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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label jumping. Show all posts
Showing posts with label jumping. Show all posts

February 27, 2016

A Singularly Solo (S)Celebration

Can it really have been 10 years??  As I broke Solo's favourite candy canes into his 20th birthday breakfast last Sunday, I couldn't quite believe in a DECADE.

A DECADE - that's encompassed what feels like several lifetimes.  Maybe that's why I fantasize about naps, ha.  While our official 10-year anniversary isn't until Memorial Day weekend, I can't help but feel like we've checked a major milestone.
Beginnings: our trot in Aug 2006
LITERALLY our first jump together (& awesome critique here)
2009: My 30th, his 13th
I don't know Solo's actual birthday.  All I had was the Coggins in the envelope with the bill of sale, taken in January of 2006, describing a 9-yr-old gelding.

When I met him that May, he was advertised as 10, so I decided to give him my own birthday, sitting neatly in the middle & a date I might even remember.
June '07: Ian Stark shows me what my horse can really do!
Given the electric phenomenon of our initial encounter, I suppose I should have known that unimaginable adventures lay ahead of us.  But, well, I was an exuberant 27...and they were unimaginable!
May '07: 1st show (I still thought we were hunters, LOL)
Solo may have been the first horse who was ever my own, but I have had the privilege (some more pleasant than others...) of working with countless others, as far back as my memory can reach.
June '07: That Stark guy suggests he might have some jump (my eyes are closed in terror)
Yet, he remains astonishingly unique, truly his own sphere of being, capable of becoming what BFF once accurately described as "a force of nature," ALWAYS on his own terms.
Solo discovers his calling when Ian takes us XC that summer
But his kindness & fiercely loyal generosity have more than once moved me beyond words.
June '08: Our first XC at BN Foxtrack, making it up as we go
The greatest gift of my life, that chestnut face is also the sole remaining bridge to the person I was & the person I loved before the loss whose story is still trapped inside.
Fall '10:  We've found our stride...literally. Photo purchased from Brant Gamma.

Spring '10: The joy of flight. By Pics of You.
Many of you know I'm a painfully practical biologist, not prone to anthropomorphize.

However, I also know that "different" is not the same as "lesser;" I have seen animals defy our limitations too many times.

And Solo's ability to look into my core, to lend me his strength, his joie de vivre, to become so intently still when things fall apart & promise me, on a level of communication I can't explain, that he will wait with me & it will be ok...that horse continues to save my life.

It's a worn-out cliché, but a truth nonetheless.

May '07: Our first blues
So, my notoriously shiny, larger-than-life, impossibly endearing, hopelessly optimistic, greatest partner, everything I have & am is yours.

You taught me that trust opens up the sky for soaring, that being patient & fair is often more important than being right.
Apr '10: Owning Novice Longleaf HT. Photo by Pics of You.
You never let your body get in the way of your enormous heart, you gave...simply because I asked.  Even when you shouldn't have.
SJ at 2010 Longleaf HT: Poetic partnership.  By Pics of You.
Oct '10: Steeplechase w Becky Holder
We're both older, each with some busted-up cartilage, joints that predict the weather, & a longing to burst out of that start box together once more.

I can at least give you wide pastures & good friends, for which I'm so grateful.
May '11: Training Level sexy
And we can pause together in the loblolly's shade, watch the heron stalk unwary fish, & relive a thousand memories in every touch.  And if we're lucky, share many more new ones.


From a 2010 indulgence of my inner 12-yr-old, an illustration of...us:


Song by Templeton Thompson, a very talented & kind singer/songwriter/horsewoman I had the pleasure of meeting at an Equine Affaire in Raleigh.

August 9, 2015

We Jumped A Thing!

Seriously – a thing!!!  Ok, the word “jump” may be a tad strong:
If it looks like a jump & jumps like a jump...
But creativity is a Team Flying Solo credo, so two barrels my neighbour wasn’t using & old seine poles from work we’d replaced = all manner of jump-like constructs.

It simultaneously seems like years ago & last week that we were arcing around 3’3” courses under David O.’s sharp eyes, but yesterday…yesterday, a whoop of triumph escaped my fool’s grin as Encore neatly popped over a single crossrail that I’d optimistically call 2’6”.

Because it WAS a triumph!  Doubly so, because this post is a post!  I know many of you have been thinking, “Hey, didn’t there used to be, like, stories on this blog?
 
Yep.  I’m trying to figure out where they went, too.

Every Day For The Win!

From its birth, We Are Flying Solo has been about embracing & celebrating what defines horsemanship, no matter what the discipline/breed/age:  Baby Steps.  And they absolutely still count even if you are walking in impressions you’ve made before!

Best webcomic ever, by Natalie Dee
I’ve worked very hard to accomplish the proud label of “Slowest Rehab Ever,” between Encore’s healing stifles (yeah, pretty sure those were wayyyyy faster than me) & my own bewildered feeling of being shaken up inside a dark paper bag for the past year.  I was beginning to wonder if it was Over.

What?  I never claimed to have conquered Anxiety Girl, who gains astonishing power when combined with the habitual paranoia of horse ownership

Despite a rocky moment, where Encore refused the fence twice (90% rider mental hesitation & cursed spot of doubt), the third time was the charm (out, out damned spot! *literature nerd moment of awesome*).  And so were the two after that.

So when I dropped my stirrups & leaned down to wrap my arms around that generous horse’s neck, my murmur of, “Thank you, buddy!” consisted of everything in my heart.  Gifts so often arise as moments.  Moments shaped like hope.

May 3, 2015

Don't Expect Sentences In Satuday's So8ths 3DE Update Of Blogger-Exploding Epicness

Moar prize oogling!  Thanks, of course, to all these people & more:

Mary Ellen at Logorific did a fantastic job on the long banners!!

A better picture of Beka's surprise that made me sniffle:

It's been my nametag decoration...
Meghann went overboard & sent beautiful certificates & a sample for display:


The lovely banners will frame tonight's Derby party & dinner display in the little indoor out back:



And the reason I do it, the reason you all need to do it...

N3DE XC: Jodie Stowell & Island Fever lock on to the stone wall

If Becky's picked her #1... (N3DE rider Alcy Christie & Abraxis in the Phase C Assist box)

N3DE:  Sabine Desper & Adamek pause for their super crew!


Solo's Minon Erica looks like she got the temp check job in the 10-minute box! (who else stands at the horse's butt?)

Amanda Miller-Atkins & Barley clear N3DE gorgeous XC Fence 1

N3DE Julia Burke jogs Davignio for the Ground Jury before proceeding to Phase D:  XC!

N3DE Ann Bower & Prosecco (also "Best Turned Out" for their division jogs!) clear the XC Frame

...is because this.  Donkey Hode (who won Best Conditioned over all divisions!), currently in 2nd place in the N3DE explains it all, walking back to the barn with an equine smile.
Because it's just zen, man...

September 28, 2014

Drive-By David Lesson Report!

Skinny Oxer 01 19-21 (Small)
Owning it in July
If I haven’t mentioned it yet, I have THE BEST NEIGHBOURS EVER!  Behind me lives a wonderful professional trainer who rode her now-retired Appy at Prelim/1*/CCN in the late 1990's/early 2000's; back when I was still a spectator, eventing was Eventing with a full endurance day, and they ran all the classic events like Radnor & Ledyard & Bromont.  As she has an all-weather arena, jump field, & hosts a variety of clinics & practitioners in addition to her own lessons, I walked over after our last David date (erm, I totally meant to post Encore’s videos for that one) with a big question.

Skipping through some cat-herding to the exciting result: we collected some of her clients & a few of my fellow David-disciples and I was able to have my lesson…IN MY OWN BACKYARD!  In some odd fantasy world with no trailer-packing, no driving, I could just saddle my horse & ride up the fenceline to enjoy my Circle of Death.  The word gratitude doesn’t even describe it, given how much I need good things in my life right now!

The Jumping Dressage Lesson

Despite my plans of improving on our jump performance in July, Encore had only been back in work for two weeks & still lacked hind strength, so I opted to put on the dressage saddle.  I wanted David’s eyes to evaluate my horse once again



Encore Transitions 0 04 43-20 (Small)
Not Hackney trot anymore!
Perhaps the most rewarding part of our initial warmup (aside from the words, “He looks pretty good to me!”) was that the Circle of Death now includes less Death!  Due to my own exhaustion, humid days prior, & a horse who’d been standing around on duct tape for six weeks, much of our schooling had been at the walk & trot.  However, I had focused hard on fine-tuning & brushing the dust off of one concept:  You Will Move Off My Inside Leg & Accept My Outside Rein

Hello, payoff.  Imagine that:  break it down to simple, clear things, teach your horse to respond to individual aids, and *gasp* I didn’t have to work so hard to get a response to my aids!  Erm, some of us are slower learner than others…  *raises hand*



My lessons are so rare, they are incredibly valuable to me.  While forward energy is crucial, David reminds me each time we meet how important it is for this horse to unlock his body & open his topline FIRST.  Encore must be correct & balanced before he is asked to move out, otherwise you end up back at downhill rushing.

Ok, I Couldn't Help Jumping A Little...

I knew his butt would tire soon, but we decided to do some simple jump work at the end, for the sake of my rusty self.  I confess, hearing “keep his poll up & wait with your body” STILL after five years makes me beat my head on the table a little.  Perhaps you can even hear me mumble, “I should get a tattoo of that” in the video, ha.  I have to wonder if David gets tired of saying it…





While Encore was compensating a bit at the end, it was good for both of us to feel some balance & pace again.  Watching the videos, I realize that I lapse into riding him like he is still a green horse!  Although our three years have been rather a roller coaster, I need to remember that I have actually trained him along the way and he now has a skillset of his own.  Fortunately, I have no control issues whatsoever, ahem, none at all…  *shifty eyes*

The Big Takeaway

I do consider Encore a Training horse now, but this reinforced for me yet again how vital it is to stay focused on the core principles – effective aids, consistent rhythm, balance for you & your horse, enforcing & rewarding correctness in your horse – no matter what your level or discipline.  Riding can seem overwhelmingly complicated sometimes, in a world full of books & articles & forums & clinics, which makes me appreciate David’s focus on methodical simplicity even more.  It’s the perfect antidote for my crazy hamster brain.  My horses have no idea how much gratitude they owe that man for that!! 
FenRidgeFHT2013_0812-2847848484-O (Medium)
Chill, mom, I got skillz

September 21, 2014

Riding Solo Makes Me Happy...And A Tiny Bit Frustrated

Partners
Learning to be an effective, thinking rider is awesome.  And it sucks. 

How Does One Come To This Odd Conclusion?

I actually got to ride Solo yesterday, on the most glorious of Carolina fall mornings.  Even as I fed him breakfast, I could feel the palpable restlessness flowing between us.  It was a quiet, echoing chorus of, "let's ride, let's shine, let's be US."

Part of the beauty of eight years of partnership is knowing exactly which of your horse's joints need longer to loosen & the precise schooling exercises required to stretch the tightest muscles.  Every ligament, every sinew in his body is yours because you have spent more than 3,000 days as a team of two become one.

Trademark Solo "forward walk sux" face
Warming Up

After an obligatory Orange Horse protest on the principle of "forward because I say so," leg-yields were followed by shoulders-in followed by haunches-in suppling aging bodies (ahem, we won't say whose) at the walk.  These are vital for Solo's hocks & back before asking him to step forward in trot.

Moving down to our dressage 'arena,' we coaxed his inside hind leg to truly step into my outside hand & kept that QH butt active.  Creating that kinetic energy gives you something to work with, allowing you to create bend & corners & balance.  We are nothing without forward.

As the days cool, it is harder on arthritic joints (let's not name names here either...), so I kept our canter warm-up brief, but correct because I really wanted to take him over a few very small jumps.  It's a fine line, walked by feel, between pushing to strengthen & asking too much; I am always listening carefully to my horse.

Jumpy Jumpy!

We both wandered to catch our breath as I made a brief jump plan.  Perhaps 8 or 10 efforts, with an emphasis on balance & softness for us both.  I included extra care with my lines: he wears his trusty Cavallo Sport boots on his wussy front feet & there were still traces of dew on the grass.

Not so much like this (8 yrs ago!)
I channeled my inner David O. & found a steady rhythm, making sure to keep my shoulders back & my upper body VERY still so I didn't throw him on his forehand.  My legs had to stay wrapped around Solo's ribs to keep his hind feet stepping under & my hands had to stay connected, yet soft.  Repeating the David mantra of "soften in the last three strides, you can't change anything there anyway," I kept my hand in front of me, yet on his neck over AND after the jump, resisting the ever-present instinct to pull back after landing.

Well, for most of them anyway.  Did I mention learning?  Yeah, it's still a process, a long, stumbling process, but a snail's progress is still progress!

When I got it right, we were...THERE.  If Solo believes you won't fight him (I'm not sure why he wouldn't after our long history of, errrr, pulling matches, heh), he will jump & land & canter away like a lovely beast.  He might take 3 or 4 quick steps, but that is where the trust comes in:  I punch my instinct in the face, stay off his back, shove my fists into his neck on landing, & sit up.  My trust is rewarded by his & we just...flow.

Um, So Which Part Of This Was Sucky Exactly?? 

Thanks to Priscilla & David & my clinicians & in no small part, to Encore, I am finally GETTING how to really use my leg, thigh, core, & upper body.  I am GETTING how to ride the horse into the outside rein without sacrificing the forward energy.  I am GETTING how to feel, process, & respond with the correct aids when my horse needs an adjustment.

Creepers gonna creep...
Emphasis on "getting," there are still plenty of intervals of fail!

We hear these things suggested, yelled, repeated, written to us & at us over & over & over throughout our riding lives, but it really isn't until the 10,000th time we feel the links connect & our brain & our muscles finally digest that feeling, that it becomes truly knowing.

I wouldn't call it a lightbulb.  It's more like...a train.  Sparks fly from wheels spinning on the tracks at first, while the locomotive strains to begin moving.  But slowly, the momentum builds as the effort is put in, until, with enough time, you are rolling down the line.

So now I ride Solo & while I revel in how very little rein I need & how responsive he is to my lateral aids & how much FUN he is...I want to go back & do it all over again!  I want the rider I am now to bring along the horse he was when we began, to do it better, to do it smarter.

As if I'd say maybe to Tennant!
That Whole Big Picture Thing

While it's a frustrating tickle in my head, at the same time, he made me & I made him.  We learned from each other (even if it was "ok, never do that again") & I am still proud that we got here in spite of my fumbling about.  What's that saying about a blind hog & acorns?

Besides, I lack a time machine unless The Doctor shows up.  And even though it may have been a bumpy ride, Solo is still the one who carried me here.  It is his wisdom, his quirks, his baggage, his personality, & his heart that continue to teach me, call me out, & remind me that every step counts.  Both the mental & physical ones. 


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.