Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

May your day be filled with good food and good company, and may none of your weird family members shove their faces in your bowl! 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Transformation Tuesday: Jack!

I was scrolling along through Facebook the other day when I came across this picture of Secretariat:

Secretariat has always been my all time favorite racehorse, so when I had the opportunity to acquire a chestnut descendant of his, I hooked up the trailer and went to get him immediately. That's how I acquired my "little" Jack. Of course, Jack had a lot more going for him than just his color and bloodlines, but they definitely tipped the balance over to "must have!".

At three years old and just off the track, Jack did not look much like his famous ancestor. He looked like a giant, gangly teenage boy. The next year did not do much to improve Jack's looks. He shot up from 16.3 hands to 17.2, and just got more and more gangly as he grew taller. 

With the growth spurt, he got even clumsier. I won't lie, there were several times I watched him shamble across the pasture and despaired that I would ever turn him into anything remotely resembling a dressage horse. 

But in the last few months I've noticed Jack really starting to come into himself. He's still a giant goofball who doesn't always know where all his body parts are, but more and more I've seen him moving like a grown horse and not a clumsy teenager. I decided to take a picture to compare his new physique to his old pictures, which required him to pose for the camera.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a handler on hand like Secretariat up there. Since Jack is a very friendly fellow who doesn't understand that he is not actually a lap dog, I ended up with several fuzzy pictures of his ears and nose before finally bribing him to go away with food. 

Then I had a new problem, how to get him to lift his head out of the hay long enough to get a similar picture. I tried jumping up and down, yelling and waving my arms:

I tried throwing rocks in front of him to get him to look up:

I tried throwing rocks over him to get him to lift his head out of the hay:

This was proving to be more difficult than I had anticipated. 

Finally, after I had exhausted my supply of rocks and was about to give up, he sort of looked up:

"Wait, were you just throwing rocks at me?"

It's not perfect, but I'll take it!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Winter Has Arrived

And it's way too early. 

November in NJ is usually crisp and cool, but not terribly cold. Not this year. Monday was 50 and raining, then the rain cleared out and the temperature plummeted to 25. Brrrr. 

I spent most of Monday winterizing the farm: mulching the garden, bedding stalls and installing the heater for the stock tank. 

This is the first year I've had a stock tank. I used to use muck tubs as my water tanks because they're easier to dump and clean. I even had heated muck tubs for the winter. They were nice, the heating unit is built into the tub, so all you have to do is plunk it down and plug it in. So convenient. Unfortunately, Jack likes to go "swimming" in any water he can find, and the little tubs can't withstand 17.2h worth of 4 year old exuberance. I had to get a big stock tank to keep Jack from breaking any more tubs. 

The stock tanks have a drain in the bottom to install the heater (sold separately, of course). You have to drain the tub, flip it over, pull out the plug assembly, install the heater into the plug hole with all the gaskets in the right places, then flip the tub back over and fill it back up. After filling it, I hunted down an extension cord and got ready to plug it all in.....

had flipped it over right on top of the €£%}<€£*~?€! plug! And, with the heater installed, there's no longer a drain plug. I had to heave the whole stupid thing over, clean the mud off the plug and refill it. 

Once that was done, it was time to break out the winter blankets for the horses. This was when I discovered that Spots has apparently never worn a blanket before. 

Honestly, it never even occurred to me that this might be a problem. He has tolerated every single thing I've done to him so far, and I've lived in NJ and been a DQ long enough that I just automatically assume that all horses know about wearing blankets. 

As soon as I approached Spots with the blanket, his eyes started to roll and he got all snorty. No big deal, it was a new blanket and sometimes they act goofy on the first blanketing of the season. I showed him the blanket, scratched his wither and got him settled down, then started to put the blanket on. That's when all hell broke loose.

It became very clear very quickly that Spots was having none of this "blanket" business and it was already after dark. Since I was not prepared to introduce Blanketing 101 to him in the dark, it wasn't raining anymore and he has a thick winter coat and shelter, I decided to just let him be and revisit it in the morning. 

This morning I found him bright and chipper and not at all cold, although he did side eye the hell out of me to make sure I didn't have any of those horse-eating blankets with me. He also figured out very quickly that the two blanketed Thoroughbreds were cold and didn't want to leave their stalls, which meant he could use his cold-hardiness to execute raids on the hay piles in their stalls without being chased. 

I am going to work with him on the blanketing, because it's something he needs to know and I just bought him a brand new, non-returnable blanket. I didn't work on it today, though, because we're having 30 mph winds and I decided that was not the ideal condition in which to teach a horse that blankets aren't scary. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Back On The Treadmill

Spider and I are back in the ring again after our all-too-brief fling with polo.  We'll have a polo play-date again soon, but for now it's back to the treadmill.

My 6 year old daughter took this picture with my iPhone. It's better than some of the "professional" work I've seen.

One thing nobody ever tells you about training the upper levels of dressage, is that it's exactly like training the lower levels of dressage. Sure, the level of collection is different and you get to do some tempis and half passes, but it's still the same stuff.

Flex, release, bend, give, ask for more. Flex, release..... Same stuff, different day. 

Every ride starts with establishing the framework, and then we can maybe do some fun stuff. Or maybe not, depends on the day and how the horse and I are feeling. Forcing, or even attempting, the lateral work and changes when the horse is still tense or not in the right frame just makes for crappy lateral work and failed changes. 

Bad days feel like I'm back at Training Level: endless circles just trying to get the horse engaged and on the bit. 

But all the "bad days" spent establishing and re-establishing the connection are what make the good days happen. 

Training isn't linear, it isn't really a scale or a pyramid. It's a big circle made up of lots of little circles, like those Spirograph toys.

Remember Spirographs? I was obviously not very good at them...

Collection isn't the end, it's just a new beginning. You're always circling back to the other stages of training.

Sunday, November 2, 2014



Polo was so much fun! I still have no clue what I was doing, but I had a blast!

It was a rainy and awful day, and my one friend who knows how to play polo and has a polo pony totally punked out. So, it was just me and my other equally polo-ignorant friend with our 16.3 hand, 3rd Level Dressage horses in their huge dressage saddles and double bridles. 

We were a little out of place, to say the least. We were also the oldest people there by at least a decade or two. But, we got to be positive ambassadors of dressage! Everyone was very impressed that two Dressage Queens came out in the rain with two very well-behaved horses to learn to play polo with a bunch of teenage Pony Clubbers. We got a lot of questions about our horses and equipment, and hopefully we inspired a few people to give dressage a try, instead of just believing the stereotype that we're all snobs on giant crazy horses. 

The day began with unmounted stick and ball handling (a phrase that made me giggle because I still have the mind of teenager). After the instructor was confident that we kind of knew what we were doing and might not hit ourselves or our horses too hard with the mallets, we mounted up and practiced hitting the ball while walking slowly. 

This is where I learned that my horse is too tall and I'm too short to hit much of anything effectively. I'll have to teach Spots to do this for the next time I want to go play polo. But, I did manage to thunk the ball around a couple times, so that was good. 

After lunch, we went out to scrimmage, which was awesome! It seemed to me that it was pretty much a melee because I never really got a firm grasp on the rules or what I was actually supposed to be doing, but Spider and I were quite content to run around a field chasing after the ball and trying to block other people. Turns out, having the largest horse on the field is advantageous when you're trying to keep other people away from the ball. 

I even managed to hit the ball a few times! And Spider learned to artfully dodge my mallet. Clever boy!

It was especially great to get out of the arena and really put my dressage training to the test. Dressage can feel like a treadmill sometimes: constantly moving forward, but never really going anywhere. Being able to take my dressage training out into a polo field and hold my own, that's what it's all about. 

Dressage isn't just for competition, and it shouldn't be used that way. Get off the treadmill! Take dressage out of the ring, whether on a trail ride or a polo field or a barrel race is up to you, but just get out there and test your training. I guarantee you'll have a blast and return to the sandbox reinvigorated and with a renewed sense of understanding and purpose in your training. 


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