It’s a Game of Chutes and Ladders

003Today I finally had last week’s lesson, and for me, better late than never.  Ike and I require regular adult supervision to keep us on track and our reins at the correct length.  So glad that Ms. C does not migrate south for the winter – she might not be happy about it, but I know that I am so very thankful that Ike and I can keep up our lessons through the winter rather than scratching our heads wondering if we are making forward progress.  Our second show season kicks off in three months, so we really don’t have any time to waste.

After today’s lesson, I can assure you that our upward progress is stifled by my inadequacies as a rider – we have to claw our way up that ladder rung by rung.  Yes, it is true, poor Ike must tolerate my digressions in his quest for fame and fortune.  How will the boy ever make it to the Wellington Dressage Master’s competition when his owner is so easily distracted by a runny nose and cold fingers?  Ms. C and I discussed some of the rides while we did my lesson; she used them as a guide for my wayward skill set.  While they are a library of how to ride correctly, I could be the poor soul who they trot out to demonstrate what not to do.  One of these days I’m making it over that wall to the other side where the proficient riders live.

One of the discussions today was about rein length.  I marvel at riders who manage to keep a steady connection even while holding two sets of reins.  I feel like I am always adjusting the length and my contact is on again, off again.  My fear is that Ike will learn to tune out my fidgeting and we will be damned to Training Level purgatory.  Ms. C assures me that I am improving and that now that Ike is steadier and stronger, I won’t have to constantly grope for the right length which sends us down the chute and back to Intro Level.  Our sit trot work today proved that I can find the right length of rein when I set my mind to it.  Start on a trot circle to the left, establish the correct bend and flexion, and once things are stable, half halt, step to the right, and re-establish the new bend and flexion for a circle to the right.  Up the ladder we went…

We were half way up the ladder today when we took an unexpected detour down the Runaway Horse Chute.  Ms. C said she could almost see Ike planning to slide down that particular chute.  I bumped Ike with my legs to ask for just a bit more trot.  Ike took that opportunity to leap into the canter and before I could say “wh—-” we were off to the races.  Abandoning any finesse, I used the full body brace to gain control.  Phew!  That will get the blood flowing.  Of course we were at the bottom of the chute and back at Start.  Time to start over.

We abandoned all thoughts of canter and continued to work on our trot work as well as the suggestion of shoulder in.  Please Ike, could we just make it up one ladder successfully?  I will then take you back to the barn for the rest of your dinner.  That must have been good incentive because we ended our lesson on a positive note with the successful climb up the walk/trot ladder.  Ike’s walk was dynamite – the boy really should be able to pull at least an 8 on that walk.  Our transitions were peaceful in the up direction as well as in the down.  Ike even listened as we attempted shoulder in to the right and left.  His rider almost led them down the Overbending Chute, but Ms. C was there to save the day and prevent one final descent.

So many ladders to climb before show season kicks into high gear.  I am going to try my best to avoid any chutes that will send us back to Intro tests at schooling shows.  Ike says he is promising nothing.  He kind of liked that wild ride and isn’t certain why I don’t encourage more of that behavior.  I think he has been talking to his brother too much.

We head out this weekend for our first clinic of 2013!

Rider’s Block and Writer’s Block

003Well, well, well, there hasn’t been much to write about this week as far as barn activities.  After getting cocky and riding four, yes four, days in a row over the long holiday weekend, the weather has decided to take me down a notch and keep my feet on the frozen ground.

Temperatures have hovered in the 20s during the day since Tuesday, and we had our first snow of the season yesterday.  I know my friends to the north would scoff at the wimpy winter we have had in Virginia.  Yes, even the hint of winter weather has us rushing to the store for milk, bread and toilet paper.  I never did understand this trio…where are the hot chocolate and marshmallows?  Did you not have a spare roll or two of toilet paper on hand already?  It isn’t like we will be snowed in for weeks on end.  People also rush out and buy shovels when the weatherman mentions the “s-word.”  Umm, what did you do with the one that you bought two years ago?  It isn’t like they go bad.

The 2-3 inches of snow that came yesterday was Ike’s first “big snow storm.”  What a momentous occasion for the big man.  Would he try to hover above the ground like he did during the one snow event (<1 inch) we had last winter?  Ms. C ended up bringing the big weenie back to the barn until the snow melted later that day.  I should not have worried.  Ike marched out of the barn like a horse on a mission and never really gave the snow much thought.  Ms. C said at one point he had been pushing the snow around (most likely looking for buried hay) and his entire muzzle was covered in snow.  Ah, one of those Kodak moments that I wasn’t around to see.  Bummer.

So what does one do when barn time is stifled and it is just way too cold to even be outdoors for long periods?  I cleaned out my files and shredded a trash bag’s worth of paper.  I organized my USEF, USDF, and Ike’s paperwork…well, okay, I gathered it all together and put it in one box.  That counts right?  I shopped on the Smartpak website trying to decide what to do with my windfall from Horse Junkies United.  Seriously thinking about getting the Dublin Pinnacle boots ( even though I know my husband will tell me I have lost my freaking mind.  I attended my local dressage chapter’s annual banquet and collected Ike’s end of year awards – Champion at Intro and Third at Training.  Not bad for a horse that could barely canter a circle last April.  And my husband and I adopted a cute little mutt named Brownie from our local SPCA.  Why not add some chaos to the house with a 13 month old young dog?

Brownie and Spencer Jan 24 2013                                                                               Brownie (in front) and his brother Spencer

We have one more day of cold temperatures and possible snow – I never believe it until I see the actual flakes – last week they said we were getting 6-8 inches and we ended up with just wet flakes with the cold rain.  A veritable heat wave will be here Saturday with a high temperature of 40 degrees.  That should be enough to melt the snow and thaw the arena for some walk/trot work.  Having withdrawal symptoms from lack of time in the saddle – I need my riding fix!  Those centerlines aren’t going to straighten themselves…

Life is a Rollercoaster Ride

Ike in stallWhew!  What a weekend it has been and we still have one more day to go.  The past three days have felt like one of the giant rollercoasters at Busch Gardens except I’m blindfolded and can’t tell what is coming next.  Why do you ask has life been like a rollercoater?  Well let me fill you in on the goings on about town:

The weather has been unpredictable this winter.  Last weekend we were in the high 60s, we then had rain for five days ending with the threat of 6-8 inches of snow.  Luckily the weather forecasters got it wrong and all we received was some sleet and wet snowflakes mixed in with the rain.  We then had winds worthy of the Great Lakes, temperatures in the 20s, and then back into the 50s today.  Tomorrow there is a chance of snow showers with the high Tuesday predicted to be 24 degrees.  I vaguely remember one rollercoaster that gave me whiplash.  This weather pattern reminds me of that ride.

There is a rollercoaster at Busch Garden’s that Fabio rode years ago.  Yes, that Fabio, the one with the flowing hair and lack of shirt.  Anyway, the coaster made the climb to the top and as it descended, a bird hit him smack in the face and gave him a bloody nose.  I haven’t had a bloody nose, but I sure do feel like I’ve been smacked around after attempting to adopt a rescue dog.  One group took 8 days to deny our application, smack number one.  Another only allows you to meet dogs for a few hours on Saturday afternoon.  Yet another wants your social security number…why not just ask for my bank account numbers and passwords as well.  I didn’t even let them take a swat.  I just looked elsewhere.  We finally have a hopeful meeting tomorrow.  All paws and hooves and fingers are crossed that we don’t get smacked again and end up with a black eye.

One thing you can say about rollercoasters is that if you ride the same coaster 100 times, the ride will be the same every time.  The same speed, the same tempo, the same turns, the same loops.  Consistency is there.  When riding Ike, we do not yet have that consistency from ride to ride.  On Friday, our trot was steady, but our canter was a bit strung out.  During our lesson on Saturday, our trot rhythm was a bit more erratic (that is because Ike’s rider was not sharp with her half halts), our left lead canter was First Level quality, and the right lead canter was Marmaduke-like.  Today, our canter would have only been acceptable on a cross country course with no jumps.  I remind myself that Ike is only 4 years old.  F-O-U-R.  Expecting the ride to be the same every day is setting the bar way to high.  That is our goal, but it could be years before we get there.  If I were a stronger rider, we might get there sooner, but since I can’t change my skill set with the wrinkling of my nose, we will just keep plucking along.

And one last thought about this rollercoaster ride…once a coaster is built it doesn’t continue to grow.  Ike on the otherhand, is growing like a weed fed by MiracleGro.  Good thing I’m not afraid of heights!


Blogger Love


When I started blogging almost a year ago, I had no idea whether or not people would read it, like it, or follow it.  That wasn’t the driver in the decision to start writing.  It was just a way for me to chronicle the progress and special moments with Ike, my newest equine family member.  You think to yourself that you won’t forget any of the special moments, but trust me, the older we get, the more likely we are to forget things.  The blog would be my way of documenting everything, so that when I am old and senile, I can look back and say, “Wow, I actually did that?!”  The pictures would be the proof that I did indeed ride horses.

Many thanks to Mellchan and Sparrowgrass for nominating me for this blogger award. You can check out their blogs on WordPress at and .  I have found that  reading the blogs written by others  is and interesting way to discover people with similar interests as well as folks with more diverse interests.  In the end, we are all just regular people who just enjoy sharing our thoughts and experiences.

According to the rules of the award, I should tell the people who nominated me 7 things about myself that they don’t already know.  Hmm, here we go:

1) I like to eat the cookie dough more than the finished cookie.  Yes, I know it is bad, but I continue to do it;

2) In my opinion, wine should be a food group;

3) Snakes terrify me thanks to the rattlesnake at the National Zoo trying to strike at me through the glass;

4) I secretly want to be a professional organizer;

5) If I didn’t own horses, I would spend my time gardening;

6) I have a serious problem with boots – my husband claims to have discovered my stash – I deny everything; and

7) I cannot whistle, not one lick.

Finally, I am to present this award to 15 deserving bloggers.  So here are my picks for blogs for you to check out: (There are over 20 equestrian bloggers at this one website…including yours truly….and I love all their adventures.)

Thanks again for the recognition!

Nudge, Nudge, Look at Me

008So my butt hasn’t made it into the saddle the past two days, but I have had some quality time with Ike and Cigar.  Ike and I did have an awesome ride on Saturday, but we will get to that in a minute.  Dare I say that my two boys are a tad bit spoiled when it comes to treats and the variety on hand on any given day…peppermints, Nicker Snacks, Uncle Jimmy’s Squeezy Buns, black licorice wheels, Good N Plenty, Peppermint Plops, carrots, and Uncle Jimmy’s Licky Things are all currently on hand.  Like I said, my boys are ROTTEN to the core, and every other horse at the barn has decided that I should be their best friend as well.  The walking, talking treat dispenser.  If I turn away from Ike to dispense a treat to his brother or, gasp, a pony girl, I get the polite nudge, nudge, “Why are you giving away my treats!?”  If I continue to ignore him, he pins his ears, squints his eyes, and nudges a bit harder.  The talking treat dispenser then turns into the poking meanie and makes Ike back up while poking him in the chest.  Rudeness will not get you treats…Ike struggles to learn that lesson…this from a horse that wouldn’t eat a peppermint when he arrived in 2011.

And now back to our ride on Saturday.  Maybe Ike really liked the treats I gave him (Good N Plenty), maybe he had a good night’s sleep, maybe the stars and planets aligned just right with the phase of the moon, or maybe it was just shear dumb luck, but the ride on Saturday lacked the pulling, yanking, and grumpiness that has been ever-present for the past month.  It was 45 minutes of productive work.  Where has this horse been?  This is the horse that won my heart.  Warmup had one bobble when Ike had a moment after we both heard something in the woods – never did see anything, but it startled big man.  We recovered quickly and ended up with a stellar left lead canter that down transitioned to a powerful and connected trot.  I still have not mastered sitting that trot.  All Ike’s trot work was forward and the connection was very steady in my hands.  I could feel him pushing from behind and using his back.  Ah, Ike, you haven’t forgotten how to do that; I was beginning to wonder.  Ike’s canter in both directions was solid.  The right side is still harder for us, but the potential for greatness is in there.  He just still needs to learn how to use all those big body parts in unison.  We also tossed in some leg yields, centerlines with halts, and of course, circles.  Hmm, we are a bit rusty on those straight halts, so that will go on the ever-present list of “Things-to-work-on-before-show-season-returns.”

Sigh, show season is again just around the corner.  Guess we’d better get started on that list!

Proud Horse Mom

021If you look closely at the photo, you will see that it isn’t me astride Ike.  This past weekend one of my favorite young riders came out to the barn to ride the big boy.  I have known Miss A since she was in elementary school and she is now in her first year of college.  She was one of the few people who would actually ride my OTTB, and let me tell you, he loved her…I mean loved her.  He’d buck and cowkick his way around the arena with me, but when she would get on him bareback, he would happily carry her around – walk, trot, and canter – and never take a wrong step.  I even watch her drop the reins while cantering bareback and Cigar peacefully cantered until she asked him to stop.  Really?  She has a calming effect on horses.  She is a kind person and they seem to sense that she is not a threat.

I must admit that I was still apprehensive when she put that first foot in the stirrup.  Since coming to Virginia, Ms. C and I are the only ones who have ridden Ike.  Would he behave?  Would he object to a new person?  I needn’t have worried.  Ike was his perfect gentlemanly self.  He too realized that Miss A would take good care of him.  I gave her a few pointers and then let them figure each other out.  It was different for me to actually see Ike go with someone else onboard.  I’m usually not around when Ms. C rides him, so I have only ever seen him from the ground when we met him in Florida over a year ago.    Miss A did a great job with Ike.  She put him through the paces with no problems at all.  I now know who I can call if I need a long-term substitute.

I let Miss A enjoy Saturday with Ike, but I got back in the saddle on Sunday and Monday and Tuesday.  This unseasonably mild weather cannot be passed up.  Why not get some good quality saddle time in January if you can manage it?  Warmups continue to be a bit challenging with Ike resisting and fighting the contact and refusing to use his back.  Yesterday was our weekly lesson.  It is amazing how much faster Ike and I click with Ms. C guiding us through the warmup.  Too bad I can’t afford to have a lesson every time I ride, but I guess half the fun battle is learning how to get a horse through and connected all by yourself.  We continue to focus on controlling Ike’s shoulders.  We have realized that sometimes it is easier for us to work on smaller circles to start.  Once I get it right on the 8 meter circle, we then will leg yield to a larger one.  More shoulder control exercises for the clumsy rider…I’m getting better, but that outside shoulder still likes to get away from me because of course I love to overuse that inside rein.  I still have to consciously force that inside hand forward.  I clutch it like Linus clutches his blanket.  So hard to be a big kid, but I will continue to try.

Thinking about the Half Halt

005You can’t get away from them – they are ubiquitous.  They are important for every gait, for every movement in a dressage test, and seem to take up a lot of space in my posts.  Ms. C spends hours patiently trying to ingrain the correct technique into my cranium.  They are my nemesis and a literally a pain in my shoulders on some days.  Master the technique, and you will find success and move up the levels.  Those who aren’t coordinated enough to perform them effectively are doomed to muddle around the lower levels for eternity.  I fear that I am the latter and poor Ike is doomed by his mother’s lack of coordination to perform a correct half halt.

To complicate things, I opted to purchase a young, green horse, so I am wholly responsible for Ike’s education.  He’d only been under saddle for 30 days when he arrived in Virginia, so I don’t think he knew a half halt from a flying change when he arrived.  The responsibility is mine for teaching Ike what a half halt is.  I do know that I don’t half halt often enough.  Sometimes when I do, Ike “overhears” the request and we go from trot to walk or canter to unbalanced trot…or maybe I overdo the request.  Perhaps it is a little of both?  In any case, half halts can stymie me like no other concept.  Did I squeeze too much with my fingers and not enough with my legs?  When I engaged my core, did I accidentally tip forward and confuse Ike as to what I want?  The madness of it all!!  And don’t get me started on timing my half halts!  Half a stride too late is oh too common.

Now I must say that Sir Ike must bear some of the burden on his shoulders.  Some days he softens nicely when I close my fingers for a half halt.  Other days the request is met with 50 pounds of resistance to the request, “no, I do not wish to do that today.”  Arrghhh!  Just do it Ike and let’s get on with the program. “No, I wish to be argumentative today and even get pissy to your leg as well.”  Thus is how our ride went today.  I would ask Ike to soften, he would resist.  I would repeat the request, he would resist.  I would then demand compliance with a very loud half halt, he would soften for a millisecond and then brace.  Ah the joys of working with a young, smart horse.  He obviously know what I want, but is just electing to not participate.  Out of a 40 minute ride, I had a relaxed and connected horse for maybe 15 total minutes.

Ike’s current mental state of “not today Mom, I’m too busy ignoring you” reminds me of my brother in his younger days.  He was tested for four years straight in elementary school for participation in the gifted program.  The teachers were stymied.  How is it possible that a smart boy continues to not do well on this test when he obviously has the intelligence?  My mother finally dragged the truth out of him….”I don’t answer all the questions on the test.  If I have to go to gifted class, I still have to make up the work I missed in the other class.  I don’t want to do the extra work.”  Oh.  Is Ike the equine version of my brother?  The smart kid who resists to avoid having to do extra work?

I certainly hope Mr. Smarty Pants gets over himself soon, my body needs a week of easy rides to recover.

Lesson of the Week – Patience


Two more rides behind me this week.  We’ve already topped the ride count for the past two weeks combined and we still have the weekend to go.  It is nice to have the normal routine re-established and have the weather cooperate.  The cold hasn’t been too dreadful.  I was able to ride without having to resort to looking like Ralphie’s brother from A Christmas Story in order to stay warm. [Cue the small child in the snowsuit who can’t put his arms down…”You can put your arms down when you get to school.”]  Can I just say how hard it is to effectively half halt when you have warm puffy gloves encasing your fingers making them look like Italian sausages?

Yesterday I rode while Ms. C gave a lesson to another friend.  I focused on my work and tried to stay out of their way.  Ike wasn’t too squirrely, and we worked our way through the repertoire of walk, trot, canter, circles, leg yield, transitions, halts, shoulder in (attempts), and free walk.  I thought we had decent rhythm and tempo…and that is where I was wrong…

Today was our lesson.  Little did I realize that Ms. C’s laser sharp eyes did see some of our work yesterday.  She asked me how I thought my ride yesterday went.  Ooh.  “Well, it was not as challenging as some days, but I was happy with what we accomplished.”  Well, I learned that we were too quick in our trot work with too few half halts, not as through as we should be at the canter, i.e., more half halts, and our angles were off with our lateral work (read: half halt that outside rein to slow down that outside shoulder).  Darn those pesky things.  I think I’m doing things correctly only to find out that I’m not quite as effective as I think I am.  Crap.  Sigh.  Bummer.  Why don’t horses come with owner’s manuals so you know exactly how much to squeeze your fingers and legs to get the correct result?

Ms. C said that I am letting Ike choose the rhythm he wants to go – he needs to learn patience, wait for me, and I need to establish what I want.  If I keep letting him make the decisions on how to travel, then the choppy quick trot is what I’m teaching him is okay.  Ahh, light bulb moment.  It is a very good thing that I take weekly lessons to keep me on track.  Ike and I would still be careening around the arena without Ms. C’s close and very patient guidance to keep us moving in the right direction.  We spent most of the lesson working on my ability to half halt correctly no matter what gait we were in and thereby teaching Ike to be patient and wait for me to ask for more or less.  My homework for the weekend is clear…no puffy gloves, lots of half halts, and then some more half halts.  Ike’s homework is working on waiting for Mom’s aids…patience big boy, patience.

The Jolly Green Giant

Dec 31 Jolly Green Giant

It looks like the colder temperatures are finally here to stay in the mid-Atlantic region.  While Ike has gained some weight and grown a respectable winter coat, I decided to offer him an added layer of protection from the elements.  I pulled out his emerald green, waterproof sheet from last year; it has no fill, but it isn’t quite cold enough for his medium weight blanket.  As a three-year old, he wore an 84 inch blanket.  Yes, that is right, a size 84…kept all fingers and toes crossed that it would fit and I would not have to scramble to find a new one.  As soon as I pulled it around his shoulders, you could see the material straining to fit around Ike’s the hulking deltoids.  Sigh.  Baby Huey continues to get pumped up or plumped up as the case may be.  Time to start shopping for a replacement.

My internet search for larger sized horse blankets found some interesting details: there are fewer choices once you move beyond 84 inch blankets.  Some websites have nothing sized above 84 inches.  There are a fair number of 86 inch style choices, but color selection is more limited – usually one choice.  Once you go above 86 inches, there are only a few companies that carry the circus-tent sizes.  Found one style called the Big Fella at Schneider’s (  Leave it to me to own a horse that needs special sizing.

Ike and I did manage to get in two rides over the New Year’s holiday weekend.  Two rides are better than no rides.  Ike continues to be grumpy during our warmup.  I try more walking, hovering in two-point at the trot, lots of walk/trot transitions with half halts that make my arms ache from the effort, and the only thing that consistently works is letting him canter.  Fine, Ike, if that will get you over your mood and make you more cooperative, so be it.  Canter politely for as long as you need.  All this winter time cantering is paying off – we are no longer freight training around the arena like a Great Dane puppy.  My knees are grateful that the fence is now keeping its distance.   We are also continuing to work on canter transitions using my seat rather than my leg backed up with the whip.  The whip has been a necessary tool this past year.  It continues to be useful for our lateral work, but it sure is nice to wean myself from needing it for canter transitions.  Forward progress…baby steps…except my baby needs a 86 inch blanket.