Monday, August 26, 2013

Dressage Through Sweat-Equity

I sent in my entry for the championships this morning... After hitting the 'send' button and irrevocably committing myself to another potential disaster (last year, anyone?), All I'm left with are all of my myriad self -doubts and inadequacies.

Yeah, it's going to be one of those posts.

I've reached that point in my life where I'm more or less ok with the fact that there will always be someone prettier/richer/smarter/skinnier - probably all of the above. Or at least I am when it comes to the every day life/jobs that we all have.

With horses... that's another story.
I want to be able to afford to lesson with trainer I respect and admire.
I want  to produce kind, talented, athletic horses.
want to be able to share that with everyone.
But I cant. I cant do any of the above. I don't have the time, talent or money to chase after that dream... and I'll admit it: I'm jealous of those that do.

Best case scenario, as I see things right now: I putter around for a few years with each horse and become a training-second level master, a la RC. Do I want that? No. I do not.

So I guess I'll continue on... advancing at my glacial pace, trying not to screw up my Ponitas too terribly.
I can continue working and teaching lessons to those few who appreciate it.
I will take lessons when I can, and only from trainers who I respect (I do like my Ponitas, and see no need to let others ruin them. That's my job.).
I'll continue riding, cleaning barns, spreading manure, dragging arenas and more or less trying to make my home into a real 'dressage facility'.

Too bad sweat equity is so much less glamorous than true equity...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

And More RC....

Oh, he's thrilled.
 Guess who's learning a new trick? RC has inherited Opie's old harness. He has some metaphorically big shoes to fill (not literally... she wore 00). So I took RC for a spin around the yard in a different sort of tack.
He wasnt a huge fan of the crupper... and demanded I ask for all turns using an appropriate outside rein. What a good little dressage/driving pony.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Return of the She-Hulk

Yep, just like that. Only I was sweatier, with less visible skin and way less cleavage. Way less.

Anywho... I have hay in my hay loft! Now, why this is important and She-Hulkian, as some of you may remember, I do not have a hay elevator, and have to get all of my hay into the loft 7+ feet off the ground. I am 5 ft + a few inches. Do the math. It results in me swearing and sweating.

So, I purchased not one, not two but three wagon loads of hay.
Beautiful, isnt it?
Also, note: those hay wagons don't have breaks like my horse trailer, so every time I braked, the weight of the trailer would bump me forward, giving me quite the jar due to a half inch of slop in the trailer hitch. My poor truck...

Wagon 1: Up in the hay loft
Now, i didn't get all three wagons on one day. I got two wagons on the first day and one about a week later. For the first wagon it took me the better part of a day. That sucked and I needed loooooots of breaks. I had a little help for wagon 2. Unfortunatly, I picked it up at 9:30 at night, hot off the field and had to return the wagon early the next morning, so off the wagon and into the barn (but not the loft) it went.
This is what 180 bales looks like. Stacked 4-5 high
But eventually it made it up in the loft to join the rest. And in came wagon three. I had two assistants to help unload 206 bales of hay... These were lighter bales too, so the work flew buy (probably because I gave the boys the hard lifting jobs). 45 minutes later, I have all of the hay that I should need for a winter. Whew.
They don't even know how good they have it....

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Flowers for Algernon

I hated that book when I had to read it in Jr High School. Terrible, depressing read.... But maybe that's just me. 
However my only other literary segue in to my gardening post was the Grapes of Wrath... also depressing. So let's just pretend that I'm clever and witty and have a green thumb, alright?

With London gone, I think today's post needs to be something lighter that I can actually control. So what does a part-time engineer, part time dressage trainer living in the Upper Michigan wilds on a renovated 100 year old farm do in her spare time?

That's ok, take a minute. Catch your breath. I know the thought of me and spare time is hilarious. Nearly as much as a social life.

Anyway, I have two hobbies, other than horses: Yoga and gardening (obviously I have this thing for instant gratification...). I suck at both of them, but I try and really, that's all that counts, right?
Yeah... I can do that... like, never. 
So, the gardening is really coming along more rapidly than the yoga. As it would turn out, I am not that flexible. At all. 

Let's start with my tomatoes!  After two years of nurturing, watering, forgetting about it for a week, giving up on it then bringing it back from the brink of death... I am rewarded!

See all of those little greenie? Three of them! Makes up for the months and months of effort I put into them. And, let's face it, it's always more fun to garden things that you can eat later on.

Next up is my little rose bush. I planted twu, and the other has taken off like a weed, new stems and leaves everywhere. This on hasn't sprouted quite as prolifically, but instead of focusing all of it's little plant energies on leaves... I have a bloom! A gorgous orange and yellow rose, with two more little buds coming in in the back ground.
I know that in this picture, you can't really appreciate the uniqueness of the coloring.... But it has a flower! With more on the way!

And moving one....

You guys remember that flower box I added to the front of the barn? Complete with strawberry plants?
It's already rewarded me with three or four juicy, ripe strawberries... with more on the way! On a side note: It is soo much easier to keep a plant/garden weed free when it's in a box or pot off of the ground, like my tomatoes and strawberries. I spent a whole half hour weeding my roses... Don't even get me started on the blueberries.
Yeah, those blueberries. Look at all of them! I know, they are still green and unappetizing... but look how many there are! And how big they are already!  I think I see a parfait in my future...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Another Teacher Moves On....

Well, I was hoping that I wouldn't have to write a post like this for a long time... But, of course, that's not how horses work.

This week, we put London down.
Last Monday, he began to use his hind end differently - balancing with his hind legs very far up under his body, very careful how he stood- so my mother brought him to the vet. He had an abscess in a front foot which has been on the mend. The vet's first thought (and our hope) was that London was a wimp and was just really overcompensating due to his discomfort. Then he began spiking temperatures.
Long story short, London spent his final week at Waller Equine Hospital. He didn't respond to treatments, and tested negative for most of the major neurological illnesses - his EPM titre was inconclusive, but he failed to improve when dosed with Marquis. By the end of the week, he looked good physically (aside from the hind end issues), but he was not responding emotionally and his motor control of his hind end continued to suffer. We made the decision to put him down rather than wait until he went down and could not get up on his own.

London was very different than Opie. Opie was my first love; London ignited a new love. London was my first real show horse. He knew more than me when we bought him, and other than his lateral walk, he was the very image of the modern sport horse. A Romer son, London was a beautiful horse. He was kind, and sweet, and everything a teenaged girl needed in a guy.... He taught me about dressage; introduced me to half passes, medium gaits, flying changes and what it feels like to get a horse truly on the bit.

The most important lesson London taught me was that horse shows do not need to be scary. If I practiced hard enough, he would do what I asked. After Arlberg, I'll admit, I had more than a little bit of trepidation about showing.
What if I can't stop him? What if he spooks? Everyone thinks I'm terrible!
But London was always there for me. He would go in and do a test in slow motion if I needed him to... That got to be frustrating later in life when I really wanted him to be the fancy hot show horse that the other Jr/YRs were showing, but he was safe when I needed him to be.
On that note, we were always in the ribbons. I have boxes and boxes of ribbons from the 70-some-odd horse shows that I attended with London (thank you for keeping track for me). London and I were not a 70% pair, but were were almost never a 50% pair, which is really saying something when he had a teenage girl to teach how to ride. We won reserve championships (not at the actual championships... but we were always in the top 8). We won a lot of reserve championships. London and I almost made it on the pedastal so many times, that I cherish the two neck sashes he did win. Second level Jr/YR and Third Level Jr YR.
Reserve Champion, of course.

Once he knew I could handle it, London got a little more spirited. He had a move that my sister and I dubbed " The Porpoise". The Porpoise was London's "I'm too full of myself and there's nothing you can do about it... But I don't want to scare you too much" move. It always occurred at the canter, usually when I finall got a true medium or extended and I tried to bring him back and he wasn't done showing off yet. He would push off both hind legs and leap up as if starting a rodeo style bronc session but he would never follow through with a kick or twist... Just the leaping through the air in a powerful yet controlled arc.  
The Porpoise, in action
After college, it was time to step London's work load down. He didn't want to be a fourth level horse. He wanted to teach beginners and hang out with babies. If he was a mare, he would have loved broodmare duty...

London's first experience babysitting was with RC. RC was a little over a year old and full of himself. He loved to rear and jump on whoever was handy- Opie, me, my mom, the wheelbarrow. It was annoying. When London came home to our ranch for the first time, we put him in the little turnout pen so that he wouldn't get beaten up by Opie. Who to keep him company without disturbing the existing herd? Who wouldnt the old mares miss? RC!
So we tossed RC in the pen with London, confident that a yearling quarter horse couldn't hurt all 17+ hands of London, and that London wouldn't dream of hurting anyone, ever. RC immediatly went into "let's see who is more of a bad ass" mode, running up to London and pulling out his best and highest Hi-Ho-Silver impression.
The Old Man's Club
Unfortunatly for RC, London was playful.
"Oh, you like to rear? I love to rear! Watch this!"
And then London went up. And up. And up.
RC stood there, watching london's rear get higher and higher and higher... all while staying balanced. His little colt jaw was hanging open; the look on RC's face was plainly comical.
From that experience forward, RC was London's little sidekick, and when ever they would disagree about something - when was the best time to go for water, or which tree to stand under- they would settle it by who could get their head higher. London always won.

In the years after college, London went on to teach other riders what a flying change feels like, how to ride a half pass, and what a dream canter feels like.

London, RC and I will miss you. Thank you for your patience.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Let's Shake Things Up

Now, I know that most of you guys think that us Dressage-obsessed riders are perfectly happy endlessly attempting that perfectly round circle or ideal balanced turn onto the centerline... Occasionally I feel the need to shake things up.

Of course that could be because I broke out my second pair of new Tailored Sportsman Breeches- which are knee patch not full seat (oh, and I LOVE, btw)- that I felt the need to try something new.
Quick side note: Have you ever noticed how two pairs of the same brand of breeches can have completely different fits? Today's TS front zip mid-rise Trophy Hunter breeches in '50 Shades of Grey' fit like a glove. I love love love them. If I could order 2 more pairs in tan and some other fun color, I would. Now, compare that to yesterday's breeches. Also TS mid-rise Trophy Hunter breeches, only difference is side-zip and awful color choice (dammit, me). The waist gaped and just made me feel like I should have ordered down a size. That being said, I still liked them... I just didn't love them. You guys know what I mean.

Anyway... moving on.

I brought the horses in for breakfast and a few hours of being by themselves.... Where three of my four horses promptly laid down and fell asleep.
"Dude.... It's not easy being herd stallion."
But that made my 'who to work first' quandary an easy decision. Which is good... I'm not good at tough decisions early in the morning.

Delight, you're up! You lucky, lucky girl.

So what did we do that's so different? I set up two itsy-bitsy-speed-bump sized jumps and hopped her over them for half an hour (in my Stubben close contact saddle - without knee rolls. Bonus points for effort). I will say that I think Delight had fun. She hopped over every single tiny x-rail and cantered merrily off. Right about the time she started to add a little more gusto to her post-jump canter, I decided maybe it was time for a little 'flatting' as the h/j crowd calls it. You know... or basic dressage...
I have to say that her canter was the most up hill and easy to bring back to more sit than I have ever ridden out of her. Loved it!

Now time for a little audience participation:
Here's my conundrum: Delight did not qualify for the championships, so she only attended one show this year. I am a self admitted ribbon ho'. I do love those ten cent ribbons! Should I man up and take her to the County Fair Jump Show? Let's be honest, Delight is more than capable of the heights offered and I'm pretty sure that even I can master an 18" course in a month. Man up and attend? Or wimp out and 'focus on dressage"?
And if I take Delight... Should I just toss RC in the western classes while I'm there... or is that just unsportsman like?

Anyway... moving on....

Tilly was next up on my roster. RC gets today off since he has evidently taken up stripping as a past time and lost another shoe. We're down to one! And I'm out of sympathy... so he'll  have to work barefoot.

Back to Tilly.
Tilly's inherited the Bling Browband
After my jumping experience (and yes, I am using that term very very loosely), I wasn't really feeling it in the ring. I took her across the street on a little trailride.
  It's hill work,  I justified. Really, I just wanted to get out of the arena. We trotted up and down and over and around the hills for about half an hour. By the time that we'd trotted around the property, I was pretty sure that she wasn't going to spook me off (since, let's face it, Tilly isn't a bucker... but she can be quick when she spooks) I asked for some canter up, over and around the hills. And we had some of the loveliest, most mouthwatering canter that I've ever gotten out of her. Just beautiful. The kind of canter that makes you imagine top hats and tails, Olympic rings and pomp and grandeur. Or maybe that's just me.
Now, the down side to cantering along in a field is that there are deer. And one thing I have learned about deer is that they can be bastards; leaping out in front if vehicles, loitering in the middle of the road or even waiting until your horse is close enough to notice the terrifying white flash of tail as they flee for safety. Now, in this case deer are bastards because they lay down and make a round 'nest' in the middle of what would otherwise be a lovely - if fallow- hay field.
Tilly and I discovered this as we medium cantered across one.... and evidently a deer lie-down spot looks quite similar to the Gates of Hell to a cantering pony.
Tilly spooked and in a heroic mustering of courage, lept the Pony-Eating-Hole, thus saving us all... at least in her little pony mind. To her rider (me), it felt like someone catapulted my pony into the air with little or no warning to the poor unsuspecting passenger (again, me). I'm pretty sure that at the apex of her leap I was a good ten feet over the Gaping Jaws of Hell... a good three feet above my brave, stoic pony... And just praying that when I came down from that height that the pony would still be under me. I was not relishing the thought of finding out whether Tilly is the type to stick around after dumping her rider, or would rather flee to the safety of the barn (ahm, Delight. I'm looking at you).

Fortunately, gravity continues to work and I some how ended up back on my pony who then rolled to a stop to give me a reproachful glare for my moment of poor riding. After all, she put in the effort to save us both when she could have whirled and left my ass to deal with the pit of demons.
I'm sorry pony. It will never happen again.

Ok, I lied. It'll probably happen again. Sorry about that. Gotta love those ammy friendly temperaments, right?