Monday, December 16, 2013

This is why people take their horses to Florida in the winter!

Friday, December 13, 2013
Perhaps Mother Nature should take a quick look at the calendar.  December 21 may still be eight days away but cold winter weather has settled in the Oley Valley.  Sunday's snow, sleet and freezing rain was followed by another winter storm on Tuesday.  Monday's delayed school opening due to icy conditions led to a suitable day of working in the arena, surprisingly!  Nikki's work has been less consistent, but we are still going strong.  I underestimate her at times though.  On the coldest days she has demonstrated sensibility and a good work ethic under not so perfect conditions.  Her one departure was when the porto potty truck came roaring over the hill down the driveway.  There was a bit of leaping on the end of the lunge line but then she relaxed again.  No further outbursts while the driver was working or when he drove away.  The truck has arrived on other occasions and Nikki has not even looked at it, but this time there were other potties on the truck and they were rattling and bouncing.  Perhaps that was the difference.  I am certainly glad that I was not on her back during the outburst though!  The rest of the time she worked quietly as though the incident never occurred.

Unfortunately Suki will probably just be worked in hand when able but hopefully a lunge session can be thrown in here and there as well.  The weather is supposed to warm up over freezing again by the middle of next week so we should be good to go!

Bone chilling dampness can be discouraging, but you really just need to embrace it.  Dressing appropriately and acceptance of the conditions with a positive attitude makes the difference.  Easier said than done sometimes.  Yesterday (Thursday) I went to the barn dressed to ride only to find that unlike Wednesday, the footing was not suitable.  It was frozen and bumpy in many spots.  It was 25 F with a stiff wind, so I will admit that I was not totally disappointed not to ride! Most days I do find that I actually enjoy being out in the cold.  I enjoy the silence of the cold air, the snap of the gravel under my feet and the cold on my cheeks.  Admittedly this joy goes away below 15F!  But even then some outside time does feel good.
Due to the conditions the horses were in paddocks not in their fields.  Suki and Nikki were joined by Banker in the paddock behind the barn.  This is a very interesting dynamic.  Prior to Nikki's return to Thistledew Suki and Banker were turned out together.  In fact, initially that remained the routine while Nikki was paired with another horse.  I decided to have the girls put back together to make it easier when I wanted them kept in for riding, vet, farrier, etc.

When I opened the back door Suki stuck her face in to greet me.  Nikki was off to one side and Banker behind Suki.  There were three piles of nice hay and it seemed like they were all quite happy.  That is until Suki saw me!  Then it became necessary not only to keep the others from me, but also to prevent Nikki and Banker from standing together!  How exhausting!  Rob held Banker while I brought the girls into the barn fr grooming.  Nikki was first, surprisingly and while I closed the door she sucked two carrots off of the stall door!

It was so cold that I decided to just add another layer of clothing rather than groom.  I moisturized Suki's neck and face and picked the feet of both horses.  Suki charged over to the other side of the paddock when I turned her back out because Banker was caught "talking" to another horse over the fence.

Sunday, December 15, 2013
We have received a 1-2-3 punch of winter weather.  Sunday, Tuesday and Saturday.  The precipitation arrived later than expected on Saturday, but nursing a sore throat and fever I was in no shape to step out to the barn in damp, cold air and light snow.  Plus, the husband was not home which would have meant taking Isaiah to the barn with me.  This is fine if I am just going to groom, but at age 7 I would prefer to not try to ride while he wanders about.  Isaiah also missed his lesson which of course disappointed him as his new winter riding boots had just arrived.  We tried the Mountain Horse lace ups, but they came up too high on his legs and were not comfortable.  I ordered the Tuff Rider zip up winter paddock boots instead, and after reading reviews ordered TWO sizes larger than his regular shoe size.  They fit well and appear to be comfortable, but I guess the true test will be when Isaiah rides!

I have not used this brand before other than a pair of full seat breeches that I purchased several months ago for myself.  They fit well and are good for colder weather. So far these breeches have also washed well and lasted under hard use!

The snow started to fall at a greater rate by mid afternoon quickly covering my driveway and the road below.  By early evening the snow swirled about.  As a silent, snowy world descended upon the Oley Valley we cozied together by the fire with smores and hot chocolate.
From the door of my garage....
Unfortunately a few hours (and inches of snow) later sleet and freezing rain added a treacherous icy layer, continuing through the night.

Sunday, December 15, 2013
I stuck my head out the door early this morning staring at the state of my snow/ice covered driveway and trees coated in an icy shell.  A lone pair of Canada geese flew overhead under a gray sky calling out in their passage.  I translated this too "Why have we not headed south yet!", echoing in the sentiment that grips me in moments like this:  This is why people take their horses to Florida for the winter!!  Huddled under my ski jacket I pulled on a pair of boots to emerge into the snowy world and feed the birds.  Clearly it would be a few hours before I would be able to get to the barn.  My hilly driveway would need to be cleared.  This was irrelevant given that our street had not seen a plow since the snow began.
By late morning the temperature had warmed to a balmy 33F and was nearly 36F when I went over to the barn a couple of hours later.  The local roads were well cleared except for occasional slush.  I drove past the snow-covered fields and down to the barn.

I walked out to the arena, and for one brief moment of insanity considered riding.  That was before I actually walked INTO the ring!
The arena
Slick and icy in spite of the "warm" temperature.  The girls were in the paddock with Banker and would only get a short time outside so I decided to just check their clothing, feed them treats and head back home to the task of scarf knitting for Isaiah's teachers' Christmas gifts.
With temperatures dipping into the low teens tonight tomorrow I will surely see a skating rink.  Riding will be put off for a few more days.  After knitting I decide to read a few training articles to keep me focused.  I'm disappointed because I feel like I am finally getting back into the groove of riding again.  The end of the week is expected to bring temperatures in the 40sF so at least I have something to look forward to!

Monday, December 16, 2013
Oh yes, icy it is!  I walk across the ice crusted snow out to the bird feeders.  Isaiah was off to school looking forward to an afternoon of wrapping Christmas gifts for a family in need.  Each class "adopts" a family and we send gifts according to the family's wish list.  It is a good lesson in giving.

I waited until noon for the day to "warm up" to 25F then head to the barn.  The slush in the driveway at the farm is now solid ice so I park by the house and walk down.  Lucky for me I have my Yak Trax for my boots or I would have been slipping and sliding all the way down!
Yak Trax work surprisingly well!  Confidently and steady as a Yak I walked down the driveway, checking the arena for giggles as I walked by.  Needless to say it was all ice!  The horses were not even able to go out in the paddocks, so I spent some time grooming and spoiling them.  Oh, and dressing up Nikki!
Suki wouldn't even let me put it NEAR her head!

Suki's skin was a little drier than usual even under her blankets, but not bad considering it had been a few days since her last full spa treatment.  Oil of Olay freezes while in the tack room (unheated, obviously) but I keep it in my car along with wound ointment and body moisturizer to keep her everyone happy!  She enjoyed her time with me and loved being fussed over by the fox hunting ladies. They had never seen her on cross ties and without clothing and were surprised at how tall she is.  It was also their first opportunity to see the naked area across her back.  Suki loves when people tell how brave and beautiful she is!

In addition to playing dress up, Nikki received a face massage with a towel.  This is one of her favorite things!!

With more snow on the way tonight I will have to be satisfied with grooming Suki and Nikki and reading training articles.......
That is why people take their horses to Florida for the winter!
But I will bravely continue to embrace the elements and ride on!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The mystery of pasture injuries

Friday, December 6, 2013
The past few days have been dark and gray.  With temperatures moderate I manage to ride even if it is a bit misty or drizzly which I do willingly given the upcoming wintery conditions predicted.  A bit of snow no longer phases me but after adventures in the sleet last week I really have to draw the line.  That was an odd day though.  The quiet snowflakes that tumbled down at the start of my ride suddenly switched to sleet!

Yesterday I managed to fit in a ride on Nikki and a brief lunge for Suki but it came later in the day than usual due to thick morning fog.  Nikki seemed tense under me, as though the snap of a branch would set her off.  I overcame my own anxiety at this feeling by keeping her occupied in work.  She settled quickly.  

While grooming Suki I noticed a long scrape on her left hind white sock, down the front.  I always marvel at how horses manage to obtain these injuries.  The location suggests that a scuffle with Nikki was not the cause, and nothing in her pasture could really do it either.  Yesterday when I was leaving I did see her perform several hardy rolls, back and forth again and again.  I guess it is possible that she caught it with her foot during that roll.... It appeared to be superficial but in the past such an abrasion would cause her to be a slightly off.  Okay, sometimes she would actually appear 3-legged lame with a lesser scrape!  I always thought that it was her way of trying to get out of having to work.  Ever the drama queen and diva!  Following her brave recovery from burn injuries I do believe that she was exaggerating! Suki had come in from her field fine with no evidence of lameness, so I proceeded to prepare her to lunge.  Cleaning the wound, it was indeed superficial but I added some wound ointment under her boots.

Suki was also somewhat tense so I wonder if the start of hunting season has them on high alert.  After a buck and a snort she also settled into work but I kept it short anyway.  And she was 100% sound. Following the work I cleaned the abrasion again, added some ointment, gauze squares and standing wraps behind for over night.  Suki tends to stock up when in for extended periods and this would be exacerbated by a cut on the sensitive white sock/pink skin.

Knowing that today would be completely unsuitable for riding outside I was happy to get in that ride.  Three days in a row for Nikki then a day off works fine.  

This morning I awoke to the sound of rain on the skylights.  The Suki and Nikki would be in today.  Temperature was in the 40sF but expected to fall during the day.  Needless to say the girls were happy to see me. I spent time with each of them, grooming Nikki (who pulled my hat off while I was brushing her front legs).

Suki's mystery wound looked fine but after cleaning it and applying ointment I once again wrapped her hind legs for the night.  The barn was cozy and peaceful with the sound of horses contentedly munching on hay.  The heavy rain continued through the night so arena condition tomorrow is questionable.

Saturday, December 7, 2013
Another cold and gray start to the day, but i think that I am getting used to it.  I dress warmly in layers and hope for the best.  The sharp air slaps my cheeks as I fill the bird feeders, while my regular squirrel visitors watch me from not too far away, waiting for their first opportunity to snag some yummy nuts from the ground.

Driving to the barn a flock of geese flies overhead in formation, honking loudly as they pass.  Everything about the morning offers the feeling of impending wintery weather, but I am looking forward to my ride nonetheless.   Coming down the drive to the barn I can see some puddles in the arena, but upon further inspection it is not so bad.  Nikki worked well, lifting her knees and hocks when we passed through the occasional puddle.

Suki was impatient to get out of her stall as usual, and the scrape looked fine when I removed the wraps.  One thing about these winter blankets....they hold the moisturizer nicely underneath so I decided not to add more.  Just the exposed areas were moisturized today.  A thick layer of ointment on the scrape, and I was confident that it would be fine for turnout.  Cloudy, windy and cold I added a layer to both horses.

Tonight temperatures will dip far below freezing, so without much sun today I expect a frozen tundra for an arena tomorrow morning.  Sunday afternoon and evening going into Monday Snow, sleet and freezing rain is expected, so Nikki really needs to work tomorrow.  If the footing is too hard early it may be okay later in the morning before the bad weather starts.  Suki will probably not work in the arena.  I can probably take her out back to do some in hand work.  Might be a good piaffe day!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Riding requires acceptance of the elements

Thursday, November 21, 2013
It's cold this morning.  The thermometer on my car says 23F while waiting to put Isaiah on the school bus.  The barn is down in a hollow causing the temperatures to dip 3-4 degrees. Obsessively I watch the numbers drop as I head down the driveway toward the barn.  19F. I think I can, I think I can......My first thought of an "out" was frozen footing.  I marched into the arena to test it.  Footing fine.  Looking up to the sky the clouds cleared a bit and the sun warmed my face.  Maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all!

Of course once I start to set up my equipment I begin to warm, knowing that riding will not be so bad.  The winds are low and being greeted by those heartwarming nickers of my girls I set to work.  Yesterday I made cookie dough for 6 different types of cookies.  The Christmas Boutique at the church is this weekend and for once I actually have time to contribute!    Today I will bake and Friday I will finish cookie prep to deliver Friday afternoon.

In spite of the cold temperature I had a delightful ride.  I was sure to warm up Nikki carefully on the lunge allowing her to really stretch and get her muscles moving and warm.  The sun felt warm and the breeze was light so I peeled off my coat before mounting.  I have never really been able to ride in a winter coat, plus I begin to sweat after just a few minutes in the saddle.  But that was always in an indoor school.  When I was riding with jess she always scolded me as I peeled the layers during my ride, then thrust my coat at me once I dismounted so that I would not "catch a chill".  I always marveled at her ability to ride in snow pants and parka.  For me, it is impossible to feel the horse when I am too bulked up in clothing.  But when you are JR and ride as though you are one with the horse, the feeling is evident through all of that clothing!  I do miss that part of boarding at BHF.  Most days I ride alone with only my own motivation to train well.  Riding at BHF there was almost always someone else in the arena, and on early weekend mornings it was often just me and Jess.  She did not miss a trick so I was always on top of my game, welcoming her casual tidbits of advice as we rode side by side.  Seems like a lifetime ago....  But I have always put plenty of pressure on myself to not just succeed but excel.  Now that I am riding more that feeling is returning and I love it!

During my ride the fox hunting ladies came down the driveway.  This was later than their usual preparation time to leave, and the wrong day.  My car was parked in a spot not amenable to J hitching up her trailer, but they were at the barn to trace clip their horses and pull manes (Nikki needs to have hers done again....maybe I can sneak her onto the cross ties!)  Walking into the barn I laughed....they picked the coldest morning thus far to perform their clipping!  But they were riding as guests with the Radnor Hunt on Saturday, so their boys were to be spiffy and ready!

Friday, November 22, 2013
I woke to rain hitting the skylights in my bathroom...not the start I was looking for since I wanted to ride!  Optimistically dressing to ride, I drove Isaiah to his school bus stop.  The rain stopped and started with temperatures in the low 40's which seemed somewhat chilly for Nikki to get wet.  I too, need to invest in good, full wet weather gear, since there are no dressage barns with indoors closer than 45 minutes away from my house. Arriving at the barn the rain had stopped once again, so I prepared to ride.  While tacking up Nikki it started to rain hard again, but I had already committed and figured the rain would stop, which it did.  An occasional soft drizzle did not dampen the spirits of our ride.  Nikki worked happily, but I kept making absurd accuracy errors.  Coming down the center line I thought I was turning at the normal spot, but kept narrowly missing the mounting block.  Same with when I put Nikki through the trot poles.  Very strange!

Continuing my ride I was pleased with Nikki's lightness, and did my "bow tie" exercise with some slight variations.  I honestly don't remember if I created this exercise or just modified it.  On the long side I ride straight, then perform a volte back to the track.  Going straight for 10 trot sides I do the volte back.  Sometimes instead of straight back to the track I leg yield.  Other times I ask for canter transition at the track, do another 10 meter half circle back to the track and either do a simple change, counter canter or back to trot.

Nikki finished nicely with a good stretchy trot in both directions.  Gathering my lunging equipment I noticed that the mounting block had been moved from the grassy edge of the arena to the track.  I was not crazy!  The arena had been slightly cut off, affecting my space coming down the centerline onto the track as well as my turn after trot poles.  I promptly moved it back....

Back to the cookies....successfully completed and dropped off at church social hall.

Saturday, November 23, 2013
A chilly start with winds expected to pick up by late morning.  But Sunday would bring 35 mile an hour winds and a high of 25F, so that was the day slated for no riding!  I like to ride Nikki 3-4 days in a row hen give her a day off.  That seems to keep her happy and in good work.  Today is day 4, so the timing is right!
Another lovely ride.  Nikki was light in the bridle and worked nicely through lateral work.  The mornings are so peaceful, so I am able to focus.  Today Nikki's canter work felt rushed to me so I asked for transitions on the 20m circle to adjust balance.  The arena had been dragged so the entire space was empty, enabling me to work through a variety of figures.

Checking my time (Isaiah's riding lesson at 10) I decided to work with Suki in hand behind the barn so that I would have time to do a full moisturizing session. That is especially crucial  in the cold weather, most importantly her neck and face.  Heavy blankets keep the skin on her back moist.  I think she really needed a lunging session, because she seemed a little stiff to me.  Moving on to stretches instead, I could see her loosen up a bit.

Isaiah is progressing nicely in his lessons and has now moved from 30 to 45 minute lesson.  The wind had picked up a bit for his ride, so we need to make some clothing adjustments for next week!

I went back to Suki and Nikki around 4 PM to add a layer for the cold night ahead and a Sunday of fierce wind and low day time temperatures.  The fox hunting ladies returned from their day with the Radnor Hunt, having been gone since 7:30 in the morning.  I give them credit!  J is in her 70's, and Reggie a bit younger.  But they go twice a week, enjoying every moment.  Sometimes it is a bit of a comedy routine to watch them hitch up the gooseneck, or back it in, but I mean that with full respect....

Sunday, November 24, 2013
As I write this morning it is 6 AM.  The wind is whipping around the corners of the house as I sit in the family room by the fire.  Quiet and peaceful.  No riding this morning so I will pick up my knitting to work on the scarves that I will give to Isaiah's teachers as Christmas gifts.  How I cherish the early morning hours and the silence.  Alone with my thoughts.  Well, Ripley has gone back up to join my husband in bed and the cats have settled in spots near the fire......

My only plan for going to the barn today was to check the girls to be sure they were warm enough and give them kisses and treats.

Peacefully they grazed, having finished the big piles of hay placed in their field this morning.  It was almost 3:00 but I decided not to bring them in.  A quick check to make sure they were warm enough, plus some hugs and treats!  They are both wearing Rambo heavy blankets with a medium sheet on top!
My beautiful girls......

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Snowy, blowy ride

There was a time when I would ride in whatever weather condition presented itself providing there was no danger, of course.  Two to three hour "road hacks" were not uncommon when I was a working student for Carol Blackman, a British event rider who competed for Bermuda, but trained in New Jersey.  In early spring as the winter temperatures warmed the air it also softened the ground rendering the paths around the fields of the surrounding farms off limits.  This left the rural roads of the Amwell Valley as our conditioning grounds for the event horses.  My first experience with one of Carl's hacks came on Day 3 of my time with her.  She told me to tack up Clay and we would go for a hack.  My vision of a hack was that of a casual ride through the countryside with some lovely trots and canters up and down the hills.  Aaah, but I was mistaken....after a warm up at the walk, off we went!  Trotting and cantering intervals until my legs throbbed with fatigue.  At one point carol started a conversation as we were trotting along and I thought "Good Lord, she wants me to talk too?" The next morning I was say the least!  But as time moved on we rode in whatever the weather presented to us.  It was a grand time and Carol was a phenomenal mentor and trainer.

So today, Tuesday, November 12 as the snow swirled and the wind blew, I knew that I needed to put on my big girl panties and ride.   After all, I just KNEW that Louise would not let a little snow get in her way!  (WHAT is it about those British women??) By the way, she and her student watched a DVD instead of riding during the yucky weather......just saying!  There is a Christmas book about The Little Engine that could, called "The Snowy, Blowy Christmas".  I think I can, I think I can....
Cecil knows how to spend a cold morning!

Nikki was a little nervous...or maybe it was me and she sensed it.  The wind blew and it was damp and cold.  I did 10 meter figure eights to get her focused, and we both relaxed.  We did a bit of leg yield, some shoulder in and I finished with a stretchy trot.  Proud of our ride Nikki and I walked into the barn feeling pretty good about the day!

By the time we finished I felt as though Suki would benefit from a brief lunge.  She too was a bit up so the work was simply transitions to maintain focus.  The wind had picked up even more, but held it together....sort of.  When I turned them out they galloped away, ready for their day.  I can't wait to sit on Suki again. I know that there will will be tears as  swing my leg over her back, but they will be tears of joy.   I can almost feel her floaty trot when I close my eyes....

Thursday, November 14, 2013
Okay, I admit it....I love the cold weather.  Now that I am riding outside all the time I feel so invigorated!  My husband reminds me that when the temperature is 15F I may not be so cheery....(pessimist!)
Such a lovely ride today!  The fox hunting ladies were a day late because of the weather but it is fun to have company early in the morning.  Today my right shoulder in and leg yield off right leg were better than the left?  Hmmm.  I don't know why. Nikki was delightful and had lovely lift over the trot poles!

Today I went into my local wine store and a woman looked at me in my riding clothes and smiled, then cast her eyes down.  "I'm sorry", she said.  "I just had to have my horse put down yesterday."  She had seen my riding clothes and all of the memories came flooding back.  Suddenly I realized that she looked familiar, so I asked her if she had boarded at Pink Star/Passport.  Indeed she had.  I told her that I was Suki's mom.  She had been boarding her horse Jazzy at Pink Star at the time of the fire, but she had been outside at the time of the fire.  We talked about how it was probably fate that we saw one another that day.  Kim needed to talk to someone who understood exactly what she was feeling....the loss of a long time friend.  Jazzy was 32 and Kim had had the mare since she was 11.  The human horse bond is something that is difficult to explain to those outside the fold.  It is a love like no other.  Yes, we eventually stop crying for our loss, but that emptiness never really goes away completely.  Last weekend when I uncovered a blanket of Jenny's that was covered in her gray hair, I clutched it to my face and unabashedly shed tears just thinking about her.  Our equine companions are so much more than riding partners.  Kim saw a sign in her mare that it was time...just as I saw that sign in Suki that said she wanted to live.  We know our horses.  Our hearts beat together.  It is an unbreakable bond, even when it is time to let them go.  Thank you, Kim for reminding me once again how precious our time with our horses is.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Suki and Nikki working well, and a visit from the dentist

The weather has been crazy in Berks County.  One minute temperatures are a balmy 70F, followed by a plummeting to the 20's F at night.  All of this, of course brings on what I refer to as the "blanket dance" requiring my presence at the barn both morning and evening at times.  As I write this I am sitting in my favorite big chair in my library looking out at the mountains from my hillside perch.  The mountains almost seem brooding, black against a graying sky, yellow-leafed trees splashed in front.  I have taken up residence in this chair for an hour, a peaceful time for me before I have to go down to the bus stop to meet Isaiah.

Friday we had a brief monsoon so all I did was groom the girls.  As I ran from my car to the barn in the rain and wind the memory of Radnor, "the year of the monsoon" came rushing back.  I was wearing the anorak that I had purchased at the event to protect me from the driving rain  and wind.  Inside the horses were cozy, munching on hay and listening to the sound of the rain on the roof.

Saturday, November 2, 2013
Wow.  It is so hard to believe that it is already November.  Halloween is behind us and we look forward to Thanksgiving in the US.  I ignore the Christmas decorations in the stores as I remove my Halloween decorations but keep pumpkins and leaves as a nod to autumn.  Added to this are Thanksgiving decorations....a few turkeys here and there.

Nikki is definitely showing signs that her teeth need to be done so the dentist is coming on Tuesday.  It's funny she does this twisty thing with her head on the lunge and when you lead her with the bridle, almost like she is putting her back teeth on the bit.  It affects her riding only in that she starts off a bit fussy in the bridle, and I don't push the issue when I suspect it is her teeth.  Suki will be checked also, as we are at the six month mark.  The last time Sean did their teeth Suki was really good and Nikki was really bad, trying to sit down in her stall.  That caught me off guard because I really expected Suki to be the nervous one.

In spite of that we did have a very nice ride, but I kept it simple and did not do any collection work.  Instead we did large figures at the rising trot, just letting her stretch over her back and respond to my leg as we moved laterally.  Time constraints due to Isaiah's riding lesson kept me from working Suki so she had a thorough grooming/spa day and some stretching exercises.  Isaiah did his first leg yield today!

Sunday, November 3, 2013
If I could describe the perfect autumn day, then today would fit the bill.  The clocks were turned back so I arrived at the barn at 7 AM.  The fall colors are at their best right now against a clear blue sky with a crisp breeze (okay, wind).  While I had some misgivings about the increasingly strong wind and the occasional 40 mph wind gusts I decided to embrace the beautiful day and ride.  I envied the fox hunting ladies for their perfect day traversing the hills of Chester County.  With the earlier sunrise I was at the barn by 7:15.  Getting out of my carI lifted my head and closed my eyes.  What a glorious day!  Many times I feel that we overlook the beautiful gifts that we experience daily.  The fox hunting ladies were already there preparing for there daybut I was still greeted by the welcoming nickering of my horses.  Warms the heart doesn't it?

Nikki marched out to the arena beside me, ears pricked as the wind howled around us.  She started to call to Suki once but I growled to her and she re-focused.  Honestly, I expected an explosive pre-ride lunge.  While she was energetic and nicely forward all, Nikki was listening to me at all times with an ear cocked in my direction.  My ride was just lovely.  I kept it short because of my concern about her teeth.  She was happy and forward super responsive off my leg and eager to please.  This time I took advantage of the eagerness and asked for lengthenings at the trot and canter.  I felt a lift in Nikki's gaits that felt as though we were floating.  The cold air on my face and whistling in my ears, with leaves falling around us.....PERFECT!

Now, I know better than to take Suki out into THAT scenario.  Instead I worked her in hand in the paddock behind the barn.  I probably should have put the surcingle and bridle on as part of a consistent training uniform, but simply didn't think of it at the time.  There were plenty of distractions out there....the horses from the other pastures came to the gates to watch!  This was good for Suki though and while I had some difficulty getting her to piaffe she did perform some passage for me.  There may have been some stiffness which is why I like to lunge her forward prior to the more collected work.  But in spite of the distractions I was pleased with the work.  Suki, naturally tapped my pocket for her sugar.  Nikki does it as soon as I dismount and am running up the stirrups!

After a grooming and moisturizing both girls were ready to go out, galloping away with delight!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Dentist day!  When Sean McCarthy, equine dentist, worked on Suki and Nikki in April I had been more concerned that Suki would freak out, because Nikki just takes all of those experiences in stride.    Suki was nervous but well behaved on that visit while Nikki tried to sit down and leap forward at varying intervals.  I knew that Nikki needed to have work done because of the way she was grinding on the bit in the back of her mouth.  Suki likely did not have to be done but it had been six months so she was to be checked anyway.

Suki was to go first because once she gets wind of anything suspicious she becomes impossible to catch in her stall!  I'm sure she was already suspicious having been brought in from the pasture only a couple of hours after going out!  Once again she was a little nervous but Sean is extremely patient and kind, taking his time and making the horses comfortable.  Suki did not need to have any work done but it was a great experience for her.

On to Nikki!  She was very nervous, but behaved much better this time.  The front of her mouth was fine but the back had sharp edges as I had thought.  Sean would slip the tools in her mouth (he uses a speculum but does not sedate) and let it sit there until Nikki relaxed, then proceed.  He agreed she is definitely an every six month girl!  He recommended that I see how she is on Wednesday before proceeding to ride, just in case she had any soreness.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013
I tacked up Nikki to lunge but used the saddle instead of the surcingle.  Leading her out to the arena she stretched her neck preparing to press the bit on the back of her mouth.  Then she stopped an looked at me like "hmm.  it doesn't feel so bad!"  We continued our walk to the arena happily.  Nikki appeared to be fine on the lunge so I hopped on for a couple of minutes to see how she felt in my hands.  Her response was soft and she seemed very comfortable in her mouth.  After one trot on a 20m circle I dismounted, relieved that she was a happy girl.

Suki tried to jig on the way out to the arena, but I put a firm stop to that.  She was ready to work!  I love the way she seems to be marching confidently toward the arena, obviously enjoying the work and focus.  Nicely forward in all the gates I was most pleased with her ground covering, sweeping walk with her neck stretched.  This is what had coined her the nickname "super model" years ago.  I smiled as I watched her and it seemed as though she was smiling too.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Half pass, colder temperatures and squeals of delight

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Change is in the air.  Literally.  Today it seemed as though I could actually feel the shift of seasons. The morning was dark with a distinct chill but the temperature was reasonable at 41F.  After putting Isaiah on the school bus at 7:30 I headed to the barn for my morning ride.  I took a deep breath as I stepped out of my car, the cold air filling my lungs.  My favorite kind of morning!  Fortunately I had just laundered one of my heavier riding jackets, perfectly suited for such a morning.  I was wearing a pair of inexpensive but heavier fabric breeches which I had recently purchased (Tuff Rider, full seat) that are super comfortable for schooling!

Janet and Reggie (whom I refer to as "the fox hunting ladies") were getting their horses ready for the Wednesday hunt day.  Janet told me that Suki seemed a bit agitated this morning, more impatient than her usual behavior.  I could slightly smell someone burning branches/leaves and wondered if that was the cause of her distress.   Suki took treats willingly and appeared to have a normal amount of manure in her stall so I gave a flake of hay to both her and Nikki while I gathered my equipment.  That seemed to settle both girls as I waited for Reggie and Janet to finish.

Nikki seemed somewhat impatient as I was tacking her up but with a fleece cooler covering her I knew that she was not cold.  We stepped outside as the wind kicked up slightly and leaves began to swirl about.  Ears pricked forward Nikki was ready to go.  She gave a very small squeal and a head twirl as I moved her out on the lunge but other than being a little more forward to start she did not do anything silly.  I almost wished that she would have thrown in a buck or two and not save it for when I was in the saddle!  To keep Nikki focused and working on the lunge I asked for transitions within and between gaits. Even with the brisk air I was pleased with her attentiveness as she stood quietly for me to mount (we have issues with this from time to time!).  We worked through leg yield well in both directions so I asked for half pass.  A few very nice steps in each direction, so I moved from shoulder in on the center line to half pass toward the rail.  I tried to keep my body straight as sometimes I have a tendency to twist when asking for half pass.  Nikki offered some very respectable steps!
When I asked for the canter Nikki let out another slight squeal and I expected to explode into the canter!  But she held it together nicely for me.  I asked for a lengthening and could feel the power beneath me!

Isaiah had not been feeling well the night before I was concerned that a phone call from the school could be forthcoming.  Suki and I did some in hand work and stretching exercises followed by grooming and moisturizing.  She too seemed distracted, letting out a whinny from time to time.  I also felt like she seemed a little tight in the back so I ended up lunging her for a few minutes at the canter to loosen. My phone had died so I then hurried home to plug it in.  Of course there had been a call from school which I quickly returned, apologizing profusely.  My husband was at work over an hour away so I drove to Isaiah's school to pick him up.  When the nurse could not immediately reach me he told her that I was probably still riding and would call back when finished.  I am thinking that there will not be a mother of the year award for me this year!  Isaiah had a fever so home we went.  Hunkered down on my bed with PBS Kids on the television we spent the rest of the day together.

Thursday, October 24, 2013
Isaiah is still sick and had to miss his class field trip to the Landis Valley Museum in Lancaster.  A trip to the doctor followed by another day of rest, fluids and Advil.  We sat together and read when he felt better.  I wrote and continued to make my way through George Eliot's Middlemarch again.  The girls did not see me at all.  While Isaiah was sleeping I sat in the family room to write.  From my window I can almost feel the chill in the air.  It is a cloudy day so I have lit the "twinkle lights" on the mantle in the family room.

Friday, October 25, 2013
The child is improving but another day at home together.  This morning I was in the kitchen and I suddenly heard a lot of sirens and fire engines.  My heart in my throat I ran outside to determine the direction the emergency vehicles were headed.  The sounds, while not as numerous as the night of the barn fire were still a chilling reminder of that night.  While relieved for myself and the safety of my horses I wondered about those affected by what I was hearing outside.  I guess once you have experienced such an event the thoughts never really completely go away.  We can try to bury the emotions and the reminders but certain triggers bring them back to the surface.  It was a scary moment for me.
 Louise rode Nikki and later that day I went to Isaiah's school to pick up his homework packet and missed work.  I was able to make a quick trip to the barn to groom the girls and moisturize Suki's skin.  Her skin was dry from not having anything done to it on Thursday, but not terrible.  Extended exfoliation treatment improved it greatly.  Deb and Tobey were away at a horse show so there wasn't anyone to do it yesterday.  It is supposed to be very cold tonight with a heavy frost so we moved on to light blankets from medium sheets.  The blanket dance!  It was still early so I turned them back out again.

Saturday, October 26, 2013
26F to start the day!  A heavy frost had settled over the valley so I was bundled up.  I have ridden in colder weather than this, but the first one of the year is always the hardest.  There was also a pretty strong breeze to accompany the low temperatures.  Coming down the driveway to the barn I could see that the arena also had a layer of frost.  Upon closer inspection the footing was a little crunchy on top and maybe a little slick.
I was greeted by a chorus of whinnies from my Suki and Nikki when I opened the door.  Nikki did a big stretch and groan as I offered her a carrot.  Suki had obviously just stood up when she heard my car, and judging by the shavings in her forelock, tail and blanket she had a pretty good slumber!  Both of them lie flat out to sleep which I always find really cute.  Hmmm, is that from the Nimmerdor side of their breeding which they share?

I took my time assembling my equipment hoping that the rising sun would help the footing.  Mornings bathe the arena in full sun but it was a struggle this morning.  By 8:30 the conditions had improved so Nikki and I got to work.  I worked on transitions and straightness since she was a little up with the cold air, wind and falling leaves!  She was very responsive in spite of her energy, although the trot to walk transitions were heavy at times.  Adding trot to halt helped, and working through trot poles gave her the lift that I was looking for.

Suki was in a pushy mood so we did some leading exercises to focus and a brief lunge session. I thought that she looked slightly off but couldn't find anything.  After a bit of canter she seemed fine so I am thinking it is just a bit of stiffness from over night in the stall.  Both girls galloped away when I put them out in their field.  Okay, maybe it was more of a medium canter this time but they are so big that their strides just eat up the ground!

While I was grooming Suki I told that she was kind of stinky having rolled in some manure.  It reminded me of the days when she smelled like fire.  The smell of smoke and fire was so strong in her mane and coat for a long time.  Once the dead skin sloughed away the odor remained in the hair that had not been damaged.  For the smokiness to remain for that length of time, the thickness of the smoke and flames in the barn that night must have been overwhelming.  How did Suki not have lung damage?  How did she not develop pneumonia, which is so common in horses who have been in barn fires?  How did she even survive such an ordeal?  I may not have those answers, but I am thankful to have my beautiful girl.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Is autumn here to stay? Spending the day at Fair Hill

Michael and I used to attend the Radnor Hunt 3 Day event every fall for years, and looked forward to raising Isaiah with this tradition.  Alas, we only managed to go in 2006, because the event was discontinued after that.  Sponsorship was down and there were apparently other issues regarding the planning, preparation and running of this event.  Having volunteered on several occasions we experienced every weather condition imaginable for mid October in southeastern Pennsylvania.  Too hot, too cold, torrential rain and even the ever elusive "perfect conditions". But we enjoyed every moment of the atmosphere, the scenery, the tradition and of course the horses.  Most years we attended Friday for dressage (and one of my favorites, the fashion show!).  On Saturday for cross country we arrived in time for the start of the first rider then walked the course backwards and forwards until the last horse out of the start box.  One year we were timers for steeplechase, which was great fun!  On that occasion the day was cold, damp and cloudy.  But we were kept pumped full of hot chocolate and had the best time!  When our Doberman was alive and we brought him along on cross country day.  Spock loved to walk the course and be admired by other spectators!  The year of the monsoon we came in from Cincinnati where I had been working for P & G Pharmaceuticals.  Dressage day was fine but on cross country day the rain poured down hard for the entire day.  Undeterred, we joined other diehards and walked the course all day long.  That night at the hotel we blow dried our shoes with a hair dryer, ordered room service and laughed about the day.  The heavy rain caused the water jump to be deeper than normal, so when one rider came off she was completely submerged!  When she emerged from the murky pond she shook her head and said "blaacchhh!"  For stadium day the side of the hill above the arena offered the perfect picnic spot with a view of the entire ring.  Each year we packed a superb spread and often invited friends to join us.

In 2006 we packed up 7 month old Isaiah dressed in a barn jacket, khakis and paddock boots and off we went.  Strapped to me in a Baby Bjorn sling and leading Ripley our Weimaraner we walked the course.  Isaiah went on a pony ride and we looked forward to future years of fun....Needless to say we were greatly saddened by the end of that event.

Plantation Field in Unionville has since grown to a larger 3-day but we have yet to have the timing work for us (fall baseball game for Isaiah prevented us from attending this year).  So we set our sights on the Fair Hill International this year.

Saturday started with a chill in the air and bright sunshine.  Perfect for tromping around a cross country course.  Isaiah was excited as we boarded the shuttle bus from the parking area bound for the event grounds.  Almost immediately he saw a horse gallop past on course elevating his excitement.  The CCI** was underway with the first horse for the *** set to go at 1:10.  We watched a falcon demonstration, dog agility and played some games before heading out on course.  Isaiah was amazed at the size of the obstacles and the horses' ability to jump them.
Sharing popcorn on course
We had loads of fun, eating yummy crab cakes and boardwalk fries, chatting with fellow spectators and admiring the ability of horse and riders.

Sunday, October 20, 2013
A cold start to the day!  I think that autumn might actually be here to stay.  My first thought when I stepped outside to fill the bird feeders was "okay, this is why people take their horses to Florida in the winter".  Yeah, I know, 40F is hardly the Arctic.  But after several days of near 70F temperatures it felt pretty cold!

Opening the barn door Suki and Nikki were calling their good mornings to me, making me smile.  I immediately began to warm up as I assembled Nikki's equipment, keeping Nikki under a cooler as I went along.  The crisp air and blue skies added a little spring to Nikki's step walking out to the arena, so expected her to be a little "up".  But she lunged well as I let her stretch at first then added side reins.  We worked on sharpening transitions on the lunge as she has occasions of being heavy in the hand on down transitions.  Trot to halt, halt to trot made her lift a bit in her carriage so I was pleased.  Peeling off my top layer I got on and walked around.  The cool air felt wonderful on my face.  That really healthy, being outside sort of feeling.  Not that mid winter nip that bites your nose and ears.  Just enough to feel good....and no gnats!!!  Nikki had good energy for work so after some basic figures I tried to replicate the transition work from the lunge.  She started slightly heavy in the hand then lightened and gave me some really lovely work.  At the finish she offered a nice deep stretch.

Suki was anxious to get out of her stall, so while Nikki stood in her stall wearing a cooler I put Suki on cross ties.  I think she actually wanted to go out in her field, but was fairly patient while I groomed her. I put the saddle pad and surcingle on her and walked her up and down the aisle.  She seemed a little goosey so I decided to remove it for lunging this time.  Airs above the ground out to the arena were not what I had in mind!  Although the ground behind the barn is not level I will walk her around out there with the surcingle and add a little trot to it next time.

With Suki I also worked on transitions with periods of very forward movement.  She seemed a little more tired than usual at the end so I walked her for a bit longer than usual at the finish.  I was worried that I had over done, but when I turned her out into her pasture she cantered away immediately to Nikki who was already half way across the field.  When she approached Nikki, the two of them gave out a buck and cantered away together.

It's nice to see the spark in Suki's eye knowing that she is enjoying life beyond the tragedy that she endured.   We make decisions for our 4-legged friends because they cannot do it themselves, so it is heartwarming to witness the validity of those decisions.  Watching my two beautiful girls playing in the field I felt extremely fortunate to have them in my life.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Progress all around!

The weather in Berks County has decided to take a major turn toward Indian Summer, so we are just trying to go with it.  I am glad that it was a little cooler for Dressage at Devon.  This weather would have been brutal!
Saturday, October 5 was the worst, and even though it was barely 7:30 in the morning gnats swarmed around my face during Nikki's much-abbreviated pre-ride lunge!  As I mounted the aggressive little bugs flew into my eyes and nose, so after one lap of walk around the arena we set to work.  Trying to keep Nikki as busy as possible I worked on a variety of figures, constantly changing direction, transitions within the gaits and between.  It was a surprisingly good ride in spite of the conditions, although walk breaks brought the gnats back to us with a vengeance, so those breaks were brief!  Nikki's canter definitely needs work, but today her transitions were sharper when I worked the trot circle spiral in and leg yield out, then ask for the canter as we hit the 20 meter circle point.  I guess it is the positioning of her body and my aids during the leg yield on a circle that is making it easier for her to step under and lift more into the canter?  I finished with allowing her to stretch down on a long rein in the rising trot which was better to the left than the right.

I went over to Oley Valley Feed for some supplies enjoying the view of the changing scenery as autumn rolls in.  The tall corn plants go from a lush green, then fade to a crisp tan as the farmers cut them down.  Many turn up at local farm stands being sold as decorations along side colorful mums, straw bales and wide variety of pumpkins.  It is my favorite time of year, and I must confess, I am a pumpkin hoarder!  Every variety, size and color will turn up at my house arranged in colorful displays with other gourds, leaves, etc both inside and out.
As I head out the trees on the mountains are beginning to show some colorful leaves and with the air conditioning blasting in my car I can almost pretend the air is crisp also!  Passing the quilt shop (which now offers basic sewing lessons, hmmmm.....) the parking lot is packed like I have never seen it!  The dairy farm on the other side of the store must have just completed a milking session because the girls were walking out to the field in single file.  I marvel at their patience; horses would never exit in such an orderly fashion!

Sunday morning started with a heavy fog and mistiness which kept the bugs down a bit.  Nikki flops her ears when it is rainy and we were both a bit damp following that ride!  I lunged Suki also, but without equipment.  She was sharp on her transitions and her starting stiffness was less noticeable and cleared more quickly.  I kept everything very forward for the most part but then worked for a bit on walk-canter, canter-walk transitions.  We finished with some leading exercises on the way back to the barn.  She got a little pushy, so I added several quick changes in a row which brought her right back.

Bringing the girls in each morning is one of my favorite ways to start the day.  Well, I guess my day doesn't actually start then.... It starts with getting up for a short run, followed by waking up Isaiah and heading out to the school bus.  The bus arrives at 7:25 so I can head right to the barn if I am working from home that day.  With the horses on night turn out during the summer and early fall, they are typically still outside when I arrive.  The bug or temperature situation is usually obvious as I drive down to the barn along Suki and Nikki's pasture fence line.  If it is bad they follow along to the gate, sometimes trotting or cantering.  On beautiful mornings both raise their head to acknowledge my arrival, but return to grazing immediately, requiring me to fetch them.  But I always smile as I catch my first glimpse of them.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013
The remnants of Tropical Storm Karen have blown through our area providing much needed rain and leaving cool temperatures and autumn breezes.  All of my pumpkins look a little less out of place now!  Our barn is now switching from night turnout to day turnout.  Because the rain ended fairly early last night Suki and Nikki were out over night in the paddock as their field was too wet.  I was surprised to see them out but I know they were happy about it.  If I had known I probably would have dressed them differently.  But of  course, they are fine.  It's funny when they are out in the paddock behind the barn, because the back door of the barn (yes, it is latched) is one side of the paddock.  So as soon as I open the door Suki sticks her head in and Nikki is standing right behind her looking at me.  They are so cute!

I didn't have a lot of time this morning so I was only able to lunge Nikki and groom Suki.  Nikki was very good, but I had anticipated that she would be a little up, given the 20+ degree drop in temperature!    In spite of the very heavy rain the arena drained well, so that was not a problem.
When I pulled off Suki's sheet, I hung it on her door.  As I turned around the sun cast its rays on Suki's hip and I was able to see her brand is usually not so easy to see!

As I continue to work on the book I am often amazed at how raw the emotion regarding the night of the fire and Suki's first year of recovery remain after four years.  I thought that by now some of those early memories would not cut so deeply into my heart, but it continues.  Sometimes it catches me off guard.  When I watch her floating across the field in an extended trot, or racing Nikki to the gate, sometimes I pause for a moment and am reminded about how close I came to losing her.  Then, watching her and Nikki together, my two divas out in the field, makes me smile.

October 10th and 11th brought very heavy rain so Suki and Nikki were in the barn for two days.  They did get out for about an hour in the paddock on Friday, so that helped a little.  But they were two VERY cranky girls!  I went to the barn both days to groom them and get them out of their stalls.  The sound of the rain on the barn roof and horses munching on hay made for a peaceful setting as I set about my grooming tasks.

On Saturday the sun returned, but the fields were too wet, so Suki and Nikki were in the paddock all day.  But at least they were outside!  I went over in the morning and after I worked with Nikki (mostly lunging with a brief ride following).  The arena had some puddles and while the footing didn't seem terrible, I didn't want to take any chances with slipping. I decided to lunge Suki to take the edge off before she went outside.  Suki was well behaved walking out to the arena, but as I turned her around to close the gate she let out a big squeal!  Uh oh..... She walked for about 3 steps, twirled her head and set off into the trot.  Another three or four steps and woohoo a buck then a full blown capriole.  I managed to settle her fairly quickly and asked for a busy sequence of transitions.  Suki threw in an occasional head twirl, but a growl from me brought her back to attention.  In typical Suki fashion she had a very definite swagger to her stride while we walked back to the barn!

On Sunday the field was ready for them to go out again and they took off galloping and bucking, followed by a series of rolls.  Happy horses!

Monday, October 14, 2013
I had a phenomenal ride on Nikki today!  She was in a happy mood, and although she started a bit heavy in my hand, within a few minutes she was light in the mouth and moving beautifully off my leg. Taking advantage of the good energy I worked on the medium gaits (trot is really coming along, canter improving).  Nikki's lateral work was really lovely today, so we were both happy at the end of that session!  Even my challenge with the right shoulder in wasn't evident.

For Suki I did a short lunge followed by some in hand work.  She was a little fussy about that but I think I need a few lessons myself t get her past the basics.  She naturally does most movements pretty easily in hand, but i want to be sure they are correct.

I think in a couple of weeks I will be ready to add the side reins to the surcingle on Suki.  I just want to make sure that she is strong enough in the back and hind end before I increase the difficulty in her work.  The addition of side reins will require that Suki really push from behind into the "hand" so it is critical that she be physically prepared for it.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Dressage at Devon 2013, Saturday and Sunday

Another trend that was obvious in the schooling area at Dressage at Devon was that everyone was wearing safety helmets.  The new USEF rule requiring helmets for everyone on the show grounds while mounted went into effect April 1, 2013.  (see below)

Protective Headgear Rule Change for Dressage to Go into Effect April 1, 2013

RELEASE: February 19, 2013

Lexington, KY- The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) wishes to remind all dressage competitors of the rule change to DR120. This change goes into effect on April 1, 2013 and necessitates the usage of protective headgear by anyone mounted on the grounds at all USEF dressage competitions.

DR120 has been amended to require protective headgear as follows:

From the time horses are officially admitted to the competition grounds by competition management, anyone mounted on a horse at any time on the competition grounds including non-competing riders, riders on non-competing horses, and those competing in all classes and tests, including Para-Equestrian tests must wear protective headgear as defined by this rule and otherwise in compliance with GR801. Any rider violating this rule at any time must immediately be prohibited from further riding until such headgear is properly in place. Protective headgear is defined as a riding helmet which meets or exceeds ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials)/SEI(Safety Equipment Institute) standards for equestrian use and carries the SEI tag. The harness must be secured and properly fitted.

If there are questions regarding this rule or the use of protective headgear at USEF dressage competitions please contact Hallye Griffin by email at or by phone (859) 225-6918.

For me it was the first time seeing this rule in effect.  The usual array of baseball hats and bare heads have now been replaced by helmets of every variety.  Watching the Prix St. Georges on Friday all of the riders that I saw were wearing protective head gear except Tom Dvorak, who wore a top hat.  In 2011 the rule first excluded riders over 18 years old competing in FEI classes only both in warm up and the competition arena.  So I am confused as to to why Mr. Dvorak was wearing a top hat.....I looked at the USEF rule and do not see an exclusion.  Or does the rule exclude CDI competitions?

Another sign of the times is this notice, posted on the grandstand.

I did not notice that this rule was being enforced, however.  We always leave bags, jackets, coolers etc in our boxes unattended as it is easier than carrying all of one's belongings while walking around the show grounds.

Saturday, September 28, 2013
The show grounds awaken early, but the crowd is slow to develop.  I love how as the sun begins to brighten for the start of the day the sounds of the show grounds springing to life increase in pace and intensity.  At first the sounds are somewhat muffled, almost sleepy although hands are busy preparing horses for the day ahead.  The trade fair too must get ready for the busy Saturday ahead, and the clanking of food preparation accompanies the delightful aroma of the breakfast fare.

As the morning wears on spectators pour in, beginning to swarm the warm up area and competition arenas.  Traffic control has increased on the back field, especially at the point where riders exit the Dixon Oval as it crosses one of the high spectator traffic areas.  People, often unaware, stop to speak to long time acquaintances whom they only see at DAD and forget that they are blocking the entrance.  Even the schooling areas have morphed over the past decade.  The three areas are better defined by fencing offering opportunities for spectators to observe riders preparing for their tests.

By 10 AM those not able or willing to secure reserved seats for the evening's musical freestyle (the event is always sold out) begin securing spots on the benches and bleachers lining the Dixon Oval.  An assortment of blankets, coolers and bags (obviously that security declaration is not being enforced!) lay claim to spectators visiting other areas of the show grounds for later that night.

As the sun sets, the air becomes crisp and lights illuminate the arena.  There is a certain electricity that buzzes through the air and the midway becomes packed with standing room only spectators.  My husband and I have been attending freestyle night for years.  Enduring cold, pouring rain and anything else that Mother Nature could throw at us.  But alas, this year my sore throat and fever worsened and I passed along my two precious box seats to a fellow boarder and her young daughter.  New to dressage I wanted to offer them the opportunity to see quality dressage with the fan friendly musical freestyle format.  For me, I was forced to be content watching the show on my laptop, where fortunately the USEF was live streaming.

Even from the screen of my MacBook I was able to see the crowd build as the 7:45 start time grew close.  Enviously, I could almost smell the cool, early autumn air, wishing I was there laughing and chatting with friends...
The festivities began with a retirement tribute to Rocher.  George Williams led her around the Dixon Oval to say farewell.  The Diva of Devon was retired several years ago, but this was a fitting tribute to the mare with the floppy ears and oozing with charisma.  I didn't realize that George had not seen her for four years.  That must have been an emotional reunion.  I remember watching them win the freestyle three times.  That big girl owned the arena, and I loved how when leaving the ring on a long rein she would look up into the stands at her fans.  Indeed she is a diva!

The majority of the rides did not disappoint, obvious even from my small vantage point of the lap top screen.  A few riders chose to do the one tempis on a curve, always a daring move and not always successful, as we saw.  It does take great courage to do this but I really believe that you must be certain that your ones are really correct.  I hate when riders sway from side to side as they ask for the changes and for someone trying to do this movement on a curve, it really throws the horse off the mark.  That's just me arm chair quarter backing!

While I don't always like the choice of music by some individuals, that is the beauty of the freestyle: individuality.  It is wonderful when you see a pair really and rider both feeling the music.  To me that is one of the most important qualities.  As a former ballet dancer watching horse and rider embrace the music elevates the quality of the test.  Sometimes choreography is spot on and some times not so much.  It does offer the opportunity for each rider to play on the horse's best gaits and movements, but I find that sometimes the test becomes trot or canter heavy when there is a particular weakness.

Lars Peterson won with a 76.97% followed by Ashley Holzer and Breaking Dawn with a 76.52%.  Tina Konyot rounded up the top 3 with a 72.87%.  Riders ranked 1-7 all scored above 70%.  All 15 horses who entered the qualifier on Friday night qualified to ride their musical freestyle on Saturday night.  Apparently that was not expected so with the half time show the night finished later than preferred.  The township has an ordinance regarding what time these events should finish at night.  The Devon show grounds border residential areas as well as businesses, so these restrictions are understandable.

While the majority of the rides that I watched were top quality, others made glaring mistakes.  Sometimes this means new choreography, new partnership or first time under the lights at DAD.

Sunday, September 29, 2013
Feeling a little better in the morning I decided to go to Devon for the last day of competition.  I was hoping to watch some 4th level, the Grand Prix Special and the Intermediare I freestyle.  The freestyle was to start in the afternoon and I anticipated perhaps wearing out by then!  Isaiah and Michael also came but drove separately because Isaiah had a baseball game in early afternoon.  They would watch with me for awhile then wander around.  Isaiah loves to watch the farriers work so he found the show farrier and watched for awhile....the farrier was making hoof picks and gave one to Isaiah.
Needless to say, Isaiah was thrilled with his gift.

The Grand Prix Special had some really nice rides.  I enjoyed Ashley Holzer's test immensely!  There were a couple of small errors, but for the most part correct and accurate.  Catherine Haddad Staller also had a very nice test.  Some of the others had some technical issues, and I really do hate when the rider does the piaffe and nothing is happening underneath.....
Some issues with changes for some horses but not as many as in the PSG on Friday!  Most of the issues seemed to be rider driven, although in for a couple it looked like the horse was not completely confirmed at the level.

Watching riders in the warm up I observed quite a bit of over riding.  Driving, driving, driving, swishing tails and pinned ears.  Not everyone, of course, and in some cases a quick boot or whip tap is sometimes necessary to get a horse to pay attention.  I am referring to that constant nagging that makes the horse ignore seat and legs.  And this can area havoc on the horse's back long term.  I specifically would watch horse and rider combinations that in my opinion looked correct in warm up then move to the arena for the test.  Same for those who were not looking so happy in warm up.  The results corresponded as you can imagine.  Sometimes it is rider nerves that cause over riding in competition, but not always.

So I made a discovery among the vendors this year: Goshen Donuts!
These donuts melt in your mouth!  I am not a huge donut fan but I am in love with their mini donuts. Apparently they do not have an actual store, but just go to events.  I will have to find out where they will be next!

Friday, October 4, 2013
out of the fog.....
Suki....don't worry....she cannot get stuck in that space!

And Nikki

Suki was keeping her from coming to the gate....

Monday, September 30, 2013

Dressage at Devon 2013, Thursday and Friday

So, the live blogging at Dressage at Devon (DAD) thing did not work so well.  The WiFi was intermittent at best and non-existant at worst.  I thought about Tweeting but decided against it since actual experts would likely be doing that.  Instead I typed some notes on my iPad.  My first thought was to critique the rides....but then I decided that most people would say "Well who is SHE to critique the rides!"  So I have decided to write some highlights and overall impressions.  I have some photos but will take more of riders on Saturday night during the freestyle and Sunday during the day.  I think I will get a hotel room next year so that I can spend more time at the show.  A hotel would allow me to escape for an hour or two and refresh for the evenings.  There is one hotel within a block of the show grounds while the majority are 6-10 miles away.  I'd better make my reservations now! I live 45 minutes from Devon but rush hour traffic extends that and makes me not want to go back once I get home.....

Thursday, September 26, 2013
I rode early on Thursday morning so after a quick shower I was out the door.

Driving to Devon I always get excited as I get closer.  A road was closed nearby but fortunately I am quite familiar with the area and was back on track quickly.  On Thursday and Friday I always park across the street at the bank.  I have been parking there for years.  A few years ago they started charging for parking in that section on Friday nights and Saturday afternoon and evening.  The air was cool and crisp with bright sunshine and as I looked up the flags were flapping in the breeze on the Devon show grounds cupolas.  Darting across route 30 (not always an easy feat!) I could hear the announcer in the Dixon Oval (that is the main arena at Devon) where a sign declares "Where Champions Meet".

The souvenir stand had many new items this year but I opted for a sweatshirt for Isaiah, car magnet and hand painted DAD mug.

There was still awhile before Louise was going to show her 2 year old Knabstrupper in hand so I stopped to have one of favorite DAD foods: cheese fries!  They are fresh, hand cut fries with awesome cheese on top.  My guilty pleasure.  So I went up to the box that I share with a friend (Bobbi, who owns Whisby, the mare that was in the fire with Suki) and watched a few breed classes enjoying my fries.  I have not attended the breed show portion of DAD in several years observing the classes I was reminded how important it is for the handler to match the stride when they are exhibiting the horse.  A few lovely horses were not presented at their best because the handler was either not tall enough or just didn't run well.

The crowd favorite of the day was a tiny Appaloosa colt representing the Appaloosa Sport Horse division.  The pint sized boy had been rescued from the New Holland auction, while still inside his mama.  His owners proudly clutched their blue ribbon accompanied by rousing applause from the audience.  Lucky mom and baby to be snatched from the auction pen for a safe and happy life!

In Barn 12 I found Louise and Captain.  He was braided and bathed standing quietly in his stall wearing an Irish knit sweat, looking handsome and relaxed.  Louise was nervous, but aren't we always when it is time to show our "children"?

Louise holding Captain
Posing for the camera with Ken

The breed classes are difficult, I think.  Subjective and a little political I suspect.  Louise hired Ken Borman, known for breeding Oldenburgs and bringing young horses along, to maximize the show ring experience.  We were all so impressed with Ken.  He took Captain around to show him all the things that might be scary, patting him frequently and talking to him softly.
When Captain went into the arena he was holding back a little going toward the grand stand (it's a bit intimidating) but really showed his stuff coming home.
In the arena
They were rewarded with 4th place.  Louise decided to take Captain in for the award ceremony instead of Ken (I would have done the same!).

Next I made my way over to the Gold Ring for the FEI 5 year old test.  First, I will get my petty idiosyncrasies out of the way.  I hate, hate, hate the short jackets that have been trending for the past few years.  I understand that it gives the illusion of lengthening the leg, but who wants to see a big white butt?  Even stick thin women do not look good in this jacket.  Yes, I am a traditionalist!  I did see a woman wearing a traditional length dressage coat in a cornflower blue which was somewhat attractive because she was slim (go ahead, slam me!) but I really did not like it.  Dressage coats should be black or at the very least navy.  I love my black Pikeur dressage coat with the red silk lining and traditional cut.  It is pure and classic.  Must we mess with tradition??? I am all for fashion forward.  My Vogue September issue, which I refer to as "the Bible" sits in my family room.  But I truly believe that tradition should be maintained.  I do embrace some change but if totally unflattering....well...NO!  Also.  If you are going to wear white breeches and shirt, with a white saddle pad, please, please, please do not wear ivory gloves!  Okay.  Rant finished.

There were a few 5 year olds that were very impressive, but others who seemed just not ready for the task.  Not that they weren't nice.  But simply not ready to compete in the FEI test for 5 year olds.  I have never been truly certain about these tests.  Suki as a 5 year old was still quite gangly and not balanced enough for that test.  She was really just trying to figure out where to put all of those REALLY LONG legs!  It had improved by age 5, of course, but I think it would have been a lot of pressure for her.  The test confuses me a little though.  There isn't any lateral work.  However, it does include a turn on the haunches, which most horses did not execute very well.

The two standouts were ridden byNadine Buberl of Germany.  Her two Oldenburgs were very lovely and correct and she is a skilled and refined rider, rewarded highly by the judges.  The wonderful feature of the tests for 4, 5 and 6 year olds is that the judges critique each ride over the loudspeaker at the end of the test.  This is quite informative as it offers a view of what they are looking for and what areas need improvement.  When horses are disobedient they acknowledge that these are youngsters and sometimes tension and distractions occur.  One rider was told that perhaps she needed to revisit the training scale because it was thought by the judges that perhaps she was not helping her very willing and nice horse because of lack of understanding.  The critique was offered kindly but firmly.  I applaud the rider for putting herself out there.  She was probably a bit upset as it is such a public display of judging, but I am also certain that it was a learning experience.

There were some very nice 4 year olds as well.  One seemed particularly mature for his age in attitude and skill.
One thing that I noticed also was the inability of many riders to really sit the trot well.  This observation was even more evident when watching those who sat the trot well.   Standing outside the schooling area I was able to observe a vast variety of riders, as even those not competing on Thursday were riding in preparation for the next few days of competition.  The schooling area at Devon can be difficult because it is always busy with riders, trainers and spectators.
On Thursday it was pretty mellow.  For those not familiar with the Devon venue, it is on the Main Line right on Route 30.  Over the past several decades office buildings sprouted around it, and one can here the train arriving at the Devon station and school buses behind the Gold Ring.
Anyway, there were just far too many riders bouncing in the saddle with stiff backs, not helping the horse at all.  I do think that in the US this is something that is not given enough attention.  Once again, thank you Rema, for putting me on a lunge line without reins or stirrups for the first few months of my riding lessons.  At the time, my 15 year old self wanted t "just ride", but that start was the best thing for me as a new rider.

Friday, September 27, 2013
Another crisp morning.  Louise rode Nikki for me so I put Isaiah on the school bus and headed to Devon. At the early hour, the Devon midway was peaceful, still waking up to a full competition day.  I really do love the weekdays for that reason, and in spite of my sore throat, ear ache and low grade fever I was planning on making it a great day!
Early mornings at the show grounds always makes me think about what the day can bring.  Show days are filled with preparation, anticipation and anxiety, culminating in just a few minutes in the arena.  But truly it is what we live for.  The sound of the announcer echoes through the still morning air, while grooms and riders pull off blankets and coolers for final preparations.  Horses feet are picked, legs are wrapped and riders don jackets in the cool morning air.  Sleepily the grounds awaken to the aroma of breakfast sandwiches and coffee mixing with hay, grain and mashes....just the right mix for everyone's preferences and special needs!

In the Dixon Oval the 4 year old test was under way to be followed by the 6 year old (which I did not see on Thursday) and the 5 year old tests.  The Gold Ring would be consumed by the very large Prix St. Georges class, so my plan was to visit both arenas and observe the schooling area.  First stop: secretary office to pick up the day sheets.  I headed to my box to watch the 4 year old tests, which had been held in the Gold Ring the day before.  The Gold Ring is definitely less intimidating than the Dixon Oval, but early on Friday morning the spectator mass was small and quiet.  I still think that for a 4 year old it is probably quite intimidating though!
There were some nice horses, but training holes were obvious.  And some were just too immature to perform these tests well.

The 6 year old class also had some nice horses, but again there were a few that in my opinion were really not physically ready for the challenge.

Prix St Georges offered up some very nice tests, some very bad tests and everything in between.  Some horses are so correctly trained that it is nice to see.  One of my pet peeves is when the rider sways with the flying changes....I have ridded the 4'3, 3's, 2's and 1's, so I know that it is not easy to keep still.  But I was also taught how not to do that.  I find it distracting as a spectator and wonder how the horse feels. At the Andreas Hausberger clinic he emphasized repeatedly the importance of less is more.  Do not over drive, over ride or over think.  Observing tests and schooling there was quite a bit of over driving. Since that clinic I have become more aware of it in my own riding and when watching there.  Sometimes I think people do not realize that they are doing it, as it becomes habit.  I am finding that Nikki really does respond better when I don't over think everything!

For the PSG I really enjoyed Tom Dvorak of Canada on Ribot and Patrick Tigchelaar of the Netherlands on Davidor 4.  Their tests were clean and correct.  I was less than impressed with George Williams of the Us test on Cleopatra, but he finished 7th in the vey large class!

More tomorrow....