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We Are Flying Solo

September 30, 2012

Shhhhh, Did You Hear That?

It was nearly like the sound of a new post forming.  This only counts as half of one though.  I must apologize for a quiet summer; field work is rather like being slowly eaten alive, yet still-half enjoyable?  And the universe continues its focused plan to smoosh me, but fails as yet...

Solo has been finessing his guilt skills, trying to push his nose into the halter hole when I get Encore.  I take him out for a trail ride or a work session when I can, but there is so little time.  He has lost all that hard-won muscle and I'm a bit sad on the trail, where he stumbles and tires easily compared to the muscle-bound athlete he was before.  Before everything changed.  I look at him now and am frustrated, I want more for him but my plan to bring him back to shape this winter ended before it even began.  I can read his frustration too, we know each other too well.  But he will be my rehab horse in a couple of months, so I have hope yet to pique his interest.

Our barn wall speaks truth.
Encore and I have our final practice run this weekend in Southern Pines; next stop the Adult Team Challenge in VA.  We've joined up with three of our fellow Adult Riders to make a kickass team, so look out, because Team "Smurf Cocktail" will be looking to burn up the leaderboard!  If I can manage not to do anything stupidly obvious, perhaps Encore can bring home his own giant ribbon...

Dr. Bob comes up on Tuesday for a pre-flight chiro adjustment.  Encore's left hip has gotten tight again, which I have learned means that some cracking and re-rotating is in order.  For us both, funnily enough, I see mine tomorrow morning, ha.  I will do my best to assure that we are in our finest fighting form. 

Because October is already here, with November on its heels.  By the time I hit the O.R., I'll be broke and exhausted, but there will be plenty of time to nap later and no lessons to pay for for quite some time.  So I'll live right now, thank you.

September 26, 2012

Encore Goes Training!

Only without extended trot.

I can see your face now:  o.o

That's what mine looked like on Saturday too.  To be fair, one never does know what you'll get with a schooling horse trial, but I have been to a number of excellent ones in our area and never gave it a second thought.  This particular trial had its inaugural run this spring; the farm owner is lovely, gracious, generous woman, who allows us to school on her her amazing XC facilities and enjoy her gorgeous farm.  There were some hiccups (and 30 mph wind!) in what was Encore's first BN HT, not unanticipated given that this was their first go at putting it on.  I sent some email feedback on points that I LOVED and points that I thought could be improved to make for a smoother experience.  So I decided to give it another chance.


Our dressage test was once again a llama parade on downhill grass (Encore has not quite mastered the balanced AND round AND go down a hill thing yet).  Even though our score was slightly better than the one we received at Five Points, I was very unhappy with the test and my horse was tense and unhappy in the "arena."

The rather humbling downside of going to a schooling event in Southern Pines is that half or more of your division is probably made up of people who have, at one time or another, ridden around Rolex, or train 8 horses a day.  The horse before you and the horse after you will very likely perform a soft and lovely dressage exhibition that doesn't even have a whiff of llama hovering in the smallest corner.  You are certainly left with no false impressions as to how you stack up in the wide eventing world!!!!

Ride times were again so close together that you'd have to be a marathon runner to walk your courses and get back in time for your jump times, because locales were far apart.  Fortunately, I keep my bike in the back of my truck during eventing season; it helped some, but I was exhausted already when I finished the course walk and got on to jump.

The stadium warmup was.....uncontrolled chaos in a very small space.  Encore cantered around very nicely and jumped well, but at once point, we slid to a halt as the path in front of us was completely blocked by two horses leaping and spinning and we had no where to go.  My horse watched with much curiosity, like what is up with that???

The course itself had walked okay, but was taking down riders left and right with refusals and missed lines, many at the first fence.  I closed my leg to it and told Encore it was over or through and he did it all!  The lines were very twisty and difficult, especially for a green horse and we pulled the last rail, a big oxer off of a bending lines of 4 or 5 strides.  But I was proud of him for being in the half of the division that survived it and making 9 out of 10 challenging fences clean jumping efforts

Side note:  Even though we've been at this for a year now, because of my job and travel, much of Encore's training is still rough around the edges, so he still remains quite green about some things in comparison to a horse who is ridden and in training every day.  Finesse will come with time, but one of the hardest parts of being a working adult amateur is FINDING (usually MAKING) that time.  I almost feel as if I am letting him down a bit because he has enormous ability and I should be presenting it better -- I know that he doesn't know that, but I do.  And since I won't be able to ride after November for quite some time, we are out there, rough edges and all, while I still can.

Cross country  was definitely a tough course if you didn't have an honest, bold, and steerable horse.  Lucky me!  There was even a mini Stockholm slide (watch for fence 11, a small log with a drop slide behind it) that Encore was sure had no ground on the other side.  Fortunately, stumbling/walking over a  jump still counts as "jumping."  It was very different from any course I have ridden with several new challenges, so I really enjoyed it -- I could tell Encore was getting a bit tired, we did this whole event in 3 hours (0.0) but he jumped well to the end....and then fell asleep in his water bucket.  You can watch the helmet cam, but I advise you to tilt your left ear about 45 degrees to your left shoulder -- we had so little time to get ready for jumping, I just slapped it on the helmet, so the horizon is, well, unconventional.

Because of the complexity of questions asked and the rideability the jump courses demanded, I did leave feeling as if we had just completed a Training Level HT with slightly smaller jumps.  I'm not sure how I feel about it.  On one hand, yes, I am proud of Encore for finishing it!  On the other though, this fall was meant to be confidence-building mileage -- and I'm not sure bombing around sharp turns in showjumping is quite that.  I also don't really enjoy having to dash around the entire time like a headless chicken.   Efficient is great, but give me a chance to sit and eat my WHOLE granola bar at least and for my horse to get a snack and a drink, since we don't ALL travel with staff.

Again, the farm and owner are wonderful and it is a big, generous thing to open your land and private property so other riders can use the facilities you have built and I am always grateful for that.  I am a bit sad that it appears my feedback fell on deaf ears, but I am not an organizer (HUGE job) so there may be limitations of which I am not aware.

We all also have choices of where we go to compete and this has taught me that not all are the same and not every event will have the same expectations of your horse, even though you are the same level.  There were definitely lessons learned both positive and negative, so now we move forward to our next event, back at CHP, where I DO know what to expect and what is expected of me. 

September 21, 2012

Rocky Mountain High

If you don't know by now, I think the worst thing you can do to your sporthorse is make it an arena baby (edited to add:  ok, obviously not the worst thing.  I mean, you could beat it with sticks and never feed it.  But that would just be uncool.).  Biologically, physiologically (I have the degrees to back it up, go ahead, check me!) to make a tissue or system strong, you have to challenge it.  Obviously, the equation of equine soundness is one of multiple confounding variables, but I think a powerful influence is the lack of "off-roading" and far too much arena grooming, track prettifying, and grass fondling, which only leads to weakening soft tissues and bones.

What do I do about it?  GET OUT THERE.  It was Encore's first time in the Uwharrie National Forest and it took him a couple of hours to sort it out, but by the end of day one, he could power walk through a rock field without tripping even once.  Lessons: balance, agility, strength, decision-making, and focus.

A commenter asked me if I thought it would really make a difference in his training and I said yes.  Because it's not a walk in the park:


This face always makes my heart skip a beat.

Pete and lifeshighway share a moment.  Or perhaps Pete wonders absently when dinner is.

It was a short trail with a simple name...

Turns out, it really was that simple:

We even saw a wild sponge.  Which was odd; I rarely find them outside their normal aquatic habitats...


But at the end of the day, it was all about team building and enjoying a beautiful weekend with friends.  And yes, my horse is tied by his reins when I am standing next to him.  Sue me.  ;P

September 13, 2012

You Buy, You Break

I could smell it already -- the clean air in a silent forest at the top of the mountain, a living quiet broken only by the sound of hooves on pine needles and limestone.  So when I went up to the farm last night, I thought I'd just do some light dressage schooling with Encore, focusing on suppling his muscles in balance, because he had a weekend of serious mountain climbing ahead.

That would have been way too easy.

It was a beautiful evening, too, and I almost quivered with anticipation of the soft, zen vibe of sitting on my horse in the setting sun.  Then I pulled off his fly sheet.

Raging across the middle of his back was a huge scrape, swollen and hot and sore to the touch.  You may have heard my bubble popping as I remembered why you have to always live in the moment with horses.

He hadn't broken the skin, just torn off all the hair and it looked much like I feel when I whack my hip on the corner of a dresser and say many bad words.  So I rubbing in some SoreNoMore and covered it back up.

It was a perfect opportunity to snag a bareback ride on Mr. Shiny instead, so I pulled him out, much to his glee as he has been doing his eye-begging once again, pleading me to fuss with him.  I started brushing him down and curried some mud off his hind fetlock -- to discover a full-thickness filet cut upwards through his ankle.  I could lift up the flap of skin and see pink tissue inside.

Of course.  My theory that the more horses you have, the more injured horses you have, stands intact.

Solo did not have any heat, swelling, or any signs of a problem around the cut, so I crammed a bunch of purple goo in there while he yawned.

Tonight, Encore's back looked and felt significantly better, so I hope that we will still be able to enjoy our mountain weekend.  It's not just about relaxing, it's something I have been trying to do all summer, because Encore lives in Flat Land and the mountain work could well be a make-or-break for his fall season, as he still needs a boost in hind end strength.  Our BFF riding partners have finally had an opportunity to get away and it is valuable in so many way. 

But somehow, and I don't even see how this is possible, I yet again end up at the last minute wondering, "Will he be better?  Do the pros outweigh the cons?  How does this fit into the big picture?"

Over it....

September 11, 2012

Horse Trials = Ridiculously Expensive Lessons In Horsemanship

Edited to add:  there appear to be some photo sizing issues in Firefox.  When viewed in IE or Chrome, they appear normal to me.  All photos have been uploaded at the smaller size, I don't know what's up with that.  Sorry, working on it.  Oh, Firefox, you disappoint me so, I have loved you long time... If you click on the pictures, you can see them at normal human size (as opposed to ginormous).

And nothing makes you feel like your HT experience was complete like sitting on the curb at AutoZone on your way home, waiting for a clerk to come bring you a new truck battery (my back was not in the mood to be lifting batteries).  Ends up, he took too long, so I stole his tools and did it myself.

It started well though and I'm going to try to keep the story short and instead, crash your browser with media.  Because I'm nice like that.  All photos by High Time Photography, thank you!

Dressage:  Wow, I had a heck of a horse.  For the first time EVER, Encore was completely rideable in the ring.  He was (mostly) soft, he did not anticipate and only had a few tense moments.  He canter was sheer loveliness to sit on.  The judge nailed him hard on almost every movement because he is still a bit counterbent quite often.  I have ridden under her before and knew she was tough, she never liked Solo's work much either.  But as I said before, she doesn't know his journey and she doesn't know what he was like even a week ago, or last Wednesday, when I spent a marathon NO MORE ANTICIPATORY BULLSHIT session that about killed my knee but apparently worked! So me = completely stoked with his test.





Where are my cute points?

Cross Country:  Here, he started to feel the hurt.  Because HE WOULD NOT DRINK ALL DAY.  It was hot and humid and the little bugger would just not slurp any water.  He galloped his heart out and went double clear, but he was getting tired.  The footing was also hard and slick (never experienced that at CHP, would never have dreamed of needing studs there for Novice!) and he lost his hind feet out from under him a couple times, so he jumped around just feeling a bit greener than he is.  Oh, and the last jump on course?  His nemesis which he defeated this past spring.  Ha!  I cooled him off and we went "home" to our wonderful friend's farm where I hoped he would tank up overnight.










HELMET CAM I REMEMBERED TO TURN ON!  It was supposed to upload to YouTube too.  Crappy software fail.  I'm not thrilled with this one and I'm not sure why it appears we are riding in an earthquake while being pounded by hail, but perhaps you should take some Dramamine first...

I am making this a link for now, because the sizing all wrong and this whole post seems to have imploded blogger. So, CLICK HERE FOR HELMET CAM VID!

The ever-super Sue's perspective:

Stadium:  Sunday woke us up with cool, beautiful air that smelled the way a fall horse trial should.  After jump-starting the rig, sigh, Encore and I went back to the horse park and I expected a clean jump round.  Expected.  When we got to warmup, I found out that my horse had not taken full advantage of his pasture and trough Saturday night and felt a bit tired.  I warmed him up and he was jumping clean, so I let him hang out till it was time to go.  My plan was just to gallop him down the side of the arena to the start flags and just keep my leg on to keep him moving over the fences.

CHP had other plans.  They had apparently had a group meeting and voted to use all their shallowest jump cups.  The hollow "thunk" of rails in sand had been a common sound all day.  So while Encore jumped double clear with the first 2/3 of his body, his tired back toes tapped a rail.  Or five.  I couldn't be upset with him, really, and I have a call in to David to see if he will help me analyze if there is anything we could have done differently.  But Encore never gave up and never hesitated, so his heart was there.  Naturally, once he walked back to the trailer, he drank two buckets of water.  *eyeroll*

But he looked pretty...


It looked bigger, mom!


A little focus fail, but he looked too cute to pass it up.

The round:

In the end, I wouldn't have changed a thing and I already have a solution for the water issue -- I think the water in my container was just stale and I did not think like a horse and fill his bucket from the park hose until Sunday.  Sigh.  Nonetheless, I am very happy with his performance and overjoyed with his dressage transformation (I hope it sticks) and very much look forward to our next competition, a schooling trial on the 22nd.

This weekend though, we will hit the mountains, build some butt muscles, drink some beer, and be judged by no one but a few arrogant grey squirrels.  Who says Thoroughbreds can't do it all?