Friday, February 24, 2017

Cross Country Schooling 2/20

We rounded off our perfect 'pre-spring' weekend with a trip to Flora Lea to cross country school.

The last time I got to school my horse was in September. He was an absolute genius and perfect gentleman at Flora Lea. He did everything I asked and then some. Of course, the next day Godzilla dashed hopes for a fall season (and tried to dash hopes for any season, at all, ever).

That motherfucker.
Fast forward three months of extensive (insurance covered!!) treatments, a platinum membership to The Walkies Club and about eighty seven bottles of ace and here we are. Back at Flora Lea, schooling and seeing exactly how much work we've got to do going into our spring season.

We got up early to beat the rush since it was such a gorgeous weekend and a holiday to boot. The last thing I needed Runkle to see was someone being run off with and have him decide he was off to the races too. Plus, we had full run of all the jumps and I really underestimated how good it would be for him to school without giant pauses in between for other people to take turns.

It was like he didn't miss any time at all.

Is it just me or do red and purple look good together?

Okay, I realize this is blurry.
But look how chill he is down that bank!!
This is his FIRST DITCH. EVER.
Superstar horse. Didn't even flinch at the ditch. And the even better part was he had two days of jumping in a row, was turned out for 48 hours, and I rode him on Wednesday and he was sound.

Take that Godzilla.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Clinic Report: Sally Cousins 2/19/17

The last clinic I did with Runkle was a year ago, with Jennie Brannigan. I haven't ridden with Sally in even longer.

For some reason we had a magical spring weekend in the middle of February. It was so nice we could actually do the clinic OUTSIDE. Jump clinic in the outdoor in February? I'm sure we'll pay for this weekend with four feet of snow in April but you know what? I'll take it. Maybe not gladly but I will.

Runkle's jump lessons have mostly focused on getting him up in front of my leg as much as possible. He's very simple in that that's his biggest obstacle. Forward. Once he's forward you take your hands a little wide and he can figure out the rest. I'm sure I'm over simplifying and not giving myself enough credit in the same breath but that's how he feels to me.

This lead to me making an acquisition this week, in the form of these spurs:
Runkle is a real turd about spurs. He sucks behind the bridle and goes backwards when you apply them, which is the exact opposite of what spurs are supposed to do. While these are a little on the pricey side, they definitely get the job done in asking him to go forward in a way that doesn't deeply offend him. I'd like to move past jumping him in a dressage whip someday.

Back to the clinic: I love riding with Sally. She's so great for young horses as she's brought up so freakin' many. She's excellent at zeroing in on very common easy to make mistakes that people overlook (like keeping your heels down). She's positive, and slowly builds up courses by having you do elements on their own or in small groups before having you do a course of five or six jumps.

I normally think doing a clinic is a waste of time for a young horse. You just have too much to learn, and a professional is overkill when you're still trying to get your horse moving straight and forward. I don't want to waste a four star rider's time with simple baby steps. But I never feel that way riding with Sally. Her clinics have always been valuable and no rider (or horse!) is too small for her. It's a nice feeling. I  can't say enough good things about her training abilities.

I'm delighted with where we ended up and it's getting me even more excited for the spring season. Runkle was forward, adjustable, and as I got more comfortable I could allow my hand to drop more into an automatic release and he was starting to use his head and neck more efficiently.

He's really come so far!

As an aside, I normally take the audio out of clinic/lesson videos. But I might need to leave it in for one of them, as Sally had an extensive conversation about my purple hair and how my helmet cover wasn't bright enough to match.

Just saying.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Never Try Anything

You would think after the whole 'Micklem' incident I'd be wary of trying things 'just to see what would happen'. I put the stupid thing on my contact-reluctant horse 'just to see'. And we know how that ended.

The prince wants what the prince wants.
You think I would learn my lesson, but apparently I don't.

Runkle is back in full work (AND TURNOUT!!!) so things are kinda back to normal on the riding front. We're having jump and flat lessons, my dressage saddle has seen the light of day recently, and I've even ridden outside a couple times!

And with the return to normality we return to one of Runkle's favorite habits: tucking behind the bridle.

Most people aim for blue. I am for green.
He loves going behind the vertical. Loves it. He would live his life overbent to shit if I left him to it. The annoying part is being overbent doesn't really get you penalized in eventing dressage at the lower levels, even though I think it should. He scores very well because look at him, his head is down. Mission accomplished.


So every ride, whether we're having a jump lesson or just bumming around, I work on kicking him up above the bridle. I'm probably the only rider in the world who rewards her horse for popping his nose up in front of him. Our whole warm-up he sticks his nose straight in the air and any time he tries to tuck into his happy place I flail and get after him until he comes back up again.

Yesterday I innocently walked into the barn and a few of the other boarders were talking about bits. One boarder focuses primarily on dressage and was touting the Neue Schule bits, that are like $200 freakin' dollars (You can probably see where this is going...).

We discussed different kinds of metals and KK bits and whatnot and then she said "Megan I'm not using this eggbutt, so you can try it if you'd like."  I tried to save myself by saying it was probably too big but everyone (including a traitorous part of me) insisted it was fine to try it. I was only trying it to 'see what would happen'.

So I put it on the PS of Sweden bridle and hopped on. I told Runkle, "Please don't like this bit, I really do not want to buy it for you."

And what do you think he did? We had the best ride we've had in ages. I could actually ride him up into the contact. Every time I put my leg on he came up in the bridle. He never (NEVER, not ONCE) dropped behind the vertical. Even when I did long and low stretching. I turned to one of my barn buddies and said "please, tell me he looks like shit. please." She wouldn't lie to me. I just had to accept the fact that he loves it.


The prince wants what the prince wants. lol horses, amirite? (And if anyone asks, this is totally Kathy's fault).

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

On Being Good Enough

When I first started horse hunting I immediately fell in love with one at MAHR. I had been riding this beast for years:

So it makes sense I was drawn to this beastette:

Chrome: check. Redhead: check. Chromey redheaded mare: triple check. And she was only three so I had visions of doing the Young Event Horse series with her. I promptly fell in love and couldn't wait to go out and try her.

Our trial couldn't have gone less to plan.

Don't get me wrong; she was as beautiful in person as her pictures led me to believe. She was quiet to be tacked up and definitely athletic. The good times stopped there. I don't know what was up her butt but whatever it was, it was up there sideways. She walked all over her handler, refused to stand for the mounting block, and leaped around with no regard for anyone else. The woman from MAHR got on her and she was just as batty under saddle.

I hadn't ridden consistently in months and I probably shouldn't have gotten on her but I really really wanted her. My poor dad who came with me was probably shitting himself but I buckled up a much too big cross country vest and got on.

She was cranky and nappy under saddle, swishing her tail and resisting my leg. Her canter was to die for, but all I could see in my mind was her stepping on the person leading her and I knew she wasn't going to work out. She was so beautiful and had such a nice canter and I wanted her so much, but I couldn't get past what I had seen. She and I just weren't meant to work out.

I got Runkle, so I think we can agree it ended up working out for me anyway, at least

I still follow MAHR on Facebook and I see them repost updates about her from her new owner. She's just as gorgeous and talented as I thought she was, and I have to give real props to the woman who ended up with her on doing such a fantastic job.

omg, drool.
I look at her though, and I wonder why I couldn't have done that. I could've easily bought that horse. Right now she's farther along than Runkle, and much younger. She doesn't seem to have the spazzy craziness that Runkle brings to the table at horse shows. I could go on and on listing things, comparing us. I don't even know the whole story, I just know the couple of updates her new life has shared. I should be fair to myself and not compare my full story to fragments of a success story from someone else.

I'm always trying to be the very best I can be. I take lessons, I watch videos, I audit clinics, I read. I train for half marathons to be in the best shape possible so I can be a more effective rider. I board at a very nice facility that isn't exactly close to me because I want Runkle to have the best care and training I can provide.

All those are things I can control. But at some point hard work runs out and all you have left is luck and talent. Sometimes I fear I don't have enough of those things to make a difference and get where I want to be. I worry that I'm short changing Runkle in ways that won't allow him to take me as far as I want to go. And I worry (and worry, and worry) about being good enough.

I have to remind myself daily that someone else could've gotten it very wrong with him. He has such severe performance anxiety that I have to take things extra slow, being as comforting and calm as possible so he can find pleasure and peace in his new job, not fear. I forget that we've had some serious, outside-of-our-control setbacks. I broke my pinky for pity's sake. He popped a splint that took three months to heal. Maybe this mare and her partner didn't face those kinds of issues.

I'll probably never think I'm good enough, but I'm deciding to look at it like that's one of my strengths. It keeps me humble, and keeps me working hard. So even when it's fifteen degrees and windy outside, and I've had to work late and am not getting to the barn until eight o'clock at night, I still give Runkle and our training 150%. I can't do anything less.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Muck Bucket List: Polo

I picked my specific college because I wanted to be on the varsity riding team. It was the only thing that really made me give a shit about college, and it became my whole focus during high school. I didn't realize I wanted to be on the Skidmore riding team, specifically, until I went and visited my senior year.

We managed to find horses at graduation.

Snowy day at the school barn.
Of course, like all the best laid plans, I might as well not have made them because they fell apart immediately. I didn't get on the team, and on top of that I felt like the coach really shirked me, which stung.

The next day I was wandering around the club fair, realizing that I had been on campus a grand total of six days and it was already really not going as planned. I didn't know where to go from there. I guess I could've busted my ass working at the barn and trying to get into the coach's good graces. Then maybe next year I could score a spot on the riding team, but the whole experience really left a bad taste in my mouth.

And I might also be stubborn.

Somewhere between the student radio station and weekly yoga in the chapel, I heard someone say "Weren't you at riding team tryouts?"

Pre cell phone era: sepia
I was jolted out of my reverie and looked over to see who spoke. The sign on the table said Skidmore Polo Club. Honestly I'm not sure why this wasn't my first plan of attack. How many chances would I get to try polo? The Sport of Kings! I eagerly signed up for the info meeting the following week.

Charity game - only outdoor game I ever played. I scored a goal!
Polo conjures images of champagne, fancy dresses, BMW's, and perfectly manicured fields. That was not really the case at Skidmore Polo. We had a tiny, dark arena that I'm pretty sure most people in the area hated. We were not the best team in the league (at least when I was a starter. Maybe because I was a starter). The club was in a lot of debt when we picked it up and the string was getting old.

But everyone on the club was nothing if not passionate, and we all worked our asses off to turn things around. Not to mention we got to travel all over the east coast, meet people from schools all over the country and ride lots (and LOTS) of ponies. I developed a bond with my teammates that I haven't experienced since.

This was last year, when I had a mitten and couldn't play :(


I'm in the black hoodie.
And of course the horse has purple wraps.

My favorite pony - Missy
Check out her markings!!
Sometimes you have those moments in your life where you see the tiny pebble plopped into the water that diverts the stream that feeds into the river that changes the ocean. Signing up for the team was definitely one of those moments. Turns out, getting rejected from the riding team was probably the best thing that ever happened in my life.

The club gave me so much. I'm lucky enough that I have the opportunity to be involved as an alumni. And club continues to change and grow; we gained 501c3 status and they're developing an interscholastic program. It's incredibly watching these young kids whip around whacking balls better than I ever could.

I don't know that I'll ever get to play again, it's just too expensive. But once a year I go back to my alma mater to gallop around like an idiot, hit a ball and remember all the sport gave to me. I learned lessons in horsemanship and sportsmanship that have followed me both in my continuing horse endeavors and professionally.

Plus it's just really goddamn fun.