Sunday, September 28, 2014

North Texas Whip Games Day 9/27/14


Well I'd say that went pretty well, don't you think?


Couldn't be happier with my little red beast right now. She was a CHAMP yesterday, even with some blips in behavior!

The day started out very early, as I needed to bathe her and make sure we arrived at the facility in time to let her look at all the minis and other horses that were already hitched. You never know what they're going to do the first time they see a) a tiny demon midget horse, and b) a rattling wooden monster chasing other horses around. She stood like a champ for her bath, as per her usual, but right as we were going to load up, our neighbors started shooting at decoys. It was 7:30 in the morning! She normally doesn't care about this much, but the noise and the idea of having to load on the trailer and go somewhere set her ablaze. She pranced, jigged, snorted, and bounced around when loaded. Really mare? It's not like we haven't done this a million times before..!

Once we arrived, she unloaded and stood tied like her usual self, surveying the surroundings and casually munching hay:


When the minis began to arrive and unload, I took the opportunity to walk her over and let her take a look. The first one she saw was a little tiny stallion who started screaming bloody murder when he saw her. Poor mare had no idea what to do with herself at that... she skittered sideways and then stared at him with giant bug eyes. A few more passes by him and she relaxed. Phew...

..... BUT THEN, the minis hitched up and started DRIVING around! Not only were they tiny demons, but they were tiny demons with rattling monsters strapped to them! Quelle horreur!
At this point, I was harnessing her up as well, and was a bit concerned that stream of hitched horses passing by might be a bit much for her brain. She stood like a rock while I was putting her too (and I'm eternally thankful that I taught her a long time ago to stand like a rock for everything in the world), and just silently absorbed the scene. When I got in the cart, however, she had a complete brain fart and threw a hissy fit - she forgot how go forward or turn, and stood there for a minute prancing in place, and throwing and shaking her head. She managed to get herself together, but she was a right fool for the next 30 minutes or so - she could not stand still, and couldn't whoa without pitching a fit. I just set her to walking and trotting around for that entire period, letting her look at all the other horses and ponies, and just tried to let some steam off.

Our first class was GREAT! It was the cones and barrels class where you have to go through four sets of cones and around one barrel, first one way and then the other, and I felt confident that it would be the easiest class. She had managed to settle a little by the time we got into the arena, and she zoomed through the pattern like a champ. We even slung dirt with the cart on the second trip around the barrel. We hauled butt on home to take first in that class!

Our second class was the keyhole, and it wasn't as good. She behaved herself, but they had set the barrel turn VERY tight, and we barely made it around both barrels. We actually smashed headlong right into the first barrel and knocked the cone on top over, which was total driver error on my part, but O didn't bat an eye and we continued on with the pattern. She was not very amused with the tight turn, and slung her head around as we went around the second barrel. (O is a bonafide head slinger - she almost broke my nose the first few times I rode her, every ride. I rode her almost exclusively in a running martingale for a long time, then when she was better I removed it. She would go for awhile when she would be perfect, then inevitably at some point she would realize there was no martingale and the head tossing would begin again. She checks out physically fine - it just seems to be an old habit that she reverts to at random, when she is either frustrated or feeling particularly exuberant. She did it in every discipline I ever rode her in, and does it whenever she is frustrated about things in the barn, like if I am turning her sister out before her and she is still tied. I started driving her in a martingale right off the bat, and just recently removed it. She had been doing perfectly without it, but I think that the cranking turns were too tight in that pattern and it made her mad!). We made it back to the finish without incident, but now that she knew she had the freedom to express herself with headslinging, I knew it was going to be a problem for the rest of the day. We finished third in that class, even with the time penalty!

She managed to hold still until the next class, probably because she now was able to divert her energy from moving her feet to slinging her head around (she'd stand there and at random just throw in the head toss, like a goofy Arab). It was another cranker turning course called Coney Island, where it was basically like a poles class with two barrels in the middle that you had to turn. She was great for it, but tossed her head all the way through, and we finished second.


At this point, we had a break for lunch, and I unhitched and let O hang out at the trailer eating hay. She was mellowing out at this point, and being able to stand around dozing and eating for an hour did her brain some good. The cones course looked complicated but definitely doable (the cones were set REALLY wide!), and when lunch was over and we were re-hitched, I had a much mellower and more pleasant horse. Inbetween the final two classes, I was even able to park her up under the shade of a tree and relax in the cart for about 15 minutes, chatting to the drivers next to me while O napped with a foot cocked in the shade, even with other drivers passing us by. What a good girl!

Cones course:



Not bad! You'll see a few errant head tosses in this one, most noticeable when she wants to break to the canter and she gets told no. She also did a little happy bounce at the very end!

Finally we had the poles course, in which I had a very strong zoomy horse coming back through the pattern on the way down:



Me: "No damnit we have to trot."
O: "NO LET ME EXPRESS MYSELF!"

In both the poles class and the cones class, we were first. That meant we were the Horse Division Champions!!



At the end of the show, a few of us decided to go drive out onto the XC course and school the water. O, as always, was a champ about the water, and while she looked down at it to make sure it really was water and not a pool full of battery acid, she then walked straight in. We walked and trotted around through the water complex for a few minutes, and I let her trot off and around the field a bit. At this point, it occurred to me that she was being VERY strong and zoomy, and I finally realized why. O is very much like a racehorse in that the more you pull on her face, the harder she pulls back and the faster she runs off. She loves a soft, light contact, and she'll take a soft, light contact right back if that if what you give her. All day long, I had been pulling around on her through all of these patterns, and definitely NOT being as light with her as I usually am, and she was clearly letting me know that she did NOT appreciate the firm contact. In the videos, you'll see her neck is a bit short and she is constricted, not at all like the last video I posted of her where she was quite light and loose in her neck. Duly noted, mare... note to self, get out of the mare's mouth and let her do her job. She turns light as a feather and has a mouth like butter if you have hands like butter. If you have hands that are hard and unforgiving, it's like trying to turn a brick wall. The mare doesn't suffer fools!





Haha I love this picture. Photobombed by a VSE and his driver!

A bunch of us hanging out in the shade. We're on the far right side behind the chestnut pony - you can see me propped up relaxing in the cart while she dozes. That's my girl!

 All in all, a very successful show. I learned a lot, had a ton of fun, and was very, very proud of my red beast! There is another Games Day in November... you can bet we'll be there!


Friday, September 26, 2014

Oh god we show TOMORROW!


Holy crap.... suddenly the show is HERE!! We prepped all week, but all of a sudden it's HERE! Hopefully she does not see all of the other horses pulling rattling noise machines and completely lose her marbles. It might happen! (But she'll learn to get over it... just part of the process!)

Wish us luck!!!



Monday, September 22, 2014

Warp Speed


Doing a little roadwork today.... enjoy this quickie video of O trucking along. She starts out zooming, and you'll see her chill out and settle by the end of it. She is in flaming heat right now, and I got to experince what happens when a mare squirts horrible nasty pee while she is trotting at high speed and you are sitting behind her. I'll leave the details up to your imaginations.



She had some BIG SPOOKS today at passing vehicles... thankfully nothing serious, but she was really on edge due to being in heat. A huge rumbling tractor, a rattling trailer, and an inconsiderate Jeep that blew past going at least 45 on our back road all caused her to have some freakouts - but she kept herself under wraps, responded to a whoa, and held it together. She definitely didn't relax until the very end though... she is SO very adrift in the estrogen ocean right now. Hopefully she'll be out by this weekend!







Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Show Prep


I have to say, I haven't been this excited to go to a show in a very long time. I am SO EXCITED for this little bitty schooling show that I am completely nonplussed by the fact that I will be bypassing spectating on XC day at the AECs (which is the same day). JenJ will be out there, and I'd like to see her since I missed her the last time I was in Austin, so I might still head out for Sunday. But I actually feel completely 100% apathetic to the fact that the AECs are this weekend, for the first time since their inception probably. It was all I ever dreamed about for years, going to them... and then I went to them, twice, and it was amazing the first time and heartbreaking the second. The past few years following that fateful ride when Gogo blew her legs out, I had heartache every year when the AECs would come around again on the calendar, wanting so very badly to be back galloping on those courses again. Last year, all I could think about was trying to figure out a way to get O to the AECs, and those plans drifted over into this year. At some point, I realized the amount of stress and pressure that I was putting on myself, and realized I was beating myself up over something that really was beyond my control. I was trying all of these different sports and not feeling satisfied with any of them, but now that I am getting into a sport that I am REALLY having fun with, I've been able to let all of that stress go. And I find that I just don't *care* that the AECs are this weekend. (And they're not just happening this weekend, they are HERE IN TEXAS, only two hours away from me.) I don't feel like I have to beat myself over it because I'm not there showing too. For the first time since I can remember, they are just not important to me right now. 

What IS currently important to me is making sure we are prepped for this little show! The last few shows that O and I went to, we did very well at, but I wasn't *really* that into it. I didn't take my usual prep time, I didn't make sure every last thing was sparkling. We had a great time at all of them, but my heart really wasn't deeply into it. But this one... this one I am INTO.

And there is so much to do! After our first time working around the poles and barrels last Tuesday, we went for a brisk 6 mile hack down the road on Wednesday, and then she had Thurs-Sat off (not really by choice; work taking up too much time.) Today we got back to work with 45 minutes worth of solid dressage work, starting out with some suppling work around the barrels/poles and then moving on to work with transitions. Last Saturday evening, I was able to participate in one of the Coachman's Delight online classes, which the local driving club had recommended to me (since I can't get anything lined up with a trainer). This particular class was on building a good halt-halt, and it was really great - lots and lots of helpful hints and exercises to use. Today in my experiments, I realized that while the exercises are pertinent and useable, O actually already has a good halt-halt already installed. Under saddle, you have to lock up in rigor mortis sometimes to get through to her with a half-halt, but when driving, all you have to do is close your fingers and stop following for a second with your hands.


She was not *quite* as excellent today as she usually is, but she was still very good and compliant. A not-quite-as-excellent day driving for this mare is WAY better than even a really good riding day.


So, what needs to be done this week in order to prep for the show? Let's see...

I need to clean out my trailer. Like, ALL the way - stalls and tack room. It's a filthy mess.
Harness needs to be re-scrubbed.
Mare needs to be clipped and trimmed, and then of course bathed right before the show.
Gotta find my Coggins... where did I put that thing... normally I know where EVERYTHING is but I haven't seen my Coggins in a little while!
Gotta figure out what all I'll be wearing - the stuff O will be wearing is black and red for the most part, and all of the dress is informal, so I'm sure I'll figure out something.... jeans and red t-shirt or something like that, with my crash vest and helmet on top of that.
Memorize all those patterns! Won't be terribly hard but that cones course is kind of a doozy... especially since I've never done one before.


Six days out from her little driving debut!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Joyfully Mundane


Lauren over at She Moved To Texas recently did an anonymous survey that basically asked commenters/bloggers to 'tell it like it is'. One of the anonymous comments was something along the lines of "most of your blogs bore me to TEARS." That statement caught me a little offguard, I'll admit. After all, SO MUCH of what we do as horse people is just that, totally boring and mundane. We feed, and water, and muck, and groom, and then we do it all again the next day, and the next day, and the next day. We do it every day, the same thing, over and over, and that's the way we like it.

Wouldn't it be fun if EVERY DAY we could write about some amazing breakthrough we had? Some incredible award we won? Some breathtaking thing we experienced? That sure would make for an interesting read. But that is not the reality of life with horses, or for that matter, the reality of anything that is worth working for. If we could just hop up on any random horse and go jump around a huge course and win a big check, wouldn't that be great? But that gets pretty old pretty fast. Our daily horse life in reality is filled with the mundane, the boring little details, the nitty gritty same old same old. Every day, we put the best feed that we can into our horses. Every day, we care for them to the best of our ability. Every day, we try to be good riders and good caretakers, and do our best to improve little by little. Some days, we regress. Some days, we drive away from the barn in tears, because we had such a bad ride and we feel like we'll never get better. Some days we're soaking wet from the rain, or lathered in sweat from the heat, but we're still out there, doing the same thing, over and over again. We keep on trying, and trying, and trying. 

And if we're lucky, one day we'll be at a show, or at a ride, or a clinic, or somewhere that is important to us. And we'll do well. We'll even do great! We'll leave that ring with huge smiles on our faces, a tremendous feeling of pride welling in our chests, because we know exactly how many hours it took to get to that point. We know how hard we worked, and how much it took. And all of those hours - hours full of the mundane, and the boring, and the same-old-same-old - will culminate into one grand and glorious experience. It isn't just the final outcome (ribbons, awards, praise, etc) that makes us so hungry to keep on plugging along on the same path. It is the entire journey in its whole. There is no sweeter victory than one that is hard-fought for. Then, and only then, can we write those posts that are truly 'reader worthy'.

But it takes a lot of boring, boring, boring posts to get to that point.

That's why I blog. I'm not here to put up ads, and do giveaways, and spin great and magnificent unbelievable tales. I'm here to tell a story. I'm here to tell MY story, and all of the facets of it. I'm here to chronicle that journey, even if all I do in a week is trot down the same road, and work on the same bending exercise, and do the same set of obstacles until they are perfect. That is pretty boring stuff to read about, but that is what we do every day, and every week, and every month. We have short-term and long-term goals, oh yes! But they don't come true in one day. We chip away at them, little by little, over and over. I'm not here to sugarcoat, or gloss things over. This story is raw and uncut, and I share the good parts as well as the bad. There are of course some omissions, certain things I don't blog about on principle - we all have our rules about that. This blog is about O, and P, and the things we do together. It's our story, and chronicling it is important to me. It may not always be interesting, but it is always real. And it is always, always, important to me.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



 Speaking of All Things Mundane And Boring, check out my SUPER AMAZINGLY SHINY CLEAN HARNESS. I spent my Wednesday evening watching Harry Potter, drinking tea, hanging out with Mo, and carefully cleaning and polishing my harness. BOOM! Boring stuff. But polishing your harness to a gleaming shine is one of those little details that is important, one of those habits you have to instill in yourself if you want to be serious in the show ring. You have to take care of your leather, no matter what discipline you do, and it becomes even more critical with a harness - if anything breaks on a harness while you are under way, you are so very screwed.

After a few hours (geez who knew this sport involved SO MUCH DANG LEATHER?), I had a very sparkly harness. I dabbed a bit of brass cleaner on a few choice spots to see if they'd shine up nicely, and they shined up mostly ok. I don't think my harness, which is a very old and very lovely Smuckers, has ever really had a seriously good cleaning and oiling. It was looking a bit dry and sad, even though I clean it regularly at the barn. All of that leather comes in contact with all of that sweaty horse, so it just gets dirtier and dried out that much faster. 









Alas, I made the sad discovery today that there is no proper way to properly wrap a driving bridle. (Even that linked bridle isn't wrapped just the way I like it. Because I really am that anal about things like that, even though half the bridles in my trailer are haphazardly tossed up on their hooks uncleaned and untidy.) The saddle and blinkers on my bridle have patent leather and are just awesome. I also washed my harness pads, earbonnet, leg boots and bells, just because why not. I'll need to do it all again before our show, but it was worth it to see just how nice the leather looks with a good cleaning and polish.



 I also converted all the patterns from the upcoming show into images, so you can see them! I officially sent in my entry as well, so it is going to become a real thing. Ahhh!







I'm so excited!!!!!



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Patterns N' Things


The ADS show on Saturday was GREAT fun. They didn't have any technical volunteer positions left at the show, but they found some places for me - handing out ribbons in the morning, working the arena gate in the afternoon. One of our local carriage makers took me under her wing for the day, and the judge spent quite a lot of time pointing things out to me as well - since I was handing out ribbons, I got to be in the arena for every class. They had quite a lot of classes, more than I expected would be at an exclusively pleasure-type show - but I also had no idea what to really expect, so it was all pretty much a surprise all day long. There were the turnout and working classes, to be sure (the ones where you roundy round the rail and are judged on your horse's manners and your turnout/dress/vehicle/harness/etc), but there were also some reinsmanship classes where you had to negotiate a pattern of cones and do a bunch of pre-set movements at each one (circles, halts, backing, etc), and they had some actual cones courses as well. I oogled at all the sparkling harnesses and beautiful gleaming carts, and tried to pick out specifics and ask questions whenever I could. Everyone there was super helpful, super willing to talk with me, and super nice. (This is a nice change from the barrel people who are just, well, you know... barrel people, and from the endurance people, who were all frothing at the mouth and established in their little cliques and completely unwilling to give me the time of day beyond yelling at me for random things. I've always been involved with the dressage/eventing folks, so I know how to expect them all to act, but going into a new sport, you never know how people are going to treat you as a noob!)

I'm also pretty sure I was by far one of the youngest people there... apparently driving is supposed to be an safe old people sport. I personally feel like driving is less safe than riding is, but maybe that's because I have every confidence that I will be able to stay on a rearing, spooking, bolting horse without a problem. I've always had sticky britches - I rarely come off with those kinds of antics. But with a cart attached, that situation quickly becomes a dangerous wreck. People always say that if a horse is involved in a driving wreck, it will probably never drive again - if a rider falls off, a horse is still a riding horse. There must be some kind of false sense of security that comes with driving a really quiet animal though, because I saw lots of very safe, very quiet animals at the show. As for me, I'm not prepared to let my guard down for a second!

At the end of the day, the carriage maker even took me out into the field to go walk the cones courses with me. It was completely out of the kindness of her heart and it was so appreciated! There were two cones courses, which kind of run like stadium courses (i.e. don't knock anything down and make sure you go around the course with the red marker on the right!). These two courses in particular were unique; the first was a Fault-And-Out class, meaning you went around the course at a timed interval, and if you knocked anything down, you were done. If you didn't knock anything down, you just started back over at #1 and kept doing the course again until you knocked something down or your time finished! The second was a Reverse Psychology course, where you'd go through cones 1-10, and then circled back around and did the same course in the reserve order, 10-1, with the white now on your right (so taking them backwards). It looked like a ton of fun, and I wish I had gotten to see the courses run, but alas they were all set to go on Sunday and I was working. Oh well!

The last thing the ladies convinced me to do before I left was to agree to come to their little driving playday on the 27th. It's at WD, which is the place where we used to have our membership, so O has been there a million times. There are a bunch of little obstacle courses in the arena, and it's all very informal (i.e. I can show up in my little metal cart wearing jeans and nobody will care). So I said yes, let's do it! 



Of course, I figured that maybe we should start practicing doing some obstacles, since we've never done that before....






Turns out, horses CAN do barrels and poles with a cart, who knew? Next stop, cones and marathon obstacles!



She says, phew that was hard work.


I have all of the little courses sent to me in PDFs, so I'll make them into images and then can share with all of you. We might have to make a big flashing sign that says BEEP BEEP NOOBS COMING THROUGH for the show....


Friday, September 12, 2014

Here For A Good Time


I feel like I've been this little ray of positivity lately. All I've been writing about is what a good time I've been having driving. But it's the truth! No fuss, no drama, no misery, no great things to lament, except maybe the fact that work keeps me from driving *quite* as many days a week as I'd like. If that's my only real complaint about life, I think I'm doing just fine!

I suppose if I HAD to get picky about something that isn't great, it is O's tendency on the lunge line to get stuck in right bend, forever. She shares Gogo's crookedness - left foot is slightly more upright than the right, slight asymmetry in the opposing hind. She's just kind of built in a slight curve (lots of them are that way). My bodyworker is great, but I haven't really seen improvements with the bending issue. I am trying to see if I can get a different dentist out next month, because I haven't been very happy with any of the dental work I've had done on any of my horses, but seeing as she does this in just a halter as well I don't think it's related. It does not help that *I* sit crookedly as well, but I haven't actually ridden her since June (I know, crazy right? I've just been driving!). I look back at ALL my pictures of her lunging, and she has always had this crookedness.



Yep... Queen Counterbend. 

BUT. I have two good weapons in my arsenal that help straighten her out...


Trotting over raised poles is SO helpful. These are giant clunky ones, so she really has to pay attention to where her feet are. It really helps her lengthen her topline and loosen her back and neck up. 


And she HATES this one, but it is very effective to run the lunge line through the bit back up to her surcingle. She usually only needs this done on the left side; she is quite bendy on the right.



End result: pooped out sweaty gymnasticized horse.

 I think, though, that I'll put away the lunging equipment for awhile. Long lining is SO much more useful for this kind of thing.


AND the other thing that is useful for this kind of thing is actually driving! Same as with riding, I don't think you can actually really fix your driving problems anywhere but when you're actually driving. You can help them, definitely, but until you get into that exact scenario where something is really a problem and you fix it there, it isn't solved.

We had two REALLY GREAT drives this week. She just keeps getting better and better! And it helps that I'm getting better too - figuring out how exactly to bend and hold her, and give where I need to give. It's highlighting my weaknesses when I am riding as well - they're the same when I am driving, and now I notice them!
(These following pictures are from last week - I took some commenter advice and removed her shadow roll!) 


 In the cart, I feel like I can really push her forward without consequence. When riding, she is quick to zoom off at a thousand miles an hour, but when driving she doesn't do this. She was moving quite slow in these pictures; this week, I experimented with pushing her on a bit, and found that she became a lot steadier in her contact. Again, that's a DUH moment - it's the same when riding!



It took me entirely too long to realize that your half-halting aids are the same as well while you are driving. This little piece of information clicking in my head made me suddenly realize that I DO have every ability to correctly bend my horse in both directions! Whadda ya know.


We also took a very successful 5 mile drive down the road this week. This was her first time alone with blinders, and not surprisingly she was a bit spooky and balky on the way out. She is that way when riding as well, so it wasn't a surprise. The good news is that now that I've experienced a dramatic spook from her, I'm ready for them and I can feel them coming. Her spooks since then have all been typical for her, a big start and then an immediate continuation along like nothing happened. She was balky on the way out, and then was nice and forward on the way back.... not ideal. (This is why I need to practice carrying my whip at home!) HOWEVER, on the way back, she gave me this AMAZING feel in my hands, so light and electric and forward. She felt incredible! She just gets better and better!



Tomorrow I am going to volunteer at our local fall ADS sanctioned pleasure show, so that I can be a sponge and absorb as much as I can. I'm excited!