Monday, May 28, 2012

On Our Way

As my 4 day weekend comes to a close I feel for once like Grace and I are right where we are supposed to be in meeting our goals. The AQHA Rookie show is in less than two weeks and after this weekend I am no longer convinced that I will embarrass myself. I made the most out of the long weekend; I rode in a show on Saturday, watched an AQHA show on Sunday and hauled out for a lesson with Sarah on Monday. I’m sure Grace is thrilled that I am going back to work tomorrow.
I hauled Grace to an open zone show on Saturday for Western Riding and Trail. I wanted to go to that show specifically as it would be my last chance to show a Western Riding pattern before the Rookie show. I also like to support any local shows that hold the class in hopes that they won’t drop it the following year. Luckily there is a trainer that has been hauling down specifically for that class so I’ve had other riders in the class with me. I made sure to give myself plenty of time to get any edge off Grace before my class, riding her in the morning during the English classes and again during the lunch break. The warm up footing at the show grounds was less than desirable; I had my choice between incredibly deep and heavy or hard and rocky. I opted for hard and rocky until I could get into the main arena at lunch; the heavy deep footing was a tendon strain just waiting to happen.

Grace warmed up well during the lunch break. At one point I had the arena to myself so I gave myself the equivalent of a barrel racing time only and schooled the pattern. I’ve made it a rule to not school patterns with Grace as she is too freaking smart and will anticipate, but at the last show I felt like if I could just go right back and ride it one more time I could have fixed my mistakes.  For the most part Grace stayed soft and quiet; she got much farther in the pattern before making a decision on her own. We had just executed a change when two strides later she threw in another one all on her own. I stopped her hard and backed her up letting her know that she wasn’t in charge. I then shaped her body up and loped off finishing the practice pattern without another incident.

When it came time for the class I already knew to plan on 2nd place or lower as the horse the trainer was sitting on could do the class in his sleep. The gelding has gone to the AQHA Select World multiple times. I enjoy watching him on pattern; it’s like getting a clinic before my turn to go in the ring. I paid close attention to the lines the trainer chose with the way the pattern was set. When it was my turn I went in with a plan to use the room I had to best of my ability. I let out a sigh of relief when Grace jogged over the pole quietly and stepped into the left lead lope when asked without her usual commentary. The line changes felt really good and I followed my plan to shape Grace up in the corners before the crossing changes. Grace stayed in a consistent rhythm throughout the pattern. She never once took over or tried to run with me, even her stop and back up were quiet. It was without a doubt the best Western Riding pattern that we have put together so far. I parked Grace next to the trainer on the nice gelding so I could watch the next rider’s go. The trainer told me that I had made a big improvement over the last three weeks when she had seen me at the last show. She then went on to compliment me on my ride. That was way better than any blue ribbon! We still have a lot of work to do in the next two week, but I’m starting to feel like I might be able to pull this off!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

When I'm Pushing I'm Winning

At the beginning of my lesson on with Sarah on Wednesday she said “let’s try this one handed”. Once again it took her all of 2 seconds to zero in on exactly what we needed to work on. That is why she is the trainer! Within a few strides I started picking at my horse, Grace was leaning out her left shoulder and I kept trying to get it back with my hand. Sarah told me to stop and roll Grace over her hocks. She explained that I didn’t have to be mean about it, but I had to make the point clear and get what I wanted. For the rest of the lesson we worked on correcting Grace and then letting her be when she got it right. When she was correct it was such a nice ride that I almost didn’t know what to do with myself. It allowed me to get into my body and focus on staying relaxed and keeping my back soft. My horse was able to carry herself which meant less work for me. Throughout the week each ride was better; Grace could be left alone for longer periods at the jog and her lope transitions were starting to come together.

On Saturday we headed to a schooling show, Sarah was also bringing students from the barn and Nina and Milo came to play too! Sarah reminded me to correct Grace in the warm up; to get 75% in the practice pen so I could ask for 25% in the show ring. Our first two classes were trail and Grace was an absolute pleasure to ride! She was slow in between obstacles and wasn’t anticipating the next gait change.  Any mistakes that were made were mine and she didn’t get excited about them. It was so nice not to have to spend my ride anticipating my horse’s anticipation. At one point she broke from the jog to the walk and I said out loud “Who are you??” Penny passed on a saying to Sarah “When you are pushing you’re winning, when you’re pulling you are losing”. Yesterday was the first time I had to “push” Grace in the show pen. The walk jog rail classes went well, I got tense at the lope in a 3 gait class and it started to fall apart. I was glad to have Sarah there who gave me a good visual for keeping my shoulders soft in the next lope class, which went much better.

I added the 3 gait Advanced Western Pleasure class to fill it with Nina. I may have to ride in that class from now on. I had no idea what the judge was going to ask for so neither Grace nor I could anticipate. At one point we had to lope without our stirrups and crazy enough I rode better! I see a lack of stirrups in my immediate future. The last class of the day was the 3 gait pattern class; it was the same pattern as last month. This time I rode the entire pattern one handed. We still have to clean up some technical aspects that were sloppy, but I was really pleased with how well the pattern went. Once again I had a judge comment on Grace’s lead changes. I think they are a little surprised by what we can do on a pattern considering how bad the lope can look in a rail class. I know I am! We are now one week closer to the AQHA Rookie show in June. I am started to feel less and less like I will embarrass myself there and I am starting to believe that I may actually have a good time.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Grace's Left Side

When I went searching for pictures of Grace from last spring to compare to pictures from this year, I was amazed by how many pictures I have of her grazing. Clearly I cannot get enough of looking at this horse, and seeing her without a blanket or a sheet is such a rare site I seem to always take a picture. Luckily I seem to have consistently shot her left side so it makes them easier to compare. I know that these were all taken at a moment in time and the next second the horse can posture themselves differently for a better shot. Still, I can't help but think that at 15 the mare looks better than ever.  Her body just seems to make more sense now. She looks and feels more balanced. What changes do you see?

April 2006



April 23rd 2011

May 14th 2012

Monday, May 7, 2012

Happy 15th Birthday to My Favorite Horse of All Time!

Today is Grace’s 15th birthday! I have been told that horse years equate to 3.5 human years. If that is true that would make Grace’s age equivalent to that of a 52.5 year old human. Apparently someone forgot to explain the math to the mare, because this weekend I learned that my 37 year old body has some work to do to keep up with my now 15 year old horse!
Grace had too much edge on her when I took her into my classes at the show on Saturday. I fully take the responsibility for this one because I didn’t ride her the night before. It was pouring down rain and the outdoor arenas at home were slop. If I had to do it over again I would have paid the $15 to ride in the indoor next door. Our Western Riding pattern was much better than last year, Grace didn’t rush or run on pattern, but it could have been better. She also wasn’t as settled in her trail classes, even squealing at one point when I asked for the lope. I just shook my head and rode the horse I had. Gone was the horse that had been waiting on me the weekend before.
On Sunday we hauled to Sarah’s for what ended up being a 2 hour lesson. I quickly learned that one of us is out of shape and it isn’t the horse! Grace is not only fit, but she is fat and shiny – the chia seeds and hard work are paying off. She barely broke a sweat in the 2 hours. I on the other hand struggled to keep my core engaged and caused her to break at the lope. If I want to accomplish my goals in the saddle I am going to have to take my own fitness more seriously. We have a lot of work to do this show season and I do not want to be the one holding us back.
I couldn’t be more pleased with how good the mare looks at 15. She is more sound than she ever has been, and shows no signs of slowing down. I’m turning 38 this summer and I am going to have to buckle down if the same is going to be said about me. Happy Birthday Grace – thank you for inspiring me to be more than I thought I could be!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Cowgirl and Her Horse Trailer

My little trailer left today for its new home today.  I’m thrilled to see it go to someone who treasures it as much as I did. The new owner is looking forward to a summer of being able to hook up and haul her horse on a moment’s notice.  Still I couldn’t help but feel a bit empty when looking at the vacant parking spot this evening.  It was after all my first trailer which represented the stage in my life when I learned how to cowgirl up, hitch it to my truck and never look back.
I first saw the trailer on a drive down a back country road. It was sitting at the end of an arena facing the road, for sale sign hung front and center. It had been replaced by a fancy slant load goose neck and was no longer needed. The Circle J was blue in color at the time; the wiring was a do it yourself job and the doors were creaky and rusted. It was exactly what I was looking for.  A few days and 700 dollars later it was in parked outside my kitchen window. My friend Jeanni encouraged me to get out there and practice hauling it. I believe there is still a blue streak of paint on a cedar tree next door from one of my first backing attempts. The first time I hauled Grace I took her to a lesson at Sarah’s. The top back doors rattled going down the road and must have scared Grace. She would not get back in the trailer when it was time to come back home. We took the top doors of right then and I never hauled with them again. The next time I went to haul Grace she refused to load, I had an emotional break down an hour into it as I was convinced that she thought the trailer wasn’t good enough for her. Jeanni came to the rescue and had Grace loading and unloading in a matter of minutes.  I couldn’t believe that after trying every trick I knew with no success that she could just get the mare to walk right in. Jeanni let me know that she didn’t have any emotional attachment to the issue and that Grace very much had my number. Soon after I had Grace loading on her own just by throwing the lead rope over her back and pointing her to the open door.
The more I hauled the more I noticed that my trailer wasn’t as pretty as all the others. It was often the only straight load in a crowd and the oldest one in the group. I found someone to replace the doors in the manger and tack area with new sheet metal. After that Jeanni and her husband helped me to paint it white, we did the trim in grey and I even had Grace’s name painted on her manger door. Still, something was missing, that is when I found the spinners! They were $40 on eBay and were made of shiny ABS plastic. I loved coming to a stop light, looking in my review mirrors and seeing them spin. Even better was the reaction of people on the side walk. When we bought the truck I had Jeanni’s husband redo the wiring on the trailer and update it to a 7 plug. It also received another coat of white paint. Over the next few years the paint started to again peel away, at the same time I found myself yearning for bigger and better.
When the owner of the Sundowner upgraded to an LQ trailer, I knew he would be selling the Sundowner and I knew that I wanted it. I let the Universe know I was ready and started to imagine what the 3 horse would look like behind my truck. I was only a matter of days before the deal was sealed and the new trailer of my dreams was now sitting in front of my kitchen window. I have spent the last two months washing and waxing it, picking out every new pile of poop, and organizing every square inch of tack room (there are two!) I love getting to a show and having everything I need within reach and still having the space in the walk in tack to change into my show clothes. Knowing how much I appreciate the new trailer made it even more special when the new owner of the little trailer referred to it as “Bessie” when talking of the adventures she plans to have this summer. Whether it is a 2 horse, 3 horse, straight or slant, vintage or new, there is a great freedom when a cowgirl backs up her rig, drops the hitch, loads up her best friend and heads down the road.