Bear’s First Show!

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I was up bright and early at 5am on Saturday to take Bear to his first combined test at Sandstone Farm. We entered the first timers division, which is Intro Test A and 18″ jumps.

Lisa and I decided it would be best to do the lower fences, even though he’s jumping 2′ to 2’6″ now at home. He tends to get distracted, so he could at least trot over everything if needed!

We were the first trailer there, but people slowly trickled in, which was an ideal situation. I didn’t want to get there in the middle of the day and drop him into “chaos” so to speak.

He had a look around, neighed a few times, then wanted to eat grass, so that was a good start. We hand walked around a bit, then I got on about an hour before my test. When Lisa got there, we did a little warmup, but it was on grass and the dew made it a bit slippery, so  we mostly stayed in trot, but got a little canter going up the hill because it definitely helps his trot after.

We were allowed to trot around the outside of the ring before the show started and since we were the first ones in, it was good to be able to do that. In our warmup, Lisa talked about making sure to keep a solid connection from my leg to hand so he stayed focused on me. She also reminded me to watch his floppy donkey ears to make sure they were relaxed!

He lost focus, as expected, a few times when a trailer came rattling up the driveway or when there were dogs barking in the distance, but he really didn’t seem to mind the other horses milling about, which was surprising since we mostly ride alone at home and in lessons off property.

Luckily the warm up was pretty quite when we went, about 2 other horses, so it was the perfect introduction.

The test itself felt pretty close to what we get at home and once he trotted up centerline, he seemed to settle right in. It’s a pretty anti-climactic test, with two trot circles and a diagonal, but we made it through! We got straight 6s on everything except for the final centerline and the “Geometry” score in the collectives where we got 7s.

I can’t be too picky for his first show, but I was hoping for more 7s. I know his gait scores are never going to be as high as Oh So’s, but he certainly had submission and I thought everything looked fairly steady.

The judged remarked that his rhythm and connection was a bit inconsistent, which is normal for a 4-year-old, so I guess that’s where we lost the points on each movement. Oh well, we stayed in the ring and he wasn’t nervous or tense like Oh So can be, so that’s all I can ask for!

The jumps were kind of pathetically small, but that wasn’t the point for the first time out. The warm up was again a bit slippery, so we just did a few jumps and went in. I was really pleased with his confidence once we got on course and in a rhythm. For going in cold-turkey over some brightly colored jumps, he was a star. I got a little stiff in my body, as I do in show jumping, so I didn’t ride as effectively as I could have and we missed some of our leads when I threw my upper body a bit.

We went back in for an unplanned second round to try to fix those mistakes, but it was sort of the same type of round. Oh well. More practice for both of us!

I was really happy that once he was in the ring, he let the outside distractions go. I know it won’t be like that every time, but for the first time, I’d say it was a pretty big accomplishment. I was also really excited to be back showing again. The last time I trotted down centerline was in July. Even though I don’t like those horse show jitters the night before and on the way to the venue, I missed it!

It was pretty funny when we tried to load him to go home. He didn’t want to leave!

We’re going to try another CT in two weeks at Hunt Club Farm and maybe play around on their cross-country course afterwards.

I’m finally allowed to do a bit more with Oh So, so we’ve taken a few excitable walks outside the ring and down the driveway and I tried trot poles for the first time yesterday. Yeah…that didn’t happen! I had three set up 9 feet apart and we bounced through them about three times before I quit for the day.

Today I did one trot set, then immediately did the poles while he was still relaxed and he was fine through them. We’re also allowed to start doing one minute of canter this week, so today I did about one long and one short side. He was a fire-breathing dragon, but I was just laughing and smiling the whole time. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt his canter and I was happy to even have 30 seconds of it. Coming back to trot was interesting as we had a pretty nice collected canter for several strides!

Product Review: Rapid Groom Vacuum

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After this winter’s horrible wet and mud, I decided it was time to invest in a horse vacuum. My horses, Oh So in particular, love to be encrusted in mud. I actually saw Sam go down in a giant mud puddle and completely submerge himself and Bear loves to get both sides dirty the minute I put him back out after a ride.

There aren’t a lot of options out there, with the high end Electro-Groom being a top choice, but also more than $600, and the Vac N’Blo receiving less than stellar reviews, so I went with the Rapid Groom after some research.

It retails for about $370. The vacuum comes with two nozzle ends, one metal and one rubber for vacuuming legs and sensitive areas, and three bags. Extra bags run about $4.

The vacuum itself if pretty small, but is heavy at 32 pounds. It has little wheels on one end so you can drag the vacuum by the hose around the horse. I’ve also found that picking it up by one end and rolling it works too.

In a perfect world, the cord to plug it in would be retractable, but it’s simple enough to put up by wrapping it around two hooks on the outside of the body.

The nozzle were simple to put on. The metal one comes with a small screw to help hold it in place, while the rubber one just slips on to the end of the hose.

The 10′ hose is supposedly “crush proof”, but thankfully I haven’t tested that theory yet!

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A nearly full bag.

I wasn’t quite sure when to change the bag, so after about two weeks of use on 2 horses, I opened the end of the vacuum and pulled it out. It was nearly to the top, and changing it was simple. I laughed as I realized that all of that dirt could have been on me! THAT is why I bought a vacuum!

Oh So and Bear took to it pretty easily. They were actually more scared of the hose and of me dragging the vacuum by the hose in front of them, but I just rubbed it on them, let them sniff it, and that was that. I turned it on near Sam once and he started shaking with fear/spookiness, so as I expected, I won’t be using it on him!

The vacuum has two speeds, high and low. Low works well for dust and dirt, but high is definitely better for crusted, dry mud and loose hair.

It is loud, although the company says the motor is quiet. I’d never used any other kind of horse vacuum before, so I can’t say whether this one is particularly loud.

I definitely noticed my horses were cleaner and had more of a shine to their coats after using the vacuum. With regular use, vacuums are said to bring out the naturals oils in the coat, but I had pretty good results right off the bat.

Oh So is very fidgety about being groomed and he’s definitely quieter when I use it. In fact, when I go back to brushes sometimes, he gets agitated.

Bear likes the suction feel on his skin and does a little lip thing, as does Rocky.

We’re at the end of shedding season now, but when I used the vacuum a few weeks ago, I followed up with a curry comb or my Laser Sheen shedding block to really get the hair out.

When Oh So is particularly encrusted in mud, I’ll sometimes use a curry comb to get the big chunks off first, but in the end, I end up cleaner than I would be by grooming by hand and that’s a definite plus!

The only negative I’ve found is that to take off the end to change the bag, you have to unravel the cord to open the snaps, which is inconvenient, but it’s a small price to pay for a clean horse!

Bear’s first cross-country schooling and other musings

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It’s been a long time coming, but I was finally able to get Bear out for his first cross-country schooling today!

His shoes were on, the footing and weather was perfect and we were off to Gordonsdale. I gave him a cc of Ace in case it was crazy when we got there, but I think everyone did their schoolings yesterday because it was very quiet.

He was mostly interested in eating grass when we got off the trailer and stood nicely for tacking up, which is a work in progress! Thankfully we had a buddy there, so we started off following her around and sniffing some jumps. He was a little spooked by them at first, but my trainer Lisa sat on a few of them and fed him grass and he got over that pretty quickly!

We followed our lead over some logs and trotted in to most of them and cantered away. He has a good natural balance and I think he’s learned a lot being turned out on a hillside, so it was easy to get up off his back and let him move up the hill and sit down a bit coming down the slopes.

We walked and trotted up a bank no problem and walked very confidently off a bank. When it came time for the water, we just walked by the edge a few times with our buddy, then followed her in. He was a little hesitant and first, but didn’t put up much of a fight. He had a drink and then we walked up and out over a small bank.

They didn’t have any small, appropriate ditches, so we ended on that note. I haven’t been cross-country schooling or galloping since Oh So’s last event in July, so it was fun to be out and about again.

I sort of knew Bear would have no problems with the jumps when I saw him galloping back and forth over our water-filled drainage ditch in his paddock a few weeks ago, so I was happy for a nice outing! It was also a relief to see that he enjoyed it and might just want to be an eventer like we’d hoped!

I’m sending in our first entry for a combined test next weekend and I’m a little nervous! It’s just a walk/trot test and 18 inch jumps, but the key will be keeping his focus while there’s a lot going on. Now to go practice our centerlines and halts!

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Yesterday I took Toppers and Rocky to Belmont, a historic home in Fredericksburg where my dad is executive director. They were hosting a beeping egg hunt for blind children for the third year and the director of educational activities asked if we could bring the minis. They’re pretty good with children, and with so much grass, they were happy to oblige!

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Some of the children were very excited to pet them and feel their clipped coats, while others were quite reluctant and scared. It was so neat that many of these parents drove from Northern Virginia, stuck in traffic for four hours on I-95, to bring their children. The smiles on their faces were definitely worth it.

Dad, Mom and Rocky and Toppers got to meet the Easter Bunny!

Dad, Mom and Rocky and Toppers got to meet the Easter Bunny!

Working backwards, on Friday the vet came out for what turned out to be Oh So’s final ultrasound. She said the injury site looked very good, probably 95% of what it should be, and that it might never look 100% perfect because of scar tissue. Now we’ll continue our trotting work and will add one minute of canter at a time in two weeks when we get to 20 minutes trot.

He’s his usual difficult self under saddle and we’re not supposed to do small circles quite yet, so it will probably be a few more months of my arms suffering!

Here’s a quick video of us trotting on Friday. You might not be able to tell, but my arms are being pulled very strongly!

The Fork

The Fork

Last weekend I headed down to the middle-of-nowhere Norwood, N.C., for The Fork Horse Trials. I covered the CIC***, CIC** and advanced divisions with one of our interns. The weather was perfect and we got to see most of the top horses in the U.S., of which several were heading to Rolex.

Sadly, there were two horse deaths over the weekend. A two-star horse collapsed after walking back to the stables after show jumping and Will Coleman’s three-star horse Conair collapsed after a fall on the advanced cross-country.

I’d seen him go through the water and I saw him at Carolina a few weeks ago and he was a pretty cool horse. I’m so sad for both riders and their connections. It’s a tough sport and it happens sometimes. I hope the necropsy results will give them some sense of closure. A lot has been written in the aftermath of the tragedies so I won’t add much else except to say that event horses are not forced to do this. If you’ve ever sat on one that loves it’s job, it’s an incredible feeling and accidents can and do happen. Thankfully the USEA requires necropsies so we can learn more about why these types of deaths are happening and learn from them.

You can check out our coverage of the weekend here.

A few of my favorite things

It’s spring shopping season and I’ve picked up a few things for myself and my horses recently that I’m really loving. Here are a few of my favorite items so far.

2014-04-12 08.22.45Higher Standards Leather Care – I kept seeing a topic on the Chronicle Forums pop up about a user who started her own business making saddle soap. Someone in the office tried it when we wrote a story about her, and with plenty of rave reviews on the Forums, I decided to try some.

The soap is made of natural ingredients and you can choose your scent from rosemary mint, lavender vanilla, citrus ginger or unscented. I picked lavender vanilla, which is pleasant, but not over-powering. The 8oz jar, which will last me a really long time, comes with a nice sponge. I’ve barely made a dent so far, but it does clean my tack and leaves it moisturized. It’s not too sudsy, which is a pet peeve of mine. I hate when suds get in the holes of my bridles and stirrup leathers, so this is perfect!

2014-04-12 08.13.35Shedding block – I didn’t clip Oh So for the first time ever this spring and this is a miracle worker for getting all of his hair out. Just scrape off the hair, brush on the concrete aisle to rough up the edges, and repeat.

 

 

2014-04-12 09.17.45Back On Track Polo Wraps

As Oh So has come back into work, I decided to start using polo wraps for our trot work and decided to invest in a pair of Back On Track ones. Similar to the BOT blanket and hock boots I have, I’ve never really seen a night and day difference with the ceramic-infused fabric, but I figure, why not?

I tried the 12ft and they were way to long, so I went with 9ft, which are plenty for Oh So’s average leg. They claim to be stretchier than traditional wraps, but I’ve found they’re not because the edges are stitched. They need to be put on perfectly even and straight or you’ll get some looser spots. They stay on through our workout though and his legs are warm when we finish, which is a result of the ceramic fabric reflecting the heat back into the leg.

Pile Lined Boots-500x500Horze Pile-Lined Boots

Ever since Oh So had a bad skin reaction from wearing neoprene boots last summer, I’ve been on the lookout for a different kind of turn out boot. I found these at Horze.com for a reasonable price and decided to try them for Bear first.

They’re lined with fleece and extremely lightweight. They have two velco straps, which are much easier than trying to do three hook and loop straps every morning. His legs were pretty dry after a few warm days outside, but I haven’t tested them in wet weather yet. They don’t have a big shock absorber on the inside like some splint boots have, but they’re thick enough that I think the trade-off for no neoprene is worth it. They run a little large, so I bought mediums for Oh So and Bear’s front legs. The large’s were very large.

advancedbellbootdove_1Horze Advanced Bell Boots

Bear was in need of some durable bell boots for jumping so I tried these affordable no-turn boots from Horze.com. They’re made of a thick neoprene and also run a bit large. The double-lock velcro is very strong and they stay in place. They also feature ventilation holes to keep air flowing. So far, so good for riding and I think they would be a good choice for turn out too.

A Quick Bear Update

On this horrible, rainy afternoon when I was supposed to be taking Bear to his first cross-country schooling, I’m stuck inside instead. When will this horrible weather ever end?

Lisa and I found an indoor to go to today instead but when I brought Bear in to get ready, he’d pulled a shoe in the insane mud we have. Ahhh! I want to scream.

I’m itching to get out of the ring and to start taking Bear to some shows, and I feel so behind at this point.

OK, rant over. I was able to get to a lesson on Friday at an indoor and he was quite good. We bumped up the fences to close to beginner novice height and he had no problems.

I had my dad video a flat lesson last week and a jump school I did at home, so here’s a short video.

I’m off to The Fork this week, and I’m hoping it will be drier!

Like night and day

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I’ve realized as Oh So has been starting his trotting work and Bear has been progressing that they truly are different horses, in every aspect, but it’s a fun challenge to be riding two horses again.

Oh So has always had a “dramatic” personality, hence his name. He does everything to the extreme. He’s been an absolute handful (and kind of an a**hole sometimes!) as I’ve started his trotting work over the last month. The vet wanted us to do 30 second trot sets and add two minutes per week. The whole 30 second increment thing lasted about two weeks before he decided he’d had enough and was basically trantering and coming close to having a meltdown every day.

I compromised by letting him trot for a minute at a time and now I’ve added a few 2 minute sets. His hind end feels back to normal after he got used to using it again. We’re up to 12 minutes of trot this week and every day is sort of hit or miss. Sometimes I’m being run off with down the long side (no circles allowed yet) and other times I get glimmers of what he was like before the injury.

At the end of my last minute of trot today, I pretended I was trotting down centerline on one of the quarterlines and then asked him to walk and then halt, which he made perfectly square. The training is still in there somewhere!

I think once we can canter things will get better, although I’m sure he’ll be just as pissed to start with only a minute at a time!

Bear on the other hand, is decidedly non-dramatic (except in the morning when he goes out and bucks like nothing I’ve ever seen before!). He’s actually a little lazy, but I think he’s still learning about the meaning of “go.” I’m hoping once we can get out cross-country schooling in the next few weeks that he’ll find his “forward” button.

It’s interesting to have a horse that likes to be groomed. Oh So is so fidgety, but Bear actually has spots he likes.

After we jump a course with Lisa, we’ll stop to talk about it and Bear will just fall asleep in the sun. It took Oh So awhile to stand still while we were chatting and even today, he’s more likely to be thinking, “Let’s do it again!” or “I was awesome, wasn’t I?”

Sam was always in between when he was competing. He could definitely get hyped up and is sensitive/spooky about grooming, but he wasn’t really tense and didn’t internalize things like Oh So does. He was good off the leg and not overly lazy or sensitive.

As Bear has been learning about flatwork, my dressage trainer, Nicky, had me use my seat to sort of urge him into the upward transition from walk to trot. He’s getting sharper about it now from my leg and seat, but I accidentally used that aid on Oh So the other day. Big mistake! I just have to “whisper” to him with my leg and he’s off in a big trot down the long side.

Since Sam retired from full work about a year and a half ago, I’ve only been riding Oh So and now that he’s back in more work, I’ve also realized the challenge in adjusting my riding style. Oh So has such a huge stride and has been mistaken for a Warmblood before. He’s got a neck that’s a mile long and shark withers. Bear is a decent sized horse, about 16.1 hands I think but I haven’t measured him, and has a much shorter/average stride. I think his stride will continue to get better as he gets stronger and uses himself more, but for now, the difference between the two is kind of startling.

I realized that last week when Nicky came on Saturday for a lesson. Since we had time, she brought over her 6-year-old 1st/2nd level Warmblood and schooled him while I rode Oh So. He was on his best behavior that day (perhaps because he knew teacher was there?) and we had some really nice trot sets.

I got on Bear after that and I felt so out of balance and slow. I think I chased him a bit and after watching some video that my mom took, I realized I was way too active with my leg, practically urging him on every step. I just need to trust that he’s going to go forward and not pinch with my knee, which seems to slow him down a bit unintentionally.

Sun For A Change

The new Stonehenge complex.

The new Stonehenge complex at the Carolina International.

This weekend, I headed down to Southern Pines to cover the inaugural Carolina CIC for COTH. It felt a little odd driving down in a car and not turning into the stabling entrance, but I was happy to watch most of the top eventers in the country all in one place.

I saw a lot of my media friends and even got a sunburn! And now we might get snow again on Tuesday! Will it ever end?

I’m getting antsy to get Bear out to school cross-country. I’m hoping if we don’t get too much snow this week that we’ll be able to go. I’m also excitedly plotting a schedule of unrecognized dressage shows and combined tests. First we need to go hang out at a couple of shows, so I’m hoping we can go to one this weekend.

This was last Monday!

This was last Monday!

I'm so over it!!!

I’m so over it!!!

Rocky got a clip two weeks ago.

Rocky got a clip two weeks ago.

Look…No Hands! Straightforward Cross-Country Book Review

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I came across several eventing books while working at the National Sporting Library and Eric Smiley’s Look…No Hands! Straightforward Cross-Country was one that caught my eye, mostly because of that cover!

Published in the U.K by The Pony Club, the book was released in 2009, so it’s not too old. It’s available for about $17.00 on Amazon.com and I would say it’s worth it.

It’s short, at 112 pages, but I really enjoyed the conversational text. I felt like I was attending a clinic and Smiley was laying out his points in different ways with simple and easy-to-remember lists, key words and bullet points.

Smiley lays out his approach to cross-country riding, which I totally agree with–clear, fair and consistent. Clear communication between horse and rider and teacher and rider, asking fair questions of the rider and the horse, and making sure the question is consistent  every time it’s asked of the rider and the horse.

Smiley addresses both the rider and the instructor throughout the text, explaining how to ride each exercise and how to explain it to a student, which was kind of an interesting approach.

The beginning of the book features a chapter on how we learn, with both the conscious and subconscious mind, and how the horse learns, via conditioned reflexes. The next chapters explain the rider’s aids, position and balance with color photos showing proper position and explaining common faults.

Smiley briefly describes why the flatwork and dressage phase is connected to the jumping phases of eventing and lays out several trot and canter pole exercises before moving on to the phases and mechanics of horses and riders jumping.

He moves on to the basics of jumping outside, including the judgement of speed, riding a good line and riding up and downhill. The remaining chapters include advice on how to ride and teach a horse and rider to jump different kinds of cross-country fences and exercises in the ring to simulate cross-country fences.

I think this is a unique little book, full of useful advice and exercises for cross-country riding that addresses both teacher and student to create confident, happy horses and riders.