Thursday, February 26, 2015

I should have gotten a dumber, less athletic horse

How many of you have seen the video on Facebook of the short, plump Haffie mare who jumps the 3'6 pasture fence from a standstill? No? You need to go find it and watch it. And if you're friends with the Fat Pony on Facebook (another Haffie), you'll know that his poor human spends quite a lot of time finding him in random places she didn't leave him.

Let me just say that these two escape Haffies are not anomalies. I have one too.

When we first brought Paddy home (has it really been 18 months? Time flies!), we had a wee bit of a challenge keeping him where we put him. I know I alluded to this, but never really gave any details.

Our first problem was keeping him in the stall. Did you know that Paddy can jump a 4' stall door from a standstill? No? Well, he can. Which is why the stall door and wall are now 5'.

Don't let the cute face fool you, he's plotting his next escape.

Also, Paddy is an excellent climber. A gate got left unlatched one day, and he let himself out to graze. The next day, we were double extra sure to latch the gate, but he didn't let this deter him. No, he just climbed over the gate. And while I don't have pictures of him actually climbing, let's just say that our poor gate is rather worse for the wear.

When jumping and climbing don't work, Paddy's not afraid to simply put a little muscle into it. It's kind of hard to tell in this picture, but he somehow managed to a) rearrange the panels, which were zip-tied to the t-posts, and then b) rip the gate off the hinges and fling it on the ground. Brego and Taran benefited from Paddy's (de)construction skills here, since the three of them were all out grazing in the back pasture when I found this:


But sometimes Paddy's not feeling quite so much like sharing. This was the case yesterday, when I came home from work to find a single cute Haffie in the front pasture:

Oh hi! You're home early...

Turns out, he managed to push a tensioned H-brace out of place, then hopped over the tension wire to get into the front pasture and feast. He's talented enough that he didn't tear his blanket or scrape himself. I don't think he's missing a single hair, lol!


The moral of this story? If you have a Haffie, you'd better keep them at Alcatraz. Although it's entirely possible that they are excellent swimmers and could even escape Alcatraz. Heck, for all I know, Haffies migrated to North America by swimming across the Atlantic. They probably heard about an entire continent of grass and were like "WE'RE IN!!!!"

I'm a bit concerned that Paddy might notice how nice our neighbor's grass is...


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

ALL THE LESSONS

Since the beginning of the year, I've been cramming in lessons every chance I get. I had been doing the once weekly thing, but with the weather, we started missing weeks, and that was no good. So I've basically been taking lessons whenever our schedules match and the arena is dry enough to ride.

And damn, has it ever paid off.

For many reasons, the dressage trainer we started riding with in November is exactly what Paddy and I need right now. She's got the patience and the attention to the exact right details, and as a result we've just been making breakthrough after breakthrough. Every ride has been exponentially better than the last. I really wish I'd had time to blog about each and every lesson, because each one has been like gold. My riding has really progressed, and with it, Paddy's rideability.

It's a big personal journey for me. I'm learning the feel of things like never before, and I'm so much more body-aware. The more I learn, the more I realize just how far I have to go, and how we've been coasting along on what I thought was correct. Honestly, it leaves me wondering how we ever got the scores we got last year, considering how wrong we were doing things! But the feeling of doing it right, of feeling the flow and harmony... it's really awesome.

We're no longer spending 45 minutes trying to get Paddy focused on his job. It doesn't take 10 minutes to get his attention back after a walk break. I'm (mostly) not pulling on the reins, my core is stronger, and Paddy is so light off my seat sometimes I have to remember not to ask so "loudly". Don't get me wrong, we still have so much to work on - but things that were a huge source of frustration only a month or so ago are not even a blip on the radar now. We've moved on to tackling the next problem, and the next, and the next... and as I get better and better, he goes better and better.

Unfortunately I only have a bit of video of our last lesson (in the dark), and maybe it's because it's dark that it looks so good... but damn, y'all, I feel like we've come a long way in a short time.


This is why I ride. It's the journey, it's the learning, it's the progress. It's the feeling of being one with your horse - of making it look effortless because it really is just a shift of weight or the tightening of a muscle, instead of pulling and pushing and kicking. I'm not just riding my horse anymore - we're actually doing dressage. :)

Monday, February 23, 2015

The cutest houseguest

We've had our favorite adorable houseguest, Ginny, with us for a couple of weeks now. She's a tiny little thing, mostly poof, but she manages to keep Gus in line. Not only does she fearlessly defend her chair/sofa/bed from Gus's questing nose, she will actively chase him if he gets too obnoxious. It's kind of hilarious to watch an 8 pound cat chase a 100 pound Pyr!

For the most part, Ginny is very quiet, and you'd hardly notice she's here. The perfect guest, no? However, she's very demanding at mealtimes, and whenever she decides she requires to be petted.

First, the laptop rub. Yes, I was ordering something from Smartpak.

Next, the arm pat. She'll sit next to you and gently pat you on the arm to get your attention, all while purring quite loudly. It's about the cutest thing ever.

There's also the extremely adorable look, which she does really, really well. 

I mean, THESE TOES. I want to put toe socks on her or something. 

And the extra extra EXTRA long whiskers. So cute!

Of course she has matchink socks behind. Note that these are difficult to photograph since they're always covered by poof.

Alas, Ginny's mom comes back on Wednesday, so she'll go home then. I always threaten to keep her instead of giving her back, since she's such an adorable and sweet kitty. Alas, four cats is too many... maybe I could send back Artemis instead? 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Playing it fair

This weekend, I had planned to go to a schooling show at our usual venue. But the show was full by the time I sent my entry in, so that was a no-go. Instead, we ended up at an even smaller local show, at a venue we'd never been to... and the judge was my dressage instructor.

Paddy and I have our first rated show in about three weeks, and I wanted one more outing before then for a little extra experience.  However, USEF rules say that if you've taken a lesson from someone within the past 30 days, you cannot ride for them in a competition (that is, they cannot judge you). Knowing this, I asked the show organizer if she would let me simply ride the tests in the arena, with no judge at all, or ride HC (just for scores, not ribbons). The show organizer kindly responded that it would be fine for me to ride for ribbons, since it was such a small local show.

Let's be real here - riding for ribbons, with your trainer as the judge (especially when you just took a lesson from her TWO DAYS before, and not 30 days) IS NOT FAIR. I believe that as a judge, my trainer was impartial to me as a rider - in fact, she's probably a harsher judge since she knows our every fault. Still, if I knew someone was riding for their trainer, and they beat me at a show, I would wonder about unfair advantages. For me, this show was just practice, but if this was someone's first show, or if this local show was as fancy as they ever do, then that ribbon might mean a lot to them. Besides, for me, getting a ribbon when you didn't actually earn it, or if you had an unfair advantage (perceived or not)... well, that just leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

So I rode HC, because it was the right and fair thing to do. I actually have no idea how we scored compared to the other riders, but it doesn't matter. I accomplished what I set out to do - ride Paddy at a new venue, and not break in the canter during either test.  The warmup arena was SUPER scary, and he stared in every corner, but I just used more inside leg and didn't get all up in his face, and damn if that didn't work! I felt pretty good about both tests - they weren't stellar and super relaxed or anything, and I sort of forgot to ride his shoulders around a few corners, but overall they were very consistent and we didn't have any major faults. Our free walk, which we've worked really hard on at home, is still a chance for him to look around and be distracted in the arena (boo, especially since it has a 2x coefficient). But, even though we had a bunch of breaks due to scheduling snafus, he came back to me every time, instead of having a 10 minute argument about whether or not he really did have to go back to work.  

We got a 62.7% on Training 2, and a 63.6% on Training 3 - not our best scores ever, but very consistent tests overall. We continue to score well on the centerline (I could probably get 8s every time if we had consistent move-offs) and canter transitions (what tha what?), but get dinged on relaxation and impulsion. We rode in a small arena (wow that's cramped!) and there were some super deep spots in the corners, but I kept my leg on and he plowed through them like a champ. It was a really good confidence-builder before our first rated show.

We also got a chance to try out some of the swag I got overseas, and Paddy was sporting a reallllly fancy browband....

It looked so much nicer before it got all the boot oil on it... :(

So much sparkle! Thank you Amelia at Dark Jewel Designs!

And as usual, Paddy won the award for Most Adorable Pony. Seriously, I got "Adorable Pony" on my test. I was hoping I was safe for just this once... 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A very belated blog update - and I got to meet Hafl!

I'm pretty much the worst blogger ever. It's not that nothing's going on here, it's that TOO MUCH is going on here. Between work, travel for work, keeping up things at home, and all the riding I've been doing, there's just no time.

I've been taking all the lessons I can get, and Paddy and I are progressing by leaps and bounds. He's starting to feel like an actual dressage horse instead of a horse doing patterns in a dressage arena, and it's pretty damn awesome. In a recent lesson, we were asked to canter since the trot was so nice, and I told my trainer that I didn't WANT to canter because his trot was too awesome! We proceeded to do all the first level trot movements (and a few second level ones too!!!) straight, balanced, and on the aids. Pure magic, I tell you.

We'll talk about the canter some other time. Ahem.

The most exciting news is that I recently took a work trip to the Czech Republic, flying in through Vienna like I usually do. You may remember that I got to meet Tanja, Hafl's mom, last summer in Vienna - well, this time Tanja invited me to her hometown to stay for the weekend and meet Hafl! He's every bit as adorable in person as I'd imagined, and watching Tanja take a lesson on him was quite informative (even if I didn't understand much German, lol!)

Me and Hafl. Hafl has about 5x as much hair as Paddy.

I mean, THIS TAIL. Andrea, do you see this???

Beautiful indoor school. 

Maybe someday Paddy and I will be able to have an extended trot like this!

Tanja and Hafl - so picturesque!

Two Haffies in the snow. There were Haffies EVERYWHERE in south Austria. Like quarter horses here in Texas. I almost stuffed a few in my suitcase to bring home!

Tanja and I at a beautiful mountain lake in her hometown. The lake is so clean you can drink the water untreated!

The train ride back to Vienna. The snow-covered mountains were so beautiful!

Also, this is the best chocolate dessert in the entire world. It was a salted chocolate ... thingy. The crust was chocolate crumble with salt, the inside was a warm squishy rich chocolate goo, and the whole thing was dusted with cocoa powder. So rich. So delicious. The cafe that served it was right next to my hotel in Brno... it's possible I ate more than one. Or even two. Possibly three....

In between visiting tack stores (yes, I got swag), Tanja and I spent a lot of time talking about the differences between riding, showing, and horse keeping in Austria vs in the US. I really should do a post just on that as it was absolutely fascinating. For example:

  • Nobody uses knee patch breeches - I did not see a single pair of knee patch breeches in the 3 tack shops I visited.
  • You must have a license to be an instructor, and you can only teach to the level of your license. 
  • You must also have a license to show, and you can only show at the level your license allows. That means that had I been in Austria, I could not have done a couple of first level tests on a whim. I would have had to get my scores at the equivalent of Training before I could get the license to move up.
  • There are FEI dressage tests that aren't PSG, Intermediare, and Grand Prix! I had no idea, since in the US the only FEI tests I've ever seen offered are these. There's also a Preliminary test (about 1st level) and a Medium test (about 3rd level). Cool, huh?
  • When you rent an apartment in Austria, you're responsible for everything inside the walls. Tanja actually had to build out her own kitchen, from the cabinets out!  There also aren't any closets, but plenty of big armoires and dressers.
  • Tanja may have more saddle pads than anyone else I know. ;)
Ok, my time is up. I promise, I'll post more soon! 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Augustus discovers the laws of physics

90 pound Great Pyrenees meets glider chair. Let the hilarity ensue!


If you're not one for watching videos, have some cute Pyr pictures...

This bed may be slightly too small.

A rare nap moment... shhhh!

Running errands in the truck.

Playing ImagineIff with the family. He even got to be on the board!

With Elias for size comparison. Because there's nothing quite like a Pyr to make a 60 pound Malamute look small!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

In which Paddy quite literally saves my life

Here’s the short version: We were attacked by an off-leash dog last night while riding alone on the trails. Paddington was absolutely amazing – he faced down a snapping, snarling, barking dog, didn’t bolt, and didn’t dump my ass in the dirt even when the dog attacked him. Even after the owner finally – FINALLY – got the dog under control, when he was trembling and on high alert, he stayed put and waited for me to catch my breath and talk to the dog owner. We’re both fine, the dog is fine, and I filed a police report. And my horse is absolutely worth his weight in gold.

Here’s the slightly longer version:

I’ve bitched before about off-leash dogs. Wyvern Oaks back to a greenbelt where we often go trail riding, or ride to a few grassy “arena” areas where we can work. We’ve encountered off-leash dogs before, and we have a pretty standard protocol – we keep the horses standing still, facing the dogs, ask the owner to get their dog, and if it escalates, yell “NO BAD DOG” at the dog until the owner can contain the dog. Two times we didn’t see the dogs coming and our horses were chased; both times we all managed to stay on despite some rather harrowing moments.

Last night, Paddy and I were walking home, and met up with a nice guy who told me his dog was up ahead. I pulled Paddy off to the side of the trail and faced the direction the guy had indicated. Sure enough, his dog came bouncing down the trail, and he called the dog to him. The dog started heading toward its owner… and then it noticed Paddy.

Then next 30 seconds are very much a blur. The dog approached, growled, and began to bark. I asked the guy to call off his dog, and to his credit, he tried. As the dog got closer and more serious about Paddy, I did my usual “NO BAD DOG” yelling at the dog. At this point the dog began circling us, trying to get behind Paddy. Dogs are what’s known as “brave cowards” and will often only go after a horse from behind, so I circled Paddy to keep him facing the dog. The dog got closer, and the barking and growling turned from half-hearted into full-on serious. Paddy kept circling, facing the dog. I want to say we made 4 or 5 complete circles… enough so that I started to wonder WTF the damn dog owner was doing, because the dog wasn’t playing any more. The dog finally managed to dart behind Paddy and went for his hind legs, mouth wide, teeth bared. Paddy swung his butt around at the last moment and we managed to face the dog again, and he lunged for Paddy’s nose. At this point I think I yelled something pretty rude to the dog owner (probably “Get your fucking dog off my horse!”) while still trying to maneuver poor Paddy, who at this point had had more than enough. Shortly after this, the guy got his hands on his dog, and pinned him to the ground.

The guy, to his credit, apologized profusely. He asked if we were OK – I couldn’t see any blood on Paddy, and I didn’t think the dog had made contact, so I said we were. Poor Paddy was trembling and wanted very much to leave the scene, and I scratched his withers and told him what an awesome amazing horse he was and what a good boy he was. Eventually the guy put a leash on his dog and headed off in the other direction, and we went home where I stuffed Paddy full of cookies and called the police to report the incident (interestingly enough, the officer who responded knew the dog and owner from the local dog park – said the guy was really nice and the dog was super well trained).

We’re dog owners, and I totally understand wanting to allow your dog to run free and get some energy out. But I am also a big fan of leashes and dog parks and exercising your dog properly and safely. Blogland knows how dangerous off-leash dogs are to horses – one of our own lost her heart horse all too soon. I also know I’m preaching to the choir here, so here’s what I’d like to ask each of you to do. If you have friends who allow their dogs off leash in a public area (not a dog park), ask them to reconsider. Tell them what can happen. It doesn’t have to be about dogs vs. horses, it could be a big dog vs. a smaller dog, dog vs. children, or elderly individual, whatever. Help get the message out. I want to believe that most dog owners are responsible people, they just don’t think that THEIR dog could possibly do that. But any dog can, given the right circumstances.

Be careful out there, y’all. Not every horse is like Paddy, who kept me safe.

He deserves ALL THE COOKIES. Yes he does.