Saturday, February 11, 2017

My First Warmblood

As mentioned a few posts ago, I finally got to ride a warmblood for the first time. Riding instructor A invited me over to her place to give him a try. The lesson went well, as in I didn't come off of him. That was a legit worry because when she first told me about him last year one of the first things she mentioned was a "wicked spook". 

I haven't been riding any horse other than Razz for years now. Before Razz I owned the most athletic little arab known to mankind, and talk about a wicked spook. He could move so fast you almost wondered if he simply teleported twenty feet sideways. His spooks benefitted my riding exponentially, and I got to experience the warmblood spooks a couple times during my lesson. Let's just say those were nothing compared to the arab, but more about that in a moment...

I arrived at A's farm at 4:30 on a Wednesday afternoon. She and fiance just moved in to their spread, literally. They have acres of fenced paddocks, a tack room and a camper. They had been doing land prep all day and A had gone to return the heavy equipment they'd rented, so her fiance gave me the quick tour of their place. They own the coolest pig ever. Her name is Layla and she has the temperment of a dog. I scratched her all over, and when I stopped and took a few steps away she followed and leaned into my leg begging for more. So I scratched her some more and this time she rolled over for belly rubs.

Love that pig!!

But it was time to meet my equine partner for the evening. My guy was in a paddock toward the edge of their property along with two cob sized paints. Warmblood was standing at the gate waiting. He thought it was feed time. I walked in and let him sniff my hand before giving him a couple scritches on his noggin. Then I scratched the crest of his neck and withers and had a small chat with him. I think A's fiance was expecting me to just walk in and grab him but I don't roll like that with a new-to-me horse. I like for horses I handle to feel comfortable with me from the beginning and I always go for the withers and extended silly conversation first. I could tell he was a chill guy, and after a couple minutes I was ready to halter him & he willingly dropped his head right in. 

I started grooming and it wasn't much longer before A showed up. We talked about his history in depth. She'd told me a bit about him before. Warmblood is 11 years old and came from Connecticut. He was living in Raleigh with his owner when he developed an issue in one of his eyes. I believe the eye thing was a bit more than his owner wanted to deal with, however she didn't want to sell him. So A agreed to take him on a free lease and keep him in work. The eye issue has been watched by a vet for a while now. It's basically a tiny grey scar on an otherwise healthy eye. He can see around it but yes, it does block some of his vision. The condition doesn't cause the horse any discomfort. Instructor A has had him for over a year, but since she doesn't own him and I don't know his owner, he will remain as "the Warmblood" on my blog. 

While grooming him I couldn't help but notice how flat his back was. It was a beautiful thing. My pony has ZERO top line and a looong spine that's no where near as nice as Warmblood's. I got tacked up and we began our lesson. Instructor A has no arena yet so we rode in the small grass field next to the tack room. This damn field was honestly a pain in the ass. Rain soaked the entire east of NC the weekend prior and even though there wasn't any standing water, everywhere we stepped we were basically digging holes. You could hear the grass roots ripping under the pressure of his steps. The footing affected the entire lesson. I don't really feel as if I learned anything on this ride, but I did get to know WB so that is a win, right?

We walked around for less than five minutes before A told me to pick up the trot. I was riding apprehensively, being on a new pony and the thought of a wicked spook never far from my mind. He has a wonderful trot. I had to remind myself to breathe to stay loose. This is probably one my biggest struggles in riding. Bracing for any fucked up footing didn't help either. We picked up canter not long after that. Eventually WB started testing my geometry, deciding he wasn't in the mood to bend, and instead of nice 20 meter circles he was just gonna go large. As I became more comfortable on the new guy I began to ride him more aggressively. Which is what I should have been doing from the very start. 

The lesson lasted an hour and the sun was well below the horizon when we finished. Like i mentioned earlier, I did get two spooks. But they weren't wicked, not like hot arab wicked. I sat them quite well, and honestly he gives a split second's notice that it's coming. I popped him over some tiny verticals toward the end. His jump is complete opposite of Razz. Warmblood was just as cuddly after the lesson as he was before, so I was happy that he didn't hold a grudge against any horrible eq I might have offered up. I plan on riding him more in the future, but he will be coming to my farm until instructor A finishes her ring. 

Above are a couple shots taken one right after the other. This was during our first trot lap so please try not to cringe at my position. It was so nice to feel such a floaty trot underneath me. I will learn how to ride this trot well!! Stay tuned for more Warmblood adventures in the future :)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Time Has Come

When I decided to move barns a year and a half ago a big part of that decision was trail access. I picked my current barn because it's right across the way from the Croatan forest. Once Razz was moved in I found out about another small trail access, the sand pits. I call it's between 40 and 50 acres...that is very small compaired to the thousands of acres in the national forest. However, when riding in the sand pits it really doesn't seem that small. There are several different paths to choose from and if you don't know the way around in there it would be incredibly easy to get turned around or lost. 

One of my first blog entries was titled A Trip to the Sand Pits and it documented my first ride through the pits without any other riders. At the time I didn't realize I was only riding half of the woods. Later on I would discover the second half, and grow to love this little patch of trees just as much as it's larger, federally protected neighbor. 

One morning not long after moving Razz, I was doing my normal thing, drinking coffee and getting ready for work with the local news on tv. In passing through the room I glanced at the tv screen and thought to myself "that looks just like the front section of the sand pits". So I stopped and paid attention to the story, and ended up finding out the small town the sand pits are in was going to have a city council meeting on annexing the woods, raising local taxes to install infrastructure, and building approximately 300 homes in there. I posted about that as well. 

To say the least, I was shocked. After discussing this with the barn owner I found out that not only were the woods in the development plan. The fields behind the barn were included in phase two of the project. Yes, the huge bean and corn fields I talk about riding in. The other side of the bridge pictured in my first sand pits post rests on this phase two property. Meaning we won't even have access to the Croatan anymore without  a) riding in someone's backyard (assuming they don't fence their yards)  b) heading over on the main road which has almost no shoulder and tons of traffic  or c) riding through the large turnout pastures and dealing with loose horses etc.

Obviously where there's a will, there's a way, and we'd find a way to make this work. But loosing the sand pits is a huge blow to us riders. I never heard any more news about the development until late summer of last year. The project was approved, the same developer of the apartments next to the sand pits would be in charge of new housing construction. When the rental apartments were built, an adjoining development of nice duplexes were also put up. The duplexes were purchased, not rented, and they had two units left to sell. As soon as those sold construction would begin on the houses. The duplexes had been built a few years prior and I kept my fingers crossed that those last two would just continue to sit empty.

Then around October (??) we started seeing bright orange ribbons tied to certain trees in the sand pits. Other trees had been blazed with purple paint, including some trees around the bean field. I have no idea what each marking indicated. But I did know it was most definitely related to construction. These were the first actual signs of the project and things really began to sink in. 

Since the new year I've been riding almost exclusively in the arena and had no idea what was going on in the woods. The other trail riders had told me the land was beginning to be cleared. They'd heard heavy equipment on the back side of the sand pits, and out next to the main road everyone could see a small area where the equipment was being parked. This weekend I rode in to get a first hand look. The front part of the sand pits was more or less undisturbed. The second half was a different story:

After seeing this I wanted to vomit. 

This post comes on the heels of Sarah's post about road construction through a peice of her farm. The hills of SW VA are absolutely gorgeous. I've driven a handful of people through that part of the country for their first time and they always, always comment on just how beautiful it is. It is a real shame that things like this happen, and I hope the best possible outcome for Sarah, but such is the way of "progress". If there are tax dollars to be made, the natural world will always loose out.

So here we are. The sand pits are officially being bulldozed. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Time for a Lesson

Last week Razz and I had our first lesson in forever. We hadn't lessoned since October. Yikes. 

That doesn't mean we haven't been working on proper riding. I'd had him in the ring every other day for a couple weeks and, surprisingly, been getting a few things correct on my own. For the lesson, I tacked my pony up in his new stuff. He received a figure 8 bridle and a new half pad for the holidays. The bridle is covered in silver clinchers and looks as if it was made for parades or other fancy events. And if you've ever ridden in a truck with air brakes, then you know what it feels like to ride in this half pad. It works like a riser pad but without the awful look of a riser. Vet recommended a riser to address my concerns about sitting deep in the canter on the old man's spine. Now it's like riding on a cloud. 

I have no media from the actual lesson. Riding instructor A said we looked nice even during our warm up. It certainly doesn't feel nice during warm up. My horse requires an extreme amount of leg which can compromise my position. Leg on while posting is not my forte. I need to do a serious amount of no stirrup work and get my lower leg stronger. Instructor A got on for about five minutes to get a feel for Razz and I felt better about things after seeing her lower leg working overtime just like mine. 

We worked for the next hour and a half. Razz was finding his stretchy trot rather easily on the long side. He anticipates, falls in and hollows in the corners and short side. More leg. More leg. Mold him into the turn and support thru the short side and back out the other turn. He responded well and on our walk break, while A was setting jumps, I couldn't help but think about what kind of horse I would have underneath me were I a well educated rider. If I knew exactly what to ask for and how to ask for it, and had been doing so over the four years I've owned him.

Moving on to the sticks, A initially turned one of my 2' verticals into the tiniest crossrail the standards would allow. We trotted the crossrail several times. I know these excersices are good but damn I hate them. The jumping effort is so small, almost non existant, and I have trouble finding the correct position over that tiny, quick effort. I basically just go into two point and my hands follow with an appropriate release (which isn't much). Then A threw in a one stride to a tiny vertical. My super lazy horse gets hot once the jumping commences and we're just trying to make him slow down and think with these tiny jumps. We worked on this, raising the poles occasionally. The lesson finished with her turning me loose to jump anything in the ring. I had five jumps set up in total- a couple more random two foot verticals, some barrels laid over on their side, and a Swedish triple bar that was 2'3". I also made sure to put our flying changes on display. Instructor A can't belive he has the changes installed. Back when he was a lesson horse his changes weren't that great and many times he just didn't bother to change at all. Before I got him two other people tried Razz out (to buy) and refused him solely because of the issue with changes. Even though I am getting the changes from him consistently, about 20% of the time he will cross fire a stride or two. Instructor A thinks he's just so long, conformation-wise, that it takes a moment for him to get the front and hind in sync. Sometimes this same issue creeps in to the trot and canter and messes with our tempo. But that's ok. It teaches me to be a better rider. And I suppose in a way it also reaffirms why we need to work on those tiny fucking crossrails. 

The lesson lasted for an hour and a half. Pretty certain I was the most tired I'd ever been after a lesson, and so was Razz. We took plenty of walk breaks. But I used more consistent leg on him than I ever have before and it kicked my ass. 

I gave Razz two days off after that ass kickin', and our next ride was very low key in the bareback pad. He spooked twice during that ride. Both times at the sound of nutrea rats scurrying and jumping into the stream beside us. I also spotted a huge pileated woodpecker and snapped a pic of the resident red tail hawk. 

super crappy pic, sorry folks
This hawk has been living around the barn since summer and I see him every time I go. Literally every time I go to the barn. He hangs out really close to people with no problem. He has swooped low over the arena a few times while I was in there riding. I have watched him dive at a retention pond but come up empty handed. Hubby tried to tell me red tailed hawks don't hunt over water but I know what I saw. The mockingbirds like to give the poor hawk a hard time and dive bomb him every chance they get. Hawk doesn't care one bit though. He doesn't even acknowledge their presence.

The weekend holds plans for a Croatan ride and more schooling. The weather is a little chilly but no rain. Next week I have plans to ride my first warmblood ever, and I'm super excited for the opportunity. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

One Year on Blogger

Alright. It's really been 14 months but who's counting? 

With everyone else posting a year in review of course I took a moment to reflect on my own 2016 experience. Blogging was totally new to me. I started this page to connect and share with other horse gals. Things would be much more interesting if I were in a program full time, or hauling off to shows and fun trails all over the state. Reality is I spent the majority of my year focused on mom duties & there are absolutely no apologies for this. Most pony time was spent on Croatan trails. I did quite a bit of arena work in the spring and got Razz fit enough to comfortably jump three feet. Then it proceeded to get so humid all I did was tool around bareback with sandals on. Once it was un-humid enough to go back to work I began to seriously look for an instructor and hooked up with the WS from my old barn, who's gone on to start her own boarding\lesson facility. With her help we worked on basics like softening and tempo, and eventually srarted grid work. Then marching band season and the college search had to take schedule priority, and due to a lack of consistency riding quickly went from the arena back to the trails. 

That's the blog and my 2016 horse world in a nutshell. 

Reading your blogs have taught me so much about both riding and blogging. Bight to the right? I had no idea it was referred to as bight, or that it's supposed to fall on the right side of the neck. I've been taught it falls on the same side as the mane. In addition to little factoids like that, I love getting an inside look at other riders' horses, barns, towns, show experiences, etc. I've also been observing blogging habits and patterns from those of you who've been in the game a while. I wish it came easier to me, but still have the urge to write. Admittedly I do enjoy reading blogs more than writing my own. 

2017 will bring some big changes with it. I'm both excited and nervous about things to come. We're planning a move back to the mountains after fifteen years of living on the coast. I hope to grow my small botanical business, expand the product line, and once I'm good and comfortable in my new life would love to add something slightly fancy to my herd. Then hopefully my blog won't be quite so boring. 

To my handful of readers and followers, thanks so much for hanging around. Your comments mean more than you realize to third tier bloggers like me :) 

Here's to making the most of 2017!!!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Muuuch Better

Lots of riding was enjoyed over the weekend. Saturday I showed up with my game face on, determined to get past the crappy riding of the previous weekend. And I achieved!

First of all I broke out the woolback pad for the season. This thing is heavy and I hesitate to use it in hot weather so it's been waiting patiently in the tack room all summer. I did the leg stretches forward & backward on all 4 legs. Razz loves to stretch his fronts all the way out. We walked around the barn area for a while, then crossed the bridge into the huge corn field. A lap around the perimeter and Razz was loosened up and ready to work. So we made our way over one more field (one not loaded with cork stalk remnants) and got to it!

warm up walk

We went straight to trot and serpentined across the entire field, making tight-ish u turns, taking advantage of the long straight stretches to randomly swap my posting diagonal and feel what was going on underneath me. The right rein has always been Razz's weaker side. I could feel his steady pace waiver a bit in the hind end switching to the left diagonal (is this correct terminology? Posting up w/left shoulder = left diagonal??) Nothing severe, just a rebalance. Switching to the other diagonal he carried on no problems. 

After a couple large laps of trot I asked for a canter the way jenj described asking in her post with gp trainer. Razz popped in to canter easier than ever. I hit the nail on the head the first time, although I wasn't batting 1000. Not being used to giving an aid at such a precise moment, I had some fails. But when I got it right he was seamless and I was grinning from ear to ear.

Every time I made a longside pass down the field headed away from the barn he wanted to bend his barrel left. Like really bad. His pasture is beside the field I was working in, and he's grown extremely chummy with one of his pasturemates. I attributed this odd bending to the fact that he just wanted to go back out with his pal. His diversion. I wrapped my left leg around his side and gave him a firm twist of my heel lower down his ribcage than normal. I have to sit the trot when giving the heel. I've never been good at applying a varying degree of leg aids while posting. And contrary to my recent blog entry where I complain about being out of shape and unable to sit a canter properly, I can sit my trots pretty well without being a potato sack. 

He was trying to get strong with me on our large laps. Especially so in the turns, falling heavy on the forehand and bracing against the rein. I worked on not being so forward in my half seat and made my turns as large as possible. Also focused on keeping my hands super quiet. Hopefully soon I can get hubby to hold him on a lunge line so that I can focus solely on my seat. A real lesson would be even better, but that will have to wait til after the new year. 

Pleased with our work, I pointed him back toward the chewed up corn field to cool out. 

Sunday I got up early and took a hike into the Croatan with one of my closest friends. We found bear tracks, and when I got to the barn later and told everyone they wanted to ride over and see. Back in the Croatan I went. My feet were so sore by the time I got home! 

bear tracks, with friend's size 10
providing vague scale