Um ... a little surprise ...
I should provide a bit of information about myself in explanation. While it may seem that I am very forthcoming about my horsey life, I am very selective in what I actually share. What I mean is that I only share what I have thought hard about, or what I am certain of. You might have noticed that I share things after-the-fact. The reason for holding things close to the chest is that I don't like to get too many opinions, which can be conflictive, and I don't like to appear "flakey" as in nope didn't do that, nope didn't get there after all
and so on. I like to ask specific people for their advice and I get a bit cranky about too much unsolicited advice. If I put something on the blog, it's out there to be shared and discussed and feedback is very welcome. Memoirs of a Horse Girl
gave me some great advice the other day. Big decisions, like buying a horse, take a lot of thought without a lot of "background noise."
And with that, meet Sydney!
Sydney is a 16.1 hand, 9 year old, New Zealand Thoroughbred. His previous owners really wanted him to be a hunter/jumper. They tried, he tried, but he didn't enjoy the work and frankly, it stressed him out a little bit. He enjoys working on the flat though, and decided that dressage might be more up his alley. Enter a new trainer. Yep, dressage was a better fit, and he was put up for sale as a lower level dressage horse with potential to do more.
Taz's mom, who knows my heart very well, and Cha Ching's mom who knows horses and my riding ability very well, both graciously
offered to spend the whole day in the car with me as we drove up north to check him out. Heads began nodding almost immediately. Debbie Davis, of Sport Equine
, was riding him as we pulled into the drive. As we watched him work under saddle, all three of us immediately commented on his floppy ears - a sure sign of a relaxed pony.
After some discussion, I climbed aboard, and with some nice instruction from Debbie, I was able to do a fair job of riding this very kind guy. Here's the video of my very first ride (unedited, bad equitation included!).
By the way - I bought him!
Me and Sunny with my trophy, sash, and a tiara that you can't quite see.
Sunny came home with me, and my life as a horse person began. I will be forever grateful to my dad for forcing me to be the person responsible for the care of my first horse. He doesn't know what a wonderful gift he gave me. I was given the opportunity to learn about equine care completely on my own. No one told me how much to feed, when to have shoes done, how to worm, or even if my tack was right. Or, at least that's how it felt. I know that my step-mom hovered in the background making sure that I didn't starve, mistreat, or neglect Sunny. But once she could see that I really was committed to this horsey life, she let me make my own way.
I read every book and magazine that I could find. I researched hay prices and teamed up with people to have it delivered by the truck load to save money. I bought in bulk when I could, and took great care not to waste feed. True to my dad's word, I did have to pay for everything. He helped me find a job where I worked eight hours every single Sunday at a local Mom & Pop diner. I made enough to buy hay, grain, shoes, wormer, and the tack that I needed. My step-mom still laughs at the "account" I kept on the refrigerator door showing how much money I owed my dad. I usually couldn't afford to pay for the whole ton of hay, so I would borrow from my dad and pay him back each Sunday with the cash I made in the diner. It seemed that as soon as I had one ton paid for, it would be just about time to buy the next one.
Riding down Main Street
One of my all time favorite memories with Sunny was the summer I ran for Garberville Rodeo Queen, and won. It was the real deal: tiara, sash, parade, rodeo. It still ranks as one of my all-time favorite horsey days. Riding down Main Street on my sparkling pony, leading my "court," - it seemed to be a scene out of the many horse books that I read as a kid. Part of the Rodeo Queen's duties were to actually go to the rodeo and ride in the grand opening. The queen's name is announced and she does a victory gallop while all the other rodeo contestants hold the line in the arena's center. Are you kidding me? I get to do what? I truly could have died on that weekend and would have felt as though my life had been worth living.
Sunshine was an outstanding first mount. She taught me a lot about not falling off, which I did many, many times. She also taught me that horses cinched up too tightly nip their owners. I also learned to pull my knees in tight around tight corners, and that the view from between two furry ears can't be beat. Sadly, Sunshine suffered a small bone break in her fetlock during a morning canter and had to be euthanized. Her final lesson for me was the one about loss.
After Sunshine, there many other horses: Nakota, Gideon, Corky, Sassy, Montoya DSA, Mickey Dee, and of course, G Ima Starr FA, also known as Speedy G. Each of them has their own unique story to tell. I hope you'll come back to hear them.
I am sure by now you've read, or maybe just skimmed, that huge piece I did about my horse life in general. If not, you can find it here
. I kind of wanted to also tell you a little bit about each horse that has owned me. There have been a few over the years, and I've loved each one.
Sunshine, January 1986
My very first horse was a small Morgan/Welsh cross mare. Well, at least that's what they thought she was. I didn't care. She could have been a zebra and I would have been just as delighted. When I left my mom's house in Sacramento and moved to rural Humboldt County to live with my dad, there was finally room to have a horse. My step-mom had horses throughout her childhood and early adulthood and quickly recognized the horsey bug in me. I don't know how long it took, but she finally wore my dad down, and he agreed that I could have a horse, BUT ... You know what's coming, here.
I had to pay for everything and it was going to be my responsibility to do all the feeding, etc.
The first part of all that meant clearing the thick brush that covered the only level spot on my dad's eleven or so acres. And when he said I was going to help do the work, he meant it. We spent many hours cutting dense brush, ripping out stumps, burning branches, and building the fencing. And I was there for every minute of it. I had bug bites, scratches, blisters, and sore muscles. But it was worth it. I'll say this for my dad - he made me earn everything I got, but I am so glad that he did. Every dollar I now spend on my horses comes with the recognition that I've worked hard for that dollar followed by the question, is this worth buying?
When we went to look at Sunshine, that was her name, I knew I wanted her before we even got there. What wasn't to like? She had four working legs and was free. She was small, but very sturdily built, a brilliant copper color with a thick flaxen mane and tail, and was in her early teens. It didn't hurt that she was super cute and had a very friendly eye. No one thought to put a saddle on her. She was bridled, and I was popped up on her back. They sent me out to a neighboring field to give her a try. Within a few minutes, I had her smartly trotting around ... and then she wasn't. She bucked me off, and I hit the dirt.
Her owner, a father of several no-longer-interested-in-horses children, was very disappointed that I had fallen off. He was hoping to be rid of the mare, one less mouth to feed and all that, and was certain that I no longer wanted her. Quite the opposite, I was actually terrified that my dad wouldn't let me get her since I had fallen off. I caught her and brought her back to my dad and step-mom, sheepishly asking if I could still get back on her. My dad, bless his heart, fully expected me to. I think he would have been pissed at me for making him drive all the way out there only to get bucked off and quit so easily. In his mind this was one of those by God, you wanted a horse, now get back on it!
moments. It seemed as though he and I were, for once, on the same page.Read Part 2 Here
I am sorry. I don't usually post twice in one day. Who has time to read one post EVERY SINGLE DAY much less a second one? I just had to write about my day-after-the-show ride.
For me, showing lets me see what I have learned, and what I still need to work on. The judge at Sunday's show really got us on maintaining a steady contact, steady rhythm, and of course the canter. So when I went out to ride this morning, I kept those things in my mind. Here's what I discovered:
- Now that Speedy G has learned the canter cue (inside leg at the girth, outside leg goes back, scoop slightly with my seat), he gets confused when my outside leg goes back to keep his hind end from drifting out. I think that's why he was sucking back and leaping forward during Sunday's tests. As we rode this morning, I tried to keep my outside leg quieter and worked on riding a steadier rising trot.
- I also think that since I am asking for his head to be closer to the vertical, he thinks this is a whoa and slows down. I was really conscious of this today and kept asking for more forward trot even as I "closed" the front door. This is still confusing for him, and something I may need help with. I know that pushing them into the contact is kind of the point, but Speedy is a bit confused by it.
- The canter also got some work today. When I felt ready to move to the canter, Speedy braced his neck, hollowed his back, and prepared to buck or kick out. Hmmm ... So we didn't canter. We repeated the circles, and if Speedy tried to anticipate the canter cue, I just ignored it and kept on trotting. When I did feel him relax, I asked for the canter. The first tries came with a buck or a kick, but I moved him back to the trot and asked again. Since I could tell it was a tension issue, I started asking for the canter with the gentlest aid possible. I scooped slightly with my seat while remembering to sit up and moved my outside leg back just a little and boom - there it was!
Don't misunderstand, I did not fix anything today, but I definitely see where we need some work and we'll just keep practicing until we get it right. When I feel discouraged, I think back to where we were last summer, and I realize that we have come a long way.
I should be pleased. Really. We scored a 65.625% at Introductory B. I guess we "fooled" the judge, or she just couldn't see what I was struggling with. I felt like Speedy would not maintain a steady tempo, he kept trying to break gate (walk-to-trot and trot-to-canter), and he kept trying to "suck back." The judge's scores? For the test: one 5, four 6s, two 7s, and two 8s. For the Collective Marks: two 6s, four 7s. There were three things that I was excited about. I was very pleased by the 8s (who wouldn't be?) for our free walk and our working trot rising between H & C which was right in front of the judge! For Rider's Position the judge gave me a 7 and commented that I was quiet and tactful. That may seem like no big deal, but I am pretty self-concious about my seat and hands and I usually score a six for position.
Test C, the walk/trot/canter test that is similar to the old Training Level test 1, did not go as well as I was hoping. That canter transition has really turned into a problem for us. Before we started "working" on it, Speedy and I could pick up the canter any ol' time we wanted. Now ... we can't. Just like at the May show, he bucked and kicked when asked to canter. Good thing the test says developing working canter because that's what we're doing, developing. Once the tests says CANTER, we might be in trouble.
I don't have very many scores of 4 in our previous tests, but we earned TWO of them for our second transition in and out of canter. The first canter we earned two 5s. My overall points for this test were: two 4s, three 5s, four 6s, three 7s, and another 8. The 8 was again for working trot rising between C & M, right in front of the judge. Our Collective Marks were nearly identical as in the first test: three 6s and three 7s. And again, I scored a 7 for rider position with the comment, "tactfully ridden." The judge's further remarks were this, "Nice moments. Elegant horse." That's a comment any rider would like to hear!
The overall score for Introductory Test C was 60.500%.
(Click the photos for a larger view.)
I am heading out the door to give Speedy G a quick bath, he had a good one yesterday, and then up to Tehachapi. We had some solid canter transitions yesterday when I rode, so hopefully we bring those with us. Wish us luck!
This is not what I had intended for today's post. If you want to read that, scroll down and find the read more link and you can see what I was about to complain about. Instead, I want to, no, I NEED to write about Friday's ride. In short? It was AWESOME!!!!!!!
With a show on Sunday and this horrible heat, I decided to get to the barn early and just hit the trail. We haven't left the barn in at least five weeks (EHV-1/vacation), so I was eager to do something besides ride in the arena.
Going back a bit ... dear friend Taz's mom, who looked after Speedy while I was on vacation, had nothing but wonderful things to say about Speedy when I got home. She was so impressed with how friendly and polite he was and how willing to do whatever was asked of him. She's known him since day 1, and frankly, he was a bit of a stinker as a three and four-year-old. Even during his five and six-year-old years he was known to pull a few naughty tricks. But now, as a blooming seven-year-old, he appears to have turned into a right nice fellow.
So as I headed out onto the trail, I kept her words in my mind and realized that I am no longer riding that undependable four-year-old. I quit worrying that he was going to fall down or flip out. A few cars roared by which in the past would have sent him straight up into the air. He flicked an eye and stiffened his neck a bit, but onward and forward he went. The only thing he had real reason to freak out about, which he didn't, was a LARGE, YELLOW school bus that pulled up behind us pretty quietly and released its air brakes. That would scare ANY seasoned pony. Speedy did stop, tense his whole body, and step quickly away, but he did it with control. I was so proud of him!
That's all real nice, but it's not even what I wanted to write about. What I want to scream and shout and dance about is that on the way home, while Speedy was moving very nicely forward, we had some of the absolutely best strides of back to front connection that we have yet managed. I felt his back come up under me, my legs turned into melted ice cream as I gently hugged his barrel, I felt the most wonderful connection from the bit to my hands, and I RODE MY HORSE WITH MY SEAT! Can I get an AMEN sister?!
While in London we had the opportunity to visit the Royal Mews
of Buckingham Palace - sounds better than it was. But, it involved horses and hubby was sweet enough to humor me and in we went. We saw LOTS of coaches, but not so many horses. When you visit the royal stables, somehow you should see horses actually stabled. We got a quick peak at three. The website, actually very interesting, does point out that the horses aren't always on view as they travel and are occasionally out of the city resting. Well, darn!
In any case, we actually preferred watching the mounted pair that were patrolling the park in front of Buckingham Palace.
Here's a quick video of what we saw ...
The official website of the British Monarchy says that only Windsor Greys and Cleveland Bays are kept at the Royal Mews. This pair certainly seemed to fit that description, but the website of the Metropolitan Police - Mounted Unit
says, "a half or three-quarter-bred animal has been found to be the best suited to police work." Check out the MPS site, it's pretty interesting.
The black on the right appeared to be the "junior" horse. While waiting for a light to change, a loud motorcycle came up from behind and he danced around a little as the officer on the big gray motioned for the traffic to wait as he and his partner advanced forward. When we saw them walking through the park, the black horse was definitely hanging back a half-a-length. He just had that look that said, "where's my buddy?"
I really loved the turn-out of both horses and was impressed with how clean and well-maintained their tack appeared to be. Wouldn't expect anything different ...
Here’s Where the "Ride" Ends and the Story Begins:
I begged, and then forced, Speedy to get to the top of the last hill. I knew we were in some sort of trouble, and perched on the side of the hill was not going to help. Speedy crested the hill and stopped. He refused to take another step. He wasn’t blowing, his pulse dropped immediately down to the 50’s, but he wouldn’t go any further. The drag riders were now with me and both ladies were pretty concerned. We decided that we should radio for help, stay where we were, and let Speedy rest.
The radio that they were using was on a shared “signal” and our messages only made it to the dispatch occasionally, which made communication nearly impossible. It was decided that we should travel a bit further to make it to the nearest marked trail so that help, if it arrived, would be able to locate us. After much tugging and pulling, Speedy was encouraged to go just a bit further to a jeep road. And then we waited. For two hours.
During our wait, one of the drag riders spent quite a bit of time massaging Speedy’s knotted hind end. The knots were so pronounced on his rump that you could feel them just by running your hand over his butt. On his inner thighs you could see the tendons standing out on his skin. The massage really helped though, and Speedy finally cocked a leg and went to sleep.
When Speedy woke up we decided to coax him down the hill a little ways to a bowl-like area that was filled with tall, green grass. It was now 8:00 p.m. None of the horses had drunk in over three hours. If we were going to stay the night, a very real possibility, we knew the horses needed some moisture, even if it was only from grass. It took some time, but Speedy finally agreed to walk to the grass. He immediately started eating and then peed a lovely stream of lemonade-colored urine. Hurray! No blood, which would have indicated a tie-up.
One of the drag riders decided to ride further down the road in hopes of spotting the trailer that we hoped was coming. Instead, she found Dr. Seals hiking in to find us with 5 liters of fluid, electrolytes, Banamine, and a pail to carry it all. A driver and a guide accompanied him. The drag rider rode back to us and we decided to head their direction. It took another hour to get the fluid into Speedy, and while that was happening, the group devised a plan for getting us all off the mountain. No trailer was coming. The roads were just not accessible for anything other than a serious four-wheel drive truck, and the trail we were supposed to take was simply too steep for Speedy to navigate. We would have to find a different way out.
The driver took my helmet and bridle, handed me a coat, and gave each of us a bottle of water. She returned to the truck and the rest of us started our hike out. It was now 9:00 p.m. Speedy and I had been on the trail since 6:30 a.m. I had only eaten a small breakfast, a fruit cup, an apple, 5 bottles of Gatorade, and several more bottles of water. I had also hiked at least 15 miles of very rugged trails. I was tired, hungry, and sore. But there was no choice but to keep walking.
I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the people with me. Gary, a ride volunteer, agreed to lead us out, with the two drag riders following and giving him directions. I followed them on foot, while the vet insisted he follow us to ensure Speedy’s safety. It was now completely dark and we were following paths that were steep, rocky, and shoulder high with grasses.
Somehow the drag riders were able to navigate the mountainous terrain and we arrived at the bottom safely. We now had to cross what they referred to as, The Hollows, a long meadow filled with knee-deep creeks, which Gary, Dr. Seals, and I forded on foot.
After hiking for nearly two hours in the dark, we finally arrived at a narrow, paved road where a three-passenger truck and a two-horse trailer sat waiting for us. We had six people and three horses to move. The group immediately worked out the logistics and insisted that Speedy and I be transported to basecamp first.
Once we were back in camp, Speedy dove into his hay, slurped up a pan of very wet beet pulp, and gave a deep sigh. I located all of my tack, took off my wet boots and chaps, and went to wait for the vet’s arrival. When Dr. Seals arrived, he gave me a big hug and told me how impressed he was with how I was able to hike that difficult trail with Speedy right behind me. We joked that it was good that I wasn’t paying him by the hour! I took care of my bill, thanked him for all he had done for us, and made my way back to the trailer. By the time I made it to bed, it was midnight.
Speedy and I had spent nearly 18 hours on the trail, rode and hiked 50 miles, but didn’t get a completion. That was the longest 50 that I’ve not completed!
That night, Speedy drained a bucket of water, ate nearly all of his hay and beet pulp, lay down to sleep, and looked great the next morning. He had no filling in his legs, his back wasn’t sore, and he took nice long strides from his very first step. I took him for a walk and he dragged me around looking for grasses to nibble on. He hopped right in the trailer and came home nice and quiet.This Should be the End, But it's Not:
The burned area is just behind the palm tree.
Two hours after finally arriving home, the phone rang. There was a raging grass fire headed straight for the barn! My husband and I frantically leaped into the car and raced out to the barn. We met other boarders, who had thought quickly to halter each horse, as it looked as though we might need to evacuate.
The fired roared past the barn, immediately across the road. The wind kept it blazing just to the north of us, but it did manage to leap across the road and start burning up the driveway. Firefighters managed to put it out before it got too far, but we stood at the ready with hoses. Fortunately the fire stayed to the north, and the firefighters kept it under control. The air was filled with thick, black smoke, and ash fell all around the barn, but nothing on our side was burned. When the immediate danger had passed and we could see that the fire was well contained, we removed each horse’s halter and gave them all a pat. All I can say is, what a weekend!
That was the last endurance ride that I did, or rather, didn't do. Just several weeks after that "race," Speedy G and I went to our first dressage show. From endurance to dressage ... So now you know the rest of the story.
Most of my "around town" friends already know this story, but many of the blog readers may not know how the switch from endurance to dressage actually happened. I've said a few times that the focus of this blog is endurance experience and tips crossed with a focus on good equine health practices to (hopefully) produce a somewhat balanced dressage rider. In retrospect, I think this blog was actually born at the 2010 Just Coe Crazy ...
Just Coe Crazy
Click photos for larger view.The “Just Coe Crazy” endurance ride, held last June 2010, was tough. The ride was held in the mountainous Henry Coe State Park, near Gilroy, California. The park is expansive and, as I would later learn, vehicle access is very limited.
I should ease your mind by saying that neither of us was injured in anyway, even though we did require on-the-trail assistance and a trailer ride back to camp. And while Speedy G and I didn’t ride the official course in the allotted time, we certainly did ride 50 miles!
The “Regular” Part of the Ride:
The morning started out warm and humid with coastal fog settling in over camp. We headed out on the trail at 6:30 a.m. already hot and sweaty. The trail climbed immediately, which was a bit of a good thing since Speedy G tried to buck as I got on. As soon as he started the climb, he put his head down and got right to work … for the next 15 hours.
The ride had three main sections: a 30-mile loop that was split into 2, 15-mile sections, with a 20-mile out-and-back that was done between the 2, fifteen mile sections.
At the end of the first 15-mile section, Speedy cruised into the vet check with a pulse of 49, well below the 60 beats per minute criteria. He was sound, had excellent scores for hydration and gut, and overall looked really perky. We left for the 20-mile out-and-back, knowing that we needed to pick up the pace.
This 20-mile section proved to be even more challenging than the first loop had been. It was nothing but steep climbs and descents. The footing was rocky and rutted. There was virtually no place to trot, and when the ground was free of rocks, the climb made it too difficult to move out. When we arrived back at the vet check, Speedy again vetted through with flying colors. We finished the loop in 3 and a-half hours, leaving just enough time to ride the final 15 miles. We left the vet check at 3:00 p.m. with two drag riders following close behind.
As we left camp we were told there was just one short climb and then it was downhill to the final vet check. The short climb turned out to be many miles long, too many actually. Part 2 Here