Thursday, June 28, 2012

Eric Smiley Clinic

Monday rolled around even quicker than Mondays usually do, given how exhausted I was from Sunday's trip to Groton House. I ran a bunch of errands in the morning, went and picked up a trailer I borrowed for the clinic, and arrived at the barn to load all of my gear (and the horse). I was expecting Lucy to hop right on like she had done for Groton House, but instead she chose to fight for 45 minutes. This would normally be annoying, but on that particular day I was very tired and it was pouring rain as lightening was striking all over the place, seemingly right on top of us, so I was especially unimpressed with her behaviour.

Maddy was there to help me and we finally got her on, and off we went to Carlisle, MA for the Eric Smiley clinic that my BO had gifted me when she couldn't attend. She unloaded really well and settled nicely in a stall while we waited for the group ahead of mine to finish. We had plenty of time to tack up before our lesson, and I was very happy with how well she stood to be tacked up, and how well she put her mind to work once we got into the ring. She stood still for me to clamber aboard and have a chat with Eric about what I wanted to work on but as soon as we started working, she became very strong.

On a side note, have you ever tried to talk about what EXACTLY you want to work on with your horse? I have been riding for 22 years and I feel like I have a good grasp of goals, techniques, and potential challenges, but when I was asked to verbalise all that, I am pretty sure I sounded like an idiot.

"I want to get her on the bit better," I said. In my head, I was already second-guessing my response.

Eric asked, "What does that mean to you?"

"It means lowering her poll, offering her back, being obedient and soft."

"So how do you ask her to do all of that?"

I spurted some nonsense about half halts, seat, leg, etc, but all in the wrong order and with too much emphasis on hands, which he quickly picked up on.

Anyway, this conversation went on for about five very awkward minutes during which Eric asked me question after question, listened to my answer, and gave me NO indication of his thoughts on the matter. Did I sound like I knew what I was talking about? Did I sound like an idiot? No idea. I just prayed I wasn't making a huge fool of myself. With a smile, he told me he knew he was asking difficult questions and it just gave him a good idea of what I knew, or thought I knew but was a bit mistaken regarding, etc.

Then we got to the lesson and along with the other two women in my session, we warmed up w/t/c in both directions, as he focused in on areas of weakness and strength for each rider. For me, it seems a lot of the problems I have with getting Lucy light in the bridle stem from very inconsistent contact through my hands, and not giving her enough leg. Eric walked over a few times as we were walking around, gently taking the reins from me as he walked alongside us, and instantly Lucy dropped her head, offered her back, and became lovely. As soon as he handed the reins back to me, her head went up, her topline stiffened, and she locked her jaw. This was a huge eyeopener for me and I really concentrated the rest of the lesson on making sure I had consistent contact. When we picked up the first canter, she got silly and tried to throw a few bronco moves but I quickly got her back together and we continued on. Lucy was *that* horse that the other riders steered clear of the whole lesson, giving us lots of space in case we had an explosion, but I didn't really mind.

I was happy with the flatwork we did, and she did improve a lot. Eric set up a small crossrail and had us each trot and then canter over it. Lucy started out super polite, waiting for me to ask her to jump, but then quickly got very strong and started blasting at the jump three strides out. Eric coached me through making her WAIT even if it wasn't pretty, and between fences my job was to create a regular canter rhythm. He explained that if the canter has a good rhythm, the horse doesn't have to keep guessing the distance to the fence; it can establish a good pace and not have to rush/chip to make space up before the jump. I knew this but it was good to hear how vital rhythm is, and that I'm not doing harm by really pulling her back if she tries to go Mach 4 at the base of a fence. I asked him if he thought she was doing that because she was unbalanced/nervous/unprepared (as SO many people have told me they thought it was), and he said he thought it was nothing more than a habit at this point, and it was my job to tell her that isn't what is expected of her.

We finished with a small four-jump course of a small vertical across the diagonal, around a 20 metre circle to another small vertical on the opposite diagonal, around the ring and down the quarter line to a crossrail, switching directions back to a little crossrail oxer. Pace, pace, pace, rhythm, rhythm, rhythm. Find your distance and STICK TO IT. Don't allow the horse to fling herself at a 2' simple vertical. Balance her between fences and get her mind on the task at hand. The goal was not height or complexity of the jumps; rather, a "course" with enough space where you could balance your horse between jumps but also with enough space the the horse could get a little spaced out and away from you if you weren't diligent about keeping it all together.

Eric complimented me on sticking with my mare, and said Lucy was a lot of horse, but she was very nice and would be worth the trouble, which made me smile :)

The hardest part of the day was getting Lucy back on the trailer to go home. At that point, Maddy, the horse, and I were all EXHAUSTED. I was praying that she'd just get on and be good about it, but she chose to fight for two hours. We tried every method of trailer loading in the book: being patient and working with pressure to get her to move forward onto it. Lunging in front of it and then giving her a chance to get on; if she refused, then going right back to lunging. Keeping her feet moving so she couldn't plant herself in front of the trailer. Putting a random horse in the trailer to try and entice her with a "friend". She was SO naughty through all of this, flying backward, rearing up, trying to pull the lead/lunge line out of our hands, etc. She would stand all day at the back of the trailer, sniffing whatever treat the person trying to load her had, but she refused to put her front feet up there.

Finally we ran a lunge line from her halter, through the trailer, out the escape door, and around the back of the trailer. Maddy was on one side and I was on the other so that she couldn't wedge herself on the side of the trailer. Both of us had lunge lines and we used them to encourage her to go forward. We didn't hit her with them unless she swung her butt at us, but we made the outside space of the trailer "scary" and the inside space "not scary". I hated doing that but I was so desperate after two hours of trying to get this horse on the trailer that I was out of ideas. This actually worked fairly well but obviously this will not work long-term. The trailer she jumped right on for Groton House was a ramp load and this one was a step-up. Historically I have had more issues getting her to go on a step-up but she is not 100% reliable loading on either kind.

I was so burned out by the whole experience that I haven't spent any time with her since. I went and did chores each morning but didn't do anything with her other than making sure she looked ok. There is no rhyme or reason for her behaviour and once she gets on, she immediately starts happily munching hay. She travels great once on the trailer and unloads fine. I don't think it's a fear issue; she is just really freaking stubborn and when she wants to get on, she gets on, but when she doesn't want to get on there is nothing that's going to change her mind! The fact that we spent two hours trying to get her to load is so preposterous to me that I can't even think about it for more than a few minutes before feeling overwhelmed.

So I guess I will tackle that another day when I have the energy and positivity to burn. I started my new job this week and that is taking everything I've got at the moment. I am thrilled to be working and doing what I want to do with my education, but starting a new job is very scary and overwhelming at times! I am doing my best to organize all of the new information and learn as much as I can.

Thanks to Maddy, we have some photos!

Eric demonstrates the kind of contact I need to have

within just a few seconds, Lucy's whole attitude changes

once I got the reins back, though, it was difficult for me to maintain the
soft but consistent contact Eric had

at the trot, she was a bit la-la at first...

but eventually settled down nicely

getting a little tune-up

this guy has magic hands, I'm telling you!

some nice, non-airborne canter work

moving onto jumping exercises, making her think with an extra canter pole
out front.

she really wanted to rush this one each time, but I had to be diligent about
making her wait for me.

Eric placed a canter pole out on the other side to help get her attention
when she landed.

the little crossrail oxer

Monday, June 25, 2012

oh, that was jump 7?

Yesterday's trip to Groton House was kind of a nightmare. I was not that nervous in the morning, and Lucy dragged me ONTO the trailer, so I thought hey, maybe it's going to be a great day! We got two miles down the road and P (my BO) said, "my check engine light is flashing". Then the car (a Ford Expedition) began to stutter and shake, and we made the decision to turn around.

After all, Kenny's truck was sitting in the barn driveway ready to go.

So we turned around, unloaded both horses, switched the vehicles out, loaded them both back up, and we were back on the road within 20 minutes.

The drive was much longer than I thought it would be, but we got there eventually after taking a few wrong turns. We had an hour before my dressage test so we did not have time to walk the XC course. P assured me we could do it after my dressage test. I got on Lucy and started to warm up. She was very forward, looking at everything, but not naughty until we picked up the canter, then both directions she threw little fits. At this point I had about 5 minutes before my test so I decided to stand by the ring and let her chill for a few minutes. We went in the ring and the test started out really nicely! I thought, maybe this is going to be ok! Then we picked up the first 20 metre canter circle and she bronc'd a bit. I got her back, we continued on, and the second half of the test was really nice. We scored a 55 :( :( That bad canter circle really killed it; we had scored some 6's and 7's on other parts of the test. I personally thought she was much more obedient than the first test we did except for that one canter.

P did her test, which was absolutely flawless and beautiful. Then we zipped back to the trailer, untacked the horses and put them on the trailer to relax, then went and walked the XC course. There were a few jumps that I was like, uhhhh that may be a problem. Plus, after jumping the equivalent of baby crossrails at the GPC event, these jumps were HUGE. Some of them were at LEAST BN height. There was a jump with shiny metal barrels in it, a "big" table that was probably 2'6" high and at least 2' wide, a few good-sized logs, etc. We finished walking the course, went and tacked up for stadium, and I was late. I didn't even get a warm up and I watched just two of the previous rounds to "learn" the course. I went in and she jumped GREAT; I was so happy and impressed with her. She waited, she was polite, etc. There was one jump we had a miscommunication about distance; I thought she was going to take the long spot and she actually fit that extra stride in, but I was halfway up her neck when she jumped. She let out a nice buck over the fence, which almost helped me on my way right out the front door but my heels saved me and I sat up and we continued onto the next fence....sheesh! Then I missed the second-to-last jump without realizing it. I finished the course and was so happy with Lucy until the judge was like, you missed jump 7! AHHH I wanted to die. I guess it's a miracle I got that far in the course before I screwed up given that I watched just two people go through it, and it was not a straightforward course, lots of bending lines.

The SJ judge said they'd let me go to the XC course anyway, so I walked over and started right away. P had an experienced friend with her and the friend said to treat it like schooling since now it didn't count for anything. That took the pressure right off. The first jump was a straightforward log up a little hill. She refused. I let her look at it and we did it fine the second time. The second jump was another log but in the shade. I think she may have jumped that fine. Then she refused the next jump, and the next....we quickly racked up 4 refusals, but each time she peetered out going up to it, looking at it, then jumped it fine when we re-approached. But since we had so many refusals, they pulled me off course at jump 7. I was so disappointed, in myself and in Lucy. I don't know why she was so looky; some of the jumps DID deserve a look but others she should have had no problem with. I was disappointed in myself because obviously I did not prepare her well enough! I thought we wouldn't have a problem XC but I was not expecting some of the jumps we had to do. Oh well, live and learn.

I was really disappointed and felt sorry for myself. We waited for Prudy to finish (she won her division) and headed home. On the way home, she mentioned that she was supposed to go to an Eric Smiley clinic today but now couldn't because her truck is broken. I offered to drive for her but she said, no you should go! So today I am going to ride with an olympic rider! Cool huh?

Here are some photos:

my parents came out to support me!

excuse my chair seat...yikes!

"good girl"

yup, there's that buck to say "GET OFF MY SHOULDERS"

almost off the right side...but I saved it!

being told I went off course and was eliminated :( :(

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Working for my boots

I have some old friends who have been close to me for about 12 years. I met them in a bargain basement of a local tack store and though they were a bit stiff to begin with, we developed a long-term lasting relationship, full of days spent horsing around.

Having the right paddock boots can really put you on the path to success ;)

Over the last two or three years, I have looked at them often and thought sadly, "you're looking pretty crappy and I know I'm going to need new boots soon, but I am really nervous about this impending change" (insert sad/apprehensive face here).

So I went and looked around and was SHOCKED at the cost of paddock boots these days, especially the Ariat Colbalt Quantums, the creme de la creme of Ariat paddock boots with their lovely soft leather and fancy-pants soles. I also liked the Tredstep paddock boots, but they only come in zip-up and I am a lace-up kind of girl.

Then I got the opportunity to work as a temp hire at the local Dover tent sale, and I earned enough money to buy myself the new pair of Colbalt Quantums! So today, after enduring three VERY long and hot days spent working amongst crowds of very eager tent sale shoppers, they became mine. I spent the entire three days worrying that someone else was going to come in and fall in love with the only pair of size 9's off the shelf but they sat, undisturbed, for the duration of the weekend. THANK GOD.

new and old
Speaking of tent sale shoppers, I met a fan today! How cool is that! She recognized me from my blog! Nice to meet you (you know who you are :D)!

After finishing up at Dover, I headed over to the barn with my new boots and other scores, such as horsey electrolytes, UlcerGard, a hay net, and poultice (and you can probably tell why the boots are so exciting...everything else I bought was BORING). Lucy desperately needed a bath after a very hot weekend where she did a lot of sweating and rolling in the cool mud. I let her eat dinner first, then went to town with shampoo and a curry comb.

this horse really loves her dinner.
pony torture.
I packed the trailer and made sure everything else was all set to go. We are in good shape for tomorrow and I am excited and confident that I will meet my goals, which are (as always):

-have fun
-don't fall off

Oh and I added a new goal after getting my dressage test feedback at the last show:

-don't talk incessantly through my entire dressage test


And I will leave you with a photo of Cairo and a doggie friend we are taking care of while his owner is away, bounding happily through the park on a bike ride the other day:

Friday, June 22, 2012

Excellent news!!!

It has been a hectic few days but I am overjoyed to report that I was offered my dream job yesterday!!! I interviewed for it two weeks ago and the waiting was tough, but totally worth it. I will start this coming Tuesday, and I'll be working as a graphic designer, which is what I really wanted to do.

Thank you to everyone who left an encouraging comment or send good vibes my way. Maybe that boost of positivity is what the universe needed to work some magic after a very long wait!

In Lucy news, Lauren had a great ride on Wednesday, then due to the extremely high temperatures (it was 107 degrees here!!), Lucy had yesterday off. I worked all day at the local Dover store because they are having their tent sale, then Kenny helped me get hay. I went home with a good dose of heat sickness and I had to drink a lot of fluids before I felt normal.

This morning I had an incredible gallop through the trails with my awesome barn owner, who is also going to Groton House this weekend. Lucy is smitten with her handsome Dutch Warmblood and she felt especially fancy today (she was most definitley showing off!!). I worked the rest of the day at Dover, and I'll also be there all day tomorrow. My plan after work tomorrow is to bathe Lu and clean up her mane again to prepare for Sunday.

The good news is that we had a nice little thunderstorm here, which seemed to break the heat!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Kenny, the Chipmunk Whisperer

Kenny and I went to the barn this evening around 8pm to check on Lucy and fill her outside water so she'd have plenty of fresh water for tomorrow. It was 95 degrees and extremely humid here today, and it's going to be equally hot and sticky tomorrow. When we got to the barn, we found Lucy absolutely drenched in sweat in her stall, so I took her out and gave her a nice long cool bath with the hose. As I was doing that, I asked Kenny to fill her outside tub, so he walked out to her paddock with a 5 gallon bucket full of water.

He got to her paddock and then called over to me.

"Kate! Kate! We have to have a chipmunk rescue mission!"

I put Lucy away quickly and went to see what he was talking about. He walked over, orange Home Depot bucket in hand, and inside the bucket was a very exhausted looking chipmunk that Kenny had just saved from certain death by drowning! Kenny said he found the chipmunk swimming frantically around in circles in Lucy's water tub, trying to find a way out. Kenny fished him out with the empty bucket and brought him over to the barn, where we made sure he looked ok. We gave him a few minutes in the bucket to recover before setting him free. He scampered off quickly, but we left him a pile of grain and a carrot so he can have a snack after his workout.

I posted about this on Facebook and someone replied I should have some sort of a ladder so that the little animals can get out easily if they fall in. Does anyone do this? I was thinking I could put a piece of thick rope in there. The bucket has a heating element in the bottom that I am obviously not using now that it's a gazillion degrees out, but I could tie the rope to that and just have it drape over the side of the bucket.

Here's the lucky little chipmunk post-rescue and pre-release:

 And here is a funny photo of Lucy after I hosed her down, proving that the stall guard is no match for her:

all the time in the world

I know I have failed at keeping this blog up. Terri, thank you for your sweet comment wondering how I was doing. To be honest, I have had a rough time lately. My husband lost his job about 3 months ago and I was laid off last week. It's depressing that the one thing that always makes me happy (Lucy) is also the one thing that I absolutely cannot afford without a job. I am hopeful that a new job will come along soon (PLEASE) but it has been tough to remain upbeat when I know how rough the job market is.

So, any good thoughts would be appreciated.

In the mean time, I am shooting a few weddings and doing some other design work. I would love to paint some more saddle pads, too, so if you know of anyone looking for a cool gift or for a way to stand out at their next event, send them my way! :) Kenny and I are also doing a lot of work on the house. I have learned how to use a tile saw and helped Kenny pour concrete to build new front steps on the house, which we then cemented repurposed tile onto. It looks great!

I am almost fully recovered from my fall a week and a half ago. My right elbow is still bothering me and I think when I get a new job/health insurance, I will get it x-rayed if it is still hurting. When I was young I broke my left elbow falling off a horse and it was the same type of pain, very minimal unless I bend my arm *just right*, then quite a lot of pain. I didn't get my arm looked at for two weeks the first time I broke my elbow and it did have a fracture in it. I am not too worried about my elbow but I am going to be careful with it. It would suck to have a cast right now because it's REALLY hot, I want to ride, and it's my right arm and I am right handed! My leg is totally fine now, just a really cool bruise is all that's left!

Lucy has been doing wonderfully. We've had some nice dressage schools. Lauren noticed that the new bit I got for her was rubbing the sides of her mouth just slightly, so I bought some bit guards and she went even better in that bit now that her pony lips are protected :) I am doing some temp work at the local Dover store for their tent sale tomorrow through Saturday, so on Friday I plan on having a jump school after "work" and then Saturday I will bathe her. Sunday is the event at Groton House, and we'd love to see/meet anyone local. My dressage is at 12:42, jumping is at 1:46, and XC is at 1:56.

Here are some cute photos of Lucy making friends with a bunny yesterday after our ride:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

my exercise rider

While still in gimpy land, I am being a good patient and not riding. I am feeling so much better today and I will get back in the saddle on Friday, but in the mean time I have my husband and Lauren to thank for keeping Lucy in work!

That's right, Kenny got on Lucy on Monday and rode her in the ring, then went for a trail ride. He was kind of down that day so when we arrived at the barn to do her stall, he announced he was going to ride. "Ok, no problem," I said, and then immediately prayed to the Happy Mare Gods that Lucy would be on her bestest behaviour.

She was very tolerant, bless her heart, though she did get quite peppy when he tried to take her over a little x-rail a few times. The first few times she was very good but then she started zooming so we took it back a notch. I told him to go take her for a little hack and he was gone and back within five minutes, with a newly installed grin plastered across his face. "We galloped all the way back!" he proudly announced.

Ahhhh, yes, that will be fun to deal with next time I want a nice leisurely trot home. I can already imagine the conversation now between me and the horse:

"Trot, please!"

"Oh, you mean SPRINT like I got to do last time!? COOL!"

*mach 4 gallop*

Monday, June 11, 2012

Ups and Downs

I was having a terrific week horse-wise. I had several really productive flat rides on Lucy, a few nice hacks, and then a really fun jump school yesterday morning. It was the first time we jumped since our last event, so just about three weeks. I chose to focus on flatwork before getting back into the jumping because a friend of mine lent me a Boucher bit, and I think Lucy goes pretty well in that. It's a legal dressage alternative to a regular snaffle, so we'll give the Boucher a shot at Groton House.

In the afternoon, I went back to the barn to go out on a trail ride. A new girl has started riding one of the other horses at the barn, and she wanted to learn the trails. The horses owner asked me if I'd show her around. Lucy and this other horse do not get along so Maddy offered to let me take Brantley. I gladly accepted -- even though he's green, he has been really well-behaved and I thought he'd be perfect for the job.

He really was perfect, and even had to lead most of the time because the other horse decided he was not feeling brave at all. Considering Brantley has about 10 trail rides under his belt, I was so impressed with the way he handled himself. We trotted a bit and overall we had a great time.

We were on our way back to the barn and he was ambling along, totally relaxed and ears flopping happily. I was letting him walk on a loose rein because he hadn't given me any reason not to. He had been a champ the whole ride. Without any warning, though, he jumped straight up into the air, landed, bucked HARD three times, and sent me flying off his right side into a pricker bush. He ran over me and stepped on my leg, jumped over a wall of large boulders into the woods, ran through the woods, back through a field, around a corner where we could no longer see him, and ended up running out to a road where a man had to get out of his vehicle and stop traffic so that the horse didn't get run over.

I sat there convinced I had broken my leg where he stepped on it because I could not seem to get my foot under me to get up. I also had prickers stuck in me everywhere and I somehow ripped half my pinkie finger nail off.

Completely and utterly ridiculous.

As I took stock of myself I got my leg to work again and stood up to go collect the horse from the middle of the road, and realized that my leg must not be broken (phew!). I called poor Maddy, who was at work, and told her what happened and she came and walked Brantley home because though I wasn't broken, it really hurt to walk. I drove her car back to the barn, which was about 2 miles away.

So it's going to be a few days at least before I can ride again. I have quite the goose egg on the outside of my calf, and I cannot stretch my heel down/toes up so I don't think riding will be a good idea until that's feeling better. I am really grateful I didn't break anything as it's just the start of summer and lots of good things are hopefully coming up, and I can't participate if I'm in pieces.

I guess this is just part of riding green horses. I was completely unprepared for what happened and I shouldn't have let my guard down so much. I don't think it's fair to ride a young horse defensively but I should at least have enough rein where I can get the head up if they start bucking, and I should ALWAYS have my heels down, which I am pretty sure was not the case.

You live (hopefully) and learn, so chalk this one up to another terrible story we can tell over tequila shots a few years down the road and laugh at...until then, it's ice and ibuprofen for me!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

caught in the deluge

I grew up in the Cotswold region of the UK, where random rainshowers are more or less everyday occurrences. I remember when I was a kid, my mum had a tea party in the back garden and we were out enjoying the sun, tiny tea sandwiches and ornate china tea cups set up around quaint tables, when all of a sudden, the skies opened up and it was pouring. Our British friends quickly and efficiently swept up the food and the china and moved the party indoors, and life continued as if nothing was awry.

The weather here has been very similar to British weather lately. One minute it's raining. Then it's sunny. Then it's raining AND sunny! Then back to rain. Black clouds fill the sky, then they're gone and the sun is out again.

It has been like this all week.

Lauren and I decided to go for a trail ride today. The weather called for sun in the morning and early afternoon, then rain toward the evening. We met at the barn at noon and it was sunny, warm (almost hot), and there wasn't a dark cloud to be found. She tacked up Lucy and I tacked up Brantley, and we headed out with Cairo alongside us. It was a gorgeous day and we were in high spirits.

Brantley is doing very well on his trail rides, but we had done mostly walking and just tiny bits of trotting. Today I decided we'd trot some more, and maybe even try a little canter if he behaved. We trotted the whole way out and were about 2 miles from the barn, exploring some small trails off the main field, when I felt a few drops of rain. I looked up and the sky was BLACK.

Cairo watches the rain roll in.
Both Lauren and I were like, where did this come from? Lucy is not a fan of rain, my dog refuses to go outside if she detects even the smallest drop, and I had no idea what Brantley was going to be like. We tried to wait it out in the forest but it started raining so hard that even the trees weren't stopping the drops from splashing down on us. We decided we had better start moving toward home before the horses got upset, so we went through the woods as far as we could, then through the field a bit, then back on the main trail toward home. Lucy and Lauren trotted ahead of Brantley and I, but Lucy's trot is so huge that Brantley picked up a little canter, and he was great! We ended up cantering most of the way home. Lucy was on her BEST behaviour and was really great about the rain, even though I know she doesn't like it. Cairo happily loped alongside the horses and didn't seem too bothered by the weather, though she did have a "let's just make it home in one piece" look of determination on her little face.

We trotted right up to the barn as it rained harder and harder, dismounted, got inside, and the sun came out.

Both horses looked at us like, REALLY?!

They got lots of carrots, a good rub down, and then they went outside in the sunshine to have some hay in their paddocks.

shelter from the storm! wait, what storm? it's sunny!

Brantley and I celebrating our survival! Haha.
We were soaking wet but both Lauren and I were like, that was AWESOME. Cantering down the entire length of the trail through the deluge, the horses hooves splashing through the accumulating puddles and their heads down against the rain was really, really cool.