Monday, January 30, 2017


Back when my car acted as a mechanical brake for a much larger truck, the doctor told me I wouldn't ride for a while and I was like "BLAH BLAH BLAH I AM MOCKING YOUR OVERLY CONSERVATIVE DIAGNOSIS". 


That was December 2. 

I didn't sit on a horse again until January 20, at which point I realized my physical therapist was not kidding around about my body not working, which I guess I'd already figured out from how I hadn't been able to function normally in well over a month and spent Christmas on the couch in pain, but you know. Slow learner sometimes. 

My first time back on Courage, I felt like one of those inflatable punching bag-clowns that wobbles around and has no legs. 
why is there not a gif of this
Side note: if you ever get sent to PT, GO. It is the most amazing thing ever. The ninja goddess gave me my life back. 

Anyways. I worked very, very hard in and out of therapy and did all my exercises and carefully followed all the instructions because I didn't just want to ride one time--I wanted to get better and be a normal person again. 

And finally, this happened:

I even made another boarder video because I was so excited that I felt good enough to get on and walk for 20 minutes. 
don't worry, i didn't video all 20 minutes

It's crazy how much can change in what was basically two months away from riding. Courage spent that time lunging and going in circles with no changes of direction to speak of. I spent them losing fitness and compensating for pain. 
you don't need a pic of me on the couch
I'm on the upswing now, but it's a long road back. Courage is a very narrow horse, but it felt like my hips and pelvis were getting stretched WAAAAAAY out because I haven't done anything like riding in so long. I'm definitely not trotting-ready. My reflexes are not there and my balance is a bit tenuous. I kept to the "safe" end of the arena and we spent a good chunk of time standing and watching the other horse go around because I just didn't feel ready to tackle a spook or a lot of tension. 

I want to just fire on all cylinders and go for it, but realistically, I can't. I'm trying to ease back into my life. 

I have to think of it like reconditioning a horse after a long layoff. We're going to walk until I feel balanced and comfortable and like my reflexes are actually keeping up. I'm going to try and supplement that with walking my dogs and getting back into pilates (carefully, but PT said it was a good idea). 

Hopefully, Courage can go back into training soon, but I don't want him getting fitter/more reactive than I can handle before I'm ready, so jury is out on that one. 

And I hate to admit it, but the stupid concussion is still slowing me down substantially. I have almost no emotional filter and I get overwhelmed really easily. I try to do one thing a day, and if that doesn't work out, my couch still loves me. 
and this teeny sassy dog loves me too
It's stupid. I hate it. I hate that I'm not the person I was and I can't do the things I used to, but that's where I'm at and that's what I have to deal with, so there it is. 
and i wore my sparkle helmet like a badass

So yes. I rode my horse and it was awesome and you should have seen the proud little look on his adorable face like "yay am riding horse again best at horsing", but I just enjoyed the moment and didn't take a picture. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Trials of Owning an Equine Supermodel

Not infrequently, I get asked by people how it is I have so many gorgeous pictures of Courage all the time. 

As tempting as it is to just bust out, "because I'm a bloody amazing photographer, bitches!" the truth is that Courage is a natural model. He's really, really, really ridiculously good looking and it's all the freaking time. That poses some natural challenges for me, his human accompaniment. Here is a list of some of them.

1) I'm not a super model. 

Unlike Courage, I have lumps and bad hair days and sometimes, my outfit just isn't cutting it. 
one of us is killing it
I mean, I love my hoodie and I'm fine with spending more time dressing C than myself every day of the week, but it does make for some unflattering contrasts. 

2) Everywhere we go, he gets recognized. 

I mean. It's fine. I know I'm his primary admirer and I'm the one who makes him famous, but basically every time the horse goes out in public, I hear "ooooooh look that's Courage". 
he always makes a splash
Do you know how many times I have been recognized in public? One. 

3) He requires an extensive wardrobe. 

You ordinary, average horse just wears whatever and nobody notices. 
yes more than one fully custom bridle
Courage is just so eye-catching and distinctive that I have a public duty to keep him in a steady lineup of finery. 

4) He needs more out of photographers. 

With Courage, I don't need some out-of-focus ass shot from that awkward moment in trot where it looks like the horse has two legs as sad proof of his existence. 

No. I need a PHOTOGRAPHER, someone who has high standards, excellent taste, and an eye for magic. Oh, and they have to like us enough that I can afford them, since all-out, pro-level photo shoots are just not in the budget every week.

5) It never stops. 

I can get all dolled up and look cute for a couple hours (hey, be nice), but then I revert to normal, you know? I think Carhartts are a good fashion statement. 
hullo fabulous
Whether Courage has pro lighting and accompaniment or he's just standing in his stall waiting for me to get my act together, he looks amazing. Like. Knock it off already. 
just posing like nbd
I don't have tips to make your horse a supermodel--I'm pretty sure it's just a genetic thing that makes Courage the way he is. I can say that if your horse doesn't spend his free time practicing showing off his best angles, thank your lucky stars. It's harder to get a good picture, but easier to look like you belong together.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Courage Meets the Fauxssoa

Between the non-linear process of recovery (I still love you, Ashley the Ninja Goddess) and the varying degrees of horrible that our weather has been lately, I'm still pretty well grounded. There are definitely good days now, but dayum this is a long way to have to come back from a totally non-cool injury. 

It's not like "AND THEN I JUMPED XC WITH THREE BROKEN BONES" (been there) or "I hit my head so hard the world turned purple" (been there) or even "no one legged up the jockey because they all thought I was going to pass out in the paddock (been there too). This is just "I got rear ended so hard that the car people made me go in the shop and see my poor stripped-down little car and were all "DAMN YOU GOT HIT HARD" and I'm like "yeah guys I was there".
slush puddle today, ice rink tomorrow
So anyways. As much as I'm not a lunging person in general, it's a good thing Courage likes ground work cuz that's all we've got. I already spread the good news about Vienna Reins, and then Teresa made me an offer I couldn't refuse on a Fauxssoa, so that happened too. That was actually weeks ago. In fact, she kept asking how he was doing in it.



Courage is super claustrophobic in general and weird about ropes in particular. And the idea of holding one end of a lunge line attached to giant panicking horse trying to escape from the scary-rope-box just didn't appeal to me, especially not when my body is on the more useless end of the spectrum lately.

So once a week for the last couple weeks, I'd carry the bag the fauxssoa was in to the indoor with me, then set it by the viewing area, then lunge in vienna reins, then take all the gear back and put it away. I never even took it out of the bag she shipped it in. After all, it was useful for keeping the fauxssoa tidy in my trunk.
staring at it like no you get up first

And that's just how it's been. Courage is doing really well in the vienna reins. I'm happy. He's actually very polite to lunge, which I appreciate.

However, there is a limit to the amount of boredom the human psyche can handle, and that limit plummets when the weather briefly turns our ice into slush so last weekend, I got all wild and crazy and actually took the fauxssoa out of the bag in the arena. I had promised video of the first time C tried it on because we all know how he is, but what you really needed was a time-lapse video of me attempting to figure the stupid thing out and adjust it and probably another one of the even-longer process of taking it off.
he thought it was funny for sure
Regardless. I put it on the horse. Eventually. I even took video. If you're like me and you hate video, the first 10 seconds are amusing.

If you watch the video, it's a reasonably non-dramatic introduction to a new apparatus. I like the first part a lot because he's unsure and he comes to me to protect him instead of leaving, which is fantastic. I missed some of his better hops, but some are in there. I didn't take the sound away (see again: brain damaged), so you can hear that I had to work pretty hard to keep him going.

It's just an introduction, so I don't really have any conclusions for you. It was less dramatic than I expected. Courage is clearly bothered that it's touching his butt, so I was having a hard time getting him to move out, but at the same time, the compressed stride it produced is excellent for the work we're doing.
this is weight lifting
He was very interested in stretching WAY down, which was interesting. I like that he's eliminating the "drop the flaccid neck" response and lifting the base of his beck while still stretching.
But he's also barely moving and really didn't want to go forward. I'm curious to see how he responds if/when I work him in it more. I anticipate that he'll work through the tuck-your-head-between-your-knees-and-kiss-your-bum-goodbye response as he acclimates to the butt rope, but I'm not sure what it's advantage over Vienna reins will be once that happens. I'm also a bit terrified of the amount of straps/clips/adjust-y thing-ys there are, so if you're strapped for time or it's ass-cold outside, I'd definitely pick up the Vienna reins instead.

I'd like to be stunning and witty and hilarious, but I'm running out of brainpower... unless you want to hear about that one time I fell in a puddle and got stranded on an iceflow in the dark?

Yeah no. World's least coolest injury strikes again.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

How to Build a Canter (during snowpacalypse while concussed when your friends will kill you if you ride)

This post goes out to the like... two of you who aren't bored out of your skull by lunging and training. But my world is solid ice with 10" of snow on the way and I still can't ride and I want to think about something I don't hate.

I'd be lying through my teeth if I said I was happy that I haven't sat on my horse since November, but our winter of SB crippling out to the barn and putting Courage on a lunge line is having some interesting side effects. See, Courage has a super shitty canter.
Well. That's not really true. He canters in ONE WAY. He tenses his underline and PLUNGES into canter and moves his body via momentum instead of strength. To me, that's why he can jump beautifully but everything goes to shit in between the fences--his technique is superb, but if he gets an off distance, he doesn't have the physical ability to change his canter to fix it and panics. I cannot say whether the canter is genetic thing or racing thing or a brain thing or what. I can just say that is what I have.

The past few weeks in the Vienna reins have been utterly fascinating for me. Courage is now trotting regularly like this:
I'm not scrubbing the whole video for the perfect screen shot. I'm pulling a ton of screen shots and going "omg how do I choose". To me, this shot shows a moment of suspension allowed by Courage swinging through his whole body. I see withers lifted, topline engaged. I'd like to see more from behind, but this is new for us and that's where he's at. He walks like a panther, his w/t/w transitions are gorgeous, and everything is peachy.

The vienna reins aren't magic--they just set some parameters and allow him to find his balance within a certain range. I keep them adjusted pretty long because I don't want him to feel trapped, though not too long, because they don't need to flap uselessly. Plus, I'm not here for a headset. It's critical that I focus on Courage keeping his hind end moving so he's tracking up (at least) at both walk and trot. That is what mechanically asks him to move his back and use his body. If I let him get "behind the leg" as it were, he'd just be stuck in a pose and dumped on the forehand with his back jammed up.
no pics of that

But what about the canter?

This is what is the most interesting for me. Canter is and always has been a hot button issue for us. The transitions are bad and the canter itself isn't better. Under saddle, the standing martingale has limited the leaping and bolting, but not stopped it and we haven't been able to change it.

So basically we have two isssues:
1) Courage doesn't understand how to step up into canter the way he can walk to trot and
2) Courage doesn't understand how to push from behind, lift his withers, and canter correctly

We can only address one issue at a time, because reality. However, this is a serious chicken/egg issue--you can't really canter well out of a bad transition, but you also can't really get a good transition to a bad gait. So.

The past few weeks, I've intentionally set Courage up for the best transition possible t/c, then just taken what he's given me and worked the canter itself. That brings us shots like this:
up transition shit but oh well
Again, this was very intentional. I needed Courage to find a good canter that was balanced and comfortable. I had to play with this A LOT to get there.

I'd assumed that because his balance was not good and claustrophobia is his go-to, that we'd do big circles and go freely forward, but no. What I found was that if I kept Courage on a 10-15 meter circle and VERY engaged, I could get a few strides of the canter in the picture above. As soon as I got those strides, I'd ask for a downward transition or if he lost his balance, just let him drop to trot and reorganize. This actually makes sense--I'm asking him to change his whole way of going and to do that, I need to make a difference every stride, not just let him cruise around.
balanced and moving forward softly
It took a while, but Courage was starting to get where he actually had a semi-decent canter. He couldn't hold it long and his upwards transitions were not good, but he was starting to have consistent, good downward transitions and was able to make a couple 10-15 meter correct canter circles.

But transitions are important.

And again, doing the same thing wasn't working. No matter how well I set him up, the best transition I could get was this:
not attractive. video here if super interested.
 We got it down to one or two strides of blast off and way-less-blasty-blast off, but even with the small circles and extra transitions and good canter, we weren't breaking through to the next level. The only way Courage understood to get to the canter was to drop his withers, invert, and lunge.

The vienna reins do set parameters, but I didn't want to crank them in and force a headset to get my point across. Besides, if there's something Courage is the best at, it's bracing on the least resistance possible. So. Crank him in, create a new fun version of this problem. Whee!

So we tried another different approach.

I hooked Courage up in the vienna reins like usual, but instead of my normal "walk til he's soft and reaching, w/t/w transitions on a small circle until he's soft in the body, gradually move him out to a bigger circle and ask for more trot etc etc etc", I immediately put him on a small 5-8m circle and asked him to reach for the contact from the lunge line.
then this video

IE, instead of maintaining a position through his own good graces, I wanted him to actively seek what I was offering. I didn't care what gait and we definitely had some frenetic "omg wtf you crazy human i must leave" moments, but every time he backed off, I asked for more. Every time he hollowed, I made his circle smaller, and when he took an honest contact and went forward, we gradually moved onto a bigger circle.

As he began to understand the question, I started asking for actual gaits. Same as with his downwards though, I let him give me what he had and there was zero pressure or punishment if it wasn't quite right--we'd just do it again. Think ask for canter transition, but as long as he thinks about trying, don't ask again or push or punish. Just keep going, because Courage is enough of an overachiever at this point that I absolutely respect his try and don't want to frazzle him.

Our first videoed transition looks like this:
Yeah it's not great, but what I see is lifted withers and an honest attempt to step up, if somewhat mediocre execution. But instead of star gazing, he's a little bit thinking about the contact.

And then I had this canter:
Withers lifted, hind leg stepping under, topline engaged.

And he even offered me this moment:
 It was half a stride, not a circle, but Courage offered a stretch in the canter of his own accord, which means he felt balanced and comfortable enough to experiment with his frame. I'll take it.

 We kept working the transitions and by the end, I had this:
I don't see this frame and think "omg pirouette canter", but I don't care. What I see is a horse that's giving me his best shot right now. Instead of launching his front end and leaving his ass behind, Courage is stepping up into the canter, he broke at the poll, and he's thinking very hard about using his topline. I mean. Look. That underneck is almost slack. Yeah, I'd like to see him lift his withers and be a little more uphill, but that will come.

It's a long, slow, tedious process, no two ways about it. I am absolutely fascinated by figuring out ways to break this down for him and I love watching it start to come together.

Now someday, I need to be able to actually get on the damn horse and see if any of this pans out under saddle.
this one time, i put tack on him for no reason
C'mon SB's body. Get it together.

Monday, January 16, 2017

It Went Shopping, Part the Second

As y'all are aware, Courage is a dressage horse. As you are probably also aware, I wish he would jump. I mean, the horse jumps likes this:
But for complicated biomechanical reasons we aren't going to get in to right now, he is better off not jumping regularly with me. The point is, I have a jump saddle. The saddle really doesn't fit me great and it really doesn't fit him that well.

So while I'm out wandering the internet and buying anything in plain sight, I stumbled across a certain French Gentleman.

In case you weren't aware, Canadian dollars are basically monopoly money, so omg super cheap!! And yes, of course I know both Courage and my specs in the various French saddles. It's just part of being a tack ho.

Anyways. I went all crazy-go-nuts and bid on the French Gentleman and then drove Teresa and Leah nuts counting down the hours on the auction (quote: "you're giving me a saddle ulcer."). Those of you penny pinchers out there ought to be proud of how I didn't just completely freak out when I got outbid in the final minutes and let the Frenchman go to someone else.
too much monopoly $ for me
But here's the thing: just because I missed out on on wildly excellent deal I didn't need doesn't mean I can't look for another. #youmightbeatackho

I tried to be objective about it. I don't need a shiny new Frenchman. I only jump a few times a year. I just want something that fits both of us well enough to be safe and balanced. I don't jump enough to spend a lot.

And I want a monoflap.


I do.

So I scoured the entire internet. Sadly, all the monoflap Frenchmen were 3-5k+, which isn't in my price range for a saddle for a discipline I actually do, much less one I dabble in once a quarter.
and it has been reasonably pointed out that i'm not even riding right now

But then I stumbled across this one saddle:
18" medium tree monoflap saddle. Reasonable asking price. A friend has one and raves about it, but she rides a horse different than mine and I've never sat in it. It's a bit of an off-brand and it's not French, but it's affordable.

Despite what you think, I'm a pretty frugal person. I hemmed and hawed and tire kicked and gave Leah a jump on another saddle ulcer. Oh and I definitely didn't tell Alyssa because she's a bit of a hater on the tack purchases unless they're purple. But I didn't want a purple monoflap.
did want  purple polos. got them.

The seller agreed to a trial, but we went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth on price and details and weren't really coming to an agreement. I will close a deal NAOW if I really want something, but I didn't neeeeeeed it per se and I didn't know if it would fit and ehhhhh that's a big risk for me.

Finally, I told the seller I'd keep looking. (Translation: try to sell my current saddle so I actually have a budget and can start making sexy eyes at Frenchmen on ebay).

She said toodles.

Then she countered with an offer lower than my last offer. And the trial I wanted. And threw in some accessories. So I guess it was less like "countered" and more like "caved".
celebratory dinner party for one
I paid her. Things got weird.

Funny joke no. They were already weird. But once I paid her, the weird hit new and bizarre levels, including the seller messaging me to demand more money because she'd rather get more than than she told me she'd sell for, which is a fascinating way of doing business to be sure.

Not gonna lie, it was three days of sheer entertainment. The negotiations kept getting crazier. I laughed out loud a lot.

But at the end of day three, I was out $$$ and didn't feel like shelling out more to get a saddle I only half wanted and didn't actually need. So I asked for a refund, and to the seller's credit, she promptly complied.

And that is the story of how I both bought and didn't buy a saddle, but sold a bridle to finance it and thus ended up with a hearty paypal balance and we all know paypal money isn't real money, so I rolled that balance into purchasing...


to be continued...

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What's Up With Courage

Lately, this blog has been mostly SB having meltdowns and stress shopping, which is pretty good entertainment I think. But hey, my wild-mustang-dressage-stallion is still burning hay, so I thought you might want to know what's going on with him.
When we (more or less) left off, he was in pro training 2x a week and I was riding the other days. Then BAM no riding for me. Between the godawful weather and Courage being a "challenging" horse, trainer said that riding him 2x a week was a hazard to everyone (she's not wrong) and we agreed to pick up again when I'm back in the saddle.
tail straight in air=no fun for anyone
Courage was essentially untouched for the month of December. It was mostly because I was at home in crippling pain, but Lindsey made me feel good about it by saying he probably needed a brain reset anyways and maybe a month to himself would give us more information and let him de-stress a little.
all wild mustangs wear blankets. yes.
Welllllllll let's just say the information I garnered was that Courage does really, really poorly with time to himself. The horse went feral. He was uncatchable. Un-handle-able. Unlikable. He spooked at everything and the few times I saw him, was a complete idiot. Like. Let's not talk about the night it took me 45 minutes to catch him in the indoor and then he soaked through two coolers. (And made me late on pain meds and omg that night hurt very very much).
horse shaming has it's own billboard
I'm finally starting to feel human again (many thanks to Ashley the Ninja Goddass, aka my Physical Therapist), so Courage is going back to work. Auntie Crystal recommended vienna reins for him, and despite my initial misgiving, these babies are life changing for Courage.
um hellooooooo
However, godawful weather has been a constant around here. Not a joke--we're breaking all the records since before they started keeping records. Which is stupid. But regardless, between me feeling like a steaming pile of poo most of the time and the roads being somewhere between "dangerous" and "terrifying" for most of the past few weeks, I get to the barn about three times a week.
who recognizes this horse? i do not
We're just lunging in vienna reins, which is actually super interesting to do with Courage, but not super interesting to talk about doing. For example, Courage physically doesn't understand how to step up into the canter like a dressage horse--he just tenses his underneck, braces, and flings himself. The shit transition translates into a shit gait and the whole thing is a shit show.
what? no. surely not this horse!
So. Since I can't ride, I've spent lots of time experimenting with how to explain to Courage that he can step up from behind and stay soft in his body. We do lots of spiral in/spiral out with w/t transitions until he's forward and through. And then we do trot/canter transitions with the same idea and just stay calm and patient.
withers lifted, hind legs stepping through. omg.
See, most of you checked out already because lunging is massively boring to do, much less to talk about doing. BUT. You'll notice that is a canter picture. And I don't usually post canter pictures because canter is not our thing.
i made a trail of shavings over the ice!
The Ninja Goddess says riding is 1-2 weeks out. The realist in me says riding a certain Wild Mustang Dressage Stallion with no turnout in a spooky indoor with snow sliding off the roof in subfreezing temps is not a great idea for a recent neck injury, even when one has a brain injury to impair one's judgement. The weather man says we're in for a deep(er) freeze.
this is why you have no friends, weatherman.
But spring is coming, I will get better, and someday, I will sit on my horse again.

Dammit. Just you wait.
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