Shoe Woes

Jack is notoriously high-maintenance. He’s the horse that my vet suggested could actually benefit from individual turnout, because as much as we can possibly bubble wrap him, the better off we are. It’s… time consuming to think about.

So when we recently moved out of the hella-expensive aluminum shoes to a steel alternative, my whole team of pros (vet, farrier, trainers) were watching to see if he could handle the change. It looked like while he was a little more on the forehand (read: less up), he also was moving fairly well.

But this week, both those expensive pour-in pads he had decided to head off to the land of lost things. And all of the sudden Jack is walking much slower down the concrete aisle, and feeling a little short in harder footing. I stuffed his feet full of Magic Cushion and wrapped those babies within an inch of their life, but I’m a bit lost myself. At 4 weeks into his shoe cycle, and with a show in 3 days, what do we do now?

I’m waiting for my farrier to give me a call, and try to make a game plan, but in the meantime, enjoy this pity-party post!

Lesson Learnings

This weekend is the Longleaf HT, our second recognized show this year, and I am keen to do well! (Or ya know, die trying)

So I’ve had a few lessons leading up to this point that I haven’t blogged about (actually I guess I haven’t blogged about lessons in a long time.. *shrug*), but there’s been enough major knowledge drops that I feel a post is warranted.

We’re starting to turn up the volume a bit when it comes to the sandbox. A couple weeks ago it was moving the haunches in and out at the canter on a 20m circle. Last week we started playing with canter half pass, which damn-near melted my brain at times. Since his left lead is stronger, that exercise is significantly easier in that direction. To the right, I really need to make sure my left leg (from foot to hip) stays connected and down, keeping both sitz bones equally plugged into the saddle. This helps counteract my left hand creeping higher and higher. Just like on the 20m circle, I shouldn’t overdo this exercise- coming to not quite the quarterline is enough to school. We also talked about starting canter-halts, but I don’t presonally feel confident enough in myself to make that happen yet!

no new media, so here’s the current (IMO) queen of dressage

Though simple enough in theory, we’ve also been continuing the work on our downward transitions- trot/walk and trot/halt- and back to trot. For Jack, he’s amazingly sensitive in that if I ask abruptly, he will land rather dramatically into the downward transition. Instead, for walk/trot/walk, I have to think about drawing out the transitions in order to keep the energy from crashing out from underneath us. For trot/halt/trot, it’s a much more precise half halt, but the only way I can refrain from having walk steps is if I thinking forward into the halt. Then the energy is there to land lightly into halt, and allow us (like a hovercraft in E’s words) to pick up again in the trot again.

Straightness is the name of the game here, and the name of the game is straightness. In our last cross country school Thursday, I realized I hadn’t fully learned my lesson from our time at Bobby’s, as Jack tried a half-hearted version of his last-second-flail-right thing that got me off a month ago. Not cool Jack, not cool. He wants to lean through the right shoulder (which also makes sense as to why the right lead half pass is harder!) and it’s my job to get him straight as an arrow to the middle of the fence. No taking that last step for granted- no sir!

Yellow dragon likes to flail

I’ve also improved some with my upper body, and I’m learning to be patient even in the not-perfect spots. That’s the hardest, because every fiber of my being feels like it needs to jump for him when we come up to a cruddy distance. Eventually (I hope) I’ll curb that instinct, but you know how bad habits like to linger…

To help myself sit up and keep my shoulders back, I have gathered a plethora of mental pictures that I keep on constant repeat:

Shoulders over Hips (BC)

Shoulders away from the fence (HH)

Chin Up and Away all the way TO and OVER the fence (AC)

Add to this, that I make a habit of standing in my stirrups at the start of a ride to find my base of support- and if I feel my heels creep up I do it again – this tidbit from Mr. Boyd Martin.

And then in general, I have to think about my weak lumber as the base of support for my upper body- so I constantly remind myself to rotate my hips under and think about having my hips in front of my shoulders (which is not the same as BC’s above advice- but NEVER shoulders in front of hips) as I stay out of the saddle. This engages my weak lower back and helps stabilize my whole upper body.

In Sum
In general, keeping him between my hand and legs on both sides of his body is crucial. As the stakes get higher, and the movements and questions tougher, I need to get straighter and stronger to help him do the same. So I’ll leave with this thought:

“Dressage [RIDING] is the art of putting one crooked body on top of another crooked body and making them both straight.” ~Richard Weis.


Let’s Discuss: Qualifying a Fall

So in the last month, I’ve had not one but two separate opportunities to experience a much faster route from saddle to ground.

This always deserves resharing

My involuntary dismounts have both been on the same side of the horse, and ended with my landing (I believe) on the same parts of my body- that is, my right shoulder and hip. This last gravity check did a real number on my shoulder especially, particularly affecting the rotator cuff (so the masseuse told me as she dug her thumbs into the flesh there).

Even though I feel as though it was not my head that was the primary victim of these apparent nose-dives, I still wonder- what goes into the ‘fall to the head = new helmet’ rule? I have no evidence that my head was not involved at all, and admit that my neck was sore after the last incident, but obviously not concussion to my knowledge. 

At some point, do we assume that the helmet has been compromised by the sheer association (like being stuck on my head) with my body as it hit the ground? Or does it need to take a more direct hit in order to be compromised? What is the rule you keep to? Does anyone know the exact science??

On not bouncing anymore

They say when you turn 30, a lot changes. One of those things is definitely losing the ability to bounce back after a fall.

I wish this was an April Fool’s Joke, but my body is telling me that nothing about this is funny. Well, mildly funny, considering I am walking like this:

Which even I find funny, except that it hurts.

While I also fell off a week before the show, that was a dumb fall. That was a fall where if I had really wanted it, I could have fought and stayed on. But I was lazy, and I fell. It was one of those dumb slow motion falls, but even so, falling from a 17h horse is a long way, and so I was pretty busted for a while. In face, despite chiropractic sessions for myself just the day before, my right hip was already killing me on the drive down to XC on Saturday… and that was before fall #2.

Saturday’s adventure included a lesson with Bobby Costello at Will Faudree’s gorgeous Gavilon Farm. I had never been there before, but after seeing Mark Weisbrecker’s place (Winterbook), I had a pretty good notion that smaller fences would be few and far between.

And I was right.

So we started out over a Novice-ish hanging log to warm up, going over it once each way, then up a hill to a Novice table, and circled back to a max Novice cabin.

Whereupon I bit the dust.

The first couple jumps had actually gone quite well, despite departing from our normal start-small-and-get-bigger warm up not being an option. So on the approach to the cabin, I was thinking he would take it no problem- I mean, the creature has jumped plenty of fences like this. You see where this is going…

…because he didn’t. He half-jumped it/half tried to run out right, which sent him doing that horrible flailing/twisting thing with his body over the right corner of the house and promptly landed me in the dirt, falling exactly on the same shoulder and hip as I had a month ago.

I did, of course, get back on, conquered that fence, and then some. It was actually a pretty amazing lesson- hard, but amazing.

Jack jumped his first max training fence, training up/down banks, did well over the ditch, and even did his first drop into water. The last of which I am so effing stoked about, since the last time we tried that it was a massive fail. So, all in all, a super day.

Since I’ve gotten home though, the pain has set in. I can’t lift my right arm up all the way (the shoulder I landed on), and I walk like I had a peg leg. Sitting makes this way worse, and I’m wearing enough pain patches that I basically look like a walking censor bar.

I definitely don’t remember having this hard of a time recovering. I mean, that I felt the repercussions of the last fall for a whole month, is just insane.

I’ve done the epsom salt bath, the constant Advil, the self-doctoring (wine + Salonpas patches), and I’m still a bit crunchy and groaning. Tonight I’m going to the chiro, and tomorrow I have a massage (and not the fun kind) planned.

Help, friends of a similar age! What do I do?! Other than the obvious…

Not fall off.


Product Review: LeMieux X-Grip Euro Saddle Pad

First, I will make the following disclaimer: I am officially a saddle pad snob.

In a previous life, I thought of saddle pads as the required bit of cloth between the saddle and my horse, a layer of protective cotton that served little other purpose but decoration.

Oh my, how that’s changed.

It started with an Ogilvy pad I won through a contest Amanda hosted, and then I started eyeballing the beautiful shaped pads that are becoming au couture in the eventing world. I struggled with pads bunching up behind my leg, or sliding back so far as to need re-adjusting at inopportune times. Even the beloved custom Ogilvy pad could occasionally be victim to my sticky-sprayed-to-hell leg, pulling and bunching as I spent more time in the tack.

A generic saddle pad starting to slip and bunch / PC: Brant Gamma

So giving the LeMieux X-grip a try was a no-brainer. For one, the LeMieux brand has a reputation for quality products. Two, it’s got a subtle shape to it that hints at the trendy XC pads while remaining true to a more traditional look. And three, well- the grip- more about that soon.

The LeMieux X-Grip in action / PC: Brant Gamma

Upon first inspection, it’s clear that this LeMieux pad was constructed with functionality in mind. Nothing about this pad is floppy – even the main body of the pad (where the quilted squares are) is reinforced with a bamboo lining that is slip resistant, and supposedly moisture wicking, though in the interest of full disclosure- I have yet to try it out in hot or long rides where that is necessary.

Along the spine of the pad, where the panels of the saddle sit, the pad has an extra layer of memory foam that is covered in a silicone design. Not only does this give me extra confidence that, despite my heavy amateur bottom hitting the saddle occasionally, this pad gives my sensitive Sally a better ride than a pad without this feature- and the silicone covering is yet another failsafe for slippage. Because when we put horse clothes on, we expect them to stay there. #canigetanamen

I’m not afraid.

The other clever feature of the design (though probably obvious to others who have invested in good quality pads before) is the additional canvas material at the girth area. On all of my schooling pads, this is inevitably the first place to start showing major signs of wear. Pilling, rubbing, loose stitches, you name it. But the canvas on this section of the pad feels ready to go to battle, and I feel confident that it will hold up exponentially better than my cheaper pads at home. Even the girth strap feels like good quality, and though I don’t use it, I like that there’s the option underneath for putting individual billets through 3 loops (not shown in picture).

Probably should have taken photos before use… or maybe after washing #mybad #reallife

While a bit pricey compared to your average pad, this LeMieux pad seems absolutely worth the investment. It holds up to the test of my iron-grip calves (particularly when stressed at a show and trying to stop a certain giant yellow/yeller pony from pinging off the fences) and is a great example of form-follows-function design.

Legs of steel- and many a saddle pad victim to attest to it

The construction is made to last, and it was obviously crafted with both comfort of horse, and elegance of show decor, in mind. Because while heavily branded at first glance, when in use none of the carefully placed logos detract from a classy overall picture.

In conclusion, this pad has made me re-think what I put on my horse’s back. While I have always been a legit saddle-pad addict, I can’t see myself using anything else where it really counts. In the competitive showjumping ring, that means this pad will be seeing a lot of action, and based on my experience and opinions so far, I think it will be up to the job for years to come. LeMieux hit it out of the park with this ultra-grippy pad, and I invariably give it an A+ for all the reasons above.


Getting used to a 2 Horse Home

For the first time in my adult life, I have two horses. Of course this was not planned, and I’ve already gone into some detail about how mushy it makes me feel to see Foster’s sweet snoot over the door when I get to the barn. He’s still my heart horse, and just sitting in his stall and letting him lick my hands and nibble my hat does more to settle my soul than the world’s best bottle of Malbec.

Recently, an interesting side-effect of Foster coming back into my life has been how it’s effected Jack. Jack does not trend on the cuddly side, instead the more obvious opinions he shares with me are when I’m annoying him, by shoving me with his head whenever I get in reach. But since Foster has arrived at the barn, I’ve noticed Jack changing his tune a bit.

Often times, I get to the barn, and walk straight back to Jack with just a quick pat on the nose for Foster (longer snuggles are reserved for after my ride), and I routinely say hello to Jack Jack and go to get my grooming kit from the tack room. When he hears my voice, Foster will stick his fave over the gate and whicker softly to me, looking very expectantly at me from the other end of the barn (Jack and Foster are many many stalls apart). Of course this melts my heart and (since he has my number, obviously) I go give him a quick treat and return to Jack.

Jack must be a smart cookie observing all this, because now, when I go into the tack room, I’ve heard him whicker to me from the crossties.

Oh my heart.

Maybe it’s all treat related, but he’s also just seemed happier during our grooming sessions and will actually turn to me and not choose to give me a good shove, instead seeming to prefer a good head scratch while mostly closing his eyes. It’s ah-dorable.

I’ve also started teaching Jack to smile, and he is a super quick study. I also think this has helped improve our relationship, because it establishes a currency of positive reinforcement. I’ve just got to work on him not raising his head so much, since he’s so tall to begin with.

But despite his picking up on some of Foster’s cuter habits, Jack is not a fan of his painted brother. Riding together he makes exceptionally grumpy faces when Foster comes within range, making it clear to all that Foster is offensive to him in every way.

A fleeting moment with Jack’s ears forward- probably before snaking his head with ears pinned at Foster

And then last night, Jack insisted on stopping at Foster’s stall to say hello. Foster was all ‘uh, thought you hated me bro’ and then they commenced in some mutual grooming that ended in a big squeal and my pulling Jack off to his stall. But not before I snagged a whole bunch of cute photos.

I was thinking about how nice it would be if these two got along and day dreaming of all the cute photos of them together, when I walked Jack back by Foster’s stall on our way to the ring, and Foster promptly made the most pissed-off-i-hate-you face ever. Coming from Foster, that is a face I have seldom seen before. Like WTF, Foster- who knew that was inside of you?

Sigh. Maybe one day they’ll love each other.

Out with the Old, in with the New (Chariot)

I’ve had my ‘Box on wheels’ stock trailer since 2007, when it was a very generous Christmas/Birthday (those things are not close together btw) gift  from  my parents.  It is a custom built Colt, extra tall at just over 7’6″, and just a basic 2H straight load.
I’ve done my best to take care of her over the years, getting it serviced, even getting her repainted several years back to provide some longevity for her various surfaces.

But, despite the Colt being massively handy and a worthy road companion, she does have some definite drawbacks. Namely, not having a dressing room has been a real bitch. Add in that for the majority of the time I’ve had it I’ve been pulling with an SUV (yes, I know, let’s not get into it over the SUV vs truck debate. Trucks win. Done.) which limits the space for tack even further because there’s seats. That’s OK when you’re going to a dressage show, but going to an event when there’s tack sometimes in triplicate, this set up becomes a nightmare.

Bungee cord hell- sorry Jack!

I also have an unhealthy fear of being rear-ended by one of idiots that rides my ass any given time I haul somewhere. Though being steel, the doors aren’t so thick that an SUV wouldn’t end up taking out my horse’s hocks as well. So having a ramp (with the assumption that ramps tend to be thicker, well constructed, and have their own underlying structure to support them) eases my mind about the potential harm that could come to my horse by ignorant-sons-of-bitches that we share the road with.
So eventually the time came when I could finally afford a new ride for Jack, I spent no time in rattling through every trailer sales website within range.

When I saw that a local trailer dealer, with a good reputation, had the brand of trailer I most liked, I reached out. She said she would cut me a deal if I wanted the trailer in as-is/pre-detailed condition, and after seeing it in person 2 days later, we made a deal and I hitched the new trailer up and took her home.
While she’s an older filly, she hides her almost 2 decades well having been kept under a cover for several years. All the structures are there and in good shape, including even the hay bag mangers that Jack seems to like when we borrow our friend’s twin trailer.

And she’s got a ramp! A sturdy, but not too heavy ramp that keeps Jack safe(r) as he enters the trailer and during the ride.

My plan is to order some of the Hawk paint that they offer to match the interior, and touch up one small rough spot on the exterior.

I can’t wait to take Jack on his maiden adventure in his new golden chariot! And, I’m thrilled to say that the Colt is sold and going to her new home on Sunday!

Show Recap: SPHT Novice XC

Sunday the sun finally came out, and it warmed up enough to make everything feel a bit cheerier. While the footing out on the course was definitely torn up in some places, for the most part it actually helped to churn up the grass in the slickest places.

The warm up ring was a huge improvement over the day before (thank goodness, because I’m not sure I could have survived another), and we had a quick canter and gallop about before tossing in a couple fences and heading to the start box. Holly had me thinking about galloping away from the jump, which admittedly I can forget to do in the excitement of having reached the other side of the fence. Oops.

Overall though, the course was a nice first go back, and featured a couple long gallops between spurts of fences (fences 1-4 were together, then 6-11, then 12-16). Because of the wetness I just let him cruise without pushing down the long stretch after fence 4 (some of which you can see in the video), and brought him to a trot where there were tighter turns to fences since we don’t have studs.

While a couple fences felt a little rusty (he jumped me out of the tack over 1 that we got in deep to, and then hit a big table at the end fairly hard that was at the top of a hill), overall it was a pretty confidence building run. We came in more than 30 seconds under the optimum time and though tired, Jack was convinced he could keep on running. He pranced back to the barn hollering his head off, and looked no worse for wear under strong scrutiny.

Could care less about the ribbon- more interested in wondering where all his friends are going

Thanks to our clear jumping rounds, we finished in second place. The most exciting thing about this is of course that it qualifies us for the AEC’s later this year, which has been a dream of mine since FOREVER.

Now to keep the golden boy in one piece, and get another couple recognized shows in to seal the deal!

Show Recap: SPHT Novice Showjumping

Friday night around 4pm, it started raining.

I walked my XC course in a downpour. Poor souls tried to ride their horses or unload their trailers in the wet, and slowly our showgrounds turned into a city of drowned rats. Where there were puddles, lakes appeared, and the only upside was that the water complexes were looking more and more inviting as our horses desensitized themselves to wet toes.

This was all fine for the moment, as I smugly enjoyed hiding under the overhang cleaning tack, having already ridden and unpacked. And then I realized that we were warming up for showjumping on grass that was getting slicker by the minute.

And though the next day it had stopped raining, it didn’t get any dryer. So this is pretty much how the warmup went:

And of course I shared my SJ warmup with a couple of folks riding horses that were hellbent at killing us all. They went sideways, they went up, there was head tossing and rearing and cursing, and it was so slick that I couldn’t turn fast to get out of the way.

Jack handled it amazingly well- but as for me, well:

all while shooting bullets at people with my eyes

The trainer was wondering what the hell was wrong with me, while my brain was quietly cooking inside my head. I was relieved then when it was time to head over to the ring and leave that hot mess behind us.

Despite all that, our course was actually one of our best to date. Jack is really settling into his role as show horse, and bar a dumb spook turning to the final line, was fairly rideable throughout. For myself, I am finally learning to sit up, but still got a little leany about halfway through, causing Jack to pick up the pace and put in less balanced approaches. #mybad

So, coming in almost 10 seconds under, we survived wrapped up showjumping and then sat in second before cross country.

It’s a miracle!