December 27, 2012

In Which I Once Again Prove That I Am Daft

I've been working with Amber and Solo, teaching her how to dig out his trot from beneath the turtle shuffle veneer.  In the process, I have her with very little contact, just riding his butt forward.  And we all know that if you ride the hind end forward correctly, the back and withers lift, the neck becomes soft and round, and the horse reaches into the bit, right?  Which is exactly what I watched my horse do today.

Aww, I miss Muscle Solo
Which is exactly what I've been trying to get Encore to do.  I even said it out loud to Amber:  "Well, damn, looks like I can teach it, but I can't ride it..."  I spoke half in jest, but....

When we were finished, I got on Encore.  Thoughtfully.  I've watched David ride him.  I've watched Foy ride him (see Micklem review post below).  What did they have in common?  Both rode from the seat and leg with a longish, very soft rein.

I know it in my head.  I know it in my body.  I got another rider to do it on my own horse while I was on the ground.  I even get it with Encore, but can't keep it consistent.  But it didn't all mesh together and I wasn't riding it.


I was riding Encore into contact, but I began to wonder if it was too heavy.  Was I using too much rein?  I often feel as if I am in his face more than I would like.  I am not heavy-handed and I have become consistent and following with my hand, but I still feel like I am doing to much in the bridle.  David had said, both after riding him and watching him in our lessons, "The key to this horse is going to be a very light hand."

So even though our footing resembled a cranberry bog after yesterday's rain, I gathered up my reins and asked for a trot.  I rode almost entirely off my lower body, my contact barely there, just at the level of okay, I can lightly feel you but I shall remain passive and just give you the space where you should be.

Yes, yes, we know how this ends -- SURPRISE!  It clicked into place, even in the ten minutes of squishing around that we squeezed in.  When you ride correctly and thoughtfully, you get correct results.  It is slower in the beginning than pushing them into the shape that you want, but -- I know, ever more surprise *insert dry sarcasm here* -- you lose the tension in the horse's body.

Oh, we are SO getting that left lead back!
It's hardly epiphany -- if you've ridden for any length of time, you hear "ride back to front, don't worry about the head, ride the hind legs and the front will take care of itself."  Basic equestrian gospel.  Yet so counter-intuitive to let go and trust the process.  To REALLY let go and do it right.  We think we are doing it (or at least, I thought so) but then something causes me to make a tiny shift in my approach and I realize what I WASN'T doing.

It seems too obvious to even write about.  But one of the biggest challenges of being the (financially challenged) adult amateur who cannot do consistent lessons is that your training is a slow process of trial-and-error.  That starts over when you have an entirely different type of horse.  Encore is able to physically give so much more than Solo could, that to get more, I need to do less.   

From the Master of the Obvious, you're welcome.

December 25, 2012

What, Is It A Holiday Again Or Something?

Yeah, I don't really "do" holidays.  I don't know, maybe it's the pressure, the expectations, the completely illogical rules of them; most likely, d, all of the above.

But when I have not one, but two amazing horses in my life, every day is Christmas morning.  Every day, I see their faces and even after seven years, there's a part of me that can't quite believe it's real.

So despite the bottomless, money-eating pit, despite the stress, despair, anxiety, obsession, psychosis, sleep-deprivation, and all the rest, each day is still a gift because of them.

My day today was riding Encore on a sunny, blue, t-shirt kind of day and discovering that he can once again perform a left lead canter without feeling like a washing machine on spin.  I laughed a bit, thinking people who didn't know better might feel some kind of pity, seeing me at a farm, absolutely alone, accompanied only by the singsong of donkeys and geese.  When in reality, that was just about the best gift I could have been given.  A warm, companionable quiet in the place I love most.  And the best part is, I get to open it over and over and over and over....

I hope each of you had a piece of joy in your day and the joy of peace with a wonderful horse.

December 21, 2012

Up Down!!!!


Whoever thought such news would be cause for excitement?  But I could barely contain my glee Wednesday evening as I cautiously put my feet in the (very long) stirrups and asked Encore to trot.

The ortho squad has given their approval for me to proceed, just letting pain be my guide.  Brian, my completely awesome PT, is a bit more conservative but is still very pleased with progress.

And it didn't hurt.  Second gear is now mine again.  Which means I get third gear back too.  Thrilled does not even begin to describe it.

Encore himself remains a bit of a puzzle.  He seems to be healed up (hoorah!) and is moving well.  The new saddle just needs breaking in but he still seems happy with it.  But mentally, the big youngster remains a little enigmatic to me. 

When I drive up and holler my greeting out the truck window, both horses prick their ears and turn happily in my direction.  No doubt in that never-ending equine hope that every truck dispenses carrots and other palatable goodies.

Yeah, I'm watchin' you, lady.
But when I enter the pasture to fetch said equine, Solo immediately turns towards me and waits with bright eyes, with an expression full of happy and hopeful that the halter is aimed for his stripey nose.  Encore, though, moves behind him, watching for a treat, but keeping his distance from the halter.

I am puzzled -- BO says both come right to the gate and Encore offers no issues being captured for hotwalker duty (which he is not all that fond of) and I know all the staff spoils both boys rotten with treats and pets, so it's just me.  I wonder if he STILL begrudges that one time I caught him by surprise with a shot months ago. 

If I move quietly and softly put the rope around his VERY watchful neck, he is then easily haltered and transforms back into Mr. Amiable Businessman.  So why the stand-offishness?  He enjoys getting out and doing things.  We have lots of variety.  He used to walk right up to me and offer his nose.  Is he secretly a woman in his TB brain, never letting go of my one surprise stab?  I know they remember the strangest details, but he has had shots since in the same place with no issues (once I learned surprises were bad, oops, sorry, Solo prefers no warning).

Has anyone invented that horse telepathy hat yet?   

December 18, 2012

This Is How We Roll: Dressage Saddles, Pt. II

There's a little town in England where cows live in everlasting terror.  It is called Walsall and it is home to, among others, the saddlemakers at Black Country, Kent & Masters (formerly Fairfax), Frank Baines, Albion, Harry Dabbs...need I continue?

In March, after trying 427 models (perhaps I exaggerate a little....but not much!), we decided on a Kent & Masters dressage saddle for Encore, since Solo's Black Country Eden, while heavenly, was all kinds of the wrong shape for a flat OTTB back.  The tree sat on Encore like it was built for him, the balance was perfect and I loved riding in it.  My ever-generous mother made it a wonderful gift and we moved forward with much glee.

As a side note, K&M has moved in sync with a few other brands and offers changeable gullet plates.  I have mixed feelings about these; they are obviously not a panacaea as they only slightly adjust one part of the tree.  Do it wrong and you can throw the whole saddle off balance.  But they have been helpful as my horses change shape with training and muscular development.  I have owned Wintecs and still have a Collegiate Convertible that I like but for one problem:  the gullet plates have very short tree points and created pressure points under the ends because there was not enough metal to distribute the weight down the horse's side.  My saddle fitter and I both mourned this shortcoming and tried to make up for it in several ways.  I finally successfully put a bandaid on it with my Collegiate, called the magical powers of Ecogold pads.  But K&M (and Thorowgood) did me one better:  they built a longer plate.

To the left are two medium gullet plates.  The one on top is a K&M plate, the bottom one is a Wintec/Collegiate plate.  Both have the same angle.  But not only is the K&M significantly longer, but it also does not pinch in about halfway down the way the other does.  Colour me happy. 

Problem:  within the first two weeks, the dye beneath the stirrup leathers began to rub off a tiny bit.  I contacted my fitter, from whom I had purchased the K&M, and she said to photo track it and let her know what happened.  Most of the Walsall companies are known not only for their well-made saddles, but their excellent service, so I had a low(er) level of distress about options.

Fast forward seven months to October and the dye was becoming an endangered substance anywhere my leathers or legs touched the saddle and by December, it looked like this:

Now, if this was a $500 saddle, I might say, well, my leg covers it all, oh well.  But even though the saddle was a gift, the gifter still put down about $1600 and I expect a heck of a lot better wear for that price!  Were there going to be holes right through the flap in two years?

I will spare you the excruciating details, but I tapped the customer service pipeline.  I hoped I could at least get some money back -- the saddle still rode wonderfully, I didn't want to get rid of it.  To my surprise, I learned that I was not alone.  The company had suffered a bad dye lot (not uncommon in leather-world) and was speedily responding to reported issues and rectifying them generously.  So maybe, I could get really lucky and get them to send some new flaps!

Oh no, Walsall does not take leather inadequacies likely.  My fitter informed me that they were going to replace the whole thing and my NEW new saddle would arrive in early December!


And it did.  Fitter informed me the company had slightly streamlined the design and tree since March and if I had ANY reservations, to just let her know immediately and K&M would work as long as it took until we were sorted.  I was a bit nervous -- the words "new tree" send a shudder down my spine.  However, I took a deep breath and set it on Encore's back...and fell in love all over again.

Clip job not finished yet.  Ha.
It assumed its rightful position with gorgeous wither clearance and settled onto his back like a homing pigeon (only without claws).  I sat in it and walked around a bit and was happy to find it felt just as correct and comfortable as its predecessor.

All that is left now is to re-break it in and hopefully we are set.  Time will tell, but I feel much more comfortable knowing that if I DO have any further issues (hey, shit happens), I will not be left stranded.  I cannot give higher praise to K&M -- a company which stands so firmly behind its products and recognizes the significant financial output of its customers will gladly receive my recommendation and business any day of the week.

December 17, 2012

Red Reloaded

Imagine my delight when I clicked over to SprinklerBandit this morning and saw my one true love not only pictured, but referred to as the original!  Now, he's hardly the first awesome red gelding, but he was certainly MY first awesome red gelding.

Her description of him (I was so flattered!  Thank you, SB!) got me thinking, as has rediscovering his quirks which had become instinct to me but are all new to his beloved new minion, Amber.  And laughing fondly about what makes him so unique, so amazing, and so maddening.

If you have an Olympic medal, I do not helmet boss you.  Although I think about it.
Like the fact that if you need to change something while you are riding, you are NEVER going to get a damn thing on a straight line.  That horse has never been truly straight in his life and never will be.  You have to use a bend or a transition or a step of leg yield or shoulder fore to unlock his body and ask for the change you seek.  This is why he actually got better scores as he went up the levels and his best test was Training B -- because there is not more than three steps in that test when you are not bending, changing gaits, changing within gaits, or changing direction.

Like the fact that while you will work yourself into a sweat lathered frenzy getting him to trot FORWARD (you better be fit!), if you dig in your heel or spur when asking for the canter, you WILL be doing airs above the ground while Mr. Shiny expresses his disgust with your overzealotry.  Ask Amber about that one.

Like the FOUR YEARS it took me to get this kind, quiet gelding not to rear, bolt, shake, or run at the sight of a longe whip and the slow melting of fear into a trust that I wondered at times if I would ever get.

Like the fact that he HATES it when you hug his head or neck, or you pet his nose, but if I stand still, his expression of affection is to just rest his muzzle against me and I feel the incredible energy flow between us in that touch.

Like the fact that when most horses jig or get antsy on the trail, you just ask them to work (i.e. shoulder-in, get on the bit, etc) and eventually they give in and decide walking is easier.  Solo, on the other hand will NEVER. GIVE. IN.  Ever.  He will trot sideways, bowed up against the bit for two hours in 90 degree heat, his ears very clearly saying, F U, lady, the whole time.  Even if it is so hot blood starts to come out his nose, he's not stopping and you will have to get off or make him walk backwards so he doesn't kill himself before you make it home.  Then, he is such a tough bastard that you hose him off and 15 minutes later, he's brightly eating grass like nothing happened.

Yeah! We jumped the ditch!  Oh....crap.
Like the fact that he hated dressage so much, that after a test halt at a HT one day, the judge said to me, "Wow, he really doesn't like dressage, does he?"  Ever so subtle, my redhead.  Yet the day he discovered extended trot and every time I asked for it thereafter, he engaged his hind end and sprung forward with, dare I say, joy, floating powerfully over the ground with his face lit up like a candle.

Like the fact that you better keep your head in the game.  If you slack off and say, celebrate after leaping the ditch, or get excited and pitch your shoulder at him, you either ain't jumping at all or you jumping by yourself!

For those and a hundred other reasons, yes, there is such a thing as Mad Solo Love.  It's been almost seven years and now we just read each other's minds, but that same lightning bolt that hit the first time our eyes met strikes over and over again each time I arrive at the pasture gate.  He taught me things I thought I already knew about heart and patience and trust and courage.  And then, just to make sure, he would teach me again.

To this day, he will STILL test me one way or another every time I get on.  And to this day, it will still make me giggle at his huge personality.  And even though he is out of shape and he will never quite recover from his back injury, I will fall in love with him all over again every time he tries his damndest to give me the best canter he can or jumps a 12" crossrail with two feet to spare.

I wish on everyone a horse (you don't even have to own it) so special that he opens a door in your heart you didn't even know was there and changes you forever.

December 14, 2012

Dancing Beneath The Stars

I stood on top of the hill, waiting for Encore to work his way through his supper.  My head was craned back, 30 degrees feeling like 20 once I stopped moving and the cold air seeped in through my edges.  I racked my mind, trying to remember where Gemini was, my astronomy class and fascinated study of the night sky almost two decades in my past.  I finally concluded that if everyone could see tonight's meteor shower, it must be in the southern sky.

So I waited.

A satellite buzzed overhead, its steady glow seeming to traverse the galaxy like a pelican cruises the tips of the waves, effortless in medium in which we are helpless.

I have loved the stars as long as I can remember; my childhood evenings were filled with my mother pointing out the royal arrangement of Cassopeia and the warrior Orion, with his faithful dog at his feet and a brute of a bull on his shoulder.  I came to love them even more over time, because they were the one thing we couldn't reach, the one thing that was truly perfect because humanity couldn't touch it and therefore couldn't mess it up.

As I watched this night, I was struck again by their impossible magic, even though I know the science -- giant balls of fire and gas; the meteors themselves, tremondous rocks hurtling through space and burning trails of flame and debris through our atmosphere.  Yet to us, each star is but a tiny point of light, watching us, and those roaring meteors merely white streaks of an instant, like a single note struck on a piano key in the near-infinite chord of a universal melody.

I also wondered, how long has it been since someone first looked at the incomprehensible brilliance at play above with a horse at their side.  The horses even have their own constellation!  How many people over centuries have watched a tail of ivory trace an arc against blackness while an equine partner chewed into the silence nearby?  How long have horses and humans danced together on the stage watched over by Antares and Vega and Sirius?

I suppose I know the answer already, but it still opens a door in my mind whose hinges had become rusty with disuse.  It brought into question time and perspective and the quiet truth that it is really we, our species, who are a brief single note echoing into the span of geological epochs.  We are the miniscule flashes of an instant, but oh how much sweeter the note is when it is accompanied by hoofbeats and the swish of a tail, by the soft sighs of contentment into a pile of hay, all while massive gravitational forces play on scales our minds cannot even comprehend and entire solar systems are born and die before their light even reaches us.

Yet all we see are those brief trails, a reminder that the warm, powerful neck beneath our hand, the strong quiet heartbeat that drives the horses who teach us about love and patience and strength and exhilaration, all of these are but brief opportunities and we must, we MUST grasp them before their light burns out, the purity of the moment lost and overwhelmed by the blinding arrival of dawn and noise and traffic and rules.

December 8, 2012

A Skeptic Takes On Micklem

I hope they don't mind if I borrow their illustration.
You know the one -- the brainchild of William Micklem and Rambo, the bridle that thumbed its nose at centuries of status quo & promised that our horses would "love the difference" & would turn your fussy-mouthed, head-rubbing gelding into a soft, steady dressage masterpiece.  Ok, that last bit might be exaggerating a bit, but there certainly was a lot of magic implied.

I've been watching these for three years.  Blog posts, personal conversations, trainer testimonials, I even thoughtfully handled the one hanging in the CANTER MA facility where I found Encore.  But it remained a $200 bridle.  Watched through the eyes of a horsewoman who has three bridles -- that were all found or free.

And it had a flash-type strap.  And I hate flash straps.

The Fall Purchase

A certain unnamed person who surely had evil intent gave me a gift certificate for the new Dover store in Raleigh & I drove down to happily purchase a big jar of horse treats & perhaps a pretty shirt.  Yet I found myself standing front of the bridle display, the Micklem competition version in my hand, running my fingers over its sturdy, yet pleasant leather, putting it down, picking it up, putting it down again, touching it again.

Ever since we started really asking Encore to work up into the bridle, he has a tendency to develop tension.  He will grind & chomp his teeth, he will cock his head, he will shake his nose from side to side.  Not constantly, but more often when he is out of practice or in a particularly anticipatory mood.  Now that his physical issues were resolved (oh, I just jinxed myself, crap), I wondered...would it really matter?

Shut. Yo. Mouth.
Much of the information provided by the makers touted the distribution of the bridle's "weight" across the horse's poll (it's a 1500 lb horse, how much does a bridle REALLY weigh?), the curved cheekpieces which avoided facial nerves & preventing pressing the insides of the cheek against the teeth (do horses really bite their cheeks if you are not cranking nosebands to Vader death-grip?), and the versatility of the design, allowing the bridle to be used bitless or with hanging clips that took the bit pressure from the horse's bars & transferred it to the nose.

I can't take it anymore.  I want to know and if it is indeed all hype or just not for my horse, I can sell it on eBay.  I handed over my gift card & the cash balance & then sat at the farm with a pile of leather straps, trying to figure out how to make them bridle shaped (HEY, William Micklem, if you ever read this, ha, some directions would be really nice.  REALLY nice.  At least a diagram???  I did appreciate the ONE label to at least let me know which way the crownpiece was supposed to face).

It actually looks rather handsome on him.
The Moment(s) Of Truth

It was a bit of a strange size (I purchased the full/horse size) -- it took a bit of fiddling to get the nosepiece where I wanted it & it would still be nice if the jaw strap was significantly longer (it bareeeely fits on the last hole).

But on the plus side -- SOMEONE FINALLY MADE A BROWBAND THAT FITS MY FAT-HEADED HORSES COMFORTABLY.  No more brain squishing!  I didn't use the rubber reins -- I've always found them too bulky & heavy in my hands, just a personal preference.

Are you still holding your breath?

Because I'll be damned, I think the thing actually works.

I can only ride bareback at a walk right now (damn knee surgery), but I immediately noticed that Encore was softer in the bridle, less ready to lock the left side of his jaw, & appeared to very much like the bit-stabilizing effect of the chin strap (which I kept very loose, he can still open his mouth, chew, chomp).  It was not a lightning bolt, but a definite change in feel & a lower level of tension at the end of my reins, when no other variables have changed.

Worthless Cripple Must See More Evidence

I couldn't wait until our most generous friend, Foy (recent winner!!!! aka badass at the East Coast Adult Team Challenge with her endearing and amazing Irish ex-steeplechaser, Point Clear, or as we know him, Louie, who not too long ago was declared unable to ever event again.  YEAH!  Longest parenthetical statement ever.) came out today, as she has been giving Encore the occasional educated ride while I rebuild myself.

On The Longe

I longed Encore while she was on her way, slipping the vienna reins on so he would be warm & stretched & she could just hop on when she arrived.  I have NEVER seen this horse put his nose on the ground on the longe or in the round pen (although it's Solo's signature move).  He will stretch about to his knees, even in the reins, & move through his body, but he never completely lets go.  Observe:

Under Saddle

I eagerly watched (post-Encore tantrum that the end of longeing did NOT mean the end of work) & questioned what she felt.  She too, felt that he was softer & more willing in the bridle once he got to work.  We did try the bit clips that transfer pressure to the nose:  Encore notes, NO LIKEY.  I don't think he'll be a hackamore horse, ha!

Foy is taking it easy on him (maybe I am a mean mom?) & gives him a lovely, patient ride; she made his butt sweat!!  I don't think I have ever achieved that without the aid of 95 degree heat, I'm dying to know what I am doing wrong.  Oh & my commentary was so ridiculously dorky, sorry about the music.  Trust me, you thank me.  And don't judge the lil guy too harshly -- he lost most of his hind end strength in injury & layup, but we're working on it.   

The Verdict

On the whole though, this skeptic finds herself designating it as the new daily bridle.  This hater of all trends & she who deploys a heavy dose of scrutiny to, ok, pretty much everything, finds herself cautiously changing from skeptic to believer.

I still don't think it will have magical unicorn powers for every horse & I am curious, if it will fit Solo to see if he cares (as a rule, he doesn't; although there was that incident with the crupper experiment...).  But according to my experiences this week, doing my best to isolate the bridle variable, I think I found a keeper...  Further testing TBD.

December 5, 2012

Solo's Infamy Makes Leap Across The Pond!

Check it out!  We are the Equestrian Blog of the Day on Haynet, the UK's social blogging  network for equine and country-like folks!  Woohoo!  Don't forget to enter their Christmas contest to win a great pair of boots so you can tromp around in your mud European style.  There is also a great "Agony Aunt" column where you can write your very own "Dear Abby, my horse is naughty...." letter as well as a forum and a place to network your own blog into the young and rapidly growing web.  Subscribe to the newsfeed, like them on Facebook and generally click like it's 1999 (omg, I just dated myself).  Thank you, Haynet for the shout out!

December 1, 2012

The Artful Equine

Commissioned Portrait by Tony O'Connor
By Tony O'Connor (Ireland)
I am a self-admitted art snob.  I was educated to within an inch of my life & my mother made sure I was cultured whether I wanted it or not, LOL.  This is an excellent thing -- unless you are poor.  It's kind of like drugs:  once you have an educated aesthetic, bad art physically hurts you (and oh my cod is there a lot of it out there), but you can't afford the good stuff.

Note to my mother:  rule still stands, my walls are full, don't get any ideas!!!! 

What the heck?  This is not about horses!  You protest.

But it is.  Because I'm going to give in to my aesthetic lust and give you a self-indulgent artgasm (these sentences are getting dodgier and dodgier...) of incredible equine works that are outside of the well-known pieces such as
Let The Beauty Begin
Horse porn for your walls (oh, I'm going to get so many hits from that sentence):
Neptune's Horses by Walter Crane
Neptune's Horses by Walter Crane (1892, England)
Deux études partielles d'une tête de cheval bridée, sculptural study by Edme Bouchardon
Deux études partielles d'une tête de cheval bridée, sculptural study by Edme Bouchardon (1698-1762, France)
Rough translation of that title:  Two Partial Studies of a Bridled Horse's Head.  There, now I finally feel like that 7 years of French was good for something!

I bet you didn't know Degas (1834-1917, France) has a huge body of equestrian work -- sculpture & paintings of racehorses.  My favourites are his studies:
Three Jockeys
Three Jockeys
A horse study
A horse study
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640, Flemish) was best known for his hyper-saturated, detailed depictions of mythology & battle & has always been one of my favourite classical artists.  He had a great talent for capturing the powerful energy of a horse in motion or standing still.  Some of his lesser known works:

Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lerma
Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lerma
Saddled Horse
Saddled Horse (c. 1615-1618)
And before I leave the masters, I have to include this one for the title alone.  By Francisco de Goya (Spain), who is called both the last of the old masters & the first of the modern painters, known for his studio portraits & scenes of the wealthy:

A Woman And A Horse, Let Someone Else Master Them
A Woman And A Horse, Let Someone Else Master Them (how can you pass that up?)
Contemporary Artists
Stallion I by Ricardo Vargas
Stallion I by Ricardo Vargas
Weathered Equine I by Norman Wyatt Jr (VA)
Weathered Equine I by Norman Wyatt Jr (VA)
Baroque Horse Series III: II by Heather Theurer
Baroque Horse Series III: II by Heather Theurer (western US)
Hanging in the Balance by Heather Theurer
Hanging in the Balance by Heather Theurer (western US)
Horses At Leisure by Yunlan He (Beijing)
Horses At Leisure by Yunlan He (Beijing) - K, I confess I bought a print of this, it wooed me.
Desert Kings by Karen Dupre (CA)
Desert Kings by Karen Dupre (CA)
3 Stewarts by Joseph Zbukvic (Australia)
3 Stewarts by Joseph Zbukvic (Australia) - a newly discovered favourite
Morning Work by Joseph Zbukvic
Morning Work by Joseph Zbukvic (Australia)
Definitely check out Zbukvic's other watercolours; he is truly a master of this very difficult medium & his paintings took my breath away.

If I had a bottomless pit of money, I would build an entire wing of my house to be my own personal art museum (perhaps it would extend off of my fantasy library), one wall of which would be a mural painted by Sarah Lynn Richards (I requested one from her years ago at Rolex and she said, "Sure!" but I don't think she works for free) & oh, the treasures it would hold...

November 25, 2012

Bring It

Maybe it's just because it's far too late at night.  Maybe it's because I've been trapped in this chair for too long.  Maybe it's because bad luck keeps on rolling in.

I thought I might collapse in defeat.  Non-blog related issues sent my brain packing weeks ago.  I hope it is enjoying wherever it is, perhaps on a nice beach in Ecuador, watching the sun rise over the Andes.

But there's a surprise inside.  As I sit here, even with my knee in constant, throbbing pain; even after leaning on my crutches, watching a friend ride Encore today and seeing that he is so unschooled, so lacking in mileage, that he desperately needs to get back in a program; even feeling like poor Sisyphus while Zeus laughs on...

I find myself narrowing my eyes in defiance.

Staring at the mountain of adversity in front of me, there is a wellspring of determination, probably fueled by sheer stubbornnes, but nonetheless picking up momentum as the flow breaks through tiny, nearly invisible cracks.

Even if you put your hand over a flashlight, beams find their way out through the spaces between your fingers and around the edges of your hand.  Even if you put an entire moon over the mass of the sun, a bright corona belies the shadow and the rolling fire at the core flings its rays to the heavens in spite.

Every torturous minute of PT, every rip of pain from a step, and every mind-numbing "walk horse up the hill, walk horse down the hill" will be fueled by this fire.  Because the flames are fanned by a wind I think you know.  It was the wind that whipped my face as Encore stretched out in a gallop in the bright afternoon of our last ride before surgery, ripping the laugh of glee out of my mouth as I felt the enormous power of this Thoroughbred, born and bred and begging to run, leap away and carry me into an unearthly place.

I think you've been there; you don't always enter at a gallop, but you still feel that air in your heart.  It's that which transforms my despair into resolve that we will not be beaten and we will not go quietly.

If you could see the entire path of your journey from the start, you might never take the first step, because the view would surely be terrifying and you might question the worth of your goal.  But if your goal IS the journey, there is really nothing that can stop you.

Except yourself.

November 21, 2012

The Wheat From The Chaff: Separate It Does

This story is a little overdue, but no less worth telling.  Because it is a perfect illustration of the line of horsemanship those of us one side of it know perfectly and those on the other side are convinced does not exist.

Last weekend, Amber came out to practice her bending and I wanted to get her in a basic two point and cantering before I was laid up (ah, back when The Plan was still alive).  As we warmed up, she was doing worlds better with her bending (as in, Solo was bending!) in serpentines and circles (ok, I still tied her hand together) and making serious progress relaxing her upper body and guiding Solo with her eye.  We worked on trying to get a more forward trot and I even saw a couple steps approaching a trot that was awake -- not bad for three rides! 

So, let's do a couple of canter circles and we'll be done,  k?

No problem.  And she'd been great cantering on the longe, very well balanced and smooth.

I stressed that it was important to sit up, keep your leg wrapped around him, and to keep your spurs off of him when he was cantering and just keep a light seat, he might get excited.

She picked up her canter at A with a fairly prompt transition and made a nice corner tracking left.  Going down that long side is a bit of a down slope, so I saw Solo fall on his forehand a bit and cheat his way through by just going a little faster.  Before I knew it, he made a motorcycle turn across the arena and I yelled, "Half halt!"

He was pointed almost straight at the arena rope now and I saw the conflict on his face.  Never jump out of the dressage arena!  But she's pointing me at a thing and digging in her spurs and saying go!  NEVER jump out of the dressage arena!  But she's telling me to go faster!  NEVER JUMP OUT OF THE DRESSAGE ARENA!  OMG!!!

Fortunately for the long run, Solo made the correct decision and politely said, no ma'am, you have requested the wrong thing, and slid to a stop with his ankles against the rope.  Amber, less fortunately, had lost her leg behind her and tipped forward and did the MOST superlative Superman impression out to the side that I think I have ever seen.  We're talking full-body, stretched out, completely level airtime here.

She hit the ground on her butt, rolling (yesss, someone who knows how to roll!) and Solo sidled two steps over to me with worried eyes, saying I'm sorry, mom, but she was wrong.  I yelled to Amber not to move, patted Solo and told him it was ok, he did the best he could.

I knew Amber had a pre-existing back sprain, so I didn't want her to get up (I never let people get up anyway), to just take a minute and breathe.  She popped up a little soon, but insisted she was ok and climbed back on the horse to walk it out.  I had her walk around, stretch everything out, breathe and chat, and just relax.

This, this is where the line starts.  After calmly assessing she was unhurt aside from some road rash and bruising, she climbed right back up and said, "Let's do this because I don't want it to be a thing."

Right on.

I re-emphasized the spurs; "Now we know why we don't dig them in, yes?  Do you feel like you know where they are right now and that you can control them?"  Because Solo is nearly impossible to ride without a spur and he knows it.  She thought she was good, so I said, ok, let's try this again.

I always cantered Solo perfectly.  Ha!
We did the right lead, his easier one.  It was perfectly uneventful and had some nice strides on the short end.  When he got unbalanced, I had her take a tug and then release to rebalance in a crude sort of half halt, but she was able to keep Solo from slithering down the hill. Yeah!  So we changed direction and hit the left lead again, although I had her stay on a 20 m circle at one end this time.

Solo picked up his canter and after the first few strides, I saw Amber get a bit wobbly from nerves.  Solo shifted a bit and tried to keep his balance under hers as they turned towards me.  I love my horse.  But as they turned in the arena corner, she tipped forwards and lost it again and rolled over his shoulder, albeit much less dramatically this time.

I will say now that I HATE when people fall off when I am teaching.  I know it is part of the process, but standing in the middle of the ring, I am responsible for everything that happens there.  It's why I've been keeping our work mostly in the small grass dressage arena from which I've removed all the rocks and know every inch of the footing.  Much nicer than the bigger arena down below where you land on rocks and a very hard base....  

But Amber hopped up immediately this time (I'm going to have to work on that!) and came back over and climbed up again.

That's the line, right there.  Many people walk away after the first fall.  Most of the rest are gone after the second.  Especially within 15 minutes of the first.  Given of course, that no injuries in need of medical care occur.  One must, of course, take of those first!  

Well, I'll be.  She's the real deal.  She's someone who knows that Rome wasn't built in a day and it is definitely not a painless process.  Colour me impressed.

The second fall really gets your adrenaline going though, so I made sure she spent lots of time wandering around, relaxed, doing breathing exercises, talking about other things.  Oh yeah, and I took the spurs off.  I felt confident that Solo was awake at this point. 

I said, "I'd really like you to canter a left lead circle one time before you leave, so that this is resolved.  However, if you are not feeling comfortable, that is absolutely fine and we can pick it up next time and I have no problem with that."

Her reply, "No way, I don't want this to be a thing and I want to DO it."


So she picked up her trot, settled her shoulders back, asked for the canter and I yelled "Relax your leg and sit up!"

And she did it.  Then we dropped back to trot, did a bit of stretching for Solo's back, stuck a fork in it, and called it done.

I hope that Amber went home feeling very accomplished (well, after she got the dirt out of her pants), because it was indeed a big thing.  It takes courage, dedication, and a heck of a lot of try if you really want to ride and she displayed every one in spades.  I would have been ok if she had just wanted to fall off once, but I guess she had something to prove... 

November 20, 2012

WTF Just Happened? AKA The Surgeon's Update

So...I made this giant plan, right?  I pretty much gave up a year of my life to fix this stupid knee thing.  I had everything in place, all the characters lined up, & this massive, intricate web of steps ready to push into motion.

Anticlimax alert.

Then I woke up from anesthesia to be informed that all the tendons in my knee were, in fact, fine.  Big, chopping surgery with drills & such was not performed.  Arthroscopic exploration (which surgeon did say nothing was 100% till that) revealed that all of the issues stemmed from an intra-articular cartilage tear, just under the meniscus.  Which.....

Wait for it.

There is currently no available solution for.

I sat in my bed in puzzlement, looking from lifeshighway (BFF) to nurses to leg & back to lifeshighway.


What happened instead was that the surgeon debrided (read:  power sanded & sucked out) all the loose cartilage edges & built up inflammatory tissue (a lot!), wrapped it up & sent me home, now neatly moved into the "oop, can't fix, no longer interesting surgical case" category.

It's not a bad thing that I now have a two-three month recovery instead of an eight month one.  But now I'm sitting here with this heap of plan in my lap going, Heh.  Now what?

After the nerve block wore off, I spent Saturday in a whole new world of pain I didn't even know existed (thank cod I requested the stronger drugs), was dragged to salvation by two amazing friends, had insane explosion of plan remnants yesterday in "you can't make this shit up" realm, & now on Tuesday am just resting till I go back to work & PT next Monday.

Long term prognosis:  I am now a horse.  We will try maintenance HA (hyaluronic acid; at least I'm a nice enough horse that I get the expensive stuff) injections & I will rebuild muscle around the joint.  I will then just manage flare-ups until someone invents a solution.

Lifeshighway & I remain scratching our heads from the abrupt departure from expected occurrences.  I've been putting this thing together since late summer, building up to it, building up to it, ready to get my solution, then WHAM-O!  Just kidding, you'll be fine by February, except not really.  Now you're just another person with a bum knee.

Have fun with that!

November 12, 2012

The Eagle Has Landed

"You could totes be a model...."

Maybe that's what Encore's friends tell him.  And by friends I mean, one friend who likes to bite him.  Who is not really a friend, more like a food-stealing, bossy, co-dependent dominator.

But there has indeed been a noteworthy landing...of a Dover store in Raleigh (about 25 minutes from my house).  So BFF and I had to jump in the car and check out the grand opening sales, naturally. 

Much to my bank account's dismay (although all it knows is dismay, so perhaps it didn't notice), I decided I needed a consolation prize for the fact that things were going to suck really badly for quite some time.  So aside from the two years' worth of wormer and vetwrap (I ALWAYS stock up when that stuff is on sale! $0.99 a roll, I mean, come on!), I walked around the corner and stopped dead in front of this (for those of you who missed it on TFS Facebook):

Holy crap! you exclaim, Is that a custom wool dress sheet in exact Team Flying Solo colours?  Why yes, yes it is.  At 1/3 of its regular price.  Horse and trailer not included.  Mine.  The picture really does not do it justice; the colours are rich and gorgeous and I am quite sure we will intimidate the competition simply by stepping off the trailer next year.

Easy on the orange blush there, tiger.

Work it, baby.
I also found the grail of my year long quest:  a dressage pad with blue binding.  Well, close enough.  Enough with the black and white thing, DQ's, live a little!

Click to enlarge.
That pretty much took care of my year's worth of horse purchases.  Of course, I always snag a pair of breeches when they are on sale, since I have a pile in various stages of decay from daily use.

His Highness approves of your offerings.
I also did an experiment and verified that you were NOT immediately encapsulated in a metal cage and shot if you uttered SmartPak's name.  You do, however, get a glare from the store manager. 

Sorry, Dover, love ya, but SmartPak already stole my soul when they delivered my cat food for free.  BUT nobody carries everything, so the beauty of this one is that you can order anything you want from the Dover catalog and then pick it up at the store.  Not that I often need much at this point, but I HATE PAYING SHIPPING.  There, I said it, I'm spoiled.

I'm not sure how much will be left of that sheet  though, after I spend months petting it in my lap until I can jump sweet jumps again...


November 6, 2012

An Emotional Blender

Our farrier met me in a bitterly cold wind this afternoon and pulled Encore's shoes; the final touch ending my desperate attempt at a fall season.  At least I won't have to get all crabby about riding in the dark all winter. 

It's not all bad -- Encore no longer shows any pain in his hip or hindquarter from his ligament injury, which is great.  Now we just need to work on loosening up the tight tendons and ligaments in the area and make sure to keep them moving throughout the winter.  The Majykal Hotwalker (my new best friend) will help keep his muscles toned and hopefully, the round pen and a lovely rider of a friend can keep a hint of topline on him.

In addition, there is Amber.  Delightful, thoughtful, enthusiastic Amber who showed up out of nowhere and brightened my life really at its darkest moment.  She will be helping me keep Solo in shape and showering him with the attention he has been craving.  I laughed out loud on Sunday as I glanced at him:  Amber was brushing him and his bright eyes and pricked ears were locked on me, saying, "FINALLY!  Thank you for this most excellent minion!"  He was in heaven.  At least until he found out there would be SOME work involved.  But he was quickly bribed back to joy with a giant peppermint stick.

My surgery comes next Friday and this week is a crazy one at work, so the clock is ticking.  I will be stockpiling feed and digging out my old crutches and relishing my last moments with my legs wrapped around a warm, wonderful horse.  I lean against their necks and breathe deeply, hoping I can save up their essence to get me through to the other side.

November 2, 2012

The Guestest With The Bestest

I am proud to introduce you to Amber, who humoured me and has written a guest blog for us today.  She contacted me through email about my woeful longings for Solo to have a job again and to get him back into shape.  We had our first meeting this past Sunday and she is fantastic.  Not only does she have a lovely seat and posture, she got the Solo seal of approval, a list which only has two people on it, AND she's just a fun person!  Perhaps my red love boy is finally relaxing and learning that its ok to trust the people I bring him.  He thoroughly enjoyed his job as caretaker and Amber very quickly re-found her balance and rhythm.  I couldn't be more excited and proud for my beloved shiny horse and so happy and grateful to have met such a great person.
Without further ado, take it away, Amber! 
Everything. Hurts. And it’s glorious.  I couldn’t be happier to be this stiff and sore!  It’s so completely worth it for the experience of riding Solo. And I guess a statement like that begs for some background information.
While I haven’t left comments on this blog, I’ve lurked in the background for a while.  I’d sit reading away every morning when I got to work; yes I was procrastinating.  It was just a nice window into a sport I enjoyed in my teens.  I stopped riding about 15 years ago and pretty firmly closed the door on that part of my life. It’s funny how horses manage to creep back into your heart and your life, sometimes when you aren’t expecting it at all. One morning I read Brena’s blog post about Solo needing some attention and exercise, and all of my casual thoughts of getting back into eventing became this uncontrollable urge to start fresh with this horse. It’s the Solo magic I think. Before I knew it, I was emailing like a complete creeper to see if this stranger would let me ride her horse.  Imagine my surprise when instead of a restraining order, I received an email response! Brena has been immensely generous with her time, expertise, and her shiny wonder boy.
I drove up and was privileged to ride Solo this past Sunday.  Of course when I first saw him, Solo was running around his pasture screaming and performing aerial maneuvers I haven’t seen outside of a Royal Lipizzaner Stallion performance [eventer79 notes:  Encore was on the hotwalker and Solo disapproved and there was a cold wind blowing up his tail].  I just looked at Brena as she laughed and said “that’s my broken horse”. I’ll admit, I definitely had a moment of questioning my sanity as I watched him gallop and buck. As soon as he realized we were coming to get him though he settled right down. It was awesome to see his happy face as he received some well-deserved attention from his minions. Solo is very expressive, and it was easy to see he enjoys having people fawn over him.

Wait till she gets to do this...  Damn, he looked good then!
As I scrambled aboard he was a saint, and definitely babysat me as I exhibited amazing feats of clumsiness and a complete lack of coordination.  It is simultaneously humbling and hilarious to ask your muscles to do things that they haven’t even considered for 15 years. My brain said one thing and my body did something completely different! I’m so grateful that Solo took such good care of me, and I know he most definitely took pity on me because I really doubt any of my cues were very effective.  I’m also grateful that Brena is willing to allow me to ride His Shine-ness, and I look forward to the both of us slowly getting back into shape. Who knows, maybe someday you guys will see us out doing a maiden course somewhere. But for now, Sweet Heavens to Betsy…I am a bowlegged mess, and this is several days later! I’ll take being this horribly sore any day if it means I’ve been out riding.

October 31, 2012

A Gear In The Complex Machine, Pt. II

The anticipation was palpable as dawn crept over Waredaca's rolling course.  A light mist and a breeze made it perfect galloping weather.  All our organizing was done the night before so we only had to man our stations (with the barrrrely enough volunteers who showed up) with scoresheets and timers and pens and cameras and radios and drinks and to stalk each rider through their phases.


I took up my traditional role as the finish timer of Phase D.  I love seeing the big grins as each partnership gallop through the finish flags, having finished the greatest accomplishment in our sport:  endurance day of a true long format event.

Tools of the trade.
Bonus:  the borrowed vehicle I sat in had heated seats.  At least, it did until the battery died.

It also came with a friend.  3 minutes can be long...
From my vantage point, I could watch riders trot off on Phase A (warmup), finish Phase C (cooldown), enter and work the 10-minute box, and then, of course, the last two jumps of the cross country course.  It was up to me to hit the red button, recording everyone's timing fate on the Seiko ribbon and reporting it to Brian.  50 times.  At (mostly) 3 minute intervals. 

It went something like this (warning, terrible cell phone video resolution):

The latter was one of my favourite horses, Mr. President. a big drafty paint cross who was actually a lovely mover and jumper and had the sweetest face; I wanted to pick him up and put him in my (very large) pocket and take him home.

But it wasn't all the same thing.  Some had more trouble than others with the concept of flags (apologies again for poor video but the conversation is worth it)...

By afternoon, it was done.  I believe one horse withdrew in the vet box and the only fall was an unfortunate soul whose mount tripped and fell on his knees starting Phase A.  Trotting.  Fortunately, you don't get eliminated for that.

After that, it's a like snowball rolling downhill, already having gathered so much momentum,  your exhausted brain just rolls along with it.  Scoresheets were all turned over the the head scorer, we all ran away and passed out after a final review of which prizes go where, and the sun had set on a fantastic day.

Saturday was almost anticlimactic after the thrill of completing the day before.  After the morning jog up,  I worked as pole steward when tired or looky horses didn't quite get all four feet over and as holder of all prizes for distribution.  The three divisions (2 Training, 1 Novice) jumped around, collected their loot, and we bolted for home.

I'll keep going back.  Maybe next year I will be on a horse.  More likely, I'll be defying death by golf cart again.  A behind the scenes video would be fascinating -- you truly would not believe the flurry and hard work and acts of generousity beyond the call of duty that are constantly occuring behind that usually smooth face of each event.

Even greater though, is the knowledge and experience I gain with each trip.  Not only do I meet new judges, officials, clincians, product reps, and adult riders, but I learn tidbits from the seemingly bottomless well of how to successfully complete a long format event.  Things you never get from a clinic or a lesson.  When I finally DO make it to competitor status, I will be the one sitting there feeling (relatively) confident about exactly what is going to happen every day, as well as how to be not only successful but EFFICIENT with my competition plan.  Because I've seen what worked and I've seen what didn't and I've seen the difference between how you ride and manage a true 3-day horse and how you ride a regular horse trial horse.

And all I remember thinking, the whole time this year, was, Encore could totally own this...