Monday, December 31, 2012

Adios 2012!

One last post this year... just for old time's sake...   New Year's Resolution:  START BLOGGING AGAIN!

I have been a terrible blogger as of late, but (prior misrepresentations and broken promises notwithstanding), I am resolving to start writing again in 2013.  Life has been getting in my way again, but I have a few blog post fragments that I've drafted in my absence that I'll finish up and share with you at some point next year, including:
  • Jeff Cook Clinic Recap (Tucker was brilliant, and Jeff was inspiring as always),
  • Hurricane Sandy Success Story (I swear, something good did come out of the horrendous storm that ravaged my home state and almost destroyed my childhood home),
  • Bernie Traurig Clinic Recap (a.k.a., that time I traded mounts with one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse), and 
  • The Tale of Goldilocks and the 300 Dressage Saddles (still a work in progress). 
For now, let me catch you up on what we've been doing.  We are still learning dressage, and I love it (go ahead DQ's, tell me you told me so, tell me how much fun your sport is and what all I've been missing, I get it now).  Tucker loves it too.  In fact, Cindy's been riding him once a week and he's picking it up way faster than I am. 

Dressed up like a dressage horse!

I always suspected he's smarter than me, and this basically proves it.  These days, when I ask for something, he won't do it if I don't ask right.  While he used to just humor me and "kind of" give me a shoulder-in, even if I didn't ask perfectly, now I get: "um... that's not how you're supposed to do it."  This results in conversations such as the following:

Hmph. Teacher's pet.

Learning dressage reminds me of when I was learning Italian in college.  I had ten years of French under my belt, and when I would struggle for a word, I'd fall back on the French word, with an Italian accent.  Which was sometimes close, but almost never right.  That's what it feels like learning dressage.  I've been riding my whole life, and I feel like I should know how to ask for something, but it's all just a little different these days and while I have a pretty decent background, it still feels pretty foreign sometimes. 

There are some awesome "Ah ha!" moments though, and I live for them.  The first time I felt his haunches actually get lower behind my saddle (who knew this thing came with hydraulics?), or the other day when I got him to engage at the walk and squealed out, "OooOOh!  He just got bouncy!" -- those are pretty awesome.  They usually come in between me grunting and sweating and cursing under my breath (which by the way is a really bad idea when you're wearing an ear piece with a mic -- "I heard that").  Just when I feel like I'm really getting somewhere and I put in a really good workout, Cindy tells me that was just the warm-up.  I'm beginning to understand why other disciplines call us Hunter Princesses.

Speaking of Hunter Princess, we haven't ventured too far to the darkside just yet.  While I am shopping for dressage saddles (more on that later), we still consider ourselves hunters.  I went for a jumping lesson with Alicia last week and we both agreed that the dressage is really, really helping Tucker (and me).  Turning to the jumps was just like steering a car.  No bulge in the corners, no drift in the lines, no haunches slipping to the outside as we turn up the diagonal.  Best of all, Tucker is -- for the first time in his life -- opening up his canter in the lines and staying balanced and level.  No more falling on his nose and getting strung out when I ask him to move up.  This is coming partly from me learning to use my core, and partly from Tucker learning self-carriage. 

Very proud of himself after his jump school.
So we're using dressage as a training method to get the horse and rider stronger and straighter... I feel like we are really onto something here!  Oh wait, that method's been around for thousands of years now, hasn't it?  Well no use reinventing the wheel....

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Back in the Swing of Things

So the good news is, trial is now officially over, and I can get back to riding, and blogging about it.  The better news is that we won the trial, so all that hard work wasn't for nothing.  The judge didn't hand me a blue ribbon at the end, which I found a little odd... but perhaps it's in the mail.

Tucker and I have been back to regular work for about three weeks and he's doing really, really well.  We've been taking dressage lessons from the trainer at our farm (Cindy, you may remember she once let me ride one of her dressage mares -- results were comical) and I am loving them.  Not that I'm going to leave hunterland anytime soon, but I am definitely going to keep up with the lessons as a way to get Tucker more supple, straight, and forward.

I think part of what I like so much is hearing things from a new perspective.  The concepts aren't new, just presented differently.  Example:  I've always worked on keeping Tucker from popping his outside shoulder.  Now I'm working on not letting him collapse his inside shoulder.  See?  Same concept, just approaching it differently.  I like thinking of it this way better, it feels less like a game of whack-a-mole that I'm never going to win.  Everything is falling under the general umbrella of "forward and straight," which is a goal we can work with.

The first lesson, we worked a lot on getting him forward, and straight.  Cindy started off by pointing out that a crooked horse doesn't go forward.  Yes, agreed.   I like the idea of always sending him forward through and after every exercise, since that's what we need to do over fences as well.  We started off with a bunch of quarter turns (squaring off the "corners" of our twenty-meter circle).  Tucker was at first pretty reluctant making quarter turns to the right, but we've been working on them and now he thinks they're pretty easy (not to say we're doing it right, but it's a close enough approximation for my standards).  Cindy told me not to ride each direction using "textbook" aids, but to use the aids Tucker needs in each direction, which of course makes perfect sense.  So, to the right, since he's stiffer, lead him with an opening right rein and outside leg, instead of outside rein and leg. 

Then we worked on some leg yields, some shoulder-in, and renvers (haunches-out, as I've always called it).  The renvers is pretty pitiful at this point, not going to lie.  For the shoulder-in we really just need to work on getting less angle, which is something I've worked on before.  For the renvers... I just can't seem to get my weight to shift in the saddle the right way and I end up feeling all crooked and there's poor Tucker with a big old question mark in a thought-bubble over his head.  It just needs work, we'll put it that way.

The second lesson, we had some really nice moments.  At the trot we worked on getting me riding "up the hill" (a concept completely familiar to my DQ readers and brand-spanking-new to me).  We also incorporated lots of leg yields to free up his shoulders so I can move his shoulder where I want it.  I was amazed to find that when I open up my right shoulder, Tucker is more willing to move his right shoulder (amazing how riding properly fixes things, isn't it?).  At this point Cindy has me working on just getting him going forward and moving laterally, not worrying just yet about getting actual cross-over (I assume at some point the finer points will come to us). 

All this work really helped with our canter, so I could keep his shoulders straight instead of just letting him throw his shoulder to the outside, and keep riding "uphill" so he doesn't just fall on his forehand and swing his haunches around like a fish.  In fact, it worked so well that at one point after about three or four really straight, engaged canter strides, Tucker decided this was really just much hard and protested by leaping through the air and striking his front feet at the ground while simultaneously swapping his lead back and forth... impressive.  Apparently he decided that if it was tricks I wanted, he would give me some tricks.  We had been doing smaller ten-meter circles, pushing his shoulder to the inside and then getting the inside bend, so he'd engage his left hind, but after the little, er, explosion, we went back to the more familiar leg yielding exercise and then back to our canter, and got the same end result from a different approach. 

Funny horse.  When certain concepts are first introduced to him in our lessons, he worries so much about what I'm asking and whether he's doing it right that he ends up stressing himself out too much to actually do it.  The next two rides after each lesson are great.  It's like he needs to go home and think about it, and then the next time I'm in the saddle he's goes from, "Omigod please stop torturing me I am not a dressage horse," to, "Ohhhh you want my shoulder over there.  Yeah I can do that.  Here you go."  And then he gets lots of praise, which, after all, is all he's ever wanted.

I bet for your average dressage rider, these lessons would be appallingly boring, but for Tucker and me, we are working our little tails off.  Seriously.  At one point Cindy laughed at Tucker, who was drenched in sweat half way through the lesson despite Cindy's observation that he "really wasn't working too hard."  I pointed out that I was also drenched in sweat and for the record, we were working really hard.  All a matter of perspective, I suppose....

Monday, September 3, 2012

Tucker Fixes Everything!

Wow.  I'm so sorry, I let the entire month of August go by without even a word.  I hope you've all enjoyed the end of your summers... I'm still in trial hell, but there's light at the end of the tunnel at the moment, which means those of you who are still willing to follow along will be treated to much more frequent blog posts.  I promise!  I have about two more weeks of trial left, and then the dust should settle. 

The good news is, you didn't miss much on the Tucker front for the month of August.  The bad news is, that's because he was lame for most of the month.  Nothing major, he popped a splint on his right front, and although he was sound at first, he soon decided it really hurt.  (I'm pretty sure the other horses tipped him off that he could be getting a vacation and major sympathy points if he limped, so he did.)  It was actually perfect timing, I was too busy to ride, and he was too sore to work, so he just had a three week vacation of turnout and rest.  Thankfully (I can't stress that word enough), I have an amazing barn manager, Cindy, who took great care of him while I couldn't get there and treated the offending limb with surpass and ice.  He'll probably be left with an ugly bump on his leg, but let's face it, he wasn't exactly a conformation hunter to begin with.

This weekend we went back to (mostly walking) work, and I can't tell you the difference it has made in my general outlook on life.  I'm sort of glad that there haven't been too many witnesses for these rides. I don't think they're very pretty. I couldn't care less though. It feels so nice to be back on my horse, and I can't get enough of this view:

I tell you, Tucker fixes everything.  I was starting to get cranky, and irritable, and kind of depressed, focusing on all the wrong things and forgetting how lucky I am.  Three days of riding and currying and bathing and tack cleaning, and I am 100% better.  I have learned that I am definitely NOT the kind of girl who could ever give up the horses, not even temporarily. I'm completely and utterly miserable without my horse time.  This will be a lifelong affliction, I am afraid.  There are worse vices to have though!

As for Tucker, he was very happy to see me and has been incredibly affectionate and snuggly, which I just adore.  So nice to feel loved.  The first day I got there he was already out in his field, talking to his girls over the fence, and when I called his name he spun completely around and flung his head straight up in the air with his big old ears pointed right at me, and my heart just melted.  Then he met me at the gate and just couldn't get enough of sniffing my hair and snuffling my tummy and licking my hands....  A non-horse person would think this is completely nuts, but it actually brought tears to my eyes, I know you all can relate.

He's not so happy, on the other hand, about all the walking we are doing undersaddle.  If you recall, the last time we were recovering from an injury, all the walking resulted in him hacking into my blog and begging for help.  He's equally enthused about it this time, and keeps trying to see whether instead of leg yielding maybe I meant trot?  Or maybe instead of just one longside at a time, I might like to keep going around the ring a few times?  It's so tempting, because his trot feels great, but I don't want to push him too hard or make him sore, and I have to be the sensible one.  So we walk for about 40 minutes and trot for maybe a total of 5, spread out over the course of the ride, and only in straight lines for now.

I'm trying to keep him entertained at the walk with lateral work and lots of circles and changes of direction.  The first time I asked for a leg yield, it felt like I was riding one of those two-person horse halloween costumes, I'd either get the front or the back to move, but not in unison.  Today's ride saw some slight improvement in that area, though I'm pretty sure we'd still fail a field sobriety test with our walk down the centerline (in his defense, he's not entirely sober.  I've been giving him a little bit of Ace to make sure he doesn't pull any stunts and hurt himself).  He finds all of this mind-numbingly boring, though he does appreciate all the praise he gets for doing work that really isn't very difficult.

Last time this program got him looking really muscled up and nice by the time we were done, so let's hope the same will be true this time:

It's good to be back, readers and bloggers.  I may not have time to catch up on everyone's blogs this week, but hopefully next week.  I can't wait to see what you and your lovely horses have been up to!

Monday, July 2, 2012


Don't you hate when life gets in the way of your riding?  I've been defending a trial for one of my firm's municipal clients which means, essentially, that I've been living at the office.  Now that the worst of it is over, I've come to some shocking revelations:

1.  I have a horse!  He's really great, too.  Almost forgot about him....
2.  I have a blog!  Two blogs, actually.  And there's been nothing but tumbleweeds rolling around on here the past few weeks.  Sorry about that, I hope no one has dust allergies.
3.  It's summer!  I was having trouble determining the season given that I've been living in air conditioning and under flourescent lights for three weeks.

This weekend, once my eyes adjusted to the daylight, I finally got to spend some real quality time with my horse, other than the hour or so I've been able to sneak in to check on him over the past three weeks.  (I've been told by a few people who drive pick-up trucks that Tucker has been coming to the fenceline expectantly when they pull in, hoping it was me, which is basically just the saddest and sweetest thing I've ever heard).

Tucker eyes his saddle suspiciously...
vaguely recalling its purpose.

I'm happy to report that Tucker was really super this weekend!  Even after three weeks off, he wasn't spooky or fresh or tense when I rode him yesterday, just lovely and forward and relaxed.  I lunged Saturday, and while he started off playing a bit, he settled right down in a few minutes, kept one ear trained on me, and responded to all my voice commands, which was a good sign.  My fingers are tightly crossed that the Ulcer Gard is working, and it will be the solution to all the ridiculous spooking and carryings-on as of late.  I don't think I can say for sure until I've had a few more good rides, which I'm planning to do this week.

We now have a new goal, which is to determine whether my horse is, in fact, pregnant, or whether some of this can be shed away with a few weeks of exercise:

I swear I saw the baby kick....

Looks like both of us need to get off our butts and start being mindful that it's bikini season!  Thank goodness at least I don't stay out all night eating....

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

After a week of relatively relaxed rides at the new-old barn. . . we had another not-so-great ride yesterday.  As you recall, I suspected a few weeks ago that Tucker may have been having a mid-life crisis.  Yesterday I had to get off and lunge the poor beast (on a really hot day, which I really hated doing to him), because he was spooking (at something that shouldn't have been quite that scary) so badly that he was becoming unsafe, for both of us.  (Read:  I do not trust my big clumsy horse to stand on his hind legs and not kill us both.)

As you know, these situations cause an immediate morph into Rider-Scientist Extraordinaire.  I'll walk you through my varied list of hypotheses as to the possible causes of this errant behavior, and show you where the Process of Elimination has gotten me so far.

1.  I went with the easiest solution first -- maybe it's just a little extra-special Spring Fever, and maybe he just needs a few pro rides.  Limited success there, I know the pro I was using had one very good ride on him.  Since he was spooking and occasionally acting like a moron (sorry Tucker, but it's true dear) even with the pro, though, I don't think that was the solution.

2.  Next guess was the grain, and this hypothesis definitely had merit.  When I switched barns, we also switched feeds.  He has been on Omelene 400, which is a grain that I love, for about 3 1/2 years now (he also gets beet pulp, but that didn't change).  It's low sugar, low protein (12%), and high fiber, and it's forage-based (beet pulp), not grain-based, which seems to be better for Tucker.  It also has the Amplify nugget built right in, which is a weight-gain supplement I had looked into even before I started this feed.  When we moved, we switched him to Triple Crown Complete, which was the preferred feed of the barn manager there, who is very knowledgeable about nutrition and feeding.  It's also beet pulp-based, and it's the same 12% protein level, so I figured it was comparable.  It is, however, higher in sugar and lower in fiber, and anyone who has ever been on a diet will know immediately that means more calories.  Since Tucker was high as a kite, I thought maybe the change in feed was making him fresh.  Long story short, he's back on the O-400 (has been for several weeks now), but the issue still isn't resolved.  So, the grain-switch may not have helped matters, but the buck (haha, pun intended) does not stop here.

3.  Though this one wasn't on my original list, it occurred to me after I moved that I might have been stressed out by outside factors (read: barn drama), and Tucker was picking up on the bad vibes and responding.  I've been blissfully happy since moving back to the new place, so I don't think that was it.  I am usually 100% willing to take the blame when things go awry, but in this case, I don't think it was my nervous energy causing all the problems.

4.  My next guess is ulcers.  The last time we had stomach trouble, it was after Tucker's first away show.  When we came home, he was cranky undersaddle, super-sensitive to my leg, and throwing temper tantrums in his stall at feeding time (pawing, pacing, slamming his sides into the walls).  We treated for ulcers, then put him on SmartGut, and the behavior stopped.  That was about two years ago.  This time, we moved barns, we switched grain, and I gave him a heavy dose of wormer right before the move (in hindsight, that was bad timing).  I've been gathering as much info as I can, searching the COTH forum, reading veterinary articles, talking to other horse owners, etc.  It seems a lot of horses showed signs of ulcers in the form of massive spooking.  Many riders described it as "Jekyll and Hyde" behavior, which fits Tucker right now to a tee.  Some days he is lovely (like our cross country day, and our hack in the dark the other night), and other days, it is like trying to ride a fire-breathing dragon. 

So, I talked to my vet's office today, and we decided to go through a round of UlcerGard.  I'm going to give him one tube per day for about ten days, and will see if he shows any signs of improvement.  If he does, we'll keep going for another 18 days (good lord that is going to hurt my wallet), and if not, I'll set up a physical with my vet and see if everything is okay otherwise.  (Spooking could be vision-related, or he could be having pain elsewhere, so the tension when he spooks could be increasing the physical discomfort, say if he's already got stiffness in his back or something).  Then again, if all this is inconclusive, he could just be going through a naughty phase, but I'd like to think better of him than that, for now.

Incidentally, FarmVet is having a sale on UlcerGard right now, $29.99 per tube if you buy twelve at a time.  Offer is good until this Friday... which gives me just enough time to transfer money out of my savings.  Sigh.  As quick as I save it, Tucker finds a way to spend it . . . .

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Working Moms

Most of us horse owners aren't fortunate enough to spend all day with our horses, and many of us are stuck in an office all day, instead of covered in dirt and dust at the barn like we ought to be.  For those of us like me, who are chained to a desk most of the time, there are fewer joys in life better than seeing how our beloved horses are spending their time.  Nothing brings a smile to my face quicker than getting a picture of my boy in the middle of my day.

Here's a little sampling from this week:

So sleepy....

"Hey can somebody open this so I can visit the girls?"

Just chillin' with Tigger

And here are a few I took myself last night, when I got to the barn.  There is something so rewarding about dragging yourself out to the farm after a long day at work, when all you want to do is curl up on the couch.  I always get a second wind as soon as I get there and kiss that velvety nose.

"Who's that?"

"Who, her?  That's just my mom."

"She does this a lot.  Just keep eating and try to look cute."

"Hmm.  Okay."

Had a great ride last night after I took these, just a long and low hack in the big outdoor ring.  We finished in almost total darkness, but Tucker didn't mind.  He sees better than me in the dark, so I let him lead the way back to the barn.  I think it makes him feel important.  Such a good boy.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

More Devon Magic: Thursday Night

As I mentioned last week, I was laid up for several days with a nasty bug.  I had planned to go to Devon on Thursday night, to see everyone's favorite chestnut mare in her special retirement ceremony, but had to skip it.  Thankfully, my friend Elise was there, and she offered to do a guest blog post for me about Thursday night's festivities.  (This week may officially become known as Mclain Ward Week here at TTW.)  Enjoy!

Elise and Sapphire
 The Devon Horse Show. Just the name tugs at the heartstrings of every 12-year-old girl who has ever experienced the show. The name evokes thoughts of magnificent horses seamlessly cantering around beautiful courses in a legendary venue. One look through the program at the names etched into the trophies, and you know the Dixon Oval has seen all of the legends of the past 100 years of show jumping. The 2012 edition of the Devon Horse Show did not disappoint, and may have been just a little more special than it had been in years past.
This year’s horse show was an Olympic observation trial. This alone would have made Grand Prix night special, but the real star of the evening was Sapphire. McLain Ward and his team were officially retiring her before the Grand Prix.  Sapphire entered the ring and greeted her public. They loped around and then visited with the adoring crowd while the announcer told Sapphire’s life story, from her birth in Belgium through to her victories on the world stage.

McLain dismounted and removed the saddle and a beautiful cooler was placed over her back (at this point Sapphire looked a bit confused; as if to say, “Hey! I haven’t jumped around yet!!”) McLain then said a few words about his great friend and partner. He managed to thank all of the people involved with not only his horse’s career, but also his own. He was poised and composed. He then walked out with Sapphire.

Sapphire then stood by the entrance of the Gold Ring and patiently posed for pictures with her adoring fans. Professional horsemen, grooms, and children (old and young) stopped to pet, photograph and visit the great champion. Her caretaker, Erica, greeted everyone warmly. Finally it was time for her to go back to her stable and McLain to demonstrate his great composure and win the Grand Prix on Antares F.

Not every great horse has the chance to retire on the main stage at Devon. Sapphire’s retirement ceremony was symbolic of the honor most people wish to bestow on their great friends. Sapphire represents the greatness in all of our horses. They are our friends and partners. They teach us many life lessons. Watching McLain and Sapphire and his team, was a glimpse into the best parts of our sport and how fortunate we are when we get to spend time with a great horse. It is only fitting that her happy ending was part of the magic of Devon.

Guest blogger Elise Cook is not only a great friend of mine and Tucker's, but she also had her own Devon magic in 2012. Originally entered in the Local Hunters with Turtugo, they received “the call” on the Wednesday of the show and were invited to compete in the older Amateur Owner hunters.  In Elise's words, "A splendid time was had by all."  Congrats Elise and Turtle!!
Elise and Turtugo

Monday, June 4, 2012

Starstruck at Devon

Picture this - I'm standing at the in-gate just before the course walk for the Idle Dice Open Stakes Class at Devon.  I have a Press Pass (Sidelines has hooked me up!), and I am trying to play it cool, but internally I am bouncing off the walls.  I am literally standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Beezie Madden and Margie Engle.  Everywhere I look, I see Olympic greatness.  I stand at the gate, snapping photos with my pathetic, amateurish, digital camera, at the literal legends of our sport who are counting out strides just feet from me.  It feels like I'm through the Looking Glass.

Inside the Press Box, I stick out like a sore thumb.  But, I am almost just as thrilled to be shoulder-to-shoulder with real equine journalists (there are people who do this for a living, how cool is that!).  I quickly catch on that nobody really claps in there, and it's all very routine.  They take notes, snap photos, and idly chat about how long the winner interviews will likely take.  Once again, I find myself trying to play it cool.

The class ends, and I have taken dutiful notes on every round, where the rails fell, and which rides I liked.  I've tried to take photos, but once again the pathetic camera has utterly failed me.  (I vowed about a hundred times to upgrade that particular piece of equipment as the class went on.)  When I sat down to write this post, though, I realized nobody tunes in to Tucker the Wunderkind for class results and you've seen my photography skills.  Instead, go to Show World for the results, and check out the photos from Sidelines blogger Beth Harpham at Chasin' - they are fantastic.  And here's the good stuff, from my perspective.

Katie Dinan did something amazing at the beginning of her Open Stakes round that I won't soon forget.  She came to the first line, fences three and four (which, it goes without saying, were larger-than-life), and right in the middle of the line, her horse Nougat du Vallet let out a HUGE buck, about two strides out from the monster oxer that was fence four.  Katie just got him straight again and cleared the oxer with no problem at all.  They had just announced, moments ago, that she was Best Child Rider at Devon in '09.  Just in case anyone forgot that she's not only awesome, but also just a kid.  I was totally impressed, and vowed to remind myself of that moment the next time Tucker flicks an ear at a fly and I think it's a good excuse to make a circle.

After they gave Charlie Jayne his blue ribbon for the class (his ride was completely awesome, by the way), of course they called on my idol, Mclain Ward, to cover him and Antares F with ribbons.  I had already been cleared out of the Press Box (winner interviews coming up, real journalists with deadlines of that day only allowed -- and don't think for a second the lady didn't look right at me when she said that) and was milling around in the crowd, when I remembered that, watching the live feed on Thursday night, I saw Mclain give his ribbon to a little kid.  I quickly positioned myself by the kids at the rail, and waited. 

Sure enough, Mclain and Antares wandered over to the rail, and he handed his Leading Open Jumper Rider Championship ribbon to this charming young lady, Sophie King.  Just as I had done in front of my live feed two days before, I let out an audible "awwww," and looked up at Mclain.  And now I can tell all those meanies who told me that fairy tales aren't real and Prince Charming doesn't exist, that they are wrong.  Because let me tell you . . . he looked down at me from atop his big white horse, and smiled, and then . . . he winked at me.  And then he and his big white horse rode off into the sunset, or at least that's how I remember it.  It took a lot to snap myself back into journalist mode, bend down and get some photos of the incredibly adorable Sophie, and make sure it was okay with her parents that I put her photo in the magazine.  Starstruck is an understatement.

I had already decided that this was the Best Day Ever.  I sat in the press box.  I watched my heroes do the course walk.  My favorite Olympian gave his ribbon to a little girl, and I was there to see it.  And then we had a Moment (okay, so maybe I had a Moment, but I'm counting it).  Devon has always had an air of magic for me, even the years when I was there to groom for yearlings who really didn't want a horse show on their agenda, but this year had been particularly wonderful.

But,  apparently, the stars had even more in store for my inner child, because after the course walk for the High A/O Jumper, where Mclain was coaching some of his students, this happened:

If you can believe this, I managed to introduce myself, shake his hand, and explain that I work for Sidelines and would love a photo with him for the magazine.  He was very gracious, and polite, and even signed the Sapphire Breyer model that belongs to Amy's daughter Sophie.  And thankfully, also had somewhere to be, so that I didn't have time to gush at him or say anything foolish.  I'm blushing furiously in this photo, but let's not tell anyone.  We'll just say I got some sun that day. 

It's official. . .  Devon is magical.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Best Nest

When I was little, The Best Nest was my favorite bedtime story (ironic, given that I've grown up with an irrational, debilitating fear of birds).  If you're not familiar with the story, here's a run-down.  Mrs. Bird wakes up one morning and decides she's sick of the tiny little birdhouse she and Mr. Bird have shared for, the reader must assume, the early years of their marriage, and she's ready to move on up.  So she sends Mr. Bird out on the task of finding more suitable accommodations.  Mr. Bird, eager to please his young wife (who seems a little needy, in hindsight, if you ask me), tries out all kinds of alternatives in an effort to please her: a church tower, which is lovely until the bells ring, a pleasant tree, which becomes very unpleasant when Mr. Raccoon returns home. . . you get the idea.  Lo and behold, by the end of the story, Mr. and Mrs. Bird agree that their old birdhouse is, after all, The Best Nest.

Where am I going with this?

Well, as some of you will recall, I made the decision a few months ago to move Tucker out of the barn that I loved, where he and I had spent countless happy hours for about a year and a half, in favor of another barn, in the hopes that I'd jump more, since it's an H/J place, and I have friends there, fellow amateurs like me, and we'd help each other out with jump schools, etc. (not to mention, drink lots of wine in the tackroom).  The barn I moved to is really beautiful, the facilities are awesome (super clean barn, great footing in the rings, lots of trails, plenty of turnout), and the care is excellent.  Unfortunately, something I hadn't anticipated occurred.  I don't want to give it much blog space, because (1) it's somewhat ridiculous; and (2) I swore to myself I'd never publicly disparage anyone when I started this blog.  I think, though, that I can sum it up in two words, and you'll all know just what I'm talking about:  Barn Drama.  We've all been exposed to it, we've all probably been the victim of it at some point.  It comes in many different flavors, and suffice it to say, this was a flavor I found entirely unpalatable. 

So, I did what I always do in times of crisis, and called up a friend for a drink.  This friend was my former barn manager, and after a little begging on my part, she agreed to find some room for us in the barn again.  No, I'm kidding, actually she told me that everyone misses me and Tucker, and they'd love to have us back!  So here we are, back where we belong.  File this one away in the "If it Ain't Broke Don't Fix It" Category.  Even Tigger, who formerly convinced us all that Tucker's very existence drove him insane, gave the big man an enthusiastic nicker and spent the first twenty minutes of Tucker's arrival like this:

How two tall horsees say hello: 
There is a matching Tucker nose obscured from view
 on the other side of this wall....
Of course, because this is the way my life goes, the day after our arrival I contracted a nasty bug that has had me couch-bound, and Tucker pulled a hind shoe.  So it's been a slow news week.  But, I know Tucker is in good hands, and I hear he is getting along with his new turnout buddy Ace (who is adorable, pictures to follow), and other than being a little chatty (lots of old flames he has to get reacquainted with), he's behaving himself. 

Tucker says:
I love my house
I love my nest
In all the world
This nest is best!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

More Cross-Training; HP's Gone Wild!

Brace yourselves, Tucker fans. . . Tucker and I are really taking this cross-training thing seriously. First, a dressage clinic, and now, cross-country schooling with our friends Dom and CP:

Tucker falls in love with yet another pony...

Haha, okay, so I didn't really go wild, but when I strapped on a safety vest and went marching into the water complex, my inner Hunter Princess just stood there with her mouth gaped open in shock. But Tucker and I had huge smiles on our faces!

Tucker LOVED the water and did lots and lots of splashing.
This is the weirdest horse show we've ever been to...
but I like it!

Dom and I trotted in circles around the water complex giggling like idiots (Best Carousel EVER!) until some real eventers came over the hill to actually school the water complex (the look on their faces was priceless) and we decided to venture elsewhere. . . .

When we tackled the first jump of the day, Tucker was, shall we say, a little bit impressed with the natural obstacles he encountered. Always the gallant hero, Tucker decided that just in case any predators were lurking below, he should clear them by at least four feet:

Scopey, ain't he?
But as the day progressed, and Tucker got the hang of this cross country thing, he relaxed into himself and started jumping more like his normal adorable self, clearing them by a reasonable amount of space:

Such a good boy!

And so brave!

The funniest part of the day, for me, was when I walked my little hunter up to take a look at the bank before I asked him to jump out of the water and onto the bank (you know, given that we've never done anything like that before, I figured I should give him the benefit of the doubt and let him have a look first). Tucker's response? "Oh! Exit that way? Okay, hang on Mom!"

Note the length of my reins....

Clearly, this horse was a five star eventer in a past life or something. He had such a good time. I was so shocked and so over-the-top thrilled at how brave, sane, and willing he was. This horse really is game for just about anything!

My favorite pictures from the day are below, and there are more here on Dom's website (along with pictures of Dom's amazing almost-fall-and-impressive-save, and some great shots of CP the Pony, who was a total rock star).

Water + Horse = Permanent Grin.

Mike laid on the ground to take this, he's pretty brave himself.

This horse is gorgeous, if I do say so myself.

Photo credit for all of these goes to Dom's boyfriend Mike. And ladies (those of you who follow Dom's blog), since I know that there are quite a few Mike fans out there, and having met him I know now that this will embarrass the hell out of him, I want you to know that Mike is just as charming and helpful and good-looking in person as he appears on Dom's blog. He made a comment about being happy to be spending a day around horses -- no, I'm not kidding -- and I just about drove the truck and trailer off the highway. It's a good thing Dom is so incredibly wonderful or else I think we'd all have to hate her.

Oh and I almost forgot! I met Ozzy!! Well, I got molested by Ozzy, is more like it. There are certain horses I know (you may be familiar) that, despite the plain brown wrapper, stand out in a crowd. Ozzy is definitely one of them. You can see his personality from a mile away. He and I were instant friends. He showed me a bunch of his tricks, then pointed out all his most itchy spots and let me scratch them, and then we kind of made out. I know, I know, I barely know the guy, but sometimes when the mood strikes, you just have to go with it. I must say, there is just something about a big bay gelding that tugs at my heartstrings:

Ozzy (photo by Dom)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dr. Norton Weighs in on the Row Boat Incident

Dr. Norton, Oscar, and Marty
Dr. Norton, who runs Norton Veterinary Consulting & Education Resources, has been a friend of mine since we were both riding small pony hunters and studying for spelling tests on the bus to school.  She's a Tucker fan too, and did a great blog post today about The Umbrella Study, in response to the post I did yesterday about Tucker's encounter with a deadly row boat.  I found this study fascinating -- go check it out.  It's cold hard proof that our horses absolutely feed off of our emotions and our thoughts.
After reading about the Umbrella Study I thought back on the ride.  I think we all know that I must have been wondering if Tucker was going to behave himself on our walk around the lake.  I was probably feeling really comfortable while we took the path we always take, but as soon as we rounded the turn, making a right instead of a left (onto unfamiliar territory), I'm willing to bet my heart rate went up, sending all kinds of early warning signals to Tucker.  It's no coincidence he spotted the row boat/saber tooth lying in wait just after we rounded that turn.  And I bet my heart rate continued to increase with every spook and spin, and probably didn't go back to normal until we reached the row boat itself and Tucker didn't seem all that scared, which in turn signaled to Tucker that everything was indeed fine, cueing him in that it was okay to proceed around the lake.

In sum, I'm willing to admit that I started it.  Tucker is (once again) the brains of this operation.

Only as scary as you make it...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Trust Walk

Ever noticed how a lot of things in riding follow the old "chicken or the egg" principle?  Sometimes it's tough to know who is feeding off of whom, and who started it.

I was pretty much fully recovered physically from my fall last week by Thursday (thanks to a steady routine of Sore-No-More, Advil, and Vodka), but the mental effects lingered well into the weekend.  I've only been bucked off my horse once before (I've mentioned he's basically a saint, right?), a few years ago, and I got pretty hurt, so it was a few weeks before I could get back on.  After that fall, I found myself terrified of him, and had to lunge him before I got on (yes, the big sweet overgrown labrador, on the lunge line, for no reason at all, looking at me like I was nuts).  This time was far less traumatic, but I still found myself feeling overly cautious when I climbed back into the tack.  When he spooked at a jump standard as we trotted past it, I couldn't help but wonder -- am I creating this, because I'm worried about it?  They read us so well, it's entirely possible that I was giving off some weird vibes.

So after the ride, we went for a long walk.  There is a beautiful pond on the farm and I wanted to go walk around it.  Tucker had never been back there, and ordinarily I would try to take him with a buddy the first time.  But I felt strongly, on this beautiful Spring morning, with the birds chirping and the sun shining and everything smelling like sunshine and flowers, that we needed some bonding time.  So we headed out alone, and Tucker marched along like a champ, enjoying the breeze, ears forward, tail swinging, until we got about 100 yards away from the pond.

That's when we spotted the Row Boat Tied to the Tree.  Not something that would scare you or me, but Tucker explained, rather calmly [picture the voice-over on a National Geographic documentary], standing stock still in his tracks, that he is a 1200-pound, juicy, tasty, lean, flight animal, and he was therefore altogether NOT in the habit of nonchalantly approaching unidentified objects that could very well turn out to be sleeping predators just waiting for a mid-morning snack.  It's just plain common sense.  Obviously.

As I asked him to move forward, he became insistent that turning and running was for my benefit as well, and made a few bids to spin, which I somehow avoided by sitting still and guiding him forward with an opening rein.  Tucker, on the other hand, was in FULL DRAMA LLAMA MODE.  He is, after all, primarily responsible for my welfare, and will bravely escort me to safety in the face of certain danger, when necessary.  So we took about ten steps at a time, stopped, threw the periscope up, and stared at the row boat/sleeping jaguar, about ten times.  I tried to reassure him that it was just a boat.  He said, "I DON'T KNOW FROM BOATS."  I tried to reason with him, I asked him what else would be beside a lake besides a row boat?  He sighed and explained that horses don't have the time or energy for that kind of logic.  Spook now, think later, live to tell the tale.

Once we got about ten feet from the boat (after a meandering, circling, stop-and-go journey), Tucker lowered his head, snorted, sighed, and said "Ohhhhhhh.  That's not scary.  Sheesh mom, you should really lighten up."  And then proceeded to walk past it, unasked, as though nothing had occurred.  I burst out laughing and gave him a pat. Was he playing games with me?  Did I anticipate that he would spook at the boat, and put the idea in his head?  Or did I handle it just right, calmly encouraging him to walk forward, knowing all along that once he saw it, he wouldnt' be afraid?  (You may notice, new readers, that I tend to overthink things, just a tad.)

Then we got to the Trust Walk part of our ride.  Walking around the lake, we had about six feet of flat-ish surface, with a steep drop into the woods to our right, and water to our left.  Not wanting to swim or somersault, I explained to Tucker that I was counting on him to be brave.  If he spooked, we'd be in trouble.  So it was up to him -- I was relying on him to take care of me.  Wouldn't you know it?  Tucker didn't spook once.  Not at the squawking geese, not at the huge upturned tree, not at the picnic table.  We came to a shady spot under a big tree, and Tucker stopped, cocked a hind leg, and seemed to be pausing to take in the scenery.  He was right, by the way -- it's beautiful out there.  The pond, the meadow, the trees, the wildflowers.  And as we stood there, just a little girl and her big brown horse, I realized that as soon as I trusted him, he morphed back into the trusty steed I know and love.

We walked back to the barn on the buckle, blissful and relaxed.  I fell in love with those giant ears all over again (for the 100th time), and stayed in a good mood for the rest of the day.  Amazing how they do that for us, isn't it?  I don't remember who said it, but an older wiser horseman once told me that if you treat them like they're crazy, they'll show you crazy.  My goal for Wednesday's lesson:  treat him like the good boy I know he can be.  I get enough crazy in my life outside the tack, thankyouverymuch.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Congratulations to the winner of the first ever TTW Giveaway.  One of our facebook fans (now at 125 and counting!), Beth Stelzleni, of S-Squared Eventing at Wishing Tree Farm, is the big winner of a Sidelines Magazine subscription!  Congrats Beth, and thank you for liking the blog!

Beth says she never wins anything (though her show record speaks to the contrary), so I'm very happy she won our giveaway!  Beth is originally from Florida, and is now an eventing and dressage trainer based out of Athens, Georgia.  Beth has been riding for over twenty years.  She says this makes her sound old, but I've been riding even longer, and I still think of myself as a kid (with a law degree. . . how did that happen?) so I don't think twenty years of riding amounts to old age at all.  She started out in hunter world (I knew I liked her) and now competes in eventing, dressage, and even ventures back over to H/J land to compete in the jumper ring as well.  She enjoys teaching students in all of these disciplines. . . so if you're in the Georgia area and in need of a good coach, maybe you can look Beth up!

Beth, incidentally, has also put in a specific request for an Equestrian Heartthrob of the Robert Redford variety, and I must say that man has classic good looks that never go out of style, so I am more than happy to oblige.

Here you go, Beth!  How did I do?

Thank you all for liking TTW on facebook and for participating in the giveaway.  Hopefully there will be many more where that came from!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tucker's Mid-Life Crisis

Remember how Danny changed
 after that first summer?
My horse appears to be suffering from a mid-life crisis.  He did just turn ten, after all.  Seems to be in the midst of some sort of existential dilemma, I'm afraid.  Perhaps it's an identity crisis?  He's been a good guy for so long, maybe he's just experimenting with the bad-boy persona.  Feeling his wild oats, literally.

I had a jumping lesson yesterday and all started out well.  We actually had some real lead change breakthroughs (!). We worked on counter-cantering, switching from outside to inside bend, and then we'd ask for the change just before the corner by pushing him out, stepping my weight to the outside and then asking lightly with my outside leg.  I missed a few at first, but once I got it, they were great -- smooth, and relaxed, and clean.  Everyone's always told me the counter-canter is a great tool for learning changes, but I feel like now it's finally clicking for me.

Then we started jumping, and things started off fine while we were working on some single verticals on a circle.  Then Tucker's turnout buddy left the ring, which shouldn't be that much of a crisis, unless you a big fresh horse looking for a good excuse.  He was clearly tense, but thus far behaving (other than squealing -- which I could always do without), and I figured he'd get over it in a minute. When we added another vertical on the diagonal, landing with a sharp left turn, Tucker was a bit strong -- pulling me to the jump on the last stride, then grabbing the bit and rooting the reins on landing.  Still rideable, but less than pretty.  Then we added another vertical on the diagonal, off the short turn, going toward home, and all hell broke loose.  Tucker apparently mistook that vertical for the starting gate at Belmont Park, so we landed going Mach 10.  (Not exactly the stuff that winning hunter rounds are made of).

So, the next time we jumped that vertical, instead of heading straight down the back stretch -- er, diagonal -- we opted to land and continue turning left back to the rail.  Tucker did not approve of this plan at all, and voiced his opinion with some head shaking and more rooting of the reins, but at this point I was still trying my best to ignore him.  The next time we came to this fence, again planning to turn left, Tucker decided he had had quite enough and opted forego the subtleties of head tossing in lieu of a more definite statement. 

It was one of those jumps where you know before the horse leaves the ground that things are going nowhere good.  You know that feeling when the horse grabs the bit between his teeth, jumps the meager 2'6" vertical beneath him like it's the last fence of the Aachen Grand Prix, and lands with every muscle flexed and ready for launch?  Yup, it was one of those.  In the midst of an extremely athletic series of leaps, twists, broncs, and bucks, I heard a voice in my head say, quite calmly actually, "You are not staying on this one.  Just fall."  Then, because Tucker is so gosh darn tall and was roughly ten feet in the air at this point to begin with, the voice said, a little more panicky, "Where the heck is the ground?!"

It was just like this, except I was in the fetal position at this point.
THUD.  Oh yes, there it is.  Thankfully, we just got new footing in the outdoor ring, and it was a soft landing.  Other than some scrapes on my arm from the sand and what is sure to be a splendid bruise on my butt, I'm completely fine.  Still, the makers of Advil may send me a thank you note for my patronage today. 

After we caught the wild beast, Lindsay got on and jumped him for about 15-20 minutes straight.  She was firm with him to start out with, and had to pull him up when he landed and threatened to repeat his dazzling PBR performance, but as soon as he started behaving she rewarded him by being soft again.  It didn't take him long to realize that life is a whole lot easier when he plays by the rules.  I got back on and jumped a single vertical on the circle a few times, then did my little course twice more.  By now I had my horse back.  I was able to ride really softly to each fence, give him a nice release, and he was willing to wait or calmly extend his canter, as requested, no emergency dismount necessary.  He even seemed a bit contrite.

This isn't the first time in the past few weeks that I've had a rough jumping session with him.  There was this ride, where he wasn't naughty but really strong, and there were a few others in between that weren't exactly stellar.  Basically, he just hasn't been as rideable as usual, but I was chalking it up to Spring Fever.  Now it's clear that we have something that needs to be addressed, so of course I'm making my usual rider list of "what could be causing this" and will be going through the isolation of variables process until I figure out a solution (you know the usual suspects: training, attitude, pilot error, discomfort, ulcers, feed program, etc.).  I swear, teams of NASA scientists have nothing on a rider trying to figure out her horse's most recent change in behavior.

This week's plan is to have Lindsay do two jump schools with him during the week, and I'll take another lesson this weekend, to see if a few pro rides will bring him back to his senses.  He didn't jump that much this winter, so it's possible he's just a bit over-zealous now that we're back outside and doing courses.  Let's hope it's that simple.

Maybe I should watch Grease again. . .  Sandy sure seemed to know how to straighten her bad boy out.

p.s. - Today is the last day to enter my Giveaway!  Like Tucker the Wunderkind and Sidelines Magazine on facebook for a chance to win a free subscription to Sidelines.  Winner will be announced tomorrow on Tucker's facebook page.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Equestrian Heartthrobs

Okay, enough of the cute pony photos and sappy birthday posts. . .   I know why I was really invited to Sidelines.  I've had a rather unpleasant week, so I needed a little fun.  I decided this time to post one of each of the guys that have been requested from my readers via the facebook page or in comments on earlier blog posts. . .   although I draw the line at Gyllenhaal.  Seriously ladies, his nose takes up half his face.   Anyway, I hope you all enjoy these.  I am officially taking requests. . . .

Equestrian Bradley Cooper:

Equestrian Brad Pitt:

Equestrian George Clooney:

Equestrian Matt Damon:

Equestrian Patrick Dempsey:

Equestrian Johnny Depp (back by popular demand):

And, back by (my own) demand, Equestrian Ryan Reynolds:

Hope that made your day a little brighter.

Monday, May 7, 2012

My Niece's First Pony Ride!

This is quite possibly going to be my most favorite blog post ever -- I finally got my 2-year-old niece, Ella, on a real pony (for those of you who are new to the blog, I have been hatching this evil plan encouraging Ella to love ponies since roughly a few months after she was born).   It was quite possibly my happiest day as an aunt.  She loved it!

The pony in question is Fuzzy, who belongs to a friend of mine.  Some of you may remember from this post, in which Tucker fell madly in love with Fuzzy.  Fuzzy was so wonderful all afternoon for his pony ride.  He apparently loves little girls just as much as they love him.  He was a perfect gentleman.  (I may also be in love with him.  It's easy to do.)

We arrived at the barn mid-afternoon, my niece bearing a bag full of apples and carrots and VERY excited about the prospect of ponies.

Once we actually met Fuzzy, we were a little bit less brave, which I expected.  So I gave Ella some time to get better acquainted with the pony, and she helped me lead him around the ring.

Fuzzy, saint that he is, stopped on a dime every time she wanted to come up and get a better look at him, and soon she had pet him all over and was voicing her strong desire to ride.  After holding her up a few times so she could see the saddle and where her feet would go, and where she'd hold the reins, she was ready to climb on.

It was all smiles from here on out.  That's grandma (my mom) in the background.  She has been down this road before... she knows a pony-crazed kid when she sees one.

Note that her heels are already down.  Never had a lesson.  I believe she's a natural.

This is my favorite photo of the day.  The blissed-out-I-love-ponies face. 

And this would be my second-favorite.

Or maybe this one...

Or this one....

Is there anything cuter than a tiny child grooming a tiny pony?

Ella is still talking about Fuzzy.  When they got home that night, Ella's mom asked her if she rode a horsie that day.  Her response?  "No Mommy, I rode a pony."  I ADORE this child.

I can't wait to bring her back for another ride.  I wonder if she'll be braver right from the start, or if it will still take some getting used to again.  I wouldn't know, I pretty much flung myself at every pony-type creature I ran into at her age.  Next time, we'll be stopping at Dover first to get a helmet that fits.  Everyone please remind me she's too young for me to buy an entire leadline outfit!!  But wouldn't she be so cute in garters and jods???