Monday, March 30, 2015

TGI... NOT SPRING BREAK

not our best
I suspect y'all were picking up on this theme from the past couple of lessons, both jumping and dressage: Courage is not quite right. He's not unsound that I can see, but he hurts somewhere.

And for a horse making big changes to his body, that's perfectly normal.

What's not normal is that it was spring break and our bodywork person was OUT OF TOWN.

Fail.

She's finally due out this morning (srsly DYING here), but here's a rundown of what we've been up to:

a little of this

lots of this
some of this (wonky, amiright?)
less of this (but there's a trot hiding in there somewhere)
and just a touch of THIS HOTNESS
It hasn't been exciting--Courage has had mostly days off and I'm going completely nuts from not doing anything. The one day we lunged let me work on the same things from the ground that we were working towards in the saddle (slower, larger strides instead of falling forward and running) and Courage (obviously) looked kick ass for parts of it.

But it's Monday.

SPRING BREAK IS OVER BITCHES.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Ammy Hour: Meet Gingham!

I have a fun line up of ammy hour interviews coming your way. This week I talked with Gingham of Pia & Prarie's Parade about how she makes life work as an employee, mom, wife, and ammy rider. Without further ado, meet Gingham!

1) You’re at dinner with work colleagues. How do you introduce yourself?
Well let’s see.  I was going to say something clever about being the only girl at a hunting/fishing outing (since that what’s my work folks do) but… well, I’m still on what appears to be a mostly extended maternity leave.  So right now my “work” colleagues are my cat and baby.  Both are kind of uppity about their dinners though so they’d probably introduce me as the tall lady who never feeds them on time

2) Assuming I pretend this is dinner with real work people… 
I’d mean to say “HOLY CRAP I HAVEN’T PUT ON A REAL BRA IN DAYS, and these HEELS!??? I’M JUST GLAD MY FORMERLY SWOLLEN FEET FIT IN THEM AGAIN.  (I might say something like “I wish I was with my horse” if I wasn’t already chugging my second glass of wine)

Ms Star
3) What is your history with horses?
I started out as a total barn rat, who after getting hooked on a weekly lesson courtesy of a former fox hunting grandma, started to clean tack and stalls in exchange for more lessons.  When my favorite schooling pony ended up for sale (she maybe bolted, and kicked and bit a lot.. but what pony doesn’t) I promised my (clever) father no French kissing till high school, no sex till college and grandchildren by 30 in exchange for bringing her home.

the one and only Pia
I agreed hastily.  Because I was 11 and boys were gross.  Anyway, Star was an awesome first pony.  She was surly and horrid but she jumped ANYTHING you pointed her at and she started my love affair with eventing.  By the end of our time together we had competed through 2nd level dressage and managed one start at Prelim (for the record she was 13.2).  In contrast, every other horse has proved a tad disappointing.  Star was totally sound, only wore two shoes, never got sick, ate two flakes of hay a day and that was IT.  Man I miss ponies…

When I went off to college I managed to ride and compete our of school’s team with the IHSA.  That is a truly unique and bizarre experience, but it scratched my horse itch and was affordable while I was busy studying.

After school, and a pit stop in NYC for a few years, I finally moved home and got back into horses for real. That’s when I found Pia - a really pretty, really opinionated Hungarian mare.  We struggled a lot, but like most mares she taught me more, and eventually taught me that we were not a match. Currently she’s with another ammy bouncing around cross country courses and going on trail rides.  It’s a win.

early Prairie
4) Tell us about your horse and how you met her.
Prairie is my current ride, and I adore her.  When I got her (basically Christmas of 2011) thought I was buying my next dressage horse.  I found her on my own while perusing lots (and lots) of online listings.  I was hypnotized by her trot and when after a couple months I still found myself comparing every other ad to her… I went to go see her.  I think I rode her for the first time on December 23rd, and by New Years I had sent the check.  It wasn’t a very rational purchase, but there was something about her I just loved.

they're so classy
5) What do you do with your horse?
About a year into our partnership, I started working Prair over small fences as cross training.  When she seemed to enjoy it more than 20m circles and other really, really boring low level dressage stuff, we slowly crossed over to Hunter Land.  We’ve spent the past two years getting (much) more relaxed and (much) more capable as low level hunters.  We’ve competed together once in the AA’s (3’) but mostly we bop around at 2’6” while we still get the whole polished-and-consistent thing figured out.

6) Where are you going together?
This is a hard question to answer right now.  Assuming prolonged soundness I would love Prair to be a solid 3’ Hunter.  I’m honestly not sure that will work, but we’ll see.  If it doesn’t, we’ll enjoy jumping lower things and find other fun stuff (like mountain trail and dressage) to keep us exploring together and learning.

7) What does success with horses look like for you?
I’ve never had the same goal with two horses, and I’ve liked that.

With Prair, success looks like finding work that she is happy, sound and relaxed in.  We have made SO many strides in the happy and relaxed arenas.  But sound is just now starting to be an issue (those pesky soft tissue injuries are just devastating).

he's a keeper
8) How do you finance the addiction?
I am (extremely) lucky that my husband doesn’t mind that a large portion of our salaries goes straight to the barn (and tack store.. and equine massage therapist.. and vet, always the vet).  We’re lucky to have some good property investments that throw off some rental income and that goes a long way to making it possible for me to even pretend I belong in Hunter Land.  I am really lucky to keep Prair in a full training situation in a really nice show barn, where I know she’s well cared for if the kiddo (or work) keep me from visiting as often as I’d like.  It’s not cheap, and every once in a while (like when I’m paying show bills) I fantasize about going back to a somewhat more affordable discipline…. But I don’t actually see that happening anytime soon.

cooler spam!
 9) What does your support team look like?
My support team is outstanding.  My husband is a HERO.  He knows I’m a better human when I get my barn time and even tolerates it when I try to spin shows as “vacations.”  Not only will he haul my horse across the state with me, but he keeps me fed and watered at shows, watches the baby while I ride and even feigns interest when I’m geeking out about whatever horse related purchase I’ve most recently blown our budget on.  He’s the most important part of the equation.  On top of that though, both his mom and my mom try to help out with childcare so I can get to the barn during the week, so that’s huge too.  More directly related I’ve got a great trainer who pushes me just the right amount and an all star vet who has really changed Prair’s body for the better.

pictured: not a barn in the PNW
10) What are your horse keeping arrangements?
Oops, I already answered this sorta.  Prair is at a really amazing facility about 45min south of my home.  It’s far (really, really far) and it’s meant that I only get to ride 3 times a week, but the program and the care is worth it.  She’s become a totally different mare since we moved there about 15 months ago.  Less anxious, less stressed, happy and willing in her work.  It’s been awesome.  Hopefully someday soon she gets the greenlight to actually enjoy their lovely turnouts again, but for now, she’s got a beautiful stall and gorgeous arena to enjoy.

11) How often do you ride?
Oops, answered this too.  Right now 3 days a week.  I’m used to seeing/riding my horses 5 or 6 days a week, but having our first kid has shifted the schedule a bit.  Now I ride twice during the week and once on the weekend.  It seems to be enough to keep me from turning into a totally useless heap of a rider, and Prair seems to enjoy the extra training rides when I’m not there.  If I could wave a magic wand I’d ride more, but right now three times a week is sustainable.

fancy mare
12) What’s the single biggest thing that helps you achieve your goals?
A sound horse.  LOL.  Just Kidding.. kinda

Sure is easier to accomplish things when you can actually ride your horse… buuuuuut aside from that, patience is key.  I’m rather Type A and sometimes I forget that my horses don’t care about yearend awards, or points, or even (god forbid) coolers.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten better about trying to eliminate my competitive-teenage-sports-mindset as much as possible.  Competition still frames my progress and helps me organize my goals, but trying to enjoy the (long, slow, sometimes backwards) process has become a larger part of the picture.

SO FANCY I COULD DIE
13) If there was one thing you could say to people getting ready to join the ranks of riding (or re-riding) adults, what would it be?
1) DO IT. It’s so good for the soul.

2) But unless you’re prepared to spend twice as much as you think you want to, find a horse to lease before you buy.

That’s my number one suggestion to those of us stumbling back into the horse game. :)

14) Bottom Line:
Basically, I’m not me without a horse to be with.  I’m grateful for a spouse who not only accepts that fact, but embraces and maybe even enjoys it.  I thought having a kiddo would significantly alter my horse life, but 8 months into it, I have still been able to enjoy a few lessons a week, a reasonable (if a tad scaled back) show season and my blog.  I might not be doing quite as much of those things as I was two years ago, but I’m just thrilled any of it fits into life with my fun little family.

Many thanks to Gingham for participating!! Do you know someone who should be featured on Ammy Hour? Is that person you? Either way, contact me if you want to be included.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Case Against the OTTB

RAWR racing C Rage
Full disclosure: I have spent most of my riding life on OTTBs. They're great horses. Courage is my first project directly off the backside, but I'm a thoroughbred person at heart and I always regret it when I go away from them.

THAT SAID.

If you're considering getting a horse, don't get an OTTB.

Just don't.

(noted: if you're looking at an older horse already going well in a second career, you can skip this post. I'm talking about horses straight off the track or not yet confirmed in new careers.)

first week off the track
Here's why:
1) Horse ownership has enough problems to begin with.

If you're reading a blog about what horse to buy or not buy, you haven't been around the block enough times to be comfortable with all the issues that are going to come with a recent OTTB. Plain as that. Horses go lame, get crazy, have issues, and require lots of special management. Then tack on that racehorse past and you're looking at all kinds of things that may or may not be manageable, but are definitely going to add stress to your life.

870

2) It's a big breed with many, many different sub-types.

I think Courage is pretty damn gorgeous. Conformation experts might harp on his short coupled-ness, which makes him hard to loosen up, and his short neck, which is fun to make shorter and really jam around when he has moment. But Courage isn't representative of all OTTBs.

aka "short coupled"
Take a few hours and look through CANTER listings around the country. There are many, many different types of horses represented. Horses like Courage are few and far between. "Thoroughbred" encompasses a HUGE breed, with all body types.

So just because Courage or Icabod Crane or (insert horse name here) is an OTTB doesn't mean all OTTBs will be like that. Ever.

not short coupled. not green.
3) They aren't "green". 

I think this creates the most confusion. OTTBs are specially trained to do one thing and do that thing very well. There's a whole language to it and it's very simple and natural for the horse to understand.

So it's not like starting a green horse from scratch. It's restarting a trained horse to do something COMPLETELY different, like say an intermediaire/PSG dressage horse, throwing it in western tack, and bitching because it doesn't know how to work cattle.

It's hard for the horse and that requires a very tactful rider who understands what to put up with, what to shut down, what needs to be addressed right now and what to try another day.

life isn't the only unpredictable thing
4) It creates increased risk for the horse.

A racehorse has a better shot at life than an already-failed ammy horse. A horse is a luxury animal. Life is unpredictable. If things go bad and a horse needs to find a new home, the beloved trained useful horse will be sold for a tidy amount. The green, failed, lame thing goes on a double decker to Mexico. That's hard, but it's reality.

sexy grey horse
We have to be concerned with resale because life is unpredictable. A horse coming off the track is a known quantity to people who move thoroughbreds. A horse that flunked out of ammy life once already is a horse with baggage. It makes them less marketable and less desirable, not more.

Be honest with yourself about your goals, your resources, and your abilities. Do it for yourself, but more importantly, do it for your (potential) horse.

it takes a long ass time to get here
I'm not saying OTTBs can't be great horses, because they obviously can. That said, the process of sorting them out and making the great ones is not the type of project that is not appropriate for the average ammy owner. Do yourself a favor--don't get an OTTB.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Tack Ho Tribulations: Friends are the Worst

dressage saddle early days
There is a school of thought (that I somewhat buy in to) that says blog posts that are just a swag brag are in poor taste because they make horse blogs be all about $$$ spent on gear and not about actual horse things, which is tacky because gear isn't necessary.

I sort of agree with that.

But also I sort of don't.

Because sometimes things like this happen: You go on a total buying freeze all winter because you need to adult and clear out inventory and do non-horse things. But you don't get rid of your friends, because friends are nice. People need friends, don't they?

But then sometimes your friend just happens to have the perfect dressage saddle for you and your horse.

total saddle fit girth, amiright?
So you buy it.

But then you need a girth. And your other friend finds a nice quality one in the size you need in a brand name you didn't think you could afford used for a total steal.

So you buy that too.

they're super nice








But then you only have one dressage pad and ALL your jump saddle pads are super forward cut to accommodate your stupid femur, so they can't do double duty and your OTHER other friend finds you three nice dressage pads shipped for an absolute SONG.

Yup, bought them.

toys toys so many toys
Of course, then you're still stuck using brown jump leathers on your way classy get up until you go on a quick out of state trip with your Dad, who buys you dressage leathers. But since since you didn't have to pay for them and rolling polos is a b*tch, you couldn't help but notice the half price set of white dressage boots that needed a home.

Bought those too.

oh canada
Of course, then there was the problem of only having borrowed irons to put on those pretty new leathers, which is no good and yet another friend pointed you to a website you didn't need to know about that was clearing out the exact irons you needed.

Bought them. And bell boots, because who doesn't need bell boots?

very bridle
So then you're all set up for dressage until your favorite tack retailer decides to have a Valentine's sale. Who does that? You were determined to be good, but your wonderful hubs bought you the dressage bridle of your dreams.

So yeah, that showed up.

Well then it became apparent that the bridle had no sparkles or throatlatch and if you wanted to go to recognized shows, you would need both (NEED) and your one friend was like "hey I'd totes split shipping with you" and so yeah....

That happened.

much sparkle
And that's not even including how you made a flippant comment on instagram about how you needed a dressage half pad and this other friend was like "totes have one of those to send to you" and if you're a tack who, you obv suck at saying no. To friends.

can i get a hell yes?
So it's here.

And that's not including things like when through a very convoluted trade, a new breastcollar for your jump saddle just so happens to come live with you. It needed to loved, you know? Friends can't let friends let go of cwd breastcollars.

bright side: he looks fab
I don't really know where all this is going other than to say if you're trying to stay on budget, make sure you get rid of all your friends. They are absolutely HELL on budgets.










Noted: in fairness, I think I have two friends who don't cost me tack money. Lauren and JenJ, please stand up. Scratch that. Lauren stands alone.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Linear is for Losers or "How My Lesson Went"


hey look! a stretch!
It was pointed out to me that some people think Courage is perfect because I only ever post nice pictures of him. (No one thinks I'm perfect because LOL you've all seen pics of me.)

Regardless. He isn't. He's a cool horse with a great brain, a ton of talent, and stubborn streak, and sometimes things don't go according to plan. You saw the outtakes yesterday, so here's the story behind them.

Courage ran for 6+ years as a successful racehorse. He's been off the track a little over a year and a half, and the process of changing his body from racehorse to sporthorse is a long, ongoing, and sometimes painful thing.

So I had him adjusted before his dressage clinic, and then proceeded to have two spectacular rides, a day off, and then possibly the best ride I've ever had on him.

And then he was a little wonky.

And then he was a little more wonky in our jump lesson. (Remember that weird "can't turn right thing" before the jumps? That is weird.)

just fine
So we warmed up ok for our dressage lesson. It wasn't bad. It just wasn't very good.

We worked on some stuff with my position and effectiveness and that was all fine and dandy. Courage felt... fine...

I mean, he wasn't bad by any stretch. He just wasn't really applying himself or making big improvements.

so focused
We did left lead canter and I actually had some really nice moments. Not spectacular or amazing, but soft and rideable and engaged. It's amazing what happens when I break up the tension and use my body properly, right?

Ya know.

Courage was being good. I was happy with him.

And then we "tried" to go right.

The quotes might be more accurate if I put them like this: and then we tried to go "right".

so dramatic
Regardless. Courage pretty much lost his good lil' mind to the right at the trot. He blew through my aids and galloped sideways at the fence and nearly trampled our intrepid photographer (who had to climb the fence to get out of the way).

I rode through it a few times, but I wasn't really getting anywhere other than to the fence sideways and in a hurry, which has actually never been a goal of mine.

So I asked C to get on. I probably win "least favorite client of the week". Oh well.


When he's good, he's really good
C rode through the hijinks and worked on some aids while Courage continued to escalate to levels I hadn't seen from him before.

And then C stopped and told me that to her, it felt like a pain thing.

Which makes sense because 1) while Courage can be an asshole, he's not that committed to the thug life and 2) given all his recent work changes, body-soreness, stuck spots, and pain are part of the transition.

I finished the lesson with 2 (count 'em) successful circles to the right at the walk and trot and promptly made an appointment with Courage's main bodywork person.

We'll be back at 'em, but not until after the appointment. Apparently.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Dressage by Memes


best. pic. ever.
Dressage lesson was... amusing? I'll do a proper write up later, but here are the outtakes.

All pictures by Alyssa. All memes by me.





















Happy Monday!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring Show Schedule

he is super pumped
Plenty of exciting things happening that need to be typed up and shared, but I've been procrastinating on this long enough that I thought I might as well out it out there. Let's face it: some of you are showing in rated/recognized competitions already, and I haven't even plunked out a basic show schedule yet.

About that.

Every couple weeks, I get all ambitious and sit down with calendars from multiple show organizations and determine how much dressage and jumping I want to do and where I want to go and all that...

And then I realize that I really don't want to. The whole idea makes me anxious.


helps I ride better now
You have to understand--I was TERRIBLE at shows as a kid. I mean, I had "fun" I guess, but I was never actually successful. I remember being at yet another horrible jumper show and staring at the ribbons I'd never win and just wishing I could suck well enough to have a bottom placing.

And failing.

And as an adult, well... I had a lot of success with Cuna. I've had some really traumatic experiences with green horses at shows, and here I am with a green horse to show.

I know the only way to make him not green is to show him, but I just can't get excited about it. If I look at schedules too long, I just shut down. It sounds miserable and humiliating and awful to me.

can we do this at a show?
But I do believe in showing. If nothing else, it forces us to evaluate our progress in terms of an absolute standard, and I think that is a very important thing.

So here's my show schedule for Courage and I this year:

April 29-dressage schooling show at local barn. No prizes. No ribbons. No placings. Choose your own test. Get a score.

And if that's fun, we'll find something else to do. If not, eh, I'll make a new plan.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ammy Life

bonus: horse is still cute
I want to write this post about how frustrated I am.

How my dressage riding isn't pretty.

My jump riding isn't effective enough.

My show budget is pathetic.

My lessons are infrequent.

My progress is stilted.

My goals are unreachable.

I'm calling a stirrup-length mulligan. Yay cute knees!
But you know what? I'm an adult ammy. I take lessons when I can afford it. I refuse to beat myself up for not looking like a jumper pro in my first jump lesson of the year. I looked like an adult ammy in my first lesson of the year on a green horse who'd only seen jumps about 4x in the last few months, AND THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT WE ARE.

Yeah, my dressage position isn't perfect. But you know what? It's effective for where we're at right now. I'm hardly a dressage pro, Courage is new to the whole idea, and the fact that he's progressing this quickly is a testament to the team he and I have become over the past year and a half.

I'm focusing on the positives--Courage is coming along great. We have homework to help fix the jumping. I'm excited about our dressage.

I'm not dwelling on the meta narratives here. I can't turn into one of those people who shows out of state year round and dumps buckets of money into nice made horses. I like those people, but I'm not one of them. I'm just me with my lil bay OTTB that I'm bringing along myself, and that's ok.



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sunshine and Roses and LAUNCHING INTO ORBIT


don't overthink it
You know when something sounds like a good idea, but you sort of just know it isn't but then you do it anyways because you don't trust yourself and then it turns out to be a really bad idea after all?

Maybe it's just me.

Anyways. Last Thursday, I hopped on Courage in the jump tack. I was planning to just do a little two point and trot over some poles, but a fellow boarder left a couple of jumps up and even though I was alone, Courage has been fantastic, right?

It's a crossrail. What could go wrong?

Ha! Funny you should ask. We started by trotting over a few poles. Courage was a little up (aka "thought about cantering after the poles), so we just kept trotting them until he held a consistent rhythm on a loopy rein.

it's bigger than you'd think
Then we trotted to the little crossrail.

Courage LEAPED over it and landed running.

Sigh. That's what I get for not jumping much, right?

I took him back down to trot poles until he could do them nicely, then re-approached the crossrail.

This time he got to about one stride out and just flung his head up and RAN AT IT. And launched. And landed running. I could walk you through the whole cluster, but let's just say that there was lots and lots of flatwork and poles and jump changing and stopping to think and cantering in place and getting stuck and racing and leaping and we finally were able to trot over a crossrail without racing or leaping, but it was a solid 90 minutes of hard work to get there.

i'll take any excuse to look at this pic
The good news is that Courage is neither difficult nor scary to ride. At any point, I could stop and drop the reins on his neck and he'd go to sleep.

So on that fantastic note, we were all set for our first jump lesson of the year.

We were finally able to sync back up with S who did so much for us last year. Courage definitely showed all sides of what we've been working on lately.

Warning: video below is kind of boring. (jumping starts at 45 seconds).





the return of the possessed right hand
Basically, any time we cantered towards the gate or around a corner, he wanted to RUN LIKE HELL which I would then exacerbate with super creative BRACING. S called us out on it and we made some fixes, and then Courage was like "eff you right turns".

So the first part of the video is sorting that out and the second part is just going through our little exercise. It's all crossrails. There's no leaping or flailing, but that's where we're at right now.

that's better
It was so good to have some eyes on the ground. I haven't ridden in the jump tack much lately and I was making some pretty basic mistakes that certainly weren't helping us. Plus S was able to help us curtail the naughtiness while giving me strategies to enhance the good things.

I did change my stirrup leathers a while back and it looks to me like they need to be a hole shorter--my position is usually pretty kick ass and well, it's not.

Regardless. Jump lesson #1 of 2015 is now in the books.
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