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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Starting Over

A few weeks ago, Ken was out at the farm doing dental work on two of my horses, and he gave me a brief update on Forrest. Apparently, my dear Fufu is getting very fat and sassy from all of his time off, and is still on the market. But he is happy, and that is all that matters.

On a slightly different note...

My latest blog, Hoosier Paddy, is finally up and the first post is published! You can find it by clicking here or by going to the direct link:

I will be giving semi-regular updates about his training, shows and his day-to-day life. Stay tuned for more!


Monday, December 26, 2011

A time for goodbyes...

Forrest back at Farmstead
and checking out his new
neighbor, a Hanoverian
stallion named "Raf."
A month from today will be exactly one year since the first time I climbed onto Forrest's back in the tiny indoor at Farmstead and had one of the most magical rides of my life. I thought that by now, Forrest and I would (at least) be going in the direction of  establishing our career together as a formidable 3-day eventing team--if not already be well on our way. I thought that I'd have done a handful of clinics on him, maybe even a combined test or two, and be ready to spend our winter in Ocala doing the winter Area III events and gearing up for the season.

None of that happened.

I was reminded a few days ago by one of my friends that if you want to make God laugh, you should tell Him your plans. In this past year, I've learned that nothing else is more true. Of course, I should have learned this lesson long ago. I've made plenty of "big plans," only to have something completely unexpected happen: I was going to do a one-star on my Irish horse, Stormy, by the age of 16. When he suffered an injury and was out for that season, my new goal was to take a friend's horse, known as Ollie (another "redhead" that I've mentioned in a previous entry) to his first prelim, but instead he was sold before we got the chance. I thought that my former best friend, Sarah, and I would stay close our entire lives, but I haven't spoken a single word to her in almost four years.

"Fat Forrest"
Forrest was another one of those "big plans" that just didn't work out. Instead of continuing his career as an eventer with me, Forrest went back home to Farmstead to be sold to make room for more broodmares. It was heartbreaking to leave Forrest. I gave him one last hug and a kiss on his neck, and then said my final goodbyes. On the way home from dropping Forrest off back at Ken's, my mom and I stopped to buy some decorations for our barn Christmas party, and at the store she bought me a Pillow Pet horse who was--ironically--chestnut with a white star on his forehead. He was just like Forrest, except perhaps a little more round. I immediately named him "Fat Forrest" and he sits beside me now, acting as my muse as I write this difficult post.

My New Years resolution for 2012 is to have a little more faith, and not make any "big plans." My mother getting stepped on by Forrest and spending my entire summer caring for her was not part of the "big plan." My old event horse, Stormy, coming out of retirement at the age of fourteen and going better than ever was not part of the "big plan." And neither was a dark bay weanling named Padraig who is now vacating Forrest's old stall, and he is the best thing that has happened to me all year--planned or otherwise. I still miss Forrest every day, but I'm sure that everything is going to work out just fine.

Padraig is not the only silver lining to Forrest's departure. I also must say that I feel extremely proud of myself for what I did manage to accomplish in my time with Forrest... He went from being spooky and herd sour to hacking out alone and (mostly) behaving himself. He learned to stand tied instead of rearing up, flipping over and running away. Instead of spooking at even the sight of water in the distance, he will now not only walk through water but stand in it quietly. He also is a perfect gentleman loading and travelling in the trailer. Not to mention the leaps and bounds in his training under saddle, especially in the dressage phase.

I plan to start a new blog about Padraig very soon, and I will add the link to that to this blog. Thank you to everyone who has followed this blog, and I wish you all a Happy New Year!


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Good News and Bad News

Forrest enjoying "brunch" in
his paddock, with his friends,
Hercules and Stormy.
I might as well start with the bad news: Forrest will be leaving me within the next week.

Ken was out at the farm this past Monday, and while he was giving injections he informed me that Forrest is on the market. As in, for sale. While I have to say I always thought that this day might come, it is still a little bit of a shock. I guess it's like that quote from the movie, Forrest Gump.

"Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

Forrest and Hercules...
A typical afternoon in the
paddock at River Bend.
It has been a rocky, unpredictable road that Forrest and I have been down in our relatively short time together, and I would be lying if I said that we'd accomplished all that I'd hoped by now. I could not control what happened to my mother this summer. I also found out some interesting things about Forrest's past experiences both at the track and with another rider that I was unaware of prior to bringing him home. Honestly, I feel like Forrest is a super talented horse with infinite abilities as an athlete, but I think that maybe he is not as mentally stable as I'd originally thought. Having said that, Forrest has come along in leaps and bounds since I first began riding him last January. He now loads into trailers, stands for the farrier and has overcome his fear of water. I also taught him to shake his head "yes" when you ask him if he's hungry, and now he shakes his head "yes" tall the time! He has also learned to be a horse, with the help of the best teacher I know--my black Thoroughbred gelding ( also an ex-racehorse), Hercules.

I love Forrest with all my heart. He will always be one of my all-time favorite horses in the world. The bond I have with him is a special one, and I can't compare it to one that I have with any other horse in the world. He means everything to me, and I am heartbroken. Taking him back to Farmstead for Ken to sell will be devastating.

Forrest is always the first to pop
his head out and say "good morning."

There is a silver lining to this relatively short and depressing post... I am buying a new horse!

Last weekend, my mom, my sister Elizabeth, and my dog Remy all hopped in the car and drove to New York to meet a Connemara/TB weanling named Padraig, who (pending a pre-purchase exam) will be the star of an all-new blogging experience. Stay tuned.

I will probably have a final update after taking Forrest home, and after that I am uncertain about the future of this blog. Maybe Forrest will sell to someone I know and I can continue to give regular updates about the goings on in his life, or that will be the end. Either way, it's been a fun ride.

Happy trails.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

One mud puddle at a time...

My mother's scar from her accident in
June, with me leading Forrest in the
background, in the same place it happened.
Between the bipolar Indiana weather (a drought one minute, a flood the next), a crazy month of September (one of my friends got married, another was killed in Afghanistan), horrible allergies, the hitch on my truck breaking, and the lost shoe fairy frequenting my barn more than normal thanks to all of the mud (once again, bipolar Indiana weather) I have not had the best luck when it comes to actually riding my horses. So far, October has definitely been better, but I'm still not where I'd like to be. I haven't had a lesson with Linda in weeks, and I haven't been down to Dorothy's in MONTHS.

In June, my mother got stepped on (yes, by Forrest) during a freak unloading accident. It was not anyone's fault--including Forrest's--but it did take a toll on both my life and my mother's life. I know it sounds cliche, but my mom is the glue that holds my family together. She is the fuel that keeps the machine that is my crazy family running. While she was laid up in bed all summer, I had the housework, the errand running, food preparing (I am not the greatest cook in the world... and I'm not going to lie, we had a lot of take out this summer) my younger sister and my father and our assortment of dogs to take care of... Never mind 7 horses and the barn chores. So, as I've said before, my summer did not go according to plan at all and I am fighting to get back into some sort of routine.

But now life is slowly returning to normal.

Yesterday was a big day in the life of Forrest. First of all, we started out the day with my mare, Edna, having a particularly scary choking episode. I already have two chokers in the barn that get soupy feed(ahem... Forrest may or may not be one of them, and the other is--ironically enough--the only other chestnut in the barn. Pattern?) I thought Edna was dying. My mom thought Edna was dying. I have never seen a horse throw itself down, spin around in its stall while striking out, get down on its knees or hack up phlegmy-looking goo, along with blood--all because it's choking. When Beau and Forrest choked, they coughed out whatever was lodged in their throat and that was the end of it. And Edna is the one horse I have that doesn't have any health or soundness-related baggage. She's the healthiest, sturdiest thing in the barn. Once again, I was sure she was dying. So I called Pat, who is the wonderful woman who works in the office at Farmstead, and she sent Ken out right away. Edna's episode was over by the time Dr. Ken arrived, and he said that her lungs--and everything else--was in perfect condition and not to worry, that she probably had gotten a brier or small stick out of the hay and that she'd be fine. The upside to this craziness was that Forrest got to see his dad.

Now before I go further, let me just warn you that I'm one of those people that likes to think that MY horses love ME the best. It was hard to send Halo home for the winter and transition from being totally in charge of her feed, turnout schedule and time under saddle to letting her owner, Leanna, take her back over at least until next spring/summer and do nothing more than give her the occasional lesson. Which I am totally fine with--with school and my own horses coming along, I was grateful for the break from having ANOTHER horse to ride and work with. And I was thrilled that my sister's retired reining/dressage/eventing/trail horse, "Beau," who spent the summer at Leanna's barn keeping her other horse company, got to come home. Beau is a grumpy old man and very, very cute in a naughty chestnut pony sort of way. The thing I have a hard time with is Halo nuzzling Leanna's cheek and looking to her for treats or the occasional ear scratch. I like to believe that I have a special bond with Halo, because of our experience sort of growing up together. I have memories of braiding yellow flowers into her mane and playing with her in the big paddock at our farm when she was a foal. And I know that Halo and I will always have that experience, but it still--to be quite frank--sucks. So, when I saw Forrest's face light up when he saw Ken walk into the barn yesterday, I wanted to cry.

Forrest was orphaned as a foal and raised by a nurse mare. I believe this makes him sort of socially awkward, around both people and horses. He seems confused about who or what he is. I think that this contributes to his lack of ground manners, his problems making friends with other horses and his lack of natural horse instincts. When he was at Farmstead, he loathed practically everyone there except for Ken. And Ken loved him. When I first brought Forrest home with me, a few days later I had to haul another horse in to the clinic for x-rays, and he confessed that he almost came back to get Forrest because he missed him. He said, "I looked out at the pasture this morning and thought, 'Where's my big red horse?'" But he knew Forrest would be happier at my house, with the outdoor schooling ring, the jump field and another huge Thoroughbred gelding to be his playmate, versus being at Farmstead where he had an outdoor ring that we could sometimes use when horses weren't being turned out there, a 50x50 indoor that gets boring really fast--especially for a left-brained extrovert like our dear Fufu--and a grouchy broodmare and a retired dressage horse for playmates.

So, while Forrest might be happier living here, it was blatantly obvious yesterday that he still misses Ken. The usual ears-pinned, teeth-bared, "don't mess with me" face that Forrest usually puts on anytime someone who isn't me comes into the barn melted as soon as he saw Ken walk in. If horses could smile, Forrest would've been grinning ear to ear. And Ken looked like any other proud dad when I told him how great Forrest had been doing. And, really, he has been stellar. His flatwork has made a complete one-eighty from where it was even a month ago. That awkward, lopey, sideways right-lead canter that has plagued us all summer has turned into a lovely, lofty, easily adjustable joy to ride. Over jumps he is much more rideable and his scope feels infinite. He remains one of the most naturally talented horses I've ever sat on. But it was hard to watch Forrest snuggle up to Ken.

I like that my two top horses, Forrest and Stormy, are definitely not overly friendly. Edna, Beau, and the two ponies--Comet and Cupid--will come up to just about anyone. Even Hercules, who can be a little shy, makes friends quickly. Stormy and Forrest are extremely picky about who they socialize with, and that makes me feel extremely special. I think that event horses should have a special bond with their riders simply because of the difficulty and danger in our sport. But no matter how jealous it makes me (or how ridiculous my jealousy is) I get that Ken and Forrest will always have a special bond too, and that's okay... Especially since seeing Ken for 20 minutes left Forrest in a cheerful mood for the rest of the day, which worked to my advantage.

After Ken left, Forrest's big day continued. First, he got his tail, bridle path, and chin clipped with REAL CLIPPERS! Not scissors, CLIPPERS. As sensitive as he is, I was thinking that clipping might be a huge ordeal--now I have hope that he will let me at least trace clip him this winter, if need be.

Then, Forrest and I had one of our best schools to date. I trotted him over ground poles and he trotted over the scary blue tarp (part of my fake hillbilly liverpool) that he wouldn't even go within ten feet of when he first came home. Now he loves it. We're going to try making it a jump today and see how that goes.

To end Forrest's big day, I walked him down to the lower paddock where a small pond (glorified mud puddle) has formed. Forrest, notorious for having "water issues" (not promising for a prospective eventer) was reluctant at first. I've had him down to the creek at our farm, but never in "real water." It only took one apple-scented cookie for him to say, "Yes, I absolultey will walk through this shallow pond with you." Which makes me think that this "water issue" of his is not fear-based, but merely stubborn chestnut Thoroughbred syndrome. We are officially once more on our way, one mud puddle at a time.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

A few of Forrest's favorite things...

Forrest and his BFF, "Hercules," both
cribbing on a stall guard. *Note Forrest's
"fugly gold turnout bell boots*
For entertainment purposes only, this blog post will consist entirely of some of Forrest's favorite--and least favorite--things. From his food to his quirks to his favorite pop star, here is a look into what Forrest's tastes are (in no particular order... obviously.)

Forrests favorite things…

1. Rolling

2. Cribbing

3. Jumping

4. Lady Gaga (who he loves listening to while he's being groomed or bathed)

5. His breakfast

6. His dinner

7. Octavia, his favorite barn cat  

8. Cookies

9. His best friend, Hercules

10. Vetrolin baths  

Forrest’s (least) favorite things…

1. Dressage

2. His crib collar

3. Standing still

4. Anything that comes in a spray bottle

5. Horse flies

6. The farrier

7. The vet

8. Tinkerbell, his least favorite barn cat

9. His best friend Hercules’s love interest, Edna

10. Non-Vetrolin baths  

I hope you've enjoyed this basically nonsensical entry. The next one will be much more serious, I can assure you.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Home is where your horse is...

I apologize for the gap between my last post and this one... Things have been hectic around here lately, with a somewhat impromptu 10-day road trip to Florida to cap off what has been a CRAZY summer, starting classes again, a sad attempt at having a social life and the everyday pandemonium that is my life. With the way this summer has gone (I won't go into details, but let's just say it wasn't exactly what I had planned) I have had very little time for my favorite redhead--or any of my other four-legged friends, for that matter--and I've been feeling very uninspired and even a little cantankerous at times with the way things have played out over the past few months. I feel like I didn't reach any the goals I had set, and even backslid in some ways.

For example, Forrest's dressage was fabulous in June and now is a sight to behold. At the beginning of the summer he was jumping beautifully and now he is literally dragging me to the fences and leaping over tiny cross rails like they're maximum height four-star corners. My other horses all have similar stories... Edna was schooling piaffes and pirouettes at the beginning of the summer, and she has barely been ridden in a month because of a hoof abscess. Stormy has been plagued with soundness issues (per usual) and Hercules also had hoof problems... Even the super-sound wonder pony, Halo, was like riding a roller coaster this summer with all the ups and downs in her training. If it weren't for Linda Heiny, the always entertaining and inspiring blogs from Sinead Halpin (little girl, big chestnut horse... you can see why I love her) from Chronicle of the Horse--and, of course, my adorable redheaded stepchild's crazy awesome jumping form--I would be curled in a ball in the corner of the tack room, crying and rocking back and forth.

So, now that the whining is over, on to the upswing!

I truly believe that life is like a huge spinning wheel... It goes up, up, up, and then it rolls down. Then it goes up again... You get the idea. 

While in Florida, I re-read one of my all-time favorite books, In Service to the Horse, and was reminded of why I do what I do, day in and day out. The thing about the sport that I choose to do is that there are always going to be ups and downs, but what it comes down to at the end of the day is the partnership you have with your equine counterpart. On the way home from my week at our family's condo on Siesta Key, I drug my mother, sister and boyfriend (who loves horses, but knows next to nothing about them) through Ocala. It was as I was driving down the old familiar back roads of this place that I called home less than a year ago that I came to the realization that this was where I wanted to be, and what I wanted to do, no matter how hard it was or how long it took to get there.

I get homesick for Ocala on a daily basis, which I'm sure my friends and family get tired of hearing me say. I miss living in a town where everyone lives and breathes horses, where they cherish this awesome animal and have so much respect for the equestrian world. But, when I walked out to the barn upon arriving back home in Indiana and Forrest and Hercules came galloping up to the paddock gate to greet me, this ultra-cliche phrase came to my mind...

"Home is where your horse is."

Anyone who has ever been exposed to horse culture at all has, I'm sure, heard or seen this phrase a hundred times. But, like most cliches, it is so true. As much as I would so much rather be in Aiken, or Middleburg, or Ocala, I belong here with my horses. And, at the end of the day, my life isn't about a summer that should've been spent competing when it was in fact spent caring for my injured mother, or the fact that Forrest just can't seem to sit back on his hindquarters in the right lead canter, or that I haven't had a proper jump school in months... It's about me and Forrest on this road together, no matter how long and winding it seems.

So for now we're just going to enjoy ourselves, care less about results and more about the experience we gain getting there. We're just going to sit back, relax, and enjoy watching Burghley via the Internet this weekend.


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Birthdays, Bumps and Bruises

Forrest and playing with
his new boredum beater..
The ice tub!
Well--as the saying goes--when it rains, it pours. And if lameness was precipitation, then River Bend Farm would be under a flash flood warning.

A few weeks ago, my lovely mare "Edna" (I know, I know... Edna wouldn't have been my first pick of names either, but I believe its bad luck to change a horse's name so it's Edna now and will forever be Edna--tangent over) who has never taken a lame step in her life walked out of her stall with a swollen ankle. After a trip to see Dr. Ken at Farmstead, it was determined that she had a sprained splint. Tendons and ligaments were fine, bones unbroken. While this was not the end of the world, it was still a pain to have to deal with and I had a week of stall rest, icing, cold hosing, sweating, wrapping and hand grazing to look forward to. Luckily, Edna is a super star--by far the best horse to work with in the barn--and she stands perfectly still in a muck tub of ice and doesn't get stir crazy when she's on stall rest. Still, between Edna and my Irish horse, "Stormy" sidelined while recovering from a hoof abscess, both of my most experienced horses were out for the time being.

But everything was okay, because I had two beautiful geldings and a lovely little mare to ride! Until Wednesday, when Hercules came up lame with a hoof problem.

So it was down to Forrest and a Morgan mare named "Halo," another green horse in my string owned by a family friend who sent her to me to ride. And, despite Edna, Stormy and Hercules all being sidelined temporarily, my spirits were high because Wednesday (June 22nd) I had a dressage lesson with the redheaded step child (ie, Forrest) at Half-Halt Farm with my dressage coach, Linda Heiny.

Let me just take a moment to say that if you ever in your life have the opportunity to ride with Linda, DO IT. I do not believe in "miracle workers" per se, but having said that Linda is by far one of the most brilliant instructors I have ever had the pleasure to work with. She's right on par with the likes of Leslie Law and Dorothy Crowell (my other two coaches) in my book, and she never ceases to amaze, inspire and educate me with her knowledge and coaching methods. She understands event horses better than any dressage rider I've ever taken lessons from and reads each horse as an individual. Her creativity, perseverance and belief in me and my horses (especially Forrest, who is not the easiest of horses to have faith in) has helped me numerous times and I cannot praise her highly enough.

So my weekly Wednesday lesson with Linda was fantastic, as usual. Forrest progressed in leaps and bounds--literally, at some moments--and he gave Linda and I both glimpses of what he could potentially be one day. It was like Forrest's early birthday present to me, giving me such a wonderful ride and reminding me why I love this sport so much.

Then Thursday, since it was my birthday (I turned the big 21+1) all of the horses got a day off and I got Mexican food and domestic beer. Then, on Friday morning, Forrest came in from the paddock with a fat ankle... I'm assuming this was the second part of my birthday present from Forrest, and one that I did not appreciate nearly as much as a fabulous dressage lesson.

Halo, the Mighty Morgan
However, the injury did not appear to be anything more than a scratch that had blown up, so it was back to sweating, icing, cold hosing, wrapping, etc. and Forrest is getting a mini-vacay. He was a very grumpy version of himself (it's part of his whole split personality disorder, I think... when he's in work, he's Happy-Go-Lucky Forrest, but when he's on stall rest, he's Grumpy Forrest) the first day of stall rest, and has since become very needy. Since he's in the barn by himself most of the time, I've been spoiling him with extra cookies and daily bran mash lunches. His stall is also starting to resemble the Land of Misfit Toys in an attempt to keep him (already an unreformed cribber) from getting too bored and self-destructing. So far, he's got a Jolly Ball, a Likit and a Himalayan salt lick to keep him company. He has also become fascinated with the muck tub that I use to ice their legs with. I have a video of him playing with it (we're going to sign him up for an apple bobbing contest this fall if he keeps it up!).

Still, the fact is that I'm down to one horse.

This upcoming week will be full of hacking, mini trot sets and dressage lessons with Halo, the Mighty Morgan (and, apparently, the soundest horse in the world). Fingers crossed, we'll avoid any future tragedies and by my next post things will be back to their relative normality. Until then, I'll be stallside, watching Forrest in Toy Land and playing doctor--or vet, rather.