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.