Monday, July 27, 2015

Anybody going to be at the Ohio State Fair on August 1st and 2nd?

Hubby got invited to a joust at the Ohio State Fair this coming weekend! We're hauling Paddy and Brego up for the big event and we'll be there August 1st and 2nd.

The jousting events will be held in the Taft Coliseum start at 10 am on Saturday and noon on Sunday. In between I plan to go to the Campfire Texting Challenge, the Gladiolas show, and the Giant Squash Carving competition. (No, I'm not making this up, check out the schedule.)

We'll be right between the rock wall and the Holsteins (not to be confused with Holsteiners)

Anyway, if anyone happens to be in the area and wants to come meet Paddy and Brego (or me and hubby, although we're much less exciting), and check out the jousting, please stop by!

You know you want to meet this face in person!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Chai is the nectar of the gods

If you've ever met me in person, you probably know that I have a very serious addiction to really like chai.

My chai stash. See how the top shelf is empty? My supply is getting low, only four boxes left... gotta restock soon!

Some people like coffee, like my dear darling poor misguided husband. But my palate is more refined... the perfect combination of sweetness and spice, blended with the delicious creaminess of frothed milk... pure perfection, AND it contains caffeine. What more could one possibly ask for?

Best way to start the morning. See the equal sign in the foam? Hubby made this one for me on the day Ireland's vote for same-sex equality passed. 

The only good part about hubby liking coffee and me liking chai is that we don't fight over who gets the last cup of anything. He can keep his coffee and that way I get ALL THE CHAI. We do, however, share Lucia, his Italian girlfriend. She's our in-house barista...

The perfect chai requires steam-frothed milk...

I generally have a cup first thing in the morning, and then bring a jar to work as well.

Don't judge... I used to bring an entire quart.

If I want another cup in the afternoon, I always have at least one bag in my purse. In case of emergencies and all.

You're judging, aren't you.

Sometimes my preference of beverage becomes a bit of a problem. In some foreign countries, coffee is the prime means of caffeine delivery. Therefore, it's important to carry one's own supply of chai.

Even the TSA officer is judging me.

And in case you're thinking that this is all a little over the top, I assure you that I can quit at any time. Just... not today, mmmmkay?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Bucket list items - not always as imagined

People talk about having a "bucket list" - things they want to do before they die. I've never really had such a list, but there are three things I've always wanted to try on horseback that I've never done, and one of them is riding on the beach. On our recent vacation to France, we were invited by a colleague of my husband's to go on a beach ride. Everyone in their family rode, and we were both SUPER excited.

This is how I imagined our ride:

Obviously not me, obviously not my picture. But doesn't this look like fun?

Things got off to a bit of a dubious start. The horses were well-kept, but the tack had seen better days. I carefully checked our girths and billets and figured they were sturdy enough for a nice trail ride. I was warned (in French) that my mount could be strong and liked to toss his head. Oh, and he was quite young, was that OK? 

I've ridden enough trail horses to be relatively confident that I could stay on, and generally those horses know their jobs way better than I do. In those sorts of situations I'm pretty content to just be a passenger, and let the horses follow nose-to-tail. I don't need a well-trained dressage horse to enjoy the scenery. 

We climbed aboard and started our ride through the French countryside, which is GORGEOUS. I quickly found that "strong" was a bit of an understatement for my horse - the brakes were almost nonexistent. So I just used the time-honored tradition of using the horse in front of me for braking, which worked well enough. Things were going along nicely until our guide led us down a cliff.

Image stolen from The Man From Snowy River, because I'm pretty sure this is what it looked like.

Now I should point out that we take the boys out trail riding at least once or twice a week. But our trails are nice double track and fairly flat. We also don't gallop up or down rocky hills (who am I kidding - we only *really* gallop when fox hunting). But apparently in France on beach trail rides, they do this all the time.

Gulp.

Eventually we made our way down to the beach. We were warned that the horses would get quite excited once we got on the beach because they knew it was time to gallop. What we didn't understand was that this meant they were quite likely to bolt off down the beach... which is pretty much exactly what happened. My horse jumped down the last section of trail onto the beach, slammed into the guide's horse, then spun while I tried to hold him until we got onto the harder sand. And then he just threw his shoulder sideways and bolted off down the beach at a flat-out gallop. I had little steering and no brakes, so I grabbed mane and held on.

The beach we rode on. The trail you see on the bottom left is the one we took down to the water. Not my picture, because I was too busy holding on to take pictures. Also, I didn't have the camera, which turned out to be a really good thing.

There's a point in a horse's speed where you as the rider simply cease to exist. They are going flat-out and running for the sheer speed of it. I've hit it when foxhunting, but always when asked and always on horses that I'm familiar with, so I knew I could eventually bring them back.  With this horse, I had no such assurances, and it was pretty mind-numbing. Fortunately, he knew to stop at the end of the beach!  

We regrouped after the gallop and began to trot back up the beach, but my horse was having none of me trying to control him. Rather than fight, I kept him in knee-deep surf and just let him trot it out. Note to self: When trotting a 14.2 hh horse in relatively deep surf, wear a swimsuit instead of your nice full-seats!

I figured that when we were trotting to the end of the beach and would then head back home, but as my horse got more and more antsy, I realized that we actually might be in for another gallop. I guided him to slightly shallower surf so I could ask the guide, and was told that yes, we would gallop again. I told our guide that I didn't want to do so, and hubby at this point also said he didn't want to gallop again. Suddenly, my horse (who had been dancing and spinning as we were talking) spun again and bolted back off down the beach.

Then my right rein broke.

I've had this happen once before, with my own tack - the hook stud came out and the rein failed. Fortunately, it was in an arena and we were just trotting, so I had turned the horse into the arena fence. Obviously on a huge beach, I had no such fence, nor was I on a horse that I felt like I could stop or even steer much. 

So I did the only thing I could think of, which was to pull as hard as I could on the remaining rein - which pointed him out into the water. When he was about chest-deep, I kicked both feet out of the stirrups and bailed.

I will say that it was the softest landing I've ever had, lol!

The rest of the group managed to pull up down the beach, and my horse ran to his herd. Unfortunately, he then played a game of keep-away, which resulted in my husband chasing him on foot, one rider being left on the beach holding two horses, and the guide and one other rider spending the next 30 minutes trying to catch my horse. Eventually they managed to find him, we regrouped, and we all made it back to the barn.

So, there you have the story of my bucket-list beach ride. I'm glad we got the chance to do it and am grateful to my hubby's colleagues for setting it all up, even if it certainly didn't turn out quite the way I had imagined! I think the moral of the story is to be careful what you wish for... oh, and make sure the person who has the camera and the car keys stays dry!

PS. Anybody got any tips for getting salt water out of leather?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Quite Possibly the World's Only Jousting Haflinger

Wow, 5 weeks from my last update. Bad blogger. 

Things have slowed down here a little – the dressage show in May is our last competition until September, so Paddy and I took a week off. Then it started raining… and raining and raining and raining…. So we both sat around eating and packing on the pounds. 

Oh look, IT'S RAINING AGAIN. Yay.

I almost had to by floaties for the mutant dog, who can't swim very well.

And then Brego went 3-legged lame and proceeded to blow out the world’s largest abscess.
Seriously. It’s over 2 inches long.

I'm good with blood-dripping wounds, but something about holes in horse hooves makes me gag.

See the giant hole? 

Two visits from the vet, some rads, and a $300 pair of custom front shoes later, and Brego still wasn’t sound. The consensus was that the shoes helped the bruising on the bottom of his foot, but that it would just take some time to grow out the abscessed area up near the coronet band. Unfortunately, hubby had a big international jousting tournament and benefit June 13-15, with a week of practice beforehand. Brego got better each day, but he still wasn’t 100%, and there was no way we were going to joust a horse that’s NQR. We had a backup jousting horse lined up, and then another jouster’s horse blew out a suspensory. 

So two weeks before the tournament, Paddy got requisitioned as a jousting Haffie.

It was a big risk. His last experience with armor (the week after I got him) did not go well. I’ve cantered him up and down a jousting lane a few times, but never against another horse, with armor, or with lances. He’s never done mounted combat, except when I used him as an attack platform when we were working on Brego. In other words, he was pretty much a dressage Haffie.

Turns out, I might need another dressage Haffie, because Paddy is pretty much the best jousting poneh EVAR.

This is his attack face.

So here's my jousting Haffie:

Paddy jousting at SIRE.

Paddy positively stole the show. He was calm before the runs, launched beautifully, ran straight, and stopped neatly at the end of every run. He actually did better than some of the seasoned jousting horses that have been doing this for years! 

On Friday, the first official tournament day, we had a bunch of school children in the stands. They all asked each horse's name, and of course they all recognized Paddington Bear from the movie. Every time he was up for a run, the kids would chant "PAD-DING-TON! PAD-DING-TON!" They all wanted to pet him after, and Paddy obligingly stood for lots of photo ops. All weekend, we had people come up to us and tell us how adorable he was, and he schmoozed for cookies for all he was worth. 

This is his favorite person in the whole wide world to mooch cookies from. Meet Holly. 

Funny story about Paddy and the cookies. Hubby was up for a joust, but didn't know which end of the lane he was supposed to start from. We were all waving and yelling at him, but the jousters can't see or hear very well when they have their helms on. Suddenly Holly yelled "PADDY! COOKIES!". Paddy's little ears swiveled around, locked on to Holly, and he promptly dragged hubby across the arena (to the proper side) to Holly so that he could get a cookie. Yes, my horse will apparently do anything for a cookie.

Oh, and Paddy was by far the smallest jousting horse there:

He's the one on the left.

Entry procession (photo courtesy of Roxanne Moore). Paddy's on the far left, anchoring the formation.

Paddy also participated in the mounted combat melee, which his is apparently awesome at. The video below is a bit long, but it's got some cool action!

(Video courtesy of Roxanne Moore)

The entire event was to benefit SIRE, a theraputic riding program in Houston, Texas. We had the privilege of meeting a number of very special individuals who clearly love horses just as much as we do, if not more. We also had the help of the most amazing volunteers I've ever met - we even had our very own squire for the entire weekend! They really made the weekend so much easier and special for us. We were also very honored to be able to help raise money for such an amazing organization, and we really hope to do it again next year. Paddy will be there for sure!

Jousting Haffieeee!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Str, sl beh vert (aka how to decipher dressage test comments)

Dressage scribes - the people who takes notes that the judge dictates - have a tough time of it. They have to write down everything the judge says, verbatim, and they have to be very quick about it. Not only that, but they have to write legibly, often for hours on end. They're volunteers, and they do the best they can... which means they often use a lot of shorthand when writing. Deciphering scribe's handwriting can be challenging (sorry, every person who's ever had to read a test that I scribed for!), but sometimes figuring out the shorthand is the most fun.



As we were driving home from the show Sunday, hubby was reading the comments on my dressage tests. At one point he asked, "What the heck does s-t-r s-l b-e-h v-e-r-t mean?!?!" I laughed and responded "Straight, slightly behind vertical." He mentioned that you really need a secret decoder ring to read the judge's comments... and then Austen's comments on the "corn" abbreviation made me think - maybe we DO really need a secret dressage decoder ring? So here goes...
  • act - action
  • bal - balance
  • beh – behind
  • cl, clr - clear
  • corn, crn – corner
  • fwd – forward
  • O – round, rounder
  • ovrstp – overstep
  • rhy - rhythm
  • rndr - rounder
  • sl - slightly
  • st, str, str8 – straight
  • sup – suppleness, supple
  • temp - tempo
  • trans, tx – transition
  • vert – vertical
  • 4hd - forehand
Comment for this post are only allowed in dressage test shorthand. For reference, the full set of abbreviations can be found here...  ;)


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Dressage at the Palace - The Videos

I admit, watching Training Level tests is sort of like watching grass grow, but I have them so I'll share them.

Day 1, Training Level Test 2

This was our super tense but obedient ride. I'm OK with that for a start.

 
Day 1, Training Level Test 3

Note the error. Oops.

Day 2, Training Level Test 2 (cut short 'cause Hubby's phone died)

This was actually my favorite test, because the scores were consistently higher and nothing below a 6.0. Progress!

Day 2, Training Level Test 3

Not as many 7s, but the 8s make up for it.

I'm sure y'all will notice that he's behind the vertical. Trust me, the judges noticed too. :) He thinks this is a great evasion whenI hold him with my seat and don't let him charge around. We're really working on having him come up into my hand instead of falling behind, but it's going to take time and better timing on my part. It's always something!

You may also notice that I'm sitting the trot in all the tests - at this level, you're allowed to choose between sitting trot and rising trot. It would be better if I posted, because he's freer in his back. However, he's got a quick stride so posting makes him look even faster, and I can't regulate his tempo very well yet at a posting trot (rider failing), so sitting means a more consistent tempo. 

Overall, I feel like our tests look much more polished than they did just a month ago. We still have a LOT of work to do around balance at the canter, but it's starting to happen. I don't think I'm going to do any more shows until the fall (I could do one in June but it's hot and whyyyy?) so we have the whole summer to work on things. And maybe this fall... First Level?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Dressage at the Palace Show - Mission(s) Accomplished!

This weekend was our second ever USDF rated show. Going in, I was really worried about our canter - we've been struggling a LOT with it (for ever and ever, but more since the last show), and of course about our obedience overall. At the last show (same venue), Paddy figured out that he could run things once we got into the arena, and I really didn't want a repeat of that.

So my goals for this show were:

  1. Obedience above all.
  2. Get qualifying score for Region 9 Championship show.
  3. Get 2 qualifying scores for USDF Training Level Rider award.
The short version is, we did all that. Every test got better, I beat my own personal record by quite a bit, and we ended up High Point Adult Amateur on Sunday! Truly, I could not have asked for a better weekend or better rides. Yay Paddy!

The longer version...

We arrived late Friday afternoon, and I settled Paddy in while my Amazing Husband parked the trailer and set up the camper. I hopped on for a bit of a school, and I'm really glad I did. The MOMENT we got into the arena, he tried to take over - even so far as to try his buck-and-bolt canter transition in one corner (he did this at the last show, it was special). I shut that down quickly (and tried not to pull), and insisted that he pay attention. We ended with some very good trot work and called it a night.

In case I haven't mentioned it recently, I have the best husband in the entire world. He's making me chai in our camper. Ok, he made me THREE chais. Truly, he loves me.

Saturday I didn't ride until 1:10 p.m., so I had time to do all the things I hadn't bothered to do all week. I cleaned tack, washed Paddy's socks, braided, and trimmed his bridle path and tail. Truly, this is the worst-prepared I've ever been for a show, but whatever. He didn't go into the arena looking like he was completely unloved, although I don't shave legs, ears, or noses (I know, the horrors. My horse lives outside and we have bugs. Nobody complained that he looked like a hairy yack, so whatever.) My braids turned out lots better this time, thanks to many youtube videos and Austen's advice. Hooray!

Better braids are better.

As our first ride time approached, I got more and more nervous. Poor Paddy and poor Hubby had to put up with me being SUPER tense. Of course, I made Paddy tense too, and he's not exactly the most relaxed of creatures. Still, my focus was on obedience, and our test was nothing if not obedient. We got dinged for not being forward and having impulsion, but he responded to each and every half-halt and even the canters weren't too terrible. I was quite pleased with the ride overall and even happier with the score - a 64.231. Highlights included an 8.0 on our first centerline and a 7.0 on a canter/trot transition. SAY WHUT? That's right, if I ride well, we can do them well!

With the first test behind us with a respectable score, I relaxed enough to take a nap before our next ride, which was over two hours later. Y'all, this is the best part about having a camper at the show - you can eat when you want, nap when you want, whatever - it's like bringing your house with you. Plus, hubby was able to get some work done, so it wasn't a wash for him.

Paddy was really distracted in the warmup for the second test. Then suddenly, after a short walk break, he started feeling... funny. A bit off, even, but I couldn't pinpoint which leg it might be. He hadn't tripped or slipped, and the footing was very good. As we trotted around the outside of the arena, I almost decided to pull him up, but then he would be fine for a number of steps. I decided that I could always pull in the middle of the test if it got worse, but it continued to be intermittent. The turns were the worst, he felt so awkward, but I kept going. The trots were good, the left lead canter got strung out and leaning as usual - no surprise there. I was so focused on how he felt under me that I made an error in the test - tried to do a stretch trot circle where we were supposed to walk, but quickly fixed that. We made it down centerline and finished, but I was worried. Had I broken my poor horse? What had happened that he should suddenly feel so strange? I trotted him on a loose rein after but he seemed just fine. Nothing like a mystery lameness to end your day...

Saturday night we went out to drink all the margaritas dinner - LOVE the place right next to the showgrounds. So convenient, so delish. I managed to hold myself to one margarita, but I admit to having a cider when we got back to the camper. I figured I deserved it after that day!!!

Schleeerrrrp!

Sunday dawned cool and clear. After the usual morning chores, I had time to go watch rides for most of the morning. Y'all... wow. I watched one lady practically see-saw her horse's face off - and he PUT UP WITH IT! Paddy would have stuck his nose on his chest and left the arena. There were some very nice riders, of course, but there were also riders who I would not want to emulate. There were a couple of folks riding more advanced tests on what were clearly schoolmasters - what fun it must be ride a horse like that and learn what they were learning! Maybe someday I will have that opportunity.

As you can see, Gus took his job as horse show dog very seriously.

I made the mistake of going to look at the scores before tacking up. Folks were BARELY squeaking 60s, and there were a lot of scores in the low to mid 50s. EEEK! Nothing like riding for a really tough judge! I tacked up, took a deep breath, and began to warm up my perfectly fine, 100% sound horse. Say what? We kept it short and simple - lots of walk, some trot, focused on obedient transitions, and one walk-canter-walk(ish) transition each way. I went in, determined to ride more forward than the day before, and stay relaxed. And damn if it didn't mostly work! Highlights included 8s on both centerlines (hooray!!!), lots of 7s on the trotwork, and 7s on the up AND down canter transitions. Now all we have to do is get the actual canter itself working and we'll be golden!

After another long wait, a nap, and some preliminary packing to go home, we tacked back up for our last test. It's hard to ride at 3:30 on a Sunday afternoon, lol! Another short and sweet warmup, where I mostly tried to get him moving up to my hand, because he was tired and wanted to suck back. And then, as we were trotting around the outside of the arena to go in... he went lame again. It is really, really hard to ride when you're worried about your horse, or getting called out by the judge for riding a lame horse. I felt like we struggled through the test a bit - he was pretty sucked back and behind the vertical, and I was trying to ride conservatively and not make the awful lame feeling worse. Miracuously, we got 8s on both centerlines again, AN EIGHT ON THE STRETCHY CIRCLE OMG, and 8 on the right lead canter tx (and a 7.5 on the left one), and most everything else was 6s. But can you imagine? An EIGHT on a stretchy circle! FROM MY HORSE!? 

I jumped off of him as soon as I could and checked him over for damage. I couldn't see anything, and he seemed fine walking. I whispered to my husband that he felt off again, and he nodded back to me and said that he could see it again. What had happened? Neither of us had any idea, but we headed back to Paddy's stall to strip his tack. And as soon as we got there, he proceeded to pee.

And pee.

And pee some more.

As we watched the stall flood, Hubby mentioned "You know, he did that yesterday too as soon as I got him to the stall after your second ride." 

So apparently, my horse goes "lame" when he has to pee. Who knew? Now I just have to teach him to pee on command, BEFORE our rides.

And if you've made it this far in my blathering, here are the final scores:

Training 2 (Saturday) - 64.231 (4th)
Training 3 (Saturday) - 63.409 (7th)
Training 2 (Sunday) - 65.385 (5th)
Training 3 (Sunday) - 65.455 (5th)

Although my placings don't look very exciting, they combined the AAs, pros, and JR/YR for each class. So my 5th places were behind 4 pros, and the classes were won with an 80% (Dear pro rider, please move up to First Level and stop breaking the curve. KTHX.) And as it turns out, my scores on Sunday were good enough to land us the Adult Amateur High Point award!!!!!! I seriously cannot even believe it. To be fair, the competition at this show wasn't as stiff as at the last one, but still, I'll take what I can get! I am beyond stoked at this, and I'm hoping it comes with some fun satin! 

I also got high enough scores to qualify for attending the Region 9 USDF Championship this fall, AND I got the scores I need for the USDF Training Level Rider Performance Award.  Ok, so it's not a score toward a Bronze medal, but in my mind it's a big step in that direction. Woohoo! 

Maybe we can do this dressage thing after all. :)

Pro pic from the last show, courtesy of Light & Time Photography (yes, I own it).