Sunday, July 28, 2019

Repair work

I'm extremely grateful that when I had to suddenly disappear, Theo was cared for.  It's why I stick with full board.  If something happens in my life, I know my horse has food, water, shelter, and eyes on him.  When I let Trainer A know that I'd be out for awhile, she picked up some extra rides on the beast.  That certainly helped me relax since my horse was being groomed and ridden.

When I got back, Theo was rather cranky.  He just wasn't as relaxed in the aisle or under saddle.  It took double the ear rubs and sweet talking to get him to relax and engage with me.  It was weird, like visiting past Theo when it took conscious effort to get him to come out of his shell and engage.  Taking the time to completely brush his tail out, condition his summer coat, rebraid his mane, and scrub out his ears got his reactions back to what I expected.

Why did I think letting his tail go untrimmed was a good idea?  It's twice as wide at the top now.

During his regular massage, we discovered that Theo has been clenching his jaw which is not something he usually does.  His face massage is usually a formality, something he enjoys because he likes having his face rubbed and not because he has tight muscles.  Yesterday he reacted sharply to having his jaw manipulated and it startled us both so much he almost hit me in the face with his nose.  I was expecting him to sink down and make funny faces, not snap back and away.  His massage therapist kept at it and worked until he was chewing and making faces again, but it was very odd.  Combined with his locked up poll, he appears to have a lot of rage stored away.

Our best guess is that he locked Trainer A out from his nose to his tail, particularly on the right.  After his massage, there was much yawning and a softer eye.  I'd already ridden him and worked on getting him back up in front of my leg.  I knew he'd locked my leg out, but I didn't realize just how much he'd locked out the bit.  I was going long and low for much of my ride to get his topline back on board with the program.

He's not spoiled, I have no idea why everyone says that

What the heck happened while I was out?

I know they had a fight but I'm starting to think the fight was the end of a multi-day escalation.  Theo will usually give someone a couple of warnings before he gets to the point of a real fight.  Trainer A doesn't take a warning the way I do.  I back off and change tracks when I get a warning behavior.  Trainer A tends to correct.  This is part of the reason why I bought Theo while she avoided riding him while he was a school horse, their personalities clash.  Not a problem once a week, but with multiple rides in a row, it apparently came to a head.  She said one tough ride, I suspect it was a build up over several rides whether or not she was aware of the building storm.

After four days of work, a massage, hours of grooming, and a whole bag of cookies, I got my pony back.  He came up in the bridle and offered some hard work.  I knew he was back when I had to say 'easy killer' because he was surging against the bridle in the walk.  We picked up the canter, did a little half pass, changed direction, repeated.  It's only quarter line to center line, not at all steep, but he's getting more comfortable with the idea.  Considering how long it took to get the idea of leg yield into his head, I'm not surprised that it's taking a long time to get him to comprehend going lateral in the canter.

He's so much fun to ride when he's in the game.  He's my bouncy ball that really gets into his work when he finds it mentally challenging and he knows he's going to get a reward.

Hard working pony that knows cookies are incoming

Tomorrow will probably be a jumping day to put a bow on our return to business as usual.  I want to make sure his brain is back before he gets a day off. 

I also have to think about what my plan is for when I travel in the future.  If he can no longer work with Trainer A, what's the plan?  Who can ride him?  Really, not a lot of people unless they're supervised.  When he's good, he's very very good but when he's bad?  Holy crap clear the ring.  Most of my friends don't have the skill set to manage naughty Theo or pick up the warning signs that there's a problem coming.  I hate giving him time off but I might not have much of a choice.   

I have somehow ended up with a one person horse.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Taking it easy

The world keeps turning even when you're sick.  I offered a friend a ride to a schooling jumper show back before all of my health stuff happened and I didn't want to back out.  Ratbag pony needs miles and a local outing with cross rails isn't something to be missed.  Twenty minutes in a trailer barely counts as a trip.

On the flip side, I really didn't feel up to jumping around at 2'6" or actually competing.

I messaged the show secretary and got moved to the 2' division and entered as 'not to be judged'.  Popping around a 2' course with no competition pressure?  Yeah, that sounded a bit more my speed.  Theo needed to go on the trailer to keep Ratbag pony company so I might as well jump something.

Ratbag pony went first and did a good job being brave to his crossrails for his very first jumping outing.  There was much wiggling and looking but he didn't stop or refuse.  A couple of them I wasn't sure just how he was getting his butt over the fence with all four legs going in different directions, but he managed it.  His owner was very happy with his performance and with each jump he was visibly getting more confident and sure of himself.  By the end of his second course, he was starting to actually hop over and land cantering with his ears pricked. 

Ratbag is looking really good these days, he's loving single owner life and proving to be a really fun horse to show.  Look at him tied at the trailer!

After I finished cheering and being supportive, I warmed Theo up briefly.  The sun was already getting to me so I kept the warm up brief and basic.  My first course featured two bucks where my beloved pony informed me that I needed to get out of his face and quit riding backwards.  He can only babysit so much!  They were fair and not at all malicious so I let go of his face and let him carry me more.  In my second course he was much happier and cruised around with a relaxed stride.  It's so basic for him, he didn't really need me for much other than picking out fences.

During the roll back turn between fences 10 and 11 on my second course, I had a moment of 'whoa, not feeling good' so I was very happy to go straight from fence 11 to the gate and dismount.  I sat in the shade with some water and let my horse stuff his face with clover. 

My babysitter

No regrets on my outing.  Ratbag needed those miles and it was absolutely perfect for him.  22 fences in very short order so he really got a feel for what his job is.  Theo didn't really get anything out of this other than a change of pace.  He was my babysitter, keeping me safe when I was at about 70% of my usual self.  Enough for me to know but not enough for most people to notice.  I definitely got some questions on why I was jumping little and unjudged.  I look fine, but I'm still sick and I'm taking it easy just like I'm supposed to.

Thank goodness for ponies that still know how to pack when mom needs a hand.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Hello, beautiful

My follow up appointment got me all green lights but orders to take it easy.  I smiled and said 'oh, so I can go to my show on Friday?'.  The doctor looked me up and down slowly and asked 'are you a trainer?'.  So it appears she's dealt with horse people before.  Hee hee.  I assured her I'm an amateur and that it was just a schooling show where I'm giving a friend a ride.  The official answer is that I am not in any danger of hurting myself by getting back to work, but I needed to take it easy.  The antibiotics were doing their job and I was feeling much better, but I'm still sick.  I still get tired much easier than I'm used to and I need to give my body a fighting chance to finish off this infection.  I agreed to take it easy and my doctor rolled her eyes.  I don't think she believed me.

On Wednesday I stopped off to groom my pony.  I was being good!  I just wanted to go to the barn and see the beast.  I figured I would reset his pasture braids and get his tail brushed out.  Trainer A mentioned that he'd been a bit of a loon for his ride that day so I was NOT to ride him until she'd had at least one more ride on him.  Fine, fine.

I got to spend an hour grooming and fussing over him.  A lot of that was getting his tail untangled.  What a mess.

But he looks so innocent!

Tonight I got to tack up and head to the arena.  My lower back is starting to forgive me for the lumbar puncture but I didn't want to push my luck.  I just wanted a nice twenty to thirty minute ride to test drive my body and see how it was doing.  Trainer A was having a hell of a day with kids popping off left and right.  When she saw Theo, she pointed at him and said 'and then there was that'. 

Apparently they had a tough ride today.  He was giving her the hoof instead of going forward and, well, things escalated.  That explained why Theo was not at all interested in coming out to play today.  I spent the first ten minutes doing walk work with lots of pats and cookies to change his ear set and get him back on board.  I was relieved to find my lower back soreness had zero effect on my ability to sit.  With lots of encouragement and cookies, Theo shook off his bad mood and started to engage for me.  It'll take a couple more rides for him to settle back in to our groove. 

Don't worry, papi, mom is home and we're going back to work.

Sunday, July 21, 2019


Instead of going to my horse show, I took a trip to ER.  Again.  This is not a trend I'm enjoying.

On Wednesday my fever started.  Thursday the headache started.  By Friday my headache was bad enough to make me feel frantic and my neck was joining the party.  I couldn't find a comfortable position, my head was throbbing, and the fever kept coming and going.  Advil wasn't helping at all.  I hit 102.5* at one point.  Husband couldn't tell if I was woozy from fever, distracted by pain, or possibly more confused than usual.  Friday night I called Teladoc to get some advice.

Considering my symptoms?  No one should be shocked that I was directed to go to ER.  I wanted to go to urgent care but she said that with my symptoms, they'd just redirect me to the hospital since they wouldn't have the machines needed for imaging.  I was at least in for a CT scan when I present with a bad headache, a painful neck, and a fever of 102.5.  She was suspicious I had something tick borne, but since she'd worked in ER, she knew urgent care would just bounce me.  I hadn't spotted a rash but hoped she was right.

My devoted nurse who would like me to get better faster so we can get back to walkies time

I told my poor husband that we were off for ER and we drove the 40 minutes to the closest hospital that I will accept.  Upside to working in my industry, I know what hospitals to avoid.

We hit the dead zone between daytime activity and the late night rush so we were in a room within ten minutes and saw a doctor within 20.  With my symptoms, yeah, she had to rule out viral meningitis though with my activities and location Lyme was on the list.  A late bleed from my hit to the head in June also came up as a possibility so a CT scan was going to be at the front of my tests.  Viral meningitis is contagious so everyone started sporting masks around me and there's only one way to have a definitive diagnosis.  Lumbar puncture.  At this point in the conversation I started hyperventilating and the very kind doctor ordered up some Ativan for me so I could get through the round of testing she was about to order up.  1mg, I'm such a lightweight.

CT Scan, a gazillion blood tests (including a full tick panel), and a lumbar puncture.  Thank goodness for the anti-anxiety medication or I don't think I could have done it.  So many needles.  I had two IV set ups and then they had to take a separate blood draw because my blood wasn't cooperating.  The good news is that my blood work came back in good shape and my central nervous system is fine.  I even got told my brain is normal!  Spotted a bit of sinusitis but that's pretty normal for me.  No damage done by the incident in June.

The doctor did spot something while examining me and asked me about it.  My Atavin addled brain didn't think a thing of it.  She asked about a mark on my ribs.  I said 'oh, I wore a dress that's a hair too small on Tuesday and it gave me a rub'.  My husband had asked me about it on Wednesday while he was helping me look for a rash.  It was just a little red spot right under the line of my bra.

I was sent home with a prescription for doxy which seemed a bit odd to me since my Lyme tests weren't completed yet.  And then I caught a glimpse in the mirror of my ribs.

SON OF A BITCH.  You may not be able to see it in the photos, but it is an absolutely classic circular rash with a little pink bump from the bite in the center.  It's a good 10" across now.  It blew up after the chills and fevers started (and I couldn't really turn my head to look in a mirror), so the good news is that I'm on doxy within a week of the party getting started.  My doctor rather forcefully 'suggested' a doctor for my follow up.  My doctor knew what I had by the time I left but we have to wait for the official results of the cultures that are still cooking.  But she was able to clear me of viral meningitis and everyone got to take their masks back off.

Lumbar puncture was not fun (0/10, would not recommend). 

It was a long night of testing and waiting.  They gave me a hit of a very strong NSAID to get my headache under control once my CT scan came back normal.  I also got a little (like half dose) of Dilaudid to take the pain down quickly and get me comfortable.  I never accept narcotics so I was in some real pain to allow the half dose (I insisted on not having the full dose).  After that, I mostly slept.  When I was woken up, it was with discharge papers because they were done running all their tests on me.  I didn't have an official diagnosis, but I did have my prescription, my recommended follow up, and a very strong suspicion.

Since I've been cleared of anything contagious, I'm free to leave the house now.  The doxy is unpleasant like all antibiotics but I'm managing to keep it down.  I'm using the nurse recommended dosage and schedule of Advil to manage my headache and a neck support pillow to stop the cycle of pain in my neck.  I stole my husband's seat so I can watch TV when my head/neck are freaking out and I need to hold quite still.  The expectation is that the symptoms will start to abate pretty quickly now that I've started the doxy.  Early treatment is crucial so my prognosis is good.

I'm still falling asleep multiple times per day.  It's almost like my body's working very hard on something.  My lower back is still displeased about being stuck with a needle.  I haven't been out to see Theo and I'm not sure when I'll get out there.  Definitely not until after the heat breaks, I don't need any more rounds of fevers.  I hated missing today's show, but it turned out to be the best call.  I didn't exactly pick up a random summer flu.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

That was easy

I was all anxious about whether or not to show in the extreme heat but it appears I might not get a choice in the matter.

I've had sore muscles on and off since Saturday.  I was blaming my position work in the dressage saddle and Theo's way too big trot now that all his joints have been juiced up.  It was mostly in my hips which is typical, a little in my knees  And then my back started to get into it.  And my shoulder.  Really, body?  Every little issue decided to wake up and demand attention at the same time.  I'm used to this but it struck me as odd that I had achey abs even when I hadn't ridden in two days.

Last night I spiked a fever for who knows what reason.  No cough, no sneezing, just a fever.  And I'm not someone that gets fevers very often, I didn't even realize what was going on until my husband walked into the living room and found me under a throw blanket.

Him:  What are you doing?

Me:  I was shivering, it's cold.

Him:  It's 78* in here.

Me:  Oh.

Him:  That's not normal.

Me:  Oh.

My human thermometer was dead since neither of us have needed it since . . . last decade?  So we got creative.  First I tried the digital meat thermometer I use for cooking.  That told me 103* and I was certain I was going to die.  I run cold and I've never seen a high fever.  Cue much eye rolling from the husband as he rummaged up the laser gun temperature reader thing he uses for brewing.  Industry specs, very accurate.  According to his reading of my ear, 101.1*.  Okay, good, probably safe to go to bed and rest.  By that point I was also picking up a headache but who knows if that's related, due to my panic, or because I was dozing in my recliner with terrible support.

Or my restaurant poisoned me.  I felt fine at dinner.  Just sayin' . . .

I could touch my chin to my chest with ease so I decided it probably wasn't meningitis swelling my brain.  No nausea, either.  Anxiety is fun for these situations.  I took two Alleve and went to bed.  I forced myself to not bundle up too much in the 70* bedroom though it felt like the arctic.  By midnight, I had all blankets off the bed (my poor husband) and was having fever dreams.  About 3am I woke up covered in sweat.  This morning at 7:30 my fever was gone.

I'm still not coughing or sneezing or anything.  I have a bit of a headache that feels like a dehydration headache so I'm forcing fluids.  As a precaution, I'm missing my work team's fun outing today so I don't get our nurses sick.  I'm very disappointed, especially when I mostly feel fine!  Tired due to really awful sleep, a bit of a headache, but totally ready to go out to a brewery.  But one of the nurses is also doing home care for her mother and fevers are no joke.  I will keep my germs at home.  I guess some viruses start with a fever and then the rest of the party shows up later.

ETA:  And then I fell asleep for an hour after writing that so apparently I'm not fine, I'm stubborn.
ETAA:  And then my fever came back so I'm apparently still sick.

So a show in the high heat and humidity probably isn't going to be an option with whatever the hell this is.  Still have sore muscles though I haven't ridden in four days, so that's starting to register as odd.  Husband is in charge of notifying me if I start acting feverish again because I, apparently, don't notice.  I let my Alleve run out with no return of the fever, but who knows.  Trainer A is exercising Theo for me today since it's going to be in the 70's and he could use a hard school while we can get it. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

To show or not to show

I spent the last week getting all of the maintenance done on my horse.  He's feeling good, being sassy, and we've got a show on Saturday.  All lights are green.

Then I see this.

Seriously??!!  There's a reason I live in New Hampshire!  And that's the actual temp, the heat index will for sure be over 100*.  From experience, Theo will be panting and dripping sweat just from existing.

My ride times are at 10am and 10:30am so it won't be 100* yet, but it will probably be 90*.  It's just two dressage tests but come on, that kind of heat is not something Theo does well with. 

Now I have to consider whether or not I scratch.  I've got good ride times so it's right on the line of being reasonable but do I want to try to trailer in those conditions?  I'm so torn!  I don't want to throw away entry money but it's going to be so hot and miserable.

I'll be debating on this all week.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Western dressage vs traditional dressage

I get asked this a lot, especially at shows when I mention that I do both.  Sometimes even in the same weekend.  What's the difference between western dressage and traditional dressage?

Here's the perspective of one rider that started with traditional dressage and then stumbled onto western dressage.

Our western dressage debut in 2018

Tack, obviously.  That freaking 35 pound saddle is a dead giveaway as to what style I'm working on.  Horns are not required on the saddle but western style fenders are.  There's also very different rules regarding bits.  My loose ring snaffle is allowed for both disciplines, but a curb is allowed at all levels in western dressage.  Ports of up to 3.5" are allowed as are bitless bridles, bosals, and spade bits.  You see quite a variety of rigs, though the hands down most common is a small Myler curb bit.  Even Theo owns one.  For some riders having more bitting options is a reason to go western but I've heard rumor that the rules will change to snaffles only at the lower levels in the future.

Short shank Myler bit, good occasional reminder when pony decides he wants to hang on my defective shoulder

Two hands are allowed at all levels and with all bits, but one hand is also allowed with a curb bit.  Two reins (a bit and a bosalita) is also allowed and I'm tempted to train Theo to a bosal with the goal of going two rein.  Probably this winter to keep us from going crazy in the indoor.  One day, in the distant future, I want to ride a test one handed.  It's a good goal to work toward.

The movements are a bit different between the two disciplines.  Turn on the forehand is seen in competition starting at Level 1 and keeps showing up right through Level 4.  Turn on the haunch is a stationary movement and goes up to 360 degrees.  Want to work on your horse's balance and attention?  Do a 360 degree turn on the forehand right into a 360 degree pivot on the haunches.  There are no mediums or extensions, just lengthening of stride in jog or lope.  Not all tests have lengthens or might only lengthen one gait.  A lot of movements hint at reining patterns.  No flying changes until Level 4, but you also get half pirouettes and a canter entrance at that level so it's a big jump from Level 3.  There's more halts in general and a lot more reinback, including reinback on centerline.  Yikes.

Level 4 Test 4, currently the highest level test

You can talk to your horse and cluck at them, which I love.

Jog and lope are, in reality, not that big of a change from trot and canter.  Especially with the collected gaits, I change very little between the two rings.  The neck still lifts, the hocks step under and take more weight, all of that.  I turn the dial up more for the traditional dressage ring so that he shows a bigger trot and canter.  In western dressage, Theo's natural collected gaits are quite good and I let him just do his thing.  Not having to turn the dial up keeps him in happy, floppy eared pony land and keeps our harmony score up.  It's most definitely not western pleasure gaits but don't expect to get great scores just because of big gaits.  If it doesn't look easy to ride, looks tense, or feels frantic, it's not going to score well.  Think about the kind of gaits you'd want to live with if you needed to spend hours in the saddle or the gaits you see in ranch pleasure classes.  You want to get there in a timely fashion, but it needs to be something you can live with all day.  Your horse also needs to look like they can keep it up for awhile. 

Doing a good job of looking very chill

The biggest difference in my experience is in the expectations and the scoring.  The emphasis is on a horse that looks obedient, attentive, and easy to ride.  Light contact, light leg, harmonious picture.  Heavy contact is a big no no.  Instead of a submission score, it's a harmony score with a coefficient of 2.  Harmony is usually our best mark.  When the judge says your horse looks like a blast to ride, you know you just got a good score.  You're being scored on how easily and smoothly you as a team complete the test.  Your goal is to make your horse look like a super fun, easy ride that the judge wants to kidnap for their own barn. 

Not really all that different

In traditional dressage, I get hit a lot for Theo not having big enough gaits or enough energy.  Those requirements change in western dressage.  Your horse must be forward thinking but not at the expense of rideability.  Your horse needs to be uphill in collection but it can't look tense.  I still get 'needs more ground cover' in my lengthens, so that doesn't change.  A horse that doesn't halt well or jigs is going to have a hard time.  Halts are everything in western dressage since you're doing it all.  the.  time.  Also straight lines away from the rail and down centerline.  The Level 3 Test 4 with the canter-halt-turn on haunches-canter sequence is brutal if your horse drifts.  Spoiler:  Theo drifts.

This is the old Level 3 Test 4 but you get the idea, scored 76.7%.  This was also our judge at our last show

Western dressage is getting more popular.  It seems to hit that niche for riders that find traditional dressage to be out of reach for them or their horse but still want to focus on the precision that the sandbox requires.  Several of the more nervous ladies I know feel much more comfortable presenting at the jog and lope in a western saddle.  Less emphasis on 'get them more forward' and more saddle for them to grab on.  Showing in jeans?  Sign them up!  And the pretty saddle blankets.  They own QHs and paints because that type of mind makes them comfortable.  Now they have a chance to show them in a venue where they feel comfortable and those wonderful minds are rewarded. 

For Theo, western dressage is the better fit.  It matches his personality and natural abilities.  We will still show traditional dressage because, I want that dang Bronze.  I also find that the traditional dressage training pushes us to improve his power and forward thinking so my western dressage tests look easier and easier. 

If you've got access to a western saddle and there's a western dressage show, it's fun to try.  Some horses do very well with the change in emphasis.  It's new movements for a seasoned competitor to learn and you get to show in jeans.  Seriously, showing in jeans is amazing.  White breeches are dumb, give me dark wash jeans any day.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

High maintenance

Theo and I are on break and that means he needs to get some maintenance done.

Sleeping off some tranq

The dentist was out yesterday and Theo got floated.  Interestingly, for the first time since I got him, I was told that he had some issues.  He had lots of sharp edges and I was told that as he moves up the levels, he'll need to be floated more often.  Like twice a year now and apparently one Grand Prix dressage horse gets done four times a year.

Has anyone else heard that?  Theo was a couple months over due so the sharp edges aren't shocking, but is this yet another thing that will need more care as he works harder?  And if so, why?  I'm just befuddled that upper level dressage horses would wear their teeth in such a different way that they need to be floated more often.  Unless they're grinding their teeth during work, but that's a whole other thing.  If Theo's grinding his teeth, we've got a training problem.

Today was hocks and stifles.  I decided to hang on to the SI injection and see what the stifles get us.  When we did hocks, the left lead canter straightened right up.  If the flat tire moments and reluctance to sit in the canter are fixed up with the stifles, then I know where the problem is.  If the stifle is making him compensate, that may be why his SI is out about once a quarter.  The chiro is happy with his improvement with regular massage, so we'll just do hocks and stifles today.

The vet is recommending I do the SI either way to help stave off future issues and I think that's what's going to happen.  Theo is a show pony and that means a lot of special care and maintenance to support him while he does hard work.  I've still got a Bronze to earn, we've got a lot of work to do.

He's now stuck in a stall until Saturday, gods help us all.  Saturday is also a massage but he'll get a couple hours in turn out before that happens.  I like the massage therapist and want her to come back.  Next week is a farrier visit.  By the time we go out and show on the 20th, he'll be feeling like a whole new pony.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Performing under pressure

Mad man with a gas can.  Our clinician smiled quite broadly when I called him that, so I feel it's accurate.  For the second year in a row, Theo went to a clinic for mounted police style despooking.  Last year I had no idea what I was walking into.  This year, I was prepared.

This year's class out in the 90* heat, poor Theo is the big black horse third from the left

Theo rocked it.  Seriously rocked it.  I put more pressure on him this year, asking him to walk through things quicker and offering him as the lead horse more often.  Most of his spooks were brief and he would walk forward through the obstacle once he got a chance to look at it. I may have loudly announced 'I will sell you for a plug nickel' when he stopped at a board on the ground.  He believed me and promptly walked forward.

He let several horses graft onto his tail for comfort as he marched through.  Pool noodles, moving bridges, tarps on arches, he can manage all of that.  He even handled the smoke bomb pretty well.  He didn't like it, but he spiraled in as needed and walked through it so long as there weren't horses spinning in front of him.

Fire is the one thing that makes him go 'NOPE, exit stage left'.  Two times he completely noped out and went flying across the ring.  Only when it's a big fire, though.  Once it's under a foot tall, he'll go through it calmly.  When it's first lit?  He's having none of it.  That first cloud of smoke billowing up and the flames jumping up makes him want to run.  We got it down to about 30 seconds from lighting to him being okay with going through but he couldn't be the first horse at any point.  It was just too much for him.  He is really sensitive about things moving at his feet.

He understands his job and he will bravely push through once he understands.  He went so far as to shoulder check a hesitating horse out of his way when he decided that he was just going to go through and get it over with.  I felt bad but he really wasn't letting me have an opinion.  He was supposed to be on the other side and dang it, he was getting this over with and I was coming with him.  He's such an odd little duck sometimes.

While working through multiple obstacles with fire, he went on the contact, lifted his shoulders, and really worked through it.  He is a horse that gets confidence from his rider and that includes going into a working frame.  Someone called for me to loosen my reins and I replied 'I can't!'.  Theo was on the contact like when we do collected work and if I let go in that moment, he would have fallen on his face.  Smarty pants had his hocks way under him as he stepped through the pool noodles and fire.  I wasn't pulling, he was pushing.  As a dressage rider, he felt amazing.  Clearly impulsion really does come from the scary end of the arena.  Maybe I can hire someone to light fires around the arena during my tests . . .

Leading a drill with a fellow western dressage competitor, dressage horses are good at this stuff

Aside from escaping from his stall and the round pen theatrics, he was a model citizen.  I couldn't ask for more.  He stared down a drone, a truck with sirens and lights going, smoke, fire, a barking German Shepherd (also offered to teach the young dog a lesson about getting too close to a horse's hooves), and even the thunderstorm that rolled through.

As a repeat student, it wasn't about learning new skills this time.  It was more of a refresher.  Most of the skills I used were the same skills I used to get around the arena at our shows this spring.  It's been awhile since Theo was faced with something truly terrifying that he needed to push through, not skirt around.  It's important we both remember the procedure and the rules for those occasions.  It's even more important that we remember that we can.

We walked through fire.  We're a bad ass dressage team.

Saturday, July 6, 2019


I've spent all weekend working on getting Theo to accept a certain level of pressure and chaos.  We all know that shows are chaos, especially in the warm up ring.  Practicing trying to hold to a line while horses spin and spook is great practice and helps him manage his impulses.

But it's not absolute.  Theo's not a robot, he's a living, breathing, feeling creature.  He's got a personality and history that combines to make him unique.  What blows one horse's mind won't even ruffle his feathers.  He'll lose his marbles over things other horses don't notice.  All horses are like this.  Exposure and training can minimize unwanted responses but the base personality is always going to be there.  Your sound sensitive horse will always be sound sensitive, they'll just be better at coping with the impulse.

Shoulder in right in our Level 2 test at Mount Holyoke

Theo will always be a high energy horse.  There's no way around that.  He will always be rather intense.  He will always have the potential to boil over when confined and that potential will increase the longer he's confined.  He's been like this as long as anyone's known him.  I used to think it was lack of experience but I was flipping through his history and he's got a lot of miles.  Not just shows but clinics, stall rest, general outings.  There's no improvement over time.  If anything, it's getting worse as he gets stronger. 

Is it fair to ask this high energy, intense horse to sit in a stall for 20 hours for multiple days in a row at a show so I can get a ribbon that he doesn't even understand? 

Free walk

Theo was being well behaved today, but he has tells for when he's over charged.  When I groomed him, his skin shivered.  He reacted to sounds that he usually ignores.  I know what it feels like to be desperate to move.  When I'm in my cube at the office and I feel like my skin is crawling because I need to get up and do something, anything.  Theo reminds me of that.  He's doing everything I tell him to but he's distracted and twitchy.  I can't risk an overreactive horse in a crowded ring of spinning horses.  I put him in the round pen and he completely lost his mind bucking and bolting for ten minutes.  Afterward, he was calm again.  In the clinic he successfully coped with things like pushing through pool noodles, facing a police siren, and walking over fire.  He accepted horses blundering into him or following him so closely they were touching his tail.

I know I'll have to work him in the round pen again tomorrow and that it will be more than 10 minutes.  Giving him flip out time appears to be the key to keeping him manageable when he's in a stall, but it can't be pleasant to feel trapped and frustrated for hours and then blowing your lid.

He was so good for day one, no need to lunge.  He was so good at our jumper show and our western dressage show.  He can do one days without real stress or problems.  He understands.  He goes to a ring, he does his job, he goes home to his field.  It's the overnight shows that bring out all of the problems.  This year the western dressage championships are in New York, a five hour trip. It's a two day show.  I would, as always, be showing alone which means I'd be managing Theo's issues on my own.  Theo wouldn't enjoy going for three days, two nights without turn out.  By the time the actual championship classes came around, his skin would be shivering and he'd be jerking away from noises.  I'll have to lunge him down with him bucking and carrying on in order to show him.  Is it fair to ask him to compete like that?

10m turn left

I don't think it is.  It's a job, I get that, but I don't want him to do a job he hates.  I put a lot of effort into finding a job for him that he likes.  Theo HATES being in a stall.  It's a strong word but it fits.  He becomes violent, he does whatever he can to get out, and he gets worse the longer he's in a stall.  He managed to get out of his stall during the night at his bombproofing clinic and it's a bit of a wake up call that his impulses are going to get him hurt.  He was loose for hours and no one knew, the staff found him at breakfast.  I heard him battering at his door today, trying to figure out how to get out with it double locked to keep him in.  They had to add hardware to the door to stop his escapes.  I did think bringing him in several nights in a row at home would help him learn to cope but then he hurt my farrier and I sent him out to his field before he could make another bad decision.

We adapt our goals for our horse's physical limitations.  I think I need to adapt for Theo's mental limitation.  He's not some four year old that needs more miles, he's fifteen.  I think I need to step away from things like trips to Saugerties with four days of competition.  I need to understand that Theo isn't wired in a way to easily cope with confinement.  Every other horse I've shown has coped with being in a stall for a couple nights and do better as the show progresses.  Allen was a high energy horse but he loved horse shows.  He got extra attention and plenty of exercise.  I've never run into a horse that reacts like Theo.  Some horses hate showing, but the actual test is when Theo is at his best.  It's everything else he can't handle.

Maybe if I was showing with a barn I could make it work.  Have someone give him a lunge while I clean his stall, take him for a hack with friends in the morning, have a trainer school him, anything to burn that energy off of him.  Showing by myself, I get overwhelmed trying to manage him.  I've got a scar on my scalp to remind me of what happens when I'm exhausted and he's explosive.

It's hard since I'm so competitive, but I'm going to skip both of my championships.  I can't think of any scenario where I go to these solo and either of us have a good time.  I'll do some more local one day shows instead.  I can focus on my Second level scores rather than chasing tri-colors in New York.  It's a sucky decision for me.  I've got Theo to the point that Worlds and Nationals are legitimate possibilities, but it's not the right decision for him.

On the bright side, it means I won't need to stick to my ramen lifestyle.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Fireworks incoming

Anyone remember the mad man with the gas can I rode with last year?

Guess where I'm going tomorrow.

Last year's class, apparently almost all of them are returning

I'm clearly insane.  Out of my gourd crazy.  This time I know exactly what I'm walking into and I signed up anyway.  Three days of despooking courtesy of a mad man with a gas can.

A few changes from last year.  Last year it was early spring and freezing.  This year it's going to be 91* for a high on day one.  That should bring energy levels down a notch but I'll be managing Theo closely so he doesn't overheat.  Paste electrolytes are packed.  In addition, the deer flies are absolutely appalling this year so having Theo in the ring for six hours will be a lesson in coping.  I'm going to put his riding fly mask on to give him a fighting chance and I bought a whole new tub of Swat.  I'd say that he needs to learn to focus but I've seen the size of the welts he gets and I've been bit by those flies before.  It really hurts.

I'm also swapping to my western gear as I now have a western saddle that I know won't roll or slip.  I think the bigger tree will help Theo since I'll be riding a lot longer than usual.  I also think the horn and cantle will help me stay on.  I'm swapping my split reins for the rubber reins off my jumping bridle since I'll be sitting about 100 spooks and spins each day.  I don't want to drop a rein by accident.

We've got a stall and I'll be using this to test some coping strategies for multi-day shows.  I know he's going to get more explosive each day, so time to see if I can get him into a rhythm.  Hand walking doesn't do it, I'm thinking a morning lunge/buck session may be what he needs.  He does settle nicely after getting to absolutely lose his mind for 20 minutes on a lunge.  Time to embrace the fact that Theo needs a daily flip out and give him a nice, safe opportunity to let all that naughty out.

Because someone hates being in prison

But the big question is:  Is it appropriate to pack a flask for this kind of clinic and, if so, what should I put in it?  I have a very nice aged tequila that would be much appreciated about the time he busts out the gas can.  Or maybe the maple liqueur.  Or just load it up with vodka since it's all about taking the edge off the rider.

Tonight there will be explosions in the sky but tomorrow the real fireworks start.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Show horse au naturale

I used to do the h/j ring so show prep was a big deal.  When I worked at a show h/j barn, show prep was an every day thing.  You can't get a dozen fancy hunters ready to show the day before and if they're campaigning?  They pretty much always need to be ready to go.  This means manes are always pulled, legs and ears are always clipped, tail is always conditioned and protected like its made of gold.  Not brushed or trimmed or banged, heaven forbid!  Though we did have to do some creative shortening on one draft cross that was always in danger of stepping on it if he backed up.

When I was showing Fiona a lot, I followed the same procedure with her.  Kept her pulled and clipped all the time.  Her tail was trimmed and banged, her mane was pulled, her fetlocks were kept neatly clean clipped, and her whiskers were shaved.  My concession to her life in New Hampshire was that her ears weren't clean clipped.  I folded them closed and got rid of the stuff that stuck out.  In short, I kept her very trimmed up and polished.  She enjoyed the process and had a stall so it worked.

Now I have Theo.  Things have changed.  I'm older, have a demanding job, and have been removed from the h/j ring for a long time.  He's also a half-yak that lives out 24/7 because he destroys stalls.  I started out with keeping him as trimmed and pulled and fussed over as everyone else.

My clipped and braided to within an inch of his life pony.

This is no longer how we do.

When I met Theo, his mane was thick but not unusually so.  After four years of careful nutrition and care, Theo now grows a full double mane.  Keeping that in shape for standard braids is awful.  Theo hates having his mane pulled, I hate pulling it, and it's a weekly chore just to keep up.  I have to pull so much we end up with bald spots under his mane and when they start to grow back in?  My braids become an epic nightmare.

My braids are so, so bad at this show

Combine this with the fact that he lives out 24/7  in New Hampshire and I've had to make some changes.  I no longer pull or shorten Theo's mane at all.  He does have a thin bridle path to help keep his bridle on his face.  I don't trim the base of his tail.  I do bang it because it gets crazy long, but otherwise let it do it's own thing and get as big as it wants.  I leave the guard hairs on his belly and under his jowl (he needs those!).  I don't trim his whiskers at all.  I don't use clippers on his ears or his ankles.  I go in with scissors to get rid of the worst of the owl tufts and make sure that his ankles actually have some shape but that's it.  His ankles need the protection from rain, mud, and bugs.

I've discovered that he looks just fine.

The real problem here is that my boots are filthy from lunging him right before going in

He's not showing in hand, the judge is stuck in a booth and the closest we get is something like 15 feet.  Everyone's too busy staring at his dapples to worry about if his ankles are a bit hairy.  Anything that adds volume to his tail game is going to get rave reviews.  The scalloped style braids look just as nice and add a bit of height to his neck which is an added bonus.

I spend a lot less time fussing and doing stuff he'd really rather I not do.  His mane is kept in pasture braids and taken down once a week to be conditioned and reset.  His monster tail gets a full brush out once a week. 

 His casual at home look

My show prep is now a quick bath and about five minutes with the scissors.  It still takes me 30 minutes to fully wash his tail but that's just how life with the best tail in the region goes.  It takes me 20 - 25 minutes to braid him and I do it the morning of the show.  The forelock is tucked away under an earnet and boom, he looks quite civilized.

In western dressage, we let it all run wild and free.

Snapped this while he was being demo pony for training a ring steward

It's taken a lot of getting used to, I still feel like I'm not prepared enough.  Like I'm not a good enough mom because his ears are a bit fluffy and his fetlocks don't look as thin because there's hair on the back.  I still worry that I'm not presenting him appropriately.  But I'm also realizing I'm the only one that notices.  The judges have enough time to note braided mane, shiny coat, and a tail that doesn't quit.  They aren't checking to see how well clipped his ears are especially when I usually show in an earnet.

I don't know if I'd let another horse be quite as au naturale, I'm too set in my ways.  Theo's a special case and really takes after his Canadian half.  All the Cheval Canadians show in natural manes and tails, so he blends right in.  I've given up on pretending he's anything other than what he is.  He's my unique, PITA, feral wannabe stud with really fantastic hair.