Wednesday, December 14, 2011


(The view at the farm where Lesley worked for many years.)

In the fall of 2007, I graduated college, picked up my belongings, and moved to Maryland to be a working student. The original intention was to be a working student for two years before returning to Texas to attend UT. During the time I worked, I realized I wasn't cut out to work with horses as a living, and cut my stay to six months.

It wasn't a great time for me, needless to say.

However, this blog isn't about me. It's about a woman I met while I was there. This woman was one of the strongest people I have ever met. She wasn't an upper level rider. She wasn't an upper level trainer, or groom, a farrier, or a vet. She was a horsewoman.

Her name was Lesley Long.

Lesley had been part of the farm for years, and would be part of it long after I was gone. She and her daughter were horsewomen, in the pure and true sense of the word. Lesley made her living in the daily tasks of caring for horses. She cleaned stalls, scrubbed buckets, held horses for the farrier. She pulled manes and clipped horses. Lesley always had two to three horses for her and her daughter to ride. They were always off the track thoroughbreds that she had bought for her and her daughter to retrain and sell. 

They were always lovely horses.

Lesley was always to be counted on, rain, shine or snow. Her smile came easily and quickly. She ran Training for the first time on a horse named High Tech, her trainer's former Advanced horse. She was a certified ICP instructor, who specialized in teaching beginners, both human and horse. Lesley knew every trick in the book for treating thrush. She taught me how to break a horse to saddle and rider for the first time.

Around Thanksgiving this year, she was body clipping when the horse kicked her in the head. Lesley had clipped hundreds of horses before, including clipping Dante once. She was as careful as anyone could reasonably expect. Unfortunately, her brain was severely injured and she slipped into a coma. Today, December 14, 2011, she passed away without ever waking up.

I'm absolutely in shock right now. Even though she was in a coma, I never truly thought she wouldn't make it. As I said before, she was one of the strongest people I ever knew, and I thought that for sure if anyone could beat this, it would be Lesley. I write this blog right now because her story deserves to be heard. Lesley deserves to be honored for the blood, sweat, and tears she put into her horses every single day of her life.

It's a stark reminder of how unpredictable life can be, and how dangerous horses can be, even on the ground. Be careful while clipping this season and please keep Lesley and her family in your thoughts and prayers. 

If you knew her, please feel free to share stories of her in the comments. She was a wonderful horsewoman and person, and will be deeply missed.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

It's the time of year when every eventing blogger writes about how they actually like December because it gives them a chance to perfect their riding. I could go against the majority and write about how I hate December because it's boring, but the truth is, December is one of my favorite months of the year. Between school ending for the semester, the onset of my favorite holiday, and the lack of pressure while riding, this month always makes me feel that it truly is a wonderful life.

Please excuse my trite comparisons to cheesy (yet wonderful) holiday movies.

In any case, Dante has been back in full work for a few weeks now. Of course, full off-season work means I only ride five days a week generally, which is in some ways is nice. However, my brain is so wired to riding six days a week that I tend to feel antsy and lacking on Sundays. We won't begin fitness work until January, so I'm trying to acclimate myself to the new schedule. 

During the off-season, Dante and I both have things to fix.  In terms of me, I am working hard on improving my dressage position, particularly my hands and lower legs. My hands like to live in my lap and my lower legs likes to do their best water-skiing impression. To help, I have dropped my stirrups while doing any and all flat work, starting the week of Thanksgiving and going through the end of December. I still intend on riding a bit without stirrups in January as well, but I need to start picking up my stirrups that month. I find it more difficult to ride with stirrups than without at this point, so I need to be sure to practice not bracing against them at the trot.

Dante is becoming confirmed in half-pass at both the canter and trot. It is more difficult for him to half-pass from left to right, especially at the trot. Each day we practice a little bit and try to get him to step under his body a bit more with his left hind, something that has always been a bit tougher for him. His half-pass from right to left is quite good and doesn't need much repetition at this point. His lead changes came extremely easily, and we work a little bit each day on him not anticipating the change, and keeping straight through them. We also have been practicing our turn on the haunches at the walk, trying to keep him moving his inside hind instead of merely pivoting on it. It improves every day. 

We also have been revamping the way Dante goes between fences. I used to let him canter around however he wanted so long as I felt we had a good pace. However, I learned at Greenwood that when I do that and he gets excited, he ignores me and does his best impression of a motorbike around the turns, leaving us with awkward spots and a bad canter. Since then, we have been really working on staying round and soft in the mouth between the fences, and his canter has improved immensely. In the past week, his understanding of what I want has improved drastically and he has become incredibly responsive to my aids.

Similarly, Dante has always liked to do his best Zoolander impression and refuse to turn right in any manner that is conducive to jumping. When asked to turn right, he basically turned into a board, flung his head a bit, and cut the turn as sharp and fast as he could. Doesn't really work well for bending lines or roll backs. The week of Thanksgiving we introduced ten meter circles after every jump where there was a right-handed turn or bending line. Within two jump sessions, Dante had figured out what I wanted and has been getting better and better at staying soft and bending through right turns. 

Of course, with all the changes in his canter, I started missing a bit to the fences. I don't have a natural eye for a spot, but I do have a decent learned eye. Unfortunately, whenever the canter changes, I tend to have to 'relearn' my eye. Also, because Dante is more responsive to my aids, particularly my half halts, I am having to learn to be softer with my hands. So we have been jumping more frequently than normal, but with lower heights and less fences overall, to help develop my new eye. 

I am so excited about these changes in Dante and myself. I can't wait to show them off at a show after we bring it all together. First up though, XC schooling at Greenwood the weekend of January 7th, Jean Moyer dressage clinic the weekend of the 14th, and then leaving for Rocking Horse the weekend of the 21st!

(The Spanish Moss of Rocking Horse, where we'll be at the end of January!)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

I am the first to admit that Thanksgiving has never meant a lot to me. As a kid I hated turkey...and stuffing, and cranberries, and sweet potatoes, and...well, you get the picture. Even though I'm an adult now, and I eat all of those things, Thanksgiving still doesn't strike a chord with me. I do love spending time with my family, but I'm in the fun position of living close enough that it seems stupid to fly, but far enough that the six hour drive (which turns into an eight hour drive with holiday traffic) is a bit much to just spend a few days at home. Combine that with the fact that Thanksgiving is generally the beginning of the end of the semester, with a myriad of tests up to the day before the holiday and a plethora of projects due in the two weeks following, and it means that I haven't made it home for Thanksgiving since my first year at UNT in 2008.

Generally, I tend to spend Thanksgiving on my own or maybe with friends, stuffing myself with whatever food strikes me fancy. Last year, it was Rudy's BBQ, and there's something wonderfully Texan about eating my own body weight in brisket on Thanksgiving. This year, I spent the day with Jessica Pye, going for a hack on our boys before we attempted to put together our own version of Thanksgiving, which included a rotisserie chicken from Walmart, green been casserole, instant mashed potatoes, and cinnamon rolls for dessert. Terribly traditional, I know.

(The view from Dante's back on Thanksgiving Day.)

Even though I'm not terribly religious, I do make an effort to think about what I'm thankful for. In 2011, there are three things I'm especially thankful for.

I'm thankful for my family. Both my parents and my boyfriend are amazing at supporting what I'm doing, whether it's college or horses. I'm incredibly lucky to have such good financial support from my parents, who also cheer with me in the good moments and console me during the low. I couldn't have done what I have without them. My boyfriend knows when to listen and when to try and fix things, when to send me a random pick me up, and how to make me smile. I couldn't ask for a better family.

I'm thankful for my friends, both horsey and non-horsey. I've never had the easiest time making friends, but in Dallas I've found an incredibly supportive group of people at Gold Chip. I can spend hours at the barn easily, watching lessons and socializing at lunch with people from all over Area V. I'm thankful for my non-horsey friends, because as much as I love horses, I sometimes just need to go to the bar, have a Shiner, and talk about football.

I'm thankful for my horse and his health. Even though Galway was a bit emotionally draining for me, it really helped me realize how much of a partnership I have with him, and how devastated I would be if he was taken from my life. Even when he was sick, he was a total beggar, hamming it up for treats and generally looking smug in his warm stall while I traipsed around in the cold and rain. No matter what, I would never be tired of seeing that face in my barn. He's been back in work for a week and a half now, and of course is going better than ever on the flat, including half passes and lead changes.

Here's to the holidays! 

Monday, November 7, 2011

And Sometimes, Everything Falls Apart

I have never been so relieved to be home from a horse show. This past weekend was one weekend that I can't wait to forget, and although we've all had weekends like that (Jersey comes to mind), I truly cannot think of one good thing about this past weekend.

Other than the rainbow, of course.

Really, it was a lovely rainbow.

It began on Thursday when I arrived at the show grounds for the day, and having not had time to pick up my packet on Wednesday afternoon, I stopped first at the office...where I promptly discovered that I rode Thursday afternoon rather Friday morning as I had thought. This meant I had to drive back to my hotel and get my dressage breeches, which made me late to get on for a long canter, which caused me to miss the riders meeting, which in turn almost made me late for the jog. I didn't catch up on my schedule until after the jog.

I actually was happy to be riding on Thursday, I just wish I had known it. The weather on Friday was supposed to be cold and wet while Thursday was sunny and overly warm. And dusty. But good conditions for keeping Dante a bit lethargic. Dante put in his best test of the season, which was still not nearly what I know what we can do but at least was mostly mistake free and relatively calm for him.

Unfortunately, the judges felt it was mostly insufficient and scored me a 70.3. I was a bit shocked, I admit. I thought for sure it would be in the sixties at least. While I don't dispute my ranking, it did appear as if the judges were scoring a bit high, with the low score in my division a 47.1. Still, once I got my test I saw that they scored me 4's across the board for his canter work because they didn't like the quality of the canter. I do recognize that Dante doesn't have the best quality canter but it's the same one he's always had and I've never gotten 4's on a canter movement that was performed without mistakes.

The weekend was only to get worse. Friday dawned overcast, cold, and raining. It felt like Kentucky to me, not California. It rained all day and the temperature dropped steadily throughout. It was very unpleasant. But the weather wouldn't have bothered me if I hadn't heard Dante cough once. And then twice. And then I saw his nose was full of yellow snot. Even though he was still his bright-eyed self, his temperature was 101.4. It wouldn't have been that alarming except that his temperature at in-barns was 98.4. I called the vet, who was off grounds, and by the time he arrived two hours later, Dante's temperature was over 103.

In the end, I had to withdraw Dante to treat him correctly. He got banamine and penicillin and his temp was down by the evening. He spent three days hanging out in isolation, which turned out to be the private vet clinic of the vet right across the street from the show grounds. He never skipped a beat in turns of eating, drinking, and being generally adorable/annoying. If he hadn't had a cough and snotty nose, I never would have known he was sick.

So in the end, Dante got a nice little vacation in California while I spent the rest of the weekend trying to be a good sport about it. Saturday was lovely, and I spent most of the day listening to Mike and the Captain comment on the 2* and 3* cross country rounds, which was very educational. Unfortunately, Sunday was miserable again weather wise, and although I stuck it out to watch Heather jump a lovely clear round in the muck, by the time the day was over, the disappointment was weighing pretty heavily on me.

Not sure what we'll do to try and finish off a season, or even how quickly he'll fully recover. I think it's time to take it day by day.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Nose to the Grindstone

Time flies when you're busy! The month of October is passing by quickly, although it's going by a little too quickly if you ask me. This is the first fall since 2008 where I've still been eventing at this point in time. In 2009, I was at the long format CCI* in Kentucky and last year Dante was recuperating from an injury. In 2008, I just about killed myself from exhaustion as I competed every two weeks for two months while moving up to Prelim at Holly Hill at the same time I began my second stint at college, taking 18 hours of Physics, Technical Writing, Calculus 3, and other time-intensive classes. It was a bit much.

So of course my final fall hearkens back to my first fall. My class load is light; twelve hours, three of which are online. Two of my classes are business, which are just that much easier than my engineering classes. However, one class is my senior design project, which can be time consuming and will only grow to be more so as the year progresses. And the thing that is taking up most of my time right now is studying for the FE (Fundamentals of Engineering) exam, which is a fun 8-hour exam that tests everything I ever learned ever. Hooray! And when do I have to take this exam? Why, the Saturday before Galway!

Apparently I have a thing for picking two stars that fall immediately after big tests. I left for Jersey on Wednesday morning immediately following finals last semester on Monday and Tuesday. Before Galway I have an exam Monday and Wednesday for my normal classes, the FE on Saturday, and then an online exam the Monday following Galway. Yippee!

Balancing work and riding will be tough, but balancing school and riding is no picnic either.

On the horse front, Dante is looking and feeling great. Fall arrived earlier this week, with highs in the 60s. I absolutely love fall weather and the brisk cold and so does Dante. We jumped on Tuesday, and both of us were dead on everything so we only jumped a couple of courses before doing trot sets. It really is lovely to not be overheating while warming up or doing trot sets.

In between studying breaks I've been avidly stalking old Galway Downs video to try and get an idea of the grounds. It looks flat like Texas! I wouldn't mind some cooler weather because Dante's coat has slowly been growing in despite me praying to the hair gods for it not to. He isn't getting clipped before we go, I have no time and he really doesn't have enough of a coat to clip anyways. Hooray for Thoroughbreds! One of my friends is moving up to Intermediate at Holly Hill, and she had to clip her Thoroughbred in preparation because he was a hairy beast. I guess I should say to hooray to my Thoroughbred and his skimpy coat! Clipping is definitely a January chore, not an October chore.

One week until the horses leave!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

All Systems Go

This past weekend was very much a checklist for Dante and I. We attended Greenwood horse trials in Weatherford, Texas. Greenwood is our local event, being only an hour from the barn. As a result, it's a good event to go to during the semester and it has a more casual feel to it than other horse trials. This year we participated in the Intermediate Championships, simple because we were qualified and because we could. There were several things I needed to check off my list in order for us to enter and attend Galway CCI**.

First was dressage, for obvious reasons. The back injections seemed to vastly improve his sensitivity to palpation until it was completely gone, but it hadn't been tested in competition atmosphere. Dante was very calm both times I rode him in the warm up before dressage, almost shockingly so. He was also very calm in warm up, but got tense in his test. However, he was a normal amount of tenseness, rather than the tight ball of muscle I felt at the AECs. We performed an ok test, highlighted by the ridiculously slow canter serpentine that felt as if we were moving through molasses. I knew it was slow and subtly attempted to create a more forward gait with my seat, but he ignored me. I was afraid a stronger response would elicit a bad reaction, but looking back I definitely should have tried a bit harder. However, overall it was a much better test, simple changes excluded (anticipation much?). We scored a 41.7 which I felt was fairly accurate and left us tied for third...out of four.

On another note, I was mildly surprised how many people asked if I was happy about my test. Was I happy? No, not really, it was a mediocre test, and on par with what we put forth all last season before Jersey. I was pleased that we had dug ourselves out of the hole we had regressed into. I was no longer embarrassed after walking out of the ring. But happy? I'll be happy when we put out improvement. I think relieved is probably the best word to describe how I felt about the test. Dante is capable of so much more, as he shows at home. He'll never be a world beater, but I see no reason that we couldn't consistently score mid-30s if we just did the same test at home at the shows.

He did flip behind once, but I feel strongly that this was not a result of his back hurting as it was a response to me accidentally grabbing the curb bit instead of the snaffle bit. Flipping has always been his response to something that upsets him since I bought him as a four year old, whether it's due to pain or annoyance. As I went to adjust my reins just after our walk to canter transition, I accidentally grabbed the curb rein. Oops. My mistake. However, his back pain seems to be resolved.

Next item was soundness after cross country. The ground at Greenwood wasn't as hard as I feared, but it was still hard. The organizers did a fantastic job aerating, but with the severe drought in Texas, there was only so much they could do. As a result, the entire Intermediate division cruised around, including me. We came in 40 seconds over and since time is always extremely difficult to make at Greenwood, 40 seconds was pretty good. Interestingly, the other person tied with me for third also finished exactly 40 seconds over so we remained tied.

(Dante leaps over the first element before the water.)

After cross country, I iced Dante in Jack's Ice Boots once, then did the Game Ready while his feet soaked twice more. Poulticed and wrapped. Jogged up for my trainer, who said he looked good and sound. Yay! Step two passed.

The final item was soundness the next day. I got to the barn early to braid and rinse his legs. We jogged up and looked good again! Hurray! His coffin joints seem to be doing very well.

Show jumping wasn't on the checklist, but we're going to be working on it now. I was very unhappy with the way I rode my round. I had forgotten that Dante tends to lose all quality of canter in the big show jumping grass ring at Greenwood. He must feel as if it's XC again, and gets offended when I try to correct his assumption. We had a lovely warm up, went into the ring, and lost all semblance of a good canter when I confused forward with running and Dante obliged by attempting to pick an XC pace. I couldn't see any of my distances when I was seeing everything in warm up, and I am absolutely certain that it's due to fact that the quality of the canter was not good. So now, that is what I am going to be concentrating on during any jumping lessons.

So, barring anything serious happening, looks like we're headed out to Galway in early November. I'm excited, I've never had the chance to compete out in California, and I'm probably unlikely to be able to in the future. This is a great chance for me to check out eventing, West Coast style.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Trouble with Kissing

I've been remiss in updating because I've had some not very good news about Dante since the AECs.

After our disastrous dressage, I decided to have my vet come check him out. I thought his back might be bothering him. He had some sore back muscles during the summer, which we previously thought was due to his sore heels. Dr. A palpated his spine and Dante was definitely sensitive. So down to the imaging clinic for back x-rays we went.

The final result?

Dante has kissing spine between his 14th/15th and his 15th/16th vertebrae.

Oh, good.

It's not the worst news. I'm glad to know that there was a physical cause of the flipped leads that plummeted our score and that he wasn't just flipping out mentally. Every time I sat deep in the canter to half halt or to encourage him to go forward or even turn, I sat right on the painful vertebrae and caused him to flip. I'm glad to know there is at least a reason.

There's two paths of treatment. The first path is injections, which is the conservative road. This is the path we'll travel first. Both the imaging vet and Dr. A thought injections would be extremely effective and both want to try the conservative approach first.

The second path is surgery. There is a newish surgery that Texas A&M has done on some horses that opens up the spaces between the vertebrae. Ironically, my friend Jessica over at Pye Equestrian has just gone through this surgery with her horse, and the imaging vet raved over her horse's x-rays without even knowing I knew her. However, the vets want to see how effective the injections will be first.

Surgery will probably be in Dante's future regardless. While the injections do seem to be working for now (Dante was injected last week), they might not work forever. Also, they seem very invasive as well as mildly painful for Dante, and have to repeated every six months. The surgery has very good results, is not too expensive, and requires only four months off. Considering I am planning on giving him an eight month hiatus anyways when I graduate while I get my life moved and settle into my career, it seems that would be a good time to do it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

AECs: Redemption and Reflection

Dante certainly lived up to his show name of Divine Comedy this weekend. We had Paradise (cross country), Purgatory (show jumping), and Inferno (dressage).

(Dante before our dressage test fell to pieces. Photo by USEA.)

Inferno: I've already discussed dressage, but I want to add that I now think Dante's back might be bothering him a little bit...not enough to affect his jumping or his dressage when he's relaxed, but enough to affect his dressage when he becomes nervous (and therefore tense). Whenever I tried to use my seat to communicate at the canter during the test was when he flipped behind. I'm having the vet out on Tuesday to determine if that is in fact a problem.

(Dante focused on XC. Photo by USEA.)

Paradise: Cross country morning began quite early, and as I drove into Chatt Hills, the sun was just dawning over the horizon. Dense fog sat heavily on the hills, muting the greens of the grass with morning dew. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and none of the photos I took did it justice. By the time Dante and I had hacked down to cross country warm up, the fog had vanished but the morning dew still persisted a bit. Dante warmed up beautifully; we only ever jump about five fences in warm up. At the box, Dante knew exactly what was up and was quite wild, refusing to stand and backing up impatiently. He left the box with gusto as usual. The first half of the course was slightly wiggly, and a touch behind the leg, as he stared at the strong morning shadows cast by the jumps. The first combo came up quickly, a short run up a steep incline to a hanging log, then a sharp decline bending line to a wedge. I should have had more gallop to go up the hill...he largely lost impulsion and had to jump over the log from a crawl. However, he galloped down very nicely to the wedge. Then, through the water, he was a bit behind my leg and bulging to the left. The combination was a fence, two very short strides to a drop into the water, then five strides to a brush rolltop and another four to a skinny brush rolltop. They were all in a straight line, and Dante definitely bulged his shoulder out to the left before the final element. Luckily, he's as honest and game as the day is long, and as soon as he saw what to jump, he was happy to oblige. Video (borrowed from Eventing Nation) of the water can be seen below, starting at 0:53. We also did two to six to four. The two was short and once in the water I knew we wouldn't be able to get the five, so we waited for the six, then I pushed for the four. We almost didn't make the four thanks to Dante bulging left, but it must have felt worse than it looked.

By the bank complex, we were rocking and rolling. The bank complex was pretty technical, with a hanging log to a large bank off the edge of the hill, then down an incline to two houses on an angle with one stride between. Dante was perfect through that, was great through the coffin, and wonderful through the giant kahunas on a bending line at the end of the course. (On a side note, those kahunas were either bought from the old Maui Jim event or were designed to be identical, and it's always been a bit of a dream of mine to jump them, so that was wonderful for me!) The footing was so amazing and the course was wheeled generously, so we were able to make time. Of course, so were 11 other riders, but that's beside the point. After dressage, we moved up to 19th place.

Purgatory: Show jumping was a bit of a mix of the good and the ok. Dante felt slightly tired and was tapping the fences in warm up. This wasn't really surprising to me, because he's only been back in work for a month and has only had two gallops. I hadn't originally planned on going for time, but with the footing being so amazing and the footing at Greenwood in two weeks likely to be EXTREMELY hard, I felt it was better to put forth a run here, and go conservatively at Greenwood. So a touch tired for show jumping made a lot of sense. Dante was still jumping well, but didn't quite have the sharp edge he needs to cover for any of my mistakes.

In the end, we had two rails. One was mine completely. We swung around to the second fence which was a large, airy vertical with no ground line, one of my least favorite types of jump. Sure enough, I picked a bit to the base and got him slightly buried (not as bad as I have done in the past, at least!) with not much power. I don't feel he had much of a chance there, and sure enough, he tapped the front rail hard enough to have it down. Then, coming through the triple, he had too much power coming to the third element, a big square oxer. I half halted, which was the right idea, but I didn't half halt enough. He came to it slightly deep and had it up front again. He maybe could have helped me out a bit there, but like I said, he was tired and unable to cover for my mistakes today. I was really proud of how accurate I was overall though, as that is something I struggled with all last spring.

After the show was over, I realized how lucky I was to experience the AECs. Although I didn't come home even with a ribbon, let alone any prizes, I loved experiencing the high level of sponsorship the AECs enjoy. I can't wait to come back in the future.

Finally, flying back on 9/11 gave me a completely different perspective of the weekend. I was 15 on 9/11; I remember sitting in my world history class and watching the towers fall on national television. I remember the shock and horror that permeated everyone's actions, and the fervent patriotism that abounded for days afterward. I'm now 25 and although I have reflected seriously on each 9/11 in the past nine years, the tenth anniversary of this date has caused me to reflect upon my own life and how far I have come. So much has changed in the past ten years, and I can't imagine where my life will be when the twentieth anniversary comes around. On a day like this, I am so proud to be an American, so thankful for everything that has happened to me, and above all so thankful to just be alive. I can't help but think that among all those who perished that day, at least a few must have had a beloved horse whose owner never came home. So today I will hug my horse, thank him for being in my life, and give him a carrot for all those horse owners who didn't get to come home to their horses.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

AECs: No Good, Very Bad Day

Well, that's not what we wanted. Not at all.

This isn't going to be long because I've got to get up early tomorrow for cross country. So bear with me, guys.

Dante had been moving fabulously all week. We went for a hack and light school this morning. Fabulous. We warmed up. Fabulous. We got into the holding ring. Slightly tense, but still extremely rideable. We got over to the arena. Super tense, but still rideable. We got into the ring, and he held it together for most of the trot work, giving me the best lateral work he's done by far. Usually, lateral work is his cryptonite and everything else is better. Well, not today. Lateral work was great, but the second medium, he just lost all concentration. Tried to canter through the entire thing, couldn't even get him to trot normally. Halt was tense and anticipating the rein back. Walk (which is our other weakness) was the worst it's ever been. Canter is usually awesome on this horse, but today it was the worst. He was so distracted by everyone sitting on the hill. Swapped behind every time I used my seat. I use my seat a lot. I'd blame the double bridle, but he never once reacted to my hand. I think it was the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, that's not a good excuse. If he's going to be an upper level horse, he needs to learn to deal.

To be fair, he had several factors working against him. The weather dropped from 105 for him on Saturday to 70 today. So he's feeling good, regardless. He hasn't shown in four months, which is actually a big factor. He's often a bit of a nut the first show back. And of course, the ring was quite atmospheric, with a steep hill on each side where lots of people were sitting.

Still a major disappointment. And quite frankly an embarrassment. We are NOT that bad, and we DO belong here. We should be getting mid-30s scores every time out, not hoping to get qualifying scores. We should definitely NOT be scoring 53!

Some dressage exposure is needed, and but quick. Honestly, even just getting out of the same setting we always school dressage in would be helpful. It doesn't have to be a dressage show, or even a ring, it just needs to be a setting he hasn't seen, and he needs to behave and relax immediately rather than ten minutes after he's been there. We get maybe 30 seconds to circle a ring...he needs to learn to relax in that amount of time.

I know he can do it.

It's time to rock it tomorrow, and show everyone that we aren't out of our league, and that we just had a bad day.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

AECs: Crossing the T's

Today was an early morning for me, even though I didn't wake up early. The GCS crew was up late last night, as the horses made it in around 11:30 pm. It was great to see everyone team together to get the horses unloaded, fed, and watered in a timely fashion. We offloaded necessary equipment and feed in an assembly line manner while a few others tag-teamed carrying water buckets from the spigot on the other side of the barn. This is why I love eventers; when the going gets tough, we get going! Everyone pitched in and got the horses settled in record time. So even though I didn't make it to the barn until 8:45 (bearing a dozen bagels, ice for the ice chest, and water for all), it still felt early thanks to only a few hours of sleep. Although apparently one should not buy bagels from America's Favorite Doughtnut shop...

After arriving at the barn, I decided Dante needed to go on a walk. However, before I could parade him in front of the entire 'eventing nation,' I had to take care of his tail. For those of you who don't know Dante, his tail is a shavings magnet, and is very difficult to comb. After fifteen minutes of meticulous combing, it finally was shavings-free so we went for a walk. And by walk, I mean cavort on two legs while dragging me here and there. To be fair, the horse went from 100 degrees to 60 in 48 hours. I don't blame him for feeling good. Very good. Extremely good.

Well, I can blame him a little.

Eventually he settled down and started grazing. We then went on a hack among the gorgeous Georgia pines in our jump tack. I haven't been on trails since we lived in Maryland, and I quickly remembered why I used to love hacking so much. After the hack, we took a short spin around the warm up, just establishing calm and relaxed. While he was nervous at first, he relaxed into his work very well.

Then came lunch, which I was very excited for because I had already seen that 'the smoothie lady' was here! I enjoyed a wonderful fresh fruit mango smoothie while watching riders of all level taking advantage of the schooling ring. Really, what in life is better than watching lovely horses work while drinking a mango smoothie?

(Mango smoothie, om nom nom...)

See? You can't think of anything else better either!

In the afternoon, I rode Dante again, this time in the dressage saddle and double bridle. He was an absolute dream, and even gave me some extremely uphill medium trot for the first time, something we struggle with a lot. If he goes tomorrow like he did today, I'll be extremely happy.

After a course walk (which I'll post pictures of and discuss tomorrow), we went for another walk during which Dante was very well behaved. As a reward he got a very long graze with his friend Kobe, who taught him how to eat dirt. (Thanks, Kobe.)

Tomorrow I'll be buying doughnuts, ice and my favorite McDonald's breakfast (maple + fruit oatmeal, yum!). I don't ride until mid-afternoon (2:17!) so he'll get a ride in the morning in jump tack, once again working on calm and relaxed. Hopefully, tomorrow we will put forth our best dressage test yet.

Cheers to a positive outlook, a beautiful venue, and a happy, fit thoroughbred!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

AECs: Championship Bound

(The hills from whence Chatt Hills gained its name.)

Currently, I'm sitting in a hotel in the middle of heaven. Did I say heaven? I mean Fairburn, GA, where it is a whopping 63 degrees outside, overcast and drizzling. For those of you bad at math, that's 40+ degrees less than what we've been suffering through in Texas for the past two months. To be fair, the weather has finally broken in Texas, but only yesterday.

The flight this morning was relatively painless, other than a few bumps of turbulence. Of course, everyone jumps up and pulls their suitcases out of the overhead compartments the moment the plane is stopped, which is always amusing. I often want to ask them why they are in such a hurry to stand around and wait. Sounds like a HJ show to me. Me, I'm happy enough to stay seated in the 22nd row until the 20th row has filed out.

Then, my GPS on my lovely Droid thought it would be fun to take a detour around the seedier side of Atlanta. Always fun to see new places! Ponies are arriving later tonight. I've already heard via FB (ah, the wonders of the communication era) that there was an incident with a blown-out tire, a grass median, and the skillful slaloming (yes, that's a word) of a huge rig between several light poles. Luckily, by all accounts all horses/humans/dogs are perfectly fine, so that's a relief. These cross-country trailering rides can be so stressful!

As a result, the ponies have an ETA of 11 pm instead of 8pm, so I trekked out to the show grounds to scope out the stabling situation. After playing the stable shuffle with the Gold Chip horses as Heather relayed her wishes over the phone, I got to work putting shavings in the stalls of the eight horses on the rig. Now the ponies will have nice, thick shavings to look forward to.

I have to mention that I was very much impressed by the Chattahoochie Hills facility. The main barn, of course, is absolutely stunning as you first get past the forest. Then, as you round the gravel road, brilliantly green rolling hills sprawl before you, dotted with cross country jumps. It is stunning, as I said, and the photos I took barely do it justice. It is not inconceivable at all to imagine Chatt Hills hosting a top class four star one day.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Baby, It's Hot Out There!

It's soooo hot.

So hot.

But, there's hope! The end is in sight. Maybe.



Look, a forecast with rain! And temperatures under 100!

Seriously, this Texas heat has been absolutely brutal this summer. I grew up in San Antonio, and while I can remember the heat lasting and lasting, I can't remember getting 100+ temperatures lasting into September.

I hate heat. With a passion. Give me 30 and snowing over 100 any day. I can handle a few 100 days a summer. This is bordering on ridiculous. Seriously, Dante and I went to the track to gallop this morning, and at 6:30 am, it was 93. 93! What is wrong with the universe!?!

I've taken up the habit of retreating into the air conditioning from the hours of noon until 8 pm. My productivity is low, but on the plus side, I've seen about 14 movies in the past week. (On the down side, I've seen most of them already.) I've cleaned a bunch of tack in my house, and on one memorable occasion spent way too much money in the Dover tack store. In my defense, it was all on things that I needed.

Well, most of it.

Ok, I swear I'm done complaining.

In other news, I've made like the Burghley-ites (referring to Will, Sinead, et al) and began running last week. If my horse is expected to be an athlete, then I should be one too. I do go to the gym to run on the suspended track because a) I hate running on a machine that can drop you on your ass as soon as you turn your head to look at something shiny (aka the treadmill) and b) it's air conditioned which enables me to run for much longer without gasping like a fish.

(Dante looks pretty happy being turned out in 100+ heat. I guess whatever floats your boat.)

In Dante news, he is adapting to the heat surprisingly well. Or rather, it shouldn't be so surprising since he lives in it, but still, I am astonished at how quickly his fitness is returning. He's only been back in work three weeks, but he's back to full work in both dressage and jumping and is definitely outpacing my current stamina. I only planned on doing a 3 x 5 gallop this morning but ended up doing 2 x 5 and 1 x 6 gallops because he felt so good. We're well on track for the AECs.

T-minus 9 days!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Double Debut

(The barn aisle at 10 pm, when I'm finally about to ride.)

Dante has been going again for a couple of weeks now, and has even had his first jump school since Jersey! The 100+ degree heat has been tough to work in, particularly because I have to be at my internship at 7 am. This leaves me to ride in what is often the hottest part of the day, 7 pm. So instead I have been going home and relaxing for a few hours, then venturing out to the barn after 8 and riding in the dark. While it helps immensely, it is still hot! In good news, Dante feels very sound and his heels are continuing to dry out and become less sensitive every week.

Before the thrush reared it's ugly head, we had progressed far enough that I decided it was time to stick Dante back in the snaffle he uses for dressage. Wow, was he awful. And as he was awful, I resorted to all those terrible habits that I have, rounded shoulders, long reins, etc. He was stiff as a board to the left, leaning downhill, and unresponsive to my aids. I was NOT happy at the time.

At that point, I decided I was going to try out the double again. He's never been great in the snaffle, particularly to the right where he resists by hollowing in his poll. He also LOVES to lean on me. I've tried the double before, and while he wasn't terrible in it, he would have moments of fussiness, enough to convince Mike and I that it wasn't for him.

Well, I decided he was just going to have to get used to it. He used to be fussy in his jump bit as well, and now he loves it, so I had reason to believe that once he was used to the double bridle, he would be fine. So I stuck him in it.

And of course, the horse loved it.

He was light, responsive, supple, and steady. Guess we're going to be using that from now on. I'll be testing it out in a show environment though before the two star. I've been riding in it since he's gotten back to work, and he's been really excellent in it.

Of course, this means I now have to go through the joys of purchasing one. I've been borrowing Bonner's for now, but Jessica is going to lend me hers to use for the AECs. I want to try it in a show environment first, to make sure he doesn't flip his lid before I shell out $500+ to buy the bits/bridle/reins.

I've also been working on getting myself back into the sitting trot shape. I have always had trouble with the sitting trot, particularly when I haven't ridden for a while. So right now, I am doing posting to warm up Dante, cantering to warm up my body, and then doing a little bit of sitting trot at a time, posting or walking when I feel my or his rhythm alter. Usually it's mine. All of my lateral work is done at the end in a posting trot, because I'm not yet fit enough to both sit rhythmically and communicate strongly enough for lateral work. Give it a few weeks, and I'll be much more effective.

Obviously, our show schedule has changed a bit. Originally, we planned to head to Michigan at the end of the month for Richland Park, then to Georgia at the end of September for Poplar and up to Maryland for Fair Hill CCI**. Unfortunately, losing those two weeks was tough enough in terms of fitness that it seems like a better idea to head to Galway in the beginning of November. That made a six week gap between Poplar and Galway, and no good prep show between. Greenwood is one week after Poplar, and Holly Hill is one week before Galway, so neither works as a prep. Meadowcreek is at the right time, but doesn't offer Intermediate, and also isn't my favorite show to go to, due to the fact that it either POURS or the ground is wicked hard.

At that point, I started reconsidering Poplar as well as Richland, and decided to aim for Greenwood instead as my final prep before Galway. Although it's five weeks out from the two star, Dante has never been one to need a ton of prep shows to run a tremendous cross country, and his dressage is usually best around the third show of the season anyways.

In the end, I've decided to head for the AECs as my first prep show of the season. It will be a tough championship course to ride as the first show, but Richland would have been tough as well. I don't have any intention of winning because well, Dante's dressage is definitely not the best at the first show of the season, and we'll be competing against a bunch of really nice horses and riders. We also aren't going to rock around cross country in our usual style because Dante does have hoof issues with sore heels due to thrush. Better to conserve his soundness for the two star.

So this fall, we'll have AECs, Greenwood, and Galway to prove ourselves. I can't wait to get back on the show scene.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

For the Want of a Hoof

Something I know many horse owners fight with is bad hooves. Particularly thoroughbred hooves. Dante has sometimes had good feet, but more often, he has had problems. Here follows the tale of the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad feet.

Winter 2007: I purchase Dante at the very beginning and he comes to me with ok feet. I immediately put him on a hoof supplement as a precaution. However, current barn farrier is Not Very Good, something that I naively don't realize as a first time horse owner. After all, why would my barn use a Not Very Good Farrier? Not Very Good Farrier tells me my horses hooves are too hard and I need to condition them. Every day. So I do. Dante's feet proceed to fall apart, chunks flying off with constant thrown shoes until it looks like tiny grenades have exploded beneath them. I continue to put on hoof conditioner every day, thinking that it is simply terrible thoroughbred feet.

Autumn 2007: Dante and I move to Maryland, where we make the acquaintance of Awesome Farrier. Awesome Farrier takes one look at Dante's feet and knows exactly what I've been doing to them. He tells me to never ever condition this particular horse's hooves again, because they are too, too, too soft. Excellent Farrier is forced to glue on shoes until Dante's hooves have grown back. By the time they have, Dante has been on hoof supplement for a full year and there is a noticeable difference in his hoof quality. By the time we leave Maryland in early 2008, Dante's hooves finally look fantastic.

Summer 2008: At this point, Dante has been shod by Excellent Farrier several times and his hooves continue to look great. But the summer humidity takes it's toll, as well as a two week vacation away from him where he went with his hooves unpicked, and 3 of the 4 hooves contract thrush. Upon my return, Dante feels Not Quite Right. Vet 1 examines him, says he has a neck problem. Upon 1 month of rest, problem is apparently unresolved (although I am not sure it's in his neck) and a bone scan is recommended. I am aware of the thrush and have been trying to treat it, but not taking it terribly seriously. I am also relatively poor, so before a bone scan, I decide to get a second vet's opinion. Vet 2 diagnoses thrush causing the horse's heels to hurt. Sure enough, after a thorough regiment of soaking his hooves in copper sulfate and vinegar solution. The thrush seems to go away.

Summer 2009: In early summer, at CO Horse Park, I realize Dante has been stacking his shavings under his heels and leaning forward to put his weight on his toes. I have recently noticed the thrush is back and have been very religious about picking his feet. He continues to do this through the summer and his heels are contracted at this point. After Maui Jim, I call the vet and we decide to x-ray, which reveal coffin bones at a slightly different angle than the foot. Excellent Farrier puts risers on his shoes that allow me to still pick his feet and treat the thrush. The contracted heels continues to secrete some gunk even after the thrush is gone, which I assume is just part of contracted heels.

Summer 2010: During the winter, Excellent Farrier puts a bar on the hoof riser as a result of Dante's contracted heels. Then, as summer returns, so does Dante's thrush. The gunk has never gone away, even in winter. Dante still stacks his heels. He is Not Quite Right for most of the summer, but for some reason, I never twig onto the fact that it was probably thrush. Then as fall finally brings cooler temperatures, he finally feels comfortable...just in time for him to suffer an injury.

Winter 2011: Dante feels great, but still has gunk, still stacks shavings and puts weight on his toes in his stall. I assume he just had Terrible, No-Good Thoroughbred feet. He gets full blown pour in pads right before Florida on recommendation of the vet and Excellent Farrier.

Spring 2011: Dante seems more and more uncomfortable throughout the show season. I only see it in retrospect, something I regret very much. His coffins bother him towards the very end, and in the end, we are spun from the final jog at Jersey. In retrospect, his heels hurt him enough to make his coffin bones hurt, and I never saw it. At this point he has been somewhat sensitive on his contracted heels for two and a half years. I figure this is something that I cannot change because that was just the way his feet were. I know the Texas humidity doesn't help, but I'm unable to do anything about that until I graduate.

Summer 2011: I begin to bring Dante back into work in July, and while he is behaving very well, he feels once again Not Quite Right, particular to the left. The vet checks him out 100%...except for his heels. Which, once again, have thrush. We decide to remove the pour-in pads to just the simple risers again in order to access the thrush. The day the pads are removed, Dante is noticeably lame on his left hind. He has never been actually lame before, only short or not quite right. This lameness includes head bobbing. The second day, he seems to lunge ok so I hop on...and he's lamer than the day before, very obviously to the left and on the hind leg. He kicks out strongly when I try to pick his left hind hood. I soak it in copper sulfate and vinegar. The vet comes out the next day. Dante is not lame on the left hind anymore. Instead, he is slightly off (not lame) on the right front. We strongly suspect the thrush at this point, but block his right front to be sure. He is then sound on the right front, but lame left front. The only sound foot is his right hind, which never contracted the original thrush, and remains healthy and perfectly formed with wide heels to this day. Vet recommends copper sulfate/vinegar soaks every other day and gives me a dry cow treatment to put in his heels once every day. I begin thinking very hard.

One Week Ago 2011: I begin Googling sulcus thrush, and find a plethora of information. Most of all, I find out that the dry cow treatment Tomorrow is strongly recommended, so I order a box. I do some more research and discover that I have been relatively wrong about assuming his contracted heels caused thrush. Well, they do. But the thrush very likely caused the contracted heels in the first place. By causing his heels to hurt, the thrush caused Dante to put his weight on his toes by stacking his shavings. As a result, his heels began to contract because they had no weight on them. Also, his coffins had a changed angle due to the fact that the horse was distributing his weight incorrectly. The thrush is a fungal infection, but it also allowed the gunk to begin. The gunk is a bacterial infection that has NEVER gone away. Many, many of this horses problems stem from this thrush, including the fact that he feels like he could easily move uphill, but often moves down hill.

And now I feel tremendously awful and relieved in one go. Relieved, because this is very fixable. I need to be ridiculously religious about his copper sulfate soaks and the Tomorrow treatment until his heels are fully healed, and possibly even continue them occasionally as a preventative. Hopefully, he will become more willing to put weight on his heels, the heels will spread out, the coffin angles will return to being correct, and the thrush will have no where to live. The reformation of the hoof might take a long time. If it doesn't happen by the time I graduate, I will pull his shoes to hopefully ease the process. He'll be getting 8-12 months off at that point anyways while I begin my career, so it would be a good time for that.

I've been doing this treatment for about five days now and already the Tomorrow has made a huge difference. The gunk is noticeably less, and much drier in nature. His heels are distinctly tougher and much less sensitive. I have hope.

(Dante's smiling face while I patiently soak his feet. Ironically, his right hind had a tiny bit of thrush in it tonight, so I jumped right on it.)

I feel awful because all of these issues could have been prevented if I had been vigilant and obsessive about it in the first place. Unfortunately, it is much easier to learn things in retrospect. My poor, saint of a horse has been suffering for all this time and yet has performed amazingly well all this time, never some much as thinking about not jumping. That shows me how much he loves to jump and how much of a giant heart he has.

You've held up your end of the bargain, big guy. It's time to hold up my end.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Road Not Taken

As I begin my first real foray into the career I hope to have when I graduate, I find myself reflecting more and more on the past several years, and the choices that have led me to where I am today. Driving in traffic for two or more hours every day has given me a chance to reflect about how the choices we make become who we are. At the same time, it is so easy to look back, second guess yourself, and regret.

I will never be a professional horseman. From the age of nine, I was positive that I would be a jockey and win the Triple Crown. I geared my entire life towards that goal, including attending U of Kentucky for college, locating myself in the horse capital of the world. Finally, at the age of nineteen, I accepted what had been staring me in the face for years. I was just too big to be a jockey. In order to make weight, I'd have had to reduce my eating habits to unhealthy levels.

At this point, I came to the first fork in the road. Should I sacrifice my health in order to achieve my dream? The cost (and self discipline) was too much. I gave up my dream.

For a while, I had no new dream. I toyed with the idea of being a bloodstock agent or an equine lawyer. Then, just as I graduated, I was able to purchase my first horse. Suddenly, I had direction. We won our first event at Beginner Novice two weeks after I graduated and I decided to give a career of eventing a go.

I became a working student. That was an enlightening experience. For all those young hopefuls out there, if you truly think you want to be a professional eventer, go be a working student. It was the most exhausting, yet edifying experience of my life.

Generally, working students tend to either love it and never want to leave, or turn sour on horses after too much exposure. The former are those who tend to end up successful in a career in horses. The latter become resentful of the whole situation, mentally depressed, and burned out on horses. I was the latter.

I hated horses, I hated working with horses, I even hated spending time with my own horse. This wasn't the way I wanted to spend my life, burned out and resenting the animals I had once loved. I thought hard about my future career paths at that point. I had to make a decision. Would I have lots of time to work with horses, but no money, no life, no guarantee of success at some point, and miserable the entire time? Or would I go back to college, get another, more useful degree, and eventually become an amateur who has to juggle riding her one horse with a full time job? Each path had its pros and cons, but ultimately, I chose the path that would allow me to always enjoy horses. I chose to become an amateur.

Now I'm poised on the edge of actually emerging out into the world and having to balance all the elements of my life. Up until now, balancing college with competing has been a relatively painless and almost pleasant experience. Next year, I will be working 8-5 (or hopefully 7-4), then commuting to the barn in the evenings to ride every day. I will fall into bed each night exhausted from a long day and do it all over again the next. I will have the money to pursue the sport though, and I will have the joy of seeing my lovely horse each day.

Obviously, not everyone burns out the way I do. My friend, Jessica Pye of Pye Equestrian, is at the same stage of life as me, but has chosen the other fork in the road. No matter how tough it is, between injuries and lack of money, she never tires of seeing her horse's face peek out from his stall. We are reflections of the choices that each young aspiring rider must make.

I will never ride in the Olympics, or represent my country. I will never win Rolex, and probably never compete at even Burghley or Badminton. I mostly aspire to ride around Rolex, and complete. Dressage is a constant struggle for us, and show jumping is tricky for me. I will never have the time to ride five horses a day and practice my dressage so much that it becomes world class. I hope to improve with every ride, but some days I slide backwards. I only have time for one horse, so when he is on vacation, so am I. This makes it tougher to start up again for the next season, because we are both out of shape.

These are all the negatives about being a working amateur. The positive? Every day, when I see my horse's face, I am filled with content. After all, who could frown at a nose like this?

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Amateur Side

Well, Dante is on vacation until the end of June, which leaves me at loose ends...on the horsey side of my life anyways.

In the summer, Dante and riding generally get put on the back burner because one of these days, I need to get a real career (instead of that of prolonged scholarship). In order to obtain this career, I have to do internships in the summer while I'm in school, which means working 7:30a to 5:30p Mon-Thurs, with a half day on Fridays. Now, eventually I don't foresee this being a problem, I will ride late at night. My s/o is in med school, so he won't exactly be mad at me for being super busy.

However, here in Texas, riding in the evening during the summer is unpleasant. Actually, let me rephrase that. RIDING in the summer is unpleasant. Riding is least unpleasant from the hours of 6am to 9am, when the temperature is a mere ninety degrees. Riding is incredibly unpleasant from 3 pm to 8 pm, when the temperatures hit one hundred and more.

Guess what time I'm available to ride during this internship?

However, I'm actually very excited for this internship, which will be for an international engineering company (although I am staying in Dallas) designing and building HVAC systems. Eventually I would like to work in green construction and LEED certification, and I think this is a great first step towards this.

To make matters more complicated, I am also taking a summer class. I normally wouldn't try and do this, but the class is not being offered during the school year, is taught by my favorite teacher, is a fun computer class, and satisfies an important requirement for my degree. However, this means that for five weeks, I have class on Mon-Wed from 6:30p to 9:00p. This class ends in the second week of July, so at least I only have to do this for a couple of weeks while trying also to ride Dante.

Speaking of Dante, he should start under saddle again the first weekend of July. I'll only be able to ride Thurs-Sun, but it will be fine. Then in late July, we'll get back to riding full time, in August we'll gear up and start fitness work, and at the end of August we'll head up to Richland where we'll run Intermediate.

I've been thinking a lot lately how I'm going to balance riding and work once I graduate, and I have a preliminary plan thought out in my head. It might change, it might not, but I always feel better when I have a plan.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Back to the Basics

Sometimes, things don't turn out the way you pictured them in your thoughts.

This is basically the summary of what happened to us at Jersey Fresh.

All season long, I was gearing to Jersey. Our dressage was improving at home and our show jumping was in sync. We'd had three amazing cross country runs in a row, and I felt that it wasn't beyond our capabilities to finish in the top ten or even the top five if things went extremely well.

Mostly though, I just wanted to get around and get a qualifying run.

Our problems began about two weeks prior. I noticed that Dante's lateral work was stiffer and less willing on his part. Dante has a weak right SI ligament, and while he usually begins the season with beautiful lateral work (for him), it tends to weaken throughout the season. I was hoping to make it through Jersey without it getting sore, but unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. So our lateral work went quite downhill literally the week we were in Jersey until I mainly thought to get through the right-handed lateral work. Lovely. (It doesn't affect his left lateral work at all interestingly enough. However, I had refrained from doing any lateral work in the previous week or two and so the left lateral work suffered from lack of practice.)

However, both my vet and I discussed at length and concurred that the ligament did not bother him at all for jumping, cantering, galloping, and most trot work save right-handed lateral work. We decided to go and let the chips fall where they may.

Sure enough, we got through the dressage test. That was about it. I had hoped to make up some points in the canter work, but we were both tense and the canter-walk-canters became canter-halt-canters which scored very badly. The scores were running quite high throughout the day, which didn't help my case any, and I definitely felt that the score was a few points higher than it should have been. However, I squeaked out a barely qualifying score, so at least there was that. I was through the first phase.

Onto cross country. Dante was amazing out on course, other than spooking a little at the second jump and the trakehner. Every other jump he just attacked and jumped as if he had been doing this level his entire life. It was a touch course, with riders like Phillip Dutton and Kim Severson falling off and retiring. Dante ate it up like it was a Novice course and we cruised in twelve seconds under time, no problem. It was amazing. So now we were up to four awesome cross country runs in a row.

After cross country, I iced Dante in the ice boots twice and jogged him up for Mike. Mike and Heather both thought he looked great and I thought so too, from what I could see while running next to him. We just jogged him up in stabling, not on the roads outside of stabling, but he looked great.

The next morning I got to the stabling at 6 am and jogged up Dante. So far as I could tell, he still looked good. Heather and Mike saw him job around 7 am and also thought he looked good. However, when we got out on the asphalt right before the jog, Dante took a few slightly funny steps. We got held, and the vet said he was a little short on his left front but couldn't find any soreness at all. We reinspected and I thought Dante looked a lot better on reinspection, but unfortunately, the decision didn't go our way.

Looking back, I think Dante was affected by the hard ground, but only a tiny bit...enough to be sound on the (very) slightly softer ground in stabling, but bothered by the hard asphalt in the jog area. If I had iced Dante that morning, I believe he would have passed with no problems. From now on, Dante will get iced in the morning before the jog, since he does seem to be affected by hard ground just a bit. I'll also make sure to jog him on the hardest surface available to make absolutely sure that he's sound.

Dante's had a long season, and he's on a long vacation now. I'll be working and in summer school throughout June, so he'll start back up in July. For the fall, we'll keep it as short as possible and only do three shows, Richland, Poplar, and Fair Hill CCI**, with Galway CCI** as back up. The vet will come out every two weeks to check out Dante and make sure he's on track too.

Hopefully, we'll be good to go in the fall.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Fresh Starts

Wow, today has been a whirlwind of activity.

It began at 3:30 am, when my alarm kindly woke me up so I could catch my 6 am flight. I'm relatively certain that this is the first time I have ever seen 3:30 am from the getting up side of things, although to be fair, I knew of its existence thanks to sporadic all-nighters and the occasional party during college.

Still, 3:30am is incredibly early to wake up. Especially when your final exam didn't end until 7 pm the night before and you didn't get to sleep until midnight.

Okay, enough with the whining. I was able to catch a few extra Z's on the plane and ate some Poptarts for breakfast. The breakfast of champions!....Or not. After the plane landed, I managed to somehow end up with not only a lovely Toyota Camry as my rental car, but also a soft pretzel that the Enterprise counter was handing out. Yay lunch!

The Camry and I zipped up I-95 because we were on a deadline. Bafflingly, it appears that PA and NJ think you should be driving only 55 on the highway. Luckily, the other drivers on the highway agreed with my withering assessment of the speed limits and I was able to make good time and arrive at the Horse Park of New Jersey just before noon.

Since the jog was in two hours, I got straight to work. Heather and Bonner had kindly already bathed him for me, so all I had to do was braid him, groom him, wrap his tail, add quartermarks, touch up his clip job, and polish his hooves before the jog at two. Oh, and I had to look cute myself. No problem!

Then comes the part where I'm dumb and I arrive at jog 20 minutes early and have to walk in so many circles that my feet get blisters from the shoes I purposely bought one size too small so that I could jog in them. Go me.

Luckily Dante jogged up quite well. Dante's not the best behaved at jogs, but not in the way most horses are bad. He jogs readily enough, but really wants to stay a half pace behind me the whole way down the lane. So I tap him with my in hand whip, and he happily speeds up....and then I can't stop him. It's not as if he's running away with me or anything, but he just blithely ignores the eggbutt snaffle in his mouth and tries to keep trotting into eternity. Thanks horse.

But we looked damn good. No photos yet though, the parentals don't arrive until tomorrow. Bonner's mom got a few and of course the show photographers were there so I hope to end up with a couple nice ones.

After the jog, I hopped on (after changing out of my dress). I was just planning on giving him a light work, but it took us longer to get in sync than I thought it would. The heat got to me a bit, and since my ride time is 4:10 on Friday, I need to get used to it. Finally, at the end I got over the heat bump and he got over the 'I don't want to flex today' thing and we got ourselves nicely in sync. Hopefully we will have a bit better time of it tomorrow, having refreshed ourselves of the concept of dressage today.

Now, I could have waited until tomorrow to walk the cross country course, but that's one of my favorite things of the weekend. I love the discovery of new things to jump and the anticipation of cross country day. So I set out to walk the 9 minute, 14 second course.

Wow, it's long.

It's also lovely, set primarily in a beautiful emerald field. I can see why spectators like this event, as you can see the majority of the action from one vantage point. The course winds back and forth at least 4 times through this field. Now, this also makes it difficult to figure out which jump is yours and where you're going after. I definitely accidentally walked the first three jumps of the CIC** before realizing my mistake. I also got lost at least twice trying to find a jump, became confused due to some roping, and almost gave up while climbing a steep hill at the end. But an hour later I finally finished and I am so glad to be here.

(The fields of the Horse Park of New Jersey.)

I'm going to try and get a coursewalk up at some point, but that is not tonight. I will say that I am very excited about jumping the bank complex, the coffin, the brush fence, the trakehner, and most of all, the keyhole! The course looks great with lots of galloping room. My main concern right now is that the ground is pretty harder, and there is no longer any forecast for rain. I really hope they aerovate the ground.

Tomorrow will begin with our coursewalk at 8 am with Mike. At 2 pm, my parents arrive so I'll go pick them up and then from 4:30 to 5:30 is ring desensitization, so I'll go ride then.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Down to the Wire


It's been a whirlwind of a week, but it's almost over now.

The horses are currently en route to New Jersey. Heather stopped overnight in Illinois and texted us that they each had huge 20 x 24 stalls to stretch their legs in, so that's great. They left yesterday morning, so it's a very long drive. Dante will probably lose some weight on the trip, but I planned for that and we managed to actually make him slightly over on his condition. He left Texas probably a 4.75 and he'll probably arrive in Jersey as a 4.25, all muscle and no fat. Perfect for carting my butt around a nine minute course.

(Dante shows off his fancy new earnet during our last trot set.)

He was pretty good last week, but we weren't quite clicking in the dressage on the final day. That's okay; everyone has off days. Hopefully we had our off day and now we will be completely on for Friday's dressage test. He was awesome jumping (although I made a few mistakes) but I'm confident that we will have a great show jumping round. The goal is to finally have a clear round at this level! Then, on the track on Saturday, we did sprints down the long side of the track. He was okay for the first couple sprints of each set, but every time Maisie crept up on his side, he'd get mad and grab the bit and haul off with me. By the end, he was genuinely running away with me down the long sides, which was a new experience for me (with this horse anyways). I'm thinking that in the future it would be a better idea for us to do sprints by ourselves..... Silly thoroughbreds.

After the gallop on Saturday morning, the vets came out and Dr. Anderson watched Dante jog up. He loved his condition, said it was the best he'd ever looked, and pronounced his front end sounder than ever. (We've had problems with Dante's feet before.) The hind end, while completely sound, seemed to have some stiffness, so we decided to have Dr. Willard perform acupuncture. That's a new one for Dante and me and I was fascinate as the wires were hooked up all over them. Dante seemed to fall asleep in the crossties during his session, so I know he was enjoying it! When I get to Jersey, I'm going to find the masseuse and Dante will get daily massages to keep that hind end loose. I've also got my Back on Track sheet ready to use, and Heather brought the Equissager and the magnetic therapy blanket, so Dante will get a turn in all of those.

(The lad falls asleep during the acupuncture session. The vet's assistant was joking about how 'crazy' he was.)

On the home front, I've merely got four finals until I am boarding a plane for Jersey early Wednesday morning. Two today (Monday) and two tomorrow, then I'm done! I still need to do laundry, pack, and dye my hair on top of studying, but it'll all happen. I'd rather take a final than study for it, so most of the painful parts are over now. Then my flight leaves DFW at 6 am, meaning I'll probably have to wake up at about 3:30 am to go to the airport, but I arrive in Philadelphia at 10:30 am and it's only a quick 1 hour drive to the horse park!

Jersey Fresh, here comes Area V. Are you ready?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss

This week has gone by in a bit of a blur, though part of that may be lack of sleep. With Mike and Heather gone to Rolex (more on that later), Dante and I were on our own. I think we had a pretty good week, with a 2 x 30 trot set on Thursday, two dressage schoolings on Wednesday and Friday, a jump school and a 1 x 20 trot set on Saturday, and a wonderful 3 x 8 gallop this morning in the only rain-free hour of the day we have had here. Seriously, it has been raining all the live long day. Not just raining, but monsooning and hailing. We need the rain desperately though. While it rained quite a lot last Sunday and Monday, by yesterday the ground was hard again. Then it rained again overnight and stopped right when I woke up this morning and we got a good gallop in on perfect ground before the lightning came back.

(The best weather that Gold Chip saw all day.)

And of course, I have spent the last four days watching Rolex and it has been awesome. I am so awed by the talent of the Brits; seems like they are out for a lark instead of winning a four star. Tiana's test was lovely, and although she had an unfortunate test cross country, I thought that they were the mistakes of a green pair, and definitely looked capable of tackling another four star course. I have no doubt we'll see them again next year, probably winning the whole thing this time. I was in love with Hannah Sue's cross country ride on St. Barths, who made easy work of the deceivingly difficult course. And I nearly cried along with Sinead (and probably everyone watching) after her clear show jumping round that moved her up to the podium at her first Rolex. So proud of our young up-and-comers!

And of course, I am incredibly happy for my assistant trainer Heather Morris, who completed her first Rolex this weekend with the talented Slate River. Her dressage test was poised, Roe looked like a machine on cross country, and her show jumping round was perfect. Go Heather and Roe!

Of course, now I get to compete against Heather's two star ride, Sportsfield Maisie Grey at Jersey. :-)

Oh, and up next: the week from hell. I have one week of classes left and two days of finals. Here's my to-do list, for both packing and classes:

  1. Machine Design test tomorrow
  2. 20 page Machine Design group paper due tomorrow
  3. Machine Design presentation on Wed
  4. Two Heat Transfer homeworks due
  5. Paper for Thermal Projects due
  6. One pre-lab and one post-lab for Lab II
  7. Two chapters of Machine Design to read
  8. Four chapters of Marketing to read
  9. Several sections of Heat Transfer to read
  10. Study for four finals packed into two days
  11. Four finals next Monday and Tuesday
  12. Pack for Jersey, both horse and rider
  13. Clip Dante: face, poll, feet, legs, tail
  14. Go to Dover and look for new breeches and a jog chain
  15. Accessorize jog outfit
  16. Go to the laundromat and wash Dante's XC boots
  17. Dye my hair
Hmmm....maybe that's not so bad now that I've written it all down....

Monday, April 25, 2011

Success Is 90% Perspiration....

Dante and I definitely put out some perspiration this past weekend at Holly Hill. After dropping into the fifties in Dallas early in the week, we were definitely a bit wilted in the 90 degree temperatures in Louisiana. It was intensely gorgeous all weekend, with blue skies and fluffy clouds, and while it was hot, breezes kept it from being unbearable. I broke out the shorts after my rides, attempting to get rid of the completely white legs that we riders always seem to have.

(The trailer leaves Gold Chip.)

We left Gold Chip around noon where is was about 55 degrees and drizzling. I arrived at Holly Hill at four. Dante arrived around five and I got on to have a pre-competition dressage ride. Dante was a little stiff on the grass at first, but he loosened up and I got some good work out of him. He felt very relaxed, which was great, even walking to and from the arena where he often gets excited. I'm hoping this will carry over to Jersey.

The next day, we had dressage at 1:30. It was quite warm, and while Dante seemed largely unaffected, it definitely made me tired quicker. I often have a hard time transitioning to the heat (needing water, Gatorade, feeling woozy) when it turns to summer, and well, Texas surprisingly hasn't made the transition yet this year. I was definitely tired after a few minutes of sitting trot, when at home I had been able to do a full 30-45 minutes no problem. The black coat doesn't help!

I was much happier with our dressage test here than at Poplar. Dante was very relaxed, although he did get a little tense when he became scared of the photographer (who was simply sitting mildly close to the ring). Really Dante? It's a MAN. A sitting man. You see those all the time! Definitely is a facepalm moment. Luckily, I had time to circle (although he promptly spooked at the photographer AGAIN), and he mostly relaxed again before going in the ring.

I was pretty pleased with Dante's test for the most part. I completely botched the second medium trot by asking Dante out of the corner instead of waiting until he was straight, and he broke pretty badly. We also jigged in the extended walk. However, I thought our walk to canter transitions were very good, and I managed to get a real medium walk before picking up our first canter, which I'm proud of because he usually jigs there. He did anticipate the medium canters, but he didn't grab the bit and listened when I asked for him to come back, so I felt they were good. Our halts were pretty square apparently. I can feel up front, but not behind yet, so I have to rely on witnesses. Overall, I felt it was a much better test, and definitely more relaxed, although he did get a bit tense at the very end of the test. I felt that the test was going to score under forty, so I was happy.

Well, it didn't. However, only two horses placed under forty. Everyone else was in the forties. We were in a three way tie for sixth after dressage with a 44.6. Everyone was very much upset about the scores being so high, but I couldn't get myself worked up about it except to feel bad for my barnmate who got a 50.4. According to all those watching, she really didn't deserve that score, and even though she made some mistakes, it also should have been a qualifying score. But since all of the other scores were jacked up high, she very much got the short end of the stick. Mike thought the scores were about six to eight points too high, which is quite a lot!

I walked cross country later on Friday afternoon and discovered it was exactly the same as last year when I moved up. While I was initially disappointed, I was glad to have a second crack at those stupid stumps! There's a line that's made up of a big tree stump, then three strides bending left to a large narrow log with a deceivingly large drop on the back side. Last year, Jessica and I actually schooled this question right before Poplar and Dante was fabulous through them. At the event, our first Intermediate, I didn't quite get Dante back enough from the gallop before hand, got him a little deep to the stump, and he couldn't quite get his legs out of the way in time. He hung a leg and we almost ate it on the backside so we had to circle before the B element. So this year I was happy to have another attempt.

Cross country on Saturday was fabulous. Dante was very jazzed up in warm up. We were in the startbox and the starter said "5...4....3...2...1...HOLD!" Poor Dante was soooo confused, he was ready to leap forward and instead I forced him out the side of the box. I'm very glad they had caught me before letting me go though. We waited while they rebuilt the fence that had caused the fall (both rider and horse were fine by the way), jumped a warm up fence, and then were let out on course. Dante was excellent, but he was very confused as to why I wasn't letting him gallop at his pace (FAST) between the fences. I basically kept him on the same pace as I would have on my approach to the fence. He tackled the entire course with gusto, including the stumps. The most interesting jump we had was definitely the Weldon's Wall. Normally Dante jumps the Weldon's the same as any other fence. The one at Holly Hill is right off a sharp turn, immediately after that big drop from the stumps. It's hard to get the right gallopy pace coming up to the Weldon's. Dante started backing off a bit, and I got an off spot to the fence, so I thought he was going to chip, since that's what most horses do with Weldon's Walls. So I sat back and prepared for the chip. And Dante took off, and cleared the whole damn thing, untrimmed brush and all. I almost fell off on the back side, I was so surprised. I'm sure he was like "Hello, are you awake up there?!?" Luckily, the rest of the course we were totally in sync, and though slow, it was an intentional slow, as I'm saving his big run for Jersey. We came in exactly thirty seconds slow, on a course that is notoriously very tight on time (i.e. no one ever makes it).

I iced him twice and tried to walk him, but he was much more interested in grazing than walking. Then he proceeded to spook hard several times at one of the vendor's tents, so I knew he had tons of energy later. I think putting him on beet pulp was a great idea. His weight is up, his energy up, and he's not ridiculously spooky. Mostly. He has a redhead moment every now and then, but most fit horses do! I actually like that, as it shows he's still full of energy after cross country.

(Dante looking super shiny and completely uninterested in posing.)

(Gold Chip gathering between Heather's trailer and the Fletchers' Big Bertha.)

The next morning we show jumped early in the morning. I've got to say I love many things about Holly Hill. The tiny stadium ring is not one of them. Even Mike's ring is bigger, and I think Mike has a pretty small ring. The stadium courses always seem a bit wonky to me too, but I think much of that is because of the tiny ring. I would LOVE to see them make a change and put the Sunday show jumping in the large grass ring that they use for dressage on Friday and Saturday. Greenwood does this, and it works great. The problem I find with the tiny ring is that it's hard to make tight turn after tight turn to these jumps with no let up and no chance to find the correct pace before the jump. For instance, we started with a line across the diagonal, tight turn right to an oxer on the end of the arena, tight turn right to an oxer on the beginning of the next long side, bending right six strides to a one stride double across the diagonal, rollback left to a vertical on the opposite diagonal, bending line to a liverpool, around the short end (which might as well be a rollback), a triple combination across the diagonal and bending right six strides to a skinny (which buried you in the corner), sharp right turn to an oxer on the end, and then another right turn to a final oxer on the other long side.

So yeah, a LOT of tight turns. And Dante was a wild man in the ring. He was fabulous in warm up, but the warm up was a lot bigger. In the ring, I just couldn't see my distance every time, and missed quite badly, burying us on both oxers at the ends of the rings, the vertical off the rollback, and missed mildly coming into the triple combination. Of course, Dante jumps out of his skin and saves us each time, but has a rail by brushing the first of the triple combination. I was initially very concerned about how not well I rode, but the more I thought about it, the more I think it was a product of the tiny ring. Obviously I need to get better, but I think I need to make a mental adjustment in my riding if the ring is small. Dante needs a good pace to jump Intermediate show jumps, and I need to make sure he maintains that pace through the turns in these small rings, as well doesn't cut corners. Luckily Jersey will be show jumping in a large ring, and I believe I will be much better in there. The course did prove to be tough, as only one horse (one of the most careful jumpers of the group) jumped clear.

We finished up fourth, which I was pretty pleased with, considering we went so slow and had a rail. I wouldn't have finished higher than fourth without the rail, but would have finished first with no time on cross country.

In any case, I really think we did some good practice at Holly Hill this weekend. My goals for this week is to basically maintain what we have. Mike and Heather will both be at Rolex all week, so I'm on my own. I plan on riding mostly in the afternoon to get us (especially me) used to some heat. I'm easing off the lateral work to make sure he maintains his soundness through the next three weeks. We've had some monster thunderstorms yesterday and today, so I have hopes that the field will be good to gallop on Sunday. If not, we'll go to the track.