Monday, December 9, 2013
How my trailer got snow boobs
So here's what happened...Several weeks ago, I signed up for a dressage lesson with Allison Spivey, the assistant trainer for Sprieser Sporthorse. Over the years, I have heard some pretty good things about Lauren Sprieser, the head trainer, and more recently, her assistant trainer. Lauren is in Florida for the winter, but Allison is still here, and offering Sunday afternoon lessons at a decent price. In fact, at one point, I had looked into boarding at the farm, but Lauren only accepts full training clients, and while the now $2000 a month price tag does seem to be a good value for what you get, that kind of expenditure just isn't possible in my world. Plus, I really didn't want my horse in training 6 days a week. I like to procrastinate and ride when I feel like it. I always imagine that the inconsistency adds a new dimension to the relationship I have with my horse.
Anyway, I had decided that I really needed to start getting some regular lessons to help motivate me for my dressage schooling this winter. And I was looking for someone to work with who does not view dressage as an elite sport for the dressage queen few. It turns out that Allison is just the ticket. Her mother has competed in endurance riding for a long time, so she is familiar with that world and understands that dressage can be a means to an end instead of an end in and of itself.
So I booked several lessons over the next couple of months to help keep me on a regular schedule. And I crossed my fingers. Working with a new trainer is always hard. I've only done it a few times, and each time was nerve wracking until I got to know the new trainer. I think having a trainer is sort of like dating. It is important that you get to know each other (although not too well too soon) and develop a mutual respect for each other. I have come to expect my trainer to treat me as a person who is knowledgeable about my horse, who is capable of riding well and understanding complex concepts, and who can say that I've had enough or my horse has had enough without the trainer getting offended.
Unfortunately, as anyone who lives in the mid-Atlantic or northeast part of the country can attest to, Sunday was not a great weather day. There was a winter advisory out for most of the day in my area, and unlike previously predicted weather "events" that turned out to be nothing, this one turned out to be something. Here's the thing, my lesson was scheduled for Sunday at 2:45. The Sprieser farm is about 25 miles from the barn where I keep Nimo, which doesn't seem like a huge distance, so against the common sense voice screaming in my head, I decided not to cancel my lesson.
I kept telling myself that I'd see how the roads were on the way out to the barn and if they seemed too treacherous, I'd call and cancel. So I drove out to the barn, and I stopped for gas on the way, which took waaaayyyy longer than necessary due to the lines of people waiting to fill up their cars, their ATVs, empty gas cans, and possibly even their lawn mowers. Saiph mentioned some of the nonsense that can occur in the Washington, DC area during even minor storms in this post, and I've found that nonsense to be a constant in the 12 years I've lived in the area. The threat of even a lot of rain will empty grocery stores of bread, milk, and water within hours and these same idiots who believe the world could end in 2 inches of snow are apparently licensed drivers who are incapable of driving in even light rain, thus leading to stupid accidents and the need for any halfway decent driver to drive as defensively as possible.
Luckily, traffic seemed reasonably light and while there was some minor accumulation, I didn't see anything to get excited about. So I hooked up my trailer and loaded my horse and started what turned out to be an hour and a half drive out to Marshall, Virginia. Once I passed Warrenton, the last 10 or so miles of the trip were brutal. With the roads less traveled and the terrain going from gently rolling to some steep hills and curving roads, I became concerned about my decision. But, being so close to the farm, I opted to keep going. My truck has 4-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes, and some kind of skid control feature that diverts power away from an axle when a tire starts to spin. These things were great (I drove in 4-wheel drive all the way to the lesson), but I noticed that on a couple of hills, I would lose power to an axle because of slipping, and the hill was steep enough to be difficult to climb with just one axle (usually the front) working.
Anyway, I made it to the lesson in time. Nimo was definitely apprehensive at first in the indoor arena (which reminds me a lot of the one Hannah writes about in this post), but he settled enough within a few minutes to get some work done. The lesson turned out to be one of the best I've ever had. When I rode on Saturday, Nimo was strung out and heavy on the forehand. Within minutes of starting our lesson, he was trotting smoothly and in a much more connected way. This great movement was the result of an exercise that we've done before but that I thought was too advanced for us after taking such a long break from serious dressage work. We started out trotting regular 3-loop serpentines, then did the serpentines with normal flexion for the first and third loops, but counter-flexion for the middle loop. Finally, we did the serpentines with counter-flexion for all three loops. Never in a million years did I think we were ready to do that type of more advanced exercise, but it went very well.
Next we worked on canter. We easily cantered more in the lesson than we've cantered in the last 6 months. And even more amazing was that the canter was actually decent. Nimo picked up the canter smoothly and was able to hold it for up to 2 whole 20-meter circles. I know that doesn't sound like a big deal to most of you, but canter is a notoriously difficult gait for Friesians. While Friesians must be inspected at age 3-4 to be entered into the Dutch studbook (I'm not sure what the German studbook qualifications are), they are never evaluated for canter. Stallions are as part of their special approval process, but mares and geldings are not. And I think that has led to the breeders to fail to properly weight a horse's canter quality as compared to walk and particularly trot. Anyway, it was awesome to get such a great canter and then Allison had us work on coming down the quarter line and "drifting" to the wall in the canter to help improve the action of the inside hind. It was a hard exercise for us both, but even asking Nimo to drift improved the quality of canter.
Allison was really positive during the whole lesson (no comments about how I suck as a rider - yes, I used to work with a trainer who told me that on a weekly basis - and no comments about how my horse was inappropriate for dressage - yes, I've heard that one too) and her conclusion was that Nimo was a nice horse and I was an effective rider. Both were great to hear and I am really looking forward to more lessons!
But once the lesson was over, I still had to get Nimo back to the barn, and the weather had not improved. I won't bore you with all the details, but a couple of miles into our trip home, we hit the Hill of Death. I almost made it to the top, but eventually lost power to both axles because of loss of traction. The road was just too slick for me to haul my heavy-ass horse and trailer up this hill. So, as carefully as I could, I backed the trailer all the way down the hill, trying to figure out my options. I could call for a tow, but it could be hours before someone could get to me, and in the meantime, I'd be blocking the road (it was one of those 1-and-a-half car width country lanes) and my horse would be stuck in the trailer. I had brought hay and water for Nimo and food for me (I like to always be prepared in winter), but it still wasn't a great situation.
As I was backing down the hill, another car came up behind me. I got out to tell the other driver what was going on and ask if there might be another way out that didn't include such a steep hill. She told me there was another way, but that the hill was even worse. She offered to help, and at first I couldn't really think of anything, so I told her I'd try to get my truck and trailer as close to the side of the road as I could to see if she could get around. Then, as I was walking back to my truck, inspiration hit. If I could just lighten my load, I could probably get up the hill. So I turned around and asked this Good Samaritan how comfortable she'd be with holding a horse. She was fine with it, having ridden and competed horses for much of her life. So, I unloaded my horse in the middle of an icy road, handed him off to a stranger, got back in my truck, put it in 4-wheel drive low, 1st gear, and drove up that hill. Then I walked back down the hill, profusely thanked this lovely lady, and led Nimo back up the hill. And about half-way up, I gave him an impromptu tailing lesson because I was near death from lack of oxygen. I now understood why the truck had so much trouble - it was a damn steep hill. I loaded Nimo back on to the trailer and headed back home. Some creative driving kept us from getting stuck on any more hills and we made it back safely. And when I got out of my truck and saw how the snow had formed on my trailer, I just couldn't stop laughing. I'm thinking that I might have to name the trailer now...
I know there are those of you who are thinking that I must not have the intelligence God gave a turnip because I hauled my horse in bad weather. Here's the thing. On the one hand, you're probably right. On the other hand, I grew up in North Dakota and then lived in Iowa for 8 years. Both states have long, cold, snowy, windy, crappy winters. And that's how I learned to drive in bad weather. I don't enjoy it, but I can do it. And the only way for me to know how my trailer is going to haul in winter weather is to haul it. I don't intend to haul in bad weather routinely, but the fact is that I have to haul for all my conditioning rides and all my lessons. For me to ride this winter, I'm going to have to haul and ride in less-than-ideal conditions and even if the day starts out great, I could end up hauling back to the barn in surprise bad weather. Now I have an idea of what I can and can't do, and even a potential solution if I get stuck. There's always US Rider insurance, which I have, or calling a friend for help but waiting for a tow or asking a friend to come out in stormy weather is not my idea of fun, so if I can figure out how to get out of a situation on my own, I'd rather do that.
And that's the story of how my trailer came to have snow boobs...