Figuring out Summer

1. Cholula’s summer sore is healing! Slowly, but surely. I stopped wrapping her foot 2 nights ago and switched over to fly boots. So far they seem to be working well enough – they keep the flies off, and that’s the main thing. This also makes her care infinitely easier while I’m away next week in Minnesota.


The wound care arsenal

2. Her lumps and bumps have all been gradually fading, so perhaps she just had a bad spell of reacting to the flies with the stress of the summer sore. There haven’t been any new welts and I’m happy for that.

3. I have a few really great people taking care of Cho while I’m gone, which makes me feel better about leaving for over a week. Especially as it’s going to start hitting the 100s next week. I never do well traveling and leaving my animals, but she’ll have eyes on her every day and I’m sure she’ll be fine because she always is. Right? Right.

4. Riding. I have noticed that Cho has not been terribly effective at cooling herself. Going by the standard of heat + humidity = over 150 = dangerous, this isn’t very surprising…most days (morning, midday, night, whatever) it’s over 160. Many people say “Ride in the morning, it’s cooler!” …but the combined temperature and relative humidity is often higher in the mornings because the humidity is so high. I can’t believe I’d rather ride in 93 than 79, but there you go.

Because I hose her off before I ride, it’s hard to tell if her body is still sweating as it’s supposed to. I primarily worry because of how heavy she breathes after a moderate amount of work that isn’t walking, and if we do anything nearing “normal” trot and canter work it takes a long time for her respiratory rate to go down.

I’ve been paranoid about anhidrosis since moving here, and with google the other day I may have overreacted and decided that her ability to sweat has been compromised (though I recognize it’s not stopped completely). I researched every supplement and what has worked for every other person on the internet, consulted my MN vet, and opted to go with One AC.

I have since realized that perhaps my fat Northern horse with a coat that’s visibly thicker than any Thoroughbred’s is just having an adjustment period and perhaps we don’t need to jump to treatments for things she doesn’t have just yet. She is turned out at night and is doing well with that. She gets to stand under a fan all day in her stall with access to plenty of clean water. She is the master of not expending energy, and the odds of her moving enough to necessitate more cooling are small.

I knew summer was going to be hard and we’d probably have to take a break, or greatly reduce our workload. I am trying to balance crazy paranoia with healthy concern. It doesn’t come easily to me.

SO. We changed gears. Our work has to be different — now is not the time to train for stamina or endurance. I get a little twitchy with the thought that Cho is losing fitness…but there is nothing more I can do about that, and walk work is better than no work.

Our sessions are slow and methodical. I’m not in any rush to “get to the real work” because everything is real work. I walk her on a loose rein for 10 minutes. I gradually take up contact, and note where she’s stuck. Not giving to the outside rein means not yielding to the inside leg, so we work on that. When it gets a little better I change direction and give her a break. Small, collected lateral work to warm everything up and big, stretchy walk breaks between each.

The result of all of this is a supple horse that’s on the aids and ready to go. I can’t spend multiple trips around the arena in trot or canter to do these things, so I want the trot work we do to count. We don’t trot until the walk work is there. We don’t continue trotting until she stays on the aids through the transition. As soon as she gives what I ask, she gets a walk break.

We do poles often. A lot of walking, but I try to make a point of passing over them as many times as I can in a session.

Sometimes I spend the end of the ride practicing sitting trot without stirrups until she needs a break (I could do with several more hours of that).

My expectations are different. I expect good transitions, and we do them until they are. I expect correct work. If something isn’t right – she’s not through, she isn’t quite bending around my inside leg, she is bracing in the rein-back, hollowing in canter transitions — I take a step back, think about what I can do to work it out, and try again. I don’t get frustrated. I don’t feel rushed.

This is probably how training should always be, but it’s easy to get caught up in the check list of “you must do these things for this test.” I’ve been thinking a lot lately in regards to my riding during show season vs. not show season. How I am dying to just enjoy my horse at the end of show season, rather than worry about scores and tests and competition. Don’t get me wrong – I love showing, I love dressage, I think riding tests is important. But, I can only focus so much on that before I need a break.

And, tangible results?

-Cho will sit and lift for half-steps some of the time. She doesn’t really ‘get’ piaffe yet, but once or twice in a session a light bulb will click. This light bulb could be the moment in which I get my shit together and ride properly.

Consistent half-pass! In walk AND in trot! So much so that I really have to be mindful about my aids, because some of the time when I want to circle and I’m coming off of the rail she goes into half-pass.

-Shoulder-fore, shoulder-in, travers – all of these things are getting easier. We are definitely communicating better with lateral work.

-Walk to canter transitions are steadier: she doesn’t lift her head as often for balance, and she is doing more of them the first time I ask (as opposed to trying to trot, not staying on the aids, etc). Downward transitions (canter-trot) have also improved a lot, and soon I’ll start mixing in canter-walk again.

Putting together a 2nd level test may be a challenge right now, but the past month has been a good reminder that my horse is awesome.


Figuring out Summer

And it gets worse.

On Tuesday I noticed Cho had a small scratch a few inches below her eye. Ugh. The vet told me that any sore, scratch, wound, etc has the potential to become a summer sore if the flies can get at it (actually, it doesn’t even need to be open! They will just deposit the larvae into the skin if they feel like it!). Thankfully, faces can be covered with fly masks, so this spot shouldn’t be an issue.

Last night, however, she had a big hard lump on her neck that had opened. Right along the crest on the non-mane side. Slightly harder to keep fly free, but I smeared it with swat doused the area in fly spray. I felt her over and she had a couple of other large, hard lumps – though most (thankfully) didn’t have broken skin (yet).

And then I found this beast in between her front legs:


(Sorry for the atrocious picture quality, there is only so much I can do with a black horse in a barn after dark.)

–This is definitely the largest of the bunch. She has gotten bumps like these on occasion (I recall something similar happening not long after she first arrived here) but not this big.

I’m at a loss as to what to do, other than the fly spray before going out and swat on the open ones. It’s too hot for her to wear a fly sheet, though with night turn out it may be an option again? It’s still in the low-mid 90s when she goes out most nights, but it usually drops below 90 by 9 or so.

I’m going to add a little note of positivity here (it’s the only one you’re going to get): she doesn’t seem bothered by any of these things (including the chewed up foot wound). Last night she only cared about GOING OUTSIDE, as I arrived right before she was to be turned out. She hit me with her head a couple of times and had a pawing hissy fit, because apparently she thought that I was unaware she should be outside and eating grass. I saw it as a good sign that she’s feeling well enough to be sassy, as obnoxious as these little outbursts were.

The vet had mentioned oral steroids for the summer sore, and I’m starting to think perhaps that’s just the way to go for the summer and her apparent allergies to the demon flies here. I’m loathe to put her on them, but it may be our best option here.

And hey, then EVERYONE can be on prednisone! (The cat is on it for the rest of her life, and I occasionally have to take a burst of it as well.)

Dear Texas,

And it gets worse.

Summer Sores.

At the schooling show a few weeks ago, I noticed Cholula had a small abrasion, just above her front left hoof. I figured she stepped on herself while loading or in the trailer or whatever, and made a note to clean it up when we got home.

Fast forward to a week later, and it still was looking about the same. Which was weird, because a skin abrasion like that shouldn’t still be oozing, right? So I decided to wash it with some viodine, put more ointment on, and reassess at a later date. Except as I was feeling around her pasterns, I noticed lots of little scabs.

Can you believe that in all of the wet Springs and Falls Cholula has lived outside through, she has never had scratches? But she gets them in Texas?

Ugh. So we are dealing with that. They were better after a week and now I feel like they are the same, but at least no worse.

As it turns out, however, scratches are the least of my worries. That small abrasion? After a few weeks of it continuing to weep and bleed and me going “Shouldn’t this be a scab by now?!” it suddenly looked…absolutely disgusting. And huge. It’s grown to about 2-3x the size of the original abrasion, and looks like raw meat.



I didn’t really know what to do at that point. Of course from Tuesday-Saturday it exploded, and I didn’t want to overreact but it looked really gross. Not infected, at least. I took a picture and asked facebook. I got everything from rain rot to an abscess to flies eating it, and then…summer sore. One of the vets called me back and left a message around this time, confirming that it sounded like a summer sore.

And this is why I do not recommend living in a state without winter because NOTHING DIES.

The vet came out yesterday and told me to make it my “new religion” to keep flies off of it or it will never heal. Basically, some flies picked up some nasty larvae from somewhere (presumably manure, but seeing as her deworming is on schedule I’m not convinced they are living in her belly) and then decided her foot was dinner, and while they were at it deposited some of this disgusting larvae in the wound. She is apparently allergic to this business, which is why her body has reacted the way it has.

So, steroid cream with swat over it, some gauze, and a vet wrap bandage that CROSS YOUR FINGERS STAYS PUT. And then all of that doused in fly spray. I put the first bandage on yesterday and will be changing it this evening – not ideal, but hopefully it will be fine. I am going to add some wonderdust tonight to assist in making a crust/scab that will stay on it better, but I’ll be out every night to change the bandage. She has also been dewormed with Ivermectin and I will deworm her again in a week. I ordered fly boots that drop down over the top of the hoof and hope that will help assist if bandages come off. I will also be adding duct tape to at least secure it on the hoof.


On a positive note, she’s completely sound and we’ve been having a lot of fun in our rides. So…that’s something I guess. Also, she has taken to grooming me. This started the other day, when she was acting like she had a fly or an itch on her chest but was cross tied and couldn’t reach it. So I went over to look, saw nothing, and she started grooming my back. Yesterday she was grooming my head and arms. She is kind of adorable. And weird.


Summer Sores.

Last Show (for awhile)

Warning: This is largely a post about me complaining about the weather.

Texas has decided that it’s time for summer and therefore I am in a perpetual state of making a face of disgust. I tried to find a picture for you but apparently I am smiling in 95% of my pictures, which is weird and kind of ruins my image. But just know that I am busy giving Texas the middle finger (and yes, I know it’s “NOT EVEN HOT YET.” Shove it.)

I don’t really understand what to do in this weather other than hide in air conditioning. When it got to be 95 in Minnesota (granted, when it does that it’s usually a lot more humid than it is here), I went to the barn to hose off my horses and stick them under fans for a little break. And then I went home to air conditioning.

Occasionally we’d go on an evening trail ride, or have a light ride, but usually 95 meant no riding (again, with the humidity the heat index was such that it wasn’t recommended to ride anyway, so this wasn’t just me hating the heat).

Make fun of my Northern blood all you want. Winter is coming.

A couple of weeks ago it was in the 70s. While I thought I’d be done showing by May at the latest, it was nice out! One night we even got a cold front and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees in 10 minutes! DOWN TO THE 60s! I am fairly sure that will never happen again, but that one night was magical.

Because the weather was nice for all of 25 seconds, I thought “I am going to sign up for this show the first weekend in June.”

And then the week leading up to the show was when Texas decided that the temperature is 95+ all the time. And then they scheduled my ride for 3:20 in the afternoon. Not only at the hottest part of the day, but a solid 2 1/2 hours after the other riders in our group rode. Super!

To be honest, once I’m out working in the heat I’m fine. I get over it pretty quickly. I drink a lot of water and I sweat and I deal with it. Cholula, on the other hand, may explode. It doesn’t take much to get her puffing and I haven’t figured out how to effectively work her in this weather. I’m terrified of her overheating, so I am working lighter, and somehow she still requires massive walk breaks in between work sets to cool down. It’s going to take awhile for her to acclimate to this, I think.

I was worried about this show. I was showing her off of the trailer, I had no idea what the shade situation was at this facility, and while the dressage arena was covered the warm up wasn’t. Second level is a lot of work for Cho, and we had to do SOME warm up to get her settled. That was the whole point of this trip – sometimes you have to go to new places and warm up and then do a test, Choface. Settle down.

All in all, it went really well! We managed to find a nice, shady area to park the trailer and tie the horses. There were enough trees in this spot that even when the sun moved we had shade. That and a bit of a breeze pretty much saved the day. I think we both would have been miserable if we were in the sun all day.


Cholula spent most of her day pawing and screaming, broken up by eating her hay as fast as she could.


The facility was beautiful and has a huge cross country course with lots of trees.


Cholula was jealous of the horses walking the course, and I debated galloping around instead of showing my test.


I got on about an hour before my ride. I really wasn’t planning on riding that early, but it was pointed out to me that I could use the time to get her to relax and stop screaming. She largely stopped calling to her friends once we were working. Most of the ride was walking from shady spot to shady spot and circling tree trunks. After the first 20ish minutes, I took her into the outdoor ring to warm up her trot and canter for a few minutes. We returned to the shade to walk, back to the outdoor for a little lateral work and transitions, back to the shade. I decided to work on transitions – trotting from one shady spot to the next with a walk or halt in the shade.

What you should get from this is we really weren’t doing that much work. But around 3:00 I stopped over at the arena to see how things were running, and Cholula was moving me back and forth in the saddle because she was puffing so badly.

Cue “I broke my horse” panic. We still had a test to ride! We didn’t even do that much!

We walked, strictly in the shade, for 20 minutes. By the time it was my turn to ride around the ring she had (thankfully) stopped puffing.

I’m glad we started the warm up when we did, all things considered. She settled into the work and wasn’t terribly looky around the grounds. It still took a good 20-30 minutes before she really relaxed and let me ride her, but once she was there she stayed there.

With what little warming up we did of the actual 2nd level movements I thought the test went well. Mostly I was thrilled because we did ALL THE THINGS. No breaking in the canter! It was a relief to finally be able to ride through the test without incident. It wasn’t pretty and I have had much better days riding-wise, but I definitely needed the reminder that we CAN do the test, now we just need to refine and improve upon it.

And now we have all summer to figure out how you work horses in the heat. She is fit, and once she switches into “work mode” she will go and go and go, so I have to be VERY careful. She won’t give me any indication that she’s hot and needs a break. If I ride in the evenings I think we’ll be limited to walking, and maybe a few trot/canter transitions for good measure.

(By the way, for all of you who like to say “Well at least you can ride year-round there, unlike in Minnesota where you can’t ride when it’s too cold!” I have news for you: I guarantee I lose fewer riding days in Minnesota than I will lose here this summer. My job prevents me from riding early in the morning most weekdays, and when evenings are still in the 90s it’s too much. Cholulas are not meant for hot weather.)

Last Show (for awhile)


I just got the proofs from the show yesterday and they are kind of hilarious, as Cho’s ears are in high alert mode in nearly every picture. “WHAT IS THAT? WHY ARE THOSE PEOPLE SITTING UP HIGH? WHAT ARE WE DOING IN HERE? I AM SO DISTRACTED! HEY THERE IS THE JUDGE! HI!”

She had plenty of forward in that test…just not enough engagement to pull it all together.

There were some nice moments captured.

Largely, though…not. Through no fault of the photographer, mind you. I wish I had video even more now, because I understand my score a little better after seeing some of these. CHO WHAT ARE YOU DOING. She was above the bit in just about every canter photo. Sigh.

I chose this one as our facebook upload. (I bought some others as prints. There is a headshot of Cho that I’m kind of obsessed with).

(Copyright Lisa Tannehill Photography)

In other news, no show on Sunday after all. It’s been postponed due to flooding at the facility. I’m sad because it was going to be cool out for this time of year – high of 75! That will probably not happen again until the fall. I am not sad because I feel like we need weeks of canter work right now.


The Report: Part two.

Oh boy. I don’t even know how to make this not a novel.

-6:30: lightning and tornado clouds in plain sight of the show grounds, and scary storms coming our way on the radar.
-6:45: all of the above but tornado wall cloud overhead and looking scarier. “The show is still on time.”
-6:57 (3 minutes before the first rider was to start): Show put on hold.

And then it started pouring. Between the rundown barn we were in and the wind, there were no dry spots in the barn. Cho was wet by the time all was said and done. Everything in the tack stall was wet. Rain was coming in from above and the wind was blowing it in the sides.

Cho did not like this.

8?: They announce we’ll resume the show at 8:30.
8:40: First rider goes into Ring 1 (the covered, indoor ring).
8:50: Nothing is happening in Ring 2 and 3. Everyone is complaining. Not only are the outdoor arenas under water, but there hasn’t been a break in lightning.

They move the judge’s stand out of the way and park a car in its place. It pours some more. The judge is going to be able to see NOTHING. Meanwhile, I’m waiting over by the office because I want to see someone ride in ring 2, in order to decide if I’m going to scratch or not.

I’ve never scratched.

I’ve always felt like even if I know we won’t do well and will have to ride a very conservative test due to the footing, I am there and may as well get the experience. However, after the struggle that was the first level canter last year, I basically made up my mind that if we were presented with a sloppy, soupy ring, we’d have to scratch at 2nd. It’s not fair to Cho.

…But I wasn’t scratching until I saw someone ride. Because here’s the thing: everyone kept telling me the footing is “fine” because they “rolled the ring.”

Physics work differently in Texas, apparently.

“Rolling” the ring is something I had never heard of before this show. Basically they drag the arena, and behind that they have a…roller? To smooth out and press down the footing. This magically “seals” the ring and makes it impervious to water.



Now, a little light rain? Fine. Hell, even a heavier rain 2 days prior? Ok.
The rain we were getting?
Nope. Nope.

FINALLY, around 9:15? They decide to move Ring 2 inside, next to Ring 1 (why yes, that arena is large enough to hold 2 dressage arenas inside of it. Don’t ask me why everything wasn’t moved inside before the giant storm came, I don’t run these things).


At 9:50 they start. But not with 2nd 1, which was the first class scheduled in Ring 1 (and also what I was riding in). Rather they start with Training 3, and announce all qualifying classes will go first.

So I have hours before I’ll ride. I don’t mind the wait, but there is no longer a schedule, which I do mind. I won’t know when to get on to warm up for some time, and even then it’s a guess at best. All day long people were being told one thing only to get on, make their way to the warm up ring, and be told that they still had a good hour before they should even be warming up.

My poor nerves can’t handle that kind of continuous let down after getting all hyped up.

And then…we hear mutterings of classes being canceled. I think nothing of this. I think it must be Ring 3 since Ring 3 doesn’t exist anymore? No one really knows what’s going on with Ring 3. (As it turns out, they moved it as a short arena into the back covered arena on the grounds at some point after the main rings were up and running. Most people did not know this).

But then there are more mutterings. And when asked if they have an idea of when 2nd one will run, the ring steward kindly blows us off with “It’s not, it’s cancelled.”

Many four-letter words come out of my mouth.

But we should probably check with the office before freaking out, right? Right.

So we check.

They have canceled all non-qualifying classes. (Unless they were Intro or Training level, which could be ridden in the short ring).

I was livid. Apparently, my money wasn’t as good as people trying to go to Regionals. Apparently I shouldn’t bother to do a recognized show until I’m ready to do the 3rd test of that level, or risk not being able to ride at all? Excuse me? I’m fairly sure USEF didn’t design 3 tests per level so you could ride 2 of them solely at home and only show your face with the 3rd.

People scratched, went home, gave up on riding that day. I know two women who trailered in to show that morning and one of them had all her rides canceled. So after waiting out the storm, braiding her horse, and getting everything ready, she put her horse on the trailer and went back home.

Thankfully, trainer had the brilliant idea of asking them if there was a possibility of riding at the end of the day. Yes. If all of the more important classes (Please note that this is not a quote but my interpretation of the situation) finish early enough and it’s before we must get the judges out because of some USDF rules and flights, then yes. There is a possibility I can randomly show up in the ring and surprise the judge.

Sidenote: People entering the ring, handing their test to the judge and announcing their name and number and the judge dealing with random tests all day is sometimes a thing here. TEXAS Y’ALL.

And so we ride

Around 3, I ask the ring steward how Ring 1 is going. Ring 2 will never, ever be done and I recognize this.

“We are done. Well, I mean there is one rider after the rider in there now, and then a freestyle. And then we’re done. Maybe 30 minutes”
“Wait you ARE DONE?? It’s 3:00! I am going to be able to ride!”
“I can’t answer that, check with the office.”

Run over to the office.
“Yes, we’ll be ready for you in 30 minutes.”
“I’ll let the judge know and bring them your test.”
“…30…minutes? I NEED TO GO GET DRESSED (I just typed ‘dressaged’) AND TACK UP MY HORSE.”
“We’ll work with you.”

I run back to the barn. The only person in there to help is the fiancé of one of the other girls from my barn.

And thank you thank you thank you, he is a competent fiancé. He brushes Cho and picks out her feet and gets the shavings out of her tail while I change. He helps tack her up. He probably thinks I am crazy but if that’s the case then he hid it really well.

Cho and I start warming up, and trainer comes over. “DO YOU HAVE A MINUTE TO COACH ME I RIDE NOW.”
Still being crazy. I don’t really function any other way at shows.

Quick and dirty warm up goes really well. Cho focuses and works with me and everyone is happy so we go in.

Unfortunately, with the moving of Ring 2, Ring 1 is now right next to the bleachers and all of those people walking on them. So she was a little distracted, but forward! Forward is good. I zoned out in my test. I was completely oblivious to the fact that there was a Ring 2 right next to us. And overall, I felt the test went pretty good. I thought there were some really good movements in there, despite breaking the canter several times (damnit). She felt kind of tired at that point, and I definitely wasn’t riding the canter as aggressively as I should have.

Sadly the judge didn’t agree with me on things that I thought were really good, and because of those breaks we managed to get nearly the exact same score as the day before.

I wish I’d had video of that test, because it’s nice to know if what I think feels good sucks in reality, or if it actually is good but the whole -Cho is a beastmare and will rarely score awesomely- is working against us.

The worst thing was that I fucked up every single center line of the weekend. THIS makes me really mad. I practice the hell out of center lines, I know how to ride them, they FELT PRETTY GOOD. But every single time the judge said I was off center line. I don’t think I’ve done that since Cho couldn’t really turn, in our Intro days. I always manage pretty good CL/halt scores. I know how to turn out of the corner to be lined up with C. TO ME IT LOOKED LIKE I WAS LINED UP WITH C. Apparently not. There is a video of Carl Hester teaching Charlotte Dujardin, and he just makes her go down the center line over and over and over again until she does it perfectly. Perhaps I need a day where I just have someone yelling at me to ride correct center lines.

BUT, being that this is dressage, I still (hilariously) managed to place 1st and 2nd. 2nd out of two riders in my class, 1st because it was just me 😉


…and then I sent an entry in for a schooling show a week from this Sunday, since clearly we need more show practice.

The Report: Part two.

The Report: Part one


I have been attempting a write up of the show this past weekend for 3 days. I can’t seem to recap 3 days of stuff without hashing out every little detail, so this will be broken up into 2 parts.

-we got there around 3:15
-I was a little horrified at how many people were there
-Our warmup didn’t go awesome. Which was a little disheartening seeing as we were riding at 7am on Saturday. I seemed to have forgotten that while Cho isn’t BAD at shows, she is looky and can be very…evasion spooky. I never really felt like I got her full attention.

Cholula approves of being able to harass anyone and everyone that walks by her stall.


-Up at 4
-At the show grounds by 5
-feeding, watering, braiding, grooming, tacking up
-On by 6:25 (slightly later than I wanted to)
-Repeat Friday’s warmup.
(That whole “bad ride before the show = good ride in your test is not true)

Here is the problem with shows and me: I basically forget everything I know about riding, warming up my horse, getting my horse through, suppling my horse, etc. No matter how much time I leave for my warmup I feel rushed. I’m too afraid to take time in the walk and at the halt and doing things slowly and quietly because what if I run out of time?! This is especially bad for my first ride of the weekend.

Obviously this isn’t logical, because that is what we do at home to get Cho where she needs to be. I know this is not logical. I do not have a brain during these times, however, so it doesn’t matter.

It’s also hard to do all of that when she too has show brain. It’s not like I can get her to give me a nice, relaxed, stretchy walk to warm up, because she is too damn busy not walking past like 7 things around the arena.

And, we just don’t do this often enough to have a warmup plan in place. I LIKE TO HAVE A PLAN. “Freaking out” is how I operate until I get through at least one ride.

Oddly enough, once I am riding my test I’m fine. I focus on what we are doing/what we need to do. I ride what I have and do what I can. I don’t get stressed out when I screw something up because we need to be thinking about the next movement.

I thought we’d be ok after our warmup, but apparently I didn’t quite get her where she needed to be. She didn’t have that push we need in the canter – we need the canter where SHE is going, not where I am pushing. If I’m pushing, she’s not sitting and collecting, and basically the medium to collected is shot, and getting through the counter canter is also shot.

I also went off-course. First time for everything, and it was bound to happen sooner or later. I forgot the first 10m canter circle, which no one is surprised about. If I forgot anything going through the test in my head, it was that. In the test I thought, “wow the counter canter seems to come up really fast, shouldn’t there be some sort of prep for that?!” Yes, yes there should.

Sadly the counter canter BEFORE forgetting was good. After, we broke into a trot early.

I watched the test when I got home and despite not having that trot with impulsion and her THERE with the canter, it didn’t look bad at all. Not nearly as bad as it felt!

We scored a 54%. Everyone asked me how it went and I’d say, “oh it went ok” or “It went fairly well” but as soon as I added “but I went off-course” their faces would fall like it was the most terrible thing that could have happened. And then I was reassuring them. “It’s fine. It’s our first time out at this level, we just have some things to work out and improve. And I’ve never ridden without a reader…but I won’t be forgetting that 10m circle anymore.” I was probably the least upset person about forgetting that circle.

I decided that we needed to school again in the afternoon. We definitely needed to establish that yes, it is time to work and no, that is not acceptable behavior. It was supposed to be a short and sweet schooling session. Cholula had other plans.

Ah, that moment at a show when you need to have a Come to Jesus with your belligerent mare but you’re at a show.

Every time we came around to the far end of the arena, she’d grab the bit, drop her shoulder, and run past it…about 10 feet off of the rail, no closer. And, of course, until I got her focused on me and not spending all of her energy evading everything I threw at her via “spooking,” we weren’t going to accomplish anything.

So with a gritted teeth smile on my face and the assistance of my favorite spurs and whip we worked through all of this until we could actually school our 2nd level work. And then she was great! We did all the things!

As it turns out, this worked really well for the next day (which was my hope). So, note to future showing self: Get all of that worked out before you try to ride a test.

Sunday was a whole new level of special…more on that later.


The Report: Part one

Things I have figured out in the last 2 days

How to up our trot game.
How to keep our trot game awesome in the shoulder-in.
How to get Cho back into self carriage (quickly) if she decides to brace her neck in transitions.
How all of this may not matter if it rains all week and the arena is under water for our test.

And, how I got there:
I had a lesson on Saturday. This time, I didn’t come with any requests (“WE NEED A MEDIUM TROT. NOW.”)

Trainer comes into the arena with 3 things: 2 whips. A pocket full of peppermints.

Oh, and she was wearing her running shoes.

And that means…piaffe and passage work! Cho and I haven’t done this with someone on the ground in a really long time. I think it’s fun to work on, because when you DO get a few steps it’s so rewarding! Also they are fancy and it makes you feel like you are way more dressage than you actually are.

I got a feel for sitting deeply and really asking her to come up into my seat. I also lost count of how many times she bucked.

Note: It’s really hard to keep your core engaged when you’re laughing. Cho’s bucks = still funny.

When she gave and seemed to get the routine, she got a peppermint. And then we’d do it again, but this time asking for more trot, and then coming back into super collection.

It was fun, and after I had a very soft and supple pony, who was very adjustable in the bridle. (THIS IS KEY).


Last week, the week before…she’s been kind of heavy in the bridle. And some rides it’s taken me a solid half an hour of riding to get her soft in the bridle and coming through, only to lose it as soon as I let her down/try to pick her back up.

This isn’t a new issue, or anything. It’s just Cho. It has gotten so much better in the past several months, though, that it was a little disheartening to have it crop up again. Especially right before a show.

Historically, Cho is a horse that once you have her, you don’t let her down. Say, at a show. Not as crucial in lessons, because it’s training, though still a little frustrating that you can’t just pick up where you left off BEFORE the free walk break.

This issue has largely gone away in the past few months, particularly since the clinic in February where we learned the halting, waiting, rein-back magic.


My goal for Monday’s ride was to figure out what kind of warm-up we’ll need for the show, as well as fixing this heaviness issue/how to make it not an issue in our test. I want a guarantee that if she tries to brace when we trot off, I can soften her out in a few strides. In a test, that’s what you get. You don’t have the opportunity of a volte or some lateral work to get them on the same page. And really, there is no reason we shouldn’t be able to do this. There is no reason that after a sufficient warmup Cho is not through. There is no reason we should have to go through an entire song and dance every time I want to pick the reins back up.

Basically I had to recognize that I was being much too passive as a rider, and I needed to be firm about my expectations.

So, we established self carriage in the beginning, and I held her to that through the ride.

That was step one.

Step two was upping our trot game. I’ve been so focused on canter work, establishing a medium trot, etc, that I didn’t give a thought to our base trot. “It’s there, it’s fine, we can do the things, collected trot is not of my concern.”

…Until we make that turn in the corner to shoulder-in. And she falls flat. Tempo? Lost. The trot is not only “meh” at that point, it’s a very obvious “meh.” It’s like she does a transition into “I can’t possibly do lateral work AND trot the same as before, so I will not only slow down but make it look like this is a massive struggle for me.”

Let’s go back to that “there is no reason…” thing again. There is no reason Cho can’t consistently have a good trot. So,

1) I need to swing my damn hips. Part of the problem is that they get super tight with riding, and I am a terribly yoga student. I should stretch more than just when I am in pain from not. Anyway, especially when I have to do anything in addition to trotting (like shoulder-in), I get into this weird habit of tensing and holding everything, which naturally blocks her back. So. We’re swinging, we’re swinging, and then shoulder-in turns into “do it do it do it shit what if she doesn’t do it” and Cho is like “ehhhh can’t move” and we get a lackluster, wading through molasses kind of shoulder-in.

2) I need to be consistently insistent. I have been working hard on this. Being an absolute stickler for head position/connection through transitions, especially upward. Set ground rules and keep them.

With these things in mind, I applied Saturday’s piaffe/passage work. Sit deep, and ask her to come up up up into my seat. Ask for MORE with my leg and ‘catch’ all of that with my reins and half-halts. She was more than happy to oblige – she gave me much more trot and didn’t try to poke her nose out or brace her neck, just let there be a soft connection and small half-halts to keep that energy supplying the impulsion.

I know, this is what every magazine article and illustration and trainer in the history of forever tells you to do. Activate the hind, but don’t let that energy go out the front or they’ll run, blahblahblah. I can’t tell you how much BETTER that whole concept works when a horse has decent self-carriage.

, I rode the first part of the test (center line, medium trot, shoulder-in, halt, rein-back, walk work, first canter transition) and if I have that horse at a show, I am golden.

Last night we did more canter work and she is really starting to understand the adjustability aspect/listening to my seat. Her downward transitions are a little smoother.

I’m happy to report that BRINGING THE TROT GAME worked last night as well. Also, she has the whole waiting/listening thing down. Which I suppose is a large part of the goal of dressage. Since we generally only do mediums across the diagonal, it’d be fair if she anticipated. But instead she waits, lets me balance her that one stride off of the rail, and as soon as she’s straight and I tell her it’s ok, she is instantly there. That is pretty cool.

Hopefully the arena won’t be under water.

And hopefully we can ride the good stuff well enough to make up for the fact that no amount of work in the time we have is going to fix her tendency to ride haunches-in in the canter down the long side. (and whatever other little quirky things we have going on).


Things I have figured out in the last 2 days

Oh, Memories…

St. Croix Dressage Show, 2013

I just discovered last week that every day, facebook tells me what “memories” I have from previous years and who these memories involve.

On this day two years ago, I wrote:

1. Dressage is really hard. By dressage I mean making my horse move off of my leg.
2. Tonight we backed up half the length of the arena. We were trying to go forward.
3. I wanted to give up about 30 seconds into this moving the haunches business, but Kt let me know that there was no way that was an option. Eventually I sucked it up and at one point sat there thinking, “I bet this is what working students do in their lessons. Every day.”
4. Cholula does not have the same pain receptors as any other normal living, breathing creature on the planet.
5. Pleading with your horse to please, please just do what we’re asking you to do SO WE CAN BE DONE doesn’t actually work.

I remember this lesson quite clearly. I was sure Cholula was going to rear. Kt assured me Cho doesn’t have it in her to rear (and thus far that has proven to be true).

Kt took my whip from me (does anyone else have security blanket issues with their whips? I’m pretty sure I haven’t gotten on a horse without one in 8 years. Screw you, championship classes.) because Cho was not listening. To anything. It was hellishly frustrating.

She has more or less grown out of this. We still absolutely have these moments (BECAUSE MARE), but they don’t last an entire lesson. Currently we have these conversations about giving to the outside rein in the left lead canter. Cho feels that turning is bullshit, so she doesn’t.

Last night she felt really heavy in the bridle, which has been a bit of a theme for the past few weeks, on and off. I have really been trying to work on her transitions, and staying through and light in them. Downward tend to be the worst, but upward can get heavy as well. She’ll stick her nose out and hollow/brace through them rather than, you know, use herself properly . By the end of the session she was doing pretty well with everything I threw at her – halt/trot, trot/canter, canter/trot, walk/trot, collected trot/medium trot/collected trot. We even got some nice lengthens that didn’t completely go to hell (during or after).

The biggest thing I need to work on for ME is SWINGING MY SEAT. Cho has a trot that is very easy to sit. Because of this, I have to think about swinging and really riding the sitting trot. I can sit the trot and absorb her movement without doing this. The problem is, I’m not as loose as I should be and I block her back. This is especially true in her lateral work…if I don’t swing enough, she loses impulsion.

So, seat work is in my near future…as it really should be always. I don’t actually remember the last time I rode without stirrups. !

Count down to 2nd level debut –

Saturday – lesson
Sunday – Ride through test…try to nail down warm-up time etc
Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday…not sure. I think I will give her Thursday as a rest day, and possibly Monday as well. Friday we trailer to the show grounds, I will ride her around said show grounds, and Saturday and Sunday we will do our little song and dance.

Oh, Memories…

Do all the riding!

And by all the riding I mean none.

Monday: worked late! Can’t ride!
Tuesday: oh yeah, doing Insulin Resistance testing Wednesday morning, can’t ride!
Wednesday: vaccinations and teeth, can’t ride!
Friday: Avengers with friends! Can’t ride!

This is not really how I envisioned the last real week to get shit done before the show going.

Surprisingly, I was able to tell myself that if NEED BE, we COULD do our test tomorrow. It’s not like anything in the next few rides is going to make or break us. The surprising part is that I actually believe that. (Clarification: I believe that right now. I make no promises for, say, an hour from now.)

My Saturday lesson of “ALL THE MEDIUMS” went really well. We have mediums! Sometimes we can stop, too! Mostly not. Mostly there is a lot of forehand faceplanting. However, with a few tweaks of how I think about them/ride them, the downward transitions are a lot smoother. Namely: Ride her into the rail (like, literally. Make her think she is going to crash. This is probably not going to work so well in a plastic dressage arena) and think “SHOULDER-FORE” at the last second rather than “SHIT SLOW DOWN.”

Homework: These are the things we would have done this week if we could ever ride:
-shoulder-fore in all the things, especially down the quarterline. And in the canter. This = straight in the canter.
-voltes until your legs fall off (this really helped get her sitting for the mediums)
-no canter-walk transitions. Lots of canter-trot transitions.

We re-evaluate on Saturday. So. I guess we’ll see if we’ve improved at all with our whole 2 rides.


A note on the Insulin Resistance testing:

We have always operated (by we I mean me, my vet, and where I boarded in MN) under the assumption that Cho is insulin resistant. At one point she needed thyro-L to lose weight (this was after regular exercise was not quite cutting it), and after that I kept her on it to maintain a healthy weight and not get fat. She has always been on about 4-5 hours of pasture during the day in the grass growing months, dry lot the rest of the time. The “grain” I fed her was just a grass balancer to make sure she got all of her vitamins and minerals.

I didn’t ever have her tested because the whole blood draws every 15 minutes for hours would have sucked for everyone involved, and she responded well to her diet and meds.

Before we moved, I started feeding her a little more as she didn’t quite have the muscling I thought she should. Then we moved and she lost more weight. Note: she’s been on grass since we got here in October. Granted a lot of that was dormant and brown, but still eating for her 8 hours of turnout.

Spring grass came in. I didn’t have her grazing muzzle put on, as I still thought she could gain some weight. She is just now where I want her to be. Her topline has filled in nicely and her booty is better matching the front end.

But because this is me, I can’t just leave it alone. She’s not on thyro-L for the first time in a very long time. She’s obviously gaining weight and muscle and looking good, but I don’t want her to go the other direction and get too fat again. I also worry about laminitis – not that she’s ever had it, but if she’s IR it is a risk.

So, in order to put my mind at ease and be able care for her to the best of my abilities, I’m getting her tested.

And, unfortunately, the grazing muzzle I bought is huge, cumbersome, and I just don’t think she’ll be able to breathe well enough (especially in the heat!). I bought another one that seems to be lighter and have more breathing room. If she is IR, I’ll figure it out from there. There are no dry lots at this barn but I want her to have as much turnout as possible.

She is being tested with this method:

This test was recommended by my MN vet. Perhaps more on that later, as the world of IR internet gurus were quick to tell me that was a bad test and I am risking laminitis by giving her karo syrup. There is one vet that runs this group/page/does some IR research (I guess? Are these actual publishes studies? I don’t know. She works for a nutrition company?) and for some reason, these methods are only pushed amongst these people. Meanwhile, other vets at other institutions that are actively doing research that is published in veterinary journals recommend the karo syrup test because regular bloods tests often MISS IR DIAGNOSES COMPLETELY. Oh, and despite the fact that the not very informative website states “join this group for more information!” all people did was send me more reading material when I had questions…by the same vet that runs the page. Not actual published journal articles, mind you. Just recordings from meetings she runs (that cost money) and free downloads of the summaries of said recordings.

Sorry, I try to save my snark for after lunch. I really was trying to be open-minded and gather as much information I could in a short amount of time, as I like making educated decisions on my horse’s health. But when all I get is “THIS IS THE RIGHT WAY SHE SAID SO AND WE ALL LISTEN TO HER!” and “Oh if you want answers to those things you asked you should go read the things that SHE wrote about it!” I’m going to get very annoyed, very quickly.

…Have some pictures of Choface, as taken last night because I couldn’t ride or feed her treats.

Because she couldn’t be bothered to, you know, turn around.

I was taking bridles apart, putting them together, trying them on her, etc. She did not move the entire time. Because tired.

The final product. I finally have a quality padded bridle that fits Cho’s weird and large head!

Do all the riding!