Monday, December 24, 2012

How Puck Happened

Barb Gualco, owner of Sir Caletto (Puck's sire), asked me to compose a brief history of how Puck came to be. As I always do when given a writing assignment, I will share what I wrote with you!
Sir Caletto (c)Silverhorne Sporthorses

Wolfnbankersclothn (aka, 'Wolfn') is an off the track thoroughbred rescue from the MidAtlantic Horse Rescue. I adopted her in January 2007; she was exactly the horse I was looking for at the time: a talented thoroughbred mare who had raced a long time (3 years, in Wolfn's case) and came out sound on the other side. The intent was to have a horse to retrain, compete as far as she could go, and, eventually, have a mare that had what it takes to be the "mother of champions." I got all of these things out of Wolfn, but maybe not for as long as I would have liked.

Wolfn at her last competition. (c) Xpress Foto

She was a blast to retrain. She took to cross country immediately and became very competitive in show jumping and dressage. Unfortunately, an old racing injury kept Wolfn from ever trailering well, thus preventing her from ever really hitting her stride at a competition. The injury in question was a broken sesamoid bone. Although she had been given adequate time off before she returned to racing, and the x-rays at the time of her vet check gave every indication it would not be a problem, horses are (as we all know!) more complicated then that. Although she never once has taken a lame step in her life, the vibrations of the trailer are enough to irritate the injury, sending her flying off the handle, kicking the trailer violently.
Wolfn's lovely trot. (c) Xpress Foto

In the Fall of 2008, I decided it was time to breed her in the hope it might settle her down. My Intermediate horse was battling soundness issues, Wolfn wasn't trailering well to shows, and I needed to think about my next prospect. I consulted Gerd Zuther, a dressage clinician who knew Wolfn and I well, but more importantly, knows all there is to know about quality German stallions, as he has been an inspector for the Hanoverian Verband for decades. Gerd sat me down with the Hanoverian Stallion Directory and we went, page by page, through the entire catalog. He regaled me with tales of soundness issues, questionable inspection venues, and (very appropriately)  kept turning the page if the stallion couldn't jump! In the end, he chose two stallions for me to make a final decision. He said, "Choose either of these two, and you cannot choose wrong!" In a way, Sir Caletto was actually the underdog for me, since he was a gray, and I was terrified of having another gray horse!! But I took some time and really dug into both horse's history, personality, conformation, progeny, pedigree--everything I could find--and found that Sir Caletto came easily to the forefront.

In 2009, I moved out to Maryland for my first job, and brought my pregnant mare with me. She stayed with my trainer, Eric Dierks, while I struggled to find somewhere she could foal out. The thoroughbred barns wouldn't take a show horse, and the warmblood breeders wouldn't take a thoroughbred! Finally, I approached Hilltop Farm, the best of the best, and they said they would happily take my money!! That Fall, I took Wolfn to the GOV Mare Performance Test at High Point Hanoverians, where she showed everyone what a quality TB looks like, placing 2nd in the Jumping Performance test and finishing 4th overall in the Mare Performance Test.
Proof from Wolfn's GOV inspection. Very bad manners on my part. 

On May 5, 2010, Streetlight Manifesto was born while the barn staff were distracted by a colicking mare a few stalls down. Wolfn wanted her privacy (she was about a week late), and as soon as she saw her chance, she took it! 'Puck' was a completely healthy, normal baby.
Fresh squeezed!
At his GOV inspection in August of 2010, Puck was recognized as a "Premium Foal." He received very positive comments from the judges including, "It is surprising, considering his Jumping pedigree, but this horse has an excellent trot!"
Running with Mom
After the inspection.

Wolfn returned to competition for the 2011 season back in Wisconsin. Unfortunately the trailer issue had not abated, and much welding and many stitches later, I finally gave up on Wolfn's show career. Every time we made it to a show, she would be sore, and I would be a raw bundle of nerves. So she enjoys life in a pasture, and I focus on Puck. He is taking to working life easily. At 2 and a half, he already happily gives pony rides to my able-bodied teenage assistant, Haley. We know he's ready for more responsibility, but we've got lots of time. My goal is to have him walk-trot by March, when Gerd Zuther will be in town. How great it will be to show him what he helped me make!

I have high hopes for Puck. Wolfn had more talent than my Intermediate horse ever had, but her potential went sadly unrealized, and Sir Caletto was able to add soundness and sense to her fire and athleticism. Puck is the best of them both, and I know that he will be a force in the eventing world in the years to come.
Puck as a two year old. So sweet!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Then and Now

The day Zahra arrived on the trailer from Virginia, we let her loose in the small indoor to let her stretch her legs a little bit, and I snapped this photo with my phone to show everyone my beautiful new horse:

One year later, my dad and I thought it would be neat to get a duplicate picture to see how much she's changed. So, my dad grabbed his exact same coat, and we put Zahra is the exact same (general) area, and I stood in the exact same (general) area, and snapped a few shots. 

I think the resulting photo comparison is pretty cool. She's bulked up her muscle tone a ton, her coat is nice and shiny, maybe even added an inch of height...? But generally she looks like a grown up horse, whereas in the first photo, she was still a bit juvenile. Also, I used a real camera this year!! This may have to become an annual tradition! 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Gerd Zuther and the Triplets

Gerd Zuther and the Triplets. 
Epic clinic, or epic band name? 
You decide.

This summer I have had the privilege of helping my friend Caryn start her "triplets." These three 3-year-olds were the result of a very successful embryo transfer of Caryn's Grand Prix Hanoverian imported from Germany, Salope, and international Grand Prix superstar, the Oldenburg (approved Hanoverian) Diamond Hit, who is standing at stud in Germany. Their breeding, build, movement, and temperament all speak to successful careers in dressage. How successful?  Well, I am but a humble eventer, who doesn't even know how to ask for any of the upper level movements, but I think in the right hands, there is nothing these fillies can't do. And in a less experienced amateur's hands? I'm pretty sure they'd still be winning national accolades.

The work this summer culminated in last weekend's Gerd Zuther clinic. For those who don't know Gerd, I'm not sure I can adequately describe what an amazing teacher he is! He is certified by the German Equine Federation (FN) as a "Reitlehrer FN” as a riding instructor and trainer for the three Olympic equestrian disciplines – dressage, jumping and eventing – with riding accomplishments that include multiple Grand Prix successes. His primary focus has always been training, with many of his students going on to compete at the Olympic level, including most recently Nina Lingon of Thailand.

awesome horses + awesome trainer = great success

Day 1 saw my horse, Zahra get her little behind handed to her by Gerd. Before the lesson even began, he had me hop off to show me where she lacked muscle in her hind end. When I got back on, he laid out some cavalettis and we spent the next hour working those undeveloped muscles, both with the cavalettis and flatwork gymnastics. She was completely wiped out by the end, but we had a good plan for the winter.

The first of the triplets, Diamond Dureza, was up next. She. Was. Perfect. Walk-trot-canter in a swinging rhythm with a supple back, and we even began introducing some more advanced stuff, like head to the wall leg-yields. She took it all in stride! It was a lovely lesson, on a lovely horse, and I am not sorry to say that this means Caryn will be taking over the ride on her after this! Although she has been such a pleasure to work with, I am excited that Caryn can finally begin to enjoy one of these girls after 4+ years of waiting!

Day 2 began as soon as I arrived at the farm. I came down to audit a bit before my ride, and no sooner than I'd sat down then Gerd called me out of the audience to help with a supremely talented but occasionally naughty 6 year old who refused to relax into his flying lead changes. Horse and rider were getting too frustrated with each other, so Gerd had me hop on. (Cue awkward moment when you realize you've never done a flying lead change outside of a jump saddle, and in jumping style). Going left to right, he'd let out a big buck, and right to left he would try to kick the rider's leg (and sometimes, he succeeded!!). A few bucks and kicks later, we finally got ONE quiet, correct flying lead change, at which point Gerd had me bring him back to the walk to do some half-steps to finish him off. Except, fatal flaw, the eventer had no idea how to ask for half-steps!! So, I just tried to hold him in front and time my leg aids to Gerd's whip, and we managed to get a few!! 

Next was my ride on Z. I could feel that she began the day still a bit tired. We focused on suppleing gymnastics for the whole ride, like double shallow loops down the long side, 4 loop serpentines, and riding off the track, lengthening down the long sides, flexing in the corners, but straight and sitting trot on the short sides. The final exercise proved to be too much for her exhausted little body: 3 loop serpentine, change of lead over centerline. She just could not consistently pick up the correct lead, in either direction! When we finally came to the cool-down, she could barely lift her back legs! So, hind end strength will be a huge priority over the winter. Clearly the little 3' jumps are not enough to make her actually engage those muscles!! What was really neat was how much I was able to push on her. Here she is, only 4 years old, but doing the same sorts of exercises my Intermediate horse Sgilti would have been doing when he was in his prime! So even though she struggled a bit, she's still on the accelerated track for greatness.

After my ride, I was completely wiped out. I wasn't entirely sure where I was going to find the energy for two more horses, so I was doing my best to relax and audit, when again Gerd called on me to get on the horse in the lesson! This was a more experienced pair, working on Prix St. Georges movements, but they weren't making it out of the warm-up because the rider was way over-thinking a straightforward walking leg-yield exercise. So I hopped on and did the exercise, and then demonstrated what the rider had been doing (with Gerd's help... I hadn't been able to tell the problem from where I was sitting). 

I got two good take-aways from these two quick helping rides-- first of all, Gerd thinks I'm a competant enough rider that he'll make me get on these well trained horses (squee!!), and second, I've never in my life ridden a horse so well connected as those two. Something to aspire to I suppose!

After that was the second triplet, Diamond Caliente. Unfortunately, she can be a bit of a hot tamale on the lounge line occasionally, and today was one of those occasions. Even though I feel that she could have stepped up to any challenge Gerd had given us, he chose to take it a little easier on her and we focused on developing a better connection. This was definitely an area we needed help with, so it was still a great lesson, and she was swinging and soft by the end of the ride.

And finally Triplet #3, Diamond Dolce. Gerd picked up right away that she was (currently) the least balanced, and so we worked in short spurts, doing lots of transitions and walk breaks so that we didn't push her past her fitness level. She (and every baby) needs to enjoy their work before the "real work" can begin. Our work focused on building up her strength and endurance so that she could better carry my weight, and it gave us a good game plan for moving forward.

People kept asking me during the clinic which is my favorite to ride, but the truth is, I like each of them for different reasons. They are all so athletic, they will excel wherever their lives take them. Hopefully I can do my best to keep up with them as their lives progress!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Midsouth, and a Fond Farewell to 2012

Midsouth was our final show for the 2012 season, and although Zahra and I were poised to have our best showing of the season, it was not meant to be. Dressage, I was horribly late to warm-up. After less than ten minutes, we did our first canter circling the ring before we entered. The test was tense, we go the wrong lead at first try going both directions, but I still actually had quite a bit to be proud of! Zahra is a high strung four year old. She has boundless energy and enthusiasm. So the fact that she could just march into that ring with no warm up and go to work is still pretty impressive! Nothing fazes this horse, and I think with a little more discipline she'll be unstoppable in the sand box!

Show Jumping was not all I could have hoped for either. We flattened going into fence two and pulled a rail, then pilot error between fence 4&5 put us on a rotten line to have fence 5 down as well. I need to work this winter on slowing my emotions down in the show jumping ring, and supporting with my elbow to keep her from flattening. Ledges, here we come?

But thankfully, no one events for dressage or show jumping. Cross country is what its all about, and we completely smoked that!! This girl knows her job, and she loves it! Check out the helmet cam on our youtube page. Ears forward the whole way round! I wanted to push her a bit faster this ride, and she did it easily, coming back to me nicely before fences and accelerating away from them. At Otter we had 0.4 of a time penalty. This time we were just 2 seconds away from too fast!! A few jumps I really set her up to, while others I let her choose her own spot (to varying degrees of success). I think its important she learn now how to take care of herself out there!

Eric Dierks coached me over the weekend, and it was fabulous getting his professional eye on us, giving us good things to work on for the winter. His knowledge and guidance has completely shaped all aspect of my riding, and imbued in me the passion for correct and methodical training. It's never been about winning for me, only about getting the best ride I could, and that drive comes from his early guidance. So when Eric said he agreed with me that Z could move up to Training next year, I was thrilled!!! She's mastered the basics. Time to up the ante!

See you in 2013!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

First Kim Severson Clinic

Organizer: (noun) Person who must be everything to everyone.
(c) Shorthorse Studios
How many clinics have I been to over the years? That's probably a scary number. But this clinic was different. This time I was the organizer. I wasn't the host, because the lovely Cindy Bonamarte graciously offered her wonderful facility, Geneva Equestrian, to us. And I wasn't the financial backer. Thankfully WDCTA was there with the capital to pay for all the fees while checks were cashed. Nope, all I had to do was gather all the pieces of intel, make sure everyone gave me all the things I needed, and then run around like a chicken with my head cut off to make sure Kim was where she needed to be, when she needed to be there, with appropriate beverage in hand, and that all the rails were in their cups!

When I started the process of getting the clinic together, I promised the Southwest Chapter that I would NOT need any volunteers!! This phenomenal group of women work themselves to the bone bringing in the best opportunities for riders in our local dressage community, and they seemed a little leery of stretching themselves too thin. But have no fear! I promised. We eventers do clinics a little differently! Thankfully, my group of riders and auditors did not disappoint me, and there was more than enough support to get it all done. Especially grateful to Cindy and her barn crew for getting jumps where they needed to be, organizing dinner Saturday night and even buying the riders lunch on Saturday! And of course, this clinic would not have come to be without the tireless support of  Donna Thomas, Mary Hanneman, Caryn Vesperman, Angela Genin, and DeAnn Howard (and really everyone else too!). Thank you so much for holding my hand through all the in's and out's of clinic organization and always remaining upbeat despite my constant barrage of questions!!
How I passed the time, waiting for Kim's flight to get in...

There were no shortages of bumps in the road-- like Kim's flight nearly getting cancelled Friday night due to a faulty airplane part, but finally making it into O'Hare by midnight. The farm was a full hour and a half away, so we went to bed just as Phillip Dutton started off cross country at the Boekelo Nations Cup in the Netherlands. Neither of us waited up to see how he did (just as well, since unfortunately he popped off at the Coffin). Her flight out luckily was uneventful-- a work colleague flying out of O'Hare that night was taken in to the basement because of a tornado threat!

Yes, it rained a bit. But the horses were super!
(c) ShortHorse Studios
Although we avoided any tornadoes the weather over the weekend was not terribly cooperative either. We were constantly under threat for a huge storm; Madison got pounded by rain, Chicago got pounded by rain, but right in the middle, Lake Geneva thankfully never got anything more than a steady drizzle. Both days we pondered, would we ride outside or inside? But both days we toughed it out, and people used studs they never even knew they had, buried at the bottom of their stud kits! We broke up the bigger groups so that people had less time to stand out in the rain, and I was very grateful to all the riders who were happy to "go with the flow."

Kim's teaching style was wonderful! She understands that there is no "one size fits all" approach to horses, and was willing to engage in a conversation with every rider. Each rider had their own goals to achieve during the lessons, and Kim made sure they succeeded. She was very easy going, easy to talk to, but also very firm about what she wanted you to do. Everyone I spoke to had wonderful things to say about how she changed their riding for the better. For me personally, it was realizing that my horse is running around with her nose in her chest, and that I need to get her up before the jump, and stay stronger in my core on the landing so she doesn't land and buck. I'm glad winter is coming since it should take me about that long to fix the problem!!

Head's up, Zahra!!
(c) ShortHorse Studios
On the whole, I think Kim impressed all of us very much, but also, I think we all made a good impression on her, so she will be back!! She commented on how nice it was to see so many riders so well mounted-- everyone had the right horse for what they wanted to do. We'll be working out the final dates in the next month or two, but keep your eyes peeled for an announcement about a clinic in the Madison area for early April. And next time, I'm getting someone ELSE to coordinate meals!

Dressage Horse for Sale!

Since much of my readership is of the dressage persuasion, I told Kim I would let everyone know about her wonderful dressage horse she has for sale! A good friend of the family (*ahem* sister from another mister), Cynthia Weldon, has spoken to me about this horse before and what a wonderful dressage horse he is, so I can confidently say that he really IS all he's cracked up to be!

Photo courtesy Kim Severson Eventing
Chopin is a 10 year old Hanoverian shown through 4th level, with a 3rd level championship last year. He's currently working on his piaffe and passage, and tempi changes. He is talented enough for a professional/YR, but steady enough for an AA (he lives at an eventing barn! Nothing can spook this horse!!) If you're interested, I encourage you to check him out here: (horse's name is Fantasy Impromptu/Chopin). Kim said to feel free to ask Gerd Zuther about the horse during his upcoming clinic at Touchstone Farm Nov 2-4, as he knows the horse well!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Otter Creek Photos

Just a selection for your viewing enjoyment! All photos (c)Xpress Foto

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Otter Creek Fall

Otter Creek is by far my favorite show. Everyone is so nice, the facility's are all top-notch, the jumps are all immaculately built... and the party ain't bad either! Zahra continues to improve, adding only a little time to an unnecessarily tense dressage test. The comments were good, and basically promised better scores if only the horse wouldn't buck so much...

We have a schooling show this weekend, so we'll be getting into the sandbox TWICE to practice some ring craft, as well as a trip around the showjumping ring!

Stay tuned, Richland and Otter photos coming soon... :)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Last Janet Foy Clinic of the Season

I guess Fall really is coming. Janet Foy, international FEI "I" judge, will not be coming back to our barn until 2013, so the season is already beginning to come to a close.

I rode with Janet four times this year, just once for the first three clinics, and then twice this last weekend. Riding with her was a great way to "check our temperature" to see whether or not we were on track. And if we weren't, she would steer us back and leave us with good homework for the next time. It was Janet who told me it was time to start cracking down on Zahra back in July, saying "You can't think of her as a baby. Unless maybe a baby crocodile." HA! So true! This weekends big take away message: "This horse has quite the ego. So every ride, you need to feed that ego, so the next ride she feels confident she can do it again." This is something I almost take for granted in my jump schools, but need to remember on the flat as well.

Saturday evening, I got the chance to help Caryn show off her wonderful green-broke triplets to Janet and a crowd of some two dozen WDCTA members. In the interest of time, I only rode one, Zisa, but she really was the rockstar of the night!! She seemed to thrive with the crowd atmosphere.  I was so proud! She is going to LOVE the show ring!!

Earlier this year, Janet published a book, "Dressage for the (Not So) Perfect Horse." I've been reading through my copy between clinics, and I think it should be required reading for all eventers, since none of us ever have owned or ever will own a perfect dressage horse!!! That's just the nature of our sport! We're here to run and jump, but we'd like to give away as few points as possible right from the start. There was a subheading to one of her chapters that has really, not only defined my training with Zahra so far, but also kept me sane when it would seem easier to give up:  "Every new evasion is a sign your training is progressing."

Thank you Janet!!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Richland Recap

Well, I have to say I'm very pleased with my little girl. Unfortunately our final score can not tell you how good and brave she was!! Richland was very big, with lots of "atmoshpere" and stuff to spook at, but Zahra soldiered on. She got a little sick of the show grounds by Sunday (read: breaking everything she could drag into her stall), but was absolutely the happiest horse alive rocking around the cross country! I went back to watch our helmet cam, and her ears were pricked forward the entire round... even locking onto a few Training, Intermediate, and Advanced jumps!! She definitely feels like she has what it takes. Of course, I did say "our score can't tell you how good she was" so it was no rose garden... ;-)

Zahra's still very green, so we had plenty of "green moments" such as:
-leaving the dressage ring twice during the Young Event Horse Test (this was my fault... I warmed her up too long)
-leaving the show jumping ring twice during the Young Event Horse Test (that was her fault)
She scored REALLY WELL in confirmation--basically the only phase she couldn't be naughty in!! And the comments from the other phases I think accurately represented where she's at in her training-- a bit downhill in her balance, and a bit naughty! She has a bit more growing to do, both physically and emotionally.

So, learning from what happened during the YEH, during the actual show I 
-cut off the last third of the dressage ring to make sure she stayed in. The judge was either kind or didn't really notice. She gave me a 6 for "falling in."
-bought a bit burr to use in show jumping. It kept her in the ring, but backed her off of the jumps, so she had one rail, and I decided I wouldn't use it for cross country.
-so she started to do her mad dash to the left about 8 strides before the second water complex. It wasn't ACTUALLY fence related, and I think she *might* have made it between the flags, albeit on her face (there was a tiny step down into the water that I don't think she would have seen if we went full tilt)... but regardless, I circled, and it was so close that they gave me a stop. 

Moving forward, we need to practice some more with the bit burr so she gets used to it and we can move on with our training (without it!). I see it as only a temporary tool to fix a very temporary problem. 

Onwards and upwards, can't wait for Otter Creek! Photos coming soon!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Good Beat and Easy to [Ride] to.

Whenever I think I can safely get away with it, I like to listen to some music while I ride. Usually its a single ear bud, so that I can somewhat be aware of the outside world, but sometimes I'm pro-active enough to plug into the stereo. I have five playlists that I maintain, updating them constantly, both with the latest and greatest, and by reaching back into the annals of history, whether it was my own childhood (yeah 90s!!) or further back, into the 1960s, when the Gods of Rock n Roll walked the earth. So, here's a little sampler of my personal favorite artists for each possibile situation, plus one song that I feel really epitomizes what I like in each playlist. Now you know what I'm rocking out to when I ride past with my ear bud in! I hope you enjoy, and PLEASE leave feedback of a song or musician I should check out!! I'm always looking for more!!

What I look for in a dressage song is a steady tempo that never gets hectic. It doesn't need to be "relaxing"-- I want it to energize me, without distracting me.
(c) Xpress Foto

Arcade Fire
Bob Dylan
The Civil Wars
The Decemberists
Mumford & Sons
Nickel Creek
Phantom Planet
Pink Martini
They Might Be Giants

My favorite song of this playlist easily goes to Zorbing, by Stornaway.

Cross Country:
Cross country music and trot set music could be considered very similar, but cross country music needs that extra little something to inspire boldness. Yes its up tempo, yes its a lot of pop, but its also FIERCE. It has that certain something that allows you to throw your heart over the jump and know that your horse will follow.

(c) Xpress Foto
Alex Clare
Black Keys
Daft Punk
Fatboy Slim
Gogol Bordello
Lady Gaga
Led Zeppelin
Less Than Jake
Rage Against the Machine
Streetlight Manifesto

My favorite song in this playlist TODAY is Elements and Things, by Tony Joe White, but historically Ready Steady Go by Oakenfold has been my go-to XC jam.

Show Jumping:
Show jumping is all up tempo, all upbeat, and nothing frantic! Just like the phase itself, the playlist combines elements of dressage and cross country. I especially like songs with a really steady but pronounced base line to help me remember not to quit riding my tempo!

Across the Universe Soundtrack
(c) Xpress Foto
Chicago Soundtrack
The Clash
The Doors
Jimi Hendrix
Minus the Bear
Modest Mouse
Moulin Rouge Soundtrack
No Doubt
Reel Big Fish
White Stripes

Picking a clear favorite for this playlist is probably the hardest!! I love all of these songs so much, and this is the playlist I'll put on when I just need a good pick me up, so it sees a lot of use! For today, I'll go with Shake it Out by Manchester Orchestra.

Trot Set:
Trot sets are what eventers use to get their horses in shape for the rigors of cross country. The length and intensity of these rides depend on a number of factors, chiefly level of competition, level of fitness, and age. But no matter what the regimen for the day is, you're going to be doing a lot of two-point work (where you hold yourself up out of the saddle, off of the horses back). So quads, calves and core!! This music has to be almost like cross country in its get up and go to keep you out of the saddle when you start to feel the burn, but doesn't need quite the same level of intensity. Up beat trance music works well here, so you can be in the zone but let your mind wander...

David Bowie
The Dead Weather
(c) ShortHorse Studios
Dropkick Murphey's
Rolling Stones
Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Currently, I love Rhino Jockey, by Amon Tobin. You can't help but dig down deep and push a little harder when you hear that song!

Trail Ride:
(c) O'Shea Eventing
Pretty simple. Low key, relaxing, beautiful, happy music. I like to throw in a few down tempo songs as well in case I'm feeling introspective, but mostly, you could listen to these songs with an iced tea on the porch in summer time, or while you wander through the woods with a pup and a pon.

Alison Krause
The Head and the Heart
Jack Johnson
The Lumineers
Michael Franti
Motorcycle Diaries Soundtrack
Rodrigo y Gabriella
The Wallflowers

Long Time Traveller by the Wailin' Jennys is the winner of this playlist!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Zahra's First Show!

Finally the stars align! Zahra has been ready to make her debut since mid-May, but I think she wanted to wait until I was going to let her at the "big fences." Yes, that's right, I planned to move her up to Novice at Roebke's Run, and despite missing my first two shows, I decided to stick with the plan! She is much more mature and prepared now than she was at the beginning of the season, so I saw no reason to run around a BN course just to confirm what I already knew: she's ready!

Going into the competition, I had a lot to stress about-- how she would react to the atmosphere, whether or not she would try to "exit" the dressage ring, how she'd feel about leaving the start box on cross country, what she would think of doing a full course, how she'd react to the show jump ring...! It was enough to make me want to steal a lick of GastroGuard!! A lot of people were a little shocked that I would take my four year old to her first show Novice, but the jumps themselves were the least of my worries! Of course, little did I know that this was a BIG Novice course. Everything looked as though it was built to maximum specifications-- BIG bank, BIG ditch, lots of "AB" combos-- but although it was all big, it was all pretty straightforward, exceptionally well-built, and inviting.
Sophie in the rather large Novice ditch!

(c) D&G Photography
My strategy for dressage was next to no warm-up. Just let her loosen up a bit in the canter, and then straight into the ring. I didn't want to give her time to "think" too much about what we were doing, or get too attached to the warm up ring. My plan worked to an extent. She was loose and supple when we left warm-up to circle the ring. Of course, she spooked a big one as soon as she saw the judge sitting in her box!! In the test itself she was as rideable as I could have asked for-- she was tense, but stayed workmanlike, despite impossibly deep footing that could have easily justified a full blown melt down! She finally started to fall apart at the end of the test, bucking a flying lead change into her last circle and trying to leave the ring (twice) before the final diagonal. We got a well deserved "3" and "1" for those movements! But there were lots of 7s in there as well, so when the relaxation comes, so to will the good scores!

Cross country began with a melt down as we left the box ("I don't know if I should leave all those horses...!"), but as soon as she set her sights on the first jump, she was ALL BUSINESS! By fence 4AB, she was on course and jumping out of stride. Of course, 5 was the aforementioned Big Bank. My plan was to trot in to it to give her a chance to check it out, but I think if I'd kept my canter, she would have hopped right up. Instead, she trotted right up to it, stopped, sniffed, and scrambled up it from a standstill. We got 20 penalties, but talk about an A for Effort!

The rest of the course rode really well. She overjumped the big ditch by a mile, and started to get sticky to the last few fences as she got tired, but she was game for every single one of them. Doing a full course is not the same as schooling 3 or 4 in a row, and by fence 12 I could feel her wondering whether or not we were done. She rallied beautifully when we made the turn for home though! Also, it didn't help matters any that it was well over 90 degrees! We had 14 time penalties from the circle before one, and the trotting into fence one and five, but I was unwilling to push her in the heat during the long gallops to make up for it!
(c) D&G Photography

Now for a quick aside-- holy COW does Roebke's do an amazing job with its volunteer force!! When I hopped off my horse at the end of the course, volunteers took my tack onto a cart to take back to the stables for me. They took my horse to hose her down, and they had cool water for riders and the horses at the ready! I was so impressed, I'd go back again just for that!

(c) D&G Photography
Show jumping has always been my weakest phase, so I gave myself a pep talk: Zahra doesn't know I dislike show jumping, so I should keep that to myself as long as possible! Upon entering the ring, she spooked sideways away from the crowd. I played it off as my courtesy circle and brought her around to the start flags. Just like on cross country, once she set her sights on the first jump, it was all business! She was tense for the first half of the course, knocking a rail at 3, but after fence 6 she became very soft and rideable. It was actually the first time I've felt a horse become MORE rideable as the course went on! Zahra may teach me to like show jumping yet!

Haha! But seriously.... its true.
In the end, I could not have asked for a better first time out. Our final score really doesn't tell the story of just how good my little mare was, and how immensely proud of her I am. She had her mini-melt downs in each phase, but she was willing to work through them and not just shut down. Once she understood the task in front of her, she got down to it, and you can't ask for anything better that that!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Good News, Everyone!

Zahra is back on track! After two weeks living at the farmhouse, eating all her meals out of the trailer, she now self-loads. There's still plenty of follow up work to be done to ensure the lesson sticks, but we're on the right track.

So, with her new found trailer loading skills, we went down to see the amazing lameness guru, Dr. Doug Langer. He confirmed my suspicions while assuaging my fears-- yes, she's sore in her stifle. But, he sees this all the time in young horses, so that was the good news. He injected it, told me to return to work as usual, and if there is any lingering pain after 2 weeks, come back and we'll try something else. He said the best thing for this sort of weakness is WORK! Cavalettis, hills, hard ground... all of it! 6 days a week! With the complete lack of rain, there is no shortage of hard ground here in Southern Wisconsin, so I won't feel too bad about taking her on that trail ride tonight...

On Sunday, I had a great clinic with Janet Foy. Z tried to run away with me any time I asked her to yield off my left leg, but Janet worked through it so that we won the battle. She told me to buck up and quit being so nice her! She said "These warmbloods are not like thoroughbreds... they are more like baby crocodiles!" That's exactly what I needed to hear-- I tend to baby a horse too long, not wanting to dial in the pressure until I'm absolutely certain they are ready. Well, Zahra is ready.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Dream Deferred

**WARNING** Pity Party Below. Read at your own risk. ;-)

When I go to a horse show lately, I feel like I am in the wrong age group. The people I grew up riding with roughly fall into two categories: quit riding to lead a normal life, or, moved out East to go professional. At the local shows, there are two groups of people: kids, and adults who have returned to the sport later in life. There are a few my own age, surrounded by their students, who have gone pro AND opted to stay in the Midwest (god knows we need people like them!). And then there's me. Or at least that's what it feels like. The talented, hard-working rider who didn't have the sense to get out while she still could. Didn't get the memo that it was time to start over. Its too late to lead a normal life, its too late to go pro. But I'm not ready to give up either.

I've come this far. I'm a really good rider (not a great rider-- still lots of room for improvement!!), and I have two fantastically talented young horses. I still dream of galloping across the country at a four star, even though now I'll be well into my 30s before I'll get the chance. And even then, I may not. I can train my horses up to the best of my ability, but I can't get there without their help and a BIG healthy dose of Luck.

Also, we all know that at the end of the day, I do it all for the snuggles.
(c) ShortHorse Studios
I leave you with the classic poem, Harlem, by Langston Hughes. Lately, I find myself with this poem stuck in my head a lot.

What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Lucinda Clinic

If there were a ratio of hours of instruction / amount of influence on my riding, Lucinda Green wins without contest. I've been clinicing with her now for 10 years, as often as I was able. She teaches something that no one else teaches-- what to do when it all goes wrong. Lucinda is the Queen of Cross Country, winning Badminton 6 different times of 6 different horses. She now travels the world teaching her clinics: "Cross Country: The Safe Way." Some of her gems include "Just remember: E.L.B.O.W. Engine Line Balance or OW!" "When in doubt, GET OUT!" and, my personal favorite: "There is no known distance between these fences." It's all about putting you into sticky situations so that you and your horse have the tools to deal with anything!

Day 1 is always closer to dog agility than it is to cross country riding, but in a good way! There is much less emphasis on jumping big imposing jumps than on figuring out how to connect with your horse and get her to do the job you need her to do! So, lots of skinnys and arrowheads, a few oxers and panels... lots of strange 'uncomfortable' distances. The rules are simple: Don't have a run out. Lucinda will tear down the jump if necessary, but you better stop square in front of it if you do stop. Much better if you can scramble over in some fashion or another... they're all quite small, so there's no reason not to walk over them! The horses generally pick up on the game quickly, while Lucinda targets the rider to really force you to focus you're eyes on the jump and wrap your horse in the 'tube' of your legs. The sum of all this is a finely focused partnership cantering up to these skinnys, and its all accomplished in the first 30 minutes of the first day!

The next activity was the tarp, which as you may recall, is not our strongest suit. After struggling to get over it within the group, Lucinda pulled us aside to work on it on our own, saying that we'd stay there all night if we had to. We actually got over it fairly quickly once we left the group, and we continued to go back and forth over it for another 30-45 minutes. She never truly settled, and every 5-10 minutes we'd start back at the beginning, with the rearing and naughtiness all over again. Finally, after I'd won the battle again (for the fourth time), I stopped working on the tarp and walked back to the group. I'd won the battle, but the war was still on-going, so I wanted to end her day on a good note-- riding 5 fences with emergency rein contact!

Emergency rein contact is when you lose your reins and have a jump in the next few strides, so you don't have enough time to get them back. So you sit back and widen your hands until you DO have contact, and then ride the fence! Emergency rein contact becomes really important at Preliminary level and above, because course designers find ways to force you to ride with no reins (drop into water followed by a skinny?), but the point of Lucinda's clinics is that these situations can happen to anyone at any time. So you may as well plan for it! She actually had a great anecdote, about that plane that landed in the Hudson River? The pilot had exactly 120 seconds to decide what to do when the engine failed. But because he'd been over so many emergency situations in his mind so many times, he was able to quickly find a solution and save hundreds of lives. Obviously a very dramatic example, but the point remains: have a plan for when the manure hits the fan.

The second day began with walking through the water, and walking up and down small banks until the horses learned to just quietly step in and out of the water, and then repeating everything in trot. Next we put together a few small courses in and around the water complex, using the same skinnys as the day before.

On our first mini course, Zahra decided to give me a piece of her mind. After trotting up and down the banks happily for ten minutes, she decided she would not be trotting up the steep slope that had a skinny on top. A few little crow hops and general reluctance to go forward finally concluded in me giving her a resounding WHAP with my stick (turned upside down for bonus shock value). It's like the switch went off in her head, and she trotted up the hill and over the skinny. She didn't give me any grief for the rest of the lesson!

Before and After the spanking.
Photos (c) ShortHorse Studios

Once Lucinda had our horses listening to us and doing all the ins and outs of the water complex, she turned us loose to jump any combination of jumps and water that we fancied (just keep it small please). Zahra was foot perfect with everything I asked her!
Eat your heart out George!
(c) ShortHorse Studios

"Ragdoll Style" resulted in a foot in the ditch!
(c) ShortHorse Studios
Next, we walked over to the ditch. I'll admit, I was a bit trepidatious about this-- the only ditch we'd ever jumped was a very shallow, natural ditch. Although this one was not especially deep, it was much deeper than the one at home, and riveted on both sides! Plus after having that big tarp discussion, I wasn't sure what I'd gotten myself into. I swore I would ride it positively though, and so I banished all thoughts of worry from my head as we approached the ditch "rag-doll" style. She didn't hesitate any longer than it took her to put one of her feet down into the ditch and then skip over it! A bit unorthodox perhaps, but I was ecstatic!!

Baby trakehner!
(c) ShortHorse Studios
After a few more times over the ditch (and even helping "pony" a few other horses over the ditch! A welcome change after every single horse in my group tried in vain to pony Zahra over the tarp the previous day), she made it into a small coffin with the skinnys. Note to self: Zahra will get between the flags, over the jumps, come hell or high water, but our "adjustability" needs work!! 
Finally, Lucinda added a skinny to make the ditch into a small trakehner. I was so overwhelmingly filled with pride when as we cantered up to the ditch, Zahra's ears pinged right on to the standards and took me there!

Another trip out to the main field to jump around and have fun-- this time I faced baby Z up to some bigger gallop-y jumps (up to training level), and she felt perfect! I was overflowing with confidence that she has become the horse of my dreams!
Jumping a moderately sized house without incident
(c) ShortHorse Studios 

Of course, than Lucinda brought out the tarp again, and she and I got to have a "mini-private" session on tarps! It was actually really a good thing to come back to the tarp. After a small fit, she began bounding over it, and once we got her quietly walking over it, I jumped off and let her graze while Lucinda imparted some words of wisdom. I'm paraphrasing of course, but do your best to imagine it in a very proper British accent:

Our private session with the tarp
(c) ShortHorse Studios
"I just had this very strong sense that we shouldn't beat her yesterday over the tarp. I could sense that she was genuinely afraid of it, so beating her would not help us. But I also had a sense, just as strongly, that we should beat her when she was being silly in the water. And I think you sensed it too, because you really gave her a good crack."

I'm not gonna lie, I thought that was pretty funny in an absurdest kind of way, but its also completely true. So many people struggle with where that line is. Some people don't want to ever punish their horse, even to the point where it can develop into a dangerous situation; while other people can be so far to the opposite extreme, beating their horse every time he steps out of line (which can also develop into a dangerous situation!!). Knowing the timing of when to spank a horse is not something that can easily be taught. You have a tiny fraction of a window to punish a horse after he is bad. You need to have your wits about you, carry out the punishment, and then remain calm and cool enough to continue on your ride as if nothing happened. Maybe a future blog post dedicated to this subject is in order... :)
One last epic picture to close the blog... :)
(c) ShortHorse Studios