Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Are You a Good Witch, or a Bad Witch?

Oh, Lexi-loo. You know how to keep me guessing.

I got back from Rolex 2014 (more to come on that in the next couple days) and Lex hadn't been touched since Thursday and I was exhausted. So Monday's ride was... well. She was UPUPUPINTHEAIR. Girlfriend was still in town, and when I was careening around the ring at a Mach-3 trot, I hollered, "I don't think we're cantering today!" and GF was like, "Seems wise!"

The mare just could.not.relax. I tried all the things I always do that work with her--transitions, serpentines, halting and dropping the reins on her neck and standing still for five minutes, 20m circles at every letter. No dice. There are lots of reasons: it was chilly, we had to be in the indoor because of the rain and we haven't been inside in a few weeks, she'd been on limited turnout and no real exercise. Plus I was dealing with a cold and post-Rolex exhaustion (hang with me and my mom and you'll walk 10 miles a day at Rolex, easy. Oh, did you want lunch? Wait until XC is over, you wimps).  So I wasn't riding my best, and she was at her worst. Nothing tragic happened, but it wasn't a ride I felt great about, and Girlfriend worries and hates to see Lex being anything other than chill.

But, nothing too bad, right? Lex will often have one day where she just needs to TROT AS BIG AS POSSIBLE. So then I got on her again yesterday and it was more of the same. I'd set a ground rail on the center line so I could lunge her over it and then ride her over it until she was doing it out of rhythm and it was no big deal. Lunging, she did fine. Lex thinks lunging is boring now and sees no reason not to shuffle around like a school pony. But when I got on her, she was like, "TROOOOTTTTTTT." There were times when I was literally holding the martingale strap with both hands to avoid pulling on her mouth while I focused very hard on slowing her down with my posting rhythm and my posture. It was very hard work, and it did pay off eventually, but it was two not-pretty rides in a row.

So I went home and felt sorry for myself (and it doesn't help that all my undergraduate babies are wilin' right now and giving me headaches like you would not believe). I had two glasses of wine and then Tracy and I started texting. Tracy helped put it in perspective for me: "I love that that's her bad... A super speedy trot."

Okay. Point taken. A tense and quick trot is nothing compared to the puzzle that Bad Eventer is working on right now. This is not a horse who wants to throw me in the dirt (although she will eventually, because she's a better athlete than I am--I think this will happen on a day when the ride is going well and I don't expect it). She has bucked tiny bucks maybe three times in the last year. She rarely spooks, I don't think she knows how to rear, and she's never genuinely bolted. What else could I want from a green horse? No, she isn't what I'd call "quiet," but she's definitely not crazy. She's sensitive, and a bit reactive. She's an athlete, and I think she's going to be talented. Talented horses are not always easy to ride, but so far, we're fine. Plus we're going to have some incredible help this summer. So she's a bad witch right now. She's a thoroughbred mare, and I can't be mad at her for being a thoroughbred mare.

Today my department chair wanted to go to the barn with me to meet Lex because I talk about her incessantly. K, the chair, is not a horse person but she loves animals and she loves sports, so I described what I do in terms of athletic challenge and she caught right on. I was really worried that Lex was going to be an idiot for the third day in a row. I had her stuff Lex's face full of carrots while I tacked up, and that seemed to set Lex in the right mood. You can imagine my relief when Lex was immediately stretching and lovely at the trot. I mean, magic carpet ride. I warned K that I was going to try cantering and that sometimes that looks really scary but I always manage to get it under control. But Lex stepped into her left lead canter like a professional, and we did 20m circles and full laps of the ring and I was grinning from ear to ear. Of course, the right lead is always a struggle, but even then: she got it on the first try, never tried to gallop off, and tried her best to move off my inside leg into my outside rein. We had some genuinely lovely steps, and K looked confused that I was worried at all. I got off her not long after that, not wanting to keep my guest waiting around forever (and the dressage trainer had showed up with a horse who likes to kick the walls--I can't wait until we can ride outside again). I was so thrilled with her that it seemed okay to quit while we were ahead.

K gave Lex quite a few more carrots while I untacked her, and went on and on about how pretty Lex is and how she seemed happy to be going around. (She also said that what I was doing with Lex looked more "natural" than the dressage ride that was also happening, and I was like, well... it is? In this case, anyway.) Lex was soaking up all the love and figured out pretty quickly that K is a sucker for her "gimme a carrot" face.

Works every time. The carrots just come to her.

Two days of bad rides and then a nearly-flawless ride. Today, at least, she was an excellent witch.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rocket: Of Sound Mind

Just a quick update: Apparently Rocket is going to be/already is pretty chill. Check this out!

I'm proud of the little girl. It would be nice to have a horse who can go on trail rides and be chill about it. Of course, I will be dragging her to some kind of competitive event at some point, but I can envision her packing a kid around and having fun with the hilltoppers while fox hunting. According to my mom, she's kicking ass at the cowboy farm. Good girl!

Bonus Lex update: All's well there. I didn't ride today because I have a bad case of the sniffles and no energy, but I did go see her and snuggle with her for awhile. Yesterday she just really wanted to canter, and when I finally let her, I thought I might have a rodeo. Instead she surprised me by being totally quiet and fun and cantered around like a civilized person. She's ready to start jumping for real. Let's do this.

My baby girls are growing up!

Edited: Oops, hit publish when I meant to hit "schedule." That's the head cold talking. Oh well, y'all will live with two short posts in one day. 

Riding Rainbow Big Announcement

So! This has been in the works for a little while, but I hadn't nailed anything down for sure and I wanted to talk to some humans in person before I posted anything on the internet.

The short version of the story is, I'm not sure what's happening next in my life when I leave Ohio. I don't have a job lined up yet, and I haven't exactly been able to save enough money to live on for a long time, because it's hard to save when you have a horse and student loans. I know y'all feel me. I have to finish up my dissertation this summer, I have to find a way to pay Lex's board, I have to survive financially.

Enter the hero of the day: Mary Schwentker.

I've known Mary since I was 16, which is half my life. She's an event rider and a phenomenal horsewoman. I'd trust her with any horse. I'd let her ride Lex, and I don't want ANYONE else to ride Lex. So the fact that I'd let Mary ride her means a lot.

Mary is an Advanced eventer--she's ridden in Rolex twice and was short listed for the PanAm games in 1999. She was an A Pony Clubber and is now the co-DC for the Pony Club region I grew up in. Never one to let her considerable talents go to waste, she's got her USDF bronze and silver medals and has competed in dressage through Prix St. Georges.

So aside from being an awesome person and a seriously accomplished rider, how did Mary save the day? WELL! I am excited to announce that Camp Riding Rainbow is moving to Virginia for the summer. I'm going to be a working student! I'm so excited. Lex can live at Mary's barn, and I'll live at home with my parents and my dogs and Rocket! I'll get to see my amazing nephew more often, too (oh yeah, and his parents, my brother and sister-in-law). All around, this is a good thing.

No, I'm not switching to eventing. I love eventing in my heart, but I know it isn't for me anymore. I love the jumper ring and I want to do that. But Lex doesn't know how to jump yet, and I will always have much to learn. Mary can get us where we need to be in the next few months.

After the summer, who knows what will happen. But for now, it feels really good to have a plan.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Sorry for the radio silence--potential Exciting Things are in the works, and I was out of town for several days and then completely behind on work when I got home.

That said: Rolex is happening, and I'm in Ohio at the moment, so you know I'm going to that. Awesome Girlfriend and both of my parents are coming, too. Yay!

My dear friend Tracy at Fly On Over posted something about a Rolex meet-up, too. We'll definitely be hanging out there, so let one or both of us know if you're going and want to hang out. Some folks are talking about the Eventing Nation tailgate, and I would welcome some company shopping on Sunday morning before the stadium jumping phase.

I'm so excited. I love Rolex. I used to go every year with my parents and I've missed it since I moved to Florida.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Birthday Girls!

Yesterday and today are big days around here!

On Monday, Lexi-loo turned seven officially. Of course the Jockey Club would have already called her seven, but whatever. Now it's real.

I wrote a retrospective about Lex recently, so I won't do it again now. Suffice it to say, I love her beyond all measure and I can't wait to see what her seventh year of life brings. We have some adventures ahead!

And today is...


Major excitement 'round these parts. Rocket is spending her first birthday at a training farm so my mom can get some stuff done and Rocket can learn some new baby skillz. 

Like wearing hats. Fashion is important.
Let's take a look back at Rocket's life, shall we?

Rocket--Gravity's Rainbow, if you're nasty--was born on April 15, 2013. The ladies at the foaling farm called her Taxi because she was born on tax day. She was enormous and adorable from birth.

She almost had to go to the vet twice in her first two days: the first time because she couldn't figure out how to nurse, and then because they were concerned that her bladder had ruptured. Fortunately, she was just fine. Better than fine, really--she was a little lady on the go from the beginning.

My mom got to see her a couple times, and took some cute video. She even got some of the early imprinting sessions on video. I'm so happy to have those. She also got some good video of her running around.

When she was almost three weeks old, I drove to Virginia to help Mom get her settled in at the ranch. It was a LOT of fun.

Rocket has shown herself to be curious and adventurous from the very beginning.

Here are some of my favorite pictures of her over the months.

And here are a few more pictures of her today:

She's come a long way in her short life. I love her a lot and can't wait to see what happens next.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Chris Hickey and Judy Grayson Clinic Recaps

I promise I will get to the Jimmy Wofford recap soon, but I took written notes on that and not on the ones I rode in, so I want to write about these while they're still fresh. First I'll fill you in on the Chris Hickey clinic at D's barn. (No, not the dressage guy! The jumper trainer Chris Hickey!). I'm lucky to ride with Chris regularly in Florida. We're close friends and he's an excellent mentor in all things horsey.

On Saturday, he taught three group lessons and a private lesson. The first group were two somewhat difficult horses ridden by two of D's regular riders. One, an appendix mare, reminded me of Lex in that she was nervous and tense but gorgeous, and when she relaxed she looked like she was worth a million bucks. The other was a big gelding who leans on the bridle and lugs his rider around. He has tons of jumping ability, but requires a unique set of technical skills and strength to ride. The girl riding him, J, did a good job but might lack the strength (and I'd absolutely lack the strength). The mare, ridden by H, was kind of hard to evaluate. She liked to get quick and H had a hard time chilling her out. I missed some of this group because I had to go tack up the horse I was riding, but in both cases, Chris focused on helping the riders find a rhythm (this, of course, being the key to everything in jumping). The horse needs to be balanced between the jumps or can't possibly jump in a balanced way. Chris usually advocates that people look five strides ahead, but he said that H's horse needed her rider to look 10 steps ahead to make sure nothing was abrupt and that no sudden corrections would need to be made with the reins. I like that kind of ride, actually. It's intellectual.

I was in the second group. I rode a super cute horse named Sawyer. The other girl in my group, M, was riding a mare named Artis. M does barrel racing and team roping and hasn't jumped in more than ten years. She struggled a lot and got frustrated, but stuck it out through some difficulty from Artis, who either wanted to not go at all or buck. Chris helped her find a happy medium. She had a lot to overcome from her western riding background, like keeping her fingers open and trying to kind of neck-rein.

Sawyer is a really cool horse--a 10 year old OTTB who's been through a lot of abuse and starvation in his life before D got him. He's a very good citizen and it's hard to imagine anyone treating him badly. He totally tugs at my heartstrings! Anyway, he's a much different ride from Lex, in that he requires quite a bit more leg. But as D continually points out to me, Lex is training me not to use my leg, so I need to strengthen it. Chris had us work on that magical rhythm and on asking for the correct lead over the fences. We got it sometimes and sometimes we didn't. It was mostly my fault for not asking correctly, and sometimes Sawyer didn't give me the response I wanted. That's all okay. It's a learning experience. I loved riding him and getting to jump, even though the jumps were tiny. Here's a video!

The third lesson was a private session. D wanted Chris's help with a tough but very talented horse, another (gorgeous) OTTB gelding named Trace. The poor horse was afraid of everything, and D and Chris agree that really, what he's afraid of is himself. He's too talented for his own good, and he gets scared whenever he has to make a move, like into canter transitions or over a jump. Chris said, "He's really only afraid of two things: things that move, and things that stay still." No matter how high the jumps, and most of them were only 18"-2', he'd jump the moon. The girl riding him (J again) did an outstanding job with him. Chris did put the jumps up a little and man, is this horse talented. He wants to be good, but he's got quirks on top of quirks that are hiding other quirks. He had a tough time with jumps the first time he'd approach them, and nearly every time, he stopped, whether the jumps had flowers or not. Even a simple crossrail was hard for him. But once he did get over, he'd go over it each time, better and better. This clearly presents a showing challenge, because a horse in the jumper ring is not permitted to refuse each jump and then clear it (although in some cases, horses can school the jumps before they show in the jumpers, but that's a) kinda gross, I think and b) not possible at the upper levels and this horse could absolutely get to the upper levels). Chris told D that Trace should jump ten jumps a day, five days a week, and get the other two days off. Those jumps can be tiny, because the problem with the jumps is not the height, it's the fact that they exist. Poor baby. I loved this horse and I can see why D loves him, too. For one thing, he's got more talent than I've maybe ever seen in a horse at his stage. When he's relaxed, he leaves the ground like it's a trampoline. When he's tense, he leaves like an arrow shot from a bow. Amazing. In spite of how difficult he is to ride, he is very easy and sweet on the ground. He's a good soul. I hope D can find him a home with a talented and patient rider who loves him.

Finally, Chris taught a group of three green babies. J, H, and another girl named L (who is actually the half owner of Trace but who is overmounted and as such doesn't ride him) each rode a green chestnut. J rode my favorite of the three, a 3 year old warmblood mare who shows a lot of quality and talent. This was her first time jumping, and she was fantastic. J did an amazing job with her. H rode a 5 year old recently off-track TB mare (I know, the TB mare was not my favorite--a first). H had a tough time with her, because she'd get quick and H would hang. We all know what that's like, I'm sure. She did a good job with the jumping, though, and she'll get the hang of it eventually. L, the least experienced of the three riders, rode a truly lovely little Dutch gelding named Bellini. He's a cutie pie who wants to be a good boy, and will make someone a very, very nice hunter. Who knows what kind of scope he has, but he will be great at whatever level he's comfortable in. I wanted to put him in my pocket and bring him home with me. With these babies, Chris kept it simple and didn't fry their brains. He started with 9' trot rails and then added a little jump at the end. The horses all hopped over it nicely, even though some jumps were awkward. That's to be expected with babies! He even had them trot into (and sometimes canter out of, depending on how the horse landed) a three-stride line with flower boxes. Sometimes the horses got confused and stopped, but they all figured it out. It was a lot of fun to watch and the horses and riders were all clearly having a blast.

Next up: Judy Grayson on Sunday. I don't know her or much about her, but she was a very nice person and knows what she's talking about. I rode Sawyer again (hearts) and another girl, K, rode Artis. I'm glad this wasn't a big deal clinic I'd spent forever preparing for and hauled my horse out there for, because K was kind of driving me insane. She didn't want to do anything, she whined about being overheated, she made someone go find her a bottle of water (it's not THAT hot out, y'all), she got irritated if I went first, which I did because Judy asked me to go first the first time and then it just makes sense to stay in that order. AND she said if she jumped anything higher than a cross-rail, she'd "freak out." I just told Judy that I would do whatever she wanted and that I have no problem going back to basics and working on the fundamentals. Which is true, but it's more fun when the person you're in a lesson with doesn't have a shitty attitude and a non-stop whine streak.

I don't usually vent like this about people on the blog, but this girl just really hit every pet peeve I have. I didn't mind riding with M yesterday because at least she was trying hard and cared about learning. K didn't care about learning, and she spent more time making excuses for herself than getting anything accomplished. I just... why do people ride when they want to complain the whole time and make excuses for themselves? Is it fun for them? I still had a fun ride on Sawyer, and Judy gave me a couple of good tips (she wanted me to think about putting more weight on my big toe than my other toes and letting my ankles break in, and when Sawyer got strong she told me to let him pull me into the saddle. Smart! And effective!). And, I mean, if the thing I'm working on with the horse is pace between fences, it doesn't matter how big the fences are.  I didn't want to ask Judy to change things around for me, but I think that D and I both knew that I wasn't getting a whole lot out of this. Oh well. I got to ride Sawyer again, and that is a good thing.

Brief Lex update: She seems sound and fine and is going well. I've been giving her UlcerGard and that does seem to have decreased her girthiness. She was great today, cantered on both leads (though it took a couple tries to get the right lead). On the left lead canter, she'd even respond to lateral aids to go into the corner instead of cutting it off and motorcycling around the ring. Love her!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

We Are Here

Quick updates:

1. I went to Equine Affaire today and got to see Jimmy Wofford give TWO clinics. He was amazing. I took excellent notes and will recap it ASAP. I'd do it now but I'm legit about to pass out.

2. Lex was NQR for a few days and I cried a lot (NQR, not lame--I am a mess. I think my horse's career is over if she's a little stiff). I thought she had an abscess, but who knows. She was sound today, thank god. It scares me how much my life is only okay if she is okay.

3. My trainer from Florida is in town to give a clinic on Saturday. I'm excited, but I'm not going to get to ride Lex in it. In addition to her being NQR, we had to move the clinic location from my barn to D's barn. It's a better situation overall, but D's barn is about an hour from where Lex lives and I don't have a trailer. Alas. I'm going to ride a super-cute horse of D's, so all is not lost.

4. I'm about to make one, and maybe two, very exciting announcements. Stay tuned!

Also, please know that I'm reading your blogs, even if I'm not commenting. I'm SWAMPED with work (and horsey stuff) but I will be through the worst of it soon, I think.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Rainy Day Woman

If it isn't snowing, it's raining, and if it isn't raining, it's below freezing, apparently.

Dear Midwest,

You have been doing a lousy job of PR. "Ohio is so beautiful in the spring!" they say. "You will love all the dogwood blossoms and warm weather!" they say.

Uh huh. Snow, ice, rain, and freezing: I can think of one day I've been here that hasn't been the case, and that was last Tuesday. The next day was a 30 degree drop in temperature and rain.



Anyway. Lex has had kind of a boring week. It's been raining--and, in some cases, thunder storming--and so she didn't have much turnout last week. She gets notoriously cranky when she doesn't get turnout, and I couldn't even hand-graze her because of the constant rain. So gross. One day I put her out in the indoor with my barn owner's TB gelding (they're turnout buddies ordinarily) and they ran around together and blew off some steam. It was great until a huge thunder clap sent them both into a tizzy and I started imagining horses jumping out of the indoor or running into walls, so they both came back in.

I lunged Lex on Friday, because it was just raining and not storming. In fact, there was a break in the rain, although it was windy as hell. I had every intention of riding her, so we went into the indoor and got down to work. I thought she'd buck and act silly and generally let it out, especially given that the wind was distracting me so I'm sure she was noticing it, but she was quite chill. I was actually kind of worried! Was she colicking!? Bad reaction to her spring vaccines??

Nah. She was just quiet. I think she is, actually, growing up.

I didn't end up getting on her because juuuuust as I was wrapping up the short lunging session, an enormous dramatic storm blew in on that wind. She probably would have been okay, but I was the only person on the property and didn't want to risk riding my green hot worry-wart thoroughbred who hadn't been turned out in days alone in the indoor during a thunder storm. Then, by the time I got her untacked and groomed, the storm stopped. That's how Florida storms operate, and in Florida I'd probably have just hand-walked her in the ring until it ended, but my experience so far with Ohio is that the rain is constant. Fooled me. Oh well.

Yesterday, though, the little girl had to go back to work. She'd had about five hours outside, but gain, I thought perhaps she'd be silly or hot. I put her on the lunge line to let her warm up and stretch and she was almost lazy. She'd go forward as asked but then sometimes be all, "walking is nice!" or "I'm done lunging now." I know my horse well enough to know that if something is wrong, she is not stoic. She bucks and pins her ears and tosses her head and refuses to do as asked. So nothing is wrong, I don't think. She's just, like... relaxed. In the words of Shangela, Hallelu.

Sorry not sorry. I love RuPaul's Drag Race.

 To clarify/recap: I don't use lunging to "get the bucks out." I think that's horrible and counter productive. I do lunge this horse in particular for several reasons: 1. To warm up her back before I sit on her--she is a thoroughbred mare, and we can't get mad at her for being a thoroughbred mare. She's cold-backed and I don't blame her. 2. To warm up her brain before I sit on her--she is a thoroughbred mare, and thus she worries and feels like she has to take in her whole environment and figure out where the dragons are. Lunging gets her mind in gear because she has to listen to me. 3. To help with her balance. This is key: She is green and extremely sensitive. Anything I do on her back causes her to adjust in some way. So I want her to figure out her balance without me bothering or adjusting her. This is paying off in HUGE ways, especially at the canter. 4. To make sure she's moving okay. I worry a lot about soundness, especially after everything we've been through. If she's off, I want to see it before I climb up. 5. So she can stretch. She LOVES to trot with her nose to the ground, and when she gets to that point on the lunge line, I know we're close to done lunging and about ready to get on, but I let her trot a few stretchy circles first so she can get herself ready for a rider. She tells me when she's at that point.

So yesterday we actually spent a lot of our lunging time at the walk, because I wanted her to focus on moving where I put her and not cutting in on the circle to the right. If she wasn't feeling too wound up to begin with, we can accomplish that just as easily at the walk as the trot. Then I hopped on and we had some nice trot work. A little tension here and there, but she was being steady and quiet enough that I could really focus on my own position, especially my dastardly weak right leg. The pieces are coming together. Then, because there were people milling about and she was being good, I was like, no time like the present to get some canter work in. We started on the left lead, her good side. I grabbed the martingale strap with my outside hand, the way D always has me do, and focused hard on staying with her in the canter depart and not touching the reins.

Several weeks ago--we've made progress!


Y'all, I almost wept. The left lead canter was the best I've ever gotten from her. She never got rushy or worried. I could circle, go large, whatever, and the canter stayed the same. As long as I kept my weight in my heels and my shoulders back (NOVEL CONCEPT) my horse stayed soft and lovely under me.  It was a magic carpet ride, and I had to make sure I didn't make her canter too long. After a little walk and trot to the right, we worked on that side. It wasn't as good, but I knew that would be the case. The excellent news is, it was never death-defying. A little rushed at times because of balance issues, but if I just kept my damn shoulders back, it made a huge difference. It is my fault when the canter doesn't go well, and when it is good, it's because she's thinking and trying hard. I love her so much.

A little more walk and trot work after that to get the fun cantering times out of her mind, and then she got a good 30 minutes of somewhat muddy hand-grazing for being such a super star.

I love this horse so much. It's kind of insane. But I know y'all can relate.