Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Superb Holiday Weekend

Best Memorial Day weekend in a long time!

I work 4-10s (ten hours four days a week) so I always have 3-day weekends. This is really awesome when holidays fall on Mondays and I get a bonus 4-day weekend. With a very large upcoming expense later this summer I've decided to more or less "stay-cation" for the rest of the year, my hopes for a 3 week road trip out west postponed another year. However, prior to beginning my I-will-not-leave-WV status, I decided a long-talked about trip to NJ to see Dom was in order!

To say we had fun would be an understatement. A huge understatement. We had an absolute blast.

I took Thursday off work to extend my "weekend" to a whopping 5 days. I left WV early that morning, doing my best to get to NJ before it was time for Dom's lesson with a client that I was going to go watch/photograph. Traffic wasn't bad and I made record time, though I have to state that the PA Turnpike and its exorbitant tolls are awful. However, for this trip, time was money and getting there early without having to deal with DC/Baltimore traffic was key.

As I arrived the heavens let loose with rain. Dom's lesson was postponed for another day - a phone call which was made while we both stood in the rain, me in a blaze orange poncho rescued from a hidden/forgotten pocket of my car, Dom with no jacket. She (and the dogs) were drenched and I was merely dripping.

We went inside to await Mike's arrival home from work, changed clothes, and all headed out for me to meet the infamous motley equine crew.

The rain paused for our visit. The dogs ran amok happily. I baffled at the size of OTTBs, of which my area in WV has very few. I scowled in disgust at guinea hens for which I have no love. Herbie pestered us all with attempts to play fetch. We laughed at Ozzy's antics. He bowed, pretzeled, smiled, massaged, and said "Whaaattt?!" I like Standardbreds, especially this goofy one.

We returned home, washed the muddy puppies, and all proceeded to sit in front of some sort of screen for most of the evening, talking throughout. Mike cooked us all up steaks that I'd brought from the local butcher at home (nomz), and the social activities continued. We're very good at socializing with screens.

Friday morning Mike had to go to work (boo). The weather didn't suck (yet) but it was trending that direction. The temps had dropped 20-30° from previous days and the wind had picked up. Dom had a trailer-loading issue client at 2p, so after a lazy morning of dreading going out in the dreary weather, we headed out.

Her client was a big red QH who had commitment issues with trailer loading. I'll let Dom tell that story as it pleases her, but the short of it is that she worked her magic (aka: patience and understanding) and all is well now.

Dom provided me with a brief tour of the area on our way to and from the client. For anyone who thinks of NJ per lame reality shows, guess what? Those parts of NJ are very tiny and the rest of the state is beautiful. Dom's area was an absolute horse paradise. Acres and acres and acres of rolling green pastures bordered by trees and a variety of fencing. Beautiful.

After a little "engine trouble" in front of a Lotus dealership on our way home, the rest of our day was spent hiding away in the house, sitting behind various screens and socializing. This was briefly interrupted by a comical trip to the grocery store that ended with the purchase of temporary tattoos (this is what is happening in the ridiculous photo at the beginning of this entry). Big boooo thanks to the weather, we had an evening full of a LOT of laughter.

Saturday dawned, Mike headed to work, and Dom and I had a lazy morning and then headed out for the day. The goals: Make sure all horses were upright; Ride the fat pony; Let the dogs run amok and become tired; Play with other horses as time allowed; Visit tack stores Liz doesn't have access to at home; HAVE FUN. These were all more or less achieved.

Horse time: JR was none too thrilled about his new exercise program, but he's a great sport about it and can't deny jumping. Pony loves it. I was eager to hop upon a horse that knew his jumping job as Q only guesses and I only guess. It was nice to be able to work on me some. Dom gave me a great lesson, noting what I do solidly and what I need to fix. The synopsis? My errors are all things that can be fixed more or less "simply". Things that are hard to fix - lower body positioning - I have down pretty solid. My biggest issues? Holding onto the damn reins and keeping my elbows in and releasing at the proper time. I think all of these things are evident in past photos of my jumping/riding.

I have such little opportunity for proper instruction and riding at home. Hell, its rare that I'm even riding with another person most of the time. Ari and I are able to get together here and there, but even then we're on more or less the same level and do our best to critique one another as we go. I hope to trailer somewhere late summer for some lessons with Q. I need my butt kicked.

This point made, it's obvious why I was pretty eager to ride JR. I had a blast. Dom's a phenomenal instructor. I was able to right most of my wrongs and proceed well through the line I was jumping. At one point, JR the jump-hunter hunted out the John Deere jump when I was paying NO mind at all - I'd lost my reins again. He jumped it, I had nothing(?) in hand, flailed a little, and then saved it. Dom had a really good laugh about it later. (I did, too.) I'm really amazed I saved it and I lament equally with Dom that it was not captured on camera.

After I'd finished with the pony she got on and kicked his little rear. I'd done some dressage work with him,
enough to greatly help my understanding of terminology as it relates to the application of the concept, but not enough to make the pony really work. He knows who'll kick his rear and who won't. I feel he responded fairly well to me, but still, not like Dom. I think there might have been a little bit of the "oh shit" look in his eyes as he realized she was about to put him to work.

He responded beautifully for her though. She jumped her first crossrails since her accident this past winter. Huge step. I'd elaborate more, but I'm certain she'll tell it better on her own blog. ☺ I'd say she's back in the game though!

Post JR exercise, she fetched Dancer and lunged him a bit to assess how he's doing since his unexpected time off. He moved out well, responsive and chill. Such a great horse. So calm and level-headed. He's going to make someone a really fantastic athlete. Willing and level-headed about what is asked of him. I was very impressed with what little of his personality I was able to experience. He even did his first crossrail on lunge. Hesitant at first, but so happy to comply once he knew what was asked of him. "AH! MONSTER." "No, Dancer, like this!" "Oh, like this?" "Yes!" "Oh, well, alright then, I can do that."

Non-horse time: I have no tack stores at home beyond TSCo. I expressed interest in visiting a tack store or two while there. Dom complied. First stop had a consignment section. I walked in not expecting to buy anything and came out with a new pair of Ariat Terrains, a double-jointed full cheek snaffle, and a hi-vis riding vest. Damnit. We'd perused the non-consignment part of the store, babbling, dreaming, and goofing, and THEN we waltzed into the consignment part. First trip into the corner with the bits to see if the bit I was looking for was there spelled doom for my wallet. The boots abutted the bit section. I was thinking to myself, Oh, I should see if they have the Terrains in my size to double check if they fit. Don't want to drop $90 right now, but it will be good to know my size. Oh...wait a minute. *grabs only pair of Terrains off consignment shelf, looks at tongue, MY SIZE, $45?!?!?!* I tried the boots on and claimed them as mine. Dom was looking at the bit at this point in time, we both agreed it seemed the size I wanted...for $10. We used a tape measure at the check out, 4½". Just what I'd been after! For good measure, as we left the consignment room I snatched up the hi-vis vest for a whopping $3. Seriously, this place was better than the Equine Affaire for me price-wise.

Saturday evening we headed to the train station to pick up Dom's friend Margaret who was coming in for an overlapping visit while I was there. More horse people?! YES PLEASE. Upon my request, we held a sign for her and stood - all alone - on the train platform when she arrived. Laughter all around. Good times commence immediately! Another evening of eats, screens, and socializing.

Sunday dawned with beautiful weather. Dom, Margaret and the dogs and I headed to the barn for the first of two barn/horse sessions that day. Margaret had her first jumping lesson on JR and did AMAZINGLY. She's such a solid rider. Dom and I were both jealous of her elbows, haha. So much fun watching her ride around and jump for the first time.

I hopped on fat pony next and continued my jumping from the previous day. Dom noted my micromanaging of silly things (worrying about when the jump was coming) and instead gave me other things to think about and micromanage instead. This was EXACTLY what I needed. I redirected my worries about where the jump was and focused instead on keeping my damn elbows in, fingers closed, and releasing. My concentration on these things also directed itself as "Liz looks at clouds while jumping". Legit. Nice rhomboidal cloud in the western horizon. This is obvious in the photos. I've not had a problem with "eyes up" before this. Apparently deep concentration = cloud watching?

At any rate, my jumping JR was much smoother this day. I even jumped my first course! This was Dom's (and my) goal for me for the weekend with the pony. I had a blast.

We put JR away and got Traz out to be schooled. Dom was ready to step up her game for client horses. I had a blast photographing her every move with him once we entered the ring. Just idly watching someone so skillful with horses is always fun and a great learning process. She lunged him for a bit to see where his head was/put him in the working mindset and then mounted up.

He was a good boy minus one minor spazz attack in a corner. Dom put him through his paces and jumped him some after that. He calmed down considerably as her session with him went; he really put on his working face and did his best to comply with her requests and remember what he'd been taught.

When she'd finished she offered if Margaret or I were interested in trying the big guy. I paused, thinking, Margaret said nothing, I figured when would I get an opportunity to try a big OTTB again? So I spoke up and said I'd give it a go. I'm really glad I did.

Traz is green, but honest with his efforts. Between Dom's explanations, my execution of her instruction, and Traz's response, I learned a lot from the big redhead. It was daunting to ride such a huge horse in comparison to my little guys, but it felt right to have all that extra body and neck where my horses are tiny. I felt pretty secure. With a little time, Dom asked if I was comfortable doing a few crossrails. I hesitated a moment again, and after the same short thought process decided, sure!

Once more, glad I made the decision. I had a blast jumping the big guy. The concepts I'd learned flowed together and cemented more for me as I continued riding him over the line of 2 crossrails. Dom's encouragement as I rode boosted my confidence in myself which (I think) correlated to my riding. Traz is an awesome horse; his owner will be cleaning up in the show ring with him before long, I'm sure of it!

We finished with Traz, untacked him and turned him out. We decided food would be a good idea at this point so we headed back to the house to order pizza, sit behind screens, and socialize. We finished our food and awaited Mike's arrival home from work, and then we all headed back out to the barn for some Ozzy time! Another small goal of mine for the weekend was to ride a Standardbred and Dom wanted to see to it that this happened.

Ozzy is SUCH a character. It was so great to 1. meet him 2. ride him and 3. experience and laugh at all of his antics. I seriously have never met a horse with so much personality. LOVE this horse. He and Dom fit together so well - goofy and sweet.

Riding him was first thrilling, then terrifying, and then a blast. Dom says he can trot at 26 mph. He paces and gaits and canters and gallops, too. I was zooming around the ring squealing about how fast he was. I ended up taking two goes on him, the first a brief few terrifying rounds, then as I watched Margaret and Dom ride him (and put him through his paces) I became more comfortable with how he moved and behaved in the ring; confident that I could ride and enjoy him.

The first go was the thrilling slightly scary round. He's a complete goofball and speed demon at the same time. He knows to behave with his body so he will drop his head and turn it this way and that as he bobs along to keep himself entertained. SO GOOFY. Dom assured me, "He won't do anything dirty." A ¼ of the way around the ring moments after she says this he decides he'll throw this goofy buck/crow-hop fit. As I'm such a goofball and wanted more than anything right then to just GO and I was all, "Buttttttttt....!?"
riding that through trying to get his head up to prevent more bucking, I called to her, "No dirty stuff, huh?" And then we all had to laugh. He's

The second go on him after Margaret and Dom, I let him go a bit faster with more trust. I focused on myself and my abilities in the saddle more than his speed. I was able to really laugh a lot and have even more fun. <3 Standardbreds. So much fun. If I ever come across one with HALF as much personality as Ozzy I'll snatch it up. Dom, Ozzy is truly a gem. You're a lucky lady to have such a great guy (okay, okay, two great guys, sorry, Mike, haha) in your life. ☺

We ended our horse evening with some goofy photos with the three of us and Ozzy, headed back to the house for a venison dinner, and sat behind screens again socializing.

Monday dawned earlier than the other mornings, I made breakfast with ramps and potatoes for the crew and then had to roll home. I brought Herbie's little kitten home with me, my piece of NJ to cherish forever, haha. I'm calling him (K)Atticus - the K is silent. He turned 5 weeks old this week, I'm sure updates on him will follow with time.

Overall, I had one of the greatest weekends I've ever had with some truly wonderful people. Any time with horses is well-spent and time spent with horse-crazy ladies with level-heads and solid riding skills is a time VERY well-spent. I laughed, so so so much, learned things, made a new friend, and strengthened other friendships. So many people don't understand the blogosphere, but it certainly brings some kickass awesome folks into my IRL world. Thanks for an incredible weekend, Dom & Mike (& Bryce). I'll see two of you later this summer. ☺

And now, have some MORE pictures!

on our way
So much love
oohhh noooo engine trouble!  Oh, and Loti!
+10 awesome points if you recognize this infamous blogged-about horse!
from no loading to self-loading!
"mom, I'm NOT in the ring"
ermahgerd, pink helmetz
Lookit the cloud!
No, fer realz, lookit the cloud!
Seriously, how perfect are these two together?
 A goofy pair
Always grinning
More grinning

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