SUBSCRIBE TODAY Smiley face  Get updates via email! 

We Are Flying Solo

April 30, 2012

Moving On

For a variety of reasons, the time came for Team Flying Solo to find a new home base.  Thus began the hunt for the perfect combination of facilities I need to train, space for my horses to move around, and no drama.  Ha, well, two of three can't be impossible.

Through an eventing friend, I learned of and visited a farm up the road and as I stepped out of the vehicle, I immediately felt calm and content (I am big on vibe).  It's an old Walking Horse farm, so it had a long low barn with no windows, surrounded by hotwalkers, several round pens and a sea of paddocks.  I wandered around and peeked in stall doors and kicked some dirt and sniffed some hay.

It wasn't glamourous, most of the fencing was high tensile wire and grass was cropped short and sparsely scattered.  But each pasture had a fluffy, nice round bale or two and I could find no manure just lying about.

All of the horses were in good condition, their feet were taken care of, and everyone was perky and bright.  No cribbing collars, no stall weavers, and every horse got at least 12 hours of turnout a day.  There was an arena with lights, a dressage arena measured out in the back, and a freshly built set of jumps.

"Can I have a pasture with a shed where my horses just live 24/7 and the fence gets a strip of white hot tape added?"

"Absolutely, no problem, when do you want to move in?" the owner replied.  He is just a SUPER nice guy, answered all my dizzying questions, and my board costs got cut in half then and there.

I'm not sure they've ever had a sporthorse boarder, as there were plenty of giggles at my detailed feeding spreadsheet and Encore's Mt. Everest of food.  The owner breeds VERY nice old-style Walking Horses, the ones I loved to see when I was a kid:  compact, sturdy, balanced, and built to last forever, with a willing, honest brain and solid feet (the new anorexic looking ones with deer legs make me sad).  In fact, the boys' new neighbours is one of the broodmares with her week old overo foal (SQUEEEEE!) who hops like a kangaroo and squeals to amuse himself.

The half-built shed.
The owner shows all flat-shod walkers now (hooray!) and has gotten enthralled with the versatility classes (horses do their regular gaited stuff, but also have dressage tests and jumping courses), so he is excitedly learning about dressage and jumping from my eventing buddy and applying it to all his training horses.

So as of Saturday, this is the TFS new compound.  I've built a tack locker by my horses' paddock so between it and the trailer, I just have my own space and my own end of the farm with the dressage arena and fields for hill work and XC schools.  As soon as I got the boys settled in, I realized this was going to be EXCELLENT desensitization for Encore.  Yes, he's already seen all the stuff on the track, but now he is seeing....

-miniature spotted donkeys braying for their dinner
-horny ducks who like to mate repeatedly while the pervy geese circle them and honk
-peacocks who call from the trees and leap on top of his round bale to squawk to the hens
-ponies whose main job is to kick the yearlings and teach them some manners
-and my favourite....

Meet Rocket, the mini stud who lives across the lane/fence.  He comes up to, oh, a little above my knees, but he reckons he can take on both those chestnuts and show THEM who's the boss.  He came "for free" with a recently purchased mare, but is actually a very nicely put together little horse and will do some breeding of his own and take over teasing duties from the owner's stud.

He paws like a little bull and assures us all that he could beat all our asses in a 'fro contest.

Solo and Encore, happily, put their trust in each other and rolled about the pasture together in an ADD frenzy, unsure of whether to be fascinated or concerned about the shrunken denizens that surrounded them.

They even showed off a new pairs routine they'd been working on, in beautiful synchronicity.

But by the time I came back on Sunday, they were relaxed and chowing down on clover and hay, the novelty of birds and stallions and donkeys having already worn off in favour of working out what the new breakfast and dinner schedule was. 

It's a big change for us, but so far, a happy one.  I've got a few projects to finish, including matting the shed and some pasture management, but in a few weeks, they'll be set and settled and I can take a deep breath and just enjoy the peace!

April 26, 2012

Your CHP Novice Coursewalk

Team Flying Solo basecamp

Mea culpa for no helmet cam, but I CAN give you a coursewalk, plus a few bonus bits of fun.  So take a deep breath, put yourself in the Carolina sandhills, and gallop out of the start box for your horse's first Novice course.

A simple log pile to get things going.  Then a huge U-turn to...

The ubiquitous CHP cabins.  Run down the hill to...
The BIG brush.  It has wide steps on both sides.  Say hi to our buddy Sue!
Gallop up the hill to the coop.  No visual distractions here.  Focus on your jump.
Run through the tree tunnel to 5 & 6.  Since they are numbered separately, you ARE allowed to circle between them.  But I want to challenge my horse, so we ride straight through.
The course had a nice flow up until 6.  Then it went all wonky.  You galloped down a steep hill and wound through several tree paths and made an odd turn to the table at 7.
Now you immediately rebalance down the hill so your horse is ready for the baby sunken road and rolltop at 8.  Sue is getting tired of being in my pictures.  Too bad!
Down another steep hill to the trakehner.  Encore had never jumped one before so eyes UP, light tap with the go stick and LEAP over and charge up the hill to wind another crazy line to 10.
Sue insists on being the human element for scale.  Now that you have found 10, it's a simple cabin, than a hard left turn.
The water at 11 is a simple run through, keep your eyes on your next jump and don't ogle.  As an aside, this is only HALF of the big water complex at CHP, is it not amazing??
Sue threatens to tackle as you pick your way through the trees at an angle to 12.  Encore knocked a hind leg here, it was an awkward turn and he got an off stride, but he made it work.
Now you get your stirrup back, dodge a few more trees and go down another steepish hill to 13, and immediately balance so...
You can run through the second water at 14.  Don't miss your line because you have charge up the hill to...
15 A & B.  This is a combination so NO circling.  Up the bank, one stride, jump, then a horrible right turn IMMEDIATELY to...
Our not-so-friendly 16.  But it was a terrible line.  You can see the finish flags right behind it.  Sigh.
Then, ostensibly, you have done it!  As I noted earlier, after jump 6, the course notably lost its flow.  For a Novice horse, he should be able to gallop nicely through it in a rhythm and the jumps should come up naturally, as they did with our previous, much beloved course designer, Jeff Kibbie.  But he has moved on, sadly, so it will be interesting to see how things develop.  I will send in my event evaluation to provide some feedback, organizers do value those, so send yours in too!

And just for fun, Indian Smurf made some new friends:

Our VERY favourite starter, Bill -- you can often find him at CHP and several of our area schooling trials.  He always makes you laugh and relax before you set off and was recently featured in EventingUSA magazine for his awesomeness!
Our TD and friend, Cindy (who is also our national Adult Rider coordinator) and her apprentice TD, Tim, enjoying the shade of the golf cart and having a smurfy good time!

April 22, 2012

Sometimes Disappointment Is A Good Ending

That was one of the reasons I have always loved Audrey Hepburn's classic Roman Holiday:  there is no perfect bow and there is no closure except goodbye.  Life doesn't wrap itself up in a nice, neat little package where everyone always ends up exactly where they wanted to be in the first place.

But before we go there, I will give you the answer you've all been waiting for, the question that has held you captive since Tuesday's Hoof Quiz:  half of you are right and half of you are wrong.

Hoof A has a robust, heavy wall and a sole that is concave, thick, and hard as a rock.  The frog is giant and the heels are strong.  There's a teensy bit of a thrushy crack, always a project.  Hoof B is narrower, with a sole that is almost flat, has little callous and jerks back dramatically in response to contact with the tiniest bit of gravel.  The middle of the frog got thrushy (grrrr) from a muddy pasture.

So who was right?  *drumroll*  A = Encore and B = Solo.  So Val, Amy, Beka Burke, Abbie, Lyndsey and RiderWriter got it right!

This has taught me the huge role that genetics play in hoof quality and integrity.  That old saw that OTTB's have crappy, shelly feet?  Well, buy one with good feet and you won't have that problem.  My QH has wussy, cracky feet that need constant attention despite six years of me obsessing over them. 

As for that little horse trial we went to...

Overall things went smoothly.  Although, there was this one time, in middle of downtown Raleigh where I clenched the steering wheel and yelled a string of very bad words, realizing in the complete chaos that was my Friday that I had remembered everything....except feed for my horse.  Fortunately, there's a lovely feed store in Southern Pines which is open for Saturday morning panic shopping runs.

Encore is a very smart horse.  As soon as he unloaded, you could see the lightbulb go on as he remembered the Horse Park and he knew what he was supposed to do in each section we rode into.  He warmed up for dressage rather well, but I still have not completely figured out what he needs.  More canter?  No canter?  More suppling?  A different rider?  I know I slipped into an old habit and tensed up as we rode in the ring.  As a result, he never relaxed and rode up into the contact, and we ended up with a mediocre score of 41.

The judge was fair and accurate and I am sure that our results were a mix of greenness and Encore just having a week and a half off due to injury.  We had ONE dressage ride in the last two weeks. 

Cross country followed and you can hate me because I forgot to turn on the helmet cam.  I'm going to start writing it on my arm.  I will post a virtual course walk when I get the pictures organized.

Now that we were running Novice, I was finally able to let Encore run a little.  Wow, does he have a powerful gallop.  It took everything in me to slow down and balance enough for the fences.  But he was bold and solid -- baby sunken road, water, trakehner, bank, combination, HUGE brush -- he gave it an excellent run and responded to everything I asked immediately.

Until Jump 16.  Three strides from the finish line.  The last jump on course.  It was a simple rolltop, although a bit narrow, and newly built out of light, treated lumber.  I knew it was a steering question and it came off an odd turn, as the whole second half of the course lacked flow in its design.  But I aimed for the middle and closed my leg.

See, the smurf has no problem with it.
Encore is a very quick and athletic horse, as I'd already learned in Februrary.  He slipped out to the left at the last second.  I was stunned.  We had already done all the hard stuff!

Then I made the mistakes that did us in.  I simply rode at it again, thinking he would just jump it the second time.  He didn't.  Then I did the same thing the third time with, unsurprisingly, the same result and that was our endgame.

What I didn't do is get proactive fast enough.  The second time, I should have switched the crop to my left hand, dug that left spur in and used a right opening rein to close the doorway he found.

But as I walked back to the barn and commenced the "Saturday Pack of Shame" of those who get eliminated on the first day, I wasn't entirely unhappy.

I was unhappy with my failure to get the riding job done, yes.  But when we were warming up for XC, I had noticed that while Encore jumped the XC jump very well, he rushed the stadium fences, getting flat, hard, and fast in the last three strides.  I didn't like it and I am fairly certain that it is a training issue that I have caused.  I have some ideas, but I need some video or sharp eyes on the ground to solve it. 

But it needs to be worked out and I did not want to run him around the stadium course like that, as that could potentially make a problem much worse and become a negative experience for us both.  As a result, I was thinking of withdrawing after XC and going home to up our show jumping game.

In the end, the choice was made for me.  So while I have a bit of wounded pride for an E on Encore's record (it doesn't stand for "excellent," folks), when I take a step back and look at the big picture and what is best for Encore's career, I see that we achieved experience in the dressage arena, got both our leads and were fairly accurate, and had a great schooling run around a Novice XC course for jumps 1-15 on a horse who was at his second real horse trial and his first go at Novice.

The experience matters.
Like Gregory Peck, I didn't get the princess completion I wanted in the end, but I got an invaluable experience for my horse and I feel comfortable knowing that our show jumping round (in the rain) today could very well have not been what it should.

And that is what makes eventing a challenge and a long game if you want to build an eventer who is confident in his rider and knows how to get his job done.  It's not all clean rounds and sunshine, but it's the hard decisions and how fast you can roll with the punches that sort the wheat from the chaff.

April 21, 2012

Tune In Sunday...

...for the much-debated, long-awaited Hoof Quiz answer!

...and why our Big E today turned out to be not such a bad thing (for those of you watching the live scores).

If you're not watching live scores, well, SURPRISE, I'm home early and Encore is happily grazing in his pasture.  No people or animals were injured in the making of the story to come.

April 18, 2012

Game On!

I jumped Encore tonight the second I got home from field work.  Note to self:  if you leave a young OTTB pretty much off for 1.5 weeks and then point him at a jump, you will have your hands full.  But.  He JUMPED SOUND and the leg finished CLEAN AND TIGHT.  So Plan B is a go!  Complete with veterinary approval!

I'm not giving out the quiz answer yet, I am having way too much fun reading everyone's guesses and justifications.  I am both intrigued and entertained, congratulations!

As for Longleaf, you will find live scores here.

You will find ride times here.

The unicorn will be doing dressage at 11:06 am on Saturday, then he will run cross country at 3:08 pm.  Then his rider will ingest large amounts of carbohydrates and fluids and Sunday, show jumping will run in reverse order of placing.  This will be his first Novice HT, so one hopes his rider will do her job properly and not screw him up, ahem, like last time.

I am hoping if I ride Thursday and Friday, I will NOT have a fire-breathing dragon on my hands on Saturday...

No, I have no idea why Longleaf is run in classic format, while others, like SoPines I, are not.