Thursday, July 24, 2008

Next week I'll be...

sitting here...

...wishing I were here!

On Friday, my husband and I will be joining my mother (of "Huey" fame), brother, aunt and uncle in LBI New Jersey for a week of fun in the sun and splashing in the surf. There will probably be a lot of crab eating too. Being of proud Boston stock, I'm a voracious crabavore. I can slurp down about a pound of crabs a minute, leaving piles of shells in my wake. I know the crabs are dreading my yearly arrival...

But why do I feel like I miss my boy already...? (not to mention my precious little cat Scout...)

After a thunderstorm

We had a thunderstorm this afternoon, right at the moment when I was planning to ride. After the storm was finished, I rushed outside to snap some photos. After storms, I love the way the mist crawls and the rain hangs off of the trees and flower petals. I narrowly missed getting a candid of a toad, but she hopped into the deep brush before I could zoom in. I guess she was not feeling very photogenic this afternoon.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

New L Judge education program blog

The USDF has created an "L" program judges' education blog here. You can find the place and time for sessions near you by scrolling down to the Calendar link.

For folks in my area, CVDA has just updated with their new program.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Huey's new hat

Mom and I had great rides today. She started on her Huey and I started on my Armani. She bought Huey a new "Huey Hat" yesterday. She likes to coordinate his outfits. See how his saddle pad matches his fly bonnet? I assure you, that was no accident. That was the result of at least 20 minutes of careful consideration of shades and Huey's complexion's color palate.

After we rode our own horses we switched because mom had expressed interest in trying Armani and because I need to spend more time working with Huey on balancing at the canter. "Wow", mom exclaimed, "He is sooo comfortable. And I just have to think and he does what I want!" I was very proud of my little boy. He trotted around smartly for mom and even seemed to be showing off his stuff a little. Huey did much better cantering in his "bad direction" (he was a race horse). We took the boys outside the ring for a little hop through the fields. They both marched right along and Armani only tried once to snatch a grassy morsel. What a great ride!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

D&D Horse and Tack in Springfield VT closing

I have not officially confirmed this, but the rumor is that D&D Horse and Tack in Springfield, Vermont will be closing. They will be having a sale starting August 1. So this is a "heads up" if you are in the area.

I'm sad to see them go. But I guess it may be hard to compete with the internet on prices and inventory. It was nice having a nearby tack store for quick things. They ordered a Kieffer bridle overnight for me when mine broke before a show. They were the only tack shop I'd seen with certain used items like boots and a huge selection of used blankets. My Armani is a small size, so there was always something in his size that I'm guessing someone had outgrown. I also enjoyed reading the local horse related advertisements that papered the walls. How can the internet replace that? There are hundreds of online classified databases, who has time to check them all? There was only one local tack shop to hang a flier in. Small town service is hard to put a price on.

How is the tack shop situation in your area?

Black as snow

I hope you'll forgive me for being a teeny bit critical. I sometimes see horse ads where a horse is listed as "black" when it clearly is not black. I understand that certain blacks can fade in the sun and others do not (are the fading ones genetically chestnut? I digress). But some of these horses go a little beyond fading to the point where I don't believe they could ever be black, even in a cave in Alaska in the winter. My "dark bay" is darker than some of these I think.

Here are some horses I found for sale online. All are advertised as black:

not black

not black

not black
not black
not black, but very cute!

I've always loved the adage "A good horse is never a bad color." After all, I admit I don't adore chestnut, but I love Huey. Who said that first anyway?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Horseless Friday: My Houseplants

Every Friday I do a post on a horseless topic. This Friday's post is mostly photos, since my husband just reminded me that it's past my bedtime. As I've mentioned, I love houseplants. I started with house plants since I spend a lot of time inside in the dark during Vermont's winters, when I'm not riding in the dark at the barn. It all started with a couple clippings from my mother's Pothos. But now my mantel has been taken over by clippings, and I'm on the hunt for pots at yard sales this summer.

Some of my favorite houseplant resources:
*Dave's Garden
*Houseplants on Extension

African violets in my aunt's old onion soup crocks.

Fresh Wandering Jew clippings from my sister-in-law.

Cuttings of Pothos, Philodendron, Spider Plant, a Sweet Potato (from the supermarket), a variegated Spider Plant, and Ivy from my wedding bouquet. By the way, it's easy to sprout ivy from a bouquet and a nice way to save a memory. Set the end in water (you can dip it in "rooting hormone" first) and wait a week.
More cuttings and a Croton I rescued from someone's trash and a tiny jade tree sprout.
Finally my center piece, a 7ft tall Yucca. It had been growing at my local Home Depot for so long they'd discounted it because I can only assume it had eaten the other houseplants on display.
"Feed me, Seymour"

I hope you are feeling inspired to start a few little cuttings of your own. I've been learning about houseplants as I go and there have been a few -err- casualties along the way. If you have any stories, resources or tips of your own you'd like to share I'd love to read them!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Guide to dressage scores

This is a companion article to my series "Surviving your first dressage test". This article briefly covers dressage levels and then goes into the details of scoring. As always, please note that I am an adult amateur rider, and not a professional nor an expert.

The national dressage levels as sanctioned by the US Dressage Federation are:
Introductory, First, Second, Third, Fourth (other countries have their own levels)

The international levels sanctioned by the FEI are:
Prix St. Georges, Intermediare I, Intermediare II, Grand Prix (Olympic)

Within each level there are 2-4 tests to choose from. In theory the first test is the easiest while the fourth is the hardest, but this is not always the case. You can chose to skip tests. For example you could select Training Level 2 and Training Level 4. You may ride the same test more than once (but in different shows). Tests are rewritten approximately every 4 years.

What to expect in the lower levels:
Intro - Ridden at walk and trot only, no canter. Movements include free walk, medium walk, rising trot, and 20 meter circles. The horse and rider are off to a good start, showing acceptance of the aids, relaxation, and beginning to develop bend.
Training - Canter and sitting trot are introduced. New movements include 20 meter canter circles, stretching at the trot, and changing bend at the trot. The horse is developing more bend, and accepting contact with the bit.
First - Lengthening trot and canter are introduced, as are 10m and 15m circles, serpentines, leg-yield, and change of canter lead through trot. The horse is developing impulsion and balance.

Schooling versus Sanctioned
In a nutshell a "schooling" show is "off the record"; scores are not reported to the governing body (USDF). Scores from a "sanctioned" show are. Schooling shows are less expensive and typically less formal. However both schooling and sanctioned shows are judged the same way.

Note about Eventing
This article only discusses dressage alone. Dressage as part of eventing is judged according to the same principles as dressage alone. However the levels and the scores are different. In the US, tests are governed by the US Eventing Association.


Each movement is scored:
10 – excellent
9 – very good
8 – good
7 – fairly good
6 – satisfactory
5 – sufficient
4 – insufficient
3 – fairly bad
2 – bad
1 – very bad
0 – not execute

As defined by the test, the score for some movements will be multiplied by a coefficient. This implies the movement is particularly important.

At the bottom of the score sheet are the collective marks for the entire test. Each of these is multiplied by a coefficient.
1. quality of gaits
2. impulsion
3. submission
4. position and effectiveness of the rider (that's the only score for just the rider)

Finally, the scores from the entire test will be added together and divided by the highest possible score, giving the final percentage.

What the numbers really mean
In practice, scores tend to be clustered in the middle of the scale. A "5" is a passing grade; the movement was performed, but it was slightly flawed or not overwhelmingly impressive. Think "so-so" or "just OK". "6" is a bit above average and "7" is rather good. "8" and above are very good, with "9" and "10" being extremely rare scores. A "4" means "needs improvement" and below 4 typically indicates something went wrong. A low score means you should practice that movement more. But if something unexpected went wrong, do not be discouraged.

Next to each movement, you may find notes. These were written by the scribe (often in short-hand) as the judge spoke them. There may be overall comments at the bottom of the test. Often the comments reveal more than the scores. Pay particular attention to similar comments that you receive from multiple judges.

Moving up
If you are scoring mostly 5s, with some scores higher or lower, you are showing at the correct level. If you are scoring mostly 6s, with frequent 7s or higher, you should consider moving up a level. If you are consistently scoring higher than that, you are more than ready to move up a level for a new challenge. You know yourself and your horse. Most horses are capable of moving up through the low levels; Intro through 1st. Breeding, and conformation are not particularly important at those levels. Many experienced dressage people can tell you stories of unlikely equines (I've read about mules!) being successful at low levels. The bond you share and learning together as a team will lead you to success in the lower levels.

Interpreting test scores: Example

This example is a scored dressage test, Introductory Level - Test A 2007. The test was performed in June 2008 at the CVDA Summer Schooling Show before a licensed L level judge. The final score was 125 points out of 200 possible for 62.5%. I was the rider, an adult re-starting after riding 4-H in my youth. The horse was my boy Armani, coming 6 at the time Morgan/Trakehner gelding. This test features a range of scores, shows the importance of coefficients, and the comments paint a picture.

The overall picture in this test, is a horse and rider who are off to a good start but need improvement in a few specific areas: relaxation and flexion, and acceptance of the aids. Note that most of the judge's comments reflect this. Movement 6, the free walk, is worth noting. The horse scored well here, 8, and this movement was multiplied by a coefficient of 2. However, also note that the judge commented "could use more energy", which kept the walk from being better. Also note that the horse scored 5 on both halts. The judge commented that he "wiggled" into the halt and "walked at K" in the second halt. The "walk at K" was too early. The trot-walk-halt transition was supposed to be performed closer to X.

In the collective marks, the judge circled "relaxation of the back" and "acceptance of the aids", noting that those areas need improvement. Also in her final comments, she said "work on stretching head and neck down into consistent connection". That confirms the overall picture. I can tell you that the judges comments were very accurate. They reflect what we'd been hearing consistently from our instructor in lessons.

checking in

We were out of town due to an unexpected passing in my husband's family. Yesterday I rode Armani, who I hadn't seen in almost a week. We worked on walk-canter transitions, which he had just learned in his lesson last week. He did the transition, with no trot strides, on only the second try in both directions. I was very proud of him. Our instructor recommended he start practicing walk-canter and backing up, in addition to the lateral work he's already started, in order to encourage him to strengthen his hind-end. After our ride, Armani was horrified to discover his dinner was waiting for him, in the middle of a tarp! As you well know, voracious tarps have been reported to swallow horses, their dinners, and small towns without remorse. He wasn't sure how his dinner walked over there, but it wouldn't get off the tarp. So he resigned himself to his fate, and stood on the tarp to eat.

Anyway, we're back!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Horseless Friday: Newborn fawn

Every Friday I do a post on a non-horsey topic. This Friday I'm posting pictures of a doe and her fawn, born in our backyard! We missed the birth itself, but we noticed mom and baby behind our porch as the sun was coming up. Mom is part of a small herd of 8 does that live behind our house. Or considering they were here when we moved in two years ago, perhaps we live in their front yard? Each dawn they head out and return at dusk and go to sleep in a thicket. We see bucks come by often during their season. So we were very excited to see this newest member of the family. Mommy was nervous so we shot the pictures from our master bathroom window, rather than trying to approach. You'll need to click to view the photos full size to see the fawn.

Here is cute web page geared for kids interested in learning about deer.

A little head peeps out.

The doe cleans her fawn.

The fawn tries to stand up.

The fawn begins nursing.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

BLM asks for your input on wild horse management

The Bureau of Land Management is considering how to manage wild horse populations in the American West and has asked for public input.
You can follow this link to read their statement, and for their contact information.

As they note, they are considering two new options:

(1) sell older and certain other unadopted animals “without limitation” to any willing buyers
(2) euthanize those wild horses and burros for which no adoption demand exists

Please consider sending the BLM your thoughts on the topic.

If you are unfamiliar with grazing on public lands, here is the BLM's own history on the topic.

My own thoughts, for what they are worth:
I acknowledge that there are no "easy answers". However, it is my suspicion that the consideration of these options is being driven by three factors: industrial ranching lobbies, (human) population growth and development, and budget problems. I do not believe the environment, small family farmers, the needs of wildlife, or the welfare of the feral equines are the top billing. I wonder if neutering and tourism could be a more effective combination to keep mustang populations controlled and to help offset the cost of managing the animals. I admit as a New Englander, I'm some what removed from the local nuances. So I'm going to try to become more aware of the facts related to these issues.

Surviving your first dressage test: Part 4

Here is Part 4 of my series "Surviving your first dressage test". You can read the other parts so far here:
Here you are at the Show

In this entry I'm going to give you a walk-through of what to expect. My final entry will be a wrap-up.

Hurray, you have arrived at your first dressage show! Congratulate yourself and your horse!

If possible try to arrive at least 2 hours before your first test. Yes, I'm sorry to tell you that even the best run horse shows are a lot like airports. Expect lots of paperwork, misplaced baggage, delays, and trailers taxiing around the tarmac. But fortunately, you can leave your shoes on and there are no closed door "searches". Personally, I like shows where I can arrive the day before and school my horse. Then I pay to stable him overnight. The extra expense is worth it for the chance to unload and school before the real action starts. But overnight stabling often fills up quickly.

Before you unload your horse, you'll want to "check-in" with the Show Secretary at the Show Office. They will ask you for any paper work they need and let you know if you've forgotten to pay any fees. Next they will give you your horse's number, and a show program and information. Your horse must wear her number at all times on show grounds, except when she is trailered or stalled. Now that you are checked-in you can go ahead and unload.

Checking things out
After you get your horse situated, take a little time to stroll around on your own. Take note of the warm-up area, the ring you'll ride your test in, and the bathrooms. Note what starting signal your ring uses: is it a whistle, or a bell? Find the Ring Steward for your ring. They'll be the person with a clip-board, a pen, and a walky-talky. Think of him as a flight attendant. If you'll be riding your test soon, ask him if the ring is running on schedule. Also, if you plan to have a friend read your test to you, ask about the rules. (I'll discuss "readers" and other tidbits in the wrap up.) Next you may want to hand walk or ride your horse around these areas, except into the bathrooms of course.

Finally, ride over to the warm-up area. You know your horse, so plan on warming up just long enough for her to feel limber, but not tired. For my guy, we need 20 minutes before our first test, and 10 minutes before our second test on the same day. Any more and he'll be too tired for his second test, any less and he'll be stiff for his first. When you arrive in the warm-up area, check in with that Ring Steward (Yup, every ring has a different Steward). She'll confirm your number, name, ring, and time with you. Check with her if things are on schedule. When it's 5 minutes before your scheduled test, the Steward will let you know. Then you should head over to your ring.

Here we go
When you get to your ring, let your Ring Steward know you are ready. There may be other riders still ahead of you. I like to just sit back and enjoy their tests. When it's your turn, he'll let you know. Ask him if you may warm-up inside the ring, until they blow the whistle. Usually this is allowed and it's a good opportunity for you and your horse to see the judge. You'll have about 2 minutes. Enter the ring, and walk over to the judges' booth. You'll see one or two judges, and a scribe, who will be frantically writing. Say "Good Morning!" and once everyone can give you their attention say "We're number 98, Jane Smith riding Floyd's Fuzzy Navel." They will thank you, and usually let you know that you've got "about a minute" before they blow the whistle. At this point, they're making sure they've finished the paperwork for the previous ride and starting your paperwork. Continue to ride around the ring. Try some loops, try both directions, but keep it simple. The judge will blow the whistle when she's ready. Now you have 45 seconds to exit the ring, and begin your test.

Your test
Yay! Your first test! How long have you spent working for this moment? Try to save the waterworks until after you are finished though. I managed not to blubber until after the final halt at X. So now the judge has whistled you. You must exit the ring, and re-enter. As soon as you re-enter, your test has officially begun. Try to ride the test like you are at home. Remember to prepare for transitions, ride into the corners, and breath and smile. You'll be amazed how few riders smile during their test. So even if you aren't feeling it, go ahead and force a smile on your face to break the mold. Other than that, you've probably gotten more professional riding advice from someone else, so I'll spare you. But if you'd like some tips on what judges look for, see here.

Very suddenly, your test will be finished! Walk your horse on a loose rein directly up to the judge. Tell her "Thank you!". She will probably share some quick feedback with you right away. Listen well and try to remember the pointers she gives you. You'll also get written notes on your test later. When she's finished, thank her again and walk on a loose rein out of the arena. The next team will already be entering to warm-up.

If you've got another test today, you know the drill now, just rinse and repeat. Otherwise it's time to relax! Get your horse situated. When every horse and rider in your class has finished, the scores and placings will be posted at the Show Office. The office will also have a copy of your test. Your scribe will have written down your judge's comments. They'll probably be in short-hand. If you have trouble interpreting them, ask a friend or another competitor to help you figure them out (the judge is usually too busy). The comments are really valuable. Some judges tend to score everyone high or low, but the comments will give you insight into what she saw. As you ride before more judges, you'll find you get some of the same comments. Strongly consider those repeat comments. Here is a scoring guide.

Stroll around the show and watch some other tests. Feel free to clap after a test has finished. Compliment other riders and ask them about their horse. We all love to talk about our horse! Enjoy the rest of your day at the show! Congratulations!

Coming soon, the final wrap-up entry. It will cover rules, readers, etc.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Hot times, summer in the country!

It was HOT at the barn; around 90F with high humidity. Believe it or not, I find that really comfortable. It's like a free sauna. I'd happily visit a tropical paradise. I might not even leave...

Armani had already worked up a sweat eating supper. And Armani was surprisingly forward with impulsion to spare today. Perhaps he would enjoy a tropical paradise as well? Do resorts accept horses as guests? I'm sure he would have trouble leaving the all-you-can-eat smorgasbord, but perhaps we could order beach side service...

Armani looks a bit beefy and I must admit I'm looking rather fabulous myself. It must have been all that dressage work. Should my husband be in this picture some how?

Surviving your first dressage test: Part 3

Here is Part 3 of my series "Surviving your first dressage test". You can read the other parts so far here:

Part 3: Final Preparations

A few days before the show, try to ride through your tests for an audience. Ideally ask your regular instructor to watch, but otherwise find another "pro" or a friend to watch. I've seen it suggested that you shouldn't ride your test too many times, or your horse will anticipate movements. I'm not sure if I agree with that or not, but I do believe doing a few run-throughs with an audience will help more than hurt. After that, try practicing the specific movements that need the most improvement. Ask your audience if they can see the improvement.

Now is also a good time to assess you and your horse's warm-up routine.
Does your horse warm-up best with lots of walk work or some trot?
For how many minutes?
Does stretching help her?
Do you like to lunge before riding? Make sure to check the show's lunging and warm-up rules.

Finalize plans for trailering and stabling now. If you'll be using a pro trailer service, make sure pick-up and drop-off times are all set. If you'll be trailering with a friend or instructor, it's common practice for them to request gas money. If they don't ask, I always offer anyway. It's surprisingly expensive to drag a loaded trailer and it's cheaper to contribute to a friend's gas than it is to use a pro service. Plus your friend will be happy to bring you along in the future!

Are you trailering yourself? Are your truck and trailer all ready? Check out this guide

See my previous post on packing.

...Read part 4

Friday, July 4, 2008

Horseless Friday: Nail care

I'm doing a horseless post every Friday. This will probably be my last post until I'm back on Monday. This Friday I'll share some quick tips on keeping your nails looking pretty.

Do these look like the nails of a horse woman? I try not to bring the barn to my job. No muck boots in the office (except during a couple of blizzards... I don't think anyone could smell them...?) and I try to get the dirt out of my nails.

1. Treat your nails like teeth. Save an old toothbrush. Use that with a bit of tooth paste to scrub the cuticle and under the nail. You can even get stubborn grim out of your knuckles.

2. Massage in some moisturizer. Get it into the nail, nail bed, and your hands. I've found the toothpaste can be pretty drying and can make my nails feel brittle.

Now those are the toes of a horse woman! My horse has stepped on my right big toe at least 3 times in as many months. My nail was split in half. I've cut the sticky part off of a bandaid and adhered it directly to the nail. It's flesh colored, so it isn't too noticeable and it's held the nail together as it grows out. I replace the bandaid every so often. I think I'll put some nail polish on when I wear sandals.

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

What's wrong with grand-horses?

I'm doing a quick update for today. We'll be headed out of town to my husband's family's for the 4th and for his sister's baby shower. Inevitably, I'll be hearing more and more of the usual "So when is it your turn?" questions. Don't these people understand how busy (self-centered)I am with work and horses, and how I couldn't possibly sacrifice any time to raise a mini-human being, who knowing my husband (and myself) would be a serious handful?

After we went for a morning trail ride, my mother was thrilled to help me pick out baby clothes for the shower. And she made a point of telling every sales lady how the clothes were only for her daughter's sister-in-law, because "All my daughter gives me are grand-cats and grand-horses *sniff*." To which, each one nodded understandingly and asked me, "So when is it your turn?"

What's wrong with grand-horses?