Escape to a Sand Bar

Ocracoke Island Lighthouse and Innkeeper's Home

Ocracoke Island Lighthouse and Innkeeper’s Home

Greetings!  So where have I been you ask?  Have I been working so hard to prepare for the championships that I have had no time to write?  Umm, well, no.  As a matter of fact, I was doing close to nothing along with my husband and another couple.  We spent a week on the 17 mile long sand bar more commonly known as Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.

If you want to escape from overdeveloped beaches with busy boardwalks and chain restaurants, then this is your island.  The beaches of Ocracoke were named the best beaches in the United States by Dr. Beach in 2007 (http://www.prweb.com/releases/Ocracoke-Beach/Best-Beach-List/prweb531647.htm).  Yes, they even beat out the beaches of Florida and Hawaii.  Most of the island is protected and part of the National Park System.  Bring your four-wheel drive and claim your part of paradise for the day.  However, going in September can be a crap shoot.  You never know when a late season hurricane will come blowing up the eastern seaboard and short or even cancel your vacation all together.  Ocracoke is always one of the first islands that requires evacuation since the only way on and off the island for most folks is by ferry.  For those of you with your own private plane, there is a small airstrip to accommodate you.  It is this remoteness that adds to the appeal.  And every year, the afternoon “cocktail discussion” ensues where we discuss moving to the island.  “Sure!  Let’s do it!”  It always sounds so easy with wine-soaked goggles.

Then reality sets in and I realized that I’m ill-suited for remote island living.  First off, I sadly must admit that I like to have options for shopping.  Perusing the shelves of the island’s grocery store finds that the some of the more off-beat ingredients that I like to incorporate into our dinner menu are not to be found.  The closest Harris Teeter is 2.5 hours away (30 minute ride to the ferry, 50 minute ferry ride, and another 60 minutes or so north).  And that assumes that Route 12 in intact and not closed due to storm damage.  I’ve also traversed the entire island and never did find the local feed store, tack store, or a version of my favorite local clothing store.  Hmm, that could be problematic.

Second is the lack of employment for career bureaucrats like myself.  While I enjoy eating and cooking, I don’t have any skills as a line cook.  I enjoy fishing, but I can’t see anyone hiring me as a boat captain or mate.  It would also be near impossible to make a living with my art skills…and please don’t ask me to sing.  My best hope would be to land a position with the National Park Service tending to the small herd of Banker ponies that are descendants of those who used to freely roam the island.  And that leads us to the biggest problem of all….what about the boys?!

Ocracoke is currently home to two herds of horses: the Banker ponies and the herd owned by the local group who provides trail rides on the beach.  I’ve scoped out both groups and unfortunately, I don’t think my 16 hand Thoroughbred or my 17 hand Dutch Harness Horse would blend well with either herd.  There is absolutely no way that either could be mistaken for a Banker pony.  The ponies are a hardy group whose descendants survived hurricanes, island flooding, lack of fresh water and life with no barn or fly spray.  My pampered equines throw a fit if they are left in the rain or if breakfast is late.  The trail horses look like bomb-proof souls who can carry tourists wearing shorts and tennis shoes safely through the sandy paths without terrorizing the tourist or local wildlife.  My Thoroughbred believes trail rides are his cue to demonstrate his race horse speed.  Luckily for the unfortunate soul perched on his back, the island will eventually end and I’ve never seen Cigar swim.  Ike has never been on a trail ride, but his hulking size would not make him a crowd favorite.

My island exploration did not find the local dressage barn either.  There was also no sign of a farrier, dressage trainer, hay field, or a veterinarian.  I’ve already mentioned the lack of feed store.  If I had a plane, and a large pot of money, I suppose I could fly in all the necessary help and supplies, but we all know that the large pot of money is about a real as the chance that I will be moving to a sand bar in the near future.  And I can’t even imagine what it would take to travel to a show.  I wonder if horses get sea sick?

So here I am safely back home.  And while I was away working on the relaxation portion of the training pyramid, Ike was staying busy with Ms. C.  Big boy had three productive sessions with her in my absence.  I had a quick ride today and the realization that the finals are a mere three weeks away!!  I see a lot of lessons in the next three weeks and just as many sleepless nights.  This is going to be better than Christmas!

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The Calm Before the Storm

140Things are relatively quiet right now.  We have just under 30 days until the final is here and we ride down centerline for probably our last time this year.  Yikes!  I think reality and panic will set in once the calendar says October.

My entry has been submitted electronically.  Having the ability to enter online is a fabulous thing.  A wise software engineer has the site set up so that you can’t hit submit if you are missing a key piece of information.  Best of all, you don’t have to worry that your entry gets lost on the mailroom floor.  And here is a tidbit about me that lets you into my psyche…I’ve checked the USDF website umpteen times to make sure that my name is still on the qualified list.  Yes, I know, I’m a bit OCD.  Probably why I like dressage so much.  My checkbook is still recovering from the shock of the cost of the show.

I’ve started a packing list for Ike and for me.  I encouraged Ike to keep his own list, but like most 5 year olds, he really relies on Mom to take care of all the mundane details.  I’m pretty sure that it will look like we are moving out by the time I’m done packing.  Since the weather in October in the mountains of Virginia can be unpredictable, I’ve got to pack with all contingencies in mind:  a fan in case we get a warm spell, a sheet and a mid-weight blanket in case it is cold, a fleece cooler, rain gear for me since I’ve been in Lexington in the pouring rain, enough hay and feed in case we don’t leave the day of the final, and the list goes on and on and on.  I did splurge on a tack stall so that everything can be in the barn and locked up at night.  Oh, that reminds me to buy a chain and lock for the tack stall door.  Where is my shopping list?

I’m also trying to gather as much information about the Virginia Horse Center and their procedures and parking arrangements before our arrival.  Someone should put together a Newbies Guide to Attending the USDF Regional Finals.  Hmm, maybe I can tackle that project when the show is over.  The guide would need to answer questions such as: Is the main gate clearly marked?  Is the barn office easy to find?  How are the stalls numbered and the barns identified?  How close can I park to my barn to unload?  Once unloaded, where are trailers parked?  Where is the closest bathroom?!

Ike doesn’t seem to appreciate what is in his future.  He has been spending his days adjusting to his new shoes and play fighting over the fence with his brother.  Oh to be blissfully ignorant of all the minutia.

Had my first lesson yesterday since the shoes went on the hind hooves.  Rode conservatively and after a questionable start, Ike and I finished strong.  Ike’s trot stride does feel different with four shoes versus only front shoes.  I don’t recall such a feeling last year, but since basic balance was still an issue maybe it masked the subtle difference.  In any case, we are going to continue to be conservative in our work for another week or so.  I will be out of the saddle for a week, so Ms. C will take over Ike’s schooling.

Enjoy this fabulous fall weather and get outside and ride your horse!

There Is Nothing Wrong With Your Horse

I have a bigger shoe budget than my mother...

I have a bigger shoe budget than my mother…

So when I last blogged, I had scratched Ike from our Sunday rides because he wasn’t 100%…and now I know what the issue was.

Last year at this time, Ike had on hind shoes.  The problem was that he was so narrow behind, that he would interfere and the inside of his right pastern had a nasty sore that would not heal.  Every time we would make progress, Whack!, and we’d be back to square one.  Could not just blame the shoes because he did it even without them.  While training, Ike would wear neoprene pastern wraps that I found at Big D’s that are typically used on trotters.  They would help to some degree, but if he hit himself while they were on, the scab would rub off and expose the sore again. When show season was over last fall, I decided to pull Ike’s hind shoes and hoped that with continued work, Ike would stop the interference.

We got lucky.  As we continued to build his strength and he matured into his hulking body, the wound slowly began to heal.  Week by week, the spot grew smaller.  We started show season with no new sores and without hind shoes.  Even through the heat of July and August, Ike’s hind hooves held up without cracks or chips.  I began thinking that we’d make it without the expense of hind shoes…and that is where I was wrong.

Hoof testers found that big man was sore in his hind heels.  Ah, that would explain why he was stabbing the ground with his hinds.  He was sore and did not want to hit heel first.  Can’t blame him.  When I wear unsupportive shoes, my feet hurt like you-know-what.  A call was placed to our farrier, and hind shoes plus Equi-Thane went on the other day.  This definitely puts my horse’s shoe budget at a higher point than mine.

I’ve not pushed Ike under saddle yet – lots of walking while wearing his pastern wraps.  I was giving him a few days to get used to his new shoes.  Turns out, Ike decided not to follow my lead of overcautious riding.  When I arrived at the barn today, the first words out of Mr. D’s mouth were, “There is nothing wrong with your horse!  I think he is feeling quite well.”

Oh, really?!  It was 47 degrees when the horses were turned out this morning.  Ike must have slept well and his new shoes must be helping his heel pain.  He put on quite the display of rearing, bucking, galloping and Hackney trotting according to Mr. D.  I’m just glad that the fool didn’t tear off one of his shoes while cavorting about his paddock.

Well, big man, we will be back to work sooner than later since you have now proven to me that all is well.  T-minus 34 days and counting until our regional final.  Look out Lexington, Virginia, Ike is headed your way!

So What About Day Two of the Show?

Photo from day one...

Photo from day one…

Well, sigh.  We ended up scratching our rides.  Disappointing for sure, but definitely the right thing to do.

Sunday did not start quite as early as Saturday.  My first ride was to be at 10:23.  I hopped on about 90 minutes early just in case Ike needed the time to stand and soak in the atmosphere again.  He did take notice at the very large, very yellow horse trailer as it pulled into the show grounds.  Heck, everyone couldn’t help but notice the Big Bird yellow trailer.  Warmup seemed to be going well until I asked for canter.  My girlfriend who was watching and helping me called me over.  “Did you feel that?”  “Maybe.”  Dare I say that I’m not always the quickest to feel any abnormal movement.  She and my husband noticed that Ike’s right hind was not moving as it should.  My husband said it looked like he was stiff legging it.  Hmm, not good.  Ms. L felt the leg and nothing was screaming, “here is where the pain is!”

Well, crap.  Came back for the second day with high hopes of bettering my Saturday scores, but it was not to be.  Better to stop than to make a small problem worse because of my greediness for a few extra percentage points.  Ike went home, ate some oats sprinkled with bute and was turned out with his buddies for the afternoon.

I headed back to the show to see if any extra volunteer bodies were needed.  I first caught up with some of my dressage buddies that I honestly don’t get to spend enough time with on a regular basis.  We all lead hectic lives complicated by our equine friends, not that we complain, but it does seem to limit social time.  I also watched some fun musical freestyles and did some shopping.  [Time for some boasting…]  My dressage chapter might not be the biggest one around, but we do put on a hell of a good licensed show.  We run the weekend as two one-day shows so people can get their two scores from two different shows and two different judges in one weekend if their rides go well.  We have cool prizes, a used tack sale, equine rescue booths, and have awesome vendors who bring must-have items for competitors and volunteers.  I voluntarily opened my wallet multiple times.

I then helped out at the awards table and bided my time until the worst job of the show was needed:  the show ground clean up crew.  Everyone is tired.  Everyone wants to go home, but someone has to break down the rings and load them on the trailers, take down the tents, pack up the ribbons and extra prizes, and show supplies and decorations.  Those 10-gallon buckets filled with stone that hold the signs aren’t going to march themselves back to storage.  Someone has to clean up the cigarette butts that someone thoughtlessly tossed in the grass.  Then all that stuff has to be hauled to storage and squirreled away until next year.  Why is it we forget to pack the cold beer to swill when all this is said and done?  It is exhausting, but each year we seem to learn a little something that makes the clean up just a wee bit easier.

The day didn’t turnout how I planned, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.  Great friends, gorgeous horses, and a sunny fall day.  Can’t ask for much more than that.

Alison

p.s. The vet comes Thursday to check out the big man.  He didn’t appear to be in any discomfort today.  I will pop on him tomorrow to gage where we are.  Keeping my fingers crossed that it is just something minor.

 

Show Day Number One Update

Rose Mount, Training Level Test 2

Rose Mount, Training Level Test 2

Phew, day one is behind us.  Ike is back in his paddock stretching his legs and resting up for day two tomorrow.  The saddle pad is in the wash, our new competitor number for day two is secured to our clean bridle, and I finally have some food in my stomach…I’m one of those people who can’t seem to eat much until my rides are done.  The dogs were also thrilled that we came home.  No, they do not come to shows with us.  We would be asked to leave the show grounds with our maniacal hounds howling at everyone as we drove away avoiding eye contact with show management.

The day started off early; I don’t even think the early birds were up yet.  The upside was that there was no rain, no humidity, and no horse flies.  We arrived early enough to the grounds that Ike was able to soak in the atmosphere without too much activity to frazzle his young mind.

Dare I say that it was a good thing that we tacked up 90 minutes before our first ride.  While Ike was as cool as a cucumber walking in hand, he was a bit of a handful to start my ride.  Best I could tell it was the sound of the vehicles and motorcycles driving by the show grounds.  The trees block the view, but Ike was very concerned by the noises.  Silly pony.  Warm up was a lot of walk-trot transitions on circles with countless half halts until Ike finally exhaled (maybe I did as well).  We did very little canter to keep the engines from revving too much.  Kept fingers crossed that we’d leave the spooky horse in warmup.

Headed into the ring for our first test with our hopes high that we’d get a score that would qualify us for the Colonel Bengt Ljungquist Memorial Championships in Raleigh, North Carolina.  The BLMs (http://www.cblm.org/) have been around for 31 years in Region 1.  I figured that they would be my alternate if I didn’t get my two scores for the GAIGs.  At Training Level, you need a 65% from Test 2 to qualify.  We’d come close earlier this year with a 63.9% and a 64.1%, but just hadn’t cleared that peak.  Today’s ride was stellar.  I was pleased with my ride.  Ms. C and my husband were pleased with our performance.  Now, to wait and see what the judge would say…I was warming up for my second class when the placements were announced.  Sadly, our number was not announced, so I’m thinking “crap, I thought it was a good ride.”  All my self-doubt flooded into the frontal lobe of my brain.  My husband is good at snapping me out of my self-defeating mind-set.  He proudly handed me my test with a 65.179% penned on the front.  We did it!  Good boy Ike!

No time to dwell on that score – had to look ahead to the next task at hand…getting that elusive second score for the GAIGs.  Seriously, it really shouldn’t be that hard to get a 63%, but it seems that I have managed to find a way to juuuuussssttt miss that cut off point: 62.6%. 61%.  62%.  So close and yet so far.  So we again don’t spend much time in warmup on canter.  Still trying to keep Ike calm and composed.  We headed into the ring with me taking a deep breath and trying to smile.  I’m not very good at smiling and concentrating – can’t walk and chew gum either…must me some connection.  Our first halt was squirrelly.  Trot was steady and our canter was actually better than the first test.  Today was one of the first times I can say that I thought our canter-to-trot transitions were actually balanced and done at the proper letter.  The biggest bobble was Ike dropping out of the right lead canter; that cost us 1.5 points (the judge had given us a 7 until we broke – bummer).  As I gave my final salute, I honestly thought we’d be lucky to clear 60%.  I still gave Ike all the love he deserved and headed back to the stables to untack.

I didn’t have to wait for long for my score since I was the last rider of the class.  Again, we didn’t see a ribbon, BUT we did manage to pull a 66.2% which means that WE HAVE TWO QUALIFYING SCORES!!!  What?!  Really?  No way!  I don’t think it has really hit me that we finally did it.  This will be the first time that I have ever qualified for the regional championships.  It is exciting and terrifying at the same time.

Break out the champagne!

The DQ Invades the Hunter Fun Show…And Has a Blast!

Go Ike!

Go Ike!

So everyone knows that we’ve been rather unfortunate with our off-the-farm experiences lately.  Every time we try to go somewhere, it rains, and rains, and rains.  Well, the curse has been lifted!  This past Friday, Ike and I headed to Hill Top Stables (http://hilltopstablesva.com/) to ride in their Friday afternoon fun show.  The show included command classes, hunter flat classes, hunter over fences, western pleasure, and games.  There was something for everyone.  I perused their prize list and determined that there were three classes that we could enter.  No, pole bending and barrel racing were not one of our selections.

We arrived right after the gates opened to provide Ike a good hour to walk around, calm down, and giraffe his neck.  Turns out, we needed all that time.  You were allowed to warm up in the competition arena.  The jumps for the hunter over fences classes were already set.  Each was creatively decorated:  Halloween ghosts and garland on one, beach toys and a boogie board on another.  Let’s just say that Ike was a bit worried about these obstacles.  “Um, Mom, why are there things in the arena?  We don’t have stuff like this at the other shows.”  My Hackney giraffe huffed and puffed as we walked by each one.  Shoulder in was my best friend to help guide Ike past each one.

It was a good thing that I’d asked Ms. C to meet us at the show.  Just about the time she arrived was the time that the other riders started jumping…”OMG, Mom, why are these horses flying???!!!”  And if one of the horses happened to rub a rail or knock one down?  Ike would panic.  In his panic, we almost took down one of the standards.  Poor sheltered dressage horse.  Ms. C helped tame the fears with Mrs. Pastures cookies and reassuring words.  She also gave me some pointers on how to ride Ike like a hunter horse.  I must sadly admit that I’ve never ridden the hunters and have no idea what they want.  Ike and I tried our best to follow Ms. C’s instructions, but every time I’d give Ike a little more rein, someone would rub a rail and off we’d go.  We finally decided to be done with warm up and let Ike stand and watch until it was time for our first class.

First up, the Senior Command Class.  Basically Simon Says on Horseback.  The judge had the class walk, next rising trot, then extend your trot, and then back to walk.  What came next?  Canter.  Thank goodness we’d been schooling our walk-canter transitions and trot lengthening at home.  Then it was back to trot, then walk and reverse.  The next command caught me off guard.  There we were walking and we heard, “Hand gallop, please, hand gallop.”  Uh, okay.  Ike took a few steps of trot into our “gallop.”  Thankfully I remembered to ride in two point which is rather challenging in a dressage saddle.  And even more thankfully, the judge asked for trot rather than walk.  We then had to halt, perform a rein-back, and then trot and line up.  As the announcer called the placings, our number was called for second place.  Go Ike!

We had a short break before our second class-  Green Rider/Horse Under Saddle.  This was a class for adult amateurs and juniors in their first or second year of showing over fences.  Since we have never shown over fences, we were allowed to enter.  It was a class of 7-8 riders.  Again, the judge asked for walk-canter transitions.  Ike nailed his transitions in both directions.  The canter-walk transitions were not quite perfect, but were okay.  We almost had a collision during the left lead canter since there were two riders walking on the rail and there was a jump just off the rail.  There luckily was a narrow opening between them and the jump and my very loud half halt kept Ike out of the tail of the Thoroughbred.  Of course, this all happened in the direct line of the judge’s view.  We lined up and waited for the judge’s decisions.  “First place goes to number 14, Commanders Eisenhower…”  What?!  No way.  So very proud of my big man. 🙂

Our third and final class was Open Hunter.  Pretty much the same riders as the second class.  Dare I say that Ike was getting tired.  His trot was choppy and we missed our walk-canter transition to the right.  This young dressage horse is not used to cantering laps around the arena – lots of respect for those well conditioned hunter horses that have that stamina and can do it in multiple classes.  When the placings were called, Ike politely received his fourth place ribbon and gave the ribbon lady a nudge with his nose.  I think he was hoping for a candy for all his efforts.  Luckily, Ms. C greeted him with a cookie so all was well in Ike’s world.

It was a great outing that I consider a success.  The sun was out, Ike overcame his fear of flying horses, and he was his usual stellar self when asked to perform.  I think everyone should consider going outside their comfort zone and try something new with their mounts.  Don’t worry that you are the only dressage rider on the biggest horse. Just do it.  You just might find that you have a blast when you take all the performance expectations out of the equation.  When you just relax and enjoy yourself, you will surprise yourself at how well you can do.   Now if I can just remember my own words of wisdom next weekend at our dressage show and get that last qualifying score!