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We Are Flying Solo

December 14, 2012

Dancing Beneath The Stars

I stood on top of the hill, waiting for Encore to work his way through his supper.  My head was craned back, 30 degrees feeling like 20 once I stopped moving and the cold air seeped in through my edges.  I racked my mind, trying to remember where Gemini was, my astronomy class and fascinated study of the night sky almost two decades in my past.  I finally concluded that if everyone could see tonight's meteor shower, it must be in the southern sky.

So I waited.

A satellite buzzed overhead, its steady glow seeming to traverse the galaxy like a pelican cruises the tips of the waves, effortless in medium in which we are helpless.

I have loved the stars as long as I can remember; my childhood evenings were filled with my mother pointing out the royal arrangement of Cassopeia and the warrior Orion, with his faithful dog at his feet and a brute of a bull on his shoulder.  I came to love them even more over time, because they were the one thing we couldn't reach, the one thing that was truly perfect because humanity couldn't touch it and therefore couldn't mess it up.

As I watched this night, I was struck again by their impossible magic, even though I know the science -- giant balls of fire and gas; the meteors themselves, tremondous rocks hurtling through space and burning trails of flame and debris through our atmosphere.  Yet to us, each star is but a tiny point of light, watching us, and those roaring meteors merely white streaks of an instant, like a single note struck on a piano key in the near-infinite chord of a universal melody.

I also wondered, how long has it been since someone first looked at the incomprehensible brilliance at play above with a horse at their side.  The horses even have their own constellation!  How many people over centuries have watched a tail of ivory trace an arc against blackness while an equine partner chewed into the silence nearby?  How long have horses and humans danced together on the stage watched over by Antares and Vega and Sirius?

I suppose I know the answer already, but it still opens a door in my mind whose hinges had become rusty with disuse.  It brought into question time and perspective and the quiet truth that it is really we, our species, who are a brief single note echoing into the span of geological epochs.  We are the miniscule flashes of an instant, but oh how much sweeter the note is when it is accompanied by hoofbeats and the swish of a tail, by the soft sighs of contentment into a pile of hay, all while massive gravitational forces play on scales our minds cannot even comprehend and entire solar systems are born and die before their light even reaches us.

Yet all we see are those brief trails, a reminder that the warm, powerful neck beneath our hand, the strong quiet heartbeat that drives the horses who teach us about love and patience and strength and exhilaration, all of these are but brief opportunities and we must, we MUST grasp them before their light burns out, the purity of the moment lost and overwhelmed by the blinding arrival of dawn and noise and traffic and rules.

December 8, 2012

A Skeptic Takes On Micklem

I hope they don't mind if I borrow their illustration.
You know the one -- the brainchild of William Micklem and Rambo, the bridle that thumbed its nose at centuries of status quo & promised that our horses would "love the difference" & would turn your fussy-mouthed, head-rubbing gelding into a soft, steady dressage masterpiece.  Ok, that last bit might be exaggerating a bit, but there certainly was a lot of magic implied.

I've been watching these for three years.  Blog posts, personal conversations, trainer testimonials, I even thoughtfully handled the one hanging in the CANTER MA facility where I found Encore.  But it remained a $200 bridle.  Watched through the eyes of a horsewoman who has three bridles -- that were all found or free.

And it had a flash-type strap.  And I hate flash straps.

The Fall Purchase

A certain unnamed person who surely had evil intent gave me a gift certificate for the new Dover store in Raleigh & I drove down to happily purchase a big jar of horse treats & perhaps a pretty shirt.  Yet I found myself standing front of the bridle display, the Micklem competition version in my hand, running my fingers over its sturdy, yet pleasant leather, putting it down, picking it up, putting it down again, touching it again.

Ever since we started really asking Encore to work up into the bridle, he has a tendency to develop tension.  He will grind & chomp his teeth, he will cock his head, he will shake his nose from side to side.  Not constantly, but more often when he is out of practice or in a particularly anticipatory mood.  Now that his physical issues were resolved (oh, I just jinxed myself, crap), I wondered...would it really matter?

Shut. Yo. Mouth.
Much of the information provided by the makers touted the distribution of the bridle's "weight" across the horse's poll (it's a 1500 lb horse, how much does a bridle REALLY weigh?), the curved cheekpieces which avoided facial nerves & preventing pressing the insides of the cheek against the teeth (do horses really bite their cheeks if you are not cranking nosebands to Vader death-grip?), and the versatility of the design, allowing the bridle to be used bitless or with hanging clips that took the bit pressure from the horse's bars & transferred it to the nose.

I can't take it anymore.  I want to know and if it is indeed all hype or just not for my horse, I can sell it on eBay.  I handed over my gift card & the cash balance & then sat at the farm with a pile of leather straps, trying to figure out how to make them bridle shaped (HEY, William Micklem, if you ever read this, ha, some directions would be really nice.  REALLY nice.  At least a diagram???  I did appreciate the ONE label to at least let me know which way the crownpiece was supposed to face).

It actually looks rather handsome on him.
The Moment(s) Of Truth

It was a bit of a strange size (I purchased the full/horse size) -- it took a bit of fiddling to get the nosepiece where I wanted it & it would still be nice if the jaw strap was significantly longer (it bareeeely fits on the last hole).

But on the plus side -- SOMEONE FINALLY MADE A BROWBAND THAT FITS MY FAT-HEADED HORSES COMFORTABLY.  No more brain squishing!  I didn't use the rubber reins -- I've always found them too bulky & heavy in my hands, just a personal preference.

Are you still holding your breath?

Because I'll be damned, I think the thing actually works.

I can only ride bareback at a walk right now (damn knee surgery), but I immediately noticed that Encore was softer in the bridle, less ready to lock the left side of his jaw, & appeared to very much like the bit-stabilizing effect of the chin strap (which I kept very loose, he can still open his mouth, chew, chomp).  It was not a lightning bolt, but a definite change in feel & a lower level of tension at the end of my reins, when no other variables have changed.

Worthless Cripple Must See More Evidence

I couldn't wait until our most generous friend, Foy (recent winner!!!! aka badass at the East Coast Adult Team Challenge with her endearing and amazing Irish ex-steeplechaser, Point Clear, or as we know him, Louie, who not too long ago was declared unable to ever event again.  YEAH!  Longest parenthetical statement ever.) came out today, as she has been giving Encore the occasional educated ride while I rebuild myself.

On The Longe

I longed Encore while she was on her way, slipping the vienna reins on so he would be warm & stretched & she could just hop on when she arrived.  I have NEVER seen this horse put his nose on the ground on the longe or in the round pen (although it's Solo's signature move).  He will stretch about to his knees, even in the reins, & move through his body, but he never completely lets go.  Observe:

Under Saddle

I eagerly watched (post-Encore tantrum that the end of longeing did NOT mean the end of work) & questioned what she felt.  She too, felt that he was softer & more willing in the bridle once he got to work.  We did try the bit clips that transfer pressure to the nose:  Encore notes, NO LIKEY.  I don't think he'll be a hackamore horse, ha!

Foy is taking it easy on him (maybe I am a mean mom?) & gives him a lovely, patient ride; she made his butt sweat!!  I don't think I have ever achieved that without the aid of 95 degree heat, I'm dying to know what I am doing wrong.  Oh & my commentary was so ridiculously dorky, sorry about the music.  Trust me, you thank me.  And don't judge the lil guy too harshly -- he lost most of his hind end strength in injury & layup, but we're working on it.   

The Verdict

On the whole though, this skeptic finds herself designating it as the new daily bridle.  This hater of all trends & she who deploys a heavy dose of scrutiny to, ok, pretty much everything, finds herself cautiously changing from skeptic to believer.

I still don't think it will have magical unicorn powers for every horse & I am curious, if it will fit Solo to see if he cares (as a rule, he doesn't; although there was that incident with the crupper experiment...).  But according to my experiences this week, doing my best to isolate the bridle variable, I think I found a keeper...  Further testing TBD.

December 5, 2012

Solo's Infamy Makes Leap Across The Pond!

Check it out!  We are the Equestrian Blog of the Day on Haynet, the UK's social blogging  network for equine and country-like folks!  Woohoo!  Don't forget to enter their Christmas contest to win a great pair of boots so you can tromp around in your mud European style.  There is also a great "Agony Aunt" column where you can write your very own "Dear Abby, my horse is naughty...." letter as well as a forum and a place to network your own blog into the young and rapidly growing web.  Subscribe to the newsfeed, like them on Facebook and generally click like it's 1999 (omg, I just dated myself).  Thank you, Haynet for the shout out!

December 1, 2012

The Artful Equine

Commissioned Portrait by Tony O'Connor
By Tony O'Connor (Ireland)
I am a self-admitted art snob.  I was educated to within an inch of my life & my mother made sure I was cultured whether I wanted it or not, LOL.  This is an excellent thing -- unless you are poor.  It's kind of like drugs:  once you have an educated aesthetic, bad art physically hurts you (and oh my cod is there a lot of it out there), but you can't afford the good stuff.

Note to my mother:  rule still stands, my walls are full, don't get any ideas!!!! 

What the heck?  This is not about horses!  You protest.

But it is.  Because I'm going to give in to my aesthetic lust and give you a self-indulgent artgasm (these sentences are getting dodgier and dodgier...) of incredible equine works that are outside of the well-known pieces such as
Let The Beauty Begin
Horse porn for your walls (oh, I'm going to get so many hits from that sentence):
Neptune's Horses by Walter Crane
Neptune's Horses by Walter Crane (1892, England)
Deux études partielles d'une tête de cheval bridée, sculptural study by Edme Bouchardon
Deux études partielles d'une tête de cheval bridée, sculptural study by Edme Bouchardon (1698-1762, France)
Rough translation of that title:  Two Partial Studies of a Bridled Horse's Head.  There, now I finally feel like that 7 years of French was good for something!

I bet you didn't know Degas (1834-1917, France) has a huge body of equestrian work -- sculpture & paintings of racehorses.  My favourites are his studies:
Three Jockeys
Three Jockeys
A horse study
A horse study
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640, Flemish) was best known for his hyper-saturated, detailed depictions of mythology & battle & has always been one of my favourite classical artists.  He had a great talent for capturing the powerful energy of a horse in motion or standing still.  Some of his lesser known works:

Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lerma
Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lerma
Saddled Horse
Saddled Horse (c. 1615-1618)
And before I leave the masters, I have to include this one for the title alone.  By Francisco de Goya (Spain), who is called both the last of the old masters & the first of the modern painters, known for his studio portraits & scenes of the wealthy:

A Woman And A Horse, Let Someone Else Master Them
A Woman And A Horse, Let Someone Else Master Them (how can you pass that up?)
Contemporary Artists
Stallion I by Ricardo Vargas
Stallion I by Ricardo Vargas
Weathered Equine I by Norman Wyatt Jr (VA)
Weathered Equine I by Norman Wyatt Jr (VA)
Baroque Horse Series III: II by Heather Theurer
Baroque Horse Series III: II by Heather Theurer (western US)
Hanging in the Balance by Heather Theurer
Hanging in the Balance by Heather Theurer (western US)
Horses At Leisure by Yunlan He (Beijing)
Horses At Leisure by Yunlan He (Beijing) - K, I confess I bought a print of this, it wooed me.
Desert Kings by Karen Dupre (CA)
Desert Kings by Karen Dupre (CA)
3 Stewarts by Joseph Zbukvic (Australia)
3 Stewarts by Joseph Zbukvic (Australia) - a newly discovered favourite
Morning Work by Joseph Zbukvic
Morning Work by Joseph Zbukvic (Australia)
Definitely check out Zbukvic's other watercolours; he is truly a master of this very difficult medium & his paintings took my breath away.

If I had a bottomless pit of money, I would build an entire wing of my house to be my own personal art museum (perhaps it would extend off of my fantasy library), one wall of which would be a mural painted by Sarah Lynn Richards (I requested one from her years ago at Rolex and she said, "Sure!" but I don't think she works for free) & oh, the treasures it would hold...

November 25, 2012

Bring It

Maybe it's just because it's far too late at night.  Maybe it's because I've been trapped in this chair for too long.  Maybe it's because bad luck keeps on rolling in.

I thought I might collapse in defeat.  Non-blog related issues sent my brain packing weeks ago.  I hope it is enjoying wherever it is, perhaps on a nice beach in Ecuador, watching the sun rise over the Andes.

But there's a surprise inside.  As I sit here, even with my knee in constant, throbbing pain; even after leaning on my crutches, watching a friend ride Encore today and seeing that he is so unschooled, so lacking in mileage, that he desperately needs to get back in a program; even feeling like poor Sisyphus while Zeus laughs on...

I find myself narrowing my eyes in defiance.

Staring at the mountain of adversity in front of me, there is a wellspring of determination, probably fueled by sheer stubbornnes, but nonetheless picking up momentum as the flow breaks through tiny, nearly invisible cracks.

Even if you put your hand over a flashlight, beams find their way out through the spaces between your fingers and around the edges of your hand.  Even if you put an entire moon over the mass of the sun, a bright corona belies the shadow and the rolling fire at the core flings its rays to the heavens in spite.

Every torturous minute of PT, every rip of pain from a step, and every mind-numbing "walk horse up the hill, walk horse down the hill" will be fueled by this fire.  Because the flames are fanned by a wind I think you know.  It was the wind that whipped my face as Encore stretched out in a gallop in the bright afternoon of our last ride before surgery, ripping the laugh of glee out of my mouth as I felt the enormous power of this Thoroughbred, born and bred and begging to run, leap away and carry me into an unearthly place.

I think you've been there; you don't always enter at a gallop, but you still feel that air in your heart.  It's that which transforms my despair into resolve that we will not be beaten and we will not go quietly.

If you could see the entire path of your journey from the start, you might never take the first step, because the view would surely be terrifying and you might question the worth of your goal.  But if your goal IS the journey, there is really nothing that can stop you.

Except yourself.