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We Are Flying Solo

July 28, 2012

Can I Make The Impossible Possible?

This is how it goes:

Monday I am getting ready for field work, fixing the stuff broken in last week's field work, or driving to field work.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I am usually DOING field work on travel status, which means I am in a hotel somewhere in the economic wasteland (but gorgeous rivers) that is the coastal plain of our state.

Friday, I'm fixing the stuff we broke this week and planning and coordinating staff for the next week.

Saturday, I am exhausted and it is 102 degrees, but I stuff myself into the truck and drive north to ride Encore.  Since he hasn't been ridden in a week, I have to somehow wear him out before I can do anything focused (I have discovered the round pen is very helpful because he HAS to balance or he will fall). 

Sunday, he is much more rideable but I am tired of sweating, even though the temperature has dropped to a balmy 99.  Nevertheless, I truck up and try to do something worthwhile.

I ache to ride Solo too, but what little time I have must be devoted to the youngster.

Because we WILL have a fall season, SO HELP ME COD, because my knee surgery (thank YOU, VA Horse Trials 2011) is scheduled for November 16th (just after the Adult Team Challenge in VA, how fitting) and after that I will not be able to walk until mid-January and it will be 8 months to full recovery if I don't explode first.

Encore needs a schedule (which I can't give him) and I need to build his hind end, especially his left hind, which is still a bit weaker and tight from his pre-injection body habits.  We've made some progress; our dressage lesson today "showed a nice Second Level trot" and because the arena had not been mowed, Mr. Finicky Legs passaged over the 10 inch tall weeds while I laughed at him.  I guess that's one way to get hock action...

Blogging:  EPIC FAIL.  Unless you want to hear about all the fish I can't find because they have somehow vanished.  Who would have thought that the rivers had changed since the last records of the species 50 years ago?  Oh wait...

On the plus side, in November I will have time to write the series I have been saving in my head that I think you will enjoy.  Since I will not be able to do anything else.  Although I have already decided that sitting on a lazy, retired horse is a non-weight bearing activity....

July 7, 2012

On Again, Off Again

Summers are frustrating for me.  It's field season at work, which means I am doing this...

...while losing my body weight in sweat every day.  It is fun and I love the wildlife, but trust me, it's not as easy as it looks!  It also means I have no consistent schedule.  I am often on travel status as my territory covers 1/3 of the state.  Horse training and article writing does not seem to be a priority of my agency for some reason.

So I am left to piecemeal it as best I can.  I make plans and change them and then change those.  Sometimes I have to wait until the heat breaks or until it's raining so field work is canceled or we have meetings so I get to stay home.

Yeah, your clinic scheduled on a Wednesday?  Please stop complaining that it won't fill, we can't all be kept women...

However, since I spend many MANY hours behind the wheel of the work truck, I contemplate.  What do I want from Encore's round pen work?  With Solo, I needed to earn his trust, so my approach was to calm him and reassure him as much as possible.  But with Encore, I think I want to leave a little raw edge.  He is appropriately obedient, but has a little fire, a little pushback, and I don't think I want to take that away.  I WANT a little badass-ery in my eventer and to know that he is self-confident enough to attack new challenges and move boldly forward even if I falter.  Solo became bold and confident because I showed him he could be, but Encore already has his own core to build on. 

This is my working theory.  In the meantime, what riding time we get is spent on building his hind end and back on trails and in transitions in hopes that our fall season will see everything bumped up a notch!

July 1, 2012

When Baby Says No: Encore Vs. Round Pen Pt II

The helmet cam is so much more than XC courses!  I put it on a week or so ago to tape Encore in the round pen, where I was briefly going to work him before riding him.  However, someone had had the audacity (according to Encore) to place a bright blue bottomless pit harboring zombie cows right next to the round pen.  End result:  no riding, but a repeat of our last round pen escapades with a twist of anxiety which melted in the heat into stubbornness.

I first led him around the pen and let him stare at the Blue Pit for a few moments, giving him a fair look at it and leading him back and forth by it a few times.  Then I turned him loose and said, "Ok, buddy, you're own your own to work this out.  Go."  He then goes to what is becoming his textbook response of (a) rush through thing I don't want to do and pinning my ears, (b) pulling out all evasion tricks to avoid said thing, (c) finally, unable to think of any other ways out, giving in.  For today.

Ridiculous commentary in my horrible video voice provided free of charge, as I walk you through my approach, although you will have to turn your volume all the way up.  I'm still working on finding the perfect mic settings for the camera.

When he is still in the "no" phase, but he is getting hot and tired, watch him hunt for the stop near the gate opposite the Blue Pit.  It it critical that I do NOT let him stop here in a place HE has decided is safe.  He may only stop or relax when he enters the space which I insist is safe, despite any zombie, real or imagined.  You can see, it's like a switch flipping, when he decides it is too much work saying no, so he might as well just play along.

This second video is the last two minutes of our work in the other direction before my battery died.  He was much more difficult to the right and threw out every evasion he could come up with multiple times, which are caught here, including turning his butt to me, shoving his head over the fence, looking away, trying to switch directions, backing up and so forth.  LITERALLY ten seconds after the battery died, he dropped to a walk, dropped his head licked his lips, sighed, and said, fine, you win.  Of course.  You can see that moment begin right as the video stops.

*SAFETY FIRST.  At all times, I am conscious of his body language, just how belligerent he is feeling, where his body and feet can go, and where my feet and body are.  I stay focused and on my toes and am ready in a moment to drop or back off should feet start to fly.  I would like to say he is too kind to go for that option, but a horse is a horse, so if you engage in asserting your leadership, BE CAREFUL and be sure of your plan before you walk in the pen.  And plans B, C, and D.

You are now free to discuss at will... 

June 24, 2012

Look Whose HelmetCam I Found??!

Remember how I said back here that I had tried and failed to turn the helmet cam on in mid-course at full TB gallop? 

Well, guess what?

I discovered last night that I didn't fail!

So hang on for the ride, because here are XC jumps 5-15 of Encore's very first Novice completion this spring!

June 22, 2012

Away Again IS Away Again!

That's right, baby Flying Solo is back in business and got the seal of approval from David last Saturday at our lesson.  I had hauled Encore up to Virginia where he was giving a clinic at a friend's farm because it was exactly three weeks after his injections, when the vets told me to evaluate -- I figured who better to evaluate than the man who had given me the plan in the first place!

A lesson with David is never easy, but he has an unfailingly quick eye and his worlds (literally) of experience always gets you where you need to go.

You start with what I like to call the David Circle Of Death -- while it looks deceptively easy, you are working HARD and it usually leaves me panting desperately, chanting Do not fall off your horse in front of him, do not fall off your horse in front of him....  I could still breathe at the end this time, which leaves me wondering whether my protein shakes are indeed working or David was just being easy on Encore.  I'll pretend it was the first one, it makes me feel better.

I barely managed to not squeal aloud with glee when David pronounced him better, but I couldn't contain a completely foolish grin of joy.

You then follow with an alluringly simple gymnastic, which you unfailingly override and then feel like an idiot.  But the horses do fine and get to thinking about picking up their feet and putting the jump in the middle of their bascule.

Next you begin to work a few lines.  As noted on the video, I really struggled with the grey oxer -- something about the colour and arrangement of the poles made it impossible for me to read and Encore seemed to struggle with getting a line on it as well.  It was a very odd feeling to turn the corner and see...nothing.  That has never happened to me before and as a result, I proceeded to mess it up many times.

Once your horse is traveling well through the lines, you put some courses together, increasing in complexity.  The jumps stayed low this time since Encore hasn't jumped in over a month, but he felt good and when I wasn't doing ridiculous things on his back, he jumped well.  No rushing, no anxiety -- the problem really WAS the pain and not my training.  Which makes you feel good.  Then bad.  Then good.  Then bad.  Then you just try to stop thinking about it.

During our last course, Encore's weak side got tired; you can see he struggles to pick up his left lead.  David still never fails to have a simple fix for me.  Everything goes smoothly when he is around -- I just need to somehow kidnap him and haul him around in my trailer to horse trials.  Except his wife would most certainly murder me in the night.  Dangit.

Thank you so much to Sue, the farm owner, clinic hoster, and mad tough eventer, for taping us!  After being gone all week chasing fish, I hope to spend the weekend getting back in the groove while trying not to die of heat exhaustion.  The lake just might win me over, though, when the Carolina sun gets brutal around 3:00 in the afternoons...