Saturday, August 12, 2023

Media Dump: Brookside Breed Show

 When your filly's breeder is also the photographer, you get some fantastic pictures.  It doesn't hurt that's she's growing up just gorgeous.  All photos courtesy of Studio Equus.

Tada!  Looking completely civilized and like a show horse.  She's growing up so beautifully, looking less and less like a baby every week.  She dapples up so nicely.  21 braids to get that full double mane contained.  All of the other horses I did got 11.

Such a polite trot but I can see why this got us comments like 'needs more push' and 'needs more shoulder freedom'.

Polite little trit-trot only gets you a 7.6.  Which is a great score but the three other pony fillies were all GRPs from a dressage breeder and the winner got a 7.8 in the trot.  It was very close with Kiki at 76.5% and the winner at 77.1% and reserve at 77.0%.  Little lady needs to show off that big cob trot since movement has a coefficient of 3.

Seriously could not hear this dang judge, there are several pictures of me staring in confusion.

Pretty girl.  Kind of excited for her to cob out but we're all watching her height closely.  She shot up again.  Might be a small horse, not a pony.  

It was a lot of forelock when it was loose for her Welsh classes.  Fortunately her mane was full of braiding wax and laid down nicely long enough to get around.

Good gravy her face.  Everyone commented on her beautiful face and kind eye.  She got her sire's eye and an uncanny resemblance to her sire's sire as a yearling, Danaway Flash Jack.

She's not so sure about this trotting along with a stranger while the nice lady suddenly tries to chase her with a whip.  Going to have to train her mane on the right side to get the full effect of the silver hair from her frosted gene.

I love this last picture as we're both looking at the judge going 'huh?  You want us to what?'.  I did not do well in amateur handler but the judge was also kind of a jerk.  I couldn't hear him and he did not like to repeat himself.  I also did not need the extended lecture about forgetting my phone in my back pocket after braiding nine horses and needing to coordinate across multiple barns.  Or the comments about my fitness and how it was clear I don't do this kind of thing.  But worth it for the picture of us both looking utterly confused.  Breeder said she trotted off nicer for me than the professional handler so we're taking note:  Kiki loves people but currently isn't cool with working for strangers.  She does it but with a big question mark over her head.

Entries are going in for the breed show in September.  We have no illusions of grand winnings, the pony fillies division is apparently very hot and Miss Kiki appears to be one that will show better once she's matured a bit more.  The 'toe out' and 'cow hock' comments are fine for a filly that's going to gain a lot of width as well as height in the upcoming years.  I'm really looking forward to presenting her as a three year old, all grown up and confident with lots of ground work to develop the in hand trot.  

For her yearling year?  Polite, calm, happy is the name of the game.  Oh, and her very first sugar cube.  Baby pony worked very hard and hard working show ponies get sugar cubes.  Her pupils immediately dilated, I might have created a monster.

Sunday, August 6, 2023


 Things you want from a baby horse at her first show:

  • Can be led - Check!  Very polite, no need for the rope halter or a chain shank, Kiki is a lady and goes where she is asked with minimal hauling the handler off in search of grass or mischief

  • Can be trotted - Check!  Could use some more enthusiasm honestly, she's a bit too polite right now.  Very lady like trotting does not show off her movement but it earned her points with the handler who found her easy to manage and steer.
  • Can be groomed - Check!  She loves it.  The baths have taken some work but now that she realizes warm water and soap lead to whole body scrubs, she is on board.  Good thing she likes it, her four white stockings take a lot of scrubbing.  She likes having her belly curried so we'll keep up on that, don't want to lose that.

  • Can be stabled - Check!  She enjoyed having her own stall with her own hay net.  She made friends with the buckskin yearling pony filly next door and anyone else that was willing to stop by and visit with her.  She's fairly neat for a filly, just one manure stain that needed a scrub but I had to stay on top of picking her stall because her color shows any bit of dirt.  By the last day she was not happy to go back into her boring box but she was so polite I got comments from the neighbors.

  • Can be trailered - Check!  While her bff was having none of the trailering, Kiki saw that the food lady was in there and she had a hay net.  A quick sniff and check to make sure the flooring was up to her standard before she hopped up the step so she could get her food.  Pony has a one track mind.
  • Eats/drinks/sleeps - Check!  Especially eats, this girl will eat anywhere, any time.  When her friend was being dramatic about the trailer, she was happily grazing and ignoring everything.  So long as she had a hay net, we could braid and groom with her loose in her stall.  She did get some Gastro Guard as a preventative each day but that tummy was never empty.  She also slept a lot.  Saturday included three lay down naps during the day.

  • Doesn't bite/kick/trample anyone - Check!  So, so people friendly.  She was delighted that everyone wanted to pet her and tell her she was pretty.
  • Can be braided - HAHAHAHAHA NOPE.  Oh, you can braid her.  She doesn't mind a bit, stands there eating hay with perfect manners.  Within five minutes of me leaving the stall she had one out.  Fifteen minutes she had four or five.  Forty-five minutes?  Disaster.  She uses her hind foot and systematically tears them out as soon as you leave.  She will also go down and roll to shove shavings into them or drag along the wall to bust the bands.  I ended up doing her last class with her hair down each day since it was her Welsh class and the other Welsh owner wanted to show her horse as a native pony with her hair down.  I certainly wasn't going to argue against taking her braids out early.  She was so damn good about so many things, I was not going to fight her on her braids.  We just took them out after her yearling pony filly class and called it a day.  That's a fight we'll handle another time.

So Cheeky Kiki is a show pony!  She was last in almost every class (got first of two in her second Welsh class) but she's in an awkward stage and doesn't understand that a show is when you get sassy and big.  She's very cooperative but the judges wanted to see more push and freedom in her movement.  We all know it's there, just not in the ring.  Yet.  She may be one of those that does better when she's three, all cobbed out, and a confident mare as opposed to a confused filly.  The goal for the weekend was to introduce her to showing in a positive way and we completely succeeded at that.  We both learned a lot.  Her breeder was the show photographer so I know we'll have lovely pictures soon.

I need to find a neck cover in size small pony before her next show.  I won't have any kind of a chance of keeping her braided without some armor.  But it's a good primary problem to have.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Oil change

 Two steps forward, one step back.

We had a string of great lessons and great rides.  Theo was gobbling up the Third Level work.  Then we had a ride where we couldn't quite get the right hind under him.  He worked into it but he was a little hesitant.  Then a ride where he was guarding the left to right flying change with Trainer Z.  We were watching it, trying to spot what was going on.  With the heat he was only in light work and he never looked lame.  Then Theo lost his ever loving shit during a ride with Trainer Z after the heat broke and she pushed him.

He usually works into a better and better mood.  This time, he escalated and damn near unloaded her.  Everyone's radar went off.  He was very good the next day but the day after that, NQR.  Next day still not right.  Put him on the trailer and took him to the vet because something was clearly wrong.  Theo had told us in the only way he has that something hurt.  Most horses would show a deviation in gait, might even go lame.  Theo gets pissed that you're asking him to do something that hurts and lets you know in no uncertain terms that he will not play.  He goes from vague resistance to violence awfully quick.

The good news is that the vet found nothing but sore hocks.  He was seven months out from his hock injections so apparently he does need his hocks done twice a year at this level of work.  No big deal for a horse his age.  I threw a box of Adequan on his bill as well to top off any other joints that might not be feeling great.  He was an absolute gentleman for the vet and no signs of neck/back/leg pain outside of those hocks.  Even with us pointing things out and really hunting.  No swelling, no signs of soft tissue stuff.  Just a dressage horse with sore hocks that does not tolerate being uncomfortable.  It really is a blessing that he's a clear communicator but we could do with a bit less violence in the communication, papi.

But a perfect patient so he has that going for him

He'll get a whole week off since he was quite sore and we want to make sure he gets some rest and time to let his hocks recover after his oil change.  We're also off to the breed show so he was going to get some time off anyway.  I suspect he'll be delighted to get back to work after his break.  Now we just hope he doesn't feel so good that he feels he needs to share his joy with everyone by doing the dance of the land porpoise across the ring . . . 

Monday, July 3, 2023

Learning to fly

 It seems that the flying change has become my theme or my nemesis.  I'm not sure which.  I write about it all the time as I get closer and then I fall back.  It's this weird, ephemeral thing that low level dressage riders like myself see as a sort of witchcraft.  That's what the big kid dressage riders do, not us.  Somehow, over all of the years and false starts, it's remained out of grasp.  

Except it's actually within grasp now.  Sort of.  Or as was recently said, it was in my power the whole time, I just had to click my heels three times.  Theo's right to left change is completely good, confirmed, takes relatively minimal set up.  He's happy to do it and it's pretty much always clean.  He prefers his left lead so these days, keeping him from changing is more work than asking for the change.  The left to right change is good about 50% of the time.  It's the weirdest thing, Theo really seems to struggle with figuring out how to get all four feet moved through the change from left to right.  We've seen every variation under the sun.  In my last lesson, Trainer Z tried to explain what he did and came up with 'I think he just did one tempis up front and moonwalked behind'.  Neither of us knew horses could moonwalk.  My horse is here to educate us all.

One of our better iterations of mistakes, a little weird up front but not bad.  That's Pam Goodrich  coaching us (love her, there will probably be more clips)

Right now, we are using a ground pole and sugar cubes to help Theo get that maneuver locked in.  Minus the moonwalk, of course.  He has a lovely, clean, uphill change when he mentally computes what it is that he's supposed to do.  These days he knows it's coming, it's just a matter of making it physically make sense for him.  And making it so rewarding that he wants to get it right.  I'm going through a lot of sugar cubes.  

This feels different because Theo is stronger, he knows what we want, and he really is trying.  I've also got enough iterations at this point that I feel like I know how to ask.  I have confidence when setting up and asking for the change.  In my last lesson I succeeded in waking up Big Boy Theo complete with some bucking, jigging, and leaping.  And it was fine.  Riding multiple times a week has finally kicked in and for a shining few moments I was old me.  We half passed from center line to the rail, set up despite Theo's surging and bouncing, and then had a big beautiful change from left to right.  I lost both stirrups but was too busy petting and fussing to care.  I'd stuffed him full of sugar before I picked up my stirrups.

We have a plan for the Third Level debut.  I barely dare to type it after so many years but with one change locked down and the other looking to be well on it's way even when it's me and not Trainer Z in the saddle, an October debut feels comfortable.  Let's face it, if I wait for it to be perfect I will never do it.  Having one change very confident and the other 50% awesome and 50% 'creative' is not the worst thing a judge will see at Third 1.  He knows what he needs to do and gives it the good old college try, he simply screws up the footwork sometimes.  His half pass is lovely in both trot and canter, I'll be struggling to keep him from going sideways too fast.  His extended will get us a laugh and a 5 but time isn't going to change that.  Shoulder in to renvers he can do in his sleep so we may just skip to Third 2 in order to get that nice set up for the change.  But after so many years of fussing and thinking and dreaming, we're setting a date.  October 2023, we're going to start trying for those last two scores for my Bronze.


Sunday, July 2, 2023

Baby's first clinic

 Kiki got to attend her first clinic!  We were lucky enough to have a sporthorse handling clinic at the barn where clinicians learned from professional handlers how to show horses of different ages.  It made for a long day for the barn team as we provided all of the demo horses from foals next to their dams up to mature stallions.  Theo was a piece of cake since he's very good about trotting along with a handler.  He got braided up and that was it.  Kiki, on the other hand, was a multi-day project.

Day one was standing in the pouring rain while wrestling her cob mane into braids.  

Oh, this pony is going to have some hair.  I asked her sire's owner if he happens to have a full double mane and she replied 'Welcome to the world of cob manes!'.  Oh dear.  You can see her bestie Viv watching us work.  You'll also notice my yearling is standing like a saint for braiding with a human holding her slack lead rope.  She tried to get fussy at the start and got her halter shaken which was enough correction for her.  She thought this was all odd but getting her mane and tail brushed out was nice so she was down for it.  We got both of the ladies braided up easily as they both stood very well and turned them out for the night with orders to make good choices.  

The next day we were pleasantly surprised to see the braids were still in.  We didn't pull them up until the last minute since we could loop them up quickly with bands.  The girls only had to walk a short distance to go up to the indoor but it was the first trip for both of them.  We kept them together as a pair the whole time so they would have a nice experience.  Kiki was still not sure about this whole thing.

Bombastic side eye

We did have to have a brief talk about her standing politely while waiting for Viv to have her turn.  She would just start walking forward and was indignant when we backed her up.  About a dozen times.  Ever wrangle a several hundred pound toddler that is politely insisting they want to go see their friend?  Yeah, I was sore the next day.  She was never rude, just stubbornly insistent.  After a dozen iterations she gave up and stood politely.  

The barn's intern was doing the clinic and she was trusted to take Kiki around the triangle.  Kiki was confused but tried very hard to be good even though some stranger was behind her and clearly needed watching.

You might notice her socks are completely covered in mud.  The 2022 girls were turned out briefly while we were wrangling the 2023 girls and of course they went straight into the mud.  The liver chestnut was easy to clean up but the buckskin with four socks?  Thank goodness it was a clinic.  Everyone was surprised by the polite yearlings that just trotted around and accepted pats from everyone that wanted to meet them.  After that arduous outing that took about 10 minutes in the indoor, it was back to the field for the babies.

It was such a perfect outing.  They saw a crowd, got handled by several people, got braided, had to stand quietly for minutes at a time, had to trot along with a stranger, and then went right back into their field.  Now we know what we need to work on.  Kiki has a big trot and she needs to get used to showing it off alongside a human.  

We also need to work on that mane.  This baby has so much hair already!  Another month until her first breed show and she's a very quick study, I suspect she'll understand the game by the time we get there.  Whether or not I can make it around the triangle without falling on my face?  That's a whole other matter.

The entire mare band out enjoying their field.  Three broodmares, two yearlings, and two fillies.  6 of them are fancy, inspected Hanoverians from similar bloodlines, several are related as mother/daughter or half sisters.  Then there's Kiki, the buckskin pony.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Media Dump: NEDA Spring

 Minimal words, mostly just pictures of our adventures at NEDA's first winter dressage festival.  Held in June.

This first set are all courtesy of Meg McGuire Photography, the show photographer.

These are from Marielle Watson, one of Trainer Z's students who is also a photographer.  Yes, those are pictures of me as the groom, bundled up in many layers and escorting my fancy show pony about.

He's suddenly decided to go so grey.  It's so cute but at the same time breaks my heart.  Not yet, Theo, we've got stuff to do!  The photos of me in the saddle are probably a couple weeks away but I've heard rumor that there may be video.  We shall see.  In the meantime, I will enjoy all of these pictures of Theo with Trainer Z.  They make such a great pair.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

The horsiest time of the year

 This whole couple of weeks has been a whirlwind.  The show season in New Hampshire is short, particularly when you ride a black, very muscley draft cross.  We tend to show in June, break for all of July, do a show late in August, and then a couple outings in fall before the snow flies at the end of October.  June is prime show season as well as clinic season.  Combine that with commencement season at the university and I've been sleeping in hotels and driving all over New England.

First was Theo's trip to NEDA Spring.  I went as the groom so I could get back into the swing of things while Trainer Z debuted Theo's freestyle.  Warm up day was 91* and very sunny.  Both Theo and Schrodie warmed up beautifully for Trainer Z.  It's still whacky to me that she has two completely different horses as her competition horses:  Mr. Fancy Pants Grand Prix Stallion Schrodie and . . . Theo.

Over dinner Friday night, the cold front arrived.  We spent the rest of the weekend huddling for warmth as the wind blasted and the rain fell.  It was 50* for a high and drizzling for two days straight.  Theo had to wear his heavy Baker to stay warm.  We were thanking all of our lucky stars that we didn't clip him in the spring so he still had some protection from the ridiculous weather.  Schrodie couldn't have asked for worse conditions for his return to Grand Prix competition.  The energy was too much for him on Saturday but on Sunday, he had a very nice trip with Trainer Z.  

Given the conditions, I was very proud of Theo going into the ring like a total gentleman and not giving Trainer Z too much flack.  He was tight in his back and jaw because it was raining and cold damn it!  Theo does not like to work in the rain and the cold.  Both of his tests went well but it was Trainer Z's first freestyle so there are some tweaks to the choreography in mind now that she's done it in competition.

But she got the scores for her freestyle bar and qualified for regionals so mission accomplished!  Many more photos are coming of their tests, they're being processed by the photographer right now.  The video was a complete bust since you can't hear anything over the wind.  It demonstrates the conditions folks were dealing with at this show that video wasn't possible.  It was utterly miserable and I heard that one ring had 8 eliminations in one day.  That didn't include the folks that didn't make it out of warmup.  Considering the conditions, it was a great success.

The very next weekend saw me loading up the trailer to take Theo to a local show for our first show together in almost four years.  Nervous?  Me?  What would make you think that?  Might be the green shade of my face that made strangers tell me 'good luck' and 'you'll be great!' as I walked to the ring.  Grooming the weekend before did help as I'd at least been to a show recently and the old habits kicked in.  I schooled the night before and realized Second 3 is easy for us now.  I can do a 15 meter circle in counter canter, I can certainly manage that serpentine.

Theo was an absolute saint.  Warmed up just like we were at home.  I was actually wishing I hadn't wimped out and had put on my rowels and picked up my whip.  I chickened out because I didn't want more horse than I could handle.  Then I saw the two big puddles in the competition ring.  Damn it, I could have used the bigger spurs.  Theo does not like to go through ankle deep water and with it in the corners, I wouldn't be able to use them to set up for my movements.  Sigh.

I was proud of my test.  No errors, no major issues, just a cute draft that was not having it with cantering through the puddles and a judge with a (justified) reputation for being harsh.  At one point I growled at him audibly and got an error for using my voice but I needed him to just go through the puddle already!  Kicking like a pony clubber does not go over well at Second.  I got fours for his 'lack of forward' or cutting the corner on any movement going into or coming out of a puddle.  Which was two corners so . . . half my test.  One judge gave me a 56%, the other gave me a 61%.  Theo is always polarizing, no matter how far he goes in his training.  Many pictures are coming of this test as well.  I'm definitely doing my part to support the show photographers.

I am honestly content with my results.  I got it done, looked like I had a clue, and definitely reinforced the idea in my head that I am ready and able to show again.  Which seems insane given the professionals that thought my riding career was over.  I was all smiles during my test because the score didn't matter, I was going down centerline.  That was already a win.  Folks commented that we clearly knew each other and he looked quite content to do his job.  Except for splashing through puddles.

And then I had a clinic the next day.  The plan was to hand my feedback to the clinician and work on that but that plan was made before we had our little puddle problem.  Hard to replicate those issues in an indoor arena!  Turns out I didn't need to worry, she'd seen our test.  She was right, the test was completely fair because everyone had to conquer the puddles.  Some did it better then us, some did it worse.  But as I was reminded during my ride, how could I expect to get through the puddles when I still let Theo spook out of the corners on a typical ride?  He has to go where I want him to go every single ride.  I was also put on blast for my jiggley hands.  I might be getting my possessed right arm tied down with a polo in future lessons.  Not sure but she was definitely discussing some sort of plan with Trainer Z to address that issue.

All of that aside, we got a clean flying change in each direction with no drama.  So I guess we're still on our way to Third!

Now I get a weekend off.  I'll ride Saturday and Sunday as usual but no activities planned.  The following weekend is a handling clinic where Kiki will be learning about her new job as a fancy dressage prospect.  Being fancy is kind of natural for her but doing it in hand?  That may take some work.  Kiki likes to be fancy on her own terms.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Why so complicated, Theo?

 Theo's been doing so darn well and getting so strong that you had to know there would be some new issues.  It's just how these things work.  Moving from one plateau to another isn't usually a smooth process.  For Theo, it usually involves some amount of drama.  It's just what he does, he can't help himself.  Things that worked fine for eight years are suddenly a problem.  Such as his bridle.

Theo's been wearing the same PS of Sweden Flying Change bridle from when we started working together eight years ago.  His browbands have expanded and one cheekpiece was replaced after a lunging 'incident' but otherwise, it's held up perfectly and he's been very happy.  Double jointed loose ring and his snaffle bridle with a plain cavesson noseband has been everything he needs all this time.  He's got a busy mouth but it's not resistant, he's always licking his lips or sucking on his bit.  The judges don't mind since it's all very positive.

He can't help himself

Three weeks ago, he suddenly started to protest his bit.  He went super light and started to open his mouth like he couldn't get his bit where he wanted it.  We had his teeth checked, nothing.  We double checked his bit, it's fine.  We gave him a couple consistent rides to see if he straightened up but no change.  Swapped to his wider double jointed snaffle, nothing.  Rode forward, rode long and low, rode very collected, he kept opening his mouth.  

With his first show of the season a week away, I played wheel of bits and nosebands with Trainer Z today.  I watched from the ground and helped with quick tack changes while we raided her bit box and tack room to try to figure out what his problem was.  Theo was a trooper as we kept swapping his tack.  He liked the mullen mouth with tongue relief a bit too much and immediately laid on Trainer Z's hands so much that she couldn't really ride him.  Egg butt was a bit better but still invited him to lock down.  After messing around for awhile, we popped a drop noseband on him.  Just like that, he settled down.  He can still lick his lips so it's clearly not holding his mouth shut but moving the noseband down his face seems to have stopped whatever was going on.

Trainer Z thinks he needed more stability now that he's working in an uphill frame.  Different angles, different feel for him?  He still needs his loose ring, double jointed snaffle to keep him from weighing 1,000 pounds but he also seems to need something in front of the bit instead of behind it.  He tested it once or twice but he very quickly settled into his happy, tail wagging, relaxed ears frame.  Just a higher frame then what he could do just a month ago.

Seriously, who is this horse?  This isn't even his real collected canter, we were still testing bits

Kudos to Trainer Z for taking the time to go through the checklist and find what he needed rather than just strapping his mouth shut.  We're still not sure just what he needed but if all he needs is a different noseband, we're happy to do that.  Considering his mouth was checked about 1.5 weeks ago with no hooks or issues, it seems to be related to him recently getting strong enough to connect over his entire topline from poll to tail.  We did find some poll soreness when all of this started but after massaging and focusing on loosening that up in the saddle, he's feeling much better.  Maybe today was a combination of the poll feeling better and a more stable connection in his mouth so he doesn't feel the need to try to rearrange it.  It really looked like he was trying to move it in his mouth intermittently, like it would bug him and he had to fix it.

Other side effect of him finally have a topline from poll to tail?  He's now casually offering his flying change.  It appears he's finally ready, mentally and physically, to make that part of his work.  He gave me the cutest flying change this week while I was working his counter flex to loosen him up.  Small problem is that Trainer Z's doing a Second Level freestyle next weekend.  We're excited that he's very ready and eager to start his Third Level career, but couldn't it wait another week?!  Come on, Theo, why do you have to make things so complicated?

Friday, May 19, 2023

Finding the time

 There were three years where I thought I was done riding forever.  I made other plans, did other things, even (gasp) picked up other hobbies.  I can't go back to riding 5-6 days a week again but I do want to ride twice a week.  If I can find the time.

Theo, however, is very focused.  Locked and loaded.  Seriously, look at this very fancy Third level horse.  And my hands are in the right zip code!

While Theo has Second 3 mastered, I'm still catching up.  This weekend will be two lessons and then another ride on Tuesday on my way to the university where I now teach.

Oh, right, on top of getting my doctorate, my full time job, and my two horses, I also teach some graduate level classes on analytics in Maine now.  You know, in my copious free time.  I started in January when I was offered an opportunity too good to pass up.  So it's great, but it's also a big time sink.

I was looking at my calendar and realized June is going to be a disaster.  I'm going camping Memorial day weekend.  Then it's NEDA Spring where I'll be grooming for Theo while Trainer Z does their freestyle.  Then it's my turn to show the next weekend.  Holy mackerel, it's practically here!  We were thinking about doing another show on the 16th but I'm currently thinking NOPE because it's also commencement season so I've got extra nonsense at the university.  And I need to get my dissertation proposal submitted in June assuming my methodologist ever gets back to me.

Such a good boy while I'm trying to not spook at random squirrels after Trainer Z moved me outside so I could stop being so spooky.  Not the horse, me.

I'll be able to get this all reined back in once my commitments made from before my return finish but for now, it's like I'm leading multiple lives.  I have clinics with both Theo and Kiki scheduled this month along with an AI seminar at the university.  And the hubby wants me to go mountain biking with him.  

I expect to careen into July exhausted, over caffeinated, and still feeling grateful that I have these things to worry about.  Two weeks until I'm back in the show ring!

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

I did a thing

 So I might have just sent in my first horse show entry since 2019.  Cue the heart attack and the insane nerves.

"Mom's freaking out, news at 11"

I'm signed up to do Second 3 in June, the weekend after his first show of the season with Trainer Z.  I figure he'll have the cobwebs dusted off after a weekend show so a day show will be no big shakes.  June is a good time of year since it will be warm enough to be happy but not hot where he melts.  A day show means I ride one test and leave which is lovely.    

This makes the whole abstract idea of returning to competition a lot less abstract.  Now I'm franticly hunting down my show clothes and trying to remember Second 3.  Then realizing I never got around to riding it in competition because we weren't ready for the serpentine.  Oh yeah.  I guess that makes me feel better that I've been schooling 15m circles in counter canter.  I think Second 3 will be comfortable.

"Seriously, mom, I can do that test in my sleep, have you seen my ribbons?"

New boots had to be ordered as my Ariat field boots of many years have started to come apart.  The stitching on the toe cap is coming loose.  I got some Treadstep dress boots since I'm still  not ready for real dressage boots.  At least they're dress boots and will look nice on me.  I'll need something to ride in while waiting forever for full custom for my x-wide, short calves.  Dressage boots on the shelf don't even come in short.  I found my black coat and helmet in the back of my closet so those are set (still fit, too).  New white pad from PS of Sweden en route.  Still need white breeches and my white gloves recently disintegrated.  I might have blotted out how much stuff is involved in these competitions.

But the entry is in.  I'm going back into the ring.  I'm coming for that Bronze!  After I finish conquering Second.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Emotional Availability

 So I've been getting to ride a Grand Prix stallion.  No big deal.

That's Muffin, Trainer Z's retired GP mount during his competition days.  Quite the stunner, right?  He's everything mere mortals wish they could ride with those gorgeous looks and huge gaits.  When Trainer Z suggested I ride him for a couple lessons, I jumped at the chance.  Who wouldn't want to do that?

Retired Muffin is now 23 years young and a school master for various lesson students.  Plenty of people want to take a lesson on a horse with every single button.  He does tempi changes for fun and loves to passage.  The magic of Muffin is that he also loves to be a school horse.  If the rider is uncertain or losing their balance, he just walks because clearly this is not going well.  If he suspects the rider is not ready for stuff, he will jog around like an ancient pony and refuse to canter because they are clearly not ready for it.  He is quite happy with that kind of lesson.

If the rider can hit the right buttons and convince him that they are a real rider?  Another horse shows up.  A 16.1h Grand Prix stallion that knows these moves like the back of his hoof.  He has a trot that feels like it travels up more than out and damn near bounces you out of the saddle as you try to post slowly enough to go with the loft.  Oh, you think you should sit?  By all means, you can try.  I managed to sit a whole long side and woke up the next morning thinking I'd been hit by a train.  Every part of my body hurt from riding his collected trot.  It was still so dang cool.  

So tired.  So sore.  So happy.

He's so much fun because he loves his job and because he doesn't get ruffled.  As Trainer Z described it, he's emotionally available.  He doesn't get upset over mistakes or miscommunications.  He either does what you said to do even though it's wrong or he walks because he thinks you're going to fall off.  If something is going on outside the ring, you can just ignore it and keep working.  He can't stare at the farrier and do laterals at the same time so he stays focused and doesn't fall on his face.

I'm learning that it's the mind that makes the GP horse, not the lofty gaits or being 'born on the bit'.  Muffin made it to GP as a sound, happy stallion that hated retirement and came back as a school horse so he could keep doing his job.  Per Trainer Z, a GP horse needs to have the mind to handle the sport.  They need to be smart, curious, and playful enough to think that they're playing a game.  They need to be able to handle pressure that's physical, mental, and emotional.  Plenty of stallions that are making people gasp as four year olds never make it to the FEI levels because they don't have the rest of the equation.  19 year old Schrodie is like Muffin, he comes out of his stall with his ears pricked, looking for the arena.  It's a game and they want to play.  Muffin swaggers when he knows he got something right.  I usually make it very clear with lots of mane scritches and verbal rewards, sometimes there's even cookies.  There's a reason he likes me.

Muffin made me aware of how emotionally sensitive Theo is.  Theo will get overwhelmed and either shut down or try to leave the situation.  It's not that he's being bad, he just can't deal and his fight/flight kicks in.  Theo is unusual for a gelding because he's totally down to fight if he feels trapped.  It's taken years to get him used to the idea that he can cope with some pressure and stay with me mentally.  He's certainly improved a lot, we were doing counter canter circles and he managed to stay with me even as he did something that really bothers him mentally.  Riding Muffin made me realize that's what will hold Theo back.  Not his gaits, conformation, even his age.  His challenge is that he isn't emotionally available.  It's difficult to keep him with me mentally when he gets emotional.  He boils over and strikes out.  It's not his fault, some idiot gelded him too late and never taught him how to cope, but it's there.  When Muffin has emotions, he stays with his rider.  Good, bad, or indifferent, he's going to stay with his rider and the task at hand.  It might be because he's half TB, he has that TB work ethic.

We have also had some truly glorious miscommunications. I damn near fell off when I leaned forward into a canter transition and Muffin politely stopped rather than canter with me in the wrong spot.  Same when I first started trotting with that big, lofty movement and could not stay in the center for love nor money.  And poor Muffin was trying to keep me on top by adjusting while I was trying to adjust to his gaits and, well, I think we entertained Trainer Z a bit.  And when I couldn't freaking canter because I've always asked wrong?  It was exactly why I was put on Muffin.  I got it right or I didn't get anything.  When I get it right?  Passage/piaffe/passage and nice, straight flying changes.

And then we go for a little trail ride because Muffin loves to walk in the woods.

And yes, he's available for breeding in case anyone loves the idea of a GP stallion that's trusted to carry fragile adult ammies with wonky discs while they learn how to ride collection and the canter correctly *cough donttipforward cough*.  Carried his owner at GP while she was four months pregnant.  His dam is a TB and his sire did some jumping and eventing as well as dressage, Muffin tested quite well for his jumping.  His kids do dressage, eventing, jumping, and hunters.  His five year old son is utterly charming and is Theo's neighbor, they like to play grab face.  You know, just in case that kind of referral is interesting to anyone.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Welcome to the family, Kiki

 I didn't sleep a wink last night.  I kept waking up and checking the time to see if I'd overslept.  About 5am my hubby told me to just get up already.  Apparently I was keeping him up as well.  I went to the barn all excited with a shiny new halter in hand.  It was new pony day!

Poor Kiki, her morning started out so peacefully, hanging with her favorite colt

New bike day is a thing in the cycling community.  New pony day is similar but much cuter.

We grabbed Trainer Z's two horse trailer and her ancient mini pony Mr. Ben and headed off to the breeder.  The trailer got stripped so it would be a box stall with Mr. Ben tied to one side.  The idea is that it's small enough Kiki would have to stay on her side without the troubles of getting her into a slot.  She'd also have Mr. Ben as a model of what she should do.  Mostly face forward and eat hay.  We pulled into the breeder's farm and she put a lead rope on Kiki.  Mr. Ben was pulled out of the trailer so she'd have room without a strange pony, then we asked her to step up.  It took her a minute while she touched the ramp with her front feet a couple times to check but then she walked up calmly.  She got settled, we added Mr. Ben, and we hit the road.  It took maybe ten minutes from parking to departure and that included the breeder handing me a coat I'd forgotten at the inspection.

I believe Kiki's thoughts could be summed up as 'What.  The.  HELL.'

Two hour ride back and we caught glimpses of Miss Kiki peeking out the window with hay at the corners of her mouth.  All good!  We arrived at the barn and there was a whole team to coordinate the transfers.  First the very pregnant broodmare in the field got moved to her foaling paddock.  She was delighted with this and made not a peep.  The yearling left behind, Viv, made a lot of peeps and fussed dramatically while her owner held her lead rope like the string of a kite.  Then we unloaded Mr. Ben, then Kiki.  Kiki stepped down very daintily and followed Trainer Z with an absolutely shocked expression on her face.  What was this place?  What happened?  Who was that very noisy liver chestnut?

She repeats.  What.  The.  HELL.

The girls were turned loose and folks stepped back for the fireworks.  Except there were very few.  Viv yelled for a broodmare that was ready for peace and didn't respond.  Kiki stood transfixed, staring at the pine chip footing in the paddock.  She quickly decided that Viv clearly knew what was going on and started following her.  Viv is a bit of a dominant brat and was in a state so she wasn't very receptive.  Kiki quickly learned to follow at a respectful distance.  After ten minutes, Viv was starting to figure out that her friend wasn't coming back.  By thirty minutes, she was more interested in what the deal was with the strange filly.

Future best friends?  We certainly hope so.

I made a run to Tractor Supply and by the time I got back, they were both working on the round bale in their field.  Not exactly friendly as they kept it between them but friendly enough to enjoy mutual grazing time.

I went into the field once it was clear the girls were done with their settling in drama.  Kiki was, understandably, very skittish.  She'd been thrown in a metal box with strangers, taken to a strange place, then put in a field with a strange filly that was not at all as friendly as the colts she'd left behind.  I stood by the round bale pretending to graze and after about two minutes, she was joining me.  Once I convinced her that I wasn't going to take her anywhere or do anything weird, she was happy for skritches.  She's shedding like crazy and is one itchy baby.

I spent about ten minutes giving her attention (and explaining to Viv that I'm a grumpy old broodmare and my space is sacrosanct) before heading out so they could finish settling after a very big day.  They'll spend the rest of the week just existing, getting used to each other, and for Kiki learning the new routine.  This weekend they'll get adult supervision in the form of an older broodmare that isn't in foal.  By summer when the fields are ready, they'll be joined by the other broodmares to make a nice little herd.  It should be a great way to grow up with a mix of ages and temperaments.

Now I'm wildly over tired but excited.  She was very, very sensible about everything.  She's skittish right now but couldn't resist coming over to see what I was doing and get in some attention.  I suspect in a week or two she'll be ready for company and getting used to going for short walks.  Most importantly, I've decided royal blue is definitely her color and will need to buy her lots of things in that shade.

Welcome to the family, Kiki.