Keep Riding

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I saw something online yesterday that made me stop and think.  The question was, “If you could go back in time and give your younger self some advice in exactly two words, what would those two words be?”  Hmm, should I be witty, funny, serious?  Should I provide something profound?  I gave it some thought and the best advice I could give my younger self is “Keep Riding.”

I rode all through junior high school and loved every minute of it.  We typically rode in Western saddles sans helmet.  Never even gave wearing a helmet a single thought…not even as we galloped the trails bareback.  So very lucky to not have any lasting injuries.  I even taught summer camp children the basics of riding.  For close to 10 weeks one summer, I taught a new crop of students every week.  Living the dream for room and board – funny, I believe they call that a working student these days.  Huh, I just thought it was fun, but I didn’t exactly have any bills to pay at the tender age of 15.  Once I turned 16 and could get a paying summer job, I stopped teaching.  Once the demands of high school classes and extracurricular activities started, I stopped riding.  If only I knew then what I know now.

Keep Riding.

Riding and horses have brought such joy to my life that I now cannot imagine not having these amazing creatures as part of my life.  Yes, I like to complain about the blinding sweat in the summer, frozen hands and feet in the winter, the sore muscles, and the low balance in my checkbook, but what would I have to complain about without horses in my life?

Keep Riding.

I think about how much further along in my riding education I would be had I not stopped riding for 20 years.  Back when I was a child, I don’t recall any dressage barns in my area, but I feel sure I would have discovered it had I continued with my lessons.  How could a Type A personality not discover a sport that requires you to aim for perfection, but even if you ever receive a perfect 10, you are considered to only be “excellent” and not “perfect.”  If I had not taken that long hiatus, I might have actually made it out of the lower levels of dressage and ridden a flying change in competition.  All I can hope is that Ike and I continue to progress and that we will get to head down centerline for a Third or Fourth Level test before we are too old to compete.

Keep Riding.

The amazing people I have met would not be part of my life had I not started riding again.  Some of my best friends were discovered through our mutual love of horses.  We share the ups and downs of horse ownership and competing.  We are there to cheer for each other when someone achieves a longed for goal.  We share each others victories and help deflect the agony of defeat.  We laugh at the absurdity of some of the things we do for our horses…no one else can truly appreciate sheath cleaning, hoof soaking, or walking a colicky horse but another horse owner.  We are also there to lean on each other when it is time for the last goodbye.

Keep Riding.

Without horses in my life, I would have missed some amazing experiences: the Spanish Riding School performing at the Verizon Center, horse shopping and tack store shopping in Wellie World with Ms. C, watching former Olympians perform musical freestyles at PVDA’s Ride for Life in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, the thrill of qualifying for and competing at the USDF Regional Finals, and helping to raise $1000 for a local OTTB rescue by making and selling beaded keychains.  Each of these is special to me in one way or another.

Keep Riding.

And let us not forget the life skills I have learned – perseverance and patience (a VERY hard lesson for this girl), trust, unconditional love, letting go of perfection, and the ability to laugh at oneself.  There are still days I get impatient, but Ike never fails to remind me to just breathe and enjoy the ride.  We will get there one day in our own time.  We just need to keep riding.

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Random Thoughts

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This has been a low key week after the whirlwind activity of last weekend.  I have been bombarded with real life after living the carefree life for four days in Lexington, Virginia.  Sadly, the magic house fairy did not clean the house while we were gone, the laundry fairy did not wash and fold the four loads of laundry we generated at the Finals, and the work fairy did not complete any of my pending projects…Thus is the life of an Adult Amateur who has to work to support her horse passion.

There were no epiphanies this week, so all I have to share are my random collection of thoughts.  A small window into the internal workings of my brain.

I feel I must give another shout out to my amazing husband.  If you recall, he patiently drives Ike and I to all our clinics and shows.  I trust him completely to get us to where we need to be in one piece.  He calmly told me after Ike was in his home paddock that we had no trailer brakes for our return trip.  Yikes!  You have to climb and descend Afton Mountain on the interstate we use.  Not a good place to have no functional trailer brakes.  It just underscores the importance of the appropriate tow vehicle for your horse trailer as well as the skills of the driver.  Thank you Ford for our reliable F250 diesel truck.  To you crazy people that pull fully loaded two or three horse trailers with a Jeep Cherokee, I am talking to you.  Rethink what you are doing.

It is time to restart our First Level training in earnest.  Our lesson this week with Ms. C included schooling trot and canter lengthenings.  Ike can show a comeback from a trot lengthening, which is really only 4-5 decent strides of a half-ass lengthening of his stride followed by 4-5 strides of gangly young horse movement.  Hey, he is only 5 and not one of those freakishly talented horses that are showing second level already.  He will get there soon enough.  Our canter is another story entirely.  Our working canter is still a work in progress; it can look like a canter lengthening on any given day.  When I do ask for more, he is more than willing to do it…the comeback, well, that is almost non-existent.  To get any change my half halt is HUGE and not worthy of public display.  I think he has been talking to his brother who encourages more speed and lack of listening.

Sadly, my body is starting to show its age and my many years of running are beginning to haunt me.  For the past month, I’ve struggled with extreme cramps in my right hip when I start my ride.  It takes my breath away and forces me to stop until it passes.  Thankfully, once I get warmed up, the cramps stop.  I only made it through Finals weekend cramp-free with large doses of Tylenol before and after my rides.  I am diligently practicing yoga and praying that it fades away as quickly as it appeared.

Finally, where did fall go?  It was present last weekend, but decided to make an early exit.  In its place are temperatures normally not felt until late November in the mid-Atlantic region.  I need time to adjust.  I am still dressing like it is fall and paid the price today at the barn.  Brr, blue fingers are not normal and make half halts that much more challenging.  I guess I really need to get Ike measured for his new blankets sooner than later.  If this weather is any indication of the winter to come, it is going to be a cold one.  Time to win the lottery and buy that winter home in Wellington!

Where Do I Start? The Regional Finals In A Nutshell

Alison and Ike selfie

The BIG weekend is finally behind us.  The butterflies have left my stomach and started their migration south for the winter.  The nervous twitch in my neck is gone and I can finally sleep through the night.  Ike is safely tucked in his own stall after spending the day grazing in his paddock and visiting with his buddies.  I can only imagine the stories he shared with them about his stay in Lexington, Virginia.

It is hard to summarize a weekend like this.  There are so many stories and moments that I want to remember.  You only ever have one first time at a show like the USDF Regional Finals.  When we return (hopefully) next year, we will be wiser and stronger.  There will be no worrying about how to navigate the check-in process or how to get around the show grounds.  We will be smarter about packing for Ike and for us.  Hopefully Ike will no longer feel the need to spook and shy during our tests since he will have been-there-done-that.

So instead of droning on and on about things that only I want to remember, I will share what I think are the high points of the weekend.

The camaraderie with my friends:  I was fortunate enough to have two fellow competitors from my local dressage chapter at the show with me.  We all have young horses who are all showing Training Level.  Each of them has their “young horse issues” that they are working through, so we commiserate and cheer for each other.  This show would not have been nearly as much fun without them there to share the experience.  Each of our equine boys came home with exactly one pink ribbon.  (Ike got his in his Training Level Test 2 test despite his spook in the middle of his trot circle.)

The doggie costume contest:  So while this was a very horse centric weekend, the dogs did have the chance to have their moment in the spotlight.  The Virginia Dressage Association always holds a doggie costume contest in conjunction with the fall show to raise money for a local animal rescue group.  It is always a popular Saturday night activity, and this year there were over 40 dogs vying for one of the 6 placings.  My friends and I entered our canines as a group…Emma the leggy cocktail waitress, Meg the cosmopolitan, and Tim the dirty martini.  And our dogs pulled off what their equine companions could not…Champion status and a chance to stand in the middle of the coliseum with the crowd cheering.

The 2013 Champion Doggie Costume Contest Winners

The 2013 Champion Doggie Costume Contest Winners

The best support team:  There is no way that I could not acknowledge the greatest support team a girl and her pony could ever want.  My husband is always there to drive Ike and I to whatever show we enter.  He will wipe my boots, keep peppermints in his pockets, and babysit my naughty horse when Ike decides that he needs to rear to look out the window waaaay up on the side of the barn.  He is a saint and I love and appreciate him more than words can say.  Ms. C was there to coach me for my finals ride.  Without her Ike and I would never have made it to the finals.  She will scour my score sheets and help to decipher the judge’s illegible comments.  She will continue to help us strive to improve and we will do our best to be the best pupils so that next year we can earn that victory lap.  And I must give a big shout out to my friends who were able to come and watch our finals ride and all those who sent good luck and good karma our way.  I also need to thank two of my youngest supporters for their special gifs.  My good luck pipe cleaner bracelet from Peter made me smile all weekend.  And, below is a photo of Angelina and I and the inspirational gift she gave me when I returned home.  It is humbling to feel so loved and supported.

Angelina made this awesome card for Ike and I for our efforts at the GAIGs.  It says "I kicked butt at my horse show."

Angelina made this awesome card for Ike and I for our efforts at the GAIGs. It says “I kicked butt at my horse show.”

Riding down centerline for your first finals ride ever:  Wow!  How nerve-wracking was warmup for my finals ride.  Trying to be perfect is hard work!  I tried my best to breathe regularly, relax my shoulders, and smile.  Ike tried his best to do the same until the green tractor of doom decided to come groom the warmup arena we were using.  He decided that we needed to leave NOW and find a better place to work.  Ike left in such a hurry that he left Ms. C to face the tractor on her own.  We then moved to the warmup arena designated for our finals class.  It was lunch break, so things were quiet.  Hand walking was allowed around the arena, so I dismounted and Ms. C and I walked Ike around the indoor for one last look.  Then came the dilemma that I had to get back on my big pony…enter the nice gentleman who offered to give me a leg up…and then watch Alison thwack him in the face with her whip.  I apologized profusely for my gaff.  That will be the last time he tries to be nice to a stranger…Time flew by and soon the class started.  I watched the first rider head down centerline for her final salute, and then it was our turn.  The squirrel nailed his entry and we were off.  The ride was going well in my estimation until we rounded the short end and fell out of our left lead canter.  Got it back within a stride, but I knew that would be a costly mistake.  We did our final salute, thanked the judges, and left the arena.  Dare I say I felt tears of relief well up in my eyes?  We did it – good or bad – we did it.  In this day and age of instant information, it wasn’t long before we had our score:  64.5%  (62.4% from the judge at C, 66.6% from the judge at E).  18th of 38 competitors.  Not bad considering our bobble.

The judge at C’s comment at the end of my score sheet was that “horse has greater talent than was shown.”  So there it is.  My homework for the winter.  Ike is going to continue to mature and get stronger.  Alison is going to hone her skills and finally execute an effective half halt and learn to relax.  Together we are going to refine that raw talent and show the world what we can do.  Can’t wait to see what is in store in the year to come!

I Spy With My Two Eyes A Blue Sky

Walter having a "poneh ride" on Ike

Walter having a “poneh ride” on Ike

After endless days of rain, blue sky and the sun (!!!) have returned!  Thank goodness since today might be the last ride I can squeeze in before we leave on Thursday.  Sadly, I am not independently wealthy, so I must work in order to maintain my horses in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.

We made this ride count by having a lesson with Ms. C.  Luckily we have footing that drains very well, so we were able to walk, trot, and canter without worry.  I tried my best to half halt before Ms. C had to say something.  I tried my best to not let myself end up on cruise control since that is when Ike flattens and starts to look heavy.  I tried my best to be there without interfering with Ike’s movement.  Do you notice a trend here?  Ike is ready.  He is healthy, responsive, and steady.  I’m flaky and uncoordinated with a short attention span.  Hmm, maybe Ike can head down centerline without me?  At this point, I’m pretty sure he knows exactly where X is.

Ike’s veterinarian gave him his final tune up when our lesson was done.  Ike has realized that the adjustments and body work feel good so he no longer tries to walk away during the treatment.  The oats that I have in my hand don’t hurt either.

Need to get some sleep but I already feel like a child on Christmas Eve.  Breathe in, Breathe out.

News From The Soggy, Muddy MidAtlantic Region

Ike and his new friend Walter the Show Poneh

Ike and his new friend Walter the Show Poneh

Riding has been at a virtual standstill because of the nonstop rain showers.  [Insert face with tongue sticking out.]  While I do realize that Ike and I will not have any major breakthroughs in this week before the finals, I am sweating the fact that we’ve been doing next to nothing but dodging raindrops and brushing mud off Ike’s legs.

Saturday was no different, but the rain was more of a constant mist than raindrops, so I tacked up Ike for a soggy lesson.  Ike was a trooper as was Ms. C.  I struggled to see where I was going because of the rain on my glasses and had to trust that Ike would not allow us to run into Ms. C or the fence.  We worked on a steady, rhythmic connection at the walk and the trot.  I opted not to canter because of the mushy footing; no point pushing and risk injury.  We thought that Ike was moving quite well.  As long as I can control my nerves and remember to ride to my hands, we should be able to hold our own.

In other exciting news, Ike and I have a visitor from the northwest.  His name is Walter the Show Poneh who is the unofficial mascot of the Horse Junkies United (http://www.horsejunkiesunited.com ) website.  HJU is a collection of bloggers who come from all aspects of the equine world.  A while back, I was asked to blog as part of the HJU site, so many of the posts from Ike’s Centerline Adventures get reworked and reposted there.  It is exciting to have Walter here in Virginia to accompany us to the regional finals.  He is a very well traveled poneh who has had the privilege of meeting some of the top riders in the world (he has had his photo taken with top eventers Mary King, Hawley Bennett and Sinead Halpin!  Go Walter!), and now he made time in his busy schedule to cheer for us in our efforts to successfully show at our first regional final.  Hoping that our weather improves as the big week begins so that Walter can actually use the sunglasses he packed.

This week is going to fly by and we will be on the road to Lexington, Virginia before you know it.  The vet comes tomorrow to give Ike a chiropractic adjustment to get him loose and ready for our final centerlines of the season.  The farrier also is stopping by to check Ike’s shoes and to give us extra Equi-thane…just in case.  I’ve already stopped at Tractor Supply for shavings, treats, and show sheen.  The packing lists are still growing, but I’ve amassed a lot of what I will need on the spare bed.

Still need to pack the wine.

Gloomy with a Side of Turkey

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So here we are a week away from our departure for the Finals and Mother Nature finally decides to flip the faucet to “gush.”  It rained Monday, it rained yesterday, and today, and it doesn’t look much better through Sunday.  Super.  I suppose I shall either just have to suck it up and ride in the rain, or fret that we are sitting idle.

The weather changes started on Monday with temperatures dropping 20 degrees from the day before.  This of course, causes my horses to get a bit keyed up.  There was a lot of frolicking, slipping and sliding to be done.  Please Ike don’t hurt yourself while acting the fool with your brother.  The rain that arrived with the lower temperatures also sent my boys flopping onto the ground like fish out of water.  It had been a while since we’d had measurable rain and mud puddles.  They couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give themselves mud baths.  Nice.  Nothing like trying to groom a horse who is slick with mud.

The only sunny day has been Tuesday…and I was stuck in the office.  My hereditary Polish luck at work again.  Luckily Ms. C was able to put Ike through the paces.  She noted that my pieced together bridle is still not ideal so my quest for a bridle continues.  Knowing my luck, I will have to spend a good deal of money to find one that fits Ike’s ginormous head.

I tried to ride yesterday only to have the rain start just as I walked up to the mounting block.  I rode anyway and finally gave up when I was unable to see because of all the rain on my glasses.  Can’t see without them either, so I was doomed.

The farm has also been invaded by a flock of wild turkeys.  Needless to say that most of the horses are not happy with these new neighbors.  They cluck, they call, they waddle and stare.  The horses stare back in horror at the blue, featherless heads.  The visitors squeeze between the fenceboards and chill in the paddocks.  Yesterday they marched in a single file line in the hayfield adjacent to the farm.  Not sure where they were headed, but they moved with determined purpose.  It was all I could do to keep Ike focused on my requests.  “But Mom, don’t you see those things?!  We must head for the safety of the barn now!!”  Half halts and quick transitions were my best weapons.  I suppose this is good practice for the chaos of the regional finals.  If we can survive the turkey invasion, we can survive a show with 400 horses.

And speaking of the finals, they are now real.  Ride times have been posted.  Sigh, I’m the second ride in my finals class that has 38 people.  I will be done just after 1:00, but the class won’t finish until almost 6:00 p.m.  A friend and I were discussing the pros and cons of your position in the order of go.  The truth is, it doesn’t matter if you put in a really nice ride.  Ride your best and let the chips fall where they may.  I’ve decided my goal is to beat my best score of the season.  Why not aim high?

Breathe, Alison, breathe.  It will all be okay.

Bridlezilla

006Would you like to know how to change me from a mild-mannered Adult Amateur rider into a stark raving lunatic?  Put a hard to deconstruct bridle in front of me and ask me to take it apart, but as I’m trying to take it apart, then have it break.  The comments spewing from my mouth were not fit for public consumption or for ears under the age of 17 or over the age of 80 (my grandmother would have had the vapors).  Why was I trying to take apart a bridle?  Well, I guess I need to back up to the start of the story.

Ike started with a bridle that I found in Wellington, Florida while I was there horse shopping for him.  When Ms. C and I weren’t test riding horses, we were hopping from one tack store to another.  The bridle I found had a nice wide noseband and no price tag.  The store manager told me he’d sell it to me for $50.  Sold!  I almost had to wear it home as a necklace since I had so many other purchases stuffed into my luggage.  In any case, the bridle fit Ike everywhere but the browband which was a tad too tight.

So what does a DQ do when she needs a new browband?  She heads to Browbands with Bling (http://browbandswithbling.com/browbands-red.html) and starts shopping.  Katherine has an amazing selection of browbands.  And, if you can’t find a design you like, she will do a custom one for you.  Her work is impeccable and if your horse outgrows the one you have, she will take it on trade and make you a larger one.  So far, Ike has not outgrown this browband…I probably just jinxed myself.

But I digress.  It did not take Ike long to outgrow the first bridle, so I purchased a lovely padded one.  I selected the oversized one thinking it would last a while.  It seemed to be everything we needed, but I did again have to replace the standard browband with my sparkly one since the standard one was again to tight across the expanse of Ike’s forehead.  Hmm, I’m beginning to see a trend here.

Well, a few weeks ago, I happened to notice a spot behind Ike’s left ear when I was putting on his halter.  There was a rubbed spot that had no hair.  He was still wearing his fly mask all the time and it was thought that the fly mask created some irritation.  Fast forward to this week.  We realized that it wasn’t the fly mask, but the lovely padded bridle that I thought would last us a few years.  Oh, crap.  Not good.  We feared that it could cause pain if the situation was not remedied soon.

Ms. C pulled out one of her bridles to compare fit.  Her bridle fit Ike fine with no pinching or tightness.  No matter how we played with the fit of mine (even punching half holes), the headstall was tight behind his ears.  Bizarre.  I even pulled out a measuring tape to compare the length of the headstalls.  Exactly the same.  Ms. C wasn’t using the bridle, so she offered to let me put my bit and reins on her bridle for the time being….now enter stage right, Bridlezilla.

I brought the bridles home to make the switch.  Easy enough task right?  Wrong.  The evil hooks that manufacturers use to hold the bit to the bridle are a PITA, especially when they are a bit older and the leather gets stiff.  I start to work on one side with no luck.  I move to the other and as easy as one, two, three, it was off.  Oh no, wait, I just took the rein off, not the headstall.  Sigh, that is embarrassing.  I continue to wrestle with the leather.  Oooooh, I think it is coming apart.  Well, it did, but I managed to pull the hook completely out of the headstall.  %^&#$.  Now I still need a headstall for Baby Huey’s head AND I owe Ms. C a new one as well.  Super-duper.

The offending hook

The offending hook

Well my town is not Wellington.  Pickings are slim at tack stores if you are a dressage rider in this area of Virginia.  I did not want to spend my entire day fighting weekend traffic in Northern Virginia to find a bridle, so I headed 30 minutes south and kept my fingers crossed. Ms. C can browse catalogs for her replacement but I need one yesterday, so I must hope that this tack store has something workable.  I smiled at the saleslady and told her what I needed: one oversized, black dressage bridle, reins not necessary.  We head over to the wall of bridles. There were at least 100 bridles available and can you guess how many dressage bridles in Baby Huey size?  One.  I’ll take it.

Once at the barn, I got to work.  The new bridle has four pieces: the headstall, the noseband/flash, the browband, and the reins.  I ended up using only the headstall.  Noseband?  Too small – pulled the one off the very first bridle.  Reins?  Leather – I will use my rubber reins.  Browband?  Surprise, too small – using my sparkly one.

The lesson learned from all this?  My horse has a very large and hard-to-fit head.  Maybe it is Ike’s way of hoping for a custom bridle.  Keep dreaming big boy, Mom’s pocketbook isn’t that big.  But I do now have a large collection of bridles and bridle pieces for sale.  Let me know what you need.

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