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.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

And So Begins Julie's Career

Well it looks like Tucker isn't the only nice little hunter in the family, and looks like I have another reason to smile.  Thought I'd share with you all the email I received from Celia and Larry at Stones Throw Farm bringing big news about Miss Julie.

Hi there Marissa:

Well, just about done with the summer craziness. I was thinking I would have to restart my 3 year olds and then start Julie and a couple other young horses.  But my 3 yr olds were super after having 4 months off, I lunged them 5 minutes, jumped on and they went around like they never had a break...  very proud of those girls, they are nice horses.  Julie is ready to start I think, so if you give the ok we will bring her in and she'll start being treated like a big horse.  Live in a stall, get a daily grooming, a bath and start work in the round pen, and if all goes well I should be sitting on her in a couple weeks.  

We would like to start her this week, and hopefully by Christmas or early January you'll have a nice broke filly. It's funny how these horses are, she has now kind of separated herself from the group, as far as she comes right up and stands at the gate hoping we'll put a halter on her and bring her to the barn... kind of like they know when it's time to start doing something in life.

I'll take some pictures along the way and try to remember to send them. I think your going to have a pretty nice hunter mare, definitely has a great trot.  Here are some more pictures I took that think you don't have.

Talk to you soon and your other horse looks great -- good job last weekend!

Celia & Larry

And here are the new pictures that came along with the email:

Big things are happening in this family lately!  I just hope I can keep up with these amazing horses!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Derby Day Recap

So Saturday was a marathon.  I got to the barn at 6:30 a.m., fed Tucker his breakfast, hooked up the trailer, loaded my tack, then got him braided (mane and tail) and cleaned up, and loaded around 10:00.  My braids are looking great these days, but I am still painfully slow, which means I have to get there super early to get them done.  I'm happy with the way they look though, and it makes showing as often as we do a whole lot cheaper, so in the end it's worth it.

When I called the horse show at 9 a.m. to get the number of trips in the classes before me, I was estimating that we'd be showing around noon.  More and more people kept adding to the classes though, which meant that noon became one, which became two, which became three, which became four.  Poor Tucker hung out by the ring with me for hours, because I brought him down way too early but then wasn't sure if I'd have enough time to bring him back and forth to the trailer again... turns out I probably could have shipped him home for a few hours and come back.  But the delays ended up working in our favor... because it meant that our cheering squad arrived!  "On The Bit" at A Horse and a Half and another friend of ours, who sometimes posts comments here as "Boomerang" came to cheer us on, and very graciously took the videos and photos here, and were all kinds of helpful, and even left a bottle of champagne in my truck!  Such good friends.

Woodedge did an absolutely beautiful job with the course.  I loved it.  You'll see in the videos below that there were some really cool elements, including a circle of hay bales where you had to canter through a small opening and jump out (in the background in the photo on the right), some beautiful natural hedges, logs, barrels... stuff you'd expect to see on a hunt course.  It was just perfect, the ring looked amazing, and it was a really fun course to ride.

All afternoon I watched horses that were saying "you people must have lost your minds, there is no way I am going near that hay bale circle of death" and "there are monsters under that brush jump and I'm saving your life and mine by not going near it" and "who knows what evil creatures lurk inside those barrels?  may-day! may-day!"  I'll admit, I was starting to wonder if Tucker's bravery would hold out, but in my heart of hearts, I knew he'd handle it all okay.  I figured he'd overjump everything the first time around but I didn't think he'd stop.

Well, turns out I completely underestimated him.  Not only did Tucker jump everything bravely the first time around, but the trip that Alicia did on him was the best I've ever seen him go.  She really did a beautiful job with him.  He was smooth, and elegant, and looked every bit like a super-fancy, polished, made hunter.  He didn't over jump anything, nothing phased him, he landed on the correct lead after every jump, and he looked gorgeous doing it.  It was one of those proud mom moments where you can actually feel your heart swelling in your chest.  I was so happy with him.  He ended up 7th in that class out of at least 45 horses (there were so many they actually couldn't tell us in the office the exact number)... and let me tell you, there were some absolutely beautiful horses there.  That was a great ribbon.  Since he was so good, there was no reason for Alicia to do a second round, so we let him go back to the trailer and have a drink, get untacked, and eat some hay for a bit.

By the time I got back on him to show, the sun had gone down but it wasn't totally dark yet.  The lights were on in the arena, so it pretty much still looked like daylight in there, and it wasn't pitch dark yet outside the ring.  I'll let the video speak for itself, but I couldn't have been happier with how it went.  I like the second half better, after I took a deep breath and let him go forward a little (though unfortunately the outside line wasn't caught on the video -- good help is so hard to find -- just kidding girls!), but as far as he's concerned, he was absolutely flawless throughout the whole thing.  I just loved it, I had such a good time.  I'm so lucky to have such a brave, clever horse.  He was 5th in this class, out of about 30 horses (and once again, beat some beautiful, impressive, fancy hunters).  I am really, really proud of him for putting in this round.

After this round, we then had eight more trips, a course walk, and a drag before the Derby.  So, by the time we walked the course, it was pitch dark.  I was second to go, so I walked the course and then hopped right back on, trotted and cantered once around the warm up ring (which had a couple of lights), jumped one vertical, and walked up to the gate. 

I stood in the gate and surveyed the course, and I felt really good about it.  My nerves were under control, I had a plan, and I felt pretty confident.  Unfortunately... we got in there and the lights got in Tucker's eyes... and I don't think my confidence exactly translated down to him.  I totally understand, he's never been ridden in a ring with lights in his life, and it was probably pretty shocking for him.  He didn't do anything awful, but it wasn't exactly pretty....  In the interest of truth in blogging though, and making sure you all know that things don't always go flawlessly... I'm posting it here for posterity.  (Please be kind in your comments!  We're still figuring things out!)

The video doesn't look nearly as bad as it felt.  It's hard to tell, but he got a little freaked when we first came in the ring with all the bright lights, but then he settled and jumped the first jump okay.  Then he got a little stuck by the in-gate, and in my effort not to provoke any reaction from him because he felt so tense, I didn't do enough (well, didn't do anything) and we drifted right, botched the in of the line, drifted right some more....  Then he swapped off behind coming to the two stride... I think I just lost his concentration completely by then.  He jumped the two stride okay, but then landed and scooted (though it felt a whole lot worse than it looked).  My first reaction was to fall back on bad habits, I buried my hands in his neck, but then I made a circle, regrouped, and got a more relaxed soft canter.  He actually approached the center gate fine, but when he landed and scooted again (taking the gate down with him), I opted not to continue.  He seemed to be getting progressively more rattled with each jump, and I decided it just wasn't worth it.  Maybe someone else would have made a different choice, and honestly I've been back and forth over it in my head and I wonder if I just should have shook it off and kept going. The rest of the course involved jumping the vertical where I pulled up, then the hay bales, then the oxer on the outside, then the log and brush at the end of the ring where he was being spooky.  Maybe he would have settled... but maybe not.  In the moment, he felt like he was going to lose it, and I just wasn't willing to end on a really bad note and decided to cut my losses before things got worse.

When you get to know a horse well enough, you can feel the difference between when they're pretending to be spooky, and genuinely scared.  This felt to me like he was legitimately overwhelmed by the lights in the ring, and even though he was doing his best to hold it together, I could feel that he was tense and holding his breath and jumping hard.  Even when we got back to the trailer, he still seemed rattled and out of sorts.  He made me so proud earlier in the day that I'm not going to fault him for it.  He's still young, and that's a lot for him to handle.  I think if the Derby had gone in the middle of the afternoon on a beautiful sunny day like we had expected, things would have gone wonderfully. 

While this is going to sound like I'm tooting my own horn here, I have to say that I'm proud of myself for not getting scared, panicked, and paralyzed when he got a little spooky.  A year or so ago, maybe even less, I would have been terrified and shaking like a leaf by the time I came out of the ring.  Instead, this time, I felt a little disappointed that the class hadn't gone well, but I understood that it was a lot for him to handle, and I know that he wasn't being naughty on purpose.  Overall he's incredibly brave and sensible, so he's allowed to hit his limit now and again.

By the time I got into the truck to drive away, it was pitch dark and freezing, and I was wiped out and starving.  Alicia and I stopped for a quick dinner while Tucker slept in the trailer, and then I took him home, got him unbraided and wrapped and tucked in for the night, and dragged myself home and to bed.  There is nothing like a hot shower and curling up with two purring kitties after a long day like that!  I laid in bed and felt exhausted, but happy.  All in all, it felt like a fabulous day, and I'm just grateful to be the kind of competitor that can take the good with the bad, and appreciate how great my horse is even when he's not perfect.  We really felt like a team, and he gave me some really fabulous efforts that day.  That's what it's all about right?

Friday, November 12, 2010

New Page Elements

I've been working on gathering photos and telling the story of both my lovely equines, and I've now added a new page for each of them, accessible by clicking on their photos in the side bar to your right. 

If you've been following us for a while, you probably already know their stories, but there are some pictures of each of them on their respective pages that I haven't shared before.  If you are ever having a bad day, I recommend clicking Julie's link.  It is impossible to do anything but smile when you see her baby pictures. 

Tucker doesn't have baby photos up because, well, he'd be kind of embarrassed.  He wasn't exactly the kind of yearling you'd show on the line.  More like the kind of yearling you'd put in a back field in the hopes that he'd grow into his head in a year or so.  If I can find one that I think isn't totally insulting to him, I'll put it up....  There is one that I keep in my wallet which I think is sweet, but it still kind of falls into the "face only a mother could love" category.  So for now, his photos start at age 3. 

Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend.  Mine will be horse filled -- in other words, perfect!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Favorite COTH Thread Ever

As most of you know, I love the COTH forums (especially the Hunter/Jumper forum).  They are a wealth of information and I frequently use the search functions when I'm looking for info about a particular bit or piece of equipment, what show jacket/bridle/helmet/breeches to buy, or to get the real scoop on a farm, horse show, trainer, clinician, etc.  I also like reading Around the Farm for the days when I can't stop daydreaming about someday owning my own place.

But this week, I have to say that I came across my favorite COTH thread of all time, the "Working Ammys show your stuff!" Thread.  How fabulous to read about all these working women like myself, who have a hectic work schedule, stressful career, sometimes kids and families to juggle, and somehow still manage to ride their horses and go to shows on the weekends.  You can't help but smile reading through this thread if you are someone like me.  (And not just because of Post #7).

In a sport where I sometimes look around and wonder if I should have just married a millionaire so I'd have more time to practice and wouldn't have to check my blackberry right before I go in for the hack, it is really nice to know that there are others out there who are making things happen the same way that I am.  I work really hard, and that earns me enough to keep Tucker and Julie in the lifestyles to which they've become accustomed, and afford entry fees, and lessons, and training, and two away shows a year.

Even with my (thankfully) lucrative career, I still have to save wherever I can, and it's nice to see that others are doing the same too.  I ship my own horses, braid my own horses, do my own body clipping, grooming, tack cleaning, and just about everything else I can manage to do on my own, and buy everything at a discount (gotta love those consignment racks!), because otherwise I'd have to sleep in Tucker's stall with him (which would be lovely, don't get me wrong, but I have a feeling my co-workers would complain about the smell).  But I wouldn't have it any other way -- I do all this because I love that after all these years I finally have an awesome horse to compete, and he gives it all back to me tenfold.

When I imagine the people who are really successful in my division or in my dream division (the High Amateur/Owner Hunters), I picture women who have no other care in the world, who travel up and down the coast all year long with their string of fabulous horses, following the fairest weather.  In my mind's eye, these women and their beloved equines have the very best of everything, and they never cringe while they write checks, never think twice about what they're spending, never have to make a decision based on what's in the budget this month, and do it all without ever having to sit behind a desk all day.

It turns out I'm wrong, and a lot of them are just like me.  Somehow, that makes my dreams feel a whole lot closer.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

All Signs Point to Yes!

I got a call from Alicia this morning about the horse show this weekend.  We were planning on going back to the place where Tucker hates the poofy footing, but Alicia suggested that instead, we go to the NJ Horse Park for the Woodedge show there.  We had looked at this schedule before, but the Adults go on Friday afternoon. Apparently, all those who do the Adult Hunters must be independently wealthy and not have to work on Fridays.  (Ignore me, I'm just whining. There's actually a rule about multi-day shows that they have to run the the children's/junior divisions on non-school days, thus bumping the Adults to Fridays.  But I still get bitter every time I see my division running while I'll be sitting at my desk. Grr.)  Anyway. . . Alicia called to see if I wanted to go down to the Horse Park to do the Hunter Derby on Saturday. 

As my longtime readers know, I have been watching Hunter Derbies from the sidelines with adoration and awe since the class was first introduced. I just love these classes. At their heart, they stand for everything I love about the hunters: timeless elegance, tradition, beauty. They reward athleticism in the horse and brilliance of pace, which is what I think of when I picture a truly perfect hunter round. In theory (though every judge is different), these classes should be rewarding the bolder rides and the more keen, careful horses.  The Derby horses are exactly the kind of hunters I love to watch.

Despite my love for these classes, in my usual neurotic form, I tried every excuse in the book to convince myself that we shouldn't do it.  And every excuse was roundly rejected by the forces of the universe. 

First, I told Alicia that I was worried because Tucker wasn't good the last time we were at the Horse Park.  She reminded me that (1) we didn't have time to lunge him that day because the division before us only had 3 horses in it; and (2) I was going through some awful life stuff that had me on my last nerve, and had a nervous breakdown on horseback.  Neither of these things are going to happen this time around.  Excuse #1:  Rejected.

Then, I went to my failsafe: I said I was concerned about the height of the fences.  But then I looked at the prize list and it's a 3' class that will have 3'3" options.  We've been schooling 3'-3'3" at home, but even if the 3'3" jumps looked big, I don't have to jump them.  I also texted a friend who I know shows there frequently and she said it should be pretty straight forward.  And wasn't I the girl who was ready to do the jumpers last weekend?  Excuse #2:  Rejected. 

Later, I was sitting at my desk working away when it suddenly occurred to me that I don't have formal attire!  The last time I was in a class that required formal attire was when?  The mid-nineties?  I text Alicia:  "I don't have formal attire!"  She responds, "You can wear a white shirt and your hunter green jacket."  Oh.  Fine, then.  I do have formal attire.  Excuse #3:  Rejected.

I know!  I'll check the weather.  It's November now, so I bet it will be awful.  Tucker will be miserable in the cold, I'll be doing him a favor staying home.  Hmm. . .  60 degrees and sunny.  Nevermind.  Excuse #4:  Rejected.

My last valiant attempt to justify skipping this class was financial.  I shouldn't spend the money, I don't have this extra show in the budget, that settles it, I'm going to be "responsible" and not go.  Then I got home this evening and found a $50 check on my coffee table under a pile of magazines (payment for feeding the horses at home a while back) which I had completely forgotten about.  Well that does settle it.  The Universe wants me to go!  Excuse #5:  Rejected.

So now it's time to get excited!  Here are the specs for the class:


A two-round competition:

First round to be shown over a classic type hunter course of ten to twelve jumps at 3’ with several 3’3” options; Second round will consist of the top fifteen from the first course, in reverse order of their first round scores, to show over a handy course of at least eight jumps to include elements such as trot fences, walk obstacles, tight turns, halt and back, lead over an obstacle, and open a gate while mounted.

Open numerical system with two judges. Formal attire required.  Open to all Juniors, Amateurs, Children, Adults, and Professionals.  Riders are not limited to the number of horses they may ride.

Ribbons and awards to 12th place.
1st $750 2nd $550 3rd $375 4th $225 5th $150 6th $125 7th $100 8th $80 9th $75 10th $70

So.... Although this is our first hunter derby so my expectations are just to get around and have a good time, if things go really really well, there are some pretty awesome prizes to be had!  Man would I love another Charles Owen helmet for shows... though I'm not going to get ahead of myself.  The goal is only to have a good time.  And I have a feeling that if I stay relaxed and confident, the Wunderkind will deliver!

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Results are In... But I'm Out

The official results of the Jumper Poll:
  • Yes, absolutely! 17 (85%)
  • No, might be a bad idea. 0 (0%)
  • Not yet, maybe later in the season. 2 (10%)
  • Never! Stay in hunterland forever! 1 (5%)

Given the landslide victory, we are definitely going to be doing a jumper show in the near future.  I very much appreciated everyone's comments -- especially the fact that reasonable women differed in their conclusions!  Made me feel better about my ambivalence.  It's also really nice to see that we have so much support.  You guys are the best.
Sadly, this weekend isn't in the cards for me, but not for a bad reason.  My grandmother, whom I love very, very much, is celebrating her 89th birthday on Monday (yeah, yeah, I know I should have realized that earlier in the week, but I remembered by Wednesday, that counts right?  So hard to keep track of birthdays for the over-80 set.  None of them are on facebook).  What does she want for her birthday?  Cold hard cash, to head to Atlantic City with on Monday!  I love that woman.  She makes us laugh so much.  So anyway, I'll be doing family stuff this weekend and our jumper debut will have to wait.
As some of you suggested, when we finally do our jumper show (notice I said "when," not "if") we'll be doing the Level Zeros (Do they really have to call it that though?  Seriously?  My ego is fragile enough, without being called a Zero), which are set at 2'9".  It will be just for practice, so we'll be taking our time and I'll be paying attention to my equitation, and his pace and straightness.  Not sure when we can fit in the jumpers in the next couple of months around the hunter shows we have planned, but I will keep you all posted! 
In case you are in need of something to do this weekend (now that you won't be waiting by your screens for the results of the Level Zeros, check out the live feed at Syracuse!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Nice Ride, and the Bit Search Continues

This is Take Two of this post... Blogger ate the one I wrote last night, so I'm rewriting it while I eat my lunch.  (Good excuse to turn the lawyer-brain off for a few minutes).

Tucker and I had a very nice ride last night.  We ended up with the company of two horses in the ring, which you know my horse was very, very happy about.  No need to stare at the door tonight, he had friends!

We flatted tonight in a french link full cheek snaffle that Alicia loaned us.  We used this bit in my lesson last Friday as well, and at first I hated it, but after a while of flatwork, I started to like it.  What I like about it is that I can take more than just a light feel of his mouth in this, without him getting behind the vertical (which isn't always the case in the twisted Dr. Bristol), but the bad news is that he has a major tendency to lean on it.  So, it takes a lot of strength on my part (both hand and leg) to keep him balanced, which isn't really what I'm looking for.  Next up will be a full cheek Dr. Bristol, which I found online for a good price (plus a $10 off coupon code).

We started out last night in a long-and-low, stretching, forward trot.  It was cold, so I just wanted his muscles to get warmed up and relaxed.  As he started to feel more fluid, I started adding in some smaller circles in different spots around the ring, where he'd get a little more elevated (letting the circle collect him a bit) and then ask for a bigger trot down the longsides, down the center line, the quarter line, or across the diagonal.  I was hoping that allowing the circle to collect him might eleviate some of the leaning.  It worked somewhat, but his first reaction is to use my hands as a crutch, instead of using his hind end, which means a lot of leg and seat and trying not to give in to his leaning by letting my reins get longer or my position fall forward, so he only gets a release once he starts supporting himself. 

Then we added in some lateral movements at the walk and trot:  haunches in, then shoulder in, then some leg yields, which he executed very, very well.  He got a little stuck doing the haunches in tracking left but when I applied a little more inside leg at the girth (instead of all outside leg) I got him coming forward.  His lateral work is getting really strong (and the lead changes are getting better... I'm thinking that could mean he's actually getting stronger behind like I had hoped!).

From there we moved to our counterbending circles, spiraling down from a big circle to a small one, and then changing back to inside bend and spiraling out.  The counterbending really got him to balance and he actually was very light in my hands at that point.  When I changed back to the inside bend tracking left, though, he swung his haunches way out to the right (common evasion tactic of his).  Since I couldn't get control over him using my outside aids (kind of blowing off my outside rein), I went to a shoulder-out until I had control of his hind end.  Then we went back to the inside bend and it was much straighter. 

After a walk break, I used these counterbending circles as a platform for his canter transitions, which were absolutely fantastic.  Tracking right, I asked for a counterbending circle (bent left), and once he got lighter up front and stepping under with his inside hind, I'd turn left out of the circle and ask for a left lead canter.  Then I'd come back to the trot, start on a left circle, counterbending right, and once he was light and soft, turn right and ask for a right lead canter, and repeat.  His transitions were awesome, he stayed round, and soft, and stepped right up into my hands.  Such a good boy! 

I had a little trouble with him bulging through his left shoulder in the right lead canter, so I modified the spiraling down circle exercise a little bit, asking him to straighten (not counterbend) and pushing him in with my outside leg (which took a little more spur), but not making the circle as small as I do at the trot.  This helped, though it felt like more of a struggle than I would normally like because he really wanted to lean and bend right.  Then we finished up with some more long and low trotting and stretching down in both directions, and he felt even more relaxed and loose and balanced than when we started.

All in all, it was a really nice ride.  And, the dressage rider that we were sharing the ring with asked us what Level we compete at!  Ha!  Not too shabby for a hunter princess huh?  I'm starting to think this horse really could do anything.  I wonder if he'd cut cattle?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

It's Election Day, After All

So please vote (in the poll you see on the right of your screen).

I am considering doing the jumpers at Duncraven on Sunday.  Just for fun.  But I have reservations... (no, no, not for dinner.  I meant have concerns). 

On the one hand, it would be good practice.  We'd have to do some more handy turns, some broken lines, probably at least a one-stride or a two-stride, all of which would be good exercises for us.  It would also be good practice for me to keep riding forward between the jumps and around the turns.  I wouldn't be going fast or making tight inside turns or anything, just using it as a schooling day.  We'd probably learn at lot, and it might actually be fun.  These are the obvious benefits.

On the other hand, I finally have my confidence back.  I am finally feeling relaxed at horse shows and have pretty much eliminated the terrible case of show nerves I developed a year or so back.  I don't want to give either Tucker or myself a negative experience that would send me ricocheting back to nutjob land (and subsequently drive him to the point where he loses all patience with me and my ridiculous worrying).  I've got a stock pile of things that could go wrong:  I could get lost [pretty high likelihood of this -- jumper courses make my head hurt -- though all that's at stake there is my pride].  I could bury him coming into a combination, or he could lose his power steering in a combination.  I could have one of those scary Marissa-in-Orbit fences that usually ends with Tucker landing in an angry coil and exploding.  [We haven't done that in a while; I'd be just fine if it never happened again.]

Alicia thinks it would be a good idea (it was her suggestion), though I'm not entirely surprised.  She's been stealthily calling me over to the dark side for years now.  Personally, I think she finds the hunters a little boring, though she's doing a fabulous job anyway of turning us into winners in the AA Hunter ring (and she's always been careful never to yawn right in front of us). 

I can't decide, and since Tucker hasn't actually learned to talk yet (though I feel strongly that one day he will), I can't leave it up to him.  So, I'm leaving it up to our readers.  If you guys decide that we should go, then we'll go.  If you think it's a mistake, we'll probably go for another trail ride instead, and we'll do the hunters the following weekend.  And if you think we should wait a while and do a jumper show later in the year, we'll figure out another time (plenty of other opportunities).  Please make my decision for me!