Saturday, August 30, 2008

New Pony Comes Home

Well, we brought Pandora home yesterday! I detailed more extensively over on her blog, but to paraphrase: all went well, she is very patient and always willing, shows no behavioral issues whatsoever, and seems to be settling in nicely. Definitely a pocket pony -- she is always up for forehead rubs, but never pushes into your space. She needs some groceries but she's not terribly skinny, and overall I am very very impressed by her personality. Her biggest issue right now is the stiffness, which we will need to work out. Fingers crossed it's something that goes away with massage and fitness and long warmups. All in all, I'm just blown away by how sweet this mare is. If she continues to be this level-headed, sensitive, and willing, this is going to be the easiest training I've ever had. She was ridden today and did just fine.
Pictures from yesterday!
She wants to be a pocket pony.

Meeting McKinna (where surprisingly there was no squealing or pawing or any rude behaviors)

Look at her face! She's so cute. I know, I'm biased.

There's a tack sale in a couple weeks that we're going to have a table at, so Mom and I just spent an hour or two cleaning extra pieces of tack. It's much more fun and relaxing when you've got company, by the way. It's tiring but fun to see all the tack nice and clean.
Speaking of tack sales, we went to one this morning! We scored three nice dressage schooling pads for $1 each, how awesome is that? I also got a blanket, shipping boots, schooling boots, two lead ropes, and a halter for Pandora. No super-awesome deals on saddles, unfortunately. Have any of you guys found good deals on tack and horse accessories lately? I know that I love it when I find something for a good price!

Tomorrow I'll make the second post in my "How To Sell Your Horse" series -- some things to keep in mind as you close the deal. After that, I will embark on the presentation posts, the three-part feature about how your presentation can change the way your horse is perceived.

In closing: talk to me about your horse insurance. A number of you mentioned that you have it, or your friends have it -- what companies do you use? How much is your premium? We're definitely going to check into it, for one or maybe both of the horses.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Horses and Financial Responsibility

An update on the ankle -- I went into the ortho again yesterday, and I got my cast off! I am now in a walking boot, the main benefit of which is that I can take it off to shower. Thank goodness. I was getting sick of baths. I'm not walking on it yet; he says I can start phasing out the crutches, first one then the other, as I feel comfortable. Basically, if it doesn't hurt, go for it, and if it does hurt, back off. I can feel it a little more than I'd like when I walk with one crutch, so I'm going to leave it alone for awhile. It's still all swollen and bruised (obviously not nearly as much as at first), and my range of motion is just GONE. They gave me some exercises to do, though.

Also, muscle atrophy sucks. That calf is visibly smaller than the other one. That asymmetry is gonna be irritating in the saddle until I get the strength back.

If all goes well, I will get to get rid of the walking boot for good when I next go in, which is Sept 25 (a whole four days before I start school!). I'm just excited that once I get rid of the crutches I can do ground work and longeing.

I was thinking this morning about how much horses have done to teach me responsibility. The lessons are as numerous and as cheesy as the moral of any Disney movie. I could list them, but I have before. I just wanted to talk today about horses and financial responsibility.

First, my purchase of Pandora. This is a big step for me, personally. I'm 18 years old, technically an adult, and I recently took the dive into personal finance by opening a checking and savings account with my local credit union. This mare is mine, and mine alone -- purchase price, board costs, feed costs, any tack I need. The whole shebang. The prospect of me paying for her board, feed, farrier visits, and anything else is a little bit daunting. But at the same time, I know I can do it, and it's a really good first step into self-sufficiency for me. Suddenly it becomes very important how I spend my time: I need to work enough to both support her and funnel some money into savings, and if I don't go out and ride her very often, then I'm wasting the money that I spend on her.

A brief shoutout to my parents -- I really like the way they handled this. They've supported my horse habit for me until now, always making sure that I'm conscious of where we're spending money and why. I am definitely not the expensive-lessons-every-week, please-daddy-buy-me-a-new-saddle type. But I am also very, very grateful that they never said, "If you want horses you need to pay for them." They never asked me to take a full-time job over the summer instead of the part-time I've worked the past three summers, nor did they ask that I work over the year. To be honest, I worked so hard last year between schoolwork and band that I doubt I could have worked enough to support half of the horse expenses, let alone all of them. In return, I've always tried to respect the boundaries of what they can spend. I am now at the point where I can make the decision to take on an additional horse and support it myself, but I was not there before. I like the free rein they've given me and the way they've helped me slowly move towards financial independences with horses and otherwise, at my own pace, when I am ready to take steps. So thanks, Mom and Dad :)

Anyway, I'm very excited for this opportunity (if you couldn't tell by the sheer prevalence of the word 'excited' in my posts since we decided to buy her!). I get to enjoy a second horse without putting any financial strain on my parents, at all. I get to enjoy training a horse and hopefully pushing both of us up to higher levels, and I get to keep all the experience that comes with it. She is my horse in the way that no horse has ever been before. I get to decide when to sell her, for how much, and to whom.

The other responsibility-related thing I've been considering is very closely related: emergency vet funds. A commenter mentioned it and got me thinking.

I don't have one. Between setting aside some money to start an IRA, purchasing Pandora, and paying this month's board plus a deposit, I won't have much more than a couple hundred left. My paychecks for this month and next month will be much larger than board fees, since I'm working a lot due to a lack of school. I'm going to put all of my extra money in a savings account, which will double as my emergency fund. Not the most viable of options, I know, but as a student living at home with virtually no expenses other than my horse, it'll work. Add this to the fact that board is only $175/month (including hay) and other expenses should be minimal, I should still be able to squirrel away enough money each month to build up a decent emergency fund by the end of the school year. If school doesn't overwhelm me.

But it still concerns me. It's never something I've had to worry about before! I will do my best to build my fund up as fast as possible, but I'm wondering how many people have one -- seems that everyone knows they should, but does/is everyone able to follow that?

On the plus side, when I sell Pandora, that money's going to go to good use. The money is going first to pay off my student loans for the year (isn't college fun?), and any after that is going into savings. From that I'll have an emergency fund to work with for the next horse -- but that's thinking very far ahead!

So, how many of you have an emergency fund? Have you ever had to use it? Have you ever made decisions in the past (colic surgery, etc) that were influenced by your emergency fund or lack thereof?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Thoughts on Selling Horses

Here's a few guidelines for your ads.

Take good pictures. This one's kind of obvious, but still. Take the time to get your horse clean and on level ground. If your horse is trained, take pictures of it under saddle in action. Multiple pictures are better than one. Pictures from shows are great, if you're selling a show horse. If you have Photoshop, here is one super-easy adjustment that makes most pictures balance better in terms of color: open your image. At the top, go to Image--> Adjustments--> Auto Levels (or just press Shift+Ctrl+L). It balances the levels in the image and usually makes everything look nicer.

Write well. Do not write in all caps. If you don't know when to use periods, commas, or capitalization, ask a friendly neighborhood high-schooler for help. Please. For the sake of my eyes. In the text of your ad, some good things to include: age/name/color/gender; training history; show experience; important quirks (needs injections, on regumate, only sound for light work, has deathly fear of barn cats, etc etc); general description of personality; type of home your horse would be best in; whether the horse loads/clips/ties/bathes; why you're selling, and so on. This will always be specific to you and your horse. Keep the ad relatively short, with enough information to pique interest. You don't need to disclose minor issues here (doesn't like loading, doesn't get along well with mares, only drinks bottled water, whatever) but major ones like unsoundness or other issue would probably be best if included in the ad -- in other words, big dealbreakers might be best disclosed immediately so nobody wastes anybody else's time.
If you only follow one part of that, just put something more than "Bay QH Mare, 15hh, good gaming or OHSET prospect." If you say "Bay registered AQHA Mare, daughter of such-and-such sire, 15hh. Patterned on barrels and poles, explosive speed with a lot of potential. Intense and focused but can relax nicely, would make a great project horse for a junior, OHSET or 4H," you will probably get a LOT more interest.

Volunteer information. When a buyer emails you for more info, telling them about the horse (brief history, personality, why you're selling, whatever you feel like and you didn't include in the text) will probably garner more interest than a sentence or two with the bare minimum. Answer all questions asked.

Be honest. It is very frustrating to a buyer to show up to find a horse whose behavior is nothing like what was described; it wastes your time and your buyer's.

If you're going to sell a horse by word of mouth, that's great (and probably a better way to make sure it goes into good hands). If you're going to sell online, spend the money for a picture ad. Use multiple sites, though -- there are plenty of sites that are free or at least inexpensive for photo ads. A quick sampling: Equisearch, Dreamhorse, Chronicle, Equine Hits, BigEq, Equine Now, Exchange H/J. Here's a tip -- put one photo up on the ad so you don't have to pay much. Then, make a [free] simple website (we used Brinkster, but other options include Freewebs or Geocities) to compile more pictures, a quick description, and possibly some videos. Put the link to this site in the text of your ad after your brief description. Most of these websites come with 'site builder' applications that make it really easy to design a simple website.

For an example, here is the website we used when we were selling Bailey. It's really simple -- on the main page, it has links to videos of jumping schooling and three videos (one from each phase) from the schooling Horse Trials I took him to. It has some pictures and a few paragraphs describing him. Then there's a link to a page with more pictures and a page with contact information. It's simple, easy to go through, and gives you way more visual information than you could ever cram into an ad. No, he's not still for sale ;)

Another good venue is local horse organizations. Around here, good all-around horses are often emailed to the OHSET chair to send out to his/her massive email list of all teams and team members. If your area has a high school equestrian team, try emailing someone in the leadership to ask if they could pass around the information of your horse. Print out fliers and hang them in local feed/tack stores and barns. Contact your local Pony Club or 4H group to ask if they can spread the word.

Price accordingly. It's not hard to use those internet classifieds or ask around to see what horses of similar breeding and training are selling for.

Also, check your email. I know it sounds silly, but there are a lot of people who don't check their email more than once or twice a week; change that habit while you're selling a horse and check it at least once a day.

Be on time when a buyer comes to look at your horse. I don't know about everyone, but I'd prefer that the horse is in a stall if not in a pasture, rather than all tacked up pretty and ready to go. I also prefer that the horse is first longed and then ridden by the seller, then I will get on. That's my personal preference; your mileage may vary.

Tomorrow: Some Things to Do to Close the Deal

PS - if any of you ever would like help putting an ad together, shoot me an email. I'd be happy to do the Photoshop levels-balance, help you write a good paragraph, give my impression of your horse's pictures, help you with a website, whatever. It doesn't take much time and it helps a horse get a good home, so I'm all for it!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Random Things

I've been brainstorming my "How To Properly Sell Your Horse" series. I will start posting it sometime during the week -- it involves lots of pictures, so it will take some planning.

Here's the rundown. I'm going to make three posts on presentation -- bad presentation, adequate presentation, and excellent presentation. This refers to the pictures you take, the ad you write, the responses you give, and where you put your ad. All of these will feature McKinna; in the first ad, she'll probably be a horse that you wouldn't want to buy. She'll look pretty fugly (though it will be hard to tell from the pictures), and the information volunteered won't make you jump on the chance to get her. Her presentation in the third ad will be far more flattering, with information given that makes her a lot more attractive to a potential buyer. Since it's the same horse, it should really drive home the difference it makes when you put in a little effort.

Of course, readers of this blog probably aren't the ones posting really bad ads, but you could always refer those people to these posts ;)

Before that (probably tomorrow), I'll post a general guideline post that gives a few good things to keep in mind.

After the three presentation posts, I'll do a post on buying a horse, and etiquette therein.

As a side note, I've started a second blog to keep track of my progress with Appendix Mare, whose name is going to be Pandora. It's not really for the purpose of reading -- it's mostly for my own reference, a sort of online training log since I type much faster than I write -- which is why it's not linked from my profile. But, if you are bored and feel like checking in on her day-to-day progress, here's the link.

I will still talk about Pandora plenty in this blog, so don't worry about missing out. Just figured some of you might be interested in the smaller day-to-day details, especially since I know I love reading other people's training logs :)

Hope you guys are having a wonderful day and enjoying the horse life. Expect a post tomorrow to kick off the horse-selling series!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

New Pony

Okay, well, so much for willpower.

I got a new pony :)

She's a 6 year old bay Appendix mare, about 15.2 hands. Her previous owner evented her at Novice level. Here's the story (which I of course cannot verify, since I don't know the previous owner): at a Horse Trials, mare freaks out for no apparent reason and goes up and over; then starts going up every time she's mounted. Owner decides she is unpredictable, puts an ad up that says she can go to a good home or the mare's going to OSU for testing for a term and then euthanasia.

The person I bought her from went and picked her up. She's had her for about a month, wherein the mare has shown no indication of any nasty behavior. She's had teeth and feet done and stood very politely for both (though I'm sure she was sedated for the teeth!). Lots of different people have ridden her. She's a little squirrely in the cross-ties and for mounting. She said last night when she went to mount, the mare was more wiggly than usual, so she got aggressive and backed her up to see if it would trigger any rearing, but it did not. She feels that the problem was completely physical, as she had the chiropractor out immediately after picking the mare up, and mare was really out of whack through the hip, spine, and jaw. She is priced so inexpensively because seller has too many horses (10) and just wants this mare to go to a good situation.

So that's the story. Yes, I was really careful looking at a horse with a history of rearing who is being sold inexpensively. No, I have no intention of buying a dangerous horse or getting myself killed.

I put more value on what I actually see when I go evaluate a horse. So, keeping full mind of her history, my parents and I went to look at this mare (who they call Allie).

First impression: she has a beautiful Thoroughbred face. I am a sucker for TB faces, having owned one for my first horse. She pokes her head out the stall window, interested to meet us, watching with alert black eyes, so I think it's rather unlikely that she was drugged. She puts her soft muzzle in my hands to smell me, and is a little nervous; she lets me pet her head for a moment before she quickly retreats into her stall and takes another mouthful of hay. She keeps returning to the window to check us out, though -- she's obviously curious.

Once she's out of her stall and cross-tied, I can get a much better look at her. Here's my impression of her conformation (from my limited knowledge, of course). She's got great muscle on her shoulders and haunches; she could stand to gain some weight over her ribs and build up her topline, but she's not underweight by much. She's got a lovely neck that ties in nicely to her body, though she's a bit thick through the throatlatch. Her head is a lovely, refined TB type, with soft eyes, large nostrils, and a calm intelligent expression. She's built relatively even, neither uphill nor downhill. Her forelegs are good, with nice flat knees, solid bone, and good lengths for both cannon bone and pasterns. Her hind legs I can't tell so much -- they seem to be a little upright, but I'm bad at hind legs, and she was never standing quite square. She's got a nice hip angle, and her shoulder angle is nothing to write home about, but it's pretty nice. A nice deep chest and body.

The overall impression: a nice, balanced horse. Built like an athlete with a nice expression.

On to the longe line. She's perfectly polite, if a little reluctant to move out and step under herself at first -- a recurring theme with her. To my eye, she's stiff and tight in her hind end; she found it hard to stretch that inside hind underneath herself all the way. Thankfully, the longer she worked, the more she loosened up. The fact that she had so much wrong with her physically inclines me to think that her muscles are still getting used to their new positions; the way she relaxed and stretched more as she warmed up confirmed that. I feel that with stretching, a slow buildup of work, and a thoughtful warmup, she'll be totally fine.

So then she was ridden by Seller. We got to see the wiggles for mounting, which didn't bother me at all. Why? Well, for one, I've seen worse wiggling from many a horse. For another, she was mounting from the ground, which I can't believe is comfortable for a horse who was so out of alignment earlier. After mounting, she was just fine. Walk trot canter both directions, again observing stiffness that lessened with more work. We saw her jump a small fence from the canter in both directions, which was nice: I got to see that the mare is comfortable adjusting her own distance and making decisions about whether to take a long or short spot. She was very relaxed about it.

Then my mother got on. For those of you that don't know, she's a classic Adult ReRider (or just Rider, since she never had horses when she was young). She's quite capable, and improves every day, but she's not exactly the fearless test-rider that I am, and she's not always super comfortable with her balance. So this was a true test!

Mare was an angel. Walked around calmly, moved nicely off leg (better than McKinna, actually). She'll take up a light contact and stretches down when you give her the reins, which is really nice. Then, Mom picked up a trot. After a minute or so of each trying to understand the other, they had it! Mom just had to get used to a 'big horse' trot again, haha. It was very encouraging to see the mare trot along, relaxed and calm, while my mom figured out her balance. They got a very nice trot going too, further showing her relaxation out of the hind end stiffness.

So that was that! I led the mare around a little on my crutches. She's a very fast learner and very sensitive to what you want -- the first few times I stopped her, she swung all the way around and stopped perpendicular to me. After a couple gentle corrections, she was stopping dead right next to me when I said 'ho.' I can easily see how such an intelligent, sensitive mare could go crazy with heavy handling, so I wonder if that's how she ended up the "unpredictable dangerous horse." I don't know if I ever talked about it, but that's much the same story that came with Chaucer, the big gelding I rode for my trainer. He was sent to auction as a dangerous horse that rears at the drop of a hat and tries to kill you when your back is turned -- all totally untrue with correct handling. He's such a lovebug and a pocket pony, I don't know how you could ever mistake him for a mean horse.

In any case. The mare was physically well-built, she had a kind attitude -- again, the words I'd pick would be sensitive and intelligent -- and she passed the Mom Riding Test with flying colors. We decided to buy her (for the exorbitant sum of $600, because my horses are always so expensive), and we are going to pick her up either tomorrow or next weekend. I'm very excited!

She's going to be renamed, which is why I've just been calling her 'mare' the whole time. Here's the options, let me know what you think.

Antigone (from a Greek tragedy; pronounced an-TIH-guh-nee). Would probably get called Tig or Tiggy.
Pandora (from Greek mythology; pronounced, well, pan-dore-uh). Would get called all manner of awful things like Panda, Pancake, Pan, Dory, Dora, etc etc etc.

I am very excited, and I will certainly let you know what she's like when she gets home! Here are some pictures from today to tide you over.

Here's a good shot to show that sweet face, though it's not the best of conformation angles! You can just see one of her hind socks with the adorable black spots in them -- both hind socks have that, and it's really cute.

And a picture of her cantering with the seller riding. You can see she's stepping under herself a bit more here, but I still feel like that will improve with stretching/warmup and strength. She was, however, very willing to do whatever was asked of her. Cantering in a smallish arena was clearly a not the easiest thing in the world for her, but she still did very well.

All in all, I feel that I am very lucky. I found a sweet, willing, and intelligent mare who had been written off as dangerous when she was simply mishandled (or so I believe). The funny thing is that she's honestly the best-trained horse we've ever bought, including the two previous horses we'd bought and the four Rose has bought in her time with horses.

In closing, here's a few amusing similarities between this purchase and my purchase of Bailey --

  • Both purchases were made without trainer present. In fact, I haven't told trainer. Will definitely do that, um, soon.
  • Both times, I'm on crutches having recently broken an ankle. I mean, seriously?
  • Both bays with adorable TB heads, though this one's only half TB.
  • Both $600.
  • Both a little misunderstood and not that many steps away from a really bad situation.
On the other hand, this mare isn't emaciated, she's not aggressive on the ground or otherwise, and she's nowhere near as green as he was.

I am excited to see what my new mare turns out to be like!

Friday, August 22, 2008


Well, I had a lot of fun at camp. Once again, I was very frustrated at my inability to ride (sitting through two 1+ hour lessons a day for two days makes for a lot of ideas with nowhere to go!), but I had a wonderful time getting to know the other girls in Pony Club. I enjoyed watching them work with their horses, too. We slept in the loft of the barn, so getting up and down those steps every day was interesting. I also liked watching National Velvet and reading ghost stories around the campfire :) Then, this morning, everyone played some mounted games involving relay races and water balloons.

So we're off to look at this Appendix mare tomorrow, as the woman selling her emailed Mom back a few days ago. I'll tell you the full story about her after we're a little more decided on whether or not to get her! I know that if we do get her, it will be very hard work for me -- working enough hours to pay for her board/farrier/feed/whatever, as well as riding her frequently. It will certainly be a challenge to do all that in addition to doing well in school, but I'm pretty sure I can do it. Having two horses makes it possible for me to ride with my mom as well, which would theoretically make both of us more likely to ride.

I am also the kind of person that likes working towards something. With a project horse, it's very definable: I want said horse to be calm and respectful, to jump around a 3' course, to run XC reliably, to put together a solid dressage test, so that I can sell it sometime over the summer. Along the way, I get to learn a lot about training. With McKinna, I want to rate up in Pony Club, but more immediately, I want to fix my position; that's also very definable. It means lots of longe work, lots of no-stirrups work, and lots of cantering so we can fix the damned gait.

So -- I'm pretty tired from camp (9 girls mostly under the age of 14 at a camp, hmm), so I'm not feeling up to a real post today. I'm sure tomorrow I'll talk about my impression of the mare we're going to look at.

I'm off for a nap.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Use Your Mirrors - Part III

Horses are kinda funny. Mom and I talked about the whole project horse deal and decided it would be best for me to just spend that time and energy on McKinna, as noted before. Especially since I'm joining Pony Club and will have ratings to occupy my time (since I am incurably competitive).

So what happens?

Mom just *happens* to be looking at Craigslist (which she never, ever looks at), and just *happens* to see a posting for a horse nearby who's basically exactly what I'd described. Young, Appendix, cheap, good personality, no vices, ridden on trails.

I mean, come ON. Seriously? Why is it that just when you decide you don't want a horse, ONE FALLS IN YOUR LAP?

We emailed the folks -- I couldn't pass it up, and I did some calculations and I can definitely afford it if I work enough hours (the deal is that this second horse is all mine: I buy it, I support it, and the like). Still haven't heard anything back from them. Which is definitely going to be a rule on the How To Sell Your Horse Series -- if someone emails you about your horse, especially less than an hour after you post the ad, CHECK YOUR EMAIL.

If they never respond, I won't be heartbroken. I figure either way I'm in a good place. If they respond, I get a horse for a screaming deal and sell her this summer (theoretically). If they don't respond, I'll just shove all that money in savings and buy a horse sometime later. Win/win!

Not much to update on the McKinna front. She's doing well, I miss riding, etc etc etc.

On to the third and final part!

Okay, remember how I said you need to leave your problems at the door to have consistent emotions? That's really, REALLY important. If you remember this one concept, it can help you make or break your season. If you can get your band to understand this concept, boy do you have it made.

Think of it this way: your negative emotions are like rocks you carry around with you. Stressed because you have a big test tomorrow and you didn't study? Rock. Had a big argument with your parents last night? Rock. Your best friend's cousin's dentist's daughter was flirting with the guy you like? Rock. You're just having a plain awful day and nothing seems to be going right? Rock. You're really tired, and you'd rather be at home than at stupid rehearsal? Rock. Work sucks? Rock.

Imagine carrying all those rocks around on your back while you're trying to rehearse. Or ride your horse.

You will never be effective if you carry those rocks with you while you're trying to get something accomplished. How on earth do you think you could march your show and play your instrument with forty pounds of rocks on your back? How do you think you could conduct with that much weight on you? Could you effectively work with and ride your horse if you were weighed down by so much stone? No. And if you can't drop your emotions, you are crippling yourself in the same way.

I don't care if you want to pick your rocks right back up again as soon as you're out the door -- that's fine. But you MUST leave them behind when you step onto your rehearsal field, when you step into the stable. Both large groups of people and horses are so sensitive to things like that, and I promise they will be able to tell if you can't separate the crap of everyday life from the time you spend working with them.

It can be really hard sometimes. I've had to run rehearsal knowing that my wonderful, amazing Golden Retriever was going to be euthanized the next day because of his cancer. I've had to smile at my band and speak inspirationally to them when I'm on the verge of a breakdown because I'm overwhelmed with schoolwork. I've had to ride my horse when I'm having such a bad day that all I want to do is curl up in bed and sleep. But it can be done, and it's worth doing.

If you do it right, you get to the point where you don't have to work as hard to drop it at the door. For me, the barn is a safe haven now. I step out of the car and automatically take a deep breath as I walk into the stable. I can feel myself calming down and relaxing as I meet my horse, and 99 times out of 100 it puts an instant smile on my face. No matter what's going on, I know that while I'm out at the barn, I'm in control; I'm enjoying myself and the partnership I have with my horse. Even if I'm frustrated with something else, I am able to let that go when I ride, simply from force of habit. Much the same, I find that sometimes I would go into rehearsal having a bad day and knowing that I needed to put that aside for my band -- but by the time rehearsal was over, I was actually having a good day.

Your horses and your band will KNOW if you've brought emotional issues to the table. It complicates things, it raises tensions and it's unfair to you and your band or horse. No matter how hard it seems, you need to leave your rocks behind: drop it at the door. Fake it if you have to. Pick everything back up again as soon as you leave if you have to. But to achieve the consistency that you need for a positive, amazing relationship, your emotions must be consistent and tension-free.

Leave your problems at the door.

Drop your rocks. It's liberating, I promise.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Broken-Ankle Observations

Since I broke my ankle, I've been watching a lot. I watched several lessons at the Inavale camp, of course. There is also a series of clinics this weekend, given by the same trainer, that my mom and I have been going to watch.

It's at several different barns -- the nice part is that, between the people we already knew and the people we met at eventing camp, it seems that all of the people we know go to these. A lot of them are involved in Pony Club (which is why I've seen them around at clinics, which are usually hosted by PC), and the adults either have kids in PC or ride in the clinics and allow their property to be used.

Basically, I'm with the "in" crowd now. I really can't wait to start riding -- right across the street is a giant field with beautiful XC fences as well as some really nice stadium ones, perfect for practicing our gallop and jumping fences in the open -- and another person just down the road has a nice outdoor, too.

Okay, I know I've raved plenty about all my new friends. But anyway, my original subject was the clinics this weekend. Today was really cool to watch! She started with stadium fences (in a field still), then moved them on to XC. The girls I watched ride Training, so it was really wicked cool to see them really move their horses into a gallop and jump the bigger fences.

It's hard for me to watch. On one hand, it's very very good for me to watch riders who are better than me, as well as to see what the clinician's having them do. On the other hand, it's really tough, because I get so inspired (isn't that what watching better riders is supposed to do?), and full of ideas, and I get very frustrated that I can't ride. It's like waiting for a broken heart to heal, or something equally cliche -- I know it just takes time, but I want it to be over now. Sigh.

Oh, and I think I'm going to join Pony Club. Most everything is voluntary, though I'm sure I won't be able to help myself from rating up, because I am an inherently competitive person. The way I see it is, I go to so many PC-sponsored clinics anyway, I might as well join PC and get the lower rate. Further, I don't really have any riding buddies my own age, and I'd get that if I joined. I think overall it's just a really good thing for me to have. Going to the rallies would be really fun, too.

PS, I am reconsidering the project horse thing. Do I really need to add on the commitment of a second horse, as well as the commitment to work enough hours to support it, all while just starting college? I mean goodness, if I put that much daily riding time into McKinna, we'd progress really fast.

So it's something I'm going to think about. Perhaps, if it's going well, I'll start considering a project horse late winter/early spring, so I can spend the summer with it. But for now, I do somewhat need to give myself a reality check and realize that I have an amazing horse in my hands right now, and if I put as much time into her as I'm thinking I would for a project horse, I know we could start improving really quickly.

There's your post for the day. Tomorrow -- leaving your emotions at the door.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Use Your Mirrors - Part II

I'm quite pleased with myself. I was thinking yesterday in the car about horses (duh), and for whatever reason I started thinking about a friend of ours who purchased a 4-year old, really, really nice Appendix gelding. He was relatively inexpensive, and basically could w/t/c and lead. She was a beginner basically, and he was an incredibly pleasant horse to work with. Mellow, calm, cheerful, willing to work, though of course he had his 4-year-old moments. Most greenbroke horses do not do super well with beginning riders (says the girl who bought a green OTTB as a green rider), but he could effectively be called a saint. They've progressed very far, and she even started learning to jump on him before they moved to Texas. I'm sure she'll continue once things settle down from the move.


The point of that is, I was thinking about how nice of a horse he was -- pleasant, cooperative, calm, and very VERY well put-together. A beautiful cross. And I thought, why, I should buy a four or five year old Appendix, work with it for 6 months to a year or so, and sell it as a really lovely eventing/jumping packer!

Depending on the horse and its temperament, I think I could produce a Novice-level packer within 6 months, maybe Training if I took lots of lessons since I've never ridden at that level.

Those horses go for lots of money.

So I went on Dreamhorse, and there are some very nice, rather inexpensive Appendixes within 75 miles of me. A few of them were almost exactly what I was looking for (the one I liked best was a 6 year old, but he's also broke, with lots of miles rather than arena time -- perfect), and one was almost exactly what I was looking to sell: a really nice, mellow, 4-year old (I think that's a bit young) mare who is doing really nicely in lower-level eventing, for sale for $15k. Don't know if that's what she'll sell for, but she's also not jumping Novice (I think), nor is she a packer. She also looks like a really nice horse that could sell for a lot more than that if someone put a few years of eventing experience on her.

I don't know if I could do it, but I think I'd have a fair chance. The only reason I don't know is because I've never TRIED, so I think one of these days I'm gonna pick me up an Appendix and see what I can do! I would love to try a resale project, I think it would be a blast and would really inspire me to ride every day. Ultimately it doesn't really matter if I sell it for a profit, since I know that's pretty hard to do. It'd be worth it just for the experience. It would also be an excellent chance for me to test my skills, since sometimes I get quite full of myself until I realize I'm rather inexperienced. But I digress.

(Okay, edit: I've just talked to Mom and I've decided that even if I don't go with this exact plan, I'd really really like to try a resale project this year. I'm going to see if during school I'll be working enough hours consistently to support a 2nd horse's board/whatever, and if so, we'll start looking this fall. It will be a fun adventure if it works out!)

Without further ado, onto Mirrors Part II.

Actions: your band will mirror these, too. Horses, as I learned -- and relearned, time and time again -- will follow your actions.

When you're teaching horses, you must be consistent in your actions. If, in four days, you ask your young horse to canter in four new ways, it's likely that he won't understand what you want. Being a good horse, he'll probably try to do what you ask. He may give you the wrong response, trying to figure out what you want. He may become frustrated and confused and resist you. He may guess that you want the canter, but chances are that he's not sure, and the quality of the canter will suffer for this. Much the same, if you are not consistent in your actions with the band, then your band will be inconsistent in their response. They will not understand and they will not respond smoothly or correctly.

Horses will also get away with what they can. For example, every time I walk up to my horse's stall, I open the door, grab her halter, and expect her to walk up to the door so I can halter her and lead her out. Every time. She does this because she knows that if she ignores me, I will walk inside, use the lead rope to make her walk quickly around her stall a few times, then drive her to the stall door where she stands and lets me halter her. She knows that every time, whether she likes it or not, she is expected to meet me there, and if she doesn't, there are consequences. If I allow her to ignore me once or twice, and I walk into her stall to halter her instead of holding my expectations at the same level, a funny thing starts to happen. More and more often she ignores me when I walk up, until I start reinforcing my expectations 100% of the time again. Horses will get away with whatever you let them get away with.

Sound much like a freshman to you?

If your actions are consistent with your expectations, every single time, your band will respond to that by giving you consistent reactions. Consistent actions will produce consistent reactions.

Next up: leaving your emotions at the door. To be continued, again . . .

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Miscellaneous Post

I'm feeling lazy and contrary, so here's a post that's a bit of a collection of everything.

We longed McKinna tonight over some raised cavaletti. It gave her a nice physical and mental workout (she had to figure out the spacing of the cavaletti and thus how many strides she needed to put in), and it was fun to sit on my chair and direct while Mom longed her. I could get used to this whole training thing. . .

I'm thinking about doing a post on how to put together a nice ad for selling a horse. It would be really long and probably somewhat rant-y, so maybe I'd post it in installments, mm? Section 1 -- How Not to Take a Really Terrible Conformation Shot. Section 2 -- How To Spell Words Like Horse, Ridden, Lose (and Loose), Training. Section 3 -- Why Your Unbroke, "Friendly and Trainable" Colt Is Not Worth $3000.

I kid (mostly). But I would like to do a post about how to set up a nice ad, because my mother and I have seen a whole huge range of awful ads, and I think a lot of people just don't know better. It really doesn't take much effort to do. So yes, expect an upcoming post on marketing your horse.

The next installment of my Talk at Leadership Camp will be posted tomorrow about how horses mirror your actions.

An update on Bailey: he's doing well, roaming 30 acres with several other horses, she's been riding him more, and she's going to keep him. I don't think I posted about it, but about a month ago she emailed us to let us know she was considering selling him. Everything worked out (and we were very very grateful that she held true to our request to let us know before selling him), so it looks like he will go on happily living where he is! When we're able to afford the time/money/space for turning out a hot TB, I would love to ask her if she'd be willing to sell him back to us. I feel that I've come a long way since I sold him -- I'm a lot more analytical in my training process, a lot calmer, and I understand things better. I think we'd get along a lot better now, though it's not like we never got along when I owned him. He was just one of those horses that either wanted to be outside 24/7 or at least ridden and given something interesting to do for an hour every day. I couldn't provide either.

So, I am very happy that everything's settled for him and his owner, and I imagine he's just pleased as punch to be doing nothing but wandering around and eating all day ;)

Here's some old pictures of him, just for fun!

Warming up for Dressage at a schooling show

Jumping the Parrot fence!

At his very very first XC schooling round. Isn't he cute?

I still love that boy. I always forget how much I loved that TB side of him -- yeah, they can be hot, pains in collective asses, often exercise their ability to do the Patented Thoroughbred Spook, etc. But he was also wildly athletic, always willing to jump what I put in front of him, and just a damn handsome horse (in my humble opinion). Even if I never buy him back, I just don't think I can stay away from TBs for the rest of my life. I love McKinna and her low-maintenance Quarab self, but I love me a good Thoroughbred gallop.

And finally, for your viewing pleasure, a really lovely expression on my face showing just how excited I was to get a cast:

Told you it was a random post.

See you tomorrow when I'm feeling a little more organized!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

McKinna Update

Just thought I'd let you all know how McKinna is doing!

She seems to have settled in perfectly fine at the new barn. She's out in a herd of about 8 other mares, and as far as I can tell has landed quite comfortably in the middle of the pecking order. She defers to a pretty chestnut mare and an older bay, but she runs off the two grumpy little ponies and appears to be friends with both the chestnut and with the Shire cross I mentioned earlier. We bring her in once during the day for a little hay and her grass pellets/supplements, then back out she goes!

The arena appears to have lovely footing, and it's both well-maintained and quite a bit bigger than the previous indoor. I'm very excited to ride in it, because I feel that McKinna's at a point now where the bigger the arena is, the better -- it is time for some serious cantering work, and I like the way she relaxes and unwinds in bigger spaces. That means lots of riding in fields, if it's still nice enough weather by the time I'm healed up.

They have a beautiful all-weather round pen that I am itching to use for some ground work. It's the ideal place for me to work with McKinna while I'm still all laid up, so I can play with things like coming when called and such.

I've mentioned the neighbor-friends I met at the eventing camp I went to, and I can't wait to start riding with them too. The atmosphere at the new barn is friendly and responsible, they're cranking out improvements on the barn (seeing the new lovely stalls go up in place of the old broken-down ones is like magic!), and overall it just feels like a really good fit.

My mom rode McKinna the other night and said she did pretty well. That was her first time being ridden in the new arena. Mom and I also headed out last night and I gave her a lesson, which was quite fun! I really need to keep McKinna in shape, because she was just starting to get nicely fit when I broke myself. In a week or so I should be able to longe her without causing undue harm to myself, so I will start doing that.

Okay, so I confess: I rode last night.

I know, I'm terrible.

I'm not very experienced at giving lessons, and it's very hard for me to translate what I'm seeing McKinna do into what my mom is feeling and thus what she should do. It was driving me crazy. So I hopped on, no stirrups, and just walked her around a bit to get a feel for how she was going.

Pony did very well -- I'm actually really pleased by her walk. She was really willing to keep a nice contact with me, more so than she ever has before, and she moved nicely off my legs, even though it was a bit awkward on the one side with my cast. In any case, it helped me get a feel for what was going on, and the rest of the lesson went really smoothly. Mom got some really nice trotting circles out of her. Yay Mom!

Hope your riding adventures are going well in the absence of anything worthwhile on my end of the deal! I promise I won't ride much, but I just don't think I'll be able to help myself sometimes. I'll be good and not do any trotting, yet ;)

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Horse's Perspective

And now for your daily dose of crippled musing, because I have nothing better to do than sit around and think about horses (well, not really, I actually got some stuff done today!).

The horse's perspective. I mentioned this awhile ago, but here's what it comes down to for me.

When I'm training (and by training I mean any time I interact with a horse, on the ground, in the saddle, whatever), I try to refrain from only thinking about myself. What do I want? Am I riding well? What exercises am I going to do to get my desired response? Well yes, that's all well and good, but I also do my best to question how I am affecting my horse. Why does she react the way she does to this cue? If she's anxious, what is the cause of her anxiety, and what can I do to alleviate that -- does she need to be pushed through it, or do I need to change what I'm doing? Do I need to be more insistent to get what I want, or do I need to soften? Do I need to repeat this drill until she relaxes and falls into it, or is that going to frustrate her? Do I need to be moving slowly or quickly through my ride? Do I need to challenge her, or let her build up small successes?

The answers are different every day.

All those questions are basically a way of shutting up and tuning into the horse. Because I'm a creature of presumably higher intelligence, I need to think about what she's doing and respond to it thoughtfully rather than simply reacting to it.

Here's a few examples.

When a horse bucks with me (say, while picking up the canter), my first reaction is to get their head up, sit up, and boot them forward. But McKinna never bucks, ever -- so if she bucks with me, then instead of reacting, I need to respond. If she's bucking, something is probably quite wrong, and it's likely that I would ride her for a bit to see if I can get a feel for what's going on, then possibly dismount and check tack or longe. If I'm on another horse, say one known for bucking to intimidate riders, you can bet I'd be riding his sorry self forward in a major way, making him work work work.

When my horse scoots forward in part of a circle, my first reaction is to resist strongly on the reins to say knock it off. But several things could be going on: perhaps the horse dropped his outside shoulder and drifted to the outside rushing. In that case, I need to give the horse more support from my outside leg and rein. Maybe the horse is feeling pressured, and rushes forward to escape; for this, he needs less rein (but still support) to help him relax, come back down, and then gradually build up contact. Maybe he's just spooking at something in the arena; this means I need to take charge and get him working his butt off next to that scary thing until he forgets it was ever there.

Different reasons for what they do, different responses.

Along with this must come an understanding of how your aids affect the horse. I know that if I tense up, my horses tense up. So I try to stay relaxed (and hold my temper, which is usually a bit harder). If I kick because I don't get the response I want, McKinna freaks out and worries for the rest of the ride; I know that using the whip gently will get a much better response. On the other hand, on Bailey, sometimes a boot in the side was exactly what he needed to wake him up and get a point across.

When I rode Bailey, if I insisted on too much contact too soon, he'd feel claustrophobic -- so when I rode, we warmed up with loops and serpentines on a long rein, where he felt comfortable enough to bend and relax into my hands. Then I asked for contact.

It's a delicate line between understanding your horse's reactions and giving in to your horse's reactions. If my horse freaks out about a dressage whip, I am not going to refrain from riding with a whip; I'm going to get my horse used to them. But, being considerate of his state now, I would calmly and slowly introduce the whip -- not plunge him into whip use all at once. If my horse scoots forward at the slightest contact of legs, I'm not going to ride with my legs away from my horse's sides -- but I will be understanding as I ask my horse to accept contact with my legs, and when riding, I will always keep in mind that this will probably be a light-sided horse.

In short: don't get pushed around (please), but do understand why your horse is reacting the way he is, and either adapt your riding in acceptable ways (e.g. my warmup with Bailey) or calmly help him through his initial reactions (e.g. fictional whip-shy horse).

A final note on understanding your horse's perspective -- I am a little bit of a worrier. I am always inclined to blame pain for nasty behavior before I will blame a horse for just being 'that way.' I will always consider tack fit, physical condition, dental care, and so on before I believe that a behavior problem is 100% the horse's fault.

That does not mean that horses get away with being rank. As Mugwump says, it doesn't matter WHY, they just aren't allowed to (buck, rear, kick, bite, ________).

But in return for this unyielding demand for safe behavior, I have a responsibility to ensure that my horses don't have a reason to be rank. This is really important to me, so listen up. If you are going to ask your horse to always behave and never buck/kick/etc, you need to make sure they have no physical reason to do so. If this means a vet check, chiropractor check, dental exam, saddle fit check (for the umpteenth time, even), then just do it. I brought a chiropractor out to check out McKinna even though she didn't really show any signs of back pain. Why? Because she's a little stiff in her canter, but most importantly, because I wanted to be confident that when I asked her to work hard for me, she was physically capable of doing so.

I don't take crap from my horses. They need to do what I ask. In order for me to feel comfortable demanding this of my horses, I must have the peace of mind that they are not hurting anywhere. I need to listen to them. If McKinna hurts herself, and tells me in subtle ways that she is sore (head tossing, refusing to listen, reluctant to pick up a gait, or any other uncharacteristic misbehavior), then I will listen and check her out, instead of pushing through it until she resorts to more drastic behaviors to get my attention.

I know McKinna is in perfect health, so I feel no guilt when I ask her to work hard or when I push through an issue. I know her blocks involve a lack of either understanding or physical strength; both of those I can bring her through. She, in turn, trusts my judgment and does what I ask.

So there -- that's my big point. Don't let your horse get away with shit, but make sure they're pain-free so that you can be guilt-free when you get after them for something.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Broken Ankle: Then and Now

Last time I broke an ankle, I was 14 years old. Now I'm 18.

It was my left ankle. This time it's my right.

I got on a horse I shouldn't have, he bolted, and I bailed; this time, I was riding a horse I love and trust, and it was just an accident.

Then, I landed straight on my foot, and got an impact fracture; this time, I rolled it, and got a different kind whose name I can't remember.

Last time, I was in a walking boot but could put no weight on it; this time, no weight still but I got a cast.

Then, I was a horseless, horse-crazy kid about to start high school. I broke my ankle two days before I was going to a horse camp with my best friend. Now, I'm a horse-owning, horse-crazy girl about to start college; I broke my ankle during an eventing camp, two weeks before another clinic.

After the first time, my parents got me half a horse because they felt so bad and everything finally came into place; now, I certainly am not getting another horse, but I think I can talk them into buying me some cake. Hazelnut cake. Mmmmmm.

When I first had my broken ankle, I wanted badly to end up riding show jumping. Now, I'm steadily moving further into the eventing world and loving every minute.

Then, I was sad I missed camp, but I didn't mind sitting around a bunch and hopping. Now, I'm pining for riding but most of all I dislike my lost independence.

Then, I wasn't even thinking about driving. Now, I'm acutely aware that I broke my right ankle and thus can't drive.

Then, I loved horses but didn't know much. Now, I love horses even more, and still don't know much.

Funny how some things change and some don't :)

Use Your Mirrors - Part I

I miss riding.

I mean really, I can handle it. I'll probably start riding bareback in three weeks, after I get my checkup x-rays to make sure everything's still healing right. Mom has gotten me several horse books to read in the meantime, and I'm getting some good ideas. I just...miss riding, in the way that you miss things when you can't have them. I'll go out to the barn soon to give my mom some lessons, though. I've been practicing my loud-whistle and I'm making some progress, so maybe soon I can work on teaching McKinna to come at the whistle! Or I could just go buy a dog-training whistle.

Okay, the much-anticipated (or so I'm told) explanation of My Talk at Leadership Camp.

First, a little bit about camp: it's a leadership camp for marching band. There's four different tracks. One for the drum majors, who conduct the band musically and usually serve as student leaders, aka the step between students and staff; one for the section leaders, who are the leadership corps under the drum majors as they lead their section (trumpets, flutes, drumline, etc) in marching and music; one for the color guard, whether they are captain or not; and one for collegiates, who have graduated from high school and then go through more advanced subjects and are pushed harder.

That being said, the message that the camp says really isn't about band, it's about life. Yes, I admit to being very sappy about the subject. It's really hard to describe -- but basically the camp, which usually has around 70 campers, really instills a sense of responsibility in kids, and gives the people that attend some amazing leadership tools. I've used many of them with horses.

The collegiate campers this year (of which I was one, since I graduated this year) were asked to give a seminar to the campers. Every night, the camp director and his right-hand-man give leadership seminars -- stories from their lives that illustrate a leadership concept of the camp. So we were asked to give something similar during the day.

Here's mine: the camp concept was, 'The Band is Your Mirror.' I tied this into horses.

This is paraphrased, obviously. I've also given a little more weight to the horse examples -- my talk before was more geared towards bands, since I was at a band camp, and thus the horse examples are very simplified; it's more to help support the points I am making to them with my own personal experience, with memorable analogies and key phrases for them to focus on.

Your band is your mirror. They will reflect two things: your emotions and your actions. If you show them consistent leadership through your emotions and actions, they will reflect that back at you; consistent emotions and consistent actions make consistent leadership. The place I learned this, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with band. I learned this from horses, because horses, too, are mirrors.

The first part of your mirror is your emotions. Horses are usually very sensitive to the emotions of their rider; what you project at them, they will reflect in their responses. For example, with my first horse, Bailey, I used to get very angry when things didn't go the way I wanted. He was an ex-racehorse, fresh off the track from a not-so-kind trainer, and almost completely green (untrained). He had a lot of issues, and he was always tense when I rode him. I just could not get him to relax, and I used to get so angry when things weren't going well. Unfortunately, Bailey was very sensitive to my emotions -- and when I got angry, one of two things happened. He might, in the face of my anger, shut down in self-defense. Imagine you're at the first day of band camp, and little Suzie the Freshman Flute Player just doesn't understand the concept of reading drill. She's in the wrong place every time, and it's driving you crazy. But what happens if you blow your temper and yell at her, giving her only anger? Sweet little girl that she is, she'd probably be very quiet, cower, nod, and go home and cry later. She would probably not trust you for quite awhile, even if after that you made every effort to be understanding and kind.

The second thing would happen with Bailey is that he would reflect my anger right back at me by getting frustrated and angry himself. Now, picking a fight with a horse isn't exactly a good idea. I was a 14-year old girl and weighed 110 pounds soaking wet; he was almost ten times my weight. Obviously just as unproductive, if not more, than when he shut down. What if, in your band season, Tommy the Trumpet Player just doesn't have it together and misses his solo six times in a row? Now he's a senior, and your trumpet section leader, and he's been a rock star for you all four years, your best section leader, always solid in the music -- but you get really angry, and you yell at him in front of the whole band to just get his act together and stop messing up, because he's bringing the band down. Do you think that Tommy the Trumpet Player might get angry with you? He would probably not be very interested in helping you out; for the rest of that rehearsal, he would probably be very bitter, and he might even stay that way for awhile. You gave him your anger, and he reflected it right back.

But imagine your season if your emotions were consistently those associated with a leader: relaxed, calm, assertive, confident, supportive, friendly, uplifting. These, too, your band will reflect back at you; if they know they can count on you to be calm in tough situations and uplifting when they're struggling, they will trust you, and that will show. (True of horses also, incidentally; if they know you always keep your head, and if you're always relaxed, supportive, and calmly in control, they will pick that up.) So the first thing you must do for a successful season is have consistent emotions. This means that you need to leave your baggage at the door, which we'll talk about in a bit.

Next up: consistent actions. To be continued . . .

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

And Then It All Went to Hell in a Handbasket

Here's a couple pictures from Friday:

Stadium, the morning lesson on Friday where I jumped my first bending line

Trotting through the water complex on XC

Saturday's events:

I woke up to the pleasant sound of horses nickering and an espresso machine. Which, as I would find out Sunday morning, was being employed in the creation of some really, REALLY good vanilla lattes. But I digress.

About 45 minutes before my morning lesson, my mom and I went to get McKinna ready. Glancing up, I see the chestnut gelding of one of my group members absolutely freaking out as he's tied to the trailer. This gelding pulls back hard, goes up, hooks a foreleg over his leadrope, flails, and then his rider undid the quick release. The grey gelding tied to the trailer, who belongs to the third guy in my group, pulls back in the trademark TB Sympathy Panic, breaks the ring he's tied to, and both horses trot nervously into the corner of the pasture we're all parked in (only a few feet away, thankfully). By this time I was already over there.

Within seconds, we see the sight that makes any horse person's heart sink: blood starts dripping down onto the gelding's left hind leg. Fast. The grey's owner catches him and ties him now that he's settled down; the chestnut's owner catches him and tries to look at the injury. I come over to hold his head (the horse's name is Al, by the way) while his owner takes a look. Al settles down a little, and we can see that it's a nasty slice right on his stifle. It gapes open every time he takes a step, and blood is coming pretty fast. We locate some towels to hold on it, and until the vet arrives maybe 45 minutes later, Al settles down quite a bit and is holding still. I'm at his head petting him and holding him still, his owner's holding a series of blood-soaked towels to the injury.

Eventually the vet comes, sedates him, stitches it up, etc etc etc. All three of us skipped the morning lesson and let the trainer know. During lunch hour, me and the rider of the grey decided to go out for a lesson.

Our instructor takes us out to the XC field, where they've just spread a very very thin layer of fresh compost. We warm up at a trot on a nice big circle; McKinna's a little hot, but nothing major, and she's relaxing as I move her off my leg. When told to, we pick up the canter -- it's beautiful. A flawless, balanced transition (somewhat of a rarity for her!), and the first few steps are just lovely. Relaxed, an easy tempo.

And that was when everything went to hell in a handbasket.

We hadn't gone more than three strides when all of a sudden McKinna's forelegs were sliding crazily out from under her. Her nose must have only been a few inches off the ground -- all I registered was that I could see her foreleg out of the corner of my eye (I think she spread them out in opposite directions to try to regain balance), her forehand was going way down, and I was popping off over her shoulder. I landed on my right side, feet first, rolling down, saying "Please don't step on me, please don't step on me."

When we came to a halt, McKinna had managed to regain her balance. I'm laying on the ground on my right side. Her forelegs are on either side of my waist, and my whole lower body is under her body. She's standing dead still. After a brief second to breathe and realize she wasn't going to step on me, I said, "Ow."

And then a lot more ows, and I started crying, because my right ankle hurt really really bad. I couldn't use it to move myself, so the instructor carefully backed McKinna up and handed her to the other rider. I immediately took my boot and sock off, realized that there was no way I was going to be able to put weight on it, and said "I am going to be SO PISSED if this is broken."

We're maybe a half mile away from the camp (we are on a cross country course, after all!), so I get lifted up onto McKinna and ride her back, semi-hysterical the whole way. By the time I dismount and get into a chair, it's swollen to maybe the size of a baseball -- and I have small ankles.

Horse people being horse people, there are doctors and nurses and people with crutches and so on, so in a rather timely fashion I've got ice wrapped on it, which of course makes it hurt even more because it's not numb yet.

Anyway. What it came down to is, my ankle's broken. The doctor I saw that day said I couldn't put weight on it for 4 to 6 weeks; I go in to see the orthopedic surgeon tomorrow, where I will find out more specifics and they will hopefully tell me that 1. I can keep it in a boot instead of a cast and 2. it's non-surgical.

Mostly I'm just really pissed that I can't ride. I was so excited to keep working with McKinna throughout the weekend -- I had JUST gotten the feeling for how to rate her gallop. I can still feel it now, which is good, because as soon as I'm able I'm going to go out there and try it out. I was loving the stadium lessons, because she's come so far (can hold a course together, finds her own distances, understands the concept of leads) and our group was so much fun. I'd just learned to do banks and things like that, and I couldn't wait till we did more complicated stuff.

Not to mention there are several upcoming things like clinics, schooling shows, etc that I can't do now.

On the plus side, I did stick around and watch other lessons. Thanks to that I really solidified my understanding of how to set up a horse for a fence on XC, and tied in to that, how to fix my position. I tend to jump ahead of the horse, a habit I acquired when Bailey used to rush all of his fences. It makes me more likely to come off if she stops, because I'm already ahead of the motion, and she has such a shorter neck than a TB that there's nothing there to catch myself on.

We've just moved to a new barn, too. McKinna is out in the giant mare pasture, cheerfully roaming all day, and she appears to have made friends with an adorable Shire cross. I met at least three people at the camp this weekend who live literally right next to this new barn -- so I have some new riding buddies, even though I can't ride! I'm excited to start riding with them once I can, though. One of them has a big field with some XC fences in it, and one of the ladies has a really sweet packer mare that she's offered to let my mom ride.

But here's what I've decided in light of my fall and what I've learned this weekend.

I am going to establish a really, REALLY solid position once I'm back in the saddle. That means I need to ride without stirrups, a lot. I need to get my mom to longe me so I can focus on me. I need to spend a lot of time in two-point strengthening those muscles. I need to go out into a really big field and practice going back and forth between galloping and setting back for a fence. I need to stop jumping ahead.

So, that's that. Since I won't be riding, you will be treated to all kinds of blogs that I've been meaning to write (talk at leadership camp et al), as well as reflections on training methods and so on. One of the things I've decided to work on is to have McKinna come reliably when called; I'm going to enlist my mom to help me with that, so I will post an update once we try it a little. It involves me learning how to whistle loudly, so I need to acquire that skill first!

Hope your weekend went a little better than mine :) Here's me arriving back at camp in my trainer's car after going to Urgent Care.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Home, Sweet Home

Well, I'm home!

I wrote blog posts as I was at camp -- no internet access, but I saved them in Microsoft Word. So you will get to read them as if it's happening that very day!

Here's Friday's post:

Upon our arrival Thursday night, the first thing we did was get McKinna settled in. We picked a little corral (nice little things, 12x12 wood-pole deals, bedded with straw), parked the truck in a nice spot with some advice from some friendly riders (who were quite cheerful to direct us to a parking spot that didn’t block their view of neighboring vinyards), pitched the tent, unpacked some stuff, heated up our stew over the little propane barbeque. We watched, bemused, as a neighboring camper ran an extension cord all the way across the field we parked in: “You have electricity!” my mother remarks. “Oh yes,” says the lady, “it’s just for…the espresso machine…” and grins sheepishly as she realizes what she’s saying.

We horseback riders know how to do it in style, that’s for sure.

My first ride is Friday morning outside. A lovely outdoor arena, awesome footing, no idea exactly how big it is, but it’s big. I’m in a group with two guys (of the three total in the camp). After starting off with a warmup crossrail, we move right into gridwork, first with two fences, then three and four. I really enjoyed the gridwork because we’ve never had enough room to do it at home – but McKinna acted like she’d done it her whole life, just hopping right along through.

From there our instructor just kept building the course. Grid, diagonal, single. Then she added a bending line (my first ever!) and then another. The first time, McKinna practically blew through the bending line – getting a little strong was a bit of a problem for us. On my last round, though, I figured out how to ride it better, and she backed off a lot more when I was a little lighter in my hands (funny how that works). My group is officially awesome. It’s small, we’re all competent riders with competent horses, and we get to move along at a nice pace. I was so proud of McKinna! She finally understands her leads, I don’t fuss with her distances, she never hesitates at the fences, and she can put together a whole course. She truly has come a long way.

Lunch, enough time for a quick nap, and then off for my ‘indoor’ lesson, except that we did cross country. I had a BLAST. She was really really strong in the beginning as we trotted and cantered in a big circle, but settled down once we got to really cantering and jumping some low warmup fences. Then we headed out into the big field with the water complex!

Lots of firsts today: first time cantering down the hill, through the water, and back out again. First up bank, trotting and cantering; first down bank, just trotting. First ditch, both natural and revetted. My little mare was an absolute star for all of those! Up banks are way more fun than I thought they would be.

Our biggest problem with XC is McKinna wanting to charge forward. I don’t like it, and I want her to come back the instant I want, so I tend to half-halt really strongly, and it’s just messy. I started to find a rhythm towards the end, using the same riding style I did at the end of the first lesson – lighter in the hands, lighter in the seat, just gently rolling with the motion. When I did that, she relaxed and found a rhythm, and would come back to me before fences when I sat back and half-halted. I only started to get a feel for it towards the end, though, so I’m excited to see if I can recreate that feeling for the whole lesson tomorrow!

She also had one dirty stop at a red barn fence. I hate that fence, she’s never liked it, she’s refused it before. I should have ridden her stronger to it the first time, and/or dropped to a trot where we’re both more secure. The second and third times over it she was fine, but I should’ve seen it coming the first time.

Oh well – at least most of the time she is quite honest! I suppose I’ll just have to school it every time we’re here until I get over my irrational dislike of that fence.

We had a potluck dinner with everyone and it was quite enjoyable. I’m having an absolutely awesome time, probably the most fun I’ve ever had on a horse, and McKinna is doing so well! This whole weekend is going to be such a great experience for both of us, and I think it will take us a long way in terms of our comfort level in jumping. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

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