In 2016, when May and I competed more regularly, I was really, really good at setting goals for each show. This year, as we returned to horse trials, I let them slip for the first one, but I am determined to make this a habit again. Our modest Sr. Starter division has 18 entries, so I am going to be really conscious of keeping goals away from ribbons and onto things I can control.
In writing this list, I realized that it is really a combination of two lists I had done previously: the one before our first BN and the one before our first recognized trial. The former was a BLINDING success in my mind, while the latter still feels a bit like a failure. The hilarious part? I got a better score (by like 6 points) at the recognized event. Just goes to show you, scores do not tell the whole story.
I am not sure what to even write here. We scored a 24.2 from a very soft judge at the last schooling horse trial, which had us in 4th out of 19. I am going to throw out there that I want to score below a 35. I think our last test was, more fairly, in the 35 range, and we will be doing Into C, which is not a test I have ever done before.
Ride forward. Really. That’s it. If poles come down because May doesn’t respect anything at 2′, then I am ok with that. I will not be ok with crawling over more oxers. If we are going to get back to BN, we need to go forward.
Do the water if it’s an option. I would much rather be out of the ribbons and get a 20, but school the water, then have the same thing happen at a BN recognized horse trial in the future. I don’t need to prove to anyone that we can win. I just need to make sure that my horse and I come through the finish flags as an even better team.
No negative self talk. I am just going to quote this one from my first BN horse trial:
I am not nervous, I am excited. That is not a huge jump, it is a reasonable effort. I did not screw up; I found something we need to work on. My pony is not a Corgi, she is an elegant gazelle (or something I guess)
Utilize visualization to create positive outcomes before they even happen. This always sounds kind of hippy to me, but it does work.
Stay Positive. At the end of the day, I am at a horse trial with my friends, and I am riding a horse that is genuinely just happy to pop over some fences with me.
Things not on the list:
1. Clean Jumping Rounds: If we get rails, we get rails. If I try for one of the bank/ditch/water options and get a refusal, that’s not the end of the world. I am truly utilizing this event as a barometer for what we need to focus on going forward. I am going to ride like I stole it and come away with issues to work on.
2. Make My Trainer Proud: Maybe one day I will write a full post on this one. However, I think a lot of riders put a lot of pressure on themselves to not embarrass their trainer. I know I do. Of course, I managed to eat dirt during Marilyn Payne’s clinic in 2016, so I am not sure I could embarrass anyone more. At the end of the day, I work hard, am nice to the other boarders, pay my bills on time, and care about my horse. That’s all my trainer really wants from me.
3. Win: One day, I would like this to be our goal, but after so much time out of the game, it is not our goal on Sunday.
“What is this?” you ask… Well, it just so happens to be ANOTHER lesson. I know, it’s pretty shocking at this point. This makes our 3rd jumping lesson since moving to the new barn – more than I was able to get in all of 2017!
NT also changes around the jumps a lot, so this week was a whole new challenge. A fan of bounces! I know some people are very familiar with this exercise, but it was one I had never done before. With May’s propensity to pop her shoulder out when things get tough, I figured this grid might have our number. Below is a good idea of what it looked like. The biggest difference was that, to start out, ours were raised on the outside to encourage the horse to the circle.
The first time through, we were supposed to trot it to make sure we got the right bend, connection, impulsion. May decided to just canter the whole thing, which was not the point. We tried again, and more purposeful posting and a well-timed half-halt had her trotting through it properly. One more time at the trot to make sure that was all set, and we were onto cantering it. This was… surprisingly easy. We reversed and did it again the other way and worked a bit on me keeping my body back over such small jumps. NT raised the jumps to three verticals, and we went through again without an issue.
So, we moved onto the next exercise. Building on the same idea of controlling the outside shoulder, this was 3 jumps, where you were encouraged to make more square turns between each jump. The jumps were small verticals, but the idea was to jump one, go a couple of strides, make a square turn, get straight, jump the next one, and repeat.
Our first time through this was rough. I really wanted to use my inside hand to pull her body around the corner, instead of using my outside rein and leg. As a result, I almost missed the second jump and none of my distances showed up nicely. The second time was a bit better, as I concentrated on sitting and rotating May around my inside leg. She even got lighter in the bridle, who would’ve thought! (NT was fully aware that this was going to happen.) We reversed it and had even better luck.
Finally, it was course time. (See the pattern of these lessons building on each other? It is fascinating.)
So! Starting on the right lead over the triple. Right turn IMMEDIATELY to a 6 stride line (oxer to vertical). Then, we had to boogie a bit to get forward enough to come down the gold combination, which was an oxer, 2 strides to another oxer, 2 strides to a vertical. Left turn to loop around to the pink line. The oxer into the pink line was set kind of awkwardly off the rail so that you had to ride the horse’s outside shoulder to get the distance. Then, it was 3 strides to the barrel.
The first time, we nailed the bounces, turned to the purple jump 2… I put my leg on… and nothing. It took May probably 3 strides to actually get it in gear. While we hit the oxer fine, we didn’t have enough gas to get down that line in 6, and we ended up reaching the vertical at an awkward 6.25 strides. Whoops.
However, I KNEW we had to get our butts in gear to get through the triple. So I galloped her forward and got her SUPER in front of my leg as we turned to that combination. From the more forward pace, it rode pretty easy, and we were able to land, re-balance, and make a nice turn to finish the last line in 5. At the end, I halted her and asked her to yield her shoulder, right and then left.
My biggest issue with May is her locking her shoulder and losing her suppleness while jumping at speed, so we are making sure that each course ends either with a circle or some leg yielding to reiterate that she needs to stay soft with me. The halting during this lesson was a decision I made due to how much speed we were carrying throughout the entire course.
So what did we do next? Trainer raised jumps 2 and 4C, and we did it again! This time, May responded much better to my leg before jump 2, and we were easily able to make it down that line in six strides. I pushed her forward again after that line and we were ROLLING. It has been a long time since I have jumped from that truly open step, and man, it felt REALLY good.
We got a bit deep into the first part of the triple, but we had enough momentum to easily carry us through the line without losing balance or rhythm. The last jump in that line was now closer to Novice height than BN, and May CRACKED her back over it. It threw me a touch off balance, but I recovered quickly. We cantered to the last jump, and it finally sunk it that NT was yelling at me to use my seat. You can actually hear me say “seat” as I realized what she was telling me. I am glad I sat because it kept us from screwing up the turn to 5, and we sailed easily over 6. Again, halt and supple before ending. The full video *with hilarious audio* is below.
By far, it was the best course we had done in a LONG time, so we called it a day on that. Immediately after my lesson, I felt like I had given up and should’ve kept pushing even though the heat had me a bit nauseous and dizzy. However, after writing this all up, it was quite the lesson! AND we had the hunter pace 2 days later. No shame in keeping a horse fresh for work. Called it a day, took care of May, and chugged down some electrolytes. Couldn’t be happier with this mare.
This is going to be a very text-heavy, Dressage focused post. I could have broken this up into 3 posts, but I didn’t want to torture you all with that. Apologies in advance for what is interesting content to me and probably no one else!
Last week, I texted NT and literally asked her, “Can I get on the schedule for a Dressage lesson? I have forgotten how to fancy prance.” Luckily, she understands my humor (or is just good at faking it), and put me on the schedule for Monday.
On Sunday, I showed up to the barn to a horse missing a shoe. This wasn’t totally unexpected. During the transition period of May to the new barn, she spent a couple of days out during the day, and she spent a good amount of that time stomping at flies on the REALLY hard ground right now. I had already put an SOS out to the farrier, and he was scheduled to come out on Monday afternoon.
So on Monday, May’s feet were cleaned and trimmed up (and a hoof supplement was added to her smartpaks), and we were headed into our first Dressage lesson with NT after May basically got 4 days off. Whoops.
Given the heat and humidity, we decided to do the lesson in the indoor arena. I have to say that the shade of the covered arena combines with the breeze through the open sides REALLY made a difference in the comfort level of both May and me. NT gave us a simple directive, “just go ahead and warm up, and I will watch.”
Ummmmm ok. I can do that. I have been riding for 22 years. I can warm up a horse on the flat. Hah… hahahahah. Now, before I get into how our warm-up went, it is probably worth noting that I made a pretty significant change in our equipment lately. I have caught myself riding almost primarily off my spurs and in a way that had May completely behind my leg. As a result, I have switched to a Dressage whip and no spurs. The Dressage whip used to make May incredibly tense, but a lot of hacking out while carrying one has made it a mostly non-issue.
Our warm-up was… mostly terrible. I got her in front my leg, but she was definitely dull to any bending aids, and as usual, she wanted to continuously pop off the connection of my outside rein when tracking right. (i.e. the left rein) I did some loops and worked on moving her shoulders around to try and loosen up the middle part of her body, but she mostly just continued to shuffle along like a board. We did a bit of canter, with a turn on the haunches in between, and then I looked at NT for instruction.
“You need serpentines” was the summation of the explanation that followed. Basically, I was losing either May’s shoulder or her haunches around basically every turn.
“I do a lot of 20M circle exercises…” I tried to explain, but NT explained how, on a 20M circle, you can remain mostly straight and stay on the circle. She wanted us to really make TURNS that forced us to really BEND. 10 meter circles are really beyond us right now, but we could do serpentines with 10-15 meter half circles at each end, so that is what she had us do. She told me not to worry about getting the exact size of the half circles, as long as I got the correct bend and shape through May’s body. Cool! Our first attempt looked something like this:
Basically, I just kind of threw May around the ring and tried to shove her around corners without ensuring I had the right balance first. I realized how badly it was going, and tried to sit the trot for the last loop. It seemed to help a bit, as I was able to better time my aids. Either way, by the end of that experiment, NT learned she needed to be SUPER literal with me. “I know I said you could do whatever size circle you wanted, but they need to be consistent. You still need to ride super accurately.”
During my second attempt, I sat the trot and implemented a solid half halt anytime I felt her balance slip. I rode my lines, and focused on really pushing her into the corner and my outside rein with my inside leg. It ended up looking more like this:
By the end of the exercise, I had a horse that was much more connected in both directions, AND she was moving across her back and lifting through her withers. There will definitely be a lot more of THESE in our future. Now that we had (finally) established a real connection, something I had been struggling with for weeks, we wanted to add in some lateral work. We had a great connection, but the idea of moving off my inside leg was still a bit of a struggle.
The directive was simple, come down the quarter line and ask May to leg yield to the wall. Baby stuff! We started in the better direction, the left, and it was a total fail. Without my spurs, I was basically incapable of convincing May to move over. The closest I got to a “leg yield” was the shoulders sliding towards the wall and the head bent back to the left. I wasn’t even pulling on the left rein, but that is where the head was. “Do you want to try asking for that a different way?” My head snapped up at NT’s words. Do I need to reiterate that I have been riding for more than TWENTY years? Even the H/J did a lot of leg yielding.
None of this left my mouth; instead, I just meeked out a “yeah.” NT came into the middle of the ring and pretended she was on a horse. First words out of her mouth are, you don’t move your aids because you aren’t changing your bend. Wait… what? I kept watching, quietly, while she positioned her inside leg “at the girth” and moved her outside leg back to keep the hind end underneath her. She took a step to the right in the “leg yield” and then half halted by squeezing her thighs. (I really hope the cambox picked up all of this. I will have to check tonight.) She took another step, explaining how she was scooping the horse up with her inside leg and moving them into the outside rein and outside leg, which were allowed the horse’s body to move into them. WHEW!
She explained how I was losing the shoulder because I wasn’t half halting, and that made it impossible for May to move her body over effectively. Oh, and sit with the bend. Yup, sit with the bend. I have ALWAYS sat on the outside of my saddle. In a leg yield, I will practically throw myself off the outside of the saddle in an attempt to get my horse to move with me in the direction. No one had ever told me I should be sitting on the inside (or with the bend).
Part of me was shrugging my shoulder at this. Part of me was tempted to ask if I could just go get my spurs. It didn’t even seem like this new set of aids could work, but what I was doing right now wasn’t working. I figured I would at least try it. We started tracking left and came down the quarter-line. I shifted my weight SLIGHTLY in my left seat bone, I kept my left leg at the girth, and I moved my right leg back. I half halted with my thighs, and then, I thought of scooping up May’s body with the entirety of my left leg and moving her one step to the right… and it worked. I half halted and asked again, and it worked again. Pretty soon, we were cruising right along from left to right. May was straight, there was no fighting with her head, and we ended the leg yield with an EVEN BETTER connection. Magic. (Below – old footage of me asking the “old” way, outside of a lesson, and thinking I was doing amazing)
The right was definitely the more difficult direction, so May lost a lot of power through the leg yield. However, they remained straight and correct. NT explained that strength and flexibility in that leg yield will come with time. Sounds good to me. We walked for a bit so that May and I could recoup, given the heat. Then, NT asked me how our shoulder-ins were. I almost laughed, but I gave her a pretty diminutive, “not good.” She nodded and explained the movement to me again.
Again, the concept didn’t change. The inside leg stayed at the girth to keep the bend, the outside leg stayed back to steady the hind end, and my weight stayed on the side with the bend. Cool. This time, I would look to move as if we were going to make a 10 meter circle, and I would ask her to hold that shape while going straight. It was pretty rough. I REALLY wanted to swing my inside (left) leg back and the outside (right) leg forward to try and push the haunches towards the wall and the shoulders against the wall. Shockingly to no one, that didn’t work. May’s left shoulder popped on the inside, and the loss of bend and balance meant she was basically running away with me (albeit incredibly slowly).
NT reminded me to fight the urge to give up on the inside leg to outside rein, and she reminded me to half halt. Half halt? We are barely moving. Again though, I suspended my disbelief and tried it. I kept my inside leg on, my outside leg back, sat to the inside, and then, I turned her shoulder just to the inside and half halted. She took two steps of great shoulder-in before coming off the rail a bit. I half halted again, and we got three good steps. And then, I got another nugget of wisdom from NT, “the moment you feel her wanted to come off the rail, that is when you need to half halt.” However, we didn’t want to drill the exercise, so we took a walk break before going in the other direction.
To the right, things were a bit more difficult. Granted, this is May’s more difficult direction, so I wasn’t sure we would be able to do it at all. We would get straight, I would ask for the shoulder in, and May would throw her head around. I was told just to do a 10M circle and try again. I tried again, and I got the same response. “STOP PULLING ON YOUR INSIDE REIN!” I heard from the other end of the arena. From more than 100 feet away, NT had seen something I hadn’t even noticed I was doing. I shoved my inside rein forward, and we suddenly had a small, but correct, shoulder in. We did one more line with me riding like someone who has done this before, and then, we gave her another break.
“She really tells on you when you’re pulling on that rein,” NT joked. Then she asked if there was anything at the canter I wanted to work on specifically, since we didn’t want to do much of it in the heat.
“My transitions suck.” I explained how, in my last real Dressage lesson, May had been completely incapable of picking up the right lead, and that, since then, I have basically settled for letting her throw her head up and then just shuffle her way into the canter. NT made a comment about seeing that in our warmup, and she told me to pretend that I was asking the stifle for the canter.
“Take a deep breath, let it out, swing your outside leg really far back, and ask for the canter.” No… there is no way that is going to work. Hah… hahahahaha.
I picked up the trot to the left, got the connection, started sitting, took a deep breath, let it out, and swung my right leg back. And good Lord, that mare just threw that right hind leg under the body, rocked back, and picked up a canter. It was uphill, it was connected, and it was prompt. I looked up at NT with a MASSIVE grin on my face. We did it one more time, and decided to switch to the right. To the bad direction.
I had a bit more trouble reestablishing the connection on this side after our walk break. She really wanted to throw her shoulders to the right, but I got it. Then I sat, then I took a deep breath, I let it out, I swung my left leg back, and she gave me the best canter transition I have ever gotten. On any horse. We came back down to the trot, I let her stretch, and NT said we should just be done on that. It was a 9 transition, and there was no point to trying to “train” a tired horse to do something it already did great.
Today, I am sore. My abs hurt from all the sitting trot. My inner thighs hurt from all the half halts, and my back muscles hurt from making sure I was sitting as tall and balanced as possible. However, I feel like we are fancy prancing better than ever before!
As for the cambox, the instructions are in French, so I am fumbling my way through learning how to use it. Also, I am learning how to use my Mac at the same time… anyone know how to get a video from iMovie to my iPhone, so that I can put it on instagram??
It is probably fair to say that about 90% of people do eventing because of cross country. It is just… fun. May and I had gone xc schooling once since moving to KY, and we hadn’t really done a full XC course since our last horse trial. Again, due to the late start, we didn’t get a chance to walk the course ahead of time. Luckily, most of the jumps were visible from either the Dressage arena or the SJ area. There were 13 efforts in total. I didn’t wear a watch, so I have 0 idea how long it took us.
There was no formal start box. I decided to pick up my canter a bit before the start line so that we could have some momentum into the first jump. May, of course, wanted to throw herself on her forehand instead of creating power from behind, so we had an argument all the way to jump one.. and then onto jump two…
Jump 2 was a bit downhill, so again, I had a conversation with May about how that was not permission to fall flat on her face. Either way, we were up and over it.
You can see us trotting at the end of the clip, as I tried to find my way to jump 3. Jump 3 was a small down bank, but it was in line with a bunch of other banks through the trees. Of course, I lined up with the larger bank that we had schooled the other week, so I had to correct my course. Either way, May dropped down like a rockstar.
Immediately after jump 3 was the water. The water was flagged generously, so you could go around it on the left. I took that option, since I didn’t have enough time to land off the bank, get May squared up to the water, and create impulsion towards the water. Either way, May bent her body so far away from the water that we almost missed our flags.
We galloped through a fence line and up a small hill to the 5th jump on course, this little red house we had schooled the week before. (somehow, this venue managed to move all the jumps around in just a week. It was really impressive.)
I galloped to the end of the field, looking for the only jump on course I hadn’t been able to find when I was scoping things out. It was described as a “stack of logs.” Cool, I thought, it will just be a little pyramid of logs on the ground. No big deal.
The approach was a bit odd, as the fence line kind of curved away from the jump and then back to it. I managed to find it on google maps, so you all can see what I mean!
Of course, what I didn’t anticipate, was that the “stack of logs” wouldn’t be sitting on the ground. They were actually raised about a foot off the ground, making this both a bit of a looky jump, and the biggest jump on course. Cool. I didn’t look at it too long, just found my line, looked up, and kicked. May popped over it beautifully.
We had a bit of a gallop to fence 7… which I honestly can’t even remember. I am pretty sure it was just a small, brown coop. Then… I got a bit lost… I almost jumped the BN number 8, before I found my number 8. It looked tiny, so I cantered over to it. As I came upon it though, I realized why it looked so tiny. It was at the bottom of a very steep, short hill. Maybe two strides down the hill to the log. May could care less, and we were over.
We came back through the woods to number 9. Jump 9 was a cute, baby roll top.
However, you can see May land and start drifting back toward the trailers (towards the camera.) Our approach to jump 10 was a bit crooked, and then we had to re-balance, turn left, and go down hill to jump 11. As a result, we had a bit of an argument over jump 10, and a not-so-flattering moment. Oh well. It was fine.
Jump 11 and 12 jumped great, and we had a nice stretch uphill to jump 13, so I asked May to give me a bit of a gallop. She did, and I got lots of compliments from people after about how much fun our course looked. Jump 13 was the last jump. It was a cute train jump, which May popped over, and then got lots and lots of pats for.
The event still had several hours to go, and the barn was only 10 minutes away. I decided it would be best to cool May off, take her home, and then come back for the final results. (especially since May decided that any of the water presented to her at the show was poison.) May hopped back onto the trailer and was all settled in at home again within an hour. I drank lots of water, and we headed back to the show for, hopefully, a ribbon.
And we got one! We finished 6th out of 19 horses, adding just 4 jump penalties to our Dressage score. When I went to get my ribbon, I told them I came in 6th and asked for my ribbon… then thought about it and asked what place they give ribbons up to. Tenth! They give ribbons up through TENTH place at a schooling show! Awesome. Definitely, 10 out of 10, will be returning. 🙂
After Dressage, I had nearly 2 hours until Show Jumping. I took a look at both the show jumping and cross country course, but I wasn’t able to fully walk either due to the late start we had in the morning. Oh well, show jumping was 8 jumps with 1 related distance, and XC was basically one big loop.
May got to hang out in the shade and enjoy the breeze and grass, while I got to actually eat some real food. It might have been 10:30 in the morning, but I needed lunch! Once we were about a half hour to my SJ time, I pulled May off the trailer, threw on our jumping stuff, and got back on. Given that XC was running immediately after SJ, I just put all of May’s XC gear on and wore my vest. And then promptly forgot my armband. Whomp Whomp.
The husband ran back to the trailer while I warmed up again. It was a short, but good warmup, so I cut it a bit short. I wanted to watch a couple of rounds before I went in. Unfortunately, May had other plans and wasn’t super interested in just standing at the in gate, so while I caught bits and pieces of other rounds, I wasn’t able to watch the whole thing through. I do not think I saw anyone go through the related distance line (remember how I didn’t get a chance to walk it?)
Entering the ring for the round was a bit awkward, as you had to check in with the volunteer at the in gate, and then trot to the other end of the SJ field to check in with the judge. I also wanted to trot by 7 because, for BN, there was a 7B. As a result, right after 7 there were a bunch of poles in the grass, and I wanted to make sure May saw them before we were at the base of 7.
So once we checked in with the judge, I trotted along past 5, since that was a couple of hay bales and sometimes hay bales are scary. I picked up my canter, and May immediately started throwing her head around. Ugh. I got her attention back somewhere around 4, as I made my turn to jump 1. Unfortunately, our lack of focus meant my line wasn’t as crisp as I wanted, as May drifted behind my leg and towards the in gate. What does this all mean? It means we pretty much clobbered jump 1.
I kicked forward and got a slightly better rhythm and line to jump 2. We jumped in a touch weak, so I decided to balance up and do the add. Except I HADN’T WALKED the line. SO I got 3/4 of the way down the line, and I realized it was SET SHORT. It was also too late to chase her for what would have been a MASSIVE distance, or just faster shuffling corgi steps toward the nothing distance we already had lined up. Oops… we got to the oxer with no step, no impulsion, and no distance. Cool. May HEFTED herself over it, somehow leaving it up. Seriously, there is video evidence of this that I need to upload for you all.
By this point, I was pretty angry at myself for riding the first 3 jumps like a monkey. I kicked on to 4 and actually had a pretty nice jump. I keep kicking to 5. I am DETERMINED to have almost a “hunter gap” to this fence. We. Will. Not. Chip. For some reason, I had it in my head that she might look at that one, so I needed to ride strong. It was an oxer, which I hate, and it had some hay bales under it. Now, I am not sure we have ever jumped hay bales, but I know many horses that have taken offense to them. (I got an awesome nose bleed once after a horse took serious offense to some hay bales.)
I think it went fine though. 😉 It ended up probably being our nicest jump on course. Jump 6 I don’t even remember jumping. I probably stopped breathing that point. At 7, I was determined not to have the same issue I had at 1, and I rode more determined through my line. As a result, 7 was a non issue. I turned to 8. Kicked on, and was over. So SJ finished with just one jump down, but I was pretty frustrated for myself for not starting the round well.
SJ was pretty messy for a lot of people, and I later heard that the first jump when down a lot for people. Overall, we moved from 4th to 6th out of 19. No matter the score though, I was determined to go out and attack XC.
Of note, all the professional photos were purchased by me from Bluegrass Equine Photography for digital use. I am a big believer in supporting horse show photographers, so I was more than happy to pay for these happy memories!
Let me start my saying, my horse is a magnet for attention. More than once, I found myself surrounded by multiple girls, as they asked questions, petted May, and even gave her kisses. The horse, who is usually so aloof, really loves all this at shows. Go figure.
Our day got off to a bit of a rough start, as a scheduling conflict at the barn meant that we couldn’t get on the road until 9AM, vs. the 8:30AM I had been planning on. Luckily, the show venue was maybe 10 minutes down the road, so we weren’t in danger of missing my 10:06 ride time. I did, however, change into my boots, my hairnet, and my helmet while we drove.
As soon as we got to the venue, I sent my husband off the office to get my number and whatever information he could glean from the staff there. This was the same place we had went to for XC schooling the prior week, but I wasn’t sure where everything was set up for the actual competition. While he was gone, I pulled May off the trailer myself. For some reason, she isn’t a fan of my trainer’s 2+1 trailer, but she was patient as I worked out how to get her off of it myself.
The husband arrived back in time to help me finish tacking up, and then May decided to be a total beast to get on. Now, my husband is not a small man, and May full body shoved him out of the way as I was swinging a leg over… I guess It’s truly time to get serious about the standing at the mounting block thing at home.
I then wandered aimlessly around where SJ and XC were, trying to figure out how one gets to the Dressage arena on the other side of the pond. I finally found someone to ask, and it turns out you had to go down what looked like a private driveway, take a right onto a dirt path past a hot walker, walk up into a random field and around the fence line to the dressage arena. I am not going to lie, being lost like that and on a bit of a time crunch really stressed me out.
Whew! When we finally found the Dressage warm-up, it was broken into two areas: a big grassy field that was mostly flat, and an actual dressage court. I rode around in the field for a while before the Dressage court emptied. Then, I moved to the court. Of course, as soon as I got in there, someone else, let’s call her Competition Crazy (CC), decided she needed to run through her WHOLE test in that little court multiple times in a row. Maybe I am naive, but I feel like there is no scrubbing a test right before you go in. Practice the movements to get your horse as connected and tuned in as possible, and then go into the ring. (more on CC later too)
With a couple of riders left to go, I just let her walk around in the shade for a bit, hoping that would help relieve her of some of our combined tenseness. As I was watching the last rider go before me, a couple of girls came up to pet May. It’s amazing how just talking to people about my pony helps keep my nerves at bay. The rider before me wasn’t ready, so I happily agreed to go a bit early.
I wandered down to the arena and gave the judge and scribe my number. ANNNND they couldn’t find me. They asked for my name, and I gave it. They said my number didn’t match my name… cool. Then I gave them my horse’s name, and they were like “OOOHHHH. We thought YOU were May”. I may be a bit short, a bit round, and quite pale, but I am definitely not May.
We got it sorted out, and I got to trot a bit around the arena before they honked the horn, and we headed down centerline for the first time in 2 years. Below is how it went.
(a copy of the test can be found here, I am just going to give the scores and comments for each movement below)
8.0 – No Comment
8.0 – Nice Energy
7.5 – Slight Head Tossing
7.0 – Could Have More Balance
7.0 – Slight Loss of Bend
6.5 – Could Have More march
8.0 – 2-3 jiggy steps, but very nice stretch (This was VERY generous)
6.0 – Could March More. Slight Tension
8.0 – No Comment
7.0 – Could Have Been Cleaner
6.5 – Losing Bend. Slight Loss of Balance
7.0 – No Comment
8.0 – No Comment
9.0 – No Comment
Overall Comments: Well Matched Pair. Lovely Test. Work on Canter transitions and tension.
Final Score: 24.1
So my thoughts? The scoring was CLEARLY generous, but it was equally generous for everyone. I was happy with how May stayed connected and engaged throughout the trot work, and I thought the canter work was a lot less scrambly then the last time we competed. However, the tension in the walk is definitely something we need to work on, as it comes up at home too.
The score was good enough to put us in 4th place out of 19, so that was very encouraging. Either way, we had about 2 hours to cool off. Then it was going to be time for jumping!
So yesterday was my birthday, so I am not going to apologize for the lack of media here (although, that should be changing soon!). It was one of those birthday that just happens between the time you can legally drink and the symbolic “decade” birthdays. Solidly out of my Mid-Twenties though and into my Late-Twenties. As an extra special surprise, I got a text from my trainer on Monday morning. All it said was, “Lesson at 6:30 on Tuesday? Jump? :-D”
Obviously, I answered with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” (followed by about a million smiley faced). Then, I sort of panicked. See, May and I have only kind of loped around fences super casually, and I didn’t get the weekend at all to prepare. Saturday we did some long and stretchy stuff, and Sunday we did some walking.
We also have only had 3(?) jumping lessons with this trainer over the course of the year and a half I have been at this barn. The last jump lesson was a year ago. (I am not counting the impromptu lesson we had where I jumped around tiny jumps in my dressage saddle… but I guess I could.)
Most of my trainer’s clientele are either actively competing or planning on competing at the Training/Prelim levels this year, so sometimes, she cranks the jumps up. So, in a totally normal reaction to stress, I polished my boots up, wiped my saddle down before my lesson, and worried about having forgotten to grab a clean white pad to replace my teal, fuzzy, and now very hairy saddle pad. (I don’t think my trainer cares about any of this in reality, but I needed to do something to “prepare.”)
I got on about 20 minutes before my lesson to let us warm up before the lesson started. Unlike trainers of my past, my current trainer likes to get right into jumping or Dressage or whatever it is we are working on that day, so it is best to be warmed up before we get started (unless we are working on building or fixing a specific warm up routine for whatever reason).
While I was warming up, another lesson was going on. This woman at my barn competes Saddlebreds in the breed competitions, but she has fallen in love in eventing and is retraining her REALLY successful Saddlebred mare to be an eventer. I think this was one of their first jumping lessons, and let me tell you, that girl has hops! My trainer was laughing about the variety of horses in her barn, going from training a Saddlebred to my little draft cross mare. It makes it fun and interesting, and it shows just how many tools she has in her tool kit.
Onto my actual lesson! Below was the general set up of the arena. There were two outside lines that aren’t shown on the below, but we didn’t jump them, so I didn’t include them. I think it’s busy enough as is!
So where did we start? Well, we started with my trainer explaining that this would be a gymnastic-type lesson to see where we’re at. Works for me!
We started with trotting that single orange pole at the top. Literally. One pole on the ground, at the trot. My trainer had me establish rhythm and had me focus on NOT pushing May past her rhythm, which was actually a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. We ended up having to do this twice, each direction, to get it right. Then, we moved to the set of three, teal, poles next to it. Each of these were raised on one side in an alternating fashion.
Again, the focus was keeping the rhythm even and a little slow. To get the power and push from behind without the horse trying to run through the exercise. Thanks to the first exercise, this one was pretty easy. We got it quickly, and were able to move on.
We moved onto the “Circle of Love”, which is the circle of blue jumps and blue cones in the above diagram. (my trainer REFUSES to call it the Circle of Death). Either way, it was a 20M circle with 4 jumps, and 4 sets of cones. At first, she only had 2 of the jumps up, but we were able to do that with absolutely no problem, so she made it up to all 4 jumps after 1 circle. Moral of this story? I do not need to throw my body over fences, and I need to be more comfortable with correcting quickly after a fence. I would say the first time through in each direction was rough, but once I got over the idea of letting May lift me out of the tack instead of throwing my body around, it got a lot easier.
My trainer explained that the goal of an exercise like that would be to first be able to get through the exercise comfortable in both direction. Then, to get the same number of strides between each fence. Once that is established, then you can make it more difficult by going outside the cones and adding 1 additional stride between each fine, and then weaving inside the cones and getting 1 fewer stride between each fence. She said this is something you would build over time, and wasn’t something we should try to drill into the horse in a single session.
She was pretty impressed with how quickly we figured it out, and was even more impressed with the fact that May wasn’t huffing and puffing after it. Fitness is working! (for her… this was the hardest I had worked in the saddle in a while, and I was feeling it!)
So what was next??
Next was an exercise in adjust-ability. We moved onto the three purple poles in a straight line down the middle of the arena. Not sure if any of you remember an earlier post, but I had jumped through these in a super open 3 to try and jump from a more open stride. Yeah… not the focus of this lesson. I was told to jump in and just let it happen in 4. We did that once in each direction, and then my trainer told me to do each of them in 5.
Now, May now knew that these were a 4, and turning an open 3 into a 5 is a pretty big ask from the big lady. The first time in, she blew off my half halt before the first fence, blew it off between the first and second fence, and my trainer told me to halt before the last fence. We did, and then we tried again. It continued to be REALLY difficult for her, and there was a told of dramatic head throwing. However, she was completely capable of doing it. For my part, I had to think of getting a real Dressage-Like canter. I mean, I was visualizing the canter I need to get a solid leg yield across a diagonal type of Dressage canter. I needed to keep May really high through the poll and shoulders. I don’t think I have ever asked this horse to collect her canter this much, and you know what, I should be. A couple of times, we close momentum and ended up in the trot, but I just circled and asked again. If she went through the jumps correctly, she got to canter on a more forward stride and looser rein as a reward.
So how do you build on that? You jump a very technical course with very low jumps!
We were instruction to come down the purple line of jumps in a 5 to a 4, go around the 9 o’clock jump on the circle of love, go between the cones, jump the 6 o’clock jump on the circle of love, go through the next set of cones. Then, we had to complete the S patter, by jumping the gray diagonal jump, turn to jump the last 2 jumps of the purple pattern in a 4, and then make a right turn to jump the oxer. After the oxer, we had to keep our line to fit through the super tight opening between the middle purple jump and the teal, raise poles.
So how did it go? Well, the first time, I wasn’t able to get the 5 to the 4. I didn’t push May forward over the second jump, and we just didn’t have the power to get 4, so we started again, and we nailed it. I came around to jump 4, which she jumped a bit big, which left us big to jump 5… and then I promptly forgot where I was going. My trainer told me, “I knew you forgot because you were looking at the wrong end of the arena.” whoops!
We restarted at jump 4, since May seemed to really understand the purple exercise. I rocked her back for jump 4, kept the bouncy canter for jump 5, demolished jump 6, cross cantered to jump 7, got my balance back around the corner, and jumped 8 beautifully before easily keeping our line through the small opening before ending our course. Was it pretty? Nope. That’s why you do these types of things with small jumps.
We decided to end on that note. Sure, the 4,5,6,7 line could’ve been cleaned up a bit, but we kept our rhythm and our line, which was the whole point. Since she jumped 8 so well, we through that was a great note to end on.
And today? I am so sore! hahaha. Can’t wait for the next lesson! (we also might have put a local schooling horse trial on the calendar for next month. Stay tuned!)
I was scrolling back through my posts to see if I could confirm this, but I am pretty sure Sunday was the first day I did an actual course of jumps in my new jumping saddle… I have popped over a few single fences here and there, but hadn’t actually strung a course together… nor do I think I had jumped an oxer in that saddle… and I know I wasn’t jumping oxers in my Dressage saddle… so how long had it been since we had jumped an oxer… Oops. Oh well.
(I think that might have been our last oxer… 11 months ago) Sunday was actually really beautiful in KY. We had about 18 hours of dry weather, which was enough for the amazing footing in our outdoor arena to dry up. So I begged and pleaded for the husband to come take video for me. (Really, I just asked since the weather was finally nice enough.)
Hindsight? I should’ve brought my crop with me. The horse with the carriage was out there when I went to get on, so I got on in the indoor and then walked over to the outdoor. No reason to get dumped because I didn’t want to bother to walk an extra 50 feet to a less busy arena. May didn’t seem to have a problem with the carriage this time, which was definitely improvement, but she was definitely just preoccupied with thoughts of what the cart was doing. I couldn’t really get her totally in front of my leg, but she was relaxed and obedient.
Since the jumps were set pretty small, I figured I would just warm up a bit and hope she woke up a bit. (This is terrible horsemanship, but… oh well… I had a relaxed horse.) There was a small box (maybe 12″) set up so that you could canter a 20 meter circle over it, so I started with that. I worked on establishing rhythm without losing suppleness through her body.
After a few times in both directions, I asked the husband to turn on the camera, and I pointed out the few jumps I was planning on doing. The footing nearest where he was filming was a bit deep and wet still, so I just avoided that line, but I wanted to pretty much jump everything else. haha
My original plan was to get through the course and then clean up the parts that I felt were messy. Mind you, early in the week I had tried to jump a few fences, and I missed to Ever. Single. One. I COULD NOT find a distance. This time, I shortened up my reins a bit, and focused on keeping my hands a bit higher than what I am used to (but what is probably correct), and keeping my reins short enough that my hands were about halfway up her neck. Below is what we got:
Overall? I am really happy with that. The biggest issue is obviously pace. Our pace should be closer to what we have in this clip:
However, the most important thing to me when reintroducing a horse to jumping is to make it as nonchalant as possible. It should feel like no big deal, just popping over a few fences. I can always light a fire under a horse’s butt if I need to… It’s a special skill of mine, so a quieter than expected jump school is a good place to start. Our simple changes were pretty good (although very numerous), and our only small argument was coming to the oxer, where I wanted to hold for no reason coming around the corner. I was wrong, she was right, and I had to pony-club kick for the long spot. Enjoy our small fail photo below:
It is probably also worth noting that I was testing a different bit in this video. A Myler D ring with hooks. No chain, but hooks. Jury is still out on it, but I clearly don’t need the pelham if she keeps going like this! So how do I feel about my jumping saddle around a course and over an oxer? I am pretty damn happy with it still. It doesn’t rock over fences like other saddles I tried. May clearly seems relaxed and happy giving me the long spot in it, and I felt my position was fairly solid given how long it has actually been.
WHEW! Just happy to be doing more than fancy prancing and trot sets though!
Also – who is going to the event-formerly-known-as-Rolex, aka KY3DE, aka Land Rover 3 Day… AKA who knows what they’re calling it now? I will be there for XC with the husband!
Trot sets… or really any kind of planned interval training for horses is still a relatively new concept to me. When I rode in H/J, horses were just ridden for 30 – 60 minutes 4 – 6 days a week. You tried to balance out W/T/C and add in jumping as necessary.
Then, I entered the eventing world, and I had a trainer tell me that my horse needed fitness… “Just add some trot sets into your routine.” (not her exact words, but most of her explanation just kind of rolled off. “How does one do a trot set?” was my first thought. Does one simply trot around aimlessly until they get a bit fatigued and then walk until they’re ready to trot again? Nope. I learned quickly that there should be some kind of plan to this…
Ok, how does on make a plan? I started reading as much as I could on the topic, but I definitely lack the most important element of knowledge in this area: experience.
This year, I am making a more conscious effort to really plan out my interval training with May and to make sure we are gearing up for this season in an appropriate manner. So, our rides lately have consisted of long walks or interval sets to improve fitness… so our rides lately have been boring.
The fields aren’t open for riding yet, and our barn doesn’t have access to trails. As a result, long walks are done along the road through the barn (a whole lap takes about 40 minutes so I try to do it twice), and interval training is done in the main arena (thankfully, very large).
Last week, we completed a 54 minute ride that included a lot of walking, 2 – 10 minute sets of trotting, and a couple of short canter intervals. What did I learn? That May is probably in better shape than I am. While she was a bit fatigued after the ride, my back was on FIRE. Definitely time to add some core strengthening exercises to my out of the saddle routine!
Amidst all the driving back and forth to the barn, I have had an opportunity to reflect on what I am more thankful for in my riding career. However, the thing I am most thankful for, is the mare that turned out to be much more than she was ever supposed to be.
I have talked a lot in the past about how May was a complete impulse buy. You can read the full story here: A May As Well Purchase However, I am not really sure I ever explained what I was expecting. Originally, when I bought her home, we joked that I had overpaid for her. After all, she couldn’t even do a 20M circle before she popped her shoulder and ran in the opposite direction, a canter took nearly 20 steps of trot to pick up, and I quickly learned that she had never seen a gymnastic.
To be honest, my original thought for buying her was that, if she didn’t work out, I could recoup most of my money and just sell her as a trail horse. She was sane, and sensible, and had color. All the things trail people want. Right? I mean, she could comfortable carry a larger rider for miles without discomfort. Then, we went to our first CT. It was a W/T Dressage Test and 18″ stadium round.
And we had SO MUCH FUN. She was a champion, and I finished with a giant smile on my face. I was hooked on competing this horse, and I think the man in this situation finally understood what it was all about. She never was supposed to be as cool as she is, but gosh… she is really cool…
I think she has turned out to be really cool… And I can’t wait to see what more she has to show me.