Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Jump School

Oy vey! You ever just have one of those rides where everything just goes to hell in a handbasket? I had one yesterday and it sucked!

It's really just not been a good week all in all. O in heat, which basically means she is a distractable tight-backed cacahead, to put it nicely. She gets her panties all wound into a knot, and can't seem to untwist herself no matter what. Last Saturday, I thought I'd try to stretch her out a bit on the lunge, and try a chambon on her instead of the Faux-ssoa. I thought, hey! This will help her relax through her back and allow her to stretch out properly (demonstrated by Gogo here). I think our time with the Faux-ssoa has come to an end - it's time to get her stretching down and out more, and she just can't do that on the lunge properly in anything but a chambon. I thought well hey, let's give it a try!
WELL. She was not having ANY of that nonsense. I should have known when I went to go rig it up, and she just stood there, totally unaware of the poll pressure even though it was pretty darn tight and any reasonable horse would have lowered their head (and she KNOWS how to lower her head in response to pressure!). She then spent the next HOUR running 9-0 on the lunge, completely braced against the chambon and totally unwilling to even think about trying to lower her head and move away from the pressure (which, again, she knows how to do). I thought I'd just let her zoom around for a bit, and she'd figure it out, but I was just plain wrong. She just RAN. A LOT.


At one point, she stumbled and bounced around for a minute, and one of her boots started flapping. Oh no.... did I kill the boots?

I did. Dead boot. I might be able to *try* and fix it, but I'm no handyman when it comes to things like this. Sad too.... I put those boots through everything I could think of, and was really starting to think they were indestructible. What took them out? Lunging. Fail!

Finally, I threw in the towel and hooked her bungee up as a neck stretcher instead of as a chambon, just to change ANYTHING to make it better. It did help - we got a few minutes of a decent stretch and I called it quits for the day. I bathed her, stretched her, linimented her liberally, and let her back out in her pen to rest.
Now, if I had any sort of a decent memory, I would have remembered what had happened the LAST time I liberally linimented her. I usually use just a little bit, but the last time she worked REALLY hard, I more or less doused her legs in it, and the next morning was rewarded with HUGE fat legs, all four. Sunday morning when I showed up to feed breakfast? HUGE fat legs again! To say I felt like a total idiot was an understatement. I washed her legs off thoroughly and wrapped her, scrapping my plans to go to WD for the afternoon. By lunchtime, she was already a ton better - just washing off the residue from the liniment made a huge difference. By that evening, she was back to normal again.... phewwwww. Only all-natural stuff for her from here on, or only light coats. Her skin is just too sensitive.

On top of all of that, the area where the chambon was sitting when she was pulling so hard on herself developed a small hanging pocket of edema between her front legs. OF COURSE. Curse you, hormones!

I had a decently good ride on Monday. S and I trailered out to WD on Monday with the horses, and went for a long hack around the property before going into the indoor to school for a bit. O was fizzy and hot, like she usually is, but wound herself down a bit and settled into a pretty quiet rhythm. I did put a martingale on her, just because, but I think I won't be using it much anymore. Trying to get a tight-backed, tight-necked horse to stretch out is not an easy thing to do... we get moments where she loosens up, but we lose them just as fast. At this point, any flatwork ride where I have her mostly under control and where she doesn't have a major freakout is considered a success.

Tuesday? Psh. Tuesday was a whole different beast. I'm not sure what exactly got into the both of us, but neither of us were really on our game. I decided that my plan for the day was to do some hacking and some little XC jumps, just tossed in here and there for fun. We warmed up fine, in a relaxed manner, and hopped over some little crossrails and a little log a few times to get her rolling. Good, good.... this is starting out well. Off we went to the first little log along the way... and.... refusal. Okay... second approach. Refusal. Third approach, refusal. She looked at the log as though it might actually jump up and eat her... I couldn't figure out why it was so scary. All right, let's go over there and try that little log instead.... refusal. Really? Second attempt.... leaping stag jump where she threw her head on the landing side and yanked herself in the face due to her running martingale. Sheesh, what on earth is going on!?

Considering how awesome she was at the XC school we did right before this one, I stopped the schooling and assessed the situation. I had a few theories as to what was going on:

1) She's in heat and just was not quite in the game that day.
2) Tall grass was slick and she may not have felt secure in her footing.
3) Brand new course she had never seen before, still very green on XC.
4) I was not giving her a very good ride at all!
5) After the ride was over, I found that her little leftover bit of edema had rubbed against itself during the ride and was very sore between her front legs. Ouch... I wouldn't want to jump either, poor kid. I felt awful!

I decided at that point to walk over a little log a few times and trot her over the same log a few times, and had decently good success doing that, but I decided to call it at that point and try something else. We went into the outdoor, where they have very nice stone dust footing, and I set up two crossrails in a figure-8 pattern. The first few jumps she was just as awkward and weird over, throwing down the landing gear as fast as she could the first few times, and throwing her head up halfway through the jump. I gave her THE longest amount of rein that I could without losing total control of her front end (seriously, it had to be like 10 extra inches of floppy rein) and held her martingale strap to make ABSOLUTE sure that she had zero contact before, during, and after the jump. (The mare is going to force me to have better equitation over fences.... if I don't perfect an auto release quickly, I am going to have a serious problem on my hands!) Once we went through it a few times that way, she perked up, got bolder, and jumped better. We ended on a great note, thankfully.

I think my plan is this: nix shooting for the schooling show at the end of the month and take it all the way back to basics again. Basics on the flat, and basics over little jumps in the arena, placing serious emphasis on making sure I give her a good ride no matter what. I'm going to do away with the martingale altogether (although I might consider a standing martingale if she ever gets to tossing her head again), and use a neck strap to just make sure I stay out of her way while she organizes herself. Kat is sending me hers to try.... score!

I also am trying out some Superfast glue-ons for her, just for funsies:

Technology is freaking cool.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Keep looking up, cause that's where it all is.

I don't think I ever foresaw a point in my life when I'd be writing about how much a radio DJ meant to me, but that's exactly what I am about to do. It feels really strange to acknowledged how much a guy I never met changed me, but losing him feels like losing a family member and close friend. If you never had a chance to tune in with Kidd Kraddick in the Morning, you seriously missed out on some enormous belly laughs as well as some tears. And those of you that did listen across the nation - and I know some of you did - your heart is probably as broken as mine is tonight. 

I'm not a radio morning show kind of person. Too many words and talking in the morning makes my head buzz a little, and for most of my life I avoided morning shows like the plague. I was always super annoyed whenever any DJs would come on any station that I happened to have on, because that meant that there was going to be talking instead of music! Ugh, not talking! Bring on the music! Even when I grew up and moved to Connecticut and had Sirius XM in my truck, I only half-heartedly listened to the Morning Mashup, intrigued and entertained but mostly just trying to find a way to pass the time in my morning commutes. I just was NOT a morning show kind of person.

When I moved to Texas, it was admittedly at a low point in my life. I used my last dime to get myself here, and fell into my new job, totally exhausted. I wasn't entirely sure what had possessed me to bolt from Connecticut to a place that was 125% different, but I just knew I had to get away - freshly injured horse, job loss, bad relationship, and roommate troubles basically made me throw up my hands and jump at the first thing I could get that was as different as I could find. It didn't take long for me to discover that I had given up everything I loved about New England for a horrible misrepresented job and a backstabbing boss that I absolutely hated. It was really not a good time for me.

Three good things came out of that period of time. First was Future Hubs, of course... lucky thing I moved to Texas, or else I never would have met him! Secondly, my business finally came to fruition.... hating my then-current job pressed me into taking up hoofcare professionally after all the years that I had been talking about it without doing anything about it. Thirdly, I discovered Kidd Kraddick. One miserable and cold morning shortly after I had moved, the barn radio was playing in the background while I cleaned stalls. I was ignoring it for the most part, but I started listening in when the cast started doing The Teacher Test. By the end, I was roaring with laughter. I decided to tune in again the next day... and the day after... and the day after. Pretty soon, Kidd became a part of my every day routine, and made my early morning commute to my miserable job that much better. I woke up excited to get to my radio and listen, just so I could laugh along with them. I needed laughter so badly in my life, and they delivered.

I only lasted a few months at that job. Mid-year the entire thing went to hell in a handbasket, and I found myself jobless again, stuck in a tiny apartment in Fort Worth with no AC and a very scary Projects apartment building nextdoor. Struggling, starving, and with a mare who was fast going down the tubes, I sought out Kidd Kraddick every day, searching for something to give me laughter. And, like he always did, he delivered in full. I also cried along with them as I learned more about the charity work they all did for terminally ill or disabled children - if ever there was a humanitarian, it was Kidd.

Kidd has been a staple in my life ever since. Having him to look forward to every morning, no matter what kind of chaos was going on around me, was like a rock in my tumultuous life. He got me through some horrible things, and it felt just like having an old friend riding along in my truck with me every day. I got to know and love all of the cast members on the show, and even at the end of the day Future Hubs and I would laugh about something we both had heard on the radio that morning. He was a staple in Future Hubs' life too - Kidd has been on air in Dallas since before we both were born, and had been on 106.1 since Future Hubs was a little kid, so he literally grew up with him. All over Dallas - all over the country - everyone has echoed the same sentiments.

I listened to the show on Friday, like I always do, and Kidd and the crew signed off with their typical, "Keep looking up, cause that's where it all is." They all then went to New Orleans for the weekend to do fundraising work for Kidd's Kids, Kidd's non-profit organization which takes over 50 families with terminally ill children to Disneyworld every year. Kidd spent his last day on earth doing what he loved most, which was working with the kids he adored. He died unexpectedly last evening, reportedly of a brain aneurysm. It was a total shock to everyone, and the thought of Monday morning without Kidd is just inconceivable to me. Kidd has ALWAYS been there... and now he's just gone.

Listening to the DJs who worked with him and knew him for years at 106.1 was just heartbreaking.... all of yesterday evening and today, the phone lines have been open and thousands of people have been calling in to share their memories. The DJs have been crying and laughing along with them. Facebook is absolutely filled with outpourings of love and grief, just as long and complex as this one has been - everyone felt like he was a part of their family, and we were as much a part of his family as he was ours. It isn't just the local area that is grieving - Kidd was Dallas-based, but his show was syndicated with more than 75 other stations. So many people knew and loved this guy! It's just unimaginable that we'll never hear him live on the air ever again... that he's just gone.

My mom summed it up with this: "Now you know how I felt when John Lennon died." Yes. Yes, that is exactly how I feel. (And yes, I actually called my mom to tell her how badly I was feeling!)

Tomorrow we'll hear from the rest of the cast at 7am, and then I don't know what is going to happen to the show. To be honest, radio is just never going to be the same again without him.

Rest in peace Kidd..... thanks for getting me through some horrible times, for being a mainstay in my life when everything else was chaos, and for helping thousands of children and their families get through some horrible times as well. I'm not religious, but if ever there was a heaven, he's there, reunited with all the terminally ill children that he helped that are no longer with us. The world is a better place for having had you in it.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Craniosacral Therapy!

I am a firm believer in preventative therapies before rehabilitative therapies. Body work, massage, chiro, craniosacral work, acupuncture or pressure, aquatherapy, and all manner of other therapies are all ones I stand behind in order to keep an athlete in top shape as well as halt or heal issues before they become real problems. I had some really good luck with craniosacral work for Immy, and decided O would benefit from some as well when I was poking around her SI area the other week - one side of her pelvis is very slightly higher than the other, despite there being no asymmetry in her movement, and I wanted to have it looked at by someone who specializes in that particular area. 

As predicted, O was kind of all wrapped up in knots, although there was nothing extremely serious to be worried about. She does have some minor TMJ issues - the next time the proper dentist comes around, the really good one, we'll use her instead. She also has that slight asymmetry in her pelvis, which might have been from some sort of old trauma. She does have some very exciting scars on her hind legs - maybe she got caught up in a fence somewhere and yoinked herself around. Either way, it's not anticipated to be a problem.... hell, if yours truly wasn't such a neurotic sharp-eyed groom it probably would have never been noticed by anybody. 

Most noticeable to me is the release through her neck, as well as her improved stance behind. I know it's a little bit hard to tell, since her head is turned in the first shot, but I can tell the difference. After the appointment, I also gave her a light trim, which included knocking back her toes a bit - it was high time to do it. She wandered away from her appointment looking a bit loosey-goosey in her back end - like she had suddenly become aware of the fact that she had a butt after all! I have some stretches and massages to do, and I'm excited to see if she feels any looser or better under saddle. 

Just as a comparison, here's one of her old photos I found from a few years ago, and her cranio photo: 

First photo was from before she got messed up by the trail rider, so I figure that's a good sign - standing more like her 'old' self, I suppose!

Before our appointment on Monday, we also went for a conditioning hack:

Faithful Monster Dog, always leading the way. 
I shortened up our conditioning hacks to just be an hour's worth of walking up and down the street, and instead of adding incremental walk and trot time I think we'll just stick to an hour's worth of walking for now. That said, I kind of want to do some LD endurance rides with her at some point... so I might consider taking some time out to figure out a way to use our conditioning hack days as something to gear towards that. (And maybe use our gallop days to do more patterning on the barrels..... there's so many things I want to do with this mare! She'd be fun to break to drive too, but I think we'll save that for when she's a little more broke... can you just see us in a cart park trotting past your house, me hanging on for dear life and waving hello? Nice to see you today, we're just on our way to match against the Standardbreds, love to chat longer but I have no brakes!!)

She had two days off and a light lunge following her therapy. I saw no difference in her movement, but maybe we I get back on her tonight I'll feel something different. I hope to get up to WD, but it might be too late in the day to try.... either way, a hack or flatwork ride is in store!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Game Changer

YES. I am a lucky, lucky kid.
I keep O at a friend's house. I am eternally lucky and grateful for this situation because I don't pay board - I just care for her horses when she is out of town, and we call it even. They hopelessly spoil me by going and picking up hay and supplies for me, and since they also own a tack business I get everything at cost. I. Am. LUCKY.
The facilities at the house are great - huge fields to gallop and hack in, big spaces to work on flatwork, a roundpen if I ever need it, a big huge properly fenced pen and gorgeous shelter for the girls, and good company to ride with (and wine, lots of wine! And a garden to raid, I have recently been eating myself sick with fresh beets and squash!). BUT, there is no arena, and when the ground gets mucky there's really nowhere to do serious work, unless you hack down the road (which we have been doing as of late anyway). 
There are a number of really awful arenas around in our area to trailer to, and a handful of decent ones, but the ones that are actually covered and weather-proof (from either the rain or the blazing Texas sun, which is just as miserable if not moreso!) are extremely rare. Not that many people around here have covered arenas - actual indoors like the ones up north are WAY too hot, and the expense of a covered arena is an awful lot when you look at the fact that for the most part, so long as you ride at the right time of the day, you can ride outside here all year round. Our area is really the heart and soul of eventing around here, and while that means basically nothing if you compare this area to Area II or III, it's a pretty lucky place to have landed in. I have several big events that are within close driving distance, including a two-star that I can literally walk to from my house. For the most part, the rest of the barns around here are all filled with cutting and barrel horses, with some nice H/J and dressage places on the other side of Dallas. My area is the cutting horse capital of the nation.... even our local McDonald's features a statue of Ronald McDonald sitting on a Paint horse cutting a calf. AND he's doing it bridle-less. I'M SERIOUS.



So, what is an eventing girl to do around here when she needs to find a place to trailer to that has a covered arena, some decent stadium jumps, and a XC course? 
Enter a local private facility, WD. You have to get on the wait list to get a membership, but once you're in, you pay a flat rate of $75 a month, which then allows you to trailer in as much as you want - every day if you felt like it - and use ALL the facilities. There is a HUGE covered with awesome felt/sand footing, a dressage court, a big outdoor all-weather with a ton of stadium jumps, a gallop track, and a huge XC course complete with two water complexes and jumps up through Training (might be a small Prelim fence here and there). Last week, I lucked out - the owner e-mailed me to let me know she had a spot for me. YES! This is a TOTAL game changer - we can do as much proper training there as we could possibly ever want!

Now THAT'S a proper arena! 

I took O over for her first dressage workout in the covered last week. It was still raining at that point, which was insane, but we managed to sneak in between squalls and go for a little hack around the property before heading to the covered.

It really is paradise. And somehow, magically, it is always green, even when the rest of Texas is sad and yellow!

O was actually very good. We just did some simple walk-trot stuff, not even bothering to do canterwork - all I wanted to focus on was just being able to trot around in a quiet rhythm, with no major freakouts/pulling/rooting/running off/general goofiness. In that I was very successful - I think that is the quietest flatwork session I have had on her yet. It was also the first time I had gone sans 'training wheels' on her - without either a neck stretcher or a martingale - and was delighted to find that her head tossing didn't return. When I first got her, she about broke my nose several times on our first couple of rides due to all her out of control head flinging, so she got put in a set of headgear, graduating from one to the next as her behavior improved - first a neck stretcher, then a chambon, then a running martingale. The neck stretcher kept her from using her head and neck against me, and from being able to grab the bit and run away - she just bounced against herself, and I sat there doing nothing, not having to fight her. The chambon let her have a little more freedom to poke her nose out - you don't get that effect in the neck stretcher, so I was keen to graduate her out as soon as I felt the bit grabbing and taking off were more under control. I started using the martingale once I felt that she could be allowed a little more freedom, and while she did try to toss her head a few times with that, she hit the martingale and stopped herself in her own tracks - well, that's what it is there for mare, sorry about that but that's not something that is gonna fly here! If at any time the head tossing returns, she'll go back into one of those, but she can't stay in them forever. 
We're a long, long way from putting out a halfway decent dressage test, but I was very happy with her overall behavior that day. And looking in the mirrors, we actually didn't look half bad, even if it feels a bit like a total mess to me!

The following day, we had a nice lunge, since the rain had FINALLY quit - look at how GREEN everything was! (It already back to yellow... sigh.)

I gave her another day off after that, and did a second lunge on Sunday, which I posted a video of. So, we mostly kind of stuck to our schedule for last week, but it wasn't quite what I wanted due to all the rain. Ohhhhhh well. We'll be able to trailer out to WD at least one or two times this week!

She says, dude where's my dinner, stop with the baths and the photos already, COME ON.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Blog Maintenance!

Pardon the dust, just messing around with some new layout stuff, mostly a new header to showcase the red demon herself! :) 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Lunging Video!

I had a busy and tiring weekend, so this isn't going to be a long update (still have to write about my rides this week!), but I thought I'd leave you with a little video of the red devil herself having a lunge session today:

Compared to the last lunging video I posted, you'll see that she has significantly chilled out since then. At this point, I would prefer her to be in that slightly less engaged and slower trot, so long as her back is relaxed and her neck is lengthened. You can see some of the subtle differences between when her back is tight and when she is looser. She is also responding well to voice commands, although you can see how the lunge line drops as I make a move towards her to keep her from turning towards me when she stops! (I'm a stickler for stopping out on the line where you are - it keeps the horse engaged in their halts. Some people like when their horses stop and turn towards them... as for me, I consider it a rudeness and a safety hazard if that horse decides to go bouncing forward into your space! After the camera stopped, I made her walk off and halt again, and the second time it was perfect.)


EDITED TO ADD: By the way, here's a picture of the monster kitten, who had up until recently still been known as the Shitten - he's getting so big that somebody mentioned he was starting to look like a Shat instead of a Shitten, so we dubbed him Shatner! At 10 weeks he weighs almost 4lbs, he is going to be HUGE!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Welcome To Kindergarten

If there is one lesson to be learned in training and retraining horses, it is this: a horse cannot be expected to be able to form words and phrases without knowing all the letters of the alphabet first. 

What is the alphabet? It starts out simple. A horse must learn to carry a rider, stop, go, and turn. The horse learns about the inside leg, the outside leg, the weight of the seat, the contact, and going forward in a quiet and steady rhythm. The horse learns about half-halts, learns about adjusting his stride, learns about bending, learns about stretching, learns about compressing. The horse, in essence, learns her general alphabet as the basic training from backing to Training level dressage. She learns, in essence, to balance and respond appropriately to all leg, seat, and rein aids. If there is a set of letters missing from this very basic alphabet - if the horse doesn't respond to half-halts, if the horse rushes, if the horse takes an inappropriate contact, if the horse doesn't steer well, if the horse responds incorrectly to leg aids, if the horse is crooked, etc - there will be NO correct progression from then on. You will always have holes in your training, and until you go back and fill in the blanks, you'll get nowhere. It's the set of basics ALL horses must have - without it, your eventer will rush and crash around jumps, your barrel horse will run away with you, and your trail horse will not listen at obstacles. When people have problems with training, they need to go back to the beginning and find out what exactly is missing in the first place. Chances are, if a horse is having issues, it is missing a critical piece of the very basic equation.

O's issues on the flat are pretty multifaceted due to her spree of bad un-training by the idiot trail rider. She understandably has major contact issues - she ducks behind the bit, grabs it and hauls on her rider, and raises her head and tenses her back, all in a relatively constant cycle of one right after the other. On the lunge, she no longer does ANY of these things, so I figure it's just a matter of time and giving her a quiet and consistent contact to bounce around against until she decides to explore it and stretch into it appropriately. Before a horse can do that, they need to have the rest of their aids in place, which she does not. (That said, she has already come a WORLD away from where she was - more on that shortly.)

What else doesn't she have in place? She started out very, very unbalanced on turns (drops her shoulder and motorbikes at high speed instead of bending her body around the arc of the circle) as well as on downhill slopes, with not much much in the way of bending or sideways signals. She also had no concept of half-halts or seat aids, and would just NOT stop half of the time. She would respond inappropriately to leg aids by hollowing her back, slowing down, sulling up, and making faces, in a very "don't want to you can't make me" kind of way. She also was always on the brink of running off at every gait - not bolting or running away out of control, per se, but whenever she liked she would grab and bear down on the bit, and zoom off at whatever speed she felt like going, with no brakes and no steering. She did it at every gait - yes, your horse can run away with you at the walk! - and there wasn't really any rhyme or reason to it. Basically, she spent the first two months of her time with me trying every trick in the book for getting away with doing absolutely everything except accepting the contact and going nicely forward with a steady and straight rhythm.

Now, this is all changing. She is slowly, slowly starting to put the pieces together, although it is a work in progress. It is going to take a very long time to get her to the point of putting an acceptable Training level test together, but we will get there.

Our ride on Monday of this week was out at a local covered arena, due to a TOTALLY random rainstorm (seriously. it rained for four days here, with temps in the 60's.... yes, in July in Texas!). The last time I went by this place, I checked in on the footing and it was great. (It used to be notoriously bad.) I thought to myself, yay! I can use it now! Unfortunately, when I went over there with O, the footing was complete trash. The outside of the ring were bone-dry and dusty, and the middle part was insanely deep, mucky, soggy and rutted, pockmarked with holes from the horses who had been running barrels on it before. (I'm pretty sure even barrel people don't like their arenas that deep and mucky and full of holes). I did the best I could, but she wasn't particularly on her best behavior - I can't really blame her for that, seeing as she spent half her time struggling to maintain her balance. I tried to lunge her before I got on, but there was really no point to it, so I just quit and got on. At one point, she fizzed up and I really needed to get up off her back and let her canter around for a few minutes, but I just didn't safely have that option. I managed to get her to move out a little (without being too much), and stretch out some, and I called it quits with that. It wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but it's better to end on a high note than a low one.

Tuesday, I managed to sneak out between rainstorms for an hour long hack down the road, complete with 5 minutes of trotting up the road on a loose rein. It is truly remarkable how much she has transformed on the trail - she used to be completely freaked out, jigging and tossing her head, spooking and scooting sideways, completely incapable of dealing with all the stimuli of the outside world. (I'm not really sure if she ever had any trail experience before I got her or not.) Now, she hacks out on a loose rein, completely quiet and interested in her surroundings. NOTHING scares her. I know, I keep trying to! On Tuesday she walked past big overturned garbage cans banging around in the wind, rattling mailboxes, honking semis, barking dogs, and jogging neighbors without so much as a misstep. (Well, she WAS inches away from a mailbox at one point and a grasshopper flew up and hit it with a loud and resounding crunch... then she was interested.)

She was SO encrusted with black gumbo mud that I literally only managed to get her saddle area clean before I gave up!

Wednesday was a total blowout - it poured and raged ALL day long, and I ended up just cuddling up with a bunch of pets and letting her have the day off instead of going with our planned dressage day.

There is more to catch up on concerning the rest of the week... but this kid needs some rest. I am POOPED. More later!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Rainy Days Are Made For Planning

Thank you to everyone who has given encouragement and words of wisdom. You have no idea how much it means to me! I really appreciate when readers come forward with their own thoughts on any major decisions I make, for better or worse, and I feel quite a bit better knowing that others also think I made the right choice. I know I made the right choice as well, but having the support of those around me helps too!

As for today, I'm not entirely sure if I am still currently located in the great state of Texas. It's July, and it is only 65 degrees out and pouring rain. It's been like that all day. In July. In Texas. I'm not even sure what to think.... it just does NOT rain in the summer here. It never gets below 80, even at night. All my windows are open and I am listening to the rain.... it's just crazy!

Due to the neverending deluge and work today, the little red lady got a day off, which I actually had scheduled in on purpose. As per one of my monthly goals, I have a stricter weekly schedule that I have set up, and I intend on deviating from it less than I have been. Playing with the barrels and cows and going on long trail rides is excellent fun, of course, but we have dressage and jumping to do as well! It's also time to sit down and look long and hard at the NTEA calendar and see what exactly we want to shoot in terms of schoolings and little shows.

O eating her lunch in her shed, trying to keep dry (her haybags are out on the fence railing, but I put an extra bag up in the shed in case she didn't want to stand out in the rain. Spoiled!). She says yeah lady, you just TRY to excavate a horse out from underneath this layer of mud....

So our weekly schedule looks a bit like this for this coming week:

Yes, that is a glimpse into my daily neurosis. I really DO have endless calendars planned out.
Our flatwork is mostly just focusing on being able to take a contact and stay there, keeping a steady forward rhythm without altering tempo or speed, and doing correct transitions. We're starting to play with some lateral work now too, but mostly it's just introducing concepts to her without frazzling her. She still has quite a long way to go, but she gets better and better, slowly.
Our hack-outs are simple at this point, just getting her out for increasingly long walks (they'll eventually become 2 hours.... or if we decide to go for a trail ride, they're more like 4 or 5!), with some trotting on a longer and looser contact. Eventually I'd like her to be able to do them on the buckle, and they'll eventually get up to more like 1/2hr of trot, but she does NOT need to be that fit right now, and she definitely is not quiet enough to take a long contact and not zoom off into the sunset with it. And, for fun, she gets patterned a bit on the barrels when she is done... and maybe we'll start to swing a rope off of her shortly! 
Our jumping schools are simple gymnastics, based off of ones in one of my favorite exercise booklets. They include trot and canter work over groundpoles, small grids, and single trot fences. She's WAY too rushy to be cantering fences yet - she needs to canter lots of poles without trying to gallop away first. She's game, she'll do whatever she is pointed at so far... it just needs finesse.
Our "gallop" sets are like our hack sets, mostly just getting her to use different muscle groups versus getting her any fitter than she already is. She is already WAY fitter than she needs to be for what she is doing! She's doing two sets of four minute trots, and two sets of three minute canters at 350mpm (a BN canter). My calender actually has a typo, that should say 2x3, not 3x3.
And lunging is self-explanatory... the Faux-ssoa helps her stretch out over her back, which is good after several back-to-back saddle sessions. She tends to speed up and break gait at random moments whenever she feels like it, and I've put my foot down and been stern with her about her desire to trot around at warp speed. 

With all this rain, there is not going to be anywhere to ride at home tomorrow, so we'll have to trailer out to a local covered arena. You do what you gotta do!

In terms of our calendar, here are some ideas for August:

August 9-11: Open Schooling Weekend, Greenwood Farm
August 17-18: Open Schooling Weekend, Quail Run Farm, and POSSIBLE Combined Test on Sunday (if I can get off work)
August 31-Sept 1: Open Schooling Stadium/XC, Willing Draw Farm, and POSSIBLE Derby on Sunday (if I can get off work)

And September:

Sept 7-8: Open Schooling and Schooling Horse Trials, Curragh
Sept 21-22: Open Schooling and Schooling Horse Trials OR Combined Test, Lazy Dog Ranch

EDITED to add in October:

October 5-6: Open Schooling and Schooling Horse Trials, Curragh
October 19-20: Open Schooling and Schooling Horse Trials, Quail Run Farm
October 25th: 5th Annual Brazos Valley Hunt Fun Show & Trail Ride Challenge (for funsies!), Greenwood Farm

Mostly, my plan is to take her out to little schooling events this fall (no recognized this year), going up from Green as Grass to BN, and maybe a N combined test. Then in the spring, we'll do some more BN/N schooling shows, and then hopefully be ready for the recognized things. And if we're good enough, the goal is to get to the AECs, since they are here in Texas after all - and you just can't pass that opportunity up!

As we get closer I will decide for sure what we are going to do, but that's a great start in terms of ideas. 

Planning stuff on rainy days is super fun. What do YOU do on your rainy days off?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The "O"nly Child, Part II

Life is a very strange and bizarre series of interconnected events leading you to places you never thought you would be, isn't it? Life. Is. Just. Crazy.

When I brought Immy home, I had every intention of turning her into an unbeatable show horse. I poured my heart and soul into her, dreamed about the things we would do, planned and schemed and plotted out the future but took it one step at a time to accommodate for her timid mind. P-mare is semi-retired and no longer capable of heavy work or shows, so this was a wonderful bridge back into the eventing world that I missed so much. I had no real time constrains or serious goals, and I had no intention of pushing her any harder or faster than she was mentally capable of, but I had high hopes and was excited for the future.

Then in April, I was perusing the vast interwebz on a boring rainy afternoon and stumbled quite by accident on the ad for O ("Warmblood mare complete with issues" was the title - how could I not look?), and really liked her build from the few pictures I saw (of her standing around munching at the roundbale, but I could see the potential there). The ad sounded super interesting (most talking about her history and training, how she had been a h/j type horse, her movement and jump, etc, and how she had also been trashed by an idiot trail rider and had since developed issues), and I passed the link onto Future Hubs (who was at work), saying "Wouldn't it be fun to get a mare like this and turn her for a profit? She would be worth a lot of money if I fixed her up!" To my great surprise, his response was not, "Ha! Yeah, that's ridiculous," but rather, "Hey! You should do that! And then take me to dinner when she sells." Well, okay then! I figured she was worth a look, since I'd bank if I could fix her and sell her quick. It was worth a tire kick for funsies, right?

I went to go see the mare in March, on my birthday no less. It was almost dusk and the light was poor, so we couldn't do too much and I didn't get to spend too long with her. She was super friendly, came marching right over to me in the pasture, was rude and walked all over me on the ground but wasn't malicious, and had some pretty knock-out movement on the lunge. When I got on her, the training issues were clear - I could walk her around and steer, but when you put your leg on her, she'd sull up and stop. If you pushed the issue, she'd pin her ears. If you really pushed, she'd pick up a hind leg and kick out. I never did get her to do more than just walk that first day. She literally just would NOT do it.

I flex her, I jogged her, I watched her on the lunge and I palpated and poked every inch of her body (and hard), trying to find a physical reason for this. She stood with her ears pricked as I ground my hands into her back and into her girth area - absolutely no reaction. I could find absolutely nothing wrong with her - no pain, no issues, no nothing.

I figured it was worth a shot. I could fix this.

A few weeks later, in the beginning of April, I went back to pick her up - didn't even bother with a vet check (which I do not recommend and NEVER don't do normally). I paid the owner $500 in cash, signed a contract, and tossed her in my trailer. She settled right in at home, making immediate friends with both P and Immy. I gave her a bath, did her feet, and prepped her for some serious boot camp hell. She drove me absolutely nuts for the first few weeks - wiggling, pawing, screaming, biting the pipe fence when tied, tossing her head, ignoring my verbal cues on the lunge with a pin of her ears and a refusal to comply, and alternating between sulling up under saddle against my leg aids and not going forward, and losing all steering and brakes while tearing off out of control. It was a general mess, and she annoyed me to no end. I was still completely focused on Immy, and just wanted to get O going enough to get her sold. That was all.

At some point, it changed. The more I watched O move, the move I loved her movement. The more I worked with her, the more her behavior changed from absolute wild child with her own agenda and rules to a much quieter, much more willing partner. As April turned to May, Immy needed some downtime, and I stated to focus more and more on O. She was Immy's complete opposite - where Immy moved away, O leaned in. Where Immy raised her head, O lowered it. Where I had to back off with Immy, I could turn the heat on with O. O was intense, in your face, belligerent, and entirely too self-assured. In other words, she was exactly the kind of horsey personality I really click with. Add some awesome movement and a knockout jump along with her increasingly bold and unflappable persona, and it was no wonder that I started to really see that I had truly found a diamond in the rough. The more I cleared away the mess around it, the more it shone through - and the more work I put into her, the more attached I got, and the less I wanted to sell her.

Future Hubs put the nail in the coffin on the resale idea when he spent a little time with her one evening. He's not horsey in any way, but we managed to get him up on a horse that particular night, and after he was done he got to watch me ride O for awhile and hang out with her while I was untacking. He was totally smitten, and made me take some pictures of them together, even going to far as to promptly put one of them up as his profile picture. Later, he sternly told me that I was absolutely under no circumstances allowed to sell her anymore, because she was simply too awesome. And he was the one who wanted me to get her as a resale project in the first place!

It was around this time that I really started to reevaluate what I was doing with Immy. I just didn't feel like I was doing right by her, trying to make her into something she simply was not mentally capable of being, despite all the positive changes she had gone through. I already talked about my thought process and decisions in my last post, so I won't bore you with that whole story again, but in the end I did eventually decide that finding a good low-key situation for her to be in would be the best possible outcome for her, and of course, here we are today with a completely 100% different outcome than I had originally planned with I brought O home. Immy was supposed to be the focus, not O. Immy was supposed to be the forever show horse, not O. I honestly had guilt about it for quite a long time. This wasn't supposed to be the way things worked out. This was supposed to be different.

I still feel sort of odd and conflicted about the entire thing. I miss the girls, but I know they are fine and doing well. O is doing SO much better without other mares there, and is loving being the sole focus for the time being. I have more time and more money, both of which are beneficial to my business and to life in general. Everything is good and well and lovely, but it doesn't keep me from feeling like it was *supposed* to be different.

But that's just the strangeness of life, I suppose. It isn't remotely what it was *supposed* to be at all, and yet somehow it all fell into place anyway. Who knew?

Monday, July 8, 2013

The "O"nly Child

It's time to break some enormously huge news to everyone - I haven't talked about it yet because it wasn't set in stone until today. As of this afternoon, both P and Immy are together in a lease situation with someone who a) wants P to ride on trails and b) wants Immy as a buddy for her other mare. This situation, if it all works out, literally could NOT be better for all of us!

It had come to the point in Immy's riding career where I have had to come to terms with the realization that she is not mentally capable of doing what I want her to be doing. I have tried, tried, tried and tried some more... even though she has come a million miles from where she was, even though she is officially broke to ride and has been in training now for months, she is no further mentally than she ever was. I tried... oh, I tried! I wanted it SO bad, I wanted to show everyone what could happen when an abused little mare was given a second chance. Unfortunately, I'm not the only one in this relationship.... and she, as a sentient being, is entitled to her say in this partnership as well. I can't force her to be something that she just does not want to be. Or well, I could try to force her... but what would be the point of that? What is the point of stressing her out in order to try and make her do the things that only I want to be doing?

Technically she is broke to ride. She walks, trots, and canters under saddle, and goes on little trail rides. That much I succeeded in doing. But underneath her quiet exterior, there was always a ripple of tension within her. I could never predict when it would come out, or why - sometimes she just could not mentally respond properly to pressures, even if she had already responded beautifully dozens of times before. Whenever that happened, she would shut down, explode, bolt, or buck like a rodeo bronc. At first, I thought she was just green. But the further we got into her training, the more unpredictable it was. She could canter just fine 4 out of 5 times, but the 5th she would panic for no discernible reason and launch me into the dirt - and we'd be set back again. 

This was not just in her under saddle work - 4 out of 5 times we could do everything normal and quietly, but without warning she would absolutely lose it over simple things - putting on a flymask, putting on a halter, picking up a foot. Sometimes I'd brush up against her on accident and she would panic. I don't know what she remembers from her years of abuse, but I don't think she'll ever forget it.... she is too smart and too sensitive to let anything go. Something gets triggered in her mind, no matter how benign whatever we're doing is, and she shuts down. We combed over her with every kind of treatment I could think of - chiro, massage, aquatherapy, vet, craniosacral, proper trims, proper diet, nutritional therapy, ulcer treatment. I poured thousands into her, just hoping to find something that would help find the Jekyll and Hyde switch and turn it off. I never succeeded.

Finally, I backed off and totally left her alone, and focused on O instead. That was when she came back around, acting like her wonderful usual sweet self. So long as I just petted her nosey and gave her kisses and cookies, she was a happy camper. So long as she was near me but not being directly asked to do anything, she was delightful. Honestly, she blooms when she's just in a super low-key environment. She just mentally does not handle stress well, and shuts down or acts out, no matter how minimal the pressures are. I completely understand this, as I am EXACTLY the same way. I have a really hard time dealing with stresses, and am quick to go from 0-60 - when things in my life go wrong, sometimes I can deal with them, but sometimes I go all the way to the other end of the spectrum and just want to hurl myself off a cliff rather than deal with whatever is causing the problem. In humans, we chalk that up to a mental health disorder... in horses, we are quick to just write them off as crazy. Who really knows what is going on?

I cannot change her history. I cannot change her years of abuse. And I cannot, no matter how much I try, change her reactivity to things. She is physically talented and completely capable of doing what I want her to do. But mentally, she is not capable and I honestly don't think she ever will be. 

Do I feel like a total failure? Of course I do. I completely feel like I have failed. I have been pulled endlessly in both directions from people on both sides of this, and it has been causing me considerable stress for a very long time. The people that know her personally, that have seen her and seen her unpredictable fear-based behavior have said that I am wasting my time, that she is worthless, that she was dumped at the ET facility because she is clearly nuts and that I need to ship her off as quick as I can. The people that don't know her personally are telling me that I'm not trying hard enough, that I must not be treating her appropriately, that I am giving up and am a failure and a quitter. As for me, I don't believe ANY of the above things are true: I love her dearly, I think she is a wonderful mare and that she is beautiful and sweet and silly and gentle. I don't honestly believe that I failed... I just think that I have come to accept the fact that I don't want to force this mare to have to endure any more stress than she has already had to deal with in her life.   Why am I trying to make her something that she just is not and does not want to be?

I don't regret rescuing her for a second, even if my dreams of making her into an eventer need to be tossed out the window. I am SO GLAD that I took her away from the misery she was in - SO eternally thankful for everyone that helped chip in to save her sweet soul. As such, I feel 100% responsible for making sure that the remainder of her days are to be lived out stress-free and happy and away from those that would harm her or toss her out with the trash. She deserves a beautiful and happy life, and I intend to make damn well sure that she never, ever endures any of that again.

Through a long series of events, I connected with a woman through acquaintance who has a solo lonely mare at her house. We agreed to try leasing Immy out as a companion for her mare - that's it, companion only. Her only job for the duration of the lease will be to keep this other mare company and eat, which is about as awesome of a job description as you could ever want as a horse. She is out on LEASE ONLY, meaning if it all goes to hell in a handbasket that she'll come back to me, but hopefully this lease will be somewhat indefinite and she and the other mare will be pasture mates and buddies for a long time. To top it off, at the last second the lady mentioned wanting a study trail horse to putz around on while her young mare was getting broke, and I told her that while Immy wouldn't be that horse, I did have another awesome older mare who had mostly just been hanging around getting some bareback trail rides that I would also be willing to let her lease. She jumped on it!

I took both girls over to her place today, and they settled in well. I'm worried that with P around, Immy is going to not be nice to the young mare, but P isn't supposed to stay for too long.... hopefully when she comes back, Immy will be forced to attach herself to another horse! She and P are total bookends, and Immy does NOT want the other mare to even say hello to P... hopefully they'll all get over that. 

This of course leaves O at home alone, with her palomino boyfriends over the fence to keep her company... I thought she was going to freak out, but she seems to have taken it all in stride and is probably happy to not have Immy beating on her constantly! It is going to be very strange at home with only one horse for a little while, but I know the other two will be well-tended, and they come home when everything is over with. It's a win-win for everybody. 

As always, I intend on always making sure Immy is happy, healthy, and safe for the duration of the rest of her life, no matter where she is or what she is doing. I owe it to her, and she deserves it. 

It feels good to write this all out. I've been keeping it all bottled up for fear that everyone would chew me out and be angry with me about it. And I'm sure people will yell at me and tell me I am a horrible person and all, but I think I am a strong enough person to ignore that and know that I have done right by everyone. I will miss the girls while they are gone, but they're not far away. They are doing good things for other people, and we all get to share the love in the process. It's a great feeling, really. 

In the end, it's all about doing what is right for the horse. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

End of June Goals, July Goals!

Is June already gone? The 4th of July is already over? WHAT IS GOING ON? Before you know it, Christmas will be here... slow down, time! You're going way too fast for me!

Onto our recap of June goals!


O-Ren June Goals:

1) Continue consistent work under saddle - w/t/c, relaxation, OBEDIENCE, steering/brakes/adjustability!
Success! But, of course, it is an ongoing process. She improves little by little, still struggling with the mental challenge of simply permitting me to direct her (she would rather just do whatever she feels like doing, with no input on my part). Our brakes are VASTLY improving on the flat, and her willingness to take a contact versus duck behind it is improving, but her new things is to take the contact perfectly... and spring off into hyperspeed. Well.... better than duck behind it and crawl like a snail, right? We'll get there, she just has to find a happy medium!

2) Start JUMPING! Small things, grids, poles, etc!
SUCCESS! She has jumped grids in the arena as well as successfully completed her first XC schooling. This all was huge for us - our biggest and best goal yet! With some finesse, she's going to be a total machine!

3) More experiments with tack, hoof boots, etc! Experiment in finding out what works best for her!
Success! It is still somewhat ongoing in terms of tack, but I love the Delta boots on her. The problem is that they still rub her, even with pastern wraps and all... ugh! These red mares and their sensitive skin. Thankfully, I don't need to use them much - just when her feet have been wet or we are going somewhere rocky or rough. In terms of tack, that mostly related to just gear and bits (my saddles all fit her fantastically). I've played around with using a running martingale for jumping (pretty good), a tiedown for western work (for fun - and it works very well), and the neck stretcher as both the stretcher and a chambon, just to remind her of manners (very useful, but I think too restrictive at this point, and I might totally nix it for a few rides to see if the head tossing is gone or not). For flatwork, she loves the Famous Blue Bit, but for jumping we have some playing to do. I've had a few of you offer to send me some bits to try - THANK YOU so much in advance for doing that!! Can't wait to play around with them!

4) Start conditioning sets (trots, canters)
Success! That said, I actually started sets and then stopped them - she was getting overly fit! I think we'll back off on the conditioning and ramp up on the training - she's crazy fit already and I don't need her fitter. More emphasis on the training, LESS emphasis on the fitness!

5) Work on buddy sour issues - going out totally alone, being left behind, etc.
Success, but it's a work in progress! She now hacks out totally alone without issue, and if there are other horses around and she is following her buddy, her buddy can trot off and she doesn't care. If her buddy leaves her behind on the trail though, she still wigs out.... that being said, once her buddy is far enough away and she has been schooled a bit, she chills out significantly and can walk again on a loose rein all by herself. Mares....


July Goals:
1) Continue basic dressage work - walk/trot/canter on the bit, stretching, emphasis on balance during circles/serpentines, start some lateral work! (We've already begun to play with leg yields and turns on the haunches - more work on those!)
2) More jump schools - increasingly advanced jump work in the arena! (No more XC schools in the area until August sadly - everyone in TX hibernates in July, with good reason!)
3) Plan out our hypothetical "show" schedule for the fall - pick out some schooling events!
4) Chart out our monthly calendar and stick to it!
5) Continue to play around with patterning on barrels and swinging ropes off of her - maybe progress to pulling the dummy and/or roping the dummy!


Yes, we HAVE been patterning her on the barrels for fun.... more on that soon ;)

Monday, July 1, 2013


This past weekend was the Groton House H.T. up in Massachusetts. Those of you who have been reading from waaaaaaaaaaay back in the day will remember when Gogo and I showed there in 2009. It was the crowning achievement of that season: with two blue ribbons under our belts from our first two events that year already (King Oak and Mystic Valley), we went into the biggest and baddest event of our area feeling ready but totally nervous. It was THE most fun weekend of the entire summer... I'll leave you with some of the entries I wrote, staring with a few on show prep and ending with the show itself!

That mare was something else. Really and truly. I think about her every day and miss her terribly, all the time. I rarely swing my leg over any horse that I get on and don't wish that it could be her.  She was one in a million, and there will never be another like her. She was everything to me. 

I really can't believe this happened FOUR years ago. Where has the time gone?