Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lesson Notes: #$#!@ Outside Leg

Balance, balance, balance: between forward and supple, between solid in my aids and position and soft and forgiving, and of course the good old-fashioned kind.

Some nice moments, but overall inconsistent. We touched on consistency a few weeks ago, and haven't climbed back up that mountain. He'll swing and get soft and round...and then fling his head up and lose it five minutes later. I'll lock in with my seat and have soft hands...and then he'll jut his shoulders out and I'll get a bit out and it spirals down from there and ends up with a rock-hard and static left rein.

I'm fighting some unevenness in my own body right now, too. There's something slightly odd going on with my left hip that I need to overcome that's making it more difficult to keep my left leg really wrapped around. I can't quite nail the feel of a solid outside rein while tracking left.

In all? Productive lesson. Good lesson. Once again more proof that if I could just ride, if I could just be in the right place and give the right aids, he would be going so well, but when I break up my own fluidity it just...disintegrates. It's like juggling fifteen fresh eggs and as soon as I drop one the rest go splat, and then I have to walk all the way back to the fridge and start the juggling routine again, one egg at a time, before we approach that level again.

Tuesday night was my last ride for nearly 2.5 weeks; I'm away for two weeks for a long-awaited and long-planned-for vacation. I arranged for the best barn kid ever (which could so honestly apply to half a dozen kids at our barn, which is amazing) to sit on him during that time, and deeded over my two missed lessons to her. Probably I'm going to have to eat crow when I come back and she's improved him dramatically in just two weeks, but - I'm okay with that.

When we get back, life starts to fly fast and furious: XC again at Scarlet Hill, followed by Valinor at Elementary, followed in short order by King Oak. Home stretch!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


This was never going to be a week conducive to rest and relaxation. I'm leaving for a long-planned vacation/road trip on Friday night, and there are dozens of small details I still have to arrange before then. Work is work. I'm facing up to some major changes in my life going forward.

However, two things right now are particularly heartburn-inducing.

The first is that I just mailed my entry to the King Oak Farm Fall Horse Trials. This is it. This is what we've been working toward all summer: our first (and likely only) recognized USEA horse trials. I've obliterated any semblance of budget I may have had as well as a few savings accounts to get us to this point, fretted and stressed and worked hard in every single ride I had available to me, shunted all other commitments to the side. After all that work, I'm still not sure we're ready. Oh, we'll be safe. Tris will go around. We certainly will not be competitive, but then my goal was always to complete, not to compete. But will it be a good, positive experience for both of us? Will I embarrass my friends and my barn and my trainer? (I worry a bit as well about embarrassing myself, but I'm more or less used to that.) I wish I didn't feel so sure that this is our one shot, and I wish I didn't feel such pressure to do it right. I wish I could be one of the many hundreds of people who surely enter willy-nilly and without carrying so much baggage.

My secondary panic is tied to the above: I'm stretching every bit of financial give I have. I had planned out the summer carefully but not allowed enough of a buffer, and I've had to dip into some savings accounts to round out the edges, and that stings. Last month there was the vet bill for the abscess; this month, my jump saddle needed billet repair, the truck needed new brake calipers & hoses, and my car insurance came due and increased in price. I spent the first three weeks of July running under budget and in the last week went $1k over. I am by nature a financially cautious person, which is at odds with being a horse owner. There are plenty of internet jokes about the expense of horses, but the hard truth is that owning a horse? Is a really, really poor financial choice. That becomes apparent to me in very dark moments when I realize that many other life possibilities are closed off by horse ownership, especially when I rely 100% on myself for all of my plans - buying a house, having kids, doing any sort of traveling that doesn't involve my tent.

Most of the time I cope. This week, on top of all the other planning and figuring out and anticipation, it's got me nearly constantly on the edge of a panic attack.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Volunteering at Fitch's Corner

Fitch's Corner is one of my favorite events of the year. It hosts the Area 1 Championships alongside a regular horse trials, right on up through Preliminary. That particular area of upstate New York is especially gorgeous, filled with farms and old houses, and the rolling hills and valleys make the drive scenic (and slightly terrifying for those of us with trailer driving panic attacks). For the second year in a row, we camped at a lovely little state park about 25 minutes away, saving on hotel costs and giving me an excuse to break out my beloved tent.

We arrived Thursday, and on Friday, as last year, I took the day to do some sightseeing. Last year I went west, to Hyde Park; this year, north, through the Hudson River Valley to hit a few museums and combine business and pleasure. I also had lunch at the Eveready Diner which was tasty if a bit overpriced (much fancier than the "diner" label would suggest...).

Saturday, I fence judged for cross-country. Briefing was at 6:30 a.m., which worked out well since Hannah had to feed & prep Tucker for their 8:08 start time anyway. Fitch's is a fabulous, really high-end event, and their attention to detail is phenomenal. They don't have the organization of King Oak - which remains my gold standard for military-like precision in the running of its XC - but they have style and are incredibly generous. For my services, I got a great new hat, good food all day, and an insulated lunch bag.

I spent my first shift at Training fence 14, a big hay feeder that jumped well all morning. After some years of totally uneventful fence judging, I had to stop someone for the first time. A rider had clipped a flag earlier on course in such a way that she hadn't actually jumped the jump, which meant she was eliminated when she jumped the next fence. I was asked to hold her up and take her off course. It went well - there was a nice big gallopy stretch leading up to my fence that I could stand in to flag her down.

My next fence was a Prelim coffin, offset and while not huge, quite technical. I enjoyed watching that one, as you got a clear sense of the different styles and techniques involve in navigating it. I also picked up my second hold of the day when a fence later on course broke and I had to stop a rider after my fence, complete with timing. I stopped the rider, started my stopwatch, and then realized it was Bruce Davidson. So that was a moment! It was only a few minutes of hold and then I sent him on his way and reported in the time of the hold. New experience, nice adrenaline rush, but I was glad that it went perfectly.

Third fence of the day was a v. straightforward Novice rolltop before a bank, and for that I got to sit under some shade for the first time. I lost my radio as the fence judge after me reported for the whole bank complex, and it was by far the most relaxing of my fences. I didn't have a BN fence, which worked out neatly, as unfortunately Hannah and Tucker had retired on course earlier that morning and we ended up going home Saturday afternoon instead of Sunday.

I love being a fence judge, especially when I'm stationed by myself. It's low key but very important, and it lets me be in control of my own private kingdom, ordering my things about my chair, taking down information, listening in to the activity around the course, and doing some reading and relaxing, all while watching horses go cross country. Perfectly lovely way to spend a day.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cross-Country Schooling at Scarlet Hill Farm

Last Saturday, Hannah and I took the boys to Scarlet Hill for another cross-country school. We got there a bit late - my fault, I had an hour in my head as the travel time and it was closer to an hour and fifteen - but tacked up quickly and were over and warming up by ten minutes after our start time.

We shared our lesson with a woman on a big, powerful, brave Dutch mare that looked like a tricky ride - very eager! Not my kind of ride, I think, but clearly quite athletic. She and I ended up doing many similar patterns and courses.

Tris and I followed up on our work from the last school: land and go, and work on setting a pace between the fences that would help us to build confidence, jump fences out of stride, and maybe not get overtaken at our next event. After some of our galloping practice in the back fields at home, I was feeling more confident about pushing him for more speed.

We started with a few big loops of straightforward soft BN fences, and I urged Tris forward after every landing. He felt great right off the bat - clicking in with me, going when I asked him to. We had one squirrely moment at our second fence of the first course, a fairly straightforward coop. It wasn't anything to do with him looking - it was just my lack of focus on the center of the jump. Once I locked in, he did too, and jumped it just fine. D. suggested that for the first few fences on course, I actually sit back down and bring him back earlier than I would otherwise - as many as ten strides out instead of five or six - just to make sure I had his attention.

Really, I was thrilled with him the whole day. The only rough spot was when we did some slightly more technical work, slicing some fences and then coming back to do them as an in-and-out. We're not great at related distances anyway; Tris has a shorter stride, especially when I haven't really gotten him forward. Our first run through gave us an awkward 3.5 stride with a launched takeoff in what should have been two. We resettled and sliced a few more times, and then were tasked to run it again, then turn left and go up a decently steep hill and jump a BN house fence at the top.

This time, we did it in a nice smooth 3 strides, and I really pushed him up the hill. He dug in for an extra gear and got to the top of the hill chuffing and excited, and once I found the fence, he shot right toward it and jumped it in style. It was probably our best bit of the day.

We had one more big loop run, which had some pieces I wasn't thrilled with; he was getting tired, I think, and I slacked off on the land-and-run imperative. We finished over a ditch, and he jumped it nicely though I need to work on my form over the ditch.

We stood while Hannah and Tucker jumped some very impressive, very large jumps in style, then cantered through the water a few times, then home! Exactly what we needed: confirmed our previous lessons learned, and built in some confidence going forward.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Beland Dressage Schooling Show

On the whole, I was really, really happy with how we both did.

I got to the barn Saturday night and rode. Remembering my day-before ride from Groton House, I really pushed us both to get to a place I wanted - supple and forward. I may have pushed a bit too much, as it was hot and humid and he took a long time to get his respiration back under control. Then I hosed him off for a long time, killing many awful greenhead bugs, and spot-scrubbed with shampoo. I packed up the truck and went out for a sub for dinner and spent a lovely evening snug in the back seat of my truck, reading and relaxing.

I woke up bright and early the next morning to see everyone else head out for a XC school, then had a leisurely breakfast and finished packing the trailer, hitching it up, and getting ready. Tris was cranky and nervous when I arrived at his stall so close on the heels of breakfast, especially with all the other activity - he knew something was going on, and he didn't want his Sunday routine ruined. He paced his stall, and whickered, and wouldn't stand still for me to groom him.

We ended up leaving quite a bit earlier than planned, and made good time getting there. I settled in by checking with the secretary and laying out all of my clothes and his tack, and then ran into another friend who used to board with us, who was there coaching one of her students. I watched her and her student and explained some things about the show to the student's parents, and then it was time for me to get ready.

One thing I would change was that I got ready way too early, especially with the temperatures as high as they were - mid-90s all day, with minimal shade. I was doing mostly okay, but Tris's energy was not great, and there was only so much warmup I could do I got him where I wanted him, but we were way too early, so we went over and stood beneath a tree and rested for about 10 minutes, then did a few canter circles to get revved up again.

First test We hadn't settled back in like I hoped, and I completely and utterly blew the left canter. Botched the lead twice, and as a consequence blew the whole geometry of the figure. He just didn't have enough oomph for the transition, which is in a tough place in the ring for us anyway. We did much better with the right lead, and I was really pleased with a couple of points, namely our stretchy trot, which has come a long way.

We walked back to the trailer and pulled off his bridle and shucked my show coat. He drank nearly an entire 5-gallon bucket of water, which for him is HUGE. He's not much of a drinker off-property. That told me a bit about how hot he really was, and for the rest of the day I offered him water every time he stood still. We rested for a bit and chatted to the people in the trailer next to us, who were very nice and knew of T. and Flatlands. Tristan fell asleep - actually asleep, closed his eyes, cocked a hind leg, and jumped when I went over to put the bridle back on.

I waited longer to tack him up for our second test, and after a little bit of trotting and making sure our bending was still accessible I stood up off his back and urged him into a bit of a hand gallop. Beland has these big gorgeous fields to warm up in, and it was late in the day, so there was plenty of space. I did get some stares, but opening him up did exactly what I wanted it to, even made him a little hot. We stood still for a few minutes, then opened up to trot around again when the person before was finishing her test.

This test went much, much better. I had more energy, more accuracy, and felt better overall. We nailed both canters. The stretchy trot wasn't quite as good, but the free walk felt great. I was pleased with several of my transitions, and with my ringcraft - knowing when and where I could look less than perfect but be more effective in getting him back together. The judge smiled and asked what breed he was after our test, and he was tiiiiiiiired walking out of the ring, happy to stop and stand still when I dismounted and chatted to a woman after the test who was really, really excited to meet a mustang. I gave her some advice about picking one, and gave her the name of Tristan's rescue to go check out for some more gentled ones.

Tris wanted very badly to eat grass, but I wouldn't let him, not as close to hard work as he was. He drank another half bucket and got sponged off, then a bit of a walk around the parking lot area to make extra sure he was cooling out appropriately. He went back on the trailer with a relative minimum of fuss. I've tried a slightly different technique to load him by myself: standing on his right side and half-walking on the trailer with him, then sending him up the rest of the way and doing the butt bar with my left hand, standing on the right side of the divider. That seemed to work rather well.

Then there was a whole lot of hanging around, reading a book, eating a few handfuls of animal crackers (no food vendor meant I hadn't eaten since a bagel for breakfast!) while he ate hay. It took forever for our class to finish and to get pinned, and then we headed home. 5th in Training 1, 7th in Training 2, but I was especially pleased to see a 61% and change for the first class, and a 66% and change for the second! Exactly what I was hoping for.

The drive home was tedious, because everyone and their cousin was driving home from the Cape and 495 was bumper to bumper. Rather than overheat Tristan by standing in that, plus getting home even later, I took semi-back roads and got a little more stressed by constant red lights than I wanted. Then settling him in, unpacking, cleaning out the trailer, parking the trailer (about which more later), driving the truck back to my parents', throwing in a load of laundry and taking an incredibly long shower, ordering half the menu at McDonald's, and getting stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic...didn't get back to my apartment and in bed until 10:45. Whew.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Holy Cushy Times, Batman

I am wavering between confidence - I am an adult! I have been handling horses for many many years now! - and nervousness - I've never shown 100% on my own before - about Sunday. It's too late to rope in a barn kid. The boyfriend has expressed his lack of interest in ever being at the barn. It's just going to be me and the pony, with possibly a friendly neighbor's helping hand if he flat out refuses to self-load.

I just got a shot in the arm when I checked the Beland Stables website to find my times - Training 1 at 2:12 p.m. and Training 2 at 3:32 p.m. Wow! Maybe some kind of karmic repayment for being the first person to go all day in my ring at Groton House?

This is much, much better. It means I can leave at a semi-reasonable time in the morning and still have plenty of time to groom and tack up at the show itself, without feeling rushed. I figure I'll plan on getting there about noon to allow the butterflies to settle, to really lay everything out and get it done slowly and methodically instead of rushing.

We had a good prep lesson on Tuesday night, as Tris gave me another reason to love him when he didn't bat an eye at the neighbor's fireworks party. We ran Training 1 and T. liked it, giving me a few good pointers (if I think I'm over-correcting for the bulge of his left shoulder down the center line, then I'm right on) and pronouncing it overall a fair representation of where we were. Which is really what I'm aiming for. I figure there's not a huge need to ramp up a training schedule for a straight dressage show. I, like many people, shed months of work when I go into the ring, and cramming the last few days won't change that.

I do have a goal for Sunday, beyond not screwing up, and that is to be braver/more forthright about my warmup. To date, I've gotten nervous about really putting my leg on in the warmup ring, and allowed his nervous flailing to substitute for forward, which then (predictably) fizzles out when we get into the ring. I'd like to bring more of our actual training level into the ring. We'll see!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Death in the Wild

Life with Tristan continues apace. Dressage school last night in the back field, working on keeping a good forward rhythm no matter what, and controlling the shoulders in the canter.

Today I'm thinking about another horse-related project that has been brewing in the back of my mind for a long time. In my day job, I'm an historian and museum worker, and just completed a Master's degree in history and museum studies. I study military history, and made the switch to nineteenth-century American when I did my graduate work. My thesis was about the early days of the First Dragoons, and in doing that I became fascinated by the patterns and intricacies of life in the American West.

My next project - to begin in earnest in the fall, after giving myself a summer of from school work for the first time in years - will be about perceptions of the mustang through history. I'll be documenting that blog at my other history/professional blog, Amblering.

In that vein, I read a blog post today that fascinated and touched me and reminded me that there is so much more going on inside my little mustang's head than I will ever really know about. He was four when he came off the range; he'd lived a rich and varied and intense life. Someday I'll post a picture of the scar above his right hock, perfect teeth marks on either side of the big tendon there.

Barbara Wheeler is an equine photographer who specializes in mustangs; I've loved her Facebook updates for months now, and she wrote this detailed account of the death (euthanizing, more properly) of a herd stallion, and the social dynamics among the herds that accompanied his fall.

I'm not sure I agree with the actions she and others took to humanely euthanize this stallion - life in the wild is cruel, and painful, and I have never been one to cry over the plight of mustangs living a perfectly natural, if violent and short, lives. What's done is done, however, and I appreciate the keen observation she brought to the situation.