Beastie and Bob

About mid-summer, my dressage horse (GP-Romeo aka Beastie) came up lame from turn-out which was depressing at many levels. First, every time he goes lame there’s the big bill from vet work. Second, he was finally going great and that came to an abrupt end. And last, I was making progress on bio mechanics during trot and cantor lengthenings out in the open field, but field riding would be over by the time he healed. I gave serious thought to hanging up the sport as the highs are great, but this low didn’t seem worth it. Fortunately after sulking around a bit, I found another way to focus.

I thought about trying to finish the Garvan lowboy, but instead decided to put effort into weight loss and fitness. Looking back it was the right thing to do. With the help of the professional shopper and HMR diet, I’m down about 50lbs from my glutenous peak 2 years back, and now Beastie is back and healthy too. It’s been interesting to experience the change in riding from then to now. The biggest difference is the ability to move quickly in the saddle. For example, the big guy doesn’t enjoy being turned from the reigns, especially in tight cantor or trot circles, and he certainly doesn’t bend correctly unless the rider’s hips are turned in the direction they want to go. In the past, I would turn my head and maybe start to get shoulders around, but my hips wouldn’t move much. Now I can feel my seat actually making the turn, and his barrel bending around the inside leg. It’s really the first time I’ve clearly felt that. Not sure why thinning down would make a difference there, but it’s night and day from where I was previously with Beastie especially in the cantor. Maybe I just couldn’t twist and move correctly with the horse prior…not sure.

The other area that’s different is my front to back balance and upper body control in the rising trot. This probably makes more sense as there’s less mass to adjust when I get out of sync, but what’s surprising is how different Romeo behaves with even a small difference in balance. I can only imagine how important this gets as the movements get more difficult…it’s not surprising the top riders are light and fit.

What isn’t any better is the sitting trot, but perhaps makes sense as for me it’s more related to being relaxed in the legs and hips with engaged core and back, but I couldn’t help hoping it would be easier.

The other surprising observation was how fast riding skills deteriorate during a 3 month hiatus. Fortunately Andy is a good trainer and after about 2 weeks things are feeling better than they were when Beastie went lame. Now the bad emotional state is replaced with renewed excitement about what the winter will hold for his training. I would so like to do a good job at 2nd level and perhaps make a run at 1st level regionals in 2016, but we have our work cut out for us with those goals.

The other thing that I daydream about occasionally is riding a pas de deux with Juris Doctor and her big black horse Bob. In fact, last weekend we had an outdoor lesson together at Friendship Farms (where the photo was taken), and it was the first time these two worked together as a duo. From the feedback we got, they looked good as a pair. Beastie and Bob…that has a nice ring to it.

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Driftless Zone

This past week was our first significant vacation in years. A solid week of camping started in Hayward with the grand kids. It’s always great sitting around the fire talking smack, but this year the weather didn’t play nice. Every night just as the fire started to crackle, rain set in. I was able to get out Saturday and ride the Chequamegon Fat 40 course along the Birkie trail. The race course, however, got the best of me, being 30 minutes off race pace and quite exhausted at the Telemark lodge. Still it was great fun to get on a different trail.

After Labor Day we traveled south to Trempealeau and spent the rest of the week at Perrot State Park. The photos below pretty much say it all. Great weather in a relaxing environment. It will be tough going back to work Monday.

One interesting factoid learned during the trip is that there’s a strip of land bridging 4 states (IA, WI, MN, IL) that weren’t touched by the glaciers. This area is referred to as the driftless zone and includes the La Crosse region. The result is lots of caves, more hilly terrain, some sinkholes, and unique vegetation. We definitely noticed the difference and were stunned by its beauty.

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0.5 Century

Class at Gepetto’s workshop (aka big city carver) was great. A future post will share a couple of lesson’s learned as well as show the carving results, but I’m once again thankful to be able to learn from Al Breed and always humbled by how much there is to learn about early American furniture. It was great to see Gentleman John and the rest of the gang. This time I even got a chance to mntn bike around Lebanon Hills in our ‘spare’ time.

Back in cheese land, the enforcer and I have started a new diet (argh but needed) and begun ramping exercise. Cycling is, of course, my favorite way to burn calories and a couple of years ago when I was racing the favorite ride was a near 50 mile trek in northern Chippewa County dubbed the ice age loop as it intersects the Ice Age Trail a couple of times. There’s a few challenging climbs that culminate in great views especially on Hwy E before intersecting with M. It also weaves through scenic farmland and this year the crops look (and smell) so good that it somehow eases the pain of the ride.

Anyway, this used to be a weekly event but this year mid-August is the first time to get it in. Unfortunately we’re already loosing so much light each day, that it will be tough to complete the trek many more times after work, but hopefully the weekends will give us accommodating weather. In short order though, bugs will be down and mountain biking back in full swing. Until then, here’s the Guy’d taking a goo break after coming out of the hills.



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Garvan Lowboy Joinery

It’s less than a week out from our next gathering at big city carver’s house. I was hoping to have all the joinery done and cabriole legs carved prior. It hasn’t been a complete miss, but as you can see I still have work to do to meet that goal. Hopefully I can get one ball and claw carved  before the weekend. Here’s the ‘craftsman’ version of the lowboy:

For those new to 18th century furniture, or almost any furniture with curves, try to get joinery completed before cutting any shapes. There are at least two reasons for this.  First, when pieces are square it’s easy to gang them together for layout, clamp the assembly together, hold components in a vice etc. Once the ‘S’ curves are cut, that becomes increasingly more difficult; especially on 18th century Queen Anne and Chippendale chairs. Second, after joinery there will be lots of ‘value’ being added with shaping, smoothing and carving. Knowing that the components will fit together once they are detailed is reassuring. Or said differently, performing joinery on finished compenents that aren’t square is dicey business.

Intuitive right? Well yes, but I’ve seen it done otherwise many times. Just take your time and complete joinery first. It will be worth it in the long run.

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Sundance I & II

On this weekend then name should have been changed to Rain Dance. As the photos show, it was drenched.

Here’s how it unfolded for us. My trainer Andy showed an awesome black Friesian / Warmblood cross named Bob, so after a rest from trailering we took them out for a walk. Conditions were perfect, fields dry, temperatures in the 70s, and bug free. Romeo was crazy tense and worked up. I was just waiting for the big spook or explosion, but it never came. Andy gave him a light workout as did I while she worked Bob. By the time we headed back to the stalls, Romeo began to relax. I thought this was going to be a perfect weekend.

That night I couldn’t sleep as messed up test sequences lingered in my head. By 5am the butterflies we flapping away inside but at least there was a beautiful sunrise to enjoy. After cleaning stalls and feeding the big boys, the sunrise was replaced by a fine mist. No big deal we naively thought.

Warming up in the field at 7:30am the drizzle was bearable. Romeo was still on edge but not as bad as the previous night. Andy worked with me verbally through the headsets until we starting feeling better. During that time he refused a few aids, tried to throw his shoulder, but after 30 minutes we were ready and then the bell rang and down the centerline we went. Romeo was very sensitive but obedient. I tend to focus on the things we did wrong (flying change when I asked for a down transition at X, poor stretchy circle in trot, and tightness in my body), but we did some things right too. Just keeping him in the arena was a goal of mine and he was really going nicely. The biggest surprise was came during our second lengthening…it felt weird…more bouncy than normal. I actually checked to make sure he wasn’t cantoring but no, he was still trotting. I would later find out he did his first trot extensions. And just like that we were halting in from of the judge. We had done it. Our first recognized show together at first level. No blow ups, lots of energy, and a few mistakes.

The rain was really coming down now and my jacket was drenched, so we headed back to the barn. Poor Andy had to go warm up Bob for their ride in a down poor…yuk! In the barn it dawned on me how stressed I had been about the test. I was now relaxed, comfortable except that I was getting cold, to the point of shaking. I put a light blanket on Romeo and headed for the camper.

This was the most pleasant surprise of the entire weekend. Ronda decided we should bring the RV with and when I opened that door and realized she already had the heater turned on I was so thankful. After hanging the wet clothes out to dry, I warmed up with coffee and was again reminded what a great wife I have to support me in these endeavors. On this trip, our grand-daughter joined us too…that’s her in the picture. I guess she wanted purple hair, so Kay decided to paint it in.

Photo credit Kay Geraghty

During this time Andy rode her first test and Bob did great as we knew he would. Later we would find out we won our classes receiving scores in the mid to high sixties. Not bad considering the conditions.

My training 3 test was later that afternoon and the clothes still weren’t dry. So with sogginess in tow, I stepped out of the trailer only to find more rain and wet everywhere. Romeo and I headed to the arena and warmed up on a pool of mud. He felt really different than in the morning. He seemed extremely sensitive but not as wound up. Maybe it was the mud…I couldn’t be sure, but the net for me is while most of the nervous energy was gone, I didn’t feel confident when we rode down the centerline to start the test. That sixth sense turned out to be right too. During the test as soon as I would touch him with my leg to bend, Romeo would break into a cantor. It seemed like we were perpetually one letter ahead of where we needed to be, He picked up the wrong lead, and I didn’t correct it. In short, we were disastrous. I was expecting to be punished by the judge, and indeed on those things we did wrong low scores were handed out. However, what was unexpected is that she also rewarded the things we did well. I tend to forget those, but Romeo has great gaits which makes up for my mistakes some times. The net is we received another 67% and took 2nd in our large class. It seemed like a gift at the time, but after reflection on individual marks, it was fair and emphasized not to freak out when you make a mistake during a test. One bad mark will not kill the entire test unless you let it get to your head.

Andy went on to win her 2nd level class for the 2nd time that day in these miserable conditions. Bob wasn’t convinced to stay on her aids as he should, but like Romeo, I suspect a lot of it had to do with conditions. Our first day was now in the books and it was better than I could have hoped for.

When we got back to the camper, Ronda had cooked a great meal of pork chops, potatoes, and fruit. What a perfect way to end the day. There were probably 7 people in the camper laughing about the day, dreaming of tomorrow, and in general relishing the sport we love so much.

Day 2 started out much like day 1. The sunrise was beautiful, but as it warmed fog from all the previous day’s precipitation made for an English landscape moment. Once the fog lifted, we were confronted with reality….the day would be hot and arenas were still a muddy mess. Andy had both of her rides in the morning, so there was no chance for her of escaping the poor conditions. Nevertheless she prevailed again and this time with higher scores than yesterday. Bob was very uphill and looked fantastic. Martha beamed all afternoon watching the horse she bred doing so well.

Warmup for my first test went great. When we arrived at the arena, there were no other horses and only a few people in the bleachers. Based on Romeo’s nervous energy from yesterday, I thought that would be a problem, but he was just relaxed and quick off my aids. I think that helped me loosen up too. This first level test we road well. He lengthened both times. I made a few mistakes such as losing my stirrup which caused us to break in the cantor, and mis-timed some transitions but we sat the trot well and did a solid job in just about all facets. Our final score was ~71%…the first time in my life to have broken then 70% barrier.

As we left the arena, I could just sense Romeo was having fun. Our last test was in less than an hour at the same place, the Romeo just grazed around while I took in some water and wiped the sweat from my head. It was really getting hot.

Warmup this time was effortless as he enjoyed playing around in field; however, when the bell range, I could sense he was ready to be done. We rode the training level test just fine not really making any mistakes, but his energy was off in the cantor. We had some good moments though and ended up with a 73% score. Believe it or not, that would only take 2nd place as the show’s overall high score came in our same class with a 74%…a ride that was lovely and deserving.

So a great weekend all around. It was fun to be surrounded by friends and family, not have anyone injured, and come away with confirmation that we are making good progress.
The final judge’s comments will serve as a direction for next steps. On the good side, we heard “elegant/talented horse” and “nice partnership”, but we also consistently heard “needs more energy”, ”work to keep the horse more uphill in cantor”, “lengthen even more”, “keep heels down and elbows quiet”, “work to improve lateral suppleness”, and “needs more thrust in trot lengthenings”. So work hard we will. It’s nice to know what the possibilities are with this horse and to have confidence that he will be good at shows.

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Julie Julian Clinic

This is the result of some body position changes made at the clinic this weekend. Between the strengthening work Andy has been doing on Romeo and training I’ve been receiving, it finally feels like we are beginning to gel together.

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Garvan Lowboy

This probably sounds like a broken record, but it’s hard to believe almost a year has gone by since my last post. And what a crazy year it’s been. The shop is heated, insulated, sheet rocked, painted, and finish electrical is almost complete. I’ll show proof soon.

And the new horse  is doing fantastic. We’ve had some ups and downs, but in the last couple of months he’s gotten much stronger and really is beginning to work hard for us. Have a clinic next weekend and hope to get some video. It may be like watching paint dry for those not accustomed to dressage, but sure is fun to do.

And now to the main course. This past weekend was another Al Breed class at the Big City Carver’s place. I genuinely needed the break and enjoyed every hour of carving. We started with the center drawer front and then reviewed the plans for the case build. (BTW- these will be for purchase here as soon as the piece is built) Here’s a couple of photos.

Thanks all for making it a fun weekend!

Let’s see if I can manage  to get the case joinery and at least 1 B&C done before August.

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Big Day in the New Shop

Yesterday a cement floor was poured in the new shop. There’s radiant floor heating inside, so hopefully it will be comfy in the winter months too. About 2/3 of the space will be further covered with wood floors and contain quiet bench space. The rest will be an isolated power tool room with concrete floor.

There’s still a lot of concrete work to finish around the outside of the building and in the wood storage area, but it’s exciting to see this progress after not doing much with the space over the last 2 years.

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Hard to Believe

The last post was October 2013. No I didn’t die or wander off on some Himalayan climbing expedition. It was 100% mid-life crisis distraction. A 17.2 black Hannovarian sport’s car named Romeo.

I’ve made a little further progress on the Townsend table finishing too and attended part 1 of the Acme Table of Perfection that Al Breed is doing at the Big City Carver’s place in MN.

Sorry for the absence, but hope to get back to woodworking now that the shopping expedition has concluded.

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Lunchtime Ride

Fall is such a great time in WI. Beautiful scenery, great temperature, active wildlife…about the only downside is that it will come to an end as winter arrives.

We are fortunate to be close to fantastic mountain bike trails and to take advantage of this short season have been riding over lunch hour. Here’s a brief clip of some trails from Friday’s ride set to Bush’s Sound of Winter soundtrack…very appropriate. Mountain biking like this should be on everyone’s bucket list….if for no other reason than to piss off Rush.

Life is good!

Here’s a few others with better video:

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