Monthly Archives: August 2014

10th at Caber

Ribbons don’t actually matter in eventing — that insanely good feeling you get when you come off a well-ridden cross country is one of the best parts of the sport. But it is nice to come home with a pretty ribbon sometimes, albeit a powder blue one for 10th. I called it a war of attrition at Caber —Cairo and I got a ribbon because the rest of the folks in my group fell off.

But hey, as that T-shirt I want to get says: “Stayed on! Won prizes!”

My partner in eventing crime and I Kristine got there early and Cairo and I had a good dressage school, where Meika had me fight my instinct to try to lower my hands to try to get Cairo to give at the poll and release at the base of the neck and rather let her relax and come to me. Relax is a key word with Little Miss Thing.

(On a side note, Little Miss Thing is an expression Southerners and often gay men use to refer to a woman or man who thinks she’s all that. I recently discovered that Kristine thought I was making a Munsters reference.)

Originally I was delighted to see that the same dressage judge who judged us at almost every other show this summer (including the schooling show where she called Cairo a “hot little unit”) was judging us again. Cairo has been progressing beautifully all summer. She still swishes her tail and makes faces but her gaits are rhythmic and she lacks the tense high-kneed trot she used to have. Sadly for Cairo and I, judges judge you on what they see right then and there, and not on your great progress. Each of these events has at least five dressage arenas with five different judges, so it’s rather impressive this poor lady keeps having to judge me.

Cairo was, as always, a good girl. She is clearly disgusted by dressage, but she never tries anything bad. She never leaps or bucks or even breaks gait. She just swishes her tail and gnaws the bit, and pretty much the judge’s comments were “Unhappy mouth” and “tense.” This time she had nothing to say on my position (which I have been working hard on!) but we finished dressage DFL — dead fucking last.

Meika pointed out that her own wonderful currently-prelim horse Lear didn’t score great at the lower levels either in dressage, and that my goal is to move her up.  And I reminded myself that there’s nowhere to go but up, and that this time last year Cairo was hanging in a pasture and very, very green with a head-tossing issue.  We got a 45.7, possibly our worst score since our very first show at EI at starter where we got a 57. Same judge. Heck, technically we’ve improved!

Before Caber I had Leslie double-check the fit of Cairo’s dressage saddle, and I’ve also talked to Kari about getting Cairo’s teeth done again and then some more bodywork. I’ve done all that before, but it doesn’t hurt to double check that her mouth fussiness is just tension and not discomfort.

I had a nice late morning (9:42 am) ride for xc on Saturday, which gave us plenty of time for course walking (I walk it three times, every time).  For the first time in forever, I was really not worried about anything on course. That’s not to say I didn’t look at a fence or two and think really hard. Fence four was a palisades-looking ramp set on the side of a slight rise near trees and then it was just a couple strides to fence five (a log and drop) and I knew Cairo would be fine as long as I rode her well, but she’d never done a fence like that.

As you can probably guess, based on Cairo’s track record, she was amazing. Optimum time was five minutes and we did 4:39 so maybe a little fast, but not fast enough for time faults. She headed for the first fences with her usually cocky enthusiasm, log, brush ramp, house, whatevs. She didn’t look at fence four and the log drop at fence five didn’t make her bat an eyelash. She skittered a little on a long gallop to fence six at the sight of a fence judge but soon got back on track. And she slowed just off my voice after the gallop. As strong and hot as she appears, I’m still riding her in a soft rubber mullen mouth xc.

A wanna-be-coffin after we rounded the loop and head back to the finish? No problem. The only problem there was she jumped the ditch so big we got rather close to the fence three strides away (or more like two-and-a-half strides the way we did it).

The water complex was super fun:

First, a table heading towards the finish. I’m a little tense there — not sure if she will land and grab the bit and head for home when I need to make a show-jumping type turn away from home toward the brush fence and water!

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Signature tail flip on landing.

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Left turn to the brush? No problem.

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So then I was all in show-jump brain and headed for the water in a happy two-point.


Cairo remembered last time we schooled water at Inavale we had jumped off a drop. She saw the water and rocked back. I merrily fell forward onto her neck:

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And I’m now laughing wildly because Cairo is bunny-hopping through the water, and I’m relieved my brief moment of stupid didn’t result in my being IN the water while she splashed on without me!

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And out of the water to the next fence? No prob.

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We finished double clear and I was over-the-moon happy!

Then we got randomly selected for a USEF drug test. The nice vet tech was almost no match for Cairo’s stubbornness, which apparently extends to peeing while someone holds a cup. She drank and held her bladder for over an hour. When she finally peed, she pressed her booty up against the stall wall and kept trying to hold it so the urine came in fits and spurts while the vet tech chased it with the cup on a stick. We made taking blood easy on the vet — I held a small bucket of beet pulp and Cairo snarfed that and ignored the blood letting.

Stadium was another learning experience. Cairo jumps better if I let her be a little gappy to the fence, and I know that. But the horse of the girl before me slipped in the grass twice and fell, and I found myself trotting into the arena while people called for a vet to check him out. I was thrown and worried about the footing and held Cairo to a short choppy canter. It wasn’t slow but it lacked power and when we get a tight distance on that canter, she whacks fences. We had two rails right off the top and then I sat up and rode.  Once I let her flow, the course finished beautifully. We had one more rail after a drunken swerve turned a two-stride into a three stride but it was enough to stay in the ribbons and be the caboose on the victory gallop.

Ribbons or no, Cairo and I are finishing each show thinking “Damn, that was fun!” and I’m plotting what I can do to improve. I gave her a couple days off and yesterday in my lesson with Kari, we worked on developing a bouncy strong canter Cairo can jump even tight distances from. Kari leaves for Spruce Meadows tomorrow and then Cairo and I will work on dressage til we do a little combined test at EI to finish she season.  Tentative plan? Do Novice dressage and stadium Saturday and then Training stadium Sunday. Ack!








Can horses eat walnuts?

“Can horses eat walnuts?” “Walnut equine laminitis” “My horse ate a walnut.” Those were all searches I frantically typed into Google on my iPhone last night.

It was really hot — 100 degrees, which is crazy for Oregon — and after I rode Cairo, I hosed her, scraped her and grazed her. The greenest grass on the farm right now is under a large black walnut tree, so Cairo and I sauntered over there.

Have I mentioned that Cairo has a voracious appetite? She eats like a starved wolverine. She vacuums her grass hay, wolfs her alfalfa and can smell soaking beet pulp from a mile away. I’ve had her snake her head around a stall door, snatch a bowl of soaking beet pulp pellets, tip it into her mouth and snarf it down before I could take a single step. Then she looks at me with her bright, interested eyes and a “What else you got?” expression.

Luckily she also has a high metabolism and seems to be able to consume vast amounts of food and stay trim.

But walnuts?

As we grazed, watching the sunset, I saw out of the corner of my eye that Cairo was making her “I see something I want” face that she usually makes in the vicinity of the apple tree right before she snatches fruit right off the branches. As I heard the crunch, I put two and two together and realized she had scarfed up a walnut.

I dove for her mouth, and she took a step back, looking at me all the while, and rolled it around in her mouth and crunched again. At this point I wasn’t too worried — I figured the walnut husk would taste bitter and she’d spit it out. She has a get-it-in-your-mouth-first-and-then-decide attitude towards edibles. Nope, she tasted that nut and deemed it good and like Mr. Owl and the Tootsie Pop, she crunched again and it was gone.

As balls to the wall as she is, I still give Cairo credit for generally being sensible. She’s cocky, but I don’t think she has a death wish. So my first thought, after “OMFG aren’t walnuts toxic to horses?” was that I didn’t think she would eat something that would hurt her. Tansy grows in a lot of Northwest pastures, and it’s toxic to horses but unless they are starving, they simply don’t eat it, so I have a good reason for believing Cairo might show some sense. Also, I have seen her spit out rocks, cherry pits and other less than tasty objects after snatching them up.

Still, most horse people know that if you bed an equine on black walnut shavings, they will often develop laminitis within eight hours, so it stands to reason snarfing walnuts isn’t a great idea.

So I plopped Cairo back in her stall with a big slurpy bowl of beet pulp (operating on “dilution is the solution” when it comes to possible toxins) and began to Google.

I soon learned that: Black walnuts and horses come up a lot in discussion. That there have been dreadful experiments involving pouring black walnut extract into horse bellies to induce laminitis. A lot of people have black walnuts in horse pastures with no ill-effect.

Most importantly I found the the Oregon Veterinary Association says that while the heartwood of black walnuts is linked to laminitis, eating walnuts is not.

I contemplated giving her Banamine preventatively but with the weather so hot, I didn’t feel good giving her something that might slow her gut down unless I needed to. It’s hard to walk that fine line between practical and paranoia when it comes to fragile 1,000 lb beasts who seem to pour a lot of energy into killing and maiming themselves.

I finally left the barn and went home … and Googled more until I realized I was just going to keep coming up with the same information over and over again, and while many people talked about black walnut shavings-induced laminitis, and many talked about black walnuts being toxic, no one seemed to have any experience with a horse getting sick from eating walnuts or even leaves. MInd you, it did dawn on me to wonder if maybe most horses, who don’t have Cairo’s experimental tastes, just don’t eat black walnuts but I did finally get to sleep and stop fretting. Drinking gin helped.

I popped awake this morning and decided I would get a lot more done at work today if I wasn’t fretting, so I drove to the barn before heading to the office. When I walked in, there was Cairo, bright eyed and, since it wasn’t feeding or turnout time yet, hungry.

She’d eaten all her hay, reached under the stall partition and stolen Flash’s feed tub and cleaned that out, and possibly stolen some of his hay, too. No heat or swelling in her legs, lots of poop in her stall. Phew. I tossed her a couple bites of hay to tide her over until turnout time and headed to work — where I freely admit, I Googled horses and walnuts a couple more times, just to be sure.

I think as long as little miss thing doesn’t make a habit of walnut snacking, she’s going to be OK, but of course I will go check her tonight to make sure!

Rebecca and don’t point a loaded pony unless you mean to shoot

One of the many fun things about Cairo is trying to figure her out. She watches me with her bright eyes and I can see the wheels turning in her brain — sometimes plotting and sometimes looking for attention and sometimes just because some part of her is in constant motion, whether it’s her brain, her mouth on the bit or her legs dancing because she’s dying to just GO.

This weekend I figured out just how much she tunes into my eyes. I had a lesson with Kari in order to work on our stadium. It’s nice that after years as a jumper rider, I got a horse who rocks the cross county (my weak spot) and needs work on the jumper round (my strong point, usually).

We finished out of the ribbons at Rebecca because we had some rails in the stadium. I honestly don’t know what place or care where we finished because I was so pleased with Cairo overall — she was so brave and, for the lack of a better word, I’ll repeat where I started — fun. As we were warming up, one of the other horses in the ring launched into a full-on bucking session — back humped and head between his legs. I hopped off Cairo when I saw the rider, who did an amazing job, finally coming off. When I saw the horse begin bolting, Cairo and I slid out of the arena before they could shut the gate.

Cairo handled it well, but she (or possibly I) was just a little more frazzled than usual after that. She schooled well and Meika had me pushing my knuckles into her neck so I followed the rhythm with more flow, and that worked great. We got into the ring and she went after the fences with her customary enthusiasm — I will be surprised the day she actually spooks at a fence! But although she overjumped all the fences, this time she dangled a foot here or there and caught four rails. A couple times she overshot her arc. Basically she was green. Hell, she’s five and Rebecca was her fourth real show and the first one in May was at starter level. She and I have lots of time to work on stadium and I’m just excited at how well she handled everything!

I was pleased with my ride and that was a good feeling. I put her well to the fences and my eq and balance were good. There’s something about Cairo that lets me ride every step of the way and I love that. I think I’m extra conscious of my equitation because she’s so little. Ironically, people who meet her in person who have only seen pictures are startled at how little she is — she rides big, even in photos.

The week after Rebecca, Kristine and went to Inavale to school some more xc. The one fence at Inavale I didn’t think I rode as thoughtfully as I could have was the “Novice trakhener,” aka the log over swale. It’s right next to the Training trakhener that I have fallen at several times and let’s just say I have issues with it. Cairo doesn’t. She sailed over the Novice one and when the time comes, she’s going to sail over the Training one.

Kristine suggested I see how Cairo did jumping off a bank into water. “Grab mane and just walk up to it,” she said. She’s been around Cairo enough to know Cairo’s pretty certain to jump and Cairo did. No problem. “Trot up to it,” Kristine said. So I did. And thank god I grabbed mane because Cairo basically hollered “Cannonball!” and karoomed into the water. Kristine said Cairo landed fix feet out. It was no small splash.

This weekend at my lesson with Kari, we were working on channeling some of that enthusiasm. We were jumping the day after a shoeing where we’d trimmed more than I’d expected — Cairo grew a lot of toe this month! As a result, I thought it would be a good idea to keep the jumps low and that worked well with what Kari had planned. She was incorporating some of the bodywork and physical therapy she’s been doing and basically had me first rotating my body at the canter in a two-point so I looked at Cairo’s tail (why yes, I AM trusting). We did that both directions and stretching both ways and Cairo seemed to like it and relax through her neck more. Jumping, Kari had me keep my hips neutral but rotate my core to the direction we were heading.

We did an exercise with placing poles and once we did it a couple times Cairo was like “Right I GET IT” and wanted to get rushy, which actually let us work on my body even more. Then we added in some fences on a diagonal and that’s when I remembered a clinic with Brian Sabo in which he told a kid who wasn’t steering all that great “Never point a loaded pony at a fence you don’t intend to shoot it over.” Cairo is incredibly keyed into where I’m looking — which explains why sometimes on xc she sights in on some very big fences — she feels me looking at them!

As I rotated my core left around a left corner I turned my head along with my core, essentially my hips were heading Cairo toward the fence, but my eyes were looking away; I was just keeping the fence in the corner of my eye, barely. Cairo cantered calmly to the base of the fence then kind of went “Oops” and hopped over it. She did the same off the right to an oxer (only she leaped the oxer like a scalded cat). I realized that because I wasn’t sighting in on the fences, she wasn’t either. She’s a good girl, so once we got there, she was happy to go over them, but you could tell she’d been waiting for me to tell her something. The next time I kept my torso turned but looked square at the fence a couple strides out. I felt Cairo key in on what I was looking at and we had a great fence.

I like both that she’s so keyed to me AND that when I don’t tell her anything, she’s smart enough to make a decision, and the decision is to go over it.

I’m still pondering what to do with what we figured out. My current take away is that this core stretching exercise is great for getting Cairo relaxed and me stretched, and that if I want to shoot my loaded pony over it, then look at it. In dressage the judges comment that we need more bend on the circles and I’m curious to see if stretching and rotating my core helps with that.