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>To: My Readers; From: Tucker; Re: Plea for Return to Normalcy

May 25, 2011 2 comments

>Hello everyone,

Yes, it’s me.  She finally gave me some face time with you.  Well, actually, she doesn’t really know that I’ve hacked into the blog.  Hudson told me I could tap into the wireless signal of a nearby house, and since my field happens to be next to the farmhouse, voila, here I am, connected to the world.  Then he gave me a tip about making friends with a cat (which I’m really good at, obviously, see here and here — didn’t even need to mention “tuna”).  Once I was connected, it was just a matter of hacking, and I adore hacking!  I win hacks all the time.  Nothing to it, really.

You may be wondering why I’ve waited until now to address you directly.  This blog, after all, has been going on for almost two years now, and I haven’t felt a need to make an appearance yet, even though I absolutely could have, should the need have arisen.  Up until now I believe my mother has been representing my interests well… though at times, I feel she paints me in a rather comical light, even in more serious moments, like when our general welfare and safety is at stake…. 

I have no idea why you all find my bravery in these circumstances so funny, but humans are a strange and illogical breed.  Which is why I do, at times, “play the fool” for your general amusement.  I have learned, over time, that humans are easily amused, and prone to dispense treats with a frequency directly proportional to the amount of ridiculous tricks, endearing faces, and kind gestures that a horse displays.  Of course, treats are also dispensed based on level of performance, but truly, I perform well for my own satisfaction.  It’s a matter of pride, really, to do a job so well. 

Which brings me to my point.  My job.  I am a hunter, and while it took me a few years to catch on to the point of this sport, I have now mastered it and believe that I execute my role with tact, finesse, and style.  The tact, of course, comes into play when I overlook the occasional pilot error and recalculate the amount of strength and impulsion that will be required in order to clear the obstacle before us in a safe and efficient manner, and stifle my urge to express my displeasure with this situation upon landing.  The finesse allows me to make the above-described “recalculations” appear natural and effortless, a feat I have mastered over the course of several years of experience (believe me, she gives me lots of practice covering up these things).  And then there’s style, which really can’t be learned.  It’s something a horse is either born with or without, and I don’t mean to sound boastful, but like I said, I’m good at my job. 

In recent months, however, I have been prevented from doing my job.  First there was the awful month of March.  An entire month where I was denied my usual recreation and workout, and instead kept confined to my stall for days on end, for no reason that I could surmise at all.  The weather appeared fine and from what I could gather, the other horses with whom I am stabled continued to go about their usual routines.  I continued to receive daily food and care from the lovely individuals who appear to be responsible for me when my mother is not available, so perhaps it was simply an oversight.  For the life of me, I will never know what happened during that month nor why I was confined in such an unreasonable manner.  There was, of course, some talk of the minor abrasion to my right hock, but I can assure you, it was nothing.  I do appreciate my mother’s concern and her care for it, but honestly, I could have continued on with my job and would have been happy to do so.

Then there was a very brief interlude where I was again released to my field for recreation, though once again, for reasons unknown to me, I was returned to my stall for almost the duration of April.  April, as you may or may not know, is the month where Spring grass really begins to grow in earnest.  It is, quite possibly, one of the best months of a horse’s year (well before the “annoying season” as Hudson so aptly put it).  It is also the month when horse shows begin outdoors again, which I find to be far more enjoyable than those dreadful winter shows, where one shivers on a trailer only to be led into a bleak, dark indoor where one must collect one’s stride between fences as well as through corners in order to manage a tidy picture in the confines of such a small enclosure.  An outside course, in my opinion, is really the only way to show off one’s true talents.

This April, however, did not bring such joys to my life.  Instead, I was yet again trapped in a 12×12 space for almost the entire span of the month.  During this time, my mother visited frequently, but seemed fixated solely upon my coat.  We did not exercise at all, but instead she spent day after day, night after night, currying, brushing, polishing, combing, spraying, and fussing over me like a champion show poodle (there were even several baths, a disgusting practice of which I highly disapprove, and I hear that there have been talks of a contest my mother is trying to win, which will surely bring on even more baths).  I don’t mean to sound ungrateful.  I enjoy grooming and find it relaxes and soothes my muscles after or prior to a hard physical workout.  The extra benefit that it keeps me looking so well is an added bonus, and I do understand that there is a certain element of physical attractiveness required for my job.  My problem is simply that the workout itself was entirely lacking from our routine.

Now that we are “back to work,” I’m sorry to report that our routine has been severely truncated.  My mother seems to have determined that the walk is the gait upon which we should concentrate, and we spend almost all of our time practicing it.  I’ve always felt that I have a lovely, natural, ground covering walk and need very little practice to master it.  I also enjoy being able to take in my surroundings and get a bit of sight-seeing done while walking and do not appreciate the level of concentration upon which she has been insisting while we walk.  In recent weeks, we do appear to be trotting with increasing frequency and intensity, which I must say is a good sign, and we are now occasionally cantering one circle at a time.  There remains, however, not a jump in sight (cavaletti and tiny cross rails do not — I repeat do not — count, particularly at the trot).  I’ve begun spooking at inanimate objects, in the hopes that she will “punish” this behavior by making me work harder, but to no avail.  She only pats my neck and reassures me, as though she believes I am genuinely frightened.

I write, therefore, to implore you to urge my mother toward a return to normalcy.  Tell her that she can ignore my panting and labored breathing, it’s nothing really.  Tell her that I am fit as a fiddle.  I am well rested and ready for work.  Summer is around the corner, and we have horse shows to attend!  Hitch up the trailer, fill the haynets, polish the tall boots!  What on earth is she waiting for?

Very truly yours,
Tucker M. River

>Another Round of Applause for Smartpak

March 29, 2011 2 comments

>

You’ve heard me sing their praises before (see my totally Type-A spreadsheet, Savings with Smartpak), but I have to tell you that this company has done it again.  A while back, I switched Tucker off of his SmartGut (which had been keeping him symptom-free of ulcers) because it contains licorice.  I wasn’t aware that licorice could be a problem, but one day while browsing the COTH forums, I came across a post stating that horses can’t do USEF shows while on Smartgut.  Puzzled, since I couldn’t find any of the ingredients on the USEF’s forbidden substances list, I emailed USEF and received an email back confirming that licorice, though not specifically included on the forbidden substances list, is prohibited and cannot be fed 7 days prior to competing. 
So, I did some very in-depth analysis of various options using Smartpak’s comparison charts (which are super helpful and completely designed with crazies like me in mind), and found out that if I put Tucker on SmartCombo (which I had wanted to do anyway, because I was looking to add a joint and hoof supplement), and added something with an antacid, like U-Gard, I could come up with a reasonable approximation of the same ingredients as Smartgut, minus the offending licorice.
Then, the other day, I saw something on my facebook wall about Smartgut paste.  This would be a perfect solution for Tucker on show days, since he gets a little tummy trouble when he travels.  (I’ve tried probios and ProCMC, and even human grade pepto, which are all okay, but not ideal).  Unfortunately, I was afraid I’d run into the same problem with the licorice.  The following dialogue ensued on Smartpak’s facebook page (I’ve taken out the names of other facebook users, just in case they wouldn’t want the free publicity here on the blog):

Smartpak  Announcing NEW SmartGut Paste! Now you can provide your horse comprehensive gastric support with the convenience of a paste. This formula will help keep your horse’s stomach tissues healthy during times of added stress, such as travel. SmartGut Paste is also the ideal complement to your horse’s daily gastric health supplement.
SmartGut® Paste
Comprehensive gastric support is now available in a paste! Research shows that nearly 60% of performance horses have gastric ulcers. SmartGut Paste provides a targeted selection of ingredients that allow natural healing mechanisms in the stomach to take effect.
 
[Another facebook user]  Would this be good for a horse with ulcers?

SmartPak Hi , thanks for your question. Yes, since SmartGut Paste was specifically designed to support healthy stomach tissues, it is an excellent choice for horses prone to gastric ulcers. It is ideal to administer in addition to a daily gastric health supplement, such as SmartGut Powder/Pellets, U-Gard or U-7 Gastric Aid, during times of added stress (trailering, clinic, etc.), when your horse needs a bit of extra support.

Marissa Quigley Any chance Smartpak will make a version of this that comports with the USEF rules?

SmartPak Hi Marissa, thanks for your question! We are happy to clarify that none of our SmartGut formulas (powder, pellets and paste) contain any ingredients specifically listed as Forbidden Substances in the USEF Drugs & Medications Guidelines.

To learn more about these USEF rules, please visit this link: http://www.smartpakequine.com/health_and_nutrition/infoforcompetitors.aspx

For a complete list of the ingredients in SmartGut Paste, please visit this link: http://www.smartpakequine.com/ProductClass.aspx?productclassid=8685#fulldetail

Please let us know if you have any additional questions!

[Another facebook user]:  Even the regular SmartGut not the SmartGut ultra? Many forums have made it pretty well known that the SmartGut tests (due to licorice?).

SmartPak Hi , thanks for your questions. SmartGut only comes in one daily formula (available in both powder and pellets). We do have another formula called SmartDigest Ultra, which is probably what you’re referring to. Both SmartGut and SmartDigest Ultra contain licorice. We are aware that there is some confusion out there about licorice, but we can confirm that this ingredient is not specifically listed as a Forbidden Substance with USEF. We hope this helps clear things up!

Marissa Quigley Hi there, thanks so much for clarifying. Just figured I would pass along the information I have, in case it is useful to someone. Unfortunately, although the USEF list doesn’t specifically list licorice, I emailed them and asked about it …and they confirmed that it is in fact a “forbidden” substance. For some reason, the list that the USEF publishes is not inclusive of every forbidden substance. It’s unfortunate, because I had great results using SmartGut, and had to switch to another supplement for competition season.

SmartPak Hi Marissa, we can explain the confusion. USEF’s published list of examples of Forbidden Substances includes a substance called eugenol, which can occur naturally in some plants like clove. Although eugenol does not occur naturally in the licorice plant the way it does with clove, USEF has some concern about licorice being “mixed” with clove (which sometimes happens for flavoring), or the licorice plant having been grown in the same field as clove, and therefore having some cross contamination between the two plants. However, we recently sent SmartGut out for independent laboratory testing, and those test results showed that it is eugenol-free. In addition, the company that supplies the licorice for our SmartSupplement formulas now certifies that the licorice we’re using is eugenol-free. So, since licorice itself is not specifically listed as a Forbidden Substance, and the licorice used in our SmartSupplement formulas like SmartGut is eugenol-free, there should be no problem with feeding them during rated competition.

Marissa Quigley  Excellent, thank you so much for that explanation. I have a feeling I will be making some adjustments to my horse’s Smartpak soon!  

SmartPak  You’re very welcome Marissa!

Marissa Quigley Do you mind if I re-post this explanation on my blog? I’d like to clear up a previous discussion about the licorice crisis 🙂

SmartPak Marissa, please feel free to copy and paste our explanations onto your blog, as we would love to clear up the confusion as well. We’d also love to check out your blog, if you feel like sharing the link! And thanks for being a great customer!

Are these guys great or what?  No question, Smartpak is hands down the official supplier for Tucker the Wunderkind.  The quality of their products are great, from what I’ve sampled, and less expensive than other brands, and their customer service is absolutely unparalleled. 

Given the above, I’ve made some changes to Tucker’s smartpak, so he’ll now be getting SmartGut, SmartHoof, Smart Flex Support II, and Cool Calories.  (Instead of his usual SmartCombo, U-Gard, and Cool Calories).  Smartpak, of course, is sending me a sample, just so I can be sure that he’ll eat all his new stuff before I order a whole month’s worth.  Assuming he finds the mixture palatable, I’m going to feel much better about him going back on the SmartGut, since that seemed to be the best help for making sure that he was eating well, keeping weight on, and staying comfortable. 

Next on my list… I have been eyeing the Smartpak blankets… Tucker’s blankets are about 4-5 years old now, and starting to show their wear.  As you know, he is rather tough on his clothing.  For the first time this year, his Weatherbeetas have started rubbing his shoulders, which either means that they’ve lost their shape, or he’s changed (possibly a combination).  I do like the placement of the shoulder gusset on those Smartpak blankets… and we know how good he looks in navy… hmmmm.  You guys may be getting another product review sometime soon!

>My Favorite COTH Thread Ever

November 11, 2010 1 comment

>As most of you know, I love the COTH forums (especially the Hunter/Jumper forum).  They are a wealth of information and I frequently use the search functions when I’m looking for info about a particular bit or piece of equipment, what show jacket/bridle/helmet/breeches to buy, or to get the real scoop on a farm, horse show, trainer, clinician, etc.  I also like reading Around the Farm for the days when I can’t stop daydreaming about someday owning my own place.

But this week, I have to say that I came across my favorite COTH thread of all time, the “Working Ammys show your stuff!” Thread.  How fabulous to read about all these working women like myself, who have a hectic work schedule, stressful career, sometimes kids and families to juggle, and somehow still manage to ride their horses and go to shows on the weekends.  You can’t help but smile reading through this thread if you are someone like me.  (And not just because of Post #7).

In a sport where I sometimes look around and wonder if I should have just married a millionaire so I’d have more time to practice and wouldn’t have to check my blackberry right before I go in for the hack, it is really nice to know that there are others out there who are making things happen the same way that I am.  I work really hard, and that earns me enough to keep Tucker and Julie in the lifestyles to which they’ve become accustomed, and afford entry fees, and lessons, and training, and two away shows a year.

Even with my (thankfully) lucrative career, I still have to save wherever I can, and it’s nice to see that others are doing the same too.  I ship my own horses, braid my own horses, do my own body clipping, grooming, tack cleaning, and just about everything else I can manage to do on my own, and buy everything at a discount (gotta love those consignment racks!), because otherwise I’d have to sleep in Tucker’s stall with him (which would be lovely, don’t get me wrong, but I have a feeling my co-workers would complain about the smell).  But I wouldn’t have it any other way — I do all this because I love that after all these years I finally have an awesome horse to compete, and he gives it all back to me tenfold.

When I imagine the people who are really successful in my division or in my dream division (the High Amateur/Owner Hunters), I picture women who have no other care in the world, who travel up and down the coast all year long with their string of fabulous horses, following the fairest weather.  In my mind’s eye, these women and their beloved equines have the very best of everything, and they never cringe while they write checks, never think twice about what they’re spending, never have to make a decision based on what’s in the budget this month, and do it all without ever having to sit behind a desk all day.

It turns out I’m wrong, and a lot of them are just like me.  Somehow, that makes my dreams feel a whole lot closer.

Categories: COTH, hunters, life, showing, Tucker

>Houston, We have a Lead Change!

October 31, 2010 7 comments

>Tucker and I showed today at Sussex and I’ll do a more detailed report later this week, but I just have to capture on the blog how over-the-moon-happy I’m feeling right now.  [Consider this fair warning:  I am about to gush uncontrollably.]  My horse was nothing short of perfect today.  He was quiet, and focused, and listening, and best of all he got every single lead change that I asked  him for!  Every single one!  In both directions!  And they were clean, and easy.  We have a lead change!

I continue to be astonished by what an incredible animal he has become.  I would say that I’m proud of him, but proud isn’t the word.  I’m amazed.  He is the horse I have wished for my whole life — he’s sensible, smart, athletic, sweet, and affectionate; he’s got a great work ethic, he wants to be a good boy, and when I ride well, he wins.

When I took him on as a gangly yearling with a long pencil neck, giant ears, giraffe legs, and an absurdly goofy personality, I had no idea what I’d end up with.  I liked him a lot, and I thought he had potential and he’d probably end up being nice, and maybe I’d be able to sell him to help pay off some student loans.  Little did I know that he would grow up to be the kind of horse that literally makes me feel like my dreams have come true. 

I used to say that I hate horse showing.  I would get so nervous and so anxious about what could possibly go wrong that I couldn’t even enjoy myself until it was over.  But Tucker has become so consistent and so well behaved that I don’t even get nervous now because I know he’ll be good.  I never had a moment today when my heart started pounding or my stomach did a flip or I felt any of those little nervous reactions.  It felt just like jumping a course during a lesson:  I went in and tried to do all the things we’ve been working on, my head was clear, I stayed relaxed, and had a plan.  Not that I didn’t make mistakes!  Of course there were a couple, but they were no big deal, and neither of us overreacted.  And I did a lot more right than I did wrong today, which counts as a Win in my book.

I am so happy right now that, although I’m exhausted, I don’t want this day to end.  I knew it was going to be a good day before the sun came up.  I hooked up the trailer in the dark and pulled around to the barn, and when I walked in, he was the only horse in the aisle with his head out of the stall.  He looked so happy to see me.  It seemed like he was looking forward to going wherever we were going.  When I walked him out of the barn, he practically dragged me to the trailer.  Yes, it was definitely going to be a good day.

Forgive me for sounding like a broken record here (writing yet another post about how amazing he is), but this horse just means so much to me and days like this still amaze me.  I never thought I’d have a horse this special.  I thought people like me didn’t get to have horses like this.  Maybe to some people, he wouldn’t be anything special.  There are plenty horses out there who are fancier than him, and probably some that are easier, and whole herds of horses that win a lot more.  But to me, he’s just exactly how a horse should be.  I feel grateful beyond words that he’s mine.

>Horse Show yesterday, and a Breakthrough today

September 13, 2010 7 comments

>Tucker and I went to a schooling show yesterday.  I’d say my performance, overall, was a bit mediocre.  Tucker was fantastic.  And once again, proved to me that he is, without question, the most trustworthy horse I’ve ever known.  We also had a breakthrough today using a hackamore.  Tucker loved going bitless!

I try not to blame a bad round on outside factors, but I have to say there were a couple of things I didn’t like about the horse show that I thought impacted our performance, which is why I won’t tell you where we were (I swore I’d never disparage anyone on the blog).  I wasn’t crazy about the course, and Tucker wasn’t crazy about the footing.  Alicia got on and schooled him first.  He was good, the lines were riding quietly for him, but he was balancing well.  He was jumping really oddly though, sort of jumping up really high — almost like he was picking up all four feet at once — and then instead of kicking out behind, he was sort of tucking his hind legs underneath him.  When I was on him, it felt like he was jumping straight up in the air instead of rounding his back over and across the jump.  I’ve seen/felt him jump like this once before at another show, and both have this super fancy, high tech footing with felt pieces in it that he seems extremely uncomfortable in.  It seems like it gets a little deep and he gets stuck, or maybe it’s just too soft and it gives way as he’s pushing off to jump, or maybe it’s so springy that he pushes off harder than he needs to and ends up jumping straight up.  Whatever it is, he doesn’t seem to care for this high tech new age stuff.  What can I say?  He’s a simple guy.  Give him some good old fashioned river sand mixed with stone dust and he’s happy. 

All of my trips had good and bad moments.  For the first trip, the first jump was a straw bale with three split rails over top of it, on the diagonal, off the right lead, toward home.  I crawled to it.  Ugh.  I even thought to myself as I picked up my canter “go forward,” but for some reason I always feel like I’m going so much faster than I am until I get in front of the jump and realize I don’t have enough pace. Since I crawled, of course we had no choice but to feebly add, and Tucker rolled the top rail.  I landed and sent him forward though, and then the next line, which was four strides on the outside going away from the in gate, off the left lead, was perfect.  This was the only line where I had more than two or three strides between the rail and the first jump. I softened my arm and kept my leg going past the gate so he wouldn’t get stuck, the distance was right out of stride, and the four worked out nicely.  He landed right, and got his right-to left change.  That was the best line in this trip.  The next line was my least favorite part of the course.  It was a six-stride on the diagonal going toward home off the left lead.  It was set so that to find the straight line, you had to stay on the rail past the corner, and then turn with only about 2 1/2 strides off the rail to the first jump.  In this trip, I didn’t stay out long enough, so we ended up having to add, and then I had to move up for six, but he did it just fine, and landed right.  The next line was a five on the outside off the right lead, going away from home.  There are shade trees along the rail here, and a stallion barn to the left of the ring.  One of the stallions called out as we were coming around the corner, so Tucker looked out and fell to the inside, which changed the distance coming in.  So we jumped in a little big, and then he bowed out to the right because of the shadows on the ground, which made for a very unsmooth feeling.  The last jump was a single oxer on the diagonal, which was set up three strides from the top of the ring on a shallow turn, so you had to turn off the rail pretty much at the center line to get to it, square the turn, and canter two strides to the jump.  So awkward, just not what you want to see in a hunter round.  It wasn’t the prettiest, but we got it done okay.  He landed left, which was good. 

Second trip, I got a much better rhythm and we found the first jump right out of stride, which was a single vertical on the diagonal off the left lead, going straight toward the in gate.  He landed right, and then it was the outside five away from home.  I tried to stay out in the corner longer, but he still fell to the inside and then bowed in around those creepy shadows again.  It was almost a carbon copy of how we jumped the line in the first trip.  In other words… I don’t always learn from my mistakes.  Then it was the crazy short approach oxer off the center line.  This time was a smoother turn, but the distance was a little long.  He landed right and then played ever so slightly (little head shake, little hop) through the lead change, but at least we did it.  I had to remind myself not to get stiff and relax, but I did, and then he relaxed again right away.  The next line was the four stride outside line off the left lead, which worked out perfectly again.  This time he landed left, and then it was the dreaded six stride diagonal.  This time I stayed out longer, but I still just couldn’t make it work.  I swear they were set up on the half-stride purposely to mess with me.  So we added again and had to move up for the six, but at least he jumped out very softly, and landed right. 

Third trip was the same as the first.  Got a much better rhythm to the first jump and it was a very nice jump, but Tucker over jumped it and jumped me loose a little (I think probably since that one jumped up and bit him in the first class).  We landed and settled though, and then the four stride worked out again.  I still couldn’t get the approach to the six.  It either looked impossibly long or tight.  We went with tight.  He bowed out to the left a little this time and then I felt like we jumped the last jump left to right, instead of straight on.  Pretty sure that’s not how it’s supposed to go.  This time, to the five stride outside line, I made sure to bend him right so he wouldn’t fall in, but I needed to make him keep coming forward.  I lost my rhythm around the corner, and then had to move up two strides out, so we jumped in really big.  We landed and I thought for a second he was thinking four strides, but I tried to make him wait, and it ended up being 4 and a quarter.  When I tell you I put this horse’s toes at the base of the jump, I do not exaggerate.  I actually thought he was going to tear the whole thing down. Then I thought he was going to stop, and I actually said to myself, “it’s okay, he can’t jump it from here, it’s not his fault he has to stop, totally understandable.”  But he was just pausing a second to think it through.  Hmm… let’s see… yep, I can do this, just gimme a sec here, there we go, up and over.   He didn’t even touch it.  I couldn’t believe it.  Number one, what heart he has, for once again totally making up for a bad ride and getting us to the other side when almost any other horse would have said, “Forget you lady, you’re nuts.  Try again.”  He truly is the most honest and willing horse I’ve ever ridden.  And number two, that is some kind of talent.  Three feet really is nothing for him.  He jumped an oxer from a dead standstill.  Alicia said it didn’t even look bad.  He’s amazing.  I landed from the jump and gave him a big grateful pat for being so good to me.  The next fence was the short turn to the center line oxer.  I had to make a circle.  I know it’s poor form, but I just had to get myself together and make the last fence halfway decent after what I had just done to him.  The turn actually ended up being just fine, and the jump was good. 

Today, I was getting on for a light, stretching hack.  Since I wasn’t going to be doing much, I wanted to put him in a hackamore to see how that went.  I used one like this, which is a pretty basic one.  He was fantastic!  Stretching, bending, soft through his whole body, listening to my leg, rounding through his back.  Unbelievable.  It was the softest I’ve ever felt him bend to the left.  Which proves to me that the stiffness I feel when asking for a left bend has more to do with a clenched left jaw (he’s got chronic TMJ) and much less to do with weakness or stiffness elsewhere in his body.  I still think we need to work on stregthening his hind end, but maybe a hackamore is a good way to accomplish that.  Since he was being so good, I figured I’d see if his lead changes were any better in the hackamore.  They were!  He stayed soft, and round, sat down on his hind end, got light up front and did them in each direction, back-to-front.  They were a bit more “dressage-like” than “hunter-like” (a little more flair than one might like to see in the corner of a hunter round).  For now, however, I will certainly take that.  I’m more than happy if he’s going to sit down and use his hind end and give me a little more front end action at the moment.  That can become smoother with time.  The beauty of the hackamore was that he did his changes without getting stiff and pulling, because he had no bit to pull on.  I’m going to jump him in it next weekend.  I think it might be a really valuable training tool for us.

>Horse show today!

September 20, 2009 3 comments

>Does anyone else do this? I am constantly amazed that I can barely drag myself out of bed for work every day, yet practically skip out of bed before the sun is up for horse shows.

We’re showing today, but not til the end of the day, and I don’t want to tire myself out too much, so I’ve sat myself down in front of the computer for a bit to catch up on the blogs and emails I’ve been neglecting this week (whew! busy week!). I swear, I have to treat myself like a five-year-old on horse show days.

We had a fantastic lesson yesterday so I feel really good about today. We finally had nice weather this week so we got to use the outdoor ring. Alicia schooled Tucker on Friday so he was really good yesterday, quiet and relaxed but forward. And we got our lead changes! I’m happy to say that some of the jumps yesterday were 3′ and they looked less like the Puissance Wall to me. I’m trying to remember that Tucker’s the one that has to jump them, not me. 3′ is really a piece of cake for him, but I’m cantering up to and I swear, I hear Piglet’s voice in my head… “P-p-p-pooh? Th-th-th-that looks awfully big…” So, I just stare up at the trees and try to do nothing. I should hum a little tune or something.

I’m working really hard on not interrupting his chain of thought three strides out from the jump. It’s somewhat of a miracle to me. My horse is actually thinking for himself. My whole life it has been drilled into me that I had to “find the distance” or that the great riders have a “good eye.” Alicia is opening up a whole new world for me, a world where Tucker finds his own distance, and I just stay out of his way. If I can just master the art of doing nothing, it could get really easy. In fact, when I do manage to do nothing, it is really easy. It has got to be one of the coolest feelings in the world when you see that you’re going to have to add and realize that your horse is well aware of that fact, already a step ahead of you, collecting his stride all by himself and making the distance work out perfectly. (Really? He can do that? He is a wunderkind!!)

The funny thing is, Alicia can see that I’m trying to force myself not to do anything (she says I’m trying to resist “micromanaging” him — it’s the perfect term). I have this whole crazy dialog with myself from the time I come out of the corner til the time he leaves the ground… “Okay, this is a good canter. Wait? Is it a good canter? I think it is. Maybe not. Okay too late to change it, go with this canter. Does he see something? He does, leave him alone. Wait? Really? Are we going to get there? Close my leg? Add? No, stop it! Don’t change anything! Sit still! [Tucker jumps the 3′ oxer without batting an eyelash despite his mother’s schizophrenia.] Okay, that wasn’t bad. Good boy.” And so on, and so on.

So today’s goal is to take what we learned in the last month or so and apply it. That is: Get a nice canter rhythm and focus on the rhythm (I count 1-2-3-4 the entire way around the course. As I mentioned, I’m five). If I need the lead change, send his hind end forward with my seat and leg, keep the hand soft so he doesn’t pull himself through the change and instead reaches under himself from behind. Sit closer to him in the corner as I approach the jump to keep him balanced. Then on the way to the jump, elevate my hands, stretch up tall, stare up at the treeline and try to do absolutely nothing. Nice soft release with my hands, keep my weight down in my heels and my leg forward, and let him jump up to me instead of throwing my body at him.

We have a plan. Now to execute it. And, to find black yarn. To be continued…

>Oh… The Irony

August 22, 2009 1 comment

>So there’s a hurricane coming up the Jersey Shore. With the same name as the aforementioned gentleman who caused the aforementioned moping and prolonged pity-party. In case you were wondering: My life DRIPS with irony. RUNS with it. I’m standing in a puddle of irony right now! I put it on my cereal! Okay, okay, I know. But seriously, the guy ruins everything. It is kind of funny though, reading about how “he” is churning up the ocean, going to give Nova Scotia a beating, ruining the weekend for shore-goers, etc. I’ve been through that storm myself, and it wasn’t pretty.

Anyway. . . as a result of this hurricane, the Hunter Derby was rained out. Tucker did the suitable hunters yesterday though because the deluge didn’t begin til minutes prior to the start of the Hunter Derby. He was fresh. He warmed up really quietly but then went in the ring and played pretty hard after two fences in the first round and one fence each in the second and third rounds. Alicia chose not to longe him beforehand because she wanted a little more energy for the changes. The changes were great, to her credit. Unfortunately, looks like Tucker is still a little green and still needs five or ten minutes on a longe before he can behave himself in the ring. Those few little moments aside though, he was very good.

It was also a good lesson for him, because Alicia has the presence of mind to tell him to stop playing and make him continue through the rest of the course like a gentleman. I, on the other hand, tend to tense up every fiber of my being and begin muttering various explitives. This does not exactly diffuse the situation.

I’m getting better though. I never posted about the last day at HITS, when we showed in the pouring rain. In the last class (which was otherwise a beautiful round), he slipped on landing from one of the fences, and performed Tucker’s version of bucking (which is basically tucking his head to his chest, sticking his tail between his legs, and broncing/leaping. . . he vaguely resembles a puppy playing with a butterfly when he does this, but it feels as though you are about to be launched into orbit by 1200 pounds of fury. It’s essentially harmless, but can be a little disconcerting). So, when he did this up at HITS, the only thought that ran through my head was “If. you. don’t. relax. he. is. going. to. buck. you. off.” So I took a deep breath, regained my stirrup, and jumped the next two lines. Which were beautiful. I probably learned more in the second minute of that round than I have on him in months.

Query: Why is relaxing on a horse so difficult? It sounds so simple. Yet so many of us struggle with it, no matter what discipline.

So the Hunter Derby at Duncraven will be rescheduled for tomorrow. As long as they schedule it for the morning (since Alicia is showing two horses in the Mini Prix), Tucker will still do it. I’ll keep you posted!

In the meantime, check out the Hunter Derby Finals in Lexington, KY! Live streaming video of Round 2 tonight at 6 p.m.! I promise I will do a more informative post later in the week where I gather some photos and video. For now though, here are a few photos and the course design for Round 1. The course looks really beautiful, and a lot of fun, and those horses are incredible! I love the look on some of their faces jumping the big long fence that looks like stacks of firewood. They look like they are just peaking through their knees in disbelief. Love it!