Thursday, September 1, 2011

Who was your trainer?

This is a reponse to a blog on the Mugwump Chronicles today.

Who were my trainers?  I compiled a list of important people in my learning.

Anna Sewell, Walter Farley and Marguerite Henry for sure!

My neighbor Marnie who showed in the local H/J circuit and looked at me with horror every time she saw me barreling down the gravel driveway on my barefoot pony with no helmet but who tried to help me learn a little more and think a little more.

Applejack, the best pony a kid could have had.

Alicia who gave me my first job at a barn, introduced me to dressage and kept me out of at least a little bit of trouble in my teens.

Cody, my first OTTB, who taught me so much. We both managed to survive each other and even win at some smaller hunter shows. I wish I could still remember what it felt like to canter on his back. I’m glad I was able to find him such a good forever home when I couldn’t be the one.

Heather Whitney, for understanding that Cody was all I could afford and always trying to help us anyway. I’d had other trainers who I could tell looked down on me for not having the money their other students had. Heather was a friend and never bothered with those politics. She was also an extremely talented horseperson and its been a joy watching her rise to be a BN trainer.

Rhonda Bowerman, for showing me what a finely tuned WP horse looks like and for the showmanship lessons. I finally get what it takes to have a horse with good manners. I’ve heard so many horror stories about WP and paints. Rhonda’s had World Champion APHA horses and I’ve never seen anything but well built, content horses with long, long show careers come from her barn. Her assistant, Beth Wagner, for seeing everything. And for always being willing to teach me new things. I love her patience and her ability to explain what I need to do…and the kid is only 23. Humbling!

Tina Renison for her amazing work with Tax. He’s such a joy to ride these days.

All the family at Butte Star Ranch in Sutter for teaching me about how to sort cows. I got to watch a one rider and dog team sort by themselves. Amazing to get to see a real ranch dog do his job. I should have been born on a big ranch 100 years ago, I swear it.

Fugly Horse of the Day for teaching me to look at the horse world and my role in it, for helping when I got involved in a local abuse issue, and for introducing me to Mugs. Janet for teaching me the importance of respect and fairness in training. Also for giving it to me straight when I needed it and reminding me to ride like Ben. Now if I can just master my timing and feel I’ll be 20 steps ahead of where I was before I started reading this blog.

I’m also enjoying Larry Trocha’s newsletters. He’s really close to me so I’m thinking I might go down to watch one of his cow clinics next summer..

Especially to Grace and December, my girls, for teaching me mares aren’t all bad and helping me get over a lot of my fears, each in their own way.

So, any of my readers want to chime in??

Thursday, August 25, 2011


The nights are already getting shorter. I’m not ready for it yet. Our next APHA show is only one month away. I need to get a light in Charlie’s stall before he grows a winter coat. On a good note his bleached summer hair is shedding. Right this second he looks amazing; deep red and so handsome. His top line looks better and his hip has really filled out.

A couple weeks ago Tax twisted up a shoe, stepped on his clip and ended up with an abscess. Limping around on his front made his stifle start locking up again bad. With each step he looked like he was going to go crashing to the ground. I went home and sobbed myself to sleep. I soaked him for a couple days with Epsom salt and after two days suddenly no more limping. There’s a cut on his coronet band where the abscess may have ruptured. Started with some lunging to build back up his strength and make sure he was sound. Rode him for the first time last night and he feels stronger than before the abscess. No more locking up and his strides felt fluid and forward. Almost made me cry again but this time with happiness.

December…I love that goofy little mare. She gets so mad when I wear spurs or make her do lead changes. She does everything I ask but not without telling me in her own little way she is not pleased. Good thing she’s so darn cute. I’m thinking about seeing if I can find a kid that wants to lease her. She seems to actually like kids. She lets them get away with murder and doesn’t complain then about anything. She’d make such a nice little hunter show horse for the right one. She’d have to stay at my barn this time though. I promised her I won’t ever let anyone starve her again and I meant it.

Anyone think its possible to manage a small boarding barn with about 10 horses while I work full time? I’ve been offered a shot at it but I think I need a handy partner to help me out around the place. Still, I can’t really afford to say no right now. A little extra income would be nice…hmm…

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Its Official

Charlie and I will be showing in our first APHA show on August 13th.  I just got my novice ammy walk/jog card by email and I should have his transferred papers this week.  We're really going to do it.  Now, if I can just remember to keep breathing!

I wanted to take a moment to thank my trainer Rhonda Bowerman, of Bowerman Show Horses at Sierra View Ranch in northern CA, for being the most supportive and helpful trainer I've had.  This whole APHA world is new and scary for me and she makes it seem so easy.  I think my favorite thing about her though is seeing all the horses at the shows that she trained as youngsters who are still showing in their teens and are sound, healthy and happy.  She knows how to win and has a reputation for it without grinding her horses into the ground. 

In addition to that she is the absolute queen of showmanship and halter.  I never imagined liking showmanship (what, you don't actually ride the horse?) but I have learned to enjoy the partnership and the careful planning it takes to execute the pattern.  Its teaching me not to be nervous in front of a judge and that is priceless.

I'm going to show in the showmanship classes and maybe halter for fun.  I may not win but every person in the class helps the winners get APHA points and its time to pay my dues even if I don't place.  I'm certainly going to give it my best though!  Expect some updates and maybe some pictures soon.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


A story I wrote about our winning class on show day:

I recently jumped a hunter course at a show. It was my first time jumping a full course on the horse I was riding and the first time he had done it in a couple of years. I knew we had the ability but I was nervous after a rough go in the previous Hunter Hack class.

Allonsey knows his job well but if left to his own devices he rushes to the fences. I’d half-halted too aggressively going to the second fence in the line, felt like I’d lost his rhythm and forward motion and closed my legs on him before the fence to get him pushed up a little. I got nervous and ahead of him; a bad habit I developed as a kid. With my weight too far forward when he got in deep and still made the jump I was off balance and bumped him with my spurs. Fortunately, for me he’s a pretty honest horse. He made the jump, but gave me the what-for on the other side with a big buck. I managed to keep my seat…barely. It was my fault, not his, and realizing my mistake I made a plan to correct it in our next class.

When they called our number for the Warm-Up Hunters, we entered the arena and picked up a nice forward trot. We had to start on his less flexible side so our canter transition wasn’t as clean as I hoped. I got his frame back in a small circle and looked out to find our first jump. This time I counted the strides in my head to the fence and as I felt him start to increase his speed I tightened the outside rein slightly, sat back and left everything else alone. Our first two fences were over before I knew it. His body was straight and his lead correct, I turned to look across the diagonal. Another two stride line was ahead of us and I felt him start to pick up speed again a couple strides before the fence. I checked him again with a tiny half-halt. This was the line we’d screwed up last time and my heart was in my throat. Again, he was almost perfect. He likes to get in deep which I’m not used to since my mare tends to jump everything from too far. It does give him a nice round basque over the top of the fence though and probably looks much nicer than it feels.

Our next turn down the far rail took us to a three fence combo. Again, my nerves jangled. This was our first three fence line together. We’d worked into a rhythm by now and Allonsey didn’t even need the half-halt this time. We took each fence one at a time, breaking it down into easier pieces. I kept my head up and watched the far arena fence as I’d heard so many trainers tell me over the years. Again he felt a little deep to me at the last fence but since I’d remembered to sit back I rode it well giving a little release with the reins as his body came up to meet mine.

Only one fence left and I looked out to make the turn wide but straight. My hips moved in time with Allonsey’s even strides and I found the path in front of me. Coming up to the last fence my heart was racing fast enough I don’t even remember much other than it felt clean. We completed the course, dropping to a trot in a small circle before leaving the arena.

Allonsey’s owner, Alyson rushed over to congratulate me. “You guys looked really good,” she said and I knew she was right. I was relieved he had trusted me not to make the same mistake twice. A horse that doesn’t hold a grudge is a valuable thing in a showing partner.

“Look at this,” I said to Alyson holding up my hand. My whole body was still shaking from the adrenaline coursing through me.

“You okay?” she asked.

“That’s why I do this,” I grinned. “In five minutes I’ll be coming down off this high and it feels amazing. No matter what I’m proud of us for getting back in there. That was so good we’re definitely done for the day.”

I hopped down to watch the last two riders in our class run through the course. There was one late entry that I was worried about. Her run was pretty clean. As the announcer started to call the places I kept listening for her number as they called out the places. When we got to third and I hadn’t been called I started to get nervous. When neither she or I placed second, my heart sank. She had won and I hadn’t placed at all? I had really thought we did better than that. I was in the middle of reminding myself that it was only one person’s opinion when the announcer called out the winner.

“In first place we have Anna riding Allonsey.”

My face broke into a big grin as I reached up to hug Allonsey’s neck. “Come on guys. Let’s get that ribbon and head home.”

Monday, July 18, 2011

Stormy, Part 1 - In which Stormy learns to lunge without taking me sand skiing

One of the very first things I heard about Stormy was that he bit his new owner right in the face. Not the best introduction to a horse ever, right? My opinion didn’t change much watching him drag his new owner all over the place, watching him dance wild-eyed in the cross ties, or as he started multiple fights with any horse he could get close to. All of this bad behavior was packed into the 15hh body of a little grade horse that is supposed to be an appy/QH cross but looks like an maybe QH/Arab cross to me.

Lynne is a new horse owner. She’s had a few lessons and used to sponsor some of our retired horses that were boarded at our barn. She would buy them treats, groom the oldies-but-goodies and help with some barn chores. She’s got some medical issues and she says she finds it therapeutic. I think she may have taken some lessons when she was a kid. She’s a nice lady, who cares about horses and means well but hasn’t learned much about handling green horses yet.

She decided to purchase a horse for her family and like so many unfortunate beginners picked one without consulting a more experienced horse person. We had recommended she at least get a pre-purchase exam, and she said she did but Stormy showed up with some hind end lameness I think would have been caught if she had worked with a vet. Turns out that is the least of Lynne and Stormy’s problems.

I’d hopped on Stormy once when he dumped Lynne. It was a pretty scary day and I’d thought she was dead when she first fell. Fortunately she just had the wind knocked out of her pretty bad. I had gotten on with the assumption that he was a broke horse and couldn’t figure out what was going on. Every time I made contact with the reins he freaked. He didn’t want to move and then when he did he wanted to run off and wouldn’t move straight. I hadn’t felt like I’d gotten much sorted out but didn’t push too hard because he felt pretty explosive. He shook his head and made quick turns and sudden bolts like he wanted to lose me. I got one decent circle and called it quits.

Recently I was out showing Charlie to a potential buyer. We had just wrapped up and were in the barn brushing him out. I heard a bit of commotion from out by the pastures, and admit I was a bit worried. I’d seen Lynne head out to lunge Stormy. Over the couple of months she’s owned him lunging has deteriorated into Stormy dragging her around the arena and taking off when he pleased to go start fights over the fences with the horses in the pasture. I decided as soon as I could get Charlie put away and say goodbye to my guest I would go check on her.

Before I could wrap up Lynne entered the barn in tears and fled to the tack room. I quickly said my goodbyes with promises to call and follow up and followed Lynne to check on her.

“What’s going on,” I asked.

“Stormy took off and broke Tax’s gate, and I think he broke my finger too,” she said trying not to sob.

“Where is he now and is Tax still in his pasture?” I asked.

“The gate is still blocking Tax in the pasture. I got Stormy put away. I just can’t do this.” She held up her swollen finger to inspect it rather than look at me.

I could hear the little sigh that went off in my head. I don’t have the time and energy to deal with yet another horse but I knew I was going to offer. “Okay, we can’t let him be done for the day and reward him for that kind of behavior. Do you mind if I get him out and work with him and see if I can help?”

Lynne broke down again, sobbing loudly. “I would love that. I don’t know what to do. It’s gotten to the point where I hate dealing with him and I never wanted it to be like this.”

Out of character but totally in the moment I walked over and hugged Lynne, letting her cry into my chest. I could feel her back heave as she melted into me for a good meltdown.

“We’ve all been here, Lynne, I swear it. It’s easy to get in over your head and not know what to do but it’s also okay to ask for help.” I felt her nod against my arm.

“If it’s alright with you I’d like to work with him a little every day even if you’re not here and see what we’re dealing with, where the gaps in his training are, and then I can let you know if I think you can handle it. If it turns out he’s not the right horse for you I can help you figure out what to do next.” At this point I was pretty sure Lynne wasn’t going to be able to handle this little guy, but I wasn’t sure if she was ready to hear it.

I got Lynne calmed down a little and got her set up in a chair with some water to watch the show. I went out and got Tax’s gate standing again. Then I turned my attention to the little beast. I got Stormy back out of his pasture. He lead to the arena nicely for me which was a start. He normally dropped his head on Lynne fourteen thousand times to graze before they got anywhere. I’d been ready to get after him for it but he didn’t give me a chance.

I took him to the side of the arena and got a lunge line clipped on. So far, so good and this is where I completely underestimated him. As I stooped down to pick up the lunge whip he decided to take advantage of the fact that I was in an awkward position and we don’t have an arena fence. Working with this guy would have been so much easier if we actually had a round pen! In a second he turned his butt to me and took off at a fast walk. I grabbed the rope and dug in my heels. As soon as he felt it tighten he took a pretty good kick at my head. He wasn’t really that close but it threw me off balance just enough that when he took off running and I was a second late in letting go he pulled me off my feet and dragged me a couple of inches. What on earth is that instinct that makes you want to hold onto the idiot beast that’s trying to drag you to death anyway?

Stormy ran off to try to kick Tax again through the gate. I got up and inspected my beautiful new skinned forearm which was caked in sand. I gave another sigh as I got up and chased after Stormy to push him away from the fence. He wanted to run from me so I got him chased back into a corner and worked him with my body back and forth like a cow until he gave up and let me come pick up the lunge line. I figured it was past the point of doing any good to smack him one so I just calmly walked back to the arena and started over.

This time I kept my eye on him. I got the whip in hand and started to drive him left. He spun again and dragged me. This time I kept my balance but couldn’t hold him. He got his head down between his front legs along with the rope. I couldn’t get enough leverage to get him stopped so I let him go again. We started the process over, wash rinse repeat. After the third time I explained to Lynne I wasn’t making much progress and I needed to make a point. I had her hold Stormy while I went to get a stud chain.

I wasn’t sure if Stormy’s previous owner had ever used a chain but I needed something to give me enough bite that he wasn’t going to kill us both. I had Lynne hold him while I ran back to the tack room. I showed her how to loop the chain through his halter over his nose.

“I’m not going to pull on this,” I explained to her. “If he pulls on me though its going to tighten across the bridge of his nose and hurt him a little so I’ve got some leverage. I have no idea how he’s going to react to it and it may get ugly. I need to see how much fight he’s got in him about this.”

Lynne nodded looking like she wasn’t sure what to expect. “Right is his good direction. I can usually get him to go that way but he runs off anytime we go left. Just so you know.”

I decided to start to the left and get it over with. I drove Stormy to the left with the whip. He started to pull way from me to try his normal spinning trick. He chain tightened a link, then two, he looked at me with his eye rolling starting to sweat a little. And then it was over as quickly as that. He moved out trotting a nice circle around me without any pulling at all.

“That was a really good sign,” I hollered over to Lynne.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


I haven’t blogged much lately. Heck, I feel like I haven’t done much of anything lately although that’s not the truth. Not much has felt very important or very real except my family. I’ve been trying to hold them a little closer. I had a friend die and it just kind of took all of the wind out of my sails for a bit. As they say time is a great healer. It’s been two months, almost three now, and while I don’t feel remotely normal yet, it gets better.

I’m not even sure why this one hit me so hard. I lost my dad six years ago and it was hard but I’ve always been a trooper. I’m not a very outwardly emotional person. I grieved briefly and then life moved on. I had kids to raise and a house to keep up with. My dad passing is what allowed me to get back into horses because I inherited a little money that got me started. I let the joy of that comfort me.

Steven’s death sent me into a depression unlike anything I went through with my dad. I used to help with a kid’s karate class when I was a teenager. We went to the same gym when he was only 8 and I was 15. We had reconnected as adults. He was 27 when he died and had moved out to North Dakota to learn to be a Certified Nursing Assistant. He liked taking care of people and trying to make their life a little easier. He worked in a retirement/nursing home and I can’t imagine what kind of strength of character it takes to do that. He was the kind of man that still thought it was right to open doors for a lady, to smile, to be kind. He wasn’t obsessed with being part of the ulra-hip twenty something crowd in our area that only thinks about the next bar, the next drink and the next girl. He was a country boy and old fashioned in a way. He wanted a family and to raise his kids in the tradition he was raised with lots of happiness and family around. Steven made me smile every time I saw him. He was in a single car accident on April 28th and now he’s gone. It still feels like some kind of a bad joke.

I also know he was the kind of man that would never want me to be sad that he died. I spent a week crying almost non-stop; sitting at my desk at work with fat silent tears rolling down my face. I controlled it around my kids mostly but I felt like a zombie going through the motions of life. Every time I cried a certain song came on the radio. It’s one that reminds me of him. I’m not one that really ever gave much thought to whether those we love stay with us in some way but it comforts me to think that he is telling me its okay.

The bright spot in all of this is that I’ve gotten to know Steven’s mother and she inspires me. I now understand his warmth and generosity. She is unfailingly kind in understanding the others who are mourning her son. If I’m able to raise my boys to be half the kind of man I think her son was then I’ll be a proud mom. We’re friends now on Facebook and I got to meet her at the service. I’m glad I got the chance to tell her what an amazing young man her son was. I hope it gives her some comfort during the difficult times.

That being said I’ve started on a story about a horse I’ve been working with. I really hope to get it posted soon. Its been a good experience. I’m learning a lot.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More showing!

Took Charlie to a western schooling show on Saturday.  I really liked the judge they had.  Grace and I showed with her last year too.  She must also be a breed show judge for paints or quarters and I can tell she likes that type of horse.  She's also super positive but instructional.  I love that.

Our showmanship pattern was a V shape and a little tricky.  Charlie's pivot wasn't very clean and it took him a minute to set up but he was good.  There's an older gal, Sandy, with a ton of APHA experience who likes to come to this show to practice for her paint shows.  She's good...very poised and elegant in an understated way.  She got a young horse that she's working with that I just love.  There is something about the pair of them I just like.  I'm glad she comes because she keeps me on my game.  She forgot to jog a section of the pattern and Charlie and I got first place!  It was really nice to talk to her though and she explained alot about how the local paint shows work.  She just made me feel really comfortable and made me think about some things regarding showmanship.  There's actually a really fine art to it and I need to plan better before I'm lined up at A.  I always get nervous and stop thinking about anything but making it to the judge.
Our next class was Western Eq walk/jog.  Charlie broke stride once at the jog but so did everyone else apparently.  We got a first again!

We started out well in our Western Pleasure class and then Charlie must have stepped on a rock.  He just started limping suddenly at the jog and I knew it looked terrible.  I rode to the middle, excused myself to the judge and got down to check him out.  She told me she was glad I pulled him.  She said she was watching, thinking there goes, second, third, forth...tough luck.  :(  At least I know she would have placed him if we hadn't had that little accident.  Sandy ended up winning that class.  I packed it in for the day, but two firsts out of three classes is awesome for our second show.  This was the first time I've been brave enough to even try a riding class.  The best news is he looked fine by the time we got home.

I think I may start practicing for a smaller two judge APHA show that's coming up.  Sandy made me feel a lot more comfortable and there isn't any reason we can't do the showmanship and the walk/jog classes.  I'm going to work on getting my paperwork in order.  I still need Charlie's papers transferred and my ammy card. 

Sunday, I was going to take December to the same place for their English/hunters schooling show, but of course she was having none of that and ripped off her shoe and most of her foot to boot.  Instead we took Charlie, who lunged out just fine in the morning, and Allonsey, my friend Alyson's horse.  Charlie was like a crack addict in our first class which was English Eq maiden (clearly we have some work to do), so I asked Aly if I could ride Allonsey in the rest of my classes.  She's only doing the walk/trot and ground pole classes currently.  Allonsey's a really well trained hunter, but had a injury and is just getting started again after about a year off.  Alyson's a little green, but a great rider and has made huge strides learning about all the quirks a TB without consistent work can develop and how to move past them.  Allonsey and I got a second in an English pattern class, a third in Eq, fourths in hunter hack and hunter hack maiden (he was being a goof), and then finally a first in warm-up hunters.  I realized that was the first time I've jumped a full course on him and the first full course he's jumped in years.  He's really nice though...just set him up consistently before the fences and leave him alone and he does his job.  We ended after that class since it was so good.

Unfortunately, the only down part of the day was Allonsey, who has trailered nicely for me before, decided he did not want to trailer.  It took an hour and a half before the show, and about a half an hour to get him in after.  In the process of trying to load after he stepped on my foot and pivoted.  It's pretty ugly but getting better every day.  I managed to get boots on yesterday so of course I rode...  I'm terrible.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


I'm working on a new story about a horse I'm currently working with.  I should be posting it soon.

Charlie's first show

We only showed in Showmanship this time.  He was good.  I blew the pattern and got 7th out of 10.  At least it wasn't last.

We also rode in the warm up arena which was a little more eventful.  He really didn't like the water truck or the idiot who kept nearly slamming into as she went by.  I decided not to try any riding classes this time.  We have another show this Saturday so we'll see how it goes.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What...two posts in one day?

Okay but I just found this...

What is my deal?  I have an undeniable love for anything short and spotty and when they come in a package this cute and they move pretty well?  Instant love at first sight.  I fully blame Applejack for being the best pony ever!  I want this so bad I can taste it and yet it's completely unreasonable.  I already have too many horses, no money and no real use for a pony.  Double sigh....

Lesson time for Charlie

This rain is just killing me.  My horses are out of shape, December's feet are a mess from being out in a wet pasture and shows keep getting cancelled.  Sigh...

I'm trying my hardest to keep Charlie fit in case I find a buyer for him.  Since we argue so much about the Western riding I decided to try something new to mix it up and see if I could find a way to communicate with this horse that didn't irritate the heck out of him.  So, I decided to teach Charlie to jump.  He's over 17 hands for goodness sakes he should be able to hop a small fence, right?  I started him over poles and then a really small rail while lunging.  I was a little nervous because half the time he wouldn't pick up his feet and he would just crash right through.  He still wants to move like a pleasure horse with his head down making him look downhill but he's not.  Then I had him hop some barrels which was good because they're solid enough he wanted to get over and things were looking up.  After a couple of lunging sessions I decided it was time to get on him and see what he could do.

I set up a small cross rail and warmed him up.  I'm working on pushing him into a higher headset and making contact with the reins.  I'm probably completely screwing up his pleasure training but I think he's smart enough to figure out when I go back to the curb bit I want something different.  I'm going to trust him on this one.  Once we had worked up to the canter in each direction which was a lovely forward canter I slowed him back down to the trot and we trotted the line to the crossrail. 

The first time he didn't pick up his feet soon enough and sure enough down came the whole fence.  I just drove him forward with my whole body wanting at least to get a nice straight line before and after.  I hopped down set up the jump again and we started over.  This time we trotted in, his stride a perfect consistent speed as usual and he managed a lovely little jump from a great take off distance.  Beautiful!  Next I tried each direction at a canter and he was so perfect.  His gaits are already so consistent that we got the distance every time.  He's easy to keep on a straight line to the fence and to steer.  I need to get some video to see what his feet look like but I think there's hope! 

Here's to Charlie the giant jumping paint.  Maybe I'll make a hunter out of him yet. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Allonsey's Show Day

My friend, Alyson, just moved her horse Allonsey to her trainers barn for a tune up.  He has been off work for months after some back and lameness issues.  I think that mostly the problem is he's out of shape and needs to build up his rear end so I've been helping her ride him and get him fit again and he's been moving much better.  He's fun to ride, just a little naughty, and I can tell still that he's had some good training.

We've had a few cases of EHV-1 in my county so everyone is sticking close to home and being careful.  Most of our local shows were cancelled last weekend so her trainer decided to have a little fun mini-show for her clients.  Alyson called to ask me if I would ride Allonsey in some of the flat classes and a hunter hack.

The day started off a little rocky.  Alyson rode in the walk/trot novice classes and Allonsey was really worried about the other horses passing him.  He exploded when another horse bumped him in the rear and bucked huge kicking at the horse with both feet.  Fortunately he missed but Aly fell off.  I'm proud that she got back on and finished her class. 

Of course it was my turn next in an open Hunter Under class...why do I agree to these things?  LOL  We did okay until the cantering and then when the first horse passed us he blew sideways pitching a fit.  I corrected him calmly but firmly and that was the end of him screwing around with me to that extent.  In each class he relaxed a bit more.  We got a forth in one of the flat classes when I finally got him around quietly without the drama when a horse passed by.  After our Eq class which we didn't place in I talked to the judge and she gave me a few tips.  I made sure to follow her advice in the next class which was the Hunter Hack.  We did well in the flat portion.  I was a little nervous heading into our line.  We hadn't warmed up over fences at all and I was expecting a huge overjump.  Instead what I got was a beautiful, straight and completely clean line.  I was expecting to place at least 4th in the class after watching everyone go.  You can imagine my surprise as they called 5th, then 4th finally 3rd and we still hadn't placed.  By the time we got the 2nd and they still hadn't called us I was completely disappointed.  I thought it had gone so well and yet I still wasn't prepared when they called us out as the first place winner!

Pics below of the hunter hack class and my happy surprise after.
 Allonsey lost his tail due to a horrible infection from a tail bag being left on and not checked.  :(  His nubbin is pretty cute though!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Jumping Again

I had a conversation with another boarder at my barn the other night. She just turned 50 and got back into riding fairly recently. She jumps and wants to compete at the mini-prix level. It’s hard coming back into a sport after years off and as an older person. You feel like you’ve missed the boat when you see all the really young and really good riders out there. And we’re in the same situation when it comes to money…we don’t have any.

I was grumping about my lame horse, my lack of ability to get another horse if he’s not going to be able to jump, my serious lack of show experience. I realized I really don’t know what my goals are. I don’t really want to rider jumpers. I like hunters and equitation. I love the smooth elegant lines, the sharp clothes, the graceful jumps. I love the look of a big round hunt horse. I think I want to be good enough at what I do to teach beginners and intermediate riders. I’d like to be able to train a horse to compete at the B and C level shows. I don’t have any dreams of being a big name trainer. That makes me wonder how far I need to go with my showing. I don’t want to feel like a joke. I want to be good enough that other people will respect my experience. At any rate much more work is ahead of me and jumping still freaks me out a little. I probably need to get up to at least 4 feet to meet my goals. And I feel a little old to be starting all this now, which I’m sure irritates the woman I was talking to since I’m 15 years younger.

Jil was telling me that I just needed to get on a horse, a good horse and jump. Get used to it and go higher to desensitize myself. She’s right. That very night I got Miss December out. She’s ready to start some fences. Her canter is consistent and smooth. Her fitness level is increasing rapidly. Her lead changes have improved dramatically in the last week.

We started with a crossrail…just one. We trotted over it in circles 2-3 times each direction. Next we cantered. I raised the fence to a vertical. We did it again. I raised the vertical….we worked up to about 2’9. Jil was right. Bigger jumps are easier than small ones. December’s canter stayed smooth and consistent. Her distances were perfect and she’s pretty easy to keep straight in her lines.

I’m going to start taking her out to my trainer’s for some lessons. Guess it’s a good thing she’s back. I have something to show this year after all.

I've been playing around with Tax a bit.  He doesn't seem to be in pain and moves better in a straight line then on the lunge line.  Going to the left in a circle his back left leg seems to be sticking in the stifle and when I think back he's always been a bit stumbly back there so 99% sure I'm dealing with a stifle issue.  The good news is that's probably fixable.  I'll know more Saturday after Dr. Cutie comes out.  ( embarrassed do you think he would be if he knew I called him that?)  Anyone out there have any experiences with stifle issues or injections? 

Charlie came back home yesterday.  He had been at the trainer's and she was trying to sell him for me.  I've decided to focus on H/J and due to a series of unfortunate personal events can't afford to show APHA so it doesn't make any sense to keep him.  The trainer's show season starts this weekend and she won't be home to show him to clients.  The market here is pretty bad and we're having trouble finding a serious buyer.  He looks amazing.  That woman can sure turn out a show horse.  Now I'm on my own for selling him at least for the summer.  She's going to advertise him at the shows but I'm going to have to be the one to do most of the work.  I'm a bit nervous about this but I really can't do three horses right now.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lesson kid

I agreed to give Maddy free lessons so she could get a safe start on horses.  I can't except payment as I'm an amateur, but she does help me feed when she's visiting which is nice.  I told her parents I would let them know as soon as I felt there wasn't anything else I could teach her, and she would need a real trainer to continue on with.

This is December and Maddy after a lesson on Monday. I feel like a broken record; heels down, shoulders back, hands up.  She's really learning a lot and very quickly.  We're just building the strength to keep all those crazy limbs where they belong.  Look at the legs on that kid...she's got long legs in proportion to her body.  Must be nice!

Cannot wait until its warm enough to scrub that mare down.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lead Changes

One of my favorite things about Tax is that he seems to like his job. He knows when we go into a show ring and all of a sudden there is a change in him. Lighter, more forward, ear perked…he seems to like the excitement he feels coming off me.

Tax loves to change leads. He really does. It almost feels like he likes to show off or he thinks we’re playing. I have to be careful not to shift my weight on the straight or he’ll go flipping leads back and forth like nobody’s business. To cue a lead change with Tax all you ever need to do is gather him up a bit, and shift your weight into the direction of the opposite lead. 9 times out of 10 that’s enough. If that doesn’t do it I’m careful to add just a little calf pressure with the leg of the lead you want him to take because if you get him with a spur you’re likely to get a pretty dramatic take off. He also likes to run.

December is a different story and I’m enjoying learning hers. I tried cutting across the arena and shifting my weight. I didn’t get a lead change but I learned something. She’s got what feels like a lovely cross-canter. Not exactly what I was hoping for.

The next time I came across I collected her a bit and confirmed my cues in the direction we were traveling. I bent her to the inside using mostly my inside leg at the girth. Halfway across I changed the bend slightly and used my other leg at the girth to push her over. We got the change but not smoothly. She bucked a little buck in the rear and picked up the correct rear lead but took another couple strides and some coaxing to change in front.

We tried again. This time I added my outside leg in the bend supporting her farther back away from the girth as I pushed her over with my inside leg. The extra support of my outside leg keeps her from dropping that side of her body and she picked up the new lead without as much drama.

You can still tell it’s not her favorite maneuver. Ask her for a leg yield though or a shoulders in and she’s your girl. All of the pieces are there and now I’m just learning how to fit them together in a way that makes sense to her and I.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Capital City Classic

We took a field trip yesterday. My barn manager (Alyson), my two lesson kids and I all went to see the Capital City Classic a local “A” rated hunter/jumper show. It was a big deal; a qualifier for Spruce Meadows and a couple of huge Grand Prix jackpots in the jumper classes. What an eye opening experience! My horses don’t look anything like those horses. Not one bit. I thought Tax was pretty fit before his injury but we have a long way to go and even at his best he’s going to be small next to any of them. I thought he was tall at 16.3 but those horses make him look like a pony.

We walked down the rows of stalls looking at each trainer’s set up. I can’t imagine any of them being very impressed with me or my horse. Have I mentioned I also can’t imagine coming up with $ 50 - $150k for a horse? I’m not sure if I want to show at this level, the money is a little bit ridiculous, but it is so very cool to watch. We got to see the Jr. Amateur jumper class with a $25k prize. The fences looked about 5 feet. Only one horse jumped clean. Alyson joked that the kid who won could pay for a year or two of college with the money. I pointed out she couldn’t even pay for her horse with the winnings but made she could get a scholarship for riding so well.

Meanwhile, back at our barn one of the pipes broke and we’ve had no irrigation water for a week. Looks like my muddy, stained beasties still aren’t getting a bath even though the weather was perfect for it.

I gave the two girls lessons on December. She’s been so good with them; trotting with a nice forward relaxed trot and stretching down in her neck. Looks so pretty. I think I’m getting the hang of this teaching thing too. My niece doesn’t really like riding English as much as Western so she’s been lazy and not trying very hard. I casually mentioned I thought Maddy, the other girl, was starting to post better than her. Well, that got her going. She posted very nicely yesterday, learned how to sit in two-point and cantered in my English saddle without hanging on to the horse’s mane. Maddy got to ride off the lunge line for the first time and we worked on steering. She even got brave enough to try some trotting. That kid is going to be good if she sticks with it.

I had an appointment for Tax with the vet but couldn’t get him in the trailer. He had a total TB, brain dead fit. You could see it in his eyes, he didn’t care what I did to him…he was not getting in the trailer. We argued about it for three hours and finally my sister got free and came out to help. It took 5 minutes with her help but by then of course I’d missed my entire appointment. Now I’ve got to reschedule and they’re bringing that stupid x-ray machine to me, like it or not. I really hope he’s okay but its been weeks and I can still see it. He doesn’t limp at a walk or trot but sometimes its almost like his hip gives out. I’ve seen him stumble a couple of times walking around the turn out pasture. I seriously hope this doesn’t end his career.

Some pics from the show....

Hunter division


Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Ah, beginners.  Is there anything really quite as frightening around the barn? We have a new boarder and she seems like a very nice lady and she’s certainly enthusiastic about having a horse for the first time. She’s also greener than the grass and scaring the bejesus out of me.

I will give her credit for asking me to help her find a saddle that fits her and her horse. The down side is that she has some medical issues so she keeps going for really ugly synthetic saddles that wouldn’t fit anything well. She likes them because they weigh next to nothing. I’ve got a saddle for sale that fits her and her horse but weighs about a thousand pounds. Makes it hard for her to lift it onto his back.

Since she has multiple medical problems that means falling might be a really bad thing so you’d think a super quiet horse would be her priority but she likes to rescue critters in bad circumstances. Instead of letting anyone experienced help her find a calm, old trail horse to save she went and got this little backyard mutt horse that she likes probably because he’s got a long mane and tail. He’s also got a little crazy in his eyes and doesn’t seem super forgiving about her beginner mistakes. His conformation is strange and he moves a little weird. Like a pony, I guess is how I would describe it. Oh, and he’s off in the back too. Sigh…

I have no idea what they were riding him in before but she went out and bought a fancy show curb bit with a high port and a roller. When I saw her trying to shove it in his mouth the first time I had to stop her to explain that her bit was on the bridal backward. Helping her get it turned around I realized she also had no chin-strap on her long shanked bit. Sigh… I told her I had one I wasn’t using and she was like, “that’s okay, I’m only going to hop on for a minute to try out your saddle.” I explained why her leverage bit wasn’t really going to work without a chin strap and that it would cause extra pressure in his mouth when the port flipped too far forward. She was too busy to worry about it. 5 minutes later she couldn’t understand why her horse was tossing his head and wouldn’t move forward. I went and got my curb strap and put it on and gave her some tips about how to hold her hand forward and low when she asked for him to go and to ONLY pull back gentle if she needed him to stop or slow. They finally got moving... Double sigh...

She has no steering and doesn’t use her legs at all. I’m not sure if she’s ever ridden before. I thought she had but maybe I was wrong. On the up side if she’s open to it I think I can really help her and if she’s open to it I will just to make sure her and her horse are happy. I’m trying not to be too pushy and so far she seems to really appreciate the help.

Friday, April 1, 2011

December Updates

Now on the left and when she first came back on the right!

December has put on a lot of weight. I love that I can hop on her bareback again without her spine digging into places you don’t necessarily want acquainted with a horse’s spine. She’s still showing some ribs and I REALLY DO NOT want to feed her any grain. It does NOT do amazing things for her personality. She’s getting about a ton of beet pulp and pellets for dinner and a big fat flake of hay for breakfast that she doesn’t always even finish. I just moved her out to pasture and the grass is starting to come in so I’m hoping that will help too. It was a pretty long cold winter for California. I’m hoping the worst of it is over so she isn’t burning so many calories just to stay warm. She does have a nice thick blanket too but it’s just enough to keep her from dropping weight and I want to get the last bit on her. I’d like to take her to some shows this year but not until she looks like a horse should look.

Last night after I got done feeding I hopped on her in just her halter and headed out for the trails before they get soaked again with the rain we’re supposed to get tomorrow. We wandered around for a while with the lead rope as loose as can be at her ground covering walk. Her pasture buddy was running around and calling her the whole time but she never missed a beat or even looked back at him. I love that about her. After she was warmed up a little we practiced a long trot bareback. My balance has improved so much in the last year it felt so different than my first bareback ride on Grace where every step made me feel like I was going to slip off one side or the other. I got brave and cantered her around a short loop of the trail feeling like some kind of wild spirit with nothing but my body and the halter/lead rope to guide her. She was really great.

I’m ready to start planning my goals for the summer. I hope Tax cooperates and whatever is going on heals. I think he looked worse yesterday rather than better. Our first show was supposed to be April 16th but I realize now that’s not likely to happen. I’d take December if she was in just a little bit better shape.

April Goals:

Sell Charlie

Sell my WP saddle, tack and show clothes

Soundness check for Tax

Create a fitness program for December

Get the horses teeth checked

Work with Maddie on her balancing exercises and hopefully get her riding with reins

Get zipper replaced in my show boots and see if my English show clothes even remotely fit.

Wow…that’s already a lot.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Tax is lame. This is probably my first time in all the years of owning horses I’ve ever really had a lame horse and not known why. He got his back shoes put back on last Saturday and he’s been off ever since. Its not extremely noticeable at the trot but it’s hurting enough that every time I ask him to canter that direction on the lunge he’s in obvious discomfort and drops back to the trot hitching his hip up for a couple of strides. I had the vet check his hoof when she was out the other day and we didn’t find anything with the hoof testers so it’s not likely it’s a hot nail. We decided to reschedule a lameness exam because the weather was so bad and Tax was being just a little insane from being cooped up. I’m not sure what to do at this point…if I should wait a few more days or just schedule the exam and get it over with.  I think I’m scared and my reaction is I really just want to stick my head in the sand and pretend like nothing is wrong.  I won't of course but it's tempting. 

His pastern on that leg has always been slightly bigger than the other side and I've never had it x-rayed. I’m worried that maybe the angle the new farrier trimmed him at might have made some old injury from the track flare up. I’m also worried it might be something worse…maybe he caused some kind of soft tissue injury running around in the mud in the turn out. He’s just always been SO sound. If there is anything really wrong I’m not sure how I’m going to deal with it. This sucks…

I guess if there is any up side to this it’s that I will get to see the cute vet. He came by the barn to pick up something from the other vet who was out and he’s grown his hair out and it’s just a little curly which I love. He also must have gotten contacts or wasn’t wearing his glasses because of the rain. He looked like some kind of angel. He’s adorable and he heals sick horses. I think I’m in love.

Monday, March 28, 2011

At last...

Kind of a cool picture of December and her new pasture buddy Donzi.

I haven’t been blogging lately or writing much in general really. So what have I been up to? Not riding enough, I can tell you that. We’ve been suffering through some almost biblical rain storms up here in Northern CA. I’m so sick of mud I can’t stand it and I have to wade through a river to get to the back pasture at the barn to feed. I’m not’s at least two feet deep now and my boots aren’t tall enough to keep the water out so I always go home with frozen toes.

What’s been going on? I’m working a lot. My professional career can be demanding and on top of it I’m working part time at the barn 4 days a week. One of my kids is in Little League and I’ve got a girl taking some basic English riding lessons with me. December is a perfect lesson horse and we’re just working on getting Maddie riding more balanced and safe before her family decides if they want to move on to a real trainer. Her parents aren’t horse people but Maddie is so helpful around the barn I offered to get her riding for free. I want to talk about her more later because its been such a good experience for me.

It was time to simplify a little bit. Three horses is too much for me, and I’ve decided to give December a forever home. Something about that little mare just clicked for me and I know I will feel responsible for her for the rest of my life. Charlie is back at the trainer’s place and he’s for sale again. I feel bad but I never really had time to get attached to him. I don’t have the time or money to do any paint shows this year so it didn’t make sense to keep him. I’m going to devote my time and money to the H/J world again. I really enjoyed last year with Tax and I think I’ll try to get December out a bit this year too and maybe Maddie if she’s ready.

Maddie is a wonderful student. She is twelve and absolutely in love with horses and riding. She’s the sweetest kid and works her butt off and has just enough fire to not be timid. She’s a good friend of our barn manager’s son and started coming out with his family and helping with chores all the time. The manager wanted to let her ride but she never had before and our manager is all about safety which is a good thing. When she asked about ideas to get Maddie some lessons I offered to get her started since December is so good with kids and since I’ve given some beginner lessons at different barns I’ve worked at. Kid’s can be difficult…I’m not really a kid person and when they are lazy I have trouble getting them motivated. I’ve taken the time to put together a pretty structured lesson program with homework and everything. Maddie takes it all very seriously. We’re working on the lunge line right now so she can focus on figuring out balancing and posting before worrying too much about reins. The first time she rode she couldn’t figure out how to rise up for the post. She listened hard to everything I told her, she watched me do it, then she went home and researched it on the internet, practiced off the horse until her next lesson and then in our second lesson wouldn’t give up until she got it figured out. Cutest thing ever!

Oh, I almost forgot…how do you forget this kind of thing? I’ve finally lost a considerable amount of weight. I’ve lost about 45 lbs this year alone and including the weight I lost last year its more than 50 lbs. I’ve gone down a total of 4 sizes. I’m down to a size 12 pants right now which I don’t think I’ve been since I was 25. This has made riding SO much easier. All of the trouble I was having getting Tax balanced is practically gone. I used to have a lot of trouble staying upright when he pulled on my hands because I was fighting the weight of my chest. I’ve lost about 5 inches off my chest now and he can’t pull me forward like he was so that bad habit went away pretty rapidly. I’ve been cantering him over a small jump in a big slow circle and his speed is getting much more consistent. As soon as the arena dries out a little I’m going to start working him through some grids.

December has moved from my house to the barn Tax is at. She’s obviously feeling much better. Her weight looks pretty good and I haven’t seen any signs of illness. This is very good! I’m working on getting her fit and hoping to do some flat classes and low fences with her this year along with Tax. Our barn manager’s horse has been off due to an abscess so she’s been riding December too when she gets a chance and loves riding her. I’m so happy she’s come around and is happy and healthy again.

I think that’s the bulk of my updates for now. Have fun riding folks! This week is supposed to be beautiful here and I plan to take full advantage of it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

NYE Trail Ride

This year was my best New Years Eve ever.  This is my husband...on a horse. (And yes I know that we should have helmets on.  We've already discussed and next time we agreed we're wearing them.  We just need to buy one that fits him.)  Not just any horse either!  This is my husband on December, who just a couple of months ago I thought was going to die.  She's looking pretty good now. 

Considering my husband hasn't done much riding at all I think they did a really great job.  He lead us out when we started out for the day.  She likes to walk fast and be up front.  When we got next to the lake the water kind of freaked her out.  You can see her eyeballing it here.  At one point he had to get off and walk her because she kept trying to stop and go back to the trailer.  It was a pretty passive resistance though and she never spooked, bucked or bolted.  Nothing crazy, just refused to go forward and kept turning around.  Even though he walked her a little ways as soon as we were back on the trail away from the water she was good again and no problems when we turned around to go back (of course). 

We stopped in this little park for a break.  There was a beach and I didn't think Tax would go into the water because the last time I took him to the lake he wanted no part of it.  This day he charged right in after my friend Cythia's horse almost up to his belly for a big drink.

Tax looks ready for a nap.  At least he's relaxed!  On the way out he walked nicely through mud and water and was really quiet.  We even crossed a bridge that sounded weird when they walked on it and got to jump a fallen log.  On the way back he got a little excited and we trotted and jigged a little.  He also jumped every mud puddle on the way back which was a little worrisome in the trees but he was still controlled and listening.

 This is the Rainbow bridge in Folsom, CA.  When I was a kid we used to swim down by those rocks.  These ears belong to Rommey, my friend Cythia's 16hh gray Arabian. We're going to start a gray horse riding club.

 A close up of the old swimming rocks and the river.
 And, the Cliff House restruant.  They have an amazing veiw of the river and bridge from their dining room. 
And if you ever wondered where the Candian geese migrate to now you know.  I think they are all in the Sacramento area holed up for the winter.  Great big flocks all along the river and ponds of the greater Sacramento area.  At least our horses are used to them.

It was a wonderful ride and my husband really enjoyed it.  He says he misses Grace a little because she was so sweet, but he wants to go out and do more rides with December.  Its very nice to have him involved with the horses just a little.  We're even planning for camping this summer.  Yay!