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We Are Flying Solo

October 29, 2011

It Only Takes 30 Minutes To Feed The Horses

Especially on a cold, rainy evening.  There's only six of them, easy, right? Bring horses in, dump the feed, turn them back out, done!

Except the water on the beet pulp's gone cold and I want to run some hot water in there.

Except since it's raining and 45 degrees, I want to put a rain sheet on Solo.

Except he's got festy gnat bites on his belly that won't heal and I want to clip around them and spray tea tree oil on there.

Then I decide to go ahead and clip his back white foot because the fungus is always attacking.

Then I need to smear some more desitin on that foot anyway.

Then I need to take Solo's rain sheet off of Encore and put it on Solo.

Now Encore gets Solo's mid-weight blanket because it's not QUITE cold enough for his winter blanket but he's skinny so he needs more than a sheet.

Then Danny needs his sheet because it's wet and cold.

Danny and Solo can finally go out but now I have three leftovers.

Tigger's pasturemate is out of town and he can't stay alone. I can put Tigger with Pete and Encore but now they all need their own hay piles.

Except there are no open hay bales so now I need to climb the stack in the extra stall and roll a couple down.

Then I need to take hay out to each horsey so no one feels left out.

Then I have to scrub all the feed buckets so they are ready for the next morning.

Then I discover Tigger and Pete both left presents in their stalls for me.

Then I need to sweep up fallen hay and make sure everyone has water.

An hour and a half later, I can finally go home.

October 27, 2011

T Is For Training

3D is for Awesome.  Together, they make Waredaca T3D, the phenomenal long-format event run by our very own Area II Adult Rider program, which I had the distinct pleasure of volunteering at most of last week.  Exhausting, yes, but exhilarating and educational.  I first experienced this event in 2009 and had made it my goal to achieve with Solo.  We didn't make it, but the quest taught us a great deal about ourselves and I went back to work the event this year with a new perspective.

It did not disappoint.

The terrible shack I had to stay in, also known as my friend, Beth's beautiful house -- the picture doesn't show the delicious hot tub in the back...
Waredaca is in the heart of Maryland horse country, NW of Washington, DC.
A groomed area awaits the first competitor.
Wednesday was the first jog-up and I stewarded each horse to the indoor arena gate in the windy drizzle.  It rains at least one day every year at the T3D, just like Rolex!  The point of the T3D is not just to complete a long-format event, although that would be more than adequate motivation to come!  It is also built as an educational experience, with lectures, clinicians, vets, and farriers on hand to offer assistance, coaching, and years of wisdom to nervous riders.  Dinner that night included a talk from the event vet, the ever-helpful, ever-cheerful Dr. Julie, on what to expect in the ten-minute box between Phases C and D on Friday and a raffle.  I would like to note that I LOVE THE T3D RAFFLES.  Simply because it is the only place ever that I actually win stuff and I am now the proud owner of 5 free bags of feed and an awesome Cosequin bucket.

Thursday, I was in charge of the dressage warm-up ring and bit check before riders entered the ring at A.  You can see the little "C" I marked next to each rider after I felt up their horse.  Horse's mouth.  Ha.  No edges, no rollers allowed.  But I had no rule-breakers and I sent each one up to the ring with a smile and a "good luck!"

After dressage, riders switched off their tack and went off to meet Stephen Bradley and Tremaine Cooper for steeplechase practice.  I ate lunch and lounged in the stables to regain my strength for Friday!

"What happens Friday," you ask?

Only the pure awesomeness of endurance day of a true 3-day event.  Explanation here.

Thursday afternoon, I'd also participated in a coursewalk with Tremaine Cooper, who just so happens to build a lot of courses, including the Prelim and higher courses at our very own Carolina Horse Park.  I learned how to better read terrain on a course and to really think about how it will affect your horse's gallop.  He stressed multiple times, don't be yanking on your horse two strides out from the jump; do your balancing 10 strides out, then soften and go forward to your jumping effort.

It's hard to take a picture while trying to look like you are not taking a picture.
"Your horsey needs to go over, like this..."
Michele, my hard-working co-volunteer, works it for the camera.
But it was Friday now, which meant time to get geared up and send some horses out of the start box!  Michele and I were the starters and finish timers for Phase D, the cross country course and Beth kept communications going.  By the time horses and riders got to us, they had already done Phases A (Roads and Tracks I, aka lots of trotting),  B (steeplechase!), and C (Roads and Tracks II, aka more trotting).

It takes a lot of gear to run the start box.  We have to have sychronized timers and backup timers for both the start and finish line.  Then we need a radio to talk to Jim, aka Master Of The Timers, and to Brian O'Connor, announcer and XC control.  Add to that scoresheets, pencils, chairs and...

A LOT OF CLOTHES.  Hey, that wind was cold.

The view I long to have.

5..4..3..2..1...Steve Fulton and Ticket To Ride get the countdown from Michele.
Barbara Bloom and Fabulous Fiction are on course!
We were rejoicing as the morning rolled smoothly along.  Most horses went clear with only one or two runouts and the cool weather meant everyone passed the vet box with flying colours.  I think we jinxed it.  Right at the end of the day, the second to last rider, Steve's charming daughter, Savannah, on the flying chestnut, FMF Royal Guest, took a nose dive into one of the water jumps.  We held our collective breaths and bent straining ears to the radios -- icy water, a cold wind, and a hard fall are not a good combination.  Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when she was loaded safely into the ambulance and her mare walked back to the stable.  Although Savannah ended her day in surgery for her broken arm, we were all glad it was not a broken neck or a head injury for this gutsy young rider.  The last rider, after a long hold, was eliminated shortly thereafter for a missing a jump, but she got to complete the course and at only 13 years old, riding a horse trained by Phillip Dutton, I'm sure she'll be back to try again soon! 

After all of that, Saturday was almost uneventful.  I had walked the course the evening before with Stephen Bradley and was interested to see how it rode.  After the Saturday morning jog, I was again warmup steward and gate master of the stadium ring and was thrilled to see all the remaining riders successfully complete the event with just a few rails here and there.  Mountains of prizes were handed out, including Best Conditioned, Oldest Horse, Oldest Rider (I mean, "Rider Farthest From Junior Status" as Brian so tactfully put it), Best Groom, Good Sportsmanship, Most Cross Country Enthusiasm, and Best Turned Out.

I cannot stress enough the value of getting out and volunteering at events like these.  Not only do you get to benefit from lectures, course walks, etc, but you get to meet members of your area, check out courses, watch warm up rides (these can be very enlightening), listen to trainers, see what types of riding strategies work or don't work....the list of benefits is nearly endless.  And this doesn't even include the fact that eventing NEEDS you.  When you compete, crowds of people are there working, for free, so you can ride.  Turn the tables and give back because events can't happen without the labour of love that is volunteering.

When I pulled into my driveway Saturday evening, I was exhausted (although I still had to go ride Encore and pack for our horse trial) but excited.  With a little education and mileage, I could already envision Encore rocking that it too early to send in my entry??

October 24, 2011

The Most Fun You Can Have On A Horse

It's the first time they experience cross country, the way their whole body comes alive with excitement when they realize that, hey, my job is FUN!  It's impossible to hide my ridiculous grin when I feel that joie de vivre pulsating beneath me and the exuberant leaps over tiny logs hardly worth a step.  A horse's first eventing experience is indeed an exercise in uninhibited glee.  But I will let the pictures tell the best stories -- thanks to lifeshighway and our friend, Cindy, who both manned media recording devices to capture the Encore debut.

Someone thought my hairnet wearing skills were hilarious awesome.

The unicorn is all ready for dressage.


I can't say I was overly thrilled with some of the judge's comments -- I get a little irritated when they write "could be rounder" on an Intro test.  The point of the Intro tests as marked on the score sheets and judging guidelines is a horse who moves forward into a steady contact with a clear rhythm.  If they know how to go round, then they should be at a higher level! 

Nonetheless, I was THRILLED with my boy.

For the photographer's caps of us, you can click here.  If that site gets you lost, we actually have pictures under #62 and #63 (62 was a friend of ours who scratched the day before, perhaps the photographer got confused?)

Now I'm jumping poneh.

Tying your own pinney:  always an exercise in contortion.

The blue stripey jump
Stadium jumping was quite the adventure for baby Encore!  He was so busy staring at the XC horses during our warmup that it took a few tries to get over the oxer, but eventually he managed to pay attention.  The course was VERY bright and colourful (you can see the jumps as expertly demonstrated by Solo here).  As Encore trotted into the ring, he was game to try but I'm not sure he'd really figured out what he was supposed to do yet!  Having never jumped a course before, I just wanted him to take his time and let the course educate him.  The second jump on course, though, was the one with the crazy blue striped sail standards (at right, with Solo at Novice) and here Encore picked up a baby stop, running out to the left.  I don't think he'd really focused on the task at hand, so I turned him back around to the right and represented.  He jumped it very willingly and then I felt him click and go Ohhhh, I get it now!  It's ON!  And the rest of the course.....went off without a hitch!  Giant daffodil standards, pink, orange, black and white spots, even a skinny on top of a mound -- no problem.  He had it all worked out.

Which left us....the start box.  That crazy Thoroughbred walked in, sighed, cocked a foot, and stood licking his lips as my favourite starter counted us down.  At which point I promptly forgot to turn my helmet cam on.  Devastated sobs.  But for most of the course, I looked like this (sorry for the blur.  And what happened to my breastcollar?):

And Encore looked like this:

My goal was to have him finish happily, but not run around like a crazy horse.  As Allie Conrad told me, with great wisdom:  A quiet mind is a trainable mind.  So we attempted to trot each jump (ok, there were a couple deliciously uphill canters) and upon landing, we would return to trot and sometimes even walk.

A few extra great candid shots of Cindy and her Percheron/Friesian Diesel (aka Big D) who also competed Sunday and landed a freaking SWEET 37!  We were so proud of these two, they have worked so hard and D is not an easy horse.  But he has a good heart, a fun jump, and a really great canter and they deserve all the success in the world!

Big D can turn on the charm.
I'm not sure if this is a smile or a grimace.  Oh wait, it's before dressage.  Definitely a grimace, then.
Not everyone can rock my awesome coaching boots like this.  Don't be jealous.
Big D and Mini D!  This pony was adorable.

Don't let the body fool you, this guy can JUMP.
Don't look so excited about the sandbox...
Remember to breathe....

See, mom, I can dressage....
This is what makes it all worthwhile....
 I couldn't be more thrilled with our day and I couldn't be happier with Encore's performance.  He came through those finish flags high on life (possibly egged on by me yelling GOOD BABY for the entire course, which reportedly could be heard back at the start box...ummmm....) and I gave him a giant hug.  I can't wait to see what happens next...

October 22, 2011

When Do I Get To Sleep Again?

Exhausted.  Training 3-Day at Waredaca was awesome yet again.  Many tales to be told.  All competitors made it around safely save one, who had the misfortune to fall and break her arm, but she is young and will heal with time, thank goodness.

Upon arriving home from the sprint from Maryland, I (a) thanked the heavens for sunny warmth, (b) slept for an hour, (c) ran to the barn to ride Encore, (d) leaped off to let farrier replace his pulled shoe, then (e).....zzzzzzzzz...what?  eh?  oh....uh, yeah.

Tomorrow!  Encore makes his horse trial debut at FenRidge Farm!  His dressage test is at 12:06, we trot into stadium at 1:54, then we wiggle around XC at 2:08. 

My hope is to let Encore have a fun, safe horse trial run, get the feel for how the day goes and just experience his first miles on jump courses.  I don't care if the score is 100 as long as he tries and has a positive go.  Our cross country will not be timed so we can take it easy and look at one question at a time.  With any luck, it will be a completely uneventful day! 

October 17, 2011

I Feel Pretty

At least that's what Encore sings.  He finished our FIRST solo (not to be confused with Solo) trail ride together and he did a great job.  He got a bit anxious and quick in the second half, but he still listened.  After a post-ride snack and a shower:

Check out that trademark Flying Solo shine!
I am pulling my hair out trying to find time to get ready for the big trip up to Waredaca's Training 3-Day this week.  I absolutely love volunteering at this event, it has taught me an incredible amount of information to add to my "competing an eventer" knowledge files.  Both Stephen Bradley and Tremaine Cooper will be working closely with competitors and volunteers this year and I especially look forward to Tremaine's insights on the course, since he designs courses himself.  And of course, Brian O'Connor's entertainment is not to be missed.  Then's Encore's first Horse Trial!!!

October 15, 2011


This forest has been cut over multiple times.  In the clearing where Solo and I stopped, I could see tertiary growth, immature pine trees at close ranks, the usual suspects in recolonizing slashed hardwood stands.  Except for one:  a solitary oak, half dead limbs, half tiny leaves, hanging on at the top of the hill, gnarled boles refusing to give up the last gasp.  It has survived at least two clearcuts, the only thing standing as far as I can see that is more than ten years old.  Perhaps it knew the original denizens of this ridge and I wonder how it got lucky and weathered the storms and the saws and the years.

An autumn wind rushes through the tree tops; its sound is the soft roar of surf on sand.  I close my eyes, blocking one sense to open the others.  Solo shifts his weight beneath me, grazing on his favourite weed and the leather of the saddle creaks.  There's a soft jingle from his bit, the grind of his teeth and a muffled stomp as he discourages a torpid, late-season fly.  A few fall grasshoppers chirrup in the trees and I can hear the footsteps of a young buck who passed by moments ago as he moves among the already-fallen leaves.  All else is beautiful silence. 

And the air.  Cool, but sun-warmed when it hits your skin, it smells of Forest, it smells of Life, of the clean, sweet breath of the woods that is Home.  You can almost hear a patient sentience in that air, of the intricate and vitally alive, yet so incredibly quiet many-geared mechanism that is that ecosystem.  To participate in that and to breathe in that sense of being is a gift that grows no less cherished with numerous givings.

Turning for home, Solo swings readily onto the trail and part of the spell is broken as I must open my eyes and duck the spiderwebs that are too high for his bright ears to break.  But it's still a treasure, shared with a best friend, the memory of which will tide us over until the next visit. 

October 14, 2011

It's Hard Work Being This Cool

Decked out and patched together in a mayhem of, let's call it "repurposing," with a touch of shabby chic.

Rockin' Solo's old sneaks for happy hoofies.

Why yes, that is a stirrup leather tied together with hay string to make a bombin' neck strap!

The black tape gives you ninja powers.  My sports medicine guy likes experiments...

October 13, 2011

X Is For Xray, eXpensive, and eXplode

The first is what Encore got, the second is what the credit card got, and the third is what my head did.

Hold on, back up....what?

Oh yes, my theory holds.  And by that I mean my theory is that if you have one horse, you will just have a lame horse and no spare; if you have two horses, you will just have two lame horses and no spare; three horses, yep, three lame horses and no get the picture.

I've been noticing that Encore has a bit of a bobble on his left front at the trot.  Not always, but I can see it and I can feel it, especially on the longe.  Well, he's an underweight, undermuscled, crooked ex-racehorse with bare feet in recovery who flexed clean so it was hard to say it was a true lameness.  But last night, it was a definite, though slight limp (insert head explosion here) and I decided to take him to visit Dr. Bob (or rather Dr. Brian, the sidekick of the very busy Dr. Bob when you call last minute) this morning.

Of course, by the time I parked my truck in my driveway yesterday evening, I was already sure that he had ringbone and would either (a) never jump again or (b) snap off his leg and die. Cue Anxiety Girl.

We flexed again and we shot a couple radiographs and then we tucked Anxiety Girl back into her bed:

(1) Despite my diligent, yet sporadic application of Durasole, the sole on his left front was soft enough that you could see it flex beneath the pressure of Dr. Brian's fingers. Owie, so not comfortable. You're getting front shoes, my boy!

(2) I wanted a lateral view of each front ankle and foot anyway -- the rads are such a powerful tool for understanding what exactly you are dealing with mechanically. Both fronts were remarkably clean. There are a couple of osselets on the right front that are old and set and a small P1 bone spur on the left, also old and set, no problem. Otherwise, P1/P2/P3/navicular bone have clean joint spaces and nice edges, yay!

(3) I would never guess it from looking at his feet from the outside, but Encore has a TON of toe which needs to be lopped off. Said lopping will hopefully go along way towards correcting...

(4) P1/P2/P3 should line up on a nice straight axis. They don't -- each has its own angle in there (can we say cattywompus?!). The rear end of his coffin bone sits too high and things are jammed up. By slowly changing the hoof angle, we can realign this whole support structure to avoid problems in the future (cattywompus = bad).

All in all -- fixable. No ringbone, no legs snapping off. We will put our lovely farrier to work and hopefully go on about our business. And may farriers who don't pay attention to bone angles find their underpants invaded by fire ants -- no one likes to fix your messes!

October 11, 2011

One Moment

A moment of silence for Andrea and Gogo.

A moment for the love and lessons and loss that encompass our lives with horses and the other animals we embrace in our hearts.

It is hard for me to read her posts, as I am still struggling with the loss of my best friend, Smokey, who I let go this spring.  There is no healing such a gutting wound, really.  All we can do is try and carry the love left behind as a gift forward into our other relationships.

It will be a new saddest day, but I think we have all lived that day and I hope that Andrea can take solace and know that she is never alone.  Remember that nothing lasts forever, but we have been lucky to have had the soft breath of a beloved horse blow across our hands and that is something that neither time nor man nor life nor death can take away from us.

Many of us shed tears for your very special mare, Andrea, and we extend our support to you in your grief.  Nothing makes it easier to do the right thing, but we are here for you nonetheless.

October 10, 2011

Yield, Sir, Yield!

I confess to weariness after a long week and a busy weekend.  My boss and I ran a three day fish meeting in the mountains and that was enough to do us in twice over.

I am sure Encore felt the same way last night, as he spent the weekend hard at work.

Saturday, we met P for our second dressage lesson.  We are attempting to coerce Encore into a shape resembling a leg yield with about 50% success -- either he gets it...or he doesn't.  (Ha, sorry, old statistics joke)

Tracking right, he is beginning to get the gist of things (I recommend full-screening all videos if you want to see what's going on and you have a 'net connection faster than a dead tortoise).  You start on a 20 m circle, then spiral in to encourage the horse to bend.  Make one revolution of your smallest circle, then give the aids to leg yield.  The idea is that the horse will WANT to move back out to the larger circle, as it is much easier.  Use physics as your aid!  I have introduced the concept on the longe and Encore's done reasonably well with it. 

To the left...not so much.  On the circle, it was a FAIL, despite using every aid I knew (if I remember, I'll upload that video tonight).  However, P's bag of tricks is bottomless, so we asked for the leg yield at the walk heading up the quarterline.  While I gave the aids, P walked next to Encore's shoulder, using her energy and a light touch to show him how he was supposed to respond.  With the ground-person-aid, the young 'un finally went Ohhhhhh!  I get it! and lick, lick, chew, he got it and stepped over to the track.

I'm also introducing small bits of canter at the end of a session, just to start building the muscle and balance.  It's certainly not pretty (or comfortable!), but it will be fun to compare three months down the road!  He has a solid right lead, while the left is tougher, as per normal for racehorses (who work to the right, race to the left and are often taught to break from the gate on their right lead, swapping in the first turn).

We used a crossrail with placing poles on both sides, trotting in and cantering out to attempt both leads.  Clever boy would land and if he was on the wrong lead, would swap in one step over the placing pole so he was correctly balanced to turn.  This one is going to be handy with his feet on a jump course!

He reinforced my suspicions when we trailered one county over on Sunday for a trail ride with lifeshighway and Pete.  We got into some steep hills and it only took Encore one slope to figure out how to lift his back and balance on his butt on the way down.  He was careful and patient, never crowding Pete when I asked him to wait, finding safe footholds and making smart decisions.  As he picked through brush and fallen trees, he never panicked at the branches around his legs (face/belly/butt/chest), even on a tough slope where we lost the trail.  Despite catching the terrifying scent of ZOMBIE DEATH COWS around the property, he steadily followed Pete over scary bridges (even the steel ones) and sometimes even led the way with a confident stride.  A fat, juicy bucket of beet pulp, alfalfa, timothy, and rice bran was a well-earned reward back at the trailer!

Sunday night = sleepy pony, sleepy rider.  Alas, no bucket of treats and day off awaited said rider.  Ah well, one out of two's not bad.

October 6, 2011

Shout Outs And Miscellany

PetAg nutrition is sponsoring an awareness campaign for National Pet Obesity Awareness Day (I don't think they mean just NOTICING your pet is fat, but rather noticing the detriment to their health that goes along with it!) which is October 12th.  Now this is a topic near to my heart -- when I was a sophomore in college, I dissected a very fat cat in my zoology lab.  I will never forget the sight of his heart and all his vital organs encased in individual fat cocoons; it was horrifying.  I realized that allowing your pet to be obese is just as irresponsible as allowing it to become emaciated; both caused damage to internal organs and physiological systems, shortening your pet's life and increasing your annual vet bills.

PetAg has chosen five pet bloggers to interview for the month of October and Solo was chosen to represent healthy horses everywhere!  But we need YOU to help us win the prize -- a gift certificate we can use for tasty treats or giveaways!  What to do:  go to the blog post here and like/+1/tweet/comment/email it (your choice) in the lefthand column.  Whoever has the most clicks wins the prize! 

I also have some shout-outs that I have been remiss in posting! I first wanted to say a huge CONGRATULATIONS to lifeshighway and Pete, our riding buddies. A few weeks ago, they completed their FIRST 50-mile endurance race up at Biltmore Estate. Not only that, but they actually went 60 miles -- and we are not talking walking, it's a race! Now THAT is a serious accomplishment and they deserve a standing ovation. They have worked hard, doing it the RIGHT way, keeping Pete safe and sound, and I am so proud of them!

I also have a shout-out for Ashley, who came up and said hi to us over at Encore's first dressage show -- it was great to meet her and see a friendly face at the show!

I have more product reviews for you coming up, as well as a report once Encore has his second dressage lesson this Saturday. I have been gone at a fish conference all week, so he has been on vacation. He did hop over our black and white gate last night, which made me very proud, and successfully went up and down our 2' bank. Progress!

October 2, 2011

We're (In)Famous On The Interwebz!

Check it out!  Katie, over at Equine Life, has just posted an interview with Team Flying Solo!  Solo told me he reckons that if he's made it in New Zealand, he can now rest on his laurels.  I informed him that we are at too low an elevation for laurels to grow and resting is boring. 

While you're over there, also check out Katie's stories about the mischevious Jack -- it's a good thing he lives in another hemisphere, because I'd HATE for Solo to ever get any ideas!

A big thanks to Katie -- she has started a series of blogger interviews that are great fun to read (and to participate in).  For direct links:

Our interview is here.
The first interview, with Now That's A Trot, is here.

What a great idea to get to know new blogs and bloggers!

October 1, 2011

Track To Trail

Stardate: 1st of October in the year 2011. 

The scene:  Umstead State Park, site of 13 miles of lovely bridle trails, located conveniently about 30 miles from the farm. 

The players:  Pete and Encore, on his FIRST off-site trail adventure.  Accompanied by two gaited paint mares to add friends to the fun.

The verdict according to Encore:  Bicycles - meh.  Hikers - meh.  Runners - meh.  Dogs - meh.  Stream crossing - meh.  Trotting through the woods on a perfect, 65-degree day - BEST ACTIVITY EVER (To be fair, he hasn't experienced a cross country run yet). 


Yeah, I rocked it.  Whatevs.