Thursday, March 30, 2017

Can We Hack It?

OK so one of the half-finished drafts I’ve had sitting around for weeks relates to endurance. Specifically, after reading quite a few endurance ride recaps and following some bloggers who dabble (or specialize) in it, I’m getting really intrigued. I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone who has read more than two or three of my posts to know that I get pretty bored in the arena. 
Useful... but I still get bored.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely see the value of arena work, and that’s where Cinna will be for the foreseeable future (as she is not trustworthy above a walk on the trail yet). And I’m still looking into restarting lessons again this summer, because correct dressage is the basis for SO MANY things, and I really do enjoy it. Also I guess there’s the whole president of my GMO for the next two years thing also? Yeahhhhh my timing is excellent.
Arena work is excellent for the baby brain.
But things are different with Ruby. I noticed last spring she seemed to be getting a little… for lack of a better word... stale, in the arena. I made a significant effort to mix things up by not only working in various arenas, but also doing dressage work on the trail and out in the fields, and that seemed to help for a while.

But by last fall, I think we were both fairly burned out again. Some of our favorite outings last year were exploring new trails with friends, particularly the hunter pace! One of my goals for 2017 was to do more cross training, including jumping, because Ruby really seemed to enjoy it. And I’m not about shoving a square peg in a round hole – if my horse doesn’t want to do dressage (or just dressage), we’ll find something else. And I get the impression from her lately that she’s ready to branch out.
I would infinitely prefer endurance to jumping things again.
She never gets tired on the trail – she will trot along, swingy and soft on the buckle, for as long as you’ll let her. She eats up miles with her ground-covering walk. She’s gotten more or less rock solid about passing just about anything weird you might see out and about – and while crossing unfamiliar water still needs work, it’s definitely in her wheelhouse.
I have soooooo many trail shots haha.
So I started doing crazy things…. Like joining endurance Facebook groups so I could lurk and read. I explored the AERC website. I even went so far as to find some rides in my state, including one on my birthday weekend that offered a 10 mile intro ride. Then I bought a hackamore, so that I could let Ruby graze on the trail. And in my defense, I did already own a fugly nylon halter/bridle that I got in a tack lot at the auction, so I didn’t even need a new headstall for it or anything. (Also, I found pictures online of really cool customized paracord-covered hacks and showed them to my paracord goddess who told me she could deck mine out in teal/black)

Fugly but functional.
But here’s where I probably jumped off into the deep end – I might have talked DH and my mom into going in together on my early birthday present….. a flex-tree Tex-Tan endurance saddle on consignment at my local tack shop super cheap because it needed a good cleaning and some TLC…. Oops?
Anyone who knows me knows I really can’t do anything halfway – once I’m interested in something, I’m kind of an all or nothing person. And occasionally those phases pass – I bought a doma vaquero saddle for Topaz and briefly got super interested in traditional Spanish tack and attire… thankfully that (expensive) obsession flamed out quickly (although I do still have that saddle...).
Topaz indulging me when we played with the neighbor's cows.
Or driving – DH was interested in that, so I got him a driving horse, a harness, and cart… which we used all of, maybe two times? Yeah epic fail on us there. So this might just be a passing thing…. Or it might not. I don’t think I will ever have the time or access to space to really train for 50 or 100 mile rides (nor is my breed choice ideal, haha), but there’s really nothing stopping me from dipping my toe in some intro or LD rides. 
So let’s hear it from my endurance friends – can we hack it? Give me all your favorite resources for a total newbie! I’ve been reading up on vet checks, containment systems, conditioning, electrolyting, tack options, heart monitors, shoes vs boots, the works. I’m still in the completely and utterly overwhelmed stage right now, so what I’d love to do is find someone local with experience who would let me tag along and answer dumb questions for a while, and maybe find someone who could accompany me to an intro ride or two (or maybe an LD, if I get super brave). Anyone have any central Missouri endurance contacts?
Also, thank you so much for all the kind comments on the last post. We got good news Saturday and Monday night in regards to test results, so we're definitely heading in the right direction! DH is still fairly down (medication side effects are the worst), but hopefully will bounce back in a few weeks.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Medical MIA

Mondays are meant for alliteration -- particularly M alliteration. I have 3 or 4 half-finished posts and a bunch of stuff I want to write about, but almost everything in my life is currently in a holding pattern as I devote a significant amount of time and energy (plus emotional support) to dealing with a medical situation with DH.
DH and Beyonce (hahaha)
Keeping me sane.
It's not (really) life-threatening (hopefully?), but it is an incredibly stressful and frustrating situation right now. I typically hate when people write stupid vague posts like these, but I'll break my own rules just so you know why there will probably be less updates than usual from me, both here and on various social media.
Annoying, because I have some new things I really want to write about!
It also means that whatever spring and early summer show plans I had tentatively penciled in on my calendar are probably toast. There will always be more shows I guess. And thankfully my horses have always dealt with my periods of my benign neglect of their training with grace, and typically come back out the same as left them, no matter how long they fall off my radar.
The sun will come out tomorrow... right?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


OK, now that I’ve had a little more time to mull over the show, I’m still happy with how it went overall. In retrospect, I should have been a little more prepared for her shenanigans in the indoor (the competition arena) – WWU is the only other indoor she’s ever been ridden in, and the very high wall there helps minimize distractions.
Tall wall -- minimal distractions.

With that in mind, I think my plan before entering another indoor show will be to try to find as many indoors that allow trailer in schooling as possible to expose her to lots of new venues. There are also plenty of outdoor schooling shows we can work towards in the meantime! I can think of at least three indoors that offer haul-in rides, so I'll have to start hitting those up on free weekends (free weekends? what are those?).
We like to ride outside!

However, the other issue I’ve been trying to mentally solve is her favorite evasion in new situations – backing up. She did it once at home when we were trail riding, but we worked through it and it hasn’t happened again. But at both the WWU show last fall and then again this weekend, when she got mentally “stuck”, she started backing. Even with totally slack reins, the only gear we had was reverse.
An example of one of the "nopes" from this weekend's test.

She’s very sensitive to changes in my seat, so after the first test, I thought maybe I was inadvertently tensing and making her think that back was her only option, so I made a concerted effort to stay extra relaxed and a little “up” off her back. Still got stuck in reverse. 
Forward is never a problem at home!

I’m fairly certain most of it is a combination of baby shenanigans and just a general lack of trust in me as a leader at the moment. Her training has been so sporadic and while she trusts me way more on the ground than she used to, things seem to change when I’m in the saddle. I think the only solution to both of those problems is just wet saddle pads and new experiences. I also thing just by virtue of being a purebred vs. a partbred Spanish horse, she is just always going to be more spooky by nature than Ruby or Topaz, who each had a dose of calm QH blood to keep their heads on a little straighter.
Silly, spastic, hotblooded purebreds :)

And while I do find the backing kind of annoying, there are definitely worse evasions she could have – teleporting spooks, rearing, bolting, spinning – lots of other nastier options! How about you? What’s your horse’s go-to evasion, and how did you overcome it?
Gratuitous shots from last week's session pre-show because I'm just now getting around to editing them! haha

Monday, March 20, 2017

Show Recap: White Box Fun Dressage Schooling Show

This show was nicely average in terms of experiences -- it could have gone a LOT better, but also could have gone a LOT worse. I woke up well before my alarm on Saturday morning and decided I might as well get going. I wasn't sure how Cinna was going to load, so I allotted plenty of time to get her on the trailer, drive the hour to the facility, explore and acclimate, tack and warm up, all before our 9:12 ride time for our first test. We've been working on loading unassisted for the last few weeks, and have gotten to the point where she follows me on with minimal hesitation. Saturday wasn't quite as quick (we were loading in the dark), but I stayed calm and she didn't melt down, and I waited her out -- she finally heaved a sigh and climbed on, and started munching hay. I didn't clock it, but my guess is less than 5 minutes.
Oh they have grass here? It's not scary.
Of course, this actually put us ahead of schedule, so I swung by the gas station for snacks and we had a leisurely cruise up to the facility. We ended up being the first ones to arrive, so I kinda felt bad! I checked in with the facility owner, and made sure it was okay to unload and hand walk in the competition arena before things got busy. Cinna was very interested in checking everything out, but not unmanageable (I had a stud chain in my jacket pocket, just in case!). We looked at (and ate cookies off) the scary judge's stand, checked out our reflection in the mirrors (that might have been her favorite), and just generally investigated everything. She seemed alert but not concerned, so I felt pretty good about things.
Mirror mirror on the wall.....
We headed back to the trailer and I tacked her up and got changed, then headed to the outdoor to warm up. During our handwalk, we had checked out the outdoor, but I guess I didn't introduce her well enough to all of the jumps stored on the sides, so between those and the jumps in the cross country field past the arena, she couldn't figure out where to put her eyes or what to spook at next. She was especially recalcitrant to ride past a jump painted to look like dominos outside the arena... every time we attempted to ride by, she got bug-eyed and went sideways. If my life were an Eventing Bingo card, we were 100% "that horse" in warmup... haha. Although for all her spooking/stopping/eyeballing everything, there were no bronc attempts and she wasn't rank at all -- just worried.
Waiting for our first test.
Our first test was disastrous (don't worry, the second wasn't much better!). It's been so long since I really had a baby baby in a new place, I forgot how much is terrifying. She was pretty good at WWU last fall, but mentally comparing the facilities reminds me that WWU is SUCH a good first show because there are minimal distractions. The facility from this weekend is lovely (my favorite place to show besides WWU), but there were lots of things outside the court to gawk at (open doors, people, chairs, poles, mirrors, a sawdust pile, dogs... who knows what else). The nicest thing I can say about our test is that we stayed in the arena, I stayed on, there were no rodeos, and we did an approximation of all the test requirements in close to the appropriate letters (which was my goal!)..... haha. Cinna was tense and bracey, and also not listening super well, all of which reflected in our (low) scores.
This halt was our best score of the weekend.... lol.
Then and now -- at the same venue with Topaz a few years ago.
As I headed out to the outdoor to stay limber for our second test, one of the bystanders commented that I seemed so calm -- I laughed and told her it was a fun show! We were there for the experience, and that's what mattered to me. About the time my first test ended, my mom showed up to cheer us on and show crew -- having my mom there really helped (and not just for the photos!). I gave her a pocket full of treats and we went back to the outdoor to work by the domino jumps that were so scary -- as with any "scary" thing for Cinna, they got much less scary once she got to eat treats off them, and mom played "human wall" and treat dispenser every time she walked by them without corkscrewing her body sideways. When the arena emptied out, I actually had her canter both directions, just to see if we could and keep her brain in her head -- success!
Scary domino jumps in the background
I swear, we did work to the right too, but apparently mom didn't photograph that direction?
Hey look, we cantered, and I don't totally look like a drunken starfish (only partially)
I felt better heading in for our second test, but we had the same issues with "scary" things outside the arena. Our free walk half diagonal was directly at something she was scared of (poles piled outside of the arena), so when we reached it, she stopped and started backing. I don't typically ride with spurs and I didn't have a whip, so I finally had to resort to Pony Club kicking to get her to move past it (you can imagine how well that scored, oops!). I just laughed at her shenanigans, and I was still giggling a little at our final salute. She walked out on a loose rein, and I praised her.

More nope

I am disinclined to acquiesce to your request, madam.
We went outside and talked over the test with my mom -- Cinna cocked a leg and watched all of the goings-on with interest. After chatting with some friends, we headed back to the trailer and I left her tied with a bag of hay. We were done by 10:30, but I wanted her to have some grown up show horse experience and hang out at the trailer -- something I pride myself on is horses who can be tied with a hay bag/water bucket and left for hours without issues (not necessarily unattended per se, but you don't have to babysit them). She exceeded all expectations there, as I wandered around the field chatting with lots of friends (keeping an eye on her from a distance). I trusted her enough by the end to run up to the show office and grab my score sheets and goody bag!
I picked a grey, naturally!
Finally it was time to load up and head home so I could go out and do chores at ACS (and ride Ruby, which will be an entry for another day!). Cinna was a little balky about getting back on the trailer, but I wasn't in a hurry so I leaned against the far wall and posted FB updates while she thought about it, and eventually she climbed back on. We had an uneventful haul home, and when I turned her back out with the boys she had a good roll and then headed for the hay bunk.
Ultimately I was super pleased with this excursion in terms of inexpensive exposure and a good schooling experience. Hopefully as the summer goes on and she is in more regular work, we can have some more consistency and trust at shows -- which I think were the big things lacking this weekend. Also, just for funsies -- a collection of wannabe lateral work when heading down centerline seemed too hard... lol. Enjoy!