Friday, January 22, 2010

Jimmy vs The Blue Saddle

Jimmy vs The Blue Saddle. The saddle won! I think. Yea, the saddle won! :)

I was able to take the day off work today for a lesson with Jim Wofford. You might ask - what about that wintry mix that came across DC today - did I risk my life driving through a winter storm, all for a lesson with Jimmy? Not totally, but maybe a little. My wonderful friend, Kim Clark, drove us out to Berryville, VA in her rig. I was a little too scared to take my new trailer - last week's rain storm was bad enough for the first trip. Ice, sleet and snow on the second trip sounded not so fun. Luckily, I think all of DC freaked out and took the day off work to stay home, so it was smooth sailing around the beltway. We even got there quite a bit early, and below is a picture of Katchi hanging out in Kim's trailer waiting for his lesson time. He was cracking me up, peeking his little head out the window!

At the start of my lesson, I had to ask Jimmy to take a look at the fit of the new saddle. I was really pleased that he thinks it fits me great and he really liked the shape! When he was looking at my knee angle and the shape of the front of the saddle, he said - "yes, they've really got this right!" But, what about the blue part, you ask?? I pointed to it and smiled real cute. Jimmy just said, "I'm going to pretend I didn't see that." Well, wasn't that diplomatic of him?! I'll take that as a win for the saddle!

Kim tried to take a few pictures of Katchi in the blue saddle, but between her horse "helping" with the photo process and the lighting, they're a little fuzzy. But, below is the best one. I thought about asking Jimmy to be in the picture - but I was afraid he might say no!

As for the actual lesson - it was great! Working with Jimmy is always great! This was my first time really jumping in the new saddle. I've had my old jumping saddle for about 15 years, so this is quite a change for me! Today's lesson was a series of different gymnastics lines designed to help the horse lengthen and shorten his frame. The first few jumps, I felt a total mess! Legs swinging everywhere... falling back in the saddle... general ugliness over fences! But it didn't take me too long to find my balance in the new saddle, and then Jimmy got down to work on dusting the cobwebs off my rusty position! Katchi did great today - Jimmy even said that he looks stronger than last year - jumping better and using his back and haunches better. And he sure felt great! As Jimmy said, today was about being an "intelligent passenger"- everything was on a loose rein, letting the horses find their feet and remember how to be clever. After their winter break, before the show season gets started, it's good to remind the horses that they are responsible for the jumping part - we're just along for the ride!

And to end with a funny note... before the lesson started, Jimmy was talking about various expeditions to the South Pole and climbing Mount Everest - basically, about surviving against all odds. The stories eventually turned to describing some climbers going past a body on the edge of a glacier, and thinking it was some adventurer who was lost in the area 17 years before - turns out it was some other guy who had just recently fallen off the cliff and died. Sharon White commented that this sure puts the danger of eventing into perspective! It's not like we go galloping around cross country, look down, and say, "oh, gee, there's ol' suzie who fell off last year..." I guess eventers aren't so crazy after all!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Silva Martin - Part I

Silva Martin. I'm almost speechless - but yesterday's lesson deserves a blog entry, so let me see what words I can come up with in my state of awe, inspiration, and total bliss -oh, and, um yea, a bit of pain today too!

Last summer, Silva gave Philip Dutton's campers our day 1 dressage lesson. I was pretty nervous before that lesson as I don't partake in the buffet of dressage queen selections too often. I don't like change. But, sometimes change is a very good thing and just what you need to push yourself out of your comfort zone. And Silva, well, she was amazing then and now! And she has the most wonderful phrases that just beg to be mantras. Last summer she told me that Katchi must finish each step with his hind legs (we've seen a lot of dressage test comments about more energy from behind...). "Finish each step... Finish each step..." That carried me from July until now.
Katchi and I have been working very hard the past couple of weeks to condition ourselves for yesterday's 45 minute dressage lesson. And it's a good thing, because Silva didn't disappoint! So, here are my new mantras for the next 2 weeks until the next Silva clinic -

1. "Put myself in a frame first." I can't expect Katchi to be balanced with core strength if I can't do the same for myself. So, before I can ask him to engage from behind, relax his neck, and lighten his shoulders, I have to be strong enough to keep myself in a frame. Through the pain from yesterday, I did sit-ups this morning. Is two weeks enough time to "fix" your core weakness??

2. "Let my elbows swing without showing it in my hands." The sitting trot. I'm an eventer. In today's eventing world, we don't have to sit the trot until Prelim. Prelim is almost a short-term goal. Sitting trot. And did we ever sit the trot yesterday! Last spring, I went out to watch Rolex in Kentucky, and I really focused on watching for stiff lower backs - it was amazing the terrible things that a rider's stiff lower back would do to a horse's engagement and movement. For almost a year now, I have been working on developing an absorbing, flowing, and strong lower back. In watching the video of yesterday, I'm quite happy with the progress I've been making on that. Now onto my shoulders, elbows and hands. It really isn't very pretty to look like you're slumped over your computer keyboard when you're sitting atop a magnificent horse! Katchi would be embarrassed for me if he could see the video.

3. "Lean back." At the end of my lesson, Silva said - it doesn't matter who it is or that they have any idea why or what - I just need someone standing in the arena saying "lean back" every stride. So much for needing a brilliant instructor - I just need a tape recorder. Well, at least that's cheaper.

P.S. I LOVE THE NEW TRAILER!!! And I think even Katchi is pretty pleased with his new Porsche! And a very special thanks to Debi for giving me moral support over the Bay Bridge in the rain in the new trailer (AGH!) and for being a cinematic genius with the video camera.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The NEW Katchi Mobile!

The New Katchi Mobile is here! And I LOVE it! Katchi thinks I'm very weird and doesn't see what the big deal is... yet! After several months of debating custom features, weighing all the options, and waiting... waiting... I picked it up last night from Traveled Lane Trailers in Centreville, MD - I cannot give them in higher recommendation! I think I've asked every stupid question (and a few smart ones too!) through this process - and Jon kindly answered every single one and then a few! And what a trailer I have now! It is FABULOUS! I upgraded from a bumper-pull to a gooseneck (the brand is Shadow), and it took about 30 seconds of driving down the road to totally fall in love with it! Of course, I am laughing pretty hard at my shiny beautiful sparkling trailer, and my faithful and not so shiny truck - they're quite the odd couple!

This afternoon, taking advantage of this much appreciated warm-spell, I had a little trailer warming party! Thanks so much to all my fabulous friends who hung out, drank some wine (and champagne!), ate Ilkim's awesome spinach pastries, Adrianne's sinful giant cookies, and my mom's chocolates & fudge (shipped all the way from California just for the occasion!). Adrianne's husband, Erik, checked out all the hinges and latches and everything for me - which is good that someone did that because all I've been capable of the last 24 hours is repeating over and over again "isn't it SO beautiful?!" with a huge grin on my face - like someone straight out of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"!

Adrianne's Isis was the first "horse" in the trailer, and it was just her size (Isis is an 11 year old Great Dane - check out the picture of Isis with Erik - the trailer really is just her size)! Katchi was the next in - after a thorough sniffing and general inspection, he made his way inside to christen it with a lovely pile of manure! As if Katchi didn't already know it, he definitely thought we'd lost our crackers today - we put him in this new sparkling box, take lots of pictures, raised our hot pink plastic glasses of wine, laughed like little kids, and then took him back out. Very very strange humans.
Katchi will go for his first trip in the new trailer tomorrow - we have a lesson with Silva Martin. They're calling for rain tomorrow, so that will be a fun adventure. I'm so glad my friend Debi is coming with me to keep me from panicking as I drive over the Bay Bridge in the rain in my SHINY new trailer!!

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Ribbon Fairy

Did you know there is a ribbon fairy? There is. She came to my house today. And I love her.

I came home from work tonight to an unexpected package at my front door from Area II. I thought they must have mistakenly sent me the obligatory new member hat by mistake, but it was no mistake! The ribbon fairy had come to visit!

Last year, I signed Katchi up for the Area II Novice high point competition, and despite a little glitch in our Novice point accumulation when we (very happily!) moved up to Training level in the summer - Katchi finished 5th in Area II for Open Novice! Nice one Katchi! And they sent us the biggest and most beautiful ribbon (yea, I've got a thing for ribbons!). It's seriously huge! Probably at least 3 feet long! Area II put together a very nice page and some stories about all the points participants - Click here.

Also, while I'm raving about Area II - I'll also give them one more huge Thank You for generously awarding me a 2009 scholarship. Although every penny that contributes to a rider and horseman's continual learning is greatly appreciated, it's also a huge morale boost to not only be validated with (very large and pretty!) ribbons but also by folks who believe your goals are possible! I asked myself the other day if Phillip Dutton ever sits on a horse and cries because he just can't get something right. Okay, I realize that's pretty unlikely. But, maybe he did as a kid. Maybe?! Anyhow, it's on days like that, long after the scholarship money is spent, that the meaning of the award keeps you going back into the dressage arena another day!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Another Trailer Safety Story

I just received my January PVDA newsletter, (the January newsletter is not online as of date of this posting) and I was struck by a short article by Rita Boehm, "The Glitch Was the Hitch: A Cautionary Tale." As many of you know, I recently had quite a scare with my trailer, which has now gone to a trailer graveyard. I've read countless articles and checklists on all the safety things to check on a trailer... floorboards, lights, brakes, air pressure... A few months ago, I learned that walls covered with fiberglass, which appear flawless from the outside, can rot entirely from the inside. Luckily, as in the PVDA newsletter story, my "glitch" was discovered without harm to the trusting and faithful steeds who let us put them in a tiny box to go wheeling around the DC beltway - with all kinds of DC wackos weaving around (and on!) us, without compassion for our magnificent animals tied in those boxes painted all over with signs warning "CAUTION HORSES" "STAY BACK"... Having read the PVDA story, I have now added 'regular removal and inspection of hitch' to my trailer safety checklist. When the newsletter is available online, take a look at the picture of the hitch. If you imagine the steel portion of the bumper-pull hitch that slides into the hole portion on the truck - now imagine the portion of the hitch that would remain hidden whenever the hitch is in place - and imagine it totally rusted and rotted - like Swiss cheese. And it didn't take 30 years to get this way. Scary. Here's Rita Boehm's article...

On the Saturday afternoon before Chapter Challenge, Lisa Lewis loaded her two horses for what she envisioned to be an uneventful 50 minute trip from Sandy Spring, Md., to the Prince George's Equestrian Center. As she sat at the stop sign before pulling onto Norwood Road she felt a thud and an odd pull, like one of the horses had fallen down in the trailer. Concerned, she put the truck in park, and got out to check on what had happened.
Lisa glanced at the hitch on the way to check the horses, and what she saw made her stop short. The hitch had buckled in half! Fortunately, it hadn't broken all the way through and the barn was still nearby. She was able to disconnect the trailer, reconnect with another hitch and eventually continue on her way.
If the hitch had buckled on the Beltway, what turned out to be something of a minor inconvenience could easily have been a tragedy for herself, her horses and perhaps some unsuspecting drivers. Luck was on her side that day, but it could so easily have been a much different story.
The Drawtite hitch was 6 years old and had been left on the truck for the last two years; prior to that the hitch had been out in the elements infrequently, only when it was in use. When Cequent Performance Products was contacted for comment and to find out if there was an average life expectancy, the following information was provided. "What you have here is certainly severe and not something that you would expect to see. The life of the hitch is directly related to the use and storage of the product and I would not be able to list an 'average' life expectancy. The most critical issue is inspection of the towing rig each and every time prior to any use."
This may have been an unusual occurrence, but adding a regular inspection of the hitch to a trailering checklist is advice that those who saw the broken hitch will certainly take seriously.

P.S. - I am expecting my NEW TRAILER to begin its journey from Florida any day now - hope for clear roads and good weather for its trip!