On the Bench

Well, do you want the good news or the bad news?

oak1

Let’s start optimistically. Oakley and I have been spending lots of quality time together this week. Unfortunately, that time has been limited to hand-walking, icing, poulticing and bandaging.

OK, backtrack. As of two weeks ago, a big, beautifully-decorated course has been set up in our indoor to prepare our two riders who will be showing at the upcoming Royal Winter Fair (which is a notoriously spooky ring.) At first, we struggled to have productive rides in here, as there wasn’t a lot of space to navigate his big self around the jumps, but with the help of Trainer A, we started getting really good work, especially at the canter, which has come leaps and bounds, balance-wise. Oakley stepped up to the plate day after day; he felt stronger and more rideable every time. As a bonus, he was very blasé about all the cornstalks, flowers, pumpkins, filler and streamers, which would have sent Schmoodle into a conniption fit of epic proportions.

Towards the end of last week, he was a little more resistant in the bridle and came out quite stiff in the right hock, which convinced me that it’s time to inject that sucker. He also had a little spot of fluid in the left front after one ride, but I figured it was from a weirdly-wrapped polo, as the fill disappeared immediately.

Saturday, my parents, brother, aunt and uncle came out to meet Oakley. We spent the morning stuffing him with treats, giving him the spa treatment, and taking photos of his handsome self as he enjoyed his daily turnout. He looked great: shiny, getting a little fatter, happy and relaxed.

My bro, uncle, aunt, dad and mum with the big dude and me

My bro, uncle, aunt, dad and mum with the big dude and me

Alas, on Sunday I took him out of his stall and he was dead lame. Like crippled, leg-tremblingly lame, despite having been totally sound the previous day and having done nothing but stood in his large, well-bedded stall ever since. ASLDJQW!!@(#*&@($&.

The left front leg was very full of fluid, though the tendons/ligaments weren’t sore on palpation. He had some significant heat in the heel, so the barn manager and I crossed our fingers that it just an abscess. I drove home in a hell of a funk and promptly let the tears flow (…all over my boyfriend and his favourite sweater. Sorry about those mascara stains, babe.)

I waited with bated breath for the vet’s report the next day. Of course, the text message from the barn manager came as I sat through a most pointless and boring meeting. All I could see on the preview of the message, without being rude/unprofessional and unlocking my phone to read it, was: “So, good news and bad news. We blocked out the foot and he was still off…” AGH LET ME OUT OF THIS MEETING IMMEDIATELY.

The full message was hardly comforting. I speed-read it, gleaning a few key words: “thinking high suspensory strain…” “doesn’t look like it’s a new injury…” “tendons on both legs don’t look great…”

Well that is wonderful.

I drove to the barn in a fit of anxiety. When I got there, however, the barn manager explained the vet’s diagnosis more fully, and it really wasn’t as bad as I thought. The vet had ultrasounded both legs and found no tears or lesions, only fluid. The tendons themselves were pristine; in both front legs, however, fluid was present around them (more so on the left, clearly.) The vet surmised that this was secondary to what are basically crushed heels: the foot angles are out of whack and causing strain on the tendons. I suspect that when our new farrier shod Oakley for the first time last week, he might have tried to be too ambitious with changing the angles; at any rate, he’s coming back out of Friday to re-shoe, get the heels up, and make sure Oakley has good support. The vet said he wasn’t surprised, given his feet, that this soreness had presented itself, and that once his feet have healthier angles, the problem will disappear. In the meantime: ten days of stall rest plus hand-walking, then he’ll come out to re-evaluate. He even said he probably won’t bother to ultrasound again, given that the tendons themselves are A-OK.

So, not the end of the world. Of course, I will remain worried until he gets a clean bill of health (and, let’s be real, for a good long while after that), but the vet was optimistic in no uncertain terms that he will go back to work just fine.

Our new evening routine is as follows: unbandage Oakley, hand walk for fifteen minutes, ice boot on the left for twenty minutes while I brush and fuss over him, then poultice both sides and re-bandage. On Monday, Oakley was not in a happy mental place: he was very reluctant to hand-walk, and seemed touched out after his afternoon of veterinary unpleasantness. (Also, his dinner had been RUINED! RUINED I SAY! by the addition of bute.) I even got him a Likit to hang in his stall during his convalescence, but he regarded it with intense suspicion.

Last night, thankfully his attitude was a million percent better: he was back to being my bright-eyed guy. His gait was far more even; he tolerated his hand-walk easily. The barn had fed him molasses-flavoured bute rather than peppermint – infinitely preferable.

oak3

We’ll be on the bench for a little while, but on the brighter side, Oakley has time to pack on some pounds, ready to be converted into sexy topline muscle when he comes back into work. Also, I’m learning that our new barn is just wonderful: they’ve been super attentive and knowledgeable and have been providing great care. I guess putting your horse on a medical regimen is one way to road-test the barn staff.

The more I think about this, the more I realize I have had the great fortune to have never really been sidelined by a horse’s injury, across all the different horses I’ve ridden. I guess I was well overdue. It makes me more anxious and prone to assume the worst than your average owner, I think, because I haven’t had enough experience with lameness/injury care for it to become normalized. But I shall keep calm and poultice on.

Oakley is very sad to be missing his turnout/socializing time.

Oakley is very sad to be missing his turnout/socializing time.

(Oh PS the vet still has to inject his hocks. Hahaha VET BILLS.)

Current Conundra

Oakley was marvelous again yesterday. We worked over canter poles and I learned a few things: first, he has a big step (duh.) Second, he has a hard time compressing it (double duh). Third, he is a real trier: even though he was super tired with sore butt muscles by the end of our ride, he never said ‘no’, tried to be naughty, or simply ignored me. There was a lot of wiggling from side to side instead of rocking back on his haunches, but it was an honest effort. Good job, big man! You’ve earned your day off today, and then some!

I’m really crossing my fingers that Oakley maintains this good attitude as his workload increases – I’ll need to be careful to intersperse with chill days, so he doesn’t start hating his life. Also, it’s nice to have a horse that has all the basics in place in a way that I like, but who needs a lot of finessing through gymnastic flatwork, which tends to be my strength as a rider (jumping is another story, ha.) Poor Oakley, I have many, many flatwork exercises percolating in my brain for him. Though I’m also really excited to pop him over some jumps next week!

Trainer A impressed me once again during this lesson. He thinks that once a month has passed, we’ll be able to see an improvement in his weight and muscle and then be able to make a long-term plan for his progress and maintenance. I think at that point I’ll also have the vet out to look at his pre-purchase x-rays and see if we need any intervention in his hocks right now.

Anyway, herewith are the extraneous issues that are preoccupying me for the moment. Help me, blog readers! Please share your wisdom!

1. My locker: It’s basically a blank slate with a saddle rack in it, and all my crap stuffed in. I have a portable bridle hook hanging from one door right now, but it’s not ideal, as now the locker barely closes. I have learned from my creeping investigations that most people have a series of baskets and hooks installed on the doors and walls – maybe I could also do little portable shelves? Any organizational mavens feeling inspired by this?

thumb_IMG_2471_1024

2. Pastern Dermatitis: Oakley came to me with this (better known as mud fever) on both hind pasterns.

mud fever feet and legs

This isn’t him, I was too dense to photograph it myself. Oakley’s case looks more like the left leg in this photo.

I’m not as worried now as I was earlier in the week, as one leg is looking a lot better. My vet told me that the first order of business was removing the scabs before any treatment would be able to work, so my post-ride routine has been to hose them in warm water for a few minutes, scrub with iodine shampoo, cover with Vaseline, and let the legs dry completely. Earlier in the week some of the scabs started coming off, and yesterday and left leg lost its scabs completely. My regimen for the non-scabbed areas has been to rinse with Betadine, apply Hibitane (an antibiotic ointment suggested by the vet), then spray with Aluspray aerosol bandage to seal it off, all while wearing medical gloves to decrease odds of contamination.

A quick foray through the Chronicle of the Horse forums turned up a lot of weird remedies, mostly involving the kind of things that are really embarrassing to buy at the drug store. If anyone has experience with mud fever, I’d love to know what you did about it!

3. Side reins: Trainer A has suggested I longe in side reins a couple of times a week. I haven’t owned side reins for ages (I’m not a big longe-er) – what are all the cool kids using these days? Is it still all about those leather ones with the rubber doughnut? Or solid leather? Or elastic? Help!

Settling In

It’s been a whirlwind few days since Oakley arrived, so forgive my absence from the blogosphere [if indeed you care.]

thumb_IMG_2459_1024

A couple of hours after the big dude arrived

He arrived on Monday, having left home right on schedule and loaded up ‘like a kitten’ in the words of my trainer in Montreal. (I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the BF and I had tried to load our own kitten into his cat carrier the day before to bring him to my parents’ for Thanksgiving – it took us fifteen minutes and about ten treats, and we ended up having to physically stuff his furry little bum in there. Anyway.) When I arrived at the new barn a couple of hours after he did, he was ensconced in his BIG, well-bedded stall, having hoovered down hay and drunk a good amount of water. He was still a bit high and seemed pretty lonely – he could see the horses turned out outside and definitely was interested in making friends. But all in all, he stood like a brave boy while I groomed him, doctored a couple of little cuts, plied him with an apple, tried on his blankets, and generally made a fuss out of him. After turnouts had been brought in, I took him outside to eat some grass next to the outdoor ring and let him see the lay of the land, which he did with gusto. Finally, I brought him up to the main barn (he lives about 100 feet down a hill in the lower barn, which has bigger stalls) and let him hang out on the crossties there for a while; this is where we’ll be tacking up for rides as all my stuff lives in a locker up there. KPT and her boyfriend had stopped by to see Oakley, so they supervised us while I stuck him on a longe in the indoor to get a bit of juice out. He was very lonely in there – lots of screaming and Hackney-style trotting – so as soon as I got some relaxation and stretching I fed him some cookies and put him away. As I left the barn, he looked at me like hang on – you’re the only one I know here! Maybe come back?!

thumb_IMG_2468_1024

“This ain’t so bad.”

Tuesday night I arrived to find him looking totally happy in his stall and with one side covered in shavings. Phew – he felt comfortable enough to nap. We moseyed up to the main barn where Oakley made many, many new friends who wanted to feed him treats and comment on how tall he is. (Side note, cheers to the non-horsey mom of one of the girls at the barn who zeroed in on all Oakley’s ‘faults’ and felt the need to ask if I had noticed them: “But why is he so skinny? Did you see this cut on his nose? Is it normal that he holds his head so high?” Sigh.) I wanted to stick him on the longe again before getting on, as I had the sneaking suspicious that he would have some opinions about going back to work, all alone in the scary arena, after his week of vacation. He did indeed demonstrate some back-humping, flailing canter transitions, once I could get him to move out of a shuffling trot, that is. Finally, under the watchful eye of our new trainer, A, I hopped on. He felt a bit volatile, still wondering where the other horses were, but as soon as I put him into trot, he basically said “Oh, this – ok” and went about his business without any shenanigans. We stayed at the end of the ring closest to the door to the barn to keep him comfortable, but he was really very good – a bit starstruck and behind the leg, but he never wanted to do anything wrong. We quit after a few minutes and told him how good he was.

Trainer A seems like he will be a good fit for us: he was calm and precise, and articulated things in a way that made a lot of sense. He zeroed in right away on our need to build muscle basically everywhere as our immediate goal. He’s asked me to longe in sidereins a couple of times a week to encourage the naturally upright Oakley to stretch his outline downward. Once he’s cleared to ride again in three weeks following a shoulder injury this summer, I’m going to have him ride Oakley once a week, at least for the first little while. Although the perfectionist in me would love to say I did all the work on my green horse myself, I definitely want to take advantage of having someone available to fix whatever problems I inevitably create, especially having been alone with Schmoodle for 90% of the time for the last eighteen months.

After our ride, I doctored Oakley’s hind pastern dermatitis, got him in his pajamas and headed back down to his stall. Note to self, leave the outside light on in the lower barn so you don’t have to awkwardly feel around in the pitch black for the lights while your big gawky horse attempts to push past you, insisting he knows exactly where he’s going, duh Mom. Ground manners: we need better ones.

Last night, I flatted him on my own and just had an awesome ride. Although he was still distracted by the prospect of so many prospective friends, so tantalizingly close on the other side of the arena door, he did his best to concentrate and he had some really good moments, even after the horse we were riding with left us ALL ALONE!! near the end of our ride. Although he still felt discombobulated sometimes, when I did manage to channel the energy correctly from front to back, he gave me an absolutely great feel in the bridle. Woo! We even got a bit of long-and-low trot work at the end. A few things that are going to need work in the next while:

  1. Sharpness off the leg. Mr. Oakley’s default response to scary/distracting things at the moment is to sloooow down. While I vastly prefer this to Schmoodle’s approach of “teleport first, ask questions later,” we’re definitely going to need to install a prompt and reliable GO button.
  2. Containing the canter. As can be expected from a green 18h horse in a medium-sized indoor arena, cantering in an organized fashion is difficult. Strength and adjustability are going to be crucial. Although he doesn’t get strong, he does alternate between rushing and breaking to trot, with short periods of balance in between. (This is intimately related to #1 obviously.)

Overall, Oakley has been quite chill for his first forty-eight hours in his new home, and I’m really happy about what a nice personality he turns out to have. I, of course, am still not entirely chill – there’s always an adjustment period as you learn the ins and outs of a new barn – but I will get there.

thumb_IMG_2472_1024

“I think I might like it here!”

For our next installment: tackling Oakley’s hind leg gunk, and the organizational nightmare that is my new locker…

The First Shopping Trip

This weekend, I travelled to the Toronto area to meet up with by BFF, KPT, and check out two horses I’m interested in. Apologies, as I’m going to use this blog as a log of my horse-hunting thoughts, so this will likely get quite long!

My trainers were at a horse show this weekend, so I decided to bite the bullet and go alone, with KPT as trusted advisor and videographer. It was a bit scary – we North Americans are so accustomed to shopping with trainers and I felt like a bit of a fraud at times, as I’m clearly an amateur rider who makes lots of mistakes – but I’m really glad we went and got the ball rolling. I must say, going from riding Schmoodle, a well-trained idiot horse with lots of buttons, almost exclusively for over 18 months, to riding these two green beans, was quite the adjustment, and I think the first horse I tried was kind of like “Whaaa?” until I remembered to drastically simplify all my aids. Ah well, ya live and learn.

Horse 1 (“Chunky Mare” for future reference)

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 10.02.37 PM

Stats: 7 y/o WB mare, 16.1 and chunky, black, under saddle for one year, for sale by trainer, upper end of budget, not been actively marketed

First impression: We arrived in the middle of a monsoon-style downpour and got absolutely soaked sprinting into the barn! I hadn’t seen a video of this horse; I was interested in one of the seller’s other horses who sold right before our trip, so she suggested we come see this one. First thought: flats in a slow-twist snaffle. She is a really cute mover, great balance look through the bridle, trots better than she canters, though she has a big step. Sensible-seeming (especially as we were riding as a torrential rainstorm poured down outside the indoor), a bit looky but not reactive. Seems like a kick ride (seriously, like pony kicks, the trainer had neither stick nor spurs.) She wasn’t terribly impressed by the jumps, looked cute but hard to judge her form over teeny stuff. No lead changes although she apparently does them with her 12-year-old half-leaser, of her own accord.

Under saddle: She felt like riding a barrel! I felt perched on top of her and my stirrups look way short in the videos. Great feeling in the mouth at the trot. Not very responsive to the leg. Doesn’t seem to have any idea of how to move sideways from the leg, though she bends well. I had trouble getting her to canter the first direction, but that was pilot error: too many conflicting aids! Canter was a weird mix of feeling like I was going nowhere, and feeling like I was barrelling along on the forehand. Was a bit behind the leg to the jumps, but willing. I really struggled to find a good canter, and thus good distances on this horse. My instinct was always to wait out of the corner but it didn’t really work. Also, she was very stiff and heavy in the downward transitions – I can see why they have her in something other than a plain snaffle, but I don’t love that on such a green horse.

Upon video review: I needed to get her SO much for forward in canter, especially to jump. It was kind of painful to watch the videos of us jumping (because of my mistakes – she didn’t care one way or the other!). She looks waaaay more balanced in canter than she felt.

In short: I would like to go back and try her again, knowing what I know about her canter and needing to feel like I’m galloping. Love her look, her apparently sensible nature, and her connection to the bridle…except when she dives downward. Didn’t like the feeling that she hadn’t really been introduced to yielding sideways to the leg, and that, combined with her good natural balance, might make the lead changes difficult to teach. Overall, I liked watching the horse on video more than I liked riding her, if that makes sense… I didn’t really click with her, despite her being quite lovely. I mean, she’s a green 7-year-old who’s apparently the barn favourite and has a 12-year-old half-leaser. She must be a pretty good girl.

Horse 2 (“Older Chestnut”)

IMG_2413

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 9.45.39 PM

Stats: 9 y/o TB gelding, 16.2, chestnut, OTTB under saddle for a couple of years, for sale by amateur owner, significantly below my budget, for sale for a few months

First impression: I sent a bunch of sales videos to my trainer in Montreal, who found me my last (wonderful) horse in someone’s backyard for a song, and this is the one she liked best (though she hasn’t seen Chunky Mare yet.) The facility where this horse lives was kind of ramshackle, and their outdoor ring footing was disastrously hard following the previous day’s rain. The horse seemed a little “up”, and the seller also seemed a bit anxious about the whole thing (understandable, who likes to ride around two strangers who are literally judging your every move?) KPT and I suggested we move into the indoor as the trot we were seeing looked NOTHING like what we had seen on the videos. Once we got inside to better footing, he looked better, though still a bit stabby…that’s when we noticed his TERRIBLE looking foot angles. Ugh. He had absolutely no heel and very long pointy toes…ouch.

IMG_2414

Not the best shot (I’m an awful photographer) but check out that left foot…those do not look like happy angles.

He’s an attractive guy and settled into his work quickly, and looked better and better the more relaxed he got. He had a nice balanced canter and evidently was looking to please. The seller emphasized the work she had been putting in to get him relaxed to the jump, and it’s obviously worked, as he seemed quite chill. He took a couple of misses quite cheerfully.

Under saddle: The seller wouldn’t let me ride in my own saddle so I had to ride in her Wintec (“It’s custom fitted – also, most people put their saddles way too far forward, we don’t do that here!” That’s cool, I’m all for well-fitting saddles, but I don’t know, that saddle seemed way too far back to me.) In short, I felt SO off balance and like I was sitting right on the poor guy’s loins. (These people were hard-core Bates/Wintec proselytizers…and definitely judged me hard when I said no, my beautifully-balanced wool-flocked leather saddle doesn’t have adjustable gullets…moving right along.) Despite this, I really liked the feel this guy gave me. He had really adjustable gaits and a great feeling in the connection. Though he’s clearly not too schooled, he tried to do what I asked every time. I got the sense he can be a bit hot and so the seller hasn’t really worked on getting him to come off the leg because he has a motor, but once I got him moving a little bigger, he felt great. He was uber-quiet to the jumps (he felt reeeally tired by that point!), and I tried to get him to the base to see how he balanced (it looked like he preferred to leave from the gap). The first time he barfed it; the second time was better; and the third time, we put it up a bit, and he jumped in his best balance yet.

Upon video review: I was still under-pace in some places (…guilty) but there were no big surprises from the video; he looked like he felt: green but balanced and fluid, and a trier. I thought I would look really floppy on him given the saddle issue, but I liked the way I fit him.

In short: I really liked this guy. He seemed like a people-pleaser, and his owner obviously dotes on him and has done well by him. He’s got some blood and I’m sure would need a few minutes to settle in and catch his breath when faced with a new situation, but I liked his expression and how quickly he learned. He has apparently done lead changes in the past but she hasn’t worked on them. He’s under-muscled in the neck and back – not to mention those feet! – and I think he would fancy up even more with consistent work. Of course, he’s already nine years old and still green – a definite downside.

So, what now?

Now I need to show these videos to some professionals! KPT and I did our best – we’ve seen a lot of horses go and we tend to like the same things – but neither of us have lots of horse shopping experience (me=none, my one and only horse showed up at our farm when I wasn’t even shopping; her=bought the second one she tried and he is her forever horse.) I’m beating myself up a bit for how I rode Chunky Mare, so I’d be willing to go back and try her again with a trainer in tow, if M&L as well as my ex-trainer like her.

Most of all, I’m feeling conflicted because Chunky Mare is no doubt the nicer horse on paper: better bred, younger, a more traditional hunter type, probably quieter. I just didn’t connect with her immediately, whereas Older Chestnut felt like my type of ride straightaway.

What do you guys think? Did you click with “the one” right away, or did you have to convince your heart to catch up with your head? I’m dying to know.

I’m going to try another one (a bay TB mare) at my ex-trainer’s in Montreal on the weekend, so more updates to come.

PS: Schmoodle was basically perfect last night, as well as very lovey-dovey. I think someone told him I’m cheating on him!

In Which There is a New Addition to the Family

It’s been the kind of grey, rainy weekend that invites staying indoors and watching horses jumping on TV, rather than having to go actually jump a horse oneself. Luckily that’s what’s on the agenda for the afternoon: the CP International starts at Spruce Meadows in an hour and all three hours are being webcast by CBC! This is one of my favourite horse show days of the year, not least because the quality of the CBC’s coverage is so good:  the vibrant colours of the International Ring and the footfalls and breath sounds captured by the jump microphones really add to the drama.

Last year was my favourite edition of the International that I’ve ever seen live, as Ian Millar took home an amazing victory on Dixson. I, like every other young horse-crazy Canadian, idolized Ian growing up, and read Lawrence Scanlan’s biography of Big Ben so many times that the book’s falling apart at the seams. Now, I know him less as a larger-than-life figure and more as my trainer’s trainer who passed his rigourous horsemanship standards down to her.

I audited the clinic Ian and his children, Amy and Jonathon, put on here a few months ago; it was the first time I had seen him train in person (though my trainer brings horses to Millar Brooke Farm, about half an hour down the road from us, for tune-ups with Ian quite frequently, Schmoodle and I have never made the cut, alas.) Ian is tough – not quite George Morris, but not the jolly Captain Canada who shows up in media interviews. He calls bad riding like he sees it, and he is merciless if your horse and you are uneducated on the flat. He doesn’t make excuses for less-than-talented horses. He sets exercises extremely precisely, and when horses make mistakes, he always has a particular exercise in his back pocket to fix it, whether it be offsetting a groundline by six inches, or laying down a single guide rail in the middle of a gymnastic: the rider’s job is simply to remain consistent and let the horse solve its own problems.

As a result of being trained in his system, his own horses, as well as Amy’s and Jonathon’s, are impeccably responsive and rideable beyond belief. The smallest adjustment in their rides inevitably translates to a significant improvement on the horse’s part. Watching Ian and Baranus, during a demonstration ride at the clinic, land from a 1m40 oxer on the quarter line off a forward seven strides, then land and turn towards the wall in perfect balance instead of continuing around the corner – probably a turning radius of about five metres – will stay with me forever. He is the real deal – no gimmicks, no tricks.

Anyway, last year he won the CP and several hundred thousand dollars, which was pretty freaking awesome, as I feel like we’re part of his camp by association, given my trainer and his longstanding friendship. Also, as much as he’s the perennial anchor rider for Team Canada etc., I can’t remember the last time he won a HUGE class like that – these days he seems to always be the bridesmaid. Anyways, IAN FOR THE WIN!

Honestly, I cried when he won #sorrynotsorry

Honestly, I cried when he won #sorrynotsorry

And guess who will be watching with me…?

thumb_IMG_2399_1024

This guy!!! The cat my boyfriend J and I adopted from the Humane Society yesterday! He is a big middle-aged fluffer, super friendly and cuddly, perfect for a first-time cat owner like me. I have traditionally not been a cat fan, but J has worn me down gradually, and I must say, I love this sucker already. His name is Remus, and he enjoys being petted and sleeping at the foot of our bed.

IMG_2403

Maybe he wants to eat those birds on the bedspread?

The Old Guard

Last night, I volunteered to do night check at the barn, as I had time to kill before picking the BF up from soccer (sometimes I try to be a good girlfriend and arrive early to watch some of the action, but I feel about amateur soccer the way a non-rider feels about watching Training Level dressage tests: OVER IT.) I thought I’d give you a tour of the some of the horses that remain at home while the A-team is on the road at the horse shows. It’s a pretty illustrious gang, all in their late teens: between them, they have jumped a LOT of big fences! Think of the stories they could tell…

First, Larry, the king of the barn, my trainer’s most recent Grand Prix horse, who was packing a junior around the 1m10s this spring before injury caught up with him. Larry is the coolest horse: he has a number of GP victories under his belt; for an upper-level jumper, he’s pretty straightforward to ride; and he’s also extremely mischievous. (He once escaped his stall while I was throwing him hay at night check. How does a 16.3-hand horse escape out of a gap the width of two flakes of hay?!) Larry has been to the Canadian Championships, the International Ring at Spruce Meadows, and a Nations Cup in Argentina, where he earned my trainer her first Team Canada red coat. Now he mostly causes trouble for whoever is assigned to flat him.

thumb_IMG_2374_1024

Larry in his heyday in Argentina

Larry in his heyday in Argentina

Then there’s Cash, my trainer’s first Grand Prix horse! I had the privilege to ride Cash a bit in university; he is the most responsive horse I’ve ever sat on. I felt like I could jump the moon on him. He is a terror out in the field (most of the time, he shares a pasture with Schmoodle, who he alternates between loving on and bullying) but a total gentleman under tack. He has also shown his share of young riders the ropes in the 1m15-and-under divisions, but is now permanently retired.

thumb_IMG_2370_1024

cash

Eddie – another ex-GP horse who was imported from Italy where he did the 1m50. I also rode Eddie quite a bit back in 2009 – man, he was really tricky. My trainers’ assistant showed him in the 1m20 one year; they would literally either win or get stopped out. I think Eddie had a bit of tough life before coming to us, and he still has a couple of screws loose. Eddie also lives in Schmoodle’s field and ALWAYS wants to come in and be ridden. In fact, one day a beginner student on the university equestrian team that’s based at our barn mistook Eddie for one of the school horses, brought him in and started getting him ready. Luckily they caught her mistake before she got on – she would have been in for the ride of her life!

thumb_IMG_2364_1024

cabrio

Lookin’ fly a few years ago

Pete was imported by Eric Lamaze and was meant to be a Young Riders/1m40 horse. Alas, his owner quickly discovered that he hates horse shows and is another one of those win-the-class-or-fall-off-at-the-first-fence types. Pete will jump around at the top of the standards at home but refuses to play at the shows – even our in-barn Nations Cup was too stressful for him. He is an awesome teacher at home, though – I rode him a lot before Schmoodle was in the picture. He’s super fine-tuned on the flat and has the best hind end over fences I’ve ever felt (I can barely stick his jump – it’s like a bouncy ball.) He packs the university team kids around all day, though if you’re not careful you’ll end up ass over teakettle as he shows off his white belly spot – he packs a bit of a buck. He’s been ouchy all summer so we’re not sure if he’s also headed for retirement.

PETE

peter

“And me,” says Schmoodle. “I am fabulous.”

Schmoodle

We’ve had two great rides since our unscheduled dismount. I used my favourite bending and balance switchbacks four-jump exercise last night – he was basically perfect in one direction and only needed two repetitions the other way. I’ll take that as an apology.

“I’m going to park myself under this apple tree until you pick an apple for me,” says Schmoodle.

Home Sweet Home

I really love my barn – not just my trainers (M and L) and their program (though that is great as well), but the physical space. It’s a bit of a commute for me, especially on week nights, but the way it’s situated makes it feel much further from the city than it actually is. That means there’s room for a lot of this:

Our barn is across the street from the one pictured.

Our barn is across the street from the one pictured.

It’s a fairly small barn, about fifteen stalls plus a large field for the outdoor gelding gang. It’s gloriously quiet, as the client list is small, and during the summer, I’m the only working adult who regularly rides after work. Sometimes there are evening lessons but the vast majority of weekday evenings, I’m alone, especially since a large contingent of the horses is on the road for most of the summer, horse showing. Sometimes I feel out of the barn loop due to my solitary habits but 95% of time, I’m so grateful for the quiet. My job is fairly high-stress (…as is my personality) so the barn is an important decompression time. We have a large sand ring bordered by a larger grass field, both of which I have to myself a lot of the time. 

Additionally, the care the barn provides is impeccable. The farm is older and, prior to my trainers taking over, was run for many years by a successful show program. Their attention to detail in designing and building the barn is evident in how safely and efficiently it’s laid out. It isn’t a fancy place, but it’s neat and workmanlike – everything feels like it’s immediately to hand. It helps that my trainer L is an organizational freak maven – everything is super orderly and matchy-matchy. Makes my heart happy.

synergy

Note the attached indoor arena – that thing is a godsend.

My trainers’ program is one of those high-end full-care (read $$$$) jobs – lots of staff paying lots of attention to the horses’ welfare. Of course, this comes with a hefty price tag for clients in full training board (one month trainng board = two weeks of my salary) so it’s the kind of place I could never afford for a horse I owned. Bottom line, I’m lucky to have “back-doored” my way in here: I started taking lessons with my trainers in university (they coached my school’s riding team), had the bright idea to attempt to befriend them, and have basically stuck around ever since. And as an added perk, they have provided me with some great horses to ride, like Schmoodle. I’m probably the smallest invoice they send out every month, but I appreciate that, even though I can’t keep up with the big boys financially, I have access to top-notch training and a beautiful facility. (Even if I can basically only afford to lesson once in a blue moon, it seems. Sorry, M and L.)

Sadly, if/when I next end up purchasing a horse ~*~of my very own~*~, it means I’m going to have to find some new digs, where board is in my actual price range, rather than my wishful-thinking one.

Barn hunting is the worst. Agreed? I’m not looking forward to it.