Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Confounding creature

I took a few days off after the fall to let my body heal.  I must have landed on the corner of something (flower box?) because I have a pretty nasty scrape and bruise on my back, and a giant bruise where my thigh landed on the jump standard base.

Took a jumping lesson today and it was great.  Fawkes was a flipping angel.

Possible bruise source
I let him take a run around the indoor before riding since his turn out time has been cancelled by the recent rain.  People from truly rainy places might laugh, but CO does not do rain.  Everything just floods about 30 minutes after it starts raining.  Fawkes seemed to appreciate his run time and it might have helped me because unseasonably cool and periodic downpours while in the indoor usually spell spookiness.

Not today.  He even jumped the boxes on the first try without really sucking back.  My personal opinion is that he is a survivor and knows that it is not in his best interest to overly misbehave multiple rides in a row.  Especially when you are a super sensitive, kind of pain in the ass, orange TB.
Finally summer shiny
We worked on small courses including a bending line, primary goal of straightness. I tend to rely on my inside rein when Fawkes bulges or gets crooked, when I really need more outside aids.  So my brain mantra for today was, if I think I need inside rein, instead apply outside aids.  And don't forget extra leg because whoo boy, if your horse is already crooked and you only use outside rein you will go straight alright, right into a jump standard.  Disclaimer: this did not actually happen today but it was close once.  However, if that outside leg is strong enough and that outside rein is steady, you no longer need to twist your poor horse's head around with the inside rein.

Yeah, I will be working on that for the next, um, eternity.  But it definitely was helping and scaredy cat horse is braver when straight!

It was nice to get a good right in after a crappy one, and it helped my mood on a dreary day.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Well, that was ugly

I guess this was inevitable, as we have had many good rides in a row, but today's lesson was a complete disaster.  But it started out so well.  It was a beautiful morning, not too hot and with a nice breeze.  Fawkes and I warmed up really well with some nice trot work and a couple good canter transitions.

Starting out over fences was also lovely.  It was pretty much the same set up as before - a grid with two one strides, single fences on the diagonal and a single fence on the other long side.  Trainer R put flowers on the last jump of the grid and while Fawkes hesitated slightly through the first time, he was going well after that.  For the single fences he was cantering nicely and being brave.  The one single fence on the long side has been our bete noire but it was a non-issue today.   We had some straightness issues, but overall is was really great.
Flower grid

Calm over the single, and some lovely jumping ahead
And then the wheels came off the bus.  A lady was walking her dog down the street as we cantered around the corner to the diaganol and Fawkes spooked hard.  We cantered a circle, he seemed to calm down and we jumped the fence on the diagonal as planned, if a little frantic

Then we went back to trot into the grid.  Fawkes did the first two jumps but dropped his shoulder and spun out left at the last one.  It was a dirty stop, I was tilting a little forward (obviously, although it didn't feel like it at the time), and I came off over his right side.  "Luckily", I landed on the jump standard base with my right thigh.  Much better than my head or shin, but I have a nice hematoma that will likely develop into a lovely bruise.  Fawkes trotted two steps away and started grazing.

Trainer R's theory is that once Fawkes' brain goes to the Fear Place, he has a really hard time coming back and therefore even though the flower jump wasn't where he spooked originally, once he is freaked out, he will start reacting to everything.  Additionally, she thinks it makes me ride a little differently.  She said it wasn't even anything obvious to her, but she thinks it is either that or he somehow associates me with the fear.  Either way, we need to figure it out and find a way to work through it because we needs to learn to regain his brain after something scares him.

Anyways, I was fine after the fall except for having a bit of breath knocked out of me and I clambered back on.  We tried to drop the last fence and get back through the grid but Fawkes was not settling and was being wildly inconsistent.  I was able to get him through several times, but he also ditched out again several times.  R was getting pissed at Fawkes, which basically never happens, and was not letting me take a break since she wanted him to not stop until he did it correctly.  While I understand that, my lung capacity did not and eventually I tried to inhale....and just couldn't.  Then I started to panic and freak out a little.  Not being able to breathe will do that to you.  I hopped off, sounding like a raspy old smoker.

Luckily, R2 was there and got on.  She walked Fawkes around a couple minutes and he seemed to settle some.  I think between her being not me and also being, you know, a fantastic professional rider it was the right call even if I had been able to continue.  J had stopped taking pictures at this point - apparently "watching you get hurled to the ground" upset him a bit and he was worried the picture taking was messing up Fawkes worse.  Not true, but sweet.

R dropped the last fence just to poles, then a cross rail and R2 got Fawkes through uneventfully several times so we called it a day.  Big sigh.  I hate the idea that I am somehow contributing to my horse's confidence issues but I also relieved and happy there are pros around to bail me out.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Throwback..errr, Friday

We are definitely all out of new pictures, hopefully I can get J to come to the barn this weekend.

So here is a cell phone shot of the first time I ever sat on him.
What a cluster.  Nothing he did, but because he came from Maryland and was on a breeding farm and I couldn't even get measurements, I knew I would have to buy stuff after he arrived.  We also planned on giving him some time to adjust to altitude before putting him to work.  That happened, but my trainer and I couldn't resist at least hopping on him on his first full day to see what he was like.  Too bad nothing I had fit his tiny little face!  The bridle was jacked up onto the highest hole and was barely adequate and the noseband was a joke.  Same issue with the girth.  He was so good though, all we did was see how he stood for mounting (fine), see if he had steering (yes), brakes (yes), and knew what leg was (sort of).  Good day!

Back to the present, we had an excellent jumping lesson on Wednesday morning with R's daughter, R2.
We were test driving a barely used Stackhouse that is available on consignment for way more than my saddle budget, and also way more than anyone will pay.  Which is the only reason I am trying it - it is against my comfort level to trial something I can't afford but the consignment people say it is overpriced and they think they can bring the owner down.  And yet I still feel guilty. I am not a negotiation person, I am a "pay the price asked" person and feel bad that I am test riding a saddle I won't pay full price for.

Since we are in throwback land, one of our first dressage lessons.  So cute and so no idea what to do (either of us)
Because he has champagne and caviar tastes, Fawkes loved the thing and of course it seems to fit him like a glove.  Trainer R will verify the fit on Sunday, but I have already contacted the consignment place to begin negotiations.  And J is getting drug into this too because otherwise I will just spend way more than I planned.  And probably buy a timeshare too.  Such a sucker.

He was spot on in the lesson, locking on to each jump and tackling it.  He never gets strong like how I think of a stereotypical TB and drags me to jumps, but when he has his head in the game I can feel him find the jump, determine that is where we are headed, pick his spot, and adjust his stride to get us there.  All I have to is maintain straightness and not fuck up.  If only it were always like that.  We worked on a gymnastic (1 stride to 1 stride) and 2 single fences on the diagonal.  By the end the last fence in the line was 2'6" or 2'9" and Fawkes was going over it beautifully.

Early days of jumping, also clearing 2'6" even though the jump was 1'

This morning's ride was a trial of yet another different saddle (Prestige Nona Garson) that seemed decent and is a reasonable price if we can't get the Stackhouse pricing worked out.  I don't know that I loved it and I always want to take a lesson in it to see what my trainer thinks, but it might work out as a backup.  Please let saddle shopping be over soon.  Please?

Fawkes was extra spooky this morning - always a sign he needs a good run - and nearly ran me over freaking out as I brought him in to tack up.  What monster was haunting him?  The ring waterer.  Took me awhile to figure that out, but we had plenty of time as he snorted, spun, danced, rolled his eyes, refused to move, etc.  So he got a good run in the indoor and was a gentleman under saddle.  Worked on circles and canter transitions.  Today, the circles were much less bulgy, but the canter transitions were a bit worse.  OK Fawkes, I get it, you can only do one thing well on any given day.  That makes total sense!

First real show
On the health front, my farrier and I are watching a hoof crack/gouge/yet another suicidal horse manuever.  He apparently stepped on himself several months ago and my farrier warned me it could get ugly as the damage moved closer to the ground.  It is a horizontal crack and it looks pretty deep but Fawkes is still totally unphased.  We will see what happens at his next pedicure in a few weeks.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Hard working man

Poor Fawkes got ridden twice today.  Someone should probably just go ahead and call the humane society now.  He was due for a trainer ride which generally doesn't happen on Mondays, but when I got to the barn after work he was suspiciously clean.

That doesn't happen by accident especially for pig-wallowing-in-mud Fawkes.
This was him 6 minutes after being turned out on Friday

It also meant that I can stop worrying about his leg since I would have gotten a call otherwise.  The scrape from our incident of running into the brick wall was superficial, but there had been some associated swelling and heat for the last couple of days so I was concerned he would come up lame as well.  Luckily, he was totally fine.  Sometimes I have guilt about how I took a 7 year old ex racehorse without a blemish on him and created this creature with multiple scars and bumps, but then I get over it.  I more wonder how on earth they kept him un-scarred for so long.  He has kicked through a fence, bashed his nose on his stall, done many things I can't even figure out how, and popped a few splints.  He also gets hock sores unless stalled, but much prefers to live outside otherwise.  Thankfully he is trooper and never really seems bothered by the lumps and bumps.

Anywho while our trot is getting there (sans circles, where shoulder bulging is a real struggle), our canter transitions leave much to be desired.  I can barely even being to describe all the fail in the photo above but to start: collapsed forward, disengaged core, dropped all contact, and shockingly - wrong lead.  So today I focused on not doing any of that crap and he was much better.

Fawkes has basically trained me to let go of the contact during transitions via inversion and giraffing, but while that may be his preference, that is not how it is going to be. It is canter transition game on!

Luckily once we get going we can pull it together
I am also trying to incorporate lots of baby lateral work.  Fawkes has a special hatred for my right leg which makes it a challenge to get him straight sometimes

Just a little crooked and flail.  We rock at that
So I am trying to make it part of every gait, every ride.  I probably need to research some good exercises to do for reinforcement.  We can open and close gates like a champ now, because I do that at the end of the ride and Fawkes knows I am not getting off his back until he finishes.  Therefore, we know he can move off both legs nicely, it is a matter of getting that behavior more consistently.

On the plus side, we schooled some flying changes the other day and once he does get straight, those are fabulous.

This was his most resistant one of the day, and even that was pretty freaking nice.  
As always, lots to work on, but today I am just happy to have a healthy horse to enjoy the journey on.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Fawkes in motion: trot

Friday morning we did a flat hack in the freshly harrowed arena.  No one else was around and it was so peaceful.  We got some really nice work and I think his trot is looking really smooth and huntery.  Admittedly, I am not expert on the hunter trot, but he certainly seems to be moving well.

At one point he did scrape his leg up by running into the brick retaining wall around the arena.  Thankfully it was superficial and maybe we learned a lesson about evading leg.

The saddle hunt continues - this ride was a in a friend's PJ that is way too small for me, but I like the saddle.  I saw a Stackhouse online I think I am going to order for trial and a consignment store has a Prestige that might work.  Hopefully I find something this week.

We spent the weekend up in the Never Summer wilderness area so Fawkes has just been chilling and rolling in the mud.  Back to work tomorrow

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I hate shopping

So I know that shopping for things is supposed to be fun, but I have always been a terrible shopper.  I have about 30 minutes of patience and then I want to go for ice cream.  When clothes shopping, I have a 3 outfit limit.  And realistically, I will probably just buy something online and hope it work.  Saddle shopping is proving to test the miniscule amount of patience I possess.

Haha, human, I will fit nothing so you suffer forever
I have tried out several different saddles.  The people at my barn have been amazingly generous about letting me borrow their tack so I can see what I like/don't like.  I have tried a Prestige (too big to get a good feel), Butet (nice, but didn't love), Bruno DelGrange (pretty much loved), and a couple Stackhouses (really liked).

This has taught me a few things.  One - the people I ride with have some really expensive shit. Two - if it isn't for sale, Fawkes will go like a goddamn rockstar in it.  Three - Conversely, if it is for sale and at a great price point, Fawkes will throw his head up, hollow his back and move like a 3 legged donkey.  Even if it looks like it fits JUST FINE.

I am talking about you beautiful Stackhouse.

The saddle fitter and I are not really seeing eye to eye so I am starting to get a bit frustrated all around.  I want a used saddle.  I am fine getting one and having it adjusted but I don't think it is crazy to say I am not buying new.  There are so many used saddles out there.  She is really pushing new, and certain brands, and expensive.  Which makes me not trust her/want to work with her.
He looked much cuter in my friend's orange Prestige than I thought he would
My best plan to move forward is to just work with my trainer to try and find something that fits without re-flocking.  I can't just buy online since Fawkes clearly needs the chance to test drive (i.e. in one Stackhouse he was happy as a clam, but in another seemed miserable).  My other idea is to have her check out the Stackhouse that is for sale to see if maybe it is close to being right and a fitter could make him  happier?  Or maybe he was just having a bad day??

Wow, this is one exceptionally whiny post.  On the plus side, he has been going great under saddle.  Our lesson on Sunday I was riding really defensively for no good reason and he quit a couple times.  Trainer R just started micromanaging me (let go of left rein now, apply both legs quietly) and when I shut my idiot brain off and just did what she said - not a single refusal.  Even over the "scary" boxes and mini-fence.  Which is helpful because, as she put it, we get into a bad spiral.  He gets a little sucked back, I get defensive, he thinks "shit, there IS something to be scared of" and quits.  If he sucks back and I stay quiet and just add leg, he goes " yes, ma'am".  I just need to get my body into that pattern.  My horse is no longer a quitter, I need to ride like it!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A little of this, a little of that

Lots of things in my head right now and not much cohesive thought, so I think it is time for a brain dump!

Handsome Aragorn
I had Fawkes seen by a saddle fitter this week, apparently because I hate the idea of money and feel the need to keep it as far away as possible.  The fitter said that Fawkes is pretty uneven - a 33 tree size on the left and a 31 on the right.  She was unconcerned by this, commenting that racehorses take a long time to even out.  I am more concerned, because he was fitted last about 18 months ago and that fitter said he was dead even.  New fitter basically said, that person wasn't me and I am sure he was uneven then too.  I am more wondering if our lack of dressage has lost us some muscle tone?

Because this was one muscled critter last summer
Either way, she thinks that my saddle is not working for him and it is time for a replacement.  Her views were a bit extreme for my taste, but who doesn't love an excuse to saddle shop?? See? Hate money. I have no real knowledge of different saddle brands so some test riding is in order.  Tomorrow I will try my friend's Prestige.

I also took a lesson with the barn's other hunter trainer as my usual trainer is at a horse show.  Trainer D made me do some crazy things like cross my reins to reverse my hand use and ride with one hand on my hip. At one point, it was like twister meets Simon Says on horseback (reverse reins, trot at the corner, canter on the long side, stop at B....ack!  Not smart enough for this!).  The lesson was enjoyable and trainer D is freaking hilarious.  But the no stirrups work left me a bit sore today.

The number of people at the show meant I was able to hop on another horse, an opportunity I do not often get so I am embracing it.  Just hacking around a nice little horse named Ollie but it is always good to see how other horse's respond to your aids.  Ollie doesn't have the hatred of my right leg that Fawkes does and his canter transitions are rock solid, so I was able to work on tightening up my cues.

Thinks he is a stud.
Finally, the flies have started to come out in force so I caved and put Fawkes' fly sheet back on.  He STILL hasn't finished shedding so I hated putting any more clothing on him, but hopefully this makes him less miserable.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Famous Fawkes

How cool is this?
This is what you see when you drive onto the property of Delaware Park race track, where Fawkes (Admiral Dumyat) ran.

This is one of the few races he actually won and they chose him as their literal poster child.  I was contacted through CANTER to get a picture of him in his current career to put into their racing program - basically link the horse on the banner with his post-retirement life.  Hopefully I will be able to get a scan of that too.

Love seeing pictures of him in his former life and love that a part of him is still at the track.

Riding has been good this week, not too much to note.  I finally put my new stirrup leathers on my saddle, really big news there!

Had a jumping lesson this morning.  It was hot but Fawkes was really good, we got lots of compliments.  Just worked on gymnastic lines in both directions and our usual frenemy - straightness.  Trainer R wants us to start jumping higher sooner so we can work more on my eye.  Well, on me keeping my eyes up and Fawkes straight and rhythmic so distances come to us.

Happy 4th!