Saddle Trial 1 – Duett Bravo

For me, one of the most important aspects of shopping for any high-priced horse stuff  is customer service. With a restrictive budget for saddle shopping, I know that I can’t go out and buy a $6K saddle. However, when I am spending what is, to me, a lot of money, it is so important that I feel like I am treated fairly, if not well.

In that category, Duett saddle gets a 10/10. Sheri is responsive and accommodating. The whole team works to provide you with the best option possible, and they are still positive and responsive. Even if you choose not to buy, but more on that in a minute. 

The saddle arrived in a timely fashion and in great condition (new but has been used for other demo rides)


The Leather wasn’t buttery calfskin (which of course I wasn’t expecting) but it reminded me a lot of the leather from my old Crosby, made by Miller. The kind of leather that breaks in beautifully and will last you a while. 

The fit on May was even good, even if the saddle sat up above her a bit more than I am used to. Either way, the panels sat flush from front to back. 

 

However, the pommel of the saddle sat a bit low. Hmmm… ok. Well I have often hated saddles for making me feel blocked in front because May had such big shoulders and hoop trees tend to be flat in front unless you get the pommel artificially built up. Not a big deal to me. 

So I put a pad under it, put stirrups on (under the top flap and wrapped to prevent wear) and I swung up. At the walk? No problems. I had heard some people complain about the width of the twists of these saddles, but I often ride May bareback, and it doesn’t get much wider than that. 

We walked for a while then trotted… and I felt like I was going to fall over her shoulder. I played around with the stirrups and couldn’t get a great feel. I really really wanted it to work, but I felt my back and core working overtime to try and keep my shoulders, hips, ankles in line. 


I then tried pulling the stirrups. Maybe the whole saddle is just tipped forward. First of all, my horse is a saint because new saddles and no stirrups and my least sticky breeches meant there was LOTS of slipping and sliding going on. However, I no longer felt out of balance. Hmmmmm 


I had some pictures taken from the side with stirrups and without. And the issue turns out the stirrup bar was just in the wrong place for me. Damn -.-

Ultimate decision – nice saddle especially for the price range if it works for you and your horse. Sheri and the team are wonderful, so I would recommend at least trying them if you have a wide horse and are in the market. In the future, I may try one of their Dressage saddles. 

We did get to take one jump in May! 😂😂😂 as for next steps, the Bravo is heading back to its home. I spoke to a Black Country rep who has something that will probabky work… but it’s out on trial this week. 

In the meantime, I might take something out of the box on trial… like a wide French saddle, since everyone keeps telling me she just has big shoulders and isn’t as wide down her back as I think. 

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A Rolex Hangover

This year I finally had the opportunity to dip my toe into the ocean that is the Rolex 3 day event at the Kentucky Horse Park and attend the XC day. Originally, we didn’t buy tickets because I was somehow under the impression that it was the same weekend as the tasting for my wedding. Thanks to an ad in COTH. I realized the day after the early-bird special pricing that it was, in fact, the weekend after. HOORAY! We bought tickets that night as both an early and a late birthday present for me!

I AM SO GLAD WE DID!


There is a huge difference between watching Rolex on TV and being there in person. Having a horse gallop past you at full speed towards a jump that you can’t even see over is awe-inspiring and thrilling. Even the fiance had to admit it was a pretty cool sport to spectate at.

There was A LOT of walking involved. Between wanting to check out all the things for sale, getting food, and wanting to see as many of the jumps as possible, we walked a lot. The first thing we did because we got there so early was check out the shops set up. I visited a friend of mine I haven’t seen in YEARS at the Bit of Britain tent, which I think is part of the magic of Rolex. It’s like a pilgrimage for eventers. I ended up getting an ariat sun shirt, an ariat long sleeved quarter zip, an US Eventing polo, and a Rolex 3 Day baseball cap.


However, there were a lot of things that made me go all grabby hands:

  • Dublin Pinnacle boots in black – I have seen pictures of these boots everywhere. I briefly considered getting them, but the pictures made them look clunky and the price point made me question how well they were made. Seeing them in person changed that. They were absolutely lovely. The laces up the side give them a close fitting feel that again, I really just wasn’t expecting. Definitely adding these to the list!
  • Saddles – I wish I could put one brand in here that I was like YES THAT ONE, but I can’t. I have seen a lot of French saddles, and I have owned both a Voltaire and a Devoucoux. As a result, I also know that they would never fit a horse built like May. I currently ride in an Albion, which is… ok. It puts me in a bit of a chair seat and the leather is a bit slicker than I would like, but the big blocks give it a secure feel. It mostly fits May, and it was in my budget after I bought her. All good things. However, the fit to her could be better and the fit to me could be MUCH better. I was really drawn to three saddle brands for the trees they offer that could solve my problems: Black Country, County, and Bliss of London. Trying to make an appointment with a local saddle fitter to discuss the Albion and possible other alternatives before calling out a brand-specific rep. Anyone have experiences with these brands?
  • Horses – seriously, how can you not watch riders gallop over massive fences with huge smiles on their faces without wanted a chance to ride on of these awesome athletes? Then I realize that I am not the kind of athlete the riders are, and I am quite satisfied with Miss May.


We didn’t bring chairs because I didn’t want to haul them around all day. So at around 11:30AM, we got lunch and headed into the stadium to sit down and watch on the big screen. About 10 minutes later, the skies opened up, but because of where we were sitting, we stayed nice and dry.

After lunch, we headed down to the head of the lake. We got a decent spot to watch, and we got to check seeing a person fall off in the water off our list. We stayed just past 1PM to see Kim Severson, Clark Montgomery, and (of course) Michael Jung ride through the head of the lake. Both Kim and Clark looked so solid through the water, and we were crushed to hear the difficulties they had later on course. Thanks to USEF offering free video clips over the rest of the weekend – I got to see the rest of their rides. It really is an education to see these people ride.


After Michael Jung, we packed up and headed home. Overall, we spent about 5 hours at the horse park and my head was absolutely spinning. The next day I wasn’t able to watch the show jumping, but I was repeatedly updating the live scores on my phone. (and providing the poor fiance with constant updated and facts and figures) Overall, Michael Jung proved that a good mare is worth her weight in gold.

I was also heartened to see the 18yo Mr. Medicott winning the US title and that almost all of the horses in the top 5 were in their teens (Rocana is 12). I guess I shouldn’t be questioning if I should let my 12(ish) year old horse stay at the lower levels. A sound horse is a sound horse, and the longer I am around horses, the more I learn that young does not equal sound and old does not equal lame.

Speaking of May – I rode her this weekend, and she is just barely foot sore. The more time she spent in the forgiving arena footing, the more comfortable she felt. Still taking it easy, but it was nice to be able to put a somewhat normal flat ride on her!

Why I Need Lessons

Since moving to KY, May and I had been able to fit in/afford 1 jumping lesson in the Fall and 2 Dressage lessons (1 in the Fall and one in early Spring). That is, until last week when we had our second jumping lesson ever with my new trainer and the first jumping lesson in pretty much 6 months.

But let’s backup first. I was putting a bit of pressure on myself before my lesson to increase height, difficulty, and length of our jumping sessions on our own. Luckily, the first weekend of April there was a clinic at my barn, so the jumps were moved all over the place in a way that promoted a lot of turning and related distances. Also luckily, my awesome fiance was there to take video. I figured I could watch myself after and figure out where my problem areas are.

 


There were some awesome moments where May stayed soft and light and practically jumped me out of the tack. I even left the oxer at a pretty decent height and a good width to force us to really jump it. Looking back now, I think it was the first oxer we did all season. Oh well, it went fine. 🙂

However, turning and finding jumps has always been a pretty good skill for me. Sure I miss, but I am usually just added on a 3/4 stride or leaving a tiny chip out. The long approach to a jump has always been my nemesis though. I just want to do SOMETHING, so I usually end up doing the WRONG thing. Does anyone else do this? Anyway, I was riding to the oxer off the long approach, and I Could. Not. Find. My. Distance. Below is the video. Can you tell what I did wrong?

 

 

Our pace wasn’t changing around the corner, she wasn’t losing her balance, and I was really looking past the jump and not pulling. I was, however, forcing her to keep her balance. Buuuuut I didn’t keep my leg on, and we didn’t have enough power from behind. It becomes really obvious in the video between the 12 and 13 second marks, where you can CLEARLY see her fall behind my leg… Damn…

I reviewed the footage and decided came back to jump again on Sunday. Jumping back to back like that is rarely my plan, but I figured we would pop over just a few fences. I didn’t mean for it to be literally a few fences. I think we jumped a total of 3 fences. She was tired and just not into it. I figured it wasn’t a big deal, and I would give her Monday off for my birthday. (I need to do a post on all my horsey-related birthday gifts!)

 


Then I had a very, very early morning for work on Tuesday and started feeling sick. Ok fine, I went to bed early on Tuesday… then had to travel a bit for work on Wednesday. That’s fine though. I can power through. I didn’t power through. I went to bed at 8:30PM on Wednesday. Thursday was my lesson. May hadn’t been ridden in 3 days. How was she? A bit spicey, but mostly perfect. Of Course. 🙂

What did we work on? Well… going forward and turning. First turning, which involved jumping a single, low jump on a 20 meter circle. Then jumping a small jump and making a tight roll back to an oxer. All of that went fairly well. Then we put together a small course, which involved this:

Our first corner. I had ridden some VERY small corners before, but nothing quite this wide, and definitely nothing that had been made narrower by a tree… My trainer asked how she was with corners. I told her she had never really done one, but she would be fine. We then got a short lecture on how to ride a corner:

  1. Stay straight
  2. Ride as if there were a pole in the middle that you were trying to jump straight across
  3. Keep my outside leg on and keep control of the outside corner
  4. Don’t push too far in the middle
  5. Controlled but forward and “bouncy” canter

Ok. Sounds good. Let’s try it. We did the rest of the course fairly well, came around to the corner and… never got straight. I mean this was the longest approach ever. Maybe 15 strides from the last jump and this one, and we rode the whole thing with her left shoulder popped to the outside. Better yet, while trying to correct this, I ended up pulling all the way to the base of the jump. We got there with no impulsion and on a half step.

May’s reaction? Ignore mom and jump the damn thing anyway. Needless to say, my trainer agreed with me that she is good about corners. However, what we were not good about was getting the strides. Remember that trot in/canter out in 4 strides jump line from earlier in the week?

Well apparently, we really like doing it in 4 strides… even when it is going the other direction and a vertical to an oxer. No surprise, but trainer found this unacceptable. She reminded me that we should be getting the strides as not doing them was leaving us a bit under powered (see video above of us being under powered and practically eating an oxer). Then she said, “unless you think she can’t make the horse strides.”

“Oh… oh… No. She can make them.” And just like that – foot in my mouth. Now I had to get the strides right. First attempt was just to get her in front of my leg and let her flow through it. We got 3.1 strides and demolished the oxer. Front pole, back pole, got them both. It was an accomplishment in a weird way. It also took a lot of pressure off. Like ok, I had made my first BIG mistake in front of my new trainer, and she wasn’t upset. Just told me to add more leg this time. Luckily, one of my fellow boarders apparently had faith in me, because she took this video:

 


Was it perfect? Not at all. Did we commit and execute though? Yes, and that is a big thing for us. Since she was then a bit spicey, my trainer asked us to jump a skinny in the middle of the ring off our right lead (the same lead we just did the line on). May was… not having it. She started throwing her heard around and sucking behind my leg.

In a weird way, I was so happy to have this argument with May in front of my trainer. I have been struggling with her randomly pulling this stunt for a couple of months now. I wish I had video of it. Basically, she starts flinging her head around so there is 0 contact with the bit and then sucks back almost to a stop. I had been solving it by sending her really forward, like spurs in sides forward. This was, and still is, the correct reaction, but my trainer took it a step forward.

She recognized that our issue wasn’t really with going forward – it was with the transition between going forward, coming back, and going forward again. In that serious of adjustments, she was building up this big resistance. Why? Mostly because we hadn’t really been practicing it outside our jumping.

Fun Fact: The worst time to practice something is when there is additional pressure. Aka – don’t try to put flying changes on a horse at a show, don’t try to teach a horse to tie on the 4th of July, and don’t try to teach adjustability in the middle of a jump course. Those skills should already be installed because taking them to a more advanced level.


However, it doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Instead, my trainer had us practice coming forward and coming back at the canter for a couple of circles before asking us to take the skinny jump again. May popped over it without a fuss. Then it was back to the corner. This time, I rode aggressively and definitively. I pushed to the jump, and we took a big, XC style step to it and over it. May got lots of pats both from me and from my trainer.

It felt good to come away with homework and solutions. I can’t wait until our next lesson! Heaven knows, I need them!

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.

 

I’m Alive and Things Have Been Happening!

Probably the worst title for a blog ever, but this is the first time in a while where I can say the second part of that sentence. Since my last blog post, we have jumped with more success, and I have even taken a LESSON. (said lesson has left me pretty much crippled this morning, but more on that another day)

This entire winter has been an exercise in patience. I have ridden May on more than one occasion where I have basically had to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Most days, she is lovely to ride and really tried hard to do what I ask, when I ask. However, with inconsistent work and frankly ridiculous weather, some days have consisted of just trying to not plow through my hands and run around the arena. Luckily, with the fiance back in town for the foreseeable future, I am hoping to get back into a real schedule.


The fiance back in town also brings about another bonus: NEW MEDIA! So after May and I had that overly enthusiastic last jumping session, I decided to go back to basics a bit. I also switched bits. Anyone that has followed this blog for a while knows that sometimes May likes to throw her massive head around far more than necessary.

Green Grass! Just waiting for the trees to catch up

For a while, I have debated changing up her jumping bit; however, I knew that at least 75% of the problem was me and my love of the inside rein. During our last jumping sessions though, she was beyond unreasonable about the Dr. Bristol. At one point, I wasn’t even touching her face, and she was throwing her head up and flinging it around. I thought maybe the tongue pressure is driving her a bit batty, so I broke out what is quite possibly one of my favorite, but oddest bits.

Image result for myler pelham
Mylar Pelham – No Port

Most people look at this bit and think it works just like a regular pelham, but it really doesn’t. There is a good deal more isolation allowed in this bit than with a typical pelham because each side of the mylar rotates independently. As a result, the curb chain doesn’t really get activate unless you use both reins at the same time or get really strong on one rein. What does this mean for May and me?

This is kind of Equitating, right?

It means its a lot more difficult for her to lean on me, but when she is soft and light, it gets VERY passive. We tested it out on the flat a couple of times to help her get an understanding of how the pressure works. Then, I just set up one jump at the end of the ring, and took her over it a few times. We worked on balance and rhythm, while I concentrated on my form.

 


May stayed relaxed, and while she objected to the pressure when I was holding her, she didn’t continue to fling her head around when the pressure came off. I am going to see how she adjusts to this bit with a bit more practice, but I think this is a step in the right direction!

 

 

Next blog post – Dressage Lesson!

Imperfect Circumstances

Aka – anything to do with horses.

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

img_4919
Expectation…

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

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

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

downhill
Like XC amped

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

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

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

img_4436
Another example of why Leg is required….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Many Things to Buy… so Little Money

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

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

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

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

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

Either way… I am open to more suggestions. 😉

Reintroducing Jumping

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

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

too-cute
Seriously, this face though…

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

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

 

Regular Jumping Bit
Today’s bit

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

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

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

xc-jump
Not the base of the fence…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

img_4298

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.