Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Diesel's Journey

Most people know me now as an endurance rider, although I have always wanted to event after growing up riding at an eventing barn. I met Diesel as a two year old, and for some reason I couldn't get him out of my head. I wasn't even looking for another horse. He wasn't much to look at at the time, he was going through an ugly stage. His head looked too big for his body, partially because his neck was so short which made his back look even longer than it is, but despite that he was put together well. I decided he would be an endurance and or event prospect. Diesel was bred by Erin Heatherstone. His sire is Kuwwat bred by Akhal- Teke EST. His dam is an Arabian, Isabella Islam.

Baby Diesel the first time I met him 

When I brought him home, a barely halter broke long two year old, I noted that he would be a handful, and that at times has been an understatement. Diesel is head strong and opinionated, he is also highly intelligent and does not suffer fools. Training him has been a slow and careful process, he is not the kind of horse you can force or take shortcuts with. Instead you have to persuade him that how you want to do things is the way they should be done, without offending him. There was a time when I felt we were far behind where other horses his age were, but we are exploring areas I have never been and doing things I have never done. I still do not know where our journey will take us, but we are having fun along the way.

 May 12, 2012; I hadn't had him a month yet

I started Diesel as a three year old, very lightly. When he turned four I began his long slow distance work. We slowly built up from 'baby' hill work to summiting Mt. Pisgah. I figured whichever direction we would go, a strong foundation of long slow distance work would build the correct muscle, give him a base level of fitness and strengthen and harden his legs would be the most beneficial. He has done more long slow work throughout his training than anything else. We spent most of his fourth and fifth years doing long slow distance work. We did dabble in dressage shows. I have never done much fast work with him because, to put it lightly, forward isn't a problem for Diesel.

First Intro Event at Inavale!
Photo by Steve Storm Photography

At six years of age I started him over fences. It wasn't because I didn't want to jump him, but rather because I wanted him to be sound into his later years. At three I watched him jump out of a four foot gate, bounce equally as high blackberry bushes and jump out of numerous fences and gates. I knew the talent was there. That year I took him to his first little Horse Trial at Inavale farm and did the intro division. We continued to do local dressage shows and jumper schooling shows. As a six year old we moved up to Beginner Novice and we did our first USEA recognized Horse Trial at Inavale Farm placing 6th.
Photo by Irina Kuzmina, Diesel didn't refuse the water 
at his first Recognized Event!

My goal was to move up to Novice this year, I spent much of the winter working on our dressage work. A fellow trainer encouraged me to try to show at First level in the Spring. Seeing as Diesel dislikes being told where to put his body, dressage is difficult. He also always gets marked down for submission. I do not force him into a headset or frame, that comes from when he is correctly using himself. Multiple people have told me he is difficult after giving us a lesson, not that he doesn't have talent or potential, but unlocking it is more of a challenge than with other horses.Yes he isn't an easy horse but then it wouldn't be as much fun, now would it? Dressage is a long road for us, starting with rhythm, which Diesel lacks naturally. Faster is his response to everything. We also began jumping higher and attending as many jumper schooling shows as we could.

First level test 1! 
Photo by Alise Lamoreaux 
All of our hard work began to show at the end of April. We went to a jumper schooling show, showing in three classes; 2'6'' to 3'/3'3''. Diesel did well in those, putting in solid rounds. Then the next day we went to a dressage schooling show, showing Training 3 and First 1. We improved our scores dramatically from the first outing at First 1. The following weekend I had been asked to accompany my friend on their horse's first 25 mile Limited Distance Endurance ride at one of my favorite rides, the Still Prineville ride. It is a difficult ride, one that I had top 10 finishes on the 50 the last 3 years with my Appaloosa.

 Jumper pony!

I was only able to do two prep rides beforehand. I knew Diesel had been 25 mile fit the end of last year, he had handled a 10 mile fun ride really well late in the season. We hadn't done much trail work while we were focusing on dressage, however he does have an extensive long slow distance base. He handled an 8 mile training ride rather well, and I figured he was closer to a slow 50 mile fit. My friend ended up not being able to come so Diesel and I went alone. Off to his first 25 mile Limited Distance endurance ride at the Still Memorial ride!
As I figured he was rather forward at the beginning of the ride. They had had to move ride camp from the usual spot to out near the vet check, this meant the beginning of the trail was rather flat while the second half was the hills and technical trail. Diesel settled into his stride after a few miles, he had walked out of camp like a good boy, something I feel is very important. Once he was settled, I was able to ride him on a loose rein, using mostly my seat to guide him. We ended up in a group of other riders, leading, following and being the cream filling in between. One of the other riders gave us a huge complement, that Diesel had a nice calm relaxed way of going and that they liked how Diesel rated himself on the trail, also that I was a good rider. For a horse that had struggled with rhythm, this complement was huge. Diesel pulsed down well and went about eating. After our hold we were off again. He handled the hills well, I did hand walk him down the steep, rocky hill. I had a lot of horse left after we climbed the hills, the only issue with him wanting to be a slug as we walked. He had no problem leaving a horse after the finial hill, going out on our own again. We ended up just moments shy of a top ten placing, placing 11th.

 First LD- Still Prineville Ride 25 miles
Photo by Out of Steam Photography

The beginning of June we did our first novice level unrecognized Horse Trial, again at Inavale Farm. (it is the only one in Oregon) I was a bit worried about cross country, since we had an unusually wet winter the cross country course opened late and we only had one schooling. His dressage test was good in the first half and the second half he wasn't cooperating as much, nothing horrible but not as relaxed and using himself. The show jumping was a piece of cake for him. Out on cross country he did stare too long at the jump judge and ended up running out of the second fence because of that. He really settled into his stride and began to lock onto the jumps and jump them without hesitation. It give me a glimpse at what he is capable of once he is a bit less green over large solid fences at speed. We placed 6th in our division.

 Novice unrecognized at Inavale 
Photo by Steve Storm Photography

We did another schooling show, this time at the Oregon Horse Center on their new derby course. In contrast to the one day at Inavale, Diesel really showed just how green he is on cross country with a couple run outs. However these were jumps he had never seen before, and at least he had jumped most of the jumps at Inavale before when we went schooling.
All of our work accumulated at our first recognized Novice Horse Trail once again at Inavale Farm. It was the hottest weekend of he year so far, and surprisingly enough after completing a 25 mile ride I wasn't worried about Diesel's fitness level nor the heat.  My goal for this show was to have a good outing, we were competing in the open division against people who do this all the time.
We had a great dressage test, Diesel was softer in the bridle and steadier in his overall way of going. His canter was much rounder, he was really beginning to stretch into the bridle during our canter circles. We did have some technical issues, our walk transition and halt were a little past their mark and we picked up the wrong lead at first on our left canter circle. While I felt it was a great test for us, the judge was looking for something else. We were last after dressage.

 First Recognized Novice at Inavale
Photo by Steve Storm Photography

Diesel was a bit hot in the warm up for Show Jumping. He did come back nicely and put in a solid round, even if he ran out at the rubber ducky fence. He didn't have an issue with the fence jumping into the sun like a lot of the other riders did. No rails down for us. We moved up two placings.
I was worried about a couple fences on Cross Country, a brush log in the woods and a barn jump that had an added silo to one side. We had actually jumped the barn before but not with the silo. I was excited about the long gallop up hill with good footing, something I am sure many people were not happy about. I am after all an endurance rider, hills are kind of my thing. My goal was to stay balanced and in control, regardless if we made time or not.
Diesel had no problem at the first of the scary fences, luckily the brush log was in the woods and it funneled you into the jump with no place to run out. The barn with the silo however, got us. He gave the next fence the hairy eye, and then gave the water jump a good hard thought but went in like a good boy. There was no hesitation after that. Log to step up, no problem. Coop to ditch, no problem. We were over the last and I was super proud of him.

 Jumping the ditch!
Photo by Steve Storm Photography

We moved up to ninth out of fourteen at the end, a nice jump after being dead last after dressage. I have never shown Novice before this year, and it is only my second recognized event, I was super pleased with how well we did. We do not take regular jumping lessons, only a handful in the beginning of the year. We do take regular dressage lessons, which has helped focus Diesel.
I am not sure exactly where the rest of the year will take us. Perhaps another recognized Horse Trial, or maybe a 50 mile endurance ride. My long term goal is to compete in a classic long format event with him. Combining an endurance phase with eventing sounds right up our alley. Along with some endurance rides.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

An Endurance Rider Does Dressage

Since I broke my collarbone, eventer pony and I have been doing a lot of dressage work. Let's face it, there was no way I wasn't going to ride him and both of us need dressage work. Now Quick does a lot of dressage exercises on the trail, he works from behind, lowering his hunches, articulating his joints and coming up through the wither and telescoping his neck. We do lateral work across the trails, dance around single tracks. If you bring him into the arena he acts like a camel who cannot move. He locks up, the arena is a place of tension for him.

Diesel on the other hand, finds dressage work boring. I cannot tell you how many times we have to bring in poles or small jumps to go over to keep him happy and continuing to work with me. He is not an easy horse.

This was our beginner novice test at a show last year. I thought it was one of his better tests. I got the idea from Biz Stamm to try to move up to first level with Diesel for the Arabian show at the end of April. I may be able to ride and train a horse to do a 100 miles in less than 24 hours, but riding 5 minutes or less in the sandbox and nailing every single corner and stride is really really difficult. Then match it with Diesel, who also finds anything that has to do with you telling him what to do and not letting him do it his way, annoying and well, dressage becomes difficult quickly. We have spent the whole of last year  working on him allowing me to surround him with the aides and be more rhythmic and cooperative in his work. Difficult I know!

So we entered into a schooling show, doing first level test 1.

The venue is a beautiful facility not to far away. However what made it difficult was warming up in the same arena we were showing in. There were breaks for warm up, and then 4-5 tests and then another break for warm up. Diesel warmed up pretty well considering a bunch of horses not liking the far end of the arena by the judge. Then we waited. We did walk around the driveway, but we were the last in the group of tests to go. There was no way I could warm him up enough to bring his mind back into focus for a relaxed test. However he did fairly well. He was tense and a bit um er forward.


Overall I think it went really well. We are going to try our hand at it again this next weekend. My goal is to prepare Diesel for Novice level eventing, and first level is beyond what he needs to do for a novice dressage test. 

It wasn't until I watched the videos of us from two years ago that I really saw the improvement in his way of going. The biggest thing was that he had rhythm. Something that should be so easy wasn't. He likes to rush, and keeping him in a steady tempo used to be difficult. I am really proud of how far he has come. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Life is Horses, Horses are Life

Day in and day out I tell myself it will all be worth it. Long days, up early, to bed late, filling my days with work and horses. Somewhere along the line I figured out that horses was what I wanted to do with my life, and it is what my life has become. My student workers and coworkers are always surprised when I tell them "Oh I rode 4 horses this morning." or "Quick and I did a 100 mile ride over the weekend." Sometimes they are surprised at my dedication. I think at times they find it weird. That is okay, I am used to it. I was always that horse crazy kid in school. I tried to be normal for a little bit, then I got my first horse. The whole being normal thing was over then.

Last year was a bad year, for so many reasons. Then to put icing on the cake I broke my collarbone when my horse fell on course. He is fine, and I think I am mostly fine now. I wasn't for a while. Yes I was back to riding as soon as I could put the saddle on him (3 days later) and never stopped working horses or riding. I wasn't able to finish my endurance season on Quick, I actually hardly rode him at all after Santiam. The training business slowed down during the holidays, my truck needed a new fuel injector pump and I had to take time off work because I was in a sling. I battled with depression. I was not myself.

A switch flipped right after my first long slow distance ride on Quick to bring him back into work. I wouldn't let myself worry about how I was going to find the money to take him to the Appaloosa National Championship Endurance Ride in October (Also Arabian Distance Nationals as he is half Arabian!) We were going to get there. I have picked out a 100 mile ride for him to do, my goal last year was to get us both to 1,000 miles. We are so close! So that is the goal for this year. Another 100 miler under our belt and the Distance Championships. If we can squeeze in another ride or two I will. My long term goals for Quick are silver level 100 mile (7 completions), we got our bronze level with 3 100s last year. And I want a decade team award. It is when you complete 10 seasons together. We have 4. We will get there.

While I was recovering from my collarbone, Diesel and I really began to work on our dressage. I decided to shoot for first level in the spring. Next weekend we have a schooling show, our debut at 1st level. I would also like to move up to novice with him, I know he has all the jump in the world, and novice is only 3 inches higher than beginner novice. Slightly more technical on cross country but nothing he cannot handle. Our big issue is we live in Oregon. I see photos of my friends back east schooling cross country on nice dry ground. The field I use as an outdoor arena in the summer is practically under water right now. Now he does need to school water jumps, but not like that. Hopefully we can get a lot of cross country schooling in during the spring. I will save my pennies so we can do the recognized at Inavale again, even if it is just beginner novice. My long term goal for him is a long format novice. (or training level, but novice is an easier target) The only only in the area is at Rebecca Farm in Montana. I have to complete 4 Novice events (or higher) to qualify. As Inavale is the only event in Oregon, I will have to travel to Washington. If I can play my cards I can do 2 recognized this year. If not, then I will save up for next year. It may take me two or three years to qualify for the long format, but that is my goal. Why not combine eventing and endurance into one show? I think it ends up being less than 10 miles total, a walk in the park. However Diesel will need to learn how to jump steeplechase fences at speed. We will work on that later.

In the meantime I am learning more about trimming hooves and looking into learning how to nail on composite shoes. All the while running a small training business. I have been lucky this past year to have had good horses to work with. A number to start, retrain and condition. I still work a full and part time job, along with keeping my own horses fit so I can only take on a limited number of training horses. I am not sure how I manage to do everything, but I find a way.
As Denny Emmerson put it, "Life is horses, horses are life."