Hundreds of Hours vs. Ten Minutes

When you spend hundreds of hours to prepare for 10 minutes of competition those hundreds of hours have to be more important than the end result.

~ Bad Eventer

Tonight is my second to last jump lesson before our first BN competition in 3 (and a half) years. Nerves have been slowly creeping in and, along with them, purely irrational thoughts. (because the first rain KY has had in MONTHS definitely means that I have to have a full set of shoes, drilled and tapped for studs, put on my barefoot horse)

So I was sitting at work, doing work things stalking the Team Challenge entry list, and then I read the above quote. Ahead of all the last minute show prep, I figured I would look back on the last 6 months of prep and all that we have accomplished.

Basically, since April, May and I have been committed to our weekly jump lessons. If I am in the state, I am at the barn on Tuesday nights. There are some things that don’t make it into my blog posts a lot. Like all the times that I asked Mandy to make an oxer smaller or hesitated before a course.

The modifications that happened to ensure that I could give my horse the ride she deserved. Like making this small-ish oxer EVEN SMALLER to that I would ride forward to it.

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yes. I had to put the front rail of this oxer down.

In fact, this felt scary, and you can see me PLANTING my  hands on my neck strap because that was as much as I could get myself to do.

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But I kept showing up. I kept doing my homework. I kept working to rewire my brain. A few months later, and we have the photo above.

And then, we had this;

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Then this….

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And then we had this:

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Fear and anxiety are still there. Every. Ride. But it gets better with every good ride I get under my belt. It gets better as Mandy keeps filling my toolbox and confidence bucket, ride after ride.

Would it be great to come home with some satin from Team Challenge? Hell yes. Does it really matter? No. Not really. What really matters are these videos above. The changes in my riding AND in my horse for the better. I can confidently say that the hours leading up to October 19th and 20th are worth WAY MORE to me than the results of this singular show.

It’s Fall Ya’ll!

This is me. This is me when the weather finally drops below 90 degrees. Seriously, it has been glorious. Want to know what’s even better it FINALLY RAINED yesterday into today. Sure there may be flash flooding, and I had to weave through puddles to get to work today, but Kentucky has been in basically drought conditions and everything has been dead. ON TOP OF THAT, the ground has basically been CONCRETE for the last month.

Even arenas with good footing have fallen into basically being concrete with sand on top. ugh. So I am super happy to see the weather turn.

You know who else is happy?

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This oddly shaped polar bear. How happy was she about the cooler weather? Well we decided to go for a trot set on Friday evening. Towards the end, I let her canter a bit. No big deal. Then, I asked for a little more canter, and… well, I felt May’s body drop out from underneath me as she TOOK OFF.

You know that combination of trying to say whoa and laughing? If you don’t, trust me, it’s not very effective. I think May thought for about a stride more and realized that I probably wasn’t asking for a flat out sprint, so she came back to the quiet hand gallop I had actually asked for. Oh well, a happy mare is a happy mare.

On Saturday, the weather was even cooler, as we snuck in an earlish ride with some friends. The joy of friends? MEDIA! (kidding because I love you all even if you don’t take video for me). Below is a really boring super exciting to everyone I swear Dressage video of us running through our Dressage test in our not-to-size arena.

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Sometimes, she’s just too cute for words 💕 🦄 ✨

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Overall, May feels good, but not great during our tests. We need to clean up the canter transitions (forever and always). So that will be the main focus of our flat rides. The rest? I am just going to accept as is. Everything could be better, but I am more concerned with getting her fitness up a bit more and getting myself confident in the jumping.

Until then, enjoy the cooler weather friends!

My Weird View on Buying Horses

First off, I am laughing at that old picture above. You know why I have a death grip on the lead line? Because she literally would NOT stand still… She would just try and drag you around. Oh May. ❤

As a result of… a lot of drama in September, I now know more than one person who is unexpectedly horse shopping. What does it mean for the average person to be unexpectedly horse shopping? It means a low budget, practically no time, and the understanding that this is going to be a purchase and then train type of situation.

I would love to have been one of those people that can follow the adage of “Buy something that is already doing what you want to do,” but for many of us, that is RARELY an option. Instead, it falls into more of “buy something that seems like it might want to do the same thing you want to do and train it.”

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perfect post for some OG photos. I think this was the XC schooling where I realized she was going to be a pretty good eventer.

Do you know if a horse is going to be a good XC horse by trotting it around an arena? Nope. Do I have any idea how much of being a good XC horse is nature vs. nurture? No clue.

So apparently, I have a different view when horse shopping than most people. When I purchased May, it was with the intention of “having a fun project”. Did I think I would own her almost five years later? No. Not really.

When you buy an inexpensive, green, off-type horse, you are taking a pretty big gamble on whether or not that horse will turn into what you really want. Also, that horse might be the right horse until you get to Novice, but when you want to move beyond that, you find you just aren’t sitting on enough talent/ability/bravery etc to make that next step.

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I remember thinking this house was HUGE

As a result, I tend to approach all horses I have ever tried (because I have never had more than a low four figure budget), as a project. May was a project that needed to learn how to steer, but we didn’t really know if she would enjoy eventing. Four and a half years later, I think it is pretty fair to say she is staying.

I wish I had bought my first horse with this mentality. I really do think it would have saved me a lot of grief. He was supposed to be  my #Hearthorse that I kept forever. In reality, I ended up just making us both miserable by trying to make the wrong thing work.

So what about you? Do you look at the purchase of a green horse as a potential project that you may or may not keep? Or are you always looking for your next dream horse?

Sometimes – We Spicy

May was FEELING her oats at our lesson this week. She’s been in pretty solid work lately, so I wonder if the other saddle really was causing her to suck back a bit. Either way, it made for an interesting jump lesson.

We started with a baby gymnastic. Short turn, three poles, vertical. Now if you all remember, this short turn is basically my nemesis. May is…. not a sports car and keeping impulsion, balance, and power steering is a forever kind of struggle. However, we got it going pretty well, and it really got her tuned into my outside aids. (you know… almost like it was built to do exactly that….)

It started low but eventually built up to the above. You can see May being a bit more resistant to my right hand, which really just felt like a symptom of her being super forward.

Look at those locked in ears!

Once we nailed that exercise, we moved onto a short course. Through the gymastic, up the pink, bending 6 strides to the liverpool, then down the diagonal in 5.

How’d it go? Fine… except that she just kind of ran past the distance to the yellow jump in the first part of the diagonal. Ooooook. Thanks mare. Mandy reminded me to, you know, maintain rhythm, and we moved onto a more complicated course.

Through the gymnastic, bending 4 to the red, white and blue vertical. (Yeah, that got a hairy eyeball from me, but rode great). Then, left turn to the pink, bending to the liverpool again. Then the yellow and around to the skinny blue “block”.

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Aiming for the base with these skinny/solid questions

Whew! Lots of related distances, turns, and different questions in a rather short course. The first time through, the first line rode GREAT. Then… we got in a bit of a disagreement TURNING to the pink. But I got her straight and she jumped the SNOT out of it from a longish distance.

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However, I made ZERO corrections going to the liverpool, and it rode in 5.25 strides. Cool. I made a BIG correction to the yellow, which felt ugly, but she jumped it ok.  Finally over the blue box, which rode easy peasy.

All the jumps stayed up (yay), but there was definitely room for improvement. As the saying goes, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” I suddenly had a horse that was really thinking forward, and I had to be a bit faster and more decisive with my corrections to smooth things out. We did the same course again, and I am REALLY happy with it.

To my, the big difference between the video from yesterday and the video from March is how forward thinking May is and how decisive I am in my decisions. Is it perfect? Nah. I could nitpick every. single. fence. However, I had a plan, and I went out and executed that plan.

I am also SUPER happy with how confident May feels. Even just a few months ago, the higher height of the red white and blue and yellow jumps would have backed her off. Now, she is hunting down those fences without blowing past my half halt. (When used correctly and decisively).

Both videos are below, but let’s just say, I am super excited to get out in less than a month!

Useless Saddle Marketing

So I had a local saddle fitter (yes, a new one) out on Sunday to take a look at my Genesis. Originally, she was going to look at the Diablo, but I decided that wasn’t going to be the right thing, even if we could get it to fit May. So I mostly just wanted to see if there is anything we could do to help the Genesis sit more in balance for me and reduce the rocking for May. (nope… ) So the conversation  mostly turned to my “next” saddle.

The conversation went something like this:

Saddle Fitter: “Well, what have you tried so far?”

Me: “In alphabetical order?… of saddles I actually put on my horse’s back and didn’t just rule out immediately? Albion, Barnsby, Black Country (Solare and Wexford), Bliss, County, CWD, Duett, Ovation, Prestige, and Stubben…. at least as much as I can remember.”

Check out the full recap of my last deep dive into saddle fitting here. 

Let me just say, that when you outline it like that… you get some crazy looks from your newest saddle fitter.

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Super cool saddle… Didn’t come CLOSE to fitting her

Saddle fitter “oooook. I am surprised you didn’t like the black country saddles.”

Me “Well… the one that the rep sent me was way too small. I have picture evidence!”

At least she agreed that it was definitely too narrow for May. Her recommendation was to find a black country in the width/seat size I needed, and we could reflock it to get it perfect. She isn’t the first saddle rep to suggest this brand to me, so I decided to take a look.

did ask her what model of their saddles would be best for me. Her response, “Your specs are going to be hard to find, so just start there.” Yeah… no. I already have a saddle I don’t love for ME, so I am not going to buy another one.

Fine, so I turn to black country’s website. You know, the place that should explain the differences between their models. Right?

At first, it started out pretty good. Below is the description for the Wexford:

The Wexford is a deep-seated jumping saddle, similar to the GP range, though offering a wider seat for comfort than most traditional jump saddles.

This saddle comes with large supporting knee and thigh blocks for the ultimate in rider security and an extra forward flap option for the taller rider.

The panel and tree combinations within this saddle allow for a multitude of profiles.

Now of course, I remember I sat in the Wexford, and it put me in a bit of a chair seat, so I am crossing it off. (Thank you blogging and making tags for stuff.)

So let’s look at the Quantum.

The Quantum Jumping saddle is built on a close contact tree and panel, it gives a flatter seat required for stadium or cross country jumping. Knee and thigh blocks to support your position. This is also available with an extra forward cut flap, for taller riders.

I mean… alright. A flatter seat. That is somewhat helpful. Except, it looks like this:

Not what I call a flat seat

So by flatter… did you just mean flatter than a GP? Huh…

Then I remember that I had really liked the Solare. So is that similar to the Quantum?

We are proud to introduce you to the new Solare Jump Saddle – ideal for those riders looking for a quality saddle and the latest innovations.

Made with vintage leather, the Solare offers excellent value for money with the saddle combining cutting edge design and technology providing riders of all levels and ability with a close contact saddle and a forward-fitting seat that allows freedom of movement.

Custom-made as always, this saddle has a discreet knee roll providing support without blocking the leg position whilst the forward cut flaps help the rider’s balance and security.

I…. what? The above tells me nothing about the saddle. So… then I jumped down to the solare monoflap. (Nearly impossible to find in my specs but hey, a girl can dream.)

Providing an outstanding closeness to your horse, the Vinici Solare jumping saddle is certainly one that stands out from the crowd.

This saddle is high-spec throughout and has been developed to incorporate the well-established Vinici single/mono flap design.

Feeling at one with your horse is key to success and the hugely popular Vinici design has now also been developed into a jumping saddle with a slimline, one-piece tree making it ultra-lightweight.

This superb saddle incorporates the highly regarded flexible overlay girthing system with the straps lying on top of the panel, helping to aid rider-feel.

Designed to enhance rider position when show jumping, the Vinici Solare is a fantastic example of the craftsmanship and technological advances available today.

Really? Does anyone care about all the marketing speak? I get it. They want you to talk to their reps in order to buy their saddles. (Upsell! Upsell! Upsell!) However, it is a really frustrating experience when you already know that you don’t like the rep in your area, AND you have limited funds to try all their models without the support of a rep.

I figure it is worth comparing this to the Stubben saddle explanations:

The S Roxane is a deep jump seat, square cantle saddle that features matching panels and large blocks in both the front and rear. It offers great security while using softer leather on the layered fronts to provide for a very comfortable ride.

Starting at $3,695.

The Ascend offers a classic hunter coupled with the advanced technology of Stübben spring tree at an affordable price point. It features an extra soft seat with a narrow twist and square cantle. The nicely padded smooth fronts combined with the versatility of our velcro block system allows the rider to choose the level of support desired. The rich redwood colored leather, complimented by a soft contrast stitching, offers an immediate broken in feel.

The hunter rider will experience an effortless, close-contact feeling with the controlled performance of this exquisite creation by Stübben.

Starting price of $2,495.

Alright so… You can see through these two examples that the Roxanne is a deeper, more secure saddle. Probably better for fox hunting. Meanwhile, the Ascend has a more narrow twist and is probably better for jumping in the ring, but with more support than a more traditional jumper saddle.

So while I continue to try and sell my Dressage saddle, I will probably keep the Black Country Solare in the back of my mind. I LOVED the bliss, but the chance to save $1000+ and still end up with a great saddle… that is hard to pass up.

So what do you all think? Do you think this is a purposeful tactic on Black Country’s part to encourage people to use their reps? Or do you think it is just a marketing person gone haywire? Ooooorrrr Does this type of thing not bother you at all?

Let me know your thoughts!

May’s Weirdest Injury

Timehop decided to remind me that its been four years since we diagnosed May’s weirdest injury ever. All of the below happened back in 2015… about 3 months after I bought May. It is worth noting that she was barefoot at the time.

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❤️ #may #palomino #draftcross #ponylove

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08/31 – Rode May. Sound and happy.

9/2 – Farrier Visit

9/3 – Grade 4 lame on the left front. Worked lightly for 10 minutes to evaluate and get a baseline. Horse put away. No heat, swelling, or other symptoms.

9/5 – Grade 2 lame on left front. Only worked for 15 minutes with limited turning.

9/6 – Grade 1 lame on left front. Rode horse in boots for 20 minutes. (Pics of boots below… these are STILL going strong!)

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Because she's not spoiled enough… #easyboot #may #princesspony

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9/10 – Grade 2 lame on left front. Rode in boots but more consistently lame than previously. I was convinced that her toe felt a bit soft. Began soaking and wrapping foot. (assumed diagnosis at this point is abscess or stone bruise)

9/12 – Grade 2 lame. Continuing to soak and wrap. Buuuuut the hoof no longer felt soft.

9/13 – Grade 2 lame.

9/16 – Grade 2 lame. Coronary band swollen. Now thinking it might be an abscess that will pop through coronary band. (could explain the VERY Lame, less lame, more lame pattern)

9/18 – Grade 2 lame. Vet visit with x-rays.

Final diagnosis? May had a piece of gravel jammed up into her white line. Given the size and location, we decided not to extract it.

 

Yup… It was a bit clearer in the original copy… but that was our issue…

Instead, we continued to soak and wrap until I was convinced her foot was going to disintegrate. At that point, I stopped the soaking and let the hoof harden back up. By that point, the gravel had disintegrated on its own, and we went back to riding as if nothing had ever happened.

Oh so… are you all wondering by now how I had such detailed info FOUR YEARS after the event? I was the crazy lady that had a post-it note going with all this info.

What about you? What’s the strangest injury your horse has ever had?

Blog Hop – 10 Questions for September

Kentucky is still going through it’s final tantrum of summer, and my knee is still a bit out of whack. Soooo when Viva Carlos posted a blog hop, I just had to jump in. 🙂

1. Favorite quirk your horse (or a horse you’ve spent time with) has?

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This is not a good habit. It is not a habit I condone… but May’s proclivity for escaping and causing zero trouble is somehow endearing haha. I am sure my trainer is rolling her eyes so hard at this, because it is a terrible habit. BUT she doesn’t “break out” of her stall. She only sneaks out if her stall guard isn’t fully attached, sooooo I think it’s cute. Honestly, other than that, she’s a pretty business-like mare.
2. Three adjectives that perfectly describe your horse?

Opinionated, pretty, confident

May isn’t a conventional beauty. She’s more like Ashley Graham. Aka – part of her beauty is her total confidence in herself. It makes her a fun eventing partner for sure!

3. Plan your next ride. What will you do/work on?

Ahahahaha well… someone on COTH called me out for my fat horse. (fun times) Sooo I think we will be doing a fitness ride tonight. She got a bit ribby in June, so we upped her forage. Then I got busy with work/travel/life, so her work load dropped a bit and BOOM fat mare. We pulled back the calories and are increasing the workload to help her be a bit more fit for Team Challenge next month.

4. Have you ever trained an OTTB? If yes, what was the biggest challenge?

A straight off the track OTTB? Nope. As I mentioned before, I have ridden lots and lots of green horses. From 3 yr old pony’s just being broke to saddle, to older horses of the slaughter truck bound for Mexico. Training horses is definitely one of those “learn on the job” type of things. Experience is exactly what you get 30 seconds after you need it.

Here is a video (MANY YEARS LATER) of one of the Welsh Cobs I started. He turned into a pretty cool dude!

5. Have you ever groomed or worked for a professional rider?

I have spent a lot of time as a barn rat… I used to go to HITS Saugerties, Old Salem, etc as a groom for friends. Since moving to eventing, I have tried to get to events to support pros and friends. However, true groom/working student situation? Not something I was able to do.

6. Favorite horse and rider combination?

Oh man. I know she is having a huge year right now, but I loved Beezie Madden & Judgement. He was a horse that just looked like he LOVED show jumping. The higher, harder, and more technical the jumps got. The better he was. SUCH a cool horse, and of course, I have major respect for her and her program.

7. Have you ever ridden a horse at the beach?

Yes! Actually, in the Grand Cayman Islands. They heard I could ride (big mistake mom), so I got this spicy little mare. Who I ADORED. Gosh I wish I knew where the photos were from that, but it was an amazing day.

The Grand Cayman Islands are a British colony, so I was actually fairly impressed with their horsemanship for what resources they had available. This was YEARS ago, but it looks like they are still around and still have nicely fed ponies: http://ponies.ky/ 

8. If you could experience the equestrian community (i.e. ride and compete) in another country, what country would you choose and why?

Ireland or England. And I would foxhunt. I would probably die, but I would die with a smile on my face.

9. In your opinion, what is an item of tack that is given unnecessary hype?

This was actually a hard one for me. I think that all horses are individuals and what is useless to you and your horse might be a godsend to someone else. I guess I will say like lorenzini stirrups are probably something I don’t get. I have seem many on resale pages for a lot less than their purchase value due to the paint scratching and chipping.

I will take my MDC Stirrups any day. Had to look up the instagram post when I got them… turns out, they predate May! Next month they will be 5 years old, and they still look this good. To me, that’s a great purchase!

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Oh hey beautiful

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10. What was the first horse you rode called? Are they still alive?

Aww Frisbee. He was OLD when I rode him, and that was… 23 years ago. Unfortunately, he passed away like 3 days before my first show. He was a saint of a horse, and I am 100% sure he is in the best part of heaven.

Stacie also did this blog hope, and I look forward to seeing more of y’all answers!

A Forward and Open Jumping Lesson

I should probably start this recap with full disclosure that Kentucky surprised us with second summer that day, AND I was riding in a new-to-me saddle. To break that down, KY went from 80 degree, beautiful fall-like days to a 99 degree day with 60% humidity… just in time for my lesson. Fun time.

As for the saddle, a friend of a friend is trying to sell her Barnsby Diablo saddle. When she mentioned it was an 18″ seat and a generous MW tree (that needs the flocking adjusted), I was semi curious. Then, I found out that it was already on the property that my trainer was at and… I figured it didn’t hurt to give it a try.

 

Awkward angle, but you get the idea. Much deeper seat with much larger blocks.

Again, the flocking needs to be changed to fit May, but I was fairly happy with the shape on her. Honestly, getting in a saddle like this was such a weird feeling. It is CUSHY and COMFORTABLE and has big blocks in it. So different from my fairly minimal Stubben. I warmed up quickly on the flat, just getting a feel for getting into and out of the new saddle. May seemed comfortable in it with no sucking back or crow hopping.

We warmed up over a very small vertical, just looping back and forth over it. Then we made it a big bigger and all seemed to be going well. The first exercise was the first jump of both my courses. It was an oxer set kind of awkwardly off the rail with a placement pole three strides out and then another on stride out.

At first, I was a bit like… ummm what? with this exercise. It just seemed really random. Then I rode it and oh hahaha ok. So the point of it was that  you really had to come FORWARD through the corner and maintain your own straightness to get the distance/line/jump. You couldn’t turn and then get straight because then you would miss to the first pole. You also couldn’t suck back and then go forward because of that pole. Man, this one really instilled the whole lesson in one little exercise. You have to love that.

Once we nailed that, it got put up a bit, and we went and did our first course. Again, we started with that oxer exercise then moved into a straight line then a bending line. Fairly standard stuff.

Things I did well… we are working on moving May more forward and open between jumps and then just regulating the balance and straightness too the jumps versus still trying to create energy as I jump into lines. Overall, I felt like this honestly gave me much better distances (except to the last fence, which I conveniently cut out from the insta video… gif just for you).

Things I could have done better… I struggle with not just getting out

of the saddle and cruising. Is this a weird thing? Like I get up… and then don’t know how to use my leg lol. I am not sure if this feeling is partially the saddle being so much more than what I am used to or if this is an ingrained habit. Something to work on.

Also, since I am jumping in with more impulsion. I don’t then need to CHASE her down the lines like I did over the last fence. If I had just maintained balance and rhythm, it would’ve ridden better. Oh well. Good horse.

The second course was similar, but we bent to the right after the pink and then did the liverpool the other way to finish up over the blue and purple oxer.

Not totally sure what was up with that first line… She went to fade right on me. I corrected and pulled her off the lead in front. Oh well, all is well that ends well. The yellow&orange and red,white&blue, jumps went up a bit, but they still rode great.

My line from pink to orange&yellow wasn’t maybe the best line, but after she blew me off turning to the pink, I really didnt want her to just keep falling through that right shoulder. That change set us up almost TOO well for the liverpool to oxer line…. since she moved off my right leg better than I was expecting and we faded left… making that line a bit long.

Honestly though? I was super happy with it. We feel more than ready for BN next month. As for the saddle? Jury is still out. I think it is better than what I have, but it doesn’t make my butt sing like the bliss monoflap did. That being said… it’s well within my current price range, AND I did feel more secure when things weren’t quite right… vs. feeling thrown out of the Stubben and having to scramble to get back into it. I would like a saddle fitter to see it before I make any decisions, for sure.

So lots of change this lesson, but I think we handled it really well. Do you feel like making changes in your riding/equipment leads to immediately improvement? Or does it just always feel kind of weird at first but better later?

Lots of Ponies – Zero of May

This weekend ended up being FULL of ponies. I think I spent 6 hours or so at the barn (or a barn). And yet, after Friday night, I rode for exactly 0 minutes. Perhaps a total of 30 seconds, but none of those seconds were on May.

Hold on, let me explain.

May was a perfect pony for our easy hack on Friday night. My plan was for a nice slow/long hack on Friday night and then a good Dressage ride on Saturday.

Saturday, I showed up just as my friend was finishing the morning barn chores. She has a new horse that I have wanted to climb on (riding other horses is a rare treat now!), so that was our plan. We would warm up our own horses, then swap for fun. She has ridden May a few times, and they get along great.

So I am following my friend out of the barn. She goes to get on her new horse (NH), and I notice he looks a touch tense. But he is kind of a worrier by nature. She had just ridden him on Thursday evening, and he had been great.

She got on, and he stepped away. No big deal. She went to get her right stirrup, and he EXPLODED. He started leaping and spinning with his head between his knees. My friend finally came off when his hind end slipped out from under him. It was NOT a soft fall as she went head over heels and landed on her tailbone. OUCH!

I dragged May after me as I tried to catch NH. He didn’t go too far, but seemed pretty upset by everything. I handed my friend May, and I led NH back to the mounting block. At this point, I am not sure what is going on, but I knew that is an unacceptable reaction.

Let me remind you all that it has been… many years since I have ridden green/unmade horses. However, there was a time in my life where I broke babies, climbed on horses straight off the slaughter truck bound for Mexico, and rode whatever horse in the barn no one else would ride. Because I was a barn rat who was DESPERATE for rides.

Luckily though, that tool box is FULL from DECADES of being that barn rat. So I pulled NH back to the mounting block. He tried to be a bit rude, swinging his body into me and trying to knock me off the mounting block, so he got a firm, but calm correction. He stood next to the mounting block, and I waited until he was relaxed.

Alright… I stood next to him on the mounting block and assessed what I have. I have a horse with a pretty rank reaction to being mounted. Soooo let’s start with a basic. I will just lay on him and make sure he will accept my weight. I jump up and down on the mounting block to make sure that wouldn’t freak him out (he could’ve cared less.) I pushed on the saddle to make sure he was comfortable holding weight. (no reaction). Alright, so I jump up and lay myself across his back. You know… standard baby-breaking stuff.

He tenses up for a second. Looks at me in his right eye. Once he sees me, he gives me that “ok crazy human, whatever” look. Not a bad reaction, and absolutely ZERO reaction to my weight other than being a bit confused. He relaxes quickly tho, so I think I am ok. I then reach down towards the right stirrup, and he EXPLODES again. Throwing me off of him and onto the ground. Cool.

May when she realized she wasn’t going to have to work. 

He takes off… and I had to walk him down for a solid 10 minutes. At this point, I am fairly happy about my decision to wear a cheap t-shirt and my cheapest breeches. (Don’t ask me why… this was just a lucky coincidence.) My friend put May on crossties, and met me back by the field. At this point, I finally get a hold of NH’s rein. I look him all over and, other than having rotated a brushing boot with his antics, seems fine….

Ok… I check the saddle on that side. No pinching. No reaction under the saddle. I slip my hand under his girth, and he LEAPS up again and tries to get away from me. Cool. I loosen the girth a bit. He has plenty of withers, so the saddle slipping isn’t much of a worry.

I walk him back to the mounting block, and I ask my friend to get a lunge line. This way, at least, he can’t keep running away from us. I then work on desensitizing both sides of him. Rubbing him everywhere. Flapping the saddle around. He starts off VERY reactive, but over the next half hour seems to relax.

I put the mounting block on his offside and work from there. I stand on both sides and reach to the other side. I jump up and down. I put weight on the saddle. I flap the stirrups around. I lean over him and rub the offside . Every time he relaxes, he gets a release of pressure. Again, pretty standard baby breaking stuff.

At this point, I am fairly convinced that something is going on physically. So my goal is literally to get him to accept weight (pressure on the saddle seems fine), and take a couple of calm steps away from the mounting block. Explosions do not get rewarded with being put back in your field.

So after about a half hour of working with him, I go to lay on him again. (no way am I putting a foot in a stirrup). He explodes again. Depositing me back on my feet annnnd managing to tweak my knee in the process. Cool.

My friend takes him into the arena to lunge for a bit (maybe 5 min total), and I untacked May and put her away. He lunged like a PRO. Calm and listening and relaxed both directions. I made her do a couple of transitions over again, where I felt they weren’t as relaxed as they could be. We go through the whole sacking out process again in the arena. I finally lay on him, and he lets me do it. I get off. I lay on him again. Calm again. Each time he is calm, we reward him by letting him walk quietly away from the mounting block. Each time he goes to blow past the mounting block, he gets calmly backed up and represented. When he is good, he gets LOTS of praise.

Finally, I was able to lay on him, and he took 2, calm steps. I got off slowly, praised him, and put him away. I told my friend, I could have tried getting on him all the way, but I would recommend treating him for ulcers and trying again another day. Luckily, she agreed with me and thanked me for at least getting him to a good place to end his day.

Pretty sure this is how NH felt after he realized he wasn’t going to get back to his field after the first rider-launch.

I think there is a fine line between making sure horses feel their best in work and making sure their training sets a clear picture of expectations. I don’t think NH has ever had to work through any kind of discomfort, and while I don’t think horses should be expected to work through pain, their reaction to pain cannot be to force-ably remove their riders.

But it DOES mean that we dialed expectations WAY BACK on Saturday. We found a place where he could be successful, and we let him end there. We didn’t lunge him to death or beat him or chase him around the arena until he was sweaty and exhausted and just gave in because he physically couldn’t fight us anymore. We took it WAY BACK to basics and worked on relaxation and a thinking brain (vs. a reactive one).

I am sure that with a solid vet check and some ulcer meds, he will be back to his usual unicorn-pony ways. That being said, I am very thankful that I can hop on my own pony tonight.

For the record, I did get my friend’s permission to tell this story. It is 100% against my policy to talk about others on the blog without their express consent.

As for Sunday, I decided to give my knee the day off, and I went to support one of my barn-mates at a local show. She did awesome, and a bunch of us made a fun afternoon out of it. 🙂

Scribing at AECs – Judge Feedback at Novice

First of all, your first time Dressage scribing probably shouldn’t be a full day of championships… but I did all my homework and practiced a bit so that I would be ready to do my best for the 49 riders in my ring! (Serious apologies to anyone after the first 15 riders. I never knew my hand could actually go numb and stop obeying me like that!)

The day started VERY early with a 4:45AM wake-up call so that I could get to my check-in point at the Kentucky Horse Park by the appointed 6:30AM ride time. Luckily, it was an absolutely gorgeous morning. My judge was right on time, and she was wonderful to work with. She left A LOT  of comments (3 – 4 per box a lot of the time!), but it was clear she was doing it because she recognized how hard each competitor worked to get to AECs and wanted them to have some valuable insight.

The great part of all those comments is that I could see some theme reoccurring. Below are the five most common comments she had for competitors doing Novice B:

1. Circles Don’t Have Corners

I think a lot of our riders internalized their trainers warning them to make their circles bit and to stay in the corners… Unfortunately, when you have a circle, there are no corners. Riding deep into the corner when your circle starts at A or C is really obvious and ruins the geometry.

how I feel trying to ride a 20M circle

2. Stiff in Transitions

Up or down between any gaits. This comment came up a lot. It was pretty clear a lot of riders spent a lot of time doing the movements, but not necessarily the transitions between those movements. As a result, either the rider or the horse (or both) were weak through the transitions, causing stiffness.

3. Proper Frame

My judge took a minute to discuss the frame she was looking for at this level. Still stretched into the bridle, but horses starting to move a bit more uphill than you would expect from BN. We saw many horse’s either still on their forehand (including a few who forged), ducked behind the contact, or in a frame too tight/high for the level. Being too high/tight for the level didn’t necessarily mean less points, but it did typically mean that the horse’s gaits weren’t as open as they could be.

Curling behind the contact was by far the greater sin, as the judge really wanted to see that horses were seeking the contact.

img_1791
I would argue this is pretty close. If anything, I would want May’s withers a bit higher and her throat-latch a bit more open. 

4. Sitting off Center

My judge was very aware of when riders were positioned off of center, and she called them out on it. She wanted to see riders in the middle of their saddles so that they could be the most efficient.

how your horse feels when you lean off center

5. Stretchy, Rhythm, Power from Behind

In the free walk, she was consistently looking for three things: was the horse stretching? Was the rhythm consistent and correct (forward but not running)? And was the horse powering forward from behind?

Many riders had one or two. Rhythm was good and power form behind, but not enough stretch, or good stretch and good power from behind, but the rhythm was quick/rushed. Honestly, just reminding myself of these three things on Friday helped me get a much better free walk out of May. (Honestly, I wanted to find a picture of this one, but I couldn’t find one where the horse wasn’t ducking behind the contact)

except… more active?

Overall, it was a long day, but I really appreciated having such a great judge. She was fair across the board, and we spent a good amount of time talking about the give and take of balancing the accurate/obedient ride vs. the flashy ride at the lower levels.

Luckily, I was done scribing around 2:30PM, so I got some free time! I got to meet Jack and Britt after their great Dressage test! And then I got to walk the Novice/BN XC courses.

I will say, and I might get into this more in another post, I ended up submitting an event evaluation after the event. I think the volunteers and staff did a WONDERFUL job keeping our ring on time and moving. However, I think that the involvement of EEI skewed the whole event in favor of the upper level riders, which in my opinion, is like spitting in the face of the lower levels.