Life Update! (and Lesson Recap)

It has been almost exactly one week since we signed the papers, and we are officially all moved into our new house! It is substantially larger than our old, little apartment, so it is empty and a bit bare, but oh so perfect. We’re staying in saving money mode so that we can afford to buy some furniture for it, but we are in no rush. My plan is to fill the place with things I love for the people I love. It also needs paint… I’ll include a few pictures below but basically every main living space is either lime green or yellow with gray molding.

Supervising Her Kingdom
Hello Lime Green
Hello yellow! (and boxes… so many boxes)

What does this mean for May? Well it has meant a lighter riding schedule lately. Moving a house does not leave a ton of time for barn time. This weekend was spent gathering essentials, unpacking boxes, hanging curtains, cleaning our old apartment, and actually taking some time to spend with my husband and dog. (Also, it was in the 30’s this weekend, so I wasn’t so heartbroken about not being able to get to the barn. May LOVES the cold weather, but I am just not mentally prepared yet).

It also means that I can start actively looking for a saddle again. Stubben is having a sale on November 1st, so I am going to see if there is anything that fits my (very specific and rare) criteria. If not, there is a local saddle that I might get to try, and I spotted a saddle at a popular consignment shop that might work as well. The journey definitely continues!

I did, however, get a lesson in during one of the warm days last week. A Dressage lesson (again). However, we worked a lot on the flexibility of May’s hind end and her willingness to isolate that part of her body. We started with baby haunches in at the walk down the straight line. Moving the haunches, then the shoulder when she straightened out, then the haunches again.

haunches-in
Picture from This Website

It’s definitely hard for May and not something she can hold, but this alternating between moving the haunches and moving the shoulders has made a big difference for her. Originally, she would snap straight as soon as I asked the shoulders to move straight, and if there is one thing I know about May, it is that I cannot simply shove the hind end over again when this happens. So how do I help her understand what I am asking? By asking for more isolation in a way she does easily understand. And guess what, she has started holding the haunches in without an argument or meltdown. Good mare!

When we moved into trot, it was more of the same with some leg yields. At this point, May simply moving off my leg is not quite the name of the game. I need to be able to dictate depth, speed, and trajectory of the leg yields. The best way to do this? At the sitting trot and using my seat. Now, sitting the trot on a horse like May is SEVERELY different from sitting on a thoroughbred. I can use the weight of my seat to encourage her to loosen her back muscles and as this looseness happens, she gets more swing (and dare I say even a bit of suspension) in her step. It’s a bit of an odd sensation, going from sitting on something rigid, to encouraging that rigid thing to move, but it clearly helps. It also meant I spent most of my lesson in a sitting trot and was rightfully nearly crippled the next day from soreness. Oh well, something to work on during No Stirrup November! (I have like no media, but this series of Laura Graves doing clinics on specific movements is amazing stuff)

Once May was swinging and in tuned to my leg aids at the trot, it was time to move into the canter… and combine the walk work and the trot work into one exercise. Now, May has developed a really wonderful canter leg yield in both directions off of both legs, so we were back to this concept of isolating parts of her body to improve flexibility and engagement. Great. So how’d we do it?

We started on a 15 meter circle at the canter. We then asked the haunches to come into the circle, while the shoulders stayed on the 15 meters. We rode the haunches in for 3 – 4 strides, then asked the shoulders to come in and join the haunches on the smaller circle. Then, we leg yielded out a couple of meters to reestablish the bend and the outside aids. And May did amazing. She immediately picked up on the idea of moving her haunches over, easily swung her shoulder in to match it, and obediently leg yielded back out to the desired circle size. It was awesome, but definitely exhausting for her, so we only did it a couple of times each direction before calling it a success. Maybe this means I will eventually have enough control of the hind end to do lead changes? One can only dream…

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A Whole Lot of… Not Horse Stuff

First off, I want to apologize to everyone for the sparseness of this blog. Life has been crazy and riding has been mostly boring (which I have learned can be a totally good thing!)

Let’s start with life. I got married!! (Special thanks to Tav Images Photography for taking such WONDERFUL photos!)

My wedding was everything I could have asked for. I cannot remember the last time I had so much fun! And I got to celebrate with all my family and friends, including those I hadn’t been able to see since we moved to KY. Overall, just amazing.

Then, we were supposed to take a break in life. Instead, we found a house and fell in love and are under contract. Keep your fingers crossed as it is UNDER 15 MINUTES FROM THE BARN! My current drive is between 35 – 45 minutes, so being that close would really be life changing for us.

As for May, she is doing great. Her mohawk is slowly growing back out, so I will have to pull it soon to make it look like a mane again. For the winter, I am sure she will appreciate having some mane back. She also got front shoes put back on. the feet looked great, but with the ground as hard and it has been, she was sore even in boots in a freshly dragged arena. It just wasn’t fair to ask her to continue to be uncomfortable.

The craziness of what is going on right now has forced most of our rides to be short, and occasionally tackless:

STILL don’t have a jumping saddle. Fat Buckskin in a Little Suit can commiserate with me on this one. If I needed a 17.5″ saddle or a medium tree, we would be in business, but apparently, there are very few 18″ wide tree saddles around? So odd to me. I have also found that what a lot of brands consider “wide” wouldn’t even fit an average warmblood. And anyone that has been under contract on a house before knows that throwing thousands of dollars around on something like a saddle isn’t something banks love to see.

As a result, I am sitting tight and waiting. I had a WONDERFUL experience with a Stubben rep, and I would LOVE to buy the saddle she suggested. However, I just do not think that will be in the cards. At a purchase price of nearly $5K, it just seems so irresponsible. Especially when you consider that used Stubbens (other than the monoflaps), only really go for $1,500 – $2,000 MAX. Oh well, I will find a solution. It just might take a while.


In my Dressage boredom, however, I did end up jumping some 1′ jumps the other day. They were set TINY for a VERY GREEN horse, and I figured I could do that much in my Dressage saddle. May could care less and just kind of hefted her body of them. I think she is bored too.


We have been having some lessons but, between my crazy schedule and my trainer’s show schedule, they have been few and far between. Maybe a total of a dozen this whole summer? Kind of a bummer, but we manage to make good strides in between lessons. Canter leg yields? We have them now in both directions, which is a huge accomplishment. Her canter feels so much better that I really cannot wait to see what she feels like over fences. Real fences. That require jumping. Not 1′ fences that she just steps over while I enthusiastically throw myself into a half seat.

We are having some serious difficulty with installing the haunches in. We get the shape all great through a small circle, but as soon as I ask May to hold the shape on the straight line, she snaps straight. We didn’t get to work on it much in our last lesson, other than just introducing the idea, and we haven’t had a lesson since (it’s been about 3 weeks). Hopefully, I will have more of an update after the next lesson.

May also went through an interesting period of being tense. Every ride was an argument. I was told she was being “difficult” and just needed to “get over it.” Now, this horse can need a dose of “I am more stubborn than you are, and I won’t give up until you at least try to give me what I am asking for,” but that is typically when we are doing something new or she has had an extended period of time off. This wasn’t either of those things. It was ENTIRE RIDES of her flipping me the hoof, dropping on her forehand, and barreling away. Not only that, but I wasn’t able to get a lesson during the entire period of this happening.

So I had to find my own solution. I decided to spend a few rides doing nothing but hacking on a loose rein. There will be no picking up or putting her together. There will be no insistence on perfect transitions, even if it means doing them 20 times. There will be no leg yield, haunches in, shoulders in, spiral in, spiral out, leg yields at an angle, etc etc etc. There will just be calm relaxed hacking on a loose rein, where calmness, rhythm, and obedience are all rewarded and bad behavior is simply ignored.

And it worked (video below, before shoes got put back on). I got a horse back that is far more rideable and happier in her work. It is so easy to drill a horse like May. She is so smart and picks up on concepts so quickly. However, she can get so concerned about what she thinks she should be doing, that she gets frustrated. It’s a delicate balance, but one I feel we are developing a system to deal with. Of course, adding jumping back in would probably help too. 🙂

#ponyspamsunday courtesy of lazy, low key hacks #horsesofinstagram #draftcross #palomino #may

A post shared by Emily (@may_as_well_event) on

So TL/DR? All is crazy. All is inconsistent. All is well. Keep your fingers crossed that everything goes well with our house, and maybe I will find a jump saddle by Christmas.

05.11.17 – Dressage Lesson: Sideways is the New Straight

During my first dressage lesson with my new trainer (NT), she was entirely focused on creating a steadier contact in the bridle. We worked on making the aids super clear and getting the back end properly engaged. That lesson was about 6 months ago. I am happy to report that May has become much steadier and more reliable in the contact.

As a result, it is time to move onto new things! More specifically, NT wanted us to work on gaining mobility through May’s body. In her words, “It’s a lot of horse, and you need to be able to move it with not a lot of work.” Fair enough.

The first exercise was to pick up a trot and trot down the rail in a straight line. However, I would want her head facing towards the wall and her hindquarters off the wall at about a 40 degree angle, like the below. (May is the yellow line)

Dressage Exercixe 1

It seems simple enough. The issue? As soon as I put my leg on, May threw her whole body weight into my leg. Making us look more like this:

Dressage Fail

My reaction? I immediately start messing with my hands, get tense in my seat, and take my leg off. This is also known as doing everything wrong at once, and as a result, causing additional problems like our inability to even travel in the proper direction… along the wall. This is where my trainer gets tough. To paraphrase her instructions, “if she resists your leg, you need to keep your leg, and possibly even get tougher WITH. YOUR. LEG. until she yields. Then release the pressure. DO. NOT. release that pressure until she gives and don’t block the rest of her body with her hands and seat.”

Well Yes. Ok. Let’s do that. Except at the walk. We started at the walk to give us enough time to get the desired response as well as to help give me the opportunity to property time the aids so they would be clearest to May. (I was trying to signal the outside hing leg to step over as it came off the ground.) After having a discussion with May about how she needs to yield to my leg. No it doesn’t mean throw your body into my leg. No its doesn’t mean faster. No it doesn’t mean backwards. She finally stepped over with her hind leg away from my leg.

img_3855
Shenanigans from another time 🙂

May got big pats and all pressure released. Then, we tried again at the trot. She had a much more appropriate reaction to my leg, and we were able to tale a few steps along the wall at an angle, straighten out, then move back to the angle again without any fuss. We tried it the other direction and has similarly good results. Smart Mare!

Once finishing the exercise, I noticed an immediate, positive shift in May’s response to my leg. Instead of nagging with my inside leg to get some resemblance of bend, I was able to just close my leg and she moved around it. Brilliant!

The next exercise took things a bit further… and into the canter. Canter leg yields have been notoriously hard for May and I. I find she just runs through my hand and half halts instead of actually moving over. This drill required us to start against the rail and leg yield off the rail to the center of the arena. NT asked me to keep her in a slight counter bend and allow her to lead with the shoulder. It looked like this:

Canter Leg Yield

Our first attempt was off of the left lead and was abysmal. May threw her head up, ran through my hand, and on the half halt, broke into the trot. UGLY. My trainer asked me to try again, but this time to really open the left (inside) rein to help her understand where her shoulder should go. It couldn’t be that simple right? It couldn’t be that my countless failures at leg yield at the canter could be solved by opening my rein.

It was… it was that simple though. We came around the corner, got straight, got the slight counter bend, and leg yielded over. We then came across and did it again. No issues. Well then, okay.

img_4895

We then switched to the right, which is May’s more difficult direction. so difficult in fact, that we didn’t even get a proper canter transition. NT wasn’t going to allow us to get away with that, so we came back onto a 20 meter circle and did a few more T/C transitions until they were clean and reliable. Then we tried the leg yielding. May leg yielded… she also threw her head around in the air as much as possible in protest. NT just had me keep my hands quiet and to continue to ask her to move over. Right now, we were just focusing on getting the correct response to my leg.

All in all, it was a great lesson that left both May and I tired and sweating. It also gave us a lot to work towards. Unfortunately, she came out a bit footsore in the left front on Sunday, so we ended up doing hill work on some softer footing than our current arena. (Due to copious amounts of heavy rain early in the month, our outdoor is quite hard now that it has dried out). However, the fields are quite nice right now, and in her hoof boots, May was comfortable.

Saddle Search Update:

The saddle fitter came back and recommended a Black Country, since I told her in no uncertain terms that $5K was out of my budget. She told me specifically that I need to make sure any saddle I try has upswept panels in order for an 18″ to fit on May’s back. This is actually a great article (for arabians but on the issues I am having).

I have a used Black Country I may be interested in, but I am taking a Duett Bravo jumping saddle on trial to check it out. Thus far, the team at Duett has been helpful and responsive, so here is hoping it works out!

03.26.17 – Dressage Lesson

Our first lesson since December, and as usual, it came with a few stupid epiphanies. I would even say it was riddled with stupid epiphanies. They started AS SOON as May and I started walking. That’s right. I couldn’t walk right.

Over the winter, we have worked a lot of May’s connection in the bridle being more steady. (aka – less head wagging, looking up to see what’s going on outside the arena, and truly engaging the hind end) All of this was actually very much improved and my trainer was impressed (yay!). What she was not impressed with was my new found love of pushing May past her point of balance.

May is not a big, fancy, expressive mover. She moves correctly, especially when fully engaged, but she’s not a horse that is ever going to have a massive walk stride. My solution? Just keep pushing… all the way past her balance. As a result, she get a forward but oddly stumbly and uneven walk. Literally my trainers words were, the bottom of the pyramid is rhythm, and you don’t have it. Well damn. So I sat in the saddle, quieted my hands and legs, and we immediately found a better walk. Alright, I got that.

Then we were asked to halt, and May’s head came up, she braced against me, and she stopped. So we proceeded to work on the walk/halt transitions. I would ask May to halt, and if she came off the contact, I would send her forward again… for about 10 minutes. Below is some of it. I was reminded that it might take 700 tries, but that on the 700th try, it would be great.

We finally got a halfway decent walk, so we moved into the trot. In an effort to keep May on the contact, I was keeping her too keep in the contact, and she was falling behind the vertical. Luckily, May is, surprisingly, not a horse that loves being behind the vertical, so this was as easy as engaging my seat and lifting my hands. We did a few W/T/W transitions, but those were significantly better than the W/H/W transitions, so we didn’t dwell on them. We made some tweaks to how much bend I was asking for, but most of the trot work was just fine tuning, which was nice. We kept the tempo and energy slow to make our adjustments, so it’s definitely not the nicest looking trot May can muster, but it’s a great one for building strength and fine tuning our connection, rhythm, and balance.


Then we went to canter. Before we cantered, I was told to sit the trot… We ended up cantering one circle, and sitting the trot for 15 minutes. I will fully admit that I do not sit the trot often. I am not great at it, and I am not light enough to be bouncing all over my horses back. However, my trainer had a good point. My horse does have a strong back, I need to have a sit-trot in my arsenal for training, and it won’t get better by ignoring it.


I do what I believe most people do at the sit trot: I sit fine until I get unbalanced, then I try to correct with strength. The result is, I get stiffer and the sit trot get worse. The solution? For me, it’s to just keep moving my hips. Sometimes I am with the motion, and it works. Other times, I am not with the motion, but it is still better than being stiff. My trainer talked about how our bodies have the ability to rotate our hips in basically any direction except straight up and straight down, which is when we bounce. I am sure you see her in the video moving her hips around, attempting to inspire me. She is definitely the kind of trainer that rides “with” you!

Overall, it was a really good lesson. My new trainer (NT) teaches in a vastly different manner than my old one (OT). It’s almost the difference between having a task-based job, and an project-based job. In the former, you are assigned specific, short-term tasks with deadlines and a good deal of oversight. In a latter, however, you are given the overarching goal and are responsible for setting up your own tasks and deadlines to complete the project. Does that make any sense, whatsoever?

Basically The Best Pony Ever

Basically, if May started losing her rhythm with my OT, I would get very specific instruction on the timing of lifting this rein and applying this leg and changing my seat here. With my NT, she points out that we are losing our rhythm. It’s not that she doesn’t help me correct things more specifically, but she forces me to think about how I can solve a problem, rather than me simply following a set of directions to get a specific result. It is mentally exhausting, but I can already see the impact it is having on our rides outside of lesson.

Which do you prefer? Trainers that walk you through every step of your ride, or trainers that force you to come up with your solutions.

 

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

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.

2016 – A Review

There are few years I can think of that have had a larger impact on my life than 2016. Maybe 1990 🙂

The year started off fairly slow with January consisting of trail rides, bareback rides, and a trip to the fiance’s hometown in Kansas. However, maybe January was just the perfect synopsis of the rest of the year – a big of downtown surrounded by the farthest trip West I have ever gone.

trail.jpg

February got a bit more exciting. I got engaged on the 3rd… in the barn of course! Then, not even two weeks later, I participated in a clinic with Marilyn Payne… by far the biggest name I have ever ridden with. And I proceeded to fall off, and then actually start riding.

March saw us start to get serious about the upcoming season. Jumps got bigger and I started this blog! We also had our first cross country schooling of the year, where May was a touch wild but completely game. My confidence wasn’t as strong as it could have been, but I had recovered quite a bit from falling off in front of Marilyn.

April consisted of my birthday and my (and May’s) first Beginner Novice horse trial! We completed with a rail and a stop at the water on XC, but after having to convince our trainer to let us try it, I couldn’t have been happier with the result.

Early May marked one year with May, and I still can’t believe how far we’ve come! The end of May marked a new goal with our (both of our) first recognized horse trial! We were second after Dressage and clear XC, but added penalties in stadium to land us 7th out of 10. It was a lesson in humility where I worked on my ability to leave my mistakes behind. The very next week, we got another opportunity, as we ran BN at a schooling horse trial. While the jumps were significantly smaller, I was very proud of my ability to just. keep. riding. We got our best Dressage score of the year (which was perhaps a bit generous) and ended up third. Best of all, our team took home first place and some prizes!

June allowed things to slow down a bit, as my trainer was now nearing the birth of her first child. However, we did get to participate in a clinic with Meg Kepferle. May put on her sassy pants for that one, but I am still happy with how we performed. It definitely put a few extra tools in our toolbox!

We spent our Fourth of July on the longest trail ride we have ever taken! We also got amazing engagement photos taken by Tav Images Photography!

August opened up hot and we spent some time on our Dressage work before getting back to jumping! However some uncharacteristic unevenness behind made us decide that it was time to call out the vet and get some hock injections.

September was very slow as May recovered and my fiance and I faced some life changing decisions, but, by the end of the month. I was able to share the news. We were moving to Kentucky! Early in October, we officially moved. By the end of the month, we were able to have our first jumping lesson, where I jumped more than I had since our first clinic with Meg.

In early November, I found a new job and was able to start putting money back into the pony piggy-bank. Then in December, we had our first Dressage lesson with the new trainer.

It was a crazy year full of new experiences and adventures. Looking back at it all is a bit exhausting, so I am so happy with how far we have come… both in and out of the ring. Here’s to an even better 2017!

Ask for 100% and Reward 100%

The title of this post could also just be called “dressage”.

I finally got around to scheduling a Dressage lesson. Unfortunately, it will likely be our last lesson until the Spring since my trainer will be off to warmer weather soon. However, it was a truly eye opening 30 minutes. I am still very new to Dressage, having converted over to the eventing world only a couple of years ago.

 

See? Hunter Princess

 

In my first Dressage lesson ever, my trainer at the time asked me to put the horse on the bit. I did a wonderful job of creating a “hunter-frame”. You know, with the nose poked out and big loops in the reins? Every time the horse took contact and offered even slightest resemblance of pushing from behind, I gave. The very smart appaloosa I was on learned that if he sort of held it together, I would totally leave him alone. Then my trainer said, you want 5lbs of weight in each hand.

 

He knew he was smarter than me

Wait… what? This resulting in (for the first time in many years) me being pulled into the middle of the arena so that my trainer could physically explain to me what she was talking about. She stood in front of the horse, took each rein in each of her hands and pulled against my hands. Then she said, “There. That is what you should feel.” Turns out, it only gets more complicated from there!

 

Overall, however, that habit of taking a small effort and giving it a big reward has continued to plague my Dressage career.

My most-recent lesson started as soon as I began walking in a 20M circle around my trainer. She told me that May, being a fully matured horse, should have no problem staying “in the box” that I assign her. May is not a spooky horse, but she loves to know what is going on around her. She will try to look through the farriers tools, peek into people’s car windows, and watch things off in the distance that you and I can not even make out. Since she isn’t spooky, I have never really addressed her lookiness. However, I quickly realized how allowing her to pick up her head and looks at things has become an evasion tactic that she uses anytime work gets hard.


Once we had her attention fully on the work we were doing, my trainer asked us to do a couple of turns on the forehand. While we have worked on turn on the haunches a few times, we have never tried turn on the forehands. This has more to do with the fact that we are always working on getting May off of her forehand and onto her hind end, so doing a change on the forehand always seemed counter intuitive. Until we tried this exercise… and I realized she didn’t know the aids for moving her hind end over as an independent part of her body… Whoops…

Off of my right leg, we had no issues and she swung around like a champ. Off the left leg… not so much. She would either blow through my rein aids and go forward or she would go backward. My trainer had me “reset” her back to the place we started each time. Finally, we took a break and walked a lap. Then my trainer explained that she just seemed confused. So she asked me to take my right leg completely off of her. I did that and voila, we got a few good steps off my left leg! Definitely putting that on my list of things to work on.

Finally, it was time to trot. And trot we did. Again, I was reminded to keep May “in her box”. Once that was established, we were able to push her forward into the contact and engaging the hind end. I could actually see the muscles in the top of her neck and to her withers working, as opposed to her dropping behind the vertical and falling on her forehand. It was truly the opposite of what we had been doing: avoiding momentum in favor of balance. By giving her somewhere to go and pushing her forward, she found her own balance and suddenly had a lot more power.

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Old Picture… same dressagey goals
However, my hands wanted to revert back to pre-Dressage days: pick until you get 75% of what you are looking for then drop all contact. My trainer told me to be 100% clear with what I wanted, even if it meant getting stronger with my aids, and then giving 100% with my inside hand when I got what I wanted. Slowly, May would revert to an outside bend or lose the impulsion, but when that happened, I asked again, 100% clear. I was fairly good at this to the left but AWFUL to the right. To the point where my trainer had me hold my hand right out like I was handing someone something (I joked that I was envisioning handing her a check. I am glad she laughed).
After doing this a few times, I found May holding the contact with my outside (left) rein a lot better. My trainer said I was a great rider, as I could clearly feel when it was right and could reward immediately. That made me feel great because sometimes i manage to convince myself that I am completely numb… but I probably just need lessons to enforce what I feel… like everyone else other than George Morris who rides horses.

Now, for the canter. The canter is by far our hardest gait. It’s not that May has a bad canter, in fact my trainer commented on how correct all of her gaits are. It’s more that there are so many ways for her to escape holding herself correctly and she takes advantage of them all. Her favorite is to pull me off balance, then she’s off balance, and it is quite hard to correct without going back to the trot, regrouping, and cantering again. Of course, trainer immediately caught onto this. She told me to lengthen my reins and sit back. Then, to pull my elbows back to the point where she could have stuck a stick between the crook of my elbows and my back. And THEN try to get May connected. Oh man. That was hard.

 

At least, we’ve had some improvement…

I eventually, kind of sort of got it, but I don’t feel like I ever truly got May “connected” in the canter. My trainer recommended practicing that seat until I sit better. She also recommended I lengthen my stirrups a hole or two (or even take them off altogether). Definitely something to work on so we can have more success at it next time.

 

Unfortunately, with the cold weather, I haven’t been able to get a ton of new media. Maybe once it warms up a bit, I can convince my better half to come take some new video / pictures for you all.

05/29/16 Burgundy Hollow Horse Trials – Recap

If you hadn’t noticed, I didn’t post goals for this show. Mostly because they didn’t change. I still wanted a low 30’s score in Dressage. Again, this show was on grass. It’s a bit hard to get May to show off her trot work on grass because, if she slips, she gets quite disgruntled. I still wanted a clear SJ round, but this goal did get tweaked a bit. I wanted to ride forward, even if it meant we got a rail. Finally for XC, I still wanted to go clear. This show had a flagged water complex, a slightly skinny bank, and a true ditch, so even though some of the jumps were undersized, I knew I had to really ride for these obstacles.

 

Our official Dressage time was 11:24AM. We got ready with the other members of our team who had slightly later times and wandered over to the warmup area. We walked around a bit, and I checked in with the ring steward. (do they have different names in eventing? I honestly have no idea). She told me that they were giving some people time where they needed it, but they were running ahead of schedule and I could go in when I was ready. Perfect.

  May doesn’t need a lot of work to go into the Dressage ring, and it was hot (about 90 degrees and humid). In an effort to keep the riding to a minimum, I waved over the fiance, who waved over my trainer, and we got warmed up. We did maybe three circles in each directly. May was moving off my leg, but was having some problems falling on her forehand at the canter. This is something we are working on and not something that was going to be fixed in the warmup ring. So with that, we headed in!

 

This show gives you the option of choosing which test to do. While May rides better in BN B, I thought it would be good to switch up the test on her and do A. Of course this meant that as I trotted down centerline, I was seriously debating with myself it it was a right turn or a left turn. I decided it must be left, and it worked out!

Our beginning few moves were really nice, and I have to say I am happy with them. The left is where she likes to ignore my inside leg and get stiff, so I am happy with the amount of bend I got through the circle. The canter transition wasn’t great. It was going downhill, and she seemed to disagree with me as I tried to explain that she could pick up an uphill canter while going downhill. She also slipped a bit in the corner, but I do really like the second half of that circle.

The walk work was… meh. She got a bit distracted at the beginning of it and never really stretched. The right trot work was solid and about where I can expect it. I can’t let her bend as much in this direction or I lose her shoulder. I managed not to lose her shoulder, but I did have to remind her to come off her forehand.
The last canter transition was meh. She again didn’t believe that she could canter uphill while going downhill and was still cautious from slipping on the grass, but we got it done and it was fine. The judge had some nice comments (calling it a very determined test immediately after my salute), and we came in 2nd in the Dressage:

“Fairly correct test effort. Great Pair 🙂 Work to maintain steady balance through test.”


Now, I do think the judge was a touch generous with the scores. It was a solid test, but I don’t think it was 6 points better than last week. (although, feel free to correct me if I am wrong!)

We then had a good amount of time until show jumping, so May go completely untacked and got to hang out and eat grass and hay. I hid in the shade and tried to stay cool, calm and composed. This was my downfall last weekend, sitting and waiting for show jumping.. and thinking. WAY too much thinking. So this time I did every reasonable thing I could think of to avoid thinking about it.

Then, it was time to get ready for show jumping and XC. At this show XC would run immediately after the SJ, so we just got ready for both. One of my favorite parts of this show probably makes no sense to any hunter/jumper types out there. The warm up jumps are set on a hill. A steep hill, about halfway up. The great thing about this? I have to kick to get up the hill, so I end up kicking the whole way to the base of the jump. It’s like magic!

When we originally walked down to the SJ field, I remember thinking that the jumps looked tiny. And they were, they were set for starter. (damn!) We wandered around a bit as they finished that division and then they put the jumps up. And I remember thinking they still looked small (yay!). They were undersized for BN, but that was exactly what I needed.

 

Overall, the round was good. I was able to have some influence on the spots we took, and we mostly kept a steady, forward pace. I should’ve fixed the lead to the jump on the far side of the ring, but again, my goal was forward. I am ok with the rail. It wasn’t clear, but it was a MUCH better ride than I gave May last week. At this point, I am thrilled with that!

Then it was off to XC! Sorry there aren’t pictures of almost every fence like last time. The first fence was a coop a few strides from the start gate. Then up a hill (Burgundy Hollow is basically on one big hill) to a half roll top, then a small gate at the top of the hill. May pretty much jumped me out of the tack over all three of these. She is really getting the hang of her job!


I recently read somewhere (sorry I can’t remember where) that you are most-likely to have problems at the fifth jump because that is where you start to feel comfortable. We had problems at the 4th jump. It was a well undersized (maybe 2’3″) vertical brush fence. But it was under a line of trees and faced directly into the field where all the trailers were parked. May backed off a bit, but I balanced her up and put my leg on and we were over it…

And towards one of the larger jumps on the course. A red table on a downward sloping hill. May wanted to look at it so bad that she ended up sneaking it another stride right before it, but she was honest and jumped it. Then down the hill and across the dirt road to the ditch and another up hill. May leaped across the ditch, and we charged up the hill as fast as her corgi legs could take us!


Up the hill was a small log and a standard sized bank. The face of the bank was narrow, so we had to steer a bit. May seems to really like banks, so it wasn’t an issue. I just had to make sure she locked onto the right section!


There was a hanging log at the top of the hill. Then we started to go down the hill and over a large rolltop. At this jump you started turning back towards all the trailers and other horses, and you were kind of overlooking them from the top of the hill. May got a big wiggly and distracted, but I rode to the base and she jumped.

The rest I mostly have video of!

She was not coming back like I was asking coming down the hill, so we got an awkward jump over the log. She sucked back going into the water, but did it. Then I had to give her a tap with the stick to get her refocused for number 13. Then we had a drunken gallop to number 14 where she was totally distracted, but honest.

So where did that leave us?

In Third!

And our barn’s team ended up winning, so we got some great “team champ” hats!

My friend also got 5th in her division, so we got to take pictures with satin that wasn’t even ours!


Thanks to Mark Hirschfeld Lewis for the Picture!

Overall, it was a really fun day where we accomplished our goals. We don’t have another show planned until the fall, as my trainer is having a baby, but we have plenty to work on at home, so stay tuned!

05/22/16 Kent School Horse Trials – Recap

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill

I apologize for the fact that it has taken me so long to write a recap of this one. The show itself was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and my feelings about it are following the same trend. First though, the logistics of the day!

3:00AM – Wake up

3:30AM – Leave House

5:00AM – Leave Barn

7:15AM – Arrive at Kent

9:00AM – Friend’s Dressage Ride Time (and the reason we were up before dawn)

11:20AM – My Dressage Ride Time

2:00PM – My SJ Time

2:30PM – My XC Time

3:00PM – Done showing, horses back on trailer

4:15PM – Ribbons released

6:30PM – Arrive back at Barn

7:30PM – Arrive Home

So in short, LONG DAY!

We actually braided for this show, and I was very impressed with how well May’s braids stayed in, especially considering how unamused she was by them.

 

After convincing her to get on the trailer in the dark, which she was convinced she would never fit in, we were on our way! The morning started out damn and cool, but the forecast promised better weather once we got to the show. For the next three hours, we just hung out. I got to watch my friend ride Dressage and some of the Training level riders jump their SJ. May got to eat lots of hay, which she appreciated.

Then, it was time to get ready for Dressage! May stood like a superstar, and I got to wear my new show coat and stock tie! (pre-tied, because ex-hunter-princesses don’t know how to tie a stock tie) I also actually busted out my Dressage saddle and a brand new white pad. Overall, we looked pretty legit.

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May was great wandering away from the trailer… but then our friend started screaming. May’s response was to scream back and prance up and down the hill by the stadium ring. My response? Sit like a ton of bricks. Fighting with her face was just going to get her more agitated and convince her that this whole thing was a bad idea. So I just sat there and made her go up hill when she wanted to jig.

The result? She stood quietly next to the stadium ring after about 10 minutes. I also got to meet Amelia Pitts from Dark Jewel Designs Browbands (check out her awesome stuff here). May is definitely getting one of these once I am less poor!

Dressage warmup was a bit tough, as there were probably ~20 horses at any given time also trying to warm up. The hill and slick grass were also a challenge, but May handled the atmosphere well. Our timing got pushed back a bit, so she stood longer than I had planned. Unfortunately, that meant we did lose a bit of focus.

I managed to get it back as we trotted over to the ring we would be showing in from the warmup ring… I then waiting 3 minutes for the girl in front of me to finish her salute. So there went that round of attention-getting. After she exited the arena, we did another quick warmup, and May felt really good and on my aids. She wasn’t looking at the busy warm up ring, or the judges cars, or the road right through the trees next to the ring.

Overall, the test was really good. Given the slick grass and slight hill, I couldn’t open up her step as much as I wanted to, so our scores suffered a bit. She slipped at the canter, which left her tense through the end of the test, which showed up in our walk. Overall, I was very happy, and we scored a 34, putting us in 2nd place! (For the record, I stopped trotting too soon at the end of the test, so walked a few steps to try and get as close as I could to x without looking obvious)
We then had about 3 hours before stadium. So May went back in the trailer, and we all ate and hung out for a while. My friend went before me in stadium and had a great, clear round! I, however, was starting to think too much. I started to feel pretty nauseous, but I tried to convince myself that it was the hotdog and heat and not the high jumps stuffed very close together in the stadium ring.
SJs

See, when I was younger, I had a very bad habit of “blacking out” during my jumping rounds. I didn’t pass out, but I would hold my breath and wouldn’t be able to remember anything about my courses after I rode them. I was starting to feel like that. Maybe it was the fatigue from the early morning wake up and sitting around for a long time or the pressure of being at our first recognized event around all these people I didn’t know on a horse that stands out quite a bit, but I was really too far into my own head. This is me too far in my own head, and my fiance being supportive. We are not nearly as judgy as we look in this picture…
Judgey

We got May ready (she looked fantastic with curly hair), and we headed down to the warmup ring. Also with 20 horses in it. It was chaos. They were running 25 – 30 minutes behind schedule, so there were horses there waiting for their rounds and horses that thought they were riding soon but were really really early.

We warmed up on the flat, and we jumped some jumps. She moved up to the jumps when I asked, and took the long spots when I asked, but she wasn’t really hunting the jumps like she usually does. She wasn’t taking me and letting me sit and regulate the rhythm. As a result, I was having to create the rhythm, keep the energy moving forward, hold her balance together, try to find distances, and avoid other horses. It was a good warmup, but she just didn’t feel like she was into it.

Then we had to go stand. At the in gate. Even writing this now, I feel that blackout kind of felling washing over me again. Not good. May got fidgety, but not in an excited way. I could tell she was feeding off of me a bit.

Finally, it was our turn to go in. First, the below is how it went:

The photographer got a full series of pictures at fence 3. They were not pretty, and the photos are public. Oh well.

We trotted into the arena in a bold, confident way. And then May saw all the people standing on the hill above us, and she didn’t take a look at the combination I had us trot through. She got tense and I, like a nervous genius, took my leg off. We got over the first to fences fine, and I started to feel like myself in the tack again. Then, we just missed to the third jump. Everyone was missing it all day, so I knew it would likely be an issue. May dropped behind my leg, and I jumped up her neck. It was ugly and unfair to my horse, and I felt her confidence drop. Of course, the next jump was a big square oxer off a short approach. I got nervous and chased her.

SJ1.jpg

She was a good girl and jumped it. We then came around to the combination, and she just sucked back. I tried to kick her through the line, but her balance had already fallen forward and we got 2 and an eighth strides (calling it a quarter or a half a stride would be too generous). By this point, May’s confidence was pretty shot (as was my own). My turn was bad to jump 6, and she decided she didn’t want to jump it. I don’t blame her, by this point, I didn’t really want to jump it either.


SJ7

We circled back, and I was determined to ride forward. And I did. By the last 3 jumps, May was back to being May. She jumped great down the long diagonal like, and did well around the last turn to the bright vertical. She even balance up enough to correct the cross canter landing off of jump 10. We trotted boldly out of the arena.

For those who are curious, we kept the right lead from 6 to 7 for two reasons: 1. Forward and rhythm were the most important things I needed at that moment, and breaking to the trot accomplished neither of these. 2. May has a habit of throwing her right shoulder through me as an evasion. It is much more difficult for her to do that in a counter canter. It got her off my right leg for the turn to the diagonal line and helped keep her from falling in before the last jump.

SJ8

I will be honest here. I felt pretty defeated walking out of stadium. Before showing up at Kent, I had felt like our stadium is where we had made the most progress in the last month. May was learning to balance herself differently, and I was figuring out how to help her with that balance. So to have it all come crashing down at fence 3 (pretty much literally) was very disappointing. I have a really good horse, and I got that distinct, crushing feeling that I was ruining her. I think all riders (and especially Adult Amateurs) have this feeling at one point or another and having it at a show was not conducive to success on XC.

I pulled off my coat while listening to my trainer tell me that the refusal was due to her loss of confidence after fences 3, 4, 5a, and 5b. As a true AA, all I heard was, “the stop was all your fault for riding so badly and you’re ruining your horse.”

We swapped out my nubblet spurs for larger ones (but still soft touch ones because the princess doesn’t like getting jabbed), and I traded in my jacket for my XC vest. My friend was back at the trailer after a good XC round on her horse. She said it was really fun and not too difficult. All I heard was “the course is really easy, and if you mess up, you’re going to be screwing up your horse even more.”

Here’s the thing: this course had a (very small) down back, an up bank, related distances, an unflagged water crossing and a half ditch. The water has not gone well for us this year, and we haven’t done ditches/banks since the one time we schooled them last year. This, along with our less than confident SJ round, was not making me feel like we were set up for success. The course was long, and I knew my corgi would tire out.

To put it bluntly, I was near tears. My trainer (at about 7 months pregnant) waddled up to me and asked if I was good. I shook my head and had trouble speaking. I told her about my concerns with the terrain questions and the length of the course. She told me that she can’t school me anymore. The only way to get the experience I need at this point is to go out and do it. She coached me on how to get May’s head in the game as they counted me down and off we went.

The first jump was a blue house off of a turn. My trainer got a shot of it with her camera, but I apologize for the poor quality.

XC1.jpg
Then we had a short gallop to a VERY steep hill. The hill had to be walked down, and May took her sweet time walking it. At the bottom of the hill was a few trot steps and the world’s smallest downbank. We cleared it without an issue then had a long canter stretch to the third jump. I realized that, with the time lost on the ditch, we kind of needed to boogie a bit. I let May pick up the pace, and just set her up a few strides before the third jump.

Redxc

The rest of the course went similarly. Set her up, jump the jump, make her go forward.

XCG

The fourth and fifth jumps were a related distance of a narrow(er) log to a stone wall. May was a bit impressed by the log:

Log

5

The sixth jump was a red roll top that we shared with Novice. We had no issues with it and made the turn toward the up bank at a trot. May locked onto the blue log behind it and took me over the ditch and the log. We were going at a really good click as we approached jump 9, a hanging log with some brush over it that was about 5 strides from a stone wall. We jumped 9 and she fell through my left leg. I steered back to 10 and we took it at a bit of an angle, but it was clear.

Jump 11 was a gray house before the woods.

HOuse XCThen a few strides to a hedge jump (something we’ve never done), then a few more strides to a log-type jump. (Jump descriptions at BN are super boring) She sucked back at 11, so I rode her super forward to 12, giving up a good distance for a closer one because I didn’t trust her not to fall behind me leg if I used my hand at all.

Hedge xc

Jump 13 came up ok, but my mind was already on jump 14: the ditch. There were no less than 4 people sitting along the ditch jump.

 

brushxc

I trotted around the corner to make sure we were straight, but I didn’t need to worry. May saw the groundline and locked right onto the jump. She even locked on to the raised log after it.

May did stop at the water, so I will have to devote some time to puddles in the near future. The last jump was a very plain, slightly raised log, that we barely even paused at. Overall, we came in 9 seconds under time with a clear round. I was so happy with her and so proud of myself for going through with it.

At the end of the day, my friend and I exchanged the world’s most awkward congratulatory hug, and May and I finished in 7th out of 10. Without the penalties in Stadium, we would have been 2nd, which would have been really cool.

As I reflected on the day with my fiance, I brought up how guilty I feel about the amount of time and money I spend on this sport when I get so upset about it, and I questioned why I do it. He reminded me of two things: 1. I love this sport. That includes my horse, the challenges, my friends, horse shows, late night rides, early rides, galloping, XC, and even Dressage. 2. My first lesson with May was a year ago, and she tried to run out of the arena with me.

So what does it all mean? It means that on Sunday we have our next BN horse trial (and the last for a while) at Burgundy Hollow! (And then I am spending Memorial Day in bed).

~ Special shout out to Matt, Sarah, Ashley and Cole for the pictures/video/support/psychotherapy/awkward hugs ~