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It's the time of year where everyone starts working on their goals for the next year.  I've been putting way too much time into picking some out.

My big decision has been how much I want to spend and where I want to go.  I did kick around the idea of going to the World Championship for Western Dressage, but it would run me about $5,000 to do it.  That's mostly to get both of us to OK which is a crazy long trip.  That's longer than moving the horses to Aiken or even Wellington.  Seems a bit drastic when we've only done two rated shows.  It would also be quite a shock for Theo who has never been in a trailer for longer than two hours.  10 days of travel and a show?  He would be a wreck.

Pony says no

Since we aren't going to OK, our focus will probably be traditional dressage.  I want to do some multi-day shows since I like having more than one chance at a test and it's less time in the trailer per test.  Theo is still a bit of a monster in a stall, but he's learning to cope so long as I hand walk about three hours a day, hack out, keep hay in front of him at all times, and generally cater to his every whim.

Pleaaaaase release me, let me go

Keeping all of that in mind, I've got some goals for next year.

Second Level Debut
I keep putting this off for good reasons but now I think we're ready.  The shoulder in, counter canter, haunches in, reinback, and 10m circles are all non-issues now.  I always wonder if I have a 'collected' trot or canter like it's some sort of switch I can flip on, but Janet Foy had a good sanity check.  Can you do all of the movements easily?  Will the judge clutch their pearls and hope you make it or will they sip their coffee?  If they're sipping coffee, then you're collected enough.  So let's do this thing and start getting some feedback.


Musical Freestyle
I've got the qualifying score, time to see if my pony can dance.  All I need is music.  And choreography.  And a perfectly measured large court to practice in.  Easy peasy?

Western Dressage it up
Theo's good at it, we both enjoy doing it, we need to keep at it.  Probably at Level 2.  Assuming we have any local shows, we may only have the championship which seems kind of crazy.  I'd be more interested in campaigning Theo in western dressage if there were some actual, you know, shows.  Or other competitors at Level 2.  I may be the only adult ammy at this level in my region.


Schooling jumper shows
Theo also enjoys jumping.  I think some jumping shows will help keep him from getting bored with the showing thing.  Jumping also gets him nice and forward with no nagging from me.  The more we jump, the more oomph I have.  I don't want to waste my time at rated shows since I won't go higher than 2'6" (I like my clunky, front heavy horse sound), so I'll save my pennies by doing schooling shows.

Saugerties
This is where things get a bit crazy.  I want to go back to Saugerties, specifically the regional championship.  I want to qualify for the First level championships and potentially for the freestyle championship.  Do I have a prayer at the championships?  Nope, not in New England, but I know we'll be better prepared than our first trip and this time I'll be staying for the whole show weekend and being all the DQ I can be.


Flying Change
It's time.  We're hard at work installing his trotting half pass, time to add the other movement we'll need for that Third 1 score.  My goal is to get a change on him before he gets any older.  It will take at least a year to get a change confirmed, we're going to run out of time.  He's had a flying change before, but we never did get it on an actual cue and it wasn't out of a collected canter.  I'm hoping that means he'll still be able to learn them even though he'll be fifteen because it won't be a new concept and it will be bigger because he's now up off his front end in the canter.  I'm freaking out, but it needs to happen.

One crazy clinic
Whether it's another bombproofing clinic or working cattle, I will do one completely off the wall clinic because it's so good for us both.  Occasionally horrifying, but it's made such a huge difference in our confidence.  I'm leaning toward working cattle, but I heard the same fella is coming out this spring to light things on fire.  Can't argue with his results.


I'm hoping I'm not setting myself up for another fall, but 2019 is currently slated to be a showing year.  I'm already pinching my pennies and getting my show wardrobe ready.  I'm tentatively getting excited.  I do enjoy showing when my horse knows the drill and there's minimal drama.  I think we're ready to go show and actually enjoy the experience.
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It's cold out.  Not like 'aw, I need to put on a coat'.  More like 'omg when will I feel my fingers again?!'.  Theo's 8am lesson today was cancelled because it was 14* out and we generally don't work horses when it's under 15*.  Not good for the lungs and too much risk of freezing sweat.  I scooted out to ride him this afternoon when it got up to a balmy 26* and found that he had pulled a strap of his heavyweight turn out off.  Really?  It's getting down to 10* this week!  You need that!  So guess what I'm doing tonight?


Saturday nights when you're a horse owner.  Wild and crazy.

While handling and tacking Theo I noted he was yanking his head away from me like he'd been beaten to within an inch of his life.  He was also spooking and snorting at things like his own blanket.  He didn't want ear rubs.  My horse didn't want ear rubs.  What the actual hell?  I turned to look at something and he grabbed my jacket.

Well, hello naughty Theo, it's been a long time.  All the other horses are being sassy in the bolting, snorting way that most riders have experienced.  Mi papi has his very own way to celebrate the cold.  He gets slow, distracted, and pissy like a teenager that just lost their phone.  He'll do it, but only because you're making him and he's going to do it so slowly that you'll wish you hadn't started the fight.  And he will temper tantrum if you push the matter.

I had fortunately taken my dressage tack home for a proper cleaning and conditioning.  A healthy dose of lederbalsam combined with full seat breeches is even better than a stick of Saddle-tite.  I put on my new rainbow spurs which are a bit bigger than my usual spurs, grabbed a whip, and told Theo to stop trying to bite me.  Time to manage the sass monster.

The problem with Theo's sass monster is that it's a sullen, pouty beast.  Lunging doesn't get you far.  We taught him to get it out on the lunge, but it's hell on my bad shoulder.  I got on and he made sure I knew that there were scary things in the corners.  All the corners.  Nothing bad, but he craned his head and snorted while walking slowly.  I put my leg on and got the one hoof salute.  Our little jog to let him get his sneezes out barely got his hooves off the ground.  I warmed him up at the walk for fifteen minutes with two coolers on to give him a fair shot to wake up (and get that hump out of his back) but he was not on board with letting the sass out. 

Do we look cold?  Because we were cold!  Two coolers on the sass monster

After his long walking warm up, I got rid of one cooler and we spent a solid twenty minutes putting him in front of my leg.  And back in front of my leg.  And back in front of my leg.  Pretend you don't notice that hump that's STILL sitting right behind you and keep kicking.  I even used the whip which says a lot about how our relationship has changed.  If I'd done that even a year ago, I'd be in the hospital.  I gave him a double tap, he gave me a big buck, then he started to move forward.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  It only took us 35 minutes of 'warm up' but I was able to get in a really fantastic fifteen minutes of work with lots of extra power and bounce from behind.  I love seeing those hocks and stifles working away in the mirror.  We had a whole centimeter more elevation than average in the canter once he was channeling the sass into his work.

For those of you following along at home, his 'big' canter is still 2 cm lower than average for Equisense users.  Sob.

He's recently learned how to stretch over his back in the canter.  It's both terrifying and wonderful.  I feed out the reins while he's cantering and he stretches out very dramatically.  His nose goes to the ground, his back lifts, and my terror spikes because this is also what he does right before he tries to launch me.  He canters around quite happily like this now, but only after he's done some serious business dressage-ing at the canter.  After his transition work, he stretches out all those hard working muscles with great pleasure.  And some serious trepidation from his rider who's trying to get off his back and let him do this very correct thing while seeing her life flash before her eyes.

Love his PS of Sweden exercise rug, it's just enough bling to make us feel fancy while freezing

After our hour of work, Theo was back to being my cuddle monster.  He played with my hair while I was waiting for a clear shot at the door to leave the ring (beginners on ponies are terrifying).  He fell asleep loose in the aisle while I moisturized and rebraided his mane.  Keeping it slippery and braided seems to be keeping it safe from his neck rugs.  The open face sleazy isn't working out that great.  It slides back and then the elastic gets tight and I'm afraid it's going to choke him.  It also started to rub the upper part of his mane.  I cut the elastic band off and use it like a high neck shoulder guard.  He's far more comfortable this way and it's still protecting the half of his mane that's in danger.  A long mane is a ton of work, why was I thinking it would be easier than a pulled mane?

Soon, soon running braid ready

Tomorrow his other rider is working him.  Hopefully the 35* heat wave and my hard work today will keep the sass monster under wraps.  It takes a special relationship to manage him on those days.  Or a certain level of YOLO.
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I finally got the photos from Theo's wonderful showing at NEDA summer back in July.

From our First 2 test before they waived jackets.


Of course he's sticking his tongue out in the stretchy circle.  Good to know he's now licking and chewing in the middle of his stretchy circle.

And from our First 3 test where I got to ditch my jacket.



So happy to have these.  My very first show with white gloves!
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I wanted an Equisense the first time I saw one.  Data?  On my horse?  Over time?  GIMME.  GIMME NOW.

I'm a data scientist as my career field, I'm a bit passionate about this sort of thing.

When I saw that 50 Equisense were going out at 50% off for Black Friday, I stayed up until 2am to snag one.  It was 8am in France.  I managed to snag one and it arrived on Monday.  Can't say enough about the fast shipping and excellent packaging.  Super sharp customer service and a really well done marketing email strategy.  But that's just me being a digital marketing nerd.

I also got to brush up on my French because some of my emails showed up in French.

I downloaded the app, charged my Equisense, and got it connected to my phone with no trouble.  It took me about five minutes to get the app set up with my account and get the sensor connected.  The sensor velcroed on to my girth with no trouble.  Since I only need to charge it about once a month, it will live on my girth and get charged in the barn office when needed.

I was very cautious about getting excited for my first session.  I've found these types of devices to be a bit tricky/moody in the past.  My Fitbit can be troublesome at times, for example.  But it really was super easy.  I opened up the app, hit record, and stuffed my phone in my pocket.  At the end of my ride, I hit stop.  That was it.  When I was done, I got this:


Oh, blessed data.  How do I love thee, let me count the ways.

Starting from the top, woohoo all green on symmetry!  With Theo's unevenness behind, I was delighted to get a 7.6.  Having his hocks done and really working on that symmetry has been paying off.  We've got a lot of work to do, but it's not a disaster and he doesn't have a hind in red so I'll take it.

We were specifically working his walk to start so the long section of walk makes sense.  We have to change his warm up about twice a month to keep him from finding new and creative ways to evade doing actual work.  Right now, lots of transitions within the walk and getting him into his working frame while still walking.  We were also focused on the way he was stuck in his neck to the left, so a lot more time in that direction.  He did stretch and there was a huge pop out of his neck during a break, so whatever was stuck, it seems to have worked itself out.  Dressage:  Yoga for Horses.

His tempos are improving.  He used to have a 99 bpm canter and a 77 bpm trot.  I'm excited to see the cadence slowing while he's still covering the same amount of ground.  He's more relaxed and powerful.  I have no idea if the elevation is good or bad, but hopefully we'll see it trend up over time.  Our regularity?  Well, we got a 7 in the trot, that's not bad considering we were doing lateral work.  The walk got a 5, that's all on me.  I was trying to get the swinging walk from my seat, we had a lot of misfires.  That canter score?  Ouch.  We have a lot of work to do in the canter.  Which we knew.  It's good to have a metric to improve.

To be fair, we were dodging a lot of traffic and only cantered 1.5 minutes, but yeah, we have some canter work to do.

He felt freaking amazing by the end of our ride.  I was giggling and goofing off, enjoying my horse that now has self carriage and can be sensitive to the aids.  No more praying he keeps cantering during the counter canter, no more exhausted kicking as he drags himself on his shoulders, no more aching upper body as he insists I carry his head for him or acts like a giraffe.  He has passed up any other horse I've owned and has even passed up Miss Thang.  Fiona was freaking talented, but I never got here with her.  Theo is most definitely not talented, but he is very educated and willing.  This is what it feels like to ride a Second Level horse.  I can't even imagine how much fun he'll be when he gets to be a mid-level dressage horse.

I'm happy with the numbers we got and the sensor was so very easy to set up and use.  I'm really looking forward to building up his history and being able to track his performance over time.  It really took my ponynoia down a notch to see this first set of numbers.  He's not dying, he's not lame, he's fine.  We have a lot of work to do, but he's fine.  We're going in the right direction.
I will post so many charts.  Everyone will be so sick of my charts.
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I was NOT good this year.  What all did I get?  Well . . .

Theo has a new jumping bridle.  The Wellfleet bridle I got him didn't fit quite right.  I cobbled it together with pieces from his old bridle, but I wasn't happy with it.  The quality was fine, but Theo is hard to fit and it was rubbing right on the bones of his muzzle.  His head is short but wide, it was dragging the cheekpieces up.  I have a brown High Jump from PS of Sweden on the way, to see if I can finally get a bridle on him that he can't shake off when he thinks he's done with the ride.  Jerk.  I may have also tossed a green jump saddle pad in the cart as well.  I only own two jump saddle pads, I think I can justify a third.


At Chick's Saddlery I got a new black vest, two blanket bags to tidy up my blanket bar (I have way too many blankets), and a new blanket for Aura.  Being short of hair and low of fat, she's always cold.


I hit KJ Creations with a half off code for a lariat stirrup necklace and a pair of rainbow roller spurs.  Trainer A will be so delighted to see those.  I've always loved this type of coloring and I'm looking forward to adding them to my spur collection.


And finally, my piece de resistance:

I got that 50% off Equisense!  I'm so excited, I've wanted one since I saw it on A Enter Spooking.  I'm such a data junkie and this will give me some awesome data over the winter.  I love my ClockIt when checking for fitness, but it's GPS based and does me no good in my metal indoor.  It also struggles to get a heart rate with Theo in his full winter coat.  This baby will be focused on things like being symmetrical.  I need data to keep my ponynoia at bay.  I always think he's lame somewhere, it's exhausting.  I need a baseline so I can see truly aberrant data points.


I also got some new conditioners from Smartpak for Theo's mane and tail.  I noticed some of his mane coming loose despite all of my armor, time to try applying products and making his mane slippery.  I've already made my reins slippery, so let's hope his mane decides to stay attached to his neck.  Note to self, do not apply gel detanglers to the mane with your hands before you ride.

I'm happy with my spending spree, but man oh man, I was very bad.  I may have to distract the hubby when some of these packages show up.  I probably shouldn't have splurged considering some of the trips that have been suggested for 2019 but the deals were too good to resist.

Full credit to The $900 Facebook Pony for the list of sales, especially the Equisense one.  I wouldn't have known to stay up without her list. 
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As inspired by Viva Carlos, the lessons that my horses have taught me.

Terry (Open Gate Secretariat)


Terry gets a special mention because while I didn't own him, he was my very first equine partner.  From the age of five to the age of ten, this pony was my nemesis and my best friend. 
  • You can do more than you think
  • You have to do it yourself, no one else can do it for you
  • Never, ever look down at a fence
  • When in doubt, kick
  • Some days you're going to lose no matter how hard you worked for it and that's okay
  • Quick Silver should not be left on for an hour, it won't work better

Allen (All In Good Time)


My very first horse who arrived at the same time that I was discovering horse life as an adult.
  • Don't be afraid to let go of control, he's better at this than you are
  • You will get there when you get there
  • Schoolmasters are worth more than diamonds and gold
  • You don't dominate a horse, it's a team sport
  • If you get the chance to do something big, just go for it, you won't regret it 
  • Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway
  • Go.  FORWARD.
  • Never, ever pull to a fence 
  • If you get dumped in a fence, you probably deserved it
  • When the old man says he's done, let him be done

Fiona (Can't Drive 55)


My princess.  A Craigslist find for $800 that taught me all about taking chances.
  • Sometimes you've just got to take that leap
  • Listen when they say they don't want to do the job
  • Don't rush talented horses
  • The horse is more important than the discipline
  • Galloping down to a big fence is freaking amazing with the right horse
  • Chestnut TB mare is not profanity
  • Dressage is fun
  • Selling a horse is hell

Theo (Expect the Unexpected)


The former school horse turned show horse.
  • Things are not always as they appear
  • Experts can be wrong, horses don't read the training books
  • Inside leg to outside rein is more than something my trainer yells at me at random
  • Great mind > fancy moves
  • Amazing tails are overrated
  • People will never forget the past
  • When you know you've found the right horse, freaking buy it
  • Dressage is not about checking moves off a list
  • Don't forget why you started
  • Positive reinforcement works
  • Make time for random trail gallops, jumping, and hour long curry sessions; the dressage arena will still be there tomorrow
  • Black bay horses look amazing in every color
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