Equestrian #AlternativeFacts

Ike in double bridle 2

No matter what you call them, equestrians are masters at telling themselves alternativefacts/lies/falsehoods.  We can pretty much rationalize anything if it is related to our precious equines.

  1. “My dearest pony NEEDS this new brush.”  No, your pony does not care that this brush is handmade in England by master brush makers.  Your pony just wants for you to be done with your latest grooming session so he can roll in the new mud hole created after last night’s rainstorm.
  2. “This new saddle pad will make the saddle slip less and improve my score.” Umm, sure.  Just like the 15 others that you have squirreled away in your spare bedroom closet.  You like it because you don’t have that color in your stack.  You like the braided trim that none of your other pads has.  It is okay, admitting the problem is the first step to recovery.
  3. “Ooooh, this mane and tail product smells divine so that must mean it works better than the one (or ten others) that I already have in my tack box.”  Every once in a while, I dive into the depths of my tack box to see what is lurking in the back besides some mouse poop.  I have bottles of shampoo that I bought 10 years ago (bathing the boys is not a priority).  I have conditioner that we got as a prize.  I have about 40 sample sized bottles from competitor bags.  There are $100’s of dollars worth of products…it won’t stop me from buying more.
  4. “Going to the clinic with X will surely mean that we will improve.”  You see it all the time.  A rider will go to any and every clinic with a big name rider.  They love to tell you all the big names that they have ridden with over the years, yet they are still struggling with the basics.  What they lack is a clear system to help them master the basics and see steady progress forward.  Regular training with the one competent person is what they need.
  5. “I will only be at the barn for 30 minutes.”  Bahahahahahahahaaa!  Ask any significant other how long a typical visit to the barn takes.  They will tell you the truth.  They will get a good laugh about this lie.
  6. “I can get my horse tacked and ready for our class in 30 minutes.”  Many years of showing has taught me that when I try to cut preparations that close, something can and will go wrong.  Your horse decides today is the day he won’t stand still for braiding.  Your gloves decide they no longer want to be a pair.  Your horse does his best giraffe impression so getting the bridle on is impossible.  The zipper on your boot breaks.  Mysterious stains appear on your jacket and breeches and they stubbornly resist your attempts to rub them off.
  7. “It won’t be that hot/cold this weekend at the show.”  The sun is searing hot or the frigid winds make you debate the merits of fur-lined boots.  You then begin to question the whole showing concept.  A weekend sipping margaritas by the pool sounds divine.  Why didn’t you just curl up under the covers with a good book instead of braving 20 degree wind chills?
  8. “If I am careful, I can clean the stall without getting anything on my white breeches.”  Perhaps someone else has this expert skill level.  I do not.
  9. “I am going to stop at the tack store and just pick up my horse’s supplement.”  And then somehow a pair of socks, a belt, some treats, a new show shirt (it was on sale!), and a deliciously scented tail detangler appear in your shopping basket.
  10. “The vet bill will only be $100.”  Never have I ever had a vet bill that small except for a supplemental medication that was shipped to me after the visit that cost $300-400.”
  11. “I don’t need to wear a helmet.”  YES YOU DO.  End of discussion.
  12. “That is a great price for that pair of boots/saddle/bridle/bit.”  It is amazing once you are indoctrinated into the equine world how $500 no longer seems like a lot of money.  $800 boots?  What a bargain!  I’m pretty sure that there is a change in your brain chemistry when exposed to the scent of a horse that rewires normal monetary logic.

Bonus “My horse is the best horse/most handsome/most talented.”  This is one alternate fact that I think is okay.  We all certainly cannot have the number 1 horse, but there is certainly nothing wrong with believing that you do.  It shows true affection and love and there is nothing wrong with that.

alison

%$&*# Groundhog

ike-in-double-bridle-1

Thus far, we have been fortunate to have a mild winter with plenty of opportunities to keep our horses in regular training.  That being said, we still have to make it through February and the beginning of March before we can say we are done with the misery of frozen fingers and toes.  And all we can hope is that the groundhog is wrong in his prediction for 6 more weeks of winter.  Too bad my hound dog Holly is no longer with us…she would be able to convince the groundhog to change his tune.

Our Third Level progress has been slow but steady.  We can’t seem to break out of our tortoise mode.  Rabbits we are not.  Since neither Ike nor I have ever schooled nor competed at this level, poor Ms. C has the difficult task of training us simultaneously.  And, for the most part, I am the one holding back our progress.

I manage to stifle Ike’s trot and canter half pass.  Every once in a while, I manage to align his body just right and we flow across the arena.  I get all excited and giddy like a schoolgirl, but when asked to do it again….well, we hobble across the arena looking like a ginormous wooden puppet.  It seems that I cannot grasp the concept that the shoulders must start the movement.  I prefer to let the haunch take the lead.  Yes, yes, it is wrong but I just can’t seem to help myself!  I promise to keep practicing since I know there is a great half pass in the big man.

The extended gaits are still rather elusive.  I am happy to report that finally we are beginning to have a decent medium trot.  A real one, not a “horse just goes faster” medium.  I guess it just took some time for Ike’s strength to develop.  It also helps that on the cold and blustery days, Ike wants to go forward, so we use that to our advantage.

And I know you must be curious about our flying changes, since that is the make or break for Third Level.  Let’s just say that they are a work in progress.  Some days we nail them in both directions.  Some days Ike’s hind end doesn’t get the message to do anything so we get disunited.  Some days Ike ignores me and we careen around with an ugly countercanter.  And then other days, Ike anticipates them and they are textbook perfect when he does it without my interference.  Sigh…  We did have one amazing day where we had solid changes and countercanter all in one training session.  I’m trying not to get too excited about that day since it is about as frequent as a blue moon.

The spring schedules and prize lists are starting to pop up in my newsfeed and on websites.  Not sure what the year will shape up to be, but we are aiming for a Fix-a-Test clinic at the end of March.  Based on the outcome of that, we will make some decisions about our spring show schedule.

alison

p.s. For those of you who are wondering about Cigar, he continues to improve.  There are still some proudflesh scabs that we are combating, but my old man is back to his normal, grumpy, independent self.  And yes, he is filthy!!

 

Ike’s 2017 Update

Hello my friends! 
It has been a while since I checked in to share my thoughts on life and my Mother’s stories. Someone has to fact check her writing and get to the truth.

My brother sucked up a lot of Mom’s time and money late last year. His leg looked like a bloated hot dog and he didn’t feel like eating. There was some fancy name for what he had, but I called it “Suckstobeyou-itis.”  The vet stuck a tube in his neck and then he had to stand in one place for a few hours while clear stuff got drained into him.  Borrr-iiinnnggg.  They also kept sticking him with lots of needles. Oh, the needles; the tack box looked like it belonged to a drug addict.  The vet even had Mom sticking him multiple times a day. Mom also jammed applesauce laced with medicine into my brother’s mouth for weeks on end. She even conned Ms. C and Mr. D into helping with her evil plan. 

I did feel bad for Mom one day when she thought my brother was not going to make it. I hung close and casually ate my hay. I tried to look unconcerned, but I would have been very sad to say goodbye to him. Even though his vet bills cut into my Christmas loot, I guess I am glad that he is still around.  He finally feels well enough to play with me which is good since there is no grass to eat and my slacker Mom doesn’t ride as much in the cold.

When Mom does ride, she puts the big boy bridle on me. I am not a fan of all the extra metal in my mouth. I like to play with all the pieces. Sometimes I get it under my tongue which forces Mom or Ms. C to have to fix it.  Mom thinks it gives her more control,  but I proved otherwise a couple of days ago. She was trying to slow me down, but I managed to set a pretty fast pace. Mom results to yelling, “slow down!!!” but I just ignore her.  A boy has to have some fun once in a while.

We are working on stuff to move up to Third Level this year. Mom wants a medal of some sort and the stuff I am learning will help her get it.  I wonder what it tastes like. Will it get me more treats? I had better get an Uncle Jimmy ball if she gets her medal. 

Most of the stuff we are learning isn’t too hard, but Ms. C yells at Mom a lot during our lessons. “More flexion.” “You let the haunches lead.” “You let the shoulder fall out!” “Ask for more push on that trot.” (Umm, Mom, I hear you huffing and puffing up there…perhaps some cardio training is in order. Maybe some training for your coordination too.) I am trying to do what she wants for the flying changes, but sometimes she doesn’t ask at the right moment and I have to scramble to do what she expects. Thankfully we have plenty of time before we have to go public.  And Mom still gets her left and right confused. Face palm. Yeah, it is embarrassing some days.

We have been lucky this winter that the snow has not piled up and we have not had weeks of sustained cold. I like it since it means Mom can’t keep me in a blanket all the time. I look silly being the only horse at the barn whose mother dresses them in ridiculous clothes. I guess I should be glad that the goofy patterns don’t come in my size.

Hope all my friends are doing well. See you out and about later this year!

Ike

My Love/Hate Relationship With Winter

Ike January 25 2016

Ike expressing his views on winter weather. (This is from last winter.)

 

Well, winter has arrived in the mid-Atlantic states.  The snowbirds have migrated south and the rest of us have opened up the bags of winter clothing and hand warmers to face the colder temperatures.  There are things that I do like about this time of year, but there are also things I truly despise about the season…

Love: Not having sweat pouring down my face and burning my eyes.                                                   Hate: The wind stinging my eyeballs making it look like I am crying. 

Love: Not having to have ninja like reflexes to kill horseflies.                                                                     Hate: Being so padded to stay warm that I move like the StaPuff Marshmallow Man.

Love: Not riding in the atomic dustbowl.                                                                                                  Hate: Frozen footing.

Love: No allergies and random sneezing while I ride.                                                                             Hate: That my nose runs like a faucet in cold weather. 

Love: The energy that my horse has.                                                                                                        Hate: The bat crap crazy energy my horse has on some days.

Love: Pockets in my winter coats.                                                                                                           Hate: My fingers being so frozen that they can grasp nothing in the pockets. 

Love: Not having to clean gooey sweat globs off the bridle.                                                                   Hate: How impossible it is to manipulate cold leather.

Love: Not fearing having a shoe sucked off in the mud.                                                                         Hate: Worrying that my horse with twist a fetlock in the frozen mud holes. 

Love: Not worrying about odd tan lines.                                                                                                  Hate: Wind burn and chapped lips.

Love: Not having to wear a gas mask in the car with the dirty, sweaty saddlepad.                                   Hate: Having to wait for the ice on the windshield to melt.

So what are your favorite and least favorite things about this time of year?

Alison

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

So show season is over.  We have submitted our year end award packets.  The trailer has been cleaned.  My show coat has been mended.  Memberships for next year have been renewed.  Fall shots have been administered.  The saddle fitter will be stopping by soon for a saddle checkup.  So what does that leave us to do with our time?  Plenty.

 Next year we (okay, okay, mostly me – Ike doesn’t much care what we do) want to make the leap to Third Level.  That means there are some mad skills that we need to acquire over these winter months to be ready for the challenges presented at this next level of dressage.  We wasted little time after the championship show to get back to work since a quick read of the Third Level tests shows that there is some work to be done.

 Having just spent the past year working on and improving our Second Level work, I have a higher degree of confidence in our collection skills, but Third Level means no more half-assed collection.  Do or die, there is no try.  Fortunately Ike is working well in the snaffle, so we can save the double bridle for another day.

 Medium gaits…coming.  Extended gaits…umm, what are those??  As long as Ike doesn’t decide that a potty break is necessary during the test, we can approximate an extended walk.  An extended trot?  We will take our 5 and hope that Ike continues to develop his pushing power.

 Half pass.  Well, I have more to learn about riding a correct half pass than Ike does.  One must move the shoulders first, the shoulders.  And much like shoulder in, the rider needs to keep their weight in the correct place despite where my horse tries to put me.

 Turn on the haunches?  Sigh, I was saddened to see that they follow us to Third Level.  We will continue our efforts on this as well.

 And then there are the flying changes. Left to right is usually easier since Ike wants to shift his weight to the right hind.  Right to left needs to be ridden a bit straighter or we only change in the front.  Thankfully we have not lost any shoes during this scrambling moments.  The downfall to teaching the changes?  Someone starts to anticipate them and gets a bit strong in the hand.  The solution?  Canter-halt transitions, canter-walk transitions, or staying in countercanter.  All of these require that I use every skill I have in my arsenal to make Ike listen.  I can thank Cigar for my ability to stay astride during Ike’s panicked moments…and I still have the double bridle available if necessary. 

Stay tuned. We will let you know how how are winter homework is progressing.

alison

 

The Power of the Horse

Well, the final hurrah of the year is over.  The show duds have been packed away until year.  The self-imposed stress of horse shows is behind us and we can get back to just training…after Ike enjoys a few days of well earned down time.
Our Second Level championship ride had a major spook, but the rest of the test was solid and our score enough for an eighth place ribbon.  While it now resides next to the two we earned at Training and First Levels, it somehow has an extra special place in my heart.

This year was a big one for us.  It was the first year ever that our shows did not include any of the lower levels.  This was the year that I felt that Ike and I truly connected – collection is possible and I have seen glimpses of the still untapped power. The falling acorns helped me find my medium trot and Ike’s passage.  It is scary and thrilling all at the same time.

But most of all, I marvel at the awesome group of friends who I have met through my equine endeavors and who share this grand adventure.  We all arrived at this point by different paths, yet as we sat together in the barn this weekend, it didn’t matter how we got there. We were all there to enjoy our horses and cheer for each other. Strangers became life long friends. Fellow competitors morph into friendly faces and you cheer for their success. You volunteer your time to help the show run smoothly and sometimes you can turn someone’s day around by wishing them luck or congratulating their nice ride.

Horsepower is a good thing, but the power of the horse is something truly amazing. To all my friends, I cherish you all and look forward to our future adventures. 

Alison 

Fight or Flight? Ike Says, “Run!”

Ike in the shade

So fall has really arrived here in Virginia.  Temperatures are cooler, humidity is lower, and you can hear acorns falling from the trees.  Leaves have a hint of fall colors. The crisp air seems to electrify the atmosphere for the horses and especially for my two. (No shock there.) The boys ramp up their gelding play – biting, kicking, running, and rearing are de rigueur.  As you try to lead them to and from their paddocks, you are either struggling to keep up with Ike’s walk or you try your best not to get run over by Cigar.  Cigar likes to demonstrate his piaffe ability if you make him slow down to walk with you; where was that skill when he was in work??

And riding can also become a bit more challenging when your horse is on edge and ready to make a run for it at any moment.  Five crows sent Ike into a tizzy earlier this week, and the invisible boogey man (or clown) had him ready to save himself yesterday.  He only saves me if I can stay astride.  Thankfully, my ability to keep my ass in the saddle has improved; perhaps it is the memory of the pain from my last fall.

But an amazing thing can happen if I can keep Ike calm and somewhat focused when he gets a bit agitated.  When the adrenaline, cortisol, and noradrenaline start flowing, Ike feels like he grows another 6 inches in the withers as he sits on his hind end and prepares to run.  I relax my seat to sit deeper in the saddle; I exhale and shake my shoulders.  If I give a couple of meaningful and well-timed half halts, I have an upper level quality passage and a real collected trot.  Ike is through, connected, and using his back.  When I ask for a medium trot, Ike can answer. My ability to sit that trot is still in question.

This adrenaline-fueled horse can also perform walk-canter and canter-walk transitions with ease.  Since he is using his back correctly, we have more jump in our canter stride.  The only downside is that sometimes someone doesn’t want to slow down.

So now I ponder how to achieve this fear-motivated, connected feeling during my finals class…anyone have some pet crows that we can borrow next week?

alison