Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tucker's reaction to a week of horse showing

He is apparently snoring. Poor baby.

Monday, July 27, 2009

HITS was fantastic!

So, in a nutshell, my horse is amazing. I didn't know I could love him more than I already did, but I do! For his first big away show like this, he was truly spectacular. I'll be posting my detailed notes throughout the week, but here are some results and links to photos.

Wednesday -- we got there and did a ticketed warm-up in the ring we'd be showing in on Thursday, and he jumped around like an old pro.

Thursday -- we showed in the Tri-State Hunters. There was something like 90 entries in the class so no ribbons, but he was great. A little sticky with some lead changes, but overall the jumps were good. He got a little tired at the end and we added in the last line -- but given how long it's taken us to get him to collect his stride, that's not a bad problem to have! And look at that trot!

Friday -- we showed in the Modified Adult Hunters. He was a rock star. Mom made a couple of dumb mistakes, but he totally took care of me like an old packer (even though he's just a baby!). And he was 4th in the hack out of 30 horses! I couldn't have been any prouder of him.

Saturday -- day off from showing, just went for a hack. He was really starting to get the hang of this horse show thing. Not so bad, if it wasn't for all the baths. . . .

Sunday -- we showed in the Novice Adult Equitation, in the pouring rain. He was brave and brilliant. We were 4th in the flat, 2nd in the first two over fences, and overall Reserve Champion. We didn't get anything in the 3rd class because he slipped in the mud, got mad at himself and did a few broncs. But other than that it was a flawless round, and I really can't fault him for getting upset because he let it go right away and jumped the next two lines beautifully.

I'll have more details and pictures later, but all in all it was a perfect week and we had lots and lots of time to bond. I love this horse!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Off Topic: The Slinky

I know this blog is dedicated to the absolutely perfect man in my life (the guy with the big ears -- one of which is apparently longer than the other according to our chiropractor, who thinks he's pretty funny). There are, however, one or two other bloggers out there who might appreciate this little diversion. I know it's going to make me smile.

I want to tell the story of the Slinky. I've double-checked the facts below from Wikepedia (inherently reliable), but I originally learned this story in a small local publication, which I read in a coffee shop and now can't remember the name of (how's that for accuracy in blogging). Stay with me ladies, I have a point.

The Basic Background of the Slinky.

The toy was first invented by Richard James, who was a naval engineer. Slinky was created in the early 1940s by accident, when Richard discovered this spring he was working on for some engineering task would "walk" across his desk when it was tipped over. He created 400 units and tested the toy's appeal amongst a small group of kids in a department store in Philadelphia in November 1945. The simplicity and fun of the toy was an instant hit, and allegedly sold out in about an hour and a half. Richard then got to work creating a machine that could mass produce the Slinky. Richard and his wife Betty formed James Industries in Philadelphia to manufacture and mass produce the Slinky.

In 1960, Richard's wife Betty became president of James Industries, and, in 1964, moved the operation to Hollidaysburg, PA. In 1998, Betty James sold the company to Poof Products, Inc.

The Slinky was originally priced at $1, and has remained modestly priced. The Slinky has also led to other Slinky products, including the Slinky dog, the Slinky worm, and plastic slinkies in various colors (I had one in blue and green). The Slinky has also gone on to bigger and better uses than simply walking down the stairs: it has been used in the classroom as a teaching tool, as a wartime radio antenna, and by NASA in physics experiments. In 2002, Slinky became the official state toy of Pennsylvania, and, in 2003, the Slinky was named in the Toy Industry Association's "Century of Toys List." In its first 60 years, the Slinky has sold 300 million units. Quite a success story.

Two Key Points.

First. A key tid-bit missing about why Betty James became president in 1960. In 1960, Richard James left the company, his wife, and his children to join a religious sect in Bolivia. Way to go Dick.

Second. Did Betty James throw her arms in the air and give up when Dick deserted her? Heck no! Instead, Betty James managed the company, dealt with its creditors and dug the company out of the hole Dick and put it in by making smart decisions like moving the company to Hollidaysburg, PA, where operating costs would be more affordable.

In fact, the company thrived and expanded under Betty's leadership. She was the mastermind behind the Slinky Dog, the Slinky Worm, and the plastic Slinky. In 1995, Betty explained the toy's success to the Associated Press by saying, "It's the simplicity of it." Betty also felt it was important to keep the Slinky affordable. She told The New York Times: “So many children can't have expensive toys, and I feel a real obligation to them. I'm appalled when I go Christmas shopping and $60 to $80 for a toy is nothing." Even now, Slinkys only cost about $4 to $5, and Slinky Dogs about $20.

Betty James died of heart failure in November 2008 at the age of 90. Betty served as president of James Industries from 1960 to 1998. Though James Industries was sold to Poof Products and later merged to form a new entity, thanks to Betty's creative and shrewd leadership, over 300 million Slinkys were sold, and the original Slinky remains a bestseller.

The Moral of My Story.

Some men are just like Slinkys: Not really good for anything, but they sure would be fun to push down the stairs. Take a lesson from Betty ladies. We are survivors.

Monday, July 20, 2009

On pins and needles

So I talked to Alicia and she is currently driving the RV up to HITS. The rest of the crew is also on their way up there with horses in tow. Too bad about this stupid lawyering thing, or I'd be right there with them today! But, unfortunately, Tucker and I are stuck in the real world for another couple of days before our fun can begin. He's probably happier to have another couple of days at home, but man do I wish I were at a horse show right now instead of sitting at my desk!

Being a grown up is really the pits sometimes. . . .

Update: here's a picture of the official Whitmere set up! Now I really can't wait to hit the road!

Friday, July 17, 2009


So, I got that martingale for 50% off, great deal that I couldn't pass up. It's a Crosby raised standing martingale in newmarket (lighter than the one in that picture). Ended up being around $40. Pretty good deal.

I currently have a Crosby plain raised bridle that I school and show in. It's probably havana, it's really dark. It's a quality bridle but nothing fancy, just a plain hunter bridle. It's in decent shape except for a couple of tiny cracks in the browband that were there when I bought it (lightly used). The standing martingale I have is now pretty beat up, but functional for schooling purposes, and doesn't match the bridle (though it's close).

I oiled up the newly purchased martingale to see how dark it would get and if it was anywhere close to the color of my bridle. It's not. It's a lot lighter, but it's actually kind of a pretty color. It's more like the color of light wood stain. Not a color I necessarily would have picked, but it's kind of nice.

So, query. I could get hydrophane darkening oil and try to get it to match my current bridle, which is nice enough to use for schooling and shows but nothing fancy. Or, I could get another, fancier Crosby bridle in newmarket that would match the new martingale. I found one that's $207. Not unreasonably expensive, but not exactly just a drop in the bucket.

It's not the bridle I have been wanting, which is an Edgewood. On the one hand, I should save my money up and get the bridle I really want instead of a bridle I'm not sure about. On the other hand, maybe I can save the Edgewood for our next, fancier show bridle in a few years.

Opinions, readers?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Et voila

Another great ride on Tucker last night. We worked on our lead changes because the smaller outdoor ring had been cleared of jumps and we had plenty of space to play around in. I never school him on his changes because in the past he got so worried about them, but now they are getting to be no big deal so I figured I'd take advantage of it. I felt like at the last horse show the problem I was having was I really don't know what works to ask him for the change. I had been going along figuring if he does it himself, great, and if not we'll trot a step. But now I'm getting to the point where everything else is falling into place and we need him to fix this one last little piece. Which means I need to figure out how to ask.

So, I trotted around and warmed up, and he was a little lazy because I forgot my spurs but otherwise good. We cantered a little and then I just started playing around with changes of direction. Sometimes a simple change, sometimes I'd ask for the lead change, all the while patting him and telling him he's good after each one whether he got it or not. He stayed relaxed and let me play around with it until I figured it out. He's getting to be very patient with his mother.

Slight side note: The DQ's may be groaning right now that us Hunter Princesses don't know how to ask for a proper lead change, nor do we want one, and they have a point. The acceptable flying change in dressage is a lot different than the little swap we want at the end of the ring in the hunters which should be barely perceptible. As a result, a lot of hunters just fall to the inside and drop their shoulder to get the change (and hey, half those horses are on their forehand to begin with anyway). Luckily, I have a horse with such a big step that I can't let him get on his forehand, and he really needs to be balanced to get his change, which is a ride I like better. In all candor, however, I readily admit that a dressage judge would probably be horrified. But, that's why I'm a hunter princess.

Anyway, in my experience, nothing is more unique to each horse than the lead change. Every horse I have shown requires a completely different set of aids to get it. I don't know if it's how they are taught, how they learn, how they are built, or how they carry themselves, but it seems that each is unique. For Tucker, I learned by trial and error that when he lands from the fence a little more forward and I have to feel both reins and sit to start collecting him again, that's when I get those perfect lead changes. So I tried last night to figure out what works and what doesn't. Some of these should have been fairly obvious to me, but that's why they call it the adult amateurs. It's sometimes kind of a slow learning curve.

So, first I found that coming across the diagonal in a slow collected canter doesn't work. Collected might be okay, but it has to be forward, otherwise he seems to completely forget he has a hind end that needs changing too. I assume this is because he doesn't have enough impulsion and he is probably not actually collected but rather faking me out and cantering with his hind half about a mile behind us. This is a common ploy, for which I often fall. To Tucker's delight, I am sure.

Then (in my unfailing tendency to overcorrect) I learned that running across the diagonal doesn't work either. He rushes through it, pulls the reins out of my hands, and misses the hind again. I assume this is because he is just too disorganized.

So, then I got the right pace. A nice forward canter continuing through the turn, not accelerating across the diagonal of the ring. But, we still missed it. I was trying to kick with my outside leg for the change to motivate the hind end. That wasn't working. My timing is probably off and it's throwing Tucker off. So next time, just support with the outside leg to keep him straight but don't kick.

The next time (mind you, there are lots of circles, transitions, etc. in between all these attempts), I didn't kick, but once again, we still missed it. I noticed my center of gravity had fallen forward and thought I should try fixing that. I also noticed I had lost the contact on my inside rein and he was just kind of leaning on my outside hand.

Then we finally got two perfect changes in a row. I sat down, closed my leg, thought about keeping my shoulders back, kept sending him forward into my hand, felt both reins, and voila: lead change.

For my next trick, ladies and gentlemen, I will do that five times in a row after landing from each line. . . .

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Retail therapy

So, I spent a small fortune this weekend getting Tucker some much-needed supplies (it's possible -- though I'll admit nothing -- that do to certain unfortunate unequestrian developments I was feeling slightly sorry for myself and decided to spend a little money on the man still remaining in my life). Our good friend (who moonlights around these parts as "Boomerang") joined us for a full afternoon of shopping at Dover and Horseman's Outlet. Can't think of a better way to spend a day! We both got new show coats for 50% off! Can't beat that. And, I found a shirt that matched mine perfectly on consignment for $30. You know how I love a good bargain.

Also on Tucker's shopping list:

1. A new rubber feed tub, so we stop getting huge welts on our face from attacking the hard plastic feed bucket when we eat;

2. Another small flat-backed bucket for the trailer for drinking while we nap in the shade and snack on our haynet;

3. Pull-on bell boots (I should seriously invest in whatever company makes these rubber pull-on bells that I have to keep buying every few months because someone chews on them. You can just hear him: "Wow, how convenient. A chew toy that's attached to me!");

4. Velcro bell boots for shows, for easy removal at the in-gate;

5. Two new white square pads for HITS (on sale at Dover, $9.99 -- can't beat it);

6. A new halter, because Tucker's turn out halter is currently held together with duct tape. . . and while we know that shabby chic is in these days, that's pushing it a little;

7. Another set of show breeches since we're showing three days at HITS and I only have two pairs and, well, I am about five and can't stay clean (went with the RJ Classics this time and loved the fit. I'll keep you posted on how they hold up.);

8. A longe whip -- since someone thinks it's cool to fake out his mom and crawl around the longe line these days like he's "soooo tired" instead of getting his bucks out;

9. Liniment (I like the Absorbine Gel), for those tired legs that work so hard jumping those big jumps (!);

10. Durasole, to keep those feet nice and tough in the wet weather;

11. Fly spray, went with a new brand because it was on sale -- Farnam Equisect. Again, I'll give you a product review after some testing;

12. Fuzzy hind ankle boots, because ours are literally worn through and probably about as effective as a pair of slippers right now;

13. Another set of overwraps, since we only have one set at the moment and tons of quilts;

14. A new martingale that matches our bridle that was also 50% off! (Note: the one he uses now matches my previous bridle, which was mangled beyond recognition when a less-than-careful former barn-worker left it hanging on the side of her trailer when she took Tucker home from a show one day).

I always try not to buy more than he needs, but this time seems like he really "needed" a lot! I can justify all the purchases above, I swear. Some we needed to replace broken things, others we just needed increased quantities of, others we had run out of. And some were just great deals that were too good to pass up. Now, the trick will be for me not to do any major spending while I am at HITS. "Step away from the Bevals trailer, Marissa. . . ."

At least when Julie is ready to start getting down to work, she'll have lots of hand-me-downs!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Here comes success

We were reserve champion yesterday, and Tucker was amazing! Over fences we were second, first, and fourth, and he was third in the hack.

I have a little show journal that I keep for every horse show so I can keep track of what works and what doesn't for him, so I'm going to share my notes here. It may be painfully boring for all of you to read about every detail, but I figured I'd preserve it here for posterity.

Tucker's Horse Show Journal, Hunterdon County II, 7/11/09
Prep: Turned out overnight. Got there at 6:30, went for a ten minute longe, back to the trailer, tacked up. Trotted around twice in each direction in the schooling ring. Then trotted the first jump, he was dead quiet so we just kept cantering and jumped around the whole course. He added down both diagonal lines the first time, so I just caught those again and let go a little and he made it down the lines. Since he was so quiet, we quit with that. Did simple changes in the corners so he'd stay relaxed. Gave him a bath and put him back on the trailer where he slept for a few hours. Tacked up and got on about an hour before we were ready to show and just let him hang out by the ring. Trotted and cantered a couple of jumps and then went in.
Over fences: Listened to me, stayed relaxed, focused pretty well, but a little inconsistent with his changes.

First trip -- quiet conservative distance to the first single diagonal, just looked up to the end of the ring and kept counting and he found it himself. Missed the first change, but trotted a step and caught up, then sat through the corner and helped him continue a little through the turn. The lines got pretty easy once he was in the ring so I just kept a little contact down the first diagonal line but stayed in my half seat. Landed left so no need to change, then I had to collect him a little through the end of the ring for the two stride so I talked to him and then pressed him into my hand with a little supporting leg to collect him. Found a conservative distance and then I didn't have to do anything in the two stride because he balanced himself and worked it out. Landed right and missed the change so trotted a step to fix it. Six stride diagonal again got pretty easy so I had to feel his mouth a little down that line, but it worked out. Got the left to right change but then I had to back him off cause he was cruising a little, so I talked to him, sat down, took a deep breath, and he came right back. Then it was a long approach to a single outside oxer so I just counted the rhythm and waited and let him find it. Worked out beautifully, but then we missed the left to right change in the corner and trotted to fix it.

Second trip -- got a good rhythm and then a great distance to the first quarter line single, but then missed the change and cross cantered around ther corner. He swapped back to his right lead in front of the first fence of the six stride diagonal but then the line worked out. Got the left to right change, then had to settle for the single outside oxer, talked to him, sat down in the end of the ring and he listened. Oxer worked out great, but had to put my weight in my left stirrup coming out of the turn because he wanted to drift left a little. Once he got his eye on the fence though, he straightened out. He landed quiet and soft so I had to send him a little to get the left to right change but we got it. Then the seven worked out on the other diagonal fine, got a nice distance in and just relaxed. Got a beautiful right to left change without asking and then just had to really collect his canter since the last line was the two stride. Talked to him, got him to settle, two stride was beautiful. This was our best round.

Third trip -- decided since the fences were going so well, we should try a little harder to get the changes. So this trip we got the same quiet distance to the first fence, and then got the left to right change (in front of the in-gate, which was great). Then I just asked him to wait a little too much to the seven stride diagonal and it got a little tight to the first fence. But I just sank down in my heels and he stayed balanced and jumped it well anyway. Then I just softened and let him open his step up down the line (didn't chase -- very proud of myself!) and the seven worked out perfectly. Landed left and he kind of leaned in to the left around the turn and got a little quick, but again I talked to him, got his canter collected and the two stride was beautiful. Again, missed the right to left change in this corner (stargazing) but he caught up and the six stride diagonal was good and then he got the left to right change. Then I just had to stay patient and we got a perfect distance to the last outside oxer and he jumped it really soft and light, but unfortunately since he landed so quiet we just couldn't quite get the left to right change at the end, so I had to trot a step and fix it.

Under saddle: Very quiet, I was able to loop the rein but keep a little frame so he didn't get too strung out at the canter. I thought he hacked great (though the judge put him third). This time, to make sure he knew he was out of jump mode, I hacked him around a little in the warm up area right before and then went in the ring, trotted half a circle and then walked til the class started. That seemed to help. The last few hack classes we did, he has come in and almost tried to pick up his canter because he thought we were still jumping.

Overall: He was responsive and relaxed, and I was really happy with how adjustable he was. The changes still need a little consistency, but I liked the fact that whether he got the change or missed it, he didn't seem to be at all tense about them. I was also able to concentrate and make good decisions while we were on course, like remembering when we jumped in quiet to just let go and let him take me down the line instead of chasing him, to sink my weight into my heels and not get ahead of him when the distance was a little snug, and most importantly just to keep the rhythm the same and then let him find the singles himself. I tried to think about riding him just like any other horse (instead of thinking of him as my baby) and that really seemed to help -- even though I couldn't help beaming with pride every time we walked out of the ring. All in all he was wonderful, and I'm proud of the way that I rode him. We are definitely getting there!

Then when we came home I rubbed his legs down with rubbing alcohol and I turned him out with his buddy Vince. Don't you think he looks proud of himself?

Friday, July 10, 2009


When your personal relationships start going awry, isn't it wonderful to have a horse in your life you can depend on?

I had such a great lesson last night. My horse is really growing up, and becoming super adjustable. Which, in turn, means I need to start riding him with a little more finesse and subtlety. It made me reflect on the past seven years with him. Our relationship has developed in such a lovely, natural way. I've been patient with him and never pushed him too hard, and he's generally progressed steadily, with minor ups and downs along the way.

He seems to be really ready to be a grown up now (which is more than I can say for some humans in my life). Alicia has these wonderful nonverbal conversations with our horses that she explains to us much later, which always amuse me. She said when she showed him two weeks ago, she got this feeling like he wants to be a baby sometimes and say "Aw, I'm just a kid, I can be silly," and she'd remind him, "No, you're old enough, be a grown up." And he'd just say "Oh, okay," and go back to his job.

So, we're now at the point in our relationship where he knows his job, and I need to start trusting him a little more. He's finding the jumps himself, is starting to see his own distances, and the struggle I'm facing is learning to let him. It's a real turning point in a relationship with a young horse, especially one you've raised yourself, when you have to realize that they are not the same greenie you've always been on. It's a transition that will take some time, but hopefully one we'll make with as much grace as possible.

I have a very early morning ahead of my tomorrow. I'm not showing until the last class of the day, but we don't think there's a schooling break so I'll have to be on him ready to jump around by 7:30, which means pulling into the show by 6:30 to lunge, sign in at the office, and hack, which means leaving the farm by 6, which means getting there by 5 to hook up the trailer, clean him up, and load, which means leaving my house by 4:40. . . Yikes. I better start sleeping now!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Freshly mowed fields

I had an awesome ride on Tuesday night. I didn't do ring work though. It has finally, hopefully, stopped raining for a little while, so it seems every farmer on my drive to the barn was able to mow his or her fields on Tuesday and I drove with the windows down and the sun starting to set and the air smelled so sweet. Then I got to the barn and the big hunt field behind our big outdoor ring had also been mowed, and I figured that looked like the perfect place to ride. I sent Alicia a text just to make sure it was dry enough back there and then we tacked up and mowsied down the driveway to the big field.

Once we were out in the field, he was incredible. I thought to myself, "This is why they used to show hunters out in big hunt fields!" He felt just exactly the way every horse should feel. Light, forward, relaxed and happy. I love riding him out in the open because it gives me a great opportunity to work on straightness. Without an edge of the ring, we can work on lateral movements without the feeling that he's just drifting or bulging toward the rail, and really get the feeling that he's balanced off my outside rein. And the lead changes -- amazing out there! All I did was steer, it was such a great feeling. I came across this wide open field and started making a big reverse turn and he just got a little bolder in his canter and then did a perfect flying change before I even asked, and then cantered away relaxed and soft. It was such a great feeling.

He's a rock star.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Big moves

I won my first trial today, which is what's been keeping me so busy and has led to the recent lack of posting! Yes, little junior associate me, with a real judge, in a real courtroom, all on my own, cross-examining, moving documents into evidence, making a closing argument. . . I have to admit, I'm a little impressed with myself right now! At big firms, junior associates don't get these opportunities too often, so I'm really glad this came up (exisiting client of the firm, gets involved in small dispute, gets handed down to junior associate to resolve at low cost).

Luckily, all of this means that I am going to be free to see Tucker tonight! Yay! I had a great ride on Saturday morning and I'm hoping tonight the rain will hold off long enough and I'll be able to ride him outside again. He is so lovely outside in the big ring.

Hopefully I'll have a good Tucker report to deliver tomorrow. . . horse show this weekend at Duncraven so we're in prep mode. I think tonight we'll work on some lead changes. I like to set up a ground pole at the end of the ring on the diagonal so he does the whole change in one step. Even though in the hunter ring, it's acceptable to change the back one stride after the front, he seems on his way to doing clean changes in both directions so I like to try and encourage that.

In other news. . . Julie and I have found a new place to live! My new apartment is a renovated 1700's carriage house with exposed beams that I just adore, set on a 26 acre farm. There is a little 5 stall barn currently housing 3 older geldings who seem just mellow enough to tolerate a bouncy little spotted thing in their fields. Here is a view of the barn and one of the turnout paddocks. There is also a ring and a cross-country course, though I'm thinkin' Miss Julie won't be needing those for another few years.

We're planning to split the horses up into two groups of two once we figure out which one of the geldings tolerates her best. I'm really hoping it will work out for her because seeing her every day will be such a treat! Of course, if not, the owner of the farm where she lives now is kind enough to offer that she's welcome back any time. Unfortunately, the cute little pony in this picture isn't around anymore (though my long-legged filly probably would have towered over him), but this will be the view from my kitchen window! I can't tell you how excited I am.

And, a big thank you so much to all of you who said such nice things about my horses and my blog and me after receiving the award last week. I am truly touched!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Morning nap

This photo* brought to you by Summer, which has finally decided to arrive in New Jersey. We are at last on night turnout, and very sleepy in the mornings. . . .

Also proof that even fancy-pants show horses like the Wunderkind get themselves dirty and full of shavings sometimes. By the way, Tucker's not the only one who's a little sleepy in the mornings these days. . . .

I just love summer!
*Special thanks to Alicia, who knows how much I miss Tucker when I'm travelling and sends me pictures of him while I'm away!