Sunday, December 29, 2019

Dancing the dance of his people

Trainer Z came out to visit!  I was so happy to see her.  Scheduling problems kept her away for longer than expected and I was super eager to get kicked back onto track.  My ride on Saturday was quiet and positive, the weather was beautiful (40* in December is lovely), and the ring was all ours.  Perfect.

Then the horse trailer showed up while we were working the canter and the horse clamored out with a bunch of noise and it all got rather electric.  Theo was up on his toes from the start, probably due to the winter storm blowing in tonight.  It was nice at first but it started to boil over.

He got completely overwrought in the flying change work, lost his lid, and danced the dance of his people all around the ring.  Grrr, damn it Theo, we'd gotten past this!  True, we were working the changes harder than usual and I was making some changes to try to get them more uphill, but that level of lost chill was unwelcome.  I knew he was checking out stage right when he suddenly dove off the wall in a 'spook' followed by one of his leaping bucks.  Ugh.  After that, it was a matter of keeping the lid on while he bucked, cantered in place, tried to spin, and generally had a melt down.

The finale was when he launched himself straight up in the air and kicked out while passing the spectators.  Honestly, Theo.  Don't kick the barn manager or Trainer Z.

Whelp, rides like that happen and we sent him to big trot to reset his brain.  Trainer Z was frankly delighted with the snorting, powerful beast I was riding.  I was far less thrilled as he was still looking to come flying off the rail the second I let my guard down.  Good day to be in a double.  Yes, it was fun to sit that crazy powerful trot and do some laterals, but that was a hell of a lot of horse. 

"Ride that big fancy horse!" 
"I don't want a big fancy horse!" 
"Well you have one so you better ride it!"

Once his brain was back, Trainer Z got out the lunge whip.  Seemed like a good day to make Theo jig and it was time for him to start working on half steps.  Theo knows Trainer Z well so I wasn't worried about him freaking out and striking her like he would a stranger, I was more worried about him dumping me while overreacting.  He has zero fear of lunge whips but he has been known to scoot under pressure.

Turns out I didn't have to worry.  We started with tapping his hocks to get him to pop his hind legs up.  He figured that out very quickly and was eager to pop up his hind legs in exchange for a sugar cube.  Touching with the whip while he was moving worked a bit too well and he'd tuck his butt too much.  He couldn't trot like that and would try to canter.  We ended up having the best results when I did it without a ground person.  Walk trot walk trot walk trot walk trot very collected walk Half Steps!  Theo is a very quick study when it comes to earning sugar and we got two real steps. 

I expected him to be even more wound up after that but the half steps work seemed to settle him down.  He was calmer afterward, like he'd gotten something out of his system.  Trainer Z laughed and said 'Muffin doesn't spook anymore, he just piaffes and passages'.  That will take some getting used to.

So it was the tale of two Theos.  On the one hand, complete meltdown with big bucks and leaps.  On the other hand, we had some big, clean changes (which led to the meltdown so there you go) and our first half steps.  He's such a complicated critter.

Two weeks until our next dressage lesson.  I'm supposed to be working on those uphill changes with the full understanding that they will be dramatic but I can sit it so I just need to ride through it.  Which sucks and is hard for me emotionally but I need to face it.  With everything he unloaded tonight, my butt stayed right in the saddle.  I never lost my stirrups, I wasn't in danger.  I didn't like it, but it was within my wheelhouse.  I can't drop him on his forehand to keep the change non-dramatic.  I'm going to need to wear my silicone full seats, sit back, and just go for it.

I'm starting to understand why people are willing to pay so many thousands of dollars for a horse with a change.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Let's discuss 2020

2019 was a competition year.  It was a year where I got the pay out for the many years of work that preceded it, including being terribly humbled in 2017 and rebuilding in 2018.  I bounced all over New England.  I showed, I got scores I was proud of, and I moved up to Second Level.

Next year will be different.  I made it to one plateau.  Theo is now a very confirmed low level dressage horse.  He can hold his own right up to Second.  Now it's time to see if he can make the jump to a mid-level dressage horse.  Next year is not going to be about pretty ribbons.  It's going to be a building year where I put in the miles on these more complicated tests.  I need to practice my (non-existent) ring craft, Theo needs practice with holding himself up in that higher frame for a whole test.  He needs an actual medium and maybe an approximation of an extension.  We don't need to pay for rated competitions to do that.  Any standard sized ring with a poor trapped sucker judge will do.

I do expect to debut Third in 2020, but I expect it to be at schooling shows.  I don't expect us to be ready to go into competition just yet.  We might get confirmed enough to go do a couple one day shows late in the season and knock out our scores but I don't intend to do any overnight shows or big shows.  Just little stuff, one test at a time, building up our confidence and experience.

We will be out doing the western dressage thing and moving up to Level 3.  Not a lot, but a couple of local outings to support the discipline.  If we have our flying change, we might even toy with Level 4.  Will we go to the championships?  Maybe.  I'm not writing it off as our one away show of the season, but it's not really on the calendar.  I'm going to have my hands full with training and I'm not sure if I want to add a three day show to the calendar when his counter canter might still be a bit busted.

There will be a third type of show on the calendar.  Trainer D and I have been plotting out how to reintroduce Theo to the world of the h/j show without the drama of our last outing.  I'm currently looking at taking him out in the modified adult eq (2'3") to make sure I can keep the lid on him before moving up to the adult eq classes (2'9").  I have zero expectations or goals with this, it's strictly for fun and helping Theo be a well rounded equine citizen.  Trainer D has volunteered to take him around for some of those early rounds to help him build confidence.  He's developed a good relationship with her and I think he'll take a lot of confidence from her calm, professional approach to the courses.

After 2019, I'm looking forward to a quiet year with minimal travel.  I may have also committed to a crazy race in 2020 that will require me to be in serious run training through the summer so that will be a thing.

Margaritas, dinner with running friends, and online entries are a dangerous mix.  Don't do it.  You might end up registered for an ultramarathon.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

2019: The year of 'Who, Us?'

What a year.  Wow.  I started the year with no real guidance or training.  I was ready to give up on my dreams of a Bronze since I didn't know if we could do it.  Or how to get there.

February brought us Trainer Z and a plan to make our goals a reality.

This was really the biggest event of 2019.  Trainer Z rode Theo and declared that we were ready for Second and there was no reason to stop at Third.  We could do it and she was going to show us the way.  All of a sudden I had a map and someone to show me where I was on it.  I stopped wondering if I could do Second and started wondering when I would move up. 

I set out on a very aggressive show schedule to make the most of my year.

We had good shows, we had bad shows.  Some days he was an angel, some days he was a land porpoise.  I got everything between 64% and 55% at Second but we got our Second Level scores for our Bronze.  We also got our first 70 in both standard dressage and western dressage.  Theo is still undefeated in western dressage.

I also learned that miles won't make Theo easier to manage at away shows.  He's not a good horse for multi-day shows.  It's been a difficult pill to swallow but every horse has their flaws.  I've learned to respect this and to focus on day shows.

By the end of the show season, we were actually comfortable in our Second Level tests and I didn't want to puke on my way down centerline.  A very important victory.

And then the wheels came off at the barn.  We moved to a new barn with very little notice.  We made new friends and started riding with Trainer D.  Jumping became a regular event and Theo blossomed with the additional cross-training and improved care.

We've come a long way from being the pair that was always in last place.  This year we had good scores and good ribbons (an amazing number of yellow ribbons, not sure what's up with that).  People now recognize Expect the Unexpected and not for a bad reason.  We were the year end champion for Second Level with my local GMO.  Theo got his Register of Merit in western dressage.  We were ranked 16th in the nation for AA First Level freestyle.

Looking back, things like bad judges and blows to the head and sleepless nights seem so much more minor.  2019 was one hell of a year.  We're going into the new decade with a new home, new trainers, and goals that would have seemed impossible a year ago. 

2020 will be a building year, not a showing year.  I'm glad we got to have this year of victories to build up my confidence as we go into a training cycle.  This is the first year where I feel like I can call myself a dressage rider.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Muscle memory

I had a very big, important 'ah-ha!' moment today in my jumping lesson.  What was it?  I remembered something I was taught probably thirty years ago.  I remembered how to fold over a jump.

Sounds dumb, right?

I've been struggling since I got back into lessons to undo the training I picked up as an eventer that gave me a more open, defensive riding style.  Galloping down to a drop on a mare with questionable brakes taught me a lot about how to stay on top when things get a bit chaotic.

This is not equitating, but I lived to tell the tale

But I want to do equitation now and I'm riding a very, very different horse.  It's all about the pretty on my safe, lazy horse.

I've been struggling to close over fences and stay in my two point through gymnastics.  I can't seem to move in the right way.  In order to stay over the saddle I had to round my back on the way down from the apex of the jump.  That is kind of not the right thing.  Trainer D has been struggling with what words to use to make me move correctly.  It's such a split second thing and so nitpicky but I know it's important if I want to do equitation.  I'm in no danger of coming off or interfering, it just doesn't flow.

We're not polished, but we're getting in done in a safe way

I used to be able to flow.  Deep in the recesses of my mind is a rider that could cruise around a course of fences in a smooth way.  It took my eventing trainers years to beat that movement over a fence out of me.  It's not safe to close like that in cross country.  Now I'm trying to get it back.

Today I had to stop for a few minutes while a TB had a spaz.  I'm not big on wasting time in a lesson so we had a verbal discussion about what I was feeling and the mechanics.  Tiny minutiae that I damn well know most clients don't talk about.  I know my lower legs are swinging because my lower back is doing the wrong thing.  To which she said no, not your lower back, your hips.  I stopped, put my hand on my hip flexor, and said here?  She said yes and said I should feel the pull in my hips and hamstrings as I drop into my heels and fold.  I went back to the gymnastic and was hyper focused on my hips.  Heels down, legs still, feel it through the hips . . .

I botched fence one badly (my horse is a damn saint and didn't even notice) which set me up for muscle memory to take over while I was clinging to his mane with both hands.  It wasn't my eventing reflex that kicked in.  It was the older muscle memory that pushed my butt back and made my hip flexors burn as I properly closed over the second two fences in the gymnastic.  Trainer D suddenly started yelling 'yes, that!  Do that again!'.  I cantered around and went through again while thinking 'butt back' and sure enough, the back rounding suddenly disappeared. 

It's still in there

Then I stopped and jacked my stirrups up two more holes while she put the fences up another couple holes.  We both knew I'd managed to unlock something I was starting to think I'd lost forever.  I went into the grid again with my shorter stirrups and I could almost feel the neurons reconnecting.  My body KNOWS how to do this.  It's just been a very long time.  I went into the grid and with the shorter stirrups and bigger fences, I found my fold even easier.  It hurt like a sunovabitch but I found it.  Trainer D was delighted, I was ecstatic, Theo was stuffed full of cookies for being such a machine while I figured things out.

That is probably the last major piece I needed to get my jumping back in order.  Most of what I need is polish.  And pain killers.  Those muscles are not at all used to moving that way (and she had me doing posting trot without stirrups, wtf I'm too old for this crap).  I'm going to be very sore for awhile now that I have remembered how I'm supposed to be moving.

But I'm okay with being sore like this.  I got a bit of my h/j mojo back.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Like fine wine

Some things improve with age.

Theo's about to turn 16.  I gave him Jan 1 as his birthday since no one knows what his actual birthday is.  Something about that age makes his years feel more real to me.  Probably because that was Allen's age when we started showing together.  It pulls at the little threads of dread about a horse starting to approach retirement.  He's not a youngster, or even a horse at his physical peak.  He's a bit older, a bit arthritic.  There are white hairs coming in across his forehead.  It takes a bit longer to warm him up.  There's a clock ticking but I don't know how much time I actually have left.  Being in a h/j barn, most horses his age are the steady schoolies.  The old men.  The ones stepping down from competition.

I don't like this at all.  I was just learning to rock with my Hellbeast when his navicular got the best of him and he retired.  He had just turned 19.

But Theo's not like the school horses that are stepping down.  Little punk almost got me off today and it wasn't even a temper tantrum.  We jumped a little cross rail to get him mentally engaged in his dressage school.  He landed on the wrong lead so I asked for a flying change.  According to witnesses, he over did it behind, lost his balance, and tangled up in his own legs.  So he jumped up and out of it.  For about four strides, it was up and down chaos.  He went back to counter canter and then popped a clean change because clearly it was easier to just start over.  I was happy to still be on top when the dust cleared.

Noooooot repentant

I can't complain.  He was trying too hard and getting in his own way by changing behind before the front.  Apparently he took my correction to get more active behind to heart.  That's straightforward enough to fix, he just needs miles.  It's actually on the aids now so that's a huge win.  My friend was riding her fancy Legs mare and commented on his very (overly) enthusiastic hind end.  I think there was a bit of envy.  Her mare is in her prime, but she also took off with her this week and then was almost unrideable yesterday.  Theo, in contrast, was trotting on the buckle between exercises even with the rain pouring on the roof and her mare broncing on the lunge.  I ask, he tries his heart out, and then we stop for a cookie.  Yes, he occasionally spooks or pulls a land porpoise but it's all honest and straightforward.

The horse I rode today was a much better horse than the eleven year old I met.  His action behind was better, he was stronger, he was more sensitive, and he was more balanced.  He's also more interactive, more trusting, and far more willing to try.  He's my little sports car with all the buttons and options.  

There's not much I can do to stop the march of time.  Every horse owner I know wishes that they could keep their horse in stasis so they don't keep aging.  As a dressage horse, Theo is very much in the golden window where he is mentally mature and his body is still very able.  Now I have to keep him in that golden window for as long as I can.  

Monday, December 9, 2019

Winter sucks

Seriously, look at this BS.

That's my Brandy new car.  Under 18 inches of snow.  Guess what I didn't do much of last week?  ANYTHING involving leaving the house.  It wasn't just the snow.  I live in NH, I'm from Minnesota, I know how to cope with snow.  It was the snow removal when the hubby had oh so conveniently hurt his back before the snow flew.  Apparently you should be careful how you twist when holding a big ass chainsaw.  He pulled something bad in his lower back and was pretty much couch ridden for a couple days.

Let me tell you, I made damn sure he knew that this was how I felt on those occasions when my back went out and I didn't want to move.  He has a whole new level of empathy for me now.  He now understands why things like taking the dogs out and running the dishes are not options when your back is an endless wall of pain that flares up if you shift a millimeter in the wrong direction.  He didn't even have nerve pain to contend with.

So I had full snow removal duties as well as all the chores I usually avoid as being hard on my back.  Like hauling in pellets to feed our pellet stoves and running the dang dishwasher.  I was careful and did things in phases so we didn't end up with both of us on the couch.  I dug out in sections, snow blowed with a timer so I'd know when to stop, and once the tractor was free and started up, the hubby was put to work.  It's like sitting in an armchair but more productive.

Little cameo by my trailer that is now completely snowed in for the winter.

By the time I got us completely free, it was day three and I was physically exhausted.  When Trainer D asked if she could ride on Thursday instead of her usual Wednesday ride, I warned her that she'd want to lunge first.  Theo after three days off would be a bit of a kite.  I was apparently right and he did a land porpoise all the way across the ring with her.  Not scary, but not his usual behavior for a training ride.  On Friday when she rode him again (I was too sore), he was perfect.  Trainer D even took him for a little walk in the snow.

I finally made my triumphant return over the weekend and rode in my western gear to support thicker socks and more layers.  It got down to 7* Saturday night, it was gross.  And now it's raining and in the 40's for two days so the melt will be crazy, followed by another freeze.  Most wonderful time of the year my butt.

Theo continues to be amazing and perfect.  I'm having deep and profound thoughts about what to do with 2020 but that will wait for another post.  For now, I'll steal the rides while I can.  I know deep winter is coming and that these are still the good riding days.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Jumping evidence

One of the teens was taking pictures during our recent clinic.  She had some technical difficulties and the lighting was not cooperating, but we do have some evidence that we now jumpa da jumps.

I'm happy to see my hands on his crest and loops in my reins since we've been working hard to make my demented hands behave but I'm making way too big a move over this cavaletti in warm up.

Bending to the jump on the left, my shoulders are looking better.  Theo is far from challenged by this turn, he's such a balanced boy.

Fuzzy and scruffy looking but you can see the dressage pony lurking.  

Hands are on the crest, elbows are sort of in, eyes are up on the next fence, and Theo's got everything else completely under control.

I was sad to see that none of the later courses made it into the photos but I'm super happy to have any media of us jumping.  Now to find some media of our attempts at flying changes.  Might have to resort to bribes at the barn.  I want to know what they look like!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Tack sucks

This will probably cost me my status as a tack ho prospect but I'm very annoyed with bridle shopping right now.  After deciding that the double is going to be staying in my rotation of tools, I started shopping for a double of my own.  This is not a cheap project.  How is it that one more cheekpiece can jack the price up that much? 

The traditional cut bridle (the one that's a bunch of straps held together by a browband) doesn't work for Theo's head. The straps jam up against his ears and it makes him unhappy.

 On the left, his current loaner double that is very traditional, on the right is his PS of Sweden snaffle bridle which is more anatomical

It feels awkward to put it on since I'm trying to wiggle it back to get him more space but it requires a different angle to stay there and it just slides right back up to his ears.  The loaner bridle is Amish made and somewhere between Full and X-Full.  He's on the last hole for the noseband and throatlatch but the bits are on the second or third hole.  I did replace the browband with one of my curved ones to give him some more space and make sure the browband isn't pulling the crown up onto his ears.  Pony has a very broad forehead.

He's also between sizes on his curb chain.  Link 2 is a little loose, link 3 is a little tight.  I give up.

I am a well known PS of Sweden fangirl but I did shop around.  The Shockemohle Venice in particular appealed to me but the reviews were not good.  I also know Theo's head is weird and I wanted to be able to get pieces in different sizes.  Flexible Fit was suggested but I wasn't in love with their monocrown crownpiece.  I tried very hard to try another brand but eventually gave up and ordered what I know works for us.

I ordered up a Paragon double bridle from PS of Sweden in the same sizes as Theo's snaffle:  X-Full noseband, Full cheekpieces and crownpiece.  I own a dozen browbands in X-Full so no need to order a new one of those.  I was so excited when it arrived but when I put it on, NOPE.  Too small.  The bradoon was okay if I dropped it all the way down but the weymouth was too high on the last hole.  UGH.  Theo is happy with the weymouth a bit low and the bradoon has smaller rings so that will apparently take a bigger bridle.  The noseband fits on the last hole but I think I also had it too high.  I was too worried about the bits to do more than give it a glance.

My new X-Full crownpiece and X-Full cheekpieces just arrived.  I'm going to be playing mix and match with a lot of pieces to figure out just what Frankenstein combination he needs to be happy.  If the Paragon noseband doesn't work, I can steal the noseband off his snaffle.  Some how, some way, I will have two dressage bridles that fit.
Why is his head so weird?

Sunday, November 17, 2019


Not horse related but my car has been featured several times on the blog so it seemed appropriate to provide an update.

I've had this car forever.  I had it before I had Theo, Ben, Fiona, and the blog.  I had it back when Allen was in retirement and I was at my first professional job as an Excel guru at  A 13 year relationship is not one to dismiss lightly.  I'm the opposite of a commitment-phobe.  I bought it brand new back in 2006 and drove it freaking everywhere.  My tiny 2007 Toyota Yaris 3 door liftback was declared the equivalent of a golf cart at the local horse trial and was used to move 5 teenagers, two adults, and two gassy dogs down to stadium to do a course walk.

All good things must come to an end and even my beloved Yaris has a lifespan.  I'd entered a pattern where each year at inspection I needed work.  New exhaust, new suspension, new exhaust manifold, all the things that wear out as you go way outside the usual lifespan of a vehicle.  I also had manual everything.  Windows, locks, transmission.  Want to confuse a teenager in 2019?  Tell them to lower the window in a car without power windows.  It was hilarious.

About two weeks ago I heard a new noise.  The hubby took a look and declared my CV joint boot shredded.  Probably from when I bottomed it out several times on the dirt road during mud season.  That would explain some of the noises, rattles, and drift I'd picked up.  Unfortunately that meant my CV joint had been open to the elements for some time and I live on a dirt road.  I was in for an all new front axel in addition to whatever needed to be done this year.  A coolant flush was on the agenda as routine maintenance.  I was looking at a minimum of $1,000 yet again.  I priced out what it would take to upgrade to power locks, windows, etc.  It was a lot.  My annual inspection was looming.  With great reluctance, I decided to go see what I had for replacement options.

I was actually quite emotional about saying goodbye to AJ, my mighty jelly bean

Shopping for a car has changed a lot since 2006.  I started online, priced everything out, set my test drive appointment, even did a pre-build of what I wanted to do for a payment plan.  I went in the next day to drive the three cars I had in mind.  Once the drives were done, I picked a car and signed my name about fifty times.  I started at 10am, I was out by 1:30pm with my brandy new car that I have dubbed Brandy.

Brandy is a 2020 Toyota Yaris hatchback.  I have a type.  I like my cars tiny, fuel efficient, and just peppy enough to be fun to drive.  I now have electric everything which is just amazing.  Being out of the market for this long means I was easy to impress.  Back up camera!  I have a touch screen on my dashboard!  It's so cool!  My phone runs the touchscreen and I can now get my texts read to me and answer them out loud.  Which will probably go badly at some point in the future but for now, I'm delighted.  Keyless entry is particularly fun but I'm sure I'll lock myself out once or twice getting used to the new routine. 

Picking up a car payment does cut into my fun funds but I wasn't planning on 2020 being a big show year anyway.  It'll be a move up year with me struggling through the move up to Third and I expect to do a lot of schooling shows.  I'm looking forward to having a break from the constant repairs and maintenance.  And I can voice command my GPS to give me directions to the barn!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Embrace the naughty

Trainer Z came out for a visit!  This is always exciting. 

First up we had to check out the fit of his double bridle.  Trainer Z was totally cool with how everything fit.  Yes, his weymouth sits a hole lower than you see in all the pictures but it makes Theo happy and isn't interfering with anything.  She thought his baby weymouth was adorable (her words).  His noseband if far looser than anyone is used to seeing with a double but that's how we do and no point in messing with things that aren't broken.  She ran her hand under it (yes, it's loose enough to run a hand under) and I could see her twitching to tighten it but at this point, she's used to us.

I talked about our canter work while I was warming up.  I showed his big free canter that we've developed while jumping which got two thumbs up, but I sat and she saw right off the bat that I was doing it wrong.  Theo has developed a new canter but I'm still sitting square and not really moving with it.  I could get away with it when his canter was little but if I want a big, active canter?  I've got to ride the asymmetrical gait in an asymmetrical way.  That darn inside hip still doesn't want to lead, especially tracking left.  And I have to get back even further.  Why is this back again?!  Why am I trying to put my head on my horse's butt again?!  I thought I had fixed this!

Yup, feeling like this again

Apparently I wasn't back far enough.  She got me back where she wanted me and it was pretty cool.  It was one of the first times that I could really feel Theo's hind legs, particularly in the medium canter.  I also felt like I was going to fall off but I'm sure that will get better with some more practice.

We decided to go right into flying changes while Theo had plenty of energy.  The good news is that I had multiple civilized attempts at changes in both directions that were mostly on the aids.  The bad news is that Theo was sometimes a bit late behind in his right to left changes and then threw in a trot step on his left to right changes.  Ugh.  The late behind corrected once I improved the straightness before the change so he had a fighting chance of getting his hind all the way through.  For the left to right?  I had to wind him up to the point he felt a little crazy and then do the change heading into the wall.  That got him forward enough but gave me an object to work with so he couldn't just push through and ignore the request.  Nice clean change!

But that brought out a bit of Theo's crazy.  He started to spook at stuff and canter any time I so much as breathed too hard.  We moved on to the trotting half pass and he couldn't stop trying to canter.  He's now got to learn that there is life and riding after flying changes.  Our answer right now is to leg yield hard off the rail every time he starts lunging into the canter during the trot work.  Yes, we get it, we have focused on your canter a lot and you've learned to do some fun new things in the canter.  That doesn't mean you can't trot.  If you decide that cantering is easier, we're going to do steep leg yields which are a lot of work.

While giving my beloved loony tune a moment to regather his brain, we discussed some of this behavior.  The fact that he's trying so hard in his changes is directly related to the fact that he's also going through this phase of leaping into canter any time I ask for pretty much anything.  A horse that's going to move up the levels has to have some spice, some naughtiness, some desire to offer behaviors.  Horses that don't offer these behaviors don't go far because the work is hard and they need that edge.  It started to appear at Second and, apparently, it's going to be hanging around for awhile.  Theo does have that spice, that edge of naughty in his behavior which is why she keeps pushing us to not stop at Second or Third.  Because he's got the personality for the big boy work.  He's the right kind of naughty.

Face of a serious business dressage horse

Which brought us back around to his double bridle.  Theo couldn't get too creative with his naughty behaviors tonight because I had a pretty good hold on the front end.  The curb rein has a nice drape in it 95% of the time but it is still freaking fantastic to have when he tries to slam out that left shoulder.  Trainer Z noted he was very accepting, very comfortable, and looked good in his double.  No signs of resistance or problems.  She also noted that we as a pair look softer this way.  I'm not trying to grab his face to preempt bad behavior and he's not trying to lock me out.  I'm a better rider when I don't fear for my safety.

It was the perfect time for Trainer Z to visit.  The double was inspected and approved.  We've got new strategies to clean up our green changes now that we actually have enough of a change to practice them.  She also got to nip his new cantering  all the time habit in the bud.

I couldn't be more proud of him.  Antics aside, he tries so hard for me.  The more I razz him up, the more he wants to play the game.  His trot half pass is looking fantastic, the changes are coming on much more easily than any of us expected given his age.  I really lucked out with this horse.  We should have fallen on our face with both of us learning the change at the same time, I should be shipping him off to Trainer Z and tearfully begging her to install the changes.  Instead, he's so honest I'm getting to learn alongside him. 

Now it's time to embrace the naughty.

Monday, November 11, 2019

All rounder

We've certainly embraced the jumpy jump life.  We've been in consistent jumping lessons for two months after our extended hiatus from any kind of serious business jumping.  We've been taking it slow and low, letting Theo redevelop those muscles and the cardio that jumping courses demands.  I've been rebuilding my position and my eye.

Media is pending so have an adorable picture of my dog

Fortunately my eye appears to have survived it's hibernation.  My first couple lessons were pretty sketchy but I can now spot my distance (or lack there of) from far enough away to actually act on the information.  Or have the moment of 'damn it, gonna eat this one', depending on how close the jump is to my turn.  Theo, for his part, is up for sainthood.  Seriously, he is so freaking amazing to fences.  If I've developed a good canter and do a decent job of getting him pointed at his target, all I have to do is smile and grab mane.  He will handle everything else and now, with Trainer D's help, it's in the right number of strides.  No more pony distances for papi!

Friday was my first jumping clinic since . . . 2015?  Something like that. Grant Wilson dropped by to teach some lessons.  I shared a lesson with my friend and her mare Legs.  I was a bit intimidated since I've just started to get my groove back and my friend is an eventer and field hunter with her mare.  Gallop and jump is kind of their thing and they can jump big.  Oh dear.

Just a smidge athletic

Grant is very laid back when teaching so I didn't stay intimidated for long.  We did a lot of unusual turns and bending lines with lower fences.  Nothing was straight except for the one stride.  He really wanted the horses to change bends back and forth while schooling so they used their bodies more.

Theo started to jump and was apparently quite a surprise.  He's all cold blood and he warms up like a plodding beginner horse, even with our gusty winds and cold temps today (wind chill of 22* for our lesson).  Next to Legs who's 16.3h of gorgeous, elite Hannoverian mare with motor to spare, he looked even more earth bound.  However, we started jumping and papi started to wake up.  Grant was surprised to see that Theo is actually a light, correct jumper that finds it easy.  He started to bring fences up and Theo had zero issue with the fence height.  I don't think we got higher than 2'9" but it felt good to go over some bigger oxers and feel Theo really use his body.  He was as honest as anyone could ask, the only blooper was when he wasn't sure which one I wanted on the bending line.

I bowed out after about 30 minutes of jumping since Theo was starting to blow hard.  It looks like he's due to be clipped again already.  Legs and her rider went on with the fences up at 3' or so, working on the mare waiting for the aids and getting her balanced turning in both directions.  It actually worked out well since she only needed a couple rounds at height and Theo was happy to be done on a positive round.  I bundled him up in his cooler and he hung out with the trainer while Legs jumped the bigger stuff.

We didn't really have much in the way of suggested changes.  Just keep him in front of my leg and that I need to not wimp out and add strides on the bending line.  He can make the distance just fine, go for it.  Theo, being a dressage horse, was quite comfortable with all of the requests to change his bend and his shape.  I might have yelled 'come on dressage pony!' on course.

Our only struggle is opening up again after he collects, but it's getting better.  He answered every exercise easily and on the first try. Only one rail and that was due to him not noticing the cross rail had become a vertical.  He jumped the snot out of it the next time around.  I knew he was getting tired when he started to tap rails behind and we bowed out.

Theo was, yet again, declared a very cool horse.  You can't complain about a horse that will absolutely jump and does so in a safe, sane, eager manner each time.  He was almost too easy to turn and once he learned the course, he almost turned out from under me on the roll back left (his stronger turn).  He was quite displeased by the lead changes through the trot that were being used to rebalance and offered pretty much any other variation you could think of to change his leads.  Poor Third Level pony.

He'll get a day off, then it's dressage time again.  Trainer Z is out on Monday and we've got changes to polish up.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Jock itch

Warning, you're about to get far more up close and personal with Theo than you ever wanted.  This is the epitome of TMI (too much information for those young enough to not know that one).  You have been warned.

Theo's sheath was itchy.  How did I know?  Not because he rubbed his tail like a normal horse.  Oh no, not Theo.  After being ridden, he reached around and stuffed his head under his own hind leg to bite at his sheath.  Well, okay then.  The first time he did it I didn't really register a problem.  He is totally comfortable scratching most of his body and he's itched his inner thigh under saddle on a couple occasions.  The second time he did it I registered there was a problem but thought it was on the outside of his sheath, like he needed more grooming after getting really sweaty.  The third time, I scheduled a sheath cleaning day.

I grabbed the Excalibur and turned on the warm water in the indoor wash rack.  The nice part about his sheath being itchy was that he was so very cooperative.  I worked the Excalibur up into all the nooks and crannies while he wiggled his lip and cocked his hip to give me more room.  I expected a lot of smegma to get worked loose after I let everything soak.  I could feel rough surfaces up inside his sheath.  I got up in there with the cotton and hm, nothing.  Weird.  Theo's usually a pretty clean gelding but clearly something was bothering him.

After a full cleaning and rinse, he still felt rough inside his sheath.  I was perplexed since sheaths really don't take a lot of work to get clean.  I pulled the side of his sheath back and saw something that frankly boggled my brain.

What the hell is that?  And they're all around the inside of his sheath!  It's not like one patch, it's freaking everywhere.  No wonder he's itchy, poor thing.  I can't say I've ever seen anything like that in all my years of sheath cleaning.  And since I usually have his vet do his cleaning, this was my first up close and personal time with his sheath.  I don't even know what's normal for him!  Bad horse mom, bad.

With my anxious tendencies, I started Googling.   I should never Google.  Pretty much everything for lumps on the sheath were cancer, either melanoma, sarcoids, or squamous cell carcinoma.  At least I was able to rule out STIs since Theo's not exactly getting around.  Trainer Z mentioned that there are other options, like infection or even allergic reaction.  I did try a new product on him when I noticed some smega around the opening of his sheath and it was a no-rinse product.  So that might be it?  Having some less terrible options helped, but it didn't make the weekend pass any faster.  I wasn't going to call in the vet on a weekend for something like this (his junk was not in danger of falling off) but it's definitely the sort of thing where you call a vet.

The smegma returned almost immediately and I thought there was a burgundy tint to it.  Blood?!  Maybe?!  The cleaning certainly hadn't helped and his sheath was looking a little more swollen.  AH!  I called the vet for a suspected sheath infection and they zipped out.  We've swapped to the barn vet so it's a new face for Theo.  Not that he minded.  As soon as he realized people were going to touch his itchy sheath, he was a model patient.  He twitched his lip and held his leg out of the way for her.

Diagnosis:  Contact dermatitis that led to an infection.  Antibiotics and antihistamines for a week, then recheck.  Also rinse with just water as needed to keep things clean and pat dry.  The vet gave him a wash with chlorohexadyne which he enjoyed immensely. 

So Theo is now on the list of geldings that need only the most gentle of cleansers near his winky.  Even Excalibur may be too much, judging by how the swelling got worse.  Next time he's cleaned, we're going to try chlorohexadyne instead.  This also explains some of the tail twitching I'd started to observe but couldn't spot the cause.  Because it was hidden inside his sheath!  So now I know, manual care is not enough.  Sometimes you've got to get down there and take a look.  Possibly a photo.

I have shown that photo to most of the barn at this point.  Horse ownership is weird.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Change is in the air

We were having such a beautiful fall.   Theo barely needed his sheet most days even with his clip.  Lots of sunny days in the 50's and 60's.  Last night it was actually too warm.  70* and 87% humidity during our 6pm ride.  Theo couldn't do much with that temp swing.  About twenty minutes of work and another 20 of just walking while he got his respiration down and the sweat dried.  But he felt better after the exercise and we worked on our turn on the haunches and laterals at the walk.  Got to exercise that brain.

Lots of walking which was enough to make him sweaty

The winds started howling while I rode.  Thank goodness for ear plugs, the gusts were enough to have me looking at the roof in concern.  I can't imagine what the trick or treaters were dealing with.  This morning I got up to 48* with a wind chill of 39*.  Temps are dropping all day.  We're getting our first freeze tonight.  Next week we'll have highs in the 30's.  It appears that real fall has suddenly arrived and our blissful window of perfect NH weather has come to a close.  Two months this year, not bad.

Very spooky weather, Theo was concerned

Trainer Z had to cancel our last lesson due to downed trees so we're rescheduling to Nov 11.  I've also got a jumping clinic on Nov 8 with Grant Wilson.  That should be fun.  Equine Affaire is on Nov 9 so it's shaping up to be a very horsey weekend.

My job is setting up to explode in November so I don't think I'll be getting much real work done with Theo outside of those lessons, but that's okay.  It's still fall and it's not like we're losing ground.  I had my first real ride with the double and he was completely happy with it.  My friend watched to check for any problems and saw no mouth opening (other than when he's licking his lips because he really can't help himself).  He did try to duck behind once but a good boot got him back up where he belongs.  He ducks behind snaffles, too, it's a symptom of our forward issues.  Pony likes to check all the evasion possibilities.  Swapping to sugar cubes prevented him from being distracted by trying to work a treat back to his molars with two bits in play.

Completely incapable of keeping his tongue in his mouth for any length of time

I ordered Theo his own double since this appears to be a tool that will be sticking around.  Should have it next week.  After doing a lot of research, I ended up ordering another PS of Sweden so I could mix and match piece sizes, get the crownpiece that I know works with his odd head, and get the Paragon noseband to stay back from both bits.  The headstall he's borrowing is crushing up against his ears and he's already looking grumpy about it.  I have to accept the fact that he can't wear a regular bridle, his ears simply don't fit even when I swap to a big browband to give him more room.

Our rides have been pretty much just forward, jump, half pass, and changes.  He does shuffle behind sometimes but if I'm good about making sure I've got enough forward, he has figured out that he's supposed to jump up and change.  Now we need it a bit more on the aids.  It takes 3-4 strides to actually trigger the change right now.  The bucking has abated for the time being and he still doesn't offer a bolt so I'm a lot less timid about schooling the change.  Trainer D is working them as well on her rides and she has been a huge help in getting him to understand what we want.  Thank the heavens for pros.

I'm going to squeak in as many rides as I can before the deep freeze is upon us.  40's is still pretty darn comfortable and the perfect temp for doing cardio work outs with the fluffy beast.  Damn that job and having to earn an income thing, I'd rather be riding.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

I bounce, you bounce, we bounce

Our mission to improve Theo's canter continues.  Weeks of focus are starting to pay off.  Trainer D has been laser focused on getting a bigger canter out of him.  She insists on that 12 foot stride every time and Theo is starting to wrap his head around that being his new reality.  We did grid work this week and he was confidently going through the exercise even when it was set a bit long.  When I ask for a canter, he's much more willing to go forward into the transition rather than doing a couple of strides mostly in place.

In my lessons with Trainer D, it's time to ignore what his head and neck are doing and instead focus on a willing, rhythmical, forward canter.  I'm off his back and worried about keeping him straight between my hands and legs.  Half the time I've got my hands halfway up his neck or buried in his mane, working on my still unsteady jumping position.  I'm strong, but I've picked up a lot of bad habits that I now need to break.  With Trainer D's insistence on a real canter, we've moved to a canter that averages 18.5cm in elevation.  We've got multiple rides at that elevation now so it wasn't a fluke.

When I ride in my dressage tack and sit down, that big, bouncy canter collapses.  I go from our new 18.5cm elevation to a 14cm elevation.  Hm, that sounds suspiciously like it's the rider's fault. 

Rider's fault?  Theo is shocked, this is his shocked face.

Today I rode in my dressage gear with the goal of keeping that big, forward canter with my butt in the saddle.  I warmed up by getting up off his back and developing the same canter I use to jump.  Put his head wherever, stay off his back, just develop the big bounce.  Once I had to canter established, I started to sit and establish a contact.  I sat softly to start and gradually added weight as I adapted to his bigger canter.  It takes a heck of a lot of hip movement to keep that big canter with my butt in the saddle.  I really had to focus on not squishing his canter but instead focusing on the up part of the stride.  Kind of scoop like ice cream and suction cup his back up with my butt and thighs, to use a visual from Mary Wanless.  Which frankly sounds very weird when you just type it out like that.  I botched it and had to get up off his back several times but at least I could get a feel for what I was working to maintain.  And get used to the idea that Theo actually can canter with that kind of movement.

Once I got it, I was able to maintain a canter at around 18cm elevation with my tush in the saddle.  There's a lot of work to do there, but it certainly felt a lot better.  I could get Theo on the contact while maintaining the bounce and the three beat canter.  Progress!

Elevation drifted down as he got more tired but he was pretty consistently up in the 18cm range in the canter, half pass work was the last thing we worked on and got us a big dip in elevation

His average elevation dropped to 14cm when I asked for the canter half pass.  That could be strength or I am sitting too heavy and squishing him because I'm overriding.  Like I do.  We'll see what Trainer Z says.

His flying changes are also benefiting from this new routine.  Our right to left change has become steady enough that he's starting to offer it on his own.  I'll hate that later but for right now, a drama free change is a win.  The left to right is sticky and he takes a pretty good bump with the spur to convince him to change.  The massage therapist was out today and working through his sore spots.  He had a very strong opinion about his left hind so not much of a surprise he didn't want to really bounce off that side. 

Tomorrow is our ride with Trainer Z.  I'm hoping she'll be happy with our progress in the canter.  We've developed some trouble with him anticipating in the trot and breaking to canter but what can you do.  There's always something you need to work on.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Double trouble

Who knew two bits could be so complicated?

I've never built a double.  I know how to build bridles so surely this couldn't be too bad.  Right?  It took some hunting but I found a bit that looked like his western dressage curb bit at a reasonable price.  $90 for a short shank weymouth and it comes with a bradoon?  Sign me up!  Pictured with my pelham for comparison.

Looked long and hard to get bits that will be familiar for him

I got the bits at Classic Saddlery if anyone else is looking for a set like this.  They also have a set with a longer shank.  Super quick shipping and great communication.  The bits feel light but nice.  They're not $300 bits, but they're nice and I am happy with my purchase.  They'll serve my purpose and are a great starting point for us.  No point in dropping a ton of money on bits when I don't know how he's going to react.

I also ordered a gel curb chain guard from Rider's Warehouse.  I want everything to be as gentle as possible and he uses a leather curb with his western dressage bridle.  Getting that cover on was a bit of a nightmare but with some wiggling and stretching I made it work.

And then I tried assembling.  Um, right.  How does someone put two bits on the same bridle?  I mean I get that the bradoon goes on one set of cheek pieces and the weymouth on the other and the weymouth goes in front of the snaffle but one is double jointed and one has no joints so it's really not that easy and all those straps and reins make for a hopeless muddle.

This goes on his head how?

Thank goodness for more experienced friends that will wade in and get you straightened out.   After a lot of fiddling and mussing while my horse was a saint, we got the bridle on his head in mostly the right way.  It's definitely a fussy business getting two bits settled.  The bradoon went up and down several times before we settled here.  The weymouth will probably move up one hole but the bits were starting to interfere so it stayed here for today.  Complicated!

Couldn't care less

Theo played with his two bits for a minute before deciding it wasn't even worth messing with.  His noseband is completely slack as usual, especially when he's getting used to having a bit more going on in his mouth than usual.

As for riding him with it?  It was so anti-climactic.  He barely noticed.  He trotted around like a western pleasure pony while I let him get used to the idea.  I left his curb rein loose even when I picked up a little contact.  It proved to be the perfect bit choice when he thought he ought to act up during his canter work.  He started to throw his head and dive left, I touched the curb, and he abandoned the idea.  The next time around he stayed on a nice soft contact without the dramatics.  #winning  #fallponybrain  #seriouslywtftheo

We worked for a total of fifteen minutes, ten of which was on the buckle while he adapted to his new rig.  I say adapted, it was mostly me worrying while he acted like he's worn this bridle all his life.  My friend was sure this wasn't his first ride in the double and when I assured her it was, she was impressed with how utterly chill he was.  No chomping, no fussing.  The only change we need to make is to swap to sugar cubes since he has a harder time working his cookies into place with the extra bit.  Not that it stopped him any but it's distracting for him when he's trying to get bits of treat worked free of his bits.

We'll keep playing with the fit and Trainer Z will be out on Sunday to weigh in on how everything looks.  But it's another milestone for us, he's got a double!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Barn tour

Since it appears we're actually going to be allowed to stay, I figure it's time for a tour of our new home. 

We'll start at the view from the parking lot with the indoor on the left and the main barn on the right.  They're about 10 yards apart which is nice when the weather is being very New England.

The indoor is about the length of a small dressage arena, but the big new outdoor should be ready in the spring.  It's a textile footing and quite fluffy.

It's an H shaped barn with two aisles and 14 stalls.  Big, airy stalls with drop downs to let the horses hang their heads out.

The tack room is tucked in the center with doors going to both aisles.  Heated, AC, and very cushy.  As Trainer Z said during her first visit, H/J barns know how to do it.  You can tell my locker is the one open because of the blingy browband.

At the center of the barn are the grooming stalls.  Two regular stalls on this side, one indoor wash rack with warm water on the other side.

Blanket system with the indoor wash rack in the background.

The feed room is also in the center of the barn (the middle of the H).

I keep my extra saddles and gear up in the hayloft.

If you walk out the back of the barn, you find a second cinder block barn with three shedrow stalls.  This building was original when the property was bought.  Theo and two TBs live out here.  The outdoor wash racks are also out here.  Theo decided to poke his head out and say hi for the photo.

The shedrow stalls look out over the sand paddocks.  Theo is currently in one of the sand paddocks since his grass pasture has closed down for the season and he's been spooking at the bridge construction which makes it hard to get him out to the grass paddocks.  It's plenty big enough for him to be dumb and he can touch/mess with no less than three horses.  He has buddies on all sides which makes him happy.  He's settled in very nicely and has kept his antics to a reasonable level.  This is from the entrance to his paddock and it goes down the hill and widens out.  He has a neighbor next to him and touches two paddocks at the bottom.

There are a whole heck of a lot of paddocks, including the round pen we use when Theo's just catching a break between appointments.

And finally, if you go down the hill and across the bridge that's being updated, you get to the grass paddocks.  The first picture is of the sacrifice paddocks that are smaller, the second is a shot of Theo out in one of the big fields.

Theo's settled in like he's been here his whole life.  He's very much part of the herd here and that apparently means everything to him.  He's happy to go out with everyone but equally happy to come in when the rest of the herd comes in.  He had to have his first day locked in due to weather on Friday and he handled it with no reaction at all.  No horses went out so he just nommed his hay and sat with his face out in the crazy wind and rain.  Being in a shed row stall means he has lots of things to watch and all the fresh air he could want.  The top door is only closed when the weather is extreme, like during our wind storm where we got two inches of rain and wind gusts up to hurricane force.  Whee.

The move has been nothing but good for us.  I'm looking forward to a more relaxed winter with our new accommodations and all new adventures with our new friends in 2020.