Monday, August 15, 2016

One Week

One week since he died. 

I made it through the day without sobbing or even any actual tears. Loads of almost tears, but more of a bittersweet feeling than actual heartbreak. 

The farm is so different without him. It's quieter. 

We called him "The Princess" for a reason. Everything was always about Spider, and if it wasn't all about Spider he would find a way to make it all about him. 

The farm is quieter, maybe because the spark has gone out. 

I suppose we need to ignite that spark again. I don't know if I'm up to that yet, but I get a little closer every day.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Larger Than Life

I'm truly awestruck by the outpouring of condolences and love that Spider has received. I knew he was special to me, but I had no idea how many other lives he had touched. He was truly larger than life, and his absence is keenly felt on our little farm.

This was his farm, the rest of us just lived here to cater to him. He always called to me every morning when I walked out to the barn, even the morning he died. The hardest walk I've ever made was this morning's walk to the barn without his friendly greeting. 

We're still not sure exactly what happened, I didn't have a necropsy done. On Sunday afternoon I found him lying flat out in the pasture. I got him up, gave him banamine and called the vet. He laid down again in the grass next to the arena, and since he wasn't rolling or thrashing I let him stay there. He was down nearly an hour, until just before the vet arrived. 

I sat with him until the vet arrived.

The vet examined him, found a high heart rate and a grade 4 heart murmur, distension in his small intestine, but no torsion. We treated it as a colic, and decided to reevaluate the heart murmur when he recovered (the murmur had not been present at his checkup in April). He was up and moving around, and seemed to be doing better. 

The next morning while I was checking on him his gums and tongue started to turn blue, so I called the vet to come out again. While I was on the phone with her, he suddenly convulsed, then collapsed. He died with his head in my lap less than a minute later. 

The vet thinks his heart probably failed, but without a necropsy there's no way to tell. It was over quickly, less than 24 hours between the start of symptoms and his death. 

He was never sick a day in his life, until the end. He was still in active work until the day before he died. Sometimes I feel guilty, thinking maybe I should have retired him and then maybe his heart wouldn't have failed, but Spider wasn't a horse that would "retire". He loved to work, and certainly never showed any problems with stamina or energy. 

I know there will be other horses, but there was only one Spider. I told Jack today that it's a good thing he's so big, because he has huge shoes to fill. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

RIP Spider, 1993-2016

Today I unexpectedly lost my best friend, my partner of over a decade, and the best horse I have ever owned. I'm gutted.

Godspeed, Spider. We miss you so much. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Best Purchase Ever

Packing and unpacking the horse trailer is always tedious because it takes so many trips. I've seen other people with big saddle/bridle racks on wheels, but they're sort of big and unwieldy. I didn't want one of those. I wanted something light, small and easily maneuvered.

At the last show I went to, I saw somebody with a wheelbarrow made of canvas. Bingo! When I got home I immediately Googled that. Google suggested something even better: a collapsible canvas wagon! 

Set up and folded, respectively.

This thing is seriously awesome! Not only is it lightweight and maneuverable, but it managed to tote an ice chest, a grooming tote, a saddle, bridle, saddle pad, two buckets, manure fork, my show coat, and a bag full of trash back to the house from the trailer. 

Yes, it has taken me this long to unpack my trailer from the last show.

And it fits perfectly in the tack room:

I really need to sweep out the tack room.

Best purchase ever, next to wine sippy cups. Did I mention it even has cupholders for wine sippy cups? Win!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Another One To Cross Off The List

Ever have one of those days where everything that can go wrong does go wrong? That was my show day.

It started at 6:30 am, shortly after I left my house. See, I was not aware that, because of the Democratic National Convention, all traffic over 5 tons had been re-routed around Philly. Into NJ. Right onto the highway I needed to take to get to the show. It took over an hour to get 5 miles. My two hour ride turned into nearly four hours. 

The driveway of USET Headquarters.

I arrived at the show grounds seriously, seriously late. With barely 30 minutes to get on and warm up, I opened up the trailer to find that at some point my horse had ripped out all his braids and also ripped the hay bag off the trailer wall (he actually broke the damn thing, something I've never seen before). He was also covered in sweat and looked like a wreck. But, whatever, I've got to get on and warm up. I fixed the braids as best I could, sprayed some show sheen on him, tacked up and headed to the warm up. 

The warm up ring was an indoor, packed with FEI riders. Spider decided to be Spider and careened around like an idiot, bouncing off several BNTs on their fancy horses. Luckily, they were all very nice and/or felt sorry for me. Eventually, I decided to just make my way up to the ring. Then the ring steward stopped me and said, "287? Your time passed, we counted you as a no show." 

*record scratch*

With less than 24 hours notice, they had changed my time to an earlier one. I was not amused, but after a brief argument with the secretary via the ring steward's walkie talkie I managed to get back in the show with a time an hour later. 

This, however, presented a new problem: what to do with my horse? I had rented a day stall, but through another unfortunate mixup it had been double booked. I was by myself, because my friends were in the same traffic I had encountered. Well, technically, I wasn't by myself. I had my two kids with me. It was also nearly 100 degrees with no shade and no water if I couldn't get into my stall. This was not an ideal situation. 

"There's grass? I'm cool."

I went back to my trailer, gave Spider all of the bottled waters I'd packed, tried to spruce him up a bit, then immediately got back on to warm up for the second time. I did find an outdoor ring no one else was using to warm up in, so no one else got run over. That was nice. We warmed up OK, but I over did it. Two warm ups was too many, and by the time I got into the ring at noon I had no horse left. And no me left, either. 

The view was pretty cool, though.

The test is a blur, I may have blacked out a couple times. I went off course in the first movement, so that was two points off. I didn't even try for a half pass, we straight up leg yielded (for a 4.5 and 5.0, respectively). The changes were completely late behind (4.0 and 4.5). My turns on the haunches ended up being reining spins (4.0 for both) and he jigged through most of the walk work. We managed to save ourselves in the halts (7.0 for both) and the extensions and mediums (6.0 for all). The judge's final remark: "Good try of a difficult test in the heat- overall needs much more impulsion to excel at this level." Truer words were never spoken....

Final score: 51.97. It's officially my worst score at Third Level. 

After the test, I finally got my day stall, got Spider settled in, and was able to enjoy myself. (I was sticking around to help my friend with her horse later in the day.) Gladstone is gorgeous, and the stone barn is nice and cool. If only I had arrived on time, I could have taken advantage of all that for my test. Oh, well. There's always next time. 

This is the nicest place my horse has ever shit.

Considering that I knew I wasn't prepared going in, I spent nearly 4 hours driving and it was hotter than Satan's taint, I think we did pretty well. 

Sweaty, filthy and disheveled, that's how we roll.

Plus, I got to ride at Gladstone and run into famous people in the warm up ring (literally). So, I can cross that off my bucket list. We'll get ourselves back into a shape and have another go at it in September when the weather cools off, but not at Gladstone. I'll pick a closer venue next time.

"Wait.... we're not doing this again, right?"

Sunday, July 24, 2016

How To "Cheat" At Third Level

So, it's now Show Week, and guess who hasn't been practicing half pass or flying changes because it's hot as balls?

"Don't try to blame me for this, I thought we were just doing Hunter Paces now."

Luckily, my trainer has decided that I'm absolutely not allowed to screw up at shows anymore and has me in "boot camp". That means I'm getting several lessons before the show whether I want them or not, instead of my usual "I don't need help, I got this!"  

In my last lesson he asked me to half pass to the rail in trot, because it's part of the test. Instead, we aimlessly floundered in the general direction of the rail. I was like, "We.. uh... haven't really done this in awhile." His response: "I noticed."

After a couple more failed attempts, he said, "Let's try something else.... Turn down the quarter line like you're going to half pass, but leg yield instead."

So, I turned right down the near quarter line and then leg yielded left. "No, no, no! Leg yield like you would half pass!" Me: "..... Huh?"

Trainer: "Turn down the quarter line, like you're going to half pass, but leg yield instead. To the rail!" 

Me: "........ So, turn right, then leg yield right?"


*light bulb goes on*

This is, by the way, opposite of how one usually leg yields in dressage, hence my confusion. But, we tried it and nailed it. After a few times doing that in both directions, my trainer had me subtly change the bend in the leg yield. It wasn't a full half pass, but it's enough to get a 5. Obviously, we're going to work on getting an actual half pass back and not just cheating our way through, but if push comes to shove and I don't have enough oomph for a real half pass at the show, it never hurts to fake it 'til you make it. 

Then we moved to those pesky changes. The change has always been a challenge for Spider. He came to me with a very lovely automatic change: any time you changed direction, he automatically changed his lead. Unfortunately, that is not what we're looking for in dressage. I spent years convincing him to change when I wanted him to, and not when he thought he should. Now that he's older, and not as fit, he's developed a tendency to change where I ask him to, but late behind. 

The solution to this was more leg yielding, this time at the canter. Same exercise, but this time I knew what was coming so there was no awkward "... Huh?" conversation.  

So, the exercise was canter down the near quarter line, straighten out, leg yield in the same direction you turned down quarter line, ask for change when you hit the rail.  I would never have thought of this solution, it is not in any of the books, but it worked! Why did it work? I'm still working that one out in my head, but I'm thinking it has to do with engaging the outside hind leg and me setting up and using my aids for the flying change more effectively. I'll work out the "why" later so I can use it to get the changes correctly... for Thursday, I'll be doing a leg yield into my change. The changes in my test are called for across the diagonal, and a judge at C can't see that I'm leg yielding into the change. 

Fake it 'til you make it, y'all.  

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Horse Training At 100 Degrees

I've got a competition looming, so naturally NJ has decided to go full sauna on me. How does one train a horse when the heat index is 107? Very carefully.

NJ heat is a brutal combination of sun and humidity, and NJ only has this type of weather for a couple months out of the year. It makes it hard to acclimate, and that takes a definite toll on my horses:  Jack sweats like a $3 whore just standing still, Spider turns into a salted slug, and Spots and Beau refuse to leave their shady stalls. 

But, I'm still going to a show in a week, so I've got to figure something out. My solution: lots of walking. 

Particularly over raised poles.

The walk is a seriously underrated gait, as you will notice by the number of horses either jigging or zombie crawling through the walk work at most dressage shows. I'm definitely guilty of the jigging, and I've got the scores to prove it. So, might as well work on that walk when it's too hot to do anything else!

Dressage rules define four different walks: Medium, Collected, Extended and Free. Those four alone are more than enough to keep me busy for a half hour or so in this ridiculous heat. But, in addition to the "rules", you can also perform all the lateral exercises in walk. This is a great way to introduce the lateral movements to a young horse, re-affirm them in a trained horse, or sharpen your own aids for them without the bouncing and speed of the other gaits. (Those last two are definitely what Spider and I need!)

The walk is also good for building suppleness and relaxation, something a Thoroughbred always needs work on. Fingers crossed that all this walk work builds the suppleness and relaxation I need for Spider to not anticipate his flying changes and then totally flub them!


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