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We Are Flying Solo

November 29, 2011

Vacation's Over, Baby

Thank you so much to all of you who have participated thus far in the 2011 Fix Solo For Christmas Sale!  I have a bunch of things stacked up to ship out this week when I can get the address labels made.  There are still some fun things left, should you find yourself in want need, including reins, dress sheets, a riser pad, girth, bit, and crupper! 

Meanwhile, I have been trying to recover from driving 1200 miles to Kentucky and back this weekend.  Oh yes, recovering.  Not quite there yet.  I made it out to the farm last night to take care of my boys and longe Encore.  I assumed after four days off, he'd be a bit wild with unspent energy.

Not so much.

He's in a new (giant) pasture with Solo and Solo's BFF, Danny, now.  He was forced to break up with Pete as Pete decided that Encore was most entertaining when used as an oversized tooth sharpener/punching bag.  Not cool, Pete.  So Pete found a new buddy in Big D, who doesn't take sass from anyone, and Encore was turned out with his teammate, Mr. Shiny himself.

He freaking loves it.  And while I'm happy that he's happy, it has had some unexpected consequences.  After hooking up our longeing gear last night, we headed up to the arena.  Where I proceeded to longe my lovely, forward, willing, sweet, nappy, dead slow, snippy, pouty TB. 

Neener, neener!
I was flabbergasted (I really just wanted to use that word).  He pinned his ears and struck out with a front leg when I pushed him in the trot.  He flat refused to canter more than a handful of strides each way.  I worried that he might feel colicky (of course, I envisioned him dead within 12 hours, sigh) but he had pooped and his belly was gurgly and he ate hay and drank with gusto.  It appeared that he was in a full tantrum that he could not be out in Happy Pasture with his new friends, so there!

My horse had gone and ruined himself in four days!

In good news, I rode him tonight, despite the cold wind and rain (you get desperate after five days off), and he was lovely.  It's odd though, he always starts off beautifully, puts himself on the bit, carries himself in a lovely rhythm and just feels amazing.  Then, the more we work, the more inconsistent he gets.  It's almost as if he says, hey, lady, I did it already, what's the deal?  But we had some actual yielding to the leg at the walk without rushing (OMG!), and finished with some good canter rhythm each way and some excellent stretching at the trot, so apparently he was done mourning his lost vacation time.

Thank goodness.  I was not a fan of nappy pony.  I shall not miss him.

November 23, 2011

This Is How We Roll: Turnout Blankets

It's getting chilly at night (although not this week!) and the stall doors are adorned with blankets, sheets, and coolers to keep the horses from shivering off that perfect weight we finally got them to this summer.  So what do the Flying Solo boys strut around in?

Encore is trying a new look this year; he has a full length turnout rug from the friendly folks at  I had not tried this type or brand of blanket before, but so far, I am thrilled with it.  Fresh out of the box, it was a lovely navy blue (yay!) with yellow piping.  I loved the generous drape of the leg and tail flaps and the easy-open snaps on the chest.  The 81" fit Encore surprisingly well (is he really that big?) and even better now that he has gained some weight; the only part I had to adjust were the belly straps, which were much too long for him, but it was easily solved by knotting them in the middle and voila!  Fit.  No rubs thus far, it has a smooth nylon lining that makes Encore's coat shine.  I got the medium-weight and it is SUPER MEGA WARM.  I'm not sure what the insulation is, but it's wonderful stuff and much less bulky or heavy than my other medium-weight.  Obviously, it is colder in England than it is in North Carolina!  (Duh.)

Check out the butt billboard!
   I wondered how durable a 600 dernier blanket could be, but pasture-buddy, Pete the Arabian/Monkey cross decided to test it for me.  On the second day I had the blanket (grrrr), it was sitting in the grass outside the pasture, waiting to be applied to Encore.  Pete decided he was bored and snaked his little nose through the fence and dragged the blanket into the pasture, because it apparently looked like an Entertaining Plaything.  He proceeded to do a tapdance on top of it until his whims were satisfied, at which point he wandered off to find something else to destroy play with.  I found the blanket in a dirty, trampled heap and moaned in dismay.  I had it ONE DAY, Pete, ONE DAY!  But I picked it up, brushed it off, and stared in disbelief -- not a scratch on it.  No tears, no bent hardware, it was completely fine.  So rest assured, when your horse is wearing this blanket, he will be completely protected from tapdancing Arabians!  I'm very happy with it and I hope that Encore will get to wear it for many more years!  It's also very affordable -- if I used my currency converter right, 50 GBP equals US$77.  Even with shipping to the US, you are still getting a good deal on a super toasty turnout!

Solo may not be decked out in snazzy imports, but he still stays warm.  He wears a Weatherbeeta Landa medium weight turnout.  This is the first blanket I ever bought for him, in a second-chance auction on eBay, and I believe this is at least the fourth winter he has worn it, if not the fifth.  Mr. Chunky wears the 78" and it has a nice length to its drape as well.  Also nylon-lined with a shoulder gusset, it has never once rubbed his big shoulders.  I have had to replace the leg straps once, the cheap snaps on the back froze up on me and broke, but it was an easy fix.  I've sewed up a hole or two in the lining over the years -- it once got run over by a tractor (sans Solo, thankfully) and some of the stress points have stretched and worn, but nothing a quick stitch-up couldn't mend, so it's still going.  The outside is impeccable -- all of the stitching is still tight and it has never ripped.  I have had it cleaned and re-waterproofed one time (yeah, I'm cheap) and it remains waterproof and breathable.

The boys share a rain sheet, which is one I bought secondhand from a friend about two and a half years ago.  It's a very simple Rider's International turnout sheet from Dover.  I didn't pay a lot for it, but I have been very impressed with it; the horses stay dry and it's a great windbreaker.  No sexy horse modeling pics of this one, sorry.  It's mesh lined with nylon at the shoulders so it doesn't rub either.  No rips on the outside of this one, although I have plied my impeccable seamstress skills to the inside a time or two.  I would guess it's about four years old at this point, but doesn't show any signs of stopping soon.

We have other dashingly fashionable items of horse attire, naturally, but I'm not about to admit in one post how many.  But that is the extent of our turnout wardrobe and I can happily give a confident thumbs up to all three! 

November 21, 2011

Jumping For Joy

I want to first thank you all for your emails regarding sale items and your perusal of my equine flea market.  I am always overwhelmed and stunned by people's random kindness (you know who you are), as most of you do not know me.  I hope that I can prove worthy of the generosity you have shown.

A few sale details: (1) I have added a loose ring snaffle, check the bottom of the post! (2) SillyPony, I have added rein lengths and one set is 58". (3) If you want items shipped before the holiday, I need to know before 10 am Wednesday morning, otherwise, you have to wait until next week. (4) If you have expressed interest in an item in the comments and still want it, but have not contacted me at, email me now!

In other news, there may have been a little jumper show this weekend, that a certain chestnut wunderkind attended that I imagine some of you might be interested in hearing about. It went a little something like this:

Carefully check online show bill Friday night and confirm show starts at 9:00 am. Plan accordingly. Curse loudly and often when alarm goes off at 5:30 am Saturday morning. Kick wildly to clear felines from pathway and stumble into 14 layers of clothing to protect against 30 degree morning. Unplug My Precious (truck) and rumble to the farm.

Hook up trailer in chilly dawn and load horses (Encore and Big D) at 6:45 am. Roll out a little before 7:00 am with Cindy (Big D's owner) wishing I had a chicken biscuit. Arrive at showgrounds around 7:40 am and OF COURSE, we are the first ones there.

Fall out of the truck and head to arena to walk freshly dragged course. Run into course designer/judge who informs us show ACTUALLY starts at 10:00 am. Cindy and I exchange a look and whimper for that extra hour of sleep. Oh well. At least we won't feel rushed.

The rest goes smoothly. Encore is bright and alert but trots around nicely. Since it's a schooling jumper show, we can cheat and warm up in the show ring and jump any jumps we like. So I school a narrow-ish chevron and both the brick and stone walls, which have formidable large cubic standards. Encore is fine with it.  We now remove 13 layers of clothing because all of a sudden it is 65 degrees, a detail which Weather Underground failed to bring to my attention.

My plan is this: do two courses in the 2' - 2'3" division. Dream of 2'3" - 2'6" course if Encore feels magical. The rules have been somewhat bastardized -- unlike an actual jumper show, there are no jumpoffs. Quite simply, the fastest time around the course wins. I'm NOT racing kids on ponies; my goal is to teach my horse to be relaxed and businesslike on course, so I do not ride for time.

Our first course:

I kept him at the trot for the first half. The last thing I want is a horse who barrels around a course; I want him considering each fence and focusing on the task, not lost in a speed high. I ignore the "helpful" railbirds clucking at us with a giggle.

Encore finished strong and I let him canter the entirety of his second course. He never rushed and I felt it click in his mind: my job is to canter around where the nice lady tells me and jump the little jumpies. Got it. On it. Done.

Video capture of the post-course grin.
 So yeah, I went for the 2'3" to 2'6".  I'm not thrilled with my riding; I am still trying to adjust from the style I adopted for Solo.  Encore is a completely different ride, on top of which, he still jumps like a green horse, so staying out of his way can be challenging!  I felt too far behind him, much of the time, but I did the best I could and hoped he didn't hold it against me.

There was no hiding my glee. That rhythm? That was all him, just doing his job. I have ridden more than a few horses in my life; I have never before sat on one who was so...I don't even have a word. He waited for the explanation of his job, I gave it to him, he went ok, and he just did it. Checked the box and ready for the next assignment. There was no "how can I get out of this, how can I make this easier on myself, can I spook at that, how about I race really fast." None of it, just honest, wonderful, amazing trying. I thought I would explode from sheer happiness, which terrifies me, but is completely freaking awesome.

As an extra bonus, even though we totally ignored the time, Encore still won his first ribbon, even if it is heinously pink (must have been four ponies in that class, LOL!).

Look who is getting more muscle-y!  Hint:  it's not me.

And for you Big D fans (and, of course, those who can't get enough of my appalling videography), he also was an excellent boy, taking very good care of his very nervous rider! He and Cindy did a wonderful job in their first jumper show - check out his flying lead change! They did both courses in the 2'3" - 2'6" class and I hope very much to see them going Beginner Novice in the spring (write in and tell her she just must, she needs some peer pressure, LOL!).

I also want to give a shout out to Macnair's Country Acres for hosting the show, which was fun and relaxed enough to give us the flexibility of a great schooling opportunity.  Then another huge shout to Tom Pollard who designed the courses and judged -- the courses were lovely and made sense to my young pony and I have not talked to a friendlier person in a long time.  From the time we met him in the morning and throughout the day, he was gracious, funny, kind, and warm and made it a pleasure to be there, so thank you (because I am sure he totally comes home and reads this blog every night)!

November 18, 2011

Help Me Help Solo And Make YOUR Christmas Great!

My buddy is not doing that well.  He's content enough in the pasture, but his back is still sore.  I ride or longe him lightly twice a week and he feels a little better afterward, less soreness and little more supple what with warming up and moving and stretching.  But his trot is flat, his canter feels terrible and I just don't know what to do.  I can proceed with an SI injection, which my vet suggested.  That requires going to a special consulting vet about two hours away and paying at least $400 or so with no guarantees it will work.  I can try another loading dose of  Adequan, which isn't cheap either, but might help?  He's fat and that topline I slaved for is gone, it kills me a little every day.  I comfort myself knowing he LOVES hanging out with his BFF, Danny, in the pasture and begging treats and scratches off of everyone at the farm while ambling around his favourite huge pasture.  He's hardly suffering!

The point to all this is that I do want to try to fix him, I am not giving up yet!  However, cash will be needed either way.  This is where you come in.  Give us cash, muahahahha!  No, just kidding.  Sort of.

I have a, uh, teensy bit of extra horse stuff that is ready to move on to new homes.  This is your chance to do some Christmas shopping early!  None of it is super-fancy, my apologies, but I can guarantee that there is something within your budget range!  Buy a backup in case you have a wardrobe malfunction.  Thinking of getting started in eventing and need a vest to get yourself legal?  How about some inexpensive schooling equipment to save wear on your nice gear?  You are in luck, so peruse at your leisure and drop me an email (link in right sidebar) about anything you are interested in.

The gory details:  Shipping and handling for all items is a flat $7.00 in the US.  If you are in Canada or elsewhere, I'll have to figure that out.  All items will ship as soon as I can upon receipt of payment.  Payment is accepted via check or Paypal, email me for information.  I will also take reasonable offers or do package deals.  I have done my best to accurately represent, photograph, and measure all items.  Everything is kept clean, nonsmoking, I have cleaned and conditioned all the leather, blah blah.  Please inquire if you need any more details.   



Collegiate reins -- never used.  Brown laced leather reins.  I just don't like laced reins, so they are new!  Total length is 116" so half is 58".  Retail $75.  $30.

Laced reins -- brown leather.  I think they used to be black.  Well, they're not now.  These were my everyday reins for several years, still in great shape.  Total length is 118" so half would be 54".  $5.

 Hunting breastplate -- dark brown, plain raised leather.  Lovely condition, nice leather.  Horse size.  Retail $150.  $50.  

Dover jumper girth -- dark brown with lighter brown inset.  42", measures 46" from tip of buckle to tip of buckle.  Stainless steel roller buckles.  I was schooling a very small QH, LOL!  Retail $50.  $25. 

Zilco crupper -- ok, technically not leather, I believe it's made of beta biothane, but it's very nice and like new.  For your mountain getaways!  Brown with black padding and brass toned hardware.  Horse size, very adjustable.  Retail $40.  $30.


Big D dress sheets -- THERE ARE TWO OF THESE.  Blue/hunter/burgandy plaid with burgandy trim, very nice, hardly used.  One is a 74", one is a 78".  Leather-reinforced fittings with nice hardware.  Closed front.  Surcingle and leg straps on both.  The 78" does have a 1" tear near the butt dart, pretty easy to stitch up, pictured.  Retail $70.  $40 for the 74" and $30 for the 78"


Roma riser pad -- fits most saddles.  White.  Lifts rear of saddle.  Orange feline included at no extra cost; I'll poke holes in the box.  Retail $35.  $15. 


Lead rope -- blue/green/black polypro lead.  6' long with brass snap.  Hey, we're desperate, don't judge.  $3.

Loose ring snaffle -- looks like a KK with copper-y type mouth.  5.5 inches.  $10


Solo says thank you for looking!  We hope you have a fantastic holiday!  Remember, I take offers and will make package deals!! 

November 17, 2011

Drink More Beer

I often have to remind myself these days of this post I wrote almost two years ago.  There is no "1, 2, 3, success!" in horse training.

Instead, I muddle along -- Encore is doing really well, but some things, he doesn't quite get yet. And sometimes he gets bored. And sometimes he'd rather go in the barn with his friends. And sometimes something in the woods is far more interesting than me. So he'll fidget or pull or try to rush and bend all kinds of wrong ways.

Which then makes me question myself: what am I doing wrong? Less contact? More contact? Less leg? More leg? I'm leaning! I'm uneven! I am riding like crap! Fail!

Amy wrote some very good reminders
here at the end of her recent post: progress is incremental. I remember when I first got him, I was trying to teach him one of my core cues: when I sit down, close my thigh and say whoa, you stop. It's very simple, we do it at a walk. Solo is a pro at this one and I love it. But it was a foreign concept to Encore and he didn't get it for a bit. I remember being so frustrated inside, wondering why he couldn't instantly get such a simple thing. Of course, I wouldn't let any of that frustration out, we just picked at the cue slowly.

And last night, at the end of our ride in which there were moments of good and moments of "omg, please cooperate," I sat down, closed my thigh and said whoa and Encore stopped right there, as he has every day this week.

We must not lose our perspective (perhaps I need to print this on the top of Encore's browband?) and we must remember that the journey proceedes one stride at a time. When we forget that, well, that's why there's beer. Then we try again tomorrow.

November 13, 2011

Higher And Faster: A Night At The Grand Prix

Last night, a packed crowd gasped and cheered 23 horses around the course and through the jumpoff at the 2011 Duke Children's Benefit Grand Prix in Raleigh.  When I attended a Grand Prix last year, my experience was one of mass flying pole carnage and horses whose jumps made me close my eyes in fear.  Not so, this time; the caliber of equines had obviously made a massive leap in the upwards direction.

This was a 1.5 meter course (4.92 feet for you non-scientific people), as demonstrated by this brave competitor.  I can only imagine such a course walk:  "Ok, jump is at eyeball level.  Fine, no problem.  Next!"

Quite thoughtfully and appropriately, the venue saw fit to pay tribute to Solo and all his contributions to horsedom.  As they should.  Ha.

And it began.  Meagan Nusz, a young rider from The Woodlands, TX, stole much of the show with her four phenomenal horses.  I think she is all of 24 years old and has been winning Grands Prix at least since she was 17, which leads me to believe that apparently I should have been born in a parallel universe that she obviously lives in.  Ridiculous!  But fun to watch and she rode the pants off those horses.  If horses had pants.  Each of her horses was more fantastic-moving than the last and they all had HUGE, lofty jumps, like 1.5 m was a walk in the park. 

A beautiful moving liver chestnut named Why Not.

Our favourite, a gorgeous grey named Cilantro.  The name is all charm.

We were a bit confused when she brought this one in, a bit of a chestnut named Dynamo.  Compared to the instant "wow" factor of the other 3, this little guy looked like just your average horse.  Then he lofted the first jump.

Another show stopper was 5x Olympic rider Manuel Torres, a Columbian rider with a butt tossing stallion named Chambucanero. WARNING: do not Google this rider's name without some sort of equine qualifier! Apparently, an identically named actor is quite famous for films of the pornographic genre. What has been seen cannot be unseen. Yeah, I know you are googling it right now. Nonetheless, Manuel and Chambucanero rode at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, although it looks like they had an unfortunate 21 fault round there.  Not so on this night!

We had some local favourites, too; like veteranarian Fernando Cardenaz, of 3H, a Raleigh-based clinic which specializes in lamenesses.  His horse, Orphan Car, is a regular in this ring.

Harold Chopping competed for the Canadians in the past, but now trains hunters in NC.  He rode two and I did not get video of the witchy, but talented mare on which he won 3rd place for the night.  This was his other horse, Big Air.

I also really liked this grey horse, Wattesson, even if he didn't go clean.

Then it was time for the jumpoff, which was a surprisingly large field, with 11 or 12 riders.

Thaise Erwin, an Australian rider based locally, and her mare, Matilda, set the pace.

Then Manuel Torres and Chambucanero blew it wide open.

The next 8 riders couldn't touch him, although Harold came very close. Until Meagan and Dynamo came back.

It was impossible to restrain oneself from yelling, "Go, pony, go!" and more than one of us leaped out of our chairs as Dynamo shot through the finish timers like a rocket. The atmosphere was electric (unless you were Manuel Torres) and even the horses fed off of the energy. What a fantastic way to spend an evening! And so much more relaxing when YOU are not the one picking stalls and cleaning feet and shining tack and walking courses....whew!

November 11, 2011

Gymnastics (Not The Kind I Sucked At When I Was Seven)

The sound of winter blowing in is the clink of blanket buckles against a stall front and the rustle of dead leaves under hooves. It's a bite to the wind that sneaks under your helmet and belies the bright sun.

But you're still sweating after you set 10 jumps with ground lines and complete your warmup trot circles.

Indeed, it was jump school day for Encore, with the help of his peanut bribery accomplice friend, Cindy, who graciously picked up poles AND shot video.

We began with just a few single jumps; straw bales between some barrels, single verticals, a plank oxer. Encore took me readily to each jump and lofted over, clean and clear. He felt good, confident, and we even had a modicum of steering to the fence!

Then it was time to tackle the gymnastic lines. And how exactly DO we tackle them?

I am a big believer in letting the horse work things out -- you have to allow him to make mistakes to teach him to solve problems and think for himself. Unless you can ride an entire cross country course without making a single rider mistake (superhuman, are you?), your horse MUST learn to find the solutions on his own while you stay out of the way.

Now, I'm not suggesting you sit up there like a dead toad (although sometimes I feel like that is my approximate level of usefulness); it is your job to set him up for success. You give him rhythm and balance and then you sit back and let your partner navigate the obstacle. Your reactions are not fast enough and you are not strong enough to do anything more over a jump than pull him off balance and invite disaster. Therefore, it's up to you to lay the groundwork beforehand so he is equipped save your sorry butt later!

So when riding a gymnastic, you should be balanced, with your legs wrapped around the horse, your butt off his back, your shoulder up, and a soft, preferably loopy reins. Your horse should have complete freedom to navigate the line.

"But, OMG, he will rush!" Probably so. The first time. That is why I use placing poles every stride to direct his footfalls. If he screws up, well, he's going to step on a lot of poles and bang himself on the rails while he's at it and that's just uncomfortable. A smart horse will only make that mistake once. Don't feel cruel -- the jumps are set low so he has a healthy margin for error. Far better he make a mistake and bang a shin now and learn from it then at full gallop on course where it might flip him over on you.

I set up three trot poles to a crossrail-bounce-vertical-one stride-oxer. We started with just the trot poles to the crossrail and the rest were ground poles so he could feel it out.

No problem. So we continue with the sequence -- ideally, you want to add a new element each time they go through successfully. The lesson is "always pay attention, stay quick with your feet, don't rush, and be ready for anything." The only thing constant is change. You are encouraging proper form, careful jumping, and quick thinking.

The trot poles stayed put for the entire school to set the pace. The second time, the exercise became a crossrail with a bounce to a low vertical. Then crossrail-vertical and one stride to a second vertical. Then the last vertical became an oxer.

Oh, and look who learned how to canter trot poles without stepping on them. Cheater.

Then we raised the first vertical one hole to up the ante. Surprise!  Someone forgot they had back legs...

It's ok to mess up, everyone will -- but the crux is, what happens AFTER you mess up. Since Encore's a clever boy, second time is the charm.

Just to finish off the day, with the help of some guide poles, we also conquered two slumbering trolls who have received much hairy eyeball from Encore. I'd been able to get him over the tire after about six tries a couple weeks ago, but only in one direction and he did. not. like it. Today, however, a gamer, more confident pony conquered his worries with ease.

November 7, 2011

Just A Thought

In the quiet just before bed, there is lots of time for thinking.

Always thinking.

I used to just ride. Get on horse, squeeze legs, make some circles, follow the trail. Riding.

Nothing wrong with riding. It's good for the soul. It stills my clamouring heart.

But I grew some sport goals. Only I didn't know how to get there.

Then someone whose name starts with a "W" and ends with a "d" and has "offor" in the middle taught me about being a thinking rider. Not just thinking about riding, but Thinking about Riding.

I discovered possibly the most powerful tool in the arsenal. I began asking "how" and "why" and "when" and "what's another way" and the momentum began to build.

There are always speed bumps, of course, but I analyzed them too and even those had something to teach me.

The Thinking Rider watches every step, feels every breath and adjusts, listens, waits, plans, and adjusts again. And that is all before the next step. They've thought an entire essay by jump #2.

I am only a Thinking Rider padi-wan but I can feel the power of the Force waiting for full realization.

(Is that one geeky enough for you?)

One problem, though. Once you kick-start the Thinking, you can't turn it off. Lying on the pillow at night, looking out the office window before lunch, driving home in the afternoon, even dreaming.

You are adjusting, listening, waiting, planning, all to the rhythm of hoofbeats in your time for sleeping, working, or eating.

It's a double-edged sword. And I gladly hold out my hand every day for another cut. Because I think tomorrow I can ride a better jump.

November 5, 2011

Crazy, Scary, and David

Crazy:  We had a XC lesson scheduled today with David O. down in Southern Pines.  The plan was to ride with BO in the big farm trailer.  Except when I got there this morning, her truck was sitting in the garage, hood up like a baby bird's mouth, sipping electricity from her husband's hybrid.

Uh oh.

Unsurprisingly, that little battery failed to start the truck, so we hooked it up to my heavy duty diesel batteries.  Dead as a doornail.

Sadly, I cannot haul the farm trailer because my truck does not (yet) have a gooseneck hitch, so we threw everything into my trailer and begged and pleaded with BO's finicky horse to please get on a new trailer nicely.  I crossed my fingers, horses seem to really like my trailer, and lo and behold, he loaded right up and we were saved.  We even got to the lesson a bit early.  Whew.

Scary:  About halfway through the lesson, one of the other women was simply cantering her horse around a turn in the field.  I watched as his feet shot out from under him and he slammed to the ground on his side, sliding across the pine needles.  He was wearing a standing martingale (please do not do this, my eventer friends!) which he snapped in two trying to get his head up to balance himself, but he could not do so in time.  His unlucky rider stayed in the saddle all the way down and hit hard, ending with a solid blow to the head and helmet.

All my first aid alarms went off, but I stayed put and let David check on her.  I had no doubt she had a concussion, a fact confirmed by the hospital later.  She is very fortunate it rained all day yesterday -- the ground was soft, saving her from a certain smushed leg otherwise.  Luckily, it looked like nothing else was seriously injured and her husband picked her up and took her horse home.  WEAR YOUR HELMETS PEOPLE; SHIT HAPPENS.

Later in the lesson, ANOTHER horse pulled a dirty stop at a log, flipping another friend over his head.  Happily, she landed softly and clambered right back on to finish the line.  No harm, but definitely pony foul.  Bad pony.  Poor David.

We're finding some stretchy trot!
David:  Unfortunate spill notwithstanding, the lesson was full of excellent reminders for myself and Encore.  The Unicorn's foster mom, Suzanne, came to see him go for a bit -- she was the one who got him restarted under saddle so wonderfully and she had a new CANTER pony who was just as nicely built!  But I had to concentrate on the tasks at hand.

(1) Do NOT get ahead of him, no matter how slow he gets at the base of the jump; weighting his forehand by moving your body forward only prevents him from rocking back on his hocks and jumping up.  Wait wait WAIT. This is particularly true up a bank. Stay behind him, stay upright, and let him jump up the bank to you. If you lean forward as he goes up the bank, he'll jump flat and out and that will bite you in the butt.

(2) Encore is a methodical, careful horse -- when he starts analyzing a problem, his feet slow down and he wants to figure it out before he tackles it. I like careful, it will keep us out of trouble, but I need to use a lot of leg and keep his feet moving while he thinks. He must learn to go forward and analyze at the same time. I admit, this surprised me a bit, as he is quite forward-thinking and I never have to use a lot of leg, but as we tackled harder questions, I saw that David was definitely right!

(3) If he offers to canter, let him. It is him offering forward and that is a good thing; stay soft and go with it.

(4) Go jump stuff. Lots of stuff. It doesn't matter how he jumps it right now, just jump it. Give him jump miles so he can figure out what to do with his body. David: "People worry about too much technical BS too early when we just need to get them out there and JUMP. Technical comes later.  This horse wants to do it, he's just not quite sure of the details yet."

Encore did VERY well on all the fly jumps, the baby sunken road, plenty of ditches, banks into and out of water, and he LOVED cantering across the water and jumping a fair-sized log out. We tried jumping the log back into the water, but he just did not get it, so we let it be and will come back to it later.

We're tucked in our respective blankets tonight, digesting dinner and nuggets of information.  I've got to figure out the most efficient way to get said mileage -- David is two hours from us and no longer teaches at my friend's farm nearby, so I'm going to have to get creative (or find a money tree in the woods to pay for diesel).  There are definitely more gymnastics in Encore's future as well, to show him where his feet are supposed to go.  I am chomping at the, if this silly job would just stop getting in the way.

November 1, 2011

Do Equine Epiphanies Have Giant Lightbulbs?

I've made a warmup routine for Encore -- since we don't yet have much of a bend button or a leg yield button yet, I use circles to soften his body and regulate his rhythm.  We work in a figure 8 of two 20-meter circles at the trot, first thing, every time.  I want him to recognize that ok, it's time to soften and bend through my body and pick up a quiet rhythm.

I think the unicorn horn grows out of his star.  See it??
We change directions back and forth until he begins to soften and lower his head, offering moments of pliability each way. Tracking left is markedly harder, I can feel the tightness on the right side of his body, resisting the stretch. Then we spiral the circles in and leg yield back out (in a fakey sort of way) and take a walk break.

Tonight, after our walk break, I thought, let's start some transition work. I put Encore in the bridle at the walk and asked for a trot. I'll be damned if that little horse didn't lift his back, soften his jaw, and step into the softest little trot, perfectly on the bridle -- and stay there. Perhaps you heard my squeaks of glee as we figure-eighted around the arena in this delightful gait. What took Solo a year and a half, this horse just got, CLICK, in six weeks.

And just like that, he had it. We did a few transitions back and forth to walk, a couple of which were lovely and balanced. It took all my willpower to end the session with some brief canter work and not just trot around in that blissful shape for the rest of the night.

Ohhhh, this winter is going to be fun.