Saturday, March 31, 2012


It's the weekend of the ISSO clinic and awards banquet, and I'm already exhausted even tho' it's not even Saturday afternoon.

Wednesday afternoon Michelle came out to Woodwind for a few days before heading up to the meeting.  She'd been down in Virginia hunt country for the previous few days, riding aside and soaking up the atmosphere of the hunt country.  She had a side saddle lesson or two from Devon, plus went out hacking with her as well as being whisked off for an afternoon of hunt races and tail gating with the hoy paloy.  She had a whirlwind trip through Northern Virginia and Annapolis before arriving at our place, still energetic and ready for further sidesaddle adventures.  We had a brief hour before dark, so we threw saddles on Owen and Cressie and headed out for a quick loop on the trail.

Michelle never runs out of energy or enthusiasm so on Thursday we were joined by Bruce to head into downtown Baltimore to visit the National Aquarium and the Inner Harbor.  After a late lunch she was still keen to see more (we had to squash her request to rent a dragon shaped paddle boat and splash around the harbor), so Bruce and I took her for a drive through the Worthington Valley...we wanted her to see that Maryland has its own tradition of horses and hunting.  Once back at Woodwind we had 45 minutes to catch our breaths and imbibe some much needed caffeine prior to battling our way through rush hour traffic to get to the airport to pick up Michelle's friend, Lee who was also coming to town for ISSO.

The airport trip was an adventure all itself since the airport is good sized and we were searching for one single lady from Canada...we did manage to miss each other and after an 90 minutes of wandering around the terminal we were finally united by a helpful baggage handler who loaned Lee his cell phone.  I'd been battling a migraine all day and was definitely ready to drop, but dinner was in order so we headed to downtown Westminster for a meal at O'Lourdan's, and a quick bite turned into a 2 hour meal and hen fest that eventually resulted with the waitresses dropping hints that it was time for us to leave.  We finally reached Woodwind around 10:30 PM where we all tumbled into bed.

We spent Friday morning poking around Cold Saturday, exploring the grounds and barns and speeding up and down the carriage road in the mule.  Had I know of their interest in old architecture I'd have arranged for a tour of the house itself, but we were running short of time and I'd promised Michelle a dressage lesson on Owen.  So we returned to the farm, tacked up, and headed down to the arena.  My Manorgrove, of course, was too big for Michelle, but she managed quite well and she and Owen got on suitably.  They were able to do some basic lateral work (shoulder in, travers, halfpass) as well as some of the advanced FEI stuff like piaffe and passage.  Michelle wanted to try a canter pirouette and that turned out to be the most challenging movement.  Owen wasn't quite sure what she wanted, so I hopped on, quickly rode a pirouette, and then handed Owen back to Michelle.  Once Owen realized what Michelle was asking for, he obligingly sat down on his haunches and hopped around at the was very neat to see how well the two of them did together, and I was glad she got the chance to ride the tricky stuff...I'd have felt terrible if Owen had been a pill and just shuffled around the ring at a lazy trot or canter, refusing to cooperate.

Lee it turns out has ridden aside for many many years, and my impression was that her primary interest was western sidesaddles, tho' she is also interested in learning to flock english sidesaddles.  Because of their location, it is very difficult for them to get any sidesaddle fitting done competently.  But I also discovered that Lee is a consummate sidesaddle enabler, playing the part of that little guiltless shopping conscious that sits on her companion's left shoulder whispering all sorts of aside temptations.  Michelle had already done a fair bit of shopping on her trip and arrived at my place with a new vintage Roberts & Carroll purchased from Devon as well as some odds'n'ends from a trip to Dover Saddlery.  While helping her pack I found wither tracings for all three of her horses surreptitiously packed into her boot bag!  But I have a feeling that Lee will have Michelle sitting in any and all sidesaddles for sale this coming weekend, not to mention trying on habits, etc...they were both extremely keen to experience all things sidesaddle and were mentioning purchasing some additional luggage to tote their acquisitions home to Canada!  Friday afternoon I sent them off in Michelle's rental car, more or less pointed NE toward the meeting site with a Maryland map and some freshly baked brownies before dragging my own weary carcass home for some much needed rest.  I was still battling my migranine, now persisting into its third day of life.

Tonight is the awards banquet, in which Michelle will figure prominently so I will catch up with her and Lee there.  I did get a brief email from Michelle stating that they had found the hotel, along with two additional habits that fit her as well as a fascinating supply of sidesaddles...I despair for her credit card!

No doubt Michelle will have lots of things to post about her trip on her own blog, not to mention several hundred photos.  Whenever we were driving she'd call out, "stop, stop, I need to take a picture!"  I think Lee even got some video of her performing piaffe on Owen aside, so stay tuned into MillĂ©simĂ© Equestrienne  for some fascinating reading.

So far we've had a wonderful time and we'd like to tempt both Michelle and Lee back to the US for more sidesaddle activity...hopefully we can get them to make the trip for Camp Leaping Horn and Sidesaddle at USET.

So, when are the rest of you going to come for a sidesaddle sightseeing tour?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Owen Lies.

Given how discouraged I was after yesterday's ride, it took tremendous effort for me to force myself into the saddle after work today.  But today's Owen was not yesterday's Owen!  Owen got several lines of tempis on the first try, with very little fuss or effort.  Yes, he did get a little worked up from time to time, but all it took was a gentle halt and a neck scratch to calm him sufficiently to resume work.  In fact, he was so well behaved with every movement that I schooled fewer than 15 minutes before heading out onto the trails. 

What is so remarkable is that 1.  it was cold and windy out and 2.  my neighbor was target shooting the entire time.  I suppose Owen is in a more cheerful mood since the weather cleared and he was able to be out for most of the fact, he was out flat snoozing in the sun when I got to the farm.  Or maybe Owen has a blog app that let him read yesterday's post, alerting him to the fact that his current employment was in jeopardy.

Either way, I'm not complaining.  But sorry,'ll have to wait a bit longer.

On a tangentially related note, I'm currently reading a science book called, "The End of Evolution; On Mass Extinction and the Preservation of Biodiversity" by paleontologist Peter Ward.  In discussing the climatic end of the remaining dinosaurs 65 million years ago and the subsequent rise and radiation of the mammals he writes,

 "One of the earliest groups of carnivores evolved from hoofed herbivores; there is no modern analog to these giant, hooved predators.  Imagine a large carnivorous horse chasing after you, snorting and smacking long pointed teeth.  Sugar cubes, apples, and saddles would be inappropriate."

Clearly, the good doctor has never met Owen!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Confound It, Owen!

Well, I was actually thinking much fouler language than that!  Due to two days of downpours, Owen has been off and today the ring had dried out enough to be usable.  Owen had been shut up during the rains and he was not at all pleased about this...first, he took a big bite out of his room mate, Renegade, and then he managed to get his cribbing collar turned upside down which allowed him to resume his self destructive behavior.

And I had just fooled myself into believing that the underside of his neck was beginning to look a little less hypertrophic.  So I cranked down on the tightness of the collar.

I've been trying to get him tuned up since Michelle will be staying a few days with us this week before the ISSO weekend and she is going to ride him, but at this rate, I just might let her take him home to Canada with her!  After a quick little warm up I thought I'd knock out the 4-3 test as a confidence builder, and the first 90% of it rode just fine...half passes, pirouettes, extensions, all came without effort.  But the last movement is a canter across the diagonal with *you guessed it* tempi changes.  Owen blew through the first change, set his jaw, flipped his head...and took off across the diagnonal!  It took some serious sawing to get him back, and I don't like to admit to such heavy use of the reins but sometimes you do need to get in the horse's face to stop him.   We tried to repeat the diagonal, and once again Owen dropped his back and bolted.  So we worked on riding very short diagonal with a single flying change prior to reaching the far side...if Owen took off he would run into the arena rim.  He did eventually cool down and allowed me to do a single change when crossing the center line in both directions, but no way no how was he going to do more than one.

So, I headed out the field to give myself endless room to school them, and once again he turned into a 15 hand thunderbolt, so I settled down deeper into the saddle and mentally steeled myself for some seriously intense work.  I changed direction and cantered away from the barn, and presto!  Owen did three changes in a row without so much as flipping an ear, even tho' we were cantering down a slight incline which should have increased the difficulty.  When I returned to the barn my sister took one look at me, exhausted and drenched in sweat, and Owen, who was not breathing hard and hadn't turned a hair, and said, "that doesn't bode well."

So, the questions is, does Owen truely fear the changes or is he just being a bully?  I'm riding in a loose ring snaffle with no what is he complaining about?  I've had two other vets examine him, and there's no physical reason why he can't do them.

Do I just quit and hand Owen off to be a 3rd level schoolmaster for someone else?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ups and Downs

Today was a two horse day for me, and there was one so so ride and one fantastic one.  Oddly enough, it was Owen who gave me the "enh" ride and Fat Cressie who was wonderful.

It's monstrously hot and humid, and it turns out that Sis let the horses stay out all night so Owen was practically walking in his sleep when I mounted up.  I read some advice in DT about schooling changes on an uphill slope to facilitate the horse keeping his hocks under him, so I found a nice gentle rise to work on.  After some basic circle work we cantered up the little hill to work on the tempis.  As usual, a change or two is all it takes to get Owen tense and excited so he was snorting like a freight train as we worked.  We were able to get about five changes on the line, I'm not sure what the count was between them.  If his back was tight I did not ask for one until he relaxed.  The changes were clean and uphill...but since we were cantering uphill how could they not be?!  The good thing was that if he was tense I just half halted and for the most part he relaxed within one or two strides.

But still I was disappointed when we returned to the barn.

I had a few minutes to spare once Owen was put away (with his entire head wrapped in mesh to ward off the bugs...he looks rather odd.) and my sister had asked if I could school Cressie a bit.  I wasn't enthusiastic.  In fact, it often takes a very strong mental push to get me up on a second horse, especially if my first ride was less than stellar.  But I threw the tack on Fat Cressie and hopped on anyway.  Despite some half hearted attempts on her part to shy every time a bird flew over we had a wonderful school.  We did some basic walk trot and canter work on the 20 meter circle, and she picked up her leads on the first try and stayed on the bit with good contact the entire time.  She really is a lovely mover and I had a wonderful time and rode back to the barn in very high spirits.

Who'd 'a' thought that just riding a few training level movements would give me such satisfaction.  Perhaps I've become so obsessed with riding the tempis that I'm losing sight of why I enjoy riding in the first place.  Maybe I'll even show Fat Cressie some this year, but I don't know if I have a side saddle that will fit her.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

And So On...

There has been all kinds of business going on since my last post, some good, some not so good.  My faithful Xterra has been leaking oil on the driveway, and I'm in no position to replace it if it's got a serious soundness issue.  Work has been frantically busy and since Owen has been convalescing I've not been able to ride in some time.  We're trying to get the new house plans finalized as well as fix up the old one to sell, so there's a lot up in the air.

I had lunch with Patty again today (the editor of Dressage Today) and while it was enjoyable, talk of elite dressage has a dampening effect on my enthusiasm for the sport.  It only served to sharply remind me that my FEI work isn't up to snuff, and I don't know what to do about it.  Patty suggested seeking out a trainer who is especially gifted with teaching changes but I don't know how to go about such a search, plus it's been my experience that establishing a good relationship with a trainer is like blind dating; you never know what you're getting to get, and you can't rush the trust that's needed.  My biggest concern is taking a lesson with an instructor only to find that she doesn't want to work with anything that's not a warmblood.  And that would be Owen.

I did hop on him for a bit today...we just did a few minutes of canter work before taking a short hack.  It is seriously unseasonably warm, somewhere in the mid 80s, and Owen even worked up a bit of a lather on our little ride plus the bugs were bothering him something fierce.  It's still March, yet I had to sponge him down and use fly spray and rub SWAT ointment in his ears.  Owen also occasionally has some trouble with inhaled allergies which can leave him a little out of breath...I ausculted his lungs with a stethescope, and fancied that I could hear just a bit of a wheeze in his dorsal lung fields.  But it's hard enough to get him to eat his doxycycline, so there's no way of adding an antihistamine to his diet.  Who knows?  I might be imagining things.

When I returned home the postman delivered yet another garment for my sidesaddle stable.  When my previous shad got eaten I ordered a new one from Cindy, this time a very light summerweight in a charcoal gabardine.  But since I was able to get the fabric on sale I went a head and had a matching apron plus a lower level dressage coat made.  As always I was concerned about a rippling apron with the pommels poking through, so I had Cindy use a very heavy black denim as an interfacing so this apron has a nice stiff body with a sharp rear corner.

The habit is darker than it looks
here.  This is shown with the
regular dressage coat.

Here it is with the shadbelly.

I had Cindy make the collar black velvet with matching fabric buttons and gold and silver brocade vest points; I'm going to make a matching stock tie from the extra brocade.

The tails.
 The only thing I'm not thrilled about is the drape of the tails, and this has nothing to do with Cindy's tailoring but rather the design of the pattern.  For those of you with FEI aspirations I don't recommend the Suitability shadbelly pattern; Jean Hardy's is much better.  In the Suitability pattern, the right tail is wider than the left so there is no gap visible between the tails when dismounted.  On the ground this may be fine and good, but once mounted it looks a bit odd.  Most show shads address this by having tails the same width but with a U shaped panel beneath and between them, so if they do gap all you see is matching fabric rather than an inverted V of white breeches.  It's not an issue since I'll be wearing it with a matching apron, but I'm going to fix it anyway.

Alistair loves it; what better endorsement could there be?

Barb Thelan and I are going to be giving a sidesaddle demonstration to some 4-H kids in May; perhaps I'll get to wear it then.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Excuses, Excuses!

If it's not one thing it's another...I can ride, but Owen is laid up.  It seemed to me that he'd felt a big sluggish our last few rides, not to mention that not only was he not progressing but actually seemed to be back sliding on the changes.  But yesterday I rode him in the ring for a change and I noticed an audible toe drag on the ride hind, so on a hunch I pulled some blood when we returned to the barn.

Sure enough, he not only came up strong positive for Lyme but also Anaplasma, another rickettsial disease that causes fatigue, functional anemia, and swollen joints.  Owen does have some bone spurs in his right hock due to an old confrontation with a wire fence in his youth, and when he gets exposed to these microbes his arthritis flares up.  So, he gets some time off along with some nice flavored doxycycline powder I got compounded from an online pharmacy. 

But what do I do in the mean time?

It seems like a lot of us have been doing some sidesaddle shopping lately and I couldn't be left out, so I plunked down some $$ for a copy of Ladies on Horseback by Mrs. Powell O'Donahue.  It's another one of those classic sidesaddle texts that you see quoted here and there, and the lack of it was leaving a big gap in my aside library.  I love comparing contemporary books, and I'm always entertained by the contrasting advice given by various authors.  Some advocate the "new" flat seated saddles, while others refer to modern saddles as "modern straight seated nonsense."  These are of course some of the most acclaimed riders of their time, yet some recommend a hooked back right leg as we do today while others emphatically state that the right leg must lie along the shoulder.  Certainly the saddle choice affects position, since a flat saddle allows the rider to roll up onto the right hip better and placement of the right leg hooked back, while the sweepy seated saddles tend to throw you back in the saddle, necessitating advancing the leg further forward in order to maintain security.

But what I find most entertaining is the instruction on turn out and dress.  Mrs. O'Donahue describes a meet at which many, many ladies were in attendance (the presence of Empress Cissy might have had something to do with it!) and very few met her standards.  Her primary complaint was not their riding ability but their turnout, especially their hairstyles!  Similarly, she is against ladies riding cross saddle not because of health or physical reasons such as round thighs, but because they look so much better aside.

Still, outdated as they are, those old sidesaddle manuals are important reading!

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Wow, have I been negligent in my posting, but the lack of blogging reflects the lack of saddle time I've been experiencing.  I'm still battling the bronchitis that laid me low two weeks ago, and pretty much I've been spending all of my non-work hours in bed.  It's been tough dragging myself to the clinic on weekdays, but work has been tougher than usual...for whatever reason, I've seen more than my fair share of terminally ill animals this week and this has a terrible effect on me mentally.  There have been days when I've diagnosed three or four terminal cancers, plus a very sad case involving a five month old kitten in the end stage of feline leukemia...the mother cried horribly, dreading the fact that she had to go home and tell her children that their kitten had less than a couple of days to live.

I've had to take up some serious drinking when I get home from work!  Plus, one night I dreamed that Owen came up EIA positive on his Coggins and I had to put him down...I woke up in a horrible sweat!

Still, I've managed to get some saddle time in this week, and as usual the flying changes are my primary focus.  I'm now seriously convinced that Owen's essential block to performing them is mental rather than physical, and while we can get three or four in a row, his brain does explode after a few minutes.  I can feel his tension well up right through the saddle and the reins, and at that point it's time to take a break.  We haven't progressed in number of changes nor frequency, but it does feel as if his changes are of a higher quality than they were before.  I'm still flip flopping between aside and astride, but when riding astride I have abandoned spurs and ride in a simple snaffle, expecting Owen to respond to 90% weight aids.  This has been such a boon when riding aside since he will now change with just a seat shift and barely needs any offside stick in any movement. 

I'm still doing a lot of canter-halt-canter work, and sometimes just standing still is the most difficult part for Owen...on occasion I'll actually feel him tremble a bit, anticipating some sort of jump forward.  When this happens I lengthen the reins and scratch his neck until he exhales and stretches down.  This is a very slow process which can't be rushed, but I think we may finally be on the right track.  I could just stick him in a double bridle and force the changes through, but it would be time poorly spent.  I'm going to have to be patient, and if we don't show this year, we don't show!

But it's not like I don't have a lot going on otherwise.  We just met with the architect and got a bid which fits our budget, so we're very close to submitting our plans to the county for approval...if all goes well, we'll be moving by summer.

This is the southern elevation...lots of porches!