With my decision that Ryker may not be the right horse also comes the territory of trying to market him. Unfortunately, not many people are in the market for a 9 y.o. prospect... And even less are looking for one at 15.2 hands. Which, despite my efforts, and hard thinking on the subject may in fact mean that I'm "stuck" with him. I won't complain too much, I do very much enjoy working with him, and he is certainly talented... This situation just may just be a blessing in disguise; it certainly may be the best opportunity for me to learn how to handle and train (hopefully!) a very strong horse. I mean, aside from this issue, he is just about perfect! (ok, maybe there is a little bit of personal pride shining through...) That said, until the right situation for him pops up, if it pops up, I will just keep plugging along with him. There is still so much I can learn, and who knows, maybe I'll learn just the keys I'll need to be successful down the road!
 
 
Hello all! I know, my blogging practices have gone from less than stellar to abysmal in my last semester at Alfred (I blame my senior thesis).  
 Here is the news on Ryker.  I have made the heart breaking decision to again put him up for sale (for real this time).  Not because he has done anything wrong, he is still and will probably always be a rock star, but because I'm coming to realize that his needs and my goals as a rider are not meshing 100%.  Ryker is the horse that I need 3 years from now.  I want to move up to prelim, and while prelim will be a walk in the park for him when he gets there, I'm realizing that I may not be the right rider to get him there.  The better he feels physically the stronger he gets, which is a curse and a blessing.  His dressage has come an unbelievably far way, and the more I ride him on the flat the more I enjoy his work ethic and touch of sass.  Where we are stuck is in the jumping, like I said, he is STRONG.  I knew this from the beginning, when I went back to speak to his trainer up at the track and show her some photos she raised her eyebrows at me when I told her I was going to event him.  I understand why now.  He was strong on the track, in his many years he had mastered the lock the neck and just keep going routine.  As the jumps get bigger and the questions harder (and even when they don't) I find myself less and less in control in the approach, as a trainer in the Millbrook, NY area put it, "he jumps best when he's running reckless, he needs to gain more confidence at a slower but more powerful canter to the fences".  Sounds easy right? not so much. Which is what makes it that much more painful, I have to admit to myself that I am not the rider to teach him this. I do not have the strength, regardless of the bit to say enough of a WHOA when he gets going to a fence in the ring.  Imagine what will happen out cross country at a real clip... 
 Now don't think he is crazy all the time, he is still his wonderful self, just with more spunk than I can physically handle at times (if only I could be the hulk, or grow a foot).  His moments of autopilot concern me, as I have never ridden prelim and to get to that level I need to trust that I have some accurate level of control when the jumps get that big. I cannot teach him to that level, having never competed there myself with this kind of problem.  In a perfect world I would have the funds to keep him and find another horse than can give me the mileage to train Ryker up to the level I want to be at.  But because I don't, I will be passing on the reins to a more qualified rider, while I find that perfect balance of desire to do the job and softness to the jumps. 


Here are some videos of his "winter break" in Vermont. I don't have any video's of the STRONG Ryker, but just imagine him as a grand prix jumper headed to a fence (with out the education of a horse that has made it to that level). 

 
 
Ryker has been fantastic, as usual.  His personality is really starting to come out full force. He is such a goofy and naughty (in a fun, sassy way) redhead!  He has gained a ton of weight, is body clipped, and has very happy and healthy feet.  He has gotten so much stronger, and is dressage work has grown LEAPS AND BOUNDS! He has gained so much more suspension in his trot, and much more cadence, balance, and freeness in the canter.  

Jumping wise he gets more and more educated about his feet every ride - he is as bold as ever, and continues to jump out of his skin on a regular basis. We did some free jumping the other day, just for fun and to gauge his progress he is just awesome, and so sassy! We decided not to push him in height, but to let him boost his own confidence.  It worked a little better than planned - he was quite full of himself during my jump school the following day :) 

(Because Kait is a lame-o and had to graduate I don't have anyone to video his progress under saddle -- Hopefully I can get some while I'm home for the holidays!)

On our way home we've made a pit stop at Thunder Crest in Amenia, NY to hang out with Kait and avoid driving through a storm (hopefully we can get some video)! 
 
 
First I will apologize for my abysmal blogging practices... I will go down as the worst blogger in history, no question.  

So for your trouble - here is a little gem for you!
This is a photo guide of Ryker's progress thus far! He has come a long way, both physically and mentally.  I'd say the most helpful things for him have by far been regular turnout, beet pulp, hay stretcher, a good hoof supplement (farriers formula double strength, ftw!), and lots of long and low work. We still have quite a ways to go, but not bad for less than a year off the track. 

In other news, Ryker went down to the Maryland Horse Trials at Loch Moy this October. Huntington H.T. in August was not a success and was hands down the most expensive circle I've even done in a dressage ring.  

Here is the Huntington story: First off, Huntington is my boogy event, I have never completed it, and was excited to finally do so.  Ryker was ready, I was ready... we just had to get out feet done the week before. Strike 1: never get your horses feet done right before an event, its bad luck; Strike 2: don't get the vet out to do x-rays and work with the farrier (no matter how amazing your farrier is, thank you Jim Hurlburt!) in order to figure out why your horses pasterns are always a little puffy, before an event... it's just a bad plan.  The x-rays showed that Ryker's angles were a little off (as we suspected) and causing some friction in his coffin joint. Quick fix, add another degree and straighten him out laterally. In retrospect it should have been done AFTER the event, oops! But scheduling both the vet and farrier at the same time is like trying to cuddle with a tiger.  He went wonderfully for the first couple day, got a day off, and then worked in the field (where it was grassy and soft).  Cue dressage warm-up on hard uneven footing and shebang, you have an uneven horse. This was of course no ones fault but my own, I should have changed my plans after the change to his feet, or scheduled for everything to do done AFTER the Event. However we decided to see if the beautiful footing in the arena itself would help, to at least get a practice dressage test out of it -- Nope.  I asked to be excused as I crossed the first diagonal. No more Huntington for me! 

--Back to school we went-- 

 By the time we got to Alfred his feet were all settled in, but it was the end of my season (I thought).  I got into looking where Andrea Waldo of Triple Combination Farm  (my amazingly, wonderful coach) and one of the co-owners Mary Brust were going with their horses.  In addition to figuring out if the owner of Lancaster Stables (where I board in NY) Sue Robshaw, was going to any of those events as well. Low and behold, everyone was going to Loch Moy! Ryker got geared up and ready, and off we were to Maryland! 

Ryker's dressage was less then exemplary, to really no fault of his own.  His warm up was the best it has ever been, but right as we were getting ready to enter the ring, a rider fell off in warmup and their horse went careening around to the echos of "LOOSE HORSE!".  From there, he was keyed up, all I could do was try and settle him into a rhythm as we entered the ring. We then had to deal with people banging around in the demo trailer's that had been parked directly behind the judges box (WHOSE IDEA WAS THAT?!).  And to top it all off, just as we went to pick up our first canter at C, a woman wearing VERY audibly swish-y pants walked right behind the judges box.  I was glad for two things during that test as I tried my hardest to try and convince Ryker that he didn't need to take off, attempt to regain steering, and remember my test; Number 1: WE DID NOT JUMP OUT OF THE RING!, Number 2: WE DID NOT JUMP OUT OF THE RING!. At our final halt and salute at X, I was filled with relief for the very first time in dressage, I was done with my test! I am so proud of Ryker though, he tried so very hard to trust me and continue on! From there, everything was wonderful!  Loch Moy was a one day, with stadium immediately before XC. He was still pretty keyed up from his dressage as he warmed up, and charged most of the warm-up fences.  I was ready for a half-halt battle when we entered the ring, but he put on his big boy pants and pulled out his most flawless stadium round to date. No rails, no arguments, just calm concise, one jump to the next in a nice forward rhythm. We then headed to XC warm-up where I nearly got taken off with after our first warm-up XC fence, he's figured out the game for sure! (Huston, we have an event pony!)
 Our cross country round was nearly spotless.  He boldly broke out of the box towards fence one, he questioned fence two about 6 strides out, simply by backing himself off before I could half-halt him in preparation for the jump, and jumped it no big deal.  From there he only got more and more confident! He launched over the ditch, splashed through the water, and bombed around the rest of the course.  He really only had one fence that he "bobbled" at.  It was a little table off a slightly down hill approach, he simply got a little too close. His pace is a bit quick for Beginner Novice at this point, but I didn't want to mess with his rhythm too much, so I let him figure it out. He just speed-bumped the fence and continued on to rock the rest of the course.  Needless to say, I couldn't be prouder of him! Although we didn't ribbon, ahem your dressage score does matter, I couldn't care less, he is ready for Novice!

Photos from the event can be found here (enjoy!): 
http://www.photostockplus.com/home.php?user_id=41021&tmpl=127&event=1193401&action=viewphoto&photo_id=72991570&album_id=1193558&pcount=44
 
 
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After a little under a month from Stuart H.T. Ryker ROCKED Millbrook!  Again the test was the atmosphere -- In dressage he was amazing, still tense, but much more forward than at Stuart.  He scored a rocking 32.9, it would have been at 30.9, but I made an error! I was so focused on getting the best work out of him that I forgot a trot circle (just ignore that part of the video!!).  The Cross Country was again a big, bold, but fair course.  Lots of space to get a rhythm and many good questions, he did his first in-and-out, which we hadn't practiced yet, but he did it like a pro! He went double clear like he'd been doing it for years! The stadium again was all about the atmosphere, there was lots of noise, people, and banners.  Even with all that, he was very, very good.  For the most part he was very rideable, and was jumping out of his skin. Thanks to tons of gymnastic work he has become much more confident with where he needs to place his feet, this made a huge difference!  He did however knock two rails, the first being similar to the one at Stuart, he just wasn't quick enough with his feet and not quite balanced enough for the closer distance.  The second was due to a spook at a banner just to the left of the fence, he simply wasn't paying attention, BUT jumped it once he realized it was there, only taking down just the top rail. He finished 8th and ended up finishing 3rd in the Carrer2 Class! Go Ryker! Go OTTBs! 


 
 
 
 
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Note: All photos purchased and used with permission from Brant Gamma Photography. 


Ryker ROCKED Stuart!  Simple as that.  He was very tight in his shoulders leading up to the event, so we were worried about the effects of the length of the trailer drive out on his dressage.  No worries!  Thanks to the chiropractic work of Matt Rose of Balanced Rhythms and Cavalor Free-Bute he was able to perform very well at his first sanctioned event! We got a modest 43.8 in dressage, he was tense but very obedient!  He tried oh so very hard, but there is still much to improve on.  
The Cross Country course was gorgeous!  Many good BN questions, but not too crazy for a first sanctioned event! There were many people who's jaws dropped to the floor when they heard that I had chosen Stuart as his first sanctioned event, and at 8 months off the track no less. But he proved at the schooling events that he was more than ready, the only change from those events was the atmosphere.  I don't think he cared until stadium!  The only tricky part of the cross country course for him was #4+5, the "half coffin" (AT BEGINNER NOVICE?!), it was a small log followed, about 4-5 strides later, by a small ditch.  They were numbered separately, but it was still a very difficult question to ask.  We trotted into the log, jumped exuberantly over it, and then broke back down to the trot, he was very good but propped at the ditch.  It wasn't that he didn't want to go, merely that he just had to look at it for a second.  He then jumped right over it and continued, it was called a stop (boo!) but, the reality is that at this point it's the training that matters and from a training perspective he was golden.  From that point he got bolder and bolder over every jump, trotting through the water eyeing the 2* question and attacking everything in front of him.  I couldn't have been prouder! 
 The stadium again was another huge test for Ryker.  It was ungodly hot (it was put your jacket on at the very last second, over your polo you had planned to wear, hot!), but he rose to the occasion. He questioningly went into the ring, and jumped around not really seeing the jumps until about 3 strides away, there was a lot to look at.  He knocked one rail, which was simply a greeny balance mistake, but got more confident throughout the course.  Again, although we didn't ribbon, I couldn't have been prouder of the little fruitcake! 

 
 
Ryker rocked the Hitching Post Schooling Event at Novice Level.  We finished out the of the ribbons, but at this point I really don't care! He was amazing, tense but trying oh so very hard in the dressage, to earn a 37.0.  He was amazing XC, making a small pause before going into the water (not a stop, just had to take a peek).  We decided to run Novice so that at Stuart the jumps would be the least of our worries (as Stuart will be a maxed Beginner Novice course), Hitching Post tends to be a small course for the level, as it is a schooling trials, BUT we were pleasantly surprised to see that Novice shared most of the Training fences! He ate them up, couldn't be prouder of him!! He also rocked the stadium course, conquering the same 24' one stride that gave us trouble the weekend before at GMHA.  He is such a fast learner, and is really figuring out the game! 
 
 
Yes, I know I changed his name again... we'll find the right one eventually! It is now "The Butler", and may become "The Butler did it" in the fall (still not 100% sure on that one yet) -- The reason for the change was that I wanted it to be a little closer to his Jockey Club name (Lake Butler), since OTTBs are getting so much publicity now, and because we're going to be taking part in the Career2 initiative. 

Ryker is a rock star, there are no two ways about it.  He has put his best foot forward in the last three outings we've had and I hope we can continue forward with fewer and fewer green-y mistakes! 

The DerbyCross was both a major success and a learning experience!  We had two stops in the beginning of the course, at brightly colored stadium fences with planks (I  don't blame him! He hasn't seen very many of those!)  From there he jumped everything in front of him, and the XC jumps were the least of our worries.  We finish in 6th, which was more than I could ever ask for, and did the course a second time just to gain more experience.

The Jumper show at Tamarack Hill was wonderful, exactly what we needed.  Just another outing with lots of new horses an a ton of new jumps.  He was certainly green throughout the three courses we did, from 2'3" - 2'9", but he never balked at a single one, he only took a rail down in each course, mostly from not paying enough attention! He was also getting a little careless with his front end, solution = jumping with no boots for a while. 

From there we went to the GMHA starter trial, where he absolutely rocked. He was tense in the beginning of his dressage warm up, but then slowly relaxed throughout his test, enough to earn an 8 on his free walk ( to everyone who says race horses are just too tense to mark well on dressage, especially in the walk, TAKE THAT!).  We scored a 34.8, which is pretty darn good for a first test! I was just hoping we were going to stay in the ring, and somehow manage to complete the movements, I'd say we far surpassed my expectation!  Stadium was immediately before XC so we warmed up for both.  He was great in warm up, responsive, bold, and jumping well.  Our stadium round went pretty well, he didn't look at any of the fences until fence 4A,B, which was a 24' one stride, vertical to 0xer.  Now if you've been reading since the beginning, you'll know that Ryker's only real nemesis in the jump ring is the one-stride.  Not because he can't do it but because that is where he finds himself less confident about where he should put his feet.  He simply pays attention to the second element, and when he has an awkward jump in, does not have enough time and space to figure out what he should be doing with his feet.  The placement of 4A,B in the ring just made it that much trickier for us, as the judges booth was right on the landing side of the oxer, and the 24 feet (which is LONG for a 2'6" one-stride, and especially long for a starter trials) gave him just enough space to get lost with his feet and try to duck out.   Now for a more schooled horse, this would've been no big deal on the first approach, but it threw Ryker for a loop.  He did however buck-up and jump the whole thing upon re-approach (What a good racehorse!).  Our  next jump was wonderful, and the oxer that was number 6, simply came up quicker than I think he expected and he deer hopped it, taking down the back rail.  All in all I am very proud of him, every mistake he made was simply a green mistake and will hopefully happen less and less as time goes on and his footwork improves (lots of grids for the boy!).  Our Cross Country course was, however, spectacular.  He was a little wiggly and not 100% sure over most of the fences, but he listened to direction and tried oh, so very hard!  He jumped everything clean, including the unmarked water crossing which he jumped so big I lost my stirrup upon landing!  The easiest jump on course was the ditch! (so nice to not have that as an issue!).   He is becoming a XC machine, and finished the event in 6th place, ready for more. 

This coming weekend is the Hitching Post Schooling Trials, which will hopefully be just as successful. We're running Novice, so a little tougher but certainly not out of his ability, and at this point it will be a good preparation event for Stuart. The key with him is to keep his confidence up, and to do so by allow him to make the mistakes while offering soft, but proper guidance so that he learns to be quick on his feet and not 100% dependent on me to get him out of situations. He is well on his way to being a pretty cool event horse, fingers crossed! 


 
 
Sorry I've been slacking in the blog department... from here out I'll try to get one posted each week!

The little red rocket, Ryker, has been awesome... as usual!   We've done a couple jump schools, some serious dressage work, and two XC schools (at different locations) since my last post.  This week starts what looks like a super fun competition season with the little race horse.  Sunday we will be making out debut at the Charlotte Pony Club's Champlain Valley Derbycross.  It will be a good judge of how Ryker acts when he's trailered in to an event (hoping for no excitement, but we're going tacked). From there we will compete at the GMHA starter trials at Beginner Novice (on the 1st) the following weekend Hitching Post Farm's schooling trials (at Novice), and then we head to Stuart H.T. on the 10-11th (at Beginner Novice)!  We're also entered at Millbrook H.T. in August, and we'll figure out what we need to focus on inbetween.   

So, how did we get to this exciting competition packed schedule?  
  As you know, Ryker is just plain awesome... which is a vast understatement. Words cannot describe how blessed I feel to be working with this horse, and to be able to say that I "own" him [who really owns who anyways? ;)].  I'll let the pictures do the talking for his athletic prowess, but lets just say, scope will never be the issue. While any OTTB can be turned into a wonderful horse with a consistent program, good eyes on the ground, and patients.  The true athletic ability, soundness, and an unflappable work ethic of the top OTTBs in the country is found few and far between. Either they have it like Courageous Comet, or they don't.  I don't want to be as bold as to say Ryker is the next Comet or that he's even destined for Rolex, but he has the attitude and natural ability to really BE something. 

Back to the original question -- so many events, so soon?! 
 Yup! He is ready, he is forward, responsive, and willing.  He is figuring out the game -- I fear that when he fully figures it out I will in fact be riding a lit bottle rocket, but hey, that's why we love OTTBs right!?

In the ring we've been working on our dressage, really trying to encourage him to bring his back up and bend, as well as maintaining a constant rhythm and contact --- the usual (in addition to getting the movements in the BN + and N tests down pat). Jumping wise, more foot work and a little bit of course work. 

Our first XC school was beyond anything I could have ever asked for.  He jumped around like a pro, coops, drops, banks, ditches, logs, water (we had a brief moment of confusion because the water was MOVING - thank you tadpoles! But he then went right in and didn't bat an eyelash), etc., etc., etc.  We were waiting for SOMETHING to give him trouble -- but no, just the tadpoles... (I beileve the question was asked "does he have a pulse?!") 

Our second XC school went just as well, we had a slight hesitation at the first log - not a "I'm not jumping THAT!" hesitation but a "Wait, what?.. hold on, I though we were jumping stadium jumps... no? ok!"  since we warmed up over stadium jumps. We pushed him a little, not in height really but in the footwork department.  We went up the double bank (whoohoo!), but down was just too much with a down hill slope making the first drop THAT much bigger.  We simply gave it a couple tries, tried a lead - and called that question a day, and went and jumped the slightly (not by a lot) smaller one a bunch of times (with no hesitation). From there we jumped around with the only "what the heck jump" being the big tires (see photos).  We also attempted a small half coffin, since ditches are EASY we thought we'd give it a try.  The jump on the other side was just a little too close for him to work out, so we glanced off it.  Tried some wings, jumped the wings, and again call that question a day.  We just stuck with the ditch and other jumps farther out, with no problems.  The prognosis, MORE FOOTWORK!  

All in all, he has been a rock star! -- he's also done gallop sets, with no crazy run away OTTB, he was super adjustable, and can go from 400mpm to walk in about 2-3 strides. As well as just hacking around, with and without a saddle (its been so HOT!), as well as some spooking at round bales (hah! the things OTTBs think are scary!). 

More to come, make sure to "LIKE" our Facebook page -- Info and photos go up much faster there, than here -- But I will do my best to keep you updated by the week! 

Enjoy the photos! 

Stadium work at home - Triple Combintation Farm, N. Ferrisburgh VT

First XC school - High Winds Farm, Monkton VT

Second XC school - Hitching Post Farm, So. Royalton VT