This blog will chronicle the life and training of Heavymetal Thunder (aka Saxon), a 2009 chestnut Standardbred gelding who didn't have the makings of a racehorse and so will be retrained as a show and pleasure horse. Stay tuned, as we're sure to have lots of great adventures together!

Friday, November 16, 2012

No Autographs, Please

I've been a bad blogger.  I know it's been months since my last post, and there are details and stories swimming around in my head that I've been meaning to put to paper (or keyboard) before they fade from my mind.  Life never seems to slow down enough to allow me to serve my blog justice, so the headlines will have to suffice for now. 

So much has happened with me and my horses since my last post. 

Legs was treated and recovered from her mid-summer mystery lameness (fetlock cartilage trauma).

I got to do a photo shoot for Horse Illustrated and brag about my wonderful Standardbreds!  (It's very gratifying when your horses prove you right - your old veteran goes though all her paces like clockwork, and your 3 year-old doesn't bat an eyelash at the cars whizzing by on the road!)

Legs got her image on a T shirt along with some of my great Standardbred friends - she's the western horse (it's available via the US Trotting web store).

 Though I am a little worse for the wear from it, Saxon concluded a healthy, happy, and very successful rookie year. 

He won his first championship (3 of them, as a matter of fact).

He made his western pleasure debut (he loved it) and we continued to show western several more times, placing well in every class he went in.

He went to his first hunter show (rocking the walk-trot poles division).  (No pic from the show, but I like this shot as a stand in)

He did his first 2 day out of state show and even survived the humiliation of wearing green spandex in front of strangers. 

He donned a shower curtain and a cardboard hat and added "costume class" to his repertoire of horse show skills. 

He learned collection, lateral work and how to put them to good use. 


He discovered that he has the trust, cleverness, patience, and coordination (most of the time!) for negotiating trail obstacles.

He overcame his fear of Friesians and of a certain spooky white fishbowl arena.  He did his first real canter class (Hunter Under Saddle WTC) and nailed both leads.  He helped me add to my own personal "character" haplessly inflicting a couple injuries that I'm not likely to soon forget.  We made many new friends and met a fan of our blog (We have fans - who knew!?). 

We went from a green, unsure horse and rider to a true cohesive team.

And he's growing up into quite the handsome and well-mannered young man in the process. 
October 2012:  

December 2011:

And a certain redheaded Standardbred and his owner were featured on the Facebook cover page for a major national horse publication! 

You know, same old same old...

I wonder what he's going to accomplish at age 4?   



Monday, September 3, 2012

The Ups and Downs of Showing

As my devoted readers know, having a three year-old show horse in the making can be very trying.  One day they make you want to pull your hair out, the next they make you burst with pride.  Throughout the summer, Saxon and I have been struggling with inconsistency in the show ring.  When he's good, he's fantastic.  He makes me want to sing his praises and lavish him with hugs and treats.  When he's not, it's a full scale meltdown of nuclear proportions.  I'm finally starting to have some success abating these meltdowns, so that the calm, quiet (relatively lazy) horse I have at home is the same animal I bring out in public.  They say "idle hands are the devil's playground."  Idle hooves, it seems, can turn the showring into the devil's playground, too.  My new motto is "a tired 3 year-old is a well-behaved 3 year-old."  Case in point, before the August OCSC show, he got himself worked up that morning and spent 10 straight minutes galloping around the pasture until he was soaked in sweat and out of breath.  At the show, (after a good bath!) even though we arrived too late to walk the grounds and arena beforehand, he was a perfect, quiet gentleman (other than still wanting to suck on my hunt coat sleeve like a pacifier during showmanship).  Some of it may be that the whole trailering and showing thing is starting to become more routine for him, some of it may be his new pre-show preventative dose of omeprazole (I've noticed that his appetite at shows is much better now), but I have to believe that a little tiredness doesn't hurt, either.  I certainly don't want to overwork him, since he's still young and growing, but I've found that a week of steady riding with no days off and a preshow exercise session makes for a much more relaxing show for both of us (he gets his day off after the show).

Since I started this new regimen, he has been stellar on his last two outings.  At OCSC, he was so tired that he was almost lazy (a 10 minute pre-show gallop will do that!), but he cruised through his classes (including equitation and trail -  where he had to canter a bit in the patterns) like a pro.  [They gave us a dry run in trail before we did the course for real, which was a good thing, because we might not have made it past the horse-eating rain coat otherwise!  Once he thoroughly sniffed said horse-eating rain coat, he was totally unfazed by it the second time around.]  I was very pleased with his behavior, and he had the placings to match, placing well in full classes, with several wins (including the eq and trail where he had to canter!).   

Our next show was a real test of his fortitude.  I took him to the Pioneer Saddle Club open show.  From the photos on their Facebook page, I could tell it was a pretty casual show in terms of dress, the kind where people show in whatever tack and casual clothes they have and spectators back their vehicles up to the arena to watch.  I wasn't sure how distracted he would get by the cars and spectators, but it's something he'll have to get used to if I want to start taking him to more of the county fair shows next year.  The show grounds was nice, but the atmosphere was pure pandemonium.  It was almost exclusively gaited horses, and riders were weaving behind and around the parked trailers at a high rate of speed.  I arrived plenty early, but they had the arena closed up so I couldn't walk him around in there.  I walked him around the outside of the arena, but was stopped after a few laps because they didn't want horses near the (completely empty) bleachers.  I found a grassy area as far away from the packs of random riders as I could and lunged him.  He seemed calm enough, so as long as the ringside white cinderblock building (that he snorted at on our walk) and spectators starting to park ringside didn't faze him, I thought he'd be ok.  Nevertheless, when I registered for his classes, I asked if I could enter both the English and Western halter classes.  I explained that he was just 3 and I wanted to give him as much chance as possible to get comfortable in the ring.  They said ok, so I signed up for those two and one riding class.  I wanted to see how he reacted to the ring atmosphere before I committed to more under saddle classes.  I later overheard someone talking to the registration person and mocking me for entering both halter classes.  

He was good in halter, though he was the only non-gaited horse in either one.  The judge didn't seem to spend much time looking over the horses, barely glancing at just their front legs.  We only placed so-so, and I had another competitor motion me over later that night to tell me she thought I'd been "ripped off" in the halter classes.  (Which made me smile that she was complimenting my horse.)  We had a pretty good break before our first riding class, so I spent some time chatting with the older gentleman showing out of the trailer next to me, and rode Saxon around the show grounds for a while.  I was pleasantly surprised by how calmly he handled the chaos of the spectators around the arena, horses stomping around inside and next to their trailers, children jumping around, the ice cream truck at the nearby neighborhood, and the speed racking horses careening recklessly past him from all directions. 

The sun was going down by the time my class was ready to go.  Just as we were ready to go in for our class, wouldn't you know it, they turned on the arena lights, the wind kicked up, and it started to spritz rain.  There were eight of us, and I was the only non-gaited horse in the English Pleasure Walk-Favorite Gait (No Canter) class.  As one lady in a tank top entered the ring ahead of us, she whipped her horse sharply with the end of her reins.  It was a sign of things to come.  I stuck to my plan of staying off the rail and away from the other horses.  A little girl opened her pink and purple umbrella by the rail as we walked by, and Saxon hardly noticed (As luck would have it, we had been working on sacking out with grocery bags and umbrellas earlier that week.  How convenient!).  He was a superstar.  He was steady at both gaits, stayed on the bit, and remained calm about the racking horses snorting and racing by on the rail.  It was a nice enough trip to win just about any class we'd gone in all year.  He was just a little antsy in the lineup about having to face away from the flagpole (with blowing flag) in the center of the ring.  As they called out the placings, I started to wonder what I was missing. We were finally called in DFL.  Eighth out of eight.  I know showing is subjective and you are paying for someone's opinion.  Some days, the judge loves your horse, and other days it's just not your day.  But to have horses place above us that were actively spooking, alternating between the running walk and trot, and lugging on the bit barely in control was an absolute insult.  It seemed the faster, higher kneed, higher headed, and more frantic your horse went, the more this judge liked you.  There was clearly no place in his modus operandi for a relaxed, low-headed, efficient-moving hunter horse. 

I knew my "victory" was how well my three-year old handled the chaotic atmosphere of his first nighttime show.  I also knew there was no point in entering any other classes.  I couldn't have asked for a better performance from Saxon under those or any circumstances.  There was absolutely nothing to be gained by sticking around, or ever coming back for that matter.  Nowhere on the showbill did it say the show was for gaited horses only.  The only stipulations on it were that show tack/attire were not required, no artificial equipment other than plain bell boots was allowed, and 1/2" or smaller pads were allowed, but no wedge pads (though I saw that the top placing horses in most classes had wedges).  Though I am proud of my horse for his stellar behavior, met some pleasant people there (particularly the older gentleman at the adjacent trailer who, incidentally, also left early because the judge didn't like his natural moving, lower-kneed, well-behaved gaited horses), and I generally liked the showgrounds, I will never attend another show by the Pioneer Saddle Club again.  If it's supposed to be exclusively for gaited horses, so be it, but please advertise it as such so that other owners of non-gaited horses don't make the same mistake I did.  As for me and Saxon, we'll chalk it up as a learning experience, and I hope he continues his calm and mannerly ways.  Maybe at our next show we'll once again have the results to match (as we did at OCSC).                         

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Conspiracy Theory

I can usually take a hint.  However, when my mind is made up about something, it requires a whole pile of them to get me to change my mind.  When I first got Saxon, I allowed myself the luxury of daydreaming about the progress we'd make and the things we'd do in our first year together.  I would look at class lists for showbills throughout the year and think, "maybe we'll be ready to _______ (canter, do patterns, do a trail class, go to a night show, go to ________ <insert spooky location here>) by _____ date."  The date would come and go, and we just wouldn't be ready.  I know he's just three and we have literally decades together.  Still, after waiting so long to find just the right horse, it's hard not to want to do all of that stuff I've been dreaming about.  Naturally, debuting at Standardbred Nationals was high on the daydream list.  The ultimate dream was to take both him and Legs to New Jersey.  It seems that circumstances have been conspiring to dissuade me from my grand plan.

The first factor is Saxon's inconsistency.  At home, he's nearly always laid back or even downright lazy.  Away from home, however, he's more of a Jekyll and Hyde.  Sometimes he displays the same calm, nonchalant attitude that he has at home, and calmly deals with things I wouldn't have expected him to (like spectators under a large umbrella, or trail obstacles magically appearing in the arena).  Other times, he melts down into a 1,000# pile of irrational, inconsolable goo.  The worst part is that I can't seem to predict it, and once he has a meltdown, it is hard to get his brain back together.  I've learned that extensive walking and lunging in a new place helps (but is no guarantee).  I've learned that he simply can't comprehend or deal with carnival rides or truck pulls, even from a distance.  Rain, also, seems to liquefy his brain cells.  People on the rail are ok as long as he had been petted by them, but if he hasn't met them yet, they might be carnivorous.  Sometimes large classes are good, and sometimes they're a problem. I keep telling myself that he's still a baby and one day he'll always be as relaxed in new places as he is at home.  It's just hard to remember that when he's wheeling around while tied to the trailer or balking and rearing in the ring.  Certainly, I don't want to drive a thousand miles to New Jersey if he's going to have a "Hyde" kind of day.  I talked myself into believing that with enough time to scope out the facilities, he'd be fine (and probably tired from the long drive).  But then...

Then there's our trailer accident.  Certainly, a traumatic thing like that could sideline our show plans.  After all, we can't exactly show if we can't get there.  Thankfully, the trailer was just fine, and the truck has been worked over and given the seal of approval.  And though Saxon still shows stress about trailering by prancing and grinding his teeth once in the trailer, even after the incident he continues to load and unload without hesitation.  With the propensity of gastric ulcers in show horses and horses in training (over 60%), I have wondered if this plays into his trailering anxiety and inconsistency at shows.  As a precaution, I bought him some omeprazole paste to try at our next few events.

Okay, say we go, armed with our omeprazole and our lunge line.  What classes do we go in?  While we're still working on our canter at home, I don't think he's ready to do it consistently in the show ring.  Nor do I know if he's ready to handle some of the humongous classes like 2 gait Eq or 2 Gait HUS (see Jekyll and Hyde reference, above).  That leaves In Hand, Intro Dressage (since I once again own a dressage saddle =) ), and the 2 Gait Rookie class.  I had hoped to debut him in Western walk-jog earlier this year, but there was a ferris wheel that was just visible from the arena ...  so much for that idea.  That's not a lot of classes to justify 2,000 miles of driving and 3 days away from home.

Okay, so I'll bring Legs, too, and they can each do a modest number of classes.  I finally have the trailer for it, and though I've been taking it easy with her, she's been doing great so far this year.  No sooner had I convinced myself that this was the way to go then I noticed her consistently resting her left foreleg on August 1. While horses frequently rest a hind leg while dozing, it is not normal for them to rest a forefoot.  I finally found that the nail had pulled through one of the holes in her plastic horseshoes and was being pressed between the shoe and her foot.  I had the farrier out to fix it and she spent a week on Bute and stallrest.  After about 10 days, she was finally sound enough for light riding.  That didn't give me much time to work her fitness up.  Still, maybe if I just aimed for a limited number of classes ...

Enter the evil side of Mother Nature.  I love having my horses on my property, but it also comes with more than its share of hard work.  On August 3, I was pulling fence staples from my woven wire mesh fence in preparation for replacing it with horse friendly flex fence.  I knelt down to pull a low staple, and realized that my right knee was smack in the middle of a poison ivy patch.  I did the rubbing alcohol thing after hiking back up to the barn; nevertheless, within a few days my entire knee was blistered and oozing, and I was smattered with itchy patches all over the rest of my body.  Did I mention that I'm highly allergic to poison ivy?  By the 9th, my entire right leg was swollen and oozing.  I kept looking down and wondering why I had the right leg of a fat person.  Besides the misery of itching, it also prevented me from riding (though I tried once anyhow).  By the 14th, with my knee plastered in gauze and Vetrap, I was determined to try riding anyhow  (I wonder if the horses noticed stronger leg cues from my fat right leg?).  It went ok, then on the 15th, Mother Nature struck again, in the form of a stomach virus.  I spent the second half of my first day back in class bedridden (I got nauseous even trying to crawl to the kitchen) and trying (unsuccessfully) to keep my stomach contents in place.  I dragged myself to class and back again on the 16th, but typing on the computer from bed is about all that I feel up to.

The final factor conspiring against my nationals bid this year is my class schedule.  I'm in class 5 days a week for 4-7 hours a day.  Going to New Jersey would invariably mean missing class the following Monday to make the 12 hour drive home.  Wouldn't you know it, I have an examination scheduled that day and the class has a firm policy about attendance (miss 2 and you lose an entire letter grade) and make-up work (there isn't any).

So that pretty much seals it.  With so many factors seemingly conspiring to keep me in Kentucky this year, I guess I have to take the hint.  I hate that I won't be able to show with my friends yet again this year, and I am disappointed that Saxon won't be able to make his National debut this year.  But I guess I should heed the subtle half-dozen or so hints this time.             

The Horse Show From Hell

This was from last month, but I put off publishing it until now.

Saxon and I have been going to some little local shows here and there.  Some days he's just as pleasant and professional as you could want and other days he totally loses his marbles and it's all I can do to deal with him.  The horse he is at home is nearly always quiet, willing and relaxed.  Lazy even.  I keep reminding myself that he's just 3 and someday he'll be like that everywhere, but it can be hard to remember when he teases me with stellar behavior at home, and then has a meltdown in public.  I've learned a few tricks to helping him relax away from home, like arriving really early and taking him on long walks and lots of lunging all around the arena and showgrounds to let him investigate.  It's not a foolproof system (especially since people tend to set up their tents, chairs, and umbrellas next to the arena after the show has already started), but it seems to help.

I was looking forward to the OC show on Saturday.  Our previous show there had been our most successful to date, with Saxon on his best big boy behavior.  He had even made me confident enough to try the trail class with him that day, his first time doing trail in public, and he ambled through the obstacles like an old hand.  He'd had a few days off earlier in the week while I was out of town, but he was obedient and calm during our pre-show ride.  We got there and did our usual walking and lunging routine.  He was decent through the in hand classes, though I could tell he was feeling a little feisty when he pinned his ears and tried to race me at the trot in the Hunter in Hand Class.

When we tacked up for the under saddle classes it started to rain.  Apparently Saxon's brain is water soluble, as I could practically watch it melt out of his ears the harder it rained.  It was a steady rain and Saxon showed his displeasure about facing it head-on by humping his back and trying to buck when it hit his face and ran down his legs.  We made it through the class with no major incidents, and before our next class, the steady rain turned to a downpour.  Our next class was a large class, but it usually seems to help him stay calm to be around other horses.  One horse propped and reared a little in front of us, but I dodged it and continued on.  Around the next corner, we came face to face with a little mare who had heard something behind her and whirled the other way.  I don't know if it was playfulness, alarm, or an outright temper tantrum about the rain, but Saxon had a meltdown.  When Saxon has a meltdown, he doesn't hedge or mince around, he goes full Chernobyl.  He humped his back hard and tried to buck.  When I checked him up, he reared several times, higher and higher.  He finally got his forefeet back on the ground and the judge encouraged me to walk him around to get him together.  He walked calmly for about 30 feet and then started rearing again.  I have never had to dismount in the middle of a class before, but I guess there's a first time for everything.  He even went up again while I was leading him around the ring.  I checked him for signs of irritation - a bug bite, pinched girth, bunched saddle pad, ouchy wound, but couldn't find anything.  Remounting in the warm-up area to ride him through it got me nowhere, I had to bail again, ripping a hole in my favorite hunt coat in the process.  My clothes were soaking, my tack was drenched, and my temperamental toddler was making his feelings about it all none to subtle.  After a lunging session we made one more trip into the ring for the equitation pattern for the sake of quitting on a better note.  It wasn't pretty; he was looky at the people on the bleachers and slow with his transitions, but we kept our feet on the ground which was a definite improvement.

In hind sight, if that had been the worst of it - the torn hunt coat, the soaked tack, and the temperamental pony, it wouldn't have been so bad.  It was still raining hard when we left the show.  We were on the interstate about a mile from our first exit.  Because of the rain, I was going about 55 (it was a 70), and came around a curve to find both lanes of traffic stopped in front of me.  $^*#@$%!  I broke hard, but the brakes locked up and I could tell immediately that I wouldn't be able to stop in time.  I steered towards the shoulder and continued to pump the brakes, hoping to just ease past the row of cars and come to a stop farther up the shoulder.  We were hydroplaning, and the trailer started to sway.  One of its wheels hit the muddy grass and pulled the truck into an oversteer.  I countersteered, but with some 6,000 pounds of trailer dragging you off the road and into a culvert, there isn't a whole lot you can do.  I was cussing as we slid off the road and praying that we didn't roll, but thanks to my years of autocross experience intentionally driving cars on the edge of control, I wasn't panicked.  Yet.  Thunk.  We came to a stop.  The truck had made a complete 180 straddling a culvert, and the trailer was jackknifed, angled about 45 degrees relative to the road.  I got out, expecting the worst.  Upon quick inspection, the trailer looked pretty good, but there was no way to tow it out of there with the truck facing the way it was, nor was I sure about the truck's drivability at that point.  Shaking, I opened the back door of the trailer to find Saxon standing in his compartment, seemingly no worse for the wear.  No blood, no bumps, no scrapes that I could find.  "Thank god."  "I have to get Saxon home.  How am I going to get him out of here?  Who can I call?  How do I fix this?"  Now I was panicked.  I called J.  He suggested I call one of my friends in the area, B.  She picked up.  "Thank god."  She had her truck and trailer handy.  She attempted to come get us, but the original wreck that caused the pile-up in the first place made it impossible for her to get to us.  I waited, alternating between assessing the damage, and standing in the half open doorway of the trailer, soothing Saxon who was drenched in sweat and steaming from the mugginess.  Wouldn't you know it, very uncharacteristically I had forgotten to wrap his legs for the show when I left in the morning.  I never do that.  I was furious with myself for forgetting.  Thankfully, he didn't have a mark or scrape on him.  Other than a tail full of shavings and the edge of his rubber mat being turned up, you wouldn't know he had gone through any sort of ordeal.  Two trailers crept up through the traffic.  Both were coming back from the same show, and both had empty slots on them.  Both offered to help me out and take me where I needed to go.  After consulting with my friend B, we decided to get Saxon to her farm where J was now waiting, and use her rig to get him home (it was much too far to drag anyone out of their way).  Another guy, whose truck indicated he was from a hunter-jumper farm, had stopped to help, too.  The three of us unloaded Saxon on the edge of the interstate, and loaded him onto the other trailer.  He would load his front end fine, but was concerned that his hindquarters wouldn't fit in the back stall of the slant trailer, but we got all of him on after a little more coaxing.

We crept through traffic to B's farm. I thanked the lady profusely, and tried to pay her, but she wouldn't even take money for gas.  Saxon must not have been too traumatized by the time we got to the new farm, as he was far more interested in grazing on their lawn than anything else.  J and I got him home thanks to the use of B's rig.  I fed him, looked him over, and turned him out to roll in the mud and rejoin Legs.  He didn't have a mark on him.   Not so much as a scratch or a ruffled hair.  This from the horse who gets mystery scrapes on the inside of his thighs during turnout.  We returned the borrowed rig (Which, we found out later, had the hitch receiver fall off due to frame rust the following Monday while en route to a show.  It happened at a red light and thankfully there was no damage or injuries.)

Getting the truck and trailer out of the ditch went smoother than I had imagined.  I was sure we'd have to call a truck to drag the trailer out backwards, as the culvert angled sharply on both sides.  Somebody kindly stopped to help, though we probably could have managed on our own just the same.  We dumped 2 cans of Fix a Flat and added air to the hissing tire that had gravel and weeds jammed into the bead from sliding through the mud.  We chocked the trailer wheels securely and attempted to unhitch.  A pry bar helped free the ball from where it was bound against the receiver.  We drove the truck out of the ditch and turned it around.  After some maneuvering, we were able to rehitch the trailer at a better angle, tow it across the culvert, and back again to the side of the road.  To say I am happy with the quality of my trailer is an understatement.  To go through that sort of thing and protect the cargo within so well...

Thankfully, Good Samaritans still exist.  From the folks who stopped to ask if we were ok, and offer trailer rides and assistance, to the friend of a friend two weeks earlier who loaned us his car, his spare bedroom, and his garage full of tools when we were stranded by the side of the road in the middle of Virginia with a broken differential in the Miata...  there are still good genuinely nice, helpful people left in the world willing to help out a friend or even a stranger.  My only hope is that I'll get a chance to be one of them the next time around, rather than being on the receiving end of the catastrophe.    


Thursday, June 14, 2012

That Really Stings

It was a normal Wednesday evening. I got home from work, brought Saxon up to the barn, and started grooming him on cross-ties in the barn aisle.  I was just about to put his splint boots on, when he started violently biting his sides.  I thought horsefly, but before I knew it, we were both in the middle of a swarm of very angry bees!  I swatted one on his side with the splint boot in my hand and it stung my finger, all the while I was trying to unclip his cross-ties and speak in a soothing voice.  He would have none of that, though, becoming frantic as they swarmed and stung at us both.  He reared up high on both hindlegs, snapping one cross-tie at its breakaway loop on the wall (I always use a breakaway loop of twine on each cross-tie and trailer tie for just such circumstances), and bolted into the adjacent stall door, still attached to the other cross-tie.  I managed to unclip that one as he bolted back across the aisle into the facing stall, still maddened by the stinging bees.  I grabbed one of the cross-ties dangling from his halter and hustled him out of the barn to the driveway.  My first thought was to hose him with nice cool water to soothe the stings.  One of the nasty bees followed us to the wash area, but I managed to douse it with a stream of water and crush it under my foot before it did any more damage.  I ran into the house to get some first aid items, and another one tried to follow me through the front door!

I commenced with the cold hosing, but Saxon would not let me touch him anywhere near the wounds. I counted 5 stings (and eventually found a 6th one) around his rump, loin, and sides.  I could sympathize, having been stung on the face and finger in the melee myself, but of course he didn't understand that.  He just knew that it hurt like crazy and my touching it only made it worse.  I attempted to apply ice packs to his stings, but he objected very violently to the contact.  I wanted to give him dexamethasone and Bute, but they were in the barn with the swarming bees!  Grabbing the nearly empty bottle of wasp killer, I beelined for the barn (pardon the pun).  I took out two nasty ones, and a wasp as collateral damage, managing to retrieve the needed supplies in the process.

That pretty much scratched my plans for riding that night, though after giving him the meds, I decided to lunge him so he could get some of his pent up frustration out.  He was being pretty good, and I thought he'd finally simmered down on the lungeline, when he suddenly lost his marbles over a farm implement rumbling down the road.  He just lost it.  His tail went over his back, his head shot up to a giraffe-like elevation, and he started rearing and plunging around.  I tried making him change directions to get his mind back on me, but in my haste, the end of the lunge line was trailing on the ground beside me, and he freaked out about that, too (First bees, then a monster, now a snake!)  OK, I reeled in the excess, made him change directions about 40 times, and eventually got him back to sanity.  Since he still wouldn't let me check his wounds any closer, I hosed him again, and figured I'd done all I could for the night.        

J made it home with 3 fresh bottles of wasp killers a while later, and we set about our assault on the colony of angry bees.  I'd determined that they had taken up residence in our straw stack.  We had a hive of honey bees last year, but they were a peaceful lot of the philosophy to live and let live, so we let them be and got rid of the hive in the winter, when they were gone and the hive was dormant.  This hive had a completely different look to them (fuzzier, larger, and more yellow), and a mentality of strike first and show no mercy!

Using a pitchfork and a board, J jostled each straw bale while I stood on guard for angry bees.  We alternately shoved the bales, shot wasp killer, and retreated until, eventually, we had dismantled the entire stack.  Through the course of it all, we ruined about 14 bales of straw and killed some 30 or so bees with wasp killer.  I'm sure some of the bales barely had any poison on them, but I'd rather not take any chances of making one of my horses sick over a $3 bale of straw!  The hive wasn't as big I'd feared it might be, but the bees (the size of a quarter) certainly weren't any smaller or less angry for it.  I found one that returned to the battlefield the next morning, but I was armed with my wasp spray and shot him down before he could bring reinforcements.  We avenged our bee attack and eradicated the bees, but besides my throbbing finger and head, what really stings is that Saxon has lost some trust in me because of those nasty bees.  He saw me in the field when I went out to check on him the next morning, and promptly ran away.  It took a lot of persuading (and a lot of peppermints) before he'd finally let me touch him.  He still flinched when I tried to touch anywhere near the stings, but he readily took his Bute, and let me rub his nose and face.  The swelling is down significantly (which I can attest to on myself) and it's hard to actually see the stings, though I know I can still feel them.  It sucks that he doesn't understand that I didn't hurt him and that I'm trying to help him.  He only knows that it hurts, and I'm somehow associated with the whole affair.  And we'd been making such progress... Stupid bees.  I didn't like flying stinging things before, but now...  Flying stinging things be warned - stay off my property and away from my loved ones or you will die!

Your Chariot Awaits

In my last post, I covered some of the challenges Saxon and I faced in our travels.  Though he had a lot of training and handling as a race prospect, he spent basically his entire young life at one farm - his lack of competitiveness meant that he missed out on the experience of traveling to new places (like the racetrack or other farms) that young racehorses get.  That, combined with the fact that the second trailer ride of his life involved traveling halfway across the country on a slat sided stock trailer from New Jersey to Kentucky in December, means that I really can't blame him for being anxious about travel.  He is laid back and nearly unflappable at home, but he can get really nervous and keyed up about traveling and new places.

We've been working on that.  At home, I've been tying him to the trailer instead of the cross-ties in the barn for grooming and tacking.  I've also been working on loading him and letting him spend increasing amounts of time just chilling in the trailer.  For much of May, the stock trailer was his dining car, the only place he got to eat his dinner.  Readily motivated by food, Saxon learned quickly to load himself in anticipation of a tasty meal, though once inside his enthusiasm for the trailer quickly waned.  We eventually progressed from panicked, to nervous, to anxious, to perturbed about being in the trailer, and worked our way up to 30 minutes or more of him standing in the unhitched trailer.  Even so, he never lost his tendency to stomp around in circles while in the trailer, and was always waiting for me with his nose pressed to the back gate when I was ready to let him out.

We had an impromptu field trip in mid May.  I was planning to take him to a show, but 30 minutes into the trip, I received a call that the show had been canceled due to the previous night's rain.  Since we were already on the road, I quickly decided to take him to the local county park as a schooling opportunity.  My very accommodating husband agreed to meet me over there, so I wouldn't be all alone in a new place with 1000 pounds of anxious 3 year old, and one of my horse friends decided to load up her STBs to join us.  From the driver's seat of the truck, it felt like he had traveled well on our excursion, but upon arriving at the park, I discovered that he had dented up the rear gate, shredded his left hind shipping boot, and ripped his haybag off the wall during the trip (pooping all over everything in the process, of course).  He came off the trailer high-headed and nervous.  To make matters worse, a baseball game was getting underway next to the arena, and they were doing their pregame motivational chanting and stomping ritual.  Saxon looked around, saw the men with bats, saw no other horses, and came to the inevitable conclusion that I had brought him there to be hunted down by this pack of bat wielding, shouting cavemen!  I tried to tie him to the trailer to remove what was left of his shipping boots and assess the damage, but he was rearing and dancing around, so there wasn't much I could do.  Even on the lead line he didn't want to graze, so he spent the next 30 minutes dragging me all around the park at a nervous walk.  Justin and I took turns being dragged around, since he wouldn't stand still.  I eventually put him on the lunge line so Saxon could expend some of his nervous energy at his own expense rather than his handlers' expenses.

Saxon was just starting to settle down when my friend's trailer pulled in.  At the sight of other horses, his excitement level shot up again, and he took it out on the lunge line, wheeling about with loud snorts and his tail over his back.  His excitement was infectious, and the other two were snorty and uncertain, too.  So another 30 minutes of walking all 3 horses around the arena ensued.  Eventually they all settled down to the point that we could tack them up and ride, and they were all pretty good about it, too.  It ended up being a longer day than had I actually shown, but I think it was good for him.

Well, the shredded shipping boot had solidified in my mind that I needed a different trailer for him.  My stock trailer could be converted to a 2 horse straight thanks to a removable divider, but when I tried backing him out of it with no divider, he had a pretty big panic attack and nearly clocked himself on the trailer's roof.  This meant that he had to be trailered solo in that stock trailer, and I had to tie him because he tried to constantly circle once inside the trailer.  (I was afraid of him hurting himself while in the process of trying to turn around.)  Well, he'd get ticked off when he tried to turn while tied and couldn't make it around, and SLAM, SLAM, SLAM - kick the walls of the trailer with all his might.  I decided that a slant load would be better for him because I could lead him on head first, secure him safely with a divider for travel, and lead him off head first when we arrived at our destination.

I decided to look for a 2 or 3 horse gooseneck slant load.  After measuring most of the 3 horse models at a big trailer lot, I decided that a 2 horse might be better. Most of the 3 horse ones were 18' or longer on the box. My driveway is easy to turn into with my 12' stock trailer, doable with my friend's 16' one, and uses every  inch and watchful eye available to make the turn in a 20' model.  Finding a 2 horse slant gooseneck is harder than you might think, especially on a budget.  I definitely wanted to upgrade to aluminum, if possible, since my trailer has to live outside.  (I am fanatical about waxing my steel stock trailer, but I know pretty much nobody else in the universe is like that!)  I searched website after website for available models, dimensions, features, prices, reviews, and reputation.  I ended up with a giant chart of trailers that ultimately boiled down to about 3 real choices once I'd gone through them with a fine-toothed comb.  I was looking at a used 2004 model 2H Bison Alumasport (aluminum skin with steel frame) with all the options, a 1999 base model 4 Star Stock-Combo that had been around the block quite a bit (for quite a bit more money), or a new Shadow 2H all aluminum that was stripped down and cost almost twice as much.  I'd read a few negative reviews of Bisons online, but ultimately found that they centered around the giant living quarter monstrosities and the all fiberglass roof that Bison had stopped using years ago, and most people with the regular non LQ versions had positive things to say.  (2004 was actually the last year they made a non living quarter gooseneck horse trailer.)  I checked the Bison over in person with a fine-toothed comb, and it was in excellent shape (the lady's husband laughed at me when I checked the date code on the tires and climbed under the trailer to look at the supports and check for structural integtrity.)  Once I found out it was an extra tall model, with nicely padded stalls, and the rear tack room collapsed easily (to let Saxon unload head first), that pretty much clinched it.  I became the proud new owner of a very nice trailer!

We went about it slowly, but Saxon warmed up to it pretty well.  We first investigated it with the dividers and tack room collapsed out of the way, and eventually progressed to loading and pinning him in.  He continued to want to prance his feet once loaded up, but stopped trying to turn around once he found out he couldn't go anywhere  (Instead, he just piaffes in place now.).  He loved the escape door, because it made the trailer more bright and inviting to enter, and he could stick his head over the chest bar to look around once inside.  And, after a few sessions, he became confident enough to back out of it without having a panic attack.  Now, we are able to back out calmly (even with the tack room divider up) like a normal horse, though I always say the word "hup" when he's about to step his foot off the back so he knows where the dropoff is.

Since then, we have taken a few practice trips - one just to the post office and back, and the other back to the county park. This time around, there was no rearing when he was tied to the trailer, and he settled down much faster.  (Though he was quite insistent that he had to sniff everything around him in very fine detail).  The new trailer has polished aluminum on the nose and rear doors.  I thought Saxon might be startled by his reflection in the back door when tied to the trailer.  On the contrary, he was quite enamored with himself.  Saxon found himself quite the handsome fellow and wanted to admire his reflection from all angles.  My horse the narcissist!  Riding wise, he did quite well this time around (it may have helped that there were no bat-wielding neanderthals, I mean baseball players present), and we even cantered under saddle in the ring (his first time doing so away from home).

We went to a show a week later, and while he had a few "moments" about the horse-eating toddlers and folding chairs near the showring, he was excellent about the trailer.  He stayed calm while tied to it, and loaded and unloaded readily both times.  I was pretty delighted with the trailer, too.  For the first time, I had a *real* dressing room to change in (it has a skylight and a screen door - how cool is that!), and I could really spread out my tack and equipment.  If I had a complaint, it would be not enough saddle racks (2 for a 2 horse trailer - don't they know that versatile Standardbreds need lots of wardrobe changes?) or outside tie rings (2 per side, and the second one's too close to the back door to be useful anyhow).  But I can work around those details, given the trailer's many other merits.  Saxon still wants to piaffe in place once inside, but he seems to be calming down overall.  I don't know if it's the new trailer, more experience, or both, but I'd say that's a win either way.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Different Day, A Different Horse

Saxon is officially 3 now, having celebrated his birthday on April 21.  He is a solidly built horse, and gives the impression of being larger than he is (he measures 16 HH, but everyone, myself included, thinks that he just seems bigger than that).  He is generally mistaken for a Thoroughbred or Saddlebred with his bright red coat and regal bearing.  He has finally lost the tucked up racehorse tummy and is building the muscles of his neck into a nice arch, and has a nice, trim riding horse outline as a result.  I know I am biased, but some days I look at him and think that his conformation just couldn't be much nicer.  His chest is filling out and he travels nice and straight with his forehand, though he still wings in behind.  He may grow out of it as he fills out enough to reduce his toe out behind (as Legs did); only time will tell.  

Since the adventures of our last horse show and those that preceded it, Saxon has been a different horse.  He got over his Springtime wildness and turned back into the calm, sweet Standardbred that I first was acquainted with.  He's gotten so complacent and relaxed, in fact, that I have resorted to riding him with a pair of little blunt baby spurs just to get him going.  His new favorite gait is whoa and a snail slow walk, and I was having to pony kick him to get a trot before I tried the spurs.  He accepts the front yard as his home base riding area, and only gets on edge when noisy motorcycles or trucks with rattling trailers pass him on the road side, though I still circle him away from traffic when at the canter just to keep him from using it as an excuse to buck and play.  We continue to reinforce the basics of going on the bit, trying to establish different tempos of trot, and circling/bending.  We also continue with the canter work, though I don't anticipate trying to canter in public until next year or the fall at the earliest.  He is eager to try the canter and it is a very nice, rhythmic true canter when he does, but his coordination in picking it up promptly and holding it for a duration just isn't quite there yet.  He still tends to pick up the canter only in the corners of the arena from a moderate trot, where he is already wanting to lean onto his inside shoulder.  He knows what the cues mean, has no trouble galloping around the pasture, and on the lunge line I can see him thinking about how to move his body, but the coordination just isn't quite on board with balanced canter departs yet, but the important part is that he is willing and eager to try.  In fact, once we have cantered for the day, he keeps offering to pick it up for a few strides at a time the rest of the ride.  We have done some baby jumps just to gauge his reaction (if you can call a 9" tall crossrail a jump), but so far he just happily trots over them and hasn't figured out how to hop over them.

When you work with a horse day after day, it is easy to overlook the progress that you've made until one day you realize that you are doing something as a team that you simply couldn't do just a few weeks or months ago.  Every time I've attempted to clip him, he trusts me to do just a little more.  He acquiesced about having his muzzle trimmed, then his jaw, and now his bridlepath.  The ears are next.  I've gotten him to quietly and readily self-load in the horse trailer (but only at home...  when we're not going anywhere...  and have all the time in the world...  more on that later...)  Within the past few weeks, I suddenly realized that Saxon was bending more consistently, and I could turn him by looking ahead and giving subtle aids instead of a leading rein and insistent outside leg.  Now he is able to hold a nice bend and maintain a trot in smaller circles, too, while staying in a frame.  We have far fewer periods of "being a giraffe" (where he goes with his head up in the air, and his back becomes a springboard).  He can also go long and low at the trot, like a classic old-school hunter, without leaning or yawing on the bit, which is something he couldn't do in February.  Just last week, we tried sidepassing for the first time, and after just attempts at moving one half or the other, Saxon figured out that he could move sideways in a coordinated fashion, properly crossing over himself in the process.  Smart boy!  It's not perfect, but he assimilated the idea, and tries to do it, which is all I could ask of a green, growing 3 year old.  

In fact, we attempted the trail gate the very next day (which I had been putting off, since sidepassing is an important skill to have in manuevering around the gate).  For the non-horsey, trail class is essentially a judged equine obstacle course.  In most cases, the trail "gate" is a length of rope hung between two upright poles or jump standards (it's cheaper and easier than hanging a real gate that won't get tipped over during the process).  You have to unfasten one end, ride through, and refasten it from horseback without getting it tangled around the horse or yourself.  Many horses take exception to seeing the rope "following them" from the corner of their eye or brushing their sides and it's something you have to get them used to.  I have taken him through my trail gate in hand several times and spent some time acclimating him to seeing and feeling the rope.  When we first attempted it astride, I took my time and cued him very methodically, and he performed like a champ.  He was so good, in fact, that I quit for the day then and there.

After a solid week of great rides and perfect trailer loading practice, I had high hopes for his next show outing.  The day of the show, I woke up an hour late thanks to accidentally turning my alarm clock off in my sleep (still don't remember that one), and much of the rest of the show day followed suit.  He apparently spent the night churning and stalking his stall, as the bedding was a sopping mess and all pushed to the outside of the stall, he had barely touched his hay, and he had knocked half his water bucket onto the stall front.  He didn't appear ill or injured, just anxious.  He wouldn't still stand on the cross-ties for me to put his shipping boots on.  I put him in the paddock and let him run around for 5 or 10 minutes to try to get it out of his system before I tried to load him.  In sharp contrast to the previous day before where he marched right onto the trailer without blinking, he refused to load.  What the heck?  I finally got him loaded and we hit the road.  We got to the show 30 minutes before it started.  Since he was so keyed up and anxious, I opted to get him a stall instead of showing out of the trailer.  He wasn't much better in his stall, even with a full hay bag of choice timothy in front of him.  After getting the stall set up, I took him out on the lunge line.  He lunged in the indoor arena like a pro and seemed to settle down quickly once he had something to do.  Since the riding classes were first (in the scary white painted saddlebred outdoor arena with the alleyway entrance, and wrap-around box grandstand), I tacked him up figuring that a nice long ride would take the rest of the edge off of him and help him relax.  He was pretty good in the arena, some giraffe mode, and an especially springy trot. 

The actual show ring was a different story.  It was our first time in the white painted fish bowl that is the Shelby County Saddlebred arena, and Saxon was up and very looky at the surroundings.  When our first pass at the trot involved a playful head toss and thoughts of crow-hopping, I knew placing well wasn't one of the outcomes.  We made it through the class horse side down, and more or less followed the appropriate commands, though not in the quiet manner he does at home.  In our next class, things started looking up.  We positioned ourselves well, and he was starting to relax and carry himself more comfortably, and he made some nice passes.  Surprise, surprise, we pinned first.  I was optimistic about the championship class that followed, since he was starting to get comfortable and go like I know he can.  Well, the surprise was on both of us.  A nice little family had moved into the corner gazebo by the ring, and though I couldn't tell, Saxon clearly identified them as horse attacking cannibals.  He propped at the walk, and shied before we even got near them.  We only managed to get around that corner of the arena once the rest of the horses in the class caught up with him and he felt safe ducking behind them out of sight of the no doubt evil and ravenous family.  The rest of the class was focused on staying horse side down, trying to go at one speed, and trying to get his nose out of the sky.  The judge made a comment in the lineup about our baby moments.  Sigh.  He was back to almost relaxed in our equitation class, but by that point, my thighs had turned to Jello and I just couldn't stay with his big powerful sitting trot.  By the time we left, I think he was fed up with the whole day.  Saxon still hasn't acclimated to trailering.  He loads like a dream at home (when he isn't going anywhere), but he didn't want to get into the moving box to head home.  He wants to stomp around in the trailer, and unfortunately, he is too big for me to put the divider up in my stock-combo trailer, so I have to tie him in the box stall.  His nervous habit makes me nervous, as he wants to turn around in the trailer and gets partway around before the tie stops him.  He even resorted to kicking the back of the trailer whenever I'd stop for a traffic light because he was ticked off that he couldn't turn around.  If I let him loose, though, I'm afraid he'd just slip and slide in his own poop as he paced the trailer.   

Though the show was disappointing for me in terms of his behavior, I got some valuable takehome points from it.  1.  I need to bite the bullet and buy a new trailer.  My old stock combo served me well for Legs and a variety of smaller horses, but it just isn't just doesn't fit what Saxon needs.  I think a 2 or 3 horse slant load with extra height would be better both in terms of his comfort on the road and loading ease.  2.  We need to work on tying.  He is super in cross-ties, but tends to bounce back and forth like a pingpong ball when tied straight, especially when he's in unfamiliar places.  He doesn't pull back, at least, but it is very difficult to groom and tack a moving target while keeping your feet out from under his!  (I have the black and purple marks on my foot to prove it.)  3.  Regardless of which trailer it is, we need to practice spending more time in the trailer (eg eating his dinner or just chilling out for 5 or 10 minutes) and taking short trips (even just around the block) until he starts to get more comfortable with the process.  4.  We need to go on more field trips.  This includes both show and non-show activities.  Again, we just need to get used to the sights and sounds in the world so that he starts to relax more readily in new settings.  5.  I need to keep working on faking good equitation on his powerful trot.  I can tell that my leg strength has improved immensely from riding him; now I need to focus on my upper body (and work on developing a slower sitting trot with him, besides speed and tempo differences in general).  6.  I just need to ride and work with him as much as I can during these formative years of his.  Conveniently, the school semester just wound down, and despite my jam-packed weekend schedule, I should have a little more time through the week now to ride him (and keep my good old girl Legs in some sort of riding shape, too).  Now that I have my "horsework homework" assignment, stay tuned to see how we perform with it...   

Monday, March 12, 2012

Adventures in Toddlerhood

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  My apologies, as this is a rather long one.  You might want to grab a drink and a snack if you plan to read this all in one sitting!

Saxon has an enormous capacity to astound me with his intelligence, willingness, and wisdom that far outstrips his age and experience.  I have recently discovered, though, that sometimes a temperamental toddler lurks beneath his sweet and trusting demeanor.

A lot has happened since my last blog post even though just 5 weeks have elapsed on the calendar.  Daylight Saving Time has just taken effect (I love DST and wish this country would adopt it year-round to increase the amount of usable daylight in the evening, but that's a discussion for another time and place...).  Winter tried to have its final say with last week's snowfall (which was preceded by tornadoes and followed by summer-like temperatures).  School marches on and I am waiting to find out about acceptance for DH school.  I got a new (23 year old beloved but POS) car that I am foolishly thinking about turning into another racecar (perhaps a subject for another blog).  I finally succeeded in my quest to find a new jumping saddle.  Saxon has continued in his riding and showing pursuits, both impressing and terrifying me in the process.

Saxon loves to be brushed and stroked, but dislikes being curried and despises having his belly groomed.  (In contrast, Legs loves a vigorous curry session and is absolutely in heaven when you scratch and curry her ventral midline - she stretches her back up, leans into you and tries to return the favor by grooming you back).  Saxon seems to be more sensitive-skinned and ticklish than the old mare.  It's easy enough to work around except for one small detail - he makes a habit of sleeping sternal in the mud and in the urine soaked spot he makes in the middle of his stall (boys...).  I can't exactly leave the filth crusted on his belly, but he really hates the process of having it removed.  I have learned to work around it by gently sweeping off the worst of it with a curry in a straight line, and then using handfuls of baby wipes to clean the area up the rest of the way.  Talk about babying your horse...  Now Kroger has started sending me diaper and formula coupons because I bought baby wipes there once.  I'm pretty sure there isn't a set of Huggies big enough for my baby though it would make stall cleaning a breeze.

Sometime in early February, I noticed a peculiar and intermittent pattern when I rode Saxon.  Some days he would kick at his belly when asked to trot.  One day it even escalated to humping his back and mild bucking.  Other days he was just fine.  The first time I noticed it was when I used a new girth with my dressage saddle.  He spent much of the ride kicking squarely at the girth with his hind legs until I gave up.  Given his touchiness about his belly, I concluded that he just hated that girth and decided not to use it anymore (it was a Professional's Choice with the thin neoprene backing).  He did it again with different equipment, so I wasn't sure what to think.  Was it physical discomfort?  Was he throwing a tantrum like a petulant toddler?  Was he allergic to neoprene or intolerant of anything but the softest and most thickly padded girths?  Dismounting and readjusting his tack only helped somewhat.  He wouldn't abate when disciplined nor would he desist if I ignored it and kept riding.  In my logical and methodical fashion, I started to keep a log of when I worked him, what we did, and what tack I used to see if there was a pattern.  He was fine with my old jumping saddle (leather double elastic girth) and my synthetic western saddle (felt-lined cinch).  He was pleasant as could be on the lunge line with a surcingle (cotton webbing).  He didn't care if he was wearing splint boots, galloping boots, or polo wraps.  It was my Wintec Pro dressage saddle that set him off, no matter what girth I used with it (Pro Choice, Wintec neoprene/elastic, fuzzy and stretchy fleece/elastic).  I borrowed my friend's Wintec 500 dressage (it has the same tree and general structure) and he was fine.  I didn't find anything obviously wrong with the tree on mine, though I do have the medium-wide gullet in mine and she has the medium in hers, which could be part of it.  I later tried a thick foam and fleece half pad with my dressage saddle/medium wide plate and he was fine with that arrangement.  He measured just into medium wide, but I am more inclined to believe his behavior than the cardboard gauge when he's sending a message to me THAT clearly, so I will switch out the gullet plates and try him again in mine with the medium.  He has wonderful natural ability for dressage, but if he won't tolerate a dressage saddle for whatever reason, that kind of kills his prospects for a successful dressage career...  At least I solved that problem - I was getting worried there!

His belly-kicking episodes coincided with my jumping saddle search, causing me further worry about finding a saddle that met both his and my criteria.  I have had my old Collegiate Graduate for nearly 17 years; I bought it new with the proceeds of my baby-sitting jobs when I was a young teenager.  I couldn't even begin to count the number of riding hours, number of jumps, or number of trips around the show ring that saddle has seen.  It has served me extremely well through Legs' whole riding career, but it is dated and old by today's standards, so I figure I am due a new saddle every decade and a half or so, and having the knee rolls and thigh blocks found on modern saddles seems like a nice luxury.

Last year I bought a second-hand Dover Circuit Elite.  I bought it based on good recommendations, and a good experience with one when showing IHSA.  I sat in one at WEG and it seemed nice.  But the two happiest moments I had with my particular saddle were the day it arrived, and the day that I sold it.  It had a two-toned reddish chestnut-caramel effect because of the different leathers they used, which I could have lived with, but...   The quality of the construction was good, and the leather on the seat and knee rolls was supple with nice grip and texture, but the leather on the flaps was thick, stiff, and had about as much grip as a sheet of glass.  No amount of cleaning and conditioning made a difference, and since this saddle was already a couple years old, that was as broken-in as it was going to get.  I had to use a riser pad to get it balanced on Larry and it wasn't that great of a fit on Legs, either.  It also tended to put me in a chair-seat position and I was constantly fighting to keep my legs back under me.  I thought I just had developed bad habits until I went back to my old Graduate and found my position magically fixed overnight.  Up for sale it went and I was back to riding in my old relic (in addition to scoring a good deal on that used Wintec Pro dressage) until I decided what to replace it with.

I decided that since my old Collegiate had served me well, a new Collegiate was the way to go.  I researched the variety of models they offered and settled on a couple that seemed to fit the bill.  I thought about one of the convertible gullet models like my dressage saddle, but their higher cost, reports of lower quality leather, and the fact that it has moving parts and I plan to eventually do a lot of jumping in it swayed me towards a traditional tree version.  The Collegiate Laureate had favorable reviews and touted itself as a modern replacement for the Graduate - perfect!  At some stores they retailed for almost as much as my silver covered western show saddle - ouch!  But then I found one tack shop that had them on closeout (no returns) for nearly half that.  I called them and verified it had the features I was looking for, but found out they were sold out of my size.  Rats.  Then I found another online store that had them for over a hundred more, but they did price matching.  Yippee!  My new saddle was delivered the next week.  I tore open the box, pulled out my new saddle, and...  hmmmph.  It didn't look much like the photos online.  The color was more red (not too big of a deal) but the flaps were considerably different.  Instead of forming a smooth line from the pommel, they jutted forwards another 20 degrees.  Thinking it could just be a parallux issue, I tried it on horse #1  (Legs).  The seat and tree balance was very good, but the forward flap stuck out over her shoulders.  I wrapped the billets with old socks to protect the leather from marring and took a brief test ride without stirrups.  (For the record, Legs was delighted that I allowed her to hop a small cross-rail so I could see how it felt over fences).  It rode nicely, but the flaps were all wrong for my legs.  My knee barely touched the knee rolls and the knee blocks were laughably far from where my legs would ever be in that saddle.   I have to speculate that the flap was made with leggy supermodels jumping Grand Prix level fences in mind - certainly not for short to moderate legged 5'4" ladies aspiring to the local and regional levels of the amateur hunter-jumper and hunter pleasure rings.  I sat on it while it was on Saxon, but the fit was no different.  It was comfortable, but the flap looked ridiculous with my legs - like I was a kid trying to ride in mom's saddle.  My initial thought was that they had accidentally sent me a long-flap version, but I couldn't find any evidence that a long-flap version had ever been manufactured.  I contacted the store and after they listened to my complaint and compared photos of my saddle with what it was supposed to look like, they arranged for return shipping and a refund.  Thank goodness customer service still exists!  By now, more research had determined that Collegiate had redesigned the flap this year, so I needed to find a pre-2012 model in order to get one with a normal person flap.  As luck would have it, there was a 16.5" on  eBay.  My old one was a 17", but with my frame, a 16.5" is actually probably a better fit, and my test ride in the brand new 17" had told me that I had plenty of seat room so it became mine.  Since it was used, I don't get the benefit of breaking it in myself, but it seems to have been well-cared for, the leather is quite nice, and the color is in between caramel and havana, so it will coordinate with both of my horses' show bridles - another plus.  Even better, it fits both of my horses, my knees actually touch the knee rolls, and it doesn't put me in a weird riding position.  Since I bought it used, I paid just $10 more than I spent on that new Graduate all those years ago.  Here's hoping it lasts almost as long as that old Graduate!        

Well, my first test ride in the Laureate was a big bucket of fale.  I rode Saxon out in the back field, just as I had two days prior (in the Graduate).  We walked, trotted, and cantered fine.  He was actually trotting in a pretty good frame that day without yawing down and forwards on the bit as he can be prone to.  I asked him to canter to the left (his better direction), for the second time.  Since cantering is still demanding for him, I use his inherent psychology to help him pick it up; I make sure whichever lead I want is the one one the side towards the gate, and ask him when he is circling more or less towards the gate/front of the field rather than towards the back of the field.  Our previous two short canter bouts, he had broken gait  and wanted to stop when we were near the gate (and incidentally, Legs' feed bucket).  This time, I vowed to keep him cantering past the gate.  He tried to slow down, and I pressed him on with my legs.  As I did so, he pulled his head all the way down and humped his back, then immediately cracked his back hard.  Uh oh.  I know this move.  It's the buck he does when he's cantering on the lunge line and he doesn't want to keep going after passing the corner where the barn is, and it's very, um, athletic.  He continued to crack his back harder and harder, and by the fourth or fifth big jump, I knew I was too off balance to stay on.  He veered left and off I plunked to the right, landing on my right hip, shoulder, and then head.  This is why you wear a helmet, my friends.  He cantered on over to the empty feed bucket, I got up, followed him, verified that all of my parts still worked and he wasn't rattled (he didn't seem to think it was any big deal that he had just ejected a human off his back), took a big breath, and got back on.  As I recall, I haven't come off a horse since my QH was a 3 year old with an irrational fear of trucks rumbling down the nearby road - about 5 years ago.  You have to get back on, especially with a youngster, since you can't have them deciding that acting up earns them relaxation and a trip back to the barn.  We spent another 10-15 minutes doing a LOT of trotting, and he had lost the privilege of being allowed to stretch his head and neck down for the moment.  We eventually tried a short canter again with no bucking this time before we quit for the day.

Two days later I mounted up in the front yard.  Right away, I could feel that he was tense and full of himself.  He was trying to jig and shaking his head from side to side.  I kept him at a walk and tried to get him to relax by making him concentrate on bending, circling, and walking over poles.  When he seemed suitably composed, I asked him to trot.  The head snaked down, the back humped, and the hind legs started to leave the ground.  I immediately pulled his head up and kept trying to keep his brain and his feet busy.  When he used the neighbor's car pulling in their driveway as an excuse to try to levitate again, I knew this wasn't going to work.  I pulled him up, dismounted, and took him over to the front paddock.  I secured my reins out of the way, raised my arms and clucked once.  He exploded - running, bucking, and leaping around for 15 straight minutes with his tail over his back while I just stood there in the middle of the paddock with my arms at my sides.  I was not amused that my brilliant, willing, and generally extraordinarily calm Standardbred was channeling his inner Thoroughbred and having fits like an exuberant toddler.  I don't know if it was the weather (it had been unusually warm and windy), a sugar high from the tender green grass sprouting up, the new feed he was on, or if he was just having a case of the terrible two's.  While he is stabled most nights, he is turned out all day with plenty of time and space to run and play.  Perhaps since stodgy old school marm Legs seldom runs and plays with him, he isn't making use of that time to self-exercise.  Whatever it was, he finally settled down and I remounted and actually had a pretty nice ride.          
Riding wise, we're still working primarily on walk-trot work with some canter work when time, footing conditions, and mental outlook permit.  He's starting to figure out how to vary both his tempo and his stride length at the trot, and is steering off the leg well at the walk.  At the trot, the steering off leg varies day to day.  Part of that, I'm sure, is that his very springy way of going makes it hard for me to keep a steady leg position on him.  That's the trade-off for his pretty, floaty trot - sometimes the prettiest movers can be some of the more uncomfortable to ride (there are exceptions, of course, and certainly stilted-moving horses with jack-hammer strides aren't comfortable, but springy, pretty movement can be hard to sit in its own right). Conventional wisdom is that collecting a horse exaggerates their springiness and makes them even less comfortable to ride.  My experience with the last two STBs I've worked with, Brave Guns and Saxon, is the opposite.  When they are in giraffe mode (head up and back stiff and hollow - think about how they travel when in an overcheck), their big trots have a way of catapulting you up out of the tack.  When I get either of them to relax their spine and neck and swing more from their haunches, their trots get more rhythmic and easier to stay with.  With his trot, Saxon is hardly an equitation prospect.  That's not to say that I won't ride him in eq classes, but he wouldn't be my first choice if I had the choice.  In fact, there was a walk-trot pattern class I could have entered at a recent show, but when I saw that the pattern called for a sitting trot without stirrups, entering that class was a definite no-go.  Maybe later when his trot is more regular and we've worked on that stuff more, but not at this stage!  Since then, I've been working on his tempo and collection at the trot, and also experimenting with different back pads to smooth out the experience for both of us.  I'm sure he doesn't appreciate when I get out of sync and bounce on his kidneys any more than I appreciate when his trot jars mine!  I made him a fleece half pad with a 2" egg-crate foam core that seems to help, and the back pad I use on Legs also seems to make a difference.  That may be part of his beef with my dressage saddle - it has the Cair panels which tend to increase the rebound while they redistribute the weight load.

Showing wise, we've been back at it.  We went to the March follow-up to the show we did in February.  When he got off the trailer, he rubbed his head on my shoulder vigorously, but I figured his fly mask was itching him and didn't think much of it.  (Since I have a stock trailer with open sides, I ship my horses in a fly mask to keep dust and hay from blowing into their eyes.)  We walked around the arena for a good 20-25 minutes.  He seemed relatively relaxed about the whole process and was quite pleased with himself when he successfully mooched a handful of treats from a bystander on the rail.  After I settled him into his stall, I noticed his left eye was a little squinty and had some tearing.  I saw a small curly hair in his eye and attempted to blot his eye and help him work the offending bit out.  He seemed better, so I figured it was no big deal.  We went in the same classes as the last time, starting with the English Green Horse Walk-Trot.  Saxon was spooky about one corner of the ring where a few folks were sitting on chairs which put them under the height of the railing.  You could glimpse their movement between the slats of the rail, but couldn't clearly see who or what they were, so I can't fault him for his concern. To make matters worse, sunlight shining through the skylights cast bright squares in the dark footing, which he was afraid to pass through.  Before they started the judging class, he was rattled after just passing the "hiding under the railing people" and I actually had to ask a few people along the rail to pet him so he could see that they wouldn't eat him.  The icing on  the cake was that there 12 entries crammed into the small arena - nearly half of them were participants in the prior Green Rider Walk-Trot who did not belong in the Green Horse class.  Grrrrrr.  It was a debacle with ponies and novice kids bouncing around, prancing saddleseat horses careening around, big Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods everywhere - bumper cars on horseback.  I did the best I could to keep him out of traffic (though he chose not to steer off the leg terribly well today) and not get him trapped by the "scary" parts of the arena.  Still, there were multiple times where ponies and horses ran up his rear end and he pinned his ears and swished his tail in warning.  He never actually kicked, but he was less than pleased about the insult.  I was quite happy that we managed to pin 5th out of that class of 12, given the circumstances.  Between riding classes, I noticed he would still squint some out of that left eye, then he would seem just fine.  That little round bit was still right there.  He spooked BIG at a horse trailer on the move as we waited outside the ring before our next riding class - daylight between me and the saddle before I refound my balance.  He was too snorty and scared for me to ride over to the scary thing, so I dismounted and led him around before I had to go in the ring.  The walk trot pleasure and eq classes were a little better; since they were for adults it eliminated the pinball ponies.  We pinned in both, though he was in catapult mode at the trot so my eq definitely sub-par that day.  He redeemed himself by being a superstar in the halter classes again.  I don't think he was quite the judge's taste, but that happens with horse showing, and the important thing was that he behaved well and did what he was supposed to (And this time I positioned myself away from the girl who kept hitting her horse with a crop in halter and showmanship!  I'm sure she means well and is frustrated, but I don't think anyone's ever taken the time to explain to her that beating her horse is not going to help it calm down and behave in the show ring).  It was rather embarrassing that the judge noticed Saxon's squinting, too, and basically gave him a vision test right there in the show ring.  Yes, he did something to his eye in the trailer.  These things happen.  Nonetheless, we still pinned high enough in Open Halter that we were awarded Reserve Champion in that division for the show series despite only having done 2 of the 5 shows!  After closer inspection of his eye and a call to my vet, it turned out that Saxon had managed to scratch his cornea in the trailer while wearing his fly mask.  I know he's a talented horse, but that's not really the type of talent I had in mind!  What had initially looked like a circular hair was actually a round scratch about the size of the tip of a click-type ball-point pen.  That would certainly explain the excess spookiness.  After a night of worry, Bute, opthalmic ointment, and a fly mask, by the next morning the round mark was barely visible, and two days later you'd never have suspected anything had happened.  Thankfully, he tolerated 5 days of eye ointment pretty well (the trick was to do it while he was eating his grain).

After a few days off due to the show and the eye injury, we were back to riding and training.  New horses had arrived on the farm and he was distracted by wanting to meet them, investigate their humans, evaluate their trailer, etc.  We had another "up" ride as a result, but no real bucking (thank heavens!) and he worked out of it well.  We had some small break-throughs by the end of the week - he started to engage his hindquarters and really carry himself for several strides at a time. And as a result, his trot was much more rideable.  He was getting better adjustability at his trot, as he was also starting to figure out how to collect his trot so that I could almost sit it.

There was another show this past weekend at the same venue, but run by a different group.  I probably won't have another show to take him to for a month or two, so I did some classes with him on Sunday.  We showed out of the trailer for the first time, and he was a little anxious about being tied to the trailer for extended periods of time.  Having hay in front of him and taking him on short field trips to lunge and/or hand grazed helped some.  He was again a superstar in hand.  I was especially proud of him in the (non-Arab) Sport Horse in Hand class, as he stood like a stone while the judge made copious notes on his score sheet.  The other horse in the class was a fancy Friesian whose price tag undoubtedly numbered high into five digits, so I knew we had no shot at winning, but I was super proud of how well he performed the triangle and stood up for me, and I got some nice comments on his score sheet, too.

To follow up on his great behavior in hand, he tried to kill me when we warmed up under saddle.  It was just us and the Friesian in the ring at that moment, and I guess to Saxon, the huge black horse with feathers and hair flying everywhere and the ground shaking under his hooves (he did NOT tread lightly!) looked like some sort of supernatural monster trying to run him down.  We had barely started walking around the ring when Saxon shook his head and tried to bolt.  I reined him in, and he went up.  Oh %&#$!  He started wheeling and rearing in a panic.  I was trying to dismount, but he wouldn't stop rearing.  The problem with horses that rear is that horses aren't good at solving physics equations.  They may know how high they can rear out in the pasture, but seldom factor in the weight of the rider.  If they go up too high, they can lose their balance and topple over backwards - nothing good ever comes of that.  The rider on the Friesian pulled up, albeit near us, and I managed to slide off between rears.  The guy was very nice, and his horse was, too; apparently Saxon just thought the horse was some sort of terrifying monster.  I don't even know if he classified the Friesian as a fellow equine. Or maybe he thought the Friesian wanted to joust with him and he wanted no part of it.  Well, I can clearly rule out Medieval Times as a possible alternate career path for him.  Saxon was still rolling his eyes and prancing around nervously after I slid off.  I couldn't even run up my stirrups. I tried to lead him around the ring, but his head and his tail were bolt upright and he was rolling his eyes and snorting in fear.  (When Saxon puts his tail over his back, he doesn't mince around - he puts tail set Saddlebreds to shame).  I came back with my lunge line and lunged him in the arena.  Once the Friesian had left, he finally settled down and was willing to walk and trot on the lunge line in a relaxed and non-panicked fashion.  By then I had no time to actually ride him in the arena, but at least I had gotten him in there on the lunge line.

I had ZERO expectations for our first under saddle class.  There were just a few of us so it was easier to find our own spot on the rail (thankfully the Friesian was not among them or I would have scratched from the class).  I just wanted to make it through the class horse side down, and was planning my exit strategy if things went poorly.  Good old Saxon decided that, in the absence of the big black monster, all was right with the world again and he walked and trotted around the ring as nice as you please, collecting the blue ribbon in the process.  He was nice and quiet in our second riding class, too, though he was pretty tired and I didn't feel like picking at him about going in a frame or collecting, but we got third, and I was happy that he stayed relaxed and cooperative.            

Just about everyone at the show asked about his freeze brand. (They did love his registered name, though :)  I do hate that he has a big "bar code" on his neck marking him as a STB (or a Mustang, though theirs uses symbols instead of letters and numerals), which means that any halfway knowledgeable judge or horseperson knows exactly what breed he is before judging him on his own merits.   I know that it makes horse ID at the track much easier and showing isn't a factor in that thought process.  Just a tiny fraction of Standardbreds see the show ring versus racing, sales, and breeding where quick and positive horse ID is of prime importance, so I certainly don't fault the USTA for marking the horses this way.  I think for showing, though, I'm going to try to find a brown permanent marker or some sort of spray to cover it with, since temporary hair dye didn't work.  I am proud that he is a Standardbred, but I'd really rather have him be evaluated on his own merits first before his breeding comes up.       

So that's been our past five weeks - adventures in toddler-hood.  Much of the time he acts like an experienced, mature horse, though the past month has been befraught with quite a few fractious toddler moments.  All I can do is cut him some slack about it (he doesn't even really turn 3 until next month), and walk the fine line between not pushing him too hard and working with him/exposing him to new situations in a calm and confidence-building manner.  I hope that doesn't mean that I have to buy him his own pet Friesian, though...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A First Time for Everything

They say there's a first time for everything.  Usually, of course, that doesn't mean all at once, but sometimes...  I decided to take the plunge and enter Saxon in his first horse show.  It ended up being a day full of lot of firsts for both of us.

My plan (by now you've probably figured out that I almost always have a plan) was to take Saxon on a nice little trip to this show, let him soak in the show environment and all of the action, enter a couple in hand classes, and maybe try a riding class if things were going especially well.  The show was part of a local winter show series held at the Shelby County Fairgrounds.  This particular fairgrounds really deserves a nicer title than fairgrounds.  It boasts two indoor arenas, permanent (and very nice) stabling, a large Saddlebred arena with box seats and a grandstand that hosts numerous rated ASB shows, all basically smack in the middle of downtown Shelbyville (the self-appointed Saddlebred capitol of the world). Being February, and wintertime and all, this show was held in the main indoor, which is long but narrow and has a 4 foot tall slatted rail with a row of stalls on either long side.  This means that spectators like to congregate all along (and over) the rail, with a menagerie of dogs, ponies, children, parents with cameras, ringing cell phones, etc. lining this railing.  It is a pretty high-distraction environment for a horse show, and not exactly what I would have hand picked for Saxon's first show experience.  It's February, though, and I was excited to see how Saxon took to showing, so it's not as if I had a whole lot of other options.

I arrived about 45 minutes early despite that the written directions indicated that the last two turns were a right then a left, instead of a left then a right!  It's a good thing my fuzzy memory of the one time I'd shown here before served me well!  There was nobody in the show office when I checked, so I opted to walk Saxon around before getting a stall assignment.  He was nervous and attentive, but manageable off the trailer.  Rather than struggle to declothe a potentially dancing horse, I just walked him around the arena in his full shipping regalia.  He did a lot of pausing, looking, and sniffing things, but didn't seem especially spooky or unnerved.  I ran across one of my HCSC friends, so I was able to get a stall near hers.  (I considered it a good omen that the stall card adjacent to mine read "Legacy.")  He stalked around the stall and I was barely able to remove shipping boots and head bumper.  Apparently hay fixes all - as soon as I put his hay bag and water bucket in his stall, he was a happy camper.  I registered for three in hand classes, leaving an open check just in case.  Most shows start off with the halter and showmanship classes, while the horses are still all clean and free of saddle marks.  For whatever reason, this show put the in hand classes in the middle of the day.  Though there were several under saddle classes I could have taken Saxon in before Open Halter (class 32), I figured it would be most prudent to see how showing in hand went before mounting up (or not).  I occupied myself watching a few classes, studying the showmanship pattern, getting my stuff out of the trailer, and braiding Saxon's mane.  But the show dragged on.  He was still a little nervous and dancy in the stall, so I booted him up and took him out on the lunge line.  We walked around the empty Saddlebred arena (you enter through a tunnel - it's really quite freaky), and I lunged him in the corner.  It was about the third or fourth time I've lunged him.  He was doing a lovely toe flicking trot and listening quite well, despite traffic noise from the adjacent street.  We practiced our showmanship pattern a couple times - perfection.  They were still only on class 14 or so.  I checked the showbill.  Class 18 was Green Horse Walk-Trot.  Hmmmm.     

There are a multitude of reasons why I shouldn't have ridden Saxon in that class.  It was his first class, his first show, his first time in an indoor arena, his first time being ridden in the company of multiple other horses...  A green horse class has the potential to turn into a real rodeo if one greenie sets off the whole lot.  I'd only ridden him in my hunt saddle once before, usually favoring my cushier, grippier dressage saddle.  By this point, the rail was absolutely crowded with spectators and distractions.  I didn't even have time to warm him up under saddle.  There were really only two reasons to just do it - he's a Standardbred, and he's Saxon.  Every once in a while I just dare myself to do something against my better judgement.  Saddle, bridle, helmet, boots, and number - check.  I borrowed a mounting block as the prior class was starting and convinced a stranger to have the show office add me to the class.  I didn't even know how many were in the class.  Saxon picked his way through the melee along the rail, completely unfazed by the dogs, children, and other horses.  I ran into another HCSC friend.  "Is this Saxon?  I thought you were just showing halter?"  "Yeah, I was, but I figured what the heck..."  We headed into the ring, and when I saw seven other horses join us on the rail, my stomach dropped.  "OK self, just keep him calm and out of trouble.  Just finish horse side down and try to stay relaxed and out of everyone's way."  We were able to make a couple laps before the judging started, so Saxon got to sniff the signs, stare at the hyper kids, nuzzle a man with a camera, and nicker at the ponies before the class got started.  "And you are now being judged at the walk."  Here we go!  They called for the first trot, and we rounded the far corner by the food booth where they had just tossed something sizzling on the grill, and an ambulance siren sounded from the road outside the ring.  Seriously?  Does this have to happen right this instant?  And Saxon... Saxon didn't care.  He just trotted steadily along, ears pricked, listening, interested in the stuff going on, but unconcerned.  We had to use our corners smartly, and circle a couple times to try to stay spread out (and a girl on a paint seemed to think that she needed to mirror every one of those moves we made to not be stuck to her side.  sheesh), but he listened, made an honest attempt to (mostly) go on the bit.  When she cut across the ring next to us drill formation style for the third time when I tried to lose her, he gave one mini Saxon buck (his version is snaking his head around without his feet leaving the ground), but he stopped when I sank into my seat and heels and took up slightly on my reins).  He was a little looky the second direction, especially at two girls unfurling a stall curtain outside the ring, but quite composed all in all.  We got to the lineup, and he stood like a stone.  They called out the placings, starting with sixth, then fifth, then fourth, then third.  We were still standing there.  Then second.  Still there.  Then first, there it was, our very first class of our very first horse show ever, and Saxon had won it!  I laughed, nearly cried out, hugged his neck, and he stood there sweetly, ears pricked, like this was an expected sort of occurrence.

Given our extreme success in our first outing, I decided to enter him in the Open Adult Walk-Trot Pleasure and Eq classes.  They were run concurrently, so it meant one trip would be judged for both classes.  He was a little less consistent in pace (a lot of which was because the girl and horse entered in the next class was just hanging out in the corner of the show ring and Saxon wanted to stop and check them out every time we went near that corner), and I felt like my leg was all over the place with his springy trot, but I tried to give him a positive, sympathetic ride and we held things together well, earning a 3rd for the pleasure class and winning the equitation.  You certainly wouldn't have guessed him as a green three year-old with just under two months riding experience on his first trip off the farm. 

Well in hand seemed like no big deal considering we'd gone and tackled the hard stuff first.  I had told some people he was just three, and that this was not only his first horse show, but his first time off the farm.  He made me look like a liar.  One girl guessed his age at 10 or 12 and thought he was an experienced show horse.  I can see why.  Heck, he could have fooled me.  He handled the halter class like a seasoned professional.  He stood up nicely, standing quietly and attentively, even when the judge inspected him.  He trotted off smoothly and easily in hand, and lined up quietly again.  Out of the nine horses in the Open Halter class, guess who took home the blue ribbon again?  I'll give you a hint - it was the Standardbred!!!  He was just as much a consummate professional in Sport Horse in Hand, even trotting the triangle, and we took second.  In Showmanship, he put in a near perfect pattern, but due to bad luck, we were next to a very fidgety horse in the lineup.  That horse kept dancing and circling, and swinging her rump next to Saxon.  To make matters worse, the handler would reach around and swat the mare with a riding crop in Saxon's general direction!  Repeatedly - not just a couple times!  [sarcasm] Yes, why wouldn't swatting your horse with a crop work to make it stand still? [/sarcasm].  I tried to say something to her about her upsetting my horse, but she ignored me.  She wasn't being malicious or anything; I think she was just really frustrated and didn't know what to do about it.  Unfortunately, I couldn't escape it as there was nowhere else to go in the line up (all seven of us were crowded into the short side of the ring), and no ring steward to approach.  Saxon tried to behave, but he couldn't help catching her anxiety and I had to circle him twice to stay out of the fidgeting mare's way.  I found that he would stand better if I positioned myself between her and him, but it meant I was working the judge from the wrong side in the lineup.  Oh well, it's better than him dancing around too or getting kicked by the mare.  We ended up third, and I was satisfied with how hard he tried to behave despite it all.

All told, we entered six classes, earning 3 firsts, 1 second, and 2 thirds.  What really impressed me was how incredibly mature Saxon acted throughout the entire show.  I knew he was a good horse, but to behave that well in such a new and different environment far exceeded any of my expectations.  Though there were a few other riding classes later in the day that I contemplated entering, I ultimately concluded that I just couldn't ask him to act any better than he already was, and I didn't want to sour him on showing by making him tired and cranky.  He was cheerful and obedient throughout the show, and I wanted that to be the take home message for him.  There will be other shows - as fabulous as he is - there will be MANY other shows in the future, and I think we got off to a fantastic start.  We capped off our day by sharing an apple, a little hand grazing, and getting a few photos with our ribbons before heading home.

As an aside, on of our aisle-mates with some nice looking Saddlebreds spotted his freeze brand during the day.  "Is that a Standardbred?"  "Why yes he is."  "He's GORGEOUS.  Absolutely beautiful.  I just love his look.  And a chestnut, too."  She wanted to know about his breeding, and whether he was fast (sadly, no, that's his one shortcoming, though it worked out rather well for me), and thought he'd be lovely in roadster.  Funny she should mention that... ;-)