SUBSCRIBE TODAY Smiley face  Get updates via email! 

We Are Flying Solo

January 31, 2010

Where's That One Horse Open Sleigh When You Need It?

T-1 day to injections!

But we enjoyed a snow ride anyway, *crunch crunch crunch crunch*, sporting our sexy new quarter sheet. Hopefully, there will be an exciting vet report tomorrow...

January 30, 2010

Snow Ponies

Apparently a worm hole in the universe has opened and transported me back to my chilly childhood days in Kentucky. Cause this sure as hell ain't North Carolina!!! It is "snowing" ice pellets for god's sake!

The farm driveway, complete with 6 inch pile of snow on the truck hood.

We are not impressed by your "winter."

Oh! Haz you come to bring me to warmth and treats?

Well. Read my disappointment when you do not.

I iz Moxie. I iz hunter princess. You bring me in now!!


You suck.

Even the farm birds are scrounging in the snow for scraps.

Even Smokey has an opinion.

January 26, 2010

Wanna Rise To The Challenge?

So I have decided there is no point is pushing Solo too hard until post-injections, especially on the dressage work that really needs him to rock back and step under from behind. Therefore, I must remove temptation for me to keep working on this stuff so I don't get frustrated by the inability to progress.

As a result, I decided to take the stirrups off my dressage saddle until the shots are given. They came off last week and I am not allowed to replace them for any reason. I have left the stirrups on our jump saddle, so light jump schools are ok.

My concession to my body is that I have left my cushy sheepskin seat saver on the dressage saddle. I have no desire to kill myself.

So, all dressage schooling must be done sans stirrups. And yes, that includes W/T/C. This means that I will get tired and owie wayyyy before I'm asking Solo to work too hard, LOL.

We do a little less trot work (hey, I'm not Ironwoman!), but we do a lot more transition work. Lots of bending at the walk and canter. Last night, we warmed up with 5 loop serpentines at the walk. Then, staying on the serpentine, we would trot around the bends, but on the straighaways, transition to walk and leg yield three steps in direction of new bend, then resume trot. At the canter, we did a few 15-m circles, then added a couple loops of semi-counter canter to work on balance. Then my thighs hurt like a sonovabitch, so that was the end. Other days, we went on a trail ride or worked on bending around our trot circles.

My challenge to you is to join us in no-stirrup land for the week. C'mon, I double dog dare ya! It's great for the balance, building muscle and encouraging a longer, drapier leg. You do NOT have to do all three gaits if you don't want to. I will not make you post the trot or two point. Yes, it is hard. BUT, I'm not talking torture session here. My legs are a bit sore, but I'm not forcing myself to continue exercises when my legs are screaming. I agree with P, who says tired, stressed muscles that continue to be drilled will only result in incorrect work. So I do a couple of exercises, push myself just a little, then quit. Rarely do these rides last more than maybe 20-30 minutes.

So who's with me???

January 24, 2010

Help For Boot Buyers Anonymous

Hi, my name is eventer79 and I am addicted to buying horse boots.

I admit it. I don't even know why. But I love leg boots. It doesn't even make sense given that I only use them for jumping, but there it is. I have galloping boots, splint boots, open front boots, bell boots, polo wraps, standing wraps, track wraps, brushing boots... Hey, you have to be prepared! Ok, no, the picture is not my tackroom, but OH, I wish it was!

But there's always a question when it comes to boots -- which ones are best? What variables should I be looking at when purchasing? What is my horse most at risk for? Can I HURT my horse with boots? When should I use them? Even more importantly, when should I NOT use them?

Well, USEA has kindly posted this excellent video from the recent national convention. Dr. David Marlin is a British scientist who has been conducting empirical tests on equine leg boots and investigating what we should be asking our boots to do. And finally, someone states with authority that a little bit of neoprene and velcro does not, cannot, will never provide any real support of the massive loading forces present in a horse's leg, hurrah!

It's about 20 minutes or so, but I strongly encourage watching, it's extremely informative, well-researched, and well-presented. He does have videos of his testing, although the 9 types of boots he tested are only referred to by number, not by brand name, so don't expect a magic slip of paper saying, "Buy this one!" But did you know tendon cells start to die at 45 degrees C (114 degrees F, not that hard to do, I would imagine, under neoprene in summer)??! And horses, when knocking their leg on a solid object, are routinely exposed to the same amount of concussive force that would break a human femur? Sweet, we, as horse owners, definitely need evidence to make us MORE paranoid!!!!

January 23, 2010


So I'm at the farm the other night. Solo's feeder is a triangular bin in the corner of his stall, so a few pellets always get crammed in the corners where he can't reach them. Being an OCD horse mom, I pick them out & move them out to the middle so he can finish them. So, I peek in to the feeder to see if any are in there. And I see...



Blink blink.

I know I am crazy, but I swear to god there are a couple bits of broccoli on Solo's plate.

I look up at BO. I look back at feeder.

Blink blink.

Ok, yes, definitely broccoli in there.

I look back at BO. I ask hesitantly, lest my insanity become blatantly obvious.

"Um. Has Solo been eating broccoli?" I am sure that I must be having yet another very strange dream.

BO (laughing): "Oh, LOL, DH (who is an avid gardener) had a bunch of leftover broccoli & cauliflower the other night so he brought it up to the horses for a treat."

Me: "Ohhhhhh..."

Yes, my horse, the giant food snob, who won't even eat peppermints because they are not Horse Food, has spat out cucumber and banana and watermelon all with equal distaste, apparently cleaned up a plate of broccoli & cauliflower, as evidenced by the sprigs left behind.

Who knew that Solo had such a taste for salad? What's next - cherry tomatoes? Beets? Rutabegas? I am going to have to talk to BO about random veggies in the food as they can cause gas colic...

What kind of crazy stuff does YOUR horse love?

January 21, 2010

It's Time

Horses' legs: structures designed by nature to drive horse owners to and beyond the brink of madness and financial ruin. They are also the source of brilliant marketing opportunities for companies who can figure out how to vaguely promise to magically protect/heal/repair/strengthen/support your horse's legs if you only fork out the cash for their amazing product. And it's a pretty safe bet that if you choose to own a horse, at some point, you will be dealing with some leg-related issue which will cause you to identify strongly with the words above.

So for Solo, it's a hind leg thing. I'm pretty sure it's his hocks. Which means there is a great chance that it has nothing to do with the hocks, because that is the way horses seem to work. But previous study and examination and consultation lead me to believe it's a hock issue, so that is the story that I am sticking to! Until I find a better story.

He has some mild hock arthritis, more so in the left hind than the right. As a result, he has perfected the art of cocking his hips just so to the outside when tracking left so he is not fully loading the inside hind at the trot and canter when asked to bend. It's subtle and often times you can't even see it, you can only feel it when you are sitting on him. It certainly doesn't slow him down, just makes him a bit lopsided (and hey, who isn't lopsided?).

Like a good horse slave, I mean, owner, I set out to try and address this. When I bought him at age 10, he didn't really need anything, but the first winter, I could feel the tiniest hint of unevenness, so I began the Great Supplement Trials, looking for the feed-through which might help him out (different horses respond differently to different things and not all supplements are created equal). I gave each a month or two of trial and if I found no results, I tried something else.

I tried pure MSM. Nope, no difference.
Corta-Flx, adored by many. Nope, no difference.
Some random thing I forget. Nope, no difference.
Injectible glucosamine. Nope, no difference.
SmartFlex II Support. HMMMM....YES! I liked it!

My old vet wanted to inject his hocks straight off (well, of COURSE, that makes a bunch of money for them, doesn't it??!). I said no, it felt too drastic to introduce at this stage, I wanted to work through options gradually. I was sure he would need injections eventually, but I wanted to delay jabbing needles into joint capsules for as long as possible. The second winter, I decided to knock things up a notch and moved him to SmartFlex Senior, another feed through which had higher levels of therapeutic ingredients and also included Devil's Claw. I liked this even more!

About a year and a half ago, as we started to compete more, train more, etc, I wanted to give Solo some more help with the joints, so I added IM Adequan to his protocol. OMG, I love that stuff! I can always tell a difference within 24 hours of injection and it has been a huge help keeping the stiffness at bay. I finally got him back on 24/7 turnout and all that motion motion motion also helps keep everything lubed up, even in the nastiness of wintertime.

This year, our training will keep moving up. Solo will be 14 in February and he has politely informed me that the time has come. I have researched, consulted, polled, interviewed everyone I can get my hands on. And it finally feels right to take that step. So February 1st, the joint injections will make their appearance and the deed will be done.

I am excited, having made the decision. I want for Solo to always be comfortable with his job and I think that this will help him to do so. Of course, by this point, my expectations are ridiculously high. Post-injection, my horse will be able to passage, score a 15 on every dressage test, leap 4' fences from a walk, and make optimum time at the Advanced level.


January 19, 2010

I Ride

Written by an 87 year-old woman (who still rides) and had this to say about women & horses:

I Ride

"I ride. That seems like such a simple statement. However as many women who ride know it is really a complicated matter. It has to do with power and empowerment. Being able to do things you might have once considered out of reach or ability. I have considered this as I shovel manure, fill water barrels in the cold rain, wait for the vet /farrier/electrician/hay delivery, change a tire on a horse trailer by the side of the freeway, or cool a gelding out before getting down to the business of drinking a cold beer after a long ride.

The time, the money, the effort it takes to ride calls for dedication. At least I call it dedication. Both my ex-husbands call it 'the sickness'. It's a sickness I've had since I was a small girl bouncing my model horses and dreaming of the day I would ride a real horse. Most of the women I ride with understand the meaning of 'the sickness'. It's not a sport. It's not a hobby. It's what we do and, in some ways, who we are as women and human beings.

I ride. I hook up my trailer and load my gelding. I haul to some trailhead somewhere, unload, saddle, whistle up my dog and I ride. I breathe in the air, watch the sunlight filter through the trees and savor the movement of my horse. My shoulders relax. A smile rides my sunscreen smeared face. I pull my ball cap [I interject: HELMET!] down and let the real world fade into the tracks my horse leaves in the dust.

Time slows. Flying insects buzz loudly, looking like fairies. My gelding flicks his ears and moves down the trail. I can smell his sweat and it is perfume to my senses. Time slows. The rhythm of the walk and the movement of the leaves become my focus. My saddle creaks and the leather rein in my hand softens with the warmth.

I consider the simple statement; I ride. I think of all I do because I ride. Climb granite slabs, wade into a freezing lake, race a friend through the meadow, all the while laughing and feeling my heart in my chest. Other days just the act of mounting and dismounting can be a real accomplishment. Still I ride, no matter how tired or how much my seat bones or any of the numerous horse related injuries hurt. I ride. And I feel better for doing so.

The beauty I've seen because I ride amazes me. I've ridden out to find lakes that remain for the most part, unseen. Caves, dark and cold beside rivers full and rolling are the scenes I see in my dreams. The Granite Stairway at Echo Summit, bald eagles on the wing and bobcats on the prowl add to the empowerment and joy in my heart.

I think of the people, mostly women, I've met. I consider how competent they all are. Not a weenie amongst the bunch. We haul 40ft rigs, we back into tight spaces without clipping a tree. We set up camp. Tend the horses. We cook and keep safe. We understand and love our companions, the horse. We respect each other and those we encounter on the trail. We know that if you are out there riding, you also shovel, fill, wait and doctor. Your hands are a little rough and you travel without makeup or hair gel. You do without to afford the 'sickness' and probably, when you were a small girl, you bounced a model horse while you dreamed of riding a real one."

January 15, 2010

My New Best Friend

Maybe it's premature to rank them so highly, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE Solo's new shoes! Farrier was out yesterday -- we've been experimenting, trying to find a set of shoes that will fit Mr. Goldilocks "just right" and stop his forging ways.

My apologies, it's not the best picture, but it's the best you get from a phone with no flash in a stall at night! But up front he now has Natural Balance shoes with a wedge heel and we also put a slightly shorter shoe on the back -- he was having issues with the longer trailers we tried in the back, so those came off, yay!

End result, rode him lightly last night and he did GREAT! Not a single clinky forge to be had. And we incorporated our homework of adding a few 15 m canter circles -- and on the right lead (easy one) coming out of that circle, he sat down in the prettiest little uphill canter you ever saw.

Me = satisfied again. Anal hoof staring abated for the time being. Ok, you're right, I probably will still stare, but my eyes will be slightly less narrow now.

January 14, 2010

Thought For The Day

I am cleaning out my old cell phone in preparation for switching to a new one, as the buttons are about to stop working (especially the one with the "e" on it!). I found these timeless words from God, aka Jim Wofford, stored in a note from our clinic last year. I stashed them in my phone to remind myself often to keep my horse training priorities straight:

Any system which disturbs the natural tranquility of the horse is flawed.

Need I say more? Words to ponder every day...

January 12, 2010

Quiz Answers

Just because I know you were dying to find out, our two mystery horses from the 29 December 2009 quiz were successfully identified!

molly was the first commenter to successfully identify our stunning chestnut, Secretariat. A son of Bold Ruler, this red speed demon was not expected to have the staying power for the distance stakes races. It appears no one informed Secretariat of this. Not only did he win the Triple Crown in 1973, he blew it out of the water. In the Derby, he achieved the unprecedented feat of running each successive quarter mile faster than the one before it. That record still stands. He also won the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths and in the fastest time for 1.5 miles on dirt ever before and ever since. He is still listed in "Top Ten" lists of great athletes even in non-horsey circles, won $1.3 million, and his blood lives on in his descendents despite his death from laminitis at age 19 in 1989. As an honor for a great legend, he was buried whole at Claiborne, where he still lies. He also sired the first TB yearling ever to sell for more than $1 million; the colt, Canadian Bound, brought a $1.5 million sticker price, but was a failure at racing. Secretariat later became known for his penchant for producing mediocre colts, but excellent broodmares. Interestingly, necropsy revealed that his heart weighed 22 pounds, the largest ever recorded for a horse.

The grey was a toughie, but Kate chimed in, solving the mystery (even I couldn't figure out who he was): Spectacular Bid. He was a Bold Ruler grandson who may have also been a Triple Crown winner, only the morning of the 1979 Belmont, "The Bid" stepped on a metal pin in his stall and his jockey was in a fist fight, the two of which together cost him the prize. Nevertheless, he won 26 out of 30 races and never lost between 7 furlongs and 1.25 miles. He won $2.8 million and was syndicated at stud for $22 million. He left Claiborne in 1991 and he died of a heart attack in 2003 in upstate New York, 27 years full of heart.

January 11, 2010

In Which Solo Is A Guinea Pig

So we have this electromagnetic blanket sitting around the farm. It's on loan (or in storage?) for a friend of the BO. Now, scientifically, there is little data to suggest that magnetic pulse therapy is significantly effective and anecdotal reports show ceramic heat reflection technology to posses greater efficacy. But what the hell, the thing is sitting there and we've got nothing to lose, so we decided to try it out.

The book promised the horse would immediately take on a "calm, relaxed" demeanor. It did not indicate how you would recognize this if your guinea pig horse is generally calm and relaxed anyway.

It also had a useful Q&A section, covering important issues like: "Will this blanket make my horse a champion?" and offering the answer I hope no one paid money for: "No. Of course not. That would be impossible." Yes, those are direct quotes.

This helpful little manual also suggests you might get better results using the thing twice a day. Again, it did not indicate how one would do this without having an infinite amount of time to sit around and stare at a horse wearing a blanket. So, not so helpful really.

Supposedly, you have to use it at the lowest setting for three days, then you can begin to bump it up. I can't imagine anything more anticlimactic. You unroll all these cords and pieces and plug them into this giant silver box that looks like a 1980-model PC (see photo). There are junction boxes and switches and frequency settings galore. Then, with bated breath, you hit the "start" button. At which point precisely nothing happens. There are no lights. There is no sound. There is no heat from the pads. Your horse stands there staring at you contemplating the possiblity of carrots in your pocket. I was only able to figure out the thing was actually working by holding a magnet under each pad and as the machine pulses, the magnet vibrates in your hand. Thrilling.

So after day 1, I can report that my horse is calm and relaxed. Pretty much just like he was 30 minutes earlier, but it's a fun experiment.

January 8, 2010

Pats On The Back

It's always good when someone validates your hard work. Every so often, we all need someone to pat us on the head and say, "good girl." (Yes, I share that attribute with my geriatric dog)

Last night, we trucked over to the indoor arena across the street -- I would have ridden over there, but BO was horrified at the thought of crossing a road in the dark (hey, MY horse is road safe!) and insisted we ride in the trailer. No doubt the horses are bemused by the literally one-minute trailer ride.

P met me for a dressage lesson. I'd been feeling good about things and I am happy to report that P gave us an A!! Her comments:

Ooo, the canter is now balanced, rhythmic and packaged -- no more strung out horsey!
Solo is consistent in the bridle and lifting his back at the trot.
New farrier is doing good things as he is now tracking up well.

And the biggest impact for me: we should now be thinking and riding like a First Level dressage horse. The biggest change there is that now we need to make the poll the highest point. When we started, the only way to lift the back was to lower the neck as a lever. Now, Solo has learned to lift and use his back (you can even feel the new muscle behind the saddle, it's COOL!), so now he must graduate to traveling in a First Level outline.

Me = excited!

Our assignment:

-Begin to incorporate 15 m canter circles. Do NOT listen when Solo whines about how they are haaaaaaaaaard. I MUST sit up and sit back, visualizing riding an imaginary canter pirouette and staying over that hind leg, no hunter-creeping forward.
-Put in more lateral work: shoulder-in, leg yield, shoulder-fore, to get him lifting and using his shoulders. Remember to keep the inside leg AT the girth, no cheating and moving it back to push haunches out.
-Keep working and increase frequency of work on changes within gaits: compression of the trot in collection and then expanding it out to medium trot. Solo is not strong enough yet, I can feel it, but in a month or two, P says he may be ready to start doing some real lengthening at the trot. SWEET!

January 5, 2010

Patience, Grasshopper

Riding & training are not always a linear, forward progression of learning. In fact, if they are, you should get off your horse & back away slowly because he is obviously not actually a horse & you may well have been sucked into a parallel universe.

Actual training goes like this:

Ok, horsey, this is what we need to do.

Oh, good try, horsey, you've almost got it!

Hullo, horsey, are you still paying attention? Just one more try...

Crap, bad horsey! That is not even close to what I wanted!

Hey! You suck -- why did you just give me the horsey version of the finger??!

OMG, why did I even try this?? I give up, we'd better just do something else because this was obviously a terrible idea.

Ok, it's been a week since we tried that new thing, let's try it just one time.

Oh, horsey, that was pretty close! Good horsey, I take it back, you don't suck!

Yay, horsey, that was it!

(And here, a wise horsewoman walks away, but most of us try one more time & then return to "Crap!" and repeat many times)

It's so hard to find that balance point between pushing too hard & getting greedy for success & waiting until your horse is really ready & understands what you are asking. Since it is freezing ass cold, I put on 47 layers of clothing & just did some long lining on Sunday.

As you know, Solo can get panicky longeing/lining due to his past but has come a long way. Well, he was having a "bad horsey" day & when I asked for a little canter, he soon cross cantered, freaked himself out, & spun around backing up wide-eyed.

I have perfected the art of cursing at your horse very nicely so that he doesn't know that you are cursing his hide.

But I took a deep breath, got him moving forward at the walk & trot again, tracked him left (non-panicky direction) and slowly & patiently worked him up to canter again there, then went back to the right & finally got a canter without stopping & spinning. And there we were finished.

As P says, "Get to the hard side through the easy side."

Ohhhhhhhhhhh, but it's hard to be that patient. Especially, when you KNOW it's a skill they have done before, but they are having a "regression" day. It is crucial to be able to take that VERY deep breath & muster all available calm & patience to work through the bad moments.

And it is not failure to end on an easy note or a try & have a go again another day. You can't win a physical battle with a horse & he doesn't understand your frustration & chances are he's even MORE frustrated then you.

The recipe for success calls for simple, yet very expensive ingredients:
  • Patience
  • Calm
  • Fairness
  • Patience
  • Patience
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Sympathy
  • Did I mention patience?
And always be prepared for Those Days. You know the ones, where your horse appears to have forgotten all progress & is quite simply & wildly ignorant of your requests? Yup, those.

January 2, 2010

Feeling Frosty

It's cold. Like your-face-puckers-inward-to-avoid-contact-with-the-air cold. Then the wind blows. And I seriously rethink my decision to walk out the door.

But I still rode, dangit! We did some trots and canters up and down the hills in the pastures. Or rather, Solo did his best to maintain some time of crooked bow shape to his body so he could remind me where all the OTHER horses were in the arctic windstorm. At least, until my face gave in to wind chill, then I went back in.

Today I am thankful for:

Barn doors to close everything up nice and cozy
Hot water to wash the mud off of pasterns
Heated buckets to absolve me of water hauling duty
Heated stock tanks in the pasture to spare me soaking gloves from icebreaking
Extension cords for all that stuff

For your entertainment, a couple videos from our jump school on Friday. Notably, the day when it was 50 degrees out instead of the polar gale we seem currently stuck in. Sorry, the camera was stuck on a tripod, so you get only a fixed camera angle.

A little warmup gymnastic, in which I need to give more rein...

This one is a 2'11" (regulation Novice height) oxer that was two strides after a similar sized vertical.

This was our "biggie" -- I always try to set up just one that is at a more challenging height or type so that I know if we come to something that looks crazy big to me on a course, we can handle it! This was a 3'2" vertical on an uphill and as you can see, I made sure I had LOTS of horse under me coming to this thing, it was big!

And if you can stomach my giving in to the temptation of cheesiness, this is just a little montage I put together in a late night fit of boredom. I had never made one before so this was my trial run.

January 1, 2010

I Am A Sheep

I'm not much for "New Year's Resolutions" but in this instance, for the record, I am going to follow the flock and bleat out some goals for 2010.

We will:

-Complete at least two recognized events at the Novice level, one being the Adult Team Challenge this August at Waredaca.

-Get through a dressage test at a competition in such a way that the judge is not left with an obvious impression that both my horse and I have our teeth clenched in distaste.

-Figure out what the heck is going on with Solo's back feet so we can move back to barefoot land back there.

-Gallop and jump through the woods with the wind in our hair and bugs stuck in our respective grins.

-Give thanks every day for the amazing partnership we share (well, I will, Solo probably just gives thanks for carrots and hay) and the incredible gift of Solo and his huge, kind, generous, brave, red heart.

What are YOUR hopes for your 2010 journey??