Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Myth of Forever

I hate the term "forever home". 

One thing that really bothers me is when I see ads for horses "looking for a forever home". 

Even if we ignore the blindingly obvious "why does someone else have to keep a nag forever when you've clearly decided they're not worth it", that transitions on to a bigger problem:

You aren't guaranteed forever.

You see this horse?
so cool
That was a cool horse. I rode her all through highschool. She was batshit crazy and I loved her. I was so, so excited when my first horse as an adult was her baby. I was going to keep that baby forever.

Remember her?

about a half a second before I got rodeo bucked off and broke 3 bones
Yeah well then I wasn't. The mare and I were NOT a fit and keeping her "forever" would only have made both of us miserable. I was scared of her, which meant I wasn't the rider or owner she needed and neither of us was going to improve together.

So I sold her.

And that's one of the easier stories. Possibly even more common in my age group (late twenties) is having a horse, but then having life commitments crop up. Marriage. Home ownership. Children. It's one thing if you can afford it all, but most of us have to make choices and hopefully most people choose their spawn over their livestock. Seems like a pretty serious moral issue and all.

And those scenarios are overlooking things like chronic illness in yourself or a loved one. Bankruptcy. Job transfers. Economic fluctuations. The fact of the matter with horses is that they are a large luxury animal requiring a lot of time and care and money. Lives change and sometimes what we thought would be forever, isn't.

No one's fault. Life happens.

What's more, different people want horses to do different things. I know SO MANY people who have horses with atrocious or borderline-dangerous ground manners that are passed off as "oh, I shouldn't let him, but I don't mind X behavior".

But here's the thing: if something happens to you and horsiekins needs a new home, will that behavior be the thing that ends him up at a low end auction bound for a double decker and Mexico? You think it's cute that he bolts off on the lunge line. Someone else gets scared, he gets passed around, and things go from bad to worse.

A horse's life insurance is its' job. Plain and simple. We as owners have an obligation to our horses to teach them the job they excel in to the best of our abilities SO THAT should the unforeseen happen, the horse isn't reliant on the mercy on strangers.

knew job inside and out
We've all seen those ads--15yo OTTB gelding, hasn't been worked in 5 years, probably not sound, no papers, no training. Do you know where that horse goes?

I do.

There's no guarantee of forever, not for you, and not for your horse. Instead of trying to create more and more ironclad legal documents that are completely unenforceable, it makes more sense to focus on creating a horse that a reasonable person would actually want to keep.
not a jumper, hard to ride. impeccable ground manners, hacks on the buckle.
If you love your horse, give it a damn job.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Meet the (Strap Goods) Crew

I think it was Emma who said that every time I give y'all a tour of my tack room, the major players have changed. I would like to point out that is only partly true.

dramatic lighting for effect
Ha! But actually, my saddle inventory is remarkably stable. It's the bridles that change up a lot. Right now, we have three main bridles in rotation.
 This is our work bridle. Courage loves his sprenger bit and I love looking at this bridle. And YES I KNOW the buckles aren't all the same color. Remember franken? That's why.

 You've read about dressage frankenbridle before. It's a really fantastic piece. You'll notice the (beautiful) cavesson is adjusted so loosely that it literally does nothing other than hold the standing martingale in place. This is for REASONS--specfically that Courage does not deal with sharp bits or tight nosebands and every trainer he's ever spent time with (even the ones who hated him or whom he hated) agreed that a loose cavesson was really where it's at for him.

 Next we have our hacking bridle. It also features the loose cavesson (and standing martingale woo woo). We have what I call the "magic contact bit" (GIANT single joint d) on it, which is a bit hilarious because I never pick up the reins in this bridle.

This bridle is fun to look at--it has my cool custom race noseband with blue padding and diamond shaped cutouts and my super cool blue and orange sparkle browband. The whole point of this set up is to let Courage know that when he wears it, all is well with the world. We toodle in it. That's all. He loves it. As soon as I put it on, he pricks up his ears and we go adventuring.

 What's this? Didn't I just go on and on about how Courage must have his loose cavesson?


This is our lunging bridle. It's my gorgeous Red Barn Capriole bridle that I love very much with an identical sprenger to our work bridle. It has a crank and I usually pull the flash off, BUT. Always a but.

But Courage is stepping up his game and learning to accept contact in a much better way and from time to time, while lunging, I find it advantageous to ask him to actually close his mouth while he's working.
It's definitely not his favorite thing and I don't think it will be going away from home any time in the near future, but it's a tool in the tool box and we're giving it a whirl.

I guess at this point you're also noticing that Courage ALWAYS goes in a standing martingale at this point in his life. Here's why:
No for real.

Most of the time, the standing hangs uselessly. All y'all rules Nazis out there are like "ZOMG SB THATS NOT DRESSAGE LEGAL", which hellooooooo I am well aware. I'm also aware that every time Courage has a big giant flailing fit (which in fairness to him are usually caused by me), that response takes weeks to work through. Weeks.

Remember the last (/only) time I jumped him this year? Yeah broke my steering and my brakes in one fell swoop because I didn't put his martingale on.

But the standing causes nobody any problems until the penultimate moment and then it acts on his nose, he goes "oh shit right gotta stop this nonsense" and the world keeps on spinning. 

Magic, I tell you. Once we're thinking about showing again, I'll wean him off it. Til then, it stays.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Teach Me Tuesday: When Do You Call the Vet?

I'm a pretty low-maintenance person, medically.

Like... uh... how do I say this. As an example, I have a close family member who nearly lost a limb because they neglected to put a bandaid on a wound which then got infected and scared doctors. And that close family member and I share a lot of philosophies.
and then we went to a football game
Which is to say, while I'm very proactive about Courage's management and training and feeding, I tend to take a lackadaisical approach to vet care. Courage gets vaccinations and teeth done on a regular basis. He also likes to blow his legs up on a regular basis and my response is always "ehhhhh it'll probably go down with work".
unrelated wildly attractive photo
And it does.

So I'm unlikely to change.

But I'm not all people and I know other people have different ideas. Tell me, blogland, what does your horse have to do to get you to make a non-routine call to the vet?
are you creepy BFFs?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Look Who Got Fancy

Ok WOW being unemployed is a lot of work*. I have a lot of interesting post ideas and more pictures than I know what to do with, but actually finding the time to sit in front of a computer and organize my thoughts is difficult.

Regardless, you've probably seen some of the amazingly gorgeous photos Alyssa snagged of us recently and I wanted to talk about them a little.
 Part of the reason these pictures are amazing was that I had a lot of free time and so I braided my horse for giggles. Let's all take a moment to appreciate how kickass he looks braided.
But more important than our super-excellent (Jane Austen-approved descriptor for you nerds out there) outfit was our super excellent ride.

I've gone on and on about going slow with Courage and only ever moving at his speed and so on. I get some kickback from people who think I need to just MAKE HIM UNDERSTAND (which like. wtf. people?) but moments like these remind me of why I do it.
where have you been all my life?
 I've been slowly asking Courage for more lately. More connection, more sit, more power, more forward, more suppleness. Not all at once--we pick a topic or two a day and address them as well as he is able. And this day, Courage offered to put it all together for me. It's still new for us, and there are certainly moments of flail to go with our moments of brilliance (video here if you're interested).
 It's days like this that remind me why I believe in this little guy and why we work so damn hard all the time. He's a puzzle and he's not easy, but when he gets something, there's just no feeling in the world like it.
 I hate to say it, but I'm actually glad we're not showing right now. When we are, I'm very proactive about managing his training schedule--hard rides need to be 2-3 days out from any show days, lessons can rarely be scheduled within 7 days of a show in case something goes wrong, and we rarely push the envelope or try new things because I don't need to fry him right before a competition.

But now?

I have all the time in the world.**
When we get through this, I'm going to be riding a whole different version of my horse. :-) Just you watch.

*My version of unemployment is to work 3+ part time jobs and say yes to every paying odd job that isn't literally whoring. YMMV.

**Well I mean I have barely any time, but there's no deadline or horseshow on the horizon.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Horse Girl Problems

This year, I am attempting to have somewhat less of a farmer tan and MAYBE even off-white (as opposed to see through) legs. Mixed success on that front.
Roxy has problems too

Part of the initiative involves wearing those swanky sunshirts I snagged in sales in the off season. Right? Keeps the sun off, which helps keep people from getting cancer and also limits the amount of sunscreen I have to wear which probably also helps reduce the risk of cancer. Plus they're trendy. Aside from showing every possibly unflattering lump, what could be wrong with these trendy beauties?
yeah that's me and lindsey #noshame


I call it the "sun shirt line".

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Small Step for Dressage, Giant Leap for Courage

Anymore, I try not to do ride write ups. Courage and I aren't doing any cool tricks. Day in and day out is just simple consistency and giving him time to learn. We vary what we do--toodling days, hard dressage days, transition days, slow walk work days--whatever he needs in the moment. It's fascinating to ride, but not the most riveting reading.
winning the outfit game
Last week, we did a lesson with my trainer. Courage was on it and reasonably solid. I have some jumbled video I need to go through, but the most important part for me was riding through our tests. I did a sufficient First Level Test Two and then stopped to get feedback. Trainer pointed out that I rode the test, but I didn't set him up to be successful. It's not enough to do the movements on the paper. I have to think ahead and be proactive.
he's so handsome
So we rode another test and she coached me through it. Instead of just trotting through the corner, then kicking for a lengthen, I had to shorten into the corner, coast through the corner, half halt out of the corner and then send him forward about three times per lengthen across the diagonal. Simple things like that. Also important: "on this horse, straight lines are not your friend".

It was one of those lessons that isn't earth shattering in what we worked on, but the principles needed to be reinforced for me. Not riding movements--riding the horse I have in the moment.
sometimes that horse is fancy
I felt like I made some great breakthroughs, but what made me even more excited was putting Courage on the lunge line later in the week. He's a horse that really does well with lots of ground work and lunging so he can figure himself out without a rider up, and it showed. Usually I take a zillion pictures of him and then root through them until I find one that looks good.

Not. So.
 It was kind of magical--he kicked things into a whole new gear in the trot. He had to work through canter transitions a few times, but once he figured it out, he floated into the canter and then offered this amazing, slow, balanced, cadenced canter that I didn't even know he had.
I can't quit you
Fascinating. Mysterious. Sexy. No wonder I still have this horse.

The next day I rode him.



I dunno what clicked for him, but there are gears in there I didn't know he had. Judging by his reactions, he didn't know either. He was powerful and forward and light and balanced and yes, of course I was riding alone with no witnesses.
but color coordination=win. are these breeches amazing or what?
See, Courage has this move he does usually in the right lead canter--if I sit too deep or ask for too much, he does this almost-invisible hop to get me out of the tack and let him stop loading his hind end. It's a strength issue and careful conditioning is making it a lot easier for both of us.

But that's how I knew the gear he dropped into was as surprising to him as it was to me--I was getting the "hop" while trotting to the left. THE LEFT. TROTTING. That's his good side in his easy gait.

I pushed my luck a little and asked for canter. He didn't quite magically lift into it like he did on the lunge line the day before, but when he got there?


It's the canter dreams are made of. The canter that makes me forget galloping and jumping. It feels every bit as good as it looks and it looks freaking amazing (I mean, for first level for us, you know).

He's not strong enough to hold it for more than a lap or so of the small indoor arena, but not one time did he panic or flail.

This canter. <3 It was worth waiting for. We have a long ways to go to get strong and confident and consistent with this newfound level of awesome, but it is so freaking exciting to know it's in there for someday.
so yeah i'd say he's pretty sexy

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

See The Change--OTTB Conformation Update

For almost a year there, I barely posted an progress pictures. Then I did one last week and now I'm like RAWR CANT STOP ME NOW, so here you go. Conformation progress, one shot per calendar year.
This is Courage on July 26, 2013. It's the night before he left the track and two weeks after his last race.
This is spring of 2014. Courage had a good chunk of the winter off and was just starting to come back into work. We were still attempting jumpers/eventing with mixed success (my code phrase "mostly failing").
Summer of 2015. Courage has been at the dressage barn about eight months and was successfully competing in training level dressage.
Summer 2016. We've putting putting in the long, slow, methodical miles in the sandbox. We're about 6 weeks from celebrating the three year anniversary of Courage coming off the racetrack.

Huh. Pretty cool to see it laid out like that.

PS I know it's not kosher to take conformation shots with wraps on but I like wraps and he's not for sale, so y'all will just have to deal. His lower legs are no more or less ugly than they were on the track.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Teach Me Tuesday: All By Myself

So many times, I tell people I'm working with Courage 95% completely on my own and they immediately say "oh but it will be so cool when he can do X and you know you did it yourself".

Will it?

I've only spent time on a made horse once in my life, and let me tell you, when we were soaring over giant oxers, I wasn't sitting there going "goddammit someone else rode him through his green phase".
No. I was 100% having a blast and loving every minute and it did not matter to me one teeny bit that he came to me knowing absolutely everything and that I didn't put a single button on him. Well, I did teach him to put his ears up for photos, but that was hardly difficult.

Obviously, it's been a different journey with Courage. We're going in a good direction now, but I sometimes wonder if we wouldn't be better off if someone else had ridden through his shenanigans. I'll never know, but it's something to think about.

So tell me. Does it matter to you whether you trained your horse or whether someone else does?

Monday, June 20, 2016

A Supposition

Courage and I have been to four shows this year (if we count a two-day dressage show as one). He's been incredibly good at two of them and incredibly bad at two of them.

Now, obviously there are a LOT of factors that go into both of those, but there's one factor I wanted to play with: braiding.
hot mess

You see, he was totally rideable at both the shows we didn't braid for and a loony toon at the ones that we did.

That's weird.

We did braid for one show last year, but that wasn't until he'd been getting out and showing a lot and then we had other issues.

So here's my hypothesis: Courage is a sensitive horse that likes to be tight in the neck/back. Tight braids exacerbate that tendency and increase the amount of tension I have to ride through.

To test said hypothesis, I read Austen's write up of how to do her fluffy loose braids, bought myself some yarn and a needle, and went to work.
I was really, really glad I was doing this in my free time at the barn--it definitely took a few braids to get the hang of it. By the time I got to the last braid, I finally figured out a specific method I liked best and of course, next time will be better.
Here's the really interesting part. Courage is an old warhorse who's totally used to be being messed with and pretty well lets me do whatever. He does hate mane pulling, but he tolerates it without escalating. When I braid, he just stands with his head down and lets me go nuts. No problem.


When I finished putting in the floofy dutch braids (which are super loose and don't pull his hair), I stepped back to admire my handy work.

He instantly started licking and chewing and yawning and stretching and it went on and on and on.

He got really in to it.

He's never had that reaction to braiding before. Not even sort of. He's always just been sort of resigned to his fate.

What's more (since I have a lot of time on my hands), I then tacked up and threw him on the lunge line.
uh yeah i'm in love with this picture



covering ground
I mean, a big storm was rolling in and he was a little up, but he gave me some of his best work yet. A huge part of that is all the under saddle work and lesson (sorry, need to do a write up) we had, but he was slow and cadenced and even sort of looked like a dressage horse.

Obviously, the braids didn't turn him into a dressage horse, but I'm starting to wonder if they might be another piece in the puzzle for us. I mean, when I took them out in his stall (with scissors because whoops didn't get a seam ripper), I didn't even halter him. He just stood next to me with his head down and his eyes closed and let me take my time.

That's... unlike him.

Of course, to fully test my hypothesis, I need to ride him in braids, both at home and at shows. Until then, I'm intrigued by my preliminary results.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...