Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Unicorn Unicorns!

The last several weeks have been hit or miss when it comes to barn time.  It seems that every time I want to get to the barn to work with Sig, something gets in the way: work, weather, lack of daylight, frozen or flooded footing, more crappy weather, more crises at work.  He has had a very sporadic training program at best, which is not ideal for young horses.  Not that he needs to be working a lot or working hard (I keep telling myself:  HE’S THREE!!!), but I like for him to be doing a little bit, maybe 20 or so minutes four to five days a week.  Enough to be a routine.  Enough to build off.  Not so much that we tax his growing body or attention span.

But despite all that, he is making noticeable progress.  My focus has been on hacking, and while we’re hacking out building strength over the gentle hills around the property, I’ve been trying to educate him more about moving forward off the leg and up into the bridle.  I have been getting him more confident in the contact.  Before he would just tuck his nose in and pose (a neck and head position only), whereas now he’s really starting to lay a more classic/correct foundation. He is starting to connect the dots, and when I put my leg on now, he is not only stepping forward and getting softer through the topline, he is also starting to want to take that contact down and offer some stretch.  It’s a whole body position, instead of just tucking his nose in and posing.

The last week or so I’ve been able to get on him a couple times a week more consistently, and because of the extremely wet weather, we’ve had to do a lot more ring work than I usually like to do because it’s just too wet to hack.  Sig has been a total champ and doesn’t mind, though.  And as a silver lining, almost overnight he started to ride like a much more educated horse in the ring.  We ride straight lines, we don’t completely blow out through the shoulder or hind end around circles….he just is riding more and more like a “normal” horse and not a baby.  And hot damn does he feel awesome!

"Inside leg to outside rein" is his new Jesus, and I am 100% here for that.

Here’s a video from very early on (December 17, 2017), where he was in Soon’s old bridle.  Between the couple weeks off from work, the loose ring snaffle which was probably too busy for his mouth (for now anyway), and the headstall that wasn’t really giving him enough room behind the ears, he started off extremely fussy and not wanting to come forward or stay steady on the contact.  And when I say on the contact, I don’t mean “on the bit.”  At three, I’m not so concerned where his head is, just that he’s coming forward, tracking straight, and I can feel both sides of his mouth.  If his nose is poked out, that’s completely fine.  Again….three year old.

But it felt like he didn’t like or feel confident in any kind of contact, and was constantly looking to be above it or below it (doesn’t look as bad on the video as it felt when we initially started):

Here’s a video from January 11.  I had switched him into a Micklem headstall, as he liked the extra room behind the ears, and his busy mouth seemed to like the dropped noseband effect it offered (he had been in a similar rig in Kentucky so was used to it).  I also switched him into a rubber French Link Dee; he had been in a rubber D before, and he probably could use a little extra support on the turns from the stable D.  He’s starting to understand the forward into the bridle, but it hasn’t really clicked with him yet in this video.  He’s still a bit tight through the body and straight/not falling out are really tough.  At least we got the equipment right and were headed in the right direction:

And here’s the video from today.  Again, the extra ring work has paid off as the lightbulb went on and he has been feeling super on the flat.  He’s looser and more relaxed through the body, he’s more confident on the contact and even offers to be on the bit (or close to it) somewhat consistently.  I try not to ask for him to be round, for the most part he just starts going that way when I apply my inside leg and push him into my outside rein.  He does occasionally get above the contact or just behind it by dropping his poll, which I have to correct by keeping his outside shoulder straighter with my outside aids.

He has a short neck so it’s deceptively easy for him to get behind the vertical, so in general I like him to be longer and lower with his nose poked out and just focus on him being relaxed and in rhythm.  Which is a difference I’m seeing from the early videos to today’s video: earlier on he’d tuck his nose and pose in a shorter/higher frame, but now he’s a little bit longer in the outline and you can see the positive improvement across his entire body as he's starting to push a little more behind and let go a little across the back.

This wasn’t even the good part of the ride; just before I asked for the video he was really feeling loose, stepping well from behind and was very consistent in the bridle.  We lost a little bit of that after the short video request break, and the mare long lining in the adjacent ring started trotting around which was slightly distracting.  But all in all, looking at the earlier videos to today, I see a noticeable difference in his whole body, which is exciting.  Baby steps!

He is great over the poles, I'm going to start making more complicated ground pole exercises to keep him thinking.  He also cantered yesterday for the first time since he arrived, and of course he was totally perfect.  I've just avoided cantering for awhile until we get a little stronger and better balanced.  We'll be adding a little more canter work from now on.  I plan to start jumping again in probably mid-late March and doing a bunch of gridwork.

Sig's also been doing great with his groundwork too.  He really loves to work, whether it's undersaddle or on the ground.  He likes to be engaged, loves being around people, and always wants to please.  Lately we've been working on him minding my personal space, instead of constantly being on top of me (I love the love, buddy, but maybe just when I want it thanks!).  He is not pushy at ALL, he just is a snuggle bug and probably the one thing he's always known about basic human interaction is that they want you right next to them.  Always be next to the human (think leading, some groundwork exercises, etc).  So now I'm just trying to teach him I want him next to me sometimes, and sometimes I want him to stay away from my bubble.  And it's okay to be outside my bubble, you have your own bubble.  And you're totally capable of handling yourself in your bubble.

"Are you SURE you don't want me next to you??"

"...okay that's fine.  I'm fine."

I've talked to him about it on the ground just around the barn, but today was the first real groundwork session focusing on it, and it took him about five minutes to be a total pro.  We'll reinforce this with more sessions, but the fact that I was able to drop the rope and walk that far away, and for him to not immediately follow me, is pretty huge.  He tries so hard to please and is SO smart!!

I also worked with him on the rope working on getting him to disengage and yield his hindquarters, step under with the inside hind and bend through the body as I come into his space and ask him to move out.  Two good trainers on YouTube that help illustrate this, Joseph Newcomb (dressage trainer), and Warwick Schiller:

Just good basic horsemanship tidbits.  This is all stuff I've been introducing to Sig and playing with, he really seems to have fun with it and is such a chill dude about everything.  I am totally impressed with his brain, his work ethic, his temperament, and his attitude.  His personality is just icing on the cake, because it's impossible not to fall in love with this guy.  I am so excited about our future!

Friday, February 16, 2018

My Summer With Giants

(To be posted on The Chronicle Of The Horse)

It is all too easy at times to sell yourself short. To tell yourself you cannot or should not do something, that you are not worthy. It might be because you are an amateur, or a new professional, or because you lack the financial means, time, or support. You tell yourself, “Now is not the time,” or “That would be nice someday,” or “I don’t belong.” Sometimes you sigh, relegate things to just being dreams, and simply walk away.

But dreams are meant to be chased.

It has been three months since I lost my heart horse, Soon. I would be lying if I said I was feeling better. Yes, some time has passed. Yes, I have a brilliant, fun, talented, and sweet new young horse (whom I will update you all on next time!) and a totally new journey to look forward to. Yes, I am blessed to be where I am, and to have had the time and experiences I had with Soon. But I have still spent the last 24 hours crying uncontrollably. I just miss my best friend.

In these moments of sadness, deepened by the gloomy winter weather and recent lack of saddle time, I reflect on the summer of a lifetime I had with Soon in 2017. A summer spent training with the legends of sport. My time amongst giants. A season of dreams coming true.

I think of my summer with Linda Zang, Joe Fargis, Stephen Bradley, and George Morris, riding my $1500 off-track Thoroughbred that I reschooled myself. This is a story of humility, passion, a little humor, and a whole lot of hard work, all for a reward that I cannot hang on any wall.

And I smile.

2017 Is Our Year

Who am I, after all? I was an amateur rider, who only occasionally lessoned, often going months between lessons. I hacked out a lot. Part of it was because I just wanted to enjoy being on my horse, part was my lack of motivation and drive to train more seriously. I had brought Soon along totally on my own, and while we came a long way, I knew he had a lot more potential. There were so many opportunities to train with greats, to train and learn from the best, and I had squandered them all up until then. With only a year or so remaining in the D.C. area due to my active duty military service, I was beginning to feel like time was running out.

I decided late in 2016 that 2017 year was our chance. I found inspiration in my barn friends, who helped give me confidence that I had what it takes to ride with the big names, that average people like us do it all the time, and why waste such an incredible opportunity living in this horsey-rich area. I agreed. My newfound motivation started in October 2016, when I signed up for my first lesson with dressage guru, Linda Zang.

I had grand visions of Soon and I dancing together in our first lesson with Linda, but in reality, it resembled something closer to a high school wrestling match….an awkward Junior Varsity one. Some poor timing on my part and a schedule running well ahead of itself left us with no warm up time on our first visit to that property. This was not what I planned. He was not loose. I was not ready. I got tense, he got tenser as we stepped forward to meet one of the most famous names in dressage.

I introduced myself and Soon, but what I probably should have said was, “Greetings, my name is Petrified and this is my feral steed, The Terrorist Giraffe….Let’s do that dressage!”

Linda actually called him a gangster at one point, so that should help illustrate how the lesson was going.

The next 40 minutes were a series of carefully coached circles, getting Soon to release some through his neck and shoulders, and for me to ride him from behind through to the bridle. It was not what I envisioned; it was ugly, but it was a breakthrough. The fact that Linda saw us at our absolute worst, and did not kick us out, was itself a victory. What I love about Linda is her ability to isolate and identify the problem, simplify the solution, and explain it. That is a gift. If you ever ride with her or audit, you will always see a notable change in horse and rider from the start of the lesson to the end. Some more than others, but always a change, and always a clearer understanding for the rider. She is such a professor that you cannot help but walk away feeling inspired.

While Linda is tough, she is also kind and incredibly funny. I laughed at myself several times during that first ride. It was hard work each time I took a lesson, but I loved every minute of it and everything she said was soaked in meaning and importance.

Linda's place in the USDF Hall of Fame

We continued to ride with Linda over the summer of 2017. Soon and I worked all winter on the points of that first lesson, and he was a different horse when we started back with her in May. He went from “He’s such a gangster!” to a complete gentleman, earning an “I love this horse!” from Linda. Also, somewhere in there she taught me how to ride. We continued to focus on moving him more through the shoulders, which helped keep him straighter and keep the outside hind under his body for better balance and control. Linda also helped me work on my weight through my seat bones and how that was affecting our right lead canter, and how to use the counter bend to keep Soon more up in front, all of which was an enormous help in our jumping.

In early April, I signed up for the September 2017 George H. Morris clinic at Beverly Equestrian, and immediately afterward I began looking for ALL THE TRAINERS to get us both prepared for George that fall. I need to give a big shout out to the wonderful Katie Domino at Domino Equestrian in Harwood, Maryland, for getting Soonie and I on the right track and being my trainer/sanity check between clinicians. It was at Domino that I started working with Olympic eventer, Stephen Bradley.

Our monthly clinics with Stephen were always challenging, but so incredibly positive and filled with progress. Big takeaways from jump schools with Stephen were to keep Soon up more through the head/neck in corners, to stay soft in the hand, and keep the leg on so that he stays active and forward through the turn. Of course, when I kept my leg and softened my arm to the fence (something Katie had already identified and had me working on), the flow and rhythm of the course just started to happen as Soon learned to stand himself off from the fence and find the base on his own.

Mostly Soon was perfect and I was adequate. We did have an explosion one day over the introduction of the liverpool, which inspired some no-kidding Tony Award winning antics from Soonie (because it was a theatrical masterpiece complete with horsey jazz hands). After approximately 384.5 passes over the liverpool, I can honestly say I have never been so exhausted in a lesson. But I learned how to better handle and prepare Soon for liverpools in the future (they would absolutely be in the GM clinic).

I also learned that it is okay to have a bad ride in front of someone you respect. I hated having that kind of episode with the World’s Most Perfect Horse in front of Stephen, but he was calm, understanding, and somehow got me to laugh about it by the end. That was so important. Growth does not happen when everything is going perfectly. Growth happens during and after the struggle (and The Struggle™ was very real that day).

At the end of May, I traveled out to Upperville with Soonie to ride with Joe Fargis for the first time. The man needs no introduction. My barnmate had ridden with him periodically over the years, and kindly invited me to attend her summer training sessions. I had driven by Stoneleigh countless times in the years that I lived and trained in the Middleburg area, but it had never occurred to me to just call Mr. Fargis up and ask if I could lesson with him, as much as I dreamed about it.

After all, I was a nobody…why would he let me ride with him? How on earth was I qualified for that? How does one even go about doing such a thing?

Well, it turns out that there are these really neat devices called “telephones”…you use them to speak to people far away and can even schedule a lesson with famous people. Magic, right?

I was probably more nervous to ride with Joe than anyone else. I have an immense amount of respect for his style and horsemanship. It should be no surprise that when it came time for me to introduce myself, my horse, and our goals, I completely forgot to be polite and stop to discuss. I just kept trotting in a circle around him and gave the required information. Round and round and round and round…

There I was, at arguably one of the most beautiful farms I had ever seen, riding with one of my heroes, and I had turned into a rude Panic Tornado.


Joe took pity on me and I was very politely informed that I am not wasting his time by stopping to talk. That we did not rush things in these lessons. We took our time, we stayed relaxed. And after the initial embarrassment, we had the most incredible ride, and I drove home on cloud nine, a true bucket list item accomplished.

The next four months I rode with Joe as often as I could, usually visiting every two to three weeks, but almost weekly toward the end of the summer as we drew closer to the GM clinic. I so value my time working with Joe. If you look up the word “gentleman” in the dictionary, there is a picture of Joe Fargis next to it. As one might expect, he is exacting, and has high standards in riding and horsemanship. He is such a classic horseman, and it was easy for me to put a lot of pressure on myself to make the most of every minute of those lessons. Sometimes, that got in the way.

I had one difficult lesson out on the Grand Prix field, where I could not make decisions. Soon was trying, but getting rather sick of my poor riding. He stopped going into a bounce, he stopped again going into a straight forward two-stride after I came out of the turn, took my leg off, and pointed him at the standard.

I just pulled up and sat there for a few moments, not scolding Soonie as none of that was his fault. That was his way of telling me to wake up because as much as he tried, he could not do it himself. I was not riding that day. Joe knew I was frustrated. I was embarrassed that I was riding like that in front of him. I felt like I was wasting his time, and letting my horse down as well.

Joe very calmly and quietly told me to let it go when I make mistakes. They happen. Getting upset and replaying them over and over does not solve anything, it only makes the next decision worse. It gets you and the horse tense. Relax. It was the totally nonchalant way in which he delivered it too that helped dissolve the choking pressure I was putting on myself. If I was wasting his time, he did not act like it. He had all the time in the world for me in that moment. It was the perfect zen; a vital piece of sports psychology and exactly what I needed to get my head together, sit up, and finally ride. The result was this:

The last dream for us in 2017 was the George H. Morris clinic that September (there is a full clinic report so you can live the terror experience too!). Over the course of the three-day clinic, I knew exactly when and how Linda, Stephen, and Joe set Soon and I up for success. George complimented us on how straight, adjustable, and balanced Soon traveled on the flat (and over fences); that was Linda. The supporting leg and non-drama over the liverpool was Stephen. The soft hands/arms, poise, precision, and attention to detail was Joe. George’s comments over the next three days tied it all together.

The beauty of riding with legends like these is that they are all consistent with one another on major aspects of riding. They do not contradict one another, not even across discipline lines. They all focus on the basics. They keep it simple. They do not complicate anything. They do not take shortcuts. They make it about horsemanship and put the horse first. They acknowledge that they never stop learning and continue to evolve. This is riding at the top levels. It is the longtime focus and dedication to those classic, timeless principles of horsemanship that makes people like that so successful.

It was the culmination of a summer of dream chasing, and I could not have written any of it better than how it unfolded. I grew so much as a horseman and a rider that year, more than any other point in my life. Soon also came so far during this time. This little Thoroughbred, a lower level claimer with 52 starts on the track, trained with true legends sport and earned the respect and praise of every single one of them. It was perfect , magical, and beautiful, and was almost as if it was by design…as if Soon was helping me accomplish all this before he had to leave.

Life should scare you a little bit, from time to time. If you truly want to improve, you should be pushed outside your comfort zone. I have heard it said that if you are comfortable, then you are not growing. You are not being challenged. You are being safe. Where progress and growth are concerned…safe is death.

That does not mean literal death, so do not do dangerous or reckless things. However, it does mean that when the opportunity presents itself, grab it and let it take you somewhere. You will not always know the full extent of the investment, or what the destination will be. You will not know what the world will look like on the other side. But I promise you that it will be worth it.

I know full well the value of taking things slow, that sometimes it is more important to just be around horses than it is to train and compete. But I also know that chances will present themselves and you will have to decide whether to take that journey. You may feel you do not deserve it or that you are not worthy. “Why me?” you might ask. Do not think like this. Instead, ask yourself: “…Why not?”

It might just change your life, and you, too, might discover what it feels like to walk with giants.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Still here! Kinda...

Sig is doing awesome.  He had another two weeks off because work is kicking my ass and I never seem to be able to get out and do anything with him lately.  Also, the weather and my inability to stay healthy this winter are also playing a factor.  So, he's getting a very light winter, but I hope now that I'm beyond some major events that I can finally settle back into a routine and get out to work with him at least four days a week.  Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, he's being super about coming from behind onto the contact, does ground poles like a champ, is still hacking out like an old pro, and got a trace clip today because it was raining and there was nothing else to do.  Of course he was perfect for the clip job, he just seems so happy to be messed with that he puts up with just about anything.

The cool thing is that when I'm stressed at work, or feeling like I need to get out to the barn, I look forward to seeing Sig.  I'm not looking for Soon.  That seems like a small thing, but it's actually quite significant.  Sig has yet to put a foot wrong, he has been nothing but sweet, nothing but kind and willing, and nothing but a fun young horse.  When I am missing being at the barn, I am now missing him.  I will always miss Soonie, but now I am truly starting to fall in love with Sig and look forward to the progress that we're making. 

Hopefully more updates, photos, and videos in the near future!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Unicorn Update 12 Jan 18

 So...not feeling inspired to write lately, but here's a quick Unicorn Update:

Sig is fantastic.  He's had the last two weeks off due to truly frigid weather, then me being sick because of said frigid weather.  But I got on him yesterday for the first time in two weeks, and he was foot perfect.  No drama, no excess energy, just super chill and happy to work.  It rained today, but I hopped on for a quick refresher in the ring (the whole farm is too soaked to go hacking on), and he's really starting to get it.  I've taken it back to basics with him to get him to seek and accept the contact rather than just tucking his nose in.  He's picked it up very quickly and is getting nice and steady, seeking the bit, softening up when I put my leg on, and even today started to ask for some stretches at the walk.

He is very smart and so willing, he will come along quickly, as he already has with the great start Carleigh put on him.  I just have to remember that he's three!

He got his teeth done, front shoes put on, he's back in a Micklem/rubber bit set up for the time being, loves his pampering time, is getting to be pretty good at cross tying, and it just enjoying being the Most Chill Dude Ever.  He has not gotten clipped again because the weather didn't line up with my time off, so...we'll play that one by ear.  He might stay furry until March or I might try a trace clip in the next few weeks.  He's out basically 24/7 with his two buddies.  He is the best hacking partner, so unflappable for such a green horse, and he puts a smile on my face. 

It's a different kind of smile, looking forward to a different kind of future, but it's a smile.  We're just getting to know each other but I love this adorable Fluff Monkey.

Looking at me like I just crashed his party

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The first adventure

Sig and I went for our first ride around the farm today!

It's been a long week.  I have been in/out of the office for the better part of two months now, and now that it's all over, I have to get several things back on track, including and entire subordinate office that needs a lot of fixing.  All that means that I don't feel like I can be very flexible with my schedule during the work week, which creates a challenge because we do not have an indoor.  Between that and the weather, it's been a long six days waiting for Saturday's arrival to hop on Sig.  In the meantime, he has settled well into the farm, has done a couple of round pen sessions with me, and is getting better about the cross tie thing.

But today was the day.  It felt so good to put the riding clothes back on and head to the barn.  It felt like going home.  Going back to a routine that I deeply missed.  It's a part of me.  I need this.

I got to the barn, brought Sig and his daytime turnout buddy, Z, inside, and decided to take Sig down to the round pen first to see if he had any extra sass he would like to work out.  On the way down, we took the opportunity to meet the ALIENS mini donkeys.  Scarlet, aka Baby Floof (for her adorable white star/floof), our yearling, was her usual perfect ambassador self.  She was Soonie's girlfriend, always the one to march over bravely to the fence, touch noses, and hang out with the Big Horse.  She very gamely showed Sig there was nothing to be afraid of, and despite the most hilarious, tiny under-his-breath squeal ever, Sig decided he wanted to chill with the donks for a minute or two.  Not bad for the three year old's first up close look.

Baby Scarlet Floof and Baby Sig

It was perfectly apparent that Sig has figured out the point of round penning, he was completely content to follow me around like a big dog from the very beginning.  There was a quick couple of spins around and a change of direction or two for good measure, but he came right back and was ready to go.  No shenanigans.  No sass.  Just quiet relaxation.  I decided to tack up and hop on.

He's still pretty squirmy in the wash stall where I tack him up, but it is quite busy in that barn at times.  I checked the fit of my saddle (YES THANK YOU BABY JESUS), which is actually quite good, adjusted his bridle (I have NO idea how he has a smaller head than Soon), and off we went.

We did about 15 minutes in the ring of just walk and trot, to get a feel for each other.  I like how he feels in the loose ring copper oval mouth, he started reaching for the contact a little after just a couple of minutes.  Overall he felt good - I think there's always that "Oh no did I make the right decision, is this going to work?" after you buy a new horse, especially if you don't take it on trial first.  But just sitting on him, then walking and trotting around I felt why I liked him.  He'll be easy on my bad back, but still feels like he's going to be very fun and fancy with more time, strength, and training.  He was foot perfect in the ring, didn't care to look at any of the dressage lettering or the jumps on the other side of the ring.  No spook, no real interest at all, actually.  So chill!

After the quick ring refresher, we went out for a short hack around the back field.  Again, he was super chill, basically on the buckle most of the way, no spook or much concern about anything at all (and there are a few things to look at!).  It was a very pleasant, relaxing first ride, which is what I need.  I love my hacking time.  My horses have to wear Big Boy Pants and go on their own, and Sig is totally game for that.  Very glad for Carleigh and her giving Sig plenty of hacks on Mt Brilliant!

After the ride, he got more grooming time, dinner, and kicked back outside with his night herd.  And his giant bean bag of hay which he seems to cherish deeply.

OMG can you please hold still

The plan for Sig this winter is to put front shoes on, and stick to mainly just hacking around the farm.  The hillwork will be good for him, it's less stress on him at this point in his development, and also relieves me of needing to be on a strict training schedule in the dead of winter.  With my current professional obligations, this is a good plan.  We found a trail riding partner, so when the weather cooperates, we'll head down the road to the park for some trail rides to get him out and about.  We'll do 10-15 minutes in the ring a couple times a week as well, to work on the concepts of straight, forward, and contact.  I will introduce him to lunging, and eventually to side reins, as well.  Maybe some in-hand work in the meantime when it's too cold or I'm feeling a change of pace.  And maybe we'll take a field trip to the trainer's once or twice to learn how indoors work.

Come the end of March, we'll shift focus and add additional dressage schools, and resume some jumping, probably mostly grid work, and perhaps some baby XC stuff we have on the farm for variety.  We already know he's a great jumper, very game, and is a lovely ride over fences.  Carleigh put a fantastic foundation on him already.  Now, between my schedule, the winter weather, and where he is development wise, it's a good time of year to slow down and focus on some other things and then hit the ground running again in the spring! 

To summarize, Sig's first ride felt like he has lived on this farm his entire life.  I am very impressed.  And by impressed, I mean I was walking back to the barn with him, grinning like an idiot.  He's young and green and we have a long road of development ahead of us, but that's okay, I love green ones.  This is the right horse.  I'm finally home.


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Sig Update #1

I'll try to keep it concise as I'm sleep deprived and it's late already, but only a few days into the relationship and I'm already very impressed with Sig.  He is both similar to Soon, and vastly different...and his age is probably the biggest difference, as he is still very much a baby.  But that said, he is one helluva baby that has a pretty damn good sense of humor about life.

The Arrival
I shipped with Brook Ledge again, having had a great experience with Soon three years ago.  I can't say enough good things about Brook Ledge, their folks are the best, from the office staff, to the drivers and horse handlers.  Shout out to Aaron, the driver, for saying lovely things about the goofy three year old alone in the back of his truck, and handling Sig with all the patience in the world!

I can't lie...seeing that beautiful Brook Ledge rig crawl down the street was like watching the slowest Christmas present unwrapping ever. 

To my surprise Sig wasn't shipping in one of the smaller gooseneck "shuttle" vans...Aaron was bringing the R.M.S. TITANIC MASSIVE TRACTOR TRAILER down the teeny narrow and obnoxiously twisty back country roads.  Because our farm driveway better resembles a Rubik's cube rather than an actual road, they informed me they'd be parking the rig on the main road, and the horse would be unloaded there.

So, Sig's first test was getting off the van, and walking the half mile across cornfields and down the driveway by himself.  And he was foot perfect.  Walked right in the barn, settled immediately, never jigged, or called for anyone, or put up a scene of any kind.  Just strolled onto the farm and said, "Ok, this is fine.  Oh look...hay."

This is major eye candy geeking in my world. 

Hi baby horse!

Figuring out what chickens are

The rest of his first day was uneventful: a quiet hand graze, a test turnout where we learned Sig is the Most Chill Turnout Buddy Ever, and dinner.  He was mildly concerned about the mini donkeys and the goats in the lower paddock, because....

But actually

...but the worst he did was pick up his head and snort. Then he went back to eating grass.  Which, for a three year old horse, fresh off the truck and not having been around farm yard aliens before, I think that was totally impressive.  I didn't push him on the donkey/goat thing, I figured he had enough for the day, we could tackle meeting them once he was more settled.

Sig is basically out 24/7 right now, he has a daytime turnout buddy, and a nighttime turnout group, all of whom he gets along with beautifully.  He is such a quiet, laid back horse out in the field.  And by "out" I mean he probably stands in the run in shed 99% of that time eating the round bale.

Full disclosure, I am digging out of a pile of issues at work which have amassed over the last month or two during my partial absence.  It's caused some long days, and because we have no indoor, has put a damper on me playing with (or getting on) Sig this week.  Which is totally fine, it's good to give him a few days to just settle into the farm, his new routine, and get comfortable.  Basically he's been learning about nightly groomings and how cross ties work.

I have played with him twice in the round pen though.  I get the feeling someone did some basic ground work with him at some point, because he caught on to the round penning quickly.  I am impressed how he handles himself in an unfamiliar corner of the farm (just next to those aliens we were talking about), by himself, and focuses on his work.  Seriously....the round pen is covered in leaves, and apparently leaves are like his Pringles potato chips.  You imagine trying to concentrate on algebra or something boring-ish while sitting in a kiddie pool full of Pringles.


You're welcome.

I like to keep the round pen sessions short maybe 15 minutes, just enough to get him moving his feet the way I want, responding to some of my cues, softening up a little, and finding a happy place to stop.  We're doing some moving of the haunches by swinging the rope, and also standing still and relaxing while I throw the rope over and around him.  It's about me being able to move him around me when I need to, and him standing quietly when I want that too.  The first day, much to my surprise, he actually connected with me (Join Up™, Hook On™, or whatever absurd natural horsemanship school you subscribe to for 6 easy installments of $99.95....).  This evening it was even faster and he was getting right down to business.  This horse is an absolute goof, wiggly and mouthy like most three year olds are mouthy...but you give him some work to do, and all of a sudden he's all business.  I love it. 

I normally round pen with the 30 foot line as my driving aid, but I forgot it in my trailer so I thought it was a good opportunity to introduce him to the lunge whip.  Before we got down to any actually round penning, I rubbed the lunge whip all over him while I scratched his neck, threw the lash over his back, across his hindlegs, and absolutely no fucks given.  He's clearly never had a bad experience with whips.

I am hoping to get on him tomorrow or Saturday, and right now the plan is to stick to hacking and some light dressage work this winter.  He's going to get front shoes, we're going to check saddle fit tomorrow, and he'll get a visit from our massage therapist soon, just for funsies.

Getting a three year old is a drastic change, but it is a welcome challenge, and while it will be challenging at times, a horse with a great attitude like Sig makes it so much more fun and enjoyable.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Changing of the Guard

There was a moment, maybe halfway through Soon's hospital stay and on a low of the emotional rollercoaster, where I declared that if Soon didn't make it, that I was done with owning horses.

Maybe I would keep riding, maybe train some OTTBs or young horses on the side, help some friends...or perhaps I would sell everything and walk away completely.  I had owned horses since I was the 14 total years of horse ownership over my 25 years in horses, I had endured three colic surgeries.  I had been beyond blessed two have two horses that I considered my "horse of a lifetime", Triple and Soon...and colic had claimed both of them.  I was done.  I could not do it anymore.

Then, not long after Soon passed, there was a feeling of peace on this subject where before there had been bitterness.  I knew there would be another horse someday.  I did not figure it happening any time soon, but I knew there would be a day where I would call another my own.  And I hoped, when that day came, that I would do right by the new addition, and in doing so, honor the two great soldiers that came before.

Well, that time has already come, and the changing of the guard is taking place.

I had not intended to look at horses for several months, at least until I knew what my next military assignment was going to be.  Part of me decided that Soon's passing was a sign for me to finally move to England and go on that new adventure on my own.  In the meantime, I was going to ride some OTTBs for my trainer friend, go out to do more normal social stuff, and just wait until the right horse came along later (like...when I was in the UK, or when I moved back stateside). Was not looking....

And then the right one fell into my lap. His ad kept popping up in front of me despite my strict "I'M NOT LOOKING FOR HORSES!" policy.  I ignored it initially.  It was too soon, I was not ready.  But when it kept showing up, I finally looked at it closely.  I was interested in what I saw; I exchanged some very informative emails with the seller, and took 24 hours to really consider what I was doing.  Was I doing this because I was truly ready for another horse?  Or, was I rushing into something after Soon's death and acting irrational?  What about England?

I took that 24 hours and thought it over.  I bounced it off some good friends who knew what Soon meant to me.  They were excited and supportive.  And after a few signs that I could not ignore (keep reading...), I made the trip out to Lexington, Kentucky this past weekend to give him a try. No expectations. No pressure.  If it wasn't totally right, I would walk away and resume my European plans.

I went out and saw him.  Rode him.  Hacked him. Jumped XC fences in the most polite, huntery manner ever.  Snuggled.  And he was perfect. And he's coming home this weekend.

Introducing Sig!!

His name is Lucky Strike (aka "Sig"). He is a 3 year old, full Thoroughbred gelding by Northern Afleet, out of Godiva (CHI). He was purpose bred in Lexington by Mt Brilliant Farm for elite polo (via AI, so therefore not eligible to be registered with the Jockey Club), but grew too large. He was sent to Carleigh Fedorka of A Yankee In Paris fame, who started putting a foundation on him.  He had a brief start as a 2 year old, then turned back out, and probably has about 100 or so days on him total.  Keep that in mind when you watch his sale video!!

Sig is a true unicorn. His personality is super sweet and affectionate, decidedly non-obnoxious for a 3 year old, super quiet, has the best brain, and he is taking to training like fish to water.  Carleigh has already had him out to a baby jumper show, XC schooling over lots of little obstacles, water, and he hacks like a champ.  By himself.  Through 30-foot wide streams.  He's like little a wunderkind of awesome.

My trial ride started in the arena, which went well.  He's a young horse with (hopefully) some more growing to do, but despite that and the relatively short time he's been undersaddle, he is very soft in the bridle and has moments of moving uphill.  He will be super fancy on the flat with more time and training.  And his jump?  Perfect metronome unicorn.  He didn't change to or from the fence, jumped with a lot of promise with his front end, and is already using his head/neck and displaying some bascule.  The boy has talent.

And also, he goes out of the ring like an old trail horse, canters around the XC field and pops over fences without changing.  I just had to close my leg and soften my hand, and he was there at the base of the jump.  It is going to be so fun to see him develop as a jumper!  And he's quiet and fun enough to enjoy lots of time hacking outside the ring too.   He can do it all.

Here's some video of he and I trying each other out:

Apparently, flunked polo ponies is where it's at, ya'll. Go get you one.

I've been thinking that Soonie sent me a gift here.  But why, exactly?  Well, the Thursday night before I left, as I was still contemplating it (mostly sold on the idea of going out to try him), I was driving home, on base, listening to Cole Swindell's "You Should Be Here," and getting pretty misty eyed thinking about Soonie. As I was listening and crying a little, I was stopped behind someone at an intersection and I saw they had Kentucky plates on their car. Now...yes I live on a military base and yes there are plates from all over the country, but I've not seen a ton of KY plates around here. Timing was uncanny. I smiled.

Then, when I tried Sig, while he's still very unique and has some differences from Soon, they're similar in some important ways of how they ride. Sig is really incredible for his age, very level headed and soft like Soonie. Both have a super jump. I had a great, super fun ride on Sig and he made me smile (I had not ridden at all since 14 Oct, the day Soon went in for colic surgery). Then after the ride, Sig was playing with his Carleigh's zipper, something that Soon used to do from time to time. I don't see a lot of horses do that, and to have Sig do it right then when I was standing there contemplating the next step was coincidental...but also uncanny. I just remember standing there thinking "Ok, I hear you, Brother." And decided to proceed with vetting Sig and went from there.

Sig's getting on the truck tomorrow, I expect he'll be at the farm by Saturday morning, and the new adventure begins.  I'm ready.  

Look at this amazing caption of me not falling off after not riding in forever!  And baby genius!

Now, I do like Lucky Strike and I probably will just stick with it, but since he's not JC registered, I had been contemplating changing the name for his USEF registration. There are also 14 other active Lucky Strikes in the USEF database, not even counting the inactive listings. So, I guess I'm interested to see if we can come up with a more interesting, unique name to use moving forward. If I can't pick one then I guess he'll be just another Lucky Strike. I like his barn name and have no intention of changing that.

I like the idea of a one-word name relating to nautical/maritime, or military themes. I have considered "Northwestern" (the name of the crab boat on The Deadliest Catch, as Sig is named after Sig Hansen), but I don't like that name for him. I think his sire's name/lineage may be useful, so I'm open to suggestions. I'm not sure how to work in any reference to Godiva (legend or chocolate).   So if you have any suggestions or thoughts, please let me know!  Some current favorite options are:

- Lucky Strike (current name, very common in the USEF)
- Strike the Colors (military/maritime reference of the age of sail, not in the USEF registry!)
- Signal the Fleet (not in USEF)
- Trafalgar (surprisingly popular in the USEF....)
- Insignia (awesome, but also very popular in the USEF)
- aaaaaaaand maybe one or two off my ancient list o' horse names that is probably on my external hard drive