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We Are Flying Solo

March 12, 2013

The Becky Diaries: Day 1: Arrival

Before I begin, I want to encourage everyone within reach of our beloved Southern Pines to check out and send in your entries to Denny Emerson's Tamarack Hill schooling horse trials!  Ok, I may have an ulterior motive...the last one got canceled due to lack of entries and I've already sent my check in, so enable us!  The show itself isn't advertised very many places, so I'm hoping we can give it a boost because Denny's courses are fun to ride (ok, the one time I was able to take Solo) on nice terrain with a great variety in stadium as well!

Nevah stop the pettingz!
As for the Grand Holder Event Team Training Adventure 2013 -- at the moment, I'm sitting on Becky's couch next to a poster from the Beijing 2008 Olympics looking at a picture of the one and only Comet.  Scrappy, the world's cutest dog, has already put wet paws on my lap and I keep pinching myself to see if this can possibly be real.  I am not in the demographic of "those who send horses to training" or "those who frolic at farms for days on end in the winter with no office to worry about."  But since Becky just came into the kitchen with a friendly hello to collect Scrappy for the days rides, either it's the best hallucination ever or I'm here!

After a marathon day yesterday of an oil change apparently performed by sloths, a UPS truck stalking to nab my SmartPaks before I left town, and a missed turn which required a trailer direction reversal on a tiny SC back road in a crooked driveway, we FINALLY arrived at the Southern Eighths Farm grandeur.  Encore was installed in his own paddock to stretch his legs and eat his dinner and I squealed with glee when the BO issued a dinner invitation.  Yes, I am a shameless food whore -- you can call me anything, just don't call me late for dinner!

I had to pry myself away from wine-induced stories in order to make it back to Becky's before 9 pm, as the rules stated this is when quiet hours begin and I didn't want to get in trouble on my first day!  Finding things in the dark is not my strong suit, but the plus side of SC highways just west of nowhere is that when you miss a turn, you can just stop and back up; it's not like anyone else is out there.

I crawled up the long dirt driveway, realizing that when Becky told me where to park by her house, I forgot to ask which house was hers (there are four farms which share facilities on the 70-acre property).  All I had to go on was "park by the white truck."  As I crawled across a narrow dam with pond water lapping disconcertingly close to my truck, I fervently hoped there were not multiple white trucks lurking in the woods.

To my relief, there was only one and I was able to sneak into the quiet little house and find my room with the help the resident working students.  I was happy to find it simple and pleasant, in the style of normal people, so I didn't have to tiptoe around in fear of touching (and naturally breaking) something worth more than my annual salary! 

This morning, I will catch my breath and as this edge of drizzle moves out, I will head out to watch the master at work before I go pick up Encore for our first lesson at 5 pm (when it will be much sunnier!).  Here goes nothing...

March 10, 2013

Flat Out Flat Walkin'

Oh yeah, he really wanted to work.  Great pillow, dude.
"Are you riding Solo today?"

The BO's question came as I finished a surprisingly nice ride on Encore and was basking in the t-shirt worthy sunshine before heading up the hill.

"If you want, I have another one for you to ride otherwise," he said hopefully.     

My curiosity was piqued.  My horses are quite the exception at our farm, which is a training and breeding facility for flat-shod TN Walking Horses and Spotted Saddle Horses.  BO and his clients show the pleasure and versatility (yes, with gaited dressage and jumping!) circuit around the southeast -- or as he calls it, "the sound horse circuit," having long since gotten fed up with the unethical training and sored horses of the padded horse world.

I was in the mood to try something new, as long as it didn't try to buck me off.  BO rides many training horses a day and I knew he'd also welcome some help between teaching and riding.  So I slipped a halter on the curiously named Treat (which due to a sharpie slip on his stall card, is now jokingly called least I hoped it was a joke), a rangy little seven-year-old light chestnut with big eyes and a wide blaze, and led him up to my trailer.

I grew up in Saddlebred country, although I did not ride them, so gaited horses are hardly a mystery.  But since they are generally discouraged from trotting and, after 30 years, I find posting akin to breathing, they're just not my thing.  But both the Saddlebreds and TWHs always impressed me with their tolerance, patience, good-mindedness, and heart, even in questionable situations.

Naturally, as I picked up a brush, Threat spotted his pasture friends, ripped the rope of the side of the trailer and took off at a stunning elevated trot, complete with flagged tail, leaving me slightly less excited about this experiment.

Our 30+ crowd, Wildfire and Mama Donkey, were unimpressed by hijinks.
Let's just skip ahead 15 minutes, past the part where he managed to wedge his lead rope between a hind shoe and his foot and I had to cut/vice-grip it out after finally cornering him in an alley so I could even catch him and take his fun away.  Well, he did have some VERY impressive movement...

I put him in Solo's dressage saddle and spare bridle, with a Happy Mouth boucher, as BO said he was fine with anything (to my great relief, I would not have to ride in a Western saddle, as they leave me sore, off-balance, and apologizing to my knees).  Then I got on, took a soft feel of his mouth, and said, "Erm.  Go, horsey."

All I really knew is what I have observed.  BO trains all his horses and students very well, encouraging riding the horse from his hind end to create impulsion, connecting the inside hind leg to the outside rein, balancing with a half halt so the horse cannot lean on you, and moving the hips and shoulders laterally to lift and connect the horse through his body.  Sound familiar?

So off horsey went.  Still enthusiastic from his romp, he stepped off at a smart flat walk.  Still annoyed at his naughtiness, I said, "Fine, but you're going to work at it," and asked him to stay soft and connected in the bridle and moving up with his hind legs.

Within a minute, I could tell he was very educated and light to the hand and leg.  We transitioned among walk, flat walk, and canter (I couldn't figure out how to find running walk) and while he preferred to cheat and lean on me when he could, it was merely because he was quite out of shape and lacking muscle in his topline and butt due to lolling about in his pasture.  When I sat down and informed him he would move up and connect, he did.

He was bright and fun to ride as I explored his buttons.  I ran out of things to do as my brain got tired and gave him lots of breaks when he got winded, although, holy cow, he recovered his breath in about two minutes each time! 

It was a fun romp on "the other side of the fence," and I had to giggle when BO said, "Hey, good job!" --  I replied, "I'm just letting him do whatever it is he's doing, he's the trained one," and BO exclaimed, "Well, that's how you learn!"  If he has a secret plot to convert me, I'm afraid it's destined for failure; my big orange trotting, leaping horses captured my heart forever.   

However, I always relish learning more and developing as a horseman.  Every horse we sit on has something to teach and I thrive on variety.  BO himself is a tactful rider with an excellent seat, impeccable timing, and a soft hand -- I envy his consistency on the horse and will never pass up a chance to develop that! 

Will there be more four-beating in my future?  Well, I hope not on my horses (naughty!) but on those long, sunny weekends where I'm searching for excuses not to go home?  You won't find me saying no to a catch ride.
It was just the right kind of day for...

...synchronized sleeping.

March 7, 2013

A Run-By News-ing

Encore appears to be back to pretty much normal, eating and behaving like himself.  If I pinch his neck skin, recovery still seems a tiny bit slower than Solo's, but I only put about half-credence in that as I've done plenty of tests on that procedure in that past and found it wildly variable.  At least everything seems to be functioning normally and he doesn't appear to have any immediate plans to drop dead on me moments before we leave town.  Although he is still a horse...

What's everyone stressing about?  Chill, peeps.
I've gotten, mmmm, pretty much nothing done on my "to do" list, given aforementioned horse paranoia and driving about the state for work.  It has rained, snowed, sleeted, and blown my truck nearly into the ditch this week, although of course, at the moment, it is sunny and quiet.  Till I leave the office, I am sure...

A beautiful weekend awaits, however, so I will be cleaning and packing and shopping and staring and scratching my head trying to put together the puzzle of ten days worth of food/gear/clothes/whatever.  At least if I get desperate, we will only be two hours away.  Diesel prices are crushing, but it can be done!

Solo is busy shedding, so despite what the atmosphere tells me, it is apparently spring.  Are you getting ready?  Daydreaming counts...

March 5, 2013

The C Word

No, not that word.  Although I hate that one too.  But I have now officially decided I hate this one more:


It sends a shudder down any horse owner's spine, that unpredictable monster hidden deep in your horse's guts which can twist and cramp and snatch his life away from you in a matter of hours.

Yeah, it scares the living bejeezus out of me.

Sunday night, I was on feeding duty and noticed Encore had stopped eating mid-meal and walked out of his shed.  He stood making funny faces for a minute and I watched with concern, as he is a steady, if slow, eater who works his way through the meal, then goes and gets a drink.  He returned to eating and I continued my rounds, but with a yellow warning light in my head.

As I finished turning out the herds, I returned to my pasture and found Encore standing rather pitifully by the shed divider next to Solo, with a sad eye and a half-finished meal.  He peed and it appeared he was dehydrated.  Now that light turned to red.

I led him down the barn, his head hanging, his feet dragging at a slow walk, which hardly helped as this TB usually takes a big swinging step that I can't keep up with.

I called the vet on the way down and put him in stall with warm water while I simultaneously crouched in the dark with my ear against Encore's belly and tried to carry on a conversation with Dr. Bob's junior vet.  He got some very mushy food with bute mixed in and I went to hang out in the BO's house for an hour to see what happened.

I was kindly fed a delicious dinner while I worried, but I came out to find my horse perky, with good gut sounds, and when I led him up to his pasture, he took a drink from his trough and wandered off to comfort an annoyed Solo.  Driving home, I breathed a sigh of relief and assumed an "all clear" text from the BO Monday morning.

Yeah right.  Never worked for him either.
So you can imagine my blood pressure when instead, my phone rang at 10 am and I answered it to a, "Well...."

Encore had eaten his breakfast, but was laying down in the field.  He may have wanted to nap in the sun, but BO put him on the hotwalker to keep him in sight for easy monitoring just in case (Encore's owner may or may not have a reputation for being the crazy lady...).  The horse got some more bute and mushy alfalfa pellets, but no more dry hay, and he was relegated to a prison cell for water and poop monitoring.  His owner was forced to drive to Southern Pines for a work presentation, a fine chance to work on her stomach ulcers.

After flying back north following work, I arrived to find Encore pouting quite noisily in his cell, demanding release after knocking one water bucket over, although hopefully at least drinking part of it.  I stirred a possibly illegal amount of salt and electrolytes into an alfalfa pellet mush and confess to being slightly shocked that he actually ate it, albeit stopping and slapping his tongue out after every bite at the brine component.

Oh, because we have a really important thing in 5 days!
He was left in his prison last night, in hopes that the salt would force his mouth to eventually shrivel up and force him to drink.  His guts were moving so he is allowed to be pardoned pending empty buckets.  I await my notification this morning with guarded optimism.  He will certainly be kept on electrolytes for the rest of the week.

Our insanely bipolar weather is no doubt to blame, although the biologist in me finds it completely nonsensical that weather should have any effect on a endothermic animal's digestive system.  But Dr. Bob and his junior sidekick were all over the place tending to moaning horses, so it wasn't just us.  When it is 60-20-50-30-70-20-55-20-30 all of us are just damn confused.  It will be 70 today and then 42 again tomorrow.  I curse they bones, climate change...

March 3, 2013

To Do

Apologies for fisheries conference-induced hiatus, but ONE WEEK TILL THIS RIG HEADS SOUTH TO BECKY'S!!!!!!!!

It will fit!
-Calculate how to fit gargantuan amounts of horse feed into limited space.
-Come up with room that doesn't exist to store five bales of hay.
-Remove archaeology-worthy layers from backseat of truck.

-Ride Encore 57 times in 7 days (I feel so behind!).
-Make note not to ride on four hours of sleep and half a hangover.  (But I had a great time and THANK YOU Amber for your thoughtfulness of taking me out for an awesome birthday dinner.  It was my own fault that I failed at high gravity beer math.)

-Change out leaky trailer tire for spare.  Why is there always one leaky one?
-Break down and buy a trailer tire jack.  I mean, really, with my luck?
-Clean shipping boots so Encore can poop on them again.  Repeatedly.
-Seam seal repaired spare rain sheet in case SmartPak replacement sheet doesn't get back in time (another story)

Yeah, horse, get to work!!!
-Clean your freaking tack, how 'bout it?
-Clean excessive collection of leg boots which is even more amusing now that I am a boot minimalist.
-Wash pile of breeches and attempt to pack riding clothes that don't make you look like a homeless person (barn clothes are barn clothes!).
-Find stupid girth extender for Mr. Belly Puffer that I bought and promptly put in a safe place.  A really really really safe place.

-Charge every recording media device in possession.
-Posit ways to casually hand strangers recording devices (although Amber is going to come down and take pics for us next weekend, yayyyy!).
-Create space on crowded hard drive for (hopefully) many new files.

-Bring carrots for Comet.  Try not to embarrass self in fangirl paroxysms.

Did I forget anything?