SUBSCRIBE TODAY Smiley face  Get updates via email! 

We Are Flying Solo

November 7, 2011

Just A Thought

In the quiet just before bed, there is lots of time for thinking.

Always thinking.

I used to just ride. Get on horse, squeeze legs, make some circles, follow the trail. Riding.

Nothing wrong with riding. It's good for the soul. It stills my clamouring heart.

But I grew some sport goals. Only I didn't know how to get there.

Then someone whose name starts with a "W" and ends with a "d" and has "offor" in the middle taught me about being a thinking rider. Not just thinking about riding, but Thinking about Riding.

I discovered possibly the most powerful tool in the arsenal. I began asking "how" and "why" and "when" and "what's another way" and the momentum began to build.

There are always speed bumps, of course, but I analyzed them too and even those had something to teach me.

The Thinking Rider watches every step, feels every breath and adjusts, listens, waits, plans, and adjusts again. And that is all before the next step. They've thought an entire essay by jump #2.

I am only a Thinking Rider padi-wan but I can feel the power of the Force waiting for full realization.

(Is that one geeky enough for you?)

One problem, though. Once you kick-start the Thinking, you can't turn it off. Lying on the pillow at night, looking out the office window before lunch, driving home in the afternoon, even dreaming.

You are adjusting, listening, waiting, planning, all to the rhythm of hoofbeats in your time for sleeping, working, or eating.

It's a double-edged sword. And I gladly hold out my hand every day for another cut. Because I think tomorrow I can ride a better jump.

November 5, 2011

Crazy, Scary, and David

Crazy:  We had a XC lesson scheduled today with David O. down in Southern Pines.  The plan was to ride with BO in the big farm trailer.  Except when I got there this morning, her truck was sitting in the garage, hood up like a baby bird's mouth, sipping electricity from her husband's hybrid.

Uh oh.

Unsurprisingly, that little battery failed to start the truck, so we hooked it up to my heavy duty diesel batteries.  Dead as a doornail.

Sadly, I cannot haul the farm trailer because my truck does not (yet) have a gooseneck hitch, so we threw everything into my trailer and begged and pleaded with BO's finicky horse to please get on a new trailer nicely.  I crossed my fingers, horses seem to really like my trailer, and lo and behold, he loaded right up and we were saved.  We even got to the lesson a bit early.  Whew.

Scary:  About halfway through the lesson, one of the other women was simply cantering her horse around a turn in the field.  I watched as his feet shot out from under him and he slammed to the ground on his side, sliding across the pine needles.  He was wearing a standing martingale (please do not do this, my eventer friends!) which he snapped in two trying to get his head up to balance himself, but he could not do so in time.  His unlucky rider stayed in the saddle all the way down and hit hard, ending with a solid blow to the head and helmet.

All my first aid alarms went off, but I stayed put and let David check on her.  I had no doubt she had a concussion, a fact confirmed by the hospital later.  She is very fortunate it rained all day yesterday -- the ground was soft, saving her from a certain smushed leg otherwise.  Luckily, it looked like nothing else was seriously injured and her husband picked her up and took her horse home.  WEAR YOUR HELMETS PEOPLE; SHIT HAPPENS.

Later in the lesson, ANOTHER horse pulled a dirty stop at a log, flipping another friend over his head.  Happily, she landed softly and clambered right back on to finish the line.  No harm, but definitely pony foul.  Bad pony.  Poor David.

We're finding some stretchy trot!
David:  Unfortunate spill notwithstanding, the lesson was full of excellent reminders for myself and Encore.  The Unicorn's foster mom, Suzanne, came to see him go for a bit -- she was the one who got him restarted under saddle so wonderfully and she had a new CANTER pony who was just as nicely built!  But I had to concentrate on the tasks at hand.

(1) Do NOT get ahead of him, no matter how slow he gets at the base of the jump; weighting his forehand by moving your body forward only prevents him from rocking back on his hocks and jumping up.  Wait wait WAIT. This is particularly true up a bank. Stay behind him, stay upright, and let him jump up the bank to you. If you lean forward as he goes up the bank, he'll jump flat and out and that will bite you in the butt.

(2) Encore is a methodical, careful horse -- when he starts analyzing a problem, his feet slow down and he wants to figure it out before he tackles it. I like careful, it will keep us out of trouble, but I need to use a lot of leg and keep his feet moving while he thinks. He must learn to go forward and analyze at the same time. I admit, this surprised me a bit, as he is quite forward-thinking and I never have to use a lot of leg, but as we tackled harder questions, I saw that David was definitely right!

(3) If he offers to canter, let him. It is him offering forward and that is a good thing; stay soft and go with it.

(4) Go jump stuff. Lots of stuff. It doesn't matter how he jumps it right now, just jump it. Give him jump miles so he can figure out what to do with his body. David: "People worry about too much technical BS too early when we just need to get them out there and JUMP. Technical comes later.  This horse wants to do it, he's just not quite sure of the details yet."

Encore did VERY well on all the fly jumps, the baby sunken road, plenty of ditches, banks into and out of water, and he LOVED cantering across the water and jumping a fair-sized log out. We tried jumping the log back into the water, but he just did not get it, so we let it be and will come back to it later.

We're tucked in our respective blankets tonight, digesting dinner and nuggets of information.  I've got to figure out the most efficient way to get said mileage -- David is two hours from us and no longer teaches at my friend's farm nearby, so I'm going to have to get creative (or find a money tree in the woods to pay for diesel).  There are definitely more gymnastics in Encore's future as well, to show him where his feet are supposed to go.  I am chomping at the, if this silly job would just stop getting in the way.

November 1, 2011

Do Equine Epiphanies Have Giant Lightbulbs?

I've made a warmup routine for Encore -- since we don't yet have much of a bend button or a leg yield button yet, I use circles to soften his body and regulate his rhythm.  We work in a figure 8 of two 20-meter circles at the trot, first thing, every time.  I want him to recognize that ok, it's time to soften and bend through my body and pick up a quiet rhythm.

I think the unicorn horn grows out of his star.  See it??
We change directions back and forth until he begins to soften and lower his head, offering moments of pliability each way. Tracking left is markedly harder, I can feel the tightness on the right side of his body, resisting the stretch. Then we spiral the circles in and leg yield back out (in a fakey sort of way) and take a walk break.

Tonight, after our walk break, I thought, let's start some transition work. I put Encore in the bridle at the walk and asked for a trot. I'll be damned if that little horse didn't lift his back, soften his jaw, and step into the softest little trot, perfectly on the bridle -- and stay there. Perhaps you heard my squeaks of glee as we figure-eighted around the arena in this delightful gait. What took Solo a year and a half, this horse just got, CLICK, in six weeks.

And just like that, he had it. We did a few transitions back and forth to walk, a couple of which were lovely and balanced. It took all my willpower to end the session with some brief canter work and not just trot around in that blissful shape for the rest of the night.

Ohhhh, this winter is going to be fun.

October 29, 2011

It Only Takes 30 Minutes To Feed The Horses

Especially on a cold, rainy evening.  There's only six of them, easy, right? Bring horses in, dump the feed, turn them back out, done!

Except the water on the beet pulp's gone cold and I want to run some hot water in there.

Except since it's raining and 45 degrees, I want to put a rain sheet on Solo.

Except he's got festy gnat bites on his belly that won't heal and I want to clip around them and spray tea tree oil on there.

Then I decide to go ahead and clip his back white foot because the fungus is always attacking.

Then I need to smear some more desitin on that foot anyway.

Then I need to take Solo's rain sheet off of Encore and put it on Solo.

Now Encore gets Solo's mid-weight blanket because it's not QUITE cold enough for his winter blanket but he's skinny so he needs more than a sheet.

Then Danny needs his sheet because it's wet and cold.

Danny and Solo can finally go out but now I have three leftovers.

Tigger's pasturemate is out of town and he can't stay alone. I can put Tigger with Pete and Encore but now they all need their own hay piles.

Except there are no open hay bales so now I need to climb the stack in the extra stall and roll a couple down.

Then I need to take hay out to each horsey so no one feels left out.

Then I have to scrub all the feed buckets so they are ready for the next morning.

Then I discover Tigger and Pete both left presents in their stalls for me.

Then I need to sweep up fallen hay and make sure everyone has water.

An hour and a half later, I can finally go home.

October 27, 2011

T Is For Training

3D is for Awesome.  Together, they make Waredaca T3D, the phenomenal long-format event run by our very own Area II Adult Rider program, which I had the distinct pleasure of volunteering at most of last week.  Exhausting, yes, but exhilarating and educational.  I first experienced this event in 2009 and had made it my goal to achieve with Solo.  We didn't make it, but the quest taught us a great deal about ourselves and I went back to work the event this year with a new perspective.

It did not disappoint.

The terrible shack I had to stay in, also known as my friend, Beth's beautiful house -- the picture doesn't show the delicious hot tub in the back...
Waredaca is in the heart of Maryland horse country, NW of Washington, DC.
A groomed area awaits the first competitor.
Wednesday was the first jog-up and I stewarded each horse to the indoor arena gate in the windy drizzle.  It rains at least one day every year at the T3D, just like Rolex!  The point of the T3D is not just to complete a long-format event, although that would be more than adequate motivation to come!  It is also built as an educational experience, with lectures, clinicians, vets, and farriers on hand to offer assistance, coaching, and years of wisdom to nervous riders.  Dinner that night included a talk from the event vet, the ever-helpful, ever-cheerful Dr. Julie, on what to expect in the ten-minute box between Phases C and D on Friday and a raffle.  I would like to note that I LOVE THE T3D RAFFLES.  Simply because it is the only place ever that I actually win stuff and I am now the proud owner of 5 free bags of feed and an awesome Cosequin bucket.

Thursday, I was in charge of the dressage warm-up ring and bit check before riders entered the ring at A.  You can see the little "C" I marked next to each rider after I felt up their horse.  Horse's mouth.  Ha.  No edges, no rollers allowed.  But I had no rule-breakers and I sent each one up to the ring with a smile and a "good luck!"

After dressage, riders switched off their tack and went off to meet Stephen Bradley and Tremaine Cooper for steeplechase practice.  I ate lunch and lounged in the stables to regain my strength for Friday!

"What happens Friday," you ask?

Only the pure awesomeness of endurance day of a true 3-day event.  Explanation here.

Thursday afternoon, I'd also participated in a coursewalk with Tremaine Cooper, who just so happens to build a lot of courses, including the Prelim and higher courses at our very own Carolina Horse Park.  I learned how to better read terrain on a course and to really think about how it will affect your horse's gallop.  He stressed multiple times, don't be yanking on your horse two strides out from the jump; do your balancing 10 strides out, then soften and go forward to your jumping effort.

It's hard to take a picture while trying to look like you are not taking a picture.
"Your horsey needs to go over, like this..."
Michele, my hard-working co-volunteer, works it for the camera.
But it was Friday now, which meant time to get geared up and send some horses out of the start box!  Michele and I were the starters and finish timers for Phase D, the cross country course and Beth kept communications going.  By the time horses and riders got to us, they had already done Phases A (Roads and Tracks I, aka lots of trotting),  B (steeplechase!), and C (Roads and Tracks II, aka more trotting).

It takes a lot of gear to run the start box.  We have to have sychronized timers and backup timers for both the start and finish line.  Then we need a radio to talk to Jim, aka Master Of The Timers, and to Brian O'Connor, announcer and XC control.  Add to that scoresheets, pencils, chairs and...

A LOT OF CLOTHES.  Hey, that wind was cold.

The view I long to have.

5..4..3..2..1...Steve Fulton and Ticket To Ride get the countdown from Michele.
Barbara Bloom and Fabulous Fiction are on course!
We were rejoicing as the morning rolled smoothly along.  Most horses went clear with only one or two runouts and the cool weather meant everyone passed the vet box with flying colours.  I think we jinxed it.  Right at the end of the day, the second to last rider, Steve's charming daughter, Savannah, on the flying chestnut, FMF Royal Guest, took a nose dive into one of the water jumps.  We held our collective breaths and bent straining ears to the radios -- icy water, a cold wind, and a hard fall are not a good combination.  Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when she was loaded safely into the ambulance and her mare walked back to the stable.  Although Savannah ended her day in surgery for her broken arm, we were all glad it was not a broken neck or a head injury for this gutsy young rider.  The last rider, after a long hold, was eliminated shortly thereafter for a missing a jump, but she got to complete the course and at only 13 years old, riding a horse trained by Phillip Dutton, I'm sure she'll be back to try again soon! 

After all of that, Saturday was almost uneventful.  I had walked the course the evening before with Stephen Bradley and was interested to see how it rode.  After the Saturday morning jog, I was again warmup steward and gate master of the stadium ring and was thrilled to see all the remaining riders successfully complete the event with just a few rails here and there.  Mountains of prizes were handed out, including Best Conditioned, Oldest Horse, Oldest Rider (I mean, "Rider Farthest From Junior Status" as Brian so tactfully put it), Best Groom, Good Sportsmanship, Most Cross Country Enthusiasm, and Best Turned Out.

I cannot stress enough the value of getting out and volunteering at events like these.  Not only do you get to benefit from lectures, course walks, etc, but you get to meet members of your area, check out courses, watch warm up rides (these can be very enlightening), listen to trainers, see what types of riding strategies work or don't work....the list of benefits is nearly endless.  And this doesn't even include the fact that eventing NEEDS you.  When you compete, crowds of people are there working, for free, so you can ride.  Turn the tables and give back because events can't happen without the labour of love that is volunteering.

When I pulled into my driveway Saturday evening, I was exhausted (although I still had to go ride Encore and pack for our horse trial) but excited.  With a little education and mileage, I could already envision Encore rocking that it too early to send in my entry??