Monday, January 30, 2012

I Got Picked for the George Morris Jumping Clinic!!

Nope, not the real one as seen in the monthly column in Practical Horseman magazine.  The parody, as seen on one of my favorite equestrian websites, Hillbilly Farms.  If you ever need a good laugh, trot on over to their site, or check out their blog, The Road AppleWarning: Not for the humor impaired!  I've turned my barn buddies on to this site, and we laughed so hard we peed ourselves.  Then again, some of us are of a certain age and have had children...

Anyway, Hillbilly Farms does a parody of the George Morris Jumping Clinic that appears in Practical Horseman magazine, and I think it's hysterical, so I submitted an entry. I submitted my favorite bloopers pic, one where Sugar is jumping so hard she jumped out of her shoe (look by her nose) and I am hanging on for dear life.

Happily the folks at Hillbilly Farms thought our entry had what it takes to give the equestrian world a good giggle.  Here's what they had to say:

Jumping Clinic with George Morris
Winning the Battle Against Perfection

This rider's heels are shoved down and she has turned out her toes. To compensate for this weak base of support, she is clinging to her horse with her heels. She needs to relax her legs and sink her weight into her heels.

This rider's insecurities have caused her to stay in the saddle over the fence. She needs to come up out of the saddle and slide her hands up her horse's neck for some semblance of a release. Getting off her horse's back and giving a release will enable the rider to flatten her back, bring her elbows in, and perhaps stop making faces. She needs to look up at her next fence—over a jump is not the time to contemplate what went wrong at her farrier appointment.

This horse is making a huge effort over this moderately sized oxer. Her effort has left the spectators gasping for breath. The horse appears to be jumping with power rather than style. The look on this horse's face tells me she would rather make the decisions than leave such things to her incompetent rider. (Blog Author's note: This is my favorite line in the whole thing - Sug would ABSOLUTELY be much happier if all decisions were left to her!)

This pair's turnout is unremarkable. Their casual turnout is typical for schooling jumper classes. I prefer fitted saddle pads to the square saddle pads that everyone uses these days. The horse is clean and well-groomed, but lacks hoof polish. This pair's performance would improve significantly if the rider invested in some extra nails for her horse's shoes.

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it, and I'm about as chuffed as if I'd won a Grand Prix!

If you have the time and want a few more chuckles (assuming you found this amusing, and since you've gotten this far, I'm gonna assume you have) I'd recommend:

Hillbilly Farms Dressage Training Scale

Show Gear

Trainer Quotes

Hillbilly Hunter Show MadLibs

My understanding is Hillbilly Farms is located somewhere in Washington State.  It's a pity I'm on the other coast, as I think I'd fit in there...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I Love My Kids, I Swear I Do: Take 2

I had to update y'all after yesterday's post about the challenges of getting the kids ready for their riding lessons.   As much as it can sometimes be stressful (and really, I do realize that some of the stress I bring on myself) I do love the time together our riding brings us.

This morning I got up at o'dark hundred (on a Sunday!!) to watch the FEI Rolex World Cup Show Jumping qualifier from Zurich.  There I was, stretched out on the couch, laptop in lap, latte in hand, watching the best of the best jump GI-NORMOUS 1.60m obstacles and thinking "Why am I such a wuss that I go fetal at 3'?"

About 5 minutes into the competition the Boy wandered in and sat down next to me, and the Girl followed a few minutes after that.  So here we all were, cuddled on the couch and staring at the laptop.  I wish you could have heard the commentary from the peanut gallery. 

"Oh! He's a MILE off that one!"

"Ugh!  Too deep, too deep!"

"Let go of his face!"

"Outside leg, more outside leg!!

"Ride up!"

"Wait for it, wait for it."

"Good turn, sweet turn!"

"Oh, there's Ludger! When does Ludger go? Is that Chaman? I LOVE Chaman!" (Yep, we're BIG Ludger fans.)

Of course all of this was accompanied by hisses, groans, shouts, fist pumps and leg kicks (I have bruises - the Girl kicks like a mule and pays no attention to where she's kicking.)

I really feel so blessed, as I know the horses were the best part of my childhood, and I truly feel as though horses and the time we spend as a family with the horses will be the best part of my kid's childhood. 

And at least I had a good start to the day, which will hopefully stand me in good stead as we have another riding lesson today.  Am keeping fingers crossed that there will be less "cat herding" moments.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

I Love My Kids, I Swear I Do...

That being said, sometimes I really feel like beating my head against a wall punting them selling them on eBay like I'm herding cats.  You remember that commercial, right?

You know what I mean, right?  When you try to get kids to go in the same direction at the same time, it's kinda like herding those cats.

Add time pressures into the mix, and you've got the kind of evening that has Mommy reaching for the wine.  The kids had a lesson the other night, so right after work I zipped over to pick up Soph at after school care.  That's an excercise in patience unto itself.  Ms. Social Butterfly takes what feels like an eternity to gather her crap stuff and say goodbye to her legion of fans friends.  Since we no longer had time to make a quick dinner, I swung by McDonalds to grab something for the road (wrong order yet again - FAIL!!!), jetted back home to grab the boy and let the girl get changed, and off we went through 45 minutes of rush hour New Jersey traffic.

Ms. SB has a herd of buddies at the barn, which means that she's easily distracted from her task of tacking up for her lesson.  I try vainly to ride herd on her and keep her on task, while making sure they boy gets Sugar ready in a timely fashion.  He's good on the time thing, just forgets some of the stuff you'd think would be basic by this point in his riding life.  For example, which side the leather part of the girth goes on and which side the elastic should be on, whether or not she should have jumping boots on (yes, you'll be jumping) and how there should be some space between her withers and the saddle pad for comfort.  Don't even get me started on how he puts on her bridle.  I give him a pass on this -- she is pretty tall. 

Meanwhile, the pony is still standing patiently on the cross ties, clad only in jumping boots and a saddle pad, and the girl child is nowhere to be seen.  I check the tack room -nothing.  The bathroom - nope.  I go upstairs by the tack trunk, and as soon as I get to the top of the stairs I hear a rush of little footsteps and when I round the corner,  Sophie is looking very busy in her tack trunk and her buddy is sitting innocently on top of hers.  I separate the two, sending Soph downstairs and manufacturing an errand for the other, buying time so Sophie can finish tacking.

Huge sigh of relief -- both horses are finally tacked, their children gloved, helmeted, and with pony clubs (crops) in hand and the lesson can begin.  I drag my exhausted self upstairs to the viewing room, and thankfully, my girlfriends (bless their hearts) have brought wine.  Sing hallelujah -- there's light at the end of this tunnel.  I nurse a Dixie cup of sauvignon blanc, munch on cheese, and watch the kids ride.  As I am driving and can only have the one glass, I decide it is best for my stress level if I don't supervise the untacking/tack cleaning process. I do check to make sure the girls are correctly put away, with all straps and surcingles in order.  Thankfully, they are.  We turn out the barn lights and head home.

We get home, I send both kids off to bed, pour myself a GENEROUS glass of wine, and pass out on the couch before I can even finish drinking it.  Yep, this parenting thing will take a LOT out of you.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


A Boy and His Mare
Confession: I am an only child.  Perhaps you've heard the rumors that sometimes only children have difficulty sharing?  We are capable of learning but, yes, sharing can be a challenge.  There's a famous story in my family about my grandparents, some M&Ms, and a childhood friend.  Goes like this: Nana and Pop Pop came to visit and as they always did, they brought a bag of M&Ms. 

I was playing with a girlfriend at the time, and after the hugs were over and the candy was in my sweaty little palms, I started stuffing my piehole with the M&Ms.  Needless to say, I was not sharing with my girlfriend, and my grandparents chastised me for this.  As the story goes, I turned to Vanna Kay, handed her ONE blue M&M, and announced, "I'm SHARING!"

Time, marriage and motherhood have improved my ability to share -- somewhat.  Case in point, I share my mare with my son.  And tonight I shared my "solo" barn time AND my mare with my son.  To explain, normally Tuesday nights are "my" night at the barn (aka Mom Therapy) and the Hub and the Boy take Sophie to soccer.  However, tonight the Boy wanted to come to the barn and ride.  So off we went.

We had a nice chat on the way down.  We practiced loon calls.  We discussed the migratory pattern of loons and music from the 1980s (not that one has anything to do with the other).  The chat continued while we groomed and fussed over Sugar.  Noah hopped on her first and warmed her up, and when they began to trot I found myself striding around the arena offering pointers and sharing some insights from from a video I'd just seen on My ideas seemed to help, the boy felt improvement in his balance, and I felt good for being able to help.  Yay all around.

A Mare and Her Boy
After I rode her for a little bit we let her loose in the indoor to have a roll and play a bit.  Noah and I ran around trying to get her to play tag with us (only possible if we ran while crinkling peppermint wrappers) and after she rolled he groomed her and told her about his day while I cleaned tack.  We blanketed her, kissed her goodnight, made our rounds kissing everyone else goodnight, and headed home.

I started the evening looking forward to some alone time with my mare.  I spent the evening thoroughly enjoying time with my son and our horse.  I guess this sharing thing ain't all that bad.  Who knew?

Just in case you were wondering, I stiill don't share chocolate.  Ever.  Some things don't change.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Sainted Mare Weighs In On The Hair Issue...

Supporting Cookie through the trauma of mane pulling.
We had a teensy tiny winter weather event here in New Jersey yesterday, which meant that the roads were fouled up for my early morning riding lesson and cleared up by the time my daughter needed to leave for the afternoon soccer game. Sigh. So, the girls had the day off and plenty of time on their hands, as evidenced by this communication from Sugar, which I found in my tack trunk:

Dear Mom,

I'd like to begin a dialogue with you on this whole hair obsession you have.  Or rather, this need of yours to make sure I have none. 

Let me make sure this is clear to you: I grow a long coat in order to stay warm.  You may have noticed that temperatures have been hovering in the teens recently?  When you use the buzzy thing to remove all my hair, I am no longer warm.  It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to render me naked, and then apply layer upon layer of claustrophobia-inducing artificial warmth and the irksome strappy things that hold them on.  You might think I look like the cute kid from A Christmas Story, whomever that may be, but I think I look uncomfortable and  annoyed.

You and your kind are supposed to be the life form capable of higher reasoning.  Based on the behavior mentioned above, I'd have to question if you are really using this ability.

What's wrong with the Po-Po Fro?

 And what's with this sadistic need to yank my mane out by the roots?? Really, the absolute HEIGHT of rudeness! Who arbitrarily decided that manes had to be a certain length or thickness in order to be in fashion? And I have no idea what a bikini line is, nor what it has to do with Brazilians or wax, but I don't think it's relevant to equines and anyway, if it's so painful, why do you DO it?  This makes no sense.

Mom, I love you, but I respectfully suggest you are not fully making use of this supposedly superior human brainpower you have.

PS.  The pony agrees with me.


aka The Sainted Mare

Friday, January 20, 2012

More (Odd? Endearing? Outright Scary?) Horse Junkie Behaviors...

Doesn't Every Mare Owner Dress Her in Pink Ribbons
and Twinkle Toes? The Sainted Mare is Mortified.

I wrote this piece for Horse Junkies United, the wonderful blog for ammie riders that I contribute to.  Thought I'd plug it in here as well, for those of you that don't get over to Horse Junkies -- and if you don't, really, what ARE you waiting for??? ;)  You're missing some really good stuff!

The other day, The Sainted Mare’s supplements were delivered. My husband took the package from the carrier and took a quick look at it, then took a second, harder look. “Isn’t this the same stuff you take?” he asked.

Um, yep, guilty as charged. Different dosage, but essentially the same stuff. He was almost rendered fetal, he was laughing so hard. Hey, I don’t see what’s so amusing. What’s wrong with wanting a glossy coat and well lubricated joints?

This got me to thinking about those little oddities we horse people are known for. Not just the “clucking” at people to make them go faster, or the counting of strides between light poles/mile markers/cracks in the sidewalk, but the other, possibly even weirder, stuff we do.

For instance, have you ever had someone ask you what scent you’re wearing and you have to think a moment before answering, “Sore No More.”. Or Bigeloil, or Vetrolin. No kidding, happens all the time to me.

Or have you ever noticed that horse people have no problem taking their horse’s meds? I had a sinus infection the other week, had no time to get to the doctor, and remembered I’ve heard many friends who’d reported taking some of their horse’s SMZs when faced with similar situations. Heck, I’ve texted a friend asking the proper dosage for Robaxin, only to have her reply, “For you or for the horse?” Wow! I’m not going to dwell too much on that. I even know of one friend who’s been known to dose herself with dewormer. NOTE: Absolutely NONE of these behaviors are in any way recommended, yet (ostensibly) otherwise rational people are doing this.

Speaking of doctors and whatnot, I had to call mine the other week because the Boy was sick and my kids rarely get sick.  They prefer to bring contagion home, give it to me, and move on their happy, healthy way.  Bless their infectious hearts.  Anyhow, the Boy was lethargic and not eating, which is totally unlike him.  The conversation with the doctor started out like this: " Hi Dr. X.  Noah is off his feed."  Luckily my doctor knows about the whole horse obsession and was able to follow along.
Also, have you ever taken a look at a horse person’s desktop, phone wallpaper, or iPad screens? They may be proud parents or have 25 grandkids, but odds are it’s the pony pics you’ll see on the screens. Hey, I”m not judging, I ‘m just calling it like it is.

Then there’s the whole breeding thing. I bet you 90% of the population can’t go more than 2 generations back on their own family tree, yet they can recite their equine partner’s antecedents back to Alexander the Great’s Bucephalus. As for their own reproduction, heck, a couple of adult beverages may have been the impetus for that momentous decision. However, when it comes to deciding who is worthy of breeding to Madame Mare, a screening process more intense than the British Royal Family’s is employed, with dossiers, video, and spreadsheets with genetic info and traits going back 15 generations.

And know how you spot a horse family like mine at sporting events? All the other families are wrapped in fleece blankets or have rain ponchos. My family is wrapped in coolers, waterproof turnout blankets, and wool dress sheets.

Finally, you may realize you’re spending waaaaaaaay too much time in the barn when you’ve needed that “date night” grooming and realized it would be faster and easier to take out the clippers and the old 10 blade than go for the razor?

Again, no judgment here. Not even a little bit. Glass houses and all…

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Equestrian Social Media Awards

Check this out: Horse Junkies United, the awesome/amazing/ammie-centric blog I contribute to occassionally has been nominated for 2 (count 'em, TWO!) PagePlayEquestrian Social Media Awards!  We're in the running for Best Blog (#17) and Best Overall in North America.

Congratulations and a round of applause to Patricia, our fearless leader (also the VP of Marketing for ECOGOLD, a leader in innovative saddle pads and horse boots) and the tireless, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and funny bloggers on the site - if you haven't bookmarked HJU as one of your favorite equestrian blogs, what on earth are you waiting for?!

If you have a free moment in your busy day ( I know, what's that?  A free moment? BWAHAHAHA!) can you do me a HUGE favor and VOTE FOR HORSE JUNKIES UNITED???!!!  Can you get your relatives, friends, co-workers, and strangers on the streets to vote as well?  I'd be very grateful.

Thanks, friends!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Joe Fargis Clinic Day 2: Focus On Precision And Flow

OK, so maybe I went a little
overboard with this...

I apologize in advance -- I have video of this exercise, but unfortunately my technological abilities, or lack thereof, and business travel have prevented me from getting them into this post.  Waaaah!  Perhaps I will be luckier and can make magic happen when I get home later this week.

Day 2 of the Fargis clinic at Knightsbridge Farm started with more of the same, with Joe urging the riders to "pay attention to details!"

The purpose of the day's exercise was "straightness" and "rhythm." Joe had set an exercise of 5 piles of poles in a large X in the ring. In other words, there were two piles of poles set 5 strides apart on the one quarter line, a pile of poles set in the center of the ring at X, and another set of 2 poles set 5 strides apart on the other quarter line.

The exercise was to be ridden down the centerline from C to A over the center pole, turn left and go across the poles on the diagonal (so F through X through H), turn right and come down over the 5 stride on the quarter line, turn right and go up the first element of the other diagonal, to the right around the fence at X and jump fence 2, and then turn left and come down the other diagonal(K through X through M), turn left and finish down the other 5 stride line coming towards home.

Joe started out by breaking the exercise into distinct elements, asking the riders to start with a big canter circle to the right, come down over the center line poles, and finish with a big circle to the left. Some of the horses were still on the muscle and were rushing the fences, so Joe added poles before and after the fence to back them off and had the riders do that a few times.

Joe stressed to the riders the importance of focusing on detail (“This exercise requires precision”) as well as flow, asking the rider’s to flow “like water through a hose” down the lines. His attention to the minutia was so complete that even if a rider had a faultless round, if that rider did not execute a “big, bold, beautiful circle to finish” they would be called out for it. Over and over he told the riders not to be casual, because casual on the flat and in practice resulted in poor performance in the show ring.

Much of the difficulty in the exercise came during the rollback ½ circle around the centerline fence. By that point in the course most of the horses had picked up a head of steam and the riders were challenged to execute a smooth turn and set their horses up for the next fence. Joe asked the riders to think about their pace in the turn to fence seven, telling them to balance up in the turn, and then he told them they needed to recover faster after fence 7 in order to collect their horses and themselves before the turn, not through the turn. “Don’t ride faster than you can think,” he told them.

The 2 stride to 2 stride diagonal line also presented some difficulty for the riders. Here Joe advised the riders to stay out in the turn, and to then jump the line a bit right to left in order to get a good distance and set themselves up for the left hand turn coming back to the 5 stride line towards home.  In other words, jump the first fence of the diagonal a little on the right side, the second in the center, and the last one a little towards the left side (or outside).

As on the previous day, Joe had the riders and horses end by breaking down the exercise into each element so that they finished just coming down over the centerline fence, in order to leave both horses and riders feeling happy and successful. Joe emphasized again the importance of the partnership with the horse, and the dialogue that good training needs to be.

Joe also left the riders with this bit of wisdom, “Don’t worry about the jump. Worry about everything else BUT the jump. Worry about the line, worry about the turn, worry about your precision – do NOT worry about the jump.” The message was (and as someone who is very guilty of this sin I am TRYING to internalize this) that if you take care of the details, the jump will take care of itself.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Joe Fargis Clinic: Every Detail Matters

Excercise 1: Day 1 - The Chutes
Public Service Announcement for all clinic attendees: If you are privileged enough to ride in a clinic, any clinic, treat it as though you are riding in front of Queen Elizabeth II on royal parade. Clean every part of your tack, your equipment and your horse’s equipment until it shines. It’s a sign of respect for yourself, your horse, and the individual who teaching you.

If you are auditing a clinic, please be considerate of your fellow auditors by turning off your cell phone and foregoing chatter. If you must say something, whisper. If you need to take a call, leave the auditing area. People have paid to hear the clinician, not you.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to audit sections of a clinic given by Joe Fargis, winner of the individual Olympic Gold medal in show jumping at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The clinic was held at stunning Knightsbridge Farm, a hunter/jumper/equitation facility operated by Mary Babick in Middletown, NJ. Many thanks to Sarah Doehler, owner of First Edition Farm in Whitehouse Station, NJ, and trainer of one of the students in the clinic, for inviting me.

On Saturday I caught the last session, for riders who regularly jumped at 3’6” or higher. Joe asked them to warm the horses up on a loose rein, and by loose, he meant on the buckle. It was chilly, and quite a few of the horses were frisky. Joe told the riders not to interfere or to fight, rather to just let the horses be fresh and get the excess energy out. “Don’t panic when they’re fresh, just be loose. Let them be. It takes two to fight, two to pull. They’re just being horses.”

As everyone warmed up Joe assessed the riders’ positions. Nothing escaped his notice. Some riders were told to sit up without stiffening and “Put your shoulder blades in your back pocket.” He asked them to imagine they were like the African tribeswomen who carried laundry in baskets on their head; the women had to stand upright in order for their load to stay balanced. He also cautioned the riders with quick horses that leaning forward could exacerbate the problem, “If you lean forward the horse rushes to catch up.” One rider had a habit of leaning forward and looking down, and he cautioned her, saying, “Imagine you’re driving – you need to look where you’re going!”

Riders were reminded regularly to raise their ands, to make certain they had a straight line from elbow through the hand to the bit for maximum leverage, elasticity, and sympathetic connection with the horse’s mouth. “Imagine you’re connected to the bit with a rubber band,” he said. The idea was to get the horse to reach out to take the bit from you, not for the rider to pull the horse into a false frame.

Joe asked the riders to drop their stirrups to work on getting their legs long and wrapped around the horse. He then had all the riders come in on a circle around him, nose to tail with a horse’s body length in between, which forced them to work to regulate their horse’s gaits. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, Joe then asked the riders to leg yield in on the circle, and then leg yield out. Many riders had difficulty getting their horses to offer a true leg yield with the legs crossing over. Joe pushed the riders to work harder, and use their leg aids more effectively, stressing that every detail matters when training horses, and “unless you practice it exactly you’ll never it will never be exact.”

The next exercise concentrated on controlling the shoulders. Joe asked the riders to follow each other down the long side and when the first rider was almost to the end of the long side and the last rider had just started down he asked them all to do a small circle. Let’s just say tat the first couple tries did not exactly look like a drill of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Once he was satisfied with the circles, Joe had them all trot down the long side, prepare the horse for the left turn, turn and cross the ring, turn right at the wall and trot up the opposite long side. At each turn Joe would caution the riders “Don’t lose the outside shoulder. Keep the outside rein contact steady, don’t let the outside rein contact break.” Again, at first it wasn’t the RCMP, but definite progress happened once the riders were able to discern the difference between left and right.

The next exercise consisted of 3 chutes of parallel poles lined up on the center line. Initially the riders practiced walking and maintaining straightness through the chutes, then trot to walk to trot transitions, with each transition occurring within the chute. Then the riders were asked to canter in, transition to a trot in the middle chute, and then pick up a canter on the opposite lead. The final part of this exercise was to canter in, do a simple change of lead through the trot in the first chute, canter to the next chute and do a simple change through the trot in that chute, canter to the final chute, do another simple change, and then canter. Easier read than done, right?

Excercise 2: Day 1  Gymnastic
The final exercise of the day was a gymnastic with a tight turn (again, controlling the shoulders) to 2 trot poles set in front of a pile of poles and then two strides to another pile of poles and another two strides to a third pile of poles and then a chute. Some of the riders were so busy concentrating on the poles and the striding that they forgot the initial portion of the exercise and lost control of the shoulders on the turn, resulting in a bit of awkwardness. Some of the horses and riders wanted to rush the poles, and Joe urged the riders “Don’t let the jump be a big event. Sigh. Just sigh and gently ask the horse to gear down, he’ll come back.”

I see where the sighing thing comes from. I hold my breath, which causes tension and transmits to the horse, but really, when a horse is making a serious bid and dragging you to a fence, it can be difficult to sigh. However, if you’ve ever watched the great Ludger Beerbaum ride, you can see him letting out great gusts of air between pursed lips. I’ve often wondered if this is a purposeful relaxation technique, or just something he happens to do.
After a couple trips, Joe raised the pile of poles after the trot poles to a small vertical. Again, those that cut the turn or let the shoulders budge had problems with the trot poles and the vertical, and had a bit of work to do in order to recover for the 2 sets of poles set on the two strides. Joe then set the second set of poles as a second vertical, and the riders went through that. When some had difficulty, Joe told them they needed to worry less about the jump itself and more about control before and after the jump. “You need to recover more quickly and balance the horse up!” He then tested the group’s ability to do exactly that even further by setting the final poles as an oxer.

Even as the riders were negotiating the exercise, Joe was on them to correct flaws in their position as well as their execution. It’s very clear to anyone watching him that function very much follows form in his mind, which, if you watched McLain Ward’s session at the recent George Morris Horsemastership Training Session, you know is a big theme for McLain as well.

Joe ended the session by pressing the easy button for both horse and rider. After the group had finished to full run through, he tested their learning by taking the oxer away, then the second vertical, and then he asked the riders to simply trot over the trot poles and vertical and gently transition the horse to the walk and then a halt while keeping the straightness. You could hear several of the riders and horses sigh in relief as they were able to end on a relaxing and successful note.

It’s amazing when you have the opportunity to listen to the great ones teach. You almost walk in expecting miraculous revelations to spew like gospel from their lips, when really, what they say are variations on the same theme. It may just be how they say it that makes more sense to you. For example, when I rode with Eric Horgan, he encouraged us to think of what we were doing with the horse as a dialogue, not a series of orders. We were to think of ourselves as engaged in daily training, or a series of conversations with our partner (eg. a dialogue).

Again, if you watched the recent George Morris Horsemastership Training Sessions on the USEF Network, you’d have seen Kent Farrington stress the same thing in his session. Kent said over and over again how you needed to work as a partner with your horse, as a team, which is another way of saying you need to have a dialogue. McLain Ward called it being sympathetic. In this clinic, Joe encouraged riders to do things “gently.” He would ask them to “gently” transition to another gait, or “gently” gear down, or ask them to “prepare” their horses for a movement.

I would say that this is another way of making sure your riding is all about the details, with the most important detail being your communication with your partner, the horse.

More to come from Day 2 later…

Monday, January 9, 2012

My Mantra for 2012: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

Did I mention this comes in a t-shirt?
I'll be wearing mine at every show in 2012!
This was originally a posted on Horse Junkies United, a fabulous blog that I'm privileged to contribute to.  If you like, you can read it over there and check out other posts you might find of interest.  Heck, you might even decide you'd like to contribute as well!

Ugh. Call me Princess Grumpy Pants, but I’m not a fan the whole New Year holiday. Maybe it’s because I can never seem to stay up late enough, or maybe it’s because making New Year’s resolutions just feels like making another To-Do list. I can tell you about my to-do lists – they get longer and longer and every day it seems as though there are more items and less of them are getting crossed off.

I am a fan of order, however, and I need to at least create the impression (for myself) that my life possesses some. Thus, although I don’t like them, I make To-Do lists. I have them for the house, for my job, for the kids, and for the horses.

I get that life is pretty much chaotic and trying to impose order on it is pretty much like spitting into the wind, but hey, it’s a nice enough delusion and it’s working okay so far. My lists are things I have to do, things I would like to do if life goes according to plan, and things I would like to do if things go really well (like I won the lottery.)

So here’s 2012′s Equine To-Do List:

1) Keep both of my girls (daughter’s pony and my mare, both 16 this year) sound, healthy, and happy.

After losing almost a year when Sugar was injured and on the IR list, this since been my #1 priority. Obviously there are things beyond my control that could factor in here, but I can make sure they get the proper care and nutrition. I can make sure we warm them up and cool them down properly. Assuming finances hold up, we can provide them with the supplements that make them more comfortable and if necessary, any injections they may need. Same goes for chiropractic, acupuncture, and professional equine massage. My daughter and I can also continue to stretch and massage them using the techniques our therapist showed us after each ride.

Part of keeping them sound means keeping them fit. They won’t be jumping much over the winter, but that doesn’t mean we can keep them fit by doing trot and canter interval sets (in the two point, so both equine and human athletes are working!) hill work when the weather and ground permits, lateral work, transitions and lots of cavaletti work. We try to alternate ring work with work outside on the trails when weather and footing allows, so neither horse nor human gets bored. There are a number of good books on this topic; on that I like is called Equine Fitness.

2) I gotta get my fat chunky dimply (sigh) butt back in shape.

It’s been almost 4 months since my lawn dart incident, and although my neck/head/back aren’t 100% yet, I’m able to get back to working out. Problem is, I had been on kind of roll before getting injured, and now the motivation is gone and, well, now I AM kind of roll. A Pillsbury roll. As I’ve said before, this isn’t a desire to look better in those ridiculous tight and revealing breeches we wear, it’s a desire to be a better rider and partner to my horse. When I’m fitter, when I actually HAVE what could be (loosely) called a core and leg strength, I’m more balanced and stable, which translates into a more balanced and stable horse, and a more effective and confident rider.

My Fitness Plan looks somewhat like this: Get kids to school and resist temptation to flop on couch, latte in hand, and blog/watch equestrian videos/fart around on Facebook. Instead, venture into basement and alternate interval training on treadmill with weights, yoga and Pilates. During weeks that I am not traveling for business, I need to discipline myself and head off to the Y at lunch at least 2x a week to get in some additional workout time, mostly weights, rowing machine, and core work. (Sad fact: I’m breaking a sweat just writing this stuff down.) Added to this will be 4-5 nights of riding per week (on non-travel weeks).

My Fitness Plan should also include something about stepping away from the chocolate/cheese/wine fridge, but let’s face it, that just ain’t gonna happen. I’d rather run the entire length of the New Jersey Turnpike than do this. And I do not like running. If I am running, you can be sure somebody heavily armed and dangerous is chasing me.

3) Back to Basics!!

After my fall, I did a LOT of soul-searching, and came up with this: Although I may be decent enough rider and can get away with stuff 80% of the time, I need a more solid foundation in order to be as effective a rider as I want to be. Riding is risky, and as a professional, a partner, and a Mom, I am responsible to and for others. Yes, there’s risk, but I need to take steps in order to know that I’ve minimized it as much as possible.

Until my trainer is heads to Wellie-World (Wellington, FL) in February, we are working on basics. Lots of no stirrup work, two point work, and balance work over cavaletti and gymnastics. I’m also taking longe line lessons with our assistant trainer, and plan to continue those all winter as she’s staying home. While I’d like to say I’m planning to make February my No Stirrups month, I’d be feeding you a muck tub full of horse crap. I know myself too well. Let’s just say I AM committing (feel free to hold me to this!) to at least one ride a week without stirrups.

I have to say, the Back to Basics work I’ve been doing so far has made a noticeable difference in my balance and position over fences, as well as the effectiveness of my aids. Makes my horse a lot happier, too. Here’s hoping this carries on through the spring and into the show season - my goal is to jump 3’3″ in shows this year!

4) Continuing Education!

One thing I really admire about the greats is that they are always looking to build on their knowledge. I love reading Jimmy Wofford’s column in Practical Horseman when he talks about what he’s reading – usually means I’m scouring Amazon a few seconds later.

In addition to reading, I’ll be watching a lot of good riding on Equestrian, FEItv, and USEF Network. One of the ways I learn is by watching, and I’ve noticed that I tend to have good lessons after I’ve spent some quality time watching the greats ride.

If finances hold I’d love to attend a couple of clinics. If I can’t manage to ride in any, hopefully I’ll be able to audit a few. This weekend I’m auditing a Joe Fargis clinic, which has been a fabulous experience.

5) No FEAR, Baby!!

I need to address one of my biggest challenges, which is getting past all the negative voices in my head. You know, the ones that cause you to doubt yourself, change your plan and your ride, and screw up? The ones that say, “You’re going to fall/hurt yourself/hurt your horse” as your galloping up to a fence? I’ve purchased a few books on this topic, and am looking into some therapists and hypnotists in my area, as those may be avenues worth taking if time and, oh yeah, finances, allow.

In the meantime, I’ve borrowed a saying coined in 1939 by the British government. The phrase, “Keep Calm and Carry On” was originally placed on posters and intended to raise the morale of the British populace during WWII. It helped the British then, and it helps me now. The other day during a lesson I botched a distance badly, and instead of letting it fluster me, I said to myself “Keep Calm and Carry On” (out loud, as it turns out, since my trainer cracked up.)

So that’s my plan. Here’s to 2012! Happy trails, all!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Great Day!

This is NOT me jumping Stratego. If it were me,
there would be seatbelts and airvests!
Am in a really great mood and feeling like the luckiest broad on the planet.

I was able to take a lesson on my friend's horse Stratego today, which was wonderful.  (Thank you, Libby!!!) Learned a lot about how to ride him; even jumped him a bit.  This horse has a MONSTER jump.  Seriously, you could have an air hostess and drink service on this boy, you get up so high and stay up there so long.  We only jumped baby stuff in defernce to my confidence issues, but we overcame our difficulties and I'm hopeful I'll get another chance to jump him again soon.

After my lesson, I took the Sainted Mare outside for a hack in the gorgeous weather. It was sixty (6-0!!) degrees today and you can bet your boopie I was taking advantage of it.  Sug liked being outside, as she did a lot of sighing and snorting.

After our hack I took Cookie, my daughter's pony,  for a walk and a graze, and zipped down the highway to spend the afternoon at Knightsbridge Farm auditing the Joe Fargis clinic being held there. More on this later...

Really, it doesn't get much better than that.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

In Which I Take My Parents and the Boy to See 'War Horse"...

Let me say up front that it took a lot to get me to see this movie.  Here's the thing: I am a "pink and blue butterfly thoughts" kind of girl.  You know, happy stuff.  I typically shy away from sad stuff as I feel there's enough of it to be seen everywhere in this world and I don't need to make a point of searching for it. My typical reading material?  Chick lit/romance novels or horse books.  Don't hate me for it.  I don't look at it as a weakness, just a deep knowledge of what I need to get through life. 

I do occasionally vary from this philosophy, usually when there is an important opportunity for greater learning. Such as when I was in Germany and had the opportunity to see Dachau.  As the philosopher George Santayana so famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  Sometimes you need to confront the horror of history in order to move forward in a better way.

My almost 13 year old son is, like most boys his age, fascinated by war.  Unlike most boys his age, he also loves horses. The difficulty I've faced is showing my son that war (as much as I could understand it) is not the romanticized idea he has in his head without presenting him with information he is unable to process.  After running the idea past other parents who'd seen the movie, I thought that War Horse might be able to do for Noah what I was unable to.  Truthfully, I did want to see the movie because really, how often does Hollywood make movies about horses?  However, combining a movie about a horse with a moral lesson and a teaching moment for the Boy? Trifecta!!!
So Nancy, Frank , Noah and I head off to see the movie.  For starters, I felt like a kindergarten teacher on a field trip.  Getting everybody in the car and buckled up was the first big issue (main offender, 69 year old Frank).  Second issue was the concession stand.  My father has hearing issues, Noah and I had potty issues, so ordering was a bit rushed.  At one point poor Frank was so flustered trying to figure out who wanted what that he turned to a complete stranger and bellowed at the poor man, "For Cripes Sake, what do you want already?" 

Now, about the movie.  As you may know, it's told from the horse's point of view.  The horse, Joey, is a Thoroughbred (played mostly by Dutch Warmbloods) that we see from his early days as the much loved companion of Irish farm boy Albert  to his initial conscription into the service of the British Armed Forces, and his further exploits as the war progresses.  We see the war and the toll it takes on the humans and animals it touches through the Joey's interaction with them.  Through Joey, we are shown the compassion people are capable of, even those with opposing ideologies, as well as the horrors.

Spielberg does a fabulous job of portraying the dirt and grit and horror of conflict while shying away from all of the gore shown in Saving Private Ryan, hence the PG-13 rating.  The characters were quite well developed considering the number of them we encountered and the time we had to spend with them, and were multi-dimensional enough that you could emphatically state that one was unequivocally good and the other bad.  And it is the horse, Joey, that brings out the humanity in each character, and established the connection between them.

Arguably, one of the best scenes in the movie comes after Joey escaped the Germans.  During his escape he runs through "No Man's Land," a term coined during WWI to refer to the unoccupied area between enemy trenches, most often heavily riddled with barbed wire and land mines.  Joey becomes entangled in the barbed war and needs assistance.  What happens next is truly a testament to the ability of human beings to work together, despite their differences.  An English soldier leaves his trench to help Joey, and a German soldier, seeing that the Englishman is unequipped to extricate Joey from the wire, leaves his trench to offer the Englishman and the horse assistance.  As the two men work to help Joey, their new common cause forges a tentative and heartwarming harmony.

Isn't that the way it is with horses?  They unite us, and connect us, in the most basic of ways.  An example?  At the theatre, we found ourselves sitting next to an older woman with her family.  During the movie, I could tell she was very upset by what she was seeing, but none of her family members did anything.  At one point I had my arm around my son comforting him, he was patting my back in order to comfort me, and then I wound up with my arm around that lady comforting her while she sobbed.  I thought she was remembering the war, but she was so upset, she said, because she loved horses so much and couldn't bear to see them suffer.  So we spent the rest of the movie in a big old bear hug, that lady, my son, and I.  And at the end I showed her a picture of Sugar that I had on my phone in the hope she would stop crying. She smiled the the most gorgeous smile ever and showed it to her sons, and left the movie theatre happy.

As for my son, this was the first time that I think he ever understood the ugliness that is war, and it took his love for horses, most especially his horse, to drive the idea home.  I think seeing how Joey and his fellow horses suffered, seeing the cruelty inflicted on them, made it easier for Noah to see the cruelty that humans inflict on each other during war.  I'm sad that it had to be that way, but I'm thankful to Spielberg and the movie for being able to teach that to him.  Noah may not be able to remember the mistakes of the past, but perhaps through seeing them through the cinematic eyes of Joey, he'll avoid making mistakes like them in the future.

By the way, if you are interested in learning more about the horses of WWI and War Horse the movie, Fran Jurga has a fascinating blog about it called War Horse News.  Noah and I have spent some quality time on it, reading about the making of the movie and the huge role equines (all kinds) played in WWI. Here's a link to one of our favorite posts, partially entitled "She Is Very Stupid, But I Am Very Fond Of Her."

Sunday, January 1, 2012

So Much for Lofty Goals, and Happy New Year...

Don King?? Nope, it's Tonka,
First Edition Farm's miniature horse
Have you ever noticed that a week's vacation seems a heck of a lot longer at the front end than it does at the back end?  Really, I had all sorts of grand hopes and plans for this week, and all kinds of good intentions to GET THINGS DONE.   I was going to re-organize cabinets and closets, get to the Post Office to mail Christmas gifts we needed to return/exchange, change the look of the blog, and spend some time learning the @!#$!%$@# new CRM software my company has invested in.  I was also going to spend a good deal of quality time with my family and the horses. 
Good news!  I accomplished ONE of those goals.  Yep, that's me, the perennial overachiever.  Sigh

Let's just call this the Week of the Horse, shall we?  Not that I'm complaining, mind you.  I was pretty happy with how things turned out (my husband, probably less so).  The kids and I spent a ton of time at the barn, hanging with the girls and our barn buddies.  We had multiple lessons, which I will cover at a later date, and had the opportunity to get some additional saddle time in by riding some horses whose owners were away on vacation.  When we got home, we watched horse videos online, and the Boy and I even took my parents to see War Horse (was like taking a kindergarten class on a field trip -- more on this later as well).

James says, "Hello! Aren't you the nice lady
who brings me kids and carrots?"

The kids also had the opportunity to visit our friend and trainer/owner at First Edition Farm, Sarah Doehler, a couple of times to hack a pony she has.  This pony is basically The Supreme Deity in Pony Form, SDPF for short.  Seriously, James (aka Chesapeake) has been there, done that, and gotten the Championship cooler, thank you very much.  He's been living in semi- retirement and I'm not 100% sure it agrees with him.  I mean, he's older and probably okay with not having to work too very hard, but he certainly misses having a child and I think an easy-ish job would agree with him. 

Let me tell you, this amazing boy has personality coming out of his ears and was absolutely thrilled to bits to have my kids loving all over him.  It was also a privilege to watch a this professional pony teach my kids.  He was a complete gentleman and very clear with them, "You give me the right aids, I give you the desired response.  You give me garbage, you get garbage back."  The best part of the whole time was watching his face while he interacted with the kids -- he was just so thrilled to have a child paying attention to him that you could see the grin on his face.  Ponies need kids and kids need ponies. End of story.

So that leaves me on Sunday morning, New Year's day, the final day of our vacation.  The husband and the Child are off with friends snow tubing.  The Boy had a friend sleep over last night and was unable to rouse himself in time to go tubing, so thus I find myself at home, contemplating all kinds of things I might accomplish today.  There's a lot of vacuuming and cleaning that can be done, a ton of horse laundry, a dishwasher to be emptied, a treadmill that could be run on, and lots of food that could be made into dinners I could freeze for those nights when we need something quick yet nutritious before running off to soccer or the barn.  It's already 10:30, and I'm still on the couch. I've watched some videos of the recent show in Mechelen, caught up on some of my favorite blogs, and written this blog post.

Yup, there are about a zillion things I could and should be doing today.  Yet somehow I don't see myself getting very far away from this couch.  And you know what?  I'm not all that upset about that.