Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Cross Country Clinic with Tom Mulqueen

Photo by Dorothy Anderson/Peacock Photos
Sunday, Golly and I participated in a clinic with Tom Mulqueen that was hosted by the St. Mary's Riding Club and Claddagh Equestrian Center.  I am scheduled to have my knee replaced in a little over a week so I knew I most likely would not be able to complete the entire clinic but I wanted to do as much as we could as our last ride before the surgery.

While it was called a Cross Country clinic, the main purpose was to teach horse and rider in a progressive manner how to successfully participate in fox hunting.   While it would seem that fox hunting is just fast trail ride you do while dressed up, it is so much more!   Being able to ride your horse at pace across varied terrain, with other horses very close and being respectful of the protocol that dictates the order of riders is important.

The clinic was held at the lovely Sam Hill Farm on a crisp fall day with a backdrop of changing fall leaves.  

Photo by Claddagh Equestrian Center
We started out by riding our horses around the outdoor dressage ring and jump field until they all settled and were relaxed.  The horses ranged from big draft crosses to ponies to even a mule and riders ranged from children to the more mature, proving that the clinic really was for everyone! 
After they were all decently relaxed, Tom set us single file at a trot around the dressage ring leaving approximately a horse length between each of us.  Tom made it clear that if we didn't maintain the length then we weren't "riding our horse, our horse was telling us what to do".    After a bit he had us increase the length and change the line lead and direction.

After a break where we lined up for some words of wisdom, Tom had each of us canter individually around the dressage ring.

As each rider finished, he spent some time critiquing the ride and giving some tips on how we could improve.   He did a great job showing how the critique would apply to all the riders, so the individual rider didn't feel singled out.   I probably don't have these exact but some suggestions included:
  • your horse only has so many hours that you can spend on his back, so when you canter you need to get off of him
  • your stirrups need to be one to two holes shorter when going cross country
  • you need to trust your horse - just like a marriage, once you decide he's the one for you, you have to trust him
  • you can't push the gas and the brake at the same time - LET him canter  (this one was for me)
  • our job as a rider is to make the ride easy for the horse
Unfortunately that was as far as my knee allowed me participate but the rest of the riders went on for an additional hour that I watched from the trailer.  They worked on taking what we had learned thus far and took it to the next level.    They cantered up and down small hills, together, one at a time and in a line up.  They cantered away from the group and towards the group.

They also worked some on jumping.  After first introducing the horses to a new jump by jumping it individually, they jumped it lined up one behind the other.

Because Tom took the group through the exercices in a progressive manner, none of it was too difficult for either horse and rider.   And while he encouraged each rider to do their best, there was no pressure to do more than you felt comfortable.

The clinic was a great last ride before I hang up my spurs for a bit for my surgery and I can't wait until my knee is healed so I can do the clinic next time it is offered.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Riding Horses While Pregnant.... Dangerous but not for the reason you think.

When I was pregnant with my third child I was taking lessons at a local barn on my friend's horse.   For each of my previous pregnancies I had also been taking lessons and as soon as I announced my pregnancy I was banished from the barn and told to come back once I had delivered.   I got it.  No one wants a pregnant woman as a liability.

With two small kids at home though, riding was the link to my sanity and I did NOT want to give it up this time. Of course, I also did not want to jeopardize my baby so I talked to my doctor about the effects of riding on my unborn little girl.   He said the riding itself was not going to hurt her and even a fall probably would not hurt her as a woman's body protects the fetus very well.  HOWEVER, a fall serious enough to hurt me could have repercussions as either the treatments required to cure me could be harmful or they would have to withhold treatments in order to protect my child.  So the answer was go ahead and ride but .. DON'T FALL OFF.

If you are a rider, you know that is easier said than done.  But again.. my sanity... I needed to ride or I would go nuts.

So I decided to ride and just be as safe as possible.  I only rode horses that were very safe.  I only did trail rides on horses that you could put a child on and then only at a walk.  When working in the ring (and the trail as well), I always had someone there watching.  And I didn't do anything that was too difficult for either me or my horse.

It worked for me.  I know this is a personal decision that every woman rider needs to make on her own.  For me, my sanity was worth the small risk I felt I was taking.

Everything went well until I was at the very end of my pregnancy.  I was 30+ weeks pregnant and LARGE.  I never did look like those women who have a cute little baby bumps resembling a small pea sticking out of their shirt.  I looked more like I had stuffed a newborn elephant up my shirt and it was trying to escape.  I felt like I looked normal and was always shocked when I looked in a mirror and saw that ginormous belly sticking out front -- really, how could I even be walking?

Back then (I delivered my last kid in 2001), maternity clothes were not the cool fashion statement they are now.   Jeans were topped with a large white elastic band that strapped across the aforementioned large belly and, if it was posssible, made the belly look even larger.  To hide the ugly fashion, you wore floating shirts that resembled a large Hawaiian mu mu.  Pure elegance!

As I was reaching the end of my pregnancy, I decided to go out for one last ride.   It was a beautiful summer day and there were a lot of people hanging around the barn.   Riders and their families.   As I rode around the ring, several people including some of the husbands were leaning on the fence watching.

I had been working on getting a solid simple canter change through a trot and never could quite get it.   Finally today, it was clicking!  Hurray!

In the last few minutes of my ride I was cantering a nice easy congratulatory loop around the ring and noticed people were watching a bit more intently.   No more lazy lounging in the sun look.  They must have seen our great change and were impressed!

Nope -- it wasn't looks of admiration I was seeing...  as I transitioned down to a trot I noticed that my shirt had inched up and was now fully sitting on top of my belly and the large elastic band was hanging triumphantly out waving at all to see. 

So I hung up my spurs that day with determination that the next time they saw me I certainly would not be sporting a big belly band!

My daughter was born  a few weeks later, healthy, and to a sane and happy mom.  And yup, just four weeks later I was at the barn riding around that same ring... sans belly band.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Chapter Challenge Recap

Ever hear of the Bad News Bears? That's was a good description of the Chapter Challenge. 

For the past six months I have been battling a major loss of cartilage in my knee so it’s made it difficult to ride and care for my horse.   In fact, for the two weeks leading up to the show I hadn't managed to get on my horse even once.   Luckily, my trainer was able to hop on the day before the show and warm him up for me and then I hopped on for a short ride just to remind the two of us what relaxation, bend and straightness was.  So I knew it wasn't going to be our best show but I had a willing equestrian partner so I knew it would go at least okay.


I woke up Sunday morning with intense stomach cramps and let's just say I lost a lot of weight in the next hour.    Nerves?  Nope... this was much worse than just nerves.

I was contemplating how I was even going to get to the barn, much less to a show an hour away.

But... with a team depending on me being there in order for them to show, scratching was not an option.  So I popped a bunch of meds with the hopes of at least getting a shot at getting to the show. 

Luckily they worked.  My stomach was still making some terrible noises and I felt horrible but I could at least leave the bathroom. 

I got to the show and thanks to a tremendous effort from my team who drove with me, helped me load and unload, and braided my horse, I got through my test. 

It wasn't my best test.  In fact, it was one of the worst I've had in a long time but it was very respectable at 60% and helped our team earn a 3rd place finish.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Grooming for a Cold Winter Show

Golly prior to grooming
Tomorrow is the PVDA Chapter Challenge.  While its technically a schooling show its kind of a big deal as for most people its the culmination of the show season and we compete as teams.  Because of that everyone is braided and wearing their "show best".
Broom Brush
Of course this weekend is cloudy with a high of about 50 degrees and a blustery wind.   Not the best weather for a show bath.

So these are the steps I take to groom Golly when a bath isn't possible.   I'm sure there are better methods (and I'd love hear them in the comments section) but this is what I've found works the best.

The picture at the top is what his coat looked like when I started -- I had my work cut out for me!
Rubber Curry
After Using Rubber Curry
First I use a brush that reminds me of a rough broom to brush off the big dirt.  Then I take a rubber curry and spend lots of elbow grease to pull the dirt from down deep.   After this step he looks worse that before but its necessary to get the good glow we are looking for.  Here's a pic of what it looks like after the curry step.   It looks like there is a fine coating of dust all at the tips of the hair.

I then use the broom brush again and that's when he finally starts looking like a show horse.  Yes, there is hope!     Depending on how dirty he is I may repeat the entire series of steps (broom brush, curry, broom brush) until he is looking decent.

After Curry and Broom Brush

This is when I have to use some water.  I take a small towel and dip it in water and wring it out WELL!  Its important the towel is just barely damp -- not dripping wet -- or your horse will be wet and cold.  Its great if you have warm water to do this but if you run a no frills operation like mine you will be dipping in cold water.  It really doesn't make much difference to the horse because you are using so little water and you aren't trying to get him wet.  In fact, if you get him wet you are doing something wrong and your horse will be very cold.

Using the towel I rub it in a circular motion in any spots that still look dusty.  Usually this is in the spots that "stick out" such as hip bones or hock joints.  Or in the spot I called the "tickle spot" where his hair grows the opposite direction just under his loin.  (I have no idea what that is called -- anyone know?)  Use some elbow grease and rub well!  

Be sure you rinse your towel frequently and wring well again so you aren't just mixing mud on your horse.   

After I've hit all the dusty spots, I lightly rub his entire body with a clean damp towel to get any remaining dust.

After I think I have most of the dirt, I sometimes use a little Show Sheen (or whatever conditioning product you like) sprayed into the towel and rubbed in like I did the water. 

Be VERY careful not to get the Show Sheen anywhere near the saddle area though as you are essentially polishing your horse and your saddle will slip and slide.  Can you imagine your saddle slipping completely around your horse during your test?!

I then let Golly dry completely tied in the cross ties while I work on his mane or clean stalls.  It doesn't take long as he is only slightly damp.  You can take a dry towel and rub it in deeply to get any remaining moisture out and hasten the drying time.

Once he is dry I use a polishing brush like this one to get the final polish on him.   The final touch is to put a sheet or blanket on him (depending on the temperature), put him out to pasture and pray he stays somewhat clean!

Its not a perfect method but it does get a decent show glow on him and keeps him warm and dry in the colder show months.

Tomorrow is the big show.  Hopefully I will have some good things to report both about our ride and our Charles County team.

I'd love to hear YOUR tips on grooming in the winter.