Monday, August 29, 2022

Possessed by demons

 Not Theo this time.  Just me.  More specifically, my hands.  This is not a new phenomenon.

Since I spent two years out of the saddle, a lot of my muscle faded to zilch.  This is kind of a good thing since it means I'm now rebuilding under supervision with a well educated horse.  All those weird habits I picked up due to survival or Theo not being at all on the aids?  We're removing them one by one.  I'm also slightly less warped through my body due to having very consistent chiro and some PT.  Trainer Z is happy to see my lower back strengthening and she no longer has to yell for me to sit up or sit back.  I don't collapse to the left the way I used to.  It feels natural to have Theo step up under the saddle and to sit on his hind end.  He's got enough forward now that I'm not squeezing and kicking every step just to maintain.  Go us.

I also got moved into rowels.  That helps.

F your rowels, mom

But then there are my hands.  Especially my right hand.  It just goes rogue some times.  We're going along, things are fine, and then something tenses or gets off balance and my hand will go up near my shoulder.  And Trainer Z is like 'hand!' and I look down like 'wtf when did you get there?  and why??!!'.  No one knows.  It's like there's a second brain in my right wrist that just does whatever it wants.  Counter canter is currently a reliable trigger for that hand going bonkers.  Need to set up a counter bend before I start the loop which does tend to make Theo shorten his neck.  The canter is now so calm and balanced that I should be able to just deal with him getting a bit short and have a lovely movement.  

I look down and my hand is in a different zip code and Theo has no idea what way I want his body.  Cue tension and collapse of the canter.  Whhhhhy.

Right now, in an attempt to get my elbows connected, rogue hand under control, and everything in a straight, clear communication line, I am riding with my thumbs turned out.  Like a lot.  It looks weird but its retraining my arms to get in and form a straight line with the bit.  

Proof that I can take flattering pictures of my long suffering horse

Words have changed a lot.  I now compress my horse rather than always goosing him up to go forward.  I know when I've got collection because it feels like he could go in absolutely any direction and I should sit very still because he WILL go any direction if I shift.  He keeps getting stronger and maintaining the frame and balance is no longer a debate.  If I set him up correctly, he coils like a spring.  It's just making a lot of things very different.  Forward tendency in the halt used to be something I snorted about.  Theo?  Forward into a halt?  Never.  Now he can and now I have to ride him that way.

The sport does keep us all humble.  Theo and I used to get 8's for our halts.  Guess what we did for about 15 minutes in my last lesson?  Learn how to ask for a halt correctly.  It improves the trot depart dramatically of course.  I've got to be ready for the depart now so I don't loose my balance when he bounces up into his depart.  

I'll take it as an achievement if Theo manages to trot me out of the saddle because his back is up that much.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022


I'm really not all that educated on horse breed organizations or how warmbloods do things like inspections or manage their studbooks.  As someone that's always had mutts or random horses met along the way, that never affected my life.  And then I thought I should get my first pedigreed horse.  Since I wanted a native pony, warmblood registries still remained something I just didn't bother looking at.  And then I got Marqui.  

Yesterday I went to a Westfalen inspection to spectate as my new filly got inspected.  Her sire is approved Westfalen and the breeder wanted to have her dam approved.  There was a total of four foals, one yearling colt, one two year old filly, one 4 year old stallion, and 4 mature broodmares, all Welsh Cobs.  The breeder wanted to get them all inspected as a check of her work.  There isn't an equivalent system of inspection for performance with cobs so this is how she's chosen to measure her progress.  Apparently Westfalen has a Welsh section in their studbook and are happy to inspect pretty, sporty Welsh ponies.

It was similar to the KWPN inspection I spectated at a couple years ago.  The stallion was shown in hand and under saddle.  The younger horses were shown in hand and then turned loose for zoom zoom time.  The cobs were, for the most part, a much more chill group than the warmbloods.  The broodmares trotted around with an air of chill while their foals made like little ping pong balls.  The two year old filly carried on dramatically before being turned loose but still, not too crazy.

Kiddery Rockstar (Quillane Authentic x North Star Suzanna) showing everyone how it's done and earning an 8.2

I'm not someone that handles foals but I tried to make myself useful doing things like grooming the horses.  Marqui decided to take a lay down nap so I had to pick through her braids and get all the sawdust out.  I ended up spending an hour just grooming and cuddling with Marqui who quickly became Kiki.  No one thought I was really going to keep such an elegant name as a barn name, did they?

Bonnie and Kiki watching while I try to get all of the hay and sawdust out of curly foal tail hair

Rain came and went as horses moved in and out of the ring.  The second to last foal was on his way out when the thunder started and the rain started to get serious.  Everyone decided to wait and let the storm pass since the thunder was getting louder.  Glad we stopped.  My phone started to go nuts with alerts as my weather app let me know of local lightning strikes, severe storm warnings, and flash flood warnings.  Uh oh.

Riding ring turned swimming pool

Within 15 minutes we were all huddling for cover as the arena went under water.  Lightning struck close enough that we could smell ozone.  It was kind of terrifying as everyone made a break for the mare barn to hide in a secure structure.  On the one hand, we've been in a pretty serious drought and we needed the rain but not a whole month's worth in an hour!  4.5 inches!  Everything was under water and poor Marqui was still waiting for her turn in her stall.

All dressed up with nowhere to go

So now what?  The inspection team swapped to getting the approved foals ID'd with microchips and DNA samples while we waited for the rain to stop.  And then the power went out but thankfully there was a generator so they didn't have to work by phone flashlight.  It really was insane the storm that blew into the middle of the inspection.  I don't think even an indoor arena would have saved us, we still would have had to stop due to the lightning strikes and power going out.

We waited until the thunder was gone but it was still raining pretty hard.  They tried to get Bonnie and Marqui to trot in hand but both of them turned their nose up at going out in the rain and did their best impressions of western pleasure ponies.  So they got turned out in a half flooded sand paddock with some umbrellas for encouragement.  I didn't really get any video since it was still raining hard enough that my phone couldn't cope.  It was all weird and hectic but apparently it was enough for the inspectors to see what Marqui moves like.

Our first picture together and her first ribbon

It's a terrible picture of me but it's a great picture of Kiki.  She got an 8.5 and was high score for the inspection.  That also makes her a Premium foal.  She now has Westfalen papers as well as Welsh Pony and Cob Society of America papers.  The inspectors just loved her.  I'm not 100% sure what her papers look like to be honest since they were all being dried in the breeder's kitchen when I left.  The sudden deluge meant a mad scramble to try to protect all of the forms.  We'll catch up tomorrow when she's had a chance to rest (running an inspection site is tough) and the paperwork has had a chance to dry.  

Yes, that's Bonnie and Kiki at the end of the rainbow

So Marqui is apparently very fancy and fell asleep while I scratched her forelock.  She's sensitive and almost shy but once she's got the idea that you're a person that wants to love on her, she's quite happy for cuddles.  She seems very curious and wants to touch everything, she just wants to get back from things that are chaotic.  She handled everything from braiding to having to run in the rain with general grace.  She was quite happy to be turned loose with her friends once everything was done.  And it's the best movement videos I got of her since the rain had stopped.

The bay colt in the video was second place with an 8.3, he's being retained as a stallion prospect.  He's going to be a BIG boy, he's actually younger than Kiki.  The little black filly got a 7.7 and had her owner within 48 hours of her birth.  The breeder had a great season with these three little trouble makers. 

Marqui's going to be a lot of fun in a couple years.  Hopefully I will have professional pictures of her soon but with all the rain, these may be the best we can get.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Big girl lessons

 Two rides in one weekend again?  Goodness, at this rate, I might even make some progress!

I took zero pictures this weekend so enjoy a random picture update of Marqui

First was my clinic with Pam Goodrich.  I was a nervous wreck since I was watching Trainer Z and a Grand Prix stallion work on very detailed, carefully timed work.  It was a lot but also great to watch since she's working on keeping her horse straight the same as me!  Of course she's doing it in a passage while I'm doing it in a walk but it's still the same idea.  I told Pam that I was coming back from injury and would probably need some extra breaks but otherwise, it was just like any other clinic I've ridden in.  I even bought new breeches because there was no way I could ride in a clinic without wearing a belt.  Just NOPE.

Another beautiful picture from Theo's trip to the D4K Youth Festival

A lot of the focus was on getting Theo straight as we're both naturally asymmetrical.  Theo's a lot better now that he's being ridden by a balanced professional most days but he will always, always want to pop that left shoulder.  It's just the way he's built.  A lot of it comes down to making it so I'm not talked into picking up my inside rein.  It's inside leg to outside rein, not random chaos at the bit to kicking him because he's got nowhere to go with the leg.

We really worked his weaker right lead canter to chase down that bit of lateral movement that he'll get as you move into collection.  I worked him on a 20 meter circle while holding on to that outside rein like my life depended on it.  Don't let him talk me into a false hinge to the right as a 'bend'.  After a couple circles, I found the sweet spot where he shortened his stride behind while lifting his shoulders up and out of the way.  That last piece of his neck, right in front of the saddle, connected and all of a sudden he went light.  I thought the clinician and Trainer Z were both going to throw a party.  It was a true collected canter on the right lead.  We held it long enough for me to wrap my brain around the sensation, then walked and ended the ride on that very high note.

Theo discussing horse show life with the 27 year old GRP that handled the walk trot and lead line tests.  The GRP was a passport carrying FEI pony in his youth and probably has amazing war stories to share.

Two days later saw me in my regular lesson with Trainer Z.  I felt fine after my clinic ride so we agreed I'm ready for big girl lessons.  So sure enough, we did big girl stuff.  We worked on the connection through my elbows and keeping a straight line to the bit no matter what.  We worked on getting him into true collection in all three gaits since he's now strong enough and educated enough that it's second nature to him.  I just need to figure out how to get there.  I was introduced to his 'fun' trot which is cadenced, strong, and balanced.  It doesn't feel as big as I thought it should but it you settle at just that right tempo and power, you get a light, balanced trot that you can move laterally with ease.  Also judges love it.  Keeping it?  Yeah, good thing I've got a long, long time before I may consider returning to the show ring.  It's definitely a delicate balance.  

We also worked my counter canter and how to properly set it up so Theo remains balanced and knows what's coming.  Suddenly yanking him off his feet to do a counter canter loop isn't fair so he gets all the prep he needs on the short side before starting the serpentine.  I had no idea.  It was awesome to ride a balanced, calm, collected counter canter after chasing it for so many years.

I don't know how I'm going to manage it, but I'm going to start working toward two rides a week.  I'll figure it out one way or another.  We're making so much progress now!

Monday, August 15, 2022

Black Beauty

Nothing makes me more proud then when my horses go out and help other people have wonderful weekends.  Allen was borrowed last minute by a teenager to go to the New England Equitation finals.  Fiona took a teen around a horse trial short notice and ended up working with her for the rest of the season and helping her get confident at novice.  I was worried Theo would never get to be that horse since he had such a bad reputation.  And has been known to clear the warm up ring at shows.  And did his dance of the land porpoise extensively during the winter.  But time changes things and let's face it, Theo does know the drill when it comes to shows.

Pony gets his cookies, I get my simple changes

Last weekend Theo stepped in for a pony that went lame and took a teen to her first Youth Dressage Festival at Saugerties.  He's been so good lately and Trainer Z has been working with him for a year so I felt confident that if she thought it would work, it would work.  Sure, there was a decent chance he'd be a dork because he's Theo but the teen's usual pony is a bit of a heathen so she's used to it.  I gave her free choice of Theo's browbands and left everything else in Trainer Z's hands.  She apparently changed her browband for every ride and chose my most blinged out colors, I was so proud to spread my corrupting influence.  Poor Trainer Z.

Just look at that bling.  And that very nice trot.

Traveling with a group has really changed Theo's attitude about away shows.  Trainer Z gives him the end stall when possible because then he only has activity on one side.  On the other side he has horses he got to know on the four hour trailer ride or that live with him.  They're all on the same schedule and being managed by the same people.  This appears to have been the missing piece for him to cope.  He doesn't have strangers on both sides and horses coming and going at all times.  He still needs lots of walks but he hasn't needed lunging like he did before.  His teenager was so enamored that he got tons of walks, grooming, and peppermints.  Working with a team also means there are always hands to take him places and keep him happy.

She looks so damn good on him but I have to put my stirrups up TEN HOLES after she rides, it's embarrassing

Theo returned her adoration with lots of solid tests at Training and First.  He did have some oopsies such as demonstrating his lovely canter to walk in a Training level test (no extra credit for increased difficulty, Theo, though it was very nice) but when it counted, he laid down some amazing trips.  

Show pony mode activate!

Trainer Z messaged me all capslock after his tests because she couldn't believe it.  Bronze medal in the Training Level division with a 74% and 5th overall in First Level division.  His teen won her equitation test.  He got his very first 9 ever (and it was for his canter, shocker of the week).  With the help of his great scores, Trainer Z's team went reserve champion team for the division.  Lots of ribbons, lots of smiles, lots of great moments for a teen just getting started in her show career.  

Yes, he's sticking his tongue out for this picture as usual

It appears Theo is seriously considering a career as a school master after all.  I'm quite excited.  Friday he has to cart me through my first clinic in years and be my Second Level school master.  I'll need a new bag of peppermints if I don't want to lose him to the teen that is now quite smitten with him.  

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Dog days of summer

 Ugh, I do not particularly like this part of the year.  Neither does Theo.

It's been 95* and humid as hell for about two weeks now.  I spent part of that pedaling my bike all the way across Iowa because I apparently like to do dumb, difficult things.  Ever heard of RAGBRAI?  That's what I did for the last week of July.  Theo worked hard for Trainer Z while I ate pie, drank beer, and generally questioned my sanity for 480 miles.

Me and my brother acting like complete fools somewhere in Iowa

I came back more fit and with some very weird tan lines.  The heat, however, has kept me from capitalizing on my improved strength.  There's only so much I can do when the larger half of the partnership has decided that it's too hot for this nonsense.  To be fair, he is quite large and muscley and solid black.  We did do simple changes on a serpentine because he thought ignoring my directions on lead choice was a valid option but other than that, nothing too challenging.  His Second Level choreography is due in a couple weeks but for now we're mostly chilling and waiting for the heat to break.  Supposed to happen on Tuesday.

 Next weekend Theo is off to play school master for someone else.  One of the teens qualified for the Youth Dressage Festival but then her pony went lame.  Trainer Z asked if Theo was available to pack around for some First Level tests and I said sure.  So he's off to Saugerties to (hopefully) help a 14 year old have a fun weekend.  He didn't mind the showgrounds when we went there for the regional championships and that was many, many shows ago.  Trainer Z will be there to school him if needed but he is a pretty experienced show pony as this point.  When the teen hopped on and ran through First 2, she declared 'he knows the way'.  Yes, yes he does.  We spent a lot of time at First and he is very happy to do the easy stuff.  Lazy pony.

He's entered as a school master since he's an 18 year old Third Level horse packing around a teenager at First.  We're really aiming for the teen to have a good experience but it would be nice if he got her some respectable scores as well.  He may be doing a Prix Caprilli test?  I'm not actually sure but he certainly wouldn't mind a random little cross rail in his dressage.  

On the 19th I'm going to be riding in my first clinic in years so that will be exciting.  Or terrifying.  I ordered new breeches that aren't tights so I can put on a belt.  I may not be a fit rider but I can at least dress the part.  Then the 23rd is Marquis's inspection and I'll be heading out to spectate and help since it's at the breeder's facility.  Trainer Z can't make it so I'll be taking video so I don't forget any comments.

August is shaping up to be very horsey and I'm very excited.  I've got saddle pads in the laundry, I dropped off Theo's jewelry box so the teen can pick out browbands for her festival, and new clothes on the way for me.  All of this horse activity is starting to feel kind of normal again and I love it.