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We Are Flying Solo

July 26, 2014

Guest Blogger Returns & So Does The Original Flying Solo!

David at Blenheim (Small)
David & Red at Blenheim c. 2000 (via O'Brien Eventing site)
[eventer79:  I remember my very first lesson with David O’Brien, in the spring of 2009.  The scene is so vividly imprinted on my senses because, as I walked Solo into the arena, I was so nervous that my hands were shaking.  I don’t get nervous.  

Strangely, there was something about David’s quiet, friendly patience combined with the mind-boggling fact of this guy who had galloped his Irish TB, Fox In Flight (Red) around Blenheim & Fair Hill International, who I’d watched in the Rolex dressage arena, whose wife, Lauren, I’d photographed and cheered for when Dunrath Alto was eating up the KHP course for breakfast, that intimidated the hell out of me.

How was it that he was not only willing to teach me, but also give me his undivided focus, clarity, & respect for my earnest efforts to convince Solo that his butt was not just for holding his tail on?  

I’m not a “starstruck” kind of person, but that day, that arena entrance became a bridge linking childhood years at Rolex, when I thought that eventing was only for an elite horse & rider, to the discovery as an adult that nobody-me could be ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE.  Ok, not the Rolex people, but a slightly slower & more comically stubborn version.  

I feel lucky indeed to have hitched a ride to a friend’s farm that day.  And I still get ridiculously excited about every opportunity to learn more “David-isms,” although if I’m the one riding, it’s far more likely to be the same one…repeated often.

So I couldn’t wait to drag lead Erica across that bridge.] 
Body Demo 0 01 01-08
David: Srsly, stop stalking me!  Erica: IKR!?
Hey, Erica, How Did It Go??

Over the 4th of July weekend, Team Flying Solo took a field trip down to Southern Pines. We hauled in Friday, stayed with some friends at their beautiful property [thank you, Alison!!!], ate by the pool under the eyes of some very sad dogs who clearly never ever get fed, and hit the sack.

The morning dawned unseasonably cool & crisp, thanks to Hurricane Arthur, and I tried to keep my mind occupied on getting Mr. Shiny looking, well, shiny.  Luckily we weren’t sure WHICH of Tanglewood Farm’s 27 beautiful arenas was our rendezvous point, so I had a chance to breathe as we wandered.  Don’t mind us, just a couple clueless poor people, nothing to see here…

The Lesson

After a “getting to know you” chat, David quickly assessed & assigned.  As all warmups should, we were to be first, forward, and second, bending.  Solo showed up ready to play and he felt great; I think we had some really nice moments while David helped finesse my position.  I apologize for anyone who has watches the videos, it’s got to be somewhat annoying to hear “shorten your reins” that many times, haha.  [eventer79: Why do you think we watch videos of lessons?  So we can get the benefits without sweating!  Besides, I’m sure NO ONE else out there EVER rides with their reins too long; I know I never, ever do. *quickly takes down all videos of self riding ever*]

Warming up at the trot.  You’ll see David almost immediately puts Solo on a classic figure-8; this is a fantastic exercise for any warmup because it engages the horse’s mind with the changes of direction and the latter also supples his body more quickly by asking the muscles on both sides to actively stretch and contract at shorter intervals.  The pattern also helps both horse and rider settle into a rhythm, while keeping the human brain & body busy enough with steering to avoid the stiffening & over-riding temptation of a single circle.  May or may not contain a cameo of up & coming Phenomenal Rider/Trainer/All-Around Awesome Person Andrew McConnon schooling the freaking adorable Jack Reacher at 4:19.

Continuing the Circle of Death at the canter.  Yes, I remain a heinous videographer.  I wish I could have gone in the arena, but I had to supervise a certain brown nose-r.  I also remain incapable of remember that the camera’s mic picks up MY STUPID COMMENTARY TOO.  *facepalm*  I would mute it, but the value of David’s teaching trumps my own embarrassment (meh, I’m used to it).

Solo Canter Warmup
I'd say they got moving...
I have to take a minute here to acknowledge what a great instructor David is. He was direct, positive, and never once made me feel like my skill level was beneath being worthy of his time.  It was one of the best lessons I’ve ever had.  [aaand my job here is done, folks :D]

And Then You Jumped Solo?  Really?  Really??  Really??!  [hells, yeah, she did!]

We started out with three ground poles to a small cross rail, just trying to get me to relax going through it.

From there, the second x-rail went up, then finally a small vertical, each with a one-stride placing pole. Solo did his land & root & scoot a few times after the last element, which nearly had me unglued.  My mantra changed from “shoulders back, neck strap” to “you can’t wuss out on David.”   [Now you’re truly a part of the Team; the latter is my strategy…for pretty much every single lesson with him, LOL!]  

David stops us and breaks down body elements critical to riding out the line:  for me the take-home message was to think not about slowing Solo down but rather bringing his front end & balance up.

Fine-tuning the exercise.

They Did It!

We finally made it through the grid quietly & confidently!

And Then…

…the magic happened.  [I love lightbulb moments!]

The last exercise David had us do was to simply ride a circle with a single jump on it.  [eventer79 was devastated by being unable to capture this on video, but she had to get on her horse]  We started at the trot, then brought it up to the canter.  I sort of wish we had started with this, though perhaps if I hadn’t gotten to it at this point of the lesson, it wouldn’t have been such an epiphany [see evil footnote].  The grid work seemed to bring out my clingy, panicked side, & I white-knuckled through it, but with this exercise I was able to establish a rhythm & just…ride it.  All of a sudden, it was like “OH! You mean, shorten my reins. And sit up. And put a monster half halt on going around the turn & then let go.

Solo's Final Gymnastic Jump
Balance getting better!
Untitled 0 01 30-30
No worries, minion, I got ur butt.
I get it! I was nearly in tears cooling down.  [I confess I couldn’t keep the grin off my face when, approximately every two minutes, all the way home, Erica would turn to me and yell, “I DID IT!”  Epic Moments In Life.  I kid you not, her FB update that day:  "So, uh, when I said we moved to NC because of the job market & cost of living?  I lied.  I moved to NC so I could trailer down to Southern Pines & take amazing jumping lessons with 4-star eventers."  *insert moar grinning*]

We’ve naturally now got tons of homework to do & reviewing the footage reveals that it’s pretty much all mine.  [it’s always us, sigh]  But that, folks, is how Erica found her jumping position and how Solo has resumed his flying.
Erica Flying Solo Edits
There's no feeling like it -- welcome to the Flight!

Footnote Revealing Pre-Existing Evil Plot

[eventer79:  I must now reveal my cruel strategery.  Solo has always been rush-y going through gymnastics because they are very hard for him.  Even low, slow ones, ask a horse to shift his weight back to his hocks and use his back, both weak points for my boy, so he worries.  These very tiny ones don’t hurt him, but he does have a Lifetime Exemption from bounces and most other gymnastic exercises.  I know David’s system and I knew Erica would find these unsettling, and now I am going to admit I did it on purpose.

Want To Go Faster
Letz go faster!! However, note perfect rider balance here!
I’m no stranger to “speed” anxiety and I used to be drop-dead terrified of downhill jumps.  To this day, I won’t get on a bolter due to an accident when I was about 9.  I STILL get a tweak sometimes.  But Solo was the horse who taught me about trust.  It’s not an overnight process & it’s ok to be afraid, but I know he will always be safe.  I also unfailingly install an emergency brake on my horses, heh.  I would NEVER say, “Just get over it,” but I saw in that lesson the perfect opportunity for Erica to experience that critical first step.

I believe in always setting a horse & rider up for success; the best possible environment for this moment, for Erica & Solo, was in a clearly enclosed arena with level, perfect footing under the instruction of David’s calm, methodical, & positive expertise.  He is a teacher who brings out the best in you because, as he matter-of-factly directs you to “go do this thing that makes your eyes bug out,” the systematic manner in which he has prepared you and his quick reassurance of everything you did right make up the parachute which always lands you safely on “holy shit, I DID IT!”

You can’t build anything without a solid foundation block & you can’t place the block without careful site prep.  There’s a method in most of my madness – sometimes it even works.  ;P  I AM SO PROUD OF BOTH ERICA & SOLO & I HOPE THEIR JOURNEY CONTINUES!]

Head Profile Solo (Small) Untitled 0 00 28-21
And THANK YOU, Erica, for the wonderful gift of seeing this look of joy & proud bad-assery back on Solo’s face.  That puts tears in MY eyes.

July 25, 2014

WTF: Cat Befriends Stegosaurus

Wordless Triassic Friday!  What did you think it stood for??!  *snicker*  I admit part of me just wants to see if I can get the most bizarre Google search terms of all time (Oh c’mon, like you didn’t know I have the amusement level of a 10-year-old).  Damn, this is supposed to be wordless.  Psh, not within my skill set.

Orange Cat Snooze
Orange Cat never minds older friends
I swear real posts are in the works.  I’ve just been a tad preoccupied since Encore’s left front foot got jealous of his right front foot.

Encore's Busted Feed
Self-resection (RF), meet bruise (LF) -- I so enjoying spending time with you both
Solo Face July 2014
SoloWhat’s a guy gotta do to get some attention around here?
MeDon’t. You. Dare.

July 18, 2014

And Now For Something Completely (Not) Different, AKA, Encore Has A Vet Addiction

I apologize for the break from our regularly scheduled programming.  Although looking through some recent posts, maybe this IS our regularly scheduled programming!  I had hoped to just post fun lesson videos before departing for a fun mountain ride, but alas, while I still get to hook up the trailer, it’s a much shorter trip (pun not intended).

16 July 14 Heel b
The crappy cell phone view
Whyyyyyyyyyy?  (ok, maybe you say it with a bit less resignation than I do)

Because, upon lifting his right front bell boot, Encore presented me with this lovely gift on Wednesday evening.

What In The Name Of Cod Is That?

I first thought it was just (yes, after enough horse repairs, it becomes ‘just’) an abscess.  Our dear farrier was stopping by on Thursday anyway to do a quick reset of that shoe to hold it until our appointment next Tuesday.  We both found it dryly amusing that his LEFT front foot was the one he bruised a bit about a month ago.

Farrier snipped away the flap (is it still a flap if it’s the entire thickness of the hoof wall??) and paused.  Ermmmm, I don’t think that’s an abscess.

RF Medial Heel Cut 17 July 2014 007 (Small)
RF Medial Heel Cut 17 July 2014 004 (Small)
Supplies at ready...

Neither of us can figure out how he managed it.  While he grows ridiculous amounts of toe up front (he’s at four weeks in these pics), his hind toes stay short, neat, and round.  His (thin, cheap) bell boot was not torn at all.  The angle is simply bizarre. 

Now What?

As a biologist, I do appreciate his efforts to fascinate me via self-dissection, revealing internal anatomy.  However, I’d rather just check that out on Google Images.  I let him steep in the magic of an Animalintex pad overnight, dosed up on SMZ’s and bute, with a liberal amount of duct tape.  I wasn’t quite satisfied with the view this morning though.

RF Medial Heel Cut 18 July 2014 003 (Medium)
RF Medial Heel Cut 18 July 2014 005 (Medium)

He’s re-wrapped with some neosporin on gauze to let things dry out a bit.  Since he couldn’t possibly do such a thing on a Monday, the trailer will head out this afternoon to the Batcave Dr. Bob’s clinic for an in-person inspection for weekend peace-of-mind.  He did essentially resect his own hoof.  If experience has taught me anything, it’s that the Unexpected Twist will ALWAYS occur on Saturday afternoon.  :/

RF Medial Heel Cut 17 July 2014 008 (Medium) That’s Depressing.  Give Us Some Trademark TFS Stupid Stubborn Positives.

Encore is quite sound wandering around his pasture.  There is no swelling in his fetlock or pastern, nor heat, and he had no reaction to the hooftesters on his sole.  He is also an excellent patient, dozing immobile as you poke, hose, wrap, smear, photograph, and peer at his feats (& feets, LOL).

I’m tossing around a few new USEA names for him on teh Facebookz; thus far, I’m rather taken with “Waylaid Again.”  It has a little more flow than “The Vet, Again?!”  Although his barn name is indeed prophetic, even more so if we lived in France.  Or Quebec.  Half the time he walks into the shed, I exclaim, Encore?!

July 11, 2014

It's Never To Late To Strap One On! On Sale!!
That's right, the FIFTH annual International Helmet Awareness Day is tomorrow, July 12th!  Not only is it your chance to score a great deal on the rather staggering array of new helmet options, but it's also an excellent opportunity to shine a spotlight on Riders4Helmets, a vibrant organization that began in the wake of Courtney King-Dye's tragic accident in 2010.  Courtney has become an inspiring participant and speaker at events around the work, all while teaching and working on her own constant rehabilitation schedule.  Here, three years after her injury, she looks back on the momentum she never imagined would roll through the equestrian world. 

Even in the past year, we have sadly witnessed injuries and fatalaties both in the spotlight (Silva Martin's severe concussion WHILE wearing her helmet when she struck her horse's neck on the way off; I know she and Boyd are both so grateful she wasn't bare-headed) and far away from it (a local trail rider died of a catastrophic open skull fracture a few months ago when her horse was surprised, she lost her balance, and her un-helmeted head hit the side panel of a nearby truck).

My Horse Is A Veteran & I Haven't Fallen Off In Ten Years, Why Bother Now?

If not for you, do it for the people who care about you, because I can tell you first hand, losing someone you love to an unexpected TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) is a devastating, life-altering event that you can never recover from.  No one ever sees that one terrible second approaching, that's why they are called "accidents."  So, in one easy step, do the right thing and dramatically reduce a huge risk factor in your favourite hobby and keep the "dents" out of your skull. 

Bonus:  it also keeps spiders out of your hair on the trail and, yes, now you can even put rhinestones on them (no, no I did not).  I must confess my impressed surprise when I tried out the new Troxel Intrepid; it's my new everyday helmet, replacing my trusty Tipperary Sportage (sorry, but the Intrepid is cheaper AND lighter).  The fresh designs really are lighter, cooler, and more comfortable than ever!

Which one is your favourite?

July 9, 2014

Meet The Minion: Solo’s Full-Service Provider Shares Her Story

Linda Hoover Obstacle Clinic May 2014 017 (Small)
Thanks for teh staffz, mom!
You’ve heard me mention Erica, aka Blog Stalker, aka She Who Lunges Children, and her amazing appearance in my life a shockingly short time ago.  It has been my surprisingly great joy to watch her discover the unique gift of Solo Magic; it’s like falling in love with my horse all over again.  In return, she keeps my buddy moving, putting the spring back in his step, & fills in as Server Of Noms when I am on travel status for work.  On top of all that, she has quickly become a wonderful friend.  Take it away, Erica!!

Hi, this is Solo’s mysterious minion, Erica! If you follow Team Flying Solo on Facebook (and you should), you’ve probably seen a picture or two of me looking like a dweeb standing next to *** XC jumps, looking like a dweeb massaging Solo’s butt, or looking like a dweeb unabashedly shoveling Bojangles in my face (sweet mother of biscuits, I was meant to live in the South, y’all).  [enter eventer79: perfectly complements my dorkiness, if you ask me]

Did You Grow Up With Horses?

I rode & worked at an eventing barn in metro Detroit during high school, once I finally convinced my folks that this whole “horse thing” was not a phase. In college I rode when I had time & money (read: rarely), but I did play with my university polo team & catch-rode OTTBs for CANTER.  Even then, I was a super timid jumper, and swore off jumping more than once.
Linda Hoover Obstacle Clinic May 2014 033b (Small)
U ready for dis?
During my junior year, I got the unbelievable opportunity to study  in Northern Ireland, taking classes like equine sports medicine & living in a legit castle, residing in dorms…just above the stabling. Barely three weeks into my stay, I rode in survived my first XC schooling, only to fall off in a 6” gymnastic grid in my next lesson, & snap my wrist. Luckily the awesome instructors continued to include me in lessons on the ground, & I still learned a boat load. I also learned that being an American in an Irish pub wearing a cast will get you lots of free drinks. From there it was grad school, a baby, & a couple of interstate moves, but sadly, no more horses.

So What Made You Decide To Become A Stalker?

I randomly e-mailed Solo’s mom before moving to Durham, hoping she might have some leads on pet-friendly housing. The response was an open invitation to come over for a hack on the red beast!  So last summer I showed up, beers in hand [eventer79: you had me at ‘I brought some drinks’] and jeans on because I didn’t want to seem like I was assuming ride time. By January, we were making arrangements to bring Solo back into regular work. He’s just about the perfect packer for my stage of re-riding-ness: doesn’t give away freebies, but well-schooled on the flat [omg, who would have thunk it…], and will totally take care of my sorry behind over fences.

Linda Hoover Obstacle Clinic May 2014 051 (Small)
He's a tarp pro these days!
And Has Solo Accepted Your Proposal?

It’s being going fantastically, as weather & work allow. In May, I did a horsemanship clinic with Mr. Shiny next door, navigating tires, tarps, pool noodles, & even the ever-challenging single ground pole (Solo was all “Whadaya mean, put one foot over? Ground poles are for CROSSING, lady.”).  I tend to be an “act first, think later” person, so one of my big riding challenges is becoming more aware of my body & the timing of my cues. Having a chance to pause & focus on making a plan BEFORE moving forward was very helpful as I try to convince Solo I really AM trustworthy, I won’t hurt him, & he doesn’t always have to check with Mom to see if it’s okay.

The Calendar Said Something About Jumping?  We Want To Hear About The Jumping, Already!  Win, Lose, Or Draw??

Oh, back to that whole “I’m a candyass over fences…”  If everything is going well, the horse is balanced & we meet the jump on a good stride, ok.  Problem is, I never really understood how to create that balance, & when something goes wrong, I don’t have a toolbox. Thus, I hunch forward, clamp my knees like a crazy person & generally toss all my toys out of my mental pram. What could possibly go wrong with that approach?  [eventer79: I don’t see the problem, it has always worked so well for me in the sandbox…]

Solo & I had a few mini-jump schools that had gone reasonably well. He sometimes lands & roots & scoots & goes “wheee,” particularly if he wishes to point out a tight hand or heel, which can wig me out [eventer79: unfit horse bonus – it only lasts about four strides].  When the opportunity arose for a lesson with TFS favorite, David O’Brien, I planned on an awesome & super tough dressage lesson.  [ROFL, plans!]  Therefore Erica, established darned fool, jumped off a tractor holding a heavy post-pounder [eventer79: I’m rednecking her already!!!], and cracked said sorry behind on the wheel well.  Three weeks later, my tailbone is still yelling.  So what doesn’t require sitting in the saddle?  Oh yes, a jumping lesson!


Body Demo 0 01 24-10
David: ...then you launch the rocket like this!  Solo:  Erica:  Please don't fall off, please don't fall off...

July 8, 2014

Solo Knows Something You Don't

That's why he had this look on his face Saturday morning:

 But then, he does always like to hold out so you realllly appreciate the results...

Post in progress...

July 3, 2014

And This Is Why You Don't Build Houses On Islands, Kids

I'm pretty sure the horsies are tucked into their shelter right now...

My friends at WeatherUnderground have great NexRad graphics!
No worries, though, we are far enough inland that we mostly just get spin-off bands from these coast-huggers.  Not nearly as stressful as when I DID live on a barrier island (Galveston Island, TX)!!  O.O

I think we're gonna need a bigger life jacket...
If you do have horses who live in storm paths, however, here are a couple of great resources to make sure your equine partners are safe and ready when the time comes:

The Horse Fund -- complete with downloadable .pdf's
Nobody knows hurricanes like The Florida Horse Council
And here is a fantastic website with in-depth technical information from LA's State Animal Response Team

Finally, please, if you are responsible for animals, remember my personal rule:  When in doubt, GET OUT!