Destroyed

I lost my best friend this week.

I don’t know how else to put it. I’m literally afraid to fall asleep and wake up without his head on my shoulder. I’m scared to work from home knowing he won’t be lying right next to me.

For the last 10 years, Elliott has been the epicenter of our home. Despite the big hairy guard dog, he ruled the roost. Chasing Drake around the house, stealing his toys, demanding attention from me wherever I went, which was fine because I always wanted to give him attention. And if he wasn’t around, I’d call his name and hear his collar jingling as he trotted to me, loose belly swinging with each step.

Before the snaggletooth days

Elliott was always a special needs case. We picked him up at a shelter the day after he was tossed out of a car window. The fall must have fractured his face, because he had major sinus issues for the first half of his life, and a scar that ran down his nose. Then an extra (third) upper canine that grew horizontally out of his mouth meant dental surgery, allowing for his bottom canine to pop out and give him a proper snaggletooth look that I was more than particular to. He was prone to UTI’s, requiring special food, and needed amitriptyline (anxiety meds) daily, which left him still clingy as hell but slightly less manic. He had separation anxiety from me, to the point where he would fall before allowing me to put him down if I was gone for an extended time.

He rode around the house on my shoulder, and slung in my arms like a baby. He would beg to be picked up often, and every morning he would follow me to the closet to grab my attention as I changed, flopping onto the carpet in front of me, daring me not to pet him. More often than not he would sit on my lap facing me, a paw on each side of my head as though I were wrapped in a hug. This is how we watched movies, or hung out on the couch.

He was vocal from the get go. Basically bleating like a lamb the whole ride home from the rescue, yelling at me to be picked up, or just again trying to get my attention. He hated when I had the speakerphone on, and I swear he knew if I was on a conference call by the strange voices, and would use that opportunity to garner snickers from the crowd as he decided to sing the song of his people.

Elliott loved Drake. If Drake was tired, Elliott would bathe him, licking his ears or the top of his head as he laid down. Elliot would snuggle up against him, writhing around on Drake’s paws like the ultra needy creature he was. If Drake was feeling zoomy, Elliott would hop onto the couch and bat him quickly on the nose as he went by. And Drake loved Elliott. The number of times I picked up that cat to find him covered in dog drool cannot be ascertained. The mutual grooming was both endearing and gross. But mostly endearing.

He would steal Drake’s dog toys- his ball, his bone, whatever, if he had interest. He didn’t get many toys of his own, but his favorite was a cat wand, and he would carry it around, up and down the stairs, meowing with it between his teeth as if to show it off. Like many things with Elliott, he was 150% with everything, and so we had to limit his toy time so as not to indulge him in another obsession.

I never thought he was a looker, but I am proud of my weirdo cat that knew his name, who [mostly gently] ruled over his household with a strong affection, and I swear he knew that I was as absolutely, unequivocally besotted with him as he was with me.

The end was swift, but nothing like I had ever imagined. What I had hoped for was a crotchety, toothless cat that probably needed his own medication storer to keep his routine straight. I had hoped for a peaceful, though sad, in-home euthanasia that we prepared for as best we could. What happened was that I saw my best friend deteriorate in front of my eyes in less than 24 hours, and I had to make the choice to spare him the pain of treatments that were only 5% likely to save his life. My husband and I ended up in a vet hospital with him, waiting until he was as relaxed as possible and resting his head on my arm before we let him go. It was the right decision, but good lord it wasn’t easy.

I feel like there are animals, and people, who come into your life for a reason. Elliott helped me find a sense of humor in difficulty. He forced me to put away some of my own anxiety to be strong for him. It was the love of him that led us to Jackson, our other tailless creature.  He was the best cuddler, a force of nature, and a personality that will never be found in 4 legs again. No amount of time would have ever been enough, but 10 years seems fleeting in light of everything. If an animal can ever be your baby, your therapist, your BFF, your manager, your patient, and your pride and joy, he was it.

I don’t know how I will get through without him.

Show Recap: Longleaf HT Novice Showjumping

So if you’ve been following my sporadic updates thus far, you’ll know that I went into showjumping on Sunday in the lead, and I had on repeat in my head that it was mine to lose- I am classic when it comes to effing things up in the last moment.

I always felt like showjumping was my weakest phase, as well as Jack’s. He doesn’t exactly jump in the most excellent form, is spooky and gets flat and fast when worried (and I take lots of rider fault for that- I let the squirrels in my head run away with me too when things come up so fast).

 

But the course looked like it would favor us- meaning it was very twisty-turny with only a couple long approaches. I hate long approaches. Therefore I was most concerned about fence 5, which would totally trick me into getting that flat, fast canter that I’m (he’s) so good at.

My plan going in, was to dip between the timers and fence 8, so I could get him close to the fences and also keep my turn to fence 1 short and bending. This would allow me to keep both of us balanced. So despite it looking a little rough, we executed the plan and I’m happy with the result.

In the end, I’m okay with my round, though I definitely know my weak points- as predicted those longer approaches- 5 and 8. Fence 5 was totally on me- I just got to the fence in a weird spot, and probably if I would have kept my leg on I would have gotten a flyer, or I could have held for a deep spot. As it was I panicked at the last second, and in order to pick up the pieces Jack saved my rear by scrambling and then popping over it. Fence 8 we just ran up under. Oh well.

Somehow we were able to make it around clear and secure the win, and all I can say is thank goodness style is not a requirement in showjumping. I don’t think I breathed the whole time- and I normally do get nervous about showjumping, but I fully admit that this was on another level, and while I did my best to execute on the plan I had made with the trainer, my nerves definitely got the better of me (hello, fence 5) – I need to do better to not put Jack in those places where he has to save the day.

I have never led a victory gallop. Good lord it was fun. I still don’t know that it’s sunk in that the win even happened, but I won’t lie- that blue ribbon is extra pretty. And jack didn’t even spook at it as we ran around the arena!

 

 

Show Recap: Longleaf HT Novice XC

Obviously, I told a major porky pie when I said I would get to the cross country part of my recap on Wednesday. Instead, Thursday morning I was emitting many four letter words in attempts to get the actual live feed of LRKY on USEF.org…. Instead, I could only access Sparrow Nio’s dressage test on repeat. It was rather distracting, and left no brain cells left for writing about cross country.

Now that my apology is out of the way, onto XC.

In all honesty, the course was not a difficult one in terms of size or complexity, unless your horse was spooky. What made that the difference were the multiple approaches to fences that required skimming other fences, landscaping, or even maneuvering between other level’s combinations in order to get in a decent jump. But the jumps themselves were fair and if anything, on the smaller side.

What I didn’t realize is that apparently folks were having trouble in between fences from 2-3, which required you to ride from the infield to outside the steeplechase course. This path was lined with white fencing (the kind you see on the perimeter of a steeplechase racetrack), and apparently the wind blowing plants behind it was crushing major problems. Two people got ejected before making it to fence 3.

Jack, for his part, somehow didn’t see what the fuss was about- at least not there. Fences 1-4 rode just fine. 5AB was a nice bending line combination over two log stacks, and while our in was beautiful, we got to the B element on a half stride, and as the photos show, the out was hella ugly. The funky lines for us really started at fence 10, which required getting really close to a training fence on our left in order to line up to a roll top with a downhill descent. Jack did not care for getting up close and personal to the other fence, was distracted by the flowers for it, and was a bit surprised when we got to our allotted obstacle.

 

11 was another tricky place, having to literally weave through an angled training combination to reach it, and 12 was a max skinny that required getting right on top of another fence to get the line correct. I won’t say those were particularly pretty fences either, but we got it done.

 

We got rolling up the hill and had a lovely jump over the max yellow house, up the tiny bank and out over the B element, and then I overshot our line to the boat before the water, but we jumped it and went into the water as planned.

The jump coming out was small, but had a terrifying bush positioned in the center of it that required the rider to choose a side a la a skinny. Jack saw the bush, spooked, then flailed over the center of it anyways. You’ll hear in the video my laughing- he tries, bless his heart, but lord smooth sailing is NOT our MO.

With one more fence on course, we ran through the finish flags more than 30 seconds under time. It was my first time in almost two decades using studs, and I was really pleased with how Jack felt- he wasn’t nearly as out of breath as I had expected, he felt confident and happy despite being spastic just moments before.

Of course the tough part about being first going into showjumping is that it’s yours to lose. I promise not to be so derelict in writing that up soon!

Show Recap: Longleaf HT Novice Dressage

By now I feel fairly confident in Jack’s show routine, and he’s starting to feel a little more confident in it too.

He needs time to get to the venue and take it all in, so Friday we got there nice and early (before the potentially-tornado-holding-storms arrived) and went on a long flat ride. I made myself do a full 20 minutes of work at the walk- which normally means lateral work (shoulder-in, haunches-in, leg yield, walk half pass in each direction) until he settles, and then work on stretchy walk and medium walk transitions. When he feels loose, we start doing a baby trot and working in almost-walk and actual walk transitions to get him listening to my half halts. This also so far is exactly what my ‘pre-ride’ looks like the next day.

Eventually I’ll start doing canter transitions and work through a few elements of my test before finding a quiet calm note to end on. Jack was really good and relaxed Friday, and came back mentally very quickly despite the fact that the tent catching the wind like a sail occasionally caused a spook or two.

Saturday, I got him out of his stall and went for a walk around the grounds before tacking him up and doing said pre-ride. We stopped after one canter depart in each direction and a centerline, so that he still had plenty of gas in the tank for our dressage test later.

So by the time we got to our actual dressage warm-up, Jack had seen the rings from a riding point of view twice. He felt relaxed, even a tish lazy, so I was careful not to go too crazy getting him really forward in the warmup and leave nothing for us in the dressage court. A quick glance from the coach to make sure we didn’t look terrible, and we went over to the ring.

Jack being a spooky guy, I made sure to walk him around the perimeter of the arena a couple times and give him lots of scratches next to the judge. I felt pretty confident going down centerline, and was disappointed when we had 2 decent sized spooks mar our test.

The judge practically had to score us down for the one approaching E since it was so obvious, which was unfortunate. Otherwise the test felt obedient and I made sure to show good geometry as much as possible.

I knew I didn’t have the free walk I really wanted, but didn’t want to put too much leg on and break gait, so subsided with getting the reach and swing without having the forward I would have liked. I also overshot centerline slightly, but overall was happy with the quality of the test, despite the couple bobbles.

The judge rewarded us with a 26.4, putting us at the top of the leaderboard going into cross country.

But more on cross country tomorrow!

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.

Dressage
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.

Jumping
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.