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We Are Flying Solo

March 29, 2013

Happy Happy Happy Sad

I have a few more Becky insights to share with you, but to share the most recent reason why only crazy people own horses:

I did our first home long lining session on Saturday and although it took a bit for me to get sorted out, I got some REALLY nice trot work from Encore!  Happy!

Solo and I warm up at Tamarack in 2009.
Monday, after being very patient and positive and ignoring all his silly head flinging and eye-bugging on a cold, windy day, we finally settled into a dressage school and he was connected, moving over his back, and just generally awesome!  Happy!

I noticed on Monday that his left lead canter felt quite disjointed, but I attributed it to post-training muscle soreness and gave him some bute and a few days off.  No problem, a little rest and we can still go visit the Emersons' lovely farm in Southern Pines, Tamarack Hill, for their fantastic schooling HT series (if you haven't, you should go, EXCELLENT courses, Denny and his wife, May really make it a welcoming, educational experience for the horses).  Still sticking with happy...

Today I got on for an evaluation ride so I could make sure he was ok before spending diesel money and getting up at 4 am.  NOT ok.  I have the horse I had a year ago and my gut says he needs his back re-injected.  He is stiff, running around on his forehand, stumbling behind, and very anxious about his back.  Naturally...because we have already entered Longleaf.  And we definitely won't be heading south tomorrow, I will not run him when I know he is uncomfortable; it's a waste of time and money and will only jeopardize future outings.  Sad.

Post-XC Tamarack 2009 -- yeah, it was that good.
On the plus side, I called Tamarack to scratch him and May was very, very kind and generous and has offered to send us some entry money back, which is unheard of in eventingland, yet is like water in a desert to this house of poverty!  Thank you, Emerson peoples!  I am very sorry that I won't get to run their course but I hope we'll get to support their efforts in the future and oh, did I mention, YOU SHOULD GO!  There is another one on April 13th. 

Countdown to Monday morning and call Dr. Bob.  Already emailed the NCSU vet school orthopedist who worked on Encore almost a year ago.  Of course I did.  Sigh.  I don't mind the maintenance at all, but it would be a little less brain-exploding if it had been mentioned that we might need to repeat when there are big changes in strength and fitness...

March 25, 2013

The Becky Diaries: Day 10: Stadium Jumping

It was time to put it all together.  Adjustability, focus, position, balance, and accuracy.  All without running over Scrappy.  Yeah, I think you get kicked out for that.

We started out as we do with David -- a simple, tiny pole you canter in both directions.  Your goal is to be in a consistent rhythm, be steady in your position, soft with your hand, and have your horse in front of your leg without galloping around like a nutball.

Although apparently, you are supposed to approach jumps with a straight horse.  Sheesh.  So picky.

Next, we find our rhythm and pace to another single jump.  Keeping the straight approach and your position, settle and commit to your canter rhythm and just. ride. it. no. matter. what.  I was apparently confused by being in the XC field so I decided that we still needed to gallop fences.  Tiny show jumping fences. 

Becky, however, did not see any need for a 15' stride to a 2'3" fence (I wanted to be REALLY sure we cleared it!) and had us bring it down a notch to, say, a show jumping canter.  Crazy woman.

Then came something new for Encore:  a short bending line.  The first time through took some seat-of-my-pants steering (what, leaning doesn't help?) and he did some greenie foot-shuffling, but it improved each time until we finally got my eyes and both our bodies on the same page and he understood the question being asked.


With our eyes tuned up, it was time to put a few jumps together and NOT lose the rhythm, focus, and balance by thinking ahead and preparing.  No celebrating what you just jumped, no sigh of relief, no worrying, simply, ok, next this.  I honestly thought I would have to work hard to steer from a wide triple bar to a skinny vertical and that my horse would fall apart and rush after the wide first jump.  Colour me pleasantly surprised.

THREE jumps, with Becky emphasizing planning and waiting for your turn after the skinny to give you the squarest possible approach to the oxer, ENSURING your horse's hips are lined up just as we'd worked on over the warmup pole.

Finally, we get to our course.  Encore was very good; the hardest thing for me was staying mentally focused -- my tendency is to lose my brain about halfway through the course.  Becky made an excellent suggestion of picking the points on your course where there is some space between the jumps and bring your horse back like you were starting a whole new course with the next jump being your first.  It was a really effective mental exercise for, erm, ADD overthinkers like me.  *guilty*

We were given the option to be done at that point, but I wanted to fix our messy bit of the first four jumps.  I resettled my brain, promised my mentally tired pony we were nearly done and fixed it.  Well, the second time.

I think that is actually the first time Encore has ever bucked!  To be fair, I was trying one link tighter on the Pelham chain since he'd nearly ripped my shoulders out in the snaffle the day before.  It worked VERY well and I needed to be lighter on it than I was.  My leg strength is getting much better in PT, but we are still working on lateral muscles and I am just starting on rebuilding my abs so I do not fall back in the saddle as much after the apex of the jump.  *more guilty*

But to say I am proud of Encore does not even begin to cover it.  He came to the paddock gate and loaded on the trailer 20 times in 10 days without a single protest.  He tried so hard every day and never once tried to purposefully evade work; his protests were limited to explaining to me when things were hard, which is fair enough.  That horse knows how to WORK and caught me a little off guard by bringing it at a whole new level of pressure.  All I can say is...


March 21, 2013

The Becky Diaries: Homecoming

Day 10 IS forthcoming; I was able to trap an unsuspecting mom and get some great video of our final lesson -- a show jumping challenge for Encore and I that really put our focus and body control to the test!

But until then, is there anything cuter than this?

The BO didn't think Solo would miss his brother, but I know that mellow orange exterior holds an enormous heart...

March 20, 2013

The Becky Diaries: Day 9: Adjustability

It is the end times.  *insert ominous music here*  Tomorrow will be just washing linens and throwing things back in the truck and hauling our butts back to what I'm sure will be a very excited Solo!

After a quiet Tuesday morning watching the girls long line Comet and RJ (Becky was off in Aiken Mon/Tues for the USET High Performance Training Sessions -- I wanted to creep there soooo badly, but figured that might be pushing it) and helping set up a new stadium course, I fetched a rested Encore and Becky was kind enough to squeeze us in at the end of the day when she returned.

It's springy!!!!!  Just like my horse.  Or is that jumpy?
By "rested," I mean completely refilled with insane amounts of energy and with renewed conviction that large, hilly fields are only for galloping and avoiding large predators.

I knew I should have put the Pelham on.  I won't make that mistake twice.

Shoulders ow.

But it was time to install some new gears, or rather put controls on pre-existing gears so they appear when I ask for them, rather than at Encore's whim.  I quickly discovered it was NOT going to be a soft and round day, try as I might and I cursed myself for not rebuilding those core muscles faster after surgery.

Exercise 1:  Working in a circle, establish teeny tiny canter, as close to cantering in place as possible.
Key points:  Wrap your calves around the horse and use your core/thighs to (as my dressage trainer put it) "suction cup" his back and ribcage up underneath you without losing the hind leg energy.  It's ok if he breaks or loses stride, he just needs more strength.  Think of making a transition to walk, but do NOT lean back; this will only dig your seat into his back and hollow him out.  Keep hands low, connect your elbows to your hips, and ride through his assertion that he can surely go no slower.

Teddy watches big bro Comet give Dad a lesson.
Exercise 2:  Push him forward into a big, giant canter for about 6-8 strides, then come immediately back to teeny canter.  Stay on circle.
Key points:  Don't give up your position and seat when going to big canter or else he'll just get strung out.  When coming back to teeny canter, GET IT NOW -- don't fight about it for ten strides.  If you are not getting a change, you might have to get in his face a time or two.  Again, don't lean back, make an elastic wall of core, elbows, thigh, and butt suction him back up to that tiny stride.  Rinse and repeat a billion times and only do each (big, teeny) for a short time, maybe half the circle.

Exercise 3:  Get soft, round walk, pick up teeny canter for 5 strides, walk, reverse direction, repeat ad nauseum.
Key points:  Don't ask for the canter until you have a moment of topline softness in the walk, then lead with your inside hip.  Accept the first few tiny canter strides that you might feel like are just him being stuck; don't push him too far out of that, those are him really sitting on his butt.  Come back to the walk quickly and as you reverse direction, use the turn to unlock him.  Soften him, then get canter back. 

I have been a wuss and avoided exercises like these so far because even though I knew it was time to take this step, I was dodging getting him riled up.  Encore really did a lot better with then I thought, however, given that we had thusfar not played much with adjustability.  As Becky said, you might just start out the exercises going through the motions, but give them a chance to relax into it through repetition and it will get better.

Solo demonstrates the barrel in 2010.
Exercise 4:  Use a small jump (we had a single barrel on its side with two vee rails resting on it) and use all your canters in approach and landing.  For example, approach in big canter, land in teeny canter.  Approach in teeny canter, land in big canter.  Approach in medium canter, land in teeny canter.
Key points:  Approach is easy, landing is HARD.  Hold your position and committment to the gait you chose all the way to the base of the jump.  Get the new pace as quickly as possible on landing.  Even though this one was difficult, I really liked and could see its utility for a variety of training goals.  I'm not sure Encore completely got it yet, but he did very well at holding the rhythm I picked and not pulling me to the fence.

Hopefully, we can build on this work today when we finally tackle show jumping.  I tend to fall apart in the second half of courses, so I will be trying to improve my focus and slow things down.  Which will, please universe, be a bit easier with some brakes not provided by the snaffle -- Encore is really very good about understanding that arenas are for work now.  This is great news for, say, competing at the horse park.  He just needs to get the memo (which has not failed due to lack of sending, believe me!) that work can happen anywhere, gasp!

March 19, 2013

The Becky Diaries: Day 8: Gratitude

Since on the 8th day, almost everyone rested, I wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you.

The experience has been very different from what I expected; it's not about jumping bigger jumps or doing fancier moves.  Instead, it's about teaching me to ride my horse more correctly, to communicate with him more clearly, and to send me home with more tools than I arrived with.  It took me a while to figure this out, but when I did, I quickly saw how much more valuable it was.  Since I don't take lessons regularly, the more effective and educated a rider I can be, the better equipped I am to bring Encore along once I am home alone again.

So thank you, Becky, for giving me what I really needed instead of what I thought I wanted -- anyone can raise a pole, but it takes good eyes and good instruction to get me and my horse to approach that pole rounder, softer, stronger, and more adjustably.

Laura is studying mechanical engineering.
Thank you to Sara, Laura, Sara Beth, and Nobie for showing me what awesome working students actually are.  Three girls are in college at the same time as they are working from sunup to sundown, keeping a steady stream of horses groomed and tacked and ready for Becky, as well as riding their own.  They take summer courses, online courses, and courses to get ahead in school so there is a bit of time for the horses.  I'm pretty sure these four are your "top of the line" students; I feel like I need to take a nap for them, they work so hard!  There is no "I must have the latest fashion" or any other fooling around -- it's all workmanlike, no drama, yet friendly and generous teamwork.  If any of y'all happen to read this, I'm impressed, ladies, and thank you for letting me creep around like the wide-eyed dork that I am.

Mr. Shiny's favourite minion:  she's awesome.
Thank you to Amber, who drove down from Raleigh for the weekend to be media manager and great friend.  She was able to capture possibly the most valuable part, our long lining session, so I can study it 100 times later, and was a collaborating witness to large-scale white-girl dancing at the farm party!

Thank you to Encore for trying so hard and showing up to work every day.  Solo, bless his heart, would not have made it through this; his back would have been sore by day three and he would have been flat wore out well before Sunday, even at his fittest.  Encore is lucky enough to have the young TB magic and has been tougher and sounder than even I thought he might.

The mom hangs out with the Cotopaxi volcano in Ecuador
Most of all, thank you to my wonderful mother for this amazing gift, which I never could have achieved on my own.  All of you may have some assumptions, but I can tell you, she is not wealthy either; she has given us this gift anyway out of love and it makes it mean that much more to us (well, I don't know if Encore has any feelings about it one way or another).  None of the wonderful presents she has given us come from some bottomless pit of money or leisure; we have yet to discover the fabled money tree which solves all woes!

As I've said so many times before, nothing we do happens in a vacuum and that is why (ok, aside from it's just fun) I refer to our venture as TEAM Flying Solo.  Without ALL of the people who teach and vet and shoe and support and even send us well wishes, we would be nowhere and I never for one second forget or take that for granted.  I work very hard, but I am also very lucky to be able to take even this crazy version of the journey that is reaching for your goals with a powerful, game, kind, yet ever-so-fragile partner galloping along with you.