Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Book Review: Riders by Jilly Cooper

I haven't done a book review on the blog before, but now that I'm a train commuter I have a lot more time to get some reading done, and I've been trying to choose books with an equine related theme so I can share them with you.  Which has led to me accidentally reading a few appallingly bad romance novels because they had horses on the cover (it's like a contest to see how many times "throbbing" and "glistening" can be used in a chapter), but I have finally found a book that I feel absolutely compelled to share with you.

The book is called Riders by Jilly Cooper.  It was first published in England in 1985 so there's a good chance some of you may have read it already.  If you haven't, however, GO AND GET IT.  But make sure you don't have anything else important going on, because you won't be able to put it down.  And then you won't want to finish it, because you won't want the story to end.  I just finished reading it, and the characters are still swimming around in my head.  And I want to know what they are up to now!

Riders follows several British show jumping stars through Nations Cups, World Games, and Olympic Games.  The entire novel is infused with training, buying, selling, showing, and loving horses, and all the heartbreaks and triumphs that go along with that.  There are also various and sundry affairs, of both types:  hopelessly romantic and sinfully delicious.  You'll be sighing and blushing throughout, I assure you.  Not to mention spurring along through every triple combination and water jump. 

The characters are alternately intense, gorgeous, heroic, misunderstood, tragically flawed, funny, relatable, sympathetic, despicable, and lovely.  And if you are not madly in love with Rupert Campbell-Black within the first 100 pages, well, you are a stronger woman than I.  Don't beat yourself up over it, he's impossible to resist.  And don't worry, a few hundred pages later you'll be in love with Billy Lloyd-Foxe.  You'll fall out of love eventually with him too, but that's what I love most about this novel.  My sympathies were constantly shifting, sometimes it was impossible to decide who to root for.  America?  Great Britain?  Jake?  Rupert?  Helen?  Fen?  Billy?  Dino?

Anyway, if you haven't read this yet and you're looking for something truly enjoyable, pick this one up.  A must-read for horse lovers, but definitely something a non-horse person would love as well. 

Riders is available here

Friday, March 23, 2012

Pictures of the Gorgeous Boy

I got an email from a friend this week that said "and how's the gorgeous boy?" and I didn't even hesitate to wonder who she meant...  (okay that's partially process of elimination, there are no other gorgeous boys in my life, unless you count my idiot cat who eats worms). 

I dropped my phone in the middle of my ride last night while trying to forward Pandora onto a better song for cantering... and just had to snap some photos because he looked so cute standing in the middle of the ring by himself.

Somehow I don't think Tucker thought it was the best use of our ride time....

 Oh boy.  She's got the camera out again.

Sigh.  Guess I better stand square.

But I am NOT putting my ears up.

And then the Drama Llama heard a noise...

He looks great though, doesn't he?  (Also, we had a wonderful ride, despite the interruption).

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Nice Little Tuesday Night Ride

Had a great ride last night.  Given that the weather is supposed to be in the 80s on Thursday this week, I figured that I better swap our "long and low" 20 minute hack from Tuesday to Thursday this week.  Debating whether I might want to do that more often.  Give him a break mid-week, instead of starting the week off with stretching?  Might be more beneficial, and he was so good last night that I think he'd like that.

We started off at the trot with a big loop in the reins, as per usual, and Tucker took the opportunity to stretch his nose way down to the ground and happily bounce around in a nice big trot.  He got his feet done on Monday and I was pleased to see that he was no longer overreaching from behind with the new shoeing job, even when I let him get as stretched out as he liked.  His feet are kind of a wreck right now with the incredibly wet conditions we had over the winter, but hopefully [cringing] Spring won't be too wet this year and they'll have a chance to toughen up again.

At the trot, I concentrated on keeping my hands incredibly still and using my legs and seat to ask for a little more flexion and roundness from him (you know, as in, I asked correctly instead of being lazy and playing with the bit -- I swear my left hand is possessed some days), and low and behold we got a beautiful, round, forward trot that had him making those lovely rhythmic happy snorty noises as we trotted around.  His ears were flopping and bouncing on either side of his head and he had the most content look in his eye as we went past the mirror.  Sometimes it amazes me how much this horse loves his job.  (Don't you wish you loved yours that much?)

Then at the canter, I set up the same exercise that Sprinkler Bandit did earlier this week (I think Amy at A Work In Progress has done this one as well).  During my jump school on Saturday, I realized that I need a refresher course on making a decision when I get there on the half-stride (an actual beneficial decision, other than circling, that is).  So I put two rails down to the inside of the track in the corners at one end of the indoor, like so:

We started off the left, cantering the white pole and continuing to the red pole.  The first time through we bowed way out because Tucker hadn't turned on the GPS, and did five strides.  The next time through we got four and that seemed to be the natural fit, so then I just worked on figuring out what to do depending on how we rode the white pole, whether I had to balance, leave him alone, close my leg, etc.  I worked on trying to keep the canter the same all the way around on a big circle, not letting him slow down or get on his forehand as we got to the rail, then using the whole ring and sending him forward without letting him get flat or strung out down the long side, and going through the exercise from there.  My only rule was to keep going no matter what -- so I could feel the difference in my canter when it wasn't right, and tell myself whether I should have sent him forward or waited and added one more.

When we changed direction, as I cantered up the long side tracking right, Tucker's ears were already pointed straight at the red rail.  He either reads minds or he's incredibly smart.  Of course, by this point, he was getting a little tired (it was hot last night!) so I had to work even harder at keeping the canter going forward.  Tucker has such a naturally big step that he often suckers me into thinking he's going somewhere even when he's slowed himself down and is exerting very little energy.  This was a great exercise for highlighting that, since he'd pretty much fall over the red rail if I didn't keep my leg on and keep his hind end doing something. 

At the end, because I was concentrating so much on the quality of my canter and not on the "jumps," I went by the mirror and noticed that he looked really incredible.  He was so engaged that his his hind feet were coming several inches above the ground with each step, but he looked completely relaxed and soft.  I was impressed, if I do say so myself.  Tucker wasn't too impressed, until I broke out the treats for a job well done. 

Don't forget to watch the USEF Network at 1pm today!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Long List for the Olympic Trials!

The long list for the Olympic trials has been released.  I am particularly impressed with all the young talent on this list.  Pretty amazing!

I posted last week about Mclain Ward's inclusion in the Long List.  On Friday, the USEF Ad Hoc Committee on Selection approved both Laura Kraut on Cedric and Beezie Madden on Coral Reef Via Volo for the long list, which means they won't have to participate in the trials on these horses.

The Official Long List for the Olympic Trials is as follows:
Cara Anthony
Ashlee Bond
Geoffrey Case
Kirsten Coe
Karl Cook
Saer Coulter
Lucy Davis
Nick Dello Joio
Mario Deslauriers
Katie Dinan
Margie Engle
Kent Farrington
Rich Fellers
Brianne Goutal
Alex Granato
Lauren Hough
Charlie Jacobs
Charlie Jayne
Alicia Jonsson-Foster
Quentin Judge
Reed Kessler
Laura Kraut
Beezie Madden
Christine McCrea
Duncan McFarlane
Catherine Pasmore
Cara Raether
Ragan Roberts
Will Simpson
Jessica Springsteen
Ray Texel
Jimmy Torano
McLain Ward
Jeffery Welles
The trials take place tomorrow, Thursday, and Saturday.  Tomorrow is a Speed Class, then Thursday there are two rounds in Nations Cup format at 1pm and 7pm.  Saturday at 7pm is a Timed Jump-Off format.  I probably won't be able to watch live during the week, but I'm sure they will have the video available later as well.  I'll embed them in a later post if I can.

The USEF network will be providing live coverage (presented by SmartPak, my favorite company!) of the trials, beginning tomorrow at 1pm EST.  Also, Horse Junkies United will have a simultaneous live chat during the rounds.

Best of luck to this fantastic group of riders!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Patience, the Ultimate Virtue

In a horse, that is.  Tucker has proven time and time again that he is the ultimate ammie's horse, patient as they come.  Willing to let me make the same mistake over and over... and over... and over... and never holds a grudge about it.  All in a day's work, as far as he's concerned.

We had a jump school again on Saturday and this time I put all the jumps up a hole from where I had them last week, and then set one of the outside lines at 3', the height at which I'm supposed to be competing this horse.  Ever noticed the rear-view-mirror effect when you haven't jumped a certain height in a while?  Jumps that were once quite comfortable to you are now much larger than they once appeared....

First we worked on the single roll top, and had to jump it over and over because we were landing with a lead change issue.  And by lead change issue I mean Tucker was overly anxious about being asked for a lead change, flung his head up into the air and braced against my hand when we landed from the jump.  (Nothing compared to a few years ago when we would literally bolt away from the fence if we thought a lead change might be coming, but still not what I wanted.)  We did a lot of canter circles before the jump and some straight halts at the fence line upon landing and gradually he improved.

I'm trying to decide whether I should even practice lead changes at home.  Seems to fry the Tucker brain a little too much for my liking, but I'm not sure that never doing them, and then asking for them at shows, will make it any better.  Still giving it some thought.

Then we moved on to the outside lines.  Outside line #1 was only a hole bigger than it was the weekend before, and it didn't worry me.  The first time through he loped down the line in four soft, relaxed strides and I had a loop in my rein.  The next time through, after seeing it once, the four was tight.  The third time through, I balanced and waited sooner, and it was just right.  Very good.  (I can be taught!)

Here's where things went awry.  I then moved on to the other outside line, which at the time had suddenly grown to Grand Prix height (I should have taken a picture, you'd laugh.  It was just a 3' vertical to a 3' oxer, and Tucker practically could have walked over it).  Let's just say it was not pretty.  There were many, many circles.  There were a lot of really ugly distances where he had to extricate himself from the base of the fence before taking off.  I also asked him to leave from Cincinatti once and ended up galloping halfway across the ring until I could get him to stop.  Oops.

Each time, however, Tucker was solid as a rock the next time around.  Never got annoyed, never got tense, never got flustered.  Just tried his best to figure out what exactly it was that Crazy was asking him to do this time.  And finally, when I managed to pull it together and jump the line a few times like a human being with some riding experience (rather than a chimpanzee being introduced to the sport for the first time), Tucker was happy to canter through and jump it like none of the aforementioned ugliness had even happened.

This horse has patience for days, I tell you.  He never gets frustrated with me, even when I am completely frustrated with myself.  I was trying to explain to someone yesterday that I don't see my horse as a human being, or treat our relationship like I would one with a person.  It's better.  There is no way a person would put up with all the nonsense I dish out to him, and still come back for more.  I'm so lucky.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Funny: Things Riders Say in Public....

This is inspired by a few COTH threads I've read over the years where riders have laughed about stuff they've said in public that have gotten them very funny looks.  This list is comprised entirely of things I've actually said... on the phone at the grocery store, in a restaurant, walking down the street, etc., that have gotten me some really funny looks, caused waiters to choke, mothers to usher their children away from my direction, and men on the train to turn around in their seats....
1.   Of course I'm going to try to get her pregnant again!  Why else am I paying all this money?

2.   Hey do you remember where you got that huge thing of KY Jelly?  [Think sheath cleaning]

3.   Ugh, did I tell you?  The fungus is back.

4.  ... well I stayed on him for over an hour and let me tell you he will NOT be trying that again!

5.   Yeah, she'll just live outside the whole time she's pregnant.

6.   His feet have been absolutely reeking lately.  I need to pick something up for him.

7.   Some days I think he's just too big for me and I'm never going to be able to ride him right. 

8.   Poor baby.  There was diarrhea all over the walls.  [My friend replying "awwww" only compounded the situation.]

9.   Maybe I need new stirrups... or maybe it's the leathers....

10. Yeah, I'm definitely going to jump him tomorrow.  We both need it.

And along the same lines, here's one of the funniest things that ever happened to me as a young attorney.  I came out of a meeting one day and went to my assistant (who was close to retirement and a very sweet woman) for my messages.  She kept her eyes down on her desk, her face turned red, and she handed me a folded up note.  I figured I was getting sacked, for sure. 

I unfolded the note and read:   "Dr. Furlong's office called.  Your frozen semen has arrived."

When I was breeding Secret (Julie's mom), I tried twice (unsuccessfully) to breed to Alla' Czar.  That day, the day that the shipment was supposed to arrive, I had forgotten my cell phone at home.  So I gave the clinic my office number.  Needless to say, my assistant and I shared a good laugh once I clarified that I was not, in fact, trying to conceive a child...  well not a two-legged one, at least.

So, let's hear it, what have you said in public that's raised some eyebrows?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Good Shoulder-In Exercise

Last Sunday I was flatting alongside the owner of my new barn, and we got to talking about flat work and exercises and what-not (she has a dressage background and is bringing along a really lovely young TB gelding).  She gave me a really great shoulder-in exercise that I've been doing with Tucker and I wanted to share it with you, in case you haven't seen it before.

Tucker's problems during shoulder-in and haunches-in stem from his burning desire to over-achieve (I have no idea how I raised him this way, it's not like I sat in the front row and raised my hand my whole life or anything...).  Specifically, he wants to give me way too much angle, which then defeats the purpose because I lose the bend and the hind end engagement and we don't really do what I want the shoulder-in or haunches-in to accomplish. 

Starting in the corner of the ring, with the longside of the arena ahead of you, trot a small circle (around 10m for you dressag-y types, I suppose), and then shoulder-in coming out of the circle as you get to the rail.  Keep the shoulder in for about 5-6 steps, then straighten the horse out again and trot forward, diagonally, toward the quarter line.  You want to trot forward at the same angle that you had during the shoulder-in.  Then get your bend and ask for the shoulder in again, and repeat the exercise.  So, the path you're taking down the longside of the arena looks like this:

I didn't make this up obviously and I'm sure some of you have seen it before, but I wanted to share because I found it very effective.  While we didn't always get the shoulder-in I wanted during the first try, the second one was very, very good every time, which means we must be doing something right.  I think it's a combination of me concentrating on the angle I want because I know what direction I want to head when I go forward diagonally, and Tucker understanding the concept a little more clearly.

Hope you find this useful!  We sure did!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Go Team USA: Great News from Mclain Ward!

Two months ago I posted news that broke my heart, about Mclain Ward's fall and subsequent injury at WEF.  I know that's just Horses, and sometimes we get hurt, and sometimes (even worse, if you ask me -- thankfully Oh d'Eole was not injured) our horses get hurt, but I was crushed to hear of it, nonetheless.

In case you live under a rock haven't heard the news, last week the USEF Ad Hoc Committee on Selection announced that it approved Mclain, and his mounts Sapphire and Antares F, for the long list in showjumping.  After the Ad Hoc Committee's consultation with Chef d'Equipe George Morris (you may have heard of him), Mclain was unanimously voted onto the long list for the U.S. Olympic Showjumping team.  (As it turns out, I guess I'm not his only fan.)  COTH has more on this story.

What does this mean exactly?  I was curious too.  The good news is I'm a lawyer (knew those skills would come in handy for something!), and I'm used to breaking down overly complicated rule systems into words that actually make sense.

According to the Selection Guidelines, the selection trials are held at the end of this month.  They'll take place in Wellington at the conclusion of WEF.  Based on how everyone does at the selection trials, the Long List is created.  Mclain is already on the list, despite the fact that he won't be participating in the selection trials.  Under the guidelines, the Selectors have the discretion to add up to five horse and rider combinations.  That discretion is guided by the horse and rider's ability to meet the current standards outlined in the Guidelines, and overall performance and soundness during the 2011/2012 Grand Prix season.  No wonder Mclain was a shoe-in.

Next, members of the list will participate in at least two out of four observation trials, which are held in May and June.  The trials are as follows:
The Del Mar National Horse Show
Del Mar, California; May 1-6, 2012

Kentucky Spring Horse Show
Lexington, Kentucky; May 8-13, 2012

The Devon Horse Show
Devon, Pennsylvania; May 29-June 2, 2012

Spruce Meadows
Calgary, Alberta Canada; June 13-17, 2012
After the observation trials, the Selectors (consulting with the Chef d'Equipe and the Team Vet), will then recommend a ranked list, known as the FEI Nominated Entries for the Olympics.  That list will be a minimum of five rider/horse combinations, or a maximum of twelve riders and twelve horses plus three reserve horses.  The nominations are then subject to approval by Show Jumping High Performance Committee, High Performance Working Group, and the USEF Executive Committee.  Whew. 

Once at the Olympics, the four horse and rider combinations that will actually compete are then selected. My fingers are crossed that Mclain and everyone's favorite chestnut mare will be part of the chosen few!

Mclain has announced that he expects to be back in the ring at Devon, which is very exciting news for this particular little Ward fan, since I may try to swing on down to Devon for the event.  HJU shared the story and a great video interview that Mclain did for Horse First Ltd.

Even if Mclain faces some unforeseen setback, there's still good news.  There's additional room for discretion under the Guidelines, and a rider (or horse) who has a medical, veterinary, or family emergency and cannot participate in the observation trials can ask for special consideration.

What's that saying? Where there's a will, there's a way? Let's go Team USA!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Love those Horse-Filled Weekends!

Hope everyone enjoyed their weekend as much as I did.  And I hope the time-change went a little more smoothly for you...  did not like waking up in the dark this morning!

So here's the weekend recap....

Friday we got to the horse show in the early afternoon, unpacked and got Tuck's stall set up, and I hacked Tuck.  I started him off outside but it was really windy and he was just barely holding it together.  Such a good boy really, because I could feel that he really wanted to explode and be naughty but he was doing his best to behave.  Since I wasn't going to accomplish the nice quiet hack that I was hoping for outside, we found the show management and I asked if I could ride in the indoor, which we did.  A few other super fancy horses and serious looking riders joined us and I just prayed that Tuck wouldn't make a fool out of me.  But thankfully, he was an angel, and we had a nice quiet ride. 

Saturday was a long day at the horse show, and when we finally pulled into home it took all my strength to force myself to ride my own horse.  But once I was on board, I was glad I did.  We just did a quick 20-minute flat work session but he did everything right so I was happy to keep it short and sweet.  Tucker has been so, so, so good since I moved to the new place.  I think he's getting turned out for a couple more hours because they have less horses and don't need to rotate fields, so that helps.  I've been getting out there more consistently to ride, which makes a big difference too. 

On Sunday afternoon we took advantage of the beautiful spring weather and sunshine, and headed to the outdoor ring to jump.  I kept all the jumps relatively low, around 2'6" or so, because I wanted to jump around and have fun and not worry or stress myself out about making it perfect.  I set up the crossrail exercise from the Horsemastership clinics again, and did that a couple of times first.  Then we moved on to a single vertical on the diagonal, and the first time through I needed a little more pace (surprise, surprise) but came around again and got the right rhythm.  Then we did the outside line in 4 strides, a little wall to an oxer, and we jumped in a little big so I just used my voice and said whoa on landing but didn't change anything else, and the four worked out perfectly.  Then we moved on to the other outside line, also a 4, a plank vertical to a plank oxer.  Here we jumped in a little more conservatively so I had to just close my leg a little and he moved up for the four.  Then I kept cantering all the way around the ring and jumped the roll top, which was set on the diagonal with a long approach.  I had just the right canter and it came up right out of stride.

After a walk break to catch our breath, we put the whole thing together as a course.  The diagonal vertical off the left lead, landing and turning left.  Then the outside line with the wall in four, off the left, then back down the diagonal vertical jumping it the opposite way, landing and turning right.  Then up the other outside line, and all the way around the ring to the rolltop again.  Complete success.  I stayed relaxed, Tucker got his changes, and we made it down both lines just right.  Although I didn't have the right pace to the first jump (which was less than pretty), I got the right rhythm after that and maintained it all the way through, so I'll take it.  Most importantly I actually enjoyed jumping my horse around and didn't stress myself out or get nervous and panicky.  He is such a good boy.  Love him!  Next weekend I want to do the same thing, but a different course and with the jumps just a hole higher.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How about a Post about the Real Leading Man?

Tucker's sort of horrified about all the men besides him that have been gracing his blog as of late...  so I figured I better do a post about him for a change.

Since moving to the new farm, he's been basically just short of perfect.  During the week we work on our flat work, and on the weekends we jump.  Tuesdays are always a long-and-low hack to get stretched out and get ready for the week.  Best of all, there is a very talented young hunter rider at my new place who is always happy for extra rides, which means Tucker doesn't have to have days off when I can't get there.  I hadn't realized what a blessing this was going to be until I got here!  She loves Tucker (though really, what's not to love), and from what I hear he is quite happy with her as well.  Fabulous.

On the flat Tucker has been soft, supple, and forward.  I LOVE having mirrors in the indoor again, it helps so much with straightness and helps me keep tabs on all my awful equitation habits.  Tucker seems really happy to be back in a more regular program (in case you couldn't tell, I wasn't exactly keeping to a religious exercise regime over the winter).  His neck is even looking a little bigger to me this week.  My friend Kathleen, who hasn't seen him in a while, keeps telling me he looks absolutely great.  He feels great too, like a horse enjoying his job.

Last weekend we set up a gymnastic and we had a blast.  We started off with just a trot rail to a little 2' vertical, then added another vertical with a 12' bounce in between.  Once that went smoothly we put another rail on the ground 18' away, but that proved way too short for Tucker.  It's been a while since he's done gymnastics (and a month since we've jumped!) so we cut him some slack and rolled it out to about 21' which was much better.  Then we made that a vertical, putting it up to around 2'9" once he was comfortable.  Lastly, we added an oxer at the end, and once again started at 21' and ended up setting it at more like 24 or 25'.  Once the oxer was up to 3', Tucker pulled out his usual trick of drifting to one side to give himself more room, so I went through it about three more times until I could keep him straight and steady, which I did by picking a spot on the wall and riding right to it, keeping my weight in both stirrups, and keeping my shoulders square.  The last time through he jumped the oxer really, really well and landed softly cantering around the corner, so we quit on a great note.

Unfortunately the Tuck and Tucker...  turnout bliss was short-lived.  Tuck hasn't had many turnout buddies in his life, and was a little, um, overeager to make friends.  Tucker liked Tuck initially, but apparently got really sick of being hen pecked all day and (cringing as I write this) kicked Tuck in the neck.  I was horrified, but Tuck seems to be fine, though it was swollen and awful looking for a few days.  So Tucker and Tuck are now turned out next to each other, rather than with each other, and that's going much better.  Dare I say it, I think this means my boy is growing up!

Tomorrow I am taking a much needed personal day from work, and Kathleen and I are headed to a horse show in PA with Tuck.  Tucker's staying home this time, but I think next time I may try to bring him along.  The next outing for Tucker and me will be another Jeff Cook clinic at the end of this month.  Can't wait!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Equestrian Johnny Depp

Ok ladies, here we go, one more Equestrian Heartthrob.  (Note:  The six of you who didn't want me to do another one should not, I repeat should not, scroll down).  Hopefully I've made the Depp fans out there happy with this one!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Results of the Poll... and Maybe One More Equestrian Ryan Reynolds....

So the results are in....

George was, early on, the favorite, at 2-1.  The facebook posts, the COTH threads, the various horse online fora all seemed to be clammoring for Clooney.  But while Clooney did break from the gate ahead of the pack, Depp proved to be the real speed horse here, commanding an early lead and then proving uncatchable down the back stretch.  A disappointing finish for Dempsey and Damon, who the OTBs had at 9-2 and 5-1, respectively. 

I should give honorable mentions to the post entries (comprising the "Other" category), who included Brad Pitt, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Bradley Cooper.  At 20-1, 30-1, and 15-1 odds, those boys would have made for a big day at the races.  Then of course there's Overplayed, the big dark horse who stumbled at the gate and, while he may in time prove to far outmatch his peers, seemed a little too green for this level of competition.

So ladies (or gents, we're equal opportunity here at TTW), the crowd has spoken, and it looks like there's an Equestrian Johnny Depp coming your way.  It's going to be tough for me to do...  you know I only have eyes for Ryan, and with material like this, he's hard to pass up:

Sigh.  The heart wants what it wants.   Okay, okay, I know.  You want your Johnny Depp.  Coming right up....