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We Are Flying Solo

November 25, 2009

Small Victories, Pt. I

I lean into him and lay my head on his back as he munches sweet grass hay. My ear on his fur, I can hear the echo of his teeth grinding through his body as I inhale that subtle aroma next to the skin that is uniquely equine. His body warmth spreads into mine and we sigh in unison, content and quiet.

I am very proud of Solo. Last night, I decided to embark on a longeing session to slowly ease him back into work after his big effort on Sunday. I have discussed our longeing issues and the 3-year journey to conquer them here. Vienna reins and surcingle assembled, we walked up the dark hill to the arena and switched on the floodlights. I never know what will happen during a longeing session -- but I know it will always require thoughtfulness, patience, and quiet encouragement on my part.

Solo warmed up quietly at walk and trot, then I threaded the vienna reins through his bit back to the surcingle. I longe off of a rope halter beneath the bridle so I can switch directions back and forth without moving anything and I leave the bit alone so Solo can work things out on his own.

Solo demonstrates here, only we didn't use the saddle last night. And it also appears we didn't use the rope halter that day, maybe it was in the wash.

I put him back in a trot and did four or five spiraly circles in each direction, waiting for him to reach out and down to the bit and relax his back. When he did, I brought him back to a walk.

He was quiet and obedient and his eye stayed soft, so I decided to try out a canter. I harboured a little trepidation -- BO's arena is not fenced in, so should Solo decide to cut and run, I had to rely on his urge to return to the safety of the barn. When he DOES canter on the longe, it tends to be rushy and leany and after about ten strides, he stop and wheel and face me, but I figure each time, it's one more chance for me to prove to him it won't actually kill him.

It would be a moment of truth...would the BO see me, dragged face down on the hill at the end of a longe line tied to a galloping red panic, slide by her office window?

November 24, 2009

Gallop and GO!

The report! We survived! We did not get eliminated! IT DID NOT RAIN ON US!!!!!

There you go.

Ok, ok, the story:

We (we traveled with two barn mates) made it down to CHP about 3:00 on Saturday so we could check everything out, school the horses and settle in. I had never been before, so when we pulled up to the stabling, I was staring in awe because it is a GORGEOUS facility in every way with beautiful permanent stabling complete with matted, lighted 12 foot stalls (believe me, this is NOT the norm) in lovely shedrows right next to the competition arenas. After a short ride (in which Solo mostly behaved himself), we put the horses up and went to walk the XC course in the rapidly fading light.

Hay! Wait for meeeeee!

Ok, so what actually happened is we walked the XC course in the DARK. Note for future events: not so helpful really. Blundering about in the dark woods, squinting vainly for flags in the dusk and trying to make out the shapes of jumps among the pine trees does not give one a stellar sense of where to go the next day. Much laughing and tripping was involved.

After an overpriced Thai dinner (I'm sorry, I tried, but I still hate Thai food, blargh) leaving much to be desired, we crashed out at our also overpriced hotel (thank you Southern Pines for marking everything up -- it's the home of some big golf tournament) which had no shampoo and a crappy breakfast. Thank heavens for the miracle of Bojangles biscuits, yum.

Even though Solo and I didn't go dressage till 11:24 am on Sunday, our BO rode Novice at 8:30. Which meant we had to all get up at the ass-crack of dawn to get to the showgrounds.

Sunrise, ugh
Even my camera is blurry eyed at sunrise -- the devil's hour (I may have a SLIGHT soul-rending hatred for mornings).

We helped BO get ready and complete her phases, then it was time to warm Solo up for the Big D. As usual, warmup was just fine. Then we entered the arena. At which point Solo decided the other horses, the trees, the people, the cars, pretty much anything other than ME were suddenly fascinating and worthy of capturing his entire attention. Which led to me riding much of the test muttering, "Pay the F@!$ attention!!!" There were a few good moments, but I was mostly frustrated. Our friend crittergirl has the video evidence so perhaps if you harrass her, we can post it. The dressage judges that day (below) were no less than Lauren O'Brien (exhibit A left at Rolex with her partner Dunrath Alto) and Will Faudree (exhibit B also at Rolex with the lovely Antigua).

Perhaps Lauren was feeling kind because I pay her husband for jump lessons, but something magical happened. My goal has been to get our next dressage score down to a 35. Lauren in her infinite good humour, sent us off with a 36.5 and a "well ridden!" I think I love her.

The torture was over and it was on to stadium! My focus was (a) keep Solo FORWARD, (b) keep that landing gear extended for every jump, (c) sit back and wait for every jump.

And it felt really good! Looking at the video, I'd like him more up in front of my leg with more impulsion (it sure FELT faster than that!) but aside from a few stutters, things flowed well!

We went immediately from stadium over to XC and I trotted up to the start box. And I think Solo is starting to figure out what a start box means -- as soon as he saw it, I felt his energy level and excitement ramp up! He is learning to be an event horse! The starter counted us down and we were off.

The point of this event for us going in was to see if we were ready to move up to Novice. So I didn't set my watch and I let Solo GALLOP. And IT FELT AWESOME. I have not schooled him XC like I should so the jump approaches backed him off a little, but I sat down and closed my leg and he went well. For some reason, he decided he was not going to canter through the two water complexes that day, which was a bit odd for him. But I was ok with the trot and as soon as his feet hit dry land on the other side (because there was a jump right after), I yelled, "GIT!" and he GITTED!

Amazingly, we didn't get hit with speed penalties. And when I pulled him up after the finish, he was prancing and snorting and all kinds of adrenaline, I think we both were chortling with glee!

So we finished on our dressage score, which due to Lauren's extreme score generosity (someone in our division got a 19!) put us in 9th place out of 17. I was very satisfied with our ride and we had answered our primary question going in.


November 20, 2009

A-Trialin' We Will Go

So tomorrow morning we will pack up and ship out for our big event.

Ride times are up!
Dressage: 11:24 am
Stadium: 12:54 pm
XC: 1:09 pm

The plan is to arrive down at CHP (Carolina Horse Park) Saturday afternoon, give the horses a nice ride, stable up, sleep, then get up Sunday and compete. Of COURSE, it's supposed to be just gorgeous tomorrow. And rainy and cold on Sunday. Yay.

I decided four days in a row of dressage might very well fry Solo's brain, so since we had a nice school last night, I just put the jump saddle on and decided to stay light. We did some walk/trot warmup, a little work on leg yielding out and some quasi-shoulder-ins. Then I sat down, collected from the core and I'll be if Solo didn't give me a much better canter transition. Don't get me wrong, we won't be bringing home any 8's on that one, but even though he couldn't stay round, it was soft and he stepped under himself. I just got off his back, did a few canter poles till he fit them into his stride nicely and called it quits with a pat. I hope to be able to just let him hack around tomorrow and then have him primed for Sunday.

I don't like to work a horse the day before show. I think it irritates Solo to be over-schooled and I prefer to let him relax in mind and body with a trail ride or hack so he is bright and fresh and happy come show day. I figure he's not going to learn much the day before and I will probably try too hard in some mis-guided attempt to take my horse from Beginner Novice to Prelim dressage in one ride and the tension will only do us in. I do just fine doing myself in at the show itself, I don't really need any further contributions to that!!!

So cross your hooves, do a "no rain" dance for us, and think round, bendy thoughts!

November 19, 2009

Hairy Adventures

If you haven't figured it out by now, I'm ALL about low-maintenance.  I don't want to have to get up three hours early before a show to spend bleary-eyed time detangling hair or somesuch nonsense.  I want to take the horse off the trailer, slap my tack on & be ready to go.

I am also not one of the Hair Nazis.   You know, the ones who swoon every time you bang a tail or, horrors, brush it out.  Yeah, I know you can hear me, Hunter Princesses.  ;P 

I have startling news for you, Hair Nazis, you may want to sit down for the revelation -- IT'S HAIR. IT GROWS BACK.  In fact, if your horse is on a good hoof supplement, it grows back rather quickly.

So.  I will colour you not surprised when I tell you that I decided to try giving Solo a true eventer tail.

I've always liked the look -- a clean line down the tail bone, defining the hindquarters and giving a neat, braided look without actually braiding (which I recently learned from a dressage judge was a no-no in eventing; a tail braid makes your horse's back look stiff & can cost you points both in the dressage ring & in stadium, where stiffly braided tails have been observed to cost rails pulled by trailing back feet). I recruited our lovely BO as I saw that her TB had a grown out version.

Before (the ends just touch the ground, but the top is always shaggy with 500 different lengths due to Mr. I Love To Scratch My Butt):

And after, BO's handiwork (you have to take off a LOT of hair):

So far, I rather like it.   Standing right next to it looks a bit weird as I am not used to it.  But when I take three steps back, it looks really nice & provides instant finesse back there.  If Solo hadn't decided to be a bum & cock his hip, you could see the nice banged end just above the fetlock.

I should get video of our dressage test on Sunday, so I am excited to see how it looks under saddle!

In riding news, we've not been able to do much the past fews days due to my busy schedule.  We did get some nice jump work in on Sunday -- I finally successfully built a gymnastic line & we worked through that, then did a few of the regular jumps.

I tried out the great tip P gave us in our lesson on Sat: being taught to jump from a two-point position makes one prone to jumping up the neck.  I think all of us who have ridden in the hunters can attest to this fact!  It's something I've really been struggling with a lot lately too, grrr. 

When approaching the jump, just before take off, just think of shoving your butt towards the cantle & feet out in front of you like landing gear.

I gave it a whirl.  On each approach, my thoughts went, Lift the poll, wrap your legs, shoulders back, soften, LANDING GEAR DOWN, as we counted down the strides.   It totally freaking worked!!  I stayed back in the air, my legs stayed underneath & on my horse & I landed with my foot beneath me. Yahoo!!!

November 15, 2009

Collecting Thoughts...And Strides

In celebration of the end of the Nor'Easter From Hell, I decided to strip down the horse bay of the trailer and clean it. Which always includes the fun task of dragging out 300-lb trailer mats. Hullo, where are those "space-age" materials??? In the process, I discovered my trailer tires have given up the ghost. One, in a fit of sheer irony, has a horseshoe nail jammed into it and was completely flat. The two on the opposite side had ominous looking cracks through the sidewalls that I could all too easily envision blowing out under my horse at sixty miles an hour. No worries, I'll just gather up the spare sacks of money I have sitting around and buy a new set of tires. *sigh*

In happier news, the sun came out for our afternoon lesson (during which I was mentally worshipping our BO for having perfect all-weather footing so the ring was just dandy despite aforementioned Nor'Easter). The first part of the lesson, I mostly spent in extreme annoyance as Solo was fixated on keeping the Insolent Hussy (aka Pony Lover) in sight. But we stepped up the workload and he came back to focus. We started introducing very deliberate half halts, much more exaggerated than you would normally do, but as P explained, you can't really expect your horse to obey a half halt if you don't first teach him what one is! Then--and this was really exciting--we practiced getting a few steps of collection at the sitting trot using seat! It was cool!

I had expressed to P my dissatisfaction over our canter departs and that I wasn't sure of the best way to approach them in training. She said, as I should have expected, "Don't work on them. The canter depart comes from being able to control the stride within the trot. Learn changes within the gait at the trot and from this will spring a lovely canter depart." And we did a couple canter departures using the collected trot stride. And it was an improvement!

Oh.  So, it looks like schooling will consist of lots more work on the sitting trot, so you will see us shifting back and forth...collected-working-collected-working...and then, hopefully, someday a beautiful canter depart will magically appear!

And as promised, a picture of the Insolent Hussy (who is soon to leave the farm, hurrah!) looking oh-so-innocent at moonrise: