Can Someone Direct Me To The Bigger & Taller Store?

Ike in his blanket

Hmm, there is something amiss with this blanket

This past weekend, my husband and I watched the movie The Blind Side again.  It is an amazing story, but I mention the movie for one particular scene.  Mrs. Tuohy takes Michael Oher to the Big & Tall store to find some new clothing.  She asks the salesmen what they have available in Michael’s size.  He points to one rack and states, “This is all we have in his size.”  Mrs. Tuohy retorts, “Are you not a big and tall store?”  The salesman laughs and replies, “He needs a bigger and taller store!”  Well that is about where I am with finding Ike a winter blanket.  Yes everyone, that moment has arrived, Ike has outgrown his EIGHTY SIX inch blanket.  As you can see in his photo, we cannot close the front of the blanket – the velcro doesn’t even come close to securing in front.  As my blogger friend Susan noted, “He has massive cleavage spillage like the drunk girl on Saturday night.”  Poor Ike.

We have moved beyond the normal horse-sized blankets.  Most brands of blankets have a maximum size of 84 inches with some venturing into the 86 inch range.  When you start looking for sizes bigger than that, your choices are very limited.  I suppose most companies assume when you are that big, you don’t get cold.  When you type “88 inch horse blanket” into a search engine, you get about 5 websites with a limited selection of turnout blankets and stable blankets.  Cute colors/plaids/patterns?  Forget about it.  Color choices?  Typically one color choice – take it or leave it.  The best selection appears to be at Schneider’s Tack (the same place I found Ike’s double bridle) with a brand called Big Fella Blankets marketed “For Drafts, Large Warmbloods, & Wide Bodied Conformations.” Color choices are grey so we can look like a walrus or navy for the look of a blue whale.

But before I purchase a new blanket, I need to measure Mr. Wide Body to attempt to get an accurate measurement.  Pulled out my measuring tape only to find that Ike has also far exceeded the measuring capability of my tape.  Super.

So, to date, my dearest boy has outgrown our last horse trailer, two bridles, a girth, a multitude of bits, his 82 inch blankets, his 84 inch blankets, and now his 86 inch blankets.  Heaven help us if he outgrows his stall.  I will be footing the bill for a new wing of the barn…

Stay warm everyone!  Ike will do his best until the new blanket arrives.



Look Out Hilda, Here Comes Ike

"Don't worry Mom, I'm going to be awesome."

“Don’t worry Mom, I’m going to be awesome.”

Well, the time has finally come; we leave tomorrow for our first outing of the year.  And did we pick a schooling show, a local clinic, or just a ride to another farm?  Heck no, we are headed up to Boyds, Maryland to the scenic Wyndham Oaks Farm for the USDF/Nutrena Region 1 Hilda Gurney clinic.  I must have lost my mind when I sent my application.  I’ve seen the list of other riders.  We are the pair that was selected to represent the beginning of the journey up the training scale.  I can only hope that I make Ms. C, my husband, and my parents proud.  I can only hope that Ike is the gentleman we know he can be rather than the spooky goof who runs from birds.

We had one last tune up with Ms. C today.  She put us through our paces.  We are as healthy as we can be and as fit as we can be after the wretched winter we endured.  We focused on the proper bending on circles; I’m still bad at letting Ike’s outside shoulder head in the opposite direction we are traveling.  Unconsciously my outside hand and rein creep over Ike’s topline to try to fix the problem.  Bad rider, Bad Alison.  I have to constantly remind myself not to do that and to use my outside leg.  My inner thighs are still protesting as I write this. [Note to self – remember to pack the Advil.]

Ike still has not finished shedding and the temperatures just aren’t quite warm enough for a full bath.  I’ve done my best to make him look more presentable and less like a wooly mammoth.  The bridle path still needs some final prep, but my arms ached from trying to reach the necessary height to get the job completed.  Could someone please tell Ike to stop growing?

The trailer is packed, the tack is clean, and my new boots are polished.  A few hours of work in the morning and then let the adventure begin!!

Monkey See, Monkey Do

"Oh, hello.  Were you hoping to ride today?"

“Oh, hello. Were you hoping to ride today?”

It can be said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; however, when your role model isn’t exactly clean-cut and at the top of the honor roll, you worry about his influence on a younger generation…yes, I’m talking about the less than stellar guidance that Cigar is providing to Ike.  I worry that Ike has been led astray by his older brother.

Even Ms. C has commented that perhaps putting Ike in the paddock adjacent to his brother wasn’t our best decision.  Ike used to quietly graze or eat hay in his paddock.  If he was startled, the worst he would do was stand at the gate and stare at the house until someone came to rescue him.  Since moving in next door to his brother, he now takes flight around his paddock, bucking like a banshee and sliding up to the gate like a reining horse.  The boys also think it is fun to casually walk to the far end of their paddocks, turn, and gallop to the other end.  It doesn’t seem to matter who wins as the game is repeated over and over and over until it is time to get funky.

Ike used to be a neat horse.  Rarely did I have to remove much dirt and his coat was always shiny and his mane tidy.  Well, those days are O-V-E-R.  As you can see in today’s photo, he has been taking his brother’s advice and spends his time wallowing in the mud.  Today, it took me more than 30 minutes to remove enough dirt to ride without embarrassment.  Once mounted, I found some funk I missed up behind Ike’s ears.  Thankfully, no one but me would notice it at that height.  Now that the temperatures have risen, wearing a blanket is out, so mud removal is a daily activity.  All this dirt makes me miss my polo wraps with the pig faces on them; they’d be quite appropriate these days.

Luckily for me, Cigar has yet to influence Ike as far as his training.  For that, I am eternally grateful.  It took 7 years for Cigar’s “meteoric” rise to First Level.  Ike’s progression has been just a wee bit faster as he has reached First Level after only 2 years.  His work as of late has been stellar.  Perhaps it is the fact that his rider has finally caught a clue coupled with the fact that Ike has gained muscles in all the right places.  We have been working hard to get ourselves ready for our first outing of the year which is now a little over a week away.  Our lessons with Ms. C are very focused.  “Where is your outside shoulder going?”  “Is it going where your horse is going?”  “Half halt!”  “Again!  He didn’t hear you.”  When I ride on my own, I try to replay the lesson in my head to replicate the correct positioning.  Where is my pocket-sized Ms. C to carry with me?

Our riding isn’t the only thing getting prepped for next weekend.  The trailer was inspected, and the short in the braking system was fixed.  I finally replaced my stirrup leathers; the ones I purchased in 2006 were starting to show their age.  New polo wraps have been purchased.  Ike has his stall reservations made and has his health certificate.    My new DerDau’s made their first appearance at the barn.  I still walk like Frankenstein in them, but they were comfortable to ride in from the very first ride.   They have a spiffy new bag to protect them.  My new Ecogold saddle pad ( arrived.  It is lovely.  I now want a whole stack of them.

The weekend promises to be a nice one.  We can only hope next weekend is as well.



Random Thoughts


This has been a low key week after the whirlwind activity of last weekend.  I have been bombarded with real life after living the carefree life for four days in Lexington, Virginia.  Sadly, the magic house fairy did not clean the house while we were gone, the laundry fairy did not wash and fold the four loads of laundry we generated at the Finals, and the work fairy did not complete any of my pending projects…Thus is the life of an Adult Amateur who has to work to support her horse passion.

There were no epiphanies this week, so all I have to share are my random collection of thoughts.  A small window into the internal workings of my brain.

I feel I must give another shout out to my amazing husband.  If you recall, he patiently drives Ike and I to all our clinics and shows.  I trust him completely to get us to where we need to be in one piece.  He calmly told me after Ike was in his home paddock that we had no trailer brakes for our return trip.  Yikes!  You have to climb and descend Afton Mountain on the interstate we use.  Not a good place to have no functional trailer brakes.  It just underscores the importance of the appropriate tow vehicle for your horse trailer as well as the skills of the driver.  Thank you Ford for our reliable F250 diesel truck.  To you crazy people that pull fully loaded two or three horse trailers with a Jeep Cherokee, I am talking to you.  Rethink what you are doing.

It is time to restart our First Level training in earnest.  Our lesson this week with Ms. C included schooling trot and canter lengthenings.  Ike can show a comeback from a trot lengthening, which is really only 4-5 decent strides of a half-ass lengthening of his stride followed by 4-5 strides of gangly young horse movement.  Hey, he is only 5 and not one of those freakishly talented horses that are showing second level already.  He will get there soon enough.  Our canter is another story entirely.  Our working canter is still a work in progress; it can look like a canter lengthening on any given day.  When I do ask for more, he is more than willing to do it…the comeback, well, that is almost non-existent.  To get any change my half halt is HUGE and not worthy of public display.  I think he has been talking to his brother who encourages more speed and lack of listening.

Sadly, my body is starting to show its age and my many years of running are beginning to haunt me.  For the past month, I’ve struggled with extreme cramps in my right hip when I start my ride.  It takes my breath away and forces me to stop until it passes.  Thankfully, once I get warmed up, the cramps stop.  I only made it through Finals weekend cramp-free with large doses of Tylenol before and after my rides.  I am diligently practicing yoga and praying that it fades away as quickly as it appeared.

Finally, where did fall go?  It was present last weekend, but decided to make an early exit.  In its place are temperatures normally not felt until late November in the mid-Atlantic region.  I need time to adjust.  I am still dressing like it is fall and paid the price today at the barn.  Brr, blue fingers are not normal and make half halts that much more challenging.  I guess I really need to get Ike measured for his new blankets sooner than later.  If this weather is any indication of the winter to come, it is going to be a cold one.  Time to win the lottery and buy that winter home in Wellington!

I Spy With My Two Eyes A Blue Sky

Walter having a "poneh ride" on Ike

Walter having a “poneh ride” on Ike

After endless days of rain, blue sky and the sun (!!!) have returned!  Thank goodness since today might be the last ride I can squeeze in before we leave on Thursday.  Sadly, I am not independently wealthy, so I must work in order to maintain my horses in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.

We made this ride count by having a lesson with Ms. C.  Luckily we have footing that drains very well, so we were able to walk, trot, and canter without worry.  I tried my best to half halt before Ms. C had to say something.  I tried my best to not let myself end up on cruise control since that is when Ike flattens and starts to look heavy.  I tried my best to be there without interfering with Ike’s movement.  Do you notice a trend here?  Ike is ready.  He is healthy, responsive, and steady.  I’m flaky and uncoordinated with a short attention span.  Hmm, maybe Ike can head down centerline without me?  At this point, I’m pretty sure he knows exactly where X is.

Ike’s veterinarian gave him his final tune up when our lesson was done.  Ike has realized that the adjustments and body work feel good so he no longer tries to walk away during the treatment.  The oats that I have in my hand don’t hurt either.

Need to get some sleep but I already feel like a child on Christmas Eve.  Breathe in, Breathe out.

Hi, Ho, Hi, Ho, It’s Back to Work We Go

008Vacation is O-V-E-R.  I can hear the clock ticking – tick, tock, tick, tock, get your butt back in the saddle, tick, tock.  I feel like Cinderella at the ball trying to pack in as much as I can before the clock strikes midnight.  I will look rather ridiculous if Ike turns into a mouse; although I’m guessing he would be a rather large one.  These next two weeks will be a blur.  There is so much to do.

The packing lists are growing – one for my non-show stuff, one for my show clothing, one for Ike, one for my dog who insists that he must go, and one for all the other stuff I think we might need.  The drop dead date for refunds has come and gone.  The hotel is reserved and confirmed.  The dog boarding is arranged for my unruly younger dogs.  The show will be underway two weeks from now.  OMG!  Breathe, Alison, breathe.

Ike had his chiropractic adjustment and acupuncture on Monday.  He will get one more work up right before we leave.  I have found that he moves much more freely after his treatments, so he will continue to have the body work done on a regular basis.  I guess it shouldn’t surprise me.  While I have not personally had a chiropractic adjustment, many of my family members swear by the regular adjustments.  All I know is that Ike has a lot more swing in his back and in his stride in the week following the adjustment.  Our vet noted that we might need to continue regular adjustments until Ike develops the muscle memory and strength in his hind end to support his hulking body.

Ike had his pedicure for his front hooves this week as well.  The hind shoes are, of course, on a different schedule.  Why not have your farrier out twice a month?!  Someone needs to fund his retirement.  We are still using the Equi-pak on all four hooves, so my farrier is going to send four tubes and the application gun with me to Lexington…just in case.  I’m beginning to think that our trailer is not going to be big enough for all of Ike’s paraphernalia.  Our farrier will be back the same day our vet returns.

I squeezed in two lessons with Ms. C this week.  I hope to do the same next week and one last lesson the week we leave.  [Oh, yes, I do need to work to pay for all of Ike’s bills, so I need to fit that onto the calendar as well.  Boo.  Hiss.]  Her keen eye missing nothing.  How does she know when I’ve put on the cruise control?!  Within a stride, she fusses that I’ve let Ike flatten or that I’ve lost the front or hind end.  This is her job – to keep me on task so that I’m not distracted by the turkeys in the field or by the never-ending stream of thoughts in my head.  I have no doubt that the two judges judging the championship class will also immediately know if I’ve tuned into another station.  There is no time to consult with a Buddhist monk on meditation techniques to control my mind, so I will just have to breathe and talk to myself…quietly.  We are back on track with all of our work.  Centerlines are straight, halts are square, and circles are round.

The trailer needed some organization and an assessment of the missing items.  Took care of that late this afternoon.  Now I’ve started a shopping list.

Hmm, I just realized that I forgot to include wine on my shopping and packing lists…let me go take care of that right now………

It Has Been How Long Already?

003Two years, that’s right, two years have flown by.  It was August 8, 2011 that Ike officially joined the family.  He started his journey to Virginia that day and arrived two days later.  My baby-faced three-year-old with 30 days of training is now a handsome, strapping young boy.  He continues to amaze me and I count my blessings every day that I have the privilege to ride him.

He is sporting a new bridle in the photo in this post.  Sadly, he has outgrown the one I purchased for him when I was in Wellington (well, duh, you can’t go horse shopping in Wellington and not hit the tack stores!)  The pretty bling browband that I had specially made for him sadly no longer fits either.  And, in case you weren’t aware, he also outgrew my old horse trailer; we had to buy the supersized two-horse bumper pull with a side ramp so there was plenty of room  to accommodate the giraffe neck.  Guess I should feel lucky that my saddle still fits him…

I still can’t believe how quickly he has progressed in his training.  Now some would say that with a more educated rider he would probably be further along, and I would not disagree with that statement.  Let me explain my reference point:  My dearest Cigar began his dressage education in 2005.  He was not the ideal horse on which to learn dressage.  “No!” was his go-to place.  “No, I do not wish to yield to your half halt.”  “No, I do not wish to canter with my nose near vertical.”  The talent was there, but the willingness was not.  That coupled with his propensity to injure himself made for a very slow journey out of Intro and Training Levels.  By fall of 2010, we’d barely clawed our way into First Level when his fractured knee ended his riding career.

Now Ike, on the other hand, is a very willing partner.  Cigar would call him a suck up.  We are discovering more and more gears as he grows stronger.  The lengthened trot I rode yesterday felt like it only took 8 strides to ride the long side of the arena.  Two years ago we were lucky to canter without me losing a knee on the fence while Ike’s legs were flailing around like propellers.  Just yesterday during our lesson, we started schooling counter canter.  While schooling counter canter, Ike actually performed an effortless flying change.  A bit of an overachiever like his mother.  Two years ago, Ike would drift left and right since he lacked the balance and strength to keep his body traveling in a straight line.  Yesterday, we attempted half pass at the trot with gorgeous results to the right and a decent effort to the left.  Wow.  So this is what it is like to see forward progress.  It is a giddy feeling.  Makes me wonder where we will be this time next year!

Happy Anniversary Ike!  We are so glad you are part of our family!

The Latest Show News


After yesterday’s pre-show antics, I feel I must add another definition to my last post.

Definition #5 – An involuntary spasm of a muscle when one’s horse acts like a fool.

So Sunday dawned with clouds in the sky and a drizzly rain falling – fingers were crossed that we’d have no heavy rain showers.  We headed out to the barn to put the finishing touches on Ike’s braids and to get the trailer hooked to the truck.  Ike was peacefully grazing when we arrived and decided that grazing would be his chosen activity for the day.  When I went to retrieve him for grooming, he decided to be the gingerbread man, as in “Run, run, as fast as you can!  You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!!!”  Aaarggghhh!  Really Ike?!  He trotted, and pranced, and galloped and bucked, and almost ran into the fence as he came to a sliding stop.  The bucket of grain was not even tempting enough to stop the silliness.  Ms. C finally caught the stinker with an armful of fresh cut hay.  As if running wasn’t enough, he had also practiced his Stop, Drop, and Roll technique to plaster mud on the left side of his body.  Cool.  The best I could do was smear it around and wait for it to dry.  I could feel my neck muscles beginning to tighten and threaten to throb and tick.  Deep breath.  The day will get better.

And the day did get better.  We arrived at the show with plenty of time to spare.  Warm up went smoothly and I was lucky enough to meet a fellow blogger Geri who was at the show with a friend!  How awesome was that!  And Geri was kind enough to video our first ride (which was the better of the two), so for your viewing pleasure:  Alison and Ike – Training Level Test 2:

We received a 65% and fourth place.  Now I need to spend some time comparing the video to my score sheet, but even without that analysis, I can see the difference in the 7 trot and the 6ish trot.  Not quite sure what caused Ike to scoot down the long side after the right lead canter transition, but luckily we recovered soon enough to attempt our circle.  Judge wants more half halts (surprise) – I want Ike to listen to more of my half halts.

Our Training 3 test was not as stellar.  Our canter work was FAST!  Marmaduke decided to pop out for a romp.  Not sure what changed, but such is life.  Still trying to find that magic formula where the stars and planets align and all our work is solid.  Right now we just have bits and pieces of good in each test, but not everything at one time.  Came home with a 62%…the 70% mark seems like it will never come to fruition.  Patience, grasshopper, patience.

Swwwwwiiinnnngggg and Not a Miss

005In case you were wondering how Ike and I did at the ride to music clinic today, I can inform you that I could not be prouder of my big boy.  We came home with three awesome musical selections.  But before I fill you in on the clinic details, I must share that we almost didn’t make it to the clinic.

I arrived at the barn early today since someone decided to take a mud bath yesterday and was too wet and icky to scrub clean.  Great, I love chipping caked on mud out of a winter coat first thing in the morning.  Thank goodness that the luck of the Irish was on my side this morning, because Ike managed to remove most of the mud himself.  He had obviously rolled in his fresh sawdust last night and those lovely chips of wood did a bang up job at removing most of the funk.  After a brief grooming session, we decided to load up early so that we could watch my two friends ride and select their music.  Ike had other ideas, “No, I do not wish to leave the farm today and you can’t make me get on the trailer.”

That is right, someone showed off his mule genes for almost 45 minutes.  I had to dig deep into the recesses of my memory to remember all the lessons that Mr. Revelle taught us last year: do not back away or walk away from the trailer, use the stud chain appropriately, reward any effort, say “load up” as you lightly tap the hind end with the whip (note to self – purchase a longer piaffe whip or have arms stretched to reach the go button on the back-end), remind Ike that the only correct answer is to get on the trailer….I seriously thought that we weren’t going to make it on time if at all.  Finally, Ike sighed and calmly walked on.  Huh?  Why all the fuss???  He would not share his rationale.

Made it in time to see one of my friends ride and select their music.  It is a fascinating process.  Mr. Matson first establishes your beats per minute at the walk, trot, and canter.  He then looks through his 1400+ musical selections and finds music with the correct beat.  The music is played.  Both the rider and the audience give feedback.  No, just not right.  Yes, that works.  No, that overpowers the horse.  The selections are narrowed and the rider gets the ultimate say.  Amazingly, you could tell when the rider and horse liked the music – things flowed easily and beautifully.

Then it was our turn.  I let Mr. Matson know that Ike was young at that we were not always consistent with our rhythm and tempo.  He said not to worry, we would have music.  I’m still thinking that we will get Pan Banging Baby music.  So after our warm up, he had us ride on a circle around him while he used his electronic metronome to establish our beats per minute.  Beep, beep, beep.  Okay, time to pick music.

First up, the trot.  Amazingly enough, the first piece worked and worked well.  Was that really that easy?  Yes, yes it was.  Turns out, Ike likes swing music.  We tried a few other pieces, but the first one was spot on.  The walk was next and finally the canter.  I have to say, I love our canter music.  All three pieces are swing – I guess it is in keeping with his namesake, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was a five-star general during the 1940s when swing music became prominent.

So we came home with our music, now comes the hard part for this non-musical person – editing the pieces and creating the musical freestyle that meets the USDF requirements as well as our limited Training Level abilities.  Stay tuned!


p.s.  Big man walked right on the trailer to go home.  Good thing, I don’t think I had enough energy for another epic battle.

The Zombie Apocalypse Has Reached the Barn

008Ms. C called me late Sunday afternoon and asked what we did to Ike while she was away teaching.  She said he was a zombie and just wanted to be left alone – completely out of character from his normal demands for all her attention and any treats she might have on her person.  We are hopeful that he will be unable to “infect” any of the other horses while they are sleeping in their stalls, but if things start to get out of hand, I will notify my readers as soon as possible so that you can arm yourselves and shelter in place.

Ike’s catatonic-state was brought about by his busy weekend.  It has been a while since his social calendar was so full.  Our weekly lesson with Ms. C was pushed to Saturday since it took a few days to melt the ten inches of snow that fell at the barn on Wednesday.  We still had to work around some snow piles, but most of the ring was workable enough to have our lesson Saturday morning.  Sunday was Ike’s first off-property event of 2013.  We had a clinic with Rebecca Langwost-Barlow at a local barn…very glad that the snow didn’t stick around and force us to miss the clinic.  Also very glad that Ike remembered his trailering skills from last year and walked on the trailer without too much fuss or protesting.

It is interesting to me that despite the different methods of teaching and explaining the concepts, both Ms. C and Becky had the same message to me that boils down to, “Stop pulling the reins backwards and start riding forward to your hands.”  I don’t mean to pull back and quite honestly don’t realize that I am doing it until an instructor points it out during a lesson.

My over-reliance on my inside rein has been well documented in my blog posts.  [Alison:inside rein :: Linus:security blanket]  It is one of those bad habits that I should have considered giving up for Lent.  I’ve heard “inside leg to outside rein connection” over and over, yet when Ike gets strong, I digress back to my happy place.  And yes, I know that by stifling the neck and shoulder by constantly pulling backward, the hind leg can’t really step up and under Ike’s body.  When others ride, I can easily spot when the rider overuses their inside rein.  I am aware that you straighten the horse off the outside rein.  It doesn’t seem to matter what my brain knows, the pulling is now an involuntary movement.  It is going to take strong measures to stop it.  Maybe I am the zombie and someone needs to whack me in the head?  Who wants to take a swing?