Monday, January 16, 2017

2016 Year in Review

I know a lot of people have been complaining about 2016, labeling it as a year best left in the dust. While I can see the point of those statements, I think it's best to appreciate every year for what we did and learned rather than writing it off. So with that: Here's 2016 in review!


We kicked off the year with a visit from the vet, confirming Pig's suspected diagnosis of "being real old." We developed a comprehensive conditioning and treatment plan to get the old man back in full work after his substantial time off at the end of 2015, including estrone shots, hock injections, and lots of hill work.
Hello year; Goodbye money
Of course some of that was put on hold when DC was hit with one of the top 5 blizzards to hit the Northeast in US history! Of course, I had to write about how the huskies and I enjoyed the experience, complete with plenty of photos of happy snow dogs.
The world always needs more snow dogs.


By the start of February, I was starting to worry about how little muscular improvement I was seeing from Pig. But I wrote about what I was doing to support his development, and gave myself permission to rethink stifle injections at the end of the month. To help me better track the improvement, I started posting each ride recap as a haiku. Honestly, best idea ever.
Also had to start riding in the morning before work to avoid the hell-traffic that was DC post apocalyptic snow storm. 
My mind wandered while we laid down some repetitive rehab work, and I wrote about methods of shortening reins, imagined Irish myths in the epic blizzard melting mists, and compared Pig to a cartoon character.


The realities of planning for show season hit me this month, and I debate whether I should show in the double. Deciding to give the whole thing a test run at my barn's winter schooling show series seemed like a good idea-- though Pig disagreed. Still, I learned a lot from that test and poured myself continuing to strengthen Pig's hind end. Mainly by channeling my inner Ingrid Klimke.
Looking like a BAMF
Show season beckoned harder. I broke down awards I could go for, and took a couple of lessons with Stephen Birchall. During the first, Pig attempted to toss me through an open window while executing a particularly exuberant change. During the second, I tossed on the double and we worked hard on furthering our work with some foundations.
Well, that's one interesting diversion on the path to success... 

Our first show snuck up on us in April. I prepped as best as I could. Pig started on Adequan, and we planned to show in the double. Of course, the best laid plans all go astray sometimes. The weather ended up pushing us to haul in the night before, and everything was a rush. The show day itself was frigid with blowing snow, but Pig and I made solid use of our history of training hard in all weather.
A 62% at 3rd? We'll take it! 
We left Morven Park with only one score missing from my Bronze medal, and the feeling that just maybe we might be capable at 3rd. Then we piled on all the horrid color combos we own and destroyed your retinas with this classy photo...
Don't lie. You love it.
Just a week after our show, we once again braided up, this time for a clinic with the indomitable Janet Foy. I can't lie, I was extremely nervous the clinic was going to be a giant disaster, but Pig and I somehow passed Janet's scrutiny.
Horse looks like his brains are installed. No worries. That's a lie.
She was very critical of us, but gave a lot of great feedback and ultimately declared us capable if a touch wild. I wrote up the lessons I audited in two incredibly full posts (post 1, and post 2), but I never managed to write up our lesson. Instead L and Emma and I had a ton of fun in D.C.
Like. A lot of fun.
Pig may have disagreed.
While I recovered from the craziness that was April, my little wolves took over the blog and wrote about their insane lives as barn dogs in the nation's capital. Really, I think they just felt the need to share adorable photos of themselves in downtown D.C.

After the wild days that were April, you'd think May would be quiet. You would be wrong. We started off by calling the vet back out and injecting Pig's sticky stifle. Of course, Pig is extremely ticklish around his stifles so we ended up having to drug the crap out of him. Amazingly, he still found it possible to kick, even though he was so drunk he could barely stand. This horse, man. Dedication is his thing.
"I'm not drunk! I'm just sleeping" -- every drunk and punchy pig-headed Irishmanhorse ever
  Then, for my birthday Pig gave me the gift of a minor colic and the onset of horrible hives (requiring an emergency vet call! hooray!), but I also managed to pull together the photos from our April show. The hives continued right up to our next show, as did an incredible month-long rainstorm.
Happy birthday to meeeeeeeeeeee!
Finally giving in to popular demand, I published a braiding tutorial for my style of big fluffy Dutch braids.
These braids!
And we headed out to Morven Park again, this time to meet with Jan and Penn for PVDA Spring. The nasty weather made it feel more like we were fording a river than performing a dressage test, but we managed to pull out all the scores for our Bronze, plus the scores for our 2nd level rider award. There were many awards (and I won a wine glass and a cheese plate! Score!).
But seriously, guys. The rain was ridiculous.
At the end of the month I wrote out the long history of Pig's injuries, arthritis, and training. Ultimately ending with a love letter to this silly horse, who has never given up on me.
And I love him for it.

All the awards we finished in May arrived, and I wondered how you approach riding when you've accomplished all the goals you set. Ultimately I decided those awards are amazing, but don't mean we have to stop immediately. I said I'd look into leasing him, but let him tell me where we headed.
Spoiler alert, he's not ready to quit yet.
Liz ended up swinging through DC, so I roped her into auditing a Stephen clinic and hanging out with Emma! Obviously it only took a little more pushing to get her to take a mini ride on Pig and go for a trail ride.
Loved watching these two go!
Unfortunately, Liz missed my torture training session with Stephen. While Stephen expressed excitement over Pig's muscling and fitness, he schooled us both at the counter canter for what felt like the rest of our lives.
So much cantering. It's a damn good thing this horse and I were at peak fitness!

I wrote a bit about the unique markings that can be found in the thoroughbred lines, pointing out where they appear on Pig. Then, I released the amazing family photo's taken by Allison of Ponytude's husband during our busy April.
Because these "kids" make my life awesome.
Finally, Emma, Megan and I wandered out to Virginia to watch the Olympic qualifier at Great Meadow. I had way too much fun stitching together a slow motion video of the rides and posted it.

This month was outrageously busy, but I didn't manage to post much. What I did get out was a piece about the process of being awarded my bronze.
Yay lapel pin!

Finally I got around to posting some quick updates. Then I wrote about a quick jumping session I got to do with Pig, even though his jumping days are long over. He had so much fun!
Somewhere in those updates I might've mentioned kicking ass at another dressage show...
At the end of the month, I started recapping my early August endurance ride experience with Liz! We rode 30 miles through the West Virginia mountains, and I learned a ton about a totally new discipline.
Q and I had a blast!
Photo by Becky Pearman

After much delay, I finally finished my endurance ride recap. This ended up getting picked up by a bunch of Facebook pages, Horse and Eventing Nation. My blog traffic exploded. Though my time was still short, I managed to squeak out a quick post about how Pig and I's training was going, hinting at the good work we were laying down.
Do we look like a pair messing around with piaffe/passage? Cause we were...

I wrote nothing. So sorry, guys. Life got a bit crazy.
Just imagine that it looked much like this...

I started reflecting on the year early, by looking at how cyclical our training had become. Then I wrote about the development of my understanding of the dressage frame. Both may have just been an excuse to post some old photos of Pig.
And some other ones from our summer show!
Photo by Redline Photography
I continued writing love letters to my ridiculous horse, showing the world just how cuddly he can be. Then, the fluffy posts were over. Stephen was back and we had to get back to work. Our lesson was mostly theory, but it's been helping Pig and I continue to make positive progress in all parts of our training.
Stephen is basically our relationship counselor.
Speaking of positive progress, the year ended with a look at our goals for 2017. I came out and said we're pointing ourselves at 4th level, a thing I said wasn't possible earlier in the year. What a crazy ride!
Cheers to you, 2016!!

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 Goal Review | 2017 Goals

2016 Riding/Horse Goals
Keep Pig's stifles, other arthritis issues, and bare feet managed appropriately. Soundness and happiness are the keys to success this year.
- Pretty well managed. I went into this year with a no-holds-barred approach when it came to managing Pig's multiple issues. Overall, I think we have done a lot with my tiny budget and his rapidly aging legs.
Find a trainer I like for both myself and my horse, and get my budget and time together enough to take regular lessons.
- While I don't have a regular local trainer, I do think our semi-regular lessons with Stephen Birchall and keeping us moving forward at a pace we can handle.
Attend 2-3 recognized show weekends.
- Three full weekends of recognized shows in the books for this year!
Attend 1-2 schooling shows, either at the farm or off property.
- One schooling show at the farm in March. Hoped these would be more beneficial than they turned out to be. I think for my horse, expecting him to mentally handle an on-property show is kind of unfair.
Up our score averages. Average a 60% at recognized shows, and a 62% at schooling shows.
- The curse of the schooling show continues! While our scores weren't unfair at all, I couldn't keep Pig's brain at local schooling shows. Bigger recognized shows we were pros at all year. By the end of the season, I was feeling very confident about our tests.
Get our 2 remaining 3rd level scores for our bronze medal.
Bronze is done and prominently displayed on the mantle. Done, and done.
Clean up changes, so they are clean and prompt 90% of the time.
- This one needs more work. I'm calling it done because they are prompt and on my aids 90% of the time. But the cleanliness and relaxation of the movement can vary wildly.
Improve collected gaits to 4th level quality.
- I feel our collected gaits are ready for 4-1. Crazy.
Assess whether Pig can do 4th, and begin to look hard at his future.
Assessment completed: We will be working hard over the winter to try to put together a somewhat less embarrassing 4-1 debut.
[Stretch] Put on half steps.
- I'm going to mark this as completed even though all we really did was start them. I don't know how much further we will get, but the little bit that we messed with these improved our trot immensely.
[Stretch] Go foxhunting. This is easily doable, if I just make the contact and have the funds/time.
- Time and funds were lacking severely by the time foxhunting season came around. Instead we went out the day before opening day and galloped the hunting lanes with my own hunting dogs.

2016 Personal Goals
Get financials recovered from move + funemployment time.
- Still on the path to recovery. Damn vet bills and other unexpected costs murdered my ability to really get this goal where I want it.
Put up online storefront for design goods, and at least break even.
- Hahahaha. No.
Figure out grad school focus, and get in application for Fall 2016 or Spring 2017.
- I think grad school might be out for the next year. Instead I cultivated my job prospects and looked toward the future of my career path.
Do a little bit of yoga 3x weekly.
- Does a little bit of yoga 3x monthly count? 3x yearly? Oh dear...
Read 1 physical book a month for a total of 12 books at the end of the year. (Maybe recap reading in a post at the end of the month?)
- I really want to call this one a success, I read 8 books fully and listened to 12. I could have made a little more time for reading, but I think I greatly improved this year over last.
Join a gym again. Weight lifting needs to be back in my life.
- Joined a crossfit gym for a few months, then quit to train at home. Ended up joining a local "globogym" close to work and the barn, which is convenient enough for my concessional lifting needs.
Run 3x a week. Keeping basic 5 mile times under 10 min per mile (sub 9 optimal).
- While recurring bronchitis and a bout with really terrible pneumonia kept me from running as regularly as I would have liked at the end of the year, the majority of the year saw me running even through extreme Maryland jungle temperatures. That's enough to indicate success in my book.
Run from my house to Meridian Hill Park and back. (12 miles total city running, with several huge hills)
- Never did have the stamina or time built up to do this. Really want to, though. So I'm keeping it on for next year.
[Stretch] Pick up project horse.
- Hahaha! See above on "finances".

At the end of 2015, I really wasn't sure what the future was going to hold for my old horse. As of today, it seems he has stabilized enough to continue as my training companion for another bit of time. While I'm always watching and evaluating his abilities and happiness, I currently can't look forward to retiring him and picking up a project for myself.
Photo by StitzPics

2017 Riding/Horse Goals

  • Continue to manage Pig appropriately as a riding horse, and stay within my budget. Research ways to keep me more comfortable while doing his feet, and better ways to keep him pain free while working hard.
  • Continue to finesse Pig's understanding in the double. He really started to get it this year, and I would like to see how much better he and I can get with the tool.
  • Get those 3 changes across the diagonal for 4-1 without totally losing our brain. 
  • Show 4-1 at a recognized show.
  • Get the 4th level scores for my silver.
  • Develop plan going forward with Pig. Will he be leased? Will he be retired? His work days are still coming to a close.
2017 Personal Goals
  • Average 10-15 miles a week when running.
  • Average 2-3 trips to the gym to lift, weekly.
  • Run from my house to Meridian Hill Park and back. (12 miles total city running, with several huge hills)
  • Improve my running time back to an 8:30 minute mile pace. 
  • Keep average hours of sleep daily above 7 hours for a week.
  • Read 12 books this year. 
  • Stay open to the moments that present themselves. Don't forget to make time for friends and a personal life. It's necessary to keep me grounded.
Onward! Toward 2017!
Photo by StitzPics

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

December Stephen Check-in

Stephen Birchall teaching Pig and I in August
Photo by Liz
I've started treating Stephen Birchall's clinic visits as "check in visits." Moments to get pro eyes on Pig and I as a pair, and shape the path of our training for the next short period. Stephen is excellent at giving me feedback on the progress we've made, good or bad. I can then pick his brain on the direction we should be heading in, and concepts to explore to make our work better.

At this point in Pig's career, everything is about refinement and relaxation. There aren't a lot of new concepts to introduce. He knows the basics of every aspect of dressage (except the piaffe and passage work, but I don't think that's ever going to be a worry for us). Our training refrain has just become "More, Better." Stephen helps me figure out how to get more, and how to make it better.
A critical eye is always helpful! Even (especially!) in established partnerships.
Photo by Liz
Last time Stephen saw us, Pig was in desperate need of a stifle injection. We had been struggling with connection, namely a quick enough hind end to support the connection. He encouraged me to do more posting trot in my saddle, and be tactful when asking for more from the weak leg. 
Thankfully, that funky right hind seems to be much more comfortable now!
A little after Stephen was here, Pig ended up finally getting his injections. Since then, we've been working on coaxing him through his residual anxiety issues as they relate to the weak joint. On Sunday, Stephen immediately remarked that he saw an improvement in the way Pig was responding and moving. While I have a sneaking suspicion that he is just impressed a 19 year old thoroughbred is still going, I'm not going to peek too hard at his compliments.
Looking good for an old man!
I prefer having time between lessons to work out concepts and ideas on my own, to bring my progress and questions to the teacher for the next lesson. At the last lesson we'd explored a few tactics on getting Pig even in both reins as well as work on improving Pig's responsibility for his own balance. I was able to report back what was working to get him in both reins, and further drill down on those tactics. 

We also explored how far we could remove support from Pig before he started to panic under the weight of his own responsibility. We really drilled down here when it came to the canter departs.
A stuttery and surprised depart to start...
Pig's first canter depart was dull. He was a bit dead to my aids, and when I tapped him he stuttered into the canter. Stephen immediately had me bring him back down and try again. 
A bit more explosive...
The second depart was certainly not dead to my aids. Pig lurched forward, giving me a lovely head toss. It was as if he said "Woman! I'm listening! Geeze!"

Stephen remarked, "I'm not seeing that he's being bad, I'm just seeing that maybe he's trying too hard." This is accurate. When we tried the next depart, Pig was determined to nail the depart. I guess he did?
Third depart. Now with more explosion!
I'd like to point out that my aids for these departs are pretty minor. For the most part, all I'm doing is shifting my outside leg slightly back and lifting my inside hip. The horse is just incredibly sensitive and very concerned with doing the right thing. It's that thoroughbred hotness coming through. 
Example: I didn't really ask for this depart. I did, however, lift the wrong hip at the right time. Whoops!
I mentioned to Stephen that Pig's reactions tend to get bigger when he feels like his shoulders are in his way. Instead of shifting or lifting them, he just explodes through them. Stephen suggested some of the work I was doing to lighten the shoulders and shift weight to the hind end in the walk might be causing Pig to fall out of alignment.


Lovely depart!
The moment I stopped micromanaging the depart and let Pig travel straight before cuing, all our tension melted away. Pig stepped right into a lovely canter. 

Note to self: The horse is better at figuring out where to put his legs in a canter depart than me. Let him do his job.

Stephen wasn't even worried about the downward transitions. Those are looking lovely right now.
Just sit up and let the walk develop. Could be more uphill, but I'm not worried about it for now.
The canter itself is feeling much better than a couple of months ago! Pig is finally starting to use his stifle again without panicking. His canter is still fairly flat, but it's stopped being so horribly 4 beat. I'm also slowly adding in exercises to help lift the shoulders and create more jump from the hind legs.
I could watch that right hind sit all day long, because some days it just doesn't.
The collection is there, I just need Pig to be more comfortable moving more uphill to be able to consider debuting him at 4-1. There's a lot of work ahead to see if we're even ready, but I am happy to try as long as the horse keeps wanting to do the work.
Werk that right hind, Piggy.
On the agenda ahead?
- Increase uphill balance in the canter.
- Continue working towards relaxation before and after changes.
- Confirm ability to change 3x on a diagonal without totally misplacing our brains (see point above).
- Increase bend and self carriage in the half passes and shoulder-in. Continue working on horse carrying his own balance, instead of my micromanaging everything (and failing).
- Continue developing a more even connection in both reins, coming from a more even hind end.
Till next time, Stephen!
Photo by Liz

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Thoroughbred: King of the Cuddles

Face hugs and ear kisses are our favorite.
Photo by
There's a large portion of thoroughbred owners and lovers in the blogosphere. I think I speak for most of us when I say that thoroughbreds are some of the weirdest, quirkiest, and loviest horses (with great selfie game) out there. I mean, mine is...
Sleepy snuggles.
Sure, ex-racehorses can be quite mercurial, and even difficult. They are typically highly intelligent, full of energy, and emotionally connected to their people. A horse with a long racing career is often very tuned into "his people."
"Dis my people!"
I've been known to proclaim Pig to be a "one person horse", pointing out his attention to me and indifference to others. For example, he'll typically cuddle me pretty hard while he merely tolerates others. Though, he's quick to extend his circle of cuddle worthy people after a few visits.
"I'm gonna give you cuddles, but I want you to know that I'm only doing it cause I'm sweet and I like you a bit."
Of course, there are thoroughbreds who are much less particular about the people they'll shower with cuddle time.
... like this one.
But really, I think the important thing here is how people oriented thoroughbreds really are. In my case, I have a hell of a time getting a photo of my horse in the field that doesn't look like this:
"Hey girl. I know I was standing there all majestic-like. But then I saw you and had to come put my nose in your face."
Or this...
"See. Nose in face. Mission = accomplished."
Or this...
So much cuddling that I'm being crushed with it.
Or this!
Naptime cuddles are the absolute best cuddles.
This horse doesn't believe people are for anything but investigating (unless they're picking up poop in an arena). While he doesn't come running when I call, he's happy to see me and wander over to find out what our day will hold.
"It's dressage today, isn't it?"
He goes so far as to even follow me into the tiny tack room!
What? It's a "tack room." I just assumed this is where I would get tacked up.
No matter what our day holds, a good cuddle session is never far. Whether playing things super low key...
Bareback lounging hugs
Or taking ourselves seriously...
Ear kisses for a job well done.
For me, having a horse that acts more like a German shepherd is really fun. Though sometimes I might put a bit too much faith in the horse.
Like those times when I leave him grazing and wander off.
He never lets me down, though. He's too attached to his two legged herd.
Lookout, kids. Crazy man-eating thoroughbred on the loose over there...
He's even pretty fond of his fuzzy four legged friends, too.
Especially that black one...
Best friends.
The real cuddles come after our rides, though. That's when we hang out together and relax.
Don't lie. You wish you had a horse friend who stuck his tongue out for photos.
Making silly faces is our specialty.
The tongue really is ridiculous.
But we also spend a lot of time eating...
Om noms.
... and drinking together.
"For me?! You shouldn't have!"
I know I'm not the only one who loves the sweet nature of the thoroughbred (not that they're the only breed that's sweet!).
I know Emma is a big believer in this TB's sweet streak!
Sure, the OTTB isn't for everyone. Really, though... is any breed? For those who love them, the thoroughbred is often one of the most affectionate and loving partners in the horse world. And ones like Pig certainly aren't shy about showing their affection!
Photo by
Do any of you have stories of affectionate thoroughbreds in your life? Lets share the love this generous breed shares with us!