Did You Ever Believe That You Would Be Where You Are?

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Believing in yourself can be hard at times.  While you may have supporters standing with you, there are just as many people who will look at you and place doubt in your mind.  “Is that the best she can do?”  “Why is she still trying?”  Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy and feel like you will never make progress.  It can be hard to turn off those negative voices since they sometimes scream louder than the positive ones.  The voices in my head seem to like to chatter right when it is time for bed…

You can easily lose sight of how far you have come when you look at the journey that still lies ahead or you are bogged down trying to master one particular new skill.  It sometimes takes someone saying something to you to make you appreciate the progress that you have made.  That someone, in this case, would be Ms. C.

After my last preparatory lesson earlier this week, I was getting Ike settled and cleaning my tack.  Ms. C was working on evening barn chores.  I mentioned that at the upcoming show, I would be riding First Level Test 3 for the first time ever.  Yes, that is right, the first time EVER.  She turned to me and asked, “When you started taking riding lessons (back in 2005), did you ever think that you would be where you are now and have had the opportunity to ride with Hilda?!”  I paused for a moment.  No, if you had told me then that I’d have a wall filled with ribbons, that I’d fly to Florida to find a horse, that I’d own a horse like Ike, that I’d get to ride with Hilda Gurney, or that I’d be getting ready to school Second Level dressage, I would have cackled like a crazy lady.

That conversation got me thinking that while I was still a newbie in the world of dressage, I had still come a long way from being a first time dressage rider in 2006.  It is well known that I struggled to progress with Cigar, but much of that was his unwillingness to play nicely.  But, in his own way, he taught me persistence, patience, and how to keep my butt in the saddle.  When he retired, I felt confident enough to purchase a very green, very big 3-year-old horse.  In just a few months shy of 3 years, I can now say that I have successfully shown him at Training Level and First Level.  Not a meteoric rise, but I am proud of what we have accomplished.

With that said, I am looking forward to our second show of the season this weekend.  I can hold my head up high as we head down centerline.  We have done all we can do to get ready for our First Level Test 3 debut.  Here’s hoping we can silent those negative voices again and celebrate our next milestone!

Alison

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Happy Birthday Cigar!

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Today is Ike’s brother’s 18th birthday.  According to The Jockey Club, he turned 18 on January 1st, but I like to acknowledge the actual day.  He has been a part of the family for 9 years.  Cigar is incorrigible.  I tried my best to turn him into a dressage partner, but he fought me on each and every ride.  In his mind, you could not win unless your nose was stretched far out in front of the rest of your body.  It must have driven him crazy when I said that no, we could not gallop down centerline…although we actually did that at one schooling show when he decided the herd of sheep were to be feared.

He has given me a black eye, a bloody nose, a crooked finger, bruises, sprains, and whiplash.  He might be incorrigible, but he is my grumpy old man and Ike’s buddy.  Happy Birthday Cigar, we love you!  🙂

 

Early Morning Calls From the Barn Make For Worrisome Days

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Early morning phone calls are almost never good news.  The only good news I can imagine is that your mare gave birth to the long-awaited foal,  Otherwise, the conversations typically start with, “You might need to call the vet.”  When Ms. C called just after 8 a.m. this past Tuesday, I knew that there would be some bad news headed my way – no possible pregnancies with either of my geldings…  The only question that remained was, “Which horse?”  It turns out that it was Ike’s brother Cigar who was not feeling well.

When it came time to walk to his paddock, poor Cigar was three-legged lame.  He was almost non-weight bearing on his left hind leg.  At that time, there was no heat or swelling anywhere else on the leg.  Ms. C thought that she seen him take a wonky step on Monday, but there was no obvious signs of trauma on the leg.  Ms. C suggested that I call the vet to determine what we should do.  The only other times that Cigar had acted this way were when he had a abscess in his left front hoof and when a hoof treatment on his feet accidentally burned the bulbs of his heels.  So obviously, we suspected an abscess.

I placed a call to the vet and hopped in the car for the 30 minute drive to the barn.  The vet suggested we administer Banamine to help with Cigar’s comfort level, and call her back after an hour to reassess.  The Banamine obviously helped, but Cigar was still not his usual self.  This is the point where knowing your horse’s normal behavior is very helpful.  While the Banamine was helpful, Cigar was still not interested in eating his breakfast.  That is definitely NOT normal for this horse with a voracious appetite.  After conferring with the vet, we decided to give him 24 hours before having the vet come.

Well, you can guess how Wednesday morning started…Ms. C called just after 7 a.m. and said we needed a vet to come that day.  Overnight, the leg had swollen to sausage size from the stifle all the way to the hoof.  Oh.  Guess we aren’t going to get lucky with an abscess.  Cigar was still not showing much interest in food or moving.  Poor buddy.  My day was rearranged to accommodate the vet appointment.  The patient was cooperative with the examination.  The cooperation was only due to his pain level; he is usually an ass for any veterinary procedure.

Diagnosis?  Cellulitis.  Prognosis?  Very good.  Course of Treatment?  Fourteen SMZ pills twice a day for two weeks (392 pills – I did the math.)  He is also getting some Bute for the first three days.  Thank goodness the SMZ pills dissolve into water so they can be administered via syringe straight into his mouth.  Wish us luck once Cigar starts feeling better.  I see white paste in my hair and all over my clothing.  Knowing my luck, it will stain.  I also wouldn’t put it past him to sneak a bite or two on my hand/arm/body part closest to his mouth.

Cigar's natural state of filth.

Cigar’s natural state of filth.

Well good drugs are a good thing.  As of yesterday afternoon, Cigar was showing signs of “normal” behavior, although, some would argue that nothing Cigar does is normal.  He nickered for his meals and ate everything, walked around his paddock, tried picking up the water trough with his mouth (not sure why this is his new favorite pastime), played with Ike over the fence, AND, the biggest sign of all, he rolled in the mud.  Yes, the leg is still huge, but I am so relieved that my old man is on the mend.

Alison

p.s.  Ike is also glad his brother is on the mend.  He is not used to his brother getting the bulk of Mom’s attention.  Can you say jealous?  Silly pony.

 

 

Ike’s One Man Skit of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

191Show season is now officially over.  The schooling show yesterday was a mixed bag of results.  I naturally assumed that we’d kick butt at Training Level and have our bobbles during our first attempt at First Level.  Well as the saying goes, never assume anything.  Ike made sure that I will never again assume anything as far as his performance.  I had two tests to ride and two completely different horses to ride.  A Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde skit played out in the dressage ring.

The First Act – Mr. Hyde’s performance.

Warm up was stellar.  Ms. C was there to school us and I felt confident that we could go out and hit the high 60’s or perhaps even clear that 70 percentile mark to end the season.  Our trot loop was too loopy, but the real trouble started once I asked for the left lead canter.  There was a lot of horse under me and I did my best to tame the wild beast.  Well, once we completed the circle, Ike shifted into a higher gear.  Pretty certain that the judge and scribe were fearful of Ike ending up in their laps as we headed toward the short end.  We careened around past C and Ike’s hind end skidded out from under us and took down part of the dressage arena.  That then sent him into a blind panic and he bolted down the long diagonal.  The fifth movement of the test calls for a trot transition at X.  Ike performed a canter-walk transition at A.  We somehow managed an average (6) free walk, but once we transitioned to trot and then to canter, surprise, the jets were turned back to high and we blasted through the remainder of the test.

The judge’s oral comments included the phrases “Scooby Doo” and “white knuckles.”  Hmm, not the comments one expects to hear.  She also commented that she feared that we’d not slow down before reaching the fencing of the adjoining paddocks.  Little did she know that while I was less than amused with Ike’s behavior, I was not fearful at all.  Many years of riding my whack-a-doodle Thoroughbred had prepared me well for any antics of my young horse.  While Ike can be very powerful in his spooks, they lack the feline quick spin/buck/bolts of Ike’s predecessor.  We gladly accepted our sixth place ribbon for the class.  My husband dubbed the ride the day’s comic relief.

Sir Ike then had to face Ms. C to explain his behavior.  He just batted his big brown eyes and begged for a peppermint.  Sorry, big boy, there is a lesson you must learn before your next ride with canter lengthenings…you must be patient, wait for your rider’s instructions, and then listen to the aids rather than blow through them.  You are expected to respond when Mom half halts.  Ike spent 40 minutes working on: Trot, more trot, halt.  Walk, canter, halt, reverse, trot, halt.  Trot, extend, halt.  Walk, canter, lengthen, halt.  The boy was a bit sweaty, but was listening well and on the aids when our next ride time arrived.

The Second Act – Dr. Jekyll’s Turn.

Finally time for the long awaited First Level debut.  Deep breath or as deep as I could with my cold.  As I gave my number to the scribe, I also said, “Round Two.”  The judge responded by asking that we not make her knuckles turn white again.  That might be a tall order, but we’d try our best.  The two 10 meter half circles were not great, but big boy still isn’t stellar with bending all 86 inches of his body.  Managed a 7 on our first trot lengthening and an 8 for our stretchy trot circle at the judge.  Phew, a third of the test down, and we were still in control.  Next up was the dreaded walk-trot-canter transition…squirrel pulled off a 7.  The canter circle was too big for a 5 and the lengthening show no clear comeback so that earned us a 5.5.  Stinker pulled a 7 for his left lead canter transition and a remarkable 8 on the left lead lengthening and comeback.  Best of all, we were still in control and the ring was still standing!  Our final halt found me beaming and giving Ike’s next a huge hug before we left the ring.  Thank you for that Ike.  Mom truly appreciates that effort.

The final score was a 63.793% (getting high marks for the movements with a coefficient helped the bottom line).  It still put us fourth of four, but that wasn’t the concern.  We survived our first First Level test, cleared 60% which was my goal, and best of all, we recovered from the disastrous first ride.  I think that last achievement was our greatest feat for the day.  It is how you weather the bumps and the rough rides that truly mark your progress as a rider.  No rider and no horse is perfect.  Just keep putting your foot in the stirrup and keep riding.

Escape to a Sand Bar

Ocracoke Island Lighthouse and Innkeeper's Home

Ocracoke Island Lighthouse and Innkeeper’s Home

Greetings!  So where have I been you ask?  Have I been working so hard to prepare for the championships that I have had no time to write?  Umm, well, no.  As a matter of fact, I was doing close to nothing along with my husband and another couple.  We spent a week on the 17 mile long sand bar more commonly known as Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.

If you want to escape from overdeveloped beaches with busy boardwalks and chain restaurants, then this is your island.  The beaches of Ocracoke were named the best beaches in the United States by Dr. Beach in 2007 (http://www.prweb.com/releases/Ocracoke-Beach/Best-Beach-List/prweb531647.htm).  Yes, they even beat out the beaches of Florida and Hawaii.  Most of the island is protected and part of the National Park System.  Bring your four-wheel drive and claim your part of paradise for the day.  However, going in September can be a crap shoot.  You never know when a late season hurricane will come blowing up the eastern seaboard and short or even cancel your vacation all together.  Ocracoke is always one of the first islands that requires evacuation since the only way on and off the island for most folks is by ferry.  For those of you with your own private plane, there is a small airstrip to accommodate you.  It is this remoteness that adds to the appeal.  And every year, the afternoon “cocktail discussion” ensues where we discuss moving to the island.  “Sure!  Let’s do it!”  It always sounds so easy with wine-soaked goggles.

Then reality sets in and I realized that I’m ill-suited for remote island living.  First off, I sadly must admit that I like to have options for shopping.  Perusing the shelves of the island’s grocery store finds that the some of the more off-beat ingredients that I like to incorporate into our dinner menu are not to be found.  The closest Harris Teeter is 2.5 hours away (30 minute ride to the ferry, 50 minute ferry ride, and another 60 minutes or so north).  And that assumes that Route 12 in intact and not closed due to storm damage.  I’ve also traversed the entire island and never did find the local feed store, tack store, or a version of my favorite local clothing store.  Hmm, that could be problematic.

Second is the lack of employment for career bureaucrats like myself.  While I enjoy eating and cooking, I don’t have any skills as a line cook.  I enjoy fishing, but I can’t see anyone hiring me as a boat captain or mate.  It would also be near impossible to make a living with my art skills…and please don’t ask me to sing.  My best hope would be to land a position with the National Park Service tending to the small herd of Banker ponies that are descendants of those who used to freely roam the island.  And that leads us to the biggest problem of all….what about the boys?!

Ocracoke is currently home to two herds of horses: the Banker ponies and the herd owned by the local group who provides trail rides on the beach.  I’ve scoped out both groups and unfortunately, I don’t think my 16 hand Thoroughbred or my 17 hand Dutch Harness Horse would blend well with either herd.  There is absolutely no way that either could be mistaken for a Banker pony.  The ponies are a hardy group whose descendants survived hurricanes, island flooding, lack of fresh water and life with no barn or fly spray.  My pampered equines throw a fit if they are left in the rain or if breakfast is late.  The trail horses look like bomb-proof souls who can carry tourists wearing shorts and tennis shoes safely through the sandy paths without terrorizing the tourist or local wildlife.  My Thoroughbred believes trail rides are his cue to demonstrate his race horse speed.  Luckily for the unfortunate soul perched on his back, the island will eventually end and I’ve never seen Cigar swim.  Ike has never been on a trail ride, but his hulking size would not make him a crowd favorite.

My island exploration did not find the local dressage barn either.  There was also no sign of a farrier, dressage trainer, hay field, or a veterinarian.  I’ve already mentioned the lack of feed store.  If I had a plane, and a large pot of money, I suppose I could fly in all the necessary help and supplies, but we all know that the large pot of money is about a real as the chance that I will be moving to a sand bar in the near future.  And I can’t even imagine what it would take to travel to a show.  I wonder if horses get sea sick?

So here I am safely back home.  And while I was away working on the relaxation portion of the training pyramid, Ike was staying busy with Ms. C.  Big boy had three productive sessions with her in my absence.  I had a quick ride today and the realization that the finals are a mere three weeks away!!  I see a lot of lessons in the next three weeks and just as many sleepless nights.  This is going to be better than Christmas!

The DQ Invades the Hunter Fun Show…And Has a Blast!

Go Ike!

Go Ike!

So everyone knows that we’ve been rather unfortunate with our off-the-farm experiences lately.  Every time we try to go somewhere, it rains, and rains, and rains.  Well, the curse has been lifted!  This past Friday, Ike and I headed to Hill Top Stables (http://hilltopstablesva.com/) to ride in their Friday afternoon fun show.  The show included command classes, hunter flat classes, hunter over fences, western pleasure, and games.  There was something for everyone.  I perused their prize list and determined that there were three classes that we could enter.  No, pole bending and barrel racing were not one of our selections.

We arrived right after the gates opened to provide Ike a good hour to walk around, calm down, and giraffe his neck.  Turns out, we needed all that time.  You were allowed to warm up in the competition arena.  The jumps for the hunter over fences classes were already set.  Each was creatively decorated:  Halloween ghosts and garland on one, beach toys and a boogie board on another.  Let’s just say that Ike was a bit worried about these obstacles.  “Um, Mom, why are there things in the arena?  We don’t have stuff like this at the other shows.”  My Hackney giraffe huffed and puffed as we walked by each one.  Shoulder in was my best friend to help guide Ike past each one.

It was a good thing that I’d asked Ms. C to meet us at the show.  Just about the time she arrived was the time that the other riders started jumping…”OMG, Mom, why are these horses flying???!!!”  And if one of the horses happened to rub a rail or knock one down?  Ike would panic.  In his panic, we almost took down one of the standards.  Poor sheltered dressage horse.  Ms. C helped tame the fears with Mrs. Pastures cookies and reassuring words.  She also gave me some pointers on how to ride Ike like a hunter horse.  I must sadly admit that I’ve never ridden the hunters and have no idea what they want.  Ike and I tried our best to follow Ms. C’s instructions, but every time I’d give Ike a little more rein, someone would rub a rail and off we’d go.  We finally decided to be done with warm up and let Ike stand and watch until it was time for our first class.

First up, the Senior Command Class.  Basically Simon Says on Horseback.  The judge had the class walk, next rising trot, then extend your trot, and then back to walk.  What came next?  Canter.  Thank goodness we’d been schooling our walk-canter transitions and trot lengthening at home.  Then it was back to trot, then walk and reverse.  The next command caught me off guard.  There we were walking and we heard, “Hand gallop, please, hand gallop.”  Uh, okay.  Ike took a few steps of trot into our “gallop.”  Thankfully I remembered to ride in two point which is rather challenging in a dressage saddle.  And even more thankfully, the judge asked for trot rather than walk.  We then had to halt, perform a rein-back, and then trot and line up.  As the announcer called the placings, our number was called for second place.  Go Ike!

We had a short break before our second class-  Green Rider/Horse Under Saddle.  This was a class for adult amateurs and juniors in their first or second year of showing over fences.  Since we have never shown over fences, we were allowed to enter.  It was a class of 7-8 riders.  Again, the judge asked for walk-canter transitions.  Ike nailed his transitions in both directions.  The canter-walk transitions were not quite perfect, but were okay.  We almost had a collision during the left lead canter since there were two riders walking on the rail and there was a jump just off the rail.  There luckily was a narrow opening between them and the jump and my very loud half halt kept Ike out of the tail of the Thoroughbred.  Of course, this all happened in the direct line of the judge’s view.  We lined up and waited for the judge’s decisions.  “First place goes to number 14, Commanders Eisenhower…”  What?!  No way.  So very proud of my big man. 🙂

Our third and final class was Open Hunter.  Pretty much the same riders as the second class.  Dare I say that Ike was getting tired.  His trot was choppy and we missed our walk-canter transition to the right.  This young dressage horse is not used to cantering laps around the arena – lots of respect for those well conditioned hunter horses that have that stamina and can do it in multiple classes.  When the placings were called, Ike politely received his fourth place ribbon and gave the ribbon lady a nudge with his nose.  I think he was hoping for a candy for all his efforts.  Luckily, Ms. C greeted him with a cookie so all was well in Ike’s world.

It was a great outing that I consider a success.  The sun was out, Ike overcame his fear of flying horses, and he was his usual stellar self when asked to perform.  I think everyone should consider going outside their comfort zone and try something new with their mounts.  Don’t worry that you are the only dressage rider on the biggest horse. Just do it.  You just might find that you have a blast when you take all the performance expectations out of the equation.  When you just relax and enjoy yourself, you will surprise yourself at how well you can do.   Now if I can just remember my own words of wisdom next weekend at our dressage show and get that last qualifying score!

“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.