Monday, April 29, 2013

It's almost time for... ROCKET!

I should not be sitting here typing this! I should be packing and getting the dogs ready for our road trip tomorrow. I'm gonna drive the three of us up to Virginia tomorrow, Wednesday I'm going to hang out and ride TJ and maybe also get a ride at my old h/j farm, and then Thursday, Mom and I will bring Rocket and Somara back to her place. Yay!

The next 8-9 days will be pretty Rocket-centric, so let me give a brief Lex update.

It's all about me and my cute ears.
Today I rode Miss Mare after I fed the other horses and turned them out. We started out with the rope halter doing some ground work stuff (closer to the lunging Sharon wants us to be doing!) and she was good. A little sticky to the right, not wanting to walk off when asked, but chill the whole time, and she figured out join-up pretty well. The trick to that is, limit the potential for grass consumption. Then she stood still like a champ at the mounting block and we rode in the ring, working on our baby half-halts that Sharon had us doing in our first lesson. She really loves walking around on the buckle, but only for a few strides at a time. It's a challenge to keep playing around with the reins so much, but it'll pay off in the end. The trot work was very nice as well. She never really got quick and was quite responsive to my seat. I was pleased as punch with her. What a good, good girl. She also got her spring shots today and stood like a champ for them. I'm going to miss her so much this week!

My mom sent me about a million Rocket pics, because she was able to go visit her today, so I'll leave you with some of those. Send us good thoughts for the road trip! I wish my dogs could take a driving shift - 16 hours is a long way.

She's two weeks old today and look how freaking big she is!

That tail is gonna look really cool when it's all grown out.

Hard to beat that view, man.

The foal is cute but I am also thinking about what I'd do to have grass that nice in my field in Florida.

Being cute wears a body out.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


All I could think about while watching the jumping phase of Rolex today is how much I'm dying to get up there and do that. Come on, Lex! She's a long, loooong way from being broke enough to jump courses, but we'll get there.

While tacking up this morning, Lex was shaking her head a lot because the flies were bothering her ears. I was all, "I have tack for that!" and she got to try on an ear net for the first time. She certainly looked lovely in it and since all the cool horses are sporting them now, she can stay on trend.

Do horses who wear these still get to eat carrots?

This morning we hacked around the field with my friend Susannah on her big, big, gorgeous draft horse cross named Belle. I've been thrilled to ride Belle a couple times while Susannah was on vacation, and she is F.U.N. Especially once you get her going, which isn't always the easiest thing, but what a trooper. I used to have some pictures of her, but I had a phone/computer SNAFU a few weeks ago and they must have gotten lost. I'll get one tomorrow. She's a doll.

I think this morning's ride was good for Lex because we changed it up a little bit. We walked for a long time, and it areas of the fields she's not used to being ridden in. She's turned out there, and she's not spooky, so she didn't look at anything, but there were times when she was like "Let's TROT!" And I remembered Sharon saying she, personally, wouldn't be riding this horse in the fields yet. Hee. I can see why. But she was fine, really. The only time it took me more than a couple strides to get her back to the walk was when we were walking straight towards the barn. We did a lot of walk-halt transitions around the field (partly to let big old Belle catch up) and she stood nicely all but one time. Even that one time, she just kinda squirmed. Then when we got to our trot work, she was forward at first but quickly got the "slow down" hint so well that I had trouble keeping her trotting even though I had a loop in the reins. Considering our last ride, I'll take it.

I'm so cool. I'll jump ALL your jumps with my new hat on.
When you get off and your horse looks like that - calm, maybe even sleepy, but still alert and happy - I feel like it's a job well done. AND in a cool new girth (Note to self: TACK. REVIEWS).

Today I also watched this clip that Stacey over at Behind the Bit took at the Thoroughbreds for All event at Rolex on Friday. I am dying to go to that. I think I want to see that at least as much as the cross country day, so I'm hoping I can get there in the spring! Anyway, this video shows Cathy Weischoff talking about the natural horsemanship training she does with her horses. Sold. I'll get the rope halter out more often.

When I was a kid I rode in a million Cathy Weischoff clinics and always liked her very much. Maybe I'll ride in another one someday.

And some final thoughts on Rolex: The jumping test was great. No refusals or falls, let alone scary ones, but about a billion rails. I'd much prefer to see peoples' placings rise or fall on rails and time faults than on stops and falls, which I think goes to show that the jumping course was as thoughtfully-designed as the cross-country. There was some really great riding out there, and very few clear rounds. It looked tough, and like a whole lot of fun. I was talking to one of my very dearest friends online while watching XC and SJ yesterday and today. He's been to Rolex with me once, and he loves horses but isn't overly familiar with the sport. We made a couple observations:

1. Where are all the people of color?! This is not news, that equestrian sports are INCREDIBLY white, which has a whole lot to do with where the privilege is in this country. Even though I'm a grad student and don't have much of a horse budget, I still come from a relatively privileged background with parents who are capable of making sure I don't starve or go homeless and can take me, my pets, and my horses in if we need a place to go. Dissertations have been written on race and privilege in the US for a solid 100 years now, I reckon, so I don't need to reinvent the wheel here. But it's worth noting that white people dominate this sport and we could probably find ways to make it more open to POC. The Chronicle ran a story a little while back about Junior Johnson, a well-known handler on the hunter circuit, and how he still faces prejudice. I have many critiques of the article, which I won't get into now, but I think that we as equestrians could do a better job with inclusivity, and that will take active effort, not just saying, "Well no one I know is racist, so it must be fine." Clearly, it isn't. Let's brainstorm! How can we get kids who aren't white into horses from a young age and make them accessible? (Note: the equestrian sport with the highest proportion of POC riders is probably thoroughbred racing, where there is a ton of misogyny. Great.)

2. While I typically always root for ladies, I didn't feel a particular need to in Rolex. Women did great, and I'm always happy when a woman wins something athletic (or political, for that matter) when competing against men (unless she's Sarah Palin, Michelle Rhee, or Michelle Bachmann, because they are awful). But I feel like everyone already takes women seriously in eventing. I don't feel a "we need this for our team!!!" sense of urgency. I think if a man tried to make the case that women can't hold their own, we'd only need to point him to Pippa Funnell, the only human to win the Rolex Grand Slam. I honestly don't think anyone could make it in eventing, or the other English disciplines, if he tried to say women can't handle it. He'd never get the support and connections he needed to succeed because no one would want to work with him. And that, I think, is what gender equity looks like. I just wish we didn't have point #1 to contend with.

3. None of the Rolex riders are out as LGBTQ, if I'm not mistaken. Either they're all straight or they're not open with their sexuality, and I'm guessing it's the latter, given the odds. In fact, I'm not sure I can think of many riders who are out at the top levels in any discipline. Darren Chiachia is the only one who leaps to mind and he's not really out there repping for Team Rainbow. It isn't his job to do so - I'm not saying he's doing anything wrong - but it'd be cool to get a little pride going in horse sports. Anyone know of any other out professionals? (Let's not out people against their will - I'm just asking if you know anyone who is out to the public.)

4. Congratulations to Andrew Nicholson and the beautiful Quimbo, and to Lynn Symanski and Donner (an OTTB!!!) who came in fifth even though Lynn was riding with a broken hand. Badass.

All righty! Off to clean the house so the people watching the cats don't have to contend with the enormous mess that it is right now, then teaching a lesson. I hope it's fun for all involved!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Groundwork Day

I'm proud of myself for not getting on the little mare today. I said I'd give her two days off, so two days off she gets. We did do groundwork, but before we get to that...

Sneak Preview!

Did y'all watch the Rolex cross-country? Ho-ly crap, what a good day. I mean, I almost cried when Becky Holder fell off. Every time someone fell off or retired on course I was like, "SHIT SHIT SHIT!!!" (which scared my dog) because I know how much that sucks (although I'm ancient enough to remember when you were allowed to get back on after you fell off, but if you fell off again you were donesies). That said, everyone who did fall off appeared to be fine, and the horses were all okay. That is remarkable.

But seriously, what a well-designed, nicely-riding course. It seemed set up to court run-outs more than refusals, which is so much safer.  Serious props to the course designer and to all the riders, who did a great job. There was a lot of terrific riding today. In fact, there weren't any riders who made me go "oh dammit, why are you out there?" Fantastic. And of course, I loved every horse, and couldn't pick a favorite rider if you paid me. Anyway, I watched the whole thing and got no work done today at all. But Rolex XC day is like Christmas. It comes but once a year. I'll try to catch the jumping tomorrow, but that's only a couple hours, not the bulk of the day, so I'll feel less guilty.

Congrats to Andrew Nicholson and Quimbo, who are in the lead going into the jumping tomorrow.
Photo from the Practical Horseman Facebook page.

Like I said yesterday, watching other people ride just makes me want to get on my horse - or any horse, really. (This is going to be a problem now that I'm teaching!) But my knees hurt, and we're on a schedule, so today was Groundwork Day. I brought Lex in and let her eat dinner, while I got Duchess's stall ready because she is coming back tomorrow and I am soooooo exciteddddddd. Then it was off to the ring to improve her ground manners. I bought her a rope halter when I got her because they're useful for this kind of work, but we hardly use it, because her ground manners are usually pretty good - except for Thursday, of course, when Sharon was here.

My little cow pony.
 We went out to the ring to work and she was totally great. She'd go wherever I pointed, yield her hindquarters when I asked even lightly, stand while I tossed the rope around her legs and over her back, drop her head to poll pressure... all of it was fine. It took me weeks to get there with TJ. The only thing she was a little "eh" about was flexing her nose back toward her shoulder. Her neck isn't all that bendy yet - we can work on that - but to the left especially she seemed like she'd rather just turn around than stand there with her neck bent. We got there eventually. Then I walked her up to the mounting block and leaned on her and asked her to stand still, and she was pretty good with that, too. It's a good thing I didn't have my helmet on or I'd probably have just decided to ride her bareback, because she was being so quiet.

I'm cute. Give me carrots.
So, I guess we can call that a success, even though I don't feel like I accomplished much since she was so well-behaved from the start. I think I was right, she just needed some time off. Duly noted, red mare.

What do you do to hit the reset button when your horse starts acting weird?

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Day of Cutenesses and Rolex Dreams

I am tired. I've been up since 5am, went to Lex's barn twice (once to feed the horses, once to meet the farrier), met with a student between barn trips, taught a lesson, rode a horse, and now I'm zonked. It doesn't sound like much, but add the Florida sun in there, and it's a little intense.

The Cutenesses

However, pretty much everything today was adorable. I groomed Lex this morning while the other horses ate breakfast, and she was very snuggly and sweet. I don't know why, but last night I'd really convinced myself that I'd ruined her attitude forever. I can be a little dramatic sometimes, ha! She was fine, happy to see me and get attention.

She does this every morning, waiting for her turn to come in and get some love.
Of course, as I was going to turn the horses out, they all decided this would be a GREAT morning to head for the hills (we just kind of let them out of their stalls into the paddock around the barn and then herd them all out into the field. They can't go far, but chasing them is annoying).

When I got back to the barn, I brought Lex and my old man Baron up for the farrier to work on. Baron's owner just got him a new fly mask, and I think it makes him look adorable like a bunny.

I love this old guy.
 Both horses were happy to stand in their stalls and snooze while we waited for the farrier. We did Lex's feet first, and Lana thought her feet looked great, but she couldn't believe it had only been four weeks since our last appointment. I brought Lex home four weeks ago today, you guys. It feels like a lifetime. Anyway, Lana said that for now, since she's happy barefoot, we should leave her that way, which is my feeling also. Once we start jumping for real (Lana held her hand up to a height that I think was about 3'6") she said we'll have to do a lot of strategizing about shock absorption and stuff, to prevent ringbone and other problems. Sounds good to me. I also believe in training slowly and carefully and getting as much done with as little stress as possible. The way I see it, each horse has a finite number of jumps. Let's not waste any just goofing off or riding carelessly, and let's take it easy and build strength as we go. Between Lana's brilliance with hooves and sensible training, I'm hoping we can keep MareFace happy for a long time. She stood well for the farrier and was totally snuggly and adorable the entire time. YAY.

After Lex was done I turned her out, because Baron doesn't care if there's another horse around or not. I figured she'd trot off to find her friends, but instead, she stood quietly at the gate the whole time we worked on Baron.

Not the world's greatest picture, but I just snapped it while holding Baron.
SO ADORABLE. As you can see, she's sleeping. She wasn't pacing the fence or whinnying, just hanging out. I love her so much.

Then I went out to the Teaching Barn and gave a lesson to a really nice girl who used to ride and wants to get back into it. She's awesome and I think we'll have fun. Then I was chatting with the barn owner about how I'd like to get on a horse and jump around, and she was saying that I'm giving one of their more advanced students a lesson on Sunday (gulp! I hope I can help!) on a little bay horse named Lexx! Funny! She said I could hop on him any time to get a feel for him, and since the ring was empty for the rest of the evening, I was like, "No time like the present!" I'm a bad blogger and forgot to take a picture of him, but here's a long shot from the school web site.

CUTE, right? He's an Anglo-Arab. I'm biased, of course, because I think my Lex is prettier, and he's much narrower than she is, but it was really fun. We warmed up a little, trotted a couple crossrails, and then popped around a tiny course that was set up in the ring. I think the biggest jumps were probably 2'6", but that's fine. He's new to me, I didn't feel like getting off to put up rails, and I didn't want to tire him out (remember that thing about finite numbers of jumps??). He's really quick and light off the ground, which was a cool feeling. The barn owner, R, said I could ride him again tomorrow if I want. Maybe I will. We'll see how much time I have and how hot it is. He's the toughest horse on the property, apparently, so R likes to have the instructors get on him for a tune-up from time to time. He didn't give me any trouble at all.

I also got a new picture of Rocket!
That face is KILLIN me.

Apparently she is doing well at the foaling farm, and she's a silly girl who would rather play and not work - just as a baby should be. Mom and I will be bringing her home on Thursday of next week, which is also the first day I'll get to meet her in person. I love her tufty little baby forelock and the grass-stained knees. Kids should have grass-stained knees, you know?

The Rolex Fantasies

All of this is a good distraction from the fact that I'm not at Rolex. My parents and I used to go watch Rolex every year but I haven't been in probably five years now. I told Mom that we need to plan to go next year (although inevitably, while I'm at Rolex watching other people ride, the only thing I want to do is go home and ride my own horse). We would have gone this year if the date hadn't been so close to "Rocket Launch," as my mom put it. It's probably good for my bank account that I'm not there! My tack-accumulating tendencies are out of control enough as it is.

Maybe someday, if Lex wants to be an eventer, but I think we're heading to the show ring instead.

I look at the Rolex cross-country course and have these two simultaneous reactions: "I want to do that because it is there and if other people can do it, I can do it too," and "Oh my god, I am going to throw up." When I look at the stadium rounds, though, I KNOW I can do that. Well, not today, but I could get back to that point, and I plan on it. Honestly, the dressage would probably be the hardest part for me! Ha! So, Rolex is probably in my future only as a spectator, but I sure do love it.

Anyone else have any big plans? Rolex aspirations - including raiding the trade fair for those sweet Sunday discounts?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sharon's Boots Were Made for Kicking My Ass

I freaking love taking lessons. It is my favorite thing, especially when they're really, really hard.

I don't have any lesson pictures, so hanging out pics will have to do.

Lex was a little sour to start out with today, and then she got mad when I tried to fix her forelock, some of which got caught in the crown piece. Sharon walked out to the field in time to see me having a fight with her about that, and then Lex was pissy when I started to get on, to the point that Sharon had me get off and get on until she could stand still like a good girl. I opted to ride in the field instead of the ring because we both hate the ring, but I could tell that Sharon was a little "..." about it. I don't blame her. I know when I'm not making the decisions other people might make. She did have us both cracking up when she had me ride around the outside of the ring so I had the fence to use if Lex got hot, and she said it would be hilarious if she stood in the middle of the ring and gave me a lesson going around the outside of the ring. One of the things I really like about Sharon is that we spend a lot of the lesson time laughing.

Part of the lesson today was the same as last time: I need to POST. SLOWER. At one point we got Lex nice and calm at the walk, stretching down, being happy, and then I asked her to trot and she kinda scooted forward into a really fast trot. Sharon said, "Because she was walking so nicely, let's see if we can blame that on you and fix the problem."

What's that? Jess's fault?!

I love it when it's my fault if something is going wrong. In this case, nothing is going that wrong, but I do need to get her going more quietly and responsively so that we can establish good contact down the road. And let's be real, no one REALLY wants to hear that they're not awesome all the time, but this is part of good horsemanship: knowing when it's you, and understanding that (for me, anyway) it is much, much easier to fix myself. I can ride other horses and sort out what I'm doing that's making her hot, and I can be aware of what I let her get away with. For instance, the mounting block thing: I probably would have just gone ahead and ridden, and Sharon was like, "If you don't fix that, you're going to see that problem resurface somewhere else." I guess I'm gonna go back to some groundwork with her. She'd also like me to be lunging and riding in the ring. I told her that I really need some help with the lunging thing, because I'm used to h/j lunging work, which often amounts to "lunge the horse until he's tired," which: no. But Sharon can help us with that sometime soon, I hope.

Anyway, posting really slowly with very little contact with the mouth is tough for me, especially when I'm also supposed to have enough feel to loosen the reins all the way to the buckle when she wants to stretch and quickly shorten them back up when I need to - not that they're ever short at this phase. I was very glad that my equitation was not being judged, because I had to really do some work to find a place where I could sit back (hello, hunter/jumper rider here), feel the rein contact and change it without changing my seat, and post really slowly to get the mare to slowwww dooooown. This is physically demanding for me, and it's a lot to think about all at once, but we'll get there. Oh! AND! This jumper rider tends to ride with her head on the swivel, looking for the next jump, so I'm always looking way too much to the inside. Sharon had me do this genius exercise that she thought of on the spot where I'd turn my head in rhythm to the trot: so, rise/left, rise/straight, rise/right, repeat. That accomplished several really cool things: it helped me loosen up my neck and shoulders (this is where I carry my tension), it got me to feel where my head is supposed to be (straight, not turned to the inside), and it helped us find a rhythm. We had some really good trot through that exercise! Sharon's worth her weight in gold.

She also got to see how Lex is into stretching now. She thinks we'll be able to get her really stretching through her back if I can let her stretch all the way down to the buckle and keep the rhythm going with my seat. It's a really good thing I wasn't going for any equitation prizes today, because I'm sure I looked like a total mess, but I want to ride this horse effectively. She deserves good riding and good training, and I don't want to skip any steps. I'd like her to be supple and adjustable, because that can only help us in the show ring down the road.

I feel really good about the lesson. Sharon comes up with the best ideas and has a fantastic eye for what's happening at any given moment, which is harder than it sounds. Lex was a good girl and I did the best I could and worked hard, and I definitely have some stuff to keep us busy until I leave for Virginia.

All Lex needs to stay busy is grass.

But. I'm feeling bad about two things. First and most important, I think I should have given her a day off two days ago. She was a little ear-pinny today, and that isn't like her. Sharon noted that, too. That could be from lots of things - maybe the saddle pad was bugging her, maybe the flies were getting on her nerves. But my intuition says that she needs a break. It's tempting to just ride her for the next 3-4 days since I'm about to leave for a week and I will miss her terribly, but that's my problem, not hers. I'm going to give her tomorrow off altogether except for some grooming and hand-grazing in the morning while the other horses eat. Then on Saturday, I will just do ground work with her and not ride. Sunday and Monday, if the weather permits, I'll hop on and try to get some good work in. When I get back from VA, I'll ride her for a few days, giving her Monday off, and then we'll have our first lesson with Chris on Thursday, two weeks from today. I don't want her to get sour. She's too awesome for that. I'm feeling guilty, even though I don't think we've actually gotten to a bad place yet.

Second: We need more ground work training in our lives. I know how to do it because I did it with TJ when he was here. He wasn't halter-broke to my satisfaction when he arrived and by the time he left he was really nice to handle and be around. It helps that he has a fabulous personality. Lex is great on the halter and stuff, but I think we could do some work to establish a little bit more respect on the ground. It'll give Sharon fewer heart attacks, and I don't want Lex to be one of those horses who can't stand at the mounting block and stuff like that. She's also horrible about being sprayed with fly spray and water, and I think her life will be happier if those things don't bother her so much. One of the reasons I've hesitated to go all Clinton Anderson on her is because he's always saying that he likes "a naturally doped horse." That's great, but I don't like that kind of horse. That kind of horse doesn't tend to be brilliant in the jumper ring. But I think she'll benefit from some of it. I can take what I need and leave the rest.

Whew. That was a novel. I'm hoping to look back at this post in a couple months and be like "Wow, we've come a long way!" Tomorrow I'll have had her for four weeks and I'll have been riding her for three weeks. I feel like for three weeks of riding after three years of no riding and racetrack training only before that, we're doing pretty well. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Perfect. Horse. Day.

Y'all, I am having such a good day that I'm almost scared.

1. I fed the horses this morning and took the opportunity to ride Lex, which I don't usually get to do on Tuesdays. She was SO GOOD. As I said yesterday, we skipped cantering and just walked and trotted. We played around with some simple trot pole exercises. She wiggles around a little, but I think that once we have a better leg-to-hand connection, she'll be pretty easy to keep going straight down the middle. She certainly doesn't seem worried about the ground rails. I think I see some tiny crossrails in our near future...

2. ... Especially if I can find a trainer who can come to the farm (oh, trailerlessness) to help. I love and adore Sharon and will take lessons with her every chance I get, but I think I found a jumper trainer who can come out regularly. He used to live in the same town I grew up in so we know a lot of the same people. We chatted for about an hour and seemed to have a lot of the same philosophies. He didn't seem thrilled that I'm going to VA for a week, but I'm eager to get started with him when I get back and see how it goes. I think he'll like Lex. He kinda gave me a schedule to use for training, saying that we can instill discipline via a schedule rather than through aids. I like the sound of that. We spent a long time talking about how I think Lex has a lot of forwardness and brilliance in her and I don't want to shut that down at all, and how I don't want a trainer who will hold my hand and tell me what to do every step of the way. I am independent, I like to ride my own horse as opposed to having someone else ride her, and I think for myself. Of course, a lot of trainers will agree to that approach in the beginning, but I think he means it. My old h/j barn owner in Virginia said he's a good choice, and I trust her, so that's good.

Maybe someday we will look this cool.

3. But I don't have to wait for a lesson until then, because Sharon is definitely coming out on Thursday, and I am so excited.

We are never going to look as cool as Sharon, though.

4. And I will also have the opportunity to help some other people with their riding! Today I formally accepted the job at a local riding school, and I'm thrilled. I love teaching lessons, and this place has a GREAT atmosphere. The lady who owns the place is rad. Unless someone schedules a lesson with me for Thursday morning, my first lesson will be on Friday.

5. The dress code at my new job is basically a polo shirt and pants and horse-appropriate shoes, so I just sucked it up and went to Old Navy and bought a bunch of plain polos. They have a slim-cut men's polo shirt that will do the trick. I'm on the hunt for men's breeches, but in the meantime, what I've got will do. And now I can look snappy for my lessons with Mr. Trainer!

6. In a fit of glee, I did something perhaps a little silly and bought Lex a fly sheet. I talked to my barn owner about how the flies are eating her alive, and she said that fly sheets fare okay in the field, we just can't expect it to look pristine after a week. That's fine, I just want her to not have to deal with the bugs all the time, and it would be great if she could avoid some of those coat-bleaching UV rays.

Maybe one of these will keep Miss Mare cool. Or at least, not too hot.

I hope everyone else has had a good day, too. There's part of me that's like, "Ruh roh, what horrible thing is going to come along and destroy everything?" but I'm not listening to that part.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Shopping for Clothes is the Worst


One of my favorite things about equestrian sports is that it's really androgynous. We all wear pants, jackets, boots - not a lot of major differences there.

A dude.
A lady.
And on top of that, we all compete in the same classes because it doesn't matter what gender people are, it matters how well you ride and how awesome your horse is. All sports should be about how awesome the athletes are, I think.

In addition to being about the horses and the skillz, the other thing that is great about equestrian sports is that I don't have to figure out which camp I belong in. I can just enter a class and call it a day. I don't like making choices, and I reject the gender binary as a thing. (Note: being binary-identified does not make you more or less cool. If you're delighted to identify as female all the time, rock on with your bad self. It's not that comfortable for me.) I don't identify as male, but I wear boy clothes and do drag and stuff. I don't identify with femininity, either.

Me, lookin' all professorial.
You dig?

So what does this have to do with horses, exactly? As it turns out, men's riding clothes cost way more than women's riding clothes. I get why. There are fewer men involved in the sport, especially at the amateur level. There's less demand, less competition, and all kinds of other stuff I learned in my freshman economics class 2,000 years ago and forgot.

Because I ride every day and it's hot most of the year here, I go through a lot of breeches because in the summer they have to be washed between every wearing. I also hate doing laundry. So mostly I wear my TuffRider schoolers or, now that I have a green-banana mare, I wear some Kerrits full-seat breeches I scored on eBay for cheap. Except for my short hair, I just kinda look like all the other ladies at the barn. They'd probably be surprised to see me dressed up in a tie.What I wear to the barn is fine, it gets me through the day, but I want to look more like this:

And less like this:

Subtle differences, but they're enough in my mind to make me feel a little weird, especially now that I'm not just gonna be plunking around my field by myself after I spend two hours cleaning stalls. I'm going to be teaching lessons, and I want to look nice. So I got online to see if I could get, like, one pair of men's breeches and a couple shirts and not spend a bazillion dollars.


This probably doesn't seem like the kind of thing that should be a problem, and I'm not saying it's the end of the whole world, but when a person has struggled for a long time to try to get a grip on their identity and to be able to express it in a way that makes them feel comfortable, stupid barriers to entry like the insane cost of breeches are enough to trip the wires in my brain and wake up a voice that says, "Why can't you be normal like everyone else and grow your hair out and wear women's breeches and shut up?"

I can't, that's why. Most people don't like being forced to wear the trappings of a gender that isn't really theirs.

Sigh. In other news, Lex was a good girl today, and she was ready to gogogo. I've been riding her every day for the last five days, and she certainly doesn't seem worn out. And we're getting a lesson on Thursday! I think I'll hold off cantering until then and just work on sharpening up our walk/trot transitions and try to get her to be less of a moose at the mounting block.

Regardless of what I'm wearing, I love this horse.
She doesn't care what I'm wearing as long as she gets her Spanish moss.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Rocket at Three Days

Before we get to Rocket, three important things:

1. LEX IS SO AWESOME, Y'ALL. I could not love her more. I say that every day and then the next day, I totally love her more. We never got the right lead today, but we were riding in the rain (eventer background over here!) AND the barn owner drove by us on the tractor with a round bale and all the other horses went running off after her and away from us. Lex did not care at all about the rain, the tractor, or the horses galloping away. SAINT.

2. Lauren from She Moved to Texas has been kind enough to read and comment on some posts here, and you should definitely check out her fantastic blog. I started reading it and now I'm hooked. I want her and Sprinkler Bandit to put together my horsey wardrobe. I can't believe I haven't written any tack reviews yet.

3. I got an awesome job today! I'll be teaching lessons at a local riding school. I am beside myself with excitement. I had such fun teaching the trial lessons today. I am hoping to take some jumping lessons myself since it's been so long since I jumped a horse who knew her job! Lex should be happy because this is going to go toward supporting her in style (see: point 2).

Okay, on with the star of today's show!

My mom was kind enough to take a bunch of videos of Rocket earlier this week and send them to me, which is no small feat considering she and my dad basically still have dial-up and it took her FOREVER to upload them. She had to spend some of the time she had in NYC with my brother and his family to work on it because my brother has real internet. So, three cheers for my mom for that.

Is anyone out there good at evaluating foal movement? I have a decent eye for evaluating a mature horse, but I can't reliably tell if a baby is likely to grow up to be a good mover.

I love this one:

They lead the foals ahead of the mares. I've definitely had adult horses who would have done well with a butt rope.

On Day Three, Rocket Girl learned how to lead. As I said before, I am really impressed with Lydia and how patient she is. Mom said she commented that Rocket is learning slower than the quarter horse foals, not because she's stupid - she isn't - but because she's very stubborn and independent. Sounds like someone else I know whose name may or may not be Jess. The following video is the beginning of her leading training. According to Lydia, she's leading very well now, but I don't have videos of subsequent sessions. Sorry that the first minute is oriented the wrong way - I rotated the video Mom sent me so that most of it would be right way up, but I haven't had time to play with video editing. Just bear with us through the first 54 seconds and then it should all be fine.

And here is the end of the lesson. Lydia knows when she's reached her training goal for the day and stops when she's gotten there. I like that she doesn't let Rocket just blow her off - she has to stand nicely to be released. Good baby.

And finally, some photos!

This is probably my favorite picture. Somara LOVES her baby.

Basking baby.

It kind of amazes me that foals know where to look for sustenance right away.

I don't have much of a relationship with Somara. My mom bought her last August and she's several states away. I've groomed her and lunged her a couple of times, but I haven't spent tons of time with her or ridden her. But I do know that she's been a bit of a difficult horse to handle and has often been cranky. So it is wonderful to see how happy she is with this baby. Being a mama is her favorite thing so far. This will probably be the only foal she has, but I'm glad she got this experience. She just looks so pleased.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rocket Day Two: Training Videos

Lydia Cunningham at Mountaintop Ranch gets so many props from me. I couldn't be happier with how they've handled everything with Rocket and Somara, from doing some groundwork with Somara before she foaled, to the difficult delivery, to the near-emergencies after the delivery, to the work they're doing with Rocket now. If I ever breed Lex, I'm going to send her there to have her baby.

Below are two training videos from Rocket's second day of life. I have never trained a foal so I don't know a lot about it, just what I've read in books, so I learned a lot from watching these videos. Lydia is so firm and kind that I bet horses learn well from her. In education we call that a "warm demander" and it helps a lot of kids.

In this first video, they begin by talking about how they thought Rocket might have a ruptured bladder. Oh, and they call her Taxi (she was born on tax day). I think taxis are gross so I'm sticking with Rocket. Anyway, here she learns to follow her nose - an essential first step in learning to lead.

And in this video, they work on desensitizing her to various objects. I wish Lex was as good as Rocket. I've got some work to do!

Today Mom told me that Lydia said Rocket is being a very good girl and leading perfectly. Tomorrow I'll post the videos Mom took on Day 3, so you can see where she started with that. Training foals looks tough.

Here are a few pictures of Day 2: The Very Sleepy Day. I now have about thirty pictures of the filly sleeping, and I could look at them all for hours, but I can't blame you if you find them less thrilling.

Tail check!

The snozzberries taste like snozzberries!


Have some decency and let me sleep in peace! (Not a chance, filly.)
 Fun fun fun! I'm hoping to go ride Lex today but it's rainy, so we'll have to see. She could probably use a day off so if I do ride, it'll be a walk around the field, I'd imagine. I hope everyone is having a great Saturday!

A Giveaway and a Sale

Lauren over at She Moved to Texas is giving away a ShowSheen pack. Go comment on her blog for your chance to win. When TJ was with me, I relied on ShowSheen to keep his tail detangled.

Also, Kate at The Adventures of Lucy is running a sale right now on her beautiful painted saddle pads, because she has to raise money for some expensive medical procedures for her horse. If I can come up with a way to justify it, I'm going to order one. They're really beautiful.

Go get you some!

Today: Canter; Tomorrow: The World!

Quick update before a long-overdue bedtime: Lex canters on both leads! She is SUCH A STAR. She was a little bit of a shit when I was trying to get on, but I'll get her standing nicely at the mounting block before long - maybe a little more groundwork will help.
I need more pictures of her under saddle

But once I was on, holy crap, she was amazing today. It is not going to be a problem to get this girl to travel long and low, because she really wants to put her nose on the ground and streeeeeeeetch her back. She loves doing that. We did a trot pole figure 8 exercise to warm up the brain after we'd done some halt-walk-trot transitions and then I asked her to canter. It didn't take her as long to get it this time, and we got a marvelous left lead canter. Again, I left the reins loopy and held the neck strap and just hung in there in a two point. After a couple mildly enthusiastic strides she settled into a lovely rhythm and I was grinning like crazy. I let her walk for awhile, and did a little more trotting, and then asked for a canter going right. She picked up her left lead at first (no biggie, I don't care what lead she's on at this stage) and then she tossed her head. She wasn't happy to be on the wrong lead, so you know what she did? A simple change through the trot.


We cantered a couple laps to the right, I let her walk for awhile, then we trotted like two circles just to make sure she wasn't too up in the air (not at all, she was happy to trot around with her nose on the ground) and went on a short walk around the field.

I'm so proud of her I could cry. I think tomorrow, if I get a chance to ride her, I'll just walk her around the fields, up and down some little hills, to give her a break.

Tomorrow I'll have some Rocket videos for you!

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Female Jockey is Just a Jockey, Y'all.

I just saw this story in the New York Times about Rosie Napravnik, the 25-year-old jockey who will be riding in the Kentucky Derby next month.

Did any of you see that Animal Planet show a few years ago, Jockeys, that covered two meets at Santa Anita? It included Chantal Sutherland, one of the best jockeys in North America, whose story lines were at least as much about her personal life and relationship struggles with fellow jockey Mike Smith as they were about her phenomenal skill with horses. Even while pushing that angle ("will she retire from racing to have babies?!") the show made clear that she was viewed differently because she was female, and some of the male jockeys - perhaps even Smith - did not think she was worthy of being where they were. Kayla Stra, another jockey on the show, had more direct conflicts with the male jockeys when they did not want her in their jocks' room despite the fact that hers did not have a television in it, so she could not watch races. That is a serious breech of equal access.

I am disheartened but not surprised to hear that Napravnik is getting similarly bad treatment from the men in the industry, which is still very much male dominated. One anonymous jockey, identified only as a 53-year-old veteran of the track, commented that she was getting more rides because she's pretty and friendly. This is appalling, and I am very disappointed that the Times would print a quote like this without insisting he identify himself. Now Napravnik has to wonder who said that, if she doesn't already know. Or maybe it's such a drop in the bucket that she doesn't notice, which would be worse.

The article talks about how good a rider she is, describing in detail how she applies her skills. Some of the language is gendered: she has soft hands, she can quiet a hot young horse. These are attributes that, in my experience, are often given to female riders but not men, many of whom are just as nurturing. However, the article also quotes trainers who note that she has an excellent eye for where she is on the track, a good feed for pace, and fearlessness. Trainer Larry Jones said he had seen other riders bump into her on purpose (risking the health of the horses and their own necks): “Trust me. Don’t do Rosie that way, because she will run over you. The girl has no fear.”

Just as it would be great if gay marriage could just be called marriage, it would be ideal if female jockeys can just be called jockeys. Gender has nothing to do with this. Some people have the physicality, strength, and mental stamina to handle the extremely dangerous situation that is horse racing, and others do not. Some men are small and strong, some are small and weak, some are big, etc. Right? Same with women. If you can do this, you can do it. Your sex and gender don't matter a-tall.

One of the things I like most about equestrian sports is that they are not gender-segregated. Women are, for the most part, not treated as lesser riders in any of the disciplines I've participated in, in my experience (they may be treated badly as humans, but that is a different issue - find me anyone who says women can't ride a dressage horse or a show jumper as well as a man and I will show you an outlier). I hope horse racing can catch up, because it will benefit the sport to have the best riders riding, regardless of their gender.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Canter: We Got This.

Just a quick update because I can't stop grinning! Today I rushed out to the barn after class because it was gorgeous and hot out and I just had to hop on the little red mare. We warmed up in the ring, but I think I'm gonna skip the ring from now on. The footing is too deep and it's too small and we both hate it. Anyway, she was a very good girl in the ring, so while we were trotting I tried just legging her into a little canter. But she couldn't deal with the ring, and she tossed her head, so I walked her around a little and then we rode out into the field. A few walk-trot transitions to confirm that our brain was not blown - and I knew it wouldn't be, this mare really has a fantastic mind - and I looped a finger under the neck strap, got in a half-seat, put my leg on and made kissy noises and... we got a canter! On the proper (left) lead, even!

During the several strides it took between my asking and her complying, she really was trying to figure out what I wanted. Her head came up, her ears flipped back, and she was like, "WHAT are you on about?" Then when she cantered and I said, "Good girl!" she lowered her head and cantered around and it was GREAT. She has good balance! I just left the reins loose and held onto the neck strap and stayed in a half seat. I think she really had fun, and I know I did. I almost felt like we could have jumped out of the canter. She came right back when I asked her to and then I walked her out and called it a day. Tomorrow we'll try cantering both leads! Pretty soon I'm going to start adding in some light hill work, too. Our fields are great for that.

The Best.

Awesome Fillies Are Awesome, Part 2: Rocket

I'm impressed that my mom got out to Mountaintop Ranch two days in a row, considering that it's a three-hour round trip, and I'm extraordinarily grateful because we have pictures and video!

Rocket and Somara got to spend some time in the field today because Rocket's pasterns look even better. Lydia says that Rocket is tougher to work with than her quarter horse foals because she's got the stubborn gene, but that you can really see her brain working while they handle her. They're beginning to teach her to lead. I'm not surprised she's stubborn and independent - so is her dam. I like that, though. I'm stubborn and independent, too.

Also, Somara loves being a mama. Mom said she is so happy and nurturing but not hostile about people handling her foal. I'm delighted. Here is a cute video of her looking pleased with her baby.

And some photos of the day, with one more super adorable video at the end.

I know I left that needle around here somewhere...

How did that baby fit in that mare just a couple days ago?!
 These two pictures are the ones that drove home for me how big she is. That's my mom, she's about 5'6".

Holy mackerel. She looks like a draft horse.

I'm glad my mom likes horses because this is the closest she's getting to a grandchild from me.
And now, for the grand finale, a really adorable video of Rocket. This is right after they brought her in from the field, which is on the side of a mountain. The top of the mountain is where the barn is, and Rocket and Somara were at the bottom of it. By the time they'd trucked all the way up, everyone was a bit out of breath. After bringing her in, they let the mare and foal chill out for a little while before working with her. Mom promises me more, longer videos when she can get on a fast enough internet connection.

So there's the little girl! We might not get a lot more pictures or videos of her for awhile. My mom is going to NYC to see my AMAZING brother, sister-in-law, and nephew for the weekend, and then she's on call all next week at the hospital. If I do get anything, I'll definitely post it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Awesome Fillies Are Awesome, Part 1: Lex

Well, one of them hasn't been a filly for a few years now, but she is definitely awesome.

Today I had lots of fun with Lex and my mom gave me an update on Rocket, so there's lots to write about. In the interest of not inundating you, I'll divide the day's updates into two posts.

Lex is such a good girl. She starts out wiggly and a little cold-backed, but I just get on and walk her around, because she's not going to do anything stupid. The worst thing she does is look at stuff and maybe edge into a couple trot steps but she always comes right back. We warmed up in the ring and did some walk-halt and walk-trot transitions. There were some cones set up in the middle, so I guided her through them at the walk. She doesn't turn perfectly all the time, but she doesn't take a lot of effort. Like with turning her nose to the fence to slow down, if I just think about what I want, she'll usually do it. I love those sensitive TBs! She's definitely a green banana, though. We'll be traveling perfectly fine along the rail and the next thing I know she's kinda swerving to the inside. If I think "slow" and put my inside leg on a bit, though, we can set ourselves right. After we were warmed up (or I was sick of the ring, whichever you like) we went out in the field and did some more trot-walk transitions. She's pretty good about slowing her trot when I slow my posting most of the time, and if she doesn't match my seat, I just do a downward transition, no big deal. I walked her back and forth over a pole on the ground a couple of times, and then did some trot figure-8s over it, incorporating transitions to the walk when I felt like it was a good idea (mostly going away from the pole/toward the herd, when she'd put her head up and trot faster). I'm trying to stay out of her mouth, so the transitions aren't sharp at all. The point is, she's slowing down when I ask her to.

After the ride I hopped off to get a couple pictures of her. YES, I let my baby thoroughbred stand in the field while I backed up a couple of steps to take a picture. Yes, there is a special circle of hell reserved for me. I know.

I love this bridle. It's an M. Tolouse I got for $40 used. I just got some reins to match - there's a tack review in my future!

Gotta love that expression.

I think I could probably track down pictures of that saddle pad from the 1990s. I've had it forever.

I freaking love this.
I think that if she's got the talent to be a show hunter, I might steer us in that direction. I think it will be the best for her long-term soundness, considering the vet school study, and it's fun. I'll have to practice my braiding and learn to stay on top of fashion trends, but she's certainly pretty enough. No doubt about that.

Stay tuned for Part II, coming tomorrow!