First BN Horse Trial

Do you ever have one of those rides where, just as you begin to swing your leg off the saddle, you realize that this is why you participate in this insane sport? Yeah, that’s basically how the show went.

Let’s back up a bit though. I had the second Dressage time of the day; however since this was an evening show, that made my Dressage time 3:06PM. When we arrive at the show at 1PM, the office wasn’t open yet. As a result, my trainer took me and my friend (also doing BN) to walk our cross country course. It was the first time at this level for both of us, but the course looked reasonable. There was a non-optional water obstacle, and a raised log at the top of a very steep hill, and of course the biggest jump on the whole course was the first one. Overall – it looked doable but definitely a step up from what we had been previously.

The secretary stand opened just as we finished our course walk, so we headed in and picked up our numbers. Our group that was doing the 2’ – 2’3” was now out walking their XC course, so we picked up their pinnies and packets as well. Then, it was time to walk the stadium course.

My friend is a lovely, experienced rider, with a 16.2 thoroughbred with an average to above-average stride length. As a result, she did this lovely thing called walking strides. All the strides were between 5 and 7 strides. About… sort of… Some of them were set with off strides, and there was a bending line that could’ve been ridden off of multiple tracks. I listened to her discussing the striding, but I discussed more my game-plan. I wanted to make sure I kept my right leg on through the turns to the left turns to red diagonal line and the yellow jump on the far side of the ring. I wanted  to keep a forward rhythm that set May up well for the XC round after and gave her plenty of opportunity to jump from the forward stride.

At that point, we started getting ready for Dressage. I opted to ride all three phases in my Albion jumping saddle. It fits May well and I am comfortable in it. This event had set Dressage times, but open windows for Stadium and XC. I knew I could get through Dressage and Stadium fairly quickly, and I wanted May to have a short break before XC. Fitness is a fun game when you have a draft cross.

Our warm up for Dressage wasn’t stellar. I had forgotten my big soft-touch spurs at the barn, so I was using my very small, barely a nub spurs. As a result, we didn’t have the typical lateral movement that I know May can do, and nagging her with my leg only made her tense. Great. Since our lateral work wasn’t great, she kept popping her shoulder in on me going to the left and picking up the wrong lead. Also great. However, she was being calm and consistent and pleasant, so I figured I would just ride the test as accurately as possible without offending her.

The ring was above the schooling ring, next to the XC warm up, and overlooking some trees. May doesn’t care about any of these things. May cares about getting through Dressage so that we can jump some stuff. Our geometry left something to be desired. This was mostly caused by my inability to move May off of my leg in any kind of meaningful way. We got both canter leads, although the right was significantly better than the left. Our free walk was not behind the bit, like it was last time we performed a test at a show, but it was slow with short steps. We then trotted down center line. We had a good turn in. I checked our positioning, asked for walk, and May halted square. This horse pretty much never halts square, so that was super exciting. She stood while I saluted, and I thanked the judge and left.

Overall, I felt the test was a touch conservative, but it was consistent and clean. My trainer was also happy with it. I refused to find out my score before show jumping. I didn’t want to know where I stood. I just wanted to continue to enjoy the day.

The window of opportunity for Stadium ended up getting pushed back a bit, so May and I just wandered around the warmup area. We put her boots on and took some pictures and just hung out. May refuses to drink the water at shows because she thinks it’s poison, so I wanted to make sure she was cooled out without actually letting her stand around to be ready for stadium.

Finally, it was time for my stadium warm up. I jumped one tiny vertical, then jumped a 2’3” oxer. I couldn’t find a spot, but May was forward and game. I asked if I could have it raised another couple of holes, but my trainer told me I should save my jumps. I wanted to argue. Every part of me wanted to insist that I needed to jump more jumps in order to go into the ring, but I didn’t. Confidence comes from doing things slightly outside your comfort zone. My horse was warmed up, and my trainer was right. She didn’t need to jump more stuff, so there was no reason to keep jumping her.

I went into the stadium round with only my fiance and Emily (from my last blog post!) watching. My trainer had three other horses to work with in the warm up ring, and it’s not like she could really help us anyway. I went in and picked up a canter. This canter:

Yes it was big. And it was forward. But come hell or high water, I was not going to mess with it. That was our pace. It wasn’t a scambly bad pace, but it was forward. And you know what? She rewarded me by jumping the first jump like this:

My lovely fiance got a video of the course, which was promptly sent to my trainer once it was uploaded. We got a rail. We missed a lot of spots. But it was forward and by the end, I could tell May was more confident than when we had first stepped into the ring. Below is the video. Overall – I am happy with how I rode. Would it have been better with a professional on board? Sure. Did I learn a lot about May and me? Definitely. It was green, but it was a positive experience.


May and I wandered back to the trailer with my fiance. He is a great pony holder. Boots got changed, I put my vest on, saddle pad got changed, and I promptly forgot my breastplate. Oh well. May was offered more water, but again she didn’t drink. (Any suggestions on how to get a horse to drink water at a horse show?) Once she seemed fully recovered from show jumping, I hopped back on, and headed out to XC. There was a big hill in the warm up area for cross country, so I just had her work up and down that a few times to get warmed up again.

I seriously considered schooling a few more jumps. She had like 45 minutes off, so she must need to school more jumps. I decided against it. She would either be brave to the first jump, or not. Jumping plain sticks in the warm up field would not make a difference. So I put on my big girl panties and turned to go to the start gate. My trainer, who was watching another Dressage test, called out to me to make sure I was ok. I gave her a thumbs up. She then told me to use my stick as my friend had some squirreliness to the first jump. I held it up to show I heard her, and I walked up to the start gate.

Did I mention this was only my third horse trial? And only my second place doing one? And my first Beginner Novice? And the second time May and I have jumped XC jumps this year? None of this was running through my head as the countdown started… because that wouldn’t have been helpful at all. Finally it was “3…2…1 Have a great ride!” and we were off. Below are the first two fences.

Going to the first fence, she thought about falling behind my leg. I tapped her with my stick and she got SUPER offended. Oh well, don’t fall behind my leg then. She jumped the first one fine, and then over jumped the second one like this:

We then went into the woods, jumping a coop in there. Coming out of the woods, we jumped this house:

Then it was a 90 degree left turn (our nemesis) to the water. We never really got the turn and we never really got straight and we had a refusal. Oh well. I straightened out and put my leg on and had no issues on the re approach. In our division, we were one of four with a refusal at the water. Then we picked up the canter again. We passed my friend, who had just finished her course, so she got a wave as I just let May gallop along. There was no time involved for this schooling show, so I let May do what felt comfortable for her. It wasn’t scambly or nervous, just forward, so I went with it. We jumped a raised log, then had a start right turn to a steep hill going down. The hill immediately came back up to a small raised log. This was definitely an obstacle May had never seen before, but I shift my weight back at the top of the hill, kept my leg on, and kept a following hand so she could look at it. She did, and we got a cool picture to show for it:

There were two more raised logs in the little valley that we sailed right over. Then there was a huge hill going up before the last two jumps. My trainer had recommended I really encourage her to gallop there to keep her from dying out on me. So I asked her to gallop and Oh Man did she comply! Here’s the thing about Draft Crosses (especially Draft/QH crosses) when they actually engage their large booties, they are so very powerful. May carried us up that entire hill, and I actually had to ask her to come back to me before the last two fences. My lovely fiance ran across the cross country field to capture the end of the round. And yes, that is me breathlessly telling her to whoa at the end of the course. She still had plenty of gas in the tank, and I have to tell you, these fences looked tiny by the end of the course.

At the end of the day, we ended up 6th. We were tied for first after our Dressage score (which is super exciting to me) but our greenness in Stadium and XC cost us 24 points. Overall, I am super happy with how it ended up. We both had an awesome time, and I felt like we accomplished our goals.

Speaking of goals, below is my goal recap:

  1. Finish with a Number not a Letter: Did this! We ended up with a final score of 54.3. A great benchmark for the rest of the season!
  2. Do Not Use Negative Self-Talk: I didn’t say anything negative about myself at all. I was proud of my rides and positive in my abilities.
  3. Focus on Relaxation and Rhythm: Needs more forward was written more than once on my Dressage score, but it was consistent and fluid. Overall, we scored our best score yet of 30.3, and received a comment about us being a lovely pair!
  4. Enjoy It: Did this. I was completely wired and on a high for several hours after the competition ended. Luckily, my fiance really just enjoys seeing me happy, so he listed to me recap my rides practically on loop the whole way home.


Things not on the list (but I decided to discuss anyway).

  1. A Certain Dressage Score: Again, we got our best Dressage score ever, even without having the best ride we could have. I would like to end up in the 20s this year, but the focus is definitely going to be on the jumping in the near future.
  2. Clean Jumping Rounds: We got one rail, and we had a refusal at the water. I am not heartbroken about either of these things (or even really bothered by them), but they are things I would like to improve.
  3. Make My Trainer Proud: I think I did this. My trainer and I had a bit of a disagreement about this show. I wanted to go right to BN, and she wanted me to get my feet wet at the 2’ – 2’3” level. To give some reference, we had a ton of rails in Show Jumping at our last starter level HT in October. In February, we went to a clinic, participated in the BN section, and I fell off. We did OK at our XC schooling last month, but I only got to jump one or two full sized BN fences. After the show though, we both agreed at the end that BN was the right move for this show.
  4. Win: We did win the Dressage! That makes me super proud. May is not the fanciest horse. She isn’t a big, flashy warmblood, so it was really cool to see all of our hard work pay off. The jumping stuff with come with hard work and experience. Then, we will worry about winning events.



Lessons Learned & Show Goals

How do I prepare for the first horse show of the season? I go on vacation the weekend before!b Not really, but my mother planned the fiance and I an engagement party in Florida last weekend. Of course, the timing could have been better, but it was a wonderful weekend and the parents met one another and even got along!


While I was away, May got to go on a trail ride with one of the working students. Then on Saturday, a friend of mine,also named Emily, rode her in a lesson. Emily had ridden May at the end of last summer, so I was excited to hear how she felt about the improvements May has made. Emily is also basically the equivalent of Valium for horses (aka – she has the opposite of my electric seat). Emily & May had a great lesson where they wore pink and loped around the ring like Hunters. Fun for all. (With her permission, here are some pictures of Emily & May).


When I showed up for my lesson on Monday, my trainer promptly reminded me of all of this. She also told me to stop worrying about distances and counting strides and to just keep a relaxed, steady rhythm. Also, to keep my behind in the saddle and my legs on my horse. The result? It was 95% almost too slow. Perfect. Oddly enough, May also started landing on the correct leads, so she was landing more balanced. Ok. It’s not that odd. I wasn’t messing with her face as much, so she wasn’t flinging her head around, so we weren’t losing our balance and chucking ourselves over fences. Good to know, let pony mare figure out the jumping thing. I will do the whole right line, right rhythm thing.


Below is a video of this part of our lesson (watch on mute). Sorry for the awful quality. iPhone videos and all that.


 Yes, at one point I am yelling something about keeping my large behind in the saddle. It worked, and I sat better. Note to self: talk to yourself during jumping rounds. The next day I went up and rode by myself. The jumps were set small int he 2′ – 2’3″ range, so I just let May lope around. I practices sitting in the saddle, keeping my leg on, and I sang “La dee da dee” on loop the whole time. May stayed nice and relaxed and hunter like, which brings me to my show goals.
Our first show is Friday, and it will be our debut at the BN level. This is a schooling event that has the words “Courses are considered schooling or ‘move-up’ and are not built to the maximum height and width requirements” written on the prizelist. Sounds like my kind of BN. My goals are as follows:


  1. Finish with a Number not a Letter: Pretty self explanatory. Do not get eliminated or quit.
  2. Do Not Use Negative Self-Talk: At all. I am not nervous, I am excited. That is not a huge jump, it is a reasonable effort. I did not screw up; I found something we need to work on. My pony is not a Corgi, she is an elegant gazelle (or something I guess).
  3. Focus on Relaxation and Rhythm: This is true for all three phases. I am ok with our first Dressage test having the dreaded “Needs More Energy” written on it. At our last show, we got a comment about tension that I would like to nip in the bud. For jumping, I might just sing “La Dee Da Dee” to myself the whole way around the courses.
  4. Enjoy It: Show off my pony and our skills to the best of our ability while actually having fun. I want to cheer on my barn mates and laugh with my fiance.

Things not on the list:

  1. A Certain Dressage Score: Since our last show, we have made huge improvements to our canter work. However, I have been very careful not to drill any Dressage work lately, so that improvement could be a wash since our trot work likely will not score any 8s again. I want the first show to be a metric that we can use to base further improvements off of.
  2. Clean Jumping Rounds: If we get rails, we get rails. If I try for one of the bank/ditch/water options and get a refusal, that’s not the end of the world. Like the Dressage score above, this is just a barometer for the rest of the year. I am going to ride like I stole it and come away with issues to work on.
  3. Make My Trainer Proud: Maybe one day I will write a full post on this one. However, I think a lot of riders put a lot of pressure on themselves to not embarrass their trainer. I know I do. Of course, I managed to eat dirt in front of my trainer’s trainer a couple of months ago, so I am not sure I could embarrass her more. At the end of the day, I take work hard, am nice to the other boarders, pay my bills on time, and care about my horse. That’s all my trainer really wants from me.
  4. Win: One day, I would like this to be our goal. Our first BN horse trial is not the day for this goal.


Stay tuned for a recap after Friday!

Why Horses Are A Lifestyle

I promise this isn’t going to be a post lamenting about all of the hair in my car right now because it is shedding season. (why didn’t I buy a dark bay horse??) I think at one point or another, every Adult Amatuer is forced to make the decision about how seriously they want to pursue this sport, and it is definitely something that is buzzing around my head. 

At my lesson yesterday morning, May came out a bit tense and forward. It had gotten cold again and we were riding outside. However, I still put her in the Neue Schule boucher and put on my large soft touch spurs. Why? Because I need to ride more from my leg and, until I get my hands under control, I do not dare use a stronger bit. One of my biggest problems lately is May likes to fall in to the right. To counteract this, I lean left. This is not the right way to fix a leaning problem, so we did some Dressage work on a 20M circle to start out, just getting her off my right leg and lifting through that shoulder. It took us a while, but we figured it out. Then we got right to jumping. 

The course wasn’t set particularly large, right at BN height. For the most part, the ride was fine. However, she still gets so scambly (technical term) when I try to open up her stride. It is especially obvious through the one-stride combination, where we have to gun it to get the step and then she is completely unbalanced through the corner. (See above video) Eventually, after being yelled at several times, I connected my hind end to the saddle and closed my leg to engage her hind end and close her legs; instead of trying to haul her large head up with my hands. Shocking how that works… 
Basically at the end of the lesson, both May and I were falling apart. My trainer gave us some strong words about how our fitness needs to improve and how I need to get to the barn more often. So this is where the whole Lifestyle thing comes into play:

I, like a lot of AA riders, have a 9 – 5 job (more like 8:30 – 6 on a good day) with at least one night event a month. The barn is 45-60 min from work and 35 minutes from home. I am also recently engaged and planning a wedding while my fiance is in the process of moving in. No big deal, except, it means I have only been riding 3 – 4 days per week, when I really need to be in the saddle for at least 45 minutes 5 – 6 days a week. Did I mention I am also going to Florida this week for an engagement party? Sooo typical day ends up looking like this:

6AM – alarm goes off

6:30AM – finally out of bed

7:45AM – off to work

8:30AM – 6PM – Work

6PM – 7PM – Drive to Barn

7PM – 7:15PM – Tack up 

7:15PM – 8PM – Ride

8PM – 8:15PM – Untack

8:15PM – 9PM – Drive Home


Of course, I also want to start getting to the gym 3 days a week, so that schedule would start at more like 5. I know for some people, this is a total reasonable day-to-day schedule, but I am very conscious of giving myself breaks to avoid burnout. And, this schedule doesn’t allow for really any time with my family or fiance or extra work events. Of course, if I end up stuck at work until 7, that seriously throws off the whole plan… I am going to give it a try for the couple of days I have this week and then all of next week. Maybe a weekend day will end up being my day away from barn. 
How do you all handle your jobs/lives/horses?

Hunter & Dressage Day

I arrived to the barn on Tuesday night at well after 6:30. Only one other person was there, and she was just walking out the door. I wished her a good night and started getting set up on the crossties. May watched me from her stall door as I grabbed all of her things, making sure she didn’t miss an opportunity for more hay I’m sure.  


She was perfect on the crossties with none of the sass that had been apparent on Saturday, so far so good. I opted out of using my ogilvy halfpad. I really like it for a lot of reasons, but I feel like with May it tends to “mute” me sometimes. My body becomes less effective as a half halt, so I have been bouncing back and forth between using it and not using it. After Saturday’s ride, I figured it would be good to leave it in my tack trunk for now. 

I originally figured we would ride inside, as I wanted to get a full 45 minutes ride in. However, by the time I was done tacking it, it was still really light out, so outside we went!

Most of the jumps were set up very small, maybe 2’, but height isn’t really our issue at this point, so I left them alone. We worked on some manners while mounting. May has a bad habit of walking off while I am getting on, and I tend to just let her do it. Definitely something to work on more regularly. This time I decided to try incorporating treats when I get on: one for standing by the mounting block, one for standing after I get on. May of course loves this tactic, but I am hoping it just helps her understand what I want without a tug of war when I get on. 

Our warm up started with some walk/halt and trot/walk transitions until May was really listening. Before we cantered, we popped over a small crossrail and I just let her canter away. So far so good. From there, I just stayed up in my 2-point and let her cruise around a little hunter course. I kept my hands buried in her neck and let her figure out where to take off from. She went to pull me to the one oxer, so then we circled. I immediately put my hand back on her neck, let her settle back into the rhythm and approached it again. May had not issue and loped over the oxer. 

Basically, I learned I need to stay out the way a bit more. Yes, we missed some distances, but we kept our rhythm and balance, which is much more important at this point. 

Since she was so good, I didn’t really push the jumping, and I went back to the Dressage work. I got a nice, uphill forward canter, and then I just asked May to make the canter bigger. This was hard and our “extension” was barely noticeable, but she kept the rhythm and the shape, so I was happy. Unfortunately, the sun went down a bit quicker than expected, so it ended up being a 30 minutes ride instead of a 45 minutes one. Oh well, it was a very good one. 

Ideally, I would never ride alone at night, but that is just part of the reality of having a horse and being an 8-6 employee. However, I do take a lot more precautions when riding by myself that I wouldn’t necessarily do if other people were around. (to note, my barn does have cameras that my trainer can monitor from her house and there is a house on the property that would notice if the whole barn was still lit up late at night.)

1. I let people know where I am. Typically, this is my dad and my fiance. They know that if they don’t hear from me by a certain time, then they need to try to get in contact with me.

2. I keep my phone close. Some days, I ride with my phone in my pocket, but a lot of days it’s just not practical. Also, I am afraid I would land on my phone and not be able to use it after that. I do wear my fitbit, which will vibrate and let me know if someone is calling. This is good if it is my dad or fiance checking in. 

3. I bought the right horse. I specifically bought a horse that was not explosive, unpredictable, or young. On my (very short) list of needs for a horse was that I needed to be comfortable riding it at night by myself. If behavior starting popping up that made me uncomfortable, May would be put in full training for at least 30 days, and I would only ride on the weekend or when someone else was there. 

4. I close all gates. Typically, the gate to our outdoor arena is left slightly ajar. May and I haven’t had a problem with it since she tried to run out of it at our first lesson, but when I am by myself, I absolutely shut that gate every time I get on. It’s not worth the risk and it’s not a fight I would want to have with her again by myself. 

5. I set easy obtainable goals. This is not the time to try and teach my horse flying changes or how to jump through a massive gymnastic. This is a time to get the proper bend off my left leg and get her connected through the outside aids, which as we all know, can take an entire session some days. 

6. I take my time on my ground. My job is stressful, my drive often involves a lot of traffic and bad drivers, and I am often tired by the time I get to the barn. However, I make myself move a bit slower at night by myself. It helps me focus on my horse on the ground. Is there anything in her behavior that makes me think we should lunge first or just have a lazy bareback day? Does she seem overly concerned about me pulling her blanket off? Barrelling forward without paying attention to these types of things definitely gets people hurt. 

7. I enjoy it. My rides are better when I am in a good mood, so I enjoy my rides. The first couple of laps around the ring are on a loose rein just enjoying moseying around a bit. I understand this approach can be a total disaster for some horses, but both May and I enjoy starting out this way. I like being able to set up whatever pole exercises I want or to work on perfect circles without having to worry about running anyone over.

The worst part of riding by yourself? No new pictures! So you all will have to be satisfied with the older pictures in this post. 🙂 

A Bad Mare Day

Spring has Sprung! Sort of… it was nearly 80F on Friday and then barely 50F for my lesson on Saturday. Given crazy end-of-the-month work stuff, May only got ridden on Wednesday, so I was expecting her to be a bit up for the lesson. After all, it was cooler, she only got ridden once that week, and our last jumping session was XC. What I wasn’t expecting was that May would also be in heat… She is usually very gelding-like, rarely paying attention to other horses or making faces or any of that other nonsense. 
In May’s defense, she was not set up for a happy ride. I had an 11:30AM lesson, but when I showed up at 11:00AM, the working students were just putting horses out. It was raining hard during the first couple of hours in the morning, but my horse got taken halfway to her paddock and then I had to grab her and lead her right back to her stall. May did not appreciate that kind of treatment. There was also no hay in her stall, which May considers a grave offense. 

Since they were still turning horses out, I opted to tack May in her stall. I do this a lot, especially when there is a lot of activity in the barn because it just means we aren’t in the way. Unfortunately, this time May decided to threaten to bit me when I did up her girth. She got a swift, firm, and clear correction before I was able to get the saddle back into place and do up her girth. Either way – it didn’t leave me feeling warm and fuzzy about the start of our lesson, and I decided May is losing her tack-up-in-stall privileges for a few weeks. Eventually, we will transition back to being able to tack up in a stall with a halter and lead rope because I think it’s an important skill for horses to have. They need to have manners and be safe in their stalls, end of story. 

Did I mention it was still kind of raining at the start of our lesson? Ugh. The lesson started out fine. My trainer had us go through a set of poles set up as a one stride to a three stride. She had us first do it at the trot, then do it at the trot in 2-point, then trot through the one stride part and do a transition to the walk before the last pole. She reminded me that this is something I really need to work on because May likes to ignore me when I don’t have a lot of weight in the saddle. I agreed, so I am putting it on the list. Plus, riding in 2-point a lot is great for overall strength and balance in the saddle. 

Then we started jumping, and May decided that XC jumping is a lot more fun than stadium jumping. When I got May, she had one “mode” for jumping. It was behind the leg, on the forehand, and with a very short stride. Currently, May has two modes of jumping – rocking back onto her hind end with a short stride or falling on her forehand on an open stride. 

    Example of the short stride and then the longer stride where she gets on her forehand and can’t make it out of the combination properly 

So it is a constant balancing act between forward and steady. Unfortunately, May hasn’t quite grasped the concept yet, so has decided that the best course of action is to ignore me and just run at jumps. We corrected this with a circle in front of each jump until she stopped locking on to them and blowing through the distances. 

However, this lesson also brought up another bad that my trainer called me out on. Over the years, I have ridden many very sensitive horses. As a result, I was alway very conscious of instantly rewarding them with a release of pressure as soon as an exercise was finished. This ended up morphing into dropping my reins and letting May putter to a walk as soon as we finished jumping something. What does this teach my horse? … Basically that she can ignore me and do things her way and still get that release of pressure. It also wasn’t helping May learn that forward, light canter that she needs. Fantastic. 
So my trainer had us finish each exercise with at least one circle at the canter to re-establish the canter I was looking for and then ask her to stay connected into a trot transition, trot with connection for a while, and then transition to a medium walk before allowing her to free walk. Eventually, this led to a fairly good end to the lesson where I was able to push through the combination instead of getting dragged to it, and May stayed in front of my leg without diving and running through the lines. 

Things to work on during our flat rides this week:

Get May (and me) more comfortable with the forward canter. Do lots of forward to collected to forward transitions to keep her light. 

Throw some good jumping into the middle of our flat sessions. This means establishing the canter I really love and keeping it all the way to the base of the fence and then re-establishing that canter on the other side of the fence and continuing our riding session. 

Ride in 2-point. I need it, and it would be good to do with 1 & 2 to help our cross country.

Ride for longer periods of time and more consistently. It is hard to me to remember sometimes that May is a lot more fit than when I bought her and she needs to be in a program to set her up for success. 

Be a lot more steady with my body. The indoor has mirrors, so I can work on this inside by myself. Everytime I see videos, I am upset by how much my upper body pumps. Definitely something to work on. 

Do some groundwork to make sure manners are still where they should be. I pride myself on having horses that anyone can handle on the ground. Obviously, a horse that threatens to bite doesn’t fall into that category, so this is a priority.