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We Are Flying Solo

August 31, 2010

A Peaceful Mountain Weekend. Now With Less Peace.

We had a lovely evening Friday.  Camp was set up along the edge of National Forest, burgers were grilled, horses settled in their pens, and beer cans duly emptied.  I fell asleep watching fireflies compete with constellations for the right to bejewel the trees. Saturday morning dawned clear and sunrise brought birdsong with a chance of omelets (yum!). Lifeshighway and I studied maps, checked our stored waypoints in the GPS (we may or may not have a history of misdirection) and stuffed our saddlebags with beet pulp, apples, and beef jerky in preparation for a day of mountain exploration. Pete and Solo fueled their tanks with clover. Lifeshighway has generously shared her endurance expertise (and supplies!) with us; we have learned the value of bringing along pickmeups for the horses. Just like people, they burn up their calories and run out of steam, but a bag of beet pulp at lunchtime gives you a whole new horse to continue your day with!


The ride itself was fantastic; five hours of streams and ridges, valleys and rock outcrops winding through the Uwharrie Mountains. Both our boys picked their way calmly through the rock-strewn trails with patience and confidence no matter how steep the challenge.

That's when it happened: I made the deadly error of speaking (it happens to the best of us). "Wow, we actually had a riding trip with no disasters such as getting lost or hurt!"

Then we got back. My first discovery was that my dressage saddle had created two huge pressure welts behind Solo's withers (horror!! shock!! anger!!). Apparently it is time to move on to saddle fitter number four. Sigh. A much more pleasant discovery was that his SI region, which was historically a trouble area, was NOT sore at all (cheers! glee! excitement!).

Second discovery, we got to spend all Sat night in the emergency room with someone who shall not be named (no horse riders or horses got hurt, everyone is completely fine now). By the time we got everyone back to the campsite, it was 2 AM and all were bleary-eyed. So instead of riding on Sunday (which I wasn't going to do now anyway due to aforementioned saddle issues), we headed home.

Aside from our foray into emergency medicine, I can happily say mission accomplished -- we completed a nice long ride I was hoping for in prep for next weeks tackling of Ecuador and I ended up with very little soreness. Solo did very well considering the humidity; I made sure to give him plenty of breathers and a good spongebath in a cold stream midway. And of course, there is nothing better for the mind and heart than this:

August 26, 2010

An Epiphany Every Ride

We almost missed our jumping lesson last night.  We had a 7:00 pm appointment with David and I even left early so I would have lots of time to stretch Solo out before David's intense warmup sessions.  Only the entire interstate was shut down and it took me 45 minutes to go 0.75 miles.  Apparently people don't care if you scream at them, "Get out of the way, I have a RIDING LESSON, dammit!"

David, being the patient, saintly type, was waiting for us when we turned up at 7:30, sitting on the mounting block with feet swinging like he didn't have a two hour drive home to get to. Meanwhile, I frantically parked the trailer and tried to simultaneously unload Solo and put my spurs on. I tripped and Solo decided he didn't WANT to get off right then.

I hopped on as fast as I could. Poor horse had been standing in the trailer for almost two hours by that point, so he wasn't too thrilled about instantly being asked to bend and round himself, but we got him loosened up and then began our jumping exercises.

And here is why I love David: Solo has what he calls a "fragile" balance and will tip on his forehand in a second while jumping. A last dive step or two before takeoff is his trademark. If you tip your shoulders at him at the jump, he'll drop a knee. So as I'm riding towards the jump, David calls, "Keep your hand very soft and focus on lifting his shoulder with your thigh and abs all the way to the jump."

So I did.

So my horse jumped awesome.

I don't know how he does it -- EVERY STINKIN' TIME. He gives us one simple direction and it's like a lightbulb moment and things just work. What I wouldn't give for that kind of insight.

We kept the jumps small (David is big on technique -- if you get it right over 2'6" and you can do it right over 4'6") and put a few little courses together. I worked really hard to stay focused and make sure we kept a slow, balanced canter between the jumps and lifted the shoulder with the torso in front of the jump.

And holy crap, the jumps rode amazingly. It was smooth, it flowed, and the rhythm was just there. Solo stayed up and light in the hand the whole time. Of course, by the time I got off, my legs were twitching with a mind of their own. Ow.

The $64,000 question? Can I do this at home without Mr. I'm-A-Teaching-Genius keeping me honest?

August 24, 2010

So Much To Do, So Little Time

Ever feel like you are juggling 12 balls in the air at once and although it seems to be going ok, if you dare to blink, they will all crash to the floor?

Yeah, that's what now is.  So much to plan and prep for! 

Operation Belly Burner is going well:  I can actually see my horse's ribs when he is moving now, turns out the fat did not dissolve them after all!  He continues to improve on the longe, giving me longer periods of stretching trot into the vienna reins and three (!!!) laps of canter at a time.  He has rhythm like a freaking metronome and is moving well.

We are officially registered for a Becky Holder long format clinic in early October. It has come at a perfect time; I was really despairing on how we were ever going to learn how to do all those fun extras like steeplechase. No one in my area really has a track set up, but lo and behold an email falls in my inbox from a new farm just over the border in SC about this clinic. It's like the heavens are psychic and we are IN!

I have NINE DAYS left before I leave for mum and I's Grand Ecuador Adventure. Omg omg OMG!!

After I get back from Ecuador, it's all prep for the clinic and for our first horse trial of the fall season: Halloween weekend at the Virginia Horse Trials!

So -- tell me about your balls! Hahahhaha, yes, I HAD to say it!

August 21, 2010

We're Famous!

Or at least infamous...

The kind folks over at Horse and Wildlife Gifts have done a feature post on WAFS in their series of highlighted horse blogs!

I may have fallen victim to a squeal of excitement!

While you are over there, definitely check out their wide variety of horse and wildlife art -- I often found myself wishing for a sack of money to fall through the ceiling while browsing their collection of artists. Everything from sculpture to home decor to jewelry to wall pieces to ooh and ahh over. Grab a glass of wine and cruise the gallery from the comfort of your couch!

For now, Solo and I are off to continue Operation Belly Burn while we try to fend off the hordes of autograph seekers which are now surely going to flock us wherever we go...right?

August 16, 2010

Blood And Guts

Waaaaaayyy back in May, Dr. Bob recommended we run a blood panel on Solo.  Well, it's halfway through August, so I figured I could finally get around to it & I ran Solo through the clinic's vampire services last Friday.

Dr. Bob's helpful associate, Dr. Brian, faxed me the results today & we had a short chat on the phone.

(Warning: science geek-out ahead)

Turns out overall that my horse is largely on the normal side (unlike his owner).  The only flag raised was a low hematocrit at 31% (normal levels are 32-52%).  Hematocrit is a measure of the percentage of red blood cells present in the blood sample.  Along with this, his levels of hemoglobin were right at the low end of borderline (11.2, when the normal range is 11-19 g/dL).

What The Heck Does That Mean?

Hemoglobin is rather important iron-containing stuff which resides tucked inside all our red blood cells. The iron binds to oxygen and allows the red blood cells to carry this life-sustaining gas all over your body. This process is especially important during exercise, even more so if you are an athlete (like a certain shiny red horse I know).

What this boils down to is that Solo's body is not as good as it should be at supplying oxygen to his tissues. Which doesn't exactly shock me as I have been feeling a little something missing. He is quicker to fatigue, slower to amp up, & has less pep during work than I would expect for a fit, well-fed horse.


Nutritional tweaking (no, not THAT kind of tweaking!). I don't really want to change his grain at present; overall, he seems to do well on it.  Dr. Brian recommended a multi-vitamin with emphasis on Vitamin B & a bit of iron. After much perusing of SmartPak & comparison to what the vet offered, I am going to try the SmartVite line of vitamin supplements, which seem to be the closest I can get to the balance of junk that I want.

With any luck, my exhaustive chart poring & ingredient comparing will result in some renewed vigor is Solo's near future. vLike he doesn't already enjoy XC at terminal velocity...

August 9, 2010

In Which Solo Tries Once Again To Off Me Via Cardiac Arrest

So I may have mentioned that Solo is out of shape a bit. And I may have mentioned that we had a great ride for a couple of hours yesterday. That involved a fair share of trotting and cantering on hills. Which we haven't done, oh, since May-ish. But still, not too terrible. So I thought.

I went over tonight with the intention of just doing a light longe session since I will be away with work for the next three days. I pull Solo out of his stall after feeding the horses and nonchalantly begin a quick grooming. La la la, no biggie. I go to pick out his feet since the horses have been in due to heat today. La la la, easy peasy. Until Solo will NOT pick up his left hind. I ask a little more determindly, puzzled because he ALWAYS picks them right up. He sags his weight down through his hip and wobbles lopsidedly in the wash rack to the point where I worry he may lose his balance.

I, being me, immediately decide he has some terrible neurological disorder or nerve damage in his hip and move him back to his stall to continue my expert diagnosis without danger of falling on concrete. I poke and prod ankles and hocks, carefully watching every ripple of muscle. I walk him, I back him, I turn him. He doesn't look lame, but he STILL won't pick up that foot, no way no HOW. As I ponder calling the vet to deal with this certainly serious injury, I see BO walking up to barn and figure I will have her have a look.

She pokes, she prods, we take him out of his stall. I jog him up and down a slight incline, where again, he shows no sign of lameness. I stare and fret and in my core, my heart is beating a mile a minute. BO tries to pick up his foot again. Solo obliges this time. And you know what?

How about an out of shape horse goes on a vigorous trail ride, then spends a day in a stall (which he is not used to, since they only come in to eat or in extreme heat) so his joints stiffen. Oh, and he's overdue for his Adequan.

Ok, so maybe I overreacted a teensy tiny bit. But, hey, it's not my fault my horse had this huge melodramatic response like he was going to fall over and die if he lifted his leg. And then he was fine after ten steps of trot.


August 8, 2010

Surviving Summer

Lifeshighway & I enjoyed a thoroughly great ride this morning; Solo has turned into a fat blob during his vacation, trying to see if he can set a new record for inhaling Bermuda grass faster than it can grow under crazy daily rain.  Much to his dismay, now that we are back in training for the fall season, this means fat-burning workouts are in order.  Which generally means lots of walking & trotting on any trail I can get us to.

Much to my dismay, turns out that giving Solo a holiday combined with a relatively light fieldwork summer at the office means that MY legs don't feel so hot after several hours of trotting through the woods.  Ow.  I hate it when your body forcibly informs you that you are not 23 any more.

It's still hot out too, although 90 degrees feels downright pleasant after suffocating in a wet, dank cloud of 107.  But it can still present a challenge to, say, moving.

You basically have two options:
(a) You can take the true Southern route of just moving very slowly & drinking lots of things out of tall glasses clinking with ice or...
(b) You get technical.  And by technical, I mean buy every product ever invented that dissipates heat & moisture & catches the faintest hint of breezes.  Leave the cotton locked in the closet.

So today I want to share with you a few of my favourite things that keep summer riding bearable.   (Disclaimer: I pick up most things either on sale or on eBay, I very rarely pay full retail price for anything.)

Riding Sport tights - matchy blue!

I have four different pairs of "wicking" summerweights:
  1. TuffRiders Aerocool
  2. Irideons
  3. Tropical Riders 
  4. Riding Sport Performance Tights (*snif* 2015 search reveals these may no longer exist?) 
 All are pull-ons, except for the TuffRiders, which have a front zipper & snap.

Ironically, the most effective & most comfortable are the cheapest: the Riding Sports!   I picked them up on sale for around $30 & I LOVE them.  Yes, they do have a coloured stripe on your butt, but they outperform the other three too well for it to matter. 

The TuffRiders are the least cool.  They are comfortable & very durable, but do not offer any cooling bonus over "normal" breeches.   Happily I only paid $6 on eBay, so it doesn't break my heart. 

All four run pretty true to size except for the Tropical Riders (Endurocools), which are crazy long (and I have a 34" inseam) such that I have to fold up the elastic hem on the legs & fold down the waistband!  These last ones also have the greatest "you look like a human sausage stuffed in a fabric casing" effect, something the other three were much kinder about.


My key here: DO NOT BUY ONES MADE FOR RIDING.  Not that they might not work, I am sure they do, but if anyone thinks I'm paying $60 for a short-sleeved shirt, they must have better drugs than I do!  I buy running shirts on sale at Campmor & Sierra Trading Post for $7-12.

Saddle Pads

In the past, I have been very happy with my Roma Ecole pad with WickEasy lining. They're easy to find at pretty much all the major horse retailers. This summer has been so awful though, that I wanted to try to find something that was lighter.

A light bulb flickered while watching a barnmate pull out a baby pad.  Now I will readily admit to being a past baby pad hater, due to silly marketing offering them "to keep saddle pads clean."  Well, the general purpose of a saddle pad is to keep the saddle clean!  A pad to protect a pad??  Is my pad pad going to want a pad next??

Guess what -- now I own some baby pads, although NOT for protecting my saddle pads.  I picked up a couple Roma baby pads (a whopping $10/pair on sale) that are super light weight & cover less of my horse's sides.  They stayed put, despite no girth or billet straps, & washed up beautifully in the washing machine.

I eyed the CoolMax version, but refused to pay the steeper price.  Note that your basic baby pad is a flat rectangle; I fold the front edge ~1-1.5" back over the withers & it sits nicely.

So keep your eyes open for end of summer closeouts & inventory clearance sales this winter!  And stay cool, stay hydrated, & keep a close eye on your horse so we all make it to fall in one piece, albeit  with lightly toasted brain cells.

August 5, 2010

Buddy Plug

Ohhh, I just realized that may be a poor title choice, but it made me giggle, so there.  This is just a PSA to help out a good friend in her quest for blogging glory!  In Solo stories, you have met our friend lifeshighway and her trusty mount, Pete the Endurance Racing Arab.  Her hilarious blog, Along Life's Highway: The Yard Art Game is in the running for several awards, including "Best Hobby Blog" in the Blogger's Choice Awards. Now unfortunately, to vote, you do have to set up an account, but it's quick and relatively painless and they don't send you spam. She still needs votes to climb to the top of the heap, so Solo and I humbly plead with you to take a few clicks to help a fellow HorseGeek in need!

Click at Blogger's Choice Awards or the blog itself, Along Life's Highway in the right sidebar.

August 3, 2010


When it hasn't been hot, it's been raining. Sometimes it's hot AND raining. Pick your poison.

BO has been hankering to take Ben, her baby OTTB out XC schooling since he's never seen anything other than the odd log. When she gave me sad doe eyes, I gave in, as she needed Solo to be the chaperone to convince young Padi'wan Ben that the water complex will not suck him in and drown him.  I'm a sucker for the sad eyes, but at least I'm a helpful sucker.

Pro: It wasn't hot. Con: It was raining. But hey, we're eventers, we gallop on! The owner of the XC course was out there digging a new Training/Prelim ditch/trakhener (oh MAN, I can't wait till that's done!) in the rain and waved and hollered when she saw us: "Y'all are REAL eventers!" Hahahahha, yes we are!  And we thanked her profusely for all her hard work, because this place has phenomenal footing, even in the drizzle.

Solo was just THRILLED about being the Steady Eddie: It's raining on me. Which I hate. And I'm just STANDING here, WTF is the point of that? And did I mention I am getting rained on?

Solo:  Hurry up, kid, it's only a stupid puddle.  
Ben: OMG, OMG, it's SPLASHY and WET and OOOOOO, it's FUN and I'm a horse GENIUS and OMG, I'm so BRAVE and this is AWESOME!

Solo: I'm soo impressed. Really. And I'm still getting rained on.

Solo also shared his great wisdom on banks: See, you just go off. No biggie. Well, actually, you leap off, but for some reason we are walking today. My mom is weird, but then, what's new?
Ben: Ohhhhhh....

Ben, to his credit, took it all in stride and had the time of his short little life. And Solo finally got to move on to his reason for living: JUMPY JUMPY! But, in his opinion, wayyyy not enough gallopy gallopy.  Hey, betcha didn't know you could shower and ride at the same time!

And of course, what good's a schooling day without GALLOPY SPLASHY!  Hey lady, shorten your damn stirrups already...

And we worked a little on our bank rhythm, including a tricky new line I hadn't tried before, which is drop into water, about three or four strides in the water, and then jump out. Wow, steering is HARD when you slip your reins!! Here's a little bank tip though, that we learned from David O. Jumping off a bank consists of two motions: (1) Your horse rocks back and jumps up and out. You NEED to stay with his motion and ride this like a regular show jump.

(2) Now your horse drops down and HERE you let your hips open as he drops underneath you.  Slip your reins so you don't catch his mouth and be ready to follow his motion as he gallops on.  Keep your leg wrapped around him and be prepared to add leg because the water will drag him and slow him down.

The goal, of course, being to get the optimal maximum splashiness as you hit the water so you can rinse that sweat off your face.

Oh, c'mon, more splashy, you can do better that!!


Ahhh, that's more like it!  Bonus points if you can make faces as awesome as that at the same time.