Having Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Thoughts About Gus

Jumping the Keyhole

This weekend I have an appointment with Dorothy to discuss my future, or lack thereof , with Gus. I have spent the last 2-3 years of my life wavering back and forth over this horse. Just when I think I’ve reached a final decision about him, something holds me back. The disappointment about the back weakness and failure in the stadium at this level seems to fade daily when I watch him float through the field in his fancy extended trot or do a play by play of our year on the cross country course. The chiropractor comes to fix him up next week. Until then, he will continue his hiatus. I could tell today when I walked down the driveway past his pasture that his time off was nearing an end. He is ready to get back to work.

The consult with Dorothy is to get her advice about what to do with him. Though he is for sale, I have to remind myself how great he has been this year. What if he is a horse that can do intermediate dressage and xc but can’t make it through stadium that next day? Is it worth it to keep him to get experience at that level? Can his back be strengthened with exercise? How can I get this horse strong enough to make it through an upper level event in this order of phases? I just keep thinking about the cross country rides I’ve had this year….how far we’ve come……how perfect his footwork has been….maybe. …just maybe there’s a way to fix the problem. I may never have a horse this talented again.


Cabin Jump

October is near!

Wade in his pumpkin patch

October is probably my favorite month of the year. I love the leaves, the temperatures, the smell in the air, soccer games,and bonfires. This October is no less busy than the rest of the year, it just seems to involve a lot more fun and a lot less work.

On October 1st I will be at the Kentucky Horse Park doing my dressage test and stadium ride with Rhyland. No better place to spend a weekend. ..but could maybe have a better partner….We’ll see.

The following weekend is Jeff’s 20 year class reunion. He is officially old. I’m sure that he would be the first in line to remind me that my 20th was last year…..therefore, I am officially “older”. Anyway, next Saturday Wetherbooke Farm will play host to a pre-reunion football and volleyball match between some old friends. A bunch of boys being boys in my very own front yard. I’m going to make sure to have a bird’s eye view from the front porch…..with a Mt. Dew in hand.

The following weekend will involve a bonfire with friends and a few soccer games, I’m sure. After that it’s more soccer and a sauerkraut festival before moving right onto Octoberfest—–the one that revolves around horses and not beer.

I love October!

Jumpstart Horse Trials—-less than a week away

Today I found out that my entry was accepted for the Jumpstart Horse Trials at the Kentucky Horse Park next weekend.  I sent them in a little late, so I wasn’t quite sure what would happen.  Since Gus is officially for sale now, I decided that it’s time to get Rhyland some more show experience. 

Today I took him and a few of the girls cross country schooling.   What a perfect day for it!  Rhyland did really well.  We schooled most of the beginner novice fences and a few of the novice ones.  He is finally learning to be a bit straighter on his approach to the fence. 

The plan is to do Beginner Novice this weekend and then move him up to Novice at Octoberfest the last weekend in October.  If that goes well, he will spend the rest of the fall and the beginning of the spring season as an official “Novice” horse.  We’ll see how this weekend goes before making any real decisions. 

Tomorrow and Wednesday we will do dressage, Tuesday and Thursday  will be jumping days, and we will take off for Kentucky on Friday.


Glad to see this past few weeks come to an end….

It’s been a long two weeks, and although there have been some fantastic moments,  I cannot say that I’m unhappy to see them end.  So far, I have lost a horse, rode Gus in our last show together, became an aunt again to an adorable baby girl (Evelyn),  hung out in the ER with my mom who broke her shoulder, hung out in the ER the next day with my friend who broke her wrist,  celebrated the 2nd birthday of my nephew (Hank), watched 5 or 6 soccer games,  spent 3 hours in a corn maze, and found out that my son peed on a dead mole in the yard.   I’m hoping that this next couple weeks proves to be a little less eventful—-unless they’re good events!

48 hours after our stadium round…….

So I have  been doing a lot of thinking since our horrible stadium round on Saturday.  What happened out there that completely threw me out of my normal jumping style?  How could I forget completely how to jump from Friday to Saturday?  How can I go from having a picture perfect xc ride to sucking so badly in the stadium, where things are easier and the jumps fall down?  Why is it that I don’t remember being nervous before I took my first jump, and was a basket case by the end of my course?  How is it that I don’t get nervous at all in stadium with Rhyland—-when if I should be nervous about a horse jumping it should be with him!?   

I replayed my whole warm-up in my head.  I was calm, relaxed in my position, and I waited on my horse to jump each fence.  Not once did I throw myself ahead of him.  I just jumped like I normally do.  Everything in my warm-up went exactly as it should.  But then I went into the arena.

I actually felt really good about the canter I went in with.  I did a courtesy circle to get him out  in front of my seat.  I was in my tack waiting for him…..and then I felt it.  I remember now why it all fell apart.

On my approach to fence #1 I felt Gus hesitate and suck back for one split second.   It is at that point that I knew I was in trouble and looked to help him over the fence.  I jumped ahead of him because I didn’t feel confident that he was going to jump it at all.  I have only felt him jump like this when stadium is last in the schedule…..only at prelim.  The rest of the course I rode beating and kicking to get him over the fences.   When he jumped the 1 stride in 2 and the 2 stride in 3 I knew I was in trouble.   The big question is this……would he have still gotten off the ground if when I felt the hesitation I would have just sat quietly and waited?  I don’t think so…..I felt the exact same way at Richland Park in my stadium warm-up.  He tore the whole fence down.  I don’t think his back was nearly as bad at Flying Cross because we did actually make it through the course.

When I got him off the trailer at home his back still looked fairly normal.  He was a little sensitive in his usual place behind the saddle.  The next morning when Erica put him out she noticed that he was completely clean.  Those of you that know Gus, know that that is abnormal in every way.  He hadn’t laid down at all on Saturday night.  I went to run my fingers down his back, and he went completely inverted and buckled at his knees……nice.  I now have the answer to my question.   It’s not really the answer I wanted though.  How do you practice jumping a horse with a sore back so that you know how to ride it when it happens?  Seems like a contradiction to me.  I try not to jump him when his back is sore….seems like the correct thing to do.   I can’t really simulate the scenario very easily either.  The only time I seem to have this problem is when stadium is ridden as the third phase after a preliminary xc course ridden at speed……only at a show. 

So herein lies my dilemma.  I have a horse that is a phenomenal jumper.  He does really well in the dressage, and he does great in the stadium as long as it comes 2nd.  He does great in the stadium if it’s last at Training Level and lower.   He just doesn’t seem to be able to jump the big stadium fences after he has a really tough preliminary xc course first.  The biggest problem with that is that at Preliminary and above, the schedule usually has stadium last.  What do I do about that?  I have no doubt in my mind that this horse has the capability to jump around intermediate next year.  My question is can he do all 3 phases in one weekend?

I think there is a definite weakness in his back, directly behind the saddle.  He has always been a little weak there.  I guess if I decide to keep him I will have to do some major work strengthening some specific muscle groups in his back.  I’m going to have to talk to a vet about how exactly to do that and which muscles are responsible for the problems.

So in the meantime, my season and perhaps my career with Gus has ended.  I have no plans to go to Florida this winter.  Rhyland is entered in Jumpstart HT at the end of this month, and I am looking for a possible new project horse to bring along behind the other 2. 

My focus is officially shifted to Rhyland now.  He’ll do his 3rd BN in 2 weeks, and is supposed to do his first Novice in October.  We will then  start schooling Training level fences so that he can be doing Training Level by mid spring/ early summer 2012.   We’ll see how that all plays out as we start the new year.

It’s a discouraging and frustrating sport that we do.  I have to just keep reminding myself how fantastic my last xc course felt, and how effortlessly Gus made his way through all of the tough questions put before him.  He never took a wrong step……and that’s the part that keeps me going.

Two out of three ain’t “bad”….. it flat out sucks.

The horse show started off with what may have been my greatest dressage ride ever with Gus.  He was quiet, relaxed, and about as rideable as he could be.  I smiled from ear to ear coming down our last centerline.  We ended in 7th with a 30.9 out of 25 really nice horse and rider combinations.

Early in the afternoon I rode xc.  It was the perfect day, about 60 degrees and sunny.  Gus was a superstar.  We jumped several obstacles he had never seen the likes of before.  He did an Irish Bank bounce, he did his first real xc bounce over 2 rails set at 12 feet apart, he jumped a combination at the top of a steep incline, and he jumped a water complex with four separate elements.  He never missed a step.  We were fast, but were 4 seconds over optimum time….. about 4 strides too many on a course over 3,000 meters long.  I added 1.6 points to my score.  Only 2 riders went under Optimum Time.  A few people retired or fell on course.  We moved up to 5th place.   I was thrilled. 

This morning I rode stadium at 8:30 am.  It was downright embarrasing.  I learned something about myself today…. I have extreme “performance anxiety” on Gus in the stadium when ridden as the last phase.  The pressure just crushed me, and I choked in the biggest way possible.  For some reason it hit me like a freight train.  Gus was ready to jump and felt completely sound, but I think I jumped ahead of him….willing him to get over it……every single fence.  What a moron.  By the time I was done, I had 3 rails and some time penalties to boot.  The placings changed dramatically.  I watched the poor girl in first place pull 2 rails and have a runout.  I watched people move up from the teens to the ribbons.  I watched as my 5th place turned into a 17th place.  Just like that………what may be our last show together as a team was over.

So it wasn’t bad enough that I had sucked profusely, but then I had a flat tire on my horse trailer on the way home.  I-71 North…..2 hours from home…..bone tired from sleeping in my trailer in 40 degree temperatures and getting up at the craziest hours for the last 2 mornings. 

I learned how to change a tire over the phone today.  Jeff walked me through it and I DID IT!  I don’t suck entirely.  I felt pretty proud of myself when I turned off my hazards and pulled back onto the highway.  If only they gave out ribbons for that…….I may have been 3rd.

Here we go!

I’m sitting in the start box right now waiting for Dorothy to arrive so that she can walk my cross country course with me. I have walked it once already, and the only one I’m slightly worried about is the bounce rails. We haven’t ever jumped a xc bounce before, but he should be fine.

I had a really quiet and productive dressage ride this afternoon. After my course walk I plan to take Gus for a walk of his own.

Gotta go.Dorothy is here!

Flying Cross HorseTrials—could be our last one together

In just a couple of hours I will put Gus in the trailer and head to Prospect, KY for what may be our last horse trials together.  If he does extremely well we may still enter our Preliminary 3 day in October.  If not, we will call it finished.  The decision to put him up for sale has been a really hard one, brought upon only by financial strain.  I had planned on trying to do intermediate with him next year, but that would require a winter in Florida and several thousands to keep him sound, fit, vetted, and entered in shows for 2012.  Just not looking feasable at this time.

So, I have decided to go it alone this weekend.  No groom, no family, no one to watch us do any of our 3 phases.  Just us.  One last time………..

Vaquero—–a life unlived

Last night I had to make the decision to put Vaquero down while he was at the trainer’s barn.  He was tied to a door.  He must have panicked and pulled back.  The door came off of the stall and he dragged it down the aisle behind him……cutting him up as he ran through the barn.  The vet said it was really bad, and that he should be taken down to Lexington.  He was going to need to be in a cast for a long time, and the vet bills would have been in the thousands.  Even then, he said he would probably founder and have to be put down later.  I made the decision for them to go ahead and put him down.  The vet never argued.

Vaquero was 2 and 1/2 years old.  We have been watching him grow up here for the last year……waiting for the day when he would be old enough to ride.  He was at the trainer’s to get broke under saddle…..it just wasn’t meant to be.

There’s a big empty stall right next to Gus.  Waiting for a horse that will never return home. 

I didn’t sleep much last night.  I was crying about a life not lived, and about a horse we would never really get the chance to know.  My whole family (and my barn family) are extremely sad.  Wade keeps asking me questions that I can’t really answer.  When I did finally sleep, I had nightmares about someone stealing Gus and Rhyland….while I chased them hopelessly down my driveway in my pajamas.

It’s a sad day at Wetherbrooke Farm.  Walking past that empty stall will be difficult for a really long time.


I sat down this evening and was finally able to catch just a little bit of the 9-11 memorial coverage on television.  It’s amazing to think that ten years have gone by.  It feels like just yesterday I was sitting in my family room crying as I watched the towers fall….somehow knowing that things would never really be the same.

One of the segments of the program dealt with the firefighters and how they are now dying from cancer due to all of the toxic fumes they breathed during hundreds of hours at ground zero. It made me sick to my stomach to think about all of these people who risked their lives to help others during the fall of the towers still living in fear daily about dying.   Every single one of them that was interviewed claimed they would do it all over again if duty called.   I guess that’s why we call them heroes.

It made me stop for a minute to think about my life .  I know that  I complain or whine on a regular basis about financial problems, stress, having too much to do and not enough time to do it in, etc. etc.  Most of us do at some point or another.  The more I thought about all of those people who died or lost a loved one, the worse I felt.  My life is great.  My family is healthy and happy.  My problems are so trivial and temporary that they are not even worth mentioning…ever. 

It’s been a sad day today….remembering those who were lost and knowing that from 9-11 forward, America would never be the same.  I realized today, that I haven’t been afraid of airplanes flying overhead for quite some time.  I’m not really sure when that fear left me, but it did.  It still crosses my mind when I’m in a stadium filled with people or in a big city …but on a normal day, I’m able to forget 9-11.  That’s probably how it’s supposed to be, but not everyone has that luxury.  It reminds me of how short life really is.  No one really knows how long we have on this earth, and we need to make it count.