Monday, March 31, 2014

Mane Tales

It's a good thing I love grooming. My bay mare shines with the flick of a curry, but Rocket is going to be... a challenge. In a good way.

This is after Mom and I both working hard for thirty minutes
and half a bottle of Cowboy Magic.
The best thing about Rocket as far as grooming goes is that her mane already lies on the correct side of her neck. No training necessary. We won't know for a couple more years how blessed she was by the genetic gods, but at least they got one thing right.

Well, that and extreme cuteness.
Lex was given abundant gifts by the genetic gods.

You better not get sick of this picture. I love it.
But with two big exceptions:

A teeeeeeeeeeny little tail.
Good thing she's not gonna be a hunter because
the tail extensions alone would bankrupt me.

And a crazy thick mane that a) naturally lies on the wrong side of her neck and that b) she will kill you for touching with a pulling comb.

This makes me weep.

As I said in the one-year anniversary post, I had to wait until she had her teeth done to even get near her mane. I'd only had her for a couple days, but I just couldn't take it anymore. I know, I KNOW, I should have trained it before I pulled it. But I didn't have time. The dentist was gonna be there when he was gonna be there and no one else in the barn would have been amenable to me delaying their appointments because I was fussing with my horse's mane. 
Snoozy Lexi!

In addition to her mane being thick and impossible to pull (she WILL kill you and your whole family. I'm very brave and usually tell my horses to suck it up buttercup when it comes to stuff like this, but believe me. Not. Worth. It.), it grows very quickly. This always makes me tempted to shorten it a lot when I finally get my hands on it, but I have to resist that temptation or it'll stand straight up.

So this is what I do:

1. Before I shorten it, I train it. I'm about to do this again next week when it will finally be warm enough for her to go without her blanket during the day and hopefully stop snowing.

These are western pleasure braids. You could use regular braids if you want, but these take way less time. You just take a section of mane, band it, and then loop it through itself. It stays flatter that way. A couple of tips: a) Make them thick chunks of mane and keep them loose. See how far the band is from her crest? If they're thin, tight, and the band is near the crest, the horse is much more likely to rub them out; b) Brush the mane really really well before you do this. The thicker the mane, the more you wanna brush it; c) Quicbraid is your friend. Just do it. Some people use human gel from the dollar store but I think it makes the mane gunky and itchy. Chris advises wetting the mane down three times a day, but for working people without an army of grooms, that's impossible. I also don't like getting my horses wet for no reason. Ask Girlfriend: if I hose off a horse, I towel dry the horse, even if Girlfriend is hungry and wants to go home and it takes forever. Thoroughbred Skin Funk terrifies me and shiny horses make me happy. So: Quicbraid.

I have used this sleazy thing on her before, but in Florida it's often too hot. This will help the braids lie flat, but it's not really that crucial if you did a good job banding.

Ready to rob a bank.

2. Leave the bands in for one week minimum. The more stubborn the horse's mane is, the longer you'll want to leave them in. I often redo them over the course of that week to keep them tidy, because I am a freak about turnout and because it will keep them more comfortable for the horse. If your horse's mane is in these western pleasure bands, maybe it will inspire you to practice long and low work and pretend to have an AQHA circuit horse!

3. You have a beautifully trained mane. Congratulations. Now you have to shorten it.

Praise Ceiling Cat for a right-side mane.
Early in Chris's relationship with Lex, he was freaking out about her mane being on the wrong side. He said, "Do you want her to be a freak and an outcast at shows?" And I was all, "I'M a freak and an outcast!" and he said, "You've got to do something about this vision of yourself."

Just a cute story about how manes can lead to impromptu calls for therapy.

Anyhizzle, here's where the real work starts. Because Lex won't let me pull it, I do the dreaded thing and use scissors. For awhile, she wouldn't even let me tease it. She's better about that now, but teasing and cutting is not ideal with a mane this thick. That works great for really thin manes -- it's preferable, actually, because if the mane is super thin you don't want to lose any hair. With Lex's mane, I'm in a "take the hair... please!" place. Anyway, this step is hard for me to explain well but it's also the most important part. I essentially take scissors and hold them so the point is toward the crest and just kind of cut up, not across. Cutting across gets you the abomination that was her mane when I got her. You want to make it look natural, so you slightly change the angle of the scissors every cut so the hairs are all slightly different lengths. And voila:

Much better, though not as good as pulled.
4. Oh no, you're not done yet! That mane looks pretty good but not great. If you look at the picture above it, with the longer mane, it looks more natural even though it's longer. That mane was also the result of scissors. We got from a mane that still kind of looks cut to a mane that looks pulled in a week, and the secret is simple: brush the shit out of the mane every single day. EVERY day. You know how you're supposed to pick hooves every day? Just grab the brush and deal with the mane after you pick the hooves. With a mane as thick as Lex's, there's no such thing as too much brushing. The more you brush it, the better. It pulls out loose hairs and just keeps the thing looking more natural. This will also help it stay on the right side.

Essentially, if you want to use the Riding Rainbow Mane Management Method, you need to give yourself several weeks before the horse has to look presentable. You need at least one week for mane training and at least one week for brushing the mane out. More is better, especially on the brushing side if your horse has a thick mane. I will probably pull it the next time she gets drugs for her teeth, but it'll be less of a project because it will already be shorter and thinner than it was when I got her. In the meantime, scissors it is.

The tail, though... there's nothing to do about the tail. It's in a pasture braid right now, but her dock is short and thin and that's all there is to it. She isn't gonna ever have a thick beautiful tail. I'll try to love her anyway.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Take the Snow... Please!

I'm wrapped up in prepping for an interview so no time to write about the awesome day Tracy and I had yesterday. That'll have to wait until Tuesday, after my interview is over. In the meantime, I am pissed off because of the SNOW ON THE GROUND (March 30) and so I thought I'd post this picture of my girlfriend's horse and his pasture buddies basking in the sun in Florida to warm up all of us poor unfortunate Midwest dwellers.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Another Throwback, Kind Of: Lunge Line Lesson

Yesterday was SO FUN. Just exactly what I needed.

Trainer D came to the barn just to give me a lesson, and I was grateful. With all the questions I've had lately about Lex's management and whether I should be doing anything differently, it was great to get an expert pair of eyes on her.

D is among the legions of Lex fans. (Everyone likes Lex more than they like me, which is totally fine as far as I'm concerned.) So she's like, "What we really need to work on is you, and then Lex will just figure things out." I love that, because a) it's true and b) I'd much rather be the problem than my horse, because I will work endlessly to fix the problems but I don't want to drill the horse and make riding less fun for her.

To that end, we did some trot work just to get her on the outside rein and relaxed. There was some really, really nice trotting in there. I think the slight raise in temps are helping -- Lex just seemed chill to begin with. It was great.

The first couple canter transitions were a little hairy. I would lose my balance and she'd bolt and it was gross. So D decided it was Back to Basics time for us, and put us on the lunge line. I haven't been in a lunge line lesson for YEARS, and it was awesome!

Lex was very confused at first. She did not know if she was supposed to be listening to me or D, and because she's a tryer, she got kinda stressed. But D had me just hold onto the martingale strap and sit back, and no matter what Lex was doing underneath me, I wasn't allowed to do anything except relax and sink into my heels. And you know what? In less than five minutes, I had a very nice trot. D got me to stay out of Lex's way and let her figure things out, and she did. Then we stepped into the left lead canter with the same setup: hands on the martingale strap, some contact with the outside rein but not tons, and thinking about nothing but weight in the heels. Her first couple circles were pretty gallopy, but because I'd managed to get myself totally relaxed and not in some mechanical "good" position, I could just barely use my seat and slow her down. She actually broke into the trot once, which was an honest mistake and the kind I'll take from a hot horse. We did that a few times, and each time it took fewer laps to get where we needed to be.

The right lead was a little harder, but the right lead is always harder. Even when I'm just lunging her, she'll canter great to the left and fall in and gallop to the right. So the "canter" to the right the first time was a gallop, but I held the martingale strap and focused on my heels and my shoulders (always, always heels and shoulders), and eventually, she had a really nice canter to the right, too. Not quite where it should be yet, but jeez, Rome wasn't built in a day. I think we're really close to a breakthrough on the canter. I'm so excited, I love cantering.

After Lex finished off her carrot supply and was snug in her stall, I went to watch Tracy's lesson. That was so much fun! Tracy and Miles are really great together. He reminds me of Calvin, the horse I show jumped last year. Calvin would be all, "I did it right the third time, so why are we doing it a fourth time?" and get a little cranky. But as soon as they started jumping, Miles perked right up! He clearly loves to jump. I'm a Miles fan!

Such a fun day overall. I'm excited because on Saturday, Tracy and I are gonna go to a tack store so she can try on helmets and I'm gonna buy Lex some cookies and MAYBE a new (used) standing martingale and THAT IS IT I SWEAR.

Thanks for your kind commends on my anxiety post the other day. I'm doing much better now. Nothing like lessons to brighten me up!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Lex Meets the Goats

I recently realized that I never showed y'all the video that explains why I fell in love with Lex so much in the first place. The time has come.

Obviously, I liked Lex the moment I laid eyes on her. Who wouldn't? Look at this face!

At the vet school, OBVIOUSLY.
No nylon halters here.
I hemmed and hawed for a few days, but I knew getting her out of there was the right thing to do. As I said, I was supposed to sell her. And then this happened:

For those of you who hate watching videos, a) watch this anyway, it's just one minute, and b) she sees goats for the first time, says, "What the actual fuck?" and then says, "LEMME SEE 'EM!" So she goes and gets the goats and herds them towards me. Maybe she shoulda belonged to someone who cuts cattle. Tooooo bad, she's mine now! I knew when she did that that I'd never let her go.

Anyway, I love that brain. That's how she approaches pretty much everything: 1. WHAT'S THAT?! 2. Lemme look closer. 3. I own this now. See also:

Step One: Hopefully will not always be this dramatic.

Step Two: A deliberate approach.

Step Three: With apologies to Courage, The Best at Trot Poles.

I love her so much. Best horse.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Winter STILL?! Or, How We're All Going Nuts

You guys. Tracy talked about the struggle bus, and I'm right there with her. I might be driving the damn thing.

Yesterday afternoon it snowed so much that the county declared a white out. On March 25. I hate the North. I HATE IT. Or the Midwest. Whatever this is. No one says y'all, people think I'm dumb because of my (not even that thick) accent, and the ground is either frozen or muddy all the time.

So we all went crazy yesterday: humans, dogs, horses, the lot of us. Something was scaring Lex to death while I was trying to tack her up, but I couldn't find the dragon and slay it for her because I think, honestly, that it was the snow. Then when I was lunging her, she was trying really hard to calm down but shit kept happening: five horses got loose and were running back and forth past the open door to the indoor, the dogs (I love dogs, but I hate these dogs) were flinging their bodies against the outside of the indoor while chasing the loose horses around, the two geldings in the paddock that wrap around the indoor were galloping around and kicking the wall. It was serious lunacy. I told the two girls on horses waiting for their lesson to start to get off (sometimes the pro hat just has to come back on). I hand-walked Lex in a circle and she calmed down. By the time A caught the horses, she was much more chill. We went back to lunging--I just started over as though nothing had happened-- and she was much better. I debated not riding at all, because by that time there were three other horses in the ring, but I didn't want to be That Person. I'd rather fall off than be That Person.

So, one foot in the stirrup it was. Lex walked around with a lot of tension and kept trying to break into the trot, but otherwise wasn't doing anything bad. I tried everything to calm her down: circles, change of bend, little leg yields, anything that would get her mind off all the scary demons and onto me. None of it worked. She didn't get worse, but she didn't get better. So finally I was like, screw it, let's stand still in the middle of the ring for a minute. About one minute into standing still, she let out this HUGE breath. Her ears flopped out to the side, she licked her lips, she looked for all the world like a school horse.

Dudes. Sometimes it's gliterally the simplest thing that fixes the problem.

We went back to the walk, and she was long and low, chewing on the bit, occasionally noting the other horses but not worrying about them. I was so proud of her. Then A came in to start the lesson and I let Lex stand with her in the middle. She LOVED to watch the other horses work on their diagonal-crossing and circles. She didn't move a foot, but she nodded at them when they went by. It looked encouraging. So freaking adorable.

Today I rode her again, just lightly, because I think we have a lesson tomorrow. She was really, really great. A little bit of trying to break into the trot while walking, but not much. Her trot today was a magic carpet ride. I didn't even ride her long, but she was stretching down into the bridle after just a few minutes. A few laps and circles and changes of direction and we called it good. She was happy and chill and that's all I wanted to see today.

She's going well, but I've been thinking lately about how she's changed in the three places I've had her. The first place I kept her, she was turned out 24/7 in a 40-acre field with a bunch of other horses. She was skinny, and she was really quiet. Until she went lame, anyway. But the quietness was, I think, tiredness. I couldn't manage her there the way I wanted to. So then we went to the next place, where she had a stall and overnight turnout. She looked like a million bucks (but because I put the work into it, not because that place was fabulous. Believe me, it was not fabulous. I've never ridden in such crummy footing in my whole life). She was turned out for 16 out of 24 hours, only coming in her stall to sleep and munch hay during the day. I fed her Seminole Wellness Compete Safe, my all-time favorite horse feed. The hay sucked, but eventually I just went and bought my own.

Now we're in Ohio. It's fucking freezing. The ground is shot. She gets, oh, six hours of turnout a day, maybe eight. So 1/3-1/2 of what she was getting in Florida. It's windy. The indoor is always noisy because no matter what time of day it is or what the weather is like, for some reason it always sounds like it's sleeting. Something must be falling on the roof or scraping along it. We ride inside, in a small ring, and Lex certainly prefers to be outside. She's on a grain I don't love. I do love the hay, though. The hay is beautiful. Anyway, she's just a much hotter and spookier horse than I had in Florida. She's not being bad, and I still wake up dying to go see her and ride every day. But I'm not sure she's at her happiest. We'll see what happens wherever we end up next.

I keep having to tell myself that we are making progress. No, we haven't moved much as far as the canter goes. No, we're not jumping. But she is a medium-difficult horse on her average days and a pretty tough one on her bad days. She's also the love of my life, so she's worth it. I'm also a walking anxiety attack these days. Maybe it's seasonal affective disorder, but I think a lot of it is the paralyzing uncertainty about what happens next. I don't have a job lined up. How am I going to afford to live and keep Lex happy?

The one thing I know is, I will do whatever it takes to hang onto her and give her the best lifestyle I possibly can. Because even on her pretty-tough days, she's my favorite horse in the world. No matter how bad I feel when I get to the barn, being with her and riding her calms me down. It's better than drugs. And this winter will end.

Monday, March 24, 2014

20 Questions

I saw this on Diary of a Horse-Obsessed Girl wayyyyy back and decided to save it for a rainy day. So here we are!

1. What's your horse's name and how did she come by it?

Lex's full name is Afleet Alexia. Her dad is Afleet Alex, so there you go. I almost renamed her but, fortunately, came to my senses. If she has babies, they'll be Afleet Somethings.

I explained how Rocket got her name here.

2. What are your favorite breeches?

Like everyone else on the planet, I like Tailored Sportsmans. But since I don't have loads of money, I mostly school in Devon-Aire men's ribbed tights. 

3. Tall boots or paddock boots and half chaps?

Either, really. Tall boots for shows, of course. Some days I school in them, and some days it's half chaps.

4. What brand of tall boots do you have? If you had an unlimited budget, what would you get?

I have Ariats, and I think I'll stick with them. They fit me well. My Tredstep paddock boots fell apart way too fast for my taste, which has turned me off the brand.

5. Favorite helmet?
Jeez, I dunno. I've never had an actual fancy helmet. I school in an Ovation helmet. My show helmet is a Pegasus Euro-Jumper, but it's not the world's most comfortable helmet. Good thing I hardly ever show.

6. Shows or no shows?
Despite what I said above, SHOWS. I love showing. I just don't have any money and my horse is really green.

7. Jumping or flat work?
Well, I'm in flat work mode right now because of Lex's stage of training and I don't have many opportunities to ride other horses. I fully acknowledge and agree with the importance of flatwork, but jumping is where my heart is.

8. Hunters, jumpers, cross-country, or derbies?
In this order: Jumpers, cross-country, derbies, hunters. Never done eq and don't care to. Not that you asked.

9. What other disciplines have you ridden?
I grew up eventing and part of me will always love it, even though my trainer thinks that getting anywhere near eventing is a waste of time. He's pissed that I'm going to Rolex this year. I've dabbled in dressage (not for me, at least not at this phase of my life, but I get why people like it) and foxhunted in Virginia. When I was a tiny child in 4-H, I did some Western stuff because that's what everyone else did. I was the only kid who had training in English riding so I routinely mopped the floor with my fellow members, and that built resentment (even though I also won the sportsmanship award every year--I was not and am not now the type to gloat). So I decided to try some Western stuff to see how that went. It was fine, but I didn't love it. My girlfriend grew up doing Western pleasure and assures me that I hate it and need to stick to jumpers at all costs, ha.

10. Dressed to the nines or whatever you can find when riding?
My trainer says, "Good riders have two things in common: They always tuck in their shirt, and they always carry a crop." When I was in Florida I wore a t-shirt and old riding tights and felt like crap. I had on blue half chaps for god's sake. If I'm not wearing a collared shirt tucked into black or beige breeches and wearing a belt, I feel like I shouldn't even be near a horse. I know that I'm a weirdo and I've come to accept it.

11. Where do you shop the most for you? Your horse?
 Consignment or the Ocala horsey yard sale if possible. I like English Tack Trader and other Facebook groups. I've gotten some good stuff from Ebay. I rarely buy new, but if I do, I'm probably rocking a SmartPak coupon.

12. When was the last time you rode and what did you do?
 As of this writing (and this will probably not be true when I actually publish this), the last time I rode was Thursday, March 20. I rode my girlfriend's horse, Felix. She'd already ridden him for awhile so I didn't do much, just worked on changing the bend at the trot. I love Felix. He's a trier.

13. What tack do you use every day?
I only have one (usable) saddle at the moment: a Crosby Prix de Nations. It ain't fancy and it's practically an antique, but I adore it.

I have a bunch of Roma and TuffRider baby pads, which is ordinarily what I use. I like to use navy or grey pads for schooling and white pads for showing. For Christmas, my mom got me some white saddle pads with navy trim that won't even come out of the packaging until Lex is showing in the jumpers.

I use an M. Tolouse girth most of the time. At the moment I'm using a no-name standing martingale my trainer gave me, but I recently acquired a pretty one that matches her bridle and might just start using that one as my daily martingale. I do reserve saddle pads for shows, but I tend to like using the same tack all the time. I keep it clean (thanks, Higher Standards Leather Care!) and it lasts awhile. Changing things at the last minute for shows just adds to my nerves.

Her bridle is a SmartPak Harwich raised/padded/fancy-stitch hunter bridle. It's lovely, especially for the price. Of course I want an Antares bridle. Who doesn't? Maybe someday. I'll probably save up for an Antares saddle first...

14. What are your horse's colors?
Navy and grey. I'm cool with light blue accents, too. It's serendipitous, because these are also my trainer's colors. Pure coincidence, but they're good colors: easy to find stuff in, look good on every horse, classy.

15. How often do you have to clean your tack?
Have to? I mean, I don't know that I have to clean it at all. When it was regularly below freezing, I didn't clean it all that often. I clean it every few days now. Sometimes I go through good phases in which I clean it daily but let's not pretend that's all the time.

16. What kind of bit do you use?
When I got this visiting professorship, I really wanted to buy Lex one cool thing while I have a pay check. Since she's been having issues accepting contact--nothing major, just green baby stuff--I thought I'd see if she'd like a nicer bit. So now she goes in a Herm Sprenger Aurigan eggbutt. She likes it. I'll review it eventually.

17. Mares or geldings?
Who run the world?








18. What is something you want to improve on in your riding?
 Well, everything. I suppose this winter I've been spending a lot of time thinking about my position, so I'll say that for now.

19. Favorite horse-themed quote?

"Quality is the best economy." - Bill Steinkrauss

20. What was your most recent equestrian purchase?
Lex's snazzy new snaffle!

That was a fun excuse to post tons of pictures of my girlies. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Happy One Year, Lex!

I tried to get this post up on the 22nd, but didn't quite make it because I had a long drive. The good news is, I got to see Lex today--our one year anniversary!

On March 22, 2013, my hand was shaking as I signed the purchase agreement from the UF vet school. There were at least 12 thoroughbreds who needed homes, and I looked at all of them. Most of them were very sweet and if I could have taken them all, I would have. But only one kept me up at night. From the minute I laid eyes on her, I didn't think I could live without her. "Resale project," indeed.

I stared at this photo on the whole flight to a conference
between deciding to buy her and actually signing the papers.

My friend, whose husband was the surgeon on the study Lex was in, drove me over to pick her up and made comforting small talk while I wondered what in the world I was getting myself into. I wasn't sure if I wanted to throw up or grin til my face hurt.

She took my breath away from minute one.

I stood with her in the pasture for hours. My farrier showed up later that day, and we got her feet trimmed. She'd only had crappy pasture trims for the past three years, but we got her feet cleaned right up. I spent tons of time with her every day, teaching her to cross-tie and getting her cleaned up.

What a difference a bath and some currying can make.
I even took advantage of the sedation from when she got her teeth done to do something about that horrendous hairdo she was rockin.


Lex and I were pretty much joined at the hip from the start. We did some ground work, and within a week, we were riding.

These are still some of my favorite times with her,
riding a green-as-grass OTTB in a 40-acre field.
Of course, she had to have her surgery, but we spent the summer bonding while she hand-grazed.

Dr. Slim, Medicine Cat.
We were finally cleared to ride and took it slow.

Mounted! Woo!
In the meantime, we got her looking fantastic and feeling good, too.

Please compare to first pic!
And today, she's a real riding horse in her third career--she raced, she helped improve equine vet med, and now she's on her way to being a jumper.

My trainer loves this pic so much he shared it on Facebook. Aw.
I am so proud of her, and of us. Keep on being amazing, baby girl. I love you so much.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Tack Review: Girth Edition

Today's tack review is a two-for-one deal. Lex has two girths, and I don't have as much to say about girths as I do about bridles, so I figured I'd do both.

Even though Lex is only 15.3hh (maybe 15.3 and a half?) and wears a cob-size bridle, she's built like a tank. She wears a 54" girth. Since I bought her accidentally, I didn't have my whole huge collection of horsey crap in Florida, and the only girth I had was the one I used for Duchess, who is a delicate little lady from nose to tail. I had to get Lex a girth right away, so I read some reviews and went with the SmartPak Air+ Neoprene Girth.

What it costs: $49.95 on SmartPak
What it paid: $44.96 via SmartPerks

Modeling the Air+ back in April 2013.
This was kind of a break from normal for me, because it's neoprene and I am a leather junkie. The flip side of it has holes in the neoprene, which I guess is supposed to make it more breathable, but she still gets incredibly sweaty under the girth even when she doesn't sweat much under the saddle. I do like that I can hose it down and clean it up, and after about ten months of use, it looks great. It's worth the price if this is what you want. I'll probably still use it if we're going to go on a trail ride through the mud or something.

 I had to get another girth because the Air+ is too wide in the middle to use with her standing martingale, and she needs a standing martingale so she won't break my nose. So I went to the consignment tack store and found this:

What it costs: $130 on Adams Horse Supplies
What I paid: $50 "used" at the tack store, but pretty much brand new.

I LOVE IT. It fulfills all my tack snob needs: it's leather, it's fancy stitch, it's the same color as my bridle. There are probably nicer versions of this girth out there, but for $50, I'm thrilled. I think it's worth the retail price, but I do try to avoid paying full price for anything. I like girths with elastic on both ends because I think they make girthy horses a little happier sometimes, but my trainer says they slip more, so we'll see. I have a crappy old leather girth with elastic on just one side and she HATES it. I've only been using this for a couple months, but we'll see how it holds up.

I hadn't thought much about girths before I got Lex. I have a feeling I'm going to wind up with something fleece-lined eventually, just to complete the triad. I don't see a lot of girth reviews out there, and I think it's because they're really pretty basic, but girths should be comfortable and do their job. I think the Tolouse is better because it's leather and neoprene is kind of hot and annoying.

What girth do you use? Do you care about girths?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cute Babies Are Cute

Hello from sunny Florida! It's so great to be out of the freezing weather, I can't even tell you. On Friday I drove to Virginia to spend a couple days with my parents (and my dogs and Rocket, duh), and then on Monday I flew to Florida for a few days at home. On Sunday night, we got 10" of snow in Virginia. On March 16. That really happened. The drive to the airport was gorgeous but scary Monday morning.

Anyway, when I was in Virginia, I was able to celebrate Rocket's 11-month birthday! This time last year I was so excited about seeing her for the first time that I could hardly breathe or think (and on this date last year, I was also angsting about whether to rescue a certain little bay mare, but more on that in a couple days).

Mom and I brushed Rocket, which she really enjoyed. She ties very nicely to the tie-block thing, and stands better than a lot of school horses I know for brushing and hoof picking. Then my mom did a little photo shoot. I'm always glad to have more pictures of my girls.

Oh god, yearling awkwardness and bad camera angles combined.

She looks snuggly but I think she was just trying to bite the rope.

She's got a wall eye but I love her anyway.

Who wouldn't love that face?! Find me the person.
On Saturday, I also got to hang out with my #1 favorite human of all time: my nephew. He is 17 months old and is me in tiny baby form. The kid is obsessed with horses. He makes this glorious "clip-clop" sound when asked, "what does a horse say?" He loves to look at pictures of horses and see actual horses. I think I may have shared these photos from back in December:

Anyway, when I saw Nephew this week, his parents had cut out pictures of horses from the Dover catalog and taped them to pieces of paper for him. He was thrilled and carried them around the way I clutched stuffed animals at his age.

Don't worry, we were just sitting in the car waiting
for my dad, not actually driving anywhere.
Also, isn't that flat cap just the best? It was killing me dead. He also had on a bow tie. Microfashion!

When we went to dinner, I sat next to Nephew because I want to be as close to him as possible at all times. It worked out well, because he had me drawing pictures of horses on his place mat to the point that the server kept having to bring him new ones.

We are getting very close to "I want a pony," I think, which means Auntie Jess has to start saving money. I made a promise to keep him in horses as long as he wants. Maybe in another 10 years, he can have Rocket. They already approve of each other.

I'll be back in Virginia on Friday evening and then driving to Ohio on Saturday. Today, I'll be off to see the Girlfriend's horse, and tomorrow I get to visit Duchess, who is apparently getting fat and happy in her semi-retirement. I can't wait to see her!

Oh, and in professional news: I will likely be defending my dissertation in about three months, at which point I will insist that everyone call me Dr. Claw for at least a week.

I already have the cat and the wine glass at the ready.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Warm Up Ring Realness

Today was... an excellent test of Lex's ability to focus. And hey, it didn't go too badly!

Just as I was putting Lex's cute blue schooling boots on, the dressage trainer and one of her clients went into the ring with their horses (well, the client had a pony, and a really cute one at that). I don't want to throw shade, but the dressage trainer is, erm, loud. And her horse enjoys kicking the wall when he's mad.

Fortunately, both the other riders were fine with me lunging Lex. We stayed in the middle and out of the way, and Lex was good for the first half of our lunging experience. Then Big Fancy Dressage Horse started acting like a stinker and that freaked Lex right out. She was paying much more attention to Dressage Horse than she was to me, but we had a discussion about how we don't cause problems in the indoor when we have company and she settled in. I think this was really good practice for horse showing, because she's going to have to deal with plenty of impolite horses and loud riders at shows. And also ponies. I've ridden enough horses who'd never seen ponies until show day to realize that it's good to expose them to ponies before the warm up ring. Lex is fine with ponies. I don't think she cares much either way. It was cute, though: the lady riding the pony put her daughter on him and led him around at the end of her ride, and I let Lex have a break in the middle. She watched that pony and the little girl the whole time. I think she thought it was adorable.

The ride went pretty well. She was definitely tense, but so was I. I can only take so much loud incessant commentary before I start to grind my teeth. I talk to my horse a lot, but so quietly that most people wouldn't be able to hear me, and I try not to disturb other riders. Dressage Horse was really being a jerk today, all four feet off the ground at many points, and Lex didn't do anything bad. When the trainer and the other rider left, Lex and I really got to work on that inside leg to outside rein connection. She didn't settle right in once the dressage folks left, but she did eventually relax. And honestly, some of the trot work today was our best. It was just a stride here and there, but there were moments when she was really pushing from behind, lifting her back, and reaching for the bit. Carrying herself correctly, if you will. It feels really great.

I love my saddle but I hated those stirrups.
They're not good for those of us with titanium ankles.
 I'm still working on my position issues. I think everything is getting better -- just having some regular reminders of what I'm supposed to be doing in the saddle, and Lex becoming somewhat easier to sit on, is really helping. I also realized after riding Miles that I've been riding in the same Crosby Prix de Nations for over half my life. I've had it for 17 years, and it's magically fit just about every horse I've put it on. But I've got some serious saddle envy after riding in Tracy's gorgeous new Prestige Meredith. I did feel better in it (and part of it might have been that she has those cool MDC stirrups, which help my left ankle a lot). I love my Crosby and I do think I ride well in it, but I've been wondering what it would be like to ride in a saddle that isn't, well, 17 years old and flat as a pancake. There is no way in hell I can afford another saddle right now, but when I get a real grown-up job and have saved up a little, I'm going to think about it. In the meantime, I will continue to love my old Crosby and appreciate what it does for helping me improve my balance with its minimalism.

Tomorrow I'm heading to Virginia and then to Florida for a few days, so there won't be any work on the goals I set out last time. But the good news is, I get to see this girl:

Stay tuned for Rocket updates! I can't wait to see my big girl. A month from Saturday she'll have her first birthday. It is crazy how time flies.