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We Are Flying Solo

October 31, 2012

A Gear In The Complex Machine, Pt. II

The anticipation was palpable as dawn crept over Waredaca's rolling course.  A light mist and a breeze made it perfect galloping weather.  All our organizing was done the night before so we only had to man our stations (with the barrrrely enough volunteers who showed up) with scoresheets and timers and pens and cameras and radios and drinks and to stalk each rider through their phases.


I took up my traditional role as the finish timer of Phase D.  I love seeing the big grins as each partnership gallop through the finish flags, having finished the greatest accomplishment in our sport:  endurance day of a true long format event.

Tools of the trade.
Bonus:  the borrowed vehicle I sat in had heated seats.  At least, it did until the battery died.

It also came with a friend.  3 minutes can be long...
From my vantage point, I could watch riders trot off on Phase A (warmup), finish Phase C (cooldown), enter and work the 10-minute box, and then, of course, the last two jumps of the cross country course.  It was up to me to hit the red button, recording everyone's timing fate on the Seiko ribbon and reporting it to Brian.  50 times.  At (mostly) 3 minute intervals. 

It went something like this (warning, terrible cell phone video resolution):

The latter was one of my favourite horses, Mr. President. a big drafty paint cross who was actually a lovely mover and jumper and had the sweetest face; I wanted to pick him up and put him in my (very large) pocket and take him home.

But it wasn't all the same thing.  Some had more trouble than others with the concept of flags (apologies again for poor video but the conversation is worth it)...

By afternoon, it was done.  I believe one horse withdrew in the vet box and the only fall was an unfortunate soul whose mount tripped and fell on his knees starting Phase A.  Trotting.  Fortunately, you don't get eliminated for that.

After that, it's a like snowball rolling downhill, already having gathered so much momentum,  your exhausted brain just rolls along with it.  Scoresheets were all turned over the the head scorer, we all ran away and passed out after a final review of which prizes go where, and the sun had set on a fantastic day.

Saturday was almost anticlimactic after the thrill of completing the day before.  After the morning jog up,  I worked as pole steward when tired or looky horses didn't quite get all four feet over and as holder of all prizes for distribution.  The three divisions (2 Training, 1 Novice) jumped around, collected their loot, and we bolted for home.

I'll keep going back.  Maybe next year I will be on a horse.  More likely, I'll be defying death by golf cart again.  A behind the scenes video would be fascinating -- you truly would not believe the flurry and hard work and acts of generousity beyond the call of duty that are constantly occuring behind that usually smooth face of each event.

Even greater though, is the knowledge and experience I gain with each trip.  Not only do I meet new judges, officials, clincians, product reps, and adult riders, but I learn tidbits from the seemingly bottomless well of how to successfully complete a long format event.  Things you never get from a clinic or a lesson.  When I finally DO make it to competitor status, I will be the one sitting there feeling (relatively) confident about exactly what is going to happen every day, as well as how to be not only successful but EFFICIENT with my competition plan.  Because I've seen what worked and I've seen what didn't and I've seen the difference between how you ride and manage a true 3-day horse and how you ride a regular horse trial horse.

And all I remember thinking, the whole time this year, was, Encore could totally own this...

October 29, 2012

A Gear In The Complex Machine, Pt. I

Before I start, to all my friends, human and equine, north of me, please stay safe and wear a lifejacket!  I know those areas are not as accustomed to our tropical visitors as we are down here, so just buy an extra case of beer and keep your blankets handy.

Seriously, sun!!  At Waredaca!!  In October!!!
I've been gone the last four days (Wed-Sat, I know, I heard you sobbing) doing my annual volunteer stint at the Waredaca Training 3-Day Event (now including the Novice 3-Day!), which is run by my beloved Area II Adult Riders (see sidebar) group with the help of Gretchen Butts, the owner of Waredaca who donates the use of her amazing facility (omg, the XC footing...) to use for the event.  As longtime readers know, this event has been my riding goal ever since I first set foot on the showgrounds in 2009.  And hell or high water (both of which you might actually be in right now?), I WILL ride that course.  I tried to make it happen last year.  We all know how that ended.  But not this year.

I am always a strong proponent of volunteering for our sport.  I firmly believe EVERY SINGLE MEMBER from me to Boyd Martin should be required to spend 8 hours volunteering each year if they want to compete at a recognized event.  Doing ANYTHING.  Because there is a lot more to running a horse trial than judging cross country jumps.  Every time you are out there competing, we are running around like mad behind the scenes, most of us completely unpaid, there for the love of the sport, without which, you couldn't feel the rush of that course.  We make it happen for you - pass it on. 

Psh, a few judges, a TD, and some jump judges, what more could it take, you think?

Task Priori:  Keep Russell the russell warm!
I arrived around lunchtime on Wednesday; the first soundness jog-up was scheduled for late afternoon.  OMG, THE SUN WAS SHINING (This never happens; the T3D is usually held in 30 mph wind with a cold rain, during which I wear all the clothes in my suitcase at one time)!  I held on for dear life as the golf cart launched into warp drive to collect order of go sheets, distribute them to Gary from GRC, our dedicated photographer, Brian O'Connor (yeah, that one), smart-ass the entertaining announcer, TD, ground jury, and myself (jog steward) and one fellow yearly volunteer who also doubles as the stabling manager (MASSIVE job who is in charge of everything including safety checks, shavings, payments, posting announcements, answering 1,000 questions, and keeping the snack bowl stocked).  We also hold a briefing for riders, led by Stephen Bradley of how to organize your time and pace on endurance day (roads and tracks, steeplechase, cross country).  The riders stare back like spotlit kittens on a highway.

Post-jog, there is dinner to prepare for, dressage tests to be organized on clipboards with 27 pens apiece for judges and scribes, more orders of go for the warmup steward and all the rest (that printer's already smoking in protest),  The arena is set up, and everyone is already in pre-freak-out mode about endurance day (Friday).

The 10-minute box:  the last thing between you and XC
Thursday, as the frightened kittens riders perform their tests in the sandbox, I am once again clinging to a golf cart that is surely performing outside of its design specifications as we bounce off clumps of dirt on the side of a hill.  Have all the flags been staked for roads and tracks?  Where is the steeplechase practice jump?  Will the steeplechase be the same for Novice and Training (nah, they hedge-trimmed inbetween)?  Has someone fixed that decoration that blew over?  How are we going to stretch the 10 extra Friday volunteers (for shame, peeps, for shame) over 47 positions?  Is the 10-minute box roped off?  Can someone put out the finish flags for phase C?  Where is the start box for D?  Who will be control for cross country and will they be on the same radio channel as roads and tracks?  Has anyone seen the TD?  Have we picked rider reps yet?  Don't tell them how much paperwork it involves.  No one has STILL fixed the blowover?  Thank cod vet school minions are showing up to help in the 10-minute box!  Will we ever convince the kittens that the end of B and the start of C are the same location?  By the way, did anyone ever mark that?   

You get the idea.

I managed to steal about 30 minutes to watch Tremaine Cooper (FEI course builder and excellent teacher) and Stephen Bradley coach some of the riders through steeplechase practice after their dressage tests.  Two words:  FAST and FUN.  Just let go, ride the gallop, and it becomes a beautiful thing.

Want it done right?  Hire OCD girl.
Then I spent about 1.5 hours putting together all the clipboards for endurance day judges, talking through the system with the volunteer coordinator, labeling, re-labeling, stacking, mapping, and hoping people would actually show up.   After that, it was helping Michele, our magical, incredible prize coordinator, organize prize buckets and loot from a variety of donors and sponsors.

Then it was more dinner, including more attempts by our dedicated volunteer vet, Dr. Julie, and Max Corcoran (do I even need to explain who she is?) to teach riders how to untangle the pile of 4 phases of string and make it into a smooth line of endurance day awesomeness:  A - B - C - 10 min box - D - vet check - done.

Led by a cold beer and a warm bed, I was passed out by 9:30 pm.  And there were still two days to make happen, two days to give 50 lucky people the (safe!) ride of their lives around a championship level course.  Easy....

To be continued...      

October 23, 2012

I Think It's Over Now

I've been in this blind panic, trying to get Encore going properly for Virginia, my destination event of the year, the one thing I've set my sights on that was to be a balm for my life, a grand adventure of a true 3-day event with a great team of friends.

He never gets sore spots.
I've decided instead to invest in pet rocks.

Encore has had soreness in his left hip ever since he slipped at Five Points in September.  I, like an idiot, took two horse trials to figure out what was even going on.  It's not like him to go into the ring and pull 5 rails in stadium.  He should NOT be getting 44's in dressage.  I blamed my riding, I blamed lack of preparation.  FINALLY, I was able to piece together the evidence, see a timeline and figure out he was just plain sore. 

Dr. Bob came out several times, as mentioned previously.  He put the skeletal pieces back where they belong and gave the muscles and ligaments a little juicy help. 

On our Facebook page, I mentioned we did a trail ride on Saturday -- some walk/trot work on hills.  As soon as he picked up the trot though, I could feel his diagonals were uneven.  The muscles in his hindquarters fatigued quickly.  He was hot and sweaty in less than an hour; not normal for a fit young horse.  There was obviously something else stressing his system.

So I spoke to Dr. Bob yesterday and he instructed me to try everything last night and see what I had.

What I had was a tense, anxious horse, ears pinned back, teeth grinding, tail swishing, who would not step under with his left hind.  He kicked out, he dropped his hind end in downward transitions, and in general, I felt like I was torturing him.  But I had to collect the data.  After the ride, I admit I ended in tears because I knew he was only getting worse in work and I knew that, barring unicorn magic, our journey for the year was over after a frustrating fall half-season and  now, my riding was done for a long time.

I palpated and tested and stretched post-ride.  Everything seemed concentrated around the SI/ligaments/muscles on top of his left hip.  Strains to the SI ligament often happen when a horse slips at a gallop at the moment that leg is loaded:  exactly what he did a month and a half ago.  I will talk to Dr. Bob again  later today and I will wait and see, but odds are I will be calling in a scratch next week and I will just eat $400.

Because there comes a point where it's all about you and stops being about your horse.  I could probably push him through the event, but then it is all about my personal wants and NOT about what is best for him in the long term.  So I choose him.  I choose what I hope will allow him to continue to perform for many years to come. 

It could change, something magical might happen in the next week.  That has not been my experience.  While I am heartbroken, there is also a little bit of relief -- taking away the pressure of getting to the horse trial took away the panic and anxiety of wondering how he will make it.  Now if it works, that's great, but if it doesn't, I'm now mentally prepared to pull his shoes and start over again next summer.

So now it's just me and two half-broken horses, kicking around the broken remnants of our goals.  Maybe we'll share a beer and share a dream of a brighter comeback.  Maybe we'll just lean on each other and watch the days crawl by, waiting, always waiting, for a little luck to glance our way. 

October 18, 2012

Back To School

So many things going, trying to cram every possible moment in before I am hobbled....

Batman (Dr. Bob -- he and Robin broke up, so now we only have the one, snif) visited on Tuesday and "refixed" Encore.  As I suspected, his tight hip muscle had rotated his pelvis again and his sacrum was tilted from his slips at 5 Points, so that all got worked out and he got a bit of muscle relaxer in the left hip ligaments to hopefully help keep things in place, along with a steroid in the right hip to tighten up that muscle for the same reason.  He has two days off, then tomorrow, a 2-hour date with the hot walker.  This weekend, we'll go back into work with low jumps and next week, with bated breath, training resumes.

The good part of the tradeoff is that I have gotten to spend some much-needed time with Solo.  Last night, we went down to the arena and did some stretching, lateral work, and transitions.  Damn, that horse is a nice-moving, well-trained horse.  Sigh.  I suspect he could improve with an SI injection, but he, unlike his brother, is uninsured so no bone scan or fancy back needles are in his future.

He still felt good once he warmed up and he still loves that extended trot (well, the lopsided version his current out of shape self can do).  I give thanks to Encore for making me a significantly better rider, so I was able to keep Solo soft in the bridle and push his back legs forward forward forward (No easy feat.  Solo firmly assures me that his butt only exists to hold his tail on).  Oh how I long to run a XC course on him again -- I am sure he does as well!

As we finished, our BO came into the ring for the weekly adult lesson group and we started talking.  I've offered Solo to him as a lesson horse for the many kid lessons he gives where they are just walking around, learning the basics and being comfortable on a horse.  Mr. Shiny is kind and generous, completely unphased by children running beneath his belly (yes, they have, headshake), and in about four steps, if he knows you are clueless, he will move at a snail's speed and take excellent care of you.  It will give him a chance to feel important (he loves having his ego stroked, you should see him ponying Encore, he takes no sass) and to be brushed and petted by new people, all the attention that he craves.

I have mixed feelings -- because of his past, I have always been very careful about the scenarios that I put him in, and because of his trust issues, I watch carefully to make sure no one accidentally waves the red flag.  There are certain shadows that will never vanish.  No one is able to longe him or even carry a longe whip by him except for me and he keeps a close eye on all other kinds of whips, especially if they are held up at the ready.  Despite years of training him to give to poll pressure, he will still freak out if he steps on his own rope or backs up against his halter.  It will be hard for me to know that someone is handling him when I am not there.

But if there is one person I trust to protect him and respect him, it is this BO.  Solo is already the darling of the barn staff (he's so manipulative) and BO is no exception.  I have spent months watching him train and ride his own and clients' horses, as well as work with his own instructor and he is the real deal.  I have never once seen him be unfair or harsh with a horse or allow his students to be.

It will be ok, it will be ok, it will be ok......

October 13, 2012


I'm terrible at it.  So perhaps it's a good thing I've been left in charge of the farm this weekend while everyone is shining their silver at the State Fair.  With still about 30 horses left behind and a pony with an eye infection, plus pasture dragging and arena mowing -- oh wait, skip that one, the mower wouldn't start.  At any rate, better than fidgeting.

I don't want to do anything meaningful with Encore until Dr. Bob has a chance to set right what is sore.  Solo is quite of out shape; we did a bit of walk/trot work the other day (see our FB feed) and he was fantastic, but it definitely woke up some long-slumbering muscles who now whine in protest.

So instead, tonight I rode out bareback into the sunset, Solo's familar sway beneath me and Encore's bright face at my knee as we ponied him through quarreling mockingbirds and the fat-rolling scramble of groundhogs in a perfect early fall evening.  It was good to get them both moving slightly faster than a lazy pasture amble and good to be on a horse after tractors and pitchforks and grain scoops and hoses.

Only two more days, two more days....