Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Jumping evidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 18, 2019

Tack sucks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 17, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Embrace the naughty

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

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

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

Yup, feeling like this again

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

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

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

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

Face of a serious business dressage horse

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

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

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

Now it's time to embrace the naughty.

Monday, November 11, 2019

All rounder

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

Media is pending so have an adorable picture of my dog

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

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

Just a smidge athletic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Jock itch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 1, 2019

Change is in the air

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

Lots of walking which was enough to make him sweaty

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

Very spooky weather, Theo was concerned

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

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

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

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

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

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