Judge Card Emojies

Judge card emojies
Thanks to the Chronicle of the Horse columnist Jody Werner for this fabulous graphic! Click on the image to go to her original article and enjoy the shorthand that describes how you and your horse did in the ring! As a sometimes dressage scribe, I could certainly have used a few of these to record those tests.

Bitting up for Hunting

Zelda in Happy Mouth Bit
Zelda sporting her new Happy Mouth elevator bit.

Zelda is an enthusiastic foxhunter. I am grateful to have a horse that so obviously loves her job! Up until this year, I’ve hunted her in her “every day” bit, which is a

PeeWee bit
The PeeWee bit features a narrow diameter, curved, sweet iron, mullen mouthpiece

mullen mouth snaffle (Pee Wee Snaffle). However, this year, she started to get strong. And, even worse, she started to root.

Rooting is when a horse pulls at the reins, often leaning down and jerking suddenly. Zelda started to do this when she thought we weren’t going fast enough. Picture cantering along and having a head the size of Zelda’s giving you a good, sharp tug and you will understand why I was starting to get some lower back pain!

One of the fixes for rooting is to make your horse go forward, but that doesn’t always work when you are hunting as you need to stay in your place in line. So, I started to think about bits.

Zelda has a soft mouth; she isn’t pulling hard on the bit but when hunting, she can get heavy in front and a bit flat. My goal was to find a bit that was gentle enough that she didn’t curl up behind it, yet emphatic enough so that she was a bit more respectful and balanced. I prefer to hunt on a loose rein; I don’t like to be hauling on my horse all the time, but I need my horse to respond quickly when I need to stop (think about hound running in front of you as your galloping along and you get the picture).

When you “pick up the telephone” as Le Goff says, that horse better answer your call.

– Denny Emerson

That’s one of the best descriptions I’ve seen of how a horse should react to a bit. You need to have that answer and you don’t want the phone to keep on ringing.

There are a couple of “go to” bits for a horse that leans — a friend of mine gave me the Happy Mouth two ring elevator bit. The top ring attaches to the cheek pieces, which keeps the bit very stable in her mouth (Zelda likes that), the mouthpiece is soft and drapes over her tongue (Zelda likes that, too), and the rein attaches to the second ring, which gives me a bit more leverage. I like this because magically, she has stopped rooting! It’s not so much bit that it backs her off, but it has given her a reason to behave better and it lets me ride her more softly.

What bits to you use for those times when you need to “bit up”?

How to Cook Thanksgiving Dinner without Missing the Thanksgiving Hunt

The Old Manse
The Thanksgiving Hunt is one of the “High Holy Days” of foxhunting. Our hunt starts from the Old Manse, which was built in 1770 for patriot minister William Emerson. The Old Manse became the center of Concord’s political, literary, and social revolutions over the course of the next century. In the mid-19th-century, leading Transcendentalists such as Bronson Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller discussed the issues of the day here, with the Hawthorne and Ripley families. We start the morning with a “stirrup cup.”

There is much to be thankful on Thanksgiving Day, especially when you start the morning with a foxhunt. For the past few years I’ve been lucky enough to spend the morning hours chasing the scent of foxes (no real foxes involved) through historic Concord, Mass., before heading home to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my family.

There is no one who describes the balancing act between a great dinner and a great hunt than Cooky McClung, and I have linked to her column in the Chronicle of the Horse below.

Of course, I realize some people do not foxhunt on Thanksgiving Day, although I have no idea what they do with all that extra time after the turkey is in the oven.

How to cook Thanksgiving Dinner
When I first read this article, back in 1987, I had no idea that one day I’d be trying to balance Thanksgiving and Foxhunting!

I am lucky in that my family doesn’t mind having Thanksgiving dinner a little on the late side. I am lucky to have such a wonderful hunt horse. And I am lucky that the Thanksgiving Hunt is literally around the corner from where my horses live, so I save all that time by not trailering.

This year I was on the fence about hunting. I hadn’t ridden since Saturday and it was cold and damp on Thursday morning.

I’m glad, though that I went. Zelda was amazing and, despite the snow showers, we had a wonderful time!

The Old Manse
We usually draw quite a crowd at the start of the hunt. The Old Manse is right on Monument Street next to the Old North Bridge.
The first Cast
Right around the time of the first cast, the first flakes of snow started to fall!
We ride through some lovely fields in historic Concord.
The last field
The last field is quite close to where Zelda lives, so we just hacked home.

After putting Zelda up and leaving her some extra Thanksgiving hay, it was back home for an afternoon of cooking and a great meal.

No Stirrups November?

I will admit that I didn’t do it. I do ride without stirrups on occasion, but not w ith the dedication I had when I was younger and my trainer made me do it!

But if you want to see why it’s important to be able to ride without stirrups, watch Mark Todd ride more than half of the Badminton Course in 1995 with just one stirrup (I can’t imagine how off balance he must have felt).

Todd says that as he rode towards the lake on Bertie Blunt, “I almost felt like bursting out laughing at the thought of galloping down to one of the most difficult fences in the world with only one stirrup.”

Learning not to Jump Ahead

Don't jump ahead
This old article of Denny’s came up in my FB feed. What an important lesson! Click on the photo to access the article.

It is oh-so-easy to get ahead of your horse when you are learning to jump. And then you are just one step away from jumping the fence without your horse. I suspect we’ve all been there, lying on the ground on one side of a fence while your horse stands on the other side and looks at you questioningly. It’s a surprisingly hard problem to fix because, as Denny points out, your natural tendency is to lean forward.

This was my very first cross country course. Don't you love that "approved" helmet! You can't tell from the photo but it was bright blue.
This photo was taken at Pleasant Hollow but not at the event where I had that unscheduled dismount.

Many years ago when I was riding at an event at Pleasant Hollow (anyone out there remember that lovely venue?) I managed to jump the first fence of the course without my horse. Of course, my trainer got that fall on video and I had the pleasure of watching it over and over again, analyzing my fall in slow motion! Still, although I could see what went wrong, it was harder to fix it.

My trainer had an ingenious solution: She had me ride another student’s horse. One that was a fabulous jumper except, he would not leave the ground if you got ahead of him. It made him a great teacher!

Since then, I’ve also learned the “trick” of using a neck strap. Many of the trainers whom I’ve ridden with in the past few years are proponents and I wish I’d figured it out sooner. Looping a finger through the strap and remembering to lean back a bit keeps me more centered and stable. I’ve also learned that it’s sometimes better to get a wee bit behind (especially if you are holding onto that neck strap) than to get ahead.

How did you learn not to jump ahead?

A Great Day to be Hunting

How much better does it get? Nearly 60 degrees on November 19th!

The fall hunt season is drawing to a close but you would never have known it was November 19th today. It was nearly 60 degrees with bright, clear skies. What a treat! It was one of those hunts where you ride back to the trailer after two hours and wish you could go a bit further.

Zelda surveys the hilltoppers
Zelda, surveying the hilltoppers. She was in fine form today. Excited, happy and not at all naughty.

Zelda had a really good time today. She’s gotten much smarter about hunting — she is staying more balanced and is easier to rate — but she was so excited to be out that she was literally bouncing. It’s amazing to me that the same horse that swears it’s impossible collect at a canter when schooling dressage, can practically canter in place when she’s in the hunt field.

The best thing about having a horse that can canter that slowly? I almost never need to post. And her canter is very comfortable.

Open fields
Today we hunted in Pepperell, which is just shy of the New Hampshire border. Lots of big open fields.
The hounds were spot on the scent today — and the fields gave the opportunity for great viewing.

More fields

Hunting in Pepperell

Zelda rolling
After the hunt Zelda could barely wait for me to get her tack off before enjoying a roll in the sand.

An Update on Freedom

Conditioning walk
After 5 days of rest, I took Freedom out on two light hacks. Mostly walking with a short bit of trotting. Luckily the weather cooperated. Unfortunately, while he feels a bit better, when I did try to canter him on the third day, I found that he is still having trouble with the left lead canter. Right now I’m continuing to hack him and am making sure to add some hill work to build up his muscles. I’m also considering some massage as his muscles are still probably tight from the SI pain.