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.