I showed up to the barn after work yesterday in a blazing hurry, trying to get Henry ridden and then get across town in time to see my fiance’s bike race at 6:15. I was trotting around the ring when Trainer pulled up and said “Want to lesson?”. I said “Well what time is it? I need to leave by 5:30”. She said “It’s 5:03”. Well sure that’s PLENTY of time (not really, but these are the things we tell ourselves)!
She set all the jumps up while I finished warming up, and away we went. The first little course was pretty much perfect. That should have been my first clue. After that I was just a bit… scattered. Crooked here, leaned there, not enough canter here, not a very well planned turn there. Note to self: if the first course is really easy, I probably still need to sit up and ride the rest of the time. But Henrypants was super good and very game for my shenanigans so we’ll call it a success in that regard. I jumped off, hosed him down, shoved cookies in his face, and away I went. I pulled in to the bike race just as his group was leaving the start line, so we’ll call that a success too.
But the most exciting part of yesterday was two little gifts (from: self, to: self) that arrived in the mail. My awesome helmet monogram from Personally Preppy and my half pad from Ogilvy! Will do full reviews on both in the near future, but for now enjoy the pictures.
We actually made some progress yesterday! Well, progress might be too strong of a word. What I really mean is that it was dry enough to hack out in the grass ring. Henry was actually nice and forward and gave me some good canter work. We’ve been working a lot on adjustability (as in lengthening or shortening within ONE stride of when I ask, not within five or six or twenty) and better balance in small turns, and slowly but surely he’s getting it. He has a tendency to want to carry his haunches to the right, too, which we’re chipping away at day by day. Some days bigger and better chips than others, but even a little bit counts.
There was also a pole laying right along the rail track, so I took the opportunity to practice one of my old (beloved) trainer’s favorite exercises, which I dubbed The Countdown. Basically you’re trying to tune your eye by getting a feel for how many strides away from the pole you are. You start at one, and when you’re one stride away from the pole you say one. Then two, at two strides away you countdown two-one. Then three, at three strides away you countdown three-two-one. Then four strides away, then five strides away, so on and so on all the way up to 8. The key is that you can’t change the rhythm to MAKE your strides fit, you have to let it happen and see if your eye was correct. I’ve found that I’m really good up until 5, then pretty hit-or-miss after that. The very first time I did this exercise several years ago I was pretty hopeless past 3 or 4, so at least I’ve gained a stride somewhere along the way. I envy those people that can lock onto a jump 8 strides out and see exactly where they are. I am not one of them. What are some of your favorite go-to exercises to spice up your flatwork?
The only other semi-exciting thing that happened yesterday was that I sent in my entries for the show next weekend. We’re officially committed to the 3′ jumpers plus a double header on Saturday night of the Hunter Derby and the Jumper Classic. It’ll my first Derby as well as Henry’s first Derby, so I’m just hoping to not make any huge stupid mistakes. But yay for getting to wear my shadbelly! Plus since it’s his first time at “real” 3′, I really just want him to jump around confidently and have a good experience. He is such a simple horse that it’s easy to forget how green he really is, and that this will only be his 5th show. But I’m hoping that with no plans of grandeur or trying anything super ambitious, these are all easily met goals. Fingers crossed that going back and forth from the jumper ring to the hunter ring to the jumper ring is as easy for him as I think it will be.
Here is where I should probably explain Henry’s biggest idiosyncrasy: he is very fussy in the mouth. When I first got him I tried just about every bit imaginable but he was just tense, chompy, unhappy, and wanted to go around with his nose stuck to his chest. Some bits were more successful than others (a Happy Mouth mullen caused a borderline meltdown, yet a twisted dee was semi-successful – go figure) but he’s just not super happy about any of them. I finally gave up and moved him to a mechanical hackamore, and now he goes in a simple leather sidepull. He’s a lot more relaxed and obviously much happier. He still does have a tendency to get overflexed, but it’s not nearly as bad in a hackamore as it was in a bit. There’s nothing quite like cantering to a jump with your horse’s nose on his chest, hoping he sees it. Not fun.
Unhappy Henry in a bit (and actually one of the more successful bits, believe it or not)
Happiest Henry, wearing nothing at all
We did have decent success with that twisted dee, in that the first time I rode in it (for a derby themed lesson) he was actually pretty darn good. But the next day he was sorta fussy so I ultimately put him back in the hackamore and we decided to just reserve the bit for derbies, when he had to wear one. Our hope is that if we only use it very sparingly he will go around happily enough for the actual class. Next weekend we will get to exercise that theory. I hope we’re right.
No pictures from today but I did get a sorta entertaining video of Henry and his turnout buddy Red playing. After two days stuck inside because of the mud, I think they were just happy to get out. You have to admire Red’s very athletic play/roll/rear/buck/run technique, and Henry’s “MOM HELP ME, I’M OUT HERE WITH A LUNATIC” at the end.
I had big plans for this week. After the last horse show Henry basically had a couple weeks off due to me having non-horsey commitments, and now that we’re less than 2 weeks from another horse show (with the most ambitious classes we’ve attempted to date) it’s cram time. I cleared my schedule for plenty of riding, lots of horsey time, and a private lesson or two. Of course we all know what that means – 3″ of rain on Monday night.
But I am not one to be deterred by simple things like the weather. I figured this was a chance to make lemonade out of lemons, so I pulled out my rain boots and away I went to the barn after work. Side note: these are the fabulous rain boots that I got for $12 on clearance. They combine all of my favorite things: blue, ponies, and shoes. It’s like we were destined to be together. We’ll ignore the fact that I live in Texas and muddy days are few are far between, so in 6 months of ownership this was only the second time I wore them. Alas, I digress…
I knew before I even got to the barn that it would be far too muddy to ride in either of the rings. Never fear – I had a plan. There’s a nice long stretch of grass that runs between the road and the front pastures, about 10 feet wide. Even with a lot of rain it stays pretty dry, so I figured I could at least w/t/c up and down the road a bit… it was better than nothing. Plus poor pony didn’t get to go out the night before and wasn’t gonna get to go out that night either, so I thought I was being a very nice horse momma by giving him a chance to get out of his stall and stretch his legs.
As soon as I got him out it became clear that he’d had different plans for his evening in. I’m pretty sure it included a lot of napping, extra hay, and quality time with his giant new salt block. When I put him in the crossties he gave me his best “Dis be bullshit” look and proceeded to pout. (Note from Henry: “Dis really does be a lot of bullshit.”)
I got on and walked out and he instantly perked up. We walked up and back our little grassy lane once, then turned around again and picked up the trot. He thought this was GREAT FUN and proceeded to do a headtwisty thing that might be the wildest display I’ve ever seen from him. There was that one time where he was trying to buck (and failing miserably) and it took me a couple laps around the ring to figure out what in the world he was doing, but this little headtwisting display was a close second to that. Of course, he thinks he’s being terribly naughty and is so proud of his shenanigans that I can’t help but laugh. (Note from Henry: “Why is she laughing at me, doesn’t she know I’m scary?”) The thing about Henry is that he’s just such a solid guy – so steady, so intelligent, so uncomplicated, so chill about life. I never lunge him, he doesn’t need to be “ridden down”, he’s not particularly spooky, and he’s very rarely “up”. So when he tries to be wild, it’s nothing short of comical. He’s just so darn bad at it. His version of naughty doesn’t even begin to register on my Richter scale.
So I did what any self-respecting ex-eventer would do – I shoved my feet a little “home” in the stirrups, bridged my reins, and let him canter, grateful that I had decided to wear my Animo breeches with their awesomely grippy silicone knee patches. Cuz ya know, that terrifying head twist was totally gonna send me flying at any second. We went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, cantering and trotting until he flattened out a bit. (Note from Henry: “She always knows how to take the fun out of everything.”)
What Henry thinks his wildness looks like:
What it really looks like:
After our little 20 minute hack we turned and walked back to the barn. Along the way we came across a nice sized puddle on the road and I, still feeling all eventery and bold, (read – delusional) decided we should walk through it. Henry gave me the big ol’ middle finger and said I AM NOT AN EVENTER, which brought me back from my daydream and we walked around it like normal jumper people instead.
All in all, it was not the day I had planned but it wasn’t a TOTAL waste. We’ll see what the rest of the week brings. Of course, we got another 1/3″ of rain last night so I guess I won’t hold my breath. Being fully prepared for horse shows is probably overrated anyway.
I guess since I gave y’all the background on Henry, I should probably give a little bit of background on me too, and my past ponies. Don’t worry, I’ll try to keep it as short as possible since I know I’m not as interesting as Henry is.
I started riding in 1994 when I was 9, at a little Pony Club farm outside of Little Rock, Arkansas. I only got to ride once a week but I was totally obsessed from the word go. We moved to Austin, Texas in 1996 and I vividly remember scouring the Stables and Riding Academy sections of the phone book (yes kids, a REAL phone book) calling every single place to ask about lessons. I’m sure most folks didn’t take a 13yo kid very seriously, and only one of them actually called me back. I started riding there, then steadily got more and more involved in the barn. I became a working student, doing everything from cleaning tack to turning horses out to wrapping/medicating to grooming to setting courses to tacking up the lesson horses, etc. I got to ride some really awesome horses as well as some really not-so-awesome horses, but they all had an equal part in teaching me how to ride. Sometimes I even got to tag along to the A shows and groom my trainer’s big jumpers, standing by the GP ring wide-eyed and in awe. During the summers I was a camp counselor (best birth control ever for a teenager, BTW) and I definitely spent more time at the barn than most people spend at a full time job. I got my first horse at 16 – an older, half crazy, skinny, roaring mess of horse that I absolutely adored. Charlie was bonkers but he was mine, and that’s all that really matters to a 16yo girl with a bad case of the horse crazies.
After I graduated high school I went to Maryland with Charlie in tow to be a working student for an upper level event rider. I wasn’t really emotionally ready for the experience of being 1500 miles away from everything and everyone I knew, and as soon as winter set in that was the last straw for this little southerner and I ran home with my tail between my legs. I really don’t understand how you people do winter. But, while I was there I did learn A LOT about everything. Riding, horse care, barn management, you name it. I got to rub elbows with the best riders in the world and watch them at work. Everyone should be lucky enough to have a working student experience, even if it is really exhausting and more work than you can possibly imagine.
When I came home I moved to a new barn and met Ronda, and started riding one of her horses. I kept eventing Charlie through Training level and started eventing on Ronda’s mare Jezebel. One thing led to another and before you knew it she had started her own barn, and I was working there. At first we mostly just flipped cheap horses, but stumbled upon a couple broodmares for sale and next thing you knew we were both bitten hard by the breeding bug. We bred a few mares, she got a young stallion, and we embarked on a new journey. Eventually I got a little burned out with the horses and got a desk job – horses are a tough business. Ronda has since relocated to Georgia and has built herself up into having one of the best breeding programs in the country – Rising Star Farm (google it). After a while I started riding again and got a new project and settled into a “normal” horse life as a working adult rider.
Throughout all of this I’ve had a lot of random project horses here and there – the 3yo unbroke pony bought from a QH farm that SURPRISE happened to be pregnant, the mare adopted from a TB rescue, the TB broodmare from CANTER, the $380 auction pony that wouldn’t even let you get near his back half (fun times), the $800 QH pony mare with a raging case of ring sourness, the $300 halter broke 4yo 17.1h TB (more fun times), the nice OTTB turned hunter, the free lease Oldenburg jumper that I rehabbed from a tendon injury, and my homebred Hano/TB mare by Westporte. I’m probably forgetting one or two in there but you get the idea. I’ve never had much money to spend and I’ve always been drawn to a project, even a somewhat hopeless one.
The $300 halter broke 4yo TB
The unbroke 3yo QH pregnant pony
the OTTB turned hunter
restarting Max, the $380 auction pony
The free lease Oldenburg jumper
a catchride in the AA hunters
I’m NOT a super talented rider by any means. I don’t have a great eye, I’m crooked, and I have deeply ingrained bad habits that I love to repeat over and over ad nauseam. I never had the money for a fancy horse or lots shows. I’ve never won anything big or exciting or impressive. But I have been incredibly fortunate in that I’ve always seemed to find my way to people/places that are extremely knowledgeable and also extremely generous… I’ve had a lot of really fantastic opportunities and learned so much along the way. And because of my background I do seem to get along with green horses pretty well (god I should hope so by now) and I’ve made a horsey life of going from one project to the next. I’ve evented, done the hunters, done the jumpers, catch ridden some random horses here and there, and even learned a little bit of reining when I got burned out from showing. Over the years I’ve taken a few breaks but they never seem to last for long… my life has revolved around horses for so long, I really am lost without them.
Now I’m back in the world of eventing and hopefully here to stay. And although they’ve all been really important in their own ways, I’ve never fallen in love with any of my horses enough to keep them long term (except for my homebred mare, but I’ll talk about her another day)… maybe Henry is “the one”? Time will tell. He is very quickly working his way up toward being my favorite horse ever, that’s for sure.
Most important thing first: the pony! Henry is a 2007 TB gelding that race trained but never made it to the track. In the words of his breeder/original owner “He always cared more about eating than running”. That about sums him up. I bought him in December 2013 for a grand total of $900, via facebook and Paypal (yup, I found him on facebook and paid for him via Paypal. Welcome to the internet age.) sight unseen from a barn in Arkansas. He had shown in the Baby Greens locally once in 2012 but then got shuffled to the back burner due to the owner’s lack of time and had spent the previous 10 months in the pasture. I just happened to show up right in the middle of a liquidation and snag myself a bargain. I bought him based on a 2min video of him w/t/c around the indoor. He looked a little footsore – he was barefoot – and very very fuzzy/fat/out of shape, but there was something about him that I really liked. So I sent her the money, she went and had a coggins pulled, and he got on a trailer to Texas the same day. This is never the way I would advise ANYONE to buy a horse, but ya know… do as I say, not as I do.
When I unloaded him I really had no idea what to expect. I was just hoping for a rideable horse that was about the same age and size as advertised. I peeled his blanket off to find this:
There’s no doubt that he was fat, fuzzy, needed his feet done and was well on his way to a ranch horse mane, but otherwise – he was adorable! Very accurately represented by the seller – size, disposition, age, etc were all spot on. Whew… major bullet dodged. Over the next couple months he got a makeover, new kicks, and worked a lot on fitness. Everything was like unwrapping a new surprise – oh wow, he jumps cute. Oh wow, he does lead changes. Oh wow, he’s really honest. Oh wow, he has the best personality. Seriously, he was the find of the century.
We started off showing in the jumpers…
and then switched to eventing in late 2014. He spent Spring 2015 at Beginner Novice, qualifying for the American Eventing Championships (and finishing 10th individually, 1st place team), moved up to Novice in Summer 2015, and is now preparing for his move-up to Training.
This horse is just the coolest guy. He wants nothing more in the world than to eat lots of cookies (which he does, trust me) and please his rider. He’s one of those fabulously good eggs that wants to do whatever it is that YOU want him to do, and his genuine love for cross country is absolutely amazing. After years of owning/riding warmbloods he’s really reminded me of why I fell in love with Thoroughbreds in the first place… they’re all heart.
I can’t wait to see what other great adventures we have in store for us in the future!