Thursday, January 31, 2013

Escaping on the 101, Fungus and other glories of mares.

This week The Boy and I managed to make use of an otherwise moderately wretched business trip and pop down the Pacific Coast for a bit.  Work took us from Seattle down to the very bottom of Oregon, but when we had a couple days to kill without any obligations, we shot out to the coast and in order to enjoy some scenic, nausea inducing drives on the 199 and 101.

I love the 101.  Not being super prone to car sickness I enjoy the oscillating curves and roller-coaster climbs & falls every 30 feet that bring some sad saps to their knees.  But that's ok with me.  Stay on the 5, and leave the twisty roads to the road trip nerds.  :)
Ahhh, Northern Cal..
 Anyway, it was a good few days to be away from the barn.  P2's scratches are JUST now coming under control (ugh) while P1's are stubbornly refusing to go anywhere (except farther up her limbs).

One of the perks of living in the PNW is that unless you lock your horse inside for 8 months every year, you learn how to deal with scratches.  You learn how to avoid them, how to treat them, how to brew home made salves that smell worse than the barn porta-potty and you even learn names for all the subtle variations of it's different forms.

Not to pat myself on my back, but I am usually pretty darn good at keeping scratches off my horses. I haven't had a horse really come down with scratches since high school and I've had some seriously nasty mud to deal with since then.

Until now.

Yes, the girls had mud in their pasture.  And yes, Pia especially did a magnificent job of always standing in the mud instead of out where it was dry and rocky.  But daaaaaamn they came on fast, aggressive and unrelenting.

I pulled out my big guns, legs clipped, legs soaked, picked, and scrubbed 3x daily, my vets favorite goo (Nu-Stock, I like it too), and my hair dryer installed in my tack locker to make sure that the skin got nice and dry every night after treatment. 

Going through the motions with two mares could take up to 3 hours.  No bueno, but necessary.

When The Boy and I headed South on Sunday, Prairie's legs were on the road to recovery, all the nasty oozing sores were gone and she just had a few small lingering scabs on her pasterns.  Totally controlled.

Pia's legs were no longer swelling but the skin was still inflamed, irritated and harboring a few big scabby patches.  She was also no longer interested in anyone touching them, leading to either needing an assistant to hold up one of her front legs to keep her still or the administration of a nice cocktail to calm her down. 

This was exactly when I sent the "omg, have fun with the girls, see you in 4 days!!!!" text to S.

(note: thank god for competent people who help out when crap like this is infecting your horse).

Four days, three sweats and nearly all of my ace later, Pia is finally looking better.  I'm hoping that her recent objections under saddle have been due to her discomfort from the scratches, but we'll see. 

My Vet is back out tomorrow to follow up on her bodywork from a few weeks ago so we'll poke extra hard and make sure no other old soft tissue issues are cropping up.. it's always something with this one....

Prairie also had a hard few days with S, but for different reasons.  My last ride on Saturday consisted of jumping two verticals in the indoor set on the diagonals so I could figure eight forever.  Prairie was super braced in her jaw and I had almost zero control of her shoulder which led to me pulling her around the (tight) turns and nearly dislocating my shoulder(s).

It took nearly the entire lesson for me to get the mare back on her haunch and steering from my legs and outside rein.  When we got it, it was great, but it was painful getting there...

I recognize that no one made me pull her with my inside rein, and that I engaged in that tug of war all on my own but OMG the mare made me want to scream and shout and fight. (note to self, work on patience)

The silver lining is that we worked it out, got some good loops, clean simple changes and the jumps themselves were all calm, balanced and easy. 

Anyway, after that ride, S had a few days to school the mare and they worked changes.  Hard.  They even hauled out to the other trainer we've been working with for an intensive work session focusing on Prairie's straightness in the canter and her bend.  Lots of half pass in.... switch the bend, half pass out (in counter canter), straighten, etc. 

Poor mare.  I bet she's tired.

I think that's the update.  Lesson today to try to transfer some of the tools from the field trip to yours truly, then a day off, hack on sat and out to a schooling day on Sunday.  We're going back to the same place we went a month ago ($25, set the jumps to what you want and school for 20 minutes...).  It was a good outing away from home for us and good to work some courses in a different environment.  Should be fun!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Hitting Our Stride (literally)

I won't invoke "hitting our stride" in the figurative sense quite yet.  While I think Prairie and I have come so far in the last 10 months, we have a ways to go in achieving that magical-oneness still. 

But we are hitting our literal stride quite consistently these days.  This morning, after a pretty light (in terms of cardio) lesson last night I opted to set a few jumps and work on my eye and jumping from different distances (read - not always burying us to the base and jumping out from underneath every fence..).

I realized (as I was dragging jumps out) that this was the first time since high school that I was going to jump outside the structure of a lesson or clinic.  Growing up I schooled over fences alone all the time.  Such was the advantage of having my horses at home and only having a trainer out once or twice each week.  But then in college we rode at a barn that had a (reasonable) policy of no jumping without a trainer present and after college I veered off into Dressage never to look beyond the odd cavaletti here or there.

But our current barn doesn't mandate that you participate in a training program which means everyone can pretty much do whatever they want with their horses whenever they want.  Handy if you aren't writing checks for full training all the time...

Regardless, this was still the first time I felt confident enough in myself, and more importantly in Prairie, to think that it would be productive to work over fences on our own.  I didn't feel even a sliver of doubt or concern so I set my fences to 3'3" (with one warm up X) and tacked up. 

We warmed up focusing on our straightness and worked the spiral in/leg yield out exercise from our dressage lesson last week which also makes me focus on my own straightness (super needed)...

After a few transitions, which felt pretty crisp and clean we popped over the X a few times, reset it to a vertical and got to work. 

We started in my comfortable teeny, tiny canter and worked on adding strides and getting our leads. I had the jumps set such that I could figure-eight back and forth over them forever which helped us settle into a rhythm and keep working

After about 10 minutes I let the mare stop and breathe before stepping outside my comfort zone, and pushing the mare forward.  I even got my ass out of the saddle and rode her up to a bigger stride and maintained a two-point.  Getting myself totally out of the tack is one helpful way to restrict the amount of half-halting, driving, and jamming the stride that I like to do so much...

Miracle of miracles, Prairie didn't bat an eye.  Just fluid, relaxed jumps, followed by fluid relaxed turns, followed by more fluid relaxed jumps.

Then I REALLY pushed Prairie to open up to her "natural" stride and we bounded across the arena in very few strides, but maintained our balance and adjustability.  I love that Prairie is getting confident enough to take off from longer distances and she understands me when I give her the "yes, that distance" squeeze to move up. 

I'm proud to say that we only had one (minor) scoot that was the result of hitting some deep footing which caused the mare to slip a little.  Slipping still sends her into outer space, and rightfully so, but she did manage to recover and come back to me before the next fence. 

We still struggled with our left to right lead changes, but I opted to not fixate on them since I was succeeding at my task of working off my eye and increasing Prairie's stride. 

But, me being me, I just couldn't leave well enough alone.  Having totally rocked our initial goal/focus for the day I was starting to get really agitated by the "no right lead" thing and decided to pick at it a little bit. 

I pulled out of our never ending figure eight and worked singularly over one fence on the diagonal, which suggested that Prairie should switch to her right lead over the fence.  We rolled back to that fence probably 5 times before I got her straight enough to allow her to change, and when we got it she got huge pats and we quit for the day. 
"I can't reach the cookies in your pocket when you stand over there"
Things that I love:

1) this mare.
2) feeling comfortable schooling 3'3" on our own, totally no big deal
3) Prairie opening her stride without losing her mind.
4) quiet mornings at the barn.

It's so easy for me to get frustrated about her changes, because I know if we started nailing those every time we would have a very rewarding show season ahead of us.  But I also know that we are growing by leaps and bounds and my comfort and partnership with this mare is only just now starting to gel.  My timing is getting better, I'm tuning into her footfalls and better able to predict her reactions...

Aside from our changes, everything is feeling more consistent and reliable.  It's so rewarding to hit a training period where the hard work starts falling into place.  We've got to be coming to the end of our fun little plateau, or at least we should be.  I need to step it up and push us forward again.  But coasting for just a little, and basking in our small successes is just too much fun. 

Too fun.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Then This Happened...(swoon)

I can't believe how long it's taken me to post on this, but last Friday The Boy cut out of work early and joined me for an afternoon at the barn.  Admittedly, I didn't really disclose that most of the time would be spent picking scabs off the girls' totally disgusting fungus legs, but I wasn't about to submarine his enthusiasm about joining me. 

He ended up being totally helpful in the scab removal process - but he did request to operate the hose as opposed to squat down and pick at scabs.  (I did not begrudge him that preference at all).

Anyway, with the gross chores out of the way I managed to talk him into actually getting on a horse.  This is a rare occurrence and over the course of our relationship has happened only twice.  The first time was down at a Mountain Trail clinic when he asked if he could sit on Pia.  This was early in P's reeducation and I was leery, but couldn't say no.  So he sat on her...  For a total of like 10 seconds.

The second time was back down at another Mountain Trail clinic when he legged up on Pia's first boyfriend (a very sad looking, tiny odd little paint).  We went for a 30 minute ride out in a giant field, but The Boy was not exactly thrilled or pleased about it.

THEN, this happened.  We grabbed one of S's current lesson horses and he (willingly) got on.  He steered him all around. Trotted a little and even asked things like "what should my leg do when I'm asking him to turn?"

I mean really.  Even if this only happens once every five years, the photo ops are worth it.

Also- full disclaimer, I scoured the barn for a helmet that would fit his apparently abnormally giant head, but we found nothing.  So he's bare-headed. 

Biased as I am, this man cuts a nice line on a horse if I do say so myself.  And rest assured, I am already scheming ways to replicate the outing...

I am also pleased to see that horrifically long reins seem to run in our family.. Any future children with any future riding interests are doomed.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tack Ex-plo-HO-sion

First off.  Rad comments.  Thank you for sharing collective experience.  I can assure you I have the motive and the drive to buy 800 pairs of boots and fastidiously try them all, but it's so much easier, and so much cheaper to listen to the wise people around me.

As such, I pulled the trigger on the new T-Boots. 

UGH, so expensive, but so pretty, and reviewed well enough that they were worth the gamble for me.  I'm still not sure if they'll fit the big mare since there is nothing "M/L" about her.  She's more of an L/XL (extra, extra looooong) sort of gal.. but we shall see.

I imagine this happening inside my bank account...
Then, because my visa had wiggled it's way out of my wallet, it was free to tap dance all over my keyboard and continue ordering stuff.  What stuff you wonder? Oh you know, new breeches (tap tap tap), another one of my favorite jump pads (it was on sale!) ***tap tap tap***, some all purpose boots that Supermom conned me into buying ***tappity, tap tap*** 

I thought I was safe, I really did.  Oh, did I mention last week I bought P1 another blankey because her favorite one was on clearance??? Cause I did (Visa card emits high pitched squeal and keeps tap dancing on my keyboard).

THEN, this morning, in some sort of spree induced hangover, and apparently not deterred in the slightest from writing a check to the farrier, I ventured onto SmartPak (why, god why) and saw that the new T-Boots are on sale..

And not like a cheesy $5-off-to-grab-your-attention-sale, a holy-crap-that's-75%-off sort of sale.

Mind you, only the ones in white were marked down, but I was so enamored with the $40 price tag I figured what the hell, and I put them in my cart.  Then my visa was taunted by the "qualify for free shipping with only $35 more in purchases" or whatever the number was.  It doesn't matter what the number was, because what I read was "find 3 more things you don't really need and you will "save" on shipping!"

So what did I do? I let my visa off it's leash (who are we kidding, it's not on a leash ever) and managed to find some brush cleaner (rather practical), replacement leg straps (VERY practical, I have no idea where Pia is putting all of her leg straps.  and some more of my favorite silver gunk for scratches. 

BAM! Free shipping.  Free shipping and $40 boots!? Amazing.

The sick thing is that my brain is actually convinced that it "saved" money. 

In reality, if I "like" the t-boots but don't "love" them, the $40 pair will stay and be functional, and the black set will go back to full price hell where they came from.

And that is what I consider a fairly rational conclusion to a rather irrational extended tack ho bender. 

I think I need a glass of wine...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Prairie's New Boots (or, another reason to shop)

Just about the time my checkbook recovers from the holiday season I usually find something inane (but positively necessary) to go tack ho-ing for.  Today's impulse d'jour is to find the perfect set of jumping boots for Miss Prairie.

I must confess that 80% of the time we ride, her big, pretty legs are totally naked.  On top of that, nearly 100% of the time we jump her little legs are boot/wrap free.  Exceptions are when we travel for lessons or schooling, but that's predominantly because white polos make my blurry videos easier to watch and let's be honest, that is a priority. 

Given the vast amount of horse crap that is packed into my lockers (note the plural), my garage, my trailer and my car, one would think that there would be no possible way that Prairie could be wanting for anything, but really, that's just not quite true.  We have extra saddles... bridles for every occasion... more clothing than most families of five... and certainly more than our fair share of darling saddles pads/half pads/quarter sheets etc.

But, my collection is shockingly modest in one category - Horse Boots.  This has (naturally) started an amount of research and googling rivaled only by the effort put toward my thesis or horse shopping.  Fascinating really, how little care or consideration I put into other purchases in my life... but I'll be damned if I buy a piece of horse tack without knowing every feature, review, and coupon that may be available somewhere in the depths of internet.. so here goes:

When I first bought Pia, she got a set of Eskadron open fronts and full hind boots along with some new polos and bells.  But as our focus sashayed to almost entirely dressage, there was no need for additional boots (okay fine, one set of fleecey boots on sale), and we pretty much just polo wrapped all the time.  I am a sucker for polos.  It's embedded deeply in my brain.
Then Pia went to Summer Camp and Cowboy Man gave me a weird look when I even asked if he wanted her boots and Pia's legs were naked for the next 18 months...

Prairie justified another new set of polos (no such thing as too many of those things..) and has gotten by using Pia's fleecey boots which actually fit Prair better than they ever fit Pia (Pia has delicate little baby legs the size of pencils). The fleecey boots are great when we ride inside, but are a nightmare in the outdoor with wet sand...

Pia's Eskadron's however are slightly too petite to strap onto Prairie, which means aside from polos I don't really even have a good option to put on Prairie's legs for basic protection over fences.

In theory this shouldn't be an issue for my "new dressage horse,"  But now that we are working grids and small courses twice a week I think it might be prudent to acquire something.  True, she doesn't interfere with her own legs, and true she's barefoot which makes it less disastrous if she ever were to whack herself... but still.  Horses are big, their legs are little, and peace of mind is not (that) expensive.

So, boot hunting we go.

Being a slight priss, I want Prairie's new accessories to be both stylish and functional, and durable and pretty enough to be used in "dressy" situations such as lessons, schooling shows and clinics.

What I've found is that the boots I seem to gravitate toward are a far cry from the old $20 neoprene splint boots I used to happily duct tape onto my pony for cross country.  While I appreciate the progress in both form and function I wouldn't mind a slightly less inflated price tag to go with...

Right now I think the top contender for the open fronts is the EquiFit T-Boot EXP2.  For one, it has "P2" in the name, so... duh. But more importantly I like the reviews, I love a removable liner and I enjoy the look.  The EXP2 also comes in a velcro closure, which I like but it doesn't look quite so polished. At $174 its more money than I've ever spent on a boot, but in surveying the options, it seemed like it's priced in the middle of the current market.  Realistically, the biggest downsides are the price, and a lack of personal experience with the brand.

pretty sexy for a boot
EquiFit's latest "most amazing boot ever" actually comes in an extremely appealing Ostrich leather print that makes my heart pitter patter, but the $220 price tag makes it possible for even me to say no.

Growing up eventing, the little hind ankle boots that hunters and jumpers wear have never made sense to me, and I've always just opted for a full XC boot in the back.  But if I'm acknowledging our exploration of Hunter Land, and all the absurd (to me) tack and traditions that go with that, I have to at least consider the "match set."  I still don't really understand why a 2" ankle boot costs almost as much as a full boot, but some mysteries are just best left to the universe.

The current second place option is by Eskadron, who I've had mostly positive experiences with in the past.  I say mostly because I had one pair of boots totally crap out within a week of purchase, but Dover happily sent a new set which fared better.  From a functional perspective they last a long time, but whatever PVC, space material stuff they have on the outside of their older boots scratches really easily in sand (which I ride in) and thus it's impossible to keep them super clean or have them looking new/nice/polished.  It looks like the Flexisoft Air Front Boots might have a new shell material, which is would be good - and on sale at $99 they are more affordable than the EquiFits:
picture this, in black.
I like it's focus on airflow, though given our climate and our workload, overheating tendons probably aren't a top concern... The biggest downside for me is that the overall look is decidedly more "sporty" and less "polished."   Also, the inside is neoprene, which is less fun to clean/dry, but I've had good luck with hosing down Eskadron products before.

Another contender from Eskadron is their Memo series.  It also falls into the "sporty not polished" category but could be a good one:

It's on sale for  $134 the price is in the middle, which is a pro, but the reviews regularly mention how long they take to dry which is a consideration in our soggy corner of the world...

So, any thoughts out there? anyone have any of these boots or watched a barnmate love or destroy them?  Help a Tack Ho out....

Monday, January 21, 2013

Back on the Trail (and back to the Outdoor)

It was a great weekend with the horses.  Friday I conned The Boy into coming out to the barn with me and giving me a hand scrubbing and medicating everyone's scratches.  (super helpful, also super gross).

Saturday, Supermom drove up to take a trail ride with me, which was the first time I have been able to get Pia actually out on the trails since she came home.  P was a bit of a chicken to get started, but once she got moving she was calm, relaxed and an old pro.  The only unfortunate issue was the "chicken" mode happened right at the beginning as we were leaving the property which resulted in us getting off and walking the horses to keep them moving.  Not so tragic aside from the fact that we were walking them UP A MOUNTAIN and I thought it was more than probable that I was going to suffer a heart attack before I legged back up and let the horses do the heavy lifting.  (note to self, relearn how to drive to gym).

The ride itself was great.  The ground has been mostly frozen so mud was minimal and the fog made the trees fairly pretty and quiet.  It was a great way to spend an hour in the saddle. 
Supermom's view through P's Ears
When we finally made it back, we tootled around the arena a bit and enjoyed the horses before calling it a day and retiring everyone back to some warm, dry stalls.
Supermom and cute P
She's so damn adorable when she's not actively biting you...
I was thrilled to see that Pia's comfort out on the trails is still there.  She's come such a long way from where she was when she started at Summer Camp it is really thrilling to see how much flexible and relaxed she is in new situations now.  Very proud of the little red squirrel.

Prairie's big success came on Sunday when increased temps thawed the outdoor enough to warrant a return to jumping outside.  S set a simple four stride line and after a brief warm up I began by trotting each fence individually on a large circle, then cantering each fence on a large circle.

I'll admit that I was a bit nervous about returning to the outdoor.  Prairie has been so insanely good working inside this winter, that I have been dreading what would happen when we moved back to a bigger space and no longer had confining walls to support our balance and focus. 

Prairie played to all my worries when she immediately resumed freaking out about the "scary end" away from the barn - but after 10 minutes of small circles and shoulder in, she came back from outer space and resumed working like a regular horse. 

Cantering the verticals was... easy.  Relaxed, slow, balanced.  I easily moved Prairie up to bigger distances, and easily reorganized her after each fence.  I was so flipping impressed I was beaming in disbelief.  Then we worked the line.   Something that is always slightly problematic for us.  Prairie gets wiggly, tense and just a bit discombobulated in lines more than two strides.  All of these things were true this time as well - but they lacked the blind-panic-scoot upon landing that was de rigueur last time we worked over fences outside. 

I fell back on what we learned in our grid last week and focused on low and wide hands along with a very supportive leg between fences and we improved dramatically. 

Mind you, up to this point we had been working off our right lead and jumping away from home, toward the scary end - something that always gives us better breaks and control than we we canter (/run madly) away from the scary end and toward the sweet, sweet salvation of the main barn.

Feeling bold and confident we changed directions and came at the line off our left lead, toward home... And Prairie was 100% with me.  I dialed her canter back a bit more than necessary, but we went in quiet, intending to add a fifth stride, which I ended up having to move up to.... and we came out quiet (and on the correct lead!).  Miracle.

Our other new trick was the ability to maintain our canter aaalllllll the way arrrouuuunnnnd and back to the line.  Four months ago, quietly cantering the long side was a challenge, let alone landing from a line (going home) regrouping, maintaining a balanced canter and being organized enough to jump back into the line. 

But we did, and then we started playing with our adjustability.  I opened Prairie up, we did the line in 4, then I brought her back and did it in 5.  Then we opened up and did it in 4... then back for 5 again.

MIND BLOWN.  The mare was quiet, focused and nearly had a loop in her rein the entire time.

So impressed.  so, SO impressed with her ability to take our new balance and focus to the Outdoor arena and still give me the same ride. 

It was a good horsey weekend....

Friday, January 18, 2013

Dressage Lesson (or - oh yeah, I bought a dressage horse..)

After the hospital pickup I zoomed back to the barn, cleaned up the Big Mare, and then was off with a fellow boarder to a much needed Dressage lesson at the same barn where Denali's Mom spent some of her happier horse days.
blurry still from our outing
I had visited the Farm with DM once before to peek in on a passage/piaffe clinic and to pat some pony noses but I hadn't had the pleasure of a lesson with her trainer up there before.  Lucky for me a new boarder at our barn used to board at DM's barn with her previous horse so she organized an afternoon of lessons for us and I happily hauled our beasts up there.

Everything that DM said about this facility is true.  The horses are big (and pretty), the riders are great and the primary trainer (aside from being OBSCENELY preggers) is lovely, supportive and kind.  She's also bad ass.

In my experience a lot of DQ's have egos to match their horses giant, lofty stride and there tends to be a division between those-who-ride-in-the-hallowed-double and those-who-do-not.

Thankfully, neither of those plagues seem to have much of a hold at this facility and I was welcomed warmly into the ring in my snaffle even with some serious horse power zooming around in their doubles finishing up lessons.  Dare I say two of those riders even stuck around to watch us warm up and had praise for my, less than collected, slightly distracted, a bit on her forehand mare.   Nothing puts me more at ease in a new facility that pleasant, complimentary natives... but I digress.

Prairie was actually a pretty good girl.  Our first victory of the day was loading (and unloading!) without a second set of hands.  I've been trying to get more practiced at not needing a second person to help shut the butt bar, and yesterday was the first time we managed all on our own.  We had support if we needed it, but we didn't! It was great.

The second success was Prairie's total willingness to munch her hay tied to the trailer with absolutely no drama about looking around.

The third success was a fabulous lesson, which is really the only one worth talking about - so here goes.

Since lessons were a little late I had the luxury was walking around the indoor for about 20 minutes before we got to work.  Prairie had plenty of time to scope things out, eyeball scary corners and relax.  She was calm and swinging in about 5 minutes.  When we did go to work, she was focused and obedient, but a bit tense in her neck and back.

Working on that tension and trying to unlock it were the focus of the rest of the lesson (along with straightness, esp in the canter). 

We warmed up at the trot spiraling in, then focusing on exaggerating the inside bend and leg yielding the haunches out.  Prairie likes to cheat her haunches in (unloading the inside hind) and for the most part I let her get away with it.  Maintaining the bend then scooting the haunches out (but not switching to counter bend) really got her to step under and drop her hip.  We could only maintain it for a stride or two but it was MAGICAL.

It was also confusing for poor Prairie because we've schooled the tweedle out of her canter transitions so bending her, half halting for balance then adding leg was bit fat punch on the canter button as far as she was concerned.  It took a while for her to accept an "over" button and to yield her haunch, but we got it.  We also don't really have video of that part but we do have the "before."

It was an effective exercise for us.  Easier to the left than right in both the trot and canter, but we made progress both directions.

Our canter work was also productive.  Prairie showed off our new "contained" canter but didn't really want to full relax and step up.  It is light years better than our old canter (which was tricky to take down a long side).  And the fact that I could manage her in a new location without a martingale and without any big spooks was spectacular.

Here's a longer clip of our canter work. Moments of nice-ness, but lots to work on (SHORTEN MY $@#%  &@$ REINS!).  We were working on trying to maintain the bend through my transitions.  Prairie likes to tense, straighten (in the not actually "straight" relative to our track way) and then lurch into the transition.  The theme of the day was that I need to increase my demands with regard to her transitions.  Just getting them done without freaking out is no longer good enough.  Time to engage the abs (hers, not mine, although I should work on mine too).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Featherlite Family

Yesterday was slightly exhausting, but totally fabulous.  I had a drawn out 10 hour day with the beasts which included four, 1 hour hauls that consisted of picking up a friend's horsey from the fancy horsey vet hospital, and then hauling another boarder and myself to a dressage lesson. 

It's always good to bring a horse home from inpatient care and hauling out for a lesson of any sort is also cause to celebrate so it really was a day of high spirits.  It was a very long, very cold day of high spirits. 

All of the driving back and forth though did solidify how much I'm loving my rig.  I love my truck and I love my trailer. 

When I finally made it back from the barn, I was pontificating on my love for the rig over a glass of wine with The Boy and jokingly commenting that "you know, if we had a bigger trailer I could have saved a trip since the hospital is really only 10 minutes from where we took our lesson."

I was expected a scolding about not needing a new trailer, blah blah blah (I acknowledge that I do not need a new trailer) I was surprised when instead he just retorted:

"You know.  I really like our rig too.  I think we might be a Featherlite Family.  When we do get a bigger trailer I'd want another Featherlite.  Even if the Bison or whatever is $5k cheaper, at this point I'm impressed with our Featherlite and I'd rather give them another shot than hunt for the lowest price."

Not really an exciting statement for the casual observer but let me dissect his response.

You know.  I really like our rig too.  I think we might be a Featherlite Family
He has affection for our big horse box.  AND he knows the brand name - and likes it!

When we do get a bigger trailer I'd want another Featherlite.
 When! He said WHEN.  Not "if" but "when" we get a bigger trailer...  I'm glad he knows where our 401k is going :)

Even if the Bison or whatever is $5k cheaper, at this point I'm impressed with our Featherlite and I'd rather give them another shot than hunt for the lowest price.
Bison! He knows two brand names! bonus points for him.  And he can rationalize his perception of brand/quality over price? This man is meant to be married to a tack 'ho.  It's really a match made in heaven.

Mind you, another trailer isn't in the works for quite some time (might have to sell a kidney first), but I do rest assured that he has similar brainwave patterns when we talk about fantasy trailers.  I think it's his background driving big trailers and equipment that makes him so invested in our trailer choices.  But really I don't care why - I just enjoy the fact that he is.

But I really do love my trailer.  I feel safe handling horses in it, never pinched or trapped.  The horses haul quietly and comfortably and I have more storage than I need.  Plus it looks like a sexy beast with the new truck.  And who doesn't like that??

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Bit of Baby Grid Work

The Boy and I escaped for a few days to celebrate our anniversary (!!) this past weekend which was fabulous and relaxing and wonderful, but meant that we were away from the girls for a few days.  I'd speak more to the fabulous whirlwind of our first year of marriage, but I'll leave that to another blog (someday).

Friday I had my vet out for some bodywork and while Prairie is looking great (yay!) Pia is toeing out her RF more than usual so we have a quick follow up scheduled to see if that is continuing or if some adjustments took care of it.

Prairie's update is that she's no longer cheating and holding so much in her right shoulder and neck.  That's huge and means we've been doing our job with her training and work.  But (there's always a "but" with mares...) her triceps were really tight, leading us to believe that she's cheating with them instead of opting to really lift her back.  Argh.  So, we still have work to do, but at least we're unlocking the puzzle...

The girls ended up with both Sunday and Monday off (I think they were celebrating our anniversary too). Which meant I was greeted by two very perky, very fresh ladies this am.  Pia was in her stall because one of the grooms noticed her RH was puffy (damn scratches).  I thanked him for noticing, but then threw her back outside.

Prairie still had some of the small hives on her neck that I had noticed on Friday, but further inspected made me realize that it's not hives, it's f#@$%ing fungus.  She rolls So much, in such gross mud, all the time that Prairie has literally given herself scratches on her neck.  filthy.

Vowing to break out the anti-fungals after my ride we tacked up, lunged for a second then got to work.

S set a small grid for us (placing pole, big X, bounce to a big X, placing pole).  We worked through it as poles on the ground first, and after some oddly balanced trips through both ways we put the rails up.

Prairie tends to be lazy over the jumps and drops her right shoulder.  I think this partially has to do with the rein-lameness tension, and partially just because she doesn't have to try over the height we jump.

Exhibit A:
and again.
Comedic a little, right?

It's not horrid, but it's not straight either and it impacts our landing, balance and certainly isn't doing us any favors with our changes.

So, for the grid, my entire focus was getting the mare into the grid straight, and keeping her there.

Easier said than done. 

To the mare's credit (and not to sound like a broken record), two months ago we couldn't quietly canter 4 poles, let alone in and out of a small line.  So it's a testament that we're nitpicking straightness as an issue instead of just trying to install some brakes.  (celebrate the small victories).

The line was set closer to one end of the ring than the other, which meant that coming in on the right lead I had more time to get her straight going in, but she anticipating a quick turn when we landed and really wanted to drop that right shoulder and zoom around the corner.

To the left - we had the opposite problem.  I had only two strides coming out of the corner to get straight and try to keep us from drifting left to right as we went.  Prairie is inherently straighter to the left, so that made it a bit easier but it did change the exercise slightly.

To the right, What finally got us a bit straighter was widening my hands, and opening her stride a bit.  That seemed to give me some energy to funnel.  Also, I focused on a square turn out of the corner and really catching her shoulder then supporting with some inside leg.

Right lead, longer approach, but notice the dropped shoulder:

 Right lead, slightly better, less rotation:

To the left, a bigger stride led to worse drifting and me losing her outside shoulder in the shorter approach.  I felt less "rotation" of a dropped shoulder, but also more drift.

Oddly, this seemed to be improved with a smaller, bunched up stride with a more upright frame.  I focused on almost no release with my outside rein and keeping firm support. 

All in all - productive.  Even if we didn't fix anything, it was a good exercise in me adapting to what Prairie needs over fences and adjusting my support for her.  I reiterate that I was thrilled at how calm and balanced she was through the exercise and how we never (ever) scooted as we landed from the fences.

It must be too cold for the gerbils.  Maybe they are hibernating??

and because I had fun watching it again and because it seems like I shouldn't totally ignore a first anniversary, here's the 6min "movie trailer" from the wedding.  Really!? it's been a year!??

Carie + Eric from Aaron Horton on Vimeo.

Friday, January 11, 2013

2013 Goals (or at least some wishful thinking)

Bah.  Goals.  It's been so long since I actually committed to any (hmm... 2011 maybe?) that I've almost forgotten how to be accountable.

However, I think I've been with both mares long enough for me to have some idea of reasonable expectations and I think I'm still competent enough to organize them (at least a little).

For the sake of moderate organization I'm breaking them down into Goals for Me, Goals for Prairie and Goals for Pia.  

Let's start with Prairie since her goals are a bit more tangible than Pia's and I don't want to do mine yet:

- Attend at least one recognized dressage show in 2013.
We stayed at the unrated shows in 2012 but since atmosphere doesn't seem to phase the mare a ton I think we'd be ok to try our hand at the fancier shows.  I don't really plan on chasing qualifying rides, but I do actually own a dressage coat and white breeches again.  Seems a shame to keep them locked in the closet. 

- Break 70% at Training Level and 65% at First Level.  Also, show First Level 3
I am reasonably confident that Prairie could smash Training Level on an average day now that we have our canter figured out a bit more, but we have some work to do on First Level and I'm scared of FL3 :)

- Get our changes 80% of the time 
I don't expect Prairie's changes to be "auto" this year, or even 100%, or even respectable in a Dressage court, but I would like her to get them often enough that we're competitive in the Hunter Ring.  This means that swapping the front first totally counts :)
Our Best "Hunter Impression" in 2012.. And it's only getting better...
- Attend at least FOUR overnight Hunter Shows. 
Admittedly this falls on my shoulders not Prairie's, but this year is a great year for us to really get out.  No weddings or other major life events to get in the way, so let's make hay while the sun shines.

- Move Up to 3' Adult Hunters
Really I want to show the 3'3" Amateur Owners, or the 3'3" Adults- but to be conservative, I'm setting the Goal at 3'.  Prairie does better over bigger fences, and realistically I give her a better ride to them.  We just need those damn changes.... I'll save the 4' divisions for later...

Loved 2012 with this mare...

 Now for Miss Pia:

- Safe and Consistent W/T/C without Bucks
I would say that she's 90% there, but she still has the odd kick out to outside leg and throws minor tantrums.  I think they are diminishing, but they need to be 99% gone.  I feel like her regular routine will get us closer.
A happier, more relaxed start to 2013...
-Get Back on the Trail
Committing to out of arena work is something I want to do for P1.  I think it helps her brain and I want to stretch her mental flexibility as much as possible. Trips back to Summer Camp or down to a Mountain Trail Clinic would be ideal.

-Attend TWO Schooling Shows
Not for the ribbons, but to get her out and in new places.  I don't care if they are H/J or Dressage I just want her out.

- Passably Perform First Level Tests at Home
Pia's lateral work is already coming along without the stress or tension it had in 2010.  I know she can physically do everything in first level at this point, it's just the focus and consistency of being able to string it all together for 5 minutes straight.  That's the sticky wicket there.
We have thankfully, seen NONE of this recently, a reminder of how far we have come...

And finally, the obnoxious goals for self -

If there's one thing I don't need a trainer for, it's to be told to shorten my reins.  They are long, they are always long. They are long almost immediately after I shorten them.  They are long over fences, they are long on the flat they are long even when I'm not riding because they are in a perpetual state of too damn long.  This year I will shorten my reins and then staple them to my hands in the appropriate place (so help me god).

- Lighten My Seat
I don't want an ineffective "perch," but my go-to defensive move is to sit deep, lean back and drive, drive drive.  I need another tool.  Namely one that doesn't totally freak out both my mares. :)

- Continue My Dressage Education
I am SO happy with S.  So, so, so happy.  I trust her, I like how she rides, I like how my horses react to her, I like how I react to her as well.  But I also know that I am getting sucked into the H/J vortex like a moth to a flame.  I missed jumping. I know that now and I'm having so much fun getting back into it (even without cross country).  But I can already tell I'm getting less committed to my Dressage work and I don't want to lose ground.  Prairie has more levels in her and I will need to up my game to get us there.  There are two trainers in the area who I really enjoy and I need to average hauling out at least once a month to see them.  

We're well underway on all these goals, and even if the path deviates a little (or a lot) I'm really looking forward to lots more time with both these ladies this year.  Yeehaw. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Twin Beaks

One of my favorite pictures of Pia was taken by Supermom back in September of 2010.  You wouldn't know it was Pia unless you spent a lot of your afternoons kissing her muzzle, since the shot was just of her cute little beak - but there's something about it that I love.  It's been the wallpaper on my phone ever since. 

Then, last weekend, Supermom got a similar shot of Prairie's (big) beak and it turned out fabulously.

So I present to you, Twin Beaks:

So kissable.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Frozen Peas, errr P's.

Holy lord the barn is frigid.  You Idaho people will think I'm whiny, but there is something miserable about 33 degrees and slushy, sloppy snow.  It's like the weather gods think it's hysterical to makes things as cold as possible while still maintaining a bone chilling damp in the air and making sure that all the horses are muddy and damp and gross.


As I drove to the barn this morning (work, what?) I watched carefully as the big heavy rain drops turned into semi frozen splats on my windshield before muffling into quiet snow flakes by the time I got to the barn.  Now, I still have a 12 year old's obsession with any sort of snowflake so the snow itself was totally fun and exciting, but the ensuing damp, shivering, mud covered ponies were not.

Oh, also the lights in the barn are being replaced so instead of tacking up in our aisle (with a heated tack room to escape to for a moment here or there), I had to dig all my crap out (in the dark) and lug it to the other barn aisle where the lights were still functional.  Prairie was not amused and by the time I returned with all our accoutrements, she was standing with her ears flopped out sideways and shivering while in her big puffy, medium weight blanket.  She was also dry under the blanket which means the cold damp air (and her damp neck/legs) were enough to make her just as miserable as I was in my boots that slowly leak cold mud in through the sole..

Perfect start right?

I kept Prairie covered in a fleece cooler and her quarter sheet until the very last moment when I pulled the fleece as I hopped on.  I opted to trot right off the bat and try to get her blood pumping and warmed up.

To my total surprise, Prairie was (yet again) a total gem.  The electrician was lurking at one gate to the arena making all sorts of terrible noises with terrible tools and the tractor was clunking around on the other side of the ring while stalls got cleaned.  Basically my brain was on high alert since according to the Gerbil-Terrorous Theorum:  cold + strange sounds + guys popping in and out of stalls + loud rain and snow on the roof = totally loony Prairie.

But, it never came.  I had a loop in the reins the entire time I warmed up and Prairie just jaunted along maintaining her own steady rhythm and bending softly.

I mean seriously, where did this mare come from? where are the scoots? where are the motorcycle turns? what's happening!???

S set three canter poles that we started trotting back and forth over before we moved up to the canter.  Our first canter set had us canter all the way around the arena three times prior to heading over the poles.  Mind you it is a small arena, but I still don't really let Prairie just canter.... and canter... and canter very often.  She tends to slowly build up steam as she goes and the long sides are not conducive to keeping her in a package.  Our usual MO is to canter a circle... go do something, regroup with a circle... do something. trot and start over.

But today Prairie just popped into a canter, found a nice forward pace and stayed there.  I still helped package her in the corners a little - but not much and not nearly as obviously as I have had to in the past.

So a cantering we went -  And over the poles we bounded... and no drama was to be had.   Today was the first time that
a) multiple canter poles didn't cause a gerbil-rage-blackout and
b) that Prairie could miss her distance, or scissor a pole and still recover before she was through all three poles.

loved it.

Then we opted to work some counter canter which was not super successful.  I think we've been schooling our changes so much recently that for me all of the sudden to hold Prairie on the wrong lead was confusing and she got a little stressed out.  S had us dial back the exercise to a true canter on a circle and asking to switch the bend from true to counter and back to true again.

This apparently made sense to Prairie and she obliged happily while maintaining a soft mouth and nicely balanced stride throughout.


Then as I put P2 away S grabbed P1 and I lingered long enough to see the start of their ride.  It's interesting.  Pia is still starting out a bit sticky, and doesn't really open up her stride for about 15 minutes, but I don't think it's driven by pain.  Even when she's sticky these days her eyes and ears are soft and there's no sign of the total stress-meltdown-face that used to accompany her balks.  Our vet is coming out on Friday for bodywork and I'm eager to see if she finds any lingering issues or if Pia is still on a comfortable, happy path.

Anyway here's a quick clip.  She's still not moving out fabulously at this point and she was insistent on jumping through the poles so S was trying to keep her at a walk or trot...

Monday, January 7, 2013

3 Rides, 2 Good P's and 1 Great Field Trip

Feeling a lot of mare-love after a super productive weekend with both of the girls. 

Saturday Supermom came up for a visit which means two things 1) I had an excuse to go to my favorite mexican place on a lunch date and 2) I actually have some new pictures of Miss Pia.  Both are very exciting things.

I started the morning on P1, who - as promised is being great under saddle.  Aside from feeling like a small pony and me posting a million miles an hour, she was super enjoyable to ride.  She was forward, incredibly light in the bridle and very positive about her lateral work and canter work.  I've gotten so used to deliberately steering Prairie around every turn and every corner that it is a nice surprise to get on something smaller and feel like she's an agile little moped instead of a big bendy-bus.
P1 - back in action
There were a few moments of stickiness, but no head tossing, chest biting or (brace yourself) kicking out at my leg.  I consider the lack of all three of those things a huge-mother-effing-success.  (yahoo).

Then, we put P1 away and grabbed P2.  S was going to hop on first and work on some flying changes since I had struggled with them a bit the day before in my lesson.  But there was another horse in the ring which is all it takes to make Prairie a bit tense, which in turn is all it takes to make nailing her changes nearly impossible.  Prair really tried though, and when I got on she was still focused and willing to trot around for a few minutes before I excused myself in the name of fajitas.

Sunday was our excursion to a H/J barn about an hour north for one of their schooling days.  The idea was that a full course would be set up and for $25 you had the privilege of some warm up time and four rounds over some nice jumps in a new location.

Prairie walked off the trailer totally quiet and fabulously, which continues to reinforce the benefits of hauling her alone - she relies on me for moral support as opposed to her trailer mate whom she inevitably bonds with during the ride...  We checked in, tacked up and went to go wait for our turn in the ring.
 We ended up waiting around for about 20 minutes which was a much needed lesson in patience and not pawing.  As the previous group was finishing up the invited me in so Prairie also had a much needed lesson in sharing her arena with other horses.  The ring was spooky (covered but with lots going on outside the walls) and the added distraction of some hot jumpers scooting around finishing their courses had Prairie pretty amped up.

But - to the mare's credit she held it together and while I could feel scoots brewing, she never actually squirreled out from underneath me (bit improvement).

When the other group cleared out we cantered around briefly in both directions then got to work.  After 5 minutes I felt Prairie soften and relax and I felt the brain gerbils settle down for a nap.  We popped over a few warm up fences on a figure eight and I was pleased to see that not only was Prairie not scooting off after each fence, but she was calm enough that I could soften in every sense of the word about 3 strides out from each fence.  That's something that has just started happening at home - and I was over the moon that we were able to carry it forward in a new place.

S quickly put a course together for us, raised the top rails back up to about 2'6"-3' and off we went.

The Good:
- Prairie got her leads over the fences 80% of the time
- When she missed her leads, she offered a change about 40% of the time
- When we nailed our distance Prairie stayed in a super steady rhythm before and after each fence
- When I buried her to a fence she still (happily) popped over it
- When we left long, instead of a rage-blackout-scoot, we were just a little unbalanced and could recover without a halt.
- For the first time I felt Prairie "lock on" to jumps as we approached.  So cool.
- I felt Prairie back off to a couple jumps the first time we took them, but just a hint of leg and she was forward and honest over them

The We-Can-Still-Work-On-This:
- There were no scoots but we were hardly in a relaxed, easy hunter frame - there's still some tension
- for some reason when we're inside a line Prairie gets REALLY wiggly like she's trying to figure out what's going on, I need to support her more
- In an attempt to keep her packaged, I felt myself fall back on hold-hold-holding her to the base which resulted in a few jumps from a near stand still as I added multiple strides before takeoff...
- My equitation is less than stunning, though I will argue that it's moderately effective in the sense that I kept Prairie balanced and contained, didn't get jumped out of the tack or jab the mare in her mouth.

All in all I was thrilled with our progress.  We got around the courses much smoother than our last show in October, and I can tell that Prairie's balance and use of her body is totally new and improved.  Mostly I could tell the mare was enjoying herself instead of totally just stressing out - and that made it a really rewarding ride.

Poor S was trying to coach me while taking some video, which makes for less than perfect, already crappy iphone video, but at least there's some record:

I think I could summarize it by saying that I would have been thrilled with our ride if we were at home - so to be able to say that about an outing to a totally new facility with a lot of distracting sights and sounds is awesome.

Our leads still aren't there, but they'll come - and when they do - watch out Working Hunters we're going to blow it up.

The only sub par aspect of the weekend was spending a couple hours picking Scratches off both mares' hind legs.  Ew and Gross is all I can say, but we live in Washington and there is mud for days in Washington and I won't coop horses up in stalls for all of fall/winter/spring to avoid it.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Good Sister.

I'm pretty sure that you're supposed to love pets/children/family members unconditionally and not have favorites, but right now - I'm a bad mother. 

I think it's just the culmination of a few weeks of Perfect-Prairie and Pissed-Off-Pia, but secretly, when I'm handing out treats, Prairie gets all the big pieces of carrot.

The irony is that Pia's been great under saddle.  Her lateral work is going well, she's responsive and soft in the bridle and has even been executing some polite lead changes.  Sadly, Pia gets no emotional credit from me for that since I'm only on her about once a week. 

Instead all the time I spend with P1 is on the ground - and on the ground she is winning awards for being supremely obnoxious. 

If she's not bulldozing over me at the paddock gate in an attempt to follow Prairie out, she's biting people in her stall, baring her teeth at passers by or screaming INCESSANTLY for Prairie while we work.  I used to be able to leave Pia out in her paddock while Prairie was worked, but in recent weeks she's been working herself into such a steaming lather that I opt instead to bring her in where the confines of her stall limits her ability to freak out.  Don't get me wrong, she still screams her head off and throws a tizzy, but it's less extreme than if she has a fence line to run (and run. and run... and run...)

I'm not sure what's behind the increased separation anxiety but it's fostering not so nice feelings toward the mare.  When Prairie comes in, Pia still has their other pasture mate to keep her company, not to mention the other thirty horses turned out within eyesight.  I also tried riding outside while Pia was still turned out to see if being able to see Prairie go round and round the arena would be reassuring, but no.  Just as torturous, as though every long side away from the pastures could be Prairie's last and she might just trot off into the sunset instead of looping back around toward home again.. ugh. we'll work on it.

I really don't want to just separate the two permanently because I have a crazy belief that herd animals are in fact happier when they have a "herd" or at least a few friends they can form bonds with.  But something has got to give.  Pia is more flexible than this. I know she is.

Anyway - Back to the good sister. 

Perfect Prairie is a bit of a misnomer since she of course isn't totally perfect.  But she has been totally calm, focused and reasonable.  Sure there's things we've been schooling that wouldn't get a "10" from even the most lax judge, or even an 8 - but the huge success is in how coachable and relaxed she has been for the last 3 weeks.   We haven't had a single big scoot, or gerbil-rage-blackout.  Instead she's been calm, adjustable and responsive to corrections.

I don't know where this mare came from, but I like her and I want her to stay.

Last weekend S set a small course in the indoor that consisted of one cavaletti and three other fences about 2'6".  Not big by any means, but big enough that missing our distance would worry Prairie and send her careening around the corner. 

So, after careful warmup, I picked up a tiny-teacup-canter and popped over the cavaletti.  Without any fuss or tension.  So we did the 3 stride line, and easily added for four strides... we did some roll backs, with a nicely contained shoulder, and we even got a few lead changes.   S had me run through a course that started with a rollback to a bending line, to a single to the outside line.  Prairie not only landed on all the right leads, she waited to the base of every jump and stayed soft and light in the bridle the entire time. 

obligatory scribble of our course
Mind you this was our first course in a few months so I was braced for full gerbil-explosion-impact.  But it never came.  It's like all of our flat work and cavaletti exercises have been paying off.  Miracles. 

The next day the sun graced us with its presence so I rode outside and Prairie was the fussiest she's been in weeks.  She was very distracted by a cute pony jumping around, but even in all of her anxiety she stayed with me (mostly) and still managed calm, controlled canter work and spiraling in and out at the trot. 

Then the beast mare got two days off for the New Year because I was lazy.  And then we hauled out for another lesson down at Brass Ring.  Two days off isn't exactly the most responsible way to prepare for a field trip of any sort, but it happened and I fully expected to pay the consequences in the form of a hot, antsy mare for most of the lesson. 

Except she wasn't.  The only hint of tension was some very noisy pawing in the trailer as we pulled out, which I attribute to Pia's terrified, omg-I'm-being-eaten-by-wolves, screams from her stall.

Prairie walked off the trailer like a champ and settled in to sniffing around her stall and munching on some hay.  She's really calmed down a ton with basic things like tacking up.  Whereas before I needed help in keeping her legs still for wrapping, I took off her standing wraps, re-wrapped with polos and tacked up without even tying her head in the stall.  She walked into the ring like she owned it and went right to work. 

I opted to put her in the pelham, but more for easier balancing than as a tool for brakes (we work hard at these lessons and I liked to avoid getting my arms pulled out by a big tired horse).  We warmed up similarly to previous lessons, haunches-in down one long side, leg yield down the other.  In the canter we repeated the same haunches in/leg yield pattern and we got comments that Prairie seemed to be stepping much more underneath herself as well as my leg was much more effective (yay!). 

Then it was the moment of truth.  We were to circle a cavaletti at the canter. 

Prairie was great and stayed contained and balanced.  I worked on trying to see my spot sooner and asking Prairie to move up to it instead of resorting to my default setting of hold-hold-holding her to the base.  Not surprisingly, even when backing her off, if I mentally committed to asking Prairie to move up during the last stride, it resulted in a rounder, softer "jump" over the cavaletti. 

Then we moved onto some simple courses over very small (like 2') jumps.  We only worked single fences in the typical line-diagonal-line-diagonal fashion.  Nothing complicated, but it was a larger ring so we didn't have the visual confines of our tiny indoor to help keep us balanced and tidy. 

So I gathered Prairie up and set off.  She nailed all of her leads (except for one diagonal fence where she swapped on her own before the jump) and stayed at the same rhythm pretty much the whole time.  No fussiness, no tension.  We were a bit wiggly to one fence on the quarter line but that was the biggest issue. 

When we finished we got the expected comments of "wiggly to fence on quarter line" and "maybe try to save the lead change for after the fence" along with some great praise about her overall improvement.  But then a surprise came at the end with "Lets do that one more time, but not so collected, ask her to move out a bit more."

excuse me.  Did I just hear that Prairie was too collected.  I didn't honestly know that was possible.  Too collected has not been an issue for us. Ever. Under any circumstance, and certainly never when jumping.

I was a bit nervous to open her up (even to a normal working canter) worried that without my little teacup stride all hell would break loose - but we were fine!  We predictably missed our left-to-right lead changes but I didn't care.  We made it around the entire ring calmly and without any motorcycling around the turns. 

Finally we finished up with testing our lead changes a bit by cantering down the long side, rolling back in a pirouette type turn, leg yielding back to the rail in counter canter then asking for the change.  Prairie always swapped her fronts, but I couldn't quite get her to step up and change behind. 

Before she could anticipate and get tense we switched gears to some turns on the forehand which highlighted a possible issue - namely that Prairie doesn't like to turn on the forehand.  The whole yielding-her-haunch thing wasn't particularly crisp or clean or even responsive.  Seems like we might need to clean that up before I expect her to really mobilize her butt for changes. 

I also think that this might be more my issue than Prairie's.  S can get a clean change on Prairie 80-90% of the time.  By no means is the mare "confirmed" but clearly I'm bracing my hand or sitting crooked or something that inhibits Prairie's best effort.

All in all we made it home with some great progress and a few good things to work on.  This weekend one of the bigger barns in the area is setting up a "schooling day." where for $25 you can ride four rounds in a new place over some nice jumps (I hope).  The fun part is you can set the fences to whatever height you want and your trainer can coach a bit between rounds.  So really it's just an excuse to haul somewhere new, warm up in a slightly crowded ring and get some courses in without any pressure.  I think it'll be a good outing, though I'm a little worried it might cut into watching my Seahawks playoff game.... 

Priorities priorities...

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Holidays- such as they were....

*** Apparently this already posted, but I didn't notice. Oops.  Slightly enhanced version with pics now... ***

I love the holidays.  love them.  I've always loved them.  They haven't always been perfect or stress free but I absolute adore (modestly) decorating the house and spending evening after evening with traveling family and friends with good wine, lots of cheese and plenty of fires in the fireplace.

That being said, our annual parade of family feasts and parties was (rudely) interrupted this year by whatever hellish one day flu seems to be swirling around Seattle with a vengeance.  Almost every friend of my reported at least one family member being taken down with a charmingly violent illness, and in our household we were lucky enough to have two!  (me and The Boy).  Charming.

My flu hit just in time to totally miss our annual ravioli feast with his family... while his delayed was a day and managed to land squarely on Christmas.  Oops.  I felt moderately bad about infecting him, and even worse that my favorite few days of lazying around the house together were not quite as enjoyable as they usually are..

On top of that the damned sickness totally screwed with my carefully planned schedule that allowed for several holiday visits to the ponies with carrots and bran mashes galore.

As it stands the mares were unceremoniously given their gifts three days late and and the barn staff didn't get their cards/tips until the New Year...
Misty P2 waiting for Santa
 The illness also robbed me of any photos of the events.  None of our family, none of hilarious holiday cooking time.  No holiday pictures of the mares... nothing.

Oh well.
I'll just leave it at the fact that Pia got a pretty new sparkly brow band and Prairie got a brand new Happy Mouth Pelham and new curb reins (since I ripped the stitching out of my old curb reins with a soft tug...). 
sexy eh?
ohhhh sparkles
tasty pelham and new reins

The gifts belie the girls' general obedience.  If anything, right now Pia deserves the "new bit" for her recent objections to outside leg (again) and Prairie has been a fabulous gem who deserves gold stars and stickers.

Bah Humbug.

Yesterday, I hauled Prairie out for another lesson down at Brass Ring.  I was a tad skeptical as to how it would go given two days off in a row and crisp, scoot inducing temperatures but she was beyond exceptional.  A recap of that outing to come....

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 - The Year of the Mares.

2012 has been a wild ride.  Quite literally.  But it's been a pretty fun one, and I'm happy with where I'm at with both of the girls and what we've managed to check off our list this year.  Let's have a bit of a recap, shall we?


Admittedly, our wedding sorta ate up January (whoops).  But Prairie was still down at the barn I bought her at, and Pia was still at Summer Camp.
I trekked down to P2 a couple of times for some rides on my own, and even a few lessons before the wedding.
Pia was totally ignored, but totally furry and adorable for January.


February had a great visit to P1 where we rode in a cold sunshine on a mountain, took cool thermal images, saw her poor blown out abscess and saw where we still had work on her back to get her comfortable.

I nearly died from muscle soreness after a weekend of lessons with P2 wherein I learned how many more muscles it was going to take for me to stay attached to the saddle on that big girl and then we promptly flew off to Africa for our honeymoon.  Sorry ponies.


The girls were good.  P and I had fun at Summer Camp (still) and Prairie and I had more lessons.  I made arrangements to bring Prairie home in April which meant we needed a trailer.

So we found the deal of the century on a still new 2009 and brought it home.


April was a huge month.  We brought Prairie home, bought a saddle, had sexy photos taken by Supermom, then took both the mares down to Oregon for some Mountain Trail fun and started to get a routine going... whew.

Supermom photos!
Both P's on a field trip
Pia rocking it
Hacking at home


May was fun. S and I took P2 and gelding to the park for a field trip.  P2 was reasonably brave and we managed to have a productive hack.  Good omens for a possible show season.
I got called out on using my inside rein (a lot) and my horrid, horrid wrists.  Both things I've always struggled with.

Prairie started playing with more ground pole exercises and S even ventured to see what she looked like in Hunter tack.  Pia went on night rides and found a new boyfriend.  I lost my totally inspiring grandmother and took off with the family to reconnect and relax.

field trip!


June started with another field trip for some schooling and trail rides.  Prairie had her biggest scoot ever and The Boy helpfully videoed all of it.  It was a good lesson in figuring out how much to trust the mare (at that point) and a great chance to practice our first dressage tests in a new location
Then we went to our first show where we rode Training 2 and Training 3.  We won our first (small) blue ribbon and managed to stay in the arena.  Something I wasn't totally sure we'd pull off.  Technically I excused myself from our second test, but that was a smart decision. 
I took Prairie over our first jump together and discovered a whole new world for us to explore.
I had some great rides on P out at Summer Camp and summer was off to a great start.

Oh yeah - and The Boy upped his Horse Husband skills which I decided to capture in a lovely pic of him from wine tasting... ;)


The fun continued.  Prairie and snagged a 10 at our second show together. Which might mean that we've peaked too soon. (whoops).
Prairie made it very clear that she preferred just rocket launching herself over fences, which would give us plenty of things to work on.
Supermom joined me for a trip to Summer Camp and P overcame her fears of llamas.
Also, Supermom got a killer shot of P out in front of the herd.  Pia finally has herself totally integrated into the group...

Finally I caved in and got Prairie her own Hunter Outfit and we went to a tiny little show where she dominated the groundpole and crossrail division.  Nothing like stealing ribbons from 5 year olds on ponies... (eeeesh)
Also, I finally took some trimming lessons from my vet and stumbled my way through my first trim on Prairie.  Thank god she has straight forward, solid hooves.


With Summer in full swing somehow I managed to ride both mares in one day, in spite of a 3 hour drive between the barns (extra daylight, what!)
Pia continued to be a star at Summer Camp and was cute as a button
Prairie and I had a... crappy show which resulted in a dismal 55% at FL1 but 62% on our first ride of FL2.  My comment said "brave riding" and at one point the judge actually shouted out to make sure I was ok.  I shouted back that I was. :)
I'm okaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy
We had more success over fences. The mare and I tackled a 3'9" vertical But S took her all the way to 4'.
Also, I had another great ride on Pia out at camp and made plans to bring her home (eventually).


September started out with an insane tack locker makeover to boost my spirits since the Big Mare was off.  We finally figured out that P2 was basically rein lame from holding herself funny to escape real work.

But we trudged on, and hit our first rated show as a pair which happened to be in Hunter Land.

Priarie settled in well and had some big successes, along with some very frustrating moments (mostly in warm up).  But for her first real show with a lot of atmosphere I was thrilled.
A few weeks later we spent a weekend at Summer Camp with both mares and had a blast.  Pia was a stud and hopped over cavaletti without any halter/bridle/whatever.  Prairie had a few lessons in manners and grew up a little.
Our final show of the year was canceled due to wildfires and I caved in and got a jump saddle for the first time since 1996.


October was a slow and easy month.  Pia played with gymnastics out at Camp. And Prairie played with Gymnastics at home.  My saddle (!!!) finally arrived, and I remembered what sitting in a balanced seat felt like.

Prairie and made strides with our collection and balance and then lost it all.  But we got it back with some tight, technical courses in the indoor.
We found one final show to go to and Prairie was a star.  Our changes are still not there, but she was calm, balanced and adjustable through our courses.  We had our first ever HUS class without a blue ribbon (sad), but it was a great outing (without any pictures).

Also we ventured to Brass Ring Farm for a lesson and had a blast.


Prairie and I ventured out for our first trail ride together which was an unexpected success.
Also, Pia came home and that was fabulous as well.  The mares are cute together.

we spent a couple weeks of weeks on the ground with the red mare before getting back in the saddle and she has been a happy, relaxed girl for all of it.

Well.  Most of it.  Both the mares were crazy and impossible for a few days which nearly had me convinced they should be released in the wild.  But they recovered and so did my affection for them. 
My wonderful old pony Star finally moved on to greener pastures and I cried about it.  A lot.
Finally, Prairie and I had another field trip for a lesson and it feels like I'm finally getting a partnership with this mare going.  Just in time for the holidays to throw a wrench in our routine...
our respectable canter


A scattered riding schedule has made everything a little less regular than I would like, but it's been a fun few weeks with the ladies.  Pia totally outshone Prairie when I tried to ride them in the rain (Priarie protested loudly) and I remembered that P1 really has grown up a lot in the last 18 months.  I experimented with a Pelham in Prairie's mouth and found it to be a great once-a-week tool to push our collection and balance.

The Boy totally spoiled me with a new truck that I can use anytime I want to take the girls on trips.  So I did.  We got a fun field trip back to Summer Camp where we worked on hooves and the girls had a brief ground work session

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