Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanks a Lot Buddy.

Those were the words that came out of my mouth as I watched my horse gallop and buck away from me and off into the distance as I stood dumbfounded in our outdoor arena.  The day after we are supposed to spend 24 hours being grateful for everything we have, I was reminded of what I am generally grateful I don't have.  And that's a large, brown, obnoxious and recalcitrant creature hell-bent on being a complete imbecile, endangering others, and risking his own life for absolutely no reason at all.  (Yes, I'm still mad at him.  Don't worry, it won't last.)

Let me paint the picture for you.  I have the day off from work.  It's gorgeous out.  Sunny, blue skies, no wind.  I have to pull off my long johns when I get to the barn.  It is unseasonably perfect weather.  Naturally,  I wanted to ride outside, and I figured that since I had ridden outside at my clinic last week it wouldn't be that big of a deal for that big brown moron monster horse I own.  I did put a slightly stronger bit in his mouth though, figuring I'd probably need it.  I'm not completely dumb.

So we get out to the arena and I set up a few small jumps, figuring we'd had two good flat work sessions this week and I'd practice what I learned at my clinic last weekend.  Tucker followed me around like a dog, as per usual, ears at half mast.  So I bring him back to the mounting block, tighten my girth, throw the reins over his head, pull my cooler halfway back, pull down one stirrup, and then pull down the other.

For reasons that no human will ever understand, the sound of the second stirrup hitting the end of the leather (a sound no horse has never heard before, obviously) signaled such severe and significant danger that Tucker leapt from a standstill to a gallop in a nanosecond.  In part of that nanosecond, I still had one finger on the reins and contemplated possibly hanging on to him.  And then he kicked out at me.  Yeah.  That's right.  Attack the mother.  Good idea.  Thanks a lot buddy.

As he galloped a circle around me, depositing his (newly laundered) cooler neatly in a mud puddle as he went, I thought I might be able to head him off at the in-gate and prevent a complete disaster.  I, of course, thought wrong, because a human trying not to run and frighten her horse is obviously much slower than a 17 hand warmblood barreling forward at Mach 10 on high alert.  And out the gate he went.

My first thought of course is on the riders in the indoor, who were probably not expecting a large brown idiot streak of horse-shaped fury to come charging past the open doors.  Not to worry, they were all smart enough to dismount as soon as they saw this nonsense potential disaster unfolding.

I head out after him, realizing as I go that my special needs special horse is now headed for the driveway, possibly the parking lot, possibly the road.  As my wheels start turning I go from a brisk walk, to a jog, to a sprint.  By the time I find him, I realize I am running faster than I thought possible, and may have stopped breathing a while back.  I stop, panting, on the other end of the farm, where I find him trotting up and down the fence lines between the turnout fields, successfully agitating nearly every horse on the property in the process.  Luckily, he's in an alley way with a gate on both ends.  I shut the gate behind me, a smart move that experience has taught me.  Tucker does not do well when he gets loose.  He tends to panic, assume he is in trouble (I wonder why one would feel guilty after running away from and kicking out at one's human?), and will run blindly away from any and all two legged creatures, oblivious to all other potential danger.

So after an exasperating few minutes worthy of a three stooges skit, chasing my evil stupid ridiculous free to a good home panicked horse back and forth and up and down this alley, mud splattering everywhere, expletives flying, all much to the amusement of my four legged onlookers, I finally reach out and grab the reins (which, by some miracle, have stayed over his head) as he gallops past, and he spins in a circle around me, nearly dislocating my shoulder in the process.  Did you all read about when Fen got loose, and how he came straight to FarmWife when she appeared?  This was not exactly like that.  One would hope with ears as big as my horse has, that he might have some mulish qualities.  Apparently not on this particular day.

After making sure that the poor frightened mare turned out in the round pen had been caught, and seeing that the horses in turnout were quieting down, I march him back across the property to the outdoor ring.  He is still snorting and prancing and generally carrying on like he's just been extremely brave in the face of certain death.  I grab my lunge line out of my trailer as we walk past.  He begins to humble at the mere sight of it.  He knows what's coming.  After a quick discussion about how we do not LEAP or STRIKE as we walk away from our mother on the lunge line, but rather we walk calmly in a circle until we are asked to TROT, and not GALLOP, Tucker finally begins to re-inhabit his own body.  As I watch him trot around and around, I can see the old familiar "but I HATE the circle game... this is soooooo stoooooooopid.... whyyyyyyyyyyyyyy...." expression on his face.  After a few more minutes of this torture, mostly for my own edification, I let him walk for a bit and then climb aboard.

The ride was great.  He was actually very well behaved.  And I made him work his little tail off.  We did not, however, get to any of the little jumps I had set up, nor did I work on too many of the things I learned in my clinic, other than practicing not slouching.  I did, however, get a good reminder that we should always ride the horse we have today, and sometimes that means scrapping our plans.  (There's a life lesson in there somewhere too.)

I'd ask if anyone wants a nice big brown horse, free to a good home, but I know there'd actually be takers... and I know I won't stay mad at him much longer.  I did just buy a bag of carrots, and they're going to go bad if I don't feed them to him.....

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Eric Horgan Clinic Recap

So, Tucker and I were scheduled to do a clinic last week with Eric HorganIn case you don't feel like clicking that link, Eric was a member of Ireland's Olympic Three-Day Event team at Montreal in 1976, competed in the 1990 World Equestrian Games in Stockholm, 1992 Burghley International Three-Day Event, and the world-renowned Badminton Horse Trials.  He was the bronze medalist at the 1989 European Three-Day Event Championships and is a two-time winner of the Punchestown (Ireland) International Three-Day Event.  Just for starters.  And that's not even getting into his coaching credentials. So, he's sort of a big deal.

Eric holding Court.

Then I get this email, saying that due to multiple scheduling conflicts and a couple of last minute horse soundness issues, the clinic would have to be rescheduled.  My heart sank, knowing that Eric goes to Aiken, SC, for the winter, and wouldn't be back to New Jersey until the Spring.  Then I read on, and saw that Eric was still going to be in town, and would be teaching lessons at a nearby farm (which happens to be owned by a fellow alumnae of my high school, the Ethel Walker School.  Small world.  Horse world is even smaller.).  So... a private lesson?  With a former Olympian?  Who has a great sense of humor and an Irish accent?  Where do I sign up?

You may be wondering why I was so desperate to ride with someone outside my discipline (resident hunter princess here).  Well, first off, anyone that runs in the International circles that Eric does, and has been exposed to the best riders and trainers in the world, is always going to have something to teach little old me.  And second, I rode with Eric frequently when I was in high school, and can honestly say that those clinics were the best pieces of riding I've ever managed.  (Well, except for that one time when I ended up eating dirt, and came to, mumbling something about her getting behind my leg). 

So after a few midnight (literally) body-clipping sessions after work last week, Tucker and I head out on a bright sunny November morning to introduce Tucker to Eric.  On the way, we swung by Altea to pick up our blogging friends Amy and Sugar.  Tucker fell instantly in love with Sug and had a momentary panic attack when he was separated from her for ten minutes while I tacked up.  This should come as no surprise.  She is one good looking mare.  And even sweeter in person, if you can imagine.  She didn't even mind Tucker's obnoxious space invasion, which drives most mares up the wall.  Though she did eat all of his hay.  But, he has always been more motivated by friends than food, so that was just fine with him.  By the way, Amy and Sug are exactly the kind of travel buddies we like.  They thought of everything, including bellinis.  We love them!

When we started the lesson, Eric asked me about Tucker, what we needed to work on, etc.  I focused on our major issue:  getting the right canter, going forward, and maintaining pace.  As it turns out, Eric was extremely helpful in this department.  He watched the horses warm up and then brought us in to the ring to discuss what he saw.  Though both horses travel quite differently, similar exercises were needed for both horses to improve their canter.  Eric observed that Tucker has a naturally well-balanced canter, but that it's often very difficult to get a naturally balanced horse to work harder and really engage his hind end (yes, exactly.  Tucker strongly believes that his natural way of going is good enough). 

He also observed that I slouch.  (Guilty as charged.)  But here's a new way of looking at it:  Eric gave us the analogy of how the natural horsemanship folks stand at the "driving line" and can send the horse forward or slow the horse by putting their body in front of or behind this line.  So he wanted me to think about keeping my body behind the driving line, to keep my horse in front of my leg.  For some reason, this concept really helped it click.  As a result, there are actually some photos where I was sitting up.  Look!

(Let's ignore the wonky thing my left arm is doing
and focus on the sitting up part for now, yes?)

We worked on transitions (and making me sit up through them).  Walk to trot, trot to walk, then walk to canter, canter to walk.  Once these were "crisper," we moved to transitions within the canter.  Extend, collect.  But not my usual gradual extension and collection.  This was immediate:  on a circle (around Eric), gallop forward, and then bring him back -- sharply, in just a couple of strides -- to a very collected canter, but all the while keep the canter "pinging."  The first few times we did this, Tucker gave me a very unenthusiastic, slightly more forward canter, and then broke to a trot instead of collecting.  To which Eric responded, dryly, "I can tell you do this a lot."  Followed by, even more dryly, "That was Sarcasm."  Yes, Eric, I get it.  We need to work on this.  Tucker eventually got with the program though and delivered that pinging canter that Eric was looking for. 

We then worked on carrying this quality canter to a line of poles, which eventually became jumps.  Has anyone ever had you work on the quality of your canter in the middle of a line?  Yeah, me either.  Quality of canter to the first jump, and even away from the second jump, yes.  But in the middle of the line?  I've always focused on stride length, but not canter quality.  Would you believe the two are related?  As in, if you have a better quality of canter, your horse's stride is much more easy to adjust?  Makes perfect sense now.  Never would have occurred to me before last Sunday.

As we worked on this very simple exercise, Eric broke down for us where the rides were going wrong.  He focused a lot on recovery after the jump.  To really drive the point home, he'd go stand in the spot where we actually recovered, and then stand in the spot where we needed to begin recovering (in case you couldn't guess, they weren't exactly right next to each other).  As a general rule, I seem to do pretty much nothing for the first two strides upon landing.  So in a six stride line, we have two big strides, and then four increasingly smaller strides.  Instead of two or three balancing strides, and then three strides where I am just maintaining what I have until takeoff.  So we worked on this, over and over, until I was better at it. 

Once we added the jumps, Eric changed my jumping position a little, making me hold my shoulders back more so that I land in a better position to immediately start recovering upon landing.  This worked pretty well too, which was a good thing, because we then added an end jump after landing from the line, that was either five or six bending strides away.  Tucker showed his true colors here since I buried him to the end jump the first couple of times and he just shrugged his shoulders and hopped on over it.  I finally got it though, and we ended on a great note, where I managed to land from each jump, recover, and maintain a decent canter throughout.

Very simple exercises, very big results.  With a few laughs thrown in.  Exactly what I was hoping to get out of this experience. 

Now THIS is a good canter.


p.s. -- Eric thinks I should try the jumper ring with Tucker.  He says I'd have a blast with him.  The hunter princess is mulling it over....

p.p.s. -- Photo credit for this entry goes to E. Skuba.  Thanks again Libby!

Friday, November 11, 2011

This Friday Funny Brought to you by Disney

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent last week with my niece.  She's a huge fan of the movie Tangled (don't worry, I also had her watch the Breeder's Cup. For educational purposes, of course. And explained that a lot of OTTBs go on to great careers in the hunter/jumper world. It's never too early to learn).  Anyway... seeing Tangled five times in a row was just fine with me, because I absolutely love the horse in this movie.  I am fairly certain that his animators know Tucker.  This is the gray cartoon version of my Wunderkind, I swear.  My favorite part about this horse is that he doesn't talk (I mean, do you remember how off-putting it was when Starlite started singing?), but he's got a clear personality and he stars in some of the funniest scenes of this movie.  There are definitely some horse lovers on the Disney staff.

I thought we could all use a little bit of silly this week.  A few short clips below (just in case you don't hang out much with the Disney-going set).  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dear Tucker,

I know what you're thinking.  Where have I been?

Remember all that snow we had?  Remember how all the trees fell down?  Well that meant mom's house had no power.  I know you see really well in the dark, but mom not so much.  And I know you are nice and toasty warm under your Smartpak blankets, but mom needs heat.  I don't grow a winter coat (thankfully).  So I had to stay with your Uncle Mike.  He is the one with the tiny human (like a filly, with two legs), whom you haven't met yet.  You two are going to be adorable in leadline.  I know how you love children, and she will be the cutest thing ever perched up on a big tall horse like yourself.  And eventually, she will be the reason that you finally get to have your own pony.  Yes, you're right.  She needs to come and meet you.  No, I don't think we can bring you to meet her.  Although their backyard would make a lovely pasture.  We'll think about it.

And then Uncle Mike had surgery on his knee, which kept me away a little longer.  You remember when you hurt your hock?  Well this was just like that.  You know the drill.  Three days of stall rest.  Lots of medicine.  Bandage changes.  Ice and compression.  Handwalking.  Watching for signs of discomfort or colic.  You know how mom is really good at that kind of thing, and like I said, Uncle Mike has a tiny human, so another set of hands were needed.  I knew you'd understand.

But today is the day my love!  I am coming to see you!  I have been staring at your sweet face from the background of my phone (the little black thing I am usually carrying, which -- ahem -- now has teeth marks on it because you like to put in your mouth), and missing you very dearly.  So I know you have missed me too, but I will see you soon!  And I am bringing treats!


Monday, November 7, 2011

The Wrong Ending

This story had the wrong ending.  This wasn't the way it was supposed to go. 

You were supposed to have an unprecedented career in showjumping, adored by fans across the nations for years, and continue to amaze us with your talent, agility, strength, and heart.  You were supposed to be retired, with that wise old look on your face that teenaged stallions get, and paraded around the ring adorned with a blanket of roses.  Crowds of people were supposed to stand and applaud your many, many accomplishments, music playing and riders choking up with pride and esteem.  You were supposed to live out your twilight years in some big green pasture, calling out to mares across the fencelines, pinning your ears at geldings walking past, and nickering to grooms for treats and scratches.

You were not supposed to come crashing to the ground in a heartbreaking, violent, tragic way.  The crowd was not supposed to look on in horror, hands clapped across mouths and tears streaming down their cheeks.  You should have ended this competition with a victory gallop, a ribbon streaming from your bridle.  There shouldn't have been a moment of silence.  The competition shouldn't have been cancelled.  This was definitely not the way the story was supposed to play out. 

I haven't been blogging regularly lately because I have some kind of prolonged writer's block and I find myself with no idea what to say these days (but everything is fine, Tucker and I are well). I felt compelled to write something today though, both to honor this great horse and to reflect on how profoundly his passing has affected me.  It has left me feeling morose, a little indignant at life, and completely empty. 

Go home and hug your horses tonight.  Tell them you love them and you're grateful for them.  And be honored to be part of a sport that allows us to share in the lives of champions like Hickstead.