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We Are Flying Solo

January 18, 2013

I Am Not An Endangered Species

The icy rain hit both (yes, I had on two) layers of hoods as the 20 mph wind cut around my legs.  Damn.  It's finally winter.  About on schedule -- January and early February are usually when we see our coldest temps, but even still, 2012 was the warmest year yet, so I make no predictions. 

As I slogged through an ankle-deep slurry of mud, manure, and horse pee, I confess I thought bad thoughts about people who rant online about how no one is a horseman anymore, no one puts in the real work, no one is a thoughtful rider these days.  I was the only person in sight as I tucked my horses into their insulated blankets and made sure they had a clean, dry shed floor to stand on as a break for their feet from the mud (and last summer I had wondered if matting the shed was worth the work, ha!).  I wasn't there to ride or longe or anything else -- my 20-mile commute was purely to prepare my horses for the winter storm blowing through that night.

Tomorrow, I will haul at least one to an indoor arena (Solo is barefoot AND a giant wuss and finds the occasional rock in our arena to be a gross insult) due to two weeks of rain (Encore is the tough brother, he can work at home with no complaints) and Sunday, Encore will be doing some road and speed work while we test out a new bit.

I know I'm not the only one putting in my time in the dark.  I know there are other people who lay awake at night thinking about their current feeding regime and conjuring up one thing to improve in the next ride and waiting impatiently for the next time weather and schedules and diesel money align so they can trot 13 miles through the woods and fields, working now because it would be unfair to expect a spring season otherwise. 

We are here, in the freezing rain, under the stars (and sometimes clouds), staying on our toes and keeping the horses' routines creative and varied after we are done scraping off the mud.  After the ride, we don't come back to a fancy stall or a Florida hammock (well, I sure as heck don't anyway), we just shake off our jackets and follow the headlights home so we can do it all over again tomorrow.

I write this to you, Event World At Large, so that we are not dismissed in favour of a false nostalgic narrative.  Every day, I work so hard to not only do my best for my horses, but to learn and observe and try new things that will make us a better team.  Our kind are not unicorns in that we are neither singular nor imaginary; but our greatest quality is that you don't have to believe in us -- we will journey on regardless.

January 16, 2013

It's So Easy, Even Klimke Kan Do It

So what's your excuse?  Oh, you're not Reiner Klimke?  Psssshhh, look, all he did was make an adjustment in one second and his horse was perfect.  I can totally not do that! 

But in all seriousness, this video elegantly and simply illustrates incorrect and correct.  We are all guilty of it at some point I think.  I absolutely admit to losing my focus and wanting "pretty archy neck."  But we cannot fall into that trap which leads to a dead end.  Bonus points if you speak German.  Because it's "Dr. Reiner Klimke war der erfolgreichste Dressurreiter der Welt. In dieser Lehrfilmreihe widmet er sich detailliert den t├Ąglichen Problemen des Trainings auf dem Weg zur Klasse L."  Which means "Dr. Reiner Klimke was the greatest dressage rider in the world.  With diesel film, he tackles the sick details of lichen-based training problems auf dem Weg on Klasse L."  Um, obviously!  

Ok, all you have to do is watch the horse.  Watch his back behind the saddle and his hind legs.  On the surface, he "looks pretty," with nice suspension and rhythm.  But with his neck overflexed and his head behind the vertical, his lower back is stiff and hind legs aren't really active, moving up beneath him.  Let go of his face and ride him forward with magical Klimke power...

Now his lower back is loose, lifting and swinging behind the saddle.  His hindquarters and hind legs have changed subtly and are now actively moving forward under his body and pushing up into the bridle.  He is happy to stretch down and even then, his back remains soft and his hind end is engaged.



Voila!  It's that simple.  Ha.  Go ahead and watch it 20 times.  I did.  But we do all need to remember to forget about the stupid head, to erase the word frame from our vocabulary, and ride our horses FORWARD, for lichen's sake!

January 11, 2013

Silly People Pay To Traipse Through Mud; I Get That Pleasure For Free

Yeah, I never did get that whole "yay, let me pay you so I can roll in the mud and ice and get really dirty AND we can call it a race!!!" thing.

It's hard to wax poetic between mud-wrestling my way up the hill in the dark to sweep-search a paddock for equines and holding work meetings at night (horrors - I do NOT get paid enough for that).  I am DETERMINED that both Encore and I will scrape every last ounce of time out for PT in order to arrive in spring ready to run.  Logically, I know that we have to work hard now and put in the time so we can have fun later, but it takes every ounce of stubborn willpower I have not to collapse home on the couch after work.  It would be much appreciated, atmosphere, if you would at least stop peeing on us.

Of the three of us, Solo is doing the best of all -- his weight is fantastic, his feet are, well, nevermind, they are as good as they can be, and he is so much more settled and content now that Amber has given him a job to do.  I have been trying to find time to ride him during the week, as he stares quite pointedly at me over the gate, but I have so far been thwarted.

This weekend will bring us two sunny, 74-degree days (just for the record, CLIMATE CHANGE I HATE YOU, and I know this is very bad in the long run....but I am going to enjoy my two January days of not-rain).  Sunday will find us hopefully cross-training with our BFF and her endurance racing cohorts.  Except they go around the jumps.  We...might not, heh heh heh.

I  know I'm not the only one picking mud out of my hair after a longeing session -- are you managing to squeak in a ride or two in the dark?

January 4, 2013

Courtney King-Dye Reflects On Two Years Post-Trauma

When people scoff at my narrow-eyed helmet criticism, when they say, we're just walking, we're just trail riding, we're just working on the flat, he's a pro...I still choke.  But don't take my word for it.  Take to heart the grave words of Courtney King-Dye, an Olympic competitor, after two years of hard work following her head injury when her horse tripped in 2010.


Courtney from Riders4Helmets on Vimeo.

January 2, 2013

The Horse That Inspired A Nation...And Me

He was literally standing on the slat-sided kill trailer at New Holland when a young Dutch emigrant, too late for the auction itself, looked through the bars and decided he couldn't let the skinny plow horse with scars on his chest and torn-up feet end up with a bolt in the head.

Thus began the improbable story of Snowman and Harry de Leyer.  And if you don't read it, you are missing a magical piece of history about two characters who literally had nothing, yet, without any benefactors and sponsors or grants, became everything.

Harry was the son of a successful brewer in Holland and rode his own mare, carrying the flag for queen and country in international competition as a teenager.  But then the 1940's happened -- the Nazis occupied Holland, Harry's father joined the resistance and had to go into hiding lest he be sent to a concentration camp, and Harry had to forget about riding and focus on surviving the horrific conditions of occupation.

Following liberation, Harry married and emigrated to the US, where he did a stint as a sharecropper in High Point, NC (only about an hour from where I live now!) and ended up teaching riding at strict girl's school on Long Island.  He was proudly able to purchase his own 1.5 acre farm and prided himself on finally becoming his own man.  During the school year, he taught riding to the girls, giving them the one place they could truly be free and be themselves, on the backs of the horses, and during the summer, he showed the school's horses to try and earn money to support his growing family.

Aside from being the story of a gentle grey plowhorse who took children swimming in the morning and jumped six-foot open jumper championship in the afternoons alongside Frank Chapot and Bill Steinkraus, The Eighty-Dollar Champion:  Snowman, the Horse that Inspired a Nation, is the story about making dreams out of difficult situations, about making your goals happen, and about taking chances and following your heart.

Sinjon and GM at the 1960 Rome Olympics
Harry was (IS!) a kind man and a soft rider; he turned many of the shiny Thoroughbreds owned by his students parents' into jumper champions.  Most amusing is his memory of selling one such horse, a hot but talented young jumper named Sinjon whom Harry had brought up through the ranks, to the USET, where Sinjon was paired with a young, upstart kid named George Morris.  I don't think much ever became of them, though...

He even sold Snowman once, as a child's gentle mount.  And the horse jumped miles of pasture fences to come home for several months, even after a truck tire was tied to his neck, before Harry gave in and bought him back, even though he never thought the horse would be anything more than a good school mount.  After all, he stumbled hopelessly over crossrails and ground poles and never went faster than an easy lope.  He took a chance one day though, feeling unmotivated to get off and lower jumps set at four feet, and rode towards a single vertical.  The plow horse transformed into a pegasus, having finally been set at something worth his effort. 

Harry and Snowman
They never looked back.  Summers were their chance to shine.  The placid plow horse would trot quietly into the show ring on a loose rein and proceed to gallop around six foot jump-offs while crowds gasped in amazement.  Snowman, destined for a dinner plate, instead won a hefty amount of his own plates, cups, and ribbons.  Once fall came, it was a back to school and to gently carrying the frightened beginners over their first crossrails.

It never mattered that horse shows were the realm of the Vanderbilts and the Roosevelts, the upper crust of society whose ranks were NOT permeable to commoners.  In the 1950s, sport was considered to be firmly the territory of the monied amateur, who didn't have to work and could devote all his time to play and training.  It was even thought to be in bad taste to have a cash prize and if there was, you certainly didn't accept it!  The professional trainer and instructor was looked down upon as a poor underling who had to do the dirty work to earn a living and for quite some time, was not even permitted to ride in shows at all.  Fortunately for Harry, a recent rule change permitted him to do the one thing he always wanted:  to ride his OWN horse over those white poles.

Oh, how times change and how hilarious the paradigm shifts can be.  

I haven't finished the book yet, but I have already been inspired by the incredible amount of hard work, dedication, and thoughtful fairness that Harry brought to everything he did.  With no money, little time to call his own, and a horse who came with nothing more than wise brown eyes, cut-up knees and harness scars, Harry brought his dreams to life.

So why can't we?