Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Don't judge a saddle by its Cordura

Dear Black Cordura Saddle,

I am sorry that I judged you before I got to know you. I made the mistake of looking past you because you were not my “type”. I will admit it, I was wrong! When I first met you all I saw was a trail saddle, something that a novice rider might sit in. Certainly no serious horseman would spend time with you. I cringed when I saw Sarah lift you onto the back of the beautiful horses at her barn; didn’t she know that most of your parts are not made of leather?

Then this past weekend it happened, you were the only saddle in the barn that fit my horse properly. You looked better on her back, even in the cross ties she seemed more comfortable with you than her own beautifully made About the Horse saddle. Still I wasn’t convinced, but then I sat in you. My horse moved better in my lesson than ever before. Sarah pointed out that her step behind was bigger than she had ever seen it, and she has known the mare for 12 years! Grace wasn’t the only one that was more comfortable, I was able to stay in neutral pelvis for longer periods of time and at the end of the ride my rear end wasn’t sore at all. Sarah told me I could take you home for a little while if I left my saddle behind. You were lightweight and easy to load into my trailer.

It’s been 4 days now and over those 4 days we have enjoyed 4 wonderful rides. I am able to use my leg to ask Grace to lift her back. You have a space that she can fill with her back; you do not get in her way. You allow Grace to move at her full potential. I cannot believe that I wasn’t willing to give you a second look in the past. What I overlooked is that you are an About The Horse saddle and were designed and engineered with the movement of the horse in mind. You were not mass produced, but individually built by hand. Even your Cordura material is high quality.

I know our time together will be short. Sarah will need you back sooner than later and I will soon have my own saddle in the same tree size as yours. I just wanted you to know that I will be proud to sit in you any time and will no longer compare you to other saddles made of the same material. I might even miss your nylon latigo straps and extra clangy dee rings. Are you by any chance available for a trail ride this weekend?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Gracie Lou's New Do?

Today I took some time to play with Grace's mane. I was actually disappointed that I didn't have more time for it. It took me close to an hour for the section that I did, but then again I've never been fast at braiding or banding. I would like to start banding Grace's long mane for shows, I like this look, but Sarah thought it looked rather "Friesian!"

We had a great lesson on Saturday, once again confirming that any issues we have are on account of me. We went to a schooling show last Saturday and I didn't have the best rides in my trail classes. I found it frustrating because trail is our favorite class. I asked Sarah to work with me on it at our lesson this week. She rode Grace for a minute and then told me to get back and and "do less!" She pointed out that Grace is really sensitive and ultra tuned in, when I tense up and do to much, Grace does to much. I practiced "doing less" after the lesson and again today, and you know what - it worked!

When I tacked up Grace for my lesson Sarah had me take off my saddle while she brought out her saddle trees from Dave Genedek. She put the #1 which is the tree I have been riding in (and the one I just ordered) on Grace and showed me how it rocked on her back. She then put on the #3 tree which is the same twist size, but has a straighter bar. It had no rock and just looked better on Grace's back. Sarah pointed out that Grace's back is straight only gets straighter when it comes up. The #1 was not allowing her to pick up her back. I took my lesson in a trail saddle that is on a #3 tree. It didn't take long to see the improvement in Grace's movement. I think there was a time that Grace did fit in a #1 but her back has changed so much just over the last 6 months. I knew something was up in the last month because I had stopped riding in one of my saddle pads, it kept slipping back every time we loped. I put it under the #3 saddle today and it didn't move one bit. Looks like I have to get a hold of Dave to make sure we get the tree right before he starts my saddle.  

Friday, June 24, 2011

She’s Bitchy and I like her that way!

Monday was an especially long day for me. I headed out early to the office knowing that I had a presentation due the next morning. My manager and I were scheduled to meet with our boss to go over some data. My manager was out sick that day, so I would be on my own. In the middle of putting together my presentation while working with my daily flow of customers, Microsoft Office continually crashed on me. Thank you Bill Gates! After 10 hours I emailed the unfinished presentation to myself with the idea that I would finish it at home. Once home it became clear that Outlook had again crashed, the presentation was not in my inbox, I would be going back to work later in the evening. My husband then announced that the brakes had gone out on his daily vehicle and that he would need my truck in the morning. I usually take the bus during the week, but with the 8:30am meeting and an unfinished presentation, I had planned to be in the office by 6:00am. After figuring out our carpooling details for the next monring, I headed out to the pasture for some much needed Grace time.

I could tell on my walk down the hill that the farrier had been there while I was at work. Grace was 10 days overdue on her shoeing schedule. I had offered to haul her to his house if necessary, but he assured me he would make it out. Grace didn’t meet me at the fence with her usual greeting; she stood at the top of the hill waiting for me to come to her. She gingerly walked towards me as I opened the pasture gate. Grace stood quietly as I slipped her halter on. I closely examined all 4 hooves, they looked great; nicely balanced, new shoes in front with resets behind. I picked up the left front and could feel the warmth in my hand. Her clean soles were hot to the touch, I quickly checked the other 3 hooves, the hind two were warm, but not as hot at the front. Grace lagged behind as I walked her to the hose, carefully placing her front hooves on the soft ground with each step. Her attitude was missing, no ear pinning at the dog, no dolphin dives down the hill. After 30 minutes with the cold hose she was clearly more comfortable. I lead her over to the arena to see just how bad it was. Grace was tender on her front hooves but was moving beautifully behind. It was confusing to say the least! She seemed more off on the right front than the left.

On the walk back home Grace walked a step behind me with her head level. She was easy to lead and incredibly well behaved. I tied her to the trailer and ran over each muscle with my hands, no flinching or ear pinning, nothing was tight or hot. Whatever was bothering her seemed to stem from her front hooves. I could not help but notice how well behaved she was. No biting at the halter when I put it on her. No kicking at the air as I brushed her left side. No trying to eat the dog. All of her attitude was gone. I cold hosed all 4 hooves again before leaving her with her dinner and then headed back to the office. I hosed her hooves again before bed that night, fully prepared for an early morning hose session. On Tuesday morning Grace was much brighter with her greeting, she had her “hurry up and feed me” voice back. I picked out all 4 hooves, which were now at their normal temperature. That afternoon I cold hosed and took her to the arena for some Connected Groundwork. She was better, but still cautious on her front end. Her attitude was also missing. As nice as she was to handle, it just wasn't my Grace.

Wednesday was another long day at work; I took the later bus home. I decided to give Grace the day off, even though her hooves were cold I went ahead and hosed them anyway. She seemed to have a little more get up and go on her walk to the hose, even giving the dog a dirty look or two. Thursday morning I was greeted with a snort and a squeal. Belle took off in pursuit of the deer behind the pasture while Grace snorted and blew at them. When I could get her to hold still enough to check her hooves, they were again cold.

After work Grace seemed eager to get out of the pasture. She bit at the noseband of her halter as I put it on. She trotted ahead of me down the hill ears pinned back, head snaking at the dog. She kicked at the air as I swung the saddle onto her back, she bit my brush box as I started to tighten her girth. On the walk to the arena Grace danced alongside me, tossing in a few dolphin dives at the dog for good measure. In the arena she looked great on the line and felt even better under saddle. We worked on trail work, lots of stopping, backing and side passing. I had to remind Grace a few times that she was not a giraffe and that her head does not belong in the air. Back at home she bit the halter as I slid it back on to tie her up, swished her tail at me as I pulled off her saddle and kicked at the air as I brushed out her sweat marks. She was anxious for me to finish cold hosing her legs so she could go off and graze where she wanted to. It got me to thinking; Grace can be a cranky bitch, and to tell you the truth I wouldn’t want it any other way!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Repost for Father's Day: How My Dad Became my Hero - the story of Snowball.

It was the week before my 8th birthday, when my mom said I needed to help my dad go pick up a goat. I was really confused; it made no sense at all. I almost never spent any time alone with my dad, and a goat? What in the world were we going to do with a goat? I didn’t want a goat, I wanted a pony! Everybody knew that, I had wished and prayed on every star for the last year. My sister and my dad both had horses of their own. Now it was my turn. I was more than ready for my very own pony. Goat! What where they thinking. I loved my dad, but I had a very healthy fear of him. He was the Chief of the Boat of a Trident Submarine and his style of communication was to lecture, yell and swear. If he didn’t speak to you, it meant you were doing just fine, staying out of his way and minding your P’s and Q’s. When he wanted to talk to you, it only meant one thing, that you had done something wrong. He married my mom when I was 4 and by the time I was 8 I had learned not to make eye contact with him in fear that it might lead to a lecture. Now what was I going to do? We were going to be in the truck together, alone! I couldn’t figure out how mom had weaseled her way out of this one.

I headed outside to meet the inevitable. Dad was waiting with the truck; he had the neighbor’s horse trailer hooked up to it. Horse trailer? How big was this darn goat? I have no memory of any conversation we had on the 20 minute drive. What I do remember is the Country music coming in over the radio. Dad turned it up when my favorite song came on; Michal Martin Murphey’s “Wildfire”. How I loved to hear of the girl and the pony she called Wildfire. In my overactive imagination Wildfire was white as the snow with a long flowing mane and tail. I was the girl as we drove along in the truck I imagined that I was riding him bareback and bridleless on the shoulder of the road right along side the passenger side of the truck. Just as Wildfire got close enough to the truck that I could reach out and touch him, dad slowed down as we turned into a driveway.

There were lush green hills surrounded by fencing as far as I could see. A very kind looking woman met us just outside the barn. Where was the goat? I could see some horses off and the distant and I instantly gravitated towards the fence. Dad and the nice lady stood behind me. She said something about a girl that was bringing the goat up from the lower field. I didn’t bother to look in that direction; I was too busy soaking in every inch of the two horses in the field. One of them was paint, and I was memorized by his markings. Somewhere in the middle of the adult’s conversation I overheard the question; “Are you going to get another horse anytime soon?”, too quickly my dad answered “No, we have enough mouths to feed, I am in no hurry to get another one.” My heart sank; I was never going to get my pony. All I would have is a stupid goat! It was so unfair!

“Oh, hear she comes!” I looked in the direction that the lady was pointing. At the very bottom of the field, several fence lines away I saw a white flash. It wasn’t! It couldn’t be! It was! A Pony! White as the snow! She had a girl on her back and she was flying, running up the hill in my direction. They would stop at each gate and open it. The girl never got off the pony, just opened the gate with one hand and slid though shutting it behind them. I had never seen anything like it. As they got closer, I drank in the details of what had to be the most beautiful pony I had ever seen. She had blue eyes, and a pink nose, she was perfect. I heard a new voice behind me. “Do you like horses?” the girl’s father asked. “YES!” especially ones like that!” I still hadn’t fully understood what was going on, until my dad spoke up. “She’s yours!”

Friday, June 17, 2011

It will be here in 10 weeks

I ordered my new saddle yesterday. I've been on the fence about this for sometime now. I have an About the Horse barrel saddle that I love! It fits Grace better than any saddle I've ever had her in and I love the way it fit me. The only thing is, we are not running barrels - not now and most likely not ever again. Earlier this year I accepted that if I wanted to keep Grace sound, barrel racing would not be in our future. Then when we started Western Riding and got back into Trail, it was pretty clear that it was the direction we both wanted to go in.

Can I let you in on a deep dark secret? Barrel Racing kind of scares the crap out of me! I don't want anyone to know because then you all won't think I'm tough, but then again I am the same girl that sat through a 3 hour tattoo session and actually enjoyed it. There is just something about running full speed at a 55 gallon steel drum that my brain and body just won't let me fully accept as something it wants to do. I know that I had a tendency to hold Grace back and it would piss her off to no end. I also know that if I want to haul down the road and run barrels that I could get about 2 years out of Grace before she would break down. On the other hand, if I do the events that she is actually built for, I may be looking at another 10 years.

With that in mind, the only thing holding me back on the saddle switch was my love for the barrel saddle and of course the cash.The final push for me was when I saw a picture of myself from the last horse show in the barrel saddle. I have to admit, it just didn't look right. I've ordered one of Dave's new "Anato Tree" reining saddles. The price is very reasonable and the sale of the About The Horse barrel saddle should cover most of it. Dave tells me it should be done in about 10 weeks, pictures will be up just as soon as it arrives.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Was that really the left lead?

I had a moment of total confusion during last night’s ride. Both my body and my brain did not know what to do. Grace’s left lead was so balanced and correct that I had to double check the direction I was going in and ask “Was that really the left lead?”

I took Grace out of her pasture in the Connected Groundwork halter. After tacking her up I walked her to the arena combing the line and stretching the bow along the way. Out on the line Grace was plodding along at the walk, not really using her body. It wasn’t long before I noticed a change in her walk. At first I thought it was even slower, but then I recognized that the footfalls were sequenced, a very clear 1,2,3,4. Grace’s trot work was as nice as it was the day before, and I saw an improvement on the line at the lope. I would like to see a better stop from the walk, she still has a tendency to bring her head up, but I know if I stay consistent with the groundwork that it won’t take long for her to figure it out.

I rode Grace in my Les Vogt elevator bit. I knew I wanted it for the work at the lope, but I was pleased to see how light she was in it at the jog. As soon as I got on she was moving better than she has been. When I get a groundwork session in before my ride it tends to take away those first 10 minutes of stiffness that I would otherwise encounter.
When I brought Grace up to the lope I put her back on the same exercise that Sarah and I had worked on Friday night. We started on the left lead which is the more difficult side. For years loping Grace has felt like riding two different horses, the left is never as nice as the right. She tends to stick her nose to the outside and swing her hip in, it is crooked, unbalanced and I have a hard time sitting it. It has improved tremendously in the last 6 months, but it still isn’t up to par with the right lead. Last night I loped Grace down the center line in a straight line, I took her nose to the left and brought my left shoulder back, I then drove her up. I felt Grace’s hind end come up underneath me and could feel that she was straight all the way to the rail. When I turned her left to continue down the rail, I allowed her to carry herself. The first time I felt myself get ahead of Grace’s movement – almost like I was anticipating something that did not happen. The next time after the straight line, I stayed with her. As I allowed her to carry herself she stayed in the same body that she had down the straight line. She was straight, even and working off her hind end. My butt was able to stay in the saddle. I actually had to ask myself what direction I was in and what lead I was on. It felt nothing like Grace’s left lead. It felt incredible! After a walk break I changed direction and did the same exercise to the right. This time when I allowed her to carry herself all I could do was smile. It was by far the best lope my horse has ever produced! Or maybe it was the best lope that I have ever allowed?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Peggy Cummings 6.12.2011

I had the opportunity to watch Peggy Cummings give 3 lessons at Cedar Creek Performance Horses on Sunday. I audited the past two lesson days after my ride and was thrilled by how much more I picked up on by watching other people. There is always a new gem that I haven’t listened to before and always things I have heard but forgot to remember. Sunday was no exception.

The first horse that Peggy worked with is one that I was able to observe in the last two lesson dates. Peggy had the owner work the horse out on the line in a circle around her. I’ve seen this horse and handler do this same exercise with Peggy in the past, but I heard something different this time. When the handler would step back to comb the line, she was stepping towards the horse’s hind end. Peggy told her to instead step back to the middle of her circle and to keep her feet moving. She also explained how combing works, it turns off the fight or flight response in the nervous system thus allowing the horse to move without tension or holding. It didn’t take long to see the difference in the big grey gelding out on the line. As he started to stretch his head and neck, his hind end became engaged. As he continued on the exercise his hind step started to cover the track of his front step and was even in front of it at times. In a matter of minutes the horse’s way of going and movement had dramatically improved. I was once again impressed by what could be accomplished in a short period of time without pain, pressure or sweat.

A few other things that I was reminded to remember:

1. Practice neutral pelvis everywhere; when pushing a wheelbarrow, sitting at my desk, walking, anytime handling horses.
2. Horses buck when they cannot find their balance, it is nature’s way of rebalancing them
3. Freeing up the head and neck allows the connection to their hooves
4. Use EVEN pressure between hands
5. I must be soft in my joints in order for my horse to be soft in her joints

I already knew before I got home that my afternoon with Grace would be spent on the ground. I kept asking myself why am I not doing Connected Groundwork every day. I usually get a session in once a week, but I know that if it make it a part of my daily routine with Grace I will be setting us both up for success before I even put a foot in the stirrup. Grace seemed more than happy to not see the saddle come out of the trailer; I knew she would be tired after hauling and showing the day before. When I worked her out on the line I had a much better feel for what I was doing. I was able to have her go out on the circle away from me and then step back towards the center of the circle while combing all the while keeping my feet moving. In the past I had stopped my feet and it had caused Grace to turn in on the circle with me. This time I was able to keep her moving which seem to allow me to soften my feel on the line. I then saw and felt the oscillation in her head as came in and went out on the circle. Then it happened; I had Grace stay straight for a few strides, her head lowered, her neck bounced in a rhythm and her hind end woke up. Before I knew it she was covering the ground with ease. I stood back for a second and said “Wow!” It took a few minutes when I changed directions to achieve the same level of fluidness, but it was there. In total I maybe spent 30 minutes doing ground work and only half of that time was on the circle. The horse I ended up with looked nothing like the one I had lead into the arena.

As I gave Grace her “day after a horse show massage” I let her know that we will be doing more Connected Groundwork from now on. I’ve decided to make a 30 day commitment to doing groundwork before every ride. If I feel I don’t have time for groundwork and a ride, I will just do groundwork. I’m sure like any habit it will take discipline, I find it helps if I take Grace out o f the pasture in her groundwork halter. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes; you guys are going to be my accountability buddies.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

When I'm Straight My Horse is Staight - another "Oh Really" moment!

I went to a show yesterday, but I really want to tell you about the lesson I had the night before. After the lesson I didn’t really care about how the show went, I was more excited about the exercises I want to work on in the coming week. The show actually felt like a minor interference in my training regimen. Once again at my lesson it only took Sarah 30 seconds to pinpoint exactly what we need to work on. Grace and I are improving in between each lesson, but it still always amazes me how Sarah has the next thing ready, the next exercise we need for our next break through. I’m starting to really appreciate having a trainer that puts me to work and knows that I am ready for the next step in the process, even if I am not convinced at first.

Sarah had me lope Grace in a straight line right at her. Turns out our straight is not very straight. Grace swings her hip to the inside and then gets really crooked from there. Sarah had me lope the straight line while taking Grace’s nose to the outside. Grace immediately threw in a flying change; I stopped her and backed her up letting her know that she has to wait to be asked before executing a flying change. On the next approach to the straight line I was clearer in my body about holding the lead. I then took Grace’s nose to the right and moved my right shoulder back. Instantly I was straight, and then my horse was straight. All the way down the straight line I could feel Grace rock back on her hocks and it was easy! It was a major “AHA” moment, followed by an “Oh Really!” when I expressed out loud how when I was straight my horse was straight. I could immediately see how getting straight was going to solve all sorts of issues at the lope.

At the show when I warmed Grace up for my Western Riding class I could tell that she was a little apprehensive about her left hock, not lame but just tired from the lesson the night before. The pattern started with line changes and then went into the cross changes. In the class our line changes were the best they have ever been! By the end of the pattern Grace started to rush and she was late on her last change to the left. The end of the pattern wasn’t pretty. When I ride her one handed I feel like I lose my ability to get her back together if she falls apart. I know that getting her stronger behind and straight at the lope will fix this. This show was the first time that they announced scores for Western Riding. Both judges gave me a 65. The rest of the riders in the class did simple changes. One judge rewarded me for executing the flying changes and kept the other scores below mine. The other judge placed me 3rd. I know exactly what we need to work on for Western riding; overall I was thrilled with her line changes.

There were more entries in our trail classes than there were at the show last month. There was also better competition in both of my classes. The first class called for a figure 8 with a simple change. By the time I got to that point of the pattern we were a little discombobulated and Grace picked up the wrong lead on the last change, she then immediately threw in a flying change – we really got dinged for it and placed 5th and 7th. I got more organized for the championship trail class which again was a full class with some real competitors. At one point in my pattern the call judge yelled out something about a cone. I had just passed one, so I stopped and looked back over my shoulder at him. He waved his hand at me and said “continue on”. On my way to the side pass I wondered what I had done wrong, but I really didn’t have time to think about it. I figured whatever it was I had blown the class and the pressure was off. This time the figure 8 called for flying changes which Grace was more than happy to execute. She did get a little flat and rushed at the end, but overall it was a good pattern. I checked the pattern again on my way out and didn’t see anything I had missed. I then realized that the judge had been telling the next person in line to move up to the start cone; I thought that was the job of the steward. I was thrilled to find out that I wasn’t marked down for stopping on pattern and placed 3rd under both judges. Of all the ribbons I took home I think those 2 yellow ones were my favorite!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Trail Course Practice

I set up a few trail obstacles in the smaller arena for practice today. I always love how Grace turns it on when she sees we have fun stuff to play with. Her lope is so much better when we are both focused on a pattern. The biggest challenge is not allowing her to anticipate our next move. I find if I take my time and a lot of deep breaths, it works out.

We Found June!

Grace after her bath yesterday in the sun.
This is one of those weekends when I remember why I live in the Pacific Northwest!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Shelly - the horse I owe an apology to. Part 2

From what I remember the first year we had together was great. Shelly was 15.3 when I bought her and only 4 years old. Yes, that means we had started her over small fences at the age of 3. It was our second show season when things started to fall apart. I remember one of the first times she reared up with me. We were coming to a 3’6” fence, I’m sure I must have tensed up as I’ve always been scared of the bigger fences. Shelly came out of the corner stopped all forward motion and stood up straight on her hind legs. She landed and did it again, I remember looking back over my shoulder at the heavy wood fence rail that was just behind me. The trainer screamed at me “Don’t you dare protect yourself, this mare will never go over backwards with you, she is too smart for that. The worst thing that will happen is that you will slide off her back. DO NOT stop riding her!” At that point I wasn’t sure who I was more afraid of, my horse or the trainer. It was just a taste of things to come. Shelly and I did well, as long as the fences stayed under 3 foot which was my comfort zone. As soon as a 3’6” oxer was set in the arena, I would freeze up a few strides out and assume the fetal position. Shelly packed me over the big fences the first few times, but after getting hit in the mouth from me getting left behind, she was done with the freebies. It didn’t just happen at home; more often than not she would perform her airs above the ground at horse shows. What had started as rearing had now turned into a full blown rodeo routine. When Shelly’s front hooves would make contact with the ground she would launch into a series of bucks. To this day I have no idea how I stayed on her back. I supposed fear of death may have had something to do with it. A well-known trainer in the area approached me at a show; he asked me the breeding of my mare. When I told him the name of her sire, he was the one that told me of his reputation for throwing rank babies. He had one at his barn that even his Mexican groom who was a former bronc rider could not stay on.

Shelly had her brilliant moments as well. I will always remember a jumper derby that we rode in one hot July day. There were 40 horses in the class, the first round was rather technical and had some tight distances. On her good days Shelly was incredible to ride to a fence. I could take a 5 stride line and put 4,5,6 or 7 strides in whatever the trainer asked for. She was incredibly agile and could turn off one fence and be ready to jump the next from any spot I put her at. The potential was all there, and on that day I saw what she was capable of. Of the 40 horses only 8 made it clean to the second round. I remember a triple combination that was set up the middle of the arena. I’m pretty sure at one point I grabbed on, closed my eyes and just prayed. Shelly hit the back rail of the last oxer on the combination, it bounced out of the cup and landed back in. The announcer said “she’s clean, but just barely!” In the jump off we were one of only two horses that went clean, Shelly and I were a full second ahead of the other horse. That day I took home a $150 check, a new bridle and whole lot of pride. It would be one of the last good shows on Shelly.

As time went on her tantrums in front of fences got worse and worse. The fences only seemed to get bigger. At one point when I had to go back East for a family emergency the trainer rode Shelly for me. When I came back he continued to ride her, when he handed her back to me he said “If you ever get offered money for this mare, take it!” She was much better after her time in training and the fences were now at 4 foot. Shelly was jumping them with ease and we made plans to join the group on an annual trek to Canada for a show. Shelly and I were only jumping in the 3 foot ring, it should have been a piece of cake, but instead I couldn’t get her past the 3rd fence in every single one of my classes. She was back to her tantrums, I was finally done. At one point I seriously considered untacking her and just walking away right there in the middle of the jumper field. I was heartbroken, clearly I didn’t have what it took to do this.

When it came time to discuss selling Shelly the trainer pointed out that it would be a challenge. She had thrown her tantrums in show rings from Oregon to Canada. We decided to trade her for another horse. Shelly ended up in a sales barn in California, she was now 7 years old and pushing 17 hands. I was still only 5 feet tall and was lucky if I weighed 95 pounds.

It took me a few years and some distance to see my part to and to see what a disservice I had done to that beautiful mare. I’ve learned a few things along the way and am now able to see my past mistakes. Mistakes that I will not repeat with a horse again.

1. Shelly and I had no business jumping anything higher than cross rails. She was not broke and I did not have the foundation for it. I did not have the confidence for the bigger fences and Shelly knew that. I also lacked the confidence and wisdom to speak up for myself to say “I am not ready to do this”.

2. My saddle did not even come close to fitting Shelly. It was a Crosby PreDeNation that was built up in the back. The twist and pommel were very narrow and it must have sat on her withers like a vice. When I look back at pictures I can see where I did try to pad it out for her. I think the only reason I got away with it as long as I did was that I hardly weighed a thing.

3. I constantly put my agenda over my horse’s well-being. I was in a show barn and horses went to shows and jumped big fences. Shelly had a full brother that was showing Grand Prix, it was what she was supposed to do. I never slowed down to fix the situation at hand; I just kept pushing thinking that this next show will be the one where we get it together.

4. My pride got in the way. I wanted to quit, many times. I was sick to my stomach on my lesson days. I even considered selling Shelly a year before we traded her, but I was convinced that someone else would buy her and then beat me in the jumper ring. I wanted to be the one that took her to the top. The idea of someone else doing it was just more than I could take.

5. I should have sought the advice of people outside my circle. When my new gelding arrived and Shelly left, droves of people came up to me and told me how happy they were for me. Again and again people told me that they were afraid for my life when I rode Shelly. I’m talking 30 people in a 3 week time span told me this. Where were they before this? Would I have listened to them?

I believe that there are days that Grace is my apology to Shelly. Everytime I step back from my adgenda and do what is right by her, I carry with me my mistakes of the past. I take full responsiblity for them and I only hope that Shelly was able to find a better life in California.

Shelly - the horse I owe an apology to Part 1

Shelly as a 3 year old

I've been told never to purchase a horse based on emotions. I've done it twice now. Grace was the second, Shelly was the first....

I was working at a local hunter jumper barn my senior year in high school, cleaning stalls on weekends and feeding the horses at night. I worked hard and was willing to do anything, always with the hope that someday I would get to ride the young horses that were in training. The barns trainer was getting ready to head to California for a winter series of shows. Shelly only had a few rides on her and he needed someone keep her going while he was gone. When he put the offer out there to me I didn’t hesitate, I finally had the chance to sit on one of his training horses. She was the greenest thing I have ever ridden, and by far the most breathtaking. Shelly was out of a Trakehner mare that was by the 1984 Olympic Gold Medal Show Jumping Stallion Abdullah. Her sire was a Dutch Warmblood who it was rumored had his papers pulled because his babies had a nasty reputation for being hot. None of that mattered to me; I just wanted to prove myself as a rider. I grew up just down the road from the barn riding in its shadow. My grade horses were small and average at best compared to the beautiful mounts that I often shared an arena with. When I started working there I was occasionally asked to hop on a rank pony or two, but this was the first time I had been allowed to ride one of the Warmbloods.

The trainer told me to stay out of her face and just guide her. She didn't have a clue how to walk a straight line with a rider on her back. He said what she needed right now were miles; I was to take her for walks on the nearby trails, the goal being to get her out to see things. After the trainer left for California I couldn't wait to get to the barn each day with my saddle in tow. Shelly was really quiet on the ground and uncomplicated under saddle. She was incredibly confident out on the trails, nothing seemed to faze her. By the end of the 3 weeks I had her trotting over poles in the arena. I dreaded the return of the trainer, as it meant that Shelly would be back in full training with him. I was thrilled to find out that the peering eyes around the barn had reported back to him that I had done a good job with Shelly and I was asked to continue to ride her several days a week. Any time the trainer would run short on time in his day he would leave Shelly for me to ride. Soon my own TB gelding was taking a back seat to her. Just a few months after I had started riding her, the trainer had me jumping her over low cross rails. She never hesitated; Shelly would jump from whatever spot you put her in at the base of a jump. She was cat like over a fence, incredibly agile. I even rode her in a cross rail class at the nearby show grounds. It wasn't long after that her owner pulled her from the barn to move her to a dressage facility where she would finish her training before being sold. I said my goodbyes and figured I would see her in the show ring someday. There was no possibility that I at 18 years old would be able to own that magnificent mare.

6 months later as I was headed into my day job at a local restaurant I ran into Shelly's owner as she was on her way to get coffee. I worked up the nerve to ask her how Shelly was doing. She let me know that Shelly was on her way back from the dressage trainer, it sounded like the mare wasn't going to be the dressage star that she had hoped for. I gushed on about how much I enjoyed riding the mare and how I could only dream of owning a horse like that. I had no idea that my rambling on about her horse would lead the owner to consider me a viable option as a buyer. When Shelly came back to the barn I was again asked to ride her several days a week. The trainer again advised me to stay out of her face, he felt that she had been over schooled at the dressage barn and just needed to enjoy being ridden again. It wasn't long before we were back out on the trails and hopping over small fences. The more I rode Shelly the more connected to her I became. My own gelding who took the best care of me was clearly in 2nd place for my attention. One day while I was tacking up Shelly in the aisle way of the barn I said out loud that if I could afford her I would consider selling my gelding Kidd. I was immediately approached by a very kind woman who told me that if I was serious she was very interested in Kidd, she had admired him from afar and would love to own him. In whirlwind of events that included the trainers at the barn going to bat for me with Shelly’s owner, Kidd was sold to Karla and his sale price was used as my down payment for Shelly. She was now mine.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Have you seen June?

I had really hoped to have her in a fly sheet by now.