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We Are Flying Solo

December 30, 2013

Isn't Time Off Supposed To Let You Rest And Catch Up?

Citation: ranked #3 after only Man O'War and Secretariat
I must be mistaken...

So I'll post my 300th mea culpa.  But I will share with you my ongoing project which fascinates me!

I mentioned that Pinterest had caught my addiction, er, eye despite my best efforts.  I had never really had any desire to look at scrapbooks or teenagers' bulletin boards, but with some digging, I did find more to it.  Poking led to clicking, clicking led to more clicking and I began to put together a visual collection of Encore's family tree, among a few other fun boards.  And it's amazing!

Discovering new parts to old stories and new stories of new horses is like finding a key to one of the most amazing treasure chests of all time.  My childhood was filled with re-readings of my favourite stories such as "Man o' War" and "Black Gold" (who I never knew was infertile) and "Old Bones: the story of Exterminator."  My shelves were lined with Stablemate models of Swaps and Native Dancer (and many more!).  Now I feel like I am touching each one as I lay my hand on Encore's neck.

I never knew they were related!  Count Fleet, 1943 Triple Crown winner -- and Mr P's great grandsire!
The one and only...
The Thoroughbred heritage and legacy truly is magical.  Part of me wonders why Encore was gelded; while he wasn't a stakes winner, he does have excellent conformation and he carries such a diverse mixture of old and legendary, European and American, famous and quirky lines.  Maybe he was just an asshole, hahaha, but more likely, and correctly so, few of the lines are rare and while he is special to me, his is not truly spectacular, as a good stallion such as AP Indy or or Secretariat or Buckpasser should be.

I continue to dig deeper and find more information about each horse and uncover the stories of the less famous, but still incredibly influential names.  I itch to organize it better!  Where is that catchup time again???

December 24, 2013

Behind The Scenes With The Scribe

Honestly, I am soooo not a holiday person, so I will let the pros take care of that, as far as seasonal posts.  But I have been storing a little gift for you, regardless!

Tools of the trade
You all know that I am a huge demander advocate of volunteering (DO IT! PS, it doesn't have to be a weekend, call your organizer today!), not only would our sport be impossible without it, but it's fun even for non-riders and incredibly educational at so many levels.  Kudos to Seema over at The Florida Chronicles for starting this thread recently on COTH about everyone's volunteering plans for the year -- a great idea and call to action, as well as a fun way to network!!

I've chronicled my efforts to support the long format 3DE's at Waredaca and Southern Eighths with everything I have; not only do I believe in the format as the eventing I grew up with, I also watch, every year, as it works its magic, teaching horses and riders things they didn't even know they didn't know.

At the 2013 Waredaca T/N3DE, I had 4,327 jobs (LOL, this is what happens when you become part of core staff - and if you even whisper that you might not make it, you must live in fear of a posse hunting you down in the night) over the weekend, but on dressage day, my main assignment this year was score running.  It was nice to change up, as the past couple of years I have stewarded the warm up ring, which I enjoy, but variety is the spice of life!

First rule of volunteering:  expect the unexpected!  Due to a mis-communication and my getting peoples' names confused (which is about as difficult for me as inhaling), one of the dressage judges was missing a scribe after lunch.  I don't get to scribe all that often, but I love it and have shared it before (well, the learning part, it balances out the OMG, USE FEWER WORDS BEFORE I HAVE AN ANXIETY ATTACK FOR FEAR OF MISSING SOMETHING part).  And no problem, we had another awesome person who could run scores until another scribe was found.

Settling into the passenger seat (hey, it's freaking windy in that arena and Waredaca has it's own special weather system of wet/cold/hang on to loose papers), I was doubly excited because the judge was someone I knew when he was often a TD at our competitions and now holds his FEI card.  So I already knew he had a very experienced eye both as an official and trainer.

He didn't let me down.

We all have heard the 10,001 urban myths, rumours, theories, stoutly professed convictions, and rant about the wholly subjective nature of dressage judging, "good" judges, "bad" judges, how to improve scores, what is most important...need I go on?

Now that I have had the opportunitiy to help run these events and spend time conversing with some of the top event judges in our region (and country), as well as those moving through the program, I have realized how massive the committment of time, money, energy, more money, and education it takes to earn that title.  And yep, there are bad ones out there, but most are working very hard to make split second decisions about a pair in motion according to a long list of standards.

Due to this experience and my own extremely nerdy extensive study of, well, things that have the word "horse" in them, I know when I'm sitting next to a good one.  And I know when I'm sitting next to a great one.  And while there is not a lot of time to watch the horses, once you know the test, even with the occasional peek, you start to see a pattern; in other words, there are certain words and phrases that you wish you had a rubber stamp for.

Those, my friends, with a painfully long buildup, are my gift to you, as you putter about in the winter looking for bits and pieces of projects which undoubtedly includes "how to hate the dressage ring less."  You will probably read them and think, "well, duh!" but I honestly wrote each of these many times, all or in part, on almost every test. 

From an excellent, correct dressage judge to you:  The Most Frequent Ways To Screw Up Or Improve Your Dressage Tests -

  • GET THE DAMN POLL UP.  Do we have your attention?  LOL.  But seriously, it doesn't matter how arch-y your horse's neck is or how well you've mastered that fake frame without a true connection to his hind end or how much you paid for that fancy trot -- the judge knows the difference.  The poll still needs to be the highest point, with a fluid, steady connection through the horse's topline to his hind legs.
  • On that vein, make sure you keep pushing your horse forward so his poll STAYS up in the corners and turns.
  • Transitions are important:  the most important qualities are balance and forwardness, even in downward transitions.
  • Keep your forward in every. single. step.  This is critical in movements like the stretchy circle or the free walk; just teaching your horse to shove his nose to his ankles when you drop the rein is not good enough.  He must march forward with his nose poking out (Encore gets dinged on this one, he loves to admire his own ankles).
  • Be straight.  Yeah, yeah, but how much do you REALLY hold yourself and your horse to a higher bar?  Don't let the haunches fall in at the canter, don't lose the shoulder in a leg yield or a bend, really ride his whole body.  
  • On extended gaits, you should definitely go for the gold at trot and canter, but know your partner:  a conservative, but balanced and correct lengthening will score better than a quick and unbalanced attempt that breaks to canter.  Also be very critical in the quality of your lengthenings.  Start small at home, but start CORRECTLY.  Your rhythm should not change, but then stride should increase in both length and lift of the horse's body.
  • Common tattletale signs of lost connection that you will be penalized for:  (a) head nodding, indicating the horse is leaning on the inside leg or rein, (b) hanging on the inside rein, losing the outside shoulder, my personal favourite, and (c) the horse tripping behind due to lack of impulsion.
  • Common myths that really need to go away:  (a) it's not a nazi camp, if a ring panel blows down or a dog runs into the ring or whatever, and your horse spooks, a good judge will not penalize you and (b) they REALLY DON'T NOTICE OR GIVE A CRAP about your hair or your horsie's hair as long as they can see the crestline of the neck and things are clean.  Really.

December 18, 2013

Oh Yeah, By The Way, I Did Remember To Turn On The Helmet Cam...

...on the only course I didn't finish, heh.  But I did capture Encore's awesome leaps over 1-4 & his first coffin at 5 (and they named it the "Sunken Road," ahahaha!).  Bonus:  if you crank your speakers up, you get to hear "I always forget my camera has a microphone" dorkiness!  Hey, Bill is my favourite starter of all time & sent Solo & I out of the box throughout our career, I get excited.

December 16, 2013

TFS Is Getting All Social And Crap

If you haven't noticed my shameless (ok, there's a little shame, but whatever) caving to the interwebz, TFS has been exploring different types of social media.  Results have varied.

I'm An Official Twit
I'm not a particularly avid fan of Twitter, but I do have an account, primarily because I was reading tweets from The Shatner for a while (don't judge, he is hilarious!), so it is linked to my Google account & primarily operates in an automated fashion.  I suck at thinking of short, pithy comments & kind of still don't understand the point....  But it WILL tell you when something really important happens, like new posts!

Ummm, yeah, this  may have been me...
Pinterest:  Internet Heroin

I feel significantly less shame about my recent peek into Pinterest.  I honestly did not understand what or why or how the heck it even worked.  Or why anyone with any semblance of organizational desire & limited time would even try to mire through the seemingly infinite scrolls of image tiles.  But it found one of my critical weaknesses:  visual addiction

Why do you prey on my soft spots, interwebz?  But I will step up & own it & you can find buttons to all of our ridiculous self-marketing of dorkiness and equine obsession accounts right up top.  Our Facebook and Youtube links are still there, as well as G+ since apparently Google adds that by default in some delusion that more than 12 people use it.  Plus you can now subscribe to our feed by email & shun the weird world of RSS!

What, did you not want my random blog to be part of every aspect of your life?  Travesty!

December 14, 2013

This Is How We Roll: Turnout Blankets, Part Deux (Or Trois? Quatre?)

In case you need someone to state the obvious, it's winter.  Cold, wet, dark winter.  Unless you live in Florida.  Or the US SW.  Or the southern hemisphere.  Or...well, I don't care, it's winter here!

This leads to cold, wet ponies and our need to muddle through the excessive array of horse clothes and, with little empirical data, figure out if there is any reason we actually need to spend $400 on a freaking sheet of nylon that will be rubbed into a pile of horseshit, urine, and wet clay.

I've talked about turnouts a time or two in the past:  (1) The original November 2011 review of the Weatherbeeta Landa midweight turnout, the Rider's International rain sheet, and the beautiful ears-to-tail midweight rug from  (2)  My stupid self-jinx wherein one month later Solo destroys his own blanket after 5 years of faithful service.  (3)  The April 2013 review of SmartPak's 10-year Ballistic Nylon sheet, wherein they actually do honour that guarantee! 

Lessons learned:  A 600D turnout is just fine if your horse is (a) by himself, (b) top dog, or (c) in a generally placid group that don't bite each other and don't seek out pointy things.

Also, if you DO need to fix some things, I just handsew the tears, then seal with this waterproof seam glue and, if needed or in too much of a hurry to sew, slap on a Stormshield patch.  Yes, they work!  Thank you, SSTack!

So what's on the runway this winter?  Well, things are a little simpler now that the boys are separated, thanks to Solo's decision to use Encore as his personal chew toy and getting a little bit carried away (I can't tighten a girth over raw, chewed-up skin, that's just not very nice).

Rainsheets:  Encore is shedding the wet in his second SmartPak "indestructible" sheet.  Sooo, they are not quite indestructible, and this one has a very small hole now, but the important part is that they ARE pretty tough and, even more important, SmartPak DOES back up their product.

Not Solo.  His is purple.  With green trim.  Oh yeah.
Solo is still wearing his McAlister 600D sheet.  They both had these at the beginning of last winter, I believe I got them on sale at Horseloverz, but Solo, naturally, ate Encore's.  His own is still 95% intact; the only flaw is that his big QH chest combined with cheap metal on the chest clips equaled the top clip separating from its base on the upper chest strap.  I just flipped it around so the clip goes through both the metal loop and the hole in the chest strap.  It works the same, and all the rest of the hardware is fine, so I reckon it's doing well and it still keeps the wind off and he is dry.  Not sure that brand even exists anymore, looks like Horze has moved into that price point.  

Insulated blankets:  In the aftermath of Solo's nylon-ivorous (?) rampage, I found a couple of 1200D Centaur blankets on steep sale and decided to try a new brand.  Given their low price, I've been pleasantly surprised!!

Obviously not Solo. Duh. But that plaid!
Solo has the mid-weight; nice nylon lining, evenly-distributed insulation, totally waterproof and breathable, nice, durable leg strap snaps.  The only thing missing is chest snaps, but it does have velcro and buckling straps won't kill me, I don't have to blanket 10 horses.  Naturally, in a sale, you don't really get to pick colours, so he rocks the blue and brown plaid (at least it's nicer in person).

Since Encore has been in work, usually has a higher clip, and burns calories when he blinks, he got the heavy-weight, high neck version.  I like it just as much as Solo's.  The only colour option was black (you get even fewer choices at 81"), so he looks a bit ninja, but he really seems grateful when I put it on and it has helped a lot in my constant efforts to hold his weight.  The high neck even gives His Wussiness an extra draft collar.

Encore's high neck version.  On not-Encore.
Both the Centaurs have a nice, weighty, well-made feel for them, neither have rubbed, shifted, broken, or torn and they've kept my boys protected on these 25 degree, breezy nights this week.  They don't get too sweaty if the sun comes out during the day (I can't always be there to pull blankets), so I don't have to worry about gross overheating thanks to good breathability.

I did pick up one extra in case Encore's Centaur didn't make it, as Solo did manage to rip it once before they were separated; during one of SmartPak's clearance events (I always blanket shop in June/July).  I got one of their super nice insulated blankets for something ridiculous like $60, but I'm saving it for backup, so it's nice and clean in storage.  I also still have his older (multi-repaired, but still functional) EquestrianClearance mega-warm blankie just in case too.  Hey, spares are important!

Fingers crossed, but so far, things are looking warm and uneventful in the horse clothes category this winter!