Thursday, May 3, 2018

Do horses remember each other?

Taran came home from my trainer's on Monday night - he's been gone for 4 months. On one hand, I really missed him, but on the other hand, he now has at least the beginning of the skills we need for 3rd level and hopefully beyond, and I'm really excited about that.

Not sure which level movement this is but at least he's light on his forehand?

I managed to make the 5 hour round trip drive to visit T once or twice a week, and every time I was there I noticed that he seemed kind of despondent. Barn staff assured me that he loved it there - out 12 hours a day in his own private grassy pasture, and he seemed to have become friends with one of his stall neighbors.

Taran and Paddy

But he wasn't eating very well, which is usually a sign that he's stressed. I always fussed with him and stuffed him with cookies when I visited, but still - it's not the same as seeing him multiple times per day, rubbing his face just the way he likes, or doing a late-night curry session to get all the itchy spots. I missed him a lot while he was gone, and I felt guilty for leaving him there for so long.

Reunion grooming with Griffy (sorry, it was dark, but you can see the ear shadows)

I'm not the only one who missed him. Our little herd's dynamics shifted while he was gone. The Haffies are not the best of friends to begin with, and Paddy got more and more snippy with Griffy as time went on. T always instigated grooming sessions, but with him gone, nobody groomed anybody else. Since T wasn't there to play with, Griffy tried to get Reddums to play bitey-face, and that went about as poorly as one might expect. I would tell them that T was coming back, but even so, a missing herd-mate was clearly a problem.

Taran, Reddums (you can see his star in the background), and Paddy

Then Monday night after picking T up and driving him home, I was backing the trailer into the driveway when Taran called out. Immediately there were three answering calls from the barn. The talking continued as I parked and unloaded him. When we walked into the barn, Reddums, Paddy, and Griffy were all lined up at the gate, craning their necks in their excitemen. T pulled the lead rope out of my hands, and the four of them began touching noses and sniffing each other over the gate almost desperately.  It reminded me of long-lost relatives meeting each other at the airport, hugging and laughing and crying all at once. At one point Griffy was licking T while Reddums sniffed noses and Paddy was nibbling his neck.

Reddums supervises the showing off

I finally managed to get the gate open and let T out, and the reunion continued. Paddy and T groomed for a few minutes, then T switched to grooming Griffy. Reddums stood by as sentinel, then ushered T over to get a drink and supervised while he rolled. And then they all went off as a group to ... do some kind of horsey thing. It was dark and late, so I left them with their reunion. Since then, everyone seems more relaxed - T is eating great, Paddy and Griffy have reached detente (mostly), and Reddums is benevolently dictating once more. Life is back to normal.

The new normal maybe? Eeek.

Have you ever had horses be reunited after months or years? Were they pasture-mates or did they have a more casual acquaintance, like stall neighbors? Did they remember each other? What did they do when they were reunited?

Running for the sheer joy of it (the rest of the herd is slower and somewhere out of the pic)

Monday, April 30, 2018

The new jousting horse in town

This year has been a bit of a challenge for my husband in the jousting arena.

Plz select your jousting haffie

Long-time readers will remember that Paddy, who is a jousting savant, has been struggling on and off for several years with a likely DDFT injury to his right front. Earlier this year, he injured himself AGAIN playing out in the pasture, and we had the vet out AGAIN. This time, she recommended we simply retire him. If he's hurting himself being a horse, there's just not much we can do about it. I refuse to keep him locked in a stall for the rest of his life, and we've rehabbed so many times just to have him damage it again.

So. No more jousting for Paddington.

Which is a damn shame, because he is really good at it

Which left Griffy.

To be fair, we bought Griffy as a second jousting horse. But when we got him home, it became pretty apparent that he might never joust. You need a horse that has a certain self-confidence to joust or do mounted combat, because they have to be willing to go up against another horse with a can-do attitude.

Things Griffy is good at include being petted by his adoring fans

Griffy doesn't have that. He's the lowest in pecking order in our small herd. He wants to snuggle with humans, and gets all of his confidence from his rider - he absolutely lives for you to tell him "good boy!" during your rides. He's super sensitive to changes in weight, your seat, noises, movement... basically, everything you *don't* want in a jousting horse. We'd even talked about selling him as a dressage horse after his success at his first show, and looking for a horse that would be more suitable for jousting instead.

No scary armor and nobody's trying to hit your rider in dressage

But. Husband and I both love him, and he's SUPER fun to ride. We are both learning a lot from him and don't want to give him up. Plus, he was our only option so we had to try.

Also it's really hard to beat this hair

We took things super slow, and went through more treats than I can count. I spent more than a week doing nothing more than walking up and down the jousting lane, stopping at the ends and hanging out, quite literally texting on my phone while we stood there. We practiced slow trots and canters in the lane. We practiced stopping. We added a lance, and one piece of armor at a time. Every ride, we pretended like we were starting from 0, with no expectations. We went to every practice we could, and kept everything slow, methodical, and positive.

Family portrait

And this weekend, at our annual Lysts on the Lake joust, Griffy took my husband to the finals.



Did I mention that he's the smallest horse out there?

Perfect stop at the end, and I hand over the cookies :D

He stood at the beginning of the lane better than any other horse there, and he always stopped at the end (granted, I was there with cookies). There were a couple of really big hits, one of which nearly unseated my husband, and Griffy kept doing his job even though you could tell he was a bit rattled. We always made a huge fuss of him at the end of the lane, telling him what a good boy he was, there were some runs where my husband was even telling he was good during the run. The other jousters were joking that his motto needed to be "Who's a good boy!"


Reddums the Feerless War Pony also came back out for the occasion. We retired him about four years ago, and he's been doing great since then, but this winter he started really losing his topline and looking his age. I decided to start riding him a bit (literally 10 minutes of walk and 2-3 minutes of trot a few times a week) and he really muscled back up and seemed to be enjoying the attention - or maybe it was the cookies? Hubby got on him a few times and did a little sword work, and Red thought that was pretty much the best thing ever, so they started ramping up their routine a bit, still keeping it light in deference of Red's age. Originally Hubby had planned to only do the joust on Griffy, but Red seemed fit enough for the skill at arms and mounted combat melee, which is Red's favorite. Even at 25, they came in second place out of a fairly large field. Little guy still has it in him!

Professional Attack War Pony

All in all, it was a great weekend, and I'm super proud of both my husband and Griffy for sticking with it, doing what the horse needed, and making it work. Griffy might not be the bravest, but he's the best. :)


Friday, April 27, 2018

Haflinger'd (verb)


  1. to have been attacked or damaged by a Haflinger
"Did you accidentally dump the wheelbarrow over?" "Sigh... no, it's been Haflinger'd" 
Griffy has no idea how this could have happened.
 "Why is the gate no longer attached to the rest of the fence?" "*@*&&*%!$, Paddington must have Haflinger'd it"
Paddignton would like to point out that we have no actual evidence that it was his fault.
"My goodness, what happened to this poor water bottle that got left on the fence post overnight?" "Oh that? Looks like it's been Haflinger'd" 


synonyms: FUBAR, effed up, damaged, mangled, bent, broken, stomped, squashed

antonym: Everything is just fine, nothing to see here, please move along.

Also, plz to feed cookies because starvation is a very real possibility.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Suicide Blonde (Haffie)

After 3 solid years of USDF rated shows, I still get super anxious about showing. What I'm anxious about, I don't know, but one way for me to be less anxious is to show regularly. Unfortunately, until T and I are ready to rock Third, we're staying home, so I decided that Griffy could be T's stand-in. So with exactly one schooling show under our belt (where Griffy wasn't exactly an exemplary competitor), I decided to sign Griffy up for a rated show. What could possibly go wrong?

The drive to the show was uneventful (just the way you want it), and we got settled in Friday afternoon. Like a true Haffie, Griffy kept calling to someone, ANYONE at the show who he might know. Tragically for him, nobody answered. We got in a solid schooling ride, and although he looked around a little bit, he tried really hard and stayed focused on me for the most part. I headed to my favorite sushi place with a good friend after, and called it an early night.


Saturday morning I had plenty of time to get breakfast, panic, groom, panic, clean tack, panic, braid Griffy, and panic. I decided to split his mane, half on either side of his neck, and then sew the tail of his braid back up under, which worked kinda meh. Dude just has SO MUCH HAIR it's kinda ridiculous.

He's basically cousin It.

This worked pretty well though

Our first test was Training 2. My goal was to keep his trot tempo steady and his canter balanced. I literally counted "one, two, one, two" under my breath for the entire trot tour. Luckily the judge didn't hear us and it really helped keep me honest with the rhythm... and if I was on it, he was on it. Our canter departs were significantly more dignified than they have been, which was really huge. He stayed focused and soft and while the whole test was kind of unpolished, I walked out of the arena feeling like I really couldn't have asked for any more for his first time out. Our score of 69.615% was generous, but I'm also not going to complain about it! Also Griffy got his first blue ribbon at a rated show.

You get crap stills because the lighting was terrible and all the video was super bouncy 

We had about an hour before Training 3 - just enough time to cool off and reset your brain. Griffy was feeling a little tired in warmup, and he starts to get a little nappy. He likes to lean on the bit and your left leg, fall on his forehand, and just generally say that he can't possibly do it. A few reminders that he has to hold up his end of the bargain if he wants to get fed, and he usually digs in and offers up his best work. It's kind of interesting, but he really does try if you ask him.

Could I please just put my hands down already

We had another pretty decent test, although we had a canter step in the trot and his canter got a little flat and unorganized. I wasn't as good about riding every step and helping him out as I was earlier in the day, and he seems to really need that from me at this point in his career, so that's definitely on me. Still, we walked out with a 67.955%, which counts as a qualifying score for regionals (both SWDC and GAIG). We were second behind a USDF Gold Medalist and her Very Fancy young Dutch Harness Horse (OMG SO FANCY), so I will totally take that. We also ended up reserve champion AA for Training Level, which I was definitely not expecting.

That moment when you boot your baby horse with your outside leg so he won't fall out of the arena.

Sunday was a repeat of the same, except that our T2 test was a leeeetle more exciting than I had hoped for. Halfway through our test, a horse got loose in the barn area and went galloping down the road past our arena, screaming his head off. All of the hamsters fell out of Griffy's head, and he was FOR SURE going to join said galloping horse. I had a number of Very Ugly Movements where I tried to both collect the hamsters and wrestle him around the arena in some semblance of the movements, but it was pretty much a lost cause. The judge wrote "horse needs more confidence" in the comments, which I think was a nice way of summing up "Probably need to work on your horse thinking he's going to die cold and alone in the sandbox." We got a 61.538% for our sad efforts, but I'm really not sure what I would have done differently to keep him together. Little guy just needs more miles. 

Also remember to tighten your girth before going into the arena so your saddle doesn't slip when your horse loses his hamsters.

I decided that I was NOT going to end the weekend on such a crap test, so I went into T3 with my whip (which I had not ridden with all weekend because he's usually too sensitive to it) and a whole bucketload of determination to redeem ourselves. While the test lacked polish, it was fairly consistent and earned us a 66.591%, for second place (behind Fancy Dutch Horse again) and another regional qualifying score.

Not as fancy as Fancy Dutch Horse, but awfully darn cute

The icing on the weekend is that we qualified for a Training level freestyle... which means I FINALLY get to ride to Suicide Blonde by INXS. Because it's basically perfect Haffie freestyle music, amirite?

Monday, February 26, 2018

Gryphon the Great

With Taran in full training, I don't get to ride him very much because he's 2.5 hours away. But I go crazy if I don't ride (ask my poor husband), so I've been putting some time in on Griffy in the last couple of weeks.

He's a bit of a tricky ride - he's quite sensitive, but he also has that bull-headed Haflinger streak. So I'll do something like switch my whip hand and he'll simultaneously go "EEEK" and then use it as an excuse to grab left rein and try to take off. I can shut him down pretty quickly, but I do have to be more situationally aware with him than with Paddy or Taran. He also looooves to lean and will happily get into a pulling match if I let him. Maybe this is a Haffie thing because Paddy is a pro at this move.

Getting a leeetle leany here - If I ask for just a titch too much trot, we lose the balance. It's a fine line.

The coolest thing about Griffy is how balanced he can be and how much he will go off my seat. I start every ride with a lot of walk/halt and then walk/trot transitions. He starts off ignoring my seat, but about 5 minutes in he starts listening. The reins become almost unnecessary as he becomes buttery off my leg aids, and I feel like I'm riding a well-tuned little pretzel. Right up until the point where one of us gets a little quick or grabby and then it all falls apart. But at least I know where we can go!

Right now we're mostly working on balance and tempo and me carrying my hands (see above with the pulling). Taran isn't really a leaner or a puller, so I'm having to re-learn how to correctly use my core to resist the Haffie lean. Maybe this time it will stick?

I would like all our trot work to look like this please

But let's be real

Griffy's canter transitions are... interesting. They really feel like nothing, but he's hugely expressive about them, even with a very small ask. And when he's super balanced, his canter feels like riding a cloud. Taran's canter is nice (especially now), but Griffy's is a whole other level.

I barely asked, I swear

In the canter, I have to focus on really following with my seat and sitting UP to sort of hold him to a balanced canter, with just minimal support from my hands. Lots of inside leg helps, but no so much that he's leaning on my leg. Sometimes picking the inside hand up (NOT back) helps get him off the inside rein and gets him to rebalance himself, but doing it while cantering is still tough for both of us. 

Spoiler alert: we're way better to the left 

I'm excited to be riding this guy - he's really a lot of fun, and as always every horse teaches you a lot. I know he's supposed to be hubby's next jousting horse and all, but uhm... maybe he's more cut out for dressage? 

Especially given this on point bouffant .... FAHBULOUS

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Half Pass Professional

At the beginning of the year, I had a long talk with my trainer about how we were going to get changes on Taran. I have no experience with them, and neither does he. Although our first few attempts were successful, I didn't feel like I had the knowledge or confidence to put correct, clean changes on him. So, we decided it would be best to put Taran in full training for a few months to get him going.

Apparently he's doing great with them, but my trainer is kind of terrible with video. I have several videos of her talking her WS through the setup, then T canters out of frame and I hear her squeal "YES! THAT WAS AWESOME!" while I see nothing but arena wall or dirt. So um, yay awesome horse?

Anyway, a side benefit to being in full training is that all his gaits have improved 100%. He's so straight and through and supple and STRONG, it's like I'm riding a whole new horse. And MAN, he loves to do half pass, both at the trot and canter. And riding a move that your horse loves to show off is just pretty amazeballs.

The way half-pass was explained to me was to ride across the diagonal, look at the letter you're going to, and then ask for haunches in. I know there's more to it than that, but for a beginner version it's working for me.

Uhhhnnfortunately, some of us are not as good at half pass as our horses are. The theme here is "let's lean to the outside"...

I do not think my right shoulder should be 4 inches lower than my left.
Nor should my left shoulder be 4 inches lower than my right. At least I'm consistent?

Also whatever my left hand is doing, it's doing without my permission.

Either the camera angle is hiding my flaws, or someone yelled at me to SIT UP. Either way, my horse is a saint for carrying on despite less than perfect working conditions.

Moral of the story: sit UP, weight on your inside seatbone, and for heaven's sakes keep your hands down. Taran will do the half pass with or without me - I just need to position him, ask, and then STAY OUT OF HIS WAY. 

What are your tricks for half pass? 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Things I wish I had known a year ago

I've been puttering around with this post in my head for a while, and it's still kind of jumbled. But there are some things I've learned in the past year that I wish I'd known at the start of the year.

Stop talking down about yourself, your riding, and your horse. No, I'm not God's gift to riding, and no, Taran is not going to the Olympics. But that doesn't mean I have to be self-deprecating about everything. If someone gave us a compliment, I used to make a snarky negative comment. Now, if someone gives us a compliment, I say something like "Thank you, we've really been working on that and he tries so hard for me". I'm not trying to be a prima donna about it, but I don't need to put us down either, because if you say enough negative things, you start to believe them. Instead, I now tell Taran that he's awesome on the daily, because if he thinks he's awesome, he acts like it (seriously, you should see him puff up!).  Pretty soon, you'll both believe it, and that makes a huge difference in your outlook on life!

Repeat after me: My horse is awesome. My horse is awesome. My horse is awesome. 

Visualize everything. Over the summer, I read "That Winning Feeling". Mostly what it talks about is the power of positive thinking (see above) and the value of visualizing your movements and tests and how you're going to ride them. The more detail you visualize, the more you can trick your body into thinking that you've actually done something over and over again. I practiced a lot of tests in my head, and it really helped. In fact I was in the middle of one test and momentarily blanked on where to go next, but my body knew because I'd visualized it so much, and we had already started the next movement. For the record, I forgot exactly 0 tests in 2017, so sample size of N=1 says visualization really works!
Seriously, go buy this thing - it's worth every penny. Best sports psychology advice I've ever gotten, even if the author's hairstyle is a bit 1980s.

Be honest with yourself and with your trainer about your goals. In my second ride with GP trainer, she asked me what my goals were. I flat-out told her I wanted to ride Grand Prix. She told me that I'd probably need another horse, and I agreed but told her I wanted to see how far we could get with Taran, because he's what I have right now. Knowing my goals, she pushes me harder than she does some of her other students. She makes comments like, "Don't show up again without spurs because you need them for FEI" or "go back and do that transition because that's not going to fly at 4th". She knows where I want to go and that I'm willing to work to get there. Which leads to...

Let's just lay all the cards out on the table, mmkay?

Get the best trainer that you can afford, and that works for you and your horse. When you have a trainer who has ridden at the top, and taken students to the top, that person has more tools in their toolbox than someone who hasn't. They can see the path to get you where you want to go and they understand what it takes to get there. My original trainer is lovely, and taught me a great deal about correct basics, but early last year we both realized that I had outgrown her. I struggled with moving on to someone else, but it was definitely the right thing to do. Having the right person teach you - AND one who believes in your horse - really makes all the difference.

For me having someone with a sense of humor is helpful, because while my horse is awesome, he's not always awesome is the ways I was hoping for. 

Doing second level well takes longer than you think. We got our bronze medal scores our first time out at 2nd, and looking back on those tests, they were cringe-worthy. In hindsight, I feel like we moved up to 2nd and faked our way through 2-1, but there's a year's worth of training and building strength between faking the first test and owning the last test. It takes a HUGE amount of strength, straightness, and balance for a horse to correctly perform movements like canter-walk (not to mention the rider's aids and timing), and I didn't realize just how much until quite late in the year. It didn't help that Taran was (unknowingly) struggling with PPID, but even so, all of our second level movements improved 100% over the course of the year. And there's still A LOT of room for improvement! It's hard not to rush through when you've got all the movements, but patience pays off to make them solid. The step from first to second is REALLY big, so give yourself and your horse time.

April 2017 medium trot - downhill and running

November 2017 medium trot - uphill with suspension

Fitness matters. Dear 2018 self, get yo lazy ass off the couch and get back to jogging and yoga. Seriously, I hate this one the most. I HATE jogging with a burning, fiery passion. I hate going to the gym. But late last summer I was jogging about a mile a day (don't laugh), and doing 20 mins of yoga daily, and it helped my riding so much. I know there are folks out there who run 5 miles every day and do crossfit and all that, and I just cannot understand how you make yourself do it. But I've seen first hand how much being even just a little more fit makes a difference in my riding, so really. This is my advice to me every year: GET OFF YO ASS.

Moo is definitely not helping with the fitness plans.

Don't compare yourself to others. This is hard, because we all look at what our friends or fellow bloggers are doing and lament how much slower we are moving than they are or how much better they did at the last show or whatever. Here's the thing - every horse/rider/trainer/barn/life situation is different. Be happy for your fellow riders who are doing their thing - whatever that thing is. Cheer them on. Tell them they are awesome. They've worked just as hard to get where they are as you have to get where you are. But your journey is your own, and you should revel in it. Constantly compare yourself and you are going to come up short every time. Measure success in your own way instead - and be sure to develop a healthy sense of humor for when things don't work out quite as planned.

I admit, I'm a teeny bit jealous of Jan getting her bronze medal last year. But in reality, she's worked her ass off and I'm so proud of her and excited for her and Penn. Being happy for her successes (and everyone in blogland) doesn't take anything away from me. Instead I get to share your journeys and celebrate with you.

Take omeprazole when you give it to your horse. Seriously, do you have to give yourself ulcers before every show? I do, and I've just had to admit that it's best if I take human omeprazole when I give Taran his. At least that way I don't want to throw up nearly as much.

I've come to the realization I might as well buy it in bulk.

So... what do you wish you had known at the beginning of last year? What advice would you pass on to someone else?