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We Are Flying Solo

January 9, 2011

This Is How We Roll: Dressage Saddles

For quite some time, Solo and I played in the sandbox in a Wintec Dressage Pro. However, it was no longer fitting for us, so it was time to find its replacement. For my funky-shaped horse. And funky-shaped me. Yay. Cause we've had such fun with saddle fitting in the past.

But then, for a brief instant, the universe smiled upon us. Because I was out of cash, I thought my search was doomed. But then the SO stepped in. Yes, the same wonderful one who made my one life dream come true five years ago. He was probably sick of listening to me whine incessantly about the horror that is saddle shopping. So he did himself a favour and shut me up by funding My Precious.

And by My Precious, I mean our new dressage saddle. 17.5 inches of black beauty.

I like to pet it and stare at it...oh, sorry, you want details! It is a Black Country Eden, chosen because, of their two dressage trees, this one has a little more scoop to it and sat on Solo beautifully. These saddles are hand built in England -- you pick the tree (or they can build one off of your wither tracing) and then you pick all the options (for no extra charge!).

So I spec'd it out:

Grippy heritage leather
Wither gussets to fill those hollows behind Solo's withers
Thigh blocks that were not too big
A flap angled slightly forward to accomodate my freaky long thighs
Dropped panels to spread weight over a wider surface area on Solo's back

Here's an example of dropped panels on a jumping saddle, they fit in behind the shoulder:

End result: awesomeness. You sit in it and it's like sliding into a glove. Gorgeous balance and oh so comfortable, it's like an easy chair. I have mad, mad love for it and will never let it go.

Thank you, darlin'.

January 7, 2011

Down Time

I hate winter. I may have mentioned that a time or two before.

It makes me feel like a prisoner: footing sucks, it's dark every day after work, and it's so damn cold I spend half my time putting on or taking off layers of strategically arranged clothing. I long for the day when I can walk outside with one shirt on. Just one. Sheer bliss, that is.

Solo seems to be taking it lying down.  With his eyes closed.  On a bed of sun-warmed hay. At least one of us is comfortable.

It is then left to us sun-starved and shivering riders to come up with tasks to fill our barn time when the ground is slop. Or frozen. Or covered in a lethal mix of ice and snowpack. Because I am freaking tired of riding around in circles in the stupid arena. And so is my horse.

As a result, my trailer dressing room is organized with new and OCD-appropriate containers. Including a, get this....wait for it....magnetic paper towel holder. I consider it my crowning achievement in trailer pimped-out-ness.

I have also mended Solo's blanket linings with my dazzling seamstress skills.

Do try to restrain your awe and envy. I am sure Hollywood costume designers are already googling my number.

I have also reorganized my tack room corner, devised a way to store my extra baling twine, invented a saddle pad hanging system, cleaned the feed room, and cleaned all my buckets.

Now what?

January 3, 2011

I Didn't Think We Could

I was cleaning up some draft posts today -- I store snippits of thoughts and ideas for later pondering.  At the top of the sorting list was this one, from late in March of this past year, 2010:

Can Solo even make it to Training Level? Can he take me to my goal? Have I aimed higher than his body can accomodate? Perhaps I am being too ambitious and we won't be able to get there.

I remember well the grave and lingering doubt. The spring season was almost over and we had not completed one event and finished in 18th with a pulled back muscle at another. My horse felt tired and I wondered if we would ever be able to conquer Novice level.

We did another HT that weekend following my troubled thoughts. I believe I recall flying jump rails, although I also recall a thrilling dressage score.

But the flickering wings of doubt still hovered around mental corners and I studied my horse with many a furrowed brow.

And then there was summer and field season and me working myself to death and then there was heat and more heat and still more heat and Solo's summer break.

And then there was fall.

I studied my goal and I got back on my horse. Vitamins had brought his body back in balance. A vacation had pricked his ears. Hmmm....

Then I had a conversation with Becky Holder. I asked (trying not to appear tipsy and idiotic even though I'd already thrown back a wee bit of barn aisle wine...) if I was perhaps a moron for wanting to take a horse to a classic 3-day when he would be 16. Becky had just taken Comet to WEG at 14 and I wanted her insight. I believe her words were Absolutely not. And we talked about management and fitness and timing and all of a sudden, I found myself able to believe again.

Two days later, my horse hopped up and down double steps on the cross country field and popped through combinations without blinking. And my goal was resuscitated, the doubt shoved back into its cage, and I knew we could do it.

The point of all this rambling, you patient readers, you, is that sometimes, yes, this whole crazy journey seems impossible. There have been times and probably will again be times where my willpower staggers in the face of uncountable variables. And the place I am in today, the place that Solo and I are in right now, is not one that I expected. It was beyond my visible horizon, and yet, here we are, getting ready to embark on Training Level and storm the barricades around our 3-Day goal.

Which brings me to you: all of you out there who have some thing you want to do with your horses. When we start out, sometimes it seems too big or too hard, but I am standing here today and telling you -- just because you can't see it on your horizon, doesn't mean it's not waiting just beyond the curvature of the earth. Just because you can't see the entirety of the road that takes you there, doesn't mean that path doesn't exist. All it requires of you is that you keep putting one foot, one hoof in front of the other and that you keep trying.

Because before you know it, my friends, you will wake up one day and, surprise, you will be there. Maybe not along the route you thought, and maybe not at the time you planned, but progress will indeed have found its way to you.

Solo and I still have a long way to go. It means a great deal to me that you've participated in our journey thus far. We really have come to a place that I wasn't sure we could make and I am stunned and thrilled to be here. We're going to keep on trying and keep our eyes on the track ahead. And the message that I want all of you to hang on to, even when you feel discouraged or too far behind or too tired, is that, whatever your goal is, whether it's running at Prelim or jumping a crossrail or going on your first trail ride, if you keep at it, you can do it.

January 2, 2011

They Deserve A Round Of Applause

This year, our Area II (DE, MD, NC, NJ, PA, VA) Adult Rider coordinator came up with the idea of contacting eventing instructors and asking if they would give a 10% discount to Adult Rider members. The sad part: mine doesn't. The really great part: many of them said yes.

I want to say thank you to these people for their support. It is hard to squeeze the money for lessons out of one's budget. It means a lot to us when you cut us a break and help us out. So thank you, thank you, thank you for this gesture and for all of you out there contemplating lessons, if one of these folks is in your area, give them a call! You, of course, need to be a paid Adult Rider member ($20, I think) and have your membership number to qualify for a special rate.

The winners (I have added locations where I could):

Allison Springer (VA)
Jane Sleeper (PA)
Bobby Costello (NC)
Mark Weissbecker (NC)
Carol Kozlowski
Mogie Bearden-Muller (MD)
Christopher Hitchcock (VA)
Molly Bull (VA)
Courtney Cooper (PA)
Phyllis Dawson (VA)
Doug Payne (NJ/SC)
Holly Payne (NJ/SC)
Sally Cousins (PA/SC)
Gretchen Butts (MD)
Stephen Bradley (VA)
Yvonne Lucas (VA)
Jan Byyny (VA/SC)
Lynn Symansky (VA)

Dude, I should move to Virginia, sheesh. There are probably others on that list who winter in Aiken (SC) but you can inquire if you contact. Pretty much all of them have contact information available on a quick google search.

January 1, 2011

Splish Splash, We're Taking A...Lesson

P came out yesterday to check on our dressage progress. Neither of us can stop remarking how different he is than the horse I sat on a year ago. With more spring in his trot and a lovely new ability to carry his weight on his hind end while cantering (WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THIS POSSIBLE??!), he is becoming a real pleasure to ride.

Of course, not all is sunshine and rainbows -- for nearly the entirety of the lesson, Mr. I-Woke-Up-On-The-Wrong-Side-Of-The-Pasture reminded us that the footing was sloppy and he was still a redhead after all and therefore still possessing of strong opinions about when one should (never) and should not (always) do dressage. I did my best to swallow my frustration, take deep breaths and work calmly through his fussing instead of resorting to my instinctual tactic to grit my teeth and fight him (ah yes, which always works out SO well).

We focused on using shoulder-in and leg yield to keep encouraging His Fussiness to engage his inside hind and step into the outside rein. Then we combined this with changes within the trot: compress to collected trot, quietly expand to medium trot, back to collected trot, then medium trot, then collected, then ask for some extended steps. As you can see, occasionally my requests get a wee bit overenthusiastic -- on our first attempt to extend down the long side, he goes all right, just not quite in the right gait... (I recommend full-screening it if you wan to see anything. Sorry the corners are cut off, the camera doesn't do wide-angle.)

So our homework: keep using the lateral work in the walk and trot to strengthen. He is only strong enough to carry his canter for about a lap and a half so far, so it's better to let him return to trot to rest, then do a bit more canter work, rather than try to force a tired canter. Start adding leg yields at the canter more often, then if we feel we have suppleness, canter some shoulder-in.