Sunday, October 19, 2014

Amato Rosso

As I've said since he got here, I really like Red. He's a big old doofus, even though he is pure evil when he is in a stall. He's fun to hack around, he's fun to do a proper flat school on, and he's really fun to jump (if you like them hot, which I do).

Because I like him and he's working for me right now (and for my mom, who enjoys flatting him--this guy has three very nice gaits), I haven't been too concerned about what his past history was. I know what I know from riding him. My friend who hooked me up with him told me he did "the big jumpers." But she's a dressage rider, and she doesn't show at all, and hasn't been to many jumper shows if any. So when I asked for further clarification about divisions and whatnot, she didn't know.

The thing about jumping is that, as I said in my rules change post, a jump that looks tiny to you might look huge to me. So if you don't jump at all (and are perhaps afraid of it), or you're just starting out, or you're riding a horse without a lot of ability, or hell--if you've been schooling 2' in the indoor all winter, a 3' square oxer could look enormous to you. That's fine. So my friend doesn't have her eye up as far as jumping goes. But when you say "the big jumpers" to me, I think Open Jumpers and up. Big jumps. Money classes.

I got bored the other day so I decided to dig around and see what, exactly, the "big jumpers" were that Red did. It took a bit of digging because I didn't have his USEF number and I wasn't sure of his registered name (Amaterasu, my friend thought). Then I got smarter, and looked up his owner's USEF page. Sure enough, there was an Amato Rosso. There's our guy!

From what I can tell, his owner started him in the 80cm classes in 2009. This is perfectly reasonable, about 2'6". He moved up to the 90cm (2'9") and then the 1.0m (3'3"). This is the standard progression. I kept scrolling, kind of expecting to see a meteoric rise in height, but I didn't, because he's a normal horse and she's an amateur. They had some good results, but the highest they did was the 1.15m (3'7", or prelim height).

Does that mean I like him less than I did before? Hell no. I also don't think this means AT ALL that his scope tops out at 3'6". I know the difference between a good jumper and a bad jumper, and I have personally trotted a 4' jump on him. Who knows why he didn't make it further. Perhaps he would have if he hadn't blown his suspensory. Or maybe he wouldn't have. It doesn't matter one bit.

So there you have it. An "I don't know anything about this horse in my barn" story that doesn't end in the fairytale "holy shit he did mini prix" stuff that people love to write about. Red had an average career in the low-level jumpers and that's where he stopped. While I am very unlikely to take him to rated jumper shows because I am poor and I have to focus on Mo's career first, I have a good feeling about him jumping around 1.15m again with me if it sounds fun and a show comes up. I wasn't likely to show him any higher than that anyway, in consideration for his leg. He's SO much fun to ride and that, at the end of the day, is what matters.

Oh, but one cool thing: his dad was a famous GP stallion, Amaretto D ii. Cute, huh? Looks just like my guy, but a hand shorter and a slightly more refined face.

Not that I would trade these big loppy old ears for any face.

They don't even fit in the frame!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

USEA Rule Changes: Perspectives of a Once and Maybe Future Eventer

Wow, Facebook is hot today. And I have a opinions. Always a good combination. So even though I published the Red post this morning, here's another one coming atcha. I figure most of you won't read it until tomorrow anyway.

My opinions are at least somewhat informed. My coach is on the USEA Board of Governors, and she's integral to the decision-making process here. So I've gotten a lot of information straight from the horse's mouth, if you will.

The US Eventing Association has two proposed rule changes that people are talking about at the moment: Increasing the cross country speed a little bit at beginner novice through training level, and also adding one jump in the stadium phase that is up a hole and a little wider (so, essentially, a jump from the next level up). You can read more about it on Eventing Nation. Let's take these one at a time and go from there.

Increased XC Speed
Here's the thing: If you're on a horse of quality with a good canter, barring a stop on course, you're going to get a speeding ticket at BN through training level. A rider with a close eye on her watch could theoretically avoid this by circling on course or trotting. This creates problems, though, because it interrupts the flow of the course and the horse's rhythm. Horses that will be expected to move up need to canter from jump to jump and not waste time. It's stupid to circle on XC, but everyone does it. Or they take the penalties, but in this case, the horse is being punished for doing things correctly.

But what about horses who can't handle the higher speeds?
There are a couple reasons a horse might not be able to handle the higher speeds: it is slow or short-strided, or it is hot and needs those trot transitions or circles to get its head on straight. The thing is, those circles are still going to be allowed. And we can't gear XC speeds towards the short-strided, we just can't. Most eventers are not ponies, and a pony or horse going BN that can't go 350mpm isn't a novice-level prospect. And it isn't true that all ponies can't make that step. Teddy O'Connor clearly could. I coach a BN kid on a 13.2hh pony who has to circle to avoid the speed faults. I live in Virginia, too, and all our XC courses are plenty hilly, which should slow things down but doesn't on most horses.

So what? I want to stay at BN anyway (or my kid does, or I am just raising this as a theoretical argument). Your "that horse isn't a novice prospect" point doesn't work on me.
That's fine. You can stay at whatever level you like. Not everyone is or should be looking to move up a level. But we still arrive back at the point that too many horses get punished for having a good, appropriate canter--far more than will get punished for not having the step. It's just as easy to say "who cares about time faults for going too slow, just go at your horse's pace" as "just take the speeding ticket, assholes."

Consider this: when do we want horses and riders to get comfortable jumping at a forward pace? At BN through training, when the jumps are small, or at prelim and up, when they get more challenging? I think it will actually make eventing safer if everyone learns to gallop or at least canter forward when the jumps--and the stakes--are lower.

Shouldn't eventing be trying to make itself more amateur-friendly to get people into the sport? It's had a lot of bad press lately. You'd think the USEA would want whatever advantage it could get, and making XC faster and one SJ jump higher isn't going to help.
I hear this. I'll return to this point in a minute, because M had some pretty good insight here that encapsulates both the XC speed and the SJ height. But as far as the XC speed itself is concerned, remember: one can always make the choice to go slower. It isn't as though the guillotine awaits anyone who wants to take their time on XC on a green horse or at their first time at a new level. In jumper land, we don't even think about the jump-off for like a year at least. If you get there, huzzah, but it isn't the goal.

Making one SJ jump higher and wider
The deal with this is, you've got the possibility of one SJ fence on course that's like a move-up to the next level. It isn't a requirement, I don't believe (or won't be if these rules come into effect).

This one seems to be ruffling more feathers than the XC speed, and I find that very curious. I get that we all have to get our eye up and that a jump that might look like a tiny warm-up fence to one person looks insurmountable to another, and I'm not here to tell anyone that their comfort level is wrong or not good enough. Not at all. But let's keep a few things in mind:

1. These are rated events we're talking about, not schooling events (this goes for XC time as well--plenty of schooling horse trials around here don't even have an optimum time for XC). In theory, if you're ready to compete at a rated horse trials, you're probably schooling a level up at home. Every trainer I know would be working on that with their students before sending them off to spend the money at a rated show. So one jump at a height that you're schooling at home shouldn't make or break you.

2. A little bit of trust for course designers here, huh? That one bigger and wider fence could be in the toughest spot on the course, I suppose, but that isn't likely. I bet good, conscientious course designers--the ones that tend to get paid to design for rated horse trials--will put it in a thoughtful spot. I mean, if you're riding in a championship and everything is tough, then I wouldn't expect that. But I bet most course designers will keep in mind that the one bigger jump could come somewhere towards the late middle of the course where canter rhythm is established but before the horse is out of quarters.

3. It is, in fact, the case that in every other country, the SJ jumps are higher. US eventing has had a tough go of it in international competition lately (including a cringe-worthy performance at WEG). If we want to deepen our bench, we have to get it together and get our riders up to the level that other riders are doing. This should better prepare our riders and horses for moving up. The jump up can be kind of a shock, especially from training to prelim, and this should ease the blow.

Which leads me back to...

Okay okay! I hear you.  And I don't disagree. This is the dilemma, though. Do we let the lower levels stay super easy compared to international standards and keep people in the sport? Or do we focus on the horses and riders with upper level potential at the cost of adult ammies?

I don't think we really have to make this choice. There are a lot of things that USEA wants to do that would help even things out a bit. For instance, a little birdie told me that they're talking seriously about allowing coaching on course in the lower levels. I think this would help tremendously in coping with that one bigger SJ jump for BN riders. I wouldn't be surprised (though the birdie did not say this) if we heard that the eventing scene is going to look more like the h/j world in other ways, like having BN through intermediate or advanced at more shows so that the lower levels can get the important education of watching upper level riders do their thing; or that having a trainer hop on a jerk horse for a few minutes in the warm-up wouldn't be grounds for elimination in the BN and novice levels.

So as is probably clear by now, I'm in favor of these rules changes. I feel more strongly about the XC course time than the SJ fence, but I'm in favor of both. And I will eventually have to put my money where my mouth is, as M and I have eventing plans for both Mo and Red in the spring.

I eagerly await your comments. I'm sure this will get interesting.

ETA 10am: I forgot something. One thing I'm hearing from the people opposed to the rule change is "people need to learn to ride to pace." But that is exactly why I am in favor of the rule change. Learning to ride to pace means finding your horse's appropriate pace for the level. Circling at the end of the course is not riding to pace. It's wasting your horse's legs and energy to avoid getting penalized for having an appropriate canter through the course. Of course, some people do ride hell bent for leather, rule change or no rule change. But that shouldn't happen, and the technical delegate ought to be (and usually is in my experience) on the lookout for dangerous riding. 350mpm is not a crazy fast gallop.  I really do think that most people who are at a lower level on a short-strided horse are going to be able to make the time still, without riding like crazy idiots. The idea behind the rule change, in other words, isn't to make anyone ride faster. It's to prevent the circling at the end of the course. I hope that makes sense.

Catch-up Post: Red

Dudes, I love this big goofy red guy so much.

Red is two horses. At home, he's the quiet chill boy we all know and love. He's the one I can practice on without stirrups or cruise around in two point in all day (no official 2pt challenge for me this year, as I have two bad ankles and I'll get mad at myself if I can't be in the top tier, but I'm working on it anyway). At M's, though, he is AMATO ROSSO, the SHOW JUMPER, and you'd best not forget it. He won't even walk. He'll jig, he'll trot, he'll canter, and he'll rush fences, but he will not. freaking. walk.

I can only walk when I'm in my stall.

It's kind of funny, though. He's not scary, he's just like "LEMME AT 'EM!" He doesn't want to warm up. He wants to jump, and he wants to jump right fucking now. This is not an attitude I dislike, really.

I've taken several jumping lessons at M's. In the first few, we were in a plain snaffle. I needed more brakes, but a Smartpak snafu meant I didn't get the Waterford I ordered (fortunately, E found my old one and mailed it to me so I wouldn't break my neck). It was fine, but there were some moments that it would have helped to have a little more brakes.

First vertical in our first jumping lesson.
We did some pretty fun exercises over several lessons because M is a genius. Among my favorites was a bascule exercise (a trot vertical, starting about 2', with rails 7' out on either side so the horse has to bend his back over the jumps; over the course of the exercise, the jump goes up and the rails roll out a bit--we ended at 4' with rails 8'-8.5' out), a simple canter jump on a 20m circle (stay in the goddamn rhythm), a double bounce (haha Red, can't jump through THAT launching); and using the circle to slow him down (get his eye on the jump, and if he feels launchy, be all "oh damn actually I was just circling" until he stops anticipating and canters to the base).

Here's what I've learned about his jumping:
*He will take over. Ride the horse or find yourself in the next county.
*He doesn't like to touch rails. Yay.
*The way he uses his body means that he feels like he lands going much faster than he felt at the take-off, but he isn't. We've had a couple stops because I've half-halted when I shouldn't and taken his eye off the jump (but remember that thing about how he will take over? Be ready to ride? Yeah, except when you just need to count strides).
*He feels GREAT in the air, especially when he looks for the quiet step, canters to the base, and jumps. Heck yeah, former Open Jumper.
*He needs me to keep a feel of the corners in his mouth until he's in the air. He also needs me to keep my leg on at the base. Figuring out that dial is hard, because if I take my leg off he'll sometimes stop, and if I use too much leg he'll launch. We're getting that sorted out, though.
*He loves, loves, loves his job.

Sunrise hack a few weeks ago. Funnest thing ever.

And here's what I've learned about me:
*Since this has been a year of flatwork almost exclusively, I've reverted back to some bad old habits that come from having mostly ridden horses who launch. I need to stay in my half seat, not lean back (which sends him forward), and look for that quiet canter to the base step myself.
* My jumping position, however, is still fine. Would Denny Emerson love it over a 4' jump? I dunno. Haven't cantered any of those recently. But over the 3'ish stuff we're doing, my leg is stable and I'm out of his way.
* Jumping is still the most fun thing I can think of to do. Come on, Mo, let's get this canter sorted out so you can get back to it!

I need to jump at least another 100 canter jumps on Red before we begin to figure each other out, I think. But we get along, and it would be hard to find a nicer buddy to get my feet wet again with. He only jumps at M's, so we jump once a week if I'm lucky. It's fine, though. I don't want to wear him out. He's super cool.

Here's some stuff I want to talk about soon, since I really do want to do this blogging thing, despite my fits and starts with access to posting ability:
Tack reviews (KY Horse halter, Smartpak halter, Nantucket bridle, Wellfleet bridle)
Specific discussion of Mo's canter work
A discussion of the USEA proposed rule changes (as my trainer is on the Board of Governors and I have a lot of thoughts)
My mom's horse Teddy and our struggle to get him sound (Is it a bone chip? Neck arthritis? EPM?!)

Anything in particular y'all want me to start with?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Catch-Up Post: Moses

Good grief. I'm the worst at this. Again.

I'll do one catch-up post per horse, I suppose. I wish I'd done a better job of writing up each lesson, because Mr. Mo has been up to all kinds of things.

Let's see: we've trotted cross-rails, verticals, and cross-rail oxers. Oh, and one bounce. He's pretty good at all of this, but he wiggles sometimes. Steering isn't perfect. One thing that makes me feel good is that even when Mr. Stripey is trying to run out, I can still get it done. He'll get over that. His shape in the air is sometimes green, but is usually quite nice. M thinks this is an upper-level horse (well, she'd say "an advanced horse," but I still haven't committed to eventing).

Even though I'm not sold on eventing yet, we did have a lot of fun babysitting M on an XC school. I just hand-walked him, but he went right over the ditch, into the water, on and off the bank--all like a pro. After about an hour of leading around, he was plenty quiet, so I lunged him for a minute and hopped on. I just trotted him around the parking area for a few minutes because we had to head out, but he was great. I was thrilled 

As far as his flat work goes, he's making good progress. His trot work is really good now, even though he's still fresh and green sometimes. He still has moments of needing to remember that it's my bridle and I get to put it where I want, but when he yields to the pressure, I can now close my leg and get him on the bit. He's not 100% consistent in the contact all the time, but I've only had him for six weeks. Overall, I'm thrilled with his trot work.

His canter work is coming along. He's getting his leads without TOTAL meltdowns now. We had a bucking/rearing fit in front of my mom one day, and he does buck hard when he gets frustrated, but he bucks in a straight line and moving forward. And, knock on wood, he hasn't done any bucking in a week. If this is his flaw, I can totally live with it. His canter can still be a bit wild. I don't have much control. It's getting quieter as we go, especially to the right (his better direction in general--homeboy hates bending left. I may have created this problem because I can hang on the right rein a bit, but I'm working hard to kick this habit and help him be more even).

Also, today I had the wonderful fortune of learning that Breyer already has a Mo model. So we'll be all set when he's big and famous.

It says "Thoroughbred Horse/Excellent Jumper" RIGHT ON THERE.
So overall, very happy in babyland. If he didn't have some green horse moments, I'd be bored. I can't wait to see where he is in another six weeks!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Five Things to Know About Being Around Gay People in the Horse World

I owe you guys updates on Mo and Red (sneak preview: they are both amazing and I love them). But in the meantime, a conversation with a new friend has me thinking about how much I don't say on this blog about being gay in the horse world.

Mostly this is because when I do find time/internet access to post, I want to talk about my horses. But there's also a small part of me that doesn't want to bore you guys or annoy you with it, and that part of me is bullshit and needs to go away. I'm obviously not afraid for people to know I'm gay (look at my blog header, or my professional life). But it's time to start talking more about stuff.

For the most part, I haven't had huge problems with being out in the horse world. Most horse people are pretty much fine with it, but not all of them, and the ones that aren't fine with it can be a huge pain in the neck. And here's the thing: you can't always know who is fine and who isn't right away. We all like to think positive thoughts about people and assume they'll be cool. But when you're queer, you can't make that assumption. It isn't always safe, or accurate. I lead by being outgoing and nice to people because that is my personality, but more often than not, my heart races and I get distracted by wondering what they're thinking. That's not always useful, but it's a fact, and you only need a few really horrendous experiences to shatter your confidence in humanity. It's like taking a bad fall and then getting on a nice quiet horse that you don't know. People tell you the horse is wonderful, but do you believe them, when you're recovering from a broken bone? Or do you wait and let the nice horse prove herself to you?

Most people are straight, including most of the readers of this blog. So here are some things I think might be useful for y'all to keep in mind. And you might have things to add.

1. If a new boarder shows up at your barn and he or she is queer, don't assume that everyone at your barn is cool with queerdos unless you KNOW FOR A FACT they are cool with queerdos. Each person is going to have to prove him or herself to the new queer person. This is a fact of life. No one is happy with it, but that's how it is. It is dangerous to be queer in many parts of the country, and it's not just religious nutjobs who cause problems. Some of the worst people in my life have been university professors. Sometimes people who are nice to you, straight person, are not going to be nice to a queer person with tattoos and "weird" clothes. So if you make friends with the queer person at your barn but they don't feel comfy around someone you like a lot, don't dismiss them or accuse them of causing drama. Listen.

2. Similarly, often the professionals we use are difficult people. I've fired more farriers than I can remember. And recently a horse dentist when on a homophobic rant at me, so he won't be welcome back. If the queer person at your barn is going to be filled with anxiety every time the farrier shows up, get their back. You can decide for yourself if you want to continue to use the bigoted person for your own horse, but if that person decides not to, be open about supporting that decision. Bonus points for bringing up the shitty behavior to the barn owner or to the person him or herself.

3. Basic stuff for any life situation: respect pronoun choices (not everyone goes by he or she, and sometimes people DO use he or she but not the choice you thought. When in doubt, ask: "Do you have a pronoun preference?" This will make you seem like a super enlightened genius. If they think the question is odd, whatever. You did the right thing). And if someone else asks you about that person's pronoun preferences, a simple, "Alex prefers 'they'" or whatever is all you've got to say. You can send them my way if they have questions you can't answer. Remember: Not ALL queer people see themselves as here to educate you. I'm putting myself out there explicitly AS an educator, which means I have to answer a lot of hard or shitty questions, but it's a role I've taken on for myself. The queer person at your barn might not want to do this work, and that's okay.

4. Another basic one: People are going to react differently to people going out of their way to let someone know they're cool with the queers. The easiest way to signal to someone that you know they're queer and you're fine with it is to mention a gay friend or relative in as off-hand a way as you can. But to be honest, it doesn't really matter to me how ham-fisted it is. If you want to just come out and say, "I know not everyone in the world is cool with gay people but I am," I will feel better around you than I would if you said nothing. Or you can tell them that you just love this blog about being gay in the horse world. :D

5. Checkity-check yourself: ARE you cool with queers? Ask yourself a couple tough questions. For instance, do you get weirded out when people are "too" gay? Feminine men, butch women, trans people, gay pride shirts, whatever? If these are a problem for you and you feel uncomfortable, figure out if there's a part of you that maybe DOES have a little bit of homophobic stuff and work on it. Gender differences are beautiful, but we're socialized to feel uncomfortable with people who stray too far from the norm. And even queer people can carry this baggage around. I know tons of gay people who aren't cool with trans people. That's still a problem. Lots of damage is done by "allies" who are fine with queer people within a certain bracket but not the more marginalized or open, etc., folks. "I like gay people but that just over the top." Problematic, not your place to tell people how to express themselves. I went to a protest once and carried a sign that said, "I don't mind straight people as long as they act gay in public," and that one made a lot of people laugh and, I hope, think. If this is you, and you want to work on it, send me an e-mail. I'm a teacher. Working people through this is gliterally what I do for a living.

Okay, now I want to hear what you have to add, or your questions. I'm sort of dashing this one off but I'm certain I'll write a follow-up soon, and I'd love to take your thoughts and insights into consideration when I do.

Monday, September 15, 2014


I have good news: my mom came to watch Mo's lesson today and took video!

I have bad news: the fake internet at my house means that there's no way I'm getting the vids uploaded until Thursday at the very earliest, and that seems unlikely. But I will get them up as soon as I can so you can all go get checked for cavities after you watch the sweetness.

But! I have some screen shots for you today so that you won't have to suffer toooooo long. They're not amazing quality, but use your imagination. Or consider Monet. Abstract impressionism is a thing.

We started once again with our walk/trot poles. He's got this down now, as long as I keep my leg on.

Still a bit of a motorbike on turns.

Fancy Steppin'

Then we did our canter work, hopping over a pole as we got to it. It was touch and go in the sense that he'd toss his head and think of himself as VERY NAUGHTY, and I'd kick him on.

 Then we got to work on contact and giving to the bridle. He hates this. Which is good, because then he'll eventually give to pressure more easily instead of leaning. Sometimes he looked really great.

And sometimes he closely resembled a turkey.

Then: THE GOOD STUFF! These are very much "before" pics. I'm looking forward to seeing him jump in a couple months.

A bit awkward.

I better shorten my damn stirrups.

There was no moment of this x that looked stellar, but he's adorable.

Sure, you're allowed to use your neck when jumping.

To jump ahead is to jump alone!

In addition to Total Crossrail Domination, Mo got to do his very first vertical.


He didn't seem to mind at all. We jumped this three times and did it better each time, but Mom's camera died. Alas. Another day.

I'm thrilled with him again, some more. I can't wait to see his progress. M told me that I better jack his price up to keep her away from him, heh.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Forward Bootcamp

[Note: none of the pics are from this ride. My high school bff who used to ride and now rides Red sometimes came to the barn to meet him and took some adorbs pics about a week ago. I just got 'em. Enjoy.]

After Mo's little XC excitement explosion on Friday, he's in bootcamp. This isn't at all about punishment. No one is mad at him at all. He's a baby, he was doing a normal baby thing. But because he's so green, I don't have a lot of tools to reach for when things go wrong. So I did the only things I COULD do: feet forward, shoulders back, keep his head up, circle. But what he really needed was to get put up in front of my leg and to stay there. A good forward gallop probably would have sorted him out. But in an open field with holes and rocks everywhere (get it together, venue, your footing sucks) on a green thoroughbred and with me instead of M up, that didn't happen. It's fine, he's none the worse for wear. M couldn't coach me because her horse was also having issues and if she'd had to yell at me from on top of Spike, we'd have both been on the ground. So Saturday morning we got right down to sorting this out and, I hope, beginning to install more options in him for responses.

Even cute when blurry.

I started by lunging him, which I haven't done since his first week. I very rarely lunge to quiet a horse down. That's a self-defeating cycle, honestly, because they get fitter and fitter and so it takes longer to calm them down and meanwhile their joints are going ouch. But a few minutes on the lunge to see what kind of mood my bronc was in just seemed like good self-preservation. And I'm glad I did that, because while he behaved himself very well, he did clearly need to trot it out a bit. Sometimes I'd rather settle them down from in the saddle, but this worked out well on the lunge. He might have bucked once but was overall very workmanlike. I shan't complain about him being fresh and forward, because I've been working to install the go button since the first ride, and I'll take fresh and forward over balky and sluggish any day of the week.

M wandered over to the ring as I was wrapping up the lunging sesh and we had a brief convo about whether I should wear my jumping vest.

Me: "I brought it up here because if you wanted me to use it I didn't want to have to go all the way back to the trailer to find it."
M: "I mean, I would wear it."
Me: "Done."

Because when the 4* rider tells you she'd wear the vest, the normal person like you and me fuckin' wears the vest.

Practicing deeeeeeeep breaths. He loves that game.

So I got on the little bugger with M right there in case shit went haywire (though what she'd do is yell at me to gallop him on, which I know to do, but sometimes we all need our hands held, amirite?). He was fabulous. He walked forward happily around the ring, and then we went to walking through our poles. Unlike last time, he did not attempt to wiggle out or stop halfway through. He just marched right over them. M and I were chatting and I wasn't thinking too hard about what was happening, which is always good for me. I told her that what happened the day before didn't really faze me and I'm still delighted with him. She had two things to say to that:

"Good, because if that's all it took I'd throw rocks at him to get him to go and then buy him from you." [M has been known to throw rocks at the butts of some very high-quality horses when their problem is falling behind the leg. Little Miss Pony Club, huh? I love her.]
"I'm glad he did something bad because I was worried that we were missing a really big problem, not just encountering a normal one."

So anyway, we walked and trotted through the poles. At the trot I had to add a bit of leg, but no big deal. Then we did the only thing that was really going to make all three of us feel better, even if we were all a tad worried about it, which was gallop around the ring. It was fabulous. Once we got a good pace going, M pointed at a rail and we cantered over that. That confused Baby Mo the first time, but then he got better and better. Towards the end of that exercise, he actually saw the pole coming and adjusted his stride to make it work, because he is mommy's little genius.

PS I love my Piper breeches the most.

But that was not enough Mo-torture for a Saturday morning! Nope. That was just the warmup. Next we worked on getting another important tool started: giving to the bridle. I put him on a 20m trot circle, used a lot of leg to get the hind end going, and took a feel of his mouth. I'd hold the pressure until he gave and then let go. It was confusing for him, but he'll get there. Tomorrow I'll lunge him in loose side reins and we'll work with those for a few days until he sorts it out.

Finally, we ended on something that he likes and is good at: trotting his cross rails. All I had to do was trot each of the four jumps once each direction, and then he'd be done for the day. As seems to happen often, he got much easier to ride when the jumps were in front of him. He stopped thinking about other things, like the reins or where the gate was or whatever, and focused on the task at hand. He enjoyed it and did a fine job. Eight jumps in a row without a break in his second jump school is something to be very happy about, I believe. M tells me the jumps will be going up soon and I'm psyched.

Oh yeah, don't judge his leg wrap situation, still working on that one.

We ended on a short hack. He really likes going for walks, so it's a nice reward for him. And when we're out of the ring, I don't have to create the forward walk. It's just there.

All in all, I'm thrilled to pieces with Mo. He's a good boy and I'm sure he'll teach me plenty. He's already got a list of people who want him and all of whom claim to be at the front of it (including M, another pro, my mother, Tracy, and my best friend from high school). It's kinda fun to have the horse everyone actually wants in the barn for once. Hands off, ladies and germs! I'm not selling this stripey nose just yet.

Hello gorgeous uphill walk.
This pic makes me feel better about his neck.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Whole Eight Seconds

Sooooo lemme take another sip of this here wine.

Ah. Okay.

Little Mo gave me some grey hair today, I think. We were meant to go XC schooling with M and two of her clients (who are awesome people I love being around). The plan was to just hack him around and let him see spooky things and whatnot with horses who were likely to keep their heads. I had no plans to jump, but maybe go through the water, that kind of thing.

Well, that freaking plan got scrapped immediately. I was the last one on (he's a wiggle worm for tacking up at home, too) and didn't want to keep everyone waiting, so I didn't lunge him. I didn't think I'd need to. This horse has been quite sensible all along.


No sooner did I have my right leg over than he's taking off bucking like a rodeo bronc. It was quick and intense. I haven't been properly run off with in quite awhile, and the bucks were coming fast. It was all quite "Jesus take the wheel."

Here are the good things: I stayed on. M was incredibly impressed with how well I sat that shit (I learned something from Lexi, I guess). Mo did calm down eventually after I got off, and we hand-walked the whole school. I let him eat grass and watch. And I did get on him again at the end, in the ring with another horse who let me basically park Mo on his butt the whole time.

Here are the bad things: When he blew his stack, it really blew, and I was surprised. He never quite got his brain back entirely (ran backwards when switching from bridle to halter and took both M and me to get his goddamn halter on; serious loading issues, which is about when I ran out of quarters).

So we have some stuff to work out here, clearly. I'm just planning to take a lesson with M every day until I feel better or until my arms fall off from all the stall mucking I do in exchange for lessons (I'm overusing parantheticals today but I don't care--I just want to say that I feel like I've got the good end of this deal because one lesson with M is worth more to me than a day of mucking stalls. She's amazing).

This is green horses. This is what happens. I don't really know this horse yet. I've only had him for two weeks and known him a short time longer than that. This bucking has always been in there somewhere, I've felt the hitch in his back before. Maybe today he got over it, maybe not. We'll find out.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Baby Mo's First Jumps

I have a feeling that he's not going to be Baby Mo for long. The way this horse learns and improves, he's going to be Grownup Mo in no time. Not that I'm in a rush, of course. I love this green baby phase, and it's even more fun with a horse like this one who really wants to do it right.

Yesterday, M came down to the barn while I was finishing up chores and announced in her sunny way that "we're going to jump your horse today!" I was pretty excited. Nothing about this horse made me worry that it was going to be a disaster. Plus I really trust M.

We started out walking and then trotting through a set of four trot poles. It took him a minute to catch on, and we had a couple run out attempts (run outs are about steering. Mo and I do not have our steering down 100% yet. We'll fix it). But when he got it, he really got it. His footfalls were perfect and he understood, I think, that this exercise is easier when he's in front of the leg.

After that, I let him canter once around to solidify the idea of forward (well, after we got the lead issue sorted--this is a work in progress). Then M set a half crossrail over a flower box and we trotted over it. Kind of, anyway: the horse was like WAIT I don't know where my feet go. So he literally stepped his front feet over it and stopped. I was laughing so hard that I was gasping for air while I tried to kick him. Then he did it better each time. M switched the rails to put the other side in the cup, and then put the whole thing up, and Mo did his first actual x. (I apologize, to SprinklerBandit most of all, for not having photos of the stripeyface jumping. There's no one around to take pics most of the time.)

This one we jumped toward the camera.

 After we jumped this one a couple times out of a trot without stalling out, she set three other little cross rails and told me to find a course that included them all, starting with the one he knew. I just picked a simple hunterish diagonal-outside-diagonal-outside route. We circled back and repeated a couple to emphasize rhythm. He only made one mistake, crashing into the second one a little bit.

This one we jumped away.
You can see our trot poles in the background.
But each time he came back to this one, he actually jumped it a bit instead of just stepping over it. Eventually he will realize that he can, in fact, leave the ground. That he didn't come to that conclusion on the first day is basically what I'd expect for a horse who's been as quiet as he has been thus far.

Then the easy one with no fill or anything.

No problemo.
And finally, the one with the spooky barrels, that he did not spook at because he rocks.

He'll be going over those barrels before he knows it.
Then we did the first one one more time and called it a day. I took him on our first solo hack, which he really enjoyed, even when two trailers came rattling down the driveway. He's been so much fun so far, I can't even stand it.

Tomorrow, if all goes to plan, we'll be tagging along on an XC school. I don't expect we'll do much more than hack around, go through the water and over a ditch, and generally work on behavior. Maybe step over a log. I'll be sure to keep y'all posted.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Real Talk with Denny: Too Much Horse

I adore the hell out of Denny Emerson and have for a long time. When I was a kid, I desperately wanted to be his working student (though I'm not sure my sensitive teenage self could have handled it). I read How Good Riders Get Good and then read it again and again. He's a genius, and he's hilarious. If you don't follow him on Facebook, follow him on Facebook.

Lately he's been railing against the upper levels of eventing and endurance, because horses are dying and this is bad. Go check out his feed. He compares the upper levels of these sports to the X Games, and denounces them for pushing horses to the very outer edges of their abilities, to the point that it's rare for a horse to be able to compete at the very top level for more than a year or two without becoming lame or demoralized, if not dying at or just after the competition altogether. A good event, he says, should not be one in which no horses or riders died.

I'm with him on this, and this is my main hesitation with getting into eventing. I'm happy to go Novice or Training or even Prelim, but I have no desire whatsoever to go Advanced. On the other hand, I'll do basically anything in show jumping. I'm not good enough to be at the upper levels of show jumping yet, but I want to get there.

I'm really writing this because today Denny's posts have been about what SprinklerBandit might call Happy Horse Ownership. He's on a roll about why people have the wrong horses and what they can or should do about it--or, more specifically, why they keep the wrong horses. Here, I'm just going to quote him directly and at length. All of these posts are from today, September 9.

We all know the saying, "delusions of grandeur" (Tang THINKS he`s a bobcat), but too often that attitude lands riders with horses they can`t quite ride.

Now what?

Three scenarios, I think.

1. The rider improves enough to ride the horse, usually by riding quieter horses.
2. A better trainer rides the horse until it calms down enough to be ridden by the owner.
3. A combination of both---

Or, unhappy 4, the pair struggle away, sometimes for years, what we often see in "real life."

And then: 
"WHY do so many riders have horses that are "too much horse?"

We all consumed and loved all the great horse books for kids, but, let`s face it, the message they sent us isn`t real.

A 12 year old who`d never ridden didn`t REALLY tame a 17 hand wild black stallion, with neither riding lessons nor helmet, I don`t think.

But it`s easy to feed into that 12 year old mentality, not just because of books and movies, but because there`s something wildly appealing to the essence of the myth.

It`s when we get older, can afford a horse, but still linger in Fantasy Land, that we make big mistakes, avoid the "Plain Jane" that we can ride and learn on, and instead get the fancy one who makes us white knuckled with apprehension every ride.

And once "there" the terrible "But I love him" kicks in, and we are trapped. And he is, too. We make each other miserable, and we can`t see a way out."

And then:

 The "snowball effect", also known as the "downward spiral."

You picture yourself leaping off the Hickstead bank, but your reality is that you should be trotting crossrails.

You push ahead too soon, and your lack of skills makes the horse (a creature of flight) nervous.

The nervous horse does what nervous horses do, gets quick, maybe starts to rush or quit, jigs, those normal response behaviors.

HIS nervousness makes YOU more nervous. Or frustrated. Or angry. Or all of the above.

You get more tight, more rigid, perhaps more demanding.

He gets more nervous, and the snowball builds, the downward spiral spirals, and you are both in big trouble.

Deep in our dark little hearts we do know the way out of the "too much horse" trap, but it`s not easy to get free.

It`s to get one that we can ride or drive safely, and find a different home for the one we can`t.

I can hear the howls of protest all the way up here in Strafford, Vermont.



And finally, the last line of this is one I need to remember because it's hard for me to not be all worried about people who are clearly on the wrong horses:

One final thought regarding the "too much horse" dilemma.

We all know some riders who WILL NOT GIVE UP the inappropriate horse. Because of fear of where he will end up, or because of stubborn pride, or because they can`t see what we all see, or whatever other reason.

SO---Reality time---

EITHER the rider or driver will continue with white knuckled fear each ride or drive--OR, the rider will eventually get hurt---OR, the horse will end up as a pasture ornament, and the rider will stop riding for as long as it takes for the horse to die of old age.

And, unless we are the parents or have another heavily vested interest in the well being of that person, IT IS NOT UP TO US TO DECIDE.

What are your thoughts here?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Red's Got Energy

I have a gross cold/sinus infection/lung crud and it's slowing me down a lot. This is, of course, annoying me to death. And as my energy is draining, my horses are feeling fantastic. This tips the scale in their favor, but fortunately they're kind beasts.

Yesterday a friend came over to ride Red. She's a good rider but about a decade out of practice. Red had been off for a couple days, plus the temps dropped a good ten degrees and he'd been in the night before because of thunderstorms. So I hopped on him first to make sure he'd be good. 

He was good, but definitely forward. After she did some wtc for awhile, I got on to pop him over two tiny jumps I'd set up in the ring. (I'd dragged some blocks out of the barn to use as standards and every single horse spooked at them on the way to turnout yesterday. Never would have guessed that!) I'd never jumped him so I didn't know what to expect really, other than assuming he'd be forward. 

HE WAS. The old guy took over two strides out the first couple times. We got on the same page eventually, but he's clearly happy to leave the stride out. When we got six strides trotting into a 60' line of two 2' jumps, I called it a day. 

I don't want to over-do it with him, so I'm going to have to be disciplined. He's a really good jumper and clearly LOVES it. Tempting to jump a lot, but better to just jump a little here and there for longer. That said, I'm going to look around for some tiny schooling shows in October. I'd love to just do the little 2'6" stuff, which I don't think we'd have to practice too much for, thus preserving his leg. 

And finally, I think he's looking better all the time. Not where I want him yet, especially going into winter, but getting there!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Cantering and baby trail riding

My little baby horse got another gold star on his report card yesterday!

(Note: a dear friend from high school and her 10 year old daughter came over to ride Red a couple days ago. I told them they need to come to Mary's with me sometime and meet my baby horse. Her daughter was like "I wanna see a baby horse!!!!"--I guess Rocket doesn't count since she's enormous--and my friend said, "Not a literal baby. It's like how I call you my baby." She was disappointed. And now I have to track down a baby horse for her to pet.)

Mo loves neck scratches.

Anyway, yesterday was designated as Mo's date with canter transitions. We've been working on this on the lunge line and he's kinda lazy about staying in the canter and getting the proper lead. I wasn't sure what was going to happen when we asked for it in the lesson, but I thought there was a good chance M was gonna have to deploy the lunge whip. 

There was no need! He was a little balky at the walk. I think he was tired, this was his fifth day in a row being ridden. But once we started trotting, he did super well. And then I just asked for more trot until one more kick brought the canter. He just stepped into it and cruised around, every time I asked. He felt balanced enough that I wasn't worried about corners. I stayed in a half seat with soft reins and my hands by his neck so nothing stopped him going forward. It was AMAZING. He was perfect. 

A couple times he didn't feel like he was gonna get the lead, so we just regrouped and tried again and he got it. So smart. Between canters, we did some walk-trot transitions to keep him thinking. The walk is definitely our toughest gate. The good news is, since he now knows his voice commands (and doesn't need the lunging to make him relax or focus), I don't have to lunge him before every ride now. This is excellent news. I will dutifully lunge because I must, but it's one of my least favorite things to do. Mo makes it less painful because he's such a good boy, but I think we'll both be happy to skip it. And that means I can sit on him a couple extra minutes. Nothing wrong with that!

At the end of the pretty short lesson (that M said would be her easiest of the week), she told me to ride him out of the ring and around the outside of it and then back to the barn. We have a deer family that lives outside the ring, and I mentally prepared myself for a spook and spin if any of then leapt out at him, but none did. He looked around at the world, interested but not tense, and seemed happy for a new activity. 

HOW DID I GET THIS LUCKY. I want to know.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Go Forward, Moses

My little stripey-face is quite a darling, I have to say.

My dad came to the barn and took real pics with his camera!
Our biggest problem right now is getting him to go. forward. Especially at the walk. He really sees no reason to hurry. The other end of the ring will still be there when we get there. At the trot, he's a little better. He will actually proceed at a reasonable pace, though not as much trot as I will eventually want from him. Considering how green he is, I think this is fine. A 10 trot wasn't built in a day.

That grey saddle pad looks smashing on him.
We're working on this on the lunge line--I insist on a more forward walk or trot, and he has to deliver. He's not at all worried about the whip, which is great, but I'd like for him to react to it more sometimes. I carry a dressage whip when I ride him, and might eventually carry one in each hand if he doesn't get the point.

Mo is the most naturally balanced green horse I've ever worked with.
Who knows what he'll be like in two months. He might suddenly become a whole lot of horse. Maybe it'll turn out that the first time he sees a jump, he gets super excited and doesn't come back. That's all fine. If he wants to be super chill now while he's getting broke, and then hot and sensitive when it's time to jump...that's kind of perfect.

I look insane in gliterally every picture I appear in ever.
Just focus on how cute that freaking horse is.

But no matter what happens with him, I'm sure glad he's here. If nothing else, he's reminding me that I do in fact know how to use my leg!

Look at the east coast's cutest stripey, not the sweaty weird human!

Monday, September 1, 2014

In Which I Realize I am Copying SprinklerBandit

I admire quite a lot of horse people, many of whom are y'all cool blogging people. When I started blogging, SprinklerBandit was one of the first people I reached out to. She didn't know me at all, but we struck up a correspondence that has only gotten more fun with time. We have a lot of stuff in common, but most clearly we are living a weird parallel horse life. To be more specific, I think I'm copying her.

[All photos of SB's horses below are courtesy of her, and I have her permission to include the details of her life here.]

First, we both got our riding lives re-started with amazing thoroughbred mares. Duchess is the most wonderful horse imaginable. And it was a total twist of fate that got me to her. I was Facebook friends with a guy I knew from grad school who posted a picture of his cat "reading" a book. The cat was on a saddle pad. I immediately was like IS THAT CAT ON A SADDLE PAD OMG I WANNA RIDE A HORSE. I was so sick of being a grad student and just wanted to do something I knew I was good at: riding. My friend was all, "Yeah, my girlfriend rides." He hooked us up right away and within a day I was riding the wonderful Duchess. His girlfriend Shelly became one of my dearest and most important friends. I will never be able to thank her enough for getting me back on a horse. The credit is shared equally between her and Duchess, who never does anything remotely bad and just loves to be adored, as she deserves.


SB ended up riding Cassie, the mare she grew up riding. She got back into horses as an adult and rode Cassie, an off-track TB mare like Duchess. If I recall correctly, she also leased Cassie in high school. I'm not sure how similar the mares really are, but they both got us back into horses, and for that we both owe them a lot.

SB and Cassie
Then, we wound up with complicated, difficult, beautiful mares (mine a TB, hers a TBxOldenburg). The stories here are a bit different, as I was and remain absolutely crazy about Lex and I know that if she hadn't had the issues with nuchal bursitis, I'd still have her and we'd be fine. Izzy, on the other hand, was just not the right horse for SB at the time. No harm, no foul.

Afleet Alexia

Wishful Thinking
These are two gorgeous mares. Fancy, talented, brilliant, and very much their own people. We both got the best out of them we possibly could. When we knew it wasn't going to work, we were both decisive about finding them new homes. Again, if my memory serves, we managed to find good homes for them within a week or so. 

Look how great SB and Izzy look here.
SB deserves props for making the best of a tough horse.

I miss her so much. All the time.

Upon the times SB and I were each realizing we weren't going to be able to make things work with our mares, we sort of accidentally wound up with the world's two leading grumpy old man chestnut horses. Both of these boys are diamonds in the rough. Not everyone could see how cool Cuna was, but SB knew right away that he was the one for her. Similarly, Red was dumped by his owner when he injured his leg. A friend of mine took the best care of him she could, and when she knew she couldn't manage him the way he needed, she passed him along to me.

Redmond, back when he was even thinner.

Cuna, the best horse in all ways.

As you know if you read SB's blog, Cuna passed away. The world will always miss that wonderful guy, even those of us who never met him in person. He came alive for all of us through her writing, and is thus immortalized. I am fortunate to still have my big red guy, as we're just beginning our journey, and enjoy riding him every day. He's always got something to teach me, and I look forward to doing a couple little jumper shows with him eventually.

Both Cuna and Red are fans of trail riding.



And in general being totally adorable.

I need people to come over and take pictures, dammit.

 And then, finally, we found the stripey-faced young thoroughbreds who we have the pleasure of bringing along. First SB got Courage, and now I have Mo, who I hope will be half as good as Courage is.
Kissable Nose #1

Kissable Nose #2

Everything about this is maximum adorable.

As far as people to copy goes, SB is a good choice! I recommend it. (She'd probably advise skipping her witchy mare, but Lex taught me so much that I'm glad I had her in my life. To be fair, I never got hurt riding Lexi and SB can't say the same about Izzy.)

May the trend of wonderful horses continue for both of us and all of you. And for those of you who want or need a Grumpy Old Man Chestnut, we'll send our GOMC vibes your way.