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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cross One Off The Bucket List

Here are some of the horse-related things I would really, really love to do before I shuffle off this mortal coil:

1) Go on a deluxe equestrian vacation, riding from chateau-to-chateau in France or in-to-inn in Ireland. South America would be fine, too, since one of my fellow bloggers shared a lot about a fabulous trip she took there.
Ooooohhhh... I can barely stand to look at this. My idea of heaven. (France)
2) Gallop through the surf bareback on a beach.

3) Ride a gaited horse.

4) Drive a carriage or buggy with a cute horse/pony pulling it.

5) Ride saddleseat.

So, which one of these things do you think I actually got to do last week??? Here's a hint: I live in Missouri, so galloping through surf is probably not it. :-) Nope, I was terribly excited because while browsing online for a family-friendly activity (kids on spring break), I stumbled across the website for a place that offered trail-riding, which looked to be far from ordinary. No strings of underfed hacks there, just someone's personal very nice-looking, seemingly well cared-for... GAITED HORSES. Specifically, Missouri Fox Trotters, Tennessee Walkers and Paso Finos. HEL-lo, we were going!

I'm afraid this plan was met with a lukewarm response from the rest of the gang. Riding? But that's your thing, Mom. I guess it would be okay... you say these horses are really smooth? Yes, I said, bouncing up and down. They're special-moving horses and supposed to be very comfortable. Lots of people get them when they're tired of posting or have injuries that make it uncomfortable. And I've ALWAYS wanted to try riding one! (You get the picture, I was going with or without the other three in tow, but I sincerely hoped they would join me.) I just hoped it wouldn't rain because we've had a lot here lately.

Long story short, I was thrilled when Tuesday dawned bright, clear and absolutely gorgeous. I was able to hustle the entire gang out the door for the hour and a half drive to the farm. I had been in touch with the owner via phone and email, and was even more convinced that we were in for a real treat. The first thing she asked me was if anyone was over 220 lbs. - now there is an owner who definitely cares about her horses! (See recent Fugly discussion re: rider weight issues.) We navigated our way into the hilly terrain of SW Missouri, ending up on a dirt/gravel road - I was glad we'd taken our Jeep SUV and not my long-suffering minivan.

Here is the beautiful vista that awaited us when we arrived at Meramec Farm:
There was an obviously gaited horse - I had no idea what kind - pacing about and whinnying in a round pen next to the picturesque barn. He looked a little spirited, and I hoped no one in my family was going to be assigned to him for the ride (we weren't):
This fellow turned out to be a Paso Fino.
The lady I'd spoken to on the phone, Carol, came out of the lovely, newer house. She introduced herself to everyone and directed us to the picnic table where liability release forms and whew, riding helmets awaited. I'd told the family to bring their bike helmets just in case but had crossed my fingers that she'd have some (I'd forgotten to ask in advance).

There were two other women present; one of them was Carol's friend, who had brought her own horse over and was going to ride with us, and the other was a college student. I never did determine exactly what her relationship was with Carol but she was in the barn tacking up our horses when we arrived. So we were the only paying guests this time. Like I said, not your usual commercial trail ride at all!

Hunter was mounted first on a cute little Fox Trotter mare. Carol was very careful and methodical and gave him many instructions:
Next came DD, on another Fox Trotter (I didn't know they came in Pinto):
I was settled on a really nice mare named Sally, after some admonishment about not keeping constant contact with her long-shanked bit. Carol said the English H/J people she gets want to do that, but it's not how you ride a MFT (I actually knew this already):
And last but not least, here's Hubby on his Fox Trotter girl:
After a brief period of instruction for the non-riders, we headed out.
WOW!!! From the very first steps my mare took I could immediately feel the difference in her way of moving. The diagonal gait was apparent the second we went any faster than a very slow walk. I could hardly wait to really let Sally go, and she was in complete agreement - she was ready to roll. Alas, we had to keep our pace down to accomodate the rest of my family. It was okay, I was very glad they were all there, too.

Here's a little video I filmed as we were going down the driveway, towards those hills you can see behind the kids. I shouldn't even show it to you - it's lousy, and I apologize for the constantly changing view. I was having a hard time holding my phone steady, for one thing, and then I couldn't decide if I liked the vertical or horizontal alignment better.

We crossed the road and went into a huge pasture. This part of the ride was definitely my favorite, both going towards the hills and back to the farm.
As I said, Ms. Sally was wanting to go-go-go, so I did have to tell her WHOA a lot and circle around behind everyone else. I still got to feel the unique "fox-trotting" gait a lot, though, which just delighted me! When we made it over to the hill we started climbing in the woods.
Eventually we made it to a great spot which overlooked the "valley" and Carol's house. We paused for a few minutes here, and I really appreciated that Carol had thoughtfully equipped all of us with horn-mounted saddlebags which contained a bottle of water and a couple granola bars. There's definitely something to be said for western saddles!
On the way back to the farm we passed some of Carol's cattle. Both horses and cows regarded each other with zero interest, which I found amusing. Obviously they're well-acquainted with each other.
One Hereford momma was standing only a few feet from where were riding, placidly chewing her cud. Hubby told me later that he "mooed" at her and caused her to startle a bit - naughty guy...

I was really happy when Carol said I could finally let Sally go when we were headed up a slight incline in the pasture. All I had to do was cluck once and we were off! Of course I don't know how to properly support a horse while it is gaiting, so she broke to a canter a couple times. Carol told me that Sally can actually gait faster than most horses canter, about 14 mph. She had a baby last year by the Missouri Fox Trotter World Grand Champion.* I think she's definitely one of Carol's nicest horses, so I really appreciated getting to ride her. I can certainly see why people enjoy gaited horses so much, as the ride was amazingly smooth. Faster than trotting but not bumpy in the least, and a totally new sensation for this rider. I'm not ready to change disciplines yet but it truly was a blast! My family enjoyed the MFTs as well, even if they weren't quite as cognizant of the different gait.

Our ride lasted an hour and a half, which was just right. Even I was ready to hop down when we returned to the farm. Riding Western always hurts my knees, but at least Sally's saddle had nice, soft synthetic fenders. The stiff leather ones that really torque your knees just kill me.
It truly was a wonderful experience, and I hope to go back again. Carol has two cabins for rent on the property and it would be a great getaway location. Here's her website: :  Highly recommended!

* I am really, really hoping that show-ring MFTs are not subjected to the same treatment as their cousins, the Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horses... unfortunately, I have a feeling that some of the same stuff - i.e. soring - does go on. All I can say is Carol's horses are definitely loved and well-treated at HER place.

Thoroughbreds: Dying to Win

UPDATE: Thank you to the Fugly bloggers, who also just published a post on this very topic, with links to a number of recent articles. Thanks also to their readers who came up with these following extremely informative pieces:

First, my most favorite racing columnist of all time, Bill Nack, writing in 2009 about the reasons for the upswing in TB breakdowns. I'm sorry and surprised I missed this back then. I would cheerfully read every word the man has ever written, if only because he is the author of the preeminent biography of Secretariat, upon which the movie was based (Trivia: he also appears briefly in the movie, asking a question at a press conference alongside the actor playing his younger self. :-) I had the pleasure of meeting him at the Secretariat Festival in 2009 and he's delightful in person, too. This man knows racing inside-out and I believe this is the gospel truth.

Second, it appears the issue will once more be in front of the U.S. Congress, courtesy of a Senator from New Mexico. Huzzah!

*    *   * 
Anyone who has read this blog for a while already knows this, but in case you are not aware: I love and adore Thoroughbreds, beyond any other breed of horse. I grew up riding many of them in lesson programs, because that's all anyone had for H/J back in the day. Nobody was importing WBs when I was a kid, that's for sure; virtually all show hunters and most jumpers were TBs, often OTTB (ever heard of Idle Dice, my favorite childhood superstar?). My beloved Grey was at least part TB, as were my later best partners American Mare and Mom's Apple Pie. The latter was an OTTB who belonged to my trainer and her daughter, and I was very privileged to show her in 4-H. My most triumphant blue ribbon was earned on her back (a story I need to tell another time).

You have followed my adventures in Lexington, the heart of the US Thoroughbred breeding community. You know I'm a big fan of Old Friends equine retirement, home of many retired TB stallions and geldings. I hope to someday get my own OTTB from the Maker's Mark Secretariat Center or another OTTB retraining facility. A Thoroughbred is the only kind of horse I've ever wanted.

I'm telling you all this again so you understand why the following video and article just break my heart:

I saw a link to this several days ago on Facebook, via the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, but I have resisted reading it until now. I knew I was going to be upset. The situation on American racetracks is even more grim than I had realized; more and more horses are breaking down, and jockeys being injured.

One of the reasons is people are breeding lighter-boned, faster-maturing TBs. The main reason, however, can be summed up in this one sentence from the article.

"In England, where breakdown rates are half of what they are in the United States, horses may not race on any drugs."

Yup, there you have it. Especially in the lower levels of racing, trainers are pumping massive amounts of painkillers into the horses, masking injuries. They're also experimenting with "cocktails" of God-knows-what drugs to hopefully improve a horse's performance. It's a recipe for disaster.

Fortunately, the oven temperature is getting hotter. Back in 2009, after the Eight Belles incident, Congress actually called racing onto the carpet and the industry "promised" to clean up its act. What's happened? An even higher rate of horse deaths. Now, I think the increased media scrutiny, the greater awareness of the breakdown problem, and more public knowledge of what happens to TBs after they race (especially slaughter) are HOPEFULLY going to cause a major overhaul in the way we race Thoroughbreds in the United States. It probably won't be quick in coming, but I am praying that it will happen.

Sorry for the non-cheerful post today, but this is a topic very near and dear to me.
P.S. You may find it interesting to hear that my brothers went to high school with the president of the Jockey Club, John Gagliano. He appears briefly in the video. I haven't met him, but I have met his father, who used to be my parent's attorney. One of these days I plan on putting this connection to good use...

Friday, March 23, 2012

I Love Pebbles!

To continue with my theme, no, I don't mean these (yuck!):
Talking about this pretty girl:
Whaddaya know, another chestnut mare! The folks at the barn joke about how many redheaded females they have in the lesson program. Luckily, none of them seems to be equipped with the mega-attitude sported by my old pal Polly, so it's okay by me. Pebbles is another QH, I think around age eight. She's nicely-conformed and a very comfortable size, around 15.2.

I have to tell you (I think we're all girls here - if not,  guys be warned, you might want to skip this paragraph), I didn't know if I was going to make my lesson at all last weekend. About 45 minutes before I had to leave home I was hit out of the blue with absolutely monster cramps. The kind where you're thinking (if you've had kids), "WHENISTHEBABYCOMING, oww oww oww oww oww OWWWWWW!!!" Yeah, great timing. Bouncing up and down on a horse sounds simply delightful when you're doubled up on the bed in agony, feeling like someone is twisting your insides into a knot. Boy, was I mad! How dare my girlie parts throw a fit right before the highlight activity of my week! I started taking Advil and doing what little of my pre-ride stretching I was capable of. (Lying on stomach to do "Superman" back stretch? NO.) Four Advil later, I had staggered to the car, still in misery. Usually it only takes 15 minutes or so for relief but not this time. Determined not to ruin my ride, I took another pill on the way - stomach/liver be damned. The first person I saw when I arrived at the barn was my friend Sally, who was grazing her horse. She made the mistake of asking me how I was and I'm afraid I told her, even though it should have been obvious from my squinty eyes and gut-clutching. :-) She said she'd had the same thing happen, but oddly, riding seemed to help. I grimaced and told her I certainly hoped so!

A girl who I didn't know came up to me as I was going across the parking lot with my gear. She said, "Are you RW? M wants you to ride Pebbles today. She's outside so you'll have to go get her." Okay, this was something new but no problem, I'm certainly capable of bringing a horse in. I asked if I needed to bring a halter, and where the horse was, since I was not yet familiar with the pasture arrangement at the new barn. I was told Pebbles was with another horse in a small paddock and I couldn't miss her. Okey-dokey.... I sure hoped so, because as I mentioned I'd been told there were quite a few chestnut mares.

Luckily, the teenager who lessoned after me last week had been assigned Pebbles, so I knew pretty much what she looked like. I put my stuff down over in the "lesson aisle" and went looking for a halter and lead. I should have remembered that halters were hung up in the schoolie tack room under the bridles, but didn't, so I wound up borrowing one from outside a stall (another school horse's, I know better than to grab a boarder's). Off to track down Pebbles...

Turns out, she was in a drylot paddock with Snickers! Miss Snickie acted like she was glad to see me, but I had to disappoint her and take Pebbles instead. The girls were by themselves and the rest of the school horses were turned out in an enclosure next door. Those accomodations were definitely not deluxe; no grass, just mud. The schoolies had a lot of hay to munch on and looked content, but I chuckled because they rated hot wire for their fence. The pretty and picturesque white vinyl is reserved for the grass pastures in the front of the farm where the boarders go. I've noticed that's typical of many farms!
Look around back and you may well find something else keeping the horses in. :-)
Pebbles was a bit snotty for grooming, and definitely girthy, but nothing too bad. I didn't feel that instant bond that I had with Snickers, either, but I was still looking forward to trying her out since she'd seemed nice during the few minutes I watched of the other lesson. It was pretty warm out and I was pleased when M poked her head in the barn and told me to meet her at the small outside ring.

I'm happy to report that somewhere between starting to groom Pebbles and mounting up, the Advil finally kicked in so I was no longer in excruciating pain when I got on her. Good thing, too, because riding in a larger ring outdoors gave me quite a workout! I pushed myself to keep going most of the time but whew, the 'ole lack of endurance definitely kicked in. I was very glad to find that Pebbles needed no stick and very little leg; in fact, I wound up having to half-halt and say "Ho" more than once to her. Funny how I have kept "stepping up" with the lesson horses in that regard! We trotted for a long time, and then after a break, cantered in both directions. I am still being told to keep my hands lower so I have to keep working on that. Canter departs were "eh" at first but by the third one, we did quite well.

Then it was time for jumping. There were five jumps in the arena, all set very low (last hole on standards, whatever that is). One was a crossrail on the diagonal and the others were verticals, set in two five or six-stride outside lines. We trotted the x-rail a couple times and then M said, go ahead and come around to the line. GULP! I haven't jumped a related distance in well, you know, years... We trotted in and yes, cantered to the second jump, and hey, I survived! I didn't remember to count strides, though, so I failed that quiz. Second time through I went too fast and we chipped with five and half strides. For the third time, M told me to keep cantering after the crossrail (I'd been coming back to the trot) and go around to the line. I had to give myself the Little Engine pep talk before setting off on this adventure. "YOU CAN DO IT! YES!" Thank goodness, Pebbles landed on the right lead after the crossrail, we kept going, and I am proud to say that not only did I canter through the whole line, I even managed to rate her and we got the six strides. HURRAY! :-) It was terrific fun and I was thrilled to end the lesson on a high note.

Pebbles was a very good girl, indeed, and I will be more than happy to ride her again. I was absolutely pooped after this lesson, though. Nerves, lack of fitness, and "woman troubles" will do that to you. I had a nice time grazing the mare after I untacked her and hosed her down (she was quite sweaty) and was amused to notice she really went for a particular kind of weed, even preferring it to the nice grass. The same weed is growing rampant on my lawn at the moment. I was really wishing I could pack up Pebbles and take her home for some natural (and attractive) maintenance!

Do you think the neighbors would mind? I KNOW the HOA and our town ordinance inspector would, unfortunately! "Livestock" of any kind is expressly forbidden...

Monday, March 12, 2012

I Love Snickers!!!

Nope, I'm not talking about these:

I'm talking about HER:

This 8 or 10-y.o. QH mare was my mount for my lesson on Saturday, and I LOOOOVED her. Of course I was delighted from the beginning that she was a dark bay mare with a crooked blaze, and if you have to wonder why, just look at the photo in my last post. I thought it was a pretty cool coincidence that she was channeling Zenyatta! In fact, I whipped my phone out and showed my new friend Katherine that the photo of Z and Baby is currently adorning the lock screen (and by the way, if you want to see some more incredibly adorable pictures of the mother and son pair, just check out their new Facebook page. I'm having a hard time deciding which is the sweetest!).

Snickers came right to the door of her stall when I opened it, which I always think is a good sign. (Butt to you, tail swishing angrily, ears back? Not good.) She was easy to pop in the cross ties, easy to groom, and acted like a little lady. Interestingly, the only thing she didn't care for grooming-wise was when I went to use my stiff brush on her lower left side, near her flank. She let me know that it didn't feel right. Other side was no problem. I filed that away for future reference.

My antique saddle pad looked rather well on her, too, if I do say so myself. Here we are just at the start of my lesson (thanks again to Patient Trainer M for me making her fill in for Annie Liebowitz):
I could tell from the second I sat on her that Snickers had a little more get-along than Ms. Slowpoke-But-Sweet Thumper. This was a relief, because while I'd recuperated pretty well (the Gatorade treatment continued to work), I didn't know if I had it in me to spend the whole lesson squeezing again! Anyway, she moved right out and I had little problem keeping her going the whole time. This was a great particularly because M decided to have us do quite a bit of trotting and then a number of walk-to-canter transitions.

The latter were necessary because I wasn't organized enough when I asked her to canter, and was also relying on the corners too much. M really wanted me to pick up the canter on the long side, but I guess I'm not confident enough in my aids so I was reluctant to do so. I finally succeeded, but not without almost completely cramping my outside calf up. It was a close thing. We were working on the right track, and my left hip also hurt pretty badly yesterday, so clearly there are muscles being put to use that haven't been in play lately!

Another thing we worked on was keeping Snickers straight. She's developed a pretty bad habit of carrying her head to the left all the time, so I was frequently reminded to shorten my right rein. I had a devil of a time getting her to go into the corners nicely on the right track at the trot. Didn't want to listen to/bend around right leg, AT ALL. To compensate, I'm afraid I kept crossing my right hand over her withers and don't think M didn't notice! I did remark after the lesson to M that Snickers had been ouchy just on her left side when I was grooming her, and we both kind of wondered if the behaviors are related. She has been seen by a chiro in the past so I think M will be keeping this in mind. (Note: All the time I was taking lessons in the past - if you recall it's been at least five years - I never even knew there was such a thing as horse chiropractors. Thanks to the interwebz and my extensive blog reading, I am now thoroughly familiar with them and the great work they do. One of the better things to come into the horse world in recent years!)

Right after I mounted up, I asked M about the hand-too-high thing and how I'd never been told this was a problem in the past. When she heard that, she said that it probably is a bad habit I've picked up just trail riding on Giant WB LiRoi. Funny the stuff we do unconsciously. I got told a lot again to keep them down, so believe me, I'm trying to focus on that.

So, are you wondering if I jumped the Scary Blue Wave again? Well, yes I did, and guess what, it went MUCH BETTER this time! We started out trotting a crossrail a couple times, and then M told me to keep going afterwards and come around over the blue wave (back at a trot, which I have to admit I'm still more comfortable with). We did that twice and I was super-pleased because I really didn't feel like I was landing in a heap as badly. Gettin' the mojo back!

In other good news, I put Lexol on the half-chaps, wore them around the house some more, and really worked on smooshing them down so they weren't rubbing those bruised areas. Something worked because I had almost no trouble with them during and after the lesson. Hurray! I was beginning to think I might have to sell them and get the standard height ones instead (these are X-Small Talls, a size I would not have guessed I'd wear despite my pencil-like shins. I know I have fairly long femurs but thought my tibia/fibula length was on the short side.). Still no horrible shin-rubs, either. Don't know why I didn't try narrower stirrup leathers a looooong time ago... argh.

After the lesson I untacked Snickers and asked if I could take her outside for a pick of grass. When I had arrived at the barn, I'd found my friend Sally grazing her mare outside and the latter was having a grand old time hoovering up the tender new blades. We've had hardly any winter here in MO and now it seems like spring is here in a hurry, so everything is growing. Yummee! Before we went out I dug out a horse cookie I had buried in my bag and fed it to Snickers. Here's a couple of short and dopey videos that I made of these occasions. I sure do love grazing a horse... best therapy there is.

P.S. Having not been around horses as much as I would have liked lately, and having spent a whole lot of time with my dog, I'm finding I tend to address the poor equines in the same tone I use with the dog. I keep telling them to "Stay," too! Has anybody else done this? Aside from Albert in "War Horse," that is... good grief. >.<

Friday, March 9, 2012

Equine Royalty

Happy tears of joy were the result when I found this photo on Twitter this morning:
Photo by Ann Moss/Courtesy of
In case you haven't heard, Baby Boy Bernardini - Zenyatta, by Street Cry was born last night at 10:10 pm, at Lanes End Farm in Lexington, KY. The colt weighed 130 lbs. - quite large for a TB foal, but about what his momma weighed at her own birth. I am just so thrilled and relieved that both are well and healthy, and have gone around all day with a grin when I think about this picture. Leave it to Zenny to make becoming a mother look as easy as winning all those races! :-) Doesn't she have the sweetest, calmest expression on her face?

Here's a short video of mother and son as well - I don't think he had even been up yet. Z has always been a "licker" so that part of motherhood also came naturally: Video of Z and Baby

Is the little guy not the CUTEST??? What a perfect star, and how about those ears... somehow I doubt the farm folks will have any trouble keeping track of just whose baby he is. Not that they're likely to misplace a foal who's probably worth around $10 million!

This colt is not going to be for sale, however. I have learned that Jerry and Ann Moss, Zenny's owners, will be keeping Zenardini? Zendini? and eventually racing him for their stable. That suits me just fine, because I think the world of their trainer John Shirreffs. He's the genius who decided that they needed to let the big filly mature and not race as a two-year-old. That certainly proved to be the right decision for Zenyatta, and I do wish all TBs were accorded that extra time to grow up before hitting the track.

It will be really interesting to see what becomes of this little fellow. IF he is a big success in racing, and good enough to stand stud, I bet the Mosses will part with him then because I don't believe they own any stallions. If he's not that great, perhaps he'll be gelded and turned over to someone as the world's most famous sporthorse. Or how about becoming a goodwill ambassador for the racing industry? Poor baby, he's got awfully big hoof prints to fill. No matter what happens he will spend his life being compared to his famous father and really famous mother.

Speaking of fame, it still irks me that Z is stashed away so securely at Lanes End, far from her legions of fans. Even Rachel Alexandra is allowed to have visitors, but not Zenny. At least John Shirreff's wife Dottie does a good job ghostwriting Z's online "diary" ( and publishing photos, but I (and a lot of others) wish that some day I would be allowed to see her in person. Maybe things will be a bit more relaxed in the future... I can only hope.

In the human world, it's customary to throw baby showers. This new arrival and his mom will doubtless receive a ton of mail and other items there at the farm (don't send the Guinness quite yet, she's still a nursing mother!). However, someone has had the brilliant idea that the best way to honor Zenyatta's big achievement is by making a donation to one of the charities she (and the Mosses) support. Here's a site with more details.

You may notice that one of my favorite equine charities, Old Friends Equine Retirement, is on the list. The Mosses have been heavily involved with OF since its start, and purchased and donated the third stallion ever to be retired there (Ruhlmann). I really hope that this virtual baby shower is a huge success and some worthy causes receive much-needed funds!

Heartfelt congratulations to Zenyatta, the Mosses, her entire team and everyone involved in her care (I for one would be scared out of my wits to be in charge of her). The colt is absolutely gorgeous and I can't wait to see him frolicking at his mother's side! 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Good, The Not-So-Good, and The Ugly, Part 2

One thing I noticed right away, which caused a bit of internal laughter, was the trainer was looking at her cell phone during my lesson. This continued for most of it. I was thinking, "Uh-oh, red flag here. That's a bit rude." However, I have to be prosaic about it. It's not like she's prepping me for the Maclay finals, after all, and she knows I haven't lessoned in a while, and I can kind of understand if she does not feel the need to knock herself out. So while it's not really okay I decided I could live with it. She did give me constructive criticism and appropriate praise at the right times, so she was paying attention when it was important (I also managed to slip in a little posting when I was supposed to be 2-pointing and vice versa, to give myself a break, so the lack of 100% scrutiny certainly wasn't all bad, LOL!).

Speaking of criticism: I was told almost immediately to put my hands further forward and lower down. My reaction was, "Say WHAT???" I never, and I mean never, in all my years of riding, have had a trainer tell me to do that. Well, that I can remember, anyway. Maybe when I was five or seven but seriously, I feel that I have a pretty accurate mental log of all my riding faults as they have been cataloged by various instructors over the years and I honestly do not recall having heard that before. Raise them higher, yes, but that was when I was riding the 18hh Percheron. But lower them, and move them forward? Nope. I thought this very interesting, indeed. I didn't argue, of course, and did my level best to comply but it felt most odd. Maybe I have developed a bad habit that I'm completely unaware of? I meant to ask the trainer about it afterwards, in a non-complaining, please-explain type of way, but I forgot, so this is a mystery I will have to pursue next time.

I surprised myself by doing fairly well endurance-wise with the trotting. Thumper continued to have the drags so I spent a lot of effort squeezing, clucking and occasionally tapping her with my stick. She was smooth, though, and really very sweet, so I cut her some slack because I know schoolies get tired. I did begin to think I would have my hands full when it was time to canter. Fortunately, we were good! The trainer told me not to let her trot and I'm proud of myself because I didn't, we went right into canter. Picked up the wrong lead at first in the second direction, but I asked her again in a corner and got it. I did get worn out in a hurry cantering - more squeezing/clucking/tapping required - so I we only went about one and half laps around in each direction; I start to collapse my chest and round my shoulders something awful when I get tired, so I try to quit while I'm ahead. (I have to admit I was thinking about someone's comment on a COTH thread. She said her trainer used to tell her students, "Tits to Jesus, ladies!") I apologized for my lack of fitness but was pleased when the other trainer, who by this time was hanging out in the ring, too, said, "Oh, that's nothing. We see a lot worse, you're fine!"

I took a nice long walk break after that and then the trainer asked me if I wanted to be done, or if I felt like doing a little jumping. I did, crazy me. She wanted to know if the little jump across the diagonal was okay, or if she should build something smaller. I said no, I would tackle the little jump. Of course, the minute the words were out of my mouth I was thinking, "WTH is WRONG with you, you've never jumped anything like that in your life! Why now, you idiot, when you've jumped nothing at all for freakin' years?!" So why the distress? Because the jump in question was this, only smaller:
Yes, the famous "blue wave" jump, bane of the equitation ring back at the Charity Horse Show! You can just see the end of this scary structure in the photo of me on Thumper in Part 1. I meant to take a picture of the whole thing after my ride but  naturallyI forgot. It really was tiny, they had the the waves as low as they would go, but good grief... I gathered my courage and did my best to move Thumper into a forward trot. The trainer emphasized this and said I needed to get up a head of steam or she wouldn't jump well. I did know that so I tried hard. Boink! We went over, I guess sorta to the right of the middle bump. I wasn't exactly sure where to steer, to be honest. You see how I titled these posts? Another "ugly" besides my lack of steering definitely is how I landed after every jump. I have absolutely no idea what my hands were doing but I know it wasn't elegant. Thumper cantered away and I inwardly cheered that I'd survived.

We trotted the fence twice, with roughly the same results - more speed needed going in, alas. Then the trainer said, "Let's do it again from a canter." OHBOYOHBOYOHBOY. Let me explain why I think this instantly threw me into panic mode. It's amazing how one bad lesson can have repercussions for years, isn't it? My old trainer always started us out trotting to a single crossrail in a lesson. Then she'd build another jump, either a bar or an oxer, about two strides away, and we'd trot in/canter out that combo. Sometimes we would keep going and canter to another fence, or a couple of them. That was it, the only time I really did whole courses was in shows. One day, after I'd been at the barn for about nine months, she built a two or three stride combination. We had to canter in. For some reason, I just Could. Not. Get. the distance to the second fence that day - I bungled it over and over and over. Trainer and I both got very frustrated! So do you know, following that lesson, trainer never once - for another two years - had me initially canter any jump or combo? We always trotted in during lessons, I kid you not. Somehow I got around some courses during the show I did after that, but in lessons - trot in it was.

So I had that swimming around in my head, and I guess that's why I freaked a bit when new trainer said, "Canter it." Yes, it was only one lousy teeny-weeny jump, not even a combo, but put it this way, my heart rate definitely accelerated and my hands starting shaking. Poor Thumper! God bless 'er, the little mare got me through. I asked for as energetic a canter I could manage out of her and we didn't totally botch things. Again, I'm quite sure I landed in a heap but I wasn't jumped loose, at least. The trainer was laughing at me a bit, because afterwards I was like, "WOW. Geez, I was scared." I probably was a little pale... She said I could quit then, but I thought to myself, nope, I am not going to end things like this. I asked her if I could do it one more time, just to prove to myself I could. She said okay, so over we went. Not graceful, but by golly, I did it. Yay, me!

After that I really was ready to be done, and we just walked around. Gabby Me kicked in and I chatted a bit with the girl on the B/W Pinto. I asked the trainer to take a picture of me and she was kind enough to comply. She also said, "If I'd known you had your phone I would have gotten some more of you, even jumping!" Uh, that's okay, I don't quite want to know what I look like doing that yet. Somehow I doubt GM would be pleased. :-/

I finally climbed down, and it was about then that I realized something miraculous had taken place: I had not a single, solitary pain in my shins. No rubbed-raw areas, at all! You have to understand, I have suffered, and have the scars to prove it, from horrid shin rubs while riding ever since I was a teenager. I have tried elasticized leg covers, Band-Aids, taller socks, etc. in an effort to avoid these but nothing has worked well (except tall boots, which I don't want to fool with for lessons, esp. not my antiques) - until now. I'm not sure if it was the new, narrower stirrup leathers or the new half-chaps, but something did the trick and boy, am I grateful. I used to keep on ridin' and ignore my bleeding legs but not having that going on is much more pleasant! (Incidentally, I have had no problem with the Wintec leathers on the dressage saddle while riding LiRoi.)

The not-so-good side of this is the new half-chaps also made some lovely bruises, right where my knee joins my leg on the inside. Where that big tendon comes in, but on the calf, not the tendon. I can't quite figure out what's causing this; it may actually be from bunching up of the Clarino knee patches on my breeches. Or, maybe the half-chaps are too tall.... I don't know. I've heard new tall boots can be a nightmare to break in these days so I guess some degree of suffering from half-chaps is to be expected. They aren't SUPER-bad and didn't bother me that much while riding so I'll continue to stick it out for a while.

I untacked Thumper and was not too embarrassed to ask Katherine (she really was nice, and turned out to be the niece of the human/dog/horse chiropractor my dog has been seeing, of all things) if she would show me how to properly apply the Miracle Collar. The mare got some scritches and pats and put in a stall to eat her much-deserved dinner (she actually lives outside, hence the blanket), and I headed back to the other side of the barn to set up another lesson. Yes, what a wacko, half kill myself and I can't wait to do it all over again! :-) I'm going back next Saturday afternoon. I will be happy to ride Thumper, or maybe they'll assign me someone with just a bit more oomph, which would be okay, too. All I know is that getting on a horse still feels like coming home to me. If/when that ends, I'll know it's time to hang up my saddle, but for now the view between a set of furry ears is all I want.

Oh, and the soreness? Not that bad, amazingly. I think I've discovered the secret, and since I love my readers, I will share it with you. It's just one word... *looks around to see if anyone's listening*... and it's, "Gatorade." Yes! I drank it before the lesson and afterwards, and I'll tell you what, I've never done better in following days. Something to be said for that football coach who thought of putting electrolytes in sweetened water! (I'm sure the Advil has helped, too... ;-)

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Good, The Not-So-Good and The Ugly, Part 1

Before anything else, proof. Here I am on "Thumper" on Saturday:
YESSSSSSSS!!!!!!!! :-)

I have to tell you that writing this blog was absolutely an instigator to get me to take some lessons again. Knowing that I had a place to come discuss everything really makes me very, very happy! I don't even care if nobody reads it, I just always have so many thoughts and feelings about riding and horses in general, and heaven knows my poor family gets that glazed look after about five minutes of Mom babbling on and on... so writing here is awesome. I'm going to split this post so you don't get too much babbling!

I was really nervous all day Saturday before this lesson. Like, if I thought about going, my stomach did a slow twist, so I tried to focus on my work (I had to work from 9 - 3). Why was I nervous? Mostly fear, I guess. Not fear of falling off. I really don't worry about that, thank goodness. Fear of looking/acting stupid. Fear of suddenly forgetting everything I ever knew about riding or horse care. Fear of people being snobby or rude, because let's face it, you do run into those types at H/J barns (probably any horse barn). General fear of the unknown...

Oddly, by the time I actually got to the place I was doing okay. I reminded myself that I was paying them to do something, so I was the customer, and I had "rights," too, among them to be treated nicely. :-) Furthermore, I have at least one friend who boards there and she had assured me that I would be fine. I had no idea when she's usually at the barn, but was crossing my fingers that on a Saturday I might catch her. I laughed at the sign they had on the side of the driveway: "Old dog. Stupid Dog. Slow Dog. WHOA!" I was pretty calm when I pulled into the lot and parked my van between a Mercedes and a BMW (*koff*). I hopped out and snapped a few photos so you guys could see the farm. It's very nice and well-kept!

I gathered up all my gear (saddle, saddle pad, grooming tote w/ helmet and chaps, total about 20 lbs.) and stepped into the barn. Literally the first person I saw was my friend - hurray!!! A smiling face was just what I needed, especially since the teenagers milling around merely glanced my way and went about their business. Sally gave me a hug and proceeded to show me over to the gate to the indoor arena. There we greeted the two instructors, who were busy doing a group Jrs. lesson. I quickly learned that I needed to go back outside and around the corner to the school horse side of the facility, but before that I had some paperwork to do. I expected the latter - nobody lets you ride these days without signing your life away on a liability release.

Oopsie... guess what middle-aged lady was wearing her contacts, the ones with which she can't see up close without reading glasses, the latter being cleverly left back home. The only way I could see a thing was to go back outside into the intermittent sun, and even then I have the feeling my name/address/signature/insurance info. are probably not terribly legible on those forms! Saddles make decent writing tablets, though, come to find out.

Once the paperwork was dispensed with off I went (Sally had disappeared to put her horse away). I had been told I was riding a horse named "Thumper," who I assumed was a gelding. Well, okay, there was a chestnut horse wearing a blanket standing on cross ties in the aisle. Halter plate said "Tucker." It was a mare. Didn't think this was my horse... but wait a second, the blanket said "Thumper." ??? As I pondered this dilemma, a smiling girl came around the corner. "Hi," she said brightly, "Are you RW?" Yep, that's me, but more importantly, is this in fact my horse? She was!

Here's Thumper:
As always I apologize for my shite photography. In this case, I do have an excuse: I was trying to hurry up and get this before anyone spotted dorky moi taking pictures of the school horse. Isn't she cute? I found out from the young lady, whose name was Katherine and who proved to be very friendly and helpful, that they'd had Thumper for about five years but she didn't know her breeding/background. From conformation and shape of her head, I'd guess Quarab myself, but who knows. One thing was for sure: the little mare was an inveterate cribber and wearing a Miracle Collar. Hmm, something new for me, as I've never had to handle one before.

I groomed Ms. Thumper and Katherine brought me her bridle and a half-pad. My own saddle pad would do on the bottom. I hate to tell you how old the plaid thing is (it was made by Wilkers and I think dates to around when I graduated from HS - it came with my first saddle), but it's still functional. Thumper was a good girl and definitely had the "been there/done that" aura of a seasoned school horse, which was fine with me. No snorting, pawing steeds necessary right now. She did give me a wee bit of trouble when I went to bridle her, because literally the instant her MC was off and one tie unclipped she was all about cribbing on the stall door next to her. I've never had to deal with a cribber that dedicated, and now I know all the things I've read about them are true! (Wendy, I'm thinking of Jag, of course) I managed to wrestle myself into the new half-chaps and they felt okay.

When we were ready we went out to the arena. The big group of juniors had gone and I was alone but for one girl riding a beautiful B/W Pinto WB. My instructor was the head trainer, which was a little intimidating. I climbed aboard - and gosh, it was nice to sit in my own saddle again! :-) I adjusted the new stirrup leathers, which went okay, thank goodness. I had noticed in the tack room that all the schoolies wore those faux-sheepskin comfort girths. They are nice for the horses but whew, I'd forgotten how stretchy they are! I thought I'd gotten the darn thing pretty tight but was able to take it up two more holes once I was sitting on the horse. I finally got everything situated and we headed towards the rail at a walk....

A verrrrrryyyyyy sloooooowwww waaaaallllkkkkk. Oh, dear. Thumper was a sweet girl but turned out to not be terribly inclined to movement unless heavily encouraged, and I was immediately afraid that my out-of-shape legs were not up to the task. Squeezing really didn't do much and I almost immediately had to apply some mild stick to her backside. Shades of my old chestnut mare friend Polly! (But at least this one hadn't tried to kill me on the cross ties) The trainer told me to get up in 2-point, which they like to do to stretch riders and horses at the beginning of a lesson. That was okay, but staying in 2-point while also trying to squeeze Thumper on was rather difficult. I did my best and we walked a lap or so around the ring that way. Then we picked up a trot...


Friday, March 2, 2012

Tomorrow Is The Day

Here's a hint:
Dover Circuit Elite, purchased in 2000. Not a bad-looking ride at all (I have always gotten compliments) and pretty comfy.
Is this not the very BEST kind of mess to have on one's kitchen floor??? *big cheesy grin* As you might guess, all of this was out because I'm getting ready for my first hunter lesson in at least five years, and it's taking place tomorrow afternoon. GULP!

I am never happier than when wallowing in leather, Neatsfoot oil, Lexol and all my riding goodies, especially my saddle. You can catch of a glimpse of my lovely carrying case for that on the floor behind it. It's fleece-lined and hunter green, with navy straps bordered in burgundy and my initials in burgundy. I luuuurv it and it's done a good job taking care of My Precious while that has been out of use. As a strictly lesson-student rider when I was a kid, my secondary dream to having my own horse was at least having my own saddle. That was deemed too expensive and unnecessary, so finally acquiring one was a really big thing for me. This one is actually my second, but I'll write about my first saddle another time.

I oiled up the new stirrup leathers I got and they're still pretty stiff, but I guess I'll try them. They don't match the saddle terribly well, either but I expect nobody will notice. And hopefully not because they're busy laughing at Yours Truly!

I did go ahead and splurge on a new pair of half chaps. I went to the tack shop with the intention of purchasing some inexpensive faux-leather Ovations, but those didn't fit too great, so the sales girl said, "Why don't you try the Elites?" They were twice as much money but definitely are better-made real leather, and they fit well. I wore them Wednesday to ride LiRoi and they worked pretty well. I have some little bruises on the insides of my knees, but I think once these break down in the ankles a bit all will be fine.

I thought about getting some other things (like a new saddle pad) but have convinced myself to wait and see what the barn provides. So much fun and so tempting, browsing through catalogs and online...

Wish me luck and all that because I know I'm going to be horribly rusty during my lesson, and one hurtin' puppy by Monday (two days later is always the worst after unaccustomed exercise). I'm very nervous but also can't wait! I'll be here blogging about the lesson as soon as I have time, providing my fingers still work. :-)

I Was Feeling Short

Why is that, you may ask? I'm 5'6", so not generally thought of as "short," so what's the deal?

I felt short when I climbed down off a 17.1hh horse, and had to walk again on my own two feet. It's very strange. I get the same sensation when I've been driving my husband's F150 pickup and then drive my minivan: it's suddenly too close to the ground. The funny feeling lasted for about an hour and a half on Wednesday from the time I dismounted.

HOWEVER, as you might guess, I was quite, quite happy to have that particular feeling, because it meant I had actually been on a horse! And nope, it wasn't a lesson horse, it was the giant Warmblood who belongs to my friend. I'm actually just taking a stab at his height, because I'm not exactly sure what it is, but put it this way: I can't quite see over his back wearing my Ariat paddocks with about a 1 1/2" heel, and it's very hard to curry the top of his butt. So I think it's safe to say he's BIG. Here's a photo:
His name is LiRoi (pronounced "Leroy"), and he's a 20 or 21 y.o. Brandenburger, brought here from Germany at about age seven. I had never heard of the breed before and he's certainly the only one of his kind that I've ever met. This website has some more information about Brandenburgers. I chuckled when I read, "Legs are thick and stocky, hooves are large and strong," because. BOY, does "Leafy" ever fit that profile! His legs are like freakin' tree trunks and picking his hooves is quite an exercise. My friend had a heckuva time finding boots that would even fit him, and even then had to settle for him wearing hind boots on his fronts. He also has a simply ginormous head, with a distinguished Roman nose. I teased my friend that leading him in a rope halter was like trying to steer a T-Rex with dental floss!

Leafy was originally well-trained as a dressage horse, but his importer and original owner decided he (the rider) really wasn't interested in that. Believe it or not, when this fella landed in the Midwest he was put to work as a hunt horse. Following the hounds actually suited him just fine, and he enjoyed several seasons of catapulting his large self over the medium-sized jumps and slightly hilly terrain here. I have gotten to go hunting twice with our local club, the Bridlespur Hunt (a major highlight of my equestrian career and something I really need to write about here), but I didn't get to see him out in the field. By then he belonged to my friend and was back to doing some dressage with her. Sadly, his owner and the man's wife had been killed in a horrible auto accident. My friend was very good friends with them and had been told, "If anything ever happens to me I want you to have LiRoi..." So she pretty much inherited the big guy (though she did have to pay a significant sum to the estate).

I have been fortunate to be able to ride LiRoi on occasion over the last 10 years, which I greatly appreciate. He is a bit of a bully on the ground, and has to frequently be reminded that yes, he needs to do what you are asking and not just barge over you, but once you are on board he's truly a dream to ride. Totally velvet-mouthed and sensitive to all aids, with lovely gaits. I hardly ever even touch his face and enjoy seeing how small my aids can be. I even used to jump him a little bit, and he was fine, but I always had the feeling that some things are just really not meant to be airborne!
I ride LiRoi in my friend's Wintec dressage saddle. It's very comfy and secure. My own hunt saddle is actually not too narrow for him, but a girth to keep it on would have to be custom-ordered, so I don't use it!
I still laugh when I think of when my friend first got him and we puzzled over what to do to get him to canter. I finally hit some button and was rewarded with the most amazing, up-and-down-practically-in-place rocking-chair canter I'd ever experienced. This was in an arena, of course, where his dressage training came to the fore. I think he probably went pretty "b*lls to the wall" out in the hunt field.

Nowadays Leafy responds to a standard hunter "take up outside rein a hair, sit down and squeeze, outside leg/heel" canter cue, so I guess that's been installed by osmosis/repetition. He also doesn't - often - perform that gorgeous practically-in-place canter anymore, but that's okay. When I am able to package him into that it's a real treat. Pretty much all Leafy does these days is a tiny bit of arena work and a lot of trails. My friend keeps him and his little Paint buddy at home and access to a lovely park with a couple miles of trails is just across the road. I wish I could ask the big guy if he wonders just how he wound up as a trail mount in Missouri, after starting out life as a fancy WB dressage prospect in Germany... However, he is a very content, happy and loved horse, with a cushy and well-tended life, so I'm sure he'd say it's all good with him. :-)
One of my favorite LiRoi stories has to do with my son. Hunter (yes, that's his real name, I got away with that, but my daughter is not called "Jumper," sadly) had come with me out to the farm one day and we decided he could do a little riding. My son has ridden just a bit in the past, mostly state park trail rides and such. He does really enjoy it, is a gifted athlete, and in another life where I have a LOT more money I would have been happy to have him (and maybe daughter, too) in lessons and leasing/owning and showing and the whole nine yards, if he'd wanted it... *sigh*

Anyway, on this particular day we threw him up on LiRoi - wearing my properly-adjusted helmet, of course. He's taller than I am (age 14 at the time) so I didn't need to adjust the stirrups. They walked around a bit and that went well, so I told Hunter he could ask LiRoi to trot. Leafy can be a bit lazy and usually just shuffles smoothly along if you don't ask him for anything more energetic, so I didn't think my son would have any problem sitting to it. Well - apparently Mr. Horse had other ideas. He knew DARN WELL someone unskilled was aboard and after about two half-strides of trot launched himself into a canter! I don't know who was more surprised - me, Hunter, my friend, or the horse, who suddenly looked like he was having the time of his life. I had been filming Hunter's ride so when this occurred there is (now hilarious) jiggly footage and a voiceover of me saying in a certain loud-but-not-shouting voice, "Uh, WHOA. WHOA. WHOA. Hunter, keep turning him. Leafy, WHOA!" etc. The iPhone then went into the dirt as I semi-frantically tried to seize the horse by the reins as he went by.

To this day I am immensely proud of how my son handled this near-crisis. He somehow had the presence of mind to grab both reins with his right hand, grab the pommel of the saddle with his left, and turn the horse in a circle. I am grateful that he was in the grippy deep-seated Wintec saddle, which I know helped him stay on. Hunter actually never even came close to falling off. After a few laps around a nice 20-meter circle (LiRoi's old dressage trainer would have been proud), I managed to grab him and bring him to a stop. My heart was pounding madly and my son, while a bit alarmed, was still smiling. The horse? Well, he was just as pleased as punch. No joke, that blasted animal knew exactly what he'd been doing. It really was hysterical and we all wound up cracking up. A little too much excitement, though!