Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Big Announcement: The Red Horse is Coming!


Back in January, a good friend in Florida who is also a dressage rider told me that she was going to be beginning the rehab on a horse named Redmond who had a suspensory injury. My friend's own horse was retired because of neuro issues, so I was happy for her. This horse used to be a big-time jumper before his injury but not hot the way those horses can be a lot of the time.

Love me!

A couple months into riding this horse (whose suspensory issue was over a year before she got on him), she told me a lot about how nice he was. She was riding him several days a week, and a total beginner was riding him once a week, and he was great for both.

Oh, and he's a Hanoverian--not a 1983 foal, this is his lifenumber.
Red's owner decided after awhile that he could be free to a good home, at which point my friend started bugging me to take him. I couldn't--I was in Ohio, had nowhere to keep him, etc.

Those are some kind eyes, no?

But then it started to make sense to me. My sister in law wants to learn to ride. I was getting nowhere fast on Lex (more on her some other day). I had people who wanted to pay me for lessons but nothing to teach them on. And we have a stall open at my mom's.


So after a relatively small amount of hair pulling, the owner agreed to give me Red! Of course, he isn't really free because I had to pay for the shipper, but he is on his way here now. Probably due to arrive in the middle of the night, as they always do. He's gonna love it: he'll get fattened up, groomed to his heart's content, and loved on by this family and our friends. It's perfect.

Nothing a few extra groceries and a stall can't fix.

So yay for Red! I can't wait for him to arrive. It'll be so, so nice to have a horse around that I can do normal things like drop my stirrups on, or take on a trail ride, or teach kids on. Plus I get to look at those ears every day. Who wouldn't want that?

Monday, July 28, 2014

You Still have to Ride the Horse

I'm so, so lucky to have wonderful Seneca to ride right now. He is not a stoic beast, so he'll definitely tell me when I've got it wrong (M said that eventually, I'll be like, "M! Make him stop rearing!" and she'll be all, "I can't! Just wait til he's done and then I'll get on him!" But let's hope that day is far from now).

Today, though, we got a lot of things right. The shoulder-in just clicked. I didn't know a month ago that I cared about shoulder-in, and now I really really do. I think there are two reasons for that: I'm proud to ride Seneca and want to ride him well, and I adore M. She could be teaching me to run barrels (no shade, barrel racers) and I would be eating it up with a spoon. She's a fantastic teacher. Anyway, today I felt how much I don't need my inside rein to shoulder-in, and how using the outside rein changes the angle. Last time I didn't feel that; mostly I felt my brain melting out my ears.

We also finally got the show-ring trot that he's capable of, where he bubbles up in front of me. It's such a cool feeling, and it made me realize that I have rarely had him 100% in front of my leg. I mean, I kind of knew that. I was leery of putting my leg on for the first few rides, but he doesn't seem to mind correct and tactful leg (just that damn right rein half-halt). He HAS to be trotting forward all the time, and in a frame. I asked M about long and low trot work with him, and this is what she said: "He's an FEI dressage horse. He has his silver medal. Sometimes we let him stretch his back inside the contact, but he should be on the bit. If you let him stretch he will lean on you." She talked about how some babies do need to stretch down and do long and low stuff, but that it is a phase and not an all-the-time thing, and that she maybe does it once a week. This is something that people have a lot of opinions on, for sure. But it seems like her idea is to treat each horse as an individual and do the exercises THAT horse needs to excel. Makes sense to me, you know?

Anyway, we struggled in a couple places today, too. Well, I did. Seneca did not. Most of it comes back to having him in front of my leg. Our trot-walk transitions aren't as clean as I'd like. And why? Because I'm not getting his hind legs under the girth enough, and I'm not holding the half halt through the transition. Furthermore, I'm riding it too much. I just have to think "hind legs under girth; now walk" instead of using my outside rein (and risking him standing up). It should be easier to think it than ride it, right? Not for this kid, apparently.

Mary's big takeaway point for me today is something I think applies to all of us, regardless of discipline: we need to ride the horse inside the skill. In other words, I can't just be like, "walk now" and have him do the transition. He has to be round and in front of my leg in the transition. The shoulder-in is no good if he's pokey and above the bridle. When does this not apply, you know? It's no good to point the horse at the jump and go there if the horse isn't in a good rhythm, happy in the contact, etc. I get this when jumping because I've had a lot of good jumping instruction, but there is SO much new stuff to think about in these dressage lessons that it's easy to let the basics go. Which means I need to practice them more, so they are always there! It's a good thing M has basically given me Seneca to ride until I get sick of him (won't happen, tho M might need to tune him up now and then). I'm the luckiest weirdo this side of the Blue Ridge.

I totally miss jumping, and I help with jumping lessons almost every day, which just makes me miss it more. But in the meantime, I'm having fun with dressage and it will definitely help me when M and I get Miss Lexi back in the ring.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Shoulder In? I Barely Know 'er!

Catskills humor for the win!

I had another super fun and super early dressage lesson on Seneca yesterday. He was really good. I think spending a week just trotting around on him was good for both of us. We're much more comfortable with each other and he was pretty relaxed the whole time (except when a deer went running by, and when a rattly truck came up the driveway, and when my whip hit the gate. OOPS.)

I'm getting better at sitting up there and letting my leg stay in the right spot, but I'm still struggling to be totally even and straight in the saddle. I do weird twisty shit with my torso and am only just beginning to feel it. I think it's coming from over-riding, trying to make everything perfect. When I let go, it gets better.

M introduced shoulder in and haunches in yesterday. I've done shoulder in on other horses but not a lot of haunches in. It took me a couple times to get the shoulder in right (I used an indirect inside rein when I should have used more inside leg; I tried too hard and needed to just let it happen). I sit crooked so I need to think about scootching my inside seatbone to the middle of the saddle, and then everything goes better.

Haunches in took me a minute to feel. It's a lot more subtle than shoulder in. If M hadn't been on the ground telling me when it was right or wrong, I wouldn't have known. I'm going to need more lessons in both of these movements before I'm trying them on my own, that's for sure.

One thing that's super fun on Seneca is medium trot. I'm not asking him for extended trot yet, mostly because I'm not sure I'm really straight enough up there to not mess him up. But crossing the diagonal and asking for a bigger trot on a horse who already has a big trot? SUPER fun. I will have to practice sitting it sometime when I need a laugh and Seneca is in a good mood.

 In other news, check out the ear net contest at Alyssa's Four Mares, No Money. Who doesn't need more ear nets??

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The No-Riding Blues

I may have mentioned this before, but M is a genius and a therapist and I love being at her barn. I was very nearly crying into Lex's mane the other day and she was like, "Let's go on a trail ride." So I saddled up Spike and she rode Seneca and off we went. On the ride, she said she thinks I'm depressed because I'm not able to move forward in my riding right now while my horse is laid up and whatnot. She's giving me lessons on Seneca, and as I wrote about the other day, she let me ride both him and Spike when she was out of town. That was FUN.

But she's back now, which is tremendous. She also hasn't really ridden Seneca in like two weeks because I've been hogging him, and I'm sure she misses Spike. So I'll be handing the reins back over to her and probably won't be able to ride at all for the rest of the week. This is, of course, driving me nuts.

So in the meantime, here's what I'm doing to beat the no-riding blues:

1. Fix up my brain. Thanks to Mary, I'm working my way through a stack of sports psychology books, starting with Jane Savoie's That Winning Feeling: Program Your Mind for Peak Performance. I will probably write a book review when I'm done, but for now, I'll say that this is very useful and I recommend it.

 Also on my list are Savoie's It's Not Just About the Ribbons, Denny Emerson's How Good Riders Get Good (I have actually read this before, but it bears repeating), Dan Millman's Body Mind Mastery, and Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code. If Mary thinks these books will help me, they will. Riding is such a mental game, after all.

2. Stalk JWo. M has been riding with The Woff for 30 years. He's not far away. She's going to e-mail him and tell him that I'm going to come set rails during lessons. I don't think she's taking no for an answer on this one, but I don't think he'd say no anyway. He appreciates people who want to learn.

Along these lines, I might also ask Joe Fargis and Marilyn Little if I can do the same thing, because they are nearby and I idolize them both.

3. Bug people I know. I do know people around here with horses I can get on. I just need to get over my nerves and ask them. And I will. In fact, I already sent one text message today and will call someone else tomorrow. Or maybe even when I'm done writing this here post. But if you're in the VA/MD area and you've got a horse you wouldn't mind me hopping on, I will not turn you down.

4. Hang out with Rocket. No, I can't ride Rocket yet, although she looks like I could because she's enormous. But she's fun to hang out with and spending time together is good for our relationship. The more time I spend brushing her and scratching her withers, the more I like her. And (knock on wood) she's been pretty good on the lead line, too.

Hay girl.

5. Read all your wonderful blogs. I get sad sometimes when other people are having way more fun than me and I worry that I will never have fun on my horse again. But that's ridiculous and negative thinking so instead I'm going to enjoy all of your good times, and feel for those of you who are on the struggle bus with me right now.

6. Mucking lots of stalls. At least I can keep up my fitness and do something good for the horses every day.

7. Ride along with my vet and farrier. There's a lot I can learn from them. I need to learn to do IV injections, I could stand to practice removing shoes since it's been so long since I've had a shod horse, etc.

8. Keep you all hanging. I might have a pretty fun announcement coming up. I'm waiting for it to be 100% solid, but when it is, prepare yourselves. It will definitely help lift my spirits.

What do you all do when you can't ride besides mope?

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Boys

One of the few things holding me back from the brink at the moment is M's generosity in letting me ride two of her horses while she's out of town. I've introduced Seneca to you before, but I think this time I will have the ability to post very unflattering pictures of him!

Check out all that dressage gear action. Double bridles are even more fun
to tack up with when the horse is really tall and doesn't want the bridle on.
Gotta get two bits in there!

"Why are you posting these gross pictures of me??"
Seneca is actually a very beautiful horse. Dressage judges apparently either love him or dismiss him from the ring, because he is either being a world-beater or he's trying to kill M. But he likes me because I don't ask him for much, and we've had a nice time trotting around the last few days.

And this is Spike! Spike is a 7-year-old TB cross. I knew his mother--I was actually there at her birth. Spike's grandmother Prickles was my friend D's big eventer before she switched to jumpers. She got her A on Prickles and had her until she died. I hacked her around a couple times when I was a teenager. Prickles had one foal for her, a filly named Blossom. M and D are good friends, because they're both wonderful people. M rode Blossom for a long time, took her 4th level, though I don't think she evented her. M bred her to a big eventing stallion whose name I can't remember, and the outcome is this gorgeous boy. Seriously, Spike is one of the best-looking horses I've ever seen. He's also a real pleasure to ride (when he's not being a runaway at the canter, but I'm just doing w/t on him since I'm riding alone while M is gone). He is easy peasy and really lets me practice. He's also an enormously talented jumper. Do not be surprised AT ALL if he's in Rolex in a couple years, and I'll be happy that I got to ride him a few times.

I've also been spending more time with Rocket lately. I think this is helping our relationship. Not that there was anything wrong with it, but I feel we don't know each other well at this point. The way I get to know horses is by riding them, so my 16-month-old and I aren't having that experience yet. But I've been brushing her every day (though you'd never know it because she immediately rolls in the grossest thing she can find--asking for more brushing, I think!), and generally just loving on her without letting her get away with being pushy. And--knock on wood--I haven't had any trouble handling her lately. Rocket wants to know that she's a good girl, and to show you that she remembers what you taught her. She's also a baby who sometimes can't help herself, but I don't carry a grudge. I think she's getting more attached to me, which is cute. Last night some assholes down the road set off fireworks and my poor horses were freaking out, so I walked over to the fence and she came right up to me and stayed with me until I was satisfied the fireworks were over (yes, I called the cops) and went back inside. She's gonna be a cool horse when she grows up.

Finally, Lexi seems to be feeling a bit better. I was worried about her on Saturday because she seemed depressed. I took her vitals and they were normal, good cap refill and all that. On Sunday she looked a lot happier. Her pony is at Pony Club Festival so she has to stay in or she'll run herself ragged. I'm letting her out while I'm there to keep an eye on her, but don't trust her not to panic in the middle of the night. So she's been getting a lot of hand grazing time, which is one of her favorite things. That seems to seriously improve her outlook on life.

All in all, a copacetic weekend at both farms. I hope the same is true for all of you!

Friday, July 18, 2014

It's What's Between the Ears that Counts

Lex had her big appointment today, and it was a good experience overall. The vet confirmed that there is nothing funky happening in her poll except some significant bursitis. Lex was definitely hurting, poor critter.

I wanted to get pictures of her during the procedure, but I couldn't walk away. She was drugged beyond belief, had a rope halter on (so the metal from my halter didn't get in the way of the rads), ears taped together, and a twitch. Not to mention a man sticking needles into her skull. It was hilarious. She was good, though. The vet thinks she'll be fine with this, and if she isn't, we can try other things.

She was soooooooo sleepy. After the vet left, I couldn't resist taking pictures of her in her vulnerable state, and then texting them to Tracy and SprinklerBandit. I'm a terrible person. I told her she looks like Abbie Hoffman on a post-protest day. 

The only dope you should shoot is Nixon, man.*
 M is out of town this weekend but she left me a surprise: a whole stack of sports psychology books (including two by Jane Savoie). So I sat in the aisle for like 30 minutes reading That Winning Feeling while I waited for Lex to wake up. Yes, I could have been cleaning tack, but I'd been at the barn since six and that was after bringing my horses in, so I was a little wiped out, given that it was 1:30 or so and I was starving. Anyway, I was like, "mare, WHEN are you going to wake up? I need lunch, dammit." And then I realized that she was probably not feeling the drugs anymore, she was just sleeping.

So I walked over to her and was like, "Hey! Wake up!" and she did. Head up, happy to think about eating hay. I hosed her off because she was sweaty from the drugs and stuck her back in her stall. I watched her for awhile and fretted about choke (she could hold her head up and walk so my rational brain knew she was fine) and then went off to get my own lunch.

The mare gets ten days off from riding altogether, and then a couple days of just floating the reins at her and letting her go around realizing her head doesn't hurt. And then, with any luck, it's back to work. If this doesn't fix the problem, there are other injectable things, and I'm sure at some point there's a surgical option. I just really hope it doesn't come down to that. Let's all cross our fingers. 

*I already tried this joke on Tracy. Sorry you had to read it again, T.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I'm No Hero.

I'm just a regular guy who took a dressage lesson at 6:30am.

A dressage lesson.

If you know me at all, you know that I will bounce out of bed at the crack of dawn for jumping, or to see my Lexi, or to go watch a horse show. But I have never been super excited about dressage. My theory on that is that I've never been good at it. I do fine in my jumping lessons, but get a little wrapped around in the axle in dressage. And like horses, we all enjoy doing what we're good at.

But the dressage is getting better. I need to work really hard on keeping my shoulders back and not throwing away the reins if Seneca, for instance, takes a trot step in the walk-to-canter transition. We also worked on canter-to-walk today, which was good for me. I had to first get the right canter--pretty collected (on a horse who will stand straight up if you do one too many half-halts) and then get the right timing. It's a work in progress, but we got it right a couple of times. Doing walk pirouettes is good, too, because the trick there is to not lose the rhythm of the walk. The fun discovery of the day was when M realized that I do know how to sit the trot. I love sitting trot. I realize this makes me a weirdo.

I really hope that at some point, I can get photo evidence of these dressage lessons. Maybe in a couple weeks, when my mom is back in town. And then maybe this dumb fake internet will cooperate.

Seneca and I are figuring each other out. He's being more patient with me than I'd have expected. And M is such a phenomenal coach that I'm able to be patient with me too, while I figure out this new discipline. Maybe at some point I'll be able to drop my stirrups a bit.

 Lex's radiographs are tomorrow. Good thoughts, please.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Dressage Time

Working with a kind and generous trainer is always a privilege. M is not the first such trainer I've worked with, but I'm grateful to be in her barn right now. She feels sorry for me because my horse is out of commission, so she's letting me take lessons on one of her horses. He's a tall chestnut OTTB named Seneca, and she's had him since he was four, right off the track. They've done a lot together, including Prix St. Georges. M got her USDF silver medal on him.

There are a few things to note about Seneca:

1. He is tricky.
2. He is sensitive.
3. He can be ill-behaved.
4. He is NOT a school master.

I really like being around Seneca, but never thought I'd ride him. A bunch of M's friends who have gone Advanced have tried and failed, and they are better riders than me. Apparently with Mr. S, he either likes you or he doesn't.

I rode him for the first time on Saturday, and I felt like a total failure even though M told me that I was not allowed to feel like a failure because he demoralizes even her, and even though he DID like me. I just felt like I had no idea what I was doing, and he was bringing out all my flaws (which is why this will ultimately be a valuable exercise). At the end of the lesson, M said, "I'm teaching you to drive, but I've put you in an Indy car for your first driving lesson, and then I told you not to push too hard on the gas. So." I was so worried about offending him that I barely used my aids. On the dressage horse. Since when did I worry about putting a horse in front of my leg? That's the safety zone!

Today's lesson went much better, even though he bucked and spun a couple times. That wasn't about me, that was about horse flies and M's kid galloping by on his pony. I finally got a really great walk-to-canter transition in which I committed to keeping my goddamn shoulders back, and he was great. Some good leg yields and some decent walk pirouettes (wtf) and I was feeling much better about life.

I have to learn to sit up more, to not hang on the inside rein when things get weird (M: "hang on the OUTSIDE rein instead!"), and to hold my legs differently than I'm used to (part of which is dressage and part of which is Seneca).

I have a lot to learn from this horse, so I hope he will let me learn. He did not sign up to teach anyone how to ride, that's for sure. But he has a lot in common with Lex, especially getting nervous about learning new things and falling behind my legs, so if I can figure out how to ride him, I'm sure I'll ride her much better.

Also? Dressage saddles feel weird to me. This is going to take some major getting used to, but I can't see much downside as long as I can keep ol' Seneca between me and the ground.

(I'm trying to post pictures of Seneca but my stupid internet connection isn't working well enough. I will either add them later or put up a new post with all his pretty chestnut thoroughbred self on display.)

Monday, July 14, 2014

One Step Closer

Just before I left for Lex's appointment, I texted Sprinkler Bandit and told her I was nervous. We weren't sure what we should be crossing our fingers for, but we settled on something that wasn't outrageously expensive, easily fixed, and would solve the behavioral problems.

While knocking on wood, I think we do have that answer.

The vet could only find one thing wrong with Lex: her poll hurts. She refused to let him palpate it in the cross ties. Then when we took her up to trot her and lunge her in the ring, she was a total basket case. Rearing, refusing to move, acting like a horse who isn't my horse. Thank god M was there--she took over, and I got to watch. The vet couldn't evaluate her movement while she was rearing and racing around, so he gave her a little ace and xylazine. He said it wouldn't sedate her, but if she was anxious, she'd chill.

And all of a sudden, my happy, beautiful horse was back. She was happy to trot on the lead rope, happy to lunge, happy to be hanging out with us. I realized how long it's been since I've seen her like that. The vet--who I loved, by the way--said we have to figure out what is causing all the anxiety, and he suspects it's that painful poll. The tentative diagnosis is nuchal bursitis.

The nuchal ligament runs all the way down, and it can develop bursitis at various points along the way, including at the poll. This means a horse who is fine on a long rein might suddenly hurt quite a bit when asked to go in a frame. Bingo.

He's going to come back on Friday with a radiograph machine. The plan is to radiograph her poll to make sure there's nothing fractured or sequestering in there, and then to inject. I really hope we can manage this with injections, but the vet said sometimes there are stress fractures in that area, or she might have hit her head at some point (she hasn't since I've owned her, but old injuries can last awhile).

So the plan is not to scope her for ulcers, and he doesn't think she has any estrus-related issues. Hooray for that. If the diagnosis is accurate and simple and we inject her and then she still acts like a monster, though, I'm going to have her scoped. Ulcers scare me to death.

Anyway, my dear girl has a headache. I hope we can fix her right up. I'll be a little nervous until Friday morning, but I have a feeling it's going to be okay. And hey, I'm learning a whole lot about veterinary issues from this horse. Hooray?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Book Review: Share and Share Alike

Like a few other bloggers, I was contacted by Hannah Hooton to review her new novel, Share and Share Alike, a romance novel set around steeplechase in England.

In many ways, I'm not really the ideal reader for this novel. I'm queer and generally sick of heteronormative love stories. I'm also, as I've said before, kind of a Vulcan. I don't do sentiment and I'm not really sure that humans speak to each other the way movies would have us think. I also have my eyes open for horse-related errors in novels set around equines.

Here's what I did like about the novel: It's quite readable. I got through it in about two days. None of the horse stuff left me clutching my forehead. I don't know anything about hurdlers, so someone in that world might have a better idea than I do about what's right and wrong here. The writing is good and didn't have me cringing at sentence construction.

Here's what I didn't like so much about it: First and most importantly, there's quite a bit of racism and xenophobia directed towards Roma people. The author uses words like "gypsy" and "pikies" related to them (and no Romani are characters in the story, just distant troublemakers who get snarled about by the nice rich English people). It's one thing to put these words in the mouths of loathsome characters to show how detestable they are, but in this case, it's coming from one of the more sympathetic characters in the book, and is entirely uncomplicated by anyone else. This character says things like, "Damned gypsies in the area again, out poaching our rabbits" (98) and "It was those goddamned pikies [...] Well, they're going to pay for this" (237).

I can't endorse a book with this kind of slur just sitting there. And anything dealing with the Romani is irrelevant to the book. The author could have left that out and nothing would have changed.

And no, it is not okay to say "gypsy." Here is an article that explains why. This excerpt is especially useful:

The term "gypsy" is a non-preferred and often derogatory term for Roma people. For those of you who aren't aware of anti-Roma bigotry, the Roma are an indigenous people of Europe who continue to be pushed from nation to nation and mistreated. They are frequently denied legal status and therefore social services. There are many stereotypes about the Roma, but the most predominant is that they are all sociopathic drifters who steal children and anything else that isn't tied down.

Like many ethnic minorities who have been deprived of legal means to support themselves and their families, the Roma have a high crime rate. This fact is used as an excuse to continue to discriminate against Romani people. The fact that many Romani people choose to "live apart" as a direct result of centuries of bigotry is also used against them.
 Okay, we cool on that point?

 Beyond that, I hated the main character. I mean, she cares about the horse she's part-owner of, and has a couple friends she's kind to. She's not a total monster. But her actions and motivations made no sense to me, and her behavior around the primary love interest baffled me, except that they seemed pretty typical for a character in a story like this. I get grossed out by things like women thinking they need a man to be bigger than they are, as though that is what really matters in the world, and this character brought it up enough that if I knew her in real life I'd be like ENOUGH. ALREADY. But I wouldn't be friends with her in real life, because I'm an intellectual and this character hates intellectuals.

The plot itself is predictable. If you've seen a movie before, you'll see where it's heading pretty quickly. In more ways than one, it's very Pride and Prejudice, and self-consciously so. This is not a high point for me, as I'm not an Austen fan. Also--and this is not a spoiler--don't give a character a name like Sin and then have the main character be fighting off the temptation of his "sex god" presence the whole time. That's ham-fisted.

This might be your thing, if you like formulaic love stories and beach reads. If so, you could buy it here or here or in paperback here. If overt racism bothers you, or if a mere nod to feminist principles that are thrown away at the drop of a hat will cause you to roll your eyes, skip it.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Back to the Drawing Board

Lex is driving me to drink. Good thing I love her so much.

We spent several days trying to get the mare to walk ("waaaaaaalk, Lex. Just waaaaalk"). Then in a lesson the other day, we had some fantastic trot work. I mean, mind-blowing, gonna-win-the-dressage trot. Yesterday was kind of eh, but I'd gotten smacked in the face by my mom's horse so hard that I can't quite remember what happened, so I blamed myself for that lackluster ride. But today, it was explosion time again.

I was in a lesson, thank god, and M was right there to see the drama unfolding. Eventually, she got on her, and the mare lost her mind. Bucking, rearing, the works.

So we've got a vet appointment for Monday. I don't know what I'm going to do if she has a chronic medical condition. I'd prefer a training problem, to be honest. There aren't many better riders than Mary, plus we have a good cowboy trainer on hand who I totally trust, and I can sit through a lot of garbage. But I don't have a ton of money, and I'll always do what's right for her, so I'll have to figure something out.

I'm trying not to get too spun out about this now. Fingers crossed for the big mare, please. I'll just be over here with this bottle of whiskey and my tears.

There was a little girl
With a little... um, star
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good, she was very very good,
But when she was bad,
She was horrid.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

VCBH Blog Hop: Unpopular Opinions

I've been out of the blog hop loop, what with lack of real internet and everything, but I have MANY unpopular opinions. Here is a short list, tied together by evidence. I am not a sentimental or romantic person in any way. I don't think horse training is cosmic. I don't think good intentions make any difference at all in the end. So for me, logic rules. I suppose I'm a Vulcan. But here goes, three reasons you can hate me:

1. Research-based medicine, every time. Homeopathic cures, acupuncture, even chiro: there is no research here. These are probably harmless most of the time, but they're also risking the transferred placebo effect, so the horse's problem (if there's actually a problem) may not be solved. Same goes for 99% of feed-through joint supplements, aloe juice (cracks me up every time), etc. Go read Dr. David Ramey's blog, where he discusses what the evidence does and does not show for just about everything. Anecdotal evidence is not data.

2. Gadgets are delightful if they are used correctly. Draw reins, standing martingales, running martingales, and a whole lot of non-snaffle bits are fine if the rider is skilled. Otherwise, they are razors in the hands of monkeys. On the flip side of this coin, I've observed that a lot of people who use bitless bridles on green horses haven't gotten their horses broke to the bit yet, and have given up, thinking their horse is a special butterfly, when really, he just needs to be educated. That said, if everyone is safe and happy and no one's nose is getting unduly hauled on by the bitless contraption, no material harm is being done with them.

Our only XC school was in draw reins.
We walked up to some logs and hopped over them.
Should I give her aloe juice to help her overcome the trauma?

3. Everyone in the world needs riding lessons. And even if they have riding lessons, I don't think green riders should have green horses. We all know the "green-on-green leads to black-and-blue" thing, but a lot of people seem to assume it doesn't apply to them. It probably does, and even if you don't end up in the dirt a lot, you're bound to confuse the horse and yourself sometimes. Green riders don't have the confidence in their aids to keep asking the same way over and over until the horse gets it, and they keep changing the rules so the horse can't ever figure it out.

Have fun eviscerating me in the comments. Here is a cute picture of my nephew practicing his ponying skillz to ease the blow.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tack Review, Kind Of: Antarés Jumping Saddle

Y'all, I can't believe I rode in that Crosby so long. I had no idea.

I've had that particular saddle for 17 years. Before that, I had a smaller Crosby. My wonderful friend Dorrie, who was basically my third parent and is responsible for me getting show miles and falling in love with jumpers, only had a tack room full of Crosbies. I had literally never ridden in anything else until I started teaching at the lesson barn from hell last year and occasionally had to hop on a horse who had a Collegiate or a Wintec on.

Then one day Tracy let me ride the wonderful Miles, and she'd just gotten her Prestige Meredith. That was the first high-quality saddle I'd ever sat in. It was too small for me because I've got freakish conformation, but it was so nice. That planted a kernel in my brain: Maybe, just maybe, there is something to nice saddles. Maybe, someday, I could own one myself.

I made a deal with myself: when I get tenure, I'll get a new (used) saddle. A CWD, Devoucoux, or Antarés. Or maybe a Prestige! I'd enjoyed Tracy's, after all. Well, maybe I don't have to wait until I get tenure. Maybe just when I get a real job. Or maybe just when I've saved up the money.

Then Lex started bucking and rearing and generally being a pig. It was ulcers, of course, but the point remained: the Crosby wasn't helping me at all. I'd joked many times that it was just a piece of leather to hold the stirrups on, and that's true. It was hard and slippery, and wasn't gonna help me over the big jumps. M rode in it one day and was like, "This thing has got to go." (She rides in a Smith-Worthington, for what it's worth, and I think she has Devoucoux dreams.)

So then it became, I really need a new saddle now. SprinklerBandit enabled, as she does, thank god. I had a pretty low budget, even with my mom's help, so I wasn't super optimistic. I tried a couple: an Antarés that fit Lex perfectly and didn't fit me (I need a very forward flap), a Devoucoux that fit me great and didn't fit her at all. And then I just happened to check, and they just happen to be about an hour from me. And they had a very well-loved but quite usable Antarés in a 17.5" (my smallest possible size) and a 5AAA flap--as forward/long as a flap gets.

Here, it's on my mom's horse, not mine. For some reason, I haven't done a good job getting a picture of it on Lex.

I wasn't quite sure at first: I'd heard that Antarés tips people forward sometimes. I have enough problems with that on my own. But after a couple of rides in it, I'm totally sold. It really helps me out. When things go pear-shaped during a ride, it's like, "Hang in there, buddy. We're in this together." Whereas the Crosby was like, "See ya on the flip siiiiiiide!"

The saddle is full calfskin, which is an adjustment. I'm pretty constantly worried about scratching it, especially putting it on the saddle racks, because the flaps are so forward that they're likely to get scratched on the wall. My Smartpak lined leathers (pictured above) would probably have been fine but I decided to get used Antarés leathers on eBay just to be sure. But I know everyone loves calfskin, so I'm doing my best to stop worrying and love the softness.

Now, of course, I have to stop myself from buying All the Antarés Accessories. I no longer have a tack budget for the year. Please remind me of that. The good news is, Lex wouldn't look so good in an Antarés bridle, so I can't buy one of those.

Before I panic myself about my financial state (which is just fine, if I don't buy any more crap), I'll wrap up this review by saying that I am thrilled to pieces with the new saddle and can't wait to ride my horses in it.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Get Jiggy Wid It

SORRY, couldn't help it.

M, in all of her wonderfulness, gave me a lesson this morning even though she just got back from vacation and I'm sure she'd rather have been weeding or something else to catch up around the farm. I'm so grateful, because it was a very productive lesson. I have a few pictures that weren't from this lesson. My mom came out a week and a half ago and took them for me. That was a better day than today.

As I mentioned the other day, Lex is soooo not into walking. Halt or jig or trot (and the trot is mostly pretty sticky and not great). She is trying to stay behind my leg. Given our recent issues with being nappy and bucking, I am not enthusiastic about this. When I was in Ohio, D always told me "softly forward in front of the leg." She was right, and Lex is not doing that. M reminded me that Lex is not broke to my leg yet, and so that is now the primary goal.

Walking like a normal horse.
The picture above shows how I would like her to walk right now. Calm, forward, stretching through her neck. It's not an A+ walk, but it's good for warming up and cooling out. In an ideal world, she'd be stepping up under herself more and swinging. But I'd take this walk today, believe me.

Today M told me we were just going to work on the walk and nothing else. Despite my love of jumping all the things, I really enjoy these kinds of foundational exercises. We got on a circle to the left and walked on a loose rein until the behavior started. Essentially, I'm to be very clear and not take any shit from the mare. She can't shut down and halt, and she can't tense up and jig. She can walk nicely and on contact. If she is doing that, I soften at the elbows and praise her. If not, I use voice commands in addition to leg and hand to insist that she go where I want her to.

Fashion mane!
The walk is mine, and I get to tell her when to do it. The mare has to follow those orders. When she halts or jigs, she is refusing to use her back and step under. She CAN use her back and step under. She has done it before. But right now, she's saying no. There is nothing physically wrong with her, believe me. When there is, she tries to kill me, hee. Today it was just like, "I don't WANNA." She's testing boundaries like the adolescent she is, and I need to do a better job getting her to respect my leg aids.

"My rider sure is a dum-dum sometimes
but at least she knows where the carrots are."
 We're in a somewhat difficult phase right now, but this is not the first snag we've hit. Not by a long shot. And we've always pushed through. So here's where I stand on this whole thing now, as a benchmark and clarifying exercise:

1. Lex is a fabulous horse. She is brilliant and talented and athletic. I am lucky to own her.

2. I am not afraid of her or intimidated by her, though I am sometimes annoyed. I am definitely not overmounted. M said once, "I am not teaching you how to ride, I'm teaching you how to ride this horse. If I had to teach you to ride, this would be inappropriate." She explicitly agrees that Lex is not too much horse for me, and that it will be rewarding to get through all this nonsense (which I would not get through as effectively without M).

3. She is green, though. When she has more buttons installed, she will be easier to ride, because I will have more options for responding. Sometimes with this shit, the only way past it is through.

4. Given that, there will always be something with her. Any time we introduce her to something new, whether it's using her back or trot poles or whatever, she will be like WHAT THE FUCK and fall behind my leg. My challenge will be to keep her moving forward WITHOUT throwing her head up in the air. This will become easier when she's more broke, as I said.

Remember this?

 I wrote a whole thing about owning a horse like Lex and removed it. I might retool it and publish it as its own thing. But the bottom line is this: She's not for everyone, and I'm lucky to have the help I've had and continue to have with her. To ride a horse like her, you've got to want it, and I totally do. Happy horse owner here, even on the tough days. She is so worth it.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Tack Review: Ogilvy Jumper Memory Foam Half Pad

I'm not usually one to spend money on tack trends. I only very recently ditched the Crosby. I skipped the Thinline craze, I'm staying out of the ongoing Micklem obsession, I don't use ear plugs, I am not a fan this long ponytail thing some jumper riders are wearing, colored stirrups give me a migraine, can't get into "bling" anything, I think people should only use white saddle pads to show, and I REALLY hate "trendy" jumper jackets. (Also, get off my lawn.) (Also, if you use any/all of the things I hate, believe me, I still love you.)

But sometimes the thing that's trendy does make sense to me or appeals to me in some way, and right now that thing is Ogilvy half pads. They're memory foam, so they don't wear out, and the cover is machine washable (I have not washed mine yet). The idea is that the foam compresses where it needs to and fills in where it needs to so that the saddle has a nice, uniform feel to the horse's back. These come in 1 1/4" (standard) and 1" thickness. I got the 1 1/4".

I enjoyed making a real grown-up salary for a few months, and while I squirreled away most of what I had left after normal living expenses, I did buy Lex a couple new things--a new bit, a new standing martingale, and this half pad. I purchased the half pad knowing that in this market, I could sell it for nearly full price. It takes 5ever to get them from Ogilvy and everyone wants one, so I wasn't too worried.

What it costs:  $199 from Ogilvy Equestrian
What I paid: Full price (gulp)

One night, fueled by a glass of wine, I went ahead and ordered it with the grey quilting, baby blue piping, and navy binding. Then I went to bed and tried to remind myself that I rarely go out to eat and never buy new clothes for myself so this one thing is justifiable RIGHT?!

The minute I sat in my (old, flat) saddle, I could feel a difference. It made my saddle feel a lot more comfortable--for me. Was it more comfortable for Lex? I don't really know! I asked her but she was like, GIMME THAT CARROT and I couldn't get her to give me a straight answer. It did not take her from a sensitive green OTTB mare to a stunning perfect dressage horse who uses all her muscles correctly overnight, but I didn't expect it to. The only thing that's going to turn her into a horse who uses all her muscles correctly is proper training. And when I bought the Antares, I was even happier to have it because the tree is just a touch wide for her but the Ogilvy puts it where it needs to be.

She don't care about no stinkin' half pad.

  • It's very pretty to look at and I'm a little bit of a sucker for custom colors.
  • It did make my old saddle feel more comfy from the rider's perspective and it makes my new saddle fit better.
  • No weird sweat patterns on Lex's back, so I'm guessing it's doing what it says it's doing?

  • You MUST tighten your girth after you get on, maybe more than once. All that cushy foam is gonna compress when you add a human's weight to it. I always tighten my girth after a lap or two of the ring anyway so whatevsies.
  • Price--these suckers are not cheap. But they're cheaper than a new saddle or getting yours restuffed to fit.
  • It takes a bazillion years (or six weeks) to get it from Ogilvy. Not really that big a deal. If you're going to a big horse show you can probably snag one from their booth, but you won't be able to do custom color options. I talked to the Ogilvy guy at Rolex and he said they're working on adding to their manufacturing staff to decrease the wait time a bit.
Overall, I like it quite a bit. But I think that we could all live without them so no reason to give up groceries to buy one. If you have a little spending money and this is what you want, I'd wager that you will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

If it Ain't Broke

...don't ride it?

Juuuuuust kidding. Ride it a lot.

The animal drama, y'all. I don't even know where to start.

Lex: The Horse Who Ain't Broke

Always got somethin' to say.

 This little butthead is not currently bucking, but she is also not walking. You may choose from this menu of options: Jig, Trot, or Halt. She'd probably gallop too, but I haven't asked as I am not prepared to shed this mortal coil.

M is out of town (has been for the past week and a half, but she is back late Saturday night which means that Sunday I am attacking her for a lesson if I have to). I've had some good rides on the mare, but the last three have been less than fun. I think it might be because I'm not riding her long enough, so each day she's like a fresh new horse. But I also haven't been wanting to pick fights, because I'm riding a horse alone on the farm who recently lost her marbles. I always quit when I'm ahead, and I'm telling myself that the ring footing is hard right now and I don't want to work her too much on that anyway. Tomorrow, if the projected storms stay out of the way, I'm going to lunge her for awhile and then ride her. It should rain and soften the footing, so I won't feel bad about a longer ride. I haven't longed her in months, so it'll be good for her anyway. As Chris always said to me, you have to take the bitter with the sweet with green horses.

TJ and the Ankle that Ain't Broke

Pardon the verrrrry old pic.
 This enormous butthead about did me in the other day. I was leading him in from the paddock when my mother walked out of the barn, and he fuh-reaked out and I took a front hoof directly to the fibula. If you want to break your ankle, that's how to do it. I broke the other ankle a few years ago and that was a disaster, so I was pretty pissed off at him. I texted Tracy in hysterics until my mom could get me in for radiographs. The doctor and I were both pretty shocked that it wasn't broken. I had to use a cane and an ankle brace for a few days, which made managing two horse farms, including eight dogs, a challenge. It's still sore, but I will live, and I suppose I will not kill the horse.

Rocket and the Knees that Ain't Broke

Remember when she was this tiny?
 Rocket fell on her knees--well, flung herself on her knees, really--when she got her feet trimmed yesterday. Everyone's okay, but that was obnoxious. The vet happened to be there too (juuuuust wait) and the vet and farrier agreed that "that's draft horses." They're happy to use their bulk against you and fling themselves around and aren't particularly sensitive. If anyone has draft horse tips, let me know. This is literally my second horse who is not a TB so I have no idea what I'm doing. The farrier's advice was, "Don't give her an inch."

Ink and the Summer Heat that Just Won't Break

Favorite horse of all time.
 The vet had to come out yesterday because my 33 year old love, Ink, was not eating breakfast and also didn't want to get up in the morning. He is ancient, I know. I realize we do not get to keep him forever. But we do everything we can for him. She gave him banamine and electrolytes and I gave him a cold shower, and he perked up. Today he seems fine. But the temps have been holding steady at 90-95 and he is not loving that AT ALL. I gave all the horses showers today, and each of them seemed to really appreciate it. Rocket especially loved standing in front of our big aisle fan after her bath. Poor baby.

Grayson and the Sarcoma that, Unfortunately, Ain't Broke Either

Pardon the personal shot.
 The farrier noticed this ridiculous sarcoma on our old grey OTTB, Grayson. Grayson's in his early-mid 20s (Mom would remember but I can't) and has been retired for quite awhile because he is insane. M used to ride him and she was eventually like, "...Nope." So anyway, Mom's already battled cancer with him once, and we decided not to go through treatment or anything anymore. The vet is going to band this to see if we can cut off the blood supply and induce necrosis, but otherwise I'm not sure what is going to happen. Because he isn't being ridden and really doesn't like people, he doesn't get inspected the way the other horses do (even Ink, who hasn't been ridden in like 12 or 15 years but loves any bit of attention he can get). If the farrier hadn't been holding up a foot, I wouldn't have even tried to look at it or get a picture because I'd have been likely kicked in the head. Talk about broke. So we'll have to see what happens with that.

Toby and the Esophagus that's Very Very Broke

Pictures can be deceiving.
 Toby is my mom's 13 year old cocker spaniel. He's deaf, blind, and incontinent. And now he has megaesophagus, and we're not entirely sure why. The take-away point is that he has to be held upright to eat (canned dog food in small bites) and then for 30 minutes after eating, 3-4 times per day, and he has to drink out of elevated bowls. He also has aspiration pneumonia. That car seat arrangement looks like it's working but it isn't. I had to wrap him in belts and a sheet to keep him in there, and then he chewed through one of the belts. He is hating everything about life. I am hating everything about life. Something's got to give. My mom is on call this week and is about to be gone for five weeks so yours truly will be managing this very scary, serious, and difficult condition alone. And then what if he doesn't survive and she's gone? This is a total mess.