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We Are Flying Solo

December 29, 2009

Pop Quiz, Hotshot

A holiday visit to the parent's house found me sorting through pictures of days past. So now, lucky you get to be regaled by my finds in posts to come!

Can you name these Thoroughbred legends I visited as an awestruck kid? Here are your hints:

Both were living in sweet muddy retirement at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky in the late 80's.

One, a brilliant chestnut with three white socks, built like a quarter horse but fast enough to have run his way into the history books. (One more hint: it's not Solo ;-)





The other a grey with a noble eye (whoever can ID this one gets MAJOR kudos).

December 24, 2009

Canter Counts

My horse is awesome this week, I just have to say. I think perhaps he was abducted by aliens. All of a sudden, he is light in the bridle and staying on the bit. He is stretching out and down into the bit of his own free will during warmup, even at the canter *gasp*! And yesterday...we schooled a course that ranged from 3' to 3'3" -- successfully!!!

I've had a couple of changes of strategy in my rides.

(1) Solo knows where he is supposed to be now, on the bit, so I no longer show him where that is. He has two choices: to either (a) cooperate and be there, or (b) not cooperate and stick his nose up in the air and invert his neck. Should he choose option b, which of course, they always have to periodically try, I simply and quietly close my leg and close my hand at the same time, providing rather irritating resistant contact. I don't say anything, it's not a jerk, just a steady, increased pressure. He is, as intended, quite annoyed by this and decides in a few strides to give and go back down softly to the bit. At which point, I soften (NOT drop the contact) and we return to a light feel. It's working. The basic principle: right thing easy, wrong thing hard and annoying.

(2) I now incorporate a LOT more canter. I don't know why I wasn't before, it just didn't really happen. I'd ask for it, be annoyed with it's lack of bendiness, cadence, and just not do it for that long. It was part of every ride, but was never very satisfactory.

Inspired by my BO, whose horse prefers to warm up at the canter, I decided to start every ride with some forward trot with very light contact, letting Solo stretch down of his own accord (which he enjoys), then, on the same super light stretchy contact, ask for canter, get up off his back and let him just canter around on a loopy rein for a little. I don't care if he's perfectly straight, just that he maintains a rhythm.

Revolutionary approach: warm up the canter before you expect anything from it. Duh. But the result is, he is now offering me wayyyy more stretching down at the canter on that light contact, which he didn't used to be strong enough to do. He can reach down, opening his back, and still maintain a quiet rhythm. Go figure -- you can't improve a gait you don't put any thought into working on!

(3) Solo, true to his QH half, is hard to really get moving forward with impulsion at the walk and trot. But, as is true for many horses, right after he canters, we get a really nice swinging trot. I had BO watch us practice the Novice dressage test today and new strategy quickly became obvious. Before beginning a test, we are going to canter almost up to ring entry, then come back to trot and use that nice, forward trot to come down centerline.

Watch out, Novice-levelers, we are coming for you!

December 21, 2009

Foot Fanatical

As you can see, Solo is spending his days like any smart horse in winter -- curled up snug, basking in the sun! Complete with neon blue Lycra club-tail, always an "in" look for the colder seasons.

Me, on the other hand, I am busy being over-the-top-OCD (as usual) about Solo's feet. In short, I'm not satisfied. Ok, he is moving great. BUT. But, over the last couple trims, he has begun to forge so much he tears up the front of his back feet and I have to keep four bell boots on him (he is prone to a little forging, but usually just light and occasional). Plus the back shoes are squooshing his back heels back together again, narrowing the frog and narrowing my eyes.

Momma ain't happy.

My farrier, bless his heart, has been wonderful answering all of my questions and being open to anything and is working with my vet. But he sucks at returning phone calls. I have a call in to him now asking about the forging, if there is anything we can do before the next reset.

I just HATE HAVING STUPID SHOES ON MY HORSE. There. I said it. It's true. They are always a fuss (if you pay attention to them) and it seems no matter what, his foot will never look as good as it does bare. Ignorance was bliss, before I began learning all about feet when Solo was barefoot.

His heels are looking a TINY bit better on the front and he is definitely more comfortable up there, that is undeniable, and we are keeping his toes nice and short and the angles are good. And he's not parking out when standing still to take weight off the back heels. So I guess that is a good thing too.

But I still don't like the trend and am just tapping my foot for farrier to call me back! I am wondering if we can pull his back shoes, if there is enough heel yet for that? But I don't want to make him uncomfortable. But now is the time to do it as we have some breathing space away from any big comps coming up.

Ah, universe, why must you torment my foot obsessed mind with so many variables???

December 19, 2009

Because You Can't Ride On Ice

The temperature hovers around a balmy 32 F today. You will have to excuse me if I am less than enthusiastic, but seeing as I moved to the South to ESCAPE winter, I become rather whiny and crabby when it pursues me despite my best efforts.

But Solo has been performing well this week. His canter work gets better every day as I figure out how to stay soft and patient for longer periods. I could go over the indoor, but I just dislike riding in those things. So he can just hang out in the pasture today and enjoy the snowy companionship of Jeff, his TB buddy. I stopped by to wrap up Solo's tail to keep it up out of the mud, just another step to reduce maintenance.

Since the onset of this lovely season, I've been perusing a DVD lent to me in my downtime: Jane Savoie's "Program Your Position." Defintely plenty of giggle-worthy parts; Savoie is a great teacher, but she is always so darn cheerful about the MOST random things, it makes me laugh. It's a series of both five audio CD's and three DVD's which use visual keywords to help you develop a better position. Given that I am a steadfast visual learner, I find several of these to be helpful additions to the mental rolodex. Many are things that P has already incorporated into our dressage lessons, but a few are new to me and will address nasty little habitses of mine.

(1) Imagine holding a full bucket of water nestled down in the pelvic girdle, keeping the bucket perfectly upright so it doesn't spill out water forward (as I have a tendency to tip forward and spill my water right over that front lip!).

(2) Visualize sitting on a bullseye with a level on the hips and lifting legs out laterally to make sure weight in seatbones is even on both sides and weight is centered.

(3) Instead of the common "toes in", think instead "heel out" to straighten foot and drape leg. I've already tried this one and it WORKS.

(4) Rolling both the shoulders and the head and neck during the walk warmup to loosen stiff muscles and encourage the shoulders to open and the head and neck to rest back against the back of your collar.

There is also one whole DVD in the collection just about sitting trot, so that is the next one I'm putting in the player. I'm starting to get a feel for the sitting trot but I figure every viewpoint I can get can't hurt!

December 17, 2009

A Love Story

All girls dream of ponies. For at least a brief time in their lives. Some girls never stop dreaming.

That's me.

When I was growing up, every Christmas morning I would lie still in my bed, eyes scrunched tight shut, holding my breath, firmly believing that if I was just still enough & wished hard enough, the sheer power of my longing would make a horse wearing a big red bow appear in my window when I looked out.

Alas, it appears I was unable to keep my eyes closed long enough, for the horse never appeared.

Photobucket
Yeahhhh, they didn't really have helmets back then.  Oops.
As a result, I begged & borrowed rides where I could. My mother did half-lease me a pony when I was 7 (that's Sassy below, circa mid-80's, half Welsh Mountain Pony & what you see is the grand total sum of tack that we had) & she bought me riding lessons from age 8-15. After that, I cleaned stalls, exercised what I could, schooled a backyard prospect or two.

And every day I dreamed of when I would be able to write my OWN horse's name on a bucket of brushes.

There were many gentle teachers & loving hearts along the way. There was the headstrong paint dressage gelding who ran away with me & knocked me out but taught me triumph when I could finally control him. There was the quiet chestnut who gave me my first real canter & jumped a faithful straight line while my arms were outstretched & eyes closed. There was the leggy thoroughbred who won me my first blue ribbon, when I was in college riding hunter equitation. The black ex-Rolex quarter horse who met my truck at the gate every day & despite his age & (unbeknownst to me then) intestinal cancer, always made me smile with his joie de vivre & finely tuned cues.

But none of them were mine & each I had to give up as owners changed their minds & life moved inexorably on. There were years when I couldn't even touch a horse; then I would pull my truck into random horse barn parking lots & sit there absorbing that special barn atmosphere with tears in my eyes because I missed it so much. I was 26 years old & I finally couldn't take it anymore; that horse-shaped hole in my heart had sat empty for too long. I didn't have any money -- I worked (and still do) as a state biologist & rented a house in a "transitional neighbourhood." But dammit, sometimes, it's just TIME. I wasn't going to get any younger, no CHANCE of getting richer, & I wasn't going to miss out on it any more.

I flipped the switch. I gave myself permission to horse shop. I gave myself a budget & started looking. I searched, I visited, I tried. A 3 year old black Percheron who was greenbroke (What was I thinking? Helloooo, I wanted to JUMP!). A beautifully built tri-coloured Appy (and I don't even go for Appies usually) who had learned to rear to dethrone his rider. A conformational trainwreck of a TB with uneven heels, mile-long pasterns & a limp but the heart of a saint.

Frustrated.

A few months earlier, I had coincidentally started dating this guy. This guy who in about four days I knew would change my life forever. And it turned out that this guy could make my life's only sure dream of horse ownership come true. He gave me a check & said, "Go find what you need." Hell, if you ever want to make a girl love you, that'll do it!

I revised my search with renewed hope of finding a horse that didn't limp & didn't have a death wish for humans.

Solo's first day - 6 June 2006
I was tired of driving around, but one final ad caught my eye: a chestnut Appendix QH named "Benson," with a little chrome. The pictures weren't great, but he looked to have decent conformation & he was a good age (10). I decided what the heck, I wasn't doing anything else, & I drove two hours to check him out.

I pulled into one of the million Carolina sandhills hobby farms & hopped out to meet the owner in the barn. As I walked in, Benson stood in quietly in the crossties awaiting my inspection. I looked at him. He looked at me. And something settled inside me.

I patted him on the neck & proceeded to look him over. He had the worst shoeing job I had ever seen with uneven gaps between hoof & shoe. Zero muscle tone. As I rubbed his lopsided white blaze his owner commented, "Huh, he trusts you. He doesn't do that for many people." So I asked to see him go & to ride him. A young European girl had been schooling him on the trails, said he didn't know a lot but seemed agreeable. She did a couple of circles at the trot & canter in the middle of the pasture (this is my actual video from that day, below) & then I threw my leg over.

video

He was crooked. He leaned hard on my left leg. He picked up the wrong canter lead. But he didn't fuss. And I felt safe. Which is a big deal to me -- due to aforementioned runaway Paint horse, I don't do bolters. Ever.

I loved him.

I brought a vet out a week later to do a Pre-Purchase Exam. Turned out not only was Benson criminally out of shape, he had bone spurs on his front coffin bones & if you pressed down on the right side of his SI, his back legs would buckle. His stifles popped & his back was lopsided.

I think I can fix that, I thought. "I'll take him," I said.

It was Memorial Day weekend 2006. I found a friend (N) to board him with. She generously drove with me to pick him up in her trailer. All the way there, I was buzzing with excitement, anticipation, & fear. What if the horse didn't like me? What if he turned out to be secretly crazy? What if he had some mysterious ailment/injury/handicap that would kill him six months from now? The horrible possibilities spun choking webs in my brain. I was stark-raving nuts.

He always knew he was sexy!
When we turned up at the seller's farm, I turned over my envelope stuffed with a wild array of cash & money orders that I had pulled together the night before. I signed the bill of sale & collected a Coggins certificate. Naturally, Benson had stepped on his own hind foot that day & ripped open his coronet band on his white hind foot. It was bloody with a chunk missing. I choked inside, I think my eyes rolled back in my head as I thought, "See, I told you he would be hurt!" I just wanted him on the trailer & out of there.


After a brief period of uncertainty, Benson agreed to step on the trailer. The seller proceeded to turn out the mare that was his best friend, who then ran up & down the fence calling for him as he rocked the trailer in a sudden panic. My heart broke for him & N was in tears for his distress as we pulled out. This wasn't starting well.

But we got him home with no further event, settled into his paddock, & let him inspect the place. "What do you want to feed him," N asked? "Ummmmmmmmm..." I knew nothing about horse feed, aside from the sweet feed we had when I worked at a boarding stable in the mid-90's. N, bless her heart, took over. Feed, amounts, hay, all taken care of. Farrier visit set up to rid us of those terrible shoes.

Photobucket
Grazing on the first day home.
I was helpless to do anything but hang on the fence & stare. He was mine. Mine mine mine. Finally, no one could stop me from riding him whenever I wanted. I already had a shiny new halter & lead rope.

I just needed a new name because "Benson" was horrendous & untenable for this shining hunk of a horse. So he became "Solaris" & in my star-struck eyes, he shone brighter than his namesake. His nickname, "Solo," carried its own hidden meaning: he was & is the culmination of a lifetime of longing, my one true dream, my sole hope & goal come to fruition.

I drove home to write a name on my brush bucket.

December 15, 2009

Tree = 1, Equestrienne = 0.1

We (lifeshighway and I) had a great ride on Saturday. Solo and Pete, lh's great little Arabian endurance partner, run so well together. The horses were primed, the footing was perfect (I love thee, Sandhills, for being my go-to place when the rain turns everything else to hopeless mud), and even human spirits were up. It was a bit cold, but not brutally so and we moved out with joy. Solo jumped beautifully, he's really beginning to consistently jump AROUND the jump, cracking his back and using his head and neck well -- amazing what happens when I stop riding like a drunken ape. We stopped back by the trailers to have a snack and then went back out. It was shaping up to be the best ride in a long time.

Until.

Until we were trotting slowly up a hill. Solo was in his usual position as lead horse, Pete was following. I always keep an ear cocked for Pete's hoofbeats and bells behind me to keep tabs on his location. The horses were a bit tired by this point, so things were pretty mellow. All of a sudden, I heard lh give a squeak (a squeak I've only heard once before when a horse stomped on her foot) and I spun around to see Pete flailing sideways and lh embracing a tree trunk face first, then rolling slowly to the ground.

Oh shit.

You have to understand, we were in Sandhills pine savanna, that looks like this --> not exactly closely packed woods. So what the hell just happened? I was already jumping off Solo (Pete was already calmly munching grass to the side, the little piglet) and hollered at lh not to move. She had a pair of broken glasses and a bloody mouth and I feared the worst after hearing too many fatal tree encounter stories. Her helmet was cracked (thank God for helmets) and I worried about concussion.

After a few minutes of breathing, we ascertained that nothing (miraculously) seemed to be broken aside from glasses. A bitten lip, a sprained wrist, a wrenched back and some bruises appeared to be the sum total. It turns out Pete had just taken a bad step, tweaked his leg, lost his balance, and managed to do so next to the only tree within about 20 feet. Completely random, unpredictable, and begun and ended within seconds.

We led the horses for a little while to let lh work through the inevitable shaking adrenaline surge we all get after we fall off, then remounted to return to the trailers. Only to discover that in the process of dismounting, etc, I had gotten turned around and lost my idea of direction. No problem, we'll just let Solo find the way back, he always finds his trailer! At which point, Solo, with great enthusiasm, led us to a random pasture of horses. Thanks, buddy.

In short, a couple hours later, in the pitch dark, after asking for directions and following the highway (thank you, Solo, for being unflinchingly matter-of-fact about taking us home on the dark road shoulder where I am blinded by headlights and can't even see the ground), we arrived in a tired heap at the trailers. We loaded up everyone in my rig, as we didn't want lh to drive the two hours home after having busted her head.

Turns out, she DID have a concussion, confirmed by a hospital visit later that night. Which means she'd probably be dead right now without that helmet. Which is why I gave her 0.1 points in the post title for not being TOTALLY defeated by that inconveniently located longleaf pine. Which is why I tell people OVER AND OVER AND OVER, it doesn't matter if you are a great rider on a calm horse on good footing on a quiet ride, you can STILL fall off and bust your head open in the blink of an eye! So wear your freaking helmets (unless you are obnoxious, in which case, well, if you remove yourself from the gene pool, I guess we won't all cry too much)!

So until next time, me and my weary horse will be sprawled out in the stall recovering from that particular adventure!

December 11, 2009

Frosty The Horse(Wo)Man

DEAR GOD, IT'S COLDER THAN A POLAR BEAR FART! Ok, yes, the zoologist in me realizes that even from a polar bear, the fart would, in fact, still be warm, but you get the idea.

For some insane reason, North Carolina has turned into some sort of arctic hell and it is hovering around 35 degrees today, although there is a cold bite to the wind far below that. Yes, yes, I can hear your Yankee-winter-snob comments already, but look -- 35 is COLD here and it will be 22 tonight and that's cold, I don't care who you are. I moved here because I didn't WANT winter!

Solo is snug as a bug in his blanket (see look at right, he blends in with his pasture!), although he and the other horses turn their collective noses up at the lovely shelters provided for them, preferring to sprawl in equine abandon in the half-frozen mud puddles. We hurl them hay to help them stay warm and I am, as ever, very glad that he gets to stay out and keep those joints moving in this ever-changing weather. Tomorrow, we are off with our riding buddy, lifeshighway, for a wonderful riding trip about an hour and a half south to gallop and jump with glee across a few thousand acres of pine savanna preserved just for equestrian pursuits, the prospect of which leaves me twitching with happy anticipation. I will be wearing approximately 16 layers of clothing, 15 of which I will probably want to rip off after the first minute of trotting.

Stay warm, fellow horse lovers, and don't forget to kiss a warm furry nose tonight, it helps to keep the winter doldrums away.

December 7, 2009

Tarp Of Doom, I DEFY Thee!

I hate winter. It's always dark. And cold. And the footing usually sucks in some way or another. And it's dark and cold. Did I mention I hate the cold? And dark?

It's been raining like crazy here too -- we WERE in a drought, but no longer. Mud abounds and both Solo and I are about to pull out what's left of our hair if we are stuck in the arena working on dressage for one more MINUTE. Although I am undyingly grateful for BO's rainproof, stormproof, iceproof footing and her OCD which causes her to drag it nearly every day.

So when the sun came out on Sunday and the ground showed a modicum of respectability in a few well-drained areas, I told Solo we were going to jump-school, DAMMIT! I set up the video camera in hopes of some useful footage, although it turns out, with the camera just sitting on its tripod, alone and sad without anyone to push the zoom button, it's hard to get good footage of jumping. I did manage to catch a few snapshots from the video, which though grainy, were useful to me in seeing how we are coming along.

In good news, Solo was ON FIRE. He very clearly informed me that being stuck in the dressage arena all week sucks donkey balls and that JUMPING IS FUN FUN FUN! Everytime I asked him to canter, he'd flip himself all over the place with energy just shooting out of him. I couldn't help but laugh -- like the good boy he is, it was just a couple of strides, and I stayed soft and let him have it and then he came right back to focus on the fences. And as you can see at left, WE HAVE CONQUERED THE INFAMOUS BLUE TARP OF DOOM. I have been putting that damned tarp on everything I can think of. Under jumps, over jumps, beside jumps, over Solo's head. So help me god, that horse will now jump a blue tarp without hesitation or complaint!

I am also happy to report that thus far, stepping up our jump schooling in preparation for Novice events has been successful. I have been focusing hard on keeping my "landing gear" beneath me (thank you, P, you are a godsend!) and Solo has been developing a nice rhythm, staying with my leg and jumping around each jump with a lovely scope. I put a tape on all the jumps before I rode out and they ranged in size from 2'7" at the little green and yellow in the background to about 3'2" or so at the blue barrel Swedish oxer and I am happy to report that nary a one resulted in any problems. We even made a little fakey ditch with a shiny black tarp between two rails on the ground and Solo quite obligingly leaped it with gusto.

It's amazing what a difference it makes when things start to click. A few months ago, I looked at 2'9" jumps clearly thinking, OMG, you must be KIDDING me, who do I look like, Rodrigo Pessoa(ette?) Yesterday, I looked at a 3' jump and thought, Gee, that looks like a nice, doable challenge!

In Solo-world, at least, things are looking up! (and over!)

December 5, 2009

Poser

Finally! Got a picture last night of Solo being a big fat ham in our new bridle! Can I tell you how hard it is to work the camera with one hand while waving a carrot with the other hand while making sure Solo doesn't actually come GET the carrot and leave me with a giant picture of his nose?

It's hard.

I still have to surgically remove the flash loop and add some oil, but other than that, we are good to go! Anyone interested in an eBay bridle that looks like it came from a garage sale? But hey, it's black and it holds the bit in the horse's mouth!


That's right, you know you love me.

December 4, 2009

Bits And Rigs

My expectations seemed completely realistic...
Turns out the KK Ultra is not the uber-magical-fairy-miracle bit the dressage queens of the world would have you believe.

 It apparently does NOT impart instant dressage prowess upon your horsie.  In fact, it is quite possible your horsie may distinctly dislike it, lock his jaw, & pointedly refuse to acknowledge your half halts.

I'll just let you guess which one was us.

Happily, it's a borrowed bit.  So I removed it from bridle & returned to our Happy Mouth boucher last night & now, both of us are happy once more.   But I had to at least try the KK, given its legend, you know, curiosity & all that.

I also wanted to share our "new to us" rig that I realized I skipped over the story, given that it is a relatively recent acquisition.  Rig saga here.  Well, I still have the same trailer, obviously & I LOVE THAT TRAILER.

My Precious with...Other Precious?  Of course I have a blue trailer!
I loved the Tahoe too, but it soon made apparent to me that for regular hauling, a 1/2 ton just can't cut the mustard.   It could pull, & did it well.  Those old Chevy 5.7L engines were definitely made for power.  The problem is the smaller 1/2 ton transmissions are just not really up to the task & between that & the suspension & the brakes on the windy sides of mountains, it growlingly informed me that if I kept it up, I would be purchasing replacement trannies.  And radiators.  And liability policies.  0.0

Why didn't I think of that???!!
So, I decided that it was no longer worth putting $$$ on a vehicle that was only worth about $2000 on a good day, as I'd run it up to 170,000 miles, the A/C was out of freon, & you couldn't move the driver's seat (luckily my freaky long legs paid of for once).  I put on my savviest face & after much research & consulting & then more research (which I won't go into here for the sake of concise-ness, but I am happy to explain if you so desire), I sauntered into my local Ford dealer.

As luck would have it, they happened to have a trade-in that was EXACTLY what I wanted, in beautiful condition.  So I gave the faithful Tahoe a goodbye pat & rumbled home in my new love, a 2001 7.3L Super Duty turbo diesel F250.  And you will have to pry my cold, dead hands off to take it away from me.  It's good to be back in diesel-land (my first car was a 1985 3/4-ton 6.0L diesel GMC Suburban)!


December 2, 2009

Rain, Rain Go Away

Not a good week so far.

Hand clawed up by flailing cat. Toe broken by leaping sofa (f@$%ing unruly furniture!). Winter riding earmuffs MIA on a cold cold night.

Pluses:

Toe does not affect riding. And motivates extra care to avoid being stepped on as pain would no doubt be redoubled.

Dressage schooling last night was ok. Quality of canter definitely improving. Still not much bendiness in that gait, but must focus on good, not always on bad. Must focus on good... Trot work was nice for the most part, with some good transition work. We are prepping for a combined training on Sunday. We did enter at Beginner Novice, I didn't feel QUITE ready to compete around a 2'11" stadium course as this is at a very fancy farm and I have a feeling they might set their jumps on the big side of 2'11".

Minuses:

It is raining AGAIN. I swear to god if I have to walk through mud one more time, I am going to just start jumping around and screaming incoherently. Just wait. It will happen. 8500 lbs of F250 are slowly sinking into my driveway at the house, despite my frenzied kicking of gravel beneath the tires.

Saturday night temps forecasted to be a whopping 25 degrees. So when we load up the trailers Sunday morning, not only will it be morning (a portion of evil all its own) but it will be colder than a polar bear's tail.

And my toe still hurts.

November 29, 2009

A Good Bad Day

I get mopey when I can't ride.

It was a beautiful day today. Sunny, 70 degrees, the kind of fall day that just makes you sigh and smile. Perfect for galloping and jumping. My horse, however, is exhausted. Already wiped out by some hill work on Friday, Solo tanked in our dressage lesson yesterday. We never really could get his left side unlocked, he informed me that he was too tired and stiff to care. The lesson was not a total loss -- P gave us a couple things to work on to gain points on our tests (i.e. not - and I quote from our most recent test from CHP - "staggering" down centerline).

I also discussed with her our desire to move up to Novice. She agreed we were more than ready. Our 20 m circles actually remotely resembled circles now, we were bending in our corners and our transitions were not half bad. She said we should be working on First Level dressage movements at home and Solo looked good. There was even the comment, "Gosh he's just not his usual supple self today!" which floored me as I had never imagined "supple" being "usual" at all!

So today, I did not ride. Which turned out to be a wise decision - when I walked out to the pasture to bring Solo in for a grooming and massage, all the other horses came up to me for treats. Solo stayed put, saying, "You've got to be freaking kidding me, lady. Don't you have to go back to work already so you can't ride so much?"

"Don't worry, buddy," I told him, "It's just brushes and massages today."

But I still moped.

BO managed to turn the day around this evening though. I was explaining to her our dressage bridle woes -- I currently use a $10 jobbie I found on eBay. It's a bit crappy, but it's black and it holds the bit on his head. My search for a bridle that fits Solo, has NO flash, and doesn't cost $200 had me tied in knots.

"Oh!" She says, "Go down to the garage and grab that handful of bridles and see if any fit him, I'm not using any."

So I do so. A nice plain black one fits. I examine it a little more closely, and it's a lovely Stubben dressage bridle. The flash is gone (hooray), only the little loop remains, but I have a scalpel that can solve that little problem. "I think we have a winner!" I announced. "Do you mind if we borrow it till I can find one?"

"You know what? Just keep it. It's yours as a gift - leather should be used and I'm never going to use it."

I about cried as I stared dumbly and thanked her. I was bummed out all day and as holidays approach, am missing the SO dearly and it wears on me when I can't ameliorate it with riding therapy. But her generous and kind gift totally lifted my spirits. Reason #4,756 I love being there!!!

November 25, 2009

Small Victories, Pt. II

I decided to try a slightly different approach than we'd used before. I put him in a nice, forward, rhythmic trot and let him stretch down. Then, as usual, I kissed for canter. As soon as he heard the cue, his head shot up and he jumped up and forward for the transition and hit the vienna reins and got boogedy-eyed and went to fast trot. In the past, I have tried to push him through this into the canter. But this time, I rewarded the effort with a GOOD BOY and just stood quietly.

It's fascinating to watch horses think. And Solo is indeed a thinking horse. His trot was racy, but I could see from his worried eye that he knew he was supposed to canter but he was really nervous about it. I gave a gentle half halt on the longe line to encourage him to balance and just waited, because I know this horse and I knew he was going to have to make a decision to either slow and balance his trot or pick up a canter.

To my eternal surprise, he picked up a rather nice left lead canter. Only three strides and he broke. But I said GOOD BOY! And then I just waited some more and let him trot. No further cues, I just watched his eye and body. After another circle around, he volunteered yet another decent canter and held this one for an entire circle.

I was ecstatic -- I let him stop, gave him heaps of GOOD BOYS and pats and rubs. I boldly decided we needed to do the right lead as well (right lead is much scarier for him on the longe). It was a fine line -- it's easy to get greedy with success, but since he had volunteered the canter and it had been notably NOT rushy, I would give it a go.

Again, my pleasant surprise was exactly the same result in the other direction. I kissed once for canter. He came up, hit the reins, scared himself a little, but I rewarded the try and let him think about it as he trotted with no further cues. Much more quickly this time, he offered a nice right lead canter all the way around the circle. At which point we quit, I praised him approximately 40,000 times, rubbed him all over with the longe whip (our habitual post-longeing desensitization reminder that longe whips do not bite), and went in.

It may seem a tiny thing, but for Solo to offer a somewhat decent canter on his own on the longe if a giant step indeed. It's been three years in coming, but time and trust and patience and baby steps bring us ever closer to success.

I am very proud of Solo.

Small Victories, Pt. I

I lean into him and lay my head on his back as he munches sweet grass hay. My ear on his fur, I can hear the echo of his teeth grinding through his body as I inhale that subtle aroma next to the skin that is uniquely equine. His body warmth spreads into mine and we sigh in unison, content and quiet.

I am very proud of Solo. Last night, I decided to embark on a longeing session to slowly ease him back into work after his big effort on Sunday. I have discussed our longeing issues and the 3-year journey to conquer them here. Vienna reins and surcingle assembled, we walked up the dark hill to the arena and switched on the floodlights. I never know what will happen during a longeing session -- but I know it will always require thoughtfulness, patience, and quiet encouragement on my part.

Solo warmed up quietly at walk and trot, then I threaded the vienna reins through his bit back to the surcingle. I longe off of a rope halter beneath the bridle so I can switch directions back and forth without moving anything and I leave the bit alone so Solo can work things out on his own.


Solo demonstrates here, only we didn't use the saddle last night. And it also appears we didn't use the rope halter that day, maybe it was in the wash.


I put him back in a trot and did four or five spiraly circles in each direction, waiting for him to reach out and down to the bit and relax his back. When he did, I brought him back to a walk.

He was quiet and obedient and his eye stayed soft, so I decided to try out a canter. I harboured a little trepidation -- BO's arena is not fenced in, so should Solo decide to cut and run, I had to rely on his urge to return to the safety of the barn. When he DOES canter on the longe, it tends to be rushy and leany and after about ten strides, he stop and wheel and face me, but I figure each time, it's one more chance for me to prove to him it won't actually kill him.

It would be a moment of truth...would the BO see me, dragged face down on the hill at the end of a longe line tied to a galloping red panic, slide by her office window?

November 24, 2009

Gallop and GO!

The report! We survived! We did not get eliminated! IT DID NOT RAIN ON US!!!!!

There you go.

Ok, ok, the story:

We (we traveled with two barn mates) made it down to CHP about 3:00 on Saturday so we could check everything out, school the horses and settle in. I had never been before, so when we pulled up to the stabling, I was staring in awe because it is a GORGEOUS facility in every way with beautiful permanent stabling complete with matted, lighted 12 foot stalls (believe me, this is NOT the norm) in lovely shedrows right next to the competition arenas. After a short ride (in which Solo mostly behaved himself), we put the horses up and went to walk the XC course in the rapidly fading light.

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Hay! Wait for meeeeee!


Ok, so what actually happened is we walked the XC course in the DARK. Note for future events: not so helpful really. Blundering about in the dark woods, squinting vainly for flags in the dusk and trying to make out the shapes of jumps among the pine trees does not give one a stellar sense of where to go the next day. Much laughing and tripping was involved.

After an overpriced Thai dinner (I'm sorry, I tried, but I still hate Thai food, blargh) leaving much to be desired, we crashed out at our also overpriced hotel (thank you Southern Pines for marking everything up -- it's the home of some big golf tournament) which had no shampoo and a crappy breakfast. Thank heavens for the miracle of Bojangles biscuits, yum.

Even though Solo and I didn't go dressage till 11:24 am on Sunday, our BO rode Novice at 8:30. Which meant we had to all get up at the ass-crack of dawn to get to the showgrounds.

Sunrise, ugh
Even my camera is blurry eyed at sunrise -- the devil's hour (I may have a SLIGHT soul-rending hatred for mornings).


We helped BO get ready and complete her phases, then it was time to warm Solo up for the Big D. As usual, warmup was just fine. Then we entered the arena. At which point Solo decided the other horses, the trees, the people, the cars, pretty much anything other than ME were suddenly fascinating and worthy of capturing his entire attention. Which led to me riding much of the test muttering, "Pay the F@!$ attention!!!" There were a few good moments, but I was mostly frustrated. Our friend crittergirl has the video evidence so perhaps if you harrass her, we can post it. The dressage judges that day (below) were no less than Lauren O'Brien (exhibit A left at Rolex with her partner Dunrath Alto) and Will Faudree (exhibit B also at Rolex with the lovely Antigua).



Perhaps Lauren was feeling kind because I pay her husband for jump lessons, but something magical happened. My goal has been to get our next dressage score down to a 35. Lauren in her infinite good humour, sent us off with a 36.5 and a "well ridden!" I think I love her.

The torture was over and it was on to stadium! My focus was (a) keep Solo FORWARD, (b) keep that landing gear extended for every jump, (c) sit back and wait for every jump.



And it felt really good! Looking at the video, I'd like him more up in front of my leg with more impulsion (it sure FELT faster than that!) but aside from a few stutters, things flowed well!

We went immediately from stadium over to XC and I trotted up to the start box. And I think Solo is starting to figure out what a start box means -- as soon as he saw it, I felt his energy level and excitement ramp up! He is learning to be an event horse! The starter counted us down and we were off.

The point of this event for us going in was to see if we were ready to move up to Novice. So I didn't set my watch and I let Solo GALLOP. And IT FELT AWESOME. I have not schooled him XC like I should so the jump approaches backed him off a little, but I sat down and closed my leg and he went well. For some reason, he decided he was not going to canter through the two water complexes that day, which was a bit odd for him. But I was ok with the trot and as soon as his feet hit dry land on the other side (because there was a jump right after), I yelled, "GIT!" and he GITTED!

Amazingly, we didn't get hit with speed penalties. And when I pulled him up after the finish, he was prancing and snorting and all kinds of adrenaline, I think we both were chortling with glee!

So we finished on our dressage score, which due to Lauren's extreme score generosity (someone in our division got a 19!) put us in 9th place out of 17. I was very satisfied with our ride and we had answered our primary question going in.

Which means...in 2010, WE GOING NOVICE, BABY!

November 20, 2009

A-Trialin' We Will Go

So tomorrow morning we will pack up and ship out for our big event.

Ride times are up!
Dressage: 11:24 am
Stadium: 12:54 pm
XC: 1:09 pm

The plan is to arrive down at CHP (Carolina Horse Park) Saturday afternoon, give the horses a nice ride, stable up, sleep, then get up Sunday and compete. Of COURSE, it's supposed to be just gorgeous tomorrow. And rainy and cold on Sunday. Yay.

I decided four days in a row of dressage might very well fry Solo's brain, so since we had a nice school last night, I just put the jump saddle on and decided to stay light. We did some walk/trot warmup, a little work on leg yielding out and some quasi-shoulder-ins. Then I sat down, collected from the core and I'll be if Solo didn't give me a much better canter transition. Don't get me wrong, we won't be bringing home any 8's on that one, but even though he couldn't stay round, it was soft and he stepped under himself. I just got off his back, did a few canter poles till he fit them into his stride nicely and called it quits with a pat. I hope to be able to just let him hack around tomorrow and then have him primed for Sunday.

I don't like to work a horse the day before show. I think it irritates Solo to be over-schooled and I prefer to let him relax in mind and body with a trail ride or hack so he is bright and fresh and happy come show day. I figure he's not going to learn much the day before and I will probably try too hard in some mis-guided attempt to take my horse from Beginner Novice to Prelim dressage in one ride and the tension will only do us in. I do just fine doing myself in at the show itself, I don't really need any further contributions to that!!!

So cross your hooves, do a "no rain" dance for us, and think round, bendy thoughts!

November 19, 2009

Hairy Adventures

If you haven't figured it out by now, I'm ALL about low-maintenance.  I don't want to have to get up three hours early before a show to spend bleary-eyed time detangling hair or somesuch nonsense.  I want to take the horse off the trailer, slap my tack on & be ready to go.

I am also not one of the Hair Nazis.   You know, the ones who swoon every time you bang a tail or, horrors, brush it out.  Yeah, I know you can hear me, Hunter Princesses.  ;P 

I have startling news for you, Hair Nazis, you may want to sit down for the revelation -- IT'S HAIR. IT GROWS BACK.  In fact, if your horse is on a good hoof supplement, it grows back rather quickly.

So.  I will colour you not surprised when I tell you that I decided to try giving Solo a true eventer tail.

I've always liked the look -- a clean line down the tail bone, defining the hindquarters and giving a neat, braided look without actually braiding (which I recently learned from a dressage judge was a no-no in eventing; a tail braid makes your horse's back look stiff & can cost you points both in the dressage ring & in stadium, where stiffly braided tails have been observed to cost rails pulled by trailing back feet). I recruited our lovely BO as I saw that her TB had a grown out version.

Before (the ends just touch the ground, but the top is always shaggy with 500 different lengths due to Mr. I Love To Scratch My Butt):





And after, BO's handiwork (you have to take off a LOT of hair):





So far, I rather like it.   Standing right next to it looks a bit weird as I am not used to it.  But when I take three steps back, it looks really nice & provides instant finesse back there.  If Solo hadn't decided to be a bum & cock his hip, you could see the nice banged end just above the fetlock.

I should get video of our dressage test on Sunday, so I am excited to see how it looks under saddle!

In riding news, we've not been able to do much the past fews days due to my busy schedule.  We did get some nice jump work in on Sunday -- I finally successfully built a gymnastic line & we worked through that, then did a few of the regular jumps.

I tried out the great tip P gave us in our lesson on Sat: being taught to jump from a two-point position makes one prone to jumping up the neck.  I think all of us who have ridden in the hunters can attest to this fact!  It's something I've really been struggling with a lot lately too, grrr. 

When approaching the jump, just before take off, just think of shoving your butt towards the cantle & feet out in front of you like landing gear.

I gave it a whirl.  On each approach, my thoughts went, Lift the poll, wrap your legs, shoulders back, soften, LANDING GEAR DOWN, as we counted down the strides.   It totally freaking worked!!  I stayed back in the air, my legs stayed underneath & on my horse & I landed with my foot beneath me. Yahoo!!!

November 15, 2009

Collecting Thoughts...And Strides

In celebration of the end of the Nor'Easter From Hell, I decided to strip down the horse bay of the trailer and clean it. Which always includes the fun task of dragging out 300-lb trailer mats. Hullo, where are those "space-age" materials??? In the process, I discovered my trailer tires have given up the ghost. One, in a fit of sheer irony, has a horseshoe nail jammed into it and was completely flat. The two on the opposite side had ominous looking cracks through the sidewalls that I could all too easily envision blowing out under my horse at sixty miles an hour. No worries, I'll just gather up the spare sacks of money I have sitting around and buy a new set of tires. *sigh*

In happier news, the sun came out for our afternoon lesson (during which I was mentally worshipping our BO for having perfect all-weather footing so the ring was just dandy despite aforementioned Nor'Easter). The first part of the lesson, I mostly spent in extreme annoyance as Solo was fixated on keeping the Insolent Hussy (aka Pony Lover) in sight. But we stepped up the workload and he came back to focus. We started introducing very deliberate half halts, much more exaggerated than you would normally do, but as P explained, you can't really expect your horse to obey a half halt if you don't first teach him what one is! Then--and this was really exciting--we practiced getting a few steps of collection at the sitting trot using seat! It was cool!

I had expressed to P my dissatisfaction over our canter departs and that I wasn't sure of the best way to approach them in training. She said, as I should have expected, "Don't work on them. The canter depart comes from being able to control the stride within the trot. Learn changes within the gait at the trot and from this will spring a lovely canter depart." And we did a couple canter departures using the collected trot stride. And it was an improvement!

Oh.  So, it looks like schooling will consist of lots more work on the sitting trot, so you will see us shifting back and forth...collected-working-collected-working...and then, hopefully, someday a beautiful canter depart will magically appear!

And as promised, a picture of the Insolent Hussy (who is soon to leave the farm, hurrah!) looking oh-so-innocent at moonrise:

November 12, 2009

An Update About Nothing

It's wet. It's cold. It's windy. It's raining. We've gotten somewhere around 5 or 6 inches of rain at least in the last 24 hours. Perfect riding weather. :-\

In good news, since yesterday was a holiday, I got to meet the farrier around lunchtime and we got Solo's fancy new shoes on. So now, pads are gone and he has shiny aluminum wedges up front (pictures to come). I quite like the look of them, and best of all, no frog covering! Solo was a bit surprised walking back to his stall and about tripped over himself, not quite expecting his feet to be so light. I told the farrier that I now expect a guarantee that my horse will jump higher and snap his knees up like a Grand Prix stallion. We are counting down to our big Horse Trial coming up on the 22nd.

I pondered riding across the road to the indoor arena tonight. I am not entirely feeling the motivation though. But I've used up most of my busy work--I put Solo's tail up in its winter tail wrap of eye-burningly bright royal blue Lycra (because all horses need metrosexual accessories!). His mohawk is trimmed, wounds are dressed. I suppose I could clean my tack. Or not.

November 9, 2009

Taking Stock

So, I'm pretty much caught up to the present. Finally! I've glossed over a lot, much of it I'm sure I'll come back to, what with my talent for repeating myself and all. Here's where we stand:

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Yup, that's my little red speck to the left of the tree.
(1) Home: Solo is mostly settled in at the new farm. To my delight, he is back on pasture board, but with a big safe stall of his own for eating and severe weather. The rest of the time, he is out and about, keeping joints and intestines healthy and mobile.

To my not-so-delight, he is in mad crazy love with a little grey pony mare who is in insane heat. Praise be to the heavens, they will be forced to break up in two days when we rearrange the pastures and Solo will be back in an all-boy group, having proved his untrustworthiness around mares. I can't even catch him now and my sane, lovely horse is now a maddening wild stallion, herding "his" mare carefully away from all other people and horses. I might stab him with a blunt object.  Must...have... restraint...till...Wednesday. But the facility is lovely and BO and co-boarders are gems.

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Left Front(2) Feet: I talked a little bit about foot problems here. Solo did great barefoot for a while, but EX-farrier managed to completely get rid of his poor heels, at which point farrier was fired. So we had to go back to shoes. They are on all four for now. The fronts are in wedge pads too, til the heels grow back, but the pads are trapping too much moisture and causing frog sensitivity so this week, we are switching to aluminum wedges and pads BE GONE, hurrah!



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(3) Tack: Saddles fit, I am trying ANOTHER new bit for dressage -- he liked the happy mouth double-jointed Boucher, but I still felt like things could be better. Am borrowing a KK ultra French mouth loose ring (so happy I found one in BO's bit collection because I can't afford to buy that!) and so far, like it even more. He is STAYING on the bit at the trot and that's a REALLY big deal!

It's been a bit journey -- started with a full cheek snaffle, went to D-ring French link, then D-ring Myler, which worked well for a long time, I now look much more favourably upon the low level Mylers, then to this happy mouth Boucher we picked up at a consignment sale, which Solo quite liked. I have to stay with double jointed bits as Solo has a low palate and big tongue, so single jointed bits jab him in the roof of the mouth. I think we'll stick with the KK though, I really like this new feel.


(4) Dressage: Making good progress. Trot work is becoming much more enjoyable as Solo learns to reach for the contact and stay on it. Walk is good, but need more impulsion. W/T transitions feeling great, as is halt, although Solo has this new tendency to drift left into the halt, but only on centerline, grrr. Canter...well, it has single-stride moments, transitions are not great, it's our project. But Solo is becoming much more supple in all gaits, moves mostly readily off the leg and moves over his back.

(5) Jumping: We were going really well, but since moving to the new place, just haven't had any good schooling sessions as Solo has become a horse-shaped wrecking ball. Still jumping clean at comps as long as I don't mess him up, but we've lost the flow. I think I am not using enough impulsion... Our jumping coach is having surgery so can't travel up here for a bit and we haven't had a lesson with him in a while, sigh. I NEED one!

So...now you'll get some detailed progress and musings on our day-to-day crap, such as it is. I didn't get to ride this weekend, I don't want to work him until the stupid pads come off as we have our big competition coming up in two weeks and I don't want him going footsore on me. I spent some time ground driving him last night for a nice change of pace since he doesn't limp on the arena footing. He did well in the end, although it always makes him nervous. I am working on getting him comfortable with me driving him from directly behind where he can't see me, to build his confidence in himself.

If there are topical posts you'd like to see, feel free to submit requests as well and I will freely share my brain drivel on the topic at hand. But I like to read and explore riding theory and am always open to gathering new tools for the the toolbox, so I spend a lot of time thinking about all that -- now whether my thinking is useful or not remains deeply in question, but it amuses me. I also plan to do some product reviews, as I find them immensely helpful for my own purchases, I want to help out other horsepeople decide what is right for them.

PhotobucketI will keep our calender on here up to date with our various activities and hopefully will get some new videos soon as our routine at the new place settles a bit more. I hate winter because I have to ride in the dark during the week, but at least BO has good lights.

Long term goal: complete Training 3-Day Event at Waredaca. (3 years?)
Short term goal: get a nice canter transition. (10 years?)

SO, now you know the back story, let's see where it takes us...

Me and Solo on our birthday 2009 (my 30th, his 13th). Headgear courtesy of dear barn friends.

November 8, 2009

A Very Rainy Day

Fresh off our big win, I decided to enter a new local HT to get some more mileage for Solo and I. The competition was a new one, just built at a nearby farm and it only included Maiden and BN, so I expected the courses to be pretty small, but I try to take advantage of every opportunity to present Solo with new obstacles.

Sometimes, we all make errors in judgement.

This was just about a week or so ago, so November, chilly rain, cold wind. Oh yeah, I said rain AND wind. But we eventers are a hardy bunch and never let a silly thing like weather take rides away from us!

Solo got off the trailer transformed into a hot, blowing Thoroughbred. As soon as I got on, he jigged around, blowing and staring at every conceivable object in the parking pasture. The rain had tapered off to a drizzle, but it was still cold and wet -- I was actually wearing rain pants over my breeches and counting on the equisuede seat of my saddle to keep me from sliding right off.

I could see no warmup in sight and the secretary's table was way down by the barn, farther than I was willing to walk in the rain. I saw a dressage arena set up in the grass across the road. Well, all right then -- I warmed up in the parking area and Solo eventually decided to join me mentally. I kept an eye on the arena. It was a bit puzzling. There was no judge in sight, no one else was warming up that I could see. But as my time approached, I made my way over to the arena. At which point, a staff member yelled at me that I was wanted at the dressage arena because my time was NOW.

But I'm at the dressage arena?

No, the arena is down the road around the corner.

Oh, sorry, I didn't see any signs.

There are signs everywhere, go down there! (There were NOT any signs for the arena)

So I rode down the road. Apparently everyone else was in on this little secret as they were already warming up and ready to go at the OTHER dressage arena. D'oh. Solo was also NOW intent on prancing around like a giraffe, staring to and calling at all the other horses in the pastures around us. So I rode a hot, red, stiff, jumpy TB down centerline.


A random dressage pic, sorry I have no pics from that day, I was hiding from rain!

His trot work wasn't bad, I was quite happy actually. Then as soon as I asked for canter, he flipped his nose in the air like an Arabian and threw a little fit, then hurled himself into canter.

End result -- 7's on trot work and collective gaits, yay! 5's for canter work, not-so-yay. Overall, a 40.5 which given Solo's said mental status, I would take. And the fact that cold rain was pouring in my face during the whole test.

Mgmt had decided to run the HT in a classic format, so XC was next. But they hadn't gotten enough staff to run more than two disciplines at once. So I sat in the truck for two hours staring grimly out the windshield while Solo munched hay in the trailer.

The XC course itself was very small, but well-built, with lovely jumps. Unfortunately, they'd set the pace at 300 mpm, which is really too slow for any attempt at even fake XC -- even trotting 1/3 of the course, we ended up with 7 speed penalities for going too fast, but I did not want Solo get too slow or engage in any backwards riding. The POINT of XC is to teach a horse to be forward and bold to jumps and a time that slow is rather counterproductive, as lower levels are supposed to teach a horse and rider in preparation for upper levels. So I was more than happy to take my penalties, rather than discourage my horse from doing what his is supposed to do!


A nice random pic -- oh I wish it had been that sunny that day!

Stadium was very small too, but again, lovely jumps and good footing (it had been a bit slick on XC, although the rain had stopped). Solo had also apparently stepped in a puddle of glue, as his feet seemed stuck to the ground. As I told him on course, "Buddy! We're doin' it, but we're doin' it UGLY!" But the poles stayed up and we put in a clear round.

With our speed penalties and canter tantrums, it put us in 3rd place, but I was fine with that -- overall, I don't think we gained anything from it, which I regretted a bit, as it was just too small to be a challenge for Solo. However, it did at least give me a chance to see where we were with our dressage and emphasize that the canter is DEFINITELY our next project!!

November 7, 2009

In Which The Universe Turns In On Itself

Fall 2009. Version II of the HT we did this spring. It started as a cold drizzly day. And to share the punishment, I give thee no pictures because we couldn't con any friends into accompanying us that day.

Dressage time was around 9:30-ish. I'm on my horse and head up to the ring in the drizzle and my black coat at 9:00. As hooves hit footing, some woman on a horse in the warmup ring informs me, "Oh, you're next!" That popping sound you heard was my eyeballs rolling in and striking each other.

WTF? As politely as possible, I said, "But my time is not for like 30 minutes?"

"Oh," she says, "I think you might be mistaken about your time." Yeah right, random lady, your dressage time is like the one piece of information you make SURE you know before you even leave the house for a horse trial. I screw up a lot, but I'm pretty damn sure I got one number right.

However, leaping off your horse to pummel random riders at horse trials does not generally endear oneself to management, so I ask if we can at least trot around first? She says sure and I assume body language to assure her that I am not a happy camper. I then proceed to trot off (did I mention it was about 45 degrees and drizzly so poor Solo was quite cold and stiff).

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A random Solo pic for your viewing pleasure...several years old, as I am noticing the distinct lack of neck muscle.


After a couple minutes, in which I trot around in fury, trying to relax enough to get Solo approaching the edge of suppleness, a guy approaches me who looks much more like an official steward and says there are four riders before me to go. THANK YOU! I am much relieved, thank him profusely, and return to my warmup. However, my dressage zen is blown (hey, let me pretend it existed, ok?). I do my test, but it is tense, feels counterbent, and I leave the ring furious.

I stomp (at least mentally, I do try to keep childish outburst internal) back to my trailer to sulk for a while before stadium. At least it has stopped raining.

In a moment of show-day-kindness, a friend pulls her rig up next to mine -- she is showing her new horse that day in the Maiden division. Yay, now I have someone to talk to!!!

In an even larger moment, I go check the leaderboard and discover that for our stiff dressage test, the judge has bestowed upon us a 37.4! Now, please step back as I jump up and down with a hearty YEEHAW! We have finally broken the 40 barrier, which had previously seemed impenetrable to all our efforts! Now the world is a much brighter place.

Grin firmly planted on face, I head back to the trailer to share the news and Solo and I are sitting in fourth place.

Stadium Jumping
I am a bit nervous going into stadium. I had just moved Solo to a new (improved!) farm and our schooling that week had pretty much resulted in a battlefield strewn with poles and jump standards. Ouch. So I wrapped my legs around that horse, sat down, and WENT.

Tension got the better of me -- there was a tight turn to fence 3, I overshot, got all floppy and useless in a panic and Solo jumped through the MIDDLE of the oxer. I heard the poles scatter behind us, but the big red boy kept going, so I set my jaw, looked ahead and we finished the rest of the course with no further difficulties. It was my mistake, so I took my 4 penalties, decided I was satisfied (it was a tough course that took down many with stops and crashes) and went to look up our XC time.

Cross Country
The course was walked, every conceivable form of protective boot applied to Solo, my vest zipped up, and both of entered the start box with bright eyes. The thing I love most about this facility's courses is that she wheels the beginner novice course at about 425 mpm -- so you get to RUN. And run we did. And were one of only two to go double clear XC in our division.

Then it was time for a giant wormhole to open, time to turn upside down, the universe to implode and the unthinkable happen.

PhotobucketWait for it....

WE WON OUR DIVISION. I actually read the score sheet about 5 times because I was SURE there had been a typo. But typos there were not and first we indeed were. We got a shiny blue ribbon AND a blue bucket full of goodies. And I pranced. I pranced all the way back to the trailer to track down friend and share much giggling and exclamations and glee. I snapped a quick shot of my tired boy wearing his hard earned decoration and loaded up the truck.

Maybe there was hope for us after all...

November 5, 2009

Painful Plodding Progress

Dressage and I have a love/hate relationship.

I love it.

It hates me.

I grew up riding dressage, right down to the German guy making me sit the trot with the crop in my tiny kid-elbows and many a day on a longe with no stirrups. Of course, your body has no issues at age 10 and all was easy.

At age 30, I am lopsided and my lower back is a mess. I clench my jaw, my left arm goes rigid, my knees are tense and my neck always resembles a rock. Not really conducive to stellar dressage performance. *sigh* And Solo, of course, with supreme generosity, constantly reminds me of this fact.

But we keep trying.

Our lessons were pushing us forward into new territory though. Instead of a mostly inverted ride with a few strides here and there on the bit, we slowly pushed the proportion towards the opposite end of the continuum. We started to be able to stay soft and on the bridle, say, across the diagonal, oh praise the gods and goddesses!

Practice consisted of endless transitions, but Solo began to "get it." He now stepped forward into trot over his back and stayed light in the hand. We could halt by simply keeping the contact and closing the thigh (well, most of the time). This stuff, small as it was, was HUGE for us.

We also needed more mileage in the arena. We dragged ourselves to a dressage show. With Dressage People (who quite enjoy white polo wraps and quoting Podhajsky). They are quite different from Eventing People (who quite enjoy laughing and beer). I was showing Training Level Tests 2 and 3.

To me, Training Level is just a beginning platform. The horse doesn't need to be perfect, just moving into contact and staying mostly balanced and supple throughout the test. Many Dressage People think the Training Level horse should go around in a perfect frame and generally move like a Fourth Level horse. I guess winning that saddle pad for Training Level Test 2 on your FEI horse is really gratifying for some people...

My point (if there is one) is that I fully expect to score lower at a Dressage People Show than I do at a Combined Training or Horse Trials simply because there is a slightly different perspective and focus both from competitors and judges. (Don't take offense, my dressage-y friends, I love you! But you know how some of those DQ's are!)

But I digress! We were there for mileage and mileage we got. I was overall very happy with Solo; aside from some initial jumpiness no doubt caused by me generally having all the relaxation of a boulder, he warmed up really well. Upon entering at A for our first test, I resumed boulder-status, so the test was just a weeee bit tense.



I did however, resume the ability to breathe for the second test and it felt much better.



Ironically, we scored one point higher on our first test. Judges...who can ever understand them? But we had some nice moments and even took home a sixth place ribbon for Test 2, so I was content with the day.

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Next stop: 2009 Fall Horse Trials. In which Bad Things happen, Good Things happen, and generally, the Winds of Change keep on a-blowin'.

October 29, 2009

Funding!

We needed a dressage Obi-Wan to help us channel the force.

We were completeing HT's without getting eliminated. We were staying in the dressage arena, doing the test in order, and not getting any jumping penalties. But we were coming in anywhere from second to last (I WON'T be last, dammit!) to a record high of fourth or fifth. I stomped my little (big) feet and said, "I wanna do better!" But it wasn't going to happen without some serious dressage improvement.

I could do an ACCURATE test all day long and that was enough to get about half the points we needed. But apparently, greedy greedy judges actually want to see roundness, bending, softness, and impulsion. Sheesh, so demanding!

Further lessons were in order. I had already found my Obi-Wan in the form of our dressage trainer, P. She was great -- but for some reason she wanted to get paid for her time, sigh. As luck would have it though, I wrote a little essay and Solo and I were awarded an educational scholarship from the Area II (our geographical region) USEA Adult Riders group, of which we are proud members.

PhotobucketIT WAS ON! I promptly handed over our check to P, who generously agreed to give us a seven lesson package in exchange. So we settled in to get serious about this flexibility business.

Yeah............teaching a horse dressage requires massive amounts of patience, lots of fiddling, the ability to force one's body to both relax and be strong at the same time, and did I mention patience (which I can be notoriously short on)? I began to see that there were a lot of holes to fill in, strength to build for both of us, and tricks to learn.

Our first test of our new learning adventure came quickly -- a little local schooling CT. We ended up in third or fourth BUT much more importantly, my horse was beginning to look a little more like a dressage horse and less like a 2x4 with a giraffe neck and a clenched jaw.

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Both of us were bowing our heads in relief...
PhotobucketAlong with this came more adjustability and roundness over fences as well.


I still looked like a hunter rider perched in a dressage saddle, but one or two steps at a time, Solo was starting to reach for the bit and work over his back, rather than clomp around on his forehand leaning through corners.

The focus of our work sessions changed too. I began to focus on new things:
  • walk/trot transitions with no bit-snatching
  • staying round through both up and downward transitions
  • letting my legs wrap loosely around the horse
  • no pinching at the knee (still failing daily at this one)
  • leg-yields three steps at a time into and out of circles at walk and trot
  • shoulder fore coming out of corners to strengthen my horse.
Most of all, we had a new rule: DO EVERYTHING RIGHT EVERY TIME. In other words, P commanded me to be insistent about my requests. If asking for a downward transition, Solo was required to stay on the bridle and moving forward without snatching or throwing his head up or me falling on his forehand. If he (or I) attempted to do so, I was to immediately push him forward back into the trot and not allow completion of the transition until it was done correctly. If it took 10 tries to get it right, than it took 10 tries. The focus and thought that went into our rides suddenly went up by several orders of magnitude. Solo had to learn that doing it right was the ONLY option he had or else I was going to just annoy the shit out of him until he gave in.

This was going to take a lot of deep breaths.

But it was working.

October 26, 2009

Did You Know Caves Kill Horses?

It's true. So Solo tells me.

The second horse trial we did this summer was down at the legendary Denny Emerson's farm so I knew his courses would be up to par with what we could expect at a recognized event. We'd been working really hard and I felt as prepared as possible.

Hiccup #1: I don't really care who I compete against, but I like to read down the list in my group just for fun. Now who should show up in our division but Teddy O'Connor's little brother. Awesome. Well, we weren't going to be winning that one unless he wigged out and leaped out of the dressage arena.

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A rare horse-shaped moment in the test.
Hiccup #2 (which was not suspected as a hiccup until actual commencement of test): our half of the Beginner Novice division was to do our dressage test in the indoor arena. We had a covered arena at home, so I thought...no biggie. Hah.

We warmed up, things seemed to be going ok. We entered the indoor, things seemed to be going ok. I showed Solo the mirrors in the ring before the test began, things seemed to be going ok. We went down centerline, Solo's brain exploded.

For the rest of my test, I was riding a heroin-laced giraffe with rolling eyes and a gaping mouth while desperately calling, "Whoaaaaaa, boy, whoaaaaaaa..." Let's just say it didn't score that well.

I was pretty much used to being in last place after dressage. My only mortification came from the fact that David was there that day and I was horrified that he might look at the leaderboard and see our score. I chose to hide behind the trailer except when we had to go jump.

Fortunately, from the bottom, there is nowhere to go but up. While we performed the stadium course at terminal velocity (I figured better to not give Solo a chance to think about the colours), we left all the rails up.

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Stadium warmup

And Denny's cross country course was, as expected, big and Totally Freaking Awesome.

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Ready in the start box.

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Clearing Jump 1 with enthusiasm.

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As a friend put it, "you know you've had a good day when it ends in a shit-eating grin."

We didn't win. We didn't even place. But we finished double clear in both jumping phases and we had a blast. I really couldn't ask for more.