Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Like Father, Like Son: The Story of a Courage

Emma got everyone talking about Thoroughbred pedigrees again, which is super cool. I really, really wish I was the pedigree queen who cared about breeding and shit, but I'm not and I don't. I do, however, have friends that are SUPER into it. So I coast on that.

My one friend who ought to blog and doesn't made me this. It's Courage's pedigree with photos of all the relatives she could track down, which is pretty cool.

His sire is Lord Carson.
def didn't get chrome from daddy

Courage was born 2005, so bred 2004. Per this article, Lord Carson's stud fee was 10k in 2002, 5k in 2003. Lord Carson won 12/27 races and made over 600k, so a decent stallion but not what you'd call "royally bred" or anything, other than his slightly pretentious name.

Oh and this. This TOTALLY sounds like Courage: "Grade 2 winner LORD CARSON (Carson City) died on March 16 due to head injuries he suffered while in the breeding shed. " Dramatic freak breeding accident? Yup. I can see that. Courage isn't even a stallion and he'd like to have one of those. Furthermore, depending on who you ask, that was either a totally random whoopsie or HIGHLY correlated with his rapidly plunging value in the breeding shed with an insurance renewal coming up. 

So that's kind of interesting. Definitely theatrical.

Courage is a pretty unique guy--I was initially attracted to his confidence and calm and when further poking around Lord Carson lore (who knew?!), I found these quotes about the plain bay stallion:

"The first time I got to ride him was in November of his three year old year and he was already built like a six year old."

That checks out. C has always been BEEFY. Like "his race trainer put him on a diet" style beefy. He's built and he's not ashamed of it.

"And he had the body awareness of a mature horse too. And confidence. He was a bay horse and he had a swagger. He walked slowly, purposely, with the confidence of a lion and a kind demeanor."

Dying laughing here. Check, check, and check. Courage believes in Courage and Courage does what Courage wants. He always takes care of himself, isn't racy or quick, and goddamn he's an incredibly confident horse. He's scared of nothing.

"Lord Carson showed speed and used it tactically as a weapon. He didn’t need to go as fast as he could and he clearly wasn’t running scared. Other horses didn’t intimidate him and he used his speed wisely and with intimidation. He was just so damn cool."

Yeaaaaaah pretty much. He's totally unbothered by other horses and actually tends to do things just to get under their skin.

And then this: "It was in this moment that I saw another side to my kind, confident, friend He was pissed!" and "As soon as I lowered my body a few inches Lord Carson accelerated and his stride lengthened so far and so powerfully that his body literally lowered four or five inches."

Emotional and overly sensitive? Hm who does that sound like?
not courage!!

It's all from this article, which is super entertaining if you're obsessed with Courage and his quirks.

Other horses in his past are either so far back I just can't get excited or are super hard to research on account of being named after American State Capitols (I'm looking at you, Carson City). Or you know. Never did anything interesting or were super important to anyone (cough Lori Gail wtf woman).

Courage is a genetic dead end due to the whole "gelding" thing, but it makes me laugh to know he comes by it all honestly.
racehorse courage!!

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Non-Hopping Blog: We're Getting Somewhere and I Like It

There's a blog hop going around now that shows striking before-and-after shots of the horses of the blog world we all know and love.

That's great. Love that hop.

But I always think that to participate, one should have "arrived" somewhere, you know? Like JenS had Connor from when he was a teeny baby and now he's showing recognized. And Carly knew Bobby as the muleish baby, but now he's a muleish dressage horse who has moves and stuff.

I thought about doing a progression of fails, but people think I'm down on myself or my horse or something when I get too involved with that.

Or I can do this:
 But all that really proves is that Alyssa has always been pretty freaking amazing, since she took both shots.

I've been chatting with Emma lately, and she reminded me that I have this giant backlog of text and image-based media called a "blog" in which I can actually check up on my progress from year to year.

So I looked.

Here's Courage in February of 2016:
rope halter tells me this was a subpar day
And here he is in October of 2016:
tack tells me i need to be better about taking conformation shots
To me, that says a lot, but it also misses a lot. Yeah, Courage is turning into something truly beautiful. I'm proud of him and I'm excited for what we do together. (It's cool y'all--we're back on the upswing.)

What a before and after doesn't show is the ugly we went through to get here.

when he decided he was uncatchable

when we started bolting every diagonal in every test

when biting Lindsey was the best plan

when we opted out of cantering
I take a lot of pictures (you might have noticed) and sometimes it's tempting to create this perfect online image where nothing ever goes wrong and Courage is always perfect. That's not realistic. Sure, I can cherry pick those images, but what's the point? Courage is a real horse. I'm a real person. We have good days and bad days.

And while yes, I can definitely tell you that Courage is improving on the whole, we're far from "arrived" and the struggle actually is real.
so real 
But thanks to that giant media backlog, I can review stuff like this. Here's Courage in January all animated and prancing. Look at his slack topline. Look at his leg movement. Look at the quality of the canter. There's some nice moments in there, sure, but this is about as animated as he's ever been so that's the absolute nicest you'd ever see at that time.

But hey! There are magic phones in the future (aka now) too, so I took another video the other day. I was just videoing some free lunging to catch his movement right now, but then he got "wild" and I was laughing too much to stop. Regardless. Here's current Courage:

Now maybe I'm a little too obsessive for most of y'all here, but I see a different horse. One whose normal trot is hella better (and the animated trot at the end is pretty damn fancy). I see a horse who canters in an entirely different way. I see a horse learning to use his body and not just careening around with his back totally stiff.

And one thing I know for sure about Courage is that he has to learn how to do things on his own before he can start to offer it under saddle.
didn't have this last year

So yeah. We're in a hard place in training and no one who watches us is like "mind.blown. olympics are calling and only you will do."

But we're trending in the right direction, taking small, incremental steps, and what the hell. I believe in the little guy. I believe in us.
this is old style courage bucking. it fixes nothing. the kicking out is new this year.
I mean, I'm dorkily excited about his bucking--Courage has always been so stuck in his body that he does not "self correct" issues. Where a normal horse is like "my back is tight/stuck. I will roll or buck hard to fix it," Courage just sort of stays tight. It's bad. I dunno how he's doing on the rolling front, but learning to buck could be a game changer for this horse. Not even kidding. At a minimum, it means he's learning to use his body in a whole new way, which is AWESOME. Potentially, it also means he's learning how his body should feel and taking steps to keep it that way himself. Omg. I will take it.
uhhhhh yeah don't overthink that
Just hopefully not under saddle because DAMN SON.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Hills and Valleys

Courage has not been on his A game lately. It's not exactly his "bottom of the barrel peace out yo" Z game, but riding has been more an exercise in mental gymnastics and patience than any sort of so-called "progress". 
did i mention it got cold? it did
I had a lesson in which we either EXPLODED FORWARD and basically ran down an (imaginary) hill or SLAMMED ON THE BRAKES and tried to reset. It was not pretty or fun. During Trainer's next ride, Courage was perhaps better, but I about gave myself ulcers watching him go around.

Then we added one last minute ride in a clinic because I don't know, I make good life choices. I lunged Courage in the outdoor before our ride time inside and it was... well... there was a lot of bolting and one time he ran backwards into the fence, but we did come to some sort of accord so that's good I guess.

Then I got on and the clinician asked how he was. I was like "omg hurray we're going the direction I picked!"
it's something
But apparently there's more to riding than that. The clinician pointed out that Courage was just sort of bracing his back and neck and turning his head without every actually yielding his body.

She put us right to work--overbend with him really deep in the neck to position his body to show him how to use his back.

And damn girls--when he got it, it felt good.
things are moving
We did not always get it. In fact we did not get it a lot more than we did. And even when we did get it, it sort of all fell apart when I tried to change directions without losing it.


We did a lot of counterbend around circles with LOTS of bend, and Courage didn't check out. We asked him to really sit and push from behind, and he stayed with me. We did some GOOD changes of direction maintaining that loose, moving back, and he was right there.

So yeah, at about the 30 minute mark in a 45 minute lesson, Courage decided his brain was done and started running sideways and I made Trainer get on and she was like "he's legit done for today guys", but you know what?
little bay horse <3
This was good. Not in a "hip hip hooray such a fun day" sort of way, but in that Courage was able to accept and process and learn concepts that are legitimately hard for us right now and even when he got overwhelmed and needed to be done, it was a discreet "exit stage left" versus the full-on-flail that y'all know and love.
the wheels, they are turning

Oh and the kind auditors at the clinic took like 18 minutes of video for y'all but I was mid phone changeover and it all got wiped off the phone memory so all that remains are a couple still shots. Sorry not sorry.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Firstiest First World Problem

I've been in need of some distraction lately, so I'm sure you're all super shocked I turned to obsessing over tack. 

It's.... happened before... in case you were wondering why I all of a sudden have two patent leather cavessons and a new twist on a blue padded piece, well, that was last month's distraction that just happened to arrive. Don't judge.

Anyways. I have a lot of bridles. Despite what most people think, I'm not a hoarder and I like to keep my options open, so I'd like to have somewhat less bridles. That means I have to tally up the bridles/looks I have and then decide what stays and what goes.

Let's start easy--


Haha well our open show debut prompted this second-most-recent (I think? I lost count) addition to the collection.
Horse size Dover Circuit bridle. Tobacco leather, fancy stitched, plain cavesson, traditional crown. Got it for a screaming deal and this reminds me, I said I'd do a craft project and dye it. Maybe next month. Don't hold your breath. 

Also in the brown category:
do you remember this one? Had it forever.
Cob size Nunn Finer figure eight in havana with stainless buckles. If you're sitting over there like "wtf sb I've never seen this bridles before", well, you have. It just usually looks like this:
with the custom race noseband and sweet Dark Jewel Designs gameday browband 


this with the fancy Topline Leather sparkles and ebay-find cavesson for when mamma needs a standing, which is always. 

Believe it or not, that's all the brown bridles I own right now. Excluding my western bridle which is sort of tan colored. Whatever. It only half counts. You don't get a pic.


Despite my early-life loathing of black leather, I now own quite a lot of it. I'll try to go in order of what I've had the longest, but my memory is only so good.
red barn
There's my Red Barn Capriole bridle, which I think was my first legit dressage bridle that was not PS of Sweden? I don't remember. Anyways. Very classic look. Very conservative. It's the dressage bridle your mother would want you to buy. Accommodates a flash (which I have) and the unused tabs really don't bother me. 

Shown here with my birthday browband from Browbands With Bling

I guess next up would be my dressage Frankenbridle.
This bridle is some mishmash of random parts--I think it might be horse size bobby's crown, cob size bobby's cheeks, super legit retro noseband from an enabling friend, and of course one of my crown jewels, the Absolute Courage browband from Topline Leather. Yeah it's named after him. ;-) 

Hmmmm probably next would be Otto, who was already introduced via his own personal blog post, but here goes:
Otto is of course a cool retro Otto Schumaucher bridle with a traditional crown and crank cavesson but no flash. Otto rocks the self-colored braid on the nose and brow and is the only bridle I own with no sparkles. Fun fact: I even bought a pair of plaited (not braided) reins to go with Otto because it seemed like the thing at the time. I like Otto. 

Then there's this contraption:
not my franken
A friend gave me a very fancy custom-made-for-her-horse patent monocrown noseband because it was not made well and didn't fit her horse. I had to borrow a monocrown headstall off her to try it on C. I left the flash on and added sparkles and if you notice he looks a little cranky, it's because even my superstar model OTTB eventually gets tired of head shots. Honestly, I really like the crown this bridle hangs on (but it's a little too big for C) and I'm less in love with the noseband? 

I dunno. Patent is new for me. 

But you can't just try one patent nose, can you?? 

I mean, I was pretty enchanted with the one I tried on C last winter. Noted: I never owned this bridle and haven't actually bought it for myself yet. Do love how it looks on his head.
So that one isn't/wasn't mine, but this one is. I call him Bachelor #1.
Let's just say I was stress shopping and there was potentially more than one bachelor coming home so they got numbers. Um. It escalated from there and I'll explain later. This is totally a knockoff of that super trendy Otto you see running around dressage shows. I found it on British eBay, tracked it to a uk tack shop I'd never heard of, and got a screaming deal on it. Padded crank, monocrown, decent leather, has a flash, yada yada. Did not love my shopping experience and didn't really have time to get enamored with this bridle. (Hint: if you want it, buy it from me or eBay. Don't waste you life at the tack shop.)

This happened next:
See, I just so happen to be friends with my browband ladies and one of them heard I was looking for something cool and different and colored and custom and she sent me to Uisce Saddlery.  Never heard of them? Me either. 

However, another friend piled on with the recommendation and when I sent an inquiry on a specific item, the response was prompt, articulate, and polite. Oh and the price was KILLER. OH AND I GOT A FULL CUSTOM PIECE IN 10 DAYS. Not kidding. From inquiry email to product arriving at my door step was ten days. Quality is good, service was incredible, 10/10 I owe them a proper blog write up. 

But see, that's a lot of bridles for a horse who goes in one bit and a snaffle bridle and no flash and don't want his cranks cranked. Plus, as a working adult ammy, I'd like to have 1-2 (ok fine let's be real it's me) 2-3 bridles at the barn to maintain vs trying to clean an entire tack shop's worth of booty every couple weeks.

So. For a dressage horse in a snaffle bridle. What's your favorite and why? What would you sell and what would you keep? 

PS What if I just kept one bridle at the barn. Can you imagine? Would you even recognize me? DO PEOPLE EVEN DO THAT? 

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Plan (such as it is, subject to change)

Someone needs to tell 2016 that October is over. Until they do, I guess I'll appreciate the hearty doses of perspective I keep getting served up.

Here's where I'm at:

1) I really, genuinely like this horse and I'm (still) not ready to give up on him.
2) This year was really, genuinely awful and I don't want to do it again.

From where I sit, it looks like Courage is advancing well in his dressage training. On the days he shows up to play, he works hard, tries hard, and is definitely making progress. His body is changing. His muscles are changing.

Those days are great.

But there are also days where he flat doesn't show up to work. Doesn't want to play. Can't deal with life. Not just "a little bit doesn't want to" or "needs to go for a hack"--we're talking completely unmanageable, borderline dangerous, brain checked out, not coming back to earth stuff.

Everyone is going to have bad days, but for this to be worth it to me, the bad days need to be less frequent and they need to be less dramatic.

See, here's what's really interesting to me about this. For all his antics, Courage is never trying to get rid of me and he's really never trying to get away. He's massively claustrophobic, yes, but he's also terrified of freedom. He may leap and rear and bolt on the lunge line, but he never pulls away from me. He may break free at the trailer, but he immediately stops and wants to be caught.

That grabs my attention. This isn't a horse saying EFF YOU HUMANS. It's a horse with some rather severe emotional issues, but still issues that might be overcome-able.

And again, while I don't enjoy the leaping/bolting/flailing, I can and will ride it. We changed disciplines and trainers and everything for him and I don't resent him for that. Those things are fine with me, but I also need him to work with me on this.

The dressage training is definitely helping the good days, but I'm not sure it's improving the bad ones and I question trying to ask a pressure-averse horse to accept more pressure on days when he's already peaced out. If I show up and it's clearly a "not" day, saying "go sideways and step underneath yourself" doesn't seem to improve anything.

So I need a different approach. Something that addresses Courage's emotional instability and claustrophobia and teaches him different responses.

Dare I say it? We're officially in search of a good local cowboy. There will probably be a round pen. Pool noodles? Balloons? Flags? God only knows.

This is not something I undertake lightly--Courage is at best a fragile horse mentally, and I am not going to risk having him fried by someone who doesn't understand what we're after. I don't care if he can walk over bridges or get in the back of trucks or have guns fired off him or whatever. I don't need razzle dazzle and pizzaz.

I'm in search of someone who can get through to my man C-rage on an emotional level and help him learn some coping skills.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Existential Crisis x2

I have a standing Tuesday lesson. Theoretically. Last week, it got interrupted by a much-needed conversation with friends, which I was fine with because Courage did not show up to play and I figured it was good for him to at least have to stand there and have someone sit on him even if it wasn't what he really wanted.

Then there was this past Tuesday. I prepped--I had a decent-but-quiet ride Sunday and then went for a nice toodle Monday. No pressure. No pushing. At no point did I even pick up the reins. Just 25 minutes of hacking on the buckle, then eat cookies. 

I showed up for my Tuesday lesson. I had enlisted Alyssa to gather media. My mind was clear and calm. I caught my horse out of the field. I tacked up. 

And I got on tense horse who did not show up to play. 
and then trainer was like "uh get off and lunge before you die"

At all.
yup again. except because trotting. at home. in a straight line.

At. All. 

I've been struggling with this relationship (again) lately. I'm putting everything I can into it. I've changed trainers. Barns. Disciplines. I've backed off, started over, consulted pros, read and researched. I'm doing the absolute best I can. 

I've put almost two years into this horse in his present discipline. I've done over three years in total. We quit jumping, because he didn't like it. We left good trainers, because he didn't like them. We quit going to shows, because he wasn't coping. 

And three years later, it feels like he's less reliable than he was straight off the track. 

Now, I know Dr. Chiweenie and his cohorts Dr. Google and Dr. Internet are sitting over there screaming HE HAS ULCERS AND KISSING SPINES AND BAD CHI AND AND AND AND because trust me, not only do they comment here, but they also feel obliged to email me personally about how they are eminently qualified to diagnose actual medical conditions via computer. (They're the Dr. Phil AND Judge Judy, but of vet med.) But ok. 

Let's say I have 3-5k just sitting around to dump into this horse via various vet methods. 

Why the hell would I do it. 

Honestly, at this point, it sure seems like it would make more sense to buy a 3-5k horse that could, you know, be ridden regularly. Go to shows and not completely lose his shit. Actually try for me occasionally. 

It's not like I'm trying to get to the world championships of something. Hell, I don't care if I go to the regional championships. 

But I don't think it's unreasonable to want to go to a goddamn local schooling show and have a horse I can actually ride. I don't think it's nuts to expect that a horse living in it's ideal situation plus part time pro training to w/t/c around an arena a few days a week. I really don't. I think 99% of horses ought to be able to do that most of the time. 

I don't know why mine can't. I'm seriously questioning why he's mine in the first place. My trainer never, ever gives up on anyone and that's a great feature about her, but this is her livelihood. It's my hobby. That I do for fun. And maybe, if I stick it out and I don't know, spend the winter attending natural horsemanship clinics, I'll not only be able to ride my horse occasionally, but I'll also be the next freaking Tom Dorrance.
you can call me the wild stallion tamer
Or maybe I'm trying to force a situation that's never going to work. Maybe I'm putting years I'll never get back into a horse that isn't going to come around. Maybe it isn't meant to be. Maybe the reason I feel like I dump my heart and soul into this and get nothing back is because I'm missing the really obvious clues that this is never going to be a thing and maybe we'd all be better served if I moved on.

I don't have any answers right now. 

I know I don't believe in making decisions in the heat of the moment. I know that the fail photos I have plastered all over the internet would definitely be an impediment to selling. Come to think of it, this blog probably wouldn't help either. 
uh so if the whole thing disappears overnight, you know why
I'm at a loss, guys. It's not one bad ride or one missed lesson. It's not one bad show or one more stupid bolt. It's consistent. He's reliably unreliable for me. 

And frankly, I'm not sure why I'm here right now. It isn't fun. It isn't working. I'm learning a lot about how to manage a thousand pound diva that doesn't want to play, but I'm really not advancing my individual skill set in terms of moving up any level in any discipline and we're rapidly reaching the end of my willingness to put this much in to a situation and get nothing back. 
unless you counting lost shit. we have that in spades.
Maybe he needs to go to shows and do nothing but hand walk for the next five years. Maybe he just needs a change of scenery and a new person to thrive. Maybe if I stick it out another six months, I'll have a second level horse schooling third. 

Or maybe someone else will. And maybe they'll show up with him and beat me and my stupid new project horse I got off a feedlot somewhere at the third level championships.

But I'll go home and know that I have a partner who shows up to work. 

Honestly, that's all I want. The ability to work towards a goal with a reasonable expectation that we can achieve it. 

Is that so unreasonable?
PS I was obviously very emotional when I wrote this. I debated not posting it because it's quite raw, but what the hell. I specialize in being honest and this is/was honestly how I feel right now. So. Either that makes me a whiny bitch or I guess it's relateable that we all struggle sometimes. 
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