SUBSCRIBE TODAY Smiley face  Get updates via email! 

We Are Flying Solo

October 29, 2012

A Gear In The Complex Machine, Pt. I

Before I start, to all my friends, human and equine, north of me, please stay safe and wear a lifejacket!  I know those areas are not as accustomed to our tropical visitors as we are down here, so just buy an extra case of beer and keep your blankets handy.

Seriously, sun!!  At Waredaca!!  In October!!!
I've been gone the last four days (Wed-Sat, I know, I heard you sobbing) doing my annual volunteer stint at the Waredaca Training 3-Day Event (now including the Novice 3-Day!), which is run by my beloved Area II Adult Riders (see sidebar) group with the help of Gretchen Butts, the owner of Waredaca who donates the use of her amazing facility (omg, the XC footing...) to use for the event.  As longtime readers know, this event has been my riding goal ever since I first set foot on the showgrounds in 2009.  And hell or high water (both of which you might actually be in right now?), I WILL ride that course.  I tried to make it happen last year.  We all know how that ended.  But not this year.

I am always a strong proponent of volunteering for our sport.  I firmly believe EVERY SINGLE MEMBER from me to Boyd Martin should be required to spend 8 hours volunteering each year if they want to compete at a recognized event.  Doing ANYTHING.  Because there is a lot more to running a horse trial than judging cross country jumps.  Every time you are out there competing, we are running around like mad behind the scenes, most of us completely unpaid, there for the love of the sport, without which, you couldn't feel the rush of that course.  We make it happen for you - pass it on. 

Psh, a few judges, a TD, and some jump judges, what more could it take, you think?

Task Priori:  Keep Russell the russell warm!
I arrived around lunchtime on Wednesday; the first soundness jog-up was scheduled for late afternoon.  OMG, THE SUN WAS SHINING (This never happens; the T3D is usually held in 30 mph wind with a cold rain, during which I wear all the clothes in my suitcase at one time)!  I held on for dear life as the golf cart launched into warp drive to collect order of go sheets, distribute them to Gary from GRC, our dedicated photographer, Brian O'Connor (yeah, that one), smart-ass the entertaining announcer, TD, ground jury, and myself (jog steward) and one fellow yearly volunteer who also doubles as the stabling manager (MASSIVE job who is in charge of everything including safety checks, shavings, payments, posting announcements, answering 1,000 questions, and keeping the snack bowl stocked).  We also hold a briefing for riders, led by Stephen Bradley of how to organize your time and pace on endurance day (roads and tracks, steeplechase, cross country).  The riders stare back like spotlit kittens on a highway.

Post-jog, there is dinner to prepare for, dressage tests to be organized on clipboards with 27 pens apiece for judges and scribes, more orders of go for the warmup steward and all the rest (that printer's already smoking in protest),  The arena is set up, and everyone is already in pre-freak-out mode about endurance day (Friday).

The 10-minute box:  the last thing between you and XC
Thursday, as the frightened kittens riders perform their tests in the sandbox, I am once again clinging to a golf cart that is surely performing outside of its design specifications as we bounce off clumps of dirt on the side of a hill.  Have all the flags been staked for roads and tracks?  Where is the steeplechase practice jump?  Will the steeplechase be the same for Novice and Training (nah, they hedge-trimmed inbetween)?  Has someone fixed that decoration that blew over?  How are we going to stretch the 10 extra Friday volunteers (for shame, peeps, for shame) over 47 positions?  Is the 10-minute box roped off?  Can someone put out the finish flags for phase C?  Where is the start box for D?  Who will be control for cross country and will they be on the same radio channel as roads and tracks?  Has anyone seen the TD?  Have we picked rider reps yet?  Don't tell them how much paperwork it involves.  No one has STILL fixed the blowover?  Thank cod vet school minions are showing up to help in the 10-minute box!  Will we ever convince the kittens that the end of B and the start of C are the same location?  By the way, did anyone ever mark that?   

You get the idea.

I managed to steal about 30 minutes to watch Tremaine Cooper (FEI course builder and excellent teacher) and Stephen Bradley coach some of the riders through steeplechase practice after their dressage tests.  Two words:  FAST and FUN.  Just let go, ride the gallop, and it becomes a beautiful thing.

Want it done right?  Hire OCD girl.
Then I spent about 1.5 hours putting together all the clipboards for endurance day judges, talking through the system with the volunteer coordinator, labeling, re-labeling, stacking, mapping, and hoping people would actually show up.   After that, it was helping Michele, our magical, incredible prize coordinator, organize prize buckets and loot from a variety of donors and sponsors.

Then it was more dinner, including more attempts by our dedicated volunteer vet, Dr. Julie, and Max Corcoran (do I even need to explain who she is?) to teach riders how to untangle the pile of 4 phases of string and make it into a smooth line of endurance day awesomeness:  A - B - C - 10 min box - D - vet check - done.

Led by a cold beer and a warm bed, I was passed out by 9:30 pm.  And there were still two days to make happen, two days to give 50 lucky people the (safe!) ride of their lives around a championship level course.  Easy....

To be continued...      

October 23, 2012

I Think It's Over Now

I've been in this blind panic, trying to get Encore going properly for Virginia, my destination event of the year, the one thing I've set my sights on that was to be a balm for my life, a grand adventure of a true 3-day event with a great team of friends.

He never gets sore spots.
I've decided instead to invest in pet rocks.

Encore has had soreness in his left hip ever since he slipped at Five Points in September.  I, like an idiot, took two horse trials to figure out what was even going on.  It's not like him to go into the ring and pull 5 rails in stadium.  He should NOT be getting 44's in dressage.  I blamed my riding, I blamed lack of preparation.  FINALLY, I was able to piece together the evidence, see a timeline and figure out he was just plain sore. 

Dr. Bob came out several times, as mentioned previously.  He put the skeletal pieces back where they belong and gave the muscles and ligaments a little juicy help. 

On our Facebook page, I mentioned we did a trail ride on Saturday -- some walk/trot work on hills.  As soon as he picked up the trot though, I could feel his diagonals were uneven.  The muscles in his hindquarters fatigued quickly.  He was hot and sweaty in less than an hour; not normal for a fit young horse.  There was obviously something else stressing his system.

So I spoke to Dr. Bob yesterday and he instructed me to try everything last night and see what I had.

What I had was a tense, anxious horse, ears pinned back, teeth grinding, tail swishing, who would not step under with his left hind.  He kicked out, he dropped his hind end in downward transitions, and in general, I felt like I was torturing him.  But I had to collect the data.  After the ride, I admit I ended in tears because I knew he was only getting worse in work and I knew that, barring unicorn magic, our journey for the year was over after a frustrating fall half-season and  now, my riding was done for a long time.

I palpated and tested and stretched post-ride.  Everything seemed concentrated around the SI/ligaments/muscles on top of his left hip.  Strains to the SI ligament often happen when a horse slips at a gallop at the moment that leg is loaded:  exactly what he did a month and a half ago.  I will talk to Dr. Bob again  later today and I will wait and see, but odds are I will be calling in a scratch next week and I will just eat $400.

Because there comes a point where it's all about you and stops being about your horse.  I could probably push him through the event, but then it is all about my personal wants and NOT about what is best for him in the long term.  So I choose him.  I choose what I hope will allow him to continue to perform for many years to come. 

It could change, something magical might happen in the next week.  That has not been my experience.  While I am heartbroken, there is also a little bit of relief -- taking away the pressure of getting to the horse trial took away the panic and anxiety of wondering how he will make it.  Now if it works, that's great, but if it doesn't, I'm now mentally prepared to pull his shoes and start over again next summer.

So now it's just me and two half-broken horses, kicking around the broken remnants of our goals.  Maybe we'll share a beer and share a dream of a brighter comeback.  Maybe we'll just lean on each other and watch the days crawl by, waiting, always waiting, for a little luck to glance our way. 

October 18, 2012

Back To School

So many things going, trying to cram every possible moment in before I am hobbled....

Batman (Dr. Bob -- he and Robin broke up, so now we only have the one, snif) visited on Tuesday and "refixed" Encore.  As I suspected, his tight hip muscle had rotated his pelvis again and his sacrum was tilted from his slips at 5 Points, so that all got worked out and he got a bit of muscle relaxer in the left hip ligaments to hopefully help keep things in place, along with a steroid in the right hip to tighten up that muscle for the same reason.  He has two days off, then tomorrow, a 2-hour date with the hot walker.  This weekend, we'll go back into work with low jumps and next week, with bated breath, training resumes.

The good part of the tradeoff is that I have gotten to spend some much-needed time with Solo.  Last night, we went down to the arena and did some stretching, lateral work, and transitions.  Damn, that horse is a nice-moving, well-trained horse.  Sigh.  I suspect he could improve with an SI injection, but he, unlike his brother, is uninsured so no bone scan or fancy back needles are in his future.

He still felt good once he warmed up and he still loves that extended trot (well, the lopsided version his current out of shape self can do).  I give thanks to Encore for making me a significantly better rider, so I was able to keep Solo soft in the bridle and push his back legs forward forward forward (No easy feat.  Solo firmly assures me that his butt only exists to hold his tail on).  Oh how I long to run a XC course on him again -- I am sure he does as well!

As we finished, our BO came into the ring for the weekly adult lesson group and we started talking.  I've offered Solo to him as a lesson horse for the many kid lessons he gives where they are just walking around, learning the basics and being comfortable on a horse.  Mr. Shiny is kind and generous, completely unphased by children running beneath his belly (yes, they have, headshake), and in about four steps, if he knows you are clueless, he will move at a snail's speed and take excellent care of you.  It will give him a chance to feel important (he loves having his ego stroked, you should see him ponying Encore, he takes no sass) and to be brushed and petted by new people, all the attention that he craves.

I have mixed feelings -- because of his past, I have always been very careful about the scenarios that I put him in, and because of his trust issues, I watch carefully to make sure no one accidentally waves the red flag.  There are certain shadows that will never vanish.  No one is able to longe him or even carry a longe whip by him except for me and he keeps a close eye on all other kinds of whips, especially if they are held up at the ready.  Despite years of training him to give to poll pressure, he will still freak out if he steps on his own rope or backs up against his halter.  It will be hard for me to know that someone is handling him when I am not there.

But if there is one person I trust to protect him and respect him, it is this BO.  Solo is already the darling of the barn staff (he's so manipulative) and BO is no exception.  I have spent months watching him train and ride his own and clients' horses, as well as work with his own instructor and he is the real deal.  I have never once seen him be unfair or harsh with a horse or allow his students to be.

It will be ok, it will be ok, it will be ok......

October 13, 2012


I'm terrible at it.  So perhaps it's a good thing I've been left in charge of the farm this weekend while everyone is shining their silver at the State Fair.  With still about 30 horses left behind and a pony with an eye infection, plus pasture dragging and arena mowing -- oh wait, skip that one, the mower wouldn't start.  At any rate, better than fidgeting.

I don't want to do anything meaningful with Encore until Dr. Bob has a chance to set right what is sore.  Solo is quite of out shape; we did a bit of walk/trot work the other day (see our FB feed) and he was fantastic, but it definitely woke up some long-slumbering muscles who now whine in protest.

So instead, tonight I rode out bareback into the sunset, Solo's familar sway beneath me and Encore's bright face at my knee as we ponied him through quarreling mockingbirds and the fat-rolling scramble of groundhogs in a perfect early fall evening.  It was good to get them both moving slightly faster than a lazy pasture amble and good to be on a horse after tractors and pitchforks and grain scoops and hoses.

Only two more days, two more days....

October 7, 2012

The Horseman's Decision

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rally

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

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

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

The Big Decision 

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

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

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

The Aftermath

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 30, 2012

Shhhhh, Did You Hear That?

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

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

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

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

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

September 26, 2012

Encore Goes Training!

Only without extended trot.

I can see your face now:  o.o

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 21, 2012

Rocky Mountain High

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

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

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


This face always makes my heart skip a beat.

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

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

Turns out, it really was that simple:

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


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

September 13, 2012

You Buy, You Break

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

That would have been way too easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over it....

September 11, 2012

Horse Trials = Ridiculously Expensive Lessons In Horsemanship

Edited to add:  there appear to be some photo sizing issues in Firefox.  When viewed in IE or Chrome, they appear normal to me.  All photos have been uploaded at the smaller size, I don't know what's up with that.  Sorry, working on it.  Oh, Firefox, you disappoint me so, I have loved you long time... If you click on the pictures, you can see them at normal human size (as opposed to ginormous).

And nothing makes you feel like your HT experience was complete like sitting on the curb at AutoZone on your way home, waiting for a clerk to come bring you a new truck battery (my back was not in the mood to be lifting batteries).  Ends up, he took too long, so I stole his tools and did it myself.

It started well though and I'm going to try to keep the story short and instead, crash your browser with media.  Because I'm nice like that.  All photos by High Time Photography, thank you!

Dressage:  Wow, I had a heck of a horse.  For the first time EVER, Encore was completely rideable in the ring.  He was (mostly) soft, he did not anticipate and only had a few tense moments.  He canter was sheer loveliness to sit on.  The judge nailed him hard on almost every movement because he is still a bit counterbent quite often.  I have ridden under her before and knew she was tough, she never liked Solo's work much either.  But as I said before, she doesn't know his journey and she doesn't know what he was like even a week ago, or last Wednesday, when I spent a marathon NO MORE ANTICIPATORY BULLSHIT session that about killed my knee but apparently worked! So me = completely stoked with his test.





Where are my cute points?

Cross Country:  Here, he started to feel the hurt.  Because HE WOULD NOT DRINK ALL DAY.  It was hot and humid and the little bugger would just not slurp any water.  He galloped his heart out and went double clear, but he was getting tired.  The footing was also hard and slick (never experienced that at CHP, would never have dreamed of needing studs there for Novice!) and he lost his hind feet out from under him a couple times, so he jumped around just feeling a bit greener than he is.  Oh, and the last jump on course?  His nemesis which he defeated this past spring.  Ha!  I cooled him off and we went "home" to our wonderful friend's farm where I hoped he would tank up overnight.










HELMET CAM I REMEMBERED TO TURN ON!  It was supposed to upload to YouTube too.  Crappy software fail.  I'm not thrilled with this one and I'm not sure why it appears we are riding in an earthquake while being pounded by hail, but perhaps you should take some Dramamine first...

I am making this a link for now, because the sizing all wrong and this whole post seems to have imploded blogger. So, CLICK HERE FOR HELMET CAM VID!

The ever-super Sue's perspective:

Stadium:  Sunday woke us up with cool, beautiful air that smelled the way a fall horse trial should.  After jump-starting the rig, sigh, Encore and I went back to the horse park and I expected a clean jump round.  Expected.  When we got to warmup, I found out that my horse had not taken full advantage of his pasture and trough Saturday night and felt a bit tired.  I warmed him up and he was jumping clean, so I let him hang out till it was time to go.  My plan was just to gallop him down the side of the arena to the start flags and just keep my leg on to keep him moving over the fences.

CHP had other plans.  They had apparently had a group meeting and voted to use all their shallowest jump cups.  The hollow "thunk" of rails in sand had been a common sound all day.  So while Encore jumped double clear with the first 2/3 of his body, his tired back toes tapped a rail.  Or five.  I couldn't be upset with him, really, and I have a call in to David to see if he will help me analyze if there is anything we could have done differently.  But Encore never gave up and never hesitated, so his heart was there.  Naturally, once he walked back to the trailer, he drank two buckets of water.  *eyeroll*

But he looked pretty...


It looked bigger, mom!


A little focus fail, but he looked too cute to pass it up.

The round:

In the end, I wouldn't have changed a thing and I already have a solution for the water issue -- I think the water in my container was just stale and I did not think like a horse and fill his bucket from the park hose until Sunday.  Sigh.  Nonetheless, I am very happy with his performance and overjoyed with his dressage transformation (I hope it sticks) and very much look forward to our next competition, a schooling trial on the 22nd.

This weekend though, we will hit the mountains, build some butt muscles, drink some beer, and be judged by no one but a few arrogant grey squirrels.  Who says Thoroughbreds can't do it all?

September 9, 2012

A Sneak Peak At A Horse Trial High

Thank you to all of you who sent good juju our way this weekend!!

First off, CONGRATULATIONS to our friend Sue (owner of beautiful farm where we meet David in VA) and her mare, Grace, who finished 3rd in Grace's first Prelim!!!!!  AHHHH!

If you checked the live scores, you might have thought disaster occurred, as our number was, ummmm, not exactly spectacular.  Or even average.  Good thing I am not one of those nutty competitive people or I would have quit several years ago.

But you know what?  It was a fantastic weekend for TFS.  One of the reasons I love eventing is that the judging is relatively objective, but that also means that the judges only see a snapshot of you and your score does not reflect where you are or how far you've come in your journey with your partner.  That is why I ride for me, to find holes in my training, to improve upon my last attempt and of course, to RIDE THE XC COURSE, DUH, WHY DO YOU THINK WE PUT UP WITH ALL THIS OTHER CRAP??!  Ahem.

Why was it so great?  Well, full story with pictures and video (yes, I remembered to actually TURN ON the helmet cam) are on the way after much uploading, but I'll give you a hint:

I got to ride this horse (photos by High Time Photography) --

September 7, 2012

How To Stalk Us, I Mean, Check On Us

It's late, bridles are sort of clean, pads are sort of washed (hey, I've been busy), the trailer is sort of mostly packed, the horse is DEFINITELY clean.  The truck still needs diesel and my bag is half empty, but, well, I guess it'll do.

What you really want:

Unicorn Ride Times:    Dressage -- 12:52 pm               XC -- 4:00 pm (sheesh)

Stadium for Novice is supposed to occur sometime around lunchtime on Sunday.

LIVE SCORING!  Click it.  Unless I screwed up.  Then don't look.

Want to stalk someone else?  RIDE TIMES!

Deep breath -- the fall season officially begins and Away Again is ready to take it away.  Again.  You know?  You know.  I know.

September 6, 2012

Red Alert: An Opportunity For You!

For those of you who are not Facebook subscribers to TFS (for shame!), I wanted to let you east coasters know that September 15th, you can come and have a lesson with our amazing David O., jumping coach extraordinaire.  He will be in southern VA at the most beautiful farm owned by a friend.  You too, can be epic in the arena!

Please contact me if you are interested!  I cannot make it up this time and the owner needs spots filled!

You can do a stadium, XC, or dressage lesson and David is phenomenal at them all, focused on bringing out the best in your horse, which he magically succeeds at any time.  He also (besides being wonderfully patient with my dorkiness and very kind) teaches to your level, no matter what that is -- a Prelim horse went before me, I rode Novice, and a young horse who had only ever jumped a couple tiny x-rails went after me.  There is never any judging or denigration, only encouragement and improvement under his awesome eye.

Again, for details, contact me through email link on the sidebar -- you won't regret it, if you can make it!!

August 31, 2012

An Anniversary? Seriously?

It's hard to believe but nearly a year ago, magic happened and a classy chestnut gelding found his way from Delaware to Southern Pines to me.

It's taken me almost that long to learn how to ride him properly; he is so different from my burly Appendix boy.  He has made me a better rider and I hope that I have made him a stronger, more comfortable horse.  As we tackle Five Points next weekend, he will be back in the sandhills where the fabulous Suzanne and Allie of CANTER MA got him restarted, only now, baby's got a whole new look.

After 12 months of conditioning and training and trying and failing and trying again and oh there was that whole bone scan thing and then there is the ever present rider handicap, one OTTB went from sexy to S.E.X.Y. 

September 8, 2011 -- Away Again steps off my trailer into a new life:

October 16, 2011 -- One month later, bathed clean and ready to learn:

April 28, 2012 -- It's springtime, don't make fun of my weird shedding, mom!  The first day at the new farm:

August 31, 2012 -- I'm too sexy for dressage, check out mah neck (and I have not learned to pose yet from my brother and my mom is terrible at this when trying to hold the rope and her cell phone at the same time):

August 29, 2012

Three Feet Closer To Heaven

My physiology betrayed me as my heart beat faster, watching the ring crew raise the poles to 3'.  Logically, Encore and I have lessoned well at this height and even with Solo, we cleared 3'3", although not without significant effort.

We had already run the 2'6" class at Mach 10, Encore bombing around the course as if everything was simply a coloured speedbump.  Even with his rider getting so hopelessly lost that I had to stop after jump four and stare around at the numbers to figure out what to do next.  On the plus side, it provided both spectators, judge, and rider with a good giggle. 

Note:  do not stand at a jumper show all morning and watch alternating courses back and forth.  You will only confuse yourself.  Be grateful that we have only one course in eventing.

Encore had warmed up well, despite working BY HIMSELF, isolated behind the barn in the dressage arena.  I focused on David's counterbending exercises to supple him and the challenge was like a charm, keeping his mind on his feet, rather than everything else.

I trotted cautiously in when it was my turn to jump our course.  The judge blew the whistle and I barely breathed my aids, expecting Encore to explode back into rocket power.

Then he looked at the first jump, we rebalanced, he found his rhythm, and proceeded to perform a phenomenal display of athleticism -- he never rushed, his jumps were careful and correct, and despite more rider navigational derps requiring last minute swerves, he even jumped diagnoally from the base to keep it between the standards without any fuss at all.  I think everyone heard me yell, "THANK YOU, GOOD SAVE!" over the last skinny -- about 4' wide, which I almost overshot except for Encore's quick and honest effort to do his job properly.

Thrilled is an understatement.  It appears that at 3', he finally comes into his own.  The jumps are big enough to earn a little respect and attention.  And guess what?  If you keep your leg on, EVEN IF YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR HORSE IS MOVING FAST, and you ride his hind end to the jump with a soft and balanced hand, a good rhythm, and you keep your eyes ahead of you.....IT FREAKING WORKS EVERY TIME.  Wow.  How much money did it cost me before my body finally managed to pull that off?

First rule of Horse Club:  never add up expense of Horse Club.

The single rail we dropped was entirely my fault -- I tried to half halt too close to the fence, causing Encore to tag the rail with his hind feet.  The last three strides in front of the jump belong to him, as David says, and I should have simply added leg and left well enough alone. 

In summary:  THE UNICORN IS A ROCK STAR.  And I can't wait till Five Points....

August 22, 2012

Don't Yell At Problems -- Solve Them

That was definitely the theme for our lesson on Saturday, so I will let you take my lesson as well!  Encore did very well and feels in fine form, just in need of more strength as usual.  Our warmup felt solid and I was particularly pleased with his left lead canter, which no longer feels like you are riding a washing machine out of balance.

Video hint:  if you want to see details, click the little gear at the bottom of the YouTube window and you can pick HD.

Trot trot trot...


As always, David had a gymnastic for us to start with.  Encore ate it like it was nothing, but decided he'd rather throw in a lead change AT THE TAKEOFF STRIDE so he could do the whole thing on his right lead, which he much prefers.  I never said he wasn't quick with his feet.


Then we were allowed to begin our courses.   Watch very carefully as I jump the first oxer here, I think you will see a magnificent example of equitation the way it should be -- a moment of harmony I don't even have words for.

Heh.  After Encore proceeded to scare himself by overjumping the oxers, we set about fixing that too; David always emphasizes breaking things down and being very methodical in your training, one careful footstep at a time.  In fact, he should just wear a t-shirt that says, "Be Methodical" and it would save him a lot of breath.

They are all green horse mistakes -- I was not supposed to let him run out and I was set to make him eat it, but he is so quick and athletic, his body moves faster than I can think!  Lesson:  never never never take a jump for granted.  Keep that leg ON even if you think you are already at the point of no return!  At least until he gets some more solid mileage this fall.

Hopefully, on Saturday, all our fixing will fall into place and we will be ready to eat up some jumper courses!

August 18, 2012

Make Your Horse Kinetic

Encore had an excellent lesson with our beloved David O. this morning and I am busy downloading and uploading and sideloading our videos!  Thank you to the most awesome Sue for not only organizing the lesson series, but letting Encore and I come up and have a mini-vacation at her beautiful farm.  We hit the galloping lanes on Friday to take the edge off, explored the XC fields, and then got to leap (sometimes more enthusiastically then others) over her lovely show jumps.

I can't wait any longer, though, to post a remarkable summary of horse training that David gave during one of Sue's lessons (the woman has THREE horses going right now, I have to nap just thinking about it).  Meditate upon it and make it your zen:

Forward is not fast.
Forward is creating the energy.
Collection is harnessing the energy.
Extension is releasing the energy.

August 10, 2012

Stormy Surprises

Lightning snapped as the stormfront wind brushed, refreshingly cool, across both our bodies.  Encore & I, both tired of sweating, welcomed a chance where time & bearable weather finally intersected.

Despite the flashing bolts of electricity, there was no rain, just the breeze, & Encore was bothered by neither.  On Monday, Dr. Bob visited to dispense spring shots & had given Encore his first chiro adjustment post-injections.  His thoracic spine felt great, he just had some rotation in his sacrum & hips that was easily restored to proper order.

As I tacked up, I felt his left hip muscle & hamstring, both usually tight & in need of stretching.  Today, though, both were soft & matched the right side; money well spent.

It was just a short school in the dressage area, but it restored my hope & was not what expected that day.  I've been struggling to snatch riding time from our field schedule, so consistency has not been involved in our training much.  There has been much sweating & llama-riding & more energy than we know what to do with.

But this time, Encore stepped into the bridle easily, working gorgeously round over his back.  I concentrated on not locking my left arm & shoulder -- if I lost my focus tracking left, his head would tilt askew to the inside, reminding me to BE SOFT.  Then I would consciously relax every muscle from shoulder to wrist, without losing the contact, & he would quietly move forward, straight & strong.

We only did left lead canter, his weak side (Mr. Anticipation doesn't get to assume we do both leads every time, he's too smart!).  I let him warm up his back in two point, then I sat down as much as I could in the jumping saddle & rode with my seat & core.  Suddenly there appeared steps of a round dressage canter & Encore flicked an ear as I laughed with glee.

Spring 2012.  You won't believe the new body he has now...
The session finished with just three jumps.  We trotted back & forth over a 2' crossrail -- he can be quite strong & pasture sour at home so we have been working on that.  Today, he stayed in a rhythm & didn't race to the jump.

I decided to go ahead & canter around to a last jump -- about a 3'1" double rail vertical I set up to come off a bend.  As he came to the base & I kept my leg on, he curled up & over the jump so carefully, I could feel his front legs not daring to touch wood.

Our entry show of the  fall is a schooling jumper show in town in two weeks.  Then our first horse trial will take us back the Carolina Horse Park for Five Points HT in September.

I have a good feeling & hopefully this time, it won't be a prelude to disaster...

July 28, 2012

Can I Make The Impossible Possible?

This is how it goes:

Monday I am getting ready for field work, fixing the stuff broken in last week's field work, or driving to field work.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I am usually DOING field work on travel status, which means I am in a hotel somewhere in the economic wasteland (but gorgeous rivers) that is the coastal plain of our state.

Friday, I'm fixing the stuff we broke this week and planning and coordinating staff for the next week.

Saturday, I am exhausted and it is 102 degrees, but I stuff myself into the truck and drive north to ride Encore.  Since he hasn't been ridden in a week, I have to somehow wear him out before I can do anything focused (I have discovered the round pen is very helpful because he HAS to balance or he will fall). 

Sunday, he is much more rideable but I am tired of sweating, even though the temperature has dropped to a balmy 99.  Nevertheless, I truck up and try to do something worthwhile.

I ache to ride Solo too, but what little time I have must be devoted to the youngster.

Because we WILL have a fall season, SO HELP ME COD, because my knee surgery (thank YOU, VA Horse Trials 2011) is scheduled for November 16th (just after the Adult Team Challenge in VA, how fitting) and after that I will not be able to walk until mid-January and it will be 8 months to full recovery if I don't explode first.

Encore needs a schedule (which I can't give him) and I need to build his hind end, especially his left hind, which is still a bit weaker and tight from his pre-injection body habits.  We've made some progress; our dressage lesson today "showed a nice Second Level trot" and because the arena had not been mowed, Mr. Finicky Legs passaged over the 10 inch tall weeds while I laughed at him.  I guess that's one way to get hock action...

Blogging:  EPIC FAIL.  Unless you want to hear about all the fish I can't find because they have somehow vanished.  Who would have thought that the rivers had changed since the last records of the species 50 years ago?  Oh wait...

On the plus side, in November I will have time to write the series I have been saving in my head that I think you will enjoy.  Since I will not be able to do anything else.  Although I have already decided that sitting on a lazy, retired horse is a non-weight bearing activity....

July 7, 2012

On Again, Off Again

Summers are frustrating for me.  It's field season at work, which means I am doing this...

...while losing my body weight in sweat every day.  It is fun and I love the wildlife, but trust me, it's not as easy as it looks!  It also means I have no consistent schedule.  I am often on travel status as my territory covers 1/3 of the state.  Horse training and article writing does not seem to be a priority of my agency for some reason.

So I am left to piecemeal it as best I can.  I make plans and change them and then change those.  Sometimes I have to wait until the heat breaks or until it's raining so field work is canceled or we have meetings so I get to stay home.

Yeah, your clinic scheduled on a Wednesday?  Please stop complaining that it won't fill, we can't all be kept women...

However, since I spend many MANY hours behind the wheel of the work truck, I contemplate.  What do I want from Encore's round pen work?  With Solo, I needed to earn his trust, so my approach was to calm him and reassure him as much as possible.  But with Encore, I think I want to leave a little raw edge.  He is appropriately obedient, but has a little fire, a little pushback, and I don't think I want to take that away.  I WANT a little badass-ery in my eventer and to know that he is self-confident enough to attack new challenges and move boldly forward even if I falter.  Solo became bold and confident because I showed him he could be, but Encore already has his own core to build on. 

This is my working theory.  In the meantime, what riding time we get is spent on building his hind end and back on trails and in transitions in hopes that our fall season will see everything bumped up a notch!