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Finally! (and some drama)

I did it! Part of the reason for my long silence, though not all of it, was that I kept trying to take Strider in a dressage show. The first one I had to scratch due to a death in the family, the second one I entered and the whole show was canceled because of the EHV-1 outbreak. I was starting to sense a trend. I decided to risk it and try entering a third show though. It was last weekend and there was no apocalypse, a lot of drama though.

First, Strider’s saddle fit became a really big issue. It had been a small issue and had seemed correctable with shims and pads- and then more pads, and more pads. We were at four pads and my calling him, “princess and the pea horse” was a little too apropos for comfort. He was starting to get back sore as well. I was not ok with that and it did nothing good for our suppleness or transitions to say the least. He is already conformationally challenged so I didn’t want any other issues. I also go into the horse version of panicked parent mode when I know my horse is uncomfortable.

As soon as I could I started saddle shopping. Thankfully one of the mobile tack stores has a large used selection and was going to be close by; I was able to try six saddles in one weekend! Even better one of them actually seemed to be a great fit for Strider. The only downside was that it was a bit of a gamble because my trainer couldn’t check it for me. Based on my own knowledge and how my horse felt in it I decided to go with it (trainer is still out of the country- I will let you know if that was a good gamble when she gets back!). Worst case it has improved his royal highness’ back, doesn’t require four pads, and is, in my opinion, and based on some quick digging on the internet, a better value than what I had before. Now I can just hope my old saddle sells quickly so I can replenish my somewhat drained savings.

The new saddle came just in time. In fact, I got it exactly a week before the show. Less than ideal timing, but at least I got it before the show, since my old saddle was definitely not helping us out. I was worried I would be riding my dressage tests in my jumping saddle. But thankfully that didn’t end up happening.

 More surprises were in order though as the Thursday before the show I had to leave work early and go see my doctor because I was having intense stomach pain. There were no clear answers, as usual, but we treated the pain and set an appointment for a ct scan. Not eating in preparation for the ct scan calmed things down a little and though I didn’t get the results of the scan before the show I was able to make it through thanks to the wonders of modern medicine.

 I will spare you the rest of the drama involving warm up arena melt downs (Strider: “ZOMGWTFBBQ there are more than three horses in the arena), boot disasters (one fit and not the other- no kidding), and missing tractor parts.

 I will be honest: my first ride was terrible and it was all my fault. Poor Strider tolerated my show nerves fabulously though and between his generally being good and a somewhat nice judge we managed to eke out a 64% on t-3. It got better as the test went on, but I am pretty sure a drunken sailor on a unicycle could have done a better center line and halt, salute.

 Somewhat miraculously (it’s me we’re talking about here- historically I haven’t shown very well. Even when I have scored well I am usually an absolute basketcase), I gathered my wits, drank some sports drink and actually breathed a little before my next test. I admit I was worried since it was First level, but I figured I may as well relax and enjoy rather than freak out if the results would be the same. My old trainer used to hate it when I would say, “I have to stop caring,” because she didn’t understand what I meant. I am realizing that in order to show well I have to be able to let go of the outcome. I ride far better when I don’t care. It’s not bad in my case, because then I actually ride. Not caring for me doesn’t mean I stop trying; it enables me to try. We went in and though I rode conservatively, we ended up with a 67%. I really couldn’t have been more pleased.

 The next day we had a different judge and the scores, on average, were lower. We managed a 68% on T-3 (and it felt amazing!!) and a 61% on First 1. Both rides felt incredibly steady though and I was absolutely thrilled.

Vanya has not been sitting around all this time either. He has been doing western. I jokingly say that he “has a 4-Her.” I think in theory the 4-Her has him but if you ask him I am sure it is the other way around. He has done well at remembering what little western he knew and improving on it and has even become vaguely decent as a showmanship horse. He still needs work but western is good for him in his old age. I am sure he will be excited when fair is over and we can start focusing more on getting him and his 4-Her ready for barrels and poles though. He also is going to get his own little kid after fair and I cannot wait for him to get some lead line action.

 My RA has been pretty bad which is really why I haven’t been posting much. I am determined to push through it to the extent that I can, but often I have the energy to work, ride, etc. and then posting falls by the wayside. I will do my best to update more frequently whenever I can. I am trying acupuncture to help with some of the side issues that have been nagging at me so we’ll see if that helps. Even my knitting has been slower than usual. Oh well….always have to keep pushing on!! RAWR!!!!

 

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I admit it…

I was sick a fair amount recently and this meant I got to watch some TV I otherwise wouldn’t be able to watch. Because I am fashion challenged and I know it, I watched, “What Not to Wear.” I nearly choked on my grapefruit juice though when Stacey showed one of the people getting made over on the show a dress and heels and explained that it should be a model for her shopping for “casual wear” since it would be great for wearing around for every day type events and errands. Taking a few deep breaths to calm myself I realized apparently life as a horse mom is really different than the life of other people. (I know….gasp! I really knew that but this moment brought the point home. Keep reading, stop laughing at me, I promise I’m going somewhere with this.)

Though I know I have the fashion sense of a toddler after six cups of coffee, I also know that much of my lack of fashion sense is because my horses are a majority of my life. In an average day, I get up, go to work, ride my horse and do things around the barn to keep him happy and healthy and fed, and then go home, rinse, and repeat. Sometimes I take care of another person’s horse so the day starts with horse chores and there are extra evening chores as well, but basically, it is a rare day I am not at a barn at some point. I wear clothes to work that at least in a pinch I could go catch a horse in if I had to since I can’t say that eventuality has never occurred. I can’t imagine showing up at the barn in a dress and heels- especially since I can’t walk in heels unless paddock boots count.

I do have some fashion sense though- I know how to wear white breeches without embarrassing myself (no vpl, stains etc.) , I know how to do my hair under my Charles Owen helmet for a hunter class, dressage test, or jumper class. I know, though legal, it is a fashion faux pas to wear field boots for dressage and is just as much of a faux pas to wear a stock tie (though not a stock collar) in an average hunter class. It’s all a matter of culture.

Hopefully I can remain a hopeless fashion failure in the non-horse world without repercussions. It takes work to keep up on the latest horse fashions after all and there are only so many hours in a day. I’m open to suggestions though- if anyone thinks they can fix my human fashion stupidity they are welcome to try- just know that my budget goes to clothes for my horse first. That is probably most of my problem right there. Oh well. Thankfully I am not horribly bothered and my husband seems to find t-shirts, breeches, and brightly colored knee high argyle socks with paddock boots entertaining rather than embarrassing. But all of this is to say, it is high time I admit: I am completely incapable of being fashionable outside of the horse world. I admit I have a problem, but I am not sure I have the strength and desire to change. So anyway- RAWR!!!!!

 

 

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Grooming and RA

This weekend I got to do one of my favorite things- I groomed at a horse show. I absolutely love being involved in horse shows and helping people, being around the horses and seeing them perform, all without the mental stress of my actually being in the show. I still love showing, but grooming gives me a different kind of joy and thrill; one that I don’t want to give up. But I am paying for my weekend in the currency of pain today; I always do, but it is so incredibly worth it!

I also usually end up answering questions from people who don’t know me as well- things like: “Are you ok? You are walking funny,” or “What do you mean you have arthritis? You are too young for that.” In short, not only do I get reminded that I have RA but other people often can tell too and they ask questions. That can be a good thing but I know I fall short in answering people sometimes. I often minimize my symptoms or disease because I don’t want people to think I can’t do things or that I need help. I also see the attitudes of others who do know me towards my disease. Some horse people I am around want to treat me differently and help me out, tell me what I should and shouldn’t do, what might help, in short they go into what I think of as the bubble mode. Some people want to keep me from experiencing my disease by trying to cure me and prevent me from doing things. Others minimize the disease saying I can do anything, I don’t look sick, it is all in my head, if I would just change my attitude, be more positive, etc. everything would be fine. I think of this attitude as the minimization mode; these people want to prevent me from experiencing the disease by trying to make it disappear. I honestly find both sets of attitudes frustrating even though I know they both come from people who just don’t know what to do with chronic disease and want to help. And really I will admit I don’t know what to do with the reality of disease any better than they do, but I feel that by being matter of fact about the reality of it I am at least not fooling myself. It isn’t negative attitude, it is simply truth. But what I don’t know how to do is help others see that, help others to be matter of fact about it, and help others to allow me to feel things out. I don’t want to hide that I have a disease, and let’s face it, I couldn’t if I wanted to- my bag with a dozen or so prescriptions in it (I leave a couple at home ha-ha) and my morning stiffness would be a dead giveaway to anyone with ears and eyes. So, I guess all of that is to say- I hope all the horsey people bear with me on this- I will me patient too, and hopefully someday I can explain things so we can all understand. Until then though, if you know someone with a chronic disease or disability, my best thought on how to react to it is this: the person isn’t the disease so you can talk to them about it openly- really. And when it is uncomfortable because the person admits they have pain or embarrassing difficulties it is ok to just admit you don’t know what to say or do. Honesty is always good. I am sure there are thousands of opinions on this, but….my .02.

One thing I did find very inspiring this weekend though was watching a para-equestrian compete! She was a grade II and an absolutely beautiful rider. Talk about humbling and inspiring to see her lifted onto her horse and then go out there and ride movements I can only dream of with my horse! She really is amazing and it was a privilege to get to see her ride.

Next Saturday I have another schooling show. Strider has had a lot of time off lately (for him… for some horses it wouldn’t be considered much time off but he normally gets no more than two consecutive days off…) but I am hoping it will be good for him. It will be our last schooling show before we submit scores for CSDA year end awards and before Strider and I get a bunch of lessons with an amazing trainer. I can hardly wait for the lessons as I am dreaming of someday doing 1st level with Strider and really doing well at it. This year we have done all training level and I am not sure who is more desperate to move on- Strider or me! But neither of us is ready, so we keep working at it….someday….and before that someday hits I have to find reins that I can consistently hold. That has been my struggle this whole year; right now I have electrical tape blobs on my reins but that probably won’t be allowed at any USEF recognized shows without a dispensation so I need to figure something else out. Not to mention that the blobs are NOT at all unobtrusive. So….things to work on over the winter.

Matt gets home from training tomorrow. I can’t wait! Not sure how long he will be home but I will enjoy it while I can. Hopefully that will give me more time to blog again even! So, until next time- RAWR!!!

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Progress!

Plot material: I cannot see in the dark. At all. My eyes just don’t adjust right and don’t allow enough light in for me to be able to see. That makes doing things at the barn at night a little weird sometimes. I am used to turning my horse back out to pasture in the dark- I know the path well know. I only crashed into a massive dirt pile and then fell in a pit once. Then I learned the safe route. I can handle that. One of my biggest challenges though was dealing with my saddles. They are getting heavy for me, especially after riding and taking care of my horse and a day of work. So,  one of the hardest parts of my day was taking my saddle (whichever one I was using) out to my car at night in the dark and trying to get it in my car without destroying it all the while having coyotes howling in my ear…seriously. I think the local coyote population must think I am extremely entertaining. My jumping saddle wasn’t so bad. My dressage saddle I admit was really annoying- it just didn’t fit well anywhere in my car (dressage saddle of course has super long flaps and doesn’t seem to like the back seat of my bug or the trunk…). So finally, one night I told Matt I had pretty much had it with trying to carry my put my heavy saddle in the car in the dark while getting howled at by coyotes. He did agree that the situation was a bit absurd but just leaving the saddles loose in the barn, even in a locked tack room, worried me a bit as when I put both my saddles in my car, they more than double its value. And I have no way of replacing them really as I got insanely good deals on both of them- so I take good care of those two!

 So, yesterday my brand new tack locker was installed. It is monstrously huge and I love it. It was so nice to walk out of the barn last night without a saddle in tow and not worry about it. The locker still needs some finishing touches, but already it is a vast improvement. I will owe my husband big time for a while- since he isn’t fantastic at reading instructions I think he may have built the entire locker twice before all was said and done. He is getting a pair of socks though…not sure if a pair of hand knitted socks is an even trade for a tack locker.

 Strider and I had a good ride last night for the most part. He had some moments of tension but is greatly improved for the most part. I think that taking his flash noseband off was the right thing to do as he has been much quieter with his mouth without it- irony for you there. I loosened his regular noseband a hole as well and he seems pretty happy with the whole arrangement. He is still not perfect, but aside from his walk trot transitions and the occasional trot to canter transitions we can string together a pretty solid and consistent training level test. Last night I rode through both our tests once from memory and aside from forgetting where a walk transition was in each test they really went very well. Our stretchy chewies are much better- I am remembering to keep impulsion now, and Strider is maintaining his stretch better. Our transition back to working trot is improving though Strider still gets just a bit tight. But I know it will come.

 Thanks to modern medicine (read drugs- thank you piroxicam and tylenol) I am feeling a bit better today. I am planning on sticking some electrical tape on a couple strategic places on my reins tonight to see if it helps me grip them better, though I am hoping tonight or tomorrow I can take Strider up to the outdoor arena and enjoy hopping over some cross-rails and 2’ fences.  We could both use a fun night this week to relax before the show (even schooling shows spazz me!).

 Tonight when I get home pad washing will begin since it takes a couple days for my Mattes pad to dry, even in our dry Colorado air. I hope someday I can save up for a second one so I don’t have to use my jumping half pad for my dressage saddle most of the week before a show- I am realizing that could make for an interesting summer. My white breeches are pretty well clean and I just need to run my white pad through the washer one more time, then clean my boots since I neglected to do that after the last show (usually I clean them right away but I was lazy). I will probably clean my helmet better this time too as the interior could use a good scrub after not getting cleaned most of the winter. One of these days I need to make sure the Velcro on my white polo wraps is in the right place as I strongly doubt it is- I have the worst luck with that. I may give Strider a bath tomorrow as it should be warm enough and he hasn’t had one in ages since it has been so cold. I will at least wash his tail. Friday would be the day I would prefer to do it but I am sure it will be too cold. So, I will rinse his blankets off, then dry them and clean him up a bit and see what I can do. So much to do.

 Definitely will need plenty of caffeine to get through the next few days! I have an extra horse to ride while her owner is gone, and Aubrey will be gone too so I will be getting a lesson on Mo hopefully and doing her chores out at Pat’s (our trainer)  for her. Hopefully by doing her chores I can give the extra lesson I will earn to Jennifer and see if she likes my trainer. If she does maybe I can figure out a way to make something work on that front longer term as I think that would be good. Need to figure out who she would ride too…all kinds of things going on.

 

So, progress in all sorts of ways! Below is a random picture because I have been trying to get pictures up for a while and links seem to be the most space effective way…  Until next time…..RAWR!!!

http://i335.photobucket.com/albums/m472/valeskadavis/DSC03397.jpg 

                                                

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I’m a Faker…

Strider and I made our dressage debut for this show season on the 6th of March. It was wonderful and sad at the same time. First, the sadness.

I really couldn’t hold my reins. They kept slipping out of my hands as I couldn’t grip them and my normal method of wedging them in between my fingers didn’t work either. So that really made the whole day difficult and since it was caused by pain and stiffness from RA was pretty frustrating to me. I did my best to work with what I had and move on though and I will be trying a few solutions both on the RA front and the tack front in the coming weeks hopefully.

 The wonderful part was that we got our best dressage score ever! I feel a little silly because it was in Training level test 1, but we got a 69.565%! Since recently we have had to switch bits and still haven’t settled on one and have been struggling with Strider really accepting the bit, as well as our transitions I admit I really wasn’t expecting much so I was extremely happy with that score. I wasn’t riding my best either so really it was pretty amazing. In Training 3 we got 61% but really it was my fault as we had a break in gait and I just generally got super tense when I realized we could actually do well. I really was very happy with the show and can’t wait to see how we do in our next one.

My next show is this Saturday, and I will be riding the same two tests so it should be interesting to see how we do. My RA symptoms have just been getting worse over the last few weeks, so unless my RA doc works miracles this Thursday when I see him, that part of the picture will be harder probably but I am still excited anyway. Strider is pretty awesome and really takes care of me pretty well. If I just relax and ride my best I even with other issues we have great potential. So, the order of the week for this week is pain management and keeping up the momentum we have from the last show and building on what we had. The main goal is to improve our downward canter transitions and keep my head and shoulders up and those are things I know I can do.

 So, though I hardly feel strong or brave or powerful and like I am a beast at the moment…I will pick myself up and let out a mighty RAWR!!!  Because sometimes we have to fake it 🙂

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Preparing…

My focus this week has been on getting ready for the dressage show at my barn this weekend. It should be pretty fun and a little different than the average show as not only is it a costume show but also all the boys are doing it too! My husband Matt, my brother Cyrus, and Tom (my sister Aubrey’s BF) will all be riding in Intro test B. It should be pretty fun to watch.

 Thankfully Strider seems to be feeling fine now- I think his problem last week was a sore muscle as he recovered in a few days with no ill effects. Luckily I was able to get his feet trimmed on Saturday since that usually makes him a little sore for a day or two as well (not my farrier’s fault I promise- he has done wonders for Strider’s feet and his being a little sore after trims has been improving over time.) and he was initially scheduled for Thursday evening which would have made him sore right on the day of the show probably. I rode him last night and he was amazing! He was still a little tender in his feet (I could tell if we hit a thin spot in the footing) but he was really wonderful considering that he hadn’t been ridden in four days and he normally has no more than two consecutive days off (he doesn’t do well with lot’s of days off in a row).

 I also experimented with a different saddle last night. I have been riding in a borrowed Prestige Top Dressage and it fits Strider beautifully and is amazingly comfortable. However, I have been struggling a lot with my leg position lately and that is somewhat atypical of me. I am not saying my position is flawless; not by a long shot, but putting my leg forward is not a common issue. Looking down or tipping forward are very normal for me, putting my lower leg too far forward is not. I noticed that I had less of a problem keeping my leg in the correct position when I rode my friend’s horse in her Frank Baines saddle with a much flatter knee block, so I obtained a Wintec Isabel to try on Strider. I tried it with some trepidation as I hate CAIR due to it completely not working when I tried a Bates jumping saddle. It was so frustrating. But, I figured it was worth a shot. Miraculously, not only did the saddle seem to fit Strider really well, but I was also quite comfortable and was able to keep my leg in the correct alignment very easily. It was wonderful. It was easier to sit back and feel my center and keep my shoulders back. I really noticed the difference when I tried a leg yield in the trot- I felt the alignment and Strider’s movement more and even on the first try he really didn’t fuss at all. Amazing what happens when I ride correctly. He still had some moments. We are still really struggling with our stretchy chewies, but we did finally get a really good one at the end of our workout last night. Overall, it was a relief Strider was feeling better and trying the different saddle, though it complicates my decision on buying a new saddle, gave me good information.

 Jennifer did well riding Vanya last night as well. After her recent breakthrough on Dundee she has realized the importance of gripping the reins but being loose in her elbows and it has helped to quiet her hands and improve her ability to get contact and communicate with more subtlety. She is doing very well at getting him to engage his body more and bend in the walk and trot. The canter is still a work in progress, but she did realize how to get him more forward so she can start asking for the bend and get him a bit more balanced as well. He is a very steady horse in many ways, but also can be very challenging as not all of his past training has been correct (raises hand- that would be my fault. I plead innocence based on mental incompetence as I was only a child). Jennifer is really doing well with him considering that he really isn’t actually trained for dressage at all. I also noticed a huge improvement in her level of patience with herself. If she didn’t get something right first try, she simply quietly kept at it. She didn’t get annoyed or uptight and she was even relaxed in her body, so it wasn’t just an external lack of frustration; she is actually internalizing what she is learning about riding each moment and not holding on to past mistakes. It is so wonderful to see her happier and les frustrated when she rides. I am hoping she gets some better scores at this show that can represent all this work and progress she has made.

 I am not telling what my super cool costume will be for the show; I will post pictures afterwards. I will leave you in suspense until then. I have a lesson with Jo tonight and am super excited for that. My husband and Jennifer are still on the lookout for good ideas though (that are easy and affordable) so please feel free to comment if you have any ideas (or comments, thoughts, snide remarks etc.). Until next time…RAWR!

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