Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 in Review


Is it sad that I had to go through my own Facebook timeline and iPhone photo time stamps to figure out what the hell I did with my life earlier in the year? (Answer: Yes.) Seriously, this is one of the reasons I started blogging - so I can remember my life. Ugh so sad. The first few months here are going to be pretty lame, but keep reading and it will get more interesting - I promise!

January:

Apparently we started out with no snow on the ground in January and were able to let the horses out into the back paddock to frolic on occasion. I only remember this thanks to photographic evidence.




It was either in January or February that I began renting the indoor area next door and starting working Maggie again. She had a nice month or so long break prior to that.

February:

Apparently there was snow on the ground in February. And we let them frolic in the back paddock again.



March:

March brings the beginning of spring! Which also means...mud season.


I also made my husband take some "nice" pics of me and Maggie:


 Though some turned out no so nice:




April:

Apparently I took zero pictures in April. Or at least none of interest to this blog, so I'll just suffice to write a block of text here: Somewhere around the March/April time period I started taking lessons with the dressage instructor next door/ owner of the indoor arena. Even though I've been consistently riding ever since I was 13, I haven't had consistent lessons since high school (so about 8ish years ago) mostly due to being in college/ not having the finances/ not owning my own horse. During the summer of 2013 I took a few lessons with a fantastic dressage instructor in the next town over, but at $80 a pop I couldn't afford to take them routinely. Plus having to truck in makes it that much more difficult/time consuming.

The instructor next door is semi-retired from giving lessons and does it more for fun now as opposed to part of her business (which is mainly boarding plus another instructor does little kid lessons that the barn.) She only charges me $40 per lesson and she has ridden at FEI levels - so that works for me! Plus I only have to walk next door. Much more convenient. Those first few lessons in the spring of 2014 were the foundation for the rest of the year and put us in a great place for the first show of the season that I was aiming for in May. Our main areas of focus for these first couple lessons were rhythm, balance, and bending. Just having two or so lessons to work off of and practice on my own really made a huge difference for us.

May:

In the beginning of May I kept up the lessons and the practice on my own. I was riding Maggie about 5 days a week at this point. Our first show of the season (and Maggie's second show ever), the Groton House Farm 2-Phase, was at the end of the month.

This show went really well and I was super proud of Maggie. We showed in the Elementary Senior division. You can read the full recap HERE (middle part of the post), but here are some highlights: 

Dressage went great and even though we were both kind of tense. The judge's comments emphasized that the tension Maggie was holding was inhibiting her throughness and suppleness and we also needed some more energy to help lift her back and reach through. Score: 34.4. 

In looking back through the pics my husband took of us warming up I realized I seriously needed to focus on sitting taller and keeping my shoulders back and hands a bit higher/more forward. 

Meh.
Whereas for dressage I was kind of nervous, for stadium I was definitely nervous. At least until we went over the warm-up jumps a couple times. I was bracing myself for a refusal, but instead, Maggie locked onto those jumps and launched herself over each and every one! I was ridiculously proud of her and I think it boosted both of our confidence levels before we entered the ring.



Or at least it boosted my confidence until I saw that almost every horse was refusing the first jump on course and several were outright eliminated right there. Gulp. But when it was our turn we came in with a big forward trot, ready to give it a shot. She was a little looky as we circled before the whistle, but still very strong and forward. I pointed her towards fence 1 and as soon as we passed through the start flags and she locked onto that first fence, I could feel that she was going to refuse it. And she did. I circled her around for a second pass at it, not knowing what to expect. Despite picking up the canter a few strides away, she slammed on the brakes again. One more try...and we made it over. Just for that I was crazy proud of her once more. The rest of the course was pretty much a breeze after that, and we didn't pick up any more faults. 

My husband took video of our jumping round, but I hadn't bothered to upload it before. This was his first time trying to video with this camera and he hadn't figured out the focus yet, so it gets blurry at times and it also cuts out a few jumps before the finish. Here it is now though! Aside from being incredibly proud of Maggie for making it through the course, my favorite thing about this video is that you can hear my husband cheering us on while we're trying to get over that first fence. You have turn the volume up though, cause he's cheering in a whisper! Adorable.


We finished in 3rd place out of 7 people - three of which had been eliminated.

June

By June our outdoor ring had dried up enough that we could jump. Even if it wasn't very pretty.



Towards the end of June was another show at Groton House, the Summer Classic, which was a 3-Phase event. I had wanted to run Maggie in the Elementary division in this event, which would have been her first XC run, but I felt that we weren't quite ready for it, so I opted to do some schooling-only dressage tests instead. I think the main reason that I felt we weren't ready for XC at this point was that we hadn't gotten a chance to go schooling yet, I believe due to a combination of the weather and work being crazy around this time..

About to spook at the judge's booth. Like a champ. And me not doing so good with the whole 'shoulders back' thing.
I rode two tests: Intro Test B first, and then BN Test A. Maggie was MUCH more tense for this show than for the last one, for whatever reason. I think part of the reason was that she could hear other horses at the stadium warm up, but couldn't see it them due to a large hedge row in between. But other than that, who knows. We got a 36.9 for the Intro test, which I wasn't too happy with. I worked her a little more before we went in for the BN test and she was a little more relaxed. We got a 35.8 for the BN test, which wasn't amazing, but I was pleased that it was an improvement over the Intro test. In the BN test we also got our first ever 8 on a dressage test for our entry down the centerline which was "very straight and steady." So that was cool. Full recap is HERE (last third of the post.)

The very last weekend of June, I squeezed in an XC school at Pipestave because it was going to be the only chance I would get to do so before everything really got busy in July. As far as I remember, she was a very good girl for schooling and I don't think we had any refusals. And she even got to cool off in Mill Pond afterward! Complete with her catching me of guard and lying down in the water. While I was on her.

Not sweat - pond water.

This is why my saddle is a Wintec and I don't wear my tall boots to the pond.
July

July was quite the busy month. Brace yourselves. 

First, we kicked it off with vacation time! Vacation time with the horses that is. Yes, my friends' and my idea of a nice vacation is trailering all our horses 6 hours to Acadia National Park in Maine for some trail riding. While the horses stayed in nice modular stalls, we slept in tents. Oh, and we brought the husbands/boyfriends too! I haven't posted about this before, kind of saving it for next summer or something as a flashback, but here are a couple pics for now:

The convoy
Ready to go
Long Pond
The gang
Everything was fine and dandy until we got hurricained  on the during our last night. Worst. Night. Ever.

The green blob? That is (was) our tent.
It was in Acadia while grooming Maggie that I first discovered a small lump in the throat latch area on the right side of her neck. It definitely hadn't been there before and kind of alarmed me. She wasn't showing any signs of it bothering her though, so we carried on for the time being.

The weekend after we got back from Acadia was the July Pipestave Hill Horse Trials - a 3-phase in which we did the Elementary division. The full recap is HERE, and this show was especially notable for several reasons: 1.) We got a personal best dressage score (26.3) which completely blew me away. 2.) It was Maggie's first XC run and she was a beast and ate up the course. 3.) We WON! 




Throughout the month I had been keeping an eye on that throatlatch lump of hers. It seemed to stay relatively the same size, about that of a golf ball, but certainly hadn't gone away like I was hoping. I called in the vet, who palpated it and said it probably wasn't a concern; it was most likely a thyroid adenoma which aren't uncommon and are usually benign and don't even affect hormone levels. He wasn't going to pull blood, but I asked him to anyway and run a thyroid panel on it. I figured that if it changed shape at all in the future it would be good to have a baseline to see if the hormones levels changed shape too.


So much for a baseline...Maggie's thyroid hormone levels turned out to be through the roof. Highly unusual for horses, and to make it even more mysterious she wasn't actually exhibiting any clinical signs. Late in July the vet came back out to do an ultrasound and see if we could aspirate some cells.

equine thyroid mass ultrasound
Maggie gets a thyroid ultrasound
Oh, and it was also in July that I started this blog! Here is my very first post

Prior to this I had actually been blogging already (since January) on the webpage for my nutrition business and I was putting together a series about components of the equine diet. I did a pretty good job of posting a new section once per week. But you know what? No one was reading and it was BORING.  So at this point in the year I scraped the professional blogging thing, and started up this personal blog which I assure you is MUCH for fun. I had been thinking about doing a more personal blog again for a while, but I figured that the time was right at this point since we were getting more heavily into showing and her thyroid thing was getting weird. I do still have all the blog posts from the nutrition series, and could recycle them on this blog if there was any interest, but for now they're not live and instead there is a link to this blog on the nutrition website.

August

Between vet appointments in end of July/beginning of August I continued to ride Maggie as usual since she was no worse for the wear. I experimented with hauling some discarded moldy hay bales into the ring to create some more solid XC-like jumps and we had some fun with them.

Majestic!!!
After the results came back from the cell aspirate, I talked with the vet again and we decided that I would truck Maggie up to Myhre Equine Clinic in New Hampshire for a Nuclear Scan to further try and determine if the lump was benign or cancerous. 

Maggie gets a nuclear scan

Having had the nuclear scan to determine that it was indeed the right lobe that was overproducing hormone, and having had several thyroid panels done at this point that consistently showed highly elevated levels of hormones I decided to put her through surgery for a hemithyroidectomy after much consultation with the internal medicine specialist at Myhre. At this point we still weren't sure the enlarged lobe wasn't cancerous, but even if it wasn't she would eventually start showing some signs of those elevated hormones, which would make her unwell. So, I figured it was best to just nip it in the butt and get rid of the thing.

Maggie post-surgery
Maggie came through the surgery great and I got to take her home 4 days later. Big relief to have her home again.

Here are all the parts of the thyroid saga, which are much more detailed in both the medicine of what was going on with her as well as my decision making process to go through with the surgery: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6. Poor Maggie spent rest of August and the first part of September on stall rest until her stitches could come out and poor Abby spent the time Maggie was on stall rest getting up super early to give SMZs are pick her stall before work.

September

The first weekend in September I was allowed to take Maggie's stitches out and thus she was allowed to return to normal turn out and regular work! I slowly began getting her into a work routine again, starting with some lunging before actually getting on her again. I had gotten into a 6 day a week riding schedule before Pipestave in July and was planning on getting her back into that routine. For being on stall rest for 2 weeks, she really didn't lose all that much fitness! We resumed dressage lessons in the middle of the month.

My original plan for September had been to do the Elementary division 3-phase of the Groton House Farm Fall Classic. However, with the whole thyroid episode and 2 weeks of stall rest, I didn't want to push her (or me) into a whole 3-phase event with little time to prepare. Instead, I planned to volunteer as a fence judge, but caught a devil of a head cold that weekend which completely sidelined me and I had to duck out.

October

Having skipped the GHF Fall Classic, the next show that I was looking towards, was the October Pipestave Hills Horse Trials. We started out the month with some XC schooling at Pipestave again, which was a little hit or miss. She was fine with the the smaller fences, but we had a few refusals at some of the BN sized ones. I think part of the problem was that she was getting tired by the time I decided to point her at the bigger fences. I've made a mental note to not overdo it on the small jumps before schooling the BN next time.


By the time the October Pipestave came around I was raring to go and picturing dressage scores in the 20's and beast-mode during XC again. But, Maggie had other ideas. That morning after getting her all groomed and ready to go I had the WORST time trying to load her onto the trailer. I have no idea what got into her...she normally gets on the trailer pretty readily, but that morning it took half an hour and when she finally did get on we were both sweating and exhausted and running late. Not the best start to the day.

I had decided to move up from the Elementary division to the Modified BN division for this show since we had such a stellar dressage score last time and we had been working on the canter a bunch during lessons. The only difference between these two divisions is the dressage test (BN A instead of Intro B.) Jump height stays the same for both divisions. The fact that we had to canter in dressage now really bit me in the butt though. Maggie was tired and behind my leg the whole time and I was still on edge. We got a 37.9 for dressage, which is our worst to date. 


I was seriously worried for XC at that point though. If I couldn't get her to hold a canter during the dressage test, how was I going to get her over all the XC fences? Here's to hoping beast-mode would kick in...

And it did for stadium which boosted my confidence. She seems to have gotten the hang of that phase.

But I still don't even know how to describe our XC from this show...It's like she knew what her job was, but wasn't really into it, but still humored me. She was behind my leg almost the whole time and we had some hairy moments where we almost stopped, but she did indeed get over every fence and we made it clear!


It was a weird show...I felt like Maggie was kind of mad at me the whole time and we really just weren't clicking. Despite all that, we ended in 3rd overall thanks to our clear jumping rounds. Full recap HERE.

And this pic still perfectly sums up the mood.
The next weekend I hooked up my trailer for some remedial loading practice, after which I think we truly forgave each other and balance was restored to the universe, as my pony happily walks onto the trailer again. 

Later in October my husband I jetted to Puerto Rico to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary and then I finished out the month by participating in the MSPCA Horses Helping Horses Beach Ride

November

I can't say November was terribly exciting. I tried my hand (or tried my foot?) at No Stirrup November. The 'No Stirrup' part was fine - I like the challenge of it and feel like it really helps, but the 'Riding' part of it didn't work out so great. Maggie ended up getting a good portion of the month off thanks to the rainy weather/ poor arena conditions and the fact that it's dark after work at this point. Also, I went away for the week of Thanksgiving. I did join a gym though, and fortunately for me I at least kept to a gym schedule better than a riding schedule. 

December

That's right now! Phew. Took a while to get here.

I've started renting the indoor arena next door already, which means Maggie is getting ridden consistently again. So far, just slow steady dressage work, trying to focus on the fundamentals we had been working on all summer: relaxation, rhythm, straightness. And we've been getting in some rides on trails and on the beach, as cold as it may be (though actually, it's been quite mild for December in New England.)



I'm already looking ahead to 2015! 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

How Not to Trot Raised Cavalletti

Well, I'm off of work this week and next and it is WONDERFUL. I've been at my job for over 4 years and I've never taken 2 weeks off in a row OR any time off over the holidays. I've got the vacation time to use so I figured, why not. My plans for this vacation include riding Maggie, going to the gym, cleaning the house, a short weekend in Maine after Christmas, and them more riding Maggie and going to the gym. Oh, and not getting up at 5:30 am everyday.

So to start this week off I worked on some fancy prancing with Maggie. I mentioned last week that I wanted to lunge her over cavalletti to watch her go, but on Monday I decided I'd just go ahead and ride her over it and film myself. So here is a set of 3 sturdy cavalletti on the ground:


I know cavalletti are supposed to help work their hind end and get them to lift their backs and step under themselves, etc. etc., but I always feel like they make her string out instead. And watching it back she does get strung out in the beginning but her carriage gets a little better towards the end.

My husband was watching this footage with me as I was editing it and I pointed out to him towards the end, "See, that one was better - her headset stayed in place."

To which he replied: "Oh good, so does that mean she can hear you better?"

Me: "..........."

He's an audio engineer and thinks he's very clever :P

So Maggie seemed to be going quite nicely through the low set, so next I turned each cavalletti on it's side to see how she did with something a little more difficult. In retrospect, perhaps this was a little too difficult at the moment. I think each pole was ~6 inches off the ground. Which, thinking about it now, is pretty substantial for a 14.0 hh pony...

I was a little nervous about her trying to jump all three of the poles at once. Fortunately she didn't so that, but she still got...creative... The 3rd and 4th passes through are my favorite. After the fourth one I could barely stop laughing and pull myself together.

   
Now I'll readily admit I don't watch each and every video that gets posted to blogs (depends on where I am...at work, home, on the train...or if I'm on a desktop or my phone. I try to watch as many as possible though) But I thought parts of this video were just too good...So, Merry Christmas, I made you some GIFs:


Third time through


Fourth time through

My pony is a weirdo and I love her. Can't say she doesn't try!


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

TMM on Social Media

free social media icons image

Tracy from Fly On Over had the great idea for an equestrian blogger social media link up so I've compiled a list of all my social media accounts for this blog:

The Maggie Memoir's Social Media Accounts:

Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram (though I'm still pretty new to Instagram) are by far the channels that I use the most. Twitter (which I am also new to) and Google+ are 'meh' as far as I'm concerned. YouTube houses all the videos I post to the blog!

I'm looking forward to following everyone and filling up my feeds with PONIES! (Because that's what the internet is for, right?)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Leg Yields and Lesson Kids

This week's schedule went pretty much as planned: I worked Maggie on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. Tuesday/Friday was under saddle, but Wednesday was in hand/on the lunge. I was planning to work her on the lunge over some cavaletti, but when I went to the indoor there was a tiny child having a lead line lesson and I didn't want to potentially cause a scene by starting to lunge. Maggie is generally pretty quiet on the lunge if she's being worked somewhat consistently, EXCEPT for that first go-round when she likes to break into a canter and give a good 'ol buck n'squeal before settling into a trot. The lesson pony that the kid was on seemed very quiet, but I didn't want to take any chances of being responsible for the pony launching her across the indoor. Plus, since I'm not a boarder at this barn I have to give the boarders and lessons the right of way. Totally fine. It's a small price to pay for having access to an indoor arena all winter. 


So anyway, while the lead-line lesson was happening at one end of the ring I decided to practice leg yielding in-hand at the other end. I'd walk her parallel to an arena wall starting on the quarter line and have one of my hands leading her forward by the halter and the other hand behind the girth area, where my leg would be, using that hand to nudge her as her inside hind leg came forward thus asking for a leg yield to the wall (so is it hand yielding in this case??)

She did quite good tracking to the left, which isn't surprising considering that's her better direction, and ok to the right. I think practicing this in hand is actually good for me too, since it makes me really focus on the timing of the aids.

We had a whole 20 mins or so to kill until the lesson kid was done, so we also did a lot of general walk/halt/back leading practice which she is really good about because I did a ton of ground work like this before backing her. I also tried asking for some turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches from the ground. Turn on the forehand was better than turn on the haunches, which was to be expected, since I've never really schooled turn on the haunches before (and in all honesty, I have no idea what the aids for it under saddle are, because I'm a noob.) We're having this problem though - and according to my instructor it sometimes happens when we're trying to leg yield under saddle too - where Maggie tries to cross her inside leg behind her outside leg instead of in front of it. The only reason I can think of why she may do this is because, maybe, she doesn't have enough forward momentum? Thoughts from anyone?

So yeah, that was our little in-hand work out. When the lesson kid left I lunged for about 5 minutes, very low pressure, just to let Maggie relax a little and get that buck n'squeal out because after about 10 minutes of in-hand work she was all like, "Why are you still asking me to do these stupid things with my feet?!"

I so pretty!
Tuesday and Friday's rides were fairly similar to one another. For both days I focused mainly on straightness on a circle by keeping contact with my outside rein and leg to keep her from collapsing on the inside. I think we did decently and had some nice moments. Consistency is something that will come with a little more time, particularly with a little more consistent work as well ;) I did a little leg yielding under saddle as well and once again we're better when tracking left. One thing that helps us be better in that direction is, or perhaps hinders our progress in the other direction, is that when tracking left there's a mirror at the end of the arena that helps me really see her move. I like going that direction so that I can practice associating her movement and my aids with when I see her starting to pick up that inside hind hoof. Unfortunately, there's no such mirror in the arena that gives me the same view when tracking right.

Just this afternoon I went out for a chilly trail ride with a pair of my barn pals. The highlight of the ride was coming across a flooded part of the trail with pretty frozen patches. Rio was pretty psyched about drinking the icy water and Maggie just wanted to eat the dead leaves...

Odd children. (Pic by E)










Sunday, December 14, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Unphotogenic

Sometimes, try as you might to take a good picture, you just...can't.





I believe the terminology is, "derp"?

8 Day Recap

Ready...Go:

Sunday: Went for a trail ride with my barn pals. Nothing too strenuous at all, but it was sure nice to get outside and I think Maggie was very happy to be joining both her boyfriends. She got left behind last week and was sad.


Matching Mustang forelegs.



Monday: No barn, just gym. Ain't gonna win any marathons any time soon, but I'm enjoying getting back into running a little.

Saw this hanging in the locker room with a pair of Ariat terrain paddock boots on the floor beneath it:


Tuesday: I completely failed at being productive in the slightest. It was raining ALL DAY, but since I now have access to the indoor I was still fully intending on riding...until I got off the train in the evening and realized exactly how hard it had been raining and how much water had accumulated. It was a veritable Nor'easter and I did not even want to brave the rain and mud to go next door.


I went to the barn and yeah...I skirted riding. But I did help with chores and mucked Maggie's stall. Then I went to my parents' house where Zipper and Billy live because it wanted to check on them and make sure that Billy was letting Zipper in the stall and not hogging it for himself. (Not that she doesn't like standing in the rain anyway, but still.)

Wednesday: No barn and no gym because my family went to a Colonial Tavern Night at the Harpoon Brewery in Boston. Yes, you read that correctly: Colonial Tavern Night. You see, my sister works for The Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum as a cast member who leads tour and school groups in full colonial garb and in character. She has always been a theater person and she loves it. And I love that she loves it. Anyway, Harpoon created a limited edition edition beer infused with one of the types of tea that was historically dumped in the Boston Harbor. I'm a fan of darker beers, as was this one, and it was DELICIOUS. And throughout the evening there were games and singing and even a visit from the redcoats. Also, I line danced with Sam Adams. It was a little weird.

Thursday: Did my weekly chore night, picked out Maggie's feet, then went to the gym.

Friday: Rode Maggie, who greeted me with a tail full of shavings which I was too lazy to brush completely out because there was no one else in the indoor to judge me. I lunged her for somewhere around 10 minutes and rode for about 20. She was a little full of it on the lunge and got a few good squeals and bucks out, but was all settled down when I went to get on.


I decided to work mostly on leg yielding and straightness, doing the general spiral-in and spiral-out exercise. I don't practice that exercise enough for whatever reason, but I really ought to. I find that it really helps with straightness and getting her to work off the outside rein more. Does that make sense? (Or am I doing it wrong?) I feel like we have really improved with leg yielding this year, though we definitely still have a lot of work to do. She's much more responsive and does understand what I'm asking, but I still need to improve the timing of my aids.

Saturday: Did chores including paddock mucking and then went to the gym.

Sunday: Beach ride!!! All three of my fellow boarders came and we had a lovely day. Even got in a little trotting and cantering for funsies! Looks like Sundays are good trail ride/ beach days. Need to keep this pattern up because it's nice to be able to ride outside one day a week during the winter!

Photo by B.

Photo by E

Photo by me!
Congrats if you made it through this whole post, because it was basically a whole lot of blah. You win my endless admiration!