Thursday, April 17, 2014

Getting Back On My Horse

The color in a washed out world
For non-blogging reasons, the last week has just been a series of increasingly worse crises. Courage has been on break due to the farrier/teeth/ongoing personal shit I'm in the middle of. Yesterday, the stars finally aligned and I got him out. I stuck him on the lunge line and while wild, the little man was oh-so-fancy.

And then I rode him. Not hard--we just did some walk/trot transitions and leg yielding/shoulder fore exercises. I could definitely feel a difference--he was so much steadier in the contact and more willing to work through his whole body.

He is the best at cheering me up
I toodled around and cleaned my tack. For a whole two hours, the world was just me and him and everything was ok.

So yeah. A lot of things suck right now and I'm really inordinately sad about all the fun things I'm missing out on, but at the end of the day, I'm here to enjoy my horse.

And I can still do that.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Never a Dull Moment

Dental day started out kind of fun--I chatted with the vet about the sedatives he was using and then was duly impressed by what a lightweight my little man is. Seriously. He pretty much just sniffed them and was under. His girlfriend took twice the dose he did and she was still quasi awake.

Once his teeth were done, I literally left Courage standing in the stall with the front and back doors open because he was so put of it that I knew he couldn't go anywhere. I mean, his head was about 2" off the ground and he was snoring. Loudly.

I paid the vet, chatted with friends for a bit, then closed the stall doors and rode another horse at the barn while Courage recovered enough to go to his own stall. By the time I got off the other horse, he was sort of clumsily wandering around the stall so I pulled him out. He was all dopy and cuddly. I stuck him in the cross ties and hosed him off to clean up the dust he accumulated in the dry weather.

He didn't like the cold water, but it was 70f and sunny, so I scraped him off and stuck him in his run to dry in the sun while I picked up my stuff.

But he started shivering. His hind end was shaking uncontrollably and his front end was twitching. His skin was ice cold to the touch. I put his halter on and hand walked him in the sunbeam, but he back end was super stiff and he was still shaking.

If that wasn't weird enough, then his nose started bleeding.

Yikes. I put in a call to the vet, let the BO know that he was having some trouble, put a fleece on him, and hand grazed him in the sun for a while. (Noted: at this point, he was awake, just really, really cold.)

Poor little man. :-( It took a crazy long time, but he warmed up slowly wearing both fleece and standing in the sun. The vet got back with me and said that as long as he perked up, it would be ok. By the time I left, Courage was muching his hay, though now wearing his 220gram medium winter blanket in the nearly 60f weather.

He seems fine now. My BO checked on him overnight and I'll be out this morning. I've been around plenty of sedated horses before, but I'd never seen a reaction quite like that.

Monday, April 14, 2014

When Real Life Sucks

Still cute
I try not to write too many downer posts in a row, but I balance that with being honest. Here's honest:

Last Wednesday, Courage threw his shoe. No big deal--call the farrier. Find out that he's leaving town and won't be back until mid next week.

I'd just call another farrier, but I didn't have the shoe and since he's due for all four anyways, I don't really want to pay someone else to put one on and make more holes in his foot.

Which means we missed both our lesson and our potential first show.

But all that is less important when my check engine light comes on in my admittedly very old car. I take it to my mechanic, who tells me it's not worth fixing. Unless I am just really attached to my 1989 Dodge Omni, it's time to move on.

Of course, saving for a new car is in the budget for this year, but buying one in April is not. He figured out a way to jerry rig it and buy me some time, but it costs that much more.

And then I lose my debit card.

And the dentist is coming out to do teeth today, which Courage really needs.

And the farrier tomorrow, because I don't want his feet to fall apart.

Not taking this show on the road
So anyways. I realize that I'm lucky. I and those I care about are physically well. I have the ability to pick up more work and make more money.

I'm just tired and stressed out and overwhelmed and sadder than I thought I would be about waving goodbye to my dreams for this show season.

I guess after last year sucked all the joy out of life, I was hoping that this year would redeem it.

And yes, absolutely I realize I sound like a spoiled, whining first world constituent who needs to get over herself. And I will.

I'll train hard and have fun and do (inexpensive/free) stuff with my friends. It'll still be a good year, just not the one I was hoping for.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Missing Him

I haven't talked about Cuna at all on here lately. Every once in a while, I try to type something up and I just can't.

I don't even know how to put into words the enormity of what my old man horse meant to me. He canters through my dreams and when I wake up, I can almost touch him.

But he's still gone.

I know that all the fun I'm having with Courage is only because Cuna carried me through a very rough time in my riding and brought me out on the other side, a stronger and more confident version of myself.

I miss the view between those red ears. I miss all the time we spent puttering around the hills and roads without a care in the world.

There's still a gaping hole in my psyche that's supposed to be filled by a big red horse with big brown eyes who paddles on both front legs. I don't want to sound dramatic or crazy or like I can't let go. It's not that. I understand what happened and while I'll never know why it had to happen to us, the nightmares have mostly subsided.

It's just that he was so quintessentially my horse. My every decision was made in light of what was best for us. Because we were a team. Because those crazy goofy adventures were never just my idea.

After a great ride on Courage, I'm all smiles. I clean up my stuff, get in the car, and drive home with a red horse in my head. I think about him when I'm quiet and alone.

He was the one that would always be quiet and alone with me.

We understood each other.

Maybe someday I'll have that again. I know it was special and not something everyone gets to experience. I know I was lucky to have it once, even for so short a time.

I see flashes of it with Courage every once in a while. He's an old soul, like Cuna. A war horse, like Cuna.

Kind and gentle, yet sensitive, opinionated, and passionate. Noble, but silly.

I miss you, red man.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


After our super kick-ass flat school, it was time to jack my stirrups up and try leaving the ground. Because the photo smorgasm of awesome continues, Redheadlins and Alyssa came out to play as well. C-rage and I did a quick warm up, then headed to our (tiny) fences.

We started with a wee tiny crossrail with placing poles before and after. I like the poles particularly because they give him a very visual reference for what his feet are supposed to be doing. He is a super quick learner and I think his pole-related stress is getting a little better, because he trotted right in...

He's got this
...and then cantered out softly.

So good.

such cute knees
Then we aimed for the slightly larger crossrail with a little fill.

He's still just cantering over the teeny little jumps, but he's so darn cute when he does it. It makes me smile when I can just point and shoot and the two of us feel confident together.

And again, cantering away on a loose rein.

I don't know whether it was the cross country clinic or the improved flatwork or how great his body feels or his (minimal) grid work or what the difference is, but Courage has definitely figured out what his job is.

That makes all the difference. Last year, he would get wiggly going to jumps because he wasn't quite sure what to do. This year? Ears up, brain engaged.

Jump the jumps.

Sometimes he does have wild moments. It's not really a buck and it usually ends in a flying lead change.

I'm not sure what to call it other than kind of silly looking.

The jump standard blocks the view here, but we stuck a rail over the black tube aka "great wall of china" that he couldn't mentally process last year.

It's set on the center line of the arena, so he only gets maybe two straight strides to look at in on the approach, but he didn't even hesitate.


At the end, we put a fun little course together.

The jumps look tiny and they are, but it is just so good for both of us to have fun and build confidence together.

It's easy.

It's supposed to be easy. We do this for fun.

We're having fun.

I'm working to find the balance of staying in my comfort zone long enough to build my own confidence, but also stretching it enough that I don't stagnate or regress. Courage is just the man for the job. I'm excited to see where we go together.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Dead Sexy
After the stunning success that was grid night, we had a rather lackluster flat school Thursday and then Courage took the day off on Friday. You actually could argue that he pretty much took Thursday off too, but let's not go there.

Anyways. Redheadlins was coming to play with Diva on Saturday and she brought Alyssa (and a camera!) along. I wasn't planning on riding or being photographed, so I didn't exactly dress the part. Oh well. Just look at the cute little bay horse and ignore me.

Usually Courage takes a bit of trotting to get going forward, then we fuss about whether or not he can put his head down, then we fuss about whether or not he can move off my leg, and then we look pretty good for a while.

So fancy
Yeah. Not so much on Saturday. The little man just came out on the go button. I literally picked up my reins and had a soft, rideable horse.

It's probably a good thing that he isn't like this all the time. I would get so lazy. We didn't putz around with shoulder fore and leg yields, because I use those to get him bending and engaged.

Since he was already engaged, they seemed superfluous.

He gave me some nice transitions and lovely forward canter work. I spent more time worrying about correct aids than whether or not he was actually going to do what I asked. So fun! My little man is turning into a broke horse.

I kept it to a flat school since we had a jump date on Sunday. I couldn't stop smiling. It's just so much fun. He's forward and moving through his back and on the aids and happy doing his job.

Plus Friends of Ferdinand tee!
Plus I'm getting totally spoiled by having beautiful weather and photographers on hand for all the awesome going on lately.

One of my favorite features about Courage is that he can lay down that quality work, then just go park in the middle of the arena on a loose rein and watch the world go by. Doesn't matter if Diva is having a hissy fit about Lins' right leg again or if someone's galloping by on a windy day.

At the end of the day, it almost feels surreal. I'm having so much fun with my little man. I didn't think I'd be able to connect and have fun like this for quite a long time. I mean, sure, he has the occasional bad day, but by and large, Courage is possibly the most ammy-friendly green horse I've ever been around. He gets occasional training rides and we've had two (count 'em) lessons this year and he is just coming along beautifully.

;-) And I haven't even told you about his Sunday jump date yet!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Grid Night, Take II

Before the brain came out the first time
I mentioned our less-than-stellar debut at our trainer's weekly grid jumping night. It went badly, didn't improve, and was no fun. Soooo... since my BO was going again this week, I decided to take Courage along this week and give it one more chance. If it didn't improve, then we'd quit pushing and just do lessons until his brain figures out how to handle poles.

We got there. He was semi quiet, so I hopped on and immediately had a serious case of the "I don't want tos". I didn't want to be there, didn't want to ride, didn't want to deal with his (perfectly natural) tension. I also didn't want to address the border collie hiding in the weeds by the arena with a squeaky toy that was making irregular but alarming noises.

We can do contact
I considered just getting off. And then I was like, "Well, you don't have to jump, but dammit you do have to march forward into a contact."

So we did.

And then I started moving him off my legs and changing directions and holding my outside rein, and then I was bored of walking, so we did it at a trot. He was actually feeling quiet good. I swear after one flat lesson last weekend he grew a new muscle in a neck and kicked his training up to a whole new level.

And then the instructor was all, "Does he want to trot through the poles?"

So we did.

In our flat lesson last week, she'd talked about how if I bring him under powered to jumps, then he feels like he has to leap, which changes his balance and causes the flailing as he tries to figure things out. Hm. I intentionally took him more forward with a little loop in the reins and he trotted through like a pro.

She started adding in little crossrails. By the end of the exercise, he would trot to the first jump, then land cantering and canter through the crossrail grid. In balance. With a loop in the rein.


Seriously having some Courage love here. My little man is ready to start doing real horse stuff.

So brave
When we were done, we went and hacked around the property with all the horses in his group and even lead the way back to the trailer, which included boldly marching through an ankle-deep puddle on the road. Guess who is the best at puddles?

PS I attempted to add grid video. Let me know if it works. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Vanity Shots

If you're familiar with Ellie and I at all, you know that any time we get together, there are lots of carbs, lots of ponies, lots of pictures, and lots of tack to go around. (Don't even talk about the one time she impulse bought a horse and we road-tripped it to Seattle and an epic tack sale. Let's just agree that my bank account took months to recover, and I wasn't the one with the horse.)

All that to say, of course we didn't limit ourselves to photographing my lessons. That would be silly!

Tack pictures!! 

I bought both of Courage's bridles with me because I was paranoid that he would break one and no one else would have a small enough bridle handy to loan me for the midget man. Then we got playing with Ellie's tack collection.

Meet western Courage the cowboy horse!

I think he's pretty adorable.

Possibly due to the aforementioned ridiculous tack sale trip, Ellie also had a cob size nunn finer figure eight lying around, plus a fun myler bit.


It's that adorable.

In fact, then we took him outside to do some shots and got this.



Someone should be a nunn finer model.

You doubt? I even rode him in it the final day of the clinic.

Pretty much it's his look. Ellie adopted him as her god pony and the beautiful figure eight came home with us on loan.

And another gratuitous figure eight shot.

I might as well point out that I brought a selection of bits to play with on cross country in case a certain Mr Runaway Racehorse took it into his head to be a nut.

I ended up putting his sprenger on the figure eight just because he's so soft and easy and I'm more concerned about getting him to take contact.

Of course sometime eventually he might give me some trouble about stopping, but we haven't run across that yet.

Fun candids! 

I was pretty apprehensive about the whole experience, so when Courage was able to hack out on a loose rein Friday morning, I was elated. I certainly hadn't thought he would be that good that soon.

I love how this picture captures that emotion.

Courage is the sort of guy who always wants to see what's going on. At the beginning of the weekend, he just hung his head out this window constantly to observe the world. By Sunday, he'd look out it, but he had learned to rest and be content in his own space.

Ellie also caught a couple of us together by the oh-so-photogenic barn. Courage was just being his usual sweet self and posing dramatically. This was after our first day on cross country (I think?).

This whole spring, I've been second guessing myself. Am I good enough? Am I overhorsed? Why am I even trying to show? What is the point of all this? Should I just quit pushing myself and trail ride?

I almost didn't go to our schooling weekend.

Instead of being stressful and hard and scary, the whole thing turned out to be confidence building and fun. I feel so much more connected to Courage now that he and I have actually done something together.

He came into my life at a really difficult time. I am finally able to appreciate the really cool horse he is and is becoming. He's sweet and smart and willing and talented. He's such a natural on the cross country course and dressage comes easily to him.

At the end of the day, the only question I'm asking is "Why am I trying to turn my event horse into a hunter?"


I guess I'll have to figure that one out.

I'm finally ready to have a new banner for the blog. I'd been putting it off because I just can't deal with certain things right now, but Ellie (artiste extraordinaire) designed one for us that captures not only how I'm moving forward with Courage, but also pays homage to the red man who brought me here.

It's a new chapter for the SprinklerBandit blog. I think I'm finally ready to write it.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Denouement

Someone had to be group hottie
After the awesome that was Saturday, I was pretty pumped to ride Sunday. We still needed to learn about ditches and banks and I wanted to put more courses together. I woke up to bright sunshine and nearly bounced out of Ellie's house.

And a giant gust of wind hit me in the face. By the time we arrived at the facility, it was grey clouds, intermittent rain, and cold wind. Not little breezes--it was the sort of wind that makes you feel like you're going to blow over. Constantly, with gusts that were even worse.


If we'd been at home, I would have just gone inside and not ridden. Since we'd hauled 5+ hours out of state AND Ellie was on hand to document AND Courage really doesn't care about wind, I reluctantly got ready. By reluctantly, I mean I pretty much hid in the barn and whined until the instructor actually came in for a moment between lessons. Then I realized I should probably get on.

So I gritted my teeth and climbed on and nearly got blown off my horse. Hate wind.


Ditch picture!
Since pretty much everyone felt the same way, we jumped right in to the lesson and started walking over a single riveted ditch. Courage was unsure, but willing.

We were able to step through it, then took a couple awkward hops when we tried trotting in. Still. Can't complain for his first-ever ditch exposure.

I do love this picture
We turned and came toward the double-riveted grown-up ditch. Courage was all "HAAAAILL NAW WHAT'S THAT SHIT??"

Again, in the interest of not making a big deal about it, we just let him stand and have a look, then a more experienced horse trotted by and jumped it.


With some encouragement from the ground, he hopped over it.

Then to demonstrate how badass he was, he flung his head into the air and galloped off. The only bugaboo was that I had tipped forward, so his head hit my helmet brim and ZOMGZ THE DITCH BIT THE COURAGE AND IT WAS SCWARYYYYYYY!!!


Carousel Courage!
I trotted him towards the ditch again, but he didn't want to get within five feet of it, complete with backing up. That is a massive pet peeve of mine, so I kicked him forward and got him to the ditch. Our instructor told me to kick him and I gave her a look that must have pretty well summed up my feelings on the issue of being jumped out of the tack by a green horse.

So Courage got a fancy trainer ride.

It was actually hysterical once I determined he wasn't going to kill her. She rode him up to the ditch and let him look, then closed her leg. He went backwards, so she used her spur.

And he proceeded to have an epic melt down for the next five or ten minutes. It wasn't even about the ditch. He didn't like the spurs and he thought that if he just expressed himself clearly enough, she would give it up and take them off.

Instead she sat there on a loose rein and clucked to him with her spurs in while he ran backwards and spun around and threatened to do ALL THE BAD THINGS.

And then after ten minutes, he trotted up and did the single riveted ditch and the grown up ditch like a champ.

After they got it smoothed out, I climbed back on to a much calmer and more submissive horse. We hopped both ditches smoothly and moved on to banks!

To me, banks are the easiest cross country questions that exist. It's just super fun terrain. I'm good at terrain. As such, I was absolutely thrilled that Courage thinks the same way.

We kept it to the baby bank (calm and positive), but I was quite pleased with the little man. He walked up and down with no trouble at all. I was careful to sit up on the landings so we had no unfortunate helmet interference and all was well.

And then it was course time!!

Not sure why all the build up
We started out by stringing together a couple of logs, then the water, then our baby ditch, then more logs and the up bank.

Courage got super distracted going to the first log, then wanted to stop, then waaaay over jumped, then I lost a stirrup and there was flailing. Oh well. He was willing into the water and our friends cheered when he jumped the baby ditch on the first try out of the trot.

I finished the course feeling ok, but more just wanting another shot at it. We got it done, but it wasn't pretty. (Noted: those of you who've followed my XC drama know that this is HUGE for a person who used to have big issues. I wanted more and I wasn't afraid.)

Extended trot?
Enter course two. We just flipped it around so I was doing the course backwards, which included the grown up ditch. Too fun!

First the down bank at the trot.

Then we cantered one of our tiny logs. Not gonna lie, it was pretty awesome.

Then we had some rotten luck. We were trotting confidently up to the grown up ditch just as one of those gigantic pounding-the-ground horses came galloping by doing the training course. C-rage was all "Why is that horse making such a commotion?"

The ditches are scared of Courage, so they lay flat.
And I'm all "Hey look up there! We're aiming for the ditch."

And he's like "But seriously. That horse is totes going to blow a tendon in his first race if he isn't careful."

Me and Courage: "DITCH!!" Brakes!

Courage "Dammit, why didn't you tell me this was coming up? You know I am the best at ditches."

Oh horse. We circled back around, walked until we were a few strides out, then trotted over the ditch.

It's what jump jump horses do in fields
I had to laugh as we sported another fancy ass flying lead change, then headed to the water. In the interest of making sure he understands the questions I'm asking, I brought him down to a walk and he went right in. Then I just squeezed my legs...


He wasn't bothered by the splashing and acted like he'd done it all his life, even if the wind was gusting so hard that it was a little like riding in the ocean, if the ocean was only ankle-deep.

Yup. Did that.
We trotted over our last log and headed back to the group. Of course I was telling him what a good boy he was and how proud I was of him and how many cookies he was going to get.

Even our instructor was quite pleased with his progress. He's now been exposed to all the elements of cross country and is forward and willing to all of them.

Plus I have so many stunning pictures to document the experience, which just makes me happy.

Field jump racing. So hot right now.
And what did Courage think of all that?

He is the best at field jump racing.
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