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!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Black and Blue: 13 Months of "Touring" With Heavymetal Thunder

I love a good list.  And a well laid out spreadsheet makes me feel just a bit giddy inside.  As the offspring of a librarian and a research scientist, planning, organization, and prioritizing are in my blood.  How could they not be?  Even so, I've never been much for grand public proclamations of New Year's Resolutions and goals.  It seems if I try to make them public, life has a peculiar way of dealing a backhanded blow that knocks some of them into unattainability.  Sure, I may still manage to meet many of them, but I just don't like blank boxes on the checklist when all is said and done...

Internally, I know what I want to achieve, and I know there's a cause and effect relationship of inputs necessary to achieve the desired outputs.  Most humans are driven by something - desire for love, wealth, fame, happiness, companionship, career success, competitive achievement, etc.  Who is ever 100% happy with their current lot in life?  Not many, I suspect.  It seems there's always something most people would change about their situation at any point in time.  Starting a new calendar with a fresh grid of new months and new days makes a good excuse for a new beginning and reaffirming the quest for perfection - the reason that a new year spawns so many resolutions for change, albeit change that may or may not last (a day, a week, a year, a lifetime...?).  The thing to remember about one's lot in life is that it's pretty unlikely that you're ever going to be 100% happy about every single thing in life at a given point in time.  By all means, try to change the things that you feel are important to change.  And if you are a "New Years Resolution" kind of person, then use it as your impetus.  Just realize that in life, you have to take the bad with the good, the black with the blue.  Just to round out the cliches, it's like seeing the glass as half full while acknowledging that it is also half empty.     

Since starting a new calendar is also a good excuse to review the old one, I want to take this new calendar as an opportunity to take a realistic look at my 2012. My last post hit some of the highlights from the tail end of the year.  Here is a succinct month by month review of the good and the bad, the blue and the black. 

December.  I travel to New Jersey to look at a 2 year old red-headed Standardbred recommended to me by my good friend H.  She's an excellent equine matchmaker, as it turns out.  With help from H and Saxon's owner/trainer I drive him, break him to saddle on the track, like him a lot, and take him home.  The horse, Heavymetal Thunder (Saxon), the primary subject of this blog, becomes my best Christmas present ever!  

January.  It was the mildest winter I can recall since moving to KY.  It gave me plenty of time to work with my new now officially 3 year-old  (All racehorses officially celebrate their birthdays on January 1st regardless of whether they were actually born in January or June.  It makes for easier recordkeeping and race entries).  We were still very early in the riding training process, but he was a quick learner, especially when it came to in hand work.  We worked on a lot of trust and cooperation exercises, like trail obstacles in hand.  I managed to get on his back every single day for over two months until the flu sidelined me.  (Some of those days were merely sitting on him in the stall or walking, steering, and stopping in the barn aisle due to inclement weather, but I still managed to get on him every day in one fashion or another.)  I spent most of my riding time in my synthetic western or dressage saddles because they afforded me the most grip in trying to ride his lofty, high-impulsion trot.  He had a lofty stride and tended to go a little high headed.  I couldn't sit his trot.  Not even sort-of.  I started making roadster silks for him because I thought he might be fun to do roadster under saddle with (and I figured his trot made him a pretty poor candidate for western pleasure, one of my favorite alternate/cross-training disciplines).  Even though he was very green and far from polished as a show horse, I attempted to take him to an indoor schooling show to see how he'd handle the unfamiliar setting and give me a better idea of what we should work on together.  The truck stalled on me before I even made it to the end of my road, ending that aspiration. 

February.  Still mild.  Saxon continued to do well in his training, getting the hang of moving off leg cues, turning, slowing down, basic transitions, etc.  We replaced a bad sensor on the truck.  I managed to take Saxon to an indoor schooling show.  He exceeded even my wildest dreams.  An out of character moment of boldness inspired me to enter him in the green horse walk-trot class prior to the in hand classes I had planned to start with.  Without any warmup, without any prior ring exposure (or experience in an indoor arena) other than leading him around the ring earlier that morning, we entered the class of 8.  I really didn't know what to expect from him.  He handled it like a pro.  And won the class.  Even after a full season of riding, showing, and working with Saxon, that one still gets me.  Three year-old rookie horses with only a few weeks of riding training just aren't supposed to do that!  (Not that I'm complaining, mind you!)

March.  We showed again.  Saxon was still good, though he scratched his cornea in the horse trailer and was squinty-eyed and a little looky.  We did another show (his first time tied to the trailer instead of getting a stall).  He was pretty anxious about that part.  I get my feet stepped on.  As I have since come to expect from him, Saxon still handled the in hand classes like a complete gentleman. He had a big freak-out when warming up in the ring under saddle, choosing to stand up on his hind legs and lose his mind in response to a cantering Friesian.  We recovered and placed well under saddle in our actual classes, but it left me a little more wary of my young horse.

April.  Saxon celebrates his actual 3rd birthday.  We did one show.  We got there late (I overslept).  It was the spookiest arena he'd been in to date and I didn't get to show it to him ahead of time.  We had some baby moments of balking, small crowhops, and general lookiness.  He had one great class where he held it together (I tailed another horse the whole time and it seemed to calm him down) and won it.  Then he saw a well-behaved family (evil, ravenous & horse eating!) during the next class.        

May.   Saxon went through something of a baby phase from April-June, being less consistent and more rambunctious than he was when he first arrived.  We went on a few field trips for experience.  A new trailer solved our trailering anxiety woes.  Saxon learned the basics of cantering and sidepassing.  We introduced some more trail obstacles.

June.  Saxon is starting to get downright lazy under saddle.  We were attacked by bees.  We go to a few shows and try some new things.  Saxon makes me proud by winning his first trail and pattern classes like a pro (and we had to canter).  Three days later he informs me in no uncertain terms that he does not like carnivals or "truck tug of war" then follows that up four days later by behaving like a pro again.   

July.  We win a halter class out of 11 horses, though Saxon continues his mistrust of carnivals.  Later that month, Saxon's brain proves water-soluble and we have a meltdown at a rainy show. Bad things happen.

August.  We do one show.  I kneel in poison ivy.  My knee swells up like a balloon.  We can't go to nationals due to school and other factors.  Saxon gets kicked in the leg, but recovers uneventfully.  Saxon gets a haircut.   

September.  We go to more shows.  We attend our first nighttime show and our first "gaited" show (oops).  Saxon's starting to feel like a real show horse.  He makes the workout in a class of 9 and places 2nd.  We do costume class for the first time.  We have our first all weekend showing experience.  Saxon knocks me over and steps on my ankle between shows.  I suck it up, take a bunch of Advil, wrap my foot and keep showing.  Saxon overcomes his fear of the spooky white fishbowl Saddlebred arena and handles it with great success.  We place 1st and 2nd out of several classes with 10 or more horses and win two reserve championships.  We try western pleasure at a show and he loves it.  Saxon starts to think that jogging is way better than trotting.

October.  We show almost every weekend.  Saxon wins his first high point championships - OCSC High Point Champion in Halter and English.  Then he wins the HCSC Adult English high point.  He gives me a black eye one day while I'm applying hoof polish.  We go to our first out of state 2 day show (with Standardbred classes).  It's our first show with other Standardbreds in attendance.  He is on his best behavior.  We win the western horsemanship.  (Did I mention that he's really starting to like this western thing?)  He places 5th out of 23 in trail (under very spooky conditions).  We make the callbacks in a huge WT hunter under saddle class of 26, then place 3rd in the finals.  I was shocked that we'd made the call-backs and even more shocked to get 3rd.  STBs take the top 3 spots.  Woot!  Our fear of Friesians has diminished into ear pinning when they pass, but not freakouts.  Progress!  We go to our first hunter show (WT poles division) and get 1st or 2nd in every class.  I am asked if Saxon is a Warmblood.  At our final show of the season, we finish the show season the way we started it - winning a green horse walk/trot class (actually, by winning all 3 of our flat classes).

November.  We meet the editor in chief of Horse Illustrated.  I have a photos shoot with both of my horses.  Saxon and I are the fall cover photo of their Facebook page.  (How cool is that!?)  I finally go to the doctor about my foot (see September/my stepped on ankle).  My first doctor suggests "the prayer method."  I see a specialist and undergo a myriad of diagnostics.

December.  I am given a walking boot/cast and orders not to ride, run (or just about any other form of exercise), or drive stick.  (The things I love to do most in life.)  Within a week, I am ride my faithful mare Legs without stirrups (My defense is that she's a former therapeutic riding horse.  And I need her therapy!).  Saxon puts up with my club foot, too, but I still barely manage any riding time this month.  I manage to drive stick, too.  I haven't run since September.  I ride both horses on the 30th (their last official ride as an 18 year-old and 3 year-old, respectively).  Saxon hasn't been ridden in weeks and there is snow on the ground.  I have to throw snowballs at him to get him to trot (jog lazily) on the lunge line.  He's an angel under saddle.  WT and even a half dozen strides of canter on each lead.  He remembers everything perfectly.  I love this horse!  And, of course, Legs is Legs.  I love that mare, too, though that should pretty much go without saying.  I've all but confirmed her sainthood already... 

January.  Well it's a bit early to summarize that month, now isn't it! Time will tell how my ankle will fare.  (I tore one of the ligaments in my ankle nearly completely when Saxon stepped on it.  Ligaments heal slower than bones.  This is going to take a long time.)  For those of you wondering why I went so long before seeing a doctor about my foot...  If you are a long-time reader, you know that I'm stubborn.  But if you want more details...  I basically assigned myself "Bute, wrapping, and restricted activity" to see if it would heal on its own.  Ace bandaging (which worked better than the initial medically prescribed splint - I think the doc underestimates the wrapping skills of horse people), OTC anti-inflammatories, and no running.  Alas, it did not heal, but I wanted to finish out the show season and was sure (and right on that count) that I would be barred from riding for an extended period of time once I saw a doctor.  By dropping my stirrups a hole, keeping it firmly wrapped, and a maintaining a careful ibuprofen regimen, riding was tolerable, albeit probably not therapeutic for my foot.  If you jump ahead to the February entry, maybe you can understand why, after coming so far during Saxon's rookie show season, I wanted to finish out.  I rationalized that he's only a rookie horse once, and I basically have all winter to heal (and so here we are)...    

February.  Using my clairvoyance to see into the future, I foresee a trip to New Jersey to visit my STB friends from across the country.  I foresee a fun evening with a big celebration and a whole lot of fun.  I foresee a bunch of big trophies and ribbons for a certain red headed Standardbred to celebrate all of his accomplishments during his first year as a riding horse.  Now don't you want to stick around and find out more!?  Because it hasn't happened yet, that means you still have time to make plans to join the fun! 

When my rose-colored glasses get too rosy and I long too much for something in the past or something that someone else has, I like to remind myself that life is not an a la carte endeavor.  Some choices and situations are a package deal.  In 2012, Saxon and I had lots of "blue" moments, such as blue ribbons and blue ribbon accomplishments & learning: standing for mounting, negotiating obstacles, going to our first horse show, establishing different speeds at different gaits, learning to collect, learning lateral work, cantering, testing new skills through new horse show classes, clipping muzzle and ears, learning to trailer calmly, learning to work together (...because the sum of one's equestrian life surely isn't measured solely by the opinion of one horse show judge on a given day).  There were also a lot of "black" moments (stepped on feet, equine meltdowns, scratched corneas, bee stings, poison ivy, black eyes, foot injuries, etc.).  But that's life.  It's neither all perfectly good, nor perfectly bad.  Or, to quote cheesy TV theme songs from the '80s "You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have The Facts of Life, The Facts of Life"  And now all of you are going to be humming that and muttering at me under your breath the rest of the day.  Sorry.  The takeaway is to remember that life is neither all good nor all bad, but you should definitely take the time to enjoy the ride and appreciate its complexities in the process.  And for me and Saxon, all in all, 2012 was a pretty great ride.