Sunday, January 15, 2012

Update on Mclain Ward

In case you haven't heard about this yet, Mclain Ward suffered a shattered kneecap (though originally reported as a broken femur) in a fall during the Grand Prix in Wellington yesterday.  For the full story, please read yesterday's post first.

I haven't been able to find too much news yet, but there is an update reported on the COTH thread. According to someone who spoke with Lee McKeever (Mclain's barn manager, and one of the members of Sapphire's "team"), Mclain's surgery went very well last night, three of the four parts of the fracture are now held together with wires and pins, and another piece was removed.  At this point, Mclain's doctors are estimating eight to ten weeks of no weight bearing, and a total of twelve weeks before riding.

Of course, the biggest question on everyone's mind right now is the Olympics, and whether one of the strongest members of our team will be able to participate.  Given the schedule above, it doesn't sound like Mclain will be riding before the Olympic trials in March, but at this point that's speculation, and I am going to remain optimistic where one of my heroes is concerned.

Even if the trials don't happen, there is still a chance Mclain will be able to participate.  As this Star-Ledger article pointed out, "[i]f Ward misses the trials but heals after that, he could still have a shot at the team as a subjective choice, provided he is able to ride and do well in a series of observation shows during the spring."  If anyone can pass a subjective test, it's Mclain Ward.  A Phelps Sports article issued this evening also stated that it's possible that Mclain will receive a bye to perform in the Olympics, given that Sapphire ("Sara") has two gold medals and Antares F ("Andy") has a gold medal from the Pan Am games.

I am not going to give up hope.  An athlete of his caliber certainly has access to the best medical care and all possible advantages for a speedy recovery.  For now, I simply wish Mclain a quick return to health and the horses and sport that he loves.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mclain Ward Injured at WEF

I bring you, unfortunately, heartbreaking news.  Mclain Ward was injured tonight during the Grand Prix in Wellington.  And in the same week that Sapphire went back to work.  Ugh, just such terrible news.

Here is the story reported by COTH as of tonight:

Top show jumper Mclain Ward has broken his leg in a fall during the $30,000 Surpass Grand Prix in Wellington, Fla., on the evening of Jan. 14.
Ward’s mount in the class, Oh 'd Eole, veered to the left jumping out of a combination and both she and Ward fell. Medics attended to Ward, who was transported out of the ring in a medical golf cart and then to Wellington Regional Medical Center. The horse was unhurt in the fall.
According to his barn manager, Erica McKeever, Ward suffered a compound fracture of the patella, or a shattered knee cap, and is being attended by specialists at Wellington Regional including orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Craig Ferrell. As of 11:00 p.m., he was being prepped for surgery. The Chronicle will update readers on Ward's status tomorrow.
Ward and Oh 'd Eole won the $30,000 WEF Challenge Cup Round 1 on Jan. 12.
According to this thread containing posts from folks who were on the scene, however, Mclain suffered a compound fracture to his femur and a dislocated patella.  I'm not sure which is the most reliable source of information, but in any event, it was a bad fall and a serious injury.  I will do another blog post once I have more information.

Wishing Mclain all the best and a very speedy recovery.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Your Friday Fantastic

That's right, not a Friday Funny, but a Friday Fantastic.

I started watching this video and thought, "oh cool, I did a drill ride like this in high school."  Then around 0:46 I realized I did NOT do anything of the sort.  You'll have to see it for yourself.

Disclaimer:  DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.  And for goodness sake, wear a helmet.  And with that said, on to the video.


These horses -- and riders -- are incredible.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tucker Joined Facebook!

Well, okay, in fairness, I signed up for facebook on his behalf.  I never let him NEAR any device with access to the internet.  I don't need 20lb bags of treats auto-shipped with my Smartpaks every month.

Anyway...  I created a facebook page for the best big brown horse in the world, so now you can "follow" us on the Book.  Mainly I wanted a space where I could share all of my favorite pictures of my boy, and I'm hoping it will attract additional readers to the blog and even further expand this wonderful community of readers that we currently have. 

I will continue to add more photos, will use the page to provide short Tucker updates in between blog posts (or when things get crazy busy for me), and upcoming blog posts will automatically be published there.  You can also post comments and questions for me there (hopefully nice ones?).  I also plan to use it as a space to share some of the funny horse-related stuff and interesting equine news items I find.  It's funny, I fought joining facebook forever, and now I can't really imagine how we ever did without it.  I am a fan of facebook.  Sue me.* 

So what are you waiting for?  Click that badge over there on the sidebar.  Or click this link

Thanks friends!

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* Please don't literally sue me.  I would rather not have The Social Network II star a short brunette with glasses, nor have its plot loosely based on my real life events.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Chapter

It seems that even I can't escape the tendency to start fresh at the start of a new year, even though I generally don't like the New Year's holiday and think resolutions are typically setting oneself up for failure...  I digress.  The point of this post is that Tucker and I are about to start a new chapter, one which hopefully you'll all enjoy following along with.

You may have noticed I haven't been blogging about taking lessons lately... that's because I haven't been.  It started for financial reasons, and then I was really busy for a while, and then I got sick... long story short, I've been doing my own thing for the past few months, with the exception of attending a clinic once in October and once in November.  I thought I'd be missing my lessons terribly, but the truth is, I don't.  And that's not a dig at trainers or at anyone in particular, and that's in no way shape or form to be interpreted as saying I don't need help (because I do, and I will), I've just been really enjoying figuring things out myself.  Which came as a surprise to me.

The thing about my schedule is that I work long hours during the week, so I don't get to the farm until around 7 or 8 pm.  While I still try to give my horse a good solid ride, sometimes Tucker and I aren't doing much more than getting his parts moving and enjoying each others' company.  Which is something I'm completely fine with, and enjoy.  To be perfectly honest with myself and you, though, I really don't have the focus, the energy, or the time to have an in-depth training session during the week.  So that means I do most of my "substantive" riding on the weekends.   

I had to take a step back and slow things down a while to realize this.  Now that I've had some time without taking lessons every weekend, I've realized that if I take a lesson or show every weekend, I'm not really practicing in between.  The truth is I am still working on things that I learned in my clinics, and those were months ago.  And since I haven't signed up for the Olympics, I'm really in no hurry and would rather figure things out right and really "fix" them before I move on to the next project.

Since I'm not taking lessons regularly though, it means I'm not jumping as much.  I try to set jumps for myself, but I don't want to be in the way of the other riders, and I can only do so much getting on and off to adjust the fences for myself, so I usually end up setting something very simple, or just jumping whatever little fences are set up for the lessons.  Again, not such a bad thing, since we've been practicing fundamentals like pace, rhythm and straightness, but if we are going to be ready to jump around a 3' course again in the Spring, we need to do a little more.

For that reason, I've made the somewhat difficult decision to move Tucker to a new farm.*  This came as another surprise to me, because I love my current farm.  The facility is great, they get tons of turnout, nice rings, access to trails, I get along with all the other boarders there, and Cindy takes excellent care of my boy.   Plus, I love being the one making all the decisions about his feed, his program, what he needs and doesn't need, without feeling the need to conform to a trainer's "system" or "program."  For the past year and a half, Tucker and I have been extremely happy there.  So I've never considered moving him.

Then I started toying with the idea of getting an apartment of my own (which has since been abandoned because my roommate and I realized we'd be very unhappy if I did).  One of the apartments I looked at was near the farm where my friend Kathleen boards, which sparked the conversation that a stall was opening up there, and got me to thinking about how this could be a great next move for Tucker and me.  We'd have many of the same benefits we have now (great care, nice facility, trails, lots of turnout), and the added bonus of a fellow h/j amateur and friend on site.  We can help each other with setting jumps, building courses and grids, and grooming at horse shows.  Neither one of us is riding with a trainer on a regular basis at the moment, so we've got a similar mindset.  We'll call it the Amateurs-Helping-Amateurs experiment! 

So it's settled now, Tucker and I will be moving to our new home at the end of February.  I am very excited to be starting the new leg of our journey.  Sorry for the somewhat long-winded post, but I had a lot to catch you guys up on! 
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*This means a stall is opening up at my current farm.  You've heard me rave about it, so if you are in the Mercer County NJ area and looking for affordable, quality boarding, email me at tuckerthewunderkind@gmail.com.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Horsemastership: Do Try this at Home

So this weekend Tucker and I made plans to visit my friend Kathleen, at the farm where she keeps her horses, so that we could set up a gymnastic exercise for each other and jump Tucker and her horse through it.  I had of course watched the Horsemastership sessions last week, and I was itching to try out the gymnastics that Kent Farrington had set up on Day 2.  I had set up one of the simplest exercises the night before in our ring, which Tucker of course mastered almost immediately. 

Crossrail with rail set 9 feet in front, and 9 feet behind

Needless to say I was more than happy to see, when I pulled up to the farm, that Kathleen was in the process of setting up the very same gymnastics I had in mind.  We modified the exercise slightly to work with our ring dimensions, but the purpose was the same -- to get the horse to work out his balance himself and jump correctly, and to correct and steady the rider's position.  We also had a five-stride outside line set to be a little bit forward, so that we could practice collection in the gymnastic and then going forward again in the line.

Tucker was a superstar.  We had the exercise pictured above at the end of the ring, on the short side, and then down the center line we had a gymnastic of four x-rails in a row, set 18 feet apart, with a rail nine feet in front, nine feet behind, and exactly in the between each jump.  In other words:  ground rail - 9 feet - crossrail - 9 feet - ground rail - 9 feet - cross rail, and so on.  I would jump the exercise above on a circle, then down the long side of the ring, and up the center line through the gymnastic, landing and turning the opposite way and repeating that in the other direction.  Tucker was very clever about it right from the start, read the distances and regulated himself accordingly with very little assistance from me.

I worked on keeping my thumbs on top of the reins (per Kent Farrington), sitting on my "fanny" (per Anne Kursinski), and not getting ahead of the horse (per Mclain Ward).  Incidentally -- in case I needed more absolute proof that I haven't been working hard enough as of late -- my core is aching today.  My back, my sides, and my abs feel like I was rock climbing or maybe dead lifting yesterday.  But, at least I'm pretty sure that means I was doing it right!

Once the gymanstic was flowing easily, we added the five-stride outside line to the exercise.  Here, I had to go back to what I learned recently from another great mind, Eric Horgan, and get my "magic canter."  The first time I headed to the line I crawled out of the corner and Tucker came to a pitiful slow motion stop.  He would have jumped it (saintly horse that he is), but I pretty much begged him to woah as I realized we were about to leave from a dead halt.  I struggled down the line once or twice and had to leg him out of it, but after talking it through with Kathleen, I came back around with a more engaged, more forward, more flowing canter and then found the right distance out of the corner every time, and easily cantered down the line.  That's the thing about getting your horse willing and accepting of your requests to collect... you have to turn your brain on and ask him to go forward again when you need it.  (Can you picture him rolling his eyes at me when I finally figured it out?)

When we made the crossrails bigger (we opted for huge x's instead of making them verticals), Tucker got himself into trouble the first time through, but it was a great lesson for him.  He tried to give himself more room when the jumps got bigger and drift to the left instead of collecting -- which is a common Tucker solution -- but in doing so, found himself having to jump out over the high side of the last x, which was about 3'6".  He managed to get himself over it, but the next time he came around and didn't even think about drifting one way or another... which was exactly the lesson I wanted him to learn.  Kathleen reminded me to help him and "be part of the team" (another piece of advice we got from Kent F), so I found a better distance to the first ground rail, and then used my voice to help him slow down in the gymanstic.  We did that a few more times and since Tucker was so good, we quit on that note. 

So, all in all, a wonderful school, both for me and for Tucker.  As I mentioned in my last post, I highly recommend watching the Horsemastership clinics on the USEF network.  It's like auditing a clinic from some of the country's best trainers and riders, for free, in your pj's (with a glass of wine in hand, if you're so inclined).  Tucker also recommends setting up some of the simple exercises they use, if you and your horse are up for it.  Tucker feels that they are not only good for horses, but also great for their humans (who, sometimes, tend to be slower learners than their equine partners).

Friday, January 6, 2012

2012 George H. Morris Horsemastership Training

Unfortunately, despite what this thread would lead you to believe, it appears that Mr. Morris is in fact a mere mortal (could have fooled me... I mean, have you seen this?), and has been feeling under the weather.  Fortunately, some of the most talented athletes in showjumping stepped in to teach this year's Horsemastership Sessions.  What an amazing opportunity for the young riders participating in these clinics.

I have been reading the articles on the Chronicle, which you can find here:

Day One, Ann Kursinski and Beezie Madden
Day Two, Kent Farrington
Day Three, Mclain Ward

It is my new life's ambition to clinic with Mr. Ward.  I don't care if it takes years for me to make this happen.  I will ride with him.  Oh yes, I will.  And not just because I used to think he was cute when we were both still in the pony ring (Literally a lifetime ago. Interestingly enough my riding career did not pan out as well as his.  Go figure).  He focuses on the fundamentals, the reasons why a proper position is important, and boy does it show in his riding.  He rides every Grand Prix course like he's trying to win the Maclay.  (Maybe he is.  He did come in second in 1993.)

I haven't watched the videos of the Horsemastership Sessions yet (darn working for a living thing getting in the way of my riding again), but I plan to snuggle up under the covers tonight and watch them all online.  You can watch the videos online for free on the USEF Network, here

Can't wait to pick up some tips and try them out this weekend!  Of course, remember what happened when I said that last year?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

In Which Tucker Does Math

So I've been getting on Tucker's case lately about collection, particularly at the canter.  After we've trotted and cantered and loosened everything up, and I go back to my canter work, I have been working on extension and collection.  And the conversation goes something like this:
Me:  Great canter.  Now let's collect it for a few strides in the middle of this long side.

Tucker:  NO.  THIS IS STUPID.  STOPPIT RIGHT NOW.  STUPID!  STUPID I SAY!

Me:  Wasn't really a question.  More of a command.  Let's try again.  Collect.  Now.  Please.  And no bouncing up and down this time.

Tucker:  FINE.  (This is still stupid.)  What is the point of taking longer to get somewhere?  I could get us there much more efficiently if you'd leave me alone.  Have I mentioned this is stupid?

Me:  You mentioned.  That's all I wanted though, thank you.  Now extend, please.

Tucker:  Well now THIS is more like it.  Now we're talking!  I could get down this long side in even less strides, by the way, if you'd care to tempt me.

Me:  Quite alright.  That'll do for now. 
As I mentioned in my last post, I thought that placing some ground poles might make this conversation a little more... productive.  So for one of my following rides over the weekend, I placed two poles on the center line, without walking the distance between them, so that I'd have to ride it off my eye.

The first time through I did nothing, just to see how it went.  Since Tucker was a bit surprised by the poles, he put six strides between them.  The next time, I gave him some gentle encouragement with my leg and he easily put in five strides.  Then I asked him to collect a little and go back to six.  No problem. 
Me:  So what happened to "this is stupid"?
Tucker:  Well now that we are counting strides, this makes all the sense in the world.  We're judged on how many strides we put in the lines.  So we need to practice this.  Duh.  Everybody knows that.
Back to our line of poles.  The next time through, I wanted to see if we could collect some more.  So I asked for seven.  Once again, no problem.  Not even the slightest objection.  From the same horse that thought the exact same aids were COMPLETELY STUPID the night before. 

Then I wanted to go back to five strides, so I turned up the center line and really sent him forward, thinking he'd be expecting to collect.  And then he got there in four.  Seven, and then, FOUR.  I think I can stop worrying about his ability to extend and collect.

We played around with this for a while because I was having fun and Tucker wasn't the least bit bored or annoyed.  As I'd turn the corner I'd just randomly pick a number between four and seven, and that's what we'd do.  And Tucker nailed it.  Every.  Single.  Time.  Such a good boy.  Incidentally, I walked the line when I was done riding and it was about 60'.  Which means he was adjusting his canter stride from about 8.5' to 15'.  Not too shabby!

When I was in high school, I hated Algebra.  Made no sense to me at all.  Then I took Physics, and I barely even realized I was doing Algebra again, because we were applying it to something practical and interesting.  Tucker apparently agrees.  Collecting for its own sake is simply pointless and boring.  But applying it to something practical (jumping), is something in which Tucker is most definitely interested.

Do you think I could teach him to count strides?  Would be one less thing for me to worry about in the ring...