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Confessions of an OTTB

The diary of an over-thinking thoroughbred

Bad Hair Day

Have you ever had a bad hair day? What a silly question. We all have days where we wake up and our hair just doesn’t want to co-operate. Nothing worse than a cowlick (of course in my case it would be a horselick, but let’s not split hairs).

Much to my chagrin, yesterday I had the worst possible hair day imaginable. I hope my tale will provide some comfort to those currently suffering from some form of coiffure catastrophe.

My human and I were busy preparing for our latest performance (check out my post from a few weeks ago on how to mentally prepare your human for competition), when I had the shock of my life. My human had been wasting time fiddling around with my mane for some reason (Lord knows what she was doing, she likes to dilly-dally), when I began to have the strange sensation that there was something, or several somethings, perched on my neck. I became quite disconcerted, fearing that perhaps a gang of nasty flesh-eating creatures (see Fig. 1 below) were about to launch an attack. The worst was that I could not see what was sitting there, and I naturally went into survival mode (if you’ve read any of my previous posts you know I like to be prepared for all eventualities).

I had to take action; can you blame me? I assert that anyone in such a predicament could only react thusly: I began to (very) violently shake my head, in hopes of dislodging the unwanted visitors from their convenient perch. I nearly fell over as a result of my efforts, to no avail. Even more alarmingly, my human seemed unaware or ignorant of the imminent danger. I somehow had to warn her. I therefore began (unsuccessfully) half rearing and kicking out, in hopes of getting her attention. I continued this process for several minutes, while my human looked on in disbelief, muttering profanities (sometimes she can be quite unreasonable).

My energy was waning, and my efforts were in vain, however I noticed that these creatures had neither moved nor bitten. I reluctantly decided to take a pause from my attempted insecticide (I thought maybe I had stunned them with all the commotion).

As it turned out, the creatures were nothing but little balls of my own mane (see Fig. 2 below), which are apparently required for competition as part of some sort of foolish homage to tradition. I still say it is wisest to err on the side of caution in any such situation. One can never be too careful!

 

Figure 1

 

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Figure 2
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(Human) Sport Psychology

Hi again!

The other day, I finally got the chance to entertain my long-awaited audience. I love a good crowd, and this one did not disappoint. I was so pleased with them that I gave a show-stopping performance (see results in photo, above), much to the amazement and disbelief of my human, who essentially rode in a state of shock during the entire show.

You see, unbeknownst to her, I had, subliminally, been mentally training her over the course of the past few weeks, through a series of carefully-orchestrated situations and reaction to stimuli.

My extensive qualitative and quantitative research has shown that when preparing your human for a competition, it is important not to build up their confidence too much, or they will get sloppy. There is a saying about making assumptions (I believe it involves donkeys), and this rings especially true for equestrian sport. You don’t want your human to assume that you as a team will do well come show day. In fact, it’s best if she envisions one (or more!) of the following scenarios:

  • you will have soiled yourself so much post-shampoo that there is no way she can have you ready in time for your test (I find lying in urine does the trick nicely)
  • you won’t let her braid your mane (because it looks girly), and there is no way she will enter the dressage ring unbraided
  • you will be too afraid of some randomly-chosen object to continue and will be forced to drop out of the competition (spend an afternoon three days before your show making her think you are simply petrified of, arbitrarily, garbage bags)
  • you will have far too much energy to contain yourself within the confines of a dressage ring, with potentially disastrous consequences (remind her as often as possible when schooling that you are an off track thoroughbred, not a dressage diva)
  • you will forget how to stand still and instead back up down the length of the dressage ring (how embarrassing)
  • you will be distracted by, in no particular order, people, birds, grass, flowers, air etc… (you can never be too vigilant)

As you can see, I used a variety of techniques to condition my human into believing the show would be a “schooling opportunity” rather than a competition, thereby removing all stressors from the situation, and creating the ideal conditions for success.

You’re welcome.

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Signed,

Slewdownfromheaven a.k.a. Elvis

Jumps, by Elvis

Hi again. It’s me, Elvis.

Since coming off the track, I have discovered the thrills of jumping: it combines the breakneck speeds I crave, with an exhilarating adrenaline rush when you take flight.

For you newbies out there, here now is a breakdown of the different jumps you will encounter in the hunter or jumper ring, or out on the cross country course, and what to do when you encounter them.

The Cavaletti: ain’t nobody got time for that.

The Coop: this seemingly innocuous jump likely has gremlins or other strange creatures lurking within. Proceed with extreme caution.

The Brush Box: this is a pit stop. Jumping is hard work and if you’re anything like me you’re constantly ravenous, so take a quick bite before popping over.

The Combination: this is best jumped as one obstacle. Forget the one or two strides in between.

The Oxer: this optical illusion is a test of will and wits. Take off several paces before and get as much clearance as you can. You can never be too certain there aren’t some invisible poles hidden in and around the jump.

The Liverpool: do not approach. Who knows what horrors lie beneath the murky waters…

The Tire Jump: this strange rubbery black substance wields mysterious powers. Give a snort as you approach to warn your human, just in case she forgot the potential hazard ahead.

The Skinny: this one is too easy. I prefer to jump the standard. Or just go around, hardly worth your time.

The Barrel Jump: this one has a Western flair, so act accordingly. Upon landing, take off like the barrel racer you are meant to be channeling.

The Stone Wall: never forget that stones are quite frequently sleeping dragons. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT wake the dragon. Get over this one as quickly as you can and get out of there!

The Ditch: this one requires some complicated calculations to master. Since the ditch is below sea level, the force of gravity is thus greater (F=mv2? I should have paid more attention in physics), therefore you must overcompensate by increasing your vertical trajectory in order to avoid being sucked into a black hole.

 

If I’ve missed any jumps, feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments below; I’m all ears!

 

Dressage, by Elvis

While dressage is a supremely objective discipline, there are still ways to sway the judge from the start, and thus ensure he/she will look favourably upon the rest of your performance. How do you do this, you may ask. I shall enlighten you. The following steps should suffice:

1. Show no fear

ex. Medium canter = give’r

2. Thwart authority

ex. A, down centre line, halt at X. Excuse me, but, I will halt where I please, or not at all. No one is going to tell me what to do. 

3. Be creative

ex. A 20 meter circle is fairly mundane, there are several ways it could be re-interpreted (ellipsis, oval, diamond, parallelogram, pentagon etc…). The letters are really just guidelines anyhow.

4. Rage against the machine

ex. The entire show is organised based upon the fact that each test should take between 5-7 minutes. It’s time to go against the system: feel free to ride that test in under 2 minutes.

5. Be a crowd-pleaser

ex. Even if the judge is not on your side, you can get some crowd participation (oohs and ahhs) with your fancy footwork; throw in some moves they won’t expect!

6. Know your test

ex. Each letter has a secret meaning that the judge is looking for. In case you didn’t know, H stands for “hurry”, A for “accelerate” and F for “faster”. Once you figure out this secret code, you’ll win bonus points from the judge.

 

Stay tuned for my next installment, where I break down the minutae of jumping…

 

Random Acts of Kindness

I like to give back. One week is not enough for random acts of kindness; I celebrate year round. After all, there is something to be said for good karma (what goes around comes around, you get what you give etc…).

Here are a few things I have been doing lately to spread positive energy.

Impromptu Gifts

Nothing shows you care like an unannounced gift. Cats present their humans with dead animal carcasses (just ew), dogs bring newspapers and slippers (how mundane). I do this the only way I know how; by leaving some nice droppings wherever my human takes me. I like to check to make sure she notices, by giving her a look that says “Did you see what I made you?“, and I can always tell it is appreciated, because my droppings are promptly scooped up (probably for safekeeping). Even my loyal pedicurist was lucky enough to personally receive some of my royal droppings! That is reserved only for those in The King’s good graces.

Birthday Surprises

There’s nothing better than a surprise on your birthday. That’s why this year on her birthday, I treated my human to something she could never have expected. I know how she likes adrenaline and jumping all the things, so I figured why not let her do some gravity-defying acrobatics all on her own. I waited for the opportune moment (the horrifying sound of snow whooshing off the arena roof) to make my move, and, timing it just right, I combined a leap with a pretty epic corkscrew buck, and sent her flying and flipping through the air like an Olympic trampolinist (she was so surprised, she didn’t see it coming). Needless to say, my audience was in awe of my supreme athleticism (I provided everyone with an exciting rodeo show, free of charge!), and her graceful subservience to the gravitational force. It’s a birthday I know she’ll never forget.

Product Testing and Quality Assurance

Someone once said “Never stop improving.” Wise words. Wise words indeed. As such, I do my utmost to perform rigorous product testing to ensure that my apparel and equipment are up to snuff, as I have mentioned previously. Most recently, through a series of methodical tests and trials, I discovered a design flaw in my stable blanket, which resulted in a large, probably irreparable tear. This provides important feedback to my human, who  will need to invest in more durable (and hopefully more fashionable – hint, I like sparkles) outerwear for next season.

I also strive to maintain a thick coating of mud (weather-permitting) on the surface area of my svelte physique, including my outerwear. My reasoning is two-fold: on the one hand, I am providing my human with added heart-healthy daily physical activity (extra grooming), and on the other, I am testing the durability and weather-proof quality of my gear.

Maybe you have some random acts of kindness of your own; leave them in the comments below – I’d love to hear your success stories!

 

 

 

 

Show Prep

In anticipation of the upcoming show season, I took some time to reflect upon my show career and all that my good looks and charm have accomplished thus far. I really outdid myself in the dressage ring last year, adding my own unique movements to a test. I took a crack at eventing and jumped all the things. I even pretended to be a hunter for a day (N.B. blasting around the hunter ring over fences won’t win you any bonus points with the judge, but it sure is fun). I have a good feeling: this is my year to shine (like the heavenly deity that I am).

To help out all the rookies out there, here are my tips for effective and comprehensive show prep (like the saying goes, “be prepared”).

Know Your Audience

Whether in the dressage ring or on the cross-country course, people will be watching, so make sure to practice your poses for the inevitable photos. I like to pick an item in the arena (it could be a ground pole, jump standard, pitchfork, or even a person) on which to focus my attention, and every time I walk by, I freeze, ears forward, eyes wide open, looking into the “camera”.

Check Your Equipment

You want to make sure all tack and apparel is properly functioning and will stand up to the rigours of competition. For example, when my human is leading me, I take the first opportunity that becomes available to test the quality of the reins by stepping on them.  If your reins break today, that means you will have to get new ones and you won’t have to worry about their integrity in the show ring!

Fitness

Stamina and flexibility are primordial for competition season, especially when you are straddling a multitude of disciplines. I like to vary my workouts with a cross-training schedule. Some days I will practise my agility (leaps, bounds, sideways jumps), others it’s strength and stamina (blast-offs, quick sprints, long-distance cantering). It’s important to work on flexibility as well; you want your head and neck to have maximal range of motion. I do this by stopping periodically (usually right after a canter) to stretch my head down, taking the opportunity to scratch my face on my leg (I get itchy!).

Diet

As I’ve stated previously, carrots are a must when one wishes to be in the King’s presence. This is not mere hedonism. Nay (Neigh? Not certain on spelling…). There is method to my perceived madness. Carrots contain a wide array of nutrients which are essential for optimal health and well-being. Most notably, carrots contain a high level of vitamin A, which aids in maintaining the immune system. I can’t think of anything worse than spending weeks preparing for a competition, and having to scratch because you get the sniffles.

Well, there you have it.

I’ve got more gems, so if there’s something I missed, feel free to send your questions, and I will respond in my upcoming In Conversation with The King segment.

Signed,

Elvis (J.C. Slewdownfromheaven)

The Tell-Tale Snort

When I close my eyes, I can still picture his horrifying countenance: Peanut (see photo above for a likeness) haunts my dreams, and turns every waking moment into a vivid nightmare.

Last night, I was in my palace, minding my own business, being fed carrots by my most loyal and subservient subject, when out of nowhere, a creature so vile, so terrifying, stood before me that all I could do was shudder from within the core of my being.

Peanut’s beady little eyes stared straight into my soul, and I could feel his evil wrath.

I tried to move but was frozen in place by some mysterious force (scribe’s note to reader: this mysterious force was in fact a set of cross-ties), which prevented my escape. I was left to stare in horror as this thing came nearer and nearer; a sense of impending doom loomed over me, my heart raced, every muscle and sinew tensed in fearful anticipation of what was to come next.

I could not help but let out a loud snort. In that moment I had given myself away, Peanut knew now that he had me, and he had tasted my fear.

Here is a fairly good representation of what I looked like in this moment:

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Note however that this horse is not nearly as handsome as I am.

Just when I thought I was done for, to my extreme surprise, Peanut spoke to me:

“Never mind” quoth the pony, “never mind.”

And with that, his minions led him away to another part of the palace. I commanded my servant take me back to my chambers, where, within the safety of my own four walls, I stood in shock and disbelief as I contemplated what had just occurred.

My life was spared this time, but next time I may not be so lucky. I hope this will serve as a lesson to you all, to always be on the lookout for intruders, usurpers and villainous foes.

Signed,

His most Royal Highness, King of Rock ‘n Roll, runner of races, jumper of jumps, eater of carrots,

Elvis (J.C. Slewdownfromheaven)

A Royal Decree from his Highness (Elvis)

The Carrot Tax

Hear ye! Hear ye!

Henceforth, there shall be a carrot tax on all visitors of the King (that’s me, Elvis). Whether you are simply coming to say hello, or you would like to go for a ride, a levy of at least one (1) carrot upon arrival and one (1) carrot prior to departure will be required.

The King will accept this tax in either form of carrot, that is baby (Figure 1) or regular (Figure 2); organic (Figure 3) or home-grown (Figure 4) carrots are preferred, but not obligatory.

What is this tax for, you might ask.

This tax helps ensure that the King will be in the best possible spirits, by assuring him that his loyal subjects know their place.

That is, on the ground, feeding him carrots.

Anyone who dares ignore the King’s decree and set foot in his kingdom without a carrot shall receive the following harsh punishment:

1. The Cute begging face, followed by
2. The Cold Shoulder, followed by
3. The Evil Eye

The following are NOT acceptable substitutes for the Carrot Tax:

– peppermints
– candy canes
– sugar cubes
– licorice
– horse cookies
– apples (but they can be left with the King and he will dispose of them)

Signed,

Elvis, The King (JC Slewdownfromheaven)

The C-Word

The dreaded C-word. Confusion. Perplexity. Bewilderment. She asks for a canter; I give it my all, but it never seems to be quite what she wants. I’ve tried so many permutations my head is spinning (note: throwing your head whilst gnashing your teeth is decidedly not what she wants).

My favourite technique is the blast-off, which is logical since it’s the one I’ve got the most practice with. We did it constantly at the track, and I feel like I’ve really perfected it. In essence, when she starts asking for the next gear, you pretend like you don’t know what she wants. Then, when she asks more adamantly, you act surprised and launch yourself forward. It’s important that you get enough air with your front legs, leaving your hind legs the range of motion required to really get going. You can do what you want with your head, but it’s best to be a bit flashy and maybe throw it around a bit. I’ve tried this manoeuvre in the dressage ring, and I have to tell you, it really added some flair to the test, which was repetitive and quite frankly did not showcase my athleticism.

A running (speed-trotting) start is great in that it gives you some momentum and helps you get your legs organized under you, because when you’re as gangly as me, it’s hard to know what each appendage is doing at any given moment. In this case, you acknowledge to your rider that she wants more speed; your legs are the motor. Basically just start trotting faster and faster until you’re physiologically forced into a canter. It also helps to scrunch up your body; after all, the laws of physics state that inertia is proportional to mass.

This next one’s an oldie but a goodie: the head-first. Enthusiastically break into a canter, and allow your head to lead the way; the higher it is the better. Really lean into those corners, and communicate to her that you are really very happy to be doing this and could keep going forever at break-neck speeds by grabbing the bit and focusing on your breathing. Inevitably, she will ask for something more sedate… I usually resist for a while, but eventually acquiesce, knowing it will mean a bigger carrot afterwards.

head-first

I’m constantly experimenting with new canter-start procedures, and I hope that eventually I’ll stumble upon the one she is looking for. With her perseverance and my charm, it’s only a matter of time until we discover the winning formula.

Signing off,

Elvis (J.C. slewdownfromheaven)

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