Thursday, November 29, 2012

Clipping and braiding?

There is this whole mysterious world of horse show etiquette and preparation just beginning to surface. What are afterthoughts to those who have braved the arenas with their ponies year after year are things that I have never considered doing to my faithful steed. Things like clipping his soft, fuzzy ears. Or trimming short (let alone braiding) his mane.

Calabar is an outdoor horse. His coat gets fuzzy in the winter, gets burnished and reddish as the weather warms up, then slicks out to seal brown in the summer. I have never trimmed his ears or the whiskers on his muzzle and might have only used scissors once on his bridle path before deciding to just let it grow out. (There was a brief mohawk phase in between that was particularly adorable.)

I like his ears fuzzy. I grab them and blow into them frequently, making silly sounds into the soft brown hairs. He tolerates this with much patience and even seems to like it a little bit. And since he's an outdoor horse, doesn't he need the hairs for fly protection? Would I have to consider one of those crocheted hats for him if I fully trimmed those beautiful furry ears?

This kind of dress up we can do
Then there is the mane, which has been growing for years since he left the track. His mane and tail get a little bleached out and dry--outdoor horse, remember--and I don't always get to the deep conditioning routine that would help that. I see the fancy show horses with their short, evenly trimmed manes and beautifully braided manes setting off arched necks and I say, "Well, that looks pretty sharp."

What I am not sure I can see is me doing that or Calabar tolerating it. I could be wrong. He does have a Diva streak a mile wide and will not only let you brush out his mane and tail, but knows exactly what you're saying when you tell him how handsome he is. If you need proof of this, point a camera at him and watch the posing begin.

A handsome face needs no de-fuzzing, right?
Now how important is this whole trimming clipping and braiding thing? I really have no idea. To me, if I decide to show, it won't be about appearances (even if we do brave a showmanship class), it will be about the journey to the show ring itself and what we do there. Would I like ribbons? Sure. Will I be disappointed if we have a good ride but don't get a ribbon because my horse's ears are too fuzzy? Not so much.

The Diva himself might have a different opinion, but that is a bridge to cross when we get there. Fuzzy ears and all.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A little luck, a lot of thanks, maybe some dancing

There is much in my life that is good and I am so very thankful for all of it--so much bounty, too much to list out without sounding like I'm bragging about what are truly blessings. One of those blessings is still having my friend Devon on the planet to remind me to get back on the horse. Which she has done. Frequently. No whining allowed, Jess.

Little Devon, Big Miz
Devon goes home from the hospital today to continue her recovery from what could have been a much more catastrophic injury and is herself determined to do what it takes to get back on horses somehow, someway--even it if takes awhile to get there.

Miz surveying the track at Santa Rosa this summer
In the meantime, her horse Milazzo is racing on Saturday. Devon is hoping to get to the track to watch, but there are inherent challenges with that at the moment. Miz has won a couple races and placed in a few more. He has speed and stamina and eats up track with his huge stride. He loves to run. Seriously. He finishes a mile-long (or more) race and comes cantering back looking like he could do it all over again--ears up, long legs loose and swinging. He won't have his Devon there with him for at least a little while, so if any of you want to send your good energy to a big, goofy racehorse on Saturday, I know Devon would appreciate it. Eighth race. Big (17+ hands) brown horse with a white blaze and a gap between his front teeth. You can't miss him.

I am thankful Devon can at very least watch the races from home, even if she can't be there to cheer him on in person. I'm pretty sure a good race where Miz runs well and comes home healthy will make her feel even better. A win? Well, that might give her enough energy to get up and dance a few steps.

Let's hope she gets to dance, shall we?

Monday, November 19, 2012

What to wear

As we begin to contemplate showing, it occurs to me there are wardrobe issues to consider--mine and Calabar's. How much does it all matter at the super-duper beginner level? Can I show in the English Pleasure classes with my dressage saddle? What do I NEED to actually look the part in either English Pleasure or dressage? Do I have to pull and/or braid Calabar's mane? (Like I have any idea whatsoever how to do that.)

Calabar tolerates a lot just because he is my pony
I realize that I'm way ahead of myself here. We have a lot of work to do to even begin to be ready and worrying about what to wear (or what not to wear) is a trivial thing compared to actually being able to ride in the ring with other horses (or alone) and not have a major meltdown.

Not to mention that before we even get to the schooling shows we need to do prior to the journey down south to the BIG show, we have to introduce just a few key things to the big brown horse. Things Sparky and Amelia and Ellen have all helped us work on like moving forward into contact, engaging the hind end and connecting it to the front end--just minor concepts.

The good news is we are actually progressing on that piece of this puzzle. Calabar is responding nicely to wiggling ring fingers and acknowledging that the reins actually have some relation to his hind feet. Our walk-trot transitions are continuing to smooth out and he very nearly automatically drops his head into the right place at the walk and we are getting there at the trot. I think it must feel better to him because he is responding so well. I know he feels better to ride most of the time, too, and I get moments in time where I can feel that big hind end coming into play.

Best of all, we are both trying and we are both learning. At the end of each ride, I can laugh and hug him and tell him he's a good boy and he knows he's done a good job. So even if we're not perfect, even if we have a a long ways to go to even be remotely show-worthy, we are having a good time and enjoying each other.

That right there makes plotting for the show worth it--even if we never get there and I never actually have to worry about what we're wearing.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show here we come?

Spotty Horse News started as a blog about our spotty horse, Lena, and the adventures three people could have with one horse. Lena led to Calabar, a not-spotty off-track Thoroughbred and Calabar and I have had our own stories to tell. There is rumor our journey is really just beginning and may lead us all the way to Southern California next April for the Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show series.

The day of many dances
I will be down there anyway because I am lucky enough to be part of the team putting the show together, but this little voice kept nudging me to think about actually participating with Calabar. Even after the play day Halloween costume debacle. Honestly, this terrifies me enough to cause unrest in the middle of the night. "Am I crazy? There is so much that could go so very wrong with this. PEOPLE WILL LAUGH AT ME!"

Deep. Breath.

And one more just for good measure.

The funny thing is I never really wanted to show. I'm actually still not sure I do, but I very much want to improve the world for ex-racehorses and part of the way to do that is demonstrate their suitability for careers other than racing and improve their after-market value. Do Calabar and I need to be there for that? Not really. There will be plenty of good riders and well-trained horses to do that job better than we could in a lot of ways. Not to mention there is the logistical hurdle of trying to help run the show while making sure my own horse is well-tended and we are both properly attired and psychologically ready for our grand debut.

So what could we offer if we were brave enough to do this? Besides a much-needed sense of humor about all things, I'd like to think Bar and I are an example of the heart of the matter, the true point of it all--the relationship you build with a horse as you work towards a goal. An example of someone willing to try--even though they aren't the best rider and don't have aspirations of Grand Prix level riding--and willing to try with a horse off the track. Maybe even an example of horsemanship, of taking the time it takes to be a team regardless of whether you win or lose.

I guess it depends on what you want out of showing. It's not that I don't want ribbons, ribbons would be great and I'm pretty sure Calabar would like lots of them. The true prize would be walking the road to the show ring with him, learning all we can from each other along the way.

That's my own goal. Plenty of people have been very successful showing Off-Track Thoroughbreds. We even met a lot of them while we talking aftercare at Breeders' Cup--people who have been showing a long time and remember when the show rings used to be filled with Off-Track Thoroughbreds and people who took horses from the track and turned them into show horses. I know what the Thoroughbred fans say--how the warmbloods and European horses have come to dominate the show ring and the reasons that's the case--but it seems that there is still a place for OTTBs in the show world.

Even for beginners. And maybe, just maybe, that's what Calabar and I bring to the table--that there is room for rookies here and it can be fun.

Now if I can just figure out those pesky logistics--how to be in two (or three or four) places at once--we might have a plan.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Spotty dressage lessons

At Breeders' Cup, I was surrounded by sleek Thoroughbreds of many colors but without spots of any kind. However, I managed to squeeze in a dressage lesson and not on a big, bay Thoroughbred or fancy warmblood, no--Sparky has spots. Meanwhile, the spotty horse was at home getting a dressage lesson of her own.

Duck footed dressage on a spotty pony
Lucky for Lena, her rider knows how to not have duck feet. Lucky for me, Sparky forgives duck feet. And doesn't my pretty, spotty mare look lovely? Yes, yes she does.

Lena and Allie listening to Ellen
There is a lot to remember with dressage and it is painfully obvious that I have a ways to go. At my last clinic with Ellen, Calabar was introduced to his hind end. "My what?" he said. Since then, we have worked a lot on that and on circles and bending to teach him to use that big round butt of his. Amelia--who actually knows and has worked with Ellen--had Sparky show me where we were headed and that is helping me connect some dots.

Oh you and your duck feet, says Sparky
Ellen will be back in January and March. I am planning on Calabar and me being enough further along to keep this interesting for us all. Sparky helped a lot and it did actually translate when I introduced what I learned to Calabar. The key with Bar--as with most horses--is to recognize the try and give the release as soon as I felt it. Being able to do so limits the irritation factor and increases the responsiveness factor--equally important when it comes to learning--but it's not always easy.

The other key take away, besides recognizing the try? Slapping my own thigh with the dressage whip makes the end of the dressage whip hit (gently) the horse's hip. My lack of coordination and unfamiliarity with aids made me feel quite bumbling with the dressage whip so that one tiny piece of information made that little piece of anxiety go away. There are many other pieces of anxiety, of course, but that bit no longer keeps me awake at night.

p.s. Spotty horses can make great dressage instructors. Many thanks to Sparky!

Friday, November 09, 2012

Not just the races--that was an event

As I said before I went, I have been to the races before--Golden Gate Fields and the local fairs--but nothing comes close to what swirled around me last weekend at Santa Anita.

Breeders' Cup is so far beyond that and it took my breath away with the level of competition, the celebrity and the pageantry.

It was an EVENT with bells, whistles and lots of color.

Aside from the excitement of seeing up close and personal horses normally viewed on television, Santa Anita was a live place--full of people from all over who love the sport of racing. And not just the sport, the horses--the gleaming athletes snorting, prancing, dancing their way to the starting gate.

We were there to talk aftercare with race fans, not just to absorb the energy, and talk we did. In fact, we were told over and over again how glad people were to see us there, how good it was to see the track supporting us.

We met lots of people who love their current and ex-racehorses and we even had our very own equine spokes-model, Lenny. Lenny was not sure why all the other horses were parading without him, but he got lots of attention and admiration even if he wasn't racing.

Pictures speak louder than words, so enjoy just a few of the over 500 shots I took over the weekend.

Wise Dan wins the turf mile
Karen, Devon and Jess at the booth
Jess and Lenny the spokes-horse

Trinniberg, another winner

Mizdirection after her win--against the boyz!

Spotty horse on the track! Gotta love the outriders.
I am already planning  next years' trip.

Brave and strong

My friend Devon rides racehorses. Not off-the track, retired racehorses--on the track, fit, healthy, strong and FAST racehorses. She is very strong, though tiny, and braver than I am by a long shot. She will be drawing on all of that to heal from a very scary accident, but those of us who know and love her have great faith in her to do just that.

Devon and her Milazzo
There is inherent risk in this profession but Devon is a good rider and takes her safety very seriously so had managed to stay healthy and sound herself for quite awhile. Unfortunately, this job has a "when not if" component to it and her when happened Sunday morning--the day after she got back from our Breeders' Cup adventures.

Aside from starting an hour earlier than she intended (her phone didn't automatically sync to the time change), the day began fairly normally. She was working a horse for another trainer and had been ponied out to the pole. She felt the saddle slip as the outrider let her go, "Uh Oh." She tried to correct but got bumped again and the saddle slipped further.

At this point, traveling astride a galloping racehorse, she felt she only had one option--bail. It was either that or risk sliding under said galloping racehorse, so bail she did and hit the track. Hard. She must have rolled and bounced some because her helmet ended up in the ditch and her injuries are on both sides.

She couldn't move after she hit and lay still on the track. Luckily, the same pony rider was able to stop the other horses working behind her so she wasn't in more danger. It was probably good she couldn't move, if terrifying, as it prevented any additional damage to her neck and spine. It is also a silver lining that it happened on the track since they are well-equipped to handle and stabilize just this type of situation.

It sounds odd to say, but even with a fractured neck and chip off her pelvis, Devon considers herself very lucky. She has feeling and mobility in all her limbs--though her right hand and arm are not 100% yet--and is starting physical therapy and rehabilitation today. She had no head injury, despite losing her helmet, and because she was fit to begin with has a good basis to build on.

It won't be easy--she is having problems standing and balancing, let alone walking--but she is determined and strong. She also has a positive attitude and a lot of love headed her direction, all of which will help the healing process.

Devon on the backside at Santa Anita during Breeders' Cup the day before her accident
Her birthday is Sunday and her horse is running. She will have to miss it, but she is here to watch the replays and have birthday cake. Her friends are all very glad that's the case. So is her pony, even if he doesn't know it yet.