An innate sense of direction …

…is not something I came equipped with. Its a bit of a joke, but we are getting to the point where – combined with my intense relationship with Murphy’s law – it is getting to be a bit sad. We set off today with the intention of a one hour drive to do a 1 1/2 – 2 hour trail ride. Easy peasy right? One would have thought, but we decided to “beer budget dressage-it”.

I got some directions from the person we were meeting, double checked those with mapquest and my phone’s GPS. Everything was in sync. We loaded Rio, Tas, and Liberty (because who doesn’t trail ride a Belgian draft horse) and set out up the hill. When we left, we were discussing how much we disliked hauling up and down our very steep hill. However, by the end of the afternoon, our perspectives would be vastly expanded.

All went well for the first 20-30 minutes until we got to the first detour and made the mistake of following it. After that it was nothing but a circuitous trip downhill. The phones could not “re-calculate” anything other than the original route – the road we needed was just the other side of the detour because we drove back to check and see. We ended up pulling over and I walked down to the bridge under construction and got some insight from the construction workers. That got us a lot further (in the right direction) than other options and attempts. However, karma a/k/a Murphy wasn’t done yet. We got stuck with construction two more times and then got stuck behind trucks painting new lines on the road. (Sucka’s- my trailer is eight feet wide on your teensy little back road – those lines were smudged within seconds!). Several phones calls to the person that we were traveling to and we were back on track. until …(cue the banjo’s)….

We are coming down the slightly-more-than-one-lane-but-certainly-not-two-lanes gravel goat path/road and there was a large work truck parked on the side of the road. A SmartCar would not have fit around and we certainly were not. Two elderly men were standing there chatting..and chatting..and despite some long looks and waving…chatting. Finally I put the window down and announce that we cannot get past them and they need to move the truck. One of the elderly men hobbles over, pulls a wheel chalk out from behind his wheels, gets in and moves the truck ahead ten feet and maybe over a foot. He hobbles back and puts the wheel chalk in place. I put my head back out the window and state that I am not certain that will give us enough room and then started to try and squeak by. The driver comes over to the window and starts to explain that he was having transmission troubles. I indicated that I was sorry to hear that and tried to continue to inch the trailer forward. The fellow then continues on with what garage I should avoid for transmission work, etc. I explain that my horses have been on the trailer for a long time and that my friend is standing in the road ahead and is waiting on me. The erstwhile sufferer of transmission troubles now leans in the drivers window to continue the saga. I explain that I don’t want to run him over but that I really had to keep going. He walked along a few steps and we finally cleared his truck and were able to go faster than a snails pace. I have to admit that one flabbergasted me and I was really trying to avoid just yelling in desperation to “Shut Up and Let Me Pass!” Why potentially running him over seemed less rude than yelling is debatable but I was stressed and tired and wanted my poor horses off the trailer.

Since we were late, we offered the horses water and promptly tacked up and headed out on what we thought would be a reasonable length trail ride (we are pansy trail riders). The first hour and a half passed pleasantly. All three horses that we bought are pretty cheerful stoic trail ponies. They however are used to strolling along rails to trails or doing conditioning trots along well groomed trails and access roads. Steep hills are rare and short at home. In what seemed to be the extreme backwoods of NW PA, this is not the case. When we realized that there was another hour or so to go, we got a little sad for our going to be tired ponies and our own backsides. Our host had cheerfully announced that she had an excellent sense of direction and never gets lost. We warned her not to say that in our presence as it would tempt fate. As the next trail we went down was the wrong one, we had to retrace our steps. Then a new pasture had blocked one the trails and we went through a field that gave definition to the term “rugged terrain”. At that point I was so glad I had brought my husbands horse instead of Ries. I promptly felt guilty about that, but I know that my farrier agrees with me.

Really, it was a nice ride. At the same time, while I may wonder whether I am more of an event rider or a dressage rider, I know that an endurance rider is not my calling. The horses were great and got a little bute in their dinner to make certain they are feeling okay tomorrow. The ride home promised to be easier – it had to be..right?

Like you need to guess – of course not. The road/driveway/ditch combination made a left turn really difficult. Our host told us we could just go right and just down the road take the next right and it would get us where we were going. Which technically it did – after ten miles of white knuckle driving. If you have ever ridden a roller coaster you know the feeling you have cresting the first big hill on the ride. I love roller coasters, but doing that with a horse trailer is not fun. The only thing that helped was we were on a paved slightly-more-than-one-lane-but-certainly-not-two-lanes road. It looked like something out of an extreme RV-ing comedy sketch only it was not funny. I was busy staring at the road and riding the break controller on the trailer and putting the truck in low gear. Tas and Rio’s riders were sitting on the passenger side and got the adrenaline inducing views of the very steep drop on the other side of an optimistic guardrail.

We got through, found diesel fuel, got some snacks and carried on. Ten feet into that portion of the drive Siri changed her mind on which way to travel on Rt 6. We were able to pull a quick u-turn in a garage parking lot much to the surprise of the fellow being pushed by a forklift in an Explorer. We waved apologetically as we tried very hard not to occupy the same space and then awkwardly had to wait several moments for traffic to clear and for us to vacate his parking lot.

Five minutes of smooth sailing progressed before we ended up behind some very large field equipment and proceeded at a pace that would have allowed the fellow with the transmission issues to walk along and finish his story. Several times throughout this process we wondered if we were on some sort of  hidden camera reality show.

We finally made it home and promised the horses that it was hopefully a once in a lifetime experience. I got the trailer unhooked and came in the house for a much deserved cold beer….only to open the refrigerator and find that it was all gone.

Beer budget dressage y’all.

Identity Crisis

As many are aware, there are a number of stereotypes regarding different types of riders and a really funny email forward about how certain types of riders would change a light bulb. Generally when filling out surveys, I identify my primary area as “dressage” and if they ask for a secondary style, then I go with “eventing”. Admittedly, I haunt EventingNation much more often than DressageDaily online. Usually, I don’t give it a lot of thought. I won’t be showing up in the Olympics for either so I don’t lose much sleep over it. I have one “dressage” horse (Whitman) and one “event”/all purpose horse (Ries). There are certainly some differences in the approach for each though.

Dressage certainly has the reputation for being more “high maintenance” and some of that is well deserved. Playing in both sandboxes makes for some interesting comparisons. What got me thinking about it was a brief comment this morning. I went to a weekend eventing clinic that was far enough away I didn’t feel like making the trip back and forth and stayed the night. This morning I decided to run hay and grain to Ries before getting dressed so I wandered into the barn in my less than flattering plaid jammy pants and t-shirt. With my usual timing I managed to parade myself right in front of an arriving dressage rider (to take a dressage lesson from the visiting eventing coach). I know she is a dressage rider due to her pointing this out to me (Its not a big area, I knew that before hand but since it was announced to me, I decided to run with it). While I assume no affront was intended, evidently I was being presumed to be an “event” rider. This could have been due to the fact that I was at a de facto eventing clinic or it could have been my “not good enough for Walmart” outfit. Regardless, it led to some fun pondering during the day. Who or what am I?

Much of it can probably be attributed to my horses and the vast differences between them. I arrived about an hour before my ride on Saturday. I left Ries on the trailer. I opened the back doors of the trailer (he was in the first bay so remained secure – no safety rules broken). I opened the escape door in front of him (there is a bar to keep him in – though with Ries I could probably just ask him to “stay”). I hooked a water bucket up for him and went to go watch for a few minutes.

When I arrive somewhere with Whitman, the process would be different. I would quickly go and set up Whitman’s stall – bags of shavings, buckets secured, hay in corner, walls perused for any possible dangers and then I would promptly unload Whitman. I would have to rush opening dividers while keeping a hand or foot on Whitman’s haunch so he would not back up too soon. I would then wrestle his head still to get the trailer tie off and the lead shank securely in place. I would then unload Whitman and put him in his stall with his shipping boots on for a few minutes in case of any dumb leaps of surprise or pawing to get attention.

Once I had chatted and checked in (sessions were running a bit behind), I unloaded Ries and pulled his shipping boots as soon as he cleared the ramp. This is usually done with the lead rope over his neck, but the grass was beckoning so I had to continue to hold him. I then tied Ries to the trailer near the tackroom. I forgot that at our last event Ries had discovered that I keep pretzels, a friendly Labrador, and horse treats in the tackroom. Ries seems to view this as a drive through so promptly sidestepped over and began to rummage around inside looking for his beloved pretzels or peppermints. I laugh and continue getting his tack out and on. I also sprayed Ries with fly spray without a second thought. Out of respect for Pony Club rules I put the reins around Ries’ neck before undoing his halter but its really just a matter of protocol.

With Whitman, I would tack him up in the cross ties in the show stabling or in his stall. I can tie him in his stall but would never leave him unattended. Unattended means that I quickly but not so quickly that I might surprise him get the next piece of tack or equipment and promptly return to the stall. Actually, he is not that much higher maintenance then your standard “fancy pants” warmblood until we get to fly spray at which point Whitman gets quirky and ritualistic. While he has been fly sprayed since he was a weanling, it has become an issue over the last year. It has to be done outside of his stall or he will flip over backwards and if he escapes his stall run over horses in the aisle before rampaging through the country side dragging a board from his stall wall behind him. At the last show, I let go of his face to spray his butt and he destroyed his halter while thrashing and rearing. When we were randomly selected for drug testing, I joked with the vet who had witnessed the rearing/thrashing episode earlier, that she could probably skip testing him for tranqs.

Once tacked, I dragged Ries over to the bleachers and got on from there. He needs a lot of walking to warm up so we dawdled around the grounds while the previous lesson finished up. Warmup with Ries is more about getting him stretched and less resistant to everything. He eyed the jump that went from the outdoor ring to the cross country schooling area, but as always is unimpressed. The xc session was not able to actually be on the course due to the wet footing, but xc type questions were the focus of the ride. It was a very fun and educational session. I had to give Ries a little tap with the crop when we got the jump out of the arena. I knew this would be a problem for him since jumping out of an arena would seem like rule breaking to the obedient one. The only near excitement was going over a skinny that was maybe two and a half feet tall. It was a combination of Ries jumping everything as if its 3’6″ (his standard jump – feels like no effort at all) and he turned right when I was planning on turning left. It took me about a stride to figure out that we were on different trajectories. What would have been the most embarrassing would have been the fact that it would have looked like I dove off a perfectly obedient horse. Other than a loss of balance and a squeak out of me, it probably didn’t look like much.

Back to the original theme – first off a dressage clinic is almost always private lessons. I cannot say if Whitman would stand and chill in the group while everyone took there turn and then going back out and taking his turn again. For the event clinic, we do our round, return to the group, and stand around. OTTB stereotypes be darned. All of the horses were either full TB or half but were able to stand like statues, leave the group with no concerns or hints of being barn sour, pick up canter, bang out a course, flying changes included, and then come back to stand on a loose rein like a cow horse. By the second day, I caught myself sitting on my horse with my arms crossed, feet dangling out of my stirrups, reins discarded on Ries’ neck while watching – demerits I know. I guarantee you that I have never considered being so sloppy at a dressage show or clinic. 

Now at either venue, I have cleaned my tack, spiffed up my horse, wear my show boots and not half chaps/paddocks boots, pull my hair back neatly, am clad in a polo, clean breeches and a belt. So, in short (in case I have not already exhausted your attention span), what I am probably depends on what horse I have. Now tomorrow, I am planning on going trail riding – possible on my now tired OTTB or my husband’s 16.2 sofa size Belgian mare in jeans, boots and my treeless sport saddle. What I am then?