Friday, July 29, 2016

New Beginnings

Ceremonies mean almost nothing to me. Seriously. I've been through two graduations (highschool and college) and my own wedding and none of those things really changed anything for me. I mean yeah, I have diplomas and a marriage license and all that, but it wasn't like "oh wow we had a ceremony and now I feel MARRIED".
"i take thee, bay horse with a wicked sexy neck..."
I'm just not that kind of person.

Which is why it strikes me as a little odd that this scene keeps running through my mind:

(If you hate videos, the relevant quote is "If I take one more step, it will be the furthest away from home I've ever been".)

That's how it is, though. We're entering a whole new chapter for both of us. It feels like everything that happened got us to now, and now is a new beginning.

PS I promise for real this is the last sappy post for a while.

PPS Except Alyssa really outdid herself with the freakishly gorgeous pictures and yeah you'll be seeing them for a while.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Video Update!!

Ok well I super promised myself I'd just write one sappy anniversary post but I ran across this comparison and I just had to share it.

Here's Courage and I on our second ride post-track.

And here is our most-recent under-saddle video.

Look how my little man has changed!!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Uncharted Waters - 3 Years of Courage

Three years ago today, a little bay horse with a big ego got dropped off at my barn. I had no idea what I was getting in to.
just before he left the track

three years later
Three weeks prior, I'd retired my incredible event horse, Cuna. I was still holding out hope that he'd come back to work someday. Courage was my back up plan and hell, maybe a resale project. Those first six months, he was so easy. He knew he was my #2 and he just waited for me.

Six months later, I was crying into the mane of a little bay horse who stepped into the number one position like he was born for it. He waited for me to heal enough to wipe the tears out of my eyes, and then he reminded me that he was ready to be the leading man.

Courage is a funny guy. He was my first-ever straight off the track horse, but I had really excellent help with that in the form of Lindsey and Alyssa. We were friends already, but this little horse forged passing friendships of convenience into an unforgettable bond. Laughter, tears, triumph and heartbreak are marked on the backs of the incredible horses that brought us together. 

His transformation from understudy to leading man came with plenty of struggles. He had very definite ideas about what he would and would not do and he had even more certain ideas about how he was to be handled. He's strong, sensitive, opinionated and stubborn, which makes him eerily similar to myself.

Courage was supposed to be my show jumper who dabbled in eventing, but no one told him that. He proved time and time again that he had ZERO interest in jumping over anything but he was still game enough to jump the shit out of giant oxers from a jog trot without batting an eye. I tried harder than I should have for longer than made sense, but when I finally let go of my old dreams and embraced the journey Courage and I are on together, our world started to come together.
august 2013
june 2016

I've bemoaned that he wasn't the one that I lost, I've regretted that he and I were either flaming hot or ice cold, but through it all, I remembered how we came together. It was more than happenstance--it was meant to be on so many levels. At our lowest moments, I told a friend that I thought Cuna brought Courage to me, and because of that, I just wasn't ready to give up yet.

Definitely sappy, but it's a sentiment I still hold to.

I've been apprehensive about this day for the last six months. Courage is my third horse as an adult--the first, I sold on her three year anniversary of ownership. The second I put down on our second year mark. Both of them I planned to have forever. Courage isn't just the horse I own anymore. He's the one my dreams are made on. We're on a new adventure together and I love every minute.

I never thought I'd be seriously pursuing dressage. I never thought I'd be endlessly entertained by the perfect transition or the best geometry, but here I am.

With Courage.

I'm more interested in the day-to-day relationship with a horse than with big goals, but Courage is an enigma even now. He represents the farthest I've ever taken a horse I trained myself. His larger-than-life personality and his unfailing opinions make this journey special for us every day. I can introduce him to my friends and know he'll make a splash or I can take him to a show and know that I have nothing to be ashamed of.

We're on this journey together.

He isn't the horse I thought I wanted. This isn't where I expected to be. This isn't how it was supposed to happen.

But here we are.

There's no where else I'd rather be.

With Courage.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Teach Me Tuesday: Horse Treats

Alright, I'm curious. How do you feed horse treats? Do you trick train? Abstain completely?

I've known people all over the spectrum. I tend to give Courage a couple of carrots a day, but not at a particularly set for or for a fixed behavior because I don't want him to learn to anticipate them.
not an approved behavior
But there's so much more to treats than that. Do you make you own? Bake for the whole barn? How do you uses treats with horses?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Riding Vs Training

I've had some conversations with friends this weekend that got me thinking.

I am not a super pretty rider.

I really, really wish I was. I know what textbook correct looks like and eventually, I want to be there. Part of my hang up is that I simply haven't had a lot of dressage lessons. The other part is more complex.
just a few months post-track

Courage is starting to feel like a grown-up "trained" horse, which means he's more rideable, which means I can pay more attention to what I'm doing and a little less to being where he needs me each stride. I can tell you every single stride why I'm doing what I'm doing. It may not be the prettiest, but it's what my horse needs in the moment.

I'm going to be a little vain here, but it's hard to argue with my results.  Courage has gone from this:
To this:
also the indoor was a bloody brilliant decision

With me in the irons.

I used to bemoan the fact that my dressage position was sketchy at best, but anymore, I'm grateful that I didn't have to trash a beautiful position to train my horse (because for real, a greenie will wreck your position) and then have to hate myself for losing it. Instead, I'm excited that Courage is at a point where I can start to build a good position.
ooooo look i rode not-courage!
In my world, it is 100% more important to build a horse correctly than it is to pose and look pretty in the saddle.
this is pretty
I'm spending almost all of this summer just methodically building the horse I want to ride. The relaxation, connection, and engagement are all hugely important for when we try to move up, but even more important is trust.

Courage and I are finally in a good place together. I rode through his shenanigans last year because I had to, but this year we've reached an accord--he trusts me to not ask more than he can give and I trust him to do what I've asked. To me, that's the most important part. Looking pretty in the saddle will come. The movements will come.
What I've built this summer is the baseline to go forward from.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Didn't Ask, Definitely Telling

I've always called Courage a "flamboyant" horse.

By which I mean he is gay.

Here's a video of him and his gay roommate. Note that I posted it over a year and a half ago. Oh and before I drop it in here, let me warn you that more than one person who's seen it has shouted YOU CAN'T UNSEE THAT whether they like horses or not, so watch at your own risk.

Ahem. If you skipped the full video experience, I'm not judging you.

All that to say, it doesn't surprise me at all when we spend entire rides gawking at the curvy backsides of other geldings. I swear this is what Courage likes best about dressage--he's seen skinny thoroughbreds naked his whole life. He's ready for some CURVES.
mmmmm half spanish!

could barely pull him off this one. can i get a BADONKADONK? 
So when we found ourselves riding with the local grey Spanish dreamboat baby, I wasn't surpised that SOMEONE couldn't focus and just wanted to follow Dat Ass, but I was surprised how it worked out.

Courage promptly reverted to baby-like training levels. Seriously. Could barely steer. Couldn't make corners. Would just sort of collapse in a heap when asked for downward transitions.

I mean. The good news is that he felt sound (FINALLY).
yeah hind polos cuz i didn't wanna die
The bad news is that a certain bay horse needs to re-learn how to FOCUS when his horse crushes are in the ring with us. It's bad, people.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Gone Adulting (lol jk it's still me)

Because I am a responsible adult, I instantly used "SB got her job back" as an excuse to buy Courage a set of Euro-inspired knock-off dressage boots.
only the best for the vainest horse
I haven't used them at all because SOMEONE was CRIPPLED and I was pouting. Plus they're white and summer is gross and dusty with glaring light that makes photography both miserable and impossible. Plus having a job means I have to go to it sometimes which cramps my style occasionally (not actually complaining omg I love having a job).

Anyways. If you obsessively stalk all the cool instagrams (cough while unemployed of course), you've probably seen more expensive models of these boots floating around. I naturally wanted the Schockemohle dressage boots, but there was the slight issue of them costing roughly a billion dollars (aka $175 a set before shipping). That's kind of a lot for a horse who frequently decides he can't actually wear boots.

There's a slightly cheaper Eskadron version (and I do love Eskadron) but at $85 for fronts and $95 for hinds, I take it back they're actually not cheaper.

Horze also makes their "Laval" boot which costs $95 for a set of four and offers free shipping at that price point, but I have a slight problem with my mailman delivering a box with horze on it. I don't have much pride, but I just haven't crossed that bridge yet.

So anyways. I landed with a good old fashioned American knock-off job, aka the Centaur Classic Dressage Boots for like $68 shipped for a set of 4. When I told my friends I'd ordered them, I kept getting the same question:

"Do you think Courage will actually wear those?"

To which I say:

Uhhhhhhh maybe?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

July One Question: When to Speak Up About Bad Horsemanship

I tried to do the July 10 Questions blog hop that's been circling around, but I realized I was really only interested in one of the questions. I started typing my answer and it just kept going. I deleted the first 9 so I won't bore you and without further ado, here's the final question:

10. Have you ever seen questionable riding or training practices, but let it go/ignored it? How do you feel about it in hindsight?

I object to the notion that it's always my business to speak up when I disagree with something. I only know my small corner of the horse world and that only as much as a part-time ammy can.

It's a simple fact that I repeatedly choose the same kind of horse--short coupled, hot, intelligent--and thus I have developed a certain skill set that helps me within those parameters.

I certainly see many, many people handle horses in ways I would never choose to. As long as it's not my horse in question, I generally keep my opinion to myself. It's certainly possible that they have a handle on the truth that I do not. I'm open to trying new things and seeing different ways of training. I'm fascinated by watching different people work. I certainly recognize that the objectives I'm trying to achieve through straight dressage training are not the same as eventing, which has little in common with show jumping, and almost nothing with the breed show world or rodeo circuit.

Good horsemanship is good horsemanship. I can learn from almost any discipline. I love finding where horse worlds converge--hearing about forward energy from a hunter trainer or expecting proper ground work from the Clinton Anderson crowd.

Currently, I describe my training philosophies as a sort of Denny Emerson/Mark Rashid mishmash of listening to the horse and learning to remove all pressure and expectations. Fast is slow and slow is fast.

Obviously, this isn't the hot trend in the competitive world. The people at the top of any sport have a certain set of practices that they use to produce their athletes. Either a horse can deal with them or the horse falls through the cracks. This is for the simple reason that only a certain type of horse will work in their specific environment and they don't want to waste time on the ones that aren't going to pan out.

That's great for them. I guess. I mean, "falling through the cracks" at that level still generally means landing in a pretty ok place. Just because Boyd Martin can't make you an Olympic horse doesn't mean you can't still be an amazing Big Eq packer.

It's less great at the local level--people go ride with big time trainers and clinicians and learn their systems. Just like at the top, some horses make it and some horses don't. The problem is here--what happens to the ones that don't?

Courage hardcore flunked out of a program with a good trainer because it wasn't a good fit for him. That doesn't make him a bad horse, but it means that if I was committed to that program, I would have needed to get rid of him. I didn't. I found/created a program that works for us and we're slowly moving to a place where Courage is a productive member of equine society.

But that's our journey. As a blogger, the constant creation of written content pushes me to think about the process with my horse and analyze it more critically than if I just showed up to ride a few times a week.

If I watch another rider do things I find offensive with a horse, that doesn't mean the horse is being abused. It doesn't mean that my corner of the truth invalidates the corner another rider has. If you're a "pressure Pressure PRESSURE AND PERFORM" sort of rider, well, I find you kind of offensive. I think you're actively undermining the good training you have put on your horse, and I'm 99% sure you're going to whoop my ass at every show we go to. That's how the world works.

Should I speak up? Should I call you out because your experience is different than mine?

Probably not. After all, I'm the queen of fail photos and I'm not really the best at anything in particular. While I see as you frying a perfectly nice horse, you see as me wasting the potential of my horse who ought to perform at a higher level. And hey, if you're happy with your results and your horses are reasonably sound and well fed, bully for you.

We're on different paths.

Lest I sound like I hate everyone who beats me at shows (which is certainly not the case), let me also interject that I see the same or worse from people who wouldn't be caught dead at shows. Underfed or morbidly obese horses, blind commitment to an ideology no matter how it negatively affects the horse, or a complete lack of discipline that creates dangerous situations that horses get blamed for.

Whatever the flaws of the competitive horse world, there is the same and worse to be found in the backyards of people who would never go near a show. At least the show ring demands a presentable, blood-free animal with some basic skills. There is nothing like a public spotlight to pressure someone into cleaning up their image.

And of course, that's not to say that you have to show your horse to be a good horseman or decent human being. There are many different ways of addressing the same problem and rather than worry about which sphere to address it in, I say it's more important to learn what we can from everyone we meet so that we can make the best decisions possible for the horses we are responsible for.

Instead of claiming my chosen type of horsemanship is DEFINITELY the best and then sticking my nose in situations that are none of my business, I choose to watch a variety of people work and see what outcomes they have. Some are good. Some are less so. The horse never lies, does he?

Furthermore, there are definitely situations in which I will speak up--if I know someone looks up to me and respects my opinion, I will do my best to point them in a good direction. If a friend or equal directly asks for my opinion, I will give it with the understanding that it is, in fact, an opinion. I have been in the position where I worked for a trainer and a client of the trainer asked for my opinion--in that instance, I defer to the trainer.

Plain and simple, my philosophy is this: I will always strive to do my best to do right by my horse. I will endeavor to push those around me to do the same and to hold me to a high level of accountability. Beyond that, I would be hard pressed to speak up. I don't believe horse welfare is improved by snark, catty attitudes, and condescension.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Teach Me Tuesday: When Do You Clinic?

I'll be the first to admit I grew up riding in a pretty amazing situation--the trainer was kind and knowledgeable and encouraged us to get outside opinions as well as brought in clinicians that were complimentary to her training style. It was great.

It wasn't until I was an adult that I found out some trainers don't want their clients riding with other people and worse, not all clinicians are worth that much.

Then pile on top of that a horse who requires a VERY particular kind of ride and I find myself being increasingly picky about who I'll lesson or clinic with and even WHEN I'll do that lesson or clinic.
neither me nor my horse

So tell me, people of blogland, what factors influence your decision to do a clinic with an outside trainer? Are there times you absolutely won't? Do you hit every opportunity within reason? What's your happy middle ground?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Insert Frustrated Sounds Here

 I sort of think I could just drop this meme here and it would cover all my feelings about the past few weeks.

Two weeks ago, we couldn't work because Courage's toes were long and he was kinda on and off.

One week ago, he decided that stretchy trot was too hard and we couldn't work because we couldn't brain.

Oh and then last week, he wrapped up his bell boot-destroying-rampage by NEARLY SEVERING HIS LEG getting a probably-self-inflicted tiny cut and being COMPLETELY CRIPPLED.

Yeah no strikethrough on that one because it's actually true.
It's a long ways from his heart. It's not serious or scary or even really anything. If he was anything other than a giant princess thoroughbred, it wouldn't be swollen and he wouldn't notice it.
But noooooooo he is most definitely a princess and so I am (not actually a joke) tack walking, cold hosing, and buting him for a TINY CUT that BARELY broke the skin.
and repeat
You might say I'm massively overreacting and I 110% agree with you. IT'S A TINY CUT.

But. I discovered it Thursday morning when homeboy could barely touch his foot to the ground to hobble around because OMG CRIPPLED.

this is what crippled looks like
Gave him two days off with bute+cold hosing and he was still off at the trot. Did a couple more days tack walking but no bute or hosing and yeah, you guessed it, he blew the leg back up like a balloon.
also he wants a glove balloon
So yeah. I'd scheduled some lessons for this week and was hoping we could finally start moving forward again.
 which of you bitches ruined my plan by telling him?
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