Friday, August 31, 2012

Stuck

I have woken up at 2am every day I've been here so far. I'm not sure why it's called jet lag because really on this side it is more like jet forward. I'm wide awake and ready to rock n' roll by 3am when the rest of Okinawa is still mostly asleep. Of course I'm also a zombie by 1900.

Weston started school the day after we got here and Evie and Elaina start next week. I have my first lesson on the following Saturday (the 8th). I'm pretty anxious and excited to get everything rolling. I know the busier I can make my days the faster the time will go.

Back in the states Loki got a visit by the chiropractor. I wish I could have gotten him in sooner but it was just more feasible to wait until the doc was coming to see multiple horses. Lori said that he worked on Loki quite extensively and said he was out in a couple of places. He was glad that Loki was going to have a nice vacation so I guess the timing worked out.

We've gotten the house straightened up (4 months of bachelor living requires quite a bit of cleaning!) and everything unpacked. Jay's already getting called into work on a weekend so I guess things are getting pretty much back to normal. Is 9 months out too early to start the countdown clock?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Always, Always, Always End On A Good Note

Hello from the other side of the world! That's right I have finally made it back to the heat and humidity of Okinawa. But before I left I had one last lesson on Loki and it was the best lesson I have had on him so far.

We started off with our shorter stirrups and just got him stretching and bending through the trot and canter. When we went to jump my trainer told me to hold on to Loki's breast plate right before the jump and after. No matter what he did I was not allowed to touch his mouth. Holy Cow! What a difference. After the first couple of jumps Loki realized I wasn't going to touch him and he maintained a steady easy canter through an entire course. He was like a completely different horse, calm and low key! He probably thought I was a different rider, too, lol.

It seems this is what we needed to break the cycle we had started. Him speeding up to the jumps and me pulling on him, Me pulling on him and him speeding up. It is one of those things, I think, that as a rider you know that you need to do but physically have a hard time just letting go of the habit. Having the aid of holding on the breast plate helped me to quell that ingrained instinct I had developed to grab hold of Loki's mouth whenever he got "too fast."

At the end of the lesson Lori gave us one more course that included one very tight/short turn from a combination to an oxer and then a rollback from the oxer to a box fence. The first time through we missed both jumps and ended up jumping something else because I couldn't steer fast enough. Oops! Then Lori explained to me that I still had to actually ride my horse. Just because I wasn't allowed to pull on him right before the jump didn't mean I needed to stop riding him altogether. So we did it again. It took one more try before we got it but the last time through I was able to engage my brain and give Loki one big half halt one stride after the first part of the combination which then enabled us to make the turn to the oxer with another big half halt right before we turned. We hit the oxer on a good stride and after another big half halt before we rolled back to the box fence we made it! At the end of the lesson Lori said, "now that is riding!" which is quite a complement and had me in the clouds for the rest of the day.

Seriously an eye-opening lesson for me. I didn't have to keep grabbing the breast plate over each fence towards the end because once I got comfortable with the fact that my horse wasn't going to make a mad dash for the hills I didn't feel the need to touch the reins. I've been letting my bad habits get the better of me and hopefully this will be the start of forming some new, good habits! (Not just for me but for Loki, too!) In some ways it sucks that we hit such a good stride right as I was leaving but I'm 90% sure that Loki is going to be the type of horse who can take a long vacation and come back pretty quickly. Either way I am super elated and hopefully this euphoria will last for a while to get me through these next couple of weeks of adjustment to life over here again.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Time Flies

Lately I feel like if I blink I might miss a day. There is so much going on. I am still in the states for just a little bit longer but I suspect the next time I write I will be on the other side of the world.

I went to Dr. Miller's viewing and waited in line for 3 hours to pay my respects. They estimate as many as 2,000 people were there. It was truly a testament to such a great man. It was sad of course but also full of love and even joy. Hard to explain but I guess all I can really say is I was deeply touched.

Loki and I have had some good days and some bad days here lately. Somewhere along the way over the past few weeks Loki has learned to occasionally snatch the bit out of my hands and run like a wild man (usually while we are jumping). He never really makes it far, no further than the long side of a dressage arena, but it has been challenging to work through.

Lori and I trailered down to Jump Start on Tuesday and took a lesson with a different trainer. I didn't get tons from it but she did have me shorten my stirrups by two holes. I've known I needed to do this for a while and oh my gosh now I keep asking myself why I waited. It has made a huge difference with our jumping. My legs are so much tighter and that has also helped with him trying to run off after the fences. I'm no longer losing my lower leg and chasing him after the jumps. Hmmm, funny how that works!

 It's hard not to feel a little sad (and stressed!) right now with the end of the summer well and truly here. But I know Loki is going to be in good hands. I definitely know he isn't going to mind the time off and my sister will ride him just enough to remind him that he does have to work for that grain from time to time.

Over in Okinawa they are getting ready to be hit by at least one, possibly two typhoons. I sure hope these typhoons don't decide to stick around. I keep having daymares about getting stuck in the Tokyo airport for days. Ack! I'll be glad when all this is over!

Okinawa is just barely visible in the blue part of the typhoon

Sunday, August 19, 2012

At A Loss

This is one of the hardest things I've had to post on here. I just learned that my vet, Dr. Steve, passed away this morning from a heart attack. I've been using the same vet for several years now. It's such a wonderful feeling to have a vet that you absolutely trust. A vet that will tell you when to get another opinion and one that will tell you when you are worrying about nothing. He absolutely always had a smile on his face and I can't imagine anyone else coming to give shots or look at my horses. My thoughts and prayers are with his family right now and for our community that lost such a wonderful man. Dr. Steve you will be greatly missed but heaven just got a little brighter I think.

Used from the website of Covenant Animal Clinic. (I will remove if asked.)
I saw this post on Facebook written by Dr. Josh, Dr. Steve's son. His words are so beautiful that I wanted to write them down somewhere. What an amazing legacy to leave behind.

My father, Dr. Steve Miller, passed away yesterday. It was unexpected and happened in one fleeting moment. He had a wonderful weekend doing two of his favorite things, watching his grandchild play football, and singing with the Gloryland singers in his church. He finished singing "I cast my bed upon the water", and came to sit by my mother, as she touched his hand to tell him how well he did...he quietly passed.

I know he was content and happy in his final moments, the lessons he taught me will live with me forever, and will be passed to my son and daughter.

Thank all of you that loved and cared for him out in the barns and fields these last 40 years. He had a touch with horses that will never be duplicated.

I have lost my mentor, my friend, my dad...but what I have gained is a determination to live a life that will find me worthy to be called my father's son.

Dr. Josh Miller

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Playing With Ponies... Where Dreams Begin

I took the kids out to the barn on Monday. They helped me clean stalls in exchange for pony rides. They actually didn't have to help me clean stalls but they are at that age where helping is still fun. Of course help from a 7, 5 & 3 year old isn't always helpful but I was actually pretty impressed with their determination. They insisted on helping me with every stall.

We finally finished and got Miss Pony out of her paddock. We had a quick lesson on brushing and tacking up and then the pony rides began. I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

I wasn't sure that Weston would really be that interested in riding the pony but he asked to ride all three times (I offered to give them each three laps on Pony) and he seemed to genuinely be enjoying himself. I don't think he has the bug, though, I'm pretty sure playing video games and going swimming (for example) would win out over a trip to the barn.

Evie was very excited about riding the pony. She could possibly end up with the horse bug. I'd consider her more on the fence. We'll see...

Judging by the smile she had plastered on her face the entire time I'm pretty sure Elaina is showing early signs of horse addiction.

I think next summer Ghazal will have a job again as a lead line pony. Something else to look forward to!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dressage Show

Loki and I participated in our last dressage show (for the season) today, sniff, sniff. He was a pretty good boy. All the sudden the temperature dropped by like 20 degrees yesterday and he actually thought about bucking during our warm-up. He just got a little hump in his back but didn't act on it but I could tell he was feeling pretty full of himself. We did the USEA Beginner Novice tests A & B again. Test A was okay except that we missed our lead on the first canter transition and I didn't even realize it! Duh! I haven't done that in a long time. I think I must've been asleep at the wheel. Plus he was so balanced I really didn't notice it. So I'm just telling myself that someday we're going to have an awesome counter-canter!

Test B went really well, including a 7 on our free walk. We came in first place on our test B with a 36 and 5th place (out of 6) on our Test A with a 44. The biggest thing I need to work on is just getting faster with my aids. These tests are so short and the transitions come up so fast I always feel like I'm a step behind.

Also, this is the second dressage show I've been to this summer where the judge has not acknowledged our halt/salute at all. I don't know what the protocol is but most of the time when I've ridden a dressage test the judge at least nods or waves or something after the salute. I don't know why but this really bothers me when the judge does nothing, not even hardly looking up at the salute. It just seems rude to me.

Anyways one more hunter show next weekend and that will be it for the summer. We've come so far and worked so hard. I'm sad the summer is ending but Loki has definitely earned some time off.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Thoughts on Eventing in the Olympics

Well, the Olympics are over and we now have four more years to revamp and hopefully improve our U.S. eventing team. I'm sure there are a lot of people disappointed with our 7th place finish. We had some mistakes including Twizzel and Will Coleman's highly unusual stop on XC and PDutty and Mystery Whisper's substandard show jumping rounds. We had some heart-breaking bad luck with Otis not passing the second vet inspection. But honestly, I am still pretty proud of our team. We did a lot of things right. Karen O'Connor and Mr. Medicott looked great at all three phases to finish in the top 10. Up until the vet inspection Boyd and Otis were looking wonderful as well. Will and Twizzel came back from XC with a great show jumping round with just a couple of time penalties. We have a lot of talent to build on for the future. Bottom line: I would love to take even just one lesson from any of these guys any day! (Although, I have to admit I think KOC would be a little intimidating.)

There is a lot of speculation on what we need to do to improve our team for the future but one thing is certain, we need to improve our dressage. When you start XC almost 20 points behind the leaders that is a lot of ground to make up. Even if all of our riders had gone clear we still would have been behind Germany and GB in the final standings.

However, if there was one thing I could change about eventing it would be the dressage phase. Don't get me wrong I like dressage I really do. I love what I have learned in my dressage lessons and I enjoy watching a lot of the upper level dressage riders and their seemingly perfect rapport with their highly talented horses. But as a sport I am really unhappy with dressage. Why? Because it is so darn  subjective. The winner is based on the opinion of a human being, albeit a highly trained human being, but they are still human and imperfect. In the equestrian world subjective can have disastrous results for our horses.

The most obvious example is big lick of course. Horses went from looking like this:
Okay, it was really hard to find a picture of a TWH that didn't look like it was sitting on it's butt... but I can only hope that they didn't actually start out with the horrible, abusive training/soring/etc you see today.
To this:

And already in Dressage you can see where the future might lead if we aren't careful.

Yes, the wonderful world of rollkur and this is at the Olympics. Can you imagine if in 10 years or so it becomes normal to not only train this way but to also ride your test like this? You might laugh or think it is nonsense but I seriously wonder if the early generations of Tennessee Walker showers/breeders ever imagined just how ridiculous their horses would look one day. I can just hear it "We'll just tie him up so he's standing with his hind legs on top of his front legs for a "short period of time" and then when he goes into the ring he'll have an even better reach behind [but somehow still be correct]" Sounds crazy right? And yet isn't that basically the argument for rollkur? The above picture is of Patrik Kittel already famous for the "blue tongue" incident. Mr. Kittel defended himself by saying that these photos were just "moments in time." You can read about it here.

And here is current second place leader Adelinde Cornelissen as she entered the arena:
Ack! I HATE THIS!

One would hope that with eventing, since the horses still have to go on to jump XC and stadium that the insanity will be kept to a minimum but unfortunately as humans we don't have a very good track record. Too often it is win at all costs.

So I guess with all my rambling what I'm trying to say here is I sincerely hope that in our quest to build our U.S. eventing team that we keep our priorities straight and the welfare and safety of both our horses and riders remains first.

And F.Y.I. If you haven't already and if you are also against rollkur you can sign the no-rollkur petition here.



Saturday, August 4, 2012

Keeps Getting Better

I got a very exciting email yesterday evening right before bed. One of the instructors from the barn in Okinawa emailed to say that one of the other instructors had left for the states. She wanted to know if I'd be interested in the open full-time instructor position. I said yes!

At first I was all like this:
And then I felt a little bit like this:
(okay maybe that is a little bit of an exaggeration but I really wanted to have an excuse to put Sheldon on my blog. I ❤ The Big Bang Theory)

But seriously, I am super excited and a bit nervous at the same time. Excited because I'm going to have a job... like an actual paying job and it is going to be doing something that I love!!! Nervous because I'm going to have a job, a real job with real responsibilities.

Okay you can laugh at me if you want but it has been over 7 years since I've had a "real" job. Being a mom of three and married to someone in the military makes it very, very hard to have and keep a job. Childcare alone is so expensive as to make most jobs not worth it. But this year all three of my kids will be in school for the first time. I'm still going to have to find a sitter for a few afternoons I think but I'm hoping it will be doable.

I'm also nervous because I'm going to be (attempting) to teach other people how to ride. I mean theoretically I should be fine. I've been riding for well over 20 years and I've spent all summer essentially as a working student to my instructor. But as we all know just because you are good at something doesn't necessarily mean you'll be good at teaching it. Of course then I remind myself that I do have a teaching certificate. I should be able to figure this out.

I'll be doing quite a bit of reading on the subject and trying to come up with some ideas and exercises for potential students. I know I'll be handling mostly beginners to early intermediate riders so it shouldn't be too hard.

Okay, I really am excited!

In other news Loki popped a splint a couple of days ago. He doesn't have any heat in it and he isn't off but I'm giving him a couple days of rest followed by some very light hacking and then we'll re-evaluate when my trainer gets back from her trip.