Posted in Riding/Horses

Introduction to Grids

After YL was done playing around with Gem, it was my turn to get some work done. I clambered aboard knowing one thing: Gem was about to be one pissed off pony. She thought she was done for the day and given the 90% humidity she was covered in sweat. Mareface was done for the night. Only she wasn’t.  I mentioned this fact in passing to Trainer who just gave me an odd look.

I’ll just quickly fly through the ground work here: Gem was tense, pissed off and not really in the mood to listen to trotting nicely around a 20 m circle. On my part, not riding in 2 weeks plus mega amounts of stress showed their true colors and my position was weak, my patience was minimal and my ability to get any good work out of a mare who was loudly telling me she had no interest was pretty minimal.

We kept it short and sweet and quit once I got her around both directions as softly as possible. I did get some good comments though: Trainer noted that my elbows have now been soft and following for the past several lessons, my turns were on all four legs instead of two, and I was sitting much straighter with a small curve to my lower back which forced my shoulders back. So not a terrible flat after all. And trainer commented that Gem was pretty much screaming at everyone that she was done working for the night.

Trainer really wanted to introduce grid work after Gem’s insistence on galloping wildly around the cross country course a couple of weeks ago. She had four standards set up in the center of the arena and we began with a ground pole in front of the the first standard and one set up between it. Gem barely noticed and did great.

I was allowed to turn either right or left after going straight through all four standards and quickly learned that turning right Gem lost some balance and became rushed and hollow while going left she remained relaxed. Interesting.

The second time through Trainer had turned the second ground pole into a cross rail. I need to take a second and scream to the world about this. I entered that line, stared straight ahead through the set of standards and not at the jump at all, put my leg on and charged that cross rail like it wasn’t even there. I didn’t have one single butterfly in my stomach. I wasn’t scared or timid at all. It felt AMAZING to not be scared of it anymore and now I knew the feeling I was looking for since I had experienced it over the cross country fences. This was a major turning point for me!!!!

But back to the grid.

Gem jumped the cross rail no issues. We turned left out of the standards and came again and again no issues. We left turning right and Trainer then added a ground pole after the cross rail so it was ground pole, cross rail, ground pole.

Gem was none too pleased with this.

She noticed the second ground pole right as we entered the grid and became really hesitant. I kept my leg on and my eyes up and she went over, but it was sticky. We did this about three more times and eventually she settled.

Then Trainer made the ground pole into a second cross rail. This blew Gem’s mind. She saw the second cross rail as we entered the grid and wanted no part of going into that trap. She slammed on the breaks before we even entered, but I was prepared and booted her on in. She then tried to scoot out away from the second jump, but I forced her over it again. Trainer yelled out some serious praise for me getting Gem over without allowing her to bail as was my past MO.

The final configuration. I know it was supposed to feel all fluid, but instead it was slam on breaks…hop over first one…slam on breaks…try to duck out to the right….try to duck out to the left…ugly crawl over it… More work to be done!

I think we did this about four times and each time was ugly. Gem was not convinced that this wasn’t a death trap and never once bounced through it. I gave her a metric ton of praise after each jump, supported her with both leg and voice before and during it and yet each time she slammed to a near stop and ugly crawled over. Trainer commented that Gem likely felt trapped by the grid without an exit easily at hand.

After the last go through, Trainer abandoned her plans to add more jumps and instead sent us to go over one final easy solitary cross rail to calm her back down mentally. We took the brown cross rail like it didn’t even exist.

I think I’m ready to increase the height on cross rails and simple fences which is a big deal for wimpy old me to say. 

It was a frustrating ride for sure and it blew Gem’s mind a little bit. I was proud of myself for getting the job done, but kicking myself all the same for my lack of riding of late. I have a lot of thoughts on that that I need to get sorted out and written down here because my attitude towards this new discipline is a lot different than for endurance and not necessarily in a good way.

Up next we have our first outing on a full cross country course and then Trainer leaves on vacation for a bit which is fine because it will be AEC week and I’m volunteering two days and will also have a last minute trip for a family funeral sometime in the near future once all the plans are in place for it. With our show now on the schedule for early December, I have something solid to work works towards and my need to drag my dressage saddle back out and return to some bonafide dressage rides.

Posted in Riding/Horses

“Trainer” Ride on Gem

I went into Wednesday’s lesson curious to see if the confidence Gem showed over solid obstacles would cross over into the arena. Of course the fact that I didn’t ride her at all in the intervening two weeks wouldn’t help anything but it has been a very stressful couple of weeks. I learned a long time ago that I have no business throwing a leg over her if I can’t leave my emotions at the barn gate.

While I was tacking up Trainer mentioned that one of her star barn rats was there and could ride her a little before I got on. I was 100% down with that idea. Honestly, if I could afford it I would love to put Gem in a full training program but I can’t and besides that would defeat the purpose of bringing her home.

Gem was a bit perplexed why someone else was on her. She kept looking over at me with a quizzical look on her face

Trainer was interested in watching one of her best riders hop on board to sort out what were “Gem problems” versus “Sara problems”. The young woman worked Gem walk, trot and canter for about 20 minutes and then popped her over a few jumps at my request. Trainer had her work specifically on accepting that leg means more than go forward as well as the quality of the canter.

Some highlights:

Young lady’s leg position was the same as mine. Trainer remarked that her right leg was more forward and off Gem exactly like mine is and noted that Young Lady (YL) doesn’t ride like that on any other horse. She thinks this is in part physics: with Gems very round barrel and skinny girth area the leg gravitates forward easily. She asked YL why her leg was there and she answered that that was where Gem wanted it.

Gem was pretty relaxed for her at the walk which is something I’ve been working hard on and it has been coming along nicely. 

Gem responded much better to YLs more upright posture. I tend to still lean forward while YL had a gorgeous upright and sometimes slightly leaning back position. While Gem still tended to become tense and hollow she relaxed quicker and more frequently.

Gem was very tense through a lot of the trot work. She did have moments of relaxation throughout and YL was able to get some true bend on  20 m circle. It was nice to listen to Trainer tell her to do the same things and watch to see YL’s and Gem’s response. 

YL commented that keeping the outside rein constant and having a give and take inside rein creates more bend in Gem.

YL got a lovely canter out of Gem. And then promptly lost all ability to steer. Ok…not gonna lie I felt vindicated when this happened. Trainer is always on me for steering and now looked at me and said “huh…I guess that is solidly a Gem problem”.

YLs position is awesome in the canter and what I strive for. While Gem is gaping and tense, she did put forth an actual canter that was wasn’t motorcycling around. 

YL never got the right lead canter. I have but it is difficult.

Unhappy Gemmie begin asked to do real work. 

Gem stopped at the first cross rail she was presented to. Yup, this made me feel good too although bad because YL almost ate dirt. Gem just has to stop at the first jump she sees.

Where did this jump come from??? Moments before slamming on the breaks

At the end YL said that Gem was extremely hard to ride. Her trot was amazing and floating but she tolerates minimal leg on her, her canter is decent but then she motorcycles around on two legs and she needs a ton of support to jump. All things I knew but now Trainer also knew it wasn’t just me. YL didn’t offer up to ride her again, but also didn’t hate her. I personally love riding Gem, but I’ve been doing so for 7 years and know her inside and out.

From the ground I learned a lot myself. For starters Gem is gorgeous. I never get to see her all tacked up and moving and just….wow. Second, when her rider was unforgiving in her position Gem responded by relaxing and giving on her end. I need to cement this in my brain. She really can canter at a pace less than 100 mph and it is time to really start working on that.

What was the most interesting to me though was watching her jump. She has been over that same cross rail dozens of times now. YL presented her off a long approach and had plenty of leg on her. Gem still stopped and I could tell she was going to several strides away and the reason was obvious from the ground. Miss Busy Bee spends the entire time looking everywhere. She looks right, left, up, down and probably behind her if she could manage it. I know what she is doing. She is looking for anything she should be spooking at. She does this on trail too.

By the time you get to the jump and she sees it, she is right on top of it and slams on the breaks. The second time to it she understands the game and plans for it, but the first time even with walking her over or letting her sniff it, she still stops because mare is looking everywhere but straight ahead at the jump.

Anyone know a cure for that?

Posted in 2017 Reading Challenge, Uncategorized

2017 Popsugar Reading Challenge Book #30

As we get deeper into the challenge, we are finding out that some earlier books may have fit into these later categories a little better. That is one issue with the way we are approaching it by going straight down the list. This one was up to my mom and as her usual she chose a good one.

A book with pictures: Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton

Brandon Stanton moved to New York with a project in mind. He would take 1000 pictures of the people in the city documenting each neighborhood and those that lived there. This turned into a social media storm with his popular Facebook page that he turned into this book.

The book is filled with pictures of people he met on the streets of New York City with small blurbs about each one. They encompass the homeless, the heartbroken, the dreamers, the business men and women, the rich. It is a telling picture book of real life.


I had already been a follower of HONY on Facebook although I had turned off notifications over a year ago due to them clogging my newsfeed. This book is mostly pictures and small blurbs whereas his Facebook page and his second book dive deeper into the lives of each person he photographs and interviews.

One picture really stood out to me. It is of a late middle aged homeless man, a close up of his face as he peers into the camera. The caption is along the lines of (sorry, I don’t have it memorized) I may be homeless and an alcoholic, but I have a dream. I want to go fishing.

I’m not sure why that struck me so hard, but I found myself lingering over the caption and the picture. Maybe it is because the dream is so simple for most but out of reach for this man. Maybe it is because the dream to go fishing is so small compared to his greater needs of shelter, clothes and food and yet it is what he clings to. Maybe it is because it makes you realize that everyone has a story, everyone has a dream, everyone is a person.

The book takes about 10 minutes to go through and is 10 minutes worth spending.

4/5

Posted in 2017 Reading Challenge

2017 Popsugar Reading Challenge Book #29

The book prompts are getting more broad which is nice as it allows you to pick genres that you enjoy hcowever it also makes the research behind the title more involved. After I finished the last book, my next pick became available and I was excited to get into this one.

A book with an unreliable narrator- The Three by Sarah Lotz

Four planes crash around the world on the same day: North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. As each crash site is being explored, one child is found from each plane in North America, Asia and Europe. Three children survive the horrific tragedies around the world. How? What does it mean?

As information regarding the crashes, the odd behavior of the surviving children, and a cryptic message left by a dying victim of the Japanese crash begins to leak to the public, fanatics begin to gather and a chain of events occurs that seems almost unstoppable.

Were the crashes natural and the children just lucky? Was it terrorism? Did aliens attack? Are the children the harbingers of the Apocalypse?


This book intrigued me from the get go. The entire book is written in the past tense as a collection of manuscripts, interviews, online chat room recordings, articles and news reports that were collected by the author and published after the events played out as she tries to make sense of what happened and find the truth. As such, the reader of The Truth is really reading a book inside of this book which is interesting in and of itself. In addition to that, the chapters bounce between writing styles: one will be an interview by the fictional author, the next a transcript of an internet chat room, and another an article written by another author. This style allowed the story to be told from multiple view points along the way and gives the reader a sense of how the world was feeling and slowly falling apart.

Each child returns to a family member after the crashes a changed child. Strange things begin to happen around them: a grandfather with advanced Alzheimer’s returns to himself again,  an uncle has nightmares and swears the girl is sending them his way, a boy who only speaks through an android. Psychologists diagnose PTSD and tell the family to give them more time. Outsiders call them the riders of the Apocalypse and claim the end of the world is nigh.

In the US, a faction of Doomsdayers gains traction due to a cryptic message a church member in Texas leaves on her cell phone for her pastor as she lay dying in the Japanese forest. As more and more people begin to fear the end of times, the church gains power and eventually gain control of the country creating a uber conservative regime.

Elsewhere, the world falls into disarray as Japan aligns with Korea, Europe falls into a depression and war seems imminent. Overall the question remains: who are these children and why did they survive?

The ending….well…I don’t want to spoil it completely. Thankfully the book does provide an explanation through a series of epilogues after the initial text in a more traditional style of writing. Was I thrilled with the ending? Not right away, but after more thought I really did think it was the best way the author could have ended it.

I do recommend reading it. It is a quick read due to the format and keeps you hanging on to figure the plot out.

5/5

Posted in Friday Five

Friday Five: Horse Trials Questions

This is how my brain works: have an idea planted (or plant it there myself), go bat shit crazy over all the details all at once even though it is months away, freak out when I don’t know something and do all the research.

Trainer wants me to head to Hickory Top Farms near Columbia, SC for my first HT. They apparently have a very nice and friendly course and offer from amoeba (intro dressage, 18″ stadium and cross country) through Novice. I’m not sure exactly which division I would do. The best bet would probably be to run it amoeba for the first time out, but tadpole is only 2′ with no optimum time and the 18″ jumps were just so tiny at the CT. Wait…who is this typing????

Either way,  my sights are set on this HT. If Trainer says it would be a great first outing, I’m on board. The event is scheduled for December 2 which would give me plenty of time to work on our stuff and prepare, hopefully getting out to a full cross country course a few times in advance.

Here though is where my brain goes a little off the tracks. I did some major stalking of their facebook page and was able to find the information from the HT they held last November. It looks like dressage starts at 8 am, cross country at 10:30 am and stadium at 12 pm. Dusty will be working that day (he has a 24 hour run Dec 9th) and I’ll be going solo and now I have ALL THE QUESTIONS! I am hoping you all can help me with some answers.

5.) When do you walk the cross country course? At the CT, I showed up insanely early (like 4 hours before my ride time early) and walked the stadium course between divisions while they set up. This was easy enough to do and with only 9 jumps it took only 7 minutes or so helped by the fact that I had zero idea what I was doing and just pretended I was gaining some insight while doing it. But I’d imagine cross country takes a whole lot longer to walk and there isn’t any between divisions set up time. So when do you walk it? Before they begin – so for this event before 10:30 am?

4.) It appears very common to go straight from cross country to stadium, so when do you walk the stadium course? You can sense a bit of anxiety on time management. With 4 hours before my ride time in June, I had all the time in the world to watch the others in stadium and memorize the course, plus I actually could have walked it about 4 times before my time to go in. I’m guessing I won’t have any time between cross country and stadium to walk it, so would I need to make sure I have enough time before the entire thing starts to walk both?

3.) Does the next phase not start until the first one is completed? This may be a really stupid question, but looking at the times and knowing that dressage takes all of 2-4 minutes in these divisions it appears that maybe everyone finishes dressage before cross country even begins? If you had the 8 am dressage start time and xc doesn’t go until 10:30 am, you’d have a lot of time between phases. I’d guess that cross country and stadium overlap a bit with us small fries going xc while the novice group is onto stadium. I ask this because again time management concerns. I grew up with 15 minutes early considered being late, so yeah my Type A is strong here. But in all my insanity, if I could figure out a basic roundabout time frame I could more easily plan before the ride times are emailed at the Thursday before the event.

2.)  Can I pitch a tent? Probably more a question for the ride venue. See, with the event 2ish hours away my concern is when I’d have to show up if I go same day. If I can walk cross country before the course opens at 10:30 am and while novice and BN are doing their dressage thing, then it would be an early but not cripplingly so morning. I could get up and plan to leave the house by 6 am to arrive at 8, check in and walk my courses with time to still tack up and warm up. If I’d instead really need to be walking it all before 8 am, then I’d likely just go the night before to save on stress and time. I’m not getting a hotel though, so I’d either be pitching a tent or sleeping in the truck neither of which are the best nights sleep. Ugh. My brain needs to chill out. Ok…maybe this question should really be….any local eventers want to come and babysit me for my first HT??? I might be willing to buy your entry if that sweetens the pot but still allows you to help me out during the event. 

1.) WTF am I doing? Am I insane? Um, yeah…rhetorical…maybe…sorta

Posted in Waggy Tail

Waggy Wednesday

Waggy Tails continues to be a delightful addition to our household. She goes to work with me 4 days a week and with the hubs on Wednesdays. Last week she weighed in at 14 lbs!! That's 4 pounds of growth in 2 weeks.

We have a good scheduled down already. She crashes in my office until 11:30 am when she then determines it is puppy play time. I have patients until 12:30 so that hour is a little interesting. She stays awake until 1 pm when she crashes out again until 3:30pm. We leave around 5.

She is getting much braver about leaving the immediate backyard. I was very excited the day she wandered all the way to the horse pasture and helped Wyatt fill the water trough.

She hasn't gone into the vast wilderness of the nasty hay field next to our pasture. It's mostly weeds at this point and the fact that the guy has yet to make a second cutting is really annoying as not only does it look gross but is killing off any chance I have at riding at home.

The above is my favorite picture to date of her. Her floofiness hasn't changed one bit!

Einstein is worn out by her. She never passes up a chance to wrestle and as long as she is awake he is getting bugged. She is the very definition of the annoying little sister.

Most of the time she can be found passed out. Waggy Tails is the laziest pup I've ever met. I swear she sleeps 20 hours a day!

Wyatt continues to be in love although she has started her puppy chewing/biting phase and that scared him off of too much playing.

My two favorite girls!

There is just something about her that has crawled its way into my heart. She is a pretty serious puppy and is extremely intelligent which is a trait my last two dogs did not share. She is on par with my corgi in that regard. Most of the time she looks at my in condescension.

And then she falls asleep with her nose deep in my shoe. Puppies!

Posted in Uncategorized

Volunteerism

It’s no secret that I love to volunteer. Not only is it a great way to give back, but there is a lot you can learn by sitting on the sidelines and lending a hand even if it is just to learn how extremely hard it is to run an event.

Back in the 90s and early 2000s, I spent my time competing in whitewater slalom. My event was the women’s closed canoe and it was my first introduction to amateur sports. Running a race was not so different than running a horse event in that a lot of volunteers were needed to fill a large number of roles: gate judges, timers, start and finish gate, scoring, safety boats. Since most of the races barely broke even by the end of the weekend, there was no room to pay anyone for these jobs.

The whitewater world had a simple solution: make working the event mandatory. Each race day was split into a morning and afternoon session. As a competitor you get two runs with the best score kept. Unless you were competing in a class in both the morning and afternoon, which was rare but did happen, then you were assigned a job for the session you weren’t on the river. So for instance, if my class ran in the morning then I was assigned a gate to judge all afternoon. If someone shirked their duties they were eliminated from the race. It set it up so nicely that the event coordinators never had to worry about a lack of help running the race.

Now I understand that this system wouldn’t work in most horse disciplines and especially in endurance and eventing where I have some degree of exposure. Technically you could force those in the limited distance division to work after completion but that’s a bit unfair since the 50s and 100s wouldn’t be able to. I don’t even see how it could work at a horse trail with all three phases running in a single day.

But I do believe that giving back to your sport is important. Not even important. Vital. Just take a minute to think of the last horse event you competed in, no matter the discipline, and all the volunteers it took to run it: the ring stewards, bit checkers, scribes, jump crew to reset jumps, jump judges, timers, announcers, etc…. I’ve seen local to me events nearly beg for help and still run it on a skeleton crew.

I’ve heard a ton of lame excuses why people don’t volunteer. Honestly, they all suck no matter how much you think it is viable. You can’t tell me that in an entire season there is no way you could find one Saturday or Sunday to spend time at an event lending your hand wherever it was needed. I won’t buy it.

While the mandatory work of my whitewater days is not likely possible in the horse world, I do think that there is a solution. One that probably wouldn’t go over very well, but one I wish were a reality. If it was up to me I’d make a mandatory 8 hours of volunteering a part of maintaining membership. So if you wanted to renew your USDF, AERC, USEF, whatever else exists out there, membership in 2018 you would have to show proof of 8 hours of volunteer work at an event within that discipline in 2017. That’s one single day out of an entire year.

I’m sure there are a lot of reasons people wouldn’t want that to go into effect, but the truth is that without volunteers there wouldn’t be a show to attend. Or at least not at the price point they currently are if they’d have to pay people to do the work. So the next time you have a Saturday or Sunday without plans and there is a local show going on, offer up your services in whatever capacity they can be used. Give back to the world that you love so much and help keep these events running.