Thursday, December 1, 2016

Sizing Up The Great Red Menace

"The Great Red Menace" is my nickname for Jack, because a horse with a four letter name absolutely needs a four word nickname. He's not really too much of a menace, either.... unless you count all the stuff of mine he's broken and his desire to stand nearly on top of me at all times.

At All Times.

As a two year old on the track he was measured at around 16.2, then I acquired him and had him gelded. Throughout his 3rd, 4th and 5th year he grew, and grew, and then grew some more and I never bothered to measure him again, mostly because I don't have one of those horse-measuring stick-things. (Also because I kind of didn't want to know.) But, for some reason, USEF always wants to know how tall the horse is on all their stupid forms, so I figured I should probably figure that out.

Pictured: Precision Measuring Tool.

Since I know I'm 5'3 (or 63 inches, or 160 centimeters), I figured I could just stand next to Jack with the stick on my head and then figure out how much taller he is than me. This ended up not really working.

They used to let me run laboratories at Rutgers.

Then, I remembered that I own a tape measurer, so I decided to use that instead.

This worked much better.

Verdict: Jack is almost 69 inches tall. (This wasn't exactly a precision operation, more of a rough estimate.) Thats about 175 centimeters, which is 17.1 hands according to the Centimeters to Hands Conversion chart I found online.  Also, I found out that I am 15.3 hands. Good to know, I think that's how I'm going to start listing my height on medical forms.

Emma over at 'Fraidy Cat Eventing recently started a sort of unofficial blog hop when she posted her OTTB's pedigree, so I thought I'd jump on that bandwagon while we're discussing The Great Red Menace.

It's blurry because I'm a dumbass, clicking on it makes it clear.

He's not the worst bred, not the best bred. His sire is pretty successful as far as racing goes, but the only thing Jack got from him was the color. I've never heard anything about Strong Contender as a Sporthorse sire, or Maria's Mon. His dam is pretty well bred, but she only had two starts and never placed.  (With a name like "Eighteen Shots", what do you expect?) Terlingua (Eighteen Shots' sire's dam), was also the dam of the notorious Storm Cat and supposedly the source of his attitude. It does not seem to have passed down to Jack. 

Jack himself was purchased for $3K as a two year old, had three starts, and came in dead last every time. His breeder seems to have a few other horses running, but I've never been able to find any contact info, so that's a dead end. (My theory: He's in hiding after hearing about the dismal career of Good Man Jack.) His only trainer is my good friend and neighbor, and she didn't even have him that long. So, that's all I really know about Jack.

Come to think of it, I've owned Jack for longer than anyone. He's less "OTTB" and more "BDTB" at this point.

 (That's "Backyard Dressage Thoroughbred"). 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Finally, Something That Can Be Fixed.... Probably (Maybe)

I think we have a winner in Steroid Injection Roulette!

My Sacroiliac Joint!


I had it injected 3 weeks ago, and my pain and function are markedly improved. I can stand up straight and walk without a limp, and I'm no longer in crippling pain. I still have aches here and there, since I also have pretty bad arthritis throughout my spine and hips, but it's manageable.

After noting that the SI injection helped, my Physiatrist sent me to Physical Therapy. The PT did a more thorough review, and noted that my IT band (a band of connective tissue that surrounds the muscles that run down the outside of the femur) and my piriformis (a muscle in the butt) are extremely tight and reactive on the left side. And by "reactive", I mean that I seriously want to hit anyone who starts poking at those areas. It's very ouchy.

I tried finding a picture with SI, IT and piriformis in it, but I came up empty.

I had always known those areas hurt, but it had paled in comparison to the pain in my lower back so I ignored it. The PT thinks either the SI pain was caused by those two areas being out of whack and pulling on my SI joint, or my SI being out of whack caused those two areas to be painful. Chicken or egg doesn't matter here, we start by fixing the IT band and the piriformis.

How does one do that? With tedious stretches and exercises to strengthen my left leg and my core. It's ouchy and annoying, but I guess it's working. I won't really know until the injections wear off. On the bright side, since SI isn't a typical joint it doesn't break down after repeated steroid injections like other joints. The Physiatrist says I can have as many injections as I want! Hopefully the PT will keep me from needing them, but it's nice to know that's an option.

On the horse front, I'm still not doing much. I go through the motions, but my heart isn't in it yet. I still cry a few times a week. I get frustrated easily. It's all still very raw.

Jack is having a tough time with the transition, too. His role has changed from "Third Wheel" to "Serious Work" and he's not really sure what to do yet. He's still the same lovable goofball, just a very confused and frustrated lovable goofball.

We'll get there.

Friday, October 7, 2016

And Then Everyone Was Lame.

I make a plan to get my ass in gear, and then it all goes to hell.

After Jack's saddle fitting, it rained for three days straight. Somewhere in that time frame, Jack decided to brew up an abscess. So, I can't really do any "work" work with him, but I can take him out and just fuss with him. He enjoys any sort of attention, so it's still a win.

Over the many years I have spent with horses, I have found that the single most important thing you can do with them is just simply to hang out with them. We often focus so much on training programs and lessons that we forget to just spend time with our horses. Horses and humans are both social animals, and we both thrive in situations where we are allowed to interact freely with others. You don't really get that social interaction if you're just schooling your horse, just like you don't get to be super chums with your co-workers during a high stress project at work. If you want to develop a relationship with someone, you've got to go outside the work environment.

Honestly, my kids are the best trainers I've ever met.

I'm also lame, but that's not big news because I'm always lame. My back is acting up again, but this time I'm even more annoyed because I haven't been riding!

See, for years every Doc I saw told me that my back problems were being made worse because of of my riding and they couldn't "fix" me until I stopped riding. Well, guess what? I haven't ridden seriously since Aug 7 and my back still friggen' hurts! So, I went to my physiatrist and said: "Fix this."

My new tentative diagnosis is Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction. That's mostly based on the fact that they've treated my spine, hip and knee with no improvement.  The SI joint is nearly impossible to assess with x-ray and MRI, and the pain it causes mimics lumbar spine, hip and knee joint pain. It's basically a diagnosis of exclusion: My back, hip and knee hurts, they've all been treated, let's inject the SI and see if that helps.

So, I'll be getting that done.

On the bright side, I have been in complete remission from my Crohn's since starting immune suppressant drugs. This is the longest I have been in remission since my diagnosis in 2005. I have had three colds in the 6 weeks my kids have been back in school, but I'll take colds over Crohn's any damn day!

I guess we're moving forward now, huh?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Sometimes You Need A Kick In The Ass

This past week I had Spider's saddle fitted to Jack. I expected this to be a tear-filled event. I cried when I sent the email to the Saddler. I cried when he set a date to come out. I cried for two days before the date. But, when the day came, I ended up cussing a blue streak at Jack instead.

Apparently, being fitted for a saddle is way too much excitement for Jack. First, he didn't want to stand still while his measurements were being taken. He noodled around, tried to take the Saddler's clipboard and tools, wouldn't stand up straight, and was just generally obnoxious. Somehow, the Saddler managed to get his measurements (bless that poor man, he's a true pro) and retreated to his trailer to refit the saddle. I put Jack in a stall to wait, and that's when the fun really began.

Jack proceeded to lose what little brain he's got as soon as the stall door shut. He thrashed and crashed into the door and walls, jumped up and down in place like a psychotic rabbit, and then started biting off chunks of my damn barn wall. I was not amused. Very bad words were tossed around, as well as threats of serious bodily harm.

Under normal circumstances, I would probably have left his ass in there to tantrum it out. But, the Saddler needed a somewhat sane horse to finish his fitting, so I pulled Jack out of the stall and took him for a walk. More cussing and threats of bodily harm ensued, as I attempted to guide a 17hh jackrabbit (pun intended) with the mental acuity of a particularly stupid labrador retriever on a calming walk around the farm. As the Saddler peered somewhat nervously out of his trailer, I found myself uttering the words that every equestrian professional dreads: "He doesn't usually act like this."

To be fair, he really doesn't.

Oh, FFS. I've become that owner.

It's my own fault. I've let him sit too long. I've barely touched him since Spider died, so it's unfair for me to expect perfect behavior from him. To me, it was just a saddle fitting. To Jack, it was the first time in months that his favorite person had taken him out, but instead of grooming and riding and having fun like we usually do, he had to stand still and get poked and prodded by a stranger, then locked in a stall, then taken out to stand still again. Jack isn't the smartest horse by miles, and that was a lot more than his little 6 year old brain could handle. He needs routine, he needs experience, he needs a program.

So, now I know that I've just got to suck it up and get it done or else I'm going to have a big, red problem on my hands. It doesn't matter if it makes me sad to work with Jack, because I'm not the only one in this equation. I only lost Spider that day, but Jack lost both of us.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Is This What Getting "Old" Feels Like?

I look at pictures from the last 15 years of my riding career, and I realize that most of the horses in them have died.

It's..... I don't know how to describe it.... Humbling?..... Reality Check?.... Mid-Life Crisis?

The horses of my youth were all good old soldiers, and I expected that I would outlive them. You ride old horses, Schoolmasters, when you're just starting out. After that, it changes. You start to ride younger horses. You train them, you bring them along, you outlive them.

I've been training horses long enough that now I'm outliving them. I am suddenly being confronted with the knowledge that the young horses I train today will be the old horses I will have to say goodbye to eventually.

Jack was always Spider's "replacement", and I find it difficult to work with him now because I'm not ready to replace Spider yet. In the back of my mind, I also know that I will outlive Jack, and I will have to deal with this pain again.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Coming Back

It's been a month since Spider died, and I still haven't ridden. I did drive a pony the other day, and that was fun... but it's not riding.

I kept trying to use my seat to stop and turn. It didn't work, which is why my passengers look terrified.

I think about riding, a lot, but then I can't find the motivation to actually pick up the tack. It's still too raw. 

I know myself, and I know Jack. He's young and he's green and he will make mistakes. There's nothing wrong with that, but in my current raw emotional state I will blame him and I will get angry that he's not Spider and that is wrong. I can't do that to him. So, I'm not riding yet. 

I've had so many falls, including breaking my back, and never hesitated to get back on and ride again. I always bounce back, nothing keeps me down. But somehow riding again after losing Spider is the hardest thing I've ever had to do. 

I suppose it will resolve itself. The kids are back in school, and I'll have less things competing for my attention. Eventually I'll have nothing better to do, so I'll go grab Jack and we'll go for a ride. And I'm going to have to ride Beau and Spots now that the kids are in school, to keep them tuned up. It's inevitable, really. Riding isn't a choice for me, it's life. 

And maybe that's why I still haven't gotten over Spider....

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!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Two Weeks

I let a friend convince me to show at Gladstone on the 28th. To be fair, it didn't take much convincing. Gladstone, formally known as Hamilton Farm, is the headquarters of the USET. It's historic, gorgeous, and I couldn't pass up an opportunity to ride crappily where Olympians have tread.

And crappy riding it will be! I had just finished up two months of PT for my neck, I was feeling much better and my riding was getting back on track, when I got The Cold From Hell. I've had it for two weeks now, and can't seem to shake the cough. This means I haven't worked my horse in the last two weeks, except the one lesson I took last week in which I wanted to die. It was so bad that my trainer, genuinely concerned for my health, rode my horse for me in jeans and sneakers (and still rode better than healthy me). 

So, now I've got two weeks (technically, 17 days) to get ready to show at the USET headquarters and try to look decent (as in, not like I'm riding a horse I just pulled out of a field). I should probably be riding the aforementioned horse, but instead I'm sitting here next to my arena having some "cough medicine" because procrastination is my superpower. 

Adult Pony Club - South Jersey Chapter, Representin'!

I will, of course, be taking my Wine Sippy Cup with me to Gladstone for awesome photo ops. And also for liquid encouragement and "cough medicine".

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Embracing Mediocrity

As I traverse the equestrian world, I can't help but notice that everyone speaks in absolutes. It's either, "This trainer/person/thingamajig is the best ever", or "This trainer/person/thingamajig is awful and will ruin and/or kill your horse". What the hell is up with that?

Yeah, I know, the prequels sucked. But, I do love me some Ewan McGregor.

I know we're passionate people with strong opinions, but can't we just admit sometimes that everything isn't black and white? I've been doing this "horse" thing for many years, and I've got to say that the overwhelming majority of trainers, people and thingamajigs I've encountered were just average. And that's totally OK. There's nothing wrong with mediocrity! 

Now, for the most part, I don't really care if someone says a trainer/person/thingamajig is "Teh GREATEST Evah!", but what really annoys me are the claims that a perfectly average trainer/person/thingamajig will ruin/kill a horse.

"She rides with that trainer instead of my trainer?! That horse will be ruined in a year."

"That brand of saddle didn't fit my horse, he's going to make his horse lame riding in that brand."

"She doesn't feed the brand of food I like. Her horse is going to die."

"He rides slightly differently from me. His horse is going to be ruined."

(This is all shit I've heard real, live people say in front of me, by the way. You can't make this stuff up.) 

Why do we behave like this? We're all pretty average, our horses are pretty average, our trainers are pretty average, our equipment is pretty average, and all our horses are still alive in spite of our mediocrity. Why are we hating? 

Let's just embrace our mediocrity, because it takes a hell of a lot of dedication, time and money to be average in this sport and we should be proud to be mediocre! 

Somebody needs to make a "Proud To Be Mediocre!" meme. I'd do it myself, but I'm not very good at that stuff.

You could say that I'm pretty mediocre at it......

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Pony Boot Camp

I've always felt the highest praise one can receive for their horse is being able to send it to someone else and have it behave itself. Sure, we all know the little quirks of our horses' personalities and have all the tricks to keep them in line, but can someone else deal with them? That's the true test of training.

This past week I sent my kids off to a friend's horse day camp. Yes, I know.... their life is basically horse camp since we live on a farm, but school just let out, I'm already sick of them, and this gave me a fabulous opportunity to get them out of my hair from 9-3 for a week. Also, it's always good for them to have experience with other trainers and horses to round out their education and blah, blah, blah..... I wanted the house to myself for a week. 

Before the first day of camp, my friend asked if I was bringing along the kids' pony, Spots. My first response was, "That seems like more work, and the point of this is less work." But, my friend assured me that Spots could stay over at her farm, so I wouldn't need to haul him back and forth every day, and her farm is like 5 minutes down the road in case anything happened. So, I loaded up two kids, all their gear, and one pony with all his gear and off we went. This took way longer than expected, but we did manage to make it over there. (I can load me, Spider and all our gear in 15 minutes, this took about 2 hours. It was like herding cats.)

Jack wanted to know why he wasn't invited to pony camp.

After I dropped everyone off, I left the trailer hooked up, just in case. My friend thought this was hilarious, she was like, "Did you think you were going to have to come get him in a pony trailer ride of shame?" Hey, it's always good to be prepared. I always expect the worst, so I'm always either pleasantly surprised or prepared.

See, while Spots is a great pony, if I was writing an ad for him I would not put the words "beginner safe" in there. He has a bit of brat in him, that little Appy pony spark that makes him great for my kids to learn on and still fun for me to ride. But, my kids are not "beginner" riders. They've been riding since they were in utero, and I'm not exactly a "beginner", either. I warned my friend about this, of course, and she actually has way more experience than I do with kids and ponies, so I felt pretty safe dropping Spots off there, but I still wanted him to do well and behave himself.

Turns out, I didn't have much to worry about. He was nervous at first.  He's spent the last several years on our small, private farm learning to dressage and teaching my kids. A gaggle of giggling little girls and ponies was a totally new experience for him. But, my friend and her daughter did a great job of acclimating him and getting him settled, so by the end of the first day he was taking it in stride. When I picked up the kids at the end of the first day I received several compliments on his lovely gaits and transitions. That's music to a Dressage Queen's ears, even if it comes from 10 year olds. (Clearly, my friend is teaching them to have a good eye.) My friend's teenage daughter was also allowed to take him over a jump course, and I'm told he did very well in spite of him having been jumped only once in the entire time I've owned him.

My daughter was a bit disappointed that none of the other girls wanted to ride Spots. They're allowed to swap out horses, and over the course of the week my daughter rode every horse at camp. I had to explain to her that her pony is a bit "spicier" than what the other girls at camp are used to. She was also disappointed that she couldn't jump like the other girls, and I had to explain to her that her mom is a dressage rider and doesn't know how to jump.... I see jumping lessons in that girls' future. My son was mostly happy playing in the dirt and building towers out of duct tape..... He did ride, but he was disappointed that Beau didn't get to come to camp. At 25 I thought camp might be a little too much for Beau.

All in all it was a great experience for the kids and Spots. Especially Spots.  He's eventually going to have to go from learning dressage and how to be a kids' pony, to being the kids' show pony, and the hustle and bustle of Camp was a great way to break him into it. Now I just have to keep up that mentality at home. He gets today off, but tomorrow he's getting enrolled in my own version of "Pony Camp" at home!

The look on his face says it all.

Monday, June 13, 2016

PT and Cross Training

I'm a pretty fit person. I can easily lift 50lb sacks of feed and toss them into the bed of my truck, I can easily jog around after a loose horse until I catch the bastard, I can easily spend 40 minutes at a time doing a reasonable impression of someone who knows about dressage.

What I suck at is things that aren't heavy lifting, chasing down bastards, and pretending you're not doing anything when really you're riding your ass off. And now I'm also beginning to realize that may be a contributing factor in my back problems. 

All the stuff I'm asked to do in PT is hard, and when I try to make it easier by using movements I'm more familiar with, I get corrected. Not because I'm not good at my old familiar things, but because only using certain sets of muscles is tearing my back up and that's why I need PT. I may be able to throw 50lb bags of feed into the bed of my truck, but the 90 year old lady I sit next to in PT totally skunks my ass at straight arm lifts with a 2lb weight. 

This is why cross training is important, both for us and our horses. I know loads of people who cross train their horses, but not very many who cross train themselves. And I'm not talking about the "20 Ab Exercises For Riders" articles you see in Dressage Today and USDF Connection, those are just strengthening the muscles you're already using, I'm talking about actual cross training. 

Actual cross training strengthens the muscles you aren't using for riding and barn chores. That's important, because the muscles that stabilize our joints generally work in opposition to each other. If you're only doing one type of activity (dead lifting feed bags, pretending to be a dressage rider, chasing bastards..), then you're only working one set of muscles and that puts too much strain on your joints. 

One thing I'm learning in PT is that the exercise routines for riders that I see posted everywhere are not tailored to strengthen our whole bodies, and I wonder if this is why I see a glut of riders with hunched shoulders and tight hamstrings. If you're just working your abs and glutes, which is what the riding workouts do, you're definitely going to end up riding this way.

Abs and buns of steel don't help you ride better if they destroy your back and knees. Remember to work other parts of your body, too. 

Once I'm done with my PT, I'm going to try rowing. Not on the water, because I hate boats that don't have jacuzzis and bars, but with one of those rowing machines. I'm also going to keep up with my PT exercises so that I hopefully don't end up back in PT.

I don't have any relevant photos of my own, but here's a photo of a mule doing dressage way better than I have ever done. There's a metaphor in there somewhere. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Physical Therapy

Physical Therapy sucks.

This is not my first round of PT, I've done it a few times over the years, so I feel I can be fairly definitive when I say that it's pretty much the suckiest thing that ever sucked. 

It's uncomfortable, and it's hard. It's supposed to be. I've been using my body the wrong way, and now it's used to that and resisting. 

I know, because I've done PT before, that as I progress it will get easier and my neck is already starting to feel better, but PT is sucky right now and I prefer to live in the right now. 

PT reminds me of dressage. 

Dressage is hard, and it often sucks. You're developing a better way of moving in the horse and a better way of riding in yourself, but you're fighting the bad habits and cheats you both have learned. 

There are many times that I really want to throw a tantrum at PT, because it's hard and it hurts and I'm bored. But I know it's going to help in the long term, so I resist the urge to curb stomp my inordinately perky Physical Therapist. 

My horse does not have the option to write blog posts fantasizing about curb stomping the PT, so he acts out in the only way available to him: actual tantrums. 

I get what he's saying: "This is hard. This hurts. This is boring.", but now it's my turn to be the inordinately perky and curb-stompable Physical Therapist. He doesn't know that it's going to help in the long term, I have to show him. So, I ignore the temper tantrum and try again. 

And, yes, hurting is normal. I know many people reading this are getting ready to release their righteous indignation in the comments, but before you do that ask yourself, "Does it hurt when I try new exercises?". Of course it does, any new exercise program comes with a heaping dose of aching muscles, and you shouldn't expect anything less from your horse. The difference is that we rationalize the pain as a badge of honor on our way to greater athleticism and a healthier lifestyle, while our horse is just like, "Dude. WTF is up with this?".

Dressage is hard, it's supposed to be. There are times it will hurt, there are times it will be boring, there are times when your horse will throw a temper tantrum worthy of an Oscar nomination. You have to just keep plugging along and maintain that curb-stompably perky attitude. 

Or you could drink. That works, too. 

Best Training Scale Ever.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

When Life Hands You Lemons, Get Another Horse.

A few weeks ago I posted this picture on social media with the caption, "My son is pouting because he doesn't want to let his sister have a turn on the pony. I see another pony in our future."

We've all felt this way.

My son was never as interested in riding as my daughter, mostly because he's two years younger. Having one pony worked well, because he never rode long, and was always on the leadline. But, this year he's decided that he's actually interested in riding by himself and wants to have equal pony time. That's not exactly fair to Spots, so I figured we'd start sort of looking. Nothing serious, just browsing. 

And then a lady I know from the shows I run contacted me. She had seen my post and wanted to know if I'd be interested in her retired horse. I knew the horse from my shows, he was a quiet, steady fellow. Just the type of horse I needed to babysit my son. 

So, we struck up a deal and Beau's Last Anchor is now the newest member of our little farm family. 

My son is taking his new charge very seriously.
He's a 25 years young Quarter Horse and a real solid citizen. And my son is so happy to have his very own horse. We're only "borrowing" him, his owner loves him very much and has owned him since he was three, so she didn't want to give up ownership of him. He's here to live out his life as a free lease.

Because, obviously, what I needed to do with my neck being all screwy was take on another horse. Maybe that's only logical to horse people.....

In other news, I did get my MRI results and there are no significant changes since my last neck MRI, so my new Doc thinks it's muscular and ordered Physical Therapy. Basically, he thinks that my muscles have tightened up around the herniated discs to try to protect them, but the tight muscles are actually making the problem worse. 

I started PT last week, and so far it consists of traction and electrical stimulation therapy. I did ask the PT if she treated many horse people, and she said she did. She also said that she never tells horse people to stop riding, because she knows it isn't going to happen. I like this PT. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

I Never Did Much With Him

"You've got to be realistic." (Any Joe Abercrombie fans out there?)

I do have to be realistic and I think I might have reached my pinnacle. I think this as good as it will ever get, and I never did get to Grand Prix. Or even Prix St. George. 

I got to Third Level. 

And I really didn't do well at Third Level. 

But, the other day I was talking to someone who just got a Thoroughbred, and she's riding dressage, and I was showing her all the pictures I have in my phone of all the things I've done with Spider. 

She said, "Wow! You've done so much with him!" So, then I looked at it again, and sifted through the pictures of the decade I've spent with Spider. 


Hunter Paces

Beginner Lessons

More Hunter Paces

I wrote those first paragraphs a couple weeks ago, but never finished the post. Since then Spider has seen both both my trainer and my vet, who both say he's fine.

The conversation with my trainer actually went like this: (I'm riding Spider during this conversation.)

Trainer: "So, you feel that he is uneven?" 

Me: "No, I just feel like he's not quite right. Does he look uneven?"

Trainer: "No. He looks fine. What is it you're feeling?"

Me: "I feel like he's not picking that right hind up."

Trainer: "He never has. It is good you finally noticed." 

He's lucky he was standing across the arena, because I would have hit him with my whip if I were closer to him. But, he's right. That right hind has always been an issue with Spider. I've been riding Spots and Jack a lot more recently, and there's a damn good chance the only reason I thought Spider was feeling off was because I was spending more time riding horses that don't have the same training issues Spider does. There's something to be said for riding multiple horses, when you only ride one horse you can go sort of "blind" to some of their training issues.

My vet, who has also known Spider since I got him, only noted that during some parts of the lameness exam he seemed a little arthritic. 

We're going to try him on a course of previcox, an NSAID that's easier on their stomach than Bute,  and put him back into full work.

Now we move on to me. I'll get the results of my MRI and the new doctor's treatment plan next week. Until then, I'll keep plugging away.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

"Maybe It's Time To Start The Chestnut"

My view as I was I writing this.

My trainer has been in Florida all winter, and therefore not around to deal with the existential crisis I've been having about my and Spider's potential unsoundness.

I filled him in a couple days ago. His response: "Maybe it's time to start the chestnut."  

He means Jack, and he means that maybe it's time to move on and accept that maybe my training with Spider is over. 

He's a realist, that's just his personality. I'm an idealist, so my response was to tell him to fuck right off. 

It's the response of a petulant child when you try to take away her favorite toy. I know this, because I have two children and deal with this crap every day.

It doesn't change how I feel about it, though. I'm not going to give up my favorite toy without a lot of tears, tantrums, and sulking. I'll do the right thing, obviously, but I'm going to throw an epic fit about it. 

I'm having an MRI next week. I saw a new Doc, who looked at my X-rays, did a neurological exam, and immediately told me to stop riding. Being an idealist, I told him to fuck right off. (Yes, I actually said that.) Then he sighed, ordered the MRI, and agreed to try to fix me. I like this new guy, I think I can work with him.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Riding Journal 2016: Week One

We're back!

Sunday I didn't ride because it was Easter and I ate too much ham and potato salad, Monday rained and was crazy windy. That shouldn't really matter, but I was feeling unmotivated. I did do 20 minutes of yoga and 10 minutes on the rowing machine, though, because I can do that in the house. 

Tuesday I got Spider out. Nothing fancy or hard, a warm up at walk, trot serpentines and leg yields, canter, then back to trot. Forgot to turn on the thingy, but about 20 minutes. 

Wednesday: tight, reactive. Long warm up at walk, then Cantered mostly. A few canter trot canter transitions at the end. 

I started this post two weeks ago, but I never finished because things fell apart. Thursday I was just in too much in pain to even try riding, so I took the day off. My back didn't feel any better on Friday, so I took that day off, too. 

That Saturday I had a Hunter Pace, and I was bringing my friend who had never been to one and her 6 year old newly OTTB. So, I couldn't really back out on that! We were doing the "Fun" division, so that was no big deal. I rode in my Australian Stock Saddle, and Spider was his usual awesome Trail Boss self. He loves to trail ride, he's the only horse I've ever known who goes faster out onto the trail than he does coming home. Seriously, he balks if he knows the trail and knows we're headed home. He might have made one hell of an Endurance horse. 

I didn't feel too bad after the Hunter Pace. I was muscle sore, from being in the saddle for so many hours, but not the crippling arthritic pain that I had dealt with on Thursday and Friday. Spider was fine and in good spirits, too. 

We went back to work the next Monday, and the same thing happened to me again. I was in pain, not muscle pain but joint pain.  And then I noticed Spider wasn't quite right. He wasn't picking his right hind up like he should, he was dragging it a little. He probably pulled something running around like an idiot playing with 6 yr old Jack and 9 yr old Spots. 23 yr old Spider should know better. 

So, I took some more time off. Mostly to think....... 

I thought about my goals, what I wanted for my horses, what I was realistically capable of with my back and hips the way they are. 

"If I can Hunter Pace and be fine, but schooling 3rd Level collection renders me crippled on Spider and he's trained, and now he's a little off, how am I going to train Spots and Jack."

I thought and I thought and I thought. And I thought maybe we were done, maybe it was all over and it was time for me to take a step back. And I was sad. 

And then last Saturday, when it was snowy and nasty and anyone with sense was inside, I watched my 23 yr old horse, who is still not picking up that right hind leg like he used to, stand right up on his hind legs to play with the 9 yr old and the 6 year old, and then canter around the pasture in the lovely dressage form I have spent years teaching him, and also the form he rarely exhibits at shows. 

And he played like that again the next day, and the day after that, and I just watched him do it again before sitting down to write this. He may not be picking his hind legs up like he used to, but he ain't ready to quit yet. I guess I shouldn't be ready to quit, either.

He and I will both see our respective vets and get ourselves comfortable. We're going to work with what we've got. We aren't what we were 10 years ago, and I suppose we could have been a lot more. I don't know what our future holds, but this is what we are now and I wouldn't trade a minute of it. 

Not bad.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Out Like A Lamb....

Well, I figured I'd be really rolling along right now, but I'm not.

I forgot that March also sucks in NJ. It goes from being 80 degrees, which is a problem because I didn't clip my horses and they grow coats like a yak, to 30 degrees and rain/sleet/snowing, which is a problem because I don't grow a coat like a yak. Add to that the fact that my trainer is in Florida right now and my Doctors are messing with my meds because I'm having some flares with my Crohn's and arthritis, and you've got a recipe for one Spectacularly Unmotivated Shannon. 

And to add insult to injury,  I discovered on the first 80 degree day that one of my new meds causes me to itch uncontrollably if my skin is exposed to the sun. Like, rip your skin off itching that is not relieved by cortisone, Benadryl, lidocaine, or any other topical cream and can't be controlled by oral antihistamines, anti-inflammatories, or copious amounts of tequila. I'm going to need an entire new wardrobe inspired by Dr. Moreau.

Me, this summer.

So, I have done exactly diddly squat. Well, I have gone on trail rides, which I suppose is sort of something. It's great for Jack, because he just needs miles in the saddle, but doesn't do much for getting Spider out of Third Level.

The interesting thing about blogging, though, is that I can look back at my posts from years past and see that this is actually a pattern: I'm always sick and unmotivated for the first three months of the year and I always beat myself up about it. I don't know what it is about January - March, but something definitely triggers flare-ups of my disease at that time. Probably a combination of low activity, poor diet around the holidays and my plague-rat kids bringing home every virus known to man, but I digress....

In short, I think from now on I will just take January - March off from serious riding. Instead I'll screw around and take pictures of pretty flowers and things, maybe write some funny or informative blog posts or something. I am already a master of screwing around, so this will require much less discipline and training on my part.

Much easier than riding.

I'll return to serious horse training next month. Maybe. Probably.

Oh, look! More flowers!

Now let's see if I manage to remember this epiphany next January (probably not). 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

In Like A Lion

I took the month of February completely off. To be fair, I pretty much took the months of December and January off, too, but I made a conscious decision to take the month of February completely off from riding and I think that's fundamentally different.

February in NJ is just stinking awful. It's cold and wet and windy, everything is dull and grey, and it gets dark at 5:30pm. It's barely even conducive for life, and certainly does nothing for my riding motivation. Why fight it? I could set goals and then be disappointed when I don't achieve them, or I can just say, "Screw you, February! You can't destroy my goals because I have none! Mwahahahahaha!"

So, that's what I did. And then March rolled in and I realized I was pathetically out of shape.

*Note to Self: If you take a month off of riding because the weather is bad, remember to do some friggen' cardio or something in the house so you don't end up being a doughy mess.

So, I was starting off slowly. I did trail rides at walk with Spider and Jack.  I had the kids ride Spots at the walk. We were just easing back into it all. And then my friend called me up with a problem.....

Her barn was interviewing a new trainer this weekend, but through a series of utterly improbable and completely unavoidable events, there was no one available to take a lesson with the new trainer to see how he was. She wanted to know if I could trailer in and be the guinea pig.

Being the magnanimously adventurous sort, I agreed to do it. I've got nothing to lose and no shame, plus enough pluck to tell a hack trainer to get bent, and so Spider and I loaded up and headed over.

It was an excellent kick in the pants. And the trainer was lovely, he recognized immediately that he was dealing with a seriously out-of-shape AA and her equally out-of-shape but much more enthusiastic mount.  (Seriously, he asked me a few times if I was sure Spider was 23.)

We worked on my position, because Holy Shit(!) my position was garbage. My daughter came along as my groom, and she took this picture of us just standing:

I look like a hunchback on a fat broodmare, and I think the poor trainer might be crying.

As a result, I am sitting here thinking about all the muscles that are screaming at me now and how to strengthen them so that they don't scream at me after every time I ride. As much as I want to just apply bourbon and Robaxin, I realize that's not a good long term solution. I probably need a better workout routine.

The obvious solution is to just ride more, and I'm going to do that. But, I'm also riding Thoroughbreds and they are naturally 100 times more athletic than I will ever be.

Not going to sugar coat it: I choose to ride horses that are born and bred to to be athletes. They can be left in a field for a year, and you can take them out and they'll be ready to go straight back to work. It's what they were designed for. I love them for that, their enthusiasm and heart are what draws me to the breed, but it does mean that I have to be ready to go straight back to work, too. Which means I have to do a lot more exercise off the horse.....

Saturday, February 6, 2016

I Just Don't Even Know

What was my last post even about? Man, I suck at this.

I'm working on it. No, really! I'm totally working on writing semi-intelligent, marginally entertaining, sort-of on topic blog posts!

Oh, who am I kidding? I'm not doing any of those things. 

The winter has made me officially nuts

So, here's a photo dump of stuff I've been doing instead:

I cut Spider's tail off. 

Every DQ reading this is crying right now.

This is an improvement, though.... He looked even worse before. Seriously, it was a mullet. 

Business in the front, party in the back.

He let Jack chew on it when Jack was younger, and he chewed a big chunk out of the top. It was in a weird growing out phase and I just couldn't take it anymore. So, now he looks like a cart horse. Who knows, maybe it will be the next Big Trend and everyone in Wellington will be sporting the Spider Bob next year.

Speaking of Jack,

This face.....

Jack is still Jack. Bless his heart. He's really going to be a great horse, once he stops being so.... Well, you know what? He's going to be a great horse because he's Jack. We're just going to work with that. 

He continues to grow, but is finally starting to grow out instead of up. He's also getting a little more graceful, so I'm no longer completely despairing of ever making him a dressage horse. Did I tell you guys about how he broke two of my trot poles by stepping on them instead of over them? I'll have to remember to tell you about that. It was a very "Jack" day.

I'm 5'3", not sure about Jack. I stopped measuring him when he hit 17h. The look on what you can see of my face is, "Crap, how do I take a selfie picture on this stupid thing? Oh, shit... that was it....."

Spots the pony is great. He cracks me up. The little bastard continues to give me a hard time, but is an angel for my children. Typical pony, and I love every minute of it. He is definitely making his Dressage Debut this year, because a local farm is offering a "Pony Challenge" in their regular show series this year. The highest scoring adult and junior rider on a pony get a super-cool prize! I figure I've got a shot, because not a lot of adults ride ponies. 

Oh, did you think I was letting the kids show him? Ha! Not when there's a sweet prize to be had!

We're a little behind on preparation, since the kids ride him most of the time, but I think we'll be able to make a pretty solid First Level debut. Spots is preparing in his own way:

Mud masks are very important for maintaining a pony's complexion.

In other news, I'm still doing a ton of stuff with my local USDF GMO. I'm the VP, Show Manager/Secretary and Clinic Organizer. We've got a ton of awesome stuff lined up for this year, including another Arthur Kottas clinic and possibly a clinic with another Super Big Name that I'll keep secret for now (but it rhymes with Ronrad Rumacher). 

I also changed the name of the Blog's Facebook Page so that it matches the name of the Blog, it's now "A Work In Progress - Spider". I left the "Spider" in there so as not to confuse people when it suddenly appeared in their feed with a new name, but I'll probably eventually drop it since Spider isn't the only horse I'm writing about (even though he really thinks he should be). Give us a follow if you're on FB, I'm definitely better about posting stuff there than I am about the Blog, mostly because the FB app is vastly better than the Blogger app and I'm usually on my phone. I may even post daily training updates there, if I remember to do that. 

And that's that. I'd love to post some super optimistic crap about how I'm totally going to post more and stuff, but we all know how that goes.....


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