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?