This Saturday practically the entire barn emptied out in order to attend a hunter pace put on by a local hunt group. The day was nearly perfect with temps in the mid 80s, sunshine, dry… More
I was pretty impressed when I came out on Sunday and May was ready to play. I started my Dressage ride with some pretty strict rules for my. INCLUDING, sticking my crop under both thumbs to keep my hands from doing funky things or wandering. I know everyone is shocked to hear that doing this meant May came pretty reliably into the contact, including bending in both directions without my hands having to enter much of the conversation.
After a quick warm up, we played with some turns on the haunches, which were actually pretty good. So I moved into the shoulder-in exercise on a 20M circle. The left, as expected, was great. And the right was pretty good too. She was able to give me a few steps of true shoulder in. Instead of drilling this willingness, I let her drop down into the contact and switch directions after each good attempt.
Alright, so then I figured we should play with the shallow counter canter loops. We picked up the right lead first… and when I got to M, I directed her to the quarter line, then bent back to F, wash and repeat on the other side. It was OK. I still didn’t feel like she was really wrapping around my inside leg. Again though, I didn’t want to discourage the try or drill it. So we moved onto the other side and repeated…
Or at least, I went to repeat… and she immediately spooked at the corner of the arena. It was one of those moments where she was spooking, and I was looking around trying to figure out what she was spooking at… mid spook. No clue, so I circled around, and it was now a non issue. Maybe she saw something through the door. Maybe she felt I was getting too comfortable up there. Who knows.
Either way, we repeated the same counter canter loops with pretty much the same results. Ugh.
So I stopped for a minute. What was I trying to achieve? As always, I am trying to quicken the hind end and shift more weight backwards while improving jump. Sooo I decided to pick up the right lead again and try some baby shoulder fore. I mean… not even totally three tracks, just offsetting the shoulder to the inside.
May’s reaction? Well, I am apparently the MOST UNFAIR MOM EVER. Seriously. I half halted, asked for the bend, put my inside leg on, moved my hands over, shifted my weight, and she started flinging her head around.
I swear, I ended up with mouth foam on my helmet. I was just sitting there, no contact in my hand, just maintaining the bend with my leg and seat, staring at her like…. As soon as she softened, I let her go back to straight. I asked one more time, less dramatics, and I let her be done with a lap of stretchy trot around the arena and a nice walk hack.
Fingers crossed that it translates to our next Dressage ride with less drama.
It’s always interesting to compare how training is so different from showing. At shows, the goals is to keep all the rails in the cups (and do the million other things required to make this one thing happen). However, in training, we sometimes need to correct the issues that sometimes pop up and cause those rails to go down. When I got May, the biggest issue was balance.
Then, we started trying to get more forward while maintaining this balance, and things fell apart for a while.
Then… we moved to KY hahaha. So this really didn’t get fixed for a while. Recently though, this balance and forward thing has REALLY been coming together.
However, when I was watching Mandy ride May last Tuesday, I realized that she was having to make some pretty clear corrections. Almost all of these corrections were keeping the straightness to the base of the jumps.
Go back, rewatch that last video. Do you see what I see? I see a rider who tries to get her horse straight coming out of the corner, and then about three strides away from the fence, just gets soft and let’s her horse get crooked. That rider is me hahaha. I don’t hold May to any real standard as we get to the base of the jumps, and many times, it costs us our balance over the fence and on the landing side. When the jumps get bigger, it gets even more obvious.
So when I showed up to my lesson on Tuesday, I asked for one thing: Teach me to make corrections to the base of fences even if it means an ugly jump. As I soften over those last three strides, I just invite May’s right shoulder over. Sooo we want to land on our left lead and fall a bit right through our turns after our fences. UGH
The lesson started out pretty conservatively. We went down the line near the seating area next to the ring that Mandy did last week. It was set on a short turn to an open 3 strides. So Mandy had us come in with more collected canter, get super straight, and stay straight and collected for four strides.
First time? A bit rough, as she popped her shoulder right over the first fence. Second time? She tried to blow through me and we got 3.5 strides. Third time? Finally nailed it in a soft and even four. Then we had to get it in three, and I sliced around the corner and made it all ugly and ugh. We finally nailed that though, and went out to do a course.
The course had several jumps set off the short side of the arena, so you really had to square your turns, get straight, and be prepared for another square turn after. May though? She felt she had all the time in the world and could counter canter all the things. (We did A LOT Of jumping out of counter canter this week by pure default). We did the same vertical to oxer line Mandy did and then beant it to the three stride we warmed up through and… I COULD NOT nail this.
I could not get the right lead over either of the jumps set off the short side. I kept pushing too much through the bending line to the oxer, almost getting 4 strides instead of 5 at one point, and I kept slicing the turn to the last line. At times, May threw her head up and had full meltdowns when I insisted that she not fall through her right shoulder. It was… not pretty, but I could feel the holes in our training. As a result, Mandy and I figured out a plan to fix them, complete with my own homework.
For now, the plan is to continue to work on her responsiveness on the flat and to add in smaller verticals or large crossrails and loop through them with straight approaches and lots of changes in direction.
Definitely not the jump lesson that leaves you on a high of confidence, but it was so necessary at this point.
Last week was the first week in a long time where I only rode my horse once. On Tuesday, my trainer rode her, and I had all the plans in the world to ride on Thursday evening. Then… I got stuck at work until almost 7:30PM. UGH. Friday wasn’t an option because #Life. And then Saturday I had some adulting duties to attend to.
So Sunday, I got to the barn relatively early (before 9AM), and I pulled May out of the field. (Turns out, if it’s not too hot out yet, she is right near the gait eating grass. Good to know.) I threw her in her stall to give her a chance to drink some water, as I pull out my tack. Her field has an automatic waterer, which I have seen her use many times, but when the grazing is good, May would much prefer damp grass over actual water. (I feel the same way about a milkshake vs. actual water)
By the time I threw tack on, it was around 9:30, and I was already covered in sweat. Glorious. Given that she hadn’t been ridden since Tuesday, I figured I would do a fitness ride. 5 min of walk. 4 sets of 3 min of trot with 1 min of walk in between. 2 sets of 2 min of canter with 1 min walk in between. 5 min walk. Total ride, about 32 minutes with about half of that walking.
The cool think about our farm is there is ALMOST a complete track loop around the property. Unfortunately, it is kind of disrupted by the arenas/indoor/driveway. and it is super hilly between the arenas and the paddocks, so you can only really walk up and down that section.
My solution? I started looping and reversing direction through the arena, since the gaits are left open enough to trot though them (with some caution). I for sure wouldn’t canter through them, and I probably wouldn’t have done this if anyone else was riding in the outdoor, but it was just me and May. It worked out really well, especially since one loop around what part of the loop is available is about 1.5 minutes of canter. Winning.
I figured May was going to be kind of forward and want to blow through my half halts, so I was surprised when she came out kind of behind my leg. I think I spent the first two trot sets kicking her along and wishing I had my Dressage whip with me. Oh well, notes for next time. She really does not like the heat.
However, a ton of walk breaks meant that, by the time we were done, she was hot and tired but not overly uncomfortable. We just about broke a full body sweat before finishing, so I figure that’s a job well done in this weather. How did May feel about it though? Less than enthused.
In case I needed more reason to stick to my “no horse trials in July” rule with May, basically the entire state of KY is under an extreme heat warning from 2PM today THROUGH 8PM on SUNDAY. The heat alone is one thing, but look at the right hand column of this chart:
So much UGH. I included Tuesday so that you can see what type of weather KY is actually capable of. Beautiful, reasonable 82 degrees with 50% humidity and a light breeze.
So what’s the plan for the weekend? Most of the barn is actually going to a horse trial at the Hoosier Horse Park (part of me is actually a bit jealous). So I am probably just going to get up early and get to the barn in the coolest part of the days. If it’s too hot, then we will just have to settle for light hack days and baths. Especially with a horse like May, I really don’t believe in pushing it.
Also, in case you all were worried, May was clearly not exhausted from her pro ride on Wednesday… as I got this text yesterday afternoon.
I swear… she waits until the barn is quiet for a while and then looks for ways to sneak out. I figure she went to check on Barbie and Lady, her friends that stay out all day, got a quick lunch out, and then headed back before realizing she couldn’t get back in the way she came. Oh mares.
Last night, as I got changed at work for my lesson, I realized I was missing one of the most important part of my riding wardrobe… a sport bra. Damn… At first, I was debating what to do. Do I try to run home and get one, putting me half an hour behind schedule at LEAST? Do I ride without one? Do I wrap my chest in a polo wrap?!
In the end, I realized that it was probably a great opportunity to give May another pro ride. While warm last night, there was a good breeze that kept it from being ungodly hot, and Mandy has set up a new course in the arena. On top of that, it has been more than two months since she has sat on my horse, and as we are looking at some bigger heights (for us), I wanted to get her opinion on where May’s confidence/ability really was.
Lucky for me, Mandy was happy to hop on and put May through her paces. Of course… May first decided to try to run away as she was getting on… which was met with a reminder that, “unicorns don’t run away with their riders.” That got a quick correction, dismount, remount. And then… May proceeded to be pretty spicy warming up.
As a result, they started with an exercise that I have actually done quite a bit with May, but not in a while. They looped back and forth over a vertical with a placing pole 9.5′ behind the jump. The idea was two fold, get May to rock back over fences, and get her to take the cue on what lead to land on. The first few times, she tried to blow through the half half and required a solid halt and back, but then they got into a rhythm.
They moved onto a full course, and honestly, May just popped around like she had jumped that course a thousand times. Was it perfect? No. Mandy puts a lot more pressure on May to be straight and adjustable (vs. me just trying to get out of the damn way). When May softened and listened, the jumps were smooth and easy. When she locked up like a donkey, the distances weren’t as nice.
Eventually, we pushed the yellow and black oxer up to closer to training height, as she was consistently nailing the bending five to that jump. Mandy wanted to give her a bit of confidence over a slightly bigger height without pushing her too much over a fence that they weren’t 100% agreeing on.
At the same time, Mandy also mentioned that she was going to jump the chevron. My response? “She’s never jumped the chevrons so… just steer.” Like… yes… my pro rider is definitely going to steer to the narrow chevron jump… Luckily, Mandy humors me and allows me to pretend like I am helpful.
The full video is below. Of course, the very first jump didn’t come up quite the way Mandy wanted it to. However, May still easily moved forward down the five line to the larger oxer and popped over it. The rest of the course went super well, so they just repeated the last line one more time, and they nailed it. You can see both courses at the bottom of this post, but I just had to share the last line they did.
Overall, I got some really good feedback from Mandy. She’s definitely not as finished as she needs to be to do a full course at Novice height. Mandy pointed out that she probably could get around, but it might rock her confidence, which is just so important. She said that, for right now, our goal should be to fix the straightness/balance issues at the height where May can “figure it out” when it goes wrong, and then move May up when she is a bit more reliable. However, it’s not that she has any difficulty with the Novice height, but we don’t want her to start feeling like her job is hard or not fun. I couldn’t agree more and am so thankful to have a pro that enjoys my “spicy dijon” pony.
Last night, we had our first Dressage lesson in a while. In all honesty, the purpose of this lesson was two-fold, I felt like May had kind of been blowing through me a lot lately, and I wanted to see if the magnawave/massage session had any effect on the flat, where it would be easier to assess than over fences.
When it comes to the blowing off thing, it’s not (usually) a blatant throwing of the head and running off with me. Although, it can be. It’s more that she sort of gives me something, I ask for a little more, and she… doesn’t give me any more. Or I make a correction, and she goes “Nah, I got this.” The correct response is typically to ask more firmly (Ask, Tell, Demand sequence).
However, I have a tendency to back off and blame myself. Oh she must not be moving off my leg because I am sitting wrong, or blocking her, or whatever. So by myself, I might back down. This hasn’t been an issue for the last 4 years because we were securely in the position of “things I know.”
I am fairly comfortable in my ability to get a horse to bend, move through its body, connect into the bridle, etc etc etc. At least through a training level frame. When it comes to First Level stuff, I have gotten enough training to generally know how to put those most of those moves on a horse.
Now though, I am asking for more. I am asking for better leg yields, true shoulder in, and the beginnings of real counter canter work. And truly, I don’t really know what I am doing.
Case and point: Last night, my trainer asked me to do a 20M circle at the trot. Cool. Simple. Got it. We played around with my lack of geometry a bit (oops), and then she asked me to do a shoulder in along the circle. Our shoulder ins down the long side are solid enough that we should be able to do this exercise, and it is a great way to add flexibility through the rib cage (one of our issues) and encourage the hind end to come under the horse (another issue).
I tried for about half a circle before doing a walk transition and walking over to Mandy, “yeah, what am I supposed to be doing?”
I realized that I was trying to pull her around the circle with my inside rein (not helpful), while trying to shove her haunches out with my inside leg (also… not helpful). A shoulder-in can originally be guided with the inside aids, but it really is an outside aid exercise. So… I knew I was doing it wrong, but I Could Not wrap my head around what I SHOULD be doing. If I was riding by myself, I would drop the exercise and go back to something I definitely know how to do.
Mandy, bless her, did not miss a beat. She started drawing diagrams in the sand about the 20 cm circle, the angle I was looking for and what May’s body should be doing. I nodded along, that all made sense. Then, she broke down the aids for me. Showing me the “extreme” versions of what my aids should be doing and then connecting that back to how that will influence May’s body to engage in the shoulder-in move.
A few more nods, and I headed back out to my 20M circle. This time? It only took me about 1/4 of the circle to get it. At that point, Mandy starts yelling at me about what I should be feeling, “Feel her coming off that inside rein? Feel the inside hind coming under her body more?” These little tidbits of feel become my way of checking in when I do this on my own. My aids are doing X, so am I getting Y?
(off topic, but I found this after my lessons, and I thought it was pretty helpful: Random French Dude’s Advice on Shoulder-In)
Going in the other direction (tracking right), the exercise was substantially more difficult for us, so when we got a couple of good steps, I let May move forward into a straighter contact. However, this time, I was able to more effectively tackle the more difficult side because I had gotten the “Feel” cues from my trainer already.
To me, these are the building blocks of good instruction. My trainer has given me the tools to continue my horse’s training beyond my lessons. As for the magnawave, I am not sure I really felt any change in May’s way of going after it. It clearly felt good, but I don’t think the right shoulder issue is a pain thing, as much as it is a training thing. As a result, a pain management tool didn’t fix our training. Oh well. 😉
I’m not sure about the rest of the country, but it has been hot and HUMID in Kentucky lately. May has been putting in requests for a relocate to the North Pole to work for Santa, but since that just isn’t a reality, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and treat May to a massage and MagnaWave session.
One of the women that boards at my barn is a license masseuse and magnawave technician. It’s been in the back of my mind to sign May up, but I honestly just didn’t feel like shelling out the cash. There really isn’t anything major about May’s way of going that was concerning to me. She didn’t show any signs of back pain or really any pain. Our biggest issue is, and has always been, her shoulders wanting to exit stage right.
Since our tech is a fellow boarder, she is pretty familiar with May, but she still asked me if there are any issues we have. (see above) She explained that she feels like she can get the best read on a horse’s body with her hands with her massage background, but she thinks the combination of magnawave and massage helps create longer lasting results. Sure, sounds great.
How did May feel about it? There was a lot of droopy lip, and by the time she got to the back end with the massage, May was so loose through her body that she just let the massage wave through her body from tail to nose. I was actually surprised at her patience with it. Typically, May has a timer in her head. If you spend more than that amount of time messing with her, she starts to get fussy, especially with how bad the flies were yesterday afternoon.
During the MagnaWave session, though, she just leaned into the massage, let her eyelids float closed, and enjoyed a zen-like pony state.
As for the feedback, overall, I think the tech was pretty impressed. She had some tightness the left side of her neck and her right hip, but none of it was painful enough that working through the stiffness caused any discomfort for May. And the magnawave didn’t show any major reactions either. Again, the left side of her next showed the largest reaction, but it was still pretty minor from what I have seen before. I guess I need to be more diligent about the carrot stretches for that side.
Overall, the jury is still out. I think May enjoyed it, and it was a nice treat for her. The biggest positive, to me, is getting another set of hands/eyes on how my horse’s body is feeling. It obviously doesn’t substitute our yearly wellness check, or any check if I start to feel her being less-than-willing in her work, but it does seems like a nice check in when nothing is obviously wrong. However, I won’t know if it had any positive impact on her way of going until I hop back on Tuesday.
So look for another post with my follow-up thoughts on Wednesday! If anyone in the area is looking to try it, I am happy to recommend the tech from my barn.
We all know that saddle shopping can very nearly be a fate worse than death. While I am still trying to sell my Dressage saddle (thus now actively buying anything), I thought it might be helpful to share some of the very bad advice I got from professional saddle fitters while shopping (and some good stuff).
Your Draft Cross Must Have a Hoop Tree with an XXW Setting
No joke. My first Albion was stretched from a MW to an XXW. At that point, there was no going back with it, so I sold it once I realized that my horse really wasn’t THAT wide. (This was after ignoring May’s crow hopping after big jumping efforts and the saddle nearly sliding under her stomach in a clinic with the non slip girth pulled up as tight as it would go.) For the record, the horse does have withers.
The Longer Panels Will Just Stabilize The Saddle on Your Horse
May has a short back, and I need a bigger seat size. As a result, we need short panels. Why? Because there is no way that you can twist physics that will make panels stabilize the back of a saddle without exerting any pressure on the weak portion of my horse’s back… but thanks for trying?
Bigger Blocks Will Make You Feel More Secure
You know what actually makes me feel more secure? A saddle that has a good balance and helps me put my leg around the horse. Most of the time, blocks are not in the PERFECT place (yes, even though velcro blocks).
That Swelling Cannot Be Due to this Special Spring Tree
After receiving one saddle sent to me by a rep to try, I felt it was too tight a fit right behind the withers. The rep asked for pictures, and she said that the Spring Tree will make up for that minor issue. Three days later? My horse was visibly swollen behind her withers and that saddle rep no longer seemed interested in helping me.
You Can’t Do Dressage Comfortably in a Jump Saddle
Fun fact, a jump saddle that fits you well is actually pretty comfortable for lower level Dressage work. If May and I suddenly decide that second level Dressage is something we want to pursue, I will probably buy a Dressage saddle again. But for now, a well fitting jump saddle will suit us just fine.
Whenever You Want to Sell This Saddle – It Will Go FAST
Wish I had just sold my Dressage saddle when I found a jump saddle to fit. It’s a great saddle but clearly fulfills a pretty specific need. Now that I really need to sell it, it is getting almost no attention.
The Good Tidbits
Your Horse Isn’t As Wide As You Think She Is
I spent A LOT of time looking at extreme hoop trees. I mean like this:
Then, someone pointed out to me that my horse has withers and a decent, but wide, A frame to her back.
Listen To Your Horse
May has some pretty subtle (and a few) not so subtle clues when things don’t fit. They range from sucking back, to crow hopping, to, in one case, seriously considering throwing the brakes on over a 2′ jump… My opinion, and a professionals opinion, on whether a saddle fit means NOTHING to this mare. Her opinion is the only one that matters.
The Fit For the Riders is JUST AS Important As Fit For the Horse
The first time I heard this, I was convinced this woman was just trying to sell me a saddle. If my horse is comfortable, I can adjust my riding to accommodate for whatever the saddle throws at me. I mean… maybe… but the far more likely scenario is that you end up slightly out of balance all the time, which is not comfortable nor fun for your horse. No matter how well the saddle fits.
What about you? Have you learned any lessons through your adventures in saddle shopping?
This lesson was a bit different than our usual lessons because we ended up doing a semi-private instead of a private lesson! The girl in the lesson before me jumps a bit bigger than I do on her horse, but when her horse lost a shoe while she was warming up yesterday, she ended up taking a catch ride on another friend’s horse (barefoot horses for the win).
Since I was already pretty much tacked up, a bit behind schedule, and it was 90-something degrees out with humidity, I asked her if she wanted to share the lesson. Luckily, she said yes!
I gave May a super light warm up, since the heat really isn’t her friend. Then, the lesson started really simply. We just looped a figure 8 back and forth over two verticals. The idea was so keep the balance through the turn and get straight before the jumps. It was a good exercise to get me focused on managing that right shoulder.
When we reversed the exercise, Mandy put the jumps up a bit. May and I are pretty comfortable with the whole 2’3″ to 2’6″ thing. However, this lesson ended up pushing a little over the upper end of that. Honestly, I think if it was a private, I would have chickened out.
Once we figured out our rhythm, balance, and straightness over the figure 8, we moved onto course work. We did the same course as last week, but we added the two stride combination to it.
Now, the set up of that two stride was REALLY hard for me. We jumped big over the corner… then I CHASED her to try to get 6 strides… which didn’t work… then I jumped up her neck… (enjoy the below pic)
Luckily, I have mostly fixed my historic reaction to this mistake. Not so long ago, I would have pulled to try to shove 3 strides into the two stride… Now, I kicked on and focused on getting her super straight. Guess what? We were able to jump out of it fine. I kept that rhythm around the rest of the course, and everything else worked out really well. The jumps I was the most concerned about (the corner and the triple bar) rode the best.
Then, we did the same course again. May, by this point, was hot and tired, so you can see her just kind of getting lazy with the verticals, but I was super happy with this course. Perfect? Nope, but I made the necessary changes and smoothed most of it out really well.
You can see the full video below:
I have been pushing at work to make mid-year reviews an actual thing, and it seems like those are happening. So in the spirit of taking my own advice, I wanted to do my own little mid-year check in! Back in January, I set some really frilly, really not S.M.A.R.T. goals.
Actually, instead of goals, I set up focus points, so let’s talk about them!
Fitness – This started in 2018 and has been a great addition to my regular routine. I am not setting a goal of “x” number of times in the gym each week. Instead, I just want to keep an emphasis on moving and listening to my body.
So I fell off the bandwagon basically from April – June. It is SO HARD to stay motivated to go to the gym when it is so nice out. However, I have gotten back into it over the past couple of weeks, and it is SO NICE to be back. I even found a class that makes me WANT to get up at 7AM on a Saturday. (Yes, below are some PASTY calves)
Blogging – I really LIKE blogging. I really want to get BETTER at blogging, AND AECs are in KY this year, so I even have a chance to see some of you. Blogging shall continue… but I would like to get some new media for you all.
So I am officially volunteering at AECs as a Dressage scribe on Thursday. Super excited to see anyone who ends up making the trip!
Friendships – 2018 was a weird year for me. It marked 2 years of living in KY, and I have definitely felt the loss of some of my East Coast friends. I want to say yes to more things with my friends here in KY.
Some of my favorite moments of 2019 have come from saying yes to my KY friends more. Into the second half of the year, I am going to try to say yes to even more (including a book club because the nerd in me cannot resist that!)
Enjoying May – I want to ride and have fun with my horse. I want to try new things and be in the moment. I want to let the bad rides go easier and hold onto the good ones a bit longer. Heavy competing still won’t be in the budget this year, but hopefully, we can find some fun things to do within our budget.
How did I forget that heavy competing wouldn’t be in the budget this year? Hahaha apparently I lost sight of that one in April, when I made this insane post. Either way, we have had mostly amazing rides lately, so it has been REALLY easy to let the bad things go. Annnnnd we have managed to do some super fun things, like XC schooling at the KHP.
Honestly though, I wish I had my own trailer so that we could do more. Either way, we have a hunter pace on the agenda for August, and I am HOPING to get out at BN at SOME POINT this year, especially with May going so well.
Continue Improving our House – We have some projects that need finishing touches, and a lot of painting still to do. However, it has been a labor of love, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
Oh gosh… we spent all the money on getting the house painted (worth it). Doggy vet bills have also dug into that budget, so there is a lot that isn’t getting done at the moment. Honestly though, painting and redoing our laundry room have made a MASSIVE difference… now if only I could get the chandelier hung in the Dining room. 😉
I think its been a year of unexpected progress. May is going better than ever and refocusing on consistent lessons over showing opportunities has made the biggest difference. Fingers crossed that we can get out this fall and have some fun!