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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yay Cross Country Day! Right? Right! Except…. we left the barn at 6:30AM to make my trainer’s ride time and… it rained most of our drive. I anxiously watched the weather report, and that wasn’t looking promising either. My 3:46PM ride time was right smack in the peak of the anticipated thunderstorms. Plus, if there were lightning delays, we might run out of sunlight before my division could run. UGH UGH.
No matter what though, our team would not be deterred! We all hopped out of the truck and hustled to get my trainer on. It was super fun watching the Prelim and Training level riders go out and come back on course. Although, I was kind of shocked at how many of them were going out in muddy, hilly conditions without breastplates on. Is this a thing? Let me know.
Things wrapped up pretty early, and the sun started to come out. We have a few hours until the BN riders had their rounds (around 2PM), so we got the horses all settled with hay and water and then grabbed some lunch. Honestly, those few hours were BEAUTIFUL.
After lunch, we decided to walk the course again with our trainer, since we had walked it on Saturday night without her. There were very few things to talk about on the Starter course, but we did have a short discussion about the water complex for starter. I really should have gone back and read the rule book about it. The water complex was marked S1, but the flags were snugged up around the water with no way to go around it.
Future reference, this is a compulsory passage. Here’s the rule:
Numbers and Letters – Each obstacle shall be numbered. Obstacles with elements or options (see EV140.2) shall in addition be lettered (A, B, C, etc.). Each compulsory passage shall be marked with the first letter of the level and numbered consecutively.
ERRORS OF COURSE. All compulsory passages and all obstacles, including all elements and/or options, must be passed or jumped in order, under penalty of elimination.
However… I couldn’t find anything about if you can even get a refusal in a compulsory passage? I wish I had known the answer, because if it was no (which I think it is), then I would have schooled the water. Oh well. More on that later. I figured I would throw the pics of the whole course below, so you can see it in SUNLIGHT. You know, the way I saw it before I left the startbox.
Around 1:15PM… it started to thunderstorm and BAD. We all ended up huddled in the dressing room of the trailer with the door closed because it was raining sideways. At this point, I texted the husband and told him not to try and come. The last thing I wanted was him spending nearly 3 hours in the car on a Sunday, driving through torrential rain, to see me NOT ride. The radar looked miserable and only one BN rider had gone out at that point.
Luckily, there was only one round of lightning delays. Once it was lifted, everyone moved quickly to get the BN riders out and on course before weather could roll in again. At this point, I have to give so much credit to the organizers, volunteers, and competitors at this competition. Everyone HUSTLED, but there was NO chaos. Riders showed up in warm-up, got their place in line (seemed to be 4 – 6 horses out), got warmed up, and went. No one complained, got angry, or even seemed all that frazzled.
The footing though… was pretty shot. As a result, there were a lot of refusals and a few eliminations, so I was rethinking my plan.
Once our BN riders were done, I looked around and realized that they seemed to be almost done with BN, so I hustled back to the trailer and threw tack on May. How quickly did I get ready? I put my riding pants on OVER the leggings I was wearing, and I wore my trainer’s C4 belt because I couldn’t find mine.
We power walked up to the XC area, and I felt my little fear bird show up.
The mud was deep. My horse is barefoot. The course was soft and easy for her but I don’t think I have ever ridden this horse in conditions like this. Then, I walked my way through my fear. The truth is, I spent my younger teen years hunter pacing very green horses over WHATEVER in the Spring and Fall in NY/NJ. We never used studs, and I had definitely ridden in worse weather. I just needed to take my time, ride the rhythm, and keep May’s hind end under her.
I warmed up on the flat as quickly as possible, since the footing in warm-up was fetlock deep mud at this point. NT advised me to pop over the crossrail… and I told her I couldn’t. the takeoff and landing for the crossrail was pretty much gone. Deep skid marks crisscrossed through the mud on both sides and at all angles. We decided to just pop over the small coop and then the log. May was ON her game and taking me to the fences, despite the footing. I felt good, so we headed to the start gate. On the way to the start gate, someone commented to me that my horse looked totally unfazed by the footing and was definitely a mudder. I couldn’t agree more.
Then… as we were standing by the start gate, the water flag conversation came up again. I guess people weren’t going through the compulsory crossing by the water. We were coming up with a plan for it (i.e. just go through the flags no matter what), and then all of sudden I got the “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” countdown… and I was probably 20′ from the actual box. DAMN! I pulled May around, trotted into the box. Stopped, set my watch, and went!
Jump one rode great, but she quickly fell right on me. We had a discussion about NOT doing that… and then she did it again at jump 2. I guess the starter jumps were too easy, so she needed to add her own level of difficulty.
Jump three was a VERY small jump, but it was off a tight left hand turn. It also had a steep hill right after it that crossed over both the BN and Novice paths from earlier in the day. Since I wasn’t sure about the footing there and the jump was so small, I trotted the turn and kept May in a collected canter over it.
We swept down the hill to the brush at 4. There’s a picture of this somewhere… I didn’t totally get our rhythm back by it, and I didn’t want to make any big moves in this footing. As a result, it rode pretty awkward. Oh well, May could care less.
Jump 5 was a little roll top on the hill. May was looking back at the warm up and we jumped it weird. Oops. Jump 6 was shared with BN, but they took the brush off the top for us. It was a bright blue roll top that rode GREAT.
Jump 7 was a little oxer thing. By this point, we were getting into a rhythm. The rhythm was simple. Pitter patter canter on the long stretches. Then, I would pick her up and get her moving forward maybe 8 strides before the fence. Then land and back to pitter patter. We had SEVEN minutes to finish this course, so I was in ZERO rush.
Jump 8 was a little red coop that she jumped great… with her eyes mostly closed.
Jump 8 was a cute little cabin going downhill. I kept her canter super collected so that we didn’t launch ourselves down the hill in the mud.
After Jump 9 was the water crossing. As I got closer, I saw that the flags had been moved so that you could go around the water. Again, I wasn’t sure about the rules here, so I went around the water but through the flags. May took a hard look at it, since it was now deep, dirty, and a bit slick, but she went through. At this point, I had 3 jumps left in a mostly straight line, and I had a 4:15 on my watch. The penalty time was 5:00, so I decided to grab a quick trot circle. (Of course, now I realize my watch was slightly behind but whatever). Either way, I am glad I did because it led to some cute pics (PC: Vic’s Pics).
After wasting maybe 30 seconds, I continued on. Jump 10 was tiny. like TINY, so that was fine. Jump 11 was a cute little saddle rack. Then, it was over the last, through the flags, and within time!
Neither May nor I was at all winded, but it was just starting to rain again. While I chatted with my teammates a bit, May got to walking around. I saw the girl in 1st place coming through the finish line after me. It was a junior rider, who was just BEAMING ear to ear. I congratulated her on a good weekend before walking my own pony back to the trailer.
Overall, we finished on our Dressage score of 29.3 and in second place. I couldn’t have been happier with my little yellow mare, who was a total professional the whole weekend. I guess it’s time for the BN move up. 🙂
While my background is completely hunter jumper (from ages 6 – 23), somehow, show jumping is the only phase that wants to give me pause. However, this time I was armed with some new rider psychology tips via the Brain Training for Riders. (Big thanks to Amanda for the recommendation)
I did have one advantage on Show Jump day though. We walked the course when it was set for Prelim. In case you are wondering, walking a course when it is set for Prelim makes Starter look REALLY small. Still though, it was a complicated course with 0 straight lines in it… I wish I was kidding.
However, I had a plan. I was going to ride May forward enough that I wanted to pull… and then not pull… Other than that, I was going to get her body straight and square to ever fence. I wasn’t going to worry about distances but concentrate on my pace, line, and balance.
I also got the whole thing on video! (Sorry for Youtube killing the quality.)
All photo credit goes to Vic’s Pics. They had an AMAZING deal at the show to get ALL your pics for $50 on a USB. And honestly, they got so many great pics, especially in SJ, that I put in my order before I even ran XC (and when I was questioning if XC was even going to happen). Oh and that cambox you see? I forgot to turn it on for SJ. >.<
Jump 1 was the best jump 1 I think I have ever ridden in my life, and May jumped it so well. (It’s the top pic of this post). Then, we bent around to get a great jump at 2…. and again to jump 3. It felt AWESOME. Usually, my first three jumps on course are me getting into a rhythm and don’t flow great. This time, I HAD the rhythm, balance, and line, and they jumped GREAT.
So here I am. So super excited about how things are going. I made a great turn to Jump 4… I got her square… and she suddenly decided to RUN at it. It’s really hard to see in the video, but she wanted to get flat on me. I halt halted, but it threw us off enough to tap 4 pretty hard (I am shocked it didn’t come down). That also meant that we didn’t land as balanced as we needed to in order to get a good turn to 5. I didn’t put my leg on as soon as I should have, and the distance came up ugly. She jumped that one awkwardly but kept it up.
The turn to 6 was seriously what jumping dreams are made of, and she jumped it out of stride. Then an easy bending line to 7. Despite our cross cantering, the rhythm and line were good, so she popped over it easily. Then… we made kind of an awkward turn to 8, so she jumped it kind of funky. Oh well, it was still easy for her.
Jump 9 just came up out of stride, and we made a sweeping turn to jump 10. I had to put my leg on for the big spot, and she jumped it great.
Obviously, I was super happy to have a double clear round. I think that it, honestly, would have rode BETTER if the jumps had been a little bigger. May was super unconcerned with distances to the point where it actually made things more difficult. She was also very unconcerned with what any of the jumps looked like. There was no peaking or over jumping. Just happily cantering around.
However, I am VERY VERY happy that I managed to execute my plan. I am also happy that, in the pics, when the distances got ugly, I kept my shoulder back and my body over her center of gravity… instead of throwing my whole body up her neck.
As a result, we maintained our 29.3 score and 2nd place standing going into cross country on Sunday!
I want to start the recap of this weekend’s event with so many “thank you”s. I am not sure who I can thank first or even the most.
Obviously, a massive shout out goes to my friend that really pushed me to sign up for this event. Over the last several months, she has gone from a girl I knew at the barn, to the girl I go to the gym with, to one of my biggest cheerleaders. She got 5,000 questions from me about pretty much everything, and she had to reassure me maybe another 5,000 times. However, I am so happy she pushed me to do this horse trial. Hereby, she shall be dubbed “Motivational Friend” hahaha.
On that note, I need to thank the rest of the barn family. We had tons of people show up both days of the show to watch and help. We had people help out at the barn while we were gone. Our younger riders volunteered both days and were a massive help to the show. My teammates all stepped up to help one another and make sure our ponies were as comfortable as possible over a crazy weather weekend.
My trainer gets a HUGE shout out. Not only did she compete her own horse, but she was completely committed to each of us competing in the lower divisions. She took my warmups and prep just as seriously as everyone else, even though I was only doing starter. It was only my second time showing with her and the first show was a super soft schooling show. At this show, between the atmosphere and the weather, it was an incredible experience. It really is an amazing confidence boost to have a pro in your corner who knows you, knows your horse, and totally has faith.
Finally, I am so incredibly thankful for my amazing husband. I ended up recommending that he stay home on XC day due to the weather (more on that later), but as soon as I got home, he was combing through the pro pictures with me and watching my helmet cam footage. He was so proud of me and excited for me that he posted some of the pics (all purchased) on his facebook. If that doesn’t make your heart grow, I’m not sure what will.
ALRIGHT – ON TO THE COMPETITION
Both days were super long days since we had riders and horses in the first division of each day, and I was in the last division. Since Saturday and Sunday were held at different venues, we trailered out both days instead of stabling. However, that meant that May was on the trailer at 6AM on Saturday, and our first ride time was at nearly 2:30PM. May didn’t seem to mind. She drank really well all day and had plenty of grazing breaks throughout the day… and she took a few naps. All in all, a pretty good way to spend the day in May’s book.
Since day parking at the KYHP is so far from the Dressage complex, we got on pretty early to walk over… and then got lost. Oops. Luckily, Best Husband Ever was there, and he helped navigate me in the right direction. I started warming up quickly, thinking I was running late. May felt AMAZING. We had floppy Dressage ears. Does anyone know what I am talking about? She was ON IT.
Then, there was a delay in our ring. so I let her walk on a long rein. Then, when we were one out, I picked her back up, did a few walk/trot transitions, as per my trainer’s recommendation. I threw in a quick canter transition, and we were ready to go in!
(Below are the movements, score, and a version of what the judge wrote. It’s not verbatim because… drawings. Any of my comments are in italics)
Entrance, Halt, Proceed at Working Trot: 7.0 – Obedient to Halt. Square. I am surprised this scored so well. There was a ring and warmup running behind the judge’s booth… As soon as we came down centerline, May REALLY wanted to watch those rings.
Track Right at C: 7.0 – Smooth Turn
Circle Right 20M at B: 7.5 – Active Trot Steps. Well Shaped Circle
Circle Right 20M at A, with Canter: 6.0 – Prompt Transition. Lack of Bend and Poor Circle Shape. I got so excited about a decent up transition into the right lead canter, that I almost forgot to circle.
Transition in and out of Canter: 6.0 – Well planned up transition. Unbalanced down transition.
Change Rein at working trot: 8.0 – Good quality trot shown
Circle Left 20M at E: 7.0 – Becomes a bit rushed. Loses shape a bit. She actually thought about giving me a canter transition here… hence the loss of rhythm.
Circle Left 20M at A, with Canter: 7.0 – Better plan to start circle. Better quality canter.
Transition in and out of Canter: 7.5 – Fairly good prep for transition.
Medium Walk: 7.0 – Keep marching walk I was just super happy that she didn’t jig because she was getting VERY jiggy in warm-up.
Free Walk: 7.0 – Covers Ground in FW. Show more stretch down. Agreed.
Working Trot: 7.5 – Smooth and Forward
Center line and Halt: 8.0 – Straight and Square.
Gaits: 7.0 – Some stiffness in Canter
Impulsion: 7.0 – No Comment
Submission: 7.0 – No Comment
Rider’s Position: 6.5 – Keep eyes up!
Rider’s Effectiveness: 7.0 – Effective Rider
Geometry and Accuracy: 7.5 – Well executed test
Overall Score: 29.3
How could I be anything other than thrilled with that? Scores at schooling shows tend to be pretty soft, so I wasn’t sure where we were going to end up. However, I was really pleasantly surprised to see that 29.3, and it put us in second going into SJ!
With our first event coming up this weekend, I began to doubt if we would be able to squeak in a XC schooling. I figured that, with us doing Starter, May and I would be totally ok. However, I got a text around 2PM asking if I would be open to going schooling instead of a lesson. All of NT’s lessons that afternoon were going to the show, so it was easy enough to organize a quick XC schooling. The joys of being in KY, this venue was only a 3 minute trailer ride from my barn!
We were able to throw everything on the trailer and get going by 6PM, which for us, is a huge accomplishment. We figured we had until at least 7:30PM before the light got too dim to get anything accomplished. This was my first time going XC schooling with NT, so I wasn’t totally sure what to expect.
I quickly learned that NT has a preference for putting together courses vs. schooling individual elements. Part of this is probably due to the fact that we had 3 fairly experienced horses with us. (May and one of the geldings have both gone BN, annnnnd the other gelding had done a 1* haha). However, the courses were built to be inviting at first and harder after you got your groove on.
The first course, NT started out really easy on me and May. We went over a little baby log, popped over a house in the shade, down the hill to a little roll top, over a bigger coup, and finished up over some stacked logs.
Feedback? I needed to ride a bit more forward. NT had us go out again, but told us to take the BN option at the end.
Other than getting left behind a bit at jump 2, where I totally didn’t trust the big spot in the shade, it rode great!
The next round, we started with the starter house, over a larger house, down the hill, through the brush, over the ditch, up the coop, over the BN open oxer, and finished through the 2 stride line. This was kind of a funny line because the height was BN, but the question was not a BN question.
Before starting this course, NT asked me if May had any problem with ditches. I gave her a quick “nope” and then immediately thought, “Please do not make me a liar horse.”
I was really happy with our execution of this course! (and the ditch was a complete non-issue.) I was really guarding against the right shoulder drift through the two stride and probably was a little too aggressive, and I ended up riding her a bit left through the combination. Either way though, she jumped FANTASTIC over the out brush.
At this point, I was kind of dying. I somehow developed a pretty nasty sinus infection that came to a head yesterday, so my ability to get breath into my lungs was severely comprised. I actually felt a bit dizzy and overall just not great. I decided at that point to forgo any long courses. We didn’t need a repeat of last week, and May felt great!
We moved on to the “water” complex… which hadn’t really been filled with water for the year. Oh well, we splashed through the puddles and then practiced the banks. Again, NT asked me if she cared about ditches. My response? “Nope, but she’s going to make me a liar if you keep asking.” Luckily, she didn’t!
First we came down the bank we did at last year’s starter event at this venue and then up the out bank of what should have been the water complex. We then looped around and came back through.
Not super surprising that May just popped right through it. The part of this exercise that was caught on video was better than the beginning. May wasn’t super thrilled to be trotting over the rocks of the water complex with no water in it. Oh well. Still adorable.
The last exercise we participated in was working on terrain in less than ideal footing. The footing was considerably deeper in this field than the other one, and there were some good patches of mud. We worked on coming up and down a steep hill and then over a little roll top. Issues? Nope.
Overall, it was a really fun outing. It feels great to be a part of a barn team again. In every video, you can hear people cheering and egging us on. It was a beautiful night, and I am super excited to show this weekend!
Is this a thing? I think it’s a thing. Hold on, let me explain.
During my lesson this week, I was convinced the jumps were HUGE. Ok, not huge, but “a good size”. That they required effort from my little horse, an accurate ride, and that they needed a healthy dose of respect.
Then, I saw these photos:
Do you know what I see? some pretty small jumps… Not that I shouldn’t aim to ride them properly but… less than ideal distances, lines, and pace wouldn’t cause us to crash or have any significant impact on May’s confidence. It would just make them ugly.
Somehow, my brain had convinced me that I had something to fear from these jumps, from this course. As I made my way to start each round, I felt my chest tighten and my legs go weak. Even know, I can feel that drowning feeling that I get before any show jumping round.
Right now, I am coping by doing the following:
Leg on. Always. Having pace bails me out of a lot of issues, so I ride forward… almost to a fault at this point, since a couple of distances on Tuesday would’ve been fine if I had just sat pretty. Luckily, my internal metronome hasn’t gotten slow on me.
Riding with a neck strap. This lesson, I made the decision to ride with my neck strap. I promised myself that, if I started to feel the UNDYING need to pull, I would just hold onto it. I will say that I am a bit proud of not grabbing it.
Getting media. I think this helps. It puts everything in perspective. And, honestly, it helps me remember. When I get this nervous, I go blank. My memory goes BLACK. I remember showing as a junior and not remembering ANYTHING about a course as soon as I finished it. I was never the brave kid hahaha. That being said, I should break the habit of going back and watching the whole thing in slow-mo, so that I can judge every millisecond of myself.
Getting Regular Lessons. I will say that this was like my third jump lesson since the beginning of the year so… I am not doing great on this front, but I am doing better. Tuesday nights are officially my lesson night now, and I don’t see any reason for us to miss our next couple of weeks of lessons before our show. Both of them will be jump lessons. The Dressage stuff I can polish up a bit myself. (which is hilarious to me as my entire foundation is H/J)
But I really want to move past the management of these feelings and hopefully banish them away for good. Any recommendations of good sports psychology books or things that have helped you?
May and I have been a team for nearly 4 years at this point, so a lot of stuff we have managed to acquire over the years. However, there are a few things I have thrown into my shopping cart (through multiple retailers) that I have realized I need to pick up before show season starts.
The Must Haves
RWR No Knot Hairnet
The RWR Hairnets are my JAM. They work wonders with my shoulder-length hair, and they were just as good when I grew my hair down to my waist for my wedding. I always get mine in black because the dark brown isn’t quite dark enough for my hair.
Definitely shop around for this one because I have seen prices everywhere from <$10 to MORE THAN $20.
Cowboy Magic Green Spot Remover
Green spot remover. May isn’t gray… but she really likes to poop all over herself. I like the cowboy magic one, but honestly, most of these spot removers do the job I need just fine. As a result, I try to just pickup whatever my local tack shop has.
Either way, it is non negotiable that, as soon as May gets off the trailer, a rag gets sprayed with this stuff and rubbed on her body.
Super Bands – White
May’s mane might be roached, but I keep her forelock. However, I am far too lazy to braid a forelock the legit way… so white rubber bands are a must. Again, pretty brand-agnostic on this one, so whatever my local tack shop has is great.
Shapley’s Show Touch Up – White
Do I feel like a hunter princess when I break out the Shapley’s? Yes. Do I use it anyway? oh yes. Nothing else gets those white socks GLEAMING quite like Shapleys. Since I only do a 6″ x 6″ spot on one of May’s back legs with this stuff, it lasts me forever. However, my bottle is finally running dry and needs to replaced.
Epona Tiger’s Tongue Horse Groomer™
Everyone keeps talking about this thing and now I want one. Will May like it? I have no idea, but I hope it will last longer (and is chaper) than the plasticy brushes I use to scrub my horse.
And maybe it will be a super boost for green spot remover? One can only dream.
A New Dressage Pad
I love May in white, but the problem is that, after a while, all white pads start to look dingy. A new pad (maybe with some bling?) would be a welcome addition to the lineup.
The “Not Right Now”
There’s only one thing on this list that I am completely restricting myself from buying.. and that is a new jump bridle. Probably due to two reasons:
I really don’t want to spend any more money right now
I can’t find anything I really like (horse size, dark brown, figure 8 noseband)
Maybe I should just get May a regular flash noseband bridle? Idk.
Either way, I plan on making a trip to my local tack shop sometime soon to see how many of these items I can tick off, while supporting my local place. What about you? What items do you need before show season completely takes off again?
This lesson was a bit funny because NT had just gotten back from Aiken on Monday morning (like 4am-ish), and I hadn’t really gotten to ride much lately. On top of that, I hadn’t had a serious school on May since her injections (thanks to the weather), and our part leaser (PL) has a combined test on Sunday….
Sooooo I decided to Dressage, since I figured PL was going to be jumping during her lesson that week and then again at the competition. I also really wanted to see if we could pinpoint any improvement in her comfort level with a solid Dressage school. I pulled out the Dressage saddle, and when NT (or ET haha) asked what I wanted to work on, I kept it pretty simple. I wanted to work on our connection through transitions and adjust-ability within gaits. Nothing like the basics to keep you honest.
We started with some flexion work on a 20M circle at the trot. We focused on straight, then overbend, then straight, then counter-bend, all without losing rhythm. May quickly keyed into work and seemed really comfortable bending in both directions, pretty clearly a difference from our last lesson, where she was good but tense in the right bend. Once we had some good bending, NT sent us around the ring for some leg yields.
The leg yields were… fairly mediocre. I haven’t touched them in a while in favor of getting more adjust-ability back to front. But, when we went to do an extended trot down the long side, she gave me a serious effort. She really started to engage her hind end and push through… but my timing in extended trot is REALLY off, so I didn’t half halt soon enough annnnnd she broke to the canter. I was really happy to see the improvement there post-injections, and it definitely gave us something to work off of.
We worked on the same flexibility exercises at the canter, and again, she seemed much happier to shift her bend and balance around as asked. By the end of the ride, I felt like I had a good amount of “weight” in both reins, and I had a lot of influence over her body with my seat and legs. Can’t wait to bring this level of connection and obedience into the show ring!
Side Note: pictures are being dumb in WordPress today, so enjoy the GIFs.
Side Note 2: Being out of the gym for a couple of weeks is definitely impacting my riding, so I finally got back into my regular spin class last night.
Now, May sees the vet more than once a year, but she really only sees my lameness vet once a year. (KNOCK ON WOOD!) Last year, I had them come when I noticed a pretty significant (for May) hip drop. Short video below from 2018, so you all can see what I see:
At that time, they did a full lameness workup, and we decided to inject hocks and stifles. For a full, LONG write up on that one, there is a super detailed post: 2018 Vet Visit Wrap Up
This year, May seems to be doing really well coming out of winter. The increased workload from having a part leaser and moving to a barn that turns them out later during the week has really helped her keep some fitness. However, May is going to her first competition, a combined test, on March 17th, so I wanted to make sure she was doing as well as possible before we got into the season.
Most of the work my lameness vet does is on racehorses, so May is a slightly different creature for them. The great part of that is that she is easy for them to remember among a sea of Chestnut and Bay thoroughbreds! As soon as my vet laid her hands on May on Saturday, she remembered the large buttons on the end of her splint bones, her stoic nature, and how tough it is to actually get under her (short and round).
May got a full palpation, including hoof testers. We discussed her being barefoot. Consensus was that she seems totally comfortable now, but if she starts showing signs of discomfort if the ground EVER DRIES OUT IN KY, then we will throw shoes back on. Works for me, since that has always been the plan.
As usual, May showed no responses to palpation, so we took her out to jog and do flexions. The result? Ummmm she looked really damn sound. My vet was super pleased with how she looked. Her only comment was that she looks a TOUCH sticky in the hocks. She said that we could inject the stifles, if I really wanted to, or we could just do the hocks and wait on the stifles. Since, they’re available on Saturdays and are constantly working on racehorses in the area, it’s super easy to get them out. Plus, with the increased fitness this year, she might not need them again for a while.
Annnnnd that is why I love that vet. We could have an honest conversation about what she sees and recommends vs. what my opinion is on my horse’s case. She recognizes and considers the fact that she is looking at a horse for 15 minutes one day a year, while I spend countless hours looking at, riding, and touching this horse all year.
I opted to just inject the hocks, see how she does, and go from there. I’m not someone that just injects to inject, so if she seems comfortable, I am more than happy to let it be.
May got the lightest dose of drugs ever. I think the tech helping out joked that it was like dosing a thoroughbred foal, but within a few minutes, May was swaying on her feet and looking gleefully drugged. While she settled into the drugs, the team got to work scrubbing down the injection sites. Honestly, the longest part of this whole thing is always prepping the injection site, and for that, I am super thankful. Sticking needles into the joint of a farm animal is not without peril.
As with last year, there was a good amount of struggle getting the needles into her joints. We know they are fusing, so my vet just works hard to try and get as much into each joint as she can. This year, however, the right hock was easier to get into than the left hock. Overall, we got 2CCs in the right and 1.5CCs in the left.
I asked about x-raying the hocks, and her response was that we could if I wanted to; however, it wouldn’t really change the treatment plan. As long as her comfort level is managed with the injections and there is no acute lameness, it’s not really worth it. How dare she talk me out of just throwing dollar bills at my horse?
Once the injections were done, my vet hung around for another 20 – 30 minutes discussing options to keep May feeling her best. (Can you tell I REALLY like this vet?) She asked if she was on any edible joint medication (no, she used to be and I felt it did nothing. I would prefer just to inject what needs it). She did recommend possibly starting a regimen of general support injectibles through the muscle. She would start with a loading dose of one injection a week for one month, and then drop down to once a month.
The vet did note that she would like May to be producing more joint fluid than she currently is. Since they are up and down our road all the time, they could just swing by and do it. So that is something I am considering. I want to see the results of the hock injections first, but given May’s increased workload this year… I think it might make sense. Anyone have any experiences?
Recovery time is a day off then back in light work, and she can return to full work on Thursday. Since today and tomorrow (Monday and Tuesday) have highs in the low 20s…. she is just getting these days off too. She gets plenty of turnout, so I am not concerned about her standing around. Can’t wait to see how she feels on Saturday!
Typically, my lessons are on Tuesday nights, which tend to be unusually quiet at the barn, and honestly, I love that. By the time my lesson is over, the barn has mostly cleared out, and I get some quiet time to reflect on my lesson, pet my pony, and just relax. However, this week my lesson was on a Wednesday, sneaking it in right before NT spends a couple of weeks in Aiken (so jealous!).
This week, I pulled into the driveway to see a few horses tied to trailer by the indoor. Not thinking much of it. I got May all ready for a Dressage lesson. Since May has done a lot of jumping lately, I wanted to reestablish our connection and get some homework while NT was out of town. So the white boots and pad went on, I threw on my new spurs, and I headed out to the indoor. I got halfway there when I saw a white ball fly past the entrance, followed by a HERD of polo ponies.
Alright then… outdoor it is! While it was pretty warm (in the 50s and I ambitiously rode in a t-shirt because I only had heavy jackets and fleeces in my car), it was WINDY and CLOUDY. Since May had a fairly easy few days after last week’s jump-heavy rides, she was a bit up. Plus we were in the outdoor, with the jumps! And the polo team was in the indoor right next door to the outdoor. While May couldn’t really SEE them, she could definitely HEAR them.
I had a few minutes before NT headed to the ring, so I started with my usual “my aids mean something and you need to listen” routine. So we walked on the bit, and we halted. I try to be REALLY methodical about my aids when she’s like this, so I shifted my weight back, engaged my core, halted my seat, closed my thighs, and then rocked my hands back.
And she ignored me.
So then I pulled, and she threw her head up and halted.
And there is May in a nutshell. She KNOWS these aids. We do them EVERY TIME I ride, but she will always give that little baby test to see if I REALLY mean them. If not corrected at that point, it all snowballs into a big hot mess of her questioning if I REALLY mean that aid…
So we walked again, and again, I shifted my weight back, engaged my core, halted my seat, closed my thighs, and then rocked my hands back. And she slowwwllllyyy came to a halt. I let her move forward again, and repeated it in the other direction. After 3 – 5 repetitions, she is tuned in. So at that point, we can finally trot.
The trot was still a bit tuned out, so we just did big, loopy figure eights. I asked her to move off my legs and flex through her body. Buuuuut I actually don’t think this is still the best method of getting her to tune in at the trot. The walk/halt stuff is super important. And Trot/walk/halt tends to make her more tense instead of less.
BUT NT to the rescue. I told her that May just felt really tuned out, so she had us trot and just work through our gaits within the gait. So we started with working trot, then stretchy trot, then working trot, then collected, then working etc etc etc. By the time we rotated to her “bad” side (going to the right), she was on my aids and listening. The right bend has gotten SO MUCH better.
Once we had all three variations of trot nailed down, we moved into the same exercise at the canter, but replaced stretchy trot with a medium canter. My left lead transition was really good. She was actually a bit sticky off my leg to go into the medium, and that stickiness created some struggled at the collected canter.
You know how I knew when we got the collected canter? May GRUNTED. She sounded like me mid spin class when I realize I have another 20 min to go and the instructor says we are going to “ramp up the resistance”. UGH.
To the right, I was not surprised to get a little more resistance with some head tossing and breaking down to the trot. Ultimately though, we did get a few steps of true collection, so that was pretty cool.
Finally, we moved onto a serpentine exercise. Trot across the short side of the arena, turn left, do a 10m half circle, trot across the short side, turn right, do a 10m half circle etc etc etc. All the way to the end of the arena and then back.
Given that there are a TON of jumps in the ring, I had to get a bit creative with my half circles. However, by the end of the exercise, May was the most connected and steady in the connection as I have ever felt her. She was tracking up, in front of my leg, and I felt like we could spring forward or halt dead with ease.
So when we finished the exercise, and NT said to do it again at the canter with simple, trot changes in between, I was super excited. The first half circle to the left was GLORIOUS. I really felt her step under herself and bring her shoulders around.
Then we went right… and it was a little messy. I sat back further. I added more leg. I engaged my seat more… but she was clearly over it. We managed to mostly pull it together to finish, but it was clear she was tired, and it was really hard. While it wasn’t perfect, it definitely gives me a great set of things to work on while NT is away, AND it gives me a great baseline before her injections on Saturday.
Obviously though… she wasn’t THAT tired. Because when I turned her out that night, she GALLOPED down the hill, JUMPED over the ditch at the bottom, GALLOPED back up the hill to get to the new hay bale in her field…
Do you have a specific routine you go through that helps your horse settle into work?