Living Vicariously

My wild riding days are well behind me, and I now choose to live vicariously through the Olympic eventers.  As a young rider, helmets were unheard of at my barn.  I look back in wonder at how we all survived virtually unscathed considering the foolish things we did on horseback.  Bareback rides on the trails, into the ravine, over the river and through the woods…(now you’ve got that song in your head, don’t you?)  Silly games like hanky pick up, rider pick up, and red rover, red rover.  Somehow I never sustained any significant injuries except for my pride.  One day, I thought I had my girth tight enough during a rousing game of red rover, red rover, but alas, I did not, and after one very quick rollback, slid off the side of my horse with the saddle now suspended under my horse.  Needless to say, I never let that happen again.  We’d also jump anything we could sans helmet.  Ah, the foolishness and stupidity of youth.

These days dressage fits my lifestyle.  Keeping four on the floor so to speak suits me just fine.  My supervisor and regional director already get white knuckles when I describe my days at the barn.  I can only imagine what they’d say if I told them I was taking up eventing while showing them a photo of 20A from today’s Olympic cross country course.  [It was the steep drop portion of the Royal Greenwich Borough.]  They’d somehow revise my job description to prohibit any and all equine pursuits.  Since that would be unthinkable, I’ll stick with the more staid pursuit of dressage.  Training a 4-year-old is good enough at this point in my life…but I wouldn’t be above going for a good gallop every now and again.  Think I’ll wear a helmet as well.

Ike enjoyed his day off today as well as a handful of peppermints.  Plan to ride tomorrow and work on our transitions from free walk to medium and stretch down trot to medium trot without performing “the giraffe.”



Red and Blue Banner Day

I love my big man.  He gets four gold stars for the schooling show today: the first one for being a gentleman for getting on and off the trailer with no fuss, the second one for being very well-behaved with his ground manners for tacking and waiting his turn, the third one for his performance in Training Level Test 1, and the fourth one for his second showing in Training Level Test 2.

This was the first show that Ike was asked to do two Training Level tests…and let us not forget that I just rode the current Test 2 for the first time ever from start to finish this past Thursday.  We arrived with plenty of time to tack and warmup – in all honesty, I could have arrived 30 minutes later and been just fine.  I’m just used to tacking taking 45-60 minutes as I played ring-around-the-rosy with Cigar in order to get the saddle in place.  But Ike being the stellar boy that he is, stood quietly and he was tacked in under 15 minutes.  Since we were early, I walked him to the competition area to observe the warmup ring and the competition arena.  I had many friends at this show who’d never met him, so he preened from the attention.  I have no doubt that he knew people were saying nice things about him.

Here we are in warmup receiving instruction from Ms. C.  This picture cracks me up since it looks like Ike is really trying to listen to and understand the direction we are receiving.

Test 1 was up first.  If you remember, we got a 58.3% in our first attempt at this test.  Today——-69.375%!!  Woot woot!  Ike was spot on today.  Canter transitions were prompt and correct.  We got an 8 for our stretch down trot which really helped our score since it is a coefficient movement.  Decent stretch down walk; I could have asked for more, but didn’t want to goose him and then really get hit.  We did get hit on our transition back to medium walk since Ike likes to show off his giraffe neck at that moment.  Our centerlines were not that spectacular in this test, but good enough.  The judge liked us as a pair and liked his trot.  I was in awe that we got first place – a totally unexpected, but delightful outcome for this ride.

We had an hour before Test 2.  Ike seemed a bit distracted in warmup (there were people starting to leave which seems to worry him) and the distraction continued into our ride…let me show you our entry halt…

“Look Mom, people are leaving me!  Oh dear, what if I am left alone?”  The trot to the right was also not our best effort.  Ike flattened and the hind end started its own orbit on our trot circle.  I got him back on the trot diagonal, so we were successful with the canter transition and our canter circle.  Our stretch down trot in this test was a 5.5 effort – Ike never really committed to the stretch.  The rest of the test was steady with lots of 6’s and 7’s.  Focus returned for the final halt (8).  When it was all said and done, we got a 67.857% and second place.  I’m tickled with Ike’s performance with this test as well. Again noted in the comments was the need to work on the transition from free walk to medium walk – point taken and understood.  The judge also commented that the front and hind ends sometimes appear to belong to two different horses – just not in sync.  I had to laugh since she was spot on with her observation.  She said that in time with consistent, correct work, we should see the problem less and less.

It was great to be amongst friends today.  Weather was great for the end of July.  Ms. C was present to witness her pupil’s success.  My supportive husband was there to cheer for us, and he was able to relax rather than having a white knuckle grip on the warmup ring with one hand and the cell phone in the other ready to dial 911.  Feeling very lucky as the day winds down.  Life is good.


Big sigh of relief.  Yesterday, I finally rode the Training Level Test 2 test from start to finish and the best part, I remembered it.  While it was not perfect, if we can ride the test on Sunday like we did yesterday, I will be happy.  Yesterday was only my second time on Ike in the past two weeks.  Some might say that it isn’t enough time to properly prepare for a show.  I say, that is life, and I’m just going to enjoy the rides I do have.  He is young.  He is fit.  He is smart.  I don’t think the time off has hurt his training at all.  So we don’t progress as fast as others.  Dressage training is not a race.  It is a process and a journey to be enjoyed.  There is no ribbon for the first one to reach a particular level by a particular time.

It has been over a month since Ike last rode on the trailer, so today before my lesson, I decided to load Ike for a refresher.  When I tried to unsnap the lead rope to thread the chain, I couldn’t.  The snap had rusted and I couldn’t open it enough to remove it from the halter.  Sigh.  So I decided to try loading without the chain….success!  Ike and I walked right up to the trailer, I said, “Ike, load up,” and my big star walked right on like it was the easiest thing in the world.  One less thing to worry about on Sunday.

Now back to the riding part.  Today was my first lesson since before vacation and my last chance to get Ms. C’s input and have her critical eye cast upon us.  She is tough!  Nothing gets by her eagle eye.  She was pleased with our canter work today, but our trot work was not up to par.  Weight was not in the right place and Ike kept trying to snatch the reins.  Not sure if Ike had some gas or just needed to poo, but for the first part of the lesson, he’d move a bit stilted in his hind end and keep lifting his tail.  We took a brief walk break to see if that might encourage something to happen.  Gas and a bit more gas.  Then I “pushed” the gas pedal and we continued working.  The trot work improved, but I also worked harder to get and keep a good connection over his back (read: many, many, many half halts).  We did ride Test 2 from start to finish – solid canter work, okay stretch down, and a 50/50 split on the trot work.  BTW, Ike nailed our centerlines today.  Fingers crossed that we can find that 9.5 again on Sunday for our final halt.

We only practiced the Test 1 canter transitions since at the last show Ike was disunited on the left which got us a 4 from the judge.  To help him keep his weight to the inside, I hinted at a counter flexion.  Boom!  Big man rolled into that left lead canter – what a yummy transition.  The canter itself was also fabulous.  If you recall, the canter is picked up on the second half of the 20 meter circle at A.  When we hit that open side of the circle, centrifugal force still haunts us and we fall out.  The slight counter flexion just helps prevent the fall to the outside and gives us a better chance of canter success.  It is only a temporary thing until Ike develops his self carriage (grows into those legs).

Decent ride times for Sunday T-1 at 9:52 and T-2 at 10:55.  Slightly cooler temperatures predicted.  Fingers are crossed that we clear the 60% mark.  Stay tuned…

Hands Up

                             Photo #4 from High Time Photography

A show of hands from everyone who has headed down centerline without having ridden the entire test from start to finish.  Anyone?  It is feeling like I will be joining those ranks as this week rolls along.  Last week was vacation.  Saturday was the drive home and unpacking.  Yes, I did ride on Sunday, but only practiced parts of Training Level Test 2 since I thought to myself that I had plenty of time to ride the whole test this week.  Ha!  Yesterday was Ike’s pedicure and work for me.  Today, I didn’t make it to the barn until after work, which coincided with the arrival of the afternoon thunderstorms.  ARGH!  Tomorrow I have my commuting day and typically, by the time I creep home with the afternoon traffic, I’m just toasted and in no frame of mind to ride.  That leaves Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  Thursday is supposed to be another scorcher – yippee.  Keeping fingers crossed that Friday and Saturday are cooperative.

Since I didn’t ride today, I spent some time grooming the boys.  While grooming I usually talk to them.  Not just about horse stuff, but about life in general.  They know all my secrets.  Who has made me mad.  Who I’d want to slap if I thought I could get away with it.  My insecurities – don’t we all have them?  The horses and the dogs are the best at keeping secrets or at least I think they are.  For all I know every horse and dog that I know laughs to themselves as I go by.  I’m in real trouble if they learn to talk like Mr. Ed.  I saw this e-card on Facebook a few weeks ago and it seems an appropriate way to finish this entry.


Summer “Dulldrums”

                                   Photo #3 by High Time Photography

It is nice to have the photos from the show in June, and I will tell you why.  The summer doldrums have arrived early this year – day after day of unrelenting heat and humidity, flies, flies, and more flies, and the shine of the horse’s coats dulled by the sun.  The beautiful, natural, glossy shine of Ike’s coat is now more of a dull rust color enhanced by the salt crust.  No amount of currying will bring out any glint of the former glory of Ike’s summer hair – Show Sheen is the only way we will be shiny this weekend at the schooling show.

There is some hope that the shine will return soon.  The days are getting shorter and the back to school advertisements have started, and we all know what that means…fall is fast approaching and the sun-weary coats will be shedding for the thicker, winter ones.  I’ll take a coat like Ike had last winter – a scosh thicker than his summer one with some longer goat hairs at the throat latch.  It will be interesting to see what happens since this will be Ike’s second winter in Virginia.  I’m keeping fingers crossed that Ike’s winter coat is not like the bear rug that his brother grows which is impossible to keep clean.

Today was Ike’s monthly shoeing and I had to get in a full day on the job, so there was no riding.  Such is the life of the average amateur rider who has to work to pay for my expensive hobby.  Ike’s monthly shoe budget is larger than mine.  The last pair of shoes I purchased was a new pair of cross trainers two months ago.  My feet are definitely more neglected than his – I can count on ONE finger the number of pedicures that I have had in my lifetime.  We all have to make choices about how to spend our time and our money.  Do I regret not having Imelda’s shoe closet or pretty pedicured feet?  Heck no!  Wouldn’t change a thing…except for that dull summer coat.

Rain Goggles

Another fabulous photo by High Time Photography, Winston-Salem, NC ( Might as well use their quality work over my amateur photography skills 🙂

Sigh, so it was my first day back at the barn after vacation and the rain from yesterday decides to stick around.  Really?  It wasn’t a downpour, but if you were out in it long enough, you were going to get wet.  Mr. Wussy was already back in his stall because of the rain.  I really think he was happy to see me.  If I would turn my back on him to talk to Mr. D, Ike would try to nudge me or paw the ground or nuzzle me with his horse lips – “Mom, pay attention to me!!”  Since it was raining, I spent some time playing beauty school with Ike’s mane and tail.  While the upcoming show is just a schooling show, my pride will not allow us to show up with a wild man mane and a tangled tail.  Heck, I might as well admit that I will probably braid his mane for the schooling show…my anal retentive tendencies just won’t be squelched.

After beauty school, the rain let up enough that I decided to tack up and try to ride.  I always feel a bit awkward after a week out of the saddle.  But, just like riding a bike, you get back into the rhythm quickly.  Ike did try to test me as we were doing some simple walk-halt transitions.  He’s four, so why not see what you can get away with.  Will she correct me?  Or will this be the day I am triumphant?  Well, this was not Ike’s day.  No time for games – we have only 7 days to prepare for our two Training Level tests, one of which I’m still trying to remember.  After Ike gave up on the games, we had some solid work.  Tried to get a decent bend on our trot circles – I have a tendency to overbend Ike’s neck – don’t realize I’m doing it until Ms. C points it out or I see a photo of us on the circle.  Canter transitions, balance, and rhythm were Training Level quality.  Now the next step is obtaining it at a show.  After only 30 minutes the rain returned and I figured out why jockeys wear multiple pairs of goggles.  My glasses were so wet that it was difficult to see; I needed rain goggles with wipers if I wanted to continue.  Oh well, 30 minutes is always better than no minutes in the saddle.

Back to Reality

Photo taken by High Time Photography, Winston-Salem, NC

So it is back to reality today after a week at the beach with the family.  Going away is a blast, but I sometimes think that I need a vacation after my vacation to get things settled and back to the normal routine.  Today was the drive home, unpacking the truck, then unpacking the bags, laundry, sorting mail, tidying the house from all the vacation detritus, and, I have to admit, a cat nap in the afternoon.  It rained most of the way home, but better that it rain while driving than while you are sitting by the pool sipping a cocktail.

It is also nice to know that when I am out of town that Ike and Cigar are in the best of hands.  Ms. C and Mr. D take care of them like they are part of their family.  I’m almost certain that Cigar did not care that I was gone for a week.  He had his regular food rations and turnout, so it is okay that I’m not there.  Much like my puppy who boards at his daycare facility, Cigar’s motto is “I miss you sometimes.”

Ike on the other hand is still young and likes the daily attention from “Mom.”  Ms. C said that she is certain that he missed me.  This is the longest that he has not seen me since he joined the family.  Ms. C rode him twice for me while I was gone.  She had not been on him in over a month, so it is a good check on our progress for her to hop aboard and feel how Ike is moving.  Luckily, she is pleased with Ike’s progress and where he is at this point in his training.  For me, that is such a relief.  I am a novice with training green horses and my biggest fear is that I will cause problems that will come back to haunt me in the future.  So far, so good.

I’ll be back in the saddle tomorrow – our next schooling show is July 29th.  Guess I’d better start to memorize that Training Level Test 2.


So everyone likes down time right?  Ike is enjoying some time off this week while I am out of town.  Ms. C sent me this photo of Ike from yesterday.  It is nice to know that things are status quo even when I’m not there.  The photo was taken in the middle of the day when the boy decided that he couldn’t stand the heat and bugs anymore.

Right before I left, Ike and a horsefly rumbled.  I would say that the horsefly won.  It left a huge welt on Ike’s right wither and he tried to buck and run to get it off of him.  I think horseflies have superglue that oozes from their legs.  They stick to the horse through all Ike’s calisthenics and running.  Ike has started a petititon to have his paddock screened and a roof put up to protect him from the bugs and elements.  Anyone who would like to contribute can contact Ike directly.  I think he has a feed bag set aside for all his contributions.

Ms. C is going to give Ike a workout or two this week but some time off hopefully won’t have any ill effect on our progress – I know I’m always happier after a vacation.

Still hoping for at least 60% for our tests at the next show.  Keeping all fingers, toes, and hooves crossed.

Feel the Pain, Be the Pain

Riders are well versed in pain.  The pain from having your foot stomped by a creature weighing 10 times more than you do.  The pain from getting nipped on the butt by a playful 4-year-old Dutch Harness Horse or from getting kicked in the shin by an ornery Thoroughbred.  The pain from having a finger chomped by a horse who mistakes it as a carrot.  And that pain is even before we throw our leg over the saddle.  Bounce, bounce, half halt, squeeze, squeeze.  And we don’t limit ourselves to physical pain, we go for the mental agony as well.  Let’s break this down.

We work hours and hours in the saddle practicing circles and transitions, video tape our rides, take lots of photos, and then spend another three hours analyzing every stride.  Did the horse track up 1.5 or 2 hoof lengths in that medium walk?  I think my right foot was rotated 5 degrees more than my left…no wonder the horse’s left shoulder fell left on that circle.  Did we take an equal number of strides on each half of our circle?  I think the right hind leg was trailing 2 inches in that final halt.  Oh no, at the canter I look like I’m doing the chicken dance with my wings flapping.  We agonize over minutia that no one else would ever notice unless they too are a dressage enthusiast…although, everyone can notice my chicken dance.  When I need an ego boost, I share my photos and videos with my grandmother who tells me I look so thin and talented.  Go Gram!

Once we are done beating ourselves up, we then head to our weekly lesson or monthly clinic and pay to hear what our faults are.  Yes, they are there to help us improve, but admit it, you like when they point out all your errors.  Gives us OCD types something to obsess over when we ride again by ourselves.  Why stop at trainers and clinicians?  We then decide to pay for the privilege to be judged and flaunt our inadequacies in public.  After all they only have to provide comments for the low scores.

Those hours in the saddle also take their toll on our bodies.  For various reasons, some unrelated to equine pursuits, a part of my body always hurts.  I then  head to the barn to attempt to make a 1,200 pound creature succomb to my will.  Bending a giraffe neck plus the 84 inch body can be a challenge some days.  “No, I do not wish to turn in that direction.  I want to go back to the barn with my friends and feed bucket.”  Shifting shoulders to even obtain the slight angle of shoulder-fore can be like moving my Ford with my bare hands.  Physically impossible and bound to require the assistance of drug-chemistry to do it again the next day.  At my age, I’m not above utilizing drugs to mask the aches and pains.

Luckily yesterday and today were good days.  Ike was cooperative and responsive.  Perhaps he felt he needed me because of the hawk who watched us ride.  [“Mom, please keep me safe from that bird.”]  Whatever the reason, I enjoyed the past two days…

Remembering Our First Ride

My friend Ms. CS took this photo last Saturday right after Ike had his cold hosing.  I absolutely love this picture of him.  I think it really captures his sweet nature and easy going personality.  Writing this blog has really kept me on task with taking regular photos of Ike.  I look back at the photos from last August and over the past 11 months and can see his personality emerging as well as muscles and a topline.

I don’t think I ever shared any of the Florida photos of Ike.  Here is the very first photo I took of him as he was getting tacked for my first ride.

He was very good for grooming and tacking even as a very green three-year-old.

And here I am sitting on his back for the very first time…I have to say that I was a bit nervous.  He had been under saddle for around a month when I came shopping.  Bianca assured me that he was a sane youngster.  Anyone who rides knows that the first time you sit on a new horse, there is a “get-to-know-you” period where you have to figure each other out.  What does the horse know how to do?  How much do I squeeze my legs for a trot without sending the horse to the moon?  Do I barely have to squeeze the reins for a halt or scream “WHOA!” at the top of my lungs while pulling back with every ounce of energy I have?  While you are thinking about all this, the horse is trying to figure out whether or not they are going to listen to anything you have to say.

I’d never spent much time around green horses.  Most of my experience has been with well-seasoned lesson horses who are in a class by themselves at figuring out a rider’s ability in under 10 seconds.  My Thoroughbred was technically not green when I bought him, but he was “green” in the fact that he had to start from square one with dressage training.  He was a challenge, but it taught me a lot about being a rider and not just a passenger.  There is no being a passenger on a green horse…I have to ride every stride and be there to remind and reward.  The greatest reward is feeling and seeing the progress Ike has made.  Can’t wait to see where we go.