The Smoothing Effect

When I watched the video from my lesson on Tuesday, my first thought was “I wish we had nailed that first jump.” And that was true… but my second thought was “Maybe I should edit out that first jump before posting it.”

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Honestly, I hear a lot about other riders doing just that. I will reach out to someone, to comment on how much progress they have made, and I will get a response along the lines of “Thank you! That part of our course was really good! Just be glad you didn’t see the rest of it. 😉 ”

You know what? I am not glad. I am not glad because I see all this manicured social media everyday. (I am addicted to instagram… sorry not sorry.) You see stadium rounds of all perfect distances. Video stills that show the smile at the end of a ride. And you miss out on the chips, rails, run outs, scrappy distances etc etc etc.

One of the greatest breakthroughs in my riding career was stadium scribing at a horse trial. I saw WAY MORE scrappy rounds than flawless ones. I saw pros, ammies, and juniors alike all make mistakes. It became pretty apparent that our social media lives do not fully reflect our actual barn lives.

So, I left the chip in the video. I left the head flinging in the video. I post XC posts of me getting left behind and supermanning through the air. It’s all out there like dirty laundry, and I am proud of it. Because it means that I love this horse and this sport enough to keep trying, even when it’s hard.

So let’s air out those fails to the world. AND laugh while doing it!

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Another Lesson – Another Fall?

A quick background for this lesson, my left ankle has always been a mess. I messed it up a long time ago, and it likes to act up. If you remember a couple of lessons ago, I made my trainer get on because my ankle was in ridiculous pain. WELL on Sunday, I got up off the couch… and found myself in SERIOUS pain. Like got back on the couch, took an anti-inflammatory and was still WRITHING in pain.

By Tuesday, the ankle seemed fine, but I had it wrapped and warned my trainer that I wasn’t sure how long it would last. Since my trainer is awesome, her response was “alright, then let’s make the most out of whatever time we can get.”

We started over a fairly simple grid. A cross rail, bounce to vertical, bounce to crossrail, three strides, crossrail, bounce to vertical, bounce to crossrail. The idea was to keep the momentum coming forward through the bounces to make the three strides work. There was a fairly tight turn to the grid, so again, keep the momentum through the turn. Got it? Good!

The first time through, May was kind of like WTF when we turned the corner.

As a result, she sucked back a bit. I kept my leg on, and we made it work. Coming through the other direction, she was better, and it worked out a bit easier. NT put the crossrails up, and we worked through it a couple more times. Our distances weren’t always perfect coming into it, but May was jumping great. Sooo we didn’t drill it. I also admitted that the grid was putting a lot of stress on my ankle, and it was starting to ache. UGH

So we moved onto a little baby course. Diagonal, around to an oxer on the quarter line, then a roll back to another diagonal vertical. Easy peasy. And it was. Soooo the verticals got pushed up a bit higher, and we moved onto a longer course.

The course was one of those courses where you never really ride on the rail… Lots of distances just kind of floating around in space hahaha. So you have to be pretty deliberate about your line, pace, and balance to make things work.

To the first jump… I just didn’t have enough pace and kind of just did nothing. Cool Em. The pace LOOKS ok and FELT ok, but looking at the video, May wasn’t actually covering enough ground. Alright then, I fixed it coming around the corner to the square oxer. With the better pace, I could get the more open distance, and it was fine.

Same May… Same…

NT had warned me that the four strides on the diagonal line were a true four, and then the one stride was about 2ft short. As a result, the goal was to jump STRAIGHT and ACROSS the oxer into the line, and then keep my shoulders back through the verticals at the end.

If I throw my shoulders forward, do the distances come up better?

This… could have been ridden a touch better. I didn’t get May’s shoulders square until the VERY LAST stride before the oxer. (not a great feeling) Then, I got kind of ACTIVE with  my whole body down the line. As a result, I almost got TOO much step through the line. However, I kept my shoulders back and let May figure out the one stride.

We rolled back to the vertical. It was a good ride, and May just tapped the top rail. I think it was the highest jump on course, so she just misjudged it a bit. Since the spot was just “there”, I leaned forward a touch early, encouraging her front end to be a bit slow. Oh well.

I rode forward off of that… towards the triple bar. Have we ever jumped a triple bar? Maybe? Several years ago? Oh well. I just remind myself that horse’s jump triple bars well, and I rode at it.

My jump was pretty good. It was just a TOUCH close, which is kind of what you want with a triple bar. I actually BENT the line (versus SLICING it… like I love to do) and the seven strides worked out great.

Overall? Really happy with it. It was a course with a lot of different questions being asked, and we stepped up and answered each one as a team. I only got one real “head toss”, because a sassy queen realized she almost made it all the way through the horse without one.

My ankle was KILLING me by this point, so we called it a day. So? Where’s the fall?

WELLLLLLLLLL, while I was untacking May, it was only me and NT in the barn. I didn’t bother cross-tying May, and she was just chilling while I untacked. Well, I put the saddle on a saddle rack, and turned back towards May… then tripped over the end of a rubber mat.

I went FLYING at my horse, and I managed to HEADBUTT her on the side of the ass. Literally, there is a bruise on my head from this today. Poor May was BEWILDERED by the whole thing and spun around to snort at me. I ended up going ALL THE WAY DOWN, bruising the knuckles on my right hand, and scraping my knee bad enough for it to bleed through my breeches.

FEELINGS!

Honestly, I am just super thankful for two things:

  1. May didn’t kick me. Seriously – she would have had every right, but she didn’t. She didn’t even leave the barn. Just was… very confused. Someone got all the cookies last night.
  2. My breeches didn’t rip. I was wearing my forest green Sarafina breeches, and they… look as if nothing happened. Hopefully, the blood comes out, but at least they’re a dark color. I can’t believe my knee looks like something chewed on it, but my breeches are barely even scuffed.

I guess I live to fight another day. Maybe next time, I should keep my helmet on a little longer. 😉

4 Years with May & Updates

Four Years of May as Well

Last Friday marked 4 YEARS with Ms. May. This mare has redefined my relationship with horses. She helped me become an eventer. And, honestly, she owes me nothing. And Yet, she comes out almost every day and does better, just because I ask. It hasn’t always been fun and easy, but it has been so incredibly rewarding to be this mare’s partner.

If you’ve never considered yourself a mare person, May might just change your mind.

A couple of days later, I got a memory of what, at the time, we considered our fancy prancing haha. I had to compare it to our last show.

The last four years might not be filled with ribbons and trophies (although… this mare has never left an event WITHOUT a ribbon), but it is filled with a lot of laughter:

img_1331About a week after I first got May, she SAT DOWN on the crossties, snapping both of them. Not because she was scared. Not because she didn’t know how to tie. She sat down because she heard that dinner was being served, and she was NOT to be forgotten.

My barn in NJ used to offer two types of hay: a super rich, nutritional hay and a decent hay that was fed in bulk since there was no grass. At the last night check, my trainer was throwing the good hay, but not the great hay. May was nickering at her and making the “feed me” puppy dog eyes. Trainer threw her the good hay. May sniffed it and started nickering again. It was her way of saying, “Excuse me, but this is not what I ordered.”

When my sister came to visit last year, we arrived to the barn to find no people there, but May hanging out in another stall that she had deemed to be “better” than her actual stall. I think both of us ended up near tears with laughter

I guess I could go on and on, but I am just so thankful for all the joy this little mare has brought me. For a horse I bought on a drunken whim, with full intentions of likely flipping her in a few months for something “better” to the pony of a lifetime.

Updates

The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster. For personal reasons, my part leaser has decided to end her lease after her show this weekend. I am sad about it, but I think we can all say that we have been where she is. She and May made a ton of progress together, and I am super thankful to have had her as part of the team for the last several months.

Tav Images Photography | www.tavimages.com
Tav Images Photography | http://www.tavimages.com

Then last week, my dog started acting a bit funny. In case any of you didn’t know, Hannah is truly the child in our family. She comes on family vacations, she gets special treatment… I mean, we basically bought a house with a great yard because I had promised her that when we lived in the apartment.

Over the weekend, she had started acting just… not herself. She had energy. She had her appetite. But something was just off. Then on Tuesday, she had an accident in the house, her second time in a week. The first one we had chalked up to stress after the groomers, but prior to that week, the dog had two accidents in the entire time I had known her.

By Wednesday morning, her belly was distinctly distended. Her energy and appetite were still fine, but we took her to the vet. As usual, every disaster scenario possible was flowing through my head. I am somewhat shocked that I had the wherewithal to get a urine sample and actually drive the dog to the vet.

They did a urine test, x-rays, bloodwork… and it was all pretty inconclusive. They referred us to a larger clinic for an abdominal ultrasound… which we couldn’t get until Thursday morning. My husband took that day off of work. The ultrasound came up clean, so we tested for cushings.

We had our diagnosis. Cushings. Did you know that cushings is more prevalent in dogs than horses? It’s just that most people attribute cushing symptoms in dogs to just getting older, so don’t get them tested as often. Go figure. It will probably take multiple, repeat tests and some playing around the dosage levels of the medication, but the vets were fairly confident that we could manage her symptoms.

So What Now?

Well… obviously, both of these events mean a pretty significant hit to the bank account. I debated half leasing May out again, but to be honest, I don’t think it’s fair to ask the mare to switch to another new rider in the middle of show season, especially with me planning on some pretty significant achievements. As a result, I am just excited to spend more time in the saddle again, but I think I have to rethink my show schedule. It would still be great to go Novice, but I am going to leave some rated shows on the sidelines for the next couple of months.

I am trying to sell my Dressage saddle. If I can sell it for a decent price, maybe I can swing getting a new jump saddle that fits both of us better. Then, I’ll sell off my Stubben jump saddle. However, this has fallen down near the bottom of the priority list for now.

As always, I will keep you all posted!

Saddle Fitting Appointment – Loxley by Bliss

Can we discuss how unbelievably dumb this company name is? Bliss of London? Then, let’s drop down the rabbit hole of checking out their website… also bad with a TON of broken links… so when I was looking for a saddle a couple of years ago, I skipped right over them with a solid “nope”.

But they kept rattling around in my head. I had seen their saddles my first year at (what was then) Rolex, and I remember being impressed by the quality and variety. They have multiple tree shapes/widths, which is obviously, something I am always interested in.

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This picture explains most of what I talk about… 

I dug a little deeper. As is true with most custom saddle brands, your experience is more about the rep  you work with, then the actual company. As discussed in my last post… my experience with brand reps has been pretty poor. (I actually loved my Stubben rep though. Great woman!)

So when I looked up the Bliss rep in my area (Kate Wooten), I found a ton of positive feedback. I figured it was worth having a discussion with her at least, so I reached out. It took us a couple of weeks (and a bit of a scramble) to get on each other’s calendar, but we did it on Monday night! First off, apologies for the lack of media, but I was really trying to absorb the whole experience vs. getting content. (Scandalous, I know!)

I am not sure if it was the lack of fancy at my barn, the lack of fancy with my pony, or what, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Kate start at the bottom of the cost ladder for Bliss. Right off the bat, I learned a few things about Bliss: the Loxley saddles are ~$2,500, including any customization you need to make. The bliss saddles go up to about $5,500. Let’s say… $2,500 sounded pretty good for me after touring around $5K+ saddles at LRKY3DE.

However, my expectations were REALLY low. I have sat in some less expensive saddles and… have usually found them pretty disappointing. More on that later though.

The first thing Kate did was take a look at my current saddle on May’s back… and I heard her suck through her teeth.

Kate, “The fit of this saddle is pretty good on her.”
Me, “I know.”
Kate, “She’s pretty short backed.”
Me, “Yup.”
Kate, “You like the 18″ seat?”
Me, “Yup”
Kate, “she’s not as wide up top as you’d expect”
Me, “she’s not”
Kate, “And she has withers”
Me, “She does.”
Kate, “This saddle is really minimal… do you like minimal?”
Me, “My old albion had big blocks that I did really like.”
Kate, “Alright then! Let’s get started!”

And that… is kind of Kate is a nutshell. She’s just super positive (and super British). She thought my fat, short pony was great.

She took a quick tracing of May, just behind the shoulders, in order to grab things that would mostly fit from her truck  minivan. The first saddle she plopped on Mays back was a Loxley Eventer. She explained that this saddle had their medium-deep seat. This one was a traditional, double flap saddle, but it had long billets. I asked about the cost of adding the long billets.

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Not the same saddle, but similar.

“Oh no… no extra cost for any of the customization. We’re more concerned about getting you a saddle that works then adding on fees for things that don’t really cost us anything.”

Well, that’s some marketing line, but I’ll take it. So that first saddle would be ~$2,500 new. Mmmmmk. The saddle was a 17.5″, but she thought I would be ok in the flatter seat. (Everyone says this, it has never been true.) The fit on May was surprisingly good too.

“We’ll order it in an adjustable tree though, so you have some flexibility as she changes shape.”

“How much is that option?”

“Same price.”

Ooooooook. The leather was a bit grippier than what’s on my Stubben. It wasn’t great, buttery calfskin, but it wasn’t hard plasticky junk. I hopped up and… wow it felt like A LOT of saddle under my leg and seat. The balance was good, but everything felt “muffled” with May. Does this make sense? Let me try to explain.

One of my favorite “buttons” on May is a great half halt from my leg. Need to rebalance or prepare for a downward transition? I can close my knees, and she comes back to me. With all the cushion under my knee in this saddle, I lost that half halt. Overall, trotted around for maybe five minutes before heading back over to Kate.

My first thought? This is why I don’t bother trying saddles that are in my budget when new. 

The next saddle was a jump saddle with their flattest seat… and I hated it. I mean,  Kate left the ring to grab another saddle before I had even made it halfway around. The saddle CONSTANTLY shoved me towards the back of it… like all the way to the cantle. It was the oddest thing I had ever felt. May wasn’t super happy about my center of balance moving all over the place, so I hopped off before Kate had even made it back.

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It wasn’t a monoflap, but this seat is similar. 

Alright then… I was now CONVINCED that this was a total waste of time. Maybe they could fit May (everything would have easily fit with some flocking adjustments), but it wasn’t going to be any better for me.

So… Then she pulled out an eventing Monoflap in an 18″. She explained that the flap was wrong for me (it was originally made for a 15 yr old boy), and that the panel isn’t quite right for May (it was a touch long and a touch narrow up front. However, the SHAPE of the tree was really good for her). Either way, Kate wanted me to feel if this feel/balance point was something I liked.

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Again, similar… but not the exact same)

The difference was immediate. The biggest difference? I could SIT on my horse. There was no struggle to move from sitting to half seat. There was no struggle to keep my leg under me. I walked, trotted, cantered, and popped over some small jumps. I didn’t want to jump anything of height because I knew the fit on May wasn’t GREAT, and I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable.

However, the saddle was easy enough to get in and out of over the fences. I didn’t feel like I had to fling myself forward or hold myself back to stay in balance with May. Overall, I was super happy. The cost of the monoflap? $3,300 + taxes. Honestly,  not bad at all.

When I hopped off, I had Kate walk me through where the TREE was vs. just the padding. I flexed back the flap on the saddle to see how much flexibility was offered to May’s shoulders. I was really happy with that, especially given the extra long, extra forward flaps on the version I tried.

We went back to the barn, and I prepared myself for the sales pitch. The “just sign on the dotted line and hand over your credit card” speech. The “you desperately need this saddle” speech. Kate started taking detailed tracings of May’s back, and I felt myself stiffen.

Kate then wrote me out a detailed list of what we had tried and why I didn’t like them, including prices. Then, she went through the order form, and checked off what it would look like, if I ordered something similar to what I liked that day. She handed it to me, gave May a pat, and told me to reach out when I was ready.

I stood blinking at her, as she bounced back out of the barn, giving ponies pats along the way. It’s been 4 days, and she hasn’t reached out to “see what I decided”.

Hilariously, I found out later that a girl I am somewhat connected to just got a saddle that she had ordered from Bliss through Kate. She’s super happy with her purple and black monoflap (it’s a lot for me haha) and indicated that it fit her horse well. It’s no guarantee, but it helps. Either way, I am not in any huge rush, but this one is obviously sitting in the front of my mind.

I reached out to our County rep, but she’s not sure when she’ll be back in the area. Either way, To Be Continued!

“Real Eventing” & Imposter Syndrome

Apologies in advance for a rather rambly, stream of consciousness post.

Riding at the horse park for our competition was a bit surreal. Spring Bay is a bit of a unique horse trial in a lot of ways. Obviously, running XC at a different venue than SJ and Dressage is interesting, but it is more than that.

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As we walked from the trailers to Dressage or SJ at the horse park, you could see the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event coming together. Crews worked to build tents and platforms around Rolex Stadium. The grass on the XC field was being mowed and tended to. Even the barns not being used for our event were cleaned and prepped, ready for the 5* horses to show up.

It’s easy enough to go to a schooling show, especially in eventing, and feel like you belong. Most everyone is on either an OTTB or a QH or a mutt of some kind. (sorry May). It’s pretty rare to see the newest or the best tack/equipment etc on the school ponies poking around baby starter. If you go often enough, you get to know most of the riders/trainers/horses on sight.

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So I have gotten… pretty comfortable in that atmosphere.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I ventured to the Kentucky Horse Park, as it preps for KY3DE, my over-sized thelwell pony siting in the trailer, ready for Starter. I watched the Prelim riders perform their long and complicated Dressage tests (to me anyway). I walked the SJ course when it included 3 combinations, a triple bar, and was set to full prelim height. Thinking back on it, it was the first time I have ever been in a competition ring with jumps set to that height.

Then I picked up on the chatter, which horses were just out to do the CT to start off their season, and which horses were stepping down for a confidence building start. Confidence building?!

So the feelings started to creep in. This wasn’t really eventing. Who was I to call myself an eventer? Even a recent article on Eventing Nation seemed to acknowledged it:

I think we should respect the person that chooses to compete at Novice because that’s where they are happy and are enjoying the sport just as much as the person who is running around Kentucky.

Against the Move Up Mentality 

HAH! NOVICE?! Girl, those BN jumps look big right now. Did this person purposefully skip the very lowest levels of our sport? The levels that run multiple divisions in nearly every event and help pay for the judges, venues, secretaries etc etc etc? I like to think not…

I have told myself for years that getting to Novice would be really eventing, but the truth is, a couple of weeks ago, me and my horse went to compete three times in three different phases. And we were competent and competitive in each phase. To me, that is eventing.

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And you know what? I had FUN! By Sunday, I was eyeing the BN XC fences with excitement instead of anxiety. (May still thinks it would have been WAY MORE fun to “gallop” through the mud over the bigger fences.)

So I look my own doubts head on, and I remind them that being an eventer and a horseperson means showing off your horse to the best of your abilities in that moment. My choice to run Starter doesn’t need any explanation beyond the choice to set myself and my horse up for success. In fact, it needs FAR LESS explanation then anyone who pushes their horses up the level without proper fitness or training.

Moral of this story? Do right by your horse, and the eventing community will always support you.