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We Are Flying Solo

May 31, 2010

And It Only Got Hotter

I confess there may have been skipping. I honestly wasn't sure how our test would score. So when I checked the leaderboard, I was shocked and ecstatic all at once. And there may have been helpless giggling all the way back to the trailer.

We booted up to get ready for jumping. This HT runs stadium first, then XC immediately after you finish your course, which I have grown to like as it makes a perfect XC warmup. But one thing I have learned is that the stadium courses here are always very tough. The course is set on the lumpy side of a slope. Ok, that's fine, we practice on a hill at home. But it's also set on grass in a very small area. And this time, that meant practically every turn was a rollback on a hill to a jump you maybe had two or three strides in front of to get straight.

We really struggled with it; Solo is many things, but catty on a turn is not one of them. He is careful and really tries to keep his toes off the rails, but there wasn't a single jump that gave you a nice, inviting entry line and as a result, we pulled two rails. Eight penalty points, owie. They were all in the same line -- a double combination coming out of a rolling downhill corner with about three strides to an uphill vertical right on the ropes. Add to that it was getting even more humid as the heat cranked up, which really takes it out of poor Solo.

On the plus side, all our work on single fences really paid off -- I kept my eyes firmly on top rails (no more staring at decorations going "oooo, look at the little flowers!") and he handily worked his way through width, colours, Blue Tarps of Doom, and walls without a glance. Next project -- going back to riding more courses at home!

Cross country ran completely uneventfully. There were a few funky jumps and moments. As soon as we finished, I collapsed off my horse in a pile of sweaty wooziness and laid in the shade next to the trailer while our lifesaver friend got Solo some TLC till I could stand up without the field doing crazy heat-spins. But double clear, a bold canter into the water, and a really fun ride at a ditch/ narrow brush combo in the woods! We also finally got to jump the picture frame that I've been wanting to do forever -- wow, it looks so much smaller than it did a year ago!

All in all, we regained some placing with our XC run and finished in a solid 4th place. Not bad considering and I am still thrilled to pieces about the dressage test, especially given the challenging circumstances. We are definitely done horse trialing for the (hot hot HOT) summer. Well, at least until August. But that's a special event. And it's in Maryland. So that doesn't count.

May 30, 2010

It's Really Damn Hot. And Other Stories.

Like 90% humidity hot. Like my bone marrow is sizzling when I get off the horse hot. You know when you leave onions in the skillet for too long and they just turn into this syrupy goo? Yeah, that's what my brain is.

Oh, you wanted to hear about a horse trial? Oh yeah, we did one of those today. It was hot. Did I mention that? In a small mercy, at least we were done by noon.

I did manage to rope in invite a friend to hold the video camera and such so there is evidence! But since it goes through my PC first, I get to delete all the ones where I look like a baboon having a seizure on horseback. HaHA!

Shall I tell it in order or save the good part for last (no, the good part does not involve a blue ribbon, but it still makes me squeeeee!)? Hmmm, well, the alarm went off. I cursed at the earlyness. Morning is the devil's time, you know. Then I stumbled to the back door to let Smokey out. Oh, you want the HORSE part? *sigh* So demanding.

I barely refrained from beating people senseless in dressage warmup. Apparently, on their planet, there is nothing wrong with parking your horse smack on the track and just sitting there, staring glassy-eyed off into the universe. As if there aren't six other horses trying to warm up in a very small space. OMFG. I confess, in a feat of heat and rage, I just shot them glares and muttered curses instead of being adult and saying something. I am so weak...

Oh and the Novice dressage arena was on the grass. In the middle of the cross country field. So upon walking over to it, Solo went, "OH YAY TIME FOR GALLOPY JUMPY!" And I went, "Uh, no no, please, NO!"

Then something impossible happened. After stomping around (did I mention it was hot and I may or may not completely lose my mind in heat?) hopelessly unable to find a ring steward, I finally was able to connect with the judge to find out, yes, I was next. So I entered at A. And I felt my horse click. He went, "Oh, ok, dressage arena. Ho hum, I guess it's time to do dressage then." And popped into a springy trot. Completely ignoring all tantalizing logs nearby for the rest of the test. OMG, my horse is learning how to be an eventer.


Do you know what that is? Good part: THAT'S A 33.9, BABY! As in a whole new record for Solo. As in an 8 on the extended walk, which is the multiplier (movement whose points get doubled in your final score) for this test, so we got 16 points for that. As in it wasn't even really that great of a ride for him as he stayed a bit stiff. As in next time will be even better.

As in we're sitting in second place after dressage. And that made my day.

May 29, 2010

Silly Videos And Schooling Attempts

First off, Solo wanted to send a wise look with his readers, with a little help from my best girl, Smokey.  Smokey is a 15 year old German Shepherd/Collie mix that we picked up from the pound at 8 weeks old.  She was one of my 4-H dogs, won all our showmanship and conformation classes, and has been a wonderful friend.  I can't believe she has been as healthy as she is, but that dog has never been sick or hurt a day in her life -- I told her I would keep feeding her as long as she promised to live forever.  Best. Dog. Ever. Although I do hate that I sound like an idiotic 15-year-old on videos. Cannot be helped, I suppose.

If you've glanced at our calendar, you know that Solo and I are off to a schooling horse trial this Sunday at a nearby farm. We won the Beginner Novice division here last fall, complete with bucket of goodies, so now I have been spoiled. Solo's jumped every jump which will be on our course, except for one, which is a white bench in a window frame that I don't believe will cause any problems. We have, I believe, conquered our liverpool issues, so the liverpool jump this organizer loves to place on the Novice stadium course should be a breeze. We've been schooling jumping widths up to about 4', so her equally beloved giant wide oxers ought to roll on by.

I feel as prepared as I can be. I would have liked to have another dressage lesson beforehand, but the budget put its foot down. Here is our final attempt at schooling our test this evening. Canine obstacles were provided free of charge. BO offers background commentary as my complimentary eyes on the ground, er, on the back of her horse. If you have any constructive suggestions, feel free to share!

May 27, 2010

Boot Basics

So, as a lot of folks have observed in our forays into the wild, wonderful world of horse boots, the choices are nearly endless. How DO you go about choosing a set for your charge?

A few points to remember:
(1) Boots DO NOT offer support. They are for strike protection only. Neoprene and velcro cannot abate the loading forces on a horse's leg bones, tendons, and ligaments.

(2) Restricting range of motion is BAD (caveat: unless your vet tells you otherwise). The tendons in the lower leg need to stretch to their full extent in order to absorb the shock of the leg hitting the ground. Any reduction of that joint's motion means that shock is transferred directly up the leg (not good) instead of being absorbed farther down (good). This is why I do not like boots with a pastern/fetlock wraparound strap. I want the suspensory ligaments to be able to go to their full extent, unhindered, doing the job they were designed to do.

(3) You do NOT have to spend $150 to have a good, effective boot. Marketing is nothing but marketing -- try to ignore the fluff and pay attention to the hard facts.

(4) Eventers, we all love our colours. But, as one commenter noted, they can be hard to find or can restrict your options unnecessarily. Especially if you have a colour other than royal blue, hunter green, or red, buy black and accent with coloured tape if you want a professional, yet personalized look.

With those points in mind, let's make a list which will help us to choose the best match for our horse.

(a) Does the horse interfere with himself while working? This includes brushing at the fetlock or pastern, overreaching, or forging. If not, then I would not use boots or wraps on the flat -- you are trapping heat for no purpose.

(b) If the horse DOES interfere, where does it happen? For example, Solo is prone to forging and he also can brush behind. A friend has a horse who only nicks his hind pasterns with his hooves.

(c) Take your interference locations and aim to protect those. For Solo, this means bell boots up front all the time (special shoes up front too, so more to grab). Usually nothing else for flatwork or trail riding. For above friend's horse, this means only pastern wraps behind.

What boots protect what leg parts?
In my humble opinion, less is more and I only want to put on as much boot as I absolutely need for the type of ride that day. I especially don't like to use boots while trail riding; it is too easy for dirt/sand/whatever to work its way inside a boot and quickly create a raw spot.

Coronary band, heel, shoe: bell boots, quarter bells, or grab boots

Pastern: pastern wraps

Fetlock: ankle boots (and for you reining people, skid boots protect the bottom of the fetlock against road rash during slides)

Cannon bone and tendon: galloping boots, splint boots (these two are essentially the same in function), polo wraps, brushing boots (generally a little lighter weight/duty than a galloping boot); in this category, choice is mostly personal preference

Tendon only: open front boots

Materials do vary -- neoprene is generally not super breathable, but is easy to clean. Some companies are now making "breathable" (generally perforated) neoprene. Effectiveness may vary widely. A few horses do have neoprene allergies, so just pay attention. I don't like fluffy, fuzzy linings for the cleaning issue. Some companies trumpet that their boots are super tough because they are made of Kevlar -- well, Kevlar was designed to stop an impact from a bullet, so it is good for direct strikes, but holds up poorly to friction, like brushing from a hoof. So unless you plan on shooting your horse in the legs, I fail to see the benefit of paying extra for this.

Beyond that, it is up to you to know the demands and risks of your discipline. For dressage, unless your horse is interfering, you should not need anything (step away from the white polos with your hands up!). For arena jumping, I like to protect the front foot and cannon bone and the fetlocks from brushing on all four. I like that open front boots let the horse feel a pole knock. For XC, I want cannon bones, tendons, ankles and hooves protected so will use the appropriate boots to do so.

The important thing is to be realistic about what you are going to do. If you are only doing dressage, your horse probably doesn't need his legs sheathed in layers from the knee down. If he interferes that badly, there may be other issues that need to be addressed. If you are only working in an arena with collapsable jumps, the hind tendons can probably be left bare to breathe as he certainly can't kick those.

Also, stick to your budget. Sure, you can blow $150 on those Eskadrons because all the other kids have them and you will look oh so trendy like everyone else, but you know what? The $35 Romas perform just as well, last just as long, and you can laugh all the way to the concession stand at your next show that you will actually be able to visit because you were smart so you still have some cash in hand to spend. Shop around and look closely at materials and design, always asking what you are actually paying for and how much of a pain in the butt will it be to clean (ok, the latter is a HUGE one for me because I don't want to waste time scrubbing silly things).  There really is an option out there for almost every price point, the tedious part is just sorting through them.

More questions? Post them in the comments and we can take a stab at it!

May 24, 2010

We Have Finally Achieved Normalcy!!

It only took four years.

You can read about our struggles to conquer Solo's abusive longeing past here. If you are not familiar with the story, it will help you understand why I led my horse back to the barn with a huge grin on my face today.

We have received an ungodly amount of thunderstorms over the past few days, everything is wet and I have two long days at work ahead of me, so I decided to just put Solo in the vienna reins and give him a longe workout. There was a ground pole up in the arena, so I just incorporated that into our circle to let Solo work out how to fit it into his stride on his own at the trot and canter, which he did.

And why is this so exciting? Because MY HORSE CANTERED CALMLY IN MULTIPLE CIRCLES IN BOTH DIRECTIONS. This is a BIG BIG BIG deal. Even when he was thrown off balance the first few times cantering over the pole -- he didn't get the distance right and ended up in a lopsided cross canter -- he broke to trot, I gave a quiet kiss and he stepped right back up into a rhythmic canter.

No bug eyes. No flinging self about. He had one nervous moment where he stopped, but I put him back in a trot and he calmly picked up the canter shortly thereafter.

And after cantering, no racing about in crazy trot, anticipating the terror of yet more canter! We calmly resumed a metronome of a trot, spiraling in and out from 5-20 m circles and I'll be damned if he didn't keep a perfect rhythm the entire time.

I try to be a good horsey, mom!

Modeled here (besides, of course, Mr. Shiny Pants' big fat cute nose) are also Solo's brand new fly boots! I had an old pair, the cheapie four pack that I think I got from or somewhere, they were HORRIBLE and I threw them away. They sagged down around his ankles like worthless slouch socks (ah, 1986, how I remember your glory). I picked these up from Dover, they are "The Original Fly Wraps" and they are so far (ok, days used = 0, but we'll go with initial impression) soo much better! They do have plastic stays so they do not sag, nice velcro with stretchy bits for give, lovely fleece binding, and you can pick lots of fun colours! The set of four is still only around $40. These will go along way to reducing summer hoof cracking!

I am going to confess a little secret, I was, ahem, almost irresistibly tempted to buy purple ones (or blue, OMG, how am I supposed to resist our official colour!), but I had to give in to sensibility and stick with the nice, heat dispersing white.