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We Are Flying Solo

November 12, 2009

An Update About Nothing

It's wet. It's cold. It's windy. It's raining. We've gotten somewhere around 5 or 6 inches of rain at least in the last 24 hours. Perfect riding weather. :-\

In good news, since yesterday was a holiday, I got to meet the farrier around lunchtime and we got Solo's fancy new shoes on. So now, pads are gone and he has shiny aluminum wedges up front (pictures to come). I quite like the look of them, and best of all, no frog covering! Solo was a bit surprised walking back to his stall and about tripped over himself, not quite expecting his feet to be so light. I told the farrier that I now expect a guarantee that my horse will jump higher and snap his knees up like a Grand Prix stallion. We are counting down to our big Horse Trial coming up on the 22nd.

I pondered riding across the road to the indoor arena tonight. I am not entirely feeling the motivation though. But I've used up most of my busy work--I put Solo's tail up in its winter tail wrap of eye-burningly bright royal blue Lycra (because all horses need metrosexual accessories!). His mohawk is trimmed, wounds are dressed. I suppose I could clean my tack. Or not.

November 9, 2009

Taking Stock

So, I'm pretty much caught up to the present. Finally! I've glossed over a lot, much of it I'm sure I'll come back to, what with my talent for repeating myself and all. Here's where we stand:

Yup, that's my little red speck to the left of the tree.
(1) Home: Solo is mostly settled in at the new farm. To my delight, he is back on pasture board, but with a big safe stall of his own for eating and severe weather. The rest of the time, he is out and about, keeping joints and intestines healthy and mobile.

To my not-so-delight, he is in mad crazy love with a little grey pony mare who is in insane heat. Praise be to the heavens, they will be forced to break up in two days when we rearrange the pastures and Solo will be back in an all-boy group, having proved his untrustworthiness around mares. I can't even catch him now and my sane, lovely horse is now a maddening wild stallion, herding "his" mare carefully away from all other people and horses. I might stab him with a blunt object.  Must...have... restraint...till...Wednesday. But the facility is lovely and BO and co-boarders are gems.


Left Front(2) Feet: I talked a little bit about foot problems here. Solo did great barefoot for a while, but EX-farrier managed to completely get rid of his poor heels, at which point farrier was fired. So we had to go back to shoes. They are on all four for now. The fronts are in wedge pads too, til the heels grow back, but the pads are trapping too much moisture and causing frog sensitivity so this week, we are switching to aluminum wedges and pads BE GONE, hurrah!


(3) Tack: Saddles fit, I am trying ANOTHER new bit for dressage -- he liked the happy mouth double-jointed Boucher, but I still felt like things could be better. Am borrowing a KK ultra French mouth loose ring (so happy I found one in BO's bit collection because I can't afford to buy that!) and so far, like it even more. He is STAYING on the bit at the trot and that's a REALLY big deal!

It's been a bit journey -- started with a full cheek snaffle, went to D-ring French link, then D-ring Myler, which worked well for a long time, I now look much more favourably upon the low level Mylers, then to this happy mouth Boucher we picked up at a consignment sale, which Solo quite liked. I have to stay with double jointed bits as Solo has a low palate and big tongue, so single jointed bits jab him in the roof of the mouth. I think we'll stick with the KK though, I really like this new feel.

(4) Dressage: Making good progress. Trot work is becoming much more enjoyable as Solo learns to reach for the contact and stay on it. Walk is good, but need more impulsion. W/T transitions feeling great, as is halt, although Solo has this new tendency to drift left into the halt, but only on centerline, grrr. Canter...well, it has single-stride moments, transitions are not great, it's our project. But Solo is becoming much more supple in all gaits, moves mostly readily off the leg and moves over his back.

(5) Jumping: We were going really well, but since moving to the new place, just haven't had any good schooling sessions as Solo has become a horse-shaped wrecking ball. Still jumping clean at comps as long as I don't mess him up, but we've lost the flow. I think I am not using enough impulsion... Our jumping coach is having surgery so can't travel up here for a bit and we haven't had a lesson with him in a while, sigh. I NEED one! you'll get some detailed progress and musings on our day-to-day crap, such as it is. I didn't get to ride this weekend, I don't want to work him until the stupid pads come off as we have our big competition coming up in two weeks and I don't want him going footsore on me. I spent some time ground driving him last night for a nice change of pace since he doesn't limp on the arena footing. He did well in the end, although it always makes him nervous. I am working on getting him comfortable with me driving him from directly behind where he can't see me, to build his confidence in himself.

If there are topical posts you'd like to see, feel free to submit requests as well and I will freely share my brain drivel on the topic at hand. But I like to read and explore riding theory and am always open to gathering new tools for the the toolbox, so I spend a lot of time thinking about all that -- now whether my thinking is useful or not remains deeply in question, but it amuses me. I also plan to do some product reviews, as I find them immensely helpful for my own purchases, I want to help out other horsepeople decide what is right for them.

PhotobucketI will keep our calender on here up to date with our various activities and hopefully will get some new videos soon as our routine at the new place settles a bit more. I hate winter because I have to ride in the dark during the week, but at least BO has good lights.

Long term goal: complete Training 3-Day Event at Waredaca. (3 years?)
Short term goal: get a nice canter transition. (10 years?)

SO, now you know the back story, let's see where it takes us...

Me and Solo on our birthday 2009 (my 30th, his 13th). Headgear courtesy of dear barn friends.

November 8, 2009

A Very Rainy Day

Fresh off our big win, I decided to enter a new local HT to get some more mileage for Solo and I. The competition was a new one, just built at a nearby farm and it only included Maiden and BN, so I expected the courses to be pretty small, but I try to take advantage of every opportunity to present Solo with new obstacles.

Sometimes, we all make errors in judgement.

This was just about a week or so ago, so November, chilly rain, cold wind. Oh yeah, I said rain AND wind. But we eventers are a hardy bunch and never let a silly thing like weather take rides away from us!

Solo got off the trailer transformed into a hot, blowing Thoroughbred. As soon as I got on, he jigged around, blowing and staring at every conceivable object in the parking pasture. The rain had tapered off to a drizzle, but it was still cold and wet -- I was actually wearing rain pants over my breeches and counting on the equisuede seat of my saddle to keep me from sliding right off.

I could see no warmup in sight and the secretary's table was way down by the barn, farther than I was willing to walk in the rain. I saw a dressage arena set up in the grass across the road. Well, all right then -- I warmed up in the parking area and Solo eventually decided to join me mentally. I kept an eye on the arena. It was a bit puzzling. There was no judge in sight, no one else was warming up that I could see. But as my time approached, I made my way over to the arena. At which point, a staff member yelled at me that I was wanted at the dressage arena because my time was NOW.

But I'm at the dressage arena?

No, the arena is down the road around the corner.

Oh, sorry, I didn't see any signs.

There are signs everywhere, go down there! (There were NOT any signs for the arena)

So I rode down the road. Apparently everyone else was in on this little secret as they were already warming up and ready to go at the OTHER dressage arena. D'oh. Solo was also NOW intent on prancing around like a giraffe, staring to and calling at all the other horses in the pastures around us. So I rode a hot, red, stiff, jumpy TB down centerline.

A random dressage pic, sorry I have no pics from that day, I was hiding from rain!

His trot work wasn't bad, I was quite happy actually. Then as soon as I asked for canter, he flipped his nose in the air like an Arabian and threw a little fit, then hurled himself into canter.

End result -- 7's on trot work and collective gaits, yay! 5's for canter work, not-so-yay. Overall, a 40.5 which given Solo's said mental status, I would take. And the fact that cold rain was pouring in my face during the whole test.

Mgmt had decided to run the HT in a classic format, so XC was next. But they hadn't gotten enough staff to run more than two disciplines at once. So I sat in the truck for two hours staring grimly out the windshield while Solo munched hay in the trailer.

The XC course itself was very small, but well-built, with lovely jumps. Unfortunately, they'd set the pace at 300 mpm, which is really too slow for any attempt at even fake XC -- even trotting 1/3 of the course, we ended up with 7 speed penalities for going too fast, but I did not want Solo get too slow or engage in any backwards riding. The POINT of XC is to teach a horse to be forward and bold to jumps and a time that slow is rather counterproductive, as lower levels are supposed to teach a horse and rider in preparation for upper levels. So I was more than happy to take my penalties, rather than discourage my horse from doing what his is supposed to do!

A nice random pic -- oh I wish it had been that sunny that day!

Stadium was very small too, but again, lovely jumps and good footing (it had been a bit slick on XC, although the rain had stopped). Solo had also apparently stepped in a puddle of glue, as his feet seemed stuck to the ground. As I told him on course, "Buddy! We're doin' it, but we're doin' it UGLY!" But the poles stayed up and we put in a clear round.

With our speed penalties and canter tantrums, it put us in 3rd place, but I was fine with that -- overall, I don't think we gained anything from it, which I regretted a bit, as it was just too small to be a challenge for Solo. However, it did at least give me a chance to see where we were with our dressage and emphasize that the canter is DEFINITELY our next project!!

November 7, 2009

In Which The Universe Turns In On Itself

Fall 2009. Version II of the HT we did this spring. It started as a cold drizzly day. And to share the punishment, I give thee no pictures because we couldn't con any friends into accompanying us that day.

Dressage time was around 9:30-ish. I'm on my horse and head up to the ring in the drizzle and my black coat at 9:00. As hooves hit footing, some woman on a horse in the warmup ring informs me, "Oh, you're next!" That popping sound you heard was my eyeballs rolling in and striking each other.

WTF? As politely as possible, I said, "But my time is not for like 30 minutes?"

"Oh," she says, "I think you might be mistaken about your time." Yeah right, random lady, your dressage time is like the one piece of information you make SURE you know before you even leave the house for a horse trial. I screw up a lot, but I'm pretty damn sure I got one number right.

However, leaping off your horse to pummel random riders at horse trials does not generally endear oneself to management, so I ask if we can at least trot around first? She says sure and I assume body language to assure her that I am not a happy camper. I then proceed to trot off (did I mention it was about 45 degrees and drizzly so poor Solo was quite cold and stiff).

A random Solo pic for your viewing pleasure...several years old, as I am noticing the distinct lack of neck muscle.

After a couple minutes, in which I trot around in fury, trying to relax enough to get Solo approaching the edge of suppleness, a guy approaches me who looks much more like an official steward and says there are four riders before me to go. THANK YOU! I am much relieved, thank him profusely, and return to my warmup. However, my dressage zen is blown (hey, let me pretend it existed, ok?). I do my test, but it is tense, feels counterbent, and I leave the ring furious.

I stomp (at least mentally, I do try to keep childish outburst internal) back to my trailer to sulk for a while before stadium. At least it has stopped raining.

In a moment of show-day-kindness, a friend pulls her rig up next to mine -- she is showing her new horse that day in the Maiden division. Yay, now I have someone to talk to!!!

In an even larger moment, I go check the leaderboard and discover that for our stiff dressage test, the judge has bestowed upon us a 37.4! Now, please step back as I jump up and down with a hearty YEEHAW! We have finally broken the 40 barrier, which had previously seemed impenetrable to all our efforts! Now the world is a much brighter place.

Grin firmly planted on face, I head back to the trailer to share the news and Solo and I are sitting in fourth place.

Stadium Jumping
I am a bit nervous going into stadium. I had just moved Solo to a new (improved!) farm and our schooling that week had pretty much resulted in a battlefield strewn with poles and jump standards. Ouch. So I wrapped my legs around that horse, sat down, and WENT.

Tension got the better of me -- there was a tight turn to fence 3, I overshot, got all floppy and useless in a panic and Solo jumped through the MIDDLE of the oxer. I heard the poles scatter behind us, but the big red boy kept going, so I set my jaw, looked ahead and we finished the rest of the course with no further difficulties. It was my mistake, so I took my 4 penalties, decided I was satisfied (it was a tough course that took down many with stops and crashes) and went to look up our XC time.

Cross Country
The course was walked, every conceivable form of protective boot applied to Solo, my vest zipped up, and both of entered the start box with bright eyes. The thing I love most about this facility's courses is that she wheels the beginner novice course at about 425 mpm -- so you get to RUN. And run we did. And were one of only two to go double clear XC in our division.

Then it was time for a giant wormhole to open, time to turn upside down, the universe to implode and the unthinkable happen.

PhotobucketWait for it....

WE WON OUR DIVISION. I actually read the score sheet about 5 times because I was SURE there had been a typo. But typos there were not and first we indeed were. We got a shiny blue ribbon AND a blue bucket full of goodies. And I pranced. I pranced all the way back to the trailer to track down friend and share much giggling and exclamations and glee. I snapped a quick shot of my tired boy wearing his hard earned decoration and loaded up the truck.

Maybe there was hope for us after all...

November 5, 2009

Painful Plodding Progress

Dressage and I have a love/hate relationship.

I love it.

It hates me.

I grew up riding dressage, right down to the German guy making me sit the trot with the crop in my tiny kid-elbows and many a day on a longe with no stirrups. Of course, your body has no issues at age 10 and all was easy.

At age 30, I am lopsided and my lower back is a mess. I clench my jaw, my left arm goes rigid, my knees are tense and my neck always resembles a rock. Not really conducive to stellar dressage performance. *sigh* And Solo, of course, with supreme generosity, constantly reminds me of this fact.

But we keep trying.

Our lessons were pushing us forward into new territory though. Instead of a mostly inverted ride with a few strides here and there on the bit, we slowly pushed the proportion towards the opposite end of the continuum. We started to be able to stay soft and on the bridle, say, across the diagonal, oh praise the gods and goddesses!

Practice consisted of endless transitions, but Solo began to "get it." He now stepped forward into trot over his back and stayed light in the hand. We could halt by simply keeping the contact and closing the thigh (well, most of the time). This stuff, small as it was, was HUGE for us.

We also needed more mileage in the arena. We dragged ourselves to a dressage show. With Dressage People (who quite enjoy white polo wraps and quoting Podhajsky). They are quite different from Eventing People (who quite enjoy laughing and beer). I was showing Training Level Tests 2 and 3.

To me, Training Level is just a beginning platform. The horse doesn't need to be perfect, just moving into contact and staying mostly balanced and supple throughout the test. Many Dressage People think the Training Level horse should go around in a perfect frame and generally move like a Fourth Level horse. I guess winning that saddle pad for Training Level Test 2 on your FEI horse is really gratifying for some people...

My point (if there is one) is that I fully expect to score lower at a Dressage People Show than I do at a Combined Training or Horse Trials simply because there is a slightly different perspective and focus both from competitors and judges. (Don't take offense, my dressage-y friends, I love you! But you know how some of those DQ's are!)

But I digress! We were there for mileage and mileage we got. I was overall very happy with Solo; aside from some initial jumpiness no doubt caused by me generally having all the relaxation of a boulder, he warmed up really well. Upon entering at A for our first test, I resumed boulder-status, so the test was just a weeee bit tense.

I did however, resume the ability to breathe for the second test and it felt much better.

Ironically, we scored one point higher on our first test. Judges...who can ever understand them? But we had some nice moments and even took home a sixth place ribbon for Test 2, so I was content with the day.


Next stop: 2009 Fall Horse Trials. In which Bad Things happen, Good Things happen, and generally, the Winds of Change keep on a-blowin'.