Friday, May 30, 2014

These Poles were Made for Cantering

Lexi. She is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. But perhaps there is the key...

Today's lesson involved trotting over a pole on the ground (once the trot was established and nice). She'd trot it fine and then TROTAWAYREALLYFAST. So we'd re-establish the trot and then come again. But when we cantered it, she fucked up real bad the first time and had to swap leads so she wouldn't fall down, but every time after that she was a star. I think that, like a lot of horses, cantering over stuff makes more sense to her than trotting over stuff.

So! Another for our list of first:

6. Cantering poles.

It's really fun to canter her these days, even though shit sometimes goes pear-shaped. I actually get to sit on her back, and sometimes the canter becomes veryverylight and there's tons of suspension, and I'm actually riding my horse. Mary added one more thing to the mix: when the outside shoulder comes back, it's time to ask for the downward transition. I got it sometimes and missed it others, but the fact that we can think about that right now is wayyy ahead of where we were a few weeks ago.

I swear, I need to kidnap a stranger to go to the barn with me and take pictures of my lessons. Maybe my mom can do it next week. I will bribe her with Reese's cups. Here's an old picture of her so you don't forget what she looks like.

In Rocket news, she did a really stupid thing and scraped up her side yesterday. I'll get pics of that grossness later. It's nasty.

Oh, and one more cuteness: Lex got her teeth done yesterday while hay was being delivered and needed only a touch of dormosedan to get her nice and sleepy. The vet fell in love with her. If only there was an Olympic event in getting one's teeth done.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Another First: Lex the Trail Horse

This has been a very educational week for Lex. Let's recap:

1. First canter jump.
2. First line.
3. First field trip.
4. First time jumping in a ring with another horse in it.

And then today, she added
5. First trail ride.

I'm so proud of her. She isn't always a perfectly obedient little lady, but I wouldn't want her to be. She wasn't sure at all about the trail ride concept from the beginning. M went with us, but on her spookiest horse. As soon as he stepped into long grass, she was like, wut? But we moved along and she was fine until we got to the steep downhill rocky trail, at which point she flipped me the bird with both hooves and was all, "HORSES CAN'T DO THAT." But M's horse was already heading down and so I put my leg on (that never happens) and let the reins slip through my fingers and she worked her way down. Then we did a loop in the meadow, which Lex thought was slightly less torturous but she really wanted to pass M's horse and I wouldn't let her. I knew we couldn't run into his butt because he'd lose his mind and M would have been in my saddle with me, but I wanted Lex to have the visual barrier and not get her way about the pace. After the meadow loop, we went back up that same steep, rocky hill. Lexi was all, "This is SO. STEEP! I am going to DIE TODAY." I was all up in two point and holding mane and trying to stay out of her way. Meanwhile, M is in front of me in a dressage saddle and letting the horse carry her up the hill. It was hilarious.

I have a feeling that Lex will like the trail once she gets used to it. The terrain meant she actually had to use her butt instead of just lurching along like she does sometimes. She was a very good girl, and this kind of work will be good for her even if it seems like eating her broccoli right now. I'm supposed to end our rides by going for a walk around the property so she gets used to it. Especially because we may have a couple more firsts upcoming: a cross-country school on Sunday and a combined test the next weekend (local folks: it's not Sandstone, it's Morningside).

Getting the summer off right.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Cantering Jumps and a Field Trip

Well, one jump, but I'll take it. On Monday I was tacking up and a horse trailer pulled in--turns out Mary was going to give a lesson just as I was about to get on. Oops. But not to worry, the lesson lady and Mary are both awesome and thought it would be best for the lesson (and for Lex) if we went in at the same time. It worked out super great for me, because the lady warmed up over a pile of poles on the ground, and then one x, and then a line of cross rails, and Mary just pointed at stuff and told me to go over it, too.

Lex warmed up well in spite of the fact that Mary was still dragging the ring when I got on, and Lex gets weird about other horses walking up to the ring while we're riding. She wants to stop and stare. Might have been a bad decision, but today I just let her do it. Within a couple minutes, she was relaxed and ready to go back to work.

She was super good on the flat: very few discussions about rhythm or contact, and we practiced changing directions and putting her shoulders in the new outside rein. It was good to have to ride around another horse because I couldn't just get stuck on one circle or direction.

Lex cantered away from the pile of poles the first time we did it, but it was a reasonable canter. After that, she trotted away from those. She always cantered away from the cross rails, but never anything nuts. We just trotted into one or the other going out of the line so that she didn't have to do two at once, and I figured that's where we'd leave it, but then Mary told me to go ahead and trot into the line and ride the out also. I figured--correctly--that Lex would canter, so I just trotted in as slowly as we could manage and then the canter out was balanced and appropriate, not a runaway canter. We quit on that and I was super proud of her. This feels like progress!

On Tuesday I had an impromptu lesson in which we got BY FAR our best canter work yet. I could sit on her in the canter because she was balanced enough that there was something to sit on, and we could do circles and canter all the way around the ring and it was just so lovely, both leads. M encouraged me to find moments to let go and allow her to be in self-carriage, which Lex likes when she's balanced (but which she forgets when she's having a temper fit).

We gave her a break after that to walk around on a bit of a long rein. The plan was that I'd pick up a nice trot and hop over our cross rails again, but Lex had decided she'd had quite enough and had behaved and so she didn't need to play that game. She threw an absolute hissy fit, so the jumping plan was scrapped. Oh well. We got the trot back where it needed to be and let it go from there.

Tuesday afternoon, M was taking a couple horses to a Richard Lamb clinic, so we threw Lex on the trailer to let her eat grass at a new farm. She got really stressed out on the trailer, but got off the trailer fine. She was kind of up for about ten minutes, but once she realized they make grass at this farm too, she settled right in. Before too long, she was the most relaxed of the three horses we brought, and was nickering at M's geldings like she was reassuring them. It was great. I was very proud of her.

Now I'm off to go have a hack with M and hope that Lex doesn't decide that riding outside the ring is scary. Fingers crossed!

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Maryland Horse Trials

LISTEN. When you take two kids and their ponies plus two horses for M and the total twelve ride times are within a four hour window, things are gonna get hectic.

The short version is: everyone did well (except M's son, whose pony dumped him on XC because the kid hadn't put enough leg on, but still, bad pony). One of the kids won her division and I was proud of her because I was coaching her and she clearly takes riding very seriously.

The horse trials was at Loch Moy, a very nice facility in Maryland. It was unrated but you'd never know it: everything was very nice quality and they had about 500 horses there. I wasn't in love with the stadium course design for the elementary level, but all of our three elementary horses jumped around fine. The elementary xc course was great, and the novice course (which M rode one horse in) was nice but had a modern, technical feel to it.

At one point when M and I were walking her novice course, she turned to me and said, "I just really love eventing." Which is good, because this is how she makes her living, but I'm not sure I do. We shall see. I'm not opposed to trying Lex out in the lower levels and seeing what happens, but the part that was the most fun for me to watch and the part that looked most inviting was still the jumping.

Anyway, I'm a tired puppy today after running around like mad yesterday, but I'd really recommend taking horses to this horse trials if you're in the area. It was beautiful.

Anyone in this area going to Sandstone in a couple weeks? That might be Lex's showing debut in whatever is the lowest-level they have in the combined test.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Trotting is More Fun with Poles 2: Crossrail Boogaloo

Aaaaaaaaaugh I love my horse today, even though she is a Bad Witch on the ground and I always feel like I'm pretty close to getting a bite on the shoulder when I tighten her girth and she tries to kick me when I treat the (brand new) sweet itch on her belly. She can stay.

Old pics to break up wall of text!

Yesterday I just dumped a bunch of poles all around the ring and we trotted them. I probably only rode for 15-20 minutes because she was SO. GOOD. It was like, put poles in front of her and she goes, "OH! Now I get why you want me to be straight and not a turkey! Got it." She's actually easier to slow down when we trot over poles. Big pats, done for the day, especially since she's been ridden every day since Sunday.

Today's lesson was AWESOME. It started out on a good note, because there was a deer sleeping in the long grass next to the ring and we scared her walking buy, so she leapt up and sprung off into the woods. Lex went, "Huh?" and kinda took a couple sideways scoot steps, but then went back to walking on a loose rein, happy as a clam. I love love love that.

I used to ride her alone in a 40 acre field. Wut.

She's getting connected at the walk and trot more quickly, so today we worked on keeping her connected through the transition. This is going to be a work in progress. The way Mary said it was, "Right now she thinks she has to pull with her ears to trot, but she needs to lift her withers and push from behind." Lexi had a minor meltdown in the middle of the lesson, trotting right on a 10-15m circle. She just would NOT slow down, and I wasn't doing a good enough job of being bossy about it. I'll take responsibility for my part of it but Lex also needs to not flip me off when I use my aids correctly.

The CANTER today though, wow. The left lead was pretty good. Mary said she thought Lex was like, "I've been thinking about this!" and offered me a pretty soft canter early on. Mary reminded me to ride today's horse and not last week's horse and to let go at the canter more. Eyes on the ground, people. I can't say enough about the value in that. The magic happened in the right lead, where Lex was so balanced and soft that the canter had legit suspension. I couldn't stop grinning. That's a canter you can jump out of.

I thought we were gonna have another flatwork day, but then Mary knocked a couple verticals down to cross rails, probably 18", which is bigger than Lex has been asked to jump but I figured (correctly) that she wouldn't care. The goal was to get as many trot steps as possible on the way to the jump and make them slow, and it would be great if she trotted away. We did a good job getting there but rushed away a couple times. Mary had me think about landing in my feet and taking my leg OFF at the base. We can add leg at the base later, when she's more broke and the jumps are big enough that she couldn't walk over them. That made a huge difference, and the last jump we did she landed in a gorgeous quiet canter. On Mary's orders, I slowed her to a halt and then jumped off and made much of her. Lex really looked proud of herself. Mary: "Oh, this horse will be able to jump just fine."

This was her first jump, about a year ago.
She did say that the reason Lex sometimes taps the jump with her back toe is that she's not using her hind end to jump yet, either, so she's jumping pretty flat. That will get sorted out with time, just like the rest of it. Consistent good riding with Mary's help will get her where she needs to be.

Lexi gets the whole weekend off, because she got ridden six days in a row and Sunday I'm going to help Mary and her son at a schooling event. I can't wait!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Book Review: The Riding Horse Repair Manual

This blog's name is, in some ways, an homage to Reading Rainbow, and I haven't reviewed any books yet! Crazy. A conversation with Sprinkler Bandit gave me the idea to review Doug Payne's new book, The Riding Horse Repair Manual: Not the Horse You Want? Create Him from What You Have. The title is a leeeeeetle long, but I'm an academic and my book title is insane so I shan't throw stones.

In general, I'm a big fan of reading books about horse management and riding. There are many, many people in the world, some of whom are no longer alive, who know a lot more than I do about horses and riding. I'll never get to learn from them all in person, but they wrote things down! I think that reading is part of serious horsemanship because there is so much to learn. So when I heard a year ago that Doug Payne had a book in the works, I got super excited for it to come out. He's a rider I admire a lot because he can ride the trickiest horses out there and get them to excel to their fullest capabilities. He's probably best known as an eventer, and he rides at the **** level of that sport. But he's also excellent in the show jumping ring and in dressage, and his goal is to ride at the top of each of those sports. I don't see any reason why not. And believe me, eventing needs more good jumper riders.

Another thing I love about Doug is that he does the best helmet-cam videos. He narrates over them so you not only get a chance to see what a four star jump looks like from horseback, you get to hear what he was thinking as he went. So, so great. I watch them constantly.

I snapped his book up as soon as I could, and then I stood in line at Rolex to get it signed for no reason other than I'm a dork and I wanted to say thanks for all his work to educate people.

I read the book in about three days, cover to cover. I'm a very fast reader, but the book also moves the reader along well. Doug is a good writer and the photos are great. They're almost all pictures of him sitting on some horse doing something insane. I took the book to Mary because she was interested in it (and decided to order her own copy so I got mine back) and I mentioned the myriad lunatic photos and asked what she thought that day of shooting was like. She said, "Oh, Doug just rides that every day." I gotta tell you, I don't want it enough to sit all this stuff daily!

The book is organized well. Part 1: Getting Started deals with the basics of laying a foundation and how to start a green horse and evaluate a horse you're on. He also says many times throughout that amateur riders should have help in this process and that we sometimes need to check ourselves, because we might have a horse that is too much for us. If we're scared of our horses we won't be able to commit to training them better. He talks about one of the biggest roadblocks to becoming an accomplished rider is "not being objective about your skill set" (14).  He goes on:

Horses are about the most honest creatures you'll find, and they can see a "fake" without fail. As a rider, and a student of the sport, you should be objective and honest with yourself (and upfront with your instructor). Being honest about your riding will get you much farther--and faster--than trying to shortcut your way to the top. In any event, your shortcomings will be evident through the actions of your horse, so find your weaknesses, and fix them (14).

To this I say, AMEN, SISTER. I can't tell you how many times I've wished I could force a rider to be honest with herself about where she is in her ability. People often think they're better than they are, and this is a) annoying and b) dangerous. And sometimes people would be better if they were on a horse that was suitable to them, but they can't ride the horse they have so the horses and riders suffer. This is not the goal!

Part 2: Let the Games Begin, is in many ways the heart of the book. This is where he goes through a great many training and behavioral issues and various ways to work on them. The first chapter in this part sticks with his theme of riders being honest with themselves and is called "Before you Begin: Horse and Rider 'Self-Examination.'" He reminds the reader that "Problems you see in your horse are a reflection of your training. Stay objective and slightly removed from the situation; any emotional response will be counterproductive" (59). I would like this tattooed to my forehead, please. He encourages riders to ask themselves questions that I love because we really should all be asking them of ourselves all the time. Here, I'll do them now:

Can you handle this horse's problem(s)?
Right now, Lex's problems are rhythm and not wanting to accept the bit. I feel confident that I can handle these problems, as it is interesting but not AT ALL dangerous, and that I'm dealing with it better with Mary's eyes on the ground at least twice a week.

Do you have a personal goal in mind?
In the next couple weeks, I want to get Lex's contact more consistent, make the canter more relaxed, and start over jumps again. For the summer, I'd like to get Lex to some schooling shows in just about any (English) discipline. Her world needs to grow and we won't be able to show well in any discipline until she can relax at a horse show. Ultimately, I'd like to go as far in the jumper ring as she can, and we won't know how far that is until we get there. And because I don't think it's always a good idea to set goals around just one horse, I also want to go as far as I can in the jumpers, and someday I hope to own a horse with whom I can get to the top of the sport. I hope that horse is Lex but we'll see.

Are you mentally prepared to improve?
This seems like an odd question but I think it's a good one. I'd say yes, I'm mentally prepared to improve. Nothing about moving up the levels seems scary or intimidating because I know we're laying a good foundation with my horse and that by the time we're ready to move up to any given level, we will be confirmed.

Are you at the right barn?
YES. Absolutely. I could not be happier. I wish I could stay forever.

With your goal in mind and the environment ripe for improvement, is your horse truly able to reach that goal with you?
 Oh yeah. Lex is a better athlete than I am. If anything, I'll be holding her back.

Are you willing to make the best of the opportunity you have with your horse?
To be honest, I work extremely hard at my riding and horsemanship. I can't imagine turning down an opportunity to ride or show Lex or any other horse. And I have this incredible opportunity with Mary this summer (and maybe fall) that I don't want to pass up.

Do you know when it's time to go to a professional trainer for lessons?
Girl please. I'd take a lesson every day if I could.

What do you need to improve before dealing with the horse's specific problems?
I really need to work on keeping the pressure on Lex and not giving up too soon. I have been working on my right leg position and that's still happening. I, like everyone, seem to have problems with letting my reins get too long. When my reins are short enough, most of the rest of my position problems get sorted out.

Do you have the desire--and time--to dedicate to solving your horse's issues?
Yes to both in spades at the moment. I actually have time to be bringing along a few horses right now. I need to find some broke horses to ride.

Is fear limiting your potential?
Nah. It would be if I was trying to ride Advanced. Cross country jumps over 3'6" give me the willies. But I'm cool with any jump that'll fall down as long as I'm on a horse I feel good about.

In addition to rider honesty, the other theme of this chapter is that bitting isn't likely to solve your problems. Like every good horseman I know, he advocates using a plain snaffle at home for mouth-making work and then pulling out the big bits at shows if you need them (and some horses obviously never need them). Horses will get dull to whatever bit you're using, and you can only ratchet up the bit so many times. There are a few problems that bits might help with, but overall, Doug says going to a bigger bit first is going to create more issues than it solves. This section deals with contact issues, unruly outbursts, jumping problems, and more. It's a wealth of information.

Part 3: How it Can Work for You, How it Has Worked for Me, is kind of my favorite part. He talks about how to apply his philosophies broadly, and he talks about horses he has ridden. I loved reading those stories and it served as a good reminder that top horses usually are tricky. Perfectly sane, calm, quiet horses don't go Advanced. I remember this when Lex is acting like a moose.

So at the end of the day, yes, buy this book and read the whole thing. I devoured it and will be keeping it around as a reference because even though I'm not dealing with most of these issues at the moment, I might eventually, either on Lex (jumping problems could arise!) or in the future on another horse. And I learned about how I could have dealt with things differently and better on horses I've ridden in the past.

Have you read this book? What thoughts do you have about it?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Trotting is More Fun with Poles, Part 1 (I hope)

I had a "semi-free" ride on Lex today, which in the new world order means that I wasn't taking a lesson but I was riding at the same time as Mary and she couldn't stop herself from giving me some tips and reminders. I LOVE HER. She is the best.

The good trot happened a little sooner today, but we still had our cow moments, especially to the left. Mary was jumping her up-and-coming green baby around the ring and I was very glad to be there at the same time, because it made us move the circle around and gave Lex something to be distracted by that I could work her through. Both horses were well-behaved but M's horse gets a little excited when jumping from the canter. Happily, Lex never overreacted.

Lex and I practiced changing directions and moving her shoulders from the old outside rein into the new outside rein. I think she likes that exercise much more than she likes trotting on a 10m circle forever, and I don't blame her. She's smart and when she does something right she wants to move on. Before Mary went in, she dragged out a pole for us to trot over and watched it happen a couple times. Knock on wood, but I felt it made the trot easier. I think she might be one of those that's easier to jump than flat. Which is fine, because I'm like that too, and ultimately I want a jumper and not a dressage horse. Mary is around to keep us in check with her USDF silver medal. :D Anyway, tomorrow we're supposed to have Fun with Trot Poles Part 2 and I'm to scatter poles around the ring and have her trot over them in her frame and in a rhythm. I think she'll like that--we've done it before and she seems to think it's fun.

We'll see how things go the next couple of rides, but at the moment, we're aiming at a tiny little schooling combined test. I know, I know, I just said I didn't want a dressage horse, but a walk-trot intro test and then jumping a course with four or five cross-rails out of a trot and then getting lots of pats and carrots isn't going to ruin her at all. I think it will be great fun. And the CT is cheap enough that if we get there and she's a total moose, we can scratch and just hack around until she chills out.

Finally, forward progress after a year of starts and stops. It's great!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Ride the Cow

Another fun dressage lesson with Lexi today. I'll tell you, trotting 10m circles is hard work, but this work is paying off.

I didn't realize how little I've been asking Lex to hold the contact. She gets SUPER evasive and has about a million tricks up her sleeve (shoulders bulging out, falling in, speeding up, head up, rooting, spontaneous leg yield) that make her tricky, but when she gets it, she's got a hack-winning trot. Mary's idea is that we just have to ride this fussy stuff out. It's not fun exactly, but it's educational.

Sometimes I feel like we're making breakthroughs. Today she had some moments of great connection to the outside rein and lifting her withers. We found ourselves with a great balanced circle that almost felt like a rollback, which meant she was using the outside rein and stepping under.

Mary's advice overall was to just keep doing what we're doing and she'll figure it out. She was a little bit of a cow at one point, but she got over it. She's ready for this pressure, and I just have to make myself do it. Sometime in the next couple days, though, I'll probably just give her a hack day or something so she doesn't get too wound up.

As Mary said the other day, riding green horses isn't all kissing, clucking, and carrots!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Lex's Family Tree, Part 3

Since last time I got all hung up on Afleet Alex, today I'm giving time to his parents and grandparents: Maggy Hawk, Northern Afleet, Qualique, Hawkster, Nuryette, and Afleet.

Now she has a vineyard named after her. Lucky.
Afleet Alex's dam is Maggy Hawk. She started in four races and won one, earning $15,080. Maggy Hawk was born in Kentucky in 1994. Her win was a one-mile race on the dirt at Keeneland. I don't know much about it other than she rallied at the end and dueled for the win. She ran in two allowance races after that before she retired to have some babies. She had another colt two years before Afleet Alex with Northern Afleet, named Unforgettable Max. After Alex, he was her most successful offspring on the track. She is clearly a quality broodmare, having also bred to stallions like Curlin, Quiet American, Storm Cat, Awesome Again, Tour d'Or, and Mister Jolie. She is no scrub.

Neither is Alex's dad, Northern Afleet. See a family resemblance?

Northern Afleet, born in 1993, was a multiple graded stakes winner and ran in the Breeder's Cup sprint in 1997. He won 5 of 21 starts for $656,761. Many of his offspring have done very well indeed, though none earned as much as Afleet Alex. He's had a couple babies do well in mid-level dressage, and is the dam sire for a few in successful sport horse careers. Afleet Alex has a good mind, and it seems both his parents do, too.

Maggy Hawk's dam is Qualique, born the same year as me: 1981. She was a graded stakes winner, bringing it home in her biggest race, the Grade 1 Demoiselle Stakes at Aqueduct in 1983. She earned $91,818 in her career. Qualique went on to be a good broodmare with 8 foals. Maggy Hawk was her winningest filly. Her best baby, in terms of earnings, was Santa Rosa Island by Valiant Nature. 

Hawkster winning the Oak Tree Invitational Stakes

Maggy Hawk's sire, Hawkster, was a big-deal Kentucky-born colt (1986). Another multiple graded stakes winner, he brought in $1,510,942 for his happy humans. Hawkster ran fifth in each Triple Crown race, but won a bunch of big races, including the 1989 Oak Tree Invitational Stakes. You can see video of that here (and yet I can't find a picture of the poor guy, so the photo above is a screen shot from the YouTube clip). Hawkster set a world record that day for the fastest 1 1/2 mile race on turf (2:22 4/5)--a record he still holds. He was a contender for the Eclipse Award on Turf that year, but it went instead to Steinlen. In addition to his standing world record on turf, he is best known for being Afleet Alex's damsire. He sired many racehorses, many of whom did just fine, but Alex is his most famous relative.

Northern Afleet's dam is Nuryette, an unraced 1986 filly from Kentucky. Northern Afleet was her second highest earner after Tap To Music by Pleasant Tap, a multiple graded stakes winner. She was bred to famous stallions like AP Indy, Mr. Prospector, Dixieland Band, Capote, and Colonial Affair. She must have been a nice girl. 

Afleet shows us where the stocky body comes from in this bloodline.

Northern Afleet's sire, Afleet, was a 1984 colt bred in Kentucky. He had a phenomenal race record: a multiple graded stakes winner, ran in the Breeder's Cup, and won two Sovereign Awards in 1987, one for 3 Year Old Colt of the Year and another for Horse of the Year. He won 7 of his 15 starts, earning nearly $1 million on the track, and went on to sire some very nice babies. His biggest winner in the US was A Fleets Dancer out of My Dream Come True, but many of his sons and daughters really raked it in in Japan. At the end of the day, Afleet was a beautiful horse, an excellent athlete, and a guy whose name is one I'm particularly fond of.

Lots of nice horses in Lex's lines! Stay tuned for her great-great grandparents, including Arts and Letters and Mr. Prospector.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Lex's Family Tree, Part 2: Afleet Alex

As I said in my first post on this topic, I'm interested in history, in thoroughbreds, and in Lex. Last time, I began digging into Lex's dam's side. Today I start on her sire's side, and I'm already deviating from the plan. There is enough to say about him that he gets his own post.

Afleet Alex really needs no introduction 'round these parts, but let's introduce him anyway because it's fun.
Like looking at a picture of Lex.
Afleet Alex is the 2002 offspring of Maggy Hawk and Afleet. He famously got the name Afleet Alex because he was named after a little girl who had cancer and struggled hard to beat the odds, long outliving her prognosis. The little girl opened a lemonade stand to raise money for kids with cancer, and before she died, 8 year old Alex Scott raised over half a million dollars through Alex's Lemonade Stand. After she died, her lemonade stand foundation lived on. The day she died, in Philadelphia, Afleet Alex won his first major race, at Saratoga. 

Afleet Alex did not have an easy start, either. He was not expected to survive at birth, because his dam could not produce milk so he could not get colostrum. His breeder's 9 year old daughter bottle fed him for two weeks until they could get him a nurse mare. He was a bargain-basement baby when a group from Philadelphia decided to get into racing, formed a syndicate, and purchased him. John Silvertrand, his breeder, was diagnosed with colon cancer and given two months to live just as Afleet Alex's career was starting to go somewhere. He elected to discontinue chemotherapy in order to appreciate Alex's career. He died in 2007 after outliving his prognosis by several years.

Between Silvertrand's cancer diagnosis and Alex's ties to Alex Scott, the syndicate who owned him decided to give a portion of his winnings to Alex's Lemonade Stand. They used every opportunity to harness Alex's star power for the lemonade stand, and raised tens of thousands of dollars during the Triple Crown. The organization has raised over $30 million to date

Afleet Alex's racing career was full of drama. A couple heartbreaking losses, a lung infection, and some very bad luck in the 2005 Kentucky Derby, which one writer called "part horse race and part rush hour on the Schuykill Expressway." That race was huge, and Afleet Alex did well until a horse snuck past him near the end. 

The Preakness wasn't much better in terms of the number of entries. Afleet Alex hung near the back of the pack, and just as he was making his move, Scrappy T blew the turn and knocked Alex to his knees. This is where Alex's grit kicked in. I interpret what happened next as Alex being really, really pissed off. He not only recovered (and his terrific jockey, Jeremy Rose, hung in there like the professional he is), but he won going away. You can watch the race here. Be ready to hold your breath the whole time, and watch the replay. It's really something. 

But it was the Belmont that really sealed the deal on Afleet Alex's greatness. As the Instapunk writer said, he "put the hammer down." Again, he stalked the back of the back. Again, when the moment was right, Jeremy Rose gave him the signal and they shot past the rest of the pack, including Derby winner Giacamo, like they were standing still. He won going away again. You really must watch this race. It's rare to see anything that dramatic, even in the drama-infused sport of horse racing. He ran the fastest last quarter mile since Arts and Letters in 1969. Keep an eye out for Arts and Letters--he's going to come up on this blog again very soon.

Afleet Alex's trainer, Tim Richey, grew up around eventing.  Chris gave lessons to his sisters who rode hunter/jumpers. Chris told me that Richey always got looked at funny from other trainers because he worked the horse differently from what was typical for racing and more like what the eventers did. The horse came out of his stall to work at least twice a day, including lunging. Word on the street is that he's always had a good mind, and passed that good mind along to his offspring. Richey announced Alex's retirement in 2005. He'd recovered from a hairline fracture of his left front cannon bone. The prognosis was good, but after he returned to work in preparation for the Breeder's Cup, he went off again. As it turns out, he had some dying tissue in his bone that created a brittle patch. While no one can be sure, the vets suspect he sustained this injury in his Preakness fall. In 2006, he got the Eclipse Award for Champion 3 Year Old Gelding or Colt, and lost the Eclipse Horse of the Year award narrowly to Saint Liam. I, for one, think Alex was robbed. In terms of money (the syndicate who owns him is called Cash is King, after all), he earned $2,765,800, won 8 of his 12 starts, and was ranked 3rd by earnings in 2005.

Afleet Alex is a successful racing stallion now. Lex was in his first crop of foals and was a total failure on the track, but he is a proven Grade 1 sire. This year, six of his three year olds were Triple Crown nominees. I've also heard through the grapevine that he has a son who is knocking 'em dead in the hunter ring at HITS, but I haven't seen him myself. I believe it, though. 

Of course, my favorite thing about Afleet Alex is how much he looks like Lex. Behold:

I don't know if Lex is going to be as fabulously talented as both her parents were, but she's got the right ingredients. Next time, I'll talk more about Afleet Alex's parents and grandparents. There's a lot to say.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Stay in the Half Halt

When I got to the barn this morning, Lex was out in the paddock eating grass with her pet pony, Scout (affectionately known as Scout Wonderful, because that's what his ten year old owner wrote on his stall card at a Pony Club rally). Enjoy some serious cuteness. I texted Tracy some of these and she said, "OMG, please tell me at some point you will get to ride that pony!"

On Wednesdays, we wear pink.

You can only wear your hair in a ponytail
once a week, so I guess you chose today.

That's why her hair is so big. It's full of secrets.

Stop trying to make "fetch" happen.

We had another great lesson today. Since we're clinging to the bottom of the training scale, the whole job is rhythm, and part of that is her accepting contact (because we can't stay in a rhythm if I'm not allowed to use my aids). Mary said the problem a lot of riders have is staying in the half halt long enough for it to work. So whenever she said, "Have the conversation," I was to use an indirect outside rein (and I love the indirect INSIDE rein, because I'm a jumper rider--already the disciplines are deviating) and an opening inside rein and hold that until she gives. She did exactly what we expected her to do, which was put her head up and resist, but whenever she gave in I'd soften in the elbows and it would be lovely for a couple strides and then we'd have to start over. But she'll get it. She wasn't being naughty ever, she just didn't know what to do. She'll learn eventually that the easiest thing to do is not resist. When she gets it, it's amazing--her withers lift and she steps under. Mary is like, "Dressage. It's going to have to happen eventually."

Of course, we have to be able to get that soft contact and lifted withers without her immediately speeding up! Ah, baby steps.

But the canter was better than ever today. Mary would say, "Canter like you're about to walk," and somehow the magic words fixed the rushing problem. The beginning of the canter was exciting both directions, but we got it under control MUCH more quickly than usual.

The take-home point today was to stick with what you're asking until the horse gives it to you. This is why I worry about green riders and green horses, even quiet green horses: if the rider doesn't have a clear idea of what the horse is supposed to be doing AND to keep asking in the same way until the horse gets it, both horse and rider are going to end up confused at best. I think I'm getting exactly the kind of help I need, just in the nick of time, to help get Lex to the next step. I'm so excited.

PS: Just in case you didn't get enough cute above, here is my nephew brushing my old guy, Ink.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Dragons Under the Surface

YOU GUYS. Working with Mary is the best thing ever.

For one thing, her barn is gorgeous and supremely well organized. If there's a stray bit of straw in the aisle, she's like, "ugh, sorry my barn is so gross." She's such a positive and happy person to be around, too. I can't say enough good things.

Lex has settled in like a champ. She has a best friend who is a pony. Their stalls are next to each other and they go out in the same paddock at night. Mary said last night (the first night they got turned out), there was one squeal and then they had heads down eating grass all night. In fact, when I got to the barn this morning, Lex looked all glazed over and had her lip flopping, which never happens. I handed her a piece of carrot and she was like, "Just put it in my mouth and I'll chew it later." Clearly she did not sleep last night and spent the whole evening chowing down on the spring grass. Love her.

I rode Lex yesterday and took a lesson today. Yesterday was kind of a lesson, too. Mary is intrigued by Lex because she's such a pretty horse and looks like an athlete (Mary says she looks like an eventer--go figure!). She fell in love with Lex's walk and pointed out that the canter and the walk are connected, so a horse with a good walk can develop a good canter. Yesterday she just watched us wtc both directions and figured out our strengths and weaknesses (my right leg, her tension).

Today's lesson was really great. It was basic stuff (tack adjusting, leg position, getting Lex to push from behind and accept contact) but it was really useful. I don't use enough leg at the trot but I use too much at the canter. Lex wasn't in top form today because she's still getting used to being at Mary's, but she didn't do anything wrong.

  • As I galloped madly around on the right lead, as often happens, Mary yelled, "We can't work with this canter yet so for now you just have to survive it!"
  • Mary told me that she thinks I have plenty of talent to work with. It's always good to have that confirmed. Speaking of which, she thinks Lex looks quite sound (KNOCK ON WOOD).
  • When Lex was relaxed and trotting well, Mary was like, "That's the trot that wins the dressage."
  • Lex really trying hard to figure out what the deal is with rhythm. It's a work in progress but she'll get it.
  • Mary said we're at a crossroads with her. If we make the right decisions, she'll be a nice, rideable horse forever. If we make the wrong ones, she'll be a dragon. Um, no pressure. But having that dragon just under the surface will be useful when the jumps get big, I think.
All in all, I'm quite pleased with everything. We have another lesson tomorrow and then Lex might get a couple of days off, depending on what the weather and my schedule do.

I'm hoping that one day soon, my mom can come tape a lesson. I think that would be super fun. And speaking of fun, we're aiming Lex at a clinic in two weeks and maybe a schooling show next month. Fingers crossed!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Quick Update: Safe and Sound

We're in VA! Everything went smoothly. Lex hauled like a champ (and my mom did an amazing job). She stepped off the trailer at Mary's and immediately started eating grass. I hand-grazed her for awhile (while my mom unloaded the trailer--SuperMom!) and then put her in her stall. She found the pile of alfalfa in the corner and dug in, happy as a clam. Some of the other horses in the barn were freaking out, but Lex was super chill. She didn't drink as much as I'd like, but she never does.

Mom and I went home for a bit to do Mother's Day stuff with the rest of the family, and then went back out to check on her. Mary wasn't home from the Pony Club rally yet, so I just turned her out in a paddock for a little while and let her wander at leisure. I also hand grazed her while the family dogs showed off how amazing they are at rasslin' and growling, and they were literally right under her and she didn't care. I think that once she figures out how to be ridden, she's going to be easy at the shows. I'm so excited that I get this summer to work on making my horse awesome!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Lex's Family Tree, Part 1

Yesterday, I wrote about how great it is to have an OTTB because they're used to traveling. Another thing to appreciate is how easy it is, if the horse has a readable tattoo, to learn all about their parentage. makes it even easier, and it's extra fun because you can see pictures of your horse's relatives, if they're up there. Lex's mom, Tampico, raced in the 1990s and is thus hard to find pictures of. But Lex has famous family members on both sides and researching her bloodlines could be an all-consuming hobby for me. I'm a historian, after all. This is kind of what I do. So my plan here is to do as much research as I can on her family. This will mostly be for my own amusement, but maybe I'll learn something useful, too. And if nothing else, we can all look at pictures of pretty, pretty thoroughbreds.

Lex's Cool Pedigree
Horse breeding in any discipline is kind of sexist and prioritizes the sire's line. This is a queer blog, so I'm going to start with her momma's side. In this post, I will talk about Lex's mom, maternal grandparents, and all four great-grandparents. Next time I'll talk about Lex's dad, paternal grandparents, and all four great-grandparents on that side. Each time, we'll move a bit further back on the dam's side, then the equivalent on the sire's side. This is the only way I can think of to stay organized. Thus, today we discuss: Tampico, The Lip, Sitzmark, Codex, Mark 'Em Lousy, Aphonia, and J.O. Tobin.

Pat Day
Tampico was a multiple graded stakes winner in the 1990s. She won 13 of her 36 starts, bringing in $459,975 or $12,77 per start. Her jockey was the legendary Pat Day, so she was in good hands on the track. Her trainer was Barclay Tagg, probably best known these days for training Funny Cide. Tampico's dam, The Lip, never raced. Tampico's sire, Sitzmark, did pretty well, although his daughter outperformed him. He won 12 of his 51 starts, for $378,380 or $7,419, and was also a multiple graded stakes winner. Unfortunately, I can't find any pictures of him, either. That said, Lex's immediate maternal line is nothing to sneeze at.

The Lip's mama was Mark 'Em Lousy. She was a stakes winner (6 out of 29 starts, $105,860 career earnings at $3,650). Her first couple races were claimers, and then she ran in a string of allowance races with a few handicaps thrown in. She won the Susquehanna Handicap in 1980.

Racing is very srs business.
 Here's where the real fun begins. The Lip's dad, Codex, was famous in the 1980s. Here he is, the horse with the star, beating 1980 Kentucky Derby-winning filly Genuine Risk in the Preakness. Codex was born in 1977 and died in 1984 when he was found paralyzed in his stall. He had only produced three crops of foals before he was euthanized. He was, it probably goes without saying, a multiple graded stakes winner, with 6 wins in 15 starts. His owner, John Nerud, believed the Triple Crown hurt horses, and thus did not nominate his talented colt for the 1980 Kentucky Derby. In fact, his nomination for the Preakness was apparently a mistake, but they went with it anyway and he blew everyone away. In a couple of posts, I'll get to his dad, Arts and Letters.

Sitzmark's dam was Aphonia, who won one of her three starts in 1965, earning just $2,605. That's still $2,605 more than Lex earned in her racing career! Sitzmark's sire, however, was J.O. Tobin, born in 1974. Not only was he a multiple graded stakes winner, he was the 1978 Eclipse Award winner for Champion Sprinter. He earned $668,159 or $31,817 per start and won 12 of his 21 starts. One of those wins was famous: he beat Seattle Slew in the 1977 Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park. That was a big deal race--no Triple Crown winner had been to California since Swaps in 1955 until Seattle Slew flew out for the Swaps Stakes. People lined up to see Slew, and were rooting hard for him. But J.O. Tobin's jockey Bill Shoemaker knew that they'd have to bring something extra to beat his horse that day. And he was right: his horse won the race by 8 lengths. Slew was 16 lengths off the lead in fourth place. J.O. Tobin missed the track and world records for a mile and a quarter by two-fifths of a second.

Stay tuned next time for Afleet Alex, Northern Afleet, Maggie Hawk, Afleet, Nureyette, Hawkster, and Qualique. Yes, this might go on forever. Buckle in.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Preparing to Move. Again.

One of the many things to love about OTTBs is that they're used to moving around a lot. Some of them have traveled more than I have in my life. Lex has seen a fair amount of moving around since I got her, although we haven't traveled to any shows or anything. She is more used to this than I am, and also has the benefit of not knowing she's about to move again, and not having to arrange any of the logistics.

When I shipped her to Ohio, I used C&E Horse Transport. They did a marvelous job with her--she was the only horse on the rig since she was coming north when every other horse was going to Florida, so they upgraded her to a box stall for free and gave her all the hay she could eat. She arrived happy and in good shape. She slept all day long instead of worrying about where she was. It was great. I'd use C&E again in a heartbeat, and in fact did give them a call when I was ready to figure out Lex's shipping arrangements.

Awesome Girlfriend loaded the horse for me in FL.

Lex got to look out the window the whole way--her favorite activity.

But… they couldn't do it. They just aren't going anywhere near northwestern VA this time of year. So I called two other places, and they were like, "…maybe? We'll get back to you."

This does not help my control-freak nerve issues. I want to know WHEN she is going to be picked up and BY WHOM, dammit. I also want her to have UlcerGard and Banamine before she gets on the trailer, but the way things were looking as far as my travel plans go, I wasn't sure I could both put her on the trailer and get her off. And I didn't think I'd be able to rely on anyone else to put her on the trailer (what if they arrived at 2:30am?). So I was starting to turn into an enormous ball of stress about the whole thing. Was I going to have to hack her all the way to VA? Pulling her tack trunk, which at least has wheels? That would make the evening news, I'd imagine.

Enter SuperMom.

My mother is going to drive all the way out here with her truck and trailer on Saturday, and on Sunday we are going to load up the horse and be off to VA. I am so relieved I could cry. I can put her on the trailer, making sure she gets what she needs to prep. I can personally oversee her water consumption. I know the driver about as well as I know any human in the world, and she knows how much the horse means to me (although Mom is a nervous wreck about it: she's like, "If we get in an accident and anything happens to the horse, you'll never forgive me!" and I'm all, "Um, you're my mom. I love Lex beyond all measure, but you're my mother."). I should point out that this Sunday is Mother's Day. My mom will have absolutely earned a huge celebration!

Now I'm rushing around to get as many papers graded before I leave as possible, and to pack up, and do all those things people have to do to do an interstate move with a horse. But instead of freaking out, I'm mostly excited. A little nervous, of course, but overall, I can't wait to see what this summer has in store for the Wild Child and me.

What strategies or routines do you use to keep you and your horse happy when traveling?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mare Mysteries

Lex was a Good Witch again yesterday, even though she got no turnout (deeeeeeep breaths) and I didn't lunge her. Well, she was a good witch under saddle. But she was a very, very bad witch on the cross-ties. I need to use your brains to help me figure this out until I can get her to VA next week and see what changes and get a vet to look at her.

Here's the deal: Lex has always liked being groomed. Starting about two weeks ago, though, she has HATED it. She is especially sensitive over her loin/stifle on the right side. In fact, lately she's been cow-kicking at me when I groom her there. She clearly doesn't enjoy being groomed on the left side, either. She was much worse yesterday.

It could just be that fun "mare-ish behavior" people talk about, but I've had her for a year and this is new. Here are the ideas I have, and I want to know what you think:

1. Ulcers: She is in fine weight and her coat is good and she's eating like, well, a horse. But horses can have atypical presentations for things like this, and she does have some of the risk factors: inconsistent turnout, inconsistent hay supply (more deep breaths), being a TB, being a mare, grain I don't love, etc. I just got a six-pack of UlcerGard that she starts today in preparation for her move, so we'll see if that helps. Mary is also verrrrrrry careful about ulcers, so her horse management program is built around avoiding ulcers. Ulcers will heal on their own if the conditions that caused them are gone, so hopefully with six days of UG and a better environment, we can get her feeling better in no time. (As you know, I'm Evidence-Based Medicine Guy. UlcerGard and GastroGard work. Generic omeprazol doesn't, and neither do Smartpak things like SmartGut or other pelleted supplements like Neigh-Lox. Makes me and my wallet sad, but I'd rather spend more on something that works than less on something that doesn't.)

2. Estrus: She could be in season. But we're talking about two weeks of reacting badly to brushing, not two days. And, like I said, she's never done this before. Problems related to estrus come and go with the cycle. I suppose it's possible that she decided when she was in heat that she would be cranky about brushing forever, but… I dunno.

3. Ovarian cyst: This is what I'm afraid of, because the answer is Regumate and/or surgery. I don't want to do either, though I'd try Regumate first since I will be the one feeding her for the next several months and won't have to make anyone else do it. I'm not gonna have kids anyway! :D We've already done surgery once and I don't relish doing it again, especially given that this is supposed to be our Summer of Jumping, but whatever she needs, she'll get. And this kind of surgery will require considerably less time off than her last one, I think. I need to do more research on cysts to see if they are only symptomatic during estrus.

4. Lyme's disease: This seems unlikely to me, but whenever a horse is "weird," it's a possibility to explore.

5: Back pain: Ehhh. She's being fabulous under saddle. I don't think that's it. Now that people have the kissing-spine hammer, everything looks like a vertebral nail, but this horse isn't stoic. If her back hurt, she'd buck me off.

That's what I think. What do YOU think?

Monday, May 5, 2014

That Trot Though

I love Lex, as you know if you've read this blog at all. But you also know that sometimes she challenges me. I welcome this challenge because it's interesting and making me a better rider, but Lex has never been dangerous. I also welcome days that she is not a challenge, and yesterday was one of those days. And lucky for us, Tracy was there to catch it on film! (Well, on iPhone, but whatever.)

Before I get into that: MAJOR shout-out to Sprinkler Bandit right here: she proofread my entire dissertation and as thanks has a box of goodies headed her way. Seriously, y'all--if you need an editor, call her. She's hilarious and very good at it.

Anyway! I'm not sure I can entirely explain why Lex was a Good Witch yesterday, but here are my theories:

1. A little more turnout over the last couple of days.
2. We got to ride in the outdoor for the first time all week.
3. Her Auntie Tracy was there to admire her. 
4. I didn't lunge her first, and I think she's getting really sick of lunging.
5. Sometimes progress happens?

We walked for awhile and did a lot of direction changes, circles, walking over a pole, etc. I didn't even pick up the reins for about ten minutes. Then when I started trotting, I kept the reins long and the contact light because she hadn't warmed up on the lunge line yet. I think this might have been helpful to her, because within a circle or two, I had this:

Look at that suspension!

And then once she felt more stretched out, this:

Plenty of swing happening over her back here.
She was pretty awesome the whole ride, really. One time she cantered away from a trot pole, but it was a nice, even canter, not a frantic "HOLY SHIT RUN AWAY!!!" canter, so I was cool with it. We just stayed in a rhythm and I let her canter until she broke to the trot, just a minute or so. It was fun. She will have a nice canter when it's developed.

The trot work improved over the course of the ride, even if I wasn't perfect. Witness:
My right leg is whack, but the horse still trots fancy.
The more she warmed up, the cuter she got. It was very windy yesterday and there were horses loose all over the place. A piece of paper was blowing around the ring, and Tracy said it was fluttering around her back legs for awhile. I didn't even notice, because my horse didn't care. Aces.

Today, of course, it's raining and so she's probably been in all day and we won't be able to ride outside, but at least we've had one good ride to tuck under our pillows. For those who like video, I've posted some here. She always goes better to the left, so stay tuned for the second half when she has a few strides here and there that show some genuine quality. In my humble opinion. I just hope I can keep up with her when she really figures it out!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Hard Week for Horse People

This last week has been rough, as many of you know.

First, Joe Fargis got in a terrible accident at the Lexington Spring Encore. He was riding in a 1.30m class--big for mortals, not big for the guy who got the Olympic gold on Touch of Class.

Joe suffered broken ribs, a punctured lung, and internal bleeding. I haven't heard anything since then, so I hope he's recovering well. Joe is a master rider and a world-class horseman. He always puts the horses first, and he developed a relationship with Touch of Class after many other people had given up on her as too tough to ride.

Next, I was heartbroken to learn that Marilyn Little lost the astonishing RF Smoke on the Water. He was euthanized after suffering spinal injuries when getting cast in his stall. The horse blew me away at Rolex last weekend, and Marilyn's round on him was the first round that really looked good, instead of backwards handsy riding and confused horses. The pair got thunderous applause upon completion of their round because everyone in the stands that day knew they'd seen something special. I can't even imagine how devastated Marilyn must be feeling. My heart goes out to her and Smoke's owners.

Then on Friday, I learned that the local big-time trainer, Pam Graham, was killed in a car accident. Chris has known Pam for something like 30 years (she dated his best friend and the horse world is small). It's hard to believe that someone so important to the local horse scene is gone, just like that. Lots of heartbroken people around here. Tracy boards at Pam's barn so I'll let her take it from here.

And in my own personal barn, my very old guy, Ink, was diagnosed with uveitis. He hadn't been responding to treatment well, so my mom sent him to the horse hospital for like a week. Yes, he's 33. Yes, she could have just had the eye removed or put him down. We all thought about those things for a day, but then Mom decided that because this is the horse who has given us everything and never, ever said no, that it was worth trying some more. So... I'm happy to report that Inkers came home today, and his best friend Grayson was delighted to see him. I'll leave you these pictures of Ink's funny headgear and their loving reunion.

I CANNOT EVEN TELL YOU how jealous I am
of all of this gorgeous grass.

Heyheyhey! Don't go anywhere without me!

Stop rolling and get up and play with me!
I'm going to go give Lex some extra carrots and Tracy a great big hug.