a gazillion transitions, introducing half pass, spiral in and leg yield out on a circle in the canter, swapping between shoulder in and haunches in at the trot, all the exercises to develop a lot of sit without getting in his face.  The clinician shrugged and said he could hit Fourth if I tried for it (and knew what I was doing which I don't) and that he shouldn't have a problem with changes, especially since he already has the concept in his little pony brain.  He's built for collection.  There's nothing stopping us from the pony's side of the equation, so long as he's comfortable and happy.  I want to keep him comfortable and happy as long as possible.

I just wish prevention wasn't so darn expensive.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Fashion dilemma

I'm having a crisis of fashion.  New discipline means new clothes and styles.  I didn't realize there are two very distinctive looks to choose from in western dressage.

The first look is the look I was aiming toward that seems to have it's origin in the western show ring for classes like trail and pleasure.  A colorful top, possibly with sequins and/or a vest, paired with chaps over snug fitting pants.  A nice belt.  A colorful saddle blanket that coordinates with the top.  Lots of silver on the tack and a horse that looks very shiny and perfect with a banded mane and extensions in the tail unless they're mi papi who needs no additions to his tail.  A visit to pretty much covers the topic.

I wear a helmet, but otherwise, that's the look I had in mind when I started putting together my western dressage outfit.  Not too many sequins, I'm not exactly svelte, but very polished.  Royal blue shirt, black pants, black boots, white and rhinestone belt, matching saddle pad for papi.  I really wish we got photos at our last show, we got a lot of compliments on the blue.

At my outings, I see that sleek show look but I also see this other look.

This look appears to come from the world of ranch classes and working equitation.  It's also common in cowboy dressage, which is similar but totally different than western dressage.  Confused yet?  Me too.  This look features jeans, chinks (those leather things that are like chaps but shorter), a button down work style shirt, and workmanlike tack.  There's frequently a bandana.

The bling queen in me automatically rejected the workmanlike look, but then I saw what else was going on with this look.  You don't have to wear jeans under those chinks, black pants are fine.  And boots that go over the pants are fine.  You know what happens when you have English riders in western gear with those options?  I saw two riders in black full seat Pipers with cowboy boots and chinks.  You couldn't tell at all when they were in the saddle.  I was so mystified by them walking around in full seats, cowboy boots, and English style spurs until they put the chinks on.  Boom, western look nailed.

This outfit means I can get double duty out of my breeches.  It also means I can use my English spurs because I won't have long pants or chaps in the way.  The longer, western style spurs mean I have to change my leg position in order to hit the same buttons.  And workmanlike doesn't have to be boring.

Note the pink topped cowboy boots being worn over the pants.  Also the adorable bandana that matches the saddle pad and the boots.  And then there's this outfit that I love.

But dang it all, I can't stop staring at this silhouette even if I have to wear full chaps and can't wear my little English spurs because they're covered. I also hate fringe.

So that's my dilemma.  Do I go shopping for tight, scalloped edge chaps and hunt for more silver for my tack, or do I order up some chinks and cowboy boots.  I'm leaning toward the workmanlike look because it's easier (and I don't have to learn two leg positions) but I can't let go of the bling!

Monday, July 23, 2018


So I went to this show on Saturday and it went super well.

Will not be tired of this picture any time soon

My horse was a model citizen.  He didn't even try to kill the mare in our rail class when she dared to pass him in a slightly out of control lope/canter/gallop.  He stood like a saint when I had to drop his bridle for bit check.

Fun fact, you have to dismount and drop your bridle after every test in western dressage.  I can't even begin to imagine the freak outs that would occur if you tried to do that in standard dressage.  Theo didn't care and just stood there looking mildly confused.  I also had the steward so 'oh, that's a nice one' in regards to his bit.  Huh?  It's a loose ring snaffle.  Maybe she was happy that it was an easy one that took basically no inspection?

Anyway, my horse was perfect and wonderful all day.  He only tried to slam through the door of his day stall once and since the door is still standing, he didn't really have his heart in it.  But all day, I kept bumping into people that would ask 'is that Theo?', closely followed by 'wow, I know that horse, he's changed'.  Seriously, all day, people were recognizing Theo and all of them knew him from his dark past.  Some looked horrified, others looked confused.  It was surreal.

I'm sitting on my horse in warm up, he's snoozing, my reins are looped.  The secretary asks to borrow my whip to show a steward how to measure it.  I shrug, hand it over, and then volunteer my horse for a whole tack check if she wants to demonstrate.  Theo loves tack check and stewards, he's been used as a demo at several shows now because he's so easy.   She mentions I'll have to dismount (this is when I discover that dropping your bridle is a thing) and I say no problem, my horse won't care.  She looks him up and down and says 'I've heard about this horse, that wasn't always the case'.  WHAT?!  The secretary flew up from Florida!  How the heck has she heard horror stories about my horse already?

I've pieced together that one of the volunteers who also judged the rail class runs the barn that Theo was at when the vet owned him.  When he was at his absolute worst.  A lot of her boarders and students were in attendance during those times and Theo certainly made an impression.  They spotted him pretty quickly, but had to double check because he's physically changed a lot.

Baby Theo

Grown up Theo

I'm taking it as a compliment that people are flabbergasted when they meet him now.  Mr. Jumps Out of Rings and Bucks People Off and Puts Them in Hospitals is now a civilized, well trained horse.  Sometimes.

Super fancy show horse right here

But man, what all did he do when he was young?  Apparently there were many, many 'incidents' before he made it to my barn and they were highly memorable.  Considering the ones I do know about, I didn't ask.  I don't want to know.

Saturday, July 21, 2018


I spent a lot of time trying to find a job for Theo that he would enjoy and would be good at.  He likes to jump, but not in strange places or at speed or with a consistent style.  He really doesn't like being in the ring with other hoses or being a pleasure.  He loathes galloping in the open.  He likes the sandbox, he's safe and comfortable in there, but he's not a natural.  He has to work hard to match what the other horses can do very easily.

I've found Theo's niche.

Love him in the royal blue

Western dressage is his niche.  He is a correctly trained dressage horse that is also super chill.  My tests are described as harmonious, fluid, relaxed (SLOW).  In the world of traditional dressage, this is a good thing but is not everything.  In western dressage, being very chill and willing is everything.  In one of my tests today, Theo anticipated and started to canter.  He came right back, he never got tense, and my score barely got tapped.  Our score got tapped much harder when he got tense and braced.

He won his rail class (dressage equitation) and then won both of his tests with a 69.6% and a 69.8%.  He got high point for First Level.  He got lots of compliments on how fluid and relaxed he looked during his tests.  I was mildly disappointed in my performance because I knew I left points in the ring, but that means we still have more upside.  He wasn't naughty, just a bit distracted in the first test and had some less than perfect movements in the second test. 

Less than perfect?  Moi?!

I was genuinely startled to win both tests.  We had some new faces at this show since it was a rated show and they were very nice horses.  There was a mustang I very much wanted to stick in my trailer, his shoulders were amazing.  There was a blue roan QH that was drool worthy.  A buckskin I've been watching all summer was in attendance and laid down a very nice trip.  I looked around warm up and made my peace with the fact I was probably going to get my ass kicked.  Sure, he'd won blues at the schooling shows, but rated shows are different.  He wasn't going to do as well and that was fine.  The first season in a new discipline is all about learning, not winning.  I'd never ridden for an actual western dressage judge.  Missing their expectations would be expected.

That was not what happened.

Honestly never expected to see him like this

My beautiful boy has found his niche.  We are most certainly not quitting traditional dressage, but when you find something your horse is very good at and you enjoy?  You darn well stick with it.

Sunday, July 15, 2018


Alternate title:  White gloves are magic

Gotta admit, I was not eager to start this weekend.  Due to my inability to manage a calendar, I had an evening 5k on Saturday followed by my second rated dressage show of the year.  In Massachusetts.  And my first ride time was 9:30am.  This does not bode well for me.  A late night, then a horse show?  And a facility Theo's never visited.  I last visited this farm in 2005 with my horse Allen to do jumper shows.  My memories are a bit fuzzy.

I was very grown up and started my prep days ahead of time.  I had my horse bathed, braided, and ready to roll by 10:30am on Saturday.  By the time I left for my 5k, my trailer and truck were completely packed and I'd even given them a wash.  I told the hubby that he was sleeping in the guestroom so he wouldn't wreck my sleep by coming to bed at 1am.  I ended up with 5.5 hours of solid sleep, a shocking amount for me when I have a 4:30am wake up call.

I arrived at the show grounds bright and early, nabbing myself an absolutely premo parking spot.  Pull in, pull out, at the end of the row so Theo had a ton of space.  The parking was nutty in the middle of the day, I wouldn't have found a spot.  My backing skills still lack a lot.  I had time, so I lolly gagged.  I unloaded my horse to give him a good groom and discovered that he had somehow managed to rub out every single braid even with the sleazy on.  Every.  Single.  ONE.  REALLY?!?!

Not civilized

He's been in rubber band braids as of late due to his mane being stupid.  Another rant for another post.  I slammed some new braids in and forced myself to not freak over the fly aways.  After our last show, perfect braids were not my focus.  It's the same reason why I decided to wear my white gloves for the first time.  Marching around, doing the job, and staying in front of my leg were far more important than braids or my glove color.  I might as well ride in my beautiful new gloves that I've been saving for nearly a year.  I'll never really feel ready for them, so no point in waiting.

An awkward moment in a really good test (my friend has never photographed horses before), but hey, white gloves!  It's the moment of stepping (falling?) into canter.  But that turnout is totally on point.

I rode over to ring 2 and it was perfect for him.  Sand ring with warm up right alongside.  One judge booth, totally standard.  Sure, there were spectators on the hill and runners and all the usual commotion, but he's used to that now.  He seems more comfortable with spectators on one side where he can clearly see them.  A friend that knows nothing about horses came to keep me company and managed to keep me distracted and utterly chill.  I didn't turn into an alien because my friend never got tense or anxious or nervous.  We chatted about work until it was time for me to go.

We had one moment of sucking back while I was working around the ring and Theo saw some dumpsters that couldn't be seen from warmup, but it wasn't bad.  Put him above the bit for some movements while he tried to see what was going on over there, but he really was fantastic.  I also blew a transition when I forgot what letter to aim for.  C, M, whatever.  One day, one day I will get through an entire test without wondering where the hell I'm going.   But Theo was with me, focused, obedient.  I got my score of 64% and bounced up and down with excitement.  I even got a 6th place ribbon in a big class.  The judge wanted him more consistently on the bit, a valid comment with his moments of distraction and something I could totally fix for my second test.

Reading our first test together

We spent a couple hours chilling and stuffing food in Theo's face.  It was getting hot so my warm up for my second test was short and in the indoor.  When I moved outside, I heard the announcement that jackets were waived.  I was next in the ring so I started throwing off clothes so fast you'd think I was getting paid.  The steward knew I was there on my own so she grabbed my coat and stock tie for me, I really appreciated that.  I just barely made it, I was still adjusting my collar as I headed in for my test.

So much eating

Apparently keeping me distracted and relaxed works wonders.  Also riding my horse just like we're at home is a good thing.  The test felt really good.  He was so calm and confident, riding a test he knows and that feels easy for him.  That seems to be the key with Theo, that the tests are so easy that he never crosses over to negative tension.  Leg yield?  He can do that in his sleep.  Ten meter trot circle?  Pffft, whatever.  He even gave me a decent push in his lengthens despite the heat.

We got a freaking 67% for our First 3 test.  Third place in a big, competitive adult amateur class.  I almost started crying.  After our last show when I felt so defeated, to have a rated judge give me a score that says 'yes, you did it, and you did it well' felt amazing.  I finally rode a test like we do at home and we got a score better than I thought we would see.  I was hoping/praying/begging for a 64% while I waited for our scores.  I'd never even dreamed I'd see at 67%.

Winner winner chicken dinner

I know variations in scoring between judges can be huge.  But that's two 3rd place ribbons in classes of similar size at the same level.  Scores aside, I am starting to move up past the middle of the pack.  I guess that means we're ready to move up again after all.

Freestyle and Second Level, here we come!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Show days of summer

Show season is in full swing.  How do I know? 

1.  New tub of OxyClean for my white breeches, white shirts, white stock ties, white saddle pads, white horse boots, etc.  I've ranted before but I'll rant again, what is with all of the white??!!  I love my western turn out strictly because there's no white on it. 

2.  Bank account always seems to be lower than I thought.  I decided to get a stall for the western dressage championships so I can work him in the ring the day before.  And then I realized I really do need a show saddle blanket if I'm going to do a serious business western show.  With a matching shirt for me.  Ooof.  Ramen season it is.
 My new show pad, I got a royal blue shirt to go with it, best part was getting it on sale!
3.  The heat is insane!  95* today with a heat index around 100*.  When I wasn't showing it was unseasonably cool.  As soon as I hit my string of shows, nothing but heat advisories as far as the eye can see.  I got up at 5:45am to get my ride in while it was safe over the weekend and Trainer A is working him bright and early today.

4.  Coworkers are getting used to seeing me in breeches and boots as I squeeze in extra lessons and rides.  It's easier to torture, I mean desensitize, my horse with some help, so I'm keeping slightly odd hours in order to be at the barn when people are around.

5.  Stalking opening dates.  Not really as necessary with dressage as it was with eventing, but I'm always happier when I know for sure that I got in.  And I got a Starbucks gift card at one show for being the very first entry received.  Score!

6.  Copy of my Coggins found on the office scanner.  Yes, I got questions.  I've also learned to keep a copy of Theo's flu and rabies with me in the trailer after my last show where I forgot my flu paperwork and had to have it rush emailed to me by the vet's office.

7.  New shipment of ulcer medications for both Theo and myself.  Dosing him the day before a trip and each day of the trip has made him so much easier to handle.  Dosing myself keeps me from being utterly unmanageable at shows.

8.  Random dressage tests in my car, my purse, my living room, my office, my nightstand, and in my groom bag.  Also finding random bridle numbers in the same locations.  And somehow I never have a test when I'm in the ring and I still show up to warmup without my number.

9.  Reoccurring nightmares about missing ride times.  Seriously, had one last night where I was at Mount Holyoke for the western dressage championships and I couldn't find the door to the indoor while people counted down like I was on a game show.  Less tv before bed.

10.  Questioning my sanity on a regular basis.

Including my show last week, I've got four rated shows on my calendar between July 15 and Aug 22.  Four shows, five weeks.  Two are western dressage, two are traditional dressage.

I was going to do another traditional dressage show on Aug 26 but I'm rethinking that.  I have a 10 mile race on Aug 25, seems a bad idea to try to show the next day.

I wasn't going to do any rated showing this year, but then I decided that it would be a mistake to not have at least one check on my ego and barn blindness.  I went to sign up for one show, then saw one that was perfectly timed, then the western dressage shows got added, and here we are, in the throes of an actual show season.