First XC Schooling of 2016

I try to set achievable goals before every significant riding event (i.e. a show, clinic, off property schooling, etc). For me this does two things: First, it gives me something to concentrate on other than any nerves that pop up. It doesn’t 100% eliminate my nerves, but it’s good to have concrete things to focus on. It also gives me a realistic benchmark with which to evaluate how things went. I am a bit of a perfectionist, so I can easily become disappointed when things do not go according to plan. Unfortunately, this happens even when I have a ride that was a huge improvement for me and my horse. 
So, before we went out for our first cross country schooling of the season, I set a few easy goals. May, while usually really well behaved, had only been off the property once since October, and I fell off. (One day I’ll post about that story.) As a result, I wanted to make sure my goals were simple and achievable. Here’s how it went!

 
1. Make Sure My Horse Leaves Feeling Confident

May decided to take this one into her own hands and change it to “Make all the Thoroughbreds Look Boring”. The first jump that we all jumped was a 2’ log with a fairly flat and straight forward approach. One of the other girls, a good friend of mine, went first with her 6yo, OTTB. This horse is super fancy, amazingly athletic, and loooooves cross country. And she stopped at the log. I wish I could say that my nerves didn’t kick into high gear seeing someone else get a stop, but they totally did. They did make it over and after that had pretty smooth sailing over the rest of the day. 
However, then it was my turn. I turned to the log and closed my leg. May took a huge leap over that log and celebrated with some “bucking” on the other side. (I am not sure May knows how to buck. She just puts her head down low and tries to get her butt off the ground. She’s only done this twice and only when she thinks something is super exciting).
After that, May pretty much just wanted to run and jump. At one point, she even ran away with me, as fast as her corgi legs can take her. Of course, I am the worst person when I get run away with because I just start laughing too hard to ride effectively. By the end of the day, you couldn’t have convinced May that she was not the most athletic horse on the field. May gets the A here. I steered, she jumped. 

  
2. Keep Riding Even When Nervous

I have gotten into this horrible habit of getting nervous and just kind of blacking out. It was a habit I originally picked up when I was much younger, and I thought I had gotten over it. Apparently not. 
However, I did succeed in this. After an easy warm up over some of the starter fences, we turned towards some of the BN fences. This one was 3 boulders with two logs running across them forming a bit of a square oxer with fillers. It was a downhill approach to a very looky fence. Bless my trainer, because it took me a solid 7 minutes to figure out my approach to it, pick up a canter, and actually jump it. However, when I started coming towards it, and May thought out exited stage left, I kept my left leg on, sat up tall, and pushed her over it. It wasn’t the most beautiful jump we had all day, but I made it happen. 
May thought about running around one more fence on the course, this super wide Coupe, but as long I steered, we jumped. Giving this one an A!

  

  
3. Not Using the Words “Nervous” or “Scary” and Eliminate Negative Self Talk

So I slipped on this one once, but just once! I read somewhere that changing your language helps change how you perceive challenges. I am not sure if this is true, but I will admit that my negative self talk has become a serious problem. I am not the world’s best rider, but I am completely competent to achieve the goals I am setting out to do right now. (aka Beginner Novice)
Even though I slipped up a bit, it was a huge improvement over the constant negative talk that has somehow overtaken my lessons. So I am giving myself a B on this one. (now to decide if that counts as negative self talk)

  
4. Put the Skills I Learned In the Ring To Use In The Field

About an hour and a half into cross country schooling, I felt like a failure at this one. Sure we were jumping everything, but I wasn’t able to get an effective half halt or truly rebalance May off of her forehand for more than the last two or three strides before a fence. Anyone who rides a draft cross should understand my struggles here. When they get rolling, it typically is a downhill kind of roll. 
However, my trainer kept encouraging me to rock my weight back and half halt one rein at a time. To keep my leg on to encourage her to give laterally. And suddenly, at the last three or four fences, I had my hunter-like eventer back. We loped over the last jumps in a solid rhythm and were able to hold that rhythm uphill and downhill. Overall, super happy. This gets an A. 

  
Needless to say, at the end of the day I was on cloud 9. I think I told my poor fiance every detail at least twice. I am beginning to think he comes to these things just so that he doesn’t have to hear about them later! We’re hoping to get one more cross country school in at a bigger venue before our first show, and our debut at BN, on April 22nd.

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Dressage – This Thing I Attempt To Do

I would have to say that if someone told me 3 years ago that I would actually love Dressage, I probably would have laughed at them. At that time, my only exposure to Dressage had been one woman I had seen ride only in 20 meters circles for 45 minutes two days a week, being yelled at by her instructor. It didn’t look fun, and I just wrote it off as something I personally just wasn’t that into. After all, I like to jump!
Then I took my first lesson with my current trainer on one of her school horses, a little Appaloosa named Neville. (Sorry for the awful photo, it is literally the only one I have of the two of us. Although, there is a video somewhere of him running away with me).

  

Here’s the thing about Neville: either you ask for something correctly or you pretty much get the exact opposite of what you wanted. Want to slow down my pulling on the reins? He might take off with you. Want to turn left by yanking his head left? He will pop his shoulder and go right everytime. It makes him the perfect school horse for those of us who somehow convinced ourselves that we might know how to ride. 

When I got May, the below is what we trotted like when I got her and then after the first month. I see so many problems with this, but the biggest ones are of course being on the forehand, not having my leg on, and not tracking up behind.

  
In contrast, this was at the end of the season last year, so roughly five months of work. Of course, it’s not a perfect picture, but I think it shows a lot of improvement. 
  

We did a lot of transitions. There were days where we had to do a dozen w/t/w transitions to get her off of her forehand before we could even attempt to do anything else, and it took us about 6 months to get a reliable t/c/t transition. Let’s not talk about how there is still no w/c/w transition, However, there is something so rewarding about Dressage, and the development of your horse. Friday was just one of those days where it all seemed to click. No I didn’t miraculously have a w/c/w transition, and yes, she still tried to fall through my left leg on the downward transitions, but she stayed on the outside rein, put a little jump into her canter, and stayed light and off her forehand for almost the entire ride. 

Maybe I finally figured out how to ride her… or maybe she just knew we were going xc schooling on Saturday. More on that next time!

A May As Well Purchase

Since this blog will most likely end up being a journal of all of May’s thoughts and feelings (and how I attempt to deal with them), I figured it would make the most amount of sense to explain how I ended up with a short, palomino mare of unknown origin. 
   

 May is a 10 (or 11 or 9 or something) year old Draft Cross. I was told she is a Belgian/QH cross and that works for me! She was bought pretty much entirely on a whim. At the time, I was trying to sell my previous horse (calling him PH from now on), and it was not going well. He was a sensitive guy who was truly a one-person ride, so he didn’t show well to anyone who came to look at him. PH was big, gray, and super athletic. The problem was: I am a rather short Adult Amatuer who works a very consuming job and might never want to even go Novice and really needs: honey sized, plain, and only athletic enough to save me. 

Enter May. I found her on facebook, when I had just listed my own horse. I emailed back and forth with her current owner, and it sounded like a great fit, if I could sell my current horse. Enter Sangria (the drink not a horse or person or anything)… After a rather long Saturday afternoon of drinking sangria and lamenting to my trainer about how tough it’s going to be to find PH a great home, I threw out the wish that May’s current owner would just trade for May for PH. Trainer, being as wonderful as she is, told me it couldn’t hurt to ask. 

  
12 hours later – we had PH in the trailer and were driving out to see May, check in hand. I rode her and it was… fine. She was super green, and I couldn’t turn her to save my life. However, she seemed as brave and level headed as advertised. The barn seemed nice and the horses were in good condition, so I had no reservations about leaving PH there either.

  

All adults smile like 12yos when they get a new horse, right?

In the end, I didn’t even negotiate, or have a vet check, or a trial, or even a signed bill of sale on either end. We then tried to load May onto the trailer. She was having none of it, wouldn’t even put a hoof on the ramp. Then we brought out a little bucket of grain, and she tried to run me over to get on. I should’ve known that was some serious foreshadowing. As soon as she got home, I was regaled with this majestic creature I had brought home.

  
But true to promise, she walked right into the barn and settled in immediately. The rest… You’ll have to read to find out 🙂