Cloud's Honor Racing

Cloud's Honor Racing

Cloud's Honor Riding

Cloud's Honor Riding

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Continuing Saga Of Graycie

So I've been meaning to write for quite some time, but finding homes for horses and riding has become a tremendous task. The good news is we're really doing a great job and the horses are the big winners - well so are the people lucky enough to get them.

We did finally find out why Graycie was becoming unrideable which is a relief in some ways, but scary in others. I decided to give riding her another go in March/April 2009. I had my vet go over her and he found nothing wrong. We were going to hack about the farm for a month or so. It didn't go well. From the beginning she was not having this. It broke my heart that a horse that loved to train, was basically unrideable. I actually could ride her, but who would want to? She was horrible. And horrible Graycie is really a horrible thing. I knew there was something wrong so I called Morgan and he came out and went over her once again. Nothing to speak of. Nothing to explain the behavior. Oh I did point out the toe crack she had had for a long time, but there was no separation and she was completely sound - always. It was actually growing out at the top.

In racing we all develop a protocol to deal with lameness. If I can't define the problem, I start with: Giving them a week off and if they are no better, I give them a month off and if that doesn't work they get four months off (bone heals in four month's time), if that doesn't work they get a year off. All the while we look for the cause of the lameness.

I made the decision to give her a year off. It was kind of a relief, but it made me sad too. I rode her most every day from the time she was a yearling when I broke her until she started having this problem when she was 7. It was sort of like losing part of myself.
The first Saturday in May, my husband and I went to my good friend Lucy's for a Kentucky Derby party. She breeds very nice racehorses. As a side note, this was the year of the Bird and as you know I have a Bird. I hadn't had any time to follow racing so I had no knowledge of the field. Russ and Lucy had computer printouts and much handicapping knowledge to make their selections. I picked both Birds, Mine that Bird and Summer Bird. They were both going off at high odds and Russ looked at me like I was a noodle head. Unless you are a green horn, you don't make your betting selections by name, but that's what I did. It's the only thing I had to go on. When the race concluded, the noodle head was the only one with the winner and I pronounced "It's the year of the Bird!"

Okay, back the Graycie. After the race we were drinking mint juleps and Lucy suggested we go out and look at her babies. The yearlings, it's the best age. They're cute and playful and of course Lucy's babies are super friendly. They ran up to the fence and were vying for our attention. My husband loved it. He even talked about how cute they were on the way home. I started thinking....

Graycie was getting a year off anyway, but I don't breed. I bet you know where this is going. I thought how much my husband would enjoy the experience of a little one. After all he bought Graycie for me and had never had the experience of a baby horse. Of course, I don't breed, it's not my thing. If I did breed a horse it would be from Graycie though. She's an outstanding mover with nearly perfect confirmation. Perfect doesn't exist or I'd say she has perfect confirmation. If I bred her I'd want to produce her - beautiful her. My good friend Kelly Bailey had a gorgeous Unbridled Song stallion that was incredibly similar to Graycie only with a kind temperament. If there was one thing I'd modify on my girl it's her temperament. Unbridled Mate is a refined thoroughbred with a beautiful head. He's a lofty mover with very correct confirmation. Maybe a teeney weeney long in the back, but I'm picking. And he's GRAY!

So I took Graycie to Kelly's farm. You have no idea how significant this is. The only time Graycie and I have been apart is when she did an overnighter at Leesburg so they could tell me she was the soundest racehorse they'd every had there. I did the scintigraphy out of my usual paranoia. It was hard leaving her at Kelly's but I knew she would take care of my girl like it's her own horse. Royal Wux Farm is about four hours from me over the bay bridge and before I got home Kelly was calling me telling me how beautiful Graycie is. Yep, she sucked in another one.

My husband was so excited about this, I knew I had made a good decision. I'm not going to breed every year. Yes I believe there are enough horses in the world and we will keep the baby forever.

By July that toe crack started to look weird. By the end of July the right side of her hoof started to push out. In the beginning of August I called Steve and said I was scared. Graycie was off in the front and getting a bit more sore every day. Steve came right over. It wasn't good news. He looked at me and said "Kim Clark, I think you finally found a horse I can't get a shoe on." She had shoes on, but he was talking about getting them back on. Basically the right side of her hoof had separated from her foot and the pressure from it growing down was perpetuating the problem. They call this white line disease and it is not common in our part of the country. Go to Kentucky, they can tell you all about it. Steve said, I don't know whether to cut all of the separated hoof away or just the bottom part. I told him I wasn't ready to deal with the whole side of her hoof being gone, but I trusted him and thought he should do what he thought best. Steve took the bottom off only to relieve the pressure and then he got this really weird shoe on her. He didn't expect it to last but it did for a month. She wasn't sound, but she wasn't as lame. You have to understand, Graycie has never really been lame in all the time I've had her. For me it's like the biggest tree in the forest is falling.

In the meantime, Morgan came to the farm for vet stuff and I showed Graycie to him and he said I should let Steve take the wall off. Incidentally, Steve had me soaking her foot in an iodine mixture to kill the fungus that had caused the separation. Morgan thought in time she'd be fine. I felt a smidge better. We had her in the weird shoe and a Boa Boot.

Six weeks later Steve came back to do everyone in the barn and he said he'd been thinking about Graycie. He had a plan. I told him what Morgan had said. I was not particularly comfortable with Graycie losing half her hoof, but I trust Steve and Morgan. I clung to that.
I should have video taped Steve that day. It was like watching a surgeon work on a patient. His movements were deliberate and exact. After and hour he was done and he looked up and me and said "I had a plan, but I didn't use any of it." I almost cried as my girl walked away completely sound. We turned her out and she played like she hadn't in months. The biggest tree was saved. I love Steve Guy. He doesn't believe me, but I really love him. I don't know anyone that could cut off half your horse's hoof, get a shoe on them and make them sound. The shoe has stayed on for over two months now and she's remained completely sound.

We believe this is the reason she became unrideable and obviously she needed at least a year off. I have felt guilty for not figuring this out, but I've been told there just wasn't any way to find it, especially since she never took a bad step until the wall separated and then it was obvious.

Monday, October 19, 2009

We Survived

I love Fair Hill. I love it so much that I planned to attend as a vendor back in March when I received my non-profit status. It was the first place I scheduled to promote Thoroughbred Placement and Rescue, Inc. I attended my first 3* two years ago at Fair Hill. I had been there before, but to watch steeplechase and for a time I did work across the street at the training center for Gene Weymouth. That's an entire blog in itself that I'll probably never write.
We saved up our best tack for the used tack sale. My husband made a beautiful roll top to raffle and I even made a muck basket of "horse cheer" to raffle off. We had pictures, saddles, a tent - EVERYTHING we needed. To top it off two of my favorite people in the world were competing. Sam Allan in the 2* and Sharon White in the 3*. What could go wrong?
Well, you all probably know, it rained and rained and rained. On Thursday we arrived late to set up. Our instructions were to be set up by noon, but with the usual stuff that pops up we left the farm late and then there the traffic in the rain. Myself, a volunteer and her son who was visiting from Texas drove up in two trucks. Bet he's glad he came. My good friend Kathy came along a bit later in the day.

It was 43 degrees and raining hard and steady as we unloaded and set up the tent. I don't know about this tent. I don't think it was made to take this kind of abuse. I only paid $130 for it. We went out to the hardware store to get a two by four to use as a center support. Kathy headed directly to the liquor store when the wine vendor didn't show up by 2. I was glad. I don't usually drink that early, but this was a very special occasion. We sat there and drank wine and talked about the money this was going to cost us. I think we sold one raffle ticket to the jump and about four to the basket. Someone is going to be lucky, the odds on these two are going to be great.

Friday, it was me, me and only me. I rushed to get there to see Sam and Simmy's dressage test. They were stars. I was so impressed with how they handled the miserable conditions to put in a good performance. I was impressed with all the riders. This was their big day and Mother Nature didn't care one bit.

I held my breath as I walked around the corner to the tent. Would it be standing? It was still there. I made a few adjustments and settled in for a long cold day. I did walk the course with Sam and Jennifer which warmed me up and it was fun, believe it or not. I was cold, wet and thinking about my horses at home. I will admit this was the best day of the four because it wasn't raining hard all day. I left around 3 and had sold about five tickets for the jump and 25 for the basket.

Saturday, more heavy rain. I called Bernadette and told her I would pick her up in my truck at her hotel. She should not attempt to drive her car to Fair Hill. By now it was so muddy you could hardly walk. With each step you took, more mud stuck to your boots. There was Bernadette, full of cheer with her old, cold dog Ben. Oh I forgot, old, cold stinky dog Ben. I am the type of person who, when in a crappy mood - which I was - cheerful people annoy me. I was in day 3 of the Fair Hill survival course, Bernadette was about to embark on a very long day. Me, Miss Sunshine and stinky dog in a 10x10 tent.

As we walked into Fair Hill I told Bernadette that every day I held my breath as I walked around the corner because the tent may not be standing. It was there and we went in. Ben was cold and I was feeling bitc*y. I shamed Bernadette into buying him a coat. We also found a use for some of the wonderful turnout rugs we had brought to sell - Ben now had a great place to sleep. I love that dog, even when he's stinky. As the day progressed, Bernadette proceeded to sell a ton of tickets. Well maybe not a ton, but she did sell more than I thought we would. We met a lot of nice people too. Then I noticed that Eric Bull had his jumps out. My goal is to get a jump from him every year at Fair Hill. I walked over and there were two I really liked and the adorable little squirrel that had been carved.

Sam and Simmy rode brilliantly and Sharon seemed flawless to me. I was really happy to be there to witness that kind of skill and dedication to a sport I have come to love. When Sam came to visit after her ride, I took her over and showed her the jumps I wanted. She agreed they were good choices and she even liked the squirrel. I asked Bernadette to get hold of Eric after the last horse completed the cross country and she said she would. It was a great day, but I will admit that as the day went on, my mood improved and the sunshine Bernadette brought with her dissipated. We were now in the same mood. I left to drive home and saw the Full Moon trailer going down the road. I thought I didn't know they had anything competing here.

Sunday, I left the farm later because Bernadette was there to open the tent. She called me when I was about a half hour into the drive to tell me she had had enough and couldn't take any more. Fair Hill had broken her. The tent had collapsed and everything was wet. I felt bad, but I told her this was no tragedy. The guy next to us had moved out of his tent so move in there. It was a surprise the tent had lasted as long as it did. Besides, maybe people would feel sorry for us and buy more raffle tickets. She is better than I could ever be at fundraising, and this fact lifted her spirits. Bernadette proceeded to sell even more raffle tickets throughout the day. Bernadette told me Eric had sold both of my jumps. I was so bummed, but she said we could get him to make the same ones for us. I was still bummed, but I will have those jumps for Leighton Farm. A bit later I saw my pal Cherie and her mom. She commented the jumps were gone and they took the squirrel. The squirrel, I forgot about him. They took my jumps and the squirrel too. Cherie, said I know who it was. I sounded like we were talking about a thief. It was Full Moon Farm. I had seen them driving the getaway trailer yesterday. Oh well, they have really great taste in jumps.

Bernadette and I witnessed wonderful rides by both Sam and Sharon in the show jumping. I have seen Sharon school with Jimmy on Rafferty quite a bit over the last year and it was a true privilege. As I watched her flawless round I thought this is what all the hard work was about. I was also amazed at how Sharon rode just the same as at home. I mean she's that good. Most people ride different at the show than at home, but somehow she rides the same and all I can say is she is amazing to watch.

Bernadette called me from her car on the ride home to tell me Ben had upchucked all over the back seat of her car. All we could do was laugh, it was a perfect ending to this story.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Willie Wonkie

Last February, my friend Anne sent Willie to me. First let me tell you a bit about Anne. She and I were bound to find each other because we share the exact same love of ottb's. She also galloped before returning to the show world. She does hunters, you know the really expensive ones, and then takes all the money she makes and saves the horses that can't be expensive hunters. I've never met her face to face, but believe me when I tell you she is my sister and there isn't anything I wouldn't do for her. It's always easy to take the big good looking horse, but Anne notices the horse in the back of the field with the caved in face and sees his all of his finer qualities. She takes him and now with my help we get him into the right hands for a great life.

Now let's talk about Willie. When Anne met him he was a 9 year old racehorse who had funneled down the ranks to the bottom at Finger Lakes. I don't have to tell most people that the bottom at Finger Lakes is just before the kill pen. Willie had given up, he wasn't going to try any more. He'd had enough and that was that. Anne saw that great looking guy with the silver tail and tracked down the trainer. It wasn't long before he was bound for her farm in Pennsylvania. He was turned out for some r and r. Anne knew he was not a resale project because of his age. No one wants to give the old class horses a second look.

After a year, she sent him to a good hunter trainer to learn to jump. At some point during this time, Anne and I started working together. She contacted me about horses on my site and got quite a few through Leighton Farm. Over time she realized I could help her move some of the horses she was rescuing or that would not make top level hunters. In February, she sent several horses to be sold or find homes, one of them was Willie.

Willie had lost his pride. I could tell that at one time he was the Big Horse in the barn, but as his performance went down hill, he lost favor and was robbed of all his self respect. He had also lost his confidence in humans. He'd given his all and we had repaid him by betraying him. Anne and I talked about how people don't want to give the old class horses a chance and what a good example Willie could be. Obviously he was sound, you don't race 58 times until you're 9 if you're not a durable type, but more than that, Willie was a consummate athlete fantastic mover and smarter than smart. In addition he changed hands five times during his career and that meant he could deal with pressure. These kinds of horses come along much faster than you can imagine.

So the training began. I took him over to Sam Allan to see what she thought. First she noticed the beautiful silver tail, and then she proceeded to tell me I should keep him. Not because of the tail, because of the potential and talent. I told her I have a rule that I can only keep four horses and to keep him I would have to get rid of one of mine. Graycie? No way. Birdie? Can't even talk about that. Punk? If I could only have one horse, it would be him. Bear? It would break his heart.

So the retraining proceeded and he progressed so quickly I started looking toward competing him. Glennwood seemed like a good goal. It was in June, and I knew he would be able to stick his toe in the proverbial eventing pond by then. Mind you, I was looking at taking a horse who had never shown to a horse trial and I had never ridden in a horse trial either. By May I was telling Elizabeth she really needed to see this horse. He had a real knack for the dressage. Elizabeth only had eyes for the Bird and I just couldn't get time scheduled for Willie. We did do Glennwood and he was as classy as a horse could be. You can go back and read about some of it. I talked about it in this blog, so I won't rehash it here.

My friend Ruth made a visit to Maryland just to see Willie. She was considering him for herself. She wanted a low level horse to have fun with. She'd been a dressage Diva most of her life, but now wanted to event. She loved Willie and his magic tail, but she recognized immediately his upper level potential. She said, this guy is going places. You should keep him. Once again I went through the four horse limit and told myself this was how it had to be.

Sam suggested Fair Hill in July for our next outing. Me, Bird, Willie and friends would do our first overnighter. Willie handled it in stride. Bird handled it in Bird style and I was kept down to a dull roar by Samantha. She's really good at that. She's sort of like having a martini when you can't have one, but really need one. She's got really great coaching skills. I guess I should inject a Bird update here. He was more upset than ever about the dressage and tanked in usual Bird style. I choked in the show jumping, but didn't go off course. As usual, the cross country was a dream. He even attacked the ditch without hesitation. I worried a little about it because there was a jump before it, so you couldn't see the ditch on approach, but Bird didn't care. He just jumped. It was fun, but I decided to give him a break after this and probably not show him again until next year. We needed to work on the dressage. It wasn't fair to keep on this way.

This was the day I found the "key" to Willie. This was the day he got his self respect back. As we warmed up in dressage there are a ton of horses in a very small area. Willie scowled at every one of them that got in what he decided was his space. I know it's wrong, but I laughed.

He didn't kick at them or anything, but you knew he was disgusted with all of them. When it was our turn to go, we headed for the dressage arena. You ride up a small hill to the arena at Fair Hill. As we walked into the area, I felt Willie stand tall and proud. He knew he was there to be seen and he had his pride back. He was wonderful, although he did scowl at the horse in the arena beside ours as it passed by during the test. I know I'm not supposed to, but I laughed. He got eliminated at the water on cross country, but I'd only schooled him to water once, so I don't blame him. He did go through it and I have to say, he was a perfect gentleman about it.

We raised Willie's price, because we weren't ready to let him go. He had taken a real liking to me and when people came out to try him, he wasn't bad, but I could tell he didn't like it. He remained a consummate gentleman about it though. After Fair Hill, I really started to nag Elizabeth. I decided to give Bird a month off so I showed up with Willie at a lesson in July. I guess you could say it was love at first sight. Elizabeth loved him. It wasn't long before she told me I should keep him, he was my third level horse. I told her I have a four horse limit - da, da, da.

Jimmy showed up back in town and I took Willie to a couple lessons with him. This was the first time I rode a different horse other than Birdie for Jimmy. I laid in bed that night thinking why did I do this. Jimmy is going to yell at me when he stops or does something green. The day was great, when Willie was green, Jimmy said, he's green we expect this. Jimmy liked him and that was no surprise.

I started to notice that Willie knew he was for sale and he didn't want to be sold. Every time we went somewhere, he got nervous. Not ratty nervous, just concerned. You could tell. I knew in my heart he didn't want to be sold and I felt bad about it. He wanted to stay here at Leighton Farm and be one of my dysfunctional kids, although Willie really isn't dysfunctional at all. He was nice and easy to ride and I have to admit, I did enjoy having a horse that wasn't so hard. I just knew I couldn't keep five, but I did feel bad about it. Willie had always been a good horse and despite this he had been passed around like an object. So much so, that he expected and accepted it. I think it had been a long time since he had let himself want anything. He wanted to stay, and I couldn't find a way to make it happen.

I needed to find a place to compete Willie, but scheduling conflicts kept happening. Sam said another Fair Hill was coming up and I should enter that. I did, but I knew I better get out there and school him over some water. We went to Win Green and then just before, Frying Pan Park. During this time, his dressage was coming along at an incredible rate. Willie loved dressage and he was better than good at it. He was a star again, he had his pride back. Willie is a very proud horse and it comes through in his performance. Still there were moments when he had that look in his eye where he kept a void between himself and me because he knew I would someday sell him. I know I sound like a nut, but they know, they really know. Most of the horses that come here know they will be sold and are fine with it. Willie wanted to stay.
I talked to Elizabeth about how bad I felt about selling Willie and she reiterated that I should keep him. I next did a gymnastics clinic with Jimmy at AOPF and Willie was a star. Jimmy commented that Bird better watch out. He thought Willie was "quite nice". I'd never get rid of Bird, but it was true, Willie is quite nice. After the clinic I went down to their water jump and schooled Willie to it. He didn't go right in and I worried he would be eliminated at Fair Hill again.

By now I was calling him Wonky. All of my horses have stupid names that just come out of me one day. Punky is Punkasaurus. Graycie is Beautiful Girl or Pearl Girl. Grandy is Bear, well you know him as Bear. Bird, well he is a Bird, so that hasn't changed much except I do call him that Crazy Bird. One day Willie was Willie Wonky and then he was Wonky. Anne and I talked about the upcoming competition and I told her how Willie knew he was for sale and how sad it made him. Anne had told me again I could keep Willie. The only thing Anne wants for these horses is a good life. I get attached to every horse that comes through Leighton Farm and even a lot of them that just end up on my site, but Willie and I have more than that. We have a connection. I couldn't stand it any longer and I told Anne I would keep Willie. I know I sound like kook and in many ways I am one, but Willie figured out rather quickly that he was going to be staying at Leighton Farm. I called Sam and Elizabeth and told them I was keeping him. They were happy about this decision. Sam had been telling me for over six months to keep that horse.

I've been schooling with Elizabeth for two years and I've never ridden through a test with her. I love the Bird, but it's just never been useful since he wasn't ready to compete dressage yet, (we've competed anyway), so I guess Elizabeth elected to work on the Bird "problem of the week" instead of riding a test. I've seen her go through tests with people and it reminds me of being before a firing squad. Elizabeth is "in it to win it" and she's going to get you as close to perfect as possible, even if it kills you. If you don't want perfect, you don't want Elizabeth. I was told to bring my Fair Hill test to the next lesson. This was the day before the competition. I was ready to be BBQed. Instead, Willie and I pretty much earned an A+. No pressure. Elizabeth remarked about the difference in Willie's eye. He was secure, he wasn't worried any longer about traveling. He knew he'd be going home after the lesson to Leighton Farm. Willie had a home, for the first time in many years.

Bernadette, volunteer extraordinaire, came with me to Fair Hill. It's the best feeling in the world to have someone help you that knows what you're capable of. It's amazing that one person can be an army of support, but that's what Bernadette is. She's a natural with horses and loves them as much as I do. The weather was lousy this day. It basically rained all day and I worried about how Willie would handle yucky, greasy, muddy, cross country. He got studs to help with the traction issues he was sure to have.

When we went to warm up for dressage, I felt that incredible pride come over Willie. To tell you the truth, I choked up. I fought off the urge to cry. Not tears of sadness, but those of a proud mom. He was right where he belonged at that moment. When we went up the hill to do our test, I felt his stature change as he strutted his stuff. Every mistake that was made in that test was mine. Willie was perfect. After the salute, the judge smiled and asked if he had a grey tail. I smiled back and said it's silver. She said how pretty, what breed is he? I beamed as I told her he was an 11 year old thoroughbred off the track. "He raced until he was 9." She said he's got an amazing temperament. I smiled even bigger and I knew we'd aced it. Willie you are a star. Willie, said "of course I am."

They were requiring us to take a trail through the woods to get to the stadium and cross country. Guess what you have to cross to get there? Water - a stream. I left early, just in case. Bernadette offered to walk with me, but I looked at this as the last schooling of water before cross country. As we approached Willie saw the water and hit reverse into the trees. This was humiliating because someone was approaching from the other direction and saw us. They asked "do you want a lead?" I thought, this is my opportunity to look like an idiot if I want. All I have to do is say no. I accepted the lead and Willie went right through. I thanked the girl who said, "Good Luck" as she rode away. I wouldn't blame her if she thought to herself "You're going to need it". I thought it as I thanked her. I decided to table the water issue, because I've already made the mistake of riding the cross country course during show jumping and it's a great way to go off course. Show jumping first then cross country. One problem at a time.

Stadium jumping was clean. I have to admit, Willie started out fairly sticky and I had to ride him. I do get credit for doing a good job there. I think he was concerned about the footing and needed proof it would be okay. With the studs he didn't slip and by the end of the course he was freely jumping. If I haven't mentioned it, Willie can really jump.

Cross country started out great. He was eager and willing. It was fun and then we turned the corner and they had dumped a ton of stone dust in front of a fence to help with the footing. Willie had never seen the likes of this and stopped, but circled around and jumped easily after inspection. I don't blame him, he's still learning. Fair enough. We had great jumps from there and now the water was coming up. Would he go? I had a plan that I would approach it and not kick or make a big deal, that just makes him stop for sure. Willie hates to be kicked. I would sit there and let him sort it out. By the half way point in the water I had to be jogging to make the jump just out of the water. I knew if he went into the water, I'd be excited and lose site of the jump out, if I wasn't careful. He went right in, but as we started jogging he reacted to the water hitting him in the tummy and refused the jump after the water because he wasn't ready. I circled round and he went. His excuse was greenness and I understood. He only stopped at one other fence and we were sliding down the hill to it so I didn't make a fuss. Jimmy once told me that when Jack LeGoff was his coach, they had a horse that would "jump anything". They made him a dressage horse because he was dangerous. Inotherwords, you want a brave horse, but not a reckless horse. Willie and I had never dealt with bad footing before and this was an education in itself.

Willie walked into the barn at home and told Birdie "I won the dressage". Birdie said "Yeah, but you stopped on the cross country course." My boys are competing with each other, but I love them both. (Okay, crazy lady)

Willie won the dressage, jumped clean in show jumping and made a few mistakes in cross country. He finished 6th overall. I am excited to go to the next competition because he's gaining confidence and learning how to deal with the factors presented in eventing. Willie has a home and doesn't have to worry when he leaves Leighton Farm. He's coming back to stall 7, where he gets to stick his head out.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

My Body Hates Me

As we age, our body changes in ways we don't enjoy. I never saw this coming. As a professional exercise rider, I took for granted that I would always be fit and never have to watch my weight. When I was in my twenties, I could have eaten a cake and still lost weight. Nowadays, if I walk too close to one I gain a pound. This didn't creep up on me, it changed in a flash when I was 39. I was trim and had no fat on my body when I was 38, but sometime in my 39th year, I started to maintain some body fat. Not a lot at first, but it was there. I just attributed it to the fact that I wasn't galloping the large number of horses I had when I was younger. No problem though, I eat a very healthy diet consisting mostly of fruits and vegetables. It is an amazing thing that your body can create fat from fruits and veggies. My mother has always had a weight problem and I always thought it was because she lacked the self control and good eating habits it takes to be trim. Boy, was I wrong. If I wasn't as active as I am, I'd be fat. It's that simple. I am not the weight I want to be, but I'm not fat - yet.
I ride an average of six hours per day. Sometimes a bit more or less. When I ride, I work out.

I start a lot of young horses and they make you work. They don't know anything about carrying the rider yet. I've gotten a lot of flack from Elizabeth about opening my hip angle. I tend to be a stiff person so I started to seek exercises that might help me limber up. As an aside, not only does your metabolism change when you get older - you get STIFF! I was zapping around on the tv one morning and landed on a show where a guy was sitting on the floor in a really bad looking position. He was talking about how much it hurt, but saying it worked on stretching the hips. I thought I'm in. It was Yoga and he was doing the Happy Cow. That cow can't be happy, but I was pleased to find a way to limber up. I Tivoed the show and have been doing Yoga at least 6 days a week. It really works and I have to say I feel better.

I decided around this time that I should start running too. I am no runner, in fact I hate running. My thought was I could run around my farm and take Star my wayward German Shepherd with me. I began by walking and running when I came to an uphill grade. Within three weeks I could run one lap around the farm. I was so proud of myself. It must be at least a mile, right? My husband is an engineer so I took my wheel around the farm once and asked him to convert the distance to miles. He said, "I already did that, it's .6 of a mile. I thought, no way, it's got to be further than that, so I went on the internet to check for myself. Well, you know how that turned out, my husband has been and engineer for over thirty years. Six tenths of a mile. What a let down. So that was eating at me which is probably good and I'm now up to 1.8 miles, which is three times around the farm. I'll be happy with two and a half miles. Well happy might not be the right word. That's my goal. Run four times a week and yoga six times a week.

You'd think with all this activity and the fact that I'm a veggie, I'd lose weight. Think again. I am the same weight I was before I started all this. I know what you're thinking. She probably eats pasta and tons of sweets, but you'd be wrong. I love pasta, but I have it only once per month. The truth is, this is the way it is when you age. I hope I don't have an injury and have to stop all my physical activity. I'll weigh 300 pounds in no time flat. At least I haven't gained weight.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fair Hill

Since Birdie's big advance in dressage, everything has gone downhill. He has had horrible tantrums and at times has been unrideable. I had entered both him and Willie in the unrecognized starter horse trial at Fair Hill. I really wanted to ride there. I worked at Fair Hill for Gene Weymouth as an assistant and exercise rider and loved the place. I was considering scratching Birdie just the same. I couldn't find a reason for his sudden and sharp decline in performance. He wasn't lame and I could find nothing wrong with him, but I suspected he needed a break. Elizabeth had said he'd progressed at such an incredible rate, it was likely he needed one. I talked to Sam Allan about it and she encouraged me to take him. One thing that ran through my mind was that Sam would be there and she would see how he behaves at the show. He's always ten times worse there and perhaps she could help me find the answers, so I decided to take him.

When I was an exercise rider, I was one of the best. I was proud of my work and really made a difference to the horses I rode. I was good. It's been hard to go back to being inexperienced and green at riding. Lately, I've been really tired of feeling like a bozo on a horse. I longed to go back to the track and do what I am good at. I understand that I am starting over, but it's been a long time since I felt good about my riding. This feeling is not helping the situation at all. Add to that the fact that I stepped Willie up to Intro and the mountain seemed almost impossible to climb.

Sam suggested I take them the day before and she would give me a lesson on Birdie. It was frustrating and we didn't get anywhere with him, but at least someone I work with saw us in action. She walked Bird's course with me and I then walked it once more. Then I walked Willies. Bird's course seemed challenging. Willie's presented a glaring problem - water. I had only schooled him once in water and I was fairly certain he would not go right in. I also knew I was going to have to ride him every step of the way. Willie hasn't figured out cross country yet and he's a conservative horse. If he's not sure, he wants to think about it. He wants to stop - then think. Not good for cross country. We also recently figured out he likes to stop at the first fence, even in practice. I needed to be sure that didn't happen.

I got up at 3:30 am on Sunday and headed to the barn to feed my boys. I then went out and walked the show jumping course. I didn't want to go off course again. I then walked both Birdies and Willie's cross country courses. This was going to be a long day. First ride at 9:26 am and last ride at 3:26 pm.

Birdie tanked in the dressage - again. I can't convey how upset he was. It was sad and I am so touched by how hard he tries for me when he is obviously so frightened. He is so generous and I respect him immensely. He simply can't bring himself to relax, but he tries despite this fact. This is the first time I can say that the judge hated me. I am sure she thinks I did this to him. She was very unhappy with me and told me I should not take him to shows. I should take him to perhaps a friend's place and not put so much pressure on him. There was no time to tell her I school with Elizabeth Madlener every week at another farm and Jimmy Wofford every other week, (except for lately) at Sharon White's. He travels more than any horse I know, but he's smart enough to know when he's at a show and when he's not. I will say I was grateful because she tried to work with me in getting Birdie to walk after my test was over. Apparently there was a break and she spent her time helping me get him to walk. I really appreciate that even though she talked to me like I was a horse abuser and the crappiest rider in the world.
Show jumping with Birdie was humiliating and all my fault. I was coming unraveled and I was telling myself I better get it together when he stopped at the roll top. Let me just mention, I'm the one with the roll top evasion - not him. Sam said he was being dirty, but I know it was my fault. After the ugly stop, I got myself together and even though it was ugly, I did a better job.
Cross country was unbelievable. He was even stronger here than he was in show jumping, but I have so much more time to get him back. We completed the course on time and without a mistake. I love my beautiful Bird.

Willie put in nice dressage test for Intro, but I had the same judge and I think she hates me, so we did not get a glowing score. It was only his second show and I was happy with him, so what the heck. His show jumping was flawless. As we walked over to cross country, I told myself you have to get him over the first fence. As we left the start box I started screaming at him. He ran from Satan himself and soared over the first fence. My adrenaline was at an all time high and that was a good thing because I was tired. We approached the second fence and I was even louder, he started to hesitate and I let out an inhuman sound. He went. The third fence should have been easy. Sam Allan has the same one only bigger at her place. He's jumped it a ton, but elected to stop at this one. I was disappointed, but he had been trying to stop at the first two, so we just jumped it and went on. For the first six fences I practically carried him over them. I was getting tired and my voice was straining. At fence seven, he stopped again. Sam had warned me about this one. The course loops in a circle and he likely decided we were done since we were headed back to where we started. I really screamed at him and he went. I rode his hair off the next two and now we were at the water. I decided to trot around it and then try to go in. Maybe if he had a good look, he'd go. He was a complete gentleman when he told me it was a bad idea and he didn't think we should do it. The jump judge was supportive and even tried to lead him in. After three horses went by he finally went across. The jump judge and camera man where cheering as we galloped away. Oh, he did stop at the one coming out of the water, but fair enough. He's never seen a question like that before. After all he's only schooled cross country once and completed one horse trial at elementary. We galloped down a hill and he jumped this next jump quite easily. In fact I didn't have to ride him to it. The next jump was a "wagon" I was expecting him to balk, but instead he took me to the fence. He was taking me to the fences and he jumped the last fence perfectly. Suddenly he was having a good time and eager to find the next fence. Unfortunately I had to tell him it was over.

I am really proud of Willie. The light bulb went off. He gets it now. I told JK it was similar to breezing baby racehorses. In the beginning you have to pick them up and carry them. Then one day they say "Oh, I understand - GO! I like this." After that you just sit there and point at the pole, then they carry you. Willie gets it now and I'm really looking forward to his next outing.

Birdie is getting a rest period. He hasn't had one in over a year. We also have a couple things we're going to work on during that time. I am embarrassed to admit that I was really sore yesterday. That hasn't happened in a very long time. Jimmy has been on me to start riding them instead of being a passenger. I think I started doing that at some point on Sunday at Fair Hill.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More Dressage

On Sunday Birdie and I were entered in a dressage schooling show at Exalt Farm in Harwood, Maryland. Our ride times were early, so I had to get up at 3 am again to feed and make sure he had time to eat. I wanted to leave by 6:15, so we'd have plenty of time to warm up. Krysta, a wonderful volunteer who aspires to event one day, showed up to help me and read my tests for me. I can't tell you what a help she is. I did have a chance to practice braiding the Bird and they turned out really nice. When we got there he was unusually relaxed. This seems to be a new trend, which I think is the beginning of his dressage metamorphosis. I was able to longe him before getting on him and things were going rather smoothly. Some other horses showed up to warm up and he did become a bit more tense. As we headed down to the arena for our first test, he became the very uptight, which came as no surprise. I stayed as relaxed as possible. This test was only a walk/trot and I was grateful. It wasn't that bad though. The judge was positive and gave me a lot of "tactfully ridden" marks. She seemed to understand what I was riding. We had a half hour until the next test, which was Training Level 1. I opted to work on long, low walking for relaxation. This must have been the right thing to do because he did the best test of his life. His canter was extraordinary and the transitions were wonderful. He even walked across the diagonal - not free walk, but at least it wasn't a jig. There were some uptight moments, but overall it was great. Birdie won his first dressage class. I can't express what this means to me. I know we still have a long way to go, but we're going!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

My First Horse Trial - EVER

I'm not sure exactly when the gerbils entered my brain, but this was my first eventing competition and somewhere along the line they got into my head. Glennwood Farm in Brandywine, Maryland has a very nice starter event in June of each year. Last year I helped my good friend Cherie Chauvin with her horse Katchi at Glennwood. It was also one of the first places I schooled cross country with the Bird. I liked the place, so I had this great idea that I would enter Birdie in it this year. While I was at it, why not enter Willie so he would get some exposure before I put him on the market.

Maybe that's when the gerbils got into my brain. Who enters two horses in a horse trial when they've never ridden in one? For that matter, Willie had never been to any show. Still at the time it seemed like such a good idea. Glennwood lets you school the day before and I thought it would be so easy to introduce Willie to eventing there. Oh and I might as well enter Birdie in Novice, since I can ride him over the course the day before.

The week before the event it rained and rained and rained. So the decision was made to cancel the cross country schooling. In all this time, I was not nervous or concerned. I did learn you can't have a reader in eventing, like you can in dressage, but I thought no sweat - I can learn two different tests. I called Sam Allan and asked her if should walk the course on Saturday and she told me yes. I wanted to do it in the morning so I could ride everyone on the farm in the afternoon when the ground had time to dry. Sam organized this event and what a huge job that was.

I drove over Saturday morning and found Sam. She gave me the course maps and told me to walk each course twice. That's a lot of walking, but I did it. As I walked the Novice course, I started to think, "Why did I enter Birdie in Novice? What the hell was I thinking?" I just knew he was going to be excited and strong. In the first part of the course there was a coop, hard right, straw bale two stride, hard left down a hill to a brush, hard right and dog leg to a downhill brush. It was in the first part of the course, he would be too strong for me to navigate that. If I trot it, he'll quit. Wait a minute, stop doubting, you can do it, remember what Lucinda said, "they can walk those fences." I keep walking the course, uh oh, the dreaded ditch. Now it is true, it seems that we've gotten him over the ditch problem, but this will be a show and he'll likely revert. There is an alternative, but I should jump the ditch, shouldn't I? What if he refuses three times and gets eliminated? He'll learn he doesn't have to go. Where's Jimmy? What do I do?

I wasn't particularly worried about Willie, I entered him in elementary and he easily jumps 3'6". Still, I had visions of him stopping and me falling off for the whole world to see. When the ride times came out, it had to be Birdie first. I really would rather have started out on Willie, but I could live with that, I still was surprisingly calm. I decided I needed a lot of help so I asked everyone I knew if they would come. I ended up with six helpers and they were the absolute best all day long. At least I didn't have to worry about that.

All night long I laid in bed thinking why did I enter Birdie in Novice? Why? Why? Why? When morning finally came I was nervous, but happy, because I was tired of laying there trying to rest. I didn't sleep at all. Why did I enter him in Novice? Then there was the dressage. We are still battling our dressage demons. I fed them at 4 am and wanted to leave by 6:30. I needed plenty of time to unload the truck and hack Birdie around. Lots of time to warm up.

Everyone showed up and we were on time. We were the first ones there. My dressage was at 9:08. I was on the Bird by 8 am. To my astonishment he was very relaxed, reaching and stretching his back. When we trotted, he was supple and on the bit. This is the day!! This is going to be the day he finally does dressage in a show instead of tanking because he is so upset.
Twenty minutes before our ride time, he switched gears to Bird mode. He was uptight and getting in the way of other horses. I decided to get out of the warm up arena and try standing. We waited and our test was the usual uptight, no dressage test. We finished last. I'm going to try a new strategy the next time. The good news is, he's never been that relaxed before in the warm up, so I think we are making progress. I was so disappointed because I thought it was going to be our day. I still love him though.

Next it was time to warm up for show jumping. Jimmy was in my head. It was crowded in there with Jimmy and all the gerbils. Jimmy hates the gerbils. I had walked my course and was ready. In the warm up it was like being on a guided missile. He was launching off the ground and very forward. Not running at the fences, but over jumping and not really wanting to pull up after. Oh boy, am I in for it.

As we began the course, he was even stronger. "Why didn't I use more bit?" Happy Mouth isn't so happy when your horse is ripping your arms off and beating you with them. If he's like this on the cross country course, I'll never be able to ride him. Why did I enter him in Novice?" SNAP out of it, the judge is blowing her whistle. You've gone off course. The gerbils stopped gnawing on my brain long enough for me to ask the judge if I could finish the course anyway and she was kind enough to let me. I still didn't get it right, but I was dead anyway. The judge said to me, "I'm going to let you do cross country, you're not dangerous, your brain just isn't working that good." Gerbils. I could hear Jimmy telling me, you have to ride. You can't be gerbil brained.

We went directly from show jumping to cross country. I was asked if I wanted someone to hold his head until it was time to go and I declined the offer. Riding racehorses for so many years taught me the only person you want on an upset horse's head is someone with much experience. Otherwise it's scary and bad things can happen. Why did I enter him in Novice?? Thirty seconds - Why? - fifteen seconds Why? - GO - Why? This is it. The moment of truth when I find out if I can do this. Was all my hard work just a shameful waste?

The moment my Bird set foot on that cross country course, he was home. "Don't worry human, I'll take care of you. Just sit back and enjoy the ride." I couldn't believe it. He was totally relaxed, so I relaxed and the gerbils stopped eating my brain. I could hear Jimmy yelling at me, "You can't sit there and expect him to tow you over the fences." I know my Bird thanks him for that. The first couple fences were easy. We sailed over the coop and went to the straw bales. Sam had said make sure you approach so he can see there are two jumps. He did the two strides with precision. Left and down the hill, boing, hard right, hard left and we did pull up to a trot, over the brush he sailed. Now, I've got rhythm with my Bird. Sam had cautioned me to focus on keeping Bird balanced. This was very easy because he just was balanced.
Now for our "other" moment of truth. I decided to swing really wide so Bird could have a long time to realize we were heading for a ditch. I pulled up to a trot. He went right up to the edge and stopped. He didn't take any steps backward. I sat there and remembered what Elizabeth had told me. She said, "When you talk to them, they do understand." I heard myself saying "Come on Bird, please don't do this to me." With that he bounded over the ditch. Hot tears were rolling down my cheeks as I patted him on his neck. "You are the best horse, I love you. Thank you for being my horse and teaching me everything." We trotted through the woods because it was very greasy and I didn't want to risk hurting him. Out we came and through the water. He never missed a beat. Several more jumps and I had completed my first cross country course of 17 fences. He never ran at any jump, never left long and never chipped in. He loved it and I loved it too. I finally understood why I entered him in Novice.
Willie was cheated because he got a tired rider, but he was fabulous. He questioned a lot of things and wondered what was going on, but finished fourth in his division and has a tremendous future ahead of him. He really likes this.

So what did I learn? Really too much to express. First off, Birdie does belong in at least Novice. Second, I can do this. The next time I'll leave the gerbils at home, then the show jumping will be successful. I won't ever worry about the cross country again because I have the Bird. Of course the dressage is our cross to bear, but Elizabeth pointed out that I can't expect that to improve overnight. After all a top rider couldn't get him to do dressage. This will take time and time is something we have. After all he is improving. I don't recommend riding two in your first event, but I'm glad I did it. Think how easy the next one will seem.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Dressage Show

So the day finally came when I was able to take the Bird to a dressage show. I've entered him three times only to have three rain outs. I know when Birdie is keyed up he needs an hour to warm up so I made a plan. I got up at 3 am and went down to feed. He takes his time eating and I wanted him to have a good day. I went down at 5 to give him a bath and braid him. I know it's not necessary to braid for a schooling show, but I figured I should practice braiding. After all, in racing if you spend all the time to braid as soon as you throw the jock up he starts ripping them out. By the post parade half the braids are gone. Incidentally they do this because they want to be able to grab mane if they need to. As a result, I gave up braiding my runners long ago. Add to that my loss of dexterity in my left hand and you've got crappy braids, but at least I had them.

So I leave the farm at 6 am and the drive is uneventful. I'm so glad I have GPS. It cuts out the worry and uncertainty of "What if I get lost?" My first ride time is 9:08 am and I want at least a half hour before my hour warm up. I arrive in time, but I hit the first snag in my day. The park where the show is being held is closed. It doesn't open until 8:30. Great, this is starting out to be a fantastic day. I think to myself, don't let this derail you. You've got to be ready to change your plan. Still I know with no time to warm up, Birdie will be a road runner, not a swan. I tell myself the more he tenses, the more you must relax. I wait, I'm the first one at the gate and people start piling up behind me. Finally at 8:25 someone drives up and unlocks the gate. We head in and I tell myself there is no sense in rushing, it will only upset the Bird more. I offer him water and begin to tack up. Then we walk over to get my number. He is surprisingly calm, well calm isn't the right word, but he is surprisingly not as wound up as I expected.

Samantha Allan and some students are there and she asks me if I'm nervous. I tell her no, but now that I'm thinking about it..... She asks me if I need a reader and I tell her I've got my tests memorized. She asks me if I want a reader and I decide to be smart and say Yes. We ride our first test with about five minutes warm up. Birdie is tense and well - Bird Like, but he's better than he's ever been. I think he might even like this. The judge tells me I need to get him to relax and lower his head so he'll be more active behind. I know this and expect it to improve now that I have time to warm him up.

My expectation for improvement falls short, but on the other hand, Birdie is not getting worse. He also seems to be enjoying himself, which is something he has never ever done at a dressage show. Last year I took him to two dressage shows and he acted as if I was abusing him. He was so upset that I felt like a heel for making him go.

We rode the second test and it was much harder this time to do the dreaded walk across the diagonal. This is the bane of my existence with the Bird. He does the jig across the diagonal. I think this will be the last thing to improve in his performance. It's harder than anything else, but I know one day he will and I will be the happiest rider you ever see walk a horse on a long rein across the diagonal. After the second test the judge tells me basically the same thing. She was a very positive judge and I appreciate that. She suggested I try to get him bending more. I took the suggestion and went out of the ring with a plan to get that Bird to be supple before the next test. It has canter and Bird ramps up with canter work. I worry about his leads. He's picking them up from the walk now during jumping but when he's tense, he picks up the wrong lead occasionally and this is such an occasion. Do you ever think you make your own fate? I go back to the warm up arena and I ride and ride and ride. I want his back to come up, I want his neck to be supple. I want him to relax. He never really does any of it and now it's time for the last test.

I go in and he's up tight. He's like riding a board. I try to soften every chance I get, but I know this isn't pretty. First canter, a charm, walk across the diagonal after the canter, not so much a charm. Second canter, wrong lead, oops, fix, correct lead. Downward transition, OMG, beautiful, smooth, supple - WOW! Five more beautiful, smooth, supple trot strides! Okay get off the cloud, Birdie is going right back to uptight mode - that's all you get today human, I hope you enjoyed it. I come down the center line with a smile. I am so happy. Bird has done something he has never done before with me. He's relaxed for a transition and five whole strides at a dressage show. He's done a very tiny amount of dressage at a dressage show. Birdie you are a star. The judge mentions that he did a beautiful transition and some nice steps. This whole day has been worth it. We leave with a second place and a fourth place. I haven't gotten the ribbon or result from the last class yet. I love my Bird.

So today I was thinking and I realized what Elizabeth is constantly telling me is true. Imagine that. When things don't go right with the horse, it's something you are doing to block the horse. I thought about the ride yesterday. Yes, Birdie was uptight and failed to use his back, but I over rode him. I tried too hard. The next show I ride him in, I'm going to be patient and everso soft. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and we're getting closer to it all the time.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Two Days With Lucinda Green

Lately both Jimmy and Elizabeth have been focusing on developing my leadership skills when it comes to riding Birdie. I am not to bully him, but I am to ride him. This means I am not allowed to settle for less than what is asked. Incidentally, this starts with asking in the first place, which I still regularly fail to do.

What a surprise to find that the theme of Lucinda's clinic was take control. The first day was excellent and Birdie and I got so much out of it. If you ride with Lucinda be prepared to get yelled at and when she tells you to do something, she means it. She's not going to settle for anything less. This was good for me and the Bird.

Elizabeth is right, he is happier when he knows I am in control. It's too much pressure for him to have to be the decision maker. Now let me make clear this is not encouragement to over ride my horse. To the contrary, one of the things that makes it so difficult is that it's the correct amount of aids to get the job done. No more and no less. Jimmy has been on me about this for the past 60 days.

Isn't it amazing that these three great instructors see the same hole in me and my Bird? It's the greatest thing in the world for us. Three experts working on the same problems from different vantage points.

Now for the best part. Yesterday was Christmas in April and I haven't even gotten to Rolex yet. I leave tonight. Ditches, our burden to bear until yesterday. I am proud to say that my Bird no longer has a problem with ditches. I realize, he's going to have some apprehension, but still. We jumped nearly every ditch in the place. We did a trakhener. At the end Lucinda had us all make courses and when she got to me and asked, I said I think I should do the two that concern me. That's code for scare me a bit. The Wheldon's Wall and the ditch she said was so big everyone would be afraid to try it. Lucinda made a course for me and WE JUMPED THE WHELDON'S WALL AND THE BIG DITCH WITHOUT A MOMENT'S TROUBLE, in addition to some banks, other ditches and jumps. Now that IS Christmas in April. Me and my Bird sailing over ditches without a care in the world - well almost without a care anyway.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


I remember very clearly the first time I heard this term. It was the third day I was on the farm learning to gallop when we came to the 1 1/2 mile gallop at the Merryman Farm. I was with Johnny Bosley and Ann Merryman. At the bottom of the hill, which was the beginning of the gallop, Johnny turned to me and said "Rate her." I said, "What is rate?" He said, "Stay behind us." Two strides into the gallop I was in front of both of them and opening up. I could hear Johnny yelling at me as we pulled away. I thought, so this is what running off is. I was lucky because I didn't feel any panic. I knew the horse would tire and pull up, so I periodically tried to get her to slow and eventually she did and she stopped. I was much more concerned with what Johnny was going to say. I really wanted to learn to gallop racehorses. He was mad, really kind of mean about it. He told me she was an easy horse to gallop with a good mouth and I was messing her up. I left the farm that day thinking "If she's an easy one, there is no way I can do this." I had ridden five years with a very good dressage trainer and I was thought to be a good rider. I now found myself leaving the farm that day considering giving up on the notion of learning to gallop racehorses.

I was used to being taught by someone who knew what I was capable of. Consequently, if Greta told me to do something I knew I could do it. I didn't question it. Johnny on the other hand - he was a different breed and I didn't know it yet. I've said it before that I am no quitter, so I showed up at the farm the next day on time and ready to suffer some more. Several days went by and I had no incidents, but I was quiet and uncomfortable as I waited for the other shoe to drop.

About four days later I arrived at the farm and only Ann was there. It was steeplechase season and Johnny had somewhere else to be, so it would just be us. During our ride Ann looked at me and said, "I just have to tell you something. The horse that ran off with you has a horrible mouth and she runs off with Johnny all the time." There must be something wrong with me because instead of feeling irritated, I was joyous. I realized I just might be able to exercise racehorses.

Over the next six months I kept coming back for more and Johnny did some really nasty things to me, but he made me ready for the track. The racetrack is a tough place for riders. I see riders come in all the time who are not prepared and they have a very rough time. Some don't make it. They have the ability, but are not ready. I use what I learned from Johnny every day that I ride. He is a truly great horsemen. Now I'm really off topic of what I wanted to talk about.

I've talked in the past about how strong Bird is after fences. I've been working on it and it's gotten much better in the ring. I thought I had that problem licked, until yesterday. On a hill, in the wind, schooling cross country fences presents a horse that is sharp and strong. As usual, Birdie winds up as we jump, not down. He was getting away from me after some of these fences. He wasn't dangerous. His approach to the fences was nice. I was doing my best to pull him up, but it was hard. The tougher he got the harder I fought him. What a dummy. I know better than anyone that doesn't work.

About halfway through the two hours it occurred to me that I need to let him depart the fence, relax him and then pull him up. It will probably take longer than I would like, but his response will improve as time goes on. In the ring this winter, Jimmy stressed how important it is to get the good canter back after a fence before you stop. It has made all the difference. Cross country, I need to do the same. Birdie is strong after fences because he loves to jump. The better I ride him, the happier/stronger he gets after the fence. At this point he's expecting a fight after the jump before he pulls up. What I need to teach him is to expect to get back the relaxed gallop and then pull up.

Johnny made me learn that years ago by putting me on strong horses before I had any ability to fight them. I wasn't a strong rider yet, so my first instinct was to find other options. He told me once that 99% of galloping racehorses is bullsh**ting them into doing what you want. Think about it, how are you going to force them to do anything.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


I had a dressage lesson yesterday with my dressage instructor, Elizabeth Madlener. This was the day after cross country schooling at Morven Park over the Training Level course. I know what you're thinking. What did you do that for? Well they say, good event horses have a tough time with the dressage partly because they want to focus on jumping and I think a dressage day after is like a return to planet earth.

Birdie may have been a little tired, but a nice relaxing dressage lesson should help work out the kinks. My last lesson was the best I've ever had. I rode well and he was a star.
We always start by longeing him and on this day he was rhythmic, balanced and relaxed. I got on him and he came on the bit, then came off, several times. It's not going well. Maybe he's tired, maybe I'm tired.

Since I got Birdie he's had a very inverted frame. I've worked hard to get him to a point where he doesn't carry his head up in my face. I'm proud of the fact that his head has come down so much, but I've never been able to do a free walk with him. He gets tense and scurries off. I just thought I would never be able to do this with him, or at least it would be a very long time.
So Elizabeth sees that our lesson plan isn't going to happen. She also sees what he really needs and begins to work on that. By the time I left that lesson, Birdie was doing a free walk on a long rein. His head was a foot from the ground. He was so relaxed he acted almost drunk. When I got off of him he just stood there. Totally relaxed, like jello.

This type of thing has happened before with Elizabeth. I arrive there and she has a lesson plan. She sees that's not going to happen today. Instead of having a day where nothing is accomplished, she reads the horse and we work on exactly what he needs and is ready to learn that day. I never thought Birdie would be that relaxed and do such a beautiful free walk. It's a long way from a show, but it's an even longer way from where we were on Monday.

To me, this is a brilliant instructor. I've never had an unproductive lesson with her. My horse always leaves better than when he arrived. We always have progress.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Learning a Lesson In a Lesson

I had a lesson with Jim Wofford on March 26. I've been feeling low about my riding. I'm not doing badly, I'm just not where I wanted to be at this time. I failed to achieve my short term goal. Part of it is that I am so overwhelmed. Trying to keep up with my riding and do all that I must to place and rehome retiring racehorses. There is always pressure.

I got to Sharon's early and had the pleasure of watching Jim work with her. I love it when that happens. I'd made up my mind I was going to be softer with Birdie and use my core to slow him, not my hands. I don't think I'm a handsy rider, but I am for Birdie, if that makes sense. It was wonderful, he was relaxed and I was soft. We were easily getting the four stride in four strides, not the usual three. Jimmy wasn't yelling at me. This is going to be the best lesson I've ever had with Jimmy...

Jimmy was dressed in camouflage for hunting or fishing. I just assumed he'd come from or was on his way to fish. Maybe he was, but he decided to stop by Sharon's and shoot down a rider who needed to focus on learning more, not what they had recently put together. A lesson is for learning new things, not showing off what you know - you know.
I purposely do not allow myself to think about the fact that fences are being raised. I am aware they are raising them, but I've seen how it creates anxiety in other riders. So I don't allow myself to do it. It only matters what height they are when you are approaching and jumping them. Not when you are sitting on your horse. So the fact that Jimmy was raising the jumps on a line; vertical, two strides to hogs back, two strides to an oxer, didn't have much effect on me. After all Birdie and I had just jumped that line beautifully. I know Bird will be able to jump anything Jimmy points us at.

I'm 10 feet tall.
Right lead - beautiful rhythmic canter, soft. We make the turn to the jump and Bird sees the hogs back is higher - much higher. Me, I'm sitting there fat, dumb and happy. Birdie isn't dragging me to the jump. He's relaxed and not rushing. This is going to be great.


Bird wants some support, the height of the second jump has backed him off and his rhythm has slowed. Bird being the Bird he is, doesn't quit. He tries to jump it and does something he rarely ever does. He knocks down the rail. Now I'm out of balance and aware I've lost my left stirrup. Bird is a trooper, he's still going to get the job done. He tries with all his Bird might to get over that hogs back, which is higher than the vertical. This wonderful horse jumps it with me completely a burden by now. By this time I am complete with sound effects. Sort of like the ones you hear in an old cartoon. I really wish I'd stop doing that, but it's likely I never will. At any rate, Bird is still trying to jump the oxer, but luckily I steer him away. He would have been so upset if I'd fallen off, and one more bound may have been one too many. So now I am grappling to pull him up, and I do.

Poor Jimmy what must he think? All the work he's put into me and this is what he gets?
I'm now 3 feet tall.
Jimmy says, "He's crazy but he's not stupid, when I raise them he reacts to it. Let go of the reins don't expect to get a TOW over bigger jumps. Now come again."
Now, I'm 6 inches tall.
We come again and we get through clean.

Everything was going so wonderful. Why did this have to happen? Why couldn't Jimmy just let me have this one good day? One day when I don't feel like a complete and total failure?
I remember what Sharon told me the previous week. You have to take your anxiety and bad feelings and put them aside. You can't ride with them. I decide to get my head together. The rest of the lesson goes great, mostly because I return my mind to where it was before the mistake.

Towing? Birdie has to tow me? I thought I was getting much softer. More tactful. Better. Maybe I should just resign myself to the fact that I am an ordinary rider, capable only of ordinary things. This horse is too good for me. He needs a great rider to be able to shine the way I know he can. Towing.

I watch the video that night. Towing. It's an accurate description. I tell Diana that I don't know how to ride a horse to a fence. She reminds me that Birdie is the horse I've learned to jump on and until recently he ran at everything. It's not easy to learn to ride to a fence on that kind of horse. That's my excuse, but for me it's inexcusable.

I'm a lot of things, but I'm not a quitter. This works well for me most of the time. There are times that it causes me a lot of grief. Still I can't help it, I'm just not a quitter. So I turn my attention to March 31, 2009. Schooling at Morven Park. Jimmy is coming to work with two groups. Preliminary and Training. Cherie organized it and did a superb job. The only problem is "Cherie, Training? Are you nuts?" She assures me that most of the people are Novice level and planning to go Training. Still Diana and I think, well I don't know what we thought, but we're going.

Towing. I know what Training level fences look like and I know for a fact towing isn't going to get me and my Bird to the other side. We get there early and I watch part of the Prelim group. They're good and it's fun to watch. I need to get to the trailer to get my Bird. I want to stroll around and have plenty of time to get my butterflies flying in formation. From the start I must do what Sharon has said. I must not allow myself to have anxiety or feelings of failure. It's a choice to have them. I know how to put them out of my mind, I did it for 20 years while galloping racehorses. I'm going to do it today. I know that Birdie is going to question the approach to these bigger fences. I must give him the rein length he needs to jump and I must keep him straight to the fence with my legs only.

The first two fences are just logs and though I am nervous, it goes well. On the other side of the road there is a more substantial log and a jump further along that I immediately don't like the looks of. We jump the substantial one and on approach, Birdie is iffy. I use my legs and soften my reins. He responds and takes off. I have to slip the reins to give him enough, he is so round. He is happy. "My human let me jump!!"

Next it's both the substantial and the one I don't like. Thanks Sharon, I'm not going to screw this up by reacting. I have the formula and I'm sticking to it. It's a Bird, we can fly! He is so happy. I am so happy. Thanks Sharon, I'm going to stay focused and think about jumping.
Back to Jimmy, "You're flapping your arms to the fence, use your legs not your arms." Yes I was and I worked the entire day to stop. The video clearly showed:

a) it's really ugly when you flap your arms, and no matter what someone says when they tell you
about it. It's far worse when you see it.
b) It won't help the horse jump.

The only problem I had all day was at a really big jump that everyone had issues with. Birdie ran out because - you guessed it - I started to flap my arms. "Human, why would you choose now to do your chicken impression? It's not a good time." So I stopped doing it and he jumped it beautifully. In my opinion he jumped it the best of every horse there. I love my Bird.
So here's my point. I had a wonderful day at Morven Park. Absolutely wonderful and I learned a lot too. I am sure - I am positive - if I hadn't had that lesson on the 26th with Jimmy, and if he hadn't raised that fence and taught me that lesson, I would not have had a wonderful day at Morven. I would have had a wonderful lesson with Jimmy where I learned nothing, and then a horrible day at Morven. There was no way my Bird could have towed me over those jumps. Thank you Jimmy.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Giving of Permission

Birdie and I went to Sharon White's to school over her ever expanding cross country jumps. She was kind enough to give Diana with D A and me with Birdie a lesson. It's been a while since I did any cross country jumps with Birdie other than the ones at my farm. As I expected when we rode out onto the cross country course he became very uptight. It didn't help that there were other riders riding around. Birdie knew something was up. He was a mixture of anxiety and excitement which mixes like oil and vinegar. Except if you shake it, you won't like what you get.

I tried my "do dressage in the field" system, which was good, but not good enough. Sharon came down on a 4 year old of her own and began by talking about galloping. She told Diana and I to separate and warm up in the gallop. Birdie's head was higher than high. She told me don't worry about where his head is, put your hands down and keep your reins longer. This is hard to do when you're about to have your eye poked out by your horse's ear.

Now we began by jumping a log which Birdie did well and my new correct way of pulling him up worked like a charm. What a relief. Next we went to a log that's up off the ground a bit and Birdie didn't like it and stopped. By the way, D A who's never done cross country, willingly jumped everything and seemed to love it all. Back to Birdie - I started to kick Birdie and tell him he should have jumped that log. After all, he's jumped tons of logs. Sharon told me to stop. Stand there and try to get him to look at it. Birdie doesn't think he's allowed to look at jumps. He didn't want to and he snorted his dismay and acted quite silly, but eventually he walked up to it and put his head down to take a sniff. It took nearly five minutes, but once he sniffed that log a wave of relaxation went through his body. Sharon told me to walk around it keeping him as close to it as possible which I did with little trouble. She said that Birdie is scared and this is how I should work it out with him. She was right because he was brave and confident for the rest of the lesson.

While driving home, I thought about what had happened and I realized what she had done was given me a way to give Birdie permission to look at jumps. What I had done was to tell him, it's okay to look and this ended his fear. Apparently he is afraid to jump without looking and I don't blame him. I am so impressed with Sharon, she really gets Birdie and I'm excited to work with her again. She has offered to go to Gordonsville with Diana and I. I can't wait.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Accelerator

Gymnastics clinic with Jimmy today, Wow.

My Bird gets very strong after fences. Everyone agrees he loves to jump and this is part of the reason. I have been a bit accepting of this behavior and I realize I need to address it. I've been trying to make him pull up willingly after I jump. You've heard it before, it seems like the harder I try to pull up, the faster he goes. I've been struggling with this for a while and I found the magic potion today. It's something I knew all along, but just hadn't put together on this horse. Here's how it goes....

Birdie is strong to the fence, but that's another issue - sort of. After the fence he just wants to keep going and what do I do? I pull on the reins - I mean the accelerator, I mean the reins. That's what it does, it makes him go faster, just like racehorses. Oh dear, I already knew that. So I say to myself I need more leg to push him into the bridle. It's not easy to apply leg to a horse that for all intensive purposes is running off. I do it anyway and still no prize. If anything, he's worse. So Jimmy says to me why are you getting on your toe? I think to myself, I really don't know. So I drive home thinking "Why am I getting on my toe?" I think about applying more leg and then I realize I don't have strong enough legs to push him into the bridle. I have strong legs too, but the reason I don't have enough leg is I AM STILL PULLING ON THE REINS TOO MUCH!!! In an effort to squeeze harder, I'm getting on my toe. I have the wrong balance of aids. Wow.

Here's the thing, I'm going to jump a fence and my Bird is going to cut and run and I'm going to soften the reins and apply leg. Now I know why people think horse people are nuts. The thing is it works.

Now for the approach to the fence. I learned something about that today too. It also has to do with the balance and application of the aids. Well doesn't everything? Bird wants to run to the fence and throw himself over it. We know that's wrong, but he is very successful at it, at least up to 3'6". Jimmy has been working with me all winter to change that and it has changed immensely. So now he's been ragging on me (and rightly so) to ride in the moment. Ride the horse of today not yesterday. The horse of the moment, not the horse as he was a moment ago. So here I am cantering to the fence and the Bird is strong. I ride quietly and he produces a rhythmic, balanced canter. As I get to the fence, maybe four strides out, he breaks into the most disastrous trot. It's crazy, so I abort, circle and pick up the canter again. This time as we approach, I soften my elbows and he speeds up and jumps. I get yelled at. Jimmy said, "You always let him sucker you into letting him run at the fence." And I do, Jimmy is right as always. So, I figure I needed more leg to hold him together. Wrong. This is the way it is. As we approach the fence in a slow rhythm, Birdie basically says, "If you won't let me run at it in the canter, I'll run at it in the trot, so there!" I, the human need to wait, wait, stay the same and wait until the moment, the infinitesimal moment when it's time to jump and then soften. Not one stride before, not two strides before, but the moment. Every time. I know everyone knows this, but there's knowing it and knowing it.

By the way, I figured most of this out from my dressage lesson yesterday and then Jimmy asking me the right questions today.

Monday, March 9, 2009


I've been focusing on dressage with Birdie. That's been the toughest thing for him and of course, each time he improves in his dressage, he improves in his jumping. Elizabeth has been working with us three times a week. I wish I could do this all the time, but I have limited funds so this is a temporary situation. We've made huge strides forward and experienced breakthrough after breakthrough.

Something happened the other day that on the surface seems unimportant, but knowing this Bird the way I do, it was a defining moment. In the past, when someone else gets on him, there is a tractor beam pulling him to me. He's very insecure around other people and really only trusts me. Elizabeth got on him a few days and he wanted to stay with me. He learned a lot from Elizabeth and he experienced several transforming moments with her.

I was on the ground on Friday and Elizabeth walked away and Birdie began to follow her. He's never trusted anyone else before this moment. He's been more settled and happier when other people come around. I think he finally realized that most humans are good and I thank Elizabeth for this. One of the things I like most about schooling with Elizabeth, besides the fact she's an incredible teacher, is that she cares about my horses as much as I do. She is attached and personally invested in them. This is very good for me and my horses.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Most Magnificent Creature to Ever Walk The Earth

Graycie. She doesn't owe me a thing, she's already given me more than I have a right to ask for. So. We've been struggling to diagnose her problem. EPM? Negative. Lymes? Negative. Female issue? Nicest uterus and ovaries you've ever seen.

Last Saturday I came home from a lesson on Bird with Elizabeth and JK ran out of the barn and told me he'd take care of the Bird. Graycie was sick and I needed to attend to that. 103.2 temperature. That's serious, Banamine IV brings it down to 99.3 in about an hour. You've got to get the temp down when it's that high for fear of founder. Then of course she's not eating and drinking like she should so I'm worried about colic. It's times like these that you realize these magnificent creatures are so fragile.

I check her periodically through the night and she is fine, but as morning breaks she's back in the 103 range. More Banamine and bute and the temp goes down. She's eating and drinking, but not enough, so I'm watchful. The thing about colic is the earlier you catch it the better your chances. My motto is do anything to keep them from rolling - ANYTHING. So later in the day she seems much better and I'm starting to feel happy. Paranoid happy, but happy none the less.

The next morning she's 101.2, but the banamine and bute don't get the temp down nearly as quickly and she's now starting to show signs of colic. At this point she will not be left alone. Some one will watch her constantly until the crises is over. I'm scared because this is going on too long. I feel like I'm watching the lumberjacks cut down the biggest red wood in the forest. I want to say, Stop! Now the forest is never going to be the same again. I can feel I'm losing my girl, but I'm not ready. The brilliant light isn't in her eyes like it has been since she was a yearling. I give her ace to make her comfortable and stop the urge to roll. We walk her around my farm. She periodically stops to pick grass which makes me feel bad because normally she would take this opportunity to grab as much grass as she can. Punkie is upset because he knows something is wrong. He's not out with the Bi*ch. He's turned out with a nice gelding. Punk watches us go around the farm.

You know it's always like this - I get to the field in the back and here comes Bird and Bear. "Whatcha doing? Why are you walking her?" She picks grass and I look at my boys looking at us and I think to myself, Bear's eye looks funny. So I walk over to find that somehow he's ripped his lower eye lid. He's in a flex fence with no trees or anything, so how he did it I'll never know, but there it is. Normally I'd be freaking out over that, but I've got Graycie here and she's not doing well. I can see his eye ball is fine so I just stick to Graycie and have JK bring in Bird and Bear when he arrives.

I use race track vets. In fact Morgan has taken care of Graycie for most of her racing career and he still takes care of her now. He's a great vet, but the catch is they can't come out in the morning. So I decide to call another vet. He tells me she's had the temp too long and she's probably getting ready to break loose with diarrhea that's why she's feeling colicky. If I want to take her to a clinic they might be able to save her, but it just depends on how much money I want to spend. He's seen people throw $40K at a horse only to lose it. Besides a clinic probably won't take her for fear of salmonella unless they have an isolation stall available. It just depends on how valuable the horse is. I think to myself, she's valuable to me. At any rate he tells me to give her antibiotics, but they won't help for at least 24 hours. He offers to come out in the afternoon if I want. I think to myself, no thanks.

Great. Now, basically I have a vet telling me my horse is going to die. I realize she could die, but I'm not ready. I'm still on do something to save the horse. I call Morgan. Can I say Thank God for Morgan?? I start the call with "I am very upset." I proceed to tell him about my experience with the farm vet. Can I say Thank God for Morgan?? He says to me first of all forget about the fever for now. We need to address the colic. As for diarrhea, she doesn't have it right now, so it's not an issue. It's most likely that her stomach is aggravated from the NSAIDS used to treat the fever so we need to get some Gastrogard into her. I tell him I've had her on Neighlox in the feed since I started giving her the NSAIDS. I give her the Gastrogard and then take her on a van ride. She poops and seems to settle. By the way, Punkie stood at the gate the entire time we were gone and screamed his head off.

During a time like this a good vet is better than two martinis. By afternoon Graycie is acting better than she has in days. I decide to remain paranoid just the same. The next morning, she eats up but an hour later is acting uncomfortable again. TQ and a walk seem to help. We decide that she needs the Gastrogard and Neighlox before being fed and that's the new routine. I make this oatmeal type mixture out of Neighlox for all my horses at the track. They get a dose syringe a couple hours before training. I've not done that on the farm, I just put it in the feed, but I'm rethinking that.

So yesterday Graycie did her famous victory gallop in her field for the first time in a long time. She gallops with her nose pointed to the sky. She's done that since she was a baby. Do you think that it's been ulcers that were bothering her all these months?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, SEVEN!

So, Jimmy has been telling me in my last couple of lessons that it is time to take the next step and start riding Birdie. This may mean, legs on or off as circumstances dictate. I know how to ride, I understand that. He also told me I need to work on my riding between fences. I've made progress in that direction - well not as much as I thought, but I know now.
Last Thursday he had me count to the fence and after. Seems easy enough, right? Well it was all I could do to count at all. There were four fences set at angles, two oxers and two verticals. We were to jump each one each direction, alternating leads. Okay, now I have to think about counting, and decide where I'm going to the tune of 8 consecutive fences. Oiii. At the same time, my Bird is rather strong between fences, so I have to ride?

The first thing Jimmy said is to think about what you are doing, while you are counting, you are not counting in rhythm with this strides and your voice is getting higher pitched the closer you get to the jump. This means your body is changing and he can feel that. Righto, I think to myself. The Bird is getting stronger there and I'm in a sort of "help me" mode. So, I'm still trying to figure out how to do these 8 fences in proper sequence and count to the rhythm to my horse's strides. This is hard, I say to myself, but I'm not the type to get yelled at about the same stupid mistake over and over again. Besides, self - You learned to count when you were 3.

How do I get to the fence in the same rhythm on a horse that wants to speed up? If I pull the reins he goes faster, running through the bit. Hmmm, just like a racehorse. I think I need to put him together, just like a baby going to the pole the first time. When youngsters learn to breeze, if you don't put them together, they take more strides and become tired quickly - they lack balance. If you push them into the bit and then soften at the pole, they take bigger strides which is the correct way to open up a horse. They learn rather quickly this is the best way run. To get to the fence in rhythm, it takes very similar aids. I think this is because balance is the key and without rhythm there can be no balance.

So here's what I learned. Counting showed me how much I am not riding my Bird. The important thing I learned is that although he is speeding up to the fences, I need to put much more leg on him to keep him together. This in turn keeps him from speeding up and maintains the rhythm to the fence. I did get it. I can now walk and chew gum at the same time - sometimes.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Did You Ever Jump Without Reins?

I had a lesson with Samantha Allan last week and it was exciting and informative. Birdie, being the high anxiety, energy driven equine is probably the last horse you'd choose to jump without reins, but he is the horse I have. Sam decided it was a great time for me to experience jumping without reins. In the indoor, trotting poles to a one stride was the setting. I learned something about my riding that I hadn't realized. I also faced a fact head on, (not literally) that I already knew.

First, Birdie approaches and jumps beautifully without any input from the reins. Imagine that, I have proof that if I would just leave him alone, he would jump beautifully. That's a great thing to know. Second, my tension or anxiety when approaching the jump has nothing to do with the approach at all. Apparently I know if I leave him alone, he'll approach correctly and jump beautifully. I, being a human though have a desire to have too much contact on approach. Now I know why. After the jump when the Bird is free, he has a YEE HA, good time. He sort of cuts and runs. He did it even better than usual when he realized I had no reins. It was obvious that I approach the jump anticipating the depart from the jump. This in not rational because there's nothing I can do on the approach about the depart except muck it up. Having this information moved my riding up considerably and I never knew this before that lesson.

This lesson was an exhilarating learning experience. It had moments of mild terror as the wall approached. You see, having come from a race track riding background, I'd have been much more comfortable in an open field jumping without reins. There I would have all the time in the world to get them back and slow my Bird. In an indoor, THE WALL IS COMING!! They keep solid objects to a minimum on the race track and that's the way we like it. When I told Jim Wofford what I had done in my last lesson with Sam, he got the biggest, cat that ate the canary grin and said, that Sam is a good girl.

I told Sam I feel I need a lot more of this. Not to worry, she has many more exercises in store for me. I am lucky to have such great people to work with.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Momentary Despair

This blog is supposed to be about riding, but that's not what I do with most of my time these days. Even though I spend around 6 hours per day riding. I'm sitting here at my desk at 3 a.m. in the morning answering my normal 25 or so emails. So much is happening with the placement/rescue work. I find myself feeling completely impotent. Nothing I do is enough. I just can't get enough done, fast enough for these horses. I deal with people who love them and want what's best for their horses and that is real pressure. Then I deal with people who just want to get rid of them, another sinister kind of pressure. This is what despair feels like. No matter how many times you tell yourself you can't help them all, deep down you really do want to help them all. I'm going to allow myself ten minutes of this and then I'll get back to work. I promise I'll get back to writing about riding. I don't want to bum everybody out. I guess it's normal, I forget I'm human sometimes.

I Think Too Much, But It Works For Me

So it's 33 ̊ and raining today at Leighton Farm. I was going to the track do pictures and video of four horses to add to the site, but it was just too dreary for the pictures to come out well. I felt pressure anyway because I was sure the day would deteriorate and I have horses I simply must ride today - in the cold rain.

I don't have an indoor or even a sand arena. We built this farm to accommodate the needs of racehorses and they don't need an arena. I never cared for farm racetracks, so we have turf gallops and trails through the woods for schooling the babies. It's great for transitioning thoroughbreds and it was easy to incorporate jumps into the gallops. The thing is, when the footing is greasy, I have to be innovative. It was that way with the babies and racehorses and it's that way with the horses in show training. Today we only had a couple must trains. One is a baby that was really rotten to break and now that she's going good. We give her light days, not days off. We are all safer that way.

The other is, you guessed it The Bird. I gave him a break last week, but just found out we get to school with Jimmy this Thursday. The Bird is a pip after a day off so we usually hack about the farm the first day back. The next day we school on the flat which will set us up perfectly for our lesson on Thursday.

Now when I get back to the farm it's 33 ̊ and raining. I have to admit I'm used to it. I galloped for around 20 years at Pimlico and your job is to ride, rain, shine, sleet, snow. I hate galloping in ice rain, it hurts your eyes. If you wear goggles it builds up on them quickly and you can't see. I used to close my eyes and open them for a stride every three or four strides. Can't say I miss that.

Getting to the point - this is an epiphany for me. I would estimate every month I've schooled with Elizabeth Madlener she has at least once per month taken hold of the reins near the horse's mouth in an attempt to show me the elastic "feel" I should have. In other words, the relationship with the horse's mouth. I did understand it and try to put it into play. I've always been a tactful rider, so I'm sure I was getting it?

A few entries ago in this blog I talked about Sharon White and how light she is on a horse. In fact this is a trait that the really gifted riders seem to have. They are effortless and comfortable on a horse. The horse in turn is completely comfortable with them.
I'm always working on my riding and trying to learn why I do what I do. The Bird loves to run at jumps, he came to me that way. When he is in high anxiety you have to take hold of him to the jump and then let go on approach. This is very hard to do. Jimmy has made it easier for me to do this and I've been working on it. I asked myself why can't I let go? It's driving me nuts. It's easier for everyone to let go, the horse is happier. I've never had a problem letting racehorses go. Why is this so hard on this horse?

Today riding my Bird in the cold rain at the walk on a long rein I found the answer. Tension. Tension is the answer. The truly great riders all lack tension. This is why Sharon is so light. She is strong and effective, but hasn't an ounce of tension in her body. The "feel" that Elizabeth keeps showing me. To achieve it there can be no tension. The tension in my shoulders and elbows prevents me from letting go of the Bird. It builds with his tension. I have to be strong to ride him to the fence, but by the time I arrive at the take off I've built up so much tension in my body to hold him, I can't let go completely.