Sometimes, it just doesn't happen.
I should also add energy because I only have so much of that, too. My intentions were good on Sunday even though I'd had a long week. My plan was to ride both horses, go grocery shopping, tackle my laundry, hang out with my husband, and maybe write a blog post or two.
Most of my to do list got done, but not the part about riding both horses. I managed to ride Izzy, but by the time I put him away, my energy level plummeted. I gave Speedy some good back scratches, told him I was sorry, and hit the grocery store.
Sometimes, it just doesn't happen.
A couple of weeks ago I had to put shoes on Izzy when he finally came up sore footed. Over the summer he'd been wearing his feet off faster than they were growing. I was worried about the way they were looking, almost triangular shaped, but since my farrier didn't express any concern, I kept hoping they'd normalize as we headed into fall. They didn't.
Even though he had been barefoot for nearly two years, my farrier and I decided to put shoes back on. Izzy was sound immediately. But of course, in true Izzy fashion, he pulled the left one a week later. It came off super clean with no damage to the hoof, but it took my farrier a couple of days to come back out and reset it. (What do you mean he can't be at my immediate beck and call?) I didn't want to risk chipping the hoof at all, so Izzy got a week off as we waited for the farrier.
The first couple of times that I rode him with the original new shoes, we had a come meet Jesus ride followed by a see how nice it is when you behave? ride. Then he pulled the shoe.
I am not a barefoot only! nor a shoe them all the time! proponent. I do what seems to work best for the horse. With that said, the next time I rode Izzy (with the reset shoe), he felt far more balanced and straighter than he maybe ever has. I could chalk that up to my brilliant riding, but I won't because I can't. More likely is that the new shoes have him more balanced than when he was barefoot with questionably shaped feet.
I am not sure that Izzy will keep the shoes on. Like I said, he's already pulled one, but I am going to keep my fingers crossed. I am going to leave this set of shoes on as long as possible so that he has a chance to grow out some hoof. It's an eye rolling situation; most riders want to keep their horses' toes shorter. I need Izzy's to grow out!
To help, he's still getting his Platinum Performance every day, but I've added in Platinum Hoof Support, the same thing I used for Speedy when he tried to slice off his hoof last October. I can't say that it helped - his hoof grew back just fine, but was it because of the supplement or just nature?
I don't like creating expensive poop, but I am willing to risk it if it does indeed stimulate hoof growth. Izzy needs all the help he can get.
If only she believed she's a bad dog. Naughty little thing just flips us the paw if we even suggest that she's not the queen of this castle.
My Wintec Webbers finally gave out this week, forcing me to order a new pair. There's actually an I kick ass story involved that I may as well share. I was riding Speedy when my stirrup fell off. Actually off; it hit the ground. I looked down and thought What the hell? I hopped off, put it back on, and two minutes later it fell off again.
The little holes that the Webbers' "t" slides into had torn open. Rather than traipse all the way back down to the tack room to swap out my leathers for an old pair, I stripped off both stirrups and hopped on without them. And then I continued with my ride, eventually doing flying lead changes with no stirrups. If that's not a kick ass moment, your standards are just way too high for this girl.
When I walked into the house yesterday afternoon and didn't see a box on the counter, I knew it was probably in pieces. No matter how many times I tell the GSO guy to leave all packages on the side of the house, he won't. At one point, I even had a note near the front gate that read, LEAVE PACKAGES ON THE SIDE OF THE HOUSE. THE YELLOW DOG CHEWS. And as though to make my point, the yellow dog chewed up the note.
I headed out to the front yard to find my husband busily hunting for torn box pieces. He cautiously handed me the crumbs of what used to be a box while saying that he had no idea what these things were but they didn't appear to be damaged.
Miraculously, all of the carnage was centered on the box itself and on the cardboard that held the Webbers together. Yellow dog even left the shipping label intact. Not that I could have returned them.
Although, now that I think about it, wouldn't it be a hilarious surprise to the fine folks over at Riding Warehouse to open up a return box to find this mess inside?
Could I claim that the item had been damaged during shipping?
Yellow dog, please finish growing up! I really might need to return the next thing.
Group trail rides at dude ranches are not my thing. There are a few exceptions of course. My husband and I booked a trail ride in Belize that took us to some Mayan ruins; that was fun. I also took a private trail ride in Scotland; again, fun times. There was also that weeklong, point to point ride I did in Ireland. That was more than fun. But generally, the nose to tail thing just doesn't float my boat.
Being six feet above the ground connected to tree trunk legs kind of changes your outlook on trail rides. Suddenly, nose to (bobbed) tail rides look like a lot of fun.
Over the weekend, my husband and I joined three other couples for a trail ride at the Covell Clydesdale Ranch in Cambria. We booked the trip more than a month ago, not really sure what it entailed. None of us were disappointed.
The Covell ranch covers approximately 2,000 acres of rolling hills above the tiny coastal village of Cambria. The ranch has approximately 50 head of cattle and nearly 70 Clydesdales. The horses range in age from yearlings to old timers living out their retirement years. The working string is currently made up of 10 Clydesdales, mares and geldings, but a few others are being trained to join the team.
After getting all of us checked in, Tara, the ranch owner's daughter, gave everyone a quick tutorial in how to ride the horses. Each Clydesdale is taught to drive, that is their original purpose after all, and they are ridden like driving horses. Tara showed everyone the technique of slide, grab, and pull. We were directed to slide one hand down the rein, grab it, and pull it straight back to ask the horse to turn. To stop, you have to slide both reins through one hand, and then pull straight back with a rein in each hand.
The horses do not work off of the rider's seat or legs which meant no leg yielding or steering with your seat. Turning was also a challenge as an open rein did nothing. It took some concentration to turn left and right, not to mention a lot of room, but once I got the feel for it, I was quite delighted with how responsive my girl was.
After a few minutes of practice, Eileen turned out to be very soft in the bridle and wiling to listen to the quietest of aids; not all dude horses are that sensitive. With only the slightest wiggle of my calves, she broke into an easy trot. To come back down to a walk, I simply picked up both reins. What a lovely mare she was!
In the nearly 30 years that we've been together, my husband has ridden maybe a half a dozen times. Considering that his actual saddle time is pretty limited, he's listened to me long enough that he's picked up a decent skill set. At well over 6 feet tall, it was fun to see him look small on a horse.
The horses were trained to stay more or less in line, but Tara said that we were welcome to ride side by side. Most of the horses were happiest following one after the other. We did do a few trot sets and were even given the go ahead to trot up the final climb to the top of the hill. I was pleasantly surprised with how smooth Eileen was. We were all in western saddles of course, but even so, I was able to do a tiny rising trot and never felt as though Eileen's gait was too big to stay with.
If you live anywhere within a hundred miles of California's central coast, you should look up the Covell Ranch. Tara has done a great job with her Clydesdales. They were all well trained, their feet looked great, and each horse looked healthy and happy in their work. You can find the Covell Clydesdales on Facebook and Instagram.
I am not sure I can call myself a Third Level rider quite yet, but we are schooling the movements. Nor do I know everything, or even most things, or anything, really. But holy cow, schooling the movements in the level above where you've been working brings a whole new level of insight.
I hopped up on Izzy on Friday afternoon with a bit of a mission. It's been three months since I made the switch to the dressage legal bit, and it's time for the big brown horse to start toeing the line every ride every time. My chiropractor puts it this way: he's too old to have opinions. I always add, and if he has them, he can keep them to himself.
My plan was to get on, get it done, and get off. You know horses though; nothing is ever that simple. Right off the bat he started thinking his own thoughts and then decided to tell me about them. Really loudly. How many times can you jerk the right rein as you yell, let (jerk) go (jerk) of (jerk) the (jerk) freaking (except I said it the other way) rein (jerk, jerk jerk, jerk!). The answer to that question is about 972, or until you're panting and out of breath. It took a minute for all that jerking to settle in, but he finally realized his butt was in a boatload of trouble at which time he thought it prudent to keep his opinions to himself.
And then we got some great work done!
Somewhere doing the ride I decided to work on canter transitions which slowly morphed into canter transitions with changes of direction. And suddenly I found myself riding the serpentine from Second Level Test 1 where you do a simple change over the center line and canter on the new lead. Instead of a simple change through walk, we did a change of lead through trot.
They started out a bit abrupt, but suddenly, I heard, first, change the bend to get him on your new outside rein which sets him up for the change of lead. All those months and years of riding Training Level and First Level I could NEVER remember to do that before the change from canter to trot to canter at X. Now I know why those movements are where they are. And more importantly, I now understand what to do to get a better transition. Thank you, Second Level.
Once I was fixing the bend - oh, and by the way, I've determined that Second Level's goal is to teach slow witted riders like myself how to bend their horses; he immediately figured out what I was going to ask for and started offering a baby walk to canter.
This whole dressage thing would be so much easier if we all got to ride a Grand Prix horse at the GP level. Then we'd go down from there. By the time we got to Training Level, we'd KNOW why we we're doing what we're doing.
It's really all so very simple (said no one ever). I can't wait until Fourth Level because then I'll totally understand what I was supposed to be doing at Third!
In my circle of friends, the dressage at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) was the big draw. I had several friends who managed to fly out to North Carolina for the event. While I love catching the occasional dressage tests on TV, I am not one for live streaming. I am just too busy doing other stuff to watch.
Instead of watching, I read about the USA's silver medal and that the Freestyle was rescheduled (and then cancelled). More than all of that though, I was pretty shocked at the endurance news. What a disaster that turned out to be.
There were a few things about that 160 km (99.4 miles) race that raised my eyebrows. The first eye-rolling blooper was that many riders were sent off course. Speaking from a lot of years of experience, going off course is a rider's worst nightmare, especially while doing a hundred mile event.
When a horse and rider team start their distance at the crack of dawn, the rider is doing her best to focus on the course that has been laid out. Management has gone over the course the night before, and every turn is usually marked to help riders and horses navigate the hundred miles that lay before them. Going off course means that your horse has to travel even farther than planned. Realizing that you've gone off course for even a mile can wrack a rider with guilt.
In all the years that I competed, I only went off course a few times, and only once did a volunteer misdirect the riders. It created a massive backlog on the trail as riders realized that the volunteer was in error, but since the trail was so narrow, no one could turn around as more and more riders were being sent behind us. Later in the day, management corrected the error by shortening a later loop. I would have expected better of the staff at the WEG.
Cancelling the race after riders had completed more than two-thirds of the course is also shocking. The FEI cited weather as the reason. Every endurance rider in the world, especially those competing at the FEI level at WEG, are more than familiar with races that happen during bad weather. Every endurance rider on the planet has competed under less than ideal weather conditions. The sport is called Endurance for a reason.
During my 16 years as an endurance rider, I competed in all sorts of less than ideal weather. There were rides where the wind blew so strongly in the horses' faces that you could feel them being lifted off their front feet. We rode in blinding sleet, scorching heat, and humidity that was so high that water dripped off our tack and helmets. We always knew the weather was going to be a factor. The competitors at this year's WEG knew it too.
FEI officials claimed that the race was stopped because too many horses needed treatment because of the weather. That may well be true, but there were many other horse and rider teams who were successfully passing each and every vet check - horse and rider teams that were either better prepared or better managing their race. Penalizing them for the ineptitude or bad luck of others goes against the whole idea of competition.
Do I feel sorry for the New Zealand horse who had to be euthanized for kidney damage? Of course, but that doesn't mean the entire race should have been cancelled while horses were still on course, still going strong.
I am more than a bit disappointed in the FEI, and I can guarantee that those riders who took excellent care of their horses are more than a little disappointed too.
Even though Speedy and I have been schooling the flying lead change, we hadn't had an actual trainer lesson on how to do them until last week. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, had talked me through the aids over the phone, but getting a lesson in real life is always better.
Chemaine teaches the horse (and rider) the flying lead change like this:
Sometimes we got it, most of the time we didn't. And over the weekend, when I worked on it by myself a few days after the lesson, things went south pretty fast. On Saturday afternoon, I texted Chemaine with an urgent cry for help; I am pretty sure I've broken Speedy's right lead canter.
When Chemaine rode Speedy a few weeks ago, he wouldn't let go of the right rein. For this lesson, he wouldn't let go of the left. To encourage him to want to change, she finally had me do several things. The first was to keep the new bend while pushing his haunches to the rail on a counter canter. When he finally let go of the left rein (the inside rein), I could then ask for the change.
The other thing she had me try was to pick up the counter canter on a circle and do the same thing: new inside bend while keeping the haunches pushing out. It was hard, really hard. It's not magically getting easier either. Exhibit A - Like I said, I think I broke his right lead canter.
I have the feeling that I am going to be writing a lot about the flying lead change and how much we suck at doing them. Bear with me.
Speedy and I had a great first season at Second Level. We earned some low scores, we earned some middle of the road scores, and we cleaned up in the awards category. This season, we managed to earn:
I hoped with fingers crossed I'd get it this first year at Second Level, but I didn't really believe it would happen. Second Level had always seemed so intimidating. People tell horror stories of being stuck in its clutches season after season. Somehow, we actually didn't suck all of the time which allowed us to get the scores we needed.
My plan is to be ready for at least test one of Third Level by this spring, but I am not too proud to keep working at Second if we're not quite ready for Third. Second is a foundational level for sure, and getting better at it won't hurt our (eventual) Third Level scores.
But for now, In your face, Second Level!
The last you heard, he was a complete jackass. I am not going to say he's turned into a sweetheart - oh my God, that would be great; but no. In his defense, after that first ride with shoes, he settled right down and was actually quite a nice boy to ride.
I am only ever frustrated with him when he forgets that he's 10 years old instead of 3. Those are the days when we have to have a come to Jesus ride. Those involve a lot of praying - probably by both us. Since we had several very submissive rides in a row earlier this week - and it was hot as hell, I decided to take him up to the old golf course.
It's private property, but the owner doesn't seem to mind that I ride out there. He keeps it mowed and watered, but there are still places with tricky footing (gopher holes, etc.). There are some small undulating hills and a copse of trees that I like to weave him through. It gets his mind off being anxious.
He was a bit of jerk, but it was fun to canter out in the open over terrain that wasn't flat and smooth. Once he started focusing on where his feet were going, he seemed to enjoy himself; for a minute anyway.
Even though he was wringing wet, his own fault, I rode back to the ranch and put him to work in the arena. We did a minute or two of trot work and then picked up the canter both ways. It was almost funny. His trot and canter suddenly got very relaxed and supple. I could see him thinking, oh, thank God it's so NICE to be HERE. The arena suddenly seemed to be his happy place.
Big baby. That's okay. A win is a win.
And they're correct! When we get one that is. After schooling them for less than a week, we get the change about 50% of the time. I am actually quite pleased with them as I haven't even had a lesson yet. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, talked me through the aids over the phone, so I've been working on it on my own in preparation for tonight's lesson.
The interesting thing is that all of a sudden, his canter has gotten much more uphill, and the simple changes are getting crisper. I guess that's what happens when you raise your expectations. Getting my saddle adjusted has also helped.
To be completely honest, I was thrilled beyond belief that we even got any changes the first time I schooled them. I was certain it was going to take all fall before we even got one flying change. It took about three asks before he gave me one. When we changed direction, he got it on the second try. I've never asked for flying changes before, so I was over the moon happy that we were able to get any on our first try.
For Third Level, I'll need a flying change across the diagonal. For now, Chemaine suggested I ask for them in the corner. To set him up, I counter canter across the diagonal, half halting to get him as light in the bridle as I can. I change the bend to get him on the new outside rein, and then I switch my seat to the new lead.
He's not changing with my seat aid (yet). I have to do a strong half halt on the new outside rein and scoop with my seat. Chemaine explained it like this: It's being methodical with your aids, so the horse recognizes a canter transition when he hears one. Even if he's already cantering!
That way of thinking about it has helped a lot. The other thing she suggested was to keep cantering even if he doesn't change and just circle around and try it again. When he gives me one, we walk, and I give him a loud and enthusiastic good boy! He knows when he's done something right.
I am super excited to be schooling Third. Who would have thought?