With a limited budget I tend towards the practical and generic. One piece of tack has to pull double duty for schooling and schooling shows and generally also has to work for both dressage and jumping until I can slowly build up the collection. That doesn’t mean I don’t have champagne taste though! Here are the five things I would love to have in my tack room:
5.) Custom brow band. Words can’t express how much I love my custom brow band that Karen made for my trail/endurance bridle. It is pure perfection. I’m pretty picky and not really flashy in the blingy beads sort of way. The ones from Freedman’s are glorious though. This is my favorite, but at $95 for a brow band it is not likely to happen any time soon.
4.) Majyke Equip Cross Country boots. Gem has had naked legs the entire time I have had her. Boots just aren’t used very much in endurance. I talked to Trainer about her leg protection needs and she said that she would recommend them for cross country, but that we did not need them for our level of stadium. I hate neoprene and so does Gem, so any boot with neoprene is out and I also don’t like the idea of memory foam. These boots have gotten rave reviews and come in red!
3.) Mattes Couture All Purpose Saddle Pad. My precious! Oh you gorgeous thing you! Soft, fluffy sheepskin, colors galore and the cut out shape. It says it is all purpose, but I would use it under my jump saddle. With so many options for quilt, sheepskin, piping and binding colors I’d have to spend some serious time thinking about what exactly I would want.
Picture from the Dover website linked to above. I would likely pick red quilt, black sheepskin and red piping but could go the other way and do black quilting with red piping and red sheepskin. Oh my! I have shivers just thinking about it.
2.) 4 point breast collar. Gem is nearly impossible to fit in a more traditional style breast collar. The chest strap running to the girth is always too long. In order for it to fit it needs to be so ridiculously short that it makes it all fit weird. The ones without that strap seem harder to find. Lund Saddlery makes a lovely one although if I am seeing it correctly it only comes with navy and that is just not my color. I haven’t found the perfect one just yet, so no picture.
1.) EcoGold Flip Dressage Half Pad. My dressage saddle is just a titch wider than I’d like, but not so much as to create an issue. It leaves the perfect amount of room for a half pad to help take some of the shock out of the ride. While my favorite material for Gem is sheepskin, I don’t see the point in using it when there is another pad underneath it that actually touches her skin. This pad has a lot of features I really like, plus it has two sides – hence the flip. This means that I could have red and black on one side for schooling and then use the white side up for shows. $250 is a bit much for me right now on something I don’t actually need, so it will stay on my wish list.
The broader prompts have been much more interesting during this challenge and this one was no exception. I really need to ask my mom what her selection process is as I believe it is very different than mine.
A book written by an author from a country you have never visited – The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Oscar de Leon is a Dominican American living in New York with his mother and sister. His father had run out years before never to return and his mother is an ever present dictator in the family. Oscar himself is an outcast: obese, nerdy before it was hip, and longing for love and sex. He spends his time worrying that he will die a virgin and casts detailed love fantasies on every girl he chances to meet when he is not feverishly writing fantasy and sci-fi novels in his room. When his heart gets broken time and again he falls into a deep depression.
The novel follows the life of Oscar from childhood to early adulthood as he seeks to find his place in the world and to find love. Along the way, the reader is introduced to his family history, one that is filled with bad choices and violence. Will Oscar be able to break the family curse or will he succumb to it himself?
The novel takes place spanning a time from the early 1970s through the mid 1990s and introduces the reader to the de Leon family both in their origins in the Dominican Republic as well as in the US. The family believes in an old curse which they have named Fuku and which began with his grandfather in the times of the Trujillo dictatorship.
While the novel is about Oscar, it is mostly written from a hidden narrator’s point of view except for a chapter from his sister, Lola. It is revealed half way through that the narrator is his sister’s boyfriend, Yunior who is writing the novel to make amends to the family for the wrongs he feels he has committed in his friendship with Oscar.
The book is compelling although difficult to read with the randomly thrown in words and phrases in Spanish. In addition, the author uses multiple modern science fiction/pop culture references to move the story along. He frequently quotes Lord of the Rings, The Matrix and various superheroes as well as some more obscure characters that I was unfamiliar with.
The characters themselves are well defined and rounded with full glimpses into their personalities and motivations. The chapters that go back into the family past help to enlighten the reader on how each character became who they were.
I’m not well schooled on Dominican customs and traditions, so I can only go on what the author has served up in regards to the behaviors of those in the novel. Part of me felt a little betrayed by the author. As if he was leading me to believe unfavorable stereotypes and generalizations as truth. My own background offers nothing to counter what he writes, but it would be interesting to speak with someone of that cultural background to get their take on how the culture is being portrayed.
The overall theme is about past curses and what we can do to break them. Oscar suffers depression and has no family help to solve his issues and break out of his cycles of self harm. In the end, Oscar is his own worst enemy and causes his downfall which mimics, a little too closely, part of his mother’s past.
In the end, while I do not know how Oscar’s life could be called wondrous, the book is captivating and well worth the read.
After the show earlier this month, I decided that Gem needed a break from all this hard work. It didn’t come to fruition until this past weekend when my mom agreed to watch Wyatt so Dusty and I could have a date. It was the first date we had been on since last October (8 months!) and long over due.
I watched the weather closely. The unusually cool and wet spring has continued into an unusually cool and wet summer and it poured all evening Saturday. Sunday was clear though, so we loaded the Dynamic Duo up and hit the trails for the first time together in over 2 years!
It was amazing. Both horses were relaxed, happy and forward without being pushy at all. Pete lead the entire way as per our usual: Gem hates to lead and Pete hates to follow so it works out perfectly. Pete got tired around mile 5, but I was really proud of the old man. At 26 and with his mostly retired state, he tackled those hills and technical trails like a pro.
Here is a photo dump from the ride. Be prepared to see Pete’s butt a lot!
At the end we returned home with two happy and relaxed horses and riders. It was one of the best trail rides we have had and it really made me miss the days when we went out together all the time. Dusty is my favorite trail partner.
I got to thinking on the way home. Part of me thinks the best thing for Gem would be to sell her or lease her out to an active endurance home. A place where she would get to be out on trail all the time and competing like she loves. I just can’t dedicate the time right now. It is too much to ask of the family to be gone for 6-8 hours every weekend to condition in addition to the actual race time. If she were leased out to an endurance home, I could look at leasing a horse for eventing.
But I’m dedicated to Gem. She is 19 and has a forever home with me for better or worse. She isn’t miserable and at her age and with her personality I wouldn’t trust her with very many people. I would never forgive myself if I leased her out and that person lamed her and that is a very real possibility in this sport if someone rode her too hard or too fast. I think getting her out when able and giving her these mental breaks will serve to keep us both sane and happy and she does really love the jumping we are now doing. A better mix should help even out our relationship once again.
One thing I adore about Trainer is that she is realistic. She doesn’t tell me I need a new horse, expensive saddle or some gadget. She has seen a lot and understands that Gem and I are learning a totally new discipline that is a lot different from endurance and we are both old birds with well ingrained bad habits. She also understands where a lot of my bad habits have come from: namely being extremely defensive with Gem.
However, she also is firm that these need to start going away ASAP and plans to hit us hard this summer to move us past this.
While we were zooming around her in our best endurance trot, we talked a lot about where we have come from, where we are now and where I want to go. Is it possible?
At the end of the lesson here was what Trainer had to say:
Gem hates and I mean HATES dressage with every fiber of her being. She is wicked smart and does not understand the point of it. As Trainer put it “Why should I halt when you are just going to ask me to walk again?” It just plain makes her angry which is part of what I am dealing with at home since that is all I can work on.
For my part, I overthink and under ride her during our dressage rides. I get tense and if it isn’t picture perfect I start to nit pick internally and that gets me frustrated. This makes me tense and then the wheels start falling off and that makes me even worse as my brain starts to go crazy about how bad I’m doing when instead I need to just take a deep breath and stop caring so much
Gem is one of the most sensitive horses she has dealt with and that is saying a lot. Every thought I have translates to her and she reacts. This is a great thing when things go well and just works against us when they don’t. She was watching us trot and could no longer tell who was setting who off. When we are in tune and on the same page it is magical. When we aren’t, it turns into a nightmare.
As such, my position needs to be spot on. When Gem doesn’t understand a cue she gets frustrated and tense and her response is to go faster. I know this. I’ve been dealing with it for 7 years. Problem is that my position isn’t solid enough yet to not be accidentally giving her cues I don’t mean to. So I’m telling her something I’m unaware of, she has no clue what I want and goes faster, I get tense because now she is rushing around and it spirals. I need to work really hard in keeping my position no mater what.
Gem does not tolerate my lower leg on her very well. We have come to terms with it at the walk but as soon as we trot she takes any lower leg as faster. This has created a braced and slightly forward leg on my part as I try to avoid the confrontation that putting my leg on creates. However this then tips me forward and allows me to curl up and become useless. We need to work on her allowing my leg at the trot to just rest against her. This will also allow us to start working more on our bend.
She doesn’t want to see us abandon dressage and neither do I. We just need to take a bit of a break and not focus quite so hard on it since it really just pisses the mare off.
Jumping makes Gem happy. Very happy. I never thought this would be the case. Ever. But Trainer says she is so happy when we do it that it is a pleasure to watch.
Why? On Gem’s part, it gives her busy brain something to work on. According to trainer jumping is a task based activity and Gem excels at this. She understands the point and is on board with it to the point where she has started to hunt the jumps down.
On my part, the mere presence of obstacles allows me to focus on things outside of myself which forces me to relax and let go. My type A personality can kick in but now think about getting from A to B instead of nitpicking about everything along the way. I just plumb ride better when there are jumps around.
Am I great at jumping? Nope, but I’m getting a lot better! My biggest issue is trusting Gem and that is just going to take time.
Jumping makes Gem happy. We need to be jumping more and begin to canter our courses. Using the jumps as a way to “hide” dressage work may just be the route to go. During our course work, I was balancing Gem and bringing her back to me using just my body and not getting grabby with my hands. Gem was happier. I was happier. It honestly was like I was riding two completely different horses: dressage Gem was braced, tense and ready for a fight while jumping Gem was loose, relaxed and listening. She needs to learn to relax into the flat work too and I am not going to become a jumper, but I do need to take her opinions into the matter as well and right now Gem is telling me she does not want to be a dressage horse.
Am I giving up on Eventing? Nope. I think we are just going to approach it in a different manner and see how it goes.
I also asked Trainer at the end of the lesson if I could get some pro rides on Gem and return to a few lessons on her well trained horses. Getting someone on Gem who can ride her better and more confidently may help install some basics on her that I’m unable to do right now.
So that’s the plan. Stick with my goals in Eventing: amoeba HT this fall and a hopeful debut at tadpole next summer. Get some pro rides for us both to level us back out. Hide dressage work in our jumping lessons. Have fun!
Lessons do not generally make me nervous. I find them challenging and fun and since Trainer is so awesome I always know that while we will be pushed to do better, it won’t be scary. Wednesday, however, I found myself with some butterflies.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted Gem to be tense and rushed or not. I mean, if she was then Trainer could help me but then it would mean something other than she just doesn’t do well in the large boundary less field at home. Maybe she was in pain or just hated this new discipline and I’d have to make some hard decisions. If she was perfectly behaved then we could move forward, but then it would mean that I wouldn’t get any tools to help at home.
Trainer wanted us in the jump tack, which made my wimpy little jumping heart happy. After the onslaught of babble about the CT, we wandered to the arena and I started off with “Do you remember how Gem was when you first met us at my house back in February?” She sighed, made a face and told me she was sorry I was having to deal with that. Me too, Trainer. Me too.
Right off the bat she called me out on my position. It’s frustrating. I’ve been riding for 30 years and I can’t even sit on the darn horse right. The lower half of my body has gotten a lot better, but my upper half still has a lot of work to go. She said that our number one priority this summer is going to be loosening up my arms. She kept telling me to be looser, looser, looser and when I finally got there and felt like a wet, sloppy noodle she told me I was nearly free enough. Ugh. It feels so odd.
Gem held it together at the walk really well. In fact she nearly made a liar out of me. Then we moved into the trot and the wheels fell off. She was braced, rushed and hollow. We zoomed around the circle like a Boeing 747. I was trying my best to remain calm and not get anxious or tense or angry, but it was just so darn frustrating to be going like that when I know we can do so much better.
Trainer called me out on a lot of things,but mostly I think she felt bad for me. It was obvious that neither Gem nor I was enjoying ourselves and as we kept getting worse I was getting ready to just call the whole thing off and go sulk in the truck like a 4 year old.
Instead, Trainer kept correcting me: post lower to the saddle, lower, lower….good now slow down the post, s l o w e r… good now sit taller…good now quit bracing with your inside leg, bring it back under my hip, wrap it around her….now slow that flying monkey down to a walk as if your life depended on it. Walk. Now. Change directions.
By the end of 30 minutes, Gem was deemed rideable enough to jump. There are so many things to talk about that I’m going to write up Trainer’s analysis in a different post. We talked a lot about Gem, myself and our relationship as well as our goals and how to get there. It was enlightening.
Once we were cleared to jump, Trainer set up a course at 2′ for us to work over. It had a lot of turns. The goal for this jump session was to work on my approach to the jumps and to quit giving Gem such a long approach. Giving her so much time helps me to prepare, but it also gives her a lot of time to get both bored and squirrelly.
The first jump was meh. Gem was game, but I was not and not only did I take my leg off, I also stared straight at the jump. Both told Gem that I had no interest in going over so she stopped. I wouldn’t call it a refusal since I didn’t actually ask her to go over it. Once I put my leg on she went over no problem and didn’t stop at another one the rest of the time. She really can be such a good girl.
After we warmed up over a couple of jumps, Trainer gave me the course: a gate with solid panel, left turn to a two cross rail bending line set at three strides (if I cantered them which I did not), then a sharp right to a vertical (when she pointed out the course I said “you mean that super tall vertical that is set tonway ober 18”? And to which she responded “Go jump”), a right turn to another cross rail then a sharp left back over the original gate for a small course of 6 jumps.
The first time I gave Gem a huge lead up to jump one and Trainer yelled at me for it making me circle and try again. I did and it went pretty ok. We went over everything and Trainer remarked again how she loves that Gem is the same horse before and after a jump. She called me out for pulling Gem up right before a jump. Gem locks on a few strides out and pulls me to it and I need to just let her. She is not rushing, even if it feels like it, she is just getting her energy sorted to make it over. I need to let her do it.
We did the course twice and called it a day. Gem did excellent both times. Trainer did tell me a few times that I was making good choices and I added a circle in once when Gem was getting sassy and throwing her head when I wouldn’t let her run through me.
I do need to work on ignoring the jumps better. She kept telling me to be looking at the next jump about two strides out from the current one and I wasn’t so gray at doing that the first time around. The second time I really got a better feel for it and was able to really look around to where I was going a lot better.
We ended on a super good note with all three of us happy. Trainer told me that she loves watching Gem jump. She can see her brain going a million miles an hour trying to sort it all out. For my part, I’m trying to get more comfortable with how Gem jumps. With the higher jumps, specifically the panel and vertical, she has two separate motions: her front end goes over and then when her hind end is going over the jump she pops it up higher to clear. It feels odd like: ok here we go up and then pop she throws her hind end up. Trainer said that her Arab/Welsh gelding had the same technique and it was really difficult to sit so if I can do it well on Gem the other horses should be really easy in comparison. We also plan on beginning to canter our jumps next time. Eeek!
Gotta make this next one positive! Gem and I have come a long way together. Part of me wishes I had media from back at the start, but mostly I am glad there is no proof of it. Still, there have been a lot of wonderful times over the years. Here are my favorite five:
5.) The Day It All Clicked. I don’t have any media to share of this and only a vague sense of when it occurred. It was the spring of 2011 in WI. I had just spent that entire, very long and very cold, first winter working in the tiny indoor on Gem cantering without bucking, kicking or falling over. For months I taught her to go on voice command alone starting on the lunge and finally getting back in the saddle. From there it was adding back in the leg. One day, just as the outdoor arena was beginning the thaw, I asked her to canter by sitting deep and applying my outside leg and she transitioned up to canter without any issue at all. I was so elated that all the hard work and patience had paid off in the end. It felt like we were finally on the same page and working together.
4.) Green Creek Hounds Hunter Pace 2016. It is no secret – I adore the local hunter pace series. One in particular was special – Green Creek Hounds spring ride. Gem was in a particularly fine mood and thanks to all the preceding paces and our rigorous training schedule for the 100 mile ride the next month, she was also in tip top condition. The trails were gorgeous, but one section in particular stands out. We had spent the first half of the pace wandering through the forest and skirting picturesque farms with mountain views. After the hold, we entered what I could only describe as a Fairy Forest: the spring undergrowth was coming in neon green with trees sprouting from the moist and rich soil. I still can feel the awe I had riding through this secret Eden. That trail led to a large open lane and Gem felt like she was floating above the ground as we cantered. It was magical.
3.) La Rivier Horse Park. Back in WI, there were three main trail systems we rode with some frequency. La Rivier was in Praire Du Chien and was about 3 hours away. We only rode there a few times due to the distance. The leaves were turning brilliant colors against a bright blue, clear sky. We climbed our way up from the parking area and turned on to a different set of trails from our prior explorations. This trail put us out onto a large meadow and Gem and Pete were allowed to gallop down it. For some reason, Gem decided she needed to race and Dusty held Pete back so we could pass. It was the first time I ever was brave enough to canter Gem in the lead down a big open field. She flew over the land and by the end we were both breathing hard and very proud of ourselves. We had hoped to make it back again before we left, but I am glad we didn’t. That day will always rank among the best I’ve had with her.
1.) Biltmore 100. No need to rehash this again, but if you haven’t read the ride story you can find it here. It was without a doubt the single best thing I have ever done with Gem and will be hard to beat.
The stars finally aligned Wednesday evening for a lesson. There are way too many things to say and I want to spend more time on writing it up, so in the meantime I’m going to focus on her opinions of the CT.
Poor Trainer. As soon as she walked over to me she got hit with a tsunami of verbal diarrhea followed by getting a phone shoved in her hands so she could watch the videos. She took it all in stride though which is why I love her.
Basically, she praised us both for getting the job done and doing well. She thought Gem looked very relaxed and ride-able throughout. In dressage, she really didn’t have a lot of comments aside from what the judge had already told us: decent test, needs bend. She understands more of where we are coming from and what we are working on, so she watched the video and knew it was about as good of a test as we can put in right now.
She did laugh at my jump video specifically when Gem walked over the two scariest jumps on course: the train and butterfly planks. Her own horse went preliminary in their summer HT last weekend and looked hard at that train, so she finally knew what I was talking about! She thought I rode pretty smart for what I am comfortable doing and did remark that I need to relax a lot more and just let Gem get the job done. More leg!! More looking up!! More go!!!
For Gem’s part, Trainer commented that she really likes that Gem is the exact same horse on both sides of the fence: she doesn’t rush before or after. While my steering was a bit odd looking, Trainer liked how I was able to move Gem onto a chosen line and that she didn’t fight me or spook and for my part, that I actual rode with a chosen line and stuck to it.
Overall, she was really pleased with the outing and thought we had earned our 4th place ribbon. Lots to work on and improve, too.
After she watched it and Gem was all tacked up, I started talking to her about my short and longer term goals. She was a bit hesitant when I started talking about what I wanted to do from here. I think she was a little scared I was going to go all nuts on her with big lofty competition goals, but I am practical at heart and once she heard my plans she was 100% on board with it all.
Now that she is in agreement, I can share on here in writing for the universe to laugh at. Eventing is definitely something I want to continue to pursue as long as Gem agrees to go along with it. There is a nice, beginner friendly HT we are going to shoot for in November. Trainer has agreed to take us xc schooling in July and August to see where we are at with solid obstacles. Honestly, the fences aren’t what scare me at the 18″ height on xc. It is the big open spaces between the jumps where Gem can get squirrely that terrifies me. If those schoolings go well, we can set our eyes on the amobea level schooling HT in November!
After that, my bigger goal is to work really hard on our canter this fall and winter so we can come out at the tadpole level next summer. I’d like to return to FGF CT next June at tadpole which is a BN dressage test and 2’3″ stadium. Trainer thought that was doable. While stadium had more questions than I had been prepared for, it was an open and inviting stadium course and really friendly atmosphere, so a move up there would be really nice. Plus I already will know the lay of the land, so one stress would be removed. I’m excited to have a goal to work towards and I think we could handle 2’3″ with some hard work and dedication.