Early morning at the barn

I’ve spent the last week hacking Gina out in the hay field in preparation for this weekend’s hunter pace. I usually like to spend lots of time hacking out and not a lot of time in the arena; this just isn’t possible when I arrived at the barn around 7 PM after work.

Sometimes, when my bed is warm and it’s pitch black outside, I don’t feel very motivated to go ride my horses. When my alarm goes off, I want to roll over and ignore it, and snuggle against Johnny’s warm back. But most of the time, I lay awake, quietly calculating time in my head. If I leave by 6, I’ll be there by 7, even if the traffic is stupid in Owasso. Figure 30 minutes to groom and tack up, 45 minutes to ride, an hour to get to work…Ugh, I might as well get up now.
The sunrises almost make up for leaving my warm bed.

It’s quiet at the barn when I arrive. Some horses are napping. Some are beginning to nicker for breakfast. The barn dogs bark and whine a little when I get there but settle down once they realize it’s just me. I check all the usual places to see where Richal’s hidden the tack room key; a couple of months ago, I had to text her to ask. Now I know.

It’s cold, so I leave my car running with the heat set on defrost. I grab Gina’s bridle and toss it in my car, making sure the bit is on the dashboard so it’ll get warm while I groom her. 
As I pass his stall, Moe greets me with bright eyes and a whicker. I can’t resist giving him a few treats. I step into his stall and make sure his blanket is straight and smooth. I slip my hand underneath it; he’s warm and has no rub marks. I pat him, reassuring him that breakfast will be here soon, that I will ride him next time. He watches me, alert and happy as always.
Gina greets me at the gate; she’s been out all night with another mare, Dee. Gina seems glad to come in, or at least to eat a few cookies. I take off her blanket, give her a cursory curry and brush and pick her hooves. I retrieve her bridle from my car and hang it on a gate while I saddle her. I like to think she appreciates the warm bit, but I’ll never really know.
Gina’s unimpressed by the half-frozen pond.
I hand-walk her to the hay field, opening and closing gates as we go. I mount clumsily and we’re off. I set my watch for six minutes. For six minutes, we walk. Then it’s ten minutes of trotting. Back to the walk for three minutes, then on to the canter for five. Three more minutes of walking. Five more minutes of cantering. Ten minutes of walking to cool out.
Just loping along.

When we’re out in the field, just ourselves, I can’t help but smile and laugh for the sheer joy that comes with the freedom of hacking out. I marvel at Gina’s behavior: perfectly calm and beautifully forward at the requested gait. No anxiousness at being alone. No ugliness about wanting to return to the barn. No over-excitement at being out of the arena.

I dismount and loosen Gina’s girth and noseband. I walk her back to the barn, where I feed her several cookies before she’s even untacked. As I remove her saddle and bridle, I keep up a nonsensical chatter, assuring her she’s the best mare there’s ever been. I curry her and brush her; I take care to carefully brush out all the saddle and bridle marks. She stands quietly, ears flicking back and forth while I talk. I put her blanket back on and turn her back out with Dee. She takes a big drink of water and wanders off into her paddock, ignoring my admiring stare.
Moe whinnies at me again as I pass by his stall on my way out. I pat his nose and fish around in my pocket. There’s an uneaten treat. I feed it to him, and he munches it gratefully. 
I am not a morning person, but early mornings spent at the barn are enough to make me wish I was. 

An early winter

After an extremely mild summer and a very nice fall, Oklahoma has decided it’s done playing nice.

Temperatures plummeted Tuesday; the high was around 40F. Yesterday and today, the high temperature was only in the 30s! Combined with the wind chill from Oklahoma’s never-ending breeze, it feels like it’s in the 20s.

Oh, yeah, and there was an earthquake yesterday afternoon! (Technically, the earthquake was just across the border in Kansas, but it was felt across the Northeastern OK area!)

I spent Sunday evening patching the horses’ blankets in preparation for the cold front; I snuck them into the local laundromat on Monday, so by Tuesday, they were clean, repaired, and ready for ponies!

Gina’s blanket drying on the deck.

I rode Gina before work on Tuesday. The Harvard Fox Hounds hunter pace is coming up next Saturday and I wanted to take Gina on some longer conditioning rides before asking her to go on a two-hour trail ride with jumps.

She was superb. Gina is such a nice horse to hack in a field. Unlike Moe, Gina doesn’t equate riding in the open with going as fast as possible. (I totally realize I probably taught Moe to be bonkers.) She’s content to walk quietly on a loose rein, doesn’t spook at much, will go faster when asked, and will come back easily to a walk or halt.

We went on another ride this morning, alternating between walking, trotting, and cantering. It was cold and windy, but Princess Pony seemed happy to work. I’ll admit I was happy too- it’s nice to go on long rides in the open at some speed after being cooped up in the small indoor at night!

Such majestic. So wow. Very clip.
What the horses do when they’re tired of posing for pictures.

I’m very excited about next weekend’s hunter pace! Gina and I are heading up what’s been dubbed the “Balls to the Wall” team (the other team from the barn is “Slow Pregnant Team”, as one of the members is a couple months pregnant and won’t be doing much galloping or jumping). My reputation as a crazy eventer is firmly fixed in everyone’s mind, I guess!

We are the champions!

Of Introductory Level Test C!

On Saturday, Gina and I competed at the Green Country Chapter of the Oklahoma Dressage Society’s schooling show championships.

All things considered, it was a pretty uneventful day. The show was about 5 minutes from my house, so I met Richal & co. at the show grounds around 7:30 AM. I had plenty of time to scrub Gina’s nasty, manure and dirt crusted socks clean, assist various children in being at the right place at the right time, and watch a couple of my friends ride.

We are winners!

We did a qualifying test in the morning and scored a 66.25%, which is higher than we scored at our last show! (Last show, we scored at 63.5%.) The judge remarked that Gina and I were a nice pair who needed to work on loosening up Gina’s back and crisper canter transitions. We again scored a couple of 8s on our 20 meter circles at the trot, which never ceases to tickle me.

I somehow grossly misjudged my ability to get dressed and tack up the horse before the championship round, so I had around 10 minutes to warm Gina up. Gina was kind of cranky about having to leave her stall and get ridden again, but did the equine equivalent of rolling her eyes and sighing and behaved herself for the whole 5 minutes it took to get through Intro C.

Gina’s braids.

We scored a 65%, which I felt was totally fair. Gina had less impulsion and was definitely counter-bent for about three strides between H and C.

However, our scores were good enough to earn us accolades as champions of Intro C- Amateur!

“Where is my stall? I want to go back to my stall.”

I was pretty jazzed to win a neck ribbon- I’ve never won one before! I also won a medal (which I’ve also never won before), a bucket, and a rubber jelly curry. It was very exciting. 

Gina’s post-braid ‘fro

For her part, Gina was a total star. She hauled well, stalled well, drank 3 buckets of water, ate lots of hay, was unfazed when her stablemates left for warm-up, didn’t spook at flapping trash bags or crazy wind noises, and put in very nice tests. 

I’m so pleased with Gina; I feel like we’ve had a great year. There’s still the hunter pace in a couple of weeks, plus an event derby in December, but the dressage season is over. Next year we’ll compete Training for sure- who knows, maybe we’ll get up to First Level if we can wrangle trainer Anne for some lessons! 
The hunter pace is in a couple of weeks, so I’m really looking forward to getting out of the sandbox and schooling some XC! 

A Horse with a Terrible Name

Getting a good roll in after a ride.

I suppose if I’m going to write a blog chronicling my adventures with G, I might as well properly introduce her. Registered with the Jockey Club as Kimberly K, my horse is a fourteen year old 16.1 hand bay Thoroughbred mare. She has a white sock on each hind leg and two white spots on her pretty head. I think she’s pretty flashy. Kimberly K is about as stupid of a horse name as you can get, which is why I think her former owners used the show name Imagine That. From that, her barn name of Gina is derived. In my opinion, this is also a fairly stupid name for a horse. I refer to her as G most of the time.

I first met G in January 2011 when I accepted a position at a therapeutic riding program run by a local university. My first day on the job my boss pointed her out and asked me to get her ready to sell soon. G wasn’t an ideal candidate for a therapy horse and had been rejected from the program. Her former owners were supposed to take her back, but just sort of left her at the riding center. She’d been hanging out there since July of 2010. In that time, she’d terrorized the student workers, flipped over in crossties, thrown a potential buyer, and made everyone dislike her. I thought she sounded just peachy. (Not.)

G was a hot mess the first few times I rode her. She attempted to bite me when I tightened her girth. She bolted when I mounted. She spooked selectively at various objects. She crowhopped when I asked her to canter. She ran around the arena with her head straight up in the air. Super. Just super, I thought. I wasn’t certain there’d be any way we could sell her in a month for more than a few hundred dollars.

One of the program’s volunteers, Anne, offered to come out and give me a hand with her. Anne is an accomplished dressage rider; since my dressage rounds usually consist of doing my best to keep my gelding in the arena for the entire test., I accepted. I think that’s when things changed. Anne presented simple exercises and movements in an effort to test G’s dressage knowledge, and lo and behold, G got on the bit, settled into a beautiful, airy trot, and acted like the happiest horse in the world. It’s been good times (mostly) since.

I offered to buy her from the university for the princely sum of $1,200. I worked out a payment plan, started picking up her expenses, and rode her under the impression she was my horse. The university suddenly decided they didn’t like this idea, refunded all my money, and basically repossessed G. After a lot of hoopla, she was sold at a sealed bid auction a month later to yours truly. Now I have a receipt and everything, and G and I are officially a team!

Less saga, more horse? Okay. There isn’t much to say; before being donated to the program, Gina was a hunter/jumper boarded at a barn in the Tulsa area. When I called them to find out a bit more about her, they simply told me she was just lovely and pleasant and needed to be ridden in a pelham with double reins and a standing martingale. (She currently goes with no martingale and an eggbutt snaffle.) At some point in her life, she apparently suffered a bone chip, although when and how is unclear. She shows no sign of injury and is never lame. G  was born in New Mexico; she is by Look See and out of True Brilliance. She has never raced. The time between New Mexico and Oklahoma is a mystery; it seems she’s had excellent dressage training at some point. She knows leg yields, shoulders-in, haunches-in, flying changes. She dislikes jumping; my opinion is that this is due to being ridden by a terrible rider. Oh, and she loves treats.