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!)