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We Are Flying Solo

November 29, 2009

A Good Bad Day

I get mopey when I can't ride.

It was a beautiful day today. Sunny, 70 degrees, the kind of fall day that just makes you sigh and smile. Perfect for galloping and jumping. My horse, however, is exhausted. Already wiped out by some hill work on Friday, Solo tanked in our dressage lesson yesterday. We never really could get his left side unlocked, he informed me that he was too tired and stiff to care. The lesson was not a total loss -- P gave us a couple things to work on to gain points on our tests (i.e. not - and I quote from our most recent test from CHP - "staggering" down centerline).

I also discussed with her our desire to move up to Novice. She agreed we were more than ready. Our 20 m circles actually remotely resembled circles now, we were bending in our corners and our transitions were not half bad. She said we should be working on First Level dressage movements at home and Solo looked good. There was even the comment, "Gosh he's just not his usual supple self today!" which floored me as I had never imagined "supple" being "usual" at all!

So today, I did not ride. Which turned out to be a wise decision - when I walked out to the pasture to bring Solo in for a grooming and massage, all the other horses came up to me for treats. Solo stayed put, saying, "You've got to be freaking kidding me, lady. Don't you have to go back to work already so you can't ride so much?"

"Don't worry, buddy," I told him, "It's just brushes and massages today."

But I still moped.

BO managed to turn the day around this evening though. I was explaining to her our dressage bridle woes -- I currently use a $10 jobbie I found on eBay. It's a bit crappy, but it's black and it holds the bit on his head. My search for a bridle that fits Solo, has NO flash, and doesn't cost $200 had me tied in knots.

"Oh!" She says, "Go down to the garage and grab that handful of bridles and see if any fit him, I'm not using any."

So I do so. A nice plain black one fits. I examine it a little more closely, and it's a lovely Stubben dressage bridle. The flash is gone (hooray), only the little loop remains, but I have a scalpel that can solve that little problem. "I think we have a winner!" I announced. "Do you mind if we borrow it till I can find one?"

"You know what? Just keep it. It's yours as a gift - leather should be used and I'm never going to use it."

I about cried as I stared dumbly and thanked her. I was bummed out all day and as holidays approach, am missing the SO dearly and it wears on me when I can't ameliorate it with riding therapy. But her generous and kind gift totally lifted my spirits. Reason #4,756 I love being there!!!

November 25, 2009

Small Victories, Pt. II

I decided to try a slightly different approach than we'd used before. I put him in a nice, forward, rhythmic trot and let him stretch down. Then, as usual, I kissed for canter. As soon as he heard the cue, his head shot up and he jumped up and forward for the transition and hit the vienna reins and got boogedy-eyed and went to fast trot. In the past, I have tried to push him through this into the canter. But this time, I rewarded the effort with a GOOD BOY and just stood quietly.

It's fascinating to watch horses think. And Solo is indeed a thinking horse. His trot was racy, but I could see from his worried eye that he knew he was supposed to canter but he was really nervous about it. I gave a gentle half halt on the longe line to encourage him to balance and just waited, because I know this horse and I knew he was going to have to make a decision to either slow and balance his trot or pick up a canter.

To my eternal surprise, he picked up a rather nice left lead canter. Only three strides and he broke. But I said GOOD BOY! And then I just waited some more and let him trot. No further cues, I just watched his eye and body. After another circle around, he volunteered yet another decent canter and held this one for an entire circle.

I was ecstatic -- I let him stop, gave him heaps of GOOD BOYS and pats and rubs. I boldly decided we needed to do the right lead as well (right lead is much scarier for him on the longe). It was a fine line -- it's easy to get greedy with success, but since he had volunteered the canter and it had been notably NOT rushy, I would give it a go.

Again, my pleasant surprise was exactly the same result in the other direction. I kissed once for canter. He came up, hit the reins, scared himself a little, but I rewarded the try and let him think about it as he trotted with no further cues. Much more quickly this time, he offered a nice right lead canter all the way around the circle. At which point we quit, I praised him approximately 40,000 times, rubbed him all over with the longe whip (our habitual post-longeing desensitization reminder that longe whips do not bite), and went in.

It may seem a tiny thing, but for Solo to offer a somewhat decent canter on his own on the longe if a giant step indeed. It's been three years in coming, but time and trust and patience and baby steps bring us ever closer to success.

I am very proud of Solo.

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!