Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It goes on...

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: It goes on.  -Robert Frost
Indeed. Life goes on.
But, that doesn't ease the struggle.
I had a rough day yesterday, and today I'm still struggling with the news.
It's not even my news.  Not really.
I don't have difinitive word yet, so I'm not at liberty to share the full details, but I need an outlet.
I'm sure there will be an in-depth post in the future detailing a progression of events colored by hind-sight.
In other news:
Fancy Pony is fine.  The worst thing she is struggling with is the results of her re-introduction to the crupper.  I wish I had gotten video.  Man, that girl can BUCK!
Head in the dirt.
Hand stands.
Vertical orientation, with her hind legs straight up in the air!
You see, there is a real reason why they say to lunge your horse in the crupper before you ride them.
We will continue the crupper desensitization.  If she doesn't get over it, she will get incredibly fit!!
It started in the walk.  Once she stopped bucking in the walk, we trotted.
And the process began anew.
Finally, she accepted that, but she really struggled with the canter.
You see, when she tucks her pelvis to step under herself, the crupper slides up a little more and she clamps her tail down...
That is when the real rodeo begins!
We finally got to a point where she could take 5 or 6 cater strides without bucking.  Both directions.  At that point, I took the crupper off and rode a little.
Oh, man!  The sit I had in the trot!!  Her shoulders were up! Her haunches were down!  It was like sitting in the from of a motor boat! 
She was obviously not up for a real work out under saddle.  We didn't even canter.
She got a thorough liniment treatment and lots of massage.
It turns out that there are dramatic repurcussions to clamping your tail over the crupper while broncing around...
before softening the crust...
 I used just a little bit of M-T-G to soften the scabs.  Amazingly enough, as soon as I applied it, she actually draped her tail over my hands.  She didn't try to move away.  She just settled into my "treatment".  As the thin crusts softened, they sort of fell or peeled off.  So I softenend them a little more and removed them all. 
She was much happier after that!!
after crust removal
 I wonder if a sheepskin sleeve on the crupper would help protect her sensetive, red-head skin?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Fancy Pony's Run

I have to say that I am not thrilled with my own performance. I’m not getting all down on myself or anything; I’m just saying that there is quite a bit of room for improvement on my part.  Despite my lackluster showing, Fancy Pony rose to the occasion.

This post will be wordy, and there aren’t many pictures to illustrate the adventure.  I’m sorry for that.  I hope the adventure itself is engaging enough…  Things got a little exciting for me…

Warming up for Dressage, the Fancy Pony felt soft and stretchy.  She felt forward.  She felt great, really!  I headed down centerline feeling confident that I was showing off the best my horse had!  I halted at X and saluted…  And the judge rang the bell.
DAMNIT! I knew that!  There is no halt at the beginning of the Beginner Novice test.  Now, I was flustered.  I took a deep breath, set it behind me, and rode my horse.
Honestly, my dressage test was unremarkable.  My lines were straight.  My circles were round.  Our canter was the most balanced and relaxed it has ever been in a dressage test!
The judge wanted more acceptance of the bridle and suppleness of the back.  I was a little disappointed in the differences between my thoughts on the ride and the judge’s thoughts, but I filed that away for later analysis and focused on preparing for my stadium ride…

Fancy Pony seemed to get stuck in this really compressed canter.  It had power, but I couldn’t seem to get her moving out like I wanted.  I must have been giving her mixed signals…

Yup. We know we're jumping!

Finally, we got to a point where we were happy with her jumps.  Basically, if I just sat back and stayed out of her way, we were fine.  So, I headed into my stadium round.
I turned onto the line for my first 2 fences, and as we popped over the first fence, I lost my left rein.  It was gone.  Not in my hand.  We’re already veering right, and I need to stay on this line and get over that 2nd fence…  I scrambled to gather my reins.  As I did so, Fancy Pony weaved with every movement.  Somehow, despite our pole-bending performance, we made it over the 2nd fence.  We had a hard right turn to fence 3, and my horse still wasn’t quite back together.  The corner tried to suck us off course, as we had anticipated.  With a kick of left leg and a leading right rein, we finally sighted in the fence on the uphill climb.  We popped over fence 3 and rode the bending line to fence 4.  Finally, it felt like we were back together after the rough start.
Alas, I was fooled.  She broke to trot as I tried to make the tight right turn to the downhill line.  She popped over the vertical, but I was having quite a difficult time lengthening her on the downhill slope.  The oxer felt like she was trying to jump me out of the tack!!
So willing!
I took a large sweeping turn to fence 7, which rode beautifully, and my husband even snapped a picture!!

Fence 7

One more large, sweeping turn to fence 8, a white oxer.  I sought “attack mode”.  I got “hunter canter”.  I decided I’d take that for now.  Again, I felt like the downhill approach compressed us, but we sailed over that oxer, and I celebrated inside!  I was still alive!!

I really couldn’t understand why I felt like I was pushing my limits.  The heights weren’t bothering me, but I was finding it to be a lot more work than normal to get the jumping horse I was used to riding…
We now know that I was on my second horse of the day, 5 rides down with 1 more to go, and I had strep throat which had not yet been discovered, let alone treated with antibiotics…

Before I could think too much about the ride ahead, I headed to the start box.
Remembering the issues I’ve had at schoolings, when my typically calm pony worked herself up during the pretend countdown, I took a second to just stand there before quietly trotting out of the start box.  Yes, friends, I was riding very conservatively.

We approached the first fence, and I felt “attack mode” kick in.  I got tense in my hips over the logs.  I think I forgot to ride my rhythm in the last stride or so…  At the coop, I focused on sitting up and tried not to notice the mud at the base.  Fancy Pony ate it up and charged on!  Through the trees we went, and suddenly a peace washed over me.  On that short, shady path, it all came together that I was doing what I live for!
We emerged into the sunshine and turned up the hill, where I knew the steps were waiting for us.  I remembered Coach hollering, “More canter!” the day before, so I put my leg on to charge up the hill.  As the steps rose from the horizon, I looked at the treetops at the far side of the park and counted strides.  We surged over the steps as if they were nothing (and really, they aren’t, but I’ve been fighting a little bit of a mind game).
We galloped on (at least, it felt like a gallop to me, although it was probably just a forward canter) toward the mushroom top…  I looked at the trees, I closed my leg for a moment, and I felt Fancy Pony lock on her tractor beam…  And suddenly we were sliding to a halt at the base of the jump!
Yo! Fancy Pony! You were on a roll!  What’s the deal??
 - Oops!  Sorry!  Peeked at it.  I’m over it!

Take Two at the mushroom, and we were back on a roll!  Onward to the related roll tops followed by a red barn.  I lined her up in the middle, watched the barn as we hopped the roll tops, then refocused on the treetops again as we approached the barn.  I pushed for more gallop then asked her to balance and gather.  I felt her shoulders lift and her hind legs swing under her.  I felt the blocks line up and balance.  I widened my hands and pushed her forward again 2 strides out.  She never wavered and jumped the barn that had become so problematic the day before…

Next up was the sharktooth thing that was one of our easiest jumps during schooling.  It looks like the front half of a coop with dark brown triangles pointing down and orange triangles pointing up.  We rounded the corner, zeroed in, and when I felt her look at it and commit, I looked on up the hill. The blocks were in alignment…
Suddenly, my world was spinning!
I was on my horse’s neck, hugging with everything I had (there was lots of hugging involved).  To my left, I saw the toe of her left front hoof digging in about halfway up the jump.  Her knee was next to my head.  Time slowed waaaaaaay down…  Her leg scraped the rest of the way down the face of the jump.  We scrambled to a standstill.  I was heaving to catch my breath.  She was heaving to catch her breath.  My hands were shaking.  Was my horse OK? Did I need to retire?  Did I need to go on? 
My whole being was shaking…

I walked Fancy Pony back the way we had come.  We had 4 even beats…  We trotted…  We had steady, even strides…  We cantered… And her ears flicked forward, seeking…  I turned onto the line to re-approach, and Fancy Pony turned on her tractor beam as if she were a heat-seeking missile!
Butterflies exploded in my stomach.  All I could see was the mud at the base of the fence where she had just slipped.  She told me in no uncertain terms that she had this.  I put my faith in her and rode her to and over the jump.  She landed and pushed up the hill to the up-bank, then on over the top where we had to prepare for the cordwood.
Nope, she wasn’t ready to quit.
Over the cordwood we charged, then I nearly panicked when I realized we had another related distance ahead.

For some reason, the wooden walls felt tricky to me.  They ride straight-forward, but they made me nervous every time I approached them.  So, of course, I compensated by riding aggressively…
I widened my hands and closed my legs as we popped over the first one, then Fancy Pony got wiggly.  They were really the first wiggles I had noticed on the XC course.  I insisted with all of my might that she needed to go straight over the second wall.  We survived that, and I was filled with euphoria again!

Then… I heard a very familiar voice behind me…  Coach had caught up with me on her own Beginner Novice mount!  That’s what I got for wasting so much time with refusals and slips in the mud… And muddling through to my decision to continue…

I splashed through the water and over the cute little logs.  As I galloped away, I heard Coach splashing into the water, too…
We pushed to the blue roll top, and confidence was brimming as we soared over it!  I knew Coach was riding faster than I was.  I knew she was going to need to pass.  I steadied Fancy Pony on the way up the hill to give her plenty of time and space to make her move.  We chatted briefly as she passed, and she was out of sight when I finally arrived at the mini-table.  My Pony was flagging a little, but she engaged Attack Mode again and galloped on toward our last fence: the stone wall.  She had been wiggly to the wall in practice, so I gathered her between my legs and my reins.  Again, the tractor beam locked on.  Our rhythm was set!  Over the wall we went.  For once, there wasn’t all that extra effort to jump a foot higher than she needed to…
I pushed for a gallop, and she gave me what she had left!  She got flat and long and surged beneath me with every stride!  It was exhilarating!
And I was exhausted…

We finished on a number!  We survived!
…and that is how I finished on a score of 117…

Returning Victoriuous!
...or, still alive, at least...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cricket's Run

Cricket and CG started the day off with 2 dressage tests: Intro A and Intro B.  This was CG’s first time competing in dressage.  Cricket had never seen the inside of a real dressage arena.  This spooky mare trotted right in like she owned the place and never blinked at the chain around the arena, the judge’s table, the crowd, or anything!  CG earned 1st and 2nd places for her rides!
She really did earn them, too!  Instead of sitting passively on her horse as they went through the motions, she sought a specific trot quality.  She encouraged a marching free walk.  She asked for balanced and released into her halts!
…and I think she is beginning to really like the idea of dressage!

The girls have been initiated!

My Starter dressage test on Cricket was Intro B.  I focused on trying to keep her relaxed and reaching for the bit.  Other than that, all I worried about was geometry.  We came away with a score of 40!  I was perfectly pleased with that!

Warming up for stadium, I was concerned about moving her enough to get loose and stretchy, but I didn’t want to make her tired.  I needed her to have lots left over for cross-country!
We hopped over a cross-rail…  We hopped over a vertical…  We made the vertical an oxer, and she took it all in stride!
Waiting for our turn to jump, we stood around a bit, so we went back and popped over the oxer, just to make sure we remembered how to jump, then came back and headed into our stadium round! (How’s that for a never-ending run-on sentence?)
Our first line, she stayed pretty straight and focused on our task.  We came around the corner, and (as expected) she drifted to the outside of the turn, but when she finally found the fence in front of her, she directed herself straight to it!  We bent around to our next vertical, and I tried to keep her together for a right-hand turn.  She lost momentum coming around for the downhill line, but she brought it back to get over the first vertical, but she just couldn’t seem to give me the impulsion we needed for the oxer.
Yes, Cricket, you are totally capable of taking this tiny pink oxer.

Swing around again for our uphill approach to the big red rail… She really pushed for it, and I think it was one of our best stadium jumps ever!  Then, we swung around to finish over the white oxer, which looked so inviting to me…
Cricket, I really need you to stretch out again.  This compressed frame might feel better because you are going downhill, but it will not help you get over that oxer.  Now, GO!
Oh, dear God, please don’t let her kill us…
Yes, Cricket, you are the bravest pony that ever was!

Just LOOK at her commitment!
So, before she got cold, we headed over to the start box so we could go cross-country!  I wasn’t sure what to expect, so we headed of at a quiet trot.  Once we cleared the trees and I could see our first jump, I pushed her to a canter.
You see, we discovered the day before that she is much braver from the canter…
To the log stack we go!  She popped on over and we headed to the coop.  This coop is in the trees.  The approach is downhill.  She just kept sucking back until she broke to the trot.  A tap of the whip got some last moment balancing before she finally threw her heart over and decided to follow it.  The pseudo-table roll-top was quite inviting and really helped settle her into a rhythm.  We took another log stack before the S-curve to the logs-hiding-in-the-grass (which we didn’t practice the day before because they weren’t mowed – we figured they must not be on the course).  In spite of never even seeing the jump, she put her head and neck down, snorted with wide eyes, and jumped it anyway!  On to the red half-roll (which we had practiced extensively the day before), also buried in the grass.  Coach’s words from the day before echoed in my head, “Training level canter!”  Oh, the brave pony never batted an eyelash!  We raced on to jump out tiny up-bank!
We had a rhythm, and Cricket was grooving!  We had to finish climbing the hill before turning right onto a long approach to the baby-bench.  We lost momentum.  I put my leg on, but she didn’t give me quite enough additional go.  I balanced her and sent her forward again, but it was too little, too late.  She suddenly saw the bench, dropped everything on the forehand, and slid to a stop.  Just a baby horse mistake.  No big deal.  We circled back and re-approached.  Wide hands and a pulsing leg set her up for success on our second approach, and she sailed on over and headed for our double logs!

From the ether, I heard Coach’s voice, “Good luck!”
I saw her to my left negotiating the s-curve!
“Thank you!”
Cricket cantered on in her best impersonation of a gallop and committed to the logs from miles away!
Bloop!  Bloop!
Round the corner to the house, and those shingles are so cute!
Welcome, Cricket, to ATTACK MODE!
I could feel her tiring as we cantered the last stretch to the last jump.  The solid-looking stack of logs looked bigger as we got closer.  I closed my legs and told her, "Attack it!"
At the last second, she saw the photographer on the far side, so took an extra moment.  When Cricket takes an extra moment, she rocks herself back onto her hocks and springs up and over the jump.  She hopped over the last fence, and I sent to the finish at a her best hand-gallop, which really is nothing more than a leisurely canter at this point...
But, she finished!
And she took home 3rd place!!
Cricket surpassed EVERYBODY's expectations!  We couldn't be more proud!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Loose Ends

Forward is always the right answer!
Marching on...
What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I realized it sooner.  -Colette
The stories from show day are still forthcoming, but with the myriad of challenges cropping up this summer, I felt like a random catching-up style post was in order.

To start with, I got sick right before show weekend.  I laid in bed all day that Friday with razor blades attacking my throat every time I swallowed…  It had seemed to lighten up during the weekend, so I just sort of pushed it to the back of my mind and allowed adrenaline to carry me through the weekend.  Monday, at work, I popped a fever and even my co-workers we urging me to go home before I even had a chance to open my mouth and voice the obligatory, “I’m not feeling so hot.”

I carpool to work, but my dad came to the rescue and drove me home.
(Never mind that he’ll never read this.  But, a girl can hope!)

I couldn’t get into the doctor’s office until Tuesday morning.  Doc looked me over, observed that I had been sick since Friday and put me on antibiotics while we waited for the lab results.  You see, the in-office rapid-test for strep came back negative…

So, I did a lot of this:
White tea...  Oh, so soothing!

 And even more of this:
Soft kitty... Warm kitty... little ball of fur...
I went a week without throwing a leg over a horse.  I was the walking dead.  It felt like the flu, only without the high fever.  Because a constant low-grade fever feels so much better, right?

A full week later, I spent my Sunday afternoon playing horse at the barn with CG and the mares.  It wasn’t all that long, but it was my first day among the living.  I keep sunscreen in my grooming tote, but my brilliant self forgot to APPLY it!
Did I mention I’m on antibiotics?  Can you guess what happened to me on that beautiful afternoon?  It’s 3 days later, and I’m still in pain!
Seriously, those edges look downright radioactive!

If and when I sunburn, my worst burns might hurt for 24 hours.  Then, they turn brown, and vitamin D leaves me feeling invincible for a week!

Because of the holiday, the doctor’s office couldn’t get the results of my lab test to me until Monday.  And the verdict is?
Well, folks, I am the proud owner of my very own strep throat.
I competed 2 horses through the same 1-day horse trial WITH STREP THROAT!
How am I even alive??

While I was down and out, I got zero real blogging done.  I did finally begin to surface, so I did some overdue shopping!  Wanna know what I just ordered?

I should soon have a crupper, which I seem to so desperately need for down-banks into water when I play on the cross-country course!  Also good for desensitizing on the driving front!

Cricket is now venturing into the land of "Learning to carry a cub bit" so that she can show in western pleasure.  This transition is happening with the help of a neck strap!
Have you ever ridden your horse in just a neck strap?  Oh, how liberating!
Fancy Pony is headed for some intense outside-of-our-discipline exposure (like dragging tires around the arena from the saddle) until she straight up doesn't care what is happening around her.  Her bubble has shrunk so much that nothing bothers her until it is within inches of her!  I want to shrink that bubble just a little more...  And we'll be seeking ride time with a highly reccommended dressage trainer to supplement the stuff Coach keeps throwing at us!
I'm just going to keep recovering from this dreaded bacteria and see if I can survive a jump lesson tomorrow...

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Surviving the Horse Trial - on Two Horses!

I made it!  I'm still alive!

Cricket debuted in Dressage Intro A and Intro B with her rider (CG) first thing Sunday morning.  They took 1st and 5th respectively, and Cricket was impeccably behaved!!
I took Cricket into the Starter Horse Trial, where she took 3rd in her division!
Whisper debuted at Beginner Novice, where I made some major screw ups as a rider, and we took 6th place with a score of 117... Overall, I am thrilled with all performances!

Now, the details!!

First, we spent Saturday practicing on the XC course...
Fancy Pony was her rocking self!  ...as long as I rode like I'm supposed to...

We CAN do this!

Then, Cricket went out to rock the XC jumps...  Her first exposure was at home, over this psuedo cordwood laid on its side...

She hopped right over the logs, but when we got to the coop, we had to lunge her over it first.  Then, she got the idea!

Finally got it under saddle!
She didn't need lunged over anything else.  She decided she could get to the other side...  Albeit, sometimes like a deer...
NOT touching it!!
She also explored the confidence building things...
Banks are cake!
And took her girl for some fun in the water!
Oh, I guess this stuff won't kill me after all...
Stay tuned for individual breakdowns of Sunday's rides!


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