Monday, July 31, 2017

Milner - The Ammy Rides

I know the Derby round was the most exciting news to come out of Milner, and no one is ever very interested in small, slow ammy rounds.  But for me, the headline at this show was "HOLY SHIT I LOVED EVERY ROUND."

Which, may seem like a close cousin to "OMG I love my horse."  But it's not.  I loved Pia - but she tried to murder me a lot.  I hated a lot of those rides - even though I "loved my horse." 

I got closer with Prair, because - well, Prair.  But really, even at our most relaxed, it always felt like our success was tenuous at best, and I was always ready for all the proverbial shoes to drop.

I guess I could say that I thought I had already loved every round on Windsy.  But that's probably like saying I thought I loved my high school boyfriend.  True statement at the time, but possibly worth some revision in hindsight...

But back to Windsy. 

I warmed up on Thursday for my first round, with the option to have a Low round before my division started.  Our warmup was lovely.  Not brilliant, but not argumentative. I found my pace and the jumps were coming up fairly easily. 

As we walked down to the back gate I just had this feeling that the Low round was going to be a waste of jumps.  So, we scratched it, and I headed in for my first round at 2'9" cold. 

I was a little nervous about the first fence.  It wasn't your normal Hunter-quarterline-single, which was enough to have me over thinking it.  But Winds lifted his balance and showed me the slightly forward spot out of stride. 


Then he came back to me, we stayed out of the bit of muck at the end of the ring and I tried hard to keep our step through the turn.  We did.  And stepped right up to the rolltop into the judges line. 


Then it was single oxer time.  Again, winds sat back, I kept him straight, and BAM, jump. 

Up the outside line, and home in the two stride.  (we swapped into the two stride, but I so didn't care).  At every fence I literally thought "oh, there it is, let's go get it" and added some gas pedal. 

Winds jumped open and round and super duper soft.  The lines were set long, which was also great since I'm used to choking him back - it was so fluid and fun to land and continue and jump out with some push instead of pull...

When we landed after the two stride, my smile was HUGE.  I have never, ever, ever had that much fun on course.  (well, maybe on XC with the old wonder pony, but I was 12, that doesn't count).

Winds was forward, I stayed soft, everything was small adjustments and just flowed. 

Thank god I scratched the warm up, because if I had wasted that round on a Low, I probably would have tensed up and butchered the second round when it counted....

The next day was the Derby, so all I had to do was stretch Winds' legs in the morning.  But Saturday we were back at it.

I was a bit tentative getting on - mostly just nervous that I would feel some crippling soreness or stiffness that I would be able to attribute to the bigger jumps in the Derby - but nothing.  Winds felt loose and lovely.

He was a bit slow at the canter so I picked up a crop (I prefer a shoulder tap and rubber ball spurs over a sharper spur..) and he was perfect.

As we walked into the ring I realized both the crop, and spurs were probably unnecessary.

He was looking at EVERYTHING.  Flowers. Grass. Jumps. Fence posts! OMG.  I had a brief PTSD flashback of Prairie's eyeballs popping out of her head and certain death - but I shoved those thoughts aside and tried to believe that Winds would be good.

Turns out he was perfect
We had the same weird first fence, and Winds was so fluffed up it was all I could do to not grab at his face and start a tug o' war.  But gentleman that he is, he sat back, waited for the fence and there was zero drama. 

Then I cut off the end of the ring (to stay out of mud) and had to be somewhat thoughtful about my track into a bending line on the outside.  Winds was light, and straight and we stepped right up to it.  Loved that line, and it was set long so we got to continue nicely and move up to the out. 

Didn't love my ride into the diagonal, I lost the hind end and ended up adding in.  Knowing the lines were long, I gunned Winds on the landing and he popped off his lead but we got up there ok.  In hindsight I think I could have been less panicked about making it up the line  and not lost my lead by finessing it a bit more, but lesson learned.

Then it was a single oxer set on the outside.  I had built up this fence as my boogie fence because without a real arena fence, lots of horses were bulging, never getting straight and then really messing up the distance.  Winds was still pretty keen at this point which made my track easier and straight wasn't an issue - so we made it through ok.  (I also realized I had been holding my breath and finally started breathing again on the landing, WHOOPS).

Finally, a smooth seven stride home and we were done (with a new favorite round in the books). 

Even with the swap, somehow we won the class, which was reinforced by a win on the flat (maybe the first time that's happened?).  It was a good Saturday.

Sunday we came out for one final round, and I decided to let Winds keep his hair down, so it was a bit of a casual day ;)

fluffy hair
Warm up was our trickiest.  He was dull again, and again I picked up my crop.  I remembered to put it down before we went in the ring, but I didn't have the same, lofty, eager beast under me. 

I was reminded by a barnmate that Windsor is almost always a bit more charged and looky the day after a Derby, but quickly returns to his casually bored self after a round or two. 

I think Winds was for sure bored, but also tired, and potentially a bit sore from jumping significantly more than he had been at home.  He didn't feel stiff per se, just lacked the lifted energy that was so magical for my first two rounds. 

This round felt rough by comparison.  I didn't feel that fluid connection and it sort of felt like I was grinding the gears in the corner.  My adjustments felt clunky and jarring, and while Winds didn't seem to mind, I never got a great rhythm that I could groove into

The video looks less awkward than it felt (thankfully), but still not our finest.  Mostly what I see now is that I didn't trust my canter, so I was fussing in the corner, then pushing him just past the distance even when it was right there.  Most of the time it was fine, but I forced him over his shoulder a bit.

This was fine.
this was a little tight.

All in all, not a bad ride at all, just not quite as magic as the others, but I am proud that I still mostly made good decisions and stayed with him, instead of totally panicking and getting in a fight. 

It was a fabulous show, I adore getting to gallop around the big grass field and we definitely came away with a confidence building outing!

Oh, and a championship, and a cooler.  That's always nice too.  I love this horse show and wish we got to be here more often.

Now it's a few weeks at home getting to know the new kid and gearing up for Thunderbird!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

MIlner Downs - Derby Time!

Last year, one of my favorite parts of the show at Milner was watching the Canadian Hunter Derby.  The big grass field lends itself to a Derby course - and I enjoyed learning about the Canadian format.

Going into this year I wasn't sure if Winds would have the fitness to enter again, but he felt so good at 3' on Thursday that we opted to go for it. 

Down here, the USHJA runs derbies over two rounds.  The first round is scored like a traditional hunter round (out of 100), with the opportunity for earning up to 4 extra points if you jump all 4 high options offered.  The top 12 horse and rider combos return for a second Handy round which offers a shortened course where the judging emphasizes efficiency and brilliance.  Again the round is scored out of 100, with a possible 4 extra points for high options. Scores are added together to determine the overall winner.  

I love the drama of coming back for the Handy Round in reverse order.  It's fun, and the top competitors have an idea of how much they have to push it in order to get a winning score. 

However the downside of the USHJA format is that it takes forever and spectators can lose interest watching 50 Classic rounds, and even in smaller classes the horses have to stand by for the Handy, which is sometimes tricky, especially if you've got multiple rides.

In Canada, while the course format and build is similar, they have condensed the Derbies to only one round.  You still get a base hunter score out of 100, but then you are awarded 2 points for every high option (there are 5), and also given a score for handiness on a scale of 1-10.  This means the high options and handy score account for a possible 20 bonus points, and can swing the total score dramatically. 

The other big difference, is that where the USHJA National Derby is 3' with high options up to 3'5" and the International Derby is 3'6"-4'  with high options that are at least 4'3" - in Canada they offer two height sections, one with the base fences at 3'3" and the other with the base at 3'6", but the height sections are still judged as one class.

I like that the one round format keeps the class a bit more spectator friendly (and for the moment anyway, I like that it is fewer jumps).  Also, for horses who also go in divisions with their owner, or do a full pro division, I think it's easier to add the Derby to your schedule when it's 12 jumps, not 20. 

But I digress -  One round, we had nothing else to show that day, so Winds was entered. 

While my excitement for a Derby can never be contained, I was also a little nervous to test the beast at 3'3".  He hadn't jumped that high since Paso back in November, which meant I wasn't sure if he would be overly excited and crazy, or stiff, or come up sore afterward...

Winds warmed up well.  He was a bit stuck behind the leg, but that was a problem we knew would go away once he was in the ring.  To his credit he was following the rein better than he normally does and was stepping through nicely on landing (which is my major paranoia these days). 

The disadvantage of the one-and-done format is that you don't know how handy you have to be to win.  When you come back in reverse order for the USHJA class, you have a sense if you need to go big and make up points, or if you can play it safe and try to just not screw up. 

In the Canadian class, especially if you are early in the order you don't know if someone is going to post a huge score after your go - so your strategy has to shift a bit.  For this round, the high options weren't really very high.  Some of them were nearly the same height, but offered a slightly more difficult track.  The plan was to pick up bonus points on 4 of the 5 options - leaving a split rail fence that was airy and on a tough track.  Other than that, there were options for some nice inside turns, long gallops and not a single related distance. 

Winds marched straight into the ring and looked FABULOUS.  Every time this horse goes in for a derby it reinforces to me that this is where he shines.  He loves hunting the jumps, and perks up in a way that he doesn't for Hunter rounds at the same height.  It's a joy to watch.

Things that I love about this round -

Winds looks eager and interested.

He landed all his leads easily


His big open step.

His cute squishy face.

The judge also loved his trip and rewarded him with a base score of 89 (his highest derby score to date) with 8 for the high options and a 7 for Handiness for a total of 104.   I was thrilled, but tried not to get too excited about holding first place, as last year we were knocked into second by the very last horse to go.

This year however, Winds held the top spot and got to lead the victory gallop, which is always a lovely frosting on top of a great ride. 

Next up - The Ammy rounds with yours truly.....

Monday, July 24, 2017

MIlner Downs - The start of the week

Last week we ventured to Milner Downs to return to what was one of my favorite shows last year.  It's hard to beat a big, gorgeous, grass field to gallop around in all week, but on top of that the staff is crazy friendly, the hospitality is great and it ends up feeling more like a fun summer camp than a frenzied horse show.

Our plan was to step Windsor up a bit from his extra (extra) light duty at Tbird last month and see how he felt.

Tuesday he hacked out well, so I was excited to see him go Wednesday. 

Windsor, was also excited to go Wednesday (though not excited about selfies) - and the single warm up round at 2'9" turned into three, as Mister Man lacked a bit of focus and manners during his first (two) trips around.

Loose hair, don't care!
Here's the first round - not bad by any means, but if you know Winds, you can see that he's powering off the ground and tight in his back, both signs that he wants to paaaarrrrrrrty.

By the third round he was a bit less excited to be out in the big world:

It was a bit to be expected, we haven't been lunging him at all (which I like) - and even last year when Milner was our 6th week of showing, he perked up quite a bit when he got out in the big field. 

We ended the day on a good note, and opted to hack the Under Saddle just to let him explore the ring a bit more.  With all the extra classes he ended up with a very unplanned Reserve Champion in the Schooling 2'9" Hunter division.

Definitely didn't mean to take him around the ring three times, but height doesn't seem to affect his freshness (much), so I'm glad we kept it low at 2'9" and let him work out his wiggles without too much effort. 

Looking at the schedule for the rest of the week, my 2'9" Modified AA's was stretched out over Thursday, Saturday and Sunday - leaving a nice gap on Friday for Winds to maybe contest the Derby. 

Since he hadn't popped over anything over 2'9" since last November (gulp), we added one round at 3' on Thursday to see if he felt loose, or if the added height brought out any old symptoms of discomfort. 

(looks like a different beast when he is braided)

He jumped the 3' better than the 2'9" so we finalized our plan to have him do the (one round Canadian style) derby Friday, and just cart me around one round at a time the rest of the week.

Stay tuned for the DERBY, and also my triumphant (low) return to my beloved 2'9".

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review: Voltaire Hunter Bridle

Much like how I wasn't really shopping when we found Quiz, I also wasn't shopping when I ended up with a new bridle. 

It's been such a long time since I bought any new strap goods (how is that even possible!?), that I have started casually eyeballing them, but with (literally) no reason to buy, I've shown remarkable restraint in not collecting. 

This piece found it's way into my trunk in a non-traditional manner, but that's a story for another day. 

Today we discuss what I think about it.

A while back I noticed that Voltaire had added a figure-8 and a hunter bridle to their online store.  the photos were remarkably poor quality from a professional marketing standpoint, and I had never noticed one in person, so I wasn't overly tempted. 

Voltaire's Hunter bridle (w/flash attachment)

But, I've been on bridle hunts with a few other barnmates over the past year and gotten to see a variety of new Hunter bridles up close, as well as watched the process of eliminating some over others.

In terms of the "big" European brands, I have always coveted an Antares that hangs in the tack room.  It has a big, padded monocrown, but not ridiculous or overly trendy in it's size or style.  It has a normal (single buckle) throatlatch and looks very acceptable in the hunter ring.  What stands out is the weight, and quality of the leather.  It's the difference between picking up a plastic fork at a picnic, and feeling the weight of your grandmother's silver.  Sure, they mostly do the same thing, but one is just yummy in your hand.

Antares lost me with their weird new anatomical crown (they still offer the less dramatic version).  It looks like an awkward hat and I haven't seen it sit well on a single horse.  I'm sure it works wonders for someone, I'm just not sure who.

My favorite piece in the next price bracket down, is the Nunn Finer.  I've always thought their leather was of a good quality, and their styling is classic.  It takes some work to get it broken in - but once you get it - I think it rivals Edgewood for quality at a fraction the price.

Based on pictures alone, the Voltaire piece is not something I would have ordered.  Their trademark contrast stitching is ALL OVER IT.  each piece of leather has bright stitching down it's side.  Not just the noseband and browband.  Fancy stitch is EVERYWHERE.  Cheek pieces, cavesson hangar, etc. EVERYWHERE.  It's busy.  And the monocrown means that not only is there an extra buckle for the cavesson, but even the throatlatch has a double hanger - which makes for a lot of buckles.  And while the crown isn't overly padded or huge, I wasn't sure about the signature Basque stripe on the top of it.

But alas.  we got it. 

The narrower leather looks good on him I think.
(I also shouldn't have chided Voltaire for their photos, as I have NOT exceeded those standards... whoops. )

While the stitching is bold, the leather itself is rather narrow, and it fits his chiseled-pony-face quite nicely.  The contrast looks classy, and at least on a gray doesn't seem too busy.  After a few applications of conditioner and a night in a ziplock with some oil, everything is feeling appropriately soft and pliable.  The reins are still a tad stiff (and I will note a preference for the CWD laced reins...) but the quality is undeniable.  The padding is also exceptionally squishy, hopefully it is also sturdy.

Blurry, but at least his whole face is included

Still not sure I would have pulled it off the rack if I was actually shopping, but now that I have it, I like it.  And I enjoy that it looks a bit different without being obnoxious. 

What do you guys like to see in a bridle? How different is too different?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Meet Quiz! (and a naming contest)

It's been really, really, really hard not to jump the gun on this, but meet Quiz!

Picture already shared.  Need more stat.

Quiz is the aforementioned Brown Brad, a 5 year old cute gelding by Quadroneur (drool).

Much like Windsor - (while adorable) he appears to be far too chill (and slow) to really excel in Europe as a Jumper.  Fortunately for Quiz, he's cute as hell, trots like he's on a cloud, and I think will make one heck of a fancy little Hunter stateside.

I have always coveted liver chestnuts, and also the Quaterback lineage, so I'm just giddy as all get out at the prospect of finding both in Quiz. 

Quiz lacks the significant resume that Windsor had (no world championships for this guy), but he's only 5, and while he has shown, 1.10m is the extent of his experience at this point. 

What I really like about Quiz other than his color (and his daddy, and his trot..) is that he appears to have a very Windsor-esque brain.  Very chill, not in a rush to get anywhere and very unconcerned about where you pilot him to in front of a fence.  Chip in? Leave long? NBD.  We'll just lope around and figure it out later....


His classy good looks are just some really, really nice icing on a lovely liver chestnut cake. 

The wire has been sent, and his ticket is currently being booked.  Fingers crossed he gets here soon!!

Without further ado, some video.  Please note, this boy is in steel.  Swoon. 

The plan will be to get him out right away, (likely in August at Thunderbird) and see how he handles life as a Hunter.  Part of my agreement with The Husband is that this horse (unlike Winds) will always be for sale.  I hope I get to enjoy him for a while before someone snatches him away, but make no mistake - I have my Windsy, and while I'd love to have two - I will definitely allow another ammy to find theirs if the situation presents itself.

Anyway, the second order of business is that this thing needs a USEF name.  He is literally registered as just "Quiz," which I think is cute and will definitely keep for his barn name.  But he needs a big boy name for the show ring.

I already have a short list of favorites, but since none of them are perfection, I'm going to mine the blog-hive and see if you guys can top it.  (which, very likely).

Here are the guidelines:

1) start with a Q.
2) Sound like a regal, fancy, calm Hunter.
3) Don't be something that USEF has a ton of (Quiescence, Quintessential, Quixote, etc). 
4) I am open to creative spelling (Qredit is an example), but bear in mind ease of announcer pronunciation.
5) bonus points if it ties into Heir Apparent/Windsor.  I love a theme!

If I end up using your suggestion I will get you a $50 gift certificate to the online tack store of choice (Dover, SmartPak, RH, etc.).  If I stick with one of my picks, I get the gift cert (lol).

The "contest" is open until I actually register the beast.

Sound good? 


Monday, July 10, 2017

Windsy's Big Trip (aka, first show back)

Belated, but happy, show round up!

Have you missed us? BECUASE I HAVE.

Almost two weeks ago, Winds got loaded up and made his way back to Thunderbird for our first (!!) show of 2017.  The plan was mostly to get him out to stretch his legs (literally) and keep me from going stir crazy at home in the indoor (also, literally) - and I think we accomplished both.

Winds was reportedly quite fresh for schooling day, and in lieu of spinning on the lunge line he had two a day hacks with a decent canter set to help get the wiggles out.

I was there for the first day of showing, which saw Windsy entered in a Hi/Low 2'9" round.  His warm up looked honestly a bit stiff, but in the ring he looked loose and a bit more forward thinking than I am used to the Gray Prince being.  (you can tell because his ears are pinned forward and he's using his shoulders well... otherwise it only *feels* like a powder keg and looks like a lazy Hunter).

Canada now does red/blue rankings for their Low classes, so they don't get traditionally pinned, but a ribbon gets assigned based on how good your score is.  (Winds got a Red, which is first in Canada). I like this system as a way to handle the huge Low classes, but it sorta sucks they all show up as. "DNP" on the USEF record...

Anyway,  that was it for Wednesday.  Thursday I got early to hack Winds around the rings and loosen him up.  He felt great, and it was so, so, so, so nice to be on a horse, in a warm summer breeze taking in the bustle of a show before classes got underway.  SO nice. 

A couple hours later Winds had another Low 2'9" round.  This warm up looked a bit smoother, he was stepping under more, and using his back a bit better.  I breathed a small sigh of relief that his body seemed to feel good and watched him head for the ring.

The course looked a lot like the day before.  Totally chill and quiet from my perspective, powder keg on hooves according to the trainer.  So.... another early hack was scheduled for Friday before my magnificent return to the equitation (cough, 2'6", cough) ring. 

Friday, I had two rounds and a flat.  And it was hot.  That actually worked in my favor since Winds decided to blow a furry coat out in mid June and was a bit... well... wilted in the sunshine.

Our warm up was blissfully short as I somehow found all my fences decently so we parked at the back gate and watched a couple rounds.

I will say that for having not been in the show ring for 8 months, I feel really (really, really) good about this ride.  There are some, uh, misses.  But, overall, I like my hip angle more, I like Windsor's balance more, and in general it feels more thoughtful that our previous courses together.

I feel like it's weird to post a video of an Eq round and say "just watch the part between the fences" but that's what I'm doing, so just focus on the ride between the fences.

He looks sexy.  (I, on the other hand am in the only hunt coat that currently fits,  WHOOPS).

I actually felt ok about most of the fences, including the first one (YAY!).  But, I was particularly bummed about the single oxer - couldn't make a decision, then when Winds made one for me, I thought that not staying with him would somehow be a good idea (it wasn't). 

Then the rest worked out ok, I kept his balance up and that saved most of it until I chipped the crap out of the bending line at the end.  Lost his mouth, fought for a change, then got out ok.

I got 5th.  And that ribbon is going ON THE WALL, because we made it to a show, made it around and all is right with the world again.

Anyway, second round.  Started with the bending line I ended with before and threw in a rollback (what is this, medal finals??? I'm old and hot and tired...). 

sorry for blurry stills, pro photos on order!
Winds was amping up a bit, but we fixed a few mistakes - namely the bending line.  Then I got tight into the diagonal, but recovered.  Into the Judge's line Winds locked on HARD and started dragging me, so I choked him back and got a little weak.  I almost couldn't pull him out of the line (whoops), but I finally got him to let go of the oxer out and pay attention to the rollback.  I actually really liked how I finished the rollback, given how we started.... 

Then, Winds was thinking this must be a jumper course and he tried to switch gears.  I over compensated and we crawled to the last line, but finished ok.

Oh, also, the video is sideways.  I have no idea how it got sideways, and even less of an idea of how to get it un-sideways, so...sorry

We got 2nd.  In a nice division of 12.  So I was pretty stoked. (plus, 2nd is blue, so... that's always a plus).

The flat was toasty and a bit brutal.  Winds was good, but apparently I looked a bit droopy (sidenote: I am a bit droopy these days).  My sitting trot is not where it should be, but all else was fine.  Winds couldn't care less about traffic and that's a great feeling when you are nose to tail and fighting for space down the quarterlines.

Somehow our 3rd place on the flat was enough for Reserve, so Winds and I managed to maintain our weird streak of getting Reserve in every division we enter at Tbird.  (it's great for the ribbon wall).

His neck is somehow 2" long in this pic.. but RIBBON
I stuck around to watch the Juniors do their thing, but then I hit the road to join the family for the 4th.  Winds enjoyed some down days and turnout (I LOVE the turnouts at Tbird. #grass).

So now we are home and gearing up for Milner Downs, which you may recall is where I got all my lovely pictures of Windsor galloping across a big grass field.  They also have a really fun Derby.  I'm not sure we'll be ready for it, but I'm not-so-secretly hoping we can enter. 

He's been feeling great at home, and I'm really hoping we hold the trend.  This horse is so incredibly fun to ride and learn on, I just want to ride him forever. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Brad's Come in Brown Too....

So, uh - I wouldn't say that I've been shopping, more like "keeping an eye out" for anything super interesting. 
Oh.  Interesting.
We've even gone so far to bop around a bit and see a few younger prospects that have popped up.  And while I've never been a good window shopper, it's amazing how much less desperately I shop when I have a great horse at home in the barn...

Of the horses we've seen, there are a few lovely ones I liked, and if I were horseless, I probably would have jumped all over them...  But for one reason or another (size, price, grumpy face...) I could easily pass while I've got a wonderful Windsor waiting for me at home. 

Anyway, I really don't think I've ever actively shopped when I haven't been horseless and willing to compromise (sometimes a lot), so this whole "be really picky" thing is new to me. 

The idea with a possible new pony would be to have something fun to ride that could get me some good mileage while keeping Winds' schedule a bit lighter.  Since I'm not sure I can actually show two horses actively, I'd want the second horse to be something that would be easily marketable in a year or so. 

I should clarify - this would not be an investment horse.  I remain skeptical that such things exist.  But it would be nice to have something that's nice, calm, and attractive enough that I'd have a shot in hell of moving it along to another happy ammy.

In my crazy dream world, I'll have Windsy for ever and ever, and possibly have a rotating second horse that I learn on, show a little, sell -  then go find something else to learn on, show a little and sell.  I have zero illusions of making money - and I'm not sure the rotating roster idea will even work - but it's helping to at least define what to maybe-possibly search for.

Anyway, the current contender is definitely the flashiest of the group we've considered thus far.  A nice liver chestnut with a cute face and a daisy cutter trot.  He's 5, hasn't done a ton, but has shown 1.10m with an amateur.  I like his balance, looks, and gaits.  His jump isn't the biggest, loftiest thing out there, but it's cute and consistent.  He seems straightforward, forgiving (and is a total push ride) - all things that are good for an increasingly chicken, ammy...

blurry - but you can imagine
There are still a few question marks that need answering, but I like him and while I know it's dangerous to name the puppy (especially before you vet it), I can't help but to start brainstorming names.....

Vetting is scheduled for Monday.  Cross your fingers, toes and hooves!
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