Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Immeasurable Worth of Horses

So Lauren did a post today about Simon and how awesome he is... and how the emotional connection she has with him makes it impossible to set a value on him.

If I had to set a value on Tucker, I'd probably say it's a million dollars.  Because if I had a million dollars, I could invest it, so that when this foolish buyer realized he's not actually worth a million dollars, I could just buy him right back.  Because that's how that would go.  I could not stand to be without him for any sum.  And luckily, horses, unlike people, can't just decide they don't want to be with you anymore.  Well, I mean I guess he could just wander off in the middle of the night, but he's afraid to be alone, and he likes food, so...  I digress.

Back to the point!  So what kind of emotional value does Tucker have?

Well, when I feel helpless, he gives me a chance to help him not be afraid of the cat killing a bird under a bush.  (Which actually happened this weekend.  We were on pavement, and for a moment I thought, "So. This is how it ends.")

When I am sad, he will take me galloping through an open field as fast as we can go, and he never acts naughty, so I can just enjoy feeling free.

When I am happy, he is happy.  He's pretty much always happy, actually.  

When I feel like I can't do anything right, he'll help me get an 8.0 on a perfectly square halt.

When I need comfort, he will let me cry, or think, or even ramble on like a nut, and just be "there" for me in a quiet, comfortable way that most people can't.

When I feel like I don't really matter, he hears my voice and comes happily strolling up to the gate with his ears up because I'm his person.

When I need to have some fun, he is up for a mimosa and a trail ride.

When I feel like a failure, he gives me all these accomplishments to look back on.

When I feel like I'm giving and not getting in return, he shows up for me tenfold and I'm reminded that sometimes those efforts do get rewarded.

When my self-esteem tanks, he reminds me to be proud of myself.

When I need to feel like I've accomplished something, he gives me plenty of things to work on.  And sometimes that's all you need in order to feel better.

He teaches me that sometimes you have to be softer and gentler in order to get what you really want.

He teaches me that there is always something to be happy about, even if it's pouring rain.

He teaches me that our world is a beautiful place, and that getting out and feeling the sunshine on your face can really turn your day around.

He teaches me that success is not linear, and a setback does not equal failure.

He makes me feel stronger, and taller, and faster, and braver, and better than I am.

Someone said to me recently, "you've said your horse is your number one priority."  It was said with a negative connotation, but I said "Yes, he is," without hesitation or apology.  His happiness, his health, his soundness, his well being, and his comfort will always come first.  And maybe that makes me a little bit crazy, but it's part of who I am.  How could you put a dollar value on something that important?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

How Nicholas Sparks Ruined My Life

If you heard what sounded like a sonic boom emitting from New Jersey last Sunday, it was the sound of my heart breaking.

Ethan and I had a fight on Sunday morning, which are becoming more and more frequent. It centered around a horse care dispute, in which I thought he was being entirely ungrateful for my advice (that he asked for), and he thought I was being a condescending know-it-all and speaking to him like he's an idiot (my brother gave me that look that says "well, you can be a condescending know-it-all" when I retold this to him, so you don't have to take my side 100% here). 

After I had a fantastic ride and Tucker soothed my nerves and reassured me that all will always be okay so long as I can get a good, round, forward left lead canter, I went back home to deal with the situation, feeling confident that I'd turn this around into a teaching moment and I'd help Ethan learn some horse care stuff that he should know how to do anyway, as a horse owner, and I'd be helpful and patient and he'd be appreciative and we'd have a positive outcome from all this.

Ethan wasn't around so I settled down to watch some TV.  Ah, The Longest Ride.  I had initially avoided this movie because Nicholas Sparks is insipid (just ask Lauren), but maybe a good cowboy-themed Rom Com is just what I need to get myself into the mindset of being a loving and sweet girlfriend to my quasi-cowboy boyfriend.

Except NO.

Nicholas Sparks is a f***ing life ruiner.  You know what Nicholas Sparks and his ilk do?  They lead you to believe that real men should behave like the scripted men in these stupid movies.  That real men might actually waltz into the house with flowers, literally hat in hand, and say something charming.

That is not what happens in real life.  Did you know that?

What happens in real life is that when you piss a real man off, he stays pissed off.  He doesn't bring flowers, he brings a fight.  A fight that will make you jump out of your chair, angrily hitting the OFF button on the remote because you can't stand to hear another word of this Sparks-inspired idiocy, leaving the room in sudden darkness.  A fight that will send you storming through the house -- the house you love, by the way, the house you once looked at and saw your entire future spilling out around you like some stupid fairytale.  A fight that will leave you both standing in an empty kitchen screaming at each other, and finally, a fight that will end with you uttering the words "I'm done."

Those words will result in you packing all your worldly belongings into your truck in the middle of the night.  You'll be thankful, at the time, that you are a pick-up kind of girl, because you'll do it all in one trip, so he'll come home from work and find you and all your things gone.  And at the time you'll get some satisfaction from that image.  And you'll feel like a country song come to life and think about really ridiculous metaphors regarding tail lights and rear view mirrors, and at the time these will seem very profound.

And then you'll wake up in a strange bed every day for a week, alone except for a fluffy cat, whose terror at being in a new place will exponentially compound the guilt you feel (congratulations, you ruined your cat's life too).  And every single morning of that week will start the same way.  As you stir into consciousness, you'll have this vague feeling that something terrible happened.  And then as your senses pick up on the unfamiliar surroundings, you'll remember that your heart is broken and you just took a wrecking ball to the life you had been building.  And you will get up and drink coffee instead of laying there crying, because the rest of the world is oblivious to all of this, and you still have deadlines and responsibilities.

After a week of feeling this way, you will realize that you must try to fix this.  You will realize all the ways in which you played a hand in the demise of your relationship.  You will realize that you've mistreated the one person in this world that you cannot live without, and you will desperately fear the possibility that it can't be remedied.  

I am trying to fix it.  I am trying to figure out how to change and improve, the same way you'd try to figure out how to change and improve when a horse is not responding the way you had hoped.  And I am wishing that I believed more strongly in the power of prayer.  And since I don't, I am spending a lot of time with Tucker, working on things like our left lead canter.

Monday, September 21, 2015

In Which I Unlock the Secrets of the Universe

So lately we've been trying to find a good turnout group for Tucker because he has worn out his welcome after several relatively happy months with his turnout buddies (this happens when you are a 17hh obnoxious nudge), and I finally pulled the plug when the bites started becoming more frequent and more brutal (although I am totally fine with little nips, even if they are a regular thing, because boys will be boys).  So my (very patient) barn manager has been trying to find him a new group.  First try was a fail, and resulted in a very swollen and painful-to-the-touch kick in the neck.  He quite literally appears to have stuck his nose where it doesn't belong.

So that resulted in a lot of bareback in a halter with a glass of wine rides this week.  Because what else do you do with a horse who says he can barely turn his head?  

The lumpy view from above
(Tucker wasn't sure why his neck wasn't stabilized while we ruled out a spinal injury, and why I didn't order an x-ray, a cat scan, and a full cardio work-up, because he's pretty sure he felt his blood pressure spike when it happened, and you can never be too careful. He's been self-monitoring for signs of more serious injury -- dizziness, poor coordination, tingling, numbness, balance issues, etc.)

Less lumpy.  Still needed wine though.
He was finally back to his old self this weekend, so we had a jump school on Saturday (cause I'm the worst DQ ever) and a brilliant dressage ride on Sunday (cause I really want to be a DQ let's face it). Brace yourselves, I'm about to dork out on you pretty hard.

After reviewing the photos of my last show, I decided to focus solely on my left wrist.  I have a habit of breaking at the wrist, so my wrist is pointed up and my knuckles are down.  (This is another one of those times where my trainer mentioned this in a lesson and I fixed it for about thirty seconds and then got distracted and didn't think of it again, until I saw the photos and realized "OH that's what she's talking about. I need to fix that.")

And here's the thing -- while it takes literally constant vigilance to fix this habit, because I'm not really consciously doing it to begin with -- if I fix only that one thing, it actually changes everything else.  If I straighten my wrist, I have no choice but to bring my elbows to my side if I want to maintain contact on the reins.  And if my elbows are at my sides, I can't really lean forward.  And when there's a straight line from bit to elbow, I don't give Tucker anything to lean on, so he doesn't brace against my left hand and fall out of my right rein.  

It felt like I was unlocking the secrets of the Universe.  When he ducked behind the vertical and tried to avoid the contact, I could lift my hands a little and close my leg and get him to take the contact back, instead of fidgeting with my hands, which never really works.  Every time I felt like I was losing the connection on the right side or he was starting to lean on my hand, or bulge out through his left shoulder, I'd look down to see what my unruly left hand was up to, fix my wrist, and the problem would solve itself.  Amazing!

We had the most beautiful left lead canter work in recent memory.  I didn't break in the wrist, he stayed solidly connected on my right rein, and got nice and round and perfectly straight, no throwing his haunches out or resisting the inside bend.  He did some of his best collection work to date, as well as some great lengthenings where he didn't flatten out but kept that round bouncy feeling when he opened up.  It may not have looked all that impressive, but it felt like heaven.

Who knew something as simple as a little break in your wrist could change all that?  Oh, right, everyone knows that.  That's why all of us try to hard to improve our positions and fix weird little quirks like this.  

So you guys, dressage is hard (like really, really hard, it is so much more than just longer stirrups, boy was I naive, lolz) but rides like this are so satisfying!  I think I might be addicted.  Is there a support group?  Twelve step program?  No?  Just a training scale?  Ok then, I'll just be here trying to get by until my next fix....

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Win or Lose, Go Home and Practice

Okay so now that we've gotten all the celebrating out of the way, let's get real here.  We still have a long way to go. 

After explaining to a friend that I don't pay to schedule professional photos because I cringe at every photo of me riding and I can't imagine shelling out money in advance for photos I haven't even seen yet, she nudged her photographer friend who, in a well-meaning manner, decided to take photos of me anyway.  Which was a very nice gesture.

Cue meltdown.  

Don't get me wrong, the candids are adorable and I might buy one of them when I have the funds. Like this one, or this one, or maybe this one.  And the photos are very high quality. As for my riding, well, that's another story.

What the photos show is that, more often than not, my horse is behind the vertical and overflexed, my reins are too long, and I'm leaning forward.  My elbows appear to defy gravity.  My left wrist has a horrible break in it.  I am staring at my horse's neck in almost every shot.  As for the canter, while there are moments where I'm actually sitting up, this is a two-point, and this is just standing up out of the tack.  And don't even get me started on the zig-zag leg yield, which earned us a 5.0/5.5.  Not our best, but I knew it at the time, and it's still a hard movement for us.  Tucker looks lovely here, and it felt lovely, but GOOD LORD, what am I doing up there?

(Also, as an aside that I include here purely for comedic value, if you have ever wondered what the most awkward human being on Earth looks like, she looks just like this.  (It's totally okay to laugh.)  I think I have some kind of disorder where I see photos of myself and I want to never leave my house again.  Is that a real thing?  Or just a normal thing that incredibly awkward people feel whenever their awkwardness is captured on film?)

So I know this post is going to sound like I'm being super hard on myself, and unnecessarily woe-is-me, and I know some of you may be thinking, "this brat came in second place and she's complaining, I am sick of reading this stupid blog," but my point is that even when we have a really successful day, there is plenty to work on.  Denny Emerson posted a quote on his facebook wall that of course I can't find, but it said something like, "If you lose, go home and try to make it better.  And if you win, go home and try to make it better."  

If you are a video person, and all the links above were too annoying to click through:  

Test 2: 

Test 3:

There are parts that are great, which I highlighted in yesterday's feel-good post.  There are also parts that are not so great, which we still need to work on.  We have definitely made improvements in many respects, but that doesn't mean we're done. And that's probably the part of our sport that is equal parts frustrating and motivating -- there is ALWAYS room for improvement.  

Monday, September 14, 2015

ESDCTA 2015 First Level Reserve Champions!

Victory gallop!!
Yes folks, we did it.  Tucker and I rounded out our ESDCTA season with a score of 68.9 in First-2 and 66.0 in First-3, which gave us 2 second-place finishes, making us First Level Reserve Champions.  I will go over the tests (and their constructive criticisms) later this week, because today's post is simply for telling the story, sharing pictures, and being super, super happy that I get to compete with this incredibly sweet horse who tries just so darn hard all the time to be a good boy.  

He was basically perfect all day.  My old roommate and one of my best friends Karen came to the show to cheer us on and groom, so Tucker was of course thrilled to see Aunt Karen, and my mind was much more at ease having a helping hand all day long.  Amy was also there for another student and graciously agreed to stay to coach me as well, so I had expert advice for the day, which obviously never hurts.  Tucker warmed up great, forward and loose, no issues whatsoever, and we ran through all the different pieces of 1-3, which we were doing first.  

Thank goodness Amy was there because when they re-set the ring from the small arena to the large arena, the markers for the letters were a tad off, so E and V were too close together.  Amy made them fix it before I went in, and I thanked my lucky stars she was there because (a) I'm  not sure I would have noticed; (b) even if I did notice, I wouldn't have known what to do about it; and (c) I really don't think I'm slick enough to cover up something like that as smoothly as the first rider did.

The test rode very well.  He was a little quiet when we first went in the ring, so the opening trot work was not as good as in warm-up, but all his canter work was just beautiful, and the trot work after the canter was lovely.  I did unfortunately forget where I was going (doh!) at the very end of the test and had to circle, but on the upside, I didn't let it phase me because I'm learning a little 2-point deduction on one movement isn't a big deal, so I didn't give up and stop riding and we still finished strong.  The leader of the class scored over a 70, so those 2 little points wouldn't have changed my placement anyway.

Square halt!
Improved stretch
Look at me sitting up for the canter lengthening!
We had an hour in between, so we let Tucker get back on the trailer and chill, and I had a fruit cup and some water.  I've discovered that a fruit cup is the perfect thing to eat when you still have to show by the way.  It hydrates, gives you a little sugar, and doesn't sit heavy in your stomach.  Thank you, incredibly kind food truck guy, for convincing me to eat a little something in between my tests, and treating me to a fruit cup.  You were totally right.  Hit the spot.

We tacked back up and I did a quick ten minute warm up for the second test.  At Amy's suggestion, we cantered around the outside of the ring before going in.  Definitely doing this from now on. Tucker was much more up in front of my leg, so the opening trot work was much more forward in the second test.  The judge was smiling at me the whole time, and although she probably does it for everyone, it made me feel so good about myself.  I really like the 1-2 test, and this time especially it rode really nicely.  By the time we did our stretchy trot circle at the end, I was fighting to keep a smile off my face.  I was beaming with pride by the final salute.  I know I'm new to dressage, but I just knew it was a solid test.

Loved the opening center line
Nice lengthening 

I'm losing my position a little here but I love how round he is
Powering through our final canter lengthening
Love this effort for the stretchy circle!
After hearing that we were sitting in second place after the first test, we went back to the trailer and got his white polos on for the award ceremony.  And Karen, Ethan, Tucker and I just hung out by the rings while we waited for the second class to finish, played with Tucker, ate some ice cream, joked around... it was great.  The photographers started snapping candids of me feeding Tucker a popsicle and all three of us jumping up and down when they announced my reserve, so I am kind of excited about seeing those!

Also:  Look. At. Those. Ears.  Omg.
I got back on and awaited my neck ribbon, and I cannot remember the last time I was so purely, genuinely, positively happy.  For all the times you have a bad ride, or a crappy show, or you drag yourself out of bed too early in the morning or climb in the tack after a much-too-long day at work, or you realize your horse habit is going to send you to the poor house, or you lay awake at night worrying about whether your horse's feed/supplements/shoeing/program/tack/etc. is right for him,  or whether that shoulder-in is a pain issue or a training issue, or whether you'll ever learn to sit the trot....   moments like that one make it TOTALLY worth it.  Seriously, THIS is why we do this:

The happiest moment... I squealed when they put it on him.
Tucker was less than happy that our second place prizes were whips.
But they're really pretty.
World's First Dressage Giraffe
So proud of him.

This IS my best angle STOP TRYING TO CHANGE ME
I love this giant goof of a horse.  He got HANDFULS of treats.  I literally stuffed his face.  So lucky I get to call him mine.   Also... so, so, so lucky to have amazing friends, an incredibly supportive boyfriend who was just as proud as I was, and the most helpful, kind, and encouraging trainer.  

Still smiling!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


So, I've tried over the years to give my readers the clearest mental picture possible, so that you all can truly understand the RIDICULOUSNESS that is my beloved Tucker.

If I haven't succeeded yet, this post will surely do it.  

As I've mentioned, Tucker doesn't have the best feet, so as a rule I don't hose him off after I ride. Instead, I park him on the cross-ties in front of a giant industrial fan to dry off, before currying him and turning him back out for the night.  While he's drying, I head upstairs to the tack room to put all my stuff away.  If I time everything right it's actually pretty efficient.  

So last night, I start this usual routine, flip on the fan and head upstairs with my stuff.  I'm not up there long before I hear him SCREAMING for me over and over and over like he's Lassie and he's just discovered that Timmy fell down the well.

At first, I chalked it up to the fact that his favorite mare left while we were riding and he still wasn't over it, because he's basically a teenage girl staring at her phone waiting for it to ring, and he spent the second half of our ride last night laser focused on the in-gate in case said mare should reappear miraculously.  I took it as an opportunity to practice riding through tension.  

But then I got downstairs and found him like this.


Ridiculous.  Completely and utterly ridiculous.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Horse to Stretch Down **

In my August lesson with Amy Howard, neither of us were really too happy with Tucker's trot work and I wasn't entirely sure what was going on.  Since then, I've changed a few things:
  1. As I've already blogged about, I changed my warm-up from long and low with loopy reins to forward walking on contact and lateral work until I feel him take both reins.
  2. I've also been very conscious of whether I'm riding "back to front" or "front to back."  I actually read something helpful about the human brain being wired to fix things with our hands, and as riders we need to retrain that instinct to fix things with our seat, leg, and balance.
  3. I switched farriers.  We had tried a new farrier for the past couple of months who was a very nice guy but ultimately wasn't working out for our needs.  So I had to make the terribly awkward and uncomfortable farrier-break-up call, but I'm really happy with how his feet look after the switch.  Now we've got him balanced a little better, with less toe and a little wider at the heel, and I think it's helping him get his hind legs under himself a little more.
So Amy was much happier with our trot work in the warm-up in our lesson last week. I showed her the things I've been doing to get him in the right rein. For example, we start off on a circle going right with his nose pointed toward the rail until he fills the inside rein. Amy added to that by telling me that once he takes the right, soften the left (outside) rein, and then he'll come back to a true bend without dropping the right. Tiny little change, but a big difference.

So once we were warmed up I explained that since our last lesson, where Amy told me that the stretchy trot should have enough contact that I could pick up a canter from it, I've realized that I'm doing the stretchy trot all wrong (the "conscious incompetence" phase).  I lengthen my reins, drop the contact entirely, and Tucker pretty much gives me a hunter trot, not a real "stretch."  This explains why it's consistently our lowest scoring movement.  So, I did some research, made a playlist, and found this amazing video, which of course I can't find now.  (It was a blonde woman on a liver chestnut, in a fancy indoor, probably European, stretching the trot down and picking the reins back up.  Anyone??)

Unfortunately, even though I've tried to work on it at home, I have been running into a complete dead end.  I just could not seem to explain to Tucker that I wanted him to take the reins from me and stretch down.  I could make my reins longer, or send my hands forward, but ultimately he doesn't reach down when he's on the contact and the only way to get him to stretch is to chuck the reins at him.

I explained all this to Amy and she walked me through the process.  In the stretchy trot, his back should come up more (and I should encourage him to lift his back with my legs), and then he should reach down but maintain the same connected in my hand, and all the while the tempo shouldn't change. We discussed that it's a more difficult process for a horse who used to be a hunter, because he knows the "hunter frame" so well, and has a spot where he thinks he should go, and wants to create a loop in the reins (vs. a dressage horse, who doesn't know about that frame and understands stretching down into contact).

So, in my lesson, we tried asking for incremental stretches downward, like giving 1 cm of rein and asking for 1 cm of stretch. Then I'd give a little more, but when he wouldn't stretch more, my reins would go slack, I'd take back to re-establish the contact, Tucker would curl up, and we'd achieve the opposite of what we were going for.  So we talked about not "taking back," and instead lowering my hands, spreading my hands, or pushing my hands forward, so I worked on that part but we still didn't get much stretch out of him. We tried opening the inside rein to get him to bend around and down, but as soon as I'd go back to center his head would come right back up. 

At a certain point, Amy said "okay, hang on, he's not getting it," and walked toward the corner of the ring.  I figured, okay, she's getting her tall boots, I'm the last person who should be teaching a horse a dressage concept, this makes perfect sense.  But then she grabbed something from a jar and came back toward us.  I had visions of being forced to carry rocks in my hands along with the reins, a trick instructors have used on me in the past to make me close my fingers.  

I can only assume that Tucker believed at this point that Amy had retrieved some unknown dressagey torture device and was lamenting his fate and mentally getting his affairs in order.  Much to our mutual surprise, the thing Amy retrieved was sugar.  To which Tucker said, to quote Adam Levine, Yes please.

So we started at the halt, and the goal was to get Tucker to understand that he needed to reach down while I maintained contact with his mouth through the reins.  At first, Tucker tried to make his lips as long and dexterous as possible because he was convinced that while I had the reins in my hands, his neck could not move.  The poor thing could NOT understand why this crazy lady was offering him a treat and not bringing it to his lips when clearly it was just out of his reach.  He was so convinced his neck could not move that Amy asked if he liked sugar.  (That's like asking me if I like wine.)

Eventually, Tucker got sick of contorting his face and tried moving his neck.  Once we did this successfully at the halt (where I just leaned down and kept connection with his mouth while he ate his sugar), Amy stayed alongside of him and kept offering sugar to get him to stretch at the walk and trot, which resulted in an inordinate amount of drool up her arm, several stifled giggles on my part, and many moments where I tried not to bumble the whole effort by either pulling back or letting my reins get slack (which would have both sent the wrong message and defeated the purpose of the exercise).

Although he did start to stretch toward the end of the ride, I was not entirely convinced the sugar had caused the breakthrough.  I am, after all, a lawyer pessimist born skeptic.  We joked that it might seem a little hokey and it wasn't exactly classical dressage, but I figured we gave it a shot and if it mildly improved things, great.  Nothing to lose, right?

You guys.  It totally freaking worked.

In my rides since that lesson, I have worked on the stretchy trot with contact, and it's completely improved.  On Friday during our ride I had him trotting all over the ring, changing direction, doing serpentines, and all different size circles, stretching down with contact.  Granted, ideally we probably want him stretching down farther, but he actually gets it.  Yay for smart ponies and double-yay for trainers who think outside the box (or jar, as the case may be).

** This post is alternatively titled, "Pour Some Sugar on Me, in the Name of Dressage," "Sweet Trot of Mine," or "Sugar, Sugar, Pony, Pony."

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Product Review: Equibox Equestrian Monograms

So I've been sitting on this one a while, but like Tracy at Fly On Over I am really happy with this product and have to tell you guys about it.  (Also, I need a little more time to sort through my lesson last night, where we focused on the stretchy trot.  Deceptively difficult.)

I recently got a new CO helmet because mine was old, and in addition to that being a safety concern, it was really starting to stink.  In the literal sense.  And of course now that I was getting a new helmet I wanted a monogram for it, because monograms are the best.  Everything in my life would be monogrammed if I could get my act together to get it all embroidered.  But I digress.

First ride in the new helmet was obviously in the indoor
because it was raining and who wants to drench a new helmet on the first ride?
First off, Mallory, who started and runs Equibox, delivers really excellent customer service.  I emailed her with some nit-picky questions and I received a response within minutes.  You see, my last initial is a Q, and that letter can be printed in a number of ways, some of which look like a 2, some of which look like a popsicle, and some of which look like they're depicting something that should not be viewed by minors (Tiffany & Co, I'm looking at you.)  Mallory was happy to send me sample images of my initials so I could be sure that I liked the "Q."  She also told me that I could order the decals in Shimmer Black, which was a new color not on the website yet (it's listed there now), that looks great on tall boots.

I ended up ordering a 1.5" helmet monogram in Gloss Black and 1" tall boot monograms in Shimmer Black. With shipping ($8.13 from Canada to US) my order total was $26.13.  A very affordable splurge! They took about two weeks to arrive, as promised, and came in these cute little envelopes.  

I think it took me less than five minutes to apply them.  I didn't quite get the helmet monogram aligned straight but I don't think anyone would ever notice but me.  If that's the kind of thing that would bug you, maybe use a ruler. Mallory advised me to make sure everything was really clean before applying, so I used a face wipe (which I normally use for the inside of my helmet) to clean my helmet and some tack cleaner spray for my boots.  I pressed down really carefully and used the edge of whatever I had in my trunk to get all the air out and get it smooth before peeling the plastic back off the decal. So easy.

I have to say, I think they look awesome.  

Understated and classy.  
Just the right amount of sparkle.
And they are holding up really well.  There is a tiny edge of the "M" on one boot decal that is starting to peel in one spot after many cleanings over the past 3 months, but I think overall they will stay on.   I'm sure if you are a little more careful than me when cleaning, you won't have that problem (don't be like me).  The helmet decal seems to be on there for good.

Go order yourself some.  Seriously, here's the link.  My only regret is that I ordered a trunk decal from another company and it fell right off.  So I will have to place another order with Mallory at Equibox!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Stone Tavern Dressage: In Which We Redeem Ourselves

So, when we last left our heroes, we had just come out of the ring unscathed but rattled....

I walked Tucker down to our next ring and checked in with the ring steward for the next class because I am neurotic and still don't really believe that dressage rings run on schedule, and after confirming that I had just under an hour, I hopped off, loosened my girth, parked him in the shade and mentally rehearsed my next test.

Side note:  there is a theory of sports psychology that if you picture your performance going well, it creates the same neural pathways as though you really are practicing it, so it will improve your performance.  Amy says this: "knowing your arena and the test as a large movie in your mind's eye is very important. Visualize yourself and Tucker making the movements exactly the way you want them to be.... in detail... as you practice your test." (Isn't she great?)  

Ethan found me and we talked over the last test, I told him Tucker was being really difficult, hard to steer, ultra-sensitive to my aids, tense, explosive, etc.  We discussed that his romp may have upset his sensitive tummy and Ethan made a call to the nearby Tractor Supply to see if they had Ulcer Gard. They didn't, but I had given Tucker a dose before we left the barn so that would just have to do.  I appreciated the gesture nonetheless.  Since we had plenty of time, I brought Tucker up to the trailer and he took a long drink of water and fell asleep under a tree for a few minutes.

I climbed back on, and headed back to the warm-up.  He was content walking on a long rein, but I felt a bit at a loss as to how to prep him.  So I just said screw it, and hacked him around like he was about to go into a hunter undersaddle.  I figured at that point the day was probably already blown so at the very least if I could just get him to go in the ring and relax, that would be a win.

I got to the in-gate and realized they had waived jackets, so I pulled off my jacket and a very nice person told me to undo my collar so I wouldn't be eliminated. (Someday I will fit in. Someday. Until then I will rely upon the kindness of strangers, Blanche DuBois style.) I picked up my reins and trotted around the outside, and to my surprise, Tucker was no longer hanging on my left rein but pretty steady in both reins.  So, I sent him a little forward and hoped for the best.

We got a 7.5 on our centerline ("nice entry"), and 7's and 7.5's on our lengthening and working trot work. 8's on both leg yields, which were lovely considering he exploded every time I asked him to move over earlier in the day.  His medium walk and free walk were a 6.5, he still wasn't quite relaxed enough to stretch.  The judge said we had "precise" and "prompt" canter transitions (7's, amazing), but we got a 6.5 on his 15m circle and lengthening left because he just couldn't give me as much lengthening as usual. He was keeping a really close eye on the grandstand seating to the right of the ring, which he has always believed to be suspicious as hell. Fair enough buddy.  

His right lead canter work scored well (7, 7.5), but unfortunately when I went for the downward transition in the corner from lengthened to working canter, he broke to trot.  I don't know if we were both tired, or if he was spooking at the judge's stand, or if I let him get off balance in the lengthening (or all of those), but that mistake earned us a 4.0.  His stretchy trot was "conservative," a 6.0, which seems to be the best we've got right now in any circumstances.  And we finished with an 8.0 on our centerline and halt, which did feel nice.

Of course, I'm a perfectionist and I'm really hard on myself, so I walked out of the ring feeling like that didn't go well at all.  My 15m circles weren't as accurate as usual so I thought they wouldn't score well, and I was annoyed about breaking to trot, and I knew his canter lengthenings weren't up to the quality they can be, so I wasn't sure how they would score.  

I was a real treat to be around. let me tell you.  I felt like the whole day was a giant waste of money and I let my horse get loose and stressed him out and then expected him to perform and it didn't go well and I should probably just freaking quit showing already because the hunters were stressful and now I've managed to make dressage stressful too and this poor horse and waaaah, waaaah, waaaah.... (Poor Ethan, is all I can say.  I apologized profusely later for my generally appalling behavior.  And blaming him for my horse getting loose.  Which was clearly an accident.  I can be a real jerk sometimes.)

So in the middle of my sulking, pouting, whining, pathetic little pity party, we heard over the loud speaker:  "Results of First Level Test 2, in first place, with a score of 68.4, number 155, Marissa Quigley riding Moon River...."  Ethan and I just looked at each other open mouthed in shock.  "Did they just announce that you won?"  "Um, I think so?"  "But I thought you said it didn't go well...?"  "Well what the heck do I know!"

Good Tucker is very, very good.  Marissa could use a little adjustment in the positive attitude department.  We'll blame it on the residual stress of seeing your pride and joy go cantering off toward god-knows-where unaccompanied.  Regardless, though, now that I watched the video and read my test, I am very pleased and I have definitely stopped pouting.  I even got a 7.5 on my collective score for Rider Position & Seat.  So maybe I'm learning to sit up and sit down?  

We have 3 more shows before the end of our season, ESDCTA Championships, ECRDA Championships, and BLM Championships.  (Yep, I'm shamelessly bragging here, and I invite you to freely roll your eyes at me for it, but I qualified for those.)  We also now have enough 60+ scores to submit for a USDF Rider Achievement Award at First Level, which is not too much more impressive than a participation award, but still...  we did technically earn it.  (We also earned the first 1/3 of our bronze medal scores but I'm not publicly admitting that I'm chasing bronze yet so I won't mention that. If you get me.)