Thursday, August 29, 2013

C-Rage on Springs

It's a beautiful morning
Way busy in my part of the world, so I figured I just wouldn't blog again until after Labor Day. HOW IS IT ALREADY THAT WEEKEND? Anyways. It was a foolproof plan right up until I went trail riding with redheadlins and we plotted an introduction to cross rails for Courage. Omg! I know. See came out to set fences/be eyes on the ground/pilot if I needed help.

Noted: she has a lot more confidence in me as a rider than is probably deserved. So it goes.

Rocking the bling
I got up early and set a fun baby sized jump course, then got Courage all blinged out for the occasion. We can't be looking boring for our first time over fences, now can we?

For reference, he's currently going in a double jointed happy mouth loose ring bit and the flash is simply for looks. He can (and did) graze with it on. I actually think he seemed to like the extra stability from the flash and was a little quieter with the bit, so I won't yank it off right away.

And you have to admit, the sparkles are pretty much adorable on his little face. This browband was too much for Cuna, but it's just right on him. I knew I'd find a use for it!

Busted out the tboots too
We started with a nice, long walking warm up. I tried to keep him on a loose rein and moving in shallow serpentines to stay focused on the arena instead of everything around it.

He was a little up for him, but that means I was still working to get him forward.

4 in a row for the first time
While we walked, I took him through some ground poles to get him thinking about his feet and body in relation to obstacles.

He always trips a little the first time through, then is very careful the second time, and rarely touches a rail after that. I love it.

Note his already-lowering poll
We moved right along into the trot. Because I haven't been drilling him over the ground poles up until now, we just trotted the sets of three or less so he could figure it out in a very low pressure way.

I tried to keep him forward (somewhat successful) and straight (needs more work next time). As per the usual, I rode on a pretty loose rein. It makes him responsible for his balance, keeps me honest about my hands, and panders to my pathological need to carry my thumbs down.

Figuring life out
One thing I love about working with this little guy is that it doesn't matter what I face him with--he attacks the challenge with enthusiasm and attention and genuinely wants to figure out what I'm looking for.

After he figured out that today's game was going over ground poles, he pricked his ears up and started looking for poles to go over.

We rolled on up to the canter to make sure he was loose and relaxed. I don't do a lot with the canter just yet because I still think the confined space in an arena is hard for him to process, but he's getting more and more comfortable and I'm able to sit in the saddle more than I was at first.

Baby steps. :)

time lapse shot
Without too much more ado, it was time to go for it.

It seemed a little surreal to point my own little Courage at his first tiny X and tell him to go. He trotted in, slowed in front of it, muddled over it, and took the whole thing down.

At least we aren't afraid of rails coming down.

Take two.

Once he established that I was actually intending for him to go over the tiny X, he merrily headed towards them with his ears up. He is still sorting out with to do with all those legs and where exactly his shoulders/hips/neck are supposed to go, but he was game to the fences.

I wasn't as straight as I'd like to be, but I tried to ride him positively after the fence and stay forward, and he was excellent. He even had his first little tiny scoot with me on board, which was pretty hilarious.

It was a lot for him to process, but I was super impressed as he would gamely trot in and then try to figure out where we were headed afterwards. I kept mixing it up--left turn, right turn, uphill, downhill, but he tried his hardest and I couldn't be happier.

Very tired Courage
Given his propensity for training himself, the plan is to let him think about it for the next few days and address our straightness/forward issues on the flat. I suspect that once he thinks it over a bit, he's going to be even better than he was today.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

One Month of Awesome

Given his extended vacation that was primarily spent on a small drylot, I thought Mr. Courage might benefit from a day of lunging before I got back in the saddle.

And then I thought "I don't pay for two horses so I can lunge on my freaking birthday". With that solid rationale in mind, I tacked up and headed for the arena. I did decide that the best way to continue to advance the education of my lil' OTTB was to start out by lunging in side reins for a few minutes so we could practice learning about contact before I tried to do anything. It went like this:

Pretend the bit is FIRE
Me: "Courage, move forward into the contact and stretch through your back.

Him: "What's brown and eats out of trees?"

Me: "Keep going. A giraffe?"


Me: "It's really not that funny. Go forward."

Him: Lookit! It's my giraffe impression. What kind of noise does a giraffe make?"

Me: "Go. Forward."

Him: "Knock knock."

Me: "Who's there?"


He sort of relaxed eventually, so I decided to give up on the lunging and move along. Clearly, it's a work in progress. He understands the whole "go around me in a circle" part of the concept, so I guess that's good.

I didn't have high hopes for our ride. He walked forward pretty well, so I tried to do a little work on giving to the contact and moving off my leg. Then I moved him up into the trot.

The Courage Giraffe was gone. He was forward (for him) and stretching his neck forward and down. Not a fancy dressage stretch by any means, but pretty freaking amazing for him. He didn't learn it from the side reins and he certainly didn't learn it from me, so I can only assume that he's training himself in his spare time.

Ears on the grass
Despite his time off, he was super relaxed, picked up both leads correctly, and seemed quite comfortable in his new shoes. That made the next decision obvious. I opened the arena gate from his back and rode out through the fields. I'd ridden in the near pastures before and he was good. This time I took him into the bigger, farther away pastures. He just marched along on a loose rein.

The best birthday ride
Our BO even came out and took pictures for me, hooray!

Yet again, I was completely thrilled with how Courage handled the new situations and challenges that I threw at him. He's one month removed from the track and he's quiet enough to hack on a loose rein. I keep saying he's going to be awesome, but the truth is that he already is.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Taking Off the Gym Shoes

It's been a slow news week for me. Cuna is busy standing in a field, which he loves, but it's terrible blog fodder. C-rage (his gangster name) was a superstar last Wednesday. I gave him Thursday off and he came in without a shoe on Friday. 

Fancy pony!
So. My weekend was spent watching other people horse show and waiting for the farrier. Again, really exciting reading.

It's probably just as well. That dull grey in the background of this photo is some pretty intense smoke from all the wildfires around here. Breathing=fail. My head hurts and I have a sore throat, yay.

Chillin' in the barn, dwags

Anyways. The smoke is disgusting, but it's still hot out. In order to give our farrier the best possible chance of doing a good job, it was a good day to learn to stand (dun dun dun ) INSIDE THE BARN. Up til now, I've just used the outdoor crossties because they're closer and I'm lazy and it never rains here, but winter will come eventually and I'll want him trained by then.

The advantage to my BOs thinking that Courage is the kindest and most adorable OTTB of all time is that they have taught him a very useful skill: cookie consumption. He was a little squirrely when we first went in to the barn, but then he was all "Hang on. I just stand here and you feed me cookies and give me scratches?" and I'm like, "Yes, that's the idea." And he's like "Why the h#11 didn't I do this sooner?"*

The jump jump farrier is so slow
I had a nice chat with the farrier about how his leg conformation changes his hoof growth and the difference between sport horse and race horse shoeing. We ended up pulling his remaining three shoes and putting a whole new set on. I don't know that he's ever worn steel shoes before. After the farrier put his fronts on, Courage picked up his right front and tried to chew the shoe.


I was expecting it, but I was strictly admonished that a certain little bay horse now only goes out or is ridden in bell boots, especially as his hooves/balance start transitioning to a whole new way of going. Sigh. Will I never escape bell boot hell?

I will say that I think of Courage as a veritable midget, especially next to the behemoth that is Cuna. After seeing him inside the actual barn alongside a normal-sized horse, I guess he's sort of big (in an adorable, cuddly, tiny, badass sort of way).

*He's a track veteran. Language is what it is.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Field Trip!!

First things first: Amy and Steady are running a sweet contest that I want to win over at Slow and Steady Wins the Race. Check it out! Don't feel compelled to enter though--the less people enter, the better my odds. ;)

Ok. So. Our beloved eventing trainer hosts a cool potluck/jumping night once a week for all comers. There's a wee baby group and an actual jumpers group and it's low key good fun. Naturally, that seemed like a good place to take Mr. Courage for his first outing as a "jump jump horse".

Redheadlins wrangled a trailer and her four year old mare and picked us up. Courage loaded like a champ (because, yeah, OTTB and all) and we were off!

He nearly fell out of the trailer when we arrived, possibly because he didn't know trailer rides could last less than 10 hours. Or maybe he forgot how to use a step down... not sure, he's definitely been on them before and did fine. Regardless, we unloaded.

Making friends
He did his worst.

Which is to say, he stuck his head straight up in the air and looked at things while standing still. So wild.

We did a little ground work to get him semi-focused. Simple walk/halt/stop and chat/walk sort of thing and his poll dropped right down.

Begin phase two.

Artsy and adorable
We tacked up with zero drama and headed out to the big arena. It was the largest space I'd ever taken Mr C in. It was also the busiest--we've ridden with one other horse in a much smaller arena, but there were at least 6 horses going all different directions and steering around jumps while the neighbors did construction on one side and fiddled with the irrigation on the other.

We did a little more easy ground work and let him get the lay of the land.

And then I got on.

Relaxed enough to do an ears shot
Horses cantered by, jumps crashed down, trucks and trailers came and went, no problem. We chatted with many of the participants, walked around on the buckle, looked at stuff, and overall had a great time. We even left the arena and hacked around with another rider. Her (young, green) horse was a little looky, but Courage bopped along on a loose rein and never put a foot wrong.

I want him to learn that trips are fun, easy, and low stress, so we didn't do anything other than cruise around at the walk and take in the sights. Really, I couldn't be more impressed. Not a spook or a jump or a jig or even a suggestion of anything naughty. Didn't matter that he was in a new place with new horses doing different stuff.

You're probably all sick of hearing this by now, first about Cuna and now about Courage, but I seriously have the best OTTBs ever, bar none.

Too cute
First trip off property

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Conundrum for Courage

Rocking the fancy halter
I know I've reviewed them before, but I am a huge fan of Danzig Brothers leather halters. Durable, classy, high quality, decent price. I had one for Izzy and Cuna has one. And now I have a Courage. Every time I work with him, he makes a stronger argument for being Cuna II and not just a cool resale type project (as if that was ever on the table. Hubs snorted when I mentioned it).

I love nice halters. They're the one piece of tack I really buy for the horse and then just keep with them. I customize them, take care of them, and am proud to show them off when we travel. We're already throwing out tentative plans for the fall, thinking about trail rides, baby grass hopper clinics, and maybe a lesson here and there. As such, I think Courage needs a halter.

Cute face, giant halter
Because I am terrible at visualizing things and hate measuring, I equipped myself with a size chart and then brought Cuna's halter out to try on for size.

Suffice to say, it doesn't quite fit.

Cuna's well-filled-out 16.3 frame is apparently larger than the little guy's mere 16.1 and dainty face.

I need to bust out the measuring tape and see how many sizes we need to go down, since apparently "large thoroughbred" isn't going to cut it.

A very distressing problem
Once I figure that out, I'm stuck with a lot more decisions. Cuna goes in havana/stainless because he looks smashing in brown. Courage is bay, so he can pull off black leather if he wants to. He could also go in brass hardware. That said, I am loving the havana/stainless look.

Thoughts? If you were a Courage, what colors would you wear?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Can't Forget Cuna

The handsomest horse
I haven't said anything about Cuna lately. I'm letting him have a break, physically and mentally. I needed it emotionally almost as much. I adore that old red man and he made me into the rider I am today. It was beyond gut wrenching to watch him come through his last round of lameness and I'm in no rush to try it again.

Here's the thing. He came to me for a specific reason and he more than accomplished that. I wanted him to carry on and be a fancy show horse, and he's letting me know that as much as his heart is in it, his body won't hold up to it. 

He was "sound" after a solid month of rehab. Sound until he wasn't. Sound until he was tired, and then he limped again. 

The vet told me that there was no benefit to making him limp. It's not something he's going to work through. It's something that requires healing. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. Sometimes longer. Sometimes shorter. 

Cuna, then Jake, then Wiley
So Cuna moved to his new home--a giant pasture he shares with a couple of nice geldings. We pulled his shoes as per his farrier's advice and took away his grain. The old man hangs out and enjoys life. He has the other ladies at the barn wrapped around his goofy hooves and they love him. I visit him four or five days a week. I tell him about Courage and life at the track (as if he didn't know!) and I groom him, pick his feet, and scratch his itchy spots. 

I look back at the pictures of our time together, and it makes me cry a little. I can still feel him taking me to the jumps, his red ears locked on with perfect focus. I feel the confidence and security that he taught me, and I know my life won't be the same now that he's been here. 

My show friends keep asking when he's coming back. I tell them the same thing every time. He's taking a vacation. Maybe we'll hack around this fall. Then he's taking the winter off. 

And that's it. I'm not making plans for him. I love him. He gave me more that I could have hoped for and I have no right to ask for something beyond that. Maybe I'll find another field for him that backs up to trails and he and I can explore the mountains like we used to. No more collection. No more drilling. That's my favorite dream. We'd both love it. 

So we're healing together. At our own pace. And it's ok. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Such a Clever Boy

I seem to have hit the jackpot--not only is my little guy adorable and sweet, with the best post-race brain I have ever seen, he's also happy to mosey around under saddle and chat with friends all day.

Oh, and he's wicked smart.

Just call him "Giraffe Man"
The only drawback is that I really don't care to mosey that much. I mean, chatting with friends is fun, but when we're working, I like a ZOOM ZOOM engine. When redheadlins rode him last week, she was able to demonstrate his very-functional go button. She also pointed out that he went in a shadow roll and rings (martingale) for a reason on the track.

Look who can flex his poll after all
Ok. Time for phase two. C-rage took the weekend off while I attended to "real life", and we started fresh on Monday.

On the lunge. In side reins.

I really don't believe in lunging as a form of exercise--I see only negatives to running horses around in tiny circles for extended periods of time. That said, I do think all horses should be able to lunge in case the need comes up, and I think this counted as a legitimate need.

We took it easy. First I let him warm up W/T both directions. Then I added the outside rein W/T both directions. When he settled and was able to trot through his sticky corner, I added in both reins both directions.

Best shot I could get while trying to keep him going
I kept the side reins loose. I never asked him to canter because he's still finding his balance on smaller circles and there's no reason to stress him out about the whole thing. We were done in about 20 minutes.

I do think that asking him to move in a different way and learn new concepts is challenging (and I am apparently busy this month), so he got the next day off to recover and process.

Which brings us to Wednesday.

Demonstrating his lovely walk
Given that his last two sessions were rather mind bending, I was curious to see how he'd do. We walked around for a good 10-15 minutes, seeing the sights and chatting. He's really good about dropping his poll and moving forward at the walk.

Then it was time to find out just how much progress we'd made. I asked for the trot. . .

Blurry and adorable
And off we went! Big forward stride, covering ground. After a few strides, he started to relax and drop his poll.

It's obviously a newer concept for him, but he was experimenting with letting his neck stretch forward and even a little downward. He definitely improved as we rode, and offered his softest, easiest canter to date.

An excellent shot until the jump got in the way
This is what impresses me about him. The side reins were a very low-drama introduction. He's literally spent less than 20 minutes in them in his entire life, and it definitely changed his way of going under saddle. He's able to learn new skills and connect the dots with an incredibly minimal education.

White wraps, black bells.
I don't drill him. He's literally going about 4 days a week, maybe 20 minutes a day. I can leave him in the cross ties, try things on, adjust them, put them back on, pull his mane, screw with him, and he's rock solid. His under saddle work progresses in leaps and bounds even with very minimal riding. He's taking to the sport horse world like a fish to water.

And I love it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tack Time: Talking About Breastplates

I use breastplates pretty much every time I ride. It's not just because I'm a tack 'ho (even though I am) or because my saddles slide around (they really don't, much). It's because in the event of a horse acting like a horse, I am left with something to hang on to that is not the horse's mouth. Seems pretty straightforward, right?

There are plenty of different configurations available to use. I'll run through a list of those I own and use most commonly and the advantages of each.

As modeled by Cuna
First up: my horse sized Nunn Finer Hunting breastplate in havana and brass.

This is my go-to, standard, everyday-use, do-everything breastplate. I added clips to the straps by the withers and I'd love to do the same to the girth loop. It adjusts in 3 different places (withers, neck on both sides, strap between the legs) and has fit everything I put it on, from a haflinger pony to giant warmbloods and draft crosses.

It's utilitarian looking, very sturdy, and does the job I want it to do. I've taken it on trails, in the jumping ring, on cross country, and of course, on extensive hacks. The leather broke in beautifully and even though I've had it for several years now, it still polishes up well for the show ring.

Too boring for you? Never fear!

My next addition to the hoard was this Five Star Tack signature elastic breastplate. (Just looked at the new price. Yikes!!)

Mine is the older style that don't have a grab strap across the top, so it hasn't gotten a lot of use, given my purpose in having a breastcollar in the first place. Nevertheless, it's nice quality leather and it's an eye catching piece. On Cuna, whose giant withers keep his saddle from ever moving, it's just a decoration, but it does look nice.

The function is identical to the hunting breastplate. A drawback encountered by this style is that if you use this breastplate to actually keep the saddle from sliding back, pressure points will be created right around the horse's withers. Very uncomfortable.

I will say that in general, I'm not wild about elastic on breastplates. Since I have them for those "oh crap" moments like spooking and unexpectedly giant jumps, I don't want them to give. I want them to hold when I need them and hang uselessly otherwise. Plus, I think elastic wears out faster and is much harder to clean than just leather.

Courage and the jumper breastplate
But two breastplates are never enough!

I used this breastplate to justify a small shopping spree on facebook. After all, it was only $20.

It's basically this model of breastplate, although the link is definitely to a higher quality item. Known as a jumper breastplate, it attaches to the girth on both sides and has a grab strap that goes over the neck. It's kind of a pain to adjust if you're switching between different sized horses. I just used it on Courage, and after the initial adjustment, it was fine.

What I like about this model is that it's easy for sensitive horses to wear. I have known several princesses (Cuna actually not included) who got very fussy because the girth loop of the hunting style breastplates would pinch their skin and hair. I also used this style when Cuna got a cut inside his foreleg and I was trying to keep from rubbing it.

Properly adjusted, it doesn't seem to restrict shoulder action or have any ill effects.

As modeled by Gunner
Then there is the super modern and popular five point breastplate. I don't actually own one, which is a little bit horrifying. They are cool and trendy in eventing and the jumper ring and I have to admit, they do a pretty rocking job of keeping the saddle exactly where you want it.

That said, they are hard to adjust and a PITA to put on every single day. Even me, the tack-loving 'ho who was short on rides this summer thought it was a little bit ridiculous.

If you have a horse that is unduly bothered by a slipping saddle, this piece is a godsend. If you're just trend matching, seriously, find something easier to put on and clean. This isn't worth it.

Stock image from
That leaves one other major style: the three point breastplate. Omg! I don't have one of these, but I would love to. They match the convenience of the jumper breastplate with the stability of the hunting breastplate and completely sidestep the PITA factor of the five point. They have the ever-so-useful grab strap available to hang on to and don't look all cluttered up or distracting.

They are pretty new on the market in the US, but they've been around in Europe for a while. The few reviews I've heard of them are glowing and positive and I can't wait to get my grabby little hands on one.

So there you go. Breastplates are commonly used to keep saddles in place during athletic attempts and to hang on to during said athletics. There are a variety of styles available to fit all budgets and lifestyles.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Wherein Courage Meets the Trainer

A very intelligent face
The little C man and I got ready to ride just in time to have a buddy in the arena yesterday--redheadlins was riding a dressage horse at the same facility. Courage rode with another horse last week and was super, so I was not concerned. We walked around and chatted on a loose rein for a while, then went to work.

Or at least, the other horse did. I was pony club kicking and could barely get my (remember, former runaway) racehorse to jog. Any time I stopped kicking, he quit. He felt a little funny, too. Not off, exactly, but tight in his body, maybe? Something wasn't right.

I took my leg off.

He stopped and looked at me.

We both looked at Lindsey.

Per her advice, we take off his adorable boots. Whatever physical weirdness he had going on disappeared. Homeboy just didn't like his boots. Goofhead.

We do a little better going around the arena now, but I'm still struggling while we get some coaching. Then I have a brilliant idea. We cruise to a stop by Lindsey's horse. I get off and hand her the reins.

Giraffe pony!
And off they go.

I hate to say it, but it's pretty obviously a rider problem here.

She got on and he gave her a lovely big trot both directions. She didn't even have to kick very much. Or at all.

So nice

Once he was established in a nice, forward rhythm, she rolled him up into a canter. I guess I've never watched myself do a canter transition on him, but hers looked a lot smoother than mine. That makes sense, given that she had him actually forward and not just camped out behind my leg. Ooops.

Loopy reins and balanced
I did have to laugh when she was all, "OMG THIS CANTER" because all I had to say was "OMG I KNOW". He's light, uphill, and balanced on a loose rein and it is sooooo comfortable.

Such a good boy

It was super fun to watch him go. I picked up some ideas to work on and he got a good, solid ride and a lesson plan going forward. Even though I've been riding since I was a kid and have spent lots of time on OTTBs, having my own with minimal supervision is challenging. It is awesome to have this kind of eyes on the ground and experience in the saddle, so I can hand off the reins and say "What are you feeling?"

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Tacking Up the OTTB v2.0

Part of the reason I was convinced I could afford to have Courage was the fact that I own so much horse $h!t that I didn't think I would actually need to buy anything else.

I know, I know. This is me, the tack 'ho, we're talking about. Ooops.

The mismatched bridle assembly
I own 6 bridles, all generously horse sized, to fit Cuna's adorable and large face. Guess who has a teeny little noggin? Courage. I'm currently making do with the cavesson off of Cuna's jump bridle and a headstall I may have picked up on ebay for no really good reason.

Your saddle collection is inadequate
I own two jump saddles--a wide Ainsley xc saddle, left over from my mare, that I dearly love and fits me well, and Cuna's super narrow sharkfin wither Jimmy Wofford xc saddle that fits me reasonably well.

Guess who has average withers and already fills out a medium? Courage. I was trying to make him wear Cuna's saddle, but it isn't going to work if he gains so much as an ounce. I cannot justify (or afford) buying a nice saddle to fit him in this particular phase, but something had to be done.

Our BO to the rescue! She had two saddles sitting around that she thought might work. Courage fits nicely into the one I like a little less, naturally. Still. I rode him in it today, and he felt about 10% more forward and comfortable. Either all my attempts at training are starting to mean something, or he was just that much more comfortable. Hm.

Rocking the Kieffer
Of course, this saddle has less forward flaps than either of mine, which means my carefully-cultivated collection of forward cut saddle pads aren't really long enough for it. And really, the longer billets mean that I might end up needing a shorter girth.

So pretty
And boots? I had a full set of Veredus jump boots sitting around that I couldn't bear to part with. They fit him well and look super classy... but he really needs black bell boots to go with them since he does overreach and (of course) ALL of Cuna's bell boots are huge on him.

Oh horse. Remember when I said I had enough stuff? I really thought I did.

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