Coming Full Circle

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It’s been just a few days shy of a year since I bought Thomas, and the year has turned out to be nothing like I originally expected.

On Tuesday Thomas went to his new home with a young professional. I’d convinced myself over the summer and early fall that I was going to keep him; he was too nice of a horse, and I knew he had so much potential.

But after riding him for five days once I was physically and mentally able, I decided he’s just not for me. Maybe it’s something I communicated to him, but he was still nervous when I went to get on, despite being fine with my friend and Dusty, so that was it.

In the end, with me riding alone most nights, I just didn’t feel it was the right decision to keep trying. If I had more experience with different kinds of OTTBs and green horses and help every day maybe I’d feel differently.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Bear recently and how easy he was at just 3 years old when I got him off the track. He was just the total opposite of Thomas, who’s sensitive, but then fairly simple on the flat. Maybe something happened in his previous life that contributes to his sensitivity, and combined with my distrust of him, it makes for a bad combination.

I feel a little put off by Thoroughbreds directly off the track now, which sounds silly, but this whole year has made me just a little more aware of my own mortality. I also just don’t have the experience, or the time frankly, with travel and also riding and competing Oh So. One thing that I felt was really missing was being able to spend a lot of time with Thomas. When I first got Oh So and Bear I had them at home, so I learned their ins and out and saw them multiple times a day.

I know most adult amateurs board their horses and face the same challenges, but I think Thomas needed more time than I could give him.

Maybe I’ll save for a couple of years until Oh So is ready to retire and then buy something that’s already been started like he was, but I’m just never going to be able to afford a going horse.

It just feels like this year was a colossal waste of time and money, and that sucks. I haven’t had dozens of horses over my lifetime, so I get pretty invested in the ones I have, and none of them have ever not worked out in this way. It’s a weird and demoralizing feeling, to be honest. There’s a lot of what ifs–what if I hadn’t come off, was this my fault, what’s he like to go cross-country, how would he have handled his first show? I just didn’t get to experience all that fun baby stuff after the work I put in in the beginning.

But I’m happy he’s found a rider who seems to adore him, and I’m excited to watch their progress. He looked really good when I saw him go with Dusty, and I feel like he’s just on the cusp of being ready to compete this spring; I just kind of wish it was me in the saddle.

People have been telling me, you learn something from every horse, and I guess I learned the hard way what the right horse is for me.

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Thomas Goes Schooling Again, And I Go To A Show!

The last two weeks have been pretty crazy busy and exhausting. It all started at the American Eventing Championships at Tryon where I drove 7 hours with our intern and put in four 15 hour days before driving 7 hours home.

It’s not often that I get stressed on assignment, but I can say I was extremely overwhelmed and fatigued by the end of each day with 21 divisions plus trying to pay attention to other interesting people. There just wasn’t enough time or manpower to get to everyone. I made a dozen or more trips up and down the media center steps every day, so I can say I’m getting better at that with my ankles!

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A rainbow at Tryon!

I went to the barn when we got back on Monday and was unpleasantly surprised to find Oh So with a nasty puncture wound on his upper leg.

Continue reading “Thomas Goes Schooling Again, And I Go To A Show!”

Thomas Goes Schooling!

On Sunday Lisa and I took Thomas to Hunt Club Farm for an outing with my friend Meghan riding him. I’m still not quite ready to get on him yet because I’m not mounting and dismounting without a very tall water trough, and I’m not as strong or quick as I want to be in the saddle, so Meghan’s been riding him and doing very well.

He certainly enjoyed posing for some impromptu photos and did very well over some of the little intro jumps on cross-country. He seems to have no problem with water, faux ditches and banks, and that’s the hard stuff! He just needs to trust his rider over the actual jumps without looking at them first, but we’ll get there.

It’s definitely an interesting but fun experience to be an owner on the ground. I get to take pretty pictures of my horse and use my skills to capture his personality, which never gets to happen when you’re on them!

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Back In The Tack!

About 10 days ago I decided to get back on Oh So, and so far it’s been going better than I expected. The surgeon didn’t exactly say no, he just wanted me walking 100% first and asked if I could wait until the end of August. I stifled a laugh. If I wait any longer I won’t be able to get to any shows this season, so the sooner I can start the better!

I’d say I’m about 85% back to normal and I just tend to get stiff walking if I’ve been sitting. My range of motion and strength is not quite there yet, but I feel fairly normal when walking once I’m loosened up. Going down stairs is a bit of a challenge, mostly due to calf pain and some pain/stiffness on the inside of my right foot, and that’s been manifesting itself when I ride too.

There were no fireworks or fanfare on the day I got on. In fact, no one was around but the barn owner’s son, who was working on his car. But at about 12 weeks since my accident I wanted to at least try to get on and see what happened.

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Book Review: New Track, New Life: Understanding And Retraining The Off-Track Thoroughbred

This review originally appeared in the July/August issue of the Chronicle’s Untacked.

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New Track, New Life: Understanding And Retraining The Off-Track Thoroughbred

By Kimberly Godwin Clark

This book came across my desk at exactly the right moment. I’d just picked up my new off-the-track Thoroughbred and was excited to start his retraining. I’ve brought along two other OTTBs in my life—one straight from the track who was quite simple and sweet, and the second who came to me with walk, trot, canter and knowledge of basic jumping, but after reading Kimberly Godwin Clark’s book, I realized there was a lot about the breed that I didn’t know.

Clark has galloped, trained and owned Thoroughbreds for 30 years and has been promoting them for adoption since 2007, both on her own and through her non-profit, Thoroughbred Placement Resources, so she brings a wealth of detailed knowledge.

Before I bought my OTTB, the only time I’d ever been to the track was to watch a race on a summer evening, so Clark’s step-by-step description of how the track works was extremely interesting. She describes the details of everyone’s job at the track, what kind of tack your OTTB wore, and how they were ridden and trained. She then walks the reader through a first trip to the track and what to expect—researching the horse online before you go, etiquette in the barns, evaluating a horse for sale, and how to make an offer.

In the second half of the book, Clark offers advice on everything from how to start a recently retired race horse to what to feed, how to deal with turnout, behavior modifications and when things go wrong.

If you’re new to OTTBs, it’s always a good idea to get help from an experienced person. But before you embark on the journey, New Track, New Life is an educational read to help you have a positive experience with your new partner.

A Thomas Update And Good News From The Surgeon

I haven’t said much about Thomas since my accident, mostly because I’ve only been able to see him a handful of times on the weekends, but also because I’ve had a lot of thoughts floating around in my ahead. Unfortunately I’m a chronic over-thinker, as evidenced by my last post, which is the worst thing I can be in this situation.

I’ve found that just not thinking about him is helpful, which sounds awful and is completely against my nature! I can’t control what’s going on with him, which is hard, so I just don’t even think about it. But I know he’s in good hands with Dustin and Michelle Craig at WestWind Farms in Upperville, learning all about the world.

He’s gone to a couple of local schooling facilities with a group of horses in the trailer and by all reports has been getting on the trailer fine and standing to wait his turn and when he’s done.

 

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Thomas on May 21.

Continue reading “A Thomas Update And Good News From The Surgeon”

Finding A Purpose

I just passed the three-week mark since my accident, and I’ve had (way too much) time to reflect on what happened and what’s next.

Since I began riding as a kid, I’ve never gone more than two weeks without being on a horse, and now I’m looking at mid-July for the next opportunity.

Unable to weight-bear for now, I feel like a totally useless blob. I’m unable to groom (except one side of the minis!) or bathe the horses, or mess around in the barn. I can’t exercise, go shopping, visit with friends in person or travel.

I feel like I’ve lost purpose without riding in my life. Each day blends into the next, and I just feel like I’m wasting time. All I’m able to do is work, then stare at a screen some more, either reading a magazine on my iPad or watching TV. I’ve taken to eating my lunch outside and sitting in my wheelchair in the barn while watching my mom feed and turnout the horses but that’s all the horse time I’m getting.

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Highs and Very Low Lows

Sitting here on a hospital bed in my parents’ living room, I really can’t believe what’s transpired over the last four days.

I just got back from a great trip to Rolex on Sunday night and got a text from my dressage  trainer telling me she could make a rare trip to my barn to do lessons with both horses on Wednesday afternoon.

I finished work early and was super excited to have a lesson with Thomas, considering we’ve had one flat lesson since I bought him.

I decided to do him first, and did out usual routine tacking up and going out to the arena. I haven’t been lunging him a lot lately, and he’s been going well under saddle. We’ve had two outings, one more successful than the other, but that’s OK.

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Out And About (And An Abscess)

Spring has finally spring in Virginia, and I’m ready to start competing and getting Thomas out and about!

After my last post, I took Oh So to Morven Park to see Dr. Adams assuming we’d get his hock or stifles done.

Upon flexions though, he was very good from behind and mildly positive on his right front ankle. He had some mild inflammation there that Dr. Adams thought was some minor arthritis, so we injected that and a few areas in his back behind the saddle where he palpated a bit sore.

The good news is his left front ankle and the areas around his windpuff and deep digital flexor tendon sheath flexed 100 percent negative! Dr. Adams admitted he was a little nervous to see him considering our last appointment he was not feeling positive about his overall soundness and ability to continue competing, but he said he looked better than ever. He’s gained 100 pounds since August too thanks to a good feeding program from my barn owner.

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Valerie Durbon Photo.

I entered Morven Park with the assumption that it would be wet and we might not be able to run cross-country, and unfortunately a ton of rain on the Friday before meant the footing wasn’t going to be ideal for him. Any other year I would say the footing was pretty darn good for Morven, especially by the time I would have gone on Sunday, but there were too many spots of concern on course for Lisa to want to risk him.

I’m bummed it became an expensive combined test, especially considering we were leading after show jumping!

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GRC Photo.

He was a little up as we headed down to the dressage warmup with atmosphere, but as soon as I picked up the reins he went to work. He was a little tight as we got to the main arena and started trotting around, but I tried to stay as relaxed as I could. He can be forgiven for being a bit tense for our first outing of the year! Unfortunately he got me again in our free walk and anticipated the medium walk and jigged, so there will be some dressage schooling shows in our future to get that under control again.

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GRC Photo.

I was remarkably relaxed for show jumping, and we warmed up quite well actually. He was jumping big and I wasn’t picking! The round was quite good–no picking, no rails and he got all his leads because I wasn’t ducking. I was really pleased considering we’d had a bit of a tough lesson the week before. Not bad, just the fact that he didn’t want to sit and rock back over the jumps. We ended up putting some ground rails in front of a few of them to make him wait, but I counted on him backing off the jumps at the show.

I decided against entering MCTA in May because everything is on grass and it can often be wet. Such is life these days for us. Instead, I’m going back to Morven to try my hand at a recognized dressage show.

The last time I did a recognized dressage show I had Palais and was in the junior division, so it will be interesting to see how we stack up. I’m expecting it to be tougher for sure, but maybe we can win a TIP Award?

We’re doing First 2 and 3. I’m hoping two tests in a day will get him a little more rideable in the ring. If that goes well there’s a recognized show at Loch Moy in June that would be fun to try.

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Not sure what’s going on with my leg here, but it’s not slipped back, so that’s good! GRC Photo.

Next up for us though is the CDCTA schooling day on Saturday and the Loch Moy starter trials next week.

Thomas has been going well, but unfortunately at the end of March I felt some funny steps from behind. I did a couple of days of bute thinking it was because he had run around a lot one day when I was there, and then he came sound and had a great lesson with Lisa that weekend.

My farrier came on the 29th and he was sore on his left hind foot and heel in particular, but the farrier thought it was the way his alignment and gait was as he’s been working to correct it.

He was still sound until last week when he was not wanting to walk on it. While I was away at The Fork my barn manager’s farrier came out and found an abscess. I’ve been soaking it this week, and my farrier comes tomorrow, so fingers crossed we can put a shoe back on because I’m home for two weekends in a row, and it’s time to get him off property! He’s also bored and ready to get back to work so I’ve been trying to mess with him in one way or anther every night. We’ve groomed, hand grazed he’s helped me set up jumps in the ring!

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Tiny jumps! GRC Photo.

As far as travel, I’ve since been to the Carolina International and The Fork since my last update. Carolina is always lovely, and the weather was perfect. I got some great photos too, but I was really envious of those who got to ride the training course. The Carolina Horse Park is one of my favorite venues, and I really want to go back and compete.

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The Fork derby field.

The Fork was held at the Tryon International Equestrian Center, and it was my first time there. Let’s just say it was definitely better than driving to podunk Norwood, N.C.!

I’m not sure I totally agree with the main venue’s courses. Many of the lower level jumps were set in the arenas and in a derby field, although I found myself thinking it would be the perfect place for Oh So because you can guarantee the footing will be good! But it just didn’t feel like eventing to me.

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Carolina International.

The brand new three-star course was pretty cool though. It was open and gallopy and the footing felt like carpet. They’ve barely scratched the surface of what the World Equestrian Games’ course will be, and it was exciting to be there to watch it christened. I loved my photos too!

Now I’ve got a couple of weeks until the big one…Rolex!

Here’s a few photos I took of the boys with my nice camera recently. Oh So’s in his ugly phase right now, but once his summer coat comes in, he’ll look great!

Slow and Steady

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Thomas and Oh So hanging.

I’ve had Thomas for just about three months now, and we’re slowly making progress in his re-training.

He’s proven to be very willing, but also a little weary of new things, so we’ve had to be creative in introducing him to jumping and just going slow. I feel like we should be further along at times, but then I have to remind myself I’ve only had him for three months. We’re still learning to trust each other, but we had a good breakthrough in my lesson last Thursday.

After initially teaching him to pick up his feet and actually jump (where he was a little oblivious to the whole thing and happy to do it) he’s now realized that it can sometimes be hard and scary, so I’ve been working on keeping him straight to canter and trot poles first, then just trotting to small verticals with a ground pole or cantering tiny cross rails.

I’m still trying to decide whether he’s spooky or just scared of/inexperienced towards random objects like the flower boxes or blocks in the ring, so I try to move stuff around a few times a week. Sometimes even just trotting between two sets of standards that have boxes can cause him to spook or fall in on a circle if he thinks he’s being aimed at something, so before we pointed him at a jump with something under it, Lisa suggested we try lunging him over things.

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Oh So schooling a few weeks ago. 70 degrees in February!

I have plenty of practice with that since I used to jump my minis in hand all the time! We set up a few things, and I led him over them for a couple of days, then she came for a lesson, and when we aimed him at things, he went! We ended up doing a little course of trot jumps with blocks under them, and he was very good.

I’ve never used that type of training technique, but I’m thinking it’s going to be useful when we start to introduce cross-country jumps.

I’m just still learning to trust him and be firm enough with him, but also sympathetic. I’m a little frustrated that I can’t afford as many flat lessons as I want because most of my budget is going towards jumping lessons with him and Oh So as I took towards trying to compete a bit this spring. I haven’t taken him off property yet, which is making it difficult to get a flat lesson.

I had Heidi come out once, but she doesn’t travel much, so I feel a little aimless, and I just don’t want to mess him up or slow our progress. The most important thing she said is that we insist on bend now, so I’ve been working with that, and it almost immediately improved his right lead canter departure. He gets it on the first try almost every time now. But now going left he sometimes gets the wrong lead, which Lisa says is a common thing while training an OTTB.

The left side is obviously the most difficult right now, and he seems to breathe a little heavier or hold his breath going that way, either because it’s hard or because he’s focusing.

I think I’m going to have to start doing some reading to remind myself of the basic training scale and come up with some exercises, but it really helps to have eyes on the ground to give me something to work on and look forward to and to come up with a program. I also hate doing flatwork in my jump saddle, but a dressage saddle is not in the budget right now. I know I need to trust that I can do this, but being the perfectionist that I am, it’s really hard to do that.

On the ground he’s starting to trust me a little more, and now walks up to me most times when I go to get him in the field instead of running away. He’s very food motivated and has expensive taste, so it’s carrots only right now!

We just had a moderate snow storm, so we’ll have to keep waiting to get him off property until I can ride a few days in a row and it’s not crazy windy and cold. Timing is everything!

Oh So has been feeling a little stiff from behind, so I’m going to have him injected next week. My guess would be stifles, but we’ll see. Don’t tell him, but he’s entered at Morven in the novice the first week of April! Unfortunately I decided not to enter Morningside this week for a combined test because I’m not sure when I’ll be able to ride again, but we’re hoping to get to an indoor this weekend if the snow hasn’t melted.

Since my last post I’ve been to Red Hills, which was a lovely warm weekend in Tallahassee, Fla. It’s such a different vibe there because the local community is so involved, so there are  a lot of clueless spectators, but it’s great to give the sport more exposure.

I’m off to one of my favorites next weekend, Carolina International, then The Fork.

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Beauty at Red Hills.