Monday, August 31, 2009

Julie update

Just writing to say that Julie is going to be moving to Stones Throw Farm in Florida. Her health certificate and coggins are being drawn today, and she'll be making the big journey on Thursday night. I've decided that I just don't have the time required to spend on her, to make sure that she gets a good start and regular, professional attention, and that's not fair to her.  I'm still not sure whether I'll be keeping her in the longrun, but I think this is the best thing to do in order to give her the best possible future, whether it's with me or with someone else (still feels like I'm giving up, a little, but Wendy has helped me to see that's not such a bad thing sometimes). I'll keep you posted...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Blind faith

Last weekend due to rain we had to do our lesson in the indoor. Alicia and I had dinner on Saturday night and she said she felt like Tucker could use some gymnastic work, so it actually worked out just fine.
Tucker used to have such trouble with gymnastics. He would hurry through them, never really sit back and use his hind end, which meant he would have a lot of trouble collecting his stride and end up kind of nose-diving by the last fence. I am happy to say he was much improved this time. This was the gymnastic by the end of the lesson:

We started with just the first vertical, set around 2'3", and the second fence was just a vertical, not an oxer yet, and no ground poles. First time through, he wasn't making much effort and just crawled over it the first couple of times. So Alicia added the 9' trot rail out in front of the first fence and that helped. Once he started paying attention a little, Alicia made the second fence an oxer, set at 2'9" with a 2'6" spread. He was doing pretty well; I was having a little trouble not jumping over my hand.

Then Alicia came up with one of her typical strokes of genius -- these are the reason we'll never train with anyone else -- and she made me close my eyes. I don't think I've done this in years, but I remember having to jump through gymnastics like this when I was younger. It was pretty amazing. With my eyes closed, I had no choice but to follow his movement and as a result I had to be soft and following with my hands. And like magic, Tucker slowed down, thought about the gymnastic, and as a result started jumping better. We added the ground line between the first and second fence and I could feel him negotiating it. But of course, I had my eyes closed, so I couldn't interfere. Blind faith. (How lucky am I, seriously? I have a 1200 lb. seeing-eye-dog.)

Then we added the third fence, which was a 3' oxer with a 3' spread. He jumped it awesome. Just rocked back on his hind end and jumped up really round and soft and slow. The next time through we added a ground rail between fences two and three, and I could feel him jump the second fence a little slower, land, canter one slow stride and then he jumped the last oxer even better. So cool. Only thing I didn't like was that he was drifting right! For years we've struggled with a left drift, and now he's going the other way. My theory is that because my eyes were closed and I was following so well with my hands, he was missing the left rein that he usually leans on (due to my bad habit of holding too much on my left rein), and as a result he went right. We'll sort that out though. The important thing is that he handled the gymnastic well this time. He thought about it, he took his time, and he jumped really well.

We're doing the gymnastic again tomorrow, and this time going to focus on my position over top of the fence. I could feel my lower leg falling back, which meant my center of gravity got pitched forward, and when he made that big effort and used that powerful hind end of his over the last oxer, I ended up having to peel myself off his neck on landing. So that was a little frustrating. Tomorrow, we are going to tie my stirrups to my girth. Another old trick I haven't tried in years, but it will really help I think. I also am going to punch a few extra holes in my stirrup leathers so I can get a little leverage. Definitely can't move up to showing at 3' until I learn to stay with him, so this is definitely something we need to nail down.

I feel like I owe it to him to figure out how to stay with him when he gives me that much of an effort. Basically, my goal is just to learn to ride well enough to keep up with all the natural talent he has. It's a funny thing, I think I get so impressed with him in the moment that I stop riding. I'm in the air over top of the fence I'm thinking "Wow, he's jumping great" instead of concentrating on what I'm supposed to be doing, and then nano-seconds later I realize I've totally lost my position and we're landing in a heap. But there are certainly worse problems to have than being a little starstruck by your own horse.

When I turned around after taking a few pictures of the gymnastic, Tucker was standing right where I left him. I realize he looks like a total giraffe in this shot, but he looked so cute just watching me walk around taking pictures, I had to take one of him. Part athlete, part goof. And I love every hair on his big old head.

I'll let you know how gymnastics part II goes tomorrow. . . hopefully more good things to post!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Don't tell Tucker . . .

. . . but I am totally cheating on him. I have to share this picture of Kal with you . . .

More substantive post about Tucker and gymnastics coming soon. . . but isn't this horse gorgeous?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hunter Derby Finals, Handy Round Videos

If you are a hunter fan like myself, be prepared to drool. . . .

John French and Rumba:

Jennifer Alfano and Jersey Boy:

Laura Pfeiffer and Foreign Encounter:

Maggie Jayne and Early Applause:

(Excuse me, I just need a moment to remove my bib. There we go. Where was I?) Oh yes, I hope you all enjoyed the derby videos!

On a more personal note, Alicia has decided that Tucker and I are going to do some low level jumper classes. I think this is a great idea, though I'm not really looking forward to the public humiliation that this may cause. As we stood by the ring waiting for Alicia to do the jump-off in the Duncraven Mini Prix (where she was 6th! -- amazing ride -- video coming soon), Alicia explained to me that if we're going to have a hunter, he's going to be the best hunter ever. Naturally, I can't argue with that. And now that you've seen some of the roll-backs in the handy round, I'm sure you'll agree that Tucker is definitely going to need a little practice in the jumper ring to become the Ultimate Derby Horse.

In other news, I have officially launched, which is my first attempt at website design. Obviously we don't have all the information and photos up yet, and Alicia and I talked about some minor re-organization, but I'd love to have your feedback so far! (By sheer coincidence, Stacey over at Behind the Bit is in the middle of a similar project. See her related post here).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Hunter Derby Finals, Lexington Kentucky, Round One Video

Since Hurricane Bill ruined everything, we've decided not to do the Mini Derby at Duncraven with Tucker tomorrow. The rings are pretty soupy already, and it's supposed to rain overnight. So we're saving our money and Tucker's legs for another day. Such is life.

In other Derby news, however, please enjoy the video below of Round 1 of the Hunter Derby Finals in Lexington. All 56 horses did this round yesterday morning at 8 a.m. In the still photos, the course doesn't look that spooky, but boy when you see the video, it looks intimidating. It was a little windy, there were flags all over the ring, and even some of these derby horses got in there and were a little overwhelmed. The ring is absolutely huge, which makes for some really nice gallops. I just love how bold some of these horses are.

In case you don't want to watch all 3.5 hours of it like I did, here are the highlights:

Top six horses after all three rounds:

1. Rumba and John French, at 2:36:54 (won the first round shown above)
2. Jersey Boy and Jennifer Alfano, at 3:16:44
3. Foreign Encounter and Laura Pfeiffer, at 2:01:52
4. Early Applause and Maggie Jayne, at 2:47:04 (placed second in the first round)
5. Dominick and Peter Pletcher, at 1:31:40
6. Tiziano and Jessica Springsteen, at 2:49:59 (placed third in the first round)

Here's a full list of the results after all three rounds. Congrats!

So many of the horses at these finals are just incredible, but here are some other trips in Round One that I particularly loved:

Curtain Call and Courtney Calcagnini, at 31:28
Maui and Tiffany Morrisey, at 51:50
Aragon and Jenny Karazissis, at 1:55:29
On Top and Kirstie Dobbs, at 2:11:32
Peridot and Tammy Provost at 2:40:47
Graphiq and Chase Boggio at 2:53:20
Camira and Peter Pletcher at 3:23:36

Also a great example of grace under pressure: Trust Me and Tina Judge at 3:48:46. The second jump fell down in the wind as they were approaching, and they just came to a polite stop and waited for instructions from the officials and a re-set. The round wasn't flawless, probably both horse and rider were just the slightest bit rattled, but the horse is absolutely gorgeous and a total gentleman about the whole ordeal.

Hope you enjoy these rounds as much as I did! I just love the Derby. It is now officially my goal in life to someday become good enough to show Tucker in one. He's so brave, and so scopey, I think with a little more mileage under his belt and a little more accuracy and confidence on my part, he could definitely be an awesome derby horse. Not sure if we'll ever get there, but a girl can dream. . . .

Fyi, for a little background info, see my earlier post on Hunter Derbies.

Oh... The Irony

So there's a hurricane coming up the Jersey Shore. With the same name as the aforementioned gentleman who caused the aforementioned moping and prolonged pity-party. In case you were wondering: My life DRIPS with irony. RUNS with it. I'm standing in a puddle of irony right now! I put it on my cereal! Okay, okay, I know. But seriously, the guy ruins everything. It is kind of funny though, reading about how "he" is churning up the ocean, going to give Nova Scotia a beating, ruining the weekend for shore-goers, etc. I've been through that storm myself, and it wasn't pretty.

Anyway. . . as a result of this hurricane, the Hunter Derby was rained out. Tucker did the suitable hunters yesterday though because the deluge didn't begin til minutes prior to the start of the Hunter Derby. He was fresh. He warmed up really quietly but then went in the ring and played pretty hard after two fences in the first round and one fence each in the second and third rounds. Alicia chose not to longe him beforehand because she wanted a little more energy for the changes. The changes were great, to her credit. Unfortunately, looks like Tucker is still a little green and still needs five or ten minutes on a longe before he can behave himself in the ring. Those few little moments aside though, he was very good.

It was also a good lesson for him, because Alicia has the presence of mind to tell him to stop playing and make him continue through the rest of the course like a gentleman. I, on the other hand, tend to tense up every fiber of my being and begin muttering various explitives. This does not exactly diffuse the situation.

I'm getting better though. I never posted about the last day at HITS, when we showed in the pouring rain. In the last class (which was otherwise a beautiful round), he slipped on landing from one of the fences, and performed Tucker's version of bucking (which is basically tucking his head to his chest, sticking his tail between his legs, and broncing/leaping. . . he vaguely resembles a puppy playing with a butterfly when he does this, but it feels as though you are about to be launched into orbit by 1200 pounds of fury. It's essentially harmless, but can be a little disconcerting). So, when he did this up at HITS, the only thought that ran through my head was "If. you. don't. relax. he. is. going. to. buck. you. off." So I took a deep breath, regained my stirrup, and jumped the next two lines. Which were beautiful. I probably learned more in the second minute of that round than I have on him in months.

Query: Why is relaxing on a horse so difficult? It sounds so simple. Yet so many of us struggle with it, no matter what discipline.

So the Hunter Derby at Duncraven will be rescheduled for tomorrow. As long as they schedule it for the morning (since Alicia is showing two horses in the Mini Prix), Tucker will still do it. I'll keep you posted!

In the meantime, check out the Hunter Derby Finals in Lexington, KY! Live streaming video of Round 2 tonight at 6 p.m.! I promise I will do a more informative post later in the week where I gather some photos and video. For now though, here are a few photos and the course design for Round 1. The course looks really beautiful, and a lot of fun, and those horses are incredible! I love the look on some of their faces jumping the big long fence that looks like stacks of firewood. They look like they are just peaking through their knees in disbelief. Love it!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It has been called to my attention . . .

. . . that I have not posted since August 10. (Ha! People do read this blog! Awesome!)

So, lemme 'splain it to you. The truth is, I've been moping, though I'm ashamed to admit it. Things have been going terribly awry in every non-horse area of my life. I'd go into it, but you'd just think I was working on writing a country song. Put it this way, if I had a dog, he would have run away. I guess the crux of it is that being a grown up is hard, and I just haven't been rising to the challenge lately. And while I am of course overflowing with love for the most important man in my life (the one with the big ears), it seems that the recent departure and current absence of a certain other two-legged former-man-in-my-life hit me just a little harder than was expected. Thank God for this horse, or I don't know how I would have gotten through it.

And I kept thinking I should be posting, but I was doing that awful thing we sometimes do -- turning every positive into a negative -- and I just didn't want that to infect the blog. But I woke up this morning and thought maybe it's time to try and and turn this ugly old ship around. So here goes.

First, I should report that I haven't been having the greatest of rides since we got back from HITS. At first, I thought it was just my stress being refracted outward through my horse. It's no secret that we don't ride well when we are emotionally unravelled. But then, when even Alicia had a really bad ride on him, I started to think Tucker might have been having a little bit of tummy trouble. I've been reading all about ulcers and it seems even a slight change in routine can cause an outbreak, so maybe the five days at a big away show (even though he handled it beautifully on the outside) caused some gastro-distress.

Now, the obvious disclaimer here (I am a lawyer after all) is that I'm no expert and I have no veterinary training whatsoever. But I do know my horse, and my gut (no pun intended) was telling me something just ain't right. The only way I can describe it is that he just felt like he wasn't cooperating, and that's not like him. He's a tryer, he's an over-acheiver. He's not the kind of guy that pitches a fit when the going gets tough. But for the past two weeks during almost every ride, he was basically throwing these temper tantrums (which he's done every once in a while in the past as well) that were getting increasingly disruptive. So, I started giving him 45 cc's of Maalox twice a day. It's not a cure by any means, but it would subdue the symptoms temporarily so I could figure out if that's what's bothering him and then proceed with treatment if necessary.

Wow, did I notice a difference. Alicia schooled him on Saturday after two doses (I was supposed to horse show Saturday morning, but due to the aforementioned life-falling-apart-ness, I scratched). He was very, very good. She jumped some pretty big sticks (about 3'6", probably his biggest jump yet). Finally, at that height, my big athletic horse had to really use himself. And all I can say is wow. I was thoroughly impressed, starstruck even. (It was one of those moments where you think, "Is this really my horse? He's mine? I get to keep him? For real?") Oh and in case you all want a good giggle, I think Alicia was a little offended that I didn't blog about this school. So here you go my dear, you are amazing and you make my horse look like a million bucks. We'll never train with anyone else. We heart you. :)

I rode him in the field the next day (after 4 doses) and I had my horse back. He wasn't resisting my leg or overreacting to it, he was listening, he was relaxed, he wasn't tense or leaning on my hand. It felt like, "Ohh, there you are buddy. Where ya been?" Made me kind of upset, thinking that it's very possible he was actually in pain for the last couple of weeks, and here I was thinking he was just being obstinate. But at least I took the time to try and figure it out.

And now I'm thinking back to other behaviors. He throws "temper tantrums" in his stall, which we've all started to call "Tucker tantrums" when something upsets him. Not getting his hay/dinner when he wants it, not getting to go out, even another horse going in or out of the stall behind him, will elicit this very troubling behavior. Pawing, rolling, rearing, throwing himself against the wall. He settles down pretty quickly, but now I'm wondering if that could be a stomach issue? It's a lot like what some horses do when they are colicky, so it certainly could be. In addition, the last time Alicia had a bad ride on him was right after another away horse show. Could have been an outbreak. Who knows.

So, I'm looking into possible treatments and remedies. Smartpak has this really helpful comparison chart for each type of the various supplements it carries. Right now, I'm thinking I'm going to try the TractGard mostly because it's the cheapest one that has both an antacid and a prebiotic/probiotic, which from what I've read is a good treatment to start with. If the behaviors don't stop, I'll consider treating him with Omeprazole, which is the active ingredient in both UlcerGard and GastroGard. I did a bunch of research online, and from what I have read omeprazole is the only drug that has been tested and determined to both treat, heal, and prevent ulcers in horses. There are other drugs out there that also aid in treatment, like Cimetidine, and I have heard that some vets will prescribe both omeprazole and cemetidine, the former for longterm healing and the latter for immediate relief. I've read that some racing barns will feed their horses a regular supplement of Tagamet, which is a commercial version of cimetidine.

Anyway, it's good to be back. I hope Tucker hasn't lost his devoted followers during my hiatus. Oh, and Tucker and Alicia are showing in the Hunter Derby at Duncraven tomorrow. . . so there will be a post about that this weekend! Wish my boy luck!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Guest spot: Kal

So yesterday I had the absolute pleasure of riding my friend's horse Kal. Here's a picture of Jess & Kal up at HITS. I have to tell you about him, because he is just so lovely. He's very different from Tucker. For starters, he requires a lot more leg, and I need to carry a dressage whip (which, if I carried one on Tucker, would probably cause him to throw himself on the ground in surrender). Kal also has a little spook in him, which (other than horse-eating liverpools) Tucker doesn't really have. But, I discovered yesterday (thanks to a helpful tip from Alicia before I got on) that the spook is easily avoided by bending him away from whatever is bugging him and closing your leg. So he's not really a chicken, just seeing if he can push your buttons.

All around he is just a really fun horse to ride. He's one of those horses where everything just feels loose and swinging and elastic. He has a really soft mouth, and when you are using your seat and leg he has three really comfortable gaits. Lateral movements are absurdly easy for him. Leg yields? Please. Shoulder in? I do them in my sleep. Haunches in? You're boring me lady. It's pretty cool.

He's a lot straighter than Tucker tracking left. Tracking right, he needs the same supporting outside aids to keep him straight that Tucker needs on the left. He will naturally hold an inside bend and wrap himself around your inside leg, and you actually need to stay really soft with your inside hand or else he will overbend to the inside through his shoulder and neck.

His canter is great. Really comfortable and easy to sit to. He has a huge stride, and as long as you keep your leg and seat sending him forward, he will stay up in front of you and completely light in your hand. If he does want to lean a little, you have to close your leg more, not half halt. Half halting will cause him to just drop behind your leg and break. Of course, it took me a few pilot errors to put all this together. You could almost hear Kal breathing a sigh of exasperated relief once I figured it out.

After the canter, you have even more trot to work with. He's naturally more forward after he canters, so I got a couple of really impressive extended trots from him. I have to confess I was kind of distracted just watching the level of suspension in the mirror. I don't think my horse does that.... Then we finished up with just some nice long and low trots where he got all swingy and free through his shoulder and back. Like riding a water bed.

All in all, he is just a very cool horse. I'm not sure that I would have the physical strength to pilot him around a course of jumps, because he is definitely a full body workout. But he's lovely to flat, and I'm happy to hack him on Sundays when Jess isn't around! Thanks for letting me flat him Jess!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Rough lesson

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Horse Show Journal (one more day at HITS to tell you about) to bring you a post about a decidedly rough lesson yesterday. There was a lot going on, and I think I just need to write about it to figure it all out.

He flatted reasonably well. We were working on getting him to hold his inside bend and not swing his hips to the outside. He was listening to my outside aids pretty well. He seems to hold the left bend much better and not swing his hips to the outside if I really step my weight into my left stirrup. This is tough because I need to keep my right leg on him at the same time, but when I can manage to do that, it works. He did get pretty distracted at the canter though, just wanted to look at and think about everything except me. I should have nipped this in the bud right then, because this carried over into the jumping.

We started off adding a little verticle into a canter circle. It was tiny, so I wanted a conservative distance, which at first he was just ignoring. But then Alicia told me to carry my hands and square my turn to it, and it immediately got better. I have a terrible habit of letting my reins get too long, burying my hands in my lap, and leaning over my hand. It's so ineffective and I don't know why I can't stop doing it. But it's a habit I am trying to break.

Then we did another little bending line, which I rode well. Again, these were tiny so I just got conservative distances. Then we did the same bending line, but this time instead of the little verticle on the out, we jumped a bigger oxer that was set beside it as the second fence. This is where the trouble started. I didn't see anything, got him down there in nine and a half, and curled into a ball. Again, not very effective riding. He jumped it, diving left because that's what he does when I bury him, took the top rail down with him, wasn't too pleased about that. Then we started having problems with the little verticle jumping in. He wasn't paying attention, didn't leave the ground when I thought he would, and kept taking that rail down as well (very un-Tucker-like). Then I tried putting my leg on to get him to focus, that just goosed him and drove him past the distance. Finally jumped in decently enough to continue to the oxer. Worked it out in nine but the nine was actually tight this time. We then pulled my spurs, which did help. Except a couple of times he broke from the canter back to the trot (what am I, five?).

Next we added a verticle that was set on the center line in the middle of the ring, off the right lead. The first time we jumped it, I didn't square my turn and he just bulged out through his left shoulder (a continuing problem) and then the distance I saw out of the turn wasn't there anymore and we were really tight to it. Came around again, squared my turn and kept him perfectly straight. This is where I got a little annoyed with him. Even though I rode it well this time, he still wanted to dive left as we were leaving the ground. I felt it though, dug my left spur in on take off and made him stay straight. He landed pissed off, we had to walk a minute to let him settle.

Then we added another bending line, a verticle plank bending to a liver pool, then 3 strides to a little gate (can you tell we have a lot of jumpers in my barn? I told Alicia when we paint the jumps we have to have at least one natural jump that remotely resembles something you'd see in the hunter ring). This would be where a rough lesson became a lesson we will be talking about for a while. Tucker never even notices the jumps, so we figured he wouldn't care about the liverpool even though he's never jumped one. Oh, how we were wrong. We're cantering up to it, and I feel him back off, but I don't want to scare him so I just supported with my leg gently and figured we'd add one more in than I had planned. He gets to the base of it and jumps straight up in the air. If it had been 5'6", he would have cleared it, no problem. We land, I have no power steering, he is running blindly in terror from whatever monster he just climbed over. I just stopped him, somewhere toward the end of the ring, and patted him and told him he was okay.

[And here's one of the things I love about riding with Alicia. The moment when I look over my shoulder at her after we've just done something ridiculous, and she is doubled over and laughing. The first time this happened, when I first started riding with Alicia about a year ago, Tucker put a two in a three stride line, and I thought, "oh god, is she going to be horrified? yell? stomp her feet at my incompetence? refuse to continue teaching me?" And when I looked over, she was laughing. What a relief. We are on the same page. Tucker is hilarious.]

So we made the liverpool a tiny cross rail and we came around again to it at a trot. This time, two strides out he gunned it and took it at a gallop. Apparently, he figured he'd just get it overwith as quickly as possible. Again, landed running blindly and this time I had to pull him up a little abruptly because at some point we can't allow that behavior. At least his reaction is to run at the scary jump and take me to it, instead of suck back or refuse it. Then we went back to one of the plank verticles at the top of the ring, just to give him something a little less scary to jump, and came back to our trot and trotted over the bay-horse-eating-monster-qua-liverpool. This time I talked to him the whole way to it and in the air over it. That really helped. He overjumped it, peeking at it between his legs, but not nearly as scary.

Went back to the plank, from a trot, and he was distracted, looking at something else, put one too many trot steps in and whacked it pretty hard. He was pissed, kicked out so hard that I actually saw his hind right leg out of the corner of my eye (again, all very un-Tucker-like behavior). I was a little annoyed. I don't usually blame him for anything, but he was the one that didn't pick up his feet there, and it was a trot jump, so all I had to do was sit up and relax my hand, which I did. Kicking out at his own silly mistake is just a little rude, I think. But maybe it stung him. We came back around to it and this time he picked up his feet, jumped it fine, landed quietly.

Then we trotted our liverpool and kept cantering four strides to the white gate, which was not easy because it was a three stride line, but he did it. We did that again, and then added an oxer that was set on the opposite diagonal (our ring is huge, which is why this course probably sounds a little confusing). Here is where I made one of the mistakes that really makes me mad at myself. When I am worried that he is going to land and be fresh, I tend to not want to let go of his face on the way to the jump. Which is totally counter-productive. It is basically like coiling up a spring. He's in a ball, he jumps the jump straight up in the air, and then he does land all pissed off and bronc-like and yanking the reins out of my hands. If I would just let go and be soft on the way to the jump, he will jump it soft. I don't know why I can't seem to grasp this. But I endeavored to fix it on our last course of the day.

So we did the whole thing again, and it was admittedly a lot better. The bending line in nine (which worked out fine when I just let go of his darn face), the center line verticle (kept him counter-bent to the left and rode it square, much better), trotted our plank, trotted our liverpool (which had ceased to be a monster at this point), cantered four strides to the gate (which was still tight, but putting four in a three is really hard for him), and then finished up with the diagonal oxer (where I told myself no matter what, LET GO OF HIS FACE). I let go, he found his own distance, he landed forward but not running and much more relaxed, and did a perfect left-to-right change on the straight line before we got to the corner. Good note to quit on.

So now that I've written this post, I can reflect on what I learned from this lesson, instead of just thinking "wow, that was a rough lesson." What have we learned? 1) Everything goes better when I let go of his face; 2) Even if he is terrified of a jump, he will jump it no matter what; 3) When he gets pissed off, if I just ignore it, he will get over it. Oh, and given that he jumped an imaginary 5' wall the first time we jumped the liverpool, if Alicia needs a back-up mini prix horse, she can always use Tucker.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"I think Marissa actually had fun"

Tucker's Horse Show Journal - HITS V Saugerties - Modified Adult Hunter (2'6") - 7/24/09

Prep: I got up early and went down to the rings to hack him around in the ring we would be showing in. We have decided that at away shows, he needs to see the ring first. Not the jumps, those he could care less about. But if we walk into a ring he's never seen before, we have this "up periscope" thing happening where suddenly I think "perhaps I've gotten on someone else's Tennessee Walking Horse by mistake?" So we hack. He's dead quiet. We finish up in that ring and then I take him out into the big hunter schooling area and just let him do laps at the canter. We had a little discussion about picking up his right lead in the corner where he really wanted to stare off to the left at all the activity around the Grand Prix ring and bulge his shoulder rather than listen to me. I got after him, he consented, we picked up our right lead and quit on that. With me in charge. Wandered back to the barns, our braider finished up his braids, he had his breakfast. I did put him on the longe for a minute, just to check, and he had absolutely no desire to play. So, we went back to the wash stall for yet another bath. Plenty of time before our classes so he got to chill, hand graze, nap.

First trip: Started off with a single verticle on the quarter line coming home off the left lead. So, trotted across the diagonal, took a deep breath, told him how good he is, and then got a good canter rhythm at the top of the ring. Stayed patient to the verticle, worked out perfectly. The first fence always seems to be his best one. Then the diagonal line rode really nicely, jumped in well and just relaxed my arm and stayed the same for six strides. Got a good left to right change. Outside line was good, jumped in normal and had to wait just a hair to get five. Missed the left to right change in the corner though, and had to trot a step to fix it. Then he bulged out slightly toward the in-gate out of the corner to the next diagonal line so the distance got a little screwed up, but not terrible. I just had to close my leg a little as well as relax my arm to get him down there in five. The last line was a four stride coming straight back toward the in-gate. I had to stretch up tall and sit down in the corner, rebalance my canter, and stay conservative jumping in. He did, and the four was just a little tight jumping out, but not terrible. Except for that one missed lead change, solid first round.

Second trip: First fence was the other quarter line verticle on the other side of the ring, coming home but off the right lead. So, came in and trotted across the other diagonal, picked up my canter in the corner. Had to open my right rein to keep his focus because he wanted to watch the horse in the jumper ring all the way around the end of the ring, but then once we were straight to the first fence he locked in and found his own distance. Missed the change here and I think we aso I wasn't sure whether to rebalance as we were coming to the next diagonal line or leave him alone. I left him alone though, and it worked out fine because he lost a little momentum coming directly away from the in-gate. Then we were right there in six, didn't have to change a thing. Landed left, again wanted to cheer on the horse in the jumper ring all the way around the end of the ring. Probably should have worked a little harder to keep his attention, but I thought he'd do the same thing and refocus once he saw his next jump. There were some jump crew guys sitting on the grass outside the ring (no idea if they were there during our first trip), though, and he spooked a little at them as he was approaching the four, so we ended up pretty left of center jumping in and then I had to open my right rein and yield him back to the right in the line. This line was a huge learning experience for me. I thought I had given him no reaction whatsoever to his little spook, but I must have tensed up somewhere because he landed from this line feeling pretty worried. So, I patted his neck all the way around the end of the ring and told him he was good. This relaxes me just as much as it does him. He softened again, and then I just made an amateur mistake jumping in to the second diagonal. I should have just sat still, but for some reason I closed my leg and pushed him past the distance. It was fine, he forgave me, jumped in pretty tight and then I just let go and he made it up for the six no problem. Then he got the left to right change again and the outside line was good. Since it was the last line and he was getting rolling a little, I had to just sit up and keep him collected for five. I honestly can't remember if we got the last lead change. I think we did, but I will have to watch the video.

Third trip: The first fence was the single quarter line from the first class, but going away from home. I actually opened my right rein in the air and got him to land right here so I didn't have to think about the change (pretty tricky). Then for some reason (maybe my brain was getting tired?) I jumped in to the outside line thinking it was a six. Nope. It's a five. So, I did what any amateur would do when she realizes half way down a line that she's miscounted. With all the intellect of a crash test dummy, I booted my horse in the sides to see if he could put two strides in where in his mind, he was planning on three. And here's where Tucker was sainted. A year ago, he would have listened to me, gunned it, jumped from eight feet away, propelled me into orbit, and landed in a heap on the other side. Instead, he just said, "Nah, mom, I'm still doing six. We shouldn't leave from there." Smart, smart, horse. I should have just stayed on the six when I realized my mistake. Good horse, I thought on the other side. I patted him for saving my butt all the way around the end of the ring. Then the next two lines were beautiful. The diagonal six was right there, he landed left. I think I was so relieved and impressed that he had just done such a smart thing that I was totally relaxed. So he didn't spook coming into the four, jumped in quietly and fit in a nice four. Coming out of the in-gate, I just looked at Alicia and laughed. Oh, and thanked her for teaching my horse to think for himself!

We had at least an hour before the under saddle, so I took him back to his stall and untacked him for a bit. Then headed back down around 6 pm.

Under saddle: This is where I fell in love with my horse all over again. Alicia was walking the course for her own mare, so we were on our own. I'm watching all these super fancy hunters warming up for the hack in the schooling ring and thinking, okay, we'll just play around in there. Take a few laps and call it a day. There were thirty horses, and some of them were fantastic movers. But I said that's okay, we don't need a ribbon to have a good day. No biggie. So we go into the hack, and I don't know whether Tucker was just so happy to have that many friends around him in the ring at the same time, but he was amazing. Floaty, soft, light, in a nice relaxed loose hunter frame. I felt like I was on some million dollar wonder horse. I made a pass through the middle of the ring straight toward the judge at the trot so I could get him seen (plus he's a great mover from the front as well -- no paddling). His canter was divine: slow, big, relaxed, light as a feather. We were fourth! Out of thirty! He beat all those super fancy movers I was watching in the schooling ring! The top three were also in the top ribbons over fences consistently, so it made sense that the judge used them first. And they are all lovely movers. But with our tiny mistake in each class and her not using us over fences at all, I was super impressed that she picked us next! I must confess, my eyes welled up with tears coming out of the ring. I was so proud of my boy, I could have burst.

Overall: He was just exactly what anyone would want out of an Adult Amateur horse. Honest, reliable, consistent, safe, forgiving, and fancy enough to beat 26 horses!! Later that night when we were finishing up chores at the barn, I overhead Alicia telling someone about my rounds and she said, "I think Marissa actually had fun today." She was right. Such a great day.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"It's just that easy."

Tucker's Horse Show Journal - HITS V, Saugerties, Tri-State Hunter (2’6”) – July 23, 2009

Prep: Got to the horse show the day before, gave him about 15 minutes on the longe line to get the wild look out of his eyes, then tacked up and headed down to the rings. It's a long walk past lots of tents and golf carts and mopeds, past a longing area, across a bridge, past tack shops, and down a little "road" of golf cart/equine traffic. He wandered down there like he's done it 100 times. I was fairly impressed. We schooled him in one of the hunter rings (which ended up being the ring we showed in the next day when we moved my class -- luck was on our side), and he was fantastic. Quiet, relaxed, not spooky. I started holding a little too much and had about three chips in a row (thankfully he forgave me), so I stopped, Alicia reminded me to be relaxed through my arms and if I wanted to collect, just press forward with my hips and use my voice. Of course, that works every time, and then we jumped around great.

The next morning, we went down to the rings to hack (they let you in before 7:30 to flat around in the rings but no jumping). My ring was closed so I took him into the Grand Hunter Ring with the big kids. He handled it pretty well, for the most part. He was spooky, but clearly working hard at trying to pay attention. At the very end of our ride, I asked him to canter between the tractor pulling the drag and the big arch that goes over the in-gate, and he just couldn't keep it in any more and tucked his tail between his legs and scooted forward all the way down the longside. Thank goodness no one was in front of us, or we would have absolutely mowed them down. Worked out well though, cause then I knew he needed a little longe before we horse showed! So, we went for a little spin, and he cantered non-stop for about 20 minutes. Apparently he needed that. Then we chilled out the rest of the morning, got a bath, hand-grazed.

Headed down to the ring and Alicia rode him first. He needed a bit of a talking-to because he was totally blowing her off, but in about three laps of the schooling ring he was ready to go back to work. She did one trip with him and he was great. Got both lead changes, and was steady and quiet.

First trip: First fence was good, nice conservative distance. Missed the lead change and had to trot a step to fix it. The in of the first outside line was okay, and then I just softened my arm and he got right down there in a nice six. Landed left. The in of the diagonal line was pretty quiet, so I had to let go and let him get down there, but he did. Got our left to right lead change, and then it was a long patient ride to a single oxer on the outside. He found his distance, then looked off to the left at the schooling ring in the distance, I quietly opened my inside right rein and got his attention back on the jump, and it worked out perfectly. Got our lead change again. Then the last diagonal line he jumped in slightly conservative and I didn't have to do anything but sit there. Landed left. Alicia had a big smile on her face and said to me as I was coming out of the gate "See? It's just that easy!" Good feeling.

Second trip: The first fence was conservative, but he found the distance and he was right on it so I just kept my hips forward to keep him collected and it worked out nicely. Got our left to right change no problem. Jumped in to the diagonal line conservatively, but then just had to soften and not rush him, which I was able to do. Jumped in a little tight to the outside line so again had to move up, this time going away from the in-gate so I had to close my leg, but it worked out. Again, jumped in well to the last diagonal line and got down there nicely in four. Landed left and missed the lead change so had to trot a step and fix it.

Third Trip: Started with the outside line going away from home. He jumped in super quiet and then I let go but turned out we just weren't going to get down there. He was smart though -- I closed my leg the last two strides to see if we could get down there in six and he just politely said that's too big and just patted the ground and put one more little step in. I loved that he did that. I made a little amateur mistake and he took care of me. Landed left. Then the diagonal line again he jumped in a little quiet and I didn't want to make the same mistake again, so I forced myself to just let go from stride one (really starting to get the feel for how much he can eat up the ground if I just let go). Thought about the lead change as soon as I landed and pulled my shoulders back and stretched up tall to lift him off his forehand. It worked. We got the left to right lead change in front of the in-gate, which was awesome. Then the single outside oxer again, same patient ride, same looking left at the schooling ring, but again I redirected his attention without making a big deal of it and it worked out perfectly. Got the left to right change again in the corner. Then the last diagonal line, either he was getting tired or I was (or both) so the distance that was right there suddenly wasn't and we got in pretty tight. But, I let go, he ate up the ground, and we jumped out well. All in all a great day.

Under saddle: Didn't do the undersaddle this time, because with 90 or so entries, the hack didn't run til after 6pm! Craziness. It was the only division that ran in that ring all day. I guess everybody used it as a schooling for the rest of the week.

Overall: Super! He was a total packer! Couldn't have asked for more out of him. If adding a stride in a line is the worst that he does, then I'll take it!