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We Are Flying Solo

September 8, 2009

The Man, The Legend

A sexy Solo, 11 yrs old & no idea of what lay ahead
It was the summer of 2007. Things were going ok.

My horse no longer resembled the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man; there was some actual muscle definition and his feet had grown back in strong and solid.

I was getting (a little) braver. I had learned that he would jump (just about) anything and I was experimenting out on our "cross country" course (which sadly is no more).

Feeling pretty awesome in the XC field
Most importantly, my horse was (I think) having fun. Even though we still had no controlled canter to speak of. I was successfully avoiding that particular issue.


At the same time, I was getting more and more frustrated with this whole hunter thing. Solo was fast, he had a big stride and to say he was a stylist, well, that would be a flat lie. The courses were all the same and the jumps all looked the same. Your class might start at 9 am or it might start at 2 pm and you'd better be ready for both. George Morris had failed to call and recognize our developing genius. It was frankly, bloody annoying and I wanted out.

Yeah, things were stalled in a serious rut.

An online friend gave me a tip on an upcoming Ian Stark clinic in Aiken, SC. I would love it, she insisted. He's a phenomenal teacher, she claimed.

But! I protested, What if your horse doesn't know anything and you ride like you haven't taken a lesson in years? (which Solo didn't and I hadn't)

She swore to me it would be worth it.

A bit of background: I grew up watching 3-day eventing. We were yearly attendees at Rolex in the late 80's and early-mid 90's. I loved it. But it was what REALLY AWESOME riders on MIND-BLOWINGLY AWESOME horses did and I was too chicken to even jump downhill. At a trot.

My then eventing aspirations: zero.

Ian Stark competing Full Circle II in 2006
Besides, Ian Stark was...well, look at him! The man had four Olympic freaking medals, he won Badminton three times, took 18 horses to the 4* level (when riders were Riders and eventing was Long Format!) and he coached the Brazilian eventing team. I was, OMG, so not worthy!

C'mon, take a leap! So my foolhardy subconscious told me. You can go ride with Ian bloody Stark, how often does the opportunity come around? You'll regret it forever if you don't.

I couldn't argue with that kind of logic. I sent in my check. Solo, quite cooperatively, blew an abscess two weeks before the clinic. I crapped myself in desperate panic and soaked his foot 400 times a day. I then packed everything I owned, borrowed a few more things, shoehorned my dog and my ever-patient S.O. into the Tahoe (a '96 model with 170k & no A/C) and drove to Aiken at the end of July.

It was only 105 degrees and we were scheduled to ride for three days: dressage, stadium, and then cross country.

As I rode into the dressage arena, for the first time in my equestrian life, my hands were shaking, my mouth was dry, and I was very seriously ill with a case of starstruck terror.

September 6, 2009

Showtime, Pt. II

PhotobucketShow number two in our home farm hunter series approached rapidly. There could be no more excuses. We were going to be hunter champions, dammit! I was going to ride come hell or high water.

The day came. I put on my black wool coat that hot morning, shined my boots and swallowed my fear as I saddled my (once more immaculately clean) horse. And ride I did, soaring over the massive fences in the finest style.

Well, ok they looked bigger at the time... You can see my intense focus. Ok, you're right, it was just my jaw clenching in trepidation.

No sweat, mom, I GOT this.

And my boy DID IT! On course, on time, on cue. And we got ribbons!

Yes, that is me about to bust with pride because my horse just won ribbons over 18" fences. I never win ANYTHING!

Not only that, he ended up grand champion in the Training Hunter division. I couldn't have been prouder of him that day, he took it all in stride like a pro and never flinched. Our previous day of exposure had indeed paid off in spades.


There was never a more well-deserved shower...

Oh yeah, we were headed to the BIG TIME now. Any day now, George Morris himself was going to come knocking on our door...

September 3, 2009

Lights, Camera, SHOWTIME! Pt I

Well, I had no manageable canter but that did not deter me: our farm had a schooling hunter show coming up and danged if I wasn't going to enter! Surely I could canter in a circle, even if Solo WAS falling all over himself I could at least control him by staying in tighter circles at all times.

So another dream was about to come true, to show my very own glowing steed and gallop a victory lap, blue ribbons streaming from our bridle as the crowd roared.....or at least a couple show moms clapped halfheartedly?

About three days before the show, you could feel the atmosphere as the farm change. The ring was dragged, jumps were moved and decorated, lessons intensified as we all prepped. Tack was cleaned and horses bathed. Solo felt it too. By Friday night, his barely controlled canter had disintegrated into a half-bucking bolt of a transition that became a haul at Mach 7. Brakes? What brakes? My quiet, mostly obedient horse had been overtaken by his TB half and become a hot, snorting, running ball of fire. Basically, he was unrideable.

I scoff in the general direction of your show-related aspirations!
My heart crumpled Friday night as I was forced to admit to myself that there was NO WAY I could navigate him safely around a hunter course the next day. Here I was, with a perfectly good, immaculately clean horse that I couldn't even freaking ride. I sat in front of his stall with my chin in my hands in utter dejection with doubt and depression battling it out in my head.

You should just sell him, you can't even ride him properly, you've completely messed him up, just give up." (Doubt can be cruel and quite persuasive.)

Now wait just a minute! I said.This is Solo's farm -- all he knows is that tension is in the air, trailers are coming in, I can't really blame him for being nervous. After all, he's never been to show before as far as I know.

And then it hit me. He'd never been to a show as far as I knew. Well, duh, of COURSE he was spooky and nervous and crazy, he had no idea what was going on. I had a new plan.

Saturday morning, instead of putting on my breeches and saddling up, I took my (immaculately clean!) horse out of his stall, put on his halter, and proceeded to spend the day leading him around the warm up area and arena, just taking in the sights.

Yes, he was spooky. Yes, he was jumpy. But I just let him stand and stare and blow and examine it all. I had learned by that point that he was the kind of horse who needed to look at things and think about them. Once allowed to do that, he would be fine. And by the end of the day, he was relaxed, grazing near the arena, nostrils returned to normal size and whites of eyes put away for another, more worthy occasion.

That day, I learned the value of mileage. I learned that we cannot expect our horses to fearlessly forge right into everything like a seasoned pro. A seasoned pro gets that way by seasoning and not just with paprika (oh, I crack myself up!). What at first seemed like a lost day, on examination afterwards turned out to be a priceless training opportunity. Solo had just learned that all the hustle and bustle and noise and dust and speakers and trailers and pennants were harmless. Now we could take that positive experience and use it as a stepping stone to the next one. And that, my friends is mileage!

Next goal: to actually RIDE my horse in the show!

September 1, 2009

I'm Looking For My Missing Piece

PhotobucketClearly, I was a genius.

I had just put together a rig for less than $12,000 TOTAL. It was safe, sturdy, reliable and even PRETTY! I had a newfound foolproof method for communicating with my horse and now had him self-loading onto the trailer with a tap of my finger. He was going well barefoot as we practiced enormous jumps*.

He developed better condition every day and I was sure nothing would stop our meteoric rise to stardom. Even my helmet acquired its own cocky tilt of confidence, see?


The only eensy weesy teeny tiny miniscule problem was we could no longer canter. It was gone; we had lost it, misplaced it somewhere along the way. We could pick up the canter, just fine, but within five strides or so, it disintegrated into a front-heavy, hauling, freight train of a speed demon mad rush. Not so much fun really and I feared my shoulders might actually separate from their sockets sometime in the very near future.

And it scared me a little -- as a child, I'd been thrown from a runaway horse and knocked out for a bit (even though I WAS wearing a helmet, if I hadn't, I'd be dead!) and as a result, any hint of loss of control still got me a bit short of breath and twitchy.

Discouragement began to lurk in the corners of the arena, whispering in its nasty lilting voice, "Look at you, Ms. Fancy Awesome Rider, can't even canter your own horse can you? 25 years of riding and you are afraid to canter around the arena? Nice work, genius."

Ok, maybe I wasn't a genius. I had somehow lost an entire GAIT. Who does that?

Clearly, I was an idiot.

*I promise very soon the pictures get better as a new camera made an appearance!

August 31, 2009

A Tale Of Two Trailers

As I intimated in my clinic post, trailering had suddenly become an issue in the winter of 2006. At the time, I had my cherry red 1987 WW which stood at a whopping interior height of 6'6". As I mentioned, Solo technically fit in it. As long as he did not raise his head or want to move. At all. It had mangers and a solid divider too, so his feet had to STAY PUT. But he'd ridden in it quietly the three hours up when we moved and we had gone on a trail trip or two.

When I went to load him up for our PNH clinic, his reaction went something like this:

Walk walk walk walk, oh, the trailer, hmmmmmm, I don't really want to OHMYGODHELLNO I AM NOT GETTING IN THAT THING SCREWYOUI'MOUTTAHERE!!!!!!!

Yes, he stood up on his hind legs (I had put a butt rope on him for gentle encouragement), hopped over the rope and galloped off down a fenceline.

Leaving me standing with a longeline and ropeburn in one hand (note to self: gloves are a good invention) and a dumbfounded look on my face. Well, crap, now what?

I went and got my horse again and recruited two helpers from the barn and with a little coercion (which included me smacking my head on the escape door, gah!) we got him in and slammed the door. It would get us there.

At the end of the clinic, dear, wonderful Carol spent two hours with me and Solo showing how to properly load a horse onto a trailer. I use that method to this day: keep their feet moving forward. Life outside the trailer SUCKS REALLY BAD and life inside the trailer is awesome and full of pets and treats.

My conclusion: 6'6" trailers are for cows and small ponies. Not for 16 h beefcake horses. It had to go. AND since my Expedition had broken down on the way home from the clinic and was quickly revealing itself to be a problem ridden BEAST, it HAD to go, I was tired of fixing it.

New rig requirements:

-7' tall!!!!!!!!!!
-stock sides (Horses need ventilation! If they are sweaty when you pull them off the trailer, "ur doin' it rong!"
-straight load (My horse just didn't fit in any slants I tried, he was too long)
-bumper pull (I still wanted an SUV)
-steel steel steel (I like my horse haulers heavy and strong)
-dressing room (I am a charter member of the club I Have Too Much Crap Even Though I Only Have One Horse )

It had 150,000 miles but it purred like a kitten and had a brand new transmission. I <3'ed the Tahoe!

2007 Adam Special 15' -- brand new on the lot!

Open, airy, inviting, just the way I wanted it!