Friday, June 29, 2018

Best Laid Plans

I sometimes say that horses have a way of laughing at our plans.  That's how I felt today, when I was doing my final show prep.  I wanted to practice some elements of the tests, but Cupid decided he wanted to practice jigging and scooting sideways instead.  Sigh.

We got off to a bad start when I saw the sprinklers were on in the dressage court.  Usually the covered arena is dragged and water first, from about 7-8am, then around 8 then do the dressage (outdoor).  So usually I ride before work, in the covered arena while they are watering it.  (It's a guy with a hose, and I just stay on whatever end of the arena he's not working on.)  Since I ride there most often, Cupid is very good in the covered but can be a little spooky in the outdoor.  Which, I mean yes we go there less often but we've been there at least 100 times already so it shouldn't be an issue!!!

So I stall a bit, and around 7:45 the sprinklers are off and I go in and Cupid is a jigging spooking mess.  I spent the next 15 minutes mostly just trying to keep him walking straight.  He can spin around pretty quickly and seamlessly if I'm not paying attention, all of the sudden we'll just be facing the opposite direction!  He was finally starting to settle and I thought yay we can get to work, but of course I see the tractor heading down, so much for that.  We had to go to the covered arena, which is bigger than a dressage court and also full of jumps so I couldn't go down the centerline or proper diagonals.  But I did make Cupid work, since he seemed to have so much energy outside. Overall our ride was okay, but we were having trouble with the left lead again.  Double sign.  The first few rides after we got back from Oregon it wasn't a problem at all.  The best strategy I've found is to counterbend him a little, then ask for the canter as we straighten back.  The bigger problem is a lot of times when we get it incorrect it takes several strides to get him back down to a trot, then rebalance, before we get it - way too long. 
Looking contrite after finally deciding to behave

I'm not feeling optimistic about our show this weekend.  We'll be in the outdoor ring at Yarra Yarra, where Cupid was a bit spooky last time, plus we'll probably blow the left lead.  Oh well, we'll do the best we can and try not to embarrass ourselves too much!

In other news, earlier this week I asked my trainer for a lunge line lesson.  I wanted to work on sitting down and back, especially in canter transitions.  I have a bad habit if leaning forward and raising my hands when I ask for the canter, so not helpful!  I tied and dropped my reins, and just held my whip under my thumbs and it was great to be able to focus on less things.   Cupid was a really good sport about it.  (Of course he's almost always good, in the covered arena at home!  We just need to learn to take that relaxation elsewhere.)

Monday, June 25, 2018

4 Years!!

The week plus since we've been back from Oregon has passed quickly, and uneventfully.  I gave Cupid a few days off, and then the first few rides back he felt focused and refreshed.  It feels like he's working into the bridle a bit more, and the left canter lead hasn't been much of a problem.

The weather has been all over the place, a few cool foggy days followed by a few hot days, then back to cold.  It's making it kind of hard to plan my rides, or life in general!

In other news, Cupid and I celebrated our 4th anniversary together!  It's hard to believe how quickly it's gone by.  And kind of sad that we're still toiling at Training level and jumping 2', but oh well.  In honor of our anniversary here are some clips from my first ever ride on Cupid, about 2 weeks after his last race!

He always had a nice long stride at the walk!
In other news, before Oregon I tried out a western saddle that I wanted for trail riding.  Although it was very comfortable for me, I didn't think it was a great fit on Cupid (though I'm certainly no expert).  But he did look super cute with it!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Long Haul

Our destination in Oregon was over 400 miles away.  I've never trailered that far, so did a little research to try and make it as comfortable as possible for the horses.  This is what I did to prepare for and during the trip:

-Truck/trailer maintenance:  I've had my trailer about a year now, so it was about time for my annual maintenance check anyhow.  There is a trailer place nearby, where I got my trailer brakes: AB Trailer Hitch.  It's the only place I know in the area so I didn't compare prices, but they are very nice.  They checked the lights, tires and wires, greased the bearing, and whatever else they do.
I'm lucky my dad is a mechanic, so I asked him to take a look at my Ford Expedition before the trip, top off oil etc.

-Fans:  While my trailer was in the shop, I also asked them to install fans.  Even though I have adequate windows and vents, I thought it couldn't hurt and is especially useful if we have to sit in traffic.  My fans are installed on the same wire as my trailer's interior lights, so they are on if I turn the lights on.  The guy at the trailer shop recommended this because having them separate requires a lot more labor to install.
Trailer fan
-Frequent stops:  The advice I read online was to stop about every 3 hours for about 20 minutes, to give the horses a break from the vibrations.  So I got gas, and if the station wasn't busy stayed under the awning at the pump, otherwise I tried to find a shady spot, and opened the windows.

-Water:  I offered the horses water during some of our stops, and read that they may or may not take it.  Cupid drank a little each time I offered, while the other horse with us didn't at all.  My trailer has a water tank, which made this pretty easy.

-Wraps:  People have pretty strong opinions on each side of this issue, whether to wrap legs or not.  I did put on Coolmax no-bows on all 4 legs, and bell boots in the front.  The wraps did not get loose, and his legs did not feel hot underneath when I took them off.  I just feel more comfortable with this, I would feel horrible if he sliced his legs somehow.  My friend's horse was bare legged, and didn't have any problems either - so this one goes down to personal preference.

-Hay:  I had grass hay in front of Cupid, and he ate pretty much the whole ride, so I refilled his hay at one of our stops both on the way there and back.  His travel buddy only ate about half her hay bag on the way up, and finished that up on the way back.  I also brought hay with me, so he has what he's used to at home. 

-Camera:  I got a little camera that transmits a live feed to my phone through Wi-Fi.  The one I got (Rear View Safety model RVS-83112-Wifi) is listed as a back up camera, not specifically intended to watch horses in a trailer, but it did the job.  It was $140 on Amazon.  A camera is totally unnecessary, but it did give me peace of mind, especially since I wasn't sure how Cupid and the other horse would get along.
Camera, placed in rear trailer window
Captured on the camera

-Ulcergard: I started giving Cupid Ulcergard the day before we left, and continued until the day after we got back, in case he was stressed from the travel or being in a new place.

Driving by Mt Shasta

Friday, June 15, 2018

Oregon Trail Adventures

Cupid and I spend the last 5 days up in Oregon at my friend's ranch!  I was a little nervous about the long drive, but it went smoothly.  I'll write a separate post about the trip and tips I found.  My friend's horses live in an 80 acre pasture, but she has some pens with shelters.  Cupid has never seen barbed wire, and also isn't used to that much grass so this was much safer for him!  He was a little excited at first, especially when the other horses came over to meet him and were running around a bit, but he seemed to settle in pretty quickly. 
Home sweet home, for a few days
In addition to horses, my friend recently got two miniature donkeys!!  They were super cute.  They were originally in their own little pen adjacent to the main pasture, but figured out where they can sneak through so now they just go from their pen to the pasture as they please.  Cupid was a little surprised by them at first, but quickly realized they were harmless.

Mini donkeys!!
The first few days we rode off the ranch.  This area is high dessert - lots of sage brush.  In many parts there aren't well-defined trails and I was a little hesitant about bushwhacking through it, but Cupid didn't seem to mind and made it through unscathed.  However he is very bad about tailgating behind other horses.  Luckily my friends horses are very well behaved and didn't kick him in the face, but he kind of had it coming.  I should have done a better job keeping him back, but it's a lot of effort and I didn't want to fight with him.  Plus it didn't help that even though Cupid is not a very big horse (not even 15.3 hands), he is a bit taller and much longer-legged then my friends' quarter horses and walks faster than them.

We initially had planned to camp out near Crater Lake, but since my friend still had to work a bit it didn't work out.  We were just going to do a day ride there instead, but it turned out the road to the campsites was closed anyhow.  We ended up going to a different trail nearby instead, which was fine except Cupid and I were pretty much eaten alive by mosquitoes!  I have over 50 bites!  (Apparently they are especially attracted to pregnant women, since blood volume, CO2 emission, and body temperature are all elevated)  They liked Cupid too, since he is thin skinned, and he was a bit miserable too kicking his belly and shaking his head.  But he handled the rocky terrain and trail obstacles like a champ!  On the way back Cupid was in front, and he walked a bit ahead, and since I was pretty over the mosquitoes I decided to let him and meet back at the trailer.  If he got too far ahead he would stop and wait until he could hear the other horses catch up.  Once he got a little too far ahead and whinnied, but he was pretty calm, no jigging.

The trail was pretty deserted, we only saw one man with his dogs, and a small group of hikers.  The hikers patted Cupid and said how pretty he was, and told me they just watched Justify win the Triple Crown and were impressed that Cupid used to race too.  Some people are not happy to share trails with horses so I always try to be friendly.
Drinking from a stream
Crossing a bridge
In the woods

Through a meadow

The trip was a great adventure, and further solidified my trust in Cupid and reminded me yet again he is capable of more than I give him credit for sometimes.  Even though we have been going to many new places since getting the trailer last year, we haven't done any overnight trips in a long time so I was very pleased with how quickly he settled in.  It helped to have the other (well-behaved!) horses around as he still gets insecure. We are already looking at doing this again next year!

Monday, June 4, 2018

David Marcus Clinic Photos

Hannah Beebe captured some lovely photos of Cupid at the clinic.  Seeing these really helped put together the things David said during the ride.  Of course being a bit self-critical the first thing that stuck out to me was yes David is right, even though I felt like I was sitting vertical I still need to lean back more.  And my elbows are a bit better but still need more bend.  But beyond that I though wow Cupid is moving out nicely!  Ok I get it now, focus on getting this push and as he develops muscle and learns to carry himself the "frame" will come.
Tracking up!
We're both concentrating here

Legs for days
And a very cute photo of Cupid wanting to cuddle with David after our session!
I love you David!!
Plus a portrait.

I kind of wish my turnout had been sharper, but I was dressing for the heat.  So coolmax saddle pad, and I'm wearing tights instead of breeches which is probably a huge faux pas but at least I still had a belt and didn't pass out 😶.  I brought white polo wraps but ended up not using them because I thought Cupid would be more comfortable without, and I figured we wouldn't be doing crazy lateral work anyhow.  Sorry David, no disrespect meant!!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Clinic with David Marcus

I was lucky to snag a last minute spot in a clinic with Grand Prix rider and olympian David Marcus!  Even though I was worried about being outclassed I wanted to go and learn as much as I can, and get a fresh (and very knowledgeable!) perspective.

To start, I told David a bit about our background and goals, and he told me his first horse he took to grand prix and used for YR was a thoroughbred!  He said it thought him a lot riding a more sensitive type horse.  He watched us a few minutes.  His first order of business was to bring out a leather puncher and raise my bit (which was already on the last hole).  I felt kind of stupid, when I switched from the loose ring to the D-ring Myler on my black bridle I didn't really look closely but of course the Myler does have bigger rings so I should have thought of that.

Then he had me take my feet out of the stirrups, and really stretch down even pointing my toes down.  He quickly honed in on our trouble areas, and suggested basically going back to the basics. 

David said both Cupid and I can get a bit tense and tight.  He said it's good that Cupid is so willing to stretch - if he starts getting quick let my reins get long and encourage him to stretch down and relax, then gradually shorten the reins again.

Teach the Horse to Do His Job
I shouldn't have my lower leg on as much; I'm not teaching Cupid to do his job.  I need to ask him for the stride I want, then leave him alone.  If he starts slowing down then ask him again.

Be a Little Greedy
If it feels good, don't be afraid to push for a little more!  I hesitate with this because if Cupid is being pretty good I don't want to "upset the apple cart" or not reward him - but when I do ask for more he never resents it and generally rises to the challenge so I need to be more confident with that!

Pressure and Release
If I pull Cupid will just latch on and resist.  Ask, then give.  Or if I don't get the response I want ask again, more firmly, but don't hang on him.  Work towards getting the reaction from the smallest aid possible.
We worked a lot on small circles, and David encouraged me to start with a leading rein.  The first step is Cupid needs to be following the rein, and we need to get a better reaction there before moving on to more subtlety. 

Less Muscle
You can't use the reins to pull the horse into a frame; it comes from the horse lifting its back and using its hind end.  In a funny moment David said just look at me, I have no arm muscle (not really true but he is a very lean guy!)  Don't try to force it just because David or a group of people are watching.  Don't worry if we're not there yet; it takes time but it will come. 

Soft elbows was the big one.  He also noticed my tendency to collapse on my left side.  Also knees pointing forward - going back to how he had me take my feet out of the stirrups.  Reminder that leg position begins at the hips, and the importance of stretching and maintaining flexibility in that area. 
David also said if it feels like I'm leaning too far back, lean back a little more, lol.

We ended up not doing any cantering, but given the heat I was ok with that.  I was quite happy with how Cupid did.  He did whinny once when horses were led by, but was not very distracted by the new surroundings.  He was a little fussy standing initially for the bridle adjustment, but at the end he kept wanting to stand close to David for pats.  David was very positive and encouraging - both making corrections and also telling me what I was doing right.  Although these are all things I've heard before and have been working on (no "magic bullet" to suddenly make me an awesome rider) I ended the ride feeling motivated to continue our progress.  Plus I got to ride in a super beautiful place, with an olympian - a very cool experience! 

The clinic was at Iron Rock in Fairfield, which is a truly beautiful facility.  The arena overlooks a valley and vineyards, and has a little waterfall alongside which luckily Cupid didn't really take notice of. The solid stone mounting block was so fancy I wasn't sure it wasn't just decorative.  I had to get on quick because Cupid was pawing in the sand around it, and it would have been pretty embarrassing to have him roll by the arena with all his tack on!

Unfortunately though it was hot!!  Like mid 90s.  I didn't really feel it while I was riding, but felt a little woozy when I got off, but felt better after downing a bottle of gatorade.  Cupid wasn't as visibly affected by the heat as he seemed at the show last weekend.  I bought him a new electrolyte  (Buckeye Prosper n Win) since he didn't seem to like the apple dex I had before, but he refused to drink water with this in it.  I tried putting an apple in the water, so he's be forced to swallow some trying to get the apple but he divided it wasn't worth it and just ate his hay instead!  I tried offering him plain water after and he didn't want that either (same bucket and water tank in the trailer he drank readily from at the show last weekend), I was a little concerned but he seemed okay otherwise and was still interested in his hay and his demeanor was normal.

I'm waiting to see the official photos, I only took a few quick snaps after we rode.
Sweaty after our ride in the heat
Admiring the view
Very scenic!!
New fans in trailer to keep Cupid cool, especially if we're stuck in traffic!

Friday, June 1, 2018

Riding While Pregnant

Yes it's true, I'm pregnant and just entered the second trimester!  So far I've been feeling pretty good.  My stomach does get a little queasy, usually in the afternoon, but nothing too bad.  I also haven't had any of the fatigue a lot of women experience.  I get pretty hungry sometimes but no particular cravings, or a lot of times no food sounds particularly good but I can eat something anyways. 

I found just just before the Greenville show end of March.  The decision to keep riding is a personal one.  A couple of my non-riding friends commented that I "have to stop riding now, right?"  Well, no.  Riding itself is not inherently bad; it's just the risk of something happening to the fetus in a fall.  I've been riding for over 25 years, and have been riding Cupid for nearly 4 and he's become quite trustworthy.  I know things can happen, even with well-behaved horses they don't even need to spook but can just trip or something, but I accept that risk.  If he's ever really strung out I may call it a day, but he's been perfect so far.
Gained a few pounds but not very obvious yet
So far it's just been business as usual.  I've also been able to continue my workout regiment.  I don't run quite as much, but still do regular cardio in addition to core conditioning, yoga, and pilates.

I'm probably tempting fate saying this, but my plan is to keep riding as long as I'm comfortable.  Hopefully we can do a few more shows, and we are still going on a long-planned ranch and camping adventure soon.  I'll taper off to light hacks and ground work if and when that feels right.  By the end of my pregnancy we'll hopefully have had a good season, and Cupid can take a little time off to relax before ramping up for next year.

Ps. It's a boy, due late November