Thursday, May 26, 2011

Protect Your Melon!

This is the Helmet I Want!!!
Last year National Helmet Awareness Day was such a huge success that Riders4Helmets is sponsoring an International Helmet Awareness Day this year.

Stateside:  To make sure we're all cover up every time we're mounting up, several manufacturers will be offering discounts through select retailers on June 11, 2011.  If you've been thinking about getting a new helmet, had your helmet longer than 5 years, or have recently had a fall (decreasing the safety of your current helmet) check out helmets from the following participating retailers:  Troxel, Charles Owen, Tipperary, Ovation, International Riding Helmets (IRH), GPAAegis (Devon-Aire), KEP Italia, Samshield, and Pegasus.

For a list of participating US retailers, click here.

Old Blighty (UK):  Participating manufacturers that will be offering discounts through selected equestrian retailers in the UK on International Helmet Awareness Day 2011 include: Charles Owen and Champion.

I've worn a helmet all my life, and feel naked without one.  To me, it's simply like wearing a helmet when playing football or hockey, and wearing a seat belt.  I do wish we could add a little more fun to them, though, as I've said in an older post.  I'd like a fan, or spikes, or flames -- something to give me more confidence and potentially intimidate the little pony urchins that ride against me in the Level 0's, going Mach 1 with their little pigtails on fire whilst I gently cruise around the course, trying to hold off dementia long enough to remember where I'm going...

Friday, May 20, 2011

If We Could Talk to the Animals...

Sugar Giving Her Boy Smoochies
Many of us spend a lot of time trying to understand our horses.  We read countless books and magazine articles devoted to understanding what they are telling us and how to interact with them more effectively.  For many of us, our method of understanding them is to simply anthropomorphise their behavior. In essence, we say, "This is how I would feel in that situation, thus, I'm sure this is how my horse is feeling."  Possibly not the most accurate way of understanding our equine partner, as there's a world of difference between prey animal behaviors and predator behaviors, but I guess it's better than nothing.

I admit I constantly attribute human thoughts to Sugar, often speaking them out loud in what I consider "her" voice.  Just in case you were wondering, she sounds very much like Kathleen Turner circa Romancing the Stone, not the Friends era.

Last night my son wanted me to give him a longe lesson on her. It was thundering and absolutely pouring down rain, and inside the indoor arena it sounded like waves and machine gun fire pelting a metal trash can.  Maybe not the best time to put the boy up on the horse, but she's a rock, so I did not really worry. 

True to form, she was a trooper, trotting around placidly while he two pointed, practiced transitions, and worked on his leg position.  If he bobbled a bit she adjusted her balance to stay under him; her ears swiveled constantly as she gauged where he was and if he was likely to come off. 

Things got funny when we asked her to canter.  She obviously had some pent up energy she was dying to release, but possibly felt she couldn't because "her" boy was on her back.  She picked up the canter and turned her head to look at me as if to say, "You got this?" She then turned her head to look back towards him as if she was telling him to hang on, and then she put her head down and waggled it, humping her back like she wanted to buck.  She'd take a stride or two like that, never actually bucking, and then she'd pick her head up and look back at my son.  I swear she was making sure he was still on board and also gauging his reaction.  She did this several times, always looking to me first as if to give me the head's up, the back at him to warn him that there was about to be a little turbulence, and then back again after she was done to make sure all was well and he was having fun. 

I know animal experts say we can't read their minds and we shouldn't anthropomorphise our animals.  I could be very wrong about this and it's possible she was just warning us that if he did not get a better leg in the next couple of strides he was gonna find out what  it's like to be a Space Shuttle hurtling in to orbit, as Sugar can throw a heck of a buck when she's so inclined. 

So, maybe I was only seconds away from a potentially dangerous situation, but  I don't think so.  I may not be an equine mind reader, but I do think I've paid enough attention to this particular equine to know when things are good or not good.  She may not have spoken English, and I certainly did not speak horse, but I think everyone involved was on the same wavelength.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What In The World Times 2....

Didn't think anything could be wierder than a horse jumping rope.  Consider me converted.  Not only is there wierder, there's waaaaaayyyyyyy wierder.  There's horse surfing.

Well, actually, isn't it more like equine assisted water skiing?  It's not like the horse is surfing.  The horse is pulling someone who is essentially wakeboarding behind or alongside it.

What gets me about this video is the thought these folks have put into it.  It seems like there's a school, as well as groups in other countries, France and the Netherlands for example, that have their own schools of thought on equine surfing.

These horses look like they're having a blast.  Can't imagine my aquaphobic mare would get into it, though.  I'm thinking of signing on for a few lessons...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What in the World???

OK, I'm at a loss. A friend of mine sent me the video I've embedded below and I've not stopped scratching my head since. 

What in the world possesses a person to wake up and say, "Yep, I've got a light day in front of me.  Think I'll teach the horse to jump rope."

Is the feeling this inspires in me jealousy?  Maybe.  I'm struggling to perfect the half halt or get my distances more than 35% of the time, and this guy's probably already teaching Leghion and a buddy the intricacies of equine Double Dutch...


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Headcase and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Lesson...

One of my favorite books as a child, in fact, of all time, is one by Judith Viorst called Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day.  As a child who was constantly falling down, knocking out teeth, finding gum in my hair, or being picked on by other kids, I identified with Alexander, the story's protagonist.  What I liked best about the book was that, despite the almost un-ending number of cruddy things that happened, there was an "end" to Alexander's day, and the promise of a better one to come.  This aligned with something that my Nana used to say to me when I was upset about something: "This, too, shall pass."  she would intone, in a somewhat biblical voice.  "But WHEEEEEEEENNNNNNN??? WHEN will it pass?" was my inevitable reply (patience has never been one of my strong points).

My reason for bringing this up (you did know there was a reason for this, right?) was that I had a lousy, brutal, ugly, miserable lesson the other night.  I kept heaping negative adjectives on to describe my ride and my personality, and lo and behold, there we were,  Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day became Headcase (that would be me) and Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Lesson.  Really, feel free to applaud my brilliance now.

My biggest problem, and my trainer will back me up on this, is that I think too much.  No BS.  If I could get a pre-frontal lobotomy prior to every lesson I'm sure she and my horse would be a lot happier.  I've had several gnarly unplanned dismounts, let my previous horse use me as a doormat, taken unauthorized high-speed tours of other people's fields/rings/indoors and whatnot, but to date (knock wood, burn incense, poke voodoo dolls) I've come out in one mildly arthritic, semi fibromyalgic piece.  Nothing a big glass of wine and a couple of Flexeril can't handle.

So, she gave us a multi-element gymnastic followed by a circle to a triple of oxers set on the one stride.  Normally I do well in gymnastics because they eliminate the whole thinking thing.  I just have to get my mare to the first fence, stay in the middle, and let her figure things out.   Which she does, bless her big old heart.

What messed me up this time was the oxers.  Or, rather, the circle before them.  Too much time to think.  The first time through, by some happy accident, we nailed it.  Proving that we can, in fact, do this stuff.  Then I proceeded to worry, stress, gnash my teeth, and generally fret until it was time to go again.  We did okay in the gymnastic, but then I micromanaged her to the first oxer, choking up on her so she had no power.  She managed to get over oxer number one even though I buried her at it, but felt she had to shove 2 strides to get to the next one (again, it was a one stride) and just decided no oxer was ready to die over and stopped.  At which point my ass left the saddle and slid up her neck to her ears, a la Fred Flintstone.  Her ears, already long and slightly mule-ish, are now longer, as  I grabbed and held on to them in order to prevent a full frontal exit.

We tried those oxers several times, and never quite got them right, although the last few passes certainly were less dramatic than the first few.  Basically, we got it done, but I finished the lesson in a capital M Mood, feeling all woe-is-me, I'm a horrible rider, can't see a distance even if I had lasik surgery, yadda yadda yadda.  I'm only slightly ashamed to say I wallowed in that pony pity party for a bit, and in a fit of fix-it-ness went online to order a few Jane Savoie books about shrinking one's self to knock off all that headcase crap. (Um, did I mention the overthinking??)

Good grief, is there an end to this whining, you might ask??  Yep, sorta.  I watched the Nations Cup at La Baule and saw some of the best riders in the world messing up distances and sliding up their horse's necks.  Seriously, when Kevin Staut nearly buys real estate twice on the same fence, you get a sense of perspective REAL fast.  It happens, to EVERYBODY, no matter how good they are.  Best to just get over it. 

I also saw a post in the Chronicle of the Horse forums about someone's awesome lesson.  Seems counter-intuitive, but reading her post made me realize how few and far between really awesome lessons are.  Most of them are fairly awkward learning experiences that pave the way for more fairly awkward learning experiences, that sometimes result in moments of real connection and positive results, which make all the other crap worthwhile.

So, the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Lesson was not that bad after all.  Just took me several days and $50 to realize it.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Book Titles I Never Thought I’d See…..

I’m going to preface this entry with the admission that I am a voracious reader. I am also going to admit that I have been known to step outside the genre of classic literature and have shown a decided predilection for what is commonly called “chick lit.” Biographies and numerous equine related tomes also take up considerable space on my night table and book shelves.

That being said, it was with abject repugnance that I saw, on a recent trip to Barnes & Noble, a biography of the Kardashians next to one on Nelson Mandela. Shock! Horror! Really, is any more coverage of the Kar-trashians even necessary? And please tell me that whomever placed the two books adjacent to each other was having a giggle of galactic proportions. That’s like setting a biography of Mother Theresa next to one of Jenna James, for cripes sake.

Anywho, today’s mental ramble is inspired by books, but comes from a different angle. More along the lines of books that one would never have imagined would get published. Guess there's a always a chance...

This morning a friend of mine mentioned this book on her blog, ‘The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories.” I admit, the sensational nature of the title had me Googling it and checking out the entry on No judgment, just wanted to find out if the book was about what the title would lend one to think it would be about, or was just capitalizing on sensationalism to capture readership.

While I was there, Amazon suggested the following books to me.  Clearly, the end of the world is closer than I thought...

Crazy Buttocks

Sex in A Tent (Really?  Do we need a tutorial?)

Stray Shopping Carts
(I guess someone with a LOT of time on their hands wanted to find out where the lost ones go...)
Who Cut the Cheese: A Cultural History of Farts
( Cultural?  Oh yeah, when you think culture, you definitely think fart! My personal fave.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Pony's Letter From Summer Camp...

If you didn't know I was crazy as a loon from earlier posts, this one will leave no doubt in your mind.  Let me give you some background on this:  My dear friend (who happens to be my very first riding instructor) lent my kids her daughter's first pony, Cookie, for the summer two years ago.  We joked that she was sending Cookie away to Summer Camp. To keep my friend and her daughter up to date on the pony's life, I began writing (in Cookie persona) letters home to Cookie's stablemates, as if she were writing home from camp. 

Sonny, John, Santos and Scooter are Cookie's barn buddies from back home.  The Dammit is my daughter, Sophie.  Let's just say I do not have the patience of a saint.  What I DO have is the mouth of a sailor, and in the first few weeks of getting the kids to take proper care of the pony we had many of what is referred to around our house as "Mother of the Year" moments where my sentences often started with, "Dammit (insert child's name here), what in the name of heaven are you doing?!?"  Or something similar.  You get the drift. 

So now you are up to speed.  This is Cookie's letter home after doing the Garden State Horse Show.  As you can tell, Cookie is a smart little pony, with quite a personality and very high self-esteem.

Dear Sonny, John, Santos, and Scooter,

Greetings from Camp Altea. Things are going well down here.

Me With My Entourage
The big news is that I was in a show last weekend! And not just some local yokel kind of thing, it was a big show! It was so much fun to get all gussied up and go show the world how good I am. I got a really nice bath, and then the braider came and did my mane. I love how I look when I’m braided but hate how they itch. Thankfully the Mommy likes to scratch the itches for me. I even got to wear a really nice fuzzy halter on the trailer and a very pretty Altea cooler and an Altea Baker sheet. I love horse show high fashion!

We did the Short Stirrup Division, which is, as you know, a walk in the park for me. There were some cute ponies there, but none as cute as me, of course! It was good to be back in the show ring, and I certainly let them know I was there to compete – I did my snake dance/head shake move any time one of those other ponies came past me and said something. Nobody gets to trash talk the Cookie Monster! Annabel thought I was funny, and one time when I went by I could hear her say, “Look at that pony. You know she’s saying, “I’m back, bitches!’ “ I like Annabel; she knows a girl’s gotta have a little attitude.

The Dammit rode pretty well. A kid cut us off once and we had a slight steering issue. I had to break into a trot and swerve to avoid a jump standard. I was really mad about that, because we were having a beautiful ride, and I thought about biting that little so-and-so that cut us off. The Dammit must have read my mind because she tightened up on my reins and turned me in a circle so I couldn’t, but you can bet I kept my eye open for another opportunity.

The Dammit and Annabel Discussing Course Strategy;
 I'm Checking Out the Competition!

I got a little excited and fast during some of the fence classes.  It feels so good to be jumping again!  Annabel told the Dammit to ride me out into the corners to slow me down.  I didn’t think the Dammit was listening (sometimes she doesn’t) but apparently she was because the next round she rode me into every corner of that ring and by gosh, a pony does have to slow down around tight turns.  Who knew? 

We did pretty well. We got a 2nd, a 4th, 2 6ths, and an 8th. I guess it’s not bad for our first time out and for doing an “A” show, but you know I prefer the higher placings. Blue and red look so much better against my shiny bay coat than yellow, white or pink.

Anyway, that’s all the news for now. I’ll write again soon. Miss you guys!



Monday, May 9, 2011

Show Update...

Dang, I Wish My Heels Were Down...
Well, its over, and we survived!  Actually, that's a bit of a negative way to put it.  We had a very good time; we had some "learning experiences" earlier in the day and some really nice highlights on our last round.  All in all, I went home very pleased.

The morning started out typically, meaning that I got very little sleep the night before.  Didn't take anything to help myself sleep as it makes me really dopey, and I don't need that when piloting a 1200 pound exuberantly opinionated mare around a 3' course.  So I made my morning latte a double and headed off to the show.

Best surprise of the morning? I had some good luck wishes from some of my blog friends!  Thanks, ladies, you made my day!  I showed your well wishes (via my blackberry) to everyone in my barn, and your kind words were a nice breath of calming energy.

We warmed up well; Sug felt really loose and supple, very much on the aids.  She was very relaxed, which was somewhat surprising, as we don't do a lot of shows.  She doesn't get silly, she just appreciates the situation and 'blows up' a bit, adding a bit of strut to her step and preening for the crowd. 

My trainer and I walked the course (I always feel like I'm doing a bit from Monty Python's skit "The Ministry of Silly Walks") and I took notes on the striding and pace in my notebook. Regarding the notebook: I'm new to the jumper thing and of a certain age.  Drawing a diagram of the course helps the dementia riddled cope with course memorization. 

Our schooling jumps went great, and when it was my turn off we went.  The approach to the first jump went well.  The jump itself didn't.  In fact, it just didn't happen.  For some reason nerves overtook me and I went completely fetal, asked the mare to take off from an impossible distance, she wisely chose life and demurred, and I choked up so much she didn't have the option to jump from the deeper distance.  Bad Mom!  We came around to try again and sailed over it, and headed over to fence two.  Fence two was essentially a repeat of fence one.  Now I was really irked with myself.  I turned her around, and with a few choice words for myself, galloped back at the fence.

Over we went, and then continued our merry way around the course.  Apparently there's a rule that if a competitor has two refusals they are eliminated.  I don't remember if I thought the rule was three refusals equaled elimination, or if I was just hell bent and determined to get my entrance fee's worth out of that particular class, but Sug and I went around the course until I finally got close enough to my trainer and realized she was yelling at me to stop and that the buzzing noise I heard was not due to increased blood pressure but the starter fiercely buzzing me out so the next competitor could begin.

So, not an auspicious beginning.  Had a little convo with my trainer, who suggested it might be a good idea for her to hop on Sug, school her, and then take her around the next class.  I waffled a bit, thinking on one hand that I'd be a huge wuss if I let her, and then conversely that it would be an immense help and likely to result in a better experience when I got on for my third class.  I decided to let Annabel ride her, and the little "Come to Jesus" session worked tremendously well.  I got over my nerves, Sug got over her issues, and we were ready for Round Three.

Somewhere in the middle of all this I misplaced my little notebook with my course diagram.  Uh-oh, what to do?  Panic?  Or suck it up, realize I was fully capable of memorizing the bloody course without it, and just get over myself? I chose Option B.  This was not curing cancer, for cripes sake, this was a bleeping horse show and I had made the choice to put myself through this.

We had a very nice round.  We jumped every jump, had no GPS issues, and for the most part, nailed the distances.  We finished the round to the sound of applause and the 'whoo-hoos' of barn mates, cooled out and headed back to the barn for some well deserved treats (a couple peppermints for Sug, a lovely Cabernet for me!)

The best parts of the day?  The feeling of success at the end of the third class, the support of my barn mates and my blog friends, and most of all, being able to spend the whole day with my Big Girl.  Here's a video of our third round, taken by a friend.  Feel free to point and laugh!

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Colleen Rutledge and her partner, Shiraz
I love coming across articles like this one from the Chronicle of the Horse, mostly because I realize I'm a work in progress. When I hear about someone likes this it motivates me and inspires me to be a better person, if only for a little while.  Perhaps on some level I feel that enough exposure to people like this and I'll be able to string those moments of personal betterment into even longer moments and maybe one day I can string those moments into a whole day or week.  You get the drift.

Most horse people I talk to at one point call their horse their sanity, their best friend, or their therapy.  Colleen Rutledge, recent Rolex Kentucky competitor and student of the great Jimmy Wofford, has three children, one of which has cancer and another that is confined to a wheelchair.  In the Chronicle article, written by Beth Rasin, Rutledge states, “I have an absolute belief that I want to live every part of my life to the fullest, to savor every moment,” and  "Everyone who gets upset over a bad dressage test or a rail—I just say, ‘It’s OK, I’ll work harder at it next time.’ I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff because there’s so much more going on. It’s just about enjoying the ride and living life to the fullest.”

One day I'd like to be that kind of person.  If you'd like to read more about this inspirational woman, go to

Friday, May 6, 2011

Global Champions Tour Live Telecast!

Just a quick shout out to my horsie friends who can't get enough of the four legged beasties, the Global Champions Tour, a show jumping competition founded in 2006 by Dutch Olympian Jan Tops, will be televised live at 12 noon EST today, May 6th. 

I know what I'll be doing on my lunch hour...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Show Woes Update...

Turned out that my earlier show jitters were in vain -- we wound up not going.  There were gawdawful downpours in my area that weekend, and I just don't see the sense in showing in the rain. Call me a wimp if you want, but I only have so much in the horse show budget so it's of primary importance to enjoy the experience as much as possible.  Thus, I am a fair weather horse show-er.  Luckily, my trainer and the other folks who were supposed to show were of the opinion that it was too gross to show, so I felt a bit better.

That being said, now I don't have a warm-up before the Garden State show, so I'm going to have to pull on my big girl pants and just get it done.  To make sure we're prepared, I've scheduled more lessons than normal, and my trainer (bless her heart) has been absolutely demonic (I say this with love) about the courses she's asking us to do.

The other night we did a 4 stride bending line on the right lead from a vertical to a skinny oxer.  By some miracle I managed to do it right the first time, but was not as lucky on successive tries. My mare likes to land left when we're on the right rein, and my trainer had me keeping my outside leg on and applying an opening rein.  Sometimes I managed to execute, other times not. At one point I had too much opening rein and we darn near jumped the standard.  Many thanks to my honest and forgiving mare for saving my bacon on that one!

This morning we did the line from the other direction and added another 4 stride bending line to a vertical. So, skinny oxer off a tight right turn to a vertical, then another vertical with a tight left turn.  Basically, a big, tight left turn with fences strategically placed throughout.  Let's just say our attempts to navigate it were not pretty, but we made it through, though not without a serious case of PTSD.  My trainer says we will not see anything like that at this show.  I cannot begin to tell you how happy that makes me.

So now the Big Day is tomorrow, and I'm trying not to panic.  I've washed everything that can be washed, the show clothes fit and have been ironed, and have packed and re-packed the car to make sure I have everything.

Now I just need to remember to keep breathing and try not to throw up.