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In Loving Memory...
~ Gogo Fatale ~

6/2/01 - 10/11/11
~ Forever the Marest of Them All ~

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


After that eye-opening picture that Ted took of me at the clinic last weekend, and seeing some video of how my position has deteriorated as of late, I decided I needed a new plan of action. My idea was that instead of focusing on her in the warmup, I needed to focus on ME, and really work on keeping my position classical and correct. I hopped on today for my lesson fully focused on this idea, and I had it in my head very strongly that it would be the perfect idea. And what do you know, I was right.

Focusing on my position almost exclusively had a lot of benefits. First, it got my mind off of the actual warmup itself. Instead of focusing on what she was doing, I was paying complete attention to myself, which gave her time to fuss a little and wiggle a little and settle into herself, without the risk of ticking her off by manipulating her front end. I made it a very stern point with myself that I was going to be as correct as possible, and that meant that there was a solid wall in font of me that my hands could never come behind, which helped a lot when I wanted to 'help' her in the front end with reinplay. Wrong, incorrect, fail. Never the right answer, and I know that. The second thing that focusing on my position did was that the more correct I became, the clearer my parameters for her were, and the easier it was to correct her in a completely benign way. I didn't have to overcompensate for my own body anywhere, and she had no escape route to wiggle through subsequently. I gave her a channel with my legs and seat, and a set rein length, and she bounced between my legs like a pingpong ball until she finally got settled, and then sought my contact out like a perfect girl. And she was EXCELLENT once we got there. I dunno what exactly it is that happens... when she decides she wants to play, that is. But when she does, wow. She is ON and she is perfect for everything we do. She had moments where she wasn't quite as connected as she could have been, but it never felt like it was a resistance thing, it felt like she had slightly out-of-balance moments, and then she reconnected, and that was all. We fluidly flowed between gaits, within gaits, sideways, forward, you name it. It all felt so seamless. Days like today are why I love dressage. Even at the end, we had a stretchy circle that remained full of energy and impulsion, but with her nose almost in the dirt. It felt like riding a giant bouncing rubber ball. It was awesome.

Now, it's time to start completely perfecting our Novice tests. And, well... they're easy. They're REALLY easy. Novice B is pretty much exactly like the Training 3 test. The most important things are the quality of gaits, relaxation, and transitions. We're currently attempting to perfect our trot-canter transitions... more work needs to be done on this. We do them, and we do them well, but they're not as completely flawless as they should be. Transitions, transitions, transitions. So many transitions!

If we keep up this quality of work, I don't think Second level is out of the question by the end of this year.
What IS currently out of the question? Galloping this week. It's supposed to rain... and rain... and rain. For the next, oh I dunno, eternity. So much for galloping this week. We are headed to our second jumper show this weekend, and we'll still have our conditioning walk hack for the coming week, so that isn't all bad.

Oh Gogo, you're the best!!

EDIT: I also wanted to add that I ran at a pretty good clip for 1.75 miles today, and strolling along for another good long way enjoying the scenery, ending with about a 1/2 hour of work. That's a good start! And all the pushups and situps I did two days ago? Yeah... didn't feel that yesterday, but today I'm sore as. I'm such a weakling, I used to be crazy fit and strong!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Something I'm NOT Dedicated To

After my last post detailing how Gogo and I braved the ominous weather in order to do our hack, I spent this evening zonked out in bed instead of going out and running. Granted, I think my body was just telling me I NEEDED some sleep. I've been coming in every night utterly exhausted, and managing to drag myself to my bedtime and crash, not really feeling refreshed when I woke up the next morning. This afternoon, I had complete intentions to take a quick nap after work, then get back up and go running, and then handwalk Gogo for the second time today and groom all the crusty mud off of her(she gets two 20-minute handwalks on her day off, and a good grooming, which she REALLY needed today!), but before I knew it, I rolled over and looked at the clock.... wow, it was just 5:30, how was it now 8:00?!. Time for night check. My daylight was gone. I opted to not do more than brush the excess mud off of Gogo's head and neck while she was eating her nightcheck grain. She at least got one 20-minute handwalk earlier in the day, so that was good. And she did get out for about four hours, so that was also good. Mudball!

In other news, they changed the jumper show on me! It now starts at 8:15am, and they added a Gambler's Choice class to each division. I'm not totally sure that I want to do it, in all honesty. I'm not so great at making up courses on the spot. But maybe! We'll be doing the 3'3"-3'6" this time. Excellent!

And about title of this post... well, it has to do with the whole running/exercising thing. I am so driven to get my riding in, so utterly devoted to my horse and her health and her fitness. But me? Remember the running and the interval training and the situps and pushups challenges? Yeah... haven't been running since early last week. Granted, last week before the clinic I literally DIDN'T have time to go running, because I started work at 4am, when it was dark out, and finished at around 9pm, when it was dark out. I want to give myself Saturday and Sunday off, so I didn't go running then either. And I WAS going to go running today, but I opted for a nap instead. I DID start my situps and pushups today though. Finally. My muscles are VERY tired from all that! But obviously, as you can tell, I can be a bit lazy about it. When I was in NZ, I was running about 5-10km a day and spending at least 2-3 hours in the gym on top of that... working out was what I LIVED for. On the weekends, I tramped through national parks and over mountains and volcanoes for god knows however many kms. The Tongariro Crossing in particular was 18.5kms of scrambling over volcanic rock, which took a solid 8 hours to do. It was easily one of the most amazing things I've ever done.
But whatever happened to that mentality? First off, I think the biggest thing is that I work ALL DAY, and HARD. Riding, mucking, leading, and in general being on my feet ALL day is hard work, and it's very tiring. I don't really get breaks and I don't sit down, other than when I'm in the saddle. And I'm not unfit. I ride a lot, and I am constantly moving and lifting heavy things. I was sort of surprised today when Lynnie came by to get some hay, and dropped one out of the bed of her truck, which was already piled high with hay. She asked me for help, and I picked the bale up with one hand and easily tossed it into place on top of the huge mound of haybales already in the bed of her truck like it weighed nothing. So it's not like I'm not fit and not strong. And I'm not in dire need of losing weight. I'm not overweight by any means - hell, I won't even give myself plump - but I can see a difference in my body, even if it means I'm more normal shaped instead of trim like I was last May. (As a sidenote, I would boycott clothes ALL THE TIME if I a) didn't get cold and b) thought people might look at me weird. I hate wearing clothes!)

I don't really know how to make myself more motivated to really work out hard, except to look at myself in the mirror and berate myself. But that's not really fun either. Any suggestions?

I also just added a new poll to the blog: Which should I do in June, Groton House II or the Heidi White clinic? Vote away!

Gogo says, it's way easier to jump way long and not have to show any bascule. Hunters Run 2008, on our way to our second win of the season.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hard Work and Dedication

Gogo and I, we're working hard. We're carefully shaping and toning our bodies and minds, preparing us for what may just be our best season yet. No, I take it back. For what WILL be our best season yet.

This week, we worked HARD. The level and type of work has been increased and altered, and fitness work is coming more into play now that the weather is changing for the better (even though as I say this, a severe thunderstorm is bearing down on us.... I can hear it coming!!). Last Saturday was our first two-hour conditioning walk-trot hack, with 10 minutes of trot and 1:50 of walking. Sunday she had off, Monday we jumped that fabulous 3'9", Tuesday and Wednesday were productive dressage days, Thursday we did gallop work for the first time, Friday and Saturday were the dressage clinic days, and today was our second two-hour conditioning hack. That's a very solid week of very hard work. Her back was linimented tonight, as well as all four legs and her hocks, and she was wrapped all around and given a gram of bute. Tomorrow, she'll get two 20-minute handwalks and a nice groom. She's almost shedded out!

We are dedicated to keeping this conditioning schedule. Today, it poured. It was gross, gray, yucky weather all morning, and poor Gogo ended up staying out in a downpour for a little while, looking sullenly at me while I worked in the barn until I felt bad and brought her in. The question remained all the rest of the day - will it keep raining? Should I still go hack? When I got off of work at 2:30 (as I usually do on Sundays, which makes them an ideal hack day), it was still on and off, and I couldn't decide. I knew I wouldn't be able to make it out a full two hours tomorrow, and I also knew that if I didn't go today, I'd have to miss this week's hack. So, I went to the bank, waited for the rain to clear, and sucked it up and got on, damn the rain. Amazingly, it held off for me. We upped our trot work to 15 minutes, and she felt fresh and happy. She seemed to understand that this walking had a purpose, and kept marching all the way through. It began to mist and blow as we made our final half-hour approach towards home, but it was no matter. We had braved the weather, come hell or high water, and we did it. She was chipper as could be back in the barn, even though she was angry that I shoved bute down her throat and refused to eat her dinner for a good long while because of it.

We're on our way.


Here's a picture Ted, our 85 year-old boarder, took of me on Friday at the clinic doing no stirrups work. I dunno WHY my leg is a mile in front of me and totally off her side, and the moment was a little awkward, but I think had this been taken a few instants later that it would have been great.

Oh she's the bestest.

On a different note, our show schedule has changed. May is still King Oak Farms H.T. (May 9-10) and Mystic Valley Hunt Club H.T. (May 30), but in June, we're either going to be doing the Heidi White clinic or Groton House H.T. the 26th through the 28th. I'll need your input on that, my dear readers! July remains the same - Old Chatham (which is Area championships for Novice) and Riga Meadow, but there is a small wrench in my plans. It had been my desire to do Riga Meadow as my first Training with her, but as it turns out... they don't run Training! So Novice it will be, I assume! The other thing that really changed was August - I was going to do Kent School H.T. on the 16th of August, but my good friend from high school is getting married on that day, so I'm going to the wedding for sure. Instead, I think I'll end up doing Millbrook H.T., which appears to be a terrifyingly big deal, running BN through Advanced. NOT a good place to move up. So that leaves us with the AECs in September, and then possibly the Stoneleigh Burnham H.T. at the end of September as my first Training. We're for sure doing Kent and Ethel Walker in October though at Training, so look out!

I'm exhausted, and I imagine she is too. Tomorrow, we relax. Tuesday, back to dressage!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dressage Clinic 3/27-28/09 - Sharon Schneidman

The past two days, I've had the opportunity to work with Sharon Scheidman, who came here to do a clinic at our farm. Sharon was a coach for the US Para-Olympic team last year in Beijing, along with having a USDF gold medal, 40 years of experience, winnings in Florida at the FEI level, and more. Vicki was wonderful when it came to this clinic, because she managed to get me the price of two semi-privates for the price of one. Sweet! I found Sharon to be witty, funny, refreshing, very kind, and very insightful. It was really great to hear a different perspective from someone who understands a little bit about hotter, event-type horses - her husband Grant competed with the international USEF Three-Day team.

Friday, Gogo was awesome. Just AWESOME. Awesome, amazing, incredible, beautiful! When I first went to talk to Sharon about her, and discussed some of her major issues, she gave me some really excellent insight into the psyche of an event horse. Vicki has really put an emphasis on decreasing her warmup time so we can get on to improving other things, and I don't disagree with her, but I think at this point that it may not be what Gogo needs. If I get too focused on the warmup instead of letting her just warm up, I can get too picky with her and what she is doing instead of letting her figure it out on her own, and she can get annoyed with me about it. I discussed this with Sharon, and she said something simple: "Event horses just warm up differently than dressage horses. Take your time." Essentially, she described how her husband had told her that the dressage horses he now rides are so easy to warm up as opposed to his event horses, and that the warm up time was cut in half, and it made me relax and feel better. It's not my inability to create a soft, supple horse in minutes, it's her inability to get there that fast just yet. On good days, our warmup time has been cut at least in half from last December or so though, sometimes more. And that was just how she warmed up on Friday - quickly, easily, and quietly, and we went on to perform some of our best work yet. Expressive lengthenings, 10m circles to shoulder-ins, leg yields of all varying degrees of steepness, some REALLY nice canter work, and a million excellent transitions, as well as trying out varying degrees of collecting her and letting her back out. We stretched and came right back, too! I also, for the first time in I have no idea how long, had the chance to drop my stirrups and work that way, and I REALLY felt it straighten and lengthen my position. I had a really classical, upright, straight and correct position last spring, but I feel like I've let it slip, and the pictures I posted will show that my shoulders have rounded, and I'm sitting in way more of a chairseat than I ever want to be. (My camera was around on day 2, which is very sad because day 1 was when I should have had it!!) She felt amazing, supple, loose, and light, and I got off beaming. Sharon said she really liked her, and really thought she could go far.

Well, yesterday was not as great. It wasn't bad, per se, but I was subconsciously trying to manipulate her in the warmup again, I think, and of course because I did that, she was very flaky on the contact for pretty much the entire lesson. It was my fault, Shannon was in my lesson with me and wanted to go for a walk hack before we started to work, but I should have warmed up in the ring instead. By the time we got back, we were 5 minutes late, and I wanted to get right to work so I could make the most of it. Gogo, however, doesn't work that way of course, and while she wasn't BAD, we never got out of our warmup phase. I got zero out of the second session, and that was kind of my fault. At the end, she told me that my take-away homework was just to practice endless, endless, endless patience and the rest would come from that. I told everyone I was going to stay out for a minute longer and do some more trotwork to see if I could get her brains back, and they all left. Of course, I ended up relaxing my shoulders, letting her do what she wanted to about the contact for a few minutes (popping above it and whatnot), and being in general very soft with her, and lo and behold, tada! Perfect horse. We did all sort of varying degrees of leg yields and half 10m circles, changing directions halfway, so we were never on a straight line - always circling or going sideways. Something about that plus me finally relaxing my body made her come super round, super underneath herself and she became super supple. Hooray! Only the lesson was long over. So booo.

No more mister crap position is my take home lesson here! No more roundy shoulders, no more occasional forward legs. I'm going back to my old, perfect position and YOU CAN'T STOP ME! New plan of action: In the warmup, focus on my position only, and kind of just ignore her until she decides that she wants to play. That way, I can take my mind off of wanting to ask her to do more than she is capable of at that moment in the ride, and can improve my position at the same time. I think this will work out just fine.

Today I'm supposed to go on my 2-hour conditioning hack.... but it seems to be raining a lot. :( We'll see how the afternoon shapes up....

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Good Day for a Gallop

To start out, I thought you all should know that it's very difficult to type when the cat has stolen your seat and you are perched on the edge of the bed leaning over to your desk!

After two very successful dressage days in a row - my horse's brain is back!! - it was time yesterday to start gallop conditioning in earnest. Last weekend we started on our walk hacks, which start out at 10 minutes of energetic trot, then 1:50 of walking for a total of two hours. This will build to an eventual 25 minutes of trot, and the remainder of the two hours still being a walk hack. We will do one of those a week, and one aerobic gallop session a week, along with jumping and dressage work. I recently got permission from Lynnie's neighbors to go out and use their big field that they sometimes make hay in. When the growing season gets going a little more, I dunno if I'll still have permission, so I'm going to make good use of it now while the weather is dry and the footing is good! It's a good 15 minute hack down the road to get there, which was a nice warmup, and once there I walked the perimeter of the field once to check for footing. It was PERFECT, so I started off with my sets, as follows:

Walk hack to field
4 minutes trot
2 minutes walk
4 minutes trot
2 minutes walk
4 minutes trot
2 minutes walk

4 minutes 350mpm canter
2 minutes walk
4 minutes 350mpm canter
2 minutes walk
4 minutes 470mpm canter
Walk hack home

As a note for any of you trying this - don't start out with an unfit horse, or a horse that has only been in light work! We've been doing hard dressage and jumping work all winter, and I felt this was just right enough to break a sweat and push her but not get too muscle tired or sore.

And wow. Just... WOW. Her gallop gets bigger every year. She was a little looky and distractable in the trot to start out, but once she settled into the rhythm, she was perfect. Up in the canter, I couldn't have asked for better work. She has so many gears and so much rateability now, whereas before we has stop, go, and sometimes turn (when she was younger). Now, she maintained that 350mpm steady canter in earnest, never rushing down or up the hills, turning with the slightest hint of the question, and slowing exactly when asked. She also loves this saddle, because she did something she never used to do in the other saddle - she reached out and took a contact. A real, solid counterbalance point contact. I felt completely comfortable and effortless in my halfseat because she and I were working together through this comfortable contact, perfectly poised and balances, moving and working together with ease and grace. And when I opened up and let her move out into her 470mpm gallop, let me tell you, there's nothing like it. I'm going to venture a guess that it was probably more like 520mpm and she had plenty left to give, with zero urging on my part, and zero need to ask her to slow. She was completely in control, completely aware of her body, and completely comfortable and taking my contact again. It was so easy, and so easily sustained. Her gallop is twice as huge as I remember it being, and twice as effortless.

At the end, we were wet with sweat and rainwater (it started to rain for the first time in about three weeks while we were riding), and I could feel the trickle of sweat between my shoulderblades, and see the foam on her neck from where the reins and her breastcollar moved against her skin. She was perky as could be, calm and alert, and powerwalked her way back to the barn, confident and happy. She still had more to give. Back at the barn, the work caught up with her, and she laid down and took a nice long nap, and bounced right back up on her feet when the haycart came by, feeling refreshed and with her energy replentished.

Today, she looks great. I gave her a gram of bute just to make sure she didn't have any achey muscles, and fancied her all up for the Sharon Schneideman clinic today. I'm riding in about half an hour, so it's time for me to go! Updates on that later!

I have the most amazing mare. I bought her as a Prelim prospect, but I really think she could go all the way.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

New Saddle Pics!

A few pictures of the new, gorgeous, lovely, amazing saddle:

Not to mention we had a 95% spot on dressage lesson today. After Gogo's small trip to Crazyville, she seems to have rememebered how to lengthen, compress, do lateral work, bend properly, take a half-halt, and reach out well to my hand.

On the other hand, she seems to have taken some of Crazyville to heart, seeing as today she violently lunged at a horse I was leading by over her stall gate and sank her teeth into his haunch, then realized I was right there about to yell at her and flew backwards at warp speed, cracking her head on the ceiling on the way back in and skinning a big piece of her face off. Nice.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Life Is Good!

So many good things have happened in the past three days! I have been a bad bad blogger not keeping you up to date on all these recent developments!

Friday was the dressage lesson I already talked about, and later on in the afternoon, I received an e-mail from my mother about saddles. I've been on the hunt since May for a Prestige Eventing saddle in black, and have had no luck finding a nice used one anywhere. Most places online sell them new for $2500, so I was surprised to get this particular e-mail stating that she had found a tack store called Green Valley Tack that sold them new for $2200. I googled them, and was completely thrilled to find that they were in New York, less than two hours away. I decided to give them a call, and asked if they had any in stock. What do you know? They had one on consignment, 17" seat (perfect), 33cm tree (also perfect), and it was IN BLACK! $1900. No freaking way. What are the odds??

So Saturday, first thing in the morning, I headed off to New York. The drive was gorgeous, through the serious boonies of New York, and the tack store itself was very nice. I also got some new Herm Sprenger knob spurs and - gasp - white gloves, because I feel it is time to graduate to them, finally. I also found the saddle on the rack, and wow.... it was in perfect, amazing, gorgeous condition. I mean, flawless. You could see that the billets, which are long by the way and therefore necessitate the use of a short girth, had been used a bit but that was really all. So hooray! I loaded up my prize for a test ride, and off I headed back to Connecticut. Immediately when I arrived, I hooked up my trailer, groomed my pretty mare, loaded her up, and headed out to the Larkin Bridle Trail, a 10-mile trail that was once upon a time an old rail line, but was abandoned in 1947... I think. We're ready to start out conditioning hacks, and with the excellent, slightly giving but still nice and firm and dry stonedust footing on this trail, it was a perfect place to begin. I LOVED the saddle, and she liked it too. The flap is very forward, but it didn't seem to interfere with her shoulder at all, and she was still striding out for all she was worth. This week's conditioning hack began with a warmup of 10 walking minutes, them 10 minutes of nice, forward trot, and then another 1:40 of walk hacking for a total of 2 hours. Next week, we will up the trotting to 15 minutes, and the week after will have 15 minutes again. The following week will have 20, and so on until we work out way up to 25 of nonstop trotting, with the remainder of the 2 hours at the walk. Anyway, oh the saddle! It was SO COMFORTABLE! My only complaint was that the leather was a bit slick, but hey, nothing a good conditioning won't fix! And oh, the trail was just beautiful.

This place was only 20 minutes away. I'll be going back here PLENTY this summer, I can feel it.

Sunday, I decided to give Gogo off instead of jumping. She seemed a bit tired after her workout on Saturday - took TWO lay-down naps in the morning! - so I figured she deserved the rest. She got a nice grooming and handwalking instead, sweet girl.

And yesterday? Oh, lovely mare! After her morning turnout, I brought her in, tacked her up, and set up two simple verticals in the indoor, just to get a feel of the saddle over fences. Talk about SECURE. It has a HUGE knee block and a big thigh block too, and with the long billets there isn't any bulky girth under my leg, so I felt like, aside from the slick leather, I wasn't going ANYWHERE! After warming up over the little vertical (made of blox, I think it was about 2'), Shannon came in and we progressively raised the other vertical. And raised it. And raised it. And Gogo jumped higher, and better. And better. And better. And before we knew it, she was sailing over 3'9" like she had been doing it in her sleep, all her life. I didn't even realize how high it was until I stopped and got a good look at it. "Higher?" Shannon asked. And I declined, only because I didn't want to tempt fate. Next time! ;)

She was THE happiest clam back in the barn. On one of the approaches to the 3'9", her big-strided self made a very interesting judgement call, all on her own. She got a hair closer to it than I think she anticipated, so instead of risking taking the rail down, she took off a hair towards the left of the jump to give her body more room to open up in the air, and then readjusted her straightness on her own on the other side of the fence. She hates a close, chippy spot and that was where she would have ended up taking off from had she stayed perfectly straight, so I accepted that call as a good one. Instead, she made just enough room for her body that the jump itself was excellent. She's a smart one, that silly little mare.

It just felt soooooooooooo easy. She's gonna jump big sticks, I tell you! Big sticks!

And, on top of that, we made an offer of $1800 on the Prestige, and the lady accepted. I am the owner of a beautiful, almost completely brand new Prestige Eventing saddle, only the sexiest saddle EVER MADE! I'll get some better pictures to post tonight because I am DYING to show it off! This also frees me to sell my old County - any takers? ;) - and, if I can get $500 for it... that's the entry fee for the AECs right there. Good news, good news!


The other two good things that happened? We have a clinic this coming weekend with Sharon Schneideman, and I was thinking about how best to pay for it (dip into my show fund? I didn't want to!) when I was asked the other day if I would trailer a horse going in for a bone scan to the nearby private equine hospital, at the cool charge of $2.00 a mile. Well duh I'll do it! Now the clinic is completely paid for :) And also, I went to the post office at 9pm last night in order to get this into the mailbox for post the first thing this morning:

My entry for King Oak Farms HT!!!!!!! It all begins here!

So the Cliff Notes version of all this:
1) Finally, finally found my new jump saddle, a used Black Prestige Eventing model!
2) Can now sell my old saddle!
3) Just made a chunk of money trailering a horse around and can now pay for this coming weekend's clinic!
4) Had a gorgeous conditioning hack on Saturday, and am really starting to get into our conditioning work now!
5) The entry for our first 2009 event goes out in the mail TODAY!

Life is good.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Humility and Riding the Alpha Mare

Humility, n. The quality or condition of being humble.

Riding a mare like Gogo is a constant lesson in humility. I need to listen to her, really listen, and figure out exactly what she wants me to know about whatever we're doing. On the ground, I am the alpha in this herd of two. She respects me, she submits to me, she understands her place and she allows me to lead the way. Under saddle, it's a different story. We are complete equals. I am not allowed to dictate, I am only allowed to suggest and direct, and it is up to her to take up the slack and follow through on her end. She expects me to hold up my end of the bargain too. If I am ever unfair or too demanding (in her mind, especially), she acts as though she feels slighted, and the ride quickly deteriorates. She constantly reminds me that we both have parameters and rules we need to follow at all times, and when I'm not correct or let my emotions get too into the ride, she shuts down and the work becomes very poor. This situation can be very volatile - sometimes when she starts to lose it, so do I, and the fight can escalate rapidly from there. But if I relax, quiet myself, and let her reorganize underneath me, she comes back around, always. I am never allowed to tell her what to do. I always must ask, and with a 'please.' And I always have to give a 'thank you' too.

Gogo is a difficult ride. She's always been stubborn since the day I've had her, not in a naughty, cranky, misbehaving kind of way, but in the subtle way she uses her body - 'I will stay tight in my neck unless you do X,' 'I will fall apart when you try to bend me right unless I am completely straight and through.' Sometimes, she overreacts to my corrections. Sometimes, if she's not completely accepting of the contact and getting frazzled, and I give too hard of a rein aid, she leaves. She rears, she plunges, she throws her head in the air and she just mentally and physically leaves. Hard corrections never work with her. They need to be subtle, quiet suggestions when she is acting against me, and I always have to wait her out. I think this is why we've had two weeks of not-so-good dressage work. I've been too demanding, I've not been fair enough.... I've been trying to run the show. I've been telling her what to do and not asking, and her message has been loud and clear right back at me - 'You can't make me'. And who am I kidding? Of course I can't. She is an 1100lb, opinionated mass of muscle and ego, and I am a 130lb, 5'7" scrap of a 24 year-old kid who just wants to do right by her.

Some horses you can get on and muscle around until they're good. Rena, the other mare I regularly ride, is just like this. You really do need to get on and manipulate her head and neck to get her to release at the withers, and nail her once or twice with your spurs before she is actually forward. She is Gogo's size and height - a hair bigger, but not much - but she is a brick house and will putz around all day unless you get after her right off the bat. I love riding the mare for how much she knows, but I very much so hate the kick-and-pull feel of it. It's not nearly as dramatic as that, of course, but I do punch her once or twice with my spurs, and I do bend her pretty dramatically throughout the ride, or else she just locks her head and neck, and hangs on you with all her weight. NOT classical dressage. Rena dressage.

Gogo dressage? Polar opposite. If I did this with her, I'd probably find myself trampled on the ground somewhere, and it would serve me right. Gogo is exceedingly sensitive, but not in a hot way. She just has a very, very strong sense of self-preservation, and isn't going to put up with any aggressive-type riding. Yesterday, I hopped on and went into the indoor, because it was raining and, well, who wants to get soaked and cold? I think the problem started with this - she had been so bad in the indoor recently, and so great in the outdoor, that I probably was anticipating poor behavior and was feeling stressed about it. Lesson in humility #1: Read my emotions BEFORE and DURING my ride, always, and SHUT OUT the negative ones. I obviously wasn't paying enough attention to this, but it was clear that right off the bat, Gogo was resistant, with her head in the air and completely overly sensitive to any rein aid I tried to give, in a really bad kind of way. And you know what? I'll admit it, it pissed me off. Why did I let it do that? Because, somewhere in my head, I really want to say, 'Gogo, you're 7 and you've been in training here for four months now. You were SO GOOD a few weeks ago, so WHY can't you warm up that way now? WHY does it feel like it did when we first got here? WHY does it feel like we're going backwards to the way we used to warm-up? WHY can't you just get over it already?' And, you guessed it, the ride spiralled out of control from there. It didn't help that I had immediately gotten off Rena, the knock-around horse, and gotten right onto Gogo, the ask-nicely horse. I feel like I was riding her more like I ride Rena, and everything imploded out from under me. It culminated in a frantic bolt down the long side, her eyes rolling and mouth agape, and when I managed to haul her to a stop at the end, she did two 360 degree spins on her hind legs in a row, and almost smashed me into the wall. This was 30 minutes into the ride. 30 minutes, and we were erasing everything good we had done for the past four days. Completely at a loss and unable, for whatever reason, to let go of my emotions inside, I trotted her back to the entrance of the arena and got off. I then dragged her right out the door, hopped right back on outside, and into the outdoor arena we went, rain and all. After she got done spooking to death at all of the letters in the ring (she hadn't been in there since we had set up the dressage arena), she quieted, and I was quiet too. I gave her a set amount of rein to work with, and sometimes she popped above it, but I didn't move where my hands where at all. If that meant she spent part of the time on a slack rein with her head in the air, it did. And soon, she settled, reached out for my rein and took her herself, on her complete own, and was quiet. Suddenly, we were transformed. Instead of me trying to bring her in to my contact, she took me out to her contact. Her back swung, her topline rippled, we moved together and all was right. We leg yielded, we did transitions within all gaits and between gaits, we were supple and fluid. We weren't completely perfect - coming across the diagonal at the canter, right before I asked her to trot, she took a leaping step forward as though about to do a flying change and got caught in my half-halt. She switched in front but not behind, but neither of us was frazzled. She continued in cross-canter for a minute, just as connected as you possibly could be while cross-cantering, and after it became clear that she was balanced and not about to switch on her own, I quietly brought her back down and she continued on in a quiet way. If that had happened in the indoor only minutes before, all hell would have broken loose. Something about being outside made me quieter and more relaxed, and in turn she responded with, 'Well it's about time lady.' We did another 30 minutes of amazing, quiet, powerful and supple work, to add to our 30 of disaster, and called it a day.

Today, it was freezing and so I therefore rode in the indoor. To say that my brain was just as frazzled at the start doesn't begin to cut it anymore. I did everything I could to just let her have her way, giving her her set length of rein and waiting her out, but 45 minutes into the ride, we were still doing nothing but trotting a figure-8 around the arena with a completely inconsistent contact. I was getting frustrated, fighting myself to stay calm, and of course, she picked up on my internal struggle. While she wasn't naughty, she was clearly letting me know that while I had tension in my body and brain, she was going to, too. What finally worked was that I took an inch or two shorter on my reins, relaxed my upper arms, and instead of giving her a place where she could sometimes not feel any contact at all if she so chose, she was feeling contact at all times, no matter if her head was in the rafters or quietly where it belonged. And then, I forgot that I was riding. I took my focus away from what I was doing and thought about something else. I think I was musing about what exactly I was going to do for the rest of my afternoon when I realized suddenly that my horse was being completely perfect. She was quiet, accepting the contact and reaching out for it, drooling all over the place with a nice, quiet mouth (no chomping or slurping!) and listening intently to whatever I had to say. I just had to completely take my brain out of the picture and stop thinking about what I was doing.

It is hard to accept the fact that, for the most part, what works best is just to let her run the show a little bit. I really do wonder why she just can't get over herself and get to work sometimes, but it just NEVER works to have that in my brain. Eventually, someday, maybe years down the road even, we'll be able to get right on, pick up a long and low contact, be able to come right up when we're ready, and blast into that show ring with only a 20-minute, completely productive warmup. But that's just not now. It's not going to be anytime soon either, I don't think. She'll never get over what the bad trainer who started her did to her face - ripped it off to get her head down, literally, even if that was for only two months - and she'll never get over what the REALLY bad trainer did to her face while I was in NZ - ripped it off so hard that it taught her to rear and flip herself over. And I can't blame her for getting stressed and claustrophobic about the contact when I try to take her in as opposed to her taking me out. She is sensitive and completely focused on her own safety, comfort and well-being, like any good alpha mare would do. And as long as I am quiet, forgiving and full of humility, we can work together in harmony.

She makes me a better rider and a better person. She tells on me when I am wrong, and she lets me know when I am right. She is so hard to work with, but it's so completely rewarding when it all comes together just right.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Connecting Half-Halt A Go-Go

My horse is back. Oh she's back, she's back! Where did she go, you ask? Well, she took a small vacation to Crazy Town, but she's back home now - came back on Saturday during the jumper show. She said it was fun and all, but agreed with the fact that it makes her mother stress quite a lot when she's there, so to maybe not go so often, okay?

Gogo really has had two weeks of pretty caca, yucky dressage. It felt like we were erasing the months of really hard work we had done, and I was really worried about it. Everything we were doing was in the indoor arena pretty much, even our jumping, and we were busy with little, boring fences and gymnastics that focused on steadiness and control. And that's all fine and dandy, to be sure, but I think Gogo just was getting increasingly ring sour and itching to get out and do SOMETHING. Our problems were all solved (for now, anyway!) when I went to the jumper show and let her jump around full courses at a relatively fast pace. It was like she went, THANK YOU MOM I REALLY NEEDED TO GET THAT OUT OF MY SYSTEM. Sunday, her day off, she was exceedingly chipped. Even Monday, our hack/conditioning day, she was INCREDIBLY focused, happy, quiet and well-behaved. The last couple of hacks we've been on she's been jittery, hot, and spooky. I felt as though this smooth wave would continue to carry over into our dressage work, and I have to say she was good - but not amazing - yesterday. We rode for the first time in a lesson setting in the outdoor, which was only our second time out there. Late today we FINALLY got the dressage arena set back up out there, but before that, it was a completely open area that sloped away on all sides - so it felt like if you went too close to the edge, you might fall off! Her walk and trot were pretty good, but her canter was just a mess yesterday. I didn't let it get to me too much, and figured that since we had been in the outdoor, we'd be all the better for it today.

And I was RIGHT. We had another lesson in the outdoor today at 9am, and we were set up for disaster. There were two very scary plastic chairs there that scared her half to death because a giant flock of wild turkeys (complete with two big toms that were fighting over the hens) were behind them, three horses out in the fields who were on and off galloping, a group of two or three whitetail deer directly next to the arena drinking out of the little pond, a trailer-in lesson with two horses unloading next to the arena who were both freaking out, and the hay guy's gigantic truck and clanging hay lift loading hay into the loft... all at the same time. Bless her little heart, she just kept on trucking. She started off immediately feeling like she was going to be great. She looked at stuff, to be sure, because she is alpha mare and what alpha mare wouldn't, but instead of telling her to pay attention, I gave her a set of parameters to work in - you have X amount of rein, I'm not going to take or give any - and she happily settled into it after a short while, giving me some amazingly excellent w/t/c, leg yields, and a whole mess of transitions. It wasn't anything too complicated, and there isn't a hair of collection anywhere, but you know what? We're starting pretty fresh here. I love the relaxation I have right now, and I love how she's loving this bit (no champing today!!), so we'll gradually add more complicated questions as the week goes on. And we had half-halts. We REALLY had connecting, well-timed, rebalancing half-halts. If Gogo is blocked ANYWHERE in her body, the half-halt stops right where it is and doesn't do anything more than either slow her way down in an unbalanced kind of way, or makes her hollow her back. Not today! OH BABY but it felt nice!

This video isn't of the best parts by any means, but it gives you some idea of our canterwork today:

How FUNNY is that commentary?
And of course, we set the dressage arena up AFTER I was done riding.

Ohhhhh she felt so good though. As the lesson was ending, Vicki said, "That's the best I've ever seen her!" And I exclaimed, "My horse is back!" and beamed.

Onward and upwards, Gogomare.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spring, spring, spring!

Winter has finally relinquished its grasp on Connecticut. Today, I saw the first caterpillar of the year, and suddenly realized that the grass all around the farm is suddenly turning bright shades of emerald in spots - not everywhere, but it's noticable. Gogo even had her first real mouthfuls of spring grass today while we were out handwalking. We've managed to attract quite a local crowd - all the neighbors came running from their houses to talk to us today while we were handwalking, and our 20-minute afternoon handwalk turned into a 45-minute handwalk plus chatting time. Gogo's very gentle with the non-horsey crowd, including a very enthusiastic 12 year-old child who lives across the road, and who came sprinting and shrieking to greet us (thank you for being a sensible mare Gogo).

Aaaah, spring. The mud in the fields has even dried up for the most part, and even when she rolled today, Gogo came in clean for the most part. She even had a fit for some random reason out in the field while I was away this afternoon, and went galloping around for a few minutes and DIDN'T COME IN CAKED IN MUD ZOMG YES.

My new personal fitness regime started today as well. I'm not totally sure what the schedule for it is actually going to be, but for today I did a good 1.5-2 miles of running, although I'm probably going to REALLLLY regret that tomorrow. I felt strong, and I never felt winded, but that's the problem isn't it... my muscles, I'm sure, will be rebelling. It's interesting how careful I am with my horse's conditioning, but my own? Don't know where to start, so I just jump right in and go for it. Tomorrow, since I am certain I'll be too sore to even THINK about running again (and my muscles will for sure need a break anyway), I'll be starting the 100 Pushups Challenge and the 200 Situps Challenge. To begin, you basically just crank out as many good form pushups and situps as you possibly can, and then figure out what category you fall into based on the number of situps/pushups you can do initially before taking the challenge. That's pretty easy to do. Hell, I could even do that right now! Maybe I will, when I'm off the computer!

Yes, springtime is in full swing, although there's no doubt that there will probably be some other freak snowstorm this month or next, because there always is. If the weather stays clear and dry, though, we MAY be able to sneak in a schooling at Mystic Valley this weekend - IF I can find someone to go with me. That's the huge question at the moment, finding a groundperson. If I can't manage to drag someone along, well, then.... I'm out of luck.
It's also time to revamp our schedule, now that we need to put a stronger focus on conditioning. This post on conditioning is something that I'm REALLY going to take to heart. I'll have to really figure out WHERE and WHEN I am going to do my contioning. Currently, she usually has either Friday or Saturday off, depending on the week, because those are my days off and I like to have a day when I can just do whatever I please without having to worry about her. But, if I have to trailer out, I'm going to definitely have to use both those days for all their worth, for important things like x-country schooling and off-property conditioning. Once I figure out a more concrete schedule, I'll let you know.

Days like these are lovely. I love just walking with Gogo, stroking her soft neck, playing hairdresser with her big thick tail, enjoying the way she roots around the old bits of grass to find the newest, sweetest spring shoots. Her legs were cool and tight today, and she showed no stiffness anywhere in her body at all. Of course, then I had to go ruin that by giving her the 5-way vaccine that's been hiding in the fridge for a week, just so she has a nice stiff neck tomorrow XD It's back to conditioning on the roads tomorrow. Watch out neighbors, wild mare on the loose!

Boy I wish I had a GPS watch. Now THAT would be helpful on so many levels.

EDIT: Just did my initial test for the One Hundred Pushups challenge and the Two Hundred Situps challenge. I managed 25 pushups before pretty much collapsing - according to them, that's pretty good - and I stopped at 80 situps, because I felt it was getting a little ridiculous that I was still doing them easily. I think a few at the end were no longer in good form though, so I'm going to back off a bit and start at a lower level than I'm technically qualified for. And now, to bed nice and early in order to get a jumpstart on a nice healthy day tomorrow :D Aaaaahhh!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mount Holyoke Saturday Sizzler Jumper Show 3/14/09

Gogo is a picture-posing ham.

Yesterday was the afternoon Mount Holyoke Saturday Sizzler Jumper Show! It was just a schooling show, but it was our first off property under the eye of a judge this year, so it counts! All I really wanted to do was get around some full courses cleanly and smoothly, and all in all the day was a great success. We even came home with ribbons to boot! Gogo and I entered Division IV - 2'9"-3'. I thought about adding on a 3'3"-3'6" class, but our final class had been so excellent that I decided to just end with that. Next time we'll be doing Division V for sure. This one was too easy for her! I got on and started to warm up during Division III, and actually did more than I usually do during our warmups - I actually did some dressage-type work instead of just w/t/c/jumps/transitions. In the warmup, she went NUTS over the tiniest little vertical, and then after we had gotten THAT galloping-towards-tiny-fence issue sorted out, promptly miscalculated a really large square oxer (probably about 3'6") and took a rail. Next time over it, she FLEWWWW! I kept the rest of our warming up to walk and trot, and relaxing.

We had three classes - a warm up class that only had 5 obstacles (6 if you count that one of those was an in-and-out), and the two actual count-for-something classes that followed, the Power and Speed class and just the Speed class. In our warmup, we were just CRAZY running around - it felt a little reckless and out of control!! She also SERIOUSLY CRACKED HER BACK over every single fence, nearly jolting me out of the saddle. Crazy mare! The Power and Speed was much smoother, and the course was nice and rideable and curvy. We put in another very solid, very clear round, and even though it felt like we were going REALLY fast, as usual we were NOT going really fast and were 4th in the class. It's those turns that get us.. I like to set us up for a nice straight approach, and hardly ever take the inside turn! Oh well, rather well set-up and slower than rails and a naughty horse. And the final class, the Speed round, was excellent. It was, in fast, the least speedy out of all of our classes, but she was finally settling in (and probably was a little tired too), and was consistent and quiet. I have a video of it, seeing as I asked some nice Mount Holyoke girl to take it for me, but because the camera I got for Christmas is such a piece of crap, the video quality is rather terrible.

Not sure exactly what I'm doing towards to the first fence - I think in reality it wasn't quite as stupid as it looked. Fence 2 was a bit of a bogey and she took a really long spot, and I think you can hear me making some sort of a woo-hoo kind of noise over it, but we made the turn to Fence 3 and had a very nice jump. She also turned well to the in-and-out but took the first one a little hairy (shows how catty she is though!) and had a nice second fence. Cranked over to the skinny, did THE tightest turn I think she's EVER done in her life back around to Fence 6, around the way around to Fence 7, and then lost a TON of time taking our time to the triple bar. That's all right though, because the final fence was REALLY nice and felt great, so I was totally happy with it. And look at her - she didn't even want to stop when we were done! We were 4th in this class as well.

We also won the style award in our division... for being sexy! She got a nice bag of cookies for that :D

The one thing that worries me? They sectioned off the course from the area where people were hanging out WITH PART OF A DRESSAGE ARENA. So here's hoping that the next time we have a nice, relaxed dressage warmup, we don't go into our test breathing fire and going "where's the JUMPS??!!!???!!!??!! There were jumps LAST time!!!"

Oh Gogo, you are the Supermare!

Today's the Day!

Yesterday's a little bit of this an' a little bit of that did not go over all that well. Gogo continued to be stiff, resistant, and crooked throughout the first part of our lesson, and I figured out why at some point - it wasn't that I had Vicki's saddle or that I had raised the bit a hole (although we did lower it again), it was because I was grumping about saddles and worrying about whether or not I was going to need a new one and where was that money going to come from and and and, and I wasn't letting my inner zen take over and just block everything out to focus on her. Once again, I laughed at something somebody said at some point, and I had an instantly rideable horse, complete with fluid, supple lateral work, transitions, serpentines, circles of any size, you name it. She's SO in tune to whatever I'm doing and thinking that I really need to be fair and let it all go as soon as I walk into the barn. I think how I act before I get on probably has something to do with it too. Gogo, my personal barometer... ;) I think for Monday, if I don't revisit the lunging thing, I'll ride her in my saddle and THIS CRAZY BIT:

WHOA IT'S LIGHT BLUE AMAZING. Even if it doesn't work out on the flat you can be DAMN SURE I'll find SOME use for it, even if it's just hacking around!


And today's the day!! Our first little show of the season. I spent the afternoon yesterday clipping her bridlepath (which is a bit sad because I overclipped last time, and now need to leave a section of mohawk there.... sigh!), socks, and whiskers, trimming and banging her tail, bathing (which she was just thrilled about), cleaning tack, cleaning out the trailer, trimming her feet, and getting all my schooling show attire out (tan britches, black turtleneck, and tall boots pretty much is the extent of that).

Look at those popeyes in the bathing picture. I think she could hear somebody galloping around in the arena and it was freaking her out a bit. In her stall, she looks ridiculous - she has on a navy blue full body Sleazy, a maroon head and neck Sleazy, and Shannon's green and gold stable blanket complete with monogram (her stable blanket needed a wash... BADLY! The bottom picture is her RF post trim. Really, there's nothing to take off this foot, it maintains so well on its own. I just took the wall down a hair and rolled the edge, and that was pretty much it on all fours. Her bars are all self-maintaining too, right where they should be. The bars on her LF grew out quite a lot a few trims ago, even though they hadn't been touched the trim before, but when I took them down, down they stayed and they've been down ever since. Easy feet!

Now, off to the barn for a nice early handwalk. Wish us luck, we'll post results later!

Friday, March 13, 2009

A little bit of this an' a little bit of that

I've been back on Gogo since Tuesday doing dressae work. I wrote about that nice little ride on Tuesday, and since then we've been doing some experimentation, in very small increments. Unfortunately for me, I don't think Gogo really feels all that different after her chiro work. In fact, I think if anything she is feeling more defensive in her body. Vicki, I think, thought that since the work was so major, there was going to be a vast improvement in my horse right away - and there wasn't. She also said that sometimes it takes a horse up to two weeks to actually start to feel better and use their body in increasingly efficient ways. I kind of don't think this is going to be the case with Gogo. Oh well, at least we're eliminating the physical part of it.

On Tuesday, I tried her in my Prestige and in the new KK Ultra bit (not actually new, but borrowed from the retired horse). That's a very minor change from the knock-off KK that I have - mine is a 14mm, Theo's is a 16mm. She liked it, that's for sure. On Wednesday, I decided to try Vicki's Custom Saddlery saddle, which I usually ride Rena in and quite like. We also had a different saddle fitter take a peek at my saddle - he said it's a hair too wide, which the other saddle fitter lady didn't mention a word about. He suggested a fancy expensive new Prolite pad with shims, but when I brought out my Supracor and showed him that, he went, well this actually works a lot better, so why am I even showing you this other pad? The complaint Vicki makes about my saddle is that is moves a little in back, and that it might be twisting slightly to the left. But was that Gogo or was that the saddle? So out came Vicki's saddle. Perhaps Gogo was feeling a little too good that day, but this is what I seemed to notice - walk and trot were EXCELLENT, completely amazing, but the canter? Explosive, humpbacked, head in the air, running nonsense. Hmmmmmmmmmm. I also made an effort to check the saddle that never moves in the mirror when I was walking, trotting, cantering by - what do you know, IT MOVED IN BACK. So that means it's Gogo, not so much the saddle. The Prestige does move more, but I really do think that it really is designed to do that, so I dunno. The other thing about twisting to the left? Vicki's saddle made me sit SO CROOKED to the left... so again, I think Gogo is pushing me over there, because I don't do that on other horses! Try a little bit of this, try a little bit of that. Gogo WAS totally wonderful at the walk and trot though, right away, so I think I might try it again today on her.

Yesterday it was back to my saddle and the KK Ultra. Well, we started off well, and continued to get steadily better and better - except we were still doing the teeth champ. I think at this point, I just need to ignore it and work on improving everything else. Something we were doing made it actually stop for a little while - we were working on trot-halt-walk-halt-trot-halt-trot-halt etc etc, rapid fire transitions, all while doing leg yields - all those transitions during leg yields. When I wasn't halting, I was giving halt-halts every few strides, and pushing her on, then half-halting again, then pushing her on. She stopped champing, rebalanced herself completely and started really thinking about what I was asking her to do. And she was EXCELLENT, I might add. I think I figured out that when she does it, for the most part, it's when she takes the contact out, gets heavier on the forehand, and leans a bit on the bit. Imagine that's you - now you have a piece of metal pulling at both sides of your mouth. I know if it were me and I was a neurotic mare, I'd lean on that piece of metal and bounce my jaw against it too. Interesting. Vicki also thinks that this new bit is too low, even though we had the other bit at this same level in her mouth and when we tried to raise it because it was also too low, she held all her tension in her mouth until we lowered it back down a hole. Then she was totally perfect. Sighhhh!

So today, we're going back in the other saddle and the KK. We're going to keep trying all these different combinations - different saddle, different bit, raising the bit, etc etc etc. - until we find the perfect combination. We'll see how she goes in Vicki's saddle today, whether or not there is a noticable difference. I REALLY don't have the money to get a new custom saddle right now... or ever, probably. And I love love love love love my Prestige too, and I REALLY don't think she's all that adverse to it.

[Insert neurotic twitch] off to my lesson.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I. Am Exhausted. I've just worked two 16-hour days in a row... with pretty much no breaks. And tomorrow is going to be just as horrible! And then Thursday.... is my birthday! And Friday is show prep, and Saturday is SHOW!

This is going to be a pretty short update I think, because I'm going to crash pretty soon, but I at least wanted to say that Gogo's chest looks a MILLION AND ONE times better, and that I got on her today for the first time since last Wednesday. Since she had such major chiro work, I wanted to just take it easy, and started the ride with a 20-minute walk hack outside with Anne and her horse Salute. Back in the ring, we did mostly walk - which was good, because she was wiiiiiiired for sound at first - and then moved up into a tiny bit of trot, then back down to walk, then back up to trot, then back to walk, doing circles of varying sizes and changes of direction, feeling her slowly relax beneath me. I tried a KK Ultra on her today (I have a knock-off KK Ultra which she's been going in since last February or so) which was a 16mm instead of her regular 14mm, and I dunno if it was the Aurigan or the fact that the chiro majorly unlocked her jaw, but she was foaming like crazy, in a very good way! She normally doesn't do that! She definitely felt very different in her neck and withers, that's for sure. Behind the saddle, it took a little longer for her to stop feeling so defensive still. But finally, she stretched down into the contact at the trot and off we went, just getting in some consistant, relaxed, quiet work in a longer and lower frame, and Vicki said she could really see her hips swinging (remember how locked up they were). At the end, I quietly halted, and she was PERFECTLY balanced and square. I mean textbook, amazing, wonderful, flawless. And I dropped the reins, gave her a huge hug and was done with that! It feels to me like tomorrow she's going to start at this place where we left off. I certainly hope that's the case. So good news, good news! Goobers, relaxation, swinging back, cheerful attitude. That's the way we like it!

In other news, my Mudbeast continues to be muddy and beasty. She must have rolled like 85 times out in the mud today, and came in crusted in it, as usual. I love spring everywhere in the entire world EXCEPT AT THE BARN. Everywhere else, there are blooming flowers, bright sunshine, freshly melting snow and crisp new growth. At the barn, there's mud, hair, filth, sweatiness, and did I mention the mud? XD And now of course, it's pouring. Which is going to make the turnouts WAY more exciting and muddy tomorrow!

We'll be dressage-ing from today until Friday, and then jumping our guts out on Saturday, if all goes well. Sweet!!!

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Good news on the Gogo boobie front! Yes, the swelling is WAY down, and we don't have to call her Dolly Parton anymore! There is still minor swelling, to be sure, but the majority of the edema is waaaaaaaaaay gone. Woohoo! I'm done icing it - there's nothing left to ice really - and we're up to handwalking twice a day for 1/2 hour each time. We're back to work on Tuesday, which cannot come soon enough because she is starting to jump out of her SKIN from having these past few days off.

T-minus six days until our first show of the season! Mount Holyoke is having their Afternoon Saturday Sizzler jumper show this coming weekend. It's not a count-for-anything show, just a little schooling show, but it's our first outing in front of a judge, so it qualifies as a show show! We'll be getting a spring overhaul on Friday - bath, mane pulling, clipping, trimming, tail banging, tack scrubbing, trailer tack room organizing, you name it, it's getting done! She actually just had a bath yesterday, but of course today went out first thing and rolling in the nasty gooey mud... like I didn't see that coming. So she got hosed off AGAIN when she came in. It was 60 degrees today, amazing! And now, it's POURING rain like you've never seen and it's not supposed to stop. Bleugh.
Also, t-minus 16 days until the opening date of our FIRST EVENT, OMG. The vet was out to pull a Coggins and give her a Rabies (apparently in CT it's law that you have a Rabies certificate at CT shows... I think I already mentioned that about five times), and I copied a bunch of entry forms and my Rabies certificate. Now I just need to copy the Coggins when it gets here and VOILA! Ready to go. NERVOUS! The actual event isn't until May, of course, but STILL.

I had this moment of realization the other day that made me swell a little with pride. As compltely, totally, and utterly alpha as Gogo is, I'm still always HER alpha, and she concedes to me and looks to me, and LISTENS to me when I ask her to move her body or treat another herd member appropriately. First of all, Gogo would pretty much like to kill every grey horse in the world. I don't know what it is about them, but she HATES them. Just one example of how much she thinks grey horses should all be killed happened just the other day - two of the paddocks are separated by a huge alleyway that a truck could easily pass through, so no horses can even remotely get near each other when turned out in these two, and Gogo was in one, and a grey mare named Duet was in the other. Gogo made it a point to go over to the corner that was closest to that field, where Duet was lingering so she could be close to another horse, and she stood there pinning her ears and repeatedly tapping the fence with one hind foot, as if to say GO AWAY, you aren't welcome ANYWHERE REMOTELY NEAR me! They were literally at least 35-40 feet apart, separated by more than two fences! She's not done that with ANY other horse that gets turned out there! Anyway, back to the story about respect. I made the mistake of bringing in another grey, Ashley, and hanging her in the crossties right in front of Gogo's stall. This was fine until I walked away for two second, and then the Fire-Breathing Monster came galloping over and attacked Ashley full-on over her stall gate. Ashley, having iceballs in her feet, freaked and was slipping and sliding all over the place, and Gogo was pretty much attached to her neck by her teeth. I turned around from all the way down the barn aisle where I was hanging Ashley's turnout, cried out "Gogo!", and that was all it took. It wasn't said in a scolding way - more like surprise! - but she instantly released Ashley, retreated back into her stall, and went back to calmly munching hay and ignoring her. That was it. My body language must have been enough to say, "Not your place to discipline that one. My place. Get out of our collective space," and she did. Good mare. On her own, I know she'd probably KILL a grey horse. But when I'm nearby? She's a perfect angel.

I wonder what would happen in a turnout situation, if I was out there while she was turned out with another horse that she didn't like. I feel like she'd do as I asked, but would still, as second-in-command, probably kill the thing unless I really told her not to. And of course, the second I leave she's alpha again.

Those crazy, crazy mares. Oh yeah, AND she's in violent, flaming, pee-spurting, non-stop screaming heat again. Spring is here!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

MAJOR Chiropractic Work A Go-Go

WOW. So I knew my horse needed to be worked on by the chiropractor, but I never imagined that it could be quite this much. Yesterday, Gogo was lucky enough to get to go out for almost 6 hours (a big deal in a barn with 16 horses on almost totally individual turnout and only four paddocks), and that helped a little with her chest edema - I figure her moving around on her own, choosing how to move in the way that is least uncomfortable for her for as long as humanly possible is way more productive than forced handwalking exercise, which could potentially continue to make the area raw and sore, for now. Dr. A showed up at around 1pm or so, and my horse was the second to go. He ran his pen down her spine and her eyes bugged out of her head and she scooted pretty far underneath herself. Uh oh. I knew she needed chiro work. I figured she probably needed it pretty badly. But that was NOT the reaction I expected out of her. "Oh boy," Dr. A said. Oh boy indeed.

Basically, her entire body was torqued a little out of whack. She needed moderate adjustments in her poll, which was a spot I thought would be huge, but it was less than I expected. Her jaw was totally locked in place, so he adjusted that too - no big surprise there. He took a peek into her mouth, even though she did NOT like that and pretty much tried to lift him off the ground several times, and noted that she's starting to get some small hooks on the inside of her lower jaw - ugh, she just had her teeth done in November! Small adjustments were made on both sides of her neck, and he also worked on her withers - all areas that were worked on last time she was seen by the chiro in Ohio, last July. Interestingly, he also adjusted her right knee, with an enormous 'pop' I might add - the exact same knee was adjusted last time too. That is also her flatter front foot (as opposed to the left, which is more upright), so I wonder what that has to do with it. And then, there was her mid-back region, specifically the area where her lumbar and thoracic vertebrae meet. You can see where that is here, right where the ribcage ends. (I'm completely fascinated with the equine skeleton, btw, and spend a lot of time drawing and painting and studying it. Yes, I did those by hand!). The saddle fitter had come out some weeks ago because of some concerns that the cantle of my dressage saddle has been rocking a little, and had basically said my Prestige was designed to move a little bit in back, simply because Italian saddles apparently do that. I blogged about that awhile ago, but for whatever reason, I can't figure out which post it was, so when I find it I'll link back to that. Anyway, so in that area, there's some loss of the integrity of her hair where the saddle sits, which was worrying me, so Dr. A had me bring my saddle out, girth her up, and walk her around, just so he could see what the saddle does. He's a bit concerned that it might be twisting a little to the left, which makes some sense because I feel like I'm usually a little bit twisted to the left - but I thought that was just me. He injected the area with vitamin B12 and lidocane, which will help to keep that area relaxed and determine if this is a saddle problem, an it's-just-Gogo problem, or something more severe, like kissing spines (which he said was quite unlikely, thankfully). On top of alllll that, her entire pelvis was rotated left, and both her SIs were locked down. This he likened to standing with your butt pushed way out - try it, and notice how it hollows out your lower back and locks up your knees. Because of this, he also had to adjust both her stifles. Some more stuff about pelvis adjustments can be found here. It was very obvious that she felt MUCH better after her adjustment - he moved down her body with his pen in the same way he did before after the adjustment, and there was a markedly improved response. Today, she was standing MUCH more square and comfortably in the aisle - she had been starting to stand with her right hind out behind her, and she was comfortable and square all this morning too.

Her funky chest edema is just too weird to be true still. She's going to have at least four or five days off, given the rubbing and her discomfort... and did I mention that we had a few minor chiropractic adjustments done, lol. This morning we had a 500lb dose of banamine and a half-hour of icing, which looked a bit like this:

Silly mare. She's so good about all this crap. The edema looked like this this morning:

Gravity pulled it even closer to the girth area. Oye, Gogo....

So we'll be doing handwalking, icing, and pain meds for the next four or possibly five days, until the swelling goes down enough for her to be comfortable again. Hopefully we'll be better soon, because our first little schooling jumper show is on the 14th, which is one week away. Obviously if we're not ready, we're not going, but I HOPE we're okay to go! At least her having a few days off gives me time to go get my tall boots repaired (zipper broke AGAIN, ugh!) and also gives me a chance to blog about some of the topics I promised I'd talk about but haven't had the time to yet - modern eventing was Daun's request, someone else (who was it?) wanted me to talk about stretching your horse, and I wanted to talk about BCS too.

Poor little mare...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rescue Remedy

Today's ride was chock full of the good, the bad, and the ugly, and had several eye-opening mini-lessons all wrapped into one hour and a half session of torture, doom and joy. It was a very unfortunate level of intense, and I feel a very odd mixture of very good and very awful about it.

It started off all right. As I was tacking up, I examined and cleaned up Gogo's chest swelling, which yesterday had gone down a fair amount with work. It was less swollen today, but it again had moved a little bit, and was bunching in smaller pooches, if you will, instead of one big swelling. Remember this... it will come into play later. So, the ride itself started off well. Getting on, I felt that she was slightly hesitent about moving forward - as if her pooches were uncomortable between her front legs. She seemed to stride out of it all right, so we moved up into trot and canter on a loose rein, like we always do. But then I tried something different - instead of going down into the walk and picking her up there, I picked her up in the trot, and what do you know? She stretched right down and gave me the most wonderful warmup-stretchy trot I could have ever asked for. In Vicki's words, "She's perfect, get off!" Of course she didn't mean that, but I half wanted to at that point, three minutes into my trotwork! As our workout progressed, her resistance going left because more and more obvious, and I worked harder and harder to try and get her to release the right side. No avail... she became increasingly tense, and I became increasingly tense right along with her. This began to escalate further and further and further, until we were in an all-out war. It was just a disaster. She was locked in her entire body, and so was I. We were both tense and fighting against each other, and neither of us were winning. An entire hour had passed, and I finally just halted, frustrated with myself and my inability to just let go of my tension and get over it. Vicki walked over, and patted Gogo, who was at that point standing completely immobile and square with her eyes bugging out of her head and champing at the bit. I could feel my entire body rigid with tension. Vicki looked up at me and said, "I think you need some Rescue Remedy!" And I just cracked up. I don't know what was so funny about that, but I just laughed my head off. Suddenly, with that laughter, all my tension melted away, and I felt Gogo relax underneath me. "Want to go do something good now Gogo?" I asked her. "I'll let go of your face, I promise." And I did, and she moved right out perfectly, in a completely relaxed, wonderful way. We did about 10 minutes of completely loose and free w/t/c, and we halted perfectly square at the end. I dropped my reins, gave her a huge pat, and we finished.
The entire time we were doing relaxed work at the end, however, it was very interesting because she was completely and utterly crooked, especially in her front end - her body, head and neck were bent to the right the whole way around the ring, but that was where she was steady and even in both reins, so I let it stay that way for now - that was where we got into our big fight in the first place, me pushing the crooked issue. Tomorrow the chiropractor is coming to adjust her, so I chalked it up to her really, really needing an adjustment, let her be temporarily comfortable in her crookedness, and called it a day. I left her to hang in the crossties for a little while while I rushed off to pick my stalls, and Shannon happened to walk by her with the hay cart. She stopped and looked at her bump, and then exclaimed, "Oh my god!" I came running over, and found that the hesitation I had felt when I first got on had not been my imagintion at all - after 1.5 hours of work, she had completely rubbed the area raw on itself. I was absolutely horrified and felt like I just wanted to drop dead. That was why she was tense, that was why she was crooked, that was why the fight had started in the first place - she was in pain and she just physically couldn't bend left because that was where the rawness was occuring. It was tender and painful, and I feel seriously horrible. I slathered a ton of diaper rash/A&D ointment all over the area, and am making sure to give her at least tomorrow and the day after off, also because the chiropractor is coming.

Lessons learned.... first, listen to your horse. If she's THAT crooked, it's probably not her being ornery, she's probably uncomfortable somewhere. Second, RELAX, and laugh when you feel tense... you'll instantly feel better and so will your horse. Third, sometimes you just need to compromise and really just work together with your partner instead of going along and thinking your horse is going to conform to whatever you want to do. Sometimes, you need to conform to them and work it out that way.

Poor Gogo... I feel really horrible. I mean REALLY, REALLY horrible. She was hurting, and she was trying to tell me, but she did the very best she could for me and I just wasn't listening. Much doctoring will happen over the next week, I am sure. I'm hoping everything gets sorted out in her body with the chiropractor, and that this swelling goes away soon. We have our first jumper show on the 14th, but we'll only be going if our bodies have decided to heal themselves. I think we'll be okay by then, but you never know.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

End of February Analysis

It's the beginning of the month, which calls for my monthly goal analysis!

February Goals:

1) Continue to develop consistent stretch down and up at the walk and trot
This is coming along quite nicely!! The past week has definitely not been great altogether, so it hasn't been addressed as much, but in the three weeks preceding that, we were making some REALLY good progress. She's stretching down and coming up very nicely - and continuing on to do more real work after without having any fussiness! We'll continue to develop this further for sure, but I'm pleased as punch with the way this is going. I even had some great walk stretch today despite the fact that it took her way longer than usual to warmup - I mean really great walk stretch, really really great.

2) Jump a larger gymnastic - building to 4' if possible
Thwarted by Georgina Morris! I DID try my best to make this happen, and it WOULD have happened if it hadn't been for her. That being said, I did get to go at around 3'6"-ish, which ain't bad. We'll aim for the 4' again this coming month, when she isn't around.

3) Have accurate, balanced, smooth trot-canter transitions (she tends to pop up into them)

Well, these are getting better. She's popping up into them less and moving out into them more, but they still need a lot of work. I'm experimenting a little to see just what exactly helps her with this - how much prep she needs before the transitions, how much positioning helps, etc. There has been improvement, but there still needs to be more.

4) Develop trot and canter lengthenings on a 20m circle
Didn't get to work on this as much as I wanted to, but I'll continue to develop this, especially at the canter.

5) Develop shoulder-in and haunches-in exercises further
Coming along quite nicely, except for the past week. It needs more development, obviously, but I'm pleased thus far.

Overall I'm very happy with the progress made, this past week's nonsense aside. We're honing in on our weaknesses and improving them little by little, getting a little more solid every day. We have days that aren't so great, but we manage to walk away from every single ride feeling like we at least have achieved relaxation and a sense that we could go out and put in at least a good Novice level test, one that scores very well. Some days it feels like we could go do 2nd Level 1-2 and score well. Some days it feels like we could go do Training 1-2 and score well. It doesn't matter to me so much what level of work we're at. What matters is that even if I don't feel like I could get a lick of collection out of her that day, I can still get a good stretchy trot and some nice, relaxed transitions. If that's all we can get that day, then so be it. If we can get more, great. If not, I'm not about to erase all our hard work just to see if I can milk a little more out of her. Slow and steady wins the race, every time. The important thing is that I walk away from every ride feeling at least like the last thing we did was great, and I always do. Whether or not the first part of the ride went well becomes unimportant. As long as we both walk away from the ride feeling all right at the end, I'm happy.

So our new March goals are as follows:

March Goals:

1) Get over our irrational chambon fears!!
2) Attend our first schooling jumper show and make successful, smooth trips around each course
3) Continue to develop stretch down and up at the trot/canter
4) Refine (and really focus on) trot-canter transitions - no popping up into them
5) Hopefully get our for our first x-country schooling of the season!!

And some goals for me too....

1) Improve cardio fitness through interval training
2) Continue to improve gallop position (a weak link for sure!)
3) Once we get out schooling x-country, work on maintaining a balanced and rhythmic gallop over fences

4) Take the Hundred Pushups Challenge
5) Take the Two Hundred Situps Challenge

And by gallop, I obviously am not talking full-tilt run. Gogo really seems to like having the security of me sitting down before every fence and being there funneling her to every one - creating a very secure channel with my legs and hands, and my butt being the encouragement through the channel. I want to help encourage her to take jumps in a more gallop-y stride, instead of steadying and slowing before every fence. Jimmy Wofford just had a really awesome article on this in a recent Practical Horseman, about how it's all about balance and safety and that you shouldn't need to slow down and rebalance before every fence - you should be able to be balanced before and after every fence without changing a thing. Something to keep in mind and think about, to be sure. Sitting down and riding that way to every fence is also MY security blanket - I feel like that's where I have the most influence over her if I feel any hesitations on her part. We'll work on it!

I feel very physically fit at this point (just doing barn work will do that to you) but my flexibility isn't amazing and I am rather one-sided, as that is how a body ends up when you're doing hard physical labor. I will incorporate more stretching into my life too, mostly because it just feels damn good to do it.

And as for the interval training, well.... I'll have to find a place to actually do this. I'm not really sure where to go when there's 14" of new snow on the ground. Also, I dunno about you but working 12 hours a day in a barn reallllly takes it out of you. I'm usually exhausted at the end of the day and don't really want to do much of anything, so I'm just going to have to force myself to do it. I need to eat healthier too. I need more delicious green things in my life.

Need need need! This month we're starting to really amp things up. The jumps will get higher, the conditioning will get tougher, and the dressage will get more precise. We're out with the big players here in Area 1, so our game has got to be good.

And we're good. This might be our year, even more than last year. I'm ready, she's ready.
Now it just needs to stop snowing and we'll be all set.

Gogo at Encore last year, our first show of the season. We were in first after dressage in a downpour, but had a rail in stadium which bumped us down to 3rd. This was when I knew something wasn't quite right - a joint supplement fixed that issue!