Wednesday, April 30, 2014


This past weekend, Hemie and I competed at the Fresno County Horse Park horse trials - our 2nd time competing at Beginner Novice level. With the exception of a few minutes during our dressage test, the entire weekend went very well and we both had lots of fun.

Friday - Arrival & Practice Ride

We trailered up mid-day, with the afternoon to settle in. Fresno had unseasonably stormy weather, but we were able to get in a practice ride before it started raining. Laurie had to pony us up the hill from the stabling area to the riding area, but we got some good work in and overall we were both relaxed and down to business.

Brought the pups this time

Later on it started pouring. I frantically moved hay and show supplies to shelter. Meanwhile Hemie enjoyed a face-shower. Silly pony.

Saturday - Dressage & XC

Saturday morning I arrived at the showgrounds to the story that my horse had repeatedly unlocked and opened his stall door. He didn't go anywhere, though - apparently he just wanted his door open! Oh, silly pony.

Its nice to show with friends

I had plenty of time to feed, clean, walk and wheel my XC course, watch my barn-mate TK's ride, and braid before Dressage in the early afternoon. My show nerves were pretty minimal, and I just kept thinking of my mantra Fun Relaxation Fun Relaxation.

Super husband Rick ponied us up the hill to the dressage warm up, where we proceeded to have our best dressage warm-up to date at a HT. Hemie was amped, but we just focused on stretching and and relaxation and pretty soon we were getting some good work.

We circled the arena and I was feeling great. I had a big smile as we came down center line. My main focus was to have him stretching down (avoiding our giraffe impression) at all times; I just wanted a nice relaxed ride. The test starts off with work tracking left, and overall I felt good about it at the time. After watching the video, though, it doesn't look as good as it felt - we were hurried and I really should have done more collecting to get him using his body better.

Our free walk to change rein to tracking right wasn't great - it took me a while to eek the "freeness" out but at least we didn't start jigging. Unfortunately he started drifting right so I used my right leg to try and keep him straight, and that is where things went down hill. The dreaded right shoulder block. Hemie tensed up quite a bit and I'm sure I did too. We picked up the trot and Hemie really wanted to canter instead. We broke to canter, then came back down to a very uneven trot/tranter.  We stayed on our pattern but our canter got very unbalanced, and when I tried to keep him together he let out a big buck!! Ay yi yi. Back down to a trot didn't go great - very uneven and tense. I walked to our halt at the end.

Here's the video:

After the halt, the judge waved us towards her. My heart sank, and I had horrible deja vu. Yep - she said that she was going to finish scoring our test but that she had called the show vet to come over because she observed unevenness when we tracked right - specifically shortness of the hind left leg. She thought we needed "an injection or something."


Hemie was fine after the test - not anxious. The vet came over, the same one from the last time we showed at Fresno. Luckily (?) she did not remember us, and she had me walk and trot out Hemie for her right there in the warm up area. She said some interesting things:
  • "I think I see just a slightly short step every 5 or 6 steps."
  • "He has white markings on only that leg, which can play tricks on the eye."
  • "These dressage judges are very good, so they are on the lookout for any sort of unevenness."
  • "It's a little string-halt-y"
  • "I don't have any suggestions of where to start with a lameness exam for your normal vet. Just keep an eye on it."
  • "You'll get dinged more for any sort of unevenness the higher level you go, so you better get it straightened out."
At the end of it, she said that while she did observe very minor, intermittent short-stridedness on the hind left, it wasn't enough to prevent us from continuing on in the competition from a medical perspective.

My placing after dressage was 11th out of 11 competitors. Ouch.

And yes, it was the same dressage judge as our last time at FCHP.

During all this hubbub is when the lovely Paola met up with us! It is always fun to meet up with a fellow blogger, and she helped keep my nerves in check. We headed back down to the barn to relax before cross-country.

Paola kindly helped me get ready for XC. We suited up in black & magenta of course!

My plan was to ride very positively to the first few jumps, as those are the ones he questioned at the schooling. I also wanted to be sure we got some good gallop stretches in, as this would be our first XC going 350 mpm. We had schooled 100% of our course (plus a few more Training jumps than I had thought!), so overall I was feeling pretty good about XC.

Warm up was great - I focused on having him moving out, forward into the bridle and then collecting. We did forward and back a few times. Jumps were perfect - we did just a few before calling it good. Laurie ponied us to the start box. Hemie knew what was up. He was excited, but remained a perfect gentleman.

We were both happy to be leaving the startbox. Hemie didn't question a single jump, and was game for galloping while still coming right back to me when I asked to rebalance. Hills, no problem. Water, no problem. Unfortunately we didn't have any banks or ditches, but we did have 16 total jumps. We came in about 30 seconds under time, for a double-clear round! That moved us up to 6th place! I'll post the full video as soon as its available, but in the meantime here's the first 2 jumps:

Also, here's 2 photos of jump 15 from 2 different angles, thanks to Paola and my husband!

Sunday - Stadium Jumping 

My plan was to channel as much XC energy into the stadium jumping as possible - forward and bold with a good connection. We did our warm up for Stadium much like our warm up for XC (and our plan is to give that a shot for dressage next time too!). It was crowded and Hemie was a little tense, but overall we kept our cool.

Crowded warm up!

Here's the video:

Overall I am happy with the round. Hemie got a little looky-loo and it resulted in 2 rails down, but we had no refusals and still made the time.

We got to take home a nice pretty green ribbon for 6th place!

I'm still processing the show emotionally and mentally. Physically I'm happy to report that I'm not sore or overly tired - a first for me after a horse trial! But our pups were certainly dog-tired...

Monday, April 28, 2014

Happy Anniversary

2 years ago today I adopted Bohemian.

It's a great story and I still marvel at how it all worked out.

You see, I did exactly zero horse shopping - he was picked out for me by the manager of the adoption center and my trainer. Plus, I adopted him after visiting with him in a tiny box stall for all of 5 minutes. No test ride, not so much as a trot-out. The first time I saw him move was as my trainer led him to the trailer! It still sounds so crazy to me. You can read the full story here.

I'm proud of what we've accomplished in the last 2 years, especially since his formal training has been limited to me getting 2 riding lessons a week on him! I'm sure he could be further along if I could afford full training, but I'm in no rush. The journey IS the destination.

When I adopted Bohemian, he had been a racehorse and actor (portraying a racehorse). Over the last 2 years he's learned his new job: snugglebug, pleasure horse, and eventer. He's learned to longe. To jump. To trail ride. He's learned about fun outings and shows. To go bareback. To cuddle. To stand for braiding. To conquer XC. I am so proud of him, and excited for what the future has in store for us.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Black & Magenta it is!

Last Friday I asked readers to choose my cross-country colors for the horse trial in Fresno this weekend.
The results are in!

Blue had the early lead, but then Black & Magenta gained steam and won out.

I'm so honored and humbled by the number of votes this poll received - THANK YOU for reading and for voting!

We're off to the show now. For my readers who are instant-gratification oriented, you can follow the scoring at at Click Fresno County HT at the top, then my division is Senior Beginner Novice Rider.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hooves photos

First of all, thanks for all the support and encouragement as Hemie and I head into the show after a few bad lessons. I'm happy to report that we've had some positive rides and I'm really focusing on happy/calm/fun/relaxation! Thanks again for the encouraging comments.

~ ~ ~

Its been a while since I've talked about Hemie's hooves. He's still barefoot and going strong. 
He goes 6 to 8 weeks between trims by our professional farrier, with myself doing "vanity touch-ups" every 1 to 2 weeks in between. I pretty much just try to roll the toes a bit and address any little chips, but I just got a new farrier's blade so I plan on being more proactive in dealing with bar overgrowth and his frogs. ;)

Here's a "before" and "after" the professional trim.

The day before the trim

Immediately following the trim

Because we have the show this weekend, our trimmer polished the exterior of the hoof. Normally we don't do that. I also followed up with an application of Keratex hoof hardener, mostly to add a layer to help keep the exterior of the hoof clean and shiny.

~ ~ ~

Reminder to go check out Hilary's contest at Equestrian at Hart!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

VCBH: Appreciating What You Have

Viva Carlos
From L at Viva Carlos!

With training its easy to know the things you need to work on and nitpick nitpick, especially when your goal is to show. I'm particularly bad at this right now, but getting better due to holding Carlos on an eternal pedestal and Ramone on a stool in the corner wearing a dunce cap.

Let's take a moment to appreciate the Pros of our current ponies, whether you own them or just ride them in lessons.

I have the great privilege of owning the best horse ever. Bohemian has turned out to be everything I could have dreamed of and more, and I think we have many years of fun together ahead of us. Here's his top pros:

  • Great personality - laid back and companionable.
  • For the most part, he enjoys his job and has an eager-to-please, puzzle-solving attitude.
  • He LOVES XC.
  • He has that perfect balance of being safe but also brave - making him great for eventing.
  • He's quite handsome, with a kind eye.
  • He has an adorable habit of resting his nose on my back as I rasp his front feet. 
  • He likes hugs.
  • He has great ground manners and is perfect for the vet and farrier.
  • He is great for loading and trailering. 
  • He has fabulous bare hooves.
  • At shows he is great in his stall or tied to the trailer - eats, drinks, poops, lies down.
  • He's sound and doesn't have any major health issues.
  • He's a good eater: not picky, and he doesn't wolf down his food either.
  • He loves me and I love him.

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Plus check out Hilary's contest over at Equestrian at Hart!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

California Riders @ Rolex Update

To follow up my previous Rolex preview post, we've had some changes with our California competitors. We started off with 8 pairs, and are down to 4.

The withdrawn competitors...

Ecko has interesting taste in blanket styles, no?
Photo from Facebook

Bunnie Sexton

Unfortunately Bunnie withdrew from Rolex just days after the entry list was posted. My understanding is that her horse has had some sort of hoof issue and therefore has not been able to compete at any events in 2014. It was unwise and unfair to have their first outing of the season be their first 4-star, so they scratched. She still has her eyes on Kentucky for 2015, and might try to go back east for some competitions this year. Just this past weekend she posted on Facebook that he is trotting out sound and ready to get back in the action!

Tiana and Finn at USEF High Perf Lesson
Photo from Facebook

Tiana Coudray

Tiana  also withdrew from Rolex early on. She is foregoing the travel grant from Land Rover, opting instead to stay in England and compete at Badminton.

Photo from Facebook

Jolie Wentworth

Jolie withdrew from Rolex with the happy announcement of her pregnancy! This will be her and her husband David's first child, expected in September.

Photo from Facebook

Kristi Nunnink

Kristie and Rosie were the first Californians to arrive at the east coast, opting to get some pre-Rolex rides in with Buck Davidson and compete another mare at Plantation Fields. Unfortunately just a few days ago Kristi announced the heartbreaking news of Rosie's retirement from eventing, due to a heart condition and after consulting a top equine coronary expert. They heading back to California, where Rosie will likely pursue show jumping or baby making.

The remaining competitors...

Deborah Rosen & The Alchemyst (Al)

Jennifer McFall & High Times (Billy)

Hawley Bennett-Awad & Gin & Juice (Ginny)

James Alliston & Parker

All 4 pairs are tucked in at Rolex as of yesterday!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Trying not to panic

We've all heard the saying - a bad ride before the show means you'll have a perfect show. Well right now I'm having anxiety twinges in my chest non-stop because we've had FOUR lessons with major issues, in a row. The last one was this past Saturday and it was scary. So I'm really trying not to panic. But its a struggle. 

According to the principle of that wives' tale, I should have the best show ever. Ha.

Its stressing me out to even think about the lesson, but suffice to say that Hemie was again very upset at not being allowed to throw his right shoulder out. I was struggling with him so Laurie got on him and there was some major wigging out. I got back on and he mostly settled down, but then coming to a jump off the right lead he bit down on the bit, dragged his face forward and left, yanking my right rein away from me, and he ran out to the left, almost pulling me out of the saddle.

I was speechless and completely freaked out. This is not my normal horse. Hemie LOVES to jump. He has never thrown a fit like that before. I got this gut-wrenching sense that he was ANGRY.

Laurie smartly observed that we would continue to have issues if we didn't change something, so she had us go and jump a different jump off the left lead which allowed Hemie and I to both calm down and not feel pressured. But then it was time to try our problem jump again.

I'm actually quite proud of both of us for how we moved forward. It was clear that Hemie did not want his face to be touched (Laurie thought he was still emotionally sensitive from their "discussion").  Laurie told me to have a loose rein and have faith that he would do it. I'm still amazed that I was able to do so, but I rode with the reins flopping in the wind (I was holding the jump strap for dear life, though!) and amazingly, Hemie came forward and straight and jumped. We then went around to different jumps from both leads. Slowly I could add a little more rein contact and Hemie was fine with it. By the end we were back to a normal, balanced place with me having very soft reins (not flapping in the wind) and Hemie was calm, listening, and straight.

We were both completely drenched in sweat and the tack was caked with sweat lather. Hemie got a bath and the tack got a thorough cleaning, then I cleaned up and headed over a fundraiser to support Debbie Rosen and Al for their Rolex trip this coming weekend! 

Even though we ended on a good note, I'm still very bothered at how this situation is escalating. There were moments during the jump lesson that I thought "this is very dangerous. this is simply unacceptable" and to be honest part of my ability to be able to get through it was the knowledge that I was wearing both my safety vests and a brand new helmet. 

There's been a little voice in the back of my head from the first lesson we had this issue with ~2 weeks ago: that there has got to be a different way to train Hemie that is more relaxed and calm, without upsetting him so much. Normally we both enjoy dressage and Hemie likes solving the puzzle. 

Given we have the show this weekend, I just want the rest of our rides to be calm and relaxed. I don't want any fights, any wigging out, any tension. I want us to be on the same team 100% of the time. I plan on doing some stretching and mental prep before riding tonight. How can I expect Hemie to be calm if I bring this anxiety and tension to the ride?

Friday, April 18, 2014

XC Colors?

The show is just 1 week away. Yikes!

I really don't want to think about things like our dressage test or the horrible drama we had at this venue last year. So how about a reader poll to select my cross country colors? Because who's kidding who - that's the fun part about eventing anyway. Galloping, jumping, and dressing like a shameless 12-year-old.

So here are the options. Poll closes in 1 week.

Zebra ensemble.
A) Black.
  • Black helmet (no cover).
  • White sport shirt (I don't have a black one).
  • Black saddle pad.
  • Black horse boots with black electrical tape.

B) Black & Zebra
  • Same as above, but with zebra tape on the horse boots.

Black & magenta ensemble.

C) Black & Magenta
  • Black & pink-polka-dot helmet cover.
  • Magenta sport shirt.
  • Black saddle pad.
  • Black horse boots with magenta electrical tape.

Blue ensemble
D) Blue
  • Black helmet (no cover).
  • Blue sport shirt.
  • Blue saddle pad.
  • Blue breeches.
  • Black horse boots with blue electrical tape.

What cross country colors should Hemie and Sarah rock at FCHP? free polls 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pictures and Plans

Featuring random pictures and off the cuff planning.

Dryer sheets help keep your helmet fresh.

Upon further rumination on last week's frustrating lessons, I think that Laurie has been pushing Hemie and me in our flatwork in anticipation of our upcoming show. Not because she's cramming in training in hopes of improving our performance (though of course she wants us to do the best we can), but rather to give us both more practice at coping with stress, and being able to perform under pressure.

New sand in round pen = roll-tastic!

For the show, my primary goal is the same as for our last HT in February: to have overall improvement over our experiences last year, and avoid/prevent any "shenanigans" (getting nappy/stuck, etc). My keyword for the whole show is going to be relaxation. I want my horse and myself to be relaxed and happy for as much of the show as possible.

For dressage, I would like us to put in a solid test. I'd like us to meet or beat the 40.0 we received at Galway.  For stadium and cross country, I would like double-clear rounds, with a nice forward step.

Overall and most importantly, I want us to have fun. And be relaxed. Fun. Relaxed. Fun. Relaxed.

Me riding Handsome, a 5-yr old OTTB.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lesson Debrief

Funny story. With our first eventing trainer, my friend and I would have a "debrief call" during the 30 minute drive home from the barn following our weekly joint riding lessons. We were new to eventing, but to be honest, the reason we needed to debrief was due to our trainer's evolving communication skills. Frankly, there were times that we were so confused that not even an hour long debrief could help us figure out what the heck was going on! I giggle to think of some of those conversations now.

New halter with fancy nameplate! Love it!

Nowadays its a rare lesson that I don't immediately understand and process what we're doing during the ride. My trainer and I are generally on the same page and speak each others' language, and Hemie is a very willing and clever horse.

But last week's lessons were atypical. They were frustrating and confusing. Laurie and Bohemian and I were just not on the same page, and it resulted in some ugly moments. Both our dressage and jump lessons were a hot mess.  But after several days of internal processing, I think I kinda have it sorted out.

Issue #1. Bending Right.

As Zoolander would say, Hemie is not an "ambiturner." He just has a harder time bending right. Most horses have one side stiffer than the other, so on it's own its not a huge deal. And we have been working on it since...well...forever. With some improvement, sure, but its still a thing.

Issue #2. Popping the right shoulder. 

Not in the cool Michael Jackson Thriller dance kinda way. More like the "I don't wanna bend right so I'm going to pop my right shoulder out instead" way.

Issue #3. Connection to the outside left rein.

The connection to the outside right rein is steady. The connection to the outside left rein is light as a feather, takes forever to achieve, and is hard to keep for very long.

Potential Issue #4. New bridle. 

The Micklem has a piece similar to a flash. Mouth closed = can't evade the bit. He didn't object to this bridle the first few times we used it, so that's why its only a *potential* component in last week's issues.

So, what happens when you ask Hemie to bend right, then you block the right shoulder from popping out, while also asking for connection to the outside left rein, in a new bridle that has better bit support?

He feels trapped. And he acts out. And it aint pretty.

Random photo from Sunday's trail ride to the Reagan Presidential Library

Now that I've spelled it out, I feel much better about it. I feel like I have individual things I can work on, rather than just an overall feeling of "ack! issues! tension! help!" With the exception of the bridle, none of these things are new. BUT, we are asking more and more of him with every ride, and sometimes we get the perfect storm.

This week my plan is to address these issues individually, and calmly. Before I get on I'll think of several different ways to do that, and create a plan. Preparation is the key!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

VCBH: Immediate Inspiration

Viva Carlos

Why do you train with your trainer? If okay or possible, share a picture of your trainer riding.

I've been riding with my trainer since December 2010. Overall I think we are compatible in teaching/learning styles, and we are very like minded when it comes to horse care. 
Laurie schooling a client's horse.

She's affordable. I get 2 lessons a week, and for less than the average cost according to PWS's recent survey.

She's available. I get my weekday lessons at 6:45 pm, with day of the week depending on our mutual schedules. Not many trainers around here offer that kind of flexibility.

She still rides. I love that. She also attends clinics occasionally, and comes back revved up for lessons.

Laurie riding Handsome last week. He's the newest OTTB in her program.

Her overall philosophy is form fits function and that being effective is more important than being attractive. This helps me feel more empowered in training Hemie, like I have more tools in my tool belt than other riders have.

She's got years of experience. 

She loves all aspects of horses and riding. She has taught me to love dressage.

She has experience with racehorses and with retraining OTTBs for eventing. She has a relationship with a rescue group, and her efforts have helped many horses get new homes and careers post racetrack.

Breezing a horse at Santa Anita racetrack.

She is not a breedist - she welcomes any kind of horse into her program. From quarter horses to paints to polo ponies in addition to the more common TBs and warmbloods - she welcomes them all. She doesn't think I'm crazy for having a future goal of eventing a saddlebred. 

She is honest. Sometimes brutally honest. But better than trainers who give lip service.

She has a great attitude.

A brilliant smile after falling off into water at an XC school.

She believes in teaching the horse to think for himself, and get himself out of trouble. She believes that a horse should be happy and confident in his job.

She genuinely cares about shows being positive outings more than a chance to get some ribbons. Showing with her does not have the same level of pressure that I've experienced when riding with trainers who care strongly about their clients placing.

Laurie showing Hemie at his first show in 2012

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