Last night, I had my first lesson in… a while. Anyone else sick of hearing me say this? I AM sick of hearing ME say this.
I had originally wanted to take a jumping lesson, but the flooded status of KY in general, ridiculous winds, the threat of MORE rain, and a dropping temperature meant that I decided on a Dressage lesson instead.
The barn was oddly quiet last night with just me and NT around that evening, so our lesson was a bit more casual than usual with lots of chatting and catching up on the state of May. (Future injections, 2019 plans, etc). I’ll probably write about the lesson tomorrow, but suffice to say, we have both seen a lot of progress thanks to her help this past fall and the work my half leaser has been putting in.
As with most eventers at this time of year, I am looking at the 2019 competition season. My grand goals are, and have been, to get back to a recognized horse trial at Beginner Novice. Last year was a “I am hope we get back into the show ring.” This year is a “I want to do this.”
So I started looking back. What made May and I capable of moving form starter to BN in 2016? How did we get to the point where we were schooling Novice sized SJ course with relative ease that summer?
It wasn’t because I was younger (26 – 29 is not a huge jump… unlike 22 – 25 which seems MASSIVE). It wasn’t because I had access to a better trainer. (There are some serious similarities between NJ trainer and NT.) It wasn’t because May was more educated.
It was because I was in a regular program… and I haven’t been in one since.
Late 2016, we moved from NJ to KY just as show season was winding down and trainers in KY were looking towards Aiken and Ocala rather than their own backyards. Money was tight, and I let lessons fall into the category of “nice to have.”
^This feels like a lifetime ago…
Then in 2017, I had committed to lessons with my trainer at the time, but due to a job that had me traveling and her own schedule, we would average maybe 2 lessons a month… at best. Money was still tight, I got married in mid-summer, and the lack of competition goals meant that again, lessons fells to the back burner.
2018… I moved barns in mid competition season, but I still made it out to a couple of shows to get our feet wet again. (Literally and figuratively). Lessons started up again, and I was surprised at how much I felt like a fish out of water. My whole riding career had been focused on weekly lessons (and catch riding). Here I was, on my own horse, and feeling odd about lessons.
Then this year… I find myself really prioritizing lessons. So, for the first time since Spring of 2016, I have put myself into the weekly lesson rotation schedule. Fingers crossed that this has really been the missing link in my confidence lately!
So I really want to know – Are you a “weekly lessoner” or more of a “when I need them” or even a “don’t need no trainer” type of rider?
First of all, a GIANT thank you to everyone who commented on my post and facebook and instagram regarding the great helmet search! I think I will have to suck it up and make the pilgrimage to Dover (turns out, it is a full hour and a half away), to try on all the helmets. Be ready for an epic blog post about all the helmets.
As for Ms. May… she’s been both a delight and a frustration lately hahaha. I think the wet weather has been keeping her from really moving around in her field like she usually does, so she has been a bit more tense and flighty lately.
I rode her last Tuesday night, and it was just a really odd ride for a lot of reasons. First of all, the weather made a SHARP 180 during the day on Tuesday. From 65 during the day, to close to 40 when I was actually riding… and we were riding under the lights trying to stay out of the way of a pretty interesting jumping lesson.
During that ride, she was tense through her whole body, half halts were considered to be suggestions, and the idea of coming off her forehand was a foreign language. I ended up taking my winter gloves off and riding bare-handing (something I NEVER do) because I couldn’t figure out why the connection was SO bad. It varied between her hiding behind the contact to her leaning down and bearing into it.
So what do you do? You do a ton of transitions. Trying to get the horse to accept both the reins and the leg. Or at least… that was my plan for action. The canter was just an impressive feat of holding the horse together with all the aids. Leg stayed on until the hind end engaged, seat stayed deep until shoulders came back to me, hands stayed engaged until she flexed around the contact. Then, suddenly, it all softened, and I had a really nice horse on my hands.
She still wasn’t super supple laterally, but she was engaged and listening. Cool. Then, I spotted my trainer doing a cool exercise.
The exercise had you jump one wing (maybe 2′ high), loop around to the second wing (maybe 2′ high), and then come back to a trot or walk and go over the center piece (maybe 18″). The piece was really more of a spindle shape than a barrel, so it had small sides on it as well. However, it was REALLY narrow. (I would think the same method would work with a small barrel, but they definitely need to be LITTLE.)
The goal was to go perfectly straight over the center piece and really have the horse between your legs. May’s feeling on it? That it wasn’t worth jumping. She was great over one, and two, which looked like proper jumps to her. But over the spindle? Nope… she just stepped over it and knocked poles everywhere. But, she was straight, and I felt bad making NT reset jumps for me when I wasn’t even in her lesson. So we called it good. She was straight, she was brave, she was just UTTERLY UNIMPRESSED.
Friday night into Saturday morning it snowed, so I wasn’t sure if I would make it to the barn. However, by mid-day, the snow had melted off the roads for the most part, and I figured I should probably ride the beast again.
The barn was bustling with activity as NT and some working students and other boarders worked to make sure the place was fully winterfied before a serious cold snap passed through KY this week into next week. (The high this Sunday is 20 degrees, with a low of 4… I told the half leaser she can picks another day to ride haha)
I tacked up May… noting just how wet her feet are. Ugh. And I headed into the indoor. The trainer from the other barn was riding in there, doing one stride tempis around the outside of the arena… nbd. Let me just get on and try to bend right. I hopped on and we walked for a while.. I am not sure why I decided to just walk, but it was a good decision apparently. May got nice and limber, and by the time we went to trot, she was READY to get to work.
She was quick off my leg, but consistent in the contact. She wanted to get heavy through the transitions, so we did a lot of big loopy circles with transitions and changes in direction. I was concentrating so hard on maintaining this great feeling, that I did not see the working student approaching the arena with the massive wheelbarrow. May did, however, just as we passed by the arena entrance and the wheelbarrow was all of 5′ away from entering.
May popped off the contact, threw her head in the area, and SKITTERED away from the door. The WS kept apologizing as I put my leg on, lifted my hands, and reestablished the trot we had before. I told her it wasn’t her fault and no big deal… but I hope she took my word for it.
I spent a lot of time at a barn with some older ladies with some serious fear issues. Anything that you did the spooked their horses resulting in screaming, throwing things, and then at least a week of the silent treatment. I know it came from a place of fear, but I refuse to be that way. Spook my horse. Please. It gives me A LOT of information on where our holes are. (Or just confirming the fact that my horse is a bit high at the moment).
However, May settled right back into work. I did some shoulder ins and leg yields at the trot. They were great… ok. I picked up the canter and did some leg yields both away and towards the wall at the canter… also really good for something we haven’t touched in about 6 months. MMMMMK. I asked for a halt, and she rocked back and came right down, staying on the contact. I shrugged my shoulders. Gave her a pat. And called it good at about 25 minutes of work.
Just as I was leaving the arena, I noticed that a bunch of people were going on a trail ride, so we hopped into that group. What better reward for a yellow pony than a nice trail ride after a great dressage school?
WHEW! LONG POST. If you all made it this far, let me know, do you find that sometimes your best rides follow a ride where you really struggled?
Typically, this would be a goals post, but goals are SO 2018. Right?
Joking aside, I was pretty torn about goals this year. I know a lot of people have forgone them this year, while others have set up broader or process-based goals. The truth is that even the first 8 days of January haven’t gone how I expected, so I don’t really feel like I am on steady enough ground to set any kind of goals…
So instead, I am going to talk about the things I want to focus on this year.
Fitness – This started in 2018 and has been a great addition to my regular routine. I am not setting a goal of “x” number of times in the gym each week. Instead, I just want to keep an emphasis on moving and listening to my body.
Blogging – I really LIKE blogging. I really want to get BETTER at blogging, AND AECs are in KY this year, so I even have a chance to see some of you. Blogging shall continue… but I would like to get some new media for you all.
Friendships – 2018 was a weird year for me. It marked 2 years of living in KY, and I have definitely felt the loss of some of my East Coast friends. I want to say yes to more things with my friends here in KY.
Enjoying May – I want to ride and have fun with my horse. I want to try new things and be in the moment. I want to let the bad rides go easier and hold onto the good ones a bit longer. Heavy competing still won’t be in the budget this year, but hopefully, we can find some fun things to do within our budget.
Continue Improving our House – We have some projects that need finishing touches, and a lot of painting still to do. However, it has been a labor of love, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
And… that’s it. It’s short and sweet and without a lot of frills. I know a lot of you have already set your goals this year, so most of you are a whole week ahead of me already! Only 51 more to do. 🙂
Do 1 Clinic: Nope. Didn’t happen. I ended up moving barns and changing trainers mid-year, and money was too tight to drop $$$ on the 4* clinician that did come across my path. I barely scraped by enough to do some horse trials and lessons.
Do 2 Horse Trials: Yay! We did two and they were both GREAT successes that showed improvement. Given the changes between the horse trials (new trainer, barn, no time for XC schooling), we stayed at Starter, but that is ok with me.
Get in shape: This was kind of a “Coming in at the End” kind of achievement, but I am giving myself a passing grade on this. I joined the local Y in mid-November with a barn buddy and, other than the week around holidays, have been going 2 – 3 days a week. Since starting towards a healthier lifestyle in August, I have lost nearly 20 lbs and am already back on the bandwagon after the holidays. Our Y also added a bunch of new classes in 2019, and I am excited to give them a try. I can’t wait to see how this winter of work affects my riding in the Spring!
Ride 4 – 5 Days a Week: Adding the gym to my routine meant something had to give, and I decided to half lease May out. While I am not riding 4 -5 days a week, May does now get ridden 4 – 5 days a week. A big part of this goal was around MAY’S fitness, so I am saying ACHIEVED…. even if through new methods.
Plan Out My Rides: EPIC FAIL. I would love to blame this on having a half leaser, but the truth is, this died almost as soon as it started. It put too much pressure on both of us to have “successful” rides on certain days.
Get Comfortable Over 3′ Fences: EPIC FAIL. I wish I could say I was comfortable over BN sized fences, but they still look big to me right now.
Blog 2 Times Week: SMASHING SUCCESS. This blog got a lot more consistent in 2018, and I look forward to continuing it into 2019.
Clean Up My Email Inbox: Need to get back at this.
Start Meditating Again: Fail. My new office environment does not include an actual office, so closing the door for 5 min on my lunch break isn’t an option. I try to be just more mindful.
Do One Thing Every Month That’s Outside My Comfort Zone:
January – Went to St. Lucia and did a tour of the island on a speed boat. Super Fun.
February – Dove into a new job taking on responsibilities beyond my wildest nightmares.
March -Took some serious steps into managing May’s health and well being. I tuned out the opinions of others and listened to my gut… which ended up with the vet agreeing May needed injections and a new dentist finding a very old problem.
April – Opened up a lot more on the blog about my mistakes and regrets.
May – Attended a horse trial at a new venue with minimal outside help.
June – Moved barns.
July – Launched the May as Well Event Facebook page. It is something I had wanted to do for a long time, but I hesitated because I was afraid how others would take it. So far – all positive from anyone who matters.
August – First horse trial with new barn. Fitting into an established team’s routine as a new member is always a steep learning curve.
September – First XC Jump Judging experience. Something I always wanted to do, but never put myself out there to do.
October – Opened up May to a half leaser, and found a great one! It was a big leap of faith for me to turn the reins over to someone else, but it’s been a great experience so far. Can’t wait to play owner at shows this summer.
November – Joined a gym. Started taking classes.
December – Started laying the ground work for a side hustle. Needs more time and attention than I have had to really get it moving forward, but I am really excited with the possibilities.
The thing that really didn’t happen:
Moving May As Well Event to its own domain… I just need to set aside the time to get this done. Preferably in January.
It had been MONTHS since my last jumping lesson. Actually, I just looked back and… Yup. It has been FOUR MONTHS… which makes it the fourth jumping lesson of 2018. BUT that also means that I got TWICE as many jumping lesson in during 2018 than I did in 2017. That counts as improvement, right?
I was totally inspired to take this lesson after watching a friend of mine tackle this exercise a week earlier. However, I am sure no one is surprised to find out that thing were a bit rough around the edges. (Also, apologies but the lesson was at night, under the lights, in the cold, and I didn’t want to expose the helmet cam to all of that… so there’s no media)
After warming up, we started trotting through a fan of poles at the end of the ring. It was similar to the exercise below, but there were four poles and they were just on the ground.
I had a lot of trouble to this going to the left. May really wanted to fall out through her right shoulder, and I felt like I couldn’t quite keep it in the line I wanted. Definitely something to work on. The canter was somewhat better than the trot, but May kept wanting to jam in an extra step before the last pole (keep this in mind).
Going to the right, the exercise was a lot easier, because all I had to do was regulate how fast her right shoulder came around… a lot easier than trying to pull the right shoulder in and around.
Next, we started setting the groundwork for the main course. This:
To get May moving forward and get me riding a line (the whole purpose of the above set up), we started with creating a circle from the yellow vertical to the green. In both directions, I messed up either my line or my rhythm the first time, but totally nailed it the second, so we didn’t spend much time on this.
Then we moved onto the full exercise. The verticals are set exactly 4 strides to the placement poles and the placement poles are one stride from the oxer, so as long as you take a fairly direct line but jump all the elements straight, it is 5 strides from each vertical to the oxer and the oxer to each vertical.
A couple more notes about what makes this a bit unique. Our ring is not 100% flat. It angles slightly towards the barn, which means that coming towards the barn things are easier than going away from it. This totally becomes relevant, I promise.
NT tells me that I am most likely going to get a forward 6 to the fences and trying for the 5 will likely leave us too unbalanced to do the exercise correctly. Doing 7 will either leave us dead in the water or on too wide a line. I nod, and then immediately tell her that I feel nervous. She gives me a funny look.
Our first course went in this order: Green, Blue, Red, Orange, Blue, Yellow. I ride the green perfectly with a great pace… Then I take a feel coming towards the oxer, and May adds an extra stride. This means we are kind of dead in the water and we add again to the red… BLAH. I kick on, but the orange and yellow kind of go the same way. NT notes that she liked my pace coming in, but I took my foot off the pedal once I had to actually jump and turn. She’s not wrong.
We do it again. The Green, Blue, Red combination goes REALLY well, and I am feeling good. BUT remember that the ring slopes down in that direction… I ride the Orange pretty well… and then don’t kick enough towards the oxer. It’s a bit of a stretch for May to get over the placement pole, and instead of stretching AGAIN over the low, wide oxer, she shoves in an extra stride… takes down most of the oxer… I do manage to kick on and get 7 or 8 strides to the Yellow, so we finish… but not in great form. The oxer gets rebuilt, but I can almost feel May losing a bit of confidence here. I am DETERMINED to give her a positive ride.
We change up the course a bit to keep May from anticipating where we are going. It was SUPPOSED to be Yellow, Blue, Red, Orange, Blue, Yellow. Buuuuut I forgot where I was going at the end, and I end up doing Yellow, Blue, Red, Orange, Blue, Green.
Why do I forget where I am going? That’s right, because I still can’t get the distance from the Orange to the Blue to work out properly. I close my leg, but May keeps giving me this response like “this is as forward as I will go.” I am not sure if I am having trouble committing, or if she is just used to a different ride from my half leaser, but either way, she is going forward… but she is not in front of my leg.
“Gallop in a bit like you’re going XC this time.” I nod. I go. I gallop. I jump the orange. I get four PERFECT strides to the placement pole. I close my leg on the fifth stride. The distance and pace are REALLY good. I lean… and May JAMS in an extra stride and jumps pretty much straight in the air. I get thrown up IN FRONT of my saddle and on her neck. My thought? “I can’t afford a new helmet right now.”
Luckily, May is still my partner in this whole thing, and she flings her head up, throwing me mostly back into the saddle. I scramble my way back and manage to get her stopped before she carried me over the green. Everyone was very impressed with my save, but I was fully freaked out. May has always been the horse that as long as I have a decent pace, she will safely get us to the other side of the jump. That decision though, was not the safe decision. Honestly, I am still kind of freaked out by it.*
My trainer confirms that everything looked good, but May decided that she needed to make the final decision on that one. Again, a lot of this probably comes back to the fact that it has been 4 months since we had a jumping lesson and this set up was really difficult, but she had really just not been fully responding to my leg all night. I’m not sure who suggested it, but my trainer ran back to the barn to grab me a longer jump crop. Something I could reinforce my leg aid without taking my hands off the reins.
To test the gas pedal, we went back to the second exercise of just circling from Yellow to Green. It was way better, and I felt like she wasn’t sucking back behind my leg to assess each jump. So we adjusted the exercise again:
As you can see, we were now starting on the line I was having the most difficulty with. ALL I WANTED was to get the first line right. We jumped in, I rode forward, we got 6! I turned to the green. Another 6! I rode forward to 4. Never got straight to it… and got down that line in 5…. Yup, definitely more in front of my leg this time. However, doing the five put us way too off balance for the Orange, so I had to bend it out a bit and I got 7. But it was SO MUCH better with the crop in my hand. May was taking me to the fences again, and I felt like we found our usual groove. She puffed herself up and pranced back to the middle of the ring.
NT was also MUCH happier with that performance. For our last course, she just wanted me to do just the Yellow, Blue, Orange line to fix those distance, and then circle back through the fan exercise we had started the day with. (I think she was checking my breaks and balance)
Either way, we nailed the bending line, and May came right back to a perfect dressagey-canter to bounce through the poles and then halted easily to end our ride.
*I am going to add a note here. May HAS done similar things before when she loses confidence in me. The below video from Kent is a perfect example. After the combination, May was just DONE saving me, so we had a run out. Once I rode better, she went perfectly again.
Today? I am sore and still feeling a bit back on the heels from the experience. BUT I am super proud of the fact that I didn’t give up in this lesson, and I didn’t decide it was just too hard for us. I kept riding, and I ended the lesson with a much more confident and trusting horse than I started with… even if things got REALLY messy in the interim. I will probably dissect my feelings a bit more in my next post. Until then, have you ever had a lesson that had to hit a pretty low LOW point before ending great?
It has been… quite a while since my last dressage lesson. Quite a while as in, I am pretty sure I was complaining that it was REALLY HOT at the last one. When I have these kind of gaps in lessons, the first question is always, inevitably, “Is there anything specific you want to work on today?”
My first inclination was to say, “nope.” I think I actually did say, “nope”. Luckily, my trainer knows me better than that and gave me an extra 10 seconds to actually think about my rides lately.
“Actually, I think we could use some work on transitions.” Doubly-Luckily, my trainer also knows what I mean by this. Yes, I can get May to halt/walk/trot/canter etc on cute, fairly promptly. HOWEVER, I wanted to work on keeping the connection and balance before, during, and after each transition. I know. Riveting stuff.
Let’s not forget this halt to trot transition at our last horse trial… where May drifted about 5′ left for no particular reason.
The majority of the lesson was spent on a 20 meter circle. We started with walk/trot/walk transitions. You know, the most basic of the basic. Positives? May stayed in front of my leg. Negatives? She enjoyed being in front of my leg and falling on her forehand. Solution? Change walk to halt.
Our first trot/halt transition was met with her just dissolving onto her forehand. She practically took the last step in the stumble. It was super majestic and graceful. So NT had us back up a couple of steps and try again.
The next time? May pulled a typical May move. Instead of falling on her forehand, she rocked back and halted… and then immediately backed up, away from the contact. How do you fix that? Rinse and repeat. Forward, halt, forward, halt. Eventually, we got the halt/trot/halt transitions so tuned in that I could do 90% of the movement with my seat, with barely any additional input from my hands and leg.
Adding this to my goals this winter – get all transitions tuned into the seat.
We moved onto the canter, but we changed up the rhythm of the transitions. We did a lot of trot, canter, trot, halt, trot, canter, trot, canter etc etc type of work. May started off running a bit into the canter, and I played into that by making my aids BIG and UNNECESSARY.
We do not canter with our shoulders.
However, by the end, I could just swing by seat, close my outside leg, and get a nice connected canter. Funny how that works.
The lesson finished off with transitions on the quarter line. I had to work VERY hard to be clear with my aids and keep her straight and connected. I thought my brain was going to melt with how much mental capacity this exercise takes up. Is it weird that I can’t wait to try it again on my own?
There ended up being a ton of nuances to this lesson, that I am still really digesting, but it filled up my tool box (and my motivation chest) with a lot to help us move forward this weekend!
After seeing Olivia’s blog post on “The Horse You Bought”, I hopped on over to Two and Half Horses, where the hop originated. Since it has been nearly three and a half years, I figured it would be fun to look back. I have zero media from our first trial ride, but I do have the wording of her ad:
Belgian/QH cross….UTD on everything. Has been shown and placed well at larger shows! Jumps up to 3′ courses. Trail rides alone and in a group, crosses water, trailers well… Literally does nothing wrong. Easy enough for an advanced beginner to handle!
To be honest, our first trial ride was not some beacon of hope where the clouds parted and angels sung. I could barely keep her on the rail, and at the canter, we basically careened around wherever she wanted to go. She leaned so badly that I was concerned she would trip and go down. The trot had no rhythm, and my first thoughts were “I could sell her as a trail horse for as much as I was paying” and “she’d be easier to sell than my c current horse.”
Seriously… so many people have this amazing AHAH moment when they buy a horse, like buying a wedding dress. BUT I didn’t have that. I had “this will probably work” and “I just need to ride something different.” She had really no personality and any jump we took that day was under 2′, and we got to it sideways. With all those romantic images in my head, I loaded her onto the trailer with a smile on my face anyway. Pure joy? Maybe not. Relief and terror? Probably more so that.
She was sort of easy to load (once food was involved), and we took her home. Then, I attempted to get a beauty shot of her at home, and I got this.
My first lesson? She couldn’t do a 20M circle and ran out the gate of the arena. Our canter transitions took more than a dozen trot steps, and my saddle really didn’t fit.
May was a lot greener than even I had anticipated, and I had ridden A LOT of green horses. I had started a couple horses from scratch, and this was even more difficult than that. There were moments of real promise… and moments where I couldn’t even figure out what was causing everything to go Oh So Wrong.
During one of these moments, I turned to my trainer at the time and just told her I was completely stumped. I knew we weren’t straight, thorough, or forward, but I couldn’t seem to get any of those things to work together. That day, I paid for my first pro ride on my horse, and it seriously helped us move forward. I wish I had more media from those first few months because they were… not friendly to me.
I think this was our first “course” together: Video Link
Overall, she was green but a fun horse to work with and every ride was engaging… even when I was mostly failing at accomplishing anything.
Fast Forward to 2018?
May has proven herself to be a really reliable partner. I have spent COUNTLESS hours ALONE riding at different barns. We have seen deer, bicycles, strollers, small children, quads, and, most recently, sheep together. We have done horse trails, Dressage, SJ, XC, clinics, hunter paces, trail rides, games days, and many bareback rides together.
May has been the horse my friends get on to ride something “other than a schoolie” before they set off horse shopping. She is also the horse that has, in slow motion, run away with more than one person in the arena. (never faster than a medium trot, just without willingness to walk)
We even did our first BN together… Which wasn’t the smoothest… But we got it done.
Her personality has come out of her shell. While naughty is probably never the right word, opinionated is probably a better one. She has broken cross ties, simply because she was hungry. She had decided that certain farriers should not be allowed to work on her precious toes. AND she has learned how to express to me when she feels a saddle does not fit to her standards (crow hopping).
However, now, I wouldn’t trade her for the world… Although, I could still definitely sell her for more than I bought her for!
“What is this?” you ask… Well, it just so happens to be ANOTHER lesson. I know, it’s pretty shocking at this point. This makes our 3rd jumping lesson since moving to the new barn – more than I was able to get in all of 2017!
NT also changes around the jumps a lot, so this week was a whole new challenge. A fan of bounces! I know some people are very familiar with this exercise, but it was one I had never done before. With May’s propensity to pop her shoulder out when things get tough, I figured this grid might have our number. Below is a good idea of what it looked like. The biggest difference was that, to start out, ours were raised on the outside to encourage the horse to the circle.
The first time through, we were supposed to trot it to make sure we got the right bend, connection, impulsion. May decided to just canter the whole thing, which was not the point. We tried again, and more purposeful posting and a well-timed half-halt had her trotting through it properly. One more time at the trot to make sure that was all set, and we were onto cantering it. This was… surprisingly easy. We reversed and did it again the other way and worked a bit on me keeping my body back over such small jumps. NT raised the jumps to three verticals, and we went through again without an issue.
So, we moved onto the next exercise. Building on the same idea of controlling the outside shoulder, this was 3 jumps, where you were encouraged to make more square turns between each jump. The jumps were small verticals, but the idea was to jump one, go a couple of strides, make a square turn, get straight, jump the next one, and repeat.
Our first time through this was rough. I really wanted to use my inside hand to pull her body around the corner, instead of using my outside rein and leg. As a result, I almost missed the second jump and none of my distances showed up nicely. The second time was a bit better, as I concentrated on sitting and rotating May around my inside leg. She even got lighter in the bridle, who would’ve thought! (NT was fully aware that this was going to happen.) We reversed it and had even better luck.
Finally, it was course time. (See the pattern of these lessons building on each other? It is fascinating.)
So! Starting on the right lead over the triple. Right turn IMMEDIATELY to a 6 stride line (oxer to vertical). Then, we had to boogie a bit to get forward enough to come down the gold combination, which was an oxer, 2 strides to another oxer, 2 strides to a vertical. Left turn to loop around to the pink line. The oxer into the pink line was set kind of awkwardly off the rail so that you had to ride the horse’s outside shoulder to get the distance. Then, it was 3 strides to the barrel.
The first time, we nailed the bounces, turned to the purple jump 2… I put my leg on… and nothing. It took May probably 3 strides to actually get it in gear. While we hit the oxer fine, we didn’t have enough gas to get down that line in 6, and we ended up reaching the vertical at an awkward 6.25 strides. Whoops.
However, I KNEW we had to get our butts in gear to get through the triple. So I galloped her forward and got her SUPER in front of my leg as we turned to that combination. From the more forward pace, it rode pretty easy, and we were able to land, re-balance, and make a nice turn to finish the last line in 5. At the end, I halted her and asked her to yield her shoulder, right and then left.
My biggest issue with May is her locking her shoulder and losing her suppleness while jumping at speed, so we are making sure that each course ends either with a circle or some leg yielding to reiterate that she needs to stay soft with me. The halting during this lesson was a decision I made due to how much speed we were carrying throughout the entire course.
So what did we do next? Trainer raised jumps 2 and 4C, and we did it again! This time, May responded much better to my leg before jump 2, and we were easily able to make it down that line in six strides. I pushed her forward again after that line and we were ROLLING. It has been a long time since I have jumped from that truly open step, and man, it felt REALLY good.
We got a bit deep into the first part of the triple, but we had enough momentum to easily carry us through the line without losing balance or rhythm. The last jump in that line was now closer to Novice height than BN, and May CRACKED her back over it. It threw me a touch off balance, but I recovered quickly. We cantered to the last jump, and it finally sunk it that NT was yelling at me to use my seat. You can actually hear me say “seat” as I realized what she was telling me. I am glad I sat because it kept us from screwing up the turn to 5, and we sailed easily over 6. Again, halt and supple before ending. The full video *with hilarious audio* is below.
By far, it was the best course we had done in a LONG time, so we called it a day on that. Immediately after my lesson, I felt like I had given up and should’ve kept pushing even though the heat had me a bit nauseous and dizzy. However, after writing this all up, it was quite the lesson! AND we had the hunter pace 2 days later. No shame in keeping a horse fresh for work. Called it a day, took care of May, and chugged down some electrolytes. Couldn’t be happier with this mare.
If you’re wondering what happened to me last week, join the club. I was called in for Jury Duty, and they quickly explained that, of the 60 people called, only 14 would be selected and the rest could leave at lunch time. Great! Except, I ended up being one of the 14 people and spent the majority of last week as a juror on a federal criminal trial. It was also at a location WAY DOWNTOWN in Louisville, so I was 45 min from home and 35 min from the barn, without traffic… given that there is always traffic in that area and they kept letting us out late, I basically didn’t get to ride last week… Oh well. Here is a summary of our lesson from the week below.
NT LOVES grids. She thinks that, especially in eventing, it is important to train horses to be responsible for what they are doing with their legs. The truth of the matter is, no one is ever going to hit ever jump from the perfect distance, so we have to train horses to make sure that they are confident and comfortable getting us out of some less than ideal situations. So instead of building exercises and courses that allow a jump, 20 strides, another jump, 5 strides, another jump, she built exercises that force us to think and react a bit faster.
The first exercise? A modified circle of death. In essence, we did the circle of death going to the left, but making right circles after the first 2 poles. See below… enjoy my paint skills.
This was shockingly harder that I thought it would be. I really needed May to move off my inside leg and into my outside rein each time we changed direction, when all she wanted to do was drop her inside shoulder through my leg and barrel through my aids. Fun stuff. Eventually, we were able to do it without flailing around corners with me hopelessly hanging on the inside rein. Yay!
So then the circle of death changed again. We did it in the traditional manner, then circled in the opposite direction and came over an oxer in the middle of the exercise.
Now, something interesting happened. If I could keep the balance and rhythm through the circle of death, then the turn and the oxer ended up being super smooth and easy. May POWERED over the oxer, and we ended up only doing this once in each direction. Calling it a win!
Now, it was course time. Let me just throw this out there… then I will explain. Luckily, all pics below are the jumps at the height they were set for our lesson, so you can have an idea of where we’re at. (somewhere between Starter and BN).
I always label the jump numbers on the side of the jump you are jumping from. So jump 1 was jumped from left to right, then the 2 combination was jumped from right to left. So yes. That means that the course started by jumping 1 near the rail, leg yielding out to the rail, then making a tight turn to jump the 2 combination on the quarter line. That two combination was a tight 2 stride… that I tried to make a 3 stride the first time we did it. The rest of the first course (which only went to jump 6) can be seen through my cambox!
It’s on mute because otherwise all you would hear in my heavy breathing. It was HOT and HUMID that day. After getting the 3 in the 2, I realized I really needed to get our butts in gear. I rode forward properly from there and, SHOCKINGLY, the rest of the course came up great. We were supposed to do the inside turn after the barrels, inside the red white and blue jump… but no luck the first attempt. Jump 4 jumped well, but I kept my leg on because of the liver-pool under jump 5. I shouldn’t have worried, May couldn’t have cared less. The triple rode AWESOME. It was a 1 stride to a 2 stride with the oxer at the end. So first course attempt was establishing the rhythm, but loosing the turns.
Our second attempt, we were told to add in jumps 7, 8, and 9. Except… I seriously massacred jump 4. I lost her right shoulder to the outside going around the corner, pulled (which made her MORE crooked), lost the distance. She chipped in, and jumped through her right shoulder, shoving my foot out of the stirrup and landing in a heap. I, embarrassingly, thought I was going to fall off. Nothing like impressing a new trainer in your second jump lesson by falling off because you lost your stirrup….
I regrouped, and we started again. I nailed one, got through 2, made the sharp turns to 3 and 4. Then, I got a little tight to the entrance into the triple combination. I am about 95% sure that I stopped breathing. We made it through fine. May really does have plenty of step. I made a VERY BAD turn to 7, and I realized I was REALLY dizzy when we landed. I circled and regrouped and came back to the walk. It was a cop out. I keep thinking that I probably could have made it through 2 more jumps, but was probably worth it in a lesson? Probably not. We took the walk break, and finished over 7, 8, and 9.
I was exhausted. I felt heat sickness creeping up on me. I chugged a bottle of water while I hosed May off, and once she was in her stall under a fan, I sat down for maybe 20 minutes to regroup. It was bad. I was so sore the next day, and it was just really disappointing to me. I have spent the last couple of weeks getting up a 5AM to get to the gym before work, and this just reiterated how out of shape I have really gotten.
All I can do right now though is keep moving forward. I am pushing my morning workout a little harder, upping the amount of time I spend in the saddle (especially cantering) each ride, and I am making more of an effort to eat better to make my (and May’s job) a little easier with a few less lbs.
How did May feel? When I turned her out in her field (after a cold shower and some time under the fan), she took off galloping across the field to tell her friends about how awesome she is. I had to laugh. As usual, the problems are mine, not hers.
How do I feel about the lesson itself though? AMAZING. Reflecting back on it has made me realize just how much improvement I got from May through that one lesson. This horse has a habit of pulling me down and out of the tack after fences, but through these exercises, I had a horse that landing and came up to me, instead of pulling down. It was a huge improvement, and I can’t wait to keep working on it.
(and my first jump lesson since my birthday back in April) New trainer and I chatted a bit as she set jumps from the prior x-rail lesson. “What height have you been doing? Like BN?”
I blanked… I admitted we hadn’t really been jumping and then said, “between Starter and BN is pretty comfortable.” Spoiler alert, turns out it wasn’t super comfortable (but everything was a hole or two smaller than the pics). The jumps were laid out in a way that gave a lot of options, gymnastics, and related distances. Overall, everything was set up to be super technical.
The orange line was a placement rail, 5 one-stride jumps, and then another placement rail to help riders get into and out of the gymnastic on the right stride. The blue line was a x-rail, two strides to an oxer, and then two strides to another x-rail. The green line was set in a moving 4, and the purple line was set in a steady 5. The only “stand alone” jump was the blue, double barrels. The new trainer offhandedly asked me if I thought they would be an issue, and I flippantly said no. (and then immediately was thinking (OMG we’ve never done barrels like that.”)
I warmed up, and she had me head through the gymnastic towards home, trotting in and cantering through. It was originally set really small, with just one side of each pole in the cups, and the distances were a true one stride. NT explained to me that the ring has a bit of a slant towards the barn, so things will always ride more forward coming towards the barn (i.e. traveling left to right of the above photo).
May was a bit wiggly the first time, and I don’t blame her. We haven’t done a gymnastic like this in a LONG time (like more than 2 years), and she wasn’t totally schooled in them at that time either. However, I kept my legs on, my reins open, and we were just fine. We alternated our approach to it a couple of times (making a right turn into the gymnastic, a left turn at the end, then a left turn into the gymnastic and a right turn at the end), until it was smooth and easy. Then, she put them up to small verticals (about a hole smaller than the above pic).
After that, it was time for our first course. Down the gymnastic (left to right), right turn and up the green line in 4, left turn and down the barrels. Sounded easy enough. Except I also cannot remember the last time I did a line that was oxer to vertical… That line was set to about 2’6″, and the approach to it was a bit weird. I tried to capture it in the below photo, but you had to come maybe 2 strides past the corner of the ring, turn, and then had maybe 2 – 3 strides off the rail to the oxer. AND THEN we would have to turn right and come down the double barrels that I wasn’t too sure about.
I nodded. I picked up my canter. I came through the gymnastic, May landed on the right lead after, I looked for my line to the oxer… and looked… and then just pulled back around the corner, lost her shoulder, lost any straightness or rhythm, and had a BIG OL’ CHOCOLATE CHIP into the oxer. I kicked on out to get the 4 strides to the vertical on the second half of the stride… and finished really well over the barrels. (At least there was some good)
Then the dreaded trainer words, “So what do you think happened there?”
I briefly blanked before blurting out, “I lost her shoulder in the line and then everything fell apart.”
NT nodded and then elaborated, “You lose her shoulder, couldn’t find a distance and did nothing. When you keep this horse balanced and on the line, you have no issues with jumps, distances, etc. However, when she loses her balance, then she pulls you off balance, and then it all just kind of falls apart. Worry about balance and straightness, and if you’re in doubt, add leg. The barrels were really good though.” (I swear, she is SUPER positive, but the negative feedback is more important right now than the positive)
We did that course one more time and while the turn to the oxer wasn’t perfect: I didn’t throw my body at it or panic. I just added leg and tried to keep my body back. Overall, a lot of improvement.
Now for a new course! Down the gymnastic, a right turn to the purple line (so oxer to vertical), and then around to the barrels. Gymnastic was great. I got to the oxer into the purple line, and we lost our balance a bit. I over corrected coming down the line, and got to the out in 5 and 1/4 strides… and promptly threw my body up May’s neck. Uh… not helpful. We rubbed it hard and landed in a heap on the other side.
“KICK AND SIT UP!” I heard from the other end of the ring…. oh gosh. our first lesson and here she is terrified that I am about to eat dirt. Oh well, I kicked on. Got a brief instruction of “always kick away from something like that!” while I cantered past her, and back to the barrels, which were, once again, no problemI walked, and huffed, and puffed (it was like 85 degrees with 80% humidity). May was prancing around like she was ready to go run the Belmont. Trainer sent me back to do just the barrels to the purple line again. It got tight on me again, but I sat back and it rode fine. SHOCKING.
Finally, it was time for our last course. Is your head spinning? Mine was. UP the gymnastic, a left 90* turn to the purple oxer, a right turn down the blue line, a right turn to the barrels, and then ANOTHER right turn to the green line. The turn from barrels to the green oxer wasn’t quite as tight as it looks in the pic, but it wasn’t much more generous.
I jumped up the gymnastic and actually had too tight of a turn to the oxer… and promptly forgot to turn right. I looped back around, got my right lead, and came down the blue line. Despite being a true 2 strides to 2 strides, the second half got a bit tight (*more of this later). The barrels, as always, rode great, but we landed on the left lead. I tried to fix it. I failed. I lost her shoulder and AGAIN the green line was ugly. At this point, I actually felt nauseous from the heat. (May was fine though. Totally amped and ready to keep going).
NT waved me over and said, “I am going to tell you something that is going to blow your mind. Stop worrying about the lead. Worry about balance and your line.” Now, I know this is kind of a controversial topic. However, I can tell you that for May and I to drop down to a trot, get the canter back, get balance, and get our rhythm back… it can sometimes take a lot of effort and coordination and TIME. So I decided to try it her way. (there is also a small chance that, if I stop fixing it for May, she might start fixing her own leads on her own.)
I jumped the barrels, we again landed on the left lead, I left the lead… and couldn’t turn to save my life. I ended up pulling her around the corner at the last minute and almost missed the jump. I did get a nice 5 in the line though. I was officially done tho. We identified something to work on, and it was overall really positive.
NT really liked May. She was shocked by how easily she got down the line, how un-bothered she was by all my mistakes (my words, not hers), and how light she actually is on her feet. She seemed really excited to be working with us, and I felt like I got a lesson that really challenged me without over-facing us. The whole idea is to do really technical courses at home, so, at shows, things feel easy. Sounds good to me!
*Now the striding thing. Since May had her hocks and stifles done, her stride opens up MUCH easier, and I am still getting used to riding the difference. She is also more receptive to taking the long spot, vs. chipping in, so it has really affected my riding.