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We Are Flying Solo

August 30, 2014

Free Riding Clinics For You! A TFS Redux.

God spake to me...and I could not look upon his holy face.
Ever wanted to absorb decades of experience like a little fangirl sponge from greats like Jimmy Wofford, Ian Stark, Becky Holder, or Eric Smiley?

Well, aren't you a lucky little fangirl!!  In the spirit of relaxing over the holiday weekend, for those of us who can't access FEI TV (or don't want to), I have collected, in chronological order, our hilarious spectacular performances in front of these phenomenal horse(wo)men & teachers.  I'm sure they felt just as lucky as I did.  *insert sarcasm font*

I also wanted to share with more recent readers some earlier parts of this wild journey.  I'm sure you are spending every free moment catching up on the 500+ posts since August of 2009 (where's that font again?), but in the meantime, I set the time machine in motion.  Encore & I may appear fearless & quasi-competent at times (usually when no one is looking), but those moments are built on the foundation of 1,000 stumbling blocks of trial-and-error that Solo, my un-erringly brave & accidental partner, made with me.

Have no fear, I am unoffended if you point & laugh.  I do (at myself, past AND present).
The only Olympic-quality ride Solo ever got
The Man Who Ruined Changed Solo & I For All Time (or That First Time We Met The XC Grin)
Ian Stark - Summer 2007
(Yes, I was afraid to canter my horse in an arena because he misplaced that gait.  He only had trot & gallop...except on the trail.  I'll let you guess how humbling it is after 20 years of riding, to finally have a horse & be afraid to canter it.  And yes, I did try to make an eventing legend wear my sweaty helmet.  I failed.  Then Solo nearly dumped him.  Thank cod my horse did not gain infamy as The Killer Of Ian Stark.  *horror*)

I Finally Get To Meet God
Jimmy Wofford - Fall 2008
He only whacked my horse on the ass with his baseball cap once...

Becky has not convinced Solo that dressage has merit
We Discover Eventing Mecca & I Become A Bona Fide Stalker (& My Last Clinic With Solo)
Becky Holder - Fall 2010

Ok, he can jump
The Best Christmas Present Ever & Encore's First Proper Clinic (Thanks, Mom!)
Camp Becky Holder - 10 Days of Spring Training, 2013

A Scotsman Started The Fire, An Irishman Throws A New Log In The Flame
Eric Smiley - Summer 2013

Encore's 1st Training course (Fall 2013)
Wander at will & explore the evolution!  Or save it for some rainy day entertainment.  May there be useful lessons YOU can apply next time you swing a leg over.

And not least of all, thank you to my mother, to Jim, to our amazing friend, Beth, and to the victims kind, random people I threw cameras at.  Your support made these experiences possible & each one is a treasure, both in lessons learned & the partnership forged with my horses.  Not only did these incredible teachers raise the bar on my training & riding about 47 holes, but they did so with patience, grace, generosity of spirit, humility, & humour.

For that, I consider myself lucky indeed. 

August 23, 2014

No Cups? No Problem! Build Hassle-Free Jump Standards…For $0!

Building Standards 16 Aug 2014 001
Careful schematics (I defy 'smart'phone world!)
There are few necessary evils so maddening & so fiddly as The Jump Cup.

Buying them, drilling holes that aren’t too crooked, losing pins, dropping poles on your foot while adjusting them, breaking plastic cups, bending metal cups, deciding you don’t even like the kind you have…but do we have a choice?

YES!

Nostalgia had me paging through my well-worn Encyclopedia of the Horse (a 1977 masterpiece), when a training photo caught my eye.  It wasn’t the jumper, but rather the obstacle:  a simple, versatile schooling jump with ZERO moving parts.  Out came the pencil & some very rusty geometry.

A beautiful Saturday & a newly expanded stockpile of junk reclaimed lumber meant go time.  A few hours (there may have been some wandering & catching up with friends involved *ahem*), an assorted collection of leftover screws, & some precise eyeball measurements, and I’ve got “plug-n-play” eventing standards!

Possibly best safety poster.  Ever.
Your friends are already jealous of your super-fly flower box, now it’s time to blow their minds when you never have to push an angry carpenter bee out of a pin hole again (or maybe that just happens to me?).

Standard Preface from the Safety Nazi:  Dude.  Tools are awesome, but don't mess aroundWear your safety glasses, close-toed shoes, ear protection when necessary, & pay attention.  Work smarter, not harder.  You can do anything you set your mind to, but make sure you have been properly instructed, know your equipment, & always plan ahead.



Ready, Set, Go

Rule #1 of Redneck Construction (we’ll consider safety to be Rule #OptimusPrime - hey, he wears a helmet):  never be afraid to try!  No one was born with knowledge, so ask questions, google your heart out, & don’t hesitate to click my email button if you want to know more – I consider it all “paying it forward” in thanks to those who taught me.

Building Standards 16 Aug 2014 005
Let it begin...
Tools:
  • Skilsaw
  • Drill (pilot holes are especially useful in treated and/or scrap lumber, reduces cracking & other lumber fail when you drive the screws)
  • Impact Driver loaded w/ screwdriver bit (optional; you can use a screwdriver bit in your drill or a hand screwdriver)
  • Measuring Tape  
  • Pencil (or Sharpie, crayon, paint pen of your choice)
  • Wood Screws (I maintain a collection of leftovers)
Lumber:Two Frames (2) 6’ scraps (dimensions optional, but this is your base, so wide is good)
 (4) 5’ scraps (dimensions optional, mine don’t even match)
Pole Supports: As many as you like at any height you like (naturally, none of mine match here either)

Building Standards 16 Aug 2014 002
Building Standards 16 Aug 2014 003
Other Materials:  A camera so you can share your masterpiece.  A phone in case you have to dial 911 (Remember, "proactive, not reactive").  Paint/stain if you really want to go hog-wild (overachiever).

Pertinent Notes:  I wanted a 4’ standard, as I need to be able to school up to ~3’7”.  My secret ulterior motive:  this also makes the geometry EXTREMELY easy, because one vague concept I remember is the standard 3-4-5 right triangle (hello, sophomore year of high school flashback).  The frame now measures itself:  with a 4’ line from the apex down the center, it is simply two right triangles back-to-back.  Each angled side must then be 5’ and the base, 6’ (two triangles combined = 3’ X 2).

Yeah, just look at the picture up top, I’m a visual learner too, LOL!
 


Building Standards 16 Aug 2014 006 (Small)
Damn straight, it's the TFS Official Eventing Stick!
Step 1:  I like to do all my basic cuts first.  But I usually, erm, SQUIRREL!, & MAKE A KEWL THING!  Since owning a farm apparently makes you an instant hoarder, I’d been saving this sturdy little pole I’d found in the giant burn pile (included free with property purchase, LOL).  One end had splintered, but I simply cut that off, sat down with my Sharpie, & check it out:  my own handy measuring pole, labeled by USEA levels!

Building Standards 16 Aug 2014 012 (Small)
Frame layout
The Actual Step 1:  Cut the basic frame boards to length (for both standards) & lay them out.  Yes, these ARE three boards of completely different dimensions & age, heh.  My 6’ base is at the bottom of the photo & the two 5’ sides are angled around the 4’ upright.

The 4’ board is NOT included/attached to the standard, I just used it as a guide for the other three boards.  And I may or may not have gotten a little excited with the Sharpie & decided it needed to have the levels pre-marked & labeled too (hey, I might need a back-up measurer).

Building Standards 16 Aug 2014 013 (Small)
4' reference upright
Step 2:  I suck at miter-ing.  A lot.  To trim the angles you see in the standing frame, I very scientifically overlapped the boards in the final configuration, squinted one eye, & sketched the trim lines.  Then, I just nipped the corners with the skilsaw.  Close enough.

Since there will be cross-boards screwed on to the frame, you don’t need to worry if your joints are a little gappy (not the ones in  your body, I can’t help with those).  The support boards will reinforce the frame & your finished product will be very solid.  At present, there is only one screw at each joint.

Building Standards 16 Aug 2014 014
First completed frame
I also did a slight design modification.  If all your lumber matched (boring!) and you had actual miter skillz, you would fasten each side to the top surface of the base.  However, since I was working with some boards that were narrow & some that were quite old, I decided to drive the screws through the wider face of the angled boards into the thicker sides of the base.  It worked out very well & let me avoid splitting the edges of my thinner lumber.

   
Building Standards 16 Aug 2014 015 (Small)
Adding the first crosspiece
Step 3:  Do a little dance!  The hard part is done!  Now it’s time for the crosspieces, which will hold your poles/branches/panels/whatever else you can think of.

I laid out my 4’ guide upright, but I don’t have a t-square & didn’t feel like getting fussy with the level.  After laying down each cross-board, I also measured the vertical distance from the base to the top of the crosspiece on each side.  Now I could be sure that my poles would be supported at the heights I wanted & I marked the positions with my sharpie before I drilled.

Building Standards 16 Aug 2014 017
Labeled by USEA level!
Step 4:  I was getting hungry & didn’t feel like ripping new boards down with the saw at this point (project honesty).  This translated to making do with the scrap assortment I had in front of me.  I had enough to cover the essentials, though.  This finished standard has supports at 2’, 2’7” (BN), and 3’3” (T).  Of course I labeled them!!

Building Standards 16 Aug 2014 016 (Small)
One standard, AH AH AH!!
Step 5:  Repeat steps 1-4.  It goes much more quickly now that you have experience!  For now, my 2nd standard has only BN & T crosspieces, but later additions are a snap.

Step 6:  JUMP SWEET JUMPS!  Ok, I haven’t gotten this far yet, but if you do, picture submission is required!!

Building Standards 16 Aug 2014 018
All done!  Well, for today.
Future Finesse

I have a few touches left to finish (after significant snack-age).  Extras for you to consider:

  • Add a short scrap perpendicular to the end of each base if feet are needed for stability.
  • Cut the corners off crosspieces to reduce pointy edges.
  • Use molding scraps or other small wood pieces to make blocks on the end of crosspieces to prevent pole rolling.
  • Cut scoops or notches in crosspieces to hold poles like a cup.
  • Cut multiple notches in crosspieces on the inside of the triangle; you can make cavalleti, oxers & triple bars with just one pair of standards!
  • Paint it pretty, or stain to seal if you prefer the natural wood finish.
  • Drill holes in the baseboard for flowers, pinwheels, or other decoration.
  • What else can your imagination dream up??

August 16, 2014

Red Alert: Change Is Afoot

Danger, Will Robinson!!

Yes, I know, change is scary, but this one is long overdue & very exciting.

How about I leave you hanging a bit longer...?

TFS IS ABOUT TO EXPERIENCE A SERIOUS FACELIFT!

Didn't you just do that? 

You're right, it wasn't terribly long ago when I implemented the current design.  However, it's time for me to admit that, despite endless fussing, I've never been that happy with it.  The deal-breaker was when I found I'd made a  mistaken assumption and it's not responsive.  Boo.  (Just because I hate touchscreens doesn't mean I want to punish the millions of  you who use them!!)

So hold on to your bucking straps.  There are still a few details to finesse, although my beta-testers have given the thumbs-up.  But I think it's going to be a smoother ride.

August 14, 2014

Life Smacks You In The Face. Horses Reduce The Swelling Afterwards.


If pain must come, may it come quickly. Because I have a life to live, and I need to live it in the best way possible.  - Paulo Coelho, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept

give up catThis week has been a rare treat at the real job (and by “treat”, I mean, a quite unexpected awfulness I didn’t see coming).  Every office has its crappy days, but it’s a special occasion when it stands out among a decade.  (I love my job, I love my job, I love my job, I…)

Betrayal, rage, pain, all the fun parts!  I am quite careful & quite diligent at drawing a firm line between my professional life & my personal one, but this monstrosity shoved right through that wall at exactly the wrong time, which naturally just multiplies the offense.  Something tells me I wouldn’t be off base in guessing you’ve been there…

Chocolate helps, but one “normal” person can really only have one expensive hobby at a time.  Which boils down to why we all have chosen to torture surround ourselves with large, suicidal, frustrating, money-burning, unpredictable, mesmerizing, magical, & altogether wonderful horses at every opportunity.  In fact, I find myself wondering if I can substantially increase my tax write-offs by adding “equine-assisted therapy” as a line item.

One of my resident greys
Requirement:  Resident Therapists

The smallest things can save you a drive to the loony bin.  That husky nicker alongside a face that says to you, “Hooray!  You are the bestest sight & I’ve been waiting all day just for you!”


Stomp-whisk-nom slows your breathing in time with horses deterring flies while relishing supper.

Watching the crystalline well-water fill the trough as a hidden broad-winged hawk scolds an uninvited guest somewhere in the oak trees, I can finally feel everything else fade away.  As the grey tree frogs launch their daily chorus, all that's left behind is a very welcome relief.

Could Actual Riding Actually Occur??

Oddly, almost surreally, it is a breathtakingly gorgeous evening:  August in North Carolina has a long tradition of sweating through four shirts a day, as well as fascinating discoveries, such as the fact that you CAN actually sweat underwater.  I guess the memo has gotten lost because my pastures are exploding with green & the air is…pleasant??!

The best part?  Solo digs eagerly in to his favourite spots in the top pasture, which has been resting for a couple weeks.  I carefully pick through Encore’s feet with Durasole, ichthammol, and ThrushBuster, only to find his LF closing up & his RF comfy, and FOUR SHOES ON FOUR FEET (*cough* we may or may not have seen our farrier twice in five days last week *cough*).

bareback solo
Don't be jealous!
How can I help but smile as I buckle the nylon girth of our fabulously stylish bareback pad (bony chick + TB withers = I am not ashamed of my eBay memory foam!!)?  Encore seems to agree: every bridling usually includes a patient pause while I wait for him to unclamp his silly teeth.  Today, though, I lifted the bit to an already-open mouth.  I guess we both got bored!

Yes, you read that right:  bareback pad.  You know, since he’s a “crazy” OTTB and all, after five weeks off, things get very dramatic when I hop on from the trailer fender and we…walk around for a while.  :D 

Getting The Kinks Out

The ride itself was nothing fancy; I mostly just used the terrain for walk work.  Both his front feet still have a week or two of growing to do before I am ready to put them back in full service.

So we wandered around the farm & I even had the gall (says my horse) to pick up the contact & school some lateral work, combined with stretching over his topline (I know, animal cruelty at its worst).  Encore grudgingly accepted once I explained it was simple physical therapy to soften all those tight muscles which have been standing around compensating for sore feets.  I did manage to restrain my “I told you so" once his back stretched, lifted & began to swing as he unlocked his hind legs & loosened into the bridle.
    
Horses Hanging Out 001 (Small) Savouring The Now

Every evening, my pond turns into molten gold when the fading light hits just the right angle.  Flycatchers & a common yellowthroat warbled across the pastures, a perfect counterpoint to the steady four-beat swoosh of hooves through tall grass.

After being grounded for more days than I can count, feeling my horse’s strong confidence beneath me, knowing we both relished the jailbreak, being in each moment & letting it all soak in – well, I don’t need to explain to you how precious those times are!

After I shut the gate, releasing Encore to enjoy fresh grass with his little big brother, I lingered there, watching my happy horses just doing what they do.  Something in that fills you up, as if you were the trough you just tended.  Even if there was old water in it already, you shove the hose to the bottom and the fresh, clean flow revitalizes the supply & pushes the stale, cloudy water out.  You are restored, at least in part, and for today, that is enough
Rock

August 5, 2014

The Agony & The Ecstasy: An Update (Mostly On The Former)

*insert standard blogger excuse about life, jobs, shoving your horse's legs in buckets of ice at midnight, perfecting your hoof wrapping techniques, blah blah blah, whatever, no posts for you*

There, that's out of the way.

To say it's been a roller coaster would be a vast understatement.  This morning, however, was the anxiously-awaited give vast sums of money to Dr. Bob fall shots/check my horses' various & sundry issues gala. 

HorseS??  You wonder quite correctly.  Solo, not to be outdone by his big little brother, has been quite sore in his large shoulder muscles for the past 6-8 weeks.  Erica & I have been massaging & stretching & staring quizzically (ok, that's my speciality), so I was relieved I could finally just throw him at Dr. Bob and let the magic hands find the answers.

Go home, horses, you're drunk.  Oh, wait, you are home...
Sore Solo

Aside from getting to be punch drunk on 1/3 a can of PBR (aka sedation lightweight, he's a cheap date) while his teeth floated away, he was quickly pronounced footsore on both fronts.  Lots of small bruises in his hooves have him compensating with those enormous shoulders & parking out a little to distribute his weight across his feet.

*now insert mom feels bad*

Oddly enough, I was relieved at this answer.  Instead of some new shoulder injury (which I greatly feared he might have come up with during The Pasture Games), instead we just confirmed that genetics are genetics & Mr. Shiny still has wussy feet.  I had been using  his front boots when we ride out, but on the farm or in an arena, he's just been going barefoot.

I had not seen a big change in his movement until the past two weeks though.  Dr. Bob once again fit the pieces together for me:  wet weather brings out raging growth in crabgrass, which is apparently quite delicious.  My pastures are mixed forage (this makes me happy, different species offer different things and do well at different times of year) & certainly have their share of this treat.  However, it is very high in starches when wet, which makes wussy feet even more sensitive.  Given the past ten days of monsoon season...lightbulb!

The Star Pupil

Encore has kept me hopping (& also made me an expert at monitoring a digital pulse, which my farrier FINALLY was able to show me...it's a lot easier to find when it's pounding).  :-(  Three emergency line calls & four vet visits in a month, well, I could have done without.  But things are healing, in fortunate cooperation with me reaching the dregs of my vetwrap stockpile!
Encore's RFhandiwork, 16 JulyNot quite so gory, 2 Aug
You'll recall his rather spectacular self-resection of his RF hoof on July 16.  He so enjoyed all the extra attention that he decided to go dead lame on his LF foot after his most recent shoeing.

Actually at actual midnight.  :/
Whee.

Wonder-farrier ran back to the farm the next day & pulled three nails to relieve pressure on what turned out to be the same bruise we poked at in late June.  It was just wandering around in poor Encore's foot because he simply refuses to abscess things out (heaven forbid we appear normal!).

I'll skip over his attempts to kill me by heart failure, timing pulses, hoarding ice, stocking bulk supplies of Epsom salts, & practicing duct tape sculpture by headlamp.  Including last night's wail of despair as he came limping in for dinner, sans LF shoe (to be fair, it held on valiantly for having only one inside nail).

Because today...(1) I got permission to stop wrapping the RF, as Dr. Bob deemed it hard enough to just take an occasional dab of ichthammol & carry on, and (2) The Man took his determined hoof knife to Encore's LF front sole and in a few expert slices, exposed the furtive gypsy bruise at last!!!

You know you have been a horse owner long enough when you are HAPPY to see pus and blood seeping out of your horse's foot...

Ok, I admit, I majorly science-geek-out on this picture

Of course he did.
Which Leaves Us...?

Hopefully over the hump of this particular mountain!  Encore's shoe has just been tacked back on, so I can save my duct tape while his bruise heals.  Of course the idiot managed to step on himself while sedated (don't take him out for drinks, he gets the high gravity version) and cut a chunk out of his hind pastern.  *I'd headdesk but I broke the desk from over-use*  At least it's just a flesh wound!  As long as he is not sore, I can (omg, don't breathe a word) ride him in a few days.

Solo will go back to work in his snazzy boots after a little rest and we'll all feel a bit better after some painkillers!

Now, would someone mind pouring me a shot of very expensive tequila?