Benchmarks in Eli’s Career

Eli truly is a changed … uh … gelding … and honestly I can’t get over a few of these fairly significant benchmarks that demonstrate he is less basilisk lately and much more horsey. Which is to say adorable and almost easy on the ground. (Or completely easy on the ground if you think his snapping turtle impression is funny.)

He has pretty much turned into a pet in the barn. People who control food and cookies and turnout are in the barn. So the barn is a good, safe place filled with carrot dispensers. And that one favorite cookie lady ever … the one that gives massages!

He is also genuinely rideable now. Does he still spook at the UPS truck driving along the driveway when were just going for a leisurely walk in the wildflowers? Yes. However. 

A junior has ridden him a few times now on days I can’t but I still want him exercised. (THANK YOU, OLIVIA!) Even better, my trainer rode him last Friday and declared him “comfortable.” That’s downright normal, y’all. (And yet no one recorded visual evidence for me. Boo.) And kind of a big deal because until recently, I had been the only rider he’s known since I bought him in May 2014. And even before that, I rode him the majority of the time he had been at the barn. 

I am so excited about this horse. I’ve peeled through a lot of layers of this little monster and it turns out he is a really cool horse that I can share with people now! 

Good Rides, Bad Eyes

Thankfully, I had a lovely hack on Eli on Tuesday evening. It kind of made my whole week, right there. Like, hey, we’re not that out of sync and I need just to remember how to ride him–no cruise control on horses, duh. Somehow the weather provided just enough rain at the barn to make the footing perfect, and the light was low enough that I didn’t need my sunglasses, but not so low as to make Eli think, “LIONS.” And a gorgeous sunset capped off the day!

trotting from patentlybay on Vimeo.

canter poles from patentlybay on Vimeo.

Wednesday evening, I didn’t get away from work until 7:15, so that meant riding under the lights. Again, Eli, although a bit pokey, rode quite well and we even took a few canter poles. Miffed them the first time through but the following passes from both leads worked out well–I think he understood that he had to pay attention to where his feet were going. It was a later night than usual for me, and I am a bit more tired that I would like today, and work is just as hectic as ever (do we not already have all the laws ironed out?).

The following video is just Eli practicing standing still — but his tail cracks me up.  Otherwise yawn.

dismount from patentlybay on Vimeo.

Now, on to a non-horsey topic, and not one I would typically give too many details on, but this was so novel to me and I think sharing a little could help some people. My eyes are still a problem, but I also now have treatments that seem to be working. I have a few things going on with my left eye, and one of the symptoms was a persistent dull ache; another symptom was photosensitivity. I went to the eye doctor on Monday (something tells me I’ll be visiting much more frequently than once a year from now on) and we discussed my symptoms again. He checked a few different things about both of my eyes and examined my left eye more thoroughly. He then said, “You have rosacea. Have you heard of that?” My response was, “Yeah, thanks, I know. What about my eye?” Doctor: “You have rosacea in your eye.”

WHA … ??? Huh … ??? Whhffphh?

High confidence of efficacy of dexamethasone … IN HORSES. Seems to be working on my eye …

PSA, readers. You can get rosacea in your eye, and it can mess with your vision if left untreated. If you have ANY bothersome symptoms in your eyes, go to an ophthalmologist ASAP. You might be thinking it’s just allergies but it might not be. I am treating the rosacea now, and I think the treatment is helping at least some. But mostly, how freaking weird is that?!?!  I can’t recommend googling images of ocular rosacea–mine must be a mild case that we’ve caught early. Maybe just stick with reading the Mayo Clinic pages about it, if you’re curious.

Easter Weekend Rides

I really bested my record for how completely out of it I was while trying to ride on Saturday. And also how easily I got frustrated over the stupidest crap I usually ignore. I have no interest in reliving the details, except, thankfully, my trainer gave me an exercise to work on with Eli.

I was able to work at it again on Sunday, which is good because today calls for rain. I have no media of either Saturday or Sunday, because Saturday I just plain forgot, and on Sunday I remembered my camera but neglected to check whether it was charged. It was not.

Eli went really well on Sunday, excepting about a 15 minute intermission where he completely lost his mind over another horse working in the fields. This is usually not such a problem, so I just made him stand and watch the other horse (being completely well-behaved, of course) until Eli decided it was actually boring and he no longer cared. We went back to work and worked on the exercise my trainer gave us and you’d never know that he had to get over himself just minutes before.
Eli got a shampoo bath, too. I think he is pretty much shed out at this point and I’ll clean up his fetlocks with clippers this week. Not that he gets much extra feathering in winter or anything, but I do like to keep them trimmed.

I have also noticed, at least on the flat, a spur might not be a bad idea–summer Eli has started making more frequent appearances!

How Do You Choose a Bit?

Eli’s job is now in the hunter ring and my bitting choices for competition have dwindled significantly. Pretty much any bit is acceptable in the jumper ring, provided the show officials don’t deem it as cruel or abusive. I never really used all that many bits on Eli anyway–I like him in the Herm Sprenger Dynamic RS D-ring. Or the eggbutt. And sometimes the WH Ultra dee. However, these bits are easy for him to slightly ignore for a few steps, as he demonstrated by running through my hands a few times at the show in March. He still has a SUPER SOFT mouth and I am not about to ruin that with a “harsh” bit (in quotes because I think we will all have different versions of harsh).

But over the years I have used a variety of bits on different horses with different jobs and then of course bits are like precious jewelry so there are a few I’ve been coveting, too.

Ah, the Cheltenham gag. I rode with a trainer for 15 years who threw this bit on a handful of jumpers, including mine. He explained to me the action and the difference in the action when you use either rope gag cheeks or leather gag cheeks, and he also taught me how to use the gag rein on this bit (never without a snaffle rein on my particular horse). It worked out great for my jumper, although it wasn’t the only bit I showed him in. That choice was made the day of, and he went in HS KK Ultra bits, too, and a hackamore for a brief period of time while a lip injury healed up. (One day I will write a proper post about this horse!) The Cheltenham exerts a good bit of poll pressure via the gag rein and I wouldn’t dream of using one of these on Eli.

I used a Dr. Bristol eggbutt snaffle as a junior. My QH went quite well in it. I know that there are two ways you can put the Dr. Bristol–the nice way and the mean way. The plate is angled for a particular type of tongue pressure, and if you put in in your horse’s mouth the mean way, the edge of the plate slices right into his tongue. I used it the nice way, where the plate lies flatter on the tongue.

My first off-track guy, a little chestnut, seemed to go best in a rubber dee. He chewed through a few of them, but he’d only take a feel on the rubber dee and pretty much avoided any other bit by tucking his chin.

My favorite bit for Eli, the Dynamic RS dee. What can I say about it other than it works for Eli? I am a fan because of how anatomical this bit is, and also I like the double jointed bits generally because of the reduced nutcracker action on the tongue and I have also had problems with narrow mouth TBs getting hit in the palate by single jointed bits, which must suck for them!

But let’s not stop there with the Herm Sprenger bits. The hunter ring limits bits — you are pretty much going to see dees, full cheeks, and pelhams. The rules limit bits mostly to these types (eggbutts are okay, too, but NO ONE uses them in the hunter ring). Now, the mouthpiece on those dees … that’s where a little anything goes comes back into play, and many hunters go in custom bits that have mouthpieces tailored to their style in the bridle. But pelhams are okay, too, although not as common–I see them more in Eq. I’d be curious to see how strong Eli would consider getting in a pelham, although I think ultimately it’s too much bit for him. The pelham has both poll and curb action, as strong or light as the rider’s hands, so it’s a bit for educated hands only in my book. Pelham converters drive me up a wall. If you don’t know how to use a curb rein, don’t use a pelham.

And on to another common hunter option–the slow twist dee. The longer I work with horses, the less and less I like this bit. I think it has its place, and I used it on my jumper when he was very young and learning the show ropes in the hunter ring. However, I am not sure all horses react the same to this texture on the mouth bars–I think it panics some horses and actually makes them lean on the bit and take off (I think the same of corkscrews and twisted wire bits).

Now onto the bits I am currently coveting and am so curious about and want to try on Eli. Probably never will, but I can dream. First is a Bombers elliptical lock full cheek. Honestly, I have been wanting to try just about *any* Bombers bit for ages (okay, not all–they make some serious leverage bits and I don’t need that). I like the amount of thought this company puts into their work. Also, the blue sweet iron is SO PRETTY. Not that it lasts after oxidation, but whatevs.

I am also extremely curious about bauchers, and sweet iron, and copper, so why not throw it all together? Mostly just curious to see baucher action for myself on my own horse–the arguments are whether bauchers exert or relieve poll pressure. Maybe what the horse does with his head is a part of determining that? I can think about bit physics for hours.

Last, we come to the bit I have selected for Eli that I would like to try at our next show, the JP Korsteel copper ball link full cheek. So far, so good the first two times we’ve used it. I hemmed and hawed over quite a few styles–full cheek or dee, waterford or ported barrel … and settled on this. Barely more bit–just a touch more. I will probably jump him in it soon to see how it goes. I had actually tried Eli in a JP Korsteel copper lozenge dee, but the lozenge was too big for Eli and he was pretty fussy in it. I think the copper ball link is a better fit for him.

So tell me … how do you choose which bit for what horse and which discipline?

Cashel Quiet Ride Fly Mask Review

While it seems so far away now, Eli did have some sinus procedures that left a hole in his face the size of a half dollar. He could go back to work before the hole healed completely. I had a high level of apprehension about this and wanted some degree of protection for his face while he worked under saddle. He wore a regular fly mask 24/7 for a while, but I wanted something less obtrusive for riding. I found the Cashel Quiet Ride Fly Mask and Eli wears it now for many of our rides, just as he did when he went back to work after the sinus procedures.

Although the intended purpose of this fly mask is obviously to deter pesky flying insects, I have found Eli seems especially to prefer wearing it on super sunny, super windy, or drizzly days (or nights), too. I jokingly call it his sensory deprivation fly mask, but really this is just one more essential piece of equipment for Eli to help him stay focused. We also tried the Cashel Nose Net, but he strongly objected to that. He occasionally may have head-shaking tendencies, but I don’t think he’s truly a head-shaker to where the behavior interferes with daily activities — he just objects to extremely bright light and I can relate. If I can do something to ease the discomfort sunlight, wind, or drizzle can cause Eli when I need him paying attention to me, I will do that thing. That thing is this fly mask.

I can most definitely recommend this fly mask for riding — it helps deter pests and for Eli it has some added benefits. He has two because I always want a clean one ready to use. Conveniently enough, Riding Warehouse carries them for a great price.

 

Amateuritis

I had a bad case of the amateurs on Saturday. Everything rubbed me the wrong way — the wind, the bright sunlight, plenty of things all beyond my control. Things that I usually just accept and move on, because getting upset about things I can’t control is a waste of energy. But I simply did not have the capacity of acceptance on Saturday.

swedish from patentlybay on Vimeo.

Eli, for his part, although clearly tense about the wind (it was really, really windy), remained professional and took the few fences we jumped quite well. But I really just wanted some shade, some champagne, and to let Eli graze for a while. My endlessly patient and understanding trainer let me off the hook and I spent a little extra time cleaning tack while Eli dried in front of the fans. Cue world’s tiniest violin.

box jump from patentlybay on Vimeo.

Sunday was a whole different story. The weather did me a few favors, too. Eli felt great under saddle and fully accepted a different bit I had wanted to try on him that we might show in (just a bit with a hint of extra breaking power). I am still not sure about being able to show in May, but am counting on showing in June. What a difference a day (and some clouds) makes!

Riding with Uncertainty

A more accurate title of this post would be “riding whilst uncertain about something outside of riding that could affect my riding.” But that’s too long. I’m going for a little practicality here.

Anyone getting on a horse is probably comfortable with a moderate amount of uncertainty (or just stupid, either way) because of the nature of horses. Is he going to spook at that pile of poles the ninth time we trot past, after trotting past eight other times without incident? Is he going to step on a rock and come up lame from a stone bruise that later abscesses? Am I going to see a stupid distance and fail to make a decision so that my horse stops and I end up picking splinters out of my teeth?

We of course also ride with uncertainty about our own skills and abilities. Is my horse not getting his leads because I suck at it? Or is it because he hurts? Or maybe he doesn’t care even if I am asking correctly? Or maybe it’s Tuesday?

We even all experience a little bit of daily uncertainty about whether we will be able to afford this sport for much longer or at all. We sometimes question whether the time we put in is worth the stress these animals can cause us. We spend too much on vet bills, we try to fit square pegs into round holes, we try to get better every day even in the face of setbacks in communication, health, finances, the wrong tack, daylight savings, or footing.

The view may change but the perspective will not

Personally, I have already worked through a lot of this uncertainty — I am comfortable with my shortcomings as a rider, knowing that I try to improve every time I get on my horse (plus he keeps improving, too, so that helps). I am comfortable with horses being unpredictable. I accept that my wallet is not a good match for equine pursuits but I will pursue regardless. The uncertainty I am not comfortable with, that I am facing now, has to do with my health. Specifically, my vision. I’m losing it, apparently. And not in an “I just need a stronger prescription for eyeglasses” way. Totally annoying.

The first thing that comes to mind is always the worst case scenario and I don’t think that’s me. Not yet. I can still see, I just have a blind spot that will probably never go away. I don’t know how much or if this will change over time. The vision loss I have experienced thus far was not even obvious to me until I went in for my regular annual eye exam and once the eye patch was over my right eye during the visual field exam I noticed that there was something very, very wrong with my left eye. “Like, whoa, that is fucked up” was my first thought. I didn’t think much about it after that and just let my eye doctor tell me about the possibilities and request more diagnostic exams for me and prescribe me some eye drops.

And then I got to the barn. It kind of hit me then. What will the barn be like if I can’t see? What will riding be like? No, I will not give up riding no matter how much my vision dwindles over time. It may not even get all that much worse with treatment. But if I ever lose so much vision that I have to change how I ride or which horses I ride–what will that be like? How much vision loss is enough to say “no more jumping”? I even think that if I could, I’d trade my hearing to get my vision back. Which is a selfish and childish thing to think, but really, I don’t need to hear anything else ever again. However, I need to see.

perspective from patentlybay on Vimeo.

This isn’t even that much of an issue yet, but the uncertainty about how long my vision will last makes me consider the future in a much different light. There are plenty of people with far worse conditions who ride in the face of disabilities and adversity no matter what. Seeing them do it — I know I can, too. Not riding is not on the table.

What uncertainties related to riding have you grappled with?