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We Are Flying Solo

June 9, 2011

Watch And Learn

I am a big believer in volunteering.  In all things, but today I'm talking about volunteering at horse trials.  So big a believer that I think it should be required of every competitor that they volunteer for eight hours every year.

EVERY competitor.  I don't care if you are Phillip Dutton or TeenyFishMe.  You have to give at least eight hours back to the eventing community every year. That's basically one work day a year. That's one day jump judging or stewarding or checking bits. It doesn't even have to be the day of competition; organizers always need help stuffing envelopes, organizing entries, setting up jumps beforehand -- you don't even have to sacrifice your weekend.

We are all busy. God knows these days, between vets and doctors and work, I don't even have time to buy groceries. But if you are going to play in this sport, you need to be giving back to this sport. When you are competing, people are out there giving of their time to make it happen and you need to do the same.

It pays off for you too. I have never volunteered and not learned something. The first event I ever worked was the ***World Cup at The Fork, here in NC. I watched some beautiful rides and some terrible rides. You see that everyone makes mistakes -- I saw Karen O'Connor go off course with Teddy after riding six other horses that day. You can compare how different approaches to your jump produce results, good or bad. You get free lunch!

This past weekend, I spent half a day scribing one of the dressage rings at a local unrecognized horse trial. I have to give a shout out to FenRidge Farm. Patricia Roberts runs a fantastic local show series every year -- dressage, CT's, hunter derbies and horse trials -- and she lets us come school her course year round. I have seen her out there digging ditches on the XC course in the rain. She spends countless hours making sure the footing is safe, the jumps are all in good repair, and everyone has a great time. Seeming to be in eight places at once all day during one of her shows, she takes care not only of the competitors, but the volunteers, judges, and spectators. I have been thrilled to see her events grow over the past couple of years and I hope it's a continuing trend.

I spent four hours sitting next to a dressage judge for Training, Novice, and Beginner Novice tests. This judge in particular used to work for Derek DiGrazia (now-designer of the Rolex CCI**** XC course as well as the currently running Bromont *** course) and used to event herself. She now rides Grand Prix dressage and is an instructor as well, so she knows what she's looking at. It was my first time scribing and I was intrigued to finally get an inside look at what a dressage judge wants. While I barely had time to see any horses as I scribbled madly to keep up, I noticed some very interesting patterns throughout the day.

-The judge does not care if your horse is a perfect frame on the vertical. What they DO want is an honest connection in the bridle. I can't even count how many times I wrote "cnxn." Go forward into that rein.

-Related: the judge knows a fake frame when they see one. His nose might be on the vertical, but if he is tense through his neck and his back or not following through behind, you'll still lose points.

-Geometry counts. You will get dinged if your circles are huge and lopsided. Don't give away easy points -- hit the marks for your shapes!

-Judges are not blinded by fancy. I wrote 8's and 4's on the same test more than once. A pretty horse who does a gorgeous centerline can still score a 5 two movements later if they are tense and crooked. Likewise, even if one movement is terrible, they really are judged separately, so one bad movement or two WON'T blow your test, redeem yourself on the next part.

-Everyone has bad tests. My heart melted for the poor girl who dissolved into tears after her final halt on her very naughty horse. The judge sympathizes -- we've all had days when Dobbin throws his nose in the air and takes advantage of you. No one thinks worse of you, WE'VE BEEN THERE. Shrug it off and go enjoy your jump courses.

-If you have extensions in your test, go for it but don't run the horse off his feet. Downhill and rushy scores worse than packaged but too conservative. But make the change in gait obvious and the transition marked.

-The judge WANTS to score you well.  We were both clucking under our breath for extensions and scolding naughty ponies for bit snatching.  They really REALLY do want to encourage you and see you succeed.

What scored well? Accurate lines, prompt transitions, solid rider positions, consistent bend, and steady rein connections.


June 7, 2011

Dr. Bob's Magic Fingers

They always find something.

Going in, I knew Solo was struggling with some jumps and in a test ride last night, refusing to lift his back up and engage. In the past, back soreness has pointed to hind leg joint issues. I was expecting stifles, hocks, and needles to be involved in our visit.

To my vast and utter surprise, Solo flexed 100% clean and sound on both hind legs. I have always maintained that this horse would probably never pass a flex test, although I have never done one on him. Given that I know he has some mild hock arthritis and I know he's lopsided, I figured there'd always be a little something there. So my jaw pretty much dropped when he jogged off perfectly every time behind lifeshighway, who was working Amazing Friend duty, jogging my horse in 90 degree heat since I was lame.

Dr. Bob poked and prodded and then sent Solo and I into the round pen to demonstrate our free lunging skills. Which was fine till he wanted to see the canter. I eventually had to give up and redneck it bareback and barefoot with the halter to get the shiny beast to canter those tiny circles.

Good news: joints are fine. Clean, even, and moving well in all gaits. Dr. Bob was wowed by Solo's muscle condition and suspension when he moved. I basked a little.

Less than good, but not as bad as expected news: the problem appears to be deep muscle pulls in the large muscles of his back and hips. Likely cause, the too-short stadium warmup in VA. Muscle cells damaged in a pull turn into scar tissue, which must gradually be broken down and worked out.  If I want, we can go down to the vet school and play with MRI's, thermography, and all their goodies.  I snorted -- as if I have any money left at this point! -- and said, would it change our course of action?  Response:  probably not.  Ok then.

Rx: Start slow, with lots of stretching, bute, and light, stretchy works under saddle. After every ride, deep massage sore muscles with liniment or witch hazel/vinegar/water combo. Slowly incorporate long, stretchy trot, ground poles, then tiny cross rails and build back up from there.

I can't jump right now anyway till the knee is fixed, so we can take our time. Which is why I took him in when I did anyway -- all competition pressure is removed and all I HAVE to do at this point is keep him in condition.

So with some time and a lot of help from dear friends who I couldn't live without, the prognosis is good for a healed Solo!

June 6, 2011

I'm Going To Buy One Of Those Cool Magneto Helmets

Only if it comes with a cape. I guess if you are not as big a dork as me, you won't get that reference though. But I DO get another trip to the MRI though. Wheee, giant magnet fun. Yup, the knee has earned me another pass on that ridiculously expensive thrill ride. *sigh*

In the mean time, Solo and I will go visit Dr. Bob tomorrow and see if we can winnow out a reason for his reluctance to jump sweet jumps.  The shiny beast is still out on the trail, we have to stay in shape, after all.

I fantasize about what it would be like if life went back to normal. 

June 3, 2011

Yay, I Love Spending Money!

Did you notice the sarcasm font?

Oh, Solo.

See, I get a little crazy when I can't ride. Ok, I get a lot crazy. I get all balled up inside like a coiled up spring in a too-small container, all bursting at the edges with frustration and other pent-up emotions.

I longed Solo last night and got some beautiful work at the trot and canter. He fought me a bit on the left lead canter, but this isn't unusual.

I had to get on him tonight. I HAD to. I'd tried to ride in the dressage saddle on Wednesday, but it hurt too much. So I hopped on bareback this evening. Not too bad. Definitely able to do more than with feet in stirrups, thank goodness. Don't tell my orthopedist. Hey, it's gotta be lower impact than walking!

A few transitions, ok, everything feels pretty good. Let's do a couple little jumps.

The bugger stopped. S.T.O.P.P.E.D. Twice. We rode through it (Damn, you stick good when you're jumping bareback. It's funny how having no options will improve your position in a heartbeat!) but I'm not happy.

This horse is not a stopper. Yeah, he stopped at VA, he was tired, those were looky jumps, ok. But a crossrail? Uh-uh. Something's not right. I can play mental games and say, well, last time he jumped, I fell off and we had to walk out of the ring so maybe it messed with his head a little.

Maybe. But that's an awfully complex argument. And it's a CROSSRAIL. And his left lead canter did feel a little funny and resistant.

So next on the agenda, after checking tomorrow to see if there is ulcer pain (psssh, not like he's had any stress in the past week of doing...nothing) call Dr. Bob on Monday and have him check everything out. Whee. Hey, why the hell not, I'm already paying my own medical bills, why not throw a vet bill in for good measure!!

I love horses. I swear. I do. Really.

Hey, at least Pete and Solo are enjoying themselves.

June 2, 2011

The Solo-Cam Returns: Cross Country In Virginia

Here it is, then, the trip around Virginia's spring Training Level cross country course. In all its glory bumpiness. I sat too much, obviously. And you are free to laugh when my legs get too pooped to function at the end as Solo says, "Ya know, I'm kinda tired and this place is hilly, do I HAVE to jump those dodgy-looking things?" But we made it through the finish flags and hopefully we did not make anyone's eyes bleed. I get all hot and tired again just watching it, it was about 90 degrees...