Friday, 14 October 2016

Delusions and an Inner Child

Well, color me shocked!  We finished the year with some jumper classes!

Back in the spring, I half jokingly declared a year-end goal of hitting the 0.9m (3') and 1.0m (3'3") jumpers at the season finale indoor show.  It didn't seem too likely (or frightening) at that point since (a) it had been cancelled last year and (b) we'd never jumped higher than 3' so odds of being ready enough seemed slim and none,  Its good to have stretch goals though!
Odds of success?  Unlikely
Except August hit and we were ready to try Pre-Training eventing (3') at least in terms of schooling around it without worrying about time.  Hm ...

And then we missed our upgrade opportunity due to weather and the gods.  (About which I'm still grumbling a bit.  Smart choice, right choice, blah blah.)

Then in September, I found out that the competition is ON!  Annnnd there went my inner 16 yo in need of wish fulfillment.
Woman, you're in your 40s but why let that stop you?

So there were two opposing thought trains in my mind:

Path 1:

  • 3'3" is only one hole higher on the standards, and the horse doesn't care about the height.  
  • Life is short.

Path 2:

  • You haven't competed the horse over a 3' course. 
  • Jumper courses are significantly more technical than Eventing Stadium courses.  
  • You haven't competed over a 3' course in a decade
  • You've never successfully competed higher than 3'
  • The Fair is probably the toughest competition venue within 3 provinces
  • Your coach thinks you're a little nuts for doing this
  • Its an expensive competition
  • The horse has never been to an indoor competition
Guess what I opted for?  Path 1, of course, because see inner child above.  

Wait, HOW wide is the maximum???? 

I'm not completely crazy, I needed to make sure I'd ride forward instead of yank in front of a maxed out spread fence.  So, out came the measuring tape and the schooling fences built to max spec with a long approach. 

I mean ... we had 4 weeks to get ready.  Plenty of time right?
Yup.  PLENTY of time

Monday, 26 September 2016

Life Lessons and a Hippo Transformed

(Note, this isn't in my usual light tone, feel free to skip if you're looking for self-deprecating humor)

I know the Hippo and I have been MIA this summer but it has been BUSY.  That and I haven't been able to nail down something brewing internally.

The Hippo has transformed over the past year.  She's sleek, fit and generally happy with life and her job.  I've even had people I respect saying "I need a horse like her".  Being who I am, it feels like they must be screwing with me or just being nice.  At this point, she's pretty much a keeper.

Me, on the other hand?  I'm struggling.  I feel like I'm running out of time to progress in my riding. Sounds silly right?  We all have the rest of our lives to improve our riding, if we really want to do so. I'm only in my early 40 but there's something most of my riding friends don't realize.

My mother died of cancer at 49, I just turned 43.

So, this weekend I attended an eventing clinic which brilliantly clarified what we're doing right and what I want. To our credit, the Hippo and I have created a really solid partnership.  We trust each other and we haven't come close to hitting our limit.  Its lovely.

But what do I WANT?  I want to be GOOD.  Not good for an amateur.  Not good for a rider in her 40s. Not good for a 3' rider.  I want to be good, without qualifiers.

I want it but today I'm exhausted

I want it but the road looks so long and daunting

I want it but there's so many changes I need to make and my body lets me down.

I want it.

And just in case I'm on the short timeline, I have 5 years.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

'Scuse me, I need some technical support

When I'm not riding, I'm usually on a computer.  It makes sense considering I provide tech support in my 'real life'.  You know what a couple decades of technical support has taught me about horses?

Life is SO much easier if the problem is me. I can fix me, or at least improve.

I can change my approach, learn something new, RTFM (read the 'fine' manual aka a book) take a lesson/clinic, go to the gym, even change disciplines.  There's soooo many options.

But an inherent bug? It takes a ton longer to deal with. If it can be fixed at all.

In software, someone other than you (usually) has to go find the problem, work it out, test and hope they haven't triggered any unintended consequences in the process. Sometimes, the problem is an inherent limit that can't be fixed without going back to scratch.  Sometimes, the fixing the problem exceeds the physical limits of the machine and there's nothing to do but work around the problem.

And horses are really no different in that respect.

So when a problem crops up with my horse, and the problem is me?  Its a very good day indeed because there's always hope.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Countdown and Cross Country Vests

Its almost here! Its almost here!  The first horse trial of the year!  Not that I'm excited or anything, but OH MY GOD its like Christmas in June.

Ready everyone?

Tack has been cleaned and boots polished. Laundry is ... ongoing.  Sweet merciful god, the laundry, its unreal how much gear is required for one person and one horse to go off property for 2 days. Then again it doesn't help that I tend to bring back up items in case of bad luck or weather.

Lets total it up shall we?

  • Horse: saddle, bridle, reins (2 sets), breastplate w/ martingale, neck strap (2), saddlepad (2), halfpad, xc boots (4), bell boots (2), stadium boots (2), cooler, rain sheet, fly bonnet
  • Rider: helmet, breeches (3), show shirt (2), show coat (2), gloves (white and black), dressage whip (2), jumper bat, Sun shirt (2-3), riding boots, spurs, overshoes, rain boots, sneakers, boot socks (3 pr) ... 

On second thought, we need to not do that.  I might start adding it all up $-wise and have a stroke. 

One of the things I had to dig out of a box after a long winter was my XC crash vest. This means I've been sitting around wearing the bloody thing to re-mold it to my shape somewhat. So I've been reminded of a basic tenent of XC vest manufacturers

XC riders do not come with large breasts installed

Contrary to this belief. guess what I have? This makes my XC prep entertaining and a bit R-rated.
  1. Wiggle into vest, squeeze elbows firmly to sides and try to reach zipper with fingertips
  2. Reach into vest, grab sports bra strap and haul tits up into position, repeat on the other side
  3. Tug vest down, check that tits are still firmly squashed under chin
  4. Attempt to climb on horse while unable to lower chin to see where foot should be aimed for stirrup
  5. Hum 'Ride of the Valkyries' loudly as you rampage around the course.
  6. Mutter 'Remember the vest adds 20lbs' when you look at photos.

Seriously, who needs an air vest when I have these? 

Trying to take it off is even worse

Friday, 22 April 2016


So, yeah, its been muddy and the hippo is back on 24/7 turnout and been loving it.
We're ramping up for competition season. like everyone else in the eventing world.  For us, this means adding lots of marching up/down hills and into the nearby lake.

I love the lake. Water practice + clean legs + not getting frostbitten fingers from leg washing is fantastic.  I haven't seen clean legs on my horse in ... a while.

Just ... too close to reality

Post lake, clean legs, great time to examine legs and feet extra closely.

Me: "Come on big girl, pick up a back foot"
Horse *start to lift* "NOPE!" *stomp* *mare glare*

Repeat a half dozen times.  Huh, weird. Try other side, same thing.
Start running down the checklist.  Was she sound walk, trot and canter while riding? Check. Reluctant to move forward? Nope.

Poke around the hind end.  No sore spots.  Stifles?  Nope, just the usual ticklish. Etc.etc. down the legs until I get under the back of the ankles.  Warm.  Hmm

Me: Poke back of  pastern
Horse: *STOMP*  *offended mare glare*
Like this, only MORE offended
Mud fever flare up, gotcha, message received.  Diaper rash cream to the rescue, saving us all from the hippo's chapped ankles and chapped ass attitude!  Now for the exciting part, getting the cream on her ankles.

Having had multiple cases of the dreaded 'chub rub', I try to apply the cream with the gentlest of touches.  How does the mare react?

twitch, Yank foot away and LEAP sideways "OH MY GOD YOUR KILLING ME!!!"

My horse, aren't I lucky?

*sigh* repeat until the first layer is on each foot.   This takes a while, resulting in scattered paper coffee cups, spilled coffee, dogs fleeing to the four points of the compass and severe eye-rolling on my part.

Go back for the 2nd layer and she stands quietly, "No big deal mom, why you sound grumpy?" What a friggin' weenie, good thing I love her.

Enough diaper cream for a daycare's worth of chapped asses

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

April Showers, Where are the Flowers?

Ah, spring on the East Coast.  Land of mud, rain, mud, snow, more mud, rain, snow, and did I mention mud? In case I was too subtle, there's a lot of mud.

Until a few days ago, I only owned a pair of half calf rain boots which has made it exciting to retrieve the hippo from her wallow.
A daily occurrence, both sides

I gave up on the short rain boots once I realized mud was consistently getting within an inch of the top, and that was staying on the high ground! The hippo?  Well, she seemed to have figured out my predicament.  In typical mare fashion, she's using the advantage with brutal efficiency.

Arrive at the barn, horse is by the gate.  Arrive at the field with a halter and ...

Were you talkin' to me?  Come closer, I can't quite hear you.

I swear I can hear her giggling when this happens. Sometimes, she waits until she sees me headed for the gate and then calmly strolls off.  When she's really trying to screw with me?  She'll move off so all I can see are cheerfully pricked ears as she hangs out at the bottom of the pit. The ears that say "Are there snacks? Do I hear a magic bucket? No? Then come back later."

But!!! Victory is mine!  I've given in and bought a pair of knee high neoprene boots that will take me across the sea of mud to the mischievous mare.  No more waving buckets, peppermints and peanut butter Clif bars in the hopes of luring her closer to an island, near the gate.

... or did I?  My wallet is lighter, that's not usually a win ...

Of course, now that I've bought the boots, the sun is going to emerge to shine continuously and the mud will vanish.  But we all knew that right?

Friday, 15 April 2016

What a Difference a Day Makes (and a Saddle...)

The night before the saddle arrives I notice something as I'm taking off the Hippo's saddle.

She's displeased, that's unusual. Not the displeased part, just the timing.  She's not usually displeased after a ride, normal is calmly pleased to be done.  I start poking/prodding to discover she's sore behind her shoulders, the current jumping saddle is causing sore spots.  Hmmm, how long have those been an issue?
Apologies to a big mare
Granted, this mare is weird about saddle fit and a bit of a stoic.  Very subtle about admitting something is sore. Even with this, all I got was a wrinkle between nostril/lip and slight glare.

Fast forward to the new saddle.  Longe, seems to be reaching more in front but that could be freshness.  Ride and careful back inspection, shoulders don't seem sensitive.  Yay!

Next ride.  Longe, barnmate comments on how nice she's moving. Ride, feels good even on the flat and over fences.  Yay x2

Several rides later, I don't know my horse anymore.  She is SO much rounder/forward that I'm having trouble telling whether she's 'just' round and forward or whether she's getting ready to blow her top. I mean, it IS spring after all and anything could happen.

All in all, its a win.  The horse seems thrilled with the new saddle, the blocks are helping me deal with occasional spring idiocy and overall I'm holding my position better.  Despite the fact I can't read a jump distance to save my life in the new saddle yet aka I'm trying to 'help' again, (For more hilarity, go back to my tale on helping)

I think its going to be awesome.

Ready? Game face on!

Wednesday, 6 April 2016


Guess who picked up a new saddle?  Well, new to me but damned if I care.

Yeah, yeah, I know.  You all saw it coming a mile away after sitting in that Voltaire at HITS Ocala. I came back with saddle fever.  After trolling through almost every 2nd hand Voltaire monoflap with similar measurement listed online in North America, I had pretty much made my peace with waiting a looong time to get a saddle that would help me more over fences.

And then a friend shared this ad on my Facebook feed ...

Helloooooo Sexy!!!

If you aren't familiar, that's an out of production Passier Military XC saddle, the OG of popular XC monoflaps, and in the same lighter leather as the rest of my tack. Open 18" seat, light, external knee/calf blocks and a large suede section for extra grip under the knee block.  I've coveted this saddle for years.

Despite the long history of Passier jumping saddle flaps being cartoonishly long for my legs, I sent the question "What's the stirrup bar to flap bottom measurement?"  Desperation and a digestible price make strange bedfellows since history on other models has been 14, 15 and even 16 inch flaps.
Back comes the answer ...13".  Wait, WHAT?!?!?!    That's ... workable.  A 12.5" extra forward flap is my sweet spot.

I was practically vibrating in excitement and enlisted a local to let me try her saddle, which was the same model and tree width.

Throw on the saddle and fasten.  Hmm that's not bad looking.
Longe for a few minutes.  Hippo seems fine with it, no obvious discomfort.
Climb on and warm up a bit.  Hippo feels like herself, moving nicely from the ground and nothing seems to be in my way walk, trot, canter or jump.  Even better, my legs appear to have stopped Spoonering. (Even though riding in yoga pants, to test for worst case)

Above: GP rider Richard Spooner
Spoonering: (verb) to successfully ride a jump while one's lower legs fly around at seemingly impossible angles 

The message went out that night, "Send that sucker my way" YEEHAW!!!

Monday, 28 March 2016


The apocolypse is nigh.  I've started jogging. 

I'm not designed for jogging.  I have a (pre)history of tripping and falling on flat ground, at a walk. (Scuff, SPLAT, "She's down again...")  I've even managed to sprain an ankle while standing still.  And yet, here I am ... trying to jog ... again.    Last time I tried jogging was with my sister.  1 min walk/1 min jog alternating.  I made it to the 2nd jog segment and *twist* *snap* *crash* "SONOFABITCH!"

Then, WHY?!?!" you ask?  2 months until eventing season starts and my gasping words at the end of XC still resound in my head, "I need ... to take ... up ... jogging." (wheeze, pant, pant, gasp)  I tried the gym this winter but overdid the bodyweight training and there went the shoulders.   And the cardio machines? They bore the snot out of me.  Besides, its lower body fitness and endurance I need anyway and the dogs need exercise ... so jogging it is.

Of course, my version of jogging is more like most people's slow speed walk.  I move with the speed of a glacier and the elegance of an earthquake, but whatever :)

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

T-Rex HITS Ocala

Well, this year I finally gave in and ran away to Florida.  Not for long, just a week, but long enough to fill the old bones with a little more warmth and sunshine until spring truly begins.  So I spent some time baking my tail in the sun.

But seriously, how could I go to Florida without a tiny horse show detour?  What's a couple (ok, closer to three) hour drive to HITS?  Off we went for a day, T-Rex and husband.  Tunes were cranked, breakfast was eaten and silent prayers were offered by my husband against our financial extinction.

I was a MUCH better behaved driver than this.  I promise.

We found the show grounds after an uneventful and law abiding drive north, mostly due to the fact I purposely rent small cars with small engines.  (The T-Rex rule of rental cars: Big enough for the junk in my trunk, small enough to keep me from getting arrested)

This was when my husband's eyes got significantly wider, because the show grounds kept going and going ... and going.  He's seen old school multi-ring competitions with a couple show rings, a warm up and trailers/stalls, nothing like this.  Possibly his worst nightmare come to life; acres of horses, sunshine and my gleeful skipping towards the vendors area.

No idea why he seemed concerned

Then again, it might have been because I headed for the saddle booths first; Devoucoux, Antares, Voltaire, CWD called my name. My sitting in saddles to try them also might not have helped.  I thought he was going to cry for a second when I found my holy grail of a saddle.  A Voltaire monoflap of the exact specs to accommodate my sizeable tail, my short person legs and sticky leather to velcro my middle aged self to my horse as she powers over jumps.  It was ... perfect.  Even the calf blocks were in the exact right spot, instead of down by my ankles

This would be Mr. T-Rex plucking up a couple vital organs for sale while our credit rating burns in the background

However, sanity ruled the day and I did not go for it.  The one side of my brain screaming YOLO was shouted down by the part of my brain declaring YOU IDIOT.  So, off to watch some warm up rings and classes.  By this point, Mr. T-Rex far preferred the boredom of watching horses to the excitement of my shopping. I, on the other hand, was enjoying the lessons of the day.

  • When in doubt, sit up and ride forward, at every level
  • The level of riding at equivalent divisions, hunter or jumper, isn't much different between home and away
  • With some spit, polish and 5-8k in tack, a good NS horse wouldn't look amiss in a Florida crowd. We need to get over the communal chip on our shoulder.
  • The opportunity to watch a really skilled rider schooling is never wasted.   
  • Neither is watching a girl with a prosthetic arm clock her way skillfully over a 1.40m jumper course. 
  • Everyone loves a cheerful compliment to their horse and/or rider and a "Have a great round" as they make their way to the ring.  Even from a stranger, especially from a stranger.
Every round is someone's Olympics

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

A Hippo Qualifies for Sainthood

So, its been awhile since I shared some stories of the Hippo's progress.  At last update, she was making the difficult transition to acting like an adult.  I'm pleased to say this is almost complete.   Spooking is almost non-existant except for the occasional "Hey, I'm super bored/this is hard.  Can I distract you a little? No? Ok, never mind"

We've been luckier this winter, not so much snow.  Lots of mud though, lots ... and lots ... and lots of mud. The Hippo loves mud. Every day of thaw she rolls, frolics and generally wallows. I arrive to a horse covered in mud from eyeballs to toes, sincerely grateful for the miracle of winter blankets and hoods.  So much for the idea of mares preferring to be clean.  Its ridiculous.

You think I'm exaggerating?  I wish! 
The past weekend was so gorgeous that we were able to get out of the ring and hack on the logging trails for the first time in a couple months. Not that I need 'good' weather, but it was the lack of ice that made it possible.  (Ice + rocky terrain and hills = Staying home thanks.)   Off we went, over hill and dale, through puddle and bog.  We even got to throw in a few hand gallops on the logging trail, to the delight of horse and human.  Go all the places, see all the things.

Rinse. repeat on Sunday.  I will say that it was a different experience settling into the saddle on Sunday though.  Not for the horse, she was still keen and thrilled to be headed away from the arena. I discovered that I had a few bruised & sore spots in, um, delicate areas.  Note to fellow riders, 'saddle sores' are a fantastic motivator for 2 point practise as you ride across country at walk, trot or canter. Your ... butt (yeah, that's it) ... will thank you.  Your thighs, however, will not.

The real qualifier for sainthood through was last night, as a big mare carted my tail over my
first 3' jump combinations in a decade.  See, that 3' marker is a big deal for me.  Its that line where horses can't just pull their legs up to jump, they have to rock back.  It requires a better horse and a better ride.
How do I feel about 3'+ jumps?  This sums it up perfectly
Its also where things fell apart with my last 2 horses.  The chicken had a measuring tape in his head and it was an utter crap shoot whether he'd jump or not it came to 3'.  Even if I didn't know, he did.  And the rocket?  Let's say her cantering her towards 3' with little control, and less idea from where she would decide to jump, was a worrisome prospect on a good day.

Well, I decided that I was going to give it a go last night.   Cranked some tunes, planned the ride with a good friend and off we went.  Pick up canter, leg on, throw the reins at her and pray the mare will ignore the doubts emanating from my hands/legs/seat.
Did someone say 3' combination?
First fence, powers off the ground, awesome. Leg on for the one stride, don't grab her face, leg on for take off.  And BOOM, big mare hits the boosters and blasts off the ground. I find myself squawking profanity and and wondering if I'm going to need a parachute.  Horse canters away wondering what the big deal is.

We repeat a few more times so I can set it in my brain that SHE is fine at 3'.  I just need to do the same thing as always.  Sit up, leg, and throw the reins at her.  She's got this, for which I am supremely grateful.
Yes, she's that awesome.  Well, today she is.