Saturday, July 13, 2024

Overdue update

I've been busy.

So we went to a couple of away shows and had some big wins and some setbacks which is pretty much par for the course.  On the highlights, I'm qualified for regionals at Second and got the score I needed for my freestyle.  We got as high as 65% from an S judge and went as low as a 58%.  Theo is so polarizing.  But every single test he marched down centerline and went to work like the school master he is.  Good, bad, or indifferent scores, he looked confident and happy every single test.  Even when I had an epic anxiety attack fueled meltdown in the warm up for no discernable reason.  Sure couldn't tell I thought I was going to puke when we hit centerline.

Let's also talk about how much I love my new burgundy coat.  I bought it on a whim at the NEDA Spring show because I kept walking past it and staring at it.  I've never worn a cut away coat and kept thinking it would look terrible on me.  Eventually I bought it and I have zero regrets.  I had the perfect matching browband in Theo's jewelry box and felt like a million bucks when we went down centerline.  I also ordered my very first pair of custom boots, hopefully they'll be here in time for regionals.  My shopping at NEDA was kind of insane but I was embracing my horse show life.

This is the grin of someone feeling completely safe because she's about to ride in with her bff

I debuted my Darth Vader freestyle at GMHA!  Theo definitely embraced the dark side in this test: "There is no peace, there is only passion".  He walked into the white ring where we have shown many times, took one look at the large audience that was perfectly silent, and tried to nope out.  First he jumped straight up a couple feet at the in gate and then froze.  Huh, that was a surprise.  Then he pulled his infamous left spin to try to vacate as I tried to walk around the ring past the audience.  The audience was so polite, not even moving as he spooked.  Unfortunately, this made it so much worse as he never registered them as people.  Fortunately I walked in as soon as the rider ahead of me saluted so I was able to wait and let him decide it was okay.  I never trotted, just walked and pet him as he tippy toed past the audience.  They rang the bell and I immediately put my hand up for my music.  

Theo was Theo and became a complete professional as soon as we hit center line.  He pulled a flying change in the counter canter heading toward the audience in both directions in the exact same spot (yay, symmetry?) which killed one of our best movement scores but we still got a qualifying score for regionals.  When he was good, he was very good and the judges liked the music and choreography.  I knew if I got him on centerline we would be fine because Theo does love his job.  And I know my choreography well enough to make up for issues when he's reluctant to go on one side of the ring.

We did have some issues with him going above the bit due to his distraction and me feeling like I was holding the whole thing together by the skin of my teeth but I was very proud of him for doing a technically challenging Second level freestyle while keeping an anxious eye on the audience.  There was a lot that the judges liked.  He better get used to audiences because freestyle really seems to be our strongest test.

I had a really good run at Third on the last day of GMHA but my tired pony didn't have enough in the trot work to save my one botched turn on the haunches and a drop change which each got 4s, we got a 59.7.  SIGH.  So close.  Painfully, torturously close to that score.  High score for the AA riders in that class but not quite there.  Theo had stressed his left hind during his ridiculous spook the day before so my left turn on the haunches was big by plan.  My right to left change got me a 6 and was totally boring (WIN).  My left to right was on the aids, organized, no drama, but a drop change for the 4.  His tired topline meant a gait score of 6 so I had zero room for errors.  But what a nice, civilized, organized test.  It was a big step forward for us.  

It was an awesome last test for us, I was so proud.  I managed to hit the 'big boy dressage' button in warm up and rather than kicking, I was suddenly hanging on for dear life.  His last extended trot in that test was absolutely the best we have ever done in competition, Trainer Z was so proud.  The judge was not buying Theo's gaits but I know that was every single molecule of trot Theo is physically capable of giving and I was delighted with him.  Every movement was on the aids and planned.  It was day four which is so hard for both of us but we laid down a trip that looked completely appropriate for the level.  I don't think we had the right judge for us as Theo doesn't move like other dressage horses and some judges are more willing to reward a horse doing the best they can in their body but I also have to acknowledge that if I'm going to ride this horse, there will be challenges.  As Pam said in our clinic, with Theo, I have to be perfect.  I don't have big fancy gaits to fall back on.  We have to be technically perfect and leave no points behind.  Botching both a change and a turn on the haunches just isn't good enough.

I've definitely knocked off the horse show rust at this point.  Hopefully that means there will be no more warm up ring meltdowns, that sucked.  I've also rebuilt my collection of coats (blue, black, and burgundy) and matching stock ties/browbands.  Hopefully I'll have new boots soon (I got an update that they've been cut out!).  Theo has a new tub of show supplies and I've got a system for all of my gear again.  I have learned that four days is my absolute maximum and I must take extra steps to hold up that long.  For NEDA Spring, I lost feeling in my left hand on the fourth day as the impacts caught up with me and my inflammation got out of control.  That kind of affected my riding, especially on a tired horse, and got me a 58%.  At GMHA I was aggressive with the NSAIDs and icing my neck so I had all of my limbs functioning going into day 4.

Seriously, could not feel my left hand at this point

I'm showing again next weekend to try to get the last score I need to do my freestyle at regionals.  I never show in July but I'm making an exception to do a day trip and try for that last score.  I would enjoy doing my Darth Vader freestyle at regionals if the fates align.  After that its a quick trip for Kiki to a breed show, then I'm on break.  I am off to Chicago for an academic conference while Theo is taking his leaser to D4K for her first big dressage show.  He gets to be an absolute packer at Training level for that weekend and I truly think this is going to be a great experience for his leaser.  Theo can be an absolute PITA but when he hits centerline he puts on a show.

I'm so, so tired after serious riding 2/3 times a week for a couple months but one more show before I get to take my break.  Taking Kiki to a breed show will be a relief after this campaign.  Not that we've been completely slacking on her.

But we'll talk about her next time.

Monday, May 13, 2024


 So that didn't go the way I'd planned.

"You got me up at 5am, what did you expect?"

I've posted videos, there's plenty of evidence that Theo has a perfectly acceptable change.  But in recent rides, we've been having some extra drama.  That drama means he's out of balance and the change is kind of a mess.  It started when I started really pumping up the canter to counteract that drop change from left to right.  Sometimes he boils over and jumps about before the change.  He's also started to figure out the test for Third 1 and is anticipating the change in the 10m circle.  That means he's starting to pop up while we're still on the circle.  By the time I am at the right spot in the arena to change, he's usually thrown at least one jump or buck which means his balance is out of whack.

Put me under pressure in a show ring and the wheels come off of our changes pretty significantly.  It's frustrating because everyone assumes I entered Third without a real change.  No, I had a change, we just misplaced it this week and I had to enter this show over a month ago.  Some shows are just not great timing and this show was one of those.   I certainly wouldn't have entered if I thought I was going to get a 3 on a movement that defines the level.  Even my right to left change that is usually lovely was described as 'muddled' due to a couple strides of anticipation drama.  The rest of the test couldn't compensate for that much of a mess.  I got a low 58 and a high 57.  No comments suggesting I shouldn't be at the level but definitely comments on needing a more confirmed change.


Love, love, love his show halter from Dark Jewel Designs on Etsy

I'd feel worse but we still got two red ribbons with those scores.  In one class no one broke 60.  Third 1 is cruel because it's such a big move up.  I can cover a blooper in a shoulder in or half passe and save the score.  Flying change?  Nowhere to hide and you need to nail it in one stride.  It's like when I was jumping and I'd know I'd botched a distance four strides out.  I know I've screwed it up as I leave the circle and he's so busy bouncing that he's down on his shoulders.  He can't change clean from down there.

It's a good time for me to drop back to Second 3 and focus on my test riding.  This past show was intended to get the temperature of our Third level prep and we are below the standard.  So we'll take the judge's comments and drop back to get our confidence back up.  Trainer Z is chomping to get me back out there at Third (she couldn't coach for this show which seriously hindered my warm up, not gonna lie) since we're really quite close.  Straighten up this last minute drama and we're right there.  It wasn't just the scores for the changes, it was the effect it had on my collectives.  Judges don't like it when you enter a test where you can't complete the movements and my submission scores took a hit with his drama.  Theo hasn't gotten a 5.5 for submission in a long, long time.

What I saw at 5am when I went to get him

I'm slightly disappointed but mostly okay since I was able to safely ride the test and he never got ugly.  It really does seem to come from a place of anticipation.  We got a 6.5 on his second medium walk, 7s for both of his reinbacks, and 6.5 for his walk pirouettes which were challenges before.  6.5 for his extended trot in one test.  Lots and lots of 6s and 6.5s.  I got a 7 for my rider position on my second test which was definitely a balm.  I think Trainer Z summed it up best with 'that sounds like they don't think you're not ready, they just want you to get your shit together'.  Fair.

It really did hurt to hear spectators questioning whether or not I actually had a change after my tests.  We do, I promise, and its a really cute change.  Just not this weekend.

Next show is three weeks away and we'll be going for our qualifying scores at Second 3 so we can go to regionals and do our freestyle.  I also have a clinic in two weeks so Pam will have a chance to rip into our changes and help find the root cause.  It must be something I recently changed in my riding since he was doing fine.  If there's something I'm doing, Pam will let me know.  In the meantime, we'll just practice that shoulder in on the quarter line for my freestyle.  

And spectators, give competitors the benefit of the doubt.  Horses live to keep us humble and Theo certainly kept me humble.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

The Doctor will see you now

 It's not horse related but it is very much part of my horse story.  On May 1st, I successfully defended my dissertation for my Doctorate of Business Administration.  My frantic four years of graduate school has come to an end and I am now Dr. Catie.  Yay!

Some days it still seems like something I dreamed up.  I wake up thinking I've still got homework to do or more reading that needs to be completed or some discussion posts to write.  I expect I'll be one of those doctoral students that needs six months of self care after they complete their dissertation.  After my successful defense I immediately went into a massive funk and felt terrible as my body suddenly stopped producing stress hormones like it was a full time job.  I had to beg Trainer Z for mercy in my lesson and we ended up working my walk pirouettes.  I thought I'd just rebound and be free but no, the past four years won't be that easy to shake off.  It's going to take some time for me to undo everything I did to myself in pursuit of my two graduate degrees.

But the important goal was met, I defended my dissertation before show season.  I am now able to focus on getting Theo out there and chasing that Bronze medal.  We ran through the test again and I genuinely feel comfortable with my test now.  It's not a stretch, it's where we're comfortable.  This weekend we have two attempts with two day shows.  I'm glad it's a pair of day shows since I also had Theo scoped today.  

Guess what, we've got ulcers!  Not 'omg injectables emergency' ulcers but he is on omeprazole and sucralfate for the next 28 days.  He'd been girthy in the past two weeks so I wasn't surprised.  Now I know for sure what's going on and we're going to tackle it head on.  He's always been rather ulcer prone, he stresses.  Even with his ideal set up with Trainer Z, he's delicate.  Vet wasn't worried and thinks they'll clear up with the standard treatment.  We'll rescope in a month to check up on him.

We've also had x-rays done of his teeth and his front feet as a baseline, nothing wrong.  We had his fasted blood work done for metabolic stuff.  Got his hocks done and completed another course of Adequan.  He got floated.  I've really checked him nose to toes at this point and if all we find is ulcers on my 20 year old Third level horse?  We're doing good.  He's been feeling awesome under tack and I can only imagine how good he'll feel after ulcer treatment.

Day shows are less stressful for him since he'll get to sleep in his stall at night and roll in his turn out.  Since I'm going solo (Trainer Z got injured and I'm definitely able to handle showing alone) I'm glad I'm not setting up a stall and handwalking for hours.  We'll show up, do our one test, and head home.  With our ride times, the whole thing will be done in 24 hours with 4 hours in the trailer.  5:30 pm on Saturday and 8:30am on Sunday.  I'm going to sleep in my truck in Trainer Z's parking lot because I'm not unhooking with that short of a time at the barn.  Show, park, unload Theo, flop in my truck and sleep, get up, load Theo, show again.

I don't know how we're going to do with my brain still rebooting and going out on our own but we're definitely chasing that Bronze now.  And all of that brain power I was using on school stuff can start to redirect on Theo.  Poor baby.

"Just let me drive and we'll be fine, mom."

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Happy Birthday, Kiki

 Two years already, can you believe it?  She started here.

Now we are here.

She's really starting to feel like a pony instead of a foal now.  She still has the attention span of a goldfish and a tendency to throw a fit when bored but she does walk around like she has a clue.  She steps over when asked, can straight tie, and can even cross tie when the ties aren't sized for gigantic warmbloods.  She gets bored fast when I'm trimming her mane but as soon as the curry comb is out, she might as well be a statue.  Princess Kiki does not move while getting groomed.

Kiki now has some dark shading coming in on her neck in contrast to all of the frosting on her mane.  I was worried she would outgrow the frosting but it's still here.

There's not much to expect from a two year old so that's pretty much it.  She came in, she got groomed, and we took some pictures.  The bridle will probably happen in June so she'll be ready for the breed shows in July.  Until then, she will continue to be my feral kelpie.

She has three friends currently and some more on the way.  Rumor has it that an Andalusian mare will be taking over as babysitter for the filly field and one of the broodmares is due at the end of May.  It's such a glorious way for her to grow up.  Now that she's two she's starting to have sessions with Trainer Z to lay down some groundwork.  Leave the field, be groomed, do something, go back out.  By fall she should understand what the lunge is for and how to wear a bridle and surcingle.  Not really lunging but understanding the idea that circles around a human is a thing.  Then back out for another feral winter.

We're not in a hurry, Keekanator.  No one wants to lose that adorable curious response to everything.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Start your engines

 My dissertation took a bit of a turn when we decided to cram the whole thing in six weeks.  That put me well ahead of the original plan and the rest of my cohort.  Not a lot of folks can say their dissertation manuscript was completed five months early which put me at 2 years and 8 months into my doctoral journey.  I defend May 1st and, assuming I pass, I'll have that Dr. title.  Completing this journey feels amazing and it still hasn't sunk in that I will have no homework, classes, or school work for the rest of my life.  

Why the sudden push to complete?  I've got other stuff to do this summer.  Mostly involving my favorite little trouble maker.

We got our first show out of the way today with a schooling show.  Got to love a schooling show in April when all of the horses are trying to remember how any of this works.  And Theo still looks like a woolly mammoth.  This was also a combined test so there were a lot of eventers knocking off the winter rust.  But when it's only 15 minutes away from the barn and a show ground where Theo feels very comfortable, you absolutely show up.  And it's my local dressage group hosting it so it qualifies me for more year end satin.  Yay!

Theo is such an old pro that his job was to keep a baby stallion company and let me practice being a Third level rider.  He was so good.  He was being very careful with me to start because I was nervous which is sweet but also problematic.  Careful Theo is First level Theo, keeping things flat and boring so he doesn't accidentally bounce me off.  Can't do a lot of Third level stuff in that frame.  I had to settle in and then play with Theo a bit to get him to relax and get into a Third level frame of mind.  We were in the double because it makes me more confident when I know I can stop any of his dramatics quickly.

It's almost hard for me to recognize him.  He's so bouncy and uphill these days.  We got a 61.7% for that test.  Two errors in the Third 2 test got me a 58% with similar scores to my first test.  Third 2 is so much harder than Third 1 with lots more to remember.  I now know I need to work on my ability to collect under pressure, I was struggling a bit with getting the job done with everyone staring at me.  The changes were all completely non-dramatic even in warmup which was nice.  None of them were both clean and on the aids but they were green bean changes, not problematic or explosive.  5.5 for all of them which I will happily take.

It was a confidence booster.  I left points on the table as he wasn't really in front of my leg even in the show ring so there's more points in that test.  the judge's comments were 'willing but needs more power'.  Completely agree, we can do more.  I just need to trust hitting that button when all alone in the show ring.  We've got our first rated outing in May so we have time to work on getting him really up in front of my leg.  It's still hard for me to go into that level of collection since he can boil over so easily.  I got him up into his fancy trot a couple times and it was definitely a moment of pride to show him off like that.  I need to keep doing it until I realize it's just how he works now.  It's fine.  He's supposed to be coiled up like a spring about to explode.  He likes being there.


Friday, February 16, 2024

There be dragons here

 For the most part, my yearling spends her time growing and tormenting the other fillies in her field.  She gallops, plays, eats a lot, and sleeps.  Occasionally tries to mug the other fillies for their food.  It's a full schedule but she somehow manages.

It really is the best way to grow up.  She's got her bff who is the same age and two fillies that are a year younger (but already her height, such is the life of the pony at a dressage barn).  She also has the supervision of a mare that keeps the little herd in line.  The Moose is turning five, starting her under saddle career, and has no patience for fillies that think they are in charge.  It's fantastic for Kiki who is quite used to a boss mare telling her what to do.  We don't want her to start thinking she's in charge.

As for her training, it's somewhat intermittent as it should be at this age.  When I have time, I bring her up to the little barn to practice being tied and groomed.  She enjoys the attention quite a bit and is an enthusiastic student.  With repetition she's gotten used to the idea of walking away from her friends.  They mind a lot more than she does.  She ties with a blocker ring to prevent any bad or scary experiences at this age.  She respects the pressure on her halter and instead spends her time systematically knocking over anything she can touch.  Boots up to dry?  She goes down the row like a cat, knocking them all over.  Box of mints that seems securely closed?  She can open that.

But Catie, why do you allow her to do that?  Why not tie her somewhere with nothing in reach?  We live in a world of cross ties and Kiki is too young to be introduced to those.  I clip her blocker ring to the ring for the cross ties and use that for her tying practice.  It allows me to tie her just about anywhere the grown horses go but it also means she's close enough to the wall to touch things.  It's fine, once she's knocked everything down she doesn't have anything else to mess with.  I keep things down to 15 - 20 minute sessions since she's just a baby.  In hand work consists of starting, stopping, turning, and we recently started to work the turn on the forehand.  She'll start working on a longer line this spring to introduce moving around me and letting me manipulate her body more.

She got her year end ribbon from the National Dressage Pony Cup and that warranted a trip to the indoor for a quick sock scrub and some pictures out of the mud and snow.

They are definitely not professional photos (and her socks did not wash up well in the cold) but she is looking so very grown up these days.  She has started to chunk out and her shoulders have caught up with her butt.  I'm really excited for how she's maturing and can't wait to take her out as a two year old.  I was also excited that she walked up the road and into the wash stall while ignoring the shouts of the stallions that had noticed the new girl in town.  She stood for mane shortening and sock scrubbing and currying before walking into the indoor.  What you can't see are the two young horses being worked in lessons while she's in the ring and the winter storm blowing in.  She handled it all gracefully for a filly just short of two years old.  No chain shank, no rope halter.  She was also shedding and very, very itchy.

She wanted to roll in the dry sand so badly but it seemed a bad idea with the ribbon and lessons going on.  She settled for scratching herself thoroughly with her blanket off and having a big shake.

When she was younger Trainer Z used a feed bag for her meals like she does with all of her babies and I have to say, it's genius.  Putting on her halter is the same gesture as putting on a feed bag so she is very relaxed about it and associates it with her favorite things in life:  food and attention.  When I held up her ribbon to let her get a look, she automatically put her head through the loop.  I expect she'll accept her bridle with grace this spring when we start getting her ready for the breed shows.  She's also very used to her blankets now and I was able to adjust her leg straps with her loose in her field.  I'll probably introduce her to a surcingle this summer so she can carry a saddle pad while doing ground work.  

This is far from my first Welsh and honestly Theo might as well be an honorary Welsh with his sense of fairness, mischievous streak, self preservation instincts, and his habit of choosing specific people as 'safe'.  For Trainer Z, it's a new adventure.  Kiki is the feral swamp creature, the ceffyl dŵr (Welsh water horse, hopefully the southern Wales version) that won't stay out of the pond and storms around the field causing havoc while the warmblood fillies stare at her in confusion.  She's the punk rocker in with the European debutantes.  She's a native pony and, more importantly, a Welsh Cob.  She is not a dead head or beginner friendly.  She is very smart, very aware of her environment, and absolutely ready to take charge of a situation if she believes she needs to.  She is as much dragon as she is beloved princess.  She has a strong sense of 'stranger danger' still and the biggest side eye of her adventure to the indoor arena was when I handed her to a stranger and walked away.  It's good for her to practice but she always softens when Trainer Z or I take her back.  

She will be an interesting journey as a competition mare that is also a Welsh Cob.  That is a lot of opinions in a very adorable package.  I expect her to be very soft to correction and reactive to her environment with a big engine.  We don't correct her with more than voice or a tap on the chest because that's all it takes, more than that would cause anxiety.  I expect her to be a bit intense when working but also happy to mosey on a long rein because she's curious and gregarious.  She'll need to be another positive reinforcement pony that is playing a game but with the rules of unacceptable behavior set in stone.  I also expect her to command respect in the warmup.  I loved riding Fiona in the warmup because other horses automatically got out of her way.  A mature, confident mare is not to be messed with and Kiki is already showing that charisma.  Theo is, unfortunately, quite loveable and horses have no issue with getting in his bubble.  The fillies give way when Kiki storms through.

That's the Moose trying to put Kiki in time out on the other side of the pond because she's bringing the chaos.  She does this all the time and the other fillies stare at her in wonder.  Trainer Z's husband loves her because she's so bold and so ridiculous.  I'm more interested in that uphill canter.

I'm really enjoying this journey and so happy I took the plunge.  I've never helped raise a baby or watched one grow into the potential seen when she was still tiny.  Keek has been perfect for this as she loves to come in and let me practice.  She'll turn two the weekend before I graduate.  I'll have to arrange for a proper photoshoot to celebrate.  A lovely filly like her should have pictures where she doesn't look like a kelpie.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Before and After

 Not much time to write these days as I'm in the throes of finishing my dissertation but had one of those rides yesterday that make you look back at how far your partnership has come.

This was Theo in July of 2015, the earliest trotting picture I can find.  It's a screen shot from a video of me trotting him around.  For us, this was a good trot.  I was happy with it and proud enough of his progress to post it as a progress video.

This was us yesterday, February of 2024 in our lesson with Trainer Z.

That is not the same horse.  The horse I rode yesterday was uphill, light, and very powerful.  Almost too powerful.  Trainer Z was at the stallion inspection in Denmark so Theo got a week off.  It was 60* out so I figured he'd be too warm to be sassy.  NOPE.  He wasn't physically wound up so much as mentally.  He was offering behaviors very quickly and acting like a kid at a theme park that wanted to do everything as soon as he arrived.  In the interest of not repeating the magnificent capriole he gave me when he boiled over during his canter work a couple weeks ago, we decided to focus on trotting and poles.

Someone was so excited and over trying that he started to offer a passage step at the first pole.  Theo has recently started offering passage when we work on increasing collection in the trot so Trainer Z decided today was the day.  I knew how to ask and what it should feel like thanks to my lessons on her stallion Muffin.  We turned to the poles, I half halted up and dropped the cadence, and mi papi passaged.

Once he realized that bouncing was not only allowed but encouraged?  He ate this up.  All of his excess energy finally had a place to go.  And his passage is huge.  I wasn't asking for big, just cadenced in these.  These are the smaller passes.  His bigger passes almost bounced me out of the tack.  Trainer Z was wide eyed when she got a look at just how big he can get in that slow cadence.  All of that power we see when he's free lunging never showed up in his extensions.  It's been hiding in the passage this whole time.

We also worked his half steps which are starting to look like a piaffe.

No, he'll never go Grand Prix, but these are great tools to make him sit, to add strength, and to give him an outlet for days like yesterday when he couldn't handle his own energy levels.  When we were done he was chewing like a fiend and his ears finally relaxed.  Instead of spooking in the corners and jigging off the wall, he did the big walk with his back swinging.

He also did his first working half pirouette recently.  Another move where he seems to have a natural affinity for it.  I keep telling him that if he wants to do Grand Prix, he's got to be consistent in his left to right flying change!  I can't do tempis if he botches his footwork.  Doing lots of very clean simple changes from left to right seems to be helping him understand how the foot sequence is supposed to go and his new power is making it easy enough that the clean changes are starting to happen.  That drop change will probably never fully go away but it's getting better.  There really is something going on in that change since he will botch it in the simple change sometimes, its like he can't quite coordinate his feet as well in that direction.  It's weird.  

My dissertation is due April 5th.  If I hit that deadline, I walk the stage May 4th.  At that point I am done with school forever and ever.  Theo and I have a full dance card of shows this summer to celebrate and to get that Bronze.  I'm starting to feel real hope that this time we've got it.  Every move except the left to right change is on lock at this point and even that change is weird but happening on the aids.  I just need to trust that we've done the work, he's more than ready, and get in the ring to get it done.

After I submit 120 pages about organizational change and the individual's perceptions of artificial intelligence.  Gross.