Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Teach Me Tuesday: The Purpose-Bred Horse

There are certain times I wish I had a more "suitable" dressage horse than a tight-backed OTTB who requires a zen master approach to life just to catch him in the mornings.

Then there are times where I see ads for those horses:

And I remember that there are 150,000 reasons I have the horse I do.


I'm not anti-purpose bred horse because I'm not an idiot and I certainly recognize that the job would come more naturally to a horse that was literally born to do it. On the other hand, isn't half the fun learning to teach your own horse how to do things with you?

I don't know.

Sound off internet. Do you or have you ever had a purpose bred horse for your sport and how has that altered your enjoyment of it?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Operation Figure It Out

when your legwear game is unimpeachable
You're going to have to pardon the dressage nerd-ery so late in the week, but it's going to happen somewhere. That place is here.

In our last lesson, my trainer commented that Courage has gotten very good at stretching his neck down now. Our current problem is that he does it in lieu of engaging his hind end sometimes.
neck down is good progress
I'm not the queen of doing things right, but I generally do know how to engage the hind end of a horse, so we've done a couple of rides (at the walk) to get Courage really thinking about moving dat ass.
also gorgeous
See the trick with him (because complicated, sensitive and OTTB) is pushing MORE FORWARD will always only ever backfire when he's learning something new. Instead, I break it down, ride under the rhythm, and show him step by step what I want so he thoroughly understands the concept.

Thus, we've been walking. Slowly. In order to engage his hind end, I need to be able to control where he places his hindquarters so I can straighten them and move them where I want them, which I'll also need for renvers/travers and literally everything else we do from here on out (I LOVE HOW THIS ALL WORKS TOGETHER).

not sure if he loves how it all works together
 It's fascinating (not sarcasm. I am so much of a dork that I really enjoy this).

What's been really working for Courage is to ask for shoulder-in up the quarter line, and when I get 2-4 good steps, then immediately go forward into a free walk across the diagonal. The shoulder-in gets him stepping under, the freewalk confirms his stretch down and straightness so the exercise doesn't make him crooked and tense and the quarterline keeps me honest about where all the parts are going.

When that seems to be going well, we add in some walk/halt/walk transitions, which is another fantastic engaging exercise.
way better than he is with the ladies
I'll be honest: Courage is getting REALLY GOOD at this stuff.

So naturally, after a few good walk rides, I was like OK GR8 HORZ LETSSSS TROT.

That was not great--we sorta sped around on the forehand. I used my core (omg!) to slow his rhythm and for like 7 strides, it was seriously the BEST TROT EVAR. Strides long. Float on. Slow and perfect and power from behind and OMG YOU GUYS THIS HORSE IS THE BEST IN THE WORLD.
all the shit. all of it.
And then he lost. his. shit.

Yes after 7 strides. He was ostensibly spooking at birds, despite not being spooky in general or caring about birds in particular. I know enough about him to know that getting after him makes things worse, so I dropped the reins and walked up to look at birds.

He stood on the buckle, licking and chewing for a long time.

Sigh. Not scared. Try again.
silly hooman trying again
This time, even the walk was crappy and he was threatening to blow. Greaaaat. I got the walk to be less crappy, got off, pulled his tack off, and expected to see him explode.

Nope. Just hung out and took selfies.

I finally figured it out while I put all my stuff away.

Courage is smart and he figured out what I want. He's a pretty good boy, so he even offered it in the trot.


It's also very hard, mentally and physically, and he's not ready to do more than a few steps right now. I need to reward him for offering and only ask for what he can give.

If he can go from this:

to this:

It's worth taking a few weeks or months longer to help him learn the next steps.

We'll get there.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

TL;DR sad face

Before Courage and I went to our last show, I said that if we didn't break 65%, I wasn't willing to try and do a recognized show immediately after. I realize that it would probably be good experience, but I'm not in a place in life where I can shell out hundreds of dollars when I don't have a reasonable expectation of accomplishing something tangible (bronze scores). I mean yeah, maybe Courage would be fine and love the facility.
not what 65% looks like
Or you know, maybe he'd be green and have a meltdown and with the substantially harder judging at a recognized shows, we'd beat down my confidence without helping him. 

We're not paying $400 to find out. I just can't. 

Instead of showing at the big shindig I'd been working towards for well over a year now, I went and volunteered. It's great to help out and see the scene and blah blah blah something about giving back and something about being supportive.

You know what sucks?

Busting your ass to work towards a big goal and failing.

I can try to be optimistic and say that it turns out there were a lot of good life-reasons that I'm glad I didn't just shell out $$$ to go to a show. Or I can say "there's always another year". Or a lot of things. I'm a pretty positive person and I'll get over it. I always do.

But right now, it sucks.

I'm not mad at Courage. I'm frustrated--why do I live in a region where our only recognized shows are early in the year? Why can't I afford to do all the things and go all the places to turn my horse into a seasoned campaigner overnight? Or even some of the things and some of the places and get some decent exposure? Why do all the shittiest things always happen to me in May, no matter how carefully I plan?

There's a lot of meta whys and no answers other than "you ought to get over yourself and be grateful for what you have, you whiny overgrown child".
I'm still doing the slow, consistent, simple work at home and Courage is progressing really well. I know life is bigger than horse shows and I know I'm luckier than a lot of people.

And tomorrow, I'll try to feel better about that.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Love the One You're With

Courage has a bit of a reputation, as it were.
i'm sure it's a first level move
In fact, while talking with friends the other day, it was possibly indicated that on an anxiety scale of 1-10, riding him in the open is an 11 for some people. And those people have very legitimate reasons for saying that.

And yes, while my hot horse was completely losing his shit at our last horse show, I had a moment of wishing for some dumb, giant, fancy warmblood thing because somehow in my mind, that would be easier to deal with. (Someone get Marissa a plane ticket so she can come smack me for that thought.)

But here's the thing: 

Courage and I are coming up on three years together and while I could probably link you to 15 or 20 blog posts in that time where things were so rough that I would have been totally justified in selling him just to be rid of him, things are different now. In some inexplicable way, things just clicked for us this spring. 
code for: outfit needs more sparkles
I can't really pinpoint when or why or how, but I have a better understanding of how to ride and work with him to be successful and he has a better understanding of what I want and how to communicate with me when he needs something. 

I'm sure I'll be compiling hilarious fail pictures for years to come. I acknowledge Courage's fails and flails and opinions and emotions are completely over the top and ridiculous, and yet I'm comfortable with them. He's not trying to hurt me, he's really not mean, and honestly, most of it just makes me laugh.
also we're both devastatingly attractive have nice asses
On a deeper level, Courage and I have a lot in common--we're sensitive stoics, right up until we aren't. We're willing to work our tail ends off for a silly cause as long as it's for a friend, but we cannot be bothered to blink on cue for someone we don't like.

Courage knows how to push ALL my buttons and from time to time, he does it (I also know how to push his buttons, but I'm usually enough of a grownup/value my life enough not to try it). That's becoming less often though as I figure out how to communicate with him.
one step at a time
He's not an easy horse and he doesn't choose to go well for a lot of people. The way to get through to him isn't generally the shortest, most obvious, or quickest way. I love the challenge of explaining something to him and I really love when he actually gets it and then prances around in his usual victory-dance-look-at-me-I'm-the-best sort of way. 
best at... this
He's not for everyone and he doesn't have to be. He's my horse and I'm lucky to have him. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Teach Me Tuesday: Stable to Street

Marissa made a couple of posts lately about what being a horse girl means in her life and it got me thinking: how does your interaction with the horse world change the way you interact with the rest of the normal-people world?

I know it's changed me.

From Izzy, I learned that I was tougher and braver than I ever thought. I learned how to peel myself up off the ground, get back in the saddle, and just keep kicking.

I also learned when to say enough. I learned that it's better to be a little smarter and a little less brave than to just keep forcing something that's never going to work.

From Cuna, I learned that partners are there for each other, that life is supposed to be fun, and that a relationship means you take care of each other no matter what.

Courage is still with me and I hate to draw conclusions because that is just too ominous, but I will say that the relationships forged in the barn have proved over and over to be the strongest and most meaningful in my life. No one understands a horse girl quite like another horse girl.

So what about you--how have the people and horses in your life made you a better, stronger, or more interesting person?

Monday, May 23, 2016

What Happens in Blogland...

As the only woman in my office, working in a very male-dominated industry, I have a rather unique set of perks and challenges. I focus on the perks, which includes things like:
1) If I painted my nails, I'm trying too hard.
2) Barn clothes translate with work clothes with minimal effort and zero commentary.
3) There is literally zero office "relationship" stuff to deal with.

But as I discovered in the past month, there is one other distinct advantage:

4) When I mentioned wanting to set up a fantasy league for Rolex, my coworkers not only had advice on how to run it and what it would entail, but one of them built me this amazing color-coded spreadsheet with all kinds of cool formulas and even learned enough about eventing to do data entry for me.

Wait what?


Because anything worth doing is worth smack talking about, I recruited a small group to do a test run of equine-based Rolex Fantasy league. I mean, we all know Ze Terminator was going to win, so that's not a lot of fun. But what if you take 55 horses out of a 72 horse field and try to guess which ones will even get close to finishing?

Now that is quality entertainment.

It was just an experimental test run and there are certainly things I'll tweak if I do this again in the future, but here's essentially what we did:

11 participants each drafted a team of four horses that were entered. We did the draft as close to the event as was reasonably possible while still allowing time for data entry. We included one drop score per team, ostensibly to account for withdrawals and falls on course or the one-off ridiculously high score. (Obviously, there were a lot of ridiculous high scores, but since we were basically drafting the top half of the field, I was thinking we'd miss most of those.)

At this juncture, it is only fair to acknowledge Emma as the unluckiest bastard of all. I believe something like 3/4 of her team either withdrew before the start or chose not to continue after dressage. Whoops. And no, no one gets to say that JenS was cheated. She chose her team for the dressage prowess, not their ability to actually finish anything.

Oh damn. Smack talk not over.

Anyways. I know I tend to go on about the awesome people you meet blogging, but it really is the truth. We were spread all across the US, but thanks to the magic of technology, we watched the live stream together in very different places.

We also experienced a lot of this together:
cue excessive swearing and rebooting
And of course, if you create three epic email threads and the computer-crashing group chat of DOOM, you're going to get a lot of this:
best. notification.ever.

there was a sausage fest
and a real blog meet up
 Pipers were a theme (as were ass shots):

Then dogs started wearing hats... (I was "working" for this segment. I cannot explain).

The smack talk levels were intense.

So was the spreadsheet game:

And even the snacking game:

Yeah. Wow. I can safely say I have never enjoyed Rolex this much, and that's not even because I won the whole thing and got a new shirt with my winnings. #memequeen I'm still laughing hysterically while writing this, so I guess I'm going to wrap it up by saying I can't wait to do this again and thank you blogland for the chance to meet so many amazing people.
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