Friday, December 31, 2010

2010

Hey there Tucker fans.  Sorry I've been MIA at the end of this year.  I took a little break for the holidays, and then a subsequent death in the family took me away for a while longer.  My Uncle Joe died (Well, "Uncle" in the loose, Italian family sense of that word.  He was related somehow by marriage to my Grandmother).  Uncle Joe was the only relative I know of who actually owned a horse at one point.  I believe her name was Bonnie, and I remember when I was little that there was a photo of her hanging in their front hall.  He loved to hear about my horses, and loved to tell me stories about Bonnie.  My Uncle Joe was a good man -- always gave people a hard time, never missed an opportunity to tease -- but in the end, he had a good heart.  When I was a child, he would tell me I was a pain in the neck, and the next breath be muttering to himself in Italian about how beautiful I was.  I adored him.

He and my grandparents were very close, part of a big group of friends who got together every Friday night for a martini party, where the ironing board became a bar, and they "raffled off" the living room tv set for laughs.  They threw parties for snowstorms, parties when someone got a new car, parties when someone came to visit from out of town, parties for the day after a party called "used booze" parties.  Sounds like the kind of folks you'd want to hang out with, right?  I hope at the end of my life that I have good times like these to look back on.

Speaking of looking back, I've been reading lots of blog posts that are retrospectives on 2010.  It's funny, if I were to look back on the blog this year, it would appear as though I've had the best year of my life.  Tucker and I moved up to the 3' Hunters, we did our first Hunter Derby, we started schooling some 3'6" gymnastics at home, I got over my confidence issues and learned to enjoy horse shows again.  He suffered some minor injuries but is overall happy, healthy, and wonderful.  Reading that, it sounds like an amazing year. 

Which is all another testament to how amazing Tucker is, and what he's meant to me.  I am so, so thankful for this horse.  You see, pretty much all the other "life" stuff that I don't write about here (for fear of, as I've mentioned before, infecting the blog) hasn't been as good.  When I look back at 2010 overall, I'd say it was the toughest year of my life.  If I gave you the laundry list of things that went horribly, irrevocably wrong, you'd think I had turned this blog into a work of fiction.  To tell the truth, I can't even believe I made it through everything.  But each time I was hit with something else, I'd sort of figure out another way to move forward, over it, under it, or around it, and somehow get to the other side and look back amazed at my own resilience.  So, I guess I have that to be thankful for as well. 

I don't usually put much stock into the whole "New Year's Resolution" tradition.  New Year's Day is actually tied to a very sad little fact about my life, so I don't even usually celebrate it.  But this year I think maybe it's time to embrace the whole idea of rebirth, regeneration, regrouping.  It's time to let all that awful stuff that happened to me just stay in 2010.  Time to do everything I can to approach 2011 with a positive attitude, an open mind, and an open heart.  In 2011, I want to figure out a way to have the rest of my life match my horse life.  I want to go to sleep at night feeling satisfied with everything, not just content with the couple of hours that I spent with my horse.  It's not going to happen overnight...  a lot of things need to change in order for me to feel that wholehearted satisfaction.  In the meantime, I am lucky to have a wonderful horse to lean on, who is steadfast, relentless, even adamant in his need to make me happy, regardless of whatever else is going on.

So, to those of you who had a difficult 2010 as well... we all know that at the stroke of midnight all the problems we faced last year will not magically disappear.  There will be issues that will linger into the new year, and we will deal with them like we've done before.  But perhaps this new year is a good time to make a clean break from what we've been though, so it doesn't drag us down for another year.  And if it starts getting tough, I recommend finding a big, sweet, beautiful horse (cat, dog, bunny, stuffed animal, what-have-you), and wrapping your arms around his neck.  Always works for me.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I can't sleep, so...

.... want to hear about my ride?

It was a pretty good one, although Tucker was a little distracted.  The wind was pretty strong this evening, and my one complaint about my awesome super-sized indoor is that when the wind blows, the sides turn into giant tuning forks and they make this rather loud vibration noise that sounds sort of like the gong show.  (Or maybe more cowbell?  Told you, I can't sleep.  I'm punchy.)

So every time that noise sounded, Tucker lost focus for a minute. I'd get him nice and straight and then the noise would start and he'd just ever so slightly twist his head in that direction and shift just enough that I'd lose the straightness, or he'd bring his head up to look, and slow down a little, and I'd have to re-establish the forward momentum.  All in all, not huge issues, but kind of annoying.  My hope is that he'll get so used to the noise that eventually he won't react at all. 

I wanted to work tonight on keeping him straight, especially tracking to the right when he wants to overbend to the inside, and since I needed to keep him focused, I did this with lots and lots of figures, reverse turns, half circles, big circles, little circles, serpentines, figure eights, leg yields, all the time thinking about turning his shoulders off my outside aids.  I basically need to keep my left leg on, my left rein to left hip, and keep my right hand giving and flexible while I am tracking right.  Since he's developed a comfort zone of being over-flexed right, I pretty much can't stop thinking about these aids, or he falls back into the wrong place.  Sort of like when you are trying to fix something in your own position (like my right elbow, which appears to belong to a very perturbed chicken, or a little tea pot). 

I did a lot of work at the walk tonight so that I could concentrate on my position and my aids.  Once I felt my horse start traveling straight, balanced, and forward, I knew I was doing the right thing.  Then we'd move up to the trot, and when I'd lose it, I'd come back to the walk and get myself centered again. 

I've also started working a lot of walk-halt-walk transitions into my rides, working really hard on not letting him lean into the bridle at any point in those two transitions, and making him stay connected back to front and straight.  I swear, sometimes I feel like he's bargaining with me.  "Okay, I'll stay light up front, but how 'bout if I swing my hips right?  No?  Okay well I can stay straight, but I'm going to fling my head up in the air and get disconnected.  Still no good?  How about hips left?  Really, no?  Okay, fine, picky-picky.  Sheesh." 

To test the straightness, I worked with a cavaletti that was set up on the center line in the middle of the ring, concentrating again on turning his shoulders and not letting him bulge to the outside to give himself more room (which he does a lot over fences).  I had a breakthrough moment at one point toward the end of the ride.  I was trying to keep him straight, tracking right, and he kept blowing me off, and then we'd get to the cavaletti on the half-stride because he was crooked and it was changing the track and the pace.  I actually said out loud to him, "You know why this is happening right?  Because you're ignoring me?"  (Yeah, I really do expect him to be able to rationalize.  Yes, I do realize that's insane.  What's your point?) 

I came around the next time and decided not to protect him.  THWACK.  He smacked his right hind on the cavaletti, hard enough to make a horrible noise.  I cantered off and thought, well, I guess that's what happens when you don't listen.  Amazingly, the next three times he decided he could actually respond to my outside aids.  He stayed straight, and we had no trouble cantering over the cavaletti right out of stride.  Huh.  Lighbulb moment.  I protect this horse way too much. 

Once we successfully completed this exercise, it felt like a good place to quit for the night.  So we ended with our big stretchy trot and I told him he was a good boy.  All in all, it felt like I accomplished a lot, even if the ride wasn't always that pretty or smooth.  We had some really lovely trotting and cantering moments where he was nicely balanced and straight, made some substantial progress with the walk-halt-walk transitions, and the cavaletti exercise toward the end definitely taught me something. 

Okay, I have a lesson tomorrow morning so I really need to get some sleep.  I'll be counting minature ponies (more fun that counting sheep, right?).  Hope you are all sleeping soundly with visions of sugar plums dancing in your heads....

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tucker's Grandfather

I realized that I've never explained who Tucker's grandfather is.  He's somewhat famous, so I'd say he deserves a little space on the blog.  Tucker's grandfather (Keizer's father), is the KWPN Stallion of the Century 2000, Nimmerdor.

Quoted from stallionsonline.net

Nimmerdor was foaled in 1972 by Mr.Dijkstar of Woudend and was bought as a two and a half-year-old at a stallion show by Wiepke van de Lagewag. He was not approved at the time, nor was he vetted before purchase, but Wiepke felt confident enough in the stallion to part with the sum of 25,000 guilders.

‘He had something very special about him,’ said Mr.Wiepke van de lagewag. Wiepke originally started breeding only as a hobby in 1972, but perhaps realised upon seeing Nimmerdor that here was the stallion to take his venture on to a more serious level? Whatever the reason, with the purchase of Nimmerdor the VDL Stud was undoubtedly born.

When Nimmerdor was performance tested, he clearly excelled at jumping and so began his steady progression onto the world of International Showjumping. Ridden by Albert Vroom, he successfully competed in many World Cups and International Competitions, and he was accordingly invited to the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. Feeling however that the stallion needed to concentrate upon breeding duties, Wiepke declined the invitation. Wiepke certainly knew what he was doing, for Nimmerdor’s progeny have since proven themselves many times the world over.

Nimmerdor has sired 18 KWPN approved sons, 39 approved KWPN grandsons, and has sired more than 40 approved stallions in the various warmblood registries.  (I got this information from VDL's website, from Nimmerdor's biography.)

My favorite photos of Nimmerdor:




And here are my favorite Nimmerdor offspring:





Keizer

I also love Nimmerdor's brother, who has the sweetest pony face:


So those are all of Tucker's famous relatives... hard to believe my sweet goofy horse comes from such fancy roots, but he does.  I guess that's why I shouldn't be surprised that he thinks 3'6" is a cake walk... considering his brothers and sisters and uncles and cousins are out there winning grand prix.  But Tucker's stuck with me, so no grand prix for him.  Somehow, I don't think he minds too much.


Hope you all have a very happy holiday, and I hope your families all let you have a little horsey time!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tucker's Grandmother

I got a few pictures that I just had to share with you....  I got these pictures from the girl who currently owns Keizer (Tucker's daddy).  She apparently tracked them down from Keizer's breeder in Holland.  The baby is none other than my favorite horse of all time...  Keizer. 




No wonder they kept him a stud right?  Just look at that pretty face and those gorgeous long legs.  My goodness, he was one good looking kid.  Once I stopped gushing over the adorableness of Keizer as a baby, I fell in love with Tucker's grandmother.  She looks like she was a beautiful (and really big) mare. 


Now I see where Tucker gets his height from (he's bigger than both his parents)... and there is now no doubt about where those big ears of his came from!  In case you've never noticed Tucker's ears, see Exhibit A, below:


See the family resemblance now?  Yep, I thought so.  People make fun of his ears all the time... but I just explain that we get Direct TV up there.  Or, I explain that they act like sails, or make him aerodynamic, or assist with steering... all valid explanations for his rather large adornments.

So nice to see another little piece of Tucker's family history.  I can definitely see a resemblance.  Tucker's profile is very similar to his grandmother's.  Keizer was a wayyyy cuter baby than Tucker was though, that's for sure! 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tucker the Wunderkind, the Movie

Last night I rode Tucker at home and he was W.I.L.D.!  You know that feeling when you get on your horse and he needs to trot... immediately?  That's how it started.  So we trotted for a while and once I felt him start to relax I figured it was safe to pick up my canter.  Figured wrong.  I picked up my canter and as soon as we got to the top of the long side, he exploded like something cowboys would be fighting over at the PBR.  He bronced and lept and bucked and carried on all the way down the long side (and you know how big that ring is).  There was another rider in the corner putting her horse's cooler on and she turned around to see what the commotion was... for a second there, I'm pretty sure both our lives flashed before our eyes.  Thankfully I was able to stay on somehow, and got him trotting on a circle in the middle of the ring for a bit. 

We kept trotting until the ring was empty, and then I hopped off and pulled his tack and let him run around.  Clearly he had something he needed to work out... because he ran, and ran, and ran.  Then trotted for a minute, and ran some more.  I just stood in the middle of the ring and watched (he actually looked gorgeous once he stopped bucking).  Finally he had enough and trotted a few times all the way around the ring, so I caught him, tacked him back up, and hopped on again and let him walk for a while to catch his breath.  I wanted to end with a few minutes of work but we took things nice and slow and easy, trotting circles, working on getting him to accept the outside rein, bend through the middle, keep an even tempo (tiny little bite-sized goals).  We ended the ride cantering circles like a normal horse so apparently he had gotten everything out of his system.

I went to Alicia's this afternoon for a lesson and I wasn't sure exactly how he would be, but I'm happy to say he was absolutely perfect.   I rode him in the hackamore and he flatted really nicely, though I'm having trouble lately with keeping him from over-bending tracking right, which we'll have to work on some more on our own.  We warmed up over some small jumps and then started working on a gymnastic down the center line and he was absolutely fab-u-lous!  He was soft, and quiet, and jumping so nicely.  I'll let the videos speak for themselves....





Is that a wunderkind or what?  Don't you just love him?  He makes it looks so easy.  3'6" feels like nothing for him.  This was our best gymnastic yet (they seem to be getting better and better every time).  I definitely like doing gymnastic work in the hackamore.  He stays so incredibly soft and jumps so nice and round in it.  Never thought I'd say this, but I actually asked Alicia to put the jumps up a little for our last time through!  This horse does wonders for my confidence.

After our lesson we went down the barn aisle and I let Tucker say hi to all his old friends.  He was so sweet with all of them and they all seemed happy to see him.  I love the way he sniffs noses and blows in their faces, and then he'll sometimes lick their muzzles like a puppy.  Just the sweetest thing.  Then when we opened the door to head back to the trailer Tucker didn't want to leave!  He backed all the way up into the aisle, just about broke my heart.  I felt so bad taking him away from his friends.  There's always a chance that Tucker will end up living with his little herd again... though probably not right away.  Right now I'm just hoping that at some point soon all the pieces of my life are going to start making sense again.  Tucker certainly made his wishes known today in case anyone was wondering though!

Things are a little up in the air in my life right now, but today I had one of those rides that totally clears your head.  Makes everything just snap right back into place.  I've said it before and I'll say it again... I love that horse so much.  I can't even put into words how special he is to me.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Farm Cook Eat

I have virtually nothing to report in the world of Tucker because it's been way too cold for me to ride at night the past couple of days (I won't ride if it's under 18 degrees, which it has been... those of you in the Midwest and Canada can stop shaking your heads at me now).  Alicia did ride Tucker today though and told me that he came and met her at the gate when she got there!  He misses her!  Is he the sweetest horse in the world or what?

So, in lieu of our regularly scheduled horse talk, I'm introducing you to a new blog.  The blog is called "Farm Cook Eat" and it's written by Eric "Boo" Cioffi, a friend of mine in California (another lawyer who started a blog to talk about what he really enjoys... seeing a pattern here?).  Actually, he was technically my brother's friend first, you all remember my brother, right?  On the blog Eric shares some delicious recipes, and the stories that go with them.  As you may or may not know, I am no cook (though my peanut butter and jelly skills are unparalleled) but I've enjoyed reading Eric's blog nonetheless.  Those of you who can do more than make toast, however, will probably find it even more enjoyable. 

So check it out:  Farm Cook Eat.  Buon appetito!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Jules Wears Tack!

That's right everyone, Jules is now officially a career girl.  She's wearing tack, she's steering (sort of), and stopping (soft of) when asked.  I received an update from Celia and Larry (at Stones Throw Farm) and I'm happy to say that she's doing really well!  She's got a couple of rides under her belt now and the last time, she stood at the mounting block all by herself to be mounted, which I think is pretty darn good!  I'm told she is a "super student" and hasn't done anything too naughty so far (all of you please knock the nearest piece of wood now) -- no bucking!  She's been well behaved about coming in and leaving her friends, doesn't call out to them or look for them (I think that means she probably enjoys the attention, even if she's not too thrilled about being bossed around).  Sounds like Julie's going to be graduating out of the round pen into the big ring in about a week, and we may even get some video of her in action!

Here's the latest photos, all dressed up and ready for work like a big girl!

Hack winner!

So proud of you little girl!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Guess Who I Met?

Do you know who this horse is?

Hints:  (1)  He's somewhat famous in the blogosphere.  (2)  His mother loves him and spoils him as much as I love Tucker (if not more).  (3)  He's a total ham, and loves to pose for the camera.





(As a side note... remember what I was saying in my last post about not stopping by the coffee shop when you're wearing all your winter layers?  You should also not let your friends take pictures of you wearing all your layers, and under no circumstances should you post said photos on the internet for all to see.)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Winter Solution for Riders, Part III

This post will conclude our series on my favorite products for surviving winter.  Once again, I recommend an alternative such as moving to the tropics, if you have the means.  If not, then please, read on....

For bitter cold days (in my opinion, that's the high teens and 20s.  If it's colder than that, I think you need a space suit or something.  I wouldn't know.  When it's that cold, I spend about 20 minutes at the barn making sure the pony is warm enough, is free from injury and has all his shoes):

1. Instead of a mid-weight base layer, I like a heavy weight base layer, like those made for skiing.  My favorite are Hot Chilly'sI only use them when it's really seriously cold though. If it's above the 20s, I'm going to be too hot, so I'd rather use a lighter base layer and add an extra fleece or jacket that I can remove as I ride.  Believe it or not, these plus winter weight breeches will actually keep your legs warm in 20 degree weather.  You'll look like you put on a few pounds though, so I wouldn't stop by the coffee shop to flirt with that cute guy behind the counter on your way home from the barn.  (Ask me how I know this.)  If you don't want to splurge on winter weight breeches, the Hot Chilly's will also keep you warm in weather in the 30s and 40s under regular breeches, though you may need to wear a pair that's big on you (we all have those in the back of the closet somewhere right?)

2.  Instead of the 1/4 zips in Post #1, I wear the warmest shirt ever invented, from EMS.  I don't know what this shirt is made of but I am very thankful that someone created it.  It is the warmest thing I own, pound for pound (it's literally featherweight).  It also has these little slits at the bottom of the sleeve to slide your thumbs in (so do the EMS base layers, now that I mention it) -- so no more cold wrists!  If the weather is in the low 30s/high 20s, this shirt plus the Hot Chilly's top under it is a little too much warmth (in which case I'll opt for a midweight base layer instead), but in the low 20s or teens, the combination is just right.  If I were to recommend one thing on my list more than any of the others, for really cold weather this one would be it.  There's a deal on them right now, but EMS also has a big sale at some point during the season, so I'm holding out for that to pick up a few more.  I haven't found any other shirts as warm as this one. 

3.  For the next layer, I'll usually layer 2 fleeces under my Land's End down jacket or my North Face softshell jacket, and sometimes throw my down vest on over all that for extra warmth.  That's the beauty of buying things that are lightweight and warm:  you can combine them quite comfortably.  I also have a few wool ski sweaters that I like to have for when it's really super cold.  I love my fleeces because they're so easy to clean, but when the weather turns really brutal, nothing beats a really good wool sweater.  While riding, I'll lose the softshell and the down jacket.  The nice thing about the base layers I've described and the fleeces or the wool is that they'll keep heat in but let moisture out, so you don't end up damp and cold after your ride.  If you keep the softshell or the down jacket on and you start to sweat, it's going to trap the moisture and you'll end up with that bone chilling cold feeling.  Yuck.

4.  For accessories, I'll usually switch to a hat and an earband (have yet to find a hat I like that doesn't leave my ears cold), definitely will be hiding behind a scarf or neckwarmer, and instead of riding in my Roeckl gloves I use my SSG silk lined gloves.  Same exterior as the Roeckl's, but that little silk lining does amazing things for keeping your hands warm while not adding any bulk.  It has to be really cold for me to use these though, otherwise my hands get too warm.  I also ride in my winter paddock boots and half chaps instead of my regular paddock boots, though I'm pining away for a pair of Ariat Bromonts.  I've had my winter paddock boots forever and they are starting to fall apart.  It might be time to let them go.

5.  Foot and hand warmers.  If you're not going to be moving around much, foot and hand warmers are your best friends.  Slipped into the top of a pair of mittens (I like the ones where the top folds back) or stuck to the bottom of your sock, these will definitely keep the circulation going in your extremities.  I love them, but find that they make my feet a little too warm when I'm riding.  They are definitely really good for horse show days though!

6.  In this kind of weather I put Tucker in his quarter sheet and his wool cooler to ride, or if it's really cold I'll hop on bareback with his blankets still on just to get him moving his parts a little bit.  (Not recommended for horses who become wild in the winter.  As you recall, Tucker hibernates.)  In the barn, he's in his hug stable blanket with his Weatherbeeta high neck heavyweight turnout.  A few times I've added a cotton sheet under these two layers for a little more warmth, though he generally stays pretty toasty in these two only.  Lots of people like the fleece liners for their horses in the winter, but the one and only time Tucker wore one, he managed to pull it out from under his other blankets, shred it, and trample it.  He was wearing the remains of it like a bib in the morning.  Not sure if it was bothering him or if he just got bored, but I worry about horses getting hurt when they tear their blankets so I try to make sure everything he wears is relatively indestructable.  He's pretty tough on blankets, though as he gets older he seems to try to kill them less and less (fingers crossed).

I didn't link to all the products in this post because I already mentioned them in the last two posts, so if you want to know where to by something online, check those out.  This now concludes our three part winter survival guide.  For those of you who are smarter than me and live in warmer climates, I will now stop talking about things that don't interest you in the least.  For those of you who are currently suffering through winter, hopefully some of these items will be of use to you, and please let me know if there's any gear that gets you through winter as well.  Always happy to hear new suggestions! 

Hope everyone is staying warm out there!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Winter Solutions for Riders, Part II

As you recall from yesterday's post, I'm doing a series on my favorite products for staying warm and comfortable while riding during the winter.  Of course, you could just skip reading these posts and head down to Florida for the winter.  Julie, for example, doesn't have these problems at the moment.  Just wait til next winter... she won't know what hit her. 

Before we begin... some housekeeping.  I edited the HTML code of the blog so that the links open in a new window because I thought going back and forth was a little cumbersome in the last post.  I don't know of a way to differentiate between internal and external links though, so that means that if you click on an older post, or the comments, or Tucker & Julie's pages, that will also open in a new window.  So please let me know your impressions and whether you like this format better or not.  Changing it back is easy!  (Also happy to provide instructions on how to do it, if you like.)
 
For even colder days (30s to low 40s), I'll use the same base layers as above, with a few changes:

1. Instead of my regular TS schooling breeches, I'll use a winter weight breech, like these from Smartpak, or for a less expensive but just as warm (though slightly less fashionable) alternative, I also have winter breeches from On Course at State Line Tack. I don't think they make them anymore though, because I couldn't find a link for them. They are quite similar to these from Ovation. Come to think of it, I actually need more winter breeches. Has anyone ever tried out the Kerrits Winter Breeches or the JPC Baker Softshell Breeches?

2.  Depending on how cold it is, I will usually where one fleece long sleeve and one fleece vest, or sometimes two fleeces.  I try to buy fleece that isn't too bulky so that it layers well.  In this type of weather, I also love wearing a jacket that I got at EMS last year as a mid-layer.  It's a special type of jacket that keeps warmth in but allows the moisture to leave (unlike a shell that will trap moisture), and it blocks the wind, so it's warmer than a fleece while riding.  Plus, the outside is smooth while the inside is fleecy, so hay and shavings don't stick.  Definitely one of my favorite pieces, but it looks like they don't make it anymore!  UPDATE:  I found it, and it does not appear to be available for sale anywhere online.  If you're curious,  a photo and description is available here.  All soft shells are supposedly breathable, but this one really works the best at doing the combined job of blocking wind and releasing moisture.

3.  If it's a little colder, I'll add a down layer, though I don't usually keep a down jacket on while riding.  I am a huge fan of these Land's End down jackets.  They are light weight but so warm (seeing a pattern?) and not too bulky which means I can put my non-lined softshell over it for wind or rain protection.  I have a couple of down vests too, which are great for riding because you have a lot of warmth without restricting your arms.  Again, I'll usually start peeling layers off every few minutes or so while riding to make sure that I don't get too hot.  My goal is usually to try to keep my bottom layers dry.

4.  Accessories.  It's important that you keep all your extremities warm, cause nothing makes you feel colder than freezing cold fingers and toes.  I personally can't stand my ears to be cold, so I wear a fleece ear band when not riding (you can find these just about anywhere for pretty cheap), and while riding I use one of those cotton hair bands pulled over my ears just below my hairnet to keep my ears covered.  They are thin enough that they don't change the fit of your helmet and you can still hear everything around you.  I also always wear a wool blend scarf to warm up (again, Marshall's is a great place to pick up a few of these on the cheap), but make sure that the ends are tucked in well to your layers, because it could be a safety hazard.  If you're concerned about safety, you can always use one of these, though they can't be removed easily while mounted, so I only use mine when it's bitter cold.  Lastly, I use my Roeckl gloves to ride (best riding gloves ever, worth every penny), but in the barn I love my SSG Windstopper gloves.  They will keep your hands warm and even keep them pretty dry if you touch something wet (though not completely dry if you accidentally splash your hand with the hose.  For that, you need these, or the poor man's alternative:  pull latex gloves on over your winter gloves.)

5.  Winter boots.  It probably goes without saying that you need a good pair of winter boots that will keep your feet warm and dry.  I wear mine even before it's really that cold out, because I can't stand to have cold feet.  The pair that I have, which are my favorite part about winter, are these by the North Face.  I found them on sale after the holidays last winter, and I could not be happier with them.  I have worn these all day at a freezing cold winter horse show (with my smartwools underneath, of course), at the end of the day my feet were still cozy and comfortable.  They are also waterproof, which is a must in the winter.  Nothing like stepping in a puddle and getting your socks wet to really ruin your day.
 
6.  For Tucker, when it's in the 30s while I'm riding him, I use a fleece quarter sheet to warm up underneath his fleece cooler.  I pull the cooler off after we've walked, and either pull the quarter sheet after we've warmed up or sometimes just leave it on for the whole ride if it's a light ride or it's particularly chilly.  Some horses don't like being ridden with a quarter sheet though -- so be careful!  Tucker of course doesn't mind one bit.  He's not a fan of the cold.  The colder it is, the lazier he becomes ("No mommy, too cold... soooo sleepy... can't... go... faster... must... turn... back...").  In the barn, he wears his hug stable blanket, which I love because it keeps his shoulders from getting rubbed, and his mid-weight high neck turnout blanket.  I also make sure that his soaked alfalfa is warm, and heat up the water before I add it to the alfalfa with a water bucket heater.  Spoiled pony.
 
Tomorrow, we venture into the dangerously cold portion of the season...  the teens and 20s!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Winter Solutions for Riders, Part I

I think it's time we talk about what's been on everyone's mind in almost all regions (except for Nina, who probably is having beautiful weather in her hemisphere right now), the COLD.  I've got three posts scheduled for varying degrees of frigid with my favorite products for you (and your horse) to keep you warm this winter (Don't forget: most of this stuff will go on sale after the holidays -- be a savvy shopper!). 

I have a pretty carefully refined system for staying warm while riding and in the barn, since I am always freezing.  I find it best to dress in layers so that as you get warmer during your ride, you can keep peeling them off (learned this trick from hikers).  Tucker and I perform a bit of a strip tease as the ride progresses:  we walk around for a while and then I'll remove my jacket and his cooler, then we'll warm up at the trot and I'll remove another layer, my scarf, and his quarter sheet.  Usually after we canter in the first direction I need to either unzip or peel off another one.  When we are done, I walk around for about 2 minutes, to let the steam leave us but not so long that either Tucker or I get chilled, and then put most of my layers and his cooler back on while we cool out, and put my top layer on as I am leaving the indoor.  I do all this because I have found that nothing makes you colder than when you allow your clothes to get sweaty during your ride, and then you have to spend another hour or so in the freezing barn taking care of your horse.  Very miserable experience.

My favorite layers for semi-cold days (40s to low 50s):

1.  A base layer that is wicking and quick drying, like the Techwick Midweight long underwear from EMS (top and bottom).  They look like they are kind of baggy in that photo but they are quite thin and fitted, so they are a great option under your regular breeches.  I can wear these with my regular TS schooling breeches that I wear all year and they fit comfortably.  I have also found knock offs at Kohls and at Walmart.  The Walmart ones are markedly less warm though (I think I paid $5 for them though, so not really surprised).  I used to wear those standard cotton waffle weave long johns, and now I can't imagine doing that!  When it comes to staying warm and dry during winter activities, the high tech fabrics are your friend.

2.  A top that is also wicking and quick drying.  I love, love, love these 1/4 zip shirts from EMS.  I have several of them (and I'm excited they've added new colors this year).  They are super light weight, very comfortable, and keep you warm without trapping moisture.  I have even layered them over a show shirt for chilly horse show mornings.  I especially like shirts that have a zip at the neck, because I like to keep my neck warm but once I get moving, I like being able to unzip and cool off a little.  I've also hunted through the racks at Marshall's and found some similar shirts in the "active wear" section for less, but I like these the best.  Now that EMS is having its "buy 3, get 30% off sale," they are definitely worth making the purchase.  Once again, I used to wear cotton turtlenecks, but they would end up being very cold and damp by the end of the ride.  Now they sit on a shelf and only come out for days when I'll be outside but not riding (when does that happen, again?).

3.  Smartwool socks!  Best winter socks in the world.  I know, I know, they are insanely expensive for a pair of socks.  But they are so warm, and they aren't so thick that you can't possibly fit into your tall boots in them.  I don't know how they do it!  And they come in such adorable stripes and fun patterns.  They can actually cheer you up on a cold gray winter day.  If they are totally out of your budget, fear not.  I once found them at Marshall's marked "irregular," for a fraction of the price.  (I promptly bought all the pairs they had in my size, and Alicia's). 

4.  For a day in the low 50s, I probably would just top all this off with my TS schooling breeches and a wind-blocking soft shell jacket.  I have several of these, one with no lining, one with a little insulation (this is our Whitmere jacket, it's brown with WHITMERE monogrammed down one sleeve and my name on the back of the collar - so cool!), and one with pretty significant insulation (this one will go on major sale if you're patient).  Which one I choose depends on how windy it is and whether I'll be spending time outside or mostly just in the indoor and in the barn.  The bonus of a soft shell is that it also repels shavings and hay, as well as blocking the wind.  Most of these will keep you dry in the rain or snow as well.

5.  If it's more like the mid-40s, then I'll add a fleece layer between the 1/4 zip top and the softshell.  I prefer a 1/4 zip or 1/2 zip fleece because you can usually unzip and get them off without taking off your helmet, but there's not as much bulk for riding as with a full zip.  Old Navy Performance Fleece is great and very affordable, as is LL Bean Fitness Fleece.  My most favorite fleece was found on a particularly lucky trip to Marshall's last year.  It's paper thin but still warm, perfect for riding.  I think this is it.  Pretty sure I paid about $12.99 for it.  I've picked up some nice fleece pullovers at EMS sales as well.  (Can you tell I don't like to spend a lot of money on stuff that Tucker's going to use as a kleenex?)

6.  For Tucker, in this weather he just wears a fleece cooler to warm up and cool out, or in the trailer.  As long as it's not dipping below the mid-30s at night, in the barn, he's in a mid-weight standard neck turnout blanket, with or without a cotton stable sheet under it depending on actual temperature, and sometimes with a turnout sheet over it for turnout if it's really wet and mucky.  I like the Weatherbeeta blankets best for him, because they are durable and fit him very well (Tucker is a warmblood so he's built big, but also 1/4 TB, so he's got a high wither and is relatively narrow through his shoulder).

Look for Part II and Part III of this series over the weekend....  Stay warm!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Facebook Users: Denali's Mom Needs Our Help!!

Many of you are already following Tucker on facebook, and many of you probably already read Denali's Mom's Blog, but just in case there is some segment of the population that hasn't gotten the word from either of these sources....

First, login to facebook.  After you've scanned through your wall and found out that no one's doing anything all that exciting today (again), seen some cute pictures of somebody's kid/horse/dog, thought about reading an intellectually challenging or politically ground-breaking article that someone shared but then changed your mind, and lastly clicked through an album recently uploaded by someone you've never met, featuring people you've likewise never met, please follow the steps below:

1.  "Like" Smartpak Equine on facebook.

2.  "Like" Denali's Mom's photo, chosen as a finalist in Kerrits' 2nd Annual "What Were You Thinking When You Wore THAT to the Barn?" Makeover Contest. 

In case you need a visual aid, here is the photo:


I'm conducting a separate poll:  How many of you children of the 80s also had that bathing suit?  I am positive that I had the exact same one (because I thought I looked like Rainbow Brite, the Coolest Girl in the Universe, in it), and I noticed that several of the commenters on the photo also had it.  So, did you?  (No matter whether or not you wore it while riding a pony.)

Get out there and vote, tell your friends to vote, repost, share, spread the news, etc.  It would be so fun if one of our fellow bloggers won this, and we all know that this wonderful lady has been through heck lately and could really use a Win!!  She's in 3rd place right now... I think we can get this in the bag for her!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mark Jungherr Clinic Recap

Sorry for the delay in getting this posted... been a little busy the past couple of days.  I'm happy to say though that my clinic with Mark over the weekend was fabulous.  If you have the opportunity to ride with Mark, don't hesitate.  He's a great teacher.  Each of the riders in my group had different things to work on and the horses were all quite different, but by the end of the clinic we all had one thing in common, because Mark got each of us riding a lot better.  Instead of giving you a play by play, I thought I'd just tell you the key things I learned.  I believe many of these are applicable to all different riding disciplines, though in my case they were aimed toward improving our jumping.

1.  You can choose your own destiny.  This one was the best piece of advice he gave us, I think, and something I won't forget.  Mark explained that we can walk into the ring and choose our own destiny by getting a good quality canter right from the start, thereby making sure that the first jump is going to be a good one.  I am guilty all too often of riding to the first jump with hesitation and without nearly enough pace.  I usually find the quality canter somewhere halfway through my first round, when it finally dawns on me why things aren't going well.  But instead of picking up any old canter and just seeing what happens at the first jump, Mark taught me that if I get a good quality canter from the start, I'll have control over whether the first jump is a good one or not.  (Not that I didn't know this already, but his phrase, "choose your own destiny," really drove the point home in a new way.)

2.  A good canter starts with a good transition.  Mark was very focused on the quality of our upward transition into the canter.  He wanted us to get a good strong posting trot, then collect the trot, sit, and slide our hips forward into the canter transition.  All I had to do was think about the transition in order to improve upon it.  It really does set the right tone, and it's not something I pay enough attention to when I'm starting a round or even when I go to pick up my canter at home.  I'm going to think a little more carefully about my transitions from now on.  I work so hard on them on the flat, and then I get into the ring and it's the last thing on my mind.  That doesn't make much sense, now does it?

3.  Riding forward is an attitude.  When Mark first said this to me I had no idea what he was talking about.  But the first couple of lines we jumped, Tucker was a little lazy, or a little too collected (maybe backed off because he's used to his huge indoor ring?), and I had to get him woken up and going a little more forward.  So Mark told me to ride forward, and said, "riding forward isn't anything specific you have to do differently, it's an attitude.  If you ride forward, your horse will go forward."  So I came back around to the line with a "forward" attitude, and wouldn't you know it totally worked.  I didn't really feel like I did anything differently, but Tucker opened up his stride and the four stride line we were working on suddenly wasn't riding long at all.

4.  The horse bulges through his outside shoulder because you've let his inside hind come in.  I have worked on getting Tucker straighter through his outside shoulder, and I have worked on getting him to step under with his inside hind.  But I hadn't yet connected to the two.  It makes sense though, if the inside hind comes in off the horse's track, the outside shoulder then goes out off the horse's track.  To straighten the horse's outside bulge, then, concentrate on getting him stepping under with his inside hind, and once he does, then bring your outside rein directly back to your outside hip, close your outside leg, and create a wall to keep his shoulders in line.  I didn't quite perfect this during the clinic, but it got better, and I think if I work on it some more I can fix the straightness issues we have, or at least make some progress with them.  (By the way, I think I trotted about once around the ring before Mark observed that I have straightness issues with my horse and put me on a circle to work on them for a few minutes.)

5.  Let the horse's hind legs catch up.  Mark said this to me and to some of the other riders when we needed to let our horses go forward before trying to collect them. It was a very useful way of thinking about what you want the horse to do. You don't really want the canter to be faster, or bigger, you just want more hind end engagement, so if you think about closing your leg and "letting his hind legs catch up" you naturally allow the canter to keep coming from behind and then you can balance with your seat or hand to put it together a little, though I found that usually once I thought about his hind legs "catching up" I suddenly felt like I had the right canter.

6.  The distance doesn't give you stride, the canter gives you stride.  Mark explained that "how you jump in" to a line has much less to do with what distance you get to the first fence, and much more to do with what canter you have coming into the line.  I didn't really understand that until I practiced it and felt that I could get a shorter distance from a bigger forward canter and still have plenty of stride to get down the line, whereas if I didn't have a good quality canter coming in, I had to really work to get down the line.  It makes perfect sense, of course, but I sort of had to feel it to believe it.

7. To send the horse forward, send your hips forward.  Have you ever caught yourself leaning forward at your horse to get him to go forward?  I do it, especially down the lines. This just gets you leaning over your hand and messes up your balance and it doesn't work, but of course that's never stopped me. But instead of thinking about "not leaning forward," Mark told me to send my hips forward. Alicia tells me this too, and it helps with getting Tucker's hind end to come along with us as well as keep him going forward.

8.  Keep your joints relaxed.  Mark said this to me when I was riding a little bit stiff to our first jumping exercise (which was a canter pole, four strides to a little vertical).  It was a good way of thinking about staying relaxed by concentrating on my "joints" and what they were doing.  Alicia says the same thing, but words it as "staying elastic."  Both are good images to keep in your mind, especially when you feel the horse stiffening (which is usually a reaction to the rider stiffening, at least in my case).

9.  Ride uphill to make the horse go uphill.  This wasn't unlike "riding forward is an attitude" in that it was more of a feeling than an actual correction, though I did have to think about making my upper body a little taller and bringing my shoulders back, and lifting my hand.  When I thought about this as "riding uphill" though, it really seemed to help give me an uphill canter.  Just another way of thinking about sitting up or keeping your posture upright, but I thought this was a very helpful way of thinking about it.

10.  Good riding is about making minor adjustments.  This one is a major paraphrase, though I know Mark said something to this effect and we all definitely came away with the impression that minor adjustments were what Mark was teaching us.  He didn't turn anyone's riding style upside down, didn't have anyone make some huge uncomfortable adjustment that they were going to be struggling with, and didn't ask any of us to change our horse's way of going too dramatically.  Instead, he made small incremental adjustments for each of us as we went along, and at the end of our session had each of us riding a whole lot better as a result. 

The other thing I learned, of course, is that my horse is just about perfect.  We had things to work on, but Tucker got right down to business the minute I got on his back, which is nothing to sneeze at given that it was a freezing cold day and he was in an indoor he had never been in.  Someone complimented me on him and said "he looks like he knows his job so well and he just does it," and I had to agree that he's a Yes Man.  Never says no to anything.  I do love that about him.

The only time he didn't quite perform perfectly was his exit from the four-horse trailer that we rode in.  He's never been in one, so when I led him forward and asked him to walk down the side ramp face forward, he couldn't figure out what on earth I was asking him to do.  He ended up leaping off the ramp rather ungracefully.  When we arrived home, he jumped down again, but with a little more style.  Poor Tucker.  He tries so hard.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Some Good Reads and a Friday Funny

I didn't ride last night so I don't have much to report personally... but we're doing a clinic tomorrow with Mark Jungherr, so be prepared for what I'm sure will be a very interesting post recapping that over the weekend. 

There are a few things I've been reading lately that I find truly fascinating though, and wanted to share them with you.  Have you guys been reading these already?  If not, you should.

Linny and Sojourner Ride from Coast to Coast.  This blog is about a woman who rode from CA to NH on her horse Sojourner, while her partner rode alongside in the "support truck."  The places she sees and people she meets along the way are really interesting, and the overwhelming generosity of strangers that you read about on this blog will give you a little more faith in humanity.  I found them when they were mid-way through West Virginia but have been going back and reading her posts from the start, and it reads like a novel.  She's a beautiful writer and the story is truly one of a kind.

Love Leads A Reluctant Rider On An Irish Equestrian Adventure.  This is a series of articles at COTH written by a man who is not a horse person, and travels to Ireland with his new girlfriend only to discover that she's one of those crazy horse obsessed individuals like us.  It's very funny, and I think I've got a bit of a crush on him, to be honest.

Horses:  So Much More than a Hobby.  Stacy's recent post at Behind the Bit about balancing horses, life, marriage/relationships, and work.  I've been following the comments and I'm starting to see some trends.  Very interesting stuff.  Makes me want to write a book about it... perhaps someday I will....

And for the Friday Funny, please visit Jane's blog and watch Goofy:  How to Ride a Horse, which is a cartoon from 1941 that still holds up after all these years.  Those of us with horses will recognize certain sequences all too well....

Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tucker and Julie: All Good

That's what I have to report: All Good Things about my babies. 

Tucker and I had another great ride last night.  This time we went back to our regular flatting bridle.  I don't think I ever caught you all up on the results of my bit search, but I've settled on a plain egg butt full-cheek Dr. Bristol bit.  He is going really well in it:  accepting but not leaning, and I can take more contact without any fear that he's going to get behind my leg or curl behind the vertical.  It seems like it's a comfortable fit in his mouth, and most days we have foam on the left and right side.  Good signs!

It rained all day yesterday, so Tucker only had his brief hour or so in the round pen.  It's enough to get him walking around, but sure doesn't compare to his usual 8 hours of grazing in a big field with Tigger.  So, given that he hadn't been walking around all day, I walked him for longer than usual to get him warmed up, for about 15 minutes until I could feel him start to loosen up.  We had a fabulous upward transition to the trot, no resistance or stiffness in his head and neck, balanced and light and springy.  We trotted for a while doing lots of changes of direction, big circles, small circles, serpentines, and some shallow leg yields off the rail to get his haunches tracking straight.  Then I did a couple of downward transitions and they were awesome!  Yay Tucker for remembering what you learned the day before.  Love this horse. 

Then I shortened my stirrups to jumping length since there were some little 2' - 2'3" jumps set up in the ring and as we cantered around I would work in a jump here and there, thinking about incorporating my flat work into the jumping.  I also worked on what we practiced in my lesson last weekend, which is carrying my hands through the turn, sitting lightly, and keeping my leg on so he doesn't get slower, making sure that when I lift my right hand, my left follows.  (My hands don't seem to communicate with one another at all.  I am a walking embodiment of the addage:  the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing.)  The jumps were tiny but that's actually perfect, because it allows me to work on rhythm and pace and straightness and my position without making Tucker work too hard. 

Tucker also really seems to enjoy when I break up the monotony of our week day rides (he finds most flat work to be a total snooze fest) with something a little more interesting.  He was awesome.  Got all his lead changes, or landed on the correct leads, and totally listened to everything I asked, whether I was collecting the canter and asking for a shorter distance or sending him forward and softening my contact for a slightly bigger distance.  I hesitate to say it... but I almost feel like we have a dependable lead change. 

And onto news from a little farther south... Miss Julie continues to be a super star.  I got a report from Celia last night that Julie went back to work this week after having a few days off to think about what she learned in the first week of "class."  Julie was "perfect" and stood still to be saddled, and Celia did a little ground driving with her on Monday. Yesterday, Julie got to carry around what Celia describes as "Mister Pants" (which I imagine is a pair of pants stuffed with something, like the bottom half of a scarecrow), which they use to help the babies get used to weight and legs banging off their sides.  According to Celia, Julie couldn't have cared less... she thinks that Julie would much rather be eating!  (Girl after my own heart.) 

They are going to try to send me some pictures of Julie tacked up, which of course I'll share with all of you when I get them.  I am so encouraged by the fact that she's been so good so far.  I am starting to think that maybe we have two wunderkinds in the family....

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Trying to Relax Perfectly

Have you noticed that the more you concentrate on trying to relax, the less relaxed you become?  It makes "practicing" being relaxed and "working on" relaxation kind of difficult.  But, be that as it may, that's what we worked on last night.

I had a really nice lesson on Sunday at Whitmere's new facility and one of the things that stuck out to me in our flat work is that his downward transitions are getting better and better, but he still braces a bit through his head and neck even though he's now stepping through with his hind end.  So last night, I wanted to work on the trot-walk and walk-trot transitions and see if I could get him to stay relaxed through them and not get stiff or brace anywhere as he does them. 

I put the hackamore on, which I'm still using about once or twice a week.  I like using the hackamore for our long and low rides because he's less inclined to lean on it like he would with the bit, so that he's stretching down but maintaining his own balance.  We started off getting a relaxed swinging walk, bending in both directions while continuing to stretch down, and kept working on this until I felt his back lift and his hind end start moving forward more freely.  I love that in the hackamore he will lick his lips or chew when he relaxes.  I can feel him loosening up as he does that.  Then I very patiently started asking him for a transition up to the trot, and each time he started feeling like he was going to stiffen or raise his head, I asked him to come back to a more relaxed walk and get him stretching down again.  I could feel the wheels turning in his head, trying to figure out what I was asking for.  Whenever he stretched down and relaxed or took a deep breath, I praised him verbally or patted his neck.  After a few attempts, he picked up his trot while maintaining his low head carriage and relaxed posture and I praised him for that too.

We went through the same process at the trot, asking him to stretch down while bending in each direction, then asking him to straighten down the long sides, even doing very shallow leg yields off the rail, all while reaching down and staying relaxed through his back.  At first the trot was kind of slow, but I wanted him to relax first, and then go forward.  Once he got warmed up, he naturally started carrying a better tempo, and then I just had to encourage him to keep going forward as we circled or changed direction or went through a serpentine.  When I was happy with the trot, I gradually started asking him for a transition down to the walk using only my seat and leg.  While he didn't pick up on this right away, he eventually realized I was asking for something different and again I felt the wheels turning and he came back down to the walk. 

I put him on a big circle going right and we just worked on walk-trot and trot-walk transitions. All I really wanted in the first few transitions was for him to stay relaxed and keep stretching down.  This meant that I had to stay very soft with my hands (barely any contact with the hackamore) and use only my seat and leg for both upward and downward transitions.  He got the hang of this really quickly and started paying much sharper attention.  I had to really work on turning my shoulders to follow him (my left shoulder is always back) and keeping my right elbow at my side and my right arm relaxed. The hardest part for him was downward transitions facing the barn, because he would tend to lose focus and his head would come up slightly as he looked out the door, and then his balance would shift and he'd end up on his forehand.  To combat this I opened my inside rein, used a little more inside leg, and just asked him to bring his nose slightly to the inside as he reached down into the transition.  This seemed to be just enough of a reminder to stay focused.  Once I had him focused and relaxed, I added more pressure from both legs and a deeper seat to really ask him to come under with his hind end while maintaining that soft carriage through his neck and back.  This worked brilliantly, and we got two or three transitions at the end that felt really strong and relaxed and balanced -- exactly what I was after.

Then we went into our right lead canter and I asked him to keep stretching down and worked on sitting down softly, following with my hips, closing my leg around him, and turning my shoulders to follow his ears as we turned or circled.  I found that I could steer him perfectly without involving my reins at all, now that he was fully listening to the cues from my seat and legs.  We had a really nice rolling canter where he was happy to go forward in a very relaxed way, reaching down but not getting strung out or unbalanced because I was maintaining the connection with my seat and leg.  Really good stuff. 

I let him walk for a bit to catch his breath and clear his head (I could tell he was concentrating pretty hard and I didn't want to frustrate him), and then once he felt ready I put him on a circle on the left and resumed the walk-trot and trot-walk transitions in this direction.  Possibly because we had just cantered and he was anticipating a canter transition, I had to work on getting him to slowly step up into the trot and not lunge forward into too big of a trot.  Once we fixed this (by repetition) and he realized that wasn't what I was asking for, I went back to asking him to reach down and step into a nice relaxed trot, and then keep reaching down and step under from behind in the downward transition without tensing anywhere.  In this direction, I had to work harder at staying relaxed through my left hip and shoulder.  He seemed to have figured out the game by now, and it took about five minutes less in this direction for him to give me the kind of transitions I was looking for.  Quick learner!

We went up to our left lead canter then, and I worked on getting the same quality of canter that I had going right. For some reason I have a harder time sitting in this direction, so I had to really concentrate on following with my hips and not resisting the motion.  He also doesn't like to hold his left bend, so I had to open my left rein to ask him to bend left and stretch down, because I wanted to feel him soften as much as he did tracking right.  The key here though was opening my left rein without giving him something to lean on, so I had to make sure I wasn't holding or pulling back.  I was happy to see though that once I did a big circle through the middle of the ring a few times with my left rein open and my left leg closed, the third time through I didn't need much left rein at all, and he stayed bending left off just my left leg aids.  Once he did that, I was happy to quit for the night so we did just a few more minutes of stetching down at the trot and then we were done.

All in all, a really good ride.  I became more aware of the places where I tend to stiffen up, and felt him respond when I relaxed, and I think he got the hang of staying soft and coming forward through his upward and downward transitions.  I am starting to really love our long and low work.  It is helping build up his top line and it really is challenging for him, even if all I'm asking him to do is relax and stretch.  I love when I say "Yes, Tucker, good!" and I feel him give me a little more of what I'm asking.  Such a great dialogue.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Smidge of Perspective

I body clipped Tucker for the second time so far this season on Saturday night, once all the family festivities had come to an end (translation: two days of Marissa getting scolded for getting her niece all hyper, again. The kid likes jumping on the bed, what can I tell you?)

It was way too cold to give Tucker a bath first (especially since we don't have a hot water heater yet at our new place), so I figured I'd just have to rough it and clip him slightly filthy. I went over him with the Shop Vac first, a purchase I highly recommend for getting all the dust and dander out of their coats, as long as you have a horse who will tolerate it. Tucker loves it (must be sort of like a massage?), though we had to practice just standing next to the Shop Vac and eating mints a couple of times first so that he could get used to the noise.

Though the Shop Vac does pull all the dust out of his coat, he still could have used a bath before clipping as his coat was a little oily and dirty at the base. As a result, my blades dulled really quickly and he's covered in tiny little clipper lines, which wouldn't have happened on a freshly bathed clean horse. So, I spent most of the first part of this activity lamenting over the lines all over him (and got this Eagles song stuck in my head as a result) and wishing that he'd magically become cleaner, my blades would magically stay sharper, and this would all look a little more professional.

I took a break to let Tucker hang in his stall for a few minutes and stand in the heated tack room drinking tea, starting to feel really frustated about how badly this clipping job was turning out. I was right in the middle of accusing myself of making my horse look like an 8-year-old's 4-H project when I got an email on my blackberry. It was Nicku at Eye on the Horse, telling me about this. My thoughts instantly turned to that sweet spotted horse and hoping that he'll be okay and that he's not in any pain. I responded with a quick email to let poor Nicku know I'd be thinking about her and her guy and headed back out to finish clipping.

As I was once again left to my own thoughts by the noise of the clippers I realized that I was being ridiculous to be getting this annoyed by lines in his coat that aren't visible from 3 feet away and will disappear in the next 2 weeks. How about a little perspective and being thankful about your happy healthy horse (who incidentally hasn't moved a muscle as you clip away)?  I thought about Nicku's wonderful young horse and prayed that he'd be okay and go back to being the little superstar that he is.

As I worked, I went over the familiar scars that I have memorized. The bump on his left hind cannon bone that he got as a yearling, probably rough housing with a stud colt. I remember his leg was the size of a tree stump at first, and I was worried sick. The scar in the folds of skin between his chest and his left front leg, where he got 3 stitches to close up a tiny cut that was making him three-legged hopping-up-and-down lame. Thank God we noticed that cut, we were literally pulling out the x-ray machine and I was sure he had done something serious. The white hairs on his left side, right by his girth, that he got running into the edge of a gate as I led him through. I remember I couldn't understand how he could hurt himself while I was walking beside him and chastising myself for not being more careful. The scar on top of his rump from annoying a mare who reached out over the fence to bite him. He has only himself to blame for that one. The bump that's still going away on the inside of his right front, just below the knee, from this. That one took forever to heal and had me really nervous. And of course, all the scars on his face from the various times he's had stitches, including this one. Those used to really freak me out, but now I've realized it sort of comes with the territory with him. Of course, the time when he managed to scratch his cornea, that was another story.

As I traveled down this memory lane of vet bills and sleepless nights, I thought about how tough it is to see your horse hurting. We love them so much, and they mean so much to us, it's almost too much to bear when they are hurt or unwell, and it's nothing short of devastating when we have to say goodbye.  If you follow any horse blog other than this one, you know all about some of the painful and heart-breaking situations that many of my fellow bloggers have found themselves in over the past year.  Each time I read about one of these horses and what their owners are going through, it just breaks my heart.  I wish there was something more I could do.  But then, of course, I realize that I am doing everything I can do, which is to let them know that I'm thinking about them and sending a prayer and positive thoughts their way for the best possible outcome for their horse. 

I know that in the times when Tucker has been hurt, I have been really comforted to know that there are others who know how I'm feeling and are lending their kind words and support.  It's yet another reason that horse people are so lucky.  We have a community (whether online or in real life) of like-minded folks that are always ready to reach out and surround us with support just like family when one of our equines is in trouble.  I don't know if we could get through it any other way, so that probably works out all for the best. 

Since the equine we're worrying about at the moment is sweet little Pongo, please take a minute to think positive, healing thoughts for him, and to let Nicku know that you're thinking of them. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Julie's First Report Card

So, I woke up this morning to an email from Celia at Stones Throw Farm telling me that Julie is getting an A+ so far!  She very quickly learned to lunge, and is now lunging at the walk, trot, and canter wearing a bit and a surcingle.  Go little girl, go! 

Celia said that she put the western saddle on her for the first time yesterday and walked her around in it (don't worry sweetie, your saddles will be much lighter in the future!).  I think that means that we're getting closer to having a person in that saddle... all very exciting.  So far Celia says things are going great, and she hopes that all her young ones are that easy this year!  (That seems like a really good sign!)

I am cautiously optimistic about this whole thing, praying that she will continue to be quiet and good so that I will be able to ride her myself for at least the first year or so.  When given the chance, I spiral into a frenzy of anxiety that goes something like this:  what I will do if she's not easy enough for me to ride and I have to put her in full training with Alicia... since I'm not sure how I'll afford that and still compete with Tucker... which then leads me to wonder how I'm ever going to afford two horses showing and training... but that's a few years down the road so maybe by then I will have figured it out?  Hopefully?  (But how?)  My plan was always that I'd continue getting paid more so that by the time Jules was ready to horse show, I'd have the extra funds... but then of course the economy crashed, and salaries froze, and I moved to a smaller firm, and now I'm going to be the little old lady that lives in her horse trailer.  (Just to give you a taste of what it's like inside my brain sometimes.  Sorry if you're all dizzy and a little nauseous now.)

Let's not think about all that right now, shall we?  Let's just be happy and thankful that my gorgeous little girl is an A+ student (she gets that from me) and the Wunderkind is a wunderkind, and all that....

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Do you remember the moment?

The moment when you knew that you had to be your horse's owner?  I know I'm not alone in this, because I've read about it on other blogs too.  It's a special moment of sharp mental clarity, almost like an electrical impulse, when you know with every fiber of your being that it's what you have to do.  For a second there, all the practical concerns (Are we suited for each other?  Can this horse do the job I want him to do?  Do I have a place to keep him?  Can I afford this?) are silenced.  There is just you and this horse, the rest of the planet falls away, and you know that you belong together, and you'll figure the rest out from there.  (From what I understand, this happens occasionally between humans as well, but I wouldn't really know about that one.  It appears to happen to Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks with surprising frequency.)

It could be a special way they look at us, as though they've chosen us, or that we see something particularly special in them that calls out to us, or maybe it's just our own need to replicate some feeling they've just sparked in us over and over into the future.  I remember exactly the moment it happened for me with Tucker, like it was yesterday. 

We were in Connecticut, a few weeks after we came back from Florida for the winter, and it was still chilly in the morning.  It had been decided that Tucker, now that he was weaned, needed to be sold (yearlings really have no place in a show barn, and he was taking up time and energy, and a stall, that could be much better served elsewhere, from a business perspective).  I had been working with Tucker quite a bit on the ground and he was becoming more and more well behaved -- though the reports were that he wasn't exactly easy to catch while I was away over the winter.  Since we were going to need to make a video or something to get this gangly thing sold, the trainer and I decided Tucker was first on our to do list for the day, and we were going to free jump him in the indoor over a little cross rail and see what he thought of that. 

So, we turn him loose in the indoor, and he bucks and plays for about 30 seconds and then turns around and trots toward me, stops and bumps me in the stomach with his big old head.  I laugh, send him back out to the rail, and we repeat the play/trot/head bump routine.  He then stood in the corner, watching curiously as we built a little jump chute, absent-mindedly chewing on a roll top.  Once we were all set, we got him going at a trot on the rail and the first time through he sort of tripped over everything (just ground poles to start), then stopped at the other end and turned to look at me for help.  I led him back down to the other end, we got his trot going again and this time he was slightly less disorganized and managed not to actually step on any of the poles.  Again, he stopped at the end of the ring and turned to face me, and I led him down again.  This time, we made the last ground pole a cross-rail, no bigger than 2 feet.  I got him going toward the chute at the trot, and then his ears went forward, he picked up his canter, rocked back, swung his shoulder and jumped it like it was 4 feet tall, his knees tucked up under his chin.  Then he landed and bronced and shook his head all the way around the end of the ring, clearly just delighted with himself.

I stood there with my hands shoved deep into my pockets, a smile creeping over my face behind my scarf.  I turned to the trainer and said, "I want him."  I've never been more definite about anything in my life.  I remember she turned slowly to look at me and said, "Really?" and I told her yes, and told her to talk to his owner and figure out what it would take, told her how much I had saved and what I could afford.  I ended up working my last four weeks there for free to make up the last payment.  I can't even remember how I came up with the extra cash to ship him down to New Jersey. 

Best decision I've ever made.

Monday, November 22, 2010

We're Back!

Hey there, sorry for the temporary radio silence.  I was traveling last week for work, a trip which included dinner with fellow bloggers Eva at High Tech Horse and Rachel at Dapple of My Eye.  I'm happy to tell you all that these ladies are just as charming, sweet, and fun as they seem on their blogs.  Lots of fun meeting them in person, and of course there were lots of equine related stories to be shared.

So Tucker got the week off, which isn't a bad thing since he's been working really hard lately.  So this weekend we had a couple of fairly light rides.  The weather was absolutely beautiful, so it was just nice to be outside and spending time with him.  I miss that sweet face so much when I'm away.  I'm so in love.

The first ride mostly entailed me attempting to motivate him to produce any gait other than plod, shuffle, and tranter.  He seemed to be really enjoying life as a couch potato and wasn't really sure that working hard was still in the job description.  Maybe he thought I had retired him after the Derby, like Seabiscuit?  (I shouldn't be complaining.  A horse whose reaction to a week off is laziness is a good one.)  Despite the lack of forward motion, his downward transitions were actually really good, he stayed soft and round and stepped under with his hind end a few times really nicely.  Then the pony that had been giving a lesson left just before we were done, and we had a moment where we weren't sure if we could hold it together when left all alone in the big scary indoor without our new best friend... but after a few moments of tension, he took a deep breath so we could finish up on a good note.  Good horsie.

For our second ride we still started out with an amble, which I managed to work up to a stroll, and eventually I think we actually had a walk (we were outside, so the wind may have been giving him some momentum).  Once I actually got him working at a tempo that felt like something a horse under 30 years old might be comfortable with, we worked on straightness.  We had apparently forgotten entirely about that whole half that goes behind the saddle, and how it should generally travel directly behind the rest of us... rather than, say, somewhere off to the side.  On the plus side, he gave me some really beautiful downward transitions again, and a great right lead canter. 

This week, despite the holiday, he's back to work.  He had today off, then I'll work him Tuesday and Wednesday, he'll have Thanksgiving off and Alicia will work him on Friday.  Then over the weekend we'll be making our first trip to Whitmere's new home base, which is a really nice farm in Oldwick, NJ (I'll be helping her update the website soon).  It's a little bit farther for me to ship to, but it sounds like a really nice facility, so I'm excited to check that out.  

So that's all the news I've got here in Tucker land.  Oh, one more thing... cute picture of Tucker and Alicia from last weekend.  The timing's a little too early, but I love the look on his face.