Riding all the ponies

Yesterday I accompanied my friend Holly to her weekly riding lesson with our mutual friend, Richal. Richal’s a dressage queen with an acerbic sense of humor and a legion of minions. It’s always funny to see a group of small children struggling to rake the barn aisles or fill water buckets. Plus, Richal wanted me to ride one of the many OTTBs she’s acquired in recent months. I couldn’t resist.

Unfortunately, the horse I was slated to ride, Ben, had pulled two shoes. So I was offered Freddie, a little 5 year old bay mare who’s been off the track for two months.

Freddie (Jockey Club name Expect Freedom) was a total doll- easy to ride, eager to learn, and only tried to snatch the bit in her teeth and run off once. I’m always impressed with how well even recently off the track TBs handle things- at one point, there were 4 other horses zipping around the arena, a section of electric fencing flapping in the wind, and 3 dogs underfoot. Freddie was unfazed. 

I’ve also been recruited to ride another lazy, out-of-shape Quarter Horse. Meet Cutty!

Cutty belongs to one of Johnny’s coworkers. Said coworker has a teenage son who’s been working on a ranch for the last couple of summers and wants to start riding more at home. Johnny was asked if I’d be interested in getting the horse fit and teaching him to neck rein. I talked with the coworker’s wife, who’s the most experienced equestrian of the family, and explained that while I am no western trainer, I could definitely get Cutty fit, probably teach him to neck rein, and desensitize him to just about anything. That sounded fine to her, so I’m hired! I’ll be riding him 5 times a week for about a month. 
Cutty is a 7 year old Quarter Horse gelding from Germany of all places. His former owners moved to the States a couple of years ago and brought their horses with them. Johnny’s coworker has had the horse for about 4 months and Cutty’s mostly been hanging out with the family’s retired 24 year old Appendix gelding. And eating. That horse loves to eat. 
He’s very willing to learn and eager to please; he seems reasonably intelligent and is already starting to get the hang of neck reining and leg yielding. He is very out of shape, though, and gets winded easily. So we’re doing lots and lots of walking. (Which, of course, is a great gait to work on neck reining and leg yielding!)
I haven’t neglected my two beasties, though. Gina’s fat leg got hosed yesterday, and I rode Moe. Moe felt slow and cranky- not tired, but straight up cranky. That’s very unusual for him, so I just walked him in the pasture on a loose rein for half an hour and called it a day. Here’s hoping fat leg disappears and Moe’s in a better mood this weekend!


There’s horses out there, I promise.

I went to the barn to ride both horses late yesterday afternoon. I saw my student, who was headed out on her pony. She returned a half hour later to tell me she had dutifully done the lateral exercises I’d given her as homework and she was certain her horse had taken a true sideways step in each direction. I was inspired by her success, so I grabbed Gina and decided to do some dressagin’.

Gina’s bruise was nearly gone when I checked it; the ground was nice and soft from Monday’s rain, so I felt pretty good about riding her. Gina must have felt pretty good about it too, because I had the loveliest, softest, happiest ride ever. Okay, maybe not ever, but in a long time!

I called it quits pretty early (after about 30 minutes) since she was being so good; Gina is a horse with whom I do not like to push my luck. Then I trimmed up her face, bridle path, and fetlocks while stuffing her face with granola bars.

I kicked Gina back into the pasture and caught Moe, who was loitering around the gate in hopes of also receiving a granola bar (or five). I intended to only spray him with fly spray and put his fly mask back on, but something compelled me to throw his bridle on and head out bareback.

So we piddled around the pasture for half an hour, mostly at a walk. We cantered a little bit and jumped the log pile. I managed not to fall off, while I remembered why I don’t usually ride Moe bareback. (High withers, uncomfortably jarring trot.) 
But you know what? It was pretty fun to just piddle around, appreciating the weather and the scenery and the sleek little red gelding beneath me. It was nice not to have a plan or work on anything in particular. I jumped off Moe in the pasture and took his bridle off, but instead of taking off to join his horse friends, he walked with me back to the barn. I let him through the gate, and he walked himself into the barn and into a stall, where he waited for me to hang up his bridle, feed him more granola bars, put on his fly mask, and spray him down. Then he went back out to the pasture, waited until I got into my car, and wandered back over to the rest of the herd.
What a good horse.

The Hand Gallop guide to throwing a Derby party

The Kentucky Derby is fast approaching, and I’m putting together the details for my annual Derby party. While I don’t know much about horse racing, I can always appreciate beautiful Thoroughbreds and the speed and power they display. (Plus, I like to imagine which ones would make good eventers.) For the last couple of years, I’ve hosted or co-hosted a party for friends to watch the race. I thought I’d share some tips on throwing your own!

Derby Party 2012

Invitations: In order to have a party, you have to let people know it’s happening! There are plenty of places to buy invitations designed especially for the Derby, but I enjoy designing my own and mailing or emailing them to friends. A text, call, or Facebook message is also just as effective! 
This year’s invitation, sans some information.

Food & beverages: I’m in the Central Time Zone, which means Derby post time is usually around 5:30 PM. It’s an awkward time for a meal; people are starting to get hungry for dinner, but don’t want to eat something big quite yet. It doesn’t help that our house is small and without a lot of seating for guests to sit and eat. I make sure to have plenty of finger foods available. People can eat what they’d like while standing or perching on the edge of the sofa, and no one goes home hungry.

For me, the key to a successful and stress-free party is preparation. I stick exclusively to recipes that can be prepared a day or two in advance to the Derby. Some of my favorites include deviled eggs, individual cups of pasta salad, small pimento cheese sandwiches, vegetables and dip, fruit and dip, and crostini with a variety of toppings. I always make a bourbon chocolate pecan pie for dessert; this year I’m making mini pies so they’re easier to eat. I cook everything myself because I enjoy doing so, but most grocery stores offer a large variety of snacks to serve if you aren’t a fan of cooking.

Mint juleps are par for the course at the Derby, but I absolutely hate them. I made a batch the first year I hosted a party; no one had anything good to say about them. (It’s entirely possible I made them poorly, too.) I encourage guests to bring what they’d like to drink. I offer water, sparkling water, a few types of soda, sweet and unsweet tea, and one type of alcoholic drink. Last year it was whiskey sours; this year it’s a whiskey punch. That saves me from stocking all kinds of alcohol and spending a great deal of money.

Decor: The Derby is the run for the roses; I stick with red as the central color of the party. Red paper plates, red napkins, red cups, a vase of roses on the food table. My house already has plenty of equestrian decorations, so there’s no need to get anything special. The Kentucky Derby Store offers many decorations if you’re inclined to go all out.

Vibe: Do you want a casual get-together where everyone watches the race, has a few drinks, and goes home? Do you want a fancy soiree with big hats, sundresses, and cocktails? Our party is somewhere in between. While plenty of friends wear sundresses and big hats, just as many come in jeans and t-shirts. Johnny wears loud madras pants and a button-down shirt. I wear a dress and big floppy hat. Last year, a friend wore a SpiritHood, which freaked one of the cats out to no end. If you’re planning a fancy party, be sure to mention it on your invitation! And don’t be upset if someone doesn’t comply; after all, aren’t you glad they attended at all?

The race: A few hours before the party, I print off the race card (copied into Word from the Derby website or Daily Racing Form site) so guests can have a copy. My friend Holly has a TwinSpires.com account and graciously lets interested people use it to wager. (She’s something of a horse-racing expert, so I always make sure to ask her for advice.) We leave the TV on pre-race coverage while everyone’s getting something to eat and drink. At post time, everyone gathers in the living room and watches the most exciting two minutes in sports, cheering for horses and griping when they lose (or celebrating when they win). We’re fortunate to have a gigantic (if ancient) TV, so there’s not a bad seat in the house.

That’s it! The party usually breaks up about half an hour after the race is over, and then I collapse and drink the leftover alcohol. It’s a wonderfully fun party, always. I love offering my hospitality to friends, admiring fast horses, and eating my weight in cheese-heavy foods.

Anyone else have a Derby party? Any predictions on who’s going to win this year? Any advice for getting my dogs to not fart while guests are here?

Baby At The Barn

I was surprised to see a foal in one of the dry lots at the barn when I pulled up earlier this week. I didn’t recall any mares being pregnant. Moe’s #1 Fan informed me that mare and foal had arrived on Sunday. They belonged to someone who wasn’t able to take adequate care of them, so someone else is footing the bill for them at the barn. Or something. You know how these things get convoluted.

Plus, it doesn’t really matter, because baby horse.