Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Rest In Peace, Teddy...
Theodore O'Connor, 1995-2008
Lexington, KY − The United States Equestrian Federation is devastated to report that Theodore O’Connor was humanely euthanized today as a result of an injury sustained in an accident at Karen and David O’Connor’s barn in The Plains, VA.
The 13-year-old eventing super pony defied odds and gravity throughout his career. Standing only 14.1 hands, the Shetland/Arabian/Thoroughbred cross gelding was the reigning Team and Individual Gold Medalist from the 2007 Pan American Games and had top six finishes at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in 2007 and 2008. He was the 2007 USEF/Farnam Horse of the Year and recently had been named to the USEF Short List for Eventing for the 2008 Olympic Games.
Ridden by three-time Olympic veteran Karen O’Connor, ‘Teddy’ made friends and picked up fans everywhere he went. Seeing was believing with Teddy as it seemed impossible to imagine that a pony of his size could do his job with such tremendous ease.
Thoughts and prayers are with Karen and David, Teddy’s groom Max Corcoran, his breeder and original owner P.Wynn Norman, the rest of his owners in the Theodore O’Connor Syndicate and everyone associated with this remarkable pony.
To send thoughts to Teddy’s connections please email: The USEF will make sure your email gets to the intended recipients.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Weekend of Confidence

He's reading my mind... The Wookie reads my mind. Would somebody tell my Wookie to get out of my thoughts, because it's scary in there!!!

What a fun thought. I've had a good handful of wonderful Chewie rides. We're not cantering anywhere big, the round pen is rather small. We're also not doing it for hours on end, but in fact one circle right, and about two circles left. But we're doing it. That's enough for me. On a few occasions, I am 98% confident Chewie was reading the most subtle body language, because I'd think to myself, "Ask for canter here real soon", start to move my body for it, and he was cantering. Correct lead, easy transition, all of it. Knocked me off kilter the first time, as I was ready for it, but I spent about three strides thinking, "What just happened?" He read my mind, and the teenie little body cues I was giving him, and guessed that was the right answer. Absolutely adorable.

Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday - Chewie Chewie Chewie!
Friday, Saturday, Monday - Romeo!

Romeo had a lesson Saturday. Repeat working on leg yields at trot - limited success tracking right. When he gets it, they're stunning. However, that's a 1 in 5 long sides with a request. I need to get better at pick, pick, pick, and not leaning on the bit & leg. If I nudge & release, he at least tries. Otherwise, little bugger leans into the pressure. Tracking left, it's marvelous. Work in progress.
Lesson time over fences without much issue. We moved the PVC rail to the edge, to give me a bit more working room. Romeo was fine tracking right over the fence, then spooked tracking left. He cleared the rails, but sure looked at the standard like it had boogity-men jumping out of the holes. Goober horse. Monsters in the standards, yup, that's what he thought.

There's always much to tell, but I don't blog after every ride, so I forget the fine details of fun-ness. Chewie & I watched deer in our ride yesterday late morning. He'd look, I'd look, then we were right back to work. Yesterday's ride was one of those days when I just felt happy to be riding him. It wasn't any more or any less fantastic than any other day, but I was happy to be schooling.

This Sunday marks the last of the Sienna series. I'm planning to ride like it's a lesson Sunday in show-clothes away from home. Not looking at the judge, not discussing anything with the ring steward or show organizers. I've confirmed my registration has arrived, so maybe the final show, I'll have his name & mine on the stall rental. Romeo probably won't be any more fantastic than he's been, and will in fact be probably more work for me to not mentally over-ride him, but keep him energized to each rail. Lengthening stirrups by one hole for the flat work, then up one for fences. If it's the same judge, she'll be scoring flat work on long irons and dressage-style seat. I won't stick my hands out in front of me, and I won't lean on his face, so I'm not expecting high marks. Over fences, I think if he's steady we'll get decent results.

I'm already mentally past this weekend, and moving on to giving Romeo a light break, and getting Chewie in a solid canter, and a few canter over fences. I have *no* clue how we will do schooling fences at home, but I have a feeling he'll be a breeze. No forcing over the fences, no arguing about needing an extra "peek" of energy, I'll be able to bend forward in two-point without having to be perfectly upright, just point & look past the rails onto the next obstacle.

Countdown to Sienna 3 ... 5 days

Friday, May 23, 2008

Updates at My Barn, and The New US Eventing Rule

Boys are good. Still cantering Chewie, both leads, no problems. Took Wednesday off completely, last night Chewie was quite irate he wasn't the horse de jour. He'll get over it. He galloped himself around the pasture, and promptly behaved in the paddock.

Romeo was polite, trotting over the fences, and when I asked him to pick up his trot over it, he complied. Only two of ten were jumps, but he didn't blow rails away, which is good. About another week, and I think his drills will reduce a bit. We'll have a few days a week of hard-work, and one or two of walking & hacking-out. He deserves the break... he's taught me a lot, and, after the June show, he will have earned a mini-vacation.

Now, my nickel's worth on the new USEA Cross-Country rules... I've been reading on the horse fatalities, rider sever injuries, for about the entire season. RFD-TV has been running a short series on Eventing, a sport I want to get the courage for again. I got sucked into it, watching every episode at least twice. I've been reading up on the eventing websites, feeling horrid about the horses that have died, been euthanized, and the riders that have been hospitalized for their falls... (And it's a nickel, because the value of the dollar is horrible and two cents won't buy squat.)

First-Fall used to be 64 penalty points. Updated - First-Fall, Elimination. It's a good move, in my opinion. If, for any reason, rider & horse part company, unintentional dismount, they shouldn't continue in the competition. Instead, they ought to pack up, go home, and practice harder. I can't imagine going "splat" in front of bystanders, under competitive pressure, and saying, "oh, go get my horse, let's try that again". A refusal? Sure thing, I'm going to force him to get over at least once. But not on cross-country. Those bugs need working out at home...

Now, with that information, and a buck, you can go get a hamburger. *wink wink*

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Where Does the Time Go?

I don't even remember day-to-day, but here's a good attempt...

Tuesday night, Chewie, Round pen, walk, trot, no problems.
Wednesday night, Chewie, Round pen, side reins, lunge only
Thursday, Romeo, knocking down some rails, acting bored. Quarterlines straight, serpentines bent, flat work great, leg yields improved.
Friday, Romeo, repeat Thursday.

Saturday, Romeo lesson, and the boredom was confirmed. Robin said mid-lesson, "I'll fix his goose", as she raised the rails back to 2ft vertical. Hop! Canter Canter Canter! Big ears, big jump, happy horse. He sailed over the fences both ways, Robin rode him over fences twice, and we called him done. Introduced leg yields at the trot. To the left, his rear trails, but to the right, he's very slow, very straight, and very deliberate. It's nice...

After the lesson, traded tack & horse. Chewie, round pen. Side reins warm up, he was an angel. Took him to the arena, did a lot of walk work, leg yields, spiral in & out, turns on haunches & forehand. Did a little Western Pleasure jog, and some really sweet Working Trot. Almost cantered, but, as he was behaving like an angel, I just didn't want to punish him with a ride ending in my jumbled nerves.

Sunday, Chewie in the am. Angel again. All round pen work, and he was still very well behaved. No problems.

Sunday afternoon, rode friend's cowhorse in a local arena. Chased cows, tracked cows, loped around cows, turned cows back, split them out of the herds, sorted a bit. Had a blast!!! At one point, I was tracked up under a cow down the arena long side. Friend's back in the distance yelling, "Kick him up! Get after that steer! Get him!!!" I felt like one of those goofy barrel racers - reins in one hand, saddle horn in the other, kicking like a nut with both legs. Steer's rump was under horse's chest, horse lowered his head, tickled the steer's back, and the steer found another gear. Took off like a bandit, horse didn't. :) The horse was running out of steam, and I didn't have spurs on to nudge him faster. Anyways, he was an older horse, a well behaved quarter horse gelding, and a fantastic babysitter. He did his job, which was teach me how to have enough courage to chase a steer, get after him, turn him back, and not worry about how fast we were going. I was so busy concentrating on the steer, I didn't look at leads, I didn't worry about my balance, I just worried about catching up. A lot of "schoolgirl squealing screams", tons of laughter, and three tired horses. :) One tired horse was under me, the other two were wore out from chasing back steers that we didn't catch.

Came home, caught Romeo, and Hunter pony over fences. Got my balance & equitation back, and I was thankful for a solid horse. Warmed up on the flat, leg yields at trot, quarterlines, centerlines, and serpentines. Began jumping, and he forgot the rails were back to 18" cross, as he jumped, jumped, and jumped some more. It was wickedly hot, the warmest of the season so far, so I kept the work to 40 minutes, and let him walk me back to the trailer.

Monday night, Chewie, round pen. After some serious thought coming home, I considered " If I can canter a friend's horse all over an arena, in a place slightly unfamiliar to me, doing a cow-chasing task I've never done, on a horse I mostly trust, why on earth can't I canter my own trained dressage horse on both leads in my silly little round pen?" So I did. He gave quite a fit during the warmup on side reins (I think added pressure from another human-to-human conversation going on stirred him up, as he probably thought the tone of voice was directed at hime, when it wasn't). When I got on, he was a complete saint, cantered both directions no issues. I asked left first to boost confidence. Up to two-point, touched his mane, & asked. Cantered two circles, back to trot one circle, down to walk. Reverse, repeat. Finished up with comings & goings at trot, and he was more than cooperative. Total work about an hour. The weather was hot yet again, so he was most appreciative of the hose-shower afterwards.

Tuesday night plans - Chewie one last night. Repeat Monday's ride.
Wednesday - choir, no riding
Thursday - Romeo, repeat of lesson
Friday - Romeo, repeat; Chewie, back to work at trot, maybe arena
Saturday - Friday repeat with a Romeo Lesson
Sunday & Monday - both horses, arena. Aim to canter Chewie at least once in the arena left lead.

I've got great plans for both horses, and, with only minor glitches, things have gone very well. There hasn't been any major setback for quite a while, and I'm happy about that. I like happy trained horses, and knowing I can train Romeo, and learn from Chewie.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Where to Go After the Show

I went home, regrouped, watched the videos a handful too many times, got mad, got angry, got sad and frustrated, and got back on my horse.

Sunday night I licked my wounds aboard Chewie, hunter saddle. We walked, we trotted, we went to the arena. He was a little sour, but I chalked it up to a 2-yr old temper tantrum of, "Mom, we'da won if you'd taken me! I hate staying at home alone!" Other than stiff & grumpy, he was a good healer.

Monday night, in some effort to try & make Romeo feel better, I left him to pasture, and rode Chewie again. He was a little less grumpy, but much less willing to work. Kept stumbling over long toes, refusing to pick up his front feet, or look ahead. After about 45 minutes, I gave up. I knew my boy needed a trim & new shoes, so I didn't force the issue.

Tuesday through Thursday I was out of town for work. I hear the boys missed me, and nickered for their feeders. Thursday, Chewie got a trim & new shoes. Apparently, in a continuation of his temper tantrum, he pulled back on his halter, broke the halter & lead rope. I found out later where he was tied was asking for trouble. I wasn't there, so all I can do is guess & buy a new halter.

Friday through Sunday I rode both horses. Chewie was downright nasty Friday. Head throwing, rearing, just incredibly disagreeable. Saturday, after a Romeo lesson (more in a later post), I rode Chewie (dressage saddle) for Robin to see. I figured he was either lame, sore, I was riding him horribly, making him mad, or he was just being a snot. For the first time in a while, it wasn't a sore horse, it wasn't a poor rider, it was just a snotty horse. Chewie was fussy, grouchy, and had no good reason. Robin encouraged me to ride him through it, pushing with legs & loose hands, forcing him to move past the grumps. He did eventually cooperate.

Friday Romeo was great. Nice & steady. I wanted to make things interesting, beyond just "warm up trot, fences until he felt perfect". Introduced him to leg yields at the walk, and a little at the trot. He wasn't great, but he sure did try hard.

Saturday's lesson, we worked on flat work only. Centerlines, quarterlines, "comings & goings". Translation - varying trot strides and improving collection. We also worked on a few spiral in, spiral out at trot, leg yields at walk, and plenty of circles. Romeo's learning to not only turn on leg pressure, but to "get off of the leg" when I apply it. Spiral in & out didn't make him incredibly happy, but he was trying...

Sunday, I focused on flat work, and a few crossrails. The leg yields went better at walk, spiral in & out at trot was much improved, fences were pretty good. He was pretty focused on me, which I appreciated. We worked for about 45 minutes, then I let him carry me to the paddocks, replaced the saddle with my bareback pad, and we walked around the yard, 100% relaxed.

Chewie's turn, and again, much improved. Side rein warmup, no temper fits, but a relaxed, loose horse. I climbed aboard (dressage saddle again), and had my old boy back again.. He tried once to be snotty, and I piqued him with my teensie spurs. He immediately perked his ears, and got to work. I got some serious trot, and a little "coming & going", and promptly decided that was a good spot for reward. We walked back to the arena, did a bunch of loose rein at the walk. I was satisfied he'd learned his lesson that snotty doesn't accomplish much.

Monday, Romeo, all flat work, plus went through Dressage Intro Test A (halt square at X not so good, weeble wobble), and a few fences. I lost track of time in the flat work, and when I got to fences, after a half hour of flat work, my boy was pretty tired. Pushed him through cross rails both ways, and called him done.

All the riding is great exercise, and I'm gaining more confidence. I think I'm ready for a Chewie lesson again. With two Sundays to go before the last Hunter Series show, I'll be incredibly ready to get back with Chewie in lessons, preparing for canter in the arena. Some days, I want to plan for the same show location & dressage series with Chewie. Other days, I want to plan for the same show location, but the hunter series at the same level I'm riding now, again with Chewie. I think when this series wraps up June 1, and lessons resume with Chewie, I will focus on canter both leads in the arena, mixing up flat work with crossrails, and we'll just see where we land.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sienna Stables, May 4, 2008

Thursday evening, I jumped a few fences with fiercer spurs. Flat work with the spurs was pretty cool - a little tap of the spur inside leg, and he'd bend his entire body around the ribs. A few of the fences, and he started scurrying around, seeming to be afraid of everything. I took them off, got a few more fences each way good enough, and called it done. About an hour's work.

Friday morning lesson, we learned the definition of "Chasie". Romeo was sprinting to & from fences, barely stopping to see they were there. Ran a few rails down, and basically demonstrated he was entering his "fruit loop" stage of teaching. We went through this before almost a year ago. He'd be real patient, quiet, calm, easy to ride, then all of a sudden, begin exploding into this wild goof, sprint-trotting around, looking for every opportunity to be out of control. For example, tacking up, I asked him to back up to get the halter off & bridle on. He planted all four feet, and firmly decided he wasn't going to back up. When he did, it was a near-rearing up explosion. Robin stood by in disbelief. I forced it a few more times, and he finally backed up, albeit crooked & ugly. It was ridiculous - he knows how to be ridden, he knows how to back up, but there was no convincing him it was the best idea to do what I wanted.

Saturday morning lesson, I had my old Romeo back. He was steady, soft, and easy over fences. No spurs at all - the grass was wet, so I was in my paddock boots & half-chaps (no spurs attached). He was a little lazy over the fences, which we determined was "lack of energy" from the lack of spurs. We decided to call it a short ride, and hope for the best when I arrived at the showgrounds Saturday afternoon.

I poked along to Houston, and can happily say I improved my MPG hauling the trailer. We made one pit stop, and arrived in good time, with about another mile per gallon efficiency. Arrived at the showgrounds to discover they never received my entry form - though I do remember faxing it. It was one of the few times I faxed something at work and it went on the first try. Lesson learned is to make sure they respond if they've received the paperwork.

Settled in Romeo's stall, and headed for the arenas. Second surprise - Competition moved to outdoor arena. Romeo hadn't been in either outdoor arenas, and I wasn't real eager to head that way. We warmed up in the large indoor arena, and he was a pro. Steady, a little distracted, but certainly not like the first time up there. Moved to the outdoor arena to try a few fences. I found three that were about at the right height, all on the outside. On the flat, he had real attention span problems - not focused on the rail, or inside the arena. At one point, I was doing about all I could with the aids to get his attention. It finally got to him, when he finally looked inside the arena, he spooked at the mounting block and shot about 4 foot to the left. I stayed on, but probably provided quite the show for the spectators trying to regain control. Only lost one stirrup, and when I retrieved it, we went right back to work, me scolding him with a lot of inside leg. He quickly got over the spooking nonsense, realizing I think that it wasn't going to get him anywhere but in trouble again.

Ready to start some fences, three other students from a travelled-in barn, and their instructor. I asked the instructor if it'd be alright if I jumped a few fences, and she agreed there wouldn't be any problems, and they would all work around me. He immediately got "chasey" again, and irregular. We knocked quite a few rails down. I kept aiming to dismount & reset them myself, but the instructor said, "I know it's a lot of work to get on & off to set these up. I've got it." Finally, she must have gotten annoyed, because she looked at me, and said, "That's the last one I'll set up." I dismounted & did it myself, then excused myself from the arena. I was a bit annoyed - I entered before they did, and at no point did I ask her to help me. If she didn't want to help, she didn't have to. I never asked for the help, and expressed appreciation as much as I could. I felt I cut the ride shorter than I should have, but didn't want to continue to try fences with the arena companions. Just as I was untacking, they all walked up to the stalls near me. HMPH. Had I waited just a few more minutes, they would have been gone, and I might've been able to concentrate again a bit better. Darnit! Lesson here? I was able to even attempt fences with other horses & people in the arena, with an audience watching nearby. They weren't all clean fences, but just jumping in a new place, with all that was going on around me, is an achievement to be recorded.

Sunday morning got off to a decent start. I'm learning that the only way I feel comfortable around shows is if I'm ready too early, sitting on my horse, waiting on classes. When we decided to finally warm up, it was closer to the class than I expected. I got in some flat work, and rode with the general feeling that I was hanging on Romeo's mouth, and he was only relaxing for me when were off the rail. Any pattern I did, serpentines, diagonals, circles, centerlines, quarterlines, any of it... he was good. Back to the rail for more than half a length, and he would start sprawling out, looking around, and being a general twit. Robin mounted, intending on getting him over his first fences. We moved to the covered large arena, and just as she started the "fence ride", they started calling the class.

As Robin was jumping off & fixing my irons, I jogged over to the ring steward to let them know I was in the class. Ring steward had no record I was to be in the class, or any other class, for that matter. She finally got approval I was in the class, and I went in at the walk. Four competitors, two from before, one I hadn't seen before. Judge asked for posting trot both ways, sitting trot to the right. Asked for a transition from walk straight to sit trot, and I immediately thought, "Here it is! Seal the package with a beautiful sit." Don't know what the judge saw, but it felt pretty good. First place was a dressage horse, in a pelham with a bit connector, long rider leg, horse overbent at the poll, second, a rider from the last show, grey lesson horse, long & low horse, third ME, fourth a lesson horse/rider combo that took first last month. So, a different month, same results, I suppose because the judge wants the flat work to look like dressage, and I'm not riding it.

During the canter flat class, I went back to the warmup covered arena, and practiced a few fences. Romeo was somewhere in between chasey and lazy. A bit irregular, but no rails down. Warm-up fences class, there were only two of us - the grey horse & me (again, after more confusion, as the ring steward, announcer, and judge had no idea I had registered for warm-up). Romeo jumped #1 & #2 clean, knocked over #3 & #4. He felt fast & not alert. Thinking back, I was too far forward and not "tall". As I completed #4, I glanced up towards the judge, to find what looked to be a rude look on her face, and some comments she made to the announcer. A little more than offended, I completed my entire courtesy circle and made eye contact again. I tried to convey through my eyes a look of "yes I saw you, and no, I didn't appreciate it." I came out of the arena, looked at the ring steward, and said, "that's what warm-up is for. It doesn't count for anything." Apparently it does count for something, as it made some impression on the judge.

First fence class to the left. Circle was good, all fences clear. Romeo was a little irregular, but not too bad. He tried real hard to chase in between fences, and didn't stay incredibly straight. One canter away, two strides, wrong lead, back to sitting trot. Final circle was good, too. Result? Last place of four. Repeating for effect - all fences clear. No rails down. Felt tall in two point, good crest releases and good timing.

Last fence class to the right. See fences to the left, repeat. Fence #5, he tried to over-jump, but I didn't allow it, and he had full intentions on breezing right past #6. I got him over it, admittedly crooked, but he went over it. Cantered away from fence #8, correct lead, down transition to trot for courtesy circle. Result? Last place of four. Again, repeating for effect - all fences clear. No rails down. Felt tall in two point, good crest release, good timing.

So, even though I had clean rounds, mostly steady horse, that was pretty easy to control, had more than enough forward energy, and jumped every fence rather than trotting over like he did in April, last place all around. I entirely don't understand, and can only guess he wasn't steady enough, and my one moment of eye contact in the warm-up made the judge mad, so she punished me with last places. I have learned from now on to not even look her way. Hunters aren't anything like dressage - in the few dressage shows I've been to, the judge has spoken to me before I even enter the arena. At the initial halt at X , eye contact is expected, and the judges have never made snide remarks, at least not when I can hear it or see it. At the final halt at X, eye contact again is expected. Every time I've left the arena, I've taken a few steps at walk towards the judge, and I've always heard something like, "nice ride" or "good job"...

When it's that subjective, and I don't know what to improve, I come out of these hunter shows thinking, "I want to just ride dressage. Cut & dry, expectations are clear, and I always know what the judge was thinking when she gave me a low score. Low scores come with explanations, and answers." Hunter shows come with some judge of unknown qualification (google searches so far have come up empty on the judge by name), with a rather obscure definition of "correct form".

After lunch, Robin & I took Romeo on a hack-walk. I asked the barn owner where I could go, and she pointed over the bridge, and to the right. Three quarters of the way into our ride, some guy walked up to us, and yelled at us to get out of the ball park. When I told him I got permission to ride over there, he said, "you're not allowed to ride in the ball park." We got up on the concrete, and left the park, loaded our things, and went home. Apparently even though we followed hoofprints of previous riders, this particular gentlemen was either afraid of the horse, or afraid of the rider, and concerned we would damage the property. If by some chance he's reading my blog, "Sir, no need to fear. My horse didn't poop anywhere outside of his stall, I didn't go anywhere near center field, and we didn't do a sliding stop into home. The kids throwing the tennis ball at the restroom facility could do more damage if the ball gets out of control and break a building window, or damage a personal vehicle. Me and my little cow pony didn't bring any damage or any ill effects to your fancy park. We promise we won't ever do it again, even though the equestrian facility says on their website they offer trails for riding and we got permission first. We promise."

Chalk it up to a few hundred dollars spent on riding in a strange place, under stress, and clean fences in a spooky environment. Any readers looking for video can email me through the links, and I'll provide fence class videos. won't allow the flat class to download - it's just over 10M, and I don't know how to shorten it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

One Day Closer to the Show

4/30 Romeo, arena. An hour's work. Little spooking at one corner of the arena, but I recognized it coming, sat the trot, and pushed him through it. Fences both ways, one wooden rails, one PVC. He knocked a few rails down, I guess rider errors, not 100% sure.

A few canter strides, probably from extra leg (switched to longer spurs). Wickedly windy weather, that is predicted to continue most of the week.

More riding tonight, Lesson Friday morning, Lesson Saturday morning, schooling at the show grounds Saturday nite, Show Sunday ....

Travelling away for work next week to Louisiana... fun o fun...