Sunday, November 30, 2008
Gogo's had her week off, and it feels like we're getting a brand new, fresh start. I felt this way last year when I gave her a brief winter holiday and then got myself into gear for the new year. I really like it! I lunged her today in the chambon, and man she was FORWARD! I loved it! Usually you have to give her reminders to keep going forward and using herself, but today she was trotting around like a million bucks and it felt great to just stand back and watch her go. She was moving GREAT. I also finally got out the hole punch and punched about a zillion holes in my chambon.... nope, even on the top hole it was STILL too long! Alas, I still had to tie knots in it, how ghetto.
But yeah... it really felt great. It's kind of hard being at a new barn - everyone does things a little differently at each barn, and every barn has their own little cult thing they do that YOU are the outcast if you come in and do it differently. Here, they have a really ridiculous blanketing schedule (and I thought I was crazy about blanketing), and I don't have the same kinds of blankets they do, so I feel a bit weird about her currently wearing her turnout sheet INDOORS... which I have to say, to be fair to myself, is only because the stable sheet I ordered her never came in on time. Also, everyone here wears shoes, and has some big name fancy farrier doing the horses. The typical reaction to a healthy bare foot is "Oh my GOD! Those heels are so low, those feet are so SHORT! Isn't she CRIPPLED??" and I feel fine explaining all about this to normal folk, but to my employer? If she asks about it, I'm going to feel a bit awkward. She's the one that's supposed to be teaching ME stuff. Hopefully Gogo will be prancing around in front of Vicki the way she was for me today in the arena, and she'll go oooooooo that horse NEVER will need shoes!
Ohhhh the stigmas of being in a barn full of DQs. I've yet to directly be scolded for my odd ways but I'm sure it will come. Hopefully it won't be too awkward. Once I'm here for a bit longer I'm sure it will be fine.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
But what DO I want to do for a living? I love the breeding business, and I love eventing, and I love nutrition, and I love horsey feet. I don't really like riding other peoples' horses and I really don't like training people either, so I know that much. So... who knows, in other words. What on earth can I do that makes MONEY that involves those horsey things I love most? If anybody knows the miracle answer, let me know.
Also... I'm already really really really excited about SHOW SEASON! And damnit, it's November, which means that because I am poor I will probably NOT be doing any dressage shows this coming winter and spring, or any jumper shows either. I will probably just be pooling my money for events and gearing her again for the AECs, probably at Novice (though the plan is to take her out Training a few times before the year is up). I imagine I'll show her Novice just enough to get our qualifying scores, then bump her up to Training so she's not sleeping around x-country (and stadium, and dressage!) anymore, but still take her Novice at the Areas and the AECs. Having just driven the loooooooooooooooooooooong haul from MI to CT, I'm not sure how the hell we're going to get from here to Chicago, but we'll figure that out when the time comes.
So far the show season is looking something like this:
May 9-10 King Oak Farm H.T. (MA) (Novice)
May 30 Mystic Valley Hunt Club H.T. (CT) (Novice)
Nothing??? Like I'll be able to afford something like Groton House!
July 3-5 Stoneleigh-Burnham School H.T. (MA) (MAYBE... or maybe not)
July 11-12 ENYDCTA/Old Chatham H.T. (NY) (MAYBE... or maybe not)
July 19 Riga Meadow H.T. (CT) (Novice)
August 1-2 Apple Knoll Farm H.T. (MA)(MAYBE... or maybe not)
August 16 Kent School H.T. (CT) (Training)
Sept 9-13 American Eventing Championships! (IL) (Novice)
Sept 26-27 Stoneleigh-Burnham School H.T. (MA) (MAYBE... or maybe not)
October 4 Kent School H.T. (CT) (Training)
October 10-11 Ethel Walker School H.T. (CT) (Novice Championship?? This is where it was held last year)
Ummmmmm I obviously haven't thought this out in great detail already, no....
And now, to bed. Seriously, having Gogo be literally a 16 second stroll away from my cozy bed is a seriously wonderful, comforting thought. I keep getting up and going down there just to say hi to her, just because I can.
Friday, November 28, 2008
I also got to enjoy my horse's amazing set of brains, as I always do when doing out of the ordinary things like trailering for 12 hours a day. She can hop on a trailer, be totally content to just stand there and munch hay ALL DAY, and then when I stop at a rest area to take a walk (where it is ummmmmm illegal to have livestock I believe), she can hop out and wander around with me near the busy highway where there are cars and screaming children and a flight of stairs (yes, we climbed actual stairs today) in order to get to a snowy patch of grass to play in, and she just looks around with interest at everything. Nothing concerns her, EVER! Actually I think she has more brains when we're in an unfamiliar place than when we're in a place we get to see every single day. I really just think she gets bored and her mind wanders. She LOVES getting off at a new place and looking around at everything there is to see.
My horse is awesome. And I can just toss her in an unfamiliar stall in an unfamiliar barn with a stud across the way nickering at her and she's totally happy to just chill out and munch hay and ignore everything around her.
Tomorrow..... Connecticut, and our collective new home.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Hooray fun! I was tagged by Brego's" mommy Daun of "The Eventing Percheron" with the fun little meme "Six things about me." Now, I normally don't do these kinds of things but this seems like much fun so I am going to launch right into it.
- I am a traveler by heart. I can't seem to let this part of me rest while I put more important things before it. In actuality, I think little else matters more than this, save my horse of course. I need to get in a car and go, go and go and go, go anywhere and everywhere, go all the time, all over the place. I would kill to see something new every day. Traveling refreshes me and keeps me sane and whole. When I feel myself start to unravel, all I need to do is get in my car and find someplace new.
- I'm GAAAAAAAAAAY! Okay well you all knew that. I also am engaged to a very wonderful, very stubborn, and very sweet girl who I love with all my heart.
- There is a painting sitting right next to me right now that I KNOW i need to finish, and I just can't find the motivation to do it. This is a part of myself that I loathe. I love to paint, so why don't I ever want to? The duality of my nature isn't something I fully understand.
- I love crabmeat. Snow crab, king crab, STONE CRAB, OH! I die for crab! Close runner-ups on my favorite foods list are egg and bagel sandwiches, M&Ms, and zucchini.
- Somewhere in my heart I am a morning person. I love having the whole day to work with; I especially love getting things done early in the morning. It makes me feel accomplished and excellent and fresh.
- One of my life goals is to see every national park in the United States. I seem to be well on my way.
I Will Jump Sweet Jumps
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Because she has one HAAAAAAAAAAAAIL of a tail. I have nightmares that western pleasure creeps will come in the night and steal it for a fake tail. Tomorrow I need to hack like 5 inches off of it.... because I let it go for a few weeks and literally, now it's touching the ground.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Gogo is getting this week off (or well, last Friday - this coming Sunday). She's been in hard work for an eternity now, and hasn't had more than a few days off in a row for a year now (WOW, time flies!). She's been showing all year round, and the last time I tried to give her time off, well... didn't go too well. She essentially tore Alex's barn down, so much so that I literally had to move her to a different barn and put her back to work instead of giving her the month off that I wanted last winter. Nope, Gogo gets bored, and when Gogo gets bored she finds ways to entertain herself. See the bottom of this post for details! Anyway, so yeah. I just wanted her to have the benefits of a break without the risk of her going totally nuts, so I figured a week would be good to just let her go out and play and be a dirty smelly horse. She got her health certificate for the move today (I went to go get her from her paddock during a snowstorm, and she came running and screaming - she HATES precipitation! She's a wicked witch, she'll melt in the snow you know!), she's getting body clipped on Wednesday, she's getting a dreaded bath on Thursday (I know, a nice Michigan Thanksgiving present now that it's in the 30's... but she's soooo DIRTY!), and we set off early Friday morning. I might take a little time to touch up her tootsies myself, which I am really really really wanting to do.
Here's another dilemma I face.... footing. Now, Gogo has nice feet. REALLY nice feet. Rock hard, bare feet. She tackles any footing I put her on.
But. Last year and summer it was especially nice... I had nice rocky, gravelly trails to ride on when I was out, and all-weather limestone footing in the turnouts and the outdoor arenas as well as abrasive sand indoors, which I think did very good things, not to mention kept them very dry and hard during the wetter seasons, and almost TOO hard during the dry. This past two months I've had her at a place that has cushy, and now very wet grass turnouts, and a soft sand/dirt/dunno what indoor arena to work on. The trails are sort of rocky, but not really, and in all honesty I've only been out on them once - I've done most of my conditioning work in the hilly, enormous back field (greedily reaping the benefits of having real HILLS to work in for the first time in her life!) Now that it's wet and snowy and yuck, I'm starting to get a bit concerned for her feet, not so much for the wetness as for the fact that she's got nothing hard to work on to stimulate wear and growth on those rock-crunchers. And that isn't about to change.... the barn at my new job has a very nice indoor and outdoor, complete with very soft, very expensive rubber synthetic footing - dust free, full of cushion, and horrible for toughening up feet! The pastures and paddocks aren't much better - packed dirt with a tiny bit of grass that turns into sludgy mud near the gates, where I'm sure she'll be walking when she wants to come in. I'm not sure what I'm going to do. Maybe I'll be doing a ton of handwalking on the pavement, just to stimulate some wear and growth. That's not the same as crunching over rocks though. Somebody will have to recommend some rockier Connecticut trails to go ride on when the weather improves.
I wonder if handwalking on pavement will sort of be kind of enough.
Last summer's rock crunching action in the riverbed....
.... which led to THIS!
I know, I know, before you jump on me about the no helmet thing you should know I ALWAYS wear my helmet... except, apparently, for this trail ride. I guess I had a death wish that day. I love how my FEET were in the water and how she's all decked out in western tack.... also, the look in her eyes: "MOM. WTF ARE WE DOING THIS FOR."
Ohhhhhhh, the stresses of wanting the best for my poor lil' horsie's feetsies...
Friday, November 21, 2008
Speaking of long drives, it's time to leave for Ohio. See you in a couple of days!
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Well. In comes crazy trainer lady who excessively lunged my horse to death and claimed she "had to teach her all her voice commands because she didn't know anything except to run." Hmmmmmmm that's not the Gogo I remember.... anyway, so now we had some lunging issues. I tried lots of things, and some of them helped.
Sidereins: I had issues with sidereins from day one, seeing as before I got her Gogo had already learned to curl her neck away from contact. She never really reached out for them, and I guess most horses wouldn't. Sidereins have a time and a place, and they just aren't really with my horse. I used to occasionally lunge her with sidereins before I got on, and I sort of imaged it helped her accept my contact a little, when she would go around fighting me for an hour before she finally released.
Neck Stretcher: Well, at the time I thought this was a godsend, and I think it might have been a good thing for at least me, at least temporarily. When she was wearing it I stopped thinking about her head so much, and was able to fully focus on riding her back to front instead of worrying about whatever she was doing with her head (a huge problem of mine.... one I am still trying to overcome). HOWEVER, the problem still remains that the horse can't really stretch forward and out with this.
Breaking at the 3rd vertebra.
Pessoa: Or well, I used the Faux-ssoa... the Scheniders version that I got for $25 instead of $150! I used it a lot last winter, and since that time up until recently was using it and it alone for lunging.
From Sustainable Dressage, which is a very informative site:
"During the Pessoas' total reign in showjumping in the 80's and 90's many "inventions" came from their barn. One was the Pessoa Gag Bit, which I speak of elsewhere, which is a combination of a driving bit and an elevator gag, and then the Pessoa Training System used for lungeing. This system is supposed to get the horse to stretch down AND engage the hindlegs forward, and thus be good for the back. I have seen it at work several times, and whilst it does get the horse to lower his head on the lunge, the most glaring effect of this contraption is that it succeeds in jabbing the horse in the mouth with each push of the hindlegs. It has a semi-intricate pulley system that via a lunge-girth connects the gaskins with the mouth. I guess the rope is supposed to encourage the horse to grasp forward with the hindlegs as it tightens around the hindleg and at the same time limit the height of the head. But which is more sensitive - the skin on the hocks or the mouth!? The horse will be encouraged to roll down but not stretch to the bit, because the bit jabs at the mouth with each step. Now this is mechanical if anything! I have also never seen any horse truly engage in this "system", only go on the forehand and curl behind the bit. It can be adjusted lower (for more stretch) and higher (for collection) but it seems to have very little such effect."
And when I thought about it, wow, that makes sense. And when you look at a picture of it last January....
Hmmmm. Well that's not very classical is it?
Which got me to thinking.... if she's not a candidate for sidereins, the Pessoa is just a bad idea, and the neck stretcher doesn't allow her to stretch OUT... what will?
I found the answer:
Chambon: Of all the lunging tools, I think this is really Gogo's best option for now. "Out of all these things, the chambon is the only one which really works satisfactorily in its true context - lungeing. The chambon is the only device that lets the horse stretch fully forward-down-OUT." And this is exactly what Gogo needs.
"The function is as such:
As the horse lifts his head and pokes his nose, tensing his back, the device applies because the strings are pulled taut. The distance to the raised head (poll) becomes longer than in a relaxed state, and the poking nose uses up its share of the string as well. So the string pulls on the mouth, but not only that. It presses the crown piece down. Any attempt in the right direction is rewarded instantly. If the nose is dropped there is a release, and especially, if the poll is lowered there is a release. In a full stretch forward-down-out the distance from girth to poll to mouth is still shorter than when the horse has inverted. The device is slack."
A device where she can stretch forward and out, releasing those tense back muscles. Huzzah! Here's another great website on it:
I'm hoping that judicious use of this tool will help her on days between harder dressage work when I want to release, relax and strengthen her back and topline. Given her history, she automatically wants to be a little behind the vertical, and I've found this is eliminating that problem on the lunge. It's certainly not a cure-all, but it's one more thing I can add to my classical-y dressage toolbox.
And here's Gogo after lunging playtime:
She had never seen a tarp before this day, I realized, so I thought I would see what she would do with it. In usual Gogo fashion, she didn't even bat an eye at it, walking over it or wearing it. I even put it on her head and she just lowered her head and sighed like, "Oh mother. Can you please stop humiliating me now?"
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
September arrived, and it was off to the AECs at Lamplight! To start, the drive was awful!! It was almost 9 hours for us, BLEUGH... and through THE most boring scenery - Ohio, Indiana? BORING, and full of CORN... and nothing else. We had a hair-raising moment when somewhere on the freeway my truck said "55 miles til empty" and then continued to drop at an alarming rate, while we kept passing exits with no gas stations.... for almost 40 miles!! We finally got to the end of IN, and asked where the nearest gas station was, because my car said "7 miles til empty" and the toll attendant said 12 miles ahead.... ummmm not going to work! We were informed that if we pulled off at a closer exit there was a gas station 4 miles down the road.... well one mile down the road the car read "0 miles til empty" and then managed to coast on fumes with the trailer for the next three miles, THANK THE LORD... we also unloaded Gogo there and got pictures of us going, WTF, where are we?
Lamplight is a totally gorgeous facility, and we were in a tent with temp stalls that were actually really really nice. Gogo had made friends with the horse next to her because she was in flaming heat still... this will come into play later. She was just GORGEOUS for dressage - shining, perfect braids, perfect quartermarks, gleaming socks, sparkling hooves, and I looked all right myself. Well, she didn't do anything the day before but stand in a trailer for like 11 hours and get handwalked, so she was HOT TO TROT. AND in heat. A lot. Given those things, she went into the dressage ring after an hour warmup not feeling nearly as calm and steady as she normally does - actually I felt like she was about to jump out of her skin! The test was solid 7's (and only one eight.... so sad) until our second canter, where at the end of the circle she heard a horse whinny, did something similar to a dolphin-back buck, hit the reins really hard and threw her head up Prix de Villes style, which caused her to break to the trot two letters early. Yep, got a 2 on that movement! We still somehow managed to scrape a 33.0 out of it, which is an okay score, but not very competitive at the AECs. Had we gotten a 7 or 8 or so for that movement, we would have gotten a 29 or 30... as it stood with our 33.0, we were tied for 9th after dressage. My division (Beginner Novice Horse) had 22 or 23 people in it.
X-country followed the next day. I had recently befriended a Mikmar via one of my old coaches from school, so I was interested to see what wildwoman would do it with it on x-country (I had jumped in it, but not out in the open). The weather was GORGEOUS (remember this now, it will change later) and the course was technical and maxed out but looked exciting and fun. The first few fences were straightforward and relatively simple, and the latter part of the course included two water complexes, one with a jump a few strides out of it (something she's never tackled before), a ditch to a feeder combination (something she's also never tackled), and an up bank to a cranker of a turn right - which I was worried about because she pops her shoulder left. We were dressed to the nines and Gogo warmed up VERY well, and I was thankful that there were two x-country jumps in the warmup... sometimes it takes her several jumps before she settles in, so it was helpful! She left the startbox very well and was awesome over the first few jumps, tackling the sawmill jump even - which killed a bunch of people - went through the water like a champ, tackled the combination, the water, the ditch combination, AND the tricky up bank and tight turn! AND we even came in sort of close to the optimum time (probably because I was hauling on her face the entire time... the Mikmar apparently wasn't enough O.o). It felt like magic. That perfect, perfect run moved us up from a tie for 9th to 7th place going into stadium. The forecast was for rain, but as we braided her up that night we didn't hear a thing about it, so we were hopeful it would hold off.
And we were LUCKY! Friday morning dawned cloudy and gray but dry-ish, and the course looked awesome - very turny but not ridiculous, very nice fences, one two stride combination to finish at the scary Succeed fence that Gogo already tackled once at Hunters Run. She was GORGEOUS and I got a ton of compliments on how sexy she looked in her light blue, and she warmed up very well. Her course was excellent - but this time, the Mikmar was too much! Bit of head tossing, oops. The girl that went right after me fell off in her round, moving me with my clean round up to 6th (and into the prizes!!) I SHOULD have moved up further, because everyone and their mom in front of me crashed into rails that WOULD NOT fall down, but alas, I did not. Literally, several people hit rails that made the whole jump shake, but the rails would NOT fall down! It sucked for the first place person (who I beat at Hunters Run, btw!) because she did have a rail which knocked her out of first into 2nd. The victory gallop felt amazing... and I won a shit ton of prizes like $250 cash, $100 for Bit of Britain, Mckinnon Ice Horse boots, SSG gloves, some supplement called APF, and a box of Flair nasal strips. Sweet!
The one thing that kills me though? If we had scored a 7 on that one movement instead of a 2, I would have finished in 2nd place. Had I scored an 8, I would have been in 1st. D'OH!
And as for the weather? well, it was dry up until right after the Beginner Novice riders finished their rounds... and then the skies OPENED and it POURED for the rest of the time there. For once in my life, I was GLAD I was in BN, because the rest of the riders had to do their work in the POURING, POURING rain, and the upper levels had to actually finish their rounds as a combined test. The Chicago area got 8-10" of rain that Friday, and then Hurrican Ike rolled in and dumped MORE rain on them. We left on Sunday, and had a horrible, stormy trip back, including getting rerouted onto another freeway because our freeway FLOODED and closed because a dam broke somewhere. Yikes...
GO CRAZY MARES! Now, it's onto this current blog and looking to the AECs next year. We're going out Novice and then taking a stab at Training later on in the summer. I'm looking at the snow on the ground and thinking.... I can't freaking wait!
Yep, still stalling! Blogging is way more fun than packing.
January of 2008 saw my mare move from The Looney-Bin (the nickname for Alex's barn) back to the barn she had been at over the summer, just for two or so weeks. We then trekked back to the college. I essentially started working with her over again from scratch, doing lots of lunging with the Faux-ssoa (the cheap-o Pessoa system that I got from Schneiders for like $30!) and starting slowly under saddle again with lots of stretching. She became loads more balanced, especially in the canter. I had three goals - break 70% (which we did at a later event), show First Level (which we did in the spring), and qualify for and place in the top 10 at the American Eventing Championships (which we also did). But more on that later! That spring, we were enrolled in the Competition Dressage class, which meant dressage lessons twice a week plus competitions, and were also taking jump lessons once a week, from January through April. The only really awful thing that she did all winter that was a leftover from her poor training was some small rearing and one flip-over incident under saddle, which was pretty bad. We were both just fine, and she actually hasn't ever reared since, or even offered to... so maybe that was the lightswitch in her head.
Gogo's feet, less than 6 weeks after the horrible messy accident (she was never lame either!):
We showed in the March Lake Erie College Winter Dressage show, and did Training 3-4 and First 1-2, Gogo's first time out at First Level. Wouldn't you know it, my mare that couldn't possibly stand to have her mouth touched less than 8 months before was Reserve Champion at First Level her first time out, with another 69.5%! (See what I mean when I say I can't break a 70%?)
We also did some schooling jumper shows, the ones held at Lake Erie, and even a C-rated hunter show once (she ain't no hunter if you know what I mean!) She even placed in a few of the 3' classes and was a star in the hack (we were robbing... we figured the judge didn't like that this not-hunter horse had a pulled and banged tail... whoops).
Gogo's ribbons from the March dressage show:
Gogo at a jumper show, baby 2'6" division:
Gogo in the hack... she looks like a nice ride to me, damn judge!:
The crown jewel of the winter season was SUPPOSED to be Lake Erie's Dressage Prix de Villes in April. We were all set to clean the crap up; our high team consisted of three of my other friends riding First, Second and Third levels. And the best part? Our team was named LEC's That's What She Said. THE best team name ever. Alas, things don't always go as planned... not only was the judge REALLY REALLY nasty tough, but Gogo came into heat like I've NEVER seen before during that weekend, in large part thanks to one of my teammmates being a big horny stallion who was stalled two stalls away from her and who talked to her nonstop. She was CRACKERNUTS that weekend, and we placed in two of our three classes, but only just. We had been getting between 66-69% all the time, and our best score at the Prix was barely a 60% :( I think we deserved better scores, because the parts when she wasn't exploding were really nice. We got a few 2's and 3's because she did some really awful head-tossing and plunging about, which she had never done before. Our team STILL did manage to come in third in the team competiton. Here's a quick clip of First 3:
Not bad huh! I should see if I can get some video up of the Waterloo show for comparison. Trust me, it's scary.
Things were going great. I had some problems after I left for three weeks in May to go for a study tour in Costa Rica (also very awesome), and she lost some condition during that time. She did a Novice combined test at South Farm in early June and won that with a 26.0, then went on to her first Beginner Novice event of the season at the Encore H.T. in Ann Arbor, MI. She grew up that weekend... we rode for an entire hour to warm up for dressage, were ready to go, and the horse before me was in the ring.... then BOOM CRASH! Giant thunderstorm out of nowhere. UGH! She stood in the trailer still tacked up with my non-horse mother for an HOUR while I was in the tent with the officials, who decided that the remaining 5 dressage rides would go that afternoon, and then the stadium (which was slated to run that afternoon) would be run the next day directly before x-country. We had less than 10 minutes to warm up, and the judge was judging us as though we were riding First level or so (everyone at the show scored low under her), and it was POURING RAIN, but somehow she came together and was in first after dressage with a 39.5. (yes, mucho de low scores!) We had an uncharacteristic rail in stadium, and had a great x-country run, finishing in 3rd instead of 1st (d'oh!).
Our next event was at South Farm, and it was by far the greatest. We had an AWESOME dressage test and scored a 22.6!! Our x-country had a few bobbles but was still clean, and we had ANOTHER rail in stadium, but still finished 1st with our score of 26.6! I got to thinking that something might be wrong, seeing as she had also started to lose a lot of weight and didn't seem quite right. A trip to the Equine Specialty hospital showed that she had the very beginnings of hock arthritis.... UGHHHH!!!! And I had been SO careful. It probably had something to do with crazy training lunging her in tight circles every day, and her old owner making her grossly obese too... ack. Well, some Adequan and Cosequin later, and we were back showing. We went to the Hunters Run H.T. in Metamora, MI (just half an hour from my parents' house, and where I did my first ever x-country school on Metro), had a dressage score of 33.0 (the first time we weren't in first after dressage... we were in 3rd!) and moved up to second after a blisteringly fast x-country run (speed time was 4:03... our time? 4:03), and then when the person in front of me pulled a rail in stadium, we won!
Soaked after our dressage test at Encore:
The week after Hunters Run was the Erie Hunt & Saddle Club H.T. - yep, the same one she gave me a concussion at the year before! We had a 32.5 in our dressage and were in second, less than a point behind the leader (and should have scored higher... on our test of 7's and 8's I had a really nice walk transition that scored a 5 with the comment of "Prompt transition! Cut corner." WTF?), had the BEST x-country run ever (she got over her horrible phobia of ditches and was now doing them like a pro), and had a great stadium round too, finishing in 2nd on our dressage score.
So now, I was overqualified for the AECs, and was set to go to the Area VIII Championships at South Farm. YAY! Welllllll, the thing about Gogo is she has a great sense of humility, and know just when to deflate my ego when it's too huge for my own head. We were in 1st after dressage, as usual, with a great score of 28.5. All set to be the Area VIII BN Champions, I thought. It's in the bag! And then, on x-country, Crazy McPsychopony gave me a wild ride... bolting, no steering, no brakes, trying to run out at everything for no real reason other than she was going too fast in her mind to possibly bother going OVER anything. We wrestled our way around the first 5 fences, and then came to the teeny-tiniest, most boring log on course. Crackers MgGee then turned into a pretzel, bulged her shoulder our, and went rocketing right past fence 6... UGH! I turned her back around, made it over just fine, and then she was PERFECT the rest of the course. PERFECT. So convinced was I that something HAD to be wrong, I withdrew from the rest of the competiton, but no, the next day she was her regular old cheery self. Mares.....
But the AECs were still ahead of us, and I turned my sights on them. It was my year-long goal to qualify and attend, and top 10 if I could. But I'll post another blob on that later... it's getting too long here to do it!
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Anyway, back to where we left off. New Zealand! It was an amazing journey. My roommate of the past four years also went with me, and I couldn't have asked for a better travel buddy. I didn't get to ride much when I was there, but we did take a couple rather terrifying flat-out galloping trail rides through the En-Zed brush. I have about 83727495934729299492021910 amazing pictures from all the tramping we did, but I'll just leave you with one of my many favorites:
Wow. And by wow, I mean HOLY FREAKING GOD. It really was the trip of a lifetime. We saw (and tramped in) all 14 national parks, and it ain't easy getting to them. I remember fording an actual river with a rental car once to get to one outside of Wanaka, and then driving through cattle pasture after cattle pasture over cattle grates... on the way back, we actually got stuck IN a herd of cattle while we were driving the car. New Zealand style rush hour...
Back to Gogo. Well, I didn't hear much from my mother, who promised to send me updates all the time. She is extremely non-horsey (this is the woman who told me that it was very important to do a pre-purchase Metro, "in case he's caught founder."), so her updates weren't helpful. I heard things like "she's learning to not be a princess" and "switched from Gro N' Win to Safe and Easy." First off, WE were paying for her grain, and I TOLD her to leave her on the ration balancer. What did she do? Switch her almost immediately without my permission. From 2 lbs of Gro N' Win to 8 lbs of Safe and Easy. WHY. So after a few months of literally hearing NOTHING, I finally got the trainer's number and called her from New Zealand, because I couldn't stand it anymore. What I heard freaked me out - I was told she was stupid, had no work ethic, was spooky and bullheaded, and dull to work around. Now, this to me sounded like the kid in kindergarden who is very smart but feels mistreated by the teacher, so he then withdraws from classwork and social activity instead of flourishing. The teacher then tells the parents that the kid is too stupid for whatever level of work they're supposed to be doing, and demotes the kid to special 'slower' classes. Which makes that kid feel just awesome. The woman also told me that at that exact moment in time Gogo was standing in the aisleway behind her while she was on the phone "with her ears and lip drooping." Now, Gogo was - is - ALWAYS very alert and in tune to her surroundings. She never lets her guard drop, so this was a bit startling to hear. Second, STUPID? No, not stupid. Stubborn, yes, but NEVER stupid. I was worried. Very, very worried.
And it was rightfully so. I got back from New Zealand in late June to find this:
A NIGHTMARE. I watched the trainer ride her at the facility and it was clear that all she had done was lunge the horse excessively, then very rarely get on and try and force her into a frame, which resulted in Gogo learning how to rear and becoming horribly claustrophobic when it came to any sort of contact at all. Her haircoat was dull, her feet were a huge mess, she had ZERO topline muscle down her entire neck, back and rump, she was thin, and she had a dull, zombie-like expression, like she was withdrawing from the world to someplace inside herself in defense. She was skittery as though she thought I might hit her, and she had scarring on her nose from where she had been shanked excessively. (I've NEVER used a chain on this horse save for once or twice when she was learning how to have her mane pulled). I was horrified. HORRIFIED. When I went into her stall when I went to pick her up, the mare that always greeted me at the door was standing in the back of her stall with her head down. She didn't even look up at me when I walked in, nor did she show any emotion at all when I went to pet her. I almost broke down and started to cry right there.
About Gogo's feet: Sherry is a highly-certified AANHCP field instructor. The woman I chose to trim Gogo's feet while I was in NZ was also an AANHCP certified practitioner (who is now a field instuctor too) who ended up doing a rather horrible job with her. I'll have more posts later relating to the title and rating system in the AANHCP and the AHA, but not now. About Gogo's feet, it was partly nutrition and partly the trim, but I wanted to punch the trainer in the head when she smirked at me and said, "See? That barefoot hojo doesn't work. I'd recommend putting shoes on right away." I wanted to slap her and say, well OBVIOUSLY YOU know what's best for horses. I also, on my way out, saw a horse in a stall with a literal MELON-sized growth of proud flesh on one of its legs. It was also skin and bone. "Oh, that," the trainer said. "Well we rinse it off every day." O.O
It was hard. I pulled her then 11-inch mane ("Well, I didn't know if you wanted it pulled" - HELLO she's a SHOW HORSE and she came to you WITH A PULLED MANE, AND I TOLD YOU to pull her mane!), gave her a bath, and immediately switched back to Gro N' Win and as much hay as the barn owner would let me give. She threw me twice in the first week I had her back, once into a huge ditch and the other into the arena fence. She was sluggish, afraid, and explosive. She didn't really start to improve until I moved her back to college, for a lot of reasons really. I had already signed up and paid for a few rated shows while I was still in NZ (because the trainer ASSURED me she would be ready to show right when I got home), so I managed to struggle through those. One was Waterloo July Dressage in MI, and that was pretty awful. The other was the South Farm H.T. in early July, which kind of went better but not so much. She somehow managed a 39.0 on her dressage, and finished on that score in 6th place. She jumped around the stadium course well, but the x-country was prettttttty scary.
But she looked cute! Not every show was a failure - we got our first blue ribbon at Grand Haven Summer Dressage in August in Training 2, winning the class with a 69.3%! The best score I'd ever gotten, holy crap! The other Training tests went all right too, but that one was the best by far.
It still wasn't going too well though... once particular jump lesson in early September nearly ended in disaster when we crashed through a small fence for no real reason. She had been bolting through my hackamore (which had, up until that day, been working very well with jumping), and we were just trotting in to this fence. She randomly just didn't pick up her feet, got a rail tangled in her front legs, and we both wiped out. I tore something in my shoulder, and it's still a bit deformed today and gives me problems from time to time. The MOST exciting and horrible thing that happened to us was at the Erie Hunt & Saddle Club H.T. in late August. My poor parents came all the way down from MI to watch me, and it was their ANNIVERSARY that day too. We trailered out the day before the show, and I was going to school her that evening while they went back to the hotel. I should have known something bad was going to happen when I dropped the butt bar of the trailer, which I had done 9 billion times before in exactly the same way, and she pulled back, broke her halter and almost fell backwards out of the trailer into my non-horsey parents' laps. While I was schooling her, she was being rather horrible, and I started gradually moving to the other side of the field where we were riding. She spooked at a very small pile of non-scary things (on purpose, I think!), bolted sideways, lost her balance somehow and fell.... on my head. I remember a split second of the fall, then there's nothing until a very hazy image of people overtop of me telling me something about where they had taken my horse (apparently, she stood up carefully overtop of me and was immobile, looking down at me like OH MY GOD I'VE KILLED HER.) I remember bits and pieces of the next few hours (and days, and weeks...), I apparently had a very bad concussion. So THAT sucked. And my poor parents spent their anniversary in the hospital eating crappy hospital food and sitting around for hours while their daughter got CAT scans and x-rays. Nice.
The rest of the summer and fall was spend getting her brains back, playing, working some on dressage, and putting weight on her. We went on lots of trail rides, and even went to a fun contesting show where we won like, every freaking class.
We FINALLY started to come together at the end of the year, and won several of our Training Level classes at Lake Erie College's Winter Dressage in November, including getting another 69.9% on Training 2. I just can't break that 70%!
Gogo spent part of winter break at my fiancee Alex's house, which ended up being a HUUUUUUUUUGE disaster. I wanted to give her a few weeks of breaktime, and some time with her girlfriend Polly (another dark bay mare who Gogo LOVES). Alex's barn is a three-stall barn, and our herd of three started off well together, but Gogo started to get bored while out of work. REALLY bored. First, she sliced off a HUUUUGE chunk of her foot while kicking the wall at Polly. So we moved her across the way so she could be in the stall where she couldn't touch anybody. But she COULD reach the huge tack trunk... and over the course of a few days, she repeatedly took her halter off the hook, placed it on TOP of an overturned bucket (more than once), kicked the wall and pushed the enormous tack truck away from the wall, pulled the tupperware bins full of blankets into her stall, broke the latch to her stall gate, squeezed her way around the narrow people-only corridor to the LATCHED grain bins, unlatched them, ate her fill, dragged one of the bins STILL upright into the middle of the barn aisle, and peed on the stepstool. And wasn't sick. We fixed the latch, but she wasn't satisfied. The next day she lifted the gate OFF the hinges, got back into the grain AGAIN, then let herself out into the field and refused to be caught.
Hmmmmmm. We actually dubbed her barn "The Looney Bin" because of all this nonsense. So after a very Merry Christmas, I moved her to a different barn again, and put her back into work. Which leads me to 2008... but that is for another time. As for now, I should probably go comfort the kitten who just had her ovaries ripped out today. Ouch....
When I had to euthanize my last gelding in January of 2006, it was for a lot of reasons - epilepsy, ringbone, and a chronic suspensory issue that was getting worse and worse, just to name a few. He had been barefoot when I had bought him less than two years before, and that quickly progressed to front shoes, then to all four shoes for eventing, then to four shoes with front pads when he went lame, to two regular hinds and two bar shoes in front with special pads and silicone, all of which made him go lamer, and lamer, and lamer. At some point I came across the natural barefoot movement, and wrote it off as something that sounded nice but obviously couldn't work for me - show horses need shoes, horses can be born with crappy foot genes, etc, right? Plus, that Strasser lady was just plain insane (and I still think she is!). Well, the day I put Metro to sleep I pulled his shoes, just to keep them as a memento, and was horrified to see his once beautiful, fat frogs completely atrophied and a quarter of the size they once were, his heels totally contracted and mushy, really mushy. Granted, part of that certainly came from being on stall rest for 8 months, but the rest was in the shoeing. What drove it home for me was that I let my stall-bound critter who had been locked in jail for 8 months loose in the ring for one last taste of freedom before we put him to sleep, and he trotted off SOUND once those shoes were off. The necropsy showed that there was horrible hemorrhaging in and around the suspensory and obviously I had done the right thing, but I just got to thinking, how would this be different today had I opted to try this barefoot hoodoo whatsajigger? Would he be alive still, would he be sound? I vowed that I would never let my next horse suffer like this, and started researching more into the barefoot idea. As it turns out, it was exactly what I had been looking for.
The other thing I had been looking for did not come to me for another six months. I wanted a younger, greenbroke horse who was a prelim candidate, and boy did I have a lot of horses to go through. I e-mailed at LEAST 60 people (I lost count after that) and had no less than 25 DVDs and VHS tapes sent to me. I flew to Connecticut and Nebraska to look at horses. I tried horses near and far. Where was the horse I had been searching for all that time? Not two miles from the farm I was interning at during the summer of 2006! I just happened to find her online, thought "hey, she's close" and went to take her for a spin. She was five, she was grossly obese, she was not a pleasure to ride at that point, but was a far better mover than any of the horses I had seen thus far in my price range, and looked to be very scopey from what I could see over fences. Trouble was, she had NOT been started well - she had been under saddle for about two or so months, but only two or maybe three times a week, so I figured I could reverse the damage before it was too late. The trainer who was working her literally said, "Well it's too easy for her to put her head up, so we're making her put her head down." And here's a link to what I mean by that:
Holy poopsicles! Any of you who know a smidge about dressage know that this is a HORRIBLE way to start a youngster, or ride any horse at all, period! She's an Advanced level event rider too, shame on her. Anyhoo, after a second test ride they suggested I go cool her out by taking her for a hack..... alone. In the corn fields. And she'd never been out of an arena before... EVER. And I was a stranger on her back. I pretty much crossed myself and hoped for the best. And that's what sold me on her - I hacked out there on this 5 year-old who hadn't ever been alone or out of an arena on a windy day with 4-wheelers driving all over the place around us, and she just calmly walked out, sighing and stretching down, even when we almost got run over by a stray ATV. She had the movement to score well in dressage, she was built to have a good gallop, she showed great promise over fences and she had BRAINS and BRAVERY. I was sold. She passed the pre-purchase with flying colors, and then, at the end of July, she was all mine.
There was a lot to work on. First, we had this... ahem, weight issue. Gogo the day I bought her:
She was probably at least 150 to 200 lbs overweight. Several months of dieting and exercise led to this:
Much more reasonable. We moved back to college together for my junior year in September, and I thankfully got to take over her feeding, handling and stall cleaning myself again. Gogo also was shod in front with pads when I bought her, and had huge toe cracks on both front feet. The old owner told me, "Her feet had gotten out of balance," which I think meant "I didn't have her trimmed for 6 months and it was bad." Gogo promptly threw both shoes within two weeks of me owning her, and within two days of each other, and that was the end of that. I got in contact with a trimmer in Ohio named Sherry Eucker, and the rest is history. She did an AWESOME job with her, and I loved how her feet changed. I also took her from a weeny tiny handful of a Nutrena pellet to Buckeye Gro N' Win. For those of you who don't know, it's a ration balancer that essentially is a super nutrient-packed top dress (not an actual grain) that you can feed to easy keepers in order to stuff all their vitamins and minerals into them without overloading them on calories, starches and excessive carbs and sugars. It was magic stuff, and I saw the improvement in her haircoat and feet fairly quickly.
And then, there was the training stuff. She progressed fairly well, and found her balance and steering (and brakes, which we sometimes did not have). I found out that she had a VERY stubborn streak, and was all alpha mare. This is poor Joker also finding out that Gogo is the alpha mare:
We even managed to get our steering and brakes together enough to try our hand at a little unrecognized event at the Elementary level that September. For those of you who don't know, Elementary consists of an Intro walk-trot test, a course of tiny tiny tiny crossrails, and an x-country course of six-inch logs. My roommate Nicole, who was videotaping it, actually thought outloud on the tape that I was going to miss the first jump - it was so tiny she couldn't even see it! We finished in 3rd place on our score of 39.0, which was pretty good considering she lost some steering at the end of our dressage test and almost freaked out when we were attacked by killer bees (not really, but there were an awful lot of bees). We also had one of THESE moments...
Whoo! Special when you get those on camera.
Anyway, she graduated from our Green Beans jumping lesson to cantering small fences and coursework, even doing some lines and scarier fences, skinnies, and some x-country fences. Her dressage slowly but steadily improved, and her transitions became more fluid. Her contact morphed from up and down, rooting and sucking back, to trying to reach out for the bit, although not totally consistently. Wintertime approached, and I was feeling pretty good about where we were heading. We were really making some progress, as punky and spunky as she could be sometimes.
And yet, something was looming over my head and worrying me nonstop. I was headed on February 1st of 2007 to Palmerston North, New Zealand, where I would spend a semester studying abroad and traveling the country. I was REALLY REALLY excited, but I was worried about what would happen to Gogo. I didn't want to just leave her to hang out in a field, she was a spunky 5 year-old who needed work. I had a few options as to trainers to leave her with, and I finally chose one in Michigan that had several off the track TBs and eventing/dressage experience. She was quiet, worked well with the hot horses I watched her ride, and put a lot of emphasis on the care of the critters. I wish I had peeked in on some of the other horses at the time.... the ones I saw were in healthy weights, so keep that in mind for later. The barn wasn't much to look at, but I was promised whatever grain I wanted, however much hay I wanted, and 10 to 12 hours of turnout, as well as 5 days of work a week. Sounded great, although I was still nervous. Whenever I had left my previous horses with someone else for any length of time (never more than a week while I was away), they always did stupid things, like break out of their stalls and gorge themselves on whatever they could find, resulting in things like spending a week in the hospital - it did happen and it's WAY more dramatic than this little blurb states, but you'll have to ask if you want to know more! The only time I had ever left Gogo in someone else's care, it was for less than a week, and she went out in the roundpen one afternoon and managed to get three of her four legs tangled in the panels - EEK. So I was panicked, to say the least, that something would happen to her.
Don't worry, I told myself. She'll be fine.
Readers, I'll leave you with that, as the year 2006 closes. I'll start up again when I got back from New Zealand in June of 2007....