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We Are Flying Solo

September 21, 2014

Riding Solo Makes Me Happy...And A Tiny Bit Frustrated

Partners
Learning to be an effective, thinking rider is awesome.  And it sucks. 

How Does One Come To This Odd Conclusion?

I actually got to ride Solo yesterday, on the most glorious of Carolina fall mornings.  Even as I fed him breakfast, I could feel the palpable restlessness flowing between us.  It was a quiet, echoing chorus of, "let's ride, let's shine, let's be US."

Part of the beauty of eight years of partnership is knowing exactly which of your horse's joints need longer to loosen & the precise schooling exercises required to stretch the tightest muscles.  Every ligament, every sinew in his body is yours because you have spent more than 3,000 days as a team of two become one.

Trademark Solo "forward walk sux" face
Warming Up

After an obligatory Orange Horse protest on the principle of "forward because I say so," leg-yields were followed by shoulders-in followed by haunches-in suppling aging bodies (ahem, we won't say whose) at the walk.  These are vital for Solo's hocks & back before asking him to step forward in trot.

Moving down to our dressage 'arena,' we coaxed his inside hind leg to truly step into my outside hand & kept that QH butt active.  Creating that kinetic energy gives you something to work with, allowing you to create bend & corners & balance.  We are nothing without forward.

As the days cool, it is harder on arthritic joints (let's not name names here either...), so I kept our canter warm-up brief, but correct because I really wanted to take him over a few very small jumps.  It's a fine line, walked by feel, between pushing to strengthen & asking too much; I am always listening carefully to my horse.

Jumpy Jumpy!

We both wandered to catch our breath as I made a brief jump plan.  Perhaps 8 or 10 efforts, with an emphasis on balance & softness for us both.  I included extra care with my lines: he wears his trusty Cavallo Sport boots on his wussy front feet & there were still traces of dew on the grass.

Not so much like this (8 yrs ago!)
I channeled my inner David O. & found a steady rhythm, making sure to keep my shoulders back & my upper body VERY still so I didn't throw him on his forehand.  My legs had to stay wrapped around Solo's ribs to keep his hind feet stepping under & my hands had to stay connected, yet soft.  Repeating the David mantra of "soften in the last three strides, you can't change anything there anyway," I kept my hand in front of me, yet on his neck over AND after the jump, resisting the ever-present instinct to pull back after landing.

Well, for most of them anyway.  Did I mention learning?  Yeah, it's still a process, a long, stumbling process, but a snail's progress is still progress!

When I got it right, we were...THERE.  If Solo believes you won't fight him (I'm not sure why he wouldn't after our long history of, errrr, pulling matches, heh), he will jump & land & canter away like a lovely beast.  He might take 3 or 4 quick steps, but that is where the trust comes in:  I punch my instinct in the face, stay off his back, shove my fists into his neck on landing, & sit up.  My trust is rewarded by his & we just...flow.

Um, So Which Part Of This Was Sucky Exactly?? 

Thanks to Priscilla & David & my clinicians & in no small part, to Encore, I am finally GETTING how to really use my leg, thigh, core, & upper body.  I am GETTING how to ride the horse into the outside rein without sacrificing the forward energy.  I am GETTING how to feel, process, & respond with the correct aids when my horse needs an adjustment.

Creepers gonna creep...
Emphasis on "getting," there are still plenty of intervals of fail!

We hear these things suggested, yelled, repeated, written to us & at us over & over & over throughout our riding lives, but it really isn't until the 10,000th time we feel the links connect & our brain & our muscles finally digest that feeling, that it becomes truly knowing.

I wouldn't call it a lightbulb.  It's more like...a train.  Sparks fly from wheels spinning on the tracks at first, while the locomotive strains to begin moving.  But slowly, the momentum builds as the effort is put in, until, with enough time, you are rolling down the line.

So now I ride Solo & while I revel in how very little rein I need & how responsive he is to my lateral aids & how much FUN he is...I want to go back & do it all over again!  I want the rider I am now to bring along the horse he was when we began, to do it better, to do it smarter.

As if I'd say maybe to Tennant!
That Whole Big Picture Thing

While it's a frustrating tickle in my head, at the same time, he made me & I made him.  We learned from each other (even if it was "ok, never do that again") & I am still proud that we got here in spite of my fumbling about.  What's that saying about a blind hog & acorns?

Besides, I lack a time machine unless The Doctor shows up.  And even though it may have been a bumpy ride, Solo is still the one who carried me here.  It is his wisdom, his quirks, his baggage, his personality, & his heart that continue to teach me, call me out, & remind me that every step counts.  Both the mental & physical ones. 


September 19, 2014

REAL Real People With Real Lives...And Real Riding*

Adjust the focus
We are flooded daily with stories of 20-year-olds winning Grands Prix, of young professionals adding to their eventing records every weekend, of the lucky demographic of adult amateurs in weekly or daily training programs, spending weeks at a time at clinics & competitions.

All of these people that I've met work very hard in the process.  But for the multitudes of us who have not stumbled upon the luck & opportunity to devote that kind of time to our passion, it can be easy to get discouraged.

Don't be.  The trees are merely blocking your overlook of the forest.

Still amazing with a gorgeous partner!
My Neighbour, The Legend

I am going to cheat & share the message I sent to Susan Mcsherry-Jones (no relation, LOL), an old friend & the subject of this gorgeous article (my fingers are tired...).  When I met her, she worked full time at a marketing firm & needed a hand keeping up with her small personal barn.  Not long after, she decided to start her own company & it appears to have blossomed!   I am thrilled that we have been able to reconnect (I guess Facebook isn't ALL ridiculous).

But Susan is a full-time business owner, full-time mom (omg, I can't believe the baby I looked after is 17!!), & a self-made woman who has faced & overcome the challenges we are all familiar with...and continues to every day.  Even more, she is hope for each of us who might feel that even our modest goals are too much to expect.  Never forget that your journey is YOURS; the course may be unpredictable, but no less valid than any other just because it doesn't involve gold medals.



I Command Thee To Watch And...Just...Wow

Maybe I'm biased, but this is possibly the most beautifully shot & edited interview I've ever seen & now I am in tears.   I am SO proud of Susan, who hired me to help her with her farm when I was in high school & home from college, almost 20 yrs ago.

I remember when that indoor was just a fantasy, when one day it became flags in the grass & the first time she had furniture in that little (but always gorgeous) office, as she showed me the layout that would allow her to watch her daughter, my then-babysitting charge, Jacquelyn, while she schooled her dressage horses.


Thank You

Susan, you look amazing & even though I remember your stress then, I always admired you & I knew you would be wildly successful.  Thank you for being one of the strong women who were role models in my life, & for all that you so generously shared with me, that scruffy, horseless girl desperate to be near hooves any way she could.

Even dragging a sled full of manure uphill over ice out the back of the barn was well worth the rich return you gave, whose names were Nick, Flame, Weanie, & Finaud.  You made your farm feel a little like my home, too; I guess that's why those familiar fields put a lump in my throat.  It really doesn't seem all that long ago when I rushed to the best part of my day, my time with your beautiful boys.

This is the view I remember...
I hope I can pass it on even half as well as you did.  Courage is a difficult & exhausting thing; congratulations on your determination & well-deserved harvest of seeds well-sown, as well as the wisdom to sit back & relish those precious moments when you're finally THERE.

*sorry I couldn't think of a genius title, so I just used the same word 27 times, go with it...

September 14, 2014

Ordering Could Save You Money…And Your Life!

Horze signup_competition
Click to enter & get a 15% off discount for new customers!
Yes, you may now call me a Horze ‘ho. Albeit within the confines of a most basic TFS Commandment:  thou shalt always receive open, honest feedback!

I continue to enjoy our appallingly stylish (if you’ve read for a while, you know my trendiness aversion!) bell boots & gloves (week two: still no holes!).  But the goodies don’t end there:  check out two more!

#1:  Tired Of Losing Money In Trampled, Peed-On, Rolled-In Hay?

Another equine product that makes you want to throw things & scream:  the Hay Net.  The holes are too big.  The holes are too small.  That drawstring at the top has demonic intent to prevent the loading of any actual hay.  If it doesn’t have a drawstring, the holes are too big...again.  If the holes are just right & it lacks an evil drawstring, well, you must have entered a parallel universe of impossible fantasies.

Currently, I hang a small-hole drawstring net in the trailer.  Yes, it makes me want to scream very bad words while filling it.  But I love that I no longer lose huge quantities of $$$$$ hay onto my trailer floor.  It frustrates the crap out of Encore; unless I pull out a bunch of “starter clumps” for him to grab, he believes it’s too much work & gives up.  *insert eyeroll here*  In the fields, I dole out flakes on the ground or in an old trough with a pin-holed bottom.  I don’t. do. round bales.  (Unless someone wants to mail me a $300 net & a spear for the tractor…)

Hay Net 2
Mine!!
The Horze Slow Hay Feeder Net looked like a promising solution:  HUGE open top with perfectly-sized holes with a simple hanging design that I could move between trailer & run-in in a snap.  While slightly more expensive than my $11 trailer net, at $24 it was still half the cost of the $55 wall-mount from CinchChix & more flexible.

Loves:
  • I can walk up with 4 flakes balanced on one arm, pull the top wide open, & dump them in without loosing a bit
  • Easily holds at least 1/2 a square bale
  • Two simple mounting loops give you endless hanging options, including my carefully engineered “tie it to the rafters with hay string” technique
  • Two sets of short “shoelaces” are sewn into the top binding so you can dissuade Dobbin from just shoving his entire head in
  • Since the boys love to camp in their shed on rainy days, it lets Solo continue to “graze” under shelter & holds so much hay, I don’t have to worry about mid-day refills (not tested on Princess Encore-I-Like-To-Pee-In-My-Hay yet)
  • After I add a double-ended snap to each hanging loop, I can hang or move it anywhere by simply unclipping & don’t have to mount anything permanent
Hay Net 1 Arrows
Awesome MSPaint arrows indicate shoelaces
Minor Design Struggle:
  • The enormous top-load is amazing; it could be even better if the “shoelaces” were not both sewn onto the same binding edge.  I weave them to the other edge a couple times & tie a slip-knot for easy release, but it’s a bit awkward (hey, some people have weird, super-logical brains that struggle with lopsided things).
  • Alternatively (& what I initially thought the “shoelaces” were), a simple drawstring inside the top binding with a cord lock, like this, would be awesome!
One Sad Discovery:
  • Because the netting is softer than a traditional hay bag, it is easier for the horse to snag the hay, & hopefully will be less frustrating for Encore.  However, after about 5 solid days of Solo-use, the net string on a bottom corner is unraveling & pulling out of the side binding.  Mr. Shiny loves his hay & is serious about getting every scrap; it appears that the string is not strong enough for full-time shed residence. 
Despite this initial material failure, though, it shall receive some hay-string patching for continued use!  Horze DOES have a 30-day "happiness guarantee," should you have problems with any product, as well.  While not cut out for full-time “grazing,” I still think it has great functionality for trailering, temporary show-stabling, & other less “aggressive” situations where easy filling & hanging are key!

hunting visibility
Probably not the helmet I'd choose for deer season...
#2:  Serious Safety

While there are many things I love about the Carolinas, fall is not one of them.  It’s perfect riding weather, the trees break out their technicolour dreamcoats, the demonic insects begin their retreat.  What’s not to love?

Oh, it’s also rifle season for white-tailed deer.

A Little Perspective

As an employee of my state’s natural resource agency & a wildlife biologist, I get to see both sides of this…interesting time of year.  Nearly all of my co-workers hunt deer, as well as ducks, doves, turkeys, & feral hogs with bows, muzzleloaders, shotguns, & rifles, as personal preference varies.  And they do it right:  each one is careful, responsible, ethical, educated, & experienced.


wrong end of gun
MN wins the prize for Best Safety Graphics
Unfortunately, just like horse-world, riddled with double-edged swords, a conscientious participant in hunting-world is not a guarantee.  Outside of work, as a horse & property owner, I must always be alert for the bad apples.  It only takes one guy who thinks it’s funny to shoot a horse out from under someone, or brought a case of beer to the stand, or fires blindly at rustling leaves, or…it happens every year (and all over the country).

We Can & Should Share The Woods, But Be Proactive

As a result, many of us simply stay out of the woods once rifle season begins (the bow hunters & muzzleloaders are so much better at paying attention).  When we do head out on trails, we stick to state parks & private properties.  Even then, I always wear my very sexy DOT safety vest from work (sigh, trespassers…), attach a bear bell to my saddle (I need to fix that), & wear bright-coloured clothing.  I’ve got the vest on for tractor work too; the favoured.30-06 rifle can send a bullet 2-3 miles, so at least no one will be able to say I looked like a deer through the scope!

Solo Reflective Horze Strips Sept 2014 compressed
Glow-in-the-dark Solo!
TL;DR:

I have finally completed my seven-year quest for very affordable riding accessories that didn’t make my horse sweat & screamed “THIS DEER-COLOURED CREATURE IS NOT A DEER!”  And the answer…is $4!!!!

A handy set of four hi-vis reflective sleeves with open ends, the Horze Bzeen String Covers, despite their odd name, incorporate the two best elements of product design:  versatility & simplicity.  I’m not sure if this is standard, but I received two that had velcro down one side & two slightly narrower sleeves that were sewn on both sides.  I slid one of the latter onto a browband & velcro’ed both of the former on my martingale for a test run.

You can definitely see them!  I’m very excited to have these additions to my safety arsenal & am already pondering how many I could fit on one horse!  The nylon fabric feels thin, but sturdy & can get tossed in washing machine whenever needed.

My only “in a perfect world” very picky detail changes

  • Either include velcro on every sleeve or give the buyer an option
  • Offer them in blaze orange, the universally (or at least in the US) recognized hunting safety colour 

Thank you so much again to the super-friendly folks at Horze for giving me the opportunity to want more of their stuff try out their great products & helping me share them with you!
www.horze.com

September 8, 2014

Repair Notes From Your Dedicated Webmaster

The worst three digits online...
Your rage is my sorrow. 

Blogger has this nifty site called Webmaster Tools.  Included here are logs of links that don't work & retrieval errors that have occured on your website.  With the well-organized "help" links & detailed activity breakdowns, it's fantastic!

If you remember to check it more than once every six months.  Or, say, after a major redesign.

Mea culpa.  Again.

After choking on my guilt at the long column of "action blocked" notices, particularly for smartphones (but hey, aren't they supposed to be smart??!), I buckled down in the repair shop.  

Fixed:
  • Sharing links at the bottom of each post
  • Search function access for mobiles
  • Several scripts that were dragging down load time
Probably Broken In The Process:
  • Something else
I also primarily work in Firefox, so please do let me know if you have problems in other browsers or platforms.  Opening the site in Chrome today, the Adblock plugin (which behaves perfectly fine in Firefox) decided my social media icons were BAD THINGZ & blocked them all...except one.

Computers:  less expensive than horses, but more rage-inducing.

September 5, 2014

Who Knew Horze Sold The Holy Grail Of Bell Boots?

The Unicorn Boots
No-turn bell boots…that DON’T TURN?!!!  You heard me right.

Boots of riding past had me convinced that I might as well hope for a unicorn.  Or even more improbable, a horse that never goes lame!  While I will probably die without seeing the latter, I didn’t have to clap my hands or chant, “I do believe, I do believe…” to realize this dream (I don’t ask much, honestly!).

The Magic Bell Boots

I was delighted when Horze.com inquired as to my interest in testing a few products; I may or may not have perused their site with covetous eyes before.  Delight turned into ecstasy (ok, I’ll admit it, horse owners are weird) when I looked down after a three-hour workout, nearby in VA's Occoneechee State Park.  Not only had these sturdy Horze No Turn Bell Boots STAYED PUT for the entirety of Encore’s tripping trotting carefully through the woods playing “dodge-the-stump-hole” & “I didn’t see those large rocks, *stumble fumble* I was looking at the lake,” but there was not even a hint of a rub on his wussy skin.

Horze No Turn Bell Boots
More Loves: 
The only shortfall I can see is if your horse has jumbo feet; Encore wears a size 2 shoe (for comparison, Solo is a completely average size 0) up front & a Large in pull-on bell boots.  Thankfully, helpful reviews on the Horze website suggested ordering a size up, so these are the largest option, the XF (eXtra-Full).  While they fall in just the right spot for my boy, an equine Sasquatch would need to look elsewhere unless larger models are offered.

Bridle matchy thrills Encore
AND Gloves!

Horze didn’t stop at the grail, though.  My grin of matchy delight got even bigger when I put on the Horze Lyon Synthetic Leather Gloves.  In the dripping environs of NC, I am constantly on the lookout for affordable, lightweight, breathable, lightweight, technical, lightweight (see a trend?) fabrics.  Wow, do we have a win! 

I love the sporty design with the nearly-transparent contrast fabric across the backs & the soft glove material slides easily on, erm, skin that sweats like a pig.  They’re also thin enough that I retain actual manual dexterity while wearing them, a rare & wonderful find. 

And the grip!  I use web reins interwoven with strands of rubber (solid rubber reins are too big & heavy for me) and these babies had one of the best grips I have ever felt; something I value highly on a horse who shakes his head hard…because his bangs tickle his ears.  :/ 

Camera flash bleach-out, boo
Only one concern haunts me.  I have a history of glove massacre due to my enormous hands (seriously, they measure ~8" from fingertip to wrist) and long fingers; I wish I could do without, but I also have baby skin that falls off with the least provocation.  As a result, I usually buy gloves in men’s M or L.  The single on-site review at Horze gave me some hope, as it was written by another person with giant man-hands.  Alas, despite ordering the XL (only women’s sizes were available), they are still too short from fingertip to wrist.  They feel amazing, though, so I will baby them with hope that the seams will hold out against my mutant extremities (I have the same problem with socks, sigh). 

For those of you lucky (all other) people who have normal-sized lady hands, however, these are a super prospect for hot days and sweaty reins!  *gets on knees & begs Horze for mega-sizes*

Both get a “very well done” from me thus far!  Thank you, Horze, because I can’t wait to sport our colour-coordinated awesomeness in our lesson next weekend!  I usually do something stupid, but at least this time, I’ll look good doing it.  

The matched set in dark blue
Career as model: unlikely

September 2, 2014

A Hitchiker's Guide To Our New Website

Hated the book, but I was 13...
Being one of those people who takes longer than I will ever admit to mentally digest information, a thought just occurred to me:

Here I have thrown an entire new interface at you and, while I'm sure you have lots of things nothing better to do with your time than play with the shiny new TFS site, perhaps it would be helpful if I handed out instructions!

As I mentioned before the transition, our new site is responsive (FINALLY!).  You can geek out on the link as to what that means in detail (believe me, the template came that way, I am a "trial-and-lots-of-errors-and-googling" programmer, using the word "programmer" extremely loosely), but the part that matters is that for you touchscreen/mobile device peoples, you now get a streamlined, mobile version of the site that matches the web version!

What On Earth Did You Do?

Don't hyperventilate yet, the standards are still standard - the trademark banner of Solo's galloping butt will always bring you home (oh, the levels of symbolism...) and our social media buttons, through which you can suffer through enjoy even more of my random brain drool, have just hopped up to the top of the page.  All photos can still be clicked to embiggen!

Streamlined Sidebars

You can toggle the right sidebar display -- I love tabz!!
All our trusty sidebar widgets are intact, just rearranged.  You'll find our calendar for easy stalking on the left & the blogroll (in need of updating!) just below it as you scroll down.

On the right side, just beneath the search tool (for all your "did she write about that?" inquiries), the handy little tab box allows you to toggle between the most popular posts of the last 30 days, our category labels for easy post sorting, & the (restored to proper useful form) archive calendar.  Scrolling down will take you to our familiar blog community links & the profiles of my orange beasts.

NEW SHINY THINGS!

Here, the title is linked to my review, photo to product site
The Photo Slider:
Don't have a seizure.  If you hover your mouse over the slideshow, it will pause.  You can use either the circles at the base of the slider or the arrows on each side to navigate through at your own speed.  Each photo & title is a clickable link as well!

Email Subscription:
  • For those of you who don't use an RSS reader to curate your blog collection or who just don't feel like clicking all the time, there is now an easy email subscription box in our header.  All you have to do is enter your address & click subscribe.  New posts, in a clean, easy-to-read format, will hang out in your inbox until you hit delete feel like reading them. 
  • I hate spam as much as you do & all of the subscriptions are protected in my secure account, so I promise I will never send you FREE  LIFE INSURANCE QUOTES TODAY!  Never.  
  • What you WILL get though (eventually, stupid job), is free bonus content that I am busy compiling, including tip sheets, useful facts, and other fun & useful goodies (sorry, I cannot put chocolate in your inbox).
It was an interesting morning...
Footer Feed:
Despite my ambivalence/hate relationship with Twitter, it is the only way I can share quick tidbits to our Facebook page without being in front of a PC.  I bitterly swallowed my pride (it wasn't too bad, I haven't much left), so you will find a live Twitter feed box at the bottom of every page.  It also allows you to follow or tell me I'm an idiot throw a Twit at me with one click (no new windows!).

New Menus With New Options

Some you will recognize, including links to our core team members, sundry horsey items for sale, Solo's story, Encore's arrival, & "In Memorial" of furry friends who said goodbye.  My product reviews are intact, but are now categorized for even easier retrieval.
All your shopping tips, pre-sorted

The two new dropdowns:
  • "Education," which includes a list of great OTTB resources, as well as links to my past post collection on topics like equine nutrition & the heart of eventing, the long format.  Keep an eye out for additions and fine-tuning on this one!
Lots of fun things & more to come
Easy-peasy!
 I hope you will enjoy the new goodies & things will run a little more smoothly!  I'm always picking at things -- a blog seems to be like a farm:  never truly finished.  Please do let me know if you encounter any issues, so I can google the answer repair them right away!

You're welcome (or I'm sorry, depending on what happens...).
-- Not A Web Designer But I Play One On The Internet

August 30, 2014

Free Riding Clinics For You! A TFS Redux.

God spake to me...and I could not look upon his holy face.
Ever wanted to absorb decades of experience like a little fangirl sponge from greats like Jimmy Wofford, Ian Stark, Becky Holder, or Eric Smiley?

Well, aren't you a lucky little fangirl!!  In the spirit of relaxing over the holiday weekend, for those of us who can't access FEI TV (or don't want to), I have collected, in chronological order, our hilarious spectacular performances in front of these phenomenal horse(wo)men & teachers.  I'm sure they felt just as lucky as I did.  *insert sarcasm font*

I also wanted to share with more recent readers some earlier parts of this wild journey.  I'm sure you are spending every free moment catching up on the 500+ posts since August of 2009 (where's that font again?), but in the meantime, I set the time machine in motion.  Encore & I may appear fearless & quasi-competent at times (usually when no one is looking), but those moments are built on the foundation of 1,000 stumbling blocks of trial-and-error that Solo, my un-erringly brave & accidental partner, made with me.

Have no fear, I am unoffended if you point & laugh.  I do (at myself, past AND present).
The only Olympic-quality ride Solo ever got
The Man Who Ruined Changed Solo & I For All Time (or That First Time We Met The XC Grin)
Ian Stark - Summer 2007
(Yes, I was afraid to canter my horse in an arena because he misplaced that gait.  He only had trot & gallop...except on the trail.  I'll let you guess how humbling it is after 20 years of riding, to finally have a horse & be afraid to canter it.  And yes, I did try to make an eventing legend wear my sweaty helmet.  I failed.  Then Solo nearly dumped him.  Thank cod my horse did not gain infamy as The Killer Of Ian Stark.  *horror*)

I Finally Get To Meet God
Jimmy Wofford - Fall 2008
He only whacked my horse on the ass with his baseball cap once...

Becky has not convinced Solo that dressage has merit
We Discover Eventing Mecca & I Become A Bona Fide Stalker (& My Last Clinic With Solo)
Becky Holder - Fall 2010

Ok, he can jump
The Best Christmas Present Ever & Encore's First Proper Clinic (Thanks, Mom!)
Camp Becky Holder - 10 Days of Spring Training, 2013

A Scotsman Started The Fire, An Irishman Throws A New Log In The Flame
Eric Smiley - Summer 2013

Encore's 1st Training course (Fall 2013)
Wander at will & explore the evolution!  Or save it for some rainy day entertainment.  May there be useful lessons YOU can apply next time you swing a leg over.

And not least of all, thank you to my mother, to Jim, to our amazing friend, Beth, and to the victims kind, random people I threw cameras at.  Your support made these experiences possible & each one is a treasure, both in lessons learned & the partnership forged with my horses.  Not only did these incredible teachers raise the bar on my training & riding about 47 holes, but they did so with patience, grace, generosity of spirit, humility, & humour.

For that, I consider myself lucky indeed. 

August 23, 2014

No Cups? No Problem! Build Hassle-Free Jump Standards…For $0!

Building Standards 16 Aug 2014 001
Careful schematics (I defy 'smart'phone world!)
There are few necessary evils so maddening & so fiddly as The Jump Cup.

Buying them, drilling holes that aren’t too crooked, losing pins, dropping poles on your foot while adjusting them, breaking plastic cups, bending metal cups, deciding you don’t even like the kind you have…but do we have a choice?

YES!

Nostalgia had me paging through my well-worn Encyclopedia of the Horse (a 1977 masterpiece), when a training photo caught my eye.  It wasn’t the jumper, but rather the obstacle:  a simple, versatile schooling jump with ZERO moving parts.  Out came the pencil & some very rusty geometry.

A beautiful Saturday & a newly expanded stockpile of junk reclaimed lumber meant go time.  A few hours (there may have been some wandering & catching up with friends involved *ahem*), an assorted collection of leftover screws, & some precise eyeball measurements, and I’ve got “plug-n-play” eventing standards!

Possibly best safety poster.  Ever.
Your friends are already jealous of your super-fly flower box, now it’s time to blow their minds when you never have to push an angry carpenter bee out of a pin hole again (or maybe that just happens to me?).

Standard Preface from the Safety Nazi:  Dude.  Tools are awesome, but don't mess aroundWear your safety glasses, close-toed shoes, ear protection when necessary, & pay attention.  Work smarter, not harder.  You can do anything you set your mind to, but make sure you have been properly instructed, know your equipment, & always plan ahead.



Ready, Set, Go

Rule #1 of Redneck Construction (we’ll consider safety to be Rule #OptimusPrime - hey, he wears a helmet):  never be afraid to try!  No one was born with knowledge, so ask questions, google your heart out, & don’t hesitate to click my email button if you want to know more – I consider it all “paying it forward” in thanks to those who taught me.

Building Standards 16 Aug 2014 005
Let it begin...
Tools:
  • Skilsaw
  • Drill (pilot holes are especially useful in treated and/or scrap lumber, reduces cracking & other lumber fail when you drive the screws)
  • Impact Driver loaded w/ screwdriver bit (optional; you can use a screwdriver bit in your drill or a hand screwdriver)
  • Measuring Tape  
  • Pencil (or Sharpie, crayon, paint pen of your choice)
  • Wood Screws (I maintain a collection of leftovers)
Lumber:Two Frames (2) 6’ scraps (dimensions optional, but this is your base, so wide is good)
 (4) 5’ scraps (dimensions optional, mine don’t even match)
Pole Supports: As many as you like at any height you like (naturally, none of mine match here either)

Building Standards 16 Aug 2014 002
Building Standards 16 Aug 2014 003
Other Materials:  A camera so you can share your masterpiece.  A phone in case you have to dial 911 (Remember, "proactive, not reactive").  Paint/stain if you really want to go hog-wild (overachiever).

Pertinent Notes:  I wanted a 4’ standard, as I need to be able to school up to ~3’7”.  My secret ulterior motive:  this also makes the geometry EXTREMELY easy, because one vague concept I remember is the standard 3-4-5 right triangle (hello, sophomore year of high school flashback).  The frame now measures itself:  with a 4’ line from the apex down the center, it is simply two right triangles back-to-back.  Each angled side must then be 5’ and the base, 6’ (two triangles combined = 3’ X 2).

Yeah, just look at the picture up top, I’m a visual learner too, LOL!
 


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Damn straight, it's the TFS Official Eventing Stick!
Step 1:  I like to do all my basic cuts first.  But I usually, erm, SQUIRREL!, & MAKE A KEWL THING!  Since owning a farm apparently makes you an instant hoarder, I’d been saving this sturdy little pole I’d found in the giant burn pile (included free with property purchase, LOL).  One end had splintered, but I simply cut that off, sat down with my Sharpie, & check it out:  my own handy measuring pole, labeled by USEA levels!

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Frame layout
The Actual Step 1:  Cut the basic frame boards to length (for both standards) & lay them out.  Yes, these ARE three boards of completely different dimensions & age, heh.  My 6’ base is at the bottom of the photo & the two 5’ sides are angled around the 4’ upright.

The 4’ board is NOT included/attached to the standard, I just used it as a guide for the other three boards.  And I may or may not have gotten a little excited with the Sharpie & decided it needed to have the levels pre-marked & labeled too (hey, I might need a back-up measurer).

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4' reference upright
Step 2:  I suck at miter-ing.  A lot.  To trim the angles you see in the standing frame, I very scientifically overlapped the boards in the final configuration, squinted one eye, & sketched the trim lines.  Then, I just nipped the corners with the skilsaw.  Close enough.

Since there will be cross-boards screwed on to the frame, you don’t need to worry if your joints are a little gappy (not the ones in  your body, I can’t help with those).  The support boards will reinforce the frame & your finished product will be very solid.  At present, there is only one screw at each joint.

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First completed frame
I also did a slight design modification.  If all your lumber matched (boring!) and you had actual miter skillz, you would fasten each side to the top surface of the base.  However, since I was working with some boards that were narrow & some that were quite old, I decided to drive the screws through the wider face of the angled boards into the thicker sides of the base.  It worked out very well & let me avoid splitting the edges of my thinner lumber.

   
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Adding the first crosspiece
Step 3:  Do a little dance!  The hard part is done!  Now it’s time for the crosspieces, which will hold your poles/branches/panels/whatever else you can think of.

I laid out my 4’ guide upright, but I don’t have a t-square & didn’t feel like getting fussy with the level.  After laying down each cross-board, I also measured the vertical distance from the base to the top of the crosspiece on each side.  Now I could be sure that my poles would be supported at the heights I wanted & I marked the positions with my sharpie before I drilled.

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Labeled by USEA level!
Step 4:  I was getting hungry & didn’t feel like ripping new boards down with the saw at this point (project honesty).  This translated to making do with the scrap assortment I had in front of me.  I had enough to cover the essentials, though.  This finished standard has supports at 2’, 2’7” (BN), and 3’3” (T).  Of course I labeled them!!

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One standard, AH AH AH!!
Step 5:  Repeat steps 1-4.  It goes much more quickly now that you have experience!  For now, my 2nd standard has only BN & T crosspieces, but later additions are a snap.

Step 6:  JUMP SWEET JUMPS!  Ok, I haven’t gotten this far yet, but if you do, picture submission is required!!

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All done!  Well, for today.
Future Finesse

I have a few touches left to finish (after significant snack-age).  Extras for you to consider:

  • Add a short scrap perpendicular to the end of each base if feet are needed for stability.
  • Cut the corners off crosspieces to reduce pointy edges.
  • Use molding scraps or other small wood pieces to make blocks on the end of crosspieces to prevent pole rolling.
  • Cut scoops or notches in crosspieces to hold poles like a cup.
  • Cut multiple notches in crosspieces on the inside of the triangle; you can make cavalleti, oxers & triple bars with just one pair of standards!
  • Paint it pretty, or stain to seal if you prefer the natural wood finish.
  • Drill holes in the baseboard for flowers, pinwheels, or other decoration.
  • What else can your imagination dream up??

August 16, 2014

Red Alert: Change Is Afoot

Danger, Will Robinson!!

Yes, I know, change is scary, but this one is long overdue & very exciting.

How about I leave you hanging a bit longer...?

TFS IS ABOUT TO EXPERIENCE A SERIOUS FACELIFT!

Didn't you just do that? 

You're right, it wasn't terribly long ago when I implemented the current design.  However, it's time for me to admit that, despite endless fussing, I've never been that happy with it.  The deal-breaker was when I found I'd made a  mistaken assumption and it's not responsive.  Boo.  (Just because I hate touchscreens doesn't mean I want to punish the millions of  you who use them!!)

So hold on to your bucking straps.  There are still a few details to finesse, although my beta-testers have given the thumbs-up.  But I think it's going to be a smoother ride.