SUBSCRIBE TODAY Smiley face  Get updates via email! 

We Are Flying Solo

October 7, 2012

The Horseman's Decision

Dr. Bob warned me on Tuesday that Encore would be sore for a while following a rather large chiropractic adjustment and recommended that I keep him on bute for the rest of the week.  I asked if he would be ok to do the horse trial and he didn't say no.  But I saw a look that I knew and I wondered.  Looking back, I think he made a gamble and because he knows me, hoped it would work.

I schooled Encore lightly on Thursday, some walk/trot lateral and stretching work and a few crossrails.  He felt great.

We trailered to the Horse Park on Friday and settled in for the night.  I wanted to hack him that evening, but ran out of time and daylight and we had to settle for a walk.
Carolina dawn.
 The Moment of Weakness

Dressage warmup was ugly.  Encore was unfocused.  I regretted not making the time to at least longe him the day before.  He had no bend, ignored my leg except to leap forward from every application.  He was stiff, cranky, and anticipatory.  40 minutes of work brought some improvement and I thought we might squeak through.

We didn't.  He turned like a motorcycle, ignored every aide, had no bend in either direction, stiffened and braced whether I was soft or not, and generally brought me near to tears by the end.  Which is almost impossible.  I made a promise on this blog that I would be open about the whole process, that I would not create some kind of false Facebook life where only the good is shared.  So yes, there is a video.  A sad, sad video.  Erm, at least I am getting better at sitting up straight?  And yes, yes he is violently allergic to the rail and wanders drunkenly down the long side like a lost cow. 

I slumped in despair when we left the arena.  Arriving back at our stall, where we were next door to our friend Sue and her magical, wonderful homebred, Rocky The Amazing Horse, I finally said it out loud:  "This just makes me want to give up.  I want to pack up my trailer right now and go home."

The Rally

I didn't.  I took a deep, shaky breath and took a long look at my horse.  I gave him a snack and a drink and thought hard.  He is a worker bee, he does not generally just behave like an asshole because he can.  Gearing up for stadium jumping (it was a one day HT), I decided to feel every step and carefully evaluate what was going on beneath me.

He jumped five or six warmup fences well, moving up when I asked and mostly maintaining a rhythm.  But he leaned hard on the left rein and his left lead canter was a bit flat.  We started our course and after jump 1 when he hit the ground running, the pieces began to form a clearer picture.

He ran at the jumps and about halfway through, started pulling rails behind.  There were only 9 fences so it ended quickly and as we walked out, the answer was clear:  his left hip was still sore, despite the bute and he needed more time.  Apparently a few jumps was ok.  15 was too many.

The Big Decision 

We began our walk over to XC, my first thought being, "Well, we might as well finish."  Then I paused.  Why?  There was nothing to gain -- the course was EXACTLY the same as the once we jumped at 5 Points, there were no new challenges.  I hadn't checked our dressage score, but I've gotten fairly accurate in my assessments and it certainly was not competitive and we'd just pulled at least 3 rails.  I knew my horse was sore and there was nothing to be gained by running him up and down hills for 4 minutes, knowing he would jump flat, chip in, and generally try his best while being physically compromised.  That would just be stupid.

So I walked over to the steward (who was very kind and sympathetic, thank you), calmly informed her we were withdrawing because my horse was sore, and returned the barn to pack up.

The legendary CHP steeplechase infield would not see this Thoroughbred's hoofprints today.
Disheartening?  Absolutely.  A hard choice?  Not really, because I strive to always put my horse first.  Frustrating?  Well, considering my day would have been better spent drinking and setting $300 on fire, yes, I'd say so.  Six hours of driving and we had neither learned nor developed a thing.

The Aftermath

I knew someday it was a choice I would have to make -- looking out for my horse in the long term vs. the short term gratification of completing an event.  It was a choice I will never forgive myself for not making for Solo and it cost us both a great deal.  It was the indisputably right choice to make for Encore yesterday.  I was also encouraged that people in stabling near us that I didn't even know expressed their support and good wishes for our choice and our future when we made it back.

I don't think there is any real damage done; I will talk to Dr. Bob on Monday and assess.  The only real stressor is that we have four weeks and I'm already $400 in to the VA Horse Trials in November.  A part of me wants to just give up, scratch, move the surgery up and be done with it.  This fall season was supposed to be fun, the last good thing I had to look forward to for a long time.  Since 5 Points, it has not been fun.

Because I think it all traces back to that point (ha, see what I did there):  Encore was going very well and had an excellent dressage test.  But he had two big slips on XC on the hard ground and even then, I felt something that I couldn't identify and he jumped poorly on Sunday.  Now I am just upset with myself for not figuring out the problem sooner -- a tweaked up back that just needed a reset and some time, which I attempted to do too close to a competition because I was too slow.

But I am stubborn.  Perhaps stupidly so.  But I'm not giving up just yet; I never thought for a second any of this would be easy.

As of this past Wednesday, he is tapped for studs and wore them on Saturday, so we shall have no more slipping.  Hopefully, all he needs is a bit more time for his hip to settle and rest and he will be back to good.  Did you hear that, big, young, thing?  Get good, I need you!

Oh, we'll be back.  The dream will not die that easily.

September 30, 2012

Shhhhh, Did You Hear That?

It was nearly like the sound of a new post forming.  This only counts as half of one though.  I must apologize for a quiet summer; field work is rather like being slowly eaten alive, yet still-half enjoyable?  And the universe continues its focused plan to smoosh me, but fails as yet...

Solo has been finessing his guilt skills, trying to push his nose into the halter hole when I get Encore.  I take him out for a trail ride or a work session when I can, but there is so little time.  He has lost all that hard-won muscle and I'm a bit sad on the trail, where he stumbles and tires easily compared to the muscle-bound athlete he was before.  Before everything changed.  I look at him now and am frustrated, I want more for him but my plan to bring him back to shape this winter ended before it even began.  I can read his frustration too, we know each other too well.  But he will be my rehab horse in a couple of months, so I have hope yet to pique his interest.

Our barn wall speaks truth.
Encore and I have our final practice run this weekend in Southern Pines; next stop the Adult Team Challenge in VA.  We've joined up with three of our fellow Adult Riders to make a kickass team, so look out, because Team "Smurf Cocktail" will be looking to burn up the leaderboard!  If I can manage not to do anything stupidly obvious, perhaps Encore can bring home his own giant ribbon...

Dr. Bob comes up on Tuesday for a pre-flight chiro adjustment.  Encore's left hip has gotten tight again, which I have learned means that some cracking and re-rotating is in order.  For us both, funnily enough, I see mine tomorrow morning, ha.  I will do my best to assure that we are in our finest fighting form. 

Because October is already here, with November on its heels.  By the time I hit the O.R., I'll be broke and exhausted, but there will be plenty of time to nap later and no lessons to pay for for quite some time.  So I'll live right now, thank you.

September 26, 2012

Encore Goes Training!

Only without extended trot.

I can see your face now:  o.o

That's what mine looked like on Saturday too.  To be fair, one never does know what you'll get with a schooling horse trial, but I have been to a number of excellent ones in our area and never gave it a second thought.  This particular trial had its inaugural run this spring; the farm owner is lovely, gracious, generous woman, who allows us to school on her her amazing XC facilities and enjoy her gorgeous farm.  There were some hiccups (and 30 mph wind!) in what was Encore's first BN HT, not unanticipated given that this was their first go at putting it on.  I sent some email feedback on points that I LOVED and points that I thought could be improved to make for a smoother experience.  So I decided to give it another chance.


Our dressage test was once again a llama parade on downhill grass (Encore has not quite mastered the balanced AND round AND go down a hill thing yet).  Even though our score was slightly better than the one we received at Five Points, I was very unhappy with the test and my horse was tense and unhappy in the "arena."

The rather humbling downside of going to a schooling event in Southern Pines is that half or more of your division is probably made up of people who have, at one time or another, ridden around Rolex, or train 8 horses a day.  The horse before you and the horse after you will very likely perform a soft and lovely dressage exhibition that doesn't even have a whiff of llama hovering in the smallest corner.  You are certainly left with no false impressions as to how you stack up in the wide eventing world!!!!

Ride times were again so close together that you'd have to be a marathon runner to walk your courses and get back in time for your jump times, because locales were far apart.  Fortunately, I keep my bike in the back of my truck during eventing season; it helped some, but I was exhausted already when I finished the course walk and got on to jump.

The stadium warmup was.....uncontrolled chaos in a very small space.  Encore cantered around very nicely and jumped well, but at once point, we slid to a halt as the path in front of us was completely blocked by two horses leaping and spinning and we had no where to go.  My horse watched with much curiosity, like what is up with that???

The course itself had walked okay, but was taking down riders left and right with refusals and missed lines, many at the first fence.  I closed my leg to it and told Encore it was over or through and he did it all!  The lines were very twisty and difficult, especially for a green horse and we pulled the last rail, a big oxer off of a bending lines of 4 or 5 strides.  But I was proud of him for being in the half of the division that survived it and making 9 out of 10 challenging fences clean jumping efforts

Side note:  Even though we've been at this for a year now, because of my job and travel, much of Encore's training is still rough around the edges, so he still remains quite green about some things in comparison to a horse who is ridden and in training every day.  Finesse will come with time, but one of the hardest parts of being a working adult amateur is FINDING (usually MAKING) that time.  I almost feel as if I am letting him down a bit because he has enormous ability and I should be presenting it better -- I know that he doesn't know that, but I do.  And since I won't be able to ride after November for quite some time, we are out there, rough edges and all, while I still can.

Cross country  was definitely a tough course if you didn't have an honest, bold, and steerable horse.  Lucky me!  There was even a mini Stockholm slide (watch for fence 11, a small log with a drop slide behind it) that Encore was sure had no ground on the other side.  Fortunately, stumbling/walking over a  jump still counts as "jumping."  It was very different from any course I have ridden with several new challenges, so I really enjoyed it -- I could tell Encore was getting a bit tired, we did this whole event in 3 hours (0.0) but he jumped well to the end....and then fell asleep in his water bucket.  You can watch the helmet cam, but I advise you to tilt your left ear about 45 degrees to your left shoulder -- we had so little time to get ready for jumping, I just slapped it on the helmet, so the horizon is, well, unconventional.

Because of the complexity of questions asked and the rideability the jump courses demanded, I did leave feeling as if we had just completed a Training Level HT with slightly smaller jumps.  I'm not sure how I feel about it.  On one hand, yes, I am proud of Encore for finishing it!  On the other though, this fall was meant to be confidence-building mileage -- and I'm not sure bombing around sharp turns in showjumping is quite that.  I also don't really enjoy having to dash around the entire time like a headless chicken.   Efficient is great, but give me a chance to sit and eat my WHOLE granola bar at least and for my horse to get a snack and a drink, since we don't ALL travel with staff.

Again, the farm and owner are wonderful and it is a big, generous thing to open your land and private property so other riders can use the facilities you have built and I am always grateful for that.  I am a bit sad that it appears my feedback fell on deaf ears, but I am not an organizer (HUGE job) so there may be limitations of which I am not aware.

We all also have choices of where we go to compete and this has taught me that not all are the same and not every event will have the same expectations of your horse, even though you are the same level.  There were definitely lessons learned both positive and negative, so now we move forward to our next event, back at CHP, where I DO know what to expect and what is expected of me. 

September 21, 2012

Rocky Mountain High

If you don't know by now, I think the worst thing you can do to your sporthorse is make it an arena baby (edited to add:  ok, obviously not the worst thing.  I mean, you could beat it with sticks and never feed it.  But that would just be uncool.).  Biologically, physiologically (I have the degrees to back it up, go ahead, check me!) to make a tissue or system strong, you have to challenge it.  Obviously, the equation of equine soundness is one of multiple confounding variables, but I think a powerful influence is the lack of "off-roading" and far too much arena grooming, track prettifying, and grass fondling, which only leads to weakening soft tissues and bones.

What do I do about it?  GET OUT THERE.  It was Encore's first time in the Uwharrie National Forest and it took him a couple of hours to sort it out, but by the end of day one, he could power walk through a rock field without tripping even once.  Lessons: balance, agility, strength, decision-making, and focus.

A commenter asked me if I thought it would really make a difference in his training and I said yes.  Because it's not a walk in the park:


This face always makes my heart skip a beat.

Pete and lifeshighway share a moment.  Or perhaps Pete wonders absently when dinner is.

It was a short trail with a simple name...

Turns out, it really was that simple:

We even saw a wild sponge.  Which was odd; I rarely find them outside their normal aquatic habitats...


But at the end of the day, it was all about team building and enjoying a beautiful weekend with friends.  And yes, my horse is tied by his reins when I am standing next to him.  Sue me.  ;P

September 13, 2012

You Buy, You Break

I could smell it already -- the clean air in a silent forest at the top of the mountain, a living quiet broken only by the sound of hooves on pine needles and limestone.  So when I went up to the farm last night, I thought I'd just do some light dressage schooling with Encore, focusing on suppling his muscles in balance, because he had a weekend of serious mountain climbing ahead.

That would have been way too easy.

It was a beautiful evening, too, and I almost quivered with anticipation of the soft, zen vibe of sitting on my horse in the setting sun.  Then I pulled off his fly sheet.

Raging across the middle of his back was a huge scrape, swollen and hot and sore to the touch.  You may have heard my bubble popping as I remembered why you have to always live in the moment with horses.

He hadn't broken the skin, just torn off all the hair and it looked much like I feel when I whack my hip on the corner of a dresser and say many bad words.  So I rubbing in some SoreNoMore and covered it back up.

It was a perfect opportunity to snag a bareback ride on Mr. Shiny instead, so I pulled him out, much to his glee as he has been doing his eye-begging once again, pleading me to fuss with him.  I started brushing him down and curried some mud off his hind fetlock -- to discover a full-thickness filet cut upwards through his ankle.  I could lift up the flap of skin and see pink tissue inside.

Of course.  My theory that the more horses you have, the more injured horses you have, stands intact.

Solo did not have any heat, swelling, or any signs of a problem around the cut, so I crammed a bunch of purple goo in there while he yawned.

Tonight, Encore's back looked and felt significantly better, so I hope that we will still be able to enjoy our mountain weekend.  It's not just about relaxing, it's something I have been trying to do all summer, because Encore lives in Flat Land and the mountain work could well be a make-or-break for his fall season, as he still needs a boost in hind end strength.  Our BFF riding partners have finally had an opportunity to get away and it is valuable in so many way. 

But somehow, and I don't even see how this is possible, I yet again end up at the last minute wondering, "Will he be better?  Do the pros outweigh the cons?  How does this fit into the big picture?"

Over it....