Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Flirting With the Dark Side: Sug and I Try Schooling Cross Country

Warning: You know I tend to be wordy, but this one goes on and on and on.  You might want to get another cup of coffee or some wine (depending on where you are in your day) before settling in to read this. Just sayin'.

I've been intrigued by eventing since I was a little girl.  I think when I was around 11 or 12 my parents brought me to see the Essex Horse Trials at the USET headquarters in Gladstone.  I can still remember seeing Bruce Davidson and being completely starstruck.  I can also remember having mononucleosis the summer of 1984 and being glad of it because it meant I could watch TV all day and that meant I saw almost all of the limited equestrian coverage.  I remember watching the eventing and thinking, "Dang, that looks really cool, " at the same time I thought, "Dang, that looks scary as heck."

I started riding in the hunter and equitation divisions as a kid, and then when I became a re-rider several years ago, that's what I went back to.  I got involved in the jumper divisions because Sugar was a jumper when I got her.  She was the right horse for me, so I just decided to do what she was good at.

That being said, I've always believed in taking the horses out of the ring. I love galloping or schooling in fields, and exploring trails.  I think it's good for the horses, both mentally and physically, and it's good for riders to learn how to function outside of a perfectly manicured environment.

So when I had an opportunity to go cross country schooling with the evening trainer at my barn the other day, I took it.  Virginia Jenkins Rowsell is an Advanced eventer, who was part of the winning 1993 team gold at NAYRC as well as winner of the individual gold there.  She's also won the Essex horse trials and at Morvnn Park, and probably a bunch of other places that Google hasn't told me about.  In any case, if anyone could get me around a cross country course, even a small one, she could. So I got myself a vest, rationalizing the expense by telling myself it was also a good safety measure considering all the hunter paces I do.  I felt pretty Xena Warrior Princess as I wore it around to break it in, telling friends and family to "Go ahead! Hit me!"  Some of them were only to happy to oblige...

Getting fitted for a vest by Sarah Jane at my local Dover Saddlery.
Do they come with a "No Muffin Top" option?
As the appointed day got closer, I began to over-analyze things.  What the hell was I thinking?  I'm 44 and the Sainted Mare is 18. Were we the proverbial dogs trying to learn new tricks?  I can barely find a distance in the aforementioned manicured ring over featherweight poles - what in God's name made me think I could do so over varied terrain with solid obstacles?? I have a crisis of confidence each time I approach an oxer, what would I do when faced with a Trakehner?

Then (and this was the height of stupidity) for some reason I decided to watch the footage of the 1976 Montreal Olympic eventing competition at Bromont.   I watched that with one eye closed, wincing and cringing and occasionally gasping loudly as one by one horse and rider teams came to grief at various obstacles.   

However, despite serious misgivings and fears of grievous bodily harm when the day came I found myself loading Sugar on my friend Mary-Ann's trailer and heading over to the farm we were schooling at.  This farm was seriously gorgeous, to the point that when we turned down the drive both our jaws fell open in shocked appreciation (Jealousy? Lust?)  I mean, the barn was bigger than my house.  Hell, the tack room was bigger than my house.  Sug came off the trailer and looked around with interest. Once she'd done a quick perusal and noted that everything met her standards, she pricked her ears and studied the field with the cross country course, almost as if she was trying to figure what wild hair Mom had gone and grown now.

Let me tell you, the Sainted Mare was jazzed to be out in that field.  Her head was up, her ears were up, and she moved out in the brilliant floating trot she gets when she's having fun and feeling good. we trotted around, getting a good gander at the fences, and then picked up the canter to do a large loop around the field.  Her Majesty was feeling sassy, shaking her head a bit and threatening to throw in a happy buck or two.

We started jumping over a little vertical, then going down a small incline then galloping down to a log, turning around and galloping back up the incline to pop over an oxer.  Okay, sounds easy, but if you're used to going on flat, perfectly manicured footing, well then, galloping on grass and going up and down hills is a whole 'nother thing altogether!  Then we went up the oxer, down the vertical and the log, then around and up another hill to jump another log that set right up on the lip of the hill.   Again, you don't see a lot of this stuff in show jumping (unless of you spend lots of time in Spruce Meadows or Hamburg) so I was operating on a wing and a prayer. Sug, bless her heart, thought this was all great fun and figured things out despite whatever I was doing on her back.

We went up and down hills, and jumped things going both and down.  We jumped logs, both singly and in stacks.  We slalomed in and out of trees as we navigated through the courses we were given. We even jumped a ditch, which went a heck of a lot better than I thought it would.  The ditch came in the middle of the course and I'd wanted to jump it by itself first. "Nope, you can do it, " said Virginia as she told me to sit back and slip the reins.  At least, I think she said that - she told me to lean back and slip the reins a few times.  That's another thing -- she kept telling me to go with a longer rein, which went totally against my jumper training.  Virginia said if I didn't I might end up on Sug's neck or falling out the front door if she pecked or needed to put her head down to balance herself, so out of the sheer will to live I figured I'd listen to Virginia.

The most entertaining part of the afternoon came when we got to the water obstacle.  If you've been following AWIP at all, you might recall that the Sainted Mare is highly aquaphobic.  She's been known to go wheels-up if there's a puddle in the wash stall, so I was anticipating a discussion at the water. Sug didn't disappoint. She refused to get within 10 feet of it at first, wheeling and backing and hopping up and down.  We tried for about 5 minutes to convince her to get close, but she wasn't having it.

This was taken after we had a 20 minute discussion.
Clearly she still thinks there are alligators in there....

Mary-Ann and her horse Bene then tried to give us a lead.  We tried this from a standstill near the water, then following at a trot and then approaching the water.  Nothing doing.  Just when we were about to call it a day and watch while Mary-Ann and Bene schooled the water, Sug decided she'd better go ahead and humor us and leapt into the middle of the water, gathered herself, and leapt out of it.  There was much fussing and patting and we then went back and forth through the water until we could do it without any fussing.  Then we tried jumping a stack of logs, followed by a slight back and then down through the water and then up a small hill to a log.  The first time we attempted it Sug saw the water on the other side of the logs and said, "Oh, HELL no!"  I circled her, sat in the back seat and rode defensively as I was told, and we went up, over, throughout the water and up over the log like we did it every day.

This is how we looked:

Not too shabby, huh?? (Can I tell you how may times I've watched this video?  Like, a thousand!)  Doesn't she look like a good eventing pony??  After we confirmed her at the water, we tried jumping up and down banks, starting with little ones and getting a little bigger each time.  The first time she jumped up we were both a little shocked, and she kinda got caught up and I got my teeth rattled a bit. We recovered and managed to jump down the down side, which went fairly well.  Virginia and I expected her to give a great big old leap out into space, but she just popped down that bank, easy peasy, which Virginia said shows how smart she is. (Virginia was promoted to Most Favored Person after that comment.)

So that was it.  Our big foray over to the eventing side of the equestrian world.  I'm so glad I tried it. Screwing up my courage and jumping cross country obstacles made me feel all kinds of badass, which will hopefully make me more confident in my show jumping.  Plus, learning how to ride and jump over varied terrain is really good for you- I felt super solid in the tack the next time I popped over some fences in our ring.

Who knows - this may be the start of something special.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Blissed Out By Botanicals...

The yummy new Absorbine Botanicals line.
photo by Malin Fredriksen
You know when you find a product that you really love?  You wanna tell everyone how cool it is, spread the word and evangelize a bit.  You know what I mean?  

So I found this new favorite product that has been making the summer heat more bearable - the new Absorbine Botanicals line.  I've tried both the Body Rinse and the Massage Foam, and I LOOOOOVVVVVE them.  I have to be honest and admit that while I was immediately on board with the idea of the Body Rinse, I was not quite as sure if I’d like the Massage Foam.  My first thought was, "Massage Foam?  For horses??"  It just didn't compute.  For people, sure.  For horses?? Couldn't see it.  Well, consider me converted.

Product #1 - Massage Foam 
I love to massage Sug and James, and I also have a certified massage therapist do them once or twice a month.  I've never used any product when massaging, nor have I seen the massage therapist use anything either.  I was confused, so I read the label for a little more direction.  Aaaa-hah!  The light dawned.  While it could be used for sore muscles, it could also be used on legs, much like any other liniment brace.  So I used it on Sug after a couple of hard workouts, and when we went to our away show in Pennsylvania I used it every day before I wrapped James' legs for the night. The best thing about the Massage Foam (other than the heavenly aroma) was the fact that the foam made it easier to get the product where it belonged - on James.  The biggest frustration I have with liquid liniment is that it seems like 80% goes on the floor and only 20% gets on the horse's legs.  Which is pretty expensive when you think about it.

I decided to give it a go while massaging Sug after two consecutive rides; One day I applied the foam while her coat was dry, the next day I used the foam while she was wet after I'd used the Body Rinse on her.  Sug carries a lot of tension in her brachiocephalicus muscle, the muscle which attaches at one end at the base of the skull and at the other end to the humerus.  I found that using the foam while she was wet allowed my fingers or the heel of my hand to slide down the muscle more smoothly, which seemed to result in more blinking, chewing, sighs and yawns (all signs of muscle release) than I normally see.  
She also gets sore at the base of the neck and by the shoulder. There's a kind of groove that runs right in front of the scapula where it joins the neck, and any time I massage in there she is ecstatic. (I think these may be the trapezius and deep pectorals, maybe?  I'm not sure.I found that while using the foam when she was wet my hands felt like they were gliding through that groove better, which again resulted in more yawning, chewing, blinking and sighing from Sug.  Using the foam while she was dry worked well, too.  I just really thought in our experience it seemed to work better when she was wet,
Product #2 - Body Rinse
I adore this product.  Again, it smells divine!  Not that it's important that your horse smell nice, but hey, it doesn't hurt.  It's refreshing and cooling. You mix the rinse with a bucket of water (check the label for the proper ratio) and sponge away! My hand and forearm felt wonderfully cool and tingly (in a good, refreshed kind of way) when I was sponging it on Sug, so I could only imagine it was having the same effect on her.  There's a wonderful additional benefit to the product that Absorbine doesn't mention on the product's label -  the peppermint and rosemary oils also act as an insect repellent.  When I took Sug out to graze while drying she was barely even bothered by the bugs, and normally she's notoriously annoyed by them. 

Feeling cool and refreshed with no bugs = happy Sug.

The Rinse can also be diluted and used as a cooling spray.  A blogger buddy mentioned she did this for her horse,  and loves using it this way.  I was speaking to my friend, who happens to be an associate at my local Dover Saddlery store, and she was raving about the Botanicals line and how it's been flying off the shelves and how people were also loving it as a spray.  I haven't tried making it into a spray yet, but only because I've been so in love with using it as a rinse after a workout.  
So you might be thinking that the whole "botanicals" thing is a way to go all green and sustainable and hippy and to separate horse owners from their money by making them feel all earth-friendly, but you'd be wrong.  There's a lot of science and experiential knowledge behind the choosing of the ingredients in these products.  In my younger days I worked at a wilderness survival school, as well as for a company that made naturally, organically and ethically-based beauty products, so I'm familiar with many of the ingredients and have used them on myself.  Here's a brief summary of some of the key ingredients and what they do:

Arnica ExtractArnica is commonly used to clean, heal, and relieve pain from minor cuts and abrasions.  I've used it on bruises and sore muscles for ages.

Oil:  This stuff is fantastic for the horse's coat (or hair in general).  It is believed to stimulate follicles to promote hair growth, and is also helpful with dry, flaky skin.  Rosemary oil has also been used to relieve muscle pain.

Lavender OilThis essential oil is known to assist with pain relief, improve the skin, and enhance blood circulation.

Peppermint Oil: Peppermint Oil is known for it's ability to provide pain relief, as well as help the respiratory and digestive systems.

So there you have it, my two cents on tow great new products to help keep our horses feeling good. Sorry about blathering on forever, I just assume folks are like me and like to know every little detail before spending money on something. (And, quite honestly, we know I just tend to over-communicate. LOL.)  I hope that if you were considering either of these products that my review helped you.   If you try them, let me know what you think!  I’d love to hear what worked for you and your horse.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Horse Showing in Happy Valley: Part Two

Couldn't help thinking of that movie Children of the Corn...
Hello again.  I thought I'd give an update on the rest of our away show adventures at the Lion Country Horse Show.

On the second day of showing Noah was slated to do a derby class, which he'd never done before.  Our trainer knew we were trying to make the most of our show experience, so after Noah did well on the first day she asked if we wanted to give the derby on the following day a try.  What the heck, we figured.  Pfffffftttt.  Had I known what it cost to enter the class, I would have given it a pass.  This is where our lack of show experience came in -- I had no idea the class fee for a derby was waaaaaayyyyyy more than for a normal hunter division.  Ignorance is bliss, I guess.

Because this was his first attempt, we had no expectations whatsoever, which translated to absolutely no nerves.  We got to the show early and took James out for a good graze, then a nice long hack around the grounds and some neighboring fields.  When it got close to class time they did a relaxed warm up and then headed off to the in-gate to memorize their courses.  As it was the Fourth of July and Crazy Hat Day, the girls from our barn had decorated each other's and Noah's helmets, so as he headed up to the ring Noah looked like a bedazzled General Patton.  (I was really surprised he let the girls do that because he's kind of a keep-it-under-the-radar kind of dude, but I could tell he felt very happy to be included.)

The new Captain America model riding helmet...
Noah and James went in to the ring and proceeded to lay down the best round I've ever seen them do. (I'm actually lucky I saw it.  I had every intention of taking pictures but then realized I couldn't see a damn thing so ditched the camera and just took memory pictures with my eyes.) Their rhythm was relaxed, their distances spot on, and they nailed all the high options to score some bonus points.  Noah was light and following with his hands (something he's been working on) and this translated into a very happy, relaxed James.  Noah left the ring absolutely beaming and patting James profusely. His smile got even bigger when their score was announced as an 82, putting them in second place.

We had a moment or two of anxiety over the handy round, as it required them to do a trot fence, which they'd not practiced that much at home.  Their handy round was not quite as smooth as the previous round (dang trot jump!) but they still scored well enough to remain in second.  Holy crap!!  The kid had just completed his first derby (admittedly a baby one - not the height of the national or international derbies) and had gotten a second place!  He actually got to be in a victory lap, which was way cool.  Needless to say there was much rejoicing, and James was given many treats and pats, another long graze and an extra long massage from Mom.  What made the day extra special is that our barn-mate Carly and her wonder-mare Kalifornia Dreamin' won the National Derby later that afternoon - it was an abundance of awesomeness!

So proud of my boys!!
Carly, her mom Kathy, and Kalifornia Dreamin'
The rest of our week was wonderful.  Noah went to the lake with the rest of the kids, we spent a night making s'mores around the hotel's fire pit.  We did dinner with our barn family almost every night.  Noah did a couple classes Saturday and Sunday, and he did well.  He didn't have another round like he did in the derby, but there was a good mix of good moments and teaching moments.  Most importantly, he was spending a ton of bonding time with his horse, and learning all kinds of things about grooming and horse management.

Mom! Please! Put the camera away.
S'mores! (The dog in the pic is actually named S'mores!)
Inspecting the course

I was loving life too.  You know what it's like when you spend most of your day working and running around with the kids and then running to spend what precious free time you can steal with your horse.   It was so wonderful to have my whole entire day be about spending time with our horse, and with people who felt the same way as we do about horses.  It's kinda like wandering around lost and then finally finding your tribe.  OK, maybe that was a bit melodramatic, but you know what I mean.

So there you have it.  Noah's first big away show.  We had a blast, a lot of laughs, and a ton of mother/son bonding time.  Who knows, it may be another 3 years before we can do something like this again.  Heck, we may never get to do another away show again, so I'm glad that both the kids and I have had the experience once. I'm most proud of the fact that we spent each moment of the experience taking it in and enjoying every moment of it, and thanking James profusely for his part in making it happen.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Happy Horse Showing in Happy Valley

This is a very exciting week for Noah and I.  We are out at Kocher Farm in Pennsylvania Furnace,  Pennsylvania, at the Lion Country Horse Show. The show is held just a stone's throw from State College, the home of Penn State University. The bucolic valley the college is situated in has been called Happy Valley since a study in the late 1980's listed the area as one of the least stressful places in the US to live.

This could be why:
Blue skies, farms and cornfields. Bye-bye stress.
A few years ago Sophie and I went to HITS Saugerties together, which the very first away show for us both.  Now it's Noah's turn. (I was supposed to show too, but Sug decided she'd rather have her coffin joints injected.) So this week all the focus is on Noah and James. 

We've been having a blast together.  We had loads of good conversations and laughs on the 4 hour drive out.  I love hanging with the Boy - our senses of humor are very similar and we are both okay either spending time together or giving each other space when necessary.

One of the highlights of the drive out?  Electric Avenue!!  Now I know where it is!  Pennsylvania!

We're gonna rock down to....
We've been having a blast spending the last two days with James and the gang from the barn. James is not used to so much stall time, so we've taken him out for hacks around the show grounds and fields and for lots of grazing time.  Some of the others have done lots of these away shows and are used to them; Noah and I are new to the whole thing and we're like kids in a candy store.  Time to pick out stalls?  Great!! Time to hay?  We're in!  Night check? Yay!  Torrential downpour and we have to lower the tent flaps in sideways rain? Good times!

James rocking the braided look

Does Charles Owen offer this model?

The first day we got organized and Noah had a lesson, then we hung out and watched some of the others show. Today (Day 2) was Noah's first actual show day. It was sunny and gorgeous when Noah took James out for his morning hack, but as we got closer to his class, things got ominous.  Just as we were ready to go to the ring all hell broke loose.  The show organizers got on the loudspeaker and order everyone back to the barns and told us to lower the tent flaps.  Thunder and lightning shook the tents, making James uneasy, so we stayed with him.  Luckily the storm lasted only about 35 minutes, but they were pretty intense minutes.  When the storm front petered out a bit, we hurried to the ring so the class could be run before the skies opened up again.


Batten down the hatches

Noah and James did well.  Noah had a GPS issue in the first class, which was a shame as they were doing so well.  It began to rain in the second round, so that was not quite as smooth but they wound up pinning third.  By the time they did the hack it was raining a bit stronger and James was not pleased.  He held himself together, but his handsome face showed he was not happy about the situation.  Despite that they got fifth.  Noah was not thrilled with his riding, but he was happy to have spent so much of the day with his horse.

And now I'm ready to crash face-first into my bed.  This horse-showing stuff ain't easy.  ;)