Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tucker the Dressage Pony

Some photos and video from my dressage clinic with Pierre St. Jacques at CLR Stables last weekend!

I think Tucker's dressage work is really coming along well, if I do say so myself.  Still lots to work on, mostly me.  But I see signs of progress and I'll take it!

Turns out I stick out my tongue to do leg yields?
One of the lesser known lateral aids?

Love this one of him (don't look at me and my caved-in core).
Look how nicely he's sitting!

Love this canter.  Would really love it if I could actually sit to it...

I know he's getting a little too deep here, but I love this one too.
And I'm mostly sitting up, which is nice.

And now onto the videos....
(they are each quick clips, best stuff is in the first two if you don't feel like watching them all)

Huge THANK YOU to Anita (barn mom/photographer extraordinaire) and Ethan (boyfriend/videographer extraordinaire) for braving the cold and getting up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday to catch all this on film!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Last Hunter Pace of the Season

Yesterday Tucker and I joined some friends from my farm for the Covered Bridge Trail Association hunter pace, which starts at a farm across the street from where Tucker lives (very convenient!).  It turned out to be yet another absolutely perfect day.

Of course, it didn't quite start out perfect.  I picked up our friends Ethan and Gitano in the morning, and somehow ended up running about ten minutes behind schedule.  Then on the drive over to Tucker's farm, the skies were looking gray and rain drops were hitting my windshield.  I was feeling stressed and a bit doubtful that we'd have a good day for riding.  Then we stopped to register all the horses riding out from my farm on our way in, and a stop that I thought would take five minutes took twenty-five.  So for those keeping track, I am now running thirty minutes late.  When we pulled into the farm, everyone else was mounted.  I know you all know that feeling.

I sent the rest of the riders on their way so as not to compound my stress by feeling like I was holding up everyone else's ride, and tried to remind myself that this was supposed to be fun.  By the time I was on my horse and riding across our property, after few deep breaths and a couple of visits with Ethan's trusty flask (oh c'mon, I know it's before noon but it was really cold), I started to relax.  And then the sun started peeking through the clouds, and I got a little more encouraged.

The first part of the ride went as usual, except that Tucker was a bit more "up" than he's been in the past, but it was cold and fall leaves were blowing around so I didn't think much of it.  Then the first time we hit a nice stretch of hay field to have a little canter through, I realized Tucker wasn't so much channeling his inner Seabiscuit, but rather being possessed by one of the demon horses that pulls Hades' chariot.  As the field sloped downward and bent a hard left, and Tucker latched onto the bit and hurtled himself ever faster, I started wondering, Are all my affairs in order? 

Thankfully, our little Paso friend Gitano was slightly less... um... possessed by demons, and was able to return to a walk just in time for the path to bend around another hard right.  While Tucker Orphnaeus was oblivious to my efforts to stop the runaway freight train despite my standing in my stirrups, leaning back and pulling with all my tiny might (my shoulders are still sore from that one), he is not one to leave a buddy, so he returned to something akin to a battle march and snorted ominously, muttering something about the apocalypse and entrances to the netherworld.

The next part of the ride was alongside a road which I used as a good excuse to walk for a bit, repeat the Hail Mary and attempt to get my blood pressure to subside.  For reasons that will only ever be known to Tucker (or perhaps it was just those few more sips of rum), at some point he just took a big deep breath and decided to be his usual perfect-trail-horse self for the remainder of the ride.  And then we had fun.  The views were spectacular, the company was charming, and the horses were happy.  And the rest of our gallops were all intentional.  Always a plus.

Much better.

Beautiful ride!

All smiles... was it the sunshine?  The horses?  The rum?

I was also able to settle a matter that's been troubling me a bit... and am pleased to tell you that Tucker is, in fact, way faster than his little Paso Fino sidekick.  Yes I do realize that he's twice his size and this should not have even been up for debate, but it was, and I'm pleased to report has been resolved in our favor after three separate races.  Do not let anyone convince you that he was "letting us win."  That's nonsense.  My horse may be somewhat lackadaisical about life, but he is in fact quite fast when he wants to be.

When we got back from the ride, I got a chance to sit on my first gaited horse, and have to say it was pretty fun.  I mean I felt completely like a fish out of water and had zero idea what I was doing but Gitano was a pretty good sport about it and luckily for me seems like he's got a pretty good sense of humor.  I think we look pretty cute together to tell you the truth.

Two more pictures to share with you, mostly because I want you to see that for every nice picture I get of my horse and post on the blog, there is at least one where he's in full on derp mode and my face is just full of disdain.  I kind of can't stop laughing at this one.

Note the flared left nostril as he attempts to yank the reins from my hands.

Well at least three of us look happy about this photo.

We met back up with everyone from my farm at the end of the day and I'm glad to say that everyone ended up having a wonderful ride.  All in all I'd say our first CLR Stables hunter pace, and the last hunter pace of my season, was a success!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Gorgeous Boy in Action

On Sunday I trailered Tucker over to Alicia's for a jumping lesson and he was such a good boy.  I had a discussion with a friend recently about cross-training or doing different things with your horse, and we agreed that while you can't have a top level show horse who also trail horse and also a dressage horse, you can do lots of different types of riding and activities and end up with an all-around awesome horse who is fun to ride no matter what you're doing.

It seems like we have Tucker in a great place right now.  He has proven himself to be a completely unflappable trail horse, who will confidently lead or follow, cross water, climb up and down hills, jump whatever I point him at, walk on the buckle through the woods or gallop across a field.  We have had three really successful dressage lessons in a row now, and I measure success by the fact that we accomplished what we set out to work on, Tucker tried really hard and didn't throw any tantrums, and I was able to go back and work on it again in my rides during the week and get similar, if not exactly the same, results.

He has also been so much fun to jump lately, which I feel is sort of a barometer for how he's feeling physically and mentally.  He is stronger from the dressage so his canter is more balanced and consistent, and he is relaxed, I think from all the riding out.  I am also more confident, especially about sending him forward (which I think is both from the hunter paces and the dressage - we are working on a real honest-to-goodness medium canter).

Anyway, we had a great lesson.  He warmed up really well and then we worked on our nine-rail to cross-rail exercise (from this post), and focused on my position, leg at the girth, weight in the heel, flat back.  Then we moved on to a gymnastic, which we gradually built up.

Here he is at 3':

And here he is at 3'6":

I just love him!  I grabbed a couple of stills from the videos above and I realize their blurry as anything, but I can tell that he's jumping really well, swinging through his shoulder and pretty level with his front end.

I still need to get my hands farther up his neck in my release as the jump gets a little bigger but overall my position isn't bad. Next time I want to put a braid in his mane where my hands have to go to train myself to release to there. I think I've gotten into a bad habit of not releasing from jumping lots of little fences maybe? Always a work in progress as we all know.

After working only on the gymnastic I then kept my canter and jumped the gray and red vertical and the black and white oxer that you can see in the videos, on the diagonals.  They looked a little larger than life when Alicia was setting them up, but after she put the gymnastic up they magically returned to their actual size and I was able to actually think about riding my horse rather than ponder my own mortality as I approached them.  (I like Alicia's psychology there - I swear, good trainers could also have PhD's in psychology with all the tricks they have to use to get us weenie Adult Ammie's to get out of our own heads.)

After the lesson was over and Tucker was happily snoozing on crossties in his ice boots, I had the pleasure of riding my favorite pony, Little Man:

And playing with my favorite colt, Bazil:

All in all, Sunday was just a great day from start to finish.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ride for the Cure: The Cutest Pictures You'll See Today

Okay I wanted to say the cutest pictures you'll ever see, but the internet is so full of pictures of kittens doing adorable things that I didn't know if I could make that claim.  But I feel like there are good odds that these are the cutest pictures you'll see today.

We had a blast.  It was a gorgeous day, sunny and breezy with just enough of a chill in the air to feel like fall, the trails were beautiful, and the horses were happy.  I was essentially giddy with the prospect of turning four horses into life-size My Little Ponies, as I mentioned in my last post, and I think I pretty much succeeded in that task.  They looked so incredibly cute that I kind of can't stand it.

Tucker was excited when we got to the farm where Sugar lives, already looking around for his dream date the second I opened his trailer side door.  Then when he spotted his new BFF Gitano when we got to the Ride, he started doing that sweet little silent knicker where their nostrils tremble and could not wait to get off the trailer so he could sniff him and nudge him and lick him (did I mention Gitano is a very good sport and puts up with my horse's attention very well?).  Then when he realized that Caprioso was there too, he basically entered pure euphoria and existed in a state of unadulterated bliss for the remainder of the day.  He was surrounded by his best friends, out in the woods and the open fields, there were jumps to be jumped, and everyone kept telling him how extra adorable he looked.  This, my friends, is Tucker heaven.

More importantly, we were able to have fun while supporting a really worthwhile cause. Overall, the Ride raised $41,040.80, Bays for Boobies raised $2,295, and thanks to all of you, I raised $730. I am very proud to be supporting the Komen foundation and all their efforts toward a cure.  The money we raised will go directly toward helping local women by providing screening and education, and to support national research programs.

And now, without further ado, the cutest pictures you'll see all day... enjoy!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Happy Birthday McLain Ward!

Super Fan here.  It's my favorite GP rider's birthday.

And of course... I can never share this photo too many times:

I'm not the only one who thinks today should be a national holiday, am I?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

In Which Tucker and I Get Out and Make New Friends

So first things first... quick update on my last post: Montel has found a wonderful home!  I've said it before and I'll say it again, the horse world is a strange but truly beautiful place.  Just when I had hit a point of desperation and was visiting neighborhood farms to see if they'd take him in exchange for barn help (like I have that kind of time), people started coming forward.

Montel in his younger days
 So many people reached out to help, either through spreading the word or offering him a safe place to land.  The display of compassion and altruism I witnessed was awe-inspiring, to say the least.  A horse like Montel can mend a lot of bridges and reach a lot of hearts.  So great to see first hand a story with a happy ending.

And in other news, Tucker and I have been hitting the trails and really enjoying the gorgeous fall weather we've been having in New Jersey lately.  First we did the Tewksbury Trail Pace with Amy and Sugar from AWIP (read all about that beautiful day here).

Don't you love how he gazes at her?
You know how Tucker loves his lady friend Sugar, so those two obviously had a blast together.  I think Amy summed it up best that we were like a giddy Thelma and Louise before things got ugly...  That lady is seriously my partner in crime and I look forward to my adventures with her like a kid waiting for Christmas.

While we were at Tewksbury we made a couple of new friends, Ethan and his paso fino Gitano, and we just met up with them for the Amwell Valley Hounds hunter pace.  It was another completely gorgeous day.  We keep really lucking out with the weather.

Needless to say, Tucker is rather smitten with the both of them....

I'm not sure if the boys look adorable or ridiculous together, but I'm going to go with adorable for now.  They were pretty good buds by the end of our little adventure.

We also managed to get one of my favorite pictures of me and my horse.  I think the expression on both our faces sums up how much we love getting out in the open!

We'll be teaming up with Amy, Sugar, Ethan, Gitano, and our friends Chrisie and Caprioso (you remember her beautiful farm) for the Ride for the Cure this weekend.  Bays for Boobies has raised $1,695.00 so far, and counting!  Thanks again to all of you who have supported this effort.  I promise lots of pics of the horses in all their pink finery.  If I have my say, they will look like life-sized My Little Ponies.

Happy trails!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Home for Montel, and Susan G. Komen Ride for the Cure

So I am resurrecting the blog, but for a couple of very good reasons.  Actually, it's because I need your help with a couple of things.  (Isn't that just like me?  I don't call or write and then I turn up asking for stuff...)

First up:  One of my most favorite horses is in need of a forever home.  You may remember him from here, and here, and here.  He's a German Brandenburg, 25 years old, 17hh, and he is a former Grand Prix horse who trained with McLain Ward.  He's caring, wise, sweet, sensible, and really a pleasure to have around the farm.  Once upon a time he was Tucker's best friend. When he retired, he came to live at the farm where I used to rent a cottage, and I would tell him all my troubles when I got home from work.  He is an excellent listener.

He is pasture sound and he would be suitable as a trail horse - afraid of nothing (literally, I once rode him bareback through a pack of motorcycles on a dirt road) and really good company - but he would not stay sound in work, due to some very old suspensory injuries.  If you know of anyone who can help, you can contact me and I'll put you in touch with the farm that is arranging for his adoption.

Second:  This awesome lady and I are Riding for the Cure, with the Central and South Jersey Susan G. Komen Foundation.  I love this ride for two reasons, one, it's a cause that is near and dear to my heart (literally, my boobs are right there), and second, I get to dress my horse up in pink like a life-sized My Little Pony. In all seriousness, I have some very dear friends who have survived breast cancer. They have touched my life and made me a better person, and I am sure glad that they made it through so I could meet them.

Tucker at last year's ride!
So, [here it comes, it's a shameless plug, brace yourself] if you are so inclined, I'd love to receive a donation on behalf of the foundation.  Or, if you're in the area, I would love it even more if you and your horse come and join my team!  Seriously, the more the merrier.  You can visit the Bays for Boobies page here to join our team, or visit my page here to make a donation.  And thank you.

(p.s. -- I will do my best to give you a Tucker update shortly.  I have lots to tell.  He's doing wonderfully at the moment and sends his love to his fans.)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Summer Camp

Tucker and I are at Summer Camp this week and it's been an absolute blast.  If you recall I occasionally farm-sit for a good friend of mine at her beautiful place (which is about five minutes from my house) and Tucker and I just love it there.

My buddy Linus
Stopping to smell the flowers
Pretty farm house
It's beautiful, peaceful, and quiet here all the time. All the animals (horses, dogs, cats) are happy and relaxed. It's probably more like a week at a spa than a week at summer camp. I ride, I go for long walks with the dogs, I take long baths, I read my books. Did you just sigh reading that? I sighed writing it. It's a horse-lovers' paradise, basically.
I got to the farm Sunday night and got all the horses tucked in to their stalls, since it was raining.  Monday night I went to my farm and picked up Tucker, and once I got him settled in I turned everyone out for the night.  Tucker tried to make friends over the fence with Shadow (an adorable paint, the "husband horse" on the farm), who promptly squealed and told Tucker what's what.  Tucker turned around and looked at me like, "Mom he's being mean!" Once he realized Shadow was not, in fact, interested in becoming his new bestest friend in the whole wide world, he moved onto more important matters, namely a gorgeous field full of lush spring grass.

The next morning he wasn't too sure about finishing his breakfast, so I went out and picked up a few tubes of UlcerGard for the week (more on that in another post).  By the time we were ready for our ride, he seemed to be feeling better and we hopped over a few crossrails in the ring, which were uneventful.  That night I turned everyone out again and this time grass was the only thing on everyone's minds, which was good.

We had a lesson yesterday with Alicia, who came to the farm to ride one of my friend Chrisie's horses, and Tucker was fantastic.  As much as the dressage has been kind of an uphill climb for both of us, it SO pays off when we go to jump around a course.  He is so straight that it's like steering a car, and balancing his canter to add a stride in a line is about ten times easier.  Chrisie had a nice little course set up and Tucker and I had so much fun jumping it, two outside lines and two singles on the diagonal, nice easy hunter-ish stuff.  First time we've jumped an entire course in, I don't know, forever?  Tucker was of course perfect.

Today we put the dressage tack on and went for a lovely ride in the big grass meadow with the sun shining and a cool breeze blowing.  Tucker felt amazing.  We even got the big canter that we worked on in our fix-a-test, and I felt that awesome moment when his shoulders lift and he truly moves up leg-to-hand.  I am pretty sure I heard angels singing on high.

I think all the fun of summer camp is catching up with him though.  I've been trying all week to get a more photogenic shot of him, and what I have is a phone full of many variations of this:

Shhh...  it's nap time.
It's a rough life.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Tucker's First Fix-A-Test

OnTheBit from A Horse and a Half (who also did the fix-a-test with Lucky) was kind enough to video our test during the fix-a-test we did on Sunday, so you all can see how adorable Tucker is looking these days.

I loved the Judge, Mindy Elgart.  She gave lots of helpful criticism but was extremely nice to all of us.  The comments about Tucker were very complimentary which made me beam with pride.  After we ran through the test we worked on my position (which is still pretty hunter-ish, despite Cindy's efforts to fix it) and worked on getting a bigger canter and a better canter transition.  Tucker was wonderful for all of it, and since he did exactly what we asked and he was blowing pretty hard with the extreme heat yesterday, we opted not to run through the whole test again.  Overall, though it wasn't perfect, I was super happy with him.  No invisible monsters anywhere in sight yesterday.  Good boy!

After the test we stood and talked to the Judge for a bit, so when I gathered my reins back up he thought maybe he'd try some of his spooky/stuck stuff, but I was able to sit and support and send him through it without incident, so I am pretty happy with myself too!

Here's the video:

Doesn't he look ADORABLE in his white polos and dressage tack? 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

This is a Test... Repeat, This is Only a Test.

There comes a time in every equine's life when he wonders to himself, just how prepared are my humans in the event of an emergency?  Would they know what to do?  Will they perform under pressure?  At such a time, a horse has no choice but to perform a test of the Equine Emergency Broadcast System.

Apparently, Tucker found himself in such a quandary yesterday, and had to find out just how capable we were of handling an emergency, should one ever arise.  So promptly upon coming in from turnout, he began his little experiment.  Lest we not a be particularly clever group of humans, he chose to exhibit textbook signs of distress: he pawed, he kicked his stomach, he swished his tail, he rolled, and refused to eat his hay.

To Tucker's relief, everyone snapped into action.  Cindy (my dressage trainer and our barn manager) texted me right away to see when I could get to the barn, put a scrim on him since he was wet from the drizzle this morning, and took his temperature.  She put him on the cross-ties and he stretched his hind legs out behind him, which made us all suspect it was a gas colic, if anything.  Anyway, Tucker found this course of action and her prompt attention to his broadcast signals most satisfactory.

Ricardo (who works at the farm and helps take care of the horses) took Tucker for a walk around the indoor until I arrived, and remained visibly concerned for Tucker's well being for the remainder of the afternoon, regularly inquiring after his health.  Tucker likewise approved of these efforts and was truly touched by his concern.

Thankfully, I was working from home so I think I also passed his little test. I pulled on breeches and a fleece in under three minutes and raced to the barn like the hounds of hell were close on my tail.  He must have been timing me and I must have made his deadline because as soon as I arrived, he took a deep breath and started munching his hay. He still had a quiet gut on the left side, but plenty of noise on the right side and didn't seem the least bit distressed.  But hey, I'll take a scare that amounts to nothing over a real colic any day.

I'd say we passed Tucker's emergency-preparedness course with flying colors, because we even managed to have Tucker's vet arrive within the hour (he was there to do some injections on another horse, but Tucker doesn't need to know that).  It was a good lesson about crying wolf, I mean getting to stay home from school and watch cartoons is one thing, but a trip to the doctor... well, let's just say Tucker has heard what happens when the vet thinks you are colicking and didn't particularly relish the idea of an arm up the you-know-what.  So once he saw Dr. S in the aisle, he promised he was feeling 100% better.  No need for poking and prodding, thankyouverymuch.

Thankfully, it seems he must have just had a gas pocket or something. I blame the drastic change in weather.  After a worrisome half hour or so, he seemed to have gotten over whatever was bothering him and I even ended up riding him (figured it wouldn't hurt to get the gut moving).  He ate his dinner and all his hay, temp was normal, and by the time I left he had pooped three times. And yes, of course I texted a picture of the pile of poop to my concerned horsey friends!  What are horsey friends for?

Friday, May 24, 2013

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

You know how much I love Devon!  In my opinion, the Dixon Oval is the most magical place on earth (Disneyland-shmisneyland).  I am headed there for a few events next week to do some work for Sidelines, but in the meantime, here is the broadcast schedule for all the events at the Devon Horse Show streaming live on the USEF Network:
Friday, May 24, 8:15pm – 9:15pm, Jr. Jumper Gamblers Choice
Saturday, May 25, 7:00pm – 8:30pm, Jr. Jumper SJHOF Classic – II,2(a)
Sunday, May 26, 6:30pm – 9:30pm, NAL Pony Jumper- II, 2(a), Adult Jumper-II, 2(b), Open Tandems
Monday, May 27, 7:00pm – 8:15pm, NAL Adult Jumper- II, 2(a)
Tuesday, May 28, 7:00pm – 8:00pm, Open Jumper-II,2(b)
Wednesday, May 29, 7:00pm-8:45pm, Open Jumper Hit & Hurry, Ladies Side Saddle, Three Gaited Show Pleasure-Limit, Hackney Pony-Open, Five Gaited Special
Thursday, May 30, 7:30pm – 10:00pm, Prerecorded sights and sounds of Devon, Wells Fargo Grand Prix of Devon
Friday, May 31, 7:00pm – 10:15pm, Open Jumper Gamblers Choice, Coaching, Park Horse Stake – Amateur, Western Country Pleasure, Fine Harness, Hackney Pony, Friesian Horse Pleasure, Three Gaited Stake, Hackney/Harness Pony, Saddlebred Show Pleasure Driving, Roadster Pony, Five Gaited Stake
Saturday, June 1, 3:10pm – 5:00pm, Open Jumper Stake AND 7:00pm – 8:10pm, A/O Jumper SJHOF Classic
Sunday, June 2, 10am – 1pm, USHJA Hunter Derby

Outsmarting the Smart Horse

So now that all Tucker's physical issues are behind us, I've spent many an hour contemplating how to improve the behavioral issues, and at about 1 a.m. one night lying on my couch staring up at the ceiling, it dawned on me:  nothing is going to get fixed until I start riding through it.  There's really no other way a round it, no amount of pro-rides or different tack or schedule changes or feng shui stall arrangements are going help anything unless I start taking the wheel again.

After many, many hours of deep thought (I'm not the only one who does this right?) I came to a few conclusions:  Tucker is not a mean horse, and in fact probably doesn't realize how scary his leaping and spooking and spinning really are.  Tucker is a smart horse, who likes being challenged and likes being rewarded for a job well done. Tucker is an evasive horse, who would rather not work too hard if he doesn't have to and has realized that spooking is an excellent diversion from work.

So driving to the barn last night, inspired by some of the exercises in the George Morris clinic, I decided I would set up an exercise that would make Tucker think a little bit and would help work on forward/straight and involve some transitions within the gait.  Time to outsmart my horse, right?  Of course, when I arrived at the barn to find him spinning in circles in his stall, convinced that the driving rain pounding on the roof would lead directly to his death, I questioned just how smart this horse could actually be.  Two ear plugs later, however, calm and order were restored....

So in the indoor I set up four ground poles set on a circle, that walk six strides between each one using a natural bend like you would on any circle.  One of the poles was a skinny rail (5' instead of 10') for a bit more of a challenge.  Like so:

(Sorry, the Tucker-Cam was a little shaky)
(Sorry, the Tucker-cam was a little shaky)
I am happy to say that Tucker was wonderful and we got a lot out of the exercise.  I'm working on getting him to give me a better walk (something other than a Sunday stroll or a death march), and an actual working trot, so at the walk and trot we worked on getting him to take me to the poles.  He understood this much better than me just nagging him to go forward on an ordinary circle.  We did outside bend and inside bend, worked in some quarter-turns when I needed to for straightness, making figure-eights, and lots of changes of direction, so the exercise stayed fresh.

At the canter, at first we just worked on controlling his shoulders (not letting him fall in or bulge out), not worrying much about what strides we got.  Once I felt like he was listening to me laterally, I asked for six even strides between each pole (he was doing either five or six before), with some simple changes of direction.  Once that was smooth on each lead, I asked for five strides between each pole, and I'm happy to say he moved up really politely, I was sort of afraid he'd start dragging me around but asking him to think about turning and the next pole kept him focused.

I ran into some protesting when I asked him to come back and give me six strides again, so I skipped every other pole and worked on using my seat and leg more, until I had him sitting down and using his hind end instead of fighting my hand.  Once the canter improved, we went back to every pole and were able to get six strides, and then seven, between each pole in a nice collected canter that felt pretty balanced.

On another night I might have then asked for five strides and back to six again, but I thought it was good to end on a positive note like that, so we stopped there.  He helped me put all the poles away and I decided to take it as a good sign that he was still dutifully following me, stopping when I stopped and turning when I turned.  The cowboys like when they do that, right?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Long-Awaited Tucker Update

Let's see... how to sum up how we've spent the end of winter and beginning of spring.

As the winter progressed and Tucker got bored with seeing the four walls of the indoor, those four walls began hiding dangerous (read: imaginary) predators.  My patience wore increasingly thin, Tucker's theatrics grew increasingly more... spectacular (and I do not mean that in a complimentary fashion). Finally, just as I was ready to give him a vacation until the snow melted, I went back through the blog and figured out that every time he stops listening to reason, I can usually fix it by treating his tummy for ulcers.

This time instead of treating him with a prescription ulcer medication I kept him on his SmartGut and added a  half-cup of aloe juice to each of his meals.  On the advice of one of Tucker's vets, we give him the aloe for ten days and then two days off, so his stomach pH-levels stay normal.  The spooking has become less frequent and much less explosive (ponies and children no longer cower in fear while we ride) .  Either the invisible mountain lions living in the indoor have decided to migrate elsewhere, or he's feeling slightly better.  So that's where we're at on that front.

The more we worked over the winter, it became clear that Tucker had a weakness in his hind end -- which is part of the reason we started doing dressage in the first place.  We decided to give him until Spring and keep working on strengthening.  When the "weakness" started looking like slight unevenness, I made a vet appointment for him, and we ended up injecting his hocks.  He wasn't seriously lame, but Tucker is not exactly stoic when it comes to pain. Delicate little flower that he is.

So, we had three days of hand-grazing and then gradually back to work.  I took some great pictures while we didn't have much else to do.
Day 1: Stopping to smell the dandelions
Day 2: Making friends with the retirees next door
Day 3: Raining, so we went inside and met a really good looking horse
That was about three weeks ago (sorry, I wanted to make sure he was back to work and sound before I wrote about it), and he's feeling really great now.  An expensive vet visit, yes, but well worth it.  I'm just happy that this was the first time I've had to inject my eleven-year-old horse.  Unfortunately they only come with a ten year warranty...

As for me, I am loving dressage and what it is teaching me.  I feel like I've got a whole new toolbox full of ways to deal with all my horse's various evasions and to get him really working to his full potential.  He's always been like one of those smart kids who goofs off in class, so I'm trying to find the right balance between keeping him challenged and motivated, and not letting him think life is getting too hard.  We go back to jumping this week, so I imagine that will make him happy.  Hopefully not too happy.  

For right now, I'm a little too worried about the EHV-1 threat in New Jersey right now to take him to any shows, so we are going to stay home a while longer and keep working away.  I know it's probably ultra-conservative of me, but there's only one Tucker, so I'm not taking any chances.

Anyway, that's where we are at.  I'm going to start providing more regular updates on the blog, so we can avoid these somewhat tedious summaries in the future.  Thank you for reading... it feels good to be back in the blogosphere!

Friday, May 10, 2013

ShowSheen TryPak Giveaway!

So, what better way to re-introduce myself back into the blogging community than with a giveaway, right?  Sort of like showing up at a friend's house when you haven't seen her in ages because you've been a terrible correspondent with a really nice bottle of wine, yes?  (C'mon you totally want to let me and Tucker come over for dinner).

I have three Absorbine ShowSheen TryPaks to give away, containing three adorable travel-sized bottles of ShowSheen ShowRing Shine, Stain Remover & Whitener, and 2-in-1 Shampoo & Conditioner (roughly a ten dollar value -- not a bad freebie!).  It is the perfect size to keep in the trailer or your grooming box, and makes a cute gift for a trainer, groom, or barn friend too!

ShowSheen has long been a staple in my grooming box - I use it on Tucker's tail at least two or three times a week, and in the winter I spray it on his shoulders, hips, and belly to help prevent blanket rubs.  My longtime readers will recall that I was once the proud owner of a little girl with very long white legs, at which point I also became a huge fan of the ShowSheen Stain Remover & Whitener.  I will be testing out the Shampoo & Conditioner this weekend and will report back on my findings.  Tucker might hate baths, but there is nothing I love more than a clean horse!

So I am giving away three ShowSheen Try-Paks on Tucker's facebook page.  Here is what you have to do:

1.  Like Tucker the Wunderkind on Facebook (if you haven't already).

2.  Either in the comments section below or on Tucker's facebook page, post your best equine travel photo, or travel story (adventure/drama/comedy/happy memory), or packing list for truck & trailer, or anything else along those lines.

Points for originality people, and please make me laugh, you know I love a good laugh.

Incidentally, if you are a fan of free stuff, I highly recommend that you like Sidelines on Facebook too.  Their giveaways are much better than mine (more about that coming soon!).

Good luck!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Happy Birthday Tucker!

Today is the Gorgeous Boy's 11th birthday.  It is really hard to believe this picture was taken ten years ago:

Or that this picture was taken eight years ago (his first summer of work!):

Or even that this one was three years ago (our first summer in the Adult Hunters), feels like yesterday:

Today is an extra special birthday for Tucker because it is also Kentucky Derby Day.  The day Tucker was born, it was Kentucky Derby Day, so Tucker was actually originally named Kentucky, which eventually got shortened to Tuck, and evolved into Tucker.  I remember when I turned to the trainer I worked for and said, "I think we should call him Tucker."  She smiled and said, "That's perfect, every barn needs a Tucker."  And you all know the rest, I fell in love with the awkward, gangly baby, and had to bring him with me to law school, and then the rest of our adventures began.

Every year on the blog I usually spend some of the post gushing over my beautiful boy, and I'm afraid this year is no different.  So, here goes.  Thank you Tucker, for a decade full of countless moments of pure happiness and gratitude, teaching me how to be a better rider, reminding me to be a better person, and helping me keep all my priorities in order.  I cannot imagine what life would have been like without you.  Here's to many more birthdays.  I love you.

I am off to take Tucker for his birthday ride, and enjoy the absolutely perfect weather we are having in New Jersey today.  Hope you all have a wonderful Kentucky Derby Day and Tucker's Birthday Day!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Lucy Matz and Wiseguy at Devon: A Follow-Up to "Growing Up Matz"

Hello dear readers!

I know I owe you all a Tucker update, but will save that for another post.  Suffice it to say I've made some big changes lately, one of which has allowed me the freedom to do a lot more writing for Sidelines MagazineIn this month's issue, I wrote a really fun article about Lucy Matz, daughter of Olympian show jumper and Triple Crown trainer Michael Matz. 

By the way, have you subscribed to Sidelines yet?  No?  Well, you should -- I love it, and I'm not just saying that because my name is lucky enough to grace its pages these days.  Seriously, I keep mine with me all the time so I can read whenever I have a minute, and I end up reading it cover-to-cover every month.  If you don't have a subscription yet though, you are in luck, because you can read my article about Lucy for free here.  Check it out!

I had so much fun researching and writing this article.  Lucy is incredibly sweet and, like her dad, seriously humble about her success and her quasi-celebrity status.  As for her pony jumper Wiseguy, well, I think you know how Tucker and I both feel about adorable ponies.  He's a Connemara imported from Ireland, and he is pretty much the cutest guy ever:

Now put this pony in the Dixon Oval at Devon (you all know I think it's the most magical place on earth), making the pony jumpers look just like a mini-grand prix, and I am straight up in love.  And Lucy is a great little rider.  She is without a doubt one to watch as she moves up to the Junior Jumpers this year.

For the interview, I asked Lucy about her rounds at Devon with Wiseguy in the NAL pony jumpers.  In 2010, Lucy won the class, but Wiseguy was a little, um, exuberant... and it wasn't perfectly smooth.

In 2011, Lucy returned to Devon and was second in the NAL Pony Jumpers with Wiseguy.  Even though this round didn't deliver the blue, it is pretty flawless. 

When I asked Lucy which round she was more proud of (the winning round, or the better ride), she said she was happier with the 2011 round, where her pony was so good, even though it's nice to win.  I know the feeling.  Some of the ribbons on my wall (yes of course I still hang up my ribbons even though I am supposedly a grown up) that make me smile the biggest are yellow, white, or even purple, because they remind me of an awesome round or a great day with the big brown horse.

What about you?  What makes you happier, the blue ribbon, or the good ride? 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Jeff Cook Clinic Recap

Wayyy back in November, Tucker and I took a lesson with Jeff Cook, one of my favorite trainers, at our friend's beautiful farm, Stoneleigh (Tucker and I have farmsat there a few times).  Since Tucker was just getting back to work after time off to recover from popping his splint, and wasn't quite at his usual fitness level, we took it easy but still got some valuable feedback from Jeff, which I've been meaning to share with you.

You may recall I was a little MIA for a while because of a trial that lasted all summer... this had the unintended side effect of leaving Tucker looking generally like a wildabeast.  So, before we could go anywhere we needed a little Extreme Makeover: Horse Edition.   


(everyone always looks grumpy in the before photo)

So much better!
I'm not sure Tucker fully appreciated my efforts given that it was a little chilly that morning for a bath, but you know, the price of beauty and all that....  Thankfully it warmed up by the time we were ready to ride, and ended up being a crisp, sunny fall day.  Perfect weather for horse stuff, if you ask me.

Since the last time I rode with Jeff in the Spring, I've been working on getting my leg position more solid, sitting up straighter, and making my hands quieter.  Jeff was really complimentary of my leg position and my upper body posture at the posting trot (yay!) but still wants me sitting more "on my pockets" and opening my chest at the walk, sitting trot, and when I sit the canter.  My hands have definitely improved (I swear my left hand used to fidget of its own accord), but apparently I still fall back on a little left-right-left when Tucker braces, especially through transitions, and I am still dropping my left hand.  But... last time I saw Jeff he told me "quiet hands" every time he glanced my way, and this time he only commented on my hands twice.  So I think my hands have improved even if they still need work.  (I'll take it!)

As for Tucker, we need to work on getting him to work with his nose in front of the vertical rather than behind.  Thankfully this is pretty much exactly what we are working on in our lessons with Cindy, so I suspect over time all these things will come together.  Nice to know that Jeff and Cindy's advice is in sync though, right?  (Confirms my belief that good riding is good riding, in any discipline.)  I also noticed in the clinic that his canter to trot transitions were really weak, although those have improved over the past couple of months as well.

In the jumping portion of the clinic, Tucker was a downright angel. To be honest I had no intention of jumping, and came out with no standing martingale in a plain loose ring snaffle.  But when I told Jeff that Tucker hadn't jumped since coming back to work (assuming we'd be on the same page about not jumping during the lesson), Jeff responded with a cheerful "oh okay, we'll just jump a little bit then!"  (Insert moment of panic here.)

Thankfully, I had absolutely no reason to worry, since Tucker decided to wear his halo that day.  We were conservative and probably didn't do more than a dozen jumps, but enough to make me fall in love with the big brown horse all over again.  He was soft, and responsive, and quiet, and landed almost every lead like he hadn't missed a beat.  Such a great horse.

Also -- and here's what got me super excited -- he is straighter!  The dressage is working!  One of the exercises was to canter up the quarter line and then about midway, turn up the diagonal to a little oxer.  When I first saw it I inwardly groaned because I was sure I'd lose his outside shoulder on the turn.  But I just remembered our "quarter turns" on the haunches, pushed his shoulders in with my outside leg and seat, and rode from one straight line to the next... And it worked!!  Lightbulb Moment Number One!  (There are more, but I'll fill you guys in as we go.)

As for me, Jeff repeatedly said I am a "beautiful two point rider" which made me beam like a little kid, but (how come there's always a "but"?) that means I need to stay still at the jumps because otherwise I'm jumping way ahead.  Also, when the distance is tight, then I need to get into a half seat in front of the jump so I'm out of Tucker's way.  I could feel myself jumping ahead and was able to fix it a couple of times, but... apparently the three months off took more of a toll on me than Tucker, and while he came back swinging, I was pretty darn rusty. 

All in all though, we had a great day.  After the clinic Tucker hung out in the barn (he loves visiting Stoneleigh) with his ice boot on and the girls went to lunch and talked horse, and then we sat on the deck in the sunshine with some wine and talked more horse.  Absolutely perfect. There is nothing like getting your horse home and all ready for bed after a good day's work, is there?

Someone was a bit tired.