A Final Goodbye To My Friend

dsc00021.jpg

There is still a 1,000 pound hole in my heart and even after three months, tears regularly pool in my eyes as I try to process and accept that the horse who rekindled my love of horses will no longer greet me as I enter the barn. The photo I took the day Cigar joined the family shows him sticking his tongue out as I clicked the shutter. If only I knew then what a wild ride it would be. Cigar would test the limits of my patience, the limits of my credit card, and my ability to forgive. I think somehow he knew I always would be there for him.

He joined the family in December 2005. His inability to work in a group without thinking it was a race prompted me to try dressage. While I found dressage to be challenging and a worthy pursuit, Cigar would challenge the judges to find something positive to say. “Nice Braids!” was a common comment (though truth be told they were not). He found the 20×60 meter ring to be tedious. He was never happier than when he was allowed to stretch his legs and gallop. His ears would prick forward and you were merely a passenger while he found his stride.

This year was a challenging one for him as you could see his body failing to do what he loved the most. He started the year with hoof issues. A heart murmur was detected by the vet in early August. It was the return of the lymphangitis in September which was just too much for his body to fight…In the end, I knew I had to let him go to run free over the bridge, free from all pain and eternally happy.

His brother has been lost without his constant companion and cohort in crime. We were fortunate enough that one of Ms. C’s other clients sent her horse to the farm for rehabilitation, so Toad helps quell some of Ike’s loneliness.

I love you Cigar. I will miss our conversations. The barn is very quiet without your nickers. I will always carry you in my heart.

alison

Walking And Chewing Gum…Or Not

For some, being graceful is effortless. Just watch a ballerina or Miss America glide across the stage…And then there are those of us who had mothers who called us “Grace,” but it had an entirely different meaning.

My mother tried to instill graceful movement in me from a young age. I was enrolled in ballet, tap dance, baton, and gymnastics. They all ended with me failing to thrive and show any measurable progress. I was never enrolled in any sport with a ball; eye/hand coordination is key to success in that realm. Probably at wits end, my mom let me try riding.

Shockingly, I was not half bad. I could somehow balance on a 1000 pound moving equine even though I could trip on a perfectly flat surface and fall up the stairs.

Unfortunately, my lack of coordination is now haunting me as Ike and I forge forward with our attempt at our USDF Silver Medal.

Sure we had success last fall with our debut at Fourth Level. But, as I pointed out to my friend, Fourth One is really “Fourth-Level-Lite.” When I finally read tests 2 and 3, I realized how unprepared we are. Tempi changes, the canter zigzag, and partial canter pirouettes all grace us with their presence. And, FYI, bump up your cardio…you are going to need it to make it through these tests. (Just reading the PSG test was exhausting.)

You would think at my age counting to 4 three times would be a no-brainer, but, alas, I apparently cannot count and give Ike the correct aids for a flying change at the same time. That whole can you walk and chew gum at the same time scenario. Apparently I cannot. Hopefully with continued practice we will figure things out. (Truth be told, I am certain Ike could do it now if I was more proficient.)

On the upside, Ike is demonstrating his ability to sit on his hind end. We have found better medium and extended trots this year. Ike also gets a gold star for his canter zigzag and quarter pirouettes. He also continues to show what a big heart he has as he tries his best to learn and progress with me. Our path might be crooked and filled with potholes, but we are navigating the silver-tinged road together.

alison

The Things We Do For Love: Equestrian Edition

Love is one of those strong emotions. It can make us feel giddy and secure. It can give you butterflies in your stomach. With love behind us, we feel like we can move mountains.

Love can also make you do foolish things. And, because you are in love, you do things that you never thought you could or would do. When you love horses, that love can sometimes make you look or act like a crazy person…so to honor that equestrian-style love, I decided to share my “love” list with you.

1) You are willing to spend unmentionable amounts of money on vet bills that far exceed what you spent to purchase the horse. I am looking at you, Cigar.

2) You learn to overcome your dislike of needles to give your horse his daily doses of antibiotics.

3) You pick ticks from your horse’s anus.

4) Why else would you sit in a cold barn for hours with a colicky horse?

5) You stop caring that you have hay in your hair and dirty nails as you stand in line to buy diapers/apples/carrots at the grocery store.

6) You consider selling an organ to pay for that dream saddle. Two organs will get you that dream horse.

7) You fight back the nausea as you carefully pull the catheter from your horse’s neck.

8) Searing hot summer temperatures and sweat burning your eyes doesn’t stop you from your regular barn visit and ride.

9) You gladly purchase shoes and handbags from eBay so your beloved can have their monthly supplements and treats.

10) Sheath cleaning. Enough said.

11) Still giving your horse a hug even after he poops on the back of your head while you were picking his hind hoof.

12) Still promising to bring them home from the show even though he pretended he could not canter. Yes, again, I am looking at you Cigar.

13) You worry more about them sleeping at a show than you do about the cleanliness of the hotel you booked for yourself.

14) You forgive them when they cough green goo on your brand new white show breeches.

15) You promise them that they will never have to fear the unknown of an equine auction.

16) For two weeks in the dead of winter with the coldest temperatures in years, you commit to soaking and poulticing a hoof to combat an abscess.

17) You spend thousands of dollars to win some pieces of satin that will collect dust and dead bugs in the folds.

18) You learn to (eventually) laugh at the hoof-shaped bruise on your foot, the black eye, and your bloody nose.

19) You celebrate their birthdays and gotcha days.

20) You commit to being there for them until the final goodbye.

Horses can complicate your life, but I would not have it any other way. The love they give in return is worth every moment.

alison

Birthday Boy!

Hard to believe that Ike turns 11 today. My gangly 3 year old pony is now a 1300+ pound dressage mount who is gamely trying to understand how to interpret my aids for tempi changes and canter pirouettes.

While we may have had our Fourth Level debut last September with Test 1, we are still not quite ready for Tests 2 or 3. Every time we have stepped up to a new level, I think “holy crap this is hard,” but I have to say that this step is the biggest yet. Fourth Level is really just Junior Prix St George. It is not for the faint of heart.

Thankfully, Ike’s heart is a big one and he is a willing partner in our next goal of achieving our USDF Silver Medal.

Onwards and upwards! Happy birthday big boy!

Alison

Go No Whoa

One week off + Cooler temperatures = One very energetic horse with no whoa

One week off + energetic horse = partially eaten stall door

Energetic horse + equine brother who won’t play = broken fence boards

Energetic horse + no grass = galloping fool who took his gate off the hinges…again

Anyone have a horse sized treadmill we can borrow?

Fun Photo Day

Fun photo day! Ike is enjoying the final days of his fall vacation. He has spent the week trying to engage Cigar in some roughhousing, taking his gate off the hinges, and pushing down fence boards. Maybe a week off is just a little too long…

So what do you like to do with your horse when they are enjoying some well deserved down time?

alison

Peering through the fog towards Regional Finals

In four days we will end our show season as we head down centerline for the UDSF Region 1 Adult Amateur Third Level finals class. No matter what happens this week, this year went well above my expectations. Ike and I met all of our preseason goals…well, okay, they were more my goals, but Ike played along since he is such an agreeable fellow. How could I not be happy with a horse like Ike?!

Our finals class is HUGE. The entire show is HUGE with over 450 horses entered. I saw a post on Instagram from Heels Down Media earlier today that I will keep in mind at the show, “A rising tide lifts all boats. Someone else doing well doesn’t take away from your own success.” With that in mind, our goals for this show are to equal our Fourth Level score from last month and aim for a 65% in our finals class. We came close in August, so it is not out of our wheelhouse. Let’s just hope that the remnants of Hurricane Michael don’t try to dampen our fun.

Best of luck to all the competitors! We have all worked hard to make it Lexington. Enjoy the experience .

Alison

Weekend Recap

Ms. C, Ike, and me celebrating our debut

I am not even certain where to start to summarize our show last weekend.

My dressage club pulled off our first three-ring show under less than ideal weather conditions thanks to the remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon. Pretty sure that every member did something to make the show a success, from planning the show, securing sponsors, set up, volunteering at the show, and the least popular tear down. It is always nice to hear the positive feedback from competitors.

And then there was our Fourth Level debut. So many emotions. Is it okay to say that my ride this past Saturday is probably one of my proudest moments as an equestrian? Cantering down centerline on a horse that used to canter like ScoobyDoo was a thrill. Realizing that my plain brown wrapper boy is no longer a green broke baby, but a seasoned show horse was overwhelming. It was all I could do to not cry when my husband wished me luck just before my test.

Ike demonstrating his big boy canter

The entire test flowed quite well. Our two biggest hiccups were the left lead canter transition following the walk pirouette and the right to left flying change. The pirouette to canter just needs more practice. The flying change issue was due to Ike and I “discussing” when the change should happen. Ike was a bit impatient. I asked him to hold his counter canter. The result was a change that was late behind. We deserved that score of 4.0.

The high points were that we earned 6.0 or 6.5 on our pirouettes, nailed our tempi changes on the diagonal, and scored solidly on our trot work. When it was all said and done, we pulled a 61.6% for our debut. Say what?!!

I made a game day decision to scratch my Sunday ride and avoid soaking myself, my horse and our tack. And, I just didn’t want to chance an injury in sloppy footing. There will be another day in October to try again.

I cannot thank Cindy enough for her guidance, instruction, and friendship all these years. We would not be the team we are without her. My husband also deserves a medal for his support on this crazy dressage journey. He is the voice of reason when needed, my biggest cheerleader, and the best chauffeur.

Thank you to everyone who has followed our journey thus far. I appreciate the support and kind words more than you know.

Onwards and upwards! Next stop – Silver…

alison

Breaking Down The Test

Photo by Tara Jelenic Photography

My mind is going more than a mile a minute right now. So many thoughts about this weekend. More thoughts than riding…but I really can’t ask Ike to give me 100% under saddle when the heat index is over a hundred. So he hides in his stall with his fan, and I mentally ride the test while pedaling the exercise bike.

Most of the movements in Fourth Level Test 1 are familiar. It will be the execution of those plus the new requirements that will determine if we can find the elusive 60th percentile.

Trot half pass, circles and shoulder in are all in our repertoire. The test designers are seriously testing your skills by placing shoulder in on centerline right after half pass and a circle. Clever people. If I can maintain control of Ike’s shoulders, we stand a chance at scoring respectably.

Canter half pass, countercanter and single flying changes are also familiar. Let us just hope that I execute my aids appropriately and someone is listening to those aids and he isn’t thinking about all the pretty mares at the show.

Now let’s chat about the “new” stuff. Those clever test writers have put the double coefficients on most of the new movements. Evil.

You start off the test cantering down centerline to a halt. If I do my part and keep Ike from falling on the forehand, we can make a good first impression. Good thing since the next movement is a beast for us.

Medium trot to sixish strides of collected trot back to medium. Hmm, if we get out of that movement with a 5.5 or a 6.0, I will be the happiest girl in the ring.

After the trot tour, we will appreciate the half circle of extended walk. Pray for us that Ike doesn’t decide to poop at this time. We lose that lovely swing in his back while he argues with me to stop and take care of business.

The double coefficient walk pirouettes are next. Hoping we can build on our recent improvement in our turn on the haunches. I am still grinning at the “correctly stepped the turns” comment from the last show.

The canter tour is next. More prayers that someone doesn’t decide he is a freight train. Half halts have no meaning when we are in train mode.

The final movements of this test will be the biggest test of our skills. Cantering a 20 meter circle? No problem. Showing six strides of very collected canter? That could be challenging. As we slow we get a little stiff and I am pretty sure that stiffness is not what the judges want to see.

Next comes the three changes on the long diagonal followed by cantering onto centerline for the final halt. It is that final turn that will be tricky. Imagine hitting the cloverleaf to exit the interstate cruising about 60 mph…

Too bad there is no score given for moves that make the judge giggle. We seem to have a knack for that.

See you on centerline!

alison

Taking Off The Training Wheels

So many times in life, we skip the questionable, more dangerous road and opt for the safe, albeit lackluster path. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Many times it is the comfort of knowing what you are going to get. Opting for the chicken option means that your digestive system will most likely not object to dinner. Ordering the beef carpaccio or tuna tartare means committing to eating raw meat. Scary it can be, but oh the party in your mouth you will get when you dare take that first bite.

How about signing up for the class with the professor who gives open book, multiple choice tests? Been there, done that, but did you really learn anything? Why didn’t you risk taking the class with a professor who asks thought provoking essay questions? Fear of failure holding you back?

Trying something new always means risking failure. “But what if I fail,” you ask, “Won’t people laugh at me?” Possibly. You might even find that you laugh at your mistakes or hiccups (like when your horse decides to poop in the middle of every single test and ruin two or three movements…) Or perhaps they will respect that you tried. Perhaps you might inspire them to take that next step towards their dream.

So, my friends, Ike and I are taking off our training wheels and removing the safety net. We are fully committed to riding our first ever Fourth Level test. It will be our only class each day at next month’s show. (I dropped our backup-in-case-I-chicken-out Third Level class tonight.) Good, bad, or ugly, we will give it a go. The butterflies are already starting to flutter.

Here’s to taking that scary first step towards our silver medal.

alison