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We Are Flying Solo

August 31, 2012

An Anniversary? Seriously?

It's hard to believe but nearly a year ago, magic happened and a classy chestnut gelding found his way from Delaware to Southern Pines to me.

It's taken me almost that long to learn how to ride him properly; he is so different from my burly Appendix boy.  He has made me a better rider and I hope that I have made him a stronger, more comfortable horse.  As we tackle Five Points next weekend, he will be back in the sandhills where the fabulous Suzanne and Allie of CANTER MA got him restarted, only now, baby's got a whole new look.

After 12 months of conditioning and training and trying and failing and trying again and oh there was that whole bone scan thing and then there is the ever present rider handicap, one OTTB went from sexy to S.E.X.Y. 

September 8, 2011 -- Away Again steps off my trailer into a new life:

October 16, 2011 -- One month later, bathed clean and ready to learn:

April 28, 2012 -- It's springtime, don't make fun of my weird shedding, mom!  The first day at the new farm:

August 31, 2012 -- I'm too sexy for dressage, check out mah neck (and I have not learned to pose yet from my brother and my mom is terrible at this when trying to hold the rope and her cell phone at the same time):

August 29, 2012

Three Feet Closer To Heaven

My physiology betrayed me as my heart beat faster, watching the ring crew raise the poles to 3'.  Logically, Encore and I have lessoned well at this height and even with Solo, we cleared 3'3", although not without significant effort.

We had already run the 2'6" class at Mach 10, Encore bombing around the course as if everything was simply a coloured speedbump.  Even with his rider getting so hopelessly lost that I had to stop after jump four and stare around at the numbers to figure out what to do next.  On the plus side, it provided both spectators, judge, and rider with a good giggle. 

Note:  do not stand at a jumper show all morning and watch alternating courses back and forth.  You will only confuse yourself.  Be grateful that we have only one course in eventing.

Encore had warmed up well, despite working BY HIMSELF, isolated behind the barn in the dressage arena.  I focused on David's counterbending exercises to supple him and the challenge was like a charm, keeping his mind on his feet, rather than everything else.

I trotted cautiously in when it was my turn to jump our course.  The judge blew the whistle and I barely breathed my aids, expecting Encore to explode back into rocket power.

Then he looked at the first jump, we rebalanced, he found his rhythm, and proceeded to perform a phenomenal display of athleticism -- he never rushed, his jumps were careful and correct, and despite more rider navigational derps requiring last minute swerves, he even jumped diagnoally from the base to keep it between the standards without any fuss at all.  I think everyone heard me yell, "THANK YOU, GOOD SAVE!" over the last skinny -- about 4' wide, which I almost overshot except for Encore's quick and honest effort to do his job properly.

Thrilled is an understatement.  It appears that at 3', he finally comes into his own.  The jumps are big enough to earn a little respect and attention.  And guess what?  If you keep your leg on, EVEN IF YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR HORSE IS MOVING FAST, and you ride his hind end to the jump with a soft and balanced hand, a good rhythm, and you keep your eyes ahead of you.....IT FREAKING WORKS EVERY TIME.  Wow.  How much money did it cost me before my body finally managed to pull that off?

First rule of Horse Club:  never add up expense of Horse Club.

The single rail we dropped was entirely my fault -- I tried to half halt too close to the fence, causing Encore to tag the rail with his hind feet.  The last three strides in front of the jump belong to him, as David says, and I should have simply added leg and left well enough alone. 

In summary:  THE UNICORN IS A ROCK STAR.  And I can't wait till Five Points....

August 22, 2012

Don't Yell At Problems -- Solve Them

That was definitely the theme for our lesson on Saturday, so I will let you take my lesson as well!  Encore did very well and feels in fine form, just in need of more strength as usual.  Our warmup felt solid and I was particularly pleased with his left lead canter, which no longer feels like you are riding a washing machine out of balance.

Video hint:  if you want to see details, click the little gear at the bottom of the YouTube window and you can pick HD.

Trot trot trot...


As always, David had a gymnastic for us to start with.  Encore ate it like it was nothing, but decided he'd rather throw in a lead change AT THE TAKEOFF STRIDE so he could do the whole thing on his right lead, which he much prefers.  I never said he wasn't quick with his feet.


Then we were allowed to begin our courses.   Watch very carefully as I jump the first oxer here, I think you will see a magnificent example of equitation the way it should be -- a moment of harmony I don't even have words for.

Heh.  After Encore proceeded to scare himself by overjumping the oxers, we set about fixing that too; David always emphasizes breaking things down and being very methodical in your training, one careful footstep at a time.  In fact, he should just wear a t-shirt that says, "Be Methodical" and it would save him a lot of breath.

They are all green horse mistakes -- I was not supposed to let him run out and I was set to make him eat it, but he is so quick and athletic, his body moves faster than I can think!  Lesson:  never never never take a jump for granted.  Keep that leg ON even if you think you are already at the point of no return!  At least until he gets some more solid mileage this fall.

Hopefully, on Saturday, all our fixing will fall into place and we will be ready to eat up some jumper courses!

August 18, 2012

Make Your Horse Kinetic

Encore had an excellent lesson with our beloved David O. this morning and I am busy downloading and uploading and sideloading our videos!  Thank you to the most awesome Sue for not only organizing the lesson series, but letting Encore and I come up and have a mini-vacation at her beautiful farm.  We hit the galloping lanes on Friday to take the edge off, explored the XC fields, and then got to leap (sometimes more enthusiastically then others) over her lovely show jumps.

I can't wait any longer, though, to post a remarkable summary of horse training that David gave during one of Sue's lessons (the woman has THREE horses going right now, I have to nap just thinking about it).  Meditate upon it and make it your zen:

Forward is not fast.
Forward is creating the energy.
Collection is harnessing the energy.
Extension is releasing the energy.

August 10, 2012

Stormy Surprises

Lightning snapped as the stormfront wind brushed, refreshingly cool, across both our bodies.  Encore & I, both tired of sweating, welcomed a chance where time & bearable weather finally intersected.

Despite the flashing bolts of electricity, there was no rain, just the breeze, & Encore was bothered by neither.  On Monday, Dr. Bob visited to dispense spring shots & had given Encore his first chiro adjustment post-injections.  His thoracic spine felt great, he just had some rotation in his sacrum & hips that was easily restored to proper order.

As I tacked up, I felt his left hip muscle & hamstring, both usually tight & in need of stretching.  Today, though, both were soft & matched the right side; money well spent.

It was just a short school in the dressage area, but it restored my hope & was not what expected that day.  I've been struggling to snatch riding time from our field schedule, so consistency has not been involved in our training much.  There has been much sweating & llama-riding & more energy than we know what to do with.

But this time, Encore stepped into the bridle easily, working gorgeously round over his back.  I concentrated on not locking my left arm & shoulder -- if I lost my focus tracking left, his head would tilt askew to the inside, reminding me to BE SOFT.  Then I would consciously relax every muscle from shoulder to wrist, without losing the contact, & he would quietly move forward, straight & strong.

We only did left lead canter, his weak side (Mr. Anticipation doesn't get to assume we do both leads every time, he's too smart!).  I let him warm up his back in two point, then I sat down as much as I could in the jumping saddle & rode with my seat & core.  Suddenly there appeared steps of a round dressage canter & Encore flicked an ear as I laughed with glee.

Spring 2012.  You won't believe the new body he has now...
The session finished with just three jumps.  We trotted back & forth over a 2' crossrail -- he can be quite strong & pasture sour at home so we have been working on that.  Today, he stayed in a rhythm & didn't race to the jump.

I decided to go ahead & canter around to a last jump -- about a 3'1" double rail vertical I set up to come off a bend.  As he came to the base & I kept my leg on, he curled up & over the jump so carefully, I could feel his front legs not daring to touch wood.

Our entry show of the  fall is a schooling jumper show in town in two weeks.  Then our first horse trial will take us back the Carolina Horse Park for Five Points HT in September.

I have a good feeling & hopefully this time, it won't be a prelude to disaster...