falling off · horse racing

Horse weekend fail

I set my alarm early on Saturday morning, with the intention of riding first thing. I slept through my alarm.

So I took a bunch of pictures of the house, instead, for a planned Sunday post. The SD card would not talk to my computer.

Saturday night, I kept an eye on the clock the entire time. I was at my 10 year college reunion, having dinner with some of my dearest friends, but I thought, it’s Belmont day, and there might be a Triple Crown! And then I totally missed it.

Not only did I miss the Belmont, this is the first year in my memory – so in at least 25 years – in which I did not watch a single one of the Triple Crown races live. Not a single one. Every other year I have found a bar, or streaming online, or sat in front of a TV all afternoon. Something.

I was legitimately inconsolable until my sports freak fiance pointed out that I was the one who reversed the jinx. Because I hadn’t watched, he’d won. Strangely, that does make me feel slightly better, as did finding a replay of the race a few minutes afterwards and watching the beautiful effortless way he ran.

Sunday afternoon, I went out to ride. It was a gorgeous day, and Tristan kept bulging toward the door of the indoor. So I thought hey, ok, we’ll go do our first ride in the outdoor.

It was the kind of utter shit ride that happens like twice a year. 50 minutes and the only productive period was the last 90 seconds of the last trot set. Jesus Christ. I wanted to just gallop him endlessly and lather him up and get him good and tired and obedient…except we are on a back-to-work schedule, and that would be irresponsible and cruel. I settled for gritting my teeth and just getting it over with.

Then, to cap it? I fell off.

Because Tristan had been sooooooooooo shitty and lethargic all day, and the outdoor footing is deeper and different than he’s used to, he’d been quite trippy. After our last trot set, I dropped the reins and let him walk it off, and 2 minutes later, he tripped, and didn’t recover. Down to his knees. Onto his face. I tipped forward, and had a moment of “should I?”and then realized he wasn’t recovering, said “fuck it” and attempted some kind of ungainly safety dismount.

Only he started to get up as soon as he felt my weight shift, and my carefully planned hop off turned into a fall, and I didn’t have enough mental presence to change plans, so I sort of flopped off and landed hard on my lower back and left hip, then smacked my head for good measure.

I hung onto the reins – not that he was going anywhere, he was mostly looking at me like “wtf, lady?” – and just lay there. I’d gotten the wind well and truly knocked out of me. Then I got my breath back and swore, a LOT, and LOUDLY. Then I rolled to my knees, catalogued my aches, and got back on to finish out the cool down.

Then I went home and filled our big new bathtub to the brim with hot water and Epsom salts and had two glasses of wine and sulked.

Last night, I slept like shit, because the torqued muscles in my back started to ache as the first-stage aches faded. I am moving slowly and popping Tylenol today. Back at it this afternoon. Sigh.

conditioning · falling off · stupid human tricks

Opposite Day, or That Time My Lazy Pony Bucked Me Off

I honestly can’t remember the last time I came off my horse, you guys. It’s been at least two, maybe three years. Moral of the story: I was due.

I headed out later in the evening, after trading off the puppy and cleaning around the house, tacked up in his jump saddle and figure-8 bridle, and set in for some conditioning & hills work.

Conditioning has proven ever so slightly tricky because on the farm I have too much of a good thing: hills! We’re going up or down as soon as we set foot out the front door. It’s actually harder to find good long straightaways for road hacking. I can’t modify the difficulty level, really.

Last night I tried out a bit of a system that I’d been pondering in my head: namely, circling all the upper paddocks at various gaits. So we started walking around the entire area, about a mile and a half. Then we trotted up the hayfield hill, then walked back down and around the furthest paddocks.

We repeated that for two trot sets, one canter set, and another trot set. The first trot set was ugly; the second perked up halfway through; then after that it was smooth sailing: he was stretching into contact, pushing from behind, and not quitting at the top of the hill.

Red outline is the first walk set we did, purple is the hayfield hill, about a half mile steady rise. The entire red outline is some kind of hill – the trailers near the upper right part of this image are the highest elevation point in this image.

For the last set, we trotted up the bottom part of the rectangle, then turned and had an easy canter for about 1/3 of the way up. Then I bridged my reins and asked for some speed.

BOOM. He launched himself for about three strides in glee, then chucked his head down and let fly with two or three decent bucks. I was caught totally by surprise, and on the third buck found myself on his neck.

They weren’t running bucks, more like he had bolted, landed, thrown his head down, and bucked mostly in place. I had a split second’s realization that I was going down, and yelled “YOU LITTLE SHIT” at the top of my lungs. I landed on my side and my hip and rolled to my butt, still holding on to the reins, glaring up at him.

He looked so pleased and confused that I couldn’t stop laughing. I stood up, made sure he was steady, and got back on, and within a stride or two asked him for the gallop again.

YAHOOOOO for two or three strides, but this time I was ready and yanked his head back up and KICKED, and then he settled right in to a nice big power gallop the rest of the way up, with firm contact and a fistful of mane on my part. I had to stand up in the stirrups a bit to slow him down when we got to the top of the hill.

He was clearly sweaty and tired and very pleased with himself. I laughed the whole way back to the barn, and then turned him out into a gravel paddock to hang out and finish cooling off, bringing a bucket and sponge out instead of using the wash stall.

Best part: other than my hips & thighs from the two-point work I did, I am not the slightest bit sore from the fall. Whew!

He’ll get tonight off, then a dressage school Thursday, then road hack on Friday.

abscess · cross-country · falling off · lesson notes · scarlet hill farm

95% Perfect: Cross-Country Schooling at Scarlet Hill Farm

With Tristan completely sound for a dressage ride on Friday night, we went up to our scheduled lesson at Scarlet Hill Farm on Saturday. The trip went well, and we got there with plenty of time to tack up and walk around a bit.

We started the lesson with a bit of trotting and cantering around, and then some small and medium-sized jumps singly. Denise pinpointed our problem almost immediately: Tristan tends to land from cross-country jumps and think he’s done, often coming back to a trot. Part of it is his laziness, and part of it is my fault, leftover from his grab-the-bit-and-run days. In order to build a rhythm out on course, though, and to really work on his galloping, we’ll need to figure out how to land, kick it up a gear, and then come back for the approach to the next fence, all strung together and repeated.

So our task for the first 20 minutes was to get a good, forward approach, land, and gallop off straight. I was to make a really big, exciting deal out of going forward, straight. We’re still dealing a bit with his tendency to fling his shoulders every which way as an evasion. As Denise put it, if he’s going sideways, he’s not going forward.

For the first jump with this strategy, I cantered him up a hill, really zeroed in on the jump, landed, and immediately cheered him on forward – so he threw a party on the landing, as they say, dropping his nose and throwing in a few bucks out of excitement. He’s only done that a handful of times, and I couldn’t stop laughing. He’s still Tristan, so we’re talking mostly speed bump bucks that he stopped as soon as I pulled him up. We tried it once again, and this time I kept his head up and urged him forward, and he found his galloping gear a few strides out. The idea is that teaching him to land and go forward will also help improve our approach, and improve his scope as a consequence.

We then put together a few jumps, in some nice big loops of the field, and I was happy with everything except one piece of my own riding. I didn’t find as many places as I wanted to get off his back, for a few reasons. One, I’m not in the kind of shape I want to be in, and didn’t feel like I could both balance and ride effectively. Two, related, when I got off his back I didn’t have the kind of connection that I wanted in order to keep him forward; dropping back into the saddle helped me bring him forward and up – and then put me in the right place to gather him again for the fence.

Then we strung together six jumps in a row, in a big wide circuit. The first three went beautifully, and after that we had a bit of a downhill run. He was feeling a bit fresh, and a bit off-balance, and at the foot of the hill Denise had given me the choice between a BN-sized jump that was a bit spooky, versus a jump that she thought was 2’9″ or 2’11” – definitely Novice-sized – but rampier and much more straightforward. When I looked at it from up the hill, it also looked like the line would be easier, the turn wider and flatter.

However, I hadn’t anticipated being off balance from down the hill, and I both backed him off a little too much – feeling too fast, though I really wasn’t, and also a bit in my head, as it was bigger than anything we’d jumped yet – and didn’t get my line, angling him a bit to the right and not really channeling him straight over.

We still would’ve been fine save for one final thing: he dropped his right front leg ever-so-slightly and caught his hoof hard on the 4×4 on the top of the jump. Again, still fine, except this was the foot that had just abscessed, and I’m sure dinging it that hard stung like hell. He landed, went OW, and stumbled hard – never falling! – but just enough for me to be thrown forward on his neck. I had a moment or two of trying to save it, and then decided to bail, rolling over his shoulder and landing shoulder-hip-head. I completed the roll and went straight to my feet, to see him hopping around and not even wanting to put the RF on the ground.

I had a moment of sheer panic and checked over the leg – no hair missing, no scuff on the boot at all, and then I saw a scrape on his hoof. Denise made it down the hill, and we stood him for just a second, then walked him about, and then I got on and walked and trotted him for a second. It had clearly stung like hell, but wasn’t any kind of permanent problem. We then proceeded to walk and trot a few times over the smaller barrel fence, the “spooky” one (he didn’t care) in beautiful form, and then we went up to play in the water, just in case his foot did start to ache again.

He did GREAT at the water, everything I could have hoped for – went right in, trotted around, trotted in and out. Then we put together another small course that involved jumping out of the water over a small long, looping around a few small jumps, and dropping back into the water over the same (barely 12″) log – which he’s never done before.

Again – GREAT – and not only that but he jumped out of and dropped into the water SO WELL. Like a pro. Set himself up for it, didn’t launch, didn’t hesitate, slowed down but only a hair, and I was so stinking proud of him. Unfortunately after that loop his foot really was achey – sound at the walk and trot, but clearly not quite up to galloping and jumping. I asked if we could pop him over a ditch while we were there (he has never indicated any signs of being ditchy, but I wanted to cover my bases) and we did so.

As Denise pointed out, he was jumping much better and more cleanly after whacking his foot. She said wryly that it’s a tough lesson, but sometimes they need a bit of a wake up like that. He even got close to cracking his back and getting scopey over a little red house jump. It’s really too bad that he started getting sore again, because he was starting to go really well, but I got everything I wanted out of the day, and we’ll be back next month for more.

He stood quietly to get untacked and bathed, and I rubbed liniment all over, including his RF hoof and sole, figuring why not? When we got back to the barn, I settled him in and soaked his RF again to get some of the sting out, then gave him bute and asked the morning feeder to give him more. That, plus some rest, should put him right as rain.

In the meantime, I am off to Dover to get myself a new helmet (it was due anyway, 3+ years old and dropped a few times) and him some bell boots to go cross-country in from now on…