After a week of relatively relaxed rides at the new-old barn. . . we had another not-so-great ride yesterday. As you recall, I suspected a few weeks ago that Tucker may have been having a mid-life crisis . Yesterday I had to get off and lunge the poor beast (on a really hot day, which I really hated doing to him), because he was spooking (at something that shouldn’t have been quite that scary) so badly that he was becoming unsafe, for both of us. ( Read: I do not trust my big clumsy horse to stand on his hind legs and not kill us both .) As you know, these situations cause an immediate morph into Rider-Scientist Extraordinaire. I’ll walk you through my varied list of hypotheses as to the possible causes of this errant behavior, and show you where the Process of Elimination has gotten me so far. 1. I went with the easiest solution first — maybe it’s just a little extra-special Spring Fever, and maybe he just needs a few pro rides. Limited success there, I know the pro I was using had one very good ride on him. Since he was spooking and occasionally acting like a moron (sorry Tucker, but it’s true dear) even with the pro, though, I don’t think that was the solution. 2. Next guess was the grain, and this hypothesis definitely had merit. When I switched barns, we also switched feeds. He has been on Omelene 400 , which is a grain that I love, for about 3 1/2 years now (he also gets beet pulp, but that didn’t change). It’s low sugar, low protein (12%), and high fiber, and it’s forage-based (beet pulp), not grain-based, which seems to be better for Tucker. It also has the Amplify nugget built right in, which is a weight-gain supplement I had looked into even before I started this feed. When we moved, we switched him to Triple Crown Complete , which was the preferred feed of the barn manager there, who is very knowledgeable about nutrition and feeding. It’s also beet pulp-based, and it’s the same 12% protein level, so I figured it was comparable. It is, however, higher in sugar and lower in fiber, and anyone who has ever been on a diet will know immediately that means more calories. Since Tucker was high as a kite, I thought maybe the change in feed was making him fresh. Long story short, he’s back on the O-400 (has been for several weeks now), but the issue still isn’t resolved. So, the grain-switch may not have helped matters, but the buck (haha, pun intended) does not stop here.
Most of us horse owners aren’t fortunate enough to spend all day with our horses, and many of us are stuck in an office all day, instead of covered in dirt and dust at the barn like we ought to be. For those of us like me, who are chained to a desk most of the time, there are fewer joys in life better than seeing how our beloved horses are spending their time. Nothing brings a smile to my face quicker than getting a picture of my boy in the middle of my day.
As I mentioned last week, I was laid up for several days with a nasty bug. I had planned to go to Devon on Thursday night, to see everyone’s favorite chestnut mare in her special retirement ceremony, but had to skip it. Thankfully, my friend Elise was there, and she offered to do a guest blog post for me about Thursday night’s festivities. (This week may officially become known as Mclain Ward Week here at TTW.) Enjoy! The Devon Horse Show. Just the name tugs at the heartstrings of every 12-year-old girl who has ever experienced the show.
Picture this – I’m standing at the in-gate just before the course walk for the Idle Dice Open Stakes Class at Devon. I have a Press Pass (Sidelines has hooked me up!), and I am trying to play it cool, but internally I am bouncing off the walls. I am literally standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Beezie Madden and Margie Engle. Everywhere I look, I see Olympic greatness. I stand at the gate, snapping photos with my pathetic, amateurish, digital camera, at the literal legends of our sport who are counting out strides just feet from me. It feels like I’m through the Looking Glass. Inside the Press Box, I stick out like a sore thumb. But, I am almost just as thrilled to be shoulder-to-shoulder with real equine journalists (there are people who do this for a living, how cool is that!). I quickly catch on that nobody really claps in there, and it’s all very routine. They take notes, snap photos, and idly chat about how long the winner interviews will likely take. Once again, I find myself trying to play it cool. The class ends, and I have taken dutiful notes on every round, where the rails fell, and which rides I liked. I’ve tried to take photos, but once again the pathetic camera has utterly failed me. (I vowed about a hundred times to upgrade that particular piece of equipment as the class went on.) When I sat down to write this post, though, I realized nobody tunes in to Tucker the Wunderkind for class results and you’ve seen my photography skills . Instead, check out the photos from Sidelines blogger Beth Harpham at Chasin’ - they are fantastic. And here’s the good stuff, from my perspective. Katie Dinan did something amazing at the beginning of her Open Stakes round that I won’t soon forget. She came to the first line, fences three and four (which, it goes without saying, were larger-than-life), and right in the middle of the line, her horse Nougat du Vallet let out a HUGE buck, about two strides out from the monster oxer that was fence four. Katie just got him straight again and cleared the oxer with no problem at all. They had just announced, moments ago, that she was Best Child Rider at Devon in ’09. Just in case anyone forgot that she’s not only awesome, but also just a kid. I was totally impressed, and vowed to remind myself of that moment the next time Tucker flicks an ear at a fly and I think it’s a good excuse to make a circle
When I was little, The Best Nest was my favorite bedtime story (ironic, given that I’ve grown up with an irrational, debilitating fear of birds). If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s a run-down. Mrs. Bird wakes up one morning and decides she’s sick of the tiny little birdhouse she and Mr. Bird have shared for, the reader must assume, the early years of their marriage, and she’s ready to move on up. So she sends Mr. Bird out on the task of finding more suitable accommodations. Mr. Bird, eager to please his young wife (who seems a little needy, in hindsight, if you ask me), tries out all kinds of alternatives in an effort to please her: a church tower, which is lovely until the bells ring, a pleasant tree, which becomes very unpleasant when Mr. Raccoon returns home. . .
Brace yourselves, Tucker fans. . . Tucker and I are really taking this cross-training thing seriously. First, a dressage clinic, and now, cross-country schooling with our friends Dom and CP : Tucker falls in love with yet another pony... Haha, okay, so I didn’t really go wild , but when I strapped on a safety vest and went marching into the water complex, my inner Hunter Princess just stood there with her mouth gaped open in shock. But Tucker and I had huge smiles on our faces! See? Tucker LOVED the water and did lots and lots of splashing
Dr. Norton, Oscar, and Marty Dr. Norton, who runs Norton Veterinary Consulting & Education Resources , has been a friend of mine since we were both riding small pony hunters and studying for spelling tests on the bus to school. She’s a Tucker fan too, and did a great blog post today about The Umbrella Study , in response to the post I did yesterday about Tucker’s encounter with a deadly row boat . I found this study fascinating – go check it out. It’s cold hard proof that our horses absolutely feed off of our emotions and our thoughts. After reading about the Umbrella Study I thought back on the ride. I think we all know that I must have been wondering if Tucker was going to behave himself on our walk around the lake. I was probably feeling really comfortable while we took the path we always take, but as soon as we rounded the turn, making a right instead of a left (onto unfamiliar territory), I’m willing to bet my heart rate went up, sending all kinds of early warning signals to Tucker. It’s no coincidence he spotted the row boat/saber tooth lying in wait just after we rounded that turn. And I bet my heart rate continued to increase with every spook and spin, and probably didn’t go back to normal until we reached the row boat itself and Tucker didn’t seem all that scared, which in turn signaled to Tucker that everything was indeed fine, cueing him in that it was okay to proceed around the lake. In sum, I’m willing to admit that I started it. Tucker is (once again) the brains of this operation. Only as scary as you make it...
Ever noticed how a lot of things in riding follow the old “chicken or the egg” principle? Sometimes it’s tough to know who is feeding off of whom, and who started it. I was pretty much fully recovered physically from my fall last week by Thursday (thanks to a steady routine of Sore-No-More, Advil, and Vodka), but the mental effects lingered well into the weekend. I’ve only been bucked off my horse once before (I’ve mentioned he’s basically a saint, right?), a few years ago, and I got pretty hurt, so it was a few weeks before I could get back on. After that fall, I found myself terrified of him, and had to lunge him before I got on (yes, the big sweet overgrown labrador, on the lunge line, for no reason at all, looking at me like I was nuts). This time was far less traumatic, but I still found myself feeling overly cautious when I climbed back into the tack. When he spooked at a jump standard as we trotted past it, I couldn’t help but wonder — am I creating this, because I’m worried about it? They read us so well, it’s entirely possible that I was giving off some weird vibes. So after the ride, we went for a long walk. There is a beautiful pond on the farm and I wanted to go walk around it. Tucker had never been back there, and ordinarily I would try to take him with a buddy the first time. But I felt strongly, on this beautiful Spring morning, with the birds chirping and the sun shining and everything smelling like sunshine and flowers, that we needed some bonding time. So we headed out alone, and Tucker marched along like a champ, enjoying the breeze, ears forward, tail swinging, until we got about 100 yards away from the pond. That’s when we spotted the Row Boat Tied to the Tree. Not something that would scare you or me, but Tucker explained, rather calmly [picture the voice-over on a National Geographic documentary], standing stock still in his tracks, that he is a 1200-pound, juicy, tasty, lean, flight animal, and he was therefore altogether NOT in the habit of nonchalantly approaching unidentified objects that could very well turn out to be sleeping predators just waiting for a mid-morning snack. It’s just plain common sense. Obviously. As I asked him to move forward, he became insistent that turning and running was for my benefit as well, and made a few bids to spin, which I somehow avoided by sitting still and guiding him forward with an opening rein. Tucker, on the other hand, was in FULL DRAMA LLAMA MODE. He is, after all, primarily responsible for my welfare, and will bravely escort me to safety in the face of certain danger , when necessary. So we took about ten steps at a time, stopped, threw the periscope up, and stared at the row boat/sleeping jaguar, about ten times. I tried to reassure him that it was just a boat. He said, “ I DON’T KNOW FROM BOATS .” I tried to reason with him, I asked him what else would be beside a lake besides a row boat? He sighed and explained that horses don’t have the time or energy for that kind of logic. Spook now, think later, live to tell the tale.
Congratulations to the winner of the first ever TTW Giveaway. One of our facebook fans (now at 125 and counting!), Beth Stelzleni, of S-Squared Eventing at Wishing Tree Farm , is the big winner of a Sidelines Magazine subscription! Congrats Beth, and thank you for liking the blog! Beth says she never wins anything (though her show record speaks to the contrary), so I’m very happy she won our giveaway! Beth is originally from Florida, and is now an eventing and dressage trainer based out of Athens, Georgia. Beth has been riding for over twenty years. She says this makes her sound old, but I’ve been riding even longer, and I still think of myself as a kid (with a law degree. . . how did that happen?) so I don’t think twenty years of riding amounts to old age at all. She started out in hunter world (I knew I liked her) and now competes in eventing, dressage, and even ventures back over to H/J land to compete in the jumper ring as well. She enjoys teaching students in all of these disciplines. . . so if you’re in the Georgia area and in need of a good coach, maybe you can look Beth up! Beth, incidentally, has also put in a specific request for an Equestrian Heartthrob of the Robert Redford variety, and I must say that man has classic good looks that never go out of style, so I am more than happy to oblige
Remember how Danny changed after that first summer? My horse appears to be suffering from a mid-life crisis. He did just turn ten, after all. Seems to be in the midst of some sort of existential dilemma, I’m afraid. Perhaps it’s an identity crisis? He’s been a good guy for so long, maybe he’s just experimenting with the bad-boy persona. Feeling his wild oats, literally. I had a jumping lesson with Lindsay yesterday and all started out well. We actually had some real lead change breakthroughs (!). We worked on counter-cantering, switching from outside to inside bend, and then we’d ask for the change just before the corner by pushing him out, stepping my weight to the outside and then asking lightly with my outside leg. I missed a few at first, but once I got it, they were great — smooth, and relaxed, and clean. Everyone’s always told me the counter-canter is a great tool for learning changes, but I feel like now it’s finally clicking for me. Then we started jumping, and things started off fine while we were working on some single verticals on a circle. Then Tucker’s turnout buddy left the ring, which shouldn’t be that much of a crisis, unless you a big fresh horse looking for a good excuse. He was clearly tense, but thus far behaving (other than squealing — which I could always do without), and I figured he’d get over it in a minute. When we added another vertical on the diagonal, landing with a sharp left turn, Tucker was a bit strong — pulling me to the jump on the last stride, then grabbing the bit and rooting the reins on landing. Still rideable, but less than pretty. Then we added another vertical on the diagonal, off the short turn, going toward home, and all hell broke loose. Tucker apparently mistook that vertical for the starting gate at Belmont Park, so we landed going Mach 10. (Not exactly the stuff that winning hunter rounds are made of).