What The!?!

The Big, Bad Horse

The Big, Bad Horse

So I go out-of-town for a week of sand between my toes and I came home to an ENORMOUS horse.  I swear that Ike added 6 inches in height and at least 100-200 pounds while I was gone.  How is this possible?  What did Ike eat in the 7 days I was gone to bulk up that quickly?  I checked around the barn, but did not find any secret stash of steroids or evidence of weight gain powder residual in his food bowl.  Of course, I am certain that he really didn’t gain any height or weight in one week, but the mind sure can play tricks.

While I didn’t do much besides play in the surf and soak up some rays, Ike had to face the daunting task of performing for Ms. C on two days.  Luckily he was his usual stellar self for both of his training sessions.  She put Ike through his paces and confirmed that indeed, he is ready to move to harder concepts.  She played with pushing Ike forward and then bringing him back to a working gait.  There are more gears yet to be discovered.  Oh, dear.  While an extended canter does nothing to faze me, a huge extended trot is enough to give me the vapors.  Thank goodness that you can now rise the trot even at First Level.

Knowing that our (okay, my) next big hurdle is sitting Ike’s trot while keeping him together and keeping my legs from shooting out in front of me, that is what I worked on for my ride on Sunday.  Why not go full-out my first day back in the saddle!?  I used my SOS strap as best I could to help keep my ass in the saddle where it is supposed to be.  Also used all my yoga breathing techniques to keep me from holding my breath as I am prone to do.  Had limited success with the SOS strap since I then would forget to half halt and Ike would lose his connection and raise his head.  Arrrgh!  Oh yeah, as I was forgetting to half halt, I also managed to let my reins get too long so Ike was left to wonder what the heck was going on in the saddle.  He did his best at interpreting what he thought were my aids, but were in fact just me flopping around like a fish out of water.  And no, there is no video.

Today was a challenging day.  Ike must have woken up on the wrong side of the stall, because he was recalcitrant from the moment I retrieved him for the farrier appointment.  He tried to bite me.  He tried and almost succeeded in biting his farrier (he must have forgotten what happened the one time he did bite Phil…).  He then tried to bite me again.  Once the shoeing was done, he pawed the shavings in his stall until there was a hole near the door.  I yelled.  Ike then turned around and pushed with all his might on the stall door which got him a poke on the butt from me.  He then tried biting me while pinning his ears as I wrote the check to the farrier.

I decided to tack up to see if the mood would carry over.  Why yes, it did.  He tried to bite me as I tightened the girth.  He spit the bit out.  He even spit out his peppermint.  A squeeze from my leg resulted in an ear-pinning, cow kick to which I responded with a tap from my whip.  I got an ear-pinning, “I’m going to bite you” look from that.  Ike then sucked back and would not connect.  Then he decided to play giraffe and blow through my half halts.  After 30 minutes of arguing, we FINALLY had 10 minutes of pleasantness.  I considered that a success and dismounted.  Tomorrow is another day.  Hoping Ike has a better night’s sleep tonight.  Vacation is over!


You Know You Are a Horse Junkie When…


1) It is 107 degrees with the heat index and yet you still put on your riding pants and black leather boots and give it a go.

2) You can count on two fingers the number of pedicures that you have ever had, yet your horse gets their hooves done every 5 weeks.

3) The equine family member also gets a set of very expensive shoes every five weeks along with their pedicure, but you have had the same pair of riding boots for the past 10 years.

4) Your horse has buttery soft leather bridles and halters, has a custom fitted leather saddle…you have “pleather” shoes and purses or you have a nice leather purse that you bought second hand on eBay.

5) The nutritional content of your horse’s feed is analyzed and scientifically calculated to increase performance.  You eat whatever you can find in the cabinet or whatever you can purchase from the fast food restaurant that happens to be on your way home.

6) Your tack is immaculate, stalls are cleaned on a daily basis, and water troughs scrubbed as soon as a little scum is noted.  In your own home, you can write your name in the layer of dust on the furniture and their is a small dog’s worth of dog hair lurking under the sofa.

7) Heaven forbid if your equine prince or princess not have their saddle pads and polo wraps washed after one use.  You use the “sniff test” to determine if you can squeeze another day out of your t-shirt and jeans.

8) There are more expenditures for horse-related activities in your checkbook than any other category.  As such, your horse’s budget is larger than that for your mortgage, car and food.

9) Weekends are planned around your horse shows.  Weekdays are planned around riding, vet appointments, feed store, and trips to the tack store.

10) The number of bookmarks for horse-themed websites and tack stores is far greater than all other bookmarks combined.

11) You can quote every horse show within a 50 mile radius over the next 6 months.

12) You have a credit card that is maintained just for emergency vet bills.

13) The hair care products used for your horse’s mane, tail, and coat are top of the line.  You purchase store brands.

14) The interior of your car is tan to better hide the barn dirt.  The upholstery smells of lederbalsam, horse sweat, and hay.  The smell is permanent.

15) The vet, farrier, and trainer are all on speed dial on your phone.  They are the only numbers committed to memory.

16) It is your birthday, but your horse gets more gifts than you do.  The same is true for Christmas.

17) Most of the artwork in your home includes a horse.

18) There are more photos of your horse(s) on the laptop than of any other occasion.

19) Horse show ribbons are an acceptable alternative to curtains or wall decorations.

20) You realize that all 19 things on this list are true, but you wouldn’t trade your horse or the lifestyle for anything.

And We’re Moving On Up, On Up…

005Well, okay, we are not moving into a penthouse suite, nor are we moving to the top of the training scale.  Only in my dreams do we piaffe and passage with the best horses and riders.  No, we are moving on to the next level of Ike’s dressage education which means we will begin schooling first and second level concepts in earnest.

The game changer was last Tuesday when Ms. C rode Ike.  She now knows exactly where Ike stands with his training.  Poor Ike can’t hide behind my poor technique or lack of skills anymore.  Ms. C likes how Ike responds in the Neue Schule bit; he is not too heavy, nor does he avoid contact with it.  She believes that he will have excellent lateral work.  She also said that he now has the physical and mental strength to handle the greater demands that he will now face.

Soooo, that meant that during my lesson on Saturday and my lesson today, I had to be focused and mentally ready to really ride my horse every single stride.  As I’ve stated in past posts, I have a tendency to turn on the cruise control and forget to half halt, shift my weight, move my leg, or do anything to improve Ike’s way of moving.  Ms. C yelling, “why are you letting your horse flatten?” or “where is Ike’s shoulder headed?” usually bring me out of my cruise mode and back to reality.  I’d say that having the ability to focus and ride every stride are probably two of those key elements that separate the talented riders from the rest of us.

So first on the list of skills to master as we embark on this next phase of our training is focus – I knew how to do it when I ran hurdles as part of my high school’s track team.  I could run by bleachers filled with screaming people and not hear a thing.  Nothing.  Nothing but the sound of my shoes hitting the pavement.  Not sure when I lost that ability.  Is it part of the aging process?  Maybe I need some ginko biloba to increase blood flow to the brain and thus, the brain’s capacity to think and stay focused.

The next skill to master is relaxing my arms and legs so that I can improve my sit trot.  If we are moving on with Ike’s training, then I need to be able to keep up as he masters the new skills.  What good is it to have a horse that is ready for Second Level when the rider is still struggling to keep her ass in the saddle without shooting her legs out and bracing.  This isn’t water skiing.  My sit trot during my lesson today was better than on Saturday.  I’ve noticed that there are times that it is still better to rise than to hunker down and fight for the sit trot.  With Ike, when I ask for a trot lengthening, it is better for me to get off his back…at least at this point in the training.  Today I would sit the short ends, lengthen the long sides, and then go back to sit trot.  While it might not have been the prettiest, I do think that we did okay with our efforts.

I’m very excited with where we are with Ike’s training.  I fought for seven years with Cigar and barely made it out of Training Level before his career ended.  He challenged me every step of the way and at times, I would get very demoralized.  I pretty much decided that I had no idea what I was doing.  Ike has helped me regain my confidence and realize that progress is possible.  It might even happen faster than I anticipated…

The Marshmallow Fluff Separation

010I’d like to share with you my story of the jar of marshmallow fluff.  You know the stuff, that small jar of white, sticky goodness that only ever was used for Thanksgiving dinner when I was a child.  My mother would mash yams with butter and brown sugar, then top them with apple pie filling, and then marshmallow fluff.  Completely healthy right?  Well we never seemed to use the whole jar, so the partially used jar would go live in the back of the pantry.  Now my mother’s pantry is as deep as a normal closet, so neglected food items have a tendency to hang out in the dark recesses and never see the light of day again.

One night in the fall of 2003, I decided to cook dinner for my parents.  I opened the pantry to see what was available……..that turned into a treasure hunt to see what canned item was the oldest.  The winner was clearly the bulging can of chicken ala king from 1978 (the year we moved into the house).  Anyone hungry for some botulism with a side of rice?

Anyway, I also came across the forgotten jar of marshmallow fluff dated 1984.  Do you know what happens to 19-year-old fluff?  It separates into two distinct layers:  the corn syrup layer and the layer of unidentified white stuff.  Yum.  Too bad that this predated the days of smart phones or there would be a photo to share.

Now for the $1000 question:  Why am I sharing the marshmallow fluff separation story?  Well, let me tell you why.  I got off my sorry butt and on Tuesday night, attended the monthly meeting for my local dressage chapter.  We are a small group, but there are some very dedicated people who keep things running.  And there are suckers like me that volunteer to be acting secretary because I felt guilty that I’d been so lazy for the past couple of years.  While at the meeting, I heard a story that saddened me.  It involved some members who were supposed to be working together, but things spiraled the wrong way, plans fell apart and the two factions separated…just like the marshmallow fluff.  Unfortunately, no amount of stirring was going to correct things in time for the group activity.  What a shame.  In smaller organizations, the breakdown of communication and teamwork can really hurt the organization as a whole.  I was not involved, so I know none of the specifics.  I just hope that going forward that everyone can put those feelings aside and remember why we joined this organization: our love of horses and the sport of dressage.

Equestrian sports might be a multi-million dollar industry, but there would be no shows without volunteers.  From the small local shows to the World Equestrian  Games, volunteers keep the show wheels turning.  There has to be someone to set up the show grounds, to beg companies to donate prizes and sponsor the classes, to keep the riders in the warm up ring up-to-date on their classes, or to sit for hours on end writing down the judge’s scores and comments.  Let’s give a big round of applause for the folks who are on the cross country course at each of the jumps rain or shine, those who are the runners or gate keepers, and those who sit in a windowless room calculating the scores as quickly as possible.  I coordinated volunteers for four years – it can be like herding cats – challenging, frustrating, and rewarding all at the same time.  There is no better feeling than when the show is over and all the ribbons have been handed out, to hear a thank you from a competitor for an enjoyable day.  That is what keeps you motivated to do it again and again.

So the next time you are at odds with another member of your association, take a moment, breathe deeply, and ask yourself, “Do you want to be one of the layers of the old marshmallow fluff or a well-blended jar of sugary goodness?”


p.s. Ike and I have our lesson tomorrow…work and weather played havoc with our riding this week and delayed our weekly tune up.

Way Too Hot For Woman or Beast

007The month of July is underway and it has been a hot one thus far.  It hasn’t stopped me from riding, but the length of time I typically ride is severely curtailed.  Just can’t seem to get motivated to ride more than 30 minutes when the sweat is pouring down into my eyes.    And who doesn’t love pulling their helmet onto their head and realize that it is still soaking wet with sweat from the day before?  Awesome.

July also means the reappearance of the flying green beetles and an unidentified flying bug that typically hovers about a foot off the ground until it decides to dive-bomb the horses when they happen by.  Just like the cicadas, these bugs apparently have poor maneuverability and often run into my helmet or the horse’s neck.  Horse flies have also made their annual debut.  You know they are present when you see one of the horses bucking around their paddocks.  A few of the horses also utilize the stop, drop and roll technique – I guess they are hoping to squash the offending fly during the roll.  Can’t blame them.

Although our rides are short, I have no complaints with Ike’s work.  Ever since we purchased a larger bridle and changed the bit, our work has progressed more rapidly than I could have ever anticipated.  Ms. C continues to school our shoulder in, leg yield, and walk-canter transitions.  I attempt to replicate the work when we practice on our own.  I’m still learning not to shoot Ike to the moon in the walk-canter transition.  We don’t really have a canter-walk transition to speak of…we still need some trot steps or we practically fall flat on our faces.  We have even played with shallow canter loops with limited success.  Some days Ike can hold the canter through the loop, other days we falter before we make it back to the rail.  It’s all good.  I’m just so tickled with what he can do and how hard he tries to please.

We don’t have any shows scheduled until next month.  We have our entries mailed for our last three attempts at qualifying for the regional finals.  Can it really be that hard to achieve at least one more score of 63% or higher?  Keeping my hopes up that we will.

“I Hope My Antiperspirant Holds Up”

Cigar and I

Cigar and I

This past weekend, my husband and I met my parents at Colonial Downs in New Kent, Virginia to enjoy some time together and place some bets on the Thoroughbred races.  Ever since I was a little girl, I loved watching the races and trying to pick the winner.  Everyone has their method for picking the “winner.”  My Dad selects a name he likes.  My husband actually reads the race statistics and workout times to select his bets.  I bet on the horse that looks like my OTTB Cigar (bay with a white star)…and then there is my mother.

When she was a youngster, she used to go to one of the local tracks in New Jersey with her Uncle.  He would ask her which horse she liked and would put a $2 wager on it to win.  She would always pick the grey horse without fail.  He would tell her she shouldn’t pick that particular horse.  My mother would insist and when asked why she wanted the grey, “Because it is pretty.”  What other reason would there be?  To this day, she still bets on the grey.  In one race there were multiple grey horses with not the best of odds.  She placed bets on all of them and even tried a trifecta box.  That trifecta box was a $48 bet; a wee bit more than she usually wagers.  She was giddy at the thought of winning that bet and that is where the quote of the weekend comes into the picture, “I hope my antiperspirant holds up.”  My mother was on the edge of her seat when the bell rang and was standing and screaming as the horses came around the final turn toward the finish line.  Unfortunately, one of my bets and another horse ruined her plans of a big payout to supplement her shoe budget.  Have no fear, she stuck with her greys and won a few dollars in the later races.

And speaking of antiperspirant, although I liberally applied it before I left the house, I doubt I still smelled spring-time-fresh by the time I was done riding Saturday morning.  I managed to get an extra lesson in with Ms. C early in the day.  Even early in the morning when the sun is not at its strongest, I was sweating like I was sitting in a sauna.  Ugh, mid-Atlantic summers are so humid.  The slight breeze was barely enough to stir the leaves on the trees.  It definitely wasn’t enough to keep the sweat from raining down into my eyes and onto my glasses.  Yes, I am a vision that will never make it into a deodorant commercial…not quite the marketing plan the executives have in mind.

Um, are you sure you want to do this?  It is awfully humid out there.

Um, are you sure you want to do this? It is awfully humid out there.

Although the weather was not my favorite, Ike still performed like the stellar fellow he is.  We continued schooling him in lengthening his stride at the trot.  When we do manage to get some strides in which Ike is really using his whole body, I begin to wonder whether or not I will be able to sit that trot when the time comes.  It is a lot bigger than I realized.  It might not have the suspension of some of the top warmbloods, but there is enough “oomph” in there for this girl.  And can I just say that there is no good way to learn how to sit trot other than getting on a horse and giving it a go.  No amount of aerobics or sit ups or yoga is going to teach me how to move with my horse without stiffening or flopping like a fish out of water.  Any advice is welcome, as well as any coupons for some more antiperspirant and deodorant.