Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Woodedge E.P. Bishop Hunter Derby Recap

First:  a few words about the course.  The jumps were set up in a big grass field, with no fencing -- just a ton of lovely jumps scattered around a big grassy area with some little slopes here and there.  The jumps themselves were great looking -- walls, logs, wooden barrels, straw bales, foxes, toadstools, big tall gates, brush boxes lined with evergreens, lamp posts, pillars.  I pulled in and saw the field off to my right and thought "wow, that looks gorgeous!"

The courses were so cool that I decided I had to sketch them out for you:

Course #1

Course #2 - Handy Round

To sum it up, Tucker was a BLAST.  He was really brave, jumped everything (was even a little underwhelmed by the jumps, as you can tell from the photos where he's basically cantering over everything), and very handy.  I had the best day.  Halfway through my handy course, I thought to myself "THIS IS SO FUN!"  (How often does that happen at a horse show?) 

We only had one slip-up all day... we hand galloped beautifully to fence #7 in the handy round, and then Tucker just forgot to pick up his feet all the way and hung a toe, taking the gate down with him.  Of course, being the careful guy that he is, having rails makes him really ticked off and he almost had a temper tantrum upon landing, but I think the slick grass made him think twice.  Unfortunately, he was flustered, and missed his lead change, so we cross-cantered almost all the way to fence 8 before I got him to re-focus and pick a lead.  I ignored the cross cantering and just kept going forward with my eye on the next jump, so the last jump itself was actually good (a little redemption).  So, I think we need to practice some hand gallops at home.  I have a feeling, if I know myself, that once I saw the distance was there and we were on it, I probably took my leg off for the last stride.  I remember thinking "ok, there it is, just sit still" and in hindsight, I should have said "there it is, just support." 

All in all though, I'd say I have a pretty darn fabulous derby horse.  I was really, really impressed with him.  Everytime I asked him to do something (trot jump?  hand gallop?  long two-stride?) his response was "absolutely, I can do that."  As I said to Alicia afterward, "My horse is really FUN."  Do I think we'll  be rubbing elbows with Jersey Boy and Brunello anytime soon?  That's a no.  But do I plan to enter all the local derbies I can get to from now on?  Heck yeah I do.  I think we might even end up being competitve with a little practice.  Who knows?  Either way, I am so happy that I have such a wonderful horse. 

And... I can't wait to order photos!  These are the ones I plan to order:

What do you think?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Derby Photos

I don't have too much time today so I can't give you the full recap, but Tucker was a super star yesterday at the Derby.  For now... please check out the pictures at Ric Shaffer Photography.  (Note:  Tucker and I are not too photogenic over fences, but there are some cute ones here and there.)  I especially love Slide #46, and I am definitely buying Slide #2, and possibly a few others. 

Friday, July 22, 2011


I love my barn.  It is like a bajillion degrees out today (seriously, I got to court this morning and was a puddle of lawyer by the time I walked three blocks).  I just got this picture texted to me, as I sit here in my nice air conditioned office, thinking about my poor sweaty beasts out there in this sauna-like weather:

With the caption, "Mommy these nice ladies took me to the pool!" 

A good boarding barn is absolutely worth every penny.  So nice to know your kids are enjoying daycare! 

Hope everyone is keeping cool, and hydrated, in this heat wave.  Tucker and I will be braving the heat this weekend to do a hunter derby on Sunday, hopefully it will cool down a little by then.  Happy Friday!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Duncraven Horse Show, Reserve Champions!

(You know what the problem is with letting yourself sink into a blogging slump for two weeks?  You can barely remember the stuff you wanted to post about.  Here's hoping that I can still recall this horse show well enough to retell it.  Given that I usually lay in bed the night after a show and replay the courses in my head over and over again, pretty sure I can still pull it off.)

Duncraven is only 15 minutes away from my barn, so even though we were the second division of the day, it wasn't as crack-of-dawn of a morning as it could have been.  I got to the farm, hooked up the truck and trailer in the early morning light, and got to work bathing my horse while he ate his breakfast:

Spoiled much?

Then I parked Tucker in front of the fan and loaded up my tack, then got him loaded (after a brief discussion where Tucker insisted he no longer fit in the trailer and needed me to open the divider... apparently he's got body image issues?) and headed down the road.  We got to the show with exactly enough time to go to the office, check in at the ring, give Tucker five minutes on the lunge line, and get Alicia on and warmed up.  Alicia did the first class, where Tucker was fabulous - calm, quiet, relaxed, jumping well, getting his changes - and then I hopped on, trotted and cantered a few times around the schooling ring, jumped 2 verticals and headed to the ring.  I love that my horse doesn't need a lot of prep.  Schooling rings make me nervous.  Two good jumps and ready to go?  My kind of warm-up.

The first class started with a single vertical on the diagonal, off the left lead, coming toward the in-gate.  Entered, trotted down the longside and picked up my canter in the corner, and got a nice relaxed and forward rhythm, and he jumped it right out of stride.  He landed left, gave me a fabulous clean lead change, and then it was up the outside line in six strides.  I moved up a little coming out of the turn so we jumped in a little bit big, so I knew I had to wait a little.  I fit in the five, but I should have waited the first three strides upon landing, and then softened for the last three.  Instead I did the opposite -- did nothing for three strides until I saw where I was in the line, and then waited the last three.  Not the worst thing in the world, but he jumps better when I'm not waiting to the base of the jump. I remembered to weight my outside stirrup in the air over the second fence though, so he landed right. 

Next was a seven on the diagonal off the right lead, coming back toward home.  We jumped in well, and then Tucker seemed to think we were either jumping a different fence or going to go around the second fence, cause he had his eye on something else and veered a little right, and I had to steer him back to center a little.  Not the prettiest line in the world, but we worked it out.  He landed left, and then it was another six on the other outside, going away from home.  I remembered to sit through this turn and keep him coming forward (the in-gate was singing her siren song to him in the corner right in front of the outside line).  The distance was going to be a little long coming in, but I didn't lean up my horse's neck and pray, instead I closed my leg, sat deeper, stretched taller, and made a decision.  Amazing how that works isn't it?  Then I remembered I'd have to settle in the line, so I just eased off my pace a little and he fit the six in perfectly.  He landed right and gave me a great right-to-left lead change.  Last fence was a tiny little birch jump with a hay bale under it (seriously, was no bigger than 2'6") so I just had to make myself be really, really, patient on the long approach to it and let Tucker find his distance.  He was totally unimpressed and cantered right over it, but at least the distance was good.  And he landed right.  Good boy.  All in all, a couple minor errors but not a bad trip.

I was equally happy with the second trip.  First fence was a single vertical on the diagonal off the right lead, but it was set at a wonky angle so you had to go up the long side, then turn right even before you reached the center line of the ring to get to it.  I looked at it over my shoulder though, and it was a nice big ring, so the turn was really smooth and worked out nicely.  Unfortunately, the distance somehow got a little tighter than I had originally thought, and in hindsight I probably should have sent him forward and asked for one less.  I think because of the short turn, I didn't get the same forward canter that I've been getting to my first fence in other classes.  Then we landed right, and missed the second half of the change and he had to catch up a few strides late.  Not totally egregious, but certainly not ideal. 

The rest of the trip was great though.  The next line was the outside in six, past the in-gate, I sat through the turn and sent him forward and this time the distance worked out even more nicely to the in.  Then it was the long approach to the little birch jump on the diagonal, and again I just stayed patient on the mile-and-a-half it took to get there and we found a good distance (though once again he was underwhelmed by the jump), and this time he landed right (smart cookie).  Then it was the outside line in six in front of the judge, and this time I worked it out much better and asked him to wait sooner so that I could be softer jumping out.  He landed right, cantered really softly around the end of the ring, and then I went to my last line, the seven on the diagonal off the right lead, coming toward home.  This time my goal was just to make the line be straighter.  I think, in doing so, I collected his canter a little too much, because I ended up adding on the way in, but it wasn't a bad jump, and I was able to very softly, without chasing, move him up in the line by softening my hand and closing my leg, so that the seven worked out beautifully, and it was much, much straighter.  He landed left and we finished with a nice closing circle. 

Then we had a few minutes to hang out by the ring before our undersaddle and ran into a good friend of mine who snapped this really goofy lovely photo of us with Alicia:

Don't you love how my horse can stand with all four feet
pointed in a different direction?  At least he's shiny :)

Tucker hacked beautifully, soft, and flowing, and quiet, reaching down through his neck and back, nice big trot, big lofty canter... and he won it!  What a good boy.  I was so proud.

When we were all done I tried to get him to pose with his ribbons but he said he was too embarrassed and didn't want me posting photos on the blog of him wearing his helmet:

"Tucker will you come out of there please?"

"Oh c'mon, what's the matter?"
"Everybody's going to make fun of me cause I have to wear a helmet."

"Will you please just let me get one shot of you with the ribbons?"
"Fine.  But I'm not happy about it."

I gave it some thought on the drive home, and realized that my horse did exactly every single little thing I asked him to do at that horse show.  I really couldn't have asked for more.  What a little super star he is.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I disappeared, I know.

I'm a totally unreliable blogger.  You're absolutely right, all you readers who have been google searching for me and then visiting the page for a nano-second when you find it's the same stupid post that's been up for a week and a half.  I've done it to you again, haven't I?  How on earth are you poor souls supposed to make it through your work day without something mildly entertaining on the internet to read?  The least I could do is point you to something else clever on the days when I don't blog so that it's not a totally wasted click.

I could blame work... I could blame exhaustion... or maybe it's summer and I'm out enjoying the sunshine instead of sitting at my computer.  These things are partly true.  But honestly I've been sort of moping and feeling entirely too sorry for myself, for a variety of reasons that I really don't want to explain because they're basically absurd, and you'll lose all respect for me because no one should let themselves mope over such silly men things. 

I lack the ability to blog when I am focusing on what my life is lacking instead of all the wonderful things I have to be thankful for, because I can't stand the thought of whining to all of you and spreading my gloom over the world wide web (if you think about it, I should keep blogging when I'm being a sad sack, because writing about my lovely, lovely horses just reminds me that life really isn't so darn bad after all and I am at the end of the day a really lucky little girl).  There is nothing like those big goofy ears or that little pink nose to remind me of that. 

Anyway, I'm done moping now (she says with confidence, and determination!) and I have two fantastic posts coming up for you:  one is about my horse show the weekend before last, where Tucker was reserve champion (!), and the other is about my fabulous lesson with Amanda Steege, from whom I learned a boat load of new stuff, and from whom felt a little honored and awed to be getting advice (and even a compliment or two for me and the Wunderkind!). 

So stay tuned.  I have good things to share!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Any Suggestions?

It seems Tucker has learned a new game.  A game I don't really like playing.  I need some help.

You may have noticed a slight increase in frequency of posts about things that Tucker is pretending to be ridiculously afraid of (or maybe legitimately afraid of, I'm not sure).  I'm beginning to suspect that this may be a game he's invented, which gets him out of work for a minute or two, and is starting to get on my nerves.

Since Tucker is generally the brave, unflappable, dependable sort, when he spooks at something (which until very recently, is a total rarity), we calmly walk up to it, sniff and snort, arch our neck, and then take a deep breath and realize it's just a tractor/cat/fallen tree limb/tarp/etc.  We can then carry on the ride and he won't spook at it again, ever.  I'm totally okay with this type of spooking -- cautious about a new object, but willing to approach it, and sensible once his brain has a moment to process it.

But recently, the list of things he's spooked at has become increasingly lengthy and somewhat ridiculous:  a traffic cone; a pile of bricks; a puddle; a pile of wood; a lawnmower; a jump standard on its side; a flatbed delivering sheds (okay maybe I'll give him that one); a sleeping dog; a horse wearing a scrim; and last night, a stack of hay.  Granted, many of these were during the rehab process, so I chose to ignore them figuring he just had too much pent up energy.

That brings us to last night. I brought Tucker in from turnout to ride and a torrential downpour started almost as soon as he was on the crossties.  The loud noise of rain on a roof has always been something that for reasons unknown, scares the bejeezus out of my boy.  This is legitimate fear - his eyes get huge, he can't stand still, his ears flicker back and forth, and his pulse races.  I get it.  It's really loud and he can't figure out where the noise is coming from, and he can't get away from it.  We've had to make a couple of rapid exits from indoor rings to avoid major incidents, and once he is standing out in the pouring rain, he immediately stops panicking. 

So, I got out the cat toys I keep in my trunk for just such occasions, plugged his ears, and stood by his side until the noise subsided.  He does this thing when he is scared -- he used to do it as a baby all the time and now only does it when he's really freaked out -- he does a very quick back-and-forth nuzzling with his upper lip on my arm.  It's a very clear "Mom don't leave I'm scared" message that is very different from his usual signs of affection, and it just melts me every time.  What can I say? 

As soon as the rain stopped, we went down to the indoor and I figured since he'd had a couple days off and he was already sort of on edge, I'd yank his tack off and let him bounce around before I got on.  So he did his usual galloping bucking frolicking leaping routine for about 3 minutes and then walked over to me with a big sigh and a much calmer look on his face.  Looked as though we'd have a great ride.

And we did -- except for the first five minutes, which I spent convincing him the hay stacked at the end of the indoor (which has been there a few weeks, which he's seen before, and which he had just been galloping past), was non-life-threatening.  He at first refused to walk toward it but gave in after a swift kick in the gut, approached it with arched neck, snorting, and sideways walking, but as soon as we got up to it, he reached out and grabbed a bite.  Really?  REALLY?  You're so afraid of it that you have to EAT IT?  Needless to say I was annoyed, but I told myself to let it go and enjoy the rest of the ride.  Which, for the most part, I did.

That is until the middle of our ride, when I trotted down the center line and he decided that the stacked hay, from this angle, was once again deadly.  Are you kidding me?  We're fifty feet to the right of where you JUST trotted by it and now you are once again terrified?  And this time, he not only stopped in his tracks, but then got stuck in reverse and practically ran backwards.  So I gave him a smack behind my saddle with my hand, we moved forward, and went down the centerline again, this time with pricked ears but no spook.  We finished the ride in a nice relaxed manner, cantered in both directions, no more spooking.  Note that he walked by the hay on a long rein at the end of the ride and didn't even notice it.  Clearly, this is not a legitimate fear.

My theory is that the spook arrived during the rehab process because he was having trouble dealing with his extra energy, and now it has become a game, or a bad habit. I believe he needs to be reminded that he is not a spooky horse.  I talked it over with Alicia, and we think I probably need to get on one day next week (not tonight, because we are showing on Saturday) with a stick in hand and get after him a little if/when he decides something is too terrifying for him to work.  I'm fine with a little neck-craning or ear-pricking that you can ignore with a little over-bending or getting his brain busy with a leg yield or something, but I am kind of drawing a line at sticking his feet in the sand and refusing to move, and definitely at running backwards.  Not cool Tucker, not cool at all.

But... at the same time... he is a huge wimp, and this will undoubtedly send him into a blind panic.  I really hate the thought of freaking him out by getting after him, and a freak out is a foregone conclusion.  When I use a stick to send him forward, even if it's just one or two well-timed spanks that wouldn't even warrant an ear flick from another horse, he will melt down and need to be talked down off the ledge for the duration of the ride.  Such an overdramatic delicate little flower.

So... is there something I am missing here?  Does anyone have alternate suggestions?  Or am I just being a baby, and I should fairly and properly discipline the bad behavior and then move on?  I am opening the floor up for discussion.  I would love to hear any ideas you may have, especially if it doesn't involve me sitting on top of a 1200-pound powder keg who believes he's just been brutally attacked by a mother-gone-mad.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tucker Looks Death Straight in the Eye... Er, Sort Of

So Tucker and I had an interesting lesson on Saturday...  sometimes I think he just wants me to remember that he is a horse, not a machine, and is just as prone to having a bad day as I am. 

So we got to Alicia's early and walked around for a while, and the first time we passed Bean sleeping in the shade, Tucker scooted out from underneath me for a few steps as though sleeping dog = terrorizing monster.  I laughed it off. 

Then when we started to trot, Tucker stopped dead in his tracks spooking at the sleeping dog, from about twenty feet away.  Okay, now he was just being intentionally silly so I reached back and gave him a good whack with my hand (which, of course, sent him into a blind panic for a few minutes), but from then on he was great for our flat work.  So, I was willing to forgive a little ridiculous behavior.  Nobody's perfect.

We worked on getting him to accept the outside aids with some shoulder-fore, some leg yields to and from the rail, counter-bending circles, then some turns on the haunches to get him stepping underneath of himself.  Our canter work was really good -- he felt forward and moving off my leg, but it was light and balanced.  He really feels like his fitness level is back to 100%, and I think our canter is better than ever now.

Then we started jumping, working on a big cross-rail set in the middle of the ring.  I love cross-rails that have steep rails, I feel like they make him jump so well - round and tidy with his front end.  It was set on the center line, so we were making a big figure-eight of the ring.  Since Tucker thinks he's clever and will always land the lead based on whatever direction you landed last time, we had to keep getting a lead change, which he never missed.  The changes feel so solid these days, it's hard to imagine how much trouble we used to have with them.  Amazing what happens when I stop twisting myself around like a pretzel up there!

Then we put together what was going to be a very cool hunter derby-like course.  Inside bending line, then outside line in a forward five, then short approach to another bending line, riding off the eye instead of a set number of strides, then trot jump through the middle, and then diagonal triple, a four to a one, and the out was a 3'6" oxer which actually looked like it was going to be fun.  When I jump something bigger, I like to do it out of a one stride or a two stride, since then I don't have to do much to get us there except stay out of his way, so that was perfect.

So, the first fence is a vertical end jump, landing and turning inside the oxer on the outside, to a vertical wall on the diagonal.  Cantering toward the first jump, Tucker's eye is completely fixed on the horse that has just appeared to hand graze by the ring with her owner, wearing a navy scrim.  I close my leg to encourage Tucker to pay attention to the fence that is now two strides in front of us, he takes his eye off her just long enough to jump.  He does a beautiful inside turn, and I notice that his right ear is cocked to the outside as we approach the diagonal wall.  He is still transfixed by grazing horse.  I know that Tucker happens to think she is beautiful, and at one point was stabled across the aisle from her, so I assume that he is simply lovestruck and continue toward the fence. 

Apparently, however, while this is what we all saw:

This is what Tucker saw:*

Don't ask me why sweet little Juliet grazing by the side of the ring and her mother sitting on a bench spelled "doom," but apparently, they did.  Tucker jumped that diagonal wall so hard that I was cringing before his feet even hit the ground.  And then we proceeded to bronc and twist and leap all the way around the end of the ring.  VERY un-Tuckerlike behavior.  I managed to get my butt back down in the saddle pretty quickly though, and knew I wasn't falling off.  So we halted, and backed a couple of slow steps, and then trotted around the ring a few times before we tried to jump anything else.  (Tucker exhibited some really impressive Drama Llama poses as we passed the Angel of Death Juliet, and even insisted that he could not keep trotting past her but instead had to crab walk in case she decided to put a spell on him when his back was turned.)

It actually ended up being a good learning experience for me.  He rattled me a little when he did that (naturally), but I forced myself to remain calm and not have a death grip on him and we jumped a bunch of jumps, piecing together the course until he finally was landing without feeling like he was balled up and ready to explode at any moment.  I was actually able to force myself to be soft and relaxed, and as a result, actually managed to settle him, instead of escalating.  The last line we jumped was a bending line that I had to ride off my eye, and I saw a longer distance out and just softened my hand and gently closed my leg, and he took the bigger gap without gunning at it or jumping it like it was eight feet tall.  Getting a nice soft jump after our little explosion was a big accomplishment for rider and horse, so we quit on that note.  Didn't make it to the big oxer, but that's ok with me.

Could I do without the little bucking fit?  Yes, absolutely.  But do I feel a little more secure that if that ever happens at a horse show, I'll be able to calm myself down and deal with it?  I'm getting there. 

*Tucker insisted that I NOT turn this into one of those stories where I commend his bravery but secretly am making fun of him.  You'll notice I didn't do that here.  Just a little visual aid....