Polar Effing Vortex & Goodbye Wrecking Ball

In Vermont we joke about having five seasons Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Mud Season. Mud season being where winter hasn’t quite let go, but has gone enough for everything to get melty, muddy, gross and kind of sort of awful. I never look forward to mud season. This year I’m looking forward to mud season.

The last two winters have been unseasonably mild for Vermont, and while we basked in it for those two years, this year hit with a bitch slap and a polar vortex to remind us we live in New England where it’s capable of being colder than Alaska. The winter effect is caused by lobes of arctic air that normally circulate the, wait for it, Arctic being drawn down by pressure system where it does an icy tap dance on all of our already cold faces.

The whole horses in winter thing can kind of suck anyway, but it really suck when the vortex comes to play. Our normally stalwart tank heaters are struggling, our tap is doing strange things resulting in an ice fount slowly creeping into the aisle of the barn, and it can just plain hurt to do chores. The horses though? They’re happy clams. We bundled them right up, upped how much hay we were throwing (which is an already decent amount because our feed system is free choice hay), and they’re puttering around in their turnouts being silly and digging for grass with hay piled everywhere for them to eat.

Packy will come up and munch on hay for a bit when we throw up more, but then goes back to the boys who just ignore the human shaking hay at them from the drylots that open into their side field and just keep digging.

In the mean time we’re wintering through a “bomb cyclone” that resulted in a nasty blizzard, and more sub-zero temperatures.

I also haven’t ridden. Sure, the indoor is always open, and I have the time, and I probably would’ve with Pi two winters ago, but I stop now and ask myself: what’s the benefit to the horse? When I look for the answer on a day that the high is -2f and the wind chill has it feeling like -20 I can’t find a benefit.

The winter is our off season. Much like human athletes need a down season to recoup, tweak their programs and reflect on a season of competition horses need down time too. The daily grind isn’t healthy for them, and when I see horses at the beginning of the season that are already a little frazzled I wonder what they would be like if they’d had a quieter winter. Now I’m not saying to not ride at all, and that riding during the winter is a terrible thing, but I personally find myself being much more reflective with what I’m doing with Packy. Does that mean during the season where I need to be on about six days a week, whether it’s hacking or just a quick flat to focus on something, is any less reflective? No, but during this off season I find myself drawn to not pushing and instead doing things like just feeding cookies, giving a good grooming or just throwing hay. It the funny thing? Packy and I have become all the closer for it. Sure, she’s still an opinionated little sass pot, but she’s enjoying my company more.

In February, about ten weeks out from our first planned outing, I’ll start the process of getting her fit again. It’s simple in the essence that I pop on bareback, swaddled in a cooler and quarter sheet, and just start walking and building from there. It was a new idea for me last year after having had an OTTB that was so easy to fit up, but I’m still seeing the results with Packy having carried much more muscle and fitness through our very light winter. I’m a fan of keeping it as simple as possible. I can get complicated, but why do that when the simplicity works, and the horse I have thrives on it.

So when I finally rode again after over a week off it was nice to swing into the saddle and feel Packy be eager to go, and find myself finally feeling so much better. I saw an osteopath and while I thought he really didn’t do that much to adjust me I went through two days of feeling like I’d been hit by a Mack truck, and then starting to feel better. As I settled into the saddle I was amazed to suddenly feel so foreign in the fact that my body was suddenly the best feeling it’s been in years. It’s been nice to feel so put together.

It has meant that I can suddenly feel just how unbalanced I’ve made Packy as she’s compensated for me and that I have loads of work to do in undoing it. Hopefully we’ll be sorted out in time for our first schooling trials in April.

Oliver also left this past Sunday. Doris, my truck for hauling, needed to go into the shop so he had to wait until Doris was good to go. He’s gone and I miss his presence, but I don’t miss finding his daily path of destruction. He did get a snazzy hair cut before he left, so hopefully his behavior will match his appearance (ya I know that’s a joke).

I did a count, and tallied up the aftermath of a 6 year old draft who still doesn’t quite understand his body:

  1. One large pasture gate (ripped off its hinges twice)
  2. A drainage pipe
  3. One heated water bucket
  4. The gate to the indoor ripped off its hinges (his owner is really good at hanging gates now)
  5. A fence post
  6. His face (he managed to cut it on a mystery item in his stall that has NO sharp edges anywhere)
  7. A rain sheet
  8. A medium weight blanket
  9. A lunge whip
  10. And the patience of all of the other horses

Ya, he’s a destructive fellow, he’s lucky he’s so cute and generally well mannered. When I checked in on the herd that evening it was weird to not have him walk up for attention, but I think the rest of the herd isn’t missing him so much…

-k

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Dressage isn’t Stressage & Revelations of A Bucket List Pony

With Christmas falling on a Monday I took advantage and took the Tuesday off as well, initially I just wanted the day off, but in typical fashion I realized my favorite dressage instructor, Heidi Hauri-Gill of First Choice Riding Academy, might be teaching, and I might actually be able to get a lesson with her. Heidi has many accolades to her name that are all deservedly there, but I also credit her with giving me the bravery to bring Pi places when he was still fully a ticking bomb. I of course had a brain, and brought him to her and she blew our minds by challenging his brain and finding my lovable horse that disappeared when we left the farm. Fast forward to starting with Packy, I was feeling stuck and hopeless with dressage and a session with Heidi proved that somewhere tucked inside Packy there was the ability and capacity to relax and go correctly.

Now with Heidi being as terrific she is, she has a strong and vibrant program that makes her nearly impossible for me to fit into her schedule with my schedule. So going to ride with her is like a serendipitous event. Luckily the serendipitous events with Heidi always leave me feeling recharged and much more in love with dressage every time I leave her farm. So I was gleefully excited when Heidi emailed back that she had time on the Tuesday.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning, I’d hitched up like normal but when I tried to pull forward and onto my track to pull around I was stuck. With some creative backing I got partway out, but then my wheels spun and I needed help from Anna on the tractor to gently push the truck back. I managed by the skin of my teeth to get the trailer off of the top of the hill, and then loaded a worried Packy into the trailer. She’s not stupid, and when it takes me more than ten minutes to come back after she gets her breakfast she knows something is up. She still loaded beautifully and we got over to Enfield with time to spare and luckily Heidi has behind so we had plenty of time to get ready and warm up before we started. I went into the lesson with four questions/zones of focus.

  1. My body would start feeling twisted when I was riding. It could very well be related to my SI, but I wanted to make sure it also wasn’t me being wonky.
  2. Was it reasonable to lengthen my stirrups a hole? I can sometimes end up riding too long, and wanted Heidi’s input.
  3. The canter. It’s still Russian roulette.
  4. Continuing to find and create consistent connection with Packy.

Heidi quickly zeroed in on my hips and torso not being aligned and quickly made some key adjustments to help resolve it to some degree, she had me push my right hip back farther, and then pull my right shoulder forward and down as I lengthened the left side of my rib cage. I knew I’d been crooked, but no idea I was that crooked. It felt weird at first, but I felt so much more secure and effective with my aids.

Heidi then started having us focus on a widening step on the right front, Packy will happily pull along with her left shoulder and lean heavily on it so by almost think of a yield out to the right Heidi had us taking “wide” steps. They helped to expand Packy’s chest in a correct way, and to have her use her right side more. This translated into a much more correct and free trot where Heidi had me focus on how I was making my connection. Heidi happens to be the queen of connections.

It’s so easy to try and pull the bit back to make connection, but it’s the exact opposite of what needs to be done to find true connection, and is what I’ve spent so much time undoing for Packy. Heidi told me to imagine the bit like the barre for ballerinas, a support to gently lean on. She told me to “push” the bar forward and see if Packy would reach for it. I think I moved my hand forward an inch and holy shit Packy moved for it. Heidi caught me shaking my head after that moment happened and asked why I was shaking my head. I explained that it still just delights me that Packy has become so game and feels confident and safe enough to relax.

It may sound strange that I find delight in something so simple, but from where we’d started this has truly become a a different mare, a mare that instead of making cranky faces, goes looking for cookies and pats. It simply makes my heart full.

Heidi relayed her understanding and equal enjoyment at the change in Packy from the times she’s worked with us and started to work on our canter. The canter is still a crap shoot when jumping isn’t involved. When jumps are involved her canter is normally much more consistent, but I still have issues where I feel like she’s motorcycling and bowling around with her left shoulder.

So Heidi smiled and told me to make a slow trot, a trot so slow she was nearly walking, we struggled with it and once we got it Heidi asked us to immediately move off with more power and energy. Oh, boy, that was hard. Packy’s go to has become the powerful trot that is apt to get quick versus slow, so to slow and truly find a half halt was hard, but a good hard. We worked on that and when the lightbulb went on Heidi asked for the canter. We went around a bit as Heidi watched and after I relayed what I was feeling (motorcycle all day long) and knowing I couldn’t use her head as much to really fix it. Heidi agreed about needing to focus on the shoulders, so she told me to repeat the process of getting to the canter and then counter bending and asking for the widening step to the right again. Holy tamole, it was hard, but it was exactly what we needed to do. Suddenly Packy wasn’t barging around with her left shoulder and the trot we found on the downward was so much more balanced and powerful an I could feel Packy pushing into the bridle on both reins. Heidi had even caught Packy bracing on the downwards and had me starting massaging the rein through so she couldn’t brace and it was amazing.

Every time I ride with Heidi I leave feeling so good about myself and where I am with my riding. Sure, Heidi finds all of the holes and issues, but she so tactfully and kindly addresses them with solutions and exercises that you leave feeling confident and hungry for more dressage. I also immensely enjoy spending time with Heidi because she expresses the changes that have happened with Packy in this past year. Heidi continually looks for the positives in any situation and that type of positive energy and focus is something I admire and attempt to do on my own. It’s no small surprise I keep choosing people to ride with that are continuously working for the positive and good versus the negative.

So after cooling down one sweaty little pony we loaded and and headed home. I had the delightful discovery that the power was out at the barn, but I made it work and put Packy in the cross ties with a different cooler on her to finish out the last little bit of drying while I went to unhitch back on the dreaded hill. I was still happily putting along after my lesson and with some oomph in four wheel low the truck got the trailer into place and I happily unhitched. I pulled away on the top of the hill to turn back towards the farm house and driveway to have the horrifying experience of suddenly sliding and ending up partly on the hill and getting mired in the snow.

Cue the call to my dad who came to help drive the truck while I used the tractor and the tractor couldn’t pull the truck up, to compound things my dad was now stuck in the truck.

Cue calling multiple tow companies and waiting.

I did however have productive waiting, with an arctic cold front (yay Vermont) coming in I needed to change blankets and close up the remaining Dutch windows on the barn. I also had to take care of Packy.

So one double layered pony later, two thoroughbreds properly blanketed and hay thrown, our second tow company came to the rescue after the first blew us off, and had the truck out in about five minutes.

Later that night turning in and feeding Packy came over to snuggle and I started thinking about how she’s become my bucket list pony of sorts, and how much better of a rider she’s made me.

In the beginning I was admittedly mad, and resentful of not being able to ride Pi, I’d just spent the past few years taking Pi from the useless ticking time bomb to a semi-steady citizen who had clear boundaries of what he found acceptable, or not, and we were completely in sync as partners.

Eric Smiley defines partnership as “Two individuals who know their jobs that come together for the greater good.”, and Pi and I were truly partners. So it crushed me when I couldn’t rehab him from the final mystery injury. His brain was still game, but his body wasn’t and I couldn’t ask Pi when I knew he would say yes despite the pain.

Around that time our lesson program at the barn had finally come to a close and Packy’s previous lessor left, and Packy needed a job. So I took her on with Bonnie’s blessing while we hoped a few months off would heal Pi, and found myself staring at angry partner that had no idea what I was asking or why. So I took a pause and decided we needed to learn how to walk together before we could run, let alone dance.

Somewhere in there I stopped resenting Packy, she stopped resenting me, and we started to learn the dance steps for our partnership. Somewhere in there Ashley said, “let’s go gallop on the beach, it’ll be fun” so I took Packy and crossed off a bucket list item. I started hauling more with Packy to do little adventures and crossed of the bucket list item of being able to just load up and go have fun, a big thing after Pi who required lots of planning and mental fortitude.

Then I spent the winter hauling up to Andrea Monsarrat Waldo and Mary Brust who taught me to trust Packy and learn to jump again, while working through the grief and knowledge that Pi would never be able to return to true work again and he was retired.

Suddenly the spring rolled around and it was time for the first event of the season and Packy and I started our season with the goal of not only moving up the level to Beginner Novice, but also making the step to run our first recognized event. A major change of pace from rocking around Introductory, not only in the amount of obstacles in phases, but also a height difference of 13-7″ depending on the horse trial.

In the midst of the season starting we spontaneously slipped down again to gallop on the beach and this time Packy boldly led where before we’d hovered mostly in the background. Then our season started rolling along, not without hiccups like an abscess, but it was rolling.

I crossed another bucket list item off by finally riding in my towns Fourth of July parade with Packy, who Hayes tinsel, but loves to look pretty for a crowd more.

I found Daryl, well I suppose I didn’t really find Daryl as much as worked up my nerve to ask about lessons which was silly because Daryl is incredibly kind and welcoming, and started learning from her, even as Packy wasn’t quite thrilled about suddenly having the bar raised from her offered level of effort.

We finally made our goal of moving up to Beginner Novice at Huntington, and didn’t do quite so terribly for our first try at it. Although it was in part from Ashley not realizing how petrified I was about cross country, telling me to get on my horse and jump the damn jumps.

We then traveled over two hours away to get in another run at Beginner Novice, which left me with doubts and a need for a sounding board before entering what would be the goal of the year, but also knowledge that Packy is an incredible traveler.

Finally after one last Daryl lesson with a solid pep talk and game plan, Packy and I tackled our year long goal of going recognized. The satisfaction of walking away from the event not only knowing that we had been successful, but had held our own was immense.

It ended up being the end of our eventing season with Packy getting sick for a week with anisplasmosis, but I was still incredibly proud of what she and I had accomplished in such a short time, and on a cold fall morning as we got going for fox hunting (another bucket list item), I realized just how much I loved my little mare.

So as I snuggled Packy closer and she begged for more cookies, I could feel a joy in my heart. Perhaps it’s corny, however, I can’t help but love my bucket list pony.

-k

Wünder Bits & Some Big Hits

Previously I’d talked about Packy ignoring the bit and it starting to be a little bit (see what I did there? please laugh at my bad pun) of an issue. While doing conditioning work she’d simply flatten into her rocket launch gallop and be barely steerable with minimal brakes. I’m not really about that life after Pi running ya into trees. Yes, he really did, and yes, I do have the scars to prove it. Granted, I trust Packy to not actually get us hurt, but then some other times started to pile against her current jumping bit. When we went to the beach she decided to blast after Poe and managed to freak me out that’s she’d take a wrong step and break (this was after her being sick so I was still anxious about everything), I already talked about the fox hunting incident, and then in a jump school she was becoming harder to lighten and lift to the jump, and just wanted to lawn dart. My first thoughts typically revolve to whether it’s a rider error, and I wasn’t really sure it was. So I kept mulling the idea of changing her bit around while my arms hurt after doing jumping or any sort of speed work, and finally I chatted with Andrea Monsarrat Waldo about it. I trust Andrea’s opinion as she’s seen us from what were some rocky beginnings last winter all the way to our lovely, well refined rounds. She laughed at me being so worried in a very supportive way and we started talking bits. The bit I had been using was rather simple, just a medium width single jointed full cheek snaffle. Nothing much, but I had a little woah, just not enough. I had some ideas, a friend suggested a few things and then Andrea also suggested the same but as my friend: the beval, also known in Australia as the wilkie and if made by Stübben: the Wünder bit. It’s also known as a “4 in 1” type of bit for the variety of setups that can be achieved with it, from a mild snaffle all the way up to a gag, granted a mild gag. I’d looked into it during the great dressage bit hunt, but because it can become a gag it’s a no-no for and sanctioned competition in the dressage phase.

So me and my sad looking wallet hopped online to figure out which variation I wanted, and how much of my liver I’d have to sell to get it. Then the English Tack Trader Facebook page laughed at me, and an almost brand new Stübben version, in Packy’s size, with the mouthpiece I wanted, with the Golden Wings Packy loves popped up for $65. Boom. Sold. Two days later from South Carolina my new little investment showed up in the mail.

The “golden wings” refers to Stübben design tweak where the ends of the bit flare and create a smooth plane of contact that forms into a built in cheek guard using the same copper material as the rest of the mouth piece. Packy absolutely loves it, she loved the loose ring version, but sadly they’re illegal for dressage at the moment because you can “hide” things behind the wings. Ya, I know. How sad is that? However, that’s the response I received from the USEF when I was trying to figure out if her loose ring was legal for the dressage phase. For some reason though, they’re legal for the jumping phase, too bad I need more woah and steering than that…..

So back to the bit. From my previous dabble into the golden wings I knew Packy would probably like the mouth piece, and it then became a game of how the set up would work for me to steer and get her to lift without getting dead arms after every ride. So I did the natural thing, gave her four days off, picked a cold day, set up a tighter jump exercise and popped the bad boy on her bridle with only the top ring attached and the rein still loose. Hooooly moly, miss thing was wild, but I had brakes, and I had steering. Moreover Packy was listening to my half halts and lightening herself with much less effort from me. The best part was that she settled easily into the bit. She would always settle into her previous jump bit, but not as easily as she did with the wünder bit. She still wasn’t fully listening like I would want, but I had the bit on a lower setting. It came back to the discussion with Andrea where she told me it’s better to have something a little stronger where I only have to whisper versus something that’s “softer” but I have to scream for any response.

The real test for it came on an Ugly Christmas Sweater ride my friend Annalyse hosted to benefit a local charity where there were some jumps, baby ones, but Packy thought we were fox hunting again and I needed Annalyse’s help to get on. Where I’ve basically resolved Packy’s moving off habit at home, I’m still working on it when we’re off farm. Granted, it’s my fault because I was used to it from Pi and I never thought to fix that problem. So off we went in the snow. In the last half of the trail loop there were three adorable baby jumps and Packy gleefully leapt over them and I felt like I had decent brakes. On our way back the group from First Choice Riding Academy was heading out. Packy was still fully fresh so I opted to do the loop again. When we reached the small brook crossing Packy showed the fancy Prix Saint George horse across much to our delight, and when it came time for the jumps Packy gleefully blazed over them and I then discovered I needed to change the bit settings for more woah. I did get her to stop, but much farther than what I wanted.

It was nice to spend time with so many horsey friends I don’t get to see much and I think a highlight was discovering the Prix Saint George horse could actually keep up with Packy’s power walk if he worked at it.

As the week rolled in I was supposed to see an osteopath to hopefully resolve what’s been a very painful situation. In August Pi has partly trampled me, and where I’d thought I was just sore and thought I was okay has shown itself to be what’s probably a misaligned SI and a lot of pain. Some days I feel good and can do things like normal, but most days I have at least some pain and I typically wake up being able to not fully bend or move. The joys of being a twenty something, right? So back to the osteopath. I’d driven down to the office only to get a call that he had to cancel. So now I’m trying to suck it up for two more weeks to see him and hopefully stop hurting. To then put the cherry on top of it, I managed to come down with some sort of stomach bug. I left work early on the Friday to go home and sleep and dragged myself to the barn later that night to do turn in and night chores. Not exactly what I wanted To be doing when I felt like death warmed over, but horses first. Packy was at least kind enough to make cute faces and me and actually be cuddly.

On Saturday I still felt wholly awful and managed to sleep for most of the day. Apparently it did the trick, because on Sunday even though I was tired easily, I felt much better.

Ruby and I ventured out with Kate, Kissa and Kate’s current foster horse Tris on a little walk, and after that I went in to ride Packy and babysit Clayton in Oliver.

Oliver was nervous about the snow falling off of the indoor roof so we took advantage of the sunshine to ride outside in the outdoor and then ventured into the hayfields for a little walk around. Oliver just continued to show just how good of a baby he is, he’s smart, but also exemplifies the draft breed in being inquisitive as opposed to reactive and being very laid back under saddle.

The hayfield is prime snow mobile territory, so the track they lay down are actually really lovely to ride on. The machines break up and groom the snow into a good grippy texture, and the weight of the machines and riders means the horses don’t sink. So we took the opportunity to see what Oliver thought of cantering and to our amusement he thought it was too much work, while Packy was shaking because she hadn’t cantered enough in her opinion. We laughed as the babysitter and baby switched places until Packy calmed down and cooled them out. It’ll be sad to see Oliver go, and the month has flown by with him here, but he’ll be leaving in a good spot for a break to let the learning sink in. He’ll also be leaving with a new wardrobe, because the punk shredded his blankets. Okay, Elvis might’ve helped with the rain sheet, but Oliver definitely instigated.

-k

A Hot Minute Later & December’s Project

It’s been a hot minute, and by a hot minute I really mean well over a month since I’ve written. I’m not really sure why, maybe it was the sudden overwhelming wave of exhaustion following the season finally being over in Area One, maybe it was from having the wind taken out of my sails from Packy getting sick right as we were ready to go and show all of the hard work we’d put in, but either way I didn’t write. Sure, I thought of a few things to write about, but none really caught my interest. Our weeks that had been jammed packed of rides prepping for events, hauling up to Daryl, making goals, working in fitness were suddenly open. Sure we’ve done things since, but I just found my life uninspiring to write about. Watching other friends pack up to go south, others cross big goals and achievements off of their list was aweing, and left me with a bit of envy. Especially as the winter doldrums sank in and my annual case of isolation-itis started brewing.

Then it was time for our bi-annual ocean trip with the horses. So I pushed to keep going and keep Packy going for the beach trip. I had her chiropracted by my favorite equine chiropractor Dr. Barry which had her feeling a lot better and after nearly not going because of weather we had a lovely day on the beach with Ashley and Amanda. This was the third time I’ve gone with Packy and this time she finally felt brave enough to go into the surf to my delight.

We kept slowly puttering along and then after seeing a friend post about fox hunting I decided to knock another thing off my bucket list and try it with Packy. I had been going to cap, but ended up guesting with one of the vets I use who happens to whip in for the North Country Hounds, and took Joe, the horse I used to exercise at High Horses, and turned him in into the absolute happiest and best hunt horse. So early on a bitterly cold Sunday morning I loaded up, picked up Amanda and we headed over to a fixture in New Hampshire. The hunt nearly didn’t happen because of poor weather and the hounds nearly not being able to make it, but they did and a very excited Packy took my initially nauseous self fox hunting. It was bitterly cold so we were allowed to dress for comfort rather than formality. So I managed to squeeze a down vest under my jacket along with a base layer to try and keep warm.

By the end I was cold, tired and loving it. The fixture had quite a few jumps and we jumped just about all of them, including a stone wall with a drop that Packy ignored my half-halt and took off like a bat out of hell, more specifically a bat out of hell ignoring the bit again. At the end we were tired, it’s been a while seeing Packy truly tired, but it was something I definitely wanted to do again, and the Hunt members kept apologizing because it was a “tame” hunt!

So I’d kept going that far, and somewhere in there chatting with two friends that are moms to multiple kids and are retraining green OTTBs, one in northern Vermont, and the other in West Point, one expressed exactly how I was feeling and wanted accountability for riding. So I took a step back and thought about it, here I was a twenty something with responsibilities, but responsibilities deliberately positioned to create ample riding time and I wasn’t, I felt a bit guilty and we all started pushing each other. Even if it was just to longe our horse, doing something productive at the barn was the requirement. Somewhere in there I also picked up my December project, somehow I decided on top of three jobs that I’d have time to help a friend start his six year old draft cross, Oliver.

It’s been interesting and fun working with Oliver and figuring out how to do the young horse thing. He’s cheeky, but so smart and seems to be understanding the small ideas I’ve been breaking down for him, like backing up, and the ever important idea of moving off of the leg. I have yet to sit on him, and instead have done ground work and then been the ground person as his owner, and my friend, Clayton has been doing the saddle work with help from me on the ground. It’s exhausting, but somehow I’m just pushing through and I’ve managed to just keep going. Although at some point I’ll need a break. Doesn’t everyone?

-k

Stall Rest & Blue Mullets

Monday started off early with going to the barn to check on Packy, undo her wraps, reset her stall for the day, and finally talking with Bonnie in person. Bonnie, who owns Seventh Heaven with her husband along with Pi, Packy and Paige, works nights on a rotating as a nurse at one of the local hospitals. So the previous night it had been via text and hurried phone calls we’d talked and taken care of Packy. She was still feeling under the weather, and wasn’t too keen for grain when I fed everyone, but she was content to munch on a haynet in her stall, which was a good sign. The vet’s major concern was keeping her appetite up so she would keep eating and not be at risk for colic complications. We left the barn with a quietly munching Packy who we’d run an IV for day two of treatment on later when I was back from work.

After I was done with work I got to the barn and set about getting her all squared away and grooming her down while Bonnie did some stuff around the farm. The tetracycline cocktail was supposed to be given just about twenty four hours apart so we were going to strategically overlap them so we weren’t having to give injections at 11pm every night. Luckily, because Bonnie is such an experienced nurse we could administer the IV injections ourselves instead of having to call a vet to come and do them every day. Packy stood like a champ for her shots of the tetracycline/saline and then some banamine before getting some cookies and then having her legs wrapped. Apparently a symptom of anaplasmosis is swollen legs, and stall rest can do that from lack of moving, so as a precaution I wrapped her legs.

On day two I got to the barn to find her holding court with her boys through the window in her “day stall” (in case anyone ever questioned if we spoil these horses rotten). Bonnie had thrown her fly mask on so she could “feel like she was more outside”, best boss/owner ever, and she was causing trouble through the window by biting and then shrinking back so she couldn’t be bitten back. She managed to leave the boys alone while I cleaned up the stall, groomed her and then threw her some hay. Then her favorite part of the day when Bonnie swung down to do stalls and she got her tetracycline/saline cocktail. Mind you, she’s standing quietly with only a slight flinch for this shot and then ten minute delivery process (to not poach her kidneys) without sedation. We then snuck some hand grazing after using the outside light in the driveway to do the shot.

After miss thing had her shot I scooted over to GMHA to supervise Kate and Kissa flatting in a field so Kissa wouldn’t have an excuse to lose her mind the upcoming weekend at Hitching Post like she had the last in the Huntington XC warm up. Kissa proved she might actually be able to adult and I drove back to the barn, picking up a loose dog along the way.

So while I wrapped Packy and moved her I was on the phone with the local PD about what to do, because the dog had no tags. As it later turned out, Bear, was used to living on a much larger and remote property, and his family had recently moved to a new property much closer to a road. He was reunited and I was glad I’d picked him up instead of being hit by a car. I’m however, not so happy about the mud in the crevices of my car seat that I can’t seem to get out.

Day four of stall rest was met with the clear opinion by Packy that of her boys weren’t entertaining her, I was doting, or she was munching, that it was terribly boring. Boring enough, so she tried to escape when I went to go into her stall.

There was a minor amount of guilt, but I think only because she was thwarted. Unfortunately, after four and a half days of injections her little neck was swollen and sore. Come to find out later, tetracycline is supposed to hurt like b*tch after its injected, even with the saline dilution and slow administration time. It also meant she wasn’t holding very still when we were trying to hit the vein, several tries later, and a new set up of her cocktail we were just about ready to call it quits so I ended up giving it one last try. Packy wasn’t impressed that her comforter turned into a needle sticker, but I managed to get the vein and we were able to give her the fourth day of tetracycline.

It was a little nerve wracking being in charge of the needle and the administration timing, but it’s a good skill to have for a horse person in case of an emergency. After having such a hard time, and her neck being beaten up, we decided that would be her last night of tetracycline and we’d switch to oral doxycycline the next evening.

Of course the rub with that is that the doxycycline is a terrible tasting medicine, and most horses would give you trouble about eating it without something to mask the flavor. However Packy isn’t most horses, and with her appetite back her vacuum cleaner powers were back in full force. So as we watched her eat she dropped some pills, finished her feed by licking the pan, and as I was getting ready to pick up the pills to feed it another way she vacuumed them up and kept looking for more. Packy kept with the theme of being a rockstar and ate her doxycycline like it was candy. It was strange, but I was very much okay with it.

On Saturday Hitching Post Farm has their last recognized horse trials of the season. It marked the end of recognized competition for Area One in eventing. Kate and I signed up to scribe for dressage and we loaded up in the morning and scribed our little hearts out. After scribing and seeing a little jumping it was time to go and get the princess ridden and ready for her outing the next day. We hacked out of Kate’s with all three in tow, I finally rode Rita, Kate’s foster horse, while we switched back and forth on ponying Cider while Kate played “will the baby be good or bad” game. Kissa has grown up so much in the short time I’ve known her and Kate, but there are still moments where the world sincerely needs to thank Kate for being the one to have Kissa and be patient enough to wait out the teenage drama crap.

After our hack while Kate scrubbed Kissa I scrubbed tack so the princess would be just as shiny outside, as she’s sassy inside.

The next morning we loaded up in the dark and made the short haul up to Hitching Post. After seeing the beginner novice course the day before I was still a bit bummed to not be there with Packy to put together all of the hard work and progress from the season and from riding with Daryl, but there was no way I’d ever feel comfortable running her after she had the entire week off on stall rest. So Kissa got her very own groom/cookie dispenser/itch scratcher, at least for most of it.

I ended up impromptu scribing for part of dressage after helping Kate and Kissa get ready. Ruby had come with us so she was hilariously stuffed into the corner of the judge’s box while I scribed. Luckily a mom came to volunteer so we were relieved so I could go help Kate and Kissa get ready for cross country and show jumping. I geared Kissa up in all of her fancy gear (what happens when your mom works at a tack shop), including the incredibly important “oh sh*t” strap, and took her for a walk when she decided being next to a boy might mean she should turn into a kite. When she decided being a kite was boring Kate popped up on her and it was battle time.

Warm up started well, until Kissa started getting sassy as Kate asked her to start jumping. So Kate made stuff hard and Kissa decided to listen, even if it meant slicing the warmup jumps so hard it was a near perpendicular approach. Kissa showed every inch of her athletic breeding and made it look like the simplest thing in the world as Late kept asking for tricky things. Luckily Kissa’s brain came back online and she settled down for some scratches and fussing while we waited in the warm up.

Finally it was time for them to wander to the start box so I booked it for the big hill to watch. One of the cool things about Hitching Post is that the layout is wonderful for viewing. You can watch the majority of the cross country from the top of a big hill where there’s a perfect stone wall to sit on.

Kissa came out of the start box with some sass and obviously firing some questions to Kate about whether this whole work this was actually a thing they had to do.

The consistently repeated yes from Kate got them over the first two with minor drama and then you saw the light bulb go off in Kissa’s head. Then it was game on.

By the end of the cross country course Kissa has gotten the idea and gracefully flew over the last jump and then we hustled down to Stadium. The lightbulb had apparently stayed on for Kissa and she put in a lovely clear stadium round. When I went to grab Kate’s dressage Test lo and behold, the bad baby had led from dressage on and won her division. Not a bad way to end the season in Area One.

An Early End & Hoofin’ It

This past week was the start of preparing to compete at Hitching Post. I consider the two weeks before a show to be our tune up and refine time, so I was asking for a few things in our rides that needed tweaking. I had some good giggles at myself and how much better Packy went when I did the ground shattering thing of remembering my outside aids, funny how that works, and looking up as I went into corners. We then watched as Kate and Kissa did the teenager drama tango, which ultimately resulted in Kissa having some glimmers of what she’ll be like when she drops all of the drama, even if lifting herself is hard.

That Tuesday I gave Packy the night off and went over to my friend Annalyse’s farm to do a test run on braiding her four year old stallion, Odin, for the fall dressage show at GMHA. Odin was a sweet and well behaved boy and even let me clip him for the first time and showed how smart he was by investigating the clippers before deciding he was okay with them, but only on one side. We figured out that from a run early in the year I was going to have to braid him the morning of the show so it would hopefully stay in with help from hair fixatives and some crafty thread.

Wednesday rolled around quickly and after getting out of work late and it just being too nice of a day to stay on the ring Packy and I went to explore an orchard and meadow we’d just gotten permission to ride in. It was a nice little wander, but Packy was puffing hard when we got back to the barn even though it had been a lighter adventure. I chalked it up to her having gotten a head start on her winter coat and it still being in the eighties and decided to give her a little bib clip the next day after our jump school.

Thursday was a nice balmy day and I set up a gymnastic for us to work on being very accurate and then pushing to a distance. As we warmed up Packy felt great, she was listening well and I was able to create a quiet, but powerful canter to pick off jumps in a bounce at some good slice angles and then practice some broken lines to the bounce. We then went to do the full gymnastic and were only able to get the higher vertical that was a push once. I chalked it up to me not being able to keep my left leg on in order to really push Packy to the fence and that I needed to work on some one legged posting to help strengthen it (don’t I have lots of fun torture exercises?). We popped up to the wash stall so I could hose her down and scrub her before clipping her bib. I’ve found that the cleaner the hair is the more it clips like a hot knife through butter. While Packy dried in her stall I made use of my time by scrubbing all of the heated water buckets so they’d be ready to use in a few weeks when autumn actually decides to show up.

After being productive Packy was less than thrilled when she saw the clippers come out. Luckily, unlike a certain weeny OTTB who shall remain nameless, Packy stands like a rock for clipping. It was satisfying to have her hair clip off so easily. Compared to last year where it took me the better part of two hours to clip her bib (it was my first time body clipping), I had her bib clip done within a half hour; her belly and elbows hadn’t dried fully so I left them for the next day, but it was still a major improvement. If what I pulled off is any indication of what her winter coat is going to look like, she’s going to be a puff ball.

I had waffled about whether to clip her, and what type because our workload will dramatically decrease after Hitching Post, but the time I was spending to dry her was silly and I decided it wouldn’t be safe for her to get soaked like that during winter, for fear of her getting chilled. So I went with the clip I did last year, a bib. For Packy who sweats the most on her neck and shoulder this is ideal for her lighter work schedule. It simply mimics the line of the horse’s jugular groove, and clips the breast, under chest, elbows, and a small amount of the belly. I personally choose to clip a small but past the girth area, and clip anywhere underneath where the girth will touch so it can be easily dried and doesn’t have a chance to get matted from the girth and sweat being on long winter hair, because that was an issue last year until I clipped in February…

When I was deciding I remembered that even after her bib clip Packy still needed help to cool down and dry off so my plan is to redo her bib, and turn it into an Irish clip when we start back to full work in the beginning of the year. That way she’ll have some more drying surface on the typically wettest parts, but I won’t have to worry about her being too cold and sitting. I’m also fortunate that her sheet (what my “hardy” (fat, so freaking fat) pony spends most of her winter in) has a full attached neck and her other blanket, a medium weight, has a raised neck. That way I know most of her clipped areas will be covered, and if for some strange unknown alternate universe happens and she gets too cold I can layer with a stable blanket to raise her core temperature. However, if that happens I’m buying a lotto ticket, because Packy was actually cold (needed her medium) for about a week last year. She could probably stay naked for most of winter, but with the limited daylight it’s nice for her to be clean for when I get to the barn.

After I clip I make sure to put some sort of oil replenishing, coat conditioning, itch relieving something on the clipped areas to keep the horse from itching, and to make sure the skin that’s now exposed to so much more air doesn’t get dried out. I just popped some MTG on, and it seems to work. It refuels my love/hate relationship with the stuff, but there’s a reason why it has such a cult following, the gross stuff just works.

On Friday I finished her clip and made sure the trailer was fully packed. I was going to braid Odin in the morning first so I had hitched up that night and brought the trailer down so I would be able to just throw Packy and my grooming tote into the trailer once I got to the barn and fed her.

Saturday rolled around too early for my non caffeine drinking mind, I was at my friend Annalyse’s barn, forty five minutes away from my house, by 6:30am and braiding shortly after. Odin is usually well behaved, but he is four years old, and his baby mommas were in the barn. So Odin was understandably a bit excited, however, one quick shank on the lead rope (yup Odin is so well behaved that he doesn’t even need a chain) and he remembered he was attached to a human and calmed down so I could start getting him ready. Annalyse threw him some hay and he stood like a champ while I braided his mane using the most mane spray I’d ever used. Once I had finished braiding it, I used my braiding thread to sew the braid in more, and then threw extreme hold hairspray on for good measure- that things wasn’t coming out.

After braiding I flew to the barn and got Packy ready to go and loaded. Luckily she vacuums her feed down in less than five minutes. We were then on the road around 8:15 and in Sharon at High Horses to pick up my friend Melissa and her Connemara, Mac, for the ride to Silver Maple Icelandic’s where the Hoofin’ It charity ride was happening. We met Amanda there and once we checked in we hit the trail loops. Last year there was a miscommunication and instead of nine miles we ended up going for a sixteen mile ride, so this year Amanda preordered and marked the loops to make sure no one got lost. As we started Packy was a bit puffy, but I couldn’t figure out if it was because of allergies or from her being excited to get going on the ride. She seemed to catch her breath as we wen and clearly had plenty of energy for all of the ride as we led several of the gallops and kept pace with the speedy Icelandic horse that had joined our group.

Packy seemed tired at the end of the ride, but we’d covered more ground than most because we had to backtrack to try and find a lost hoof boot for Mac. So after she joined us for a breezy lunch we went back home for her to have a day off before picking up for our final week of prep.

The next day I had turn in and night chores, so after a day of doing things at home I went in to the barn for night chores. When I turned everyone in Packy seemed okay, but after feeding everyone I noticed she wasn’t finishing her dinner, a first in the fourteen years Bonnie has owned her. In addition she was a bit huffy and looking not quite herself.

So as the pit of dread began to knot itself in my stomach I found the thermometer and found 102.9f as her temp. So then I checked her gut quadrants and could only hear three of them. So on went the indoor lights and I started walking as I shot a text to a friend and then started my timer for thirty minutes. Thirty minutes of walking with a still uncomfortable looking pony I went to check her vitals and her temperature had spiked to 103.9, and her other vitals were elevated. So back to walking I went as I texted Bonnie now that I was sure something was wrong, but not quite sure what was wrong. I was dreading that it was colic, and hoping that it was a case of gas colic from the weather being so wacky. Somewhere in there with other messages and a few phone calls Bonnie called me back and decided to call the vet. So I kept walking and checking TPR (temperature, pulse, and respiration), gut sounds and gums every thirty minutes while I waited for the vet.

Somewhere in there Amanda drove down from Sharon to keep us company and my mom drove from home to be there for support.

At 10pm the vet finally got to the barn and after chatting and checkin (including a hilarious reaction from Packy when she realized one of our vets, Christine Pinello, was there) she told me a different diagnosis than what I’d thought I’d hear- anaplasmosis.

In our region we’ve been having terrible tick infestations and with the abnormally warm winter the population has sky rocketed. This meant a spike in Lyme and anaplasmosis cases. Mic had contracted anaplasmosis earlier this year on the farm, it was our first tick illness in years. It meant I’d be scratching from the upcoming weekend, putting Packy on five days of stall rest, and we’d have ten days of medicating and treating to hopefully squash this thing. Luckily, anaplasmosis is curable, and the long term effects aren’t thought to be significant. So after a blood draw, IV banamine, and a nice big 60cc IV cocktail of tetracycline and saline I wrapped Packy’s legs in her new no-bow wraps, kissed her goodnight and managed to be in bed by 1am.

Sometimes life sucks, and it was a bit of a sucker punch to be preparing for our last event, to then be knocked on our asses by something as simple as an adverse tick bite. However, I’m lucky that knowing my horse so well let me catch this so early, and that her amazing owner made sure we proactively treated and will hopefully keep Packy feeling good to knock this out of the park.

I might want some protective gear for day five of stall rest though…

-k

More Leg & Sharon Expeditions

After a lighter week following our run at GMHA and the weather spiking back up along with the humidity I knew that I needed to work on my cross country. Especially the in between bits. The majority of the jumping felt good, but I knew that I shouldn’t of have as many time faults when I’m on a speedy and fit little pony that normally chews up the turf. So I got in touch with Daryl and set up another lesson. Of course my plan had been to hack on Monday but it was so bloody hot and humid that I ended up just hopping on Packy bareback and practiced my balancing for ten minutes while she grazed in the cross country field. Not exactly the most conventional thing, but random wanderings are great for helping my core to be stronger.

I was productive in packing up the trailer so all I would need to do was load up Packy once I’d hitched up. That was done easily enough and we scooted up to Strafford to meet Daryl. Daryl started ya off in the stadium ring to do some quick warming up and focusing on me being more forward to the jumps (this might be a theme), and helping Packy stretch up over. We rocked over the 2’6” stuff like pros and then Daryl upped the ante by sending us over a Novice level oxer. It took us a few tries to nail it perfectly, but feeling the difference in Packy stretching that bit more that she used to for the 2’6” stuff was lovely and reaffirmed that my at home schooling heights need to go up to 2’9”, or wider spreads to challenge both of us more. We moved up to the cross country course and Daryl quickly had us thinking about moving forward and planning our next jump.

Packy knew it was jumping time and quickly started locking onto fences as I guided her with mostly enough oomph. I think Daryl said leg about fifty times… maybe more. I had thought we had plenty of zip and power going to the jumps, but Daryl pointed out that if I was going along at a nice little canter and needed to half half to rebalance I wouldn’t have extra if I lost any impulsion and power going to the jump by rebalancing. Instead, it was easier to take away speed rather than trying to create it last minute. Sure, a horse might be able to pull it off, but it was easier and safer to have extra power going to the jump. So I added leg, and then some more leg, followed up by more leg. Packy gave me a response of “duh mom, I’m not going to run you into a tree like Pi would do” and promptly jumped the snot out of the stuff Daryl pointed us at in miniature courses designed to make me have to move off and go after a jump.

It felt good to jump and then open Packy up a little bit between fences, and it made me realize there’s still a part of me waiting for her to pull a Pi and then I get run away with (it might be a slightly terrifying experience to be run away with by a fully fit OTTB that’s built like a tank and has questionable brakes at best, just slightly), but I have to trust Packy won’t run away with me and I’ll be able to steer her, and then have her listen to my half halts to safely jump whatever is next.

So Daryl made us jump some more, and not run into her (yay steering!).

Of course cantering down to a ditch on a slope where I might’ve forgotten to ride for the ditch but Packy was ready for it and proceeded to jump the absolute snot out of it leaving me to try and not catch her in the mouth and stay on. I stayed on, might’ve briefly lost a stirrup, and reorganized to finish the course. Packy certainly isn’t lacking any scope for beginner novice.

At this point Packy was starting to get a bit tired so we moved to the upper section of the field and quickly answered a couple of different questions. Packy attempted to ignore my aids but decided she should listen after she came up strong to a fence and had to scramble a little bit over it.

We ended with a quick couple of trips in and out of the water jump, because when you shy away from it it you must go in. Packy isn’t a fan of Tamarack’s water and she always needs encouragement to go in after a duck flew out of it one time, she might’ve nearly died, and I have to keep my leg on. It was a good ending to our lesson and left me much happier with where we are and with some good homework.

The rest of the week we spent hacking and flatting while we waited for the heat to finally break. On Thursday Kate brought Kissa over and while she did some jumping exercises I worked on keeping Packy focused and on the bit (very hard with a potential mullet waiting to happen), as Kissa showed she might’ve grown up a bit more in the past month, and I kept asking for focus and softness Packy slowly relaxed more and more until she was consistently pushing through and using herself. It made me realize as I felt her shoulder starting to pop instead of softening her poll that I love dressage and I’d lost some of that love as I’d become frustrated with it this season.

With Pi I’d been learning the start of the language as he’d been building muscle and shaking off the cobwebs from his training, so the love had developed naturally, and in the fall Packy did decently enough for our short time together for me to not be frustrated at that point. However, I suppose that over eight or nine months some frustrations can build, especially as I watched other friends make major progress with their horses, while I felt that I was plateauing.

So often it seems like progress with horses is a convoluted pathway that at a cursory glance seems logical and straight, until you get going and see it’s really more of a maze. It seems that the more I ride and learn, while I have more answers for evasions and problems, I also feel like I know even less because I have an awareness of just how much it takes to truly make it all happen properly. So as I caught Packy’s shoulder popping with my outside leg and rein, and then put on more leg it was fantastic to watch her respond by stretching into the contact once I’d stopped that evasion technique.

On Sundays I normally go up to Sharon and hack out with some friends from High Horses, it’s mix of what horse I’ll ride, sometimes Poe, sometimes I’ll bring up Packy, but a lot of the time I’m hacking out therapy horses that need a change of pace and scenery from their very important work that normally happens in the ring. This Sunday High Horses hosted the Special Olympics so I hitched up and loaded Packy up for an adventure. I love riding different types of horses, but it’s fun to bring Packy along and just enjoy the fact I can spontaneously hitch up and go with an incredibly safe horse to go and have fun. We’ve been finding trail systems by the farm and it’s been fun to explore on horseback. Having ridden the road so many times it’s an interesting change when we suddenly pop out at a different section, and Packy enjoys hacking out in new places. It was also a great opportunity to sneak in asking for her to connect to the bit and thinking whispers of collection and lengthening, nothing drastic, but starting the idea of playing with it while she still stretches. However, I still get a giddy feeling when she reaches and connects to the bit. It’s the little things in life.

-k

Hacks on Hacks, & Dodging Mullets

The week following GMHA was a low key one. I’m a firm believer that rest in itself is a reward, and that after running all weekend Packy deserved two days of bossing the boys around and getting some TLC. She thought this was a great plan and especially liked side trips to the farm’s over flowing apple trees after we hung out in a clover patch.

So I guess you could say Packy was a little disappointed that on Wednesday when I grabbed her that my tack was out and I was dressed to ride. I myself was itching to ride after doing a deep cleaning of the trailer and of the tack room I use. So she stood there grumpily as I tacked her up in my dressage saddle and blew her mind when we turned left out of the indoor and went up to the trail head instead of right to the outdoor. It made for one happy and very frisky pony as we wandered in the woods and around the area on the trails. So for the rest of the week we wandered in the woods slipping in small moments of collection at the walk, and maybe one little spot of gallop.

Friday was exciting in the farm as our new tractor arrived from the local John Deere dealer. Our beloved Kubota died after a scary freak incident where the brakes suddenly gave out as Bonnie was mowing the big hill. It was an incredibly terrifying experience watching watching the tractor flip and running up to a cloud of black smoke where we couldn’t see Bonnie. Luckily Bonnie walked away without a single scratch on her. The tractor? Not so much. The insurance company totaled it and we waved goodbye to the trusty orange steed of many years.

We were lucky enough that the bush hog came out of the accident unscathed so the service department was able to attach it onto the new tractor for us. I won’t lie, I might be just a little excited for it because it’s so shiny and pretty, even though I miss the Kubota.

And then on Saturday Kate brought Kissa over to do some flat work with us as company. Kissa is still slightly hilarious to watch as she settles into being a grown up about working versus an ADHD teenage girl with a whole lot of attitude, granted I find it funny because I’m not on top of the mullet trying to put it together.

Apparently Packy has lived through enough mullet explosions that she now shies away from Kissa’s hind end and if she came within five feet of us and went ahead Packy would just stop. Poor Packy.

On Sunday I scooted up to Sharon and hacked out with Amanda and Ashley while Packy got the day off. It took a little bit of horse shuffling because the horse I normal exercise was adopted to be a whipper in for our vet. Best retirement home ever, but I still miss my Joe.

So I tacked up Mac and away we went to explore a network of trails that Ashley had found. Somehow we ended up on someone’s personal golf course? But, it was a great day to get lost with friends.

-k

Ride Boldly: Part Two

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Sunday morning was an early foggy morning that was reminiscent of the hunt paintings seen on many of the New England homes in the area. The stillness pervaded through the show grounds and as the fog blanketed the show grounds it was if the muffling of light and sound brought an added layer of peace and tranquility. The slight current of energy slowly crescendoed until the first horse appeared the warm up with their rider. Geared up, and looking like they were ready to do battle against the course at GMHA. I sat in the start box with the Starter Rebecca Rice as we got ready to count down and send out riders while I also wrote down start times and radioed the first jump results back to control. It wasn’t riding, but volunteering and giving back to my sport is also near and dear to my heart. With my own cross country time being later that evening it was the perfect way to keep myself busy until I’d have to leave to get the truck and then go get Packy ready and loaded to come over for our own battle. In the past two years of going to recognized events as a spectator, groom, supporter, friend and volunteer I’d made quite a few friends and acquaintances and its turned into having many people I care about as I watch them thunder out boldly onto cross country.

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We worked our way through the divisions with military like precision as Rebecca, who was obviously experienced and well honed at running the start box kept horses going out in precise intervals. Eventually we worked our way to the JYOP, the division I’d been the most keen to watch. Lea and Peanut, Fernhill Fiesta, were finally making their preliminary level debut. While Peanut had run at a 1* before he’d been teaching and showing Lea the ropes of Training level, and now Preliminary. It was a very awe inspiring moment watching them charge out of the start box and fly over the first fences like they were nothing. I was able to catch up with Lea after my volunteer shift had ended and it was clear that she and Peanut still had plenty of gas left in the tank.

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After talking with Lea about her debut at Preliminary I scooted home to get myself ready (make myself eat food), and go to the barn with the truck to hitch up and load up once Packy was ready to go. We pulled into GMHA’s day parking and I got to work walking a line or two and watching the Junior Beginner Novice over a few questions that I was curious about seeing the turns and approaches to. After that it was finally our turn to gear up. Packy somehow always seems to know when its cross country time. Its sort of as if she pulls into this reflective zen state of mind where she becomes quiet and almost overly settled in. Every time I sort of worry she’s actually tired, but as soon as I start trying to buckle my bridle she seems to sort of flare up and get a bit excited.

We marched over to the warm up feeling good, until I went to truly warm up and the humidity reared its ugly head and my lungs suddenly felt like I was sucking in air through a partly collapsed paper bag. Trying to focus on my breathing, warming up and somehow jumping stuff was happening, but I was starting to panic. Packy had keyed in on that and was changing modes from firecracker to slower and more protective. Luckily the warm up steward showed me a huge kindness and was able to fit horses in ahead of me so I could try to focus in and get ready to go. I made myself aim Packy at the XC fences and she felt great, but internally I was questioning whether I could do it or not. As we jumped the coop in the warm up Andrea Monsarratt Waldo, who was coaching her own student, turned and called out that Packy looked happy, and those simple words banished the demons starting to mass about in my pysche. The simple affirmation that we were in fact ready to tackle this cross country course and even if I was going to be out of breathe we would make it happen. Then, Faith Potorski, the warm up steward, called my number out for being on deck. I knew in that moment that no matter how much more warm up I put in I was going to have to take as deep of a breath as I could and ride boldly out of the start box. So thats exactly what I did.

As Rebecca called out “2, 1, have a great ride!” Packy and I left the box and locked onto the first jump, a sort of mini-trakehner called the log box. A log was based with a small gap upon a wooden box base as a welcoming first jump that then flowed to a roll top before hitting a good galloping section. We easily jumped the log box and went with good rhythm to the roll top that we jumped over for Packy to then see her nemesis, the storage tractor trailer that she spooks at every time we walk past it, she veered to the side and I kept her going up the gallop path that was conveniently leading away from the “scary monster”. I asked Packy to go as we hit the gallop path and she responded, then she spooked, and spooked some more, so I hit the brakes and made her trot through the rest and out of the path towards the squirrel, she wasn’t impressed that we had to go by the squirrel. Every time I school at GMHA she balks when we have to go by either of the large carved wooden squirrels that compose parts of jumps. Well, sucks to be her, because we went by it anyway on our path to drop into the dustbowl. We continued down the hill towards a rampy/coop box thing. As we approached Packy had gotten over the squirrel and then saw the jump going into the dustbowl, and we had a conversation leading up to it. “Hey, there’s a jump!” “Yup, we’re going to jump it Packy.”, “Jump it? No, not us. I’m not jumping it.” “THE F YOU AREN’T!” at this point of her attempting to balk and then trying to stop I used every inch of my leg to wrap around and pony kick her up and over the jump and into the dustbowl to her utter disgust. I then over slipped my reins and ended up with no reins and a suddenly indignant and spooked out mare. I got them back and asked her to go through the dustbowl. Packy decided she couldn’t deal with the dustbowl and I ended up having to walk her through it and the water into the first jumping field. Come to find out, enough horses had been having issues at the drop that the jump judge had been in the process of radioing control that something needed to be changed about it because of how the light was hitting everything.

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As we went through the water I was able to convince Packy that we could in fact trot again on our way to the next jump. She wasn’t so sure, saw day trailering and asked if we could just go back there and work on her haynet, that didn’t happen, instead I kept my leg on and we powered up to and over the blue house, and then carried the momentum on our way to the miniature Upwey Barn jump with only one spook at the jump shed.DSC_0590.JPG

We jumped the Upwey Barn and powered down to the next water crossing, snagged the one squirrel jump Packy doesn’t hate at GMHA, flew up a steep hill and at this point Packy’s game face had finally shown up and she was locking onto everything. We blasted over the Sagittal log (it looks like an expanded log built with slats) and we merrily went on our way down to the feeder. As we approached the feeder I couldn’t remember if we’d ever jumped one and I made sure to ride defensively to it. I shouldn’t of worried because we easily powered over it and we then turned to jump a bench, then flew early up the bank, turned around to catch the yellow house and went on our way through the water and onto my arch nemesis at GMHA, the ramp I fell onto while schooling with Ava and Paula Wedhe.

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The last time I had seen the ramp I first fell onto it and then the ground, had a run out and then needed a lead from Ava and Leonie while Paula and Amirah acted like a wing for the jump until I could jump it on my own. So I guess you could say I had a beef with this particular fence. Instead of letting my apprehension and anxiety get in the way I did exactly what Daryl told me, locked eyes on my target point past the jump, put my leg on, used a driving seat and jumped the sucker. I might’ve also used some colorful language while we approached the jump to make sure we jumped it, but we jumped it and then merrily skipped over the ditch on our way to jump a hanging log before turning to go back through water and out into the first jump field again where we nailed the last jump like pros.

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We’d done it. We were slow, things didn’t go exactly to plan, but we got around safely and cleanly. I couldn’t have been more proud of my little pocket rocket, and the feeling of having accomplished such a long term goal was incredibly satisfying.

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Packy cooled down easily with help from my parents and we wandered over to see scores, mind you at this point I still hadn’t looked to even see what I’d scored in dressage and only knew I had eight penalties going into cross country. So you could imagine my glee when I saw the 37 posted next to our names. We hadn’t done that well all season, let alone on the B test. When all was said and done I also had 27 speed faults for going too slow and placed 12th, but I was proud of our hard work turning into what Packy and I clearly saw as a successful weekend. We had both faced quite a few demons in the journey to finally go recognized and to even go beginner Novice, now we have to find another goal, and standing bandages that fit Packy.

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-k

Ride Boldly: Part One

I had just sat a section of canter and as I transitioned back to trot Daryl asked me how it had felt. It was my third lesson with Daryl on Packy and we were working on tuning up my dressage for the upcoming GMHA September Horse Trials where Packy and I would finally be going recognized. I replied, telling her that it still felt like Russian roulette whether I’d get a good canter, a motorcycling canter, or start nice and then turn the motorcycle on partway through. Daryl in her wonderful frankness told me it looked like I was essentially sitting and praying as I cantered. I thought about it and agreed. I almost always have the mantra playing in my head for seated canters of “don’t break, don’t break, don’t break…” on repeat as I tightly sit there and do nothing to help Packy keep going. With that Daryl told me to ride the canter just like I’d been riding the amazing trot and walk we’d just been having.

A week prior I’d been riding with Kate and Kissa and having a horrible time. Packy had been ignoring my leg, continuing her proverbial refusal to fully accept contact and I was frustrated. Kate offered to get on and play for a little bit with her and in twenty minutes, one pissed off mare, and a sweaty Kate there was a relaxed, forward moving and stretching Packy. With some more help from Kate I could “get” Packy’s jaw and poll. Then in the lesson with Daryl I went to briefly show Daryl what I’d been working on and Packy went “Stretch into contact? Oh ya, I’ll do that.”. Mares, it’s a thing…

So back to our cantering where I sat scared and in fear of her breaking. Daryl told me to get the canter going again and then ride it like I’d just been riding her trot. So I did. Light alternating pulses on the outside rein, softening contact with the inside rein, pushing the energy with my inside leg into my outside rein and leg to keep her shoulder from popping. As Daryl called out with each correction it was an addition to the other layers of aids I was finally using when cantering. Holy cow, it was so much more than just sitting there, but it was so much better. After we finished, Daryl and I chatted about the mental aspect of riding that I would need to be aware of and use at GMHA. We talked about Andrea Monserrat Waldo’s mental tool of deletion and how actively using that not only in riding, but in every aspect of life can lead to a powerful change. Daryl explained that if she thought a negative thought she stopped, deleted it and replaced it with a positive one. That then spilled over into riding cross country. Daryl talked about having ridden the course in her head at least twenty times with different options and plans that all end with a positive result after having walked her course. In effect, Daryl makes the conscious decision to ride boldly and confidently in all of her rides. So that was what I was going to try to do.

After the lesson with Daryl that Monday the week flew by in hacks, a jump school where it became evident that it’s time to start doing 2’9″, because 2’6″ is feeling safe, and one last flat ride where everything suddenly clicked like it had in our lesson, Packy was truly using herself and I was falling back into love with dressage. My times were late for both days, a 3pm dressage time, 4:15pm stadium and on Sunday we would be hitting cross country at 4:16pm. This meant Packy would have the Friday off and Saturday morning I’d doll her up around doing morning chores and hitching up.

As Friday rolled around I cleaned and packed as much as I could so I would be able to fully focus on getting Packy ready and not worrying about the trailer (have I mentioned how much I love having a dressing/tack room in the trailer?).

Saturday felt weird as I was able to shower and dress without being up before the sun, not having to wear my show clothes and not even having to be at GMHA until the afternoon. Packy was insulted that I had “forgotten” her for turnout when I turned out the boys, and she busted her stall chain and then quickly ran up to me to remind me that even though she was still wearing a cooler from having a bath that she was most certainly supposed to go out. I couldn’t help but laugh at her and at how smart she was about knowing her group. Once she was settled back in her stall I finished loading up the few things that had to wait until the morning and started in on braiding her. With her recently shortened mane I chose to try sew in braids. Technically it was the first time I’ve sewn in braids but several of the pieces in my undergraduate thesis were constructed using a similar method of hair sewing, so I felt fairly confident after watching and rewatching the video tutorial Courtney Carson, head groom for Payne Equestrian, had put out with Heels Down Mag at the AECs. Turns out sewing in braids is faster, and I like the process a lot better than yarn. I think yarn will always have its place with manes that I need to tweak that might’ve been rubbed or have short ends, but the sewing process is so simple and effective that it kept my time the same as yarn with more braids put in. In the future I think it’ll go faster when I have the monstrously thick mane Packy has tamed so I can do fewer braids.

I felt good and ready thought. We loaded on time and didn’t hit traffic on our way over which gave me plenty of time to check in, chat with some friends and get ready and on.

Swinging on, and walking over to the dressage warm up was a moment of feeling like I finally belonged. So often I’m volunteering at events, or even grooming, so to finally be on my horse, going to ride my dressage test was a culminating moment of a lot of hard work with a talented, but tough little mare. It was almost like a confident and secure little bubble had popped on me and where I’m normally a nervous wreck I felt good going into dressage warm up. That in turn translated into a good warm up where Packy instantly stretched into the contact at the walk and let her ears flop as I worked on relaxing my thighs, and then loosening and moving her body. In the trot she wasn’t wanting to give, but she was holding a good steady contact which I wasn’t going to complain about. This carried over to some good balanced cantering where I actually rode like Daryl had been encouraging on Monday. We just felt ready.

As the steward told me we were on deck I slipped my coat on that Kali and Stephanie had been holding (warming up for dressage without a jacket on was like the best thing ever), had one last tweak and then went to go do our thing. Packy felt a bit sticky in the test and she didn’t want to really listen to my seat cues for half halts which meant that I had to use my rein, which then meant she over reacted, but I was able to smooth it out quickly and keep her going.

Both of our canter transitions ended early, but the quality of canter and ending at E and B versus before them was improvement. By the end I felt good, of course Packy decided to trip when we halted (seriously mare…), which probably cost us a half point, but it was a good start to the weekend. At the time I had no idea what I’d score, other than I felt good about it. In order to focus on my job I don’t look at my tests until after I’m off of cross country. This sort of creates a surprise factor because I have no clue where I am in the division, but it makes for a great moment when you finally see that you’d gotten a 37 on a test that we’d been scoring in the high forties and low fifties in.

I basically had enough time between dressage and stadium to let Packy cool out a bit and then tack up so I could watch a few rounds to learn my course and then warm up. By that point the fact that I’d only eaten a granola bar was catching up to me along with the heat and the nerves of jumping stuff.

Fun fact: I suck at feeding myself at horse shows when I’m riding.

I was able to focus in and with Lea’s help get warmed up and ready to go. At this point Bonnie had also gotten there, as in Packy’s owner who hasn’t been to a show in about a decade Bonnie. I thought it would make me even more nervous but seeing Bonnie who believes so much in us and just wants us to be happy was grounding as she and my parents wandered to the rail so they could watch. Packy warmed up well for stadium. When I had gotten on her I thought she was tired because of how quiet she was at the walk, but when I asked her to trot she blasted off in a keen quick trot clearly knowing that it was time to do some of the fun stuff. Luckily Packy doesn’t take much to warm up for jumping and this was apparent as Lea helped us warm up (have I mentioned lately how awesome Lea is? No? Well there’s your monthly reminder) and Packy was so tuned in to my cues and aids. She was listening and as a result she was jumping beautifully while I attempted to muster the energy to do my job. We went to watch a few before my round and of course that’s when someone went flying off over their horse’s head as a good reminder for me to sit back. Bonnie came over and gave me a pat on the leg, and a smile and I felt incredibly grounded. We went in and as I jumped the first fence it was as if this switch went off: this was fun. Here I was riding a super little mare that I have a great partnership with, at our big show of the year, and the jumps were suddenly looking small, and we felt great. This. Was. FUN. We caught two rails, but came inside the time and I was just happy to of had a good round with my special girl. I did make it in the time which meant I was only heading to cross country with eight penalties.

After saying goodbye to everyone I was able to walk my cross country and start “riding it” in my head like Daryl talked about. I knew what she’d spook at. Where I’d need to swap my crop just in case I needed it and towards the end walked up to the ramp I’d fallen off onto while schooling. It looked smaller than the first time I’d approached it while schooling, but it still gave me butterflies (falling off onto things tends to do that) and had been the origin of me now being wary of any ramp on course. So I started to worry, I stopped myself, “deleted” that worry and talked myself through how I was going to jump cleanly over it with no issues and how I would use the terrain to help set me up.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised that everything had started looking normal and fun to me instead of massively huge like it had in the beginning of the summer when we were moving up. I told Packy all of this as I put her shipping boots on before we went back to the barn where she was happy to go boss her boys around and graze after a long show day. I’d thought briefly about stabling, but then realized it was silly to stable when we’re so close to GMHA and Packy could have her comfy box stall and I could sneak in about eight hours of turn out for her to make for one very happy pony, versus spending the money for stabling and having her not get turnout. Turnout is key when you’re a sassy pony mare. So as she sauntered out to her boys it was a good feeling, making me excited to “run and jump all of the things” the next day.