Sunday, June 30, 2019

Jack of all trades

What happens when you take this:

To a jumper show?

He lights up like it's the Fourth of July, grabs the bit, and has a blast.  We did 2'3" and 2'6" courses just for fun and a change of pace.  It was 90* out which really didn't help our speed but he loved getting out to do something different.  On our last course I was able to get right up off his back and let him cruise between fences with that steady, balanced canter we've developed.  His first course was a bit shaky while he figured out what game we were playing but each course got more forward and more confident.  He keeps this up, I'll have to rethink taking him into the equitation ring.  He was hitting his distances in the related lines and happy as a clam.  Slow, but happy as a clam.  A jumper he is not but we took all of the inside lines and kept ourselves out of trouble with the clock.

Super fancy show horse right here

Seriously, all the inside lines.  If you can canter a 10m circle, there's all sorts of inside turns that open up.  Every inch counts when your pony is kind of slow.  I will admit to making faces and struggling a bit in the warm up with my jumping length stirrups.  It's been awhile.

And then I take him out to do this.

Level 2 Tests 1 and 4.  He was sore on Saturday after his jumping efforts (the fences are 2'6", you do not need to put in an extra foot), but his massage therapist was out to put things right and he had his game face on for our show on Sunday.

I really can't complain about this horse's versatility.  He's pretty game to try whatever I toss at him so long as there are cookies in my pocket.  I like to keep him guessing and keep all three saddles in rotation. He gained a couple of new fans this weekend with his incredible ability to sidle up to people and convince them that his ears need scritches.  I'm trying to remember a course or a test and then I look down and realize Theo has abducted yet another stranger to shower him with praise and love.  How does he do this?

He managed the somewhat spooky indoor and got a 67% and a 70% from Lynn Palm.  That got him the champion ribbon for adult ammy at the level (just 0.5 behind the professional showing at our level on her stunning QH).  We got an 8 in our collectives for harmony and Lynn said he looked like an absolute blast to ride.  She's not wrong.

And so ends our crazy June of showing.  We now drop off into the July break.  We've got despooking next weekend, then a real break while Theo gets his joint injections done.  We'll do one show on the 20th to support the local western dressage community but that's it.  We're going to chill, absorb all of the feedback from the past six weeks, and tune some stuff up.  Or sip margaritas in the heat, one or the other.   

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Product Review: Harmony Western Dressage Saddle

Background:  Theo is a 16.2h Perch/Cheval Canadian cross with big honkin' shoulders, very long withers, a short flat back, and an uphill build.  This is basically the opposite of your run of the mill stock type horse.  He was tricky to fit for English saddles, western saddles proved to be borderline impossible.  I spent the better part of 1.5 years trying to get him in a western saddle.   He couldn't go in a full QH bar tree but he also struggled with the semi QH bar because it pinched his shoulders.  Saddles rocked on him.  I finally gave up and settled on a treeless saddle to get us into the ring but it didn't give me the support I needed as we moved up the levels.  As Theo's back came up and he got more bounce going, the treeless saddle didn't work for me.  Theo was happy but I was struggling.  I took a chance and ordered the demo of the Harmony Western dressage saddle as it was one of the few advertised for the discipline.

The Product:  The Harmony Western Dressage saddle is made by a subsidiary of Foxtrot and is built on an elastomer tree from Steele Saddle Tree.  That means it is a flex tree but as a hybrid, it has rigid parts to keep it from collapsing.  It also features a Sil-Cush lining for shock absorption.  Every saddle is custom made.  You can pick the leather colors, the tooling, the type of horn, anything.  The saddle was originally meant for gaited horses but was so popular with western dressage riders that they decided to market to them.  The stirrup and seat are designed to keep the rider in the correct alignment for western dressage.  It comes in three models based on weight.  I had the original with the round skirt and semi QH tree shipped out.

Base price is $2,495 and it goes up from there.

Review:  I absolutely LOVE this saddle, as does everyone that borrows it.  It fits most of the horses in the barn since it's a flexible tree and the right width for most English discipline horses (aka horses with withers).  The short, round skirt suits my horse and makes it flexible enough to fit a lot of other horses.

Every show I go to, someone comments on how attractive this saddle is.  I've been riding in it for months now and it gets better looking as it wears.  It's the basket weave/floral tooling option with silver conchos and it gives me just enough flair without making us look overly flashy.  I also like looking at my swell and seeing pretty flowers.

It fits Theo nicely.  We did have to play with saddle pad and cinch options to get it settled but I've learned that's expected with western saddles since you can't flock them.  Theo needed a 1" thick, 28" long Five Star wool saddle pad and a Total Saddle Fit cinch to get everything settled.  The dropped rigging is wonderful for stability but with a standard cinch, I found the saddle inching up on his shoulders throughout the ride and his saddle pad slipping back.  His girth groove was forward of where the cinch landed so it would creep forward and take the saddle with it.  The Total Saddle Fit cinch fixed that and the thicker Five Star pad got everything settled and locked in.

With the gear settled, this saddle is rock steady and neither the chiro nor the massage therapist have noted any problems.  Theo does all of his laterals as easily in this saddle as his dressage saddle.  I took it trail riding and found it very easy to relax with the horn and cantle to keep me feeling secure.  The seat is memory foam but under that you can definitely feel the rigid ground seat.  Everyone that has sat in it finds it very comfortable but it's not butt candy soft.  A good thing if you're in the saddle for hours, an overly soft seat starts to suck, but don't expect it to be a pillow.  The twist is wider than my English saddles but my hips adjusted just fine after a couple rides.  This is the first western saddle where I don't feel like I need to fight to keep my position, especially in the canter.

The negatives?  It's freaking 35 pounds.  Some of the ladies can't use it because it weighs too much to get up on their horses.  With my tall horse, it's a bit of a show watching me saddle him.  There are lighter models with the Ultra Light coming in at 25 pounds, but it has less tooling options and a fleece skirt instead of the Sil Cush and leather.  I wanted the tooling and extra shock absorption so I deal with the weight. 

Due to the flex tree, you can't drag, rope, or otherwise abuse the saddle.  Not a concern in my world, but it is a limitation if I decide to dabble in trail classes or cow work.  It's not meant for sports that put a lot of stress on the tree.  The flex tree was a concern for me in terms of holding up, but it comes with a 100% Lifetime warranty on the tree so I decided to take the risk.

Also cleaning the basket weave sucks.  Why would anyone do this to their saddle?  It's such a pain to clean and I'm sitting on large parts of it so you can't even see it.  Cleaning a saddle with a toothbrush is enough to make someone question their sanity.  That has nothing to do with the saddle quality, the tooling is gorgeous, but I freaking hate cleaning it.  I like handling the leather since it's so nice, but the tooling makes me batty.

Conclusion:  Awesome saddle that's made for the discipline.  It's comfy, stable, and does well on horses that are not the typical western shape.  English riders find it comfortable and don't feel like it's putting them in a weird spot.  Customer service was fantastic.  If you want to invest in a saddle for western dressage competition, check this one out.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Done with Smartpak

I've been a Smartpak customer for 15 years.  That's a hell of a long time to be a customer.  Allen, Fiona, Theo, even Koko and Ben all had Smartpak supplements.  When my senior MinPin needed supps to be comfortable, he got a Smartpak as well.  They had best in class customer service, super quick shipping, and the convenience was off the chart.  I spent years telling everyone to go there.

At IBM, I actually worked on their marketing management product and they were considered a best in class company.

Fast forward to now.  I no longer know when I'm going to get stuff I order.  Or if I'm going to get it at all.  I ordered a saddle blanket and show shirt for my show on Sunday.  They were both in stock and showed delivery early this week, so I figured it was safe.  I got a confirmation email saying that the order was processing, everything was in stock.  Yesterday a box arrived and I opened it with great excitement.  My new saddle blanket is gorgeous, but there was no shirt in the box?

My order now says 'out of stock' and expected back in stock in January.  No notification, no nothing.  My order shipped note only had the saddle blanket listed, but I figured the order had been split between two shipments.  It happens when it comes out of different warehouses.  I cancelled the order.  No time to order another shirt, so time to improvise.  I really want to show with my new purple saddle blanket!

The Smartpak brand items are dropping in quality with each year.  I got a flysheet and it fits quite odd through the shoulders and the halter loop is a joke.  My most recent pair of breeches are so tight in the thighs I can barely get on the horse.  I've worn the same size breeches from Smartpak for ages but here I am with breeches that fit very weird.  If that's how the clothes are going, I'm starting to wonder about my Smartpak brand supps.  Just what corners are they cutting?

The inventory is increasingly drop shipped which means I have no idea when or even if I'll get my order.  The order for my western boots took so long I cancelled it, then had them show up a week later.  I'm starting to get charged shipping despite my SmartPerks because not all items are included anymore.  Shipping is slow, communication is awful, and the in stock inventory is dropping away to nothing.  With the new non-horse CEO, I don't expect any of this to improve.  I've come to terms with the fact that it's time to jump off this sinking ship.

So where do people get their supplements?  I'm going to have to get on the baggie train, so I guess I can order from wherever I want.  It's going to be very tough for my unorganized butt to keep my horse in supps without a subscription but I can't keep giving my money to a company that's failing at every turn.

Monday, June 24, 2019

GMHA Pic Spam

I love it when the photographers have their system all set up and we can buy our pictures so quickly.  Shawn Tinkham photography had our stuff posted within a week of the show and it took me about ten minutes to pick, purchase, and download my photos.  That certainly brightened up my Monday.

I love a lot of my photos.  I wish photographers didn't always take pics of our extensions.  Our extensions are sad and I'm usually throwing the kitchen sink at them trying to get them done which doesn't make for good photos, but it helps when your horse is not turning into an inverted ostrich during the movement anymore. This is from our Second 1 debut (only test I rode with a whip so easy to tell).  My hands are a little stupid but I'm starting to shorten up my reins after the medium attempt so it's progress.

This is from our freestyle (sunny and no whip).  I love his neck in this one.  I'm pretty sure I'm trying to get him back after our lengthen and prep for the 10m half turn at the end of the ring.  Photographic evidence that our half halts occasionally work!  Anyone else think I need to drop my stirrups another hole?

Freestyle and our very nice lengthen heading back the other way.  Tail game is on point and that neck.  Oh my goodness that neck.  Totally need to drop my stirrups down.

From after our freestyle.  I couldn't resist giving him a big hug after he put his big boy pants on for me.  And Theo is sticking his tongue out.  It's not an album of show pictures if he doesn't have his tongue out in at least one.

From our overly exciting Second 1 attempt.  He may not be made for the job but he sure tries his heart out.  Got a 5.5 for this medium but I'm happy to see him trying that hard through his shoulders.  We get a little more bounce in the trot and his efforts might be more noticeable.

I'm going to try to not torture myself to much about my position issues that are still painfully visible.  Yes, yes, I'm tipped forward and crooked and my hands are possessed.  It's better than it used to be.  In a couple of these shots, I look fine.  Bit by bit we keep building.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Back at it

Theo got a couple days off after GMHA since I had Dermabond holding my scalp together and I wasn't supposed to 'perspire excessively'.  I wear a helmet, it's June, and it's NH.  Perspiring heavily is all I do, especially on my head.  Trainer A hopped on him twice to keep him from getting overly sassy and then I hopped on for the first time on Friday.

Good news, my hair knots stayed in place despite my ridiculous sweating. Not that it really matters anymore, everything is closed up and the Dermabond is separating as it's supposed to.  It itches like crazy and I'm losing my mind.

Not so good news, I have some unexpected soreness in the upper back.  It's only noticeable when I'm sitting the trot because the jarring irritates those muscles.  It appears my major muscle spasm when I got whacked isn't quite done torturing me yet.  I'm being generous with the Advil, heating pad, and stretching to help the last of this soreness work itself out.  I've got a western dressage show on Sunday and posting isn't exactly an option.  I may have to try to get a massage in for myself.  Shocker!

Theo is doing fabulous and aside from some missing hair in front of his ear, you'd never know anything happened.

He enjoyed his Friday jump school and Saturday slacker ride in our western gear, but then the dressage saddle came out today for our lesson with Trainer Z.

After seeing away show Theo in the flesh for the first time, Trainer Z had a plan.  We  jazzed Theo up and then brought him down about a dozen times until both of us were comfortable working in that jazzed up state.  I shouldn't take my leg off the second he starts to snort and carry on, that's my cue to get my leg on and get him pushing into my outside rein.  We did a lot of rapid fire transitions between gaits, within gaits, and into different movements to make him all spicy.  I had to dare to touch him with the whip when he was already firing on all cylinders which is a bit terrifying.  Then I practiced my walk and accepted the fact that jigs may happen, but I've got to put my leg on.  With that spicy, teetering on the edge of explosion walk and my legs on, that horse can do a stunning canter transition.  Some of them were tangles of legs and snorts, some went against the bridle and flailed, but a precious some were just beautiful.  The best we've done.  That's my motivation to keep doing this because as we learn to harness the spicy, powerful, reactive stud muffin that is Theo, we're going to be able to do those beautiful transitions.

We also addressed our lack of mediums.  Part of it is just power and I've been assigned to do at least 8 trot lengthens each ride to build up the muscle.  Real ones, not pretendy ones.  Longer frame, bigger steps, not quicker.  While he was jazzed up he gave me my first actual medium (about five steps of it but enough to make me yell 'whee!') so we're on the right track, we just need more muscles.

The canter got a whole regimen of stuff assigned.  First was the 10m circle, lengthen, 10m circle exercise.  Then we tacked on some counter canters in between and simple changes of lead to make sure he was staying balanced.  Then it went completely crazy and it was 10m circle, lengthen, 10m circle, centerline, halfpass to the rail, counter canter the end, back across the diagonal, repeat.  Well, guess we're big kid dressage types now!

Dressaging is very hard and Theo is very sleepy after his lesson

I've had very limited luck with the canter half pass in the past but with the lengthenings in between, Theo was popping along well enough that he could stay out of his own way.  When he got stuck in the half pass right (weaker side), I was shown how to really emphasize the bend to show him the way.  He got unstuck and managed to do his canter half passes in both directions.  I was quite impressed with the effort.  I've been assigned to do those in my dressage schools because we're going to need the extra lift they'll bring to his canter.

It's a lot of homework and it's split 50/50 between the mental and the physical.  We have to work our spicy medium walk transitions until I no longer take my legs off because it makes me nervous.  Theo needs to accept that my legs are going to come on no matter how spicy/snorty/ridiculous he's being.  All the rest is about developing the push muscles for the medium trot and the carrying power in the canter.

I won't have another standard dressage outing until August but I think I'll be picking that outing based on when Trainer Z is available.  She wants to coach a warm up or two to help me get used to warming up this spicy new Theo.  I'm totally okay with someone guiding us through this little transitional period in our lives.  As she put it, I need to think less in the warm up for a bit while I get used to the new feel.  I fully agree to thinking less.  It's really in everyone's best interest.

Friday, June 21, 2019

The Second level horse

Discussing our show with Trainer Z and my clinic with Vern Batchelder brought something into focus that I didn't really expect:  Moving up was a big deal for Theo as well.

I usually hear about how big of a leap it is for riders to move from First to Second.  Many riders decide to stay at First because the leap looks too big.  But I don't usually hear about that leap from the perspective of the horse.  It's a big leap for them, too.  The power expected is different, the precision is different, the suppleness is different.  Theo has demonstrated quite nicely how much of a change can happen when you teach a horse how to think forward,  lift their shoulders, and then build up the muscles necessary.
He's always been prone to explosions when heading right.  He's hollow right and likes to fly out that left shoulder so heading right gives him that opportunity, especially when I'm prepping to canter.  We had a lid on it and had a string of shows with no problems since I could prevent it by basically not powering up his hind end.  You don't have to power up for working gaits.  You absolutely do need that power to collect.  I've had to let some of Theo's inner stud out to make the collection possible.  The explosion problem is back with a gusto.  Trainer Z shrugged and said welcome to Second level.

She wasn't the only one that said that.  Vern also said that our sudden submission issues were expected at this point in his training.  I've turned up the pressure while encouraging him to be a big, powerful pony.  There are going to be moments where we get it wrong and with all that power, wrong may include some dramatics.

Why don't any of the books or magazines discuss this part of moving up the levels?  Trainer Z did warn me that I might see an outbreak of naughty behavior as we jazzed him up, but I thought that was just Theo.  I didn't think it was a common thing across horses moving up to this stage in their training.  As I ask around, I'm finding that many people have outbreaks of trouble at this level.  Second is the start of Big Boy dressage and it's a bit of a learning curve to manage all that positive tension so it doesn't flip over to negative.

So I guess the misbehavior is a good sign if we want to keep going?  Because we now have the energy and enthusiasm?  But I could do with a bit less exuberance in our tests.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

GMHA: Lessons learned

GMHA was a successful show for us.  We hit both of my goals and are now officially half way to our Bronze.  But lessons were learned.

Photo from our Vern Batchelder clinic because I'm running out of media

 - Pony does not always straight tie, especially when he's feeling fidgety.  Take more precautions to ensure he can break away if tied.

 - Pack one more bag of shavings then you think you need.  Good gravy that horse pees a lot.

 - For every night that Theo is in a stall, increase your warm up time.  Pressure builds as he spends more time indoors and all the handwalking in the world doesn't seem to stay ahead of the accumulating pressure.  Don't stop early thinking he'll be tired.  He won't be.

- Theo can reach a surprisingly large arc around his stall, make sure absolutely everything is clear of that area.  Especially snacks, breakfast, sodas, saddles, blankets, hay, lead ropes, and absolutely anything that will fit in his mouth or that you do not want drooled on.

 - Lunging will be a thing from now on.  The new, improved, powerful Theo doesn't get tired from warm ups and tests.  He also has plenty of ways to express himself.  If he's staying in a stall, plan to lunge in the morning for at least 20 minutes.  We all know lunging at shows sucks because there's never enough room but he apparently needs to let the bucks out and the other option is for him to do it under saddle.

 - Keep the freestyle music quiet so he will comfortably lengthen while going toward the speaker.

 - Not all judges will love the pony.  That's fine.  So long as the majority think you're going the right way, keep going.

 - If you think he's supple enough in the show ring, he's probably not.  He will always be a tourist and prefer to stick his nose out so he can better check out his surroundings when in a strange arena.  Stay on top of it, especially when he's lit up.  The outside rein is your lifeline when he's considering using his powers for evil.  Kick him up in that rein and don't let go.  Channel all of that beautiful power and energy into something good.  He will let you.

 - Drill your figures until you and Theo can both do them in your sleep.  No more egg shaped 10m circles or oblong 15m circles or loops that overshoot center because you're distracted.  You can't spare the points and the judges are no longer ducking behind their hands during your tests.  They notice.

 - When in doubt, do what Trainer Z said.

 - Don't fall for the 'rum tasting at the tack shop' trap.  Rum, a credit card, and a tack shop don't mix.  Though the new saddle pad, breeches, show shirts, stock tie, stock pin, sweat scraper, and ear net are lovely.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

GMHA: Freestyle

Second day of competition had me doing another Second level test and my freestyle.  It was a pretty big freestyle day with multiple classes.  Sound checks started Friday night and kept going between classes right through to the lunch break as Freestyle was starting.

Some of my friends thought Theo needed some extra decoration

I was assigned a 10:06am soundcheck and dropped off my disc with the secretary.  I had somehow wrapped my head around the idea that my Second level test was after the freestyle and only realized I had a 10:53am test at 9:23am.  Theo was not groomed or braided and had enjoyed a big roll during his morning handwalk.  UGH.  I slammed his braids in while Trainer A got him cleaned up.  I made it to soundcheck on time, wearing my show clothes and with my tacked up pony following along.

The very nice young lady running the music asked for my disc and I said she already had it, I turned it in the night before.  Nope, she didn't have it.  I hustled off to the secretary who gave me a disdainful look and announced she'd sent all the music down already.  Yes, they lost my music.  I fortunately travel with a back up and ran like a demon to Barn C to retrieve it from my trunk.  I then ran all the way back to the sound booth (in my riding boots) to hand it over.  I listened to my music, had them turn the volume down a couple times, and then hustled off to make it to warm up for my Second level test.

I swung on Theo and he felt lit up.  I quickly realized I had a situation and chucked my whip.  I asked for a canter and he tried to blow his top.  It was a very crowded warm up and I wanted to keep a lid on the situation, but he had decided that he was a fire breathing dragon that didn't understand half halts.  Or whole halts for that matter.  His second jump buck combo was apparently very athletic and rather frightening for my friends on the side lines.  It didn't rattle me much because there was no spin, he wasn't trying to ditch me, but it didn't bode well for the test in front of the judge that gave me a 60% at First.

Lo and behold, I heard Trainer Z behind me.  She'd come over to see my ride and started calling orders for me to get the situation back under control.  Shorten your reins, put on your leg, and do transitions until he stops being over reactive.  Haunches in, shoulder in, make him accept your leg.  I managed to get Theo mostly under wraps and took him in for his test.

There were things I liked.  He was going forward, the circles were nice, and he behaved himself through large parts of the test.  We had one big blow up but it was contained to a single movement.  I didn't push him down to his First level frame and didn't try to squash the energy.  Trainer Z was happy to see me be brave and keep him up rather than shutting him down.  She'd predicted we'd have rides like this as we progress.  We spent months jazzing him up and now we're letting it out in strange arenas.  Sometimes it's going to boil over.

I did not at all enjoy him blowing his top, ignoring half halts, or feeling like I didn't dare ask for a real medium, but it was a good learning experience for both of us as he ups his energy levels.  This energy level is much more appropriate to Second.  Let's just say I don't have to kick in the canter these days.  Everyone has a bad test sometimes.  We were tense and distracted, he thought my input was unnecessary and locked me out of the bridle at times, but we got it done with minimal drama and some movements that were actually good.

I got a 55% and a very clear message that this judge thought we had no business at Second.  Not much of a surprise when she didn't think we were ready for First the day before and that test didn't include airs above the ground.  It wasn't just the 'creative' canter work.  Every trot movement got a 5.5 or lower and we got a 5 for submission.  OUCH.  Well, 2 out of 3 judges think we're ready for Second and the one that doesn't think we're ready is the most junior, so I'm not going back to First.  If she was the only feedback I got from the weekend, I'd be crushed.  When she is the minority voice, I'm better able to shake off the bad ride.  That's all it was, a bad ride.

I decided that I should get on early and work Theo down before the freestyle.  He doesn't need that level of energy for a First level test and a blow up in a freestyle is disaster.  You end up off from your music and it's hard to get back on track.  I hopped on an hour before our test and started walking to warm up.  He flipped out for unknown reasons and started flying backwards.  I jumped off of him and told a friend to meet me at the lunging area with my lunge line.  I'm not sitting through that nonsense.

Theo put on a fifteen minute display of rears, bucks, and scoots.  It was so ridiculous.  At the point he reared straight up, I realized I had made the only safe choice and that I might be scratching my freestyle.

After the nonsense he started trotting around like normal, licking and chewing.  I jumped on and headed to warm up without giving him a chance to recharge.  Another fifteen minutes of trot and canter under saddle seemed to have his brain firmly between his ears again.  Just barely in time for us to head in as the first test after the lunch break.  Theo was still scooting a bit and jumped at some dumb things like the judge's bell, but he hit centerline like a pro.

Please ignore the commentary from my friends, I'm very appreciative they took this video for me

68.5% and third place behind two pros that scored in the mid-seventies.  I had so much fun with my freestyle.  My music is great and lots of people react to it positively.  At this point, the actual test is easy for us and we can enjoy it.  We bobbled our medium walk due to his higher energy levels and one of our circles was straight up wonky due to me losing my starting point, but otherwise it was solid.  So proud of the second canter lengthening.  We still have bracing in the leg yields but it's getting better.  I was able to get him back and the crossing was good.  If I could get him to not go above the bit the second I ask to go sideways, they could really be a highlight. 

We had the same judge from our last show at B and we got a 69.3% from her.  Lost 1% due to increased tension (and a wonky circle) but that's fine.  The judge at C was less sold on our music and we got a 67.6%.  It was really the only place where their scores differed.  I knew the pop music with lyrics was a risk so it doesn't bother me.  Choreography continues to be a solid score for us and since it's x4, it's important.  Harmony is also a very consistent score for us.  What can I say, we generally get along and he looks happy to be there.

After a long day, Theo was happy to go cuddle up in his stall while I sat on the hill and watched the FEI freestyles.  After the show was over, my friends hosted a taco night followed by s'mores.  Showing with friends is a lot more fun than showing alone.

Friends take amazing pictures like this after the Freestyle when his earnet came off for tack check

The forecast showed 100% chance of rain for Sunday and I saw that I had the same judge for Second 1 yet again.  I'm not planning on selling Theo, but there's no need to go back in front of a judge that really does not think we're ready for the level and put another mid-fifties score on his record.  I'm all about doing tests for practice, but not in the rain after Theo's been in a stall for three nights.  I decided that I would just scratch that last test.

And then I got clobbered in the head with a board so it was moot, but at least I didn't miss any tests I expected to run.  My friends packed us up and got Theo home.  Unfortunately that means both of my music discs are gone and I need to make new ones before our next outing.  Gross.

But we hit both of my goals for the show, so I'm calling that a win.

Monday, June 17, 2019

GMHA: Second level debut details

I had two things I wanted to get done at this show:
  • Debut Second Level
  • Ride a freestyle in the White Ring
My Second level debut came up first.  I was an absolute nervous wreck, not helped by the fact I got a 60% in my First 3 test Friday morning.  OUCH.  It was flat due to mooing cows and me not wanting to let a certain someone look around but come on.  60%?  The judge didn't like our connection and didn't think we had the training to be ready for the level.  I haven't gotten a 6 for submission with Theo since before Mary Howard, especially when he didn't put a hoof wrong.  5's for both leg yields.

And in three hours, I was moving up.  Hurk.

Trying to teach Theo dressage in a more visual manner, watching the FEI classes while hand grazing on the hill over the White Ring

I almost scratched.  So many times I wanted to stop by the secretary and scratch.  It got worse when I realized that not only did they put Second 1 in the White Ring after all the FEI classes, we were going to have two judges.  Who does that to Second 1 riders?!  We're all melting down, trying to figure out how to sit the trot, wallowing in the great abyss of dressage training, and they stuck us in the FEI ring right after the Young Riders trying to qualify for the NAYC with a swath of spectators and kept both judges on duty.  General consensus was that this was fairly evil.

I warmed up as best I could while trying to not hurl over my horse's shoulder.  I carried my whip and tried to be brave and get him right up in front of my leg, even if I was seeing some signs of naughty Theo lurking.  The more I turn up the dial, the more often naughty Theo appears.  He's much bigger and stronger than he used to be and he doesn't always use his powers for good.  But our connection is terrible if he's not way up in front of my leg so he got a tap tap and I held on to the barrel of TNT I was creating.

They finally sent me in and I very clearly told myself 'whelp, doesn't matter if you can do it or not because you're already doing it so fuck it, give them a show'.

 Second 1 at GMHA, June 14, 2019

Holy crap we look like we belong!  Our mediums are quite sad but that shoulder in was on point and the circles were actually 10m.  Theo was so excited to finally do his walk to canter in the ring that he had a momentary flail when I cued.  Trainer Z saw and has a plan for us to fix our new inability to have a polite walk to canter.  Spoiler, it involves me not letting go of his face in the medium walk because I'm afraid he's anticipating the transition.  He also decided to shrug off my half halts for some transitions because he's a big boy now and doesn't need my input but we kept the wheels on.

Two judges in the big kid ring, I was only praying to squeak out a 60%.  We got a 63.2% from the judge at C and a 60.8% from the judge at B.  62% and halfway to our Bronze!  We were also 4th out of 10 for the class but moved up to 3rd when they split the Adult Ammy division out.  Success!  We did it!  We solidly, in the big kid ring, did it!

We have so much homework to do but at least I can confidently say that he is now a Second level horse.  Not confirmed, but he can show in collection and not be laughed out of the ring even when there are experienced judges (Dorothy Demis at C (R), Sara Schmitt at B (S)).  We got a 6.5 and a 7 for gaits, so that box is checked.  We got a 7 on one of our shoulder ins and 6.5 for our reinback.  A 3 and a 4 for the 'creative' canter depart which really hurt our score, but when we did the transition as practiced we got a 6.5 and a 7. 

Mediums averaged about 5.5, so we know where to focus in the coming months.  He's got a medium in there, it's just slow to build and more quick than ground cover.  I want to at least get a consistent 6 there and get our impulsion score back up above 6.  We also got a 6 for submission.  Creative departs do not help there but for the level, he needs to be a bit more elastic in the connection and not shrug off my half halts because he is excited to show off his moves.  We can do it all day at home but he is a different beast away from home and I'm less effective when I'm a shivering, nervous wreck.  We'll get better.

It's been a long time coming but we're now showing at Second level and I feel like we're in the right spot.  We're still flailing, we've got a lot of work to do, but we definitely belong at this level.  I feel much more confident that I'll get my other Second score this year.

Next up: Freestyle in the White Ring

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Fundamentally stupid

I am back from my show.  GMHA is such a lovely break from technology, but it's not ideal for writing up blog posts.  I'll do the full review of how my weekend went as the week goes by.  It was good (62% in my Second 1 debut and a third in a big freestyle class!), it was bad (55% due to airs above the ground in another test), and it was ugly.

My boots made a mess of their nice, clean floor

I have to get through the ugly part right now.  I did something so fundamentally stupid that I look at past self and wonder just how tired and fried I was. Fourth day of the show so pretty darn exhausted.  I'd already decided to scratch my last test due to the judge in that ring really not liking us (a 60 at First level?  Ouch.) and the forecasted steady rain.  I'd rather not get another lousy score while in the pouring rain.  I tossed Theo his breakfast, freshened up his water, and started prepping for departure.  He was absolutely filthy so I wanted to brush him.  It's dark in his stall, so I took him out to park next to his OTTB neighbor at the rail that winds around the barn.

I know it's not a secure place to tie, but the visual is usually enough for Theo especially with company.  Wrap the line around loosely and he stands.  He proceeded to wander off several times.  I kept putting it back, gave it an extra wrap, told him to stop playing with it, etc.  He spooked at something, pulled back sharply, and the damn lead line locked rather than slide loose.  It was my new betathane lead and it stuck to itself when it crossed over itself.  I must have been more tired than I thought to not notice that happening between Theo and I moving it.  It must have been when I tried to tuck the tail away from him so he'd quit sucking it in like spaghetti.  I had enough time to think 'oh fuck' before he yanked the board off and hit me with it on his way back to his stall that was fortunately right behind him.

Theo is fine.  He's got a scrape behind one ear from his halter.  He's sound.  My neighbor was able to grab him as he tried to get in his stall, unclip his lead, and he let himself in.  But all reports, he is none the worse for wear and is trotting off sound.

I, on the other hand, was on the ground in the ditch.  EMT was called, accident reports were filed, and I was sent to the hospital with Trainer A due to head trauma and potential concussion.  I was also bleeding.  I never lost consciousness, no headache, and completely coherent.  Remembered all my stats for the forms, etc.  Once we got to ER, I rattled off all my stats for them and apparently impressed them enough that I didn't even get an X-ray.  I did, however, have to get the 2cm cut on my head closed up.

They used this fascinating technique using my hair to do it since I'm so needle phobic (my Fitbit says my pulse hit 185 when they said it needed to be closed up).  They actually knotted my hair over the cut, then used Dermabond (superglue) to close it all up.  No needles, no staples.  Just four knots in my hair with some glue.  I have a picture of the end result, but there's some blood so I'll spare everyone (if you're really curious I can share it).  I'm affectionately referring to it as my macrame.  Apparently it's a technique for kids that are freaking over staples and I was lucky enough to have a very senior nurse that knew the technique.  I also have a cut behind my right ear and I'm bruised to kingdom come from my right hand up to the top of my head, but overall very lucky.

Of course the whole thing is the only thing anyone in that barn is talking about right now.  I was an outcast before, this is going to be worse.  I was stabled between two very high end barns.  I'm now known as the idiot that tied her horse to a board and then got clobbered with it.  Apparently my neighbors were all very happy to discuss it at length with my friends when they went to retrieve Theo for me.

We already stuck out a bit

35 years with horses.  I know better.  I needed to have him tied at the post, not the rail.  His halter would have snapped if he'd hit the post.  But I just parked him next to the OTTB with my tired brain saying 'you're not tying him'.  And I didn't mean to be.  Especially with him getting loose every time I turned my back, him getting stuck was not my concern.  But somehow I got that lead line crossed under itself and boom, disaster.  I'm going to be mad at myself for this mistake for a long, long time.  Especially when I've taught so many people how to properly tie in that situation.  I put my horse and a lot of other horses in danger.

But Theo's fine.  His vet will be out to double check and his massage therapist is already scheduled.  He loaded like a champ for everyone and is safely in his field.  I'll see him in a couple days once my swollen ear and goose egg are down enough I can get my helmet on again.  We were heading into our summer break anyway.  Just a western show on June 30, then summer camp time.

It'll take me that long to get up the guts to be seen at a dressage show again.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

What have I done

It dawned on me last night while working on my shoulder in on the quarter line.  I was putzing around with the angle, trying to see if Theo's short back makes it harder for a judge to see what I'm doing.  It was something Janet Foy mentioned and I looked in the mirror and went 'damn it'.  Because he has such a teeny tiny back that the movement doesn't really show up well.

But it's not worth fussing over because I don't do shoulder in at shows, so no stress.  I can practice more angle or less for fun and adjustability (that's not a word but I'm leaving it). 

And then I remembered, I do show in shoulder in now.  On Friday, I'm doing Second level.  This Friday, as in three days from now.  For real.  At a show.  In front of people and a judge.  Yes, judges are technically people but they get their own classification in this situation.


And then I halted in the middle of the ring for a minute while I practiced not hyperventilating because, after the better part of six years of trying, I'm moving up to Second.  I'm finally busting free of the level that I started back with Allen in 2005.  I've been a First level rider for fourteen years!  On the one hand, it's very exciting.  On the other hand, it's freaking terrifying.  Talk about taking the training wheels off and I've had those training wheels on for a very long time.

Pony is unconcerned

Of course I'm afraid I'm going to get out there and fall on my face.  I have a long and stunning tradition of getting tense at shows and not being able to sit in my saddle.  More of a concern when you've got to sit everything.  And my mediums?  Well, hopefully we'll get a 5.5 or 6 with a comment about 'tried hard'.  Because pony still doesn't really understand the full bounce potential of his booty.  He's figured out sitting, but bouncing is much harder for him.  I know judges tend to be a bit more gentle with Second 1 because they know it's a lot of riders and horses that have just started to figure things out, but I'm also aware that we're going to have some movements that are . . . . in development.

He's a work in progress and I have so many yawning pictures

I actually considered scratching my Second level tests during my moment of panic and just doing my freestyle and the First level test I signed up for as a back up in case NEDA Spring went sideways.  So far I've convinced myself to get out there and ride my Second level tests.  No one watches Second 1 anyway.  I'm sure the judge has seen worse than a rather clunky draft cross and a nervous ammy struggling through a move up test.  I'm comfortable with being marginal and forgettable at this point. 

I have friends going to this show with me and one is offering to put Bailey's in my coffee before my test.  So long as I have a reader, I may have to take her up on that. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Dressage does a body good

I realized I have three pictures of my horse in the same place facing the same way across four years.

July 2015

July 2016
June 2019

We finally fixed that problem with the dip in his neck!  Also look at the size of that booty.  And shoulders and abs, but mostly booty.  His whole back has lifted especially right behind the saddle which explains why I have to get his saddle reflocked AGAIN to adjust for all that muscle.  He just looks beefy in that last shot and I know he feels broader.  I feel like I've got more horse to sit on.

Which has it's ups and downs.

I didn't feel like I was seeing a lot of change last year, but with the addition of collection this winter, mi papi has become a bit of a beef cake.  I thought he was getting fat since his girths weren't fitting right but . . . maybe he doesn't need a diet after all.  That pony does not look chubby, he looks strong.

I also love the lack of a chain shank and improved feet over the years, but that's a different topic.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Actually rescue them

I had a long talk with a fellow experienced rider/trainer today and our topics wandered about.  When we landed on a horse at the barn that was a 'rescue', we both had the same reaction:  many of those that 'rescue' horses really should not.

Please note the apostrophes around 'rescue'.  Because many of these are not rescues at all, such as OTTBs or pasture potatoes or Amish horses, but they're referred to as rescue horses by the people that pick them up, like it's a title of merit.  These horses are typically very cheap or free and have fallen on hard times of some sort.  They're more correctly termed a retraining project most of the time.  The example we were discussing is a Standardbred of questionable soundness and very little retraining.  He arrived a couple months ago.  He's been struggling and his owner is completely lost.

Almost on cue, a working student that is also older than I am popped out of the feed room and said 'but I've been online looking for a rescue because I don't have the money for a fancy horse'.  This is an absolutely rank beginner looking to trail ride once or twice a week.  She needs help with tack and cannot canter.  In absolute unison, the trainer and I said 'DON'T'.

Kids, news flash.  You get a wonderful horse one of two ways:  pay the money to buy one up front or invest the time to make one.   You can only do the second if you have the skills or hire someone with the skills.

Not a rescue, just a long term project

Most of the 'rescue's I see going through the barn are attached to people that find cantering nerve wrecking and are often a first horse.  A pair of OTTBs went through and I wanted to weep.  Fresh off the track and 'rescued' by a pair of girls that couldn't really manage their lessons on school horses.  If you can't tack and ride a horse on your own, you're not ready for an OTTB straight off the track.

No, the horses weren't around long.  Surprise surprise, a cheap OTTB is still expensive to keep, especially when it freaks out and crashes through a fence.  And funny thing, just because they're now 'rescued', they don't automatically turn into quiet, safe trail horses.  Surely with just a couple of days to settle they'd be happy to go for a bareback walk!  It's so relaxing, and they don't have a saddle that fits so bareback is the best option!  Why would they need helmets?  It's just a bareback walk on a four year old OTTB that hasn't been restarted yet or even let down properly, but the horses know they've been 'rescued' and surely will appreciate the stroll!  That has been a repeated conversation I've had with adults.  No, the horse does not realize it's been 'rescued' and will not magically bond with you because you bought it and brought it somewhere new.  Please put on a saddle and a helmet and consider ground work for your rearing four year old.  The horses moved on when the girls realized it was a lot of money each month to keep a pair of  horses they couldn't ride.  Free to a good home, hopefully to someone ready to give them a real home.

This is terrifying to me and I really, desperately wish many of the people with 'rescue' horses had left that horse alone.  It's a terrible thing to say, but I've done that rodeo and I know what it means.  You don't just throw a horse into a nice stable with plenty of food and instantly get a perfect partner.  No.  No no.  That's not how that works.

Let's assume for a second that you really did find a horse that is solid in it's training and a good citizen, just badly neglected.  You now have to nurse that horse back.  That requires vet support to handle parasite load, very careful nutrition, an experienced farrier to bring the feet back, and a careful reintroduction to work.  It's not an over night event.  It's months if not a full year of work to get that horse back.  My Hellbeast, Allen, was a complete wreck.  A bleeding, skinny, kill pen mess.  It took me a year to get him back into serious business riding horse condition.  He had to put hundreds of pounds back on, his feet required several trims and very fancy shoes, the list goes on.

I don't have pictures from when he arrived because I couldn't bring myself to take them, he looked that terrible

You know what happens when you take a neglected horse and give it a lot of fuel?  Energy.  A lot of energy.  They feel good for the first time in awhile.  The feet feel good, the stomach feels good, and they may very well like to share their happiness.  That's when the Hellbeast started bucking and bolting.  A solid citizen, very well trained, but he still went through a phase of being a rampaging nut because he felt good but wasn't strong enough to manage how good he felt.  I was in a program and am generally considered an advanced rider.  It was still terrifying at points.

And then you get to find out if your horse is actually a solid citizen.  A lot of these 'rescue' horses have behavioral issues due to neglect, inexperienced handling, rough handling, whatever.  If they didn't bother feeding them, why would they teach them to pick their feet up politely or stop when asked?  You could very well have a horse that has to be restarted from scratch.  There's nothing wrong with that, it's a very rewarding process, but you have to be prepared for it.

So no, I don't believe that the average good Samaritan should 'rescue' a horse they found online unless they are in a full fledged program with a trainer that has the skills necessary to manage whatever pops up. It is not a path for a beginner working on their own.

 Fiona's feet alone took months to straighten out

I'm not saying that a neglected horse is a waste or a loss.  I've seen the opposite many times and I've picked up horses in a neglect situation myself with life changing results.  I'm not saying that people shouldn't pick up horses that are being neglected when the opportunity is presented.  I'm saying that buying a sob story because you don't have money and thinking you can get your dream horse while saving a lost soul is a good way to be broke, overwhelmed, and possibly injured.  Unless you're ready to manage nutrition, vet, farrier, and training for a complete mystery horse, you're not ready to take on a 'rescue'.  And for the love of all the little gods, don't show up with some half broke, half starved beast in tow without talking to your trainer first.  Because that happens and I have had to fight back tears.  These poor horses, so confused and frightened.  Despite all of the good intentions, they're not going to get what they need.  And they'll get moved on yet again. That's not rescuing a horse.

I saw an ad in the local tack shop.  The Standardbred in question is now 'free to good home'. 
If you're not prepared for the mystery horse, go to a reputable rescue, pay the adoption fee, and get a horse that's been restarted by someone with experience.  Someone that can help you be matched with a neglected horse that needs a new home.  You are still saving a horse and your adoption fee will allow the rescue to save another one.  If you're going to rescue a horse, actually rescue them.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Managing a campaigner

At this point, I think I can call Theo a campaigner.  He's heading out to shows, staying at facilities, and generally having adventures while earning that lovely satin.  And smashing my phone and destroying property.

Before and after of his stall door with gouges and missing info sheet

He's lucky he's cute.  But his rage is actually something that I'm still struggling to manage.  How do you keep a horse that's used to being in turnout 24/7 happy when he's at an away show?  The longer he's in a stall, the more irritable he gets.  He just wants to roll and eat hay in the sun and not be touched by anyone for awhile which isn't going to happen at a show.

I thought bringing him in every night for a week would help him get used to it, but instead he ran over my farrier when he started to flip his lid.  Nope.

I currently hand walk him for hours every day at a show and get him out of his stall one way or another every 1.5 hours.  This may be grazing, going for a stroll, or actually doing some showing stuff.  From 7am to 8pm, I am on the clock and keeping the pony entertained.  He still has to cope with the overnight part and cope is a strong word.  I leave a civilized horse munching on a pile of hay.  I come back to a demon that can't believe he's still in prison and wants out right now!  His stall is trashed, he's rushing his door and generally being a rampaging idiot with much head snaking and kicking out.

This is my life when we're at away shows

I've got a couple more away shows this year and I know I can do better with helping him cope.  I just don't know what to try, short of sleeping outside his stall and hand walking him through the night.  Our regionals have paddocks to rent, so I'll be splurging on a paddock so he can go out and roll and just be outside for a couple hours each day.  If he settles well, he may be in that paddock all day.

For most shows, turn out of any form is impossible.  I'm thinking about getting him a toy to entertain him in his stall.  Rumor has it that he liked to bop people with a jolly ball when he was younger, so it might be a really bad idea, but it might control some of the rage.  Fiona did well with a Likit, Theo might enjoy that.  We had a big warmblood on stall rest for almost a year after a suspensary injury and we made him a toy.  We cut a hole in the side of an empty plastic jug and loaded it with carrot pieces.  As the horse tossed and shook the bottle, carrot bits would fall out.

Down side, the horse learned to throw the beat up jug at staff when it was empty to demand a refill.  Nothing quite like having an 18h warmblood throwing things at people walking by his stall.

I know he'll never be good about this.  He'll always want out of his stall.  He hates being confined and there's a reason he never comes in.  But I have to think we can work out a compromise for these three and four day shows.  Something with less destruction and running people over.

Anyone else have a horse that seriously hates being in a stall?

Thursday, June 6, 2019

25 Questions from Viva Carlos

I'm still horse show hungover, so lets do something requiring less brain power.

1. What is the first thing you do when you get to the barn?
Check the white board at the door to the barn for any updates or messages.

2. Is there a breed that you would never own?
I'll ride anything with four legs and a tail, but I can't imagine I'd own a Saddlebred.

3. Describe your last ride?
Go forward, go forward, go forward.  Resetting him mentally so he knows it's collection time.

4. Have any irrational riding fears?
Horses running in a field next to me when I'm mounted.  I will usually panic and dismount regardless of who I'm riding.

5. Describe your favorite lesson horse?
Gus.  He was so kind and sweet and tried so hard while taking care of me at the 3' hunters.  Auto change, adorable knees, and just wonderful to handle for anything but mane pulling.

6. Would you ever lease out your horse?
Yes, that's the plan when he's ready to step down.

7. Mares: Yay or neigh?
I had one but not my first choice.  Adds a whole other component of trying to figure out what resistance is coming from.  Is she having cramps/cysts/heat cycle or is it something else?

8. How many time per week do you get to see your horse?
Used to be three or four but it's now going to be five or six.

9. Favorite thing to do on an “easy day” with your pony?

Trail ride or jumping day.

10. Conformational flaw that bothers you the most?
Crooked legs.  I want a horse that will hold up over time.

11. Thing about your riding that you’re most self conscious about?
Sitting trot.  I have the worst case of imposter syndrome every time I sit the trot and people can see me.

12. Will you be participating in no stirrup November?
Sort of?  I don't take stirrups off my saddle because I have to warm up with stirrups and posting without stirrups is hell on my bad hip.  It makes weird sounds.  I usually schedule some lunge lessons during November since everyone is thinking about it and that's all.

13. What is your grooming routine?
Haas curry comb followed by the Haas Schimmel brush (stiff) and the Haas Lippizaner brush (body).  Pick out his feet and, if it's still a muddy nightmare out, treat with Bannix to manage thrush.  If it's Sunday his tail is fully brushed out, his mane is treated with Ecolicious mane oil and rebraided in pasture braids, and his hooves get hit with some Hooflex. 

14. Describe a day in the life of your horse?
Lives out 24/7.  Breakfast is around 8am, dinner is around 4:30pm, I usually ride around 6pm.  Outside of that, he spends his day eating hay, eating grass, napping, and playing halter tag with his TB neighbor.

15. Favorite season for riding?
Fall.  The heat breaks, the bugs go away, and we usually get a week or two of stunning, dry, perfect weather.  Can't get me in the ring at all during this period of time.

16. If you could only have 1 ring: indoor or outdoor?
Indoor.  I live in New Hampshire and if I only had an outdoor, I'd lose four or so months out of the year.

17. What impresses you most about the opposite discipline (english vs. western)?
I do both, sooooo what about saddleseat?  I am impressed by the raw power and enthusiasm of the horses.

18. You have unlimited funds to buy one entire tack set for your horse, what is he/she wearing?
Custom Frank Baines dressage saddle with blue piping and short flaps and quilting on the cantle, PS of Sweden saddle pad, Stubben Equi-soft dressage girth, white Majyk dressage boots, white Eskadron bell boots, PS of Sweden Flying Change bridle, NS Verdinbend bit, bold style browband from PS of Sweden

19. How many blankets do you have? When do you blanket?
Ha ha ha ha, I have a horse that's body clipped in NH that lives out 24/7.  Rain sheet, medium turn out, heavy turn out, neck rug, heavy neck rug, Irish knit, square cooler, Baker sheet, Baker blanket, Baker rain sheet, Baker show rain sheet, Baker cooler, stable blanket (100g used as under layer for turn outs), wool quarter sheet.

20. What is your horse’s favorite treat? Favorite place to be scratched?
German Horse Muffin.  We call them crack cookies for a reason.  Those actually got him trained to stand for his Adequan shots rather than trying to flatten everyone in the area.  The best scratching spot right now is his whole body, the bugs are bad.  His ears are his favorite spot always, year round, every day.

21. Something about your barn that drives you crazy?
Why is the round pen still up in the middle of my large arena??!!

22. Roached manes, pulled manes, or long flowing manes?
Whatever works for the horse.  I usually go for pulled manes or trimmed if their mane is naturally thinner, but with a full double mane like Theo's, going long has worked much better.  He's happier, I'm happier, and he looks awesome.

23. Can you handle a buck or a rear better?
I can do both, but rearing freaks me out more.  I've had two horses flip over with me, I've got reasons to not like it.

24. I would never buy a horse who ___________________?
Actually tried to hurt the rider.  I've met a few in my life and they are an absolute no.  I won't even handle them.

25. Favorite facial marking?
Star plus snip.  Always been my favorite.