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We Are Flying Solo

April 26, 2010

It's Official!

I got this little treasure in the mail today!  I unashamedly confess to a SQUEE! of delight when I opened the envelope.  Solo is now recorded in the annals of forever and ever as a real, honest-to-god, card-carrying, log-jumping, event horse!

PS  To the two other people who have registered horses by the name "Solaris," well, I don't know you but I will confidently assure you that mine is the bestest one ever, so you should probably go ahead and just change your horses' names now so they do not develop a complex about being unable to live up to His Shininess.  Not that I am, ahem, biased or anything.  Nope, not even a teensy bit.  Really.

April 25, 2010

I Heart Technology

Now that we are at Novice, I wanted to start bringing a little extra care & management to my horse's legs after jumping, as those extra 3" translated into a lot more work for Solo's body, especially post-XC what with the addition of these drops & banks & such.

I pondered ice boots--too annoying what with having to have ice on hand & inability to provide even pressure to the legs--and then poultices--just too messy--and then just cold spongeing--too short term to have much effect--and was left without a solution I liked. I wanted something easy to pack, easy to use by myself, easy to maintain, & I didn't want to pay $1,000,000.00 for it.

I decided to try ColdFlex, which I picked up from SmartPak (I love you SmaaaartPak, oh yes I doooo...oh wait, I digress...). I gave it a go after our XC run at Longleaf last Saturday. In short, I FREAKING LOVE THESE THINGS! Best. Invention. Ever.  You can see Solo sporting them in high style there on the left.

Basically, it's a polo wrap that feels like it's made of silicone.  It has gelled water imbedded in it.  All you do is wrap it around your body part of choice.  I could only talk myself into buying two to start out, so after much anguished deliberation, I decided to wrap front legs as they take the brunt of jumping impacts. 

Once you wrap, you put a turn of vetwrap around the loose end -- the gel wrap sticks to itself sort of, but it's not very secure, the vetwrap holds it better (You can't see the vetwrap in the pic on the right, but it's at the top.  It's just the exact same shade of blue as the gel wrap.  Of course.).  Then sponge some water over the wrap & stand back.  Evaporation magic begins.

The directions say you can leave them on for as long as eight hours as long as you reapply water roughly every two hours. I left them on for about 45 minutes to an hour -- you cannot cover them up, as that would block the evaporative cooling & I did not want him to wear them on the trailer & tear them up. They appear to be about as durable to impact as jello.

I sponged them once after about 20 minutes just because I am paranoid like that. I rolled them back up and repackaged them (key fact: you can NEVER let them dry out, EVER EVER), they come in these handy plastic tubs for storing.

And those tendons were cold & tight & beautiful!! No mess, no ice, no hoses, no goop! Even compression & efficient cooling all in one with practically zero effort.  I think mum was a little perplexed as to why I was whooping around excited, but it was so EASY!

According to the manufacturer you can reuse them about 25 times before they are worn out & need to be replaced. I feel like I got my money's worth out of one time, so if I can use them for 25 more horse trials, I am totally beyond satisfied! Once again, chemistry improves life & technology rocks my world!

Two hooves up from Solo!!

April 24, 2010

My New Hero

Unless you live under a rock, you may be aware that Rolex is going on this weekend.  The biggest, baddest, awesomest 3 Day Event in the US, four stars of challenge for the world's best horses and riders.

One of the big letdowns of watching these top-level events for me, though, has always been that not a single one of those riders, who strap on multiple layers of safety equipment to run cross country, don a simple helmet for the dressage ring. Until now.

Allison Springer, you are my new hero.

Pictured here in a beautiful Josh Walker photo from USEA, she rode down centerline on her stunning horse, Arthur, and scored a 43.7, putting her solidly in second place, behind only Britain's William Fox-Pitt. All in a classy velvet helmet with her tails. Which, by the way, hunters have been doing forever.

So, riders, no more excuses that your score will suffer because the "judge will think my horse is spooky" or "everyone will laugh at me." It's not high school (ok, there is a lot of drama and gossip, but still), be an adult, have the guts to buck ridiculous convention that makes no sense. Allison had the cojones to walk the walk and you know what -- internet message boards everywhere are singing her praises, fans are sending her support both emotional and financial, all because she was the only one in the crowd brave enough to be the role model these riders are supposed to be.

So, Allison (not that she will read this, but...), you go, girl. Thank you for being the kind of strong, smart woman we need more of, not only in this sport, but in the world, who will not be the sheep and who steps out in the right direction, even if it's not what the popular kids are doing.

You freaking rock.

April 22, 2010

It's About Time The Freaking Pictures Arrived!

Cause I know that's what you're thinking, right?  Without further ado...  Pics by mum unless otherwise noted.


 Hooked up and ready to go.

Dressage warmup.

Stride one out of the start box and he's raring to go!

Clearing the log stack at jump #1.  Pic by Pics of You.       Stretching out for the gallop.  Pic by Pics of You.
Soaring over the big table (jump #4) in style.  Pic by Pics of You.

 Jump #7, a rolltop coming out of a sunken road.

 Evidence that we did, in fact, jump that trakhener (jump #8) that I've spent all winter thinking about.  

 Coming out of the two stride combo (jump #10) with flying colours!  Pic by Pics of You.

Making our way 'round stadium.  We got in a little deep on the red one and his hind foot caught the top rail there.  Left by Pics of You, right by mum.

All ridiculous faces courtesy of yours truly.  During dressage, it is me gritting my teeth.  On XC, it is me yelling "GOOD BOY!"  In stadium, it's me staring at the jump trying not to stare at the jump.

April 19, 2010

Sometimes Finishing Is Winning

Sorry, SillyPony, we did not perform show jumping with such brilliant finesse that the judge decided that all the other riders sucked and gave us a giant blue ribbon.   

I also have to say: THANK YOU, MUM, FOR BEING A GREAT CREW! She brought us water, snapped pictures and carried bell boots around for us this weekend and the company and assistance were invaluable. It is SO MUCH WORK doing an HT by yourself, just having an extra pair of hands is truly priceless!

Saturday night, still rolling from our XC high, we packed up and chugged up the road to A's house, a friend of a friend who graciously offered Solo a stall for the night. But not JUST a stall. A beautiful abode in a picturesque barn over which the house was built. The back of the stall opened directly into a private pasture all for Solo.

Funny story: I poured Solo his grain and as he began to munch, I worked on tying the back door of the stall open so he could choose to go in or out at his whim. As soon as I had it wedged open, Solo turns his head and looks and immediately stops eating and walks out the door. He stops, surveys his pasture, turns and looks over his shoulder at the door, then looks at pasture again, then turns around and marches back through the door. He then looks back at the door again and snorts as if to say, Now that is freakin' SWEET!!! All three of us watching died laughing.

Sunday morning dawned a gorgeous 70 degrees and Solo walked boldly out of his stall moving great. His back muscle was still tight, but it had lost its angry heat, so it got its morning massage and we loaded up to go.

The stadium course rode really well, despite what I thought were two terrifying bending lines. They turned out to flow quite smoothly and we even conquered the tough oxer-two-stride-vertical combination at the end. Tired Solo toes caught one rail on a skinny vertical we weren't quite forward enough to and thus ended up too deep at, but that's ok.

All in all, for a horse with a pulled muscle, I'd say my big red boy did pretty damn well and he jumped beautifully for me. He just couldn't carry himself for the dressage arena, but whaddya do? We finished in 18th place out of 30 horses, which gives me great hope for when Mr. Shiny Pants is back to 100%.  I consider our first recognized horse trial a success!

And I also want to send a shout out to the Carolina Horse Park and their new lower level course designer, Jeff Kibbie. He did a FANTASTIC job putting together a XC course that was not maxed out (thank you!!!!) at every jump, flowed perfectly, presented a variety of jump types and questions in a way that the horse could think about and tackle each with confidence. I don't who did the stadium course, but they also did an excellent job.

I'm going to make a separate post for photos because I confess that there may have been some photogasmic purchasing activity, plus mum's great shots.  So here is a teaser, shot by Pics Of You, of Solo looking classy coming out of the second bending line in stadium jumping.  Again with that stupid stock tie...

April 17, 2010

Short Show Update

Day 1: If you looked at the live scoring, you can see we stand in a whopping 20th place.  Dressage was bad, I think much to do with that sore muscle.  I didn't push Solo on it so the whole half of the test tracking left is pretty ugly.  Tracking right, he put in a decent canter & I let him be.  Hence our very nasty 44.7.  And since Novice is where heaps of adult riders park & spend the rest of their life because Training scares them, it's VERY competitive.

Solo was quite willing to go forward though, so I figured I'd let him have a go at XC & he could decide what he wanted to do. Well, as soon as I rode out to the warmup field, he perked up & soared over the warmup jumps beautifully.

Then he saw the start box & I think his tail actually caught on fire. Optimum time was 5:18. We finished in like 4:39. He was flying. And jumping really well, so we'll give stadium a go tomorrow morning & if he says no, we'll walk off with no regrets -- the XC course was a GREAT ride & he willingly took in stride the trakhener, big bank, jump out of the water, wide brush & a tall bench. Hooray, Solo!

Here's a sneak preview of us all prettified for dressage, just to whet your appetite.  And yes, I did tie the stupid stock tie!

April 16, 2010

The Night Before Rears Its Ugly Head

It's always a comedy of errors with me.  But I guess if it wasn't this would be a really boring blog.

I have cleaned enough tack for five horses. See, as I was cleaning my bridles for tomorrow, I thought, hey, while I have the cleaning stuff out, why not clean up and oil the old bridles hanging in the trailer and put them in a bridle bag so they will store better? About halfway through, it became clear this was a bad idea. So much leather...the only good part is when one old cavesson broke in my hand so I didn't have to clean it anymore!

The trailer is packed with a full water jug and hay bag; the first aid kit is stowed next to saddles and bridles and girths and spare girths and spare reins; the galloping boots and splint boots and bell boots and open front boots and spare bell boots and spare spare bell boots are hung.

Since I realized that despite my somewhat exhaustive supply of horse accessories, I was a bit short on apparel for a recognized dressage arena, sigh. All the buttons had been snapped off my coat at the last horse trial during an exhausted dismount. In my own true redneck fashion, I was just going to safety pin it shut. Well, BO would have none of that and insisted I borrow her jacket and stock tie.

So now I have a $600 jacket and a stock tie I don't know how to tie hanging in my closet. I am horrified to put the jacket on in fear that I will somehow ruin it merely by coexisting near it.

Oh and because smooth sailing would be too easy, as I was bathing Solo, I discovered he had a very inflamed muscle in his back. OF COURSE he does. He got a Sore-No-More massage and a dose of bute and a stern admonishment that he better have himself fixed up by 1 pm tomorrow!

Dear god, why does every adventure have to be so...typically me??!

Time For The Big Time

We set off tomorrow for Longleaf Pines Horse Trial -- our foray into schlepping around with the big boys and girls.  And yes, my eyes ARE bugging out of my head.  This will be our first recognized event, our first two day event, and our first go at the Novice XC course at the Carolina Horse Park.  It's going to take every bit of Solo's big red heart to get us through it.  At present, I am driven by an equal mixture of excitement and terror.

The event will hold dressage and XC on Saturday and stadium jumping on Sunday. Solo will be bunking at a nearby farm so he will get his own paddock to snooze in Saturday night -- I hate locking him in a stall for a whole weekend, not to mention that if you stable at CHP for an event, they extort you for $175 just for a stall. Which I steadfastly refuse to pay. As if just entering the darn thing is not expensive enough, along with registering both yourself AND your horse with USEA!

You will be able to follow our (hopefully uneventful) progress and that of our competitors:
Ride times are here.
Live scoring is here.

Solo and I will be in the dressage arena at 1:06 pm and we'll hit the start box at 3:16 pm. My ever-so-kind mother is coming to photograph our performance so we'll have lots of photos to share with you next week too!

April 12, 2010

Long Thin Slimy Ones, Short Fat Juicy Ones...

WORMS! I wanted to quickly share a tidbit my vet graced me with this afternoon as I took Solo in for his spring shots:

All generic forms of ivermectin have been recalled over the past two or three years. They are completely ineffective; in the words of my much-loved Dr. Bob, "You'd be better off spitting in your horse's mouth than using that stuff." So if you bought that $1 ivermectin, don't waste your time. Stick to the name brands like Equimax or Zimectrin.

Also, never give ivermectin in the late summer (July/August); at this time, if horses are infected with parasites, there is a type that hatches out and migrates through the body. If you give ivermectin at this time, it will kill these hatchlings and cause very nasty pustuly reactions. Ew.

While on the subject of worms, Dr. Bob also mentioned that Panacur has an added bonus of boosting the immune system and the PowerPac can be given at any time of the year. Ask your vet if they sell the liquid in bulk -- you can buy enough to dose 5 horses for about $140. That's a lot cheaper than spending about $80 on a single horse's worth!

April 10, 2010

This Is How We Roll: Jumping Saddles

To add to our review series, I thought I'd talk a little about saddles.  I started out with a secondhand old-style medium tree Crosby event saddle; it was fantastic, with a spring tree that fit many horses.  Of course, as luck would have it, it stopped fitting MY horse as soon as I put him in regular work:  too narrow.  So the quest for a new saddle began. I decided to start with a close contact saddle and add a dressage saddle later when funds allowed. I could always do dressage in a cc but sure can't jump in a dressage saddle.

I should not have used the word "quest" so lightly; I quickly learned why horse people spook and swear when they hear the words "saddle shopping." Because it's a form of torture akin to holding one's hands in a campfire while being poked in the eyeballs with sharp sticks. If you have any restrictive criteria whatsoever, it adds an extra layer of "fun," like a rabbit slowly chewing off your toes while your hands roast.

Because this was my set of rules:
Had to be less than $1500
Had to have a long forward flap to accommodate my freaky long thigh
Had to fit my horse, who now went in a wide tree and would probably continue to change
Had to have wool flocking so I could fit to suit and adjust as needed
Had to be well-balanced and made well enough to last a while (ie more than five years)

Then I proceeded to peruse catalogues and haunt saddle shops. While pulling my hair out. Most helpful was the saddle clerk who took one look at said thighs and said "Oh, you'll need to order custom." Lady, what part of 1996 truck I was driving at the time said to you that I could afford custom saddles???

After a long and ardurous journey which I will spare you, we ended up with this: the Collegiate Convertible Diploma w/ Long Flap. And I can tell you honestly, three years later, I freaking love this saddle. With an initial coat of oil, the leather darkened to the perfect havana shade and broke in soft enough to be comfy, but is still strong enough not to scratch all the time. I've ridden hours in it on the trail, spent over a year doing dressage in it, and of course, run lots of XC in it. It's been flocked and adjusted to fit Solo nicely and sits in a good balance on his back. It has worn impeccably, and still looks lovely all cleaned up, often mistaken for a much more expensive piece of leather. For a saddle bought new for less than $1000, I don't think it can be beat.

I am not sorry I got the convertible gullet -- he's gone from medium to wide to extra wide and then seems to have settled on wide.  Lord help me if I had to buy new saddles every time!

Would I change anything about it? The only thing I might change is to design the tree with a little more wither clearance on the wider gullet plates. Solo can be a bit hard to fit because he has a huge shoulder. I always use a sheepskin cutout pad with the cc saddle so I ensure that his withers are enshrined only in softness. It works for us.

If you have to embark on this particular brand of torture, I highly recommend trying LOTS of things.  Go to stores, sit in them.  Yes, you will fall in love with some $4000 saddle you sit in, but if you're lucky it won't fit your horse.  I strongly suggest NOT sitting in the $4000 saddles.  It's just cruel to your hiney, mostly.  It's better if your ass doesn't know what it's missing.  Also, put lots of saddles on your horse.  They don't all fit the same and a medium in a Stubben is not the same as a medium in a Wintec which is not the same as a medium in a Prestige.  I know, it's like they WANT us to be crazy.

Also, say YES to a GOOD saddle fitter.  Having gone through three of them, I emphasize the word GOOD.  The saddle fitter can make or break your horse's comfort, so proceed with caution and ask questions and do research.

Do make a list of what is most important to you and be honest with yourself.  Many women buy saddles that are too small for them because of some silly insecurities about butt size.  Ladies:  the seat size of your saddle is very much about the length of your femur and not so much about the size of you butt.  And a saddle that is the wrong size can truly screw up your position on the horse.  I moved up from a 17.5" to an 18" seat to accommodate the freaky thighs and it made a huge difference in comfort; it's lovely not to have my knee sliding over the edge of the flap all the time!

While the process of finding the perfect saddle for me and Solo sucked royally, I also learned a lot a lot a lot a lot about saddles, construction, fitting, and balance.  I guess that is my tradeoff, as lessons learned the hard way certainly do stick very well!

April 7, 2010

Burnout Is Real

Yes, all work and no play makes Solo one very dull, crabby boy.  He pretty much gave me the horsey finger as I tacked him up the other day and then proceeded to stand there with his head hanging like I was going to take him out and beat him with a stick.  This, then, is the end result of working on dressage All. Winter. Long.

But there is an escape!  We have finally managed to work out how to access miles of wooded trails out the back gate.  And have been busy over the last few days trotting merrily along them.  Which Solo loves to the depths of his soul.  Now if only I could get him to translate that loose, back-swinging walk and forward, lifting trot to the arena!  But what I do get is a horse that returns to the gate at the end of our ride with bright eyes, pricked ears, and a spring in his step.

Moral:  even I, a HUGE proponent of getting horses OUT OF THE RING, can fall into the trap of working only on work, thinking it will improve one's horse in a continual, linear fashion, and forgetting that this causes one's horse to go insane with boredom.  Horses like routine, but they also like things that are fun, low pressure, and relaxing.  So give those ponies a break and head out to soak up some birdsong and spring sunshine.  Just don't forget the tick check afterwards...

April 5, 2010

Ooooor Maybe Not

I should have known it seemed too easy!  My great and infallible plan to use Jeff as a fill-in for Solo's rest days has gone awry already!  Turns out the fellow who is supposed to start leasing Jeff in August (which is a good thing, as those two looove each other and go well together) is going to start riding him more this summer.  Dangit for my grand scheme though!  Although no one is riding Jeff right now, as he is lame yet again, having tweaked something during one of him many episodes of gallopingaboutpasturefornoapparentreason.

We have officially entered Solo's Season Of Enormous Sweating here, so the last few days we've just been taking it easy with lots of hosing and (EWEWEWEWEWEWEWEW!) picking off of ticks, to which Solo is of course allergic and gets big, crusty, disgusting lumps from.  Which let me just mention how much I HATE ticks.  And I hate touching them.  And seeing them.  And generally co-existing on the planet with them.  I know, I know, I'm supposed to be all Biology Girl and crap, but ya know, no one's a saint.  I'll just own up to it right now:  if ticks went extinct, I would gladly throw a huge party and toast their arachnid demise.  There, it's out in the open.  So tell the next tick you see to STAY THE HELL OFF MY HORSE or else face the rather pointed wrath of my hoofpick (pointed, HAHA, get it??!).

April 3, 2010

Reality Bites. But Only Gently.

Lifeshighway correctly observed the other day as we were talking that I "ride the bejesus" out of my horse. I believe Solo is inclined to agree. He is tired these days. And I need to be realistic -- he is 14 and he does not recover from things as fast as he did four years ago. After several mountain rides and a tough horse trial, he needs some relaxing time. The tough part is balancing that need with our need to stay fit for two more spring horse trials. Now that he is only two miles from my house, I'm also riding him almost every day. Judging from the way he planted his head firmly in the stall corner yesterday, he finds that unacceptable.

Enter Jeff, aka Title One (left). He is an 8 year old Hanoverian/TB cross and the BO's Novice level eventer. However, BO has just acquired a lovely 4 year old OTTB prospect and now has two horses to keep up. And I suspect a solution to my problem is right in front of me. I can ride Jeff a couple times a week and give Solo time to chill out. I also get the opportunity to learn from another horse, who is so absolutely opposite from my red QH that I wonder how they even do the same sport.

Jeff is a lovely-moving horse, with a silky smooth canter that he can click along in for hours. He will jump 3'6" without even appearing to work. But Jeff is quirky. With a capital Q. And probably capital-all-the-other-letters too.

He was started by a cowboy who riled him up then cranked him into a super tight frame and forced him through his paces. Result: irreversible damage to his body and mind. BO acquired him as a 3 or 4 year old and has worked hard ever since to try and soothe his fried nerves. Jeff is sweet as the day is long, but once out of the pasture, I rarely see the underlying worry leave his eye. To say he is sensitive is an understatement -- he will sometimes jump just because you touch him.

I sat on him for the first time the other day. From watching BO ride him, I knew he was a tough and unconventional ride. He doesn't like contact and has a hard time, due to conformation, really packaging himself; he prefers the longer, looser hunter outline. But I had no idea HOW tough he was till I landed on his back.

You can't ride this horse like a normal horse; applying any pressure in his mouth just results in either being ignored or tension. If you don't have every single muscle in your body soft and relaxed, forget any roundness in your trot work. Bending appears to require some level of magic I do not yet have.

In short, Jeff is a huge challenge for me and I think he has a lot to teach me. I am excited and at the same time a bit unsure if I will surmount it. But he will allow Solo some much needed breathers and help out BO while allowing me to still see my horse every day and keep my butt in the saddle with no extra driving. It's been a long time since I have regularly worked a horse besides my own...I have some figuring out to do!