Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Upgrade -- a PSA about XC vests

With show season just around the corner, I decided to take inventory of all my stuff to purge and replace. I'm not a tack hoarder by any means, so I put a bunch of my stuff up for sale on Facebook and went through the rest of my gear to see what needed to be replaced.

Since I haven't done any xc riding in at least a year and a half -- I tried on my xc vest to see if it actually still fit me... it does, barely (as in, I kinda need assistance to get it zipped -- thanks a lot boobs). However, when I was looking through the labels on it something struck me... The tag that says when it was manufactured. It was stamped 2012 (October). Which got me thinking -- do XC vests have an expiration date?

Fell off this goon, more times than needed, thanks Rodney Powell for keeping me safe

It seems to be common knowledge that helmets should be replaced... Immediately in the case of a fall or being dropped but after 5 years of USE (according to most manufacturers) -- only a rider knows how they have maintained their gear, and some manufacturers go by the 2000 hours of use rule, so someone who rides for many hours every day may need to replace theirs earlier. I think if you keep your helmet in a trailer or your car, you may need to consider how the materials respond to temperature extremes and take that into account for its lifespan. And as with all tack and gear, periodically checking for damage and decay is a good idea too.

So I took my question to the masses and the response was VERY interesting (and varied):





So, I was left scratching my head a bit. There was even a comment from a GP dressage rider who also events at Training level that just read, "I did not know xc vests could expire." And while I am left thinking some of it IS a marketing thing to ensure constant sales over a period of time, I'm certain that there are research and studies that show how the materials hold up over time. After all, they have to pass a series of testing to receive a stamp from ASTM/SEI... and furthermore for Beta 3 validation.

While my vest is in visually very good condition, based on the manufacturers recommendation it should be replaced (most go by how many years the item was used, not based on the manufacture stamp) -- I believe my vest was purchased in 2013, which still means it should be replaced, even though I haven't worn it in at least a year or longer.

I knew right away I wanted another Beta 3 vest as that's what I had before and I love how safe it felt. I dunno about you guys but I get real nervous watching people go xc in those flimsy Tipperary's. I was really pleased when I discovered that after 5 years they have redesigned the Rodney Powell's to keep up with the growing trend of having a high level of safety, with breathability and flexibility throughout the design. The new one is definitely designed more like the Airoware, and looks to be much more streamlined.

Old design

New and improved

When I was originally searching for a xc vest I had a hell of a time finding something that fit the front of my body but that didn't come down so far in the back that it impeded me in the saddle. At one point Charles Owen was going to custom make one by piecing together a front from one size and a back from another size. That felt like a whole lot of trouble for the price point. So I researched vests that were designed with shorter back panels which led me to Rodney Powell in the first place. I like the material inside the vest which as your body heats up it conforms even further to the shape of your body, making it feel very custom made.

The only problem with this brand is that they are VERY scarce in the US and the new design is nearly impossible to find anywhere! I was so super excited when I realized they made the new design in grey, that I went on a mad search everywhere for it, to no avail. Sold out or back-ordered everywhere! *I guess that's a good sign!

Thankfully, my brother lives in London and this morning I sent him an email titled "Wanna go on a wild goose chase for me?" and just like that, he sends me a screenshot of an order confirmation!!!! What a guy! He said he found it for wayyyy less expensive than it's even advertised online for possibly due to the VAT upcharges a lot of companies have to apply in their pricing structure.

So it'll be in my hands in a few weeks, well ahead of any xc with Scout (who come home in less than two weeks)-- and I'm eager to give it a more thorough review.

This simple purchase really got me thinking though about how we (riders as a whole) view our gear and our expectations of its longevity and guarantee of safety. I really wish the USEA was more strict about the requirements for xc vests in competitions, (currently, they only have to be ASTM/SEI certified, not Beta 3) and that they held riders competing to a higher standard also.

So what say you bloggers? Do you hold to the standards with your helmets and vests? DO you have opinions either way? I'm so curious!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Scout's eventing debut -- Majestic Oaks Ocala @Novice

In prep for Scout's eventing debut, we scheduled a lesson with Bruce Sr. to help work on some sharpness over fences. Naturally, he didn't disappoint on getting Scout to respect the jumps a bit more, wait and jump a little tighter over some combinations. They also worked on getting him to keep his head up and chin out a little so he really sees his distance and not get so close to the base.


Best of all, Bruce thought Scout was very nice and is going to jump a fence. So I can die happy now:)

They did one more xc school before the event and she said he jumped awesome so we kept his entry at Novice. And, I'm just going to apologize for the crappy screenshots, but fingers crossed I may have some decent pics coming eventually.

Leading up the event Scout continued to have some puffiness on his face so he got a king's turnout attached to a stall to help quell whatever was triggering this reaction.

Private turnout for the prince (also, his tail!!!)
Being 1000 miles away for his first event was both good and bad. The event wasn't being live scored, there was no pro photographer, and I didn't have any friends nearby to send me constant updates. The venue had over 200 entries for the HT and as it was the first schooling event of the year (for this venue) it was certain to be entertaining. But, based on how nervous/excited I was it might have been a good thing that I wasn't there.

Dressage -- Novice Test A:
Ready for fancy prancin'
From what another competitor told me, warm up was a bit wild and crazy -- but Nora said Scout was perfect. Luckily for him, he was able to chill on the trailer and take everything in while his buddy rode in an earlier division. He's always been pretty good about new places -- he typically unloads, takes a look around inquisitively and then takes a deep breath and gets on with it. But, I was relieved to know that the added atmosphere of the event and human and horse nerves didn't derail him.

Entering at A 

Keeping a nice outline

Staying focused

Life goals (I wish I could sit this tall!)
They laid down a beautiful test. Note to self: the Novice A test has a LOT of trotting, but also looks pretty fun to ride. He scored a remarkable 26.90 to secure him a spot 2nd after dressage. 

If you want to peep the deets

I thought the notes on this test were quite firm for a schooling show, but it's been a LONG time since I competed so what do I know:) Once he gets the idea of a real free walk he's going to really up his game, hehehe. All of that said, I don't think I'll be replicating a low score like this anytime soon on him, but we have something to strive for!



Stadium:

The course was on grass and a little bit of a hill which proved tricky across all three Novice divisions with rails flying everywhere. Overall, I think he really tried hard and considering two months ago he had never jumped a full course, I was thrilled with the outcome. The course was quite twisty with two real related distances on course, a 5 stride and a 2 stride. The two stride came after a big oxer placed downhill and he got a bit out of balance coming back around to the combination and got a bit too deep tapping both with his hind legs on the way out. He made sure to give the last fence plenty of room for good measure to finish his first Novice course!

5 stride, looking good

The last jump on course, nailing it!

He wound up adding 8 to his dressage score and no time. Both Stadium and XC were timed which is not always the case for events around us in PA. I think it gave the event a feeling of a recognized show without the extra money or stress. I don't have any footage of xc (still hoping some photos come through from the photographers that were there -- they had a few ammy guys show up to take pics last minute). She said he just ate up the course and was super confident throughout. He was one of only a handful of horses to go double clear xc in the al the novice divisions! His boldness xc paid off as he was able to snag a 3rd place finish for the day!

YAY!
Without the rails he would have won his division, but honestly, my expectations were for him to simply have a confidence-boosting outing... so coming home with a stellar dressage score, a clean and confident run xc, and some homework for show jumping feels like winning to me! He had one of the best runs across the division and I am so super proud of how trainable he's become. 




Looking ahead*, we had originally planned to run him on the way home at Full Gallop, but we're going to wait and get him out in PA to make his Recognized debut in April! Once he gets home I'll get back in the irons under the watch of Nora who will continue to put rides on him (I'm going to keep him with her for the time being) and once I get jumping again we'll look at the calendar for a suitable event for me to take him around! By then, he will hopefully have a few events under his belt and tons of confidence to make a good partner for me!

***but this is all in pencil, because = HORSES.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Ocala visit, Part 2 -- The kid is pretty special (and a massive photo dump)

The second day I was in Florida (I arrived Monday morning and left Wednesday evening) turned out to be a bit of washout. We had planned to take Scout over to Justin Dutton's farm for one of her schooling jumper shows where you pay for one round and then get to go back in to fix anything that didn't go well, alas the weather had other ideas. The show was canceled due to a whole afternoon of downpouring -- booooo. I did spend the morning over at the Davidson's Florida compound and to hang out with my favorite little person, her pony and I got invited to go on conditioning rides with Andrea. Yes, PLEASE! The funny thing is that I've never ridden with or around her at all, so it was such a special treat to get to ride their upper-level horses without any kind of knowledge of my ability. Their Florida farm is on 600 acres, has a full track for gallops and a conditioning path that goes around massive fields with undulating terrain. After not riding for almost two months I was a little worried I wouldn't be able to keep up, but it turns out all that gym time has been paying off!


The cutest

It's not pony playtime without Twinkle Toes!

Sadly, will not fit in carry-on bag

We ALL finally got to ride together! Aubrey was SO excited!

Part of the trot paths
We did a series of trot sets and even galloped a bit which was super fun on something that is decidedly NOT a thoroughbred. The horses were all a bit wild that morning with the incoming weather a drop in temps but I had an absolute BLAST.

Scout got a bit of a spa day en lieu of the schooling show, and was not super psyched about Mom rolling in to pull his mane and make a fuss over him. I stuffed him full of treats which may have softened the blow a little:)

Wednesday, we planned to take him over to the venue of his debut event to xc school. Nora had only taken him xc once before and she was super excited to get him out again. I was so pleased to tag along and play groom while she schooled Scout and another client horse. What's even better, is that I got to see just how much he's matured in every way. He hopped onto her big rig without an issue, tied at the trailer and stood quietly for tacking and walked flat-footed across the property with an inquisitive look in his eye.

Growing up!

Starting their warm-up

It was super nice to see how she warms him up for XC. She walked him for 10-15 minutes before picking up a big, forward trot in a giant figure eight around a bunch of jumps. She walked and trotted through the water complex while doing this and picked up a canter and continued on a figure eight, adding in lead changes (!) and going up and down hills to help set his canter in balance before sending him toward any fences.

But, on to the good stuff... She's got him solidly in front of the leg and thinking forward but with a very reliable half-halt to utilize to help him sit and wait when she needs him to.
That trot THO

Weeeeee!

He was really giving everything a ton of respect but still landing in the same balance as he jumped it


This photo makes me SO happy -- she just has the biggest smile when she's jumping him

Add caption

First trakehners!


I was super pleased with his attitude about everything -- he's become such a professional about his job and he's proving to really have the right elements to make a great event horse. He still gets it wrong, maybe 20% of the time, but he has VERY good instincts to get his giant legs out of the way and carry a rider successfully to the other side -- better yet, he doesn't get upset or hold a grudge, which is perfect for an adult ammy!


I'm SO excited about our future together and I'm so unbelievably happy that he and I have met a trainer who gets us both. She has developed a really special relationship with him and he is giving 110% back to her in response. And even though I have to wait a few more weeks to hop in the irons myself, I'm even MORE excited now. He makes his eventing debut tomorrow -- so please send good vibes our way, hopefully, I'll have good things to report in a few days!



Sunday, March 3, 2019

Ocala visit, Part 1 -- Setting My Ego Aside




I saved this quote a few months ago after doing some hard thinking about the way we support one another both publicly and privately. There's been some conversation going on around the blogosphere about this very topic but I think it's important to highlight. I think we're all guilty of passing judgment behind the scenes, and the risk of putting ourselves out there on a blog is that our readers are going to have opinions (both good and bad) -- so we prepare for them every time we hit "Publish". Mostly though, I hope that the people who read my blog try to understand me and my journey and respect and support that even if it doesn't align with their goals.

So when I came back from Florida, I found myself a little tentative about sharing the details of my trip in fear of being scrutinized. Mainly because... Did I ride: YES -- Did I ride my horse: NO.

We came up with a plan before I flew down: to flat Monday, take him to a jumper show Tuesday and XC school Wednesday before I flew back. I drove straight from the airport Monday morning (4am wake up!) to go see Scout who did a bit of a double take when he saw me.

O HAI MOM!!!!
I had planned to flat him also Monday but after watching him go around with Nora, I decided that I'd perhaps hack him later on Monday or have a lesson Tuesday. She's JUST started to really unlock him on the flat and to be 100% truthful, I didn't want to hamper the progress they were making... she never pressured me in either direction, but it was clear that she was at a very crucial part of his training -- additionally, I think she wanted to show off what they've been working on:) And given the amount of time and money I am investing, I need things to go very, very well. She's finally got him really soft off the leg and allowing more pressure laterally. He's really working nicely over his back and coming through.
This step, this softness, this frame -- all of it. <3

His transitions are sharp and focused, his leads are confirmed and balanced and his frame is much different. He's really lifting at his wither and as a result, his neck looks amazing! I was most impressed by the difference in his walk which has this intense freedom in his shoulder and push from behind. She's getting control of those long legs and he's getting a little better at listening and waiting for instruction vs. I GOT DIS.


via GIPHY

The thing he's struggling most with right now is learning to use his hind end properly. He's finally got a good half halt installed but he still blows past it at times thinking he knows best, which usually ends in poles flying everywhere. Increasing his education on the flat and learning how to utilize his hind end is completely changing his jump style too. When he decides to wait and sit, he jumps like a freak. He's always been a good jumper but holy cow...


via GIPHY

When he gets it wrong, he just jumps bigger. To be fair, this exercise was REALLY hard for him -- but he never stopped trying. She's adding lots of tricky exercises like this to really get him to learn to wait and sit. There were lots of poles before and after single fences to get his brain and feet thinking too.


Finding that 5th leg:)
I was really pleased to see him locking on to fences and being so keen. He's really loving jumping right now, maybe even TOO much as he gets pretty bold and wants to do it his way.








But he's learning to halfhalt and rebalance and when he does, his jump is really spectacular! She does an incredible job of supporting him and also staying out of his way without letting him feel abandoned. It's that kind of fine tuning that makes me feel so good about having him under the tuteladge of someone so experienced and intuitive. She's been schooling him at 3'-3'6" to get him going confidently higher than what he'll compete at (for awhile).

He was completely hilarious after she finished up while we stood there chatting he kept inching closer and closer to me so he could be touching me at all times. He definitely knows his mama! I got to spend some time with him cleaning him up after his ride and stuffing him full of treats.

The kid is maturing = stands on crossties perfectly now
And while I felt a little conflicted about not being in the irons myself, it was fabulous to see what he's learned so far and where he still needs work. She admitted that it took 4-6 weeks just to unlock him on the flat, and I believe it! It's clear that she's taken a methodical approach to figuring him out while always providing a way for him to find the answer. He's extremely happy with her program and it shows.

Stay tuned for the next part of our Ocala trip where the weather does not cooperate with us, I go on conditioning rides at the Davidson's and Scout goes XC schooling and blows me away! Thanks for riding along with us:)

Friday, March 1, 2019

The saddest puffer fish

I was getting caught up on some blog reading today and was reminded once again just how fragile horses are. Maybe it's just the fact that I have so many horse friends and read so many blogs, but it just seems like they are always doing something to hurt themselves and beyond that, it seems like the smallest thing can bring them down. So it's no surprise that eventually I'd get some sort of negative update about Scout.

He's apparently not afraid of fire ants... and I don't know if he's been laying in patches of them or snacking on them, but his body has a very poor reaction to them. He was scheduled to go for his first xc schooling with Nora when she sent me this:


Oh dear.
We opted to have the vet out and they gave him some Dex and within a day he was looking much better. One thing that's great about Ocala is that there are vets bopping around all day so it's easy enough for them to swing by and look at something non-emergent. By the next day, it was pretty much normal and he was back to feeling like himself.

She finally got him out XC and I'm so grateful that she spent 6 weeks getting to know him on the flat and working with him over stadium jumps to sort out some the balance and strength issues and getting him really forward off the leg. Clearly, it's paying off because he's a different horse this year out on XC!

This was the out portion of a half coffin complex

SO cute!

UMMMM. Beast mode.

But the following week, he had basically the same reaction though this time it was much more severe. So what was going on? Well after having the vet out again, they think he must have originally received a bug bite that created a severe reaction and developed into cellulitis on his face.

That's a sad puffer fish. 
His whole face and neck were swollen this time so it was a bit of a worry. Given that he's so prone to cellulitis they treated it accordingly, this time with more aggressive antihistamines and a dose of antibiotics to clear out any possible infection brewing. He got some Banamine on top of that to help him feel a little more comfortable. The face is such a tricky place for something like cellulitis because the swelling doesn't have anywhere to go when they are grazing and eating. Thankfully, it didn't take more than a day for him to completely bounce back. And better yet, Nora said he was thrilled to be ridden the next day!

Happy kid, post-ride

And while it would be easy to be disappointed about these little setbacks and having to reconfigure plans, I don't really get too worked up about this kind of stuff anymore. If there's one thing I've learned with horses is that everything planned needs to be in pencil and setback are just part of the joy of horse ownership (insert sarcasm here). The problem with having a horse that has had cellulitis is that they are just always prone to it -- any little nick or cut bears the risk of it developing into cellulitis. So I'm extra happy he's not sitting knee-deep in the mud like the rest of the horses at my barn in PA, clean/dry legs are definitely half the battle with a cellulitis prone horse!