Tuesday, June 30, 2009
He has been to the show grounds where we were a lot, so he was non-plussed by the whole adventure right from the minute I unloaded him. We went for a little spin, and I actually had to pick up a longe whip (not that I had to actually use it, because he's such a giant chicken that just the idea that I had a weapon made him suspicious that I might at any minute develop a split personality and bludgeon him within an inch of his life). Then he got to chill on the trailer while I cheered on a friend in her come-back of the year. . . she and her horse have both fully (thankfully) recovered from some not-too-pleasant injuries and are back in the ring looking better than ever. So being her cheering squad was great! Plus, I got to walk the jumper course with her and Alicia, which was fun. I don't exactly do that too often over in hunterland.
Then I got on and hacked Tucker around while Alicia schooled the other young horse she was showing, and he was very relaxed, I'd say even half-asleep, just like we like him at horse shows. Alicia got on and schooled him and he was terrific. His mother, on the other hand, was a nervous wreck. I was chewing the finger of my glove, my heart was racing, and I was getting some pretty odd looks from the trainers schooling their riders standing beside me. I've realized that I'm a little nuts. What did I think was going to happen to him? The boy isn't made of glass. And he's so big and scopey and athletic that 3' is a piece of cake for him. But I'm his mom, and he's my baby, and I worry. I actually said to Alicia, as I walked him up to the schooling ring, "Are you sure these aren't too big for him?" She just laughed.
He showed pretty brilliantly. He is still obviously green, and gets a little distracted between fences, but he's just got the best jump ever (just like his daddy!). His knees actually hit his throat latch a few times. He did have a major baby moment. I'm not sure whether he got distracted because he saw me standing there or if he was just spacing out and forgot where he was, but he pretty much ran himself into the rail after the first fence in the first class. He looked totally stunned. Like when you're reading while walking and walk into a pole. (I might have done that once or twice. And don't pretend you haven't. . . .) It was very Kramer of him.
Later on back at the barn, we all had a good laugh over the fact that he was probably stunned because his rider did not throw herself between him and the fence to prevent any possible injury to him! There was a lot of good-natured teasing about how neurotic and worried I get about him. I am starting to realize that I am totally one of those crazy over-protective mothers! I have to learn to put it aside though, because it clearly effects my riding. It's difficult to concentrate on my job when I'm thinking things like "I hope this isn't too much for him," and "I hope he's not too worried." I should just trust in his athleticism and courage and stop being such a worry-wort. My fellow rider (the one who made her fantastic come-back on Sunday), made a great observation: "You are so weird! You're a lovely rider, he's a wonderful horse, you're both perfectly capable, what are you so worried about?" Once I caught my breath and recovered from laughter and her brutal (and spot-on) honesty, I realized she's got a great point. I need to just get over it!
It's tough though. He's such an amazing animal, and I feel so blessed to call him my own, that I worry about not doing right by him -- or even worse -- ruining him. But, I need to remember that he is a lot more resilient than I think, and if I don't make a big deal out of things, neither will he. Sort of like when he sees something that might be scary on a trail ride through the woods, and I just pat him and tell him he's okay. He will, without fail, take a deep breath and walk toward whatever he thinks is lurking in the bushes, so long as mom says it's okay. Which should tell me that if I don't worry about it, neither will he; but if I do worry about it (the distance, the strides, the lead change, whatever), he is taking his cues from me and will think there's something to be scared of.
Bottom line is that he's 100% capable of doing his job, and beautifully, at that. So I need to trust him more, and stop being so over-protective. And if it's not perfect, well then I need to just shrug it off and tell him (by staying relaxed) that it's no big deal.
Easier said than done, but it never hurts to set goals!
Monday, June 29, 2009
6. I set up one of my best friends and my brother about 5 years ago. It was a very casual first date, a Yankees/Red Sox game. They are now married and expecting their first baby! (Who, on his or her 6th birthday, will be getting a pony from Aunt Marissa. And hopefully will be showing Tucker in the leadline division in about five years).
7. I have a cat and a turtle. Both were rescues. The turtle doesn't particularly care for my grooming (scrubbing his shell with peroxide and a tooth brush) but the cat -- a former stray who lived in the middle of a big field at Tucker's baby farm -- has taken so well to being a pampered indoor cat that she will stand near the drawer containing her grooming supplies and cry to be brushed, and will even stand quietly under running water for her bath. Yes, really.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
It's no secret that I've always loved the hunters. I could sit and watch the professionals do the greens all day long. A beautiful hunter round just never gets old. But the Hunter Derby is a step above the rest. Not only do the classes add a sense of drama to the hunter ring that we don't necessarily always see, but they have this romantic mystique about them too, since they're aimed at "returning to the style and substance of the older hunter courses." (See Jeannie Blancq Putney, "Not Your Basic Hunter Course," In Stride, Vol. 4, Issue 3, p. 28-31). The horses are judged on their jumping style and the "brilliance of the round." (Id. at p. 31).
I love how the riders talk about the courses, and their horses' reactions to the courses, in this month's In Stride. Patrick Rodes says it's "like nothing [he's] ever seen," and John French says about the horse he shows in the Derby, Rumba: "It was such a great feeling to ride him over that course. He was so interested in the jumps and his ears were pricked." Jenny Karazissis says, "Aragon fears nothing." I love how these riders are excited by the fact that the courses are difficult and the jumps are a little spooky, and I love that the horses are rising to the occasion. It just seems like so much fun.
I'm nowhere in the same league as the riders who do these classes, and I'll probably never have the finances to campaign a horse but I would just love to have Alicia show Tucker (or maybe Julie!) in one some day. I don't know if Tucker's fancy enough, but he's definitely brave and he's definitely handy. He'd have no problem walking a jump or opening a gate. He could also help flip the lights on in the indoor, reach your water bottle, pet a kitten, stop a loose horse, and carry your jacket, if any of those challenges ever came up in the handy round. . . .
Hopefully, these videos will give you an idea of what I mean. Doesn't it just look amazing? I can't identify this rider/horse (apologies for my ignorance) in the first video, but I thought this course was just beautiful. It's at Wrenwood Farms in Naples FL:
Here's Jenny Karazissis with Aragon at Thermal:
And here is a beautiful winning round by Samantha Schaefer under the lights at Devon:
I love everything about this class. I love the concept, the challenge, the allure, the tradition. It's no wonder that huge crowds gather every time a class is held. Has anyone seen a class? I would love to hear about it.
Fyi, Regarding horses also has a post on the Hunter Derby, with some more great video footage.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Sunday, June 21, 2009
One of the things I love about Sundays is bran mash for dinner. It smells like someone is baking oatmeal cookies, and the horses love it. I just love the sounds of contented slurping you hear all along the barn aisle. As I went to leave tonight Tucker stuck his head over the top of his door to say goodbye/see whether I had anything for him. He has bran mash in his ears, on his eyes, up his nose, down the front of one leg, and his forelock is sticking straight up like a mohawk, completely coated in bran mash. And because he was quasi-begging for treats, he had this really goofy look on his face. I swear, it was like seeing my future child looking up at me from a high-chair with spaghetti all over his face. I burst out laughing, and said "I should have named you Kramer."
See, when Tucker was a weanling, I was working at a farm in CT, grooming and teaching little kid up-down lessons. Tucker lived in the school horse barn, and had a paddock that led right into his stall. Being the mama's boy type, when he'd hear the sound of my voice bringing a lesson pony back into the barn from a lesson, he'd come flying into his stall and come to a sort of sliding stop with his head straight up in the air. One day one of the moms laughed at him and said "He looks just like Kramer bursting into Jerry's apartment!" Given that he was even more of a goof as a gangly, awkward weanling/yearling, the nickname quickly caught on.
I seriously considered making his show name "Kramer" but I thought. . . I can't give a goofy horse a goofy name. I should give him a classic name, a name to live up to. It was right after college, so I was totally broke. I couldn't afford cable, but my brother did give me a VCR, so I watched movies. Given that I was totally broke, I had a limited movie collection, most of which I bought at garage sales. I watched Breakfast at Tiffany's A LOT. Several times a week, in fact. So, I settled on Moon River for Tucker's show name. Not the most original, but at the time it had a lot of meaning. We were, after all, two drifters off to see the world. And Tucker is definitely a "Huckleberry friend." I wouldn't mind floating on a hand-made barge down the Mississippi River with him. In fact, but for the weight issue, he'd probably be my first choice in travel companion.
I am now struggling with naming Miss Julie. She's named after Julie Andrews, because I love The Sound of Music. I have considered naming her "Rainedrops on Roses," because her dad's name is Rainedance and her mom's show name is Rosewood. Her mom's barn name is Secret, which is also really pretty, but hasn't given me any ideas. I think Rainedrops on Roses might be a little to cutesie for an Adult Hunter though. It sounds more like a pony name.
Anyone have any good ideas? Stacey over at Behind the Bit made some good suggestions (see her post on show names), including Rained Out. I would love to hear your ideas. I wouldn't mind something related to her color, as long as it's not too typical (no Domino, no Oreo, no Black Tie, etc.). I thought "Chess" was kind of nice, but it doesn't seem feminine enough for her. She is definitely a girlie-girl. Here are a couple more pictures of her from last summer, in case that might inspire someone. The first one is her and her mom, a photo that I love.
So there's a few head shots of my little girl. Anyone got any great show names stirring around in their heads just waiting for the right horse?
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Thursday, June 18, 2009
I've been wondering lately, though, whether there needs to be a Horse/Life balance? I know the readers of this blog can relate to this situation. Going to the farm is my night-time activity and takes up pretty much all my weekend time. Instead of a vacation, I'm planning on taking Tucker to HITS this summer. (Where we may, or may not, be doing the 3' adult hunters. Depending on whether that nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think about jumping 3' is still here at the end of July. For those keeping track, it's still here.) And, of course, as OntheBit pointed out a few months ago in one of my favorite of her prior posts, I am horse poor. I don't buy new shoes for myself, yet I spend over $200 on shoes every month. That's like a riddle that only a fellow horse owner could solve.
Pretty much everyone I know has gotten used to me being at least an hour late for everything because I "took longer at the barn than I planned." And I know that the unequestrians in my life think I'm Crazy (with a capital C) because of what I spend on the kids -- and they're only basing that on what I spend on board! They don't even factor in the vet bills, farrier bills, training costs, trips to Dover and Bevals, supplements. . . you get the idea. And I've gotten used to my boyfriend explaining to people, as a means of summing up my horse obsession: "Her horse has a chiropractor." I know everyone reading this has seen the shocked looks that follow that statement.
Confessional: I do spend almost half my paycheck on my horses. Sometimes more, let's be honest. And more often than not, I don't get to all the things I was supposed to do on the weekend (laundry, cleaning out that closet, grocery shopping, paying bills) because I was having a really interesting conversation with one of my fellow riders about her horse's right lead canter, or watching a video of someone's round at the last horse show, or taking Tucker for a nice long walk after our ride, or reorganizing my trunk, or. . . again, you get the idea.
But how much is too much? Is it crazy that I pay twice as much for board as I do for rent? Is it unreasonable to cancel plans with friends because I have a horse show the next day? If I didn't spend my nights and weekends at the barn, what would I do? Watch tv? Go the the gym? Go to the mall? Go to the beach? What do unequestrians do with their time?
This is a concept I've been wondering about ever since I spent a weekend at the shore with my boyfriend's family earlier this summer. It was a really nice, relaxing, horse-free weekend. And I said to my boyfriend's mom, "It's so nice to have a weekend free to just do nothing. Usually I'm so busy with . . ." At this point my voice trailed off, because I realized I was about to admit that it was nice (*gasp*) to have a weekend that wasn't consumed with horses. Even now, that thought sends pangs of guilt right through me. What a thing to say! Tucker and Julie would be so hurt.
So my question for you, readers, is this: As horse owners, do we need to maintain a balance between our horses and . . . everything else? Do we need to think about making time for unequestrians and family members? Is saving money for something other than a new bridle an important goal? Or, on the other hand, is life really just about the pursuit of happiness. . . and if horses make us truly happy, should that be where we focus our energy?
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Before we begin, I know there are some DQ's* following this blog, and based on the little amount that I know about dressage, I know you may not like this post that much. A brief digression into the "little that I know" about dressage. When I was in high school, I was the captain of our school's riding team. As captain, I was required to compete in at least one event in each discipline. So, I entered the lovely little mare that I was showing in the children's hunters in a few dressage shows that were hosted by our school. The poor thing. I can just imagine what went through her pretty little head: "Uh, where are the jumps? Don't tell me I am supposed to jump those little white things? Why am I the only horse in this hack? Another circle? Seriously? There's no one in front of us." I remember one test in particular which I thought was lovely but received rather thinly veiled insults from the judge. At one point, she told me that I needed to work on getting my mare to use her hind end more and reach under herself, which was true. So I agreed, and said I had been flatting her in draw reins once a week to help with that. The judge smiled up at me and said "Why don't you just give her a lobotomy?"
So, I've gotten the impression that dressage folks aren't too keen on our hunter/jumper tools and gadgets. Let me be careful to say that I do not agree with the program where a horse "lives in draw reins" or has so many complicated pieces of hardware on his face that he looks like Edward Scissor Pony. At some point, it just becomes counter-productive. But I do think gadgets have their place in a training program, when used with discretion and common sense. So... hopefully the DQ's won't turn away from your computers in horror, and may simply be wagging your fingers at me admonishingly or shaking your heads in pity... but here we go.
The bit we are currently using is called a double-jointed rotary. It looks like this:
The rotary link allows both sides to work independently of each other. You can purchase one at http://www.horseloverz.com/, which is one of my favorite online equine shopping destinations because they always have great sales and discounts (I am mildly infatuated with not paying full price for anything. I love the thrill). Tucker has a pretty soft mouth, but he tends to lock up on the left side through his jaw. The beauty of this bit is that for a horse like Tucker, somehow this bit keeps him more even on both sides and makes him stay soft regardless of which direction he is bent in. It also makes the transition smoother when he changes his bend. I'm not 100% sure why, but it works.
The gadget that I want to tell you all about today is one developed by Anne Kursinski, called the instant gag. It's available here, if anyone is interested. It works with your regular snaffle bridle, and gets attached to a second set of reins. Here's a close up of how it sits with Tucker's full cheek.
The biggest benefit I've found with the instant gag is that Tucker self-corrects. Since my snaffle rein is still attached, the gag rein really only comes into play when he tries to lean or (worse) root the reins out of my hands. He's typically good about contact, but sometimes it gets kind of hard keeping his extra long package together and he'll protest. The instant gag also works similar to a poll rein, in that if he tries to come above the contact, he feels pressure on his poll. This typically only happens when he's "stargazing" (to steal a phrase from Jeff Cook), but the instant gag gives him a nice reminder to come back down to earth.
What's great about the self-correction is that it avoids the overreaction to being corrected by the rider. The upside to having an over-acheiver is, well, he's an over-acheiver. He's a trier. Big time. The downside is that he's like a little kid that never gets yelled at, who burst into tears when he does. (I might have been that kind of child and I might have raised a horse that is exactly like me. But that's a whole nother can of worms better suited for a therapist to deal with than my trainer.)
So when Tucker roots the reins out of your hands, and you half halt to correct him, the head flies in the air, his body goes tense, panic ensues, and he generally gives you the "WHY ARE YOU YELLING AT ME??!?!?!" reaction. Poor guy. He so wants to be good. Such a sensitive soul. The great thing about the instant gag is he leans, feels pressure, comes back to where you want him. "Huh, I guess I shouldn't do that" instead of "OH DEAR LORD PLEASE DON'T HURT ME I DIDN'T MEAN IT I SWEAR." Calm down Tucker dear, please, just canter. There's a good boy. Mommy loves you. You can see how this is mildly amusing at first but becomes kind of terrifying in the middle of a five-stride line. We're working on getting him to just take a deep breath and get over himself. The biggest obstacle in the way of that goal is that I need to just take a deep breath and get over myself. This is not at easy as it sounds. As many of you know.
Anyway, I have ridden in the instant gag twice and I am loving the softness. It's also teaching me to be really soft with my hands to avoid him over-flexing at the poll, which is a really good thing._________
*DQ = Dressage Queen, for the unequestrian reader. And it's not an insult, I mean it with love.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Monday, June 15, 2009
So, the first post, I would imagine, must start with the introductions.
First, Tucker the Wunderkind. Tucker is now a seven-year-old gelding. He's a 17 hh Dutch Warmblood/ Thoroughbred Cross. The first day I met Tucker, I had just graduated from college and he was a gangly two-month-old colt. I went into the stall to say hi to his mom, whom I hadn't seen since my Christmas break, and he ran up and bit me in the stomach (just in case we weren't clear about exactly whose mom that was that I was talking to). Gee, your colt is charming, I thought. Please tell me I won't have to work with this one.
I then spent my year off between college and law school working at the farm where Tucker grew up, and steadily falling madly in love with this absolutely charming little weanling. As it turns out, first impressions aside, Tucker's main goal in life is to make his humans happy, and he tries really hard at reaching that goal. So, when I moved back to New Jersey to start law school, Tucker was in tow. So much for saving up money for law school.
By far, the best decision I've ever made. When I bought him, he was just Tucker. The "Wunderkind" nickname came along once I realized he's something of a baby genius. Tucker and I are now showing in the low adult hunters (@ 2'6") and working our way up to the 3' adult hunters. Tucker, being a Wunderkind, is ready willing and able to jump anything we point him at. His pilot, on the other hand, is still figuring things out. The goal is 3 feet by September. Stay tuned...
And then there's Julie. After working through law school at the baby farm where Tucker spent his childhood, I grew rather attached to a set of young horses from one particular brood mare, named Secret, to the left. Her babies were pretty, quiet, and easy. And they were all bays. My favorite.
So Julie was planned, though the night she was born (exactly one year ago today), I called the owner of both her parents and said... "Um, she's not what I ordered." I had "ordered" a bay with four white socks. I had patiently, repeatedly, explained this to her mother during her eleven month pregnancy.
But as I stood watching her come into this world, I saw two white socks... that became stockings... that became long white legs, and realized that at least in the color department, she'd be taking after her daddy, the beautiful and talented Raine Dance:
So little miss Julie has had her own opinion of things right from the very beginning.
She is a sweetheart, really, but some days she just rolls her pretty little eyes at us and explains that she's a little too pretty to be bossed around by a ridiculous human with a crazy idea about what the day's agenda should be. Right now, that agenda doesn't involve much more than grooming, bathing, leading, and the occasional run-in with a black-and-white-filly-eating monster commonly known as clippers. But I'm hoping this summer she and I will get to spend some quality time together. Those long white legs don't clean themselves, after all!
So, with introductions underway, welcome to my blog!