Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dance till you're dead

Within the past few weeks, my pre-dawn game face begins with blaring red alarm clock numbers reading 5:00am and ends with the same ugly numbers saying 10:30.

Welcome to fall.

I love and loathe this part of the season for a lot of different things.

It's the best weather to train and compete in. The horses are getting their second winds and they feel fantastic. It's the time that young horses start their careers, and the older campaigners get to go out and hack about.  It's also championship season time, where all the work you've put in shows off, hopefully, at the right time.

It also marks the end of the long march of inspections, travel, shows, the pressure and the regular grind. It means that I don't have to keep the trailer stocked and hooked up. I can go out with friends that I haven't seen since March, go see family or take a non-horse-related trip and maybe, just maybe spend a few weeks at my house crashed on the couch.

It also means waking up and going home in the dark, hairy bra's for clipping said horses, extra shavings, blanket changing, heated water buckets, mash, fall shots, dental work, pulling shoes and apples from the local cider mill.

This fall denotes the end of a long, interesting season and the start of something entirely too different.

My horses, like everyone else, are benefiting from the change in season. Sinari has sprouted a coat, which makes work shorter until we get the clippers out.  Her workouts are more playful, but will gear in this week for another run at FEI in two weeks. Sincere is getting his act together and really start to come along, he still has a baby neck, but all the mechanics are there especially when he relaxes. He'll be shipped out in November to start his East Coast career.  I've started a little bit of in hand work with him to get the idea of lateral work in and also start creating some flexibility. Reba is also really starting to develop her canter. Her trot and walk are really nice, but the canter is still weaker so transition work on the ground and under saddle has really started to help her organize herself.

Also I got to travel a bit to Devon where I caught up with old faces and new ones. Devon is magic, and for those who haven't been the show (which is typically started with rain and goes into monsoon) the fall CDI is a staple and attracts a number of great rides. It's the only place in the US where you'll see babies straight to international Grand Prix in about three square miles of actual ground. It's also insanity.

This year I didn't bring a horse, but I was somewhere between press, at large groom and spectator. I enjoyed it but without a horse, I felt a little out of place. The shopping made up for that fact. It's something that I'm slowly feeling that showing there is something obtainable, and with the quality that is now coming out, it's on the goal list.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I get my back into my living

I had a pretty epic conversation with a girlfriend of mine last Monday about winners going back to mucking stalls and running around like total loons.

The past couple of days have been non stop packing, unpacking, laundry, truck servicing, clinic organizing, need-to-pick-up stuff, post reviews on a saddle or two, shuffling and doing the full time work gig. Seriously 5am comes quick around these parts and my day doesn't really end until 10pm. I'm also on a first name basis with my barista. We can officially say hello to fall season.

It's finally nice to see the end of the line in a year of ups, downs, and inside outs. It will be nice to rest, and not have to worry about schedules for a little bit and be able to sit still.

Even though the pony has had off for a couple of days, it doesn't mean that the other ponies have off. Reba and Sincere continued with work until Sunday (normal day off). Local shows have their perks, as in, the regular working population continues on with their daily routines including chores. Makes for early starts and late evenings.
Reba has been alternating between lunging and under saddle work since arriving, while she's really giving all of herself in work, I'm bringing her back slowly to make sure she understands and conditioning is there. She's an incredible work-a-holic and whip smart to boot. It's been a bit of an adjustment from Sinari, who moves differently and I can push harder. There will be plenty of time to ramp into the deep part of training, right now the work is purely focused on getting her fully back into shape, figuring out our language and honing the basics. I might consider taking her out in public in November if everything is going according to plan.

Sincere however is ready to begin with his under saddle career again. It's been decided that a good friend and midget (seriously smaller than me) will take over the ride in November and get him to the East coast. Plus it gives her an extra ride.

Before shipping out to destinations known, I would like him to do at least 30 days of general backing and breaking. One problem-  the girl who I asked to start him backed out at the last minute, putting a kink in the schedule and a minor annoyance in my way. So I'm on the hunt for someone to back him out and get him through the young horse antics.

He's also enjoying his time in the chute. Really draws toward the fence and is very catty. I've never seen a pony have more fun.

Sinari came back the other day after an easy week of hacking out at a walk. She's still in show mode when I pick her up. Looking at the tests, there are several points that I want to work on before October. One of them is mediums and extensions, the other is half pass. But we can clean those up. 

There's some other things also out on the horizon as the regular season draws to a close, but more on this later. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Don't stop till you get enough

No one said the climb to FEI would be easy. But finally, we made it.

To add to the celebration, we earned our first national title against a seasoned company, we're three quarters to our silver, and we did it flying solo that weekend (no coaches to help, but a really dedicated ground crew that dealt with an absent mind). But most importantly, we were surrounded and sent on by the people that matter the most. It was truly special.

On the surface, it's all champagne, sugar cubes, celebration and shadbellies. A few days after I'm still getting phone calls of congrats, and the pony is eating her way through a ten pound bag of apples. It's interesting to be in this spot.

This occasion marks Sinari's entrance to a special family. Sinari is one of a dozen ponies that has shown FEI. She is the fourth or fifth cob in the United States to go FEI. Even rarer, Sinari is the second cob mare, to go to this level, and now is the only one in the US doing so.

To be apart of her life and to achieve this has been really amazing. 

The show itself ran smoothly with exception of weather. Friday we went for our formal jog for our card in 90 degrees.  We were deluged on Saturday which turned the footing into slop. Management did its best to mitigate the issue, but because it's sand even if you drag it, it just takes one trip down the centerline to return to slop stage. But Sunday's weather was pitch perfect fall.

We had a lot of mistakes that first test, she threw fours, threes, twos and even one's in the lines (figuring extra credit here) and was very conservative in the mediums and extensions. But overall very obedient. The second day the weather chilled out and footing drained off enough in both the warmup and in the arena to give more purchase. She warmed up fantastically and pulled through to a Reserve National Champion FEI pony. Not bad for a first time out.

It gives a lot of confidence now to do my entries for BLMs and finish the year out at this level and clinch the rest of the Silver. By November, we'll pull shoes and stay in the fields for a bit.

For every step forward, there were times, if not spaces, of stagnate work. Work that was tedious, work that is about building up and breaking down of new and old habits. Focused work that brought out the very worst, and the very best.

If most of us could think their way into those levels (in fact, I know of a few who'd ride a good portion in their head), the majority would be there already. It is hard work and not for the timid. There's the continuous questioning, evaluating and second guessing. Are we really good enough? Are we really committing to do this? Are we fit enough? And finally: do we belong here?

That work is distilled into a product of a sound horse that is eager to work, and beautiful to look at and the worry, self doubt and questioning goes into one answer:

Yes, we do belong here.

For all the success this weekend, we couldn't have done it for a lot of people behind us. What no one ever tells anyone about going FEI is the sheer amount of heavy support work that goes on. Physically and emotionally.

A horse traveling through the levels isn't shepherded into it by a just a rider. It takes a small village of loyal, beyond dedicated people to bring one pair to this point and we'll be staying there because of them.

First there's the people at home. My significant other is incredibly supportive of my habits. He and my family (both blood related and those who I wish that were) have pulled for me longer than anyone and will be there long after. It's scary how more dedicated they've become over the years, to the point where they drive five or six hours to just watch, speak to me honestly during a tough situation, or keep an eye out for upcoming horses that would benefit the team.  

After the people at home come your team of professionals. Vet, coaches, farrier, chiropractor, saddle fitter, nutritionist, the breeder that bred the horse and the mechanic that keeps your car on the road. All of which play more than vital roles keeping everyone going in the right direction and encouragement.

Finally, in some odd way there's the readership of this blog. Who's watched patiently over the years from a barely working first level combination straight to this point.

Without them we wouldn't be here or remotely close. 

Thank you for joining us, and thank you, on occasion for the words of encouragement. The best is yet to come.

Photos and video will be posted, still getting everything in:)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Because we are who we are

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap; for the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit.

Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work… It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while.

You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

---Ira Glass
I'll save the I'd like to thank the academy post for later. Today, I just want to savor this moment. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A trio of chestnuts

When I was initially horse shopping back in 2002, I was sick of chestnut mares. The pony I owned at the time (almost a carbon copy of Sincere marking-wise) was schizoid at best (poorly bred, slightly neurotic National Show Horse...) and pulled a Thewell mob hit more than once.

When we figured out she wasn't going to remotely be a dressage horse I made my list initially of what I wanted, at the top was 16.2, black, gelding and stupid.

Instead I got 14.1 flaxen chestnut and mare, Sinari. To add to the humor, we found her in a resting tobacco field. She's so far been the most successful purchase, and has a permanent retirement home when she decides enough is enough.

When I did try to do the big black route I ended up not where I expected... two dislocated shoulders and a long drive home for Valentines Day dinner.

This was followed by Bella, the blonde haflinger that I rode briefly and then Sincere who arrived in 2009 after breeding two bays, again hoping for a slightly more blingy black/bay.

You plan and God laughs. 

Now we have Reba's Song. Another blingy, small, chestnut mare.

Reba is an interesting one already, by far the best quality I've had in the last 10 years she is an easy 8.5 on gaits and a work ethic to match.We're still in the getting to know you phase, but she's massively fun already.