Winter woes in Cajun land

Winter has finally arrived in Louisiana. In fact, we had a snow day yesterday. I think we got about 1/4″…and they closed schools. Of course, it was all melted by 9am.

That snow had me feeling grateful for my new stalls, though. Chip grew a full blown winter coat sometime around mid-October and was sweating his butt off (literally) just standing in the pasture. And riding in 80 degree temps with a winter coat…well, that just wasn’t working out, so he’s been body-clipped for a couple months now. Not to mention, we’ve finally got his feet in order, so it’s awesome to have stalls for the ponies every evening.

Blanketing is still an issue, though. Our temps can drop into the 30s at night and back up into the 70s during the day. Each morning I agonize over whether to let him freeze in the morning so he’s comfortable during the day, or be comfortable in the morning and sweat in the afternoon. I wish I could run home at lunch and adjust his blankets, but that’s not an option. Anybody else have this issue? Drop your suggestions below–I greatly appreciate it!

Anyway, check out the Product Reviews page–I recently ordered a Kensington stall guard from SmartPak for Chip’s stall. Spoiler alert: I loved it so much, I ordered one for Wynni’s! And, Chip also reviewed Snaks 5th Avenchew Unicorn treats.


#legsofsteelchallenge Day 2

If Day 1 was easy for you, great!! Each day should be progressively harder but should not be painful or result in extreme soreness. (Despite what your trainer tells you, No Stirrup November shouldn’t be a torture session!)

Day 2 consists of 15 side leg raises, 10 lying inner thigh raises, and 20 seconds of side plank (each side). You’ll work your abductors, adductors, and core muscle groups. As always, if you find yourself struggling to complete the workout, break it into sets, or modify it to suit your fitness ability. In the saddle, add another minute or two to your stirrupless session, or drop one iron at a time while posting.

The circle of death

Sometimes the answer to a problem is so simple, you overlook it.

Yesterday, I made my mecca to Holly Hill to get Chip’s monthly pedicure. Since it’s a 2.5 hour one-way haul, I try to make it a worthwhile trip and squeeze in a lesson or a XC school. I try to stick with the same instructor, so we can have continuity, but Julie was at a horse show. I was contemplating a hack instead with Amy when a lady walked up and asked if I was the one looking for a lesson. I affirmed, yes, I was seriously needing some stadium help. When she said, “well, I haven’t drank my beer yet, so…” I knew she was my kind of instructor. I told her I was fine with her drinking while she taught–who am I to deny her a cold brew on a hot Saturday afternoon?

Stupidly, I had decided to wear shorts this morning & planned on changing into my breeches when I got there. And then even more stupidly, I walked around and got hot & sweaty before changing. So, there I was, in the back of my trailer (because that dressing room gets freaking hot if the a/c isn’t hooked up), balanced on my toes, trying to shimmy into full-seats without falling over. Y’all, I love my Kerrits Sit Tights supreme, but stuffing my sweaty legs into those tights took me longer than it did to tack up my horse.

Chip was pretty anxious out in the ring. There was a lot to look at & he was the only horse out there. Since he wasn’t eager to stretch right out & walk on the buckle, I picked up the contact and immediately began asking him to step into the connection. Unfortunately, he was so distracted by everything around him, he wasn’t really hearing me. As I was about to begin my typical fix for that, EI (eventing instructor–I didn’t ask her if I could publicly announce her name on the world wide web) asked me if I’d ever ridden the circle of death.

It probably goes without explanation, but, on the off-chance you live in the barren lands without instruction (been there myself), you might just not know what the heck the circle of death is. And it probably sounds pretty intimidating. Will I die? Will my horse die? Ultimately, it’s just 4 poles on the ground (or small jumps) placed in a circle. And you ride that circle. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, that simple little exercise shows you really quickly if you really have your horse on the aids.

Circle of death

We started off just on a small circle, and EI had me supple Chip by simply moving his shoulders in and out of the circle with some counter-bend thrown in there. Chip quickly got the gist and finally relaxed, so we moved onto the circle of death.

I very quickly realized that I wasn’t looking around the circle, focusing too much on the oncoming pole and not planning ahead. This resulted, as EI observed, in a square, rather than a circle. By looking ahead and working on keeping the bend, rather than worrying about where the poles were, my circle improved dramatically, and it was time to move to the canter.

Luckily, Chip, like most OTTBs, has a great canter, so after a few trips around, EI told me to break off and hop over a small vertical off the left lead. We had a beautiful canter all the way. And then….I saw the long spot. WE HAD AN ENTIRE STRIDE LEFT AND I LAUNCHED MYSELF UP MY HORSE’S NECK. And Chip being the superstar pony, who was going to be so sweet and put in that stride said, “well, ok, mom, if you think we take off here, I’ll jump.” I should’ve ended up on the ground. Instead, we cantered off on the other side. I was mortified.

So, EI pulled the top rail off and set it as a placing pole. And this time, I told myself, no matter what, I would not jump ahead of my horse. And I didn’t. But I still threw my shoulders ahead like we were jumping a grand prix oxer instead of a 2′ vertical.

We swapped to the right lead. And this time, as I cantered up to the fence, I told myself to just wait. Lol, and so did EI. I could hear her shouting, “wait! Wait! Wait!” with every stride. I didn’t worry about the distance, I just kept Chip’s canter steady and waited. And, IT. WAS. BEAUTIFUL. So we did it again. And EI asked me if Chip had enough left in him to ride a small course. He did. So we did. And we jumped around in a quiet hunter canter, and I only threw my shoulders forward once.

I have lessoned with some pretty famous instructors: Lucinda Green, Jimmy Wofford, Stephen Bradley, Kristin Schmolze…and they’ve all put a grid in front of me. And grids work. They definitely have their place. But sometimes, it’s the simplest solution that has the most effect. Fix the canter, and the jump will happen.

My take home lesson was to keep the canter quality and then just sit and wait.  The quote of the day was, “When you think it’s time to jump, you still have another stride.”

The Cajun Eventer Series, Transformation Tuesday (blog 3)

So here we are in May, and I’m now avoiding Facebook because the sight of so many friends in full-swing competition season is utterly depressing. I’m so happy for their successes, but it’s killing me to be so out of the loop.

Area V has, oh, about 7 horse trials a year, maybe. Probably 5 of those are within a reasonable driving distance. We missed the two this month because Ryan’s in the field. (His new job? In laymen’s terms, he’s an observer-controller for troops training for deployment–to sum it up, he’s gone. A LOT. Like, I’m effectively a single mom for weeks at a time.) That means we have to wait until September for the next recognized horse trial. Which, tbh, is a good thing, as we’ve not schooled XC since we left Aiken.

If you’re not familiar, Chip was a sales horse that I fell in love with and decided to keep as my own. (Made possible by a very gracious Lara Anderson, who deserves a blog post of her own) We’d capped off the season with a successful run at training level at Pine Top before I finished out my pregnancy, and then started back at BN to rebuild his fitness and confidence once I’d had Reagan.

But now we’re in no man’s land, and I’m reverting back to amateur status because I’m working a *normal* full-time job.

I’m trying to figure out how to ride when Ryan’s gone. I lose so much progress when he’s in the box because I can’t exactly leave Carson to baby-sit the baby. If any working moms have any suggestions, I’d be glad to hear them.

I did get to ride nearly the whole month of April due to a break in the training cycle. Here’s the difference two weeks in work makes:

I did make acquaintance with another eventer in the area through my Area III connections, oddly enough. Funny story how we met, but that’s another blog. Chip and I have a date to meet up at her place to XC school next month–it’s only a 3 hour drive, LOL. (If you missed the previous post, EVERYTHING is a 3 hour drive down here.) We’ll use that to gauge our progression & the next weekend is a schooling trial, where we’ll run at BN just to get Chip’s feet wet, literally and figuratively, as it’s been several months now since we’ve run a trial.

The Cajun Eventer Series, blog 2

It took us three trips to get the entire family to Fort Polk from Statesboro, Georgia. The kids and I moved first, tackling a 14 hour drive in two days. Ryan followed about a month later–he had to finish out at Ft. Stewart. To get the house, we had to move in by 15 November. Then, a few days before Christmas, I took off in Bertha Blue Due hauling the gooseneck to pick up the critters.

It was an adjustment for Chip, Wynni and Gretchen. Chip left behind his buddies, Owin & Blackjack; Wynni left behind her girlfriends, and Gretchen…well, Gretchen is one special chicken. She shunned the guineas and promptly moved into our attic.

Winters in Lousiana aren’t too bad, but between the rain, short days, hours at the office, and a baby, I didn’t ride much to say the least. I brought along some hay, but it quickly dwindled, and finding a good source of quality horse hay down here proved impossible. I became incredibly grateful for Standlee compressed bales, beet pulp shreds, and alfalfa pellets. Farriers were another issue altogether. We’re still working on finding a good one, and it’s a sore subject right now.

Being a science nerd with a B.S. in Animal Science, I had already researched feed dealers in the area and was lamenting at the lack of what I deem quality feeds. I’m going to eat my words, though, because I am completely impressed with Purina nutrition. Our local Slagle Mall (they have very broad definitions of malls down here), the combination gas station, feed dealership, hardware store, post office, Uhaul rental, restaurant, and grocery store, carries Purina feeds. Without getting too technical, I’ve always snubbed Purina in favor of Seminole and Triple Crown feeds because I felt the ingredients were sub-standard. However, Chip’s coat and hoof quality are amazing, and he’s building lean muscle quickly and efficiently. He looks amazing, and the grass hasn’t even fully come in yet.

I think that about catches us up through the winter. Blog 3 will discuss our training goals and plans and my desperate attempt to regain fitness.

The Cajun Eventer Series, blog 1

The best and the worst thing about the Army life is change.

Every three years or so, we uproot our family, ship our household hundreds of miles, and adjust to whatever life throws at us. The good side of it is you become adept at making friends, incredibly resourceful, and amazingly resilient. The worst side of it is you’ll make awesome friends, a great life and have to leave it all behind.

We recently uprooted from Fort Stewart, Georgia to Fort Polk, Louisiana. I’d always said I never wanted to go to Ft Polk. It’s number one on the top 10 worst military installations. I fought for Ft Bragg for two reasons: Denny Emerson (the George Morris of Eventing) and Koby Robson (my favorite dressage trainer). Alas, on 14 November, the kids and I were loaded down and headed to meet our household goods shipment at our new home in Leesville, Louisiana.

The good news? We lucked into probably the best rental property we’ve ever occupied. I mean, it doesn’t get much better than this: fruit trees, a barn with a hay loft and electricity, fenced pastures, a stocked pond, expansive trails and more.

But the worst news is I went from eventing paradise to the eventing desert. I joke that I’m probably the only eventer within a 100 mile radius, but the reality is that I’m actually probably the only eventer in a three hour radius. Literally everything is a 3 hour radius. And to top it off, because there’s no possibility of opening a lesson program down here, I’m now working a 40 hour/week office job. *gasp* I know.

So, I’m looking at the bright side of things because I’m an eternal optimist. And, as time permits, I’m going to blog about this period in my life because it’s cathartic. Welcome to the Cajun Eventer series, blog 1.

Redemption at Pine Top

I know you’ve all been eagerly awaiting more helmet cam footage. I can picture you now, pacing by the computer, “when is she going to post that footage??” Wait no further!! It’s here!

Between my last post and this one, Chip and I ran training level at Full Gallop and then at Pine Top for our culmination. Full Gallop was wildly successful for his first recognized attempt at Training, with only time penalties for XC added to his dressage score. And, if Chip had run the way he wanted, we’d have had none of those. But, my primary goal with that run was to stay safe and finish–a purely educational run. I wish I’d worn my helmet cam for that one, because as you young’uns  say, “we were on point.” He answered every question with easy precision, with only one bobble at the drop into water, and even then, he just needed a moment to take a look before he leapt.

I knew Pine Top would be much tougher. I prepared. We did trot sets, galloped, dressaged, and gymnasticized in the weeks leading up to both Full Gallop and Pine Top. I had a long, frank discussion with my OB about the risks of running horse trials while five months pregnant. I did a lot of research. Ultimately, my doctor and I made the decision that the risks were acceptable given the safety precautions, and the fact that I would withdraw if my body told me I couldn’t handle it.

Dressage morning, I braided in the dark at the trailer by lantern light. I love the time change, but it wasn’t working in my favor that weekend! Chip was uncharacteristically a little anxious. I chalked it up to the fact that he’d spent the night listening to momma and calf bawling for each other at the cattle farm where we stayed that weekend. I doubt he got much sleep. However, he put in a solid test, and I managed to steer us around, despite almost forgetting where I was supposed to go when I turned at B.

Stadium was daunting with maxed out verticals and oxers and bending lines and triples, Oh My! But, the course rode really well, and our homework paid off. We had one rail at fence 2; the course designer was pretty smart with his placement of that vertical. Chip was busy looking at the warm-up area beyond it, and he only snatched up his legs in time to jump. The baby had a greenie moment–can’t begrudge him for that!

By now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “oh just get on with it!” Or maybe you scrolled past the text just to get to the video footage–I don’t blame you. I walked cross-country three times before Sunday morning. (In fact, I walked a total of 20+ miles that weekend, according to my Fitbit.) Knowing my horse, I figured we might have a couple of look-sees, and I was a tad worried about the trahkehner and coffin questions at 6 and 8. And perhaps the hay trailer at 12. Ok, yeah, I planned on gluing the seat of my breeches to my saddle and keeping my shoulders squarely behind my hips for nearly the whole ride. Not gonna lie. Like the superstar he is, though, he came out of the box ready for action. That monster trahkehner at 6 was barely a glance. In fact, I had to pull like heck to keep him from jumping the prelim trahkehner on our way to 7! He locked on, and I literally had to sit up and grab his face. The coffin combination at 8? Easy peasy. But, fence 9. That maxed out double brush monstrosity that I figured we’d just up and gallop over? Chip galloped up and said, “whoa, mom, that’s kinda big. Are you sure?” By this point, I truly had jello for legs. Ol’ lefty, missing the PCL and sporting a barely attached MCL, just up and quit on me. He thought about running out, and all I could think to do was shout, “Nooo, Chip!” We’d worked so hard, and Pine Top was our culmination–I wanted redemption. That horse. That giant heart of his. I admit, I’m prone to anthropomorphising sometimes, but I swear he heard the desperation in my voice, and he just leapt. I should’ve let him run out. I certainly didn’t whip or kick, but he jumped that fence for me. And it was awkward. I wish someone had gotten a video. I lost both my stirrups and grabbed his neck for dear life and somehow stayed put and galloped on to fence 10. Fence 11 was a rolltop into the water, bending line to a corner. Shoot, we’d schooled drops with bending lines to corners, so why would I worry about that one? Once again, I needed a little leg. By this point, Chip was developing a little doubt about my ability to get us around, and he slowly came to a stop in front of that corner. “Mom, if you wanted me to jump that, you probably should have had a little more impulsion to my canter. Just sayin’.” We cantered back around and hopped over it with no issues. But when he landed? I felt the switch in his brain. He grabbed the bit and might as well have told me to “sit down, shut up, and hang on.” He locked on to 12, took a quick glance, read the fence, and ate it for breakfast. 13AB was a log pile with a nearly 90 degree right hand turn to B, a skinny log. I sat up and prayed he’d come back to me, and my green little horse had an adult moment. It rode so beautifully. Angled cabins at 16? A breeze. We finished with 1 refusal at 11B and a few resulting time penalties. I was so thrilled with him. There are no words to describe the feeling of sitting on such a brave horse who will willingly jump obstacles that should scare the life out of him. And so, without further ado, enjoy the photos and videos from our Pine Top experience.


Stadium round:

Chip made his training level debut this weekend at Jumping Branch Farm. Our last horse trial was Pine Top back in November, so a schooling trial was in order to gauge our readiness for the upcoming recognized trials in March.

I also had two students competing in the beginner novice and novice divisions, so it was a very full day. Our first course walk was Friday night in the dark, but we were able to walk the course a second time Saturday morning after my dressage test. I made my fatal flaw here, not catching the exact off-shoot where I needed to head to fences 6 and 7. But, I found the fences & figured I’d know where I needed to branch off. Rookie mistake.

When I galloped up the road headed toward 6, I went the correct route, second-guessed myself (because I’d missed that fork twice on my course walks), and re-routed to a road just before. A good 15-20 seconds in, I realized I’d screwed up big time. I turned Chip around & got back on course.

I might’ve kicked myself for that, except, really I was kicking myself already for being a useless sack of potatoes in the saddle. Thank goodness for the wind tunnel effect, because it overshadows my heavy panting. I was absolutely no use to Chip, and yet, you’ll see, he carried us onward, ears pricked the whole ride.

This weekend was a great learning experience. I plan on sharing my Eventing while pregnant experience in a series of blog posts, but for now, suffice it to say, it’s a lot different when your body isn’t performing the way you’re used to.

In the meantime, enjoy a pair of fuzzy brown ears eagerly looking for the next fence!


FGF Swing Fa the Stars: The “little” horse with a huge heart

**This is a long post, but it has a happy ending and lots of pictures.

The highs and lows of our sport are pretty extreme. The exhilaration felt as you pass through the finish flags on a double clear XC round is a high that cannot be matched. And knowing your green 5 year old OTTB just finished a tough Novice division in 3rd place at Pine Top takes you to the top of the world. But, then you’re walking back to the trailer, bursting with joy, and the TD drives by and says, “Guess what? You were eliminated–you didn’t pass through the start flags!” Suddenly, you’re in the lowest of lows. The bottom just drops out of your world. IMG_0016

What a disappointment. Chip jumped his heart out and put in such a relaxed and obedient dressage test, and it was me who failed us. I went back and looked at the start box–I just couldn’t believe I’d missed going through the start flags, but sure enough, there they were. Two tiny flags stapled to one side of a set of wing standards, somewhat obscured below eye level, and certainly not very visible if you were making laps through the start box the wrong direction (which I was). It’s hard to describe, but the start box was fully open both sides (not like most start boxes that have a clear exit and obvious entrance), and they’d set up wing standards to close off the open corner. By putting the flags on one set of standards, they determined the rider must pass through that side to begin. I went out the opposite direction. Because the box was on an angle to the first fence, I got no advantage–it was essentially the same route as going out to the ‘left.’ It was my error, though, and it cost us third place. However, Chip had no idea we didn’t finish in 3rd. He just knew I was happy with him, and he was happy to eat hay at the trailer while we sadly packed our things to head home.

That left front was still somewhat bothering him, though, and it was obvious in our dressage test, where we were still slightly counterbent on the left lead. Because he has such large osselets on his LF, I asked Lara if we could get a current screening set of his fetlock. We set the appointment for the following Friday, and true to form, Chip pulled his right front shoe on Tuesday. It was Thursday night at 7pm (my farrier is awesome) before my farrier could make it out, but he worked hard on that left front, cutting away a ‘cushion zone’ where the abscess was growing out from the coronary band and likely pinching him (and what we strongly suspected was still causing him some discomfort). Friday afternoon, I was a nervous wreck waiting for the radiograph to pop up on the screen. And when it did, I could hardly believe what I was seeing. For a second, I thought I was looking at the rads from the previous horse. The joint was impossibly clean! The osselets were below the joint, and most likely (per the vet) due to external trauma (repeatedly kicking under a stall door, for example). On cloud nine, I giddily asked Lara if I could put Chip in a modified Training level division for the schooling trials that Sunday (yeah, less than 36 hours away). She said she’d put him in Training-Novice (Training level dressage & stadium, novice XC). So, I packed up, left Chip at Full Gallop for the night, and headed home.

Saturday morning after feeding, I loaded up my students and their horses, and we hit the road for Aiken. Again. (I wish I could get frequent ‘flier’ miles.) The girls had a fabulous XC school, and I got a very insightful dressage lesson from my old dressage trainer who just happened to be in Aiken at the same time.

Sunday morning, Chip and I entered the ring to ride our Training B test for the first time ever. We’d literally not ever even put two of the moves together. And, we came away with a 37.7–a very steady and relaxed test with some canter lengthening, no trot lengthening, but a fairly accurate and obedient test. I was incredibly proud of him. And, then he put in a double clear stadium round that caused 9 dropped rails for 10 riders in the regular training division, putting us in an imaginary 4th after stadium (if you compare scores…not that I do). And he did it with ease. I withdrew him before XC, knowing he could run the novice XC with his eyes closed. He went home a champion in my eyes (and, if you compare scores, not that I do, we might’ve placed 1st if he’d run the training level XC double clear…).

I must insert a truly proud moment here and share that my two students both won their divisions as well. Kristin completed her first BN, and Ally ran her second Tadpole on her pony’s first ever horse trial.

Chip still has a lot to learn, but he’s exponentially improving with every outing. He pours his heart and soul into everything he does, and I’m so happy to have the opportunity to bring him along.

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Meet Full Gallop Farm’s Swing Fa the Stars

For weeks, even months, now, I’ve been thinking I should resume the blog and chronicle this OTTB retraining journey. But, this morning, I truly felt compelled to share.

Meet Chip: Full Gallop Farm’s Swing Fa the Stars (2010 Gelding, Grand Slam x Forrest Lullaby)

Back in June, I partnered with Lara Anderson of Full Gallop Farms to take on Chip as a retraining project. When I got Chip, he’d already had some post-track training, but he was missing a lot of basics.
Chip Right Conformation

But, he had those knees we all want, and he made jumping look effortless.
Chip Jump

Unfortunately, he’s “not that great a mover,” and he thinks bending is a form of torture. Our dressage scores hover in the mid to upper 30s. What he lacks in flourish, though, he makes up for with try.

This past weekend, Chip moved up to Novice at the Full Gallop November Horse Trials. Thursday afternoon prior, he showed up with this: IMG_8174

My first thought was abscess, but he’d shown no indication of lameness except being a bit sluggish. We finally decided it was a laceration, so I medicated it and wrapped it. Saturday morning, we rode a dressage test in preparation for the 1 day trial. We actually shaved a couple points off our previous score, so I was fairly happy. Pony was nicely relaxed. But, he just wasn’t himself. Sunday morning, we had a horrible dressage test with a score of 40. He was counterbent on the left lead–looking back, that was a pretty good clue. I toyed with the idea of scratching him. I probably told everyone I saw that I was contemplating scratching him. He wasn’t lame, but he just wasn’t himself. I finally decided that we’d head to stadium warm up, and if he was even slightly hesitant about jumping, I’d scratch.
Not only was he bold in warmup, he probably gave me one of my most flawless trips around a stadium course ever. And, 10 minutes later, he flew around cross-country like a seasoned veteran.

We came away with 5th place, finishing on our dressage score.

The next day, since the vet was going to be out anyway, I had him examine Chip’s ‘laceration.’ It didn’t take long for the vet to decide it warranted a closer look before we made a diagnosis. Radiographs revealed a tract from sole all the way up to the coronary band, so Dr. Myran pulled his shoe and cut away enough sole to offer a way out for the infection. A prescription for soaking, poulticing, and antibiotics, and that was that. An abscess. Not only an abscess, but a mother of an abscess. Big and bad enough that it blew out the bottom overnight. IMG_8212

They say geldings don’t have heart. They say only mares and stallions will give you their all. But Chip says they’re wrong. This horse is worth his weight in gold. Stay tuned for more on Chip’s journey…