Monday, August 25, 2014

Steepleview 2014: Long Version

Optional musical accompaniment to this post:

I didn't eat or sleep normally for the past week. Too many nerves. But Friday afternoon, I was able to get everything packed and ready to go before heading out to walk the course. As usual, everything was beautifully prepared and wonderfully set up. The course was gorgeous and inviting (and counter-clockwise; I was right!). I was so excited that I barely got any sleep before Saturday.We ended up leaving around 6am. I had to stop at a gas station to put air in one of the old tires, and of course, the air compressor was built into the building. So, I had to back the trailer into a parking spot, and the air compressor wasn't working. Further investigation (read: asking the people who worked there) revealed it hadn't been turned on. So, once it was turned on, I was able to fill up the tire and we were off.

We ended up making it to Steepleview around 8:30, which left me plenty of time to get Royal calm and ready. I let him stretch his legs in the lunging arena, and he took in all the happenings. We headed back to the trailer, and I started working on braiding him. He was good, at first, standing and eating hay. But then decided that if he was scared of the trailer, I would stop braiding. Ha! Joke's on him. All that meant was that he still had to stand, but didn't get any hay. Eventually he got the message and I was able to finish his mane and he was able to eat hay again.

He looked so handsome.

I had bought a teeny bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream, and I took a swig before heading to the dressage warm up. My parents arrived as we were warming up and took some pictures.

Royal warmed up rather well. He was still a bit fussy with picking up the left lead and bending to the right, but overall tried his best. I got a bit freaked out when one of the riders in our division (BN Rider) go off course, and for a little bit, I thought I'd memorized the wrong test. But as it turns out, she's just gone off course. Crisis averted.

The actual test went pretty well. I think the Bailey's helped me relax, and I just let Royal do his thing. He still had a bit of tension, but not as much as previous tests. Still some fussiness with the left lead canter and right circle, and a little tension in the medium walk, but I was still very pleased. Then I had to take out his braid and we rested for a bit before heading to the x-c warm up.

At first I was worried. He seemed kind of lazy, although I was thinking it was the footing. The x-c warm-up is on a big hill, and the footing was pretty slick. He skidded once and we were pretty much done galloping. We popped over a few fences, and just walked around the rest of the time. He could see the other horses on course and was too pumped up to eat. Then it was our turn. I spent a minute walking him in and out of the start box, and then it was "5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go!"

He kind of got bug-eyed looking at all the jumps in a little, but I gave him a little encouragement, and he hopped right over. We turned right to

He locked right on and popped over. The ground between this fence and the next one was a bit iffy. I was worried it would be torn up by the time we got there. It was a bit rough, but Royal navigated it well and we made it to

The Best Jump Evar! Our favorite was back! Seriously, I think people would revolt if the Scrabble jumps weren't on the course. Royal's seen it a bunch, so no problems here. We turned left to

Water crossing! I know the jump judges all think I'm nuts since I always remind Royal about Lake Superior. He stepped in cautiously but we trotted though ("moving smartly" as the announcer described it) and out to

The Turkey Feeder. This has been a bogey fence in past years, and they had it out in the open, not too far from the water. Royal peeked at it a bit but hopped over. We had to go through a low area which was also kind of torn up, but Royal cantered through with no problem. And the turbo engines kicked on when he saw

Up bank! At the schooling in July, our group instructor Sarah said "He knows how to jump a bank really well". And this was no exception. Royal did his best impression of Super Horse (which is quite good) and we cantered on to

I was a bit worried about this jump when I walked the course. High contrast jumps tend to weird The Fuzz out, and I didn't know how he would react to it. Luckily there was an almost identical jump in the warm-up (except it was reddish), so he'd already seen it. Still gave it a bit of the stick eye but went over. He tried to keep the rocket engines on afterward, so I had to give him a firm half halt as we went through the woods. Luckily, he responded. We had a bit of a funny moment when we spooked at a log coming out of the woods, but then I felt his entire body refocus when he saw

Lobster trap! Another familiar one, and he glided over. We went down the hill, and I had keep him balanced on the way to

This was at the bottom of the hill, and you can see the ditch in the background, so it was sort of a half coffin combination. I set Royal back on his hocks and he jumped neatly over, and wavered a bit before jumping

The ditch. Usually it's filled with dirt, but they took it out this year. It was a bit of an odd visual. But despite that, he still went over. We went across the land bridge and turned left to

No problems here, but you can see the Hilliest Hill Ever To Hill in the background. Our next jump was on the lower part, but I still got in 2-point, grabbed Royal mane, and let him bring up to the top of the hill. We had to widen out and make a slight left turn to

Tootsie Roll! No problems. We had to go back down the hill (Royal sensibly decided to trot), back over the land bridge, turn left, and canter by the tree line to

Roll top! By now the engines were really on and he sailed over. We went back up the hill a bit and turned right to

Boom! Over with no problems. We went down the hill to

Last jump! He launched over and I let him fly at high speed to the finish line.

And we were done! No refusals, and we were 12 seconds under the time, so no points added. Royal was pretty sweaty, but didn't seem any worse for wear. Although he was less than thrilled with Mom taking our picture.

And I found out that we had been in 7th (out of 13) after dressage with 38.5 points. Which is what I'd been anticipating. Our test had been good but not great, so mentally I'd pegged us at mid-to-high thirties. But we got an 8 on our first change of direction and 7s on our canter-trot transitions and Royal got a 7 on gaits! Fancy boy. And later, I found out we'd been moved up to 6th after x-c. I pretty much passed out that night, and we headed out around 7 the next morning.

I let Royal hang out and graze while we watched the Training and Novice show jumping. It was pretty hot, but there was a breeze keeping it tolerable. Still, I waited to saddle him up and we had a really light warm-up since I didn't want stress him too much.

The course was very twisty, and I knew I was going to have to keep him balanced. He jumped the first jump well, but then I had a majorly stupid brain fart moment. Blame it on the heat, sleep deprivation, whatever, but I screwed badly and turned us way too sharply to the next fence. It came up quick and Royal pretty much had to levitate to get us out of there. I lost a stirrup and he let out a few small bucks, telling me to get my act together. I regained my stirrup and we made it over the rest of the course just fine, twist and turns and all. Adding to the embarrassment, my stock tie came loose and was flapping around by the end of the course. But brain-farts and embarrassment aside, we didn't knock anything down, so we stayed on 38.5 penalties, and 6th place.

Obviously, I was really pleased. Royal was Mr. Superstar, and gave 110% the whole weekend. And I can't think of a better way to end the season. Obviously, we have to work on some stuff, but focusing on dressage and building our strength will really help us. But, this week, it's relaxation time. Royal got a bunch of cookies and mints and apples, and I'll work on getting any soreness out of his muscles. But he deserves all the goodies.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Steepleview 2014: Short Version

We got 6th place!

We had our best dressage test ever at 38.5 penalty points, DOUBLE CLEAR cross country, and DOUBLE CLEAR show jumping, despite my stupid brain fart. We ended on the 38.5 and 6th out of 13.

I've have the long version later. Right now, I'm too tired to write a very coherent post. Must catch up on sleep first.

I'm super proud of Royal. He just keeps outdoing himself.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Pre-Steepleview Madness

It's that time of year again!

I'm taking a quick break from packing everything up to go walk the x-c course. I'm making a prediction that it'll be run counter-clockwise this year, from what I saw at the schooling. We're riding a bit earlier than normal this year, probably due to the change in dressage tests.

So far, I've been mostly happy with Royal's progress. We've had mostly good session, apart from the one when I had to reiterate that simply turning into a brick wall is not an option. But other than that, it's been good.

And we have the return of Jumper Chic!

Although Royal wasn't impressed. But, as long as the weather holds out (chance of sun/rain/thunderstorms/humidity/all the above!), we should be good. My goal for this one is to finish on our dressage score, whatever that is. We've never been able to pull that off, but this might be our year. Wish us luck!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Hijinks Ensue

Sorry for the hiatus (again)! It's been a crazy few weeks and we've been up all sorts of wacky hijinks.

Good news! The tire on the trailer is fixed and there are now two brand spanking new tires on it. So hopefully there will be no more of that nonsense anymore. And Royal's dressage work is really coming along.

He has a really big and bouncy canter, and tends to get himself all tangled up, especially in transitions. So usually they end up being all fussy and frantic, and the canter usually suffers for it. So last week, I decided to try to start fixing that. I know that lateral yields are a big comforting exercise for him, so I incorporated a lot of those into our warm up, and kept on them going in the session. Basically I'd ask him to yield in and out on the circle, and when I asked him to canter, had the mentality that we were going to canter forever. I used a mixture of circles and straight lines: lines when he was balanced and circles when he needed to re-balance. We ended up with a nice balanced and forward canter.

This week, we first had a jumping session with a special bonus. I was participating in GISHWHES, an international scavenger hunt with a decidedly zany twist. One of the items was jumping the shark, which Royal was only too happy to help with.

He's always very patient with my shenanigans.

And as of last Thursday, it seems like all our hard work is starting to come together. I went up to ride, all prepared to work more on the canter, and it was just there. He gave me a near perfect transition when I first asked and everything went pretty smoothly from there. There was a bit of trouble with his left lead, but after an initial burst of frantic energy, he settled right in. Straight lines, circles, transitions, he was just engaged and there. So, to say I'm optimistic is quite accurate.

We also building a new shelter for the horses. I'll post pictures once it's once, but it's quite nice. Tall and long enough so all four horses should be able to stand in there to get out of the wind and snow. But for now, Steepleview! It's in less then two weeks, and I'm so excited! This year is going to be great.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Steepleview Schooling Days 2014

Hello everyone! Sorry for the hiatus, it's been crazy here. But Royal and I still were able to go on an adventure to our beloved Steepleview Farm for the schooling days.

We went on Sunday, with a ride time of 9am, which meant another early morning for me. But we still managed to get there on time and down to the warm-up ring with no trouble at all. There was a little wrinkle in that I had given myself a blood blister the night before with my wine opener, and I wasn't sure that a band-aid would hold. Luckily, Vetrap provided the solution.

 Inelegant, but effective. Strangely, nobody comment on my odd-looking glove, but what are you gonna do. I was in a group of 4 with instructor Sarah Malecha, who normally teaches in Lakeville. We started out just doing flatwork and moved on to schooling over fences. I was worried that Royal would be going all turbo over the fences, but I'm pleased to say he very politely hopped over everything like it was no big deal. We eventually were able to move onto some x-c fences that we in the warm-up, and he took to them very well.

The group moved up to the Hilliest Hill Ever To Hill, which contained a lot of random jumps. Maybe some will be used in the HT but it provided a lot options for mini courses. We did a simple course, which one rather large wrinkle. There was a log on a hill that didn't look too steep from the top, but was extremely steep when you went down it.

Dramatic Recreation
 We were jumping it uphill, but during the first attempt at the "course" I opted to go around it. Royal still was quite polite over everything, but starting get a little revved up. We then tried a different course, going down the Hilliest Hill Ever To Hill, over the land bridge and over a couple jumps, back through the other land bridge and back over the log on the hill. There was the option of going over a Novice-level ditch, but I decided against that. There were a bunch of jumps lining the trees and I knew Royal would be having trouble with those. He was still pretty revved up, and blasted over the fences, and when it came to the log on the hill, he locked right on. It was kind of an awkward jump, since we've jumping anything on such a steep angle, but we got it done.

The group then moved onto the Beginner Novice ditch, and Royal and I were last in line. The other three horses had some silly moments over the ditch, but I half-halted him and told him that we would have none of that nonsense. He stepped over quite sensibly. We then explored the jumps at the top of the Other Hill. We'd been warned to stay off of the low areas as they were still very wet from all the rain. But we were able to put together a course of ditch to log to log-in-woods to coop-out-of-woods. Now the jet engines were really on, and I had to give him a couple strong half-halt with a side of "Excuse me, hello?" and by the time we got to the coop, he has regained his sensibilities. Then it was bank time. This was a different bank than the usual one, with the possibility to do a staircase. The first time we tried it, he launched off the down bank, but stepped up the up bank with no problems. The second down bank went a lot better, with a very graceful step down and pop back up.

Then it was WATER TIME! Royal was happy to trot through the water and splash around. He even cantered through the water, something he's never done before. We put together one last course of (probably) Novice level bench to (probably) Training stone wall to big steep mound into water, out and across the field, around and down the bank. Royal splashed gleefully through the water and a big drop landed in my eye, causing my contact to slide around. So I was pretty much riding one-eyed up to the bank, and it was a bit of "Royal, take the wheel." He did great and never hesitated. So, that was fabulous note to end on. I cooled him out and washed him off, and we loaded up to go back home. We were about 10 miles from home when I realized one of the trailer tires was basically disintegrating, and needed to be changed. Luckily, we were close to a gas station with a big dirt turnaround, so I was able to stop and unload Royal while we wanted for someone to change the tire.

Yeah, it was bad. Luckily Royal was phenomenal and didn't fuss at all during the whole thing. He loaded up just fine to finish the journey home. The trailer's getting new tires this weekend so the same thing hopefully won't happen when we go to the HT in August. Royal was a bit stiff, but nothing a little bodywork could fix. But overall, I was very pleased. Only going turbo twice and splashing through the water? Very nice. Here's to hoping the HT goes just as well.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Things We Ask Of Our Horses - And Ourselves

There's some thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head for a few weeks, mostly since California Chrome lost the Belmont, and then a week later, two eventers were killed in competition on two separate continents. I've been thinking about what's fair to ask of our horses and ourselves, and how we define fair.

Note: I am drinking a kind of beer I've never had before. You have been warned.


Tradition. It's a word that I would like to greatly reduce the usage of. Of course, it has some benign contexts ("We have to get milkshakes! It's tradition!"), but often it becomes an excuse for pigheadness. We can't change the way we do things because that's the way we've done them, and we've always done them this way because no one's ever changed them. It's a cycle. So when ideas were floated about changing the Triple Crown, they were shot down. You can't change the Triple Crown, it'd diminish the accomplishment. Except the Triple Crown has changed, just as racing has. The track surfaces are different, the drug rules have changed, the tack has changed, veterinary medicine and farrier techniques have advanced in leaps and bounds, even the horses themselves have changed. So why would tweaking the schedule be that much more different? Some people raised the prospect of limiting the races to horses entered in all three with no fresh challengers, but I like the idea of stretching out the time between the races. Have the Derby on the first Saturday of May, the Preakness on the first Saturday in June, and the Belmont of the first Saturday in July. That way, fresh challengers become less of a problem, and three-year-olds don't have to go through the toughest five weeks in horse sport. Everybody wins.

It didn't diminish Secretariat's victory that he raced on a different track surface than Sir Barton. Does it matter that Affirmed was probably fed a very different diet than War Admiral? So, let's change it. Give the young'ins a rest. Winning 3 races back to back is already a remarkable feat, even if they are a month apart. I highly doubt the Triple Crown is ever going away, so let's help the horses out.

And let's help ourselves out. Eventing is also having a "come to Jesus" moment while trying desperately to pretend it's not. When two people die in different competitions on two continents, serious changes need to be made. But the powers that be will just keep twiddling their thumbs and create safety theater rules aimed at punishing the lower levels whilst ignoring that most of the serious accidents was taking place at the upper levels. A few rogues like Denny Emerson have made some suggestions that actually may be effective, like lowering the x-c speeds or limiting the amount of trappy combinations that can be on the courses, but that doesn't seem like it'll happen soon. Just convince people to buy more fancy helmets and vests designed to stop their necks from snapping when their horse falls on top of them.

We don't like looking at the system as a whole. We're so busy inspecting the veins on the leaves that we've neglected to notice that the forest is burning down around us. When people keep playing by the rules that were made when horses were expendable, horses pay the price. Royal is not my toy, he's my partner. And I'm not the exception. Horses are not living ATV's, they're dance partners, and the rules of our sports need to recognizes them as such. If a fence keeps causing problems, take it off the course. If people are throwing three-year-olds into an trial by fire that hoards victory like a starving man, change the rules. We don't have to be bound to tradition if it's not helping us.

Our horses deserve our best efforts.

Monday, June 30, 2014

St George's Dressage Schooling Show 6/28/14

Optional musical accompaniment to this post:

It was a 50/50 shot as to whether we were going to go to St. Georges, with thunderstorms/heavy rain forecast for pretty much all weekend. I wasn't in the mood to even risk hauling in a thunderstorm, much less riding in one. But, when I stumbled out of bed on Saturday morning, the forecast was cloudy, but rain-free for the morning, so off we went. The Google Maps app on my phone has finally figured out I like to take the backroads, since we moseyed our way down to the show on quiet country road. Except for the gigantic lake in the middle of the only road in or out of the stable, it was a peaceful ride.

We unloaded and I walked Royal around, letting him take in the scenery. They had the super fancy indoor arena set up as a backup show ring, so we ended up warming up in the little outdoor arena, which was still quite nice. There was a random chicken hanging around, checking out the new horses, but he didn't make a fuss. Royal was a bit fussy at first, but settled in with a half-serpentine exercise that evolved into a half-serpentine and circle exercise.

Earlier in the year, I had hoped to enter us in Training 1 & 2, but with all the rain and the pastures flooded, we hadn't had many chances to practice. So we did Intro A & B as a confidence and consistency builder. We first did Intro A, which I thought went well, albeit with a bit of spooking at the judge's gazebo. Still, I was very pleased with Royal. He seems to like the eggbutt Myler much more than the french link, so there was a lot less fussing with his mouth.

Then we had a hour and a half break until Intro B, so I let Royal graze for a while before getting back on for another warm-up. This time, we were the only ones in the warm-up, so Royal was a bit pent up. I let him canter himself out, repeating our half-serpentine to circle exercise, which proved more challenging at the canter.

Intro B also went really well, with Royal being a bit resistant when I asked him to bend right, but overall really well. Then it was a long wait to see about the placings, and continuing with the pattern from Carriage House, we placed in both our classes, and got the highest scores we've ever gotten. 71.875 (!!!) in Intro A and 69.688 (!!!!!!) in Intro B. 1st and 3rd, respectively. The judge said I was a tactful rider and that Royal has a tendency to get short in the neck. But considering they were our highest scores ever, I was very happy. And I was very happy about the consistency between the tests. Often, one test will go well and the other one with have us cartwheeling around the arena. But to have very similar scores in two different tests is a good sign. I was extremely pleased, if very tired.

Royal seemed no worse the wear on Sunday. I did some bodywork and while we was still tight in the neck and scapula (as usual), his back and hindquarters seemed fine. I'll have to work in his ribs a bit to open up the right side. But still full of energy. And apparently still had the piss and vinegar to tag-team with Bandit to take on a stallion that had broken into the pasture. They gave him a good what-for before he could be caught and moved into the paddock. He went home before too long, minus some chunks of hair. And Royal and Bandit earned their wrestling names: El Maestro Loco and Nacho Libre. We should make them some wrestling masks.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dispatches From The Monsoon

So, I thought I was just being whiny. Just a diva pining for perfect weather and getting away from the bits of rain, but no. This time I am not being a diva. The Twin Cities pretty close to breaking the record, set in 1874, of the wettest June on record. Congratulations! Rain boots for everyone!

Of course, this wreaks havoc on me trying to do, well, anything with Royal. Or anything outside at all, really, since there's standing water everywhere. But, I am nothing if not resourceful, so we've done what we can. Lots of stuff out on the road, where I'm trying to use the debris from the frequent storms to our advantage. Royal spooking at a downed tree branch? Let's turn that into a leg yield. Gigantic puddle? Water crossing. Mosquitoes eating us alive? Galloping time! And so on. We did have one funny incident with the Sheep of Death, wherein we were cantering down the road toward said Sheep of Death, and upon discovering they were in the front front pasture, came to a complete stop with his head straight up in the air. We skittered past them, but after turning around and going back, he walked on the same side of the road as the Sheep with not too much fuss.

The rain is also throwing a wrench in our show plans. St George's schooling show is on Saturday, and I've signed us up, but we don't know if the show is actually going to happen. It's highly likely that it could get cancelled, and even if it doesn't, we may end up scratching anyway. I am quite adverse to hauling Royal in a thunderstorm, thank you very much. So, I suppose the thing to do is watch to see if they cancel it, and if they don't, check the radar at O'Dark Thirty Saturday morning. Hopefully the Weather Gnome is merciful.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Rain, Please To Be Going Away

Good news first: Royal and I got 3rd in the 2'6" jumpers at Carriage House! That makes a ribbon in every class. Veni, vidi, vici, sort of.

But, for the past two weeks, we have had a ridiculous amount of rain. There are rivers in the pastures where there really ought not be, and it's getting annoying. Yes, moisture is good for the crops, and hopefully we can have a good year for hay, but my rain boots are tapping on Death's door. Can we just have a week of nice sunny weather to let everything dry up, please?

But this is Minnesota. The weather is an uncaring beast, and we have to make do. Royal and I have had a quiet couple of weeks. He didn't seem any the worse for wear after Carriage House, and that was a hard day. We've had a few rides out and he lost his galloping privileges after he spooked at some puddles, but for the most part, he's managed to keep his feet on the ground most of the time.

We did have one one incident. The day after the horses got their hooves trimmed, Bandit decided to be an assbutt and lead the other horses on a merry journey back and forth across the Big Field while I was trying to get Royal. After galloping around like an idiot, he was all fired up, so we had to take a walk in order for him to calm down enough to eat his grain. Today we tried playing online in the Big Field, and it was... challenging, to say the least. Even in the high areas, there was standing water and knee-high grass everywhere. He was not a happy camper and we ended up having to move out to the road to get him to relax and stretch out.

An event that I was hoping to go to was postponed and cancelled due to flooding. The next event is in a couple of weeks, and like everything else, it's outdoors. This week is supposed to be rainy, but hopefully next week will be nice and we can get some practice in.

The rabbit who's taken to hanging around. She like to finish the crumbs of Royal's grain

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Carriage House 2014: The Ribboning

Optional Musical Accompaniment To This Post:

So, Carriage House was an unprecedented success. This is our 4 or 5 year going, and for the most part, it's just a bit of fun. I've never figured us in the running for ribbons or anything; it's just a fun outing for the beginning of the year to see where we are, competition-wise. But, this year, it changed.

The week prior was full of its usual drama, which I'll write about later, but long story short, we didn't get a lot of prep beforehand. I jumped him a bit on Saturday, the first time in months, and he was pulling me to the jump which I took as a good sign. It was a short session, and we hadn't been able to get much dressage practice in either.

I only got about 5 hours of sleep Saturday night before waking up at 4:30am to go get Royal. I got the trailer hooked up, Royal hopped right in, we almost got flattened by the newspaper-carrier, and we were off.

I had originally entered us in Intro A & B, as well as both 2'6" jumpers. I decided to switch to one 2' jumper to give us an easier start. Our first dressage ride was at 8:12 in the large dressage ring, and we got there at 7. So I had plenty of time to let Royal stretch his legs out on the 22' line, and he settled right in. We both know Carriage House rather well, and had no reason to be bothered by the other horses carrying on.

One point of relief is that I couldn't see Psycho McCrazypants anywhere. Maybe she decided the judges are All Out To Get Her, and decided to grace us with the absence. A gift I, for one, shall cherish. I got Royal cleaned and saddled up, and we headed to the warm-up. He was a bit bracy, so I asked him to move his hindquarters and shoulders around, and it seemed to help. He was relaxed and ready to go, so we headed out to the large dressage arena... just in time to see the horse in the arena bolting away. Oops. The rider got him/her until control and they finished their test, but Royal was watching the whole thing.

Our test started ok, but when we turned to go up the long side of the arena, Royal started cantering in his "big arena, run fast, wheeee!" way. I managed to get him to trot, and he cantered again, and I got him to trot, and the rest of the test was him going "Is big arena, why we no go fast?" So, I figured it was not going to be good, score-wise.

Afterward, we had a bit of a break. My mom arrived, and then my sister and her kidlets, and I met up with Parelli Instructor Fran Latane and her student Arianna, who were entered in the hunters and jumpers. I checked in at the jumper ring, but they weren't able to give me a ride time before my second dressage ride, so we headed over the the dressage arena. I mostly just let Royal mosey around on a long rein and we manged to go a little earlier than our scheduled time, due to some scratches. This test went a lot better. Royal really like Intro B, and he was much more focused. We had some fussy transitions and I would have like more bend in the circles, but overall I was pleased.

Then I was time to head back to the jumper arena, and take our place in line. We ended up in the spot after Fran, so we got to watch her and Princess go. They had a double clear in the first round and the jump-off (yay!) and then it was our turn.

Double-clear! It was a somewhat disjointed, and it was clear we're both rusty, but he tried his heart out and overall I was pleased with my equitation and balance. I was mostly just happy to have not made a stupid mistake and gotten us eliminated. Happy times!

So, then we had more waiting until they reset for the 2'6" jumpers. We went fairly early in that class, and had another double double-clear, but I could tell Royal was getting tired. He was both chipping and leaving long, which he doesn't do unless he's tired. But the try was still there, and it got us through. He still was happy and eager to jump.

So, the ribbons:

6th out of 9 in Intro A; 57.50%
4th out of 12 in Intro B: 64.38%
3rd out of 30(??) in the 2' jumpers.
Not sure about the 2'6" jumpers yet. I left while the class was still going on. I'll know more when they post the results this week. But hey! Not eliminated! That's pretty awesome.

Royal seemed please with himself, as he should be.

The next day we just hung out, I did some basic massage on him and hosed out the trailer. Next outing is in a couple of weeks, and I think we're ready.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Helmets: Less Stick, More Carrot

Wanna know a secret? Of course you do. C'mere.

No, closer.


Ok, too close. Back up.

I'll tell you something, but you must never ever tell the Helmet Fanatics. Ok? Ok.

I like wearing my helmet. No, really. I do. I love my AYR8, the way it looks, the way it feels, the whole thing. When the time comes that I have to replace it (sometime in the next year or so), I'll most likely get the exact same thing. I LOVE that helmet.

That's why it takes no pressure for me to put it on. There's nothing holding me back. It's comfortable, stylish, and sleek. I love the the way it completes the whole picture, while giving me extra bonuses of sun visor and vents. I LOVE that helmet.

Which is another one of my big frustrations with the Helmet Fanatics. They see helmets as an obligation and a chore, something you because you have to, not because you want to. And I think that's a big mistake. You don't sell something by saying it's a burden and it sucks, but you do it because of insurance premiums and you love your family and THE CHILDREN THAT NOBODY (BUT YOU!!!!!) THINKS ABOUT!!!111!!1!!!!!1ELEVENTYONE!!!!!!! Ugh, what a drag.

You know what's not a drag?


That's Charlotte Dujardin, double gold-medalist from the 2012 Olympics. But look at that helmet. I'm not a particular fan of the smooth leather helmets (I'm a suede lady myself), but doesn't that helmet look amazing? Much much better than a top hat. She looks like an athlete, not a weird throwback to an 18th century gentlemen. Now, that's how you sell helmets.

I've noticed a trend when it comes to a large portion of Helmet Fanatics. There's a lot of sighing and moaning and tsking when it comes to How Dare You Not Wear A Helmet When I Deem It Necessary, but lot of them would gleefully check them off at the slightest provocation. A show? Photographing a sale ad? Riding in a big name clinic? Off goes the helmet, quick as you please. You can call it hypocrisy, but I think it goes deeper than that. When you constantly make the argument that helmets are Just A Thing You Gotta Do But Really Everyone Hates Them, it's not a stretch to say that you may really believe that. So, take the opposite track. Helmets are awesome, and they make you look awesome. Don't you look great in that GPA/CO/One K/Samshield? Doesn't it fit your head like a glove? Why wouldn't you want to look and feel that fabulous?

This is also where the helmet companies need to step up. Right now, there's a wide variety of choices when it comes to English helmets, but western-style helmets are few and far in between. So, I think it would be majorly helpful if they could design some more western-friendly helmets, pay professional barrel racers and reiners and the like to wear them, and market the crap out of them. Make cowboy hats the equivalent on hunt caps: traditional, a throwback to the roots of the sport, but best left for exhibitions and award ceremonies. Make helmets become the cool thing, not the dork signifier.

More Carrot, Less Stick.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Royal Finds His Courage

Optional musical accompaniment to this post:

So, it's been an interesting few weeks. The Horse Expo came and went, and because of the EHV-1 scare, there weren't very many horse. Only select presenter and rodeo horses were allowed, but the Horse Barn was empty.

Creepy, but on the upside it's been over a month since the last positive case in this area. We seem to be in the clear.

Carriage House is fast approaching, so I've been trying to get Royal and me up to speed. I'm planning on entering us in Intro A & B and the 2'6" jumpers. He's fitting up like crazy and it'll hopefully be a walk in the park. It's been raining on and off, so most of the pasture is flooded and we're having to practice the tests in, say, unusual places. But Intro A & B are pretty simple, so even if I just glance at them before we go in, we should be fine.

The big news is that Royal seems to have found his courage. We've been having some problems with the neighboring cows breaking into our pasture and generally causing havoc. It's seems to be fixed for now, but usually once they figure a trick works, they keep using it. But one made the bad decision to break into the pasture where the horses currently are. And Royal. Charged. Them. Puffed out his chest, arched his neck, and power trotted over to the intruder, scaring them back into their own pasture.

*sniffle* My baby boy, all grown up and scaring cows. I'm so proud.

So last Sunday, I decided to test the waters. We went for a ride and after practicing dressage in a *ahem* undisclosed location, we went up to the Sheep of Death. They were in the front area, so Royal at first went all bug-eyed, but after a few passes, walked past them like they weren't there. And they were looking right at us.

*sniffle* *sniffle*

So proud.

So, yeah, it's a good sign. He's still one of the spookiest horses I've met, but any improvement is welcome.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Shift

We had another snowstorm on Wednesday and the Twin Cities got anywhere from 3 to 15 inches, depending on where they were. The horses go hit with around 15 inches and it was not fun. The horses had trampled down the snow around the hay bale and a path to the water trough, but not many hoof tracks anywhere else. They were having none of this nonsense.

But the weather was merciful and we've had beautiful weather that has been melting the snow rather quickly, which has made everyone rather happy. The horses have resumed molting and everything's become one big slushy puddle. So Royal and I still sticking to riding on the road.

I don't mind. The road is nice and squishy in parts and the rocks haven't come out too bad in the har spots. The wrinkle is that everything keeps changing and Royal's excellent memory remembers the way things were the last time we walked past, and now they're DIFFERENT, which means HORRIBLE DEATH MONSTERS OF DEATH, obviously. So the challenge has been getting him to walk past the HDMOD sanely, if giving them the hairy eyeball. I'm not trying to get him to bravely march past them like they're not there, but I expect him to at least not lose his brain. So far, it keeps getting better. He still gives pretty much everything the hairy eyeball, but not snorting past it like he's got the worst cold ever. But something else has changed.

Royal seems a lot happier to see me over the past few months. He recognizes my car and sees genuinely happy to approach me. He also doesn't need a lot of direction to align his body and stretches on his own. And yesterday while I was warming him up OnLine, he came over to me and held his head against my torso and stayed there for a couple of minutes. It was nice but odd. And then after I got on and we rode off, but when we got to the big dirt road, he wanted to go right instead of left, so right we went. He marched on proudly, until we got the end of the neighbors property and he turned and saw Them. The cows. In their winter pasture, not where he's used to seeing them, and staring at us. That of course, made his brain leave and we skittered around in view of the cows until he could walk sanely. And he kind of hovered back home, but at least he wasn't bolting.

St Croix Saddlery was having their Easter sale, so I dropped off the green blanket to be washed and fixed. While there, I finally bought a bit I'd been contemplating for months. It's a Myler comfort snaffle similar to the one I already have but with eggbutt cheek piece and a slightly thicker mouthpiece. And, after getting Chipotle, I headed home for a tack cleaning extravaganza. I cleaned and conditioned the stuff I haven't touched in years, and may not use again. But it's nice to have it clean again.

Today it was 70 (70!) degrees, so of course we went for another ride. I put on his new bit, but still left the halter on underneath and attached the reins to that.

At first he was confused.

But then he got distracted.

So we were off, and heading down the road. I asked him to trot to stretch his legs, and trot he did. We flew down the road, but he wasn't scared or tense. Just ticklish in the feet. We went down the little side road and he even broke into a canter. Just seemed happy. All pricked ears and bright eyes.

If everything goes halfway according to plan, Carriage House is going to be a blast.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Limits Of Helmets

So I came across this article a few months ago and have been mulling it over ever since.

The short version of it is that helmet use in extreme sports (the author mostly references mountain biking and snowboarding/skiing, but the principle applies to any high risk sport) has been increasing, but so have traumatic brain injuries, the very thing they were supposed to prevent. The author points to the increase in the intensity of the sports, to the point where our safety equipment can't help us beyond a certain point. As has been pointed out, you can sustain a concussion while wearing a helmet.

Debilitating brain injuries get all the press, but the more troublesome issue is the build-up of "small" concussions over time. Get enough minor concussions and they'll have the same long term outcome as a big-time TBI. So, while helmets will most likely keep you from dying, if that's your only safety measure, you may end up with irreversible brain damage anyway.

So how does this apply to horses? Other than the fact that horseback riding is probably one of the most high risk sports available. Right now, there's a MASSIVE push to make sure everyone and their closest blood relative wears a helmet any time they're on or near a horse. And... I have no idea whether it's making a huge difference. Seriously, no one keeps tabs on these things, so while we can see an increase in helmet use at recognized dressage/eventing shows (because they're now mandatory), we have no idea what the average rider is doing. Or if helmet use would really make a huge difference. Because your average backyard/casual rider is not engaging in the same high risk behavior as an eventer or polo player. I am engaging in much more risky behavior when Royal and I canter out of the start box than when we mosey down the trail. And while humans are not the greatest risk assessors, we can tell when something is a bigger risk than another.

And this is where I think the Helmet Police approach falls short. Hyperventilating at people that if they ride a horse without a helmet, they're signing their death warrant is unhelpful at best.

Because unless they take measures to prevent accidental decoupling from the horse in the first place, the helmet is just a band-aid. If you keep riding and taking stupid risks, hoping your helmet will keep you safe, you could ending up sustaining concussion after concussion until your gray matter becomes a happy memory. The better thing to do is focus on prevention, rather than intervention. Don't get on the horse if it's scared of its own shadow. Don't ride on bad footing or places where your horse is likely to slip. And don't anything you're not comfortable with. Get off if your horse starts acting possessed. And, then, your helmet can do its job. The less you call it into action, the better it is for everyone. And the less chance you'll have of concussion buildup.

Please, wear your helmet. But also, don't do anything you'd be embarrassed to explain to the medical professionals.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Starting Fresh

Spring has made its way to Minnesota and it's been glorious. Today it was sunny and in the 70s, so I walked a mile and a half to my favorite tea place, just because I felt like it. Next week it may get a bit cold, but for now, soak it in.

I rode Royal for the first time in months on Sunday, and it was mostly good. I removed about 6 currycombs of hair beforehand, but there were still clumps of hair bouncing down the road after us like tumbleweeds. We made it down to the Sheep Of Death and I could see that he was starting to sweat, so we turned back. I had periodically been asking him to back up as a way of keeping his brain from wandering too far off, but some reason, about halfway back, I asked him to back up and he decided it. Was. Not. Happening. Started skittering sideways and flinging his head in the air. I was laughing and trying to get him to at least try to back up, when he planted his feet and reared. Not very high, but still went up.

Oh hell no.

I was off in a shot and asked him very strongly to back up and back up fast. He, of course, was still in "NO!" mode and kept trying to go sideways or barge forward. It took about a quarter of a mile before he stopped fighting and took a few step straight backwards. He was all sweaty and worked up, but he started yawning and sighing. I got back on and he backed up like a champ. So, I have no idea what all the fuss was about, but happily he seemed to be over it.

It was very nice to have this view again.

So he was having a bad hair day. I haven't unleashed the thinning shears yet.

We'll see what happens next time. Conniption fit or no, we got to get ready for show season.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Slowly Emerging On The Other Side

Still not dead yet, and trying to get back into the swing of blogging regularly again. Winter is doing its usual thing of having around like a most unwelcome guest and making everyone sick with cabin fever. We would like to be able to go outside without feeling like we're going to die, if that's not to much to ask. Please, and thank you.

Still, life continues apace. I'm still spending my days at Grown Up Job and spending a couple nights a week and weekends with Royal, trying to get us back up to speed. Mostly just through walking. Most winters I'm able to do stuff with Royal at least a couple of times a month to keep us in the swing of things, but not this year. The last time we really did anything was in December, so both of us are out of practice. He's in his usual mode of "What? There's dirt? And grass? Under the snow? Ya don't say." that he gets in every spring, so a lot of the walks have been about keeping him focused and sane. He's getting better, although our last walk had him spooking at the shed we've walked past hundreds of times. So, steps forward and backward, every time.

Despite the harsh winter, all the horses have maintained their weight nicely. They were going through hay like crazy (So happy we have the big hay nets!) but have come though to MudSeason looking pretty good.

Although the shedding process sometimes makes him look like he has a skin fungus.

So, not much to report on. Hopefully we'll finally be able to saddle up this weekend and continue prepping for the summer. Right now EHV-1 has made its way to our region and shows all over are being cancelled. The first show I have planned is Carriage House, which isn't until the end of May, but who knows. The Horse Expo is in 3 weeks, and they're on lockdown as far requiring all horses to have a clean bill of health prior to coming onto the grounds, but that's not a guarantee. A horse can be completely fine on Monday morning and near death on Tuesday night. If there's an outbreak at the Expo, all bets are off. I'm watching the news, and hoping nothing bad happens between now and then.