Monday, February 29, 2016

DQ Morph Mode: Engaged

So, I think I've actually done it.

I'm officially faking it as a DQ well enough that I'm fooling people.

Tucker and I got a lot of good work done this weekend.  I'm getting him more consistent in the contact, although I'm having to ride him a little deeper and rounder than I'd ideally like so I can control the spooking and general freshness.  So fingers crossed he settles a little this week and I can see if I can get the same consistency without keeping him quite so low and deep.  I mean, at some point he's going to need to look where he's going.  (For now I don't really want him to look since he's finding imaginary danger lurking around ever corner.)  But I do like the consistent feeling in my hands and the foamy lips.

But that's not what I'm happy about right now.

On Sunday, we were schooling canter-walk transitions, which are non-existent.  So I was feeling kind of embarrassed by the fact that a nice rider with a lovely little bay horse came in the ring while we were working on them.  Although we had some great moments in the canter itself, there were plenty of horrendous ones too as we struggle-bussed it through the transitions, and I really would have rather not had any witnesses.

When we finally got something approximating a canter-walk transition I let him quit for the day, because he was getting tired.  And while I was grabbing the pitchfork to clean up after ourselves, this other rider called out from across the ring, "Your horse is so pretty!"

Awwww.  I beamed and said thank you.  See?  I had nothing to be so self-conscious about. Coincidentally, I had just seen this on facebook that morning:

From the facebook page Equestrians Rock
We chatted a bit and I explained that he's a hunter that I turned into a dressage horse.  

"Really?!" she said.  "Well he looks really dressage-y!"

"Wow," I said, "I'll take that as a huge compliment, thanks!"

"Have you always ridden dressage then?"  She asked.

Here's where I had to take a second and stare at the ground to cover up my glee.  She thought I was a dressage rider!  You guys!  That means I don't look like a hunter princess in dressage tack anymore! I mean I had a feeling the transition was complete because over the weekend I saw this and felt nothing:

Photo from the HITS facebook page.
And no offense meant, this horse is awesome.
And then I saw this photo series on the Horse Magazine facebook page and had to stare, and stare, and stare.  

Charlotte Dujardin & Valegro.  I'm obsessed.
(Off topic, but there's video too.  And more pretty pictures from the CDI in Jerez, Spain, of this pair and others on The Horse Magazine facebook page and their website.  Can you tell I had a lazy Sunday morning browsing horse stuff on the internet?)

Anyway, I guess I need to start putting rhinestones on everything cause I've officially gone from Princess to Queen.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Horses as Characters: Why Tucker is Actually Melman the Giraffe

Austen did a hilarious post on why her horse Guinness is actually Emperor Kuzco from The Emperor's New Groove. While this is not an official blog hop, I felt compelled to do a companion post.

Because Tucker has a spirit animal.  And that spirit animal is Melman the giraffe from the Madagascar movies.

1.  Here is Tucker meeting a new friend over the stall wall:

2.  Here is Tucker in turnout with a new group:

3.  And this is what I see in my rear view mirror when I ship him:

4.  This is Tucker when I ask him to do something he thinks is too hard or he doesn't understand:

5.  They are both prone to hypochondria and believe in the power of acupuncture.

6.  And despite their size, both scare pretty easily.

7.  Sometimes Tucker hits a tree branch in the woods and panics.

8.  When he's really worried he needs to be soothed with many face pets.

9.  He has patented a move that we call "Up Periscope" when he sees something potentially alarming in the distance.


10.  And here are some stills from a recent dressage test.

Extended Trot

Leg yield
Medium Canter
Rein back
Square halt 
Happy Friday, from me and my goofy giraffe horse. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Let's Not Jinx It But....

We had another super ride last night. I'm not really sure what's happening, but last night (again!) Tucker started off wild (two days of pouring rain and no turnout) and ended up lovely.  I kept waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop... but it didn't.  

Started off not very promising.  His friend Blue left the ring and he started whinnying like a maniac. Then his buddy Cisco left and he threw a full-on Tucker-Tantrum, complete with stomping of the feet, flailing of the giant marlin neck, and finally blindly running backwards with zero regard for his own safety when he flailed so hard he slammed into the bit and scared himself.  Oh, Tucker.

Needless to say, this start did not exactly lead me to believe we were bound for greatness.  It did clue me in to the fact that we needed to get to work, asap.  Thank my lucky stars I planned ahead and plugged his ears because it was really windy and rainy last night and the indoor was loud, but Tucker was blissfully unaware.

I started trotting on a twenty meter circle at the top of the ring (farthest away from the door through which his friends left which seemed to be the source of most of his frustration) and made the rules really simple at first - just keep the same tempo, no flattening and racing, no sucking back and going sideways.  Sounds simple enough, took us a while to accomplish.  (Baby steps.)

We started off with so much flailing and head tossing that I was finding it hard to steer.  At which point it occurred to me that maybe if I tried that sitting trot thing again I could anchor myself a little and keep him from yanking me around so much.  It worked.  He tried three times to twist his head and yank me around and when I didn't budge, he just gave up.  It turns out sitting up and sitting back has practical advantages other than hiding your muffin top.  Who knew?

Gratuitous Tucker photo to break up wall of text
So once he was a little more consistent I started working on our usual straightness issues - on a circle he swings his haunches out as we are coming back to the rail, and his shoulder gets a stuck to the outside coming off the rail, so I worked on anticipating that a little bit better so I could catch it before it happened, which means less of a correction and no protest from him.  A fresh Tucker is a super sensitive Tucker, so I was doing my best to be tactful.

After I had the basic straightness under control and I could adjust the trot forward and back without issue, we did some lateral work:  shoulder-fore to leg yield, haunches-in to shoulder-in, zig-zag leg yields.  I kept my focus on trying to get him to bend through the middle, not just through his neck and shoulder.  

He started having a bit of a meltdown about his haunches-in to the right, because I wanted him to do it without dislocating my left shoulder (I know, I'm the worst) and he got super flustered and started bouncing up and down and threw it in reverse so we had to go back to the walk and work through it really gently until he took a deep breath and remembered he knows how to do it.  He's been pretty delicate lately.

Our canter work was awesome again, he is clearly much more comfortable in the canter than the trot, so I think on days where he's not wild I'll start cantering sooner in the warm-up.  I worked the right lead more this time, spiraled in and out on a circle to make sure I had control of his outside shoulder. I tested the waters with some very conservative lengthenings and he wasn't too exuberant, so I'm hoping we can do more of that as the week progresses.  We did some simple changes through the trot, I tried to sit but I kept sneaking one posting step in there, force of habit.  Once again there was no leaping, no bouncing, no flailing.  I'm really beginning to think the deep footing in our old indoor had a lot to do with all his antics.

We did a little more forward trotting after the canter work.  I am definitely not ready to sit through a trot lengthening, no idea how I'm supposed to accomplish that.  I had to post or I was literally going to bounce right off the horse.  As for Tucker, he stayed light and even in the contact when I moved him up, which I think (hope!) means he was sitting and pushing and not just running.

Is it possible the February horse has learned to use all his tension and energy for good instead of evil? Is he growing up now that he's almost 14?  Or did I just totally jinx it and I'm going to get bucked off next time?  

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Best Ride

We've officially put all of the anxiety and frustration that was the last couple of months at Riverview behind us.  Our new barn is working out great so far and Tucker and his buddies seem really happy. I am so grateful for your support.  One final word:  As horse owners, we need to stick together.  If you have a terrible experience at a facility, speak up!  Don't let other unsuspecting future boarders be misled and end up in the same sinking boat you were in.  It pains me to learn how many other people had horror stories from Riverview.  I was there almost a full year before I figured it out, because as a working ammie I'm just not there enough. Get the word out.  There are so many places online to do this - forums, facebook groups, blogs, ripoff reports, etc. I have been criticized for the negative impact my last post may have on their business.  To that I say, the only people who will be to blame if my post dissuades people from boarding there are the barn managers. It was their negligent practices and unprofessional behavior that led me to write that post, I was just reporting it.

And that, my friends, is all I will ever say again about that.

Let's talk about Tucker.  This horse, you guys.  I'm so smitten.  I went to the barn late Sunday afternoon, so I had the whole indoor to myself, and I could not have had more fun if I was riding Valegro.

Since we were alone, every noise and every shadow was scarier, and he started off really tense.  I did a lot of lateral work at the walk until he did it without jigging or head-flinging or hopping.  Then we moved up to the trot.  For some reason when he's fresh (not sure if this is just a tension or a back tightness thing or what) he gets a death grip on the left side of the bit and leans into it with all he's got.  So I was playing around with different things to see what would work, trying to move his haunches and his shoulders around and get him straightened out.

We were working through a haunches-in to the right, and I was trying to get him lighter on the left rein and keep him from bulging through his left shoulder while keeping the right bend.  We were in a really collected trot and I kept half-halting on the left rein, tapping with my left leg, shifting my weight around to try and figure out what would work, he was getting pretty amped about it, all this extra energy building up without a trap door out the left shoulder, and then all of a sudden.... tick-tock, tick-tock, he was passaging.  

As any seasoned, skilled, decorous dressage rider would do in response to such an effort, naturally I giggled.   

Anyway it was magical and amazing and I can't wait until I do that on purpose someday.  From there, it was like something clicked.  In my last lesson, Amy told me to think of pulling my belly button toward my spine, so my pelvis tucks under, mirroring what I want Tucker's lower back to do when he sits and collects.  So I have been working really hard on changing the position of my pelvis when I sit at the canter, and it has been helping me find my seat.  Karen did a blog post about this just recently, actually, and she explains it nicely and provides a video.  

So, since I had this awesome, buoyant trot and lots of forward energy underneath me, I decided to try to put this new position into play in the trot and see if I could sit him (which thus far has been impossible for me).  I think it was a combination of his roundness and my position, but I did it!  (We celebrate every tiny victory around here.)  I felt like I was leaning way back, but when I went by the mirror I was actually sitting up pretty well.  Still too round through my shoulders but that can be the next piece.  My abs are still sore two days later, so given what I know about the masochism of dressage, I think that means I'm doing it right.

I trotted and trotted and trotted, and sat and sat and sat.  We serpentined, we did small figure eights, we did our shoulder-in, 10m circle, haunches-in exercise down the long sides.  And Tucker got straighter, and more supple, and started relaxing and breathing.  I actually got through to him and he gave up the fire-breathing dragon/angry kangaroo/dram llama routine!  His mouth got all foamy and his ears got floppy.  It made me all sorts of happy.

I was almost afraid to canter.  I thought about quitting on that note.  But you know when you can feel like they are just waiting to canter?  Not in an anxious way, just in a willing way?  So I let him canter, we worked the left lead canter transition up and down a few times because he'd really rather grab the left rein and launch himself into it.  And then when he held the bend through the transition, we had the best left lead canter I've ever had.  It was round, and forward, he held a nice left bend, and I could adjust his stride with my seat and control his haunches from swinging around.  Even his downward transitions were balanced (which is nothing short of a miracle).

After some stretchy trot work, I did just a little right lead canter as well, but by that point he was getting tired so I didn't push it.  That's the easier lead anyway.  We just did a little bit and practiced a couple of transitions and I quit for the day with lots of pats and he proudly marched around snorting like a champion.

There is nothing like the euphoria you get from a good ride!  And nothing like the comforting feeling of tucking your horse in for the night with a warm bran mash, knowing the barn owners will be back to feed his alfalfa and check on him later.  Or the adorable faces that Tucker and his BFF Goose make begging for a candy cane.

I love these guys.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Why I left Riverview Stables

Last year, right around this time, I moved Tucker to Riverview Stables in Hillsborough NJ.  I had a friend boarding there already, and while the facility was a very "no frills" place, it was adequate for my needs and the care (at the time) seemed really good, based on what I was told when I toured the place. The footing wasn't great in the rings, but it was rideable, and since the board rate was so affordable (for our area, at least), I figured I would make do.  As my readers know, we had a great group of boarders and we had a lot of fun.  On balance, it was a good place for us for the better part of this year.  In hindsight... well, that's another story.

At some point this fall, a few odd things happened that made me a little concerned.  A horse was left out until late one night because they "couldn't catch him."  You can imagine by that time of night, all by himself, the poor thing was frantic.  A horse was found at night in his stall with a halter and lead rope left on him, the chain still over his nose.  A horse that was on stall rest wasn't getting wrapped and getting meds as promised.  I walked in one day and our barn manager was smoking a cigarette while he was mucking stalls.  (The idiocy of that. I just can't.)  I could go on, but you guys get the idea.  (Note that I'm only reporting what I have first hand, eye witness knowledge of.  It is not my intention to spread rumors.)

These little things (along with a few others) start to add up, and while none of them had happened to Tucker or me personally, I felt like maybe it was time to start looking around.  Then the bedding started getting skimpy, free choice hay turned into a hayloft with a padlock on it (nope, not kidding), the barn was a mess all the time, and my request to do something about the footing in the indoor went ignored for weeks.  I don't know what caused the change in care, I have no idea what's going on in the personal lives of our barn managers, and it's none of my business.  But, in my opinion, my list of complaints was too long for me to reasonably ask barn management to fix, so I found a new place and gave my notice at the start of this month.  

I had planned to leave on good terms.  I sent a very polite text when I gave my notice.

And this is where our story takes a turn.

Since Tucker is a bit of a special snowflake in the feed department, I pay for my own grain. Historically, the barn was buying my grain with their grain order and billing me for it.  I usually texted the barn manager asking for the cost each month and then left a check at some point during the second week.  Sometimes she had to remind me to leave a check, cause I get distracted when I'm at the barn and on pony time.  (These details will become important later.)

This month, the barn manager (we'll call her Kelly, because that's her name), gave me the total for grain, and I forgot to leave the check, so she reminded me again.  Then I got a text mid-week that Tucker was out of grain.  At which point I surmised that they had decided not to pick up grain for Tucker this month until they had my check. Whatever, I'm leaving and they want to make sure I don't owe them anything when I go.  I get it.  There are other horses in the barn on the same grain, so there's really no emergency.  Just replace whatever we used for Tucker for a couple of days.  No biggie.

So, last Friday morning, I was able to go into work a little bit later and I picked up my grain, and stopped by the barn to drop it off.  When I creaked open the feed room door, I was met by a roaring chorus of whinnying.  I looked around and saw the horses' breakfast buckets still stacked in the feed room.  It's now 9:30 a.m.  I had to get to my office, so I dumped my horse's grain (I still feel horribly guilty for not feeding the rest of them, the thought comes back to me all the time during the day and I will probably always regret that), and sent the following text:

At this point, acceptable answers would have been: "Sorry, at the emergency room, I think they may have to amputate" or "I am at [insert loved one's name here]'s funeral and [insert name of responsible party] was supposed to feed the horses" or possibly, "I've been kidnapped, please send Liam Neeson to help." Instead, this is what I received:

Okay, so my response was less than measured.  But what other possible reaction could I have when I learn that the only reason my horse hasn't been fed is because it's cold out?  Now, at this point we know two things:  1) There is absolutely no good reason the horses haven't been fed; and 2) Given the reaction wasn't even a measly, "oh man I overslept I'll be right there," we know that this probably happens all the time.  OMG.  We were told they feed around 6 or 7 am, and yet my poor ulcer prone horse was getting fed hours later.  That's not breakfast, that's BRUNCH, PEOPLE.  Let me ask you something.  When you're cold, do you stand around doing nothing to keep warm?  Do you deprive yourself of food for hours on end?  Does that keep you warm?  No?

Side note.  I was voluntarily outside in this same weather dropping off my grain, dressed for work. It was cold, but definitely not Antarctica-too-cold-to-go-outside-or-risk-hypothermia cold.  Definitely cold enough to cause colic if the horses are standing around with empty bellies for hours, however.  I just couldn't help myself, I had to ask:

Okay, so I exaggerated here a little.  The sun had been up for two and a half hours. It was an estimate.

Now this is where it gets interesting.  Kelly stops responding, and I start getting texts from the other barn manager, whose family owns the property.  We'll call him Randy, cause that's his name.

Now, I take full ownership of the fact that I was absolutely livid at this point so I wasn't being very nice.  There are definitely more mature ways to handle this.  You all might have handled it better than I did.  My horse hadn't been fed, no one seemed to care, and I was angry.

The check he's asking about is the check for my grain (don't worry, my board was paid on time as always).  As I explained above, they usually picked up my grain for me and billed me.  In case you're having as much trouble following this as Randy apparently was, this is the very same grain I had just dropped off.  But he wasn't about to let that go.

First of all don't tell me I'm not "responsabile!"  Second of all, don't ask me why I was even explaining it to him.  Like I said, I was angry.  Stick with me here, things are just about to get good.

Okay, I know, you're right.  I started name-calling and that definitely didn't help matters.  But can we please just for a second acknowledge the fact that Tucker the Wunderkind was just called a "piece of shit horse"?  I'm pretty sure this guy deserves the moniker I gave him. 

(If you need to take a moment to let your anger subside, I totally understand.  Tucker is basically an internet celebrity, and you love him.  I totally get it.)

Once again, I take full responsibility for the fact that I had to be reminded about my grain check twice.  I totally did!  I was there the prior weekend and I definitely forgot!  Now, if someone could please explain to me how that somehow excuses not feeding a barn full of horses, I would absolutely love to be enlightened.  I have to tell you as much as I try, I can't seem to get the correlation.

Also, I haven't heard "waaa cry about it Marissa" since at least 4th grade.  Thanks for the throw back!

Now, at this point, I decided that the other boarders at my barn had a right to know what was going on.  I thought that if this had happened to another boarder, I would want to know.  And I would want to see management's responses for myself.  So I sent this, to every boarder in the barn, along with the screen shots above:

Here's where Randy really goes bananas.  

Just in case he wasn't unprofessional enough before...  He went ahead and took that extra step:

I blocked out the other two boarders' names, because they really didn't do anything wrong.  I'm not sure why he singled them out to be honest.  The conversation deteriorates from there. I asked for my board back because I was now being evicted, his response was predictably offensive and ridiculous.  I haven't decided if it's worth pursuing.  

So, that's the story of how I ended up shipping four horses out last Friday night.  I've been told more boarders are leaving or might leave, and I'm happy to hear that because I genuinely cared for each and every horse on that property and it pains me to think of them standing there hungry for no reason other than the fact that the people charged with their care didn't want to leave their warm cozy beds.

And just so we are clear.  I know how hard it is to be a barn manager, and I know getting up early in the morning in the freezing cold day after day all winter kind of sucks.  The days are long and tiring and sometimes it feels like a thankless job when you do a lot of work and there's no one there to say thank you for it.  I know this because I've done it.  I've worked in barns for almost my entire life. And I know that what gets you out and in the barn aisle when you don't feel like going is the fact that there are helpless animals counting on you for their happiness and well being.  If that doesn't motivate you to get out of bed, you're probably in the wrong job.  

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Things I've Tried to Blog About this Winter

1.  Our Year End results.  Tucker was 4th overall at First Level in ESDCTA and Reserve Champion overall in ECRDA for the year.  I also have to send in for a First Level USDF Rider Achievement Award.  We officially have the first two scores we need for our Bronze Medal.  Good boy.

Such a champion.
2. Amy's training ride on Tucker in November (I know, it's been a while).  I was expecting magic and angels singing from on high.  She did a lovely, tactful job while he made faces and twisted his head around to avoid working and generally embarrassed me.  But his trot extensions were awesome.

3.  How every year the holidays somehow mean that your horse has multiple days off in the dead of winter, and how unfair it is that at this time of year when your horse needs to be ridden the most you have time off work but you have to do family things instead of horse things.  You know, the joy of the holiday season blah blah blah.  (This post was too whiny to publish.)

Me, November - January.
4.  How Ethan and I patched everything up.  I have tried to write this one a few times.  What it boils down to, is that my grandfather gave me good advice.  He said that if I wanted to work things out, I was going to have to give.  As a horse person, this was a familiar concept.  And I started giving, and things worked themselves out.  The End.

He's a smart man.  Also he drinks wine from a mug,
which is where I get it from.
5. I have contemplated blogging about home improvements. But then I realized I'm just not that kind of blogger and I couldn't live with myself if someone googled something about home improvement and landed here. The house is looking really cute though. Highlights include our new DIY black and white stick-on tile kitchen floor, and a revamped $100 Craigslist table and chairs.

6.  A product review of our new Rambo quarter sheet.  I love the shape of it - doesn't interfere with my leg.  It's really pretty, it has a tan plaid on the inside, and it doesn't generate a lot of static electricity which is good cause Tucker doesn't appreciate being "electrocuted."  And it's a great price. Short answer is, I'd recommend it. 

7.  My niece's pony ride 6th birthday party.  I led a pony around, he was an aged gentleman with an itchy face, and a true champ about the whole thing.  As we plodded along I tried to make conversation with the 6-year-olds.  One went like this: "Why is there poop on the ground?"  "Well, who do you think did that?"  "The horses?  But why?"  "Because horses poop outside, just like your dog."  "My dog poops in my kitchen and my mom cleans it up."  "Oh.  Your dog sounds terrible."  I'm not great with kids.

8.  Our last two lessons with Amy (yeah like I said it's been a while).  First we focused on getting him to stop carrying his haunches to the inside (lots of counter-canter), and then we focused on the shoulder fore and shoulder control in general, and now we are working on putting the front end and the back end together and getting the whole horse to bend, and he's going really well.  Or at least, my last ride was great.  It's winter, all bets are off.

9. How I really want a new saddle and how I sat in a Custom Icon Flight and my butt had a total Cinderella glass slipper moment... and then I realized I don't have $5,000.  It's a sad, short story. Maybe I'll start a gofundme.  (Kidding!  Only kidding.)

Hello, lover.
10.  What Tucker has really been up to all winter, which is a lot of bouncing.  I have begun referring to him as the giant kangaroo.  Enjoy:

I blogged about none of these things.  I first fell off the blogging wagon because I started binge watching Sherlock on Netflix (at least I'm honest)... and then it was the holidays... and then nothing but the above bouncing was happening... and then things started getting really bad at my barn and I was getting too depressed about it to even write about my horse... and basically I'm just full of excuses.  Don't listen to me.  

What I'm actually going to blog about this week:

The absolute worst possible experience imaginable at a boarding barn, why I got the heck out of there, and why I would never, ever, recommend that place.  To anyone.  Ever.  In fact I wouldn't let you board a goldfish there for half an hour.

I've missed you guys.  It's nice to write to you again, internet strangers.