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We Are Flying Solo

December 27, 2011

Just Relax

Sadly, I shall be away from blogland for the rest of the week, as far as I know.  This renders me unable to share my dorkiness genius and impeccable humour with all of you for a whole five days.  It's ok, just let your sobs out.

So I leave you with this:  when one does not clamp down, grit teeth, obsess, nitpick, nag and expect instant perfection during training rides, when instead you relax, keep goals simple, realistic, and light, those rides go 1000x times better.

Thank you, Master Of The Obvious. 

You'd think that after enough years, a person would not need to be reminded of this.  You'd think.

So ponder away, enjoy your rides, have a wonderful week, and prepare for next week's posts, which will include detailed instructions on how to buy a unicorn and some more totally awesome Stuff Saturated With Solo Karma for sale! 


December 22, 2011

Is It A Coincidence That "Saddle" And "Satan" Begin With The Same Two Letters?

I don't think I can describe saddle fitting any better than I did herea form of torture akin to holding one's hands in a campfire while being poked in the eyeballs with sharp sticks. If you have any special needs whatsoever, it adds an extra layer of "fun," like a rabbit slowly chewing off your toes while your hands roast.

Encore and I got to spend three hours with the fitter today.  Oh, did I not mention that he's a different shape than Solo?  Of course he is.

It's not so much width -- comparing their tracings shows that Encore is only a bit narrower than Solo, which will no doubt change as the former continues to gain muscle and weight.  It's the longitudinal profile, withers to hips.  Solo is very scoopy, with a big dip in his back and hollows behind the withers.  This is a saddle fitting nightmare.  Don't buy a horse like that!  Encore is fairly flat and short-coupled.  Saddle fitters love horses like him, lots of saddles can sit there nicely with relatively little effort.

In case you didn't figure out the nightmarish part yet, it's the fact that I bought saddles, especially my beautiful dressage saddle, to fit curvacious Solo, with obligingly scoopy tree.  That doesn't work so well with flat horse.  Naturally.

The jumping saddle wasn't too bad, we switched to the medium-narrow gullet (Encore's giant withers!) with the understanding that as he develops more, he will probably end up in the medium by spring (Solo was medium-wide, just for reference).  I'm not a fan of the changey gullet trees anymore, the tree points are so short, they made lots of pressure points on Solo, plus, we can't quite get the wither clearance we want, but it's what I have, the saddle fits me well, and it rides well, so I wanted to try and work it out.  I've just ordered an Ecogold half pad and we think it will provide enough lift and cushion to tide us over till his back develops enough to lift the saddle a bit more.  We think.  Only way to know is by doing, so once the box arrives, the moment of truth shall come!

My beautiful, wonderful dressage saddle that fits me perfectly?  It will probably need to be replaced at some point, but I'm not willing to let it go yet.  Not only does it fit me perfectly, I still need to ride Solo in something and he sure as shootin' isn't going in a medium-narrow jumping saddle, LOL!  So, I told fitter to see if she can buy me some time.

Turns out even time has a price.  $130 to be exact.  Apparently there is some worldwide sheep shortage that has driven up prices (I am not kidding, she actually told me this).  Perhaps I should invest in some Merino lambs?

At any rate, between flocking shifts and front and rear shims in our fancy new pad #2, we were able to flatten out the saddle enough that it no longer rocked on Encore's back and he was once again willing to lift and come round.

As my horse is now the proud owner of a small fortune's worth of saddle pads, I fully expect him have mastered at least the Beginner Novice dressage tests by the end of the week.  Since they also had a Herm Springer Duo bit (which I've been dying to try on Encore) on super bargain sale, I further expect extended gaits and shoulder-in by next Tuesday.  Little bugger better get cracking.  

December 18, 2011

Weekend Update


No, I didn't fall off again. Damn, I hate that I have to put "again" at the end of that sentence. The cloud of "fall-down-go-boom" still lingers over my shoulder. Or is that behind my knee...

But today, the reason my whole body hurts has a name. And that name is David. Now, before your mind goes slinking off to the gutter (don't go there, I'm pretty sure his wife, Lauren, can beat me up six ways to Sunday), let me elaborate.

I like to torture my horses with clippers.
Saturday saw a bleary-eyed me pointing Encore into the trailer at o-dark-hundred to tromp down to SoPines and meet David for a XC school. I wasn't quite awake when we arrived, but once that cold wind blew down the back of my vest I found a new level of alertness.

The next 45 minutes were...wonderfabulubulous. One word wouldn't cover it, so I had to smash a few together.

We were the only lessoners that morning, which means David had us at his mercy. When you are alone with him, this encompasses your breaks to catch your breath:

David: Ok, let him walk for a minute.

Me (mentally): Whew.

One and a half walk strides later --

David: Ok, let's canter to the log then turn to this ditch and canter back to the stone wall...

Me: So much for breathing.

I didn't realize how hard I was working until I got up this morning.   Or rather, until I tried to stand up this morning and my legs screamed for mercy. 

Encore, on the other hand, was a professional phenom.  So much so that by the end of the lesson, David was really excited about him, labeling him, "a really lovely package, with an incredible mind and a wonderful eye."

Mm'kay, when a four-star rider gets psyched about my horse, well, this is new to me, so it makes my brain skip in circles like a happy little clapping bunny.  Yes, a bunny, roll with it.

I don't see David get really excited very often -- encouraging, yes, but very calm and easy-going. 

"Do you know what I have to do to have him canter along in a great, perfect little rhythm like that?" I asked him.

"What's that?"  He humoured me.

"NOTHING!"  I shouted with glee.  "He just gives it to me!"  David giggled with me and it was great to share this step in Encore's education with someone else who knew just how special that kind of horse is.

Once he masters some details, like, uh, bending and canter transitions, this guy is going to be unstoppable.  I can't wait until spring!

PS: Dear Universe, please do not take my enthusiasm as an invitation to smite me.  Your lessons in humility, pain tolerance, and patience have been well-learned, I promise.  Please please please let Encore just be a happy, healthy horse who gets to go have fun with me and run and jump things.  It makes him happy and it makes me happy and there's really no harm in that.  Thank you.

December 13, 2011

Someone Slap Me!

Encore has discovered his jump.  His big, powerful, sit-on-your-butt-and-leap jump.  Holy mother of cod, I had a lot more horse under me than I expected on Sunday!  But it felt really REALLY good -- he saw a jump, locked on, came up in front of my leg in a strong, balanced canter (where I sat up VERY tall so he was not tempted to dash at it), found his distance, and soared.

His confidence was just plain fun and we even tackled a couple skinny brush boxes, about four feet wide each.  It took a couple tries for him to understand, but we got the light bulb and finished with a very proud pony.  He is jumping regularly at about 2'4" to 2'7" these days, which is mind-boggling to me since he jumped his first vertical in September.

It was a welcome relief for me, as I had found myself unexpectedly frustrated the last few weeks.  Starting out with Encore, I knew he was green, so I expected little and just rolled with it.  I was relaxed, it was fun, all was good.  Then he made great progress, I started making plans, I got an agenda, and I pushed.  It didn't help that stress from other areas of my life piled on.  And on and on and on. 

Of course, this did not become clear to me until we had a dressage lesson on Saturday, during which Priscilla was forced to give me a mental slap in the head.  Everyone should get smacked in the head from time to time, it does a world of good.  I felt like I just remembered to breathe again.  As Priscilla reminded me, when I am wound up tighter than a tick's belly and trying to shape my horse with sheer willpower, I will only make things worse.  For me, I have to take a deep breath and tell myself, "It just doesn't matter, it just doesn't matter, RELAX, IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER."  Obsessing over the little things, fixating on details, wanting problems fixed now, can put my brain on overdrive.  Fail.   

I also watched a session from last week's USEA convention, ever-so-helpfully uploaded by John over at Eventing Nation and one section in particular brought everything back into focus.  The videos encompass a Q&A session with 4-star riders, open to any audience inquiries.  Someone asked how much correctness they should demand from a young horse; does everything have to be right right now or do you just focus on one thing at a time?

If I obey the Law, will my horse do that?
This is my problem, I epiphanied (it's a word now, baby) to myself.  This is where I need to refine my approach to youngsters.  Buck Davidson summarized it best:  make a goal for the day and when you achieve it, be done.  Even if it only took ten minutes.  Don't go out and do your transitions and then do your ten meter circles and then do your canter work and then do your lateral exercises.  You will overwhelm a young mind if you just keep piling on.  Leslie Law (at right) agreed and elaborated that, if pony "loses his fizz" after 15 minutes, that's ok, do some hacking instead and just relax.

Clayton Fredericks, Phillip Dutton, and Karen O'Connor also reminded me of the cardinal rule:  ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS KEEP HIM IN FRONT OF YOUR LEG.  He can be counterbent, he can be hollowed out, he can be cross-firing and swinging his head and swishing his tail, but he better be in front of your leg.

For us, that means picking our goal for the day and sticking to it, resisting the temptation to practice everything at once.  That means overlooking what is not-quite-right and keeping my eyes instead on the incremental progress.  That means not letting Encore get lazy and behind the leg (not much of a problem with that one, who still transitions to canter like he's leaping out of starting gate, ha!).  I feel calmer, more focused, and better prepared to go forward from here.

Now if it will just stop being dark all the damn time...

December 7, 2011

Me Vs. Me: The Internal Monologue Of An Inveterate Self-Critic

If I ride him just right, he will get it.

This is the thought that runs over and over through my head as I worked with Encore last night. If my position could just be a little better, if my aids were just a little more accurate, if my balance was just a little more consistent, then Encore would succeed in doing the right thing.

Self-flagellation is, of course, default mode after a ride that had some very frustrating moments. There was a section of the most incredible stretching at the trot, where Encore's whole body was an upside-down U of supple, lifted, connected engagement, with his nose down to his knees and elastic springs in his legs. I thought, just, WOW.

Statler: Well, that was different.
Waldorf: Yep. Lousy...but different!
But then there was a period of tension, rushing, and falling in through the shoulder. My irritation mounted as I thought, What am I doing wrong? If I was just a better rider, I could get my horse to do this. I am just going to end up with a crooked horse pointing the wrong way because I can't seem to communicate this correctly.

I was bone-tired, I've gotten far too much bad news this week, it was dark, and my temper was short. I will never let that out to Encore of course, but it still wreaked havoc in my head (a confusing, scary place at best).  Over and over, I wondered why I couldn't just be better

None of this actually improves one's riding, naturally, but it seems to be an inevitable destination for us at some point or another.  Perhaps there are people who can remain eternally cheerful, but I suspect that we all have our moments of exhaustion and weakness.  I remember when I didn't canter Solo for months on end, as I could get nothing but an unbalanced gallop out of him.  I told myself, you should just sell this horse, you have no business owning something you are not even capable of riding a basic gait on.  Dejected does not even begin to sum up how I felt then.

Looking back, I can see that I was wrong, of course, and those months were simply something we needed to both work through and learn from.  With the help of one very good clinician, we found our canter again and went on to many triumphs.  Objectively, I know that the journey with Encore will progress in the same way, but it can be hard to trust in that view of the forest when you keep banging your head on the tree in front of you.

My point to this musing is simply to share with you the internal argument between two of the voices in my head aspects of my brain.  So that when you are in your own dark, frustrated, jaw-clenching throes of a not-so-smooth training phase, you can remember that you are not alone.  If horse training was easy, everyone would win Rolex, but alas, it entails an indescribably complex lifetime of lessons that would probably take ten actual lifetimes to absorb. 

I have two choices:  I can (a) give up or (b) give Encore a treat for trying (he also did some big, voluntary stretching in the left lead canter, good boy), take a nap, and come back another day.  After that nap, it only takes one look into big, kind, innocent brown eyes to choose option b.

December 6, 2011

In Which I Discover I Have Jinxed Myself

My blankets are fabulous, I said.  My blanket never tear, I said.  Waaahhhhhh....

Yes, Solo saw fit to once again stomp my dreams to dust (ok, I might be a little dramatic). Twice, in fact. This was his attack:

Encore wears blanket. Solo bites Encore. Blanket loses.

The carnage.
That is Solo's blanket, the trusty 5-year vetran of Carolina winters.  Torn asunder by vengeful teeth.  I guess Solo did not like the fact that Encore was wearing his clothes.  Fortunately, I have exquisite seamstress skills.  In fact, I think I should probably quit my job now and become a plastic surgeon.

The repair.
Stop laughing.

It gets worse.  Solo, apparently still seething with rage, also exacted his punishment on Encore's new blanket a day later, so I had to mangle fix that with my peerless needlework.  The seam is sealed with my tears of sorrow for the disfigurement of blanket loveliness.  

They are generally so peacefull out there.  Everyone has been blanketed up with nary a problem.  What, did someone start a fiery debate about politics out there?  Thanks so much, guys. 

December 2, 2011

A Dark, Cold, Ecstatic Night

Encore is bored with my circles and I need to come up with new ingeniuos exercises for his quick little mind.  So he got last night off and I saddled up Solo.  Last time I rode Mr. Shiny, he felt like crap on toast and his canter was gone, but when I longed him last Wednesday, he had some spring to his trot, even though he still fell out of canter at times.  But he still needs to move and I looked forward to riding a trained horse with buttons fully installed.

He strode out and stretched down at the walk and trot well and I picked up the reins to work on some bending.  Imagine my surprise when he immediately lifted and carried himself on the bit at the walk (he HATES walk work) and then pushed off in a lovely trot transition.  With a cautious smile, I did a bit of lateral work and he was strong and forward (Solo code for I feel good).  As I bent him around the corner, he started cantering vertically, trying to pull the reins from my hands and find his hand gallop.

I was stunned -- this meant he felt REALLY good which pretty much...makes my heart sing.  With a giggle, I brought him back to trot (insert annoyed orange ears and gnashing of teeth here) and made him find his rhythm again.

Me:  Ok, buddy, NOW it's your turn.  I asked him for canter with a soft outside leg.

Solo:  WAHHOOOOOOO!!!  He lept into the air with a flip of his head, then twisted into an exuberant buck and launched forward.  Thank goodness he didn't do his trademark QH spin or I'd have been eating footing for dinner.

I couldn't stop myself from laughing out loud.  It was like coming home.

After a couple laps of insisting that he NOT gallop all-out at this point in time, he came back to a rather round, rhythmic canter.  We did a couple more transitions, er, caprioles, Solo celebrating the joy of motion and energy and fire, and I grinning ear-to-ear at my partner's rediscovered power, lost since springtime.  I dared not let him hop over a tiny fence as I was certain it would become a 6-foot leap followed by potentially unrideable acrobatics of glee.  But he finished with a big, powerful, sweeping trot, stretched and rounded nose to tail, lofting with huge strides over the ground.

I don't know that he is magically fixed.  All I have had to give him is time, so that is all that he has gotten.  Maybe it was just a good day and maybe it won't last.  Everything is measured one day at a time and it is impossible to predict or guarantee anything.  Nonetheless, I can't stop the little chirp of hope from singing quietly in my chest.  What if, what if, what if, its soft melody teases.     

We'll see, we'll see, we'll see...

Photo by Pics of You

December 1, 2011

Bits Of Our Past, Moving On To The Future

I wore the cross country vest through Solo's first cross country schools and flew through our first horse trials in its faded blue.  We never had a jumping penalty while I was wearing it.

Solo wore the brown and brass bridle on trails in the Carolina mountains and salty shore, as well as during his first dressage lessons.  The clinchers survived more than one red-headed temper tantrum, even though the cavesson didn't.

We sported the black bridle to our first dressage show.  With brown reins.  But we stayed in the ring and did the test in order.  Then we went on to do the same for many after that.

The white dressage pad lay on Solo's back during our first and only Training Level horse trial.  He felt fantastic in that dressage arena, even though I never got to show off his amazing extended trot; he was so exuberant that morning, he chose to canter instead.  My heart swelled with pride after that test and that weekend was both the high point and the end of Solo's hard-won but cherished competitive career.

As I mailed off these and other pieces from our tack sale, I was sending out pieces of Flying Solo history.  As my hands brushed leather and fabric, I couldn't help but reminisce where each item had been and let my memory cradle and admire the flickering slideshow of adventure each one represented.  I hope that all of them bring you good Solo-karma.  There has to be a little bit of luck in a chestnut hair lodged here or there. 

It may seem odd or overly sentimental, to wax nostalgic about selling some stuff that I am not using, but it does feel like the transition to another chapter, even moreso than bringing Encore home.  I know there will be many changes in the next year, some big, some small, but they will not diminish or make any less special the five years I spent pointing an orange Quarter Horse against the odds.   

The Fix Solo Sale of 2011 continues, although I have updated the sale listings, removing items that I have received payment for and shipped off.  Thank you so much to winter and Erica for your kind and generous gifts and once again, to everyone who has been a part of helping us raise some much-needed funds! 

Help Team Flying Solo And I Guarantee You Will Win Your Next Show

*All guarantees not necessarily guaranteed.
Oh yes, it's your chance to get your hands on some sweet Flying Solo karma. 

Do you need a new show coat?  How about some inexpensive schooling equipment to save wear on your nice gear or some horsey clothes?  Peruse at your leisure and drop me an email about anything you are interested in; make an offer.

I have done my best to accurately represent, photograph, and measure all items.  Everything is kept clean, nonsmoking, I have cleaned and conditioned all the leather, blah blah. 

Caldene english show coat -- Black.  100% wool.  Made in England.  I had the seams let out (I have big shoulders & monkey arms, so it could fit a 6 or a thin 8.  On hanger, measures 15" shoulder to shoulder, 28" top of collar to tail on back, 24" shoulder seam to end of sleeve. 

Single vent in back with two black accent buttons behind.  Three button front with seal grey lining.  Lovely & I am sorry to part with it.  This will have you set for dressage, hunters, eventing, schooling shows, and will last forever.  Drycleaned & ready to go.  Excellent condition.  Retail ~$200.  $75.

Beautiful tailored details on back

Gatsby figure-8 noseband -- dark brown, plain leather.  Brand new.  Horse size.  Retail $30.  $15.  SOLD!! 

Hunting breastplate -- dark brown, plain raised leather.  Lovely condition, nice leather.  Horse size.  Retail $100.  $40.  

Dover jumper girth -- dark brown with lighter brown inset.  42", measures 46" from tip of buckle to tip of buckle.  Stainless steel roller buckles, they don't make them like this anymore!  Retail $80.  $25. SOLD!! 

Zilco crupper -- beta biothane, very nice and new.  For your mountain getaways!  Brown with black, very soft, padding and brass toned hardware.  Horse size, very adjustable.  Retail $57.  $30.   SOLD!!


Big D dress sheets -- THERE ARE TWO OF THESE.  Blue/hunter/burgundy plaid with burgundy trim, very nice, hardly used.  One is a 74", one is a 78".  Leather-reinforced fittings with nice hardware.  Closed front.  Surcingle and leg straps on both.  The 78" does have a 1" tear near the butt dart, easy to stitch.  Retail $75.  $30 for the 74" and $20 for the 78".


Herm Sprenger loose ring snaffle -- German silver loose ring snaffle from the experts at HS with over 135 years of experience.  Anatomically designed for your horse's mouth.  5.5 inches, ~13 mm diameter mouth at end outside rings (thickest part).  Retail $86.  $50

The Gory Details

Shipping and handling: flat $8.00 in the US.  If you are in Canada or elsewhere, I'll have to figure that out.  All items will ship as soon as I can upon receipt of payment.

Payment: Check, money order or Paypal, email me for informationI will also take reasonable offers or do package deals.

Solo says thank you for looking!  

November 29, 2011

Vacation's Over, Baby

Thank you so much to all of you who have participated thus far in the 2011 Fix Solo For Christmas Sale!  I have a bunch of things stacked up to ship out this week when I can get the address labels made.  There are still some fun things left, should you find yourself in want need, including reins, dress sheets, a riser pad, girth, bit, and crupper! 

Meanwhile, I have been trying to recover from driving 1200 miles to Kentucky and back this weekend.  Oh yes, recovering.  Not quite there yet.  I made it out to the farm last night to take care of my boys and longe Encore.  I assumed after four days off, he'd be a bit wild with unspent energy.

Not so much.

He's in a new (giant) pasture with Solo and Solo's BFF, Danny, now.  He was forced to break up with Pete as Pete decided that Encore was most entertaining when used as an oversized tooth sharpener/punching bag.  Not cool, Pete.  So Pete found a new buddy in Big D, who doesn't take sass from anyone, and Encore was turned out with his teammate, Mr. Shiny himself.

He freaking loves it.  And while I'm happy that he's happy, it has had some unexpected consequences.  After hooking up our longeing gear last night, we headed up to the arena.  Where I proceeded to longe my lovely, forward, willing, sweet, nappy, dead slow, snippy, pouty TB. 

Neener, neener!
I was flabbergasted (I really just wanted to use that word).  He pinned his ears and struck out with a front leg when I pushed him in the trot.  He flat refused to canter more than a handful of strides each way.  I worried that he might feel colicky (of course, I envisioned him dead within 12 hours, sigh) but he had pooped and his belly was gurgly and he ate hay and drank with gusto.  It appeared that he was in a full tantrum that he could not be out in Happy Pasture with his new friends, so there!

My horse had gone and ruined himself in four days!

In good news, I rode him tonight, despite the cold wind and rain (you get desperate after five days off), and he was lovely.  It's odd though, he always starts off beautifully, puts himself on the bit, carries himself in a lovely rhythm and just feels amazing.  Then, the more we work, the more inconsistent he gets.  It's almost as if he says, hey, lady, I did it already, what's the deal?  But we had some actual yielding to the leg at the walk without rushing (OMG!), and finished with some good canter rhythm each way and some excellent stretching at the trot, so apparently he was done mourning his lost vacation time.

Thank goodness.  I was not a fan of nappy pony.  I shall not miss him.

November 23, 2011

This Is How We Roll: Turnout Blankets

It's getting chilly at night (although not this week!) and the stall doors are adorned with blankets, sheets, and coolers to keep the horses from shivering off that perfect weight we finally got them to this summer.  So what do the Flying Solo boys strut around in?

Encore is trying a new look this year; he has a full length turnout rug from the friendly folks at  I had not tried this type or brand of blanket before, but so far, I am thrilled with it.  Fresh out of the box, it was a lovely navy blue (yay!) with yellow piping.  I loved the generous drape of the leg and tail flaps and the easy-open snaps on the chest.  The 81" fit Encore surprisingly well (is he really that big?) and even better now that he has gained some weight; the only part I had to adjust were the belly straps, which were much too long for him, but it was easily solved by knotting them in the middle and voila!  Fit.  No rubs thus far, it has a smooth nylon lining that makes Encore's coat shine.  I got the medium-weight and it is SUPER MEGA WARM.  I'm not sure what the insulation is, but it's wonderful stuff and much less bulky or heavy than my other medium-weight.  Obviously, it is colder in England than it is in North Carolina!  (Duh.)

Check out the butt billboard!
   I wondered how durable a 600 dernier blanket could be, but pasture-buddy, Pete the Arabian/Monkey cross decided to test it for me.  On the second day I had the blanket (grrrr), it was sitting in the grass outside the pasture, waiting to be applied to Encore.  Pete decided he was bored and snaked his little nose through the fence and dragged the blanket into the pasture, because it apparently looked like an Entertaining Plaything.  He proceeded to do a tapdance on top of it until his whims were satisfied, at which point he wandered off to find something else to destroy play with.  I found the blanket in a dirty, trampled heap and moaned in dismay.  I had it ONE DAY, Pete, ONE DAY!  But I picked it up, brushed it off, and stared in disbelief -- not a scratch on it.  No tears, no bent hardware, it was completely fine.  So rest assured, when your horse is wearing this blanket, he will be completely protected from tapdancing Arabians!  I'm very happy with it and I hope that Encore will get to wear it for many more years!  It's also very affordable -- if I used my currency converter right, 50 GBP equals US$77.  Even with shipping to the US, you are still getting a good deal on a super toasty turnout!

Solo may not be decked out in snazzy imports, but he still stays warm.  He wears a Weatherbeeta Landa medium weight turnout.  This is the first blanket I ever bought for him, in a second-chance auction on eBay, and I believe this is at least the fourth winter he has worn it, if not the fifth.  Mr. Chunky wears the 78" and it has a nice length to its drape as well.  Also nylon-lined with a shoulder gusset, it has never once rubbed his big shoulders.  I have had to replace the leg straps once, the cheap snaps on the back froze up on me and broke, but it was an easy fix.  I've sewed up a hole or two in the lining over the years -- it once got run over by a tractor (sans Solo, thankfully) and some of the stress points have stretched and worn, but nothing a quick stitch-up couldn't mend, so it's still going.  The outside is impeccable -- all of the stitching is still tight and it has never ripped.  I have had it cleaned and re-waterproofed one time (yeah, I'm cheap) and it remains waterproof and breathable.

The boys share a rain sheet, which is one I bought secondhand from a friend about two and a half years ago.  It's a very simple Rider's International turnout sheet from Dover.  I didn't pay a lot for it, but I have been very impressed with it; the horses stay dry and it's a great windbreaker.  No sexy horse modeling pics of this one, sorry.  It's mesh lined with nylon at the shoulders so it doesn't rub either.  No rips on the outside of this one, although I have plied my impeccable seamstress skills to the inside a time or two.  I would guess it's about four years old at this point, but doesn't show any signs of stopping soon.

We have other dashingly fashionable items of horse attire, naturally, but I'm not about to admit in one post how many.  But that is the extent of our turnout wardrobe and I can happily give a confident thumbs up to all three! 

November 21, 2011

Jumping For Joy

I want to first thank you all for your emails regarding sale items and your perusal of my equine flea market.  I am always overwhelmed and stunned by people's random kindness (you know who you are), as most of you do not know me.  I hope that I can prove worthy of the generosity you have shown.

A few sale details: (1) I have added a loose ring snaffle, check the bottom of the post! (2) SillyPony, I have added rein lengths and one set is 58". (3) If you want items shipped before the holiday, I need to know before 10 am Wednesday morning, otherwise, you have to wait until next week. (4) If you have expressed interest in an item in the comments and still want it, but have not contacted me at, email me now!

In other news, there may have been a little jumper show this weekend, that a certain chestnut wunderkind attended that I imagine some of you might be interested in hearing about. It went a little something like this:

Carefully check online show bill Friday night and confirm show starts at 9:00 am. Plan accordingly. Curse loudly and often when alarm goes off at 5:30 am Saturday morning. Kick wildly to clear felines from pathway and stumble into 14 layers of clothing to protect against 30 degree morning. Unplug My Precious (truck) and rumble to the farm.

Hook up trailer in chilly dawn and load horses (Encore and Big D) at 6:45 am. Roll out a little before 7:00 am with Cindy (Big D's owner) wishing I had a chicken biscuit. Arrive at showgrounds around 7:40 am and OF COURSE, we are the first ones there.

Fall out of the truck and head to arena to walk freshly dragged course. Run into course designer/judge who informs us show ACTUALLY starts at 10:00 am. Cindy and I exchange a look and whimper for that extra hour of sleep. Oh well. At least we won't feel rushed.

The rest goes smoothly. Encore is bright and alert but trots around nicely. Since it's a schooling jumper show, we can cheat and warm up in the show ring and jump any jumps we like. So I school a narrow-ish chevron and both the brick and stone walls, which have formidable large cubic standards. Encore is fine with it.  We now remove 13 layers of clothing because all of a sudden it is 65 degrees, a detail which Weather Underground failed to bring to my attention.

My plan is this: do two courses in the 2' - 2'3" division. Dream of 2'3" - 2'6" course if Encore feels magical. The rules have been somewhat bastardized -- unlike an actual jumper show, there are no jumpoffs. Quite simply, the fastest time around the course wins. I'm NOT racing kids on ponies; my goal is to teach my horse to be relaxed and businesslike on course, so I do not ride for time.

Our first course:

I kept him at the trot for the first half. The last thing I want is a horse who barrels around a course; I want him considering each fence and focusing on the task, not lost in a speed high. I ignore the "helpful" railbirds clucking at us with a giggle.

Encore finished strong and I let him canter the entirety of his second course. He never rushed and I felt it click in his mind: my job is to canter around where the nice lady tells me and jump the little jumpies. Got it. On it. Done.

Video capture of the post-course grin.
 So yeah, I went for the 2'3" to 2'6".  I'm not thrilled with my riding; I am still trying to adjust from the style I adopted for Solo.  Encore is a completely different ride, on top of which, he still jumps like a green horse, so staying out of his way can be challenging!  I felt too far behind him, much of the time, but I did the best I could and hoped he didn't hold it against me.

There was no hiding my glee. That rhythm? That was all him, just doing his job. I have ridden more than a few horses in my life; I have never before sat on one who was so...I don't even have a word. He waited for the explanation of his job, I gave it to him, he went ok, and he just did it. Checked the box and ready for the next assignment. There was no "how can I get out of this, how can I make this easier on myself, can I spook at that, how about I race really fast." None of it, just honest, wonderful, amazing trying. I thought I would explode from sheer happiness, which terrifies me, but is completely freaking awesome.

As an extra bonus, even though we totally ignored the time, Encore still won his first ribbon, even if it is heinously pink (must have been four ponies in that class, LOL!).

Look who is getting more muscle-y!  Hint:  it's not me.

And for you Big D fans (and, of course, those who can't get enough of my appalling videography), he also was an excellent boy, taking very good care of his very nervous rider! He and Cindy did a wonderful job in their first jumper show - check out his flying lead change! They did both courses in the 2'3" - 2'6" class and I hope very much to see them going Beginner Novice in the spring (write in and tell her she just must, she needs some peer pressure, LOL!).

I also want to give a shout out to Macnair's Country Acres for hosting the show, which was fun and relaxed enough to give us the flexibility of a great schooling opportunity.  Then another huge shout to Tom Pollard who designed the courses and judged -- the courses were lovely and made sense to my young pony and I have not talked to a friendlier person in a long time.  From the time we met him in the morning and throughout the day, he was gracious, funny, kind, and warm and made it a pleasure to be there, so thank you (because I am sure he totally comes home and reads this blog every night)!

November 18, 2011

Help Me Help Solo And Make YOUR Christmas Great!

My buddy is not doing that well.  He's content enough in the pasture, but his back is still sore.  I ride or longe him lightly twice a week and he feels a little better afterward, less soreness and little more supple what with warming up and moving and stretching.  But his trot is flat, his canter feels terrible and I just don't know what to do.  I can proceed with an SI injection, which my vet suggested.  That requires going to a special consulting vet about two hours away and paying at least $400 or so with no guarantees it will work.  I can try another loading dose of  Adequan, which isn't cheap either, but might help?  He's fat and that topline I slaved for is gone, it kills me a little every day.  I comfort myself knowing he LOVES hanging out with his BFF, Danny, in the pasture and begging treats and scratches off of everyone at the farm while ambling around his favourite huge pasture.  He's hardly suffering!

The point to all this is that I do want to try to fix him, I am not giving up yet!  However, cash will be needed either way.  This is where you come in.  Give us cash, muahahahha!  No, just kidding.  Sort of.

I have a, uh, teensy bit of extra horse stuff that is ready to move on to new homes.  This is your chance to do some Christmas shopping early!  None of it is super-fancy, my apologies, but I can guarantee that there is something within your budget range!  Buy a backup in case you have a wardrobe malfunction.  Thinking of getting started in eventing and need a vest to get yourself legal?  How about some inexpensive schooling equipment to save wear on your nice gear?  You are in luck, so peruse at your leisure and drop me an email (link in right sidebar) about anything you are interested in.

The gory details:  Shipping and handling for all items is a flat $7.00 in the US.  If you are in Canada or elsewhere, I'll have to figure that out.  All items will ship as soon as I can upon receipt of payment.  Payment is accepted via check or Paypal, email me for information.  I will also take reasonable offers or do package deals.  I have done my best to accurately represent, photograph, and measure all items.  Everything is kept clean, nonsmoking, I have cleaned and conditioned all the leather, blah blah.  Please inquire if you need any more details.   



Collegiate reins -- never used.  Brown laced leather reins.  I just don't like laced reins, so they are new!  Total length is 116" so half is 58".  Retail $75.  $30.

Laced reins -- brown leather.  I think they used to be black.  Well, they're not now.  These were my everyday reins for several years, still in great shape.  Total length is 118" so half would be 54".  $5.

 Hunting breastplate -- dark brown, plain raised leather.  Lovely condition, nice leather.  Horse size.  Retail $150.  $50.  

Dover jumper girth -- dark brown with lighter brown inset.  42", measures 46" from tip of buckle to tip of buckle.  Stainless steel roller buckles.  I was schooling a very small QH, LOL!  Retail $50.  $25. 

Zilco crupper -- ok, technically not leather, I believe it's made of beta biothane, but it's very nice and like new.  For your mountain getaways!  Brown with black padding and brass toned hardware.  Horse size, very adjustable.  Retail $40.  $30.


Big D dress sheets -- THERE ARE TWO OF THESE.  Blue/hunter/burgandy plaid with burgandy trim, very nice, hardly used.  One is a 74", one is a 78".  Leather-reinforced fittings with nice hardware.  Closed front.  Surcingle and leg straps on both.  The 78" does have a 1" tear near the butt dart, pretty easy to stitch up, pictured.  Retail $70.  $40 for the 74" and $30 for the 78"


Roma riser pad -- fits most saddles.  White.  Lifts rear of saddle.  Orange feline included at no extra cost; I'll poke holes in the box.  Retail $35.  $15. 


Lead rope -- blue/green/black polypro lead.  6' long with brass snap.  Hey, we're desperate, don't judge.  $3.

Loose ring snaffle -- looks like a KK with copper-y type mouth.  5.5 inches.  $10


Solo says thank you for looking!  We hope you have a fantastic holiday!  Remember, I take offers and will make package deals!! 

November 17, 2011

Drink More Beer

I often have to remind myself these days of this post I wrote almost two years ago.  There is no "1, 2, 3, success!" in horse training.

Instead, I muddle along -- Encore is doing really well, but some things, he doesn't quite get yet. And sometimes he gets bored. And sometimes he'd rather go in the barn with his friends. And sometimes something in the woods is far more interesting than me. So he'll fidget or pull or try to rush and bend all kinds of wrong ways.

Which then makes me question myself: what am I doing wrong? Less contact? More contact? Less leg? More leg? I'm leaning! I'm uneven! I am riding like crap! Fail!

Amy wrote some very good reminders
here at the end of her recent post: progress is incremental. I remember when I first got him, I was trying to teach him one of my core cues: when I sit down, close my thigh and say whoa, you stop. It's very simple, we do it at a walk. Solo is a pro at this one and I love it. But it was a foreign concept to Encore and he didn't get it for a bit. I remember being so frustrated inside, wondering why he couldn't instantly get such a simple thing. Of course, I wouldn't let any of that frustration out, we just picked at the cue slowly.

And last night, at the end of our ride in which there were moments of good and moments of "omg, please cooperate," I sat down, closed my thigh and said whoa and Encore stopped right there, as he has every day this week.

We must not lose our perspective (perhaps I need to print this on the top of Encore's browband?) and we must remember that the journey proceedes one stride at a time. When we forget that, well, that's why there's beer. Then we try again tomorrow.

November 13, 2011

Higher And Faster: A Night At The Grand Prix

Last night, a packed crowd gasped and cheered 23 horses around the course and through the jumpoff at the 2011 Duke Children's Benefit Grand Prix in Raleigh.  When I attended a Grand Prix last year, my experience was one of mass flying pole carnage and horses whose jumps made me close my eyes in fear.  Not so, this time; the caliber of equines had obviously made a massive leap in the upwards direction.

This was a 1.5 meter course (4.92 feet for you non-scientific people), as demonstrated by this brave competitor.  I can only imagine such a course walk:  "Ok, jump is at eyeball level.  Fine, no problem.  Next!"

Quite thoughtfully and appropriately, the venue saw fit to pay tribute to Solo and all his contributions to horsedom.  As they should.  Ha.

And it began.  Meagan Nusz, a young rider from The Woodlands, TX, stole much of the show with her four phenomenal horses.  I think she is all of 24 years old and has been winning Grands Prix at least since she was 17, which leads me to believe that apparently I should have been born in a parallel universe that she obviously lives in.  Ridiculous!  But fun to watch and she rode the pants off those horses.  If horses had pants.  Each of her horses was more fantastic-moving than the last and they all had HUGE, lofty jumps, like 1.5 m was a walk in the park. 

A beautiful moving liver chestnut named Why Not.

Our favourite, a gorgeous grey named Cilantro.  The name is all charm.

We were a bit confused when she brought this one in, a bit of a chestnut named Dynamo.  Compared to the instant "wow" factor of the other 3, this little guy looked like just your average horse.  Then he lofted the first jump.

Another show stopper was 5x Olympic rider Manuel Torres, a Columbian rider with a butt tossing stallion named Chambucanero. WARNING: do not Google this rider's name without some sort of equine qualifier! Apparently, an identically named actor is quite famous for films of the pornographic genre. What has been seen cannot be unseen. Yeah, I know you are googling it right now. Nonetheless, Manuel and Chambucanero rode at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, although it looks like they had an unfortunate 21 fault round there.  Not so on this night!

We had some local favourites, too; like veteranarian Fernando Cardenaz, of 3H, a Raleigh-based clinic which specializes in lamenesses.  His horse, Orphan Car, is a regular in this ring.

Harold Chopping competed for the Canadians in the past, but now trains hunters in NC.  He rode two and I did not get video of the witchy, but talented mare on which he won 3rd place for the night.  This was his other horse, Big Air.

I also really liked this grey horse, Wattesson, even if he didn't go clean.

Then it was time for the jumpoff, which was a surprisingly large field, with 11 or 12 riders.

Thaise Erwin, an Australian rider based locally, and her mare, Matilda, set the pace.

Then Manuel Torres and Chambucanero blew it wide open.

The next 8 riders couldn't touch him, although Harold came very close. Until Meagan and Dynamo came back.

It was impossible to restrain oneself from yelling, "Go, pony, go!" and more than one of us leaped out of our chairs as Dynamo shot through the finish timers like a rocket. The atmosphere was electric (unless you were Manuel Torres) and even the horses fed off of the energy. What a fantastic way to spend an evening! And so much more relaxing when YOU are not the one picking stalls and cleaning feet and shining tack and walking courses....whew!

November 11, 2011

Gymnastics (Not The Kind I Sucked At When I Was Seven)

The sound of winter blowing in is the clink of blanket buckles against a stall front and the rustle of dead leaves under hooves. It's a bite to the wind that sneaks under your helmet and belies the bright sun.

But you're still sweating after you set 10 jumps with ground lines and complete your warmup trot circles.

Indeed, it was jump school day for Encore, with the help of his peanut bribery accomplice friend, Cindy, who graciously picked up poles AND shot video.

We began with just a few single jumps; straw bales between some barrels, single verticals, a plank oxer. Encore took me readily to each jump and lofted over, clean and clear. He felt good, confident, and we even had a modicum of steering to the fence!

Then it was time to tackle the gymnastic lines. And how exactly DO we tackle them?

I am a big believer in letting the horse work things out -- you have to allow him to make mistakes to teach him to solve problems and think for himself. Unless you can ride an entire cross country course without making a single rider mistake (superhuman, are you?), your horse MUST learn to find the solutions on his own while you stay out of the way.

Now, I'm not suggesting you sit up there like a dead toad (although sometimes I feel like that is my approximate level of usefulness); it is your job to set him up for success. You give him rhythm and balance and then you sit back and let your partner navigate the obstacle. Your reactions are not fast enough and you are not strong enough to do anything more over a jump than pull him off balance and invite disaster. Therefore, it's up to you to lay the groundwork beforehand so he is equipped save your sorry butt later!

So when riding a gymnastic, you should be balanced, with your legs wrapped around the horse, your butt off his back, your shoulder up, and a soft, preferably loopy reins. Your horse should have complete freedom to navigate the line.

"But, OMG, he will rush!" Probably so. The first time. That is why I use placing poles every stride to direct his footfalls. If he screws up, well, he's going to step on a lot of poles and bang himself on the rails while he's at it and that's just uncomfortable. A smart horse will only make that mistake once. Don't feel cruel -- the jumps are set low so he has a healthy margin for error. Far better he make a mistake and bang a shin now and learn from it then at full gallop on course where it might flip him over on you.

I set up three trot poles to a crossrail-bounce-vertical-one stride-oxer. We started with just the trot poles to the crossrail and the rest were ground poles so he could feel it out.

No problem. So we continue with the sequence -- ideally, you want to add a new element each time they go through successfully. The lesson is "always pay attention, stay quick with your feet, don't rush, and be ready for anything." The only thing constant is change. You are encouraging proper form, careful jumping, and quick thinking.

The trot poles stayed put for the entire school to set the pace. The second time, the exercise became a crossrail with a bounce to a low vertical. Then crossrail-vertical and one stride to a second vertical. Then the last vertical became an oxer.

Oh, and look who learned how to canter trot poles without stepping on them. Cheater.

Then we raised the first vertical one hole to up the ante. Surprise!  Someone forgot they had back legs...

It's ok to mess up, everyone will -- but the crux is, what happens AFTER you mess up. Since Encore's a clever boy, second time is the charm.

Just to finish off the day, with the help of some guide poles, we also conquered two slumbering trolls who have received much hairy eyeball from Encore. I'd been able to get him over the tire after about six tries a couple weeks ago, but only in one direction and he did. not. like it. Today, however, a gamer, more confident pony conquered his worries with ease.

November 7, 2011

Just A Thought

In the quiet just before bed, there is lots of time for thinking.

Always thinking.

I used to just ride. Get on horse, squeeze legs, make some circles, follow the trail. Riding.

Nothing wrong with riding. It's good for the soul. It stills my clamouring heart.

But I grew some sport goals. Only I didn't know how to get there.

Then someone whose name starts with a "W" and ends with a "d" and has "offor" in the middle taught me about being a thinking rider. Not just thinking about riding, but Thinking about Riding.

I discovered possibly the most powerful tool in the arsenal. I began asking "how" and "why" and "when" and "what's another way" and the momentum began to build.

There are always speed bumps, of course, but I analyzed them too and even those had something to teach me.

The Thinking Rider watches every step, feels every breath and adjusts, listens, waits, plans, and adjusts again. And that is all before the next step. They've thought an entire essay by jump #2.

I am only a Thinking Rider padi-wan but I can feel the power of the Force waiting for full realization.

(Is that one geeky enough for you?)

One problem, though. Once you kick-start the Thinking, you can't turn it off. Lying on the pillow at night, looking out the office window before lunch, driving home in the afternoon, even dreaming.

You are adjusting, listening, waiting, planning, all to the rhythm of hoofbeats in your time for sleeping, working, or eating.

It's a double-edged sword. And I gladly hold out my hand every day for another cut. Because I think tomorrow I can ride a better jump.

November 5, 2011

Crazy, Scary, and David

Crazy:  We had a XC lesson scheduled today with David O. down in Southern Pines.  The plan was to ride with BO in the big farm trailer.  Except when I got there this morning, her truck was sitting in the garage, hood up like a baby bird's mouth, sipping electricity from her husband's hybrid.

Uh oh.

Unsurprisingly, that little battery failed to start the truck, so we hooked it up to my heavy duty diesel batteries.  Dead as a doornail.

Sadly, I cannot haul the farm trailer because my truck does not (yet) have a gooseneck hitch, so we threw everything into my trailer and begged and pleaded with BO's finicky horse to please get on a new trailer nicely.  I crossed my fingers, horses seem to really like my trailer, and lo and behold, he loaded right up and we were saved.  We even got to the lesson a bit early.  Whew.

Scary:  About halfway through the lesson, one of the other women was simply cantering her horse around a turn in the field.  I watched as his feet shot out from under him and he slammed to the ground on his side, sliding across the pine needles.  He was wearing a standing martingale (please do not do this, my eventer friends!) which he snapped in two trying to get his head up to balance himself, but he could not do so in time.  His unlucky rider stayed in the saddle all the way down and hit hard, ending with a solid blow to the head and helmet.

All my first aid alarms went off, but I stayed put and let David check on her.  I had no doubt she had a concussion, a fact confirmed by the hospital later.  She is very fortunate it rained all day yesterday -- the ground was soft, saving her from a certain smushed leg otherwise.  Luckily, it looked like nothing else was seriously injured and her husband picked her up and took her horse home.  WEAR YOUR HELMETS PEOPLE; SHIT HAPPENS.

Later in the lesson, ANOTHER horse pulled a dirty stop at a log, flipping another friend over his head.  Happily, she landed softly and clambered right back on to finish the line.  No harm, but definitely pony foul.  Bad pony.  Poor David.

We're finding some stretchy trot!
David:  Unfortunate spill notwithstanding, the lesson was full of excellent reminders for myself and Encore.  The Unicorn's foster mom, Suzanne, came to see him go for a bit -- she was the one who got him restarted under saddle so wonderfully and she had a new CANTER pony who was just as nicely built!  But I had to concentrate on the tasks at hand.

(1) Do NOT get ahead of him, no matter how slow he gets at the base of the jump; weighting his forehand by moving your body forward only prevents him from rocking back on his hocks and jumping up.  Wait wait WAIT. This is particularly true up a bank. Stay behind him, stay upright, and let him jump up the bank to you. If you lean forward as he goes up the bank, he'll jump flat and out and that will bite you in the butt.

(2) Encore is a methodical, careful horse -- when he starts analyzing a problem, his feet slow down and he wants to figure it out before he tackles it. I like careful, it will keep us out of trouble, but I need to use a lot of leg and keep his feet moving while he thinks. He must learn to go forward and analyze at the same time. I admit, this surprised me a bit, as he is quite forward-thinking and I never have to use a lot of leg, but as we tackled harder questions, I saw that David was definitely right!

(3) If he offers to canter, let him. It is him offering forward and that is a good thing; stay soft and go with it.

(4) Go jump stuff. Lots of stuff. It doesn't matter how he jumps it right now, just jump it. Give him jump miles so he can figure out what to do with his body. David: "People worry about too much technical BS too early when we just need to get them out there and JUMP. Technical comes later.  This horse wants to do it, he's just not quite sure of the details yet."

Encore did VERY well on all the fly jumps, the baby sunken road, plenty of ditches, banks into and out of water, and he LOVED cantering across the water and jumping a fair-sized log out. We tried jumping the log back into the water, but he just did not get it, so we let it be and will come back to it later.

We're tucked in our respective blankets tonight, digesting dinner and nuggets of information.  I've got to figure out the most efficient way to get said mileage -- David is two hours from us and no longer teaches at my friend's farm nearby, so I'm going to have to get creative (or find a money tree in the woods to pay for diesel).  There are definitely more gymnastics in Encore's future as well, to show him where his feet are supposed to go.  I am chomping at the, if this silly job would just stop getting in the way.