Saturday, 17 January 2015

Happy Trails To You

Well, it finally happened: I sold Tigger.

After a somewhat drawn out sales process, a very nice lady from Michigan has purchased him as her next dressage rising star.  I genuinely wish them both the very best, and think it will be a great home for him. He leaves Monday for the US of A and I hope he settles in beautifully.

It's quite a relief, after trying to sell him for a year and a half, to have it done at long last.  In truth, our attempts to revitalize him as a jumper took awhile, and we would have been an awful lot better off giving up on that sooner... but it is what it is.  He was in dressage training for just seven months, and in that time progressed more than any horse has much right to progress.  He is doing some Grand Prix level movements (a number of them, actually) and is capable of performing a pretty reasonable PSG test.  It's crazy that he had this ability... anyone looking at him those seven months ago would never, ever have guessed.

This horse took me through more emotions than I care to admit. From the highest of the highs the day I first saw him, the exceptional joy the day I bought him, the eagerness in furthering his baby horse education... to the depths of despair when things really, really, REALLY were not working out.  And then there was the waiting... the endless waiting while we waited for him to sell.  Plans. Ideas. Money. All for naught. It was rough, dear readers. It was really rough. I shed more tears over this horse than I have over just about anything else.

In a way, I'm lucky. There are horses that don't work out in their chosen discipline every day, and I got really lucky that mine excels in another - especially since I didn't exactly buy him based on his dressage-type movement! (Of which he previously had absolutely none.)  I am also super lucky that I was able to keep riding during this whole debacle, and that I had my buddy Riley who allowed me to keep jumping.  I am forever grateful to the people who helped to make all of that happen.

Tigger and I had our last ride the other day. I thought to myself while riding that it was the last time I would look through his ears.  He was good, and he gave me a lot of himself. We had a lesson, and the trainer had us do all sorts of fun things. Half pirouettes, half passes, tempi changes, big super cool extended trot, and my new favorite: passage! I've never done passage before (and he hasn't done much of it), and to be able to get that out of him on our last day was pretty cool.  I asked the trainer if she would take video, but of course by then his best passaging had already happened! We got one pretty decent round of it, though, and I grabbed this video still.  (No h8 for the draw reins, please - one of his methods of evasion is to fling his head and pretend you don't exist from time to time, so they acted as a martingale more than anything!)  I am grateful for the opportunity to get to do this very special gait on this horse, and even grateful for the other life lessons he taught me. I just wish they hadn't been so hard to learn. But at the end of the day... he's a horse, and he didn't ask for any of this, either.

Happy trails to you, my friend. I wish you the very best.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Better Late Than Never: 2014 In Review

Just to start things off, this fine video that I made whilst too ill to do anything else at all. I enjoy videos like this, even if they do remind me somewhat of a 17 year old trying to be YouTube famous.  It details ~the journey~ from the very first class to the last, with moments of glory and moments of not-so-glory, but that's horse showing for you!
 Warning, there is music. I think it's pleasant, but you might not.

January & February

In January, I was leasing this super cute gigantic six year old Hanoverian gelding, Ruckus, that Trainer procured from the ether.

So many faces. So little time.

He was owned by one of Trainer's long time owners, who is also one of the owners of his top horse. Ruckus wasn't quite ready to go to Florida, so I got him since I was essentially horseless!  He was a total step away from my usual - small bay geldings - and was fun and opinionated, had the world's biggest stride, and enjoyed taking off really far away from the jumps. Unfortunately, by the time mid February rolled around, we realized he wasn't going to work too terribly well, due to some behavioral things... so he got sent home to hang out in a field.

Sometime in January (I forget when!) I started riding Riley on and off again. He didn't have a person, and I was happy to ride anything, so...

Fuzzy Rooster!


In February sometime, Ruckus went home, and I went to riding Riley more or less full time. At the end of February, I made my first EVER trip to the equine circus that is Wellington, Florida, on Nations Cup weekend.  I don't know what I was expecting, exactly, but WEF met my expectations totally. It also made me realize, after watching horses stop out or riders go off course, that even people and horses at this top level are still mortal, which was a good reminder after feeling like a shriveled incompetent person from The North (remembering that, at that point, we had only had Trainer as our Trainer for two months before he went sailing off to Florida.)

Anyway, Wellington was pretty amazing. I spent time at every ring, drank a bunch of horribly overpriced Italian sodas, sat in a lot of saddles, and in a fit of crazy even bought one (which I later returned when sanity prevailed.)  We watched the Nations Cup in the Canadian section - perhaps ironically right next to my American compatriots - and all collectively held our breath as each member of the Canadian Team took the stage.  Trainer blew us all away by being one of only two double clears in the whole thing, and Canada won that night.


Winner winner chicken dinner!

I went home from Florida feeling super inspired and excited for the show season, and proceeded to lose my stirrups somewhere.


April brought with it warmer temperatures, a trip to Europe with the fam jam, and the return of Trainer from Florida. We all looked forward to his return, and got started on preparing for the horse show season.  

Short sleeves! And outside! YAY!

In late April, Tigger also went to start his new career as a dressage star.

May brought with it the first horse shows of the season, wherein we began in the .80m jumpers with Riley trying his best to buck me off, and ended the week showing 1m. The next week, we did the 1m as well. I thought my riding was about 950 times better than it had ever been, though when I look back now, I cringe more than a little! Still, we were off to a great start, and I was super excited for the year.


June brought another horse show or two, along with a move up to the 1.10m where we were mostly successful.  My riding was horrifying, but hey, we made it around.  Gotta start somewhere, right? Trainer spent the majority of June and July showing at Spruce Meadows, so our shows were scheduled inside his show schedule, when he would fly back to deal with us annoying amateurs at home.


July was Big Fancy Show in Quebec, where I was all *hair flip* gonna do the 1.10m, but we got there and Riley was spooky and backed off and I was riding like I didn't know how, so... that didn't happen.  The fact of the matter was that we didn't make it around the 90cm even once, but ended on the weekend doing a 1.0m class where we were double clear and in the ribbons until the very end. Yet another horrible learning experience.  But Quebec was pretty cool. Not sure I would go back.


August brought with it another horse show, where we galloped around the 1m with some success and then went in the 1.10m without so much success. Win some, lose some. The rest of the month, we were all more or less cooling our heels, since Trainer was off to the World Equestrian Games and the preparation for that took quite some time.  We spent a lot of time hacking in the back 40, and picking apples off trees and feeding them to our horses.  It was great fun, and some of my happiest summer memories are from hacking around back in the woods on our own. Even though Riley tried to kill me a fair percentage of the time, it helped me become a better rider, and get over some fear issues. After all, if my horse could almost fling us both off a cliff, and both of us didn't actually die, that's success... right?

I also started picking up a lot of extra rides in August, which I think helped a lot with my confidence and riding ability. I was really happy about this.


September equalled the World Equestrian Games, wherein I stayed up until ungodly hours watching showjumping from France, and where Trainer was the top ranked Canadian the whole way through. SO MUCH PROUD.  

Later in September, we started to go pony showing again, and also got a new Assistant Trainer.  At the first show, I lost my shit and forgot how to ride, but ended up having some of the nicest rounds I've had anyway.  At the second show, we were second in the Mini Prix, which was the best class we had all year.  By this time, I felt that my riding had improved exponentially to what it was in May, and was feeling okay about things.


In October, we had one last horse show, which didn't exactly go to plan. The show was held on grass, and it poured and poured and POURED, Riley backed off, and then it became, like, two degrees and we all froze to death. Not the most fun. But it was still a horse show, and it was populated very lightly by clients, so I had a great time shuffling around and setting jumps for Trainer and learning lots. Super fun!

We were thisclose to having a ribbon in the final Mini Prix, but were thrown out by the very last horse on course. Figures, right?! That was okay, though - it was a decent end to the year, and I was really happy with Little Roo.

Trainer also rode in the Nations Cup Final in October, and we all cheered him on. Unfortunately, it wasn't Canada's day!  We all went home after this for a few weeks of lessons before the Royal, where we all learned tons and tons. Boot camp with Trainer is the best.


November was a great month - lots of hard work, and lots of partying it up at the Royal Winter Fair, with fantastic international showjumping and the fantastic international partying that goes along with it.  At home, I hit a new stage in my riding when Trainer set up gigantic fences and made me jump them. We hit a-shade-under-1.40m... which is crazy, and felt pretty amazing! A memory I treasure beyond many.

I also felt like my riding hit a totally new level. My flat had improved hugely, my jumping had improved hugely, and I felt like I was finally in a place of real confidence and, dare I say it, just the hint of cockiness that I think you kind of need to be a little successful. Feelin' good, real good.


When December rolled around, Trainer took off for Florida, and I took off for Jamaica, but not before he gave me a few no-stirrups torture sessions.  Just something to remember him by......

All in all, 2014 was an interesting year. They always are, one way or another. There was plenty of barn drama, yet another new trainer, horse switches, horse show drama, crazy client drama.... you name it! But that's horses and horse showing for you.  I can't wait to do it all again soon :)

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The December 10 which is now the January 10... shh don't tell.

I just love this picture of Riley. #cantgetenough

1. What size horse do you prefer to ride? I'm really not particularly picky. With my height, I fit okay on a lot of different sizes. However, it seems like I gravitate toward the 16.0-16.2h range for my own personal horses! I used to ride Morgans, though, and a lot of them were tiny. I never felt weird about it.

2. Do you school in tall boots or half chaps and paddock boots? Half chaps and paddock boots. Tall boots are so expensive that I refuse to get them all nastyfied at the barn every day. Plus I think paddock boots and half chaps are way more comfortable, and I get to save the stick of the field boots for the show ring!

3. What do you do with your ribbons after shows? If they're lucky, they eventually make it home. The special ribbons are dragged by yours truly around the house and hung in prominent locations, but the everyday "hey, I got a sixth!" ribbons tend to spend some time in my tack trunk, eventually make it to my locker at the barn, then sit in my car's backseat until I get around to cleaning out my car. I used to care a lot more, but it's way more about the experience and success than the ribbon itself for me. Although I will say when we were second in our Mini Prix, that ribbon definitely got hung in a place of honor!

4. Do you ride/board at a large show barn or a small private barn? Bearing in mind that a place like Heritage has, like, 200 horses or something insane, I would say our barn is smallish to medium.  It's a show barn without a doubt, but at most we have 30 stalls and of those, maybe 20 are actively showing. Last summer I think the most horses we had at a show was 16, and that seemed like a lot!

5. Have you ever seen a horse give birth? Yup, I worked at a training farm that also did its own breeding for awhile. I saw quite a few births. It's interesting and also kind of gross.

6. What is your favorite breed? Morgans will always be my first love, but with my foray into jumper land I now have a deep love for the KWPNs (Dutch Warmbloods.)  Both of my boys are KWPN. I also respect the Selle Francais breed a great deal and admire a lot of horses of that breed.

7. Favorite tack brand? Butet! XOXOXO. I use Dy'on for strap goods but remain relatively unimpressed by their leather quality. I used Arc de Triomphe for some time but they stretch so much it's hard to stick with them.

8. Would you ever buy used tack? Of course! I'm always trying to find good deals on tack, but on the other hand, I have pretty particular tastes... and if there's something I really, really want I'm willing to pay for it. 

9. Ever been on a carriage ride? Yes, several times! Magical!

10. How often do you go to the tack store? I try to go as little as possible, since that's where money goes to die.  In winter I might go once or twice if I actually *need* an item, and in summer more often since I'm at the shows and am forever forgetting or requiring little items like tack cleaner/conditioner, hairnets, gloves, a new helmet, boots, breeches, a show shirt, a new coat, a new girth, a pretty new saddle pad, horsie treats.... etc. As you can see? DANGEROUS.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

In Which Riley Continues To Be A Wild Mustang

Somewhere in there, I have a broke horse. Apparently, the broke side of him went down to Florida to calmly sway amongst the palm trees, and left me with Riley The Wild Mustang. Whee!

In reality, this is Winter Riley - a phenomenon which I am quite familiar with, but conveniently forgot about. In spring he is still fresh, but it seems like once he gets outside he feels a lot better about his life and might actually decide to pay attention once in awhile.  In winter? Yeah, forget it. He is freshfreshFRESSSSHHHHH and don't you forget it!

The first real glimpses of Winter Riley appeared just before I set off for Christmas vacation, where I had a lesson with the Assistant and he proceeded to leap around, buck, squeal, and take off the entire lesson. There wasn't much to do other than try to steer (and even that didn't work out so well, at times!) and casually try to massage his stride into something that might work and not kill us. I certainly didn't have to worry about the "forward" part of things, but he is totally happy with galloping off into the ether, ignoring my hand, and either burying himself under the jump or taking off from East Africa. And then he is like LOL MOM I'M AWESOME DID YOU SEE THAT HAHA LOVE ME while I am glowering darkly at his perky little ears.  Usually, this leads to extended free lunging sessions (which he loves deeply), or being punished by trotting jumps (which he is extremely unamused by) and also wearing his least favorite item of tack ever, the standing martingale.

Oh does he loathe the standing martingale. I first put it on him a few weeks ago after I got sick of him throwing his face into my face. Usually, I ride him without a martingale at all, unless we're out hacking (and that's more for me to grab on to than anything) or in the show ring since he can get a wee excitable from time to time, and that's always the running. But he hasn't worn anything at home since June or so when I just decided it was unnecessary. But now? Oh it is necessary.

As soon as I put it on him, he scowls at me, but his real feelings come out when we start to warm up at the trot. He sticks his neck in the air, as far as the martingale will allow, pins his ears, and trots like a sewing machine until he feels like he has made his point. (I am confident it's the martingale and not saddle fit or something, btw, since I still flat him without it and he goes right to work. The brat.) There is no interrupting this (I have tried.) and if I try to get into him, he just ignores me completely. When he's over it, he's over it, at least.... but I'm pretty sure that thing has saved my life at least ten separate times since I put it on him, so it's totally worth it. Whoo-ee, wild mustang, yeehaw!

Winter Riley shows off some of his moves

Today I had a lesson after being ill most of the week (doesn't it just figure, I'm gone for AGES and then am sick when I come back and can actually ride!) and despite getting sick again halfway through, we managed to do a jump school that was halfway okay and half Winter Riley. The beginning would go well, then he would get all squee-y, totally ignore me in the corners, swap his lead 500 times, and then gallop off.  Cute, buddy. Cute.

Regardless, we worked it out, and I managed to ignore his snotty behavior well enough to just make it all happen. We didn't jump huge or anything, I think our biggest jump was around 3'3", and most things were around 3'. 

For your entertainment, here is a short video clip. Please ignore my disgusting friends chatting in the background. ;) Also note that I wasn't exactly riding my best; I hadn't jumped in about three weeks and my stomach was in serious revolt (which resulted in me hopping off yon pony and galloping off to the washroom but a few moments later...) so yeah. Excuses, excuses, I know.

Also sorry it's on an iPhone. I personally hate that, but it was all I had available and whatever.

So, aside from dealing with some sort of hellacious stomach bug while simultaneously trying desperately to shed Christmas Weight (actually the two go hand in hand rather well) as well as dealing with an imminent move (not sure if I mentioned that we are moving?) there is... enough going on.  As usual. I'm starting to get stressed out about going into boot camp mode for the show season - time for daily workouts, months of no stirrups, and riding as many horses as I can get my hands on... and here I am, fat and sick and I can't really do anything about either right now.  So frustrating! I feel like a total sloth in between puking sessions. 

I also discovered today that Assistant will be traveling to WEF for the remainder of the season starting mid February, and will be there until April 1. Um? News to me. I was under the impression we were going to have someone doing lessons all winter, but apparently I was sorely mistaken. What, pray tell, is the POINT of having an Assistant if they aren't even going to be here? Who rides the horses that need to be ridden? (well, I will certainly volunteer... maybe this isn't all bad.) More importantly, they'll arrive back in mid April and we'll all be out of lesson and jumping shape, we'll all have gotten hardly any practice during winter, and show season will literally be in a couple of weeks. Extremely deep sigh.

On the brighter side, Trainer (!) is coming back for two days of lessons in early February, which gives me something to work on if I ever stop vomiting.  Lack of stirrups, lack of eating, and piles of ponies until then. Bring on boot camp. SOON. Soooooon.......

The last bit of news has to do with Tigger, my dressage sales pony, whom I mentioned in my last post. We are thisclose to having him sold (touch wood) but there is just one teensy tiny detail which needs attending to. I'm really hopeful the deal will be done by midweek this coming week, but who knows at this point. Cross your fingers and pray for me. 

Cute Fresh Pony casually sails over an oxer in our lesson today

Friday, 2 January 2015

In Which I Fall Off The Face of the Earth

So. It's been awhile.

I blame it on... well, everything. Between jamming in every possible lesson with Trainer before his departure to Florida, then the Holidaze, along with the general fact that the winter season automatically equals a lot of travel for me, I have not really been in a position to have much for spare time.  So I will try to make this post something that is NOT an entire novel, which is not something I'm very good at, and will just do a brief glossing over of what's been up.

First things first, Trainer is now off in the Land of the Fancy in Wellington. I have tentative plans to go down and stalk spectate in February sometime, and can't wait.  Last year was fantastic, but at the time, I barely knew Trainer or any of the staff working down there, so I hung out with Barn Owner (who was at the show for, like, three total hours the whole weekend, sad face because she is super fun) and myself and talked myself into buying a saddle that I eventually returned.  (Hanging out with oneself at WEF when surrounded by French leather is, apparently, a terrible idea.)  This year I actually KNOW Trainer and have no problem casually following him around like a Jack Russell Terrier, and besides, one of my frands is working down there for my barn and she is super, super fun, so I'm really excited to go.

Plus? There is the possibility - however slim - that I might, maybe, possibly, hopefully, fingers crossed could be shopping for a horse.  Which would be amazing. Tigger, my dressage pony, was vetted earlier this week and vetted very well. We are just waiting on the potential buyer's vet (who is, OF COURSE, on vacation) to review the x-rays and report and, fingers crossed, may actually sell a horse. If that happens, I'm not sure exactly how fast the process goes from riding Mr. Riley Roo to finding a new pony.  It's time to move on, and I know that, but I also love that damn horse so much. There's also the whole thing about Trainer being in Florida.  I like the New Assistant, and certainly don't take any issue with her (unlike the ex-Assistant) but she hasn't known me very long and has given me a total of, like, eight lessons.  I'm infinitely more comfortable having Trainer go horse shopping with me.... plus I know he's a straight shooter and won't BS. In short, I trust him, and want him to find my next poneek!

Lessons prior to Trainer whizzing off for warmer climes were pretty interesting, to put it mildly. I last posted about jumping Giant Jumps, which is a memory I will treasure for an exceedingly long time. Ever since then jumping has only gotten easier.  Trainer really stresses RHYTHM, RHYTHM, RHYTHM and ALWAYS PRACTICE THE RHYTHM and getting that perfect, medium canter is just so key. I practice it on all the horses I ride, flat and jumping and try pretty hard to get my horses responding off my leg well into their transitions, which also makes a huge difference. Between the rhythm, then adjusting the gaits on my horses, adjusting their footfalls to their body types (each horse has a different "perfect" trot rhythm, for example, that gets them stepping properly in their footfalls and not widening behind or forging) and working on keeping a bendy, pliable, giving elbow, things have been going well.  Personalized lessons from Trainer included an entire lesson spent dissecting the finer points of the elbow's motion in each gait, a lesson on the automatic release (which I was then expected to do every single time thereafter... and the fact that I can actually do it, and am expected to do it, and that Trainer thought I was *good enough* to do it more than slightly blows my mind), an entire lesson of two-pointing without stirrups in which I almost died (and then had to ride THREE HORSES after, which yielded another impromptu no stirrups lesson - I hated him so much that day) and various other fun and amusing things including standing up on one's horse and jumping off for fun and yolo ("if your 'orse decide to take off, I am not going to hold heem back, hee hee, so you better jomp quick.")  Have I mentioned how much I love this barn? And how fun we are? And how unbelievably fortunate we are?

Lessons with the Assistant are slightly more subdued but can still be pretty amusing. She's super laid back, but if you're dicking around she gets on your tail fast.  She's also big on no stirrups and the mechanical jump rider - which is not to say she doesn't want you thinking or anything like that, but that she wants you automatically doing things that you've practiced and practiced and know your horse's stride length well enough to accomplish. So there's a lot of lines, adjusting in lines (7 stride or 8 stride, for instance), short turns, long approaches and combinations, and she wants you to go get the jumps. All stuff we'll for sure see in the show ring. It's really interesting, because I'm starting to see that she and Trainer complement each other pretty well.  She's mechanical and goes off counting strides and really having that back end knowledge of mechanics, knowing your horse's stride length, adjusting that way, etc. and Trainer is definitely much more... hm, creative when it comes to jumping and teaching.  Trainer is mildly fond of telling me about how he didn't even know how to count strides until he got to the 1.60m level and suddenly figured out he couldn't just ride off his eye all the time because it might get him in trouble from time to time. Jeeezzzz, to be that talented!

I'm going to try to do some detailed lesson write-ups; I had one all ready to go, then it required heavy editing, which I never really got around to doing. So maybe soon....

In other news, it's now been almost two weeks since I've seen Riley's shining face, and I really, really, really miss him!  I'm definitely having Pony Withdrawal. :( I don't know how people live without horses, I really don't.