You Know Nothing, Adult Amateur.

The wisdom of ignorance is a ridiculously important part of doing this thing we call “learning to ride”. I think many of us that rode as kids can think of a time when we really felt like we knew how to ride… like if we had the right horse and enough money of COURSE we could make it to Rolex or the Olympics or wherever. Then, we get a bit older. We get introduced to the “greats”. We read books, we watch clinicians, we LEARN. And somehow, in learning, we learn how little we do know.

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Recently, I was reading one of my favorite blogs. I real OG in my book. A Enter Spooking (If you EVER had a clinic in KY, I need to be there.)

I am not a Dressage rider. My only real Dressage training has come from Eventing riders and that only began in late 2015. During my first Dressage lesson, the trainer asked me to ride the horse into the contact, and I couldn’t do it properly. It was the first day in many days in which Dressage makes me feel like a total fool.

However, I had felt like I had started to grasp how this whole Dressage thing works, at least on a basic level. Then Megan makes a comment about how “the rider should kneel into their thigh”. What…. WHAT? I stopped. I blinked. I read it again. Dressage riders should not sit on their butts. They should kneel into their thighs. Oh… Oh well… That actually makes a ton of sense. So now I was staring at my screen, and I realized that I didn’t even know how to properly sit in a saddle, much less ride in one.

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But riders do not let our inability to do something stop us from trying. The first time you sat in a saddle, I bet that you couldn’t even make the old schoolie trot… or even turn. The first time you jumped, you probably had no idea where your horse would takeoff. And the first time you went a trail ride, I bet you had no idea how to get your horse through that one damn puddle. However, you worked at it. You read books, you tried different things, you sought instruction, and you got better.

Each time we peel back another layer of the “riding” onion, we realized another skill (or set of skills) we do not know. But now, we have something that we know we can learn to make us better. So we try, and we get better, and we master more skills… and learn how much more we don’t know and can’t do. 🙂

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Walk the Walk

Sunday the sun rose and it was… a livable 27 degrees… as a high. Oh well. It was good enough to get to the barn. I had plan for a w/t and maybe even c hack. I was going to focus on quiet aids and a relaxed horse. I even put on my Dressage saddle and tall boots. I was ready. May greeted me with bright eyes and looked as ready for me to get some work done.

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Kind of Like This 🙂

Then I walked into the indoor. It was a bit colder in there. No worries. As I always try to do in winter, I hand walked May around the indoor a bit. I always feel like it is a nice opportunity for her back to warm up before I hop on up there. Then I felt it, under my feet. Frozen footing. Then super soft and deep footing, then frozen footing, and back and forth. Well, there goes my plan.

So what to do? With 3 inches of snow on the ground over at least an inch of ice, going for a trail ride around the property (my other go to) was also out of the question. I started off just walking around the indoor on a loose rein, but after 20 or so minutes of that, I needed to do something else for my sanity.

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Let’s Face It… This is What We Want to be Doing

So we started working on some lateral work. I pushed May’s shoulder away for a few steps, then straight a few steps, then the other direction for a few steps. At first, she totally resisted, as this isn’t something we have worked on since November. Then she started to get loose, and I could tell the pony yoga was working. So I transitioned into moving the haunches away. The same pattern persisted: resistance to enjoyment.

Next, I reiterated the idea of moving away from my leg laterally in both directions in a super controlled way. We turned down the centerline and went 4 steps to the left, then straight, then 4 steps right, all the way down the centerline. It keeps her paying attention and holding herself, so she doesn’t just throw her shoulder over and fall out through my outside aides. Once I felt that we had warmed up properly, I asked for some more difficult stuff.

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Ah! Yeah! Movin’ That Body!

First, we worked on haunches in. All I looked for was 2 steps of proper haunches in before I moved the shoulder back into line with the haunches and gave huge pats. We ended with no sweat, but definitely a warmed and more stretched out horse. How are you dealing with this RIDICULOUS COLD?

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.

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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…

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.