Archive of ‘The Horses’ category

Run, baby run

I’ve been on an inadvertent blog hiatus. I had the past couple months all planned out for posting then the bottom fell out of my schedule. For reals. One morning the week after the Fourth of July Coco came in from turnout very lame. I hoped for the best and that it was merely a sole bruise and gave her a week to show improvement by just treating it as a sole bruise. I couldn’t quite bring myself to keep her locked up and after 5 days of no improvement I called the vet. He diagnosed her as having injured the ligament she had surgery on about a year and a half ago. Come to find out I hadn’t been given the best recovery instructions after that surgery which made her more susceptible to injuring the scar tissue. The vet indicated that she showed signs of having been favouring this leg for quite some time and that this injury was bound to happen. The main sign being that her hoof growth was imbalanced. The good news was that she isn’t in work and being pregnant gave her body extra production of things good for healing. The bad news was that she would be confined to her stall for at least four and up to eight weeks requiring wrapping, poulticing and icing twice daily and hand walking for 30-40 minutes every day.

It's hard being a pretty princess trapped in a stall all day long.

It’s hard being a pretty princess trapped in a stall all day long.

The first 10 days went as well as can be expected. My social life was gone and spending 30-40 minutes walking in Texas summer is not my idea of a good time. She was a fantastic patient for wrapping, poulticing and icing. The hand walking was quite exciting a few times and I have the bruises to show for it. When you keep an 1,100 pound animal confined to a 14×12 box all day long they develop some pent up energy and frustrations that they take out on you during their 30 minutes of “freedom”. The vet returned to check her after 10 days and gave the go ahead to only wrap and poultice until it had been 14 days then move to only icing twice a day and continuing the hand walking. He also advised we consider building our stall runs so she could get some exercise on her own, but in a confined space.

My bruise a few days after an altercation with Coco during one of our afternoon walking dates.

My bruise a few days after an altercation with Coco during one of our afternoon walking dates.

This guidance really gave us the push we needed to get to work on the stall runs that have been in the plan since we built the new barn in 2012. The barn my parents had when I was growing up had runs on all the stalls and it made a huge difference in keeping stalls clean and allowing the horses to stretch their legs, not to mention how much better it is for their minds to not be confined to a stall all day long. We researched designs for height, spacing of bars, and different pipe materials. We knew we would build out of oil field pipe because we already had some and it is easy to acquire being in Texas. So stay tuned for a step-by-step pictorial of the building process!

Stopping for a water break on one of our sunset walks.

Stopping for a water break on one of our sunset walks.

Bug off!

I have three horses. Three lovely horses with significantly different conformation and dispositions. With all the rain that we have had this year the bugs are horrific. There is a tremendous amount of standing water around which is a mosquito breeding haven. Therefore my horses all need fly sheets like they have never needed fly sheets ever before! Jaguar always gets one because his big ol’ belly gets crusty every summer from flies and such making a meal of his poor defenceless underparts. Sterling is the luckiest because he’s less desirable to the blood suckers due to his light coloured coat. This summer has been an exception so I’m using it as an opportunity to try some different types and brands of fly sheets. This is going to be a summer-long review of sorts. By the end of the summer I’ll know if I’m going to buy the same brand again for the same horse, if I need to replace any due to fit and durability issues, and finally if any of them are just too hot for Texas summers.

Jaguar got a brand new Weather beta Airflow fly sheet at the end of last summer because his old one was super stretched out and nasty after he wore it for two summers. He has to have the belly band option and it seemed to fit him just fine. He doesn’t have too much of an issue getting welts from bites so I didn’t think he needed a neck cover. I’m already a little worried about the fit of this one, though. As he ages his back drops and his withers become more prominent. His Weatherbeeta seems to be rubbing his wither area more than the same brand sheet did last summer. He doesn’t have any sores or show discomfort when he wears it so only time will tell. He’s also not too terribly hard on his clothing, but Coco likes to chew and tug on parts so it needs to be durable.

Jaguar modelling his Weatherbeeta Airflow

Jaguar modelling his Weatherbeeta Airflow







Sterling has a lovely traditional plaid Baker fly sheet. I’ve had a couple of these in the past and they have always been incredibly durable and fit well. Sterling is narrow, but not exceptionally so. His sheet doesn’t have any fancy options like neck covers or belly bands, but like I mentioned before he has the advantage of being a light color so less appetising to the bugs. He doesn’t get welts or runny eyes from bugs congregating on him. He’s good with his basic fly sheet and some fly spray most days. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I just love the classic look of all the Baker horse clothing. Sterling always ALWAYS rolls at least twice while he’s turned out, so his clothing needs to be secure enough to stay put during and after he rolls. Other than that, just the usual Coco munching.

Sterling's dapper Baker fly sheet

Sterling’s dapper Baker fly sheet







Coco has already ruined one fly sheet this “summer”. It wasn’t her fault really. I got her a 76″ Baker fly sheet and it was just too big. It ended up tearing just behind her withers, at the same spot where the surcingle around her belly connects. Rather than replace hers with a Baker I got her a 74″ Fly Turtle. I’m always hesitant about buying her sheets and blankets that fit just right. She’s only three and I know she’s going to grow and change shape for the next couple years so tend to want to buy ones that give her room to grow into. However with the Baker fly sheet that was a bad ide. The reviews of the Fly Turtle are spot on for her needs. They are supposed to be super cool, super durable and provide excellent protection from all bugs. It also has a removable neck cover which I think she needs. She tends to come in at night with her exposed parts covered in hives from bug bites.  I’ve only put her out in the sheet so far. I wanted to be sure it fit well and didn’t shift too much before putting on the neck cover. The Fly Turtle has a stretchy neck opening with a huge velcro closure as well as two straps on the front, two stretchy belly surcingle straps and stretchy hind leg straps plus a removable faux sheepskin wither protection pad. I’m quite impressed with it so far. It even came with an extra wither pad, surcingle strap and leg strap. Color me impressed!  Coco is the easiest on her clothing because she chews on everyone else’s. I have noticed her being quite itchy this summer so she may test the durability more than usual.

Coco doing a terrible job of showcasing her Fly Turtle.

Coco doing a terrible job of showcasing her Fly Turtle.


After our last visit to the repro vet I was advised to bring Coco back in two weeks to check for a heartbeat and confirm the pregnancy. This was my first weekend at home with nothing to do in WEEKS. Maybe even MONTHS! I hemmed and hawed a few times then texted my vet asking if today or May 30 was best. His sage advice was if she’d absorbed the embryo we could re-breed, so earlier was probably better. Le sigh. Out I went to hook up the trailer etc.

After some slight, but could have been major, trailer drama we were all loaded up (Jaguar, too!) and headed to the vet . Part of me was nervous. Coco had been backing up to Sterling a few times recently, which can be an indication of a cycle. She shouldn’t be having any cycles. She never lifted her tail or exhibited any other horsey-hussy behaviour, but after my last experience breeding I am not taking anything for granted.

I got Coco and her safety blanket (Jaguar) unloaded and in the stocks. I joked with Skeet (my vet) that Jaguar needed his teeth floated so maybe he could get that done while he was there. The backstory is that Jaguar has to be nearly dead to get his teeth floated (horse dentistry) and Skeet only does repro these days so has NO interest in Jaguar’s horrible behaviour and bad teeth! Skeet got Coco prepped with some slight sedation and inserted the ultrasound machine. This time I watched. It was easy to find the larger black dot. Yay! She is still preggers!

Coco's Black Dot at 28 days

Coco’s Black Dot at 28 days

The large black dot is the inside of the placenta. The smaller white spot inside the black dot and to the right side of the black dot with the white string coming off is the embryo. I didn’t video, but inside the white dot you could see the heartbeat. This is a horse baby and I get that, but it was SO moving to see that teeny tiny heartbeat on the monitor. Nature really has a way of taking your breath away! Coco is safely pregnant with what appears to be a perfect, healthy foal.

Hopefully the rest of Coco’s gestation goes smoothly. We don’t have to go back to the vet for any more checkups, but I think we will go back one more time before they shut down for a few months. They are currently operating basically 24/7. Skeet responds to any and  all of my texts almost immediately and the poor guy and his staff will get a much deserved break mid-July. Skeet has been my vet since 2008 when he started with ESMS and hadn’t yet specialized so having this experience with him as our vet has been fantastic. He’s known my horses and me for as long as I’ve had them, with the exception of Jaguar, and I truly believe that has been hugely beneficial in this process with Coco.

Coco’s official due date is March 19. My birthday. Her birthday is March 20 so it would be extra fun if the foal is born on one of those dates. This is assuming a 342 day gestation, which isn’t an exact science with horses. She could really foal anytime between 330 and 370 days and it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary. Soon we will start posting belly pics!

The Black Dot

In the horse breeding world there is a term, not really an official term, but when you say it others familiar with horse breeding know exactly what you are talking about. It’s called “the black dot”. We have  a black dot here at the farm and we are pretty darn excited about our black dot.

A little background on how you get a black dot. You may recall a couple posts back I told everyone we were going to breed Coco Chanel. On Good Friday (how appropriate, right?!) I took Coco to the reproduction vet to leave her there until she is (hopefully) in foal. About ten days after I dropped her off I got a Facebook message from the stallion owner that she had shipped semen to the vet and would be sending me an invoice. I was so excited and really nervous all at the same time. You see, the last time I tried to breed a mare nothing went right. After two years, a lot of heartbreak and an obscene amount of money we threw in the towel on breeding Noelle and I purchased Coco as a weanling. I was only going to be cautiously optimistic this time.

The vet texted me a couple days after I paid the shipped semen invoice and said that Coco had been inseminated, she had ovulated and that I could come pick her up. So I loaded Jaguar in the trailer and headed to pick up Coco. Jaguar is her best friend and since she hasn’t ridden in the trailer all that much I thought she’d appreciate having a buddy. Coco was WILD when we went to get her out of her stall. The vet said she’d been that way the whole time she was there. Most of the breeding done at the repro vet I’m using are cutting and barrel racing horses so Quarter Horses. Coco was easily 6″ taller than any other mare in the barn and I’m sure she was also the feistiest. She hasn’t been in a stall for more than a couple days since she had a minor leg surgery a year ago, she justifiably had cabin fever! She still needed a little bit of coaxing to get in the trailer, but load she did and off she went to wait for her ultrasound in 14 days.

April 25 was exactly 14 days after her ovulation and also the day Sterling and I returned from our horse show. So, I unloaded Sterling, turned the trailer around, and loaded Coco to head south. It was a Sunday so no one else was there except employees. We walked around a bit while we waited for the vet to get back from checking stallions (I presume). Coco was well behaved and I was getting more and more anxious. After about 20 minutes the vet showed up and we headed into the breeding barn to find out what our next step would be.

Coco got a little sedative to make the experience a little less uncomfortable. We led her into the stocks and the vet prepped her for the ultrasound. If you are a human (and I would venture to guess you are if you are reading this blog) and you’ve had a baby you may be wondering how ultrasounds are done on horses. I didn’t take any photos, but the vet has to put his arm inside the mare into her reproductive parts while holding the ultrasound camera. And this my friends is where you find the black dot. He had a very serious look on his face the whole time, and quite frankly I think he was messing with me, but after just a minute or so he pulled his arm out, looked up from the computer screen, smiled and said “she’s pregnant”. YYYYIIIIPPPPPEEEE!!!!!!!!!

I was too nervous and didn’t want to be “that girl” so I didn’t take any pics of Coco’s black dot, but here is what a horse black dot looks like at 14 days gestation:

A horse embryo at 14 days. AKA The Black Dot.

A horse embryo at 14 days. AKA The Black Dot.

So, now what? We wait a couple more weeks and head back to the vet to check for a heartbeat. At this stage of the game, statistics for a full term pregnancy are more in our favour than against us, but I’m not taking anything for granted! Coco is definitely eating more and her demeanour has changed somewhat. I’m looking forward to documenting the whole process and being able to look back on it when baby Cartier/Coco Chanel is all grown up and jumping jumps. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pretty excited about naming this designer foal, too.

Getting our Horse Show on!

Sterling and I got to go to another horse show this past weekend. Most places that host USEF “A” rated horse shows seem to have them for multiple weeks in a row. I’ve only been doing this for a few months so I’m no expert, but from what I’ve read on social media they do this to attract trainers. It is a lot easier to have multiple weeks in a row where the trainer can just camp out for a month or two than to go to place A one week, then drive to place B the next week and then to place C. You get my point. Right now there are about five weeks in a row of horse shows at the Texas Rose Horse Park near Tyler. I’m planning to go to three weekends of shows. Time and budget restraints prevent going to all four weekends of shows.

For non-Texans, April is a very special time of year in North Texas. It is severe-thunderstorm-warning-and-tornado season. When I drove to the horse show I listened to the radio and watched my rear-view mirror and basically outran a severe thunderstorm to get to the stables and get Sterling settled before it hit. Jaguar has done a fantastic job of being the herd boss and making all the horses stand outside during major storms; snow, rain, tornado, it doesn’t matter. This has resulted in horses that aren’t too affected by bad weather. I was able to unload my trailer, get Sterling settled in his stall, and head to the hotel before the wind, thunder and lightning got crazy. I had talked to Boot City earlier and the storm hit our house pretty hard. He was without power for a couple hours, which is pretty unusual for us. The braiders braid the horses’ manes and tails overnight so our braider texted my trainer and said our horses and ponies were all fine during the storm. Sterling was interested, but not crazy. She even got his forelock braided without me there to distract him while she braided it!

When we got to the barn the next morning this is what our wheelbarrow looked like:

That is just rainwater people. No one filled that thing with a hose!

That is just rainwater people. No one filled that thing with a hose!

That was just from rain from the sky, it was also runoff from the roof of the tent where the horses were stabled, but still. That is a LOT of water!

Considering this was only our second “A” show and at a newish place (we had been here a couple times before, but the ambience at an “A” show is completely different than a schooling show), I didn’t exactly know what to expect from Sterling. We did make some progress in figuring out how to best prep and settle him at horse shows.

Here is Sterling’s horse show list:

  1. Don’t ride him right when you get to the show grounds. He’s too busy and crazy looking around to accomplish anything functional.
  2. Generally he doesn’t eat much of his feed, but he will eat every morsel of hay he’s given. This isn’t terrible, at least he eats.
  3. Warmup rings make him crazy. There is way too much to look at and too many horses buzzing around him. Five minutes in it feels like someone hooked him up to an electrical outlet. It is much better to get to the show grounds super early in the morning, before the hunter princesses have woken from their beauty sleep, and get time in the warmup ring all alone.
  4. Use the warmup round for just that, to warm up over fences. I read a Chronicle of the Horse forum post recently asking about people not jumping their horse in the warmup before showing. That seems to be Sterling now. He’s the sweetest boy in the whole wide world and generally (knock on wood) is not at all spooky. He just needs one round to go see all the jumps and he’s good.
  5. Last, but not least, he just might like peppermints as treats. this needs further exploration, but I’m excited that there may be a treat he actually likes!

All in all it was a good show. We had very respectable placings on Saturday; a 2nd and a 6th over fences and 2nd in the flat class. Sunday’s placings weren’t as good, but I felt like I was riding much better. We got a fourth, a fifth and an eighth, all over fences. I’m super excited to do it all again soon. Sterling’s list may be a bit different, but at least we are getting his likes and dislikes figured out which surely makes the whole experience better for him!

Saturday's ribbons and a very sleepy pony.

Saturday’s ribbons and a very sleepy pony.

Coco has a boyfriend!

When Coco was born her dam (“mom” in human talk) was four years old. That means she was bred when she was three, which is relatively young for a horse. I keep in pretty close touch with Coco’s breeder and also know the gentleman who breaks their horses from mutual friends. The breeder told me that breeding the young mares often helps the mare to be calmer and less “marish” AKA bitchy. The breaker reiterated that Mai Tai (Coco’s mom) was much calmer and more submissive than younger mares often act when first getting ridden. Thus a seed was planted.

The whole reason I own Coco is because I had bought an older mare a few years ago for the sole purpose of breeding. After two breeding seasons and a LOT of vet bills I finally threw in the towel and bought a foal AKA Coco.You’d think after that miserable experience I’d have learned my lesson, but I haven’t. My parents raised horses and we had foals nearly every year I lived in Montana. I love being around the babies, teaching them all the basics and eventually riding and showing them. I value knowing every single experience the horse has ever had. I have no one to blame but myself if they missed something in their training. I also can’t afford to buy a $50,000+ show horse. Buying or raising foals makes much fancier horses significantly more affordable, if a bit more risky and time consuming.

Coco is by a Thoroughbred stallion named Coconut Grove out of a mare by a Dutch Warmblood stallion named Mezcalero. Both Mezcalero and Coconut Grove stood at the barn where I bought Coco. Her grand-damsire, Amaretto D, also stood there. She is registered with RPSI When planning what stallion I wanted to breed her to my biggest priority was temperament. I want a foal who is fun and easy to bring up and not super hot. I also have an affinity for Holsteiners. They are a German registry and many of the top jumpers are Holsteiners. Someday I’ll do a post (or 14) about warmblood registries. After growing up with Quarter Horses I’m still trying to figure out the whole warmblood registry thing. I follow a few breeders on Facebook and one stallion in particular had caught my eye. His name is Cartier R and he’s a Holsteiner imported from Germany. His breeder was running a fee special in 2013 so I talked to Coco’s breeder and asked if she thought it was a good cross. They had prepared and shown Cartier R at his Holsteiner stallion inspection so I knew they knew him and could give me good feedback. Coco’s breeder gave a thumbs up so I went ahead and paid the stud fee knowing it would be at least two years before Coco would be an eligible bachelorette.

Cartier R at his Holsteiner Stallion Inspection

Cartier R at his Holsteiner Stallion Inspection

At the time I paid his stud fee Cartier was only four years old so definitely didn’t yet have any show experience. Since then he has shown in some jumper and hunter classes and gotten some good ribbons. He started in the jumper arena, but has since move to the hunter arena which I actually prefer. My hope is that Coco or her foal will be a hunter. The jumpers still scare me. One thing about Cartier that I’m almost superstitious about is his single white left hind ankle. Jaguar has a single white left hind ankle and so does Coco. I’m convinced it is a sign of superior intelligence.

Cartier R showing in summer 2014

Cartier R showing in summer 2014

If you want to read more about Cartier R you should check out Rising Star Farm. Coco went to the reproduction vet last week and I have my fingers and toes crossed and I say special prayers every night that she gets in foal easily, has a nice pregnancy and delivers a perfect filly next spring, also with a white left hind ankle. OK, I’d be fine if it is just a healthy foal.

I’ll leave you with one last photo of the beautiful Cartier R. If you own a warmblood mare, you should give Ronda a call. She has a few lovely stallions on her farm. In the meantime think happy thoughts, so prayers, or do whatever you do to influence positive outcomes!

Another pic of Cartier R showing in the hunter ring

Another pic of Cartier R showing in the hunter ring

Texas Snowmageddon

Most anyone who knows me very well knows that I love winter. When people ask me if I moved to Texas for the weather, I tell them I moved to Texas DESPITE the weather. I don’t love hot summers. What I love most about Texas is horses, but that is for another post. Having grown up in rural Montana I took for granted how much more prepared communities in the northern climates are for below freezing temperatures. I don’t ever remember being really truly concerned about pipes freezing or having to haul water to the horses during winters in Montana. And that is really saying something considering it wasn’t terribly unusual for temps to dip well below zero for days or weeks at a time.

Now that I’m a “grown up” living in Texas I still love winter, but those cold snaps bring with them a LOT of work! First and foremost our property sits on solid limestone. As in you can’t dig a hole much deeper than 6-9″ without hitting sold rock. That means none of our pipes aren’t much below 6-9″ underground and therefore are prone to breaking when they have water in them and freeze. FUN! We’ve always been pretty good about turning the water off to the barn when it freezes, but we had a lapse in judgement this year and now have the fantastic chore of fixing a broken pipe. Enter stage left the perfect husband who can fix it himself rather than have to wait on a plumber.

Another winter issue is food. A horse’s natural heater is hay. Eating hay all day long runs their internal heater and keeps them warm. This means they eat a LOT more hay than usual. A LOT. My three usually get about a full bale each day in moderate temps, a bit less than that when there is lots of green grass. During the recent cold snaps I was feeding 2 bales per day. That is with a fully insulated barn, 2 with full winter hair coats and 1 with a full collection of the latest Baker blankets and sheets to keep him warm.

Feed the beasts' heaters.

Feed the beasts’ heaters.

I’m a big believer in not locking my horses in the barn when it gets icy/snowy as long as they can get out of the elements and away from the wind. Jaguar, having grown up in the tundra of Eastern Montana, generally thinks Texas winters are a joke and scoffs at his pasture mates for being wimps. This generally results in him keeping all the other horses and donkey out in the elements much longer than they ever would have without his leadership and Pablo inevitably loses and ends up a donkeycicle.

Pablo the donkeycicle. Brrrrrrrrr!

Pablo the donkeycicle. Brrrrrrrrr!

In addition to feeding the internal horse heaters, we have to be mindful of ice/snow buildup in their hooves. In their natural habitat as a “wild” horse, their feet acclimate to the geography where they live. This serves them in many ways, but in the winter especially their hooves have adapted to not letting snow/ice build up and cause them to slip. By living in an unnatural environment and often having shoes on, we owners need to be sure to pick out their hooves and even put something like Crisco in them to prevent the ice/snow from building up. Only one of my steeds has shoes on (Jaguar), but they all need their feet cleaned out at least once, generally twice a day to prevent a big ball of ice from forming and causing them to fall. The last thing I need is for one of them to slip on snow/ice and have a vet call on top of the amazing thundersleetnado conditions.

Coco being VERY careful walking on the snow. Notice how high she is picking up that hind foot?! #diva

Coco being VERY careful walking on the snow. Notice how high she is picking up that hind foot?! #diva

Our other main concern/high maintenance creatures during cold weather are the goats. I may have mentioned this before, but goats are made of sugar. If they so much as get a rain drop or a snowflake on them they are likely to melt away into puddles of nothing. For this reason they require all food and water be brought directly to them during conditions of most anything other than sunny to partly sunny. During exceptionally cold weather it is preferable that the water be warm. Seriously. Do they have our number or what?! We are expecting goat babies soon so we gave in to their neediness in order to provide them and their unborn kids all the sustenance they require.

Sugar babies.

Sugar babies.

Do I still love winter? YES! Freezing weather means less bugs in the spring/summer and I tend to better appreciate the warmer days when I’ve had to suffer through some cold ones. If I lived in a climate where the weather was the same every day (ahem, California) I’m entirely confident I’d develop some sort of seasonal affective disorder. And now that the snow and ice have melted I can look forward to our wild daffodils and SPRING!

The “big time”!

I remember when I was 9 or 10 years old, I had a lovely horse ready to start showing and my friends and I would tell our other 4-H friends that we were going to start going to the “big time” shows, not just the little local and 4-H horse shows. We really thought we were a big deal! Mind you, the “big time” was AQHA shows. In comparison they really were a bigger deal than the local shows, but Montana horse shows are by no means the “big time”.

I find myself having a similar experience as a 30+ year old, though. As you may recall I went to a couple horse shows last summer and fall. These shows were non-rated, regional club shows. Also, not the “big time”. My goal all along with Sterling has been for us to at some point be good enough to compete at USEF A rated shows. In my mind, these are the “big time”. After our fantastic Derby experience at the November show my trainer felt like it would be worthwhile to go to some A shows! EXCLAMATION POINT! There are many reasons why this is exciting. The first being that my minimal initial investment in an unwanted yearling Thoroughbred was actually a great investment. The second being that it means I have made it to a point as a rider that I’m not entirely embarrassing, at least not all the time. The others being that I could finally go to the big, fun shows I’ve only heard and read about for years and show with my horsey bestie.

We settled on where would be our first show back in December based on schedule and proximity. I don’t have a lot of flexibility getting away from work so it was necessary my classes be on the weekend. I also am not ready to show in classes with fences bigger than 2’6″. This gives Sterling room to save my hiney when I make bad decisions without having to get himself over a ginormous jump. The Winter Series in Katy would be our maiden A show voyage. It turned out to be the PERFECT first A show. Never mind the drama that occurred a couple days before the show when Boot City had to stay up until 2:38a fixing Sterling’s chauffeur’s major coolant leak.

The weather was perfect, 60’s-70’s and mostly sunny. There were about 600 horses at the show so it was big, but not terrifyingly huge. We had pre-entered in the Modified Adult division and our trainer added the Limit Rider to get more courses under our belt. This turned out to be a fantastic idea. Our first couple of Modified courses on Saturday morning left a lot to be desired. Counting strides is often an insurmountable task for me, as is remembering that I have legs and how to use them when riding. I also seem to really like to lean forward, real forward. Poor Sterling has to pick himself and me up before he can jump over the fences. Our Modified placings were 5th and 7th out of twelve, so respectable but nothing to write home about.

The Limit courses were MUCH better! I actually remembered to count, YAY! I also used my leg a few times. I still leaned forward too much, but I think there is some muscle memory that needs to be retrained and that is going to take some time at home. We achieved two 2nd place finishes out of 5 in the Limit. We also got 3rd of 5 in the flat. I was pretty excited to end our FIRST day at the “BIG TIME” show so well!

Sunday was a bit of a reversion back to our old and not-so-pretty ways resulting in some rather ugly courses. Sterling was a bit tired so wasn’t as into saving me from my bad decisions so he tattled on my poor choices of not using my leg and forgetting how to count. We did get it together enough to get 4th of 6 in the under saddle flat class even after one horrendous canter takeoff smack dab in front of the judge with some extremely fancy horses. We didn’t stay long enough on Sunday to show in the Limit classes, but when I checked the results of the show later in the week I found that we had gotten Reserve Champion in the Limit Division! I am so proud of us!

Overall I was very pleased with the results of our first “big time” show. We have some homework to do and poor Jaguar is going to have to participate in my getting miles trying to NOT get in front of my horse when he jumps. I’ll leave it for another post to talk about the BEST part of the weekend. 😉

Photo by Jerry Mohme Photography. Sterling looks lovely and like he wishes his rider would get off his front end!

Photo by Jerry Mohme Photography. Sterling looks lovely and like he wishes his rider would get off his front end!

Do the Derby

Sterling and I have attended a couple regional circuit shows in the past few months with our friends Caitlin and Lexi. Caitlin regularly shows in the “A” shows with her seasoned show horse, Sundance. Lexi is an off the track thoroughbred (OTTB) who needs miles at shows. The regional circuits are great for that sort of thing. You get all the trappings of any horse show, but the overall ambience is more relaxed and the jumps are much smaller. In our case Sterling and I both need the miles!

At the first show we were Reserve Champions in our Division. Woo hoo! We weren’t able to show in our Division on the second day of the show because we wanted to get home at a reasonable hour on a school night. We were facing the same issue at the second show, but came up with a solution that turned out to be one of my best show experiences to date!

Sterling and I currently show in a 2’6″ division. We could probably go higher, but until I get better at my position and finding distances in lines, the smaller jumps are better for us. At the most recent show we attended there was being held a Mini Hunter Derby and the jumps were 2’6″ and it was the first class on Sunday morning. I mentioned the idea of entering the Derby to my trainer so we could show on Sunday, but not have to stay for our regular Division. This show was HUGE, too. There was no way my Division was going to show before 3p which would have had us getting home at around 9p. WAY too late for this old lady! Our trainer agreed that it was a good idea and off I went to enter the Derby.

I kind of knew what a Derby was when I entered. I knew the course would be slightly more complicated and I knew that the rides would be scored. What I didn’t know, or at least had forgotten, was that the top few would come back to do what is called a Handy round. The Handy round is intended to be a bit more complicated and requires more quick thinking and responsiveness from the horse. The course require things that wouldn’t normally be on a hunter course like trotting to jumps and hand galloping.

Because I was one of the last entries I had to ride first. One of my most favourite things about Sterling is that he (knock on wood) never spooks at jumps. It seems to never matter how much stuff they put on the fences he just jumps over them like a champ. This combined with his uncanny ability to save my behind when I ride him to a horrendous distance make him worth his weight in gold. My goal going into the pen was to get all my distances and actually count the strides. I accomplished my first goal and counted strides for about 70% of the time. I was beyond ecstatic! I’m sure I was lit up like a Christmas tree as I rode out of the arena.

For your viewing pleasure here is the video. Caitlin and I video each other’s rides at shows so we can go back and actually see what we did. It’s pretty awesome. So thanks to Caitlin for recording this momentous occasion! Click the link below to view.

GHHJA Mini Derby Nov 2014

It’s been a little while so I don’t remember what my score was exactly, but I think it was around 73. A perfect score is a 90. I was pretty happy with my score and my ride. Then I had to hang out for another 44 rides to find out of I would be coming back for the Handy round. Going into this it truly never occurred to me that I even had a shot to make it to the Handy round. Lo and behold I made it into the top 10! The cutoff score was 72. Whew!

Our Handy round was awesome. There were no lines so I didn’t have to worry to much about counting and Sterling handled really well. The only things that really needed improvement are the kinds of things that get better with miles. Our Handy round score was a 76 and when it was all said and done we got 6th place. 6th place out of 45 entries in our very first Hunter Derby! Look out 2015 because Sterling and I are hitting the horse show trail!

Longchamp (not the handbag)

To continue our horse-centric French rendezvous we made a day of going to the horse races at the Hippodrome de Longchamp.

Longchamp 4

I have a love/hate relationship with horse racing. I love the stories of horses like Seabiscuit and see them at the track in person, but I’ve been close enough to the sport to know that racehorses are to most of their owners and handlers (I know there are exceptions) not much different from cattle. Once they are done, for whatever reason, they are gotten rid of in the quickest and most lucrative fashion. I’ve seen my fair share of legs broken on the racetrack and my dad ran a stockyards when it was legal to sell horses to the killers in the US. Quite a lot of the horses on those trailers were from the track. However, there is a spirit in many thoroughbreds that nothing can fulfil other than racing. It is powerful to watch such majestic creatures run their hearts out because it is what they were bred to do. It was with that spirit that I found myself at Longchamp.

It was easy to tell the moment we laid eyes on the horses in the paddock that they were extremely well kept. Their coats glistened, their hooves were shiny and, to our surprise, most all of their manes were braided. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a racehorse (in person) in the US with it’s mane braided. Their tails were also thick and banged (cut bluntly). I definitely have not seen many American racehorses with a nice tail! The paddock itself was lovely. Lots of green grass and beautiful flower beds.

The paddock at Longchamp

The paddock at Longchamp

One of the differences between French and American horse racing that first struck me was the lack of pony horses. At all tracks in the U.S. racehorses are led onto the track, while on the track and often when leaving the track on pony horses. Meaning that someone riding another horse leads the racehorse. Pony horses are usually calm and put up with a lot of racehorse shenanigans. There was not a pony horse in sight at the French racecourse. The first race we watched were three-year-olds and they walked, pretty calmly I might add, from the paddock to the racetrack all by themselves. Most had a human handler or groom walking alongside, but they were pretty much on their own.

Headed to the track

Headed to the track

The other difference was that the track at Longchamp is turf (grass). All of the Triple Crown races in the U.S. are run on dirt tracks. Most American tracks have a turf track, but more often run on the dirt. I thought it was a curious difference. The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe race is run at Longchamp and is the second richest race in the world. The turf does make for a much lovelier view than does dirt. At first it made me a bit nervous because grass can be very slippery. In none of the races we watched did any of the horses have issues with the footing, thankfully.

Running on the turf around the bend to the homestretch

Running on the turf around the bend to the homestretch

We stayed for six of the eight or nine races being run the day we attended. We were there on a Monday afternoon so the stands were rather empty. We noticed a few other tourists, but most of the spectators were men and were betting. We had hoped to have a lovely picnic on the grass in the infield, but we couldn’t figure how to get to the infield so we settled in stands and enjoyed getting to watch the horses and general racetrack activity.

A small crowd made for great views, up close and personal.

A small crowd made for great views, up close and personal.

My favourite part of each race was how calmly and orderly the horses left the track. The jockeys would ride them about 1/8 further down the track than the finish line, then turn their horses around and canter back to the same gate from which they rode onto the field. None of the horses jigged or pranced as they left the track in a single file line back to the paddock. I’m not sure that my 7-year-old thoroughbred (whom has never run a race in his life) would have done it so calmly.

Calmly leaving the track after running a good race.

Calmly leaving the track after running a good race.

All in all it was an enlightening and enjoyable experience. The horses were gorgeous, the racing was good and the weather was absolutely perfect. The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was to be run a few weeks after our trip. It would be fun to see one of the fancy races in Europe, but I’ll hold out for Ascot one of these trips.

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