Thursday, July 28, 2011

Derby Do? Derby Don't?

A show hunter jumping a Rolex cross-country fence?

In the time I've had this past year (or so) to school, practice, and enjoy riding recreationally, I have thought about many new and interesting ways to hone my skills in both dressage and jumping. Eddie and I have improved greatly in our flatwork and we have discovered the positives and the negatives in our work over fences. I've ridden trot poles, gymnastics, schooled lines, small courses, and jumped a XC fence or two. It's all there, but because I haven't been out competing, I'm just not sure where we really stand any longer if placed up against peer horses and riders out there on the road; and, I'm not sure if we're making objective progress, or if it's all just subjective at this point. I always liked to compete to not just test my skills and lessons-learned, but to see just how Eddie and I measure up when viewed in a realm much larger than our own backyard. Plus, Eddie is a total diva and he is ALWAYS better when he knows there is actually something at stake!

I've thought a bit lately about this idea of the hunter derby. I'm talking about the USHJA hunter derby classes, not to be confused with the more familiar eventing derbies that combine show jumping and cross-country fences in a more eventer-friendly atmosphere (often employed for schooling or fund-raiser purposes). I'm speaking of the hunter ring classes that have become very popular the past few years as the USHJA has endeavored to recognize a more traditional "fox hunter" aspect to the efforts, harking back to the days of field hunter trials that incorporated stone walls, coops, banks, and brush fences in their show courses. I know that top-level eventer Doug Payne has recently competed in a rated hunter derby class. I'm intrigued by this type of class mainly because I've been trying to find ways to school a variety of questions with Eddie that ask him to jump in some instances as a show jumper, but to a moment later be able to just as easily "switch gears" and jump a XC fence, even if is outside of the context of a full cross-country course. I know there are advantages to having a horse that can float down to a square oxer and quietly sail over it as if his feet are light as air; and then at the drop of a hat be able to sit back on his haunches and drive forward down-to and over a solid table without even batting an eyelash. I also know that there are a number of folks who feel that it is difficult to ask an event horse to jump as a show hunter in one instance, then turn-on the XC switch in the next instance (without changing pace or stride). I can understand that viewpoint, but I am really more inclined to believe that a solid event horse can jump in the gear and form that is required.....when it is required. If you have a horse that can only jump in XC mode when he's on a XC course, and only jump in a ring when he's in a ring, then I'm not sure that horse is as accomplished or as talented as may initially appear. At the same time, I wonder about the attempt to face a mix of flower-and-rails, as well as solid fences, when trucking around on a show hunter. Would a derby course be beneficial to an eventer who doesn't necessarily want to have a horse jump cross-country obstacles like a hunter? Or, is it not such a bad thing to practice cross-country fences like a hunter (since there is really no full XC experience that would involve major changes in location, terrain, pace, or stamina)? I also wonder, most of all, if a hunter derby would be more advantageous for an event rider, or an event horse? Do hunter derbies serve a real purpose for eventers, other than simply for a fun outing or a unique change of pace?

Fence #1 (an Aiken jump) at a rated USHJA derby.
I am fascinated by the hunter derby courses and I guess I'm just trying to wrap my mind around whether or whether not it is the good deal that it appears to be. Is asking horses and riders to tackle a challenging and diverse course within the confines of an arena (or the very near outskirts of the arena) while cantering around serenely and elegantly, with nary a rush, bobble, or nose in the air, a good thing for an eventer? My horse is a very "huntery" jumper, but he was also a fox hunter before I owned him (he's only sort of a fox hunter now that he's with me!), so he is not afraid of walls, brush, ditches, banks, water, tables, coops, but I find that he jumps cross-country very floaty, with little tucked knees and a perfect spot at every fence. I am only a lower-level eventer, so this is comfortable for me and I'd rather ride a neat and tidy horse XC than one who pulls me around and flies over everything out of a leaping gallop. But, I guess I wonder if I'm looking at the hunter derbies as a possible "win-win" scenario: a balanced and even presentation of fences that asks both straightforward questions (flowers and rails) as well as more challenging efforts (coops or brushes). The USHJA web site indicates that the hunter derby (at least the first round) will be a "classic hunter style round" with a minimum of 10 fences that "must simulate those reminiscent of the hunt field and the course must offer a variety of Derby jumps with different appearances such as: natural post and rail, stone wall, white board fence or gate, coop, aiken, hedge, oxer, brush, logs, natural foliage." As an eventer, I think this sort of offers the best of both worlds ---> a simulated XC school while only requiring the space of a show arena. Likewise, I want to imagine that my horse would canter lightly down to a white-rail vertical, then turn left and canter as softly and politely to a 3-foot coop. If he does so, would that also mean that when I was out on a cross-country course, could I also get such a soft and polite canter down to a 3-foot coop, or would I feel as if I needed to sit back, clamp my leg on, and drive-drive-drive to a forward spot that may or may not be one-and-a-half strides from the actual fence (but, at least we'd get over it)? Would a derby course be more of an opportunity to train (or "trick") me into RIDING better to any type, size, or kind of question than it would actually school my horse? Does my horse even care what is in front of him if I AM the one who is riding well and is ok with what is ahead? I'm not sure if a derby class is the answer to my quest for a change of scenery or if it's truly the good deal it seems on paper, but if there happens to be one in my area, I may see about entering (since anything in my area would either be schooling or unrated). Regardless, as a former hunter-trained rider, I'd love to see more of these classes around, if only because I'd really enjoy spectating and seeing how other riders benefit from this opportunity, if nothing else. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Last night, I had a classic anxiety dream. No, this isn't the "I horrifyingly show up to school naked" dream. I have never actually had that one (thankfully). My stress dreams involve topics that are much more realistic and consequential. My dream last night involved a vague scenario in which I was trying to get to Bass Pro Shops to buy a new pair of flip-flops (the annual highlight of my year) and the store closes before I can sufficiently select the RIGHT pair of flops and get to the checkout. There were all of these infinite frustrations, such as not being able to get the elevator by the bass pond/waterfall to work correctly; interested BPS patrons trying to "help," yet holding me back; and, the endless, futile, run-in-place-towards-the-cash-register for what seems like hours, at the end of which the lights go out and BPS closes.....thus ending my quest to simply go to the local BPS and buy a new pair of flip-flops. This sounds ridiculous, but it is really stressful to me. Besides the fact that I live 5 minutes from BPS and can easily go and buy flip-flops looooong before closing time, any time I want.....this is definitely how my anxiety manifests.

A few nights before this occurred, I had an even more disturbing stress dream. This involved a topic that comes up again and again when I'm anxious: being at a horse trial and not able to get to dressage by my ride time. It's always just dressage that's in jeopardy, since -- as an eventer -- my world begins at dressage.....and if you mess that up, it's all over with from there. In this latest dream installment, I was at an event not terribly far from Knoxville (although it wasn't Nashville or River Glen.....maybe Tryon?) and I had arrived on-site safely, only to find that it was time to get ready for dressage and I had packed NONE of the proper attire. No stock tie, no coat, and no tall boots. I frantically tracked down my friend Lauren Romanelli (who was, magically, also there competing) to see if she would let me borrow some clothes for dressage and I would go back home that night and get all my gear for riding XC the next day (yet another horrifying scenario: being at an event and having to drive all the way home to get something you forgot). She stood right in front of me, laughed, and was like "no freaking way!" and then she walked off and disappeared. This is sad and funny at the very same time. Were I to LITERALLY be at an event and need anything (a stock tie, bucket, spurs, pitchfork, or anything really), Lauren would be the first person to offer to loan it, and certainly the last person to refuse. But, in my dream, not even good old Lauren was going to solve my dilemma for me. Eventually, as is always the case, things go on randomly and vaguely and the situation is never resolved. I just ultimately end up in another dream that has invaded the previous one and taken over. I think in this one, I moved on to being on a Ferris wheel and trying to reach a twinkly light in a nearby treetop. CUH-RAY-ZEE.

I have recently been offered a job teaching some courses for my alma mater this fall, and I have been offered interviews for several additional jobs of late (which hasn't been a frequent occurrence over the past year), so I'm understandably nervous. I have to say the BPS dream is more standard when it comes to frustrating situations, but the failed horse trial scenario is very common when it comes to all-out terror. Anyway, let's hope that this unconscious fear keeps me on my toes when I'm packing for my next event. Perhaps I just need to do something enjoyable this weekend and relieve some of this stress. Maybe I'll just pop over to BPS this afternoon and buy myself some new flip-flops. :-)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

You Can't Spell "Summer in the South" without H.U.M.I.D.I.T.Y.

After a brief rain shower this evening, the air is thick enough to cut with a knife. Ack. I think I'll wait to ride until the morning!

That's not mist or is just hot, wet air. Looks like summer in
Tennessee to me!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pickin' and Grinnin'

I freaking LOVE these guys! I could watch this show all day, every day and never get tired of it. One of the things I enjoy most about it isn't their entertaining banter (which is awesome), or their dynamic personalities (which are fabulous), but I really appreciate how they are super knowledgeable and very respectful of the HISTORY of America that comes about through their searches. Yes, they are good junkers and they're out to make some dough, but it's always more than that and I think that's fascinating. Not everyone can pick as good as these guys. But, then again, maybe I'm just biased since Mike now lives in Tennessee and there is a brand new Antique Archaeology store in Nashville. I know where I'm going to find my birthday present this year. I want the crispy fried Colonel for my front porch!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

2 Beagles are Better Than 1



UPDATE: I was afraid these two little ones were going to be put down this week and I was going to have to delete this post, since I couldn't bear to scroll down through my blog and see their sweet little faces. However, I just found out they were both taken in by a rescue and are safe and out of the shelter. It's not the rescue I foster for, but if anyone does decide they are interested in possibly adopting one or both of these girls, let me know and I will be happy to find out who is fostering them!

These two little girls, Liv and Dixie, were picked up by animal control in Southwest VA/Northeast TN as strays this past week. They appear to be about 2 years old and are both less than 20 pounds and are very good with people and other dogs. A rescue I foster for, Saving Furry Friends, is trying to find an adopter or foster for them so she can pull them from the shelter. Since they came in as sidekicks, I think it would be ideal to re-home them together, but any rescue offer would be greatly appreciated. These pooches are too sweet and lively to let life end for them so young!

Potential fosters or adopters can contact SFF at Put the names "Liv" and "Dixie" in the subject line of the email so they know which dog(s) you are inquiring about. They will be vetted, vacc'd, and spayed before going on to their new homes, so if you can't adopt but might like to help, offers for vet sponsoring are also very welcome!

Friday, July 15, 2011

It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice. ~ Author Unknown

A week or so ago, one of my Middle Tennessee eventer friends, Julie, unexpectedly lost one of her beloved senior horses, Gipper, to colic. Although she got him safely to the vet hospital and they did everything they could, he eventually went past the point of hope for a positive recovery and Julie made the choice to let him go. 

Yesterday, she found a package on her doorstep with a return address from the emergency vet hospital where Gipper had died. When she opened it, she found a memorial gift to Gipper they had made for her: a shadowbox containing his shoes and a gently braided lock of his mane. She was incredibly surprised and touched by this very caring act. When I heard about this, it brought tears to my eyes to think about how thoughtful and considerate those vets and their techs are to do this. Imagining them carefully pulling his shoes and clipping and braiding his mane, then arranging those pieces sweetly in the shadowbox for Julie, reaffirms the fact that there are people out there who do truly care about all aspects of horse care and horse ownership and those of us who have devoted our lives to our animals. Julie has been slowly moving on after losing Gipper, but I know she is further healed after receiving that gift. Having a part of him always with her in a physical sense will continue to keep him with her in a spiritual sense, as well. 

It's just over 3 years since I lost Reece suddenly to colic/a ruptured intestine. He died early one morning in my barn, so I had no one else involved and there was no time to get him to a vet hospital. I found him down and then -- literally moments later -- he just died. I was so shocked and frantic that it was all I could do to put my brain and body on autopilot, call in to work and tell them I wasn't coming in, and then see that my neighbor got Reece buried on the back of my farm. Everything happened so fast and yet seemed like it took forever, but when it was all over -- and the shock wore off -- I finally cried and cried and cried (and,  I still cry over losing him to this day) and at last I started to grieve. I never got a piece of his mane or tail and I didn't even remove his fly mask before they buried him. I just wanted it over with as quickly as possible. Now, all this time later I wish I had something of Reece to keep and hold on to, but I don't and I believe that sort of has been a hang up in my sorrow over his death. I think the shadowbox is a wonderful thing to do for an owner who has lost a horse and it surely must help to put to rest some of the sadness. I am so happy for Julie that she is lucky enough to have a vet that really understands what it is to love and let go.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Baby, it's Hot Outside.

This is just one consequence of 2 hot, tired, sweaty horses! 
Idjit and Eddie at Big Bear schooling horse trials (Pine Mtn, GA).

My friend, Kelly Hanby (yes, my friend of the fabulous life at the lake and the farm I blogged about last week), is also the president of the Birmingham Dressage and Combined Training Association. Today, she posted this on BDCTA's Facebook page and I felt it absolutely necessary to share. I'm a humanities scholar all the way; but, occasionally science and math do have their place in life, too. 


With the heat & high humidity wave we are having in Alabama, I thought this was a good time to remind everyone to be careful with their horses. As all of us Southerners know, its not the heat, its the humidity! When the humidity is over 75%, a horse's ability to cool itself is greatly reduced, no matter what the temperature. When making the decision if it's too hot to ride, you have to consider the temperature, humidity, & wind. To figure out if its safe to ride use this simple formula...

The Formula:
air temperature + relative humidity - wind speed = answer

Less than 130: All go -- horses can function to cool themselves assuming adequate hydration.
130 - 170: Caution -- a horse’s cooling mechanisms can only partially function as intended. Some cooling management procedures will need to be performed.
170 or above: Stop -- a horse’s cooling systems cannot and will not function adequately. All cooling procedures will need to be utilized to keep the horse out of serious trouble.

For example:
Temperature (F) + relative humidity (%) - wind speed
This morning at 10:00 am in Oneonta:
Temperature (F) 84 (so not that hot)
Relative Humidity (%) 80 (but VERY humid!)
Wind Speed 1 (MPH) (and no wind)
Answer = 163: use caution! As someone who has had heat exhaustion more than once, if I decided to ride, I would opt to go on a leisurely trail ride & not work my horse in these conditions, even though my Arab-cross handles the heat better than I do.

Of course, you should consider both your & your horse's level of conditioning, level of work, & heat tolerance when making these decisions. And make sure you are aware of the signs of heat exhaustion in both horses & people!

If your horse does get overheated, remember that research at the Atlanta Olympics showed that the best way to cool a horse down quickly is to use cold water (ice water) with the sponge & scrape method. Do not leave the water on the horse since it heats up quickly & can actually slow down the cooling process- scrape the water off and apply more- repeat till the horse is cooled off.

UPDATED TO ADD that a trainer-friend of mine made the excellent point that knowing your limits and your horse's limits is the best way to make a smart decision about riding in the heat, but for those of you who teach, being extra careful to understand the needs of your individual students and their specific horses is another thing entirely. No one likes to cancel or lose a teaching session due to unfavorable weather conditions, but a smart trainer will make that decision every time when it's the right thing to do. Ride carefully, y'all!

Sunday, July 10, 2011


I do believe that Francis Whittington and Irish actor, Cillian Murphy, could have been separated at birth. Crikey!

Of course, the actor can't compete in the "looks" department with an opponent who is not only an incredibly talented eventer, but one who also happens to have a horse in his photo. Any reasonable jury would find in Francy Pants' favor, everytime. :-)

BTW: Congrats to Francis on his 4th place finish at the Barbury 3* this past weekend! He did a great job quietly sneaking up that leaderboard. Man, I would LOVE for him to make it onto the British squad for the Olympics in London next year. Of course, that would just make it one reason more difficult to root for the U.S. over the Brits on their home turf!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Easy Livin'

I forget that people who don't live in the South don't live like we live in the South. Or, maybe they do.....but, I do live in the South, so I don't really know how others have it. All I know is that we people have it pretty good down here and we like to take it easy now-and-again. For example, we like to celebrate national holidays for the holiday, the 3 days preceding the holiday, and the 3 days following the holiday. Life is too short to just watch it pass you by. It's far better to just watch boats pass you by as you float in the lake.

For the 4th of July, I traveled to Highland Lake, Alabama to stay with some friends and their family (and by "family" I mean about 60 odd folks who are related, may be related, or might as well be related) at their farm and lake house(s). Eddie got to go too, so we caught up on our visiting time, drank a little bit, ate pretty well, and rode 3 out of the 5 days we were there (the days I didn't ride were spent on the lake). Not too bad of a way to turn a visit into a vacation!

Sarah and Ian's lake house, where I made myself right at home.

Lake view from the front deck.

My basement "apartment." The dogs loved it!

Max enjoying his vacation.

Miller enjoying his vacation.

The only drawback to the lake house on a hill is the steps down to the dock.

...and more steps down to the dock.

But, all the steps were worth it to get to spend the entire day just like this.

The back pasture, herb garden, and fire pit out at the farm.

Idjit being peaceful and serene.

The field by the pond where I took my dressage lesson Sunday evening.

The screened-in porch and "party deck" at the farm.

Doggie door in the tack room.

The front porch that looks out over Eddie's paddock.

Eddie in the paddock.

Eddie sees me coming in my boots and britches.
Eddie spins and runs when I enter the paddock with the halter and lead.

Bad Eddie!

Success! I finally caught him. Me, Eddie, Kelly, and Idjit after
a ride through the fields.

A tired pony is ready to go home and do what he
does best: eat, sleep, and swish flies.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Cause baby you're a firework....

I don't know what this flower is, but it looks like fireworks, to me!

Happy 4th, my friends! Have fun, travel safe, and "Let it shine/ Just own the night/ Like the fourth of July!" {boom, boom, boom/ even brighter than the moon, moon, moon}

Sounds of Summer

The zip of my boots.

The scratch of Velcro.

The snap of stirrup leathers.

The squeak of the saddle as I settle into the tack.

The swish of a tail and soft snufflings of my senior citizen as he grazes.

And, the rushing gurgle of the creek behind my house after a soaking rain.

Some sounds that I didn't include might be: the wheeze of heavy breathing as I do trot sets; the uneven shuffle of an abscess-ey horse walking on gravel; the thunder of hoofbeats as Eddie runs up the hill into the back field when it's time for me to ride; and the chaotic clatter of PVC jump poles when Eddie carelessly disregards the crossrails in the gymnastic. 

Whatever your sounds of summer are......Happy Summer!