Stupid Epiphanies

I am not sure if riding is anything like other sports in this way, but learning to ride often feels like a string of stupid epiphanies. Like when it finally clicks what inside leg to outside rein really means, or when you first feel a horse actually pushing from behind. It is a series of simple but abstract ideas that seem to suddenly become tangible after they click into our minds. That click moment often makes you want to smack your forehead and think, “well duh. If only I had done that sooner…”

Monday night was a stupid epiphany night for me. I had read Megan’s post on screwing up with confidence, and I had that idea in mind when I threw my foot into the stirrup that night. My mantra for the ride was going to be to be decisive in what I was asking. I have often struggled with this, and I attribute it to riding green horses almost my entire riding career. I ask for something, get 90% of it, and I reward that 90%. The problem is that you cannot build upon skill that are not confirmed, so progress often stalls for us.

sunset-trot

The BIGGER problem is that this is a very easy way to confuse and frustrate your horse. That was my epiphany on Monday night: My horse is difficult sometimes because I am confusing and that frustrates her. Since I got May, I have often been perplex as to how we can have some amazing days and then some days where all we do is argue about something. Now, I am laughing a bit at myself. After all, how dare she react to my inconsistency by being inconsistent?!

Below is a great example of the problem that became really apparent this weekend and bled over into Monday. See what is going on there? I ask for contact at the canter, and she goes to suck back. Instead of thinking “oh you’re trying so sucking back is ok”, I put my leg on and asked her to move into the contact. She did not appreciate that, threw her head up, gaped her mouth, and starting flinging everything she could fling in every direction. ​


This is UGLY. It feels ugly. It looks ugly. And if I didn’t know me and my horse, I would accuse the person riding of hauling on the reins. But I am not. My old reaction would’ve been to give and try again later; however, I am working on being CONSISTENT and CONFIDENT. So instead, I kept my leg on, and I kept the rein contact steady. Nothing changed because she was not giving me the behavior I wanted. It took almost a full canter circle because she dropped her head, gave, and started engaging her hind end.
What you can’t hear in the video is me laughing at her because she also snorted at me. she gave me what I was asking for, so she got rewarding with a lighter rein, following shortly by a downward transition, and a walk on a long rein. (Finished with some pictures in front of the setting sun.) I am excited to see the improvements in both of us due to this newfound commitment to confidence and consistency!

sunset-smile

Imperfect Circumstances

Aka – anything to do with horses.

Last week was an incredibly busy week at work. A lot of overtime was gained trying to prepare for a big event on Friday & Saturday. As a result, May didn’t get ridden at all from Sunday – Sunday. The weather forecast called for Sunday to be warm, reaching 70, and sunny. I pulled out May’s shampoo and planned on a long walk around the property and a nice bath.

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Expectation…

Instead, Sunday ended up lingering in the 50’s with constant cloud cover and a dampness to the air. Fine. It will be a Dressage day. I pulled up and started chatting with another boarder. Then, she says the words we all love to hear, “I set up a really straight forward gymnastic, if you’re interested.” My ears perked up. It was the wrong time… May had barely jumped. She hadn’t been ridden all week, and she hasn’t been through a gymnastic since November… but it sounded REALLY fun.

So what did I do? I grabbed my jumping saddle and swapped the bit on my Jumping bridle out from the happy mouth to the D-ring Dr. Bristol. I groomed quickly and was both excited and nervous. I kept telling myself, you can just keep it really small. just poles or cross rails… if she’s hyped up, you don’t even have to jump. I got to the ring and the gymnastic was 3 trot poles to a crossrail, one stride to a 2’6″ vertical, one stride to a 2’6″ sloped oxer.

I wandered around and lowered the jumps to 3 trot poles to a cross rail, one stride to a crossrail, one stride to a stack of poles. The whole time telling myself that I don’t have to jump any of it. I lowered another jump and eyed a stand-alone cross rail that I figured I would use as a warmup. I hoped up and May was AMPED.

downhill
Like XC amped

She was forward but mostly listening and staying off her forehand. I warmed up and was thinking about whether or not I would even attempt jumping when three other boarders came back from a walk and hung out in the ring. One took down the stand-alone cross rail and made it into two trot poles. Ok… not a big deal. I still don’t have to jump anything. I trotted over the poles a few times and May relaxed a bit. I then announced that I was going to jump through the gymnastic. Wait… what did I just say?

One of the boarders asked if I wanted it put up and I told her that maybe in a minute. I explained that we hadn’t jumped much (or really at all) and that I wanted to make sure she got through it ok. That turned out to be my best decision all day.

May cantered through the trot poles, and I pulled back over the first crossrail and kept pulling over the second crossrail. May objected. She threw her head down and stopped dead in between the last crossrail and the stack of poles. I really love the big thigh blocks on my saddles. Right I thought leg on and all that.

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Another example of why Leg is required….

I came to it again, and again May cantered through the trot poles (not touching any of them). I kept my leg on and she jumped great through the whole gymnastic. We halted at the end, which she actually did very well. She was staying off her forehand and very light (a bit too light in front, but I’ll take it for now). We went through it a couple more times until she relaxed and trotted the poles. Every time, she stayed perfectly straight.

Then, I asked if the other boarders would put up the middle jump to a vertical and put up the last jump. “Do you want an oxer at the end?” on of them asked. May and I have yet to jump an oxer since November. “Sure, just a little one.” My “just a little one” turned into a solid 2’6″ square oxer. MMMMK. This group has never seen May jump, so I was reluctant to whine about the height. She would be fine, she always is.

gymnastic
Actual gymnastic from yesterday… note the lack of sun & warmth

And oh my she was. It took me 3 attempts to get her calm enough to even enter the gymnastic. She would turn towards the gymnastic and just start bouncing on her haunches, flinging her head around despite my lack of contact. Her whole demeanor yelled “let me at ’em!” I would halt her, wait for her to settle, then circle and re approach.

On the third attempt, she mostly kept it together. She cantered the trot poles (still not touching any of them). Jumped the crossrail, rocketed over the vertical, and jumped out of her skin of the oxer. Then came right back and halted about 4 strides from the end of the gymnastic. She felt AWESOME. We did it once more, and she settled a bit in-between the jumps but still gave me a great feeling over each fence.

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Blurry old iphone picture… but any pictures are better than none… right?

My little audience was in love with her obvious sass, bravery, and jumping technique. I was beaming. I was tempted to do it a third time and ask for someone to take a video, but she had been good. She still has her winter coat and was sweaty, and she is definitely out of shape. I figured she deserved a pet and a nice long walk.

I got a bit of company on our walk, so we ended up wandering around the property for about a half hour. When we got back to the barn, May was greeted with rubs, laughter, and a new “Sassy Pants” nickname.

It might not have been the perfect timing. It might not have been the perfect training exercise. I might not have given my horse the perfect ride. However, I ended the session with a horse that felt confident and in love with her job, and I had the most fun that I have had in a long time.

So Many Things to Buy… so Little Money

A couple of other shopping-related blog posts got me thinking about buying myself a little something. The costs of moving to a new city, planning for a wedding, Christmas, and being unemployed for a month have meant that I really haven’t bought myself anything horsey for a while.

My most recent purchase were winter-weight SmartPak Piper breeches, which I must have gotten on sale because i never pay regular price for them. I bought them because last year all of my winter riding pants died, and they were reasonably priced (as always). While getting new things is nice, this really was a case of just replacing old equipment.

Now that things are on firmer ground financially, I am trying to decide on ONE thing to spend some money on. Unfortunately, the list of things I want is LONG…

  1. A Browband from Dark Jewel Designs – May has a subtly sparkly browband. It was a gift from my fiance, and I really really love it. It is that perfect understated amount of bling that I appreciate in the Dressage ring. But… XC colors. I would love a sparkly browband with navy and silver and pearls… It would even match my wedding colors. Plus Amelia is awesome, so this is on my list. It just might not be a pre-wedding purchase.
  2. A Bonnet from If the Bonnet Fits – May also has a navy & white embroidered bonnet and a black and silver bonnet. Unfortunately, I rarely ever use them because they really don’t fit her big, moose ears, and they are relatively cheapy ones that don’t stay under the bridle very well. Therefore, I need a new one, right? Again, this would be in our XC colors, navy, white, and silver like the one I linked…. Maybe I can get “May as Well” embroidered on the ears. It should really say, “stop pulling” but that’s a story for another time.
  3. An Ogilvy Profile Pad – I have an ecogold non-slip pad for cross country. I love it. It looks great. However, May is the type of horse who (much like her rider) tends to fluctuate in shape throughout a season pretty significantly. I have an ogilvy half-pad that I really like, so it would be great to have another option for when saddle fit isn’t as perfect as I would like it, or for when we are in our cross country gear for a long time (i.e. schoolings and clinics). Plus, they look really sharp and aren’t terribly expensive… although I might need to design myself a logo if i go this route.
  4. A Micklem Bridle – This is more than pocket change and will likely not happen for a while. However, May can be really fussy about contact. She has shown me she like a more stable bit and goes best with a loose, plain noseband. However, sometimes a loose plain noseband means she turns into a runaway train, so I think a more anatomical bridle would be a great idea. Plus, my current jumping bridle is brown and my saddle is black. That makes this a priority… right?
  5. New Riding Pants – Specifically the Romfh Sarafina knee patch breech… although my tailored sportsmans are probably 7 years old and in need of being replaced too. I would say it’s a toss up between them as to which pair I might invest in. Let’s not discuss how these are almost (if not more) than the bridle in the above post.
  6. New Riding Gloves – Let’s be honest. This is probably what I will end up buying. In navy. My old ones are almost worn through at this point.
  7. A New Jumping Bat – Not a fun purchase, but again, my current one is brown and my tack is black.
  8. Breastplate – I have a 5-point breastplate right now. With May’s build, I just really don’t like it. I think it pulls the saddle down in the front. Also, May will never really need a martingale because of the way she’s built. As a result, I would really like a jumper breastplate or a 3-point that attaches to the girth. The 4-point collar by Lund Saddlery would be awesome… but it only comes in brown at the moment.
  9. Eventing Stuff – Seriously. I got away with borrowing so much stuff last year. I really need to invest in my own watch and pinny, at a bare minimum.
  10. Kastel Denmark Sun Shirts – These are so pretty and everyone seems to love them, so I should own one… right? In reality, I might buy another of Dover’s brand (if I am ever in a store again). I got a couple on sale super reasonably, so I am sure I could do that again. However, if I get to my goal weight, this might be my gift to myself (along with the new riding pants).
  11. New Show Jumping Boots for May – Lots of drooling over this one, as her schooling boots are shot. However, the whole set is over $250. As a result, she will be sticking too the old equifits in front, which I don’t love, and the teckna hind boots, which I hate, for shows. Let’s be honest, most of our BN trials will have XC right after SJ anyway.
  12. A Navy Blue One-K or a One K Skull Cap– This is 100% frivolous. My helmet is fine. it is comfortable, looks good, and is safe. However, who doesn’t love options?
  13. Dubarry Boots – What eventer doesn’t want these boots? seriously… even people that already own them want an extra pair in case they ever stop making them.
  14. Saddle Fitting – ok. this one is non-negotiable and happening in the Spring. I have not been super happy with the fit of either of my saddles, but May needs to lose some lbs before I can justify getting them reflocked.

Together, this all equals over $1,000 worth of items. So that gets me to where I don’t buy anything except the essentials because, for that price, I could fund a couple of events, or clinics, or a bunch of lessons. After all, that’s what is really going to make us better… even if I really want the sparkle.

Either way… I am open to more suggestions. 😉

Reintroducing Jumping

Fun Fact: up until last weekend, May and I hadn’t jumped since November. This was due to a combination of rainy weather, my schedule, and my lack of health insurance until the start of 2017. I’ve always been conservative with my jumping. If I jump once a week, it is usually over small fences (like 2′ to 2’3″) where we work on things like rhythm and balance. As a result, it is not totally unusual for May to go a few weeks without jumping.

However, considering that we did not get into a jumping groove at all since last summer (ouch), I thought it would be good to reintroduce jumping like I would do for a greener/more nervous horse, just to make sure I don’t go along and create some issue. Ideally, the rider reintroducing jumping would be in a jumping groove themselves, but things are rarely ideal with horses.

too-cute
Seriously, this face though…

The first step in this process begins before I even approach a jump. It typically starts the day before (assuming all the basics have been installed prior to this point). In May’s case, that means lots of transitions and a nice long ride with a long walk the day before jumping. It takes the edge off so that I don’t end up fighting with her on the most basic principles of coming back from the canter and listening to the half-halt.

So finally Sunday arrived, and I dropped two relatively plain jumps down to a crossrail and a 2′ vertical with some flowers under it. Warm up emphasized the same ideas as the day before with lots of transitions coming from my seat and leg. I hadn’t actually planned on jumping this day, so I had on just a plain, loose-ring, mullen mouth bit, and I wasn’t wearing spurs. For May, less is probably better at this phase. Making her feel claustrophobic or uncomfortable with a stronger bit (especially with me out of practice) would likely lead to more harm than just letting her get a bit strong. For reference, we usually jump in a D-ring Dr. Bristol.

 

Regular Jumping Bit
Today’s bit

Then we just… popped around the two fences I had set up. We cantered some and trotted some, but it was all very calm and nonchalant. Jumping lasted maybe 10 minutes, and we finished with some flat work and then a nice long walk. May felt the same as she always does on under 2’6″ jumps, like a total packer.

packer-status
If that’s not a packer jump… idk what is

Then this past Sunday, I decided we should actually add back in some of the important pieces of jumping. Relaxation is obviously the first, which was done last week, but now I wanted her to start think about adjusting and jumping from the base of the fences.

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Not the base of the fence…

I set up what is probably my favorite gymnastic. It is so simple that it probably doesn’t even qualify as a true gymnastic. It is just a pole placed about 7′ in front of a vertical. The exercise is to trot in, keeping a forward but stead rhythm. The horse should step over the pole, rock back onto its haunches, and jump over the vertical. It’s one of those gymnastics that immediately forces you to concentrate on a few very important points:

  • Coming Forward in a Rhythm (aka keep your leg on and don’t pick)
  • Letting your hip angle close over the jump instead of throwing your body
  • Feeling your horse rock back at the base of the jump

It also points out if your stirrups are too long for jumping as this will suddenly get really hard with long stirrups.

It is important to note that, just because this is a slower and shorter exercise, it is not easy for the horse. It really requires them to push from behind, which if you are using this exercise to fix that problem, means they are probably using those muscles a lot harder than they usually do. As a result, I don’t drill this gymnastic. I will do it once then canter around to another jump (in this case I cantered around to a 2’3″ stone wall we hadn’t jumped before… spoiler alert, May didn’t care.)

through the hole.jpg
If she jumped through this, a box shouldn’t be an issue. 

All in all, this ended up being a longer jump school at about 15 minutes where i put together a small, rather twisty course with jumps all in the 2′ – 2’3″ range. All the jumps had flowers or gates or boxes or some combination of the three and May never bat an eyelash. Good pony.

I, surprisingly, am really excited to start jumping regularly again. She feels as good as she always has and my increased focus on my own fitness has made a real impact on my confidence. I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings us!

Stepping Back & Gearing Up

I cannot remember the last time I was a less than 4x per week rider. Throughout high school, I was known to be at the barn at least 4 days a week and more when I had off from school. I remember sitting in the car in near white-out snow conditions, driving to or from the barn. I remember arriving to the barn in the summer before 6am to ride before the heat, often in the fog.

buddy-jump2

I didn’t ride when I was physically at college, but all through my college years I rode anytime I was home. I remember riding 4 horses the first day I was home for Thanksgiving my freshman year, and not being able to walk the rest of that vacation. Although, I somehow still managed to ride. In the summers, I would ride 4 horses a day, 6 days a week. On the weekend, I would add helping out at shows to the list. I was fit, which made me more confident in the saddle.

riding-back-buddy

While my family had a horse when I was 11, I didn’t own my own horse, and I wasn’t solely responsible for one until I was 22. Therefore, a lot of my multiple horses a day, multiple days a week opportunities were given to me by some wonderful horsewomen, who definitely saw themselves in me anytime I touched a horse. When I turned 22, I graduated college and only lasted a few months before buying my first horse. He required the need to be in consistent work, so I rode 4 days a week, minimum. I briefly half-leased him out to try to get him to 6 days a week, but that wasn’t right for him either.

winston-jump

Then I got May. We had some hoof issues when I first got her that meant she was light work, but I still saw her 4 days a week to monitor her condition. If I went more than 3 days without seeing her, I would start to get antsy and anxious. She was at a barn with amazing care, where the trainer kept every horse as if it was her own, but I still felt the need to be there.

When we were competing, I was riding 5-6 days a week to increase May’s fitness. This often meant doing trot sets in the near-dark of the outdoor arena, because the indoor made things even more boring. After moving to Kentucky, I was funemployed for a month, so I rode at least 5 days week, spending days walking up and down hills and just enjoying my horse and some time off.

Then all of a sudden, I had a full time job that quickly became a bigger commitment than originally anticipated and winter was upon us. My barn turns out at night all year round, so getting to the barn at 6:30PM, after the sun went down wasn’t really an option anymore. I don’t have one of those jobs that would allow me to work flex hours, at least not this early into it, so I have had to cut back.

For the several weeks, I have been a 1 – 2x per week rider. Those rides consist mainly of lots of walking with maybe 20 minutes of real work. I got May a mullen mouth happy mouth bit for the cold days, and I don’t ask for too much. She is horribly out of shape, but I have managed to supplement my fitness with some additional cardio. I jumped this past weekend for the first time since November over a crossrail and a 2’3″ vertical, in the happy mouth. I had no ability to alter any of our distances, but May happily loped around everything… like I knew she would.

laying-down

She is fine with the arrangement. Sure, she is probably fatter than she should be, but she is nowhere near obese. She gets 14-16 hours of turnout a day, no matter the weather. (It’s really just been rainy and muddy here.) May comes out for every ride as the same horse. Her version of being “hot” after not being in work is to suddenly be more green than she actually is. She “forgets” things like steering and rhythm, but she usually snaps back in about 10 minutes.

I, however, am not fine with this arrangement. I find myself feeling intensely guilty for not riding more. After all, her expenses do not go down because I ride less. I find myself getting intensely anxious on Fridays about her and how she is doing. I am also frustrated with the feeling that, not only are we not making progress, we seem to be losing it.

In spite of all that, today marks the first day of February, arguably the worst riding month of the year. However, KY is seeing weather in the 40’s and the sun is starting to hold itself up in the sky until after 6PM. So I am starting to think about plans for 2017, (including a fitness plan for May and me!)  and I am getting myself refocused for what should be a year of “May as Well”s.