Saturday, July 23, 2011

It all started with the thoroughbred...well maybe an Arabian.

In my first and second blog posts EVER I introduced my man Moose Tracks.
Turnabout is fair play. Here is how I got started with the all consuming passion for horses and the sport of eventing...

It all started with the thoroughbred...well maybe the Arabian.

I cannot remember when my love of horses began. As a child I read every one of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series. Most of these books were centered on the sport of racing...little did I know at the time but Arabians do not in fact race in the triple crown.

As a kid in the city the only outlet I had to horses was through the television. And the only programs that had horses was racing. The first race I clearly remember was Gato Del Sol's derby victory. I would have been five years old.

From such a young age I awoke (on my own) at 6:30 am every Saturday to watch the newest edition of Race Horse Digest. I lived for the first Saturday in May and the Triple Crown series to watch my thoroughbred heroes in action.

I whinnied stomped and pranced anywhere I went. Every time I threw a penny in a fountain or blew out my birthday candles I wished for a horse of my own.

At eight years old a family friend gave us a pony. And some goats. You see my uncle wanted get free goats he had to take the pony. That should have been the first clue. We did not have the first clue.

 It was a dream come true for me and a nightmare for my mother. Every time I rode, the pony bucked, brushed, or rolled me off. To my mother’s horror, I would immediately climb back on until the next untimely dismount.

After only a few short years, my pony died of cancer. I was devastated. And we still did not have the first clue. Would you believe we bought the horse from the first for sale ad we saw? And that the horse was a green broke/been gelded two weeks/4 year old Arabian? But he was so preeeetttttty (as in he did not resemble a very hairy dog and did not try every way possible to remove me from his back)! And cheap! And the price included delivery, brushes, blankets and a saddle! (All of this should have been the second clue but we just though ourselves savvy shoppers).

With this fine new horse we decided to board our purebred Arabian locally for a whopping $75/month. This led to lessons (praise the lord). I lucked out-still did not have the first or second clue-with getting a decent instructor. She cussed a lot and could be a little mean but she knew what she was doing!

Leg loose in the canter? Well stirrups were locked in a tack trunk for a week. If you wanted to ride you rode with out them. Hours, hours I tell you were  spent on the lunge line without stirrups or reins with me clinging to my pony's back exhausted. Days where spent marching around the barn duck footed and bowlegged if I turned my toe out to much in a lesson.

Best thing that could have happened to me. I had a trainer that demanded perfection in riding, turnout and horsemanship. It did not matter that my equipment was all hand me downs -it fit and was clean. It did not matter that my horse was an Arabian and she did 'A' hunters. His long mane was pulled and the bridle path shortened.

Admittedly our start in short stirrup and then the pony hunter ring was rough. He never was an easy ride and always had a dirty stop. I knew we had come into our own when another trainer argued with my mom that he could not possibly be a full Arabian -he had to be at least half welsh! As I got older I got more self conscious. I began to realize the difference between my horse/clothes/equipment/ that I worked off lessons while others paid and others. The snide remarks (that happened a lot more as we began to do well) began to bother me. I was a teenager after all. I needed a change and decided to try pony club.

The first activity when I joined was something called 'Combined Training Rally'. I may have had the first clue but still not the second. I happily signed up never having seen a dressage arena or cross country course. I showed up proud of my turnout complete with slow twist bit and standing martingale...that was hastily changed! My pony did a dressage test -hunter style with nose poked out- and jumped handily around stadium. Then cross country. The first fence was a log -they do not have these in the hunter ring. Pony stopped not once but twice. On the verge of elimination I gave him a swat and off we went. I ended the course beaming and knew no other type of riding would ever be good enough. I also found a new family. A family where competitors helped each other. To the little girl (from another team no less) that walked with me to the start box that day telling me what to do and who also shouted words of encouragement as we tackled the log - you are eventing. Thank you.

My aunt (yes, the aunt from this post) had a friend who had a cousin that she was pretty sure did eventing. I enrolled in their summer camp (oh how I love camp!)

I spent that week in a variety of activities including basic dressage, grid work and conditioning. In the heat of the afternoons, the other kids swam in the pool and watched TV. I, on the other hand, stuck around the barn helping the more advanced rider’s clean tack, hold horses, or just watched them ride. At first they were a bit surprised that I would help feed or clean but by the end of the week they were accustomed to me being underfoot. Come Sunday we packed up and readied for our journey home. Mrs. Kitty, as she is fondly known, pulled me aside and invited me for another week free of charge provided I would work as hard as I had the prior week.

That invitation began many summers of residing at Southwinds Farm. More on this later perhaps.

So dear reader or dare I hope readerS. How did you get your start?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Camp ends. Bittersweet & Breakthroughs.

Thursday Pick your lesson…hmmm if you guessed Peter Atkins you are correct!

The last day of camp was Thursday and included a show jumping lesson with Peter. The focus was…improving the canter (surprised?).

We stated with the trot working Moose very round and low. When a balanced, round and low outline was achieved Peter had me imagine my arms/ reins as poles to push his nose forward. Instead of transitioning trot to canter Peter set up a series of poles 9 feet apart (this helped simulate a canter stride). We totted in and cantered out with me again trying to catch the front feet with my hand and kick his back up. The goal was to do a balanced transition to trot before the canter deteriorated…that was the goal anyway.

The poles soon became jumps. And then *it* happened.  The best jump of my life. I felt those little mutton withers come up and Moose’s back round as he sailed over the last element.  It had finally clicked-I kicked at the girth and got out of the saddle at the right moment. I loved the feeling of that jump and have been dreaming about it ever since.

Sadly I have not yet had my canter breakthrough nor have I been able to try and recreate that jump as the Midwest has been under a heat warning since I have been home.

So with a big breakthrough in our jump we left camp. A bittersweet moment for sure. It was a great week of learning, socializing and eating (had to put that in there –food was AWESOME).

I can’t think LeeAnn Zobbe enough. Come Again Farm is a very special place and Come Again Event Camp is a very special offering. I have longingly eyed event camps for quite a while-however the fees and distance were out of my range. LeeAnn has created a unique camp. Us ‘regular Joes’ with our ‘unlikely event horses’ as well as several future super stars can come together to train with world class instructors and live our dream for 4 days a year.

With that said thanks to the clinicians –especially for taking time with amateurs like me on cheap unlikely event types. I did not ride with all of them but heard glowing reports from those who did. Peter Atkins, Leslie Law, Dorothy Crowell, Mary Lowry, Jennifer Kasier, and Bonna McCuiston are all appreciated.

And to my fellow campers –see ya next year!

Thanks Amy, Amy, Amy, and Susan (honorary Amy) for being great riding buddies!

Want to ride better? Jump Grids. No Horse Required.

The Pool.
Quoting Rachel "Peter Who? Courage smack, or punishment? Screw it, I'll just drink my beer."

Stepping through the broom...some were better than others!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

More Event Camp-Show Jumping, cross country, whipping and other weird activities

Tuesday- Leslie Law (Cross Country) | Peter Atkins (Show Jumping) 

Tuesday I was very excited to ride with Leslie Law. An admitted book hoarder I of course own a copy of ‘Cross Country Masterclass’ and was eager to put into practice what I had read.

Mr. Law has very classic teaching style. We began by shortening our stirrups a hole or four (guess who the four was) and practiced galloping position. As we were all one horse amateur riders it was suggested that once a week we shorten our stirrups two holes shorter than cross country length to develop our fitness and galloping position.

We moved on to some very simple jumps, water and ditches. Being the book hoarder I am I recognized several bits from Jimmy Woffords ‘Training the Three Day Event Horse and Rider". A good read!

That afternoon I had showjumping with Peter Atkins. Poor Peter. Poor Moose. I rode like garbage. 


Take away points?

I ride like garbage. This can only be fixed by beer consumption. I fixed it.

Thank the lord for Wednesday and a chance at redemption.

Wednesday- Bonna McCuiston (Dressage Fix-a-test) | Peter Atkins (Cross Country) | Peter Atkins Lecture on Bitting & Whipping

Bonna was a dear and suffered through BN test A. 

Ahhh Dressage. I choose to laugh it off. Everyone else does!
“So –you’re a beginner. Right?”

“Not exactly. I have ridden a for a few years or 25.”

She gave me some tips (canter transitions, transitions, transitions). I think she was afraid to have us canter in the small ring (with her in it) so we worked on shoulder-in.

The afternoon session was cross country with Peter. As all the horses were starter level we focused more on improving the canter than jumping. I found this hugely helpful as you cannot have a good jump if you do not have a quality canter. 
Moose working much rounder
Peter had us canter up and down hills actively “catching the front feet” while kicking the horse up at the girth. This resulted in a rounder back and a quality gait. 
He had me working hard with Moose to improve the canter –riding counter canter and then true canter in counter flexion.  

Peter hopped on the Mooseman for a bit so Moose got some training and I was able to better visualize what he was teaching. 

We also cantered Moose thought the water several times using the drag of the water to help me improve his balance. Overall this was a great lesson for me –best of the camp!
Great Lesson! Thanks Moose & Peter!

The evening lecture was “Bitting and Proper Whipping ah la Peter Atkins”

On bitting Peter was a proponent of  jointed snaffles feeling that the nutcracker action of a single joint was harsh. 

This was demonstrated by placing different types of snaffles between the hands and then feeling the action.

Peter recommended a good old fashion jockey whip as most crops are “items of apparel only”.
Whipping was either for courage, a wake up, and very rarely for punishment. He cautioned against whipping a horse that stopped because it was scared feeling this could eventually lead to falls as the horse, fearful of a whipping, would jump a fence when it was best to stop.

Wake Up

We all got to practice
Wake Up? Courage? Punishment? hmmm

Monday, July 18, 2011

Event Camp-Balance/ Tempo /Rhythm-And Really Great Food!

Come Again Farm Event Camp 1
I started out with visions of grandeur – dutifully recording our adventure by uploading photos, videos and notes from camp every evening. An uncooperative laptop and video camera coupled with 111 degrees squashed that. So overdue is my Camp recap starting with Monday.

MondayPeter Atkins (Grids) | Jennifer Kaiser (Dressage) | Leslie Law (Demo rides)

Peter gallantly tries to teach me-no easy task!
Monday I began my camp experience with a grids lesson from Peter Atkins. Most eventers know Peter due to his helmet cams and horse Henry of “Run Henny Run” fame.
Peter is for sure a talented rider but even more talented as a teacher...and I think that will be a future blog post!

We began the grids lesson through a tangled maze of poles working on tempo and balance (this would be the theme for camp) and ended with a few bounces to a small oxer. The take away for me was the importance of balance and tempo.  My big breakthrough of the session was…wait for it…slowing the tempo with my seat. Duh. I thought I had been doing this correctly for years but for the first time I was truly able to control Moose’s speed and tempo without touching the reins. It was a very nice feeling!

Moose through the Grid
 Dressage with Jennifer Kaiser focused on getting Moose soft (he prefers this pose): 

Moose or Giraffe?
by raising the inside rein…as he goes up I go up. I understood this conceptually but by working with Jennifer the idea cemented. Now when I feel I am getting trotted off with I have a tool.

We also worked on our nemesis –the canter. Transitions, transitions, transitions. When I expressed my frustration (we have done 1,000,000,008 transitions in the last year) Jennifer indicated I just needed more time. Drat.

That evening Leslie Law rode three horses in front of ~ 100 spectators.  I had grand plans of taping the rides but the video camera had other plans and took the night off. Luckily COTHer ‘enjoytheride’ posted some videos:

My take away from his rides was that regardless of level- balance, rhythm, and softness are key. While riding and jumping in balance with a steady rhythm hunting and picking a distance was unnecessary…the distance found you.

Oh -enough with riding you say -your title mentioned food...oh my lord the food.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Vacation (my version of it) = C A M P!!!!!

It is almost that time of year again…VACATION! A beach vacation? European backpacking? Perhaps a spa visit with hot springs and a massage?

Not for me! My vacation is spent with 40 other riders  in Indiana at Come Again Farm.
We rise with the chickens (literally) to care for our mounts and then lesson with some of the best event coaches in the country. We then clean our tack, audit, take notes, set jump poles, help and support the other riders followed by another lesson in the July heat. After that is it chore time again then on to a lecture, dinner, beer drinking and jaw wagging. We then get up and do it all again.
Though sun burnt, tired, and sore by the end of the week I would not trade this vacation for any other.

This year we will once again be instructed by Peter Atkins and Dorothy Crowell. New this year is Leslie Law. All have represented their country internationally and are considered excellent instructors.

I am hoping we make a different impression this year…

Last year every instructor said this --->“I don’t normally say this but I think you need more bit.”  
The bit I had in for camp.

And this --->  “Everyone canter! Except Amy!”

This might be why:
In Moose’s defense he was less than 2 weeks off the camp. In my defense…well I really don’t have one. 

Last years camp recap on COTH.

From Camp Pony to...

Camp Pony!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cross Country COLORS!

Eventers are eventers because of cross country. If we wanted to showjump or do dressage we could do just that...but eventers have a taste for galloping through the countryside splashing through water and leaping immovable objects.

And we secretly like to dress up.

The Dressage Queens have Pikeur and the Hunter Princesses have Grand Prix or Tailored Sportsman.  Eventers have cross country colors.

Lucinda Fredericks and her famous pink colors.

I have decided that my colors should be black and blue...for obvious reasons. Thus I have started the search so Moose and I can be fully kitted out in black and blue glory (gory?).

Bit Of Britain is one stop shopping for colorful xc accessories. Plus they are supporters of the AECs and USEA members get a 5% discount on online orders.

SmartPak also has oodles of colorful custom supplies including custom breeches. If your horse already gets a monthly Smartpak you can enroll in the Barn Buddy Program to get FREE embroidery on those colorful custom supplies as well as reduced shipping.

Dover has a custom selection with a variety of color coordinating tack, apparel and stable supplies.

If you don't mind springing for overseas shipping the Britts are ahead of the US in horse/rider decorating and often offer a 'virtual designer'.
My Masterpiece

CustomXC Colour Designer "Here you can design your perfect xc colours"

Nag Rags "wide range of custom, hand made horse riding clothing"

GGGear "GGGear for personalised equestrian hoodies, jackets, cross country colours, hat covers,"

Equisign "new range of XC Colours. You can design your own and there are many variations to choose from"

Treehouse Sporting Colours "specialising in equestrian safety wear, racing and cross country colours."

Jellybeanz "Colourful and Fun equestrian clothing"

Dark Horse "Cross Country Racing Colours / Clothing and accessories for horse riding"

And the real reason eventers have cross country you can find our broken bodies when we fall in the woods....

Next shall we discuss  helmet covers and matching saddle pads?

Friday, July 1, 2011

And so it begins... part 2

So I was heading to a funeral…right? Wrong.

A call to my mom confirmed what I knew. Brenda would want me to go. She was crazy and impulsive. I had been there with her as she was dying…she did not need me now. The best way to honor her would be to drive 12+ hours just to try a horse that had caught my fancy.

So I did just that –going against my “Type A Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!” nature.  Brenda that was for you!

Safety check on truck and trailer? Nope.
Layover point mapped out? Nope.
Hotel booked? Nope.
Mapquest? Nope.

We hooked up the trailer and went that night…well, sort of. Truck 1 (the newer one) had a ton of fill dirt in the back. OK –older truck it is. Trailer 1 (the most recently serviced) was found to have a flat. So old, borderline scary trailer made the trip.

Finally, we left.
What a drive! *Someone* accidentally hit the “no tolls” option on the GPS. This resulted in a scenic route….lots of mountains. Lots of them. Hotels? Not so much. But there were lots of mountains!

After driving through the night and you guessed it-over the mountains - we made it to the camp. To be brief (not my specialty) trailer parking (or jack knifing if you prefer) as well as the Jeep ride (4 wheel drive required) to the horse area was all an adventure in itself…

And we saw THE horse.
I’ll be honest –he did not take my breath away and I did not hear the angels sing but I hopped on, hacked him around only to exclaim “*&%%$@! He is green!”.

Steering? Nope.
Breaks? Nope.
Tolerate fly spray or being squirted with a hose? Nope.
Gas pedal? Oh yea!

But he tromped over rocks and through the ravines and passed the archery and rifle ranges without batting an eye. We made a (very) low ball offer and they took it. He was mine!
Camp pony! (The inverted Paint or whatever color he is on your far right)

I elected to ride him back to the trailer while my friend took another jeep ride. As we made our way through the camp children began to ask “who are you”, “what are you doing?”, “where are you taking Moose Tracks?” To which I replied, “He is MINE! I am taking him HOME! Hahahahaha!” I was tired -give me a break already.

It was not until we had him loaded on the trailer that we realized 1) We had not slept 2) We had no layover 3) We now had a horse on the trailer so must drive straight through (again).


I do not remember the drive back but we did make it home Sunday around 6am.
I tossed the poor beast in the nearest paddock and went to bed. 8 hours later my phone ringing wakes me up. It was my friend, “Hi. Um.What did we just do?”

“Sh*t. Hold on a second.” I stepped outside and looked into the paddock. Then a big smile. “We bought a camp pony! I Love him!”

This face makes me smile everyday.