Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Whimsical Adventure, Take II

My sister came out to the barn on Sunday. We'll call her B. Here are a few facts about her for those of you not acquainted.
1) She's not at all horsey
2) She hates getting dirty
3) She's always perfectly turned out
4) She's quite athletic
5) She's pretty game

I figured I would let her meet Cuna, throw some tack on him, do a little arena flatwork, and if all went according to plan, let her hop on and take him around at the walk for a few laps. In light of that plan, I had her sign a release form in the tackroom before we went to see Cuna.

Stephanie walked in and asked if my sister was riding. Before I could explain my detailed and easy plan, she suggested that B hop on one of our other old broke horses and ride with me. I thought it over for like two seconds and thought, "With two old, broke horses on a warm, sunny day on a fairly strenuous trail, what could possibly go wrong?"

We grabbed tack for two horses and headed out. I convinced the western trainer to come with us on a horse she was working.

All was going well. The western horse was jigging and pretty up, but since the horses' collective age was like 60, we dubbed it the 'geriatric trail ride' and went with it.

Right after we took this picture, the trail went up. And up. And then up more. I figured the difficulty of it would back off the jigging horse and Cuna and the other oldie would continue chilling.

I was wrong.

The western horse did back off, but my sister's mount all of a sudden got an idea. He tried to pass Cuna, who was blazing the trail. One thing: Cuna was a -very- successful racehorse. One of his quirks is that he must ALWAYS lead. ALWAYS. This hadn't been a problem at all until B's horse picked up a quick trot and darted past us at a wide spot in the trail.

All of a sudden, I have two big problems.
1) My non-horsey sister is on an out of control horse.
2) Cuna is losing his mind.

Obviously, galloping up behind B is a terrible idea. Unfortunately, Cuna became completely obsessed with it. I shouted instructions to B as Cuna cantered in place and tossed his head and pogo-ed around the mountainside. She got her horse stopped, and we caught up. I instructer her to put her horse's nose in Cuna's tail. After all, last Sunday we had a 4 year old bouncing off his butt for 90 minutes and he didn't care at all.

Problem: the four year old wasn't blowing like a racehorse and biting him in the butt constantly.

Ok, I think. We just need to blow off a little steam and wear the horses out. Let's just pick up a nice trot and let the horses work against the hill instead of fight with us.

An excellent idea, right?

Of course, Cuna thinks the race has begun. B's horse isn't going to take that sitting down. Western pony has no idea what's going on. I manage to keep Cuna contained to a REALLY BOUNCY canter, but realize that blowing off steam for him is going to be more than B can really handle, brave and balanced or not.

We finally (tenuously) crest the big hill, but we're still a mile from home. The terrain has leveled out enough that it doesn't contain B's horse naturally behind Cuna anymore. B's horse takes off trotting. The western trainer and I coach B into circling around. We stop and stand and let them settle. Every time we try to make forward progress, B's horse takes off trotting. She's been game up to this point, but I can see cracks in the veneer--it's starting to get scary for her.

I didn't have a brilliant idea. I didn't even have a good one. All I could think was, "let's get B back to the barn without getting her hurt or more scared. She really didn't sign up for this."

As I'm thinking this, Cuna is prancing in place and tossing his head like a loony. OMG IT'S RACE TIME is all his brain is comprehending. Needless to say, that's not helping B's horse a whole lot.

As if on cue, the western trainer has B ride up next to her. She leans over, takes B's rein, and starts ponying B's horse. Almost instantly, B's horse relaxes. Cuna does not. He alternately prances and jigs, leading the way down the mountain while furiously tossing his head. THE RACE HASN'T HAPPENED YET!!!! In my brief glimpses back, I notice that the western trainer is not only ponying B's horse, she is managing her own mount with on hand, which includes keeping the mare's rear end pointed away from the gelding. Nicely done.

We make it back to the barn on schedule, with everyone still in the saddle. Cuna is completely lathered. The other two horses are fine.

Happy birthday B!

Friday, March 30, 2012


In light of the fact that I keep thinking I'll give Cuna tomorrow off and have subsequently ridden like 10 days in a row, I arbitrarily decided that he could have today off. Thankfully, he didn't seem too upset especially since his peppermint supply was recently restocked.

He'll be back in action again tomorrow. After all, we have finally rounded up a bridle that I think I won't hate, have a bit on it's way in the mail, and are going to test ride a loaner saddle. Exciting times!

Rest assured, the wondermare is not forgotten. She was ridden by one of Stephanie's younger (and less experienced) students yesterday, and the girl really liked her, so I guess that means she was good. Stephanie rode her today in preparation for another showing tomorrow. I'd say cross your fingers, but I don't seem to gain any special blogger luck from that. Anyways. I will have her all clean and tidied up. I'll probably have to get pictures...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tack Review #3: Five Star Tack Magnolia Bridle

Izzymare modeling the stunning Five Star Tack Magnolia Bridle.

Basic info:

MSRP: This style of this bridle is not available anymore. As I recall, the original price was around $300 for the bridle less reins.
What I paid: $120 on

General description: Available in black leather with (gorgeous) white contrast stitching, this bridle was distinctive for two reasons. First off the silver star on the browband, second the padded but flat and 1.5" wide cavesson. There are double keepers for all the straps, a lovely padded crank, and elegant nickel buckles.

My relationship to this product: I saw a few pictures on the Five Star Tack facebook page and was immediately smitten: this was the bridle I needed to have. I scoured the internet and scored the only used on available for Izzy the big-headed Oldenburg mare. I had it for just over a year and used it frequently.


Style!-the Magnolia Bridle is traditional enough looking that it doesn't totally stand out and look stupid, but modern and classy enough that a close examination shows a ton of little details.

Leather quality-as with all the Five Star Tack products I have encountered, the leather quality is second to none. Soft, strong, pliable. I was very careful cleaning this bridle because I didn't want to muddy the gleam on the cavesson or darken the stitches.

Sizing-Izzy wore a horse size reliably, but when the only available bridle was oversize, we went with it. I had to punch an extra hole or two, but it fit her beautifully. It's not that the sizing runs small--just that it's flexible enough for a desperate tack whore to put her horse into.

Resale-ability-I mentioned to a friend that I was going to sell it. I had a committed buyer the next morning, willing to pay me what I paid for it. If I'd held out, maybe I could have made money. ;-)

Style-this is a very big, very noticeable bridle. It makes an impression. It is not for the refined head at all ever for any reason, as Cuna demonstrates here.

Crank-I like the padding that cranks provide. The crank on this bridle was a little weird, in that when it was properly adjusted, the strap would go almost into the bit ring. Maybe it was because the size wasn't quite perfect, but it seemed like a design flaw.

An official company image.

All in all, I loved this bridle and was sad to part with it. I would definitely recommend it to anyone shopping for a big, classy horse.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tack Whore Heaven: Saddle Trying Day

I think Cuna will lodge a formal objection if I make him play dress up any more this week. I mean, today was really above and beyond for a horse that just isn't in to having his picture taken.

Of course, at this point you're saying, "But SB, you've owned that bridle for years, those reins for months, the breastcollar for quite a while, and the saddle pads for years.

Then you look at the saddle. Hm... something's different. It's longer and more elegant and browner...

Browner indeed. The CWD rep sent Stephanie a couple of CWD dressage saddles for us to play with. Conveniently, they sent the 18" in brown. I think y'all know how much I love classy brown tack on a chestnut, and I just happen to be riding a chestnut right now.

I wheedled my way into test riding the saddle (that I can never afford) on Cuna (who will never be a dressage horse). It was so cool. It was comfy and perfect balanced. I had to let my stirrups out two holes because it put me in such a good position. I didn't totally love the long block in the front, but it sure was nice for keeping me in the right place.

And a shot of Cuna and I in the saddle. Not terribly flattering, but let's face it: there is very little flattering about anything related to myself, Cuna, and dressage. ;-) Just how it is, folks.

We had another fancy loaner saddle on a different horse, and the three of us (Stephanie, myself, and another client) played musical horses while trying everything out. Conclusion: I LOVE the brown saddle seat, twist, and flap, but I want the block off of the less glamorous black saddle.

Addendum: Even a ridiculously fancy saddle does not turn Cuna into the sort of horse that does dressage enough to merit that kind of saddle. Not even when Stephanie rides him. Not even for 10 seconds.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Trust and Confidence

Ever since I started riding Cuna, I realized that jumping didn't have to be terrifying. In fact, it is safe to say that I have actually had fun jumping him on -several- occasions. That's why it's so frustrating for me to see that we were on the schedule for a lesson today and feel mind-numbingly afraid. Again.

There is no reason on earth to feel this way. Logically, I should not. Cuna is a good, solid horse. He will take care of me. Stephanie is a good, insightful instructor. She will not ask me to do more than I can. Yeah, Izzy and I had problems, but that's over now. Besides, one time Stephanie asked me what it was that Izzy did that scared me so much. I couldn't point to a single moment anywhere in my riding time on her when she did something categorically bad and scary. Looking back, I think that was Steph's point, but the issue stands.

Every time I thought about jumping this morning, I felt nervous and sick. I didn't want to do it. I knew Cuna could do it. I knew he'd get me through it. I trust him to go, rationally. It isn't a rational fear anymore and I think that's what bothers me. I am now dealing with the ingrained emotions that have built up over the past few years and that is freaking hard.

When I point a horse at a jump, I do not trust it to go. In my mind, the approach is one thing, the jump something completely unrelated and dangerous. I can ride really well to the base of the jump, and then just freeze and not function. Izzy dealt with the problem by stopping, generally. I mean, it was a fair response--all of a sudden she had zero input from me and she was entirely too smart and green to just do my job and hers because it was fun.

Cuna isn't like that. He has jumped so many fences in his life that my input is really not that important. He likes it if I ride to the base of the jump and give him some direction, but if I don't, he can handle that. As long as I stay out of his face, he doesn't care a lot what I do on top. He doesn't demand accuracy over 2'6" fences. He's so freaking big that he doesn't even really jump that much over 2'6" fences.

Today I got him deep to the base of a 2'6" oxer. I freaked out because somehow in my mind in that brief second before takeoff, I thought he was going to coil like a spring and then bascule over it like a 4' working hunter and totally jump me out of the tack. The exercise was a one stride angled jump to another angled jump. I had already expressed my opinion that it wasn't really possible, but I proceeded to pull an even harder angle in one stride so I could get out of jumping the next fence.

Here's the kicker: even as I did that, I could feel that the second fence would have been fine. Yeah, it wasn't the best distance I ever found, but Cuna is a big guy with a big stride, and it would have been FINE to jump the second fence. Later I pulled him out of a two stride (crossrail to oxer) because I just couldn't mentally take it. Both times I rode like I meant to do it all along, so I wasn't training him to run out, but I just couldn't seem to get my crap together.

Poor Cuna. His rider really is a crazy person.

I finally got my head on straight. The beauty of the exercises today was that they were extremely technical (2 stride bending line, say what?) so I had to really focus on my line and pace and direction and balance and a more limited amount of time to spend freaking out as the lesson progressed.

I know that the only way to overcome this mentality at this point is to just motor through. I am riding the right horse with the right instructor. I need to be able to ride through the fear and have a good experience, over and over, in order to build a new understanding. Trusting my horse to build my confidence is incredibly hard.

PS For those who asked, Izzy was lovely for her trial ride Saturday, but it was not a good match. There is another test ride this weekend.

PPS Furthermore, I call Cuna the "old man" because he is 19.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Beautiful Faces

A picture of the pony mare from last summer.

As I think we can all agree, Cuna is completely adorable.

He is also completely opposite of Izzy in head type. She's big and bold with strong lines. He's more delicate and refined, with a small muzzle. His face is easily overpowered by the big, padded stuff that looks so striking on Izzy.

I think this picture says it all...

Anyways. The point is, I am now rabidly bridle shopping for Cuna. I love big, padded monocrowns and fancy stitching. He looks HORRIBLE in anything like that. Not a little bad. No, HORRIBLE.

Fortunately, I am actually at a barn with other eventers at the moment, so we do have a lot of different stuff to play with. Here's Cuna wearing a much more refined bridle that we borrowed to try out.

It looks so much better.

We then took it for a test ride--he and I led the way on a long trail ride with another lady and her spaztastic four year old who hasn't been out much. The young guy would come charging up behind us or nip at Cuna or spook at something silly, and the old man didn't even flick an ear.

Even today, I had a rather dramatic ride on another horse. I am fine, but I felt pretty rattled. I just hopped on Cuna next and had a great ride, knowing that even on his wild days, the most he does is take a quick step. He is so good for me. :-) Hopefully, I'm good for him too. After all, he has a huge supply of peppermints and a personal tack whore to make sure he's always looking sharp.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Making Magic

I decided to buckle down and actually do a little dressage (ha! as if) on Cuna today. I mean, I can definitely see in our jumping lessons how we need work on balance and lengthening/shortening and moving off my legs.

He may stick his little nose out like a pony, but he can certainly be convinced to do that in balance.

Of course, one of the dynamics of working in a busy barn is that when you have to clean every single piece of tack you use, you frequently are creative about figuring out what exactly you are going to use.

I used this bit on Cuna in a jumping lesson a week ago, and it was nothing short of comical. Plastic bits are silly, in his opinion, and perfectly easy to run through.

However, the dirty bridle in his size had this bit on it today. I figured it wouldn't matter too much because we weren't jumping, and off we went.


It may be a terrible bit for jumping, but Cuna went so ridiculously well today that I'm thinking it may become our go-to bit for dressage. I mean, it didn't turn him into Izzy by any means, but as long as I focused on riding him like the Titanic (long and slow) instead of a pirate ship (short and quick), he did quite well. We had flexion, a little bit of bend, and even tiny leg yields. He was willing to go forward into the contact and we got some nice trot work and even a little decent canter.

Huh. I did not expect that at all. What's more, he was actually a little lighter on his forehand today than usual. Generally I get off after a session on the flat and feel like my arms are dead from carrying so much weight. Not so today.

I wonder if it's because of the bit, the improving weather, my improving riding, or the fact that I can now put my hair up under my helmet (hey, I'm proud of that accomplishment).

I don't know, but as we went back to the barn at an out-of-control gallop, I had a smile on my face.

PS Someone is trying out the pony mare tomorrow. Please pray to your respective deities on our behalves.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Riding the Pony Mare

I rode Izzy for the first time since she came back to the barn today.

I've been wondering what it would feel like, how I would feel, how it would affect me. Because of that, I was actually quite glad when she was on my list for today.

She was spooky and nervous coming down to the arena. I tightened the girth and got on with spurs, but without a whip. (Gasp! Riding Izzy whipless!!)

We started at the walk. First we did lots of tiny-looped serpentines, establishing forward and bend. I did miss a horse that could bend. Then we transitioned into leg yields both directions, followed quickly by shoulder in both directions. The mare was forward, on my aids, and quite responsive. Not going to lie, that was super fun.

We took advantage of a lesson student wanting to hack out and went for a short walk in the hills. Izzy mostly minded her manners, but was very looky and at one point tried her favorite trick which is running backwards and spinning. I kicked her forward and called her something flattering like "you stupid cow".

When we came back to the arena, I picked up the canter. We lengthened and shortened and did perfect flying changes on cue all around the arena. We dropped to the trot in a nice, balanced transition and did trot/halts to get her more solid into the contact and pushing from her hind end. We did more lateral work--Izzy was so balanced and responsive that I had to tell myself to stop riding her instead of push for some accomplishment to finish on.

Things I have to kick, grunt, and strain to get on Cuna (like a balanced trot), are so natural to Izzy that I don't even have to ask for it. Balanced? She always is. Rhythmic? Of course. Flexible? Naturally. On the bit? She's built there. It was super fun for me to remember all the things I love about her. Even in the short amount of time that she's been gone or with other riders, I have improved. My confidence has grown, my technique is better, and I'm more comfortable in the saddle.

That said, Izzy had several moments where she reminded me that she is quick, short coupled, and a little bitchy. I love her and she's fun to ride, but it would take less than a week of me trying to force it again to land me squarely where I started out: scared and overmounted.

Cuna isn't glamorous, pretty, and well bred like Izzy. He isn't perfectly built. He isn't fun to do dressage on, but step by step, he's rebuilding my confidence. For that, I completely adore him.

PS Someone please buy the pony mare. She is going to be awesome in the right hands. SEND ME PICTURES!!!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Riding Outside

The outdoor arenas were finally dry enough to use today. I saddled up Cuna, mounted in the barn aisle from my tack trunk, rode down the the arena, made two laps at a walk, and realized that I had zero ambition to do anything that could be done in an arena.

So we left. There is a section of trail that gradually slopes up an incline for about half a mile and is sandy enough to ride on even when it's wet out. We headed up there at a trot.

Cuna was pretty hilarious about the whole thing--on Monday when we did pictures, I'd canter him up to Ellie and then stop. Clearly, he thought we were doing pictures again, because he stopped where Ellie was standing, and then about every ten yards after that. It wasn't naughty. It was more like he was trying to out think me. I kicked on and rode him to the top of the dry-ish section.

We turned around, walked down, and then trotted up again. Clearly, Cuna now understood the drill. His ears went forward and his energy level went up. We charged up the hill. I let him stretch his neck out and work through his back while I focused on staying balanced over him without resting my hands on his neck.

The walk down was doing a good job of letting Cuna catch his breathe, but he was pretty hot and sweaty. I haven't done really any hill work with him because he was always just going to be here for a few weeks and I didn't see the point. Not so anymore.

Then we cantered up. THIS IS AWESOME. The old man totally knew what was going on at this point. He picked up a big, forward canter, pricked his ears up, and just rolled on up the hill. He was in the zone. Racehorse-turned-event-horse brain was activated.

It came to an end all too soon. He was a little foamy and I needed to get back to work.

Peppermints please.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but Cuna is just so much fun for me--I am getting to do all kinds of things I couldn't do before. I mean yeah, he isn't a dressage horse and so arena flatwork is not that exciting. On the other hand, he is a pro over fences, on the trail, and running around. I don't have to worry about what he's going to do and his silliness just makes me laugh instead of scaring me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Still Ambulatory

The lesson went down this morning.

The pictures went up last night (I KNOW!!! OMG!!!)

So, despite the fact that it is currently blowing wind and snow and overcast, I give you happy, sunny pictures of the lovely (but cold) day we had yesterday.

Glamour/conformation shot of Cuna. He's about a mile long and has zero hind end angulation. That said, he has a big butt, a nice shoulder, a heart of gold, and an adorable face.

These conformational traits come into play under saddle. He's hard to put together, likes to stick his little nose out like a pony, and has a neck like a giraffe. He's also remarkably balanced and mobile for a big, old horse, despite being completely inflexible.

Just pretend there is snow blowing into the indoor, and you'll basically be picturing the scene of my lesson today. We started off in a completely logical manner for one of Stephanie's lessons. She walked into the arena, and said, "Ok, ten minutes of trot, starting now. Do the first five in two point."

The perils of riding with a lesson buddy who is on a fitness kick... (some idiot with my initials may have mentioned to Stephanie later in the day that she needed to work without stirrups. Kick that person.)

So we did five minutes of circles and serpentines in two point, then got a minute or two of posting trot, then started another five minute set of two point. The math-y side of me wants to point out that this is clearly more than 10 minutes, but since Cuna and I both need fitness work, I didn't say anything.

On to the easy part! There were two verticals set at 45 degree angles to each other.

First we did them on the long turns, L lead to blue and R lead to green. We had to be able to count when we were 5 strides out from each jump. I was consistently between 3 and 6, so I guess that's good, lol.

Then we had to do the verticals off the short angles--R to the green and L to the blue. Also while counting. It is weird to be on the rail, not pointed at the jump, and know you're five out. TURNING!!!

We were doing this over cross rails, then 2'3"ish verticals, then Steph jacked them up like two holes. I had a brief moment of heart failure, but once I was on course, I didn't have time to think about the height. I had to get Cuna balanced and straight and there and he worried about the jumps and it was wonderful.

Then we had to connect the two. That's right. Three stride bending line between two massively large verticals. (Ok, there were 2'9". Looks big to me.)

Cuna's all "Omg rider insane. Will save ass as per usual".

The first time was not pretty. I got crooked to the first jump, rode poorly between the two, and somehow overcompensated myself into a worse second jump. Seriously. I have no idea how it's possible to screw up that much in that short of a distance. Cuna saved me like the saint he is, and we regrouped.

This time we were just as bad. I got him to the second jump so that he was nearly parallel to it. He jumped it because he is awesome, but that makes a 2'9" vertical ride like a 3' xc table, which is really not the right idea. At all.

Stephanie gave me some pointers about being "perpendicular to the face" and "opening my inside rein" and "putting my leg on" (who ever heard of these things?) and we tried again.

Success!! Two most excellent jumps on a line that is as bent as a non-bending horse gets. Of course, I was so focused on not screwing up fence two that I sort of forgot about riding after it and we were pretty close to the rail. Cuna went left. I pulled right, he nearly spun around, and I nearly flew off. Thanks to many minutes of two point and keeping my weight in my feet, I managed to find the middle and not take a header into the fence. Whew.

We definitely ended on a good note. (Picture from previous day of sunshine and happiness).

Cuna hadn't really broken a sweat. I was barely hanging on and I had two more horses to ride.

I'm still ambulatory, so that's good news.

All photos of awesomeness taken by the estimable Ellie of Cedes of Change. Tacky jump diagram by me.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Kick, Pull, Grunt, Strain

I rode Cuna on Sunday at the same time one of Stephanie's more advanced students was also working her horse over what looked like the world's simplest jumping exercise: two poles, one set on either side of the arena. I watched her ride while we warmed up, then did my best to mind my business.

As she wrapped up her workout, she told me to feel free to jump in and give it a go.

So we did. I mean really. Two poles? Not even a related distance? How hard can it be? All we have to do is stay straight and balanced on a nice, rhythmic circle.

^Apparently, that is SUPER HARD. Not mentally--it's a very basic exercise. It's just that Cuna and I are hammering out our respective responsibilities.

So we start over the exercise at a canter. I give him a kick to get him forward, then try to take a connection with the reins. We awkwardly hop the pole and he cross canters. I drop to trot, pick up a correct lead, take connection, awkwardly hop, worse lead change. Yikes! This isn't working.

Then the student explains that I am riding with my hands too much. Cuna is a long horse and he takes a lot of leg and core strength. Too much hand just unbalances him and makes him crooked.

We try again, this time with a little coaching. Kick forward. Pick up contact, put hands in neck. LEG ON. Steady to the pole. Not awkward. LEG ON. ENGAGE CORE. MORE CORE. Have to balance him from my body. Now forward. Kick! LEG ON. ENGAGE CORE. Not awkward.

We made a nice circle each way (after several attempts), and then I called it quits. Cuna had barely worked--I thought I would die. I am not fit enough to ride a long-bodied horse, let me tell you.

I mean, I can run several miles at a good pace even without training and be fine. I can do an hour long pilates class and barely break a sweat. I can work long hours at the barn and still keep trucking.

But ask me to put a big ol' horse together? That's no task for sissies.

I have no idea how I'm going to live through an hour long lesson tomorrow.

PS Tired of my steady barrage of cell phone photos? Look for real, actual pictures tomorrow! My favorite Ellie ever may or may not have made it out to the barn today.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Go to grocery store for $2 item.

Have phone conversation with potential Izzy buyer.

Immediately impulse buy white rolls and chocolate cream pie.

This can't go on.

As much as she scares me, as much as I love Cuna, she's still my pony mare who I invested in, heart and soul, for the past three years. I know it's time to move on, but the closer that gets to reality, the more batty I feel.

This is an old picture from the first summer I had her, and I've always loved it. She's just so cute and perky and interested.

I know what needs to happen. It will happen. It's just hard, day to day, minute to minute. I never thought it would be like this--she was always going to stay with me forever, and now she isn't.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Weekend Poll!!!

Question: do you like the black/stainless halter on Cuna or do you think he'd look better in havana/stainless?

We're steering clear of brass. I'm just not sure if the black suits him. Opinions?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pertinent Details

Here's Cuna the day he showed up at the barn and I shaved all his hair off. It wasn't quite "love at first sight" for us, but he was big, athletic, and honest, so I knew I couldn't go too far wrong by keeping him for a while. I was impressed by the details of his first day--he hadn't been ridden in three months, had never been to that barn before, had never seen me before, and just trooped around like it was nothing.

We couldn't do any serious riding for a few days because he needed his feet and teeth done, but once we got going, I started to have fun. He didn't care that I panicked in front of the jump and clung like a crazed monkey and did all the wrong things. He would remind me not to grab his face and not to duck at the fences, and then he would just do his job.

I thought of him as tool at first. He was broke and honest and I needed to log some miles before Izzy came back. He was aloof and reserved in his stall. Then we had our fateful jumping lesson, the one captured on video. The square oxer in that last line really did it for me. It looked huge and terrifying and I wanted to die just seeing it, but he took it in stride, like it was nothing.

And I said, "There is another way to live".

I immediately regretted it, changed my mind, changed it back, waffled for weeks, consulted my trainer, drove my close friends completely crazy, trolled for opinions, and finally decided that I only like Cuna because he was broke (somehow that was a bad reason? go figure) and that I should keep my horse. Just to be sure, I checked with my trainer one last time.

"So I was thinking about Izzy..." I started.

"You're selling her," she said.

"So it's not just that I need to get better and ride her?"

"No. You're selling her."

In that moment, it was like a ton of bricks just lifted off my shoulders. I had been so conflicted about her for so long that I couldn't even think straight. She was still gone and I was still playing with Cuna, who I liked more and more by the day. He had moved from "tool" to "super cute horse that I ride". I spent most of my time with him doing arena work. After all, I only had him for the next couple of weeks. There was no sense screwing around with hill work and fitness when I was just going to give him back and buy something else once Izzy sold.

I researched and obsessed and wondered what I was going to shop for and how I was going to afford it. I could get either a young green thing or an old broke thing and plenty of unsound things in between. Hm. I decided I would lease Cuna for 6 months, then do the young green thing, since I'm a terrible commitment-phobe and didn't think I could deal with an older horse.

On that note, I headed to California. I set a super cute picture of Cuna as the wallpaper on my phone. The more I looked at it, the more I realized that his face was the one I wanted to go home and see. I felt so disconnected from Izzy. I didn't want to ride her, didn't want to see her, but dangit, I missed his darling old face.

And then his owner offered to sell him to me for a rock bottom price, but said she really couldn't keep him much longer because her life circumstances were changing too much. Also Izzy was sound and needed to come back to the barn to be sold. Cue panic. I cannot afford to board two horses. Period. End of story. I could maybe hack it for a short time, but definitely not in a indeterminate sale situation. That meant Cuna would have to go home while Izzy sold. I connived and obsessed, but there was no way around it: I have neither time nor money for two horses. I let his owner know my plan (Izzy sells in a week, Cuna comes back) and asked if I could come out and ride him with her on the weekends.

It was Saturday, the morning of the show. I was hustling around, getting things ready to go, when Stephanie stopped me. "How busy are you on Saturday mornings?" she asked.

"Usually not very".

She offered me an option: I pick up extra hours at the barn, she pays Izzy's board and helps get her sold, Cuna stays with me.

OMG!!!! Honestly, as much as I loved winning a ribbon on Cuna, I was far more excited that A) I wasn't terrified and B) the old guy was here to stay. I mean, I still have to buy him when Izzy sells, but the point is, he's staying with me. It's a big commitment, but it's what I want.

So for those of you who've asked what's going on with Cuna--he's still my super awesome loaner horse. He'll be mine as soon as Izzy has located an appropriate new owner.

Better be soon. I'm already acquiring tack for him. :-D

PS I'm pretty sure that the day I called Cuna the "mean ass bastard horse" was important--I always think of him like that, mostly because he's such a cute, sweet kind of guy. Watch for a new header...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wild Thing!

This picture is just before we loaded up on Saturday. That sheet is very revealing, don't you think?

Cuna was completely wild today (for him). It was windy and cold and raining steadily. He always has his ears up and is looking around, but he actually took a good look at three (3, count 'em) different things while we trotted around the outdoor. In fact, I think he may have taken a quick step at one point in an effort to evade a scary monster. (!!)

I laugh, but I can't even express how happy I am with him. It's not that it bothers me when a horse spooks--it's just that I'm so used to not knowing what will happen and being uncomfortable, that having him do stuff like that is almost like having him intentionally desensitizing me. I can almost hear him saying, "Breathe, lady. If you don't ride me, I might take TWO quick steps, and then we'll be even farther away".

He's happy to pack me around over jumps, but he does actually expect me to ride in the arena. It's cool and sort of liberating.

Oh, and after his complete wildness? I took him for a hack on the buckle. Apparently all scariness was over, because he didn't even blink.

Here's the pony mare today. She's back at the barn and in work with Stephanie and one of her more advanced clients. I think we're taking a sales video this week, which is good because we're getting inquiries on her already.

It's weird to be around her--when she's in her stall or going to turnout, she's just another horse to me. I was holding her before she got ridden today though, and got to spend some time with her. She's still her gorgeous, pushy, lovable self. She begs for cookies and I know all her itchy spots.

I've been going through my tack and equipment slowly and making Cuna try it all on. Part of me feels weird doing that now that Izzy is here staring at us, but at the same time, I feel sort of empty about her.

I put so very much into her and pushed myself beyond what I thought I could take, and now I'm just giving up. I'm not sure how I even should feel. I hate to be overly dramatic in a serious way, but it's almost a Romen-and-Juliet sort of thing. She's gorgeous and I love her and I want her, and it just isn't meant to be.

Whenever I think of Cuna or see his adorable face, I smile. His fluffy forelock makes me giggle and his long neck is perfect for hugging. I must say, his face is completely different from Izzy's so I've had to sell a lot of bridles. After all, I got him one of his own before I even knew what was going to happen...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Parting Thoughts

It's official: Izzy is listed for sale. You can see her ad here. People keep asking me if I'm doing the right thing or saying that I'm going to miss her more than I think I will.

They're absolutely right. I watched her skim over the sandy arena surface in perfect balance this morning and thought the same thing myself. Then I got on a horse I've never ridden before and took him for a hack in the hills. Alone. Unafraid.

Yes, I'll miss Izzy's lovely conformation, fabulous gaits, and ridiculously photogenic self.

The flip side is that I already don't miss my fear. I don't miss that cold, wrenching terror every time I thought about riding a horse. I don't miss being completely overmounted and blaming myself and constantly thinking that I was just a terrible rider.

I'm not a terrible rider--I'm just a rider that isn't ready for the type of horse that Izzy is. She's going to be happy with someone who can appreciate her, and I'm going to be happy with an old, bony, paddling TB gelding with a darling face and packer personality.

He isn't God's gift to conformation, but he meets me at the gate in the pasture. He isn't young and spry, but he doesn't take advantage of me. He isn't perfectly round and balanced naturally, but he's nicely forward and a safe jumper.

I know what I'm missing out on. Izzy is an exceptionally cool horse.

It's just that I'm so much happier looking through a pair of wizened red ears on a solo trail ride on a stormy day that I have no interest in reconsidering.

>Aimee and Cuna, moving forward.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Despite my warning, there actually are pictures of us from the show. My mom came and hung out and helped and took pictures. I felt very spoiled. I mean, what non-horse-person in her right mind comes to a little local show on a cold, windy day and feeds Cuna 5 pounds of carrots just for giggles?

Mom, apparently.

The show was indoors in a fairly small arena. Based on how strong Cuna was in our last lesson, I opted to move him up to his normal bit, a rubber pelham with connectors. I thought he would be a bit up at the show, despite the fact his owner assured me he'd be fine. (Her definition of "fine" and mine don't always concur.)

He warmed up nicely. I was really glad I had the bigger bit for the first 30 seconds in the outdoor warmup arena that was surrounded by donkeys and blowing shrubs. Since I tend to not use my hands much, I headed to the show arena and thought nothing of it.

We went right in for our first class, the 2'3" jumpers. Last time we came to this show series, I had Izzy and the 2'3" looked so terrifying, I didn't know how I'd get through. Looking between Cuna's red ears, I thought the jumps were rather unimpressive. We started out ok over the first fence, but over the second I tried to steady him too much and caught him with the pelham. He gave me a head fling as we cantered nicely to the third. I needed to push him forward into the contact, but I was leery of actually using the contact because of the bit.

We made it over the third, but because I didn't want to put my leg on (because -I- was avoiding the contact), we had a runout at the fourth. All of a sudden, I was like "Oh, right. Hands in the neck and give him a kick". I did, and it smoothed out quite a bit.

When we came out, I promptly dropped Cuna to a loose ring french link.

He says, "I told you I didn't need a bigger bit".

We went back into the warm up and worked on taking a connection and moving off both of my legs at all three gaits. Nothing strenuous, but I wanted to remind myself that I could ride.

When Steph asked if I wanted to jump the 2'3"ish vertical she had set up, I said yes. I realized that I was no longer riding around avoiding eye contact and hoping should wouldn't call on me--I wanted to jump the jump to make sure I had Cuna in front of my leg and straight and ready to go back in for our next round.

Time for the 2'6". We cantered to the first fence. I kept a feel of his mouth in my hands and my legs firmly on his sides. I had him forward and balanced in a nice rhythm.

The fence felt effortless. We came around the corner and did the diagonal line. I kept the contact and the line went well.

Go Cuna go!

We came around the corner to the bending line, our nemesis from the last class. I sat up, kicked on, and announced "right leg!" to Cuna. He sailed over both jumps and around the corner to the next line.

Eyes up, hands steady. We jumped in nicely, lost our direction for a minute (hello hands!! please coordinate!), then kicked on. Now to finish over the triple.

Other horses got a short four between the fences. I know Cuna's style and my insecurities entirely too well to think I could hold for four. I kept my chest up and kicked again to make sure I was generating his forward with my leg, not my upper body.

Jump! "One, two, three!" I counted out loud. Jump! "One, two, three!" and we jumped out and crossed the finish line. The (tiny) assembled crowd clapped and cheered for us as the announcer said our time was a 49.1. I patted the old man, thanked the judge, and rode out. Smiles all around.

Look! There is even video.

I watched my friend ride the next round, then headed out with her. Since Cuna is a total trooper, we were keeping the less secure horse company until his next round. We walked around the warmup arena, talking about our rides, our horses, and our progress.

Then I saw Stephanie coming towards us, waving something.

A blue ribbon.

I don't know what the optimum time was, but apparently we were mighty close. We won the 2'6" class in style. I've always loved ribbons, but more than that I was so happy with our round. To get a pretty ribbon for it was just icing on the cake.

Cuna tolerated yet another photo session with several cameras, then was given a hay net and a ridiculous amount of carrots and peppermints for a job well done.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Show Prep

On a whim, I pulled out Izzy's dressage bridle and put it on Cuna.


Yeah, not ever going to work. I mean, it fit ok, but y'all can see how it looks. It's a lovely bridle for a horse with a bigger, less delicate head. It is a terrible bridle for an old red jumping horse with a refined muzzle.

I think he was embarrassed.

Thankfully, I then took the bridle off, clipped up his fetlocks, and washed his tail. He looks quite smashing and is all set to show tomorrow. I haven't told him that I'm also going to try my figure eight bridle on him to see how cute it could look...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sunny with a Chance of Jumping

So sunny!! Laddie (the black one) and Cuna (the cute one) are out in the pasture with no blankets for the first time this year. They were quite happy.

Mr. Cuna and I had a jump lesson today. We worked on cantering over poles at first. We had to develop a rhythm, ride it around the corner, and make a set number of strides between the poles. The advantage to Cuna being like a 2"x4" is that he doesn't bulge out his shoulder. The disadvantage is that he isn't terribly adjustable.

Well, at least not yet for me. We'll get there.

Next we transferred that skill to cantering a line of tiny crossrails with four strides in between. It was a short four, so I had to be willing and able to take a hold of Cuna and MAKE HIM WAIT. He's a big-strided big dude, so three was just easier for him. Plus that pandered to my insecurities--I always had to kick Izzy forward and grab mane and pray that I wouldn't die, so settling to a fence is bizarre to me. Good, but bizarre.

When the jumps went up from tiny crossrails to a 2'6" vertical and a 2' swedish oxer, I was really on the spot. I would ride to the jump, then think we were too deep, lose my mind, and all of a sudden be a stride away from the second jump. Poor Cuna. He is such a good boy--he just kept doing his job and letting me sort myself out. He never stopped and he never ran out. What I really need to do is just jump low stuff like this over and over and over again. I have jumping PTSD basically and I don't really have good habits to fall back on, so when I get scared, I don't know what's happening.

The good news is that Cuna lets me figure it out without being naughty. The only thing he doesn't like is if I'm quick with my upper body, which I'm not. Yay! We have a bit of a speed problem after the last fence in a line, but nothing out of control.

The bestest old man in the world. This picture isn't from today, but he just looks so adorable. I'll ride him tomorrow and work on braking and turning.

Then Saturday we are entered in a little local show. I have no idea how that's going to go, but it should be fun. I can't promise pictures--all my equestrian photographer friends seem to be out of town and I'm saving my bonus points with regular photographers for shows that are not indoors over mediocre jumps.

That's the good news.

After Saturday, Cuna is going home for a while so Izzy can come back to the barn to be sold. My plan is for her to be in and out in a week. Who wants to buy my horse so they can keep reading about the adorable OTTB gelding instead?
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