Wednesday, October 19, 2011

We Jumped Big Girl Jumps!

Today, Satin and I had one of our solo lessons. It was raining all day, so we were in my trainer's small indoor. We started with work on our posting trot, since Miss Mare isn't really a huge fan of the forward, working trot. We worked on pushing her out and getting her to extend and move forward. R had us go to the sitting trot and frame her up, tuck her nose in a bit, and shorten her back to give her more power in her trot as I moved her back up to the posting trot. We worked on getting slight contact and the frame in the more forward trot as well.

Afterwards we did some work on our flying lead changes. R set up two sets with two poles in each set. We cantered figure eights through the sets, using them to get our lead changes. She nailed her lead change from left to right basically every time. Right to left was a bit of a different story, as she would get crooked and loose the hind end. With some pointers from R, we were able to fix this and get nice changes both ways.

Then R added a small vertical to our pattern. Well, at least it started as a small vertical, probably under 2 foot in the beginning, as an extra pole to work on the right to left change, which she got easily coming off of the jump. Soon though R was lifting the rail. Every time or two through the "course" she would walk over and lift the rail a hole, thinking I wasn't paying attention as she was giving me instruction as she did it. She can be quite sneaky when she wants to be. LOL Eventually she got the jump up to about where we have been jumping, around 2'3. Then she lifted the jump a hole and sent me over it on its own. I did it though not without some hesitation. Luckily, Satin had no hesitation and sailed over beautifully.

"How about one more hole?" R said next. I gave her the "do I really have a choice look" and shrugged my shoulders. "Whatever you want". So up went the rail one more time. Satin knocked the rail, but due to rider error. Her toes clipped again on the second time, again my fault as I came out of my 2 point too early. The third and fourth time though she sailed right over and did so beautifully according to R and other onlookers. Felt pretty nice to me too!

Afterwards I asked R about how high the jump was. She brought out her handy measuring tape and announced that it was just over 2'9"! 2'9"!! I was shocked! I figured it was about 2'6" at the most, which was about as high as I thought we would really ever go as my mare is older and small. Seems like I underestimated us both, but luckily R never does!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Last Show of the Season

Last Sunday we had the last show of the season for the local schooling show series I compete in with both Satin and JB. Satin was in the lead for Grand in Speed for year end by 6 points, so she had a title to defend. JB was just a few points off getting reserve behind tough competition in both Model and Beginner Western, so the pressure was on.

Satin was up first in the speed division. We went in for the barrels and she was totally asleep, basically cantering the pattern. Luckily her good turns made up for lack of speed and she managed a 2nd. I borrowed a western version of a crop for the next class which was poles. I never actually need to use a crop on Satin, just flashing it past her eye a few times is usually enough. This is what I did as I ran up the poles and she kicked in to gear. She cut the turn around the first pole too tight and the footing was a bit soft from the rain earlier in the week, causing her to almost fall. I thought her front end lost traction, but I saw from the video her back end actually sunk under her and what I felt in the front was her scrambling to catch herself. The one thing I love about my mare though is she will do anything to save us both. One time during a lesson she tripped doing a lead change and went down on both front legs and her shoulder and managed to get herself back up and keep me aboard then keep going.

Anyway, when she recovered we just stood there for a few seconds. I wasn't sure what to do and whether or not I should keep going. That is when Satin said, "Mom I'm ready to keep going". So I trusted my mare and completed my pattern, though conservatively. The other great thing about my mare is she is very smart and careful. She is not the kind of crazy horse that will keep running hurt. If something was wrong she would let me know, so when she said let's finish, I said okay. She managed a fourth in that class.

My father was ringside that day, as both my parents always are. He has not seen me fall or almost fall since I was 5 so he freaked out about. As I exited the ring he was frenzied, insisting I get off the horse right away and that she was dragging her back foot. Now my mare is 22 and has some arthritis and those of you with senior horses with arthritis now, they often will drag their back toes a bit while walking and some even while trotting. So this slight toe drag is completely normal for my mare, which my father did not understand. I let him cause me to second guess myself, but I know my horse and I will never let that happen again. I got off felt her legs and flexed them, all normal. A friend of mine walked up the ring just then and I had her get on and trot her around for me to see and she trotted nice and forward. She was quite eager, even breaking into the canter. Then I got on and felt her trot, still 100% sound and normal.

My next and final class was keyhole so I practiced a rollback and both her turn and canter felt perfect, so I decided to trust my own judgement and knowledge of my horse and continue on. I ran her slightly conservatively, in fear too quick a turn may slip her up again. Her turn was beautiful and she earned a 3rd. These placings were just enough to keep her in Grand for year end awards by 2 points. Not too bad for a supposedly "senior" mare.

Next up, I had JB in Model. He placed exceptionally well against some stiff competition. A new gelding came who I happened to know from my old farm. This gelding and his sire are champion halter horses in Palomino and QH. JB placed 3rd in that class to that gelding and another that has been champion at CJHA the past few years. In the Open class he placed 6th out of about 12, which was excellent. He held on to his 3rd for the year end awards.

After that, we tacked up for our western division. Usually JB's owner H rides her classes before mine so the edge is off by the time we get to warm up. They had changed classes around to fit everything in so now she was riding after me. JB was pretty quiet though, but required a little more warm up then usual. Unfortunately, I did not get to give him as good of a warm up as I would have liked as I had to communicate back and forth with the ring steward to see where they were in the ring H shows in and if classes could be held as promised due to the switch.

Anyway, I had him going pretty nicely by the time they were ready to start with Horsemanship. It was a pretty simple pattern, so I was quite confident. The entire pattern rode beautifully until the very end. The last part of the pattern was to jog to the last cone, stop, and back 4 steps. Unfortunately for us, it just so happened that the last cone was placed right next to the board for the trail class, which JB is deathly afraid of. He refused to trot all the way to the cone and stopped about 4 or 5 strides before it and backed himself the 4 steps. This cost us a few points, but we still managed a 2nd. In pleasure he rode pretty well, but did speed up at times, and placed 4th. We earned back our title of Command champion (a class we have won almost every show this year). It was down to 3 of us, one of which being my friend K, who I battle for first with every show. The judge has us backing up and asked for a reverse. I was the only one to reverse and keep backing as is proper procedure. The trail class was a failure as JB was once again afraid of half the obstacles, so he was 6th. He again held his place in 3rd for the year end.

It was not the best show of the season for me or either of my mounts, but it was still a good end to the season as they held their positions for year ends. I am quite proud of both Satin and JB and could not have asked for two better show horses. They both gave me a great season filled with many wins and championships. Satin proved once again she has still has plenty of years left in her and "senior horse" has a very loose definition. JB was excellent for his first ever western show season with this past winter being the first time he was ever ridden western. Looking forward to a little break for all of us and exciting season in 2012.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Yonker's Under Saddle Race

This past Saturday, October 8 I made my first trip to Yonkers Raceway for their first ever Under Saddle race, also known as a Monte race. They use trotters only, since pacers require hobbles, which could be an issue for riding. They also start behind the driven starting gate, just like in a regular harness race. In this particular race, they only went around the track one time, which equals a 1/2 mile. In a typical harness race they go twice around the track, for a full mile.

This type of racing is extremely popular all over Europe and this exhibition race at Yonkers was an attempt to bring it to life in the United States. Supporters of this new racing style hope it will bring more people to the track, and personally I agree with them!

For those of you that have never seen a Standardbred in full trot or pace, you don't know what you are missing. I have been a lifelong Quarter Horse girl and until I became friends with so many people in the Standardbred world, and became a Standardbred fan in the process, the only type of racing I knew was Thoroughbred. Harness Racing is just as exciting as Thoroughbred racing. The speed and action of the trot or pace is unbelievable, as is the many other aspects that make up the sport.

I have ridden some green Standardbreds that still had a big trot or pace, but could never imagine riding a real racing trot or pace. My friend H, who you all know as the owner of the ever talented Standardbred JB, was a participant in this race aboard a trotter named Where's Harry, and from the look on her face and what she told me after, it was the thrill of a lifetime. It definitely looked like it from the sidelines.

As I mentioned earlier, this was my first time at Yonkers and I went solely for the purpose of seeing this race. It was exciting and different. I would love to see this catch on and have some kind of circuit with different brackets and lengths. While this race was all trotters, they were all of different ages and classes, ranging from claimers to stakes winners. The other interesting aspect was that all seven horses were ridden by women, while on the other hand, most drivers are men. This is not to say female drivers do not exist, but they are few and far between. The full list of participants in this race can be seen here.

I believe this sport will bring new fans to harness racing and in turn more people to the tracks. I think other members of the horse industry will be especially interested in this new type of racing. I know I definitely was and from what I heard from the people around me, as well as, others who saw the video of the race (which can be viewed above), I wasn't the only one with this opinion. Also, from what I have heard from Yonker's regulars, the track was much more crowded that night than usual, which was due mostly to the Monte race.

I strongly urge the USTA and harness tracks around the country to put their heads together and look further into this sport. It may just be the ticket to bringing new life to harness racing.

Here are a few photos I took of the race (Copyright Shutter Savvy Images)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Last Week's English Lesson

Our lesson with L was rescheduled to last week and we were riding English once again (still don't know how R tricked me into this LOL). Anyway we started with our usual warm up on the flat then R sent us out to do some dressage serpentines. We started doing them at the trot, then moved onto the canter with simple changes. Her simple changes were pretty good, but not her best. We had not worked on simple or flying changes in a while though. Then we moved on to the flying changes, which I knew were not going to be pretty.

As a former reining horse, Satin can do flying changes in her sleep. But, now that she is holder she has stiffness and arthritis issues in her hocks and she also tries to rush into them too much at times causing her to miss the change behind. This is what happened the first time through. The second time through we got one perfect change, but the rest ended up being late or simple.

R said part of the problem was she was swinging her butt out behind and suggested practicing with a bit of an exaggerated bend down the straightaway, since the changes were supposed to be in the middle) and not letting her change. We did this several times until we got the response we were looking for, then R said "Okay now continue around the turn and let her change". She executed a picture perfect change after that, though not at center line, but that's okay.

Afterwards we moved on to course work. Our warm up course was the outside line to the single diagonal jump that began our course in our previous lesson. She refused the first time to the line then went over with no problem. After two times of this R made the single diagonal a bending line going to the first jump of the outside line, as we had also done in the previous lesson. Then she added another line that was probably about one hole higher on the opposite side of the ring. Satin sailed over it like a champ. I was quite proud, especially because it was her first time over this line and she sometimes refuses a new jump added mid course on the first attempt. After that R added the roll top as a single jump on the diagonal. We had done the roll top before, but this time it was a bit higher then in the past. Satin once again sailed over it like it wasn't even there.

Near the end of the lesson we were both jumping through the course quite smoothly, and both R and I were quite happy with it.

Busy Planning for the Firecracker

The last two weeks have been a bit hectic for me, hence the lack of updates. L and I did not have our lesson 2 weeks ago as we usually do, due to R having to go out of town at the last minute for a family emergency. Her niece's 3-year-old daughter was hospitalized and diagnosed with Stage 3 Lymphoblastic Lymphoma. Fortunately doctor's are very optimistic that with chemotherapy she will recover. She will remain in the hospital for a month and then have to go back once a month for chemo. She will receive chemo for at least two years.

This family has a long, hard road ahead of them. They have two other children, boys, ages 5 and 7. They live in Ohio and none of R's family lives near by, but they are taking turns traveling to Ohio to help. A fund has been started for Caitlyn and her family, called the Firecracker Fund. This will help with Caitlyn's excess medical expenses, as well as, things for the family like gas, meals at the hospital for mom and dad, babysitters for the boys, etc.

I was heart broken for R and her family at the news. My family has been touched by cancer multiple times and I know how hard and painful it is for everyone involved. It is especially sad when this horrible disease affects someone so young. Besides that, R has always been very generous and helpful to me, going above and beyond, whenever I needed her. Of course, I wanted to do anything I could big or small to help.

Last year, me friend K and I, had organized a fun show at our barn to benefit the Hope Happens Here Fund, which was started for my cousin who has cancer, but also benefits other families touched by cancer. We raised just under $1000 and everyone had a great time. Several people had been asking me if I would do it again this year, but I wasn't sure since we had moved barns since then. When everything happened with R's niece though, I knew another fun show was just the thing, especially since I already had the demand.

I got together with K and we came up with a fun class list that would be entertaining for rider and spectator alike. We presented the idea to our barn owner who was all for it, and happy to help. Then I spoke to R who was very excited by the news. Now we have a whole team of volunteers at work for the show which is set to take place November 5th. I already more people attending than the last show and tons of people offering raffles. The horse world is very big and very small at the same time and is always willing to gather together in support of one of their own, which is being proven once again through this show.

Besides the show, we are having other activities as well. We will be offering pony rides for children (or even adults). We are also having raffles, a 50/50, and a used tack sale. We have other ideas in the works too, such as a "wishing well" type basket, like they do at baby and bridal showers, to collect gifts for Caitlyn and her family.

So far November 5th promises to be a fun and successful day for a good cause, so fingers crossed!