Saturday, April 30, 2011

Eventful Acres, here I come!

May 14th & 15th is now the much anticipated weekend. I've been waiting my whole life to go do this, and the excitement is double because I've trained this mare myself! I guess really its twofold, I'm proud of doing all the work, and afraid because... I did all the work!!!

That's not so say I've done it alone. My dressage trainer has been so very good at getting the most out of me, which never fails to get the most out of Lola. I know that we've got a ton of work ahead of us still, but really we have come so far when I step back and look at it.

We will be making our eventing debut at "Elementary" level. I am sad to not be going beginner novice, but the winter set us back so much more than I expected. I want this to be a positive experience for both of us. I'd rather kick butt at a level we're confident about than survive the level I know she's capable of.

I've started jumping lessons with a young eventing rider just minutes down the road. (I had been trying to do lessons with a rider who trains and competes horses at very high levels, but with her competition schedule and her full training clients, it was almost impossible to find a time that worked for both of us!) This new place is a) convenient- only 2 miles down the road, b) just my style- I really just need beginner drills to hone the basics for both of us, c) much easier to get scheduled! I've done two lessons so far, with a third scheduled Monday. She's got at least one rider also going to the same event, so I'm hoping to get to tag along for a schooling day the weekend before. The plan would be to get a good feel for the course we'll be riding while also schooling a few of the beginner novice jumps to know what we're getting ourselves into!

I'm excited and nervous. I think we'll do well, but being my first event, I have to admit I feel a little lost. I'm certainly not a novice rider, and horse show nerves are nothing new to me. Its just that I'm entering a new world that I'm not that familiar with. Its exciting none the less, and seeing as I can only justify this entry fee because of a decent tax refund, I'm going to enjoy the heck out of the experience. Who knows how long until it will happen again!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Good times had by all...PSSM is completely managed!

Lola was fantastic tonight! I hate to jinx it, but I think we're on a roll here! We had such nice light easy cantering. She was stretching in the contact, lifting her back, stepping under herself well, and even making an effort to bend around the 20 meter circle instead of leading with her inside shoulder. This is such a difference from last spring, and even over the summer, when she was tense, stiff, anxious and generally crabby and explosive.

I've realized that lately we've been having some of the best rides ever! The day before the derby, we had a fantastic lesson where I realized that Lola finally had a real trot, she is taking big pushing strides while still stretching to the contact. After the derby we had an even better lesson where Lola picked up the canter without fuss or tension, and maintained a nice flowing balanced gait. I absolutely burst into a smile it was such a nice surprise!

This weekend we had a trail conditioning day. She wasn't perfect and we had to spend some time "schooling" the water crossing, but over all she was very good! Considering we're still getting the hang of going out alone, she's doing amazingly well. We also started to do some jumping over the natural drift wood and logs on the beach, then found a good spot to work on a 20 meter circle to do some good trot work and a little canter.

This is such a testament to the right diet and exercise managing the PSSM. It is amazing how different she is with healthy happy muscles. Considering she was probably really uncomfortable last year and her muscle tightness was keeping her from doing what I was asking, she really was fairly patient and responsive. I am amazed how much training we did get done last year. We hit the wall when she physically couldn't do it though, like cantering. Now that she is physically capable she doesn't have the tension and anxiety about it. So now, with several months of her body rebuilding new healthier muscles with her adjusted feed, she's the moldable and trainable horse again. With the physical problems no longer stopping us, she is just working so hard to please.

Sunday, though, just took the cake. We lunged to warm up, and she did the sweetest most perfect mistake ever. I tend to bring her into a rather small circle on the lunge when walking so that I can walk towards her hip to encourage her to bend and step under herself. We started with that, and she did great. Then after trotting and cantering some, I went to start that routine again, but since we've also practiced canter departs from the walk in a similar fashion she misunderstood. I gathered the rope and tightened her circle, and the minute I stepped towards her haunches the very neatly stepped into the canter! I just laughed. It was PERFECT! She tries so hard! She really tries to please.

Lola says, "Aww shucks Ma... It was nothing..."

After lunging I was going to do some little jumps and gymnastics. Lola followed me around while I took the jumps down from 3' & 4' (we've got some big jumpers) to 18" to 2'. She patiently waited for me to be ready. Then the cutest thing ever. I took her over to the mounting block, and I tend to move her around a bit, and make her get into just the right spot with her feet square before getting on. (My theory is its one last chance to remind her that I tell her where to put her feet instead of just moving the block to the stubborn horse.) We'll in the process of wiggling her around to be just right, she decided that maybe all this fussing over where I had her feet meant that I wanted her foot ON the mounting block! She plopped it up there like, "Look, there, you have it! Isn't that what you want? Can we move on now?" We've only once before worked on stepping up on a platform, so she has actually been asked to do something like that, but it was over a year ago! Plus the mounting block is really not made to support horse hooves!

It was so funny though. There's my little mare thinking outside the box! I can't even get my staff to think outside the box enough to follow a string of logic far enough to problem solve for a client! My mare is clever and impresses me with her eagerness to please. I'd love to have THAT on staff in the office!

Derby report... Part 2

So moving right along... (I am finally done with tax season, and now I CAN move right along) to the jumping.

Lola and I had a bit more time to warm up over fences. She was feeling good, but same as she was when schooling at home, taking very long distances over the fences. We had a reasonably good warm up though, trotted in, cantered away, continued cantering half the arena, and trotted to the fence again. I was pleased with her canter, and her willingness to come back to the trot.

So out we went! Now the jumps were TINY! I mean a horse with NO jumping training could have gone out to do this course. But that meant there was nothing, absolutely NOTHING to get nervous about. That was sort of what we needed. So we enjoyed a nice trot out in an open field and every so often found a tiny jump in our way! That was it. Easy peasy.

The most of the jumps were just cross rails with jump standards that had been dragged out there. Just after the first fence we had to turn right around a little log cabin jump, probably about BN size, and nothing scary, but she seemed quite surprised to see it out there! We still made it to fence two fine, but she was a little wiggly. Fence three would have been a mini brick wall, but even mini was deemed toe high, so we had a cross rail again with the mini walls acting like wings off the sides of the standards! Fence four was a rail road tie. Tiny. BUT it at least was a natural obstacle and had barrels on either side. It felt a little more like cross country! Another cross rail later we can to the large white plastic tub jump. I thought Lola might get a little funny about this one, but it wasn't a big deal at all. Between the sixth and final jump we had to pass the tire jump that I was afraid she's spook at, but she listened to my half halt and with a little counter flexing to keep her from looking she went by with no reaction. Fence seven, and we were all clear!

This was the approach to fence two, you can see the log cabin that surprised her!

I was really hoping to canter her between fences more, but she was so quick to step back into the trot each time. She really didn't seem eager to canter away more than a few strides. Since we've not done much cantering on grass I let her stick with what was comfortable. The point was to build confidence. So if she felt more balanced trotting, I was fine with that.

Basically I got no time or jumping faults, so the final placings were pretty much based on the dressage score. I got second place! I was super pleased! Looked like there were at least six in the division that were adult (the juniors were placed separately), so it was an honest second place too! Not like getting fourth, out of four...

One more good experience, one more fun day, one more big step towards really getting her to her first horse trials!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Derby report... Part 1

Well, a whole week has passed since we had our awesome little derby experience, and I'm JUST now getting a chance to write about it! (I have been SO busy at work! Since we're a tax firm, the last big push to the tax deadline means insanity.)

The day didn't go quite as planned, but we managed. First off, my mom got the stomach flu, so my photographers/grooms did not come out to the Derby! I was disappointed, but it wasn't the end of the world. I needed to stop by work quick that morning, and what I thought would be a quick 30 minutes to dash through my to-do list of emergencies was complicated by the fact that two of the partners were in! So a few extra resquests later, and one comment on my "Marty McFly" vest (a very nice Ariat vest that I was wearing to the show since it was sunny, but had a chilly wind). Hey, at least I put jeans on to go in, I was expecting a deserted office, and almost wore my breeches!

So with a late start and lacking help, my anxiety was rising. I also had been crazy busy the day before, so I hadn't cleaned tack, I at least had a reasonably clean horse, but was just feeling scattered and like I hadn't prepared correctly, which leaves me anxious. We made it there in good time, and got moving on getting ready.

I had packed my coat, white breeches and everything, but realized that with out a photography, my walk-trot test hardly justified such formal clothing. Since I was planning on wearing a polo for jumping, I just put that on. Then realized that my comfy, trusted, full seat schooling breeches were in the truck, and decided to dump the pretty white breeches for what I'm most comfortable in!

We got tacked up and went to the specified round pen to lunge, only to find someone else in there! I continued on to the other round pens, and found horses turned out! Ugh... After alerting ring stewards that I was REALLY late warming up and NEEDED a place to lunge someone moved a horse. Lola hardly needed to be lunged, but it gives me a chance to assess how she's moving, feeling, etc. We had a kick-ass lesson the day before, and she's always quiet, relaxed, and cooperative after those. So we literally had a 7 minute lunge session, and the I was ready to get on... except I had left everything at the trailer (helmet, reins, boots) thinking I was using the round pen right there within feet of the parking. So I checked in with the ring steward who said they were about 20 minutes behind, so I should be fine.

Thinking I had time, I took a longer route back to the trailer to walk her through the jump field since tons of people had taken their horses out to walk the course. I knew that she would look twice at the tire jump, it wasn't something we would be jumping, but we were going passing it on our direct route to another fence and if she spooked sideways I knew we'd miss our fence. As expected she got bug-eyed and scooted past it the first time, we mad a couple circles and continued back to the trailer.

I quickly gathered my things, threw my number on, and scurried back to the warm up arena. Upon checking in I learned that the rider in before me was in the ring already. Great! Not so behind as she had told me! The rider after me was ready to go, so she went first, and I had 5 minutes to warm up! NOT the best way to show!

We actually had a really decent test. Lola is always better worked daily, and, like I said, she is really willing and relaxed after good lesson days. We were doing the walk trot Into Test A, the one for 2011 is actually easier than the one from 2010! We had exactly what I expected. She bends better to the right than the left, she lowers her head well for the free walk, but doesn't really overstep and swing through her back. We got dinged for drifting, which was probably my nerves more than anything. And of course, she just needs to be more consistent in the contact. Here's the test:

The test was great! Respectable scores, and jumping to follow. More on that later... off to see the little red mare!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Big announcement- Derby on Sunday!!!

This will be BOTH Lola's and my unofficial entrance into the eventing world. Its a BIG deal for me! Aside from schooling cross country on other peoples horses, eventing has been foreign to me, just an idea, a way of life, a super cool, kick-ass way for OTHER people to have fun! Until now...

The UC Davis Eventing club is putting on a little Derby on Sunday, and, just my luck, they have a division for "Hopefuls" or in my case "Hopelessly Chicken"! I mean really, I've jumped before, I don't have any real show record over fences, but I've schooled over 3ft fences on and off in my life of taking lessons. I have a talented mare who really enjoys jumping. We COULD do something bigger, but why push it? I'm thrilled to be going, and even more thrilled that I will be able to convince myself we CAN do this despite show nerves, because of the super easy prospect of the Walk-Trot Intro Test A, and an 18 inch course.

This will be on the grassy field, and there will be a combination of regular jumps and natural obstacles, so we'll get a bit of a taste of the cross country. And that little bit will be plenty seeing as we've never formally schooled cross country!

I'm super excited. The pace is set for trotting and cantering, I will be perfectly happy trotting to every jump and trying our luck just cantering between fences.

I'm feeling good about the ride time of noon, gives me plenty of time to get there and get tacked up and warmed up without fretting. But I'm oh so confused about what time I'll be jumping.

I think I've got my grooms/camera crew on board. So its official, first schooling show of the season breaks me into the world of eventing!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Running free... and why we should check our tack...

This is why Lola is glad to be back at GBEC!

So far my week has been SO much easier with her so close.

Monday noon: left work for lunch, went to see Lola, took off her blanket, and turned her out in the big arena to play. Video shows how much she loved it! Mixed her sloppy supplements up to leave in her pen. Happy horse.

Monday PM: came out to ride after a marathon day... so it was already 8pm by the time I got out there. If she had been a 30 minute drive away it wouldn't have happened. Didn't lunge (bad idea) and rode under the lights in the jumping ring (Lola thought a bad idea, I told her to get over it), had a frustrating ride on a hot and anxious horse. I left frustrated that she's not 100% relaxed now that she's out there. IT WAS DAY ONE! Got over my unrealistic expectation not being met.

Tuesday noon: Same deal, no video today. Let her graze in hand after.

Tuesday pm: got out by 5:30 so I'd have plenty of day light! Good choice, especially since I wanted to jump a bit. Lunged! Good choice, maybe wasn't necessary based on what a good girl she was, maybe she would have been the same without lunging, but its such a good way to warm up. I lunged the very minimum, maybe 7 minutes. She was amazing! She wasn't quick, she stepped right into a nice light and relaxed canter, which is huge for her.

I hopped on and walked a warm up to get her listening to my leg. (I always feel like I have short little "half legs" when my stirrups are at jumping length!) Trotted a bit. She was relaxed and reaching for the bit, so I just got straight down to business. We trotted the poles (which someone else had left and I forgot to check) they were NOT spaced correctly for trotting. Maybe they had been, but they had since been knocked out of place and were too far apart for a trot stride, but too close together to put two steps in between. Ugh. But they did make her pay attention. We still did them a few times when I need her to stop thinking forward and think hoof placement. She made me laugh how hard she tried to make those poles work. After stumbling through twice, she figured that she could trot in, put a canter stride in, trot out and not touch one pole!

We put our sights on the first little gymnastic. A spacer pole on low blocks with one stride to a little cross bar. She trotted right through perfectly in stride and landed on the opposite lead than the approach (not that we actually cantered in) then cantered out. We cantered a half circle, came down to a loose rein walk and patted her like crazy for making it seem so easy.

We trotted around a bit, then tried it again from the other direction (approaching from a circle to the left) and she went through beautifully again this time taking the right lead so we cantered half the arena to the right, stopped and gave her a whole lot more pats.

Now she was getting excited about it so we did some circles and leg yielding at the walk so that she remembered that me picking up the reins from a loose rein walk does not means zoom off. We picked up the trot again and tried a single vertical plank, tiny one, probably not EVEN 18inches. She took off way too far away and launched over it. Silly and ugly, but I didn't feel insecure. So we go again, SAME spot! NO Lola, that's the WRONG take off spot! One more time from the other direction that allowed for a straighter approach, too long again. I'm going back and forth in my mind, I should have put a pole down to space her stride, no I shouldn't I won't have those at shows, but its better than making the same mistake three times, well maybe we just need to make it work another way. So I did. I walked her almost all the way up and only trotted about 5 strides out and said a nice clear "Easy" before the fence. Perfect take off spot! Again this is all at the trot, but if we can figure out together that "easy" means "please take your time and add and extra stride here" then next week when we move back into canter approaches I can only hope she'll remember!

We then set off to tackle the last little combo: a cross rail with two strides to another plank (this one a little higher). She trotted right into it, nice and straight, nailed the two strides, the second fence felt lovely! Then my iron disappeared! No, my foot didn't slip out of it, it literally fell off. So we ended the perfect jumping school imperfectly. The leather broke (more on why in a bit), the iron smacked her in the belly as it slid off. The last time a leather broke (some one else riding in their own tack) it was by the buckle and the iron was swinging under her belly smacking her! So of course her reaction was to start bucking, but I was able to stop her with in a few strides of the jump. The good news of it. I felt really secure!

So I have to confess I have been wondering if maybe I shouldn't be using these leathers. I pulled them out of storage because I'm now trying to use 3 english saddles (one jump, one dressage, and one at my parents for Bear) and don't have enough leathers! So I pulled theses off a saddle that hasn't been used for ages. They are old, dry and show signs of cracking... big duh that I should NOT be using them! Well really they probably would have held up, EXCEPT I wrapped them once around the irons. They aren't quite short enough for jumping length, and I didn't have a hole punch, so I just wrapped it once to shorten it an inch. That was enough added strain to do them in. This was DUMB, and no one reading this should repeat my mistakes!

So I'm off to buy new leathers tomorrow!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pit stop while moving barns...

The barn that I just left (we'll call "Winter Barn") was not far from some wonderful trails. They were multi-use (and boy were they used by all types) but had plenty wide gravel trails that attracted most of the bikes and stroller, and then nice dirt trails for horses. They were a good mix of hills, with packed dirt that made for good footing for trotting (not like some of our granite trails that are, literally, hard as rock!).

I managed to get the two horses out together once, but didn't have much time. In fact I got farther down the trail when I did a great picnic/hike with my fiance. Then I took Lola out a few weeks ago along, and she basically tried to kill me every step of the way! Really, mostly my fault, never try to do something with a horse if they know you're in a hurry! Plus I took her straight out of the stall, no turn out, lunging or anything, and I'm pretty sure she hadn't been worked that week! WHAT was I thinking taking a silly mare with ALL that pent up energy out ALONE????

So Sunday when I moved her out, I couldn't help but take one last try at those trails. Things went marvelously! I had FUN! Imagine that. And she only tried to kill me once. HUGE improvement, right?
From Drop Box

The view isn't as good here, but with the wind the sky was so clear! I could way more than usual.

I started things off right, let her get her bucks out running around in the arena, and then left her turned out while packing up. I took my time grooming. No sense having her feed off my energy. She was good from the get go. Only minor spooks in place, nervous snorting and such, but that's expected as she gets used to going out alone. We even passed a couple of horses, and she didn't make any fuss about them leaving her.

Then came the stream. Now this was really just rain run off crossing the trail. No big deal. A tiny trickle of water with some standing water around the rocks. Except she's not a big fan of MOVING water. I knew she'd be trouble, so I got off from the get go. She tip toed around the edge while I stood right in the middle of the scary. She stuck her nose all the way to the ground. She wasn't really being too balky so I finally got firm about her crossing and boy did she come! I expected her to leap across dramatically. She's a red mare after all! What I didn't expect was to have her charge past me and straight up the bank on my left! UP the bank between the boulders INTO the trees! This of course yanked my upper body up and to the left, while my feet were still down and to the right, with the lovely bank using its trees and rocks to keep my knees from moving at all. Thanks Lola.

I am always amazed that a person can have fully intact clothing on the outside, while the skin underneath said clothing can get scrapped and cut galore. I have a lovely long scrape and bruise where one of the rocks kept my knee from following my upper body.

I was not happy. I was also totally disgusted by her choice to hop up a bank. That doesn't even make sense! I grabbed a stick (not a beating stick, just a make shit crop) and spanked her one when she wouldn't come OUT of the brush and back to the trail. From there she know I had a spanking tool, and she followed me back to the stream. This time she jumped only one stride, she didn't leap wildly, or run off, but still not quite good enough. So crossing back she managed to put all four feet through, and even stop in the middle. Good girl!

We took our time with the whole thing, and I was so focused on her that it wasn't until I started to walk away that I realized that there were two people on horseback standing about 15 feet up the trail! I have no idea how long they had been standing there! I was a little embarrassed, mainly because I wasn't sure if they had caught me being dragged up the bank and shouting wildly at my mare! I think they only caught the end. They congratulated me on making it across, I said she had to do it several times because the first time was so wild, they reminded me that's how they learn. So true.

We continued on. The trail presented lots of fun tests, we opened and shut two gates without getting off, crossed a big wide bridge over a rushing stream, then later a little narrow bridge (we walked it first, then rode), we trotted some of the hills on the back trails, then walked the hills home on a loose rein! Seriously! Best thing about it, we rode over the little trickle stream the second time around. No big deal. She'd learned. What an amazing feeling!
From Drop Box

Overall she got a good low impact work out, ie lots of walking hills, with a little hill trotting. She got a great mental workout! I got a rather intense work out and, pathetically, will be sore tomorrow. I forced myself to ride in the jumping saddle with shorter than usual (but not quite so short as jumping) length stirrups. Plus with the ups and downs it was a little like two point.

From Drop Box
I snapped this picture on the way out to the trail. Beautiful view! That's my trailer in the front. Since getting it back after the tree incident I'm reminded how lucky I am to have a trailer. I'm so grateful to have the freedom it affords. Days like today, one on one bonding with your horse, don't happen without a trailer.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Back on dry ground

Well I took my lunch to zip over GB Eq Center (the one close to work where Lola was last fall) and I was amazed that after the flooding we had last week, the paddocks were dry! There is still a patch right at the front fence line of each that had deep, half-dried mud, the kind that is dry and crusty on top, but still soft enough that the horse sinks in a little. I don't think this will be too bad.

The arenas are mostly dry, but in terrible need of dragging, and both have little puddle "bogs" where the water has been sitting so long it has turned green. Yuck. I can ride around that, and once they get back into a dragging routine that will slowly get groomed away.

I am thrilled to have her back out in the open. To be honest, her stall at the last place never seemed dry this last month. Either they weren't stripping it often enough, or the wet ground from excessive rain was not allowing it to drain. Either way she has a nasty case of thrush in one of her front frogs. Blech. And of course wet stalls means she's breathing in pee fumes. Also gross.

Of course the best of it is that she has WAY more freedom to move, which is ideal for managing the PSSM. Plus turning her out to gallop and buck in the smallish arena there at the barn just isn't as satisfying as letting her gallop all out in the big jumping arena at this place!

Best of all, because I'm selfish and busy, she's back to being only two miles from work. I can get out there at lunch to see her. I can still go out to ride no matter how late I get off work, so no more excuses that by the time I get out there it will be 8pm. No more getting home at 11pm because the barn is 35 minutes from work then 35 minutes back to the house.

Oh, maybe even better than best of all, I can have my dressage trainer come to me again. I LOVE having my lesson at home! I appreciate her arena for sure, and trailering her is good for helping her adjust to getting out and doing things. But it takes so stinking long! Hook up, load up, drive slowly and carefully there, guaranteed to take an hour no matter how quick and efficient I try to be. Then I have to do it all over again to get home! Having the trainer come to me is SUCH a treat. With time as limited as it is, having that travel time wiped away means I might even find time to ride Bear, or plan this wedding that is fast approaching, or just plain spend time with my honey. None of my time with the horses is EVER a waste of time. But driving them definitely is!