Friday, July 31, 2015

6 West Coast Facts for East Coast Riders

For your convenience, I include a map.
I was reading this article on Eventing Nation yesterday, and one quote in particular struck me as so funny that I sent it to local friends to share the laugh. Here's the quote about a rising young pro:

"Beau is now renting stalls at Harry Smith’s Homestead Farms in Harrisburg, due west of all the action out in Unionville but at a significantly lower price due to the more affordable cost of living in the southcentral part of the state. And with a big chunk of the state’s eventing professionals clustered in Unionville, he’s also one of the only actively competing pros in the Harrisburg area."


That's right, folks--1 hour and 42 minutes counts as some sort of bold career move to a remote and far off place.

Now, no disrespect intended to the pro in question--I'm sure he's a perfectly great guy who turns mules into unicorns, but c'mon west coasties. You have to admit you're laughing at least as hard as I am.

TWO HOURS? Since when did that count as "far away"? That's borderline "stay in my own house and skip the camping/hotel at a show" territory.

But I digress.

Instead, here are some fun facts about equine sports on the west coast that are completely lost on those of you from the other side of our wold.

actual road sign
1. Stuff is far apart. Like, way. I live in Idaho. There is one recognized event in this state. It is farther away from me than several that are out of state. Let me explain: it is an 8 hour drive away. EIGHT. I don't know how to emphasize that. It's farther than the closest event, which is a cushy 6 hours down the road in Utah.

Distance is relative. I think of fellow blogger Pony Express as being relatively close and I suspect we'll meet up eventually.



pretty much
2. Because stuff is far apart, actually competing is WICKED EXPENSIVE. Think about it. Any time one of us wants to show, you load up the ponies and ALL YOUR SHIT, pay for 8+ hours of diesel, and then arrive. Now you either have to camp (we'll get to this later) or pay for a hotel. You either have to be a kickass food packer or eat out (or starve, which is what I do). It's not like you can scoot off for a little combined test. Tack a minimum of 12 and really more like 20 hours on to whatever time you were planning on showing.

Now can you do all that, drive through the night, and still make it to work on Monday? More than once a year?

Rebecca Farm photo by Redheadlins
3. Flora and fauna is not what you're expecting. For example, lots of event horses in the west compete very successfully barefoot.


Because deserts, yo. Expect lots of scrub brush, sandy soil, and OH YEAH NO SHADE EVER. Toss in desert-level temps (95-110 in the summer), plan on absolutely zero shade and then tell me you're camping.

I always see pictures of East Coast horses galloping through trees on slick looking grass and think "no wonder they use studs". I mean, we certainly do, but yeah, not as big a deal most places.

4. Rig size and type are totally different. Think about it--the 4 horse head to head is pretty much the holy grail of the East Coast rig. (Are they called rigs out there? I dunno.) I mean, they're convenient to load, safer for horses, very roomy, practically a mobile cross ties unit and a fantastic show home base.

I have seen precisely one of those out here and it is used primarily as a "run around town" trailer by a local trainer.


OH YEAH THEY'RE FREAKING HUGE. Which like. If 2 hours is a "long" drive for you, who cares? But when you're going 17 hours one way TO CAMP AT A 100 DEGREE show, you need living quarters. You need the smallest rig you can manage so the fuel doesn't completely bankrupt you. You need to stuff your trailer to the gills with friends' horses (gas split!) and picnic lunches and really, the 4 horse h2h doesn't come out well in this battle.


might be better off on horseback
5. Travel is... sketchy. And none of that even includes the fact that what passes as a "road" out here is frequently described as a "goat trail" by green horns. Not kidding. Things that are marked on maps can be (with no written warning) a single-track dirt road with a cliff on one side and drop off on the other with no guard rail and no turn around for miles.

So yeah, don't trust that gps too much unless you want to die. Not even kidding. It's much more of a "survival of the fittest" out here.

photo via Cottonwood Ranch
6. We laugh at your hills. 

Heartily. They don't even count. Plz don't call them mountains or we will laugh harder.

Ok west coasties. What did I miss?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Jumping a Sane Horse (who's maybe even broke)

warm up
I talked last week about how I was basically trying to bore Courage to death with lots of tiny jumps.

Well, good news: it's working.

2'6" = 3'6"
Courage is always super fun to photograph because he believes ALL jumps are 3'6" and clears them accordingly. Thus, I could set teeny courses and still get spectacular shots because of how green he was.

I think that's over with.

Alyssa came out earlier this week to grab some shots for us, and while the pictures are great, it wasn't because Courage put on a show.

For once. Ha!

and i'm releasing. that helps.
So yeah. Instead of high flying drama, Courage cantered across my tiny 2' verticals like they weren't even there.

That doesn't make for spectacular knees photos (love those), but there are other things. Like notice how Courage is lifting his withers because his neck and back can actually move now.

Thank you, dressage.

big release and good balance
This maybe sounds a little backwards (or correct?), but all the dressage miles we've put in together have given me so many more options on Courage that I'm WAY more confident jumping. Like... I can't even explain. Yes, these are still super tiny lil things and I know he isn't so much jumping as stepping over them, but if he's sticky to the base, I am totally comfortable sitting down and kicking.

I dunno why it took 8 months of dressage to get here, but it did. And here we are.

single barrel
My eventer side wants to be like "YOU ARE RELEASING TOO MUCH AND OUT OF THE TACK AND STAHP", but again, this is the ride that Courage wants. He's very honest about going over the fences as long as I stay THE HELL out of his face. I mean, if I have contact, I can hold contact, but that's it.

but i love all the shit. ALL OF IT.
I mean, yeah for sure there's things I want to fix in these pictures (like wtf my lower leg is doing) (and hands. cut those bitches off), but I'm really happy that Courage and I are at a point now where I'm totally comfortable working on this.

Next up: robbing banks to afford lessons. Or you know, STOP BUYING SHIT. That would probably work too.

PS And I'll be revamping our show schedule for the rest of the year too. BIG PLANS, people. Big. All least moderately big.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

When You're Not Feeling It

not pictured: my coat
We've had some unseasonably cold weather and gusting winds lately (which, wtf, i miss it already), plus my time is double- and triple-booked from now like like.... November? Something.

Anyways. It all equals out to I'm really tired and that's changing the way I ride.

I've had really good luck lately with doing a stretchy w/t/c ride with Courage one day, then an intense dressage ride the next day, then a day off. So I tried that. LOVELY stretchy ride Sunday, but then a cold night and when I got on Monday, Courage was NOT feeling it.

He'd kind of go around in a fake frame and wasn't heavy in the bridle, but he was stiff as a board and

bright side: wicked sexy
I know how to ride through that, but ugh. Tired.

So we went for a hack.

Remember the unseasonal cold and gusting winds?


but he looks so quiet
We made it out of the arena, but we weren't even around the corner of the barn before Courage spun and went leaping back because OMG A TARP. I lost a stirrup, but stayed seated. Then I made him work through it. Then we got to the next tarp and that was a party and a half.

And remember, tired.

We went back in the arena. Courage was still stiff and undermotivated. I thought about really sitting down and riding and putting him together and working through it. I really did.

And then I climbed off, pulled tack off, and turned homeboy loose in the arena because screw Mondays, man. It was actually hilarious--he wasn't even animated enough to get all that many good liberty shots.

we're on the same page
I'm usually like this in July--I need a mental break from all the focus and hard work of showing and I just want to screw around. I honestly think it's good for Courage to not get overtrained and drilled.

And yeah. Eventually, we'll work hard again.

Just not today.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Teach Me Tuesday: Dressage Horse Wraps

Let's play this game again. I am completely baffled by the trends I see in wrapping dressage horses.
photo via instagram
I get that the horse on the left has bandage liners on. But the one on the right? I'm very confused. I certainly don't mean to pick on this particular poster, either--I see this all over on all the fancy horses. Wraps halfway up the horse's knee. Extravagant bandage liners.

Is this just a look? Is there a purpose? Will Courage be automatically fancier if I do this to him?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Two Years of Courage

Two years ago today, this little man hopped off a trailer, got stuck in a dry lot, lost a shoe, and launched me into the wide-eyed world of "fresh OT TBs".
July 2013

I wanted him because of that amazing brain of his, and that's what we've been banking on all along. I have to laugh at some of our adventures lately:
July 2014

  • A horse got loose in the arena with us. The horse galloped mach ten around the arena with a lunge line flying behind him, then did a tiny circle around us, then trotted around and touched noses with Courage, while Courage just stood on the buckle and watched the show.
  • I brought a friend out to ride. We threw on western tack and Courage proceeded to play trail horse all around the property (and under a tent) without putting a single hoof wrong. 
  • While explaining some training concepts for greener horses to a new horse owner, Courage was the absolute perfect model both on the ground and under saddle. Polite, interested, adorable, relaxed. Didn't even care when the green horse had a meltdown right next to him. 
July 2014
He's come a long ways, to be sure. We wouldn't be here without all the help we've had along the way. Redheadlins and Alyssa have been instrumental, as have other non-blogging friends. 
July 2015
This year has been absolutely unforgettable, with the lowest lows of me literally being a half inch away from selling him (and writing up a proper sales ad, right Lauren?) and the highest highs of beating other horses at a real dressage show (WOOT).
July 2015
Some days are maddening and some days are amazing, but I'm coming to realize that I really do have the right horse for me. He's a sensitive stoic, like me. He's strong willed and confident, like me. He's goofy and ridiculous, like me. I will admit to being slightly jealous of his self image (dear god. body positivity doesn't even begin to capture it). 

The things about him that make me the most crazy are almost always the same things I dislike about myself. Getting mad at him doesn't fix them--taking a deep breath and thinking through the situation does. 

So here's to our first two years together and hopefully many many more to come!
meant to be

Friday, July 24, 2015

Look At That Neck!

I do love a good progression post and this isn't one. (sadface. I know.) I've just gotten a couple of pictures lately where Courage's neck looks really good. He came to me as a very inverted, very tense, very upside down, very typical race horse.

We still have a long ways to go, but can I get a "hot damn" for progress so far? (Also who wants a real neck progress post? I haven't done that yet!)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Must Read Horsey Articles of the Week

I don't generally do link compilations or anything, but I've read several fascinating articles lately and I'm nerding out a little, so fellow horse nerds, please join me.

photo by Jonathan Becker via Vanity Fair
1) How Champion-Pony Clones Have Transformed the Game of Polo

I think cloning is a little sketchy, but it's also an interesting emerging technology. It's banned by all major competitive equine organizations for fairly obvious and excellent reasons, whether you want to talk about the lack of genetic diversity or the ethical issues of cloning or the simple fact that we don't understand it well enough to do much with it.

Except polo.

Polo is a unique combination of filthy rich participants who don't blink at the 80k per clone price tag, high intensity sport that tests the endurance and durability of the animal, and horsemen who are invested in taking excellent care of their charges.

What will happen? What will we learn? I have no idea and I'm pretty excited this is going on.

photo by Skip Dickstein via Bloodhorse
2) Bode Miller Hopes to Strike Gold at Fair Hill

Whatever you think of the guy personally, no one can contest that he has competed at a very demanding sport at a very high level for a very long time and understands the demands that are put on an athlete. Again, he brings money to an admittedly already-rich sport, but what he's proposes is intruiging--instead of backtracking and loping and the occasional work, he thinks equine athletes would benefit from the same level of training that human athletes do.

Things like hill work. Sprints. Terrain.

Mixing things up to create a stronger athlete all around who stays sounder for longer.

I know there's pushback in the horse world against these methods on the logic that an equine athlete can't communicate and take care of itself the same way a human can, but as Bode points out, our monitoring abilities have improved drastically. With the money behind you to do it right (I suspect vets are making BANK on imaging here), this idea is super cool.

Will it work? Will it help rejuvenate racing? What can we learn here?

I want to know.

photo from Megan's blog.  used by permission.
3) Rider Fear

This is a comprehensive post by the blogosphere's own Megan at A Enter Spooking. As an adult ammy who struggle(s)(d) through my own fear issues, it was liberating to read through another approach that was both intelligent and articulate.

It's such a common issue, but it doesn't have to be the end of the line for nervous riders. I love this summation and I think it should be required reading for owners, riders, and trainers alike.

That's my list of fascinating reading for the time being. What else should I be looking at?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Jumping Update

Courage and I haven't jumped a lot this year. Part of that is moving to a dressage barn and getting serious about improving our flat work. 

The other part of it has just been finding our sea legs together. I needed Courage to be in a place where I felt comfortable just kicking him and riding him forward. We hack around barn property now pretty much 5 days a week. I make Courage do ALL the spooky stuff. It's paying off enormously--his disobedience is now spooking forward instead of parking it or things things in reverse. I can deal with that.

squint a little. they're jumps.
And now I've started adding fences back in. I really also want to add lessons back in, but logistics are a bit of a nightmare this month, so eventually. For now, I'm focusing on jumping hundreds of tiny jumps. Hundreds. Easy. If it looks big to me, I put it down. I haven't put together any lines or grids or related distances. 

waiting while i set jumps
We ride big swoopy turns to tiny fences. I put my leg on and my shoulders back and my eyes up. I keep my hands forward and give big releases (because Courage would far rather I tip forward like a jumper than hit him in the face like an eventer). 

Honestly, it's really interesting. Some days it's even fun. Courage is far less green to his fences than he is in dressage. I am actually capable of riding quite well if I'm not feeling overfaced and terrified. Just like with out hacking, it's about building a bank of calm, positive experiences for us to draw on. 

The day we got video, I was a bit appalled by how backed off I had him, though happy with his relaxation. The next time we jumped, I kept the fence heights the same, but pushed him more forward. Basically, if he's not getting clean changes, I need more horse. 

When I watch other people ride, I'm always jealous of the ones who have the been there/done that horses that are pretty much point and shoot. So. That's what I'm trying to create. We don't have to be the fanciest or most polished or have the most ribbons and nicest stuff. I just want to continue creating my cool horse to have fun on, now over fences as well as on the flat.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Dressage Clinic for the Non-DQ

I even re-dressaged his mane
I've been puzzling over and over how to write a non-boring dressage clinic wrap up. Let's face it: if I'm like OMG DRESSAGE MINUTIAE YOU GUYS, like two people read it. Austen and JenJ, I'm looking at you.

So instead of walking you step by step through the best dressage ride of my life so far (Saturday) and possibly the hardest (Sunday and I had to get off because walk was too much for me), I wanted to talk a little about why I love my barn.

this is less tipped than some
Because I'm a lumpy adult ammy on a green OTTB. I'm crooked, I hunch my shoulders and tip forward without evening being aware of it, and I'm never going to be a big money client. Courage is a thoroughbred, older, and quite happy to go around inverted.

i'm impressed with him
And not one time did anyone even think that I needed a fancier horse, a pricier saddle, or a date with a personal trainer. Instead, the clinician just focused on us and where we are right now. She corrected us in the moment, but also talked about the theory of training and how to keep teaching Courage to improve both of us in between lessons.

even with me tipping, i like this picture
Last time I rode with her, we did really, really basic exercises (right rein means go right) and sometimes floundered our way through them. This time, Courage stepped it up and we were working on getting the same response to quieter aids. She explained it like rungs on a laddar--we start with the first one and go up. BUT if at any point the horse doesn't understand, then you go back down as many rungs as you need to so that can understand. Hopefully that's just one step back, but it can mean all the way back to the ground.

And like I said, Saturday was brilliant. Courage was light and responsive and forward and a downright pleasure to ride. His walk and trot was the best it's ever been. I sort of thought the wheels fell off at the canter, but the pictures contradict me.

Sunday we addressed my crookedness head on and while I finally did get straighter, I couldn't both think and ride, so I ended up hopping off and letting my trainer ride to help straighten Courage out while I just watched and processed. I did get back on and recreate some of it (and Courage was really good the whole time), so that was very helpful. Also helpful: knowing that he is crooked for people other than me.

proof of leg yield
The things we worked on are so incredibly simple and yet enormously difficult. They aren't sexy and glamorous (though we did our first supervised leg yield and got a "GOOD JOB"), but I can definitely feel the difference in Coruage's way of going. I have no illusions of grandeur for us in dressage, but I love that pursuing it is actively making us a better team.

PS many thanks to Alyssa for making the best of a dark indoor and taking dressage pictures for us anyways.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Coming Clean: Tack Ho Confession

Hullo, I'm the Sprinkler Bandit, and I have a problem.

A beautiful, beautiful problem.

I like boots. All kinds of boots. Lots of them.

At last count, here was the tally:

1) Equifit T Boots originals full set with velcro closure

2) Majyk Equipe Series Two full set of open fronts in black

3) Eskadron fleece lined open fronts full set in brown

4) Blue patent leather jump boots full set

and that's not even including:

5) Heidi galloping boots full set in brown

6) Valena wool-lined full set dressage boots in white


7) full set of Back on Track polos in white

8) full set of Eskadron climatex polos in black

or even:

9) an entire rubbermaid of fleece polos

You'd think with that kind of problem that I'd you know, STOP BUYING SHIT.

But no. That's not how it works around here.

How it works is that facebook tells you Jess is selling some stuff you want but don't need in a size you can't use. And then you message her and find out that she also has your size. And the price is a steal. And she'll ship today. And I need something to assuage the pain of bad dressage scores and remind me I do other things (less poorly, one might hope).

So that happened.


Yeah. I guess message me if you need horse size jump boots? I obviously have kind of a lot.

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