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We Are Flying Solo

March 13, 2013

The Becky Diaries: Day 2: Dressage-ish

What have you done in the last 10 years?
Mind blown.

Also, you might as well start calling me Wrong Turn Reba; all these tiny SC roads around Encore's hotel look the same and as I'm driving along, lost in thought about all I saw in one day, apparently I decide to just randomly turn down one.  It doesn't help that you have to go by SR numbers...which are tiny on dark brown signs.  I think Encore is getting dizzy.

But you wanted to hear about horsey things.  As everyone else here seems to think this is a normal, day-to-day activity, I am the solitary creeper, following Becky around like a stray dog gathering scraps.  I should have brought all black clothing so I would be a ninja and no one would see me.  But she hasn't run me off with the longe whip yet.  I think Scrappy is rooting for me, I keep his ears well-scratched!

After finishing some work duties (it sucks being an adult sometimes -- an ancient old lady by comparison to the rest of the girls in the house, ha!), I spent the late morning filling the wide open creeper niche, stalking and watching.

One owner brought her gorgeous bay mare (when I asked Becky what type of horse she was, I was told "Eh, some warmblood thing or another"), who would throw enormous rearing mare tantrums when asked to connect, reportedly.  Becky got on and immediately began engaging her hind end at the walk, keeping her moving sideways, crossing her hind legs beneath her and pushing her neck forward and down.  Exaggerated turns on the forehand led to big leg yields, constantly pushing the inside leg over into the outside rein.  Yeah yeah yeah, I need to do that, I thought.  She did similar work in a stunning trot, which fancy mare tried to evade...by using passage.  Encore tries that evasion too, it's so annoying.  I mean, doesn't yours?  A similar evasion presented in the canter, where the horse would just bounce up and down in a teeny four-beat canter to avoid moving forward into the contact with the outside rein.  But no one beats Becky, so she was soon rocking along, being a very impressive little workhorse.

The staple diet of the horsewoman.  Creeping takes energy!
Next was a long-lining session with a younger gelding, a big, strong-looking WB/TB ("some warmblood thing crossed with a TB" -- there seems to be a trend in broad categories, much to my amusement) who was quite the tryer and had just come back from SoPines I at Novice.  Now I have long-lined Solo, but never like this.  I drew a picture of the line setup to try as soon as I get home -- it was certainly much more effective than mine!  In short, the inside line ran from high on the ribcage, through the bit, and back to the top ring on the surcingle.  A side rein was connected on the outside to block his outside shoulder and teach him to accept the outside rein.  With his brain whirling a mile a minute, he put the pieces together and then Becky showed his young owner how to work the lines (Becky used an outside long-line but simplified it with the side rein for owner). 

I already had to run back to the house to write things down and then a quick calculation showed I still had time to watch a few lessons before I had to go fetch Encore.  Students were working on some fun (ok, probably fun for me to watch, less fun for them to ride) canter/counter-canter/10-m circle diagrams for the Prelim dressage test.  I confess I was happy to see the rider before me was a woman on a (mohawked!) stocky bay appropriately named Sofa who was working on outside rein connection and stretching over the topline -- woohoo, my level!

Has anyone picked up today's theme yet?

This afternoon, 5:00 pm was not beer-thirty, instead it was go-time.  I'd warmed up Encore on top of the hill and thought I had him fairly supple and ready.  I was instructed to put Encore through his paces quickly, at which point he did his best prancy, carriage-horse trot on the side of the hill.



The Becky Assessment:  He has a huge step behind and comes very far up under himself, really using his hind end and back, but then it gets to the front and nothing is going on there.  Correct again.  I will never cease to be amazed at people like she and David and Jimmy who can assess everything in five minutes and one sentence!  Actually, I think she got Solo in about three minutes.

Exercise 1:  Execute turns on the forehand (oh, I knew I needed more of those!) at the walk.
Key points:  Don't worry about keeping the front feet immobile.  Focus on the hind legs crossing over beneath him.  Keep the outside hand in a steady contact with the pinky almost touching the saddle.  The inside hand is an OPENING REIN ONLY, no direct rein, no pulling back with it, EVER (this was very difficult for me, I was scolded many times).  Then push ribcage over into the solid outside rein, softening when he crosses over and gives in the bridle.  Every time he gives, it's "money in the bank," each step a training investment in your future performance.

Exercise 2:  Turn these into half circles at the walk and trot.
Key points:  Ride them the same way.  Don't move that outside hand.  STOP PULLING HIS HEAD AROUND WITH THE INSIDE REIN (this is where I have been going wrong!); simply use your inside leg on his ribcage, keep asking, and wait for him to find the right answer.

Exercise 3:  Graduate to full circles at the trot and canter.
Key points.  Ride them the same way, hahahaha.  Outside hand, STAY!  Opening rein, NO PULL.  Be patient and let him find the right place to be.  At the canter, you can make the circle smaller by pushing him in with the outside leg and feel him shift up and over under you.  Try not to pass out and fall off in front of Becky. 



Encore tried very very hard and was excellent; he had "read the book" but his rider had missed some important parts!  Her explanation of HOW to establish the outside rein first, then apply inside leg, then open inside rein was the one that finally made breakthrough sense to me and my little lightbulb nearly blinded me.  But after years of hearing that to supple the jaw, we must "give and take" or "vibrate the rein," it was extremely hard for me to just open that rein as a guide and then do nothing with it.

As the hamster wheel in my head spun like mad on the way back to Chateau So8ths, I realized that the circle exercise was the same as the one David has us do and the aid requests are the same.  Becky just nitpicked the details of my aids in a new way that allowed me to finally bridge the two.  Which is why clinics are valuable -- a fresh pair of eyes and a different vocabulary works as a complement to the trainers that know you well, giving your overthinking brain a new angle to gnaw on, because in this game, sometimes you have to throw a lot of noodles at the wall before one sticks!  

So, a month's worth of homework from my 30 minutes on Day 1.  This afternoon, we are to show up for cavaletti and gymnastic work after lunch and I will NOT forget my protein bar today (idiot) and I will NOT throw myself up my horse's neck/hold my breath/clench the reins/all the other things I do when I am out of practice and get nervous.

For now...I have some important creeping to do:  Comet gets schooled at 11:15!


March 12, 2013

The Becky Diaries: Day 1: Arrival

Before I begin, I want to encourage everyone within reach of our beloved Southern Pines to check out and send in your entries to Denny Emerson's Tamarack Hill schooling horse trials!  Ok, I may have an ulterior motive...the last one got canceled due to lack of entries and I've already sent my check in, so enable us!  The show itself isn't advertised very many places, so I'm hoping we can give it a boost because Denny's courses are fun to ride (ok, the one time I was able to take Solo) on nice terrain with a great variety in stadium as well!

Nevah stop the pettingz!
As for the Grand Holder Event Team Training Adventure 2013 -- at the moment, I'm sitting on Becky's couch next to a poster from the Beijing 2008 Olympics looking at a picture of the one and only Comet.  Scrappy, the world's cutest dog, has already put wet paws on my lap and I keep pinching myself to see if this can possibly be real.  I am not in the demographic of "those who send horses to training" or "those who frolic at farms for days on end in the winter with no office to worry about."  But since Becky just came into the kitchen with a friendly hello to collect Scrappy for the days rides, either it's the best hallucination ever or I'm here!

After a marathon day yesterday of an oil change apparently performed by sloths, a UPS truck stalking to nab my SmartPaks before I left town, and a missed turn which required a trailer direction reversal on a tiny SC back road in a crooked driveway, we FINALLY arrived at the Southern Eighths Farm grandeur.  Encore was installed in his own paddock to stretch his legs and eat his dinner and I squealed with glee when the BO issued a dinner invitation.  Yes, I am a shameless food whore -- you can call me anything, just don't call me late for dinner!

I had to pry myself away from wine-induced stories in order to make it back to Becky's before 9 pm, as the rules stated this is when quiet hours begin and I didn't want to get in trouble on my first day!  Finding things in the dark is not my strong suit, but the plus side of SC highways just west of nowhere is that when you miss a turn, you can just stop and back up; it's not like anyone else is out there.

I crawled up the long dirt driveway, realizing that when Becky told me where to park by her house, I forgot to ask which house was hers (there are four farms which share facilities on the 70-acre property).  All I had to go on was "park by the white truck."  As I crawled across a narrow dam with pond water lapping disconcertingly close to my truck, I fervently hoped there were not multiple white trucks lurking in the woods.

To my relief, there was only one and I was able to sneak into the quiet little house and find my room with the help the resident working students.  I was happy to find it simple and pleasant, in the style of normal people, so I didn't have to tiptoe around in fear of touching (and naturally breaking) something worth more than my annual salary! 

This morning, I will catch my breath and as this edge of drizzle moves out, I will head out to watch the master at work before I go pick up Encore for our first lesson at 5 pm (when it will be much sunnier!).  Here goes nothing...


March 10, 2013

Flat Out Flat Walkin'

Oh yeah, he really wanted to work.  Great pillow, dude.
"Are you riding Solo today?"

The BO's question came as I finished a surprisingly nice ride on Encore and was basking in the t-shirt worthy sunshine before heading up the hill.

"If you want, I have another one for you to ride otherwise," he said hopefully.     

My curiosity was piqued.  My horses are quite the exception at our farm, which is a training and breeding facility for flat-shod TN Walking Horses and Spotted Saddle Horses.  BO and his clients show the pleasure and versatility (yes, with gaited dressage and jumping!) circuit around the southeast -- or as he calls it, "the sound horse circuit," having long since gotten fed up with the unethical training and sored horses of the padded horse world.

I was in the mood to try something new, as long as it didn't try to buck me off.  BO rides many training horses a day and I knew he'd also welcome some help between teaching and riding.  So I slipped a halter on the curiously named Treat (which due to a sharpie slip on his stall card, is now jokingly called Threat...at least I hoped it was a joke), a rangy little seven-year-old light chestnut with big eyes and a wide blaze, and led him up to my trailer.

I grew up in Saddlebred country, although I did not ride them, so gaited horses are hardly a mystery.  But since they are generally discouraged from trotting and, after 30 years, I find posting akin to breathing, they're just not my thing.  But both the Saddlebreds and TWHs always impressed me with their tolerance, patience, good-mindedness, and heart, even in questionable situations.

Naturally, as I picked up a brush, Threat spotted his pasture friends, ripped the rope of the side of the trailer and took off at a stunning elevated trot, complete with flagged tail, leaving me slightly less excited about this experiment.

Our 30+ crowd, Wildfire and Mama Donkey, were unimpressed by hijinks.
Let's just skip ahead 15 minutes, past the part where he managed to wedge his lead rope between a hind shoe and his foot and I had to cut/vice-grip it out after finally cornering him in an alley so I could even catch him and take his fun away.  Well, he did have some VERY impressive movement...

I put him in Solo's dressage saddle and spare bridle, with a Happy Mouth boucher, as BO said he was fine with anything (to my great relief, I would not have to ride in a Western saddle, as they leave me sore, off-balance, and apologizing to my knees).  Then I got on, took a soft feel of his mouth, and said, "Erm.  Go, horsey."

All I really knew is what I have observed.  BO trains all his horses and students very well, encouraging riding the horse from his hind end to create impulsion, connecting the inside hind leg to the outside rein, balancing with a half halt so the horse cannot lean on you, and moving the hips and shoulders laterally to lift and connect the horse through his body.  Sound familiar?

So off horsey went.  Still enthusiastic from his romp, he stepped off at a smart flat walk.  Still annoyed at his naughtiness, I said, "Fine, but you're going to work at it," and asked him to stay soft and connected in the bridle and moving up with his hind legs.

Within a minute, I could tell he was very educated and light to the hand and leg.  We transitioned among walk, flat walk, and canter (I couldn't figure out how to find running walk) and while he preferred to cheat and lean on me when he could, it was merely because he was quite out of shape and lacking muscle in his topline and butt due to lolling about in his pasture.  When I sat down and informed him he would move up and connect, he did.

He was bright and fun to ride as I explored his buttons.  I ran out of things to do as my brain got tired and gave him lots of breaks when he got winded, although, holy cow, he recovered his breath in about two minutes each time! 

It was a fun romp on "the other side of the fence," and I had to giggle when BO said, "Hey, good job!" --  I replied, "I'm just letting him do whatever it is he's doing, he's the trained one," and BO exclaimed, "Well, that's how you learn!"  If he has a secret plot to convert me, I'm afraid it's destined for failure; my big orange trotting, leaping horses captured my heart forever.   

However, I always relish learning more and developing as a horseman.  Every horse we sit on has something to teach and I thrive on variety.  BO himself is a tactful rider with an excellent seat, impeccable timing, and a soft hand -- I envy his consistency on the horse and will never pass up a chance to develop that! 

Will there be more four-beating in my future?  Well, I hope not on my horses (naughty!) but on those long, sunny weekends where I'm searching for excuses not to go home?  You won't find me saying no to a catch ride.
It was just the right kind of day for...

...synchronized sleeping.

March 7, 2013

A Run-By News-ing

Encore appears to be back to pretty much normal, eating and behaving like himself.  If I pinch his neck skin, recovery still seems a tiny bit slower than Solo's, but I only put about half-credence in that as I've done plenty of tests on that procedure in that past and found it wildly variable.  At least everything seems to be functioning normally and he doesn't appear to have any immediate plans to drop dead on me moments before we leave town.  Although he is still a horse...

What's everyone stressing about?  Chill, peeps.
I've gotten, mmmm, pretty much nothing done on my "to do" list, given aforementioned horse paranoia and driving about the state for work.  It has rained, snowed, sleeted, and blown my truck nearly into the ditch this week, although of course, at the moment, it is sunny and quiet.  Till I leave the office, I am sure...

A beautiful weekend awaits, however, so I will be cleaning and packing and shopping and staring and scratching my head trying to put together the puzzle of ten days worth of food/gear/clothes/whatever.  At least if I get desperate, we will only be two hours away.  Diesel prices are crushing, but it can be done!

Solo is busy shedding, so despite what the atmosphere tells me, it is apparently spring.  Are you getting ready?  Daydreaming counts...

March 5, 2013

The C Word

No, not that word.  Although I hate that one too.  But I have now officially decided I hate this one more:

Colic.

It sends a shudder down any horse owner's spine, that unpredictable monster hidden deep in your horse's guts which can twist and cramp and snatch his life away from you in a matter of hours.

Yeah, it scares the living bejeezus out of me.

Sunday night, I was on feeding duty and noticed Encore had stopped eating mid-meal and walked out of his shed.  He stood making funny faces for a minute and I watched with concern, as he is a steady, if slow, eater who works his way through the meal, then goes and gets a drink.  He returned to eating and I continued my rounds, but with a yellow warning light in my head.

As I finished turning out the herds, I returned to my pasture and found Encore standing rather pitifully by the shed divider next to Solo, with a sad eye and a half-finished meal.  He peed and it appeared he was dehydrated.  Now that light turned to red.

I led him down the barn, his head hanging, his feet dragging at a slow walk, which hardly helped as this TB usually takes a big swinging step that I can't keep up with.

I called the vet on the way down and put him in stall with warm water while I simultaneously crouched in the dark with my ear against Encore's belly and tried to carry on a conversation with Dr. Bob's junior vet.  He got some very mushy food with bute mixed in and I went to hang out in the BO's house for an hour to see what happened.

I was kindly fed a delicious dinner while I worried, but I came out to find my horse perky, with good gut sounds, and when I led him up to his pasture, he took a drink from his trough and wandered off to comfort an annoyed Solo.  Driving home, I breathed a sigh of relief and assumed an "all clear" text from the BO Monday morning.

Yeah right.  Never worked for him either.
So you can imagine my blood pressure when instead, my phone rang at 10 am and I answered it to a, "Well...."

Encore had eaten his breakfast, but was laying down in the field.  He may have wanted to nap in the sun, but BO put him on the hotwalker to keep him in sight for easy monitoring just in case (Encore's owner may or may not have a reputation for being the crazy lady...).  The horse got some more bute and mushy alfalfa pellets, but no more dry hay, and he was relegated to a prison cell for water and poop monitoring.  His owner was forced to drive to Southern Pines for a work presentation, a fine chance to work on her stomach ulcers.

After flying back north following work, I arrived to find Encore pouting quite noisily in his cell, demanding release after knocking one water bucket over, although hopefully at least drinking part of it.  I stirred a possibly illegal amount of salt and electrolytes into an alfalfa pellet mush and confess to being slightly shocked that he actually ate it, albeit stopping and slapping his tongue out after every bite at the brine component.

Oh, because we have a really important thing in 5 days!
He was left in his prison last night, in hopes that the salt would force his mouth to eventually shrivel up and force him to drink.  His guts were moving so he is allowed to be pardoned pending empty buckets.  I await my notification this morning with guarded optimism.  He will certainly be kept on electrolytes for the rest of the week.

Our insanely bipolar weather is no doubt to blame, although the biologist in me finds it completely nonsensical that weather should have any effect on a endothermic animal's digestive system.  But Dr. Bob and his junior sidekick were all over the place tending to moaning horses, so it wasn't just us.  When it is 60-20-50-30-70-20-55-20-30 all of us are just damn confused.  It will be 70 today and then 42 again tomorrow.  I curse they bones, climate change...

March 3, 2013

To Do

Apologies for fisheries conference-induced hiatus, but ONE WEEK TILL THIS RIG HEADS SOUTH TO BECKY'S!!!!!!!!

It will fit!
-Calculate how to fit gargantuan amounts of horse feed into limited space.
-Come up with room that doesn't exist to store five bales of hay.
-Remove archaeology-worthy layers from backseat of truck.

-Ride Encore 57 times in 7 days (I feel so behind!).
-Make note not to ride on four hours of sleep and half a hangover.  (But I had a great time and THANK YOU Amber for your thoughtfulness of taking me out for an awesome birthday dinner.  It was my own fault that I failed at high gravity beer math.)

-Change out leaky trailer tire for spare.  Why is there always one leaky one?
-Break down and buy a trailer tire jack.  I mean, really, with my luck?
-Clean shipping boots so Encore can poop on them again.  Repeatedly.
-Seam seal repaired spare rain sheet in case SmartPak replacement sheet doesn't get back in time (another story)

Yeah, horse, get to work!!!
-Clean your freaking tack, how 'bout it?
-Clean excessive collection of leg boots which is even more amusing now that I am a boot minimalist.
-Wash pile of breeches and attempt to pack riding clothes that don't make you look like a homeless person (barn clothes are barn clothes!).
-Find stupid girth extender for Mr. Belly Puffer that I bought and promptly put in a safe place.  A really really really safe place.

-Charge every recording media device in possession.
-Posit ways to casually hand strangers recording devices (although Amber is going to come down and take pics for us next weekend, yayyyy!).
-Create space on crowded hard drive for (hopefully) many new files.

-Bring carrots for Comet.  Try not to embarrass self in fangirl paroxysms.

Did I forget anything?

February 23, 2013

Balancing The Classical With The Practical

Such are the words from Camp David.

Encore and I were able to sneak in two excellent lessons before the snowstorm hit, although I did most of my jumping with snowflakes in my eyes, gah!  Friday evening, we allowed David to torture us in Death Circles on the flat, and Saturday, we attempted to brush the rust off my jumping skills.  Rebuilding of my left leg is DEFINITELY not complete, ugh.

Two things emerged as themes, though, as we worked through unlocking all the parts of Encore and reminding my battered body that it is NOT supposed to be on my horse's neck (who knew?).

(1) It was with great enthusiasm that David pronounced Encore worlds sounder than he was last year.  This news was received with equal enthusiasm, as the amount of money, energy, and time we have spent with Dr. Bob and his crew is not small.  Every bit is worth it though when I ride his left lead and he feel like one horse instead of two ends of a horse suit loosely tied in the middle, doing their own thing.  While I expressed that I wasn't sure if this was a compliment, David assured me that there is a difference between unsound and lame -- lame is limping, unsound is just...not right in the body.  I certainly can't disagree that between his back and his injury in 2012, Encore needed "rightening."

Last year:  a better haircut and less fat, but greener
(2) Traditional wisdom and training dictates that we ride our horse forward forward FORWARD into a steady, receiving contact and simply (simply....HAHAHAHAHHAHAHA) wait for him to offer the roundness we seek as he becomes supple through lateral exercises and transitions.  However, almost immediately on Friday, David had me slow my horse down and work his neck and poll in flexions and bending while moving off the inside leg.  My favourite instruction was, "Flex his poll to the outside while keeping his neck bent to the inside and his body bent around your inside leg."  Ooga booga, is that even possible and how the heck does one do that?  Apparently I did something correct by thinking about it, because he said, "GOOD!"

Our goal was to get him super round, even if he got slightly behind the vertical in front, and then let him carry the bit forwards and down.  When we did, I IMMEDIATELY felt his whole topline unlock and become soft and delicious.

This left me confused, though; this would seem to contradict the FORWARD and waiting thing.  One of the greatest things about David is that you can talk to him, so I asked him about this on Saturday.  His explanation:

Training is not black and white, it is all shades of grey (oh, goody, just like life).  With this horse, because he has a tendency to go tight in his topline and he stays locked in his poll and jaw, he has overdeveloped the muscle at his poll.  This in turn makes it even harder.  Were we to just run him along off his feet, he would spend most of the time working incorrectly.  We have to unlock these spots and supple him first and then ride him forward over his back.   

This makes sense to me.  In January and early February, I had been riding him simply forward in lateral work.  While we could eventually achieve some softening, there was a lot of back and forth, fighting, and a lot of time spent impersonating tense llamas.  Every step doing that is definitely not producing good results.

Using David's process, the difference was dramatic (although much harder work, so I guess it must be right).  It also meant I had a softer horse the second I got on Saturday morning, which caught me by surprise.  He continued to emphasize riding what was underneath me in the moment and keeping the focus there, creating the feel, instead of wasting time hoping for a horse that may or may not appear in the future.  This is why I keep stalking David around the region -- his tailored approach to the horse in front of him brings out the best in my partners, the way a generic program never would.  Drawing lines in the sand never gets us anywhere but frustrated when it comes to training horses. 

February 21, 2013

Haaaapy Birthday, Mr. Shiiiny....

Ok, so I am not sure exactly when his birthday is -- I knew it was in late winter/early spring, so I just gave him mine!

Happy 17th birthday, my most amazing partner and friend and thank you for changing my life and being my center, my salvation, and my smile for the past seven wonderful, exciting, heartbreaking, crazy, fantastic years!

A younger both of us...

February 19, 2013

TB Story Time!

This post sponsored by Paddy Power.

Spring is creeping in, although I can't feel it yet.  Calendars are popping up with tantalizing offerings both here and abroad.  Our UK friends have a spectacle we do not -- the rush of the steeplechase, which comes to one of its high points in March at the Cheltenham Racecourse.  Four days of powerful athletes racing towards the culmination of the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.  Even if you can't hop in your Peugeot with your best hat to view the races, you can follow the action & even bet on a Cheltenham Festival 2013 winner!

I might seem out on a limb here, talking about European horse racing, but in fact, we are more connected that it may seem...

If you take a closer look at Encore's pedigree, you will see that his sire, Crowd Pleaser, had a British dam named Creaking Board.  This fine lady was a G1 stakes winning mare, pulling down the 1992 Hollywood Starlet (part of the Breeder's Cup series at one time) & winning the Miesque Stakes on Hollywood Park's turf that November.  Following her lines, it turns out that not only can my charming boy claim American royalty as family, he can do the same on the other side of the pond.

Traveling back through this illustrious damline, we run into stories almost as big as the names they follow.

Warning:  this post may set a new length record.  Yet I am fascinated by the unlikely combination of luck, circumstance, almosts, rejections & accidents that has brought to life such incredible horses, each with a tale more impossible than the last!  I have summarized, but you can learn more at the amazing tbheritage.com.

Hyperion
Hyperion:  Weaned late in 1930 & showing little growth, he was left behind at the stud when his cohorts went off to train near Liverpool.  His diminutive size required a custom built feed box & he was nearly gelded because of his stunted body. 

All he had on his side was his blood (sired by Gainsborough, a Triple Crown winner & the best sire of his time, out of a dam who was not only fast, but became a legendary broodmare) and the fact that his trainer had fallen for him, "remarking that he was the most beautifully made little horse he had ever seen & would undoubtedly win the Pony Derby."  The colt only ever reached 15.1 & a half hands, but had a huge girth & 7.5 inches of cannon bone.

Mild-mannered & lazy, Hyperion nonetheless left his challengers in the dust in races both short & long.  He retired to the Derby Stud & was Leading Sire six times & twice Leading Broodmare Sire.  At one point, Lord Derby was offered a blank check for him by Louis B. Mayer (of MGM fame), which was turned down with the response, "Even though England be reduced to ashes, Hyperion shall never leave these shores." 

He later foundered & was euthanized around age 30 at the Woodlands Stud.  To this day, you can see his preserved skeleton at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket & a life-sized statue stands in front of the Jockey Club offices there.


Galopin
Galopin:  In 1873, this unremarkable yearling was offered as part of a lot in an annual yearling sale at Middle Park Stud.  Purchased for all of 520 guineas by wealthy Hungarian immigrant, sports fanatic, ex-jockey, & stud owner, Prince Gustavus Batthyany, Galopin was sent to train with John Dawson, who handled many of the prince's racers.  The horse won most of his races easily, only losing once due to severe bumping during the start. 

He was entered in a high stakes Derby, but the night before the race, the colt became very ill.  His trainer was afraid to tell the prince, who had severe heart trouble, for fear the news would kill him.  He spent the night with the horse, wrapped in blankets and the next day, Galopin came out & won, barely trying.

In 1883, the prince did perish of a heart attack while watching one of his horse's progeny win a race.  Rushing to help the dying man was the Duke of Portland, who ended up buying a fat brown foal by Galopin.  This unremarkable colt became St. Simon, one of Britain's greatest sires. 

Galopin himself was sold to Henry Chaplin, this time for 8000 guineas, that July & stood at Blankney Stud.  He was a Leading Sire in 1888, 1889, & 1898 and a Leading Broodmare Sire in 1909 & 1910.

Phalaris:  In the early 20th century, the Earl of Derby purchased a mare named Bromus at an estate dispersal.  She was not an overwhelming champion, but her sire was a derby winner & her dam was a St. Simon daughter.  In 1913, she gave birth to Phalaris, whose blood flowed back to the almost mythical Eclipse, the Godolphin Arabian, & the Darley Arabian.  He raced for three years, winning 16 of 24 races, at which point he was offered for sale for 5000 pounds. 

No one wanted the merely moderately successful horse, so he went to live at Derby Stud, an act which created the most dominant sire line in Europe & the US.  Four of his sons made lines including Nearco, Nasrullah, Royal Charger, Bold Ruler, Nashua, Raise A Native, Alydar, Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Sadler's Wells -- the list goes on.  Phalaris himself lived to be 18 years old, though his DNA is still alive today.  

Nearco
Catnip:  During WWI, horse prices were low & Federico Tesio, the owner of Dormello Stud (producer of Nearco & Ribot), snapped up a filly on an estate consignment from Ireland for 75 guineas.  Her name was Catnip (how could I resist that?) and though she would try Tesio's patience, it proved worthwhile. 

In 1918, she bore a filly named Nera Di Bicci who created a dynasty of her own, but Catnip was then barren from 1920-1922 & 1924-1927.  But in 1928, ten years later, she gave Tesio Nogara, a filly whom he would later describe as "small, elegant, light, magnificent hocks, magnificent action; top class from six furlongs to a mile.

He wanted to breed the filly to the stallion Fairway, but Nogara was denied admission to his book & was covered instead by his brother, Pharos.  The colt was Nearco (another of Encore's ancestors) & I think we know what became of him!

Ksar:  The French were busy producing spectacular racehorses of their own, but the Great War was exacting a heavy toll on their breeding industry.  There were few safe harbours, but one was in a quiet corner of Normandy, Haras de Saint-Pair du Mont.  With three decades of experience producing champions, the owner bred the best filly of her generation, named Kizil Kourgan, to a top French colt named Bruleur

In 1918, Ksar was foaled, with a graceful head atop "clodhopper feet and sickle hocks," & was sold as a yearling.  This unlikely colt won 11 of 15 races & made the equivalent of $250,000, making him the world's richest horse.  He took up stud at Haras de Jardy & was French Leading Sire in 1931.

Ksar d'Espirit
When he was 17, an American breeder purchased & shipped Ksar to Montana Hill Stud in Virginia.  The ocean crossing was not smooth & the horse was very ill upon arrival.  He only sired two foal crops after that & although none excelled as racehorses, daughters produced a winner of Paris' Grand Steeple-Chase & stakes 'chase winners Quiet and Pontius Pilate. 

Another daughter gave birth to Ksar d'Espirit...none other than Bill Steinkraus' silver medal show jumping partner on the 1960 US Olympic Team.  In 1937, the stallion died of internal hemorrhage & was buried under a monument to his great legacy.

Blandford:  Since we're immersed in WWI, let's talk about Col. William Hall-Walker & his Tully Stud in Kildare, Ireland.  The Colonel used astrology to determine if the horses he bred would amount to anything worth keeping, reading their horoscope at birth & selling those who did not appear promising.  While not always correct, "even a blind hog finds an acorn every once in a while." 

This particular hog felt an essential need to improve his nation's cavalry & gave the British government $370,000 worth of thoroughbred breeding stock.  In return, the country purchased Tully Stud & his Wiltshire training farm for $325,000 & named the man Lord Wavertree.  Thus began the National Stud for Great Britain.  In 1943, the Stud moved to England & in 1945, the Tully property became the Irish National Stud.  But I digress...

Blandford
In the spring of 1919, this new Stud witnessed the birth of a classy brown colt with a white star & big body perched on short pasterns.  When Blandford was a yearling, carthorses broke into his paddock, knocked him down, & trampled him.  He escaped intact, but was severely bruised and developed pneumonia.

The Stud director found him so sorry-looking that he offered the colt for free to their vet to remove the horse from the premesis.  The vet declined the dubious offer, even though Blandford recovered enough to sell at the 1920 Newmarket December Sale to Sam & Richard Dawson.  The young horse returned to Ireland & was standing well at stud until a new Irish government rose in 1932 & began an economic war with England which included a cripplingly high travel tax on broodmares visiting Ireland. 

His owners decided to move him to their training farm in Berkshire, a decision which proved lucrative indeed.  Blandford became the truest source for stamina for classic races, siring four Epsom Derby winners, winning three sire championships & making his mark as one of the most elite sires in history, placed alongside Danzig & Mr. Prospector.

Blenheim
Blenheim:  Richard  Dawson already knew what he had in Blandford.  It's no surprise then, when his son, Blenheim, came up for 4,100 guineas at a yearling sale, Dawson purchased him for the Aga Khan & took him in to training in Berkshire. 

Blenheim matured to 15.3 & strongly resembled his father, bringing both speed & stamina to the table, although he tended to be high strung.  He was retired from racing after a tendon injury while training for the Eclipse Stakes & moved to stud in France at the Aga Khan's Haras de Marly la Ville. 

In 1936, he was purchased for $225,000 & exported to the US (where he was known as Blenheim II) by a high-powered syndicate made up of Calumet Farm, Claiborne Farm, J.H. Whitney's Greentree Stud, Stoner Creek Stud, Fairholme Farm, Mrs. Thomas Somerville, & William DuPont.  Already proven in Europe (his son Mahmoud won the English Derby), he was an immediate success standing here at Claiborne as his first year produced the Triple Crown winner Whirlaway. 

He later also sired Jet Pilot, another Derby champion, & 58 other stakes winners & was Leading Sire in 1941.  His powerful hindquarters were passed down as a trademark of his male line through his grandson, Nasrullah, percolating through Bold Ruler & Secretariat. 

His daughters became part of the foundation of Calumet's wild success, as the Farm owned 25% of his syndicate.  He died at the ripe age of 31 & is buried in Claiborne's stallion cemetery.

Mahmoud at the Epsom Derby.
Mahmoud:  From father to son to son.  Mahmoud was born in France, trained in Britain & in 1935 was named the second best colt of his generation.  Surprising, considering he was labeled "surplus" as a yearling, put up for auction, & failing to sell, was raced by the Aga Khan. 

He set an Epsom Derby record in 1936 that stood for 59 years.  He too was exported for 20,000 guineas in 1940 to Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney's stud in Kentucky.  He was Leading Sire in 1946, having produced 70 stakes winners, & Leading Broodmare Sire in 1957.  He died on the stud farm at 29 & is buried on the property, which is now part of Gainesway Farm.

Mumtaz Mahal
Mumtaz Mahal:  This filly was only born because the owner of her sire, The Tetrarch, saw him outrun a deer in his pasture & decided against gelding him.  She was purchased for the Aga Khan in 1922 for 9,100 guineas.  The grey filly set a course record for five furlongs & earned her "Flying Filly" nickname over her year and a half career. 

She gave birth to nine foals, the most famous of which is by Blenheim himself, & the resulting filly's 3/4 brother sired the dam of the famed My Babu.  She has three crosses in the pedigree of the famous sire, Pleasant Colony & stands out in the lines of many other elite Thoroughbreds. 

When the German army commandeered the Aga Khan's horses during their invasion of France, she was the only mare left behind, perhaps due to her age.  She lived out her 24 years at the Haras de Marly la Ville & died in February of 1945.

 Mumtaz Begum:  That Blenheim filly above, foaled in 1932 in France, turned out to have something of her own to offer.  Although she only raced as a two year old, she made her mark on the racing world when, of her ten foals, one was sired by the already famous Catnip son, Nearco, a match made in Ireland by the Aga Khan III. 

In 1940, Mumtaz Begum gave us Nasrullah.  Due to his unpredictable & rather lazy temperament, after standing for seven years in the UK, owned by Brownstone Stud in County Kildare, he was then sold to Claiborne Farm in the US in 1951.  This opinionated son was Leading Sire five times in the US & sired Never Say Die, Nashua, Bold Ruler, Never Bend, Red God & many other premier stallions, stamping the legacy of his grandmother on the Thoroughbred breed.

Red God
Red God:  Bred by Cain Hoy Stables, sired by Nasrullah & foaled in Kentucky, Red God was born the same year as Bold Ruler, Gallant Man & Round Table at Claiborne.  He was sent to run in England, but was then brought back to the US to run the Triple Crown in 1957. 

Unfortunately, he was injured & in 1960 he was shipped back to County Kildare in Ireland to stand at Loughton Stud.  He sired ten stakes winners who earned over one million pounds.  Perhaps best known for his son, Blushing Groom (named one of the great international sires of the 20th century), Red God also sired Crafty Admiral, who was the broodmare sire to Affirmed, & his grand-daughter gave birth to a horse called Danzig

Red God's portion of the Nasrullah line is one of the few to remain strong among the swamping of Thoroughbred genetic diversity by Northern Dancer/Raise A Native blood.

February 13, 2013

Until...Spring Training Awesomeness!

Or at least it will be awesome if I can get my mess together...

I'm sure that you regularly study our posted calendar in the sidebar and, while doing so, have noticed our upcoming "Spring Training Surprise."  While making notes of our plans in your diary (right??), you surely have been dying of curiosity.

Rest easy, for the time of knowing is here.

Solo is skeptical of Becky's body demo...
The Most Excellent Mother has given us an amazing opportunity as a gift:  those ten magical days you see delineated will be spent by Encore and I with none other than  She Who We Worship And Stalk At Our Events, Becky Holder.  I only got to spend two days with her at a long format clinic after WEG late in 2010, but she did wonderful things for Solo.  It was a pipe dream of mine to take Encore to her, but thanks to this generosity, it is looking very very real very very soon!

Plans (oh, apparently I have not yet learned to not make these) are for Encore to stay at the lovely Southern Eighths Farm, where we cliniced with Becky previously, and then I will trailer him a short distance up the road to Becky's winter farm for our lessons.  Gunnar Ostergaard, the dressage trainer who has taught Becky to be arguably the best dressage rider in our sport, will also be teaching there for two days during our stay.  I opted to audit any lessons he will be giving, as riding with him ranked somewhere in the stratosphere, price-wise, but I think this works out well, as it offers Encore at least a day off in the middle and a chance for me to sit and absorb and process.

Becky and Scrappy, the cutest eventing dog evah!
Horsewise, the big brown charmer got prepped by Dr. Bob yesterday; his back is doing well, his hips and hindquarters have healed their injury and are doing much better, and his teeth, which were working on some hooks, are repaired to a normal, non-poky state.  I hope to be able to strengthen him some more before we go IF IT WILL EVER STOP RAINING, sigh.

Personwise, wellllll, that might be a bit harder.  It's all a big hot mess and my PT has his work cut out for him.  I gave him his deadline upon which the knee must be ready or not, but apparently no one told said knee, who decided to implode painfully on us last week, setting me back to simple range-of-motion work.  Hopefully, when I return there Friday, we will be able to get back on track -- I still can't quite get up to my XC stirrup length, but I only have one hole to go.  

Don't ever tear up your moving bits:  PT informs me that going into ANY joint generally means a year to really, truly recover, even though you may not be in therapy for that long.  With a giant cartilage tear, well, that's not coming back but that's why they invented ice and Advil, eh?  Good thing this is all free.  Oh wait, it's not.  Good thing I like noodles!

February 10, 2013

Camp David 2013

Almost exactly a year ago, Encore and I went down to SoPines for two days of my invented Personal David Clinic.  Five days from now:  Camp David II.

In a whole year, we have...ummm...tried really hard? 

Encore came out well in the spring, hopped up to Novice, and was going strong over the summer.  August gave us the lovely gift of a pulled SI ligament.  That it took his dense owner two months to figure out.  November rolled around and I was in the OR, getting my knee innards sandblasted, effectively putting me on the curb for about two months.  Meaning I could only provide my muscle-y young horse with hotwalker and longe line sessions and an occasional ride from a friend.

It could have been worse.  Had I gotten my originally intended surgery, I would still not even be able to fully bend my knee at this point, much less walk around fairly freely.  So I was able to start actually Riding Properly in mid-January.  It was still enough time for Encore to lose a lot of that sexy muscle I worked so hard for

It feels like I've been back on longer, until I realized that we have not had any type of jump school until our light XC session at a local farm last weekend.  Doing the math, I've only been back in the saddle with focus for maybe four weeks?  So I am excited that Encore is strong enough now to actually step up into the canter again without running on his forehand and jumping evenly and roundly (and regularly saving his rider's rusty butt) once more.

We've lost a lot of time, but we had a dressage lesson Saturday and good (first since October!) stadium school today.  Even better, after spending the winter reading and thinking and watching and thinking some more about straightness and engagement and contact and all the other enigmatic processes of correct riding, I am riding better.  Encore was softer last summer, but he wasn't really connected because despite all the knowledge and years in my head, my body didn't get it until it got it.  Connection and straightness FIRST, then soften.

Yes, yes, we all know.  But do we really REALLY do it?  I wasn't.

Why the training pressure now, you ask?

Because we only have four weeks left until.....

February 6, 2013

Forbidden Love

My schedule is impossible.  Every time I think I get Encore back in a flow, there's some other appointment or meeting I must attend.  Stupid life.

So instead, let's visit Imaginary Land.  There, I have endless time and I build card towers out my $100 bills because I have soooo many extras.

Someone else visits Imaginary Land too.  Meet Roxy (she's the one that makes you go OMG SQUEEE!!!!).

About one month old this past July
Roxy was a 'surprise' baby.  A fellow boarder purchased her dam, a TWH mare, late this past spring as a pleasure horse under the assumption she was just buying a normal horse.  Three weeks later, Roxy fell out.  Surprise.

Roxy has, I believe, been given to the BO as a companion for a SSH (Spotted Saddle Horse, or to me, a paint TWH) filly he bred who is only a month older.  He will keep her until they (now best of friends) are about 2.5 years old, at which point he will start his filly and sell Roxy.

Cool story, bro.  Right?

This is where Imaginary Me enters.  See, I've been watching Roxy.  She's at the ugly seven-month-old-yak stage right now, but this summer -- well, you know how they say you see what a young horse will be at 3 days, 3 months, and 3 years?  I saw.  And I WANT.

What the heck are you going to do with a Walking Horse filly? you ask, quite sensibly.  For the sellers of her dam don't know who the sire is, yet "swear" that he was also a purebred TWH.  You don't even want a mare within ten feet of you!  This is true.

Well, if Roxy is a purebred TWH, then I am the second coming of Tinkerbell.  Because even as an ugly yak, this is how she moves (the painted filly is her BFF, Callie):



Why yes, that is a perfectly balanced canter that takes almost no effort to envision circling a course of 5' jumps!  With a lovely trot with just enough suspension to not be overkill.  At 3 months old, she was a dead ringer for an Oldenburg, with a broad chest, straight, well-boned legs, and skeletal structure that is pretty close to perfect.  She has never gaited a day of her life.  She is also very intelligent and will be a brave, but sensitive horse.  Even Encore is in love with her; the filly pasture is across the lane from my pasture and he hangs out near them when Solo is out and always stops to say hello when we ride by the fenceline, where Roxy does that adorable baby mouth thing (I need to upload that video).

BO has even offered to give Roxy to me.  Cruel and unusual torture.  Yes, she is a girl, by which I am pretty much never tempted.  But she has the look.  That look in her eye which made my decision for me when I met Solo and Encore both.  That look which says if you want, I could be your partner and we could be great together.  OMG$#*$&#^!

Sadly, I am unable to find a bridge between Imaginary Land and Reality, so I am forced to tell BO I will be happy to take her...the day she starts pooping money.  He has given me free rein to go in the pasture and play with her, although for now, her dam's owner spends a little time getting her used to being touched and handled and both Roxy and her BFF are friendly and inquisitive.  Maybe when she is a little older, in my Imaginary Free Time, I can teach her some round pen work and ground driving and hope that someone in the sport horse world discovers her because someday, she will be amazing.

January 30, 2013

I Have No Words

So you'll just have to read it yourself.

You see, we have been busy.  Physical therapy is momentarily taking over my life, but I've been doing my best to squeeze in Encore wherever and whenever we can build strength. 

Although the dork went and kicked himself in the front fetlock sometime yesterday, so that was nice and hot and swollen, sigh.  Please be just a knock, please be just a knock, please be just a knock....

It's been a bit of an opportunity to reboot things, though, and one that I've found has offered a chance to elevate the sophistication of our training.  The details are very, very difficult to elucidate, so much of it is feel and reaction and less contact and more contact and energy direction and waiting and very careful thought.  The basics are the same simple paradigms of correct training:  ride the back end of the horse and ride the horse straight.  But as we all know, there is NOTHING simple about that and as George Morris quite correctly stated in his training session this year, it only takes about 30 years to learn how to do it.

Thus, probably disappointingly, I give you my reading material of late, which has led to just a few tiny adjustments which in turn caused a big change in my horse, letting go of the tension, saying goodbye to wrestling, and although it requires MUCH more patience, is creating a much more solid foundation this time around.

Via arr.de -- which is also well worth reading.
Watch Deb Bennett's lectures, selectable from the sidebar.  Yes, they are a bit over-wordy, I confess to skipping through sections, as they could have been reduced to about 30 minutes and still been effective.  And of course, watch George and Anne teach, especially when riding -- I still learn every year, new skills and new layers to add to my toolbox.

Read the three articles in the right sidebar.  The biomechanics of straightness and the freedom it gives your horse, with some excellent mental images for your contact, really resonated with me for some reason.

A large part of what I've taken away thus far is that I need to do MORE engaging of the inside hind through lateral exercises as THIS is what creates straightness and impulsion in my horse.  I was rarely able to truly engage Solo over his back successfully; now I can and think I am finally on the track as to why.

Wow, life would be simpler if I just had money to buy lessons every week.  But then, I wonder if I would really dig as deeply if I did. 

January 22, 2013

Night Rider

Bow before my cuteness!
This guy.  Me.  Twilight (sparkliness- and self-esteemless-whiny-girl-free, thank you).  Bareback.  Quilted quarter sheet wrapped around my legs.  Bliss.

Everything seemed so easy.  Every part of my body responded instantly to every part of his, correcting, flexing, straightening, suppling.  We just did a short session of transition work in the grass to build strength, but he was so happy and eager and ready and he felt so good!

I think back to the years I spent training, arguing, yelling in frustration, begging, the whole year I was afraid to canter him because it would only spiral into an unholy mess of gallop (I don't do bolters).  To the bottomless rage that caught in my throat as we left dressage arenas and skulked back to the trailer where I wondered why he wouldn't just cooperate.

Now, I get on and he is poised and waiting at attention for anything I ask.  I am undoubtedly a better rider (thank you, Encore) which I am sure Solo greatly appreciates.  This horse who drove me to fury (immersed in love though it was) is now soft and receptive at the end of my reins and I just...enjoy.  I know him down to his very blood cells, literally, and he gave his whole soul to me and reads my mind; there are no words which encapsulate the kind of gratitude and happiness that filled the cold air tonight. 

Thank you, buddy.

January 20, 2013

Through The Chute

Inspired by the ongoing Retired Racehorse Training Project's 100-day challenge, I decided to coerce ask Amber to help me build a jump chute for Encore yesterday.  We'd just put together a simple crossrail-two strides-oxer and see what he had to offer.  I figured about 30 minutes or so?

Horse time does not equal real time.

We managed, through Operation Material Hunt, to devise a very professional chute (I could only find 3 barrels) and, quite satisfied with ourselves, turned Encore loose to have a go.  I began by leading him through, then let him trot through on his own, then added some ground poles.  He quickly figured out the route, so I added the crossrail first on its own.

Ummm, yeah, cleared it, buddy!

Simple enough, so I added a single pole to the second jump to make a small vertical.  Encore put his brain to the task immediately and found a much more efficient way to complete the task.  PS I am sorry, I cannot figure out how to turn off the autoplay of next video in Youtube.  It's making me insane.  If anyone knows, let me in on the secret!



After a slight modification to our construction, we were able to explain it was a JUMPING chute.  Then I added the back pole to the oxer and he amused himself at will!  Although he insisted in staying near the fence on the muddy half when there was perfectly nice footing 12" over, sigh...



Once he got the game, he quite enjoyed practicing!

Finally, mum lets me do something fun in the arena!
 From then on, it was just a matter of raising the poles and see how he went.  He didn't even have to start trying until we got to about 3'3", sheesh!



We finished around 3'7" to 3'9".



I'm not sure he'll have the scope for Training...or Prelim...or whatever.  Since this is the best he can do when he's a bit fat and out of shape.  Another racehorse (not) ruined by three years of racing...

A crying shame...that jr. is AWESOME!

I could stop here and say everything was wonderful.  But any of you who have read for a while know that one of my core rules is honesty:  training isn't a path of a sunshine and roses and I, for one, am very grateful that horses are forgiving creatures and don't shun me for my errors.  I hate that I make them, but I try my hardest to learn from them, which is why I share them.

Because then, proceeding to make the most basic training mistake of all time, I registered that he was jumping a bit tired, and somehow allowed sneaky brain to go, ok we'll just go one more hole.  Sigh.  You'd think I'd have learned by now.  Poor Encore's butt was t.i.r.e.d. and the correct thing to do would be to take epically awesome, stop, and stuff horse with treats.  Alas, I yet again let my horse down by not listening to myself.

Bless his trying heart, he jumped it!  Well, mostly.  His front half easily cleared all three feet and eleven inches of poles.  Unfortunately, his worn out bum dropped his hind legs after the first pole of the oxer, so he took the back rail down quite spectacularly.  But it was an unfair question really and one that I know should have waited until he was stronger.

So we then had to rework through the chute over a much simpler 2'6" oxer just to make sure he hadn't lost his confidence.  He was a very good boy -- so much so that as Amber and I were disassembling the chute, he kept coming through it, despite our attempts to wave him off!!  We had to throw all the poles on the ground in a hurry just to prove to him that we were done!

I'm so proud of him and ECSTATIC to see that he shows no signs of his strained ligament from last fall.  Now it's just burning fat and building more muscle.  Oh yeah, and finishing PT and neither of us hurting ourselves again.  Yeah, that's all...

January 18, 2013

I Am Not An Endangered Species

The icy rain hit both (yes, I had on two) layers of hoods as the 20 mph wind cut around my legs.  Damn.  It's finally winter.  About on schedule -- January and early February are usually when we see our coldest temps, but even still, 2012 was the warmest year yet, so I make no predictions. 

As I slogged through an ankle-deep slurry of mud, manure, and horse pee, I confess I thought bad thoughts about people who rant online about how no one is a horseman anymore, no one puts in the real work, no one is a thoughtful rider these days.  I was the only person in sight as I tucked my horses into their insulated blankets and made sure they had a clean, dry shed floor to stand on as a break for their feet from the mud (and last summer I had wondered if matting the shed was worth the work, ha!).  I wasn't there to ride or longe or anything else -- my 20-mile commute was purely to prepare my horses for the winter storm blowing through that night.

Tomorrow, I will haul at least one to an indoor arena (Solo is barefoot AND a giant wuss and finds the occasional rock in our arena to be a gross insult) due to two weeks of rain (Encore is the tough brother, he can work at home with no complaints) and Sunday, Encore will be doing some road and speed work while we test out a new bit.

I know I'm not the only one putting in my time in the dark.  I know there are other people who lay awake at night thinking about their current feeding regime and conjuring up one thing to improve in the next ride and waiting impatiently for the next time weather and schedules and diesel money align so they can trot 13 miles through the woods and fields, working now because it would be unfair to expect a spring season otherwise. 

We are here, in the freezing rain, under the stars (and sometimes clouds), staying on our toes and keeping the horses' routines creative and varied after we are done scraping off the mud.  After the ride, we don't come back to a fancy stall or a Florida hammock (well, I sure as heck don't anyway), we just shake off our jackets and follow the headlights home so we can do it all over again tomorrow.

I write this to you, Event World At Large, so that we are not dismissed in favour of a false nostalgic narrative.  Every day, I work so hard to not only do my best for my horses, but to learn and observe and try new things that will make us a better team.  Our kind are not unicorns in that we are neither singular nor imaginary; but our greatest quality is that you don't have to believe in us -- we will journey on regardless.

January 16, 2013

It's So Easy, Even Klimke Kan Do It

So what's your excuse?  Oh, you're not Reiner Klimke?  Psssshhh, look, all he did was make an adjustment in one second and his horse was perfect.  I can totally not do that! 

But in all seriousness, this video elegantly and simply illustrates incorrect and correct.  We are all guilty of it at some point I think.  I absolutely admit to losing my focus and wanting "pretty archy neck."  But we cannot fall into that trap which leads to a dead end.  Bonus points if you speak German.  Because it's "Dr. Reiner Klimke war der erfolgreichste Dressurreiter der Welt. In dieser Lehrfilmreihe widmet er sich detailliert den t├Ąglichen Problemen des Trainings auf dem Weg zur Klasse L."  Which means "Dr. Reiner Klimke was the greatest dressage rider in the world.  With diesel film, he tackles the sick details of lichen-based training problems auf dem Weg on Klasse L."  Um, obviously!  

Ok, all you have to do is watch the horse.  Watch his back behind the saddle and his hind legs.  On the surface, he "looks pretty," with nice suspension and rhythm.  But with his neck overflexed and his head behind the vertical, his lower back is stiff and hind legs aren't really active, moving up beneath him.  Let go of his face and ride him forward with magical Klimke power...

Now his lower back is loose, lifting and swinging behind the saddle.  His hindquarters and hind legs have changed subtly and are now actively moving forward under his body and pushing up into the bridle.  He is happy to stretch down and even then, his back remains soft and his hind end is engaged.



Voila!  It's that simple.  Ha.  Go ahead and watch it 20 times.  I did.  But we do all need to remember to forget about the stupid head, to erase the word frame from our vocabulary, and ride our horses FORWARD, for lichen's sake!

January 11, 2013

Silly People Pay To Traipse Through Mud; I Get That Pleasure For Free

Yeah, I never did get that whole "yay, let me pay you so I can roll in the mud and ice and get really dirty AND we can call it a race!!!" thing.

It's hard to wax poetic between mud-wrestling my way up the hill in the dark to sweep-search a paddock for equines and holding work meetings at night (horrors - I do NOT get paid enough for that).  I am DETERMINED that both Encore and I will scrape every last ounce of time out for PT in order to arrive in spring ready to run.  Logically, I know that we have to work hard now and put in the time so we can have fun later, but it takes every ounce of stubborn willpower I have not to collapse home on the couch after work.  It would be much appreciated, atmosphere, if you would at least stop peeing on us.

Of the three of us, Solo is doing the best of all -- his weight is fantastic, his feet are, well, nevermind, they are as good as they can be, and he is so much more settled and content now that Amber has given him a job to do.  I have been trying to find time to ride him during the week, as he stares quite pointedly at me over the gate, but I have so far been thwarted.

This weekend will bring us two sunny, 74-degree days (just for the record, CLIMATE CHANGE I HATE YOU, and I know this is very bad in the long run....but I am going to enjoy my two January days of not-rain).  Sunday will find us hopefully cross-training with our BFF and her endurance racing cohorts.  Except they go around the jumps.  We...might not, heh heh heh.

I  know I'm not the only one picking mud out of my hair after a longeing session -- are you managing to squeak in a ride or two in the dark?

January 4, 2013

Courtney King-Dye Reflects On Two Years Post-Trauma

When people scoff at my narrow-eyed helmet criticism, when they say, we're just walking, we're just trail riding, we're just working on the flat, he's a pro...I still choke.  But don't take my word for it.  Take to heart the grave words of Courtney King-Dye, an Olympic competitor, after two years of hard work following her head injury when her horse tripped in 2010.


Courtney from Riders4Helmets on Vimeo.

January 2, 2013

The Horse That Inspired A Nation...And Me

He was literally standing on the slat-sided kill trailer at New Holland when a young Dutch emigrant, too late for the auction itself, looked through the bars and decided he couldn't let the skinny plow horse with scars on his chest and torn-up feet end up with a bolt in the head.

Thus began the improbable story of Snowman and Harry de Leyer.  And if you don't read it, you are missing a magical piece of history about two characters who literally had nothing, yet, without any benefactors and sponsors or grants, became everything.

Harry was the son of a successful brewer in Holland and rode his own mare, carrying the flag for queen and country in international competition as a teenager.  But then the 1940's happened -- the Nazis occupied Holland, Harry's father joined the resistance and had to go into hiding lest he be sent to a concentration camp, and Harry had to forget about riding and focus on surviving the horrific conditions of occupation.

Following liberation, Harry married and emigrated to the US, where he did a stint as a sharecropper in High Point, NC (only about an hour from where I live now!) and ended up teaching riding at strict girl's school on Long Island.  He was proudly able to purchase his own 1.5 acre farm and prided himself on finally becoming his own man.  During the school year, he taught riding to the girls, giving them the one place they could truly be free and be themselves, on the backs of the horses, and during the summer, he showed the school's horses to try and earn money to support his growing family.

Aside from being the story of a gentle grey plowhorse who took children swimming in the morning and jumped six-foot open jumper championship in the afternoons alongside Frank Chapot and Bill Steinkraus, The Eighty-Dollar Champion:  Snowman, the Horse that Inspired a Nation, is the story about making dreams out of difficult situations, about making your goals happen, and about taking chances and following your heart.

Sinjon and GM at the 1960 Rome Olympics
Harry was (IS!) a kind man and a soft rider; he turned many of the shiny Thoroughbreds owned by his students parents' into jumper champions.  Most amusing is his memory of selling one such horse, a hot but talented young jumper named Sinjon whom Harry had brought up through the ranks, to the USET, where Sinjon was paired with a young, upstart kid named George Morris.  I don't think much ever became of them, though...

He even sold Snowman once, as a child's gentle mount.  And the horse jumped miles of pasture fences to come home for several months, even after a truck tire was tied to his neck, before Harry gave in and bought him back, even though he never thought the horse would be anything more than a good school mount.  After all, he stumbled hopelessly over crossrails and ground poles and never went faster than an easy lope.  He took a chance one day though, feeling unmotivated to get off and lower jumps set at four feet, and rode towards a single vertical.  The plow horse transformed into a pegasus, having finally been set at something worth his effort. 

Harry and Snowman
They never looked back.  Summers were their chance to shine.  The placid plow horse would trot quietly into the show ring on a loose rein and proceed to gallop around six foot jump-offs while crowds gasped in amazement.  Snowman, destined for a dinner plate, instead won a hefty amount of his own plates, cups, and ribbons.  Once fall came, it was a back to school and to gently carrying the frightened beginners over their first crossrails.

It never mattered that horse shows were the realm of the Vanderbilts and the Roosevelts, the upper crust of society whose ranks were NOT permeable to commoners.  In the 1950s, sport was considered to be firmly the territory of the monied amateur, who didn't have to work and could devote all his time to play and training.  It was even thought to be in bad taste to have a cash prize and if there was, you certainly didn't accept it!  The professional trainer and instructor was looked down upon as a poor underling who had to do the dirty work to earn a living and for quite some time, was not even permitted to ride in shows at all.  Fortunately for Harry, a recent rule change permitted him to do the one thing he always wanted:  to ride his OWN horse over those white poles.

Oh, how times change and how hilarious the paradigm shifts can be.  

I haven't finished the book yet, but I have already been inspired by the incredible amount of hard work, dedication, and thoughtful fairness that Harry brought to everything he did.  With no money, little time to call his own, and a horse who came with nothing more than wise brown eyes, cut-up knees and harness scars, Harry brought his dreams to life.

So why can't we?