Friday, September 12, 2014

Of Blogger Visits, A Horse Show, and Tantrums

Last weekend Miss Mary from Simply Horse Crazy and I finally met IRL. We're from the same state and have been discussing this possibility for what seems like ages, but it didn't happen until last weekend due to our busy schedules!

It was a whirlwind of a 24 hours, but it went something like this:

Friday night around 7p I picked Mary up from a friend's house, a pre-determined rendezvous point as she'd hitched a ride to Elkins with them. From this point, I spirited her away to the barn immediately as light was dwindling and we wanted to ride!

Chatting with Mary on the way to the barn (and from the moment we greeted one another) had no airs of awkwardness. It was as if we'd known one another all along. Oh blogging, this is what you do. IRL, Mary is just as - or even more - level-headed than she comes across on her blog. She's got such a good head on her shoulders and I admire her so much. There were multiple moments in our brief time together when she divulged some insights to me that really made me sit back, think, and nod agreement. Things I hadn't been able to fully put into words or view so black and white before. It was good to hear them, and great to talk things through with such a wonderful person. =)

We arrived at the barn, whipped out the horses, and tacked up lightning fast as the light continued to dwindle. Fortunately,  as dusk was settling into night, a not-quite-full moon rose high to help light our way.

I tossed Mary a headlamp for her helmet, and with her astride Q and me on Griffin (for the first time US since his ultimate Shit Fit weeks prior), we set off with Kenai bounding alongside.

We wound through the back field, up into the now dark woods, and headed toward the haul road where we went for not quite a mile before turning back. I had previously considered doing the 3.5 mile loop, but as I'd taken enough spiderwebs to the face already and I was worried that we'd run into momma bear and her cubs, I decided it would be prudent to turn around and back track.

Griffin led this short not-quite 3 mile ride. I can say that by and large, he was well-behaved for having not been ridden (only ground driven and other from-the-ground pursuits) in weeks, having a new bit (a borrowed (thanks, Nicole!) Myler combination) in his mouth, and riding at night (with headlamp) for the first time.

However, he did make no fewer than three attempts to spin for home as we headed out. I'd ask for him to slow or stop as I turned to check for either Mary/Q or Kenai, and Griffin would take those moments to try to spin to his left for home.

Preceding each of these moments, he had zero pressure on his mouth from the bit or on his sides from leg aids. I was quiet and cautious of my riding this night because I wanted to be able to rule out a rider error in his behavior. Each time he tried to turn and I blocked him, he'd make a few seconds attempt to ignore me, threaten to stumble and fall, and then I'd win out with my aids and angry voice. Drgh. Such an opinionated fool. However, it was nice that he learned we would continue forward!

The night ride was a blast. It was my first time riding in darkness like that. The moonlight was brilliant, too, in the more open areas. We walked, trotted, and cantered even! I think I'm coming closer to being mentally ready to try to tackle a 100 mile ride...

Post ride, Mary and I whisked home to shower and settle in with a movie and a very spur-of-the-moment dinner that Mike and I tossed together. It was yummy and just the thing before settling into sleep.


Mary, Q, and the new covered arena.
Saturday morning dawned earlier than I would have preferred, but we needed to get up and get moving in order to have the horses rinsed and ready to head to the County Fair Show! It's a rinky dink show in comparison to what many of you are accustomed to, probably, but a show all the same. I wanted to see how Q would handle the two English classes and I wanted both horses to be able to enjoy the experience - not to mention share it with Mary!

Neither Mary and I were overly concerned about looking super prim and proper for the show or worried greatly about much of anything, really. In fact, by total fault of my own, we showed up an hour late! It started at 9a not 10a as I'd thought! HA. We laughed it off, surprised but un-caring.

Of the 30 odd classes for western, English, ranch, draft, gaited, and fun/games, my horses were involved in 4:

  1. Mary would ride Q in the Open English Pleasure.
  2. I would ride Q in the Hunter Hack Over Fences.
  3. We would both ride a horse in the toilet paper race.
  4. We would both ride a horse in the catalog race.

Open English Pleasure:

We signed up quickly for classes, worried we would miss Mary's first class with Q. With paperwork done, we raced to the trailer, prepped Q, dressed ourselves, and then I sent Mary off to warm up on the mareface with some cursory comments on what should help/not help with riding Q.

A very tiny Mary and Q.
Fortunately, the two classes before Mary's that we'd arrived during were pattern classes and thus took a bit of time. Perfect! Mary had ample time to warm Miss Thing up and get them both on the same page. They seemed to be getting along beautifully; Q was riding very well for Mary - better than she's done for nearly anyone!

When the class rolled along, they were 1 of 5 participants and Q was the only non-show horse, non-QH. Add that to the whole Q HATES the (currently) over-deep footing of our new arena and the little factor of Mary being on her for the second time ever, and you've got a fun little equation to work through. Haha! Mary took it all in stride though and did a bang up job.

I'm not certain the judge really liked my zoomy endurance horse's gaits as she zipped around the ring, but I was very proud! Other than being looky and a sticky transition to the canter the first time (she HATES that deep sand! She did this last month when I rode her there the first time...), she and Mary did wonderfully! They nailed all transitions except that first canter depart, and stayed on the wall as well as could be hoped for my looky-Arab.

I told Mary over and over how well she was riding Q and how impressed I was. Q lets you know when you're not doing it right, she'll toss her head (mildly in the spectrum of head tossing, but still notably), nom the bit, and give subtle refusals to certain requests. None of that for Mary! Girl knows how to ride, use her aids properly, and really ride with her seat, something Q really likes and responds to really well.

The pair ended up 4 out of 5, but hey, when you have a class of push-button show QHs, it's the best that could be expected I suppose. I was proud of their efforts and that's what matters!

Hunter Hack Over Fences:

With Mary's ride done, she hopped off and I hopped on to warm my legs up.

I have to admit, I knew little to nothing about what this class would entail. All I knew is that there were jumps involved and I wanted to give it a go! The other two English riders participating (one on a 25 year old TB who looked like he was 5!) had no clue either (we were all led to believe it would be a jump course initially as this had been what existed at a previous show), so I wasn't too concerned.

Dear my elbows, we've discussed where you're supposed to be and it
isn't where you are in this photo. Dear eyes, you should come up.
Dear, release for your poor poor horse!

Yeah, let's just scrap my riding for this and note how dramatic Q decided to
jump this little vertical for the first time after her initial refusal.

Additionally, damn that browband looks good, Karen!!

Photo by Tracy Walker
Well, turns out (for those who also don't know) this class consists of flat work on the rail w-t-c, and then 1 turn each over 2 verticals where you canter in on the left lead, vertical, 2 strides, vertical, and canter out on the right lead, essentially making a big sweeping S with jumps down the center diagonal.

We were allowed to warm up over the jumps where the very seasoned QH show horse tossed his momma into the sand to break the ice for all of us! (Good for my nerves because by this point my stomach was CHURNING despite my calm mind!) Q gave one refusal (but that may have been my bad as I think I was looking at the rail) and then proceeded to over-jump because they're (obviously) monsters.

With warmups closed, we all moved out to the rail for the judged flat portion.

Q NAILED her transitions for this part. I was SO PROUD of her (and me, I guess). Good little endurance poneh!

We then lined up along the judges stand to take turns (as we were called) to do the jumps. The TB went first, clear and clear. Then Q and I picked up the canter nicely, turned in nicely, she hesitated, over jumped, and I forget what happened in the middle completely, but we jumped the second jump and cantered out nicely. Then the QH went, clear over 1, pulled rail on the second.

Q and I ended up 2nd of 3 behind the QH. Very proud of my little mare for her efforts!!

Toilet Paper Race:

For those unfamiliar, this event involves 10 squares of TP held between two riders. You have to w-t-c-back-whatever the judge says without letting go or breaking your TP.

I rode Griffin and Mary rode Q.

Things to note, for better or worse:
  • Griffin had been ridden the night prior but no other time since mid-Aug. when he had his Shit Fit. We've been doing a lot of ground driving. No riding because while I have no fear of getting hurt from his shenanigans, I simply do not care to deal with rehabbing myself right now. I'm very happy to redirect Griffin with some other pursuits until a time when it's a little more convenient to be potentially broken. (Kid's been doing stellar with his ground driving and double long-lining lunging, btw.)
  • Both horses have been cooped up in barnyard/paddock areas for 2 weeks while I have been dealing with Q's scratches. (Q likes having a buddy.)
  • Griffin had been tied to the trailer and had not had any aspect of a "warm up" prior to this class.
Long story short, Mary and I were the first "out" in this class lol.

Griffin was pitching a minor fit prior to entering the ring, continued his fit in the ring before the class started, spooked as I tried to get a second thing of TP (as we'd already destroyed the first lol) prior to the judging, and then threw another fit as soon as the judging began.

He was bouncing (quasi canter piaffe it seemed) and crow hopping, throwing small bucks and mini rears, chewing angrily at his double-jointed snaffle, presumably spooking(?) at things outside the arena (hard for me to judge because if it was a spook he spooked a good 5'-10' after passing the "monsters" which is very unlike a Q spook which I'm quite accustomed to), and generally being a cranky baby horse.

He would have some very nice moments between these bad events, but as soon as something happened that wasn't on His Agenda (environmental stimuli or aids from his rider) he'd pitch a fit. Such a wonderful first public outing, Grey Horse, bravo! 

I trotted him briefly in the arena immediately post-class with better success (though he did his bouncy canter piaffe thing in protest at not being able to go faster to leave the arena) and then more trotting in the part of the arena open to warm-ups (small and cramped). During our moments in the warm up area, he threw another minor fit, and then one of the local cow horse trainers called to me, "Breathe, Liz. You're getting more worked up than your animal right now!"



And cue a better horse.

I ended it there. Dismounted and put his grey ass away before another moment could ruin that zen.

I love that grey horse, but eegads is he a Piss Pot lately! Time. Time. Time. Patience. Patience. Patience. Diligence. Diligence. Diligence.

Catalog Race:

Mary and I both rode Q for this event as I opted to sit Griffin out.

Mary rode towards the beginning of the group of 12 to 15 riders of varying ages while I rode last in order to give Q a breather (ha, she didn't care, friggin' endurance poneh).

The race works like this: a catalog is placed on top of a table or barrel on the far side of the arena. Rider runs in, stops at barrel, dismounts, and flips to and tears out the page that the judges call out for them to get, then re-mounts and races back. Fastest time (with correct page) wins.

Pro tip: going earlier in the game is better because the judges seem to forget which pages they've previously given out which leads to absence of pages in the book.

Another pro tip: If you're ever judging this event, just call out only even or only odd pages so that you avoid giving an odd page that may have been previously ripped out due to the adjacent even page being called.

Going last had it's advantages: I knew the time to beat and I was able to see where people were losing time.

It seemed to me that this race was JUST like my years competitive swimming: the race isn't won by going fast in the middle, I mean, you need to do that, too, but the race is REALLY won between the flags (backstroke flags 5-meters from ends of pool) at the start, the finish, and on the turns. If you have a bomber start, KICKASS flip turns, and a strong finish you can make up for time lost in the middle of the pool.

Comparison: The catalog race could be won if you could dismount and remount FAST and find your page quickly. Everyone was losing time getting on and off their horses and flipping for pages.

Time to beat? 32 seconds.

When my turn was up, I kicked Q into a gallop, and then dismounted while she was still slowing near the barrel/catalog. I'd been told to get page 15. Flip, flip, flip. Oh, there's 14, so 15's on the back...except its like a 3rd of a page. -_- I thought about taking that, but as I was tearing it I called, "ONLY PART OF THE PAGE IS HERE!" worrying that I'd be DQ'd for bringing a piece of the page. "PAGE 21" they called. Ugh. I flipped a page or two more to find it, and ripped out 21, stuffed it in my shirt, remounted lightning fast completely ignoring my stirrups, and galloped Q back.

My time? 35 seconds. Had the page I'd been assigned been in the book I'd easily have won. No doubt in my mind. Ah well.

Q and I ended up 4th out of the 12-15 riders in that event. I'll take it lol


After the catalog race, Mary and I high-tailed it out of the showgrounds.

We unloaded the horses back at the barn, Mary helped me treat Q's legs (she's healed, just gotta keep that new skin healthy), and then I suggested Mary ride the Grey Beast just to see how he was US as she'd delivered several compliments on his movement while I'd been riding him since her visit.

She tacked him up in the Wintec and his halter-bridle (because seriously, fuck the bit with this horse lately, his worst moments have always occurred with the bit). Mary mounted Griffin with no issue and set to riding him around the barnyard - familiar territory for the little man.

She had (or seemed to at least) a terrific little ride on him! From what I observed, he threw zero fits of any degree and was quite compliant to her requests for directional and gait changes. She even noted how uphill he was for a 4 year old. Yes! THAT is the horse I know so well! Terrific end-note! (And a further thinking-note for future pursuits with the opinionated grey horse! - a future post, for sure once I get my thoughts more solidified with time.)

And that was the end of our blogger visit with horses. We both showered and then whisked back up to Morgantown in time for the first home game of the 2014 football season (54-0 WVU over Towson).

It was absolutely terrific to finally meet Mary IRL, and I sincerely hope we have more visits in our future. Mary, I loved chatting with you on so many things and really appreciate your point of view on so much! You helped me to remember and note some things I've taken for granted with the horses and it was really good to hear. =) Cheers to next time!

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