I've really struggled with this whole Amateur status thing the past few months as the USDF year wrapped up. We have a team of people now, a team of horses in training, and we're officially FEI competitors (what?!). Granted, those horses in training are all mine and we don't do any lessons, training, or boarding. According to the USEF rules, I am good to go as an amateur. But still... when we show up at shows we do look pretty pro when I stop to look around. Our journey has been a fast one and one I'm super proud of. But still, we were just amateurs by the definition so I am happy to go along with that. No pressure, no push. But still! When did we go from sitting at the kids table to the adults?
Lately though, I've been pondering the idea of "image" vs "actuality." Image wise, we look professional (apparently based on the people asking if we offer grooming services, training, or the like) but actually, we've walked the amateur line really closely. Maybe a bit too closely so I called the USEF for clarification. Basically, they will not talk to anyone on the phone and require it all to be written in emails and they'll make their decisions based on that. Ugh, ok.
While thinking about how to explain what we do, I began to think this might be less hassle to just go pro. But once you go black, er, pro, you don't go back. At least not without some time and paperwork.
Once you get to FEI level competition, you don't really get any scoring breaks for qualifying rounds for Regionals so that's not really an issue for me. Granted, at the lower levels it is, but we can get those scores anyhow at this point so it's a bit moot for me (who AM I?). I'll be lumped with the other Open riders and make placements difficult. Since we're mostly focused on our sales horses right now and "just" getting my scores over 60% with Vana, again, not really a bit point for me. Besides, we've been knocking on those placement scores anyhow at the Amateur level without really prepping for it. So basically, it's a "why not" type of situation for most people I think. I can only liken this to one's virginity (sorry). It's one of those things that you wonder if you'll miss once you lose it. Have I done everything as an amateur I set out to do? Does it mess up any plans that I might want to do in the future? What if, what if?
With all these hypothetical, I just stopped myself before a Titanic (see above) move and just settled into one of my million other projects to avoid a decision. Answers always show up when I least expect them and I've learned that pushing something never works out in my case. This debate was going to have to wait. And it has, MONTHS now. I was asking these questions last year as a hypothetical and NOT wanting to think about jumping but now... now I feel like a choice is going to have to come up.
Enter the paint horses.
OK, maybe not exactly like that. Perhaps a bit more.. feral. During my ongoing horse hunting efforts, I've been giving plenty of "almost" horses lately and nothing that was quiet right or worth our time and effort. And then these paint horses came across my radar... an untouched black and white mare with matching colt. They were my ideal price and are gorgeous. The story behind them is pretty unexciting so I headed out to get them. While we were there, the current owner asked about our training and prices. While I tried to talk him out of it (again as I had on the phone), he asked me to check out his paint horse that had been with a previous trainer for a bit. I tested the guy out and a check was written for him to go into training.
And just like that... I'm a professional. Three new horses and a check for training. That's all it takes. A bit like losing one's virginity...
It's pretty easy to assume from the blog posts, that we don't have lame horses very often. Well, the truth is, we really don't. Aside from MAYBE an annual abscess in someone's foot, we're really fortunate and attribute a lot of this to the outdoor "natural" lifestyle our ponies get to enjoy. So to have 3 horses out of commission this week SUCKS. I've never (knock on wood) had this many out in one week and it's a bit annoying. Luckily nothing is super serious, just annoying.
But first, we have a new Jack in the house! Long story, but this is a "replacement" puppy for once I'd gotten in 2016 after being on a wait list since late 2015 and the pup didn't turn out. I'd put it off this year until I found something suitable and made the drive this week to go pick up this little "hellion" that was driving her breeder nuts. Honestly, she's sweet as pie (in our terms) and naps like a pro so I mean, basically perfect! We'll see how she matures and hopefully we'll have a new barn hunt and JRTCA trial pup! Fingers crossed!
So the feet. Oh the feet! Patrick yanked a shoe off, Wesley is trying to grow and abscess, and Feina HAD an abscess that ended up going into her sole. She's nerved in that foot though, so we had no way of knowing until the farrier started digging and the following picture happened. ARGH. At least she can't feel it and any infection she may have had is long gone. Now it's just keeping it clean, keeping her happy, and letting the sole grow in some to cover the tissue. So yeah, hydro and soaking is the name of the game. Sarah pointed out if could have been Vana and I told her thanks for making my heart skip! But she's right, it could be worse ;) That's not a challenge universe btw.
Just kidding, we're not really resting. Just shaking things up a little between riding the "big" horses and soaking other horse's feet (Feina...).
Enjoy Hannah's first bounces! She had a blast! Piper as usual rocked it!
It's not always business around here and this evening was one of those times. We haven't actually done anything just "for fun" in awhile and while I didn't expect THIS outing to be as fun as it was, well, it was.
We were contacted to provide some "hugs and kisses" therapy and I agreed provided they donated the fees to the Aggieland Humane Society in our name. They agreed and we brought the pups! Most of the dogs I brought were our younger dogs that are really happy but sometimes a little, er... bouncy and I offset that with a few older dogs as well to provide some balance. The girls swarmed us and I was so proud of all the pups for being wonderful with everyone. It was really fun to just share the dog's names, favorite things, and basic topics instead of the business statistics of shows, points, and DNA testing.
I hadn't been able to do that in forever honestly.
Roxanne, one of my working students, came to help wrangle dogs and did a great job. There was an adorable donut food trailer there and plenty of fairly loud music. Just a really nice way to spend a couple of hours!
So we're finishing up our "CSF Fall Schooling Tour of Texas" slowly but surely. This weekend we took Luna and Piper to a local dressage show. This was Luna's first time off property for us and Sarah was once again on her. We had Piper entered in Training classes and Luna in 1st level ones. I took Vana to ride PSG because he's being pouty about not going anywhere. *sigh
We did our usual Starbucks stop but got hung up at McDonalds waiting for them to bake a bagel so that made me way too late to get in for my PSG ride right at 9am. We scratched that ride and focused instead on getting Hannah up for her 9:15a ride. Yay donating money! Vana enjoyed himself well enough hanging out at the trailer though so it wasn't a wash. Old horses, what are you going to do?
Hannah was pretty handsy from the start and Piper tried her best to correct this, but Hannah didn't really comply. In their second test about an hour later, Hannah was too light in the contact and Piper kept stretching to it to no avail. Third test was T1 and Piper was a bit tired of Hannah not being there for her in the contact so it was all a little blimpy but Hannah is learning to keep to her plan and ride the test instead of surviving it. Luckily Piper has plenty of patience (even though she likes to remind you how to hold contact) and they got lots of "beautiful pair" comments. I particularly like the second test's comments where the judge figures out Piper is actually knowledgeable, Hannah is just being weird in the contact. Nice to see that lol!
Luna and I had had a rough ride a few days prior to this show where I thought I'd work on her counter canter a touch. She's pretty good at it, but was trying to do flying changes with Sarah. We had warmed up with lots of haunches in, elasticky canter drills, and even some pretty decent baby pirouette work all in the canter before I asked for the basic 1-3 canter loop. Apparently that was a no go in her mind and SO UNREASONABLE. Uh, ok. So we worked through that and ended with excellent walk and trot work, but tense in the canter. I got to a decent stopping point and then Sarah rode her the next day and it was pretty nice.
Show day came and Luna was about as pumped as Luna gets (looking around some happily) and we went to do Hannah's first test. Once she'd finished, I knew Sarah had to be on Luna and as I looked over the warm up field, I saw a nice looking elegant grey in the corner and thought, nice! Oh hey, that's our horse! Nice feeling to think that! Luna was being a little tense so we worked on some throughness and things worked out well. She was trying to pull some "kid" things like yanking the reins out or Sarah's hands or trying to graze but that was the worst of it. They went into the ring and Luna seemed to really enjoy their selves. They had some bobbles with figures and some labored cantering at times, but Luna was happy and responsive while Sarah kept looking for relaxation in them both. Not a bad outing.
This was a nice little outing for us. The end was a little exciting though when someone from a Houston barn yelled at a kid and said kid's dad came over to yell at him. A nice bit of drama and yelling for a while and then telling everyone on the show site. Schooling shows, whatcha going to do? *sigh* Do we have a recognized dressage show coming up yet?
So, we're continuing the theme of getting the green horses/riders out for schooling at this point. I'm starting to itch to show my beasties at the "real" shows", but it's important to let the working students be able to learn how to show and it's fun seeing them grow. This weekend we decided to let Hannah play with Piper at the HT about 45 minutes down the road. We had debated Beginner Novice for the two of them, but I opted to just let them do GAG since I knew Piper would be bored and it would give Hannah a chance to remember three things - Sit Back, Outside Rein, and Commit.
Overall we got that done, but man, our division was a shit show.
I also learned we are SO used to Dressage Land that this was a bit of a culture shock to Sarah and myself. Hannah comes from Hunter Land so this was also a shock to her but in a good way. I forget hunters don't number their jumps and I thought Hannah was going to die from excitement. Hunters, I can't help it but you guys make it way too hard. Our show times were after 11am which was initially exciting, but proved exhausting by the end of the day.
We arrived with plenty of time to orient Hannah and explain how this whole thing was going to work. We walked the grounds, walked the dressage rings, and watched some of the dressage to put Hannah's mind at ease that she was WAY more prepared than most everyone else. I KNEW dressage was going to be a bit hard to watch but omg. It was rough y'all. Hannah felt confident and so we went to get Piper from the trailer when it was close to time to warm up. We knew we weren't going to do a ton since it was warmer and people were zooming all over with horses' heads in the air as well as some questionable acrobatics while the critters danced all over the place trying to dressage. There wasn't an air of zen, that's for sure.
Hannah hopped on, we utilized the small red dirt pad near our trailer (but technically on cross country so we made it quick to not get in trouble), and then headed to "real" warm up and I had to call her back to get her bit checked when she headed out to the ring. It's hard remembering all the tiny details to tell newbies. With that done, went to warm up and were fortunate to be offered an opportunity to go earlier which we happily took to avoid the GAG dressage warm up chaos.
As we headed out to our ring, we were given more information about why we were going early. The horse two before us wasn't allowing AT ALL for a bit check and was flipping out and the one directly before us was having steering/bucking/motivation issues. Umm. OK. Hannah quietly warmed up Piper. The horse before us started the approach to the dressage ring and... freaked out, dumping their rider and bucking all the way back to the barns. Piper kept working nicely and we were allowed to go right in. Because.two.horses.were.not.having.it. Guys, it was tough for us to watch (have I said that?).
While Hannah didn't absolutely "nail" her test, they looked good and she kept remembering when to rebalance, when to half halt within about a second of when I would have. Granted in riding time that's EONS but it's much much better for someone that's only been in our program for a month or so. A hoof clip on the ring fencing left them a little frazzled but they got it back together. Not too shabby and we earned a fair score of 34.0. There were plenty of easy ways we can add "sparkle" and shave those points down into sub 30s as Hannah gets experience so that was awesome.
When the scores were put online, we were a bit confused that the horse that bucked its rider off was placed ahead of us with a 32.5. Apparently since she fell off OUTSIDE the arena and BEFORE she entered, they allowed her (at judge's discretion) to ride her test. Not sure this was terribly fair or safe, but well, spoiler alert - karma was strong at this show so hang in there...
After dressage, the CSF crew nabbed Piper and I took Hannah for water and to walk the (tiny) cross country course. The main issue was Hannah's overconfidence towards the tiny jumps so I reminded her to respect the course and the three goals as stated above. After watching some of the stadium to learn the course, I got her to eat some lunch and we went back to prep for stadium. I didn't have a lot of words of wisdom because basically if you sit back, keep leg on/commit in some form, and watch outside rein, Piper will jump anything. If you get off balanced or uncertain, Piper is a good teacher and will pull up/abort to help save your/her skin from bad decisions. I don't consider self preservation in a horse (especially a mare) to be terribly awful but we knew when Hannah gets laid back that this can be a problem as she starts getting ahead instead of waiting.
When Hannah saw the jumps she laughed and I just shook my head. They did a quick warm up (we forgot medical armband, crop... geez we suck at only showing one horse as a team) over the tiny jumps and we headed up the hill for our turn. The runs went pretty quickly and we ran last in stadium for the whole trial. Hannah wasn't terribly impressed with the size of the jumps and Piper saved her at the first jump but when they get in a bit wonky and weird to the second jumps, Piper makes the executive decision to "save" Hannah. After a second refusal, Hannah remembered to ride and they were good to go. Tiny jumps are hard for riders guys! I told Hannah she was out of winning contention with the refusals (apparently I was wrong though...) so to just focus on schooling herself on cross country and the other riders didn't have stadium issues... although one horse was eliminated during this time so maybe I was wrong about not having issues. This was the horse that was NOT having it for bit check in dressage.
After the lol of stadium, some well placed ribbing at Hannah, and then some more food/water, we had about three hours of nothing to do. Since we arrived later, they had us park way up the hill which proved to be an epic spot as we were able to lay in the shade of the trailer and watch the cross country come through the field and up the hill. We all tried to nap to varying degrees until it was FINALLY our turn.
At this point, Piper was DONE with being a nice, calm, happy dressage like pony. She'd waited ALL day in the trailer and was in cross country beast mode. Problem was this wasn't BN+ level courses.. it was GAG. We loled at Hannah while they warmed up and had them rest in the trees. Piper was good to go. The horse-that-bucked-its-rider-off-but-was-in-first-place was having issues in the warm up so we avoided them. As we sat in the shade waiting for our turn to go (last again :P) it seemed everyone was staring at the white coop of tininess. Horses were stopping left and right at it. I told Hannah is she peeked at it, I'd stab her. No refusals. We'd jumped ALL these as warm ups a few weeks ago. Stare ahead at the trees and do the things on this Training Level schooled horse!
Just when Hannah was about to walk to the start box, they called for people to close tabs at the consessions. UGH! I jogged up there and got that done just as she was coming through the field. I got to see the white coop of doom (they aced it) as well as the rest of the course. No refusals and they looked dominant on the course. I was happy and Hannah had a serious adrenaline buzz going. Piper FINALLY looked satisfied with herself and we were ready to pack up once scores were published. Wait. Once scores were published AND there was a dispute period. Man, eventing is sooo much waiting vs dressage where it's all available once it's up. The end. Whatever. At this point we'd waited so long that I was all WE'RE WAITING THIS OUT. Because... Horse That Bucks well... it dumped it's rider. Other presumably good horse ended up with time faults (huh?) and we got first in the end.
Guys. It was a shit show in our division. I just can't. Two horses were left standing and we came out on top. Karma, but oiy.
So in conclusion, I still love going to Pine Hill. I practically grew up there riding and it's such an odd mix of sadness and excitement and familiarity when I'm there. I love introducing new people to this place. My feelings about eventing have been mixed for many years now and this weekend really made me sadder. Seeing so many kids that can't ride w/t/c well, seeing so many coaches/adults drinking alcohol and bad mouthing other people/horses and then riding or instructing, seeing kids (and parents) being assholes, seeing horses that were clearly unhappy with the dressage, seeing so many more riders seething about the dressage and then seeing how NOT having dressage or foundation skills was creating unsafe situations in the jumping made me nervous. Eventing at any level isn't a joke guys. It's dangerous and even MORE dangerous than your average horse sport by the simple design of what we ask the horse and rider to do. This is not the sport I remember as a kid and I get that we can't go back in time and that the "good old days" aren't all that "good" but I really remember learning about respiration rates, rating your speed, riding properly, staying hydrated, taking care of yourself, applauding good rides not people falling off and being able to skirt the rules at GAG to get back on the horse. BN riders up each other's asses on cross country. Guys, I just... unno. I did see some lovely riding, don't get me wrong. It stuck out like a sore (? awesome?) thumb and we cheered for these riders. The rest though, wow.
My critique on Hannah would be that I'm super proud of how much she's grow since joining our team and how eager she is to try all these things while being professional in her learning during the events. Piper is being fair with her and that's helping her learn faster at the shows as well. The CSF team rocks (even when we're forgetting all the things) so we're good to go for the upcoming big shows.
Thanks Eventing Land for the side trip and we'll be back to cross train the ponies. We also learned we are definitely in the right place for our sanity/happiness with our dressage dedication and will continue to spend our money happily there when we get the chances.
Oh and don't forget to put on the sunblock that we put into the trailer to specifically prevent sunburn. #fail